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Magic Items Gone Wild – When Excalibur Becomes More Than A Tool

004Whether you admit it or not, I think you love loot.  Everybody does. Magic Items are often the frosting on the cake for me as a player; unless I’m specifically trying not to, I’m always playing a rogue in cleric/fighter/wizard/etc.’s clothing (yes, I will get to a post about how to deal with people like me later, although the Pathfinder Gamemaster’s Guide has some novel ideas) and the acquisition of more impressive and unique items is always among my priorities. We are playing swords and sorcery type games, right? Gimme that enchanted bling!

There are occasions, however, when in our infinite wisdom and kindness as the arbiters of player fates that we may get too merciful and give out a bounty that really is just too good. Whether it’s the keystone of a plot, a weapon wielded by an NPC that was never intended to fall into player hands or just a whimsical allowance for an obscene treasure roll, there’s no shortage of GMs that have made the mistake of handing out something that should have stayed in the books.

 

What happens? It depends on the circumstances. In a game years in the past my group was doing a wizard’s academy thing (Harry Potter was popular at the time – I think we may have stopped after the DM had enough of me asking when the quidditch match was going to happen; either that or I left for college) and our low level characters, on a holiday, encountered a fledgling dragon terrorizing a small town. To make the whole scenario more plausible inside of an academic schedule, we’d been given a scroll of teleport to speedily return home from whatever our intended goal was. Fortunately everyone knew magic missile and we had no shortage of castings at our disposal (there may have been a wand or two to boot) and much to the surprise of everyone, we beat the pants off that beastie, which in typical draconic fashion fled to fight another day.Dragon Red

 

This was what the plot called for – next time we got a chance, our more experienced characters had a dragon to face down. As I mentioned previously, however, I am always playing a rogue, and I wasn’t about to let that get out of my hands, no sir. After about five minutes I had convinced everyone that the thing to do was teleport to the dragon’s cave and ambush it when it came back since it was nearly dead anyway (“We’ll return as heroes in a caravan with valuable magical components!”); it worked like a charm. The very experienced DM of my youth had his bases covered though and used that surprising scenario to expedite other plot events and did an amazing job of integrating it into the overall story.

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That’s one way – unexpected mobility. This instance was just a single scroll of a potent spell, but it easily could have been a flying carpet, ebony steed or any other movement item. If it’s getting your players out of reach of your enemies, grant some special ranged attacks or put them in environments where that just isn’t a viable option (maybe the winds are too fierce to ride easily or the walls are covered in a strange hazard that negates Slippers of Spider Climbing). You are the master of the game! It is well within your power to create obstacles that match the abilities of your players, keeping things challenging without diminishing the extraordinary talents at their disposal. If they’re using an item in a way not described or immediately calculated by the creator, don’t hesitate to do the same; just try to be fair about it.

 

mite__simon_buckroydPerhaps more common (and probably more difficult to deal with) is when an overpowered weapon falls into a PC’s hands. Everybody loves a magic armament that amps up their combat prowess and I’ve known several players that go to great lengths in regard to their arsenal of weaponry. Of course this can be a solution as well as a hindrance – powerful tools of combat are sought after by many parties and anyone that loses their favorite item is going to be quite prepared to collect it from whatever party took it.

This is a good time to mention this: if you haven’t picked up Sean K. Reynold’s File Off the Serial Numbers ($2), do it now – it’ll give you some brilliant ideas on how to take unique creatures and quickly substitute them for more mundane NPCs that fit your immediate needs. This is going to be especially useful for anyone who’s dealing with the problem described above – that flaming sword isn’t so good against the misguided hound-archon-statistics-block-turned paladin with ‘fire resistance’ cast on it. Check it out.

 

Fighter 13

What about armor that is continually giving someone an invulnerable advantage? There’s always combat maneuvers and if the disparity is truly great, this is a wonderful opportunity for a dual sequence combat (where the PC in question is faced off against one ‘prepared’ foe and the remainder of the party gets on with things as usual.) Don’t just run a side battle – run a small side quest. Make their success (which should have something to do with that terrific item they’ve got) have real-time consequences on their allies, or vice versa.

 

PotionThen there are the unique items. I’m guilty of abusing the Bag of Tricks myself, and were I in my gamemaster’s place, it would have stopped working the third time a summoned animal was forced through a trap-infested hallway. Instead, there would be a bonus or something when the use is friendlier to the spirit of the item. Maybe they emerge with an advancing template or instead of pulling one, you get three or four lesser creatures from another version. If you don’t offer your PCs incentive to do more playing by the rules, why should they?

 

Of course, maybe that’s an integral part of your game. Instead of letting that one character’s powerful magic item take the stage, give everyone a proverbial mic that lets them stand out as well. Every PC can have an item that amplifies their racial or class abilities, or better yet, fits the behavior of the character. If the Bard is always rushing headlong into battle, grant them something that boosts their Bardic Music ability when they do so. If the Monk is always taking a contemplative, peaceful approach to obstacles, give them some awareness-based item or a piece of gear that enhances their social skills when they are following The True Way. Without Excalibur there is no Arthur, after all.

 

This is going full circle though – the ultimate answer is you. Whatever you do to ameliorate the situation, remember not to play the ‘god giveth and god taketh away’ trope. Nobody likes having their toys taken away and in my experience it’s easier to bring something out of your own play chest rather than deal with a (rightly) angry player.

 

 

Do you have a contribution or idea for Meta Thursday?  Send us your ideas at submit(at)adventureaweek.com with “Meta Thursday” in the subject line!

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Empowering Experience – Setting aside CR

036-letter-writing-correspondence-q90-1974x1052Everyone has their own concept of what an ideal tabletop experience should entail. Sometimes this means a rigid adherence to every detail to really drive home the simulation and aspects of reality inherent in a roleplaying game, right down to the carefully maintained inventory of carried equipment and penalties for anyone a pound past the limit. This is where it’s at for some groups.

That’s just never been the case for me.

 When I sit down to run (or play in) a game ultimately the reason is to participate in a story. It’s all storytelling. This system takes a nuanced approach whereas another is far broader and you can pick and choose your favorite (personally I’m waiting for my fiancee to grab a copy of The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen for our anniversary; apparently it only uses coins?) but ultimately I think there’s a place in every tabletop gamer’s heart for the original, the irreplaceable, the indomitable: Dungeons and Dragons. But as I mentioned above, everyone’s idea of what makes a good game is different. For me it’s about the story and certainly not the numbers. You sit down to engage it as an empowering experience and getting bogged down in math just doesn’t sit with me (although I’ve seen plenty of satisfaction when someone’s critical mathematical plan falls into place and that is great).

pyroThis doesn’t mean you should go fudging dice willy-nilly. If anything it should deter you from doing so. The beautiful thing about roleplaying games is that the story generated is extremely organic – a good session of dice rolling can go places that nobody could have anticipated! When the final hour of play is coming to a close my players aren’t asking me how many experience points they garnered from the encounters because that’s just not how I do it.

In an ideal (or programmed) world every adventure I design still would not reward the exact amount of experience required to properly level a party of characters from 1st to 20th. The imposed structure would diminish all the places the story could go and place responsibilities on the whole of it that would make the module unto a novel or tome. The beauty of the organic structure would be hindered and the story would ultimately suffer for it.

Instead I design encounters by the appropriate CR, adjusting as necessary (via HD enhancement, simple templates or just more foes) to keep players on their toes, making sure that there’s some questions about the scarcity of resources and various other dramatic afflictions (environmental, medical, timed quests, etc). Nobody levels in the middle of the night after killing a randomly encountered animal the day before; they do it when a story arc is complete.

Really that’s the point of the XP rewards system. The difficulty of each entry increases given its CR on a statistics table that corresponds with the experience rewards system (in three different tracks for Pathfinder!).

Goya_ForgeRemoving the numbers, especially if you’re playing in the aforementioned rules set (which does away with the experience cost to create magical items), accomplishes a few important things of note; players are more driven to engage the investigative and social elements of the game since now the rewards aren’t in the slaughter but the story instead. Character development quite literally carries its own rewards now.

When I am using a proper experience point system, there’s always room for grabbing some points on the side. Canny conversations, clever use of resources, innovative approaches to obstacles; all of these get you something for your troubles, as they should.

But what about the players that just don’t have the skills to outwit a castle guard in conversation, or the bard at your table that insists on singing in real life every time they do so during the game?

I get liberal with the gift giving (I encouraged that bard to be as reckless as possible – his singing was atrocious) and find ways that they can shine (such as the inspiring bravery suggested above) that don’t require a dice roll or a quickly solved puzzle. Did they give somebody a ride to game? What about recounting the events of last session? Maybe they can be the group cartographer?

You want every player walking away from the game feeling as though they engaged the story and played an essential part; make sure that if you are using numbers that this is reflected in the characters statistics. Nobody wants to take an hour out of game to go searching the woods for a creature to pop just so they can get that next level, right? How many wild hogs will  it take to get my next feat is a question no GM or DM wants to be asked.

 

Do you have a contribution or idea for Meta Thursday?  Send us your ideas at submit(at)adventureaweek.com with “Meta Thursday” in the subject line!

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Meta Thursday #1: Puzzles and Players – Finding that Groove

Water Puzzle Glyphs

What makes a game stand out? I remember one instance when my high school dungeon master created an elaborate gladiatorial pit, complete with platforms, ballista, acid baths Gladiatorand spiked pits. We even managed to work out a way for the remainder of the party (in the stands) to be engaged with the event (true strike with some poisoned shards of glass, if you were wondering). The victory isn’t what stays with me though – it was the need to invent strategy on the fly – what my DM had created wasn’t a gladiatorial pit, it was a puzzle.

Mike, that’s ridiculous. Puzzles are easy to identify. They have the numbers on them.” I would argue that they are not, actually, always that simple to notice. A political mystery that’s little more than a series of skill checks quickly becomes a puzzle for all parties involved when the PCs begin pushing against the boundaries of the game mechanism. If you’re running the game don’t shy away from these moments – embrace them! If you’re engaging players instead of their characters, the story being crafted is going to stick with them and ultimately everyone will have an enriched experience from the extra effort. The unpredictable routes through an adventure are sometimes the most worthwhile.

summoning puzzleSome puzzles are definitely easy to identify though, you’re right about that. When I make a puzzle for a game my goal is to engage everybody. Whether a dungeon or a treacherous ascent up a mountainside or whatever, there is always some way to engage your players instead of (or in addition to) their characters.

Why bother with a puzzle?Because I hate sitting on the sideline to watch the rogue get an entire game session to themselves to look for traps. Because I can’t stand the look on my player’s faces when the only person who can actively engage an encounter is the druid or characters with a high fortitude save. Because a table of enraptured participants is worth some extra work on my part.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a place within the game for archetypes like that – it’s a roleplaying game, right? That doesn’t mean the entire experience has to be set into these strict roles and the value of an experience is what you take out of it, so give your players something to walk away with rather than just their characters.

How does one go about making a puzzle for an adventure?” A deceptively simple question with a deceptively simple answer; it begins with an idea. I find it’s useful to decide on a theme shared by both the activity you’re making people do and its implementation in the game. For instance, stacking dice and climbing a mountain – both involve going up, and the cohesion of themes does a little bit to strengthen that ever-important suspension of disbelief.

 

That brings me to my next point – how do you generate this idea? From my own experience, finding something nearby that everyone has access to (a set of dice, coins, paper, writing implements) and playing with it is the best thing to do. If this is just for your players then it can get as elaborate and wild as you like (as if Gabe at Penny Arcade wasn’t already cool enough…) but if you’re designing something for general consumption, stick to that you can find in the kitchen drawer.

Another thing to keep in mind during design is to make it as accessible as possible. Not that kaleidoscopic puzzles aren’t a fun time but what happens when a player is colorblind? Always keep alternative rules available for unforeseen circumstance but never allow yourself to be limited by the medium in such a way that it’s going to potentially exclude a player. That way the puzzle really is for the whole party, not just the player with a high Disable Device check (or keen eyesight or obsession with sudoku).

This damnable contraption continues to defy my will! “ I hear you. It’s a bad place to be. Hours of contemplation seem to have gone to waste and you’re ready to ditch the whole project. Do not throw away your work. I never throw out any of my puzzle (or for that matter, story) ideas. Just because it isn’t working now doesn’t mean it won’t work later; give your subconscious a shot at it and you may be very pleased with the results.

Get the opinion of someone else as well. Everyone’s brain is made of the same parts but rarely will any two work exactly the same way. A new perspective helps to shed light on things and will sometimes generate new ideas, even if your reader-helper is stumped. Many of my friends get upset because ultimately they get used as springboards and I’m told it’s quite frustrating. Value the opinions of others and most of the time you’ll have something of worth.

The bottom line? It’s worth the effort and your group will appreciate what you’ve added to their gaming experience. Give one of mine a try (there’s a wicked one at the end of The Damned Souls of Fenleist) or make something up, but definitely give it a shot. You’ll be enraptured by the results.

Do you have a contribution or idea for Meta Thursday?  Send us your ideas at submit(at)adventureaweek.com with “Meta Thursday” in the subject line.

We do need you to know the following before you submit anything for review:

1. Anyone can submit an entry.

2. One entry per person at any one time. An entry must be your own work, not being published previously or considered by any other publisher, and it must original and not infringe upon copyrighted material.

3. All entries become property of Adventureaweek.com, LLP.

4. By submitting an entry you authorize the use of your name and likeness without additional compensation for promotion and advertising purposes in all media.

5. Adventureaweek.com, LLP reserves the right to withdraw or terminate this endeavor at any time without prior notice.

6. All decisions of Adventureaweek.com, LLP and their arbiters are final.

7. There is no compensation provided – any entries are given freely by their creators for use by Adventureaweek.com, LLP in perpetuity.

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Magic Item Mondays: The Armory of Adventures

Celurian-Wishing Pen

 Are you…..

an enchanter?

a crafter of fine weaponry?

an armorsmith of renown?

an engineer of ingenious devices?

an artisan of the highest order?

an inventor of magical items that would like to see their creation brought to life?

somebody that really wants an artistic portrayal of their most unique and favorite piece of loot?

 

AdventureAWeek.com has need of your services!

We are accepting magical item submissions for the company blog and we want to hear your ideas! AdventureAWeek.com subscribers are our preferred authorship but it’s not an exclusive club; everyone is encouraged to submit an entry and successfully submitted entries will be rendered into a piece of artwork!

Send a brief summary of your proposed enchanted item titled ‘Armory of Adventures submission’ to submit(at)adventureaweek.com with the following:

  • the nature of the item (weapon, armor or wondrous)
  • one or two sentences about its appearance
  • what the item in question does
  • the components and spell(s) used in its construction

 

Celurian-Phase Glove

AdventureAWeek.com will do our very best to reply to you within a week (feel free to notify us if we haven’t) and if we like what we see you’ll be sent a contract from us and asked to prepare an entry for our blog! Unfortunately not every mystical apparatus can exist in every world but we’ll do all we can to help you work out something appropriate.

 

Please bear the following in mind before you submit anything for review:

1. Anyone can submit an entry.

2. One entry per person at any one time. An entry must be your own work, not being published previously or considered by any other publisher, and it must original and not infringe upon copyrighted material.

3. All entries become property of Adventureaweek.com, LLP.

4. By submitting an entry you authorize the use of your name and likeness without additional compensation for promotion and advertising purposes in all media.

5. Adventureaweek.com, LLP reserves the right to withdraw or terminate this endeavor at any time without prior notice.

6. All decisions of Adventureaweek.com, LLP and their arbiters are final.

7. There is no compensation provided – any entries are given freely by their creators for use by Adventureaweek.com, LLP in perpetuity.

8.  Your statblock must be properly formatted.  Please follow these directions:

Item Name: This section is self-evident. The magic item name header in the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook looks like this is in all caps, but it’s just a text style—don’t type yours in all caps!

Aura: This section exists so the GM can quickly tell a player what schools of magic the item uses. This is noteworthy only if the PC fails the Spellcraft check to identify the item and needs an idea of what it may do. Auras are always written as “faint,” “moderate,” or “strong,” plus the appropriate school or schools, and perhaps a subschool if relevant.

CL: The caster level tells you what caster level the item operates at. This means you don’t have to specify a caster level in the item’s description—if you find an orb that can create a fireball, it doesn’t need to say “fireball (10d6).” Unless otherwise specified, the item uses this caster level for all of its abilities. The caster level should include the ordinal abbreviation for that number: “CL 1st” instead of just “CL 1,” “CL 2nd” instead of just “CL 2,” and so on.

Slot: This slot tells you which of the magic item “body slots” the item uses (Core Rulebook 459). If you have to hold the item in your hand (like a rod of wonder) or if it doesn’t use a slot at all (like an ioun stone), it’s listed slot is “none.” (Paizo used to put a dash there for slotless items but no longer does it that way.)

Price: This is the item’s market price—how much you’d pay for it if you bought it from an NPC. This is never expressed as a fraction or decimal; “12 gp, 5 sp” is correct, “12.5 gp” is not, nor is “12 1/2 gp.” If the item costs more than 999 gp, put a comma in to separate the thousands (“20,000 gp” instead of “20000 gp” or “20.000 gp”). If your item costs more than 200,000 gp, it’s probably an artifact rather than a regular magic item. If the item has several types (like a figurine of wondrous power) with different costs, each is listed here, separated by commas.

Weight: This is how much the item weighs, in pounds (abbreviated “lb.” for 1 pound or less and “lbs.” for 2 or more pounds). Most common items in the game have a specific weight, just for consistency. For example, boots weigh 1 lb., so players don’t have to remember different boot weights. Some light items, like gems, headbands, and rings, have a standard weight of “—,” which means individually their weight isn’t important (though the GM can rule that a chest full of them has weight). When in doubt, find a similar item in the Core Rulebook and use the listed weight.

Description (Header): This is a text format we call a “breaker”—the all caps and lines above and below the text are just an applied style. Like the title, don’t type this line in all caps, and don’t add underlining.

Description (Paragraph): The paragraph description of a magic item should say (1) what it looks like, (2) what the item does, and (3) how often you can use the item.

Normally, using a magic item is a standard action. You shouldn’t give an item a shorter activation time than that because it messes with the “action economy” of the combat round—a player who tries to create a faster item is trying to do more than one magical thing per round.

Whether or not using an item provokes an attack of opportunity is built into how it’s activated (Core Rulebook 458). This means for command word items you don’t need to say that it’s a standard action to activate and that it doesn’t provoke attacks of opportunity—that’s assumed for all command word items. In fact, the assumption is if an item doesn’t say how you activate it, it’s a command word item.

Magic items that have effects requiring saving throws should include those saves in the item description. If it’s duplicating a spell, the default save DC is the minimum for casting that spell: 10 + 1.5 x the spell’s level.

If you refer to specific spells, italicize them, like fireball or pearl of power. If you refer to feats or skill names, capitalize them, like Power Attack, Weapon Focus (longsword), Perception, or Knowledge (local). There’s very little else in the game that always requires capitalization—you don’t capitalize class names (cleric), race names (dwarf), combat maneuvers (grapple, trip), or other specific rules (breath weapon, drowning, trample, poison).

Construction (Header): Like the Description header, this is not all caps and not manually underlined.

Requirements: This section is all the stuff a character needs to create the item using an item-crafting feat. List the crafting feat first (capitalized), followed by spell names (italicized), followed by any other requirements such as needing ranks in a skill (capitalized) or an ability like channel energy.

Cost: This is the item’s sale cost—how much a PC could get for selling it to an NPC. This is always half the item’s Price (with the exception of magic weapons, magic armor, and items with expensive material components or foci, because the extra cost is factored in differently). If your item’s Cost isn’t half its Price, you’ve done it wrong. All rules for the Price apply to the Cost (no decimals, no fractions, separate variants with commas).

We look forward to hearing your ideas so drop us a line at submit(at)adventureaweek.com! This is an excellent opportunity to test the waters of game design and if we receive enough entries, you may just see your name in an AdventureAWeek.com book. Besides, who doesn’t want to see their ingenious devices receive the royal, artistic treatment?

 

We’ll see you (and your gear!) in the Armory of Adventures!

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Story Saturday: The Library of Adventures

knights-armor-20

Have you ever played an AdventureAWeek.com module?

Are you a member of AdventureAWeek.com?

 Were there……

supreme feats of heroism?

chilling acts of betrayal?

hilarious misunderstandings?

moments of intense drama?

impossible odds and improbable outcomes?

 Then tell us about it!

AWW-TileSpiderGolem-color-01

AdventureAWeek.com wants to know the stories of your characters within our adventures!

Player submitted entries about their experiences with our products will be posted to the company’s blog every Saturday. Although entries from players are preferred we want to hear back from intrepid Game Masters as well – let us know what happened!

Before you begin scribing away, take a deep breath and do us a huge favor – send a short summary titled ‘Library of Adventures story’ to submit(at)adventureaweek.com.

Your brief summary should include:

the module you used and the chapter where the event occurred.

the names of the characters involved.

a brief explanation (4-5 sentences) that summarizes your story.

pertinent details, as the story demands (a longstanding feud between characters, a terrible tendency for dice to abandon the fighter at crucial moments, etc.)

 

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can (if it’s been more than a week don’t be too shy to remind us) and if we like what we see you’ll receive a request for you to elaborate your story for our blog!

Unfortunately not every submission can see the final page but in those instances we’ll be happy to work with you and do what we can for your account to see the light of day. There’s also a bit of legal business you need to know, so please bear the following in mind before you submit anything for review: 

1. Anyone can submit an entry.

2. One entry per person at any one time. An entry must be your own work, not being published previously or considered by any other publisher, and it must original and not infringe upon copyrighted material.

3. All entries become property of Adventureaweek.com, LLP.

4. By submitting an entry you authorize the use of your name and likeness without additional compensation for promotion and advertising purposes in all media.

5. Adventureaweek.com, LLP reserves the right to withdraw or terminate this endeavor at any time without prior notice.

6. All decisions of Adventureaweek.com, LLP and their arbiters are final.

7. There is no compensation provided – any entries are given freely by their creators for use by Adventureaweek.com, LLP in perpetuity.

 

What are you waiting for? Send us an email at submit(at)adventureaweek.com!

There are stories to tell, legends to bear and epics to be known! Make your voice heard and come spin proverbial yarns with us in the Library of Adventures!