Lively Locals 8: Hero’s Rest

A photograph of Pontil’s Tomb, taken from Ben Hammott’s Research and Discoveries

If you visit the town of Everbrook, there is a sight you ought to see. Follow the stream which runs through town upriver, and you’ll come to a crumbling watchtower near the town’s edge. Behind it is an overgrown path leading up into the hills. The trees here grow large, and broad, blocking out all but the occasional trickle of sunlight. You may need a lantern to follow the path, even at noon on a bright summer’s day.

The climb is steep and winding, but the path never strays far from the stream, so you’ll have plenty of water to slake your thirst. A mile or so up, you will happen upon a clearing. It’s the only spot for miles, aside from Everbrook itself, where the sun shines through the dense tree cover. The southern edge of the clearing drops off suddenly, and if you stand on the edge you can see a rolling ocean of thick leaves extending as far as human eyes can see.

The clearing is small, no more than 15ft from any point on the clearing’s edge to any other. The stream pools in a tiny pond here, before continuing further up the hillside. There are no insects or animals there, only a profound stillness that makes you keenly aware of every sound you’ve brought with you–your footsteps in the grass, your breathing, your heartbeat.

Beside the water is a tomb; 6ft long, 3ft wide, and 3ft high. It is made of local stone, and somehow seems more at home than I would have thought a man made object could be in such a profoundly natural place. Its surfaces are covered in ornate carvings, depicting great battles, and slain demons. The side of the tomb which faces towards the water, and out over the trees, bears the only word, written in common.


If you were to ask anyone in town where it came from, none of them could give you an answer. They say that the town’s founders only discovered it several years after settling in the area, and no one has ever found out where it came from, or how long it has been there. Most of the townsfolk have visited the Hero’s Rest at least a few times. It is a solitary experience for them, one of solemnity and contemplation. Specific beliefs and traditions regarding the site vary from person to person, but every last citizen of Everbrook agrees that Hero’s Rest deserves reverence.

No one has ever opened the tomb, nor would the people of Everbrook ever willingly allow someone to do so–though they do not guard the site and could not stop a determined thief. Nor are they eager to learn of who was lain to rest there. Whoever that person was, the town of Everbrook embraces them.

Whoever that person was, they were a hero.

8 Rules for Dungeon Improvisation

Snake in a Dungeon Corridor--Illustration from the Dungeons and Dragons basic set by Holmes
Illustration by Erol Otus, from the D&D Basic Set by Holmes. (Thanks, Fotzie!)

During my most recent pathfinder game, a number of my players were absent. Among them was the group’s sorceress, Phoenix Darkmatter. Her absence was particularly relevant because the primary quest of the party currently revolves around her. Without her there to participate, I assumed that the party would want to pursue some other goal, so prior to the game I prepared a number of quest threads in the town they had ended their last adventure in. True to form, however, they completely bypassed everything I had prepared. As I had predicted, they didn’t want to continue the arachnohomnid quest line without Phoenix, but they weren’t even slightly interested in protecting dwarven caravans either. No, this party of low level adventurers recalled hearing about a lich which lived in the southern lands, and determined that killing it would be an appropriate use of their time.

The rogue participated only under strong (and well justified) protest.

Fortunately, a random roll of the dice brought the party to their senses. After nearly being killed by a pack of wolves they randomly encountered while crossing the planes, they settled on a more reasonable goal: find out why the nearby forest was filled with half-ogre monstrosities. It’s a quest thread I had introduced in one of our first sessions. They had never seemed particularly interested in it before. I had to leave the room for a moment to find some of my older notes related to that quest–and what I had was not much. A mad wizard with ogre minions had taken up residence in the ancient elven ruins of Gorak Torar, where he was experimenting on transforming the local Gnoll population into Ogre-kin servants for himself. That’s all I had.

Oh, and the ruins were made of blue-white stone. Because this place was not at all a ripoff of Dire Maul.

The players asked intelligent questions and quickly found a trail of clues leading them to the ruins themselves. They’re starting to get too good at this game, I can’t rely on them fumbling about for too long while I find my bearings. It didn’t take them long after finding the ruins to gravitate towards the large building at the center, and make their way into the dungeon beneath it. A dungeon which I had absolutely no plans whatsoever for. So I improvised.

I’ve always prided myself on my improvisational skill, and everyone enjoyed themselves. It was easily the most fun I’ve had recently, and my players were still talking about the adventure a couple days later. Once the game was over, and I had a moment to review my performance, I went over my methodology for creating the dungeon, and retroactively codified 8 rules I had used to help me go about the task.

  1. Steal. Do it rampantly, and do it shamelessly. Even if you were to completely rip off the layout of an environment your players were intimately familiar with, it’s not likely that they would notice. And if you change a room shape here, and add a few more doors there, a dungeon layout lifted from another game becomes completely unrecognizable.
  2. Don’t make the dungeon fancy, just make it. Don’t waste a bunch of your time thinking about how to make things interesting, or how to create a theme, or complicated multi-room puzzles. You don’t have time. Draw corridors, draw doors, draw rooms, and figure out what’s in them. That’s all you have time for. If you want to add depth, do something simple like a locked door, or a key hanging on the wall. Then you can easily insert the matching element later.
  3. Read -C’s PDF guide On Tricks, Empty Rooms, and Basic Trap Design. The Empty Rooms part is particularly important. Commit as much of this PDF to memory as you can, and use it.
  4. While your players are discussing amongst themselves what they want to do in a given room, that’s your opportunity to figure out what’s behind all of the room’s doors. You don’t need to pay attention to everything they say, but you should already know what’s behind every door of the room they’re in.
  5. You don’t need to worry about anything beyond the rooms which are adjacent to the one your players are in. There’s no need to waste time detailing a room which they might never even get near to. If you have spare time, focus your attention on adding details to the rooms you’ve already got. Something like a trap, a secret door, or some unusual monster or treasure adds depth to your dungeon.
  6. Restroom breaks are a perfect opportunity to expand your map.
  7. Select a small number of enemy types, maybe 2-3, and have those creatures constitute most of the dungeon’s population. Some rooms might have a special monster of some kind, but a small number monster types repeated gives the dungeon a sense of consistency. Don’t be afraid to put those monsters in a variety of situations, though.
  8. If your players are looking for something in particular, it will not necessarily be along the path they take through the dungeon. They will likely pass a number of doors on their way through the dungeon, and it could easily be beyond one of those. If you’d like to handle this with as much agency as possible, roll a D6 each time the players descend to a new level. On a roll of 5-6 (or 4-6 for smaller dungeons) what the players are looking for is on that level of the dungeon. And each time the players enter a new room on that level, roll a D20. On a roll of 19-20, what the players are looking for is in that particular room.

These are just the rules I came up with off the top of my head during the game. I’d be curious to know if anyone else has similar methods, or tips on how I could improve my own!

Campaign Management Toolbox

Old metal tool box
Photograph taken from an Etsy listing.

One of my multitude of flaws as a GM is that I do not run a very organized campaign. Notes are often scattered, and obtuse. An NPC’s name is buried in the middle of a paragraph of the notes from two sessions ago. I don’t want to waste everyone’s time, so I just come up with something new off the top of my head and hope the players weren’t paying enough attention to notice. And that’s terrible. As GMs, we want our worlds to be consistent and life-like. No, our players probably won’t notice if we rename an NPC they’ve only seen once before, but that’s because they need to hear an NPC’s name three or four times before they’ll start to remember it. And if we can’t give them that repetition, then the setting is just a vessel that they use to play the game. It will never become a persistent world in their minds, and thus the game can never achieve its full potential.

Unfortunately, we GMs are but mortal men and women. We do not have the power to hold an entire world within our minds, with all the characters, locations, and events such a feat would entail. Perhaps gods would make better GMs, but players will have to settle for those of us who just think we’re omnipotent. And if we want to pull that off, we need tools. I’ve spent the last week reevaluating and updating the various methods I use to help me manage my campaign, and I think I’ve assembled a tool box which is relatively comprehensive, easy to use while in play, supports a dynamic world, and is simple to keep updated. That last one is particularly important because my note-taking has always been atrocious.

The campaign calendar is one of my newest tools. Based on my old post, Suppositions on Time Tracking, I created a calendar with 7 days in a week, 5 weeks in a month, and 10 months in a year. It might seem arbitrary to deviate from the gregorian calendar most of us are familiar with. However, I didn’t feel the gregorian calendar was sufficiently easy to use. Not only do the number of days in a month fluctuate throughout the year, but since the number of days in a month is not divisible by the number of days in a week, the whole thing turns into a big mess. In my system, each unit of time measurement can be fitted neatly into the next largest unit of measurement without any remainder. The only problem is that the 4 seasons cannot be distributed evenly amongst 10 months. But I just made the transitory seasons (spring and fall) two months long, and the other seasons three months long. That seemed suitable enough to me.

As an added bonus, changing from the gregorian calendar adds to the atmosphere of the game world. Even if the players never need to think about the game’s calendar themselves, the fact that I now know how the calendar works helps make NPC dialogue seem a little more authentic. If you’re interested, the seven days of the week are Famday, Moonsday, Skyday, Earthday, Seaday, Kingsday, and Godsday. The five weeks of the month are Squire’s Week, Knight’s Week, Baron’s Week, Earl’s Week, and Duke’s Week. And the ten months of the year are the “The Month Of…” Rising, Blood, Healing, Blades, Victory, Restlessness, Glory, Defeat, Wisdom, and Remembrance.

Functionally, I use the calendar to track events over time. I keep track of what in-game day it is when we play, and note down any significant events which happen during that day. I try to avoid too much detail, just making quick notes, such as meeting with an NPC I want to bring back in the future, starting or completing a quest, things like that. Going back through the calendar, it can serve as a log book of sorts. It also helps me track cooldowns. If I tell the players it’ll take a week’s worth of time to research something, then I can mark down when they begin researching it, and I won’t forget when it’s time for them to be finished. This also helps with cool downs, or establishing other time limitations. I am coming to appreciate that the passage of time is potentially one of the most interesting aspects of a D&D game–both on the adventure level, and the campaign level. The calendar should help me use that tool more efficiently.

Part of what makes the calendar relevant is a pair of tools which I’ve taken to collectively calling the Quest Log. The first of the two is a list of the PC’s stated goals. It only takes up a few lines, but it serves as an essential compass to me when I’m preparing for each new session. I know from listening to my players that they’re interested in stealing an egg from a great and terrible mountain-sized spider which lives far to the north east. So if the land between where the players currently are and where they need to go doesn’t have any towns or monsters in it, I know I need to work on that to be ready for the next session. The second part of the Quest Log are a list of ‘open hooks.’

Open hooks are ongoing events which the PCs know about. It is important to note that, while there is some overlap, not all open hooks will be among the PC’s stated goals. For example, my players expressly decided not to involve themselves in the war between the Orcs and the Elves in the Western forest. Likewise, not all of the PC’s stated goals count as open hooks. For example, one of my PC’s stated goals is to acquire the hair of a drow. Unless there’s a contagious epidemic of baldness amongst the drow, this doesn’t really count as an ‘ongoing event.’

Using the ‘Lines in the Water‘ mechanic devised by Eric of Dragon’s Flagon, I assign a die to each of the open hooks. More volatile situations use a die with fewer faces, while more stable situations use a die with more faces. Once every in-game week, each open hook’s die is rolled. If the number is a 1 or a 2, the situation gets worse, if I roll the die’s maximum number, or one less than the maximum, then the situation gets better. I heartily recommend you read the original post on this mechanic to get a fuller explanation. It’s one of the most innovative and elegant mechanics I’ve seen in awhile. By using it, I can quickly determine how my game world evolves around my characters. They’ll learn that an opportunity they choose to pass on will not always be there for them in the future, and I avoid any biases I may have about how I would like the event to develop without the player’s help.

Perhaps one of the most obvious tools in my toolbox is a keyed campaign map. My world is printed on a hex map, the value of which I’ve written about a number of times in the past. I created the map using Hexographer, which is the only digital tool I’m using right now. Everything else is done on paper, and fits neatly into a binder. Each hex on the map is keyed twice. First, each hex is part of a numbered ‘region,’ which is outlined in red on the map. Each region has some very basic information associated with it: ‘World NPCs’ which live there (I’ll get to that later), important locations which exist there, the government of the region, a very brief description of what is currently going on there, and an encounter table.

LS Campaign Map for the Continent of Edargelen, Region 1, made with Hexographer
Region 1 of my campaign world

For example, region 1 on my campaign map is home to no World NPCs, and the only important locations are Honon village, and the Dwarven Trade Road. Region 1 is ruled by the human Korrathan Empire, but is on the edge of their territories. The only thing currently going on in region 1 is that the town of Honon is attempting to rebuild after it was destroyed, and there is a group of bandits which attacks small groups of travelers. Based on that information, I created a small encounter table where there were not many encounters with monsters, since the area is considered civilized territory. There is a 15% chance of encountering bandits, a 10% chance of encountering wolves or dire wolves, and the rest of the encounters are just with traveling merchants or patrolling guards.

For most hexes, the region key is all that I need. However, for added detail, each hex is also individually numbered. Most of these numbers correspond with nothing. But if a hex has something particular in it, such as a town, or a monument, or a dungeon entrance, then that information is keyed to the individual hex number rather than the regional key. Again using region 1 as an example, there is only one hex with anything specific in it. Hex 28.18 contains the lakeside town of Honon. So here I would quickly note the name of the town, and the names and purpose of any NPCs the players have interacted with before. Depending on how important the town is to the game, I may have more information as well, such as the town’s purchasing power or the services it has available. In the specific case of Honon, I once ran an adventure where I thought the players might attempt to barricade the town to defend against an attack. They didn’t, but I’ve got a map of the town none the less, which I keep next to hex 28.18’s individual key in case I ever have another use for it.

The only one of these tools I devised myself is the list of the ‘World NPCs’ I mentioned earlier. World NPCs have a larger sphere of influence than standard NPCs do. They are queens, popes, generals, mighty wizards, and dragons. The players may not have met them, but their actions can none the less affect the player’s environment. All world NPCs have a short description of what they want, and how they want to get it. For example, for Grum Okkor, king of the Trolls, my description might read “Wants to build the first Troll empire. Is banding the numerous Troll dens together. Will attack the Korrathan Capitol city on the Squire’s Week during the Month of Blades in the year 3999. Chance of success: 70%”

World NPCs are my method for making the world seem fluid around the players. Events they’ve heard of are not the only ones which affect the world. If the players are nowhere near Korrothan during the Month of Blades this year, then they may return home to find it’s not a safe place to be anymore. Or, at the very least, they’ll return home to a nation recovering from a brutal war. And if they are in Korrothan during the Month of Blades, then they’ll have the opportunity to participate in the war and save their homeland.

The final tool in my box is a simple list: enemies of the PCs. These are characters which the players have insulted, or harmed in the past, and who are angry enough to seek revenge. Each of the PC’s enemies has a plot. One of them might be waiting for the players to return to their town before they strike, while another might be actively tracking the players down. If the players unwittingly stay in one place for too long, their enemies might catch up!

And that’s everything I’m currently using to manage my campaign. I will admit, it’s a little ambitious considering how bad I normally am at maintaining notes. But I think it’s also structured enough, and minimalist enough, that I should be able to avoid many of my characteristic problems, such as including far more detail than necessary. I am hoping these tools will help me improve, but campaign management is still one of my weakest skills as a GM. If anyone has any advice they’d like to share, or ideas on how I can improve the tools listed above, I’d love to hear about it!

Playing with Unbalanced Levels in Pathfinder

PC Death Demotivator - Source unknown
Source Unknown

In the Gygaxian Era, it was common for every PC to start at first level, regardless of the level of their fellow adventurers. While it was not unheard of for players to start at a higher level, my understanding is that it was not common. And from what I’ve read, it certainly doesn’t seem to have been something Gygax himself liked very much. If you were a new player in an ongoing campaign, you could expect to start at first level even if the rest of the group were in the mid teens or higher. And if you were unfortunate enough to lose a high level character to one of oldschool D&D’s numerous hazards, and your compatriots either could not access, or could not afford, a resurrection spell, then that was it. Back to first level for you.

This style of play has gradually fallen out of style, to the point that many players are unaware that it ever existed. And many modern gamers who are aware of it (either anecdotally or by experience) are openly scornful of the idea. The general consensus among many of my fellow modern gamers is that players who are significantly lower level than the rest of the party will be left with nothing to do. Rather than ‘pointlessly punish’ players for being new to the game, or losing a PC, the GM should let them begin at least two levels below the average party level. And in fairness, there is a logic to this argument.

For my part, I’ve always been at least interested in this kind of play. Which isn’t to say I always thought the idea was good. Quite the opposite, I often joined in on conversations deriding this type of play. I thought it might be a fun way to spend an evening sometime, but never expected I’d enjoy that kind of fundamental imbalance in my games. It might have worked in earlier iterations of the game, I thought, when even high level characters were not particularly powerful. But in the modern game, the difference between a high level character and a low level character is too large. The villains in a  high level game would wipe the floor with a low level PC!

Last October, however, I learned I had been wrong. Low level players in a high level game were not useless. Nor were they boring for the people playing them. In fact, that game was an immense amount of fun. As I noted at the time, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that particular player have quite so much fun before. But that was a one-off session. The situation was unusual, and I was unsure of whether that level of fun could be maintained across an entire campaign. If level imbalance were the rule, rather than the exception, would it still be fun?

In the hopes that it would, my Current Pathfinder game is using much stricter rules for character creation. The group I’m playing with has grown slowly, from the three original members, to a fourth two sessions later, to a fifth the session after that, and even a sixth two sessions after that. By the time the most recent player joined the game, the rest were already pushing level three, but I had them start at first level none the less. And while the lower level characters are certainly less capable than the higher level ones, there is not a sense that they’re contributing any less to the group’s success. Often the low level players are able to completely change the course of a battle because they come up with innovative tactics for the party to use, or because they let the higher level characters occupy the monsters while they attempt something clever.

As the average party level gets higher, though, I’ve been more wary about starting players all the way at level 1. The last two members to join the party did so with +1 weapons at their disposal, because I was worried about alienating those players by throwing them into a game where they felt as though they were at a disadvantage.

Earlier today, however, I ran a game where one of the highest level PCs in the party met their end. The player made two extremely poor decisions in a row, and she paid for it when she was reduced to -27 hit points in the first round of combat with three ogres. While the rest of the players continued to explore the dungeon, I told her to begin rolling a new character. I figured that once she was done, I’d have the party encounter her as a prisoner who would join their party, so I told her not to bother rolling starting gold or buying equipment.

Shortly thereafter, the party encountered the ruler of the dungeon: a 6th level evocation specialist wizard with a gear-less paladin chained to the wall. I didn’t know how much the new character would be able to contribute to the battle, but I figured that in the wrost case scenario, one of the other adventurers would free her and give her a spare weapon so she could join in on the fight.I waas particularly worried when I learned that the player had forgotten to select either of the feats they were entitled to as a first level human.

But oh, was I surprised.

First, they asked if they could make a strength check to break the chains that were holding them to the wall. I allowed it, but set the DC pretty high. She not only made it, but she surpassed it by enough that I told her she had pulled chunks of brick out of the wall along with the chains. She asked if she could swing them as weapons, and I agreed. So in a fluid motion, she both broke free from the wall, and smashed the wizard’s two goblin minions in the head with chunks of stone, killing one, and reduing the other to a single hit point. Already she’d significantly affected the battle by effectively removing two nuisance fighters, but I’ll grant you, her success here was largely the luck of the dice.

But she wasn’t done yet.

On her next turn, she asked if she could tackle the wizard, who had just cast fireball on the rest of the party, reducing most of them to dangerously low HP. I told her to make a combat maneuver check, and she easily surpassed the measly combat maneuver defense of the wizard. She tackled him to the ground, and the two rolled down the stairs of his dais together. On the wizard’s next turn, he cast the only spell I thought would still work–shocking grasp. He rolled an 18 on his concentration check, and sent 6d6 volts of electric energy through the shiny new character, reducing  the level 1 paladin to -6hp.

The following round, the rest of the players in the group managed to finish the wizard off, but each member of the party was on death’s doorstep. Two of them had only a single hit point remaining. If not for the round of distraction afforded to the group by the paladin, the battle would have resulted in a TPK.

Let me say that again: A level 1 paladin without any equipment, weapons, or feats, managed to single-handedly turn the tide of a battle which was designed as a challenge for 6th level characters.

If you think low level characters can’t have an impact on a high level game: you are wrong.

(Un)Lively Locals 7: Lilbr, Village of the Dead

Cthulhu Saves the World by Zeboyd Games - The town full of Zombies
Screenshot from “Cthulhu Saves the World” by Zeboyd Games

Thirty years ago, the town of Lilbr was utterly commonplace. It wasn’t deep in the wilderness, nor was it convenient to any large cities. Its people were not renowned for any great craft or service. They lived unremarkably, and no one paid them any mind.

Then a virulent diseased spread rapidly throughout the land, touching every community. Its victims died horrible, retching deaths. Many attempts were made to cure it, but they seemed powerless to stop or even delay the spread of the terrible malady. Like an avatar of death, it killed the ones it chose for itself, and ignored the rest completely. Even those who tried to keep themselves completely separated from society had no luck escaping the scourge of what came to be known The Death Cough, after its distinctive first symptom.

The disease raged for only three months, but in that time it nearly halfed the size of most communities. Some towns were reduced to a tenth of their previous population. Everyone was scared, and mourning, and many towns were abandoned because their devastated citizenry could no longer support themselves. It took a few months before people started to realize that in all the shuffling, no one had heard anything, from anyone in Lilbr.

Scouts were sent to investigate. They discovered what everyone had feared. Not a single person in Lilbr had been left alive. Upon inspection, no new graves were found. There was no indication that anyone had taken the time to bury any of the numerous bodies curled up in their homes and in the streets. It was apparent that the Death Cough had afflicted all the people of Lilbr at the same time, and had not spared anyone as it had elsewhere. Even the livestock were seen curled up and motionless, apparently dead from the disease which had only been observed affecting humans before.

With the threat of the disease still fresh in everyone’s minds, no one even dared bury the bodies. That would require being near them for far too long. Instead, it was agreed that no one should approach within 20 miles of Lilbr until 10 years hence. The number was arbitrary and unscientific, but to the farmers and other peasant folk who made up the surrounding villages and towns, it seemed like a safe bet.

Signs were posted warning travelers away, and indicating safe detours. For a decade, no one set eyes on Lilbr. And when the 10 year quarantine finally drew to a close, the emboldened villagers sent a small band to purge the village. They were to bury the bodies—no doubt skeletal by now—and burn the buildings and fields. The band returned three days later, each of them as pale as death. They said there were no bodies to bury, because the dead of Lilbr walked the streets as though they were alive.

Fearing the worst, a party of adventurers was hired to investigate further. They found that, indeed, the people of Lilbr had been raised as zombies. But even the adventurers, widely traveled though they were, had never seen anything quite like what the town had become.

While on the surface the town appeared to be overrun by completely average zombies, the adventurers discovered them to be anything but. For one thing, they did not attack the living on sight. In fact, they completely ignored the adventurers until the group destroyed one of the shambling corpses. When they did that, every zombie in town immediately attacked, and the adventurers thought for sure they would be devoured by the sudden onslaught. But the moment they stepped outside the city limits, all pursuit ceased. The zombies stopped running, picked up the remains of the one who had fallen, and went about their business. Stranger still, the following day, the adventurers saw the same zombie they had destroyed walking about as though nothing had happened! That shouldn’t be possible. A destroyed zombie cannot be reanimated a second time, it is common knowledge.

Still more strange, the adventures noted that the zombies did not mill about aimlessly as mindless creatures are apt to do. They seem to be living the same lives they had before the plague came.The farmers farmed, the millers milled, the children played, and friends stood around chatting with one another. It would be an idyllic scene, if the participants were not dead. The running children moved in a stilted, rigor-mortised shamble, and every conversation was nothing but guttural noises produced by lungs and throats which no longer functioned as they were designed to.

Unsettled by this news, the surrounding villages began to empty. No one was comfortable living near such a horrifying place. It wasn’t long before the village of the dead was surrounded by a dozen ghost towns. Occasionally, a group of paladins have taken it upon themselves to destroy Lilbr, and rid the world of its foul mockery of life. Many died trying, unprepared for the vicious coordination of the zombie counterattack. And before a more organized force could raze the town, necromancers began to arrive from all over the world.

Lilbr was unique. An absolutely unparalleled opportunity to study naturally occuring necromatic phenomena. Every powerful necromancer in the world wanted to be a part of it. Many went so far as to build their towers within sight of the town, forming a very loose coalition. They quickly noticed something the adventuers had failed to recognize: each zombie’s actions are exactly the same nearly every day. Down to the number of steps taken and the tones of the guttural conversations. Very occasionally, once, or perhaps twice a year, the zombies deviate from their routine. For a day, everything is different. They have a festival, or a trial, or a war. So far none of these odd days have repeated themselves, and no one is quite sure what they represent.

Entire towers have been filled with tomes pertaining to the bizarre puzzle of Liblr. To this day, no one actually knows what is going on.

Legend of Zelda Adventure System: Levels, and Adventurers

The Legend of Zelda a Link to the Past Fan Art: Link Battling Dark World Crows, by Neko
Link battling Dark World crows. Fan art by Neko, (I think)

In my experience, there are two kinds of leveling systems. The first is designed around the idea that the player will always have another level to strive for. The majority of the game, if not all of it, is played below the maximum level. This is mostly used in games where levels offer only minor benefits, or in games where acquiring the next level is the primary motivation for play. The other type of leveling system serves as a kind of extended tutorial. The game is fully featured and plenty of fun during the leveling process, but the gradual acquisition of levels serve as a means to gradually introduce players to the abilities they’ll be using at max level.

Both methods have their place, but I’ve always felt a certain frustration with the former option. As much fun as the game may be, the last few levels always have some really fascinating abilities that you can’t wait to get your hands on. But you know that if you ever do get them, it won’t be too long before the game is over anyway. Most console RPGs are like this, in my expereince, as is Pathfinder. Those games where levels offer only minor benefits, such as more traditional versions of D&D, are a little less frustrating in this regard. There aren’t any fancy abilities at max level you’re eager to get, so when you end the game 80% of the way through the leveling process, you don’t feel as though you’ve missed out on something you were looking forward to.

I want to model the Legend of Zelda Adventure System on the latter type of leveling system. The game should be just as fun once you’re done leveling as it was before. At max level, characters become more concerned with finding magical or wondrous items to aide them in their future adventures. And individual character progress continues, because health increases separately from the leveling structure. A max level character will probably only have between five and ten health, which isn’t much! They’ll need to continue adventuring if they want to increase their survivability.

As an example of how the leveling system works, here’s the current class description for the Adventurer class. The adventurer is the class which I think best represents Link himself. It’s a little bit like a rogue, a little bit like a ranger, a little bit like a monk, but not quite any of those. And while many of the adventurer’s abilities were never demonstrated by in the Zelda series, I think they are true to the spirit of the gameplay.


Equipment: Adventurers may use light armor and shields, as well as any type of weapon, without penalty. An adventurer who wears heavy armor does not gain the benefit of any of their special abilities unless otherwise stated.

Level Abilities Gained
1 Spin Attack
2 Long Jump
3 Attack +1
4 Climb, Battle Maneuver +1
5 Sneak
6 Attack +2
7 Run
8 High Jump, Battle Maneuver +2
9 Attack +3
10 Great Courage

Spin Attack: Make an Agility Check. If the check is successful, make a normal attack against all adjacent enemies. Such an attack can not specifically aim for a creature’s weak spot. If the agility check fails, you may still make the attack, but at a -3 penalty to hit and damage rolls.

Long Jump: You can jump up to 20ft distant without needing to make a roll. You can reach distances of 21-30ft with a successful agility check. A long jump can’t end on an area more than 1ft higher than the area the character began on.

 Attack: At levels 3, 6, and 9, an adventurer becomes more adept at making attacks with their weapon. They may add the indicated number to their attack rolls to determine if an attack hits.

Climb: The adventurer can move vertically or horizontally along walls so long as the walls are reasonably rough, such as an old brick wall, or a rough stone wall. The adventurer can also support themselves between two walls no more than 6ft apart for an indefinite period of time. With a successful agility check, you can move up to your normal movement speed while climbing, though failure results in a fall.

Battle Maneuver: At level 4, and 8 an Adventure becomes more adept at performing battle maneuvers, and more resilient against them. They add the indicated number to both their Battle Maneuver Attack, and Battle Maneuver Defense.

Sneak: A sneaking adventurer is able to move with complete silence, and hide themselves within deep shadows. While sneaking, an adventurer can move only half of their normal speed. While hiding in deep shadows, an adventurer must remain still while someone is looking at them, or they will be seen.

On particularly noisy ground, such as dry leaves or a creaky floor, the GM may rule that an agility check is needed to move silently.

Run: For a number of rounds equal to their Body score, an adventurer may move up to six times their normal movement rate.

High Jump: May leap up to 6ft straight up without the need for an agility check. May reach heights of up to 10ft with a successful agility check.

Great Courage: The adventurer becomes completely immune to any form of fear effect, be it mundane or magical. This ability works even if the adventurer is encumbered by heavy armor.

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