On Artifices & Deceptions: Triggers, Timed

Timed Triggers

This trigger just regularly springs the trap. Note that the trap may be set to use a timed trigger after the initial trigger is sprung.

Timed triggers are great obvious traps. This can be gouts of flame or swinging blades. They are buzzsaws, vines, and swinging logs. It is spinning pillars, anti-gravity platforms travelling up and down, and sections of floor that disappear or collapse after you step on them. They are rarely a danger themselves, but can make other situations more interesting. 

They are best used in situations where other objectives need to be met, rescuing hostages, defeating a bad guy, stealing an item, made all the more complicated by the regular changes in environment. 

Traditional use

S2 White Plume Mountain by Gary Gygax

7. The door opens onto a stone platform in a large natural cave. The ceiling averages 50´ above the level of the platform while the floor of the cave 50´ below is a deep pool of boiling mud. Points A and B mark the locations of geysers. Geyser A spouts once every five minutes. Geyser B spouts once every three minutes. Opposite the entrance platform is another stone platform, approximately 90´ away. Between them a series of wooden disks is suspended from the ceiling by massive steel changes. The disks are about four feet in diameter, and three feet apart. Each disk is attached to it’s chain by a giant staple fixed in its center. The disks swing freely and will tilt when weight is placed upon them. The disks and chains, as well as the walls of the cavern , are covered with a wet, slippery algal scum that lives on the water and nutrients spewed up from the geysers. This coating gives off a feeble phosphorescent glow.

When the geysers erupt, they reach nearly to the roof of the cavern, and creatures holding onto the disks or chains may be washed off to fall into the mud below (an almost instant death). Characters with 18 Strength, or better, have a 65% chance of holding onto a disk that is adjacent to an erupting geyser. For each point of strength less than 18, there is a 10% lesser chance of hanging onto the disks (i.e. 16 strength equals 45% chance.) However, for each disk the characters is located farther from the geyser, there is a cumulative chance 5% greater of holding on i.e. one farther away (from the adjacent disk) equals +5%, two away equals +10%, et. Damage varies as the distance from the geyser. Adjacent disk: 5-50 points; one away: 4-40, and so on: 3-30, 2-20, 1-10, 1-6 and 1-4 for anyone in the cavern. Characters who make their saving throw versus breath weapon will take only one-half damage.

Timed trigger design

Early timed triggers can be as simple as a swinging blade, something obviously and trivially avoided, at least until you get hit with a Fear effect or henchmen fail their morale rolls and run into it while fleeing.

Moderate timed triggers are an effective way to challenge mid-level parties with beginning challenges. Take an encounter for characters of 1st-3rd level and add gouts of fire that criss-cross the battlefield and it becomes an appropriate challenge for higher level characters. Another type of timed trigger is one where a normal activity is given a hard time limit, you must defeat the monster/pick the lock/disarm the trap before the room crushes you, the ceiling falls, the guards arrive, or your get cut apart my laser beams. 

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On Artifices & Deceptions: Triggers, Light

Light Detection: This trigger only functions in always lit or never lit areas. It works by using materials that react to the interruption or exposure to light. The source of light can be natural (sunlight/moonlight), magical (light, continual light), or man made (incandescent, torchlight, lasers). The trigger can be set to go off after the first interruption or detection of light, or it can be set to be triggered after a certain number of counted interruptions or time exposed to light.  This simplistic description of light detection neglects the various ways it can be used.

This is an effective trick or puzzle when the sensor responds only to a certain color of light.

The default stance of the trick, is of course that once torch, lantern, or sun-rod light is shone on the trigger, the trap is set, but it is also a useful stance for constructing a puzzle.

Often the sensor will be visible as a colored opaque crystal sphere. This should be breakable of course but doing so should ruin the mechanism.

The trigger most certainly does not have to be binary. It can require a certain degree or configuration of light, or perhaps be part of a multi-part puzzle where the light that triggers the light detector also gives a clue to the next step in the process while allowing the puzzle to succeed (like opening a door or portal where something must be thrown).

Traditional Use

S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks by Gary Gygax
2. STRANGLE VINES: . . .These creepers are attracted to the strongest light source, i.e. Continual Light, bright ship’s light, light, lantern, magic sword glow, torch light.
. . . If the ship’s lights are on the viewers will see various forms of large and small fish, and have a one in six chance of getting a glimpse of the “frog-thing”. . . Glints of gems will be seen from the lake bed! If they use lights in the observatory they absolutely will not only see that creature, but it will begin smashing at the plastiglass observation windows to get at the tender morsels within. The chance to break through is 5% per round. Attempts will cease as soon as the light is extinguished or the party is out of the monster’s sight.

S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth by Gary Gygax
This low-domed chamber has its ceiling literally dripping with stalactites. . . A tribe of 18 troglodytes lairs in the five small tunnels which radiate from this cave. . . Unless the party is exceptionally quiet and shows no light, the trodlodytes will be lurking in ambush for them, and they will surprise the party on a 1-4 (d6) or a 1-2 if a ranger is leading the party.

T1-4 The Temple of Elemental Evil by Gary Gygax
This huge echoing hall is constructed of polished black stones, which give back odd reflections of your light. The most striking features here are the symbols set into the chamber floor. To the north is a triangle of dull ecru stone, outlined with some sort of gray metal; a throbbing radiance seems to spread in dun-colored pulses that wash over the area. To the east is a great 10’ square of translucent stone, blue at the edges and shading to a deep green at the center, bordered by a strip of pale green; the whole gives out undulating sheets of blue-green light. To the south is a circle of translucent crystal ringed by a silvery band; the whole sends forth slowly rising clouds of pale light, that spread and disappear. To the west is a long diamond shape with four points radiating from the sides of the lozenge. The whole is fashioned of translucent stone mottled red and amber, outlined in red gold. It sends up sudden tongues of brightness, planes of pale fiery light that vanish as quickly as they appear.
All of these radiations gleam from the walls and floor of the hall. Any object in the center of the four symbols shows the four different illuminations, and the ghastly purple of their mix.. . . Any creature who steps into the area of an elemental symbol and stands there for 3 segments is transported to the corresponding Elemental Node: the Air Cavern (circle), the Earth Burrows (triangle), the Fire Pits (lozenge), or Water Maze (square). The only way to escape therefrom is to win through to another “gate” area or to possess the complete Orb of Golden Death, inset with all four proper gems.

Light detection design 
Early use can be situations in which characters must maneuver without light to avoid an enemy. Simple puzzles can differ based on the time of day or season. Mirrors to reflect light into certain spots (with multiple solutions so that players might discover one and not another). Later, more difficult puzzles can be avoiding light being used as a tripwire, or environments that change based on available light (such as a room that is different at night than during the day).

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On Unique Speech

That's right, keep raising the bar, guys. Anyway, voices, right?

In the article linked above, Arnold tosses off a paragraph about how things that normally don't talk to players talk.

Well, that's super important. Everything or nearly so should talk in a fantasy game. I'm sure I can't recall the last time I played where someone couldn't speak to animals or plants or rocks or something. In a 4e game I played, someone figured out speak with dead along with the ability to speak with animals/insects allowed you to have access to effectively infinite sensors as long as you had enough access to mice or insect corpses.

The point is, if players can talk to stones, well, they are going to want to do it. The question is, how do you portray such creatures in game. This has an interesting intersectional tangent to my own beliefs, which is that pretty much all creatures have the same experience of life, even if they lack certain higher order functions. So, I'm asking a real question here, When the dogs can speak, what will they say?

Luckily, I'm preeety sure I can answer that question.

"Throw the ball? What are we doing now? Are we going somewhere? Did you say you were going to throw the ball? Is it time to eat? You're the best. I can get the ball for you. Or the stick. What's that over there? Here's the ball."

I mean, anyone who owns pets communicates with them all the time. Let's look at how to portray these things in game.

Speak With Animals

Dogs, Pets
Happy, hedonistic, insecure. Seeking approval from pack leaders. Poor at making judgements or decisions. Can perform basic but insightful analysis of interactions. Unsure of answers. Can't count higher than two. Sees in black and white. Concerned with primarily relating scent information: Will talk about garbage, what people ate, what animals were nearby, in preference to what people are doing or saying.

Dogs, War
As pets, but more rigid and disciplined. Can count to three. (One, Two, Three, Many). Speaks laconically and loudly, like a drill instructor. Calls all soldiers sir, doesn't take civilians seriously.

Selfish. Give no f%&*$. Narcissistic. Want to know why they should tell you anything. Acts superior, often bluffing. Haughty. Very self centered, when relating stories, every one is how about what happened affected them and their day. Secretly and urgently desires praise and attention.

Skittish. Nervous. Somewhat compulsive. When they've learned something, they can only relate it by rote, from the beginning each time. Everything is large or large and dangerous. Focused on the immediate world in front of them.

Focused on their needs. Totally convinced that they are part of the coolest organized crime group in the world and everyone should be terrified of them.

Speak with Plants

Totally unmotivated. Unconcerned with things. Not stupid, just lazy. Big plan of growing here, gonna keep it up. Speaks normally, but talks like a depressed person. ("That doesn't matter. I didn't pay attention, no one cares about that.")

Observant. Talks like sleezeball in a bar. Offers to grow on intimate places. Fond of damp, wet, organic matter.

Communal. They are all part of a drug-free commune, and are just not concerned with your petty concerns, man. Complains about being walked all over, but thinks that their marxist unity will elevate them.

Trees, Coniferous
Stoic. Slightly arrogant. Terrified of fire. Talks a lot about the sky and clouds. Completely uninterested in creatures on the ground.

Trees, Deciduous
Varies based on the season. Bright and happy in spring, full of excitement and promise. Talks about the future a lot. Becomes very slow and relaxed in summer, taking a long time to say anything. In the fall, becomes morose and vexing. Threatens and plays tricks on people. Whines and moans when not doing that. During winter, wails and moans constantly, is acutely depressed and apocalyptic.

Baby Shoots
They speak with the enthusiasm of a powerpuff girl.

Speak with stones

When new, these rocks are violent, and their voice is inconsistent and constantly changing, and they speak of change and revolution and tearing down the old order in fire and suffering. Older igneous rocks speak in a deep gravelly voice, that comes across as restrained power. They are jaded and have little insight into the world around them. Granite, especially cut granite, longs for the past, and believes things were better back then, and comes across as depressed and slightly lonely like old men.

Constantly contradicts self. Personality suddenly changes frequently. Disagrees with self. Confused. Clipped speech.

Slightly paranoid. Insightful but worried. Talks about instability and unpredictability. Cautions against depending on anything that it says. Believes the world is hostile. Somewhat pleased with itself and it's own traits and beauty, but then immediately falls back into paranoia.

Lots of different opinions, but all in the same voice from people who have identical experiences as them. Complains constantly about how nobody does any hard work and how they get taken advantage of by other people.

Narcissistic. Haughty. Spoiled. Throws tantrums.

Infantile wonder and amazement. "Whaaaaaaat?"

This article isn't meant to be a reference, but rather a starting point for thinking about the nature of things that normally don't speak. It's straightforward because the fact that the cat talks is the interesting thing. If, for whatever reason, that's expected, then it's no longer interesting. Players won't have thought about these characterizations; when they hear them, it will make sense. "Of course grass is a communal creature!" they will think. But if they are expecting it, then feel free to play against type to break expectations, once the thing talking is no longer the interesting thing.

Also, seriously, speak with rocks? Whoever invented that one was a jerk. Everything is made out of rocks. It's as difficult to manage as Psychometry is in game!

This post was originally published on 6/9/15, and is linked on Links to Wisdom.

On Abstraction and Saving Throws

Modern systems seem to assume a baseline representation - i.e. I rolled twice, so each roll represents a swing of my sword or I can possibly move up to 10' a second, so in six seconds I move 60'.

At first blush this seems to make a lot of sense, but if you look at it too closely the abstraction inherent in hit points and saves breaks suspension of disbelief. i.e. Hit points suddenly becomes literal wounds dealt by specific sword blows. There are 3 saves reflex, will, and fortitude, and they literally and in a direct and visceral way represent 'getting out of the way' 'resisting with your mind' and 'enduring with your body'.

But wait - you made that reflex save and you're still standing up? You failed that fortitude save and didn't fall to your knees? When the saves represent literal specific things then it breaks suspension of disbelief. The 'three categories' of saves also seem very trite and videogamey.

But what of old school saves you say? Abstraction, and this indeed is why they are cool.

A Dungeons and Dragons old school game is not like a aerial-view action RPG that we are simulating with dice—good gods, it takes hours to fight a single combat that way. Instead it is much more like the surface of an atom. We have a general idea of what's going on down there, and we get bursts of specific information (say location OR velocity) and we use our imagination to draw the rest in our minds.

Take old school saves for instance. Paralyzation/Poison/Death magic, Rod/Staff/Wand, Petrification/Polymorph, Breath Weapon, and Spells.

But what do these mean? What do they represent?

Why that's the coolest thing about them! Nothing specific at all! All we know is success or failure—the actual means of that is up to you. (and your classes general ability to handle that specific kind of threat is built into the numbers)

Let's say your wizard makes a save versus spells—he inscribed arcane counter-spelling runes in the air before him to disperse the magical energies. 
Let's say your paladin makes her save versus breath weapon—she holds her shield up and her gods divine grace splits the fire of the dragon in either direction.
Let's say your thief makes his save versus rods/staff/wand—he holds forth his reflective amulet and the beam hits it and bounces away.

The point is, that the game doesn't tell you how you make your save—that's part of the discovery of what's happening and the fun. Logistically it's a lot more fun to come up with answers for why things happen then trying to plot out a specific sequence of events that is occurring every six seconds. Also, you've got a lot more room for awesome and rule of cool in your descriptions.

So how to decide which save to use for a trap? Paralyzation/poison/death magic has to do with 2 things—toughness and divine grace.
Rod/Staff/Wand has to do with rays, artificial magic generation, and device based effects.
Petrification/Polymorph has with emotional and physical resilience. Self-control is a big factor here.
Breath Weapon has to do with area effects, luck, and grace.
Spells is a catch all category and the general domain of magic.

Clerics have the best saves versus paralyzation/poison/death magic.
Mages have the best overall starting saves and the worst high level ones
Fighters start off with the worst saves (by far) but eventually have the best saves.
Thieves start off slightly better than fighters, but end up slightly worse at 20th level.

This post was originally published on 12/29/10, and is linked on Links to Wisdom.

On the Blue Mage

A Blue Mage is a Spellcaster that gains abilities by experiencing monster attacks. This allows them to use attacks exclusive to monsters or enemies. The downside is that they must be subject to the attacks first. This is a Labyrinth Lord Class.

Experience  Level Energy Hit Dice (1d6)
0 1 1
1,500 3 2
3,000 4 3
5,000 6 4
10,000 5
20,000 10 6
40,000 12  7
90,000 8 14  8
180,000 16  9
280,000 10  17  +2 hp only
400,000 11  18  +4 hp only
540,000 12  19  +6 hp only
660,000 13  20  +8 hp only
780,000 14  21  +10 hp only
900,000 15  22  +11 hp only
1,100,000 16  23  +12 hp only
1,300,000 17  24  +13 hp only
1,500,000 18  25 +14 hp only
1,700,000 19  26  +15 hp only
1,900,000 20 27  +16 hp only

Level Breath Attacks Poison or Death Ray Petrification or Paralyzation Rods, Staves, and Wands Spells
1 16 14 13 15 15
2-3 14 12 10 15 14
4 10 8 7 13 13
5-6 8 7 6 13 12 
7-8 8 6 5 11 11 
9-12 6 5 4 11 10 
13-16 6 4 3 9
17-19 4 4 2 9
20 2 3 2 7

They fight as a Fighter. They may not use any armor and may only use daggers, light hammers, clubs, and slings. If for any reason they receive training or proficiency in any other weapon, they fight as a Thief.

Blue Energy: Blue Mages have Energy. Their constitution modifier affects their energy pool. A first level Blue Mage with a Constitution of 16 has 3 points in their energy pool.

Blue Missile: Blue Mages can conjure and fire a bolt of force. This bolt is as a long bow arrow and they may fire it as a fighter of their level proficient with a long bow. It costs 1 energy to use and does 2-9 damage. This does not count against the limit of their spells and abilities

Blue Magic:

  • Blue Mages may learn special monster attacks and abilities once they have been the target of them. 
  • Once targeted by an ability they may choose to learn the monster ability. 
  • Learning an ability takes 1 turn after combat.
  • They then may use the monster ability by expending 1 energy point
  • Blue Mages may also learn spells, by being the target of a spell. This takes 1 turn after being the target of the spell.
  • They can then use the spells by expending a number of energy points equal to the spell level
  • Blue Mages may not know more spells and abilities total greater than their level + their Constitution modifier.
  • The ability or spell is learned, even if the Blue Mage dies from the attack.
  • If the Blue Mage is protected by spell resistance or a globe of invulnerability, they will not learn the ability. They must be affected, personally, by the ability
  • They may learn an ability regardless of the success or failure of their saving throw versus the attack.
  • They must be a target of a spell or ability to learn it, seeing it is not enough.
  • Energy points are refreshed after a nights rest.
Azure Consumption: The Blue Mage can attempt to learn passive or defensive abilities from creatures by eating them. They must save versus poison after consuming a corpse to learn the ability. Otherwise they are sick and vomit up the corpse which is ruined. A whole corpse must be consumed and this takes 1 turn.

Each of these passive abilities counts against the total number of abilities the Blue Mage can learn. Each passive ability 1 point of energy to maintain, reducing the available energy to cast blue magic. These abilities are always 'on' and cannot be turned off to regain access to the reserved energy points.

Examples of Blue Magic:
Surviving a Basilisks gaze, will grant the ability to petrify. Touching an opponent can force a save versus petrify to avoid being turned to stone
Surviving a Bat's Confusion swarm effect, will grant the ability to confuse opponents. Select a target to be the subject of a phantasmal bat swarm. While under the effect of this swarm, an opponent makes all to hit and saving throw rolls with a penalty of -2 and no spell casting is possible.
Surviving a Bear Hug. The caster grows claws and can attack as a bear, with 1-3 damage with each melee attack, and an additional 2-16 damage if both attacks hit.
Giant Killer Bee poison. The caster grows a stinger (on their hand, forehead, wherever) and can make an attack with it. On a successful attack the opponent must save versus poison or die. If they survive, they take 1 damage a round from the stinger. The stinger being ripped out is painful, and the caster takes 2d6 points of damage.
Surviving a Red Dragon's Breath. After surviving a breath from a dragon, the Blue Mage may spend 1/3 of their total Energy Points points to breath flame. This is a cone 90' long, and 30' wide at the terminus. Creatures within this cone take damage equal to the current hit point total of the Blue Mage, but may save vs. Breath Weapon for half damage

Examples of Azure Consumption:
Eating a Fire Beetle, will grant the ability of biolumisence. The caster can cause a part of their body to glow, casting light out to a distance of 10'
Eating a Displacer Beast, will grant the ability of displacement, subtracting 2 from all opponent's to hit rolls and giving a bonus of +2 to all saving throws

After battle, the DM should delineate the complete abilities available for the Blue Mage to learn, and allow them to decide if they want to learn them or not. It takes 1 turn to learn an ability. If a Blue Mage knows the maximum number of abilities they can learn, they have the option to trade out new abilities for old ones. The ability is a magical effect which means, for example, the caster doesn't actually have to fly around opponents to confuse them.

Conversions should be made so that the Blue Mage can have useful abilities of the opponents in the spirit of the original ability e.g. Dragons breath takes 1/3 of the energy points because Dragons can use it 3/day, The stinger of the killer bee doesn't kill the caster, but does hurt him.

1st Edition: Abilities learned are permanent, and may not be traded out.
S&W: Blue mages have a saving throw of 15 (as a magic user) and have a +6 versus any monster effects or attacks

A 3.5 version is here.
A Pathfinder version is here.

This post was originally published on 2/26/13, and is available in digital & print in Hack & Slash Blog Collection III

On Artifices & Deceptions: Triggers, Proximity

This trigger is an extremely sensitive device that detects vibrations, most often transmitted through the air. They are generally sensitive and only used in out of the way places. Note that because they detect vibrations in the air, they are also extremely sensitive to sound. Non-thieves have a difficult time detecting these traps. There is little that you can do to notice this trigger, but the area around a proximity trap has no breeze, is very quiet, and often has either a thick layer of dust on the floor or no dust at all. Disarming it is a difficult and time consuming process - increase the length of time required to disarm a proximity trigger by 10 times. On the positive side, these triggers usually only trigger alarms or summon guardians of some sort.

Mechanical proximity triggers are interesting triggers because they often are not directly detectable. The only clues you will have to proximity detectors is that the area is sealed, and appears undisturbed. Even sensitive ones can avoid being triggered by someone who is quiet and walking softly, so approaching and disabling them is possible. The difficulty comes in finding them.

I would generally rule that finding a proximity trigger without triggering it takes twice as long as just searching a square normally. Also, that it can only be done by one person at a time, slowing down the process even more.

Since these are triggered by vibration, be aware of talking loudly or other action the party might take to set it off.

Another way to handle these triggers is to just set them off. Throw a thunderstone down the hallway and cover your ears.

The biggest clues you have in order to detect a trigger of this type are the signs that the area has not been disturbed or visited in a long time. Examples above, such as dust, are useful; other signs of proximity triggers in use include:
  • Cobwebs
  • Sagging shelves and furniture or curtains
  • Hard stone or metal hallway floors or acoustical ceilings to increase the noise made
  • The section of the dungeon is a sealed or is clearly a vault. 
For higher level characters, they may be facing powerful Wizards, Engineers, and Alchemists who may be able to make proximity sensors that only are triggered when player characters enter a certain (short) range. This method is used in the mid to high level modules below. This escalation can occur once they receive new tools for addressing problem solving (henchmen, constructs, Wizard Eye, Legend Lore, etc.)

Traditional use

C2: Ghost Tower of Inverness by Allen Hammack


This 90'x90' room has a 20' high ceiling; there is a 10' wide passage in the center of the west wall. In the room are 16 bugbears without weapons, standing perfectly still; however, they do not appear to be statues. In the center of the north wall is a 10' long, 5' wide, 5' tall stone sarcophagus engraved with lettering.

The bugbears are in a type of temporal stasis; 4 will animate. . . and attack any intruders within the room each time one of the doorways is passed through. (For example, if a party member steps into the room and then out again, 8 bugbears will be animated.) The doorway, and not the floor, is the trigger: flying and levitation spells will still animate the monsters, characters using dimension door and teleport spells will not activate the bugbears, regardless of whether the room is entered or passed thereby.

T1-4: Temple of Elemental Evil by Gary Gygax


If the bronze doors in area 145 (Dungeon Level One) are sundered, the stairs therein descend south to this room. However, entry is blocked by another set of like doors, set in the north wall of this area.

Illumination in this large octagonal room seems to come from everywhere — ceiling, walls, floor — a milky radiance which gives a dim and eerie glow to the whole scene. The floor of this place is 15' below the level of the normal dungeon floor, with short broad stairways leading to it. The ceiling vaults to a height of 40 feet. The walls and floor of the room are of polished gray stone with whorls of glittering mica; the floor is partially obscured by swirling, eddying, softly glowing mist. In the center of the area is a great pierced square of bronze, ten feet on a side. A dome is pierced in the northern ceiling, a circular shaft some 20 feet wide opening directly over a pit of the same diameter and five feet depth. Immediately to the south of the pit is a block of alabaster two feet wide, four feet high, and eight feet long. Atop it are two knives and a bowl of finest crystal. Ranking the pit are two crystal braziers, suspended from tripods by chains of silver. Each emits a faint sickly-sweet perfumed smoke. The doors to the north are bronze, sealed with iron, chained, barred, and bear a warning inscription in runes of some sort.

The altar stone and crystal service pieces are protected by a special glyph of warding suitable to the place. They cannot be safely touched unless the symbol of the Air Temple is worn and the glyph name, whah-duh, is spoken. Failure in either requirement causes a whirlwind to suddenly form and spin from the pit to the altar, inflicting 12 points of damage to each creature within ten feet of its path (save vs. spells to take half damage). This also triggers an alarm; the whole area gives off an evil-sounding chiming and tinkling, and the guardian is summoned

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On Early Tropes, Treacherous Prisoners

Did somebody who appears non-threatening show up? Do they make overtures of being helpful?

Clearly they are a were-wolf/cultist/vampire/doppleganger/evil thief and must be slain on sight.

This trope is overused way past the point of burnout.

The original use of this trope dates back to Greyhawk.

"Back in the Greyhawk dungeons, Erac's Cousin and the fighter Ayelerarch came upon a beautiful face that cried golden tears. The face told the adventurers the tale of his imprisonment and the heroic deeds required to release him. The adventurers agreed to recover The Urn of Moon Dust from a group of werebears. Erac’s Cousin and Ayelerach successfully recovered the urn, and to complete the quest, they sprinkled the moon dust on the weeping visage. The face was actually the demon prince of deception, Fraz-Urb'luu, who had been imprisoned by the mad arch-mage Zagyg centuries earlier. The completion of the quest resulted in his release. When he came to his proper form the adventurers attacked the fiend to try to undo their foolishness. The enraged demon fought back fiercely. In desperation Erac's Cousin used a gate spell from a scroll he had and managed to gate in the god Zeus, but to their shock and horror, the god chose to ignore their plea for help. The demon then whisked himself and the adventurers back to his own plane where strange forces there drained the magic from all the items Ayelerach and Erac's Cousin were carrying, including Erac's Cousin's prized Vorpal Blades. Fraz-Urb'luu quickly subdued the stranded adventurers and they suffered unspeakable tortures at his hands before they eventually managed to escape. 
Erac's Cousin blamed the gods for the suffering he had endured at the demon’s hands, and for the loss of his prized items. He bitterly turned his back on the good powers he had paid homage to in the past, and instead chose for himself a path of evil. The unnamed wizard called upon the archfiend of Hell, Asmodeus, and a pact was made. The one-time powerful force for good, was now one of Hell’s greatest champions. To aid in his endeavors, and as part of their pact, Erac's Cousin was given an imp as a familiar. He does not trust the imp though, and he fears Asmodeus may have deceived him somehow." -Scott, Sep 28, 2007 at 12:15pm, Doomsday Message Board

But this is far, far and away from the only time this trope is used:

"XIII: The room has its own lighting and shows an area filled with cushions of satin and silk. There are no other apparent exits from the room and players can see a winged woman asleep on one of the cushions in a far corner.
ON CLOSER INSPECTION: If the room is paced out, it is forty feet east and west by sixty feet north and south. The female has a belted dagger and no other article of clothing.
NOTES FOR THE REFEREE: The being is an Erinyes devil (HP: 48; #AT: 1; D: 1-4 with venom dagger; AC: 2; SA: Save versus poison dagger) and will sleep unless she is purposely wakened or a loud noise is made in the room. When wakened gently, she will seem kind and ask one of the players to release her from her bondage. All characters will notice a silver chain on her ankle (hidden by a pillow until then). The chain can be easily cut and she will promise anything to get it off. When released, she will try to kill the whole group and will follow them everywhere in this attempt.
" —The Mansion of Mad Professor Ludlow, Dragon #42

"Priest: The western portion houses the jovial priest who is taking advantage of his stopover at the KEEP to discuss theology with learned folk and to convert others. Everyone speaks well of him, although the two acolytes with him are avoided, as they never speak - the priest says they must follow vows of silence until they attain priestly standing. His well-appointed chambers are comfortably furnished and guests are always welcomed with a cozy fire and plenty of ale or wine. The priest is a very fine companion and an excellent listener. He does not press his religious beliefs upon any unwilling person. He is outspoken in his hatred of evil, and if approached by a party of adventurers seeking the Caves of Chaos, he will certainly accompany them. . . (Note: All are chaotic and evil, being in the KEEP to spy and defeat those seeking to gain experience by challenging the monsters in the Caves of Chaos. Once in the caves the priest will use a cause light wounds (does 2-7 points of damage to the creature touched, a normal “to hit” roll must be made to touch the victim) or a light spell as needed to hinder and harm adventurers. Betrayal will always occur during a crucial encounter with monsters.)"—B2: Keep on the Borderlands
"The prisoners, thirteen in number, are ragged and beaten looking. Eleven of these are common folk, both male and female . . .  while one of the remaining two is a 4th level fighter (hp 20) who will join the party if equipment can be provided for him. The remaining slave is actually a doppelganger . . . who, when accidentally captured by the orcs, decided to pose as a slave while preying on any creature he could find. At times when he is unobserved, he will attempt to slip free of his bonds and hunt for prey."—A1: Slave Pits of the Undercity

And even:

"Roadside Hospitality When the caravan reaches its stopping point for the night, two buxom twin sisters are there ahead of them, setting up camp and tending to their horses. Arietta and Zelina Innevar take a liking to some of the travelers—possibly, but not necessarily a few of the characters—and spend the evening asking about their past, where they're headed, and whether they have family and so on. The sisters are actually two doppelgangers. They can either attack someone that night or in the caravan for a few days while they study the travelers and choose their victims. When the time comes to strike, they wait until after dark, then try to lure their target away from other people by calling for assistance in a familiar voice. Fortunately for the characters and their fellow travelers, if one is defeated, the other flees in a flurry of curses and vengeful threats." - Horde of the Dragon Queen, Episode 4

So, it's not a surprise, really.  There are more examples from the original Temple of Elemental Evil, to just about any product published anywhere. You know what would be a surprise? Completely innocent innocents. Or innocent monsters who are openly monsters but don't want to fight the party. Or anything but another doppelganger/evil thief/succubus.

This post was originally published on 5/07/15. If you like this content and want to support new content, follow me on Patreon

On 10 feet and a Morale Check away from a Capitol Massacre

Trigger warning: Child abuse, brutal murder, gunshot death, death threats, video of violent and racist language

I don't hate anyone. Except maybe my mother, but she pushed me down the stairs when I was just a few years old, and I'm not even sure I hate her. 

I try, very hard, to not believe anything. I've attached a little chart, with an arrow pointing to where I am. The whole chart is here

This means a lot of things. Schitzotypal people may not experience the emotion of loneliness. They have trouble with emotional regulation. Also, and most importantly for this—They can have no concern for social norms and ingroup behavior. 

This is why a conservative said that "[Courtney] is one of the bad guys" and liberals say "You have a history of supporting "blue lives matter"" or that "[Courtney] is an MRA." I had never even met the guy who accused me of being a "blue lives matter" person, but they were being fed quotes and information by someone else. Some guy this week said to me he doesn't support people who hate him. How did they get the idea that hate was in my heart?

When one is observational and non-judgmental in their writing, frequently people see what they wish to see reflected. People cannot help but have their own biases that influence the things they consume.  It requires constant effort and supervision to have the discipline to avoid falling prey to groupthink, propaganda, and manipulation. No one is immune. This week, a video was shown that reinforced my belief, and it wasn't until someone checked my comment that the due diligence was done to discover it was propaganda, a falsehood presented that spoke to my wishes and not the truth. People who think they are immune or too smart are the most vulnerable. The ego seeks to protect itself. Someone who doesn't conform is always a threat to that. 

People know very little. I can speak effectively on just a few topics. Dungeons & Dragons. Mental health, hospital administration, and government oversight of hospitals, I posses some training and education in painting, ink drawing, technical and creative writing and movies. Recreationally I can speak somewhat authoritatively about game and tabletop design. That's it. Of course opinions are possessed, but that's what they are.

This is not supposed to happen—I'm supposed to keep my mouth shut and keep from alienating people.

Murder on the Capitol Steps

But I've spent the last year watching cops beat people to death, and then watching people beat cops to death this week. This is a link to ideologically possessed American citizens beating a Iraqi war-veteran Capitol police officer to death (Caution: Video of brutal murder), while people in militarized camouflage enter into a building. Here's a different perspective of the same murder. Here's a video of completely overwhelmed officers telling people they can't come in while people file past them. Here's a video of a black police officer taunting people away from the senate room. And here's the video where that same door, locked only seconds after he passed was broken through. (Caution: Fatal Gun Violence)

The door broke open, and a female veteran was shot, one time by a secret service agent, after which the morale broke. If it had not; even if there were a dozen men with pistols, they would have been over-run. That gunshot likely stopped the murder of many more of our political leaders that day.

We are at the start of a journey. There were "only" five deaths at the Capitol on 1/6/21. Since then, one officer has committed suicide, (you can watch the spread of suicide grow from ~13 out of every 100,000 in 2011 to over 20 out of every 100,000 in 2020 here, a 150% increase in suicide rates.) . Tent cities are springing up around our nation and food banks are running out of food and hospitals are overflowing. This is not a sign that this is going to end. After all, it didn't magically end when they imprisoned Hitler after he tried the beer hall putsch. He just wrote Mien Kampf in prison and then committed the fucking holocaust

Whether he is impeached or not, put in prison or not, Trump is going to start a news network. 

Government, so my reading of western historians and philosophers have told me, is about balancing personal liberty with the needs of the state. You see, those are the two sides of the coin, Conservative and Liberal. There are endless nuances of course, but claiming one is terrible or the enemy or is evil has nothing to do with the actual management of human beings. 

To Wit: Nurses and aides have helped many people with dementia walk to the bathroom and held them up and cleaned them while they purged their bladder and bowels, measuring the output as they are helped back to bed. Health workers spend time with women in groups helping them process their abuse and rape and post-partum depression. A group of therapists do a therapeutic restraint on a child who's acting out so he can get a hug or some physical contact, because between the fetal alcohol syndrome and delayed development, he has no way to process watching his father choke his mother to death on a boat sitting on the Kuskokwim. I can never unhave these memories.

None of those things above have anything to do the needs of the state. The state can do anything they want in response to those situations. In the United States, the metric of federal funding is primarily what costs the least. Seven million a year for a treatment center is cheaper than the social cost of police, fire, and ambulance services for not addressing the social issues. In some rich first world countries the metric is social good. In Nazi Germany, these people were simply gassed and killed. The people choose or abstain.

We don't know anything. Why, even though we don't know anything, do we not believe the propaganda about the election being "stolen"? Well, because I've spent time working with government employees. The people who are asked to provide evidence, set up a website where all of their verifiable data can be found. Then on camera they admitted that there is fraud in every election, and itemized every item that was fraudulent, and "unknown". Then they specified the agencies that were looking into that fraud. They filmed the entire voting count process, and everyone who's watched the whole sixteen+ hour video is confident of its security. Conversely, the people claiming election fraud filed 62?! lawsuits, 61 of which they lost. 

Anyone who has spent any time with lawyers and the court system, knows that even before trial, people are required to submit evidence. This isn't one single court. 61 out of 62 times in dozens of different states these cases were dismissed, thrown out, or otherwise removed. Is it possible that this is some sort of nationwide conspiracy of primarily conservative judges who have been baffled by some deep state shenanigans? It's possible for frogs to fall out of the fucking sky, but it ain't very likely, you know? In your experience are judges and lawyers the type to screw around with the law they have devoted their lives to?

There was months to present and collect evidence, and none was ever presented. So likely not, yeah? It seems equally unlikely that anti-fascist actors were engaged in a false flag operation with trump tattoos, long beards, to disrupt an election they won. It's farcical on the face of it. 

What is clear, is that modern fascism isn't ordered marches, posters, and 'youth camps', it's anti-vaxx stories on facebook, shared and reshared in mom groups many of whom haven't learned critical thinking skills, or have them impaired due to fear of something happening to their children. It's propaganda networks that have let fascist and racist ideology grow, to the point where slavers flags, people wearing shirts that celebrate Auschwitz and a shirt that says six million dead humans wasn't enough stained the sanctity of our capitol. 

It took 157 years, but the confederacy finally had their flag flown in the seat of democratic power. It makes me physically ill that the 620,000 civil war dead are disgraced with that blasphemy. 

Conservatives aren't the enemy. Liberals aren't the enemy. Extremists, fascists, and racists are. Posting this  makes me a target for a future fascist takeover. Because I've associated with conservatives I'm already a target for a future Communist takeover. It would be best if I didn't say anything. What are we going to do with these propaganda networks and this frustration and hate and misery? I don't have the solution, But I know that staying silent isn't it. 

First they came for the democrats, and. . . well, even though I'm a registered independent and have run as a green party candidate for local office, I'm going to speak up.

You should too. 

Human rights activist Peter Tatchell states that going against people who have different views and challenging them is the best way to move forward. He told Index: “Free speech does not mean giving bigots a free pass. It includes the right and moral imperative to challenge, oppose and protest bigoted views. Bad ideas are most effectively defeated by good ideas – backed up by ethics, reason – rather than by bans and censorship.” - LGBTQ and Human Rights activist Peter Tatchell

Hi. If you'd like to discuss this, you can visit me on Discord, Twitch, or Patreon. There, we can talk about how my clinical paranoia intersects with the actual non-imaginary groups of harassers who threaten me on the regular because I live in their head, rent-free. This is not a normal post! I mostly post great art and D&D content. I'm also a patriot that loves my country, even though it is horribly flawed. As Anne Frank said, we are a bundle of contradictions. There is hope. If someone doesn't like me because of what I wrote here, I don't want to be liked by them.

Hack & Slash 

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On the 10 (ish) Best Versions Of Dungeons and Dragons

You would think that would be a totally insane topic for a blog post. And yet somehow, the problem is chopping it down to 10!

10.) Adventurer, Conqueror, King: Taking the greatest gaming system of all time (B/X) and reconfiguring it to make sure the math makes sense all the way up to the domain level?

9.) Basic Fantasy: It isn't just the B/X inspired simple gameplay, or the modified sections such as race and class, it's the ridiculously supported online download section.

9.) Ambition & Avarice: This is the third wave OSR, the new wave. Taking modern design and layout sensibilities to a new product based on an old idea, comes a game that is really a fresh look.

8.) Castles & Crusades: D20 D&D simplified? It's greatest strength is that any d20 material requires no conversion. Fast, and the SEIGE system is pretty ingenious.

7.) Labyrinth Lord: The Gold standard in free retro-clones. One minor advantage over B/X is that all the text is in one book. Of course all the XP tables are redone. Labyrinth Lord compatibility is code for "This is compatible with D&D!"

7:) Lamentations of the Flame Princess: A beautiful treatise on the nature of Dungeons & Dragons. A smooth, intuitive ruleset. No hiccups, no bumps. Great for lower power, real world, weird campaigns. Metal artwork. The edition everyone loves to hate.

6.) Dungeon Crawl Classics: The edition of the game Goodman wants to play! Weird dice and weirder random tables makes, much like the game it ties with, for a game focused on "A good time at the table!" rather than rules that conceptually make sense or focus on verisimilitude.

6.) Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: "Random chance plays a huge part in everybody's life." -Gary Gygax

5.) Original Dungeons & Dragons: Well, if this doesn't inspire you to do your own imagining. . .

4.) Pathfinder: This is the present of gaming. Pathfinder players are possibly the largest group of publicly playing players of any edition, ever. How's that OGL working out for you now, WotC?

3.) BECMI: The version they won't put into print, because no one will ever need another version of D&D again!

2.) Hackmaster 4e: The first original retroclone does Dungeons & Dragons better than nearly any version ever released. Really! It is the greatest!

1.) Basic/Expert: There is no version that is both a better introduction to role-playing, an effective tool for use while playing, and something that supports your imagination.

This post was originally published on 8/30/13. If it were written today, Old School Essentials and Mork Borg would probably be on the list. There are still a lot of people playing Pathfinder, but fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons has taken it over! Support me on Patreon and help 2021 be a better year for having each other in our lives! This post is thick with affiliate links. 

On Classic Classes: Dandy


The Dandy is an adventurer who has no need for money. They are used to moving among high society and receive a +1 to all social rolls among high class people, kings, nobles, and other well off types. They receive a similar penalty to charisma checks among low-lifes, thugs, and criminals. 

If the Dandy is wearing clothing and jewelry of value greater than 10 times their level in gold pieces, they may apply their Charisma bonus to their Armor Class as if it was a Dexterity bonus to Armor Class (i.e. 13+ is a 1 point bonus, 16+ is a 2 point bonus, etc.). This is in addition to their Dexterity bonus to Armor Class. 

If a Dandy is present and involved in both for looting and sale of an item, they can gain a 10% bonus to the amount of gold received. This also increases appropriate experience gained for selling the item. They have the ability to appraise treasure and identify magic items on a 1-4 on a 1d6. At level five, this becomes 1-5 on a 1d6, and a Dandy of name level can automatically appraise and identify items. 

As long as the Dandy is in his home area, he receives an income of 10 gp per month per level from investments. (e.g. a third level Dandy receives 30 gp/month in income). Every time a Dandy gains a level, they also receive 100 gp per level in items or gifts. This could be a single gift from a noble, a variety of small gifts and trinkets, or even a small magic item. The Dandy can make known what they would like by dropping hints, but the final decision is the Dungeon Masters. 

The dandy receives a 90% reduction in cost associated with hiring henchmen (retainers). This does not apply to their ongoing cost, such as shares of treasure and such. Their level is treated as one higher for henchmen (retainer) level that will follow the Dandy i.e. they will not abandon the Dandy until they are one level higher than the Dandy. This plus their high charisma is the strength of the class, they can attract powerful and loyal followers. 

At third level, the dandy gains the ability to Open Locks and Pick Pockets as a thief two levels lower than the Dandy. This ability increases as the Dandy gains levels. 

They fight as a thief and save as a Dwarf/Halfling. The prime requisite for the Dandy is Charisma and if the Dandy has a Charisma of higher than 13, they gain bonus experience. 

They can wear no armor and use no shields, but can use any light weapon and firearms (if available) .
LevelTitleExp. PointsHit Dice123456
3Man about Town2,0003d6
5First Class8,0005d6
1010th level Dandy300,0009d6+1
1111th level Dandy450,0009dX+2
1212th level Dandy600,0009dX+3
1313th level Dandy750,0009dX+4
1414th level Dandy900,0009dX+5

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