Lively Locals 3: Drummer’s Field

Ghostly Drummer on a BattlefieldEverybody has a story about what happened on Drummer’s Field. No two are quite the same, and all of them are suspect. No written historical account of the battle fought there is known to exist. What few sages have studied the field’s legacy know scarcely more than the drunks who swap their yarns in nearby taverns.

There are, however, a very few facts upon which everyone agrees. Not less than two centuries ago, a battle was fought on Drummer’s Field. In that battle, a ruling line was ended forever. And, whether through victory or through flight, a great evil survived. Lastly, no one contests that something of the battle was left behind—though precisely what remains a mystery.

Drummer’s Field takes its name from a lone figure who walks its length each night. No one has ever seen where he comes from, or where he goes, but each night he emerges from the forest on the southern side of the field. He marches solemnly, beating his drum in time with his step. It takes him roughly a half of an hour to cross to the Northern side of the field, where he disappears again into the trees.

Many sages have studied the Drummer in depth. He is not a ghost, for he has corporeal form. Neither has never been confirmed that he truly appears and disappears. If he does, it is always immediately upon being out of sight. If his path is blocked by a physical object, he will calmly move around it without changing pace. The few times a person has dared to block his path directly, a bright yellow light has emanated from beneath the Drummer’s cowl. This light engulfs the blocker’s form, and when it dissipates, they are gone None who have been engulfed by this light have ever been heard from again.

A few attempts to forcibly restrain or attack the drummer have been attempted. If these attacks can be ignored, the Drummer simply continues his march. More serious attempts to restrain or harm the Drummer cause the Drummer to die, silently. Either clutching at his throat as though choking, or clutching at any wounds which have been inflicted on him. When the body is examined, it is discovered that there is no one within the Drummer’s clothing. Only a few nights later, the Drummer returns to the field, as though nothing happened. This has only been attempted a few times, since each time the Drummer has died, one of those responsible for his ‘death’ has disappeared without explanation shortly thereafter.

It has also been noted that upon careful listening, one can hear the sounds of a great battle with each beating of the figure’s drum. These sounds are only faint echos, so it is difficult to learn anything about the battle from them. An elven sage named Efrem once spent 50 years dutifully cataloging each sound she could make out from the beating of the drums. Even with her impressive elven hearing, the volumes she produced are primarily filled mostly with the clash of swords, and a few shouted commands. She did insist, however, that the sound was a little different each night.

The locals have come to accept the Drummer as a relatively innocuous creature, and even a source of community pride. They warn their children to stay away from him, citing of his deadly gaze. But every child knows you can’t be a man (or woman) until you’ve spent a night marching beside the Drummer.


Four hundred years ago, the king of a small kingdom stood against the demonic hordes of a Balor. The king and his army were slaughtered, and the demon carried out a ruthless campaign of genocide against the King’s people, erasing anyone who might remember the upstart who had dared to oppose him. With his dying breath, the King swore to the demon that the battle would never end until his people had been avenged.

The drummer appeared shortly thereafter, marching the field as a creature outside of time. Any who met his gaze were welcomed by him. The light he emitted sent them hurtling back through time, into the thick of the battle. Some managed to survive the battle, others were not so lucky. And none of them were able to change the battle’s outcome, and thus end the Drummer’s march.

At first, the Drummer had no form of his own. Beneath the clothing which bore the king’s colors, there truly was nothing. That changed the first time the Drummer was killed, about 15 years after he began his nightly march. Since then, whoever kills the Drummer has been possessed by its spirit. At night they rise as though they are awake, though they have no awareness of themselves or their surroundings. They instinctively know where the Drummer’s garb can be found. They immediately put it on, and travel to the field where they begin their march.

As they cross the field, the Drummer’s magic begins to take hold of them. And if they make it to the far end of the field, then they become bound forever to the Drummer’s task. Since then, each night when The Drummer disappears, he has been transported back through time to the battlefield. There the Drummer must watch, time and again, as the demons triumph over the goodly forces of humanity.

If anyone sent back through time is ever able to successfully turn the battle’s tide, and defeat the demons, the Drummer’s curse would end. Though the spell would not likely send the heroes back to their own time, instead trapping them in the past where they must either learn to live, or hope to find their own way back home.

Updated Forest Battlefield Generator

Two knights in Armor fighting on a forest pathA long while ago, shortly after I started taking this blog seriously, I wrote a post about making your forest environments more exciting during battles. It was the first of my Spicing Up the Battlemat series of posts, which is a series I’ve always found both fun and useful. Along with that post, I made a pdf file to help generate forest battlefields. I don’t know if anyone else has ever downloaded it, but I’ve certainly gotten a lot of use out of it myself. However, having now used it for several months, I’ve noticed more than a few problems. Not only are there several typos, but some options (most notably insects) came up far too often.

I recently took the time to revisit that chart, and I’ve updated a number of things. The layout is more clear, I’ve removed some useless information, added some cool new options, and altered some of the probabilities. I’ve also changed the rules about undergrowth, which I had taken directly from page 427 of the Pathfinder Core Rulebook. As it turns out, however, people who design tabletop role playing games might not be nature experts. I happen to have one such expert in my group, and they recently pointed out that when there’s high tree density, sunlight doesn’t penetrate to the forest floor, and thus there is less undergrowth, not more.

For my own purposes, I use this chart in almost every game, and I fully believe it has enriched our group’s experience. So, if you’re interested, here’s the PDF. An image of the file is also available below.

Random Forest Battlefield Generator v2


Forest Battlefield Generator by LS

Why was This Dungeon Built?

Odd Little Room of Unkown OriginOften on this site, perhaps too often, I construct posts by comparing or contrasting my gaming philosophies to those of the OSR community. Most likely, this is because all of the gaming blogs I read have an OSR slant to them. Is it just me, or does the OSR have a huge blogging presence? Anyway, this post isn’t any different. It’s about dungeons, and how my views on them compare to the OSR community’s.

  • Most OSR blogs I’ve read are strongly of the opinion that dungeons do not need to have a logical layout. I agree.
  • Most OSR blogs I’ve read are of the opinion that dungeons do not need to have an origin story. I disagree.
  • Most OSR blogs I’ve read are of the opinion that the creatures which exist within the dungeon don’t need any particular reason to be there. I disagree again.

There. I figured we might as well expedite the process for this post, since it’s late and I’m somewhat tired. I’m going to focus on the second point here: that I believe dungeons should have an origin story. Even if the dungeon’s layout is completely randomly generated, it’s valuable to have a few solid facts about the dungeon in mind. Where the dungeon came from can provide insights into what the dungeon looks like, and what can be found there. A 40ft long corridor in an ancient prison might be simple stone, while the same corridor in a crypt might have burial shelves at regular intervals. Below are the various dungeon origins I’ve come up with.

A Wizard Did It

I think it was Gary Gygax in the “Underworld and Wilderness Adventures” booklet who attributed dungeons to “Insane Wizards.” And while I’d hardly call it a sufficient explanation for every dungeon, it’s a great starting point. A wizard might construct a dungeon as a personal fortress, or as a way to contain their magical experiments. A truly insane Wizard could be responsible for some of a world’s most twisting and hazardous dungeons.

A dungeon created by wizards is also, in my mind, a great excuse to be showy with the unusual architecture and traps. Rooms where gravity shifts, or invisible bridges between towering cliff faces are exactly the kind of thing an arrogant wizard might create just to show that they could.

Dungeons can be dangerous! (Artsit unknown)Heracles Will Get to it Later

We all love Greek mythology here, right? When the Olympian gods imprisoned the Titans, Gaea (mother to the Titans and grandmother to the Olympians) bore two final children: Typhon and Echidna. These monstrous gods had numerous monstrous children together, including Cerberus, the Hydra, the Chimera, and the Nemean Lion. The Olympians eventually put a stop to the parents, but decided to let the children live, ‘as a test for future heroes.’

There is ample mythological precedent for the gods intentionally creating challenges for no purpose other than to test the limits of mortal heroism. While the Greek gods did this by leaving monsters around to be defeated by a bunch of guys who were mostly demi-gods anyway, the gods in a Pathfinder campaign setting might choose to test heroes by crafting dungeons to be explored.

Natural Phenomenon

A natural dungeon, or cave, is nothing new. It is none the less important to mention. Dungeons like these are created by the flow of water through the earth, by volcanic eruptions, and burrowing animals. But in a world of magic, could not that also play a part?

For the last few years I’ve been intrigued by the concept of ‘wild magic,’ magic which either exists naturally, or which exists as a kind of “nuclear fallout” from a once mighty magical civilization. In my Negune campaign setting, the isle of Argania is absolutely filled with this kind of thing. I see no reason why wild magic couldn’t also create a dungeon.

Perhaps tens of thousands of years ago, a civilization developed an urban development spell. One which built roads and houses and sewers and aqueducts. The spell effect was permanent, and has continued long after the civilization collapsed. After thousands of years without maintenance it builds corridors and rooms seemingly at random. Often it creates areas which are exceedingly dangerous for humans. And while it mostly ignores areas once it constructs them, occasionally an older area of the dungeon needs to be demolished…

Dungeon in the groundAncient City

Ancient cities tend to be distinct among dungeons, because they often follow a more logical structure. However, there’s no reason an ancient civilization couldn’t have had some very strange architectural choices. Particularly if it was something like ancient dwarves, whose cities are carved from stone anyway.

And don’t forget all the cool ways in which an ancient city can be damaged over the centuries. It can be partially underwater, or partially hidden under a blanket of volcanic rock. A particular favorite of mine is the city which has fallen into the earth, creating a very strange amalgam of natural and man-made hallways and chambers.

Crazy Creepy Cult

Cults do all manner of wacky things, and not all of them are secret. Much like in real life (See: Jim Jones, David Koresh, etc) cults will often want to completely separate themselves from the world and form their own self sustaining communities. In a game like Pathfinder, there’s no reason why these isolationists wouldn’t decide to build a dungeon to live in. Some cults might actually view the endless expantion of their dungeon to be a medetative act of prayer.

Cosmic Fender Bender

Every one of the numerous planes of existence is no doubt filled with citadels, towers, and dungeons of their own. And if two planes intersect just slightly, a dungeon might be thrown from one world, and into ours. This is a great way to add a hint of planar travel to your campaign, without going all the way and sending your players outside of the material realm.

Extradimentional Trap

Lets say the players are raiding a wizard’s tower. Upon opening a drawer, a flash of light engulfs them. Next thing they know they’re in the middle of a labyrinth filled with monsters and traps.

Dungeon in a Drawer: Keeping thieves away from your silverware.

Old Standbys

There are some classics which I can’t really add to, but I feel like I ought to mention them none the less.

  • A literal dungeon, built beneath a castle. Monarch after monarch added on to it. Even if the castle is still inhabited, nobody really knows how far down it goes, or what was done down there.
  • A prison. While this is basically what a dungeon beneath a castle was used for, it is distinct because there’s no castle on top of it, and second because we rarely think of dungeons in a literal sense any more. ‘Dungoen’ can mean anything with lots of monsters and treasure in it.
  • A crypt where the dead are buried. This could be anything from an Egyptian Pyramid, to the Catacombs beneath Rome.

Page by Page: Gary Gygax’s DMG Part 5

Wizard in the night by the shore of the sea, by Darlene PekulThis is the fifth installment of my continuing series on the 1979 Dungeon Master’s Guide, written by Gary Gygax. This post begins with the section “Travel in the Known Planes of Existence” on page 57, and continues through “Listening At Doors” on page 60.

Travel In The Known Planes of Existence As I’ve mentioned in the recent past, I’ve always been fascinated by planar adventures. There’s something about the idea of traveling not only to other worlds, but to places where even basic physical realities are different. It gets my adventurous spirit going. But no matter how fundamentally different they are, I always picture the various planes of existence as still fitting within the game’s setting. And while Gygax makes allowances for that as well, much of this section is about using planar travel as an excuse to visit completely different game systems. As in sending D&D characters to his “Boot Hill” wild west game. I was aware that he, as a GM, did that sort of thing. But I find it a little odd to see it right here in the DMG. I honestly can’t imagine doing things that way. If my players and I wanted to play a different game, I think we’d just put our D&D characters aside and play a different game.

I once read a post from Trollsmyth which might explain that, though I can’t find it for the life of me. It was about a cultural shift in the tabletop gaming community. According to him, in the old days players tended to stick with a single game for the long term, while now-a-days players often switch between campaigns and game systems at a rapid pace. That might explain why Gary thought it was important for GMs to know they could send their players to other game systems, whereas I (as a whippersnapper) view the concept as silly.

Outdoor Movement I am both surprised and disappointed that nothing here is really news to me. I guess it might be because I’ve already devoted a lot of time to reading, thinking, and even writing about this subject. I’m still not satisfied with how it works in my games, though, so I was hoping this would be one of those passages filled with Gygaxian genius. Oh well.

Infravision & Ultravision It’s pretty cool to have a detailed explanation of how Infravision works, though it seems like basic 60′ Infravision wouldn’t be all that useful. I mean, it’s a nice trick to have up your sleeve, but it wouldn’t let you function normally in the dark the way I would normally imagine. You’d be tripping over things on the floor constantly. 90′ Infravision is much closer to what one would normally think of, and I like that it is used to explain creatures with glowing red eyes. (The eyes are emitting infared radiation, and seeing via the radiation’s reflection).

Ultravision’s explanation is a little less detailed and clear. I wonder if the Player’s Handbook gives more detail on when this would be useful.

Invisibility This section, I think, stands well in contrast to many modern discussions about game-changing spells. Spells such as Fly and Invisibility which produce a lot of argument because they allow players to completely bypass obstacles. My position on these problems has always been that a GM should understand the spell’s limitations, and design better obstacles. Some others prefer to see these spells reduced in power, or removed from the game.

Gygax’s solution is to write six paragraphs and a table into the DMG which outline all the ways in which invisibility can fail in its intended purpose. Maybe the monster can smell you, or hear you, or maybe two players will run into one another while attempting to maneuver invisibly. It’s really quite clever.

Mirrors …What?

“It is important for DMs to remember that in order to be reflective, a mirror must have a light source.” -Gygax, DMG, Page 60. Apropos of nothing.

Why does this section exist? That’s all it says. Right between “Invisibility” and “Detection of Evil And/Or Good,” Gygax decided to include a little section about how mirrors work. I suppose I can see how this would be useful to remember, but it seems really random.

Detection of Evil And/Or Good I love how many of the sections in this book are obviously written from Gygax personal experience with players who try to take advantage of the rules. This is an example of that, where he points out that “Detect Evil” can’t be use to find traps or poisons. I don’t think there’s any point in my GMing career when I would have allowed a player to do that, but obviously some players have tried.

Listening at Doors I’m kind of surprised to learn that Gary Gygax included a listen check in his game. The way the entire OSR community hates perception checks, it’s kinda surprising to see the equivalent of one in this, the holy grail of the OSR. Now I realize nobody views Gary Gygax as infallible; he just got a lot of things right. I just never expected to see something like a listen check in this book.

And to be fair, he only includes it for when active listening attempts are made, which makes good sense I think. Thought his percentages are preposterously low. If there’s a dozen orcs in the next room, and an elf presses his ear to a wooden door, then I’d say there’s a 100% chance that elf is going to hear something. Gygax gives the elf a measly 15% chance.

Hearing Noise This is absolutely brilliant, so I’m going to include it in its entirety:

“When a die roll indicates a noise has been heard, tell the player whose character was listening that he or she heard a clink, footstep, murmuring voices, slithering, laughter, or whatever is appropriate. (Of course, some of these noises will be magical, e.g., audible glamer spells, not anything which will be encountered at all!) Be imprecise and give only vague hints; never say, “You hear ogres,” but “You hear rumbling, voice-like sounds.” Failure to hear any noise can be due to the fact that nothing which will make noise is beyond the portal, or it might be due to a bad (for the listener) die roll. Always roll the die, even if you know nothing can be heard. Always appear disintersted regardless of the situation.” -Gygax, DMG, Pg 60

Remember a week ago when I posted a long whiny list of things I want in a tabletop RPG? The above passage is exactly what I meant when I wrote:

“I want a game which explains not just the rules of the system, but the spirit which those rules support. One which explains why rules exist, and how certain mechanics improve play. I want a game which helps Game Masters make the leap from learning rules, to running a campaign.”

Why is this kind of thing so hard for modern RPGs to do?

Favorite Quotes from this Section

“”Now I’ll sneak up on the monster invisibly!” How often has this cry rung forth from eager players in your campaign? How often have you cursed because of it? Never fear, there are many answers to the problem of invisibility…” -Gygax, DMG, Pg 59

Serius Biznis

LS is SERIUS BIZNISThere are two things you should know about me: I’m serious about making writing my career, and I’m a huge dork. Getting business cards was really the only logical thing I could do. After all, nothing says “take me seriously” quite like business cards for a blog.

I’ve always planned on getting cards for this place eventually. A couple years ago when I met Jen McRight, she gave me a business card, and I just thought it was cool. It’s one thing to talk about writing stuff on the internet, it’s another thing to be able to hand someone a tiny, physical banner ad for your website. I’ve been putting it off for a few months, because I didn’t want to get ahead of myself. But I’ve had a few conversations recently where a business card would have been handy. Plus I’ve got Paizocon in a couple weeks, and it would be nice to have them on-hand while I’m there.

With so many websites claiming to print business cards so cheaply, I had some difficulty finding one I felt I could trust. In the hopes of saving others the trouble: I used Vista Print. The base price for their cards is better than most places I found, and my cards arrived less than a week after I placed the order. I’m very happy with the product, but I did find their service severely lacking. I needed to click through something like 15 pages of addons before they would let me check out on their website. Page after page of “would you like this image on a coffee mug? No? Well how about on the hood of your car then? On a T-shirt!? PUT IT ON SOMETHING, PLEASE!” It was like web based version of that guy at Best Buy who keeps pestering you until you want to punch him.

To add insult to injury, the last thing they offered me was a discount on additional cards. So let that be a lesson: if you want more than the minimum 250 cards, order 250 and wait until they offer you a cheaper price on 500!

If you’re interested, here’s the design of the card. I’ve already got some thoughts on what I’ll change in my next batch. But I’m rather proud of how it looks already.

Papers & Pencils Business Cards v1

Lively Locals 2: River of Blades

Aerial view of the Innoko river in the summer, source unknown. Wide river. Once, there was a tribe who lived by the river. They were not skilled in technology or magic, but the river provided everything they needed. Its water was clean, and its depths filled with fish. The tribe flourished under the leadership of Matron Ulanae. Ulanae was wise, and was the first among her tribe to begin to discover the powers of magic. She used her gifts to improve the lives of her people, and she was beloved. But the elders were jealous of Ulanae. Before she had begun to display her magical talents, they had ruled the tribe as the speakers for the River Spirit.

The elders told Ulane that the River Spirit wished to commune with her. To do so she must travel seven days up river to the place where the river falls from the high cliff. She was to climb the high cliff, and bathe above the waterfall to form a sacred bond with the river. Ulanae and her people still had great reverence for the River Spirit, so she obeyed the elder’s commands and began her journey. In secret, the elders followed her. They remained hidden until Ulanae reached the top of the waterfall, and began bathing in the waters there. They then emerged from hiding, and overpowered the matron. They threw her over the cliff, and her body was destroyed on the many sharp rocks below.

The elders returned to the village. They intended to tell the people that Ulanae had offended the River Spirit with her brashness, and that the River Spirit had consumed her as punishment. But when they arrived they found the people in great distress. The River Spirit was angry, they said, and would not let them enter the River. The Elders tried to calm the people by praying loudly to the River Spirit. When they had finished, they waded into the water–and their bodies were torn asunder by the river’s bite.

Without strong leadership, and lacking the resources the river had provided them, the tribe eventually moved off to settle elsewhere.

By all appearances, there is nothing out of the ordinary about the River of Blades. The somewhat muddy water flows at a fast pace, but not so fast that it would be difficult to stand in. It is between 50 and 90ft wide, and over 500 miles in length from the waterfall where it begins, to the estuary where it meets the sea. There are no towns near the river, nor are there any bridges built across it. The only oddity about the river is that it contains no plant or animal life whatsoever. No algae grows on the rocks, no fish swim in the water, local animals do not drink from it, and even trained horses will only enter it with extreme reluctance.

When anything makes contact with the water, it is attacked as though by dozens of swords all at once. Leaves and branches which fall into the water from nearby trees are quickly chopped into dust, and the effect is no less dramatic on adventurers. If the water is touched only very lightly, such as with the flat of one’s palm, or the toe of one’s boot, no damage is dealt. Instead, the character will feel as though they are being sliced, and if they look at whatever part of them touched the water they will see numerous tiny lacerations cross-crossing in all directions. If a hand or foot is submerged in the water, the character takes 1d4 slashing damage per round. If the character stands waist deep in the water they take 3d6 slashing damage per round. If the character swims, or is submerged in the water, they take 5d8 slashing damage per round. Anyone foolish enough to drink this water will suffer massive internal injuries, and instantly be reduced to -1 hit points.

No effect visible to the naked eye accompanies this attack. A character who is using Detect Magic or a similar spell will be able to see faint outlines of blades in the water, but only when an attack is taking place. There is also a very faint sound of slashing swords (again, only when an attack is taking place) but this is normally drowned out by the river’s flow. Anything which is placed in the water is subject to this attack. Most wooden craft are quickly shredded. Stone seems to hold together alright, though visible scratches constantly appear in its surface, and it would likely erode to nothing after a few hours of contact with the water. Curiously, if a bladed weapon is submerged in the water it is not damaged. Rather, when it is removed from the water, the wielder will discover that it has been expertly sharpened.

Water removed from the river will retain this slashing property so long as it is within 1 mile of the river. Note that this means it will destroy many of the containers water might normally be placed in. If this water is used as a weapon, by throwing it or splashing it at an opponent, the damage dealt is at the GM’s discretion. Roughly 1 cup of water would deal 1d6 damage, but more water might deal greater amounts of damage as indicated by the list above.

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