Monday, December 28, 2015

Changes Coming in 2016

The new year is fast approaching, and bringing with it some changes for d20 Despot.  

First, starting in January I will be changing my Patreon from per-post donations to monthly donations.  This will make it easier for patrons to determine how much they want to give.  That means no more counting out the number of mondays in a month or fiddling with the maximum donation settings.  

I will also be changing the reward tiers and milestone goals to better reflect what d20 Despot has become and what it yet could be with your support.  Monster Monday will return to its original weekly format, at least for my patrons.  Once patronage reaches $15 per month, Monster Mondays will be available for all on this site, though patrons will still get early access.  

One of the other milestone goals will be a new website.  The blogger format has served fine over the years, but a purpose-built website will be easier to read, easier to navigate, and more engaging and eye-catching.  

The weekly update format which once served to motivate me has become something of a crutch.  Sometimes I had ideas that I held back for a later post, or I rushed a new idea out there because I needed some content for Monday.  In the coming year, expect more posts about worldbuilding as I make my campaign setting work public.  Expect shorter and more frequent gameplay updates from my ongoing campaigns (once they start up again - the last few months have been a bit of a dry spell).  Expect me to post random new bits of open game content that I've been working on.  Expect more updates on Guns of the Western Kings, my wild west campaign setting. Basically, I'm using the new year as a excuse to kick myself into gear and start producing more content.

Might 2016 even be the year we finally see d20 Despot pdfs go on sale?  I hope so, at least.  

See you next year!

-your annual d20 despot

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Chaining of Krampus - A Holiday Adventure

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, readers! Today I'm giving you an early present. This year's holiday adventure, The Chaining of Krampus, is now available to download for free right HERE on my patreon!

Long-time readers know that this is part two of a three-part Christmas-themed adventure sereis that began with Escape from the Lair of the Krampus. The Chaining of Krampus is a light-hearted and humerous adventure for 4-6 ninth level characters using the pfrpg system. Eight pre-made characters are provided, plus guidelines for creating your own custom characters for this adventure. It features my own monsters, including the ice cube and snegurochka, plus tons of ridiculous references to classic holiday mythology and TV Christmas specials. It was a real treat to make; I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Chaining of Krampus - TEASER

Cold winter winds whip through the candy cane forest.  The mighty red-and-white-striped trees creak and strain against the force.  The wind bites at your cheeks and nips at your nose, though it smells pleasantly of peppermint.  The only light is cast by a single lamp post around which you have all gathered, awaiting the arrival of your contact.  A sudden sound to your right startles you.  You look over, expecting the Big Man’s arrival, but it is only an arctic beaver, painfully overweight and probably diabetic, gnawing on a candycane stump. 

“Ho ho ho!” rumbles a deep voice behind you.  How did such a big man sneak up like that? You turn and see him, wrapped head to toe in a long red cloak trimmed with white fur.  His hood is pulled up, partially obscuring his face, though there is no mistaking that man for someone else.  That snow-white beard, that rotund belly, that rosy red nose.  He needs no introduction. 

"Santa is glad you all could make it!” he says.  “After the services you provided me last year, I knew I could count on you:

"Krampus has become a wild beast, and he needs to be chained."  


Later this week, I will be posting The Chaining of Krampus, part two of the adventure begun last year in Escape from the Lair of the Krampus.  The free adventure is designed for 4-6 ninth-level characters.  Pre-generated characters will be included.

I got some good feedback on last year's adventure that I have taken into account.  I'm trying to make this one shorter so that it can fit into one session, but I make no promises.  Personally, I'll probably be running this adventure with a group of six players after Christmas dinner, and hopefully again with a different group before the New Year.  If you are looking for a light-hearted holiday-themed adventure to run for your gaming group this Christmas season, keep an eye out later this week for The Chaining of Krampus!

-your jolly d20 despot

Monday, December 14, 2015

Monster Monday: Ice Cube - The Freezing Ooze

Today's Monster Monday is an ice cube, an arctic version of the gelatinous cube that will literally chill you to the bone and leave behind nothing more than an eerily lifelike ice sculpture.

Photo by Editor at Large, via Wikimedia
Ice cubes will be making an appearance in this winter's holiday adventure, The Chaining of Krampus, a continuation of last year's Escape from the Lair of the Krampus.  I'll be trying to get that adventure finished as soon as possible - hopefully earlier than last year's embarrassing release date of December 26th.  I'll also try to make it shorter than last year's installment, which tended to take two sessions to finish.  Stay tuned to d20 Despot for more news on this free Christmas-themed adventure!

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2015 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Monster Monday: Snegurochka - Slavic Snow Maiden

Today's Monster Monday is Snegurochka, the snow maiden of 19th century Slavic mythology.  In the tales, snegurochka is a being of pure snow whose curiosity about humans leads her to tragically melt (either from jumping over a fire as part of a game, or from falling in love).  Later, she becomes the helper and granddaughter of Ded Moroz, the Russian Santa.

I have statted her up as a supernatural being with powerful snow magic, capable of turning into a flurry of snowflakes or passing on winter's chill with her touch.  Her natural curiosity attracts her to human settlements, but a bad run-in with fire or warmth can lead her to violent outbursts against those who inadvertently threaten her with melting.

Снегурочка by Boris Zvorykin, via Wikimedia
The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2015 Jonah Bomgaars.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Improved Armor Tables Part 6 - Partial and Piecemeal Armor

This is part 6 of my ongoing series on improving the armor tables.  Unlike my Fixing the Weapons Table posts, these changes should be considered entirely optional and a GM should carefully consider whether they want to use them in their game, because it might mean a lot of tweaking stat blocks behind the scenes.  These changes are designed for GMs who love history and want their fantasy worlds to be a little more grounded in it.

This week I'm dropping the rules for partial and piecemeal armor, followed by some examples that illustrate the versatility of this system.  Thus far, the armor I have presented has been full-body armor, protecting the wearer more-or-less head-to-toe.  The following rules will allow a character to lighten the load by wearing only torso armor, or mix-and-match different armors to customize their dungeon-delving ensemble.

Pathfinder already has some armors that I would consider 'partial armors' - the breastplate and chain shirt spring to mind - though their relationship to more complete armors is ill-defined.  There are also already rules for piecemeal armor, but I find them overly complicated and not particularly versatile.  By their system, piecemeal armor is divided into torso, arm, and leg armor, and the only way to determine the stats of any given piece of armor is to find it on their tables.  I have created a more versatile, consistent system of rules that lets you break down any suit of armor into two pieces (torso armor and limb protection), and mix and match them.  I developed it for my own improved armor tables, but these rules can also be easily applied to the base Pathfinder armors, armor created for the d20 system by a third party, or your own homebrewed armors.

The following items and rules in gold and their accompanying tables are available as Open Game Content under the OGL.  Open Game Content is ©2015 Jonah Bomgaars and d20 Despot.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Review: Pathfinder Bestiary 5

Bestiary 5 for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game is out now!  But should you buy it?  As a general rule of thumb for Pathfinder Bestiaries or D&D Monster Manuals, the higher the number in the title, the less useful it is.  This is something I learned before I ever started playing D&D.  When I went over to my friend Marc's house in junior high school, I would flip through his monster manuals and marvel at the strange collection of beasts therein.  I soon realized that, while there were some pretty weird creatures throughout all the books, it was the higher-numbered ones that were more likely to contain cheesy, dumb, or downright bizarre monsters destined never to be included in a random monster table or emblazoned on some knight's shield.  It was Monster Manual IV, after all, that famously gave us the ice-skating dragon.

Not that there is anything inherently wrong with weird monsters; beholders and rust monsters are pretty darn weird, but they are also iconic, interesting, and truly threatening monsters that are easy for GMs and players alike to grasp.  A monster can get away with being weird if it has been around for a long time, or if its underlying concept is really engaging.  I knew Bestiary 5 was in trouble when I opened to a random page and saw this:

© Paizo
That's a dwiergeth, and its name is just as much of a random jumble of consonants and vowels as its body is a random jumble of monster parts.  But Bestiary 5 isn't all dwiergeths and aatheriexas, it is also packed with beasts from Greek, Egyptian, Mapuche, Inuit, and Slavic mythology (and many more), plus crazy sci-fi creatures and and odd occult horrors.  As I read on, I knew I had to create a metric that I could use to review each monster individually and compile them to get a sense of how useful the bestiary was overall.  The results are below.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Monster Monday: Ketos, Sea Monster of Divine Retribution

Today's Monster Monday is the ketos, an ancient sea monster from Greek and Biblical mythology.  This is the monster that Poseidon sent to eat Andromeda, and that Perseus petrified with Medusa’s severed head.  The ketos is also frequently shown as the sea monster that swallowed Jonah in late classical and medieval depictions of the story.  In both cases, it is a monster sent by a deity to punish the impious by eating someone.

Andromeda liberata da Perseo by Piero di Cosimo, via Wikimedia
Herakles, appropriating the myth of Perseus and Andromeda, apparently also rescued a princess from a ketos, doing so in true herculean fashion by leaping into its mouth and slaying it from within.  In 58 BC, the Romans put the bones of what they believed to be the ketos that Perseus slew on display during gladiatorial games.  The bones were described as “forty feet long, with ribs taller than an Indian elephant, and spines eighteen inches thick.” 

"Hercules Slays the Ketos" from vase painting in Athens, Stavros S Niarchos Collection.
Many medieval depictions of the inside of the whale emphasize its overwhelming heat, to the point where at least one such depiction has Jonah going bald from the heat.  In a late tenth century tale recounted by the French monk Letaldus, with parallels to the story of Jonah, a fisherman named Within is swallowed by a great whale and kills the whale by setting his boat on fire and attacking the creature’s insides with his sword.  After four days and five nights, he is washed up in the whale's carcass and emerges hairless.  The whale that swallows Within is likened to Scylla and Charybdis, and described “with snake-like teeth and with an ever gaping gullet, a gullet that could tumble entire cities to the underworld.”  

Photo by wmpearl, via Wikimedia
Jonah Cast Up, 280-290 CE, marble, late Roman, Asia Minor, Cleveland Museum of Art
The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2015 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Improved Armor Tables Part 5 - Heavy Armor

This is part 5 of my ongoing series on improving the armor tables.  Unlike my Fixing the Weapons Table posts, these changes should be considered entirely optional and a GM should carefully consider whether they want to use them in their game, because it might mean a lot of tweaking stat blocks behind the scenes.  These changes are designed for GMs who love history and want their fantasy worlds to be a little more grounded in it.

This week's subject is heavy armor.  This is the armor for those who can afford it, for while it may be more restrictive and, well, heavier than other armors, the protection it provides is second to none.  In the category of heavy armor, we have banded armor, bronze plate, mail-and-plate, heavy mail, bronze panoply, plate, and full plate.  This is armor for your characters that can take a beating and give one back in return: your stalwart legionnaires, your axe-wielding sea-raiders, your shining knights errant, and your bloodthirsty horsemen of the steppe.

Fans of plate armor will be pleased to see that, in these tables, plate and full plate offer more flexibility than they do in Pathfinder or D&D 3.5.  This is some of the best armor ever made, worn by the wealthiest warriors of Europe.  They would not have fought in it if it restricted their movements and limited their ability to fight.  It may have been heavy, but the way it was made and worn distributed its weight across the whole body, making it feel lighter than mail.

Read on to see the stats for all these armor types and learn more about them.  As before, I have provided some historical information with each armor entry in order to aid the GM in determining which armors would fit best in a particular campaign setting.

The following items and rules in gold and their accompanying tables are available as Open Game Content under the OGL.  Open Game Content is ©2015 Jonah Bomgaars and d20 Despot.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Traps 103 with Dr. Henry Jones, Jr.

Paramount Pictures
Welcome back, class! I know it's been a while since our last two sessions, so I hope you took good notes.

Today I'll be talking about how a GM can make detecting and disarming traps more interesting in-game.  I won't be using so many examples from the Indiana Jones movies this time around, because I can only think of one time Indy makes a Disable Device check.  When he is approaching the Breath of God trap in Last Crusade, he ducks, grabs a rope, and hooks it onto a spinning wheel, causing the trap to grind to a halt.

Paramount Pictures
Last time around, I closed by talking about making complex death traps that seem more like puzzles in how the players interact with them.  So why don't we expand that principle to all traps?

I've noticed that in my games, both as a player and as a GM, traps are not always well integrated into the play experience.  A typical trap encounter might go something like this:
Rogue: I open the chest!  Wait, first I should check for traps.
GM: Roll for it. 
Rogue: *rolling* 13... so that's a... 27 all together. 
GM: Alright, you're pretty sure that if you open the chest it will stick you with a poisoned needle. 
Rogue: *rolling* I got a... 31 to disarm. 
GM: Wow.  Okay, you stick your thieves' tools in there and disarm it.  
That's a pretty boring interaction.  Most of it is just calling out numbers, which is not something the in-game character would even be aware of.  This is a failing on my (the GM's) part.  When I include a trap encounter, I need to set it up through description.  To do that, we'll need to delve deeper:

Monday, October 26, 2015

Grasping Dead, Skull Bomb, and Gaze of the Dead: Three New Necromancy Spells

Just in time for Halloween, here are three new necromancy spells.  The first, grasping dead, is the necromantic equivalent of entangle.  It causes corpses in an area to become uncomfortably handsy, grappling any nearby creatures.  The second spell, skull bomb, charges a skull with volatile amounts of negative energy, turning it into a dangerous bomb, trap, or thrown weapon.  The third, gaze of the dead, turns the eyes of basilisks, medusas, and other gaze-happy creatures into floating, necromantic weapons.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL.  Open Game Content is ©2015 Jonah Bomgaars and d20 Despot.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Improved Armor Tables Part 4 - Medium Armor

This is part 4 of my ongoing series on improving the armor tables.  Unlike my Fixing the Weapons Table posts, these changes should be considered entirely optional and a GM should carefully consider whether they want to use them in their game, because it might mean a lot of tweaking stat blocks behind the scenes.  These changes are designed for GMs who love history and want their fantasy worlds to be a little more grounded in it.

This week's subject is medium armor, more protective than light armor but less restrictive than heavy armor.  We've got leather plate, wooden slat, scale, light mail, jazerant, brigandine, and lamellar.  These include some of the most widely used armors from history.  Lamellar, for instance, was used from ancient times through to the 19th century, in places like Central Asia, Byzantium, and Tibet.  Some armors are more obscure, or more limited in geographic or temporal range; jazerant was largely a Middle Eastern variation on mail, though the Japanese later got in on it as well.

Brigandine is one of my favorite armors, but it is one that often goes overlooked.  Because the actual metal of the armor is concealed (except for the rivets attaching the plates to the cloth backing), it doesn't show up well in historical illustrations and it lacks visual appeal for Hollywood and for fantasy illustrators.  Medieval drawings of soldiers in brigandine armor were probably the inspiration for 'studded leather armor', the fictional type of armor so popular among Victorian medievalists, RPG designers, and Hollywood costume departments.  Nonetheless, brigandine was an incredibly effective and popular style of armor, and I hope it will become so in your games as well.

Read on to see the stats for all these armor types and learn more about them.  As before, I have provided some historical information with each armor entry in order to aid the GM in determining which armors would fit best in a particular campaign setting.

The following items and rules in gold and their accompanying tables are available as Open Game Content under the OGL.  Open Game Content is ©2015 Jonah Bomgaars and d20 Despot.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Sandbox Campaign Part 16: Assault on Castle Drenn, Part 2

This is part 16 of my ongoing Sandbox Campaign, also known as the Graverobbers Campaign, after the appellation of the group whose adventures it chronicles.  

When last we saw the Graverobbers, they had infiltrated Castle Drenn, stronghold of the bandit queen Thalestra and her wizard consort Xericos, who the Graverobbers presume to be the mysterious 'X' who has been antagonizing them.  The bulk of the party assaulted the rear courtyard of the castle, burning, slashing, and otherwise killing an encampment of ogres led by Grist Halfogre and a number of defenders of the castle walls.  Kat, Daphne, the wizard Cole, and a dozen rescued prisoners secured the town outside of the castle's walls.  Sigrid, meanwhile, spent most of the battle invisibly exploring the castle, scouting out a number of rooms and stumbling upon a few fairly unsettling inhabitants.  In the end, Kat got bored of securing the town and bluffed her way into the castle, Rikkette used a magic jar spell to inhabit the body of a guard and jump into the spiked moat, Monty killed Grist Halfogre, and the remaining defenders of the castle walls surrendered.  Then Sigrid put on a belt looted from a dead ogre and was turned into a man.

And now:
Click for big

Monday, October 5, 2015

Monster Monday: Fomorians - Horrific Giants of Irish Mythology

Today's Monster Monday is the dreaded fomorian, a race of deformed and hideous man-eating giants that were the inhabitants of Ireland before the Irish.  Well, they were the first inhabitants of Ireland, then the Firbolgs came, then they were both conquered by the Tuatha Dé Danann, and so on, but you get the picture.

The Fomorians by John Duncan, 1912 - via Wikimedia
Fomorians are generally depicted as having all manner of crazy mutations; some of them have one arm, some of them have one leg, some of them even have a goat head!  The king of the Fomorians back in the day was the dreaded Balor (modern Irish spelling: Balar, which I use to avoid confusion with D&D's Balrog knock-off), who had a single eye that destroyed all that he gazed upon, wilting crops, blasting through rocks, and laying waste to armies.  He was finally killed when his grandson, the half-tuatha-dé-danann-half-fomorian Lug, struck him in the eye with a slingstone so hard that it exploded out the back of his skull and killed twenty-seven warriors who were standing behind him.

Fomorians have been statted up for Pathfinder in Bestiary 4, as a type of titan.  I'm presenting my own take on them here, partly because I will never run a campaign in which a CR 22 monster shows up, and partly because my interpretation is a bit more in line with Irish mythology and D&D legacy.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2015 Jonah Bomgaars.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Improved Armor Tables Part 3 - Light Armor

This is part 3 of my ongoing series on improving the armor tables.  Unlike my Fixing the Weapons Table posts, these changes should be considered entirely optional and a GM should carefully consider whether they want to use them in their game, because it might mean a lot of tweaking stat blocks behind the scenes.  These changes are designed for GMs who love history and want their fantasy worlds to be a little more grounded in it.

This improved armor tables project has been a real labor of love for me.  I have poured countless hours into research, design, and revision that I honestly probably should have spent formulating my PhD proposal or writing thank you notes to my wedding guests.  But hey, I wouldn't be me if I weren't doing this.  What is the point of free time, I ask you, if not to spend it doing something which engages you, even if what engages you is reconciling a body of historical research with an RPG rules system and compiling the results on a table for the readers of your blog?

Now that my table is (mostly) complete, I've had a bit of a debate with myself as to how I should break it up to present to you.  Should I cram it all into one long post?  No, my posts tend to be overly long as it is.  Should I divide it in two, perhaps one post presenting prehistoric and Bronze Age armors and another presenting Roman and medieval armors?  Or perhaps divide it between primarily European and primarily non-European armors?  Finally, I settled on what is perhaps the most obvious solution: one post for light armors, one for medium, and one for heavy.  The deal was sealed when I realized that I had inadvertently made seven armors of each type.  The sixth and (possibly) final part of this series will go over a new set of rules for mixing together two armors to make a composite suit of armor.

The armors presented below and in subsequent parts probably shouldn't all be available in the same time and place in your game world.  After all, one would hardly expect a medieval German warrior to be able to purchase ancient Thracian bronze scale armor or 17th century Iroquois wooden slat armor.  For this reason, and for my own edification, I have provided some historical information with each armor entry below, in order to aid the GM in determining which armors would fit best in his or her campaign setting.

The following items and rules in gold and their accompanying tables are available as Open Game Content under the OGL.  Open Game Content is ©2015 Jonah Bomgaars and d20 Despot.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Monster Monday: Gobbits - A Swarm of Tiny Goblinoids

For today's Monster Monday, I'm adding a new member to the goblinoid family tree.  Gobbits are tiny, knee-high goblinoids that can form up into swarms and wreak havoc.

Warhammer gnoblar box art, via bibliotheque imperiale
My initial inspiration for these little guys came from the Warhammer universe.  Warhammer has a plethora of little goblinoid creatures, like gretchins, gnoblars (pictured above), grots, and snotlings.  Snotlings in particular captured my attention, because they are tiny little guys that attack in swarms.  I wanted something similar in my campaign setting, so years and years ago I statted them up under 3.5 rules as 'Glabouters'.  Glabouter comes from Klabautermann, a type of goblin or kobold from German mythology.  Upon reassessment, Klabautermänner should be nautical goblins or kobolds, which is pretty awesome, so I had to come up with a new name.  Gobbit fit because it sounds like a diminutive form of goblin, plus it is close to 'gobbet', meaning "a lump or chunk of something, especially of raw meat."

As an added bonus, the third definition of gobbet ("an extract of text, or image (especially a quotation), provided as a context for analysis, translation or discussion in an examination.") is a commonly used teaching and testing tool in history education, so naming a monster after it makes me happy.

Presented below are the stats for a solitary gobbit warrior and a mighty gobbit swarm.  I think a swarm of humanoids should feel different from a swarm of rats or vermin, so you may notice that the gobbit swarm is more versatile in combat, able to bristle with longspears and launch volleys of arrows.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2015 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, September 14, 2015

GotWK Campaign Part 7: Cold Iron and Hot Lead

This is an account of part 7 of my ongoing campaign set in my homebrewed wild west setting, Guns of the Western Kings.  Get caught up with the previous parts here.

Previously, in Guns of the Western Kings, our heroes were trying to make their way back to Fort Crawdon and the Sunbeam Silver Mine after an unusual subterranean steamboat ride took them far off course.  They fought off a bandit gang of coyote-folk who were trying to rob their train, only to arrive in Fort Crawdon and find they were wanted by the Deuclair Mining Company for failing to carry out their end of a bargain they had made earlier.  They fled into the woods and encountered a group of elves that they had also tried and failed to help, but were interrupted by a patrol of Deuclair Co. soldiers.  They fled deeper into the woods and were surprised to meet Heather's mom, a dryad, who told them that Heather's daughter was in grave danger.

And now:

Before Heather can absorb the fact that her mother is a dryad and her daughter is in the fey realm, the dryad has everyone link arms and pulls Heather, Theodore, Gudguníis, Face, and Rusty (and their horses) through her oak tree into the land of the fey.  They emerge, slightly dizzy from the experience, in a majestic wood.  The dryad introduces herself as Dervenn and explains that Heather's child, Annabelle (whose disappearance was Heather's reason for adventuring) has been living with her in the fey realm.  Because time passes differently in the land of the fey than it does in the mortal realm, Annabelle is no longer a child of eight, but a girl of seventeen, and quite the favorite at the Seelie court.  Unfortunately, her popularity has also made her a target; the goblin king Hizendis kidnapped her and took her to his lair - an ancient tower in the Forest of Twilight.  The tower, built by the ancient Dark Elves long ago, is reputed to have a corrupting influence on the fey, so none from the Seelie court have dared try to rescue her.  Hence why Dervenn had to reach out to the mortal realm.

Still reeling from the news that she is a changeling and her daughter has aged nine years since she last saw her, Heather heads off with the others across the fey realm.  After trekking for some time, they come to a patch of woods where the sky is dim and a foul yellow mist hangs in the air.  Above the treetops they can make out two towers.  They advance, but are distracted by a commotion to the right - two unicorns have wandered into a nearby swamp and become trapped in the sucking mire.  Suspicious of the trapped beasts, Face the pigtailed paladin detects their evil intent and the party simply walks away.  The evil unicorns, loathe to let their prey slip from them so easily, teleport out of the swamp and gore Face and Rusty.  They manage to fend them off, Face smiting them with her twin sawed-off shotguns and Rusty blasting them with fiery bombs, until the nefarious beasts are nothing but crispy, perforated corpses.  Rusty seems to recall that shadhavar horns can be very valuable evil spell components, and Theodore is all for taking them, but Face and Heather overrule Theodore's business plans and have the black unicorns burnt, horns and all.  Face makes camp there, unable to go further before she fully recovers from the shadhavars' poison.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Improved Armor Tables Part 2 - Shields

The stalwart knight raises his shield against the dragon's searing jet of flame.  Axe bites into shield as the two sea raiders begin a duel of honor.  The wild barbarians crash and break like the sea against the well-ordered legion's tight shield wall.  The brave warrior's crushed and bloody body is carried home on his shield.

Shields are an iconic part of ancient and medieval warfare, and naturally of fantasy roleplaying games as well.  They are also the subject of this week's Improved Armor Tables.  The last edition of Improved Armor Tables focused on the fantasy staples of hide and chitin armor, but from here on out they will largely be focused on bringing historical accuracy to the armor tables.  I have a degree in medieval history and I'm using it to shake things up in the world of fantasy RPGs.  Unlike my Fixing the Weapons Table posts, these fixes should be considered entirely optional and a GM should carefully consider whether they want to use them in their game, because it might mean a lot of tweaking stat blocks behind the scenes.  These changes are designed for GMs who love history and want their fantasy worlds to be a little more grounded in it.

In the d20 system, melee fighters face a dilemma: strap on a shield for a boost to your armor class, or leave that hand free to wield a two handed weapon - or maybe two weapons - to deal extra damage.  It's a trade off every RPG player is familiar with, but historically speaking it is not the only trade off about when to use a shield.  In ancient times, the Greek hoplite was the ultimate heavy infantry unit.  It didn't matter whether he was wearing bronze armor, leather or simple linen, as long as he had that great round bronze shield - the hoplon, the hoplite's namesake.  Think of Roman legionnaires and you'll probably picture them with those iconic tower shields, perhaps taking the impenetrable testudo formation.  The vikings had those round wooden shields, three feet in diameter and rimmed with iron.  But as time went on, the shields got smaller.  The long Norman 'kite' shield gave way to the smaller knightly 'heater' shield.  In the later Middle Ages, the small buckler - a foot or less in diameter - rose to prominence for foot combat.  As armor improved, cavalry and heavy infantry abandoned shields altogether, even in tournament jousts.  Why?  Because shields are heavy and cumbersome.  In ancient times, when armor was less advanced, larger shields meant more protection - for some warriors, a shield was the only armor they had.  But knight in full plate is actually more protected without a shield than with it because the shield weighs him down and slows his movements.

To reflect this, I have completely reworked shields.   They have gained a boost to AC, but have more taxing armor check penalties and max Dex bonuses.  There are more types of shields now, to reflect the greater historical variety of materials they were made from.  These different types are largely distinguished from each other by weight and by their hardness and hit points, which I have added to the table - this is important when someone tries to sunder a shield, or when you roll a natural 1 on a reflex save vs a fireball.  You will also notice that I have scrapped the light/heavy shield dichotomy.  There are now small and large shields (and tower shields), and light shields form a separate class of shield.  Read on to learn more!

The following items and rules in gold and their accompanying tables are available as Open Game Content under the OGL.  Open Game Content is ©2015 Jonah Bomgaars and d20 Despot.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Expect the Unexpected

One of the first things you learn as a GM is that the players will absolutely wreck all of your plans at the first opportunity.  You can never make a plan that takes into account every possible action by your players.  This is part of the beauty of tabletop roleplaying games.  This freedom is simultaneously one of the best things about being a player and one of the most difficult things about being a GM.  As a GM, how are you supposed to deal with it?  How can you expect the unexpected?  Today, we're going to look at just that.

We'll start with an anecdote:
My sister recently prepped and ran the first session of an urban adventure for two players.  The party's mission was to recover a valuable statue from the house of a wealthy merchant on behalf of its rightful owner.  She made it a very open-ended adventure with lots of room for the party to make and enact their own plans.  She expected the party might attempt to pull of a stealthy night-time burglary, try to bribe one of the guards, or simply rough up and intimidate the merchant.  She mapped out the merchant's house and came up with a system for determining where the guard would be at any given time during his nightly rounds, and where the merchant would be in town or in his house at any time throughout the day.  She made a list of DCs for all the different ways they might sneak into the house.  While carrying the statue, the DCs are increased by 5, and failure by 10 or more means the statue gets dropped.  All in all, it was a pretty solid set-up for a heist.

The players, of course, had different plans.  In broad daylight, they bluffed their way into the house to discuss tapestries, then cast a spell that let them search a room without being inside it and immediately found the safe in which the statue was hidden.  They bluffed their way into the study and accidentally disabled the alarm.  The skald summoned a dire rat in the streets as a distraction while the inquisitor disguised himself with magic, and they walked right out of the house with the statue.
I'm pretty sure adventurers would rule the world if they didn't have that nasty habit of getting eaten by dragons.

What can we humble, god-like GMs do in the face of creative PCs and their outside-the-box plans?

Monday, August 24, 2015

Monster Monday: Giant Otter and Dobarcu

For today's Monster Monday, we've got two big otters.  The giant otter is a man-sized Amazonian animal known to eat piranhas, black caiman, and anacondas (and now it can be your animal companion!).  The dobarcu, or otter king, is a bloodthirsty creature from Irish folklore that hunts the most dangerous game - man!

Photo: Frank Wouters via Wikimedia
I first learned of giant otters from a professor of mine who told stories about his research studying black caimans in the Amazon.  He mentioned that it was dangerous to go bathing or swimming there, not so much because of the caimans or the piranhas, but because of the giant otters.  They're fast and deadly, and they like to gang up on larger prey.  Modern giant otters range from 3.3 to 5.6 ft. in length, but before they were overhunted for their fur, large males could reach 7.9 ft.

Dobhar-cú (water hound) is the Irish word for otter, but folklorists and cryptozoologists (folklore enthusiasts who pretend to be scientists) use it (or the anglicized form 'dobarcu') to refer to a little-known creature from Irish mythology.  Also known as otter kings or an Irish crocodiles, there are stories of monstrous otters thinly spread all over Ireland and nearby islands.  The most famous and most detailed account goes thus:
In 1722, in Glenade (County Leitrim, Ireland), a woman washing laundry in the stream was attacked by a great beast.  Her husband went looking for her and found the dobhar-cú resting on her mangled and bloody body.  He grabbed his gun and shot it, but as it died it cried out for its mate, who came rushing up from the water looking for vengeance.  The man (perhaps with his dead wife's brother) fled on horseback to a nearby town 20 miles away, but the monster pursued him (or them) and he (or the brother) stabbed it with a spear (or dagger).  
The victim's tombstone still survives, with a carving of the monster getting stabbed:

No, it's not - as I first though - a dire scotty dog:
the bit at the front is a disembodied hand stabbing the beast.
Other accounts of dobarcu give its strange white-and-black coat, the fact that it can only be killed with silver like a werewolf, the idea that the beast's hide protects its wearer from drowning, and the story that anyone who kills a dobarcu will die the next day.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2015 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Improved Armor Tables Part 1 - Hide and Chitin

The ultimate expression of victory over a monster is not killing it or taking its treasure - it's making armor out of its hide.  Adventurers are bound to come across all sorts of interesting and thickly armored creatures that they might want to turn into armor - not only is it an excellent trophy of your victory, but it is also a great way to add a dash of unique flair to your character's look.  After all, who is going to forget the grizzled dwarven hero decked out in black beetle armor, or the salty sea captain wearing a cuirass made from the rubbery hide of a giant squid?

Presented here are rules for creating both hide and chitin armor with variable levels of protection depending on the natural armor bonus of the creature they come from.  After all, mammoth hide should be stronger and heavier than wolf hide, and ankheg armor is going to be more protective than a cave fisher breastplate.

The following rules in gold and their accompanying tables are available as Open Game Content under the OGL.  Open Game Content is ©2015 Jonah Bomgaars and d20 Despot.

Monday, August 10, 2015

GotWK Campaign Part 6: Chugga Chugga Choo Choo!

This is an account of part 6 of my ongoing campaign set in my homebrewed wild west setting, Guns of the Western Kings.  Get caught up with the previous parts here.

Previously, on Guns of the Western Kings: The party was caught in a conflict between a mining company seeking to re-open the Sunbeam Silver Mine and a tribe of elves who  guarded the mountain and claimed that mining there would unleash a great evil on the world.  In the midst of this, they took a side-quest to investigate a mysterious ore coming out of a Dwarven settlement.  There they met a new party member, Theodore the adventurous businessman, but they also discovered what it was like to careen down a subterranean river on a broken-down paddle-boat.  They ended up in the desert far to the south, and worked their way northwards via an exciting and dangerous cattle drive.  As they approached the city of Templeton, where they intended to catch a train, they noticed they were being followed by a group of canine-headed humanoids who always stayed just outside of rifle range.

And now:

After selling a load of accumulated goods in Templeton, including gnomish grave goods and a giant rattlesnake skin, the brave band of adventurers buys train tickets up to Fort Crawdon, hoping to finally get their plans back on track.  Heather especially was looking forward to it, since their adventures had taken her far away from the area where she was hoping to find her missing daughter.  It is a short train - two boxcars, two passenger cars, and a caboose.  Theodore's horse, Bucephalus, rides in one of the boxcars. Bjorn and Falco ride with the incapacitated Dawne and Ash in the frontmost boxcar, as the railroad wouldn't allow the tomb-cursed duo to sit in the passenger cars.  Heather, Theodore, Gudguníis, and Rusty take their seats in the passenger cars and the train chugs northward through the prairie.

Rusty was the first to notice a rider out the window - a lithe humanoid with the head of a coyote, armed to the teeth and riding with purpose.  He recognizes it as a wayaha, a race of roguish tricksters native to these lands.  Although the wayaha are a tribal people, they are quick to take up new ways of life, and many have been drawn to the way of the gun and become bandits and rustlers.  Gudguníis grabs his rifle and rushes to the back of the train, hoping to pick them off from the caboose, but as he passes into the second passenger car he sees the door to the caboose slide open and a coyote snout poke around it.  The wayaha bandit steps into the train car, brandishing a pistol, and calls out, "Your money or your life!" before Gudguníis blasts him with his rifle.  The coyote-man slumps back against a train bench, clutching his chest wound, fires off a shot at the half-elf rogue that misses by a foot, and collapses to the floor.  The door to the car slams back open and a burly, tough wayaha warrior, bristling with orangish fur, muscles his way in and blasts at Gudguníis with his shotgun.  Heather rushes into the car behind the half-elf and dives for cover behind a bench, calling out to the cowering civilians in the car to stay behind cover or flee to the next car.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

History vs. Fantasy: The Plight of the Gaming Medievalist

Readers, there is something that has been weighing heavily on my conscience for a long while now, and I think it's time I finally came clean:


Chainmail is just called mail!  Studded leather armor doesn't exist!  Longswords and greatswords are the same thing; what you call a longsword is actually an arming sword!

Whew, glad to get that off my chest.  Now let me explain...

As an avid tabletop fantasy RPG player and a bona fide medievalist, I often find myself torn between two worlds.  On the one hand, I know that the magical and imaginative world(s) of Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder are not - and should never be - accurate simulations of the medieval world that they imitate, if only for the fact that magic and dragons and orcs never existed.  On the other hand, I know that the key to good worldbuilding is to ground your world to some extent in reality, and for me the best way to do that is to use what I know of medieval history as a foundation to build upon.  Since I literally know more about medieval history than 99% of the population (even if I am toward the bottom of that 1%), I sometimes come across pieces of the game - be they rules, items, lore, or what-have-you - that strike me as, for lack of a better term, innacurate.  I sometimes find it difficult to take off my historian hat and put on my fantasy hat.  Can't I just mash them together into some sort of awesome new hat?

by DucttapeNinja at Instructables
This baby would have really helped me study for my Latin final
History is not fantasy, and fantasy is not history.  But that doesn't mean that the two are mutually exclusive.*  No one thinks the events of Game of Thrones are actual historical events (at least I hope they don't), yet it frequently becomes a point on which medievalists and the general public engage with each other about actual medieval history.  No spoilers, but toward the end of Season 5 of the show, an event happened which ignited much debate across the internet, including much discussion about whether the event in question was historically accurate.  This - again - despite the fact that Game of Thrones is a fictional story set in a fantasy world that no one believes is real.  Why?  Because actual medieval history informs Game of Thrones and - to a much greater extent - A Song of Ice and Fire, and that worldbuilding foundation makes George "Reading Rainbow" Martin's fictional world so much more compelling than, say, Generic Fantasy World 27B1X.  A Song of Ice and Fire is, at some level, a meditation on the nature of power, so it makes sense to set it in a world of feudal obligation where a ruler's ability to garner support is dependent on his personal relationships and his attempts to please his barons.  This sort of 'realistic' fantasy, set in a world that owes more to the Middle Ages than to Middle Earth, has really struck a chord with people, and as a fan of both fantasy and medieval history, I couldn't be happier.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Snake Attack! Snake Venoms Revisited

Raiders of the Lost Ark - Paramount Pictures
"Snakes.  Why'd it have to be snakes?"
"Asps.  Very dangerous... You go first!"

I was researching snake venom recently (as part of my ongoing effort to make my search history as incriminating as possible) and decided snake venom in Pathfinder needed to be revised.  Venomous snake bites in Pathfinder all have the same effect - Constitution damage.  In reality, venomous snakes bear neurotoxins that slowly paralyze their prey, hemotoxins that cause tissue decay and uncontrollable bleeding, and mixes of the two, with dendrotoxins and cytotoxins and other heinous crap thrown in for good measure.

Dexterity damage seems like a good choice to simulate neurotoxic paralysis, and Strength damage and Bleed work well for Hemotoxins.  A few choice status effects like 'sickened' and 'nauseated' serve to simulate the wide range of other symptoms snake bites can induce, including rashes, dizziness, tunnel vision, soreness, and, of course, nausea.

Snake venom is slower-acting and longer-lasting than what the viper stat block would have you believe.  I made the frequency for most snake venoms "1/minute" instead of "1/round", but where many snake venoms may last "for six rounds", my venoms are endless.  You gotta make those saves or you will die ...eventually.  That means a fight against snakes at the dungeon entrance might still be affecting you deeper in the dungeon.

There are two main types of venomous snake: vipers, which include rattlesnakes, adders, and pit vipers; and elapids, which include cobras, coral snakes, mambas, kraits, and sea snakes.  Elapids tend to have neurotoxins, with the more dangerous ones (black mambas, for example) having a sprinkling of other toxins.  Water snakes are neurotoxic, but because you are most likely to encounter them while swimming (a Strength-based skill), I made their venom deal Strength damage to heighten the danger.  Vipers, on the other hand, usually have hemotoxins.  Hemotoxins are slower-acting than neurotoxins (I gave them a frequency of 1/hour instead of 1/minute), so vipers tend to strike and fall back, tracking down their victim later, after they have succumbed to the poison.  Fun fact: vipers can track their prey by the smell of the chemicals in their bites.  Scarier vipers, like the mojave rattlesnake, also have neurotoxins in their bite.

I've also added a new mechanic to add variable degrees of failure to saves against venom.  Now, if you fail your save, you take the venom's effects, but if you fail your save by 5 or more, you take a worse set of effects.  For instance, a coral snake's venom deals 1d2 Dex damage, but a failure by 5 or more leaves you paralyzed until your next save.

Enough discussion.  Like cardiotoxin, let's get right to the heart of the matter.

The following rules and poisons in gold are available as Open Game Content under the OGL.  Open Game Content is ©2015 Jonah Bomgaars and d20 Despot.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Not so Black and White: In Defense of the Alignment System

"Always consider alignment as a tool, not a straitjacket that restricts the character.  Although alignment defines general attitudes, it certainly doesn't prevent a character from changing his beliefs, acting irrationally, or behaving out of character.
- 2nd Edition AD&D Player's Handbook

"Each alignment represents a broad range of personality types or personal philosophies,
so two lawful good characters can still be quite different from each other.
- D&D 3.5 Player's Handbook

What is your GM's alignment?
There is a current of thought in the RPG-playing community that D&D's classic nine-part, Good-Evil/Law-Chaos alignment system is outdated, overly simplistic, restrictive of roleplaying, or just plain bad.  This is not a new complaint - it has been around since the first time a GM who had just learned about moral relativism in his Philosophy 101 class looked at his group's paladin and said, "Well in this country it's illegal to not kill babies.  What are you going to do?"  To this day, there are GMs out there who pull out all the stops to make every paladin fall just because they think Lawful Good is an unattainable alignment.

When you are told, "Here are the nine things you can think.  Have fun roleplaying!", then yes, that seems overly restrictive.  But that view of the alignment system is overly simplistic (Ironic that accusations of being overly simplistic themselves come from an overly simplistic view.  And doubly ironic that I am presenting such a view in an overly simplistic manner.  But let's continue, before I am buried under a pile of my own straw-men).  Alignment is really a two-axis spectrum broken down into nine parts for ease of use.  Different viewpoints are possible within any given alignment, not just between two adjacent alignments.  And it is possible for a Lawful Good character and a Chaotic Good character to see eye-to-eye on a situation, just as it is possible for two Lawful Neutral characters to have completely different takes on the same situation.

It is important to think of the alignment system as descriptive, not proscriptive.  That is, the thoughts and actions of your character define your alignment, your alignment doesn't define the thoughts and actions of your character.  The alignment written on your character sheet is a measure of your character's actions to this point, or perhaps represents the goal that your character strives for.  Furthermore, a character's position on the alignment spectrum is fluid, not fixed.  It is constantly shifting about as he or she makes new decisions, is confronted with new choices, and has moments of introspection.  A Lawful Evil character may slip up with a few Chaotic (or even Good) acts before steering back to LE.  Some of the best roleplaying moments can come from a character's journey through a change in alignment.  After all, what is drama without character development?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Late Post This Week

Greetings loyal readers and first-time viewers!  This week I am writing a column about the alignment system.  Unfortunately, it has been so hot out recently that neither my brain nor my computer have been functioning properly (and I have to prep for tonight's Guns of the Western Kings session), so the blogpost won't be going up until... let's say Tuesday.

See you then!

Hey, did you know that it's been one year since d20 Despot joined Patreon?  If you like what I do and want to reward me for doing it, please consider becoming my patron.  You can give as little or as much as you want, and there are settings that let you limit how much you give per month so you don't go over your budget.

And if you can't afford to patronize me, but still like me enough to want to help out, share this website with others!  Share your favorite posts on your favorite forums!  Use my monsters or weapons or tables in your games!  Leave a comment on my blog and tell me what you like or don't like about my work!  It all helps.

-your heat-sick d20 despot

Monday, July 13, 2015

Critical Hit Tables - Scaling Crits for Weapons and Spells

Critical Hit!  Those two words can make or break a tough battle, depending on what side of the GM's screen they come from.  Recent editions of D&D have tried to simplify crits, making them deal max damage every time.  If you are like me, that's no fun.  Getting a critical hit is all about rolling on tables to see what crazy thing happens.  Will someone's armor get broken?  Will someone lose an eye?  Dare I mention the fabled instant death critical?

My main impetus for making these tables was my growing frustration with the GameMastery Critical Hit Deck.  Too often would a player draw a result that was less than spectacular, or didn't make sense in the situation, and it was easy to forget to step-up the damage result if the weapon had a x3 or x4 crit value.  Plus, should 'Severed Spine' and 'Lip Cut' really have the same 1-in-52 chance of turning up?  When it comes down to it, it's a lot more satisfying to roll dice on a table than to draw a card.

This set of critical hit tables is built with the assumption that you will be using weapons with x2, x3, and x4 crits, with higher crit values providing better chances of getting better crits.  If you are lucky, you'll get to roll for an additional effect on one of three separate tables (one for each damage type: bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing), with effects ranging from 'Bad Bruise' and 'Disarm' to 'Punctured Lung' and 'Temporary Amnesia'.  Plus, there's a Magic Crit table, with results broken up by spell level (0-2, 3-5, and 6-9), because what kind of GM would I be if I didn't give you a chance of summoning a gelatinous cube every time you cast scorching ray?

Enough preamble; let's take a look at these tables!  Below, you'll also find guidelines for their use, and optional rules to make things even better.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Monster Monday: Draugr - Hulking Undead Viking

Today's Monster Monday is a draugr, the powerful undead of norse folklore that can enlarge itself and crush a horse to death.

photo by Geoff Dallimore, via Wikimedia
A burial mound - probably chock full of draugar
I recently returned from honeymoon in Iceland, where I spent a lot of time reading about Icelandic mythology and folklore (because that's what you do on honeymoon).  It reminded me of my pledge in a previous article to "stat up a real draugr for a Monster Monday sometime."  Draugr, you may have noticed, have already been statted up for Pathfinder twice (once in Bestiary 2 by Paizo, once in the awesome Tome of Horrors by Frog God Games).  The problem with these is that they have almost nothing to do with draugr legends.  The draugar of Bestiary 2 are just waterlogged zombies that nauseate with their attacks.  At least they pay lip-service to their viking origins by giving them greataxes, which, while not strictly Viking weapons, are at least more Vikingy than the cutlasses the Tome of Horrors draugar are armed with.  "Yarr, matey, I be a draugr!  Bring me Cap'n Jack Sparrow!"

I suggest calling those draugar 'drowned dead' to distinguish them from the scarier, more well-researched draugar I'm about to present to you.  The draugar you find in Icelandic sagas and folklore are more than just waterlogged zombies - in fact, all the draugar I know of stalked the land, not the high seas.  Draugar can change their size to become massive, are strong enough to break every bone in a horse's body, and are devilishly hard to get rid of.  They are solitary undead, but they can make their presence known across whole communities with their deadly hauntings.  Only the bravest heroes dare pit their strength against a mighty draugar and live to tell the tale.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2015 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Monster Monday: Chindi - Ghostly Navajo Dust Devils

Today's Monster Monday is the chindi, a vengeful spirit from Navajo mythology that can take the form of a dust devil.

NASA/U. of Michigan
Yep.  That's a ghost alright.
The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2015 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Monster Monday: Ammit - The Deadliest Egyptian Chimera

Today's Monster Monday is the Ammit, a soul-devouring creature from Ancient Egyptian mythology with the head of a crocodile, the forequarters of a lion, and the hindquarters of a hippopotamus - the three deadliest creatures in Egypt.

Photographed by the British Museum, via Wikimedia
The artist didn't know what a hippo looked like sitting down, so he was just like, "F*** it - stubby legs"
The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2015 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Sandbox Campaign Part 15: Assault on Castle Drenn, Part 1

This is part 15 of my ongoing Sandbox Campaign, also known as the Graverobbers Campaign, after the appellation of the group whose adventures it chronicles.  

When last we left the Graverobbers, they had attacked a prisoner of war camp run by the sadistic succubus Galvessa.  Monty, the armor-plated dwarf, had fallen under her sway and been granted an infernal boon to his strength, but soon broke free of the evil demoness' influence and turned his axe on her.  She teleported away, abandoning the POW camp to the adventurers.  Among the rescued prisoners were Sir Hugo of Granz, a Kaldish knight, and Cole Diaz, an old acquaintance of the twins Kat and Daphne.  He had been captured while trying to search them out in hopes of impressing Daphne with his wizarding abilities.  Armed with a crude map of the general area of the bandit queen Thalestra's domains, the party decided the best course of action would be to turn south and assault Castle Drenn.  Long ago, you'll remember, the Kaldish Emperor had charged the Graverobbers with retaking that very castle, promising the knight Sigrid and her paladin husband Hardrig lordship over the fortress and any surrounding lands they could conquer.

After resting and reaching level 10, the party heads south along the road to Castle Drenn.  They reach the bridge that they bypassed last time and decide to cross it, partly because they feel sorry for the lonely bridgekeeper, partly because they now have a small force of 16 freed prisoners of war trailing behind them.  The bridgekeeper comes out, eyes them appraisingly, and asks ten gold per head to cross.  Kat tells him, "Look, we're heading to Castle Drenn to kick Thalestra's butt.  My friend Sigrid back there is gonna be, like, queen of this whole place!  If you let us cross, we'll make you a baron."  Sigrid instantly objects, saying she won't make a promise she can't honor.  Kat backpedals, using her foreign accent to feign misspeaking.  Hoping to hurry things up, Rikkette walks up to the bridgekeeper, reaches into her coinpurse, and pulls out "SURPRISE COLOR SPRAY!"  The blinded bridgekeeper reels back, fleeing toward his hut and calling for 'Trillby'.  From beneath the bridge, a hulking river troll pulls itself up onto the wood, growling menacingly.  "You pay now or Trillby smash!" it growls in Kaldish.  Rikkette runs off, clutching a gem, then slumps over, apparently passed out with fright.  What she did not tell the party was that she took magic jar when she leveled up.  Unaware of Rikkette's plan, the party lays into Trillby.  Monty and Sigrid fire flaming arrows.  Zel enlarges Cameo, and the now elephant-sized bird swoops in and claws at the troll.  Kat casts dancing lights in the troll's face, and Cole hits it with as scorching ray.  When Rikkette's mind finally finds its way into the troll's body, the monster is unconscious.  Cameo drags the troll off the wooden bridge so they can properly blast it with fire.  One flame strike later, Rikkette wakes up in her gnomish body, having experienced death for a second time.  The party passes on, leaving the bridgekeeper to mourn his monster.

The saddest scene in Return of the Jedi, © 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm Ltd.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Random Minion Motivation Table

"Aim for the big one!" yelled Daltos, hurling a spear at the largest orc.  "If we take out their leader, they'll crumble!"

The rest of the party followed suit.  Grim plunged two bolts from his magic crossbow into the hulking orc chieftain, and Ylvessa charged in and finished the job, hacking off his green head with a swift blow of her scimitar.  

Some of the orcs did as Daltos expected and fled back into the cave.  Some, but not all.  An unassuming orc spearman let out a terrible cry.  "You killed my brother, you elf witch!"  He ran up to the corpse, grabbed the chieftain's warhammer, and brought it down squarely on Ylvessa's surprised head.  

"Rally to me, you cowardly scum!" barked another.  "Unlike that dead idiot Gorflegg, I'LL lead you to victory!"

Then came the shout that Daltos disliked most of all.  Echoing from deep in the caves, an orcish voice called, "C'mon boys! Let's grab the treasure and run!"


Any good adventurer knows that discretion is the better part of valor.  But what about the minions that they fight?  Some GMs will drag a battle out until every last mook on the battlefield has dropped below 0 hp, other GMs realize that their goblin horde might rather flee than face the whirlwind of death that is a well-prepared adventuring party.

If you want to go a tiny bit more in-depth, check out this table of random minion motivations:
The idea is simple.  During battle, if a major morale-shattering event happens (such as the death of the enemy leader or an attack that kills more than half of the enemy minions), roll 2d6 for each minion to see what his motivation is here, and judge from that what its action will be.

There is a lot of room for GM interpretation, of course.  This is a GM-ing aid, not a new rule-system.  If the minions in question are soldiers in an evil warlord's army, and you roll that one of them is "Only there to protect a loved one", you might decide that he's there to look out for his kid brother who is fighting alongside him, in which case he might fight hard long after the evil warlord is dead just to keep his brother safe.  On the other hand, a cultist in a death cult who is only there to protect his kid brother might grab his brother and flee at the slightest opportunity.

A fanatical believer might fight to the death for his cause, but a true believer, not blinded by outright fanaticism, might see the value in withdrawing to fight another day.

I chose to make it a 2d6 table because it results in a nice bell-curve, as those of you who have attempted to settle Catan will well know.  I didn't want a flat d6 or d10 table, and I thought a d% table would be too complicated for consulting in the heat of battle.  I think the 2d6 bell-curve makes for a quick and easy table with a lot of potential depth.

Sorry for the short post this week.  Life is busy, and it's so hot in Seattle right now that my rapidly decaying computer is threatening to catch aflame.

-your in-it-for-the-money d20 despot

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

GotWK Campaign Part 5: Desert Dungeon and Cattle Drive

This is an account of part 5 of my ongoing campaign set in my homebrewed wild west setting, Guns of the Western Kings.  Get caught up with the previous parts here.

When last we left our heroes, they had just crashed their bedraggled steamboat in a desert canyon, far to the south of anywhere they wanted to be.  Narrowly escaping a swarm of flesh-eating giant freshwater crabs, they found themselves facing the steep wall of the canyon they were trapped in.  Following a crumbling staircase carved into the rock, they came upon a cave, littered with shards of pottery, but large enough to rest in.  Before them looms a circular stone door ringed with strange glyphs.  In its center, a carved skeletal figure hanging upside down over a river, its dark maw open wide, as if waiting to swallow something.

We now return you to the adventure already in progress...

Photo: Tigerhawkvok via Wikimedia
Intrepid Theodore leads Big Bjorn, Falco the Flexible, Rusty the prospector, and the half-elf rogue Gudguniis in scaling the face of the cliff.  Ash the sharpshooter, Heather the hedge witch, Face the pigtailed paladin, and the newly-adult sorceress Dawne, meanwhile, attempt to figure out how to open the circular door.  They figure something needs to go in its gaping maw, but what?  Dawne shines a light in its mouth, revealing only a fist-sized smooth stone concavity.  Ash tries sticking his hand in, and when that doesn't work, he cuts his finger and rubs the blood inside.  Finally, he pours some whisky in there, and the door slowly rolls open.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Monster Monday: Mantis Shrimp - The Fastest Claws in the Sea

Today's Monster Monday is the giant mantis shrimp, a man-sized version of the little rainbow-colored tropical shrimp that can punch so fast they boil the water around their claws and create a shockwave, and whose eyes are so good they can see colors we can't even imagine.

photo by prilfish from Vienna, Austria, via Wikimedia
If you've been on the internet in the last few years, you may have noticed a growing interest in these fascinating, terrifying, badass little rainbow murder shrimp.  Now you can bring that interest to your gaming table!

photo by SSR2000, via Wikimedia

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2015 Jonah Bomgaars.