Sunday, April 26, 2015

Non-Combat Travel Encounters: Stone Cairne

Non-combat Travel Encounters: Stone Cairne

Stone Cairne - a pile of stones is spotted along the side of the road. Roll for its contents and origin. Roll 1d10.
1 - Burial cairne. A corpse was buried under this pile of stones. A fresh corpse may indicate bandits are nearby, or indicate a mysterious murder. An older corpse may bear treasure, or rise an attack as an Undead creature of the appropriate level.
2 - Traveler's Shrine - The cairn is an offering, usually to a god associated with travel or protection. Stones are carried from place to place and added to cairns by wandering pilgrims. Adding a stone to the cairn if one has been carried from your previous destination may grant a blessing (Inspiration). Removing stones or destroying the cairne may incur Misfortune (disadvantage on a roll of the DM's choice, preferably in an appropriate situation) or summon the shrine's guardian. Stones may have messages or prayers carved or scratched into them, and odd or rare stones are sometimes found among the cache.
3 - Food Cache - Some large semi-intelligent creatures (ogres, hill giants, various beasts and magical beasts) will create food caches by taking recent kills and covering them in rocks, preferably in cool locations. The cairne stinks of rotting meat, and a few minutes of excavation could turn up anything from a deer carcass to a piece of a human leg. A few scavengers might be around, and disturbing the cairn may arouse a hunt for the offender once discovered.
4 - Equipment Cache - Barbarian tribes, merchant caravan companies, local rangers, explorers, and bandits all sometimes store extra survival equipment in cairns from time to time in case of emergency or accident. These are found at designated rally points or landmarks throughout their territory or else alongside well traveled roads and paths. Expect to find one or more Explorer's Packs, plus the possibility of a tent, extra rations, or even a map of the area. It is considered good manners to use such a cache only when needed and to notify its owner that it was depleted- preferably with payment in full- and the people that left it may not take kindly to encountering their emergency gear in the hands of thieves.
5  - Flint Tools - A local stone-age humanoid tribe (some orcs, goblins, and barbarians, bullywugs, lizard folk, etc.) uses this outcropping of native stone as a source for arrow heads, fish hooks, knife and axe blades, and other necessities. Players may be able to fashion equipment using tool proficiencies or Survival at the DM's option. The cairn itself is made up of discarded flakes and partially crafted tools that were discarded when flaws in the stone were discovered.
6 - Earth Shrine - Similar to a Traveler's Shrine, but dedicated either to a god with the Earth domain or to the element of Earth itself. Making an offering at the shine gives Inspiration that can be used to cast earth-related spells or to attack Air elementals. Disturbing or defacing the shrine may summon a guardian elemental or Outsider.
7 - Broken Colossus - The pile of stones is actually the remains of a gigantic stone creature- maybe a stone golem or earth elemental. Detect Magic reveals faint elemental magic or enchantment on all the stones as appropriate. They have no mechanical properties in and of themselves, but they may be prized by alchemists, golem builders, or other collectors or useful in as a reagent for magical contructs. The remains could be the result of an ancient battle, or a recent creation.
8 - Gizzard Stones - The stones are all very smooth, as though they have been sitting in water. In fact they are gizzard stones disgorged by a giant bird (like a Roc or Giant Eagle) or some other flying monster that tends to swallow its prey whole (could include Dragons and Wyverns). The stones make great sling bullets (though they do smell a little like rotting meat), and indicate that something liely keeps a hunting ground nearby.

Monday, March 09, 2015

[5e] Bronze Age D&D: Rules for low tech weapons

Metalworking was considered more akin to magic than technology for much of its history. During the early Bronze Age, you had cultures that were still chipping axes and clubs out of flint living alongside cultures that had mastered smelting, casting, and other complex techniques of metal work. Supplies of important ores were highly localized and trade was slow and dangerous.

Krynn, the setting for the Dragonlance books and game modules, is one example of a campaign world where metal scarcity was an issue. Athas, the Dark Sun setting, was another. Both games had rules to deal with metal scarcity- Krynn replaced gold with steel as the most valuable currency in the world, and 2nd edition Dark Sun had rules for stone, bone, and obsidian weapons. Telling players what metals weapons are made from can add color and detail to the game world. It can also reflect cultural differences in game- maybe a remote island has plenty of tin and copper, but no iron ore. Maybe the local tribe of hobgoblins has learned the smelting and casting of bronze, but has been denied access to more advanced metalworking technology (which they would happily kill to acquire).

Making antagonist weapons bronze or other inferior materials can also discourage players from hoarding the gear of fallen foes, if you'd rather not bother with encumbrance rules. By the same token, a player who loses their primary weapon and has to survive using an inferior one taken from a fallen foe or enemy weapon store can make for some interesting drama.

Rules for Bronze Age-style Weapons

Default weapons are bronze. On a critical failure (rolled a 1 when rolling without disadvantage), the weapon is damaged. Attack rolls are made at disadvantage, and damage becomes 1d3. This penalty persists until the weapon is repaired by a metal smith, requiring access to a forge, anvil, and metal working tools. If the weapon is damaged again before it is repaired, it is destroyed.

Masterwork weapons (double cost) are made of iron and are not subject to breakage.

+1, +2, +3 weapons are made of steel and not prone to breakage.

Iron and steel weapons must be sharpened regularly to retain any bonus to hit and damage. This is assumed to be done during short or long rests, provided you have a whetstone. Bronze weapons rely more on weight and geometry than on a fine edge, and so don't need regular maintenance.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

[5e] Goblin Assassins

Here's some stats for a goblin assassin- mine are acting as spies for  well-organized Hobgoblin mercenary company that is working for the main antagonist in my game, but they could easily be slotted in as Dhakaani goblins for a Eberron campaign.

Goblin Assassin (Rogue 3)
Medium Humanoid, Neutral Evil
Armor Class: 13 (leather)
Hit Points: 15 (3d8)
Speed: 30 ft.

Str 8 (-1) Dex 15 (+2)  Con 10 (0) Int 10 (0) Wis 16 (+3) Cha 7 (-2)
Saving Throws: Dex +4, Int +2

Skills: Stealth +6, Perception +5, Acrobatics +4, Investigation +3, Athletics +3, Sleight of Hand +4
Senses: Darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 15
Languages: Common, Goblin, Thieves Cant
Challenge: 1

Sneak Attack +2d6 damage 1/round against targets the Goblin has advantage against
Cunning Action: The goblin can take the Hide, Dash, or Disengage action as a bonus action on each of its turns.
Assassinate: The goblin has advantage on any creature that has not yet taken an action in combat. In addition, hits against surprised targets are automatically critical hits.
Poison: Many goblin assassins use poison, particularly on their darts (which are often used to cover an escape). Carrion Crawler Mucus (DMG), Serpent Venom (DMG), and Basic Poison (PHB) are all common.

Dagger: Melee or Ranged Weapon Attack, +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., range: 20/60, one target. Hit: 1d4+2 Piercing damage.

Darts (5): Ranged Weapon Attack, +4 to hit, Range 20/60, one target. Hit: 1d4+2 Piercing damage + poison (see below)

Description: While Goblins are not known for being particularly well-focused on any particular task, their natural small size, natural stealth, and basic self-centered ruthlessness can make then useful spies on assassins for a leader who has sufficient strength of will and arms to keep them in line and compel them to stay focused on their mission. Goblin assassins are much more grim and focused than the average Goblin, keen observers who prize their own survival and always have an eye out for potential targets or ambushes. Goblin assassins prefer to strike when their target is totally helpless, infiltrating towns or camps under cover of darkness and having no qualms about killing sleeping victims. Their equipment depends on their mission, but often includes poisons and caltrops that are used to cover their escape in the event that they are discovered or interrupted.

Vows and Codes of Conduct [5e]

Tying game abilities to behavioral restrictions has always been a bumpy road, but I think the new rules provide some interesting options.
Consider a simple code of conduct for a monk or priest:
  • No touching money (coins).
  • No touching members of the opposite sex out of combat.
If you violate either of these strictures, you lose:
  • You proficiency bonus
  • Any unspent spell slots
Until your next Long Rest (which you must spend meditating and doing penance, but you can still regain spells as normal- you don't have time to do anything else, however).
Couple of points:
  • Keep rules concrete and few in number
  • Doesn't have long-term alignment impact- that is a different ball of wax
  • Doesn't cripple you by removing all abilities, but is serious enough to not be used willy-nilly
  • Restoration is low-impact, but not automatic (because you have to make it until your next safe spot for a long rest)
Likewise, you can take on optional strictures (like "no edged weapons" or "no metal armor"). Doing so gives you Inspiration at the end of the next Long Rest (provided that you didn't break a mandatory vow during the same period).

Monday, January 26, 2015

[5e] Lost Mines of Phandelver Maps

Acriaos on /r/dnd put together this collection of maps for use with the Starter Set adventures: Lost Mines of Phandelver maps. They are cool.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Character Concepts for a Quickplay Game

Here are some fast (but interesting) character concepts that you can use to quickly bring together a new group of players, particularly folks new to the game. Let everyone pick their own names and decide their relationships, etc, but provide them with all the mechanical decisions (Race, class, background) ahead of time.

The group concept is a group of bandits/mercenaries left together at the end of a long war. Some of these were inspired by characters in the movie Kundo: Age of the Rampant.

Warrior Monk
Race: Human
Background: Soldier
Class: Monk
Alignment: Neutral Good

You served as a chaplain in the army, fighting alongside your fellow soldiers and tending to their wounds and funerals during pauses in the fighting. Because of your lifestyle, you are more rough around the edges than the typical monk, but still respect your superiors in your order.

Outcast Noble
Race: Human
Background: Noble
Class: Fighter
Alignment: Lawful Good

Your father was an aristocrat, and your mother was a village girl who died in childbirth. Your father remarried for money and prestige, and you were eventually replaced by a new noble-born heir and sent off to seek your fortune in the world. You have studied war and combat since you were tall enough to hold a sword, and naturally expect others to follow your lead.

Camp Follower
Race: Half-orc
Background: Urchin
Class: Rogue
Alignment: Chaotic good

You grew up an orphan, raised in the baggage train of an army or mercenary company, following along as it moved between garrisoned towns, frontier villages, and restless cities. You lived on what you could beg or steal, sneaking into besieged towns to find secrets to sell to the commanders and robbing the corpses of the dead. Your manners appall civilized people, and you are probably more used to running from or undermining authority than obeying it, but you grew up in an egalitarian society of orphans and beggars where the older children made sure that the younger ones got to eat.

Race: Half-elf
Background: Outsider
Class: Ranger
Alignment: Neutral Good

You grew up in the wilderness, maybe living in an isolated cabin or living in tents as you migrated between pastures and hunting grounds. From the time you could walk you were at home in the wilderness, able to live off the land as easily as most people would live in a hotel. You were hired by an army to serve as a scout, seeking out enemy camps and ambushes and finding paths through the wilderness.  You speak few unnecessary words and think civilized life is soft and boring, but you are curious about the world and enjoy meeting new people and seeing new places.

Race: Elf
Background: Scholar
Class: Bard
Alignment: Chaotic Good

Most who know you know of you only as an entertainer, singing songs around the campfires at night in exchange for coins and drink. The soldiers and their companions enjoy your songs, but regard you as strange and alien, unsure why one of the mythical Fair Folk has joined their number. In fact, you are far more than a mere minstrel- the full Elven name for your vocation is something like 'witness to the strife of the short-lived races'- and you regard it as something of a sacred duty to witness and record the short, passionate lives of mortal armies in story and song. Your long life grants you a unique perspective on the struggles of your companions- others regard you as cold and strange, but in truth you are stirred deeply by the struggles of those around you, a fact that emerges primarily through your music.

Changeling Messiah
Race: Gnome
Background: Folk Hero
Class: Sorcerer
Alignment: Chaotic Good

You Human parents found you hidden in a concealed nook in an abandoned village- you had clearly been placed there for your protection, but the village had been abandoned for days by the time your parents found you. Thinking at first that you were just an unusually small child, it soon became apparent that you were something very different. The people in your remote village regarded you at first with fear and mistrust, but then began to think that they had been favored by the gods when your magical powers began to develop. A cult developed in the village centered around you- you were pampered and catered to to the best of their meager ability- but once you had outlived your aging parents, you grew restless and left to seek your origins, much to the dismay of your worshipers. You are brash and used to being treated as a god, but ignorant about the ways of the wider world. You fell in with a group of mercenaries or bandits when they found you amusing and noticed that people you don't like tend to burst into flames. They treat you as a kind of mascot, trying to keep you away from the real fighting but letting you act out symbolic victories like burning the enemies banners or making enemies swear their parole oaths to you.

Friday, December 26, 2014

5e Class Summaries for New Players

The Classics

The classic D&D party consists of four classes:
  • Fighter (front-line combatant & general muscle)
  • Cleric (healer, secondary melee combatant, magical utility)
  • Rogue (ranged/opportunistic combatant, non-magical scouting and utility)
  • Wizard (ranged combatant, magical scouting and utility)
Each of these classes is very broadly defined and can be effective in pretty much any environment or situation


In Combat: Clerics are capable combatants, able to wield many different types of weapons and armor. Traditionalist clerics employ only blunt weapons. Clerics can also offer prayers to their patron (a god, goddess, saint, or philosophical principle) to heal their friends or smite their enemies- they are particularly good at destroying the undead and other other-worldly menaces.

Out of Combat: Clerics can ask for aid from their church as long as their mission is in accordance with its principles- the church may chose to provide as much as an army or as little as a bowl and a robe depending on the worthiness of the cause, the reputation of the cleric, and their resources. Clerics can pray to their patron to heal wounds or diseases, provide food or shelter, or seek portents of the future. They also likely know the lore of their church or people.


In Combat: You are a master of all forms of armed and unarmed combat, and adept at employing any conceivable weapon or armor that you might encounter. You can specialize in a type of fighting at which you are particularly adept, and can keep yourself alive despite significant wounds.

Out of Combat: You are well-versed in tactics and strategy- you can spot favorable terrain, defensive choke points, ambush opportunities, etc., by inspecting your surroundings. You know the customs and culture of army encampments and how to make a living as a hired sword. You are good at identifying objects that are both small and valuable.


In Combat: You are skilled with a number of light, easily concealed melee and missile weapons, and you are particularly good at striking from concealment or when an enemy is distracted. You are comfortable in light armor, but find heavier protection too constricting.

Out of Combat: You are a master of stealth and deception, able to sneak past guards, pick locks or pockets, and disable traps and alarms. You are good at recognizing valuable loot. Your criminal background may provide opportunities to find new work or buy and sell rare or illegal goods.


In Combat: Your more powerful spells can kill or incapacitate multiple enemies at a time. Your weaker magic can provide you with a fair chance of defending yourself at a distance. You strive to avoid melee combat at all costs- you are more likely to wear armor backwards than correctly, and likely have only basic skills with a few rather non-threatening weapons. You are prone to dying without prior warning.

Out of Combat: Your spells can pierce the boundaries of time and space in pursuit of knowledge or power. You know a wide array of magical lore that may contain arcane secrets, forgotten history, or forbidden wisdom. You spend most of your spare time studying.

The Specialists

These classes can be thought of as specialized versions of the classic four- they trade a little overall utility for versatility or excellence in a particular area. Barbarians excel at close melee combat, but have a narrow range of tactics available to them compared to fighters. Monks ecel at unarmed combat and can make decent scouts, but lack the selection of weapons, armor, and tactics of the fighter or the focused specialization of the rogue. Rangers provide extra utility in a wilderness situation at the expense of overall combat options. Sorcerers have a narrower range of spells compared to other primary spell casters, but gain some versatility. 


In Combat: You are a a fierce but undisciplined opponent, throwing yourself into combat with reckless abandon. You are familiar with most weapons, but prefer to stand toe-to-toe with an opponent while wielding a huge two-handed weapon. You are particularly adept at avoiding damage while wearing little or no armor.

Out of Combat: You have keen senses that make you adept at noticing danger, like traps or an ambush. You are good at shrugging off the effects of poisons and diseases, and difficult to hold o restrain. You likely grew up in the wilderness, and are skilled at surviving both in the wilds and
among the hardened people who live there.


In Combat: You are a master of the martial arts, being as or more effective bare handed at dealing and absorbing damage as most people are cased in steel and armed to the teeth. You are highly proficient with a small selection of deceptively simple melee and thrown weapons. You are adept at performing complex maneuvers (like flips, kicks, etc.) in combat.

Out of Combat: You likely belong to an order of warrior-monks, who you can seek out for assistance, wisdom, or further training. You may also know the philosophy and lore of your order, which may contain secrets about the world. You move quickly and can make an excellent spy or scout.


In Combat: You can wield only a few basic weapons and shun armor in favor of magical attack and defense. You have a narrower selection of spells, but can change them up on the fly (unlike wizards, who must prepare their spells in advance).

Out of Combat: You are charismatic and find it easy to socialize with and manipulate others. You likely know some arcane lore or the history of your patron power.


In Combat: You are familiar with a wide range of weapons, and may specialize in a preferred form of fighting. Almost all rangers maintain some skill with bows of some type.

Out of Combat: You are at home in the wilderness, and are particularly skilled at navigating and foraging in unfamiliar terrain. You can recognize important or edible plants and animals, natural hazards, signs of animal or monster dens, and track a quarry through any imaginable terrain.

The Utility Players

These classes can fill any of a variety of roles, and are common either as '5th party members' or to fill multiple roles in a smaller party. Bards bring a mix of magic, rogue skills, and combat utility and excel in social roles. Druids blend the wilderness expertise of a ranger with the spell casting and combat abilities of a cleric. Paladins combine some of the options of the cleric and the fighter and make excellent defensive fighters.


In Combat: You are a fair fighter with blade or bow, though you are most familiar with lighter, more elegant weapons. You can turn the tide of a battle at critical moments by inspiring your companions with your words or music.

Out of Combat: You excel at getting along with strangers and making new friends- you are also good at tricking or manipulating people. You know some minor magic that can be used to entertain, distract, or deceive. You have an excellent store of old stories, rumors, legends, and dirty jokes that can be used to recall facts about your environment or gain the friendship of primitive idiots.


In Combat: You are a versatile combatant, skilled with a small selection of traditional weapons. You can cast spells that call on the natural world to aid your allies or harm your enemies in combat, including healing wounds. At higher levels, you can transform into an animal and attack. You shun metal weapons and armor as much as possible.

Out of Combat: You know a great deal about the natural world and its inhabitants, and can survive there easily without any outside support. Your spells allow you to commune with natural spirits, seek portents of the future, heal the sick, etc.


In Combat: You are highly skilled with a wide range of weapons and armor, and are most comfortable fighting as a heavily armed and armored knight. You are skilled at fighting from horseback and battling the undead. You can heal your allies by calling upon your faith.

Out of Combat: You can detect the presence of supernatural evil, and heal your allies with your faith and prayers. You can call on other members of your faith for assistance in worthy tasks. If you are recognized as a member of a particular knightly order, you likely have a good reputation that proceeds you everywhere you go- except in evil lands, where you may be met with hostility or scorn.


In Combat: You iz muthafucking Skelator, yo! Zap things. Then zap them harder.

Out of Combat: I think you ride a bike or something.

Seriously, I've never played a warlock. Don't know anything about them.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Books of the Anvil - A Downtime Magic Item for 5e

The Books of the Anvil are a legendary collection of collected over the years by an unknown master
Dwarfish wizard. With typical Dwarfish ingenuity and discipline, he applied himself to cataloging magic with the same intensity of focus that a master smith would bring to a life-long masterwork.

Identifying the Books
Even to the untrained eye, this collection of 15 books (50 lbs total) appear to be of exceptional quality. Despite their antiquity, they are in exquisite condition. Each page is richly illuminated, with orderly black-on-white lettering interspersed with geometric designs and diagrams. To Detect Magic they give off an aura of mild divination and abjuration magic. Any wizard can immediately recognize that the books are all spellbooks, as can anyone making a DC 5 Arcana check. On a DC 20 Arcana check, you recognize the books as being those of a Dwarfish wizard. Anyone who knows the Dwarfish language and is of Chaotic alignment must make a DC 15 Wisdom save on first reading through the books or be blinded for 1d10 hours. Subsequent readings have no effect on a character who has been blinded, though overuse (described below) can still trigger blindness.

Using the Books
The Books of the Anvil use a highly complex magical encoding scheme to cram a seemingly impossible number of spells into 15 volumes. Unfortunately (for everyone but Dwarfs) this means that a great deal of math is needed to puzzle out the spell formulas, and a table of contents is neither included nor possible.

A wizard can chose to study the books for up to 8 hour per day. Time spent resting or adventuring does not permit proper study- the books can only be studied on 'days off', though other non-strenuous activities (buying supplies, resting and healing) can be undertaken. A wizard who attempts to study more than 8 hours in a single day becomes blind for 1d10 hours. At the end of 7 (cumulative) days of study, make a DC 15 Arcana check. On a success, the wizard has identified one spell that is stored in the book and can attempt to learn it and copy it into his spellbook as normal, paying the associated costs in time and gold. Determine the spell randomly. If the wizard chooses not to learn the spell, there is no guarantee that he will be able to figure out the encoding for that spell again- each time the wizard attempts to identify a new spell, the encoding for the previous spell is forgotten and a new spell is generated at random.