Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Creature Comforts - Arctic

The frozen wastelands of the arctic regions of the world are probably some of the harshest environments known. Little food, deadly cold temperatures, and virtually no shelter make survival in such areas difficult – if not impossible. Even in these landscapes, however, civilizations have managed to survive and even thrive. As the hearty folk of the arctic go about their day, they depend on a few creature comforts to make their lives a little easier to bear. Here are a few of those comforts:

Ice Hotel

Ice that stays frozen long enough becomes like rock. As rock, ice can be carved and shaped into many uses. An igloo is a good example of a building made from blocks of rock-hard ice. Such a structure is temporary, though, and larger ice structures can be carved into buildings that retain their shape for years. An ice hotel or inn is a perfect example of utilizing the materials at hand to create a beautiful yet functional building. Ice hotels contain all the amenities of a conventionally constructed hotel, but are (obviously) made of ice. After experiencing the harsh arctic winds, the beautifully carved (and often polished) surroundings help lull the visitor into a restful slumber, while the occasionally echoing drip lends an exotic note to the experience. Visiting an ice hotel can certainly be considered a creature comfort.

Game Rule: A hero that takes an extended rest within an ice hotel gains a +2 to cold Endurance checks until his next extended rest. While the cost of a stay in an ice hotel is left to the discretion of the DM, the opulence (and rareness) of such places means that the cost of the hero’s stay can run as much as 10 GP per night.

Exotic Metals

Meteors streak through the sky everyday. While most of these burn up in the atmosphere, a few manage to make their way to the planet’s surface as meteorites. No where do these precious rocks show up better, than in the vast white plains of snow and ice that are found in the arctic regions of the world. While many meteorites are simple rocks, more than a few are actually chunks of precious metal. Iridium, mithril, gold, iron, and other metals can be found in such rocks. The amounts found are usually small, but their exotic nature lends itself to rituals and alchemical formulas . In edition, Star Pact warlocks often make journeys to such places, in order to find the perfect “star piece” to use as an implement. As valuable and useful as meteorites are, they are almost certainly a creature comfort.

Game Rule: A hero that spends 8 hours searching a minimum 1 square mile of an otherwise featureless plain of ice and snow, can make a Nature check in order to determine how much precious material he can find. If the result is 20 or less, the hero finds nothing of value. If the result is 25 to 21, the hero finds 1d10 ounces of metal. If the result is 30 to 26, the hero finds 1d20 ounces of metal. If the result is 35 to 31, the hero finds 1d4 pounds of metal. If the result is 36 or greater, the hero finds 1d10 pounds of metal. A hero needs to wait at least 1 year before a previously searched area can be searched again. It is left to the DM to determine the value and type of precious material found. In addition, a Star Pact warlock that uses a piece of meteorite as a focus, gains a +1 to attack and damage rolls when that object is incorporated into a weapon or implement used by the warlock.


While not always the case*, arctic regions occur at the poles where the atmosphere over the crust is thinner and holds much less heat. As the planet revolves around the sun, it’s magnetosphere captures radiation from the star it orbits. While most of this radiation is harmlessly shunted around the planet, a certain small portion is funneled by the magnetosphere down towards the poles. When this radiation strikes the atmosphere, it ionizes the atmosphere, leading to a beautiful display of hypnotic light. Called an “aurora”, these lights have had a soothing effect on arctic civilizations since intelligent creatures first looked up at the night sky. Quietly luminescent, the aurora gives its viewer a calm perspective, and bolsters one against the harsh elements of his surroundings. Lighting the way, even in the darkest of winters, the aurora is probably the most comforting of creature comforts.

Game Rule: A hero that spends at least 1 hour during an extend rest observing the phenomenon of the aurora, gains a +1 to Insight and Perception checks until his next extended rest. A hero that observes the aurora for more than 1 continuous week, however, loses this benefit.

Cold and forbidding, the arctic reaches are a test for any soul not actually raised there. Fortunately, the creature comforts here can help ease the burden of a hero’s day to day survival. I encourage you, as a DM, to sprinkle some of these comforts around whenever the heroes might find themselves in the frozen wastes.

Until next time…

Game excellently with one another.

*These comforts assume an earth-normal type planet. Certain creature comforts might vary based on the physics of your local environment.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

From a Grognard to an Old Gamer

In the past couple of days, there's been several discussions regarding the "attitude" of OSR (old school revivalists) gamers on Twitter and in various blogs.   For myself, I try to stay neutral.  Readers of my blog know what kind of game I play, so I figure there's no sense in poking any bears.  My two cents isn't really going to make any difference in the argument one way or another.  While I was listening to these discussions, however, something kept poking my subconscious.  This argument seemed so familiar (and not because it's constantly floating about the cloud).  So why did this oft-stated argument keep reoccurring? Was there something about OSR gamers that just really made them hostile to a new and/or different way of doing things?

I figured out what might be part of the problem while listening to a song I'd downloaded the other day.  The song is called "From a Dead Beat to an Old Greaser", by Jethro Tull.  Written by Ian Anderson, the song is kind of a sad tune that looks at regret and nostalgia from a specific segment of society.  The lyrics are great, and I've reprinted them here.  Again, the song was written by Ian Anderson, these aren't my words:

From a dead an old greaser,

here's thinking of you.

You won't remember...the long nights;

coffee bars; black tights and white thighs

in shop windows

where blonde assistants...fully-fashioned a world

made of dummies (with no mummies...or reject them).

When bombs were banned every Sunday

and the Shadows...played F.B.I.

And tired young sax-players...sold their instruments of torture

sat in the station...sharing wet dreams...of Charlie Parker,

Jack Kerouac,

René name a few

of the heroes...who were too wise for their own good

left the young go on living...without them.

Old queers...with young faces...who remember your name,

though you're a dead beat...with tired feet;

two ends that don't meet.

To a dead beat...from an old greaser.

Think you must have me all wrong.

I didn't care, friend. I wasn't there, friend,

If it's the price of a pint that you need, ask me again.

I'd encourage you to head to iTunes (or other online music store of your choice), spend a dollar and download it.  Give it a listen.  I'd post the actual song on the blog, but I'm not sure that's even legal these days, so I'll just encourage proper behavior on this one.

Isn't that a great song?  A little sad, but it really speaks to me regarding that time period.  You might ask, of course, how this is relevant to gaming.  Well, it just occurred to me, that many of OSR folks are sort of like the old beatnik chap that speaks throughout most of the song.  Full of regrets and nostaliga and simply wanting an ear to bend to hear their woes.  I'm okay with that, but just be aware that there's only so much the rest of us can listen to.  I was around then, too, but that doesn't mean I attached the same significance to the games you might have played.

So is that it?

Well, you know me.  I couldn't leave well enough lone.  With apologies to one of my few rock heroes (the aforementioned Ian Anderson), I present a modified version of the song shown above.  If you've listened to it, you'll have to try to superimpose my own lyrics on top of his already outstanding ones.  It's my hope that these lyrics make the song a little more relevant to our little part of the gaming universe.  I offer no expectations regarding my writing skills, so read at your own risk.  Without further ado.  "From a Grognard to an Old Gamer"

From a an old gamer,

here's thinking of you.

You won't remember...the long lines;

comic stores; black knights and bright signs

in shop windows

where young assistants...fully-fashioned a world

made of clay trees (with no druggies...or reject them).

When cheats were banned every Sunday

and the Fundies played F.B.I.

And tired young role-players...sold their instruments of torture

sat in the game store...sharing wet dreams...of Mordenkainen,

Melf and Otto,

Lord name a few

of the heroes...who were too wise for their own good

left the young go on gaming...without them.

Fat beards...with round faces...who remember your name,

though you're a grognard...with posts barred;

two ends that don't jar.

To a grognard...from an old gamer.

Think you must have me all wrong.

I didn't care, friend. I wasn't there, friend,

If it's the price of some dice that you need, ask me again.

Well, that's my two cents.  Like I said above, I don't expect it to make much difference, but there's my thoughts for the record.  Look, play the game you want to play.  Play any version of any game you want.  You're even entitled to your opinion of whatever game you want.  But you know what?  Don't whine about it.  Don't tell me you've cornered all the gaming wisdom in the universe, because I'm not going to listen to that.  Just play your game.  Who knows? Maybe one day, I'll have some dice to spare for you. 

Until next time...

Game excellently with one another.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Creature Comforts - Islands

While islands exist in many different climates and have varying terrain, the image that comes to mind when most folks think of “island” is one of coconut palms, sandy beaches, and beautiful blue ocean lagoons. While such images certainly invoke peaceful pleasantries, tropical islands can also hold deadly volcanoes, uncooperative indigenous peoples, and dangerous predators. Fortunately, the many creature comforts that can be had on a tropical island give respite to these dangers. Presented here, are some of those comforts.

Coconut Oil

The ubiquitous coconut has countless applications. You can drink the milk, eat the flesh, use the shell as a container, or even weave the fibers of the outer shell into a rough fabric. While these applications are valuable, indigenous island peoples learned long ago that pressing the meat or shell of the coconut could yield a valuable oil. Like the coconut itself, coconut oil can also be used several ways. Cooking with the oil is probably one of the most common applications, but coconut oil can also be used as a lubricant and medicine. As medicine, coconut oil repairs and replenishes the skin. The oil has a pleasant odor as well, which is a rare thing when it comes to medicine. As a lubricant, coconut oil can aid in the sharpening of blades, quiet hinges in armor, or simply just make things more slippery. With its myriad uses, it is difficult to argue that coconut oil should not be included on anyone’s list of creature comforts.

Game Rule: A hero that stops to slather his wounds with coconut oil during a short rest, gains a free healing surge. This wound treatment is only available once per day. A hero that uses coconut oil to lubricate his metallic armor or other metal object, gains a + 1 to Stealth checks when using that object. The object must be lubricated daily for the bonus to remain effective. A hero can use coconut oil to make himself slippery and hard to grasp. Using coconut oil in this fashion requires two applications of the oil for a medium creature. Once coated, the hero gains a +2 to all checks involving Escape rolls until his next extended rest. A single application of coconut oil costs 5 GP.


It is difficult to imagine a more comfortable sleeping arrangement than the leisurely swaying of a soft hammock. While not necessarily exclusive to tropical islands, hammocks can be found anywhere the ground is dangerous or uncomfortable to sleep upon. Whether fashioned from netting, woven cloth, or even stout vines, a hammock can ensure a peaceful rest even when the ground is less than friendly. Generally tied to supports well above the ground, sleeping in a hammock can protect from crawling insects, scorpions, and snakes. In addition, certain cultures have learned to tightly weave specific fibers to form a mosquito netting. Such netting can cover the hammock and protect the sleeper from these disease carrying pests. With its enveloping form, a hammock puts no pressure points on the body, allowing for a more comfortable sleep. With its compact design, portability, and utility, the hammock most certainly qualifies as a creature comfort.

Game Rule: A hero that spends an extended rest sleeping in a hammock, gains a +1 to Endurance checks until his next extended rest. While the hero is sleeping in a hammock, he gains a +2 to his defenses against disease causing vermin. An ordinary hammock costs 2 GP. If the hammock is equipped with mosquito netting, the hammock costs 5 GP.


Virtually all tropical islands have one noticeable feature – great surf. Whether it’s the gently lapping waves from a quiet lagoon, or the roaring crash of waves on an island cliff-side, the sound of the surf is one of the more compelling reasons folks like to visit and live on tropical islands. The surf provides a soothing and persistent lullaby to those sleeping nearby, and can increase the awareness and insight of those that listen to it. Beyond its soothing sounds, however, the surf can provide useful entertainment in the form of surfing. While virtually unheard of in land-locked locales, surfing has been known to island peoples for centuries. Utilizing a stout wooden board, surfers paddle out to where the waves form, in the hopes of capturing “the big one” and ride it all the way to the shore. Surfers develop great strength and balance as a result of this leisure activity and this translates into greater athletic prowess. It takes skill to become a good surfer, however, so frequent practice is a must. Regardless of how you view the surf, there’s no denying that it’s one of the great creature comforts of the islands.

Game Rule: A hero that spends an extended rest within earshot of the surf, gains a +1 to both Insight and Perception checks until his next extended rest. If the hero takes more than 1 week of extended rests within earshot of the surf, the benefit is lost. A hero that trains at least once a week for 6 months learning to surf, gains a +1 to Acrobatic and Athletics checks. This benefit is lost, if the hero fails to surf at least once every 6 months thereafter.

A tropical island can be a dangerous, lonely place, but it can also be considered a tropical paradise of creature comforts. So reach for the coconut oil, grab a board, and surf the day away. DMs, encourage your players to participate in an island campaign by sprinkling some of these creature comforts about.

Until next time…

Game excellently with one another.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Creature Comforts - Deserts

The desert can be a harsh environment for those unfamiliar with its ways. Water is precious and rare, and food is difficult if not impossible to find. Treacherous terrain, rare resources, and deadly predators enable the desert to take far more often than it gives. Despite these hardships, however, there are civilizations for whom the desert is home. Desert dwellers almost always establish their communities around precious water resources and fight tenaciously to protect them. However, even while living in the desert struggling for survival, there are creature comforts that can be had. Here are but a few:

Evaporative Cooler

Primitive creatures learned eons ago, that air blowing over sweaty skin had a noticeable cooling effect. Desert civilizations have long realized that channeling the desert wind over pools of water can have a similar effect, even to the point of cooling an entire building. These evaporative coolers utilize fans that channel the desert wind over troughs or pools of water. As the water evaporates, it cools the air, to the comfort of all. While a source of water (such as an oasis) is required for such a device, for those that have it, it is certainly a creature comfort. While such a device eases the burden of the desert heat, staying too long in such a place can actual make the sun’s heat more of burden, so enjoy the cool cautiously.

Game Rule: A hero that takes an extended rest and spends at least 1 hour in a room cooled by an evaporative cooler gains a +1 bonus to Healing Surges & Endurance checks until his next extended rest. A hero that spends more than 1 week sleeping in a room cooled by an evaporative cooler, loses these bonuses.


In most deserts, sand is ubiquitous. It’s not too surprising then, that civilizations have learned to utilize this common substance in a number of different ways. While sand makes for a poor soil (at least for most plants), it can be an excellent building material or even an artistic medium. One of the things that sand is best used for, however, is making glass. Heat sand to a high enough temperature, and it melts. As it is shaped and cooled, the melted sand becomes nothing less than glass. Glass can be used for all sorts of things, including tableware, art objects, or even windows. However in the desert, where seeing over large expanses is a useful practice, glass is utilized for optics. A general term, “optics” means glass that has been polished (using different types of – you guessed it – sand) and used to focus light in different ways. Optics created for this use are called lenses, and come in several different varieties. Depending on the type of lenses used, optics can be used to start fires, magnify an object, or even see great distances. Being able to aid the naked eye is not only a useful too, but a friendly creature comfort as well.

Game Rule: Lenses for common use come in three varieties: Fire Starters, Magnifiers, and Scopes. Due to their careful craftsmanship, lens are expensive. Fire Starters are 5 GP, weigh .1 lb and can take the place of a tinderbox if the lens is used in bright sunlight. Magnifiers are usually set in a wooden or metal loop with a handle and cost 10 GP. A magnifier weighs 1 lb. Any hero using a magnifier gains a +2 to Perception checks when examining an adjacent object. Scopes are composed of two different sized lenses set within a wooden or leather tube. Scopes cost 50 GP and weigh 2 lbs. Using a scope allows a hero to see 5 times further than he could with the naked eye.


Hiking across the desert is no one’s idea of a fun time. Riding and pack animals make crossing such expanses easier, but require food & water to bear their burdens. Fortunately, in the desert, some enterprising civilizations have harnessed the power of the wind in order to move from place to place. For the purposes of this discussion, any wheeled vehicle powered by the wind is called a “windjammer”. Windjammers come in several varieties, from one person boards, to long carts able to carry several people at one time. Of course, a necessary requirement for such transportation is a constant blowing wind. A good wind is just the first step, however. Handling a wheeled craft using the wind is a bit like sailing a boat – it takes practice and skill. Looking like strange land-bound watercraft, windjammers can cover terrain quickly and effectively under optimal conditions. Quick travel in the desert is a blessing, and most certainly a creature comfort.

Game Rule: Windjammers are limited in size because they must be lightweight and strong to hold up in the constant wind. There are three types of commonly used windjammers: Heavy, Light, & Personal. For heavy & light windjammers, use the statistics provided for the chariot (heavy & light) that can be found in the Adventure’s Vault. Instead of pulled, the vehicles are “pushed” by the wind. Speed equals wind speed (determined by the DM) – 40 for heavy windjammers, or wind speed – 20 for light windjammers*. For personal windjammers, assume the following stats: HP:15; Space: 1 Square; Cost: 175 GP; AC: 6; Fortitude: 8; Reflex: 6; Speed: wind speed – 10*; Load: no passengers, 50 lbs. of gear. In higher winds, the sails of a windjammer can be set in ways that reduce the vehicles speed for increased safety.

The desert is a dangerous place, but as a DM, you can spread a few of these creature comforts around in order to ease the burden some on your heroes. Stay cool, let the breeze blow back your cloak, and embrace the wonders of the desert!

Until next time…

Game excellently with one another.

*These speeds are given in MPH (miles per hour). The Dungeon Master will have to work out the tactical movement rate based on the overland travel rates given in the Player’s Handbook.