An Ancient Power Awakens...  

Posted by Michael Donaldson in

Hey folks.

It's been a long time since this place has seen any life, but I never really considered it "dead", per se. Just sleeping, deep within the earth, with stories told by the folks who used to visit the place of its once prominent words spilling forth onto your battlemats.

My life has afforded me the chance once again to pick up this hobby - writing has always been something that I enjoyed, but now I have something of an abundance of free time and a fire in me to pick up the pen where I had left it. There's been a TON of material released for Pathfinder, as well as the debut of 5th ed. (which I must admit I do not have much experience with outside of Geek and Sundry's wonderful twitch show Critical Role).

If this is your first time here, there's a lot of old material to look over, and most of it still very relevant to your games today. Particularly might I suggest my series on the darker side of DMing? (psst... start at the bottom) or perhaps spice up your game with some new Magic Items?

Ultimately I plan on updating this blog daily with new tabletop, storytelling, worldbuilding, and mechanical content. Please subscribe if you see something you like, because the ancient words have been spoken...!

Creative Caves  

Posted by Michael Donaldson in ,

Every good adventure usually involves a dungeon crawl of some sort. But it doesn't necessarily need to be in a stone-and-mortar "dungeon". Here are some ideas for interesting locales for your group to "Crawl" through.

  • Tunnel Creature Chase - It's a play on an old favorite, where the heroes bravely jump on horses or a cart and chase down the bad guys. Only this time, it's in a dungeon - a dungeon created by the creature being chased! Bear down on the tunneling purple wyrm as he grinds his way through the earth, fighting him in an epic climax when he reaches his den. But once the creature is dead, the way back to the surface collapses... leaving only the mysterious cave the wyrm fled to, and a winding passageway up.
  • Creature Cavern - This time, the dungeon isn't just chasing a massive creature. It IS the creature. Inspiration can come from a variety of different sources (see Gears of War 2 for a great example), but almost any sort of challenge can be invented as hostile antibodies or digestive organs. Perhaps the party seeks a mythical alchemical ingredient, or the creature has swallowed something essential. Getting through, though, might just be the easy part. How do they get out?
  • Supermagnet Fortress - Since when could the party walk on walls? Well, that full plate certainly might help if the walls of this fortress are made of magic lodestones! Adding a dizzying third dimension to dungeon crawls can spruce up an otherwise snore-worthy delve into yet-another-castle, and opens up truly memorable combat sequences.
Remember - only you can prevent tabletop gaming cliches!

Baleful Cures  

Posted by Michael Donaldson in , , ,

Azkun knelt before the bleeding miscreant, his hand swirling with grey clouds. Gently, the smoke filtered in through the dying man's nostils, and his wounds scabbed over. Waking with a cough, the thief seemed dazed and uncoordinated despite the worst of his wounds having been healed. Standing, the Orc frowned down at his victim. "Now," he boomed, not even bothering to pin the reeling man "You will tell me what I need to know, or you will die a hundred more deaths."

Cure Light Wounds, Baleful

School conjuration (healing); Level alchemist 1, bard 1, cleric/oracle 1,druid 1, inquisitor 1, paladin 1, ranger 2, witch 1
Casting Time 1 standard action
Components V, S
Range touch
Target creature touched
Duration instantaneous
Saving Throw Will half and Will Negates (staggered only); see text; Spell Resistance yes; see text
This spell functions as per cure light wounds, save for if cast on a character currently disabled or dying. If the healing provided by this spell would bring a character to positive hit points, it does not end the staggered condition as healing normally would. A successful Will save negates this effect. If used on undead, this spell deals only half damage (A successful Will save reduces it by half again. Good clerics cannot use spontaneous casting to cast this spell.

I've always wanted a spell that could heal without giving enemies back their wits. Good for interrogation, I always said! You can apply the same "template" to other cure spells for good measure and have a whole cast of them.

April Fools, Personal Update, and Plea for Help!  

Posted by Michael Donaldson in

It's always fun to see the amusing April Fools pranks the internet conjures every year, but I was in particular amused by This Is My Game's reveal of D&D Next's true face - D&D Live! It was particularly amusing to me because I missed all the April Fools shenanigans around the internet due to actually driving back from a LARPing event. Yeah, I LARP - but don't get too worried, rockers, I won't cheat on you. There's no larping to be done on this blog. For now.

We will be participating in the April "A-Z" challenge - essentially, we will be publishing an article every day with a theme starting with that letter. Today's article, ("April Fools!") is basically the biggest cop-out ever but I'm still busy with some personal stuff so I get one get-out-of-jail free card, ok!? More details below.

Personal Update
You may have noticed I missed my Monday Update - I am sad to report that my home was robbed in the middle of the day yesterday and dealing with that took up all the energy I'd usually devote to this blog. Fear not, I have returned. As a side note, although we did lose some valuables, it could have been far worse. Pick up and move on, right? There's plenty of loot to be had in the next dungeons, as they say.

I would like keep Rocks Fall very active, and sometimes my life gets in the way. While I'm sure there's a chorus of "It's ok, life comes first!" waiting to be reassured at me, the reason I bring it up isn't as an excuse, but as a request - Rocks Fall needs writers! You know you have it in you! As it stands I don't write articles on the weekends and need about two/week to keep at the pace I'd prefer. If you can write one article a week, and want a little publicity, I'd love to give it to you! Please, send me an email with that fancy tool on the right ("contact us!")

Your Party Will Kill The Boss  

Posted by Michael Donaldson in ,

Every one of you GMs has experienced this in the past - when you designed a super awesome big-bad, set up the story perfectly, and the final confrontation awaits. Booming his opening monologue, he sets upon the party...only to get facerolled without so much as a sweat from the party.

Perhaps he got one good hit in. Perhaps he got a pretty decent spell off. But he was supposed to be a Boss, man! What happened!?

The fact of the matter is, without special preparation, single enemy encounters will more often than not fall into one of two catagories - easily handled by the party, or a one-stop TPK machine. Riding the very thin line of "challenging encounter" is difficult with a single enemy, but luckily I've got some tips that will help you design more engaging and dramatic boss fights (i.e. ones that don't get crushed and ruin the moment!)

  • Add Underlings - I cannot stress how useful underlings can be in the equation of an excellent boss fight. Recently I ran an encounter against a second level party, and they faced a Kobold Broodmaster (Summoner) 5. Frail and without excessive hit dice to protect him, the kobold needed a distraction so his eidolons could wreak havok. Merely tossing six first-level kobold warriors (who are almost useless) did the trick - melee fighters attempting to get to him had to deal with pesky kobolds blocking the way, and ravaging eidolons trying to get to their casters. More often than not, underlings provide pathway-blocking obstacles that must be defeated before the boss can be reached, and provide a turn or two extra for the boss to do whatever murderous tactic you have planned for him. Clever use of said minions can even help you divide the party - imagine a boss room with two doors in and a narrow hallway where the PCs start. Simply mob the doorway half the party comes in with underlings, and have the boss assault the second doorway. Party members wishing to help will need to plow through their mess of mooks before being able to join the big fight!
  • Environmental Obstacles - A well-designed boss fight should include terrain that is absolutely optimized for your boss. Is he a ranged attacker? Perhaps he starts the fight on top of a cliff that players must ascend via switchbacks. If he's a melee fighter, tight quarters are his friend. Strong enemies do well with terrain hazards they can toss PCs into, and spellcasters work great with walls or doors. Imagine engaging a wizard through an arrow slit!
  • Mitigating Abilities and Qualities - I can't stress enough how much damage reduction and spell resistance can help shift your boss fight from "typical" to "challenging". Obscure DRs like x/good and bludgeoning will almost never come up in the PCs vocabulary of threats (and even if they do have the ability to bypass them, they'll end up feeling accomplished for doing so) and help heavily reduce incoming damage from the party. Does your party have a special trick, such as enchantment spells with absurd DCs? Enemies immune or highly resistant to this work well for heightening difficulty and forcing the party to keep on their toes.
  • Dominate a Theatre of Combat - In a party that heavily relies on one theatre of combat (melee, ranged, magic, etc) I like to mix things up by making a boss that is significantly better at it than them. Nobody wants to fight the Ogre Mage Lich Monk heel-dropping paralysis effects on them in melee, and if they do insist on trying to slug it out with him they will more than likely end up motionless in a pile on the floor. With these sorts of encounters, it can help to advertise his abilities before the party is forced to deal with them (with friendly mooks, for example) so that an effective strategy can be decided upon before the party is in balls-deep panic mode.
Ultimately, nobody wants an encounter that was supposed to be climactic and memorable to end up easy and unchallenging. In the event that your boss doesn't perform as well as you designed him and the party is reasonably well off, there is no shame in stapling plot-powered healing effects or more raw hitpoints onto him. Sometimes monsters just need another round or two to make that lasting impression, and as the GM, you get to decide when and if he's down for the count.

GMs, do you have any useful tips for memorable boss-construction? Players, what's your most memorable boss encounter?

Lazy Lunch Links - Volume 1  

Posted by Michael Donaldson in

Just because I'm feeling lazy doesn't mean you don't deserve some good RPG-related reading to get you through the day. Here are some links to other good RPG blogs, and some of their recent posts I enjoyed.

Speeding Things Up
Chase from Intwischa recently posted an article on how to speed the grind of RPG gaming up. It's a great article with a lot of solid tips, and I thought it mildly amusing to feature one of their articles on speeding up gaming since I was featured on their site for my "Initializing Initiative" article.

Save Versus Adorable
Ever just needed to be surrounded by adorable little ducklings? Don't worry, Sea of Stars RPG has you covered. By any reasonable mid level you can be laden with these obnoxiously cute animal generators - at 50 gold a pop you're more than able to toss around some extra change. I'm of the opinion that there definitely need to be more magic items at the "absurdly cheap" level, and this is a perfect example of that sort of ingenuity.

Are You Afraid of the Dark?
Reality Refracted asks the question: Why is it that some people can't take risks even when they believe their character would? The article explores with some depth the reasons why people have this problem, and offers up some excellent advice at the end. Read more about it here

Save Versus Hangover  

Posted by Michael Donaldson in , ,

For the record, I am very hungover right now, and I was just pondering to myself how I definitely was suffering penalties for the condition. (author's note: I wrote this first sentence and then literally just did nothing for an hour). My gift to you today is something we all need; more rules bloat! Yaaaaaay!

Hangover Rules
A character can drink several drinks before the dreaded hangover kicks in, but the exact amount varies from person to person and the situation. Typically, a character can drink up to twice their constitution modifier (minimum 2) in drinks before having to worry about ever having a hangover. After that, each drink consumed forces a Constitution check (DC=10+amount of drinks consumed). Any bonuses to saves against poisons may be added to this check, and immunity to poison ensures one never gets a hangover (and, indeed, can never get drunk!). The amount of times this check is failed determines how the character will feel in the morning.

  • 1-2 failed saves: The thirsty condition. A thirsty character takes a -2 penalty on skill and ability checks. This condition lasts until the character drinks one good glass of water, or until they have been awake for at least an hour.
  • 2-4 failed saves: The hungover condition. A hungover character takes a -2 penalty on all skill and ability checks, a -4 penalty on Perception checks, can neither run nor charge and takes a –2 penalty to Strength and Dexterity. This condition lasts 1d3 hours after the character drinks two good glasses of water, or until they have been awake for at least 1d6+1 hours.
  • 5+ failed saves: The urrgh-what-the-hell condition. A urrgh-what-the-hell character takes a -4 penalty to all skill and ability checks, a -8 penalty on perception and concentration checks, and is considered nauseated and exhausted. This condition lasts for 2d6 hours, but if a the afflicted character consumes a gallon of water it is reduced to the hungover condition. 

I'm feeling better already!

Tuesday Hooks - Dr. Dog Edition  

Posted by Michael Donaldson in ,

"Well I am the ancient warrior man
And I hail from the ancient warrior clan
I invented the computer man
Hubcaps and soda cans"
- "Warrior Man", Dr. Dog

  • The ailing Greenclaw clan of lizardfolk has recently taken in a new warrior of supposedly legendary caliber, and all of a sudden they seem revived and increasingly aggressive with their raiding parties. Their weapons are of strangely high quality and they seem to be of very high morale. Problem is, despite espionage, scrying, or interrogation, nobody can find out any information about this new chieftan. Is he real, and if not, what is the source of Clan Greenclaw's new ferocity (and supply)?
  • There has been a squabble in the upper echelons of the local nobility, where an up-and-coming nobleman claiming lineage to a house thought extinct is demanding what is "rightfully" his. Remnants of the house include a very successful shipping company that this man, Marquis Linden, is claiming full ownership of by blood - and all of the revolutionary new engineering successes the company has developed. The man seems ill-suited for business and even less for rule, but if his lineage checks out - which it very much seems to - then the local government will have no choice but to award him his claims. As such, they have hired the PCs to ascertain his past. Is this man really a long-lost noble? Who does he have dealings with, and who are the men that come to see him in the night so often?
  • The old games of the wildlands, known as the "Bloodsport", have been revived after decades of disinterest. All of the ancient warrior clans have but one entry into these lethal competitions, and it just so happens that one of the participants - a half-orc shaman by the name of Azoron - has information vital to the PC's quest. The problem lies within Azoron's request; he will not help the PCs unless they help him win the Bloodsport. Of course, the penalty for cheating is death, so the PCs have quite a conundrum ahead of them. Do they cheat? How can they rig the competitions? Furthermore, is there another way to get the information out of Azoron, or perhaps convincing him not to compete at all?

For the Darker DM: Organic Corruption  

Posted by Michael Donaldson in , ,

Story-driven games are the heart of what makes gaming so appealing to me. The narrative that is co-authored by the GM and the player naturally unfolds into something unique and awesome, but I've noticed over the years that one aspect of the narritive - that is, character development - usually lacks the dynamic of the rest of the story. As characters are played they are often fleshed out as the player explores their nuances, but rarely do characters undergo meaningful and interesting changes that aren't forced upon them. Worse, sometimes characters' alignments arbitrarily change suddenly as an attempt to inject character growth by a player or DM that isn't very good at structuring narratives. (continued after the jump)

Skin Crawling Zombie Variants.  

Posted by Michael Donaldson in , ,

Any seasoned necromancer knows that skeletons aren't the only tools at their disposal. When it comes down to it, sometimes a more freshly-dead corpse is more convenient or desirable for the task at hand; thus, a zombie is born. Anyone making the dead rise again that's worth their salt knows that the same subtle infusions of magic that can personalize skeletons is also used to create very unique and useful zombies.

The following skeleton variants can be raised by players by sacrificing a spell slot or prepared spell detailed in the variant along with a casting of animate dead. (For example, the "Fleshnaught" zombie variant requires a spell with the force descriptor. A wizard casts animate dead and sacrifices a prepared wall of force, and creates a Fleshnaught zombie that has a +5 bonus to CMB checks.) (continued after the jump)