On 10 Reasons for the Wizard's Tower


Why do Wizards hang out in towers?

10. Symbolism! The tower is an ancient symbol of arrogance and hubris. Look at how high my tower reaches over my demense! Behold my power and glory!

9. Isolationism! Towers represent the idea of someone who wishes to remove themselves from polite society. They are above it.

8. Fortification! There is only one entrance. In order to invade, you must storm up the stairs. There is literally less square surface area to enchant/protect.

7. Visibility! If you wield vast cosmic power, you wouldn't want anyone approaching to be able to hide from you, no?

6. Display of Power! It takes knowledge, engineering and know-how to build a tower, otherwise every peasant would do it.

5. Protection! Robbery, Home Invasion, and Murder were commonplace. Nobody can just break into a tower -- the separation and height protect it from stealthy infiltration.

4. Power! Ley lines and magical sources are more corrupted near the ground. The higher the tower the more energy is available.

3. Peace and Quiet! Being up in the air like that gives you some distance from whatever distracting hustle and bustle is on the ground.

2. Freedom! It's cheaper then a castle and there's no lawn or grounds! Upkeep is easy and they can avoid all those distracting mundane tasks that they are forced to engage in.

1. Safety! It provides protection and a convenient excuse for all those irate peasants who are certain that you are the reason all their cows are sick.

And the number one reason for wizards to live in towers --

It's the most efficient layout for storing all their damn books!

Frog God games recently published my opus Alchemy. In it contains a list of magical mortars you can use to enchant castle and tower walls. It's incredibly dense in content. And it's a real book, with a real limited print run. You should check it out and get it on your shelf before they are all gone.

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On the Thursday Trick, Vents, Sprays, and Agency

This post was originally published in September of 2011. If you're interested in Tricks and Traps like these, be sure to check out Artifices, Deceptions, and Dilemmas, collecting all of these along with beautiful illustrations. 

Vents & Sprays (Vents/Sprays)

Trigger: Varies Effects: Multiple Targets, Never Misses
Save:WandsDuration: Instant
Resets: AutomaticBypass: Avoid

Description: These traps are characterized by a variety of factors that separate them from spells or ranged attack traps. First, they often involved gasses or liquids and because they are often sprayed out over a large area they have the property of never missing.

In some cases there is also an onset delay. This means these traps can be triggered and the effect happen in a certain amount of time (sprinklers in a room) or a delay before the substance affects the characters (such as a room filling with water.

Examples of the things that might be vented or sprayed included slime, shrapnel, cold, acid, boiling water, flaming oil/tar, sewage, mummy dust, poison, fire, magma, smoke, methane, sand, steam, sulphur, and water.

If a to hit roll is required it will always ignore armor, but not necessarily shield bonuses. Saving throws may apply given the circumstance. Rods, Staves and Wands is the traditional saving throw for such attacks, allowing half damage or to avoid instant death.

Detection: These traps can be both the best kinds of traps, and the worst kinds of traps. Because they often have extremely negative properties, they can be ran in such a way where they are just Gotcha! traps, causing death or massive damage very quickly. However, this is an extremely poor way to run such traps, for several reasons. None of the vents and sprays above will be able to remove signs of their presence. Some examples
  • Slime will leave a slick slimy coating on the walls and floor
  • Shrapnel will leave gouges and scars in the walls and floor and ceilings
  • Cold vents and sprays may show some signs of their presence due to temperature differences,  areas where the cold strikes repeated may show cracking, the growth of natural molds and fungi may be retarded. If the trap is triggered often or recently, there may be frost, ice or water on surfaces. If it has been triggered somewhat recently, the water will affect the appearance of the walls (they will be cleaner).
  • Acid will leave pits and scarring on whatever surface it is sprayed on. There may be a scent, or the players eyes may start to become irritated.
  • Boiling water may show up due to temperature differences, and will generally insure a sparkling clean area where the walls and floor are blasted with it.
  • Flaming oil and tar will generally cover the upper walls and ceiling with black soot, and the floor may appear greasy or covered in scorch marks. Tar will stick to a surface and blacken and harden under high heat. The hallway may carry a scent of burning tar.
  • Sewage will smell overpoweringly terrible, unless it is stored behind water (like in a toilet) or behind an air tight valve or door.  There will still be an odor because it will be triggered occasionally filling an area with filth. There may be an unusually high amount of mold or spores or other type things in the area due to the rich food source the filth provides.
  • Mummy Dust may leave a coating of dust on surfaces, cause a musty spell, and their may be corpses in the hallway.
  • If a poison is being used in a spray, it most likely is fairly virulent, and therefore their should be corpses, either dessicated in a forgotten dungeon like a tomb, or bones or signs of being dragged off in a more active area.
  • If fire is being vented out, then on the surface that the fire is across from there will certainly be burn or scorch marks. Their may also be burnt corpses.
  • Magma if sprayed or vented out, will melt and re-solidify, causing whatever surface the magma contacts to deform. Areas where magma is sprayed will bubble, twist, buckle, and bulge from the constant melting and re-hardening. Bones and various other mineral items (armor and such) may be embedded in seeming solid surfaces.
  • Smoke will often linger for far longer then it takes to dissipate, leaving a smell for 60' to 100' from the location of the trap for days.
  • Methane is a very dangerous trap, relying on the players flaming light to trigger an explosion. There are several things to keep in mind with methane. First, it is odorless, the natural gas smell you are familiar with is a modern additive to help detect leaks. Second, it displaces oxygen, so even if the entire party has some means of seeing in the dark, it can rapidly cause asphyxiation. Use the rules for how long characters can hold their breaths unprepared for the length of time they can stay conscious.
  • Sand will both collect on the floor (and in clothes, armor, food, despite the best intentions). The first notice the adventurers will have will likely be the sound of sand crunching under their feet. Any surfaces subject to a spray of sand will likely be scrubbed clean. Repeated sand blastings will scour a surface clean, but will also remove the top layer, exposing rougher rock or metal beneath. Sometimes this will be used to fill a sealed chamber, in which case sand coated corpses will often be discovered.
  • Steam is going to insure that whatever surfaces the steam hits are clean, except for the bits of boiled flesh that it removes from it's targets. Do not forget to continue to apply damage as heat metal for people caught in steam wearing metal armor.
  • Sulfur is an interesting compound, either acidic causing burns, or a fine dust causing explosions, or a gas, causing choking and irritation. It is also known as brimstone. The primary method of detection is it's overpowering rotten eggs smell, which is natural.
  • Water is often not sprayed on people for damage, but more often is used to fill a sealed chamber trapping and drowning whoever is within. Water traps often leave water marks, as the fluid removes dirt and grime from surfaces and deposits it on a line along the wall. It also can have a briny or salty smell.
Do not forget that the vents and sprays also must come from somewhere. Nozzles, slots, slats or shutters will be visible places where the substances are expelled.

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On the Monster Conversation

This post was originally published on 6/2016. It is linked on the Links to Wisdom wiki

I read an excellent post on Dungeon Fantastic by Peter V. Dell'Orto about players negotiating with monsters. 
  
GURPS uses an objective mechanical interface for social encounters. This isn't too common in the old school world. It was really refreshing to hear from someone else using objective social mechanics in play. What's interesting is the wildly different experiences he has.

It, ostensibly, is about errors players make during negotiations with monsters. This is a whole knot of complexity, but I don't think anything players choose to do in play is an error because I don't have an outcome in mind.

Errors players make during negotiations:
  • Not negotiating
  • Negotiating from imagined strength
  • Negotiating from weakness
  • Demanding one-way trust
These points are expanded on in his post. Not negotiating is always fighting to the death. Negotiating from imagined strength is acting as if the monsters can't challenge the party. The original article is worth reading.

This doesn't match my experience of play at all. And it's not just with the groups that know me. My players are constantly aware of dangers. They know they can't do the above things. Well, they can, but it probably ends up with someone in the party dying.

Critical hits did this also this week with their piece "Realism vs. Genre Conventions" by guest poster Jon Lemich. He says:

"There’s an illusion of threat, but how often does the party really lose a fight? Even if the GM doesn’t fudge any die rolls, they’re still building encounters that are designed for your party to win. That’s illusionism, too; and so is fudging die rolls: The decision not to flee from combat against the wandering monster has no consequences if the GM fudges the dice to prevent a TPK from a pointless random encounter, but rolling behind the screen, the players don’t know you’re fudging the dice, so you preserve the tension if you do it we."

I feel like an alien on an alien planet.

Let's start at the top. How often does the party really lose a fight? I've been part of two total party kills since spring. Once as the Dungeon Master and once as a player. So, like, frequently?

Who is still building encounters designed for the party to win? I mean, pathfinder players, sure. Anyone who wants to run a combat gauntlet. But what part of "the party should win this encounter" is part of the design? The introductory adventure for 5th edition contains multiple deadly encounters. No one was expected to win the Venomfang fight.

Have we not exhaustively covered the territory of why random encounters aren't pointless? Haven't we exhaustively covered the topic of how players can tell that you're fudging dice, because you're not a trained actor/liar?

Negotiation


My experiences with the players and monster negotiations have been different. First, players talk with anything that isn't immediately attacking them, because talking is safer and more productive than fighting. They don't have to be encouraged to negotiate. It's usually the first thing they try to do. (In more than one instance, players have said, "It's attacking us? Are you sure we can't talk to it?". Once they even used their turn in combat, just to make sure that it wouldn't converse.)

Even when vastly outnumbering the opponents they choose to parley because of the risk that reinforcements could be called. They know they have a reputation and that even if an enemy is weak, there's always more enemies than party members.

Players are nervous around monsters because they never know what they can do. When you randomize abilities and have creatures like undead and dragons that can have unknown abilities players become very cautious.

Second, they never feel like they are so much stronger than the monsters that they can 'not negotiate'. I give them the target number of whatever they are trying to negotiate for; they don't choose to negotiate from imagined strength. And because of the way relationships work, I've seen them build trust with factions and individuals.

I'm not putting the blame on Peter here. Clearly the baseline expectation of most gamers is different and somewhat shocking when exposed to this different playstyle. Someone out there is creating encounters that the players are designed to win.

Even in my set encounters, there's a high variability in encounter numbers. It's possible they might run into only a few creatures, or maybe a lot of them. This isn't even counting wandering encounters from creatures nearby that might be attracted to the sounds of a fight or people talking, nor random encounters from creatures indigenous to the area.

I don't know about other people, but specifically what and how many are encountered is unknown to me. I decide the creatures, yes. But generally the range of the encounter goes from completely trivial to unwinnable fight.

What I am saying is that these aren't mistakes. They are natural outgrowths of behavior in the players due to their environment. I'm assuming Peter talks about these being mistakes because they aren't successful tactics for the players. But as a Dungeon Master, that's not my problem. My problem is running a responsive and living game world, which very quickly visits negative consequences on people who do such stupid things when talking to monsters.

I'm not talking about punishing anyone or playing "mother may I" or any of the other quick accusations. The incorrect assumption under the basis of the entire argument is that the dungeon master is the opponent they are negotiating with, rather than an impartial arbiter, and that bad things that happen to the characters are a reflection of the esteem and worth of the player. Neither of these are true. We are playing to find out what happens. 

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On the ecology of the Owlbear

   "fuckin' wizards" -ubiquitous 

Nomenclature: Owlbear, Urstrix, Owlkin, Wildkin

Description: A hideous fusion of owl and bear

Things that are known:
  • They are a combination of bear and owl traits in the form of a ferocious beast
Rumors and other whispers in the dark:
  • Owlbears are all erudite scholars and only act like bears to get people to leave them alone to read
  • Owlbears don't sleep, and are berserk, frothing mad their entire lives. They are birthed whole by a magical plant pod
  • Owlbears are incapable of feeling fear 
  • Owlbears are excellent swimmers and water hunters
  • Owlbears hibernate, this makes them a seasonal threat, encroaching on civilized territories during harvest season
  • Owlbears are unwilling to eat food that doesn't struggle. They like to play with their food
  • It's actually a Bearowl
  • They are actually just lonely, and the terrifying "Owlbear Hug" is simply a cry for love. They don't know their own strength
  • Some people race owlbears. Sometimes they don't race, so much as eat the jockey
  • Once they have a scent, they won't stop till they catch their prey
  • They are surprisingly intelligent, building and protecting bee and termite mounds for sources of meat and honey
  • Owlbears are actually just bears. Only people with poor vision, idiots, and liars say owlbears exist
  • In spite of being creatures of motive humors and warm blood, they lay eggs
  • They are called owlbears because the wizard who made them was named 'Ser Claude Grand Panjandrum Owlbear'
  • Owlbears are super intense and unpleasant at parties
  • Some owlbears are so furious, that their furiousness fills their form, fabricating foul fasciate rods of furious fury, a vortex gone too heavy, too radical, too extreme to exist
  • Others drink decaf
  • Owlbears don't have 'eyeballs', but reflective blank tubes in place of eyes instead
  • Owlbears are able to move without making any sound
  • Once the love of an owlbear dies, they grieve and sing a dirge until death, killing any who interrupt their song
  • Owlbears build their nests in trees and drop down onto interlopers
  • Owlbears hide in cherry trees by painting their nails red. Have you ever seen an owlbear in a cherry tree? Works pretty good, eh?
  • Owlbears are the mortal enemies and opponents of griffons and other raptor-crossbreeds. Griffons know the owlbears will eat them, and so proactively gang up and attack owlbears when they are discovered
  • Owlbears are a myth. They are actually a kobold psy-op, they construct owlbear body puppets from wood and drive them around to scare away humans
  • Owlbears are summoned as harbingers for more dangerous magical creatures. When the most abominable and unlucky owlbears arrive, crying out with their hoarse and dismal voices, it is an omen of the approach of some terrible thing
  • Owlbears, oddly enough, are just owls infected by were-bears
  • Owlbears are grown from tree pods by nymphs to protect the forest
Variants 
Deranged These owlbears are a bad mix, the combination of owl and bear driving them to madness. They are misshapen and much stronger than a normal owlbear
Berserk/Raging Sometimes during an owlbears life, they are subject to a terrible disease. As their brain degenerates, they are nothing but fierce frothing fury
Spotted In northern lightly wooded areas, you'll find the rare spotted owlbear
Horned This owlbear variation uses their horns in battles for status against other male owlbears, this grants them an extra goring attack each round. 
Artic This type of polar owlbear has stark white feathers and is adapted to live in areas of extreme cold
Siege This owlbear has been enchanted and bred over generations to become larger, more muscular, and much more aggressive. Though popular as pets and mounts for their size and strength, they are rarely legal to own, and most are put down when found as being "too dangerous"

Combat Tricks 
Hootroar: everyone within hearing range must save or become frightened
Bearhug-owlbite: If the owlbear can grab a target, they can automatically hit with their bite attack as long as the target is held (in addition to the crushing damage from the hug)

Valuable Resources 
Owlbear hide can make a supple and easily enchantable leather garment
Owlbear eggs allow talented people to raise them as loyal guards or mounts
Owlbear feathers can be used in the creation of ink pens for magical scrolls
Owlbear teeth and claws will fetch a good price at market

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On Eternal Life

 I don't want to live forever.

People don't see with their eyes. If you don't study art, you might not have any conception of what an artist does to 'study'. Early study and exercises are about accepting your natural line and recognizing that the only path to better art is making a fuckton of art. 

Everything else? It's about learning to see. People can't see many things. I'm certain some people can see some things I can't see. We are all watching Plato's allegory of the cave, only instead of denying us a platonic ideal, it's just a made up story by your brain.

See A.

Your brain creates a narrative out of sensory input and makes up a fictional image and that's what you see. A lot of art is just colloquial shared knowledge on how to trick the eye. E.g. leaving a space next to a line indicates that one object is in front of another, and the bigger the space, the farther the distance. 

Literally fooling the eye so you 'see' depth on a two-dimensional surface. 

You are being shown a movie of your surroundings. Do you ever wonder what reality is really like?

There is very little disagreement about the fact that physical law does not prevent the complete replacement of the human body. Some futurists claim we'll be uploading brains by 2040. This is not an unrealistic estimate. What specifically will happen and in what order is unclear, personal power flight is here, auto driving is here, drones, now controllable via brain chip, synthetic blood, HIV resistant genetically engineered people, and a lot more are already here. 

I have schizophrenia. 

I cope with it very well, but it doesn't go away. It becomes ignorable. It tells me things, that mostly, aren't true. Sometimes they are, and that makes it difficult. It is not fun. It is not cool. Sometimes I will see something, and become possesses by an idea of reference. I don't want to. But the sensation and power of certainty and belief is often overwhelming. 

I suffer from clinical paranoia (which is related to the diagnosis. I am not a paranoid schizophrenic which is another much more severe type of schitzophrenia.) This is a terrible thing to have. It's basically a voice that is always communicating what the worst possible outcomes are. 

I don't want to be obtuse. I don't like to leave my car running, because the engine might catch on fire. Right? When the car is running, and I can't see it, it's difficult to accomplish anything because I'm concerned about the impending fire. 

This is irrational. But not impossible. This is one example, it's non-stop. Currently I can feel a spot on my head, and it's telling me that it's likely infected and will spread to my brain. It is not very likely that I'm going to die from an imaginary infection. The paranoia is not temporary or intermittent. It is better with medication. 

The problem is, sometimes the paranoia is right. Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean people aren't watching. Sometime it leads me to figure out things like if an old girlfriend cheated on me, because the paranoia made me overanalyze her behavior. 

Sometimes it leads me to think, and occasionally accuse, people of things they are not doing. Sometimes it's very hard to tell.

Life has been going well lately, but it's always like walking down a corridor hearing people fight in rooms nearby. I couldn't imagine an eternity of having to deal with that. 

There are a non-trivial number of very intelligent people who believe that this world is simulated, and this tracks with my personal out of body experiences. As a youth I was a staunch skeptic and philosophical materialist. I might still be, but I think I'm finally wise enough to be uncertain.

If it were a simulated world? If it was, perchance, after I had filled every possible desire; seeking something more engaging, deciding to plug into a simulation where you don't know you are in one for an authentic experience. And if you were going to do something like that, wouldn't you choose a time of great upheaval? One perhaps that sees the shifting of an epoch? 

Probably not. It's a little too much solipsism and ego indulgence. 

We are all, hurtling through a literal endless void (no foolin!), on a small rock. Maybe don't sweat the small stuff, schedule a D&D game, and be a little less certain.

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Hack & Slash 

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On Collective Nouns for Fantasy Dungeons & Dragons Monsters & Creatures

Ankheg - An army of ankheg
Animated Objects - A clutter of animated objects
Azer - A cinder of azer
Aboleth - A horror of aboleth
Angel - A grace of angels

Bugbear - A filth of bugbears
Beholder - A gaze of beholders
Barghest - A nightmare of barghest
Basilisk - A statuary of basalisks
Bulette - A shudder of bulette

Carrion Crawler - an army of carrion crawlers (or infestation)
Centaur - a herd of centaur
Chimera - a nest of chimera
Cockatrice - a flock of cockatrice

Devil - A sin of devils
Dragon - A weyr of dragon (or generation, wing, or flight)

Elemental - A core of elementals

Gargoyle - A gallery of gargoyles
Ghoul - A rot of ghouls
Gnoll - A clann of gnolls
Goblin - A chaos of goblins (or mob, or horde)
Griffon - A pride of griffons (or convocation)

Harpy - An aerie of harpies, (or a colony, or wake of harpies)
Hippogriff - A herd of hippogriff (or a cast)
Hobgoblin - A troop of hobgoblin

Kobold - A warren of kobolds (or pack, or nuisance)
Kuo-toa - A tide of kuo-toa

Lizardfolk - A tribe of lizardfolk
Lycanthrope - A curse of lycanthropes

Manticore - A destruction of manticores
Mind Flayer - A ponderance of mind flayers
Minotaur - A maze of minotaurs
Mummies - A wrap of mummies
Nightmares - A terror of nightmares

Ogre - A club of ogres
Ooze - A slime of oozes
Orc - A horde of orcs
Owlbear - A congress of owlbears
Otyugh - A filth of otyugh

Sahuagin - A catastrophe of sahuagin
Salamander - A heat of salamanders
Skeleton - A horde of skeletons
Shadow - A darkness of shadows
Sladd - A bane of sladd
Spectre - A sneak of spectres, (alternately, a vision)
Sphinx - A riddle of sphinx
Stirge - A swarm of stirge, A blood of stirge
Sprite - A mischief of sprites

Tarrasque (!) - An armageddon of tarrasque
Troglodyte - A slope of trogs
Troll - A growth of trolls, (or a soak of trolls)

Umberhulk - A siege of umberhulks, (or a confusion)
Unicorn - A purity of unicorns (or grace)

Vampires - A coterie of vampires (alternately a lick, or a den or coven)

Worg - A route of worg (or pack)
Wraith - A shade of wraiths
Wyvern - A quiver of wyvern (or nest)

Zombie - A horde of zombies (or invasion)

If during your augury of far realms you come across any other terms used in the common parlance, please leave them in the comments below, and I will note the phrase, and if given, the realm of origin.

This post was originally published on June 2011. If you like posts like this, support me on Patreon!

Spellbook Traps

1. Alarm
2. Explosive Runes
3. Contingency (To trigger any spell)
4. Symbol
5. Dusty pages (spores, disease)
6. Contact poison
7. Twisted spells (harmful spells unless the caster knows the code or key)
8. Ink Golems
9. Cloud of a million papercuts (Targeting eyes, nose, and mouth.)
10. Something that looks like a linking book, but actually triggers an Imprisoment spell
11. Mimics
12. A book with the same words on every page, with the spells coded into ink, or texture / material of the pages
13. Beartraps
14. Cursed (Polymorph for anyone reading the book who isn't the caster
15. Superglue
16. Touching spellbook triggers a teleport trap
17. Spellbook has teeth
18. Touching spell triggers electric shock
19. When turning to a certain page (say 341) the book sucks the reader into it.
20. If anyone other than the owner holds it, it appears to be full of vile acts
21. Snake Sigil
22. Forcecage combined with monster summoning
23. Magic mouth (annoyance can cause a penalty to learn)
24. A book of random spells, one you turn a page, the previous page is changed.
25. Actual traditional (poison needle on lock) traps on the cover.
26. Pages made of flammable, acidic,or poisonous material when exposed to air.
27. Have some pages be explosive when exposed to air, and the cover be metal for shrapnel damage.
28. Animate object, causing the book to attack.
29. Trapped with a poverty geas
30. Yellow mold dust
31. Analine ink
32. Trap the soul in an object in a 'cutout'
33. Dimensional portal
34. A book bomb.
35. A book poison container
36. Cause feeblemind
37. A deadly creature inside a hollow cutout.
38. Animate object on nearby objects (clothing of the person who opens the book)
39. A book that leeches something from the user
40. A book that alters the user mentally in some way
A) gain a emnity to monster/race/class
B) gain a phobia
C) gain a mental quirk
D) gain an insanity
41. Book opens to a page that scrys on a location that shows a mirror of opposition or soul trapping.
42. Pages with razor edges
43. Fire trap
44. Something is bound to guard the book
45. Arcane mark would allow you to locate the stolen book.
46. Have some green slime or a black pudding permanently 'phantasmal forced' to look like a spellbook.
47. Have the spellbook located inside a safe (like a prismatic sphere)
48. Illusory script
49. Arcane lock on a mundane lock
50. A lock lurker
51. Disguise it using 'item' and 'magic aura'
52. Spells scribed incorrectly to fail or backfire

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