How should mind affecting spells work on PCs?

MindControlMind affecting spells cast on players are a tricky business.

With NPCs, there are no wrong answers. Can Charm Person be used to turn the bandit into a loyal henchman, or will the spell be broken as soon as you stab his friend? We can argue about one method or another being more fun, but in the end it doesn’t matter which method you use. The NPC isn’t going to feel like they’ve been treated unfairly. But a player might.

Lately, my most consistent D&D game has been Saturday morning Necrocarserous with John Bell. My character, Urlar of Yellow Waters, has been possessed by dragon spirits, dominated by an intelligent item, and affected by a spell which convinced me that my companions had been corrupted and that the only way to give them peace was to kill and eat them. Far from feeling like I was being treated unfairly, these moments where I lost normal control over my character are some of the most entertaining highlights of my time as a cog in the Necrocarserous Program.

My character didn’t turn into a temporary NPC while I sat on the sidelines and watched the game unfold. Nor did John ever tell me what specific actions I had to take. Instead, my character was given a goal. With the Dragon spirits, it was fairly broad. “Act in the best interests of the dragon cult” or something. Being empowered by the dragon spirits, I actually got a ton of boosts to my abilities, and a whole cult worth of people doing my bidding. Unfortunately, the rest of the party was in the process of robbing the dragon cult. Obviously I’m on the side of the party, but right now, Urlar is on the side of the dragons. So I ordered ‘my’ cultists to destroy the stone dome the magic user summoned to protect himself. The MU was the one actually in possession of the cult’s property, and thus should be our primary target. When a hole opened that was big enough to shoot arrows through, I insisted the cultists continue to focus on destroying the dome. A small hole, I reasoned, only allows a single arrow to fire through it, but a large hole can allow a steady stream of cultists into the dome to overwhelm the intruder. Eventually, my intentionally bad tactics allowed the party to withdraw successfully. (I don’t recall how they extricated me, but they did. Once I got back to town I had the tumor that allowed me to see dragon spirits removed.)

Being mind controlled in Necrocarserous isn’t something that happens to you. The player is not a passive participant. Mind control is a puzzle that can be solved. The player knows what their goal is, and they are obligated to pursue it. (John often tells me ‘no,’ and clarifies the nature of my goal when I try to deviate too much.) But any path to the goal that makes sense will be accepted. And thus can a mind controlled player minimize the damage they do to the party’s goals. Or even work towards the party’s goals if they are particularly clever about their reasoning.

This is how I want to run mind affecting spells from now on. As a complication which forces the player to stretch their ingenuity to the limits, rather than a buzzkill that bums the player out.

Magical Marvels 27: Swordaxe and Scroll on Pink Paper

PinkpaperFireswordAxeI don’t know when I drew this. I would estimate about 6-8 years old. Thought it would be fun to make a magic item out of it.

The Swordaxe of Bath’un Ra

It was very sad when the town smith went mad. He’d been kind, well liked, and exceptionally skilled. Then one day he began babbling loudly at all hours, and throwing himself into walls. The man had no family, and there was some discussion about whether he ought to be locked up, or given a merciful death.

Then it was discovered that if he was allowed into his workshop, his babbling ceased. He moved about like his old self, working steel as competently as he ever had. He didn’t speak at all, but he seemed happy and competent enough, so the townsfolk kept an eye on him and hoped he’d come out of his dementia eventually. No one paid particular attention to the sword he was crafting, festooned with half the gems and precious metals he had in his stores.

What the others had taken for madness, was in fact a horrific possession by a dark thing that had survived from when the world was young. A creature called Bath’un Ra that had enslaved man before written history, and which had only now grown powerful enough to do so again.

Before leaving  to inhabit the swordaxe, the spirit of Bath’un Ra forced the smith to throw himself upon his creation so that he could not reveal Bath’un Ra’s secrets once the spirit had left him. The next day the smith was found dead beside the swordaxe, along with a scroll covered in incomprehensible symbols. The village buried all three together, well outside the edge of town.


The swordaxe of Bath’un Ra is a one handed weapon that deals 1d8 damage. Bath’un Ra does not immediately reveal its presence to the wielder, but subtly communicates the weapon’s magical properties to whomever holds it.

If they wish, they may make an attack roll against an opponent with a +2 to hit roll. If the attack hits, no damage is dealt, but the weapon bursts into flame. Each time the wielder does this, the weapon charges up further, and the flame grows larger.

Once the swordaxe has been charged 3 times, the character can spend the charges to make an auto-hit attack dealing 3d10 damage. After the swordaxe has been charged 5 times, the wielder can spend the charges to make an auto-hit attack for 5d12. (Additional charges after 5 merely add an extra 1d12).

Note that the charges can only be spent on the specific foe they were gained from. The spirit of Bath’un Ra is learning the weaknesses of their soul during each non-damaging attack.

When the Swordaxe deals a killing blow, roll 1d12. On a roll of 1, Bath’un Ra’s spirit has grown powerful enough to place the wielder under a Geas. (save v. magic to resist). If the save is successful, and the character continues using the swordaxe, the referee should continue to roll 1d12 to determine when Bath’un Ra can attempt his Geas again. If the save fails, then disobeying the Geas is punished by death. (No save)

Those under Bath’un Ra’s spell must uncover an ancient temple from eons past, which has been buried beneath millennia of desert sands. Within they must find the demon king statue, and place the Swordaxe in the statue’s hand. Once this is done, the statue will turn to flesh, and Bath’Un Ra will return to the world.

The scroll found with the swordaxe is written in the nonsensical language of maddness. Because it was only ever understood by a single person (the smith,) Comprehend Language as cast by a 3rd level magic user is required to decipher it. Written there is Bath’un Ra’s true name, and the words of binding that will keep him subdued. Reading this scroll allows the wielder to use the swordaxe without any risk of being placed under a Geas.

The solution to running chases.

Mansta_ech“Chase Scenes” in D&D are unsatisfying. For a few years now, I’ve been content with LotFP’s 1d20 + [Mov/10] rule. But that’s a stopgap. It gets the job done, but it doesn’t satisfy. Escaping from combat should be more variable.

Retired Adventurer is a criminally underrated blog. John Bell is a phenomenal world builder,  rules designer, and game referee. He’s good enough that I drag myself out of bed at 5:30 AM every Saturday to play in his game.

This most recent Saturday, the party was leading a rich tourist around some ancient ruins. The dude was a fucking asshole who seemed intent on pissing off every monster he came across, but he was paying us 2500 obols each, so we gritted our teeth and took pictures of him posing with a statue of a sphinx. Then three real sphinx appeared, he made some racist comments. John said he was rolling initiative, and the rest of us said “we run.”

That’s when I encountered John’s rules for routs. Presented here in a modified form, based on some modifications by John, and a discussion about it on google+. I should note that I’ve altered the rule shown here to suit my own needs. It differs significantly from John’s original, so you should check that out as well.

Each round, each group of fugitives and pursuers rolls 2d6.

If the face value of a die in the pursuer’s roll matches the face value of a die in a fugitive’s roll, then the pursuers can make missile attacks at the fugitives.

If the pursuers roll a “7”, then they get close enough to each make a single melee attack at +4 against the fugitives.

If the fugitives roll a “7” then they have evaded sight long enough to make a stealth check. If the stealth check is successful, the fugitives have escaped. If the check is failed, the chase continues next round.

If both dice in a pursuer’s roll show the same value, then they have cornered the fugitives. The chase is ended, and regular combat resumes. The fugitives cannot continue to flee unless they make an opening for themselves, such as by slaying one of their pursuers.

If both dice in a fugitive’s roll show the same value, then they have escaped.

In the event that both the pursuers and fugitives roll one of the options above, only the fugitive’s roll counts.

If one party is faster than the other, then for each 30′ of difference in the two party’s speeds, the faster party gains 1 “Die Bump.” After each chase roll, a die bump can be used to adjust one die up or down by 1. (So a 3 can become a 2, or a 4). Multiple die bumps can easily turn the chase into a trivial thing. Dangerous for over-encumbered characters.

Of course, if the fugitives throw food / treasure, the pursuers should usually make morale checks as in LotFP standard. And the GM should keep track of the character’s random movements through their environment, so that once the chase ends, they have to deal with being lost.

Magical Marvels 26: Raggi’s Rejects 6: The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus

TheTragicalLife_of_DrFaustusA tattered manuscript of Christopher Marlowe’s play “The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus.” The text has little in common with other surviving versions of the play. In fact, those copies were forged by church censors. They secretly distributed the texts to satisfy heretical curiosity about the banned play, without revealing the true depths of Marlowe’s sin. Marlowe himself was quietly put to death for his abominable work. This is the only surviving copy of what he truly wrote, written in his own hand. A note, hastily scrawled on the first page, reads:

“Will that the noblest of magics might flourish, and God’s abominable sorcery might perish.”

In this version of the play, Lucifer and Mephistophilis treat Faust fairly. God is depicted as an interloper. He attempts to reassert His will over Faust after being rejected. God even goes so far as to send an angel to steal Faust away, but is defeated when Lucifer sends one of his own servants to protect Faust. The play culminates in an orgy with Faust, his friends, a number of demons, and several nuns and priests who have been convinced to turn away from God.

The entire play is filled with unusual phrasings and invented words. In particular, the scene where Faust makes his pact with Lucifer is completely nonsensical when read. However, if actors memorize the lines properly, then during the performance of the play they will be compelled to improvise. The scene is different each time, but always conforms to the plot and style of the play. During this scene, shameful secrets of audience members, and bizarre prophecies are incorporated into the narrative.

When a performance of the play begins, anyone within 20 miles who has been baptized in the Christian faith feels compelled to stop the performance by any means. God has suspended free will to prevent this sin from occurring. Characters who wish to renounce their baptism may make a saving throw vs. magic to resist the compulsion. The referee is encouraged to be creative about renouncing God in His time of need. Performers and audience members are shielded from this compulsion.

To this day, the play has not been performed in full. If it is completed successfully, which requires 3 hours and 11 minutes, then God is banished from the world for 100 years. Clerical magic will disappear entirely during that time. Meanwhile, magic users and elves will feel as though they can think more clearly. As though their minds had been clouded during all of their life before now. For the purposes of learning or casting, all spells will be treated as 1 spell level lower than normal for the duration of God’s banishment. Magic users will begin using the fighter’s experience table, and elves will begin using the magic user’s. All characters, even the lowliest of peasants, will have a 30% chance of knowing one random 1st level magic user spell.

The Bloodsoaked Boudoir of Velkis the Vile

Click here to download “The Bloodsoaked Boudoir of Velkis the Vile” by Nick LS Whelan

The Bloodsoaked Boudoir of Velkis the Vile

I made a thing! It’s a free adventure called The Bloodsoaked Boudoir of Velkis the Vile, available on DriveThru RPG. The Bloodsoaked Boudoir started life as a section of my Dungeon Moon campaign. My players loved Velkis and his Boudoir, so I’ve written them up with all the info you’d need to include them in any campaign setting.

The art was done by my (at the time) 17 year old brother Ronnie Whelan. It’s got an old school, DIY feel to it. Like the best of Arneson’s doodles in the original three little brown books. It’s a good fit for the adventure.

So, funny story.

My players killed Velkis multiple times and raided his Boudoir in its entirety way back in December 2013. This module was written by the end of January 2014. The art was all completed and delivered to me by sometime in March 2014 at the latest. During this period I told more than a few blog readers that I had a PDF coming out ‘in the next month or two.’  Meanwhile, this project sat on my hard drive rotting away as I put off the dreaded task of making a pdf.

I’ve got this bug in my thinking where I feel like any time I don’t spend writing is wasted time. So if I need to spend an entire day learning how to use Scribus, piecing together pages of work that I’ve already written, then at the end of the day I’ll feel like a failure. It’s ridiculous. No matter how much I write, my writing is worthless if it’s just sitting on my computer.

A couple weeks back, I committed myself to working on more small projects. Finally getting Velkis out the door is the first step in that commitment.

So go download Velkis. Read it. Run it. Tell me what you think of it because mom and dad didn’t love me enough and I thrive off of the affirmation of others.


Bloodsoaked Boudoir is not an arrogant product, it’s small and can fit into another game with some ease, while still being interesting enough to give an evocative sense of it’s authors sort of game and game world that is different enough from the standard ‘orcs in a hole’ fantasy adventure to provide interesting ideas, and leave a reader with the sense that maybe they wouldn’t have thought of it themselves. With all these advantages the author is happy enough to simply publish his work as a pay what you want PDF, rather then promote it and clamber for your cash.” -Gus L. of Dungeon of Signs

Magical Marvels 25: Raggi’s Rejects 5: The Trifold Parchment

Trifold Parchment

A thick, trifolded parchment. The exterior has been decorated with a colorful sketch of humans doing battle with a muscular demon holding a wickedly curved sword. The interior is scrawled with baffling tables and calculations. At the center of the parchment’s interior are the words “Reject what occurs. Defy the cosmos. Cry out. “That doesn’t happen!””

At any time, the players may use this phrase (“That doesn’t happen!”) to reject the most recent ruling of their referee. When they do this, the paper bursts into flame, and the character holding it must save v. breath or take 2d6 damage.

The referee is now obligated to change the call to which their players objected. They must, in good faith, change their ruling to one that is more favorable to the players. But the referee is under no compulsion to respond in any specific way that the player’s desire.

The trifold parchment cannot overturn the results of a die roll, even if the players did not see the roll. Only deliberate decisions made by the referee can be affected. So the players cannot, for example, reject which monster appears after the referee rolls on the encounter table.

Attempts to use the parchment incorrectly don’t destroy it, but they do occur in game.

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Thoughts and theories on tabletop games.