Thursday, January 28, 2016


Two weeks ago, I converted my old character Taphos to D&D 5th Edition. This week, I've decided to do the same with Lendri, my character from the second campaign that my friend Mike Pureka ran using his homebrewed fantasy system

Lendri was a Wayfarer: a guide, scout, and warrior tasked with keeping the roads through the Greenwood safe for travelers. As such, he often worked alone, patrolling the forest for potential threats. When he found a problem he couldn't easily handle alone, it was his duty to report back and gather reinforcements. And from time to time, he was chosen to act as guide for a caravan passing through the Greenwood.

I had to drop out of that campaign early on due to the demands of impending parenthood, so have recreated Lendri as a mere second-level ranger. His name means "badger," and he emulates that creature by wearing a badger pelt hood and fighting with "war claws." These weapons do not appear in the D&D Fifth Edition Player's Handbook, so I have borrowed the broad claw entry from the D&D Wiki (a website for homebrewed fan material). I gave Lendri the Outlander background to represent his upbringing in the wilderness, but changed the musical instrument proficiency to leatherworker's tools in order to allow him to maintain his own gear.

The original Lendri was not a spellcaster, so I have chosen his spells to be relatively subtle rather than blatantly supernatural. He should take the Hunter archetype at 3rd level, and the Dual Wielder feat at 4th level.

Human Ranger 2
Medium humanoid (human), neutral good

Armor Class 14
Hit Points 20 (Hit Dice 2d10)
Speed 30 ft.

STR 14 (+2), DEX 16 (+3), CON 14 (+2), INT 9 (-1), WIS 14 (+2), CHA 10 (0)

Proficiencies (+2 proficiency bonus)
  • Saving Throws Str +4, Dex +5.
  • Skills Athletics +4, Nature +1 (+3 forests), Perception +4 (+6 forests), Stealth +5, Survival +4 (+6 forests).
  • Armor Light, medium, shields.
  • Weapons Simple, martial.
  • Tools Leatherworker's tools.
Senses Passive Perception 14.
Languages Common, Elvish, Orc, Sylvan.

Attack. You can attack when you take this action, using the following.
  • Broad ClawMelee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 1d4+3 slashing damage.
  • HandaxeMelee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 1d6+2 slashing damage.
  • LongbowRanged Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, range 150/600 ft., one target. Hit: 1d8+3 piercing damage.
Favored Enemy. Ranger feature: Lendri has advantage on Wisdom (Survival) checks to track humans and orcs, as well as Intelligence checks to recall information about them.

Natural Explorer. Ranger feature.

Two-Weapon Fighting. Ranger feature: When Lendri makes an Attack action with a broad claw or handaxe, he may make a second attack with a broad claw (which also applies his Dexterity modifier to damage).

Spellcasting. Ranger feature.
  • Spell Save DC: 12
  • Spell Attack Modifier: +4
  • Spell Slots: 1st-level (2)
  • Spells Known: alarm, hunter's mark
Wanderer. Outlander background feature.

Broad claw (2), handaxe, dagger, longbow, quiver with 20 arrows, leather armor [furs], climber's kit, explorer's pack, hunting trap, leatherworker's tools, badger pelt hood, wolf's tooth pendant

Thursday, January 21, 2016

2015 in Review: LEGO

No summary of the past year would be complete without mentioning the other hobby that "Studded Plate" is devoted to. I acquired a number of new LEGO sets in 2015, but my two favorites are:

LEGO Minifigures Series 14: Monsters: See my review in a previous column.
(Side note: Series 15 is due out later this month, so expect a review of those new minifigures in a future column.)

LEGO Ideas Doctor Who: This is easily the licensed property I have been most excited about since The Lord of the Rings theme debuted in 2012. I'm unlikely to use any part of this set for RPG miniatures (with the possible exception of the Weeping Angel) but it's a well-designed, fun to build set, so I'm plenty pleased to own it for its own sake.


Speaking of RPG miniatures, I've continued to build a large number of new characters and creatures throughout the year. In particular, the current "Gorilla Island" adventure in my Freeport game has required many new minis--most of which the players have not yet seen, so I can't share here yet. As we play out those encounters, I will add photos to the Gorilla Island folder of my Brickshelf gallery. (Note: Because Brickshelf is a moderated site, there is often a day or two delay before newly-uploaded additions can be viewed. If you get any "this folder is not yet public" messages, please try back in a day or two.)

And to finish off this column, I'll plug a couple interesting LEGO- and RPG-related pages that I've discovered this past year:

LEGO Dungeons & Dragons Facebook group: To quote the group's description, "This group is for people to share Lego creations that were inspired by their love of Dungeons & Dragons and other fantasy role playing games." This is a closed group, so you'll need to request an invitation to join, but it's definitely worth the time if you want to see some inspiring models, discuss building techniques, participate in contests (for prizes!), or simply chat with like-minded fans. The group numbers a little over 200 members at the time that I'm posting this, and is growing. 

Lego Dungeon Master: This blog is written by another member of the LEGO D&D Facebook group. Much as I did here with "Studded Plate," Lego GM's first few columns (from May 2015) provide a primer for his approach to using LEGO for tabletop games. Later columns provide building instructions for unusual monsters, such as xorns and beholders. Other installments provide house rules that make brick building part of the game itself, whether it's partially disassembling a monster to reflect damage inflicted by the party, or providing players a way to construct magic items from body parts harvested from dead monsters.

That's all for now. And as always, leg godt!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016


David Shepheard, a fellow member of one of the forums I frequent (The Piazza), recently posted a link to an interesting article, "Gravedigger: A Fifth Edition Background." I was immediately reminded of a character that I created for my friend Mike Pureka's homebrewed fantasy system several years ago. Taphos was a peasant gravedigger, a burly, taciturn young man whose limited education consisted largely of funeral customs and fragments of other religious lore. He would have been content to stay in his home village, laboring to uphold its simple traditions, if the outside world hadn't intruded and spurred him and some of his fellow townsfolk to take up the adventuring life. Once he did so, he devoted himself to learning how to protect himself and others, and how to mystically combat the undead.

I've converted Taphos to D&D Fifth Edition as a cleric. He's still a relatively low level character, having only been away from home for a year or so, and he is far from mastering his new turning abilities and curing spells. He shows a great deal of determination and potential, however, and seems destined to become a great hero despite his lowly birth and profession. He practices the religion of Ail, his homeland, which reveres light and the heavenly bodies as inspiration for a moral life, the preservation of tradition and order, and the seeking of truth. (He would be a cleric of Pholtus in a Greyhawk campaign, or of Selune in the Forgotten Realms. See Appendix B in the Player's Handbook to determine the options for other settings.)

In addition to the equipment listed below, Taphos always carries writing materials and a personal journal. He has also accumulated a small library of books about the religions and history of the lands he has visited, as well as reference works on herbalism and the undead.

Human Cleric 3
Medium humanoid (human), Life domain, lawful good

Armor Class 16 (18 with shield)
Hit Points 24 (Hit Dice 3d8)
Speed 30 ft.

STR 14 (+2), DEX 10 (0), CON 14 (+2), INT 10 (0), WIS 16 (+3), CHA 10 (0)

Proficiencies (+2 proficiency bonus)

  • Saving Throws Wis +5, Cha +2.
  • Skills History +2, Medicine +5, Religion +2, Stealth +2 [at disadvantage in armor].
  • Armor All, shields.
  • Weapons Simple, martial, improvised, unarmed strike.
  • Tools Mason's tools, vehicles (land).

Senses Passive Perception 15.
Languages Common, Sylvan.

Attack. You can attack when you take this action, using the following.
  • PickMelee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 1d8+2 piercing damage.
  • Shovel. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 1d6+2 slashing damage.
  • Unarmed StrikeMelee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 1d4+2 bludgeoning damage.
  • Light  CrossbowRanged Weapon Attack: +2 to hit, range 80/320 ft., one target. Hit: 1d8 piercing damage.
Ritual Casting. Cleric feature.

Spellcasting. Cleric feature.
  • Spell Save DC: 13
  • Spell Attack Modifier: +5
  • Spell Slots: 1st-level (4), 2nd-level (2)
Channel Divinity. Cleric feature: turn undead or preserve life.

Disciple of Life. Cleric feature: Whenever you cast a healing spell, you heals additional hit points equal to the spell level +2.

"I've Smelled That Smell Before." Gravedigger background feature: You roll with advantage when making checks to detect, track, or identify the undead.

Tavern Brawler. When you hit a creature with an unarmed strike or improvised weapon, you can use a bonus action to attempt to grapple the target.

Cantrips: guidance, light, spare the dying
1st-level spells: bless, cure wounds, detect magic,  protection from evil and good, shield of faith
2nd-level spells: gentle repose, hold person, lesser restoration, prayer of healing, spiritual weapon

Shovel, pick, light corssbow, 20 bolts, dagger, chain mail, shield, holy symbol (silver star amulet), priest's pack, mason's tools, hemp rope (50 ft.)

Friday, January 8, 2016

...And Water Bears, Oh My!

Tardigrades, also knows as water bears or moss piglets, are microscopic animals distantly related to arthropods. They are best known for their ability to withstand extreme environments, from boiling heat to arctic cold, even the vacuum and radiation of space. They feed by injecting their piercing mouth-parts into plants or smaller animals, then sucking out the victim's bodily fluids. They can be found in almost any environment, preferring to swim in algae-filled ponds or burrow in loose dirt as they forage.

The following monsters are based on the real-world micro-animal, with some exaggerations to their abilities for dramatic effect.

A giant water bear is a slow predator that feeds on even slower animals and plants. For an alert party, it is merely a hard-to-kill nuisance rather than a real threat. The testudo, on the other hand, is far larger and more aggressive, mindlessly biting any creature it encounters in order to determine if it is edible.

Giant Water Bear

This cat-sized creature has a segmented, barrel-shaped body with four pairs of stubby, clawed legs. Its head is dominated by a circular maw ringed by sharp teeth. Its tiny eyes are almost invisible, protected by folds of its exoskeleton.

XP 200
N Tiny vermin (aquatic)
Init +1; Senses darkvision 60 ft., tremorsense 15 ft.; Perception +0
AC 15, touch 13, flat-footed 14 (+1, Dex, +2 natural, +2 size)
hp 5 (1d8+1)
Fort +5, Ref +1, Will +0
Defensive Abilities endure elements, torpor; Immune mind-affecting effects; Resist acid 5, cold 10, fire 5
Speed 20 ft., burrow 5 ft., climb 10 ft., swim 20 ft.
Melee bite +3 (1d3-4 plus grab)
Space 2-1/2ft.; Reach 0 ft.
Special Attacks blood drain
Str 2, Dex 12, Con 12, Int --, Wis 10, Cha 2
Base Atk +0; CMB -6 (-2 grapple); CMD 5 (17 vs. trip)
Feats Great Fortitude[B], Weapon Finesse[B]
Skills Climb +9, Swim +9
SQ amphibious
Environment any
Organization solitary, pair, or sloth (3-6)
Treasure none
Special Abilities
Blood Drain (Ex) A tardigrade can suck blood from a grappled opponent; if it establishes or maintains a pin, it drains blood, dealing 1 point of Constitution damage.
Endure Elements (Ex) A tardigrade can withstand extremes of heat and cold without ill effect. It can survive in temperatures between -50 to 140 degrees without needing to make a Fortitude save. At temperatures outside this range, the tardigrade suffers half the normal damage for exposure. 
Torpor (Ex) If a tardigrade is rendered unconscious as a result of extreme heat or cold, starvation, dehydration, or suffocation, it takes no further damage but instead enters hibernation, becoming a dessicated husk. (Cold or fire energy attacks can also induce torpor, but continue to inflict normal damage.) A tardigrade can survive almost indefinitely in this state. If returned to a safe (non-damaging) environment and exposed to a water source of its size or larger, it rehydrates, regaining consciousness with 1 hp in 1d6 minutes.


This creature vaguely resembles a huge, eight-legged bear fully encased in heavy plates of segmented armor. Closer inspection reveals a blunt head with few discernible features beyond a large mouth filled with piercing and sawing teeth.

XP 1,400
N Huge vermin (aquatic)
Init -2; Senses darkvision 60 ft., tremorsense 30 ft.; Perception +0
AC 20, touch 6, flat-footed 20 (-2 Dex, +14 natural, -2 size)
hp 92 (9d8+54)
Fort +14, Ref +1, Will +3
Defensive Abilities endure elements, torpor; Immune mind-affecting effects; Resist acid 10, cold 20, fire 10
Speed 30 ft., burrow 10 ft., climb 15 ft., swim 40 ft.
Melee bite +12 (2d6+8 plus grab), 2 claws +12 (d8+8)
Space 15 ft.; Reach 10 ft.
Special Attacks blood drain
Str 26, Dex 6, Con 22, Int --, Wis 10, Cha 2
Base Atk +6; CMB +16 (+20 grapple); CMD 24 (36 vs. trip)
Feats Great Fortitude[B]
Skills Climb +16, Swim +16
SQ amphibious
Environment any
Organization solitary or pair
Treasure none
Special Abilities
Blood Drain (Ex) A tardigrade can suck blood from a grappled opponent; if it establishes or maintains a pin, it drains blood, dealing 1d4 points of Constitution damage.
Endure Elements (Ex) See the giant water bear description.
Torpor (Ex) See the giant water bear description.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Adventures in Arcadayn

Like most gamers my age, I was introduced to role-playing games through Dungeons & Dragons. (My first experience was in middle school in the early '80s.) I played D&D almost exclusively through middle school, high school, and most of college. I did find opportunities to briefly try a few other systems, including Star Frontiers, Tunnels & Trolls, Marvel Superheroes, and GURPS, but I never played or ran any long-term campaigns outside D&D until I moved to Boston as a graduate student. The first gaming group I joined there played GURPS, which I played regularly for the next few years. I also discovered LARPing and, mostly through friends I made through that community (and the S.C.A.), I was exposed to a much wider variety of tabletop systems as well (most notably Earthdawn and Unisystem).

The first truly long-term campaign that I ever GM-ed was an AD&D 2nd Edition game that ran from my sophomore through senior years of college. For this game, I used Arcadayn, a homebrewed setting based on an idea from a high school friend. After college, I kept tinkering with the setting, and once I got hooked on GURPS, I started converting the setting to that system. My GURPS GM had done just that with his old D&D world. One advantage of this system change was that GURPS was easier to customize, allowing me to overhaul the setting in ways that removed or reduced some of the most obvious D&D-isms, making Arcadayn into even more my own original creation.

After a few short-lived attempts at running Cthulhu Mythos adventures using GURPS, some of those players expressed interest in playing a "pure" fantasy campaign in that system. I took some time to develop my new version of Arcadayn to the point where I was ready to run something in it, and created a website in order to share background information with my players. That game was very successful, running for over 50 sessions over three years of regular play (from 1999 to 2002). During that time, our three young heroines forged a deep friendship that transcended their very different cultural and religious backgrounds. Their accomplishments included defeating a vile necromancer, befriending a dragon, and rediscovering a long-lost divine artifact that had been broken and corrupted by evil deeds. When one of my three core players could no longer make the time commitment due to her demanding schedule, we found a stopping point to the campaign that provided definite closure (purifying the artifact, and facing down its defiler's revenant) but left open the possibility of returning to those characters at some future date. (Sadly, that sequel never came to pass, and we no longer all live in the same state.)

A couple years later, I resurrected part of the original Arcadayn setting from my college days for a D&D Third Edition campaign, but I put brand new twists on this version (which I dubbed "Ursk"). This game was soon put on indefinite hold when my wife and I became parents for the first time. When we were finally able to resume gaming later that year, we chose to return to one of my other campaigns (Freeport) instead.

Since then, I have continued to putter with Arcadayn. When I had to move the campaign website to a new home in 2007 (due to GeoCities ceasing to be), I borrowed an idea from Green Ronin's Freeport setting. The company had relaunched that line as a series of systemless setting books with separate companion volumes for playing Freeport in different systems. I organized my new wiki to present the background information in systemless form, with the GURPS material on separate pages. I had acquired GURPS Fourth Edition by that point, but had not had an opportunity to play it, so I added some Fourth Edition conversions. I had also toyed with the idea of converting the setting to BESM Third Edition, so shared that new information there as well.

When I had to migrate my various gaming websites to a new home about a year ago, Arcadayn's was unaffected because it was at a different host. However, I've decided I prefer Google Sites over PBwiki, so I've just finished copying Adventures in Arcadayn to a new wiki there. I had not looked at any of this material in a very long time (since shortly after the last migration), so this task set me to thinking again about what system I might use if I ever run another Arcadayn campaign. I haven't played GURPS since we wrapped that first campaign. While I would love the opportunity to finally try out GURPS Fourth Edition, my group--which still includes two of my Third Edition players--prefers very different systems these days. Our current default system is Pathfinder, after a decade of D&D v.3.5 holding the top spot. Arcadayn has changed too much from its D&D roots to be easy to convert back to any edition of that system, but I might be able to use Pathfinder to find a playable middle ground. A more generic system would allow more flexibility in character creation, which was one of the main reasons I used GURPS last time. Of the multi-genre games I've played, BESM Third Edition seems the best choice. It has the wide variety of character options I'd need, the rules are simpler than GURPS, and it's geared toward a more "cinematic" style because it was designed to model anime, not gritty realism.

Of course, I'm unlikely to start a new Arcadayn campaign any time soon--I simply have too many other games demanding my attention. I will, however, continue to tinker with the setting, as I try to model some of the setting's races, magical traditions, and character archetypes in different systems. (For starters, those BESM conversion notes are far from complete. And my Kynthiad campaign has generated a lot of new BESM material that I could adapt.) I'll post the more interesting experiments to the new wiki, and discuss some of them here.


(An older version of the history of how Arcadayn came to be can be found here.)

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Bonus craft post: Christmas card balls

Many years ago, I saw instructions for making a decoration like this out of Christmas cards. I hadn't made one in years, but remembered the idea yesterday when I was taking down our cards from this year. My wife Erika really liked the result, and has asked me to do this each year so we can add these to our usual Christmas decor.

To make a Christmas card ball, you'll first need to make a pattern by drawing an equilateral triangle enclosed by a circle intersecting all 3 points. You'll probably want a ruler, compass, and protractor for this, to make sure your lines and angles are precise.

Cut out your circle, and trace it onto Christmas cards. You'll need 20 circles, each one enclosing some interesting bit of holiday art. Depending on the size of your circles and your cards, you may be able to get multiple pieces out of some cards.

(If you don't have enough cards, or don't want to destroy the ones you received from friends and family, then just buy a cheap package or two of blank cards from the store. The more variety, the better, and they'll be marked way down after Christmas.)

Cut out your circles, and trace the triangle onto the back side. Use a pen or the point of your scissors to score these three lines, then fold up the flaps toward the art side.

Fasten the flaps together using staples or glue, as shown in the photo. You will form an icosahedron (a 20-sided regular polygon) out of the triangles. It's probably easiest to build it in three parts--the two "tents" of 5 triangles at the top and bottom, and the ring of 10 triangles between them--then join those sections together.

To hang it up, thread some ribbon or yarn through the vertices of the ball, or punch a hole in one of the flaps.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Time of the Tarrasque: Javanian Temples

Happy New Year, everyone! Just a very quick post this week due to the holidays.

The following is an excerpt [with notes] from my page about the Javanian Pantheon, at the Time of the Tarrasque wiki. These four gods, who have dominion over light, darkness, and the heavens, are the ancestral gods worshiped by the halfling race in this world. They were adopted by the humans who first encountered the halflings and settled in the same lands.

Javanian temples prominently feature large domes and soaring towers. In all but the smallest temples, two towers represent the sun and moon gods [Talitar and Yaziel, respectively], and serve as observatories as well as monuments to the gods' glory. The most common floorplan for a Javanian worship site is a large central dome with four smaller domes intersecting it at the cardinal points. The east dome is topped by the Tower of the Sun, the west dome by the Tower of the Moon. The other two smaller domes have no towers. The north dome, which gets the least sun, is dedicated to the shadow god Jorilin. In ancient times, the south dome represented Asmolon [the Void], but this associated has been abandoned since the fall of Javanis [which was brought about by the Void's cult]. However, this dome remains the location of the temple's large, spacious main entrance. (In equatorial Javanis, the north and south domes were reversed so that the Shadow Dome received the least sunlight.)

Talitar and Yaziel are gods of knowledge, so most temples maintain a library of religious and secular works. In most settlements, the priests operate a school. Many also include an orphanage, where children in need can have a family of sorts and learn a trade.

While developing these details, I also made microscale models of two sample temples as a visual aid: