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.