Category Archives: Ask A Nerd

Written by Larry Doderman, Ask A Nerd fills a burning desire the internet has been clamoring for- the opinion of an awkward teenager.

Alternative Sci-Fi

Cliché abounds in every genre. At a point, that’s what defines a genre. Of course, splitting hairs between tired old conventions, essential quintessence, and that which may or may not RUIN a given thing FOREVER, is just an open door to oblivion, so we’re confidently striding past that and to the point.

I got some sweet ideas for a few (somewhat) different from the norm sci-fi settings. Rarely do I run sci-fi games, since my (granted, very small) gaming group has such a well-defined (limited) palette. But that don’t mean I can’t cook off a dozen or so random crazy ideas!

So here we go…

1. Earth: Planet Of War. Humans are the Klingons (or Orks, or Weren, or whatever); that is to say, the violent, war-like, aggressive archetype with advanced weapons, tactics, and armor, and the finest, deadliest warriors, but a mostly backwards and dangerous society besides. What gives with that?

Well, for starters, it turns out that guns work in space; in fact, we have every reason to believe that they would perform better in space than in atmosphere. No gravity or wind resistance, and gunpowder is literally partly made of oxygen; bullets actually supply their own combustion-sufficient atmosphere. So maybe modern ballistics is the pinnacle of weapons technology. It’s true that even on earth, during the Vietnam conflict, guns were believed to be obsolete in the air-war until American aircraft that didn’t have them were routinely out-matched by Vietnamese MiGs that did. It was because of this tactical blunder that even the most advanced modern stealth aircraft are still out-fitted with a gun.

That not do it for you? Maybe few other space-faring societies are violent enough to develop much in the way of weapons beyond bows, swords, and catapults; the technological concept becomes moot in such a society until they begin to interact with others. Maybe energy manipulation is simply too inefficient to ever be miniaturized into individual weapons, instead only applicable in large-scale power generation.

However it happens to be, humans occupy the stereotypical niche of the brutes in this setting, which strongly influences and shapes the nature of alien relations with us; politically, socially, and personally. Perhaps they will more quickly to sue for peace, not risking conflict with the violent warmongering humans. Or, perhaps they will quickly form alliances to dispose of the destructive, bothersome humans. Certainly, most would think twice before crossing a human, and likely, racial bias exists which stems from human inability to find peaceful resolutions.

2. Earth: Planet Of Gods. In this setting, humans replace the Eldar, Fraal, or Bajorans as the aging masters of the cosmos, who had the happy advantage of life beginning on their rock far sooner than the others. Humans ply the stars only to find worlds packed with wide-eyed savages and confused tribesmen. Moral issues quickly arise in debating whether to exploit the technologically-handicapped aliens, and how we treat them may mirror our treatment of our own kind in the past. Perhaps the PCs in such a game are the only thing standing between an alien tribe and their summary enslavement. Also possible in this setting is the idea of the “aging empire” where dozens of upstart nations from without, as well as numerous, less forthcoming threats from within, whittle away at the human star empire, which long ago saw its prime, and now wanes in its glory. Maybe the PCs have come to restore that former glory, or perhaps they will be the ones to deal the final blow to a dying old man whose time has come.

3. Earth: Late To The Party: This setting is essentially a cosmic version of the post-apocalyptic game. Humans have finally arrived on the galactic scene, only to find dead planets full of empty cities. Entire star-fleets of ghost ships drift derelict through space, while the mystery of what happened to everyone looms ominously. Is Earth the next target of whatever vile force destroyed all the aliens? Or is it merely the passage of immortal time that has whittled down so many empires? Aliens themselves are rare in this setting; far more common are the ruins and artifacts they left behind. When PCs do encounter aliens, they will likely be the very oldest members of their species, the last of their kind on the very edge of extinction. In  this kind of setting, some humans may not believe that aliens ever did exist; attitudes towards them are largely shaped upon this ignorance, along with poor interpretation of their historical records.

So there they are- three hot, fresh, steaming piles of sci-fi material! I’m not saying they haven’t been done before, maybe I just feel that they’re a bit under-represented. So enjoy, all you avid gamers, walking the line of the latest trend and seated upon the very bleeding edge of gaming innovation. May your gaming table always be a-clatter with polyhedrons.

L. Doderman (apparently, we have a sci-fi theme going)

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The Mathematical Magic Of The Modrons- Part 1

Modrons are the bizarre analogs of angels which reside in the Clockwork Nirvana of Mechanus. The very plane exudes order, with forests grown in neat and orderly rows and mountains rising into geometrically perfect cones or pyramids. It is an entire existence of interlocking clockwork precision, alien to inhabitants of the Prime Material in ways that are strange even by alien standards.

It is perhaps unsurprising then, that some of the magic items they produce are quite peculiar indeed. Here is one of them, with more to come in the future.

Armature Ex Automata – This peculiar device resembles an intricate clockwork arm (about the size of that of a halfling or goblin), featuring a complicated vising mechanism where a shoulder should be, and a kind of gripping tube where a hand should be. There is a ball-and-socket joint just beyond the shoulder, one at the elbow, and another at the wrist, each of which reinforced with a series of interlocking gears and pistons. It is made from a surprisingly light assemblage of brassy or silvery metals; essentially a perfect mechanical replication of da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man (with a healthy dose of steampunk for good measure). Until affixed to the bottom of a Large or Huge-sized axe, it is little more than a very interesting paperweight.

Affixing an Armature Ex Automata to such a weapon requires that the weapon have a haft of suitable length- such that when wielded normally, a halfling could grasp the lower portion of the haft without interfering with the wielder’s grasp. Assuming this condition is satisfied, one simply holds the shoulder portion of the device up the haft of their axe, and the magic takes effect. The vise-like portion instantly adjusts, twists, moves and otherwise arranges to attach itself to the axe. Thereafter, separating the Armature Ex Automata from the axe requires a force equal to that which could move an affixed Immovable Rod.

Even after thusly affixed, the Armature Ex Automata is little more than a curiosity, adding no weight (or, for that matter, any other effect) to the weapon, though it seem to come alive. Gyroscopes and magnetic counter-weights whirl, while ticking gears clink and clank and tiny puffs of steam emanate from tiny valves. It swings mock attacks whenever the wielder attacks with the axe it is affixed to, and this should betray its secret- the tube-like “hand” portion can be made to wield a smaller axe. Specifically, a Small-sized axe of appropriate dimension held up to the hand portion activates its magic; it slides open, latches to the smaller axe and then locks into place, with exactly the same strength as the shoulder attached to the larger axe.

Thereafter, the Armature Ex Automata springs to life, drawing power from the weapons it is attached to and from a strange inner reserve of power that is only barely understood.

NOTE: Non-magical axes, or magical weapons that are not axes, or even magical axes of inappropriate size or anatomy, have no effect on an Armature Ex Automata, no matter what you do. The very specific and exacting nature of the magic is calibrated to only a single purpose.

The larger axe affixed at the shoulder end (referred to hereafter as the parent axe) determines how the Armature Ex Automata performs, as follows…

Enhancement bonus (+1 through +5): The Armature Ex Automata attacks as a fighter with level equal to the parent axe’s enhancement bonus. It can only attack once, and only when the wielder of the parent axe makes an attack with it. It uses the wielder’s Strength bonus.

For example, a battle axe +3 with an Armature Ex Automata attached would attack with a 3+ (wielder’s Strength bonus).

Elemental effect (Acid, Cold, Electrical, Fire, Sonic): If the parent axe has any elemental effect, the smaller axe that it wields (referred to hereafter as the child axe) inherits an additional damage die of that type. This die stacks with any existing elemental damage die.

For example, a battle axe +1 of flaming burst would confer an additional 1 die of fire damage on all successful attacks with the child axe.

If the parent axe hits, then that target is considered flat-footed against any attack from the child axe. Neither parent nor child axe can be thrown (as an attack, anyway. You can throw it, and it might even hurt someone, but a weapon it is not).

These curiosities most often appear among the equivalents of Modron sergeants and lieutenants, though sometimes a distinguished lower-ranking Modron or a champion may be given one for their accomplishments. Their use is fairly straightforward; you swing, and it swings too. True to Modron logic, you double your combat effectiveness.

L. Doderman (ahh, Modrons. I really missed these guys in 3.5. Well, at least they’re back with 5E)

The Bone Forest- Part 2

 BONE FOREST ENCOUNTER TABLES

Low Level PCs (roll a d%)

01-10: 1d4 Skeletons loyal to a nearby bone wood tree

11-20: Unseelie (evil) pixie

21-30: Phantom fungus/ Violet fungus patch (1d4 of each variety)

31-40: Assassin vine

41-50: 1d6 Skeletons dragging slain victims back to their bone tree

51-60: 2d4 Skeletons, outfitted with weapons and armor, on their way to attack a rival bone tree

61-70: 2d4 Skeletons, each carrying a bone tree seed to plant

71-80: 1d6 Zombies

81-90: 1d4 Ghouls

91-100: Unseelie (evil) satyr

Mid-level PCs (roll a d%)

01-10: 2d6 Wolf skeletons, patrolling the immediate area around their bone tree

11-20: 1d4+1 Ogre zombies, lured in by the negative energy emanating from bone trees

21-30: Unseelie (evil) nymph

31-40: 1d4 Unseelie (evil) grigs, with a bodyguard of 1d6 skeletons

41-50: Mob of skeletons (4d10), armed armored, and marching to war against a rival bone tree

51-60: Shambling mound

61-70: Unseelie (evil) nixie, with a pair of ogre zombie bodyguards

71-80: 1d6 Boneclaws

81-90: Unseelie (evil) shimmerling swarm

91-100: Level 10 male human wizard (necromancer)

High-level PCs (roll a d%)

01-10: Bone ooze

11-20: Bone golem

21-30: Evil treant, allied with a bone wood tree that it considers a close friend

31-40: Night hag

41-50: Green hag

51-60: Bone devil (osyluth)

61-70: Mob of dretch (4d6), on a mission to harvest bone wood for their master

71-80: Tendriculous, serving much like a guard dog for a nearby bone tree

81-90: A succubus and an unseelie (evil) nymph, trying to out-seduce and out-corrupt one another

91-100: A party of 4-6 level 10 NPC adventurers (of random alignment), on a quest of acquisition to harvest as much bone wood as possible

Recommended Monsters

Plants, obviously, make ideal candidates for encounters in a bone forest. Even if they are not somehow loyal or beholden to a bone tree, they may find forests where plants are dominant to be most agreeable.

Undead are another obvious choice; the bonier and more skeletal, the better. That said, nearly any undead works just fine, as they are all drawn to the negative energy font that is a bone forest.

Demons, devils, and other evil outsiders can benefit greatly from bone wood, both living and crafted. These types are (usually) powerful and ambitious enough to make aggressive expeditions for the stuff.

Evil fey (also referred to as “unseelie”) love bone trees and happily live among them whenever possible. These would-be tricksters use the natural properties of bone wood to enhance their already-deadly “pranks”.

Monsters not to use

Animals (both dire, natural, and those with templates) are generally not good choices, with a few exceptions (such as fiendish or undead animals). These, along with most humanoids, giants, dragons and magical beasts are too “natural” of creatures to be found in a bone forest. Of course, evil dragons (especially greens) make one exception to this rule, as do death giants. Those few aberrations that reside in forests might inhabit a bone forest, but generally not in great numbers and certainly with a very low profile and activity level. Bone trees seldom encounter oozes, but when they do, they despise their presence and take pains to destroy (or at least remove) them. Of course, the tone and feel of your own game will likely have an effect on what kinds of monsters you use (along with no small number of additional factors). Don’t treat this as a hard-and-fast rule, but rather, a loose set of guidelines to help you do your own thing.

Plot Hooks and Adventure Ideas

A shamanistic tribe of goblins has struck up a truce with a bone oak, which in return for their protection, gives them bone wood to craft weapons and armor. This arrangement becomes truly dangerous for the nearby town when the goblins capture and enslave a number of skilled gnomish craftsmen, who now supply them with well-made weapons, armor, and magic items.

A night hag with an appetite for virgins has recently kidnapped a dozen elven and human maidens and absconded with them into a bone forest. When the king’s men marched into the forest, they met a massive enemy force. Now committed to a deadlocked battle, the king calls upon adventurers to spearhead the next offensive.

A particularly sly group of plant monsters has taken great pains to conceal the spread of the bone forest. Now encroaching upon farmers’ fields, the bone forest threatens to swallow the unsuspecting village. When the village druid went missing, people became suspicious. After a party of huntsmen disappeared -along with the search party sent to recover them- they called for immediate aid. When the messengers turned up dead at the tree line, the situation rapidly decayed. Terrified villagers now refuse to leave their homes, while ravening plant monsters and skeletons run amok.

How to narrate the bone forest

Focus on the haunting, unsettling beauty of it all. The leaf-bare branches rattling- sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally- like bones in the wind. Describe the mournful moaning and whistling of that wind, poking chill fingers into the PCs and raising hair down their spines. The trees themselves might look like bleached skeleton-hands, warped and decrepit, dead-white versions of themselves. Over the bite of the chill and the earthy smell of forest, there is a palpable tinge of blood and death. In the winter, all of that will be draped with snow; much of that snow eerily undisturbed by beast or man. If it is raining, then the few beaten, overgrown paths become useless muddy slicks. PCs might notice that even in noon-day summer sun, it is dark and shady and cool in a bone forest. They may notice an almost complete absence of insects, even in the middle of spring.

So there you go, gamers! That’s it for Extreme Environments: The Bone Forest! Hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed making it.

Doderman (I’ll definitely need to watch out for that night hag)

The Bone Forest- Part 1

Bone Trees (3.5e Plant) and the Bone Forest (3.5e Environment)
From D&D Wiki (but with a heavy dose of Doderman)
This environment is a forest- an evil, skeleton-filled, dangerous forest with flesh-craving trees. The wood from these trees is highly prized by many fell interests, including necromancers, death-cults, intelligent undead, and others who meddle with death and the dark arts on a regular basis. A forest with bone trees is invariably full of undead, other evil plant type creatures, burials (ancient or new; mounds, crypts, or mausoleums and the like) and evil fey.

Bone Tree
A bone tree is the result of a seed being infused with necromantic energy; either deliberately, as the result of some traumatic event, or as the progeny of a greater bone tree.

If it is deliberately made, the creator must have a hefty supply of bones on hand to feed the tree as it grows. Additionally, under the light of each of the first three full moons after being planted, special wicked rituals must be undertaken. Each such ritual requires a Knowledge (Religion) check DC24, 1,000 GP of rare unguents, incense and oils, and the skull of a freshly-killed intelligent humanoid. Each ritual requires 1 uninterrupted hour, during which time the character performing the ritual chants, burns the incense and applies the unguents and oils to the earth where the seed (inside the fresh skull) is planted. If all 3 rituals succeed, the bone tree sprouts instantly at the end of the third ritual.

Most non-deliberate bone trees grow in soil that has been drenched in blood from a massive battle, or any other place where some great tragedy struck, and the bodies were left to rot (ultimately depositing their bones in the earth). Though not unheard of, this “natural” type of bone tree is rare in the extreme. The trees themselves- and the wood thereof- is in no statistical way different that that of a created bone forest, but is far more aesthetically appealing and therefore commands a higher price.

Only ash, elm or oak trees can become a bone tree, natural or created. Each of these different varieties have different characteristics and ecology.

Appearance
Some bone trees have no outward appearance betraying their status (the bones are around the roots, having sunk deep within the trunk). This is most often the case when a bone tree takes root in or near a populated or well-travelled area. Most however, have obvious bits of bone dangling from their boughs, or tangled in their roots. The most aged and profane bone trees seem to be sheathed in a bony coating, complete with many terrible skull-faces and bony hands and ribs. Bone trees that grow from the seed of a greater bone tree resemble the original tree but with a malignant, evil twist to the orignal form.

Maturity and aging

Bone tree seeds (produced from a fruiting bone tree) resemble fibrous, vaguely skull-sized and shaped. These sprout into bone trees all on their own, with no need for a special ritual. Lesser bone tree status is achieved within 6 months of sprouting (until that time it is a normal- if grisly- tree). Greater bone tree status is achieved after 50 years.

Effects and Ecology

Lesser bone tree: Undead within 30 feet gain a +2 Profane bonus vs. turn attempts. Corporeal undead gain this ability as well as Fast Healing 1. It can animate any dead thing (with bones) within 50 feet into a skeleton within 1d4 hours. These effects do not stack and are not cumulative, no matter how many trees are together. A lesser bone tree, hewn into an idol at least 60% as large as the tree and of sufficiently excellent craftsmanship (Craft [Carving] DC: 25) conveys all the same bonuses as a living lesser bone tree.

Lesser bone oak: These hearty trees convey bonuses additional to those common among all lesser bone trees. Unintelligent undead within one mile per year of lesser bone oak age are drawn to it and magically compelled to serve and protect it. Lesser bone oaks always have at least one unintelligent undead in their charge per year of age. These undead are not overtly controlled by the bone oak. Rather, they “instinctively” patrol within a few dozen to a few hundred yards of their patron, killing any living creatures they encounter and dragging their bodies back to it.

Lesser bone elm: Because the wood of this variety of bone tree is acutely proficient in channeling and even storing magical energy, evil fey often use them as a kind of spell-cache. While evil spell-casters- and especially necromancers- can make of use of them in the same way, they often to choose not to do so, in order to avoid the meddling of evil pixies and the like. For every ten years of age, a lesser bone elm attracts one unseelie (evil) fey creature, with HD equal to or less than the tree’s age in years. These fey are more exploiters than residents, tending to be inconsistent with “feeding” their tree (if not downright neglectful). They hang around because, for every three years of age, lesser bone elms can store one level of spells; these spells must be from the school of necromancy, have the evil descriptor, or be the spell-like abilities of an evil creature. This ability can only be activated by touch. Aside from these provisions, lesser bone elms are essentially rods of spell-storing (and they work in the same way).

Lesser bone ash: These kinds of bone tree are among the ugliest. Constantly shedding bark the way a snake sheds its skin, lesser bone ash trees are surrounded at their base by bleach-white piles of crumbled shed bark, in addition to the bones already present. Plant-type monsters find this bark highly nutritious. For every three years of age, a lesser bone ash attracts one plant monster, which jealously guards its food source. Such a monster can have no more than 1 HD per 2 years of lesser bone ash age.

Greater bone tree: as lesser bone tree, plus the following – anything dead within 30 feet of the tree is animated as a skeleton in 1d4 rounds. Corporeal ndead within 50 feet gain this bonus as well as a +1 Profane bonus to attack and damage when doing unarmed/natural attacks. Fast healing is increased to 5.

Greater bone oak: As lesser bone oak, plus; Unhallow and Bane, as though cast by a level 20 wizard, emanate constantly from a greater bone oak. They can be suppressed or dispelled as normal, but they resume as soon as the effect that suppressed or dispelled them ends.

Greater bone elm: As lesser bone elm, plus; a hag (of randomly determined type) takes up residence within the tree, constructing a crude hovel in its roots, a drafty lean-to against its trunk, or a shaky bungalow in its boughs. The relationship is a truly mutual and harmonious symbiosis, each creature benefitting from the protection afforded by the other. Such a hag takes command of the evil fey already in residence, who begrudgingly- but always- oblige her command.

Greater bone ash: As lesser bone ash, plus; once per month, a greater bone ash transforms into an plant type monster with stats identical to a treant, except that a bone ash stays rooted in place (Speed: 0; cannot move), and is of neutral evil alignment.

Bone tree wood: Universally rare and difficult to obtain, bone tree wood is- for starters- statistically identical to darkwood; in all cases, bone tree wood can replace darkwood. However, it is corrupted with evil energy. Good characters who attempt to use an item made from bone tree wood lose 2,000 experience (which return when the item is dropped). Working with bone tree wood can be quite difficult. Add +5 to the DC of any Craft check made to craft an item from bone tree wood.

If bone tree wood is set alight, it burns as normal wood does, except that any damage it deals is considered negative energy damage.

Bone oak wood: Weapons made from this variety of bone tree wood ignore the damage reduction of undead and evil outsiders.

Bone elm wood: Armor and shields hewn from bone elm wood can be made into spell-storing items without imposing on such an items’ total enhancement bonus. Spell-storing items made from bone elm wood have twice the capacity of a normal spell-storing item.

Bone ash wood: Bone ash wood functions like a combinations of food and healing potion for plants and plant monsters. Normal plants that have been fertilized with at least one pound of shredded bone ash wood per square yard, will grow to twice the normal expected size, come to maturity twice as fast, and bear twice as much fruit and seed, twice as often. Plant monsters who consume 1 pound of shredded bone ash wood, need no other nourishment (save sunlight) For the next week. Additionally, such a monster instantly recovers 4d4 HP.

Bone wood tree root: The taproot of a bone wood tree may replace the material components of any necromancy spell (within DMs’ discretion). Evil creatures with spell-like abilities may use this taproot to gain one additional use of them. In either case, the root itself is consumed in a flash of arcane light.

Bone Tree Skeletons
The first thing a skeleton does when created by a Bone Tree (unless threatened or impeded) is tear away any flesh left on its body and place it around the trees roots as fertilizer. This material is also draped across nearby branches as a warning to interlopers. Skeletons created by Bone Trees typically stay within 300 feet of the tree and retreat to the tree for healing if injured. When not defending the tree from a threat, the skeletons tend to the tree and maintain the grounds around it. Part of this maintenance is bringing bones -and even fragments of bone- to the tree for integration into its anatomy. The skeletons are also an important part of the bone tree reproductive cycle- specifically, they are responsible for the spread of the bone tree forest. They do this by taking bone seeds out (usually about 40 to 60 feet away, but as much as a mile) from the tree for planting. Most trees only maintain a force of ten to twenty skeletons- the more useful skeletons are kept, while damaged or inferior ones are integrated into the tree.

The Forest
A bone tree forest is a thing of twisted, morbid, surreal beauty, maintained by the skeletal minions in pristine condition. The trees, while not truly intelligent, instinctively know that a pleasant environment is more likely to attract prey. To this end, when the skeletons are not actively working, they generally hide from sight however possible- in the boughs of trees, or buried in the ground, ready to pounce down upon (or rise up beneath) unsuspecting victims.

You can generally assume that no tree is within 50 feet of each other and calculate how many trees can be in any one forest based on this assumption. Additionally, it is of note that the three different types of bone tree hate one another; to the extent that they have been known to destroy entire forests in relentless, bloody warfare. If more than one type of bone tree exists within ten miles of one another, they are at war. Bone trees of the same type work together against mutual threats (but not individual threats).

Doderman (skeletons! They sure are spooky!!)

Why Do The PCs Not Fear The Monsters?

Dire animals should scare the hell out of us. Consider that these are basically ancient mega-fauna; MEGA fauna. These aren’t just big animals, these are massive animals. Beasts, really.

Think about it. Go to a farm, and see what happens if you try to separate a big ol’ sow from her nursing piglets. See what happens if you mess with a bull in mating season- that’s nearly a ton of beef, horny, irritable, and pushing 2 horns as big around as your arm, spanning as much as 6 feet. You probably aren’t that tall. These are farm animals, most of which literally don’t even have a CR- the rules say they just aren’t enough of  threat. These animals which could easily injure or kill a human if they had half a mind to.

Now go to the zoo. Take a look at the bears, or the tigers. Think about the ridiculous power of these animals. If you were in there, in that enclosure, even with the tamed, almost domesticated versions of modern predators, your life-span might be measured in minutes. Perhaps seconds. Even an elephant or a rhino or a hippo (herbivores, mind you) could crush you to death. Hell, they could crush you, your car, and everyone in it, with modest effort. The most dangerous of these, according to the 3.5 rules, clocks in at a CR of like, 8.

That’s modern animals. All-but-domesticated, caged and tamed, fed everyday, and a good many of them could end a human by accident. Even a 50-lb. dog with a bad disposition gives most of us pause.

So back to the dire animals. The least of these, the dire rat, is a huge, terrifying, bizarre creature. Not just a “big rat,” this is a proto-rat. This is a dog-sized monster, mind you. Think of a normal, regular, scurrying through the sewer, rat. Those are gross and dangerous, with tiny little teeth and harmless claws, and they easily startle most of us. Just inflating that to the size of the family dog is really crazy when you put some thought to it. But a dire rat is more than just a big rat. This is a drooling, primitive, cave-rat. The Neanderthal ancestor of that nasty black jerk that has you mom paralyzed on top of a chair and your dad screaming like mad and flailing with a broom or other stick. Bigger teeth, protruding from a slavering mouth that doesn’t quite close. Bigger claws, ragged and yellow and covered in filth. Nastier, even-more-wart-ridden callouses on its horrid pinkish-purple tail. The whole thing covered in wiry, abrasive hair and bony protrusions that make it seem dangerous to even touch. The very air around it filled with nostril-searing stench that promises disease. Perhaps worst of all are the most subtle things about it; the crudeness of its form, that not-quite-a-rat look, betraying its primeval nature. It just doesn’t quite belong in nature; a monster to be sure.

Now take a step back and realize that’s just a dire rat. A dire rat. You chopped through those like Emeril through a cucumber at like, level 3, and now you’re imagining the terror of this thing likely eating your parents if they were faced with it on the same terms as they might have faced a normal rat.

It should help to put two things into perspective. 1- that your character is a certifiable badass. 2- that monsters are not called monsters arbitrarily; they really are horrible, dangerous, and, well, monstrous.

So why are your PCs not afraid of the monsters? Is it the consistency with which they face (and dispatch) these threats, or perhaps the strength of arms with which they confront them? I should say not. Plenty of combat veterans will tell you that no matter how many times you do it, and no matter how good of gear you have, combat is combat, and when your life is in danger, the adrenaline switch is flipped. You will feel fear.

It’s likely the jaded-ness that comes from focusing too much on just the numbers. Numbers are sadly, not always a good way to help humans quantify things. What really works best, is a memory to call upon. Nothing impresses on the mind like a real-life experience.

You can totally bring that into your game. It can help the players relate to their characters (we call that catharsis) and will help the DM with good, solid descriptions (we call that narration). So for real, go to the zoo, or a farm. Look at animals; in real life if possible, if not, National Geographic, or at least YouTube. Once you’ve got some good solid images in your head, use that as a basis from which other, rightly more intimidating monsters can be judged. Giving the players (and the DM, too) something they can relate to helps quantify monsters- what do all those numbers actually mean anyway? Seriously, take a trip to the zoo- with your Monster Manual if you have to, and preferably with your gaming group. Animals are impressive, and seeing them up close and in person helps appreciate that. TV and videos can help, but nothing compares to the genuine article. There will be smells and feelings and subtle substances to the memory that can help bring things to life in a way that an image in the Monster Manual can’t.

So the next time the players round a corner and spot a displacer beast, they’ll perhaps remember the tiger at the zoo; sting of ammonia in the air and the way the muscles flowed and flexed like liquid steel beneath its skin. Maybe they’ll think about how the tiger’s big pink tongue folded and lolled around its finger-sized fangs when it yawned. In the swirling mists of imagination, DMs can easily twist that into the snarling displacer beast, lowering itself to pounce. The displacer beast, which preys upon the dire rat, whose description only minutes ago gave you chills.

See where I’m going with this?

DMs: Appeal to memory and experience whenever possible in your descriptions (just be sure to be clear about the actual physical details). In short, it’s a way to get your players to do your job for you.

Players: Especially when it comes to monsters, try to think about how disgusted or fearful your character is, and how that affects what he or she or it might do -and more specifically, how they’ll interact with this monster. When it’s dead, will they even want to touch the nasty thing, other than to kick it off the path? When confronted with a monster they particularly despise, might they perhaps unleash their most powerful attacks (even if doing so isn’t particularly prudent)?

If you’re doing it right, you’ll give your players (or maybe yourself) chills every now and again. It’ll help everyone feel like they’re there.

And ain’t that what the game is all about?

Doderman (scariest monster? Talking to girls)

Practical Magical Solutions For All Your Cosmetic Needs

Nothing like a good social grooming, I always say. The same is certainly true of your characters, whose very job description includes looking really cool. What follows is a list of specialized magical items and trinkets, each of which geared towards helping your PC look (his/her/its) best.

Pomade of the Surly Moustache – A boon to wrestlers and bare-knuckle boxers, who prize this substance for both its cosmetic and arcane abilities. This luxurious pomade firmly but gently shapes even the most stubborn of facial hair, while moisturizing vitamins and minerals penetrate hair to the root, soothing your hair and skin and infusing you with a subtle, manly scent.

Applying Pomade of the Surly Moustache requires a DC10 (or better, see below) Disguise or Craft (Art) check. When thusly applied, the Pomade bestows special resistance upon the anointed PC, allowing him to ignore the first 2 points of subdual damage from any attack that deals subdual damage.

On a skill check result of 15 or higher, the value given above increases to 5.

On a skill check of 20 or better, the pomade performs as above, and also allows the anointed PC to ignore the 1st attack that deals subdual damage each combat.

On a skill check of 25 or better, a thusly-anointed PC ignores all subdual damage.

Regardless of how well it was applied, Pomade of the Surly Moustache wears off after 4 hours (or until washed out, whichever comes first), after which point it may be re-applied.

A full jar of Pomade of the Surly Moustache weighs 1 pound, contains enough of the stuff for 5 applications, and costs around $1,500 USD (or very likely, more)

Sacred Dwarven Beard Wax – The creation of this holy unguent is a closely guarded secret of they clergy of Moradin, who boast the finest beards anywhere. What is known is that once per month, young priests are sent deep into the underdark to harvest a rare kind of beetle, the eggs of which are the primary ingredient in Sacred Dwarven Beard Wax.

Depending upon the skill with which it is applied, Sacred Dwarven Beard Wax has a variety of effects. The effects are cumulative, and persist for 4 hours (or until washed out, whichever comes first), after which point it may be re-applied.

Applying Sacred Dwarven Beard Wax requires a Craft (Art) check, which takes no less than 20 minutes. Consult the list below.

15: +2 Charisma Score and +2 on all Charisma-based checks

20: +4 on all Charisma-based checks made to influence dwarves, gnomes, and those with groomed beards

25: Aura of Awesomeness 30ft – as Bless, except only dwarves, gnomes, and those with groomed beard are affected. This bonus stacks with all other bonuses.

A single jar of Sacred Dwarven Beard Wax is generally for sale only to those with extremely close ties to the dwarves, or to dwarves and gnomes in good standing with the church of Moradin. Such a jar holds enough wax for 10 applications, and generally sells for not less than $1,000 USD.

Unguent of Prodigious Hair Growth For $500 USD, this shampoo bottle-sized potion causes any patch of skin that it is applied to, to grow 1d6 inches of thick, luxurious hair instantly. Such a bottle contains enough unguent for 12 applications.

Unguent of Profound Hair Loss – Exactly identical to Unguent of Prodigious Hair Growth, except that it causes 1d6 inches of hair loss. Unguent applied to hairless flesh is wasted.

Ugly Stick – On a confirmed critical hit, this Club +2 deals an additional 1d4 points of permanent Charisma damage as the victims’ face (or other features) become twisted, gnarled, and ugly. An Ugly Stick costs 5,000 GP.

Colognes/Perfumes of Curious Compulsion – Available in a number of different varieties (one for each Charisma-based skill) and strengths (bonuses from +1 to +5), these toiletries are coveted by politicians, businessmen and deal-brokers of all kinds. Regardless of which skill is affected, (Bluff, Diplomacy, Disguise, Intimidate) price is a function of strength.

+1 – $200 USD

+2 – $350 USD

+3 – $500 USD

+4- $650 USD

+5 – $800 USD

Each bottle holds enough for 5 applications, the effects of which persist for 4 hours (or until washed off), after which it can be re-applied. The bonus granted by Perfume/Cologne of Curious Compulsion stack with all other bonuses.

L. Doderman (who’s sexxy ALL BY HIMSELF, thankyouverymuch)

Monster Conversion And You: A Primer

I can’t even count the number of times I’ve done this. It’s so easy, so simple, and so effective.

Before we go any further, let me condition my statements…

I don’t like 4th Edition. I feel like it was poorly timed, badly executed, and overly simplified. The art was nothing but ugly World Of Warcraft wannabes, and many of the rules were clunky or downright broken.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s gonna take a lot more than one little lover’s spat to turn me off from D&D, and I definitely bought all the books and still played the game. But a fart still stinks, no matter how many chances you give it.

I bought all the books and rolled up a guy and played him as long as I could stand to, but before long the 4th Edition books were shelved and the gaming group unanimously agreed to go back to 3.5 Edition. Suddenly I’m stuck with half a dozen books, taking up room, gathering dust, and looking like morons sitting on that shelf next to all the 3.X, d20 Modern, and Star Wars books that do get used.

Blowing money sucks. Blowing it on bad gaming material is just the worst.

So I busted out the 4th Edition books and scraped through them, looking for anything useful. I found it in the Monster Manual. And I have to be honest; I was surprised. That stat blocks as presented in 4E can be run (from behind the screen) with little to no modification. Simply put, the differences in the stat blocks go unnoticed. What’s more, the 4th Edition Monster Manual includes (like the MMIV, MMV, and to some extent, MMIII, from 3.5) includes variant stats for many (most) of the monsters, as well as recommended encounter groups.

There are a few little tricks I use to help smooth the two different versions together, as follows…

ABILITY SCORE BONUSES- these work differently between 3.X and 4. In order to shoehorn a 4E monster into your 3E game, disregard the ability score bonuses provided in the 4E Monster Manual and use those from 3.X. Can’t remember how to calculate that?

Let S represent any ability score. Let X represent ability score bonus.

(S-10)/2 = X

Note that changes to ability score bonuses will affect a creature’s stats, as well as saves against its special abilities or spells, hit points, saving throws, etc.

DAMAGE- If a static damage value is indicated, instead use whichever dice (or combination of them) has an average roll nearest to the listed damage value without exceeding it. For this purpose, “average” is considered to be half the median value of the die in question +1.

Let D represent static damage value indicated in 4th edition. Let X represent a die (d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, or d20).

D (> or =) (X/2)+1

For example- 5 damage (4E) becomes 1d8 (3E), since the “average” for 1d8 is 5. Applying the above formula, we get…

(8/2=4, 4+1=5)

Note that some damage types have different names between 3.X and 4. Necrotic damage, for instance, is negative energy damage. Common sense and a bit of reasoning can guide a DM through this easily, so further discussion is not warranted.

RECHARGE- Abilities that have a recharge time instead get a number of uses, as indicated below.

Chance of recharging (4th Edition)          Uses (3/3.5th Edition)

1 in 6—————————————–1x/week

2 in 6—————————————–3x/week

3 in 6—————————————–1x/day

4 in 6——————————————3x/day

5 in 6——————————————at will

Note that many monsters appearing in the 4th Edition MM also appear in the 3 and 3.5 Edition MM; for these, simply use the values listed with the 3 or 3.5 stats. Note also that this is scarcely a perfect set of hard and fast rules, but rather a loose guideline to help DMs find their own solutions.

SAVES- Subtract 10 from each of the saves (since they are rolled saves in 3.X, and not static defenses as in 4.

ATTACK- Since effects can no longer target static fortitude, reflex, or will defense, they instead force a like saving throw. Again, this is a fairy simple and self-explanatory part of the conversion, so it will be left to the sound logic of the individual DM.

Note that some fudging may be necessary in this area (and honestly, everywhere else, too).

ACTION POINTS- I general leave these intact, and handle them somewhat like they are handled in d20 Modern. By spending an action point, a creature can…

take 1 additional action on his or her turn

roll 1d6 per 5HD, and add the highest value to a single d20 roll

automatically stabilize if reduced to 0 or fewer hit points

automatically end 1 negative status (sickened, stunned, poisoned, etc.)

SKILLS- It makes the creatures seem more capable and competent, but I generally leave the bonus intact, but split the 4E skill into its 3E counterparts, each with the same bonus as the original.

For example, a creature with a +12 to Perception would end up with a +12 to Listen, Search and Spot. A creature with a +6 in Athletics would have a +6 in Climb, Jump, and Swim.

Note that this is a big part of what makes 4th Edition monsters so useful as bosses and elites. Is it “realistic,” or “true to the rules?” Beats me. But it works, and so long as you keep your players on their side of the DM screen, they’ll never know.

RANGE- In 4th Edition, distance and area values are listed in 5-foot squares. Multiply the 4E value by 5 and that’s how many feet it is.

MINIONS- This is arguably one of the best gems in the whole 4th Edition MM. When the party is dropping 15-20 damage on the villain’s cronies in one hit anyways, why does it matter whether they have 7 HP or 9? I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve used minions without my PCs ever knowing I was even using the 4th edition MM. It makes your job as DM super simple; with minions you can easily manage a dozen or more combatants. Since they have no HP to track, you have more time and brain capacity to devote to the “main bad guy,” which is where the center of everyone’s focus should be anyway.

In closing, I can say that I certainly don’t regret having gone out of my way to acquire the whole 4th Edition collection, but let me offer this; my only 4th Edition book not destined to be sold to the game store is the Monster Manual.

Happy reverse-engineering, everybody!

L. Doderman (NEVER LET THEM SEE BEHIND THE DM SCREEN; they may realize that you are not a god!)

Dragons In Need Of Lozenges

Does your dragon lack that spicy zest? Do your players only groan when the big scaly nasty rears its head? Maybe you’ve over-used them as enemies. Perhaps your players are just a bit jaded from one too many peeks behind the DM screen. Whatever the reason you’re here, the dragon -in your game, as an opponent- has gone limp.

So what do you do?

Well, you’ve come to the right place. More than once in my own experiences, I’ve had to pitch my players a curve ball. I’ve found that aside from the more basic ways to modify a monster (appearance, a template, etc.) one of the best ways to modify dragon stats is to mess with its breath weapon.

The dragon’s breath weapon is certainly its most characteristic attack; iconic, intimidating, and devastating. If you want your players to remember a dragon as different, mess with its breath weapon.

ANIMATE OBJECTS- Due to a bizarre magical mishap, the dragon in question now breathes (maybe “instead of”, or even “as well as”) a cloud of magical gas that animates all unattended objects it touches. Such a cloud has the same dimensions of the dragon’s normal breath weapon. Likely, a dragon that has this ability would have found a number of devious ways to use it- perhaps racks of unattended weapons strewn about its lair, or a number of suits of armor or furniture. Whether or not the dragon can control any objects it animates is up to the DM.

OOZES- A particularly foul dragon, having spent its life as a devout follower of Juiblex, has finally been recognized by its patron. In an act of vile demonic magic, the demon lord has gifted this dragon with the ability to project an ooze from its mouth (again, could be “instead”, or could bhe “as well as”). Which variety of ooze might be selected at random, or perhaps the dragon only breathes (more like vomits) only one kind of ooze. The size (and therefore, deadliness) of any such ooze is up to the DM.

ROD OF WONDER- Sometimes the avarice and corpulence of a monster can be astounding, and this can e particularly true of dragons. In this case, a dragon has greedily swallowed a Rod Of Wonder in a effort to keep it (his favorite magic item) out of the hands of anyone else. After years of slowly digesting in the dragon’s belly, the Rod’s magic has dissolved into it. Now, in addition to (or instead of) its normal effects, this dragon’s breath weapon produces an effect identical to a Rod Of Wonder.

SWARMS- The dragon in question is infested with some type of smaller creature; rats, worms, what have you. This condition has deprived the dragon of its normal breath weapon. Now, it instead projects a swarm of the smaller creatures. The exact nature of such a swarm (and whether or not it can be controlled by the dragon that created it) is subject to the whims of the DM.

TANGLEFOOT BAG- Dragons will eat nearly anything; a habit that occasionally leads them to trouble. In this case, a dragon that has devoured an alchemist’s shop finds that his breath weapon has been replaced by the ability to project a great spout of the same alchemical goo that comes from a tanglefoot bag. Such a spout of goo occupies an area with dimensions similar to the dragons’ normal breath weapon. Whether or not this goo is flammable is up to the DM.

WEBS- Dark elves often dabble in terrible and ancient secrets, and their capricious deity only encourages such behavior. With Lolth’s blessing, a cabal of drow priestesses have magically warped a dragon. Now, its breath weapon instead fills a like area with webs. Each area of webs is occupied by a swarm of monstrous spiders (or perhaps just a few larger ones, or even MANY larger ones). Such a swarm would very likely be under intelligent control; that of the dragon, or the priestesses to which it is beholden.

SPELLS- Having unearthed terrible and ancient arcana, dragons may sometimes learn to exhale magical effects along with their normal breath weapon. Ideal candidates for such a spell include (but are not limited to) Fireball, Lightning Bolt, Summon Monster, Cloudkill, Cone of Cold, Horrid Wilting, Bestow Curse, Blindness/deafness… the list goes on. DMs are encouraged to get creative.

OPPOSITION- A dragon obsessed with body modification has imbedded a Mirror Of Opposition in the back of its throat. This arrangement has deprived it of its breath weapon, but granted it a powerful new ability instead. Whenever this dragon tries to use its breath weapon, it instead creates an opposite duplicate of every creature (that can be affected by a Mirror Of Opposition) within the area its breath weapon would have otherwise affected. How long these duplicates persist is subject to the whims of the DM, but no creature can be duplicated more than one at a time.

So there you go, friends an fans! Hopefully something in here strikes your fancy, or better yet, strikes fear into the hearts of your PCs. Happy gaming!

L. Doderman (actually could use a lozenge)

How Did It Get That Way?

Greetings all, Doderman here. I was just perusing the ol’ MM (that’s Monster Manual v3.5 for all you newbs out there), and I happened upon the animate object entry. It’s in the d20 Menace Manual as well; a fine monster in any setting, as such a wide variety of circumstances can lead to their being.

Sadly, the fluff associated with those stat blocks (while well-done, colorful, and summarily excellent), leave a lot of descriptive room.

So, what follows is a list of the circumstances that might lead an object to become animate. Each is grouped into a category of relatively similar circumstances.

The most obvious reasons (such as so-and-so the mage casts the spell, and those mentioned with the monster’s entry from the stat block) will not be discussed here. This is the DDN, baby, and we roll differently than that.

GHOSTS!

When accountant Bill Graves was killed by his riding lawnmower, the potent psychic energy (which he had never even known about in life) contained inside him was imprinted upon that lawnmower, imbuing it with a crude intelligence and enough autonomy to become a serious problem for the block watch.

One house, deep in the woods, has always been known for it’s massive amount of poltergeist activity. Erroneously assumed haunted, the spirits of the children tortured to death in it’s basement was only enough to animate a large number of furnishings therein.

When a famous politician dies, a number of his personal possessions begin acting on their own, each imbued with a kind of pseudo-life that misses his confident and charismatic presence.

MAGICAL MISHAP

In a botched attempt to achieve lich-hood, Geron’s soul was fractured into thousands of pieces, each eventually coming to rest in a random valuable item within a mile. Each of these items has become animate, terrifying any it encounters and causing destruction at random.

The mage Quelfbert has never been known for his careful manner with magic, and his shop is littered with components, scrolls, potions and hundreds of other magical odds and ends. After having sat undisturbed so long, reacting with the bizarre ambient magic prevalent in Quelfbert’s shop, many household items have become animate. Being generally incompetent, Quelfbert will not be able to contain the small army of mops, brooms, and the like from escaping for long.

When the half-dragon sorcerer Sherrac botched his first spell (which was supposed to simply illuminate a lamp) instead granted it crude intellect and the ability to act on it’s own. Turn’ out, Sherrac’s draconic lineage s so strong that many of his spells are over-charged. Creating animate objects is (for him) a relatively common side effect.

OUTSIDERS

For the sake of a sick laugh, a number of ambitious lesser demons have possessed all of Farmer Jeb’s heavy machinery, which threatens to destroy not only Jeb’s farm, but perhaps the entire town.

Shadraq the angel had the best of intentions when he inhabited the Cadillac of a notorious drug baron. But, instead of bringing him to justice, the drug baron had a strange influence on him. His senses had been dulled severely by the new form, and as he relied on the drug baron to guide him, he became corrupt and eventually all but mindless, serving the drug baron as a loyal thug.

A half-wit genie tried to make her home in a boom-box. Being an utterly unsuitable home, the attempt failed, and her life-force was dispersed, animating several shelves of merchandise in a seedy pawn shop.

Well, there you have it, Doder-ites! Happy gaming, and remember to wash your hands!

L. Doderman (animated a urinal by peeing on it.)

CHARACTER DEATH!!! (DRAMATIC HORNS)

Bad things happen to good characters. Conversely, sometimes a bad characters gets what’s coming to him. There are particularly inopportune critical hits (or misses), a myriad of monsters just waiting to sharpen their teeth on another party of PCs, and sometimes the players’ own style of play (arrogance/hubris/belligerence/etc.) that stand in the way of a PCs’ plans for retirement and a peaceful death by old age.

Avoiding death is not the job of the DM, nor is it the subject of this article. That is the province of the players. Generally, you’re supposed to keep them alive; beaten within an inch of their lives and scared stiff, but alive. This will be a discussion of what to do now that it’s happened.

If you’re a bit worried that your overpowered encounters might prematurely end your PCs careers, don’t be. Unless the players express displeasure to you in some way, assume everything is kosher.

This article is for the DM with already-dead PCs. This can be a total deal breaking campaign ender, especially if two or more characters bite the dust. The DMG offers a variety of viable solutions, from simply rolling a new character to true resurrection, all of which are perfectly acceptable.

But here is your chance to take the road less travelled. So long as your players are interested in such a thing, character death might just open a new world of opportunities for your game.

In the basic setting of D&D (“vanilla”, if you will), heaven and hell (and whole host of other planes) are real, physical places. They have inhabitants (gods, angels, slain mortal souls, demons and devils… the list goes on), rulers and laws (sometimes), geography, politics, and borders, even dungeons… In short, each is literally an entire campaign setting unto itself.

Maybe the character was slain by a bitter rival, and after death, a demon or devil offers that character a chance at revenge in the form of resurrection, at the cost of participating in the raid of a rival demon or devils’ holdings.

Perhaps a genie or a modron, or even the characters’ patron deity (most likely a servant or representative thereof), makes a similar offer.

Ancient cultures the world over contain stories of trials that a soul must face after death in order to reach their final reward. Egypt in particular basically penned the first adventure module when they described what pharaohs would have to posthumously endure. They were not alone. Plumbing (or even just skimming) historical religious texts can be a great source of inspiration for post-partum adventuring.

The Planescape setting offered a game against the backdrop of dimension-hopping PCs, and character death could certainly be the start of such a game.

As always, consult your players away from the table about this (or any other) vastly campaign-altering idea. Who knows? Maybe dying was the coolest thing that ever happened to your PCs.

L. Doderman (does not fear the Reaper, only girls)