Friday, March 22, 2019

Subverting the Rust Monster

Oh Rust Monster, I love you. You're classic, friendly, cute in that insectoid way, practical, and thematically appropriate for dungeons everywhere.

You have a lovely history and long, spindly whiskers, capturing the hearts of artists everywhere.
But what if you were different?

Rust Walker

Perhaps like this but musclebound and with an underturret

A squat, brick-red beast the size of a carriage stomps over the horizon - below it's mighty set of 3 legs, a biological cannon dips and twists, seeking prey. The whiskers surrounding the cannon constantly dart through the air looking for the nearest delicious morsel of metal (favorite food: artisanally-seasoned portcullises).

What if a rust monster was a long-range threat?
AC 14
HP 40
Speed 40'
Stomp Attack +4 2d6 bludgeoning
Cannon Attack +6 Range 150/600 1 Acid + Pus Splash

Pus Splash
As your system's rust monster rust attack - but at range! Lets say it spews a silvery glob of pus that crackles and pops on contact with air. It's like meat tenderizer or saliva, but for metal.

Banner Moth

A ruddy squealing terror of the skies as big as a man, the banner moth leads a cloud of frenzied lesser moths to battle against anything made of cloth or flexible natural fibers (favorite food: ethically-sourced sweater vests).

What if a rust monster ate something else important instead, like scrolls or magic robes?
Size Large (treat as Swarm)
AC 12
HP 40
Speed 40' Flying
Bite Attack +3 2d6 piercing + Ripping
Swarm Attack +5 reach 30' 1d12 piercing + Ripping


As your system's rust monster rust attack - but against cloth instead! A horde of moths squeal, rip, and tear at your clothes, your blankets, your hair!

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Two new races: Satyrs and Variant Kenku

In Doctors of Lisbon, I run a game set in alternate-history 16th century Portugal. Despite the surplus actual history kicking around, I still manage to wedge in the fantasy pretty hard. Here are two new races I built for the game using the various race balancing tools available on the internet for D&D 5E. Disclaimer: I wrote the variant Kenku independently of the Xanthar's guide version - I do not own a copy of that book.

Fauns / Satyrs

Rowdy, loud, boisterous. Fauns are known for intense drunken revelry at all ages. Native to Brazil, grow horns and cultivate decorative moss on their clothes and skin. Fauns can cooperate in forest magic rituals to attain new, higher states of altered consciousness.

Satyr Racial Traits

Ability Score Increase. +2 Con
Fleet of Foot. Satyr base movement is 35 feet.
Horizon Mind. Satyr familiarity with the edges of consciousness grants psychic damage resistance.
Skill Proficiency. Satyrs are preternaturally gifted performers - they are taught a perform proficiency prior to their rite of passage.
Satyr Weapon Proficiency. Satyrs are trained in the scimitar, trident, handaxe, and battleaxe.
Satyr Shield Proficiency. Saytrs culturally recognize the shield and train shield tactics.

Subraces: Coarse Satyr

Ability Score Increase. +1 Cha
Addictive Personality. Coarse Satyrs function better when indulging in a substance, such as alcohol, snuff, gum, caffeine, or tobacco. If you are indulging, your need to eat and drink halves. You also gain advantage on one of the following saving throws: int, wis, or cha. You can change your chosen save when you change your chosen substance.
Night Fright. Advantage on intimidation when in dim or no illumination.

(While researching this race, I ran into this post over at Pitfalls and Pixies, for another take on the same idea: Faun race)


Bird people native to the Americas - something like the Aztecs or the Mayans as anthropomorphic ravens.

Kenku Racial Traits

Small Size.
Ability Score Increase. +2 Dex
Skill Proficiency. The Kenku deeply respect history and gain Knowledge (History) proficiency.
Death Omen. Kenku have resistance to necrotic damage.
Pack Tactics. If at least one non-incapacitated ally is within 5 feet of a creature you are attacking, you gain Advantage on attack rolls against that creature.

Subraces: Hooded Kenku

Ability Score Increase. +1 Wis
Loremaster. A Hooded Kenku can use one of his own feathers and merely 50 sp in pearl to identify a magic item as the spell once per day.
Natural Appraiser. Hooded Kenku can estimate the value of items with exceptional skill - take advantage on intelligence checks to appraise value.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Accolades from the Dungeon Terrier: Dyson

When I wrote the spine-chilling Quest for the Dungeon Terrier, I leaned on the resources, tricks, and techniques of my fellow OSR geeks. I want to spotlight the excellent Dyson Logos in this post.

Dyson Logos

A true gem in the OSR blog-o-drome, Dyson endlessly churns out gorgeous maps faster than a caffeinated modron! He very kindly shares selections of his work under commercial licenses and works in a variety of themes, but mostly fantasy. I'm inspired with every map.

Here are some of my favorites.

Wharton Mine

A cozy map, suitable for perhaps a pygmy dragon or some crazed halfling skalds.

The Oracle's Grotto

I think this is a perfect map for a city-based entrance to the mythic underworld.

The Bottomless Tombs
A great excuse for a monster zoo, this map reminds me of Gandalf visiting the tombs of the kings of men from the first recent hobbit movie. I'm still struggling with what to put at the bottom of the tomb-tomb though.

If you want to learn to Dysonize your own dungeons, he wrote about that too:

Friday, March 8, 2019

Adventure: Quest for the Dungeon Terrier!

Hey, I wrote an adventure and actually published it!

It's a (free) little story about a lost dog named Sir Howard and the brave, low-level adventurers who help him out. Along the way they meet some interesting creatures and hopefully acquire some treasure, but the real treasure is the adventures they have along the way.

I wrote it originally for a party of ~5 1st level PCs.

MARVEL at Shandra the mighty fish wizard!

QUAKE IN FEAR at the morose teenage carpenter!
by Disney

SMELL THE SMELLS of a middle-age dog stuck in a room too long without a potty break!

by a party supply store

If you like the adventure, please consider reviewing it or sharing it with your friends.

(Get it here!!)

Thursday, March 7, 2019

5E Grappling Hook

Building on my complaints in the previous post, I built this class feature for an engineer / tinkerer.

Grapnel Launcher

You have built a grapnel of your own design, perfectly balanced for your use. You can use it to move vertically 10ft during your normal movement, and during combat you can substitute a melee attack with reach 10ft to attempt to push, pull, or trip the target. Use the shoving rules here ( but substitute dex(acrobatics) for str(athletics) for your attack. When pulling a target, it does not provoke opportunity attacks from you, but might from other creatures.

I'm contemplating making this feature scale with levels, but it needs more playtesting before I make that call.

Flight ruins everything

Yee-haw, 5th level! Time to throw out pit traps, floor-contact poison, caltrops, ball bearings, shin-high invisible walls, water hazards, sand traps, lava rivers, and the omnipresent sudden ravine. That's right, the wizard learned to fly.

I’m overreacting, but this can hit a DM like a load of bricks if the DM isn’t planning for the experience. Just like uncle Gary’s turn resistant locales and the cleric’s turn undead ability, the urge to nerf hard makes a comeback when this spell comes into play. How do we need to react and prepare for one or more flying party members?

In 2e and earlier, flight is inspired by the complex maneuvering mechanics of wargaming, counting turns and classifying flight into different levels. Delta wrote a great review of flight mechanics back in 2012:

In the comments for that article, Courtney C from Hack & Slash sums up a modern take on how we care about these things:

“Honestly, in play I don't think we've ever bothered doing anything other than just moving about how you would move if you were on the ground (with a penalty for climbing and bonus for falling).”

That fits perfectly with our modern mechanics:

Fly (3.5e)
3rd-level transmutation, 1 min / level

The subject can fly at a speed of 60 feet (or 40 feet if it wears medium or heavy armor, or if it carries a medium or heavy load). It can ascend at half speed and descend at double speed, and its maneuverability is good. Using a fly spell requires only as much concentration as walking, so the subject can attack or cast spells normally. The subject of a fly spell can charge but not run, and it cannot carry aloft more weight than its maximum load, plus any armor it wears.

Should the spell duration expire while the subject is still aloft, the magic fails slowly. The subject floats downward 60 feet per round for 1d6 rounds. If it reaches the ground in that amount of time, it lands safely. If not, it falls the rest of the distance, taking 1d6 points of damage per 10 feet of fall. Since dispelling a spell effectively ends it, the subject also descends in this way if the fly spell is dispelled, but not if it is negated by an antimagic field.

Fly (5e)
3rd-level transmutation Concentration, up to 10 min

You touch a willing creature. The target gains a flying speed of 60 feet for the duration. When the spell ends, the target falls if it is still aloft, unless it can stop the fall.

At Higher Levels: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level [7th class level wizard] or higher, you can target one additional creature for each slot level above 3rd.

But this approach fits horribly with our imagined joy of flight and our mechanical situations where flight dominates. I propose that flight is most enjoyed when tightly limited. This isn’t a crazy idea, video games are showing this all the time:

In Garry’s Mod, the players have a noclip button, allowing them to walk on air and move through surfaces. This is purely practical, it has minimal joy after the first moments. The objective is being able to ignore the constraints of physics entirely.

In Terraria / Starbound, the real villain is fall damage. The game world assumes a variety of exciting movement modes, such as grappling hooks with momentum, wall-jumps, invert gravity potions, jetpacks with limited fuel, and eventually flapping wings. None of these provide ‘true’ flight like Garry’s Mod.

In the recent Arkham series of Batman games, and in the Just Cause series, both protagonists have a super grappling hook and a glide mechanism. This contributes immensely to the experience. In fact, the experience itself is tailored around these tools.

So what's a DM to do?

I guess the situation isn't as bad with the new concentration mechanics in 5E. The wizard gets 1 person flying until the wizard stops concentrating. I still wonder about room for glide and grappling hook mechanics though..

Sunday, March 3, 2019

What is the monster doing? - D20 table

Wrote a d20 monster-doing-things table - I use this in my home games all the time, and now it's free for you:

What Is It Doing?

Things it could be doing
1 Playing / Gambling / Gaming
2 Eating / Feeding / Drinking
3 Building / Burrowing
4 Feeling diseased / Sick
5 Feeling disoriented / Gloomy
6 Displaying / Singing / Calling
7 Fighting / Contesting
8 Fleeing / Pursuing
9 Giving Birth / Hatching
10 Mating / Breeding
11 Migrating / Traveling
12 Shedding / Grooming / Preening
13 Decorating / Crafting
14 Cooking / Cleaning / Cultivating / Farming
15 Relieving itself / Hiding evidence
16 Exercising / Dancing / Acting
17 Hunting / Hiding
18 Sleeping
19 Communicating
20 Actually... (see sub-table)

1 Wounded / Blind / Lame
2 Undead
3 Being consumed by another creature
4 A decoy / Construct
5 Trapped / Tangled / Caged / Snared
6 A pet of another creature

Get it here to add to your Google Drive

Saturday, March 2, 2019

5E Arcane Tradition: School of Physimancy

A new arcane tradition for budding 5E necromancer wizard specialists who want something a little more personal.

Arcane Tradition: School of Physimancy

Pick 1 at 2nd level:

Experimental Self-Surgery

Stuff that shouldn't come off does. You have one removable limb or organ (pick: hand, eye, heart, etc). It functions as normal when separated from you and you receive any sensory information it picks up. It can travel a maximum of 100' from you before you are in trouble. (I think I stole this from a GLOG class feature somewhere..)



At 2nd level, you can induce sleep in yourself while writing. As you sleep, you write patterns unintelligible to any save yourself. When you finish this sleep (a long rest), you can examine this writing for unconscious physical meaning. Roll two d20 and record the numbers rolled. You can replace any attack roll, saving throw, or ability check made by you or your undead minions with one of these physimancy rolls. You must choose to do so before the roll, and you can replace a roll in this way only once per turn.

Each physimancy roll can be used only once. When you finish a long rest, you lose any unused physimancy rolls.

Mad Max Wasteland Brainstorm

One of my friends was running a 5E post-apoc game inspired by Mad Max, Rage, Borderlands, etc, with lots of vehicles. I shared some ideas to put a spin on it:
  1. Pod racers shear things in front of them with the giant laser beam
  2. Giant enemy crab - 50’ tall, hit the weak point for massive dmg
  3. Glue-bomb spider bots can attack from walls with glue
  4. Roaming gelatinous orb works like gelatinous cube but outdoors
  5. Deadly burrowing rust worms are like, 6-10 feet long and corrode on contact
  6. Vortex cannon creates gravity well - vehicles are sucked towards the well like a black hole or flushing toilet
  7. Turtle riders wear blue crystalline backpacks that launch spikes like micro homing missiles - shooting down a missile near a turtle rider might set off the whole backpack and kill the rider.
  8. Massive orb cactus is hollowed - contains an entire oasis town and drive-in movie theater - constantly wet
  9. 15’ tall mechanized agave plant farm produces tequila, but the plants have become sentient and cry with pain dried up and the facility is used for smuggling, hiding the goods in the agave.
  10. Someone keeps setting off all the air raid / tornado sirens late every night, and it's the most annoying sound keeping you up at night. This has got to stop, and before tornado season.
  11. Mega bees - first seen in Storm King's Brainstorm
  12. Mad scientist needs help building a railgun, won’t pay you till after he test fires it. The mafia shows up to collect his debts during the test fire, which hilariously backfires and the mob tries to grab the scientist before he pays you while the sky rains metal.
  13. Sonic warriors have run out of combat-ready snare drums and subwoofers - they need help to find more.
  14. You can drive through Razorweed bushes but you might regret it..

What do adventurers do with wealth?

So despite the undead half-dragon storm giant and his band of crossbow herbomancers, the protagonists successfully survived the adventure and raided the legendary horde for every last copper and questionably valuable armoire. The protagonists now need to figure out how to spend the loot.

Normally, the gang spends all their money on carousing, but sometimes the magic user wants to research a spell, or the fighter wants to build a keep. As a DM, this usually gives me pause. I think to myself, “What a great hook! I don’t have any rules for that.” Outside of Kingdom and ACKS, where do you see rules for what happens after the adventure?

What happens outside the adventure is worth investigating. I wrote this document as a game aid for any DM to encourage their players to think outside the box when it comes to wealth. I write about inspiring players to seek these other forms of wealth, the relative expenses of these forms of wealth, and the nature of specific kinds of wealth. It starts with a dream.

Wealth and Dreams

I’ve broken the dreams of wealth down into 13 categories:
  1. Luxury (Live surrounded in comfort)
  2. Health (Live a strong, lengthy life)
  3. Art (Live surrounded by splendor)
  4. Knowledge (Reach enlightenment)
  5. Power (Rule the world)
  6. Future development (Make a better future)
  7. Philanthropy (Make a better now)
  8. Entertainment (Never be bored)
  9. People (Share my wealth or acquire fame)
  10. Conveyances (Have a sweet ride)
  11. Lodging (Have a sweet house)
  12. Travel (See the world)
  13. Pets (Care for animals)

luxury (My dream is to live in comfort)

  1. accessories $$$
  2. clothes $$
  3. furniture $$$
  4. carousing $$
  5. food $
  6. drink $$
  7. spices $$$
  8. plants $$
  9. smoking $$
  10. masseuse $$

health (My dream is to live a strong life for a long time)

  1. medicine $$$
  2. spa $$
  3. exercise equipment $$$$
  4. personal physician $$
  5. incense $$
  6. plants $$$
  7. minerals $$$

philanthropy (My dream is to make a difference in the world)

  1. donations $$
  2. grants $$$$
  3. construction $$$$
  4. infrastructure $$$$ 

future development (My dream is to make the world a better place for our descendants)

  1. invention $$$$
  2. research $$$
  3. investing $$$
  4. teaching $$
  5. proselytizing $$

entertainment (My dream is to never be bored)

  1. games $
  2. toys $
  3. hobbies $$
  4. collections $$$
  5. sports $$
  6. shows $$
  7. books $$$
  8. music $$$$

people (My dream is to share my wealth or make people notice my greatness)

  1. hired help $$
  2. friends $
  3. family $
  4. locals $$$
  5. garden hobo $

power (My dream is to have the world wrapped around my finger)

  1. politics $$$$
  2. bribes $$$
  3. private military $$$$
  4. advertising $$

conveyances (My dream is to have a sweet ride)

  1. water based transport $$$$
  2. air based transport $$$$
  3. ground based transport $$
  4. teleportation $$$$

lodging (My dream is to have a sweet house)

  1. housing $$$
  2. defensive fortification $$$$
  3. logistics structures (aqueduct, trash dump, elevators) $$$$

knowledge (My dream is to be the smartest person ever)

  1. books $$$
  2. education $$
  3. research $$$
  4. astronomy $$$$
  5. sage advice $$$
  6. cadavers $$
  7. Preserved specimens $$
  8. Interviews with knowledgeable people $$$

travel (My dream is to see the world)

  1. thrill seeking $$$
  2. safari $$$$
  3. mission trips $$

pets (My dream is to take care of animals)

  1. Zoo $$$$
  2. Personal $
  3. Rehabilitation $$$
  4. Pet housing $$$

art (My dream is to live surrounded by splendor)

  1. display pieces $$$$
  2. furniture $$$
  3. architecture $$$$
  4. landscaping $$$
  5. plants $$
  6. appearance surgery $$$$
  7. tattoos $$

Specific Examples

luxury (My dream is to live in comfort)

  1. Accessories
    1. Opaline necklace with jade filigree
    2. Onyx navel ring engraved with a coarse rune
  2. clothes $$
    1. Rich velvet green doublet with embroidered hem
    2. Royal blue cape of silver stars, each trimmed in the finest silk
  3. furniture $$$
    1. Huge patterned sofa dressed in lambskin and lace
    2. Avant-Garde iron throne reminiscent of a leering rat

Storm King's Brainstorm

One of my friends was running Storm King's Thunder, so I shared some ideas to put a spin on it:
  1. Giant currency might be unhelpfully large, like ‘batman giant penny’ large - see #4.
  2. Giant cows
  3. Corpulence as combat advantage - a corpulent giant might throw their weight around, pushing other characters. A corpulent giant might have minor DR.
  4. Size = status for some giants.. What does it do to giant culture? Bigger things indicate status, like hats, thrones, beds, houses.A minor giant might be willing to send you on a fetch quest for a big thing in order to improve his status.Treasure often is in the form of furnishings or art, consider how hard it would be to get a valuable painting, rug, or statue transported if it was even bigger.
  5. Giant treasure might attract treasure hunters, awesome idea for faction conflict. What if Jack came to steal the golden goose right as the murderhoboes showed up?
  6. Do giants have giant barrows?
  7. If one was a farmer and knew giants were after your stuff, you might get the idea to camouflage your farm, or ask your wizard son to cast illusions everywhere to make the cows look like shrubbery.
  8. If a giant house is big enough, you could potentially sneak through the house from inside the walls.
  9. Its all well and good with the giant-looting and the giant-pillaging and the giant-stabbing, until you get back to town to discover giant-friend protest groups that want you to change your ways.
  10. Horses and oxen aren't big enough to help giants plow fields, maybe you could solve the problem for them?
  11. Giant bees