Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Location: Little Snake's Man's Cave

 Please enjoy this dungeon space, the smuggling den of a clique of wererats and their mutoid allies. It features more traps than I typically employ, as well as a well-Jacquaysed layout

Click here
Highlights include:
  • classic monsters like the skeleton and rat swarm in their element.
  • hidden pirate treasure
  • less-than-reliable signage
  • a magic item based on an old joke I heard once
  • stalactites and stalagmites
  • one of those inexplicable dungeon shops
  • many secret passages
  • a room of pools
  • locks and keys
  • the magic king of a forsaken people
  • treasure beyond your wildest dreams

Monday, May 23, 2022

Quick Procedure For Spell Components

 When a magician lingers in their tower, studying spells, they are essentially studying magic tricks. Figuring out how to turn sticks into snakes is like a life hack. It's like getting really good at throwing a water bottle so it does a backflip and land standing up. The defining feature of the magician is that they know how to twist their brains in ways that make them good at holding these weird skills in their minds.

In the past, I've been a bit loosey-goosey with the exact in-the-moment requirements of spells. I was keen to ask players "what does it look like when you cast your magic missile? What do you do to cast it?" People were often confused, or at least imagined different spell-casting tropes than I did. To eliminate future confusion in my games, I've tried to write out my feelings on spell component requirements.

In order for these guidelines to be useful, they need to be intuitive. I should be able to retroactively apply them when the PCs find a scroll of some spell in a module I wrote years ago, and they should apply to spells that PCs create themselves, which is really an under-explored process in the games I run. I like the idea of there being largely redundant versions of similar spells, which pose all the more reason to include a spell creator's name in the spell itself. A pair of wizard's apprentices may argue the merits of Mordenkainen's Faithful Hound and Lian Yimu's Silent Hound spells. All the better when Mordenkainen is a PC of a previous campaign and Lian Yimu is an important NPC

What does it look like to cast a spell? Does it require a free hand? An invocation? I like to let the intended effect guide me. What mundane action can I imagine is getting extended into something magical? Is someone throwing a fireball at me? Are they staring at me with so much hateful concentration that a fireball is coming out of them? If they're casting a summoning spell they've got to be verbally calling, just like mom used to call me to dinner, right? 

Spell Component Procedure

Generally, a spell will require at least one of these conditions:

  • Somatic: some specified physical action. Your wind-walking spell should fail if you can't walk-walk.
  • Verbal: using specific words to get some entity's attention, or influencing a target with language. Might fail if they don't understand you.
  • Concentration: some purely mental action. Probably requires you to utterly halt anything else you're doing when you cast it, or at least concentrate on it for the spell duration.
  • Material: some specific object or material. These spells should get a bit of leniency I feel, since you require the object as a focus. Why else would you prefer to learn staff to snake instead of summon snake?
For each condition beyond the first that the spell's creator wishes to employ, it should have a +10% chance of getting successfully researched, or go 10% faster or be 10% cheaper, depending on how that procedure works. The DM should reject proposals that feel too contrived.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Monster of Intuition

A lot of good monsters in stories and games are those that are easy to grasp. They have striking concepts, even when they lack total coherence. Medusa (if we want to call her a monster) has snakes for hair and turns people into stone. Iconic. The connection between snake hair and petrification could be posited, but is actually unnecessary. A manticore has the head of a man, the body of a lion, and the tail of a scorpion. It’s clear why it’s scary and we can guess how it acts because we know what a man, a lion, and a scorpion are. 

Unknowable monsters are uninteresting on their own. They need a good story to go into. But a cowardly little guy with a dog face and scales makes for a good story all on his own. 

Usually a good monster is pretty simple, but a major exception is the “Weird Guy” category. Your vampire, your wizard, your cat lord. They often have a loose theme under which they may have a dozen or more features and quirks. But note how many of those features are themselves striking and simple. Dracula can turn into a bat (and we know what bats are), drink blood (and we have strong associations with blood), hypnotize people, command wolves, climb walls like a lizard, get burned by crosses, flee the sun, be unkillable, and other things you don’t need to explain.

Some intuitive monsters:

  • Hollow bronze statues that walk around and stab intruders with spears. There’s a circular hatch in their back that’s sealed with wax, and if it’s knocked out they die. They’re powered by bees, who fly out of their back if they’re killed to spoil and pillage.
  • Peacock with a fiery tail that burns your house down and spits smoke.
  • Looks like a woman, but full to the brim with rats who can pop out to bite you, though their tails root them inside the body.
  • A turnip that rolls around as though in the wind, and every time it rolls a circle around you, you age by a year. You get your youth back if you eat the turnip.
  • Goat that pretends to be lost livestock, then later turns into a wooden cage with wheels and carts you off to Hell.
  • Wolf that leaves a trail of black sand wherever it goes, and when it dies the sand combusts.
  • The head of a hyena, the legs of a giraffe, and the body and tongue of a frog.
  • Teen with a skull for a head, that drools acid
  • Bat that turns inside out and summons angry mobs
  • Little guy that does favors for you, but then can command you an equal number of times. He lives in an orchard.
  • Evil millstone that rolls around crushing people, especially those it heard gossip about.
  • Sorcerer who turns you into a tree and then chops you down.
  • Huge monster that looks like a tower with a big lion head. Encases everything around it in crystals, then has its minions shatter people.
  • Talking goblet that teaches you spells and rituals designed to backfire.
  • Beaver, but if it uses a part of your house to build its dam you become its slave.
  • A tiger no one else can see or acknowledge.
  • Evil pair of horses pulling a carriage. Revolvers are held out to shoot at anyone the horses don’t trample to death, and if you make eye contact with the thing inside, you die. This is all one creature.
  • Super-strong man with a sponge for a head, and when you squeeze it milk comes out and he gets confused.
  • Looks like a boar, but its belly opens up and there’s an army of angry women with spears.
  • Horse, but most of its face is just a hole to nowhere. If you fall through and lose your grip on it, you’ll fall forever. 
  • Person with wooden insides. If you disobey any of their requests or commands, you explode.
  • Weird guy with very reflective eyes and constantly wet hair, who can float in the wind, send copies of himself that pop when punctured, speak Dutch, become invisible to the mundane and tawdry, brew poison, and sing to change the weather.
  • Weird guy who makes trees grow overnight, causes the dead to rise, track those who have stolen from him, turn into a beetle, run really fast, and make locks and latches shatter on command.
  • Weird guy who vapes underground by day, resembling a mundane geyser. By night, he spits lightning and kidnaps people. He can summon rats to do his bidding. Vinegar kills him, milk makes him lose his powers, and honey makes him obey your orders.

Some things people intuitively understand

1. metal

2. wood

3. wax

4. water

5. goo

6. fire

7. lava

8. fog

9. flesh

10. bone

11. insects

12. stone

13. one thing divided in two

14. one thing inside another

15. one thing entwined with another

16. sizzling

17. fuming

18. decaying

19. sponge

20. one thing through another thing

21. plants

22. crystal

23. dirt

24. void

25. faces

26. sounds

27. hands

28. webs

29. fabric

30. leather