Saturday, April 28, 2012

From the Classics: Whale Spell

The other Lappish king, Finn, turned himself into a whale. He hurled himself on top of the men who were fighting him and crushed fifteen of them to death beneath him. The dog Sel's-gift rushed at him, ripping him apart with its teeth, but as the whale opened its jaws, Hrifling's dog ran in right down to the belly, tearing at his innards, and bit away the heart. Then it ran out again and dropped down dead.

- Halfdan Eysteinsson, (Anon., 14th century AD)

The whale spell allows a magic-user to transform themselves instantaneously into a large right whale which is 50 feet long, 10 feet wide and weighs 60 tons. In water, the whale can swim at a speed of 120' per round, but on land it cannot move at all. Any creatures crushed beneath the whale take 4d10 damage, with a Reflex save for half. However, once transformed the caster is vulnerable if they are on land, and are considered wholly unarmoured for the purposes of attack rolls. Furthermore, enemies can crawl inside the whale's mouth and attack the insides for double damage. The magic-user must concentrate for three rounds in order to end the transformation; thus, the spell is often used only as a last resort.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

12 Ways to Craft a Magical Artifact

1 - The shirt must be woven by women from six different nations in turn, and never may they lay eyes on one another or the power is lost.
2 - The cloak must be pieced together from the mustaches of twelve kings sent in tribute to the wearer.
3 - The sword must be forged in the fire of a dragon's breath, and cooled in his life's blood while it still pours from his body.
4 - The armour must be forged by the dwarves from metals freely given to them by the elves.
5 - The helm must be made by those who trust the wearer with their lives; should he lose their trust, the magic will fail, but should they die trusting then the power will remain eternally.
6 - The spear must be made by those it was designed to slay; and those who make it must die by it before it can be wielded.
7 - The gem must be swallowed by an owlbear and then cut from its stomach.
8 - The dark idol must be made by one who has faith in god, but to complete the process, the faith must be broken utterly.
9 - The shield must be hung in the sky above the highest mountains and held there for three days.
10 - The sword must be dissolved in the lava pits of Phoenix Mountain, and like the phoenix, it will rise anew when the volcano erupts.
11 - The dagger must not see the light of sun nor flame while it is being forged.
12 - The scroll must be written by an illiterate under the guidance of a blind man.

The first two entries are from Arrow-Odd, although the mustache cloak in that saga doesn't appear to have any magical properties, it's just to show everyone how awesome you are. Interestingly, Arrow-Odd's magic arrows gain their properties simply by virtue of having been made by dwarves. Sometimes I feel a bit sad about how dwarves and elves have gone from being rare and inscrutable spirits to basically humans with pointy ears or short legs.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Rumours of Its Deadliness Were Greatly Exaggerated... (Part 2)

We played our second session of Tomb of Horrors yesterday. There were a few more deaths than the last session, but overall I still felt a bit disappointed with the module.

At the end of the last session, the players had gotten up to the corridor with the three pit traps behind doors. I came close to killing one of the PCs (again, Ian's halfling Tyreese who took point for virtually every part of the dungeon they explored) but she survived due to player ingenuity. Though Tyreese (formerly male, but transformed by a mysterious archway) did fall into one of the spike pits, Jason's character Cecilia acted quickly to cast feather fall to save her. Tyreese then arrested her fall with an iron spike in the wall, and then leapt off the spike using her boots of striding and springing to escape the pit. This was a great example of the kind of creative thinking I want to see in my AD&D games, but it also highlighted the fact that by the time they reach this high level, the PC spellcasters have a spell to counter just about any problem you can throw at them.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Doré Day

...only sure way of telling a human from a coral-sprite...

From the Classics: Drunk Poetry Slam

Among many adventures depicted in the Viking romance Arrow-Odd, one of my favourite is a scene where the titular character is challenged to a drinking contest with a pair of lazy nobles named Sigurd and Sjolf. Now, drinking contests are always fun, but what's striking about this one is that it also incorporates improvised poetry. The drinkers take turns presenting a horn of mead to their opponent, but before the opponent drinks the offerer must speak a verse to them. Each verse is eight lines long and consists of alternately singing one's own valiant deeds and ridiculing the manhood of one's opponent. For example:

You weren't around,
Sjolf, when we reddened
Our steel on the earl
off Laeso Island.
Mad for sex, you
sat at home wondering
whether to cuddle
the calf or the kitchenmaid.

Sick burn! Obviously, as the competitors get more drunk, they become less able to come up with verses, and are eventually defeated. So it's one part drinking game and one part Medieval rap battle.

The following are some rules for simulating such a contest in a game of D&D:

Competitors take turns to present a horn of mead and a verse. By default, each player has two minutes to come up with a verse before they have to speak it. This might be intimidating for some players, but bear in mind that the verse doesn't have to rhyme or scan. All you have to do is tell a tale about your brave deeds and then talk some smack about your opponent. You can't talk about the same heroic deed more than once, so having a good character history will be of some help. Of course, you can choose to make something up, but this will require a Bluff check (or roll-under CHA if you're not playing with a skill system).

The characters' drunkenness is measured in terms of 'sobriety value'. Each character starts with SV 4, plus or minus their CON modifier. Each time they drink a horn, they must make a saving throw vs. poison (or CON save, Fortitude save, etc.) or else take -1 SV. The player's time allotted for composing a verse is equal to 30 seconds multiplied by their SV, so a character with SV 4 would get two minutes, but a character with SV 2 would only get one. A character with SV0 can still compete, so long as they begin to speak their verse immediately when their turn comes around. A character with negative SV passes out from drunkenness.

Contestants can be eliminated by the following means:
- Failing to provide a full verse of 8 lines containing a heroic deed and a diss
- Stumbling over words or hesitating while reciting the verse
- Being caught lying about their deeds
- Passing out

The last man standing is the winner. The game can be played 1-vs-1, free-for-all, or in tag teams. 

Alternate rule set: Ignore all the complicated crap about Sobriety Value and SV and just have each player drink an actual horn of mead when their turn comes around. Do not use this method if you are planning to carry on the session after the drinking contest is over.

Note: I don't know about you, but my players love drinking contests and will initiate them whenever they get the chance. I wouldn't use this system for that kind of ad-hoc minigame, because it's too long and involved. It would work best if something important rested on the outcome of the contest.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

From the Classics: Gusir's Gifts

"Ketil Trout took these arrows off Gusir, king of the Lapps," said Grim. "Because dwarfs made them, they bite anything they're told to."
Then Odd took one of Gusir's Gifts and shot it like the first one. The giantess put up her hand, but the arrow went straight through it into her eye and out through the back of her head.
- Arrow-Odd, (Anon., 13th century AD)

The three legendary arrows known as Gusir's Gifts have the ability to pass through almost any object, whether it be stone, flesh or armour. As such, they ignore any AC bonus granted by armour, tough skin, etc. but not by dexterity. Each arrow can pass through up to 5 feet of any solid object before it becomes bogged down. Furthermore, the wielder can whisper to the arrow before firing it and exhort it to bite one thing and not another. If the arrows are not given any specific instructions, they will tend to pierce flesh and armour but not walls or other objects.

Gusir's Gifts will never break after firing and thus can usually be retrieved and reused, so long as they do not land in some inaccessible location. The arrows can still be destroyed if a person or creature makes a deliberate effort to snap them in two.

From the Classics: Rule by Dogfighting

"I'm one of three brothers," said Hildir. "Ulf's the name of one and Ylfing's the other. We've arranged to hold a meeting next summer to decide who's going to be king of Giantland. It's to be the one who performs the most heroic action and has the most savage dog in the dog-fight assembly."

- Arrow-Odd, (Anon., 13th century AD)

There is no way that there isn't going to be a nation in my next D&D campaign whose political system is based on dog-fighting. The possibilities for hijinks are endless. It gets better when you learn that the judges apparently aren't too strict with the definition of the word 'dog': Ulf is fielding a wolf, Ylfing has a polar bear, and Hildir eventually gets an even stronger bear which is mad and ravenous after hibernating for six months. For D&D, let's say that the officials who preside over the tournament are a trio of extremely wizened and short-sighted elders who will accept just about any creature so long as it has fur and four legs.
The most obvious adventure potential in this is that the PCs have to find, catch and train a powerful 'dog' of some kind in order to seize power, or to help their ally seize power (maybe you have to be a native to be eligible for kingship). This is exactly what Arrow-Odd does in the story.
There are also other implications if the dog-fight is conducted once a year, and the king is expected to defend his title with the same dog he used last time. What happens when a champion dog is growing old? What will the king pay for a method of reinvigorating his hound so he can rule for a few more years? On the flip side, what happens if the king dies but his dog keeps on winning?

Expect more material from Arrow-Odd in the next few days. I highly recommend it to those interested, as the resemblance it bears to a game of D&D is uncanny. It's got loot, secret doors, clever plans, magic items, a badass villain with a metal mask, and the age-old adventuring tradition of solving problems with fire.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Where does the cool shit come from?

I played a game over G+ with Chris Kusel today, delving solo into his megadungeon The Core. Quite apart from being by myself, it had a different feel to the other FLAILSNAILS games I've played. The Core is very much an old-school dungeon crawl which feels like it must be pretty similar to the games that were played 'back in the day' by the earliest D&Ders. I fought some kobolds, found a secret door, evaded a dart trap and looted some coins from a treasure chest. It was generic D&D, without any of the negative connotations that the word 'generic' usually implies.

In contrast, the other FLAILSNAILS campaigns I've played in all seem to be created by people who for whatever reason have moved beyond the original premises of D&D. They've added an 'and' or a 'but' on the end. Agrivaina is like "There's dungeons and dragons and space aliens and undead armies." Caves of Myrddin and Blight of the Khazars are both (in different ways) a matter of "There's dungeons and dragons but it all fits into real-world history and geography." As someone who's entered the world of old-school D&D through these campaigns, I found it kind of refreshing to go back to the original flavour of dungeoncrawling, which I'd sort of skipped over without ever actually experiencing.

But it also got me thinking about how these different campaigns are constructed, about the cool shit that happens in them. Here's the coolest things I can remember from five different FLAILSNAILS campaigns - see if you can spot a pattern.

Jeff Rients' Caves of Myrddin: Throwing rainbow grenades at medusas; DM ruling on whether a blue cheese golem counts as a fungus monster.
Trent B's New Feierland: A Cleric got traumatically inseminated by a slug; an orc expanded until he was one with the universe.
Ian Burns' Agrivaina: Drinking mutagenic crab's blood; Samson Jones seeing a vision of himself in a satellite(?) firing a laser that blew up the entire campaign setting.
Zzarchov Kowolski's Blight of the Khazars: A giant winged lion being dissected by halfling Huns; insane hordes of adventurers running blindly into a dungeon while a boatload of Jews wisely escape over the horizon.
Chris Kusel's The Core: I put a bunch of fanged worms in a jar to make a worm grenade; I kidnapped a kobold and forced him to lead me to treasure, and he died after opening the trapped treasure chest.

The pattern I'm seeing is: in The Core the coolest things were things that I made up myself, as a player. In the other campaigns, the cool stuff is almost all made up by the DM (although there are some border cases, like Ian made up the mutant crab's blood but it was our own stupid fault for fucking around with it.) So I'm wondering if the other campaigns have a different style of play where the players are more like spectators to the DM's awesome ideas?

I mean, I'm not saying that these campaigns are railroads or the players don't have agency. We definitely always had control over our own destiny, where we went, whether we lived or died... but in those campaigns, there was always so much crazy stuff to see that I think it led to a bit of creative apathy amongst the players, like why bother inventing something cool when the DM has already done it for you? Whereas The Core is more like a blank canvas inviting you to paint your own cool shit all over it.
Both styles are a heap of fun. I'm still thinking about which kind I want to emphasize in my own campaign, if/when it gets off the ground. Would it be possible to strike a balance between the two?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Rumours of Its Deadliness Were Greatly Exaggerated...

Yesterday me and my IRL gaming group decided to play Tomb of Horrors. It was the first time they had ever played AD&D, and the first time I had run it for that matter, but we had some experience of killer dungeons from playing Fourthcore. Somewhat disappointingly, though, the Tomb hasn't so far lived up to its fearsome reputation. After 4 hours of play, I've only managed to kill off one measly hireling. (Compare this to Fourthcore's Crucible of the Gods, where we had two TPKs in the first four rooms.) The following is a play report on the various traps of the dungeon and how they failed to prove deadly.

(Spoilers for Tomb of Horrors after the jump, obviously. If any of my players happen to be reading this, don't go any further until after we've finished the module.)

Doré Day

(one day late this week)

...exceedingly dull-witted, he may be convinced to hand over the key to his master's chamber, but is startled by loud noises...

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

On Social Combat Mechanics

My opinion of social mechanics, and particularly social combat, has generally been pretty low. Social skills in 4E generally encourage the players to say "I use Diplomacy!" rather than actually talking to NPCs; it also means that whoever has the best CHA skills is treated as the 'face' while all the other characters stand back and say nothing at all. The only time I've tried to run a full-on social combat system was in our abortive attempt at Spirit of the Century: the debate lasted one round and ended when one of the players pulled out a gun and shot his debating opponent in the leg.

I'd previously come to a conclusion that goes something like this: the reason we roll dice in RPGs is to simulate complicated things that we can't actually play out. For example, we don't have the skill, courage or time to actually fight each other with swords in order to resolve a combat round. However, we do have the capacity to play out a discussion or dialogue in full, so why bother simulating it with dice?

However, while playing in Zzarchov Kowalski's Blight of the Khazars campaign, I recently witnessed social combat mechanics giving rise to one of the strangest and most memorable moments I've yet seen in a roleplaying game. The setting was a village by the Red Sea where a dungeon was about to give birth to some sort of Antichrist dragon who was the son of nine (?) evil gods. A bunch of people had been possessed by Bacchus and herded into the dungeon as sacrifices, and our dwindling party was trapped in some sort of infinite maze presided over by Belial, Prince of Lies. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that things were looking pretty grim.

Then, after Belial showed up to speak with us, Ian's character Daerith decided that he wanted to bullshit Belial into thinking that this dragon (of which Belial himself was co-father) was going to destroy the nine gods as soon as it hatched. So away we went with the social combat system. Somehow, after a few rounds of argument, Daerith came out on top! He successfully lied to the motherfuckin' Prince of Lies himself. I think Zzarchov said that Belial needed to roll three consecutive 1s on a d20 in order to fail, and that's exactly what he did. So now Belial has told us how to slay the dragon, and we have a slim hope that the entire world will not be destroyed in the next few sessions.

My point is that if there weren't any mechanics for social combat - if the rule was just to 'roleplay it out' - then Zzarchov would probably have just said "No. It's impossible for you to sell such a preposterous lie to Belial of all people, now let's move on." But the social mechanics actually gave Daerith a small chance to succeed - the task was almost impossible, but not quite. More generally, social mechanics have the virtue of bringing something to the table that's unexpected by everyone. Just as it's interesting to see that the orc warlord randomly fumbled and dropped his sword, it could be similarly engaging when the dice randomly dictate that such-and-such an NPC really hates your guts for no particular reason (or alternatively, so-and-so has just fallen in love with you...)

Campaign Idea: Kafkaton

You wake up one day and you're on this train. Outside the window there is nothing but miles and miles of scrub stretching into the distance under a grey sky. There are a few other people in the carriage. None of them meet your eyes.

At dusk, the train pulls up on the outskirts of this town. The ticket inspector comes through and tells you that this is your stop. You ask where the train is going next but he will only tell you that your ticket is stamped for this stop so this is where you get off. A few other people get off with you. The streets are empty. It's dark but hardly any lights are shining in the windows of the houses.

Across the road from the train station is a crumbling old boarding-house. The manager is an old woman with her hair pinned back in a bun. She comes over with a lantern and beckons you all to follow her. "This is where you'll be staying during your visit," she says. "There's no need to worry about rent, that has been accounted for. Only make sure that you don't go outside while the sun is up."

Monday, April 9, 2012


Another type of monster to be found in Batmania. The Dhinnabarrada appear to be humans with the legs of emus. They live in secluded areas of the desert where very few other creatures can survive. Most Dhinnabarrada subsist entirely on witchety grubs. If they touch the feet of a human, he/she will be transformed into a Dhinnabarrada like them. Although they are not violently aggressive, they take great joy in converting more people to their race, and thus the Kulin and other native peoples consider them enemies. One weakness of the Dhinnabarrada is their obsession with prey animals, which they rarely get a chance to eat. An adventurer passing through the lands of the Dhinnabarrada should carry a live bandicoot, which can be released to distract the Dhinnabarrada if they attack.

(Yes, this is a real thing from Aboriginal mythology.)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Rules for Lusty Wenches

The old lord had shown himself a most gracious host during the last few hours, plying them with rare wines and loading them with rich gifts beyond what they'd asked or what the Mouser had purloined in advance, and even offering them other girls in addition to Ivivis and Friska - benison which they'd rejected, with some inward regrets, after noting the glares in the eyes of those two.

- Fritz Leiber, The Lords of Quarmall

In every Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser story that I've read (admittedly, I haven't come close to reading them all) there are exactly two major female characters. One of them always ends up with Fafhrd, and the other with the Mouser. It's something of a staple in pulp fiction that winning the heart of the beloved is part of the 'treasure' that the hero acquires for his success. Where would Indiana Jones be without his Marion Ravenwood? Or John Carter without his princess waiting for him back on Mars?

This doesn't really happen in D&D, though. I remember thinking for a long time that the woman on the cover of the 1st edition DMG is a lusty babe in need of rescuing, but she's actually a member of the party. But could we incorporate some sort of rules for wench-wooing into the game?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

From the Classics: Lapplings

There was a man named Grim, nicknamed Hairy-Cheek because he was born with a certain peculiarity, and this is how it happened: When Grim's father, Ketil Trout, went to bed with Hrafnhild Bruni's-Daughter, her father Bruni spread a hide over them because he'd invited a number of Lapps in. During the night Hrafnhild happened to look out from under the hide and caught a glimpse of one of the Lapps who was hairy all over. That was how Grim got this mark: for people think he was conceived at that very moment.
- Arrow-Odd, (Anon. 13th century AD)

OK, so I know that Lapps are really just people from northern Scandinavia, but let's D&D this up a bit. Lapplings are small hairy fae creatures, related to brownies, but more suited to colder climates. They can craft finely detailed objects with their tiny hands, and for this reason men will sometimes welcome them as trade partners. However, it is well known that lapplings are mischievous and should not be allowed to stay in a human camp or town for too long.

The strangest property of the lapplings is this: that if any woman looks upon a lappling at the moment she is conceiving a child, then that child will be born with thick hair growing somewhere unusual on his body. Powerful lappling chiefs may produce children with hair all over. The lapplings do not gain any real benefit from this, but they find it so amusing that they are always trying to sneak into bedrooms at the opportune moment.

There are several things you could do with lapplings. The PCs could be hired to get rid of a lappling infestation, or the patch of hair could be a distinguishing feature of an NPC. What I would really like to do, though, is wait until one of my PCs is having sex (admittedly this doesn't come up very often in the course of normal D&D play) and then have a lappling creep up on them.

Converting 4E Classes to AD&D: The Druid

The Druid is my favourite class in 4E. You might be thinking "Dude, there already are Druids in AD&D!" but the 4E Druid is fairly different to the Druids of old. In AD&D, shape-changing as a Druid is definitely something you can do, but it's not your defining attribute or anything. 4E Druids, on the other hand, are all based around their ability to transform into their totem animal. In most games I've played with my 4E Druid, I've been shapeshifting every round. Having different powers in human and beast forms makes for a really exciting tactical challenge. The question is always: "What form do I want to be in now? What form will I want to be in next turn?"

So my rebuilt version of the Druid is now called the Shapechanger, and is quite distinct from the original Druid class.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Doré Day

...war band assembled to put the former electors out of their misery...

From the Classics: The Cave of the Sibyl

The mad prophetic Sibyl you shall find,
Dark in a cave, and on a rock reclin'd.
She sings the fates, and, in her frantic fits,
The notes and names, inscrib'd, to leafs commits.
What she commits to leafs, in order laid,
Before the cavern's entrance are display'd:
Unmov'd they lie; but, if a blast of wind
Without, or vapors issue from behind,
The leafs are borne aloft in liquid air,
And she resumes no more her museful care,
Nor gathers from the rocks her scatter'd verse,
Nor sets in order what the winds disperse.

- Virgil, Aeneid

The mad prophetess who lives in this cave does not admit visitors. If any person tries to force her to tell their future, they will earn the wrath of the Furies. Instead, this Sibyl writes down her visions on leaves of paper and posts them outside the entrance to her cave. She uses tree sap to affix the paper to the rocks and trees, like a prophetic bulletin board. However, the sap is not very strong and whenever the winds blow roughly, the papers are carried away.

Many men have come here to pore over the loose pages, searching for their fate amongst hundreds of others. A certain village which lies downwind of the cave has become noted for its prescient inhabitants, who often know what is going to befall them before it actually happens. A little further afield, there is a sage who has spent most of his adult life compiling the pages of the Sibyl into a single tome. The specific prophecies he sells on to those who seek them; what interests him are the more esoteric pages which seem to tell not of the future but of the past - perhaps of the very genesis of the world.

Rumour has it that this sage was once betrothed to the woman who is now the Sibyl, before she was struck down with her holy madness.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Monsters of Batmania

Some of the weird monsters than inhabit Batmania:

Gumnut eyes, also known as beholders, are ferocious creatures that float through the air and fire various beams from their terrible eyes. They are spawned from eyeball gums, which superficially resemble other trees until they have grown to a certain size. The gumnuts of these trees grow larger and larger, eventually dropping off to form a new beholder. The beholder completes its life cycle by exploding into seeds after it is killed. These barbed seeds can bore through earth, leather and flesh to find a suitable place to grow. The Kulin people rightly consider this plant a menace and will burn any eyeball gums that they find.

Orcs are creatures of mud. They are generated spontaneously in the warm depths of the Yarra River, to come crawling out under the moon and drag themselves into dark caves. They are filthy creatures that defile their living space with feces and oils that drip from their skin. When one place is too vile to live in, they will move on to another. An orc's corpse will dissolve into mud within three days of death. However, if the body is left to dry in the sun it will become hollow and hard. This corpse can be fashioned into tough but brittle armour (AC strong as platemail, but on a critical hit the armour is shattered.)

Kobolds are humanoids with the bodies of young boys and the heads of dingoes. They live together in warrens where they communicate in a language of high-pitching yipping. At night they dance around bonfires in their own strange corroborrees, though none can say why. It is well known that kobolds suffer from chronic obsession and paranoia. They compulsively build primitive traps of all kinds in and around their warrens. Over time, the warren becomes crowded with traps until the kobolds begin to get killed by them. After the death count grows too high, the kobolds dismiss the warren as 'bad country' and relocate to a new home. The empty trap-filled warren is left behind.

Giants, also known as yowies, are huge hairy men who dwell in the upper slopes of the Dandenong Ranges. They are superficially similar to the hill giants of old Albion; other races, such as the fire and frost giants, are not found in Terra Australis. Like the Kulin, the yowies follow complex kinship systems, which in the yowies' case are based around order of precedence on cliff-passes. Many trails on the mountains are too narrow for more than one yowie to walk abreast, so when two yowies meet one must turn around and go back. They will often spend days locked in legal discussion to determine who must turn back, even if there is an easy passing-place within a few yards. If the yowies' discussion goes on for one full turning of the moon, they will be turned to stone.

Gnolls reside exclusively on the island of Van Diemen's Land. They are humanoids with heads that resemble the Tasmanian Devil. Their favoured tactic is to lie under mounds of wet leaves and burst out suddenly to surprise their victims. Rather than tattooing themselves, the gnolls shave off their hair in patterns that describe their kinship, country and line of descent. The most insane gnolls will even shave explosive runes into their backs so that they can never be snuck up on. The shamans of their tribes are shaved completely from head to toe.

Goblins are creatures of the paperbark trees. Their skin is white and papery, and is constantly peeling off in the same manner as a snake's skin. They live amongst paperbarks and treat the trees as their totems. However, they hate the 'knobble-bark' of other trees and are often seen chopping down or burning any flora that does not have the right kind of bark. When dissecting a goblin's body, one will find no flesh, only layer after layer of papery skin down to the bones. It is said that under the skin of the goblins, everything they have ever seen and done is recorded. Goblin shamans have their spells inscribed under the skin on the back of their head.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Static DCs for D&D 4E

A lot of people have criticized the 'DC by Level' chart in the 4th edition Dungeon Master's Guide. This is basically a chart that tells you what DC in a skill check would be easy, medium or hard for a character of a certain level. The problem isn't really with the chart itself but with the fact that it tempts rookie DMs (myself included) to set any DC in the game with an eye towards their character's current level. In other words, no matter how much the characters level up, they still haven't gotten better at anything. This kind of blows.

The solution, in my opinion, is to take the DC by Level chart as a guide and extrapolate a bunch of static DCs for common actions that can be prepared in advance. This way, the DM has a strong resource to rest their rulings on and won't be tempted to get all quantum ogre-y.

The other advantage of such a resource would be that you could make it open to the players. This would encourage them to try more interesting maneuvers because they have a whole bunch of suggestions, and they even know exactly what their chances are of success.

But writing up so many DCs is a pretty mammoth task! If Wizards of the Coast were cooler then they probably could have done it for me; it certainly would have been a better use of their time than, say, the Bladesinger. But still, I'm going to give it a shot, going through the skill list alphabetically.