Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Creature Comforts - Mountains

Short of the wonders of the night sky, mountains are probably the most majestic of natural features that can be found on a planet's surface. Rich in natural resources, with clean air and clean water, the mountains provide an attractive location for establishing a thriving community. Mountainous terrain comes in a rich variety, from gently rolling hills to jagged alpine-like peaks. Living in the thin air of the mountains is not without its challenges, but there are several creature comforts that make the inhabitants of such lofty places happy to live there. Here are but a few:

Panoramic View

It seems a given, and perhaps even a bit cliché, but the mountains do provide an amazing view out over the rest of the world. Whether the view overlooks a gently rolling valley, or peers over the top of the world from a majestic peak, the opportunity to view the world from this perspective is a sight that cannot be dismissed. Beyond the obvious advantages from a tactical standpoint (it is quite difficult to be surprised by a huge army from an elevated position), a panoramic view can give one a depth of insight never before experienced. Be warned, however, such insights are short lived, as mountain folk can become jaded and over used to their overlooking view.

Game Rule: A hero that takes an extended rest and spends at least 1 hour enjoying a panoramic view from the mountains gains a +1 to all Insight checks until his next extended rest. A hero that has spent more than 1 week in the mountains no longer gains this bonus to Insight checks.

Pure Mountain Spring/Glacial Water

Water from rivers, streams, & lakes is the source of life, a fact made clear by the large number of communities founded near such places. Most of these locations get their water from rivers and streams that start in the mountains. Melt water directly from glaciers or glacial lakes formed by the same, contain some of the purest water to be found. Devoid of waste & debris, this water is useful in rituals and provides an unprecedented benefit to nearby inhabitants that can make use of it. The burden of a hot day or difficult work can all be washed away with a single glass of cooling, crystal clear water.

Game Rule: A hero that drinks at least a quart of glacial water during an extended rest, gains a +1 to all Endurance checks before his next extended rest. In addition, any ritual that requires the use of water as an ingredient gains a benefit. If glacial water is used as part of the ritual, the caster gains a +1 to the check to determine the success of the ritual.

Kite Flying

It is said that the four winds no few boundaries when it comes to covering the world, and the mountains force no exception. The wind is ever present in the mountains, and ingenious inhabitants have come up with a number of ways to utilize the wind to make it work for them. Grinding grain, drying clothes, and even pumping water have all been powered in the past by the wind. While these are useful things, a creature comfort that is often overlooked is the art and science of kite flying. While the person who first set aloft a bit of canvas and wood is lost to the ages, the ability to send a kite into the air, is a useful skill and unique creature comfort. The simple kite, whether made from canvas, skin, or paper, can be used as a signaling tool, a means of (albeit risky) travel, or as a simple leisure toy to those of any age.

Game Rule: A hero that spends at least one hour during his extended rest flying a kite, gains a +1 to both Athletics & Acrobatics checks before his next extended rest. In addition, a message of up to one sentence long, can be strung up on a kite to relay a message over 5 miles away. The message must be set aloft on a clear day. This type of messaging system can only be used in areas where the DM decides it is appropriate for the local mountainous culture.

As a DM, seeding some of your mountainous communities with the creature comforts listed above. A trip to mountains can be difficult, and any of these creature comforts can make a nice reward for the struggling hero. Enjoy the view while you're there!

Until next time…

Game excellently with one another.

*Note:  Images pulled from the web and used without permission.  Images are the property of their respective owners.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Creature Comforts - Forests

The Elves and their kin have known for centuries that living in harmony with nature is a creature comfort all its own. The vast forests of the Feywild harbor a variety of communities that make their homes within the trees. Not too surprisingly, many of these established comforts of arboreal living have made their way to the mortal realm.

Rocking to Sleep

In most forests, the trees are tall enough that their tops are gently moved by the breeze. While this motion is nearly imperceptible in tree top communities while awake, the gentle movement and quiet creaking of the branches is pronounced at nighttime. For most creatures, this motion and sound contribute to an extremely restful slumber. While not for everyone, the Elves say that the combination enables them to more fully commune with Nature.

Game Rule: A hero that takes an extended rest within a tree top community, gains a +1 bonus on Healing Surges until his next extended rest. Elves & Eladrin that take an extended rest in the tree tops gain a +1 bonus to Nature checks until their next extended rest.

Arboreal Playground

The abundance of material resources in a forest community lends itself not only to practical applications, but also to playful applications as well. Vine swings, woven ladders, and aerial walkways can be combined to provide a playground for the young and old alike. While life in the forest can be difficult, having the opportunity to play should always be considered a creature comfort.

Game Rule: A hero that spends at least an hour during an extended rest playing upon leisure equipment such as swings, ladders, etc.; gains a +1 bonus to Acrobatic checks until his next extended rest.

Bird Conservatory

Birds are a ubiquitous part of any forest environment, their voices filling the canopy with song. It’s not too surprising then, to find that certain forest communities have gathered their favorite birds to sing for them regularly. With ample nesting material and suitable food, an established bird conservatory can provide its builders with a natural chorus throughout most of the year. Listening to the birds’ simple song is relaxing, but the careful student will discover that the music they provide is actually their secret language, full of rich patterns of communication and discourse. Decoding even a tiny bit of this language can lead to better communication in the student’s own life.

Game Rule: A hero that spends at least one hour listening to the songs from a bird conservatory during an extended rest, gains a +1 bonus to Charisma based skilled checks, until the hero’s next extended rest.

As a DM, you might consider planting a few of these creature comforts within the forest communities your adventuring heroes might discover. Great examples of additional forest creature comforts can be found by watching movies such as Avatar, Robin Hood, and even Hook!

Until next time…

Game excellently with one another.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Creature Comforts – Caverns

In the dark, in the places below the ground, there are often few opportunities for creature comforts. The Underdark can be a harsh place, full of dangerous terrain and even more dangerous creatures. However, the world below ground can also protect from the whims of Mother Nature. It is perhaps inevitable, then, that some groups have sought to grow their communities underground. Such communities find significant challenges, but even so, such communities will also find a number of creature comforts to make living a little bit easier. As we continue our series, here are a few creature comforts you might find within the caves and caverns of the Underdark.

Candle Clock

The candle clock is a time piece. While sundials are relatively common and easy to find aboveground, they are impossible to use underground. The candle clock is designed to tell time underground. The candle is molded out of wax or tallow that burns at a specific rate. Usually fairly large, the candle is marked so as to indicate the hour. Before the candle burns down to nothing, a similar candle is put into place. The candle requires a relatively breeze-free location to avoid influencing the burn time. At the same time, the candle clock needs to be replaced regularly or it ceases to become accurate. Properly used, a candle clock can help visiting above ground dwellers maintain their sense of time, even in the eternal darkness of the caverns below.

Game Rule: A hero that sees a candle clock gets an immediate +10 to Dungeoneering checks to determine the time. If the hero already has experience with the candle clock, the hero is granted an automatic success when determining the time.

Mineral Bath

Caves are full of minerals, and nothing soothes an aching body better than a mineral bath. Whether the source of the minerals is a natural pool, or pulverized cave formations dumped into a traditional tub, a mineral bath is certainly a creature comfort. Caves with pools heated geothermically, are ideal; but water can be heated up in a number of ways and brought to an ordinary tub.

Game Rule: A hero that takes an extended rest and spends at least 1 hour in a Mineral Bath gains 1 extra healing surge that can be used before the hero’s next extended rest.

Mushroom Garden

A small hobby garden can always be a creature comfort, regardless of the environment, and caverns are no exception. It goes like this: Where there is a cave, there are bats. Where there are bats, there is guano. Where there is guano, there is fertilizer. Obviously, without sunlight, green plants won’t grow in a cavern. However, mushrooms and other fungi grow wonderfully within guano enriched topsoil washed down into the cave’s mouth. Cultivating a small mushroom garden in an underground community is a quiet creature comfort that is overlooked by many. As a bonus, the mushrooms can be harvested for food, healing, or alchemical preparations. Such gardens can also provide trading income for the community.

Game Rule: A hero that spends at least one hour quietly working a mushroom garden during an extend rest, grants an additional +2 bonus to Heal checks to himself or an ally throughout the next day. A hero that maintains a residence with a mushroom garden, may harvest that garden three times per year. Each harvest can yields 10d10 GPs worth of mushrooms and fungus.

As a DM, you might consider planting a few of these creature comforts within the Underdark communities your adventuring heroes might discover. Be sure to add interesting variants for communities that are comprised of exotic creatures such as Drow, Mind Flayers, or Beholders.

Until next time…

Game excellently with one another.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Creature Comforts - An Introduction

J.R.R. Tolkien spoke at length regarding the Hobbit’s desire for creature comforts, even while adventuring in dragon’s lairs and destroying dangerous artifacts. Despite the horrible dangers lurking around every corner, a Hobbit could rest easy if he had his favorite tobacco, drink, or tasty morsel of food. Gygax & Arneson continued this view when they developed Halflings for Dungeons & Dragons. Through danger and distress, a Halfling could be expected to weather it all as long as he knew there was a warm bed and a cozy fire waiting for him.

While that particular view of the Halfling has gone by the wayside in more recent editions of the game, the idea of creature comforts can still be an important factor in motivating a character and improving the general role-playing experience of the players. Regardless of your chosen character race, creature comforts can represent both reward and motivation for going out into the dangerous world, killing bad guys, and taking their stuff.

So what, exactly, are creature comforts? Well, for the purposes of this series of posts, creature comforts are little inventions that help folks get along a little more comfortably in a specific environment. Intelligent creatures have an odd habit of spreading out into all kinds of different terrains and climates, both hospitable and inhospitable, so anything that can make their lives easier is a welcome addition. In a fantasy campaign setting, magic can help ease the burden of folks quite a bit, but in this discussion, we’re going to pretend magic doesn’t exist; or alternatively, we’ll pretend that magic hasn’t been used as a tool to ease one’s lifestyle.

My focus for this series will be on clever inventions that don’t require magic, and that have a reasonable chance of being able to exist (and some cases may actually exist, somewhere). I’ll do my best not to create “Unobtainium”* type components or ingredients for these items. I'll avoid invented animals, plants, or chemicals that exactly fulfill a specific use. For example, you won’t find a creature comfort in these posts that utilizes a special "ink bug" to provide a component for special writing ink.

Here are the terrain/environments I plan on covering:







Everywhere Else

That’s a lot of topics, so I have a lot to come up with. Please stay tuned!

Until next time…

Game excellently with one another.

*Author's note:  Thanks to everyone on Twitter who pointed me to TV and who provided all the helpful advice.  I know it seemed like a lot of trouble for one word, but it really helped.  Thanks, again!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Things Are Afoot - A Brief Update

Greetings, All!

I really hate these "just another update, no real stuff" posts, but I thought I'd take the opportunity to let my readers know what's going on with yours truly.  I'm formulating some more interesting topics even as I type this, so stay tuned.

Gaming Front:

As usual, I'm running my monthly "Gaia's Calling" campaign for the Dead Orcs Society.  We're deep in the middle of Thunderspire Labyrinth.  It's getting to the point soon, where I'll have to be seriously home-brewing some stuff.  Don't worry, you folks will be included on some of that development fun.

I've also started another 4e game with my wife (@FELTit) as well as another couple.  This "small group" (no cool name yet), has been introduced to another section of my campaign setting (on the other end of a Shattered Continent).  I'm trying to run this as a sandbox.  We'll see how that goes.

I'm also in what was supposed to be a monthly online game with some folks in Ohio.  That's been on hiatus a couple of months, so I'm not sure what's up with our DM for that one. 

Finally, still having a blast participating in an bi-weekly campaign run by @NewbieDM.  Our Fellowship of the Tweet group is a blast.  Having said goodbye to the ill-fated Toma Tinbottom, I'm looking forward to stretching the legs of CHAZ STANDISH - FIGHTING MAN! 

Blogging Front:

I continue to try to post (on average) once a week to this blog.  I've just finished up a series on using the Swarm monster type for specific types of humanoid crowds (check the archives to the right for those posts), and hope to jump into another topic, next week. 

Really not sure what to do about my 4e Conversion for Tomb of Horrors.  I had the opportunity to view the DM Rewards version Wizards put out.  It's actually pretty good and pretty faithful to the 1st Edition version.  Of course, I don't agree with everything they did (and I think they soft balled it some.  I think what I'll probably do is do a series of posts on those rooms that I would change, instead of duplicating WotC's efforts (which are really better than I expected) entirely.

Totally enjoying my "bi-weekly, but currently running every week, but will go back to bi-weekly" DM Roundtable discussions.  It simply amazes me when so many creative minds get together and talk about DnD.  I'm grateful to my companions @ThadeousC, @DMSamuel, @SarahDarkmagic, & @KatoKatonian for providing such awesome discourse.  Come listen to us!  We even have occasional special guest celebrities such as Mike Shea from Sly Flourish!

Other Places to Find Me:

Did you catch my spot on that amazing podcast, "The DM Guys"?  Fellow bloggers @DaveTheGame, @chattydm, & @NewbieDM chat about different RPG topics.  Those guys run a classy show.  Can't thank them enough for that opportunity, and hope to be invited back again.

Hey!  I did a guest post for @ThadeousC on his blog, "This is My Game".  You can catch my guest "Ritualistically Speaking" article there.

Well, that's the news as fit to print for now.

Until next time...

Game excellently with one another.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Holy Crap! Cultists!

Come with me and take a little jaunt in the Way Back Machine to 1984.  Remember a little movie called "Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom?  Of course you do.  Now, remember the scene where Indy & the crew come through the creepy bug tunnel to find a giant cave filled with sweaty worshipers of Kali?  If you were like me, there's only one thing that came into your mind when you saw all those guys...

Holy Crap!  Cultists!

Welcome back, Good Readers, to my final installment of a series on large mobs as creatures for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons.  Last time, we looked at Brute Squads.  This time, we'll be taking a look at those hordes of fanatical worshipers with only one thing on their mind -- converting everyone they see to the aims of their terrible or dark god.  Oh, and yes, heroes would make an excellent sacrifice to said god.  Thank you for asking!  Of course, I speak of: Fanatical Cultists.

Fanatical Cultists are best used in those situations where you have large numbers of blindly faithful followers of some local deity.  The deity wouldn't necessarily have to be evil (or even a deity, for that matter).  In fact, fanatical cultists of a good entity would make a pretty interesting encounter.  Either way, an encounter with Fanatical Cultists might take place in some hidden temple (as per our example, above), or perhaps on a pilgrim trail to some holy (or unholy) location. 

So, with a candle in one hand, and a sacrificial dagger in the other, I present -- Fanatical Cultists!

As you'll read on the stat blocks, when a group of Fanatical Cultists is brought down to 0 hit points, it disperses into a number of Lost Souls.  Here are the stats for the appropriately tiered Lost Souls:

Well that wraps it up for this series.  I'll likely be putting together all these mobs into one .pdf document for downloadable convenience.  Hopefully, you've enjoyed this jaunt into what you can do with swarms in 4e.

Until next time...

Game excellently with one another.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Summon the Brute Squad!

Remember this little exchange?

  (opening a small window in the door) What? What?

INIGO: Are you the Miracle Max who worked for the King all those years?

The King's stinking son fired me.  And thank you so much for bringing up such a painful subject. While you're at it, why don't you give me a nice paper cut and pour lemon juice on it? We're closed!

Miracle Max shuts the window. Inigo & Fezzik rap on the door.

(opening the window) Beat it or I'll call the Brute Squad.

FEZZIK: I'm on the Brute Squad.

(looking at the Giant) You are the Brute Squad.

...from "The Princess Bride"

Welcome back, Good Readers, to my series on large mobs as creatures for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons.  Last time, we looked at Angry Villagers.  This time, we'll be taking a look at large groups of annoying thugs and guards that like to pester heroes just when they're managing to make some progress.  I speak of: Brute Squads.

Brute Squads are useful in several different types of encounters, although you'll probably find they're most appropriate in a community (city, town, village, etc.) encounter of some kind.  Brute Squads can represent any large group of armed humanoids.  They can be used as local militia, aggressive press gangs, hunting posses, or even entire gangs of street thugs.  While they can probably be managed pretty well at lower tiers, epic Brute Squads can sweep an entire town into a frenzy of violence. 

Hmmm...that reminds me.  I wonder if there should be a mechanic that allows Brute Squads to spawn Angry Villagers...

In any event, I present to you -- The Brute Squad!

As you'll read on the stat blocks, when a Brute Squad is brought down to 0 hit points, it disperses into a number of Dejected Thugs.  Here are the stats for the appropriately tiered Dejected Thugs:

Join me after the Independence Day weekend, and I'll wrap up this little series with a creepy group of humanoids that are just dying to tell you about their salvation:  Cultist Fanatics!

Until next time...

Game excellently with one another.