Feb 27, 2020

Arcane Lore: The Fire-Eye Scrolls [AD&D 1st Edition]

I've been rereading old Dragon and Dungeon magazine for ideas I can rip off for 5th edition. One of the features I always loved were the tomes of forbidden and magical lore. These were usually just literary framing devices for the introduction of new spells, but some authors actually described interesting books that dripped with plot hooks and other elements a DM could use in her game.

While the first to do this in the pages of Dragon was probably Ed Greenwood, with his popular "Pages from the Mages" features, the column I remember most vividly is "The Fire-Eye Scrolls" by Harold Dolan, from issue #129 (July 1987). It described eight new spells and a magic item, all that remained of the "Academy of Fire Magic" from the "Valley of Lanshaw." These scrolls were the only ones recovered from the Academy's destruction, and reside in the "Mages’ Guild of the city of Val Dalya."

For the most part, people used these articles for new spells they could drop into their campaigns, and that's fine; there was another column "Bazaar of the Bizarre" that provided new magic items for the same purpose. But I liked "Arcane Lore" because it had more elements that could be lifted.

For example, from this entry you have the destroyed Academy of Fire Magic. Assume one of the PCs is a member of the Mage's Guild. They go to the Guild for training when they gain a new level and the DM says, "The Guild has some additional spells you could learn," and hands them a list. Roleplaying as one of the proctors of the Guild, he drops the information about where the spells came from. The player now has info that there's a ruin in the "Valley of Lanshaw" that might bear investigating.

This article in particular mentions the magical item, the Fire-Eye, as being missing, which is another great hook. What if the current owner seeks more information about the artifact and its use? They might try to steal the scroll containing that information from the Mage's Guild. If the players decide to investigate the ruined Academy, their expedition could be shadowed and interrupted by the individual holding the Fire-Eye for the same reason. There's also mention of the previous adventuring career of the founder, Avissar Fire-Eye -- the DM could leave hints that he found some other MacGuffin needed to advance the plot. There are just a ton of uses for these kinds of articles that a DM can steal, not just spells but hooks, and plot and setting elements.

I've done the conversion of this article, which you can find on GM Binder.

Mar 17, 2019

Long Dormancy, New Gamable Ideas!

I haven't posted in a while, mainly due to a high workload in my job. My shift is going to change in the near future, however, and I have been thinking about running a game on Saturdays once I'm freed up. One of the ideas floating around is a D&D 5E-based pirate game.

I've got some ideas, but one of the things I did to prep was to actually start reading the PHB. I was heavily involved in the year-and-a-half long playtest, and I've realized that my "knowledge of the rules" is more a hodgepodge of rules/interpretations/snippets from several iterations of the playtest documents, rather than a knowledge gained from reading the book cover to cover. Heck, there's some older edition interpretations that I'm still using.

Anyway, in reading the PHB, I'm seeing more and more where it looks like a product that was not fully playtested before it hit the shelves. During the playtest, they kept back a lot of content, only releasing the core races/subraces and classes/subclasses to the general public, probably to maintain release sales figures. The result was some classes (like the ranger) didn't get nearly enough testing. Berserker barbarians are subpar compared to Totem Warriors; likewise Champion fighters compared to Battle Masters. Beast Master rangers devote their subclass choice to getting a companion not even as useful as a familiar a mage gets from the simple first-level find familiar spell.

The upshot is that I'm realizing my preferred play at my tables involves a sizable number of tweaks, expansions, variations, and fixes. Enough that it probably makes sense to prepare a document with just those options, to speed up character creation.

I'm going to compile a list of changes other people have done to make "my version of the PHB." Originally I was going to do this on a message board, but they're a little unfriendly over there. This seems like a good place to do so. A lot of these are from Reddit, especially the excellent /r/UnearthedArcana subreddit.

Dragonborn: expanded Draconic Ancestry options from /u/Methaneus

Barbarian: Berserker: fixes from /u/KibblesTasty

Fighter: Variant Fighter from /u/layhnet
Ranger: Consensus Ranger from /u/zipperondisney

Two-Weapon Fighting: fixes by Brandes Stoddard

Jun 8, 2016

Wondrous Wednesday: Rosethorn Censer

This item is one I've used in games for almost twenty years. I remember an illustration of a magic-worker surrounded by streamers of incense, gazing intently into a mirror that was part of a box; I think I saw it in one of those 80s encyclopedias of the Occult which used to clutter the shelves of Waldenbooks and B. Dalton back in the day. In any case, the image stayed with me and I used it as inspiration for a fortune-teller my players visited in a marketplace. Since I portrayed a lot of fortune-tellers as shifty con-artists, a couple of players decided it was the box itself that was magical. I came up with the details of the potential magic item, but never needed it as more profitable larcenies occupied the group.

Jun 6, 2016

Monstrous Monday: Classic Characters 1 - Allies

I was sick last week, so there were no updates. That gave me time to do a little work on some conversions I'd planned of classic characters from previous editions of D&D. Part of the fun of a new edition is converting favorite characters and seeing how they turn out. With the new edition's focus on simplicity, for a lot of characters I find the proper way to do a conversion that captures the spirit of the character is to start from scratch. That seemed to work pretty well with the classic characters I've converted: Aleena (from the Mentzer Basic Dungeons & Dragons book of 1983), Morgan Ironwolf (from the Moldvay Basic Dungeons & Dragons book of 1981), and Gutboy Barrelhouse (from the 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide of 1979).

May 25, 2016

Wondrous Wednesday: Elven Drum of Armor

So, I was fooling around online (as you do), and came across Dinkum’s Random Magic Item Generator from Rusty & Co. I let it spin a few times, and it came up with this: "Elven Drum of Armor. This slender hide drum surround the user with an unseen field of force, providing some protection while a rhythm is maintained on it. Additionally, the user sprouts pointy ears while wearing it. The protection doesn't stack with any armor the character may be wearing." A little whimsical for most campaigns, but I like using random generators to get the creative juices flowing and seeing where it goes from there.

Blog Spotlight: North of Reality

As a service for my readers (the few, the proud...), I thought I'd spotlight a very useful blog called North of Reality. It's a fiction blog written and edited by Uel Aramchek, and it is just chock full of fantastic inspiration for fantasy gaming. Each entry is a snippet of his bizarre, wonderful imagination, and many of them have gaming application -- in fact, they're written in a way that I think he games in his spare time.

For narrative gamers (using, say, Dungeon World), many of the entries could be used as written (look at, for example, The Understeel). The next time your group finds a potion, choose something from the archive that's been tagged "bottled goods." Introduce binari into a remote city's economy. Some snippets are dripping with potential character backstories.

May 23, 2016

Monstrous Monday: Aquatic Death Worm

Jason Fogleman posted a link to the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Facebook group about the Bobbitt Worm, an aquatic predator more properly known as Eunice aphroditois. It's a nasty creature, and has popped up in fish tanks and aquariums when owners add coral or other natural decorations that contains a larval worm. The attacks of the creature are particularly savage, and, as Jason put it, "This needs a stat block so badly... Small, Medium, and Large versions too." I'd love to oblige.

Apologies to Shane Smallwood for stealing his idea for the creature's name.