On Erecting a New Campaign

Do you smell that?

It's the smell of a new campaign. New players, new dynamics, new adventures! 

Here's how this goes:

Suggest a couple of games to players a month ahead of time.
Finalize the game date.
Realize no one has picked a game.
Players select the game they want 48 hours before the game.
Hurriedly design an entire campaign from scratch.
Frantically try to print off everything you need before the game.
Forget to print off a bunch of things.
Realize only after the game starts that all the .pdfs you need to reference are on the tablet your daughter is using to watch kid's shows.
Bargain with your daughter for the tablet.
Decide to use your phone instead.
Give up on using your phone.
Refer to things as "That country I made up a name for that I can't find."
Spend 20 minutes looking for that one piece of paper that has the entire campaign on it.
Find it in the folder you made for the players.
Watch a 5e player's eyes go wide as a critical chart takes off the clerics arm.
Have her leave to go smoke.
Convince your daughter that the phone is better then the tablet.
Hurriedly try to find the name of that rebel group in the .pdf.
End the session rolling up new characters.

Beginning a campaign from scratch

I joke, but this touches on a real issue. Even using an system with no house rules and an adventure path, there's still a tremendous amount of work that needs to happen to get a campaign off the ground.

Let's take a look at what needs to be done, just to start:
  • You have to create an area for the players to adventure. You need to populate this area. If you're being a good dungeon master, this area should be able to handle both expansion, foreshadow the course of the campaign, and be thematically interesting.
  • You need to decide what races and classes you are going to allow.
  • Generally, you have to provide a selection of deities for clerics.
  • You have to either select or design a calendar to keep track of time. (YOU CAN NOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT.)
  • You have to decide what languages are available for the players to learn.
  • You need to create a facebook/G+ page and an obsidian portal/wiki as a reference for the campaign as it develops.

How much work is that already?

Then you have character creation, which even in the best games, feels like needing to do taxes so you can get your refund.

There's some person out there, full of more vigor then sense, who will likely point out that you don't have to do these things. Sure, you don't have to. You don't have to brush your teeth in the morning, but who wants to be a damn savage?

The tools have been getting better for this process over the years. I find starting a campaign from scratch much easier now–not only because I've written my own tools, but because there are more useful tools out there.

The process

Because this is something that's really opaque, I'm going to outline my process below. 

The very first thing is you get some players interested. I find, these days, it's as easy as "I'm running a game at date/time, anyone interested?" I then create a venue on a social network where these players can all interact.


My next step was to discuss what system we are going to use. No matter what is picked, there's always issues. I don't like clerics and find % thief skills obnoxious. 3.5/Pathfinder games you need to decide what books you are allowing. In this case, the players and I voted for 1st edition AD&D.

Right away, my long experience gives me some insight into how this plays out. Demi-humans are far superior to humans in almost all respects, and most players end up playing Demi-humans as humans in funny hats. I make humans mechanically superior (4d6DL & assign, versus 3d6 in order, switch 2) and add drawbacks to each race. I used Andrew Shields Death Dwarves and their meatsmithing, took a bit of the chaos elves and have them all start with at least one madness, and have half-men (Halflings) have rows and rows of teeth, who prey on the failing morals of men.

I also replace the thief with the expert class and change all the thief skills and secondary skills to use Skills: the Middle Road. I also inform the players that I will be using my Death & Dismemberment table, along with Hackmaster Critical hits.


I give a moment's thought to theme. I decide on a frontier style game. Instead of having a foreign land , where all the cultures are bizarre, I'd prefer a more traditionally medieval setting. My inspirations include Berserk, the 100 years war, Artesia, Bladestorm, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and all the drama inherent in war.

With the idea that the characters are at a forward outpost of a despotic country, with conflict brewing with the nearest city, surrounded by unknown militaristic forces, I head over to Wizardawn and generate maps until I find one that I like. Mountains to the north, a few lakes. I generate it sans any generated sites. I save this map to my Dropbox, print out a color copy and a very light almost faded black and white copy. On the light copy, I create a few cities, about half a dozen towns, and place resources and obstacles over the map. I don't generate the content for any of these. Partially because some answers will be obvious (one city and town on the west side of the map will reflect the outpost and the nearest settlement) and partially because they will develop in play. 

This map is at a scale of 6 mile hexes, making it about the size of my home state of Arkansas. The distances are substantial, but not unmanageable. There's endless adventure inside a single six mile hex, so it provides plenty of room for play and expansion. I can have a whole ancient empire in just a few hexes or introduce a new castle or force late in the campaign.

Then I generate some monster threats. One worldshaker, two that are formidable opponents for Lord or name level characters, and then four that are challenges for superhero level characters. Most of the hero level challenges don't influence the campaign enough to design now.

Now that all that is written, I rationalize clerics and select a calendar. I have a few default options, one from a campaign my father was in way back in the early 80's, another that I designed to be a unique calendar that I use from time to time. Not having to do this from scratch is a big time saver.


The next thing is what we will need to start play. I'm playing 1st edition with hackmaster criticals so armor placement is important, along with character sheets. I print off a 1st edition Player's Handbook gear list, and consider printing off some gear packages, but I've been burned with having differing prices before. This later turns out to be a mistake, considering exactly how much gear the players were missing. They had a bullseye lantern no one could light, and no rope. I print out blank spell lists for spellcasters, and then I turn to my Binder.

I find some suitably gory and bizarre images to insert into the covers of the binder, and begin collecting what I need from online and my older folders. I need a copy of my "Table for Avoiding Death", some blank paper, a table for random monster behavior, combat commentary styles, Non-Player Character features, A table for random hireling traits, random backgrounds for henchmen (which will partially decide their class when they acquire enough experience to level), and a list of completely random rumors, which is often useful for inspiration.

The next section contains a cheat sheet for 1e morale, evasion, and encounter detection and a table of 100 reasons the characters are together along with a list of totally bullshit taxes that can be levied on players. The 100 reasons sheet is extremely useful for creating emergent play.

Finally, I have a section devoted to overland travel. The first page is a way to determine with one die roll when the next encounter is based on encounter frequency, instead of having to roll three, four, or even six or more times per day of travel. Then I have several lists of non-standard wilderness events, some creative tables for merchants, war travel, short encounters, unique treasure, holidays, strange inns, etc. Then I have a page devoted to an article from a hackjournal that contains a random system for naming small villages and hamlets. Finally I have a copy of the d30 random wilderness book.


Well, what now?

There's still a lot left to do. Like what are the players actually going to do when they get to the game? I generate three key Non-Player Characters, and an opening setting for their arrival in town. I also go through the various books and monster manuals (The Creature Compendium, Fire on theVelvet Horizon, etc.) and pick a small (2-6) selection of monsters per terrain type near the starting area. These will be the primary antagonists and animals the players will meet.

Due to time constraints, I forgo creating an actual wandering monster table. In order to create an actual experience of discovery and realism, I follow the method for monster tables outlined on the retired adventurer blog, each containing spoors, lairs, and other monster sign.

I then flip through some resources, looking for a few activities for new adventurers, along with ideas for other local factions and groups. I select a few from here and there, and write them down on my campaign sheet, which at this point is still a single piece of paper with a lot of writing on it. I grab a copy of a few interesting files, and dump them on my tablet.

Then I gather the books I need. My "On the Non-Player Character", Delta's "Book of War", Crawford's "An Echo, Resounding", My 1e Dungeon Master Screen, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Player's Handbook, A copy of "Dyson's Delves" for treasure maps. I also keep a copy of my Critical Hit/Wild Magic Resource, and Kellri's CCD:4 for wilderness travel nearby.

I gather dice, pencils, dice trays, my tact-tiles, dry erase markers, buy a fruit tray, and just hope for the best at this point.

The Beginning

Well, after you had the first game session, that's it eh?

Not hardly. Then comes setting up the Obsidian Portal, drawing pictures of the non-player characters, creating new non-player characters, writing the random tables, creating interesting and connected rumors, and more.

In 2017, I was able to handle all the above in about 48 hours, whereas as short as a decade ago it could take weeks, or more. Are we there yet? We are getting better. Newer rulesets like ACKS, DCC, and Perdition require a lot less house-ruling of core systems it seems; adventurers, tools, and resources seem to be getting more useful as time goes on. Even the quality of official material seems to be of a higher caliber (but often fails from trying to be too many things to too many people).

What about your campaigns? Is every single one a task of pulling the entire world up by it's bootstraps while you are astride it?

Hack & Slash 

On City Procedures VIII

At what price influence? At what cost power?

At some point, characters may aspire to more than just the list of activities given. They may wish to purchase a house or land, raise troops, start a religion or a construction project. Such activities may not be done on their own without attracting the attention of rulers who will go to  great lengths to stop such activities. So how to accomplish them?

Get permission, of course!

Easier said then done. In order to acquire leverage, you may go the route of "find someone who wants a quest done, and use the completion of that quest to get your favor" and that's fine and traditional. But what if you have a campaign in media res with more side quests then you can already track? What if players want to change an existing structure instead of building a new one?

Enter the concept of influence.


There are only a few areas of influence. Commerce/Economic, Military Power, Nobility, and Arcana/Religious. For every 1,000 people in a city, there is one 3x3 board of minor influence. For every 10,000 people in the city, there is one 3x3 board of major influence. For every 100,000 people in the city, there is one 3x3 board of grand influence. Waterdeep for example, has a population of 130,000, providing one grand board, 13 major boards, and 130 minor boards. Most cities will be much smaller than Waterdeep.

Note that there are only 9 squares on a board, and always at least 10 factions who want placement on it.

Players cannot see the influence boards, and have no idea before they act what the boards look like. A player may spend one month, with a successful relevant skill roll (spying, survival (urban), etc.) to determine the status of one minor board, which they can then see. One person devoted to the task each month enables them to continue to keep abreast of what is happening on the board.

Gaining Influence
A character may spend 1,000 gold and 1 week gaining one square of minor influence. This represents politicking, meeting people, public works, intimidation, advertising, etc.–whatever  generates influence.  If more than 5 squares on a board are acquired two things happen. They gain a point of leverage for that level (minor, major, grand) and they are granted one square of influence on the next highest board. If a character possesses at least one point of minor leverage, they may spend 10,000 gold and 1 week to gain a square of major influence.

The relevant skill is rolled (bureaucracy, survival (urban), arcana, religion, persuasion, history, etc.) depending on the type of influence one wishes to acquire. This determines the order everyone selects influence. Then Dungeon Master adds their influence to a board at the end of a week in the order that they were rolled.

Players may also attempt to acquire influence from other actors also already on the board. They do this by individual negotiations with the person possessing the influence. Consider that the possessor of that influence will expect or fear loss of somewhere between 1,000-5,000 gold pieces of value per point of influence acquired. (This doesn't necessarily have to be in money. Blackmail, threats, completing tasks, etc. can all be used).

At the end of the month, all factions on all boards of all levels, remove one square of their influence. There is a 1 in 10 chance per board that it is completely cleared (due to a death, random event, or change in power structure).

Boards are, in general, filled before the player characters arrive. You do not have to play out every actor in the city, though if the characters have an ally or a foil or nemesis, they may work to block the character's progress. Certain positions (harbormaster, noble, merchant, priest, captain, general, etc.) automatically grant one point of minor leverage every month, without board positions. They may translate this minor leverage into selecting influence squares.

Or, the leverage may be spent. Note that for many of these, it is required that you spend the leverage each month to maintain the benefit.

Minor Leverage: Own or run a business employing up to 10 people. Purchase or sell trade goods in bulk.
Major Leverage: Make large purchases (>100,000 gp). Own a trading vessel. Own or run a business employing up to 100 people.
Grand Leverage: Own or run a business employing unlimited people.

Military Power
Minor Leverage: Employ more than 10 hirelings. Have someone arrested. Have someone freed.
Major Leverage: Employ mercenaries.
Grand Influence: Request military aid.

Minor Influence: Purchase existing property.
Major Influence: Purchase land or build new property. Acquire a standard for an informal group or company. Gain a minor title.
Grand Influence:  Form an official guild. Become a member of the nobility.

Minor Influence: Practice magic in the city.
Major Influence: Gain a license to employ magic commercially. Gain a license to have a group of religious followers.
Grand Influence: Be allowed to construct a school or church (must also have nobility influence to be allowed to do so)


Obviously such a system is both abstract and scaleable. But in the use case of cities, this influence is almost always associated with a faction. "The player character party", "the thieve's guild/mob" "noble faction A", "the traders' guild", etc.

It is expected that players may be able to influence one or two minor boards themselves, but it will be necessary to ally with other major influencers in order to acquire major leverage.

Because power corrupts, society's demands for moral authority and character increase as the importance of the position increases. -John Adams

On Downtime

Ah, the release of Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition was here! It was the summer of 2014. How exciting.

In the adventures there were different factions, and between adventures you could have downtime. But where were the downtime rules. People took to twitter and reddit and asked. "Coming soon!" they said.


In May of 2015, deep into a 5th edition adventure, I (and my players) got tired of waiting. I finally dived in and began creating my own city procedures, outlining what characters could do in their downtime. It was a temporary stopgap measure, because surely the rules would be coming soon.

Years pass.

Finally, this week these rules are finally here! Were the downtime rules worth a three year wait?! (Of course not. Veins of the Earth is worth the wait. Not downtime rules from WotC. But we are going to look anyway. There are some interesting things in there. Let's take a look.

Downtime Rules

Foils are the most interesting part of the downtime activities. You create a small set of Non-Player Character's that hassle the players, with the instructions that some should be good and neutral, and only a few or one should be a "villain". The d20 table of suggestions for foils is good!

What follows is the constant mind-numbing parade of "fantasy realism" that is the bane of official projects. To save you time, it tells you in entirely too many words that you should develop Motivations, Goals, Assets, and a group of Actions a foil takes to achieve their goals. Oh, and a reminder that foils are affected by events and you should have them change over time.

This is useful advice for teenagers. But it's a whole page of wasted text for experienced dungeon masters. We need things like this to help our games. Something creative that's challenging to come up with on our own, not someone adding 50-100 words to an outline point.

Some examples are given, with a format for foils, which is long and wordy and might be useful, if, say, 100 were provided. At the size they have the 'foil stat block' that would be a 50 page document. Hey, if you want to do something like that, I'm sure you could put it up on the DM's guild and have it lost forever in a frothing pit of junk racing to the bottom!

I'm not really this crabby. Just come on already. It's been 40 years. If you're the industry leader, get this shit right.

No, Really, The Actual Activities then

Ok, this section is a bit better. Here's an overview of each activity, along with a link to my City Procedure for the same activity.

Buying a Magic Item: Charisma (Persuasion) check with a bonus of +1 per week or 100 gold spent, up to +10. Result determines which magic item table to roll on. If the players want a specific item, it's there, if you want it in your campaign and if you roll high enough to have it appear.
Selling a Magic Item: Takes 1 week + 100 gp. Charisma (Persuasion) check determines what kind of offer comes in. 

First, is it weird that the persuasion of the character determines the reality of what magic items are in town? I don't have a problem with it, but odd, no? The complications table is fantastic however. Top shelf stuff. Complications include: "The item is cursed by a god" or "The item is at the center of a dark prophecy". That's that emergent gameplay from agency I'm always looking for!

Carousing: Choose lower (25gp) middle (100gp) or upper (Noble background + 500gp) per week. Make a Charisma (Persuasion) check to determine the number of contacts made, up to the limit of 1 + the character's Charisma Modifier.

Meh. You can max out your contact limit in just a few weeks. Really, it seems like making these contacts should be a side effect of complications from other activities. The complications for carousing are pretty standard, sort of a neutered version of the various carousing failure tables among the Old School Renaissance.

Carousing in City Procedures

Crafting: You must have raw materials (gold) of half the items selling cost. Divide cost of mundane item by 50 to determine number of weeks to make, divided by the number of characters working on it. You must have the relevant tool proficiency.
Crafting Magic Items: You need a formula and an exotic material, guarded by a creature of a CR determined by item rarity. There's a cost and time based on item rarity. Potions of Healing and Scrolls have their own special rules.
Brewing Potions of Healing: Proficiency in the herbalism kit allows you to craft them. There is a special table of time and cost.
Scribing Scrolls: You must know the spell and be proficient in the arcana skill. There is a special table of time and cost.

The times on these options are long, by design. It's intended to discourage crafting. Most of the advice is very DM Fiat-ish.

Item Creation in City Procedures

I'm grouping the following activities together. In my city procedures, I have these combined under class activities. As an aside, even though I group them as class activities, I erect no barriers in play, preventing people from performing activities, regardless of their class.

Crime: Spend 1 week and 25gp. Choose a DC to determine the haul, then make a Dexterity (Stealth) check, Dexterity with thieves tools, and one of Intelligence (Investigation), Wisdom (Perception), or Charisma (Deception). No successes is jail, one success is failure+escape, two successes is 1/2 money, and succeeding at all three gets you the full payout.
Gambling: Spend 1 week and between 100-1,000 gp. Make a Wisdom (Insight), Charisma (Deception), and Charisma (Intimidation) check versus a DC of 5+2d10 (Average 16). No successes is lost money + that money in debt, 1 success is 1/2 of your money lost. 2 successes allows you to gain 150% of your bet in profit, and 3 successes you gain 200% of the money you bet in profit.
Pit Fighting: Spend 1 week. Make 3 checks—do we sense a pattern here. Athletics, Acrobatics, and Insight versus 5+2d10 grant you the win for 0/50/100/200 gold pieces depending on success.
Relaxation: Spend 1 week. Gain advantage on saves and end one effect or restore one ability score.
Religious Service: Spend 1 week, Make a Intelligence (Religion) or Charisma (Persuasion) check. Gain 0, 1 or 2 favors based on the result. A favor is a promise of future assistance.
Research: Spend 1 week and 100 gold. Make an Intelligence check with a +1 bonus per 100 gold spent, up to +6. Gain 0, 1, 2, or 3 pieces of useful lore.
Training: Take 10 weeks, minus the characters Intelligence modifier. It costs 100 gold per week. Learn a language or tool proficiency.
Work: Takes 1 workweek to work. Make a skill check to meet a lifestyle threshold.

These options are much less exciting. The complications are more mundane and less useful. Some are  difficult to make gameable. "Your victim is financially ruined by your crime", or "you are banned from the library". The actions themselves are much less impactful and lackluster. You can basically win a bit of cash, but most of these carry little to no risk. Pit fighting nets you a few hundred gold?

My problem with this, is that these systems are gameplay, they are pretty complicated bookkeeping for background flavor.

Compare my arena fighting: The purse is 1d6*100gp*the fighters level. The opponent is 1d6-2 levels higher than the fighter. They can bet on the fight. The fight is actually played out at the table.

Class Activities in City Procedures

Reaction and Analysis

There's been quite a bit of response already to these long awaited rules. The pit fighting rules don't necessarily favor the classes that should be good at pit fighting. Pit fighting is also a lot more profitable then say, working a job. The complications for pit fighting are milksopish also. The worst one is "almost fatally wounding your opponent". Yes, you can't get hurt pit fighting. The complications only trigger in 1 out of 10 cases anyway.

It takes nearly 2 years to scribe a 9th level spell to a scroll. Which is fine, but, you know. Two years. Apparently an improvement over the 50+ years required for legendary items in the Dungeon Master's Guide.

It took so long for these to come out, I wrote my own. Unsurprisingly, I like mine better. At least they are finally released for those people who want to only run using "official" materials. Your milage may vary.

Hack & Slash 

On City Procedures VII

"Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!"

Where are your rules for sages?

I run a lot of mid to high level games. The tendency is for the games I run to go long, ending somewhere around name level. It generally takes as long to reach level 9 from level 7, as it did to reach level 7 from level 1.

What do you have your players do with all that gold? Because I use gold for experience, generally have parties of 5-6 people, and have a somewhat high mortality rate, I'm generally looking at 1,000,000+ gold wrested from my hands by the time the party is level 8.  That is one million gold. Million. Where does it go? Each player generally needs around 200,000 to reach level 8 due to deaths. Henchmen take a half-share, so it runs 100,000 for each of those.

I have already posted a bunch of ways that allow players to spend of their own agency to reduce the gold quantity. This, I find, is far superior to the 5% tax, or random theft suggestions mentioned by Gygax in his original games.

But how do you get characters to spend money on sages?

I too, once had this problem. Long ago I hit upon the solution. Classically, the sage takes an obscene amount of money and time, at the end of which, they may give you the right answer.

There is no player who will take that option with their money.

In my campaigns, sages will always speak the direct word of god (me, in this case) to the player. If there is a question about the stars, where a magic item is located, who someone is, what someone is weak to, how to recharge a magic item, a secret entrance to a lair, the blueprint of a dungeon, how to acquire power, how the planes are organized, what happens to people after death, or any kind of truth in the setting, the sage will give the correct answer to the player, literally any question.

It is a way for the players to force me to tell them anything. That's something they will pay for, out the nose.


Sages are highbrow academics, peculiar and eccentric, obsessed with their own fields of study. If characters employ these idiosyncratic and frequently abrasive scholars they can find out the true answers to any questions. These answers are the guaranteed objective truth of the campaign world. The sage is the in game mechanism via which the players can force the Agonarch (Dungeon Master) to relate true information. 
Locating a sage
There will be 0-2 sages for every 10,000 population in a city, +1-4 for each school or university. 
Players can seek out the names and major fields of the sages by using the rumors procedure, with one sage revealed per rumor. If the sage with the appropriate major field is not located locally, there will be an additional 1-4 sages within 20 miles of the city for every 25,000 people. These sages usually have been evicted from the city limits for one reason or another. 
Types of questions
There are three types of questions sages can answer: General questions, specific questions, and exacting questions. Each separate request for information counts as a question. 
  • General questions are questions of the yes or no type, simple and broad. 
  • Specific questions are those that can be answered with a single word or phrase. 
  • Exacting questions provide an answer in as much detail as the players request. 
Answering a question
Players may approach a sage and ask a question. A reaction roll must be made. This affects both the sages behavior and price. 2 Aversion   +50%
3-5 Dislike,   +20%
6-8 Neutral
9-11 Like   -10%
12 Attraction   -20%

It can take the sage some time to answer a question. The price of each question depends on both the time it takes to find the answer, and how well versed the sage is in the topic or area. The base cost to answer a question is 500 gold pieces. 
If the question is a general question it can be answered in a single turn, and costs 500 gold pieces. Specific and Exacting questions take longer, and have an additional cost per day. If the sage is employed by the characters for longer than 1 week, then he is unavailable after he finishes the current question for the following month.
Specific Exacting Additional cost per day
Out of fields of expertise 2d12 days 100 gold per day
Minor expertise 2d10 days 5d8 days 1,000 gold per day
Major expertise 1d12 days 3d10 days 500 gold per day
Specialization 1 day 2d6 days 200 gold per day 
It costs a minimum of 500 gold pieces per question. If you are more than 4 miles away from a city with a population of 10,000 or more, prices are doubled. 
In most cases, the sage just knows the answer to the question, especially if within his specialty. However if the players attempt to leverage this to their advantage in a way that's detrimental to gameplay, the following change may be made. The abuse of the system can't be from the (in character) question asked. The money is also a balancing factor. But it's possible the players may lean on this mechanic too hard, treating it as a lever that they can pull any time with no risk. If too many questions are asked, we can drill down a little and realize that this sage doesn't have all the answers. Use the following table for success chances. The fee to ask the question must be paid before the answer is checked. Note that the players can always ask the sage to retry, paying the fee yet again. 
For the fields of study, use the following percentages to determine if the sage can discover the answer:
General Specific Exacting
Out of fields of expertise 50% 10%
Minor expertise 75% 50% 25%
Major expertise 90% 75% 50%
Specialization 100% 90% 75%
Permanently retaining a sage
Rather than employing a sage on a question by question basis, you may choose to employ a sage over the long term. In order to convince the sage to join, the minimum requirements must be met.
  • The sage must be provided with Living Quarters, a Study, and a Library
  • The sage must be provided with 4 work rooms, none smaller than 200 square feet each
  • The sage will request a salary and research grants of 4d6 x 100 gold per month

If all those requirements are met, the players must install a research library for the sage. Half the value of this library also functions as an arcane library for wizards researching spells (and conversely, half the value of the arcane library functions functions as library for a sage). This library must be worth a minimum of 20,000 gp.
A library of 20,000gp will give him 50% of his normal success rates. This is increased by 1% for every 1,000 gp, until the library is worth 60,000 with a 90% success rate. Increasing it beyond this requires 4,000 per percentage point, until 100,000 gold is paid, granting the sage his normal rates of success.
A sage employed by the player characters never charges them additional fees. For every three days spent in research, the sage must rest for 1 day.
Players may increase the skill of a sage in their employ.
  • Spending 5,000 gold pieces and 1 month will increase their success rate for questions outside their field by 1% up to a maximum of +25%
  • Spending 10,000 gold pieces and 1 month will increase their success rate for a single minor field by 1% up to a maximum of +10%
  • Spending 100,000 gold and 2 years will give a new minor field to the sage
  • Spending 200,000 gold and 1 year will grant another major field specialization to the sage
Generating a sage
In addition to their personality, race, and name, each sage will have 1 major field of study. Most sages will often have some magical ability, of a type related to the field of her major study. In general they have 4 hit dice, (4d6 hp) and fight as a 0-level man. Do not fall into the trap of thinking sages must all be old men with beards. Mad scientists, wild hunters, young mystics and more can function as sages for your players.
Roll on the following table to determine the number of  major field specializations and minor focuses.
2d6 roll Minor Expertise Major Specialization
2 1 1
3 1 2
4 1 3
5 1 4
6 2 2
7 2 3
8 2 4
9 3 2
10 3 3
11 3 4
12 3 5
Major & Minor Fields of Study 
The items listed in this section are major and minor fields of study. Roll once on the following list for the major field of study, and then roll again on the same list for each minor field. For example, if you get a 7 on your roll, you have generated a sage with 1 major field (with 3 specializations) and 2 minor fields. You roll 3 times on the following table to generate the major field and the two minor fields:
1-3 Humans/Demihumans
4 Humanoids
5 Flora
6 Fauna
7-8 Supernatural
9-10 Physical World. 
Each of the categories above has a certain number of sub-specializations, listed below. These are only determined for the major field of study. Taxonomy is really complicated. You are going to have to make judgement calls about what belongs in each category, depending on the nature of your campaign.
Major Specializations 
Humans/Demihumans: This category covers civilized races and cultures in your world. Usually this includes all the player races available for selection. Specializations include:
1-3 Art & Music
4-5 Biology
6-7 History
8-10 Languages
11 Legends & Folklore
12 Law & Customs
13 Philosophy & Ethics
14-15 Politics & Genealogy
16 Psychology
17 Sociology
18-20 Theology, religion, and myth 
Humanoids: This category covers all non-civilized "monstrous" races in your campaign. Races which have a culture, but are not considered civilized, like bullywugs, kenku, or giants. This also includes any monsters not covered by other categories. They have the same specializations as Humans/Demihumans. 
Flora: This category covers all plants, molds, fungi, etc.
1 Bushes & Shrubs
2 Flowers
3 Fungi
4 Grasses and Grains
5 Herbs
6 Mosses and Ferns
7 Trees
8 Weeds 
Fauna: This category covers all living creatures, not covered by the above categories. This includes both natural and monstrous creatures (as opposed to races, covered above).
1 Amphibians
2 Arachnids
3 Avians
4 Cephalopods & Echinoderms
5 Crustaceans & Mollusks
6 Ichthyoids
7 Insects
8 Mammals
9 Marsupials
10 Reptiles 
Supernatural: This category covers magic and non-natural phenomena. Depending on your campaign and it's metaphysics, you may want to add or remove some categories from this list i.e. Hedge Magic, Psionics, or Channeling.
1 Alchemy
2 Divination
3-4 Dweomercraft
5 Heraldry, Signs & Sigils
6 Medicine
7 Planes (Outer)
8 Planes (Inner) 
Physical World: This covers the hard sciences, the basic concrete levels of reality.
1-2 Engineering & Architecture
3 Astronomy
4 Business and Economics
5 Chemistry
6 Geography
7 Geology & Mineralogy
8 Mathematics
9 Meteorology & Climatology
10 Oceanography
11 Physics
12 Topography & Cartography

Hack & Slash 

On Memento Mori

Remember, you are going to die.

The messed up thing about cancer is, everything goes on. Your life is like it is right now, except you are sick all the time and have a ton of new bills.

I read on Patrick Stuart's blog the other day,

Guys with a significant impact in forming the social and interest groupings that lead into the modern OSR but so far as I know, not currently deeply engaged with online social stuff at the moment, with them concentrating on other things.
Well, yes. I've been concentrating on other things. In the last three years, I've had to deal with cancer, divorce, custody arrangements, two moves, some of my best friends moving away, the death of my father, and other minor stressors aside. I know this breaks my rule about talking about myself on the blog. It's a good rule. People shouldn't do it.

I had something of an epiphany the other day.

I was hospitalized the year before this string of disasters, due to a stress-induced ischemia. For those of you that don't know, that means I have a mental disorder that gave my intestines a heart attack.

I don't ever, ever, talk about this. I think the majority of people who do talk about problems like this are attention seeking. I am on very strong medication since that medical event.

The important thing is, even though I know better, I am beset by fears of all the worst kinds. My first thought is, "What is the worst possible outcome of this situation?"

Well, let me tell you. Every single one of my fears came true. Every single one. If I were to list everything my deepest darkest fears about the future would hold—the fears that literally almost killed me and landed me in the hospital—you would find that they all came true. One after the other after the other after the other.

Aaaand, *pats self down*, I'm somehow still here. At some point something changed. Either the medicine is really working or just after responding to nightmare after nightmare my ability to respond to new disasters is just muted; I don't know. What I do know, is I've spent most of the last three years just coping instead of working because of the stress. And now, nothing has changed. Disasters still loom. I'm still fighting for custody. I'm still dealing with very serious fires.

But I don't feel like I need to spend all my time coping and recovering. What I feel like, is I want to get back to damn work making dungeons filled with green gas. So, uh, I'm going to be doing that.

This message isn't about the blog. It's about taking steps for me, moving forward in this crisis. Being less closed up and connecting with more people. So, in order to do that, instead of posting something on my blog every day in April, which is full of a lot of meaningless noise, I'm going to post something every day on my social media about my life. Sharing thoughts and pictures. Some will be about gaming. If you're interested, I'm on Facebook here, and Google + here. It's a way of moving forward.

Blogwise, some work and surprises are in store for April. I'm only going to break one rule in this post ("Don't talk about yourself") not two ("Don't talk about what you're going to do on your blog") I look forward to seeing you.

P.S. Could you imagine doing a Kickstarter or something and having this happen? The added guilt of people who gave you money on the front end? It doesn't absolve anyone, but I'm glad I didn't have a situation like that.

Hack & Slash 

On the Dead

Why do the dead walk the earth in Perdition?

Surely the devils tell you that your soul is theirs. You have seen them deal in soulstuff. Yet you have seen the dead walk and know their words for a stretching of the truth.

What happens once you die? 

The truth is, no one knows.

Yes, there are the trolls. The Empyreal grants arcanists knowledge. Devils walk among us using the residue of the living as power. We command great sorcery. Yet this still remains hidden from us.

Let us begin with our knowledge.


Ancient books tell us a story before the Devils came and blotted out all the stars from the sky. Magic was easier. Mages mastered dozens of different types of spells and magic, drawing their energy from something they called the 'inner planes'. Whatever sources of great power existed—there are cut off from us now. Legends tell of walking among gods and traversing the multiverse. Those doors are closed to us now. All attempts at such magic fail. Animation of the dead was once performed by utilizing the flow from the radiant to the necrotic, as energy flows along a wire. Those ways are now lost.

All students of the arcane are familiar with the Hexad. These are the realms from which we bind living spells. Amecetere the vortex, Metallion the lattice, Cruori of blood and growth, Mintis of thought and mindfire, Skadus of darkness and suffering, and Specere of reflection and reversal. Our theorists believe that these are fundamental and base energies present in the universe. Commanding these fickle and virulent powers is far more difficult then the ease with which the ancients mastered magic.

Trolls are said to have returned from the dead, hence their solid eyes, ashen skin, and dark hair. Rarely do they speak to outsiders, preferring their craft be practiced in secrecy, deep in their halls. Few trolls ever wish to speak of their experiences, though those that do tell us of a lost and shifting maze, and the screams and agony of the dead. They claim that they escaped this dark realm into their bodies. Perhaps this is so.

Their description leads one to theorize perhaps their souls were trapped in some labyrinth on Skadus. Few have ever seen the Skadus, and none has seen a labyrinth. Those that have experienced the Skadus speak of a tempest whipped darkness, surrounded by fugue and shadow, minds lashed with despair, and time and distance floating erratically with only the most tenuous connection to our physical realm. Indeed practitioners of Skadus magic can confirm its malign influence upon the living.

What we are told

The devils say, when we die our souls are sent to the river Lethe, where they are cleansed. They say that great power comes from those who serve the devils; promises abound to mortal servants that they will be powerful masters if they serve loyally. Yet this is likely not the case. There are no records of any living being being 'raised up' by their infernal masters. This hope of future wealth turns the world into a mess of temporarily inconvenienced arch-devil nobles. No man becomes a devil that remembers he was a man. We have seen the soul stuff they trade in, and are told it is the remains of our mortal life. Yet I have held it, and it was as spider web wisps and feathers in my hand. It did contain great power, but it was nothing more than an empty shell. What of the soul?

Those who have been to other hells or have heard dark whispers say that it indeed is what remains of the soul. They say infinite realms are devoted to extracting such power by torturing neigh uncountable souls in a task of unfathomable enormity. It seems too extreme to be true, but watch our masters long enough and you will know how they value life. There is truth to this. 

But all souls? Hardly. Why would the trolls lie? What of the living dead? What of our ability to even raise the dead-how could such a soul reach a person if it were no longer the person? Perhaps it is a simulacra. There is no way to know.

What the Dead Know

So we return again to speak of the dead. They clearly exist, even though the devils say they should not. How is this possible?

The most common type of undead is a phantom soldier. You will often see regiments of the dead seeking work or employ in the army of some powerful human or devil. These skeletal creatures are animate and can speak as well as follow orders. But they maintain only the most base impression of their former selves. Their function as a unit installs some mystical tether that leads them to pantomime their former task. There is no intelligence, soul, or spirit contained within. Examination of such in the Empyreal shows only the influence of Metallion, making it nothing more than a clockwork.

The second most common type are the dead raised by the influence of powerful Devil lords such as Dauthaz or other demons or devils. These too have no natural intelligence. A cursory examination upon the empyreal will show that these bodies are nothing more than corrupted puppets manipulated at a distance by the fiend lord, though the machinations of her servants.

Thirdly, there are the dread lords, death lords, liches, vampires, wraiths, and various other "intelligent" dead. Some of these members are even rumored to reside among our order. These creatures all have special circumstances around their creation, and the commonality among them all is that their souls remain tethered to their body, even though the body no longer lives. Often there are quite arduous tasks that must be accomplished to maintain this tether; Vampires for example must consume Cruori energy by most commonly drinking the blood of the living.

Then, there are rituals that raise the dead. The dead returned are, in this case, nothing more than skeletal goblins. They are animated with evil energies and intend malice to all, including their masters. The ritual simply formalizes the procedure in which inanimate matter becomes animate due to acts of wickedness. This is significantly less useful than fire, being that fire can be controlled and does not seek murder its summoner as a matter of its innate nature.

Those who are raised often remember very little. Darkness, confusion, pain, light, and perhaps waking up once the spell is cast.

It it possible to bind actual souls to corpses? Some necromancers claim to have such power, though I have never seen it. Perhaps you will ask a necromancer yourself; a task not recommended. 

The truth remains unknown to all of us. Theories abound. A leading theory is that the souls traverse a labyrinth somewhere on Skadus, hunted by reapers who send the souls to the appropriate place. Indeed, those knowledgeable in arcana can in fact see the marks on our souls from such higher beings. Perhaps we wander in this realm until found. 

We will all know the answer to the journey in due time.
Muthram Rask, Arch-Magus
Transcript of lecture to The Exalted Servants

Hack & Slash 

On Ego and Competition and my Mother's Seashell

I hate losing.

There's something called the Dunning-Kruger effect, and it's how dumb people live with themselves. In short, how people assess themselves at tasks is influenced by their skill or lack thereof. Oh, and the ego hits hard. People, nearly all people, rate themselves as above average. If you want some fun examples, feel free to skip ahead to the bottom of the article.

Competition doesn't have any time for that.

There are literally millions of Hearthstone players who tell themselves that they could hit legend if only they had the time. There are dropouts all over the country who know they could have gotten their bachelor's degree if only they wanted to. Millions toil in bronze of League of Legends and Defense of the Ancients assured that they would be diamond/platinum if only the rest of their teammates weren't bringing them down.

That's one defense. Another is to attack the institution. That game is broken! Degrees don't matter! Intelligence Quotient tests only test one kind of intelligence. I'm ranked so low because of match making ranking hell!

I'm not saying that's not true. It likely is. (Except for match making ranking hell–that's a complete myth). My question for those people, why not accomplish the goal anyway?

The Rise!

My last legend climb in Hearthstone I had a 58% win rate. From rank 5 to legend, my win rate was 67%. Does that mean I'm a fantastic Hearthstone player? No. I had a pretty compelling win streak from rank 3 to rank 1. The best players in the world have win rates approaching 65% in a season. When I'm playing competitively, my average is around 55% which is good. Does this mean I think I'm a good Hearthstone player? Not really. I make mistakes nearly every turn I play. I play too fast. And honestly, at the end of any given season, there are between 500,000 to 1,000,000 people who end up ranked higher than me.

Let's think about what that legend climb means concretely for a second. Each game takes about 10 minutes to play. With a 55% win rate, It takes around 225 games to reach rank 5 (due to win streaks) and about 225 games to reach legend from rank 5. What that means is that you're going to have to lose over 100 games after you reach rank 5 with a good win rate.

Narcissists can't take it. People who have fragile esteem can't take it. Who's got time for 20 hours of losing?

People who want to achieve.

The Success!

This is true for all difficult things. Getting a bachelor's degree (which only took me six years) wasn't about learning. Nobody learned me anything. I spent a lot of time learning on my own initiative, but frequently that had little to do with class work. Now this is only my personal experience, I attended college from 95-97 and from 99-02. Perhaps things are different in university today. But mostly success in college was making a good impression, learning how to network and present yourself, and jumping through bullshit hoops.

I know that most of my audience is successful–offhand most readers I can call to mind are professionals with many accolades, doctors, intelligent, and artsy folk. I'm writing this blog post because I believe it's people like that, like me, that are most at risk for these psychological traps. After all, we are likely accurate about our intelligence, aren't we accurate about the rest of stuff besides?

Well, no.

I don't really believe anything. Even that isn't true. The idea of "belief" is to think a thing without proof. I strive to be a fair witness in the Heinlein sense of the word, skeptical of nearly everything. But still, I fail at this constantly.

The crucible of competitive play forces you to confront this. There's no team member to blame. There's nothing but your skill and the opponent. Diving in even after your 100th loss during the season is what puts my statements above to the test. Every time I experience these thoughts that conflict with reality, they drive powerful emotional states. It pits me against the cognitive distortions in a way that allows my ego no reprieve. And in the end, I come out better. Not because I'm superior, but because even though I'm in the upper echelon of a thing, I just get to realize how flawed my thinking really is.

This applies for everything in life. I can speak confidently on a few things. Dungeons & Dragons. Writing. Game Design and Theory. Because they are my areas of focus and specialty. Even within those areas I strive to understand my flaws. In my interactions with others online, I often discover that they speak just as confidently about areas that are not their specialty. I do not think that is to their advantage.

The struggle for clarity is real. It's not something that can be achieved and checked off. It's a constant process of reevaluation and growth. And it's hard and painful to break down the false physical constructs of your mind.

But what am I talking about, you already know all this already, right?

The Salt!

Aside from the above, every month there are other things about my climb that are worth noting. Most interactions I have from rank 5 to legend are quite pleasant. However, down in the gutter ranks, between rank 12 and 6, you find a lot of people who are not well.

Blizzard and Team 5 have a horrible, horrible, system for communicating with your peers. One of the things I like about Hearthstone is that you can't chat with your opponent. However, that's no excuse for not being able to deal appropriately with situations. Not infrequently during my climb, I'll receive friend requests. Most of these are players impressed with play or seeking to become better or looking for friends on their climb up. Sometimes though. . . Sometimes you regret the fact that you can't contact someone to perform a safety check. Well, see for yourself below.


Ah, yes. My mother's seashell. Or possibly the most serious insult someone from South America can muster. Who can tell?

It's interactions like this that are so worrisome. This person needs a safety check. Not only can I not report him in any way to the parent company, blizzard has no method of reporting these interactions, but this person seriously needs someone to make sure he isn't going to hurt himself.

I mean, this is what I'm talking about. What mental state must someone be into say something like "hope your wife or girlfriend gets raped and murdered while you watch." Or "I'll murder your entire family given the opportunity." It can't be a good one.

Phoenix#12647 get help. Please.

Hack & Slash 
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