The Most Visually Impressive Appendix Ever

Nick Whelan (linkskywalker) showing off his fancy new Posters, designed by Paul of Blog of HoldingToday (as of this writing), I received my Random Dungeon Generator and Wandering Monster posters from the Blog of Holding Kickstarter campaign. Paul started the project to fund production of the former, and generously required only a $22 donation to have the latter thrown in as well! I got them laminated, and they’re now hanging in a place of honor above my workspace.

If you are unfamiliar, the random dungeon generator (pictured right) was originally created by Gary Gygax, and included in the Dungeon Master’s Guide as appendix A. The generator takes up about 4 pages of the book, and is intended to help GMs create dungeons both in preparation for, and even during, a session of game play. The variety included in the tables is impressive. Numerous types of corridors, room sizes, trap types, treasure and even whether or not a monster is present can be generated with the tables. They can be somewhat difficult to follow, and require a lot of page flipping, but the creation of it is a feat of Gygaxian proportions.

As Paul tells the story, it first occurred to him that the tables could be re-drawn as a flow chart. It then struck him that a dungeon is basically a flow chart with monsters in it. So he set out to represent the random dungeon generator as a dungeon, and it turned out beautifully. It’s extremely simple to follow. I’ve already created a few dungeon levels using it, and aside from having a difficult time finding a table large enough for it, it has been a pleasure to use. The art is top-notch as well. I know many of my readers have a soft-spot for detailed black-and-white art, and I don’t think they’d be disappointed by what Paul has done here. There are little visual treats everywhere, with tiny characters making their way through the many dungeon obstacles present.

The Illustrated Wandering Monster Tables are of somewhat less use to me, since I have so much fun creating those tables myself. But the art is, once again, very nice. Plus I think it will be fun to use in conjunction with the random dungeon generator. If I can somehow fit them both behind my GM screen, I won’t even need to bother making any game preparations any more!

So far, the poster has only been made available to those who participated in the Kickstarter campaign, but Paul has said they will be made available somewhere online soon. When it does become available, you have my recommendation to purchase it.

Variant Spell Preperation

Merlin the Wizard by Julek HellerCasters are overpowered in Pathfinder. It’s not exactly a controversial statement. They’re less overpowered compared to non-casters than they were in D&D 3.5, but that’s not saying much. Wizards were demoted from Gods, to merely Demi-Gods. Finding ways to creatively nerf wizards has become a side hobby of mine. I’d like to bring them in line with the other classes, without taking away of the flavor which I view as central to the class.

In early editions of D&D, Magic Users gained their spells at random, and that served as an effective balancing device. And while I think it’s a really cool idea, I don’t think it fits into the Pathfinder mythos very well. A Pathfinder wizard is a scholar; there is nothing random about how they go about their business. I’ve suggested before simply removing any spells that a wizard gains by leveling up, and instead offering the wizard spells as treasure. I still like this idea a lot, but I understand that not everyone can get behind such a large nerf. It has also recently been suggested that any spell a Wizard casts from a scroll should count against their total spells per day. I quite like this idea as well, but obviously it’s not sufficient to completely balance the class.

While reading a recent post over at Brendan’s site Untimately, I struck upon another idea. What if the spell slots of the Wizard (or any other Caster) were not level specific? According to the current Pathfinder rules, every time a wizard gains a new spell level, they have only 1 spell slot for that level. At the next level it goes up to two slots, two levels after that it goes up to three slots, and three levels later it maxes out at four slots. By level 20, a Wizard is able to prepare four spells from all ten spell levels each day, for a total of 40 spells every day. If they like, a lower level spell can be placed in a higher level spell slot, but that always feels kinda wasteful, doesn’t it?

Using this idea, a wizard will still have spell slots, and still prepare their spells using a Vancian “fire and forget” system. But instead of having X number of slots for Y level spells, the caster will instead gain generic spell slots which can be used to memorize spells of any level. The catch is that each spell requires a number of spell slots equal to its spell level to memorize. So a fifth level spell will require five spell slots.

The way the system scales is really quite interesting. Using the official Pathfinder rules, characters who reach a new spell level can only prepare a single spell of that level until they gain a new character level. Using system, however, characters probably have enough spell slots to prepare several of their highest level spells as soon as they gain access to them–but at the expense of only having a few spells to cast for the day.

I feel like I’m writing ‘level’ and ‘spell’ a lot.

Another interesting thing about this system is that it becomes remarkably easy to scale the wizard’s level of power until you find a good fit for your game. If you’re running a low magic game, Wizards start with 4 spell slots, and gain 2 new slots each time they gain a class level. If you’re running a game with more magic, wizards start with 3 spell slots, and gain 3 each time they level.

The system seems elegant to me, but I haven’t play tested it yet. I wish I could claim credit for coming up with the idea first, but it appears Brendan beat me to the punch by almost a year. And apparently an old sourcebook called The Principalities of Glantri Gazeteer beat him to the punch by several decades. Still, I think the idea deserves some consideration.

Campaign Art: Gifts of a Wizard, and a Battle against Ogres!

ToKiJaTiMo party asks Mahudar Kosopske for some favors.Only a short post today. As I’ve mentioned in the past, two of the members of my current gaming group are artists. This works out pretty great for me, because I regularly get to see my games come to life in cool ways. Such as the above picture.

Currently, my ToKiJaTiMo gaming group has a lot on their minds. They need to kill a dire spider for its eyes, find an entrance to the underdark so they can steal some hair from a drow, track down a spider which is more than a thousand years old so they can nab one of its eggs, investigate a nearby forest where gnolls are mysteriously being transformed into half-ogre monstrosities, hunt down a lich, and make a trip to the Abyss to harvest some demon blood. And some of them haven’t even reached level 2 yet!

In order to facilitate their rather ambitious goals, they traveled across the continent to meet up with their old friend Mahudar Kosopske. The wizard gave the original party members (now level 3) some of their first adventures, and they’ve remained on friendly terms. So when they came to him requesting information and supplies, he was happy to aid them. Even if he did require almost all of their treasure in exchange!

This piece, by the way, is from my rather talented ladyfriend. She’s done a lot of art for Papers & Pencils in the past, and you can see more of her work on her DeviantArt page.

Edit: My ladyfriend is on a roll! This post has not even gone online yet, but she’s already completed another piece based on the same game. Here she depicts a battle earlier in the adventure where the party fought some of those mysterious half-ogre monstrosities. I really love the coloring here, with each of the characters being highlighted in a color which thematically represents their class. Red for the barbarian, green for the ranger, blue for the rogue, yellow for the cleric, and purple for the sorceress.

CbMorrie Go Team Fight! Gibbous, Phoenix Dark, Rosco, Poker, and Pumofe.

May of the Dead: Hungry Hungry Vampire

Vlad the Impaler, Inspiration for DraculaMay is winding down, but we’ve got time for one last May of the Dead post. I’ve really enjoyed writing these, and if you’ve enjoyed reading them I hope you’ll decide to stick around. Papers & Pencils updates regularly, and it’s difficult for me to go too long without writing something about the undead. They are so much more engaging than other types of fantastical creatures.

I’m going to make a bold leap, and assume we’re all familiar with the traditional vampire. The one which stays out of the sun, doesn’t show up in mirrors, and sustains itself off of people’s blood. That last point is what I’m going to focus on here: blood as vampiric sustenance. Aside from being dead, feeding on blood is perhaps the most consistent element of vampire lore. Some stories will dismiss vampires being invisible in mirrors, others disregard their weakness before religious relics, but even the greatest bastardizations of the vampire concept maintain the idea that vampires must consume blood to survive.

So…what happens if they don’t consume any blood?

There doesn’t seem to be any definitive agreement on what happens if a vampire doesn’t consume blood. For living creatures the answer is simple: if we fail to consume sustenance, we die. But vampires are already dead, so the consequences for them seem far less certain. I haven’t found any primary source that could provide an answer to this question either. I’m not exactly a scholar, but my limited knowledge of folklore and classical literature has not provided me with an answer. Probably because those traditional stories are not told from the vampire’s perspective, but rather from those desperately hoping they don’t become the vampire’s next meal.

Lacking any definitive answer to the question, we have the opportunity to fill in the blanks ourselves. And I’ve got a few ideas.

Strahd, Vampire of Ravenloft

The Official Explanation As a Pathfinder GM, I still rely on a lot of my old D&D 3.5 sourcebooks. And on page 9 of Libris Mortis, there is a table which categorizes and quantifies the various undead, how their hungers affect them. It indicates that Vampires are “Diet Dependent” on Blood, and have an “Inescapable Craving” for life force. These terms are defined thusly:

Inescapable Craving: Some undead have no “bodily” requirement to feed, and could continue to exist solely on negative energy, but are driven to their diet all the same by inescapable cravings.  These cravings, denied too long, could turn even a sentient undead to mindless hunger. Once the feeding is accomplished and the hunger sated, the intensity of the craving drops back to tolerable level, but it is a cycle doomed to repeat itself.” -Andy Collins & Bruce R. Cordell, Libris Mortis, Page 8

Diet Dependent: Some undead must feed on the living to retain either their mobility or some of their other abilities. The link to the Negative Energy Plane for undead of these sort grows increasingly tenuous the longer they are denied the necessary food. At some point, their mobility or one or more specific abilities are suppressed until they can feed again. However, no matter how enervated by lack of feeding, undead cannot be starved to the point of permanent deanimation. A fresh infusion of their preferred food can always bring them back to their full abilities. Most diet-dependent undead can go for 3d6 months before losing all mobility.” -Andy Collins & Bruce R. Cordell, Libris Mortis, Page 10

I cover some of these ideas in more detail below. Personally I don’t find them very satisfying.

le Vampire by Burne JonesRe-Death: I see no reason why there shouldn’t simply be a point at which lack of blood to feed upon causes a vampire to be destroyed. Part of what makes vampires such intriguing villains is that they are notoriously difficult to kill. Take them to 0 HP, and they’ll just turn into a cloud of mist and escape through the cracks in the walls. The only way to kill a vampire is to outsmart them in one way or another. Fool them into entering an area of sunlight, for example, or find their (no doubt well hidden) daytime lair and drive a stake through their heart. Depriving a vampire of blood for a year fulfills the same criteria: it requires the players to outsmart the vampire by first constructing a prison which will hold it, then figuring out how to get the vampire inside of it. Though if you could do that, I’m not sure why you wouldn’t just expose it to direct sunlight.

Insanity: Each month a Vampire goes without blood, they permanently lose a little more of their grip on reality. After one month, it’s just little things. They forget minor details, like where they left their favorite candelabra. After two months, they occasionally forget larger things. Whole years of their existence disappear from memory, only to be recovered later. Three months without feeding causes the Vampire to occasionally depart reality entirely, and they suffer vivid hallucinations. After four months the vampire lives constantly in a disconnected state. It knows to avoid that which is dangerous to it, such as sunlight, but it otherwise seems to have no connection to reality. After five months, the vampire becomes like a feral creature, constantly hunting for blood, with no thoughts or concerns beyond finding more and more blood to feed upon. Finally, after six months, the vampire loses its understanding of danger, and will most often wander into the sunlight and destroy itself.

This insanity is cumulative throughout the vampire’s existence. Feeding on blood only prevents the process from continuing forward for another month. Nothing can help a vampire regain lost sanity.

The Vampire Uncle from The Munsters. I don't remember his name. Blood is an Addiction: Vampires are blood junkies. They don’t need it to survive, but they crave it with a desire more intense than they can possibly resist. If they don’t drain at least one victim a week, the cravings become unbearable and drive the vampire to take greater and greater risks in order to get their fix. If, by some miracle, they manage to resist the urge to feed on the blood of the living, there is no amount of time which will free them from their addiction. They will begin to suffer withdrawal pains, and will continue to experience agony until the end of time if they can’t feed.

Blood is Power: Perhaps there are no real ill effects for failing to consume blood. If a vampire never leaves their mark on another neck, then they can continue to exist as they already do for as long as they like. However, it is only through consuming blood that a vampire learns, and grows, and becomes powerful. Immediately following a feeding, the vampire feels a rush of power which slowly fades after about ten minutes. But a small sliver of that power remains. After draining 100 living victims, the Vampire gains 1HD.

Less Blood is Power: Assuming blood is an addiction, as stated above, then what if vampires grew in power the longer they were able to exist without blood? Perhaps the pains of withdrawal are simply the pain which is inherent to being a vampire unencumbered by narcotics. The longer a vampire avoids dulling their mind and their body with Blood, the stronger and smarter they become. The greatest vampires have gone without blood for centuries, and exist in a state of constant pain.

Demotion: Vampires are the highest form of undead creature, rivaled only by the lich. They retain all of their knowledge, their self-awareness, their willpower; everything about who they are remains intact. Even their appearance is unchanged! The only real drawback is that in order to retain everything that they managed to keep from their living existence, they must constantly feed upon blood. If they do not, then as time goes on they will begin to forget things. They will become less self aware, and their willpower will fade. After too long, they will be nothing but a ghast, or perhaps even a lowly zombie.

Nosferatu 1922Blood is Youth: Each week a Vampire goes without blood, their physical body decomposes about the same amount that a corpse would normally decompose in a given day. So vampires who wish to intermingle with human society (as Dracula did) must feed frequently. While those who care less about whether or not they can pass for alive do not need to concern themselves with feeding regularly. The effects of this decomposition would be cumulative, so once you miss your weekly feeding, you’ll never be able to return to a less-decomposed state.

Coincidentally, this would explain the large variance in vampire appearances. In the original novel, Dracula was able to pass for a living human. Whereas the classic silent film, Nosferatu most certainly cannot. Strahd is somewhere in between, as he is often depicted with deathly blue skin.

Last Blood: About six years ago, I started reading a webcomic called Last Blood, which was about a group of vampires attempting to help some humans survive the zombie apocalypse. Its been some years since I stopped following the comic, but it was quite good. And the catalyst for the story was a vampire who went for too long without blood. You ought to read the comic’s explanation, but the short version is that if a vampire goes too long without blood, then they become a kind of “alpha zombie,” which is able to create other zombies, and control them. Not too frightening in a high magic world where zombies are commonplace, but in a low magic world where the the very thought of walking dead is still enough to send a shiver down an adventurer’s spine, this could be an interesting method to use.

May of the Dead Banner

Introducing New Characters to Your Campaign Milieu

Adventurers Meeting in a Tavern, Artist Unknown

Introducing a new character to an ongoing campaign is always a challenge for me. Maybe it’s because I place too much emphasis on making the game world coherent. I suppose if I wanted, there would be no real problem with introducing new players the same way videos games do when you plug in a new controller. “Player 2 has joined the game.” I don’t actually know if it would bother my players to have new characters suddenly appear as if placed there by the gods. For me it would be jarring; I like the world to feel consistent. I’m curious to know how other GMs handle this.

There are two situations when a GM is typically faced with integrating a new character into the game. Either a new player has joined the game, or a regular player’s character has died and a new one must be introduced.

On the one hand, I don’t think characters should simply appear. Adventurers wandering through a desert should not suddenly find themselves with a new companion by their side. There should be some “in-game” explanation for the character’s appearance, and for the character deciding to join the adventurers. Players wandering through a desert might find their new companion unconscious and dehydrated. Once the party saved the new arrival’s life, the new character could join the party out of gratitude. One of my time honored methods of introducing new characters is to have them enter the game as henchpeople of NPC quest givers. The NPC sends their trusted servant along to ensure success, and once the adventure is over, the character can choose to stay with the party if they please.

On the other hand, players should not be left sitting on their hands while they wait for the rest of the party to find them. They’ve come to your game table to play a game, not watch helplessly as others do so. This is particularly true for new players. Most players will approach a new group with justified trepidation. We’ve all heard horror stories about terrible GMs. Making a new player sit around for fifteen or twenty minutes doing nothing is a good way to end up as one of the subjects of those horror stories yourself.

So, introducing a new character is a balancing act between maintaining a logical world, and keeping players engaged in the game.

Within my last three gaming sessions, I’ve had to introduce two new players into my established gaming group. The first player entered the game just as the party was starting a new adventure. The party had ended the previous session by returning to a lone wizard’s tower with the magical reagent he had asked them to find. They accepted his offer to rest and resupply there, and in the morning as our next session began, he offered them a new quest. He needed a relic retrieved from the depths of a far off dungeon. In travelling there, the party would pass through a small human settlement, and I thought that would be the best place for them to encounter the new half elven rogue who had joined the group. I could even have the wizard tell them that they’d need to hire somebody who could to pick locks when they passed through the town.

Unfortunately, it would take about an hour of gameplay to reach the town, so that was right out. Lacking any better ideas, I simply had the wizard introduce the rogue as “an associate who also recently returned from performing a task for me.” He said the rogue would be helpful, and poof. The party was formed.

I only now find myself thinking that perhaps the game might have been improved by running two concurrent adventures. One where the party was journeying to that town, and another where the rogue player was going through a brief solo adventure in the town. I could switch back and forth between the two parties each ‘day’ of game time. That may be something I need to try in the future.

The very next session, we had another new player join the game. This one was a gnome barbarian, which was a particular challenge. The previous session had ended in a dungeon which, for unrelated reasons, had been magically warded to prevent gnomes from entering it. I wassn’t quite sure how I wanted to handle the issue, because I had gone to great lengths in the previous session to establish that even gnomes of great wealth and power had been unable to find a way to enter. It seemed ridiculous that a level 1 barbarian should be able to make it.

Fortunately, the players had already discovered a room filled with gnomish statues, and confirmed that those statues were actually real gnomes who had been turned to stone. Before the game started, I gave the new player a little background: she was a warrior who had fought beside the gnomish King Teleron against an army of Giants, Ogres, and Orcs. In the battle of Stonefist Peak, she had been magically turned to stone, and she’d spent the last 200 years as a statue.

I thought this was a really elegant solution, but again I was faced with the problem of potentially forcing her to sit the game out while the rest of the party tried to figure out how to break her curse. My original plan had been to make freeing those gnomes a potential long-term goal for the characters, but now I needed a way to do it immediately. So, when the game started, I had the players find a scrap of paper at the bottom of a treasure chest (which they had looted just before we ended the last game) which came from the diary of one of the dungeon’s prisoners. The prisoner’s diary explained that Demon’s Blood (which the players already had on hand) could be used to reverse the spell. They poured the blood on one of the statues, and the new player’s gnome did a happy little flip and shouted “ta da!”

The way I introduced that second character was somewhat more elegant than the way I introduced the first. None the less I had to fudge some stuff around to make it work: finding the diary which wasn’t there before, whichever statue they had poured the blood on would have been the correct character, etc.

How do you handle introducing new characters to your game?

Page By Page: Gary Gygax’s DMG part 3

Gygax's Dungeon Master's Guide, Magic User/Wizard Summoning a Genie from a cloud of mistThis is the third installment of my continuing series on the 1979 Dungeon Master’s Guide, written by Gary Gygax. This post begins with the section “Time” on page 37, and continues through Illusionist Spells on page 47.

Time What Gygax wrote here about time and how to keep track of it is fascinating and vital. So much so that I’ve already dedicated not one, but two posts to exploring it. I see no need to repeat myself here.

Day-to-Day Acquisition of Cleric Spells In D&D 3rd edition and Pathfinder, obtaining spells is a pretty straightforward procedure. Every morning the cleric prays for an hour, and all their spell slots are filled for the day. In 1st edition AD&D, as is often the case, there’s more to it than that. There is additional background, which seems to have been dropped from later editions because it complicates the game. And while there’s something to be said for cutting out unnecessary complications, I have been learning that many of Gygax’s original ‘fluff’ offers interesting adventure opportunities.

For a 1st edition cleric, only first and second level spells can be obtained through simple prayer. More advanced spells of third, fourth, and fifth level must be gained by beseeching one of your deity’s powerful servants each morning. To put it in terms I imagine many of my readers are familiar with, the cleric must communicate directly with an angel each morning in order to receive those spells. And for spells above fifth level, the cleric must communicate with their god directly. Not just once, but every morning.

The interesting thing about this is that if the cleric has acted against their god’s dictates within the last day, then they know they must face that god again the next morning when they ask for spells. And Gygax flat out says that for particularly serious transgressions, the cleric’s god may choose to simply obliterate the offending mortal.

Acquisition of Magic-User Spells Since I first learned that oldschool Magic Users learned their spells at random, I’ve been torn on the concept. On the one hand, I like selecting my spells carefully. It allows me to create effective strategies, and it meshes with my conception of wizards as magical scientists. On the other hand, I love randomization. Being given a random set of tools and needing to figure out a way to be effective with those tools is an intriguing challenge, and one I always enjoy. I look forward to playing some 1st edition once the WotC reprints come out, so I can make a more informed decision about which method of obtaining spells I prefer.

I have to say about this section, though, that Gygax seems a little overzealous about preventing players from obtaining spells too easily. I understand that easy access to spells can unbalance a game, by Gary literally says that if a player saves the life of an NPC who was already loyal to them (like a hirling) then that NPC will (at best) be willing to allow the PC to copy one spell from their spellbook in exchange for a spell and a minor magic item. The rules literally dictate that exchanges of spells should never be equitable for the player. This seems odd to me.

Spell Casting For those unaware, Dungeons & Dragons has always used something called Vancian Magic, named for Jack Vance, the author whose work the system was based upon. It’s also sometimes called “fire and forget,” because every morning a caster must memorize their spells, and once the spells are cast that memorization is wiped from their mind. In the editions of the game I’ve read, that’s about the extent of the information given. Here Gygax goes into greater detail. He explains that each spell is a combination of symbols and sounds which are charged with energy from one of the planes of existence. When combined into a certain formation, the energy of those planes is released in a limited fashion, causing a magical effect. Those symbols are then consumed by the magic which passes through them, not unlike a fire consumes fuel. Whether the symbols are on paper, or in the mind of a caster, they disappear.

Gygax writes nearly half a page on this topic, and recommends that for additional background, GMs read The Eyes of the Overworld, and The Dying Earth by Jack Vance. As well as The Face in the Frost by Bellair. Having not yet read these books myself, I cannot comment on them beyond Gygax’s recommendation.

Gygax also notes that while the words of a spell are typically used to bring the effect forth, and somatic (hand movement) components to the spell are used to “control and specify the direction, target, area, etc.” This brings to mind the interesting possibility of allowing casters to bring forth spells without somatic components–but in doing so they will have no control over how the effect manifests itself.

Spell Explanations Here begins a lengthy section where Gygax adds “DM’s Notes” for many of the spells present in AD&D. It doesn’t include spell descriptions, but most of the spells have self explanatory names, so I was able to follow along just fine. This section seems like a useful tool for the GM. It offers advice on how to adjudicate instances where players attempt to use spells in unusual ways which might end up being overpowered. For example, Gygax notes that casting the spell “light” upon one’s eyes does not grant a character “luminescent vision,” but rather blinds the character for the duration of the spell. Entries like this one make me wish GM notes for spells had been perpetuated through later editions of the game. It’s not only useful for determining how to handle a specific case, but it’s useful as a general guideline for how to handle players hoping to push the boundaries of what a spell can do.

On the other hand, I don’t see why “Blindness does not restore lost ocular organs” could not have been put in the spell description itself.

Aerial Servant I simply find this funny. Ever since I became interested in this hobby, I’ve heard from religious nutjobs that D&D teaches kids to cast “real spells,” and that players must learn incantations to the devil in order to succeed in the game. The notion is preposterous of course. Spell casting is normally handled simply by naming the spell and saying your character casts it. Players rarely have the spell’s description memorized, much less an incantation to go along with it.

None the less, the DMG says that players should be required to indicate which type of magic circle they’re using when they cast this spell. I laughed.

DMG Magic Circle, Pentagram, or Thaumaturgic Triangle

Favorite Quotes from this Section

“Once a cleric changes deities, he or she must thereafter be absolutely true to the new calling, or he or she will be snuffed out by some godlike means. It is 90% unlikely that the cleric’s first deity will accept him or her back into the fold after falling away, unless some special redemptive agency is involved. There is no salvation for a thrice-changed cleric; he or she is instantly killed.” -Gygax, DMG, page 39

“a hollow voice rings forth and commands: “GO FORTH FROM HERE AND RETURN NOT UNTIL YOU BRING CAPTIVE THE HIGH PRIEST OF OSIRIS AND ALL OF THE ALTAR SERVICE OF HIS TEMPLE AS SACRIFICES TO ME IN TOKEN OF THE SINCERITY OF YOUR TRUE REPENTANCE!” -Gygax, DMG, page 42

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