Monday 29 January 2018

A Road on a Hill; A Forest in a Valley

A road passes by on the side of a hill. Below, in a valley, thick trees form a dense, dark forest.

Wandering Encounters on the Road

(roll 2d4 if the forest spirit is at peace, 1d8 if something is amiss)

An ogre mage
In disguise by day.
1d4 marauding bandits

A griffon
Passing above by day, resting in a nearby nest at night (with 1d4 eggs in spring).
A friendly traveller


A salesman
Greasy old guy. Has rations, camping gear, a few simple tools and one half-decent magic item.
A lovestruck loon
Enchanted by the forest witch, they mean to seek her out but are scared of the woods.
A monk
They venture into the forest regularly to meditate and tend to the shrine there.

Wandering Encounters in the Forest

Allow careful or observant players the opportunity to notice tell-tale signs of an encounter before coming across it (e.g. a stagnant pond of trollspawn, a dusting of pixie moth powder on leaves).

(roll 2d6 if the forest spirit is at peace, 1d12 if something is amiss)

An avatar of the forest spirit, enraged
Roll 1d8 thrice (1: antlers; 2: fur; 3: claws; 4: tusks; 5: hooves; 6: scales; 7: mane; 8: feathers).
1d4+1 poachers
After deer, or whatever’s in season (see entry 9).
A troll
Nearby are 1d4 padtrolls in summer or autumn, or trollspawn in spring.
Pixie moths
Resting by day, active at night. They spread a phosphorescent powder that causes sleep and hallucinations.
The forest witch
Out collecting herbs. She is friendly and invites travellers to her cabin for tea. She is a jorogumo (stat as a drider).
Awakened shrub, edible
Fruit in spring or summer, roots in autumn or winter.
1d4 deer
With young in spring, courtship in autumn.
Birds by day, or bats by night. They harangue intruders if the forest spirit is angry.
Rabbits or game birds in spring and autumn, boars in summer, wolves in winter.
Capricious fey
Dryads in spring, satyrs in autumn.
Old stone golem
Flattens undergrowth as it lumbers around, overgrown with lichen and bereft of motivation.
Skeleton of a long-dead explorer
Their ghost still haunts their bones, visible only at night.


As you may have noticed, the Guide now has a new mascot! Say hello to the Graverobber. Many thanks to Nicoletta Migaldi for coming up with the design.

Sunday 21 January 2018

On the Life Cycle of Trolls

D&D trolls are odd. They have a lot of specific powers and weaknesses, distinct from what most people call “trolls” in modern fantasy stories or folklore. To me, all that weirdness makes a lot more sense when you think of them as amphibians.

(I’m normally against weirdness making sense, but this fits too well in my world not to use it.)

Here’s how trolls work in my game.


Around springtime, standing pools of water, from swamps to bogs to forest pools, become host to the larval stage of the troll. Hundreds of tiny hatchling trolls are held together in a blobby, gelatinous mass, lain by the female and then fertilised at a later date by a wandering male (breeding pairs of trolls seldom meet, and such meetings often end in the male being eaten).

Adventurers who may have business in swamps and fens should avoid these spawning grounds, as mother trolls return to the site intermittently to check on their young and dispatch intruders. The more still and stagnant a pool, the more likely it is to be habitable to trollspawn. Also look for the presence of paddlescum, a rank-smelling algae that provides nutrition for troll hatchlings.


Invariably, as they grow, troll hatchlings will exhaust their immediate food sources and turn on their fellow offspring. By this point in the life cycle the mother has abandoned the nest and left the young to fend for themselves. The most aggressive are able to consume the rest and begin the next stage of their life cycle.

Padtrolls grow two small legs to support their swollen, frog-like bodies, and sharp teeth to aid in taking down and eating prey. They can leave the pool in search of food, but must return regularly to keep their skin moist. A padtroll can seemingly stay in this state for many years, until they eat enough to spur the next growth stage.


Trolls occur when a padtroll consumes an amount exceeding their body weight in a small space of time. There is also thought to be a necessity for ambient magic to spur this process, as a grown troll adult gains a more humanoid appearance and the capacity for speech. Bridges are common troll territory, as they provide a wet climate, shelter, and the natural mana concentration found in crossing-places.

Adult trolls retain many amphibian traits, such as the ability to regrow lost appendages, and an aversion to heat and dryness. These are even more prominent in the adult stage, with reports of troll heads staying alive when fully detached from their bodies, and a seemingly innate fear of fire.


The fact that trolls still have the ability to regenerate their limbs has led some scholars to believe that their form is still unsettled and thus immature, meaning that the troll is not the final growth stage.

Sightings of the supposed mature troll, or “grandtroll”, remain unconfirmed, though this may be due to the fact that adventurers sent to find it and retrieve a sample wind up dead.

Monday 15 January 2018

Clocks and Calendars

Relic: "Maybe we should talk to that woman we saw on the balcony? Her tattoo had a 13 on it, she probably knows what's going on."
Erky: "I dunno. She seemed fairly important, she'd probably just look down on us."
Relic: "I think she was only looking down on us because she was on a balcony. In fact, if we stood next to each other I'd probably be taller."

Negative WIS modifiers, folks.

That was our Fighter and Rogue last night in the first game of my new campaign, the Graverobbers' Guild. As tempted as I am to do a bunch of campaign write-ups, I feel like telling people about the cool shit that happened in your last D&D game is about as exciting as telling people about your dreams. If you weren't there, it doesn't make a lot of sense and you don't have much reason to care.

This blog is going to be more about stuff you can use in your own games. I'll be referring to my campaign, obviously, but only to pick out gameable nuggets that might prove useful to other GMs. Or at the very least, stuff I come up with that is useful to me. Take as you will.


Speaking of:

Clocks and Calendars

Before we started playing, after we'd spent a good while figuring out Roll20, I got each player to make a roll. 1d12, 1d4 and 1d8, landing us a 5, 1 and 6.

That made it the 6th day (Saturday - don't use weird names, no one will remember them) of the first week of the 5th month.

I'm sure anyone reading this already knows the Gygax quote about "STRICT TIME RECORDS", and if you don't, you do now. The co-founder of our hobby believed you could not play without keeping track of time.

Most old GMs probably already do this. Most new GMs don't do this. I certainly didn't, before now. But you should!

By keeping track of time, verisimilitude skyrockets. You can answer questions like "what day is it?", "what's the weather like?" and "how long since..." with as much faux confidence as you answer questions about the rest of your nonsense fantasy town, and that makes it real.

Relic, the aforementioned Warforged Fighter, escaped from his gladiatorial enslavement to begin a life of adventuring, and the fact that I can tell him, with confidence, that the premier sporting event in the city he fled will begin in exactly six weeks, places the character and his actions in a living world. And that's what we're trying to do in this game. That's the whole game, right there.

You can also keep records of who did what when, travel times gain significance (making what many consider the dullest part of the game carry actual weight), and players feel pressured by deadlines, self-imposed or otherwise.

Casting a spell as a ritual and taking 10 minutes risks the guards completing their rounds and coming by your hiding place again. Downtime rules make more sense when you see the days pass by, and healing rules (I'm half-done homebrewing mine) can produce wonderfully agonising delays.

Dates on your calendar and times on your clock can have significance, and that significance will actually mean something. Holidays, festivals, pilgrimages, curfews, oncoming armies and fell rituals that can only take place under the new moon. Give your characters birthdays!

Basically, everything gains immeasurably more weight and relevance once you have your eye on the ticking clock. Try it, if you haven't. It's a little more bookkeeping, but hey, you've got the time. You're here, you must have.


This is where most blogs run by cool, creative OSR-types would blow your mind with a set of simple rules that can be slotted straight into your campaign.

Thing is, all the rules I'm using to do this stuff are already in the PHB and DMG. It takes a bit of page-flicking and some basic maths, but 5e has rules to track how long anything takes down to the second.

Have a look, try it out. You won't want to go back. I'll try to come up with something original for my next post. I'll probably post up my game's calendar at some point too.

Now if you'll excuse me, Xanathar's Guide just arrived. I'm due a peruse.

(Oh, and welcome! First blog post and everything. I'll do my best to make this a useful resource as I continue, so stick around, tell your friends, all that jazz.)