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3 Approaches to Improbability

0655-FrancisGrose-1208x1060Sometimes the dice abandon us. This doesn’t pose a huge problem to GMs – we can conjure more creatures or challenges into the story to make sure it remains an adventure rather than a cakewalk. No, the problem with improbability that I’m tackling today is those few cursed ones utterly bereft of fortune. Those players that constantly roll 1s, that never break the 10 on a d20 in three consecutive games and for whatever reason, simply defy the nature of probability. 
Nearly every game I’ve played in enjoys a house rule to compensate for these situations in some form or another (something I’ve had to do away with for playtest balance). The options being digested here are as follows: objects of fate, depleting powers and the Luck attribute.

 

Orc-BeserkerObjects of Fate

The first of these are things that players can get easily within the core rules and are a good solution for the luckless member of a group, but should be granted carefully – some are extremely valuable and if the PC passes away in a situation where their equipment is not compromised, it can become problematic. Stick to the lower level roll manipulation magic items and don’t get overzealous about it. This also, of course, can be very frustrating for other players and the last thing a GM needs to be handed is a group with multiple rerolls for each and every member; its tedious and your game is going to ultimately suffer for having such a wide breadth of consequence evasion. While I love the Deck of Many Things, the fact of the matter is that it’s a really good time because the randomness inherent can be vastly unbalancing (with joyous, dramatic, stunned and horrified expressions, as well as everything inbetween). I’m a perfect example of the kind of player that really enjoys those kinds of game tools because they never seem to sour on me – I walk away with 5 wishes or some other unbalancing element that aggravates all my companions, who more often than not have suffered a grievous loss.

 

Depleting Powers

The second option is something I’ve referred to before and is definitely a dangerous terrain to cross. If you choose to go this route, I recommend using either the rules given (for Pathfinder, just make them play a halfling with the adaptable luck racial trait) or to model your own off of them. If you’re using 3.5, I can tell you from personal experience as a player who enjoyed the Auspician class – it is to be avoided by all but the truly cursed (or at the very least, watered down). That class can be a game changer in a very serious way and if you’re not any good for quick improvisation or seamlessly weaving unexpected elements into your story,  consider banning it.

 

KaleLuck as an Attribute

Luck, as a seventh attribute, is my preferred and favorite way to bring some ‘entropy’ into the mix for die rolls. In the days of yore, before I had to adhere to Pathfinder Core Rules for everything, this was what I used for my home games. Everybody gets one (I preferred them to be at 12 or above) and this replaces The 2 Rule. “You’re about to lose your grip, but the plate guarding your arm snags the rope, giving you the instant of relief needed to regain your resolve and hang on for dear life!”

If it’s getting really god awful, allow the PC to make a saving throw (determined by how generally improbable their request is, but usually a DC 10) that will grant them a reroll on the original check. Sometimes (for those truly lucky players that net an attribute score of 18) this is going to get out of hand, but there’s a solution for that as well: either give major NPCs a Luck attribute of their own, or keep a “Karma” or “Fate” track and make sure that eventually, the PCs achieve balance with all their rerolls (having to make saves to avoid rerolling the checks you really want to hit them with).

 

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Infernal Horn

Infernal HornInfernal Horn

Aura strong conjuration; CL 13th

Slot none; Price 50,000 gp; Weight 2 lbs.

Description

This brass horn is engraved with images of cavorting imps torturing small animals, whispering in the ears of human warlords, starting fires and destroying precious artworks.

Once a day when a user blows the horn after speaking its command word, 2d4+1 imps appear in a burst of brimstone to do his bidding. They remain until the task they are given is finished or until 1 hour elapses, whichever comes first.

Non-evil users can summon more powerful imps at the price of a small piece of their mortal soul. The horn instead calls 2d4+1 imps advanced by 1 HD (3.5)/advanced imps (PF) to serve the user, who is treated as if he had the evil subtype for the next 24 hours. A user knows he can make this choice when he speaks the command word.

History    With a successful Knowledge (planar) or Knowledge (religion) check, PCs know some more information about the infernal horn—how much is determined by the following DCs:

DC 15     The infernal horn was created by devil worshiping wizards and clerics, who believed the instrument would let them safely call multiple devils without any need for summoning circles or other forms of protection.

DC 20     The lords of Hel themselves designed the infernal horn, giving the secrets of its creation to their worshipers in an effort to lure more souls to Hel.

DC 25     The lords of Hel bound a number of imps to serve the users of an infernal horn without complaint. In return, the imps are promised they will be given the mortal’s soul to torment for eternity should it end up in Hel.

CONSTRUCTION

Requirements Craft Wondrous Item, summon monster VI ; Cost 25,000 gp 1,000 xp

 

 

Submitted by Jacob Michaels

 

Do you have an idea for an enchanted sword, arcane-empowered armor or unique magic item? Take a look at the submission rules and 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

 

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10 Ways to Run a Better Tabletop Game

Human BooksWe’re keeping it quick and clean this week; enjoy these suggestions on how to run a tighter tabletop game and then get ready for Halloween!

 

1. Get a GM Screen.

Don’t want to spend any money on one with some sweet artwork? Fine – put together some simple word documents, print them out and use two manila storage folders (or some cardboard for the super-thrifty) to make your own. Not only will the quick reference material prove essential, but this keeps anyone with prying eyes (including those you most love and trust, apparently) from seeing the hit point totals of a creature or what an NPC’s roll for a Bluff check was.

2. Keep a Running Cast List

Do you remember that surly bartender from the inn way back at 2nd level? I bet the PC he refused to serve does, and you don’t want to give away any indication that you don’t. Make a Running Cast List and every time you hand out a name, write it down (and include a short stat block or a note or two about what the NPC is about).

 

Vikmordere Ship3. Let the Players Captain the Ship

Nobody likes throwing out hours of design and development, but you have to remember that tabletop roleplaying is a collaborative engagement. If you wrote up a campaign for the great north, but they absolutely refuse to go there, then don’t. Go ahead and provide incentive to steer them where you intended, but if they insist, make those obstacles into an adventure all their own until you can adapt what you’ve got or present something different for your players to sink their teeth into.

 

4. Snacks

Everybody loves snacks.

 

5. Ambiance

I’m not saying that you have to game in a dark basement, but you should try to. Whenever possible, have some background music or sound effects playing. If they’re in the swamp, get some chirping crickets, or if in a cathedral, get some chanting from somewhere. The effect this has on a group is readily apparent for something so easy to provide.

 

Unloading the Ship6. Voice Acting

Even if you aren’t any good at it, you should be doing this. You are the game world – bring it to life. If nothing else, it makes it easier for PCs to differentiate who’s who in a multiple NPC conversation without breaking character and provides both the GM and the group a mnemonic device to remember that fictional individual.

 

7.  The 2 Rule

This guy comes straight from the mouths of some of Paizo’s very best. It’s a general, situation-based bonus/penalty to ensure game fluidity. Find some reason for why the PC would have failed or succeeded on the check, then dole out those one or two integers to make the story move along. More details on that in the link above.

 

8. Play to the Entire Crowd

Obviously the party bard will take second seat in some combat situations, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be busy. Make sure that your encounters are keeping the attention of all the players – if they aren’t, include a lesser enemy to harry them and increase the drama. If their contributions aren’t needed for victory, they aren’t going to feel compelled to make them.

 

Snowy Forest9. Keep Random Encounters Random

Don’t stop doing them entirely, make sure to scale them (to a degree – some ambitious and overzealous goblins can be just that) and don’t make them predictable or a constant occurrence. Not all of them need to be monsters either – earthquakes, hail and freak snowstorms happen.

 

10. Have Fun!
Make sure to enjoy yourself! Happiness and good times are contagious – if you’re engaged, focused and excited, your players will be as well.


 

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Confessions of an Evil GM: Boring vs. Evil

rotd-diceA few weeks ago I went on about fudging dice rolls; Brian Wiborg Monster had so much to say about it, he’s getting an entire post.

Enjoy, folks. -Mike

 

 “The boulder crushes you underneath and you take 50 points of damage.”

Ahhrrww I am dead then, well I guess I have to roll up a new…”

What, no, wait, you only take 12 points of damage.”

Oh then, I’m still up”

The above exchange between a GM and player exemplifies everything I hate about fudging dice rolls, even if the convention can be necessary to keep the game going. Fudging to keep a character alive can be essential, but when a weak GM takes away the thrill and excitement from the game it is wrong on so many levels.

 

medieval-fashion-1We all love playing in extended games, but most of us have stumbled upon a campaign or GM where something is off. We can’t quite put our finger on it…until someone avoids certain death by blatant interference from the GM (oh no, I ended up in one of those boring campaigns where you can’t die!) Now I know we have seen games where the GM plays favorites, but that subject is for another day; this is purely about campaigns where the characters are immortal because the GM is afraid to let anyone die.

It takes away from the excitement and tension; if my character can’t die, why should I even think about his actions? Without real consequences, he’ll just do everything on a whim. We will never run or surrender, just keep fighting against overwhelming odds (because we know the GM will save us). I must say, I despise it.

 

All this rambling leads me to the sentiment that I am an evil GM. Or am I? Perhaps instead I’m a GM that runs campaigns where actions have consequences (balanced consequences I like to think).

witch

I recall an occasion where I used an unconscious character as a hostage – I gave her back, but by then she was bound to a lit witch’s pyre while an evil psyker directed mobs to block the remaining characters’ from reaching her, with screams of “burn the witch” echoing down the alleyways.

This was set on a pleasure planet in a certain dark future of mankind setting (Where there is only war! -MM). Should the character have died horribly? Yes, she should have. That would have made me evil, but details ensured her survival. First, the group really worked well together to rescue her. Secondly, the planet was in lockdown due to a festival (yeah you know the adventure now, don’t you?) that would have made it difficult to get a replacement character. Thirdly, I was having a good day! No, seriously, the group worked together and legitimately saved the character.

 

In said campaign, a few rules were made painfully clear when playing with me as a GM:

1) Don’t split the party.

2) Don’t run down dark corridors on your own, unless you want to spend the rest of the session doped up on painkillers to function after your chest has been shredded by combat shotguns fired from ambush.

3) Don’t trust a clergyman, ever.

4) Don’t split the party. Never ever.

horse-pictures-24

Now I might add, forget rule #1 and #4, because if I want you to split up, it will happen. It is my experience that the coolest things happen when the party is divided, because those times are the most risky in terms of character death and maiming. With that said, it is important to remember that the rewards in those situations should be higher as well.

Sneaking alone after an informant to a clandestine meeting is dangerous, but learning where the identity of other members of the cult makes the risk worth it. Being discovered eavesdropping on a secret cult meeting will most likely result in a ritual sacrifice to send a message, with you being that sacrifice, unless you run and run fast.

Evil? Yes.

Fun and exciting? Yes.

Boring? No way.

  

To sum everything up:

-Don’t be afraid to kill characters. It keep players excited and interested in their own charges as well as those of the rest of the group.

-Don’t kill just for the sake of it. Say to yourself, “What would BBEG (big bad evil guy – MM) do to a hostage at this point in his plan?”, and act accordingly. It is not a James Bond flick where the BBEG traps the hero, explains his grand scheme and how the hero could theoretically stop him, all the while laughing like a madman.

-The players should not necessarily fear you, but they should fear certain things in an environment, a name, a place, or a situation.

forest picture

If they end up hating you for my ramblings, or should you find them useful, remember one thing:

Oderint Dum Metuant

Let them hate, so long as they fear

 

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Confessions of an Evil GM: Sandbox vs. Railroading

B1_map_GMWhen I started playing RPGs, railroading was the only way ahead. Then something called a sandbox came along. I initially thought, “isn’t that where children play and cats do their business?” That’s only partly accurate; sandbox design is a way of making the campaign world more alive.

More alive? I just wanted to kill things with my character. Still, over time I came to love the new, open worlds previously unavailable to me – it was mind-blowing just thinking that I could go anywhere. I ultimately found sandbox design to be amazing and used (or perhaps abused) it for years. I went off the track just because it was expected that I could, and I could have been a better player if I hadn’t.

To this day I still expect a GM to know the proprietor of every tavern in the campaign setting. Now that I’ve taken up the gamemastering reigns myself, my views on the sandbox approach have changed…or have they?

renaissance-clothing-5Let’s consider it against its most polar counterpart: railroading.

I hate pure sandbox; learning everything in a campaign setting by heart? No thank you. Because I have a life, you ask? No, because there are too many cool campaign settings for me to reasonably do that (although I might add that I do have a life). For me the sandbox is of infinite size, both as a player and a GM. The player side of me loves the opportunities, but the GM part of my brain despises it, as the party can run everywhere and expect you to be prepared. This might be because my players are an evil lot, but in my opinion it is because if you give them a possibility, they will seize it. I know I would, so it is only fair that they do so when I’m the GM.

To combat the infinite size of the sandbox, I turned back to railroading. As we played around in the sandbox, we discovered the failings of railroading; it was restrictive and often proved to an impediment rather than aid to the GM. Basically, there’s a good way of railroading, and there is the bad way of doing it. Let me give you examples of both.

Morsain Castle interiorThe wrong way:

The party is summoned to the count’s castle. A railroading trick, the players are summoned by a powerful NPC so that no one tries anything, because the NPC is so powerful.

You must go to X and before the next full moon. Another trick, make sure the distance and time given allows for no or little leeway.

Carry this treasure/ransom/document to X. Make sure the item in question is so valuable that the party will not take any chance that might endanger the item.

Arrive at X, and sit in an antimagicfield and watch the villains take off with the ransom. This is the result of bad railroading; now we can wait until next time, where we will be sent off to somewhere else.

Did this actually happen to me? Yes, and I hated it; it was boring and restrictive.

The right way:

THE TORESTUS FULLGive the players an awesome handout. A map, a prophecy, or a book, if you are so inclined (I am looking at you Mike Myler, giving them a book, talk about raising the stakes for the rest of us.) Seriously with a handout like a map you can control their most likely path of travel (and compensate for going off the trail) and the same goes for a prophecy; any handout that controls some of or any part of their whole journey will help you narrow down your sandbox, which will help you make the passage to the destination more believable. You can prepare a few encounters and read up on the most likely towns they will visit, thereby making sandboxing a breeze.

I must admit that I don’t make handouts for all campaigns, but putting together an intriguing verse or prophecy gets easier with practice.

Checklist for a successful sandbox campaign:

1) Get familiar with or prepare a couple of backwater villages, including a small inn where the party can stay should they go too far from the path.

2) A list of names for quickly naming minor NPCs, so we can avoid the Hanson family of farmers, and the brothers Jonas.

3) You should know where the clerics that are capable of raising and resurrecting are located in the world – there is no free resurrection in every little village.

4) A list of rumors with details conveniently located on or close to the path you want the PCs to take.

medieval-age-2

5) Lists of the various city guards and mages might come in handy as well.

 To sum up my ramblings:

Narrow down the sandbox.

Use an awesome handout (prophecy, map or otherwise) to influence the PCs path.

Prepare lists of useful details for the campaign.

Submitted by Brian Wiborg Monster

[Edited by Mike Myler]

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The Lute of Friendship

Harp-Lute

Lute of Friendship
Aura moderate enchantment; CL 10th
Slot none; Price 18,000 gp; Weight 4 lbs.

Description This beautifully crafted lute has a stout, polished brass handle parallel to the bridge, and the metal continues around the entire frame of the instrument. Unique designs chase the front of the lacquered wooden drum, marking it unique among its peers.

Twice per day, the wielder of this weapon (which operates as a +1 club) may trigger the instrument’s enchantment (Will DC 16) as an immediate action after connecting with a successful attack roll.  On a failed save, the victim suddenly forgets everything that happened to them in the past five minutes (the wielder of the lute of friendship cannot imbue or modify any memories, or remove any memories more than five minutes old.) Any time that a character wielding this instrument as a weapon rolls a natural 1 on their attack roll, they accidentally activate the enchantment (even if there were no previous charges) against themselves. 

History    With a successful Knowledge (local) check, bits of lore relating to the lute of friendship are revealed to the PCs; how much is determined by the following DCs:

 DC 10     The first appearance of this unique instrument was in the traveling comedic show, Bankwizzle and Zankizzle. One of the two would be continuously humiliated, smacked with the lute of friendship, humiliated again and then smacked with the weaponized lute a second time.

DC 15      Whom exactly was going to be the humiliated clown every evening was a point of great contention, and the pair quickly developed a vicious rivalry. While they might have become popular much earlier, neither would part with the designs for the lute of friendship out of spite for the other.

DC 20      The real argument wasn’t at all about the act – it was about Lucretia, a halfling of exquisite beauty and grace that charmed both comedians. Enraptured, they eventually parted ways over the notoriously gorgeous woman.

DC 25     The real end of the Bankwizzle and Zankizzle stage act was the discovery that Lucretia was not as she appeared – one night both comedians realized that she was actually a (very ugly) goblin. Neither could deal with being the butt of the joke – they sold the designs to a bard college and “left for pastures less green”.

 

CONSTRUCTION

Requirements Craft Wondrous Item, modify memory; Cost 9,000 gp (360 xp)

 

 

Do you have an idea for an enchanted sword, arcane-empowered armor or unique magic item? Take a look at the submission rules and 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