Monday, February 9, 2015

Spell-casting house rules

Initiative : minus 1d6 + spell level 

So, if you're casting a cantrip, your initiative score is reduced by 1d6. If you want to cast a level three spell, your initiative count would be 1d6+3 less.

If you take damage, or have to endure some sort of environmental hardship before your initiative comes up, you must make a Concentration save to be able to cast the spell. If you fail, your action is used, and the spell is not cast (though the spell slot, nor any material components, are not used up). You can still move and take reactions and bonus actions if appropriate.

Rituals : casting time one hour per total levels plus 1d4 hours.

For example a level 4 ritual would take 1+2+3+4=10+1d4 hours to cast. Note that partaking in a ritual, either as caster or recipient, does NOT count as resting.

Corruption : casting without a patron or via ritual may result in corruption.

Note: I haven't really thought this one completely through, and I'm not sure quite how workable it would be. I really just want some mechanism that might encourage people to consider before using magic willy-nilly.
Channelling magical forces directly through one's own body, without the buffer created by a ritual or magical intermediary, is potentially hazardous to one's spiritual well-being. There are certain physical signs of magical corruption, but more important are the mental effects: gradually (if it's not already there) the magic-user's alignment shifts around towards chaos and evil.

There are rituals designed to remove magical corruption, or to transfer it to some other unfortunate.

When you cast any spell, make a DC 5 + spell level save vs. your magic-using characteristic. If you fail, you gain one point of Corruption. I'll let you know what that means as and when it occurs.
Note: Warlocks, Clerics, and Paladins are deemed to get their magic through magical intermediaries. Other spell-casters will have to come to their own arrangements if they want a patron.
Note: It occurs to me that this would make an excellent game-mechanical reason for a spell-caster to have a familiar, which would act as a magical conduit as long as it's within line of sight and thus remove the risk of corrupting one's own self with all this magical jiggery-pokery. It would also explain the intimate psychic connection between familiar and "master". I shall therefore Make It So.

The Joy of the Tomb of Horrors

I'm currently running the party through the good old Tomb of Horrors, much to the disgruntlement of one of the players who has been complaining endlessly about how everyone is going to die horribly. Whine, whine whine.

Anyway, it's a bit of a side-step from the main campaign, and I've been struggling with the old D&D3.5e freebie version, trying to run it pretty much on the fly and convert to 5e at the same time. That rewrite was, as I've said before, not very good, either in terms of layout, nor as regards the placement and explanation of various features of the dungeon. I've missed (or misinterpreted) several things simply because the full description of what should be going on was located in some completely different location in the document, and it's really been pissing me off. Add to that the fancy-schmancy 3e-style map, which adds a whole lot of needless fooferaw and consequently decreases its actual clarity and usefulness.

I've just got hold of another rewrite, this time one that appeared in Dragon #213, for the then-named D&D Next — the working title for the playtest version(s) of D&D5e. It is so much better in every way than the 3.5e version. It is a model of clear, rational layout and description (with the exception of a couple of stat-blocks that crowd the text somewhat) and I really wish I'd had it to begin with.

Ah well, not to worry. I can switch over to it quite seamlessly as far as the players are concerned.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Attack Of The Mega-Spells of DOOOOOOM!

As we make our way into my new(ish) D&D5e campaign, I'm finding quite a few things that have changed from Ye Olde Dayes that have a tendency to make PCs into unstoppable superheroes. The new hit-point recovery rules are one, though I don't really have too many issues with that; it improves survivability at low levels and keeps things moving along a bit more than they did when a party had to hole up to recover for a week after half an hour of dungeon-bashing.

The idea of having to take a character down below negative their hit-point total to kill them starts to get problematic once they get past the first couple of levels; a mid- to high-level character pretty much needs have no fear of death from a one-shot unless it's an attack that's doing hundreds of points of damage. Add to that the use of Hero Points to guarantee successful Death Saves, and a PC with more than 30hp or so is pretty much unkillable.... unless.....

Intelligent creatures will be aware of the issue, and if they spend a bit of effort after the PC has gone down whacking away at them to make sure of automatic Death Save failures, then the unconscious PC is in real trouble. This is where being swarmed by vicious little bastards like goblins or kobolds gets very dangerous.
Note: I believe, during play-testing, death was set at negative CON+Level; I'm not sure why they decided on the current system. I suppose to give players as much opportunity as possible to save their characters.
I've previously made my disdain for the new Find Familiar spell known. What a stinker.

Another spell that is giving me pause is Lesser Restoration. This is a real uber-spell. It requires no material component, and it pretty much gives the PC four spells for the price of one 2nd level spell slot: it replaces the old Cure Disease, Neutralize Poison, Cure Deafness/Blindness, and Remove Paralysis. That seems amazingly powerful for a humble second-level spell to me.

I think that what I will do with it is, first, make it a lengthy ritual spell, and second, give it a reasonably rare and expensive material component that varies depending on what it is that the caster wants to heal. That still leaves it a very powerful spell to have in one's repertoire without letting it become overly dominant.


Lesser Restoration

2nd level abjuration
Casting Time: 3+1d4 hours (ritual)
Range: Touch
Components: V,S,M (50gp worth of powdered gemstone, which is consumed by casting the spell — diamond to cure a disease, amethyst to neutralize a poison, aquamarine to cure deafness or blindness, or emerald to remove paralysis.) 
You draw a magical circle of runes and sigils around a creature and, after a period of 4 -7 hours of chanting and magical jibber-jabber, can end either one disease or one condition afflicting it. The condition can be blinded, deafened, paralysed, or poisoned.

I think that should do the trick. At least it will make it a bit less egregious.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Bah! Humbug!

I'm supposed to be running a game this evening, and I am feeling generally disgruntled and out of sorts. I shall have to BUCK MY GODDAM SELF UP, or else there is a distinct possibility that rocks may fall and everybody dies.

I've been waiting and waiting on a fucking timber merchant to let me have some fucking timber, and they are being fucking useless about it, so I can't get on to the fucking project I want to get on to, and I am fed up to the back fucking teeth with them. Apparently, when they tell me "Wednesday afternoon, or first thing Thursday" (after I've rung them repeatedly to find out what the fuck they're up to), what they ACTUALLY mean is "Ahahahahahahahaaaa.... yeah, fuck you".

So, bleeagh. And also, poop.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Giant Bat

Here's an old miniature of a giant bat I've had hanging around for decades, along with a 25mm Ral Partha wizard for scale.

I don't know the manufacturer of the bat; I suspect it was GW, but I can't be sure. The wings were monstrously thick, and I had to carve them down substantially just to get a thin edge. Its original base was missing, so I've mounted it on a piece of wire soldered to a steel washer.

I wanted to get its wings looking translucent and skin-like, but that proved to be beyond my powers in the time I felt the miniature warranted, and I got leathery instead. That's OK, I guess.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

D&D 5e DM Screen update

I've added another couple of pages to my DM Screen, adding tables for Chases, Traps, Carousing, Crafting and Selling Magic Items, and Madness.

I don't have these two pages permanently mounted on my screen; I've just printed them double-sided and laminated, and keep them with — but not of — the screen.

The PDF is now 6 pages, and about 260 KB. You can get it here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Wave Echo Cave

Here's the map of Wave Echo Cave I gave my players after they cleared out Cragmaw Castle, failed to save the dwarf from having his throat cut or find the dastardly evil-doer they were actually looking for, and got 25% killed by an enraged owlbear which saved the rest of them from being butchered by the remains of a depleted century of hobgoblins.

Whether or not they'll ever actually get to Wave Echo Cave is now doubtful. I seem to have gone a bit off-piste with that adventure, and now they're in Neverwinter trying to find out what's going on behind a nasty plague of zombies and things, and people not staying decently dead as they should do.

I should note that I'm not actually using Faerûn as my campaign setting, I'm using my own world that I've been playing with for a bit more than thirty years now. I've just inserted Neverwinter's bit of the Sword Coast in the north-west of my main continent where it can't do too much harm.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Pond — water terrain experiment

This is an experiment in water effects. I painted on the back of a piece of clear 1mm acrylic and then laid the groundwork on top. It doesn't display to its best in these photos, but having said that, it's not a good as I'd have liked anyway.

In this photo to the right, with some 15mm Battlefront Panzer Grenadiers, it manages to make a small, scummy pond. With the 28-30mm Essex knight below, it's more of a small, scummy puddle.

Here's a more-or-less straight-down shot. I didn't get the effect of depth I was hoping for with the back-painting, nor was the surface texture using gloss medium terribly successful.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

D&D 5e DM Screen — updated

I've updated my D&D 5e DM Screen to include material from the DMG, and I also took the opportunity to fix a couple of errors that had crept into the first version. It's a four-page PDF, about a couplahunnerd KB. You can nab a copy here.

Here it is in use, in all its glory. I could maybe just fit another page and not quite have it falling off the edges of the table, but it would be more trouble than it's worth I think.

The fundamental structure of the thing is just box card; I've used much heavier card in the past to make other screens, but there's not really much benefit to that, or so I've found. The outside is covered with some antique Edwardian wallpaper I found in a junk shop, the inside is (of course) the laser-printed data sheets. It stands 175mm tall, so it's low enough for me to see over pretty easily. Laid out flat, it's about 1230mm long.

Monday, December 29, 2014


I wish I had said it first, but I didn't. Zak S said it, and I absolutely, thoroughly agree:
"Hobbit: Battle of 5 Armies may not be very faithful to Tolkien but it is really faithful to Warhammer Fantasy Battle which is a way better thing to be faithful to. It is the Warhammer Fantasy Battlest movie ever made . #wargoats"
 I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. I liked the first two a lot better having seen the extended versions, which put back in a lot of bits and pieces that I'd missed, but of the three I enjoyed this one the most.

I will spoiler no spoilers (though I doubt that there's much there to be spoiled because frankly it's not a movie of great subtlety), but I will say this: you really, really don't want to piss off Galadriel, because she will fuck your shit up.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

On the Day Before Xmas, A Red and Pleasant Land

My copy of A Red and Pleasant Land by Zak S. arrived today, the day before Xmas, which is kind of appropriate I think.

I love everything about this book. I love the size, and I love the red fabric binding and gold foil stamping. I love the feel and smell of the thick, cream-coloured paper, and I love the crispness of the printing. I love the typefaces and the layout, and I love the drawings. And, luckily, I also love the content — what I've seen of it so far.

This is, without a doubt, the most beautiful gaming book I've seen. It is positively sumptuous.

I don't know yet how much or how little I'll use of it in my own game. I'm pretty sure something will leak out though, because it's just jam-packed with interesting stuff.

At present, I'm just enjoying reading it as a somewhat trippy work of imagination. It reminds me, in feel, of some of the drug-addled sci-fi/fantasy writers of the '60s I was reading in my youth, though the writing is less mannered and pretentious than twats like Moorcock, and it includes a lot more useful pictures and charts and things.

The stuff in the background: the triptych is a thing I did in oil pastel a few years ago, on a cheap folding MDF screen I'd bought many, many years ago. The garuda is a carving I picked up for about eight bucks at a junk shop, going cheap because it has a crack through its base. Fortunately, I don't give a shit about stuff like that, so I was just happy to get it for a shiny penny.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


Having just finished my initial read-through of the new DMG, there are a few options that I'll be adopting, some of which are new(ish), some of which restore some features of earlier editions.

  • Hero Points (p.264) is one — I prefer it to the Inspiration mechanic. I suspect a major use might be to stop people dying of crappy saving throws.
  • Healer's Kit Dependency (p.266) — I'll have to sort out just how much, in terms of game mechanics, a Healer's Kit can be used before it's exhausted and has to be re-stocked.
  • Action Options (pp.271-272) — Climb on to a bigger creature, Disarm, Overrun, Shove aside, and Tumble are all options I'm happy to adopt. I'm not convinced about Mark, and probably won't use it. I'll also reinstate Cleaving Through because I like the trope of fighters cutting a bloody swathe through legions of mooks, though it may very well make being mobbed a bit less frightening.
  • Lingering Injuries (p.272) — I'll use this, but only for when characters are reduced to 0 hit-points but not killed, not also for critical hits. It will mean that restoration/regeneration magic will be more necessary, of course.

I like the Chasing rules (pp.252-255), which will make chasing and escapes a lot more interesting and fun.

Something we haven't been doing, which we should get back into the habit of, is declaring actions before Initiative is determined, for the purposes of spell-casting interruption and so forth. I'd like to get back to using Speed Factor Modifiers (p.271) for initiative too, even if only for spell-casting and potion-glugging and the like.

Apart from anything else,
it gives me an excuse to use
my Judge Dredd playing cards.
I'm also wondering about modifying initiative determination from die rolls to secret card-drawing, and then running each turn through an initiative count-down. We'd use a standard deck of playing cards, with your initiative being the value of the card you draw (1 to 13 — Ace to King) plus or minus any DEX or situational modifiers. Maybe if you draw the Joker, you get to go first OR swap it with another player's (or DM's) card. (?) That would mean that if you have an absolutely vital spell in the offing, you can give the Joker to your wizard and be secure in the knowledge that she's not going to be interrupted in the casting... or not for that turn, anyway.

When the deck runs out, it's shuffled and re-started.

The advantage of all this is that it makes combat ever so slightly less predictable, since none of the combatants will know exactly when any of the others is going to act.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Forward mail to...

High above the Thieves' Guild on Cutpurse Row in the Snail Quarter (P/F) is where, living mostly quietly in semi-retirement, you will find Prince Fnord the Golly-Gosh Darned Nice Guy (fighter 13), and a few floors below, his hideous and intellectually stunted compatriot Smirnoff (fighter 9).

It's tragic the way they've just relaxed into getting old and fat, instead of running around trying to avoid getting killed by everything they meet.

And now, behold the power...

...of this fully functioning character generation wheel!

I've fancied it up since I first made it, so it's now also available in glorious full colour (pdf is about 480 KB).

You will observe that I've cut out a disc of clear plastic to write the scores on in dry-erase marker, and pinned it to the card with one of those brass bendy-staple things that I don't know the name of so that it rotates freely.

This particular set of characteristics were generated with just 3d6, so they mostly suck, but the set I've selected actually aren't too bad... except for that DEX. This person is going to be kind of a klutz if something isn't done about that when choosing its species.

Hey Boys & Girls, It's Neato-Keano Time!

My DMG just arrived from Amazon, precisely on schedule.

So, that pretty much takes care of any of the other things I might have had planned for today.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Alas, Poor Owlbear, You Were Great Once

Statblock and illustration from the AD&D Monster Manual
From the AD&D2e Monstrous Manual description of the owlbear (basically the same as the AD&D1e Monster Manual version):
"The owlbear attacks prey on sight, always fighting to the death (ignore morale rating for purposes of determining retreat). It attacks with its claws and snapping beak. If an owlbear scores a claw hit with a roll of 18 or better, it drags its victim into a hug, subsequently squeezing its opponent for 2-16 points of damage per round until either the victim or the owlbear is slain. The owlbear can also use its beak attack on victims caught in its grasp, but cannot use its claws. A single attempt at a bend bars/lift gates roll may be made to break from the grasp of an owlbear. Note that if the Armor Class of a victim is high enough that 18 is insufficient to hit, the hug is not effective and no damage is taken."
(Emphasis is mine.)

One of the things that used to make owlbears terrifying to low-ish level characters back in the day, besides their psychotic rage and refusal to run, was this potential for damage escalation. Getting hit by a claw would sting, but if your luck really ran sour you suddenly went from taking maybe 6 or 7 points a round from claw hits to anything up to 28 points a round as it crushed and pecked you to bloody tatters while you struggled helplessly to get away. And like a Terminator robot, it would never stop.

D&D3e sort of kept this, though it shoehorned it into its terrible grappling combat system, a system awful enough to make grown DMs shudder and go weak at the knees. If it managed to grab you, it would (probably) keep doing damage each round, and I guess it could still peck at you, but working out just how much damage it was doing wasn't spelled out — the DM had to work it out from the grappling rules. Bleeuch.

The rot was clearly setting in.

D&D4e dropped the hugging damage entirely, and just said that if the beast hit with both claws it could bite its victim as well. There was no ongoing round-to-round effect. Booooooring.

In common with most 4e monster descriptions, there's practically no information about it except combat stats, but such description as there is drops any suggestion of congenital insanity for a vicious temper.

Now we come to D&D5e, and things are not getting any better.

Apart from anything else, I think this may be my least favourite artistic rendition of the owlbear. It doesn't look fearsome or crazy or ferocious, it just looks rather stupid and sedentary. Regrettably, the illustration pretty much matches the D&D5e treatment of what used to be an iconic D&D monster.

It's no longer a magically-blended abomination, it's basically just another forest beast. It's no longer fundamentally insane, it's just a bit bad-tempered. It even suggests that it can be tamed and kept as a pet, for fuck sake. It no longer gets its old signature crushing hug attack at all, it just gets to attack once with its claws and once with its beak each round.

Ho-hum. Ho-bloody-hum.

Basically, what we have here is a long slow slide from what was once a basic but reasonably imaginative creation, to a bear with a funny head.

It's tragic, and it's a crime.

Just as a matter of interest, I intend to re-write the 5e version of the owlbear and take it back to its bizarre, huggy, crushy, psychotic roots.

Here's the original plastic toy the owlbear was imagined from,
along with the rest of the set.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

...paved with good intentions...

Drawing by Dylan Horrocks
Tonight, Ash the paladin died because she put herself between an owlbear and its escape route, under the impression that she was protecting her friends. Alas, a tragic and fatal mistake. Jay-Zee (the bard) had previously done it entirely by accident, but was better at making life/death saves, and so survived the whole horrible affair.

One good outcome though — the escaping owlbear scattered the approaching hobgoblin warband which would almost certainly have killed everyone else.

Tee-Bee-Ay (wizard) was surprised and badly chewed up by a grick, before dual-longsword-wielding Bea sliced it up in a trice with max-damage critical hits from both attacks in the very first round of combat.

Jay-Zee was surprised and stabbed in the face by the single remaining goblin (hiding fearfully under the altar) which then ran away and hid, and amazingly, got clean away. Jay-Zee is disgruntled at the pathetic level of treasure to be found, in spite of having scored ten year's wages worth of coin and other loot.

There appears to be an issue with killed things refusing to stay lying respectably still; they insist on getting back up after a while and shambling about moaning. It's a disgrace, and most inconvenient.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


77156: Owlbear by Jason Wiebe
D&D is no stranger to stupid monsters, and this is one of them — the Owlbear. Mechanically, it's not terribly interesting; it's just a big biting, clawing monster, more dangerous than some, less dangerous than others, but with no real distinction about it. It might as well just be a bear. A rabid bear, but just a bear.

Its existence in the D&D canon does have implications for the standard milieu, implications that are borne out repeatedly: in the D&D universe, anything can be interbred with anything else. It's a concept that really doesn't hold water in the real world, though it appears to be central to the world view of those peculiar people who think that two men getting married is going to lead to general mayhem and apocalypse. But that's a bit beside the point.

This figure does have something going for it that I haven't really seen in others. The owlbear is supposed to be fundamentally bonkers insane to its very core, and this figure does look a tad doolally.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Potion Labels

I'm kind of a fan of using handouts and, where possible, props at the table, just because I think they're fun and cool.

I like the idea of your common-or-garden potions — things like potions of Cure Wounds, Neutralize Poison, Cure Disease, and so forth — being sold like the snake oil that hucksters used to peddle out of suitcases back in the day, with the difference being that you have a slightly higher chance of getting something that will actually work instead of just making you a bit drunk while dissolving your innards.

The labels might serve, after a while, to reassure the players that they're going to get the results they expect (or to make them suspicious that they won't). After all, everyone knows that Professor Pinkman's remedies are generally reliable, but what about this Doctor Arnolfius? has anyone ever heard of him? Should they risk it?

To both of these ends, I thought I might start coming up with some labels that might be found on potion bottles. This is the first.

Here's a link to a PDF (about 880 KB) which will print at the 60x120mm I intended.

And here's another, for the unknown and therefore suspect Doctor Arnolfius' Muscular Enhancer. This one's only 470 KB.

Monday, December 15, 2014


77048: Mocking Beast by Julie Guthrie
I've finally got around to painting the Reaper Bones Mimic figurine I got in their last Kickstarter.

I don't believe this is a monster I have ever used in any of my games. I'm not sure why, because I'm not at all averse to making my players just as paranoid as can be.