Monday, November 29, 2021

Too Much Magic?

This post is in response to a somewhat common Facebook question, a question I am glad to answer. 

There comes a time in many DnD games (and other RPGs) when the DM (or GM, if you prefer) sits back and thinks, 'well, shit. That thing I gave the party is far more powerful than I anticipated. How do I get it away from them?'

In most cases, the 'thing' involves one or more potent magic items.  One can be an issue, but in large groups - even without clever players - the power magic items grants seems to compound exponentially.  This is even more of an issue in 5e, which is 'balanced' based on PCs having no magic items at all.

The contents of one PC's Portable Hole?

Now, it doesn't matter how the party gained all these items, be it through generous loot or the existence of magic item stores, because the PCs have them now and that is the problem.

Thieves in the night (or capricious Wishes from greedy NPCs) works once or twice, and is overall an unsatisfying way to remove magic items from the game.  This is because it is too often a temporary fix, as PCs will scry the item and pursue the thieves until the item(s) is/are safely where they belong - in the PCs' hands.

So a more permanent solution is necessary.

Earlier rulesets had rules about items needing to make saves if their bearer failed a save, so a barrage of fireballs could generally prune the party of lesser items.  Mordenkainen's Disjunction was another means to permanently destroy a magic item.  Even the lowly Disenchanter and its appetite for magical auras provides a DM with a means to remove bothersome magic items from players.

Disenchanters.  Destroying magic items since 1981.  Artist?, Fiend Folio

The drawback to all these methods of item removal is that they come across as DM fiat or even adversarial DMing.  Nobody wants that in their game, not even the people that think fudging dice in combat 'for narrative reasons' want this.

So what is a poor DM to do?

That poor DM gets the players to dump the items themselves.  This opens up many doors and puts the onus on the players/PCs, rather than on the DM.  

Some examples:

Magic items in hand can be dropped and lost in a PC's haste to escape. Especially in deep water.  Doubly so if the magic item(s) is heavy, like a weapon, shield, or metal armor.

Magic items are the perfect gifts for potent beings, to curry favor or the like.

Magic items are ideal bribes to escape potent angry beings.

Magic items can be suitable trades for other items (a slippery slope) or specific, rare services.

Magic items might be an acceptable ransom for an ally or innocent. 

Magic items sacrificed on pagan altars or to power door locks or to run magitech machines for ... purposes.

Magic items buried with their owners are a fitting end, presuming your game lets PCs die, moreso if your game has a mechanic or reward for a proper Heroic Sendoff (in the middle of the post - an awesome houserule).

AD&D DMG, 1979

My experience is that players gripe far less when the choice is in their hands.

Even if that choice is a bit of a Faustian bargain.  Perhaps especially so.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Sentient Items

Sentient items - historically swords, at least in Dungeons and Dragons - are often a fun addition to a party's arsenal of oddities and options.  Moorcock's Stormbringer is perhaps the classic example, but it isn't always weapons that are sentient.  Fiction gives us Bob the Skull from the Dresden Files, as well as an odd Dragon Amulet from the Return to Brookmere Endless Quest book.  

A fun book from my youth.  As I recall, it features Tim Truman art - well worth the look.

Monte Cook extensively covered rules for creating sentient items in the Book of Eldritch Might III (compiled here with the first two books), and to be honest, that was what opened my eyes to the possibilities. (As an aside, I find all of the Malhavoc Press product I read to be inspiring, and if 3.x is your jam, I recommend looking into them).  

The point being that anything can be sentient, with a bit of effort and creativity.  

In addition to their powers and plusses, sentient items bring their own agendas and occasionally dominate their wielder, forcing the wielder to pursue said agenda.  On rare occasions, the item's agenda and the wielder's agenda match, so no domination is necessary.

Dancing Scimitar, Anson Maddocks, 1993

Still, the question of where the sentience comes from is there, hanging in the air.

The rules for 5e have a few suggestions: possessed, haunted by a previous wielder, or self-aware because magic.  These rules work, but there are so many more, entertaining options.

I'd argue that starting with who/what is providing the item's sentience makes a better start point for the item's abilities, personality, alignment, and even goal.

After all, there are a good many powerfully magical creatures in the various Monster Manuals to provide a source of magic.

Djinn, Efreet, Marid, and Dao provide elemental options and occasional wishes.

Celestials provide a myriad of powers, and a few might have deliberately chosen to be bound to the item.  Alignment of wielder matters to these items.

Demons, Devils, Yugoloths, and other Fiends bring their own powers to bear, but like the Celestials bound, alignment matters, in that these items actively strive to bring the wielder's alignment to match the item's.

Dragons, Sphinxes, Kraken, Morkoths, and all the other beasties out there that have intelligence of their own, some degree of power, and preferably lair actions.

A wide variety of fey beings and assorted faeries could make for interesting spirits.

Expanding on the official options means asking who/what has possessed the item, who/what is the item haunted by, and what type of magic can create a fully sentient creature (then again, that is the dream of AI, correct?)  

An item that is actually the phylactery of a lich (or a horcrux, ala' Harry Potter), provides an opportunity to redeem the lich or at least use its powers for good before it destroys you.  

Hauntings might be the creator, one (or more) former wielders, beings slain or corrupted by the item or some combination of the above.  Related to this may be the beings that were sacrificed in the creation of the item itself.  A blade called Mocker that is imbued with the spirit of a polyglot sarcastic bard that regularly uses Vicious Mockery on opponents and wielder alike is a fine example, as is the sword named Glory, created from a glory-seeking fighter (or perhaps crusader) that forces the wielder to attack the biggest thing in sight.

Something fashioned entirely from magic would be beyond mortal ken, though not divinely (infernally?) inspired accident.  This isn't to say such items don't exist, merely that mortals (like ALL PCs) won't be creating these items.  

The 5e rules linked above state that "consumable items like potions and scrolls are never sentient."  That is hogwash. Horsefeathers, if you prefer.  A sentient consumable spends its time either desiring a suitably dramatic consumption or begging for its life, such as it is, to be spared.  From the DM perspective, this can provide a wealth of entertainment. 

Sentient items can be delightfully one-dimensional in personality and committed to their agendas.  If ever in doubt as to how to portray an item, I lean on Telecanter's Creepy Commentary for inspiration.

With all this talk of sentient items, I should probably provide a few of my own.  Here are three:

Hemp: Hemp is a sentient CN 50' coil of Rope that functions as a Rope of Climbing as well as a Rope of Entanglement.   Hemp wants to be useful and regularly makes suggestions for use.  If ignored, Hemp will uncoil and 'do it myself' in a huff, moving like a snake towards its objective.  If Hemp feels unappreciated, it is not above slipping away in the night.  If truly offended, it will strangle its owner in the night before slipping away. 

The spirit of a Brownie is bound to the rope, the process shattering the fey's psyche in the process, but leaving its desire to be helpful.  Aside from its Climbing and Entangling, the carrier of Hemp has a strong urge to seek out and consume honeyed milk.

Thirst: Thirst is a sentient LE dagger, technically an athame or maybe a kris, due to the wavy blade (when in a mood, Thirst will argue this point).  Thirst enjoys the terror that killing defenseless sentient beings brings, and feeds on it, because a fiend is bound to the dagger.  

The bound fiend is an Amnizu, and as such, it communicates solely through telepathy, and takes delight in compelling its wielder to commit vicious murders, through Dominate Person if smooth words fail to work.  Its regular urgings (and subsequent murders) cause all sorts of complications.

Wielders benefit from innate knowledge of Infernal, Darkvision, an immunity to poison, and resistance to both fire and cold.  When murdering a bound and conscious victim, the wielder is not only Healed as per the spell, but also gains temporary +1d4 to a random stat (S, D, C, I, W, or Ch).  Yes, murdering several helpless beings allows for multiple stat boosts that can stack.  These temporary boosts last until the next long rest.

What Thirst really wants is to be set free from the bindings.  Destroying the dagger is the simplest means to do, but the bound Amnizu is incapable of telling anyone how exactly to destroy it. 

Fortunato: Fortunato is a sentient NE ceramic theater mask of a bearded man wearing an odd helmet. An ancient bard is bound to this mask (due to well-deserved divine curse, but Fortunato is unlikely to share that, preferring a different story that paints him as the victim). Close inspection reveals the mask had been painted in the past, and Fortunato would love to be painted in full color again (being quite vain).  When carried, Fortunato haunts the dreams and whispers in the mind of the carrier, urging them to don the mask.  When worn, Fortunato confers all the skills, abilities, and spells of a 13th level bard with an 18 Charisma and can (and WILL) speak on its own.  Ideally, Fortunato is able to dominate person the wearer and become the dominant member of the relationship.  If Fortunato feels that attempts to dominate may not work, it instead urges to 'let me do this for you,' and strives to ingratiate itself with its usefulness.

If Fortunato successfully dominates its wearer, the wearer spends all ready wealth on a long bout of debauchery, carousing, and other forms of excessive hedonism - all while wearing Fortunato.  Of course, when the wearer regains control (if the wearer regains control), they are the ones left to suffer the regrets and consequences of Fortunato's actions. 

Note that Fortunato will force dominated wearers to attack bricklayers and anyone offering its wearer Amontillado to drink.

It occurs to me that two of the three items above are likely to get the boot once their agendas are discovered, so here is a fourth that PCs are more likely to keep around.

Astrophel: Astrophel is a sentient LG hand mirror with a Planetar bound to it. 

The bearer of Astrophel is immune to poison and charming, resists radiant damage, and saves at advantage against gaze attacks.  When aligned with Astrophel's purpose, the wielder knows when it hears deliberate lies, and can see through illusions via True Seeing.  In addition, Astrophel will Commune 1/day, Raise Dead 1/day upon anyone reflected in the mirror, and provide Healing Touch to anyone that concentrates while looking into the mirror.  

Those that do not align with Astrophel's purpose (not necessarily alignment) only see their doom when they look into the mirror, as the Planetar truly knows the myriad ways the viewer is likely to die in any number of possible futures.

Astrophel's purpose is to throw down the unjust Tyrant King and his infernal allies.   

Overall, sentient items bring lots to the table, and can be an interesting way to increase the capabilities of a single or few PC campaign without too many NPCs.  

What sentient items have shown up in your games?


Saturday, October 23, 2021

DoMT: Talons and Ruin

A slow-rolling series of how the Deck of Many Things works in my homebrew world of Ironguard.  (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

Infuryana is an ancient red hellkite, spawned in the chaotic fire and madness at the beginning of the time, the template from which all stories of dragongreed (and other dragons) come.  Even Tiamat and Bahamut are respectful in her presence.

But Loki wasn't.  His bargain with her was that based on the cards, her hoard would increase significantly.  And over the centuries, it has.  He neglected to tell her that her hoard may shrink as well, as the cards required.  

She has vowed to deal with Loki eventually.

Talons:  All magic items you possess disappear, permanently.

Such items, be they on the person, loaned to another, or hidden away, immediately disappear, fading into nothingness, to reappear in the horde of Infuryana.  Observant card drawers have noted a rumbling laughter rolling through the air as their treasures disappear.  This laughter is Infuryana's gloating at her newfound loot.

Ruin: Immediately lose all wealth and real property.  (nonmagical wealth is specified later in the description.)

This card, too, is accompanied by deep peals of laughter, as Infuryana's horde increases by the amount the drawer has lost.  Granted, this only applies to monetary wealth and portable trade goods.  Property such as land and buildings suffer a disaster of some sort (infuriating the various deities of nature and specific places besides).  

Recovering lost wealth is ... not exactly impossible, but certainly improbable.  Other cards in the Deck of Many Things may recover, or at least replace the lost goods.  Wishes, divine boons from certain deities, and DM fiat also return treasured things.

In theory, diligent PCs could discover the location of Infuryana's lair, and then beard the hellkite in its den, but that is considered folly by even the most jaded treasure hunters and explorers.

Still, the glory of being the ones who broke the Deck of Many Things is alluring to some.

Crowdsourcing Faith

The other day, in my post about using College Football Teams as the basis for Cleric religions, I half-joked about the new deities Avrae and Ikea, then hit FB to crowdsource more in that vein.  As can be imagined, it was a popular topic in both groups I posted in (Dungeon Master Resources and D&D DMs Only).

So thank you to all that participated, to include the honest individual stating that they would avoid a game that used such deities.

One of the responses sent me to a pair of blog posts by the Angry GM: Conflicted Beliefs: Building a Perfect Five God Mythology for D&D | The Angry GM and Conflicted Beliefs: Fluffy Story Bulls$&% | The Angry GM.  Both are worth reading if you’re serious about building your own pantheon.

A few kind folks shared their homemade pantheons, and one even went so far as to provide some creation myths and necessary domains.  While I was initially planning to politely ignore the bit about domains, it occurred to me that having them allows me to focus my researches.

When it is all said and done, several recurring themes appeared: Disney, Uber and Lyft, and Amazon.  Between this and my recent perusal of the game iHunt, I hit upon the following plan: to make full use of the panoply of apps out there and to avoid the easy pickings of using political figures/policies in the main pantheon (although it can be easily argued that such figures would be saints and champions of various deities).

Typing this up, I realize that it is American-centric.  It happens.

I present to you the Meme Pantheon.   Clerics (and others) praying to these deities first reach a Cosmic Call Center, where they are put through to the proper extension.  Clerics with some levels already know the proper extensions. There is but one holy set of scriptures, contained within the Book of Faces.  Each temple holds a copy of the Book of Faces, and the (not-so-)faithful carry a copy with them.

Holy Symbols of each faith are the brand symbols, worn on chains and/or tattooed to body parts.

Alexa - Goddess of Servants

Amazon - a demigod of delivery and messages and couriers 

Avrae - Goddess of Chance

BigBox - known variously as WalMart, Target, and other names; once known as KMart, but that aspect died in the godswar.

Bowie - genderless Deity of Change and Music

Caffeine - God of Inspiration and Relief

Contractor - God of War and Ill-Gotten Gains

Covid - God of Disease, Fear, and Ignorance

Discord - God of Communication

Disney - God of Illusion, Entertainment

Dyson - God of Winds and Cartographers

Emoji - Deity of Symbolism and Misunderstandings

Evian - Goddess of Water

Gig - God of Short-term Jobs; favored by adventurers and mercenaries

Ikea - Goddess of Creation

Kellogg - God of the Harvest and Grain, attended by three faithful servants named Snap, Crackle, and Pop

Montsanto - God of deceit, greed, and the destruction of nature

Nestle - God of Drought, Rain, and Chocolate

Nicotine - Goddess of Diets, Appearance, and Anxiety

Petroleum - God of Energy (slowly dying as he is worshipped more and more)

Propaganda - Goddess of Truth

Twitter - Goddess of the People

Uber and Lyft - sibling demigods of travel, transit, and pilgrimages

Viagra - Goddess of Insecurity, Fertility, and ; loyally served by Tindr, Grindr, Zoosk, Eharmony, and others.

WHO - God of Healing

Wikipedia - Goddess of Information and Rumor

Zippo – God of Fire

Of course, the list can be refined, both with names and which domains they represent.  Still, I think it can be fun, and at least some will find their way into my homebrew world.  If I get to play a cleric and am offered the opportunity to choose my own religion, it is bound to be one of these (because Ecnep, Voice of Pmurt the Orange has been played and died by sentient pumpkin.  I'm not even lying.)

Thursday, October 21, 2021

DoMT: Knight and Rogue

A slow-rolling series of how the Deck of Many Things works in my homebrew world of Ironguard.  (Part 1, Part 2, Part 4)

There is a temptation to tie Knight in with Throne, but for now, they will fall under two separate posts.

Knight: gain the service of a 4th level fighter.

When Ser James 'Jamie' Blackthorn cut a deal for immortality and travel, this was not his intent, but it is what he has.  Over the centuries, he has served dozens of masters and mistresses, primarily adventuring sorts, and has visited cities before they were ruins, tombs and dungeons when they were new, and mountains before they were rolling hills.

So he is a jaded bastard who has been everywhere and seen everything.  This makes him a sarcastic font of information, who may or may not volunteer knowledge, depending on how well he likes his current master or mistress.  

Despite his vast experience, Ser Jamie never mechanically proceeds past the fourth level.  

When active, he makes it a point to check up on his known and suspected heirs while traveling, going so far as to steer his master/mistress in their direction.  On the rare occasion that an heir draws his card, Ser Jamie is overjoyed, and has been known to shower that lucky soul with locations of hidden treasures (that Ser Jamie may have hidden away himself), as well as useful advice.  There is a reason that certain upstart kingdoms lasted as long as they did - Ser Jamie was the voice in the ear of the King.

If slain, dismissed, or the current master/mistress is slain, Ser Jamie awakens/appears in his chambers at the Keep of the Throne, holding and wearing whatever he had when he left.  Once there he passes time playing chess with Steward, drinking wine, and writing his never-ending memoirs until the card is drawn again.  

At that point, Ser Jamie is whisked away, wearing and carrying whatever he had at the time the card was drawn.  Tales note that several times, he has arrived naked, the Card having been drawn while he was bathing.

Rogue: one of your friends turns against you. Nothing less than a wish or divine intervention can turn the traitor back - which suggests that if the Rogue is slain, they will rise as undead or otherwise return to haunt the Card drawer.

DM Note: at no point will Rogue turn Ser Jamie of the Knight card, STEWARD of the Throne card, nor any PC against the card drawer.  This leaves a wide range of meek and mighty NPCs at the DM's disposal, however.  That said, the Card prefers to turn those with some measure of power against the PC, if only to ensure grief.  It will not hesitate to use family, if that is the best choice.

This card is powered by the unnamed deity of lies and treachery and narcissism, sometimes referred to in whispers as the forty-fifth.  When drawn, a cold chill and mild electric shock passes through the drawer as the magic of the Rogue card examines the drawer's being to decide who best to turn against them.

At this point, the Rogue realizes that it is card drawer who is the cause of ALL the Rogue's woes.  The magic bound within the card nurses the fears and suspicions until what begins as a smear campaign becomes outright attempts at assassination.  If confronted, the Rogue attacks the card drawer in a blind rage.

On occasion, the Rogue falls in league with the Fiend of the Flames card, and then life turns ugly for the poor fool that drew both cards.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

DoMT: Donjon and The Void

A slow-rolling series of how the Deck of Many Things works in my homebrew world of Ironguard.  (Part 1, Part 3, Part 4)

Donjon:  You are imprisoned. You disappear and become entombed in a state of suspended animation in an extradimensional sphere.  Everything you were wearing and carrying stays behind in the space you occupied when you disappeared.  You remain imprisoned until you are found and removed from the sphere.  You cannot be located by any divination magic, but a wish spell can reveal the location of your prison.  You draw no more cards.

All this time, I thought it was just like the Imprisonment spell, itself a reference to the Dying Earth story Cugel the Clever.  As for the spell - I must say that I far prefer the AD&D version of Imprisonment.  (Both a summary of Cugel the Clever and the AD&D version of the spell are HERE).  Regardless, the 5e rules are rather... tame.  Leaving behind the gear and belongings means that some tables will never bother with a search, because the replacement PC will get most of the last one's gear, anyhow.  

So much digression to say that this card will see change.

Dragon Isle (so named due to its shape - an open-mouthed dragon's head) is lost to modern navigators, as is the ruined settlement upon it.  One building that stands strangely intact is the Dragonseye Beacon - a lighthouse rising up from where an eye would be if the Isle would be viewed from above.  Under the right conditions, it is said that the Beacon can still be seen and followed into the decaying harbor of nameless ruins from which it rises.

Within Dragoneye Beacon dwells the Keeper.  Another mortal bargaining for immortality with Loki, the Keeper now guards those imprisoned by the Donjon card.  Deep beneath Dragon Isle, deeper than the caves that are said to run under it, teeming with darkness, water, treasure, and horror, lie the hundreds of spheres imprisoning the unlucky fools that drew this card.

If found and bargained with, the Keeper can call forth a specific being's sphere, allowing freedom.  

Of course, what the Keeper may want in trade for such a service is unknown.

The Void: Body functions, but soul is trapped elsewhere.  

Dao are exemplars of greed and power, rivaling dragons in the hoarding of wealth.  When Loki offered the Dao Sultan Haris al-Sijan a chance at becoming a private jailer of sorts in exchange for gems, Haris gladly accepted.  

Since that time, whenever The Void is drawn, the stolen soul becomes a large, pampel-cut ruby, appearing on a cushion near the throne of Haris al-Sijan.  These soul rubies glow with their own inner light, and upon close inspection, a humanoid shadow can be seen within.  The Sultan has these soul rubies affixed to gold chains, and he wears them as proof of his might.  

A pampel-cut gem. 

On rare occasions, someone has been freed from their gem, and this freedom comes at the cost of negotiations and deals between the Dao Sultan and the card-drawer's allies.  

Those freed return to their home plane and tend to embrace life to the fullest, having seen what missing it is like.

It is said the half-elf sage Anacharsis in the city of Skara Brae has spent the last two centuries collecting tales of those who have been affected by drawing from the Deck of Many Things, and among those tales are the location of Sultan Haris al-Sijan's palace at the intersection of Carceri and the Plane of Elemental Earth.

The bodies of those that draw the Void must be kept alive, and are effectively in a deep coma, from which only the return of the soul can waken.  Given lack of care, these bodies die, leaving the soul forever trapped in its ruby.  That said, there are whispers of great-great-great-grandchildren still tending to an ancestor's body, waiting patiently for the soul's return.  Perhaps Anacharsis can provide details.

Note that the Vizier card (or perhaps consulting with Heimdall, the Far-Seeing) can provide the location of people trapped by both Donjon and the Void.

Heimdall, himself.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Hexcrawling Youtube

Maybe a month ago, I began compiling hexcrawl resources on an irregularly-edited post.  Missing from it are YouTube videos.  This post addresses that.

A rather simplistic hexmap, source unknown.

I have given in to YouTube; typically, I am not a fan of YouTube gaming things, because I cannot watch them in meetings that are really just conversations between two people with mandatory attendance for the rest of the staff.  Despite this, there are several DnD-related channels and videos.

In today's edition, we look at various hexcrawl videos.  Not addressed are various videos on Sandboxes, a related term.

Bandit's Keep shares Building a Hexcrawl.

Dungeoncraft offers How to Design a Hex Crawl.

Matt Finch  RPG Studio interviews Bill Webb in the episode How to Run a Hexcrawl.

WebDM runs a two-part hexcrawl-related series: part 1 and part 2.

Bardic College provides Advanced Hexcrawling Kung Fu: Techniques and Tools.

Hexed Press has a variety of videos, including How to Play through a Hexcrawl, Designing a Random Encounter System for your HexcrawlPrepping Your Hexmap for a Hexcrawl Campaign, and a Dungeon Master's Intro to Running a Hexcrawl.

It appears that Hexed Press is a prolific hexcrawl video maker; Hexcrawl Tools: d30 Sandbox Companion part 1 and part 2.

GFC's DnD posted How to Hexcrawl.

For now, here is the search I ran on youtube.  Most of the above are there, plus a few more, if 105 minus the above is a few.

Is there overlap across these videos? Assuredly.  Is it still worth watching them all? Also yes, if only to learn or better understand hexcrawls, or at least discover new resources for your own games.

Latest edit: 11/7/21