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Strange Salve: Aquatic Encounter Deck

AaW Random Encounter Cards backsideThe Aquatic Encounter Deck has 30 different encounters for waterborne adventures, including floating debris, sea monsters, troublesome harbor bureaucrats, shipwreck survivors, pirates, and more! As soon as a link for physical cards is available we’ll let you know and update the page, but check out the rest of Strange Salve and the 2015 AaWBlog Adventure Path until then (unless you’re an avid reader already, in which case please keep on keeping on!) If you’re digging the Aquatic Encounter Deck make sure to check in over the next few months—more of its kind are on the way!

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Meta Thursday (Duty in Drak’kal): Pacifist Roleplay

Most roleplaying games are much more than just moving around a map, stating that you swing your +3 cold iron battleaxe at the CR 1 kobold, or charging into the irrational mob to slay the loud mouth. They can be about the story and characters, allowing each PC to do great and unexpected (and memorable) things. Some of the best of these moments aren’t even violent, but the party dissolving a combat encounter by using diplomacy or even cunning deceit to turn enemies into unwitting allies! Below are some tips for GMs to make this facet of roleplaying more accessible for all levels of play, making it easier for a group to engage with the game world in a way more eloquent than fighter-ing the NPCs.


Rick Orc 4Rookie Players Beginners sometimes have the most fun and unexpected reactions to different encounters but unfortunately, there can be a tendency to get stuck into a routine of just killing everything that poses a threat or shows hostility towards them. Now this isn’t a bad thing—they should be wary of most monsters in a general sense—but here are some new tips for breaking in a rookie PC

  • Drop heavy hints that sometimes it’s better to communicate with the angry mob.
  • Have the party overhear a lesser NPC expressing a desire for a peaceful resolution, providing the PCs with the proverbial foot in the door.
  • Instead of waiting, have an NPC approach the party to open a dialogue.
  • Despite the danger of rising ires, don’t have the NPCs draw their weapons, and instead they sheathe blades when the adventurers approach (seeing a real possible threat and generally backing down in response).
  • Have the mob approach the players, but not to make attack rolls (though this is a dicey option, as some PCs are perhaps a bit eager to draw first blood).


Immediate Players These are individuals who know the rules and usually have a good sense of the game’s flow; they aren’t as easily caught into the looping circle of, “well we can kill this NPC and there’s almost no downside—why not?” Depending on what their PC is, these folks are almost always willing to talk it out if they feel like they cannot safely kill the NPC. It’s also worth remembering (or pointing out for the truly dense gamer) that indiscriminately killing people generally doesn’t do great things for one’s reputation (including the willingness for commoners and merchants to interact with them at all).

  • Drop light hints that focus on describing more body language and how the NPCs shift about while the confrontation mounts. This gives the party reason to scrutinize what apparently hostile enemies might really be doing or thinking, rather than just what they might be saying.
  • Remind players that negotiations are often weighted by scales that (frequently of the gilded variety) and that debate (or haggling) has long been an important part of society.
  • When the adventurers make a good skill check or voice a valid point, have parts of the crowd gradually come over to their side of things, showing that maybe a mob isn’t as unruly as it looks.


pacifist roleplay - rick hershey blue mage shamanVeteran Players These gamers have seen campaigns from beginning to end time and again, and sometimes they get to thinking they can see what’s coming from a mile away (though they might not make that clear from the onset). The routine a party plays out when meeting NPCs benefits from the presence of these individuals, and they tend to set the pace of social interactions; the suggestions below aren’t so much to help these folks out, but to provide them some (oft appreciated) variety in these encounters.

  • Directly confront the adventurers with an important NPC that’s anathema to the veteran player, just remember that you don’t want to force any gamer (especially a “face”) to lose their place in the party.
  • Have NPCs surrender only to fight again! There’s a wealth of great dialogue that can happen in the midst of battle, but a brief reprieve can alleviate the disruption that often comes from a well-delivered quip and even be used (by either side) to shake up the tactical layout of a combat.
  • Involve some storytelling mechanics that enforce certain rules in conversation; maybe there’s a trigger word that can incite NPCs into a frenzy if spoken too many times, or a magical effect that punishes anyone that suggests dissent against the local lord. This shouldn’t totally impede the adventurer’s conversations, but provide a fun and innovative challenge to the regular skill check rolls and bribery often employed in these situations


Remember that these are just hints, tips, and suggestions that can help bring about a more pacifist session to a gaming group. It’s the GMs story and some epic combat is likely to be a part of it, but don’t forget to enjoy the unique solutions PCs often come up with to calm the raging barbarian, cheat some scurrilous merchants out of some coin, or talk their way out of a dragon’s lair! The options are as endless as the games we play, and some of the most memorable moments come from the mindset of a negotiator rather than a warrior.


[Submitted by Tim Snow!]



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Story Locale (Forsaken Frontier): Rungkung Jungle

South of the Shining City lay the Rungkung Jungle, domain of Kaloatl the Eternal Eye and his army of the Smiling Sons. This entire region is set upon an elevated valley enclosed by steep inward sloping crags that trap moisture inside of an atmospheric envelope created by the rainforest’s plants, causing the domain of the benign mummy to be unbearably hot and humid year-round (very hot conditions).

Fauna: The indigenous peoples naturally came to worship the sun in all aspects and their temples to the heavenly star litter the valley. Three of these stepped pyramids are much larger than the others and equidistantly placed across the jungle in the rough shape of a triangle. The two nearest Salamangka are occupied by the Smiling Sons, and the last is home to secretive, sneaky runghalflings, refugees from Picollo that have adapted to the rainforest’s oppressive heat by mastering the night.
Rungkung Halflings gain darkvision 60 ft., but lose all racial skill bonuses and the racial +1 luck bonus to saving throws.

Rungkung JungleThe small folk are not the only creatures to take advantage of Rungkung’s unnaturally warm climate; reptiles and amphibians in these rainforests grow to gargantuan sizes. Rivers and streams that crisscross the region are rife with alligators the size of merchant vessels, sun-basked boulders are littered with iguanas the size of houses, and snakes that rival caravans slither through the jungle in search of prey.


Flora: By and far the strangest aspect of Rungkung, the plants here are unlike any others in Aventyr. Over the centuries they’ve not only grown to match the climate (most of them qualifying as megaflora), but some have been further changed by Kaloatl’s direct attention and divine blessings.

Holy Giant Flytraps can be found throughout the wilderness, but oddly, they do not attack every creature that crosses their path. Instead, thanks to the Eternal Eye’s influence, they only attack creatures of evil alignment. The husks of their prey are mummified, raised as undead with an alignment of lawful good.
Rungkung Megaflora have resist (fire) 10. Freshly cut wood cannot be burned until it has been thoroughly dried (a process that takes 1d4 days or 1d4 hours exposure to flame).
Sonceto Ferns are incredibly well-suited for exposure to sunlight, efficiently soaking in solar energy it uses to defend itself. When a creature brushes against a sonceto fern there is a 50% chance it reacts, shooting out 1d6 rays of light (+5 ranged touch, 5d6 fire damage, range 30 ft.).

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Meta Thursday (Lands of Ludolog): Vertical Dungeon Design

Vertical Dungeon Design
This week’s Lands of Ludolog articles are loosely based on a favorite childhood vertical platformer video game (Kid Icarus) and today we’re considering what elements of those level designs might be applicable to fun map layouts based on the same general premise—a vertical dungeon. A typical dungeon already has multiple levels, but we’re focusing more specifically on a build that closely mimics the tall-and-narrow nature of old-school vertically scrolling video games where certain elements can really add a level of perceptual realism to the design.

A tower [as will be utilized in this week’s Sidequest Saturday! -JAM] is one such example of a vertical dungeon, but the possibilities are not limited to stereotypically narrow structural architecture. A vertical dungeon could be located completely beneath the ground (perhaps built into the remnants of an old quarry or mine), underwater structures using a tight layout can strengthen against the tremendous water pressure of the depths, and dungeons built into the hollowed trunk of massive ancient trees can be a real treat—the possibilities really are limitless. Regardless of its type, the key focus remains on building numerous levels stacked on top of one another rather than expanded out into a few floors in a widely sprawling dungeon.

vertical dungeon design 1The most important concept to keep in mind when designing a vertical dungeon is how the various levels will vertically align with one another. One easy method to keep you on track while building is to define a “duplicate structural footprint”. All the rooms within a single level are contained within that footprint, and subsequent levels (either above or below) are situated to fit the same footprint. This makes it easier to keep track of which areas, rooms, and hallways remain vertically aligned with others—which can greatly affect how various methods of ascent and descent work throughout the vertical dungeon.

The following are a few ideas that can help add to the distinction and plausibility of a vertical dungeon design.


Chutes & Ladders and Stairs – Creating logical and complex vertical passageways.
Chutes, tunnels, slides, ladders, steps, stairs, and lifts are all standard issue in most typical dungeons, but in a vertical dungeon these elements can easily play off the unique alignment of numerous levels. Chutes may twist and wind around various rooms, dropping to the level below only to rise back up to the level above before terminating. A spiral staircase may not lead to a preceding level, but instead bypass several floors on the way up or down! Have fun with connecting the various levels with one another, mixing-and-matching potential paths of progression for intrepid explorers. This is where the duplicate structural footprint method of design resonates, allowing you to easily check if a specific space of the footprint on multiple levels is a vertical tunnel, pit, chute, or staircase that passes through to a further level without running into an already existing area. Remember, it’s important to make sure that your vertical passages make as much sense as your horizontal ones!

Trick Doors and Endless Corridors – Are we even going the right direction anymore?
Teleporting infiltrators of a dungeon can be a great tactic to confused parties and throw the group cartographer off track. Certain areas can be outfitted with magical traps or arcane runes that trigger teleportation to another, identical location on a different level of the dungeon—this can quickly make mapping the otherwise relatively simple levels very challenging, keeping players on their toes. After all, it’s not easy to keep from getting lost when you are trying to map out the fifth floor of the dungeon while unwittingly exploring the tenth! Teleportation triggers work particularly well in the middle of winding corridors, or used as magic portals placed upon doorways. Without any specific physical landmarks to indicate anything has changed after passing through the teleportation, the dungeon explorers may continue on for quite some time before becoming aware that something is awry. These tricks are particularly useful in dungeons designed for escape scenarios, especially if exits are limited!

vertical dungeon design 2Multilevel Chambers – My, what a big room you have!
Building vertically allows for some interesting room design. Particularly large and tall chambers may actually span multiple levels, providing a great opportunity for integrating balconies, terraces, and lofts that overlook several floors via these larger open spaces. Or, if you’re feeling particularly devious, include dead-end doorways and hallways that terminate not at a wall, but midway through a multilevel chamber. This same effect can also be created if there is a wide opening between two vertically stacked rooms (a pit from the room above leading into the room below). Progression through parts of the vertical dungeon can even require passage through one level into a multilevel chamber to gain access to corridors on a preceding floor—put that rope and grappling hook to good use!

Hidden Levels & Half Levels – A dungeon so devious it has levels in its levels…
So you’re creating a multilevel vertical dungeon, but keeping things on the level just isn’t good enough? Half levels (or areas contained in between two main levels) can add to the sense of scale and complexity of the design. For example, if the primary levels of the vertical dungeon are separated by fifteen feet, that leaves a whole lot of space between those floors to hide additional rooms, secret passages, and discrete niches. Entire levels can be sealed off in these spaces and made accessible only by secret passage or by triggering a teleportation to an area completely segregated from the rest of the dungeon! Hiding levels between levels is a great way to ensure that those secret rooms aren’t easily identified through finding a “blank” space in the cartography of a particular level.

Whether designing a standalone vertical dungeon or including a vertical section to a sprawling dungeon, the most important thing to remember is to have fun! While keeping everything aligned when designing vertically can be a challenge, the end result can really pay off by providing a rich and complex environment for the player characters to explore.

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Meta Thursday (Lands of Ludolog): Rattle and Roll

After getting through the first few months of play, many groups become well-oiled machines. Everyone is having fun but as time goes on, this functionality almost seems to make the group stagnate—not in a bad way that inhibits fun, but Jim is always a caster of some type and Roberto persistently plays the paramour. In essence this isn’t a negative thing or even something that requires tampering, but as with the rest of the game, the GM can toss a wrench in the works of this part of game design to make things rattle and roll now and again.

Note that these aren’t for every group, but if the players are all familiar with one another and typically switch GMs, there are some suggestions below to shake things up. If everyone involved is still getting to know one another and you’re looking for some advice, browse through the AaWBlog’s other Meta Thursday articles—this is definitely advanced design territory.

rattle and roll evilOne “good” means to do this is for one or more player to be truly evil. Not just greedy or following an evil deity, but a believable character that can function without overt malice. Maybe the PC didn’t start that way, but had a change of heart after watching their paladin ally slay someone dear to them, or the adventurer lived through a horrific upbringing that set them down a path of civilized malevolence. However this may happen, it can be a fine thing! As a GM your job is to help this conflicted antagonist/protagonist, keeping them engaged with the group and making the player act out their corrupted motives and deeds in secret. This may be difficult to do without watching the adventurers devolve into backstabbing or assassination, but a dynamic storyline and the promise of a resolution (like winning that dead friend back or true vengeance) should be sufficient to keep that evil PC in line and willing to operate within the ideologies of a good-aligned group. This is one of the ideas that is a bit harder to pull off and is not recommended for newer groups.

Most groups sit down before a campaign begins and lay out what characters are going to be played, sometimes focusing on this or that aspect to complement one another—this is great for new groups and helps make a solid adventuring party. However, getting players to communicate their roles indirectly (both in action during combat or through roleplay) can lead to a more varied team and encourages acting in character. rattle and roll indirectMoreover, now Roberto (who’s always wanted to play a mage) can make a wizard without knowing that Jim is doing the same—now the group has two arcane spellcasters, which changes the dynamics of the game but can be a fun time all the same because now everyone is really doing what they want to with their PCs. This option can lead to a hazardous set up though, so letting a player know the roles of their allies ahead of time isn’t a bad idea (and most campaigns have someone that prefers a “fill in” design anyway). Sometimes this means there’s no healer, and in these cases a few rerolls each game can help fill the gap left by cure spells.

The last suggestion is an abstract concept but simple to implement, and one that can be a source of great fun in any game but take note: it is definitely for advanced groups only. After each session or story arc (be it the defeat of a main antagonist or the clearing of a dungeon), let the players vote on one PC that they think did the most killing, provided the greatest aid, solved the toughest puzzle, or performed the best roleplay. Whomever they pick gets a reward related directly that PC or how they are played—if the character has red hair or a flaring temper, for a number of rounds per day they can add +1d6 fire damage to weapon attacks as a swift action. For a more complex approach, the GM could grant movement (like a burrow or flight speed) or modify existing class and monster abilities. To keep things from getting out of hand, limit the ability’s use to a week, and rule that no PC can receive such a reward if they’re still benefiting from one.

These are, of course, only general guidelines to shake things up, or get a group ready to change from one system or campaign to another. Even though they can be a great time, you don’t always want one player to be evil or to hand out magical abilities each week, but if a little rattle and roll seems to be called for, definitely give them a try.

[Submitted by Tim Snow!]

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Meta Thursday: Isolate Don’t Incapacitate

isolateWhile doing my first ever seminar panel at Aethercon [available here! -MM], I stumbled on a great, simplification of a principle that applies equally well to both monster design and game design in general: isolate don’t incapacitate.

My favorite example of this is the temporal filcher, specifically the time filch ability. This wonderful grappler snatches up an opponent, and the two disappear from time for 7 minutes. Toss in one per party member and you’ve just created a dynamic fighting space using time, with one-on-one combat that lets each player get a moment to shine.
Of course not everybody is ready to be filched! Maybe psionics aren’t a part of your game, your players aren’t a suitable level, or it doesn’t fit your style of play—that’s alright! You can use terrain, magic (or its equivalent), and different objectives to do the same thing!

GladiatorOne of my favorite games was one where I was a player; D’thul [if you’re thinking, ‘from Rise of the Drow?’ you are quite right. -MM] fought in a gladiator arena composed of platforms. Meanwhile another ally in the stands was dumping potions of true strike down the gullet of their marksman buddy, who in turn was flicking poisoned shards of glass at Dthul’s opponent. All while another party member was listening in on important discussions in the crowd, and another prepared an ambush for one of our quarry.
It was epic and unforgettable, for two reasons: first, D’thul very nearly lost his life, climbing out of an acid pit with 1 hit point and watching the head gladiator die beneath him; second, everybody was extremely engaged with the game and indeed the fight, but there was still active participation on the part of the entire party.

1) Terrain
Difficult terrain can do the trick, but what about really employing some true obstacles? Perhaps the party’s enemy has prepared nearby trees to fall when struck, cutting allies off from one another, or chose a battlefield with a natural hazard to do the same. While we are indeed talking about a game with inherent teamwork, it can be extremely exciting  to use the battlemap to force natural divisions between PCs, making them take to the fight on their own rather than as a group

Image_Portfolio_102_Fantasy Jason Walton 302) Magic
This is along the same lines as the temporal filcher but is a troublesome route—depending on what methods are used to get the desired effect, the PCs may rightly employ the same means to negate the whole thing! This is, of course, where conjuration effects are going to serve you best.

3) Different Objectives
As illustrated in the story above, making sure everyone has a role to play can be just as important as having the right monster for the fight! There’s rarely complete balance in a combat, and one individual will end up taking the spotlight, but that doesn’t need to be the only spotlight.

All of these can easily be used within the Lands of Ludolog! Terrain naturally plays a huge role in the 2-Bit Dimension, magic is constantly at work (and GMs are strongly encouraged to make use of more invisible walls of force as they see fit!), and having simultaneous goals to finish a miniworld should be quite common.

Just remember: stunning and paralysis can be a great tool, but nobody wants to spend a fight on the sidelines because of one bad saving throw!

Isolate don’t incapacitate!