Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Introducing new spells

The question of how to introduce new spells into a game came up today in one of the online gaming forums I frequent. For example, when you introduce a cleric spell from a new sourcebook, or when a cleric PC researches a completely original spell, do ALL clerics suddenly gain access to it? I replied there, but decided to share (and expand on) my answer here.

I personally like the rules for "uncommon divine spells" that appeared in the introduction to Pathfinder Short Cuts #2: Inquisitor Spells of Freeport, by Owen K.C. Stephens (PDF available in the Green Ronin Online Store). While written for Pathfinder, this concept is easy to adapt to any d20 game where distinctions are made between casters who get full access to their class's spell list (such as most divine casters) vs. those with a limited number of spells known.

The general idea is that when introducing new sourcebooks into a campaign, it can be very unbalancing to allow divine spellcasters to immediately gain access to all new spells included in that content. In addition, the need to reference multiple books can bog down the process of daily spell selection. Instead, all spells outside the core rulebook are considered to be uncommon, and require the caster to find and study a description of the spell before they can learn it. This process is similar to how a wizard learns new spells, but is less involved (and less costly). Divine casters who already have a limited number of spells known (such as oracles and inquisitors in Pathfinder, or rangers in 5E) ignore this restriction.

[I use this rule in my "Time of the Tarrasque" Pathfinder campaign. Our only prepared caster PC is a cleric/wizard aiming for mystic theurge, so making the process of expanding her divine repertoire mirror that of her arcane class is perfectly on-theme.]

In contrast, the arcane classes must all specifically learn each new spell before they can cast it, and (in 5E) only the wizard can learn an unlimited number of new spells. Therefore, you don't really need any new rules to limit these classes' access to spells from new sources. However, the idea of core rulebook spells being common, and spells from all other sources being uncommon, is still handy for explaining why a new spell (for any class) isn't as widely known in the world, and why it might take more effort to track down the means to learn it.

Finally--and I hope obviously--any original spell created through the spell research rules is automatically an uncommon spell. At first, other casters will have to bargain with the inventor to study her original notes before they can learn to cast the spell. As more people learn it, finding a teacher becomes less of an obstacle. Of course, many spell inventors will jealously guard their secrets in order to reserve the advantage for themselves--and sometimes their allies.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Time of the Tarrasque #22: Ooh, Shiny!

"Time of the Tarrasque" is my current homebrew Pathfinder campaign. For an index of past session summaries, see The Story So Far.

Our heroes include:
  • Edel Naergon, high elf bard (archivist) 5.
  • Fatou Damiri, human wizard (evoker) 3/cleric of Yaziel 2; and Nochaesh, owl familiar.
  • Jumari Boneface, half-orc inquisitor of the Lost Egg 5.
  • ZhaZha, half-orc cavalier (order of the dragon) 5; and Zafira, camel mount.

The elemental shrines
Last time, our heroes discovered and explored an ancient ruin that was built by (or for) cyclopes. After fighting a giant skeleton, a weird elemental creature that emerged from the walls, and a trio of mephits, they discovered that the lowest level was a set of shrines to the four elements. Each shrine contained an idol of that element's giantish god, a central stepped pedestal, and walls carved with writing in the languages of both cyclopes and that shrine's element. None of these languages was known to our heroes, but they were able to determine that at least some of the inscriptions referred to tests or trials that would earn the blessings of the gods. Jumari experimented by burning something in a large brazier in the fire shrine, which caused that room's Ignan inscription to glow faintly.

Rather then wait until Fatou could prepare comprehend languages the next day, the heroes decided to experiment. To start with, the inquisitor went to the water shrine and cast create water over the dry basin set in that room's pedestal. This did not fill very much of the large bowl, but the Aquan characters on the walls glowed faintly in response.

Jumari then tried to blow upon the empty pedestal in the air shrine. Nothing happened, so Fatou tried using some cantrips to clean away the dust and attempt to cause a slight breeze. Edel tried singing, and when that had no immediate effect, the others attempted to join in to aid him (with less than stellar results). Jumari tried casting expeditious retreat so that she could run really quickly in circles around the shrine, but that too failed to produce any results. Jumari started asking the other two spellcasters if they had any air-based magic--perhaps a minor summoning spell?--but wracking their brains only led to the conclusion that none of them were experienced enough to use such magic yet.

The group then searched the earth shrine for any secret compartments, loose stones, or other clues. The pedestal here bore a polished sandstone pillar about the height of a man. ZhaZha tried placing a metal weapon on top, then some of the sand left behind when the wall-guardian was slain. Those had no effect, so Jumari suggested that the two of them try to lift it. This took a few tries for ZhaZha to work out her grip and leverage, but then the two half-orcs lifted it off of the ground a few inches. Fatou spotted something in a depression below the pillar, and Edel quickly pulled it out before the pillar dropped. It was a finely made heavy pick, which Fatou declared was magical [a +1 weapon]. Edel pointedly asked ZhaZha, "Is this yours?" and suggested that she leave her old pick in its place. She was reluctant to leave behind her favorite weapon, which had served her well up to now, but agreed.

The group then tried again in the shrines. Edel cast solid note in the air shrine, which finally made the inscriptions glow faintly. They then decided to try to trigger all four shrines at once. They waited for ZhaZha to go first, because lifting the pillar on her own would take even longer to accomplish without Jumari's help, and she was still somewhat fatigued from the first time. When the others could hear her growls turn from frustration to victory, they quickly made their own attempts: Edel sang in the air shrine, Fatou set kindling alight with burning hands in the fire shrine, and Jumari cast more create water. All three were rewarded by their location's script lighting up, but only Jumari's continued to grow brighter, as she cast her orison over and over to fill the basin. When the water reached the top, she could see a chain shirt of some fine metal at the bottom of the pool, and pulled it out. She hollered for Edel to keep singing, and he started drawing on his bardic powers.

Fatou soon gave up on trying to burn things in the brazier--she just didn't have enough flammables to fill its huge bowl. She pulled out the campfire bead she carried and activated it inside the brazier. The burning logs filled the space quite nicely, and the Ignan writing around her blazed as well. She could see something in the brazier, beneath the burning logs, so wet her arm as well she could with her own create water orison, then reached in to pull the object out. She burned her hand badly, but managed to drop the item--a red-hot falchion, with a blade shaped like a jet of flame--before truly maiming herself. As she created more water to quench the sword, Jumari came to her and healed her injured hand. Fatou then identified the weapon as magic [another +1 weapon] but failed to determine what magic the chain shirt held. She gladly let Jumari claim the falchion.

Everyone then joined Edel to try to help him. Two of the other shrines had seemed to react with being filled with something, so they tried to fill this room with the loudest song they knew--an orcish drinking song from ZhaZha's village. The Auran inscriptions started glowing again, and Fatou and Edel noticed a very tiny glow from the apex of the ceiling (about 20 feet above). Detect magic registered a faint aura of abjuration, but whatever the thing was, it was too far embedded in the stone of the ceiling to read its aura properly. Edel used an enlarge person scroll (that Fatou had just scribed for him the previous day) to make his tallest companion, ZhaZha, large enough to reach the ceiling. She used her new, magical pick to carefully chip at the rock around the spot her friends pointed out. Her patience soon grew thing, so she knocked out a dinner plate sized chunk of the ceiling with a couple sharp whacks with her weapon. The glow from the walls abruptly ceased, which caused Jumari to say, "I'm glad we did this one last!" The cavalier chipped away at her shard until she finally freed a small metal ring from the stone. Edel's spellcraft told him this was a ring of protection +1, and that the chain shirt was +1 mithral. This prompted some discussion about who to award these last two items. Edel and Fatou finally agreed that Fatou would take the armor, because Edel already had Ragalash's magic darkwood suit, and he would take the ring.

Edel changed his mind about ZhaZha needing to leave her pick behind, so she went to reclaim it. The heroes collected their other loot, and their camels, and rode back to the kobolds, who had been waiting a short distance form the ziggurat for the past couple hours. ZhaZha told them about the creatures they fought, and judged the place safe to enter now that it was cleared out--but neither she nor her friends mentioned any of their new magical loot. Because it was now getting light, the caravan's leader, Vartoranax, decided to seek shelter inside, and the kobolds took over some of the large rooms on the middle level to make camp.

Vartoranax and Tyrrentyg were fascinated by the unusually good condition of the artwork and inscriptions throughout the structure. The herald cast comprehend languages, then she and her boss spent quite some time exploring and discussing the site before taking their rest with the others. Fatou expressed an interest in stopping here for a day, and the kobolds agreed--Tyrrentyg especially wanted to study the site in more detail. (The two half-orcs, whose curiosity was already amply satisfied, spent the day practicing tactics instead.)

After that day of study, the caravan headed north again. Their route stopped at a couple of oases, and the next few days were uneventful, until the travelers reached the last oasis before the town of Dal-Raman.

[At this point, the PCs were allowed to start using their newly-advanced, 5th-level stats. All continued in their previous classes, with Fatou becoming a 2nd-level cleric.]

During Jumari's watch, the kobold sentries spotted some jackals sneaking about, but one guard hurled a sling stone at one of the wild dogs and scared them off. However, later that night, during ZhaZha's watch, her camel was spooked by something. A jackal-headed humanoid appeared and tried to put her to sleep with its gaze, but she resisted. The two kobolds on duty with her were attached by two other jackal-things; one collapsed, asleep, but the other resisted. Each monster was accompanied by a couple of jackals.

The sounds of ZhaZha fighting just outside his tent woke Edel, and as soon as he looked out of the tent, he recognized the monsters as jackalweres. His shout of "Cold iron!", and the conscious kobold's terrified screaming as it was wounded, quickly roused the rest of the camp.

Jumari exited the tent and took up a central location in the center of camp so that she could hit all three jackalweres with blistering inventive [her new spell gained at this level]. She easily intimidated the monsters, and one of them caught on fire (though it soon extinguished itself). Because Jumari did not sleep in her breastplate, Fatou used her owl to cast mage armor on the riled inquisitor. However, one of the jackalweres put the half-orc to sleep with its gaze. Meanwhile, the third monster traded blows with ZhaZha, and came out much the worse for it.

As Edel began his bardic lecturing on jackalweres, some of the other kobolds finally emerged from their tents to join the fight--though not in time to save the wounded sentry, who was torn apart by (normal) jackals. Fatou dodged between jackals to deliver a burning hands that downed ZhaZha's jackalwere, so the cavalier charged another, killing it instantly with a critical hit from her pick. "This is a nice pick!" she exclaimed happily.

Edel woke Jumari, who recovered her falchion and endowed it with magical beast bane. However, Fatou took out the last jackalwere with a scorching ray, so the inquisitor led the clean-up fight with the jackals. Only one jackal escaped from the camp alive, and it tore off into the desert. Edel stabilized the only jackalwere who still lived, and they tied it up to question later.

Apart from the one dead sentry, who was wrapped up gently for now, the kobolds had only a handful of wounded. Fatou channeled energy to heal them and her friends. (She had suffered a few small bites herself.) Tyrrentyg recognized the jackalwere bodies for what they were, and reported what she knew of them to Vartoranax.

The rest of the day's watches passed uneventfully, but the heroes still have a severely wounded jackalwere on their hands...


This campaign uses fast progression, and I'm still trying to get the hang of the greater monetary awards required to keep the PCs on track for their wealth by level (Core Rulebook 399). These trials in the elemental shrines were an attempt to start rectifying the fact that they're very poor for their level, which seems to be my players' biggest criticism of the game so far. Finding that balance still needs a lot more work, but it's a start, and they all seemed pleased with their new toys.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

TBT: Madness in Freeport

Heroes of "The Ooth-Nargai Campaign" (Freeport Trilogy PCs):
(L-R): Amanashaya (cleric/wizard), Zafir (fighter), Thaddeus (rogue), Willow (gnome ranger), Ivellios (elf sorcerer)
I ran Green Ronin Publishing's original (D&D v.3.0) module Madness in Freeport in the winter and spring of 2002. By that time, I was an active member of the community on the Green Ronin Forums, and had started posting fan errata for the Freeport Trilogy. For Madness, I decided to post summaries of each session of my run, to share my own experiences with the module, including solutions to some of the weird problems that arose in play. (Most notably, two of the five PCs died halfway through the adventure, so I had to improvise heavily to keep the adventure moving forward.)

That reporting was followed by accounts of my later two Freeport campaigns, and ultimately led to my habit of posting session summaries for other, later campaigns (like "Time of the Tarrasque" and "Tales from the Yawning Portal") here at Studded Plate. In fact, being able to post those accounts was one of my chief motivations for starting this blog.

That first set of reports, for Madness, can still be found in the Green Ronin Forums Archive, at  Ronin Army (the current Green Ronin community website). I have copied those run notes to my errata site as Tim's Run Notes: Madness in Freeport. (See also my errata and notes for Madness in Freeport.)

Sadly, the complete account of my second campaign, "Secrets of Freeport" (v.3.5, 2004-2005), no longer exists online. I posted periodically in the Green Ronin Forums about the game, but the more detailed accounts only appeared on my GeoCities site. Those pages vanished when that host did, and the Wayback Machine does not appear to have captured copies.

For my third campaign, "Winds of Freeport" (v.3.5, 2011-2013; Pathfinder 2014-2016), I posted my session summaries to the Freeport forum at The Piazza. (I was more active there than at GR's forums at the time that I began them.) After the campaign's end, I archived that material at my wiki for the campaign. See the Winds of Freeport Session List for that material (as well as GM Notes for some adventures).

Finally, I hope you enjoy these very old, low-res photographs of a few of the models I built for that first Freeport campaign. My use of LEGO minifigures with RPGs predates Freeport (and D&D Third Edition) by at least a couple of years.

The Lighthouse of Drac, AKA "Milton's Folly"
Milton Drac (from the cover of Madness in Freeport)

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Spring update

I'm not going to have time to write a regular game content post this week, due to a combination of factors:
  • This is a peak time for my day job in graduate admissions.
  • My wife and I are putting an addition on our house, which has made the rest of the first floor a disaster area until the new space is ready.
  • We're taking our kids are going to a gaming convention this weekend. My wife is GM-ing enough to earn a free badge, so I've been doing what I can to help her prep without getting spoiled for adventures I haven't played.
  • We're greedy fools who haven't cut back on our busy gaming schedules while all this is going on. 
So, instead, I thought I'd talk briefly about my plans for the blog over the next few months:

My "Time of the Tarrasque" session summaries will continue as the campaign progresses. We are currently playing every 2 or 3 weeks, so expect to see those roughly twice a month. I try to get those written up and posted fairly promptly because I, and some of my players, find them helpful reminders of what we did last time.

I plan to write a couple more installments of my "Building the Bestiary" series in the near future (magical beasts, and maybe monstrous humanoids), but those will have to wait until our house isn't a disaster area and I actually have enough clean space to build and photograph my brick critters again. (A few have already been built--including three sizes of owlbears!--because I needed them for recent Pathfinder Society scenarios.)

The LEGO Group is releasing Disney Minifigures Series 2 on May 1, so expect a review of those sometime next month. With Toys 'R' Us out of business, it's become more difficult to acquire the minifigures I want. (Oh, how I miss having a local LEGO Store!) However, my FLGS recently started stocking LEGO toys, just in time for me to collect The LEGO Movie Minifigures Series 2. I look forward to their help in acquiring this new series as well.

Of course, those topics won't fill up all the weekly slots, so I'll be on the lookout for other things to write about. If you have a question or subject that you'd like to see me tackle, please let me know in the comments!