Play games. Tell stories. Have fun.

Friday, October 9, 2015

In the Vaunted Halls of Heaven

A couple of weeks ago, I went to Twitter and asked folks to send me very specific fiction genres.
"Call me Slamdrew. Dr. Dunkenstein was my father."

I don't know what I expected, but these are two of the responses I got:

I guess I asked for that, right? To be fair, it's the kind of response I would have given if someone else had asked. I asked a question, and those were legitimate answers. Unfortunately, the reason I was looking for fiction genres in the first place was so that I could do another genre mash-up.

So, here I am with two genres, much more specific than I had anticipated, and a self-set goal of combining them. Now, I did get some other suggestions, and I could have used those. But to me, that would have been taking the easy way. No, I would take on this challenge, and I would beat it.

In case you haven't figured out where this is going yet, spoiler alert: I did it. After several false starts, I managed to reconcile these two genres into a single, brilliant (if I do say so myself) idea. You're welcome.

In the Vaunted Halls of Heaven

In 1966, at the height of the space race, the USSR sent up a dozen capuchin monkeys in secret in the Voskhod 3 as part of a long-term viability test. Unfortunately, they lost contact with the spacecraft and assumed that the life-support systems had failed alongside the communications array. The government erased all records of the launch of the spacecraft and cancelled the Voskhod program.

Over the next 100 years of space travel and exploration, the little USSR pod went unremarked. The Russian government had projected when and where it would return to Earth, but either the calculations were lost or there was no one around to keep an eye on them, because when the Voskhod 3 did not descend from orbit, no one noticed.

Aboard the Voskhod 3, the monkeys not only survived, but thrived. The experimental atomic reactor kept the station going, but the small, steady aura of radiation induced strange mutations among the capuchin population. Their lifecycle shortened, and mutations quickly led to a much more advanced creature than was sent up. In only 30 years, they were already developing noticeable intelligence and advanced society.

By 2066, the capuchins aboard Voskhod 3 had evolved human-level intelligence and had begun collecting orbital debris to expand their own craft. When they observed a series of bright flashes, followed by a cessation of all electronic signals, they understood what had happened to the humans below: global thermonuclear war.

They were shocked, then, when in 2076, they received a new signal from the surface. The capuchins had long ago developed their own language, but they still spoke several major languages of the humans. But, although the signal came in a human language, the message was not human. In their rush to save themselves, the humans had developed very advanced nanoscopic technology. Unfortunately for them, they were still in the testing phases when disaster struck.

The beings on the other end of the signal were lab rats and mice that had been successfully augmented by the nanotechnology and had survived the destruction of human civilization. However, though these rodents were intelligent, they lacked the century of experience and cool reasoning that the capuchins had developed. The rodents believed that their nanotechnology was magical, and that they were now in contact with divine beings.

After much debate among themselves, the capuchins decided not to clarify the rodents' mistake, and assumed the mantle of deities. They had amassed a significant quantity of surveillance equipment, so they could look down on many parts of the world below, and even see through the layer of dust that coated the atmosphere.

Another 20 years passed in this way, with the nanotech-enhanced rodents spreading across the mostly barren surface of the Earth under the guidance of their heavenly guardians. But the capuchins were busy with their own projects, and while they did observe and influence the rodents, that was not their greatest focus.

Perhaps they had learned too much from humanity, or perhaps all civilizations are simply doomed to fall to their own hubris eventually. The last divine message was sent simultaneously to all magicians around the world: "Heaven is under attack. Ascend through the skies and come to the aid of your gods." Along with the message, the gods delivered blueprints and a location.

It has been months since the last mouse prophet or rat wizard was able to make contact with their gods, though their magic still works. Now, a team of brave warriors, clever tinkerers, stealthy (hopefully reformed) thieves, powerful mages, and wise priests are ascending to heaven in the divine craft to find out what has dared to attack their gods.

Can they survive the dark, echoing halls of the strange space station built by the capuchins? Are any of them still alive? And what bizarre experiment caused the station to deliver its final message, an automatic SOS?

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Drow (Dark Elves) Treasure

Everyone loves to hate the drow. These dark elves are superior to humans (and all other surface dwellers) and they know it, which makes it all the more fulfilling to foil their plans and beat the tar out of them.

But once the drow are beaten, what do they leave behind? You could take the Baldur's Gate route and have their equipment dissolve in direct sunlight, but that seems like a rip-off of the highest caliber. And drow can't just be carrying +1 scimitars and potions of cure serious wounds right?

In that light, I present to you a pair of tables to randomly generate some drow treasure.

Drow gear

  1. Dridersilk armor
  2. 2d10 shadowcold arrows
  3. Bladed staff with obsidian blades
  4. Necklace of giant teeth
  5. Onyx ring with the crest of a powerful family
  6. Barbed nets with venom
  7. 1d4 fungal poison gas pods
  8. Underground transport disguised as a bullette
  9. Lantern that illuminates only living creatures
10. Sealed spellbook

Drow spells

  1. Deepfire
  2. Strangulation
  3. Phantom stalker
  4. Shadow pit
  5. Burst of spiders
  6. Touch of blight
  7. Undo healing
  8. Aura of subversion
  9. Corrupt blood
10. Cloak of whispers
11. Crown of hate
12. Assassin's bell

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Low-Level Loot: Part Deux

Months ago, back in May, I posted a set of one-line rewards called Low-Level Loot. The idea of these rewards was to provide GMs with some interesting, non-mundane treasure to hand out to players. After all, mundane treasure is, well, mundane, and standard magical items are astoundingly expensive.

Of course, the d20 system has a (mostly) careful balance of expected gold rewards, magic item costs, and magic item power. So, by handing out nonmundane rewards, you are messing with that balance. But I find—especially at low levels—balance can be easily shifted, even in the middle of a session, to make up for PCs having an unexpected advantage.

The other way to avoid that unbalancing aspect is to take existing mundane rewards and reskin them into something fantastical. I've talked about this before, and I still think it is a great way to give your PCs cool stuff without getting into many issues with balance.

So, here are a handful of interesting treasures for low-level d20 characters, a mix of modified and reskinned items.

Low-Level Loot

1. Healer's Rod: A slim birch rod, approximately 2 ft. long, with a glass orb at one end that is attached to the rod by copper wire. The wielder gains a +2 bonus to Heal checks. The wielder can also expend a charge to attempt a heal check as a full-round action, if she meets or exceeds DC 15, the target is healed 1d4 hp. The rod only has 10 charges, and when it is out it no longer provides the +2 Heal bonus.
2. Wardstone: A heavy glass orb with traces of silver within. While holding the Wardstone in one hand, the wielder gains a +1 shield bonus to AC, but also suffers a -1 penalty to Balance, Climb, Hide, Jump, Move Silently, and Tumble due to its weight and uncanny ability to glow or hum at just the wrong time.
3. Glove of Force: A white leather glove that magically changes to fit the hand of any Small, Medium, or Large humanoid creature. While wearing the glove, the wearer can make unarmed attacks up to 15 ft. away (this provokes an attack of opportunity). The wearer can also attempt to trip or disarm targets up to 15. ft away; the wearer gains a +2 bonus to attack rolls to disarm a target. If the wearer fails at a trip or disarm attempt, she can allow the glove to fall at her feet to avoid being tripped or disarmed by the opponent.
4. Circlet of Assault: A brass and leather headband inscribed with old runes and set with a single, off-center pearl. The wearer of the circlet can use a standard action to send a bolt of blunt energy at a single target up to 50 ft. away. To do so, she must place a finger on the pearl in the circlet and concentrate. The wearer makes an attack roll, and if the attack hits, deals 1d4 bludgeoning damage.