Thursday, March 31, 2011

On the Creation of Magic Items

Humans are mundane, non-magical, having no natural magical abilities.  In order to effect magic, they must have substances which are embued with magical energy.  By harnessing the power of these magical ingredients, humans can "do magic". 
Different magical ingredients have different magical properties and different power levels.  Dragon tonsils, for example, are known to be highly charged with magical energy related to the dragon's breath weapon. Magicians have found, for example, that Red Dragon tonsils make the best base ingredient for fire-related spells, while Blue Dragon tonsils are ideal for electricity-related magic.  
Storage Techniques
Wizards have found various techniques for the storage of these magical ingredients. 
One of the most basic methods is incorporating the magical substance into a liquid potion.  The potion can be drunk to internalize its magical power, although this method can be dangerous and lead to unpredictable results.   The potion can also be poured out, dispersing its magical effect upon whatever it is poured upon. 
Through the process of distilation of liquid potitions, magical powders can be created.  On the plus side, powders are more concentrated than potions, but on the downside, they are more volatile.  Magical powder is the base ingredient for most types of dynamic, on-demand, spell casting.   Powders are also appropriate for distributing magical effect carefully and evenly over specific areas.  Warning: Sprinkling magic dust on intelligent creatures can lead to highly unpredictable results! 
Wands, Staffs, and Rods
The most primitive wands began as pieces of wood which were soaked in magical liquid. The wood asborbed the magical properties of the liquid, and magicians learned to channel the magical power, usually with magical power words.  Superior wands are made of wood from magical trees, as they have proven to absorb and store much greater magical power.  Experiments are also being conducted with hollow-core wands, which allow magic power objects to be contained within them, greatly amplifying their magical powers.  Rods and especially staffs are particularly useful for that purpose, as they are larger and more easily cored. The techniques of wand making continue to be advanced.
Scrolls are best used for channeling the power of magic power words.  The fiber of the scroll is embedded with magical power at its creation, using magical plants, liquids, and powders in the process of crafting the paper.   The magical power word or phrase, usually stolen from one of the intelligent magical races, is then enscribed on the scroll itself, with magical ink if possible.  A tremendous amount of magical energy can be stored in this way.
Clothing Items
Cloaks, boots, gloves, hats, and so on, are usually created from the skins of magical creatures.  Fire Giant skins have proven to provide excellent fire resistance magic, for example.  Another popular method of creating magical clothing is by soaking natural fiber clothes in the blood of magical creatures. 
Metal Items - rings, weapons, etc.
Items made of precious metals are excellent at absorbing magical energy directly, storing the energy like a battery.   Wizards have found that metals can direcly absorb spell power cast at them, storing it for later use.  Metal items can also be charged up with magical power, when placed in a location where such magical power naturally accumulates.   Locating such natural "magical vortex" areas is a cherished goal for many in the magic using community. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Importance of Persistent Conflict - and implications for XP

In my previous post, I talked about the importance of three top-level adventure design elements: temporality, monster agendas, and overwhelming force.

Thinking about what makes a really good adventure, I thought of another key element: persistence of conflict. What this means is, really good conflicts are not just resolved in a one-room battle.

Setting these conflicts up requires the DM to think about "better", not just "more". Rather than just upping the ante in the "powergamer sweepstakes", the DM should get smarter, and more devious.

For example, to challenge your players, you could have 24 trolls hanging out in a cavern. In the next cavern, down a small passage, there would be, what... 8 wyverns? Or 3 ancient red dragons? Next to a cavern with a lich (15th level mage)? And 8 frost giants are hanging out in the adjacent cave... And 3 mind flayers in the next....

I don't know, I guess in my old age I am just looking for something more.... hmmm, not really "challenging" per se... I guess the word I am looking for is -- sophisticated.

I mean, what if the cave complex is not stocked with monsters in every cave? What if not everything wants to "fight to the death". What if the monster who lives in the cave is clever, and wants to live? So it sets up traps, and does a lot of hit and run type stuff? What if it refuses to be baited into a "final battle"?

That is what I mean by "persistent conflict". Giving the players the feeling they are having to CHASE SOMETHING DOWN. Or, perhaps the opposite, that they are being STALKED, isolated, cut off, picked off one by one...

Oh no, "spending the night" in the dungeon is hardly an option now, is it, poppets? How much sleep are you going to get, knowing "that thing" is out there, scheming how to do you in, waiting for one slip up....

Game Design Implications for XP

This is one of the reasons I am not a fan of the original XP reward system. If XP is only earned for monsters slain and treasure looted, the type of game design I am talking about is highly discouraged. If the players spend the entire session dicking around with one monster, they've gained nothing, in game turns, even if they finally end up defeating it.

If you are clawing up the "blood and treasure" ladder, a cavern full of 34 trolls is exactly what you want and need!

But if you are using my "successful adventure" metric (, just defeating one foe may be enough, if he is played in a clever and dangerous fashion.

Top-Notch Adventure Design Elements - creating a good story line

Fantastic post over at the Underdark Gazette, reviewing the module Pyramid of the Dragon.

The module sounds top-notch, and the review really highlights some key elements of top quality adventure design.

The first is "the temporal element". The adventure should have living breathing plot elements, and a cast of characters that operate on their own schedule. They should not just be frozen set-piece waiting for the PCs to trounce over. The monsters should have their own agendas and schedules.

The second element is "monster on monster action". It basically grows out of the first element. Monsters have agendas, and those agendas will often clash with other monsters. If the PCs are laying low, or sneaking around, they will see monster conflicts. Smart PCs will then see ways to exploit such conflicts to advance their own agenda. Such conflicts also promote dramatic tension, and role playing.

The third is the element of "overwhelming force". The adventure should have the promise of a severe beatdown if the PCs play it too loose. Not just a boss monster that poses a great challenge as a final battle before the monte haul... I mean a persistent antagonist that truly cannot be defeated by the PCs, and the PCs know that, and they have to complete their adventure in spite of it. Facing some sort of overwhelming force like that really promotes creative play, as well as dramatic tension in the course of play.

The above three elements are key components of creating a good story line. Creating an engaging story line is, I think, one of the hardest, or rather, most subtle, parts about being a good DM.