Friday, May 30, 2014

Gravel Buttons

I was just watching Willow with my kids and was reminded how cool the magic acorns were. For those of you that don't recall the High Aldwin gives them to Willow and explains they will turn to stone whatever they are thrown at. I’m a huge fan of disposable magic items and think they make for some fun moments in any game session. I also like the idea of dangerous items that are otherwise completely innocuous in appearance. So I present you with Gravel Buttons!

These magic buttons come in all different shapes and sizes. The only thing they have in common is their aged and worn appearance. They are typically found attached to articles of clothing and bags. However some wizards have located them unknowingly used as ornaments on
museum display items. They have even been found in the junk boxes of a seamstress shop in various towns and shires. It is written in arcane tomes of study that these magic fasteners were developed by the Arch Mage Fernious the Bauble Maker

An insufferable know-it all, Fernious was renowned for reading literature instead of his spell books. On more than one occasion he was caught off-guard by a rivaling wizard or fey creature. He decided rather than worry about studying offensive magic and committing it to memory he would develop other defenses. One of these famed baubles was the gravel button for which he produced thousands. To this day they turn up in the most mundane of places and wizards realm wide seek them out.

Example Game Stats (5th Edition)


Gnome: The item is crafted to appear thoroughly unremarkable. The item might look tattered, battered, or well-­‐worn—all the better to discourage thieves from stealing it.

Consumable: A gravel button is expended if thrown or dropped from a great height. The caveat being the item must first be attuned. Otherwise it functions as a normal button.

[Attuned]: Flesh to Stone (as spell) on a successful ranged attack.

Flesh to Stone
6th-­‐level transmutation
Range: 50 feet
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 minute

On a successful ranged attack if the target’s body is made of flesh, the creature must make a Constitution saving throw. On a failed save, it is restrained as its flesh begins to harden.

On a successful save, the creature is not affected. This spell has no effect upon undead or constructs.
A creature restrained by this spell must make another Constitution saving throw at the start of your next turn. On a successful save, the creature breaks free of the spell. On a failed save, the creature turns to stone and remains that way for the duration. 

A creature turned to stone by this spell is stunned and has resistance to all damage. If it is physically broken or damaged while in this state, the creature suffers from similar damage or deformities when it reverts to its original state. If you maintain your concentration on this spell for the entire possible duration, the creature is permanently turned to stone and dies.

Queen Bavmorda making her save!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Pool of Radiance

Who among you recalls walking the cobblestone streets of Phlan and cleaning out the foul beasts that plagued it? In 1988 the first D&D computer game was released. TSR licensed the game rules and brand to Strategic Simulations, Inc. (SSI). It was available for Amiga, Apple II, C64, MS-DOS, Apple Macintosh, NES, PC-9800. The former names alone should be a throwback!

Among my friends and circle of gamers in the late 80s we all logged countless hours playing Pool of Radiance. Since it was part of the Gold Box series it was designed with the AD&D game as a foundation. It had official classes, races and alignments and even Vancian magic mechanics. I remember being so excited when I was given the game as a birthday present.  I really enjoyed the idea of having a long term quest in saving the city. It made me feel like I was playing in a little campaign world as opposed to mindless dungeon slogging.

Most importantly Pool of Radiance allowed me to play D&D in some form in-between weekend gatherings. There was no MMORPGs or social media apps in 1988. No my fine adventurer beyond a table top delve there was not many options. The Gold Box series helped to fill that void with Pool of Radiance being the best in my opinion. It was just
immersive enough to keep bringing you back!

What could possibly go wrong while we sit around the fire?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Three Princes

These helms were crafted for triplet brothers who would one day rule a forgotten kingdom. Legend holds that when the brothers came of age they would each be gifted a helm from their father. Rare alloys were used to strengthen the helms and they were accented in gold. Daily since their youth the triplets passed the helms in the great hall of their castle. They were constantly reminded they would earn the helms as a symbol of their royal birthright.

Soon they came of age and the brothers were impatient and wanted to inherit their lands and vassals. Their father the king was venerable but still had many good years left to sit upon the throne. The brothers became tired of courtly meetings, schooling and having nothing to call their own. It is said that they had eccentric hobbies which included toying with the dark arts and necromancy. 

Perhaps it was the former which lead them down their path of destruction. The legend becomes blurred soon after but a rash of horrific murders plagued the royal family. The king was slain in his sleep and the queen had a terrible accident with a spiral staircase. The captain of the guard was labeled a traitor and hung from a tree in the castle courtyard. Not long after the triplets took their seats of power and divided up the kingdom.

Sages argue what happened next but sometime later that year the brothers were found dead. Near their bodies were the royal helms crafted for them so long ago. Each brother had a terrible death grimace upon their countenance which was reflected perfectly on the helm. Some say they made a dark pact with a demon or arch fey. The brothers were arrogant and did not uphold a bargain made in blood. The Three Princes were tossed into the sea as the people felt the helms were symbols of evil. They have never been found and remain only as fable to spook naughty children throughout the realm.

Example Game Stats (5th Edition)

While wearing one of the Three Princes you gain a +1 to AC.

Wicked: When the wearer contemplates or undertakes a benevolent act, the helm seeds the mind with doubt and rationalizations to work against the act. 

Evil Imprint: A good creature that touches the helm experiences strong revulsion. If it maintains contact with the helm for 1 round, the creature takes 3d6 psychic damage. That creature continues to take this damage each time it starts its turn holding, carrying or wearing the helm.

[Attuned]: Invoke Fear (1/day): Each enemy within 30 feet of you that can see you must succeed on a DC 13 Wisdom saving throw or become frightened for 1 minute. The target can take an action to make a DC 13 Wisdom check, ending the frightened condition early on a success.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

D&D: Try Before You Buy

As my potable of awakening was brewing this morning I read that Wizards of the Coast announced Basic Dungeons & Dragons would be free.

Two years ago when 5th edition was first announced I postulated that there needed to be a large free component of the game. MMOs were already doing it with subscription free launches and retrofits to lure players in. Let’s face it the market is saturated with games of all types and RPGs are not exempt from that dilemma. What better way to entice new gamers and grognards alike then with free rules?

Also consider this was a massively play tested iteration of the game spanning thousands of players. It would have been a hard sell to not give anything back after all that enthusiasm. Like it or not the new generation of players are not visiting brick and mortar bookstores. This PDF will find its way quickly onto smart devices and eBooks.

Try before you buy has been working as a sales technique for years. But wait…try and keep it? That works even better. If this helps get more gamers around the table with dice then I’m all for it. What a great way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the game this summer!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Wardukes of Hazard

The Duke dress code runs in the family

For Throwback Thursday we give a nod to the ultimate 1980s fighter of badassery: Warduke. I wanted him immediately upon seeing the action figure as a kid. Winged helm, glowing eyes, and mostly eschewing armor – he was awesome! My first real look at Warduke in terms of his game stats was XL-1: Quest for the Heartstone (TSR, 1984) which I must have played over and over with various friends throughout the years. 

Warduke was featured in an episode of the animated D&D cartoon show called "In Search of the Dungeon Master" which I could not wait to see any time it aired. Now my own kids enjoy the old D&D cartoon without having to wait for Sunday morning. Warduke is a favorite with them because he "has a sword that can freeze things". There is some additional great background information here in the D&D Alumni post of 2006. When it comes to old school D&D nostalgia Warduke is absolutely an icon of the game. 

If you are looking for a cameo villain for your game night Warduke is your man! What could be better then an evil fighter who makes a living working as a bounty hunter. Most grognards will recognize any reference to him immediately and he will command respect as an NPC. Just imagine being hunted by Warduke? I wonder what the players did in your campaign to deserve such an honor! 

Hail to the king, baby

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Monster Manual: Beholder

When I first saw the new Monster Manual cover for 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons I was thrilled. The Beholder has always been my absolute favorite monster since I started playing in 1983. It was originally introduced on the cover of the 1975 Greyhawk supplement. Known then as the "Sphere of Many Eyes" or "Eye Tyrant," what could be cooler than a levitating globe with magical eye stalks!

What is so interesting about the Beholder is it’s an original creation just for Dungeons & Dragons. This epic baddie is not borrowed from mythology or something else the early designers saw or heard. According to Gary Gygax himself Theron O. Kuntz created the prototypical Beholder, and Gary himself detailed it for publication.

Over the years I have used Beholders as villains in many high level games. They still remain as one of the elder races of my world and something even the most stalwart group does not want to encounter. So cheers to WOTC for putting them on the cover of the new Monster Manual. The menagerie of deadly monsters for the world’s greatest roleplaying game is available September 30th, 2014.

Please enjoy the TYRANT magazine cover below. I felt this was a perfect time to poke fun at my favorite xenophobic monster!

Monday, May 19, 2014

One Page Dungeon Contest

The One Page Dungeon contest has announced the eleven preliminary winners. First I would like to congratulate all those chosen. Regrettably my entry was not among them so it’s back to the drawing board for next year. That said I’m hoping there will be more instruction and clarification for next year’s contest.

Looking at some of the winning entries I’m inclined to call them 3 or 4 page dungeons crammed into one page. If overall content is a factor obviously they have more weight but they are also not aesthetically appealing to the reader at all. We need writing guidelines for the future such as minimum and maximum font size. There should also be a similar standard in regard to word count.

My understanding of the contest origin in 2009 was to create one dungeon level in an edition-less format. Is that still the case? Should we even bother to think outside the box? If the answer to the former is yes I would like to see categories for future contests. Examples would include traditional dungeon crawl, gonzo, side trek, etc. It seems as though the judges in past competitions tried this with winning entries only. I think having categories designed before the contest would help the participants.

Without guidelines and new judges every year the standards potentially change. Next year’s judges may have a completely different idea of what truly constitutes a One Page Dungeon. While I like the idea of pirate waters it just leaves everything to ambiguous for my taste as a participant.

I hope my opinions to not draw the ire of the organizers and judges as their time is completely volunteer and very valued. And most importantly let’s remember the community benefits greatly from all the wonderful material generated by this cool contest. So keep delving and remember the plays the thing!