Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Why are Giants "bad"

In many editions of D&D, giants have been a somewhat common "powerful but beatable" challenge, often for "mid tier" heroes (level 5-10 stuff).  They also have been the topic of a few campaigns, such as the "why do I have to do 75% of the work but really awesome potential" campaign Storm King's Thunder by WotC.  I really enjoyed the questions it raised about the role giants play in the world.

The Giant by Goya, Wikipedia Commons

(Answer: they contain dragons.  A few giants chucking boulders is a menace to most dragons.)

But despite this "noble" purpose, giants are frequent foes of humanity and PCs.  Why? They aren't particularly malicious - not more so than humanity in general.  

What are giants doing that's so bad? Well, giants consume a lot of resources (being giants and all that).  And they take those resources because they can because they are strong.  And if those resources are the sheep of a herder, too bad for the herder and their family.

For this terrible crime, PCs are encouraged to trick giants when they must (at low level - don't fight a giant it's suicide!) and kill them when they can (a middle level party can kill a single giants in 2 round, sometimes 1).  

Is this a ... critique of something?  The crimes of colonialism/capitalism are rooted in the strong taking resources away from the weak.

Is this metaphor profound?  No but it is intriguing.  

Note the dragons the giants keep at bay.  Doesn't capitalism - especially right wing parties in western democracies - gain support by "protecting us" from "bad" things - crime (not really...), communism, "those" people.

Note how this is about resources.  The hill giant devour the countryside. The frost giant raids.  The fire giant enslaves.  The stone giant blunders.  The cloud giant schemes.  The storm giant is ... absent.  A lot of this is about resources the giants take because they feel they need them.

Note how the giants believe they are "better" than humanity.  They have a spark of the divine in them, after all - they aren't gods, but they surely are more than mere mortals.  (Just the sheer... physics... of a humanoid so large).  Thus, this entitlement, for them, justifies their behavior.  Colonialism dehumanizes the weak, devalues them and their rights.

And note how the metaphor can be reverted.  Who does these resources belong to?  Are they any more the humans than the giants?  PCs "clearing land" from monsters is... kinda colonialism too.  I'm certainly not the first to note this.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Easy mass combat system.

The following is an excellent system for narrative mass combat, where the GM can "eyeball" relative strengths of the groups involved, and quickly run it while the PCs do something heroic to save the day (or run away... it's up to the players!)

This is not meant for a game where mass combat happens regularly, but rather a campaign where this might occur once or twice in the entire campaign.

This was posted on EN world in 2015... but I realize that forums crashes are a thing, and though "maybe this needs to be re-published?"   Alas, I haven't managed to contact the author of the post to ask permission, but all credits are due to them.

ExploderWizard  , from EN world:

Mass battles can be a lot of fun and aren't that hard to run if you prepare for them. I am developing a simple system for large scale conflicts which I will share here. It requires a little GM prep work but not as much as running the entire affair in the regular combat system. 

The important stuff will be taking place wherever the PCs happen to be. I got the idea for this from the way I design adventure scenarios. A large battle is simply another scenario. What is important to know is, what is going to happen without PC interference. Once you have a good idea about how things will turn out if the players decide to bug out or twiddle their thumbs, then you will be ready to see how their actions influence outcomes. 


Have an idea of all forces participating in the conflict both as allies and enemies of the PCs. The statistics of these participants will help guide you making judgment calls. 

1) DIVIDE THE BATTLEFIELD AREA INTO ZONES. There can be a handful or many depending on the size of the conflict. Only use as many as you think that you will need. The PCs will begin in one of these zones along with enemy forces that oppose them. This may be a random placement or against specific enemies depending on the setup and intelligence available to both forces. 

Place allies and other enemy forces in the remaining zones. Again base these starting forces according to the information available to them. At this point all forces should be deployed in zones. Draw a rough sketch map of the zones and note which forces are in each one. 

2) DETERMINE MATCH UP COMPATIBILITY IN EACH ZONE. ( except the one the PCs are in) This is a rough level compatibility test. Look at factors such as numbers/ratio, individual prowess of combatants, special abilities, etc. This is where we determine if there is enough of a mismatch to apply modifiers to the conflict. A positive modifier means an edge for the PCS allies. A negative modifier means an edge for the PCs enemies. For each zone determine the match-up modifier in a range of 0 to +/- 4. 

This is where being familiar with the participants stats is important. Only a severe advantage should get a +/- 4 modifier such as being outnumbered 3 or 4 to 1, or a force of regular men fighting half or more of their number of ogres. Remember special abilities. If the entire enemy force is resistant or largely immune to the other side's attacks (soldiers vs wererats) that would count as a huge advantage. 

This is also a good time to assign modifiers for information the players may have that is shared with allies or for good tactical deployment depending on the setup and how much time there is to prepare. 

3) FIGHT! Each round determine the status of the battle happening in each zone the PCs are NOT in. Roll 3d6 for each zone of battle applying the modifier for that zone. Use this table to apply the outcome of a round: 

3-4 (or less): Allies in severe trouble- enemy gains 3 points
5-8: Allies in trouble-enemy gains 2 points
9-10: Struggle locked but stable- enemy gains 1 point
11-12: Struggle locked but stable- allies gain 1 point 
13-16: Enemies in trouble- allies gain 2 points
17-18 (or more): Enemies in severe trouble-allies gain 3 points 

The first force in a zone to reach 6 points wins the battle in their zone. Make a note of how the battle in each zone is going. This way you know how the tide is swinging during each round and roughly how long each zone will take to resolve. 


Each zone will have a victor. The cost of the victory is determined by the margin ratio:

6-0: clean sweep, almost no casualties, enemy largely destroyed
6-1: easy victory, 5% casualties, enemy soundly defeated
6-2: victory, 10% casualties, enemy defeated
6-3: tough victory, 30% casualties, enemy defeated
6-4: costly victory, 60% casualties, enemy barely defeated
6-5: pyrrhic victory, 80% casualties, victorious unit broken


A unit that achieves victory in its zone can then reinforce friendly units in an adjacent zone. It takes 1 round to move to an adjacent zone. A move across 2 zones would require 2 rounds, etc. All units save a broken unit can move to assist allies. The round after joining an allied unit, the reinforcements add a +1 to +5 modifier to their allies in the new zone depending on what shape they were in. A unit moving to assist after a clean sweep victory would add +5 while a unit following a costly victory would add only +1 for example. 

All of this can be determined in prep with notes of what is happening in each zone round by round. Now there is a rough outline of how the battle will progress without PC actions. As the players fight their part of the battle and move to help allies in other zones you have a solid idea on what is happening in each place as the PCs get there. The system isn't that difficult to use at the table if you would prefer the flow of battle to be a surprise each round especially if you have players help make the rolls. 

This is still a work in progress and meant to be a simple aide for mass combat in an rpg. There is nowhere near enough detail to make an engaging war game out of it.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

The Mace of Gygax

As new seasons of Futurama are coming out, I've been rewatching it (and enjoying it greatly - the first 3 seasons in particular are excellent).  

In season 2, episode 6, Gygax hands Fry a +1 mace.

How should we stat such a weapon?

Sure, it could just be an ordinary +1 mace... but it's the *Mace of Gygax*!  That isn't enough!  But if it's *not* a +1 mace... 

The solution is simple.  The Mace of Gygax gives a +1 bonus to attack rolls and damage... aaaaand everything else.  +1 to skill checks and saving throws.  +1 to initiative and AC.  +1 to hp.  +1 to strenght, dex... +1 to level.  Basically, anything that has a game statistic, +1. 

I like to think that Gygax would approve of this.  Best part, this works in almost every rule system :D

Friday, September 8, 2023

The Cannon

This is a somewhat silly GLOG class I made for an adventure I hope to publish (here) "soon", called "the Yamac Sauce Caper".   This has not been play-tested as a PC.  As a "helpful" NPC?  100% this works :D

So you thought being a cannoneer was special.  Pfff.  What if you are the cannon?

You are a cannon with all that entails.  You somehow can talk, see and perceive as a human.  You don't need to eat, but you can eat a load of gunpowder, somehow, to heal as if  you had had a lunch. 

You gain 1 hp and 1 AC per template (your AC at level 1 is like leather).  If someone fumbles against you, they break their melee weapon against your hard metal barrel, or injure themselves for 1d3 dmg if using natural weapons.

A:  10 feet per round, aim yourself (you have +2 to hit), bombard's eye

B: 20 feet per round, Powder eater.  fast fire

C:  30 feet per round.  Ram, Safe

D:  Self fire.  Range

10 feet per round:   You have gained the power to roll yourself around at fairly slow speed.  You progressively move faster

Aim yourself:  You can aim yourself, possibly achieving greater accuracy 

Bombard's eye:  As per Skerple's cannoneer power

Powder eater:  Eat a load of powder to heal as per a ration (like taking lunch)

Fast fire:  Your advice and assistance makes you easier to use.  An untrained crew can fire you as fast as a trained crew, and a trained crew can shave off a round off their loading time (again, consult's Skerple's excellent rules).

Ram:  You can roll into someone and ram them with your iron tube, inflicting 1d6 dmg

Safe:  You are now completely safe to fire. If a roll indicates a serious misshap, the shot is instead interrupted (you know things are wrong)

Self fire:  You cannot load yourself, but you *can* fire yourself

Range:  Your range is increased by 50%

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

The Garbage Planet

The garbage planet - the "si-fi analogue" of a garbage dump.  A world where people fly in from all over to dispose of waste. 

Star Wars seemed fond of the idea (see for example Lotho Minor ) 

Is this likely? Does it make sense to launch garbage into space?  

To do this analysis, I will use the economy from the rather good Star Wars SAGA system.  Energy costs are cheap in star wars - it costs about 50 credits to launch a small cargo ship in space, a ship that can carry 100 tons.  Compare that to current space launch costs that are in the 10 000$ per kg!  

I did run a campaign with the SAGA system about 15 years ago; where commerce was important.  Based on that experience, I know that hauling goods in a light freighter can be profitable-ish with a 20 credits/ton margin.  Larger ships can do much better (meaning they only need to make a few credits per ton to make a profit).  So shipping garbage makes economic sense in star wars, there is quite likely that there are several garbage disposal ships in operation - we don't hear much about it because I suppose it's very unglamorous - scrapy smuggler or salvager sure, but garbage hauling - not cool enough for the movies.  Heavily populated planet probably have *fleets* of such ships.

That's just half the equation though.  Does this mean the existence of a "garbage planet" is plausible?  Well... the big flaw with the concept is *why* - why bother flying a long distance to a garbage planet instead of just using a nearby gas giant or star?  Star Wars fuel is cheap yes, but it still takes time and effort to go on long journeys. So why have specific "garbage planets"?  There has to be an economic reason for doing so... 

- I think a more likely explanation is that the garbage planets are more... immense salvage yards.  The economics of such a place could be varied, but they (some sort of overseer group) could purchase the salvage, then have low cost labor (droids? jawas? slaves?) extract "value" from this salvage to re-sell to merchants, perhaps in exchange for supplies.  It could be that the control of vital supplies is how the "overseer group" stays in power.  Or it could be a cooperative?  Definitely room for various forms of governance, and possibly adventuring hooks.  There could be planets where there is no more significant inlay of salvage/garbage, but there is so much build up that scavenging operations are ongoing.

It's also possible, even likely, that these large salvage yards are causing significant environmental damage to the planet.  Depending on what the planet was before the garbage dumping started, or who lives there, this could lead to all sorts of conflict.

And I think all this is fertile ground for adventure, more than just a mere garbage planet "existing".  The more one knows about a planet and what makes it "tick", the more avenues for adventure exist!

Thursday, February 23, 2023

What the player wants vs what the character wants

 I recently saw a clip with an excellent point being made.  Basically, what your character wants and what the *player* wants are not the same.

Let's say you have a dangerous piece of jewelry you have to destroy inside a volcano in the lands of an evil sorcerer/warlord.  

The *character* wants to get the job done, in the most efficient manner possible.  They have a goal - to defeat the evil wizard and save the world.  Doing this efficiently and *safely* is important, to maximize chances of success and survival.  Why don't we just teleport to Mount Doom, drop in the ring, and teleport back out?  

The *player* wants the *adventure*!  The quest, the tribulations, the dark journey, the character arc, etc etc.  They know if they teleport to Mount Doom and back, the year long campaign will be over in a single session.   The DM probably wants the adventure too.

This was prompted by a clip from a discussion from Critical Roles GMs, starting at 1:28:


So great piece of insight, done deal right?  Wellllllllll

I'm not sure that this is completely true for all players.  If we keep looking at the Mount Doom analogy, just see how *persistent* the meme of "just fly to Mount Doom on Giant Eagles, dump the ring and go home!" is.  I think that some players' motivation ARE in line, partially at least, with the characters.  If there IS a way to circumvent the adventure and accomplish the goal/mission, they WILL take it, because it's what their character would do.  They *enjoy* efficiency, finding clever ways to solve problems.  If there is such a way and it's been ignored for "reasons" (the reason being that the adventure doesn't want to be bypassed), they will feel dissatisfied.  The game will feel... fake, contrived.  

I don't think there is a "right" answer here - rather, it is important to know what motivates your players - because if player 1 wants efficiency and player 2 wants adventure, it could lead to table conflict and dissatisfaction.  Yet another thing to cover in session zero!  It certainly possible to have both in a game - but the GM has to be flexible.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Yoon Suin 2nd Edition now on Kickstarter

 A very short post, but one I felt deserves to be made:


A 2nd edition of Yoon-Suin is coming out, now with more adventure content.  The first edition was *excellent*, and I am quite confident that this will also be the case.   As of publication, there are 9 days left to the campaign. 

Saturday, January 14, 2023

So you've been swallowed by a giant monster

There is a bit of a tradition amongst some bloggers to exchange posts as "gifts" and prompt to creativity.  I took part this year, and Kwub  made the following Christmas wish:

“So You’ve Been Swallowed by a Colossal Creature” dungeon room feature table or encounter table

Your party has heard of the legends of a great Sea Serpent, who's bellies is full of treasures.  Unfortunately for you, the Serpent was far greater than you anticipated, and has swallowed your party whole.  Lost in a labyrinth built for digestion, the heroes seek a way out... 

From "Uriah Jewett and the Sea Serpent of Lake Memphemagog" (1917)

Let's make this an encounter table.  Roll a 1d8

1:   2d6 Goblins.  

These goblins have been in the Creature for generations and consider it their entire universe, and have no interest in leaving.  Roll 1d6 or decide their attitude:

- Lone goblin survivor, afraid and cowardly

- Goblin ambush - goblins gotta eat!

- Willing to trade

- Cautious and fearful

- fighting something else

- Goblin cookout - fish tacos! 

These goblins use crude spears as weapons, and have a keens sense of smell.  They know things about this environment (although not how to escape).  However, for each useful piece of advice a goblin knows, the goblin will also give 3-4 recommendations that the goblin firmly believes in but is nothing but superstition.

Each goblin has a 10% chance of having a Serpent Pearl. 

2:  the Serpent Pearls

The legends of the great riches of the Sea Serpents has a core of truth - the Serpent Pearls.  You have found a clutch of 3d6 such pearls.  These pearls are larger and more irregular than oyster pearl and are worth 1d20 gp each; alchemists, adventurers, wizards and the sorts may be willing to pay more.  10 Serpent Pearls fill an encumbrance slot.  

It is known by some that the core of a Serpent pearl is always a small, hard object that was not digested properly.  90% of such objects have little or no value, however 9% contain a gem or jewel worth 1d100 gp (if a 100 is rolled, roll again and multiply by 10), and 1% contain a small magical items such as a ring or amulet. Unfortunately, investigating the nature of the core requires the destruction of the pearl.  There are no known reliable method of determining what is inside the core without destroying the pearl, which has lead some to speculate that the Serpent Pearls may be sovereign against divination magic.... 

3:  A black bear.

You know what to do.  

4:  Digesters (1d4) 

These creatures are part of the Sea Serpent's digestive system.  They appear as greenish squat worm, perhaps 8-10 feet long and over a feet in diameter.  They hunt on sight alone, and will pursue moving things doggedly, but lose interest rather quickly if their quarry is out of sight.  If attacked, they will emit a shrill keen, which will attract 2d4 more digesters within 1d6 minutes.

Digesters' only weapon is an acidic spray, that does 1d10 dmg in a 20 foot cone.  They can do so several dozen times in a row before their secretions get exhausted.   Once their acid has caused a foe to fall, they will spray said foe again numerous times to ensure a complete digestion.  This obsession may give the victim's allies a chance to flee.  


4 HD, AC as leather,  

Attack:  1d2 damage (weak bite) or 2d6 acid spray in 20 foot cone

Speed:  as standard human

Size: large

Morale: 9

Treasure:   A digester has a 4/6 chance of containing 1d8 Serpent Pearls.  Cutting one open and digging out the pearls takes 1d6 minutes...

5.  Wounded fish

This large sea creature is wounded but still has some fight in it.  


3 HD, AC as chain/scale

Attack:  1d8 dmg (tail slap) 

Speed:  as a crawling toddler 

Size: large

Morale: 12 - will fight to the death

Treasure:   it sweet delicious flesh

6:  The dungeon Merchant

How did he get here?  Where is he getting his wares?  Is this even a dungeon? Nobody knows!  But you are sure glad he is here.

The dungeon merchants has 1d10 rations for sale, 1d10 torches, 1d6 potions of healings and 1d4 randomly determined potions.  He will buy dungeon pearls for 50% of value.  If attacked, the dungeon merchant hurls an object to the floor and disappears in a puff of smoke.

Stats can be found here.  For better dungeon merchants, please consult the following.

7: The "Visitors"

This group of four adventurers was swallowed by the serpent nearly 30 years ago.  They still seek treasure, but have been here so long they have become part of it.  They may be willing to help the party, but this help won't be free.

Turmak,  dwarf ranger.  Turmak has completely forgotten his old life outside the serpent.  He is vaguely aware that there is an outside world, but sees this as irrelevant.  He no longer walk but glides on the fleshy surfaces of this strange inner world, covered in mucus.  He rarely speaks - he knows what to do - and has forsaken most tools.  He wears mostly ropes and pouches.  In battle, he throttles with strong, gnarly hands and bites with his sharpened teeth.

Vruss, the tortle druid.  Vruss is in many ways the leader of the expedition - their magical powers were instrumental in surviving the early days of their expedition, and Vruss now has reached a level of deep communion with their environment - they see this inner world as a sacred place.  In combat, they use spells of poison and acid.

Fennel, the elven thief.  Unlike some of her companions, Fennel  has not embraced her environment.  However, she is wanted for regicide in the capital, and is willing to spend a few human generations here to let the heat die down.  The three decades has worn her down however, and her mood has become very brittle as a result.  In battle, she uses a short bow and bone arrows coated in poison.

Morgell of the Rings, the human mage.  Morgell supports the group with various utility magic.  He is here on a quest - he has it on good authority that one of the pearls in the Serpent contains a ring of wishes, which he intends to use to bring his dead twin sister back to life.  He has developed a test to determine if a pearl contains a ring.  So far he has found dozens of mundane rings and 3 magical ones - a ring of free action, a ring of protection and a ring of the ram.  Morgell is starting to get old, but he has not given hope yet.  In combats he uses web spells and the aforementioned  ring of the ram.

8:  The Parasites (1d12+1d4)

These worms have evolved to reside and thrive within the digestive track of the Great Serpent.  They seek to find living prey and devour it before it can be digested by the Serpent, giving little in return.  They are pale pink, a lamprey-like mouth, about the length of a human and 4-5 inches in diameter.  They approach with stealth, and try to overwhelm a straggler.  They show little fear.

Gut worms 

1+1 HD, AC as leather,  

Attack:  bite, 1d6 dmg.  They will inject eggs into dead bodies.

Special defense:  if grappled, restrained by a net or a spell etc, they will secrete thick mucus to escape

Speed:  as standard human

Size: medium

Morale: 8

Treasure:   None.  Their flesh is foul, but their skin may be turned into armor, if tanned properly. 

Lastly, I can't help but note that with a bit more work, this encounter table could be expanded, modified, into an *adventure* - Kwub's concept would lend itself very well to a "depth crawl", a bit like the Stygian Library.  Add more encounters, wonky treasures, spooky "rooms", and a way out... 

P.S.  I also received an entry.  I wanted a list of goblin relatives.  Instead I got ... *this* astounding Goblin Market. It is an *impressive* piece of work, very creative and substantial.  The writing, the lore, the quality of the items...