Gathering Ingredients

So this topic is something that popped into my head thanks to my Mombarian, Nakon, in the Nerbs game. Every time they kill a creature or a monstrous attacker they harvest things from it. Waste not, want not is how they were raised as they grew up in a frozen land where resources were scarce. Its something they still practice and so they have gathered such items as Vrock feathers and claws, dragon teeth, bear pelt, and more in their time with their adventuring group. Some of these things they’ve later used in clothing items – like the bear pelt turned into a cloak with Vrock feathers worked into it for a fiercer look. But can these parts be used for other things? Can their collection be turned into a side business? Or are they just a weirdo curo collector now? Well lets go over the What, the How and the Why. 

This one I have a ton of thoughts on – monsters. Why would you go through the trouble of killing a Yeti and not take something? Who would believe you killed them without something to show for it? Plus this is a place filled with magic, there is no way that certain magic items or spells don’t require some hard to acquire monster parts. Heck even none magical applications like taking a basilisk’s fangs or venom glands to use as poison for an assassin guild. So how do we determine what on a monster can be harvestable seems like a mountain of a task to tackle. But actually I’ve found it alot easier then you think.

First of all the easiest items to use as a default to harvesting from a monster are its teeth, its claws, and its skin or feathers. Anything you run across is probably going to have at least one of these. Given the type of monster they are could provide additional effects for those items. Generally for these I take a look at the attacks or features associated with these items in the monsters stat block. A few examples for you to work from –

  • Giant Spider – Fangs harvested. Its bite comes with a chance to poison and paralyze a target instead of outright killing them. This might be a good item to turn into a dagger for a rouge with a wicked stealth and sneak attack combo who might not be about the whole outright killing thing. They are thief not an assassin after all.
  • Stirge – Needle-like proboscis harvested. This creature like to drain the blood out of things, I often picture them like the giant mosquitoes out of Jumanji. What if we turned this proboscis into a throwing javelin that pierces into a target and continues to drain blood until a STR check is used to pull it out?
  • Cloaker – Pelt harvested. The skin or pelt of this creature provides a few benefits, so your DM can choose one that survives it after death. Maybe if properly treated it will help reduce the damage taken from an attack, or its false appearance is natural so sticks around after the creature has kicked the bucket. Either way it would make an excellent cloak.
  • Neogi – Skull harvested. After some treatment and removing the flesh the skull could make a terrifying helm. With the addition of some runes to hold the power of its former owner to it you can now use a lesser version of its ‘Enslave’ ability once per day.

All of these examples are well and good, the probably also spawn alot of ideas as well. Just like all good things in this game with some skill checks and rolls! Normally I start on my side as a DM with how difficult it might be to harvest the thing a basic scale tends to look something like –

  • Easy, Common: 5
  • Easy, Rare: 15
  • Difficult, Common: 15
  • Difficult, Rare: 25
  • Mythical: 30

The three skills I focus on for these rolls are Survival, Nature, and Medicine. Between the three of those it covers your bases on how a player can approach a creature as well as what they are harvesting. Taking the pelt from a creature would be Survival but taking poison glands from that same creature might be Medicine. For each thing the player wants to harvest they need to call it and describe how they are going about it, I use this to make the call on what skill. I use how common the creature is, how easily its defeated by normal people living their life out in the world, and how rare it is to see the harvested bit to determine where on the scale it lands. A hydra is obviously going to land differently then a poisonous snake.

We talked about the creatures but what about the mineral? Alot of things in the TTRPG world are made from ores, rocks, jewels, etc. I’m sure that while there are plenty of mining or harvesting operations there are places that don’t see many people for their resources to be used. Most people aren’t going to go down into a volcano to deal with a red dragon, or traverse the frozen tundra to bust into the caves that Yeti call home. To help out with why these places or those like it might be worth exploring and harvesting from starts at world building. How does magic effect the world? Is it a part of it or is it something that acts on it?  Do plants and minerals have magical properties of their own or do they just effect magic when used in conjunction with them or maybe both?

Especially in locations where a powerful creature with unusually abilities live I tend to have it soak into and effect the environment. This gives the players clues on what they might be about to face, but it also gives chances to gather some cool things to be used later. For instance if your players are traversing through a space where an Elder Brain lives maybe they find some weird brain like structures in the wall that turn out to be stones of various size that seem to have some sort of electricity darting about in them. If its possible uses are researched it might turn out to be a telepathy stone, meant to help increase the range of the hive mind. But if adjusted properly could act as a sort of communication device between the members of the group.

These tend to be easier to roll for, I use a similar scale for difficult but I only allow Nature or Survival to harvest. If the harvestor is proficient in a tool set associated with the use of that mineral, like smithing tools and an ore, I might let them apply some bonuses.

Now plants can be just as deadly or helpful as anything harvested from a creature. I honestly think those who take the herbalist kit get the broken end of a deal alot of times. So to help with that I often let them examine, harvest, research and use the plants they come across in the world. Even occasionally going so far as having to create some stat blocks to go with the things they find or combine. Letting someone gather these ingredients is honestly a bit of a heavy lift for the DM but for a player it feels so satisfying to take something like a fire flower from a volcano and blend it with some herbs from the forest to use as a tincture against cold damage while traveling across the snow swept mountains. Or to combine plants from their time in the Fey Wilds that when broken on the ground form a hypnotic pattern that distracts a group of attacking Gnolls long enough for the group to get the advantage. This is generally a whole system that has to be set up and created from the start, working with the players who are truly interested in this kind of thing as their research or the things they try and combine will inform what comes to life in the game. Normally I tie it in to the Nature skill for obvious reasons and start there.

The obvious outcome in harvesting or finding all of this stuff is selling it. Making a side business out of providing rare materials to magic shops, schools of magic, unique pelts and skins for armor or clothing. This could provide a nice income for players on the move especially if they make contacts as they go or take a contract with an organization with some reach. Like a wizard school or network that has a rep in multiple places so that the group doesn’t have to keep back tracking to sell the goods. Maybe they even gain a reputation for being able to produce unique ingredients which could lead itself to some requests or future jobs that spawn whole story arcs.

Sometimes even better then out right selling the ingredients is the players using these items, either themselves or through a hired job, to craft items. These often feel very unique to the player giving them a chance to stand out more and feel like the character is really theirs. It could also make them a target. Someone sporting Vrock feathers could become known as the fiend killer and so any future encounters with fiends might automatically start off rocky. Or maybe wearing that dragon scale armor isn’t the best thing to do when interacting with the dragonborn army unit you are suppose to help hold the fort. But I find that players get way more satisfaction from figuring out weird ways to combine the things they gather to create items in the game. Of course they can still sell the end products for money, but you’ll find they become very possessive of something they’ve spent so long trying to create.

With that little rambling over with, I’m JustKay your regular DM Dalliance on the web and I’ll see you next post.

So You Wanna Be A God

giphyIt’s great to be a god
Tread where mortals have not trod
Be defied when really you’re a sham
Be an object of devotion
Be the subject of psalms

The title of god seems like a lofty one for any mere mortal to achieve, however it is well within the rules to reach if you know just what to do. Why be a cleric to some unknown god when you can be your own source of divine powers? Why worship some unknowable being playing their own cosmic games when you can get others to play yours instead?

Now before you freak out let me lay out the ground work with a few things. First – what is a god/goddess/deity? Well it is a being with cosmic power who lives in the Divine Realm, their power comes from those that believe in them. So if that belief ever dies so does their power, making them easy to cast out or overthrow. See where I’m going with this yet. Second – self determination. We are talking about the process by which a person controls their own life. Being able to have this as a player can be everything even for things like where they gather strength or power from.

What can we do with these two things is kind of endless as the all powerful DMs we are but this post has a very focused intended out come. Becoming a deity of power. A player could go around spreading the news of any old god or goddess they want to. It would be perfectly normal for them to spread tales of their own deeds as well. All it takes is that extra step of linking the two and suddenly you are working your way up the deity ladder of power. Talk to people, tell of your deeds, save people and let them know who did it. Spread your philosophy and your words as you travel. Leave altars to yourself along cross roads, camp sites, in every town and city you stop in. As the belief in you as a greater power rises so does your rise to full deity status.

Now comes the slightly trickier part of in game ramifications of your new deity status. It sounds all good and like a great goal for a character that could lead to some great growth moments. Also as a slightly evil DM I can think of so many story arcs that this could cause. But what mechanics can we use in game to show this without having a single player become overpowered and therefore overshadowing the group? There are a few tweaks we can do if we want to fully integrate such a thing into the game, which honestly should you do that I suggest giving all the characters this option. If you wanted it to be purely story just let them run wild with it and have it be the source of their powers like a cleric or a paladin.

For a crunchier take on things lets take a deeper dive on an option on tying the choice more directly into your game world. We will need a scale to work off of that gives boons as long as a certain level of commitment is maintained. Gods after all have people not only worshipping them but coming to them for answers or help. Maintaining your rising god status means dealing in some of the this divine paperwork. Now this blog is ranty and a bit loosey-goosey providing a trellis of sorts for you as the DM to have structure in your attempts to implement my madness from past campaigns. My suggestion for this scaled deity chart is to have additional requirements that must be met to keep the power curve in sync with the group. For example ‘Must have 1k followers/believers AND be at least 5th level’ = ‘A casting of smite tied to the theme you’ve chosen for yourself’ as long as ‘You spend at least 2 hours of any downtime or rest listening to prayers and requests, you do not need to answer back at this time’. Or ‘Must have 500k followers/believers AND at least 10 large shrines’ = ‘Any 3 spells from any spell list that fits your chosen theme, these can be cast once per day without spending a spell slot’ as long as ‘You spend at least half of any downtime you have fielding requests from your believers and make at least 3 attempts to guide them’.

Now you can see where I am going with this balance of things. With great power comes great responsibility as I think one high flying web slinging drider once said. Obligation in godly duties that cut out time from other advances or opportunities but powers as a reward. The time your Ranger spends taming a wyvern, or your Druid learning new wildshapes, or your fighter mastering fighting with two blades you are stuck listening to your believers to work up this deity hierarchy. It can of course suck but maintaining their belief in you lets you grow in power. A give and take between a god/goddess/deity an the followers whose belief fuels them. Which honestly to me sounds like throw all the players into that situation and just make a whole campaign out of it. That may end up being my next DMs Guild solo supplement actually.

All of this is to say that you can do some pretty wild things in not just D&D, where I’m pulling these particular rules from, but any TTRPG system if you look through the rules. There are little nuggets like this that often get overlooked, missed, or people just haven’t put two and two together yet. If you google this one though you’ll find I’m not the only one who has discovered this tidbit and hopefully you and I won’t be the last. So go forth and raise yourself to new heights! If you need me I will be making an air genasi tempest domain cleric spreading my own good news far and wide as the bringer of calm seas and strong winds for sailors.

With that little rambling over with, I’m JustKay your regular DM Dalliance on the web and I’ll see you next post.

Lessons from the Table – Missing Out on Plot

So I’ve been around for awhile and have encountered many things in my time as both a player and a DM, and I continue to run into things that often trip up newer DMs. I thought I’d take the opportunity presented to me in a recent session of my Sat group (Order of Cross & Axe) so that I can show ways to handle it. One of the things I want to do with this blog is provide the resources for DMs to grow and learn so if you have any situations at your table as a player or a DM please feel free to pop over to my Contact page and ask!

You’ve been leading the players to this big reveal or an important plot point in your campaign and~… they just blow by it without a second glance back. Okay well lets try and just nudge them- and now the town is on fire coolcoolcoolcool. Maybe if I just- and now they are all wanted by the city guard for crimes against the state. Yup.

Now that exact scenario may or may not happen to you but we’ve all been in similar circumstances. How do you know when the info is important enough to redirect somewhere in your campaign? If it is important how do you work it back into the hands of the players? If it isn’t how do we learn to let go even if it was really fucking cool and you and all of your players would have had just so much fun if they’d just talked to the dark mysterious figure very obviously trying to get their attention? This game of balancing story elements needed within the campaign and letting your players have some free will is one as old as time. We want our players invested, we want them to feel powerful. But there are also machinations and things we as DMs have set up in the background to make that happen, to feed motivation to the players and to make the world feel real. Let’s tackle these questions before I wax poetic about the philosophies behind all of this shall we.

How do you know when the info is important enough to redirect somewhere in your campaign? By this I mean how do we tell the difference between what we think would be a really cool moment and what is actually propelling the players. This can often be a tough question for a DM, especially a new DM, to answer honestly. We think that everything we have mapped out crazy string theory style is a foundational block of our campaign without which the pillars of our story would crumble and everyone would hate us for running a terrible game. But let me hit you with the first hard truth – most of those are superfluous, extra bonus things your players don’t NEED but that you WANT them to find and enjoy. Now before you grab those pitchforks just because they are extra doesn’t mean they aren’t fun, engaging or any of that other goodness we work really hard to bring to the table for our players. What it means is that without it the game would not stop, the campaign world would not break, and the players wouldn’t be screwed over by not knowing it. After I have mapped out a campaign I know its not going to survive its encounter with my players. People are a fundamental part of running a TTRPG, and people are these wonderfully unpredictable things. So when I’m looking at the mass of red string mapping out my campaign I do what I call slice the dice and the rule of three. First I cut half of my red strings – does that break my game? Second I cut half of my red strings again – did what I do the first time shore up any major gaps of knowledge or story my players would need? By this point you should have a handful or less of story important things, they don’t need to even be super specific at this point, these are the ones that if missed you’ll need to adjust and make sure your players get that info. Lastly you’ll want to take these handful of things and ask yourself – Then how can I account for that? What things do I need to have on hand or make sure can appear in multiple places to make sure my players get the info they need? Do new ones pop up that I need to account for like I did the first time? What you are looking to do here is make sure each item or thing you are trying to let your players learn has at least 3 touch points, or ways they can learn about them in the game. Now there is always the possibility that your players will still blow by all 3 of these things but this exercise gives you an idea of different ways you can work it in so that if they do you know what hooks you need to keep the story rolling forward. Instead of a town guard telling them about the mysterious tower that radiates magic its a patron at a tavern, or maybe while they are traveling through the woods they are attacked by magic things that lead them to it.

If it is important how do you work it back into the hands of the players? So I told you to the thing which is all well and good but how do you actually DO THE THING KAY HUH!? HUH!!!!!!!? Yes yes, I guess telling you the things is why you are here. How do we build these touchstones for our campaign important things? When I talk about the rule of 3, I’m kind of but not really talking about the storytelling thing that we use in controlled narrative things. Movies, games, books, etc. Human process information through pattern recognition, the smallest number we recognize for a pattern is 3. Think of the story of ‘The 3 Little Pigs’ there is a pattern built there on what happens when the wolf comes to a pig’s house. Now this is an over simplification so don’t come for me lit or film students, but you can see how in the story you recognize that pattern. However what we deal in with a TTRPG and live human interaction is not a controlled narrative thing, what we as DMs run is a collaborative interaction experience. Players effecting story, story leading players, and the DM guiding things along. We can’t set up a rule of 3 in the same way most media can but we can use it to make sure that information is found. Let’s say my campaign important item is that the missing people come back different. I’m not really going to explain that in more detail because I don’t really need to for this example. But I need to make sure its something that my players realize – so I take a moment and think about 3 ways the story and NPCs can interact with the players that might lead to this information being learned. Maybe the first is that the jolly tavern owner who greeted them so warmly the night before is missing in the morning but is discovered wandering back in that night. When they try to talk to the tavern owner its to a blank staring emotionless robotic version of the person they had encountered. Okay that’s weird but it might trigger off the investigation or raise their hackles, its possible its missed or that the players end up camping out instead to save money. Maybe you do the same with an animal. A dog that was excited and tried to play with the party when they first arrived when they run into it again that night seems mechanical and not quite right, its not acting like an animal much less the hyper pup they ran into. (Fun fact I find making it about an animal or something the group can adopt tends to drag them into the drama, its just how our brains are wired) Let’s say they camped out so no tavern owner, and they ignored the dog because they hate animals. My 3rd thing is going to be what I refer to as a hard hook – something its really really really tough for the players to ignore. The tavern owner and dog are softer hooks that allow the players to explore things on their own time, a hard hook is used when you need to rouse them to action. I prefer to bring in beloved NPCs for these it makes things seem a lot more invested. It can be harder to play off but once you get a feel for how best to do it with your group the pay off is worth it. My NPCs are often out traveling and things just like the players and run into them on the regular. Obviously not like shop owners (although sometimes yes because how do you think I get all these ingredients) but that Ranger NPC they fought those giant spiders with? Yeah they take bounties and things all the time so they are traveling just as much. So this NPC that normally jokes with them, picks on the Rogue and laughs loud enough to draw attention passes the group or is spotted by them. But when approached doesn’t act like they know they for a moment before replying ‘hello friend’ in a deadpan hollow voice devoid of emotion before attempting to continue on their way. As a mentioned before these are just your starters your players could always ignore all of these but now you are use to thinking of multiple ways to tie it in so it will be easier to do in between sessions, or once you get enough practice in on the fly in session.

If it isn’t how do we learn to let go? This is honestly hard even for vet DMs. We spend so much time building the world, the lore, the people. Things that our players will probably never see or ask about but that we’ve created just in case. Heck I literally have like 10 countries including an island nation and 2 oversea that my players will probably never interact with. But they are all unique in culture, religion, social hierarchy, etc and provide flavored NPCs for the group to run into. All this extra work we pour ourselves into often make the world seem alive for our players. But it can make us a little ‘my precious’ with it as well. It can be hard to wrap our heads around it not belonging to just us anymore the second the players step into it. We have to remember the first rule of running TTRPGs – its just a game. A collaborative, storytelling game exploring a world the DM has set up for everyone to play in. Now this does mean that on both sides of the table there is a certain understanding of respect for the work that goes into it. But it doesn’t mean choice is taken out of the game, or that as human as we all our we just don’t get the hints you as the DM are dropping. IDK about ya’ll but I’ve missed some big things dropped by DMs that if I had been on the other side of that table I’d probably had pulled my hair out over how obvious it was. At the end of the day if it doesn’t break your game you need to take a deep breath and let it go if the players pass over it. Save it for later. Make it an optional quest down the line, have them overhear a tavern story about what happened when another group encountered it, or have them find a book telling the story of the once proud prince’s decent into madness. If nothing else as a DM you will reuse things you don’t use in the game. Even if it isn’t in that particular campaign you can always reuse it in another or even in a one shot focused on it to still give that information out. It might not be used but it isn’t forgotten. So deep breath in, slowly release it and let it go.

With that little rambling over with, I’m JustKay your regular DM Dalliance on the web and I’ll see you next post.

The Tea of D&D Continued

If you missed it before I am tea obsessed to put it lightly, my partner might claim differently but you know I claim ignorance there. I am also very much in love with all things TTRPGs, and have been playing D&D for 15+ years. So I very much enjoy combining these two things! I do it all the time privately, I find it fun to mix things based off of spells and monsters. In fact I’ve talked about it previously in ‘The Tea on the Monsters of D&D‘ post. During quarantine its become something of a fixation of mine to kind of deal with the abysmal state of this year that I hope to eventually share with the rest of you in small batches for your enjoyment. Until then I want to first quote myself from the last post –

But I decided to take on the challenge, self assigned as it is, to create tea blends that I thought represented the D&D monsters we all know and love. Now this post itself isn’t going to be an exhaustive tea book for those monsters though if Wizard’s wants to reach out and talk about one I’m right here. See me, here with the thing on the web. I will do a freaking Tea Time with the Monsters of D&D pairing book, heck I’ll just do a general drinks and food one if you want. Just saying.

But lets talk about some fun themed tea things here! Cause that is what we are all about, all day everyday. If you need a crash course on tea types at the speed of life I suggest checking out the first Tea on Monsters post to catch you up. Last time we focused on Celestials and Fiends as well as some damage types to help get you started blending teas. Honestly the best part of playing with tea in this way is experimenting, I love how diverse and infinite tea is despite being all from the same plant. Mind blown!

This time around I just want to talk about a new thing I have been exploring – making tea blends that I feel mimic or embody different potions in the game. I have alot of time to think about things like this in the current social distancing landscape we live in. I love trying to get a flavor that matches the mood of the potion as well as the typically coloring shown in the art work. Also I can’t wait to be able to pull some of these out the first time we have an in person game again to wow my players! If you are reading this dear players please let me know any potion in particular that you’d like me to try and tackle for you to try. I miss you all~.

My approach to these have been a bit looser though still encompassing the base principles of how I approached the monsters and damage types. It has come from some guessing at what things go into making that potion, often ending with me figuring that out myself for an in game herbalist. It has come from what the potion is used for, what it might taste like to invoke the magic it was suppose to do. It has come from what the potion looks like and what the bottle its stored in is shaped as. Something in a heart vial is going to taste different the a plain small vial.

Pretty much at this point this is me just ranting and rambling about tea blend applications but lets have some fun with it. With 36 potions on D&D Beyond I will likely be busy for awhile with it. But have some thoughts on a fan favorite of my D&D party and yours – Potion of Healing! I haven’t nailed down a formula to my satisfaction with it as of yet the I feel is balanced enough to regular consumption BUT here is where I am so far with it. Each step up in the Potion of Healing (Greater, Superior, and Supreme) each need to be stronger then the last. We want that traditional red coloring, I’d prefer it to be deep and rich. Personally I also want the things in this particular brew to give some health benefits to my players too cause you know, staying in theme. From most art work the base Potion of Healing typically is in one of those bulb or round potion vials. Which means if we fill it halfway we can leave room for a scent that will reach the drinker before the potion touches their lips. This lets as add depth to the experience and possibly something unexpected for them to enjoy.

If you’d like me to just chat away more on the topic of tea pairings and blends with TTRPGs – first, be prepared for a long haul. Secondly let me know down in the comments or on Twitter! I’d love to make this a series to spread the joy and give me the kick in the pants I need to start offering my tea blends to the internet for ya’ll to enjoy.

With that little rambling over with, I’m JustKay your regular DM Dalliance on the web and I’ll see you next post.

Making a Micro RPG

Whelp… if you missed it I did a thing called the 200 Word RPG Challenge in 2019 and boy was it a trip. I kept typing out ideas and rules on the train to and from work and getting to a computer to copy the text over to the word counter AND~ … always being over. Looking at them I’d realize they were better suited for the slightly longer format of a Micro RPG and have to start all over again. This lead to 12 Micro RPGs over 7 days. Super frustrating considering what my goal for the week was but I did learn alot of fun things when it came to designing for a TTRPG that was as minimal as possible, while still providing the structure needed for players to go wild in a particular atmosphere and world you set up for them. Let me share my headaches with you so that you can avoid them!

So first, what is a Micro RPG?

MicroRPGs are compact games that fit the entirety of their rules onto a few pages.

Pretty much it is a whole rule set, world, and all things needed to run your RPG in a few pages. You should be able to learn how to both run and play it within a few minutes. People argue how many pages are a Micro RPG vs how many pages are a Macro RPG. Honestly I determine it more in how long it takes someone to learn how to set up and play the game. It should be quick to pick up and run with. Some of the best examples out there in the wild are games like Lasers & Feelings, Honey Heist, and Quick Quest.

Micro RPGs are fantastic as a tool to get someone who may be interested in playing TTRPGs but who haven’t gotten a chance to yet. They are easy to understand and pick up, so they don’t have to worry about whole handbooks or messing something up with a table full of vets. Running these games are also the best ways I find for a DM to stretch out their ability to roll with the punches, manage tables, and to think on their feet. If you want to get better at taking whatever curve balls your players throw your way run these! Using them also keep you from having to try and carve out regular large chunks of time to play together. You can meet up whenever you have time, even if its last minute, and still have fun playing in a world together!

Alot of the time since they are so small they leave alot to interpretation or to the DM to have to fill in. If you aren’t confident at running games this can be a big trail by fire because you will run into situations where you will have to make a call and trust your gut on it to keep the game moving forward. This can also be a bit of a good thing if you feel this is a weakness of yours. I have also found that these Micro RPGs are only good for one shots, it is really stretching them beyond their limits to do a mini shot. BUT alot of the time if people haven’t played TTRPGs outside of the Micro RPG you are using to introduce them to it they want to continue playing it and move into a larger campaign. So you’ve got them hooked but now they are hooked on something that isn’t sustainable and need to be transition to systems that can often be daunting.

We’ve discussed the Good and the Bad about Micro RPGs and playing them, but why should you practice designing them? Well if you work on TTRPG systems in any capacity it is a needed stretching of some muscles you didn’t realize were really rusty. Alot of the time as designers, writers and even as editors we forget how important being succinct and straight to the point is for running a game. We fluff language and expand on ideas trying to give as many tools and as much help to the players and DMs of the game. But sometimes this can actually undercut what we are trying to do, it can make the things we are presenting harder to understand. Or even worse it completely convolute the rules we are trying to present for play. So giving yourself some strict guidelines can be freeing. I’ve done this before not just with trying the 200 Word RPG Challenge, but in Game Jams I have run that limit the number of cards or rules you can have. Each time I have done it I have surprised myself and come out of it feeling stronger as a designer and writer as well as pumped full of ideas. Heck one of my partner’s favorite games to take to her tabletop club is a card game called ‘Pandora’s Box’ that I made from one such Game Jam exercise.

If you have gotten to this point in this rant you are very interested in trying this yourself. Everyone approaches the challenge of a Micro RPG in their own way but I’ll go over how I do to help you get started. I try to first start with a line blurb about what I want to attempt to do, this can come from or be inspired from anything from wrestling matches to ghost hunting to my favorite spy movies. For the one I designed for the 200 Word RPG challenge was inspired by some of my favorite supernatural horror movies. Ones like The Thing (1982), 28 Days Later, and Resident Evil. All of these movies had a theme in common that I wanted to distilled down for my game. I wanted a something, an other, a corrupting force. It had to want to cause harm to the players and consume them, yank them into their void and assimilate them into the ranks of the darkness. That was where I started – the feel I wanted to give when playing the game. Now comes what mechanics best fit that vibe. How we physically play a game effects how we feel about a game more then we realize. It changes the experience if you take out dice and switch it to a battle of card suites instead. There are innumerable ways to resolves actions and conflicts and plot lines. Take your time researching them, have fun hacking and slapping a couple of them together. From there write out your game, see where your word count lands. Then go through with a goal in mind and cut out useless words, sentences and instructions. If you think you have cut out enough then cut out some more, honestly the first few times you won’t cut enough during your editing process. It was a hard thing for me to get on board with but it honestly made me take editing and criticisms on my own writing and design better when on other projects. Finally check your word count, then all that is left to do is slap it on a page with some fun layout and design. BOOM! You have a fun game to pull out at any point to have fun with your friends.

With that little rambling over with, I’m JustKay your regular DM Dalliance on the web and I’ll see you next post.

Homebrewing a Magic Item

So I get alot of questions asking about how I go about making the magic items that I do. People tend to get intimidated when it comes to designing things for their own game or for others to use. Honestly the two biggest pieces of advice I can give you are –

RESEARCH THE EFF OUT OF THINGS. Like look at the type of magic item you are making and read through what they can do, see what their limitations are based off of rarity levels. Look up spells, feats and class abilities that may be similar or have aspects that you want to focus on for the item. Pay attention to the wording they use to limit how things can function. Those are the phrases and words needed to make sure your magic item stays within the power curve so as to not screw over a DMs game.

DON’T BE AFRAID TO BREAK THE MOLD. This might seem a little bit in conflict with my first piece of advice but you can’t know how you can break the expected without know what is expected. The more magic items you research and consume, the more of them you create you gain an understanding of some underlining things with them. Power curves, potential loopholes for being OP, gaps in what magic items are out there, things that would be cool for themed games etc. The more you do the more confidently you can break away from everything else that is currently out there and make something that stands out a little more but doesn’t destroy a campaign.

As you can see a theme in both of my main pieces of advice for this is about not breaking a campaign for a DM. Honestly players have the chaos potential of doing this on their own so as designers we need to help limit how much our magic items contribute to that. But let’s go from generic pieces of advice to actionable things. How personally do I go about creating a homebrew magic item?

Well as I have never written it down before bare with me for a moment. Actually you know what lets make one together right now for the ‘Fun Free Stuff‘ page! If you aren’t familiar while I’m bored and scrolling thru TikTok (follow me on there @justgayhere) I will occasionally come across something that I’m like ‘aw yes this needs to be a thing’ and I’ll make it available for free on this here blog thing once its done. Now I don’t just do magic items I’ve done monsters, subclasses, etc as well. But lets do the crazy cool stone that @moleculardrugs posted. 

You can gain alot of inspiration and fun by just using cool things you come across as the foundation of a fun magic item for your player. When you look at that stone what do you see? Take a moment and write down 3-5 cool things you notice or think about it. I think about its cut, its color and obviously the cool patterns going on within that look like holographic magic sigils of some kind. These images shift, move and seem to meld together at points. What does that invoke in you when you apply it to a world like D&D? For me I instantly thing of the various forms of magic involved in moving or teleportation of some kind.

So I’ve decided that teleportation or something similar to some of the short range poofing abilities is something I want for this item. Now the research begins, for this one the most logical place to start is obviously spells. Things like misty step or thunder step for the poofings are good reads, so are the bigger ones like teleportation and plane shift. We also have monsters we can look to who have cool abilities in the same wheel house, ones like the phase spider or blink dog. Don’t be afraid to dig through more there are plenty of things to pull from!

From this point if you are comfortable with it I suggest taking the wording from these to apply to your magic item, you want to keep as much of it ‘on card’ as possible. It cuts down on the amount of flipping or fiddling a player might have to do to be able to use it during a game. I try to help DMs to keep the game moving with the things I make because I feel your pain bro. At this point it is also completely valid to build this magic item as something that has charges to use to cast spells with effects you want and leave it at that. Don’t be afraid to leverage the existing spell lists where and when you can, the language used in them has been curated over many editions to keep it within the power curve. If you are going to just use spells though pay close attention to the spell level – this will effect both the rarity level of the item as well how often the item should be able to use it before needing to be ‘reset’.

Let’s take a combo approach so I can show you what I mean in action. For this magic item I’m going to have a minor ability be a small poofing for when you are in trouble. To build mine I looked at the Phase Spider’s ‘Ethereal Jaunt’, the Blink Dog’s ‘Teleport’, the Ghost’s ‘Etherealness’, and the Shadow Dancer’s ‘Shadow Jump’. I also reviewed the wording on the spells – thunder step, misty step, and dimension door.

As a bonus action, you and one additional willing creature can magically teleport up to 50 feet away to an unoccupied space that you can see. All equipment and items that you are wearing or carrying come with you.

We will put some charges on it to limit useage.

This item has 3 charges that can be used in the following ways:

Add in a few larger abilities – maybe teleportation or plane shifting.

2 charges can be spent to cast teleportation circle.

3 charges can be spent to cast plane shift

Kind of want to add in a sacrifice option where crushing the gem does something too.

You can choose to crush the gem, destroying it. Doing so permanently etches a teleportation circle centered on you that can be memorized for use with the teleportation circle spell.

But also a way to sacrifice charges for something that may save the party’s life.

1 charge can be spent to save your current location in the gem’s memory, you can later spend charges to teleport back to this location. A saved location can be used in conjunction with a teleportation spell you yourself casts. Once you have teleported back to the location it is wiped from the gem’s memory. You can also spend a short rest to wipe a stored location from the gem’s memory. This charge does not regain until the location has been teleported back to or wiped from the gem’s memory.

All together that will end up looking something like this –

A big question you might have is how do you determine the rarity of an item based off of the perceived ‘power level’ it has. Its not a hard and fast rule but a quick way you can get a feel for where it should land is by looking at the level of spells the item uses, how often it can be used, how it effect action economy, how expensive it is AND what tier of play is it best suited for. Depending on your answer to one or all of these it will shift up and down the scale, how much each of these shifts it you’ll have to learn with practice and research similar magic items. BUT a good starting point can be found in the Dungeon Master’s Guide under ‘Magic Item’s in Ch 7. It talks about what level each rarity is associated with and how the rarity ties into your world. Start there, get comfortable with it as you learn what shifts it up and down as you make items.

For the magic item above my brain does something like this for calculating rarity level –

3 charges – 3 saved locations, or 1 saved location + 1 teleportation circle, or 1 plane shift

plane shift = 7th level spell, 250 GP + attuned to a plane; Wizard’s get their first 7th level spell at 13th level

teleportation circle = 5th level spell, rare chalk worth 50 GP (consumed); Wizard’s get their first 5th level spell at 9th level

bonus action ability closest to misty step = 2nd level spell

permanent teleportation circle roughly costs about (50*365) 18,250 GP or 1,825 PP and a year’s worth of time

teleportation circle is normally limited to bard, sorcerer, wizard and arcana domain cleric

plane shift is normally limited to cleric, druid, sorcerer, warlock and wizard

Even halving the cost of a permanent teleportation circle and splitting the difference on the levels that Wizard’s can get those spells you are still looking at a solid ‘very rare’ rating.

This will all seem disjointed and hard to do to at first. Its that way for everyone. But the more you do it, the more practice you gain in homebrewing items the better you will get. Soon you’ll be able to look at an image and bang out a magic item for it. Or get a cool idea and be able to take it from vague concept to item card in 2 seconds flat. Designing is equal parts science and art, just like alot of things in life even if neither of those professions want to admit it. Also magic or items might have different rarity levels depending on how a DM sets up their world. Maybe teleportation is super easy and cheap to come by, that might drop this item from being very rare to uncommon. And if you ever have any questions or feel stuck feel free to reach out for some help!

With that little rambling over with, I’m JustKay your regular DM Dalliance on the web and I’ll see you next post.

Cats of D&D

Warm kitty, Soft kitty, little ball of fur and death.

As requested by the masses I bring to you the discussion of all of the cats of D&D! There are so many felines available for us to use both against the players and with them. While there are less other realm creatures listed out for the cat’s thus far (totally gonna change that at some point), there is no less wonderful new ways to dust off these old stat blocks for use.

So lets start off with a list. When I say cats in reference to D&D I mean the following:
Displacer Beast
Crag Cat
Chimeric Cat
Cat
Lion
Winged Lion
Fleecemane Lion
Panther
Tiger
Saber-toothed Tiger

Now this list focuses mainly on things from the 5e edition of the Monster Manuel so don’t go flying off the hinge in the comments if I missed a kitty cat from another book. Just let me know and I am happy to add them.

Our list of existing is pretty easy to break down in terms of tactics – pets and wild animals, and then further into pack hunters and solo stalkers. Some of the behaviors of its larger wild cousins are mimicked by the cat but there baseline attitudes towards humanoids and their environments are different. A cat is very playful, it does mock hunting and stalking behaviors as practice even if it doesn’t need to hunt for its meals. If they can’t reach something they want – be it prey, toy, etc they make those chittering sounds all cat owners are familiar with. They get the zoomies at odd hours and when you least expect it, though they are often more awake at night which might make for a good guard kitty if you can keep them on task. While they are vocal towards humanoids they don’t need it to communicate with other felines, its just a ‘you are too stupid to know humanoid’ thing or a ‘heey attention now’ deal. Different meows, yowls, chirps, etc are for the humanoids benefit so its possible to train certain noises for things like maybe alerting at found traps. But don’t forget how much the cat hates to be dirty as IRL cat’s spend 30% of their time JUST CLEANING THEMSELVES.

Running a cat as a party pet, as is most likely to happen means that it won’t always follow instructions and it is likely to cause some problems along the way. Its kind of hard to sneak through a castle undetected when the cat is yowling down the hallway. But it also means an innocent enough looking way for your pet to get into places. A cat trained by a rogue to bring shiny things in exchange for treats, a wizard’s cat trained to smell the effects left by spells, or even a bard’s cat who helps turn potential patrons friendly with cuteness. Have fun with this if your party wants to adopt one!

Time to talk the big cats – the giant fluffballs – the kitty killers, I could honestly just keep going but I’m going to cut it there for now. All big wild cats have things in common that will effect how you can use them during an encounter. To hunt they stalk prey by observing, luring and waiting for the perfect moment to strike. It doesn’t matter if its a lion striking as a pack or a panther leaping down from above. They are aggressive powerful hunters that hold the power to slaughter their prey outright, but they are also silent hunters. Being able to sneak up on their prey is important. Surprising that prey and striking before it knows what is happening is the difference between a meal and hunger. Where this differs from wolves, who I talked about in my Dogs of D&D post, is how they go about the tracking and ambushing. Wild cats tend to prefer laying in wait in locations where they already know prey frequent, this isn’t to say that they won’t travel great distances to scout for prey, but just that they prefer to go where they know food will come to and wait for the time to strike. Where your wolves and dogs are more active hunters, roaming their territory until they catch a scent and then zeroing in on that.

The solo stalkers of the bunch are pretty self explanatory. Our displacer beast, crag cat, chimeric cat, panther, tiger, and saber-toothed tiger all fall under this category. They tend to live by themselves or in very small family units of just the parent and the current batch of offspring. When it comes to hunting its a solo affair unless its a lesson for the new cubs. Stalkers like to blend and slink through their environment and get a high perch above their prey when possible. It keeps them out of eye sight, often away from giving their scent away and causes a huge surprise to have hundreds of pounds of pure killing muscle drop on you from above. They are extremely patient, able to remain rock still for hours waiting for someone to break off from camp or get a little separated from the rest of the group. Since they don’t have a pride to coordinate attacks with they are extra cautious about when they decide to strike to keep it from becoming an uneven fight of many against one. It also means that when they strike it is with the idea of a killing blow in mind. They want to bam in and drag their kill away as quickly as possible. Now panthers IRL can just straight up climb trees and shit with the body of their prey in their mouths. We are talking adult deer and boar so easily 300 lbs of dead weight just poof, up a tree. Can you imagine how terrifying it would be for an NPC to go out on watch, never come back and the next morning you find his devoured carcass up in a tree or at least part of him. Free nightmare fuel for your players there, you are welcome.

Now our family hunters or group runners would obviously be our three lions – lion, fleecemaned lion and winged lion. These power houses hunt as a unit, often several different families or litters together. At this point I’d like to remind our readers that its actually the females that do all of the hunting and killing in the structure of a pride. The ladies are the badasses here and the dudes just kind of lounging around, don’t get mad at me just go watch Animal Planet or something. That isn’t to say the dudes don’t have a job its normally to protect the pride and the territory rather then hunt for food. So your group could have a run in with a male lion though chances are he is only rolling by himself as others he sees a threat to his rule would get run off. But rolling up on a pack of lionesses hunting would be terrifying, no thank you. Have you seen those videos of them taking water buffalo down? And I can think of few things involving a group of lionesses on the hunt THEN GIVING THEM GODDAMN WINGS. Just going to dive bomb you from above, kill you and then carry you back to be eaten by my cubs. Its all good.

Time for the reasons you all are really here though. What if the party wants to adopt them? Well our little cat is probably the easiest for any DM to deal with if they have ever had a pet growing up. It needs to learn to trust and obey you through training, though training a cat is leagues different then training a canine. Using spells to understand each other would probably go a long way to helping out. Bringing us to our not so tame options on the table currently. Honestly if a player wanted to adopt one of these I’d probably use a variation of my Druid’s gaining polymorph form rule set to get the animal to trust them but also use something like the loyalty scale from when hirlings/henchmen were a thing. If you start treating it poorly its probably going to eat you and then leave. Treat it right and it will probably just eat whatever creature or bad guy you sick it on. But you better believe you will need to keep it fed or risk some not so happy outcomes in social situations or while traveling through populated areas. They aren’t going to do well in cities or crowded spaces, in fact it will probably freak them out ALOT. This might be something the group needs to learn to deal with or take into account when planning out routes, it might unintentionally shape your campaign into a different space then you intended so be very upfront with your players about that. If they persist well at least you tried and it isn’t your fault if the displacer beast goes on a killing spree in town and freaks out, running through the streets to cause more panic and maybe a mob of angry townies.

With that little rambling over with, I’m JustKay your regular DM Dalliance on the web and I’ll see you next post.

OMG Shops – Weapons

These items rule. THESE ITEMS SUCK. These items rule. THESE ITEMS SUCK.

Welcome to Part 3 of the OMG Shops series, I suggest you check out the first one all about Magic Items. For naming a shop and aesthetic, you can check out part 1 as I went over all of it there. I go into alot about building in the engaging elements for a shop at the start of that post. Also check out part 2 for specifics on armor shops as a partner for our talks all about weapons. Everyone in the group needs them even if the wizard will only ever use it if he is out of spells and about to die.

Selling weapons means several things in the world. It means working as a weapons dealer, a go between for creators and buyers. This is more likely if the items being sold are rare or extremely deadly and being bought by those who really should have access to them. Like the inventions of a mad mage being sold to a thieves’ guild. It could mean just running a shop that is a legal reseller of weapons, maybe because of a deal with a blacksmith or purely buying and reselling adventurer’s weapons. Or it could mean directly from the creator with full control over what they make and how. Don’t be afraid to have multiple versions in the world, combine some of them, and heck add some ones not mentioned!

In honesty it also is determined by the feel that you want the location in general to have. You can really drive home aspects of the town or city your players are in using your shops. The biggest example is with armor and weapons. A small close knit community out in the country wouldn’t have a shop facade to go with the blacksmith, it would be a very obvious direct transaction with the person who will be making the thing you want. But a city divided into sections where some have more money and power then others may have the blacksmithery itself in the poorer part of town because of the heat, smoke and noise it produces while having a very fancy shop in the swanky part of town. If the city goes further and caters in an extreme to the wealthy and powerful then the shop might be the only way to by new weapons. This could mean that if players made a direct play for a discount via checking out the blacksmith that they might land quite the discount.

So we see how closely the world effects the shop but how does the shop effect the world? A place that regularly deals in weapons to me says that if the city isn’t dangerous the area around the location most likely is. If not then there is a high presence of a few types – mercenaries, soldiers, or adventurers. Each of those types flooding a city can mean different things for how it would be set up and function, it would also change the types of weapons that you can easily find there. If perhaps weapon shops aren’t all over the place then maybe the shop itself takes on the responsibility of providing training and safety instructions. Should it be an area that many people leave from to go adventuring they might even be the main financial source allowing the citizens to do so.

One quick note for shop aesthetics before we move on. The shop says just as much about the owner as it does about the weapons it will hold. It is often a reflection of the owner and can be used as context clues for the player on the best way to endear themselves to the owner for perhaps a discount. A high brow weapons dealer isn’t going to take kindly to heavy handed techniques, but a brisk grumpy blacksmith might appreciate it like a breath of fresh air. Also DON’T FORGET MAGIC EXIST! You can do so many crazy things with how the shop looks like.

I also talked in length about Shopkeepers in Part 1 of this series so really go check that out. But for this one I’m going to do a quick pre-gen of a few options for you so you can see just how wildly diverse you can still get with something so specific.

Natza Mantra, Tiefling – Reclusive and intense about their work Natza lives off the side of a volcano, using the heat and properties of the area to make weapons that wouldn’t not be possible elsewhere. Their stockpile of weapons is large since not many making the journey up much less have the kind of gold she requires to part with one of her masterworks. Tall with guns for days if it weren’t for the pale purple skin, shaved fushia hair, horns and tail she might be mistaken for a Goliath.

Dazil Borrerbin, Satyr – A happy go lucky cheery lad he has modeled his shop like a lovely flower filled meadow full of sunlight despite the roof. It would seem the last place to find a weapon much less a weapon of quality. But this shop is filled with nothing but magic weapons that have either been collected or commissioned by Dazil at his own fancy. Anything he dreams up he gathers here to show off mostly but he is willing to part with a weapon or two if the person, and the price, is right.

Siannu Kardlom, Tortle – Small for a tortle she nimbly moves about the shop adjusting her wares and chatting with customers. Most of her items are the standard fare but in the back she has a small forge and workshop for custom items. In fact she has a reputation for her custom items and her ability to make just about anything a reality when it comes to a weapon. Guarding her shop at night are a pair of sentient living swords that roam the space, animated armor assist with handling weapons for customers, and several mechanical flying objects float around serving tea.

To stock your gear I could just send you to Part 1 again, and will suggest it but I thought I’d bring that part over since its only a quick paragraph. Just replace the words magic item with weapon.

Okay so we have our Tiers of Play laid out, we’ve sorted the magic items by these tiers (you’ll see that an item can be on more than one list and that’s perfectly fine). I then create 3 random lists for each tier of play with magic items I feel best fit the campaign, the world, or things I tailor for the players. Normally you don’t have to worry about a list larger than 20 but go as ham as you’d like. When making the store pick a list from the tier of play that currently applies to the players, roll 1d6 (min of 2) times on the list to stock the store. This method comes with the bonus that if you’re players revisit a store at a higher tier you don’t have to scrap everything, just roll on the new lists. You can also switch up the stock ever so often to show the life of the shop while the players are away. This might lead to some fun side quests and bargaining to get the shopkeeper to make an item that a player had their eye on but that was sold while they were away.

Not to be repetitive but in Part 1 I do go over reskinning, tweaking and homebrewing items. So to reinforce that and to show how doing it for a weapon might be a little different I’m going to provide examples below. When working with weapons there are a few things to keep an eye on – reach, damage type, damage die, limiting factors. Mostly the limiting factors come into play when a weapon has an ability or spell associated with it. For a DM creating weapons for their player it is important to keep in mind the player’s power curve against what it should be for their Tier of Play.

Let’s first look at an example of a reskinned weapon, lets start with a Trident. A more expensive version for the type of damage it does, which is similar to a spear. What the trident really has going for it is its unique visual. Its a very striking image and is typically linked to the more water linked races like a Triton. But another creature we typically associate with a trident is the symbol of a pitchfork carried by the devil. This can be done with losing the tips for a more straight point on the ends, as well as coloring and motifs of the weapon. Adding more reds, blacks, or sinister glowing would all be great clue to how the weapon is differing.

But why don’t we take the above reskinned Trident even more in the direction we wanted to go with. It currently does 1d6 piercing damage, here we will either add 1d4 fire damage OR completely replace it with a 1d8 fire damage (no piercing). This adds the aesthetics of the reskinning with some actual mechanically differences that reinforce the theme. If we didn’t want to mess with the damage at all we might say something like the weapon does extra damage to those of good alignment, say double proficiency added. We’ve transformed the simple trident into the Devil’s Pitchfork.

The final evolution of our Devil’s Pitchfork needs a little something extra. Lets add in a few uses of detect good and evil, protection from good and evil BUT only allow protection from good while allowing a monster type to still be selected. For this one I’m going to pull the limiting factor of proficiency bonus for the number of slots it can use between the two spells that refresh at dawn. Playing up the theme we will give it the ability to return to the player even if thrown when attuned to the weapon it always returns as if blinking out of exist and back in. For pure funsies I’m going to add the ability to forgo damage on a successful hit in order to set the target on fire.

Look I obviously have fun making up items, monsters, NPCs, and all sorts of things for TTRPGs. It is honestly very freeing creatively so I always encourage DMs of any experience level to try. The only way you will get better at it is by doing it over and over again. If you ever have any questions on it or want to chat about my process just hop over to the Contacts page and drop me a line or hit me up on Twitter @JustThinkingKay!

With that little rambling over with, I’m JustKay your regular DM Dalliance on the web and I’ll see you next post.

Making Spells & Creating Schools of Magic

Let’s take a little walk through homebrewing, I know I preach alot about how after running games for so long you really need to try it. It brings a freshness to the game both for you as a DM and for your players. Throwing them off a little, surprising them and re-engaging them into your game and world. I’ve done some light run through of homebrews I’ve done and even given you all starting points via things like my Ghost Haunting rule set. Today though we are going to be tackling homebrewing spells & I’ll include the most extreme version of that I’ve ever done – essentially creating a whole school of magic complete with spell creating rules. Yes this level of extra is a normal thing for me in case that wasn’t obvious at this point.

You’ve played 5e and you can’t quite find a spell that does what you need. Time to homebrew you up a spell. Now there are some pretty quick and easy ways to do this if you don’t want to fiddle with the mechanics too much or at all. Well lets first look to the Dungeon Master’s Guide for rules on Creating a Spell:

When creating a new spell, use existing spells as guidelines. Here are some things to consider:

  • If a spell is so good that a caster would want to use it all the time, it might be too powerful for its level.
  • A long duration or large area can make up for a lesser effect, depending on the spell.
  • Avoid spells that have very limited use, such as one that works only against good dragons. Though such a spell could exist in the world, few characters will bother to learn or prepare it unless they know in advance that doing so will be worthwhile.
  • Make sure the spell fits with the identity of the class. Wizards and sorcerers don’t typically have access to healing spells, for example, and adding a healing spell to the wizard class list would step on the cleric’s turf.

All of this is very sound advice, otherwise they wouldn’t have put it in the book. Now lets start with the basic version using this as our guideline. I’m running a Hansel & Gretel-esque story arc complete with my own Hag and her magicked candy house. Clearly, I need some fun new spells to go along with all of this sugar debauchery happening. Given our Hag’s propensity for wanting to fat up the kiddos before she pops them into the oven. I want it to be something that causes an immense hunger that the target can’t seem to satisfy. We want them stuffing their little faces till they pass out and then waking up to stuff them some more.

It triggers when a kid starts eating on her house so its obviously a ward spell. Our best cousin to our spell would be the glyph of wardinga 3rd level abjuration spell. To remind you here is a little snippet-

When you cast this spell, you inscribe a glyph that later unleashes a magical effect. You inscribe it either on a surface (such as a table or a section of floor or wall) or within an object that can be closed (such as a book, a scroll, or a treasure chest) to conceal the glyph. The glyph can cover an area no larger than 10 feet in diameter. If the surface or object is moved more than 10 feet from where you cast this spell, the glyph is broken, and the spell ends without being triggered.

The glyph is nearly invisible and requires a successful Intelligence (Investigation) check against your spell save DC to be found.

You decide what triggers the glyph when you cast the spell.

Before we get too far gone on this though lets define what we want our spell to do exactly.

  1. We want the candy house to be the thing holding the ‘glyph effect’.
  2. Taking a piece or eating it triggers the effect.
  3. Failed WIS save gives unsatiable hunger. Possibly while also draining your HP each round till you are unconscious, so non-lethal damage.
  4. Fatten up the eater for that good good Hag home made kidsarole.

Seems easy enough. None of our building blocks are overly complicated. For flavoring, I do like the idea of the spell having to be ‘baked in’ as it were. But that is really more for dramatic flair and doesn’t affect the outcome. Our final product comes to a head with the ravenous ward.

Ravenous Ward

3rd level, Casting Time 1 hr, Range – Touch, Components – V, S, M*, Duration – Until dispelled or triggered, Save – WIS

When you cast this spell you weave its ward into a sweet or baked good that unleashes its magical effect when broken or consumed. When triggered the target must make a DC 13 Wisdom saving throw or be consumed by an unending hunger that causes the target to be unable to stop from eating more. Consuming more of the ravenous ward after a failed save will result in 1d6 psychic damage. Once the target reaches 0 HP they pass out from a sugar crash.

*sweets or baked goods

Okay yes its a bit of a silly spell but it goes to show how easy it is to do something like this to fit your game. You don’t always have to go full ham on from scratch though, I could have easily just added the ravenous ward as an option to the existing glyph of warding. That would have also let me possibly have my player’s learn it if they really wanted to. I mean think of the chaos they could create with it, of course they’d want it.

Now something harder to do is create a new school of magic. Often I’ve done this because a thought pops into my head that I can’t answer with the schools that already exist. Or because my homebrew world is having alot of custom new spells that don’t fit an existing one but are all similar to each other. Since high school one I can’t stop thinking about is a school of magic created because not everyone experiences sound in the same way, or at all. So what do you do with those verbal components?

Before I go further on my new school of magic from this I just wanted to give a shout out to Mysty Vander and ASL for RPG, who has been working really hard to create signs for the spells that already exist in D&D for hard of hearing and deaf players to use at the table. Check out more about them on their site! I also did a blog post ‘Community Spotlight – The NonProfits Making a Difference‘ that included them in it.

Shout out over, we are moving right along. So in high school my mom was taking college classes to become a teacher and chose ASL as her language credits. I ended up practicing alot with my mom. One of my favorite baby sitters growing up, outside of family, was deaf and I wanted to learn how to better communicate in the future. It was also the time that I was in a regular gaming group with nerdy ass friends. So my brain worm began because I thought my cool ass baby sitter would really enjoy the game. Never got up the courage to introduce them to it though.

In college I played a mute Oracle for the longest time. My DM was super cool about it and we often discussed how a caster could function in Pathfinder 1e with out being able to speak. In that world existed as a form of caster’s sign language as did telepathy so it became a discussion on the complexities needed to cast spells at each level as well as how the caster could clearly convey their intentions. Also if talking to yourself in your own internal monologue of sorts counted cause I didn’t have access to telepathy till later in the game.

Currently I am a hard of hearing adult due to some not so fun in the sun things to do with ear infections and damage. The problem came up again and again thru different things I played. What if we replaced that verbal component with just a more complex somatic component? How would a caster reflect a verbal intent with action?

To be honest I’ll probably end up making this school of magic a suppliment cause it is a chunky boi. But I had to break down what made a spell possible for everyone else, what made a spell different for this school, and what the rules of spells needed to be. That’s something that applies to any school of magic you make. Answer these questions when making a new school of magic:

  1. What is the focus of the school that draws people into learning it?
  2. What are the building blocks of magic they use for their spells? Does it differ greatly from other school? How?
  3. What is the schools philosophy on magic? How someone approaches that big beautiful game of spell casting shifts how they view magic and therefore the world around them.
  4. How is it taught? What, if any, structure does the school have?
  5. What is the difference between a novice and a master?
  6. What are the hurdles or blocks that the school faces?
  7. What are the things the school excels in?
  8. How does your world view the school? How does the school use its powers in the world?
  9. Does your school weave into the lore or your world or buck tradition?

PCs Researching & Creating New Spell

We’ve talked about creation from the DM’s side of things. But we all know that player who wants so badly to create their own spells. To be known for their magic along side the Volo’s and Tasha’s of the world. This can obviously cause some possible power creep problems in your game. Frankly most avoid it for that reason. It can be super fun though.

The biggest thing that you need to agree on DM to Player is the fact that this is an in process thing. If even after the research is done the spell ends up being too OP in practice the DM has to be allowed to dial that back. Its not fair to the rest of the players at the table otherwise. Some of us know players that would howl fowl at the moon over that, don’t give those players this power obviously.

My quick and dirty version of it usually involves 1d6 + 2 hours of intense Arcana study min per level of the spell to try and figure out the possible bits and bobs needed. Then 1d8 + 2 hours of experimentation augmented as more or less depending on how successful their Arcana checks are each hour/experiment. Once they think they have the spell down they still need to master it to get a consistent outcome so I give a percentile roll each time its cast until the can successfully do it X amount of times in a roll, rolling a pure 100% counts as two successes. Then they still need to apply the normal means of learning a new spell based on the their class. It is a BEAST to get thru but if your player wants to make spells they will throw themselves into it during downtime. Also a great way to bleed off some gold from the party by expending material components in the study, experiment, and perfection phases.

Once they’ve figured things out for the most part with what they want the spell to do I like to sit down with the player and using what they were going for during the study and experimentation, take them thru my spell creation rules. That way its all out in the open what the limitations are going to be on the spell. This isn’t my final version cause I do alot of research and numbe crunching later but it lets them know where they will stand at the end of the day. Working this way with my players has really created some die hard characters and fantastic moments of spell reveals to the table at large. 10/10 would recommend.

With that little rambling over with, I’m JustKay your regular DM Dalliance on the web and I’ll see you next post.

Creating & Rewarding Heroic Moments

What we go for in games with our players is that big moment. The build up for these scenes is something we DMs strive tirelessly for. It is sometimes the work of careful plan and web weaving, it is sometimes the happenstance of an act of sacrifice you werent expecting, and its sometimes just the brilliant move of a desperate group that the dice bless. I was lucky enough to have one recently at a homebrew D&D session with a group I’ve been running for more than a year at this point.

They had fought through fiends of all sorts as they trekked deeper into a volcano trying to find the source of where they were coming from. The previous session had left everyone a little cautious. Almost dying because of failed rolls when crossing a small ledge over a lava river and having hordes of spiders trap you in nightmares will do that to you. It had left them all shell shocked and in need of a short rest to recover. The paladin and blood hunter have already been having trouble as their backstories are tied very closely to events with fiends. Our blood hunter had accidentally signed away the lives of her whole city thinking she was protecting them from a greater threat. While the paladin had their whole battalion laid to waste around them leaving them dying in a field before found by their diety.

With hope they jumped right into the session navigating deeper, coming across a group of imps enjoying a tasty meal. It hit them harder than expected as their dice had decided to still turn against them. Twice bit by those polyhedrals they took a long rest before continuing, suddenly hearing the sounds of howling and growling echoing around them as hell hounds rushed them. That fire breath did a number on them as they kept bunching up but quickly learned their lesson. After all of that they were skeptical of the room the entered that was empty.

Now at this point you must be asking why all of the background? Because it shows a rise of tension. It was building to something that would force the group to face a decision that they might not like or be faced with a battle they were not prepared for. No great moments can happen without first building tension and conflict. Your players need foils to combat and feel like they can defeat. It gives them a moment to feel heroic, it lets them be the heroes as they want to write them. We will talk more about crafting those moments in a minute, first lets hop back into the story.

The chamber they entered was segmented by rivers of lava making it so that to navigate them they’d have to leap where possible. Our cleric casts a high level water walk spell on everyone letting them walk on lava while taking some fire damage from the heat, but most of them made the jumps anyways. As they are half way through leaping a pair of fire elementals rise from the lava to block their path. They don’t try to attack the group just block them and keep them from reaching the part of the room they need to get deeper. At first they talk about fighting them, I of course internally hyperventilated knowing at least half of them would be TPKed in that. The fire elementals weren’t aggressive but were very assertive in not letting the group pass, pushing them back if they got to close with their heat. The cleric and druid stepped forward to try and talk with them but found out they didn’t serve a language. Instead they resorted to pictograms and Intelligence rolls to decypher each other. Eventually through the knowledge of fiends that the blood hunter and paladin have, with what the cleric and druid can interpret from the symbols some pretty harsh things. Fire elementals were pulled here and trapped, forced into this duty of protection and can’t break it. They kept drawing two large circles and three small circles, wiping out the small circles before drawing a diamond shape with the small circles in it. This is drawn several times before the group backs up to talk options. They believe the small ones are children fire elements being held hostage being used as leverage in a contract to keep the parents as guards.

It is at this point that our cleric and druid step up to say that they will free the small circles if they let them pass. The fire elementals talk together for awhile and seem to be debating when the cleric goes from the mouthpiece to be heroic. He walked over to the lava and scooped some up with his bare hand to put three drops on his shield in an oath to free and protect them. Both of the elementals walked over and put their hand on his shield melting in their hand print, looking at the group one last time before moving off to either side of the tunnel. As the group left an explosion rockets the space behind them and screams pierce the air before fading away. They had sacrificed themselves on the oath of the group.

This was a shock to us all. Up to this point, the cleric character has been a little standoffish and closed-lipped about things. He had been keeping his distance not sure if he trusted the others enough to share more of his story. Doing this is the first time his character has stepped up and shown he cares about others, and he did it not only for those in need but because it was the best way to move forward. It deserved something more so I created a Shield of Fire Elemental Oath to give him a +1 shield and fire resistance. As long as the oath is unbroken he now has a huge boon inside the volcano while fighting fiends that seem to be doing fire damage.

Our greatest achievement as DMs is having our players leave the table excited, in wonder and unable to wait until the last session. We want them to feel powerful even in their character’s weakest moments. We want them to feel like they can step forward to do the hard things and be rewarded for it. In the world you build with them they are supposed to be a step above the rest writing their own epic.

To do this, even while improving, I keep a few things in mind. First – your players want those chances. They will leap at the chance if given a character reason to do so. Our cleric’s backstory is one about trying to protect those who can’t do so themselves. Even if it means following down a dark path and getting his hands dirty. So when given an opportunity to do the same for the group he lept at it. Second – characters get on high alert and pay closer attention to when those might happen when you’ve been building tension. A sudden set of traps raises suspicions that might lead to your rogue catching sight of a trap as it triggers before leaping in the way of the arrow. Having been chased by kobolds for several sessions and constantly harassed by small attacks will cause the group to get jumpy if it all disappears and becomes quiet. Use the nature tension you are building in your session to your advantage. These two things help you build situations that give your players the opportunity to step up and be the hero because that is what they deserve to be.

An important thing to remember though is to make sure you reward your players with something as impactful as what they did. Be it an item, a boon from an NPC, a DM’s inspiration, etc. It needs to meet a minimum threshold of impactfulness. How do you know if it does that? Well great question there self let me tell you how. Is it personal? Is it unique? Can its usefulness carry forward to help them even more in the future? A player is willing to wait to be given the details of what exactly the item is as long as they know its coming so no stressing about creating on the fly. You also don’t have to go big or go home on these rewards. A personalized item or reward even if on the weak side will be held on to and maintain a longer life in the game then any high impact reward they can get. Its because the memory of that deed their character did is tied to the object, the lore of their heroics within the group are pointed out every time it’s used. Have fun with these and your players will too.

With that little rambling over with, I’m JustKay your regular DM Dalliance on the web and I’ll see you next post.

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