Wednesday, 29 June 2011

M is for Megadungeons (Part I)

This is going to be a long series (M is for Megadungeon), so please bear with me.  If I get through everything that I want to say in fewer than 10 parts, we’ll all be lucky! 

The initial work that this blog entry is based upon/reworked from can be found here, for those who are interested:  I will do my best to respond to comments posted here, or in the original thread.

The initial design work here began with the idea of putting together a megadungeon setting for my own “fantasy heartbreaker” game, RCFG, as a persistent part of a campaign milieu.  There are several advantages to including one or more megadungeons in a sandbox campaign setting. 

The first should be obvious – even lacking any other clear plan, players always have a location that they can investigate in order to play.  This dramatically reduces the amount of “hang time” in sandbox play, while the players decide their characters’ next move. 

Another, less obvious, use is to include history and mythology into the campaign world in small chunks.  Rather than being just a collection of rooms and corridors, with groups of evil humanoids, cultists, and wandering monsters to fight and treasures to be found, a comprehensive megadungeon can be intimately linked to the history of the campaign world.  Imagine, if you would, a megadungeon in a “Medieval Earth” world, that was built by Roman-types on Egyptian ruins, that eventually goes through a Summerian region to reach pre-human caverns.  At the very least, the undead one encounters would be marked by the era in which they first died.

In games using the d20 System, the Game Master can select resources that reflect this.  Green Ronin’s Testament, for example, could be used to lay out the oldest regions, with Hamunaptra being used to lay out the regions atop that.  And so on.  As characters descend further into the dungeon, they encounter monsters, spells, and magic items they have never encountered before.  The wise GM has linked these to stories of the mythical past…so that there is a thrill of recognition, and an understanding of age, as the characters encounter these things.

Gary Gygax had a knack for introducing new places and people, and making them seem old. "The illusion of history" as it were.  I think that Ed Greenwood has this as well, or certainly did when The Forgotten Realms was first appearing in Dragon Magazine. I think that this illusion of history is necessary for a setting to "feel" right.  (I also tend to think that this is why we keep going back to Greyhawk.)  Creating an illusion of history is a skill that the wise GM works hard to cultivate.

Prior to setting pen to paper, I know that I want the megadungeon to contain both "Name" places and "Name" creatures - things that the players can use to mark their PCs' progress through the whole.

It is far more interesting to encounter an interesting location or being that you have heard many rumours about than it is to encounter the same without any buildup. So, I first devised a list of place-names to use, which can be mentioned in rumour, scrawled messages, etc. The goal is to give the players locations to search for, and to allow them the satisfaction of locating some area that they have long desired to find.  This also adds to the “illusion of history” of the place.  It implies an existence beyond what the players can immediately – or may ever – see.

At this point, I don't know what these locations actually are, although the names themselves are suggestive in some cases.  I created the following list by looking at the names of dungeon areas and descriptive elements from the 1st Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. If you look at the Dungeon Dressing tables, you will see many names for various types of rooms, as well as many good adjectives to describe them.  In order to prevent myself from falling into favoured tropes, and in order to spur creativity, I made a list of elements I liked, and then used random rolls to link them together.  This is what I came up with:

  • The Amber Courtyard
  • The Bandit’s Roost
  • The Black Hall
  • The Burning Dome
  • The Cerulean Well
  • The Chamber of the Bronze Throne
  • The Cistern of the Dun Waters
  • The Cloudy Vault of Whispering Leopards
  • The Copper Pool
  • The Crimson Catacombs
  • The Crypt of Red Markings
  • The Crypt of Sleeping Dogs
  • The Dripping Garden
  • The Ebony Grotto
  • The Green Lake
  • The Groaning Arch
  • The Hall of the Bitter Banquet
  • The Library of Bones
  • The Moving Pool of Xar Yggar
  • The Perfumed Machine of Sparkling Crystal
  • The Pool of Shadowed Vermin
  • The Restful Chapel of St. Helmbright the Vigilant
  • The River of Uncertain Dreams
  • The Scarlet Gallery
  • The Sea of Ivory Stones
  • The Smoking Shrine of Ly Valle
  • The Sour Temple
  • The Spinning Chapel
  • The Tapestry of Winds
  • The Tawny Altar of St. McCoy
  • The Verdant Caverns
  • The Vermillion-Handed Idol of Destiny
  • The Wandering Library
  • The Waterfall of Fearful Whispers
  • The Yellow Fountain

The Bandit’s Roost will obviously be a place where bandits gather.  The idea of a roost makes me want this place to span several levels, with criss-crossing rafters and hidey holes in the walls.  I can easily imagine narrow beams that slope across a wide drop, allowing access from one level to another.

The Dripping Garden makes me think of a damp, misty place where plants are growing in a sort of hanging garden. Perhaps there is also green slime, oozes, and giant slugs?

The Moving Pool of Xar Yggar is a teleportational device, perhaps leading to other planes, or other regions of the campaign milieu.  Xar Yggar is, if not obvious, an anagram of “Gary Gygax”. 

The Perfumed Machine of Sparkling Crystal is probably an artifact, now malfunctioning, created my a madman. Perhaps I'll name him Mull.

The Restful Chapel of St. Helmbright the Vigilant should be a safe place for adventurers to hole up and rest.

The Sea of Ivory Stones suggests a beach of water-smoothed bones.

The Verdant Caverns is a series of locations with plant-based monsters.

The Wandering Library should appear on the Wandering Encounters tables. Its location literally moves, and it may well move while the PCs are within, depositing them on a different level altogether........ Yet within its mouldering tomes can be found much knowledge of use to adventuring types. The books change location with the Library, so those who "borrow" one discover that they don't have it for long. For this reason, perhaps, there is a kind of truce in the library......Perhaps even a Librarian who enforces the peace?

As with places, there should be creatures within the megadungeon that characters hear about before they encounter....or, alternatively, that they encounter and then learn the significance of. The megadungeon needs about 20 “name” creatures to start with. Again, we don’t have to know the statistics of these creatures, or anything about them really. We just need evocative names.

We also want to include a wide number of creature types.  RCFG follows the 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons convention of creature types (although I changed “magical beast” to “beast” because, without a separate “beast” type, why bother to continue with the “magical” adjective?).

We want to have at least one representative of each of these types: Abomination, Animal, (Magical) Beast, Construct, Dragon, Elemental, Fey, Giant, Humanoid, Monstrous Humanoid, Ooze, Outsider, Plant, Undead, and Vermin. It is not necessary that each of our “name” creatures is actually a single creature; it could be a particularly notorious group of creatures, such as a tribe of orcs.  Animals, humanoids, plants, undead, and vermin are especially good for this “notorious group” treatment.

You may think, at this point, that the thing to do is to choose the biggest, baddest creatures that you can, crank them up to 11, and call it done. Certainly, this can be done for some of these creatures. But remember that the goal is not simply to give the PCs a memorable fight.  Despite some claims to the contrary, D&D (and, by extensions, OGL-based fantasy games) are largely about exploration, not fighting.  The fellow who claimed that the game is about fighting vicious monsters, rather than traipsing through Faerie, is just plain wrong.

The goal is to create creatures that, directly or indirectly, the PCs will encounter repeatedly, and which the players will talk about long after the last die is rolled.  Indeed, for some of these encounters, no dice might be rolled at all!

These creatures must include both allies and enemies, and may fill any of the major NPC roles. They can include potential mentors, patrons, rivals, informants, protectors, and even love interests as well as mere foes to fight. Indeed, they must fulfill at least a few of these roles or the whole dungeon will fall flat. “Fight -> fight -> fight” does not a fantasy role-playing game make!  It certainly doesn’t make a compelling setting.

I decided to break down the creature types as follows. Note that “rats” are probably the most obvious animal type for a dungeon, which is precisely why I avoided them. It is harder to get your players interested in a group of rats or bats in a dungeon than in, say, a form of subterranean hound.
  • Abomination: Otyugh
  • Animal: Cat, Hyena
  • (Magical) Beast: Sphinx
  • Construct: Golem
  • Dragon: The Bludgrue Wyrm (we will decide what this means later, and certainly some smaller dragons will be its offspring!)
  • Elemental: Invisible Stalker
  • Fey: Nymph
  • Giant: Stone Giant
  • Humanoid: Dwarf, Orc, Human, Kobold
  • Monstrous Humanoid: Medusa
  • Ooze: Gray Ooze
  • Outsider: The Librarian (type?), Angel of some sort (chained?)
  • Plant: Assassin Vine (representing some form of root?)
  • Undead: Ghouls, Vampire, Ghost
  • Vermin: Monstrous Centipede
That gives us 22 individual “name” creatures to give titles to and to develop.  At the same time, we will want to develop the “name” locations, and (in some cases only) link named creatures with locations where they fit. And we still need those evocative names!

Saturday, 25 June 2011

L is for Lava Children

I have to admit, this is a monster that I have never used.

There aren’t many monsters from the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition game that I haven’t ever made use of, in any form.  In the Monster Manual, there is only the Floating Eye, the Masher, and the Morkoth that I can say I never used with any certainty.  They are simply monsters that I was unsure what to do with.

When the Fiend Folio came out in 1981, it quickly became as important to me as the Monster Manual.  I loved the illustrations, and I loved many of the creatures therein.  I still do.  But, when I got to page 61, and saw Alfred E. Neuman staring at me from the monster illustration….well, I just never found a use for the creature.  I could never imagine the mascot of MAD Magazine rampaging through dungeon halls and being effective at….well, at anything.

Now, none of this is the fault of the monster’s creator, listed in the appendix as Jim Donohoe.  Actually, the idea of the lava child is fairly clever.  These guys are the result of an unnatural “union between spirits of earth and fire”.  They live deep beneath the earth, and have the ability to pass through metal (and, apparently, stone, if the illustration is taken as a guide!) as though they were not there.  If you imagine them as having a child-like mindset, you can picture them giggling in dark corridors, where they mean no harm, really, as they rip your arms off.  They’re just curious about you.  They are neutral, after all.

Looking back through the 1e monster books, I actually think that the monsters I failed to use were lost opportunities.  They were things I didn’t see the potential in, either because of youth, or lack of creativity, or some other factor that I still don’t see.  They didn’t fit the images in my mind’s eye then.  They are creatures that I think I will make a conscious effort to use in the future.

In many ways, lava children have taught me humility.  Admittedly, it is a lesson I’m not really equipped to learn, and it hasn't taken hold all that well.  But, when I look through later editions of Dungeons & Dragons, or other game systems, I try to remember how I felt about the lava children then, and how my views have changed.  Can the 3e digester really be as lame as I think it is?  Is it even possible for the dragonborn to really be as blech! as my current view would have them be?


In other news, the "C is For" series of articles have been somewhat expanded and republished (by permission) in Hungarian, thanks to Melan (late of EN World, and now mostly of elsewhere).  You can join in this lively discussion here: or here:

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

K is for Killing Fields

Want to throw something “Old School” into your game?  How about a Killing Field?

A Killing Field is a region where the odds are stacked severely against the player characters.  You know it is a Killing Field when characters actually die…and not necessarily by the ones and the twos!  There are several types of Killing Field, but they all serve the same general purpose.  They are areas where the bodies lie thick on the ground – bitten, mangled, burned, and crushed – but the survivors who limp home have a tale to tell.

The most common type of Killing Field is the Deadly Starting Area, which is intended to weed out the hapless and the helpless, leaving the fittest to continue onward in the campaign milieu.  Goodman Games’ Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG revels in this sort of Killing Field.  PCs start out at 0-level, and the survivors (who gain equipment partly from picking over the corpses of their less-fortunate compatriots) become the 1st level adventuring party.  Although I have yet to play the DCC RPG scenario distributed for Free Roleplaying Day, it reads well, and is sure to have its share of fatalities.

A more expansive Killing Field is found in the classic TSR module, The Keep on the Borderlands.  Played as written, the Caves of Chaos and surrounding countryside can chew up and spit out many low-level characters as they deal with the various threats presented.  In the end the Caves may be cleared, but most of the characters that began the process are buried in unmarked graves.  If the other PCs even bother to do so much.

Likewise, in T1, threats emerge that are probably beyond the ability of most newly-minted parties to handle.  And even success has its own perils, for, as with B2, the forces of evil have infiltrated the nearest “safe” community.

Another kind of Killing Field emerges in the mid-game:  the Deadly Testing Ground.  Few have entered this area, and even fewer have returned.  The PCs are now mid-level, somewhere between 5th and 10th, and the players have a vested interest in their survival.  The Deadly Testing Ground offers great riches and glory for the PCs brave and clever enough to wrest its secrets from it.  But the odds are stacked against them, and most PCs will not succeed.  Will perhaps not return.

In a fantasy-novel type game, characters enter some “legendary” region because it is part of the plot.  They are not really overly deadly, because forcing characters into such an area is grossly unfair.  Rather, the Deadly Testing Ground is a place that the characters voluntarily enter, knowingly accepting great risk in order to have a chance at great rewards.

The most famous Deadly Testing Ground is probably the Tomb of Horrors, but there are many others.  In a classic megadungeon, dungeon level roughly corresponds to the level of threats and rewards that are available to characters.  By allowing characters to quickly reach deeper levels, beyond those “appropriate” for their party, the Game Master enables them to enter a Deadly Testing Ground.  And, in most cases, Deadly Testing Grounds are entered for a brief period, after which the party will flee toward easier pickings.

A final type of Killing Field is the Epic Endgame, as discussed in a previous column.

So, why add Killing Fields to your campaign milieu?  Foremost, it allows the players to know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that they are winning on the basis of their own decisions.  Context -> Choice -> Consequence is only as strong as the belief that consequences actually fall from choices, rather than GM fudging.  As soon as a player realizes that the GM is fudging, rendering his choices moot, the context also seems to matter far less.  Why pay attention to the factors needed to make a good decision, if a poor decision results in roughly the same outcome?

Killing Fields also grant a greater agency to players in terms of the risks they are willing to accept.  This assessment of risk, and the resultant decisions of how much risk to undergo, is one of the hallmarks of “Old School” play.  It means that “balance” is not something that the GM alone must worry about.  No.  Each player must strive to access both her own capabilities, and how those capabilities might meet the challenges of the game milieu.  Should she go boldly into the depths?  Should she stay closer to the surface?  Should she go adventuring in the wilds?

Again, look at the setup of B2, where the easiest caves are close to the ravine mouth, with areas being correspondingly more difficult the farther in one goes.  A bold party can try its luck in any of the cave mouths.  With a little luck and clever play, a bold party might even succeed.  There are many different stories about B2.  Each group approached it in their own way.  This ability to choose, to branch out in diverse ways, to surprise the GM as well as the players, and to allow the players to access risk and “game balance” is something that is sorely missing from many modern adventure designs. 

Indeed, there are benefits to having Killing Fields in your game, even if no PC ever goes there.  Simply knowing that they can increases the sense of risk, the sense of adventure, and the sense of each character’s fate being in the hands of the players’ choices.  When this is the case, players pay attention to the context choices are made in, and thus invest more deeply in the campaign milieu.

It should be noted that not all RPGs are as combat-prone as “adventuring” games such as Dungeons & Dragons tend to be.  It is entirely possible to conceive of a game where little or no combat ever takes place.  Imagine a social game, where all interaction is basically arguing.  Let’s call it Forums & Follies.

Nobody ever dies in Forums & Follies, but there can be “Killing Fields” that result in a persona being “Threadbanned” or “Banned From Site” (The F&F version of character death).  Killing Fields in such a game might include participation in particular types of threads, or defending particularly unpopular ideas.  Likewise, in Papers & Paycheques, one could be “Fired”.  In Belles & Ballrooms, a character could become “Socially Ostracized”. 

The important idea is that a player is given the opportunity to take risks that grant exceptional rewards, but remove the character from play (through death, banning, removal from workplace, or being socially disgraced) by making that character no longer capable of making relevant choices in the ongoing narrative of the milieu.

(Papers & Paycheques, of course, refers to the cartoon in the 1st Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide.  So far as I know, both Forums & Follies and Belles & Ballrooms have not yet been produced as the stylish and eminently playable RPGs that we all know they could be! )

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Request for Help -- That Hideous Face

In 2003, I was able to obtain the opportunity to examine an original manuscript supposedly found at 65 Prospect Street in Providence, Rhode Island.  My analysis of that document ( was published in Mythos Collector #6 (, in the winter of 2004.  The original fragment was published as “That Hideous Face” in a Dreaming Seas Press edition, and was purported to have been a lost work by H.P. Lovecraft.

I recently had a hard drive crash which wiped out my electronic copy of the document provided by Dreaming Seas Press.  My hardcopy printouts have likewise disappeared.  At the time of my analysis, it was an easy matter to download a copy of the document off the Internet, but this has proved a frustrating experience.  Even Internet Archives seem not to contain the work.

It has proved impossible to track down Emily Cole, the girl who purportedly found the manuscript, or members of her family.  Likewise, the poetry and short fiction of Ms. Cole, which was heretofore easily found via the world wide web, seems to have been removed from every server.

Dreaming Seas Press has likewise gone out of business, and I have had no success in tracking down the publishers, who seem to be no longer active in Mythos circles.

If anyone has a copy, either electronic or hardcopy, of the story, That Hideous Face, purportedly by H.P. Lovecraft – especially if you have a copy of the 2002 Dreaming Seas Press edition published in Rhode Island, I would be happy to arrange remuneration in exchange for a copy.  Note that I am not speaking of a copy of my analysis; I have that.  I am looking for the story that I produced an analysis of.

Thank you in advance.

Friday, 17 June 2011

J is for Junk

If I were to empty my pockets right now, in addition to change, there would be pens, keys, a flash drive, a tissue, and a comb.  Some of the keys on my key ring open doors that I could no longer identify.

If I was to turn my home into the setting for a D&D adventure, the poor adventurers would have to wade through mountains of paper, clothing, paperbacks, bric-a-brac, kid’s artwork, and more in order to discover whatever “treasure” they were seeking.

Call it fluff, or details, or verisimilitude, or dungeon dressing, or whatever else you like, there are good reasons to include a lot of junk in your campaign milieu.  If you’ve been reading this alphabet from the beginning, you are going to know what some of them are, because including junk is very much like including mundane animals.  If you don’t include plenty of insignificant stuff, the significant things stick out like a sore thumb.

Take, for example, the Moathouse in TSR’s Module T1:  The Village of Hommlet, by Gary Gygax.  Mr. Gygax writes:

15. EMPTY ROOM: The place was the domicile of the major-domo of the castle, but it Is stripped of everything save broken and ruined furnishings now.  One wall cresset remains near the outer wall, and its torch stub is actually a silver baton worth 30 g.p. in its present condition.

Now, the question becomes, how likely is it that PCs entering this area will discover the baton?  Will they automatically know that everything they “see” is significant?  Well, the answer is in Mr. Gygax’s design work, where several previous areas (5, 6, 8, 10, 11, and 14) are described as “littered” or filled with specific valueless junk, and at least one of those rooms (11) contains a potential disincentive for exploring too closely!  Area 9 seems likewise, but has a fine broadsword hidden within it.

By layering junk into his dungeon design, Mr. Gygax makes it more difficult for players to realize that they should be looking at this particular cresset, and this particular torch stub.  In other areas, specific junk is described.  For example,

14.  EMPTY TROPHY ROOM:  Only a few mangy pelts, stuffed heads, and shattered antlers indicate the former status of the chamber.  All worthwhile Items are looted.  It is possible to spend considerable time searching the litter here, but nothing of value will be found.


10. EMPTY BED CHAMBER:  Once the quarters of a castle troop leader or some other petty official, the place Is now a total wreck. the bed chopped to pieces, the furniture smashed or gone.

Although this level of detail might seem to be wasted, all of the flavor of the area is contained within those details.  Moreover, more detail could be given.  The “litter” is glossed enough that, should the PCs decide to search these areas more thoroughly, the harried GM will be forced to come up with some quick bits of information.  That Mr. Gygax tells you what the room was used for is of some value here.

Although I am no Gary Gygax, I also make liberal use of junk in my adventure designs.  To my mind, this only makes sense.  Including junk serves the same purposes mentioning normal animals does:

  1. 1.    It increases the verisimilitude of the setting,
  2. 2.    It makes it more difficult for the players to determine what is “significant” and what can be safely ignored, and 
  3. 3.    It gives potential clues about the area that is being explored.

In addition, including junk increases the time that it takes the PCs to explore an area, allowing for additional wandering encounters, and dividing the better players from the rest.

The following examples of encounters come from Balmorphos Dungeon, an adventure I wrote that was published in Dragon Roots magazine, issue #3.  If you are interested, you should consider dropping by and purchasing the issue from the store.

(I don’t get anything if you choose to buy the issue, except some sense of satisfaction if I later learn of it.  Another module, Temple of the Golden Ape, is in issue #1.  Both are written for the Dungeons & Dragons 3.5.)

1.  First Landing:

The arched stairway goes down about 25 feet at a 40º angle, ending in a space about 20 feet square, with a vaulted ceiling 12 feet high.  The walls are covered with rust-colored moss and lichen, except where they have been scrapped clean by the passage of an enormous serpent.  Where there is no moss, you can see moist rivulets of water seeping down the ill-fitted stone walls.  To the northwest, you can see another archway, where another flight of stairs leads further into darkness.  As with the steps you just came down, these seem worn and cracked as though by frequent passage.

The steps to the northwest are wider than those that led into this area, but not as steep, descending at an angle of about 20º.  The stairway is arched to a height of 12 feet, and goes downward some 35 feet.  A pair of medium boots is discarded on this flight of stairs.  The boots can be found separately along the left-hand (southwestern) wall, about three quarters of the way down the flight.  There is still a rotted human foot in the left boot.

The rust-colored moss is harmless, and exists by consuming the stone itself.  This weakens the stone so that flakes of its surface can be pulled off wherever the moss is found.  The Climb DC for these areas is 20, and the first foot of stone has only hardness 5 and a Break DC of 30.

5.  Old Barracks:

The door opens into a dusty space some 30 feet wide and 40 feet deep, vaulted to a height of 12 feet.  This room was obviously once a barracks used by those who guarded the entrance to Balmorphos’ underground fortress.  The collapsed wooden frames of several cots line the west wall.  Rusted metal racks for weapons are bolted to the eastern wall, although whatever weapons they once held are long since gone.  A dank hole about a foot-and-a-half in diameter is bored into the floor.  Presumably, this was once used as a well, or to eliminate waste.

The well in the corner has no lip built up around it to prevent folk from falling or sliding into it.  It drops 30 feet into swiftly flowing water.  In days past, this was used both for waste elimination and for drinking water, as the underground river carried away any waste materials.

Searching the collapsed wooden frames of the beds uncovers a small chest, which is still locked (Open Locks DC 10).  The chest was once protected by a poison pin (Search DC 10, Disable DC 15), but the poison on it long ago lost potency.  (In the event that a PC gets pricked with the pin, though, the DM should still require a Fortitude save as though the poison were still active).  The chest has hardness 5 and can be broken into with 5 points of damage.  Within, wrapped amid an old moth-eaten tunic, is a leather pouch and a small vial.  The pouch contains 15 sp.  The vial contains two doses of the poison that once guarded the lock:  large monstrous scorpion venom (DC 14 Fortitude save resists, 1d4 Con/1d4 Con).


Here are some descriptions from an RCFG starter module I am working on:

Beyond the entrance is a spacious chamber, with gaping doorways opening to the north, south, and west.  You can make out relief work on its shadowed walls – images of tall priests, monkeys (including flying monkeys like those you just encountered) and dancing apes.  The floor is a shattered expanse of mosaic tiles in blue and red.  Where light falls in through the doorway, the jungle has entered as well – green plants have pushed aside the tilework, and vines grow on the near walls.

The passage opens into a fair-sized chamber, its ceiling a low, dark barrel vault only 8 feet high at its peak.  Vats of clay and stone line the southern wall, although many of these have been opened, pushed over, or (in the case of some of the clay vats) broken.

This is a vaulted chamber, some 40 feet wide, going onward into darkness.  Along the shadowy walls, you can see carved images of cavorting priests and bat-winged apes, carrying human victims with them, while large bats dance and wheel overhead.  These walls run with moisture, and you can hear a steady dripping in the distance to the north.  Heavy cobwebs stretch from wall to carven image, and from ceiling to floor, showing that few (if any) have passed this way in recent times.

This is a large chamber, about 60 feet square.  The vaulted ceiling, which once reached a height of 30 feet, has collapsed, creating an uneven floor of alabaster rubble and vines.  Other vines grow along the walls and up to the gaping hole in the ceiling.  In addition to the wide passage entering the room in the middle of the west wall, stairs lead into brackish water to the north.


This one seemed to ramble a bit, and I apologize if that was off-putting.  Still, I would highly encourage you to use junk liberally in your dungeon and wilderness designs.  Even towns should have public dumps, middens, garbage-filled alleys, and the like.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

I is for Iceberg…Some Further Thoughts

Understanding classic D&D requires understanding that any area created for the game milieu is to be used multiple times, with multiple groups of players, over weeks, months, and years of play.  However, something happened with DragonLance that changed the course of Dungeons & Dragons – the introduction of the strong adventure path model.

By way of analogy, classic D&D sought to create the experience of being a character within a fantasy world, whereas the strong adventure path model seeks to create the experience of being a protagonists in a fantasy novel.  That may seem like a minor distinction, but further thought will show that it is not.

Protagonists in a fantasy novel can expect to survive, or to have meaningful deaths.  Characters within a fantasy world cannot.

Protagonists in a fantasy novel are automatically special.  Characters within a fantasy world are not necessarily special – only what actually occurs in play determines how special you are.  The difference between Conan and an Aesir he kills early in his career are as much a difference of luck as of skill in the “fantasy world” model – at first, Conan is only important because he survives.  In the fantasy novel model, Conan is important before he does anything, simply because he is Conan.

A fantasy novel purports to tell a specific story; a fantasy world is a place where things happen, and then people tell stories about them after the fact.  

If you hop back to my comments about Choice, Context, and Consequence, you should easily see where this is going.  In order to ensure that PCs are meaningful protagonists, and in order to ensure that there is a specific story, the GM must mitigate the consequences of player choices.  He must ensure that player choices do not take the characters away from the story, by death, by other interests, or even by resolving problems “too early”.

Now, I am going to reiterate my mantra:  Play whatever games you like, in whatever way you like.  You don’t have to worry about what anyone else thinks.  You certainly don’t have to worry about what I think.

But I will point this out:  OD&D and 1st Edition AD&D were both devised to support the iceberg/fantasy world model.  Both experienced explosive growth, and both have a strong following of fans/players to this day.  3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons attempted to follow this same model, and it is arguable that 3rd Edition – especially at lower-level play, or using lower-level variants like E6 – is the only version of the game that rivals (or has ever rivaled) the classic editions.

On the other hand, 2nd Edition AD&D, despite all of its options, bought very much into the fantasy novel model (which was most evident in its adventures and advice to DMs), and TSR went bankrupt.  The unwieldiness of higher-level play in 3rd Edition likewise brought back a strong “adventure path” mentality (you need prep less if you can guarantee what encounters your players will have) – and removing this unwieldiness was one of the major selling points of 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons.

Like 2nd Edition before it, 4th Edition seems to have a strong fantasy novel element…although this might be better described as a “computer game” element in terms of its modules at least, which are composed largely of set-piece combats linked by what may almost be “cut scenes” between fights.  Even the skill challenge mechanic, as presented in modules, is largely filler between the main events.

(And, yes, obviously people need not play this way.  Equally obviously, there are some interesting variants being devised to play in more of an iceberg/fantasy world style than in a fantasy novel/computer game style.  Different people play different games in different ways….ultimately, though, sales seem to be based on how the owners market what they’ve created.)

The problem here is not that “fantasy novel” games are bad.  The problem is that the fantasy novel experience is done just as well (or better) at less cost an effort by fantasy novels, film, and computer games.  Fantasy world/iceberg games are done better by….well, tabletop games do them the best.  Nothing else is even in the same ball park.

Yes, I do think iceberg games are better…..both for actual play, and for the industry.  But, if you like something else, don’t worry about my opinion. 

Play whatever games you like, in whatever way you like!

I is for in, “Tip of the”.

As you may know, Gentle Reader, I am somewhat active over at EN World.  Recently, I have read a number of posts there that, taken together, make my head spin.  Specifically, once again, the idea that in earlier editions of Dungeons & Dragons, any treasure included in a scenario was “meant to be found”, and how this belief skews understanding of classic game play.

On top of this, I am finding more and more that people simply don’t “get” the game as it was originally intended.  In this post ( Bullgrit writes,

The problem is that *everything* is a feature.

Treasure was “devilishly” hidden in classic D&D. You had to search everything to find it.

Traps were everywhere in classic D&D. You had to leave stuff alone to avoid them.

Every conversation around here about classic D&D becomes a daisy chain of “it’s your fault.” Didn’t search the random bags: you missed the treasure. Did search the random bags: you fell for the trap. Either way, it’s because you just weren’t a “skilled player.”

Nothing was wonky back in classic D&D – “you” just don’t/didn’t understand the brilliance.

This is not to say that everything was wonky with classic D&D. Classic D&D had truly wonderful stuff as well as really wonky stuff. I just find it problematic for conversations and discussions to have *everything* presented as wonderful and brilliant. I also find it insulting to the truly great stuff of classic D&D.

And in this post (, Keefe the Thief writes,

All modules should contain the following disclaimer:
"Warning: if your PCs discover most if not all the treasure in this module, you were Doing it Wrong (Doing it Wrong is (TM) by TSR, Inc. 1984). Please cf. DMG pg. 84 (heading "Bullgritting treasure and your campaign"). Many treasure items are only included so that the DM may cackle maniacally into his Horned Helmet when his players don't find them. These boots are made for walking, but these treasures are NOT ALL made for finding". 

Now, maybe I shouldn’t let this sort of thing get to me, but it seems strange to me to imagine that, in a game, all victory conditions are “intended” to be met.  I dislike the 4th Edition concept of, effectively, “wandering treasures” that not only follow the PCs around until they are located, but also happen to consist of whatever the PCs/players are attempting to find.

This is inimical to game play as it was first conceived, and may be inimical to “game play” overall.  Victory conditions that you cannot avoid are, in fact, not really victory conditions at all.  When the choices that you are allowed to make determine not the outcome, but the route to the predetermined outcome, you are indeed playing something akin to Candyland with your sister….just a more complicated Candyland with multiple tracks. 

In this post (, which is one of the better posts on EN World, Ariosto writes,

Roll d20 and add to it for "high enough" for just about everything if you like, or don't. That is about as irrelevant as you can get, unless you get into the ideological baggage that has come along with the "core mechanic" puffery and clobbered common sense in some quarters.

It's the layout of the board, the victory conditions, the way that players interact, that makes Monopoly what it is. "We roll a pair of dice" is trivial, no different from Backgammon, and you could get the same spread -- which is what matters most, not the cubes as artifacts -- in other ways.

Ever play Monopoly with a bunch of cock-eyed house rules? "How come the game takes so long?" Well, that's what happens when you don't put properties up for auction. "How come a couple of lucky rolls gave Andy such a lead?" Well, that's a consequence of your "free money for landing on Free Parking" variant.

"While it is possible to play a single game, unrelated to any other game events past or future, it is the campaign for which these rules are designed." That's the facts, Jack, about the original D&D game, and some particulars of what "the campaign" meant in Blackmoor and Greyhawk practice were pretty essential parts of the whole. They were not slapped on "play styles" with trivial effects; they were the game that had been playtested and developed and demanded and in 1974 offered.

It was a "massively multiplayer" game, in which "the referee to player ratio should be about 1:20 or thereabouts". Two referees handling 50 players would be fine. In Blackmoor, there was
Originally Posted by Dave Arneson
... a great deal of emphasis being placed on the players themselves setting up new Dungeons, with my original Dungeonmaster role evolving more into the job of coordinating the various operations that were underway at any given moment. At the height of my participation as chief co-ordinator there were six Dungeons and over 100 detailed player characters to be kept track of at any one time."

It was a game in which risk of character mortality, along with other probabilistic factors, played a key role:
Originally Posted by Men & Magic
Top level magic-users are perhaps the most powerful characters in the game, but it is a long, hard road to the top, and to begin with they are weak, so survival is often the question, unless fighters protect the low-level magical types until they have worked up.

One powerful way to get fighters for protection was as henchmen (or "hirelings of unusual nature", to use the original phrase). Drop that aspect from the game, and there you have the notion of charisma as a "dump stat".

Of course, there was no rule limiting a player to but one character at a time in a campaign. Gary Gygax (with Rob Kuntz as DM) eventually had his Circle of Eight, including at least one character (Bigby) who I gather had gone from monster to henchman to PC.

Magic users and fighters, clerics and dwarves and elves -- the options had a different character, a different balance, in that strategic context. Remove them from it, and it's like removing various pieces from their design context of a World War Two game.

Now, start whacking away at what's left in seemingly random fashion:

-- No more 1 attack/level for fighters vs. normal men & equivalent, and no more armies of such troops for them to command or conquer, and no more baronies to develop and defend.

-- No really notable limits on demi-humans to offset their advantages.

-- Preservation of the formerly endangered species of m-us, even if only by a general protection of PCs from having done unto them as they do unto others.

-- More easing of life for m-us with a "nerfed" spell here, a dropped rule there, much more frequent use of spells (especially those of higher levels).

-- Much easier manufacture of magic items.

-- Instead of it getting, at higher levels, ever easier to land a hit and harder to land a spell, swap in a different scheme.

-- Drop XP for treasure (scoring a goal), awarding points instead for getting into fights and having to deal with traps.

And so on.

It occurs to me that a good metaphor for a Dungeons & Dragons campaign milieu, as it was originally envisioned, is an iceberg.  You might spot it while sailing on the high seas, but you are really only seeing the top 10%.  The vast majority of the iceberg remains submerged.

In the campaign model where multiple groups of adventurers might scour the same areas in search of adventure, it makes sense to include treasures that might not be found.  First off, it gives the latecomers something to look for.  Moreover, though, it allows for an experience of a “lucky find”.  If there are 100 treasures hidden around, and any given group will only find around 20 of them (and I am making those numbers up out of whole cloth), it stands to reason that, if you only place the 20 treasures you expect to be found, the players will instead only discover 4.

This has nothing to do with the GM cackling maniacally into his horned helmet, and everything to do with good campaign management.

Likewise, if Tactic X is always the “right” tactic, then the game quickly becomes boring.  To maintain interest, sometimes X is the “right” tactic; sometimes you are better trying Y.  If X is often the right way to go, making X a poor choice prevents complaisance.  It also indicates the mass of the iceberg floating below the waves – things are not set up simply to reward a particular set of choices.  There is more going on; the world is bigger than the portion you are currently exploring.

Folkways, by William Graham Sumner, 1906, p. 20:

There was an element in the most elementary experience which was irrational and defied all expedient methods. One might use the best known means with the greatest care, yet fail of the result. On the other hand, one might get a great result with no effort at all. One might also incur a calamity without any fault of his own. This was the aleatory element in life, the element of risk and loss, good or bad fortune. This element is never absent from the affairs of men.

I not only expect this aleatory element in a fantasy rpg, I have no interest in a fantasy rpg that fails to evoke it.  Like an iceberg, much is below the surface.  The closer you get to danger, the harder it is to predict exactly what will happen.  IMHO, fantasy (novels, films, short stories, or games) is interesting specifically because it can evoke the more primitive, fundamental aspects of our minds....what lies below rationality....and then give it meaning within a framework that our rational minds can comprehend.

expect a fantasy game to allow me to step outside modern modes of thinking, at least to some degree, and gain a wider appreciation not only of the rational process that created the game, but of the "mythic universe" as well. Likewise, I don't want a game that treats magic like technology; I want a game that treats magic like an extension of a universe that is rife with consciousness and will.

Anything less seems sterile to me.

(And note, that I am talking about fantasy rpgs here. I have different criteria for science fiction and superhero games. But, whatever the game, "Don't whine at the table" is always
 among my list of criteria.)

When trying to explain classic campaign models to others, consider the iceberg as a metaphor. There is more than the 10% you get from an "adventure path" -- the setting is richer, more detailed, more dangerous, and more fun.

(This post was originally going to be “I is for Illusions”, but, well, this seemed to be the better topic.  I’ve reproduced what was to be my opening paragraph below.  I had intended to bring up the Robert E. Howard story, The People of the Black Circle, and especially the Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel, Thuvia, Maid of Mars , which I think are key to understanding how illusions worked in classic D&D.)

There are certain topics that have had more written about them than others, and, in the case of Dungeons & Dragons, adjudicating illusions is one of them.  In the heyday of the game, the authors understood illusions largely through the works of those authors listed in Appendix N of the 1st Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide.   Illusions were the stuff of imagination.  They were to be used as creatively as the players and Game Master could devise.  They were not intended to be hemmed in….or, at least, not hemmed in to the degree later editions have done.

Monday, 13 June 2011

H is for Hook Horror

When the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Fiend Folio (1st Edition) came out in 1981, I was captivated.  The art was interesting, the creatures – some I loved, and some which left me cold – were unknowns.  I was ready to throw some of these at my players, working them into wilderness, dungeon, and even towns.  I might not yet have realized that the osquip was a reworked Barsoomian rat ala Edgar Rice Burroughs, but at least I recognized that the Horta from Janus IV had found its counterpart in the Denzelian.

Among those creatures was the hook horror, a low-intelligence monster which roamed the depths in groups of 2 to 12.  The 1e Fiend Folio described the creature as communicating with others of its kind by “making clacking noises with the exoskeleton – an eerie sound which can alarm the unwary as it echoes around dungeon corridors.”  That was an image that stayed with me through years of gaming.  Many a cave system and dungeon complex was haunted by that eerie clacking, even when no hook horrors were actually encountered by the party.

Like many, I migrated to the 2nd Edition of AD&D when it came out, but my hook horrors were largely their 1st Edition version.  I liked the art better, and I disliked making those noises come from the horrors’ throats.  I liked that the hooks could help them climb, and the idea that hook horrors used their bony claws to scrape fungus from cave walls.  Well, they didn’t say that last part explicitly, but…

The original hook horror is credited to Ian Livingstone in the Fiend Folio.  Mr. Livingstone is also credited with (take a deep breath) the assassin bug, blood hawk, giant bloodworm, bonesnapper, crabman, Styx devil, dune stalker, eye killer, forlarren, grell, mite, phantom stalker, throat leech, and giant troll.  In my book, this makes him one of the unsung heroes of early gaming, for I certainly got good value out of at least half his creations.

Many of the Fiend Folio’s creatures were translated to 3rd Edition extremely well in Necromancer Games’ Tome of Horrors.  Sadly, though, the hook horror was not among them.  As far as I am aware, there is no Open Gaming Content version of this iconic monster.  And that is a very sad thing.  I would be very happy to learn that I am wrong.  As I am working on my own “fantasy heartbreaker”, I would dearly love to include statistics for the hook horror. 

But, even if I cannot, I am finding conversion – even on-the-fly conversion – to be a relatively simple matter.  You may rest assured that eerie, far-off clacking noises will echo around my dungeons for a long, long time to come.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

G is for Gods

To the pre-modern mind, the existence of gods and goddess, of supernatural powers of all types, is not in doubt.   The exact nature of deities is unknown to mortals.  Although arguably immortal from a human standpoint, gods have been known to die in battle with other gods – some sages claim that these slain gods were only quasi-deities.  Other sages point out that death to a god is not the same thing as death to mortals.  Dead gods have been known to return.

The denizens of d20 System worlds often supposed that deities are Outsiders, in the same way that their servitors on the non-material planes are.  Within my own campaigns, however, deities are actually extra-dimensional entities that exist not only on more than one plane at any given time, but also in more than one cosmology as well.  Their presence on any given plane is felt most often as a disembodied awareness, which can not only communicate with beings on that plane, but can impart spells and spell-like powers to beings, items, and locations.  The divine essence can be focused through the chosen to turn or control the undead, impart divine location and item feats, and counter the affects of other divine energies.

The official d20 System word on the divine appears in Wizard of the Coast’s Deities & Demi-Gods tome (2002).  This book envisions the gods more like super-characters than divinities.  To me, this represents a step back from the way that the 2nd Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game dealt with both gods and priests. 

When I began work on the Mêdterra campaign, I wanted the world to be one in which the players felt that their characters constantly interacted with the gods.  I wanted the gods to be important – in fact, central to the world – but I also wanted their interaction with the world to be very different from that of player characters or monsters.  Rather than having the gods being simply more powerful, I wanted them to feel like something different from anything else.  In short, I wanted the characters in Mêdterra to have an experience of the numinous.

The following is the initial information given to my players in the Lakelands region of Mêdterra.  Astute readers will undoubtedly recognize the sources for most, if not all, of these deities.

Religions in Mêdterra

Many people in the Lakelands follow the High Church of the Seven Good Gods:  Mardan, Mellador, Aedor, Belanus, Uarthos, Amaethon, and Brigit.  Others follow the druidic faith.  The Lakashi and a few others worship the Beast Lords or their own ancestors.  It should be remembered that, in the Lakelands, deities are real.  They can reward their devout followers, and punish those who displease them.

These are some of the more common deities/faiths a character can worship: 

  • Aedor:  Aedor, God of Blacksmiths, Artisans, Craftsmen, and Mechanics, is lawful good.  He appears as a majestically bearded dwarf of heroic proportions.  He is said to work the Godforge, creating the thunderbolts of Mardan.  He is worshipped by dwarves, as well as by smiths and artificers of all types.  The domains he is associated with are Earth, Fire, Strength, and War.  His favoured weapon is the hammer.  He is one of the Seven Good Gods.

  • Amaethon:  Amaethon, Lord of the Harvest, is neutral good.  Vine leaves entangle his short hair and fall about his shoulders like a mantle.  He cradles a large sheaf of grain in his arms.  Amaethon is often depicted dressed as a peasant farmer, with a stylized tree upon his tunic.  Farmers, vintners, and those who cultivate the land worship him.  The domains he is associated with are Animal, Earth, and Plant.  His favoured weapon is the scythe.  He is one of the Seven Good Gods.

  • Ancestral Worship:  Ancestor worship is common among the Lakashi, the Alderhald, and the goblinoid races.  Even some civilized human and dwarven families worship their illustrious ancestors.  Shamans and clerics of ancestors can be any alignment, so long as they are not more than one step removed from the alignments of the ancestors they worship.  For clerics, ancestors are generally associated with the Death, Knowledge, Protection, and Trickery domains.  Favoured weapons may be assigned based upon historical precedent.

  • Artemis:  The Goddess of the Hunt, Artemis is chaotic neutral.  She is depicted as an incredibly beautiful young girl armed with a bow.  She is often shown riding a doe with stag’s horns, or is depicted with stag’s horns herself.  Although many hunters, foresters, and rangers worship (or placate) her, she only allows human, elven, or half-elven females into her priesthood.  The domains associated with Artemis are Animal, Travel, and Trickery.  Her favoured weapon is the longbow.

  • Badur:  Badur, the Judge of the Dead, is neutral.  He is depicted as a dark, faceless man wearing dark robes, and bearing a greatsword made of dark stone.  He is sometimes called the Bonewarden.  Few worship him, save undertakers and those who pray for the dead, though many pay him heed. It is Badur whose task it is to assign the dead to the heavens or hells, or to gray limbo.  His priests often seek out the undead, to deliver them to their Grim Lord’s judgement.  They may also “borrow the dead” from Badur to perform tasks in the world of the living.  The domains he is associated with are Death, Knowledge, and Protection.  His favoured weapon is the greatsword.

  • Baerbeth:  Goddess of Cats, Pleasure, and the Night, Baerbeth is chaotic neutral.  She is depicted sometimes as a female humanoid with cat-like qualities, and sometimes as a great cat.  The domains she is associated with are Animal, Luck, Magic, and Trickery.  Her favoured weapon is the kukri.

  • Beast Lords:  In the Lakelands, every animal type has a Beast Lord, a creature that is a perfect representative of its species type.  Many Beast Lords are also depicted in human, or semi-human, form.  The Beast Lords are worshipped mainly by intelligent and/or awakened animals, faerie animals, shapechangers, and humanoids whose forms mirror the Beast Lord they worship.  Some Beast Lords have cults with human followings, however, and some Beast Lords have created “elevated” humanoid animals to worship them.  In general, Beast Lords are neutral.  All are associated with the Animal domain.  Most have one other associated domain related to their nature (i.e., the Bear Lord and Ox Lords are associated with the Strength domain, while the Turtle Lord is associated with Protection and the Otter Lord with Water).  Beast Lords have no favoured weapons.

  • Belanus:  Lithe Belanus, beloved of the elves, is chaotic good.  He is often depicted as a young human, elf, or half-elf, with a lyre.  An olive wreath crowns his head, holding long hair away from his laughing face.  Belanus is the God of the Sun, Music, Healing, and Prophesy, known also as the Ward Against Undead.  The domains he is associated with are Healing, Knowledge, and Sun.  His favoured weapon is the longbow.  He is one of the Seven Good Gods.

  • Brigit:  Fair Brigit is the Goddess of Hearth, Fire, Poetry, and Community.  She is lawful good.  She is depicted as a young girl, clean of limb and bare of breast, unadorned save for a circlet of gold inlaid upon her brow.  She is also known as the Virgin Goddess, for the priestesses who keep her communal hearths are sworn to remain virginal throughout the length of their service.  Clerics dedicated to Brigit do not have to be female, only her hearthwards do.  The domains she is associated with are Fire, Luck, and Protection.  Her favoured weapon is the longsword.  She is one of the Seven Good Gods.

  • Druidic Faith:  Druids are as described in the Player’s Handbook, and gain spells accordingly.  In the Lakelands, druids recognize Celene (represented by the moon) as the female principle of nature, and Herne (represented by a stag-horned man) as the male.  To the druids, all living things have an animus, life-energy that drives the world of the living, as well as providing the divine energy for druidic spells.  Death is also part of the cycle of life, where the animus loses its differentiated form and goes back into the breath of the world.  Still, druids gain power from the living world, and most shun the world of the dead.

  • Julius Invincible:  Julius Invincible, Lord of Victory By Any Means, is lawful evil.  He began as a warlord among the Parthelonians, who came to power by slaughtering his own father.  He is depicted as a cruel-faced man wearing blood-soaked armour.  Barbarians, fighters, evil rangers, and monks may all worship Julius Invincible.  His cult appeals to the ruthless.  The domains he is associated with are Destruction, Strength, and War.  His favoured weapon is the longsword.

  • Mardan:  Mardan, the Bringer of the Law and chief of the Seven Good Gods, is lawful good.  He is worshipped by paladins, fighters, monks and those who prefer civilized order to chaos.  Mardan is depicted as a jet-black man with four arms and green eyes.  He is said to hurl thunderbolts in judgement, and is often depicted with two thunderbolts, a morningstar, and the Book of Law.  The domains he is associated with are Air, Law, Protection, and War.  His favoured weapon is the morningstar.  He is one of the Seven Good Gods.

  • Mellador:  Mellador is neutral good.  The Goddess of Mercy, Shipwrecked Sailors, and Fertility, she is often depicted with a serpent-staff, her right hand raised in benediction, as though to heal the wounded onlooker.  Mothers, sailors, fishermen, and healers worship her, though many others come to her for aid.  The domains she is associated with are Healing, Good, and Protection.  She has no favoured weapon.  She is one of the Seven Good Gods.

  • Mellythese:  The Great Spider is the Goddess of Spiders, Treachery, Venom, and Deceit.  She is chaotic evil.  Mellythese is depicted as a gigantic black and red spider with cunning, evil eyes.  She is worshipped by the treacherous, by those bent to evil in their quest for vengeance, and by magicians who are seduced by the false lure of easy power.  The domains she is associated with are Death, Evil, Knowledge, and Trickery.  Her favoured weapon is the net.

  • The Seven Good Gods:  Although clerics may worship them separately, many clerics in the High Church of the Seven Good Gods worship all of the gods together.  In this case, the cleric may be of any non-evil alignment (though most are good).  The domains they have access to are Fire, Good, Healing, Law (unless they have a chaotic alignment), Protection, and Sun.  They do not gain the benefits of a favoured weapon.

  • Uarthos:  Called the Sleeping God, Uarthos is the chaotic good God of Sleep, Dreams, Healing, and Inspiration.  He is worshipped by poets, lovers, and dreamers of all sorts.  He is often depicted as a well-formed giant, with serene features, meditating or asleep.  The domains he is associated with are Chaos, Healing, Knowledge, and Travel.  He has no favoured weapon.  Uarthos is one of the Seven Good Gods.

Trying To Do Better

In the case of the Lakelands/Mêdterra mythos, creating a sense of the numinous was a mixed success.  On one hand, I had various priesthoods and clerics active in the milieu.  At one point, the (relatively low-level) PCs even encountered a bound Elder God called Baloraz of the Baleful Eye, or Baloraz, the Seated One.

Baloraz appeared as a seated humanoid creature, and would be nearly 80 feet tall if it stood.  It’s body was manlike, and handsomely build, except its head, which was dominated by a gigantic lidless eye like that of a cat.  Its leering face was transparent, showing bone and blobs of soft yellow fat beneath, as well as the pulsing ichor which fed its massive brain.  Slime drooled from between its pointed teeth, but only its eye moved, free to perceive within its trapped body.  Baloraz could speak via telepathy to any it could see; its voice oozing into the mind like a high-pitched whisper.

Because Baloraz was seated and unmoving, the PCs could interact with the bound god – although this was a fearful prospect indeed.  Should the gaze of Baloraz actually fall upon one, it could use a powerful telekinesis effect, either to draw one closer….or to flay one alive.

On the other hand, because I was using a modified version of the 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons rules, I missed the level of customization afforded by the preceding edition.  This affected my design for clerics in Raven Crowking’s Fantasy Game (RCFG), my ongoing project.  I included this optional rule:

Optional Rule: SPECIALITY PRIESTS:  The cleric is a generic form of priest, suitable for the “average priest” in the average campaign world.  However, GMs (or players, with the GM’s approval) are encouraged to create specialty priests for specific Powers.

Some examples of specialty priests appear in The Big Book of Monsters and the Encyclopaedia of Powers & Avatars – these can be used for inspiration.

The easiest way to create specialty priests is to change the abilities granted by Focus Divine Power and Aura of Faith. Another method is to create unique spell lists for a given priesthood. Finally, if the Power is associated with a particular slashing or piercing weapon, the speciality priest should not be limited in using that weapon.
A speciality priest may have the same level of overall power as a cleric, or it may have slightly more power in exchange for a much narrower focus. The GM is cautioned to avoid creating a specialty priest that is obviously a better choice than a standard cleric.


Deities and Powers of all sorts are an important part to the feel of a fantasy world.  I’ve worked hard to include these beings as an integral part of the setting, but I feel that my attempts have always fallen somewhat short of the mark.

How about you, Gentle Readers?  What have you done to make the gods “live and breath” in your campaign milieus?