Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Tempting Traps

I like traps, to the point where I have written about them three other times.

As a DM, part of my job is to design adventure sites and encounter areas, which means traps.

While 'gotcha' traps have their place, I firmly believe that traps are far more entertaining when players know there is a trap and willingly trigger it.  These traps use bait to tempt the players and through them, the PCs. 

I'm talking about situations where the DM describes the scene and the players turn to one another and say 'you all know this is a trap, right?  Who's gonna trigger it?'  More vocal players may start voicing ideas about what might happen - and if those ideas are better than yours, there is no shame in using them.

Overall, these are traps that cannot be disarmed, only ignored and walked away from.  The last part is key - the PCs can clearly ignore the bait and continue forward or head back, if so inclined.  None of these baited traps should block forward movement.

Some may cry foul at the breaking of the fourth wall or some such, but the reality is that all these elf games are for the players to play, and for many, these traps make for a good session.  

As a player, I love encountering these situations in game, trying to balance my curiosity with my desire to have a PC survive.  Then again, risk big, win big, so I tend to give in - mostly with sensible precautions.  

Grafdigger's Cage by Daniel Ljunggren


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Here are d10 examples of such baited traps.

1. A glowing sword pinning a fanged and horned skeleton to the wall.

2. A door hastily spiked shut, with the words DANGER and KEEP OUT scrawled across them.

3. A sarcophagus that is chained or caged shut, perhaps with muffled sound coming from it.

4. A sealed door with a curse (probably in rhyme) chiseled into it. 

5. The 'helpless' person begging for help from the middle of a pentagram/pentacle (I get these two confused).

6. The glowing gem on the pedestal.

7. The floor covered with either sand or knee deep in bones.

8. Waist-deep, murky water with a shiny prize at the far end.

9. A corpse seated on a throne, grasping something valuable (a jeweled scepter or crown, perhaps).

10.  The glowing portal in the wall, with visions of a far better place beckoning from the other side.


From the movie Conan the Barbarian

There is no doubt that something will happen when the item is grabbed, the portal opened, or the ground trod upon, but just what that something might be is unknown to the players until they mess with it

Goblin Punch writes about what is tested in an encounter, and in that vein, these traps all test the players - do they stifle their curiosity, missing out on danger but the likely reward, or do they give in and maybe get killed in the process.

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What types of baited traps have you used in your games?  Or had used against you?

Friday, April 19, 2024

Magic Item: Ring of Shadows

Occasionally referred to as Lightbane, the Ring of Shadows is a tarnished silver band that feels chilled and greasy when first donned.  Runes of power etched upon it can be seen to glow a noticeable blue when the ambient temperature is below 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-17 Celsius for my metric readers).

It radiates necromancy and illusion magic under a Detect Magic spell or its equivalent.


Attunement: this is a permanent loss of 1d4 Constitution points as it binds itself to the flesh of the fool being that slips it upon their finger.  Even if the ring is successfully removed, those Constitution points are gone.

Passive Powers: once attuned, the wearer gets Advantage on all hiding-related checks.  In addition, shadows shift about the wearer, granting them both an AC bonus as well as Advantage on intimidate checks in dim light.

Activated Powers: the wearer can shadow walk, at the cost of a Constitution save.  Failure to save (DC 12) means an exhaustion level is acquired upon exit from the shadows.  The wearer can bring others with them on this shadow walk, if all involved are holding hands.  The ring-wearer must make saves for each additional person on the walk; these saves increase by 2 each time, so taking three people on a shadow walk requires four saves (the wearer and three companions) at DC 12, 14, 16, and 18.   

Shadow Walking allows quick transit, up to 50 miles per round moved.

In addition, the wearer can sever a sentient being's shadow, resulting in the being going increasingly mad as their shadow darts around them and taunts them from a distance, because it has limited freedom and sentience.  Others can plainly see the shadow moving of its own accord and act accordingly (probably in a fearful fashion). This is a slow process, and mechanically, this madness manifests as the being refusing to rest until it reattaches the shadow (impossible without magic), gaining a level of exhaustion per day until death, spending all of their energy focused on the shadow, to the point of not eating.  Then they rise as a free-willed shadow of maximum hit dice.

Manifestations: the wearer's breath is always visible, as if breathing out on a chill frosty morning.  This is noticeable to anyone with eyes. In addition, shadows within 30' of the wearer dance and twist of their own accord, as if trying to attach themselves to the wearer.

Drawbacks: While living, the wearer suffers Disadvantage to all rolls in daylight. When the wearer dies, they become a shadow with maximum hit points and twisted memories of the past, leaving them convinced that their former allies (the surviving PCs) were at fault for their death and undeath.  As such, they can be used as a source of information about said allies, but only the most potent of necromancers can bind them long enough to gain that knowledge.

The ring can only be removed by severing the living finger or removing it from the shrunken husk of a corpse.   Furthermore, those who die while wearing the Ring of Shadows can be neither resurrected nor reincarnated under normal circumstances.

Research suggests that traveling to the Underworld and making a trade with the God(dess) of Death can restore a person lost to the Ring of Shadows to life, but the same research suggests that the cost is more than most mortals are willing to accept.

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For all its over-reliance on rules and books and more books, 5e's exhaustion is a lovely mechanic.  

Even more lovely is the idea of advantage and disadvantage.  I daresay this is both elegant and easily portable as a houserule into other systems.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Creative Updates

Just a short bit on my current goings-on, creatively speaking.  

I have about 50 started and unfinished blog posts in various degrees of completion, most of which are elf game-related, the rest being about MtG.

My YouTube channel continues apace, and I've added a new segment titled Ben Reads.  

These are longer videos where I read aloud, and so far it's been a pair of Rose Estes' Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books and an Alan Dean Foster short story.  

Frankly, I'm enjoying making these videos as they give me a chance to revisit old favorites. 

My goal is one or two such videos per week - I have many favorite short stories!

So this is what I've been up to: Ben Reads

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In order to make this post somewhat usable, I recommend browsing the Wilds of Eldraine: Enchanting Tales card art for inspiration - you'll be seeing some of it on my future blog posts.  The non-Anime style art, at least.

Here are some of my favorites.












Saturday, February 17, 2024

Rumor Tables and Thieves Cant

Thieves Cant has historical roots, and in theory, heavy roleplaying groups use it at their tables, which is actually pretty awesome.  My group is not counted among that number, and that is fine.

I began reading this post at A Knight at the Opera and felt inspired.  Then I finished reading the post and am thrilled that my inspiration isn't lifted wholesale from the post.  Be sure to take the time to read that post though, as its worth it to Gamemasters of all stripes.

My default table rule for rumor tables is that each PC that begins a session in an urban environment gets to roll 1 + Charisma modifier (but at least 1) time on that area's rumor table.

Since larger towns and cities of all sizes have thieves' guilds - this is a fantasy game, after all - this means lots of people using Thieves Cant.

My new house rule is that rogues and others familiar with Thieves Cant get an additional 1 + Charisma modifier rolls on the rumor table, if only because the more interesting information, game-wise, tends to be known and whispered about by the seedier elements of the town. 

This might cut in a bit on the bard's role as an information gatherer, but I don't really mind, as they still learn several rumors each time (is there such a thing as a noncharismatic bard?) and they can use their class-specific skills to focus on whichever rumor(s) the PCs pursue.  

I like it because it doesn't require anyone to learn new slang unless they want to do so, and it makes it more worthwhile to be a rogue of some sort.




Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Sentient Items and the Spirits That Inhabit Them

Several years back, I wrote - at length - about sentient items, to include a few examples.

In a way, this post is both summation and refinement of that post. 

A sentient amulet named The Mouth of Mimulus, from the book Return to Brookmere

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d10 Possible Spirits Providing Sentience

1 - a bound Celestial, willingly there to ensure a greater goal is achieved

2 - a bound Devil, tries to force bargains before using abilities

3 - a bound Demon, finding brief pleasure in monkeypawing the wielder's intents

4 - a Fey Spirit, determined to the make the most of its condition

5 - a Dragon, benevolent if metallic, maleficent if chromatic

6 - a bound Elemental, most likely a Djinn or Ifrit

7 - a normal animal, acting on instinct

8 - a Sphinx, speaks in riddles but knows much

9 - a ghost, perhaps of the first person slain by the item, its first wielder, or its creator

10 - a PC class, deliberately slain in the crafting process to inhabit the device


d10 Agendas Items Pursue Especially When Dominating Wielder

1 - Freedom - either through trading places, destruction of the item, or merely traveling extensively

2 - Vengeance - against a place, a cause, a faith, a family, or an individual

3 - Chaos - death and destruction for its own sake - the more grand, the better

4 - Self-Preservation - survival first, which may involve cowardice or acting in extremis

5 - Genocide - including forced suicide if a member of the race it hates tries to wield it

6 - Assist - it wants to help a place, person, cause, or faith and ensures they are helped

7 - Guide - the item leads (or drives) wielders to a specific place or conclusion

8 - Rule - the item wants to rule, and will do so through the wielder

9 - New Experiences - lives vicariously through its wielders, and after several centuries, is quite jaded

10 - Wealth - either in decorations for itself or donations to a cause or faith

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Share your favorite sentient item stories in the comments, please.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Magic Item: Wheel of Fortune

The Rules Cyclopedia never fails to reveal something new with subsequent readings.  This time, I found the Wheel of Fortune on page 242, between Wheel of Floating and Wheel, Square.

Wheel of Fortune, by Daniel Gelon

The best part of the item description is this:
If desired, the wedges may be numbered from 1-20, 1-100, or some other conveniently determined number, and a chart may be made with more varied results.

That's right - customization is encouraged.  The basic Wheel of Fortune provides 6 positive results and 6 negative results, so an equal amount of both types of results makes complete sense.  

Looking at other BECMI and BX sources, we see that eating rock chips in B1 and drinking from a fountain in B5 both provide random effects (d20 and d8, respectively).  What all three have in common are the number of ways to raise and lower various (or all) attribute scores. B1 and the RC both provide free treasure in the form of cash, gems, and even minor magic items, as well as take it away.  It's worth noting that BECMI doesn't have a Deck of Many Things (at least the Rules Cyclopedia doesn't), but that is a similar item worth looting of ideas.

Using all these as potential sources, I have this as my draft expanded d20 Wheel of Fortune.

It features 10 positive and 10 negative results, with source in parentheses.

1 - Subtract 1 from each ability score (B5)

2 - Add 1 to each ability score (B5)

3 - Subtract 1 from Prime Requisite (RC)

4 - Add 1 to Prime Requisite (RC)

5 - Permanently lose 1d4+1 hit points (B5ish)

6 - Permanently gain 1d4+1 hit points (B5ish)

7 - Gems on person crumble to dust

8 - 3d10 gems appear in your mouth, stuffing your cheeks.

9 - Jewelry on person turns into cheap costume jewelry worth nothing.

10 - 2d4 pieces of jewelry appear on your body.  

11 - Coins on person turn to lead.

12 - Coins rain down from above! type 1d8 1-2 copper, 3-5 silver, 6-7 gold, 8 platinum; 1d4 thousand copper and silver, 1d4 hundred gold and platinum.

13 - The least valuable magical item carried by spinner disintegrates (RC).

14 - A random weapon carried by spinner gains an enchantment (B1ish).

15 - Cursed! Roll on the Cursed! subtable below (B1ish).

16 - Blessed! Roll on the Blessed! subtable below.

17 - All nonmagical items carried and worn disintegrate into dust (RCish).

18 - All nonmagical items carried and worn become the finest quality possible, to include changing materials and workmanship.  

19 - Spinner dies.  No saving throw. (RC)

20 - Grants a wish, and the spinner knows it and can use it whenever.


Cursed! (d8) Note that a Remove Curse spell will suppress the curses for a time, but a true cure is required to finally be rid of each curse; knowledge of the true cure comes with the curse.

1 - Lycanthropy - d8 1-3 Wererat, 4-6 Werewolf, 7- Weretiger, 8- Devil Swine.

2 - Slow Healing - magic only heals 1 hp per casting; normal healing takes twice as long.

3 - Berserker - when combat begins, won't stop until all around are down, allies included.

4 - Unlucky - rolls disadvantage on all rolls.

5 - Marked - Charisma effectively reduced to 5 for reaction rolls, loyalty checks, and such.

6 - Hunted - something wants you dead - and it's coming.  DM choice of monster.

7 - Polymorph - d8 1-6 turn into a talking normal sized animal; 7-8 turn into a monster.  DM choice.

8 - Geased! - DM choice of what the spinner MUST do.


Blessed!

1 - Polyglot - gains the ability to speak and understand (but not read) 1d6+1 additional languages.

2 - Sniffer - can smell metal with concentration, as per the detect metal ability (like a magic sword). Full disclosure, I lifted this entry from the Idalium Story Hour on Dragonsfoot.

3 - Healer - can lay on hands to heal a person of disease, blindness, poison, or damage. 1/day

4 - Confident - Charisma raises to 18 for reaction rolls, loyalty checks, and such.

5 - Caster - can cast one useful spell per day: d6 1-3 Detect Magic, 4-5 Continual Light, 6 Knock

6 - Nature's Friend - animals are friendly towards you; you can Speak with Animals at will.

7 - Lucky - roll all nonattack and nondamage rolls at advantage. 

8 - Regenerate - as per ring; note that weapons that damage regenerators affect you, now

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It occurs to me that a group of enterprising (and morally questionable) individuals, be they PCs or organized bandits, might force captives to spin the wheel to harvest the treasure they may generate.

After all, the rules themselves state:

A charmed creature cannot move the wheel, and each user can spin the wheel only once per day. p241

So anyone not charmed can spin the Wheel of Fortune.  Everyone else, though, can.

Forcing captives at swordpoint to spin the wheel results in wealth-farming.  Yes, the captives may die, but I don't see that being an issue to bandits (or many PCs).  Why, an enterprising sort may even charge others for a spin, while a scholarly sort might try and document likely effects to 'find the pattern'.  Canny individuals will eventually realize the bad spins that disintegrate wealth and items only affects items carried, so stripping naked mitigates those rolls.  

If only using the book version of the Wheel of Fortune, there are 4 (out of 12) chances to score wealth: 1,000 gp OR 10 garnets OR a brooch OR a miscellaneous magic item.  These treasures just appear.  Me being me, I'd argue that this treasure comes from somewhere, likely a nearby dragon hoard or the treasure vaults of someone or something powerful.  As written though, they just materialize through the power of magic.  

Those wanting to cheat the house through telekinesis, other magic, or outright damage to the Wheel find that it all fizzles.  All magic but a wish - wishes involving the Wheel of Fortune in any way cause it to disappear, but for good or just teleporting away to another location, the rulebook doesn't say.

The rules do specify that the wheel weighs 20,000 coins (2,000 pounds) and can only be moved by a creature with 26+ HD or levels, meaning that only the most powerful PCs are going to be able to move this into their strongholds, and then only by brute force, as the wheel is immune to pretty much all magic.  A mean translation suggests that even draft animals won't help, as they lack the HD.  

It would be far simpler for PCs to turn the location of the Wheel of Fortune into their stronghold; it would likely be cheaper, as well.

A Cursed! but Wealthy regular spinner of the Wheel of Fortune

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A bonus entry I am not sure where to put:

Dragon - a rift opens above you, streaming down thousands of silver, gold, and platinum coins, as well as dozens of gems and pieces of jewelry. With this wealth falls 2d4+1 magic items.  You dream at night of flight and flame, and find yourself changing ... shifting ... into a red dragon in 1d8 days.  The DM takes control of this now-NPC.

Sunday, January 7, 2024

Campaign Journals

There is something about a well-written campaign journal or log that is better than just reading a book.

I've read several over the years, and the single major drawback to reading campaign logs is that they - by virtue of being logs of games played at the table - tend to never reach completion, generally because the game itself falls to the vagaries of life.   So there is no satisfactory ending, just a stop in posting.

Despite this, I love reading them, and as I discovered a new log this weekend - one spanning 70+ sessions - I wanted to share: The Nightwick Abbey Campaign (the author of Nightwick Abbey is at In Places Deep).

You might be thinking that this is livestreamed games in written form, and to a degree that is correct.  At the same time, written logs are so much more, because it cuts out all (or at least much) of the real world, leaving only the in-game fiction. 

So here are some of my favorite campaign logs, and sources for more.  Reading through them will eat up your time, but they are strangely satisfying and certainly inspirational for your own games.

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Favorites:

Idalium, a B/X megadungeon campaign

The Extraordinary Delving and Cartography Company

Appendix P Party in Appendix A Solo Dungeon

Piratecat's Story Hour

The Long Stair part 1 - not exactly a campaign log, though it reads like one

The Long Stair part 2

Note that I am a thesis away from a Masters in Creative Writing.  The fiction I was writing was basically the Long Stair - and then I discovered these two threads and just ... stopped.  There is no way I could continue with that out there, now heavily influencing me.  Such is life.

Second note - Konsumterra has developed a Long Stair-related pdf if this setting catches your interest, there are several session logs at Elfmaids & Octopi, as well.  

Sadly, several of the tales I remember most have long disappeared into the digital graves that all such writing eventually enters.

Additional sources: Dragonsfoot and ENWorld

All that said, what are your favorite written campaign logs or story hours?