Thursday, January 31, 2013

More on Latin American Adventures 

The church at Macondo, an isolated frontier town, default starting location for PCs. (Squint and pretend the car isn't there. The bicycles can stay.) 
Instead of drawing spells from God directly, Catholic clerics adhere to particular saints. Popular saints include Santa Juana (left), a savant scholar, and Santa Rosa de Lima (right) who mercilessly tortured herself as part of her ascetic obsessions. Male saints include Saint Dominic, patron of astrologers and Hound of the Lord; Saint Francis, who commands the respect of all animals; and San Ignacio, the warrior-priest and founder of the Jesuits.
In this world, Europe does not seem to exist and white people are unknown. Everyone is varying shades of brown. Judaism & Christianity developed alongside Aztec and Mayan religions. Christ was born in Panama. If this doesn't make sense maybe you are thinking about it too hard!
 Some Moors and Africans have arrived from the east to trade or settle the islands. It is said the Muslims have a vast desert empire across the ocean.

Legends speak of people called 'The Pale Race' who existed before even the ancient Olmecs or Chavin. But few traces of them remain.

An example of an 'Elemental', a surreal monster composed of various unconnected elements. Some say they are a mobile breach in reality, others that they are another guise for demons.

Diego de Landa, foremost of the Inquisitors,  a sect of Catholicism that seeks to destroy the rival religions and purge the Catholic faith of syncretic influences. Landa is currently overseeing the invasion of the Yucatan Peninsula and the eradication of Mayan scriptures.
deceptively innocent-looking seamstresses hunt giant cockroaches on the pampas plains
syncretist priests deconstruct their own bodies to fuel their postmodern magics

a colony of serpent men lives high in the Mexican altiplano along with their mind-controlled human slaves
giant jellyfish disguise themselves as giant heads above the water. Although it is unclear what they are disguising themselves from since a giant head is itself not a common sight in the Caribbean.
known only as the labyrinth men, these individuals have strange powers and are probably not native to this dimension

Monday, January 21, 2013

Using Magic: The Gathering creatures as wandering monsters

So wow I have a shitload of dusty old magic cards in this cardboard box. (note: thanks to this blog post for reminding me.) I don't even want to calculate how much money I spent on these when I was 13 years old. Hopefully I can put them to a new use for D&D. Here is a system for using the creature cards to generate interesting wandering monsters on the fly.
Instead of having a wandering monster table, just have a deck of creature cards. You could hand-select them for a particular area, but I think it would be more fun just to shuffle them all together and see what comes up. Or you could have a regular wandering monster table but one entry in the table says “1d6 Magic cards”. Or you could divide them by colour and draw them for different situations:

neutral wilderness monster = draw green creature
neutral dungeon monster = draw red creature
bad guy's minions = draw black creature
johnny law = draw white creature
wizard's summons or extraplanar weirdness = draw blue creature
robots = draw artifact creature

Remember that 99% of creature cards in MTG only represent one creature. So you can create groups of enemies by drawing, say, three cards and having 2d6 of the lowest cost creature, 1d4 of the middle cost, and 1 of the highest cost as a leader. Or any other combination you can think of. But if the card does happen to represent multiple creatures, it is that many creatures based on the artwork. e.g. if the picture shows 3 goblins and you rolled 5, then there are 15 goblins total.

If you have time you could even divide the cards by cost as well as colour, then you could pick out exactly what power level you like. Then you could have a wandering monster table that just says like “2d6 1-mana creatures” or “1d4 5-mana green creatures”.

attack bonus = creature's power
AC = base AC of your game +/- creature's toughness
hit dice = creature's mana cost
BUT if it looks like some weedy ass wizard dude who costs a lot of mana for his special abilities, then his hit dice are d4s. If it is a creature whose mana cost has obviously been reduced because it has other drawbacks, then its hit dice are d10s.
Blue: 1d4
White: 1d6
Black: 1d8
Red: 1d10
Green: 1d10 unless a hippy elf, in which case 1d6
If power is 5 or more, double damage dice. If power is 8 or more, triple damage dice.

As a general rule, you can usually guess what the card is meant to represent based on the picture, name and flavour text. Everything else is just the particular mechanical expression of the concept. For many abilities you will have to interpret them somewhat. Some MTG cards are very flavourful and you can easily work out what they're supposed to be doing, other times they are very vague; in the latter case just take it as an opportunity to improvise, or ignore the mechanic entirely.

A 'tap' ability can be used as a standard action.
A 'mana cost' ability can only be used once every X rounds, where X is the mana cost.
A 'life cost' ability drains the equivalent number of HP from the creature.

'deal X damage' = deal Xd6 damage
'+1/+1 counter' = 1d6 temp HP
'-1/-1 counter' = 1d6 permanent stat damage (choose stat based on relevance, if unsure either STR or CON)
any ability that generates mana = can send mana to allies to pay for their activated abilities (don't worry about colour of mana), or heal 1d4 hp per point of mana.
'tap target creature' = paralyze/stun for 1 round
'put into your hand' = whatever was put into your hand will show up within 1d6 rounds
'return to hand' = paralyze/stun for 1d6 rounds, or teleport target a short distance away
'draw a card' = draw a non-creature card, that is the spell that the creature can cast; or just give it a random D&D spell appropriate to its level
'discard a card from your hand' = save vs. spell or be driven insane
'destroy target artifact' = better make this 'destroy mundane object' because there are a shitload of cards like this and if you use them as-written then your players will soon have no magic item
'can't block' = -4 AC.

Flying = flying, duh
Trample = on a successful attack, the victim must make a CON check or be knocked prone and trampled over, potentially opening up the squishies to attack
First Strike = +25% initiative (+5 on a d20, +2 on a d6...)
Fear/Intimidate = henchmen must make a morale check when first facing the monster
Haste = double regular move speed, always charges for +2 attack
Morph = 3 in 6 chance of surprise
Ninjutsu = draw another creature, this is what the ninja is disguised as
Deathtouch = turn to stone as medusa (but check the artwork and flavour text for details)
Indestructible = can't be damaged except by very powerful magic (9th level spells, +5 weapons)
Regeneration = regenerates as troll. Mana cost is the number of rounds it takes to come back to life.
Phasing = can turn ethereal, making it unable to attack or be attacked
Phantom = can't be hit except by magic and magic weapons
Doublestrike = attacks twice
Landwalk = gets +2 AC and attack when in its favoured element. Will hide in this element and try to drag enemies in to fight on its own terms. Islandwalk = water; Mountainwalk = very rugged terrain (can climb sheer cliffs); Plainswalk = tall grass; Forestwalk = thick undergrowth OR treetops; Swampwalk = swamp water/mud
Bushido = gains that bonus to attack and AC in melee only
Double-sided card = can shift between forms as a standard action
flip card = If it survives this encounter with the PCs, it will reappear later as the named NPC
Threshold = can trigger its ability by scrounging off/eating a corpse
Kicker = when appearing in a group, the leader will have the kicker ability
Hexproof/Shroud = immune to magic
Vigilance = can make opportunity attacks, or if opportunity attacks already exist in your system, gets a +2 bonus to them
Annihilator = each round, that many enemies must make a save vs. death or be fuckin' annihilated
Shadow = can't attack normal creatures and can't be attacked. Just does its own little thing in its own shadow dimension. Might still be an enemy if it's trying to steal your treasure or something.
Fading/Vanishing = only appears for that many rounds before disappearing or melting or something

(christ, there are a lot of keyword abilities... the rest you can figure out for yourself)

Lastly (this is a note to myself as much as to anyone else) remember that the best thing about a monster is always the story behind it. And Magic cards have a buttload of story packed into them just through the name, artwork and maybe flavour text. (I'm not talking about the actual MTG lore.)
even unglued cards work ok!
Using other MTG cards
You can also use other MTG cards to generate things. You could draw a hand of 7 cards to generate a wizard – instants and sorceries are his spells, creatures are his minions, artifacts are his magic items and enchantments are what he's placed upon himself or his creatures. But non-creature cards are generally too different from D&D material to be converted directly, you would have to just use them as vague inspiration.
Another thing you could do is draw land cards to give a backdrop to a scene. Some land artwork is really cool and just holding up the card and saying “this is where you are” could add a bit of detail and interest to the scene. Or you could shuffle all your land cards together and draw them to generate hexcrawl (cardcrawl?) terrain. Would work best if you had a fair amount of non-basic lands and an idea of what each one represents.
But I don't want to go into it much further because, apart from the creatures, I don't think there's much I can tell you besides "Use them as inspiration, dummy!"

Saturday, January 12, 2013

House Rule Trifecta: Stat Checks, Mass Melee, Lost at Sea


When rolling under your stat, a critical success is if you hit your stat exactly. This is purely a cosmetic change but I don't like the feeling of "Yay, I rolled a 1!"


When you have a bunch of allies and enemies fighting each other but it's not big enough to abstract as a battle - maybe it's a boarding action on a ship or an encounter between two large companies. And nobody wants to deal with all these nameless mooks instead of the cool PCs. And let's assume that because they're mooks they have no special abilities and are functionally equal to each other (e.g. all 1HD fighters).
Have some of the enemy mooks engage the PCs, however many seems reasonable. Pair up the rest of the mooks against their opposing numbers. Each round, the players roll a D6 for each 'pair'. On a 1, the ally dies; on a 6, the enemy dies. If one side is strictly twice as superior (e.g. two onto one, or a 2HD orc onto a 1HD goblin) then double that side's chances of victory. As soon as the PCs engage with the mooks, they start running on the regular combat rules.
This rule gives the mooks a fairly low chance of harming each other, and is based on the idea that in swashbuckling combat, the mooks should fight "in the background" while the PCs are the focus. Most of the mooks will keep hacking away ineffectively at each other until the PCs (or powerful NPCs) shift the tide of battle.


Being lost at sea means you are lost with no ability to navigate and no means of propulsion, so maybe you got shipwrecked, marooned on a raft, fell off, etc. You have nothing you can do except sit around and wait. Make a save vs. death, fortitude save or luck check. If you fail, you die of thirst. What? You shouldn't have gotten lost at sea in the first place, dumbass. If you pass, you are washed up on a random island or fished out by a passing ship.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Magic Weapon History Tables

In honour of Glamdring and Orcrist, two of my favourite characters in The Hobbit. To be used when identifying magic weapons, for a more interesting result than just "this is a +1 sword",  also potentially providing future plot hooks. In my game, I plan to have identification be performed by sages, long-lived elves, dead spirits, ancient golems and other NPCs who are likely to know the history of such things.

1. The Weapon's Name
1. Providence
2. Calamity
3. Eye-Gouger
4. Freerazor
5. Heartsblood
6. Cruelty
7. Usurper
8. Grass-Cutter
9. Gut-Render
10. Limb-Eater
11. Freedom
12. Pallbearer
13. Thrice
14. Dreamer
15. Marrow-Dancer
16. Clamour
17. Fang-Breaker
18. Thunderhead
19. Guts
20. Antechamber
21. Cumulonimbus
22. Final Destination
23. White Out
24. Potato
25. Cigar
26. Hot Tramp
27. Spiderface
28. Real Horror Show
29. Adam Kadmon
30. Crying Game

1a. Paired Weapons
1. Sunlight & Moonshadow
2. Frenzy & Contemplation
3. Northbite & Southfang
4. Terror & Misery
5. Wolf & Polecat
6. Pox & Malefice
7. Liver & Lung
8. Youth & Beauty
9. Seizure & Fugue
10. Drunkard & Hierophant
11. Rib-Chewer & Sphincter's Worm
12. Death By Drowning & Life Behind Bars

2. Its' Former Owner
1. Drouse, a dwarf lord whose bloodline vanished under mysterious circumstances
2. Rhiatha, a princess renowned as a master tactician
3. Tanith of Llor, a prince exiled for terrible crimes
4. Bloody Rose Kenneck, the pirate king's daughter
5. The Boudixhain, ten generations of warrior-queens
6. The Farnoes, three squabbling brothers
7. Croab, the shaman of the renowned Golgangr Orcs
8. Manos, a notorious bandit operating out of an abandoned keep
9. Tremulere, an elvish king who fell in love with a human
10. Homon, a monk who was spontaneously enlightened with a new form of weapon arts
11. Vernoth, a weaponsmith who would not let his creations be given to anyone else
12. Memodes, a ghost who guarded a remote tower
13. Tryvarg, a viking seacaptain
14. Qalloq, a paladin from a distant land who died without ever returning home
15. The Blue Company, an anarcho-syndicalist mercenary band who shared their weapons equally
16. Prelemor, a fat judge who was proud to hang the weapon on his wall and never use it
17. Sturga, a widely loathed inquisitor for a violent regime
18. Chasmesis, a spirit who possessed the weapon for a time before moving on
19. Knobbs, a greasy peasant who found the weapon by accident
20. Freya and Frenka, weapon-juggling ninja sisters extraordinaire
21. Rathus, a mighty warrior who either died or ascended to another plane of existence
22. Gharl III, undead king of the lowlands
23. Asppago, ancient emperor of the serpent-men
24. The Fighting Norns, who shared one eye, one tooth and one blade between them
25. Theliel, an angel of vengeance sent to smite a wicked king
26. Sebekim, a wandering golem created along with the weapon
27. Atropos, a silver dragon whose hoard consisted exclusively of weapons
28. Caulbach, a legendary assassin who possessed ninety-nine weapons that he referred to as his 'wives'
29. Yrvander, a sentient mountain - what it was doing with a human-sized weapon is a mystery
30. Satan

3. Its' Past Deeds
1. Shattered the gates of a besieged city
2. Slaughtered dozens of orphans
3. Lay dormant in an enchanted pool for decades
4. Shattered a much older and more valuable magic weapon
5. Assassinated a bridegroom on his wedding day
6. Destroyed a bridge, turning the tide of a battle
7. Wielded in the last great war fought by the owner's people
8. Tempered in the blood of a dragon
9. Concealed by refugees when their city was sacked
10. Slew the last member of a now-extinct race
11. Sacrificed victims to a dark god
12. Lopped the left head of the Great Ettin, which turned out to be the voice-of-reason head
13. Broke the first chains of a slave uprising
14. Used to execute the King of Thieves
15. Used to carve out a new barony in the depths of the wilds
16. Associated symbolically with a certain city
17. Buried with a knight who later emerged from his tomb
18. Blessed by a saint just before she left this world
19. Was married to a sentient sword to sate the sword's steely lust
20. Turned upon its owner and devoured his/her soul
21. Transformed into a fair maiden and then back again
22. Wandered the land on its own two feet
23. Slew one member of the toughest class of monsters in the campaign world (dragons, mecha, sorcerer-kings - depends on your setting)
24. Cut off the hair or fingernail of a god, which became a powerful relic in its own right
25. Arrived in this world from a parallel timeline
26. Thrust into a dimensional breach to seal an eldritch abomination
27. Divided into over a dozen copies due to time shenanigans
28. Cut the chain that held the moon to the earth
29. Cut off the eighth syllable of the second line of the haiku
30. Smote a hole in the fabric of reality

4. Where It Was Last Seen
1. Stolen by goblins
2. Fell into a river
3. Lost in a storeroom of a collapsed keep
4. Teleported away to a random location
5. Lost in a battle
6. Hidden by the owner, who died before retrieving it
7. Traded to the faeries in exchange for a lost hour
8. Passed on to an heir of staunchly unadventurous character
9. Pilfered by a burglar
10. Paid in tribute to a giant king
11. Swallowed by a whale
12. Buried in the flesh of a beast that later escaped
13. Sealed inside a pillar of a new building
14. Hurled into a volcano
15. Taken away across the sea by a fading race
16. Deliberately dropped into the ocean
17. Absorbed into a gelatinous cube
18. Buried under a collapsing mountain
19. Sealed in a temple that was never to be opened again
20. Destroyed utterly, but prophesied to return
21. Dropped into a crack that opens on the Underworld
22. Carried away by a flight of ravens
23. Lost in the frozen wastes of the south pole
24. Turned to stone along with its owner
25. Dropped through a crack between dimensions
26. Lost in outer space
27. Sent back in time
28. Taken by a unicorn to replace its horn
29. Sacrificed to a dark oracle
30. Carried away by angels

(Note: I'm trying a new thing here where each table gets more gonzo as it goes on, roughly divided into groups of 10, so you can roll a d10, a d20 or a d30 depending on how much variety you want. Or if you only want gonzo stuff you can roll d10+20 or whatever. In this case, higher numbers also generally correlate to more powerful magic weapons.)

(Note #2: Some entries provided by the inestimable Shoe Skogen.)