This used to be a wide, well appointed kitchen before it got looted. A smell of burning stew drifts from the fireplace (and into the adjoining rooms). Referee info:the kitchen was recently visited by goblins who took most of the food and booby trapped the cauldron in the fireplace.
LARGE TABLE with messy ingredients and crockery. A lot of broken plates and bowls on the floor.
FOUR CHAIRS toppled or used to reach the SHELVES.
A BUCKET IN THE CORNER with forgotten, cold laundry, and a bar of black soap near it.
SHELVES. Only the items on the highest shelves are still there (flour, candles, salt). A couple of good butcher knives.
FIREPLACE [trapped]. A cauldron sits on a dying fire.
[trap] A tripwire causes the cauldron to fall over, spilling and/or breaking six flasks of heated oil that immediately catches fire (damage as oil, spills over a 10ft x 10ft area). The clever goblin who set the trap also threw lard and a freshly dead, unplucked chicken in the cauldron to lure hungry adventurers in.
My roomscape is actually a translation of room number 5 in my French-language adventure La nuit des rêves perdus (Night of Lost Dreams), which I published on my itch.io page a week or two ago, using one of Foot of the Mountain’s maps. It’s written for Old-School Essentials (so fully compatible with B/X D&D) and I’m hoping to carve out the time to publish it in English too.
I wrote this adventure for newcomers to the old school adventure game style, and I’ve tried to organise the information in order to help the referee easily find the information they’re looking for. After a sentence of general description, the referee gets background information (in italics). The rest is in bullet points: immediately apparent details are in all caps, and lootables are in bold.
You tell me if it would work for you. (And then I can make the adventure better when I translate it.)
My first impulse was to do these for myself, but Tony very kindly agreed to let me share them, so here you are. It’s on my Itch page, the one I created to publish mu experimental Drama Module for Fifth Edition. You may need an account to download, but the files are free.
If you don’t know Tony, he’s an author and illustrator, and also a lifelong Dungeons & Dragons player. His work on the Planescape setting in the 90s showed the world that you could give a strong art direction to a mainstream tabletop RPG line. I was fortunate enough to interview him a few years ago for Inis Magazine and ask him about gaming. I can’t find the interview online, but thank Tyr we have Google docs: Tony DiTerlizzi interview for Inis Mag.
Anyway, download these Ask me about playing D&D flyers, display them on public places, and have nerdy conversations with strangers!
Back in my day (you kids might now those olden times as the Stranger Things Era), finding a group of like minded nerds to gather around a table covered with dice and potato crisps wasn’t easy. And you know what? It’s not too easy nowadays either.
Where I’m from, we had local clubs. But I guess clubs aren’t a thing in this country (they’re still going strong in France). If you’re a student at a major university, you can easily join the gaming society, and you’re probably not reading this.
So how do you find a group to play Dungeons & Dragons with? You can always ask your nerdy friends if they’re into it, but chances are you would have to be the Dungeon Master — and not everyone is ready to DM, especially if they’re just starting . Do ask your mates if they don’t know of a group accepting new players. You never know.
EDIT (22/10/19): If you’re not afraid of talking D&D with randos, I’ve made these flyers that you can leave near you at the library or in coffee shops. Get them from my Itch page. And yes, Tony DiTerlizzi did me the honour or letting me use his Inktober sketch.
The FLGS is a good place to start
Back in the day, hobby shops had a corkboard where you could pin a note along the lines of “9th level Dwarf looking for adventuring party” (100 gold pieces if you can tell me where this reference comes from!). Now, things are much easier: a lot of places have organised play modules. Drop by, bring a character, and have fun. Gamers World on Jervis St hosts Adventurers League events every other Monday night, apparently. If you know D&D well enough, it’s a straightforward way to play regularly.
Wait, aren’t we nearly in 2020? We have internet to look for people without having to interact with people first! Facebook is probably the first place where you would look; there is a Dungeons & Dragons Ireland group where I’ve seen some LFG posts.
Of course, the mission of a Meetup group isn’t to find you a regular D&D table. It wouldn’t be a Meetup group otherwise. What this one does, among other things***, is “one-shot” nights in pubs. It’s easy, beginner friendly, and no one has to commit to anything more than sitting down and play for a couple of hours. (And if you’re really not enjoying yourself, I guess it’s easy to make an excuse and go home.)
I had a really good experience at the last one-shot meetup in Stoneybatter. Coming in, I saw some serious gamers, ready to play some serious D&D. I was early, and rather than commit to one of these tables, I waited and chatted with some of the other newcomers hanging about, waiting for another DM to finish his prep. Turns out it was a good move: I ended up playing with five young(er than me), mostly foreign (like me) players in a very fun, very comedy oriented game. DM Daniel ran us through a fun romp in a wizard’s tower, complete with inverse gravity rooms, that a tribe of kobolds had stuffed with traps. The night was about exploring and making mistake after hilarious mistake.
One-shot nights: best way to sample people?
I have my qualms about fifth edition D&D, one of them being that it’s too combat oriented to my taste. I was dreading having to spend the whole night going from fight to fight, counting squares and begging the healers to save my useless first level wizard. Daniel had the wisdom to wait until the end of the night to give us the option to resort to tactical violence. We had a tense fight with a dragon-like creature on top of a treasure pile. A proper heroic ending!
Among us, one guy had never played D&D before. I think he got a good impression of our hobby after our amateur antics and explosive shenanigans.
On my way back that night, I reflected on how lucky I had been to immediately find a table where everyone was on the same page. Don’t get me wrong: had I opted to sit with one of the other three DMs, I’m sure I’d have enjoyed myself too. I enjoy tactical fights (I play Gloomhaven). But I don’t think I would have mentally labelled every single participant as “would play with again”.
I think one-shot nights such as these are a great way to make D&D friends. This is what we used clubs for, back in mine youthe: to find the people we want to invite to adventure in our own basements.
* LFG: Looking For Group. An acronym used in online games when a players wants to join a party. ** FLGS: you Friendly Local Games Store. *** The D&D in Dublin Meetup group has also hosted beginner sessions, DM Club nights, and workshops for aspiring Dungeon Masters.
Only six spells for this third installment? Well, I only needed this many to complete my d66 table. The goal was to have a decent amount of weird, B/X-adjacent spells for Dungeonsnack. Maybe one of these days I’ll go over all the B/X spell lists to make a book, but not today.
The caster enchants a ball made with the gallbladder of a fox and filled with dried nettles, sulfur, and 100 GP worth of jasper powder. Once thrown, the ball catches fire for 1d6 rounds, and then explodes into a ball of elemental fire. The explosion, the size of a small house, causes 1d6 damage per caster level to anyone in it (save for half). Note that an attack roll may be required to throw the ball where it is expected to land. It is possible to try and kick it somewhere else while it is just burning, but there is a cumulative 1-in-6 chance that the Baell of Fyr will explode every time it is touched. (So yes, shooting at it is a good way to shorten the fuse, so to speak.)
>> I’m not even trying to make Fireball better. Why would I? This is just a riskier, slightly more prone to shenanigans, version of the BBQ magic we all know and love.
Duration: an hour per caster level (or less – see below) A statue, figurine, or other inanimate, tridimensional representation or a living being comes to life. It responds to the caster’s command with limited, dog like intelligence. The size of the figure isn’t relevant; it always has as many hit dice as the caster’s level. It has the non-magical abilities of the creature it represents, although flying, climbing, etc. may be impossible if the figure is to heavy. The caster may elect to project one of their five senses into the figure, perceiving what the creation does. This deprives the caster of their sense until the end of the spell. They can stop the sensory projection, but they release control of the figure, which then acts accordingly to its form and intelligence. If ordered to fight, every round of combat removes one hour from the spell’s total duration.
>> A spell inspired by Growth of Animal and Clairvoyance. Because reskinning them individually would have been boring. I like that you can use this spell on a clay pigeon for scouting purposes, and to animate the colossus of Rhodes when the Spartan orcs attack.
Duration: 1 hour The caster draws from the Earth’s bounty and forms a suit of armour around their body. Soil, stone, sand, metal, wood, roots, dead leaves… Anything grown from the ground or coming from the ground. It doesn’t have to be raw and untouched, so the caster could use an existing suit of armour or the fragments of wooden furniture. The sturdier the stuff used, the less the spell needs of it; a suit of Gaia’s Platemail made from reeds would be thick enough to make the caster look like a wicker giant. The material vanishes at the end of the spell’s duration, leaving but a trace of the finest dust. For combat purposes, the caster is treated as wearing plate armour and shield. They also strike as a fighter of their level, as their blows are fueled by nature’s fury. Every attack dealt by the caster depletes the spell, worsening their armour class by one point. If the AC is back to the caster’s original score, the spell ends.
>> This spell is Striking by way of Tenser’s Transformation.I always thought that was an underused spell.
Hold the Ley Line
The caster’s hands disappear into the quasi-dimension where magical energies live. Within the spell’s duration, they can manipulate the lines and shapes that make up an active spell. Doing so is a dangerous proposition as mortal eyes cannot see magic forces without aid. If there is indeed magic there, the caster can attempt to affect the spell they are ‘touching’. This process takes 1d6 minutes. Roll a die on the table below. The type of die rolled depends on the caster’s level: > 1st-2nd: d4 > 3rd-4th: d6 > 5th-6th: d8 > 7th and above: d10 If the caster can see the magical energies they are manipulating (because they’re somehow visible, or through the use of a spell or magical item), they roll the die twice and choose the result.
2-3. Wreck it. The spell ends, but a magical catastrophe occurs.
3-5. Feel and understand. Try again in 1d6 minutes, rolling d10 on this table.
6-7. Cut a ley line or two. The magical effect is cancelled for d6 combat rounds. On a 6, roll again for a duration in minutes. On another 6, roll again for hours. Then days, weeks, months…
8-9. Variable intensity dispel. The caster can adjust the strength, area, duration… of the spell, or dispel it entirely.
10+. Take over. The caster reprograms the spell for their own use, as if they had cast it themselves.
> This is me redoing Dispel Magic.
On the Wings of Angels
Duration: 1 hour Responding to the caster’s invocation, a cohort of invisible angles, djinn, cloud demons, or ill wind spirits come to lift them from the ground. These beings can be directed to carry the caster at great speed to a place they know, or simply away from danger. Distance isn’t relevant as the angels know many a planar shortcut. The journey always takes an hour. More intricate orders, such as “keep me afloat above the battle, but out of reach from goblin arrows” or “let us explore this cave complex”, need to be thoroughly explained and bargained for. Not all of the angels present may agree to a new command and, should the caster attempt to bribe them, their tastes and desires may be different. Epic songs and sad poems are appreciated, as is sparkly wine, intricately knit lace, and the freshly harvested livers of certain birds. Traveling to places that are difficult to reach, such a well defended fortresses or hidden demiplanes is always costly. The angels will demand something aluable to the caster (like their spell book or right hand) or almost impossible to obtain (the joy of a lost king, a pearl that grew inside a walnut, the motherfucking Runestaff).
>> This is Fly, of course, which I tried to make into a transportation spell as well.
Pact against Harm
Duration: 1 day par caster level With this spell, the caster effectively signs a contract with the lawmakers of the universe. They get immunity from one source of harm of their choice: > fire and cold > mundane weapons > harmful spells > falls and crushing > life drain > other (as agreed with the referee) The caster takes no damage from it, but everything else is slightly more dangerous to them. Add +1 to every damage die rolled against them (so 1d10+1 would be 1d10+2, but 6d6 would become 6d6+6). This spell cannot be dispelled before the end of its duration.
> This is Protection from Normal Missiles, with 50% less guarantees.
I made a thing for fifth edition D&D. It is called The Drama Module. Here is why I made it:
You know how, watching people like the cast of Critical Role bring these wonderful characters to life, you think: “how will I get my players to create cool relationships between their characters?” After all, inter character drama isn’t in the rules. What’s in the rules is mostly exploration and combat.
So my thought was: “why not add rules for character drama?”. I took advantage of the SwordDream game jam on itch.io to try and lure players into creating strong relationships between their characters.
With The Drama Module, they’ll do it because of the rules. Tell them they can have more than one instance of Inspiration, that they’ll be able to take Inspiration from another player when they need it, or to use it twice to roll 3d20 and keep the best result! Oh and tell them, they’ll get some XP for confronting, manipulating, or supporting each other. All for the low, low price of thinking about their characters as people instead of combo delivering devices.
Character development and extra powers… What’s not to like?
The Drama Module is a set of 27 cards (more if you print out some duplicates) available as a PDF from itch.io. You can get it from this handy widget:
And while you are at it, hang around and have a browse. The DreamJam attracted 63 designers from all over the world, and more importantly from across community barriers. Most of these games are free too! Collect them all!
This rather long winded post tries to explain the thought process behind the new rule for backpack equipment and background in Dungeonsnack, my minimalist adventure game designed for one-hour sessions.
Gear as origin story
I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but over its years of development, Macchiato Monsters‘ character creation became a game within the game. Part of the interest is to give your character a backstory based on the equipment you rolled. Why has my dwarf goatherd a book of scriptures? How come my noble wizard is trailing an ox laden with jars of snail soup? These questions are answered before or during the game, by myself or with help from the other players and referee. They may become part of the session, or they may not. This system adapts to the adventure being played, and more importantly to the group’s culture around narrative collaboration.
As a player, I love making up an interesting story about why my character is on the road with a rag-tag band of weirdos. This will often infer an origin, previous profession, or (in D&D 5E terms) a background.
Old school style adventure games like to give characters a previous career. It is a great way to give a hastily generated replacement character a roleplaying hook, some kind of initial flavour. Historically, there was the random table of ‘secondary skills’ in AD&D. In the OSR, Dungeon Crawl Classics is known for its level zero villagers and their farm animals; Electric Bastionland will have a hundred failed careers. Luminaries of the adventure games blogosphere have provided us with more thana fewolden timesprofessions lists, some of them with quaint and/or interesting equipment for your character.
What defines an adventurer?
While I was working on Dungeonsnack recently, I was thinking about the limited amount of data the game has to define a character: a type (class or species, works like Macchiato Monsters‘ traits), a random starting schtick (from a talking cat to wings to telepathy to a lot of cash), hit points, and equipment.
At first, equipment was one of three types of packs: soldier, scoundrel, and scholar, each one with a table for backpack contents and a choice of weaponry and armour. It was fine, but Dungeonsnack is a minimalist game designed for beginners and one-hour sessions — a lot of choices at character creation isn’t what we want, really. .
So it occurred to me that I could have a sizeable equipment table, the same for everyone. And to make it a bit easier for newbies, I would add a former occupation to each equipment line. Here are a couple of examples:
Bear wrestler. Honeyed beef ribs (2 days), chalk, padded clothes, 2 torches, ointment for cuts and bruises (15s).
Fossil miner. Pine nut bread (3 days), pick, 15 m of rope, hammer and spikes, 4 flasks of oil, helmet with oil lamp, 60 copper.
Travelling singer. Potato flour and butter (4 days), quality clothes (20s), show posters, pot of glue, torch, book of folk songs (30s).
I wrote 36 of these backpack backgrounds. I’ve tried to give them at least one interesting or useful item, as well as a colourful profession. Most of them also feature a valuable item an enterprising player may want to sell to buy adventurer’s gear. We’ll see how this works in game this weekend at LasagnaCon. Again, Dungeonsnack being designed for one-hour beginner sessions: I can see this working with seasoned players, but maybe that’s just too much information for the purpose of team building sessions with Dungeons & Dragons.
Enter the equipment sheet
One of the most useful PDFs I ever got from DrivetrhuRPG is the Better Legends Illustrated Equipment Packs. I’ve given these randomly to new players to help them flesh their characters out. Months down the line, this investment is still paying dividends. Llike when the fighter uses the wig from for her entertainer’s pack when her hair gets burnt off by a fireball. To this date, no one knows why a bloodthirsty shieldmaiden is carrying more costumes and make up than Molière’s theatre company.
Dungeonsnack isn’t going to have illustrated equipment sheets, but I made the next best thing: character sheets pre-filled with the “backpack background”, i.e. the equipment list and failed profession. Instead of rolling on a table, the players pick a sheet at random and build their character from there. I figure this method should help new players and veterans alike to choose a direction for their character: if I pick the bear wrestler sheet, for example, I can decide to go for the burly warrior type, or fight the cliché and create a wizard. It’s a jumping point for my imagination.
My office Lunchtime Dungeons game stopped in the middle of a fight this week. Tomorrow, the players will face two high-level priestesses of Lolth who planeshifted on them to free a prisoner. And I have no idea who will die.
I know, you can never tell in advance how a fight will go in an adventure game. Those chancy d20s, right? But even then, I have no statistical idea of who will win, and that’s mostly because I’m mixing rules systems all the time.
The characters are made with Lunchtime Dungeons, and armed with items and spells from across the old school galaxy, old worn books and spiffy new PDFs. The opposition is straight from a Spelljammer adventure. And I am not doing any conversion work.
This makes me the ultimately fair referee. When the players ask me “how powerful would this dragon be?”, I can only answer in in-world terms. “Well, it razed a couple of villages, and the party of knights that was sent to kill it never came back.” Of course, I can compare hit dice and levels, but I never know the way I would if every element of the game was written in the same system.
I saw interesting power level discrepancies when I was running old modules in Macchiato Monsters, but I blamed freeform magic. You can trust clever players with level 5 magic users to get out of White Plume Mountain with a friendly, momentarily shrunk biggest giant crab anyone’s ever seen in a bucket of water.
In my present game, magic is of course a factor. It’s like an enclosed Flailsnails campaign, if you will. It’s an open table, ongoing game; people drop out for long enough for me to forget all about their abilities and the items they picked up. When they come back, looking everything up is not an option, so I make a ruling. Same with those AD&D spells the dark elves have – I’ve read over them when prepping, but I probably won’t check the exact procedure at the table.
So shit will happen that no one could have foreseen – not the players, who mostly aren’t into rules anyway, and certainly not me. For all of us, the world is this unpredictable, dangerous, believable mess. Will a minor potion save the day? Will the toughest fighter in the party be turned into dust? Will the campaign setting be set ablaze by a barely controlled spell?
As promised, this is the second part of the spell list for Dungeonsnack, my minimalistic adventure game system. (I guess I have no excuse to not release it now.) You can find the first part of the spell list here. Again, the goal is to have an original spell list that encourages out-of-the-box thinking for my team building sessions of Dungeons & Dragons.
What’s next? I’ll look at the lists for higher level spells, but as I have made these more flexible, I’m expecting a lot of the spells to be redundant. Also, first and second level spells are what I need for introductory games, so it may be a while.
30 Low-Level Spells for Adventure and OSR Games
1. Attune Map 2. Aura Sight 3. Battle Hymn 4. Blessing of the Fickle Saints 5. Celestial Window 6. Cloak of the Chameleon 7. Commune with Stygian Librarian 8. Crystalline Barricade 9. Djinn Guardian 10. Eldritch Surgery 11. Emberskin 12. Experience the Possible 13. Fly True, my Trusted Friend! 14. Fungal Changeling 15. Gift of the Tongue
16. Halo of the Selenites 17. Head over Heels 18. La Fontaine’s Trick 19. Mechanomancy 20. Microwave Shell 21. Mouldbane 22. Phase Shift, Offensive 23. Pylophony 24. Reflective Retreat 25. Shadow Torchbearer 26. Soul Vortex 27. Spelltrap 28. The Unwearied Wanderers 29. Toadstool Theatrics 30. Vermin Friendship
Duration: 10 minutes The caster causes a map they are holding to commune with the part of reality it represents. They can ask it one yes-or-no question per caster level. The map’s knowledge is limited to cartographical features: it doesn’t know about occupants or the history of the place (unless the map is ancient, missing pieces, or otherwise special – at the referee’s discretion). For the price of 3 questions, the caster can point to a blank space on the map. The room or area there appears, drawn as accurately as the rest of the map. There is 1-in-6 chance that each trap, secret door, or other hidden feature is represented.
>> I love locate object for dungeon delving. It took a while to find an idea for this, but I’m quite happy with the way this makes the in-world map more relevant.
Blessing of the Fickle Saints
Duration : until fully expanded (see below) The Kasinous, also known as the 36 fickle saints of chance, turn their attention onto the caster and their allies. The party gets a Blessing risk die according to the caster’s level: Δ6 if 1st to 3rd levels, Δ8 at 4th to 6th levels, Δ10 at 7th to 9th level, and Δ12 at 10th level and above.
Every round, exploration turn, or travel day, any player can roll the Blessing die and add its result to the dice roll of their choice.
On a result of 1 to 3, the die is stepped down to the next lower die (Δ12 to Δ10 to Δ8 to Δ6 to Δ4). A Δ4 that is stepped down means the blessing is expanded.
On the maximum result, the die is stepped up (Δ6 to Δ8, and so on) and the 36 saints change their mind: the Blessing die goes to the referee, who uses it as they want.
If the referee gets the maximum result, they give the Blessing die back to the players.
If the Blessing die hasn’t been used at the end of a round (in combat) or exploration turn (outside of combat) or day (in a city or wilderness environment), whoever holds it (referee or players) must give it to the other side.
* Risk dice are from Macchiato Monsters: they are noted Δninstead of dn(where n is the number of sides of the die).
>> This is obviously bless. I’ve just tried to make the spell more interesting than an improved 5% chance of hitting monsters and resisting spells.
Duration: until dispelled A spell inherited from spacefaring elven archmages. It creates a minute, airtight window to the vicinity of a distant sun. The window appears on the palm of the caster’s dominant hand, projecting a cone of light. Within their ability, the caster decides the type of sun and how close to it the portal is.
The caster chooses the colour and the range of the light (up to the caster’s level in metres).
If the caster wills it so, the window also casts radiation that is damaging to living tissue (caster level in damage per round of exposure — save to avoid).
A sentient being staring directly at the window for several hours can sometimes glimpse a secret of the universe (referee decides – a save is always needed to stay sane).
By touching their palm to a surface (an attack roll may be needed), the caster can stick the window to it. It stays there after that.
Star invasion. If the window is left unattended, there is a 1-in-6 chance every month it opens and lets something out.
>> Continual light is such a good spell for enterprising PCs, and also the first premise of the old magic-breaks-the-world conundrum. (Why isn’t everything lit by continual light items after a couple of generations?). We already have two light shedding spells, so I looked at the offensive aspect of the light spells, trying not to undermine shadow torchbearer and aura of the Selenites.
Cloak of the Chameleon
Duration: until removed The caster grants the power of camouflage to a single skin or pelt. The more exotic the skin is, the harder it is to notice the wearer (or hidden area/object) by sight or smell (the wearer make just as much noise as anyone else). Some guidelines are given below. Note that the chance of hiding is for a creature who stays very still; it is reduced by 1 or more if it is moving. At the referee’s discretion, a large pelt can be used by more than one creature. When the skin is removed, the spells ends and the skin is destroyed.
Hood of pigeon feathers: 1-in-6
Ram or billy goat skin: 2-in-6
Stallion or bull hide: 3-in-6
Polar bear or white tiger pelt: 4-in-6
Halfling scout or elf maiden skin: 5-in-6
Blink dog or displacer beast fur: 6-in-6
Lammasu or ki-rin: 7-in-6
>> This is merely a reskinned (haha) version of invisibility with a tug towards plot creation. Side note: I love that invisibility can make objects disappear permanently. I don’t think this is used often enough! Maybe because of magic-breaks-the-world again? How long does it take until cities are full of invisible doors and coffers?
Duration: permanent until destroyed This spell creates a 10 square metres surface of translucent, friable quasi-matter (the caster chooses the exact dimensions). The barricade has d6 hit points per caster level and can be destroyed by normal means. Reducing the barricade’s HP to half is enough to poke holes into it, making it porous to spells and missile attacks.
>> Basically, a more combat focus version of web. It’s not as awesome, though. I may rework or rewrite it later.
Duration: 1 turn per caster level This impressive but uncomfortable spell wreathes the caster’s skin in hot smoke and burning ash. They are immune to normal and magical fire, but everything they touch or wear have a 1-in-6 chance of melting or catching fire every minute. Also, even if the caster can breathe normally, their companions may want to stay upwind of them. Of course, stealth is out of the question in most environments (except maybe volcanoes and hellish planes).
>>This is resist fire with a bit of added texture and risk.
Experience the Possible
Duration: 1 second per caster level Casting this spell with a mere whisper, the character can glimpse into a timeline branching from reality, starting with their next action. The experience is very short, but sufficient to get an idea of whether a door is trapped, or if an interlocutor would take offense at a joke, etc. When the spell ends, the caster effectively goes back in time and must decide what to do. If they choose not to act at all, they must save or be forced to reenact the triggering action. This is why wizards have a reputation of acting strangely sometimes.
>> Without invisibility, detect invisible is useless. So I thought abut information gathering spells, keeping in mind that I have two strong ones already. I am aware that this could be used to accurately detect traps, but as it’s a one-use spell, I don’t think thieves will feel disempowered.
Head over Heels
Duration: 1 hour The target’s relationship with the floor and ceiling is inverted; also, their feet and hands swap purposes. Not only are they able to use their hands to walk, magically suspended from the ceiling, but also they can manipulate objects with their legs. If there is no ceiling, tree branches and other overhead objects can be used to walk. The spell doesn’t work if there aren’t any. It is however very difficult for them to interact with the floor and ceiling normally (just as it would be for someone else to walk on their hands while holding a sword with their toes). An unwilling target is allowed to save.
>> A silly reskin of levitation. I voluntarily glossed over its effect on gravity to let referees decide what happens when this spell is cast in places with very high ceilings.
La Fontaine’s Trick
Duration: permanent Up to one normal animal per caster level is granted the ability to speak. Roll 1d12 to know what languages the creatures know. Look at the table below: it can understand and speak the languages between (die result) and (result + caster level). The animals also gain the personality traits in brackets corresponding to the die’s result, which may influence their reaction to the characters.
1: Demonic (cruel and scheming) 2: Draconic (greedy and temperamental) 3: Goblin (cowardly and mocking) 4: Medusa (artsy and traitorous) 5: Gnoll (proud and ferocious) 6: Dwarvish (gruff and industrious) 7: Elvish (haughty and intellectual) 8: Gnomish (curious and inventive) 9: Halfling (hungry and jolly) 10: Sylvan (shy and benevolent) 11: Celestial (peaceful and judgmental) 12+: Common (talkative and nosy)
For example, a 3rd level caster who rolls a 6 to bestow speech to a group of mules would bestow them the ability to speak Dwarvish, Elvish, Gnomish, and Halfling. The animals would behave like a bunch of grumpy miners.
>> Talk with animals. A druid spell before there were even druid player characters! Again, I tried to make it more playful while covering the same area. I hope you will forget the meta/French name.
Duration: 1 hour The caster gets an innate sense of how mechanisms and complicated machines work. Their chance to detect moving parts, such as pressure plates and secret doors is twice as likely with a cursory glance (they will always detect them when looking). The caster is able to infer what (non-magical) effects pulling a lever or turning a key will trigger. They aren’t able to disarm a trap, but their description of the mechanisms should give a generous bonus to the thief’s skill roll. The caster also learns how to operate machinery, but they must make an INT check if they want to keep doing so after the spell ends.
>> I cast find traps and we can fire the party’s thief! Again, this is an attempt at broadening the applications of the spell while creating a lot of edge cases (and headaches for the referee).
The caster holds a silver mirror (worth 10 GP) in their hand. If they are hit by an attack, the mirror is destroyed and the caster disappears into the mirror dimension for 1d4 rounds. Note that the caster can also destroy the mirror. They cannot affect the material world, but they can watch it (and be seen) through reflective surfaces, including the mirror’s fragments. They are free to do whatever they like during the spell’s duration. If they wander too far away from a reflective surface however, the referee may ask for a check or save to avoid becoming lost in the mirror dimension. At the end of the spell’s duration, the caster reenters reality from the closest mirror or reflective surface.
>> Mirror image is everyone’s favourite defensive spell, even if this version is less efficient than the one I remember from AD&D. This is less efficient as a combat spell, but creative PCs can use reflective retreat to explore and bypass obstacles.
Duration: 1 hour Range: 10 metres per level This spell lets the caster open an invisible gate into the astral void, where the spirits of the dead travel. The astral currents thus released let the caster perceive the souls of sentient beings in the vicinity, even if the beings are not normally seen (i.e. invisible, or just in another room). By concentrating on one soul in particular, they can:
Know whether it has a connection to a divine or other powerful supernatural being (like clerics, warlocks, or some undead).
Borrow the soul for up to a minute per level, allowing instant communication of complex thoughts and concepts. (Touch required, save cancels.) The target’s body falls unconscious until the soul is returned.
>> As written in Moldvay and Cook, ESP is mostly useful for detecting enemies (provided you have time) and interrogate prisoners. I tried to duplicate this and add another use. Also, there should be more soul magic in D&D. Soul harvest from Wonders & Wickedness has provided much entertainment at my table!
Duration: 1 minute per caster level The caster conjures a mystical sphere of energy that automatically captures a spell cast or aimed at a point in its immediate vicinity. The spelltrap hovers and can be moved slowly as long as its caster concentrates. When the spelltrap ends, the captured spell takes effect as if cast at the spot where the trap was. Some additional details:
A spelltrap can be popped like a bubble; it has AC 0 (19), and a number of hit points equal to its caster’s level.
The caster of a spelltrap can attempt to dissipate the captured magic, effectively negating the spell. However, there is a base 1-in-6 chance that the spell is released accidentally. Add 1 to these odds if the caster of the trapped spell is of higher level, and 1 if the caster of the spelltrap doesn’t know the captured spell.
At level 3, the caster can capture their own spell if they cast it immediately after spelltrap.
At level 7, the spelltrap can be kept empty and floating for up to an hour, or until it captures a spell.
>> Replacing silence, 15ft radius is no easy task. I had to choose between its two effects: stealth and incapacitating spell casters. I went with the latter, and made it more polyvalent if not as efficient ror the purposes of killing evil cultists.
Duration: concentration (see below) The caster throws mushrooms on the ground (up to one mushroom per level); each one grows into the desired shape, up to the size of a large humanoid. The caster must concentrate on the spell to animate their fungal creations. If they stop, the theatrics crumble in 1d6 minutes. Only rare and expensive* mushrooms can accurately mimic a creature or object, but any fungus can approximate a humanoid or a door well enough to fool a casual viewer at a distance or in dim light.
* Rare and expensive: according to the setting and the referee’s discretion. If they plan to impersonate an elven queen, the caster may have to quest for the mythical royal purple milkcap, which can only be found in Farthest Faerie. Any decent alchemist will sell a dozen greenwart puffballs, good for mimicking goblinkind humanoids, for about 8 GP.
>>This is phantasmal force with a fungal twist and an opportunty for story hooks.
Duration: 10 minutes per caster level The caster is able to communicate with one type of creature commonly considered as vermin (insects, arachnids, some rodents, birds, or bats, etc.). Cooperation is not guaranteed: roll 1d10 + caster level on the monster reaction table (reproduced below). At the referee’s discretion, an offering (of food, for example) may justify another roll.
2d6Reaction 2 or less Hostile, attacks 3–5 Unfriendly, may attack 6–8 Neutral, uncertain 9–11 Indifferent, uninterested 12 or more Friendly, helpful
>> I have no idea how snake charm made it into the Greyhawk book of OD&D. Bible inspiration? Good ole orientalism crap? Did someone in the original crews run a snake themed dungeon? Will we ever know? John Peterson, we need you!
Here’s an offering for you, D&D DMs, adventure game masters, old school referees: a wounds system where your hit dice are a pool to roll from every time you get hit. Use it, hack it, mock it. It’s your call!
I’ve used these rules for a few months in Lunchtime Dungeons, but they don’t gel with my audience. Most of my players are casual gamers – they love our sessions, but they don’t interact with the mechanics as much as gaming nerds would.
This is one of the challenges of this gig: I have to constantly remind myself than, even if I want an engaging game, I’m running Dungeons & Dragons in offices for team building purposes. I’m not designing for fantasy enthusiasts and practicing gamers. Maybe I need to frame that above my desk.
Hit Dice Pool and Wounds
But you aren’t reading this to listen to me whine about game design. Here’s how the HDW system works.
For fluidity’s sake, these rules do away with damage rolls. (You can keep them if you don’t mind an extra roll, it’s really no big deal.) Below are the numbers I use, along with some weapons traits.
A modified attack roll of 20 or more is always a critical hit, and the damage is doubled. This makes even a knife a threat to moderately experienced characters, which I think if more interesting (i.e. lethal).
Your hit dice are a pool. For example, using ‘classic’ B/X D&D rules, a 3rd level fighter keeps 3d8 on their character sheet; a 7th level thief has 7d4.
Optionally, hit dice can be spent and added to attack or damage rolls. (I’ve never used this rule or fear of confusing newbies but I would with gamers.)
When you are hit, spend as many HD from your pool as you want. Roll them, add their scores, and subtract the total from the damage: if the result is more than zero, read the result on the wounds table below. Meaning: you want to beat the damage with the total of the hit dice you choose to roll. (Props to Emmy for inspiring the early version of this table with her horrible wounds rules.)
1-2: You will keep an ugly scar.
3-4: Painful blow. Save to avoid falling unconscious for 1d4 rounds.
5: Bleeding out. Roll one of your HD: you will lose it in that many turns. Keep doing this until bandaged or healed or out of HD (in which case, you die).
6-7: Lose something. Roll d6: 1. Fingers (d4); 2. Hand; 3. Nose; 4. Ear; 5. Eye; 6. Looks. Some rolls may be at a disadvantage.
8: Leg useless. Save to keep it when healed. Can’t run. Disadvantage to agility tasks.
9: Arm useless. Save to keep it when healed. Disadvantage if needing both arms or if it was the dominant hand.
10-11: Head wound. Disadvantage to all rolls. Save or lose 1 memorised spell/spell slot.
12: Dead man walking, 1 + Constitution modifier rounds to live.
13+: Vital organs destroyed, instant death.
All the HD rolled are lost until you rest or get healed (see below). When you are out of HD, read the damage directly on the table. Whatever the result, you must also save with Constitution or Wisdom or die.
Example: Holka is a 4th level dwarf. In a scuffle with a hobgoblin guard, she’s hit by a halberd and takes 8 damage. The player could roll three of her dice and have an excellent chance of shrugging the blow (the average roll for 3d8 is 13.5) but she decides to keep two in case she gets hit again. Bad idea: she rolls 2d8 and gets a total result of 3. The referee subtracts the roll from the damage (8 minus 3 is 5) and looks at the corresponding entry on the wounds table. Holka is now bleeding out. This fight had better end soon.
Other sources of damage
Spells and other non-weapon attacks do fixed damage as well. As a rule, I would use the average value: a 5d6 fireball would do 18 damage for example.
In other cases, like with fatigue, life drain, poison, and other non-wounding damage sources, I just make characters lose hit dice from their pool.
Rest and healing
With six hours of uninterrupted rest, you get your spells back and recover a number of HD equal to half your level, rounded up. In combat, magical healing recovers 1 HD per level of the caster.
Lunchtime Dungeons goes back to hit points
So I’m sticking with good ole HP and damage rolls from my games; the jury is still out about a wounds table vs. a simple roll to stay alive at zero HP. Maybe I’ll use the former in Lunchtime Dungeons and the latter in Dungeonsnack, which I’m trying to keep as minimalistic as I can. (I’m using it for demo purposes rather than full blown “team building with D&D” sessions.)
I really like the wounds system though, so I might use it in another game at some stage. In the meantime, it’s here for you to give your players a meaningful choice in combat – and see their characters lose a limb or two.
Look! Another blogger is rewriting the spell list from B/X! How exciting!
My lunch hour game uses ALL THE SPELLS. It started with the lists from the Venerable Old Tomes that are Basic/Expert D&D and Advanced D&D, but I soon added those from Wonder & Wickedness and Marvels & Malisons (I cannot emphasise the usefulness of these books enough – they come with a level-less magic system, caster schools, catastrophe tables, and weird starting equipment for your weirdo characters), to Gavin Norman’s Theorems & Thaumuturgy, Johnstone Metzger’s Nameless Grimoire, and various funkiful lists gleaned on the internet over the years.
As an experiment and for portability’s sake, I want to have a list I can stick in Dungeonsnack (an even more streamlined version of Lunchtime Dungeons). So here is what I’m doing: I’m taking the spells from Basic D&D, trying to rewrite them so that:
They have a similar use (for the ones that are useful in the typical adventure)
Are more adaptable (for the most narrow of them)
Have a little bit of a weird fiction flavour
Note that I am dumping cleric and magic-user/elf spells together (Dungeonsnack is classless). I don’t think it’ll be a problem for most of you. These are the spells on the 1st Level lists. (I intend to do at least the 2nd level spells, and some of them may be bundled with the spells below.)
So that’s 15 spells. Hopefully I’ll have another 15 with the 2nd level list, which would give me a handy d30 table.
1. Aura Sight 2. Battle Hymn 3. Commune with Stygian Librarian 4. Djinn Guardian 5. Eldritch Surgery 6. Fly True, my Trusted Friend! 7. Fungal Changeling 8. Gift of the Tongue
9. Halo of the Selenites 10. Microwave Shell 11. Mouldbane 12. Pylophony 13. Phase Shift, Offensive 14. Shadow Torchbearer 15. The Unwearied Wanderers
Duration: 1 minute The caster’s eyes turn a luminous blue as their perception shifts into the astral realm. They can now see auras and energy field emanating from creatures, objects, and places. This spell is useful to detect magic, track unholy creatures, and guess someone’s mood. The referee gives superficial information about the auras seen, but the caster must save to obtain specific information about an aura in particular (for instance to identify a magical item or read someone’s alignment). A failure ends the spell. On a natural 1, the caster falls unconscious for 1d12 hours.
>> This is Detect Magic. I am trying to bundle it with other Detect spells (but not with Detect Traps).
The caster channels their magic into sound in order to influence a battle. It affects as many HD worth of creatures as the caster’s level – who must all be able to hear. The effect depends on the instrument used by the caster:
Rallying horn: routed ally NPCs can test their morale again.
Deafening bell: enemies must save or lose their sense of hearing for the next hour. Casting spells while deaf is usually a problem.
Drums of blood: allies get advantage on their next d4 rolls.
Blasting trumpet: everyone in a 3m cone must save or drop their weapons and shields.
No instrument: a blood curdling war cry. Enemies must test their morale.
>> Remove Fear. I made it reversible, and arguably more efficient. My slot-based encumbrance system makes it interesting that you have to carry all these instruments if you want to use the spell to its full extent.
Commune with Stygian Librarian
Through an astral conduit, the caster can converse with an erudite entity about matters of idioms and the occult. They can ask as many questions as they have levels. The Stygian Librarian answers truly but briefly, as their work day is often quite busy. At level 3, the caster is able to transmit images of texts, bas-reliefs, or artefacts. Each image consumes enough energy to counts as two questions. Full translation is beyond the purview of this spell, but the Librarian will provide a summary of a text sent.
>> Hopefully a more fun version of Read Languages that can be used in diverse situations. I’m still waiting for my copy of The Stygian Library, so I have no idea what its librarians are like. I may change the name when I’ve read the adventure.
The caster summons an invisible denizen of the Winds Realm to take damage in their stead. The djinn has one hit die per three caster levels (2 from level 4, 3 from level 7, etc.), and returns to its plane when brought to zero HP. On a bad attack roll (less than the caster’s level on the modified d20), the djinn retaliates (1d4 damage per three caster levels). On a crit, the caster is hit. The spell binds the djinn for one hour. It is possible to bribe the creature with jewels and tales of mighty deeds to double this duration.
>> Asimple alternate version of Shield. I had another idea, but I’ll use it to replace Web.
The caster cuts out torn tissue, broken bones, ruptured organs, and the like with a putty made of dead flesh macerated in embalming spices and quicksilver. The deeper the wound, the longer the surgery: a simple cut takes a few seconds, replacing a severed limb or fixing punctured lungs requires hours. The target recovers up to a number of d6 hit points equal to the caster’s level. Count the number of 6s rolled:
One 6: the area healed, though devoid of any scar, is cold, grey, and clammy. It slowly goes back to normal after a month.
Two 6s: the healed character makes pets and farm animals aggressive for the next year.
Three 6s: the healed character can only subsist on living flesh. If they haven’t fed in a day, they must save to avoid going into a frenzy at the sight of blood.
Four 6s: the healed character is considered undead for all intents and purposes. They can be turned, damaged by holy water, etc.
Five or more 6s: the character becomes a wight. A case can be made for the player to retain control of them, but the referee is within their right to remove them from the game entirely.
>> Why would you make Cure Light Wounds easy when it’s so fun to make it gross?
Fly True, my Trusted Friend!
This spell turns an arrow, bolt, or bullet into an infallible projectile. It can either deal double damage, reach double its range, or hit a specific location to disarm, pin, blind, etc. (for these effects, a target with more HD than the caster is allowed to save.) The projectile is considered a magical weapon, and retains the enchantment for an hour. The caster cannot cast the spell and fire in the same combat turn (but they can coordinate with someone else).
>> A low fantasy equivalent to Magic Missile. I like my wizards with heavy crossbows and horse pistols.
Range: 10 m Duration: 1 hour per level Conjures a nano-fungus that instantly dissolves the target (save cancels) and grows into an identical double in d6 minutes. The changeling will obey any reasonable order from the caster. It conserves enough of the target’s nervous system to know its daily habits, opinions, and recent memories. There is 10% chance per level that it’ll remember any fact outside this. The fungal creation has as many hit dice as the caster, but no magical abilities. When the spell ends, the changeling… (roll d6)
dies, but retains its shape. Only a post mortem examination will reveal its nature.
dies and turns to a foul smelling pool of lumpy liquid.
loses its shape, becoming a green slime with as many HD as the caster.
becomes a green slime as above, with some remnants of intelligence and a hatred for magic-users.
is locked in its shape but has now free will. Its attitude towards the caster depends on how it was treated.
is now a fully formed doppelgänger. This is actually how these creatures are born.
>> Charm Person is one of the spells from the original list I’d keep, but it was fun to think of another spell to fill its super useful shoes.
Gift of the Tongue
Duration: one minute A mouth appears on a surface or object, which is given partial sentience. The voice has a volume proportional to the size of the awakened speaker. Its words are usually stream of consciousness, and often complaints about the damp. However a clever listener can glean some bits of information. It is possible to cast this spell again, which bestows an ear to the object. The caster can then ask questions (the referee may want to roll for reaction first).
>> I really like Ventriloquism, but it is often eclipsed by the more immediately useful spells. I tried to come up with something that could be used for diversions as well as information gathering. Also, giving the dungeon a voice is a good way to build atmosphere.
Halo of the Selenites
Range: touch Duration: 1h per level The target (who can save if unwilling) glows with a silver light, about as bright as a torch. Elves and other fey creatures can use their infravision when inside the spell’s moon-like light. The target’s appearance and demeanour become lunar: pale and aloof, even detached from the world. Their alignment shifts to Neutral until the next moon phase (1d6 days, unless the referee tracks these for some reason).
>> A Light spell with some personality. I’ll use another, more offensive idea for Continual Light.
Duration: 1 minute per level The caster causes a powerful magnet (costs 100-600 GP, reusable) to hover about one metre above the ground. The magnet becomes the centre of a sphere 5 metres in radius. Any undead, summoned, or extraplanar creature trying to to enter the area must save with a penalty equal to the character’s level to do so. Ranged attacks suffer from the same penalty. The magnet can be moved with some precautions (materials burn or melt, flesh takes 1 damage per caster level every round).
Range: touch This spell deals damage to fungi, oozes, jellies, and other amorphous creatures. Roll 1d6+1 per caster level for the spell’s Potency. It can be used to clean surfaces from mould and bacteria (Potency in square metres). It will also purify food and drink (Potency in days worth of rations). As it works on malign miasma, it has a good chance of curing some diseases: roll the save or chance of infection again.
>> I don’t know a more narrow spell than Purify Food and Water. Hopefully this one will see more use.
The caster talks to a door, gate, trapdoor, anything with a locking mechanism, and orders it to open, close, lock or unlock. Roll 1d6 + level (or Charisma modifier if it is better): 2-3: the door reluctantly opens or closes. Locks are operated slowly and noisily. Traps are immediately triggered. The spell ends. 4-5: the door agrees to lock or unlock itself, leaving any traps or active runes in place (hopefully someone will check for them). The spell ends. 6-8: the door obeys and warns the caster about any dangers on it or on the other side. The spell lasts for an hour. 9-12: the door obeys, disarms any traps or runes, and will act independently to facilitate the caster’s endeavours and make their enemies’ lives harder. The spell lasts until sunset. 13+: the caster becomes the doorway’s master until someone else casts this spell on it. They decide who can go through it, even if the door is forced or destroyed. If the caster is not around to allow passage, they must specify conditions (in as much detail as they want, for the door will follow instructions to the letter).
>> Hold Portal, Knock, and Wizard Lock all bundled into one. In a spell less list, there is no need to scale the power to deal with fucking doors.
Phase Shift, Offensive
Range: 10m Duration: 10 minutes per level 2d6 HD worth of creatures are phased half a cosmic inch to the left. Roll on the table below to find out what happens to them (1d4 for dumb monsters, 1d6 for human intelligence, 1d8 for genius levels). 1. The victims are devoured by a paraphasic worm, never to be seen again. 2-3. The targets panic and scatter. They reappear in random locations at the end of the spell. 4-5. Same as above, but they stay together. 6-7. The victims stalk the characters, ready to pounce on them at the end of the spell. They can walk through walls and will look for the best ambush conditions. 8. The targets find a loophole in the laws of the universe and reappear within seconds, along with a dangerous ally.
>> Sleep is another B/X spell you wouldn’t want to lose. Again, it was interesting to find something with an equivalent use (get rid of a bunch of enemies easily) and drawback (they can be woken up).
Duration: until sunset The spirit of a dead torchbearer is summoned to serve the caster. Their translucent body casts a unsettling shadow, wriggling and warping constantly. Their youthful, pleasant face is betrayed by hollow eye sockets, their voice a whispering echo. Though obedient and polite, they only consent to help with light or carrying. Magic and enchanted weapons will dismiss them (1 damage is enough), and they insist on clocking off at the end of the day. The torch or lantern of the shadow hireling flickers according to unseen ethereal breeze, but lights as normal and doesn’t need fuel. If they douse their torch, the ghost can be made to carry up to 60 kg (about 2000 coins) of equipment and treasure.
>> This was a Light spell you can talk to, until I tried to think about an alternate Floating Disc. Now it does both.
The Unwearied Wanderers
Duration: until dawn The targets (as many as the caster’s level) of this spell doesn’t need food or water. They do not suffer from normal cold or heat, and fatigue doesn’t exist for them. They need to sleep, but are not at risk of nodding off if they choose not to. When the spell’s effect ends, they must save to refrain from eating 1d6 extra rations.
>> Resist cold, stripped off of its very narrow combat usefulness, and made into a generic, somewhat bland survival spell. If you have a better idea (for this one or any other), I’m all ears!
Sandbox events are important to some D&D games. In the last few weeks, I have been doing this:
Running a sandbox adventure requires to be aware of a lot of ‘fronts‘ (to borrow a term from Dungeon World): threats, factions, and other moving parts in the world. The archmage who escaped and is now looking for revenge, the bandit queen recruiting her army to march on the town, the Great Astral Conjunction.
In my office team building games, I can’t afford to be too subtle or elaborate with that stuff. Lunchtime Dungeons uses ‘session events’ to make sure something fun happens in the first 20 minutes of every hour-long session. But this requires having a random table handy for each area, or making up a specific event from a roll on my generic table:
So I’ve been experimenting with what I call the Sticky Notes Actions Procedure (or SNAP – I just came up with the name and acronym so it might not stick 😉
I divide a page of my campaign notebook, I create four areas: Here, There, Soon, and Later. The first two are for stuff happening now, the others are for stuff that is still brewing (but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have consequences in the present). This is your SNAP boar (hey actually, it’s quite catchy!).
Then, on a sticky note, I write an idea for each possible event, troublesome NPC, warring faction, environmental hazard, magical phenomenon, etc. Depending on time and inspiration, it can just be a name or short sentence, or something more detailed like a random table. Each note goes to one of the four areas.
At the table, when it’s time to check for an event, I roll d4 and look at the events in the given area. I choose or randomly determine one of these to move up in the general direction of the PCs. I interpret this move as NPC actions and other happenings in the world. The event gets closer, and I think of some warning sign or consequence to include in my session.
Later (4) is for sandbox events brewing that will take place in a while. If I get this result, I move an event to Soon and think about what ripples reach the characters. All out factions war in my photo above would probably show up as dangerous tension on the streets or a bloody skirmish close by.
Soon (3) is for things about to happen. If I get a 3 on the d4, I move the sticky note to either Here or There — whatever is more logical — and I describe how things are getting close. With Barbarians get in trouble, I’d have these NPCs act up in the background, or I’d just describe the consequences of past rowdiness. Maybe the party encounters someone with a black eye they got from a tavern brawl with the barbarians the night before.
There (2), I used for events happening now, but away from the player characters. I move the event to Here and describe how it reaches the characters. For example, the food riot that was taking place in another district is spreading and makes the PCs’ life more difficult.
Here (1) is for events exploding in the characters’ faces. I use this for stuff that has few or no warning signs: landslides, weather, monster encounters and the like.
Between sessions, you can take 5 minutes to review your SNAP board, detailing events according to what happened during the last game, adding or removing notes, etc. Of course, the notes under Here and There may be reorganised when the party changes locations. You might also want to create an entirely new board if the players decide to step through a portal or something. This way you can keep a trace of what was happening in the initial location when they left.
I realise it’s all a bit loosey-goosey, and that it relies on some improv chops. It’s the right amount of prep for me, but I guess you can detail each event in more detail if you need to — just get bigger sticky notes!
For half a century, we nerdmappers (ie, Dungeon Masters) have used graph paper for our homemade dungeon maps. I’m still happy to draw square rooms on blue grids like when I was a kid. But I have this notebook that has inserts of patterns reminiscent of Renaissance coffered ceilings, maybe. I had the idea of using these pages to draw maps, following some of the patterns, as inspiration comes.
These are the ones I’ve made so far (click for full size photos).
I have found a few benefits to this technique:
Even if the map doesn’t make much practical sense, its organic appearance makes it feel more real to the players;
These maps end up being more interesting to explore (if more difficult for the players to map);
Tactical challenges gain in complexity and interest because of all the nooks and crannies;
In a team building context, weird maps encourage teamwork, as players want to use the quirks in the architecture to their advantage;
Drawing these maps didn’t take me longer than regular ones would have (as I was following the patterns and my inspiration), and it was way more fun!
I guess I like odd but believable maps, mostly because I grew up reading Casus Belli magazine. ‘Casus’ was the most influential RPG magazine in 1980s France — and it still is nowadays, despite having needed a few necromantic rituals over the decades. One fondly remembered column was Bâtisses & artifices (Buildings & Stratagems) that described a location with detailed maps, taking pains to keep everything medieval looking. Here are a couple of examples from that time, and also a more recent one. I remember the first column explaining that all castle rooms shouldn’t be 30’x30′ squares.
And while I’m on the subject of French mapmakers, let me mention John Grümph’s Des plans sur la tomette (I’m not even attempting to translate the pun), a lovely little book of medieval maps to use in your games – you should grab it, it’s cheap and contains very little text ; and of course Guillaume Tavernier‘s masterful work. Now this is someone else who works tirelessly to make fantasy middle ages look more interesting!
Do you draw quirky maps? I’d love to see them (and maybe steal them for my games 😉 Share links in the comments!
Edit (24 May): Mystery solved!
I’ve been asked by several of you where did the notebook came from. And my answer was “I don’t know” — I’d picked it up on a rubbish pile when the Fumbally Exchange was moving this winter. Turns out Helen had put it on a different pile (the donations one) but it ended up there in the confusion. Now JammerJun found it on the Laurence King Publishing website (I’d searched there, but there is nothing on their UK site). The US site seems to have more choice than the German one.
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