Monthly Archives: May 2015

Maybe It’s Me

Something that bugs me when I’m reading other DMs or GMs is when they talk about “the story you want to tell.”  Now, this may just be me, but if I want to tell a story, I just sit down and write it.  I don’t invite four friends over and make them jump through hoops to guess what the final resolution to my epic, earth-shattering doomsday scenario will be while carefully ensuring that they complete all the necessary steps to prevent said doomsday scenario.  Thataway lies a-holerey.

Now, I’m not saying that all DM-originating plots are necessarily railroading plots, nor am I saying that epic, world-threatening cataclysmic events are a terrible plot choice.  What I am saying is that there is a risk for something very similar to railroading to occur when the DM has envisioned a grandiose story arc that will take the characters from 1st level to 20th and drastically alter the foundations of the society that spawned them.  I am also saying that the “Ragnarok Scenario” gets kind of dull and uninteresting when you do it more than, say, once.

I present these two facets of RPG gaming together because so often I see them bound up in each other.  “Fund my Kickstarter for this awesome new campaign arc!” “Here are some ideas to invest the players in your campaign idea!”  “Get your players to write backstories so you can make them personally responsible for the villain that will destroy the world!”

See, the thing about a doomsday scenario is that it leads to (usually) one solution.  The good guys have to win.  They have to.  If they don’t then the world is destroyed, which is kind of a letdown.  I say usually because I suppose there are the kind of folks out there who would let the world be destroyed by whatever evil force was trying to make the planet part of a sandwich after the PCs fail to achieve some goal that would have thwarted the bad guy’s plan.  Where do you go after that?  Roll up a new world, I suppose.

But what happens after the good guys thwart the world-destroying evil?  Do they go build castles and rule nations that pop up in the now-sparsely populated areas devastated by the big bad?  Or do the credits roll because there’s nowhere to go after you’ve gone all the way up?  I tend to think it’s the latter.  Epic campaigns to save the multiverse are exhausting, and there’s always the issue of what to do next.  Players burn out on that sort of thing really fast.  And if you pull out another doomsday device for the next campaign, and the next, at what point do the players start to think, “Gee, this place seems to get threatened with total annihilation fairly frequently, what is up with that?”  Or worse, they think, “Man, I just saved the d–n world last month.  Can’t I just do some exploring for a while?”

And that is when you’ve lost the suspension of disbelief.  It becomes an exercise in number crunching and dice rolling, maybe with some fine script-reading along the way.  But the conclusion is foregone, because the players have to win.  Your story doesn’t work if the players don’t stop the threat.

And that still applies if you don’t have the result of the PC’s failure being that the planet gets melted down into slag and hammered into a galactic croquet mallet.  Every foregone conclusion forces the players into your plot maze, deep as it may be.  And for a while, your players might love it.  They just might want to replay Frodo’s quest to destroy the One Ring again and again.  But you provide no better service than a video game if that is the case.  D&D offers so much more.

Imagine you are standing in the middle of a field.  Where you were before doesn’t matter.  How you got there doesn’t matter.  You have the supplies in your pack, the knife in your belt, and your wits to keep you alive.  There is smoke from a village on the far side of the trees on one edge of the field, a massive mountain range looms on the opposite side.  You can hear the sounds of the sea and smell salt in the air, brought on a fresh breeze to one side of you, and the sound of strange birds rings in your ears from the other side.  Your future is yours to make.  You can do literally anything.  That is what D&D can offer: Freedom.

That’s what I want from a game, absolute freedom to explore, exploit, navigate, dig, buy, sell, profit, grow, lead, rule.  You can offer the same to your players, if you only give them the chance.  Don’t pull out another script for them to read, let them invent the plot, let them invent themselves.  Let them grow into the kind of characters they desire, not the cardboard cut-outs of your plot devices.  The world can be so big, why don’t you let them run around in it?  If your game offers them freedom, they will return and return and return.  There is no final boss battle, just the next obstacle to their personal goals; and like in real life, failure is always on the table.  Since there is no script, no ultimate victory that must be won, every adventure may be the last.

Tension and drama arise naturally when much is risked. Threaten the characters that have been lovingly built, and real emotions will manifest at victory or defeat.  When personal goals are achieved, elation happens. When tragedy befalls them, actual despair.  Not the simple feeling of self-assurance when the arch-villain is defeated in the glow of just another task completed, but true, actual, glee when the player’s personal nemesis is slain on the field of battle.

You don’t need to threaten the world to get the players invested.  Simply threaten all that they themselves have built.  All you have to do is to let them build.  Someone will always want what others have.  There is always conflict, desire, power grabs, attempted coups, strife, war.  Let the PC’s own actions bring opponents into the field.  Victory is much sweeter when it means something you actually care about is safe.

But maybe it’s just me.

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Non-Vancian Magic: Options

Here are some additional things to increase the scope of my particular non-vancian magic system. Since some people complain about the 15-minute workday that the Vancian system perpetuates, I thought I would add in some extra rules that I had thought of previously to address that particular issue.  I didn’t include them originally because I didn’t want to make the whole thing too bloated.  But I guess I’ll bloat it up over here and call them “optional” rules or some such so that I can claim the whole system is actually elegant and streamlined.

Hmm.  I should come up with a name for my system, shouldn’t I?  From here on out, let’s call it Urbanekovian magic.  Is that too egotistical?  If Elminster, Mordenkainen, Tenser, and Otiluke get to name spells after themselves, why shouldn’t I name my system after myself? Especially since it’s fantastically brilliant.

Anyway, here are the “optional” variants:

1) Cantrips or At-Will magic:

Any minor spell effect may be effected for free, as long as the base cost for the spell is lower than the caster’s level divided by 3 rounded down.  Thus, a 3rd level Arcanist may cast any spell worth 1 SP (before any focus or specialization reductions) for free.  Familiarity point reductions do apply.

2) Healing and SP regain:

There are three options for this variant: Mild, Moderate, and Brutal.

Mild version:  Hit points regained by the caster also add half as many SP into the caster’s pool, up to the max number of SP the caster is allowed.

Moderate version:  The caster’s SP pool is not refilled by sleeping.  Each hour the caster does not work any magic (cantrips included), the caster regains his Int (or Wis bonus for Elementalists) bonus in SP.

Brutal Version:  The caster’s SP pool is not refilled by sleeping.  Each hour the caster does not work any magic (cantrips included), the caster regains his Int (or Wis bonus for Elementalists) bonus in SP.  Further, if the caster is healed, he regains half as many SP to his pool as he gains in HP.  Also, each time the caster takes damage, he loses half as many SP as HP.  Thus, if a caster takes 12 damage, he also loses 6 SP.  If he is healed 12 damage, he regains 6 SP.

Personally, I like the Brutal version best, because it reflects the physical toll that manipulating the thaumflow takes on a body.  Physical exhaustion makes it harder to manipulate the supernatural energies, so taking damage also affecting your casting ability makes sense.

Also of note, neither of these variants has much effect on Called Ones, since their manipulation happens through an intermediary, and they technically don’t even have a SP pool. Which is another way they are differentiated from Arcanists and Elementalists.

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Non-Vancian Class: Called One

This is the second of three major classes related to my non-vancian magic system.  Please see the introduction piece for a thorough description of how the system works.

Ability Scores:

Minimum score: Cha 16

10% XP bonus: Cha 18+

Hit die:


Class Skills:

Concentration, Craft, Decipher Script, Knowledge (Religion), Knowledge (Planes), Profession, Speak Language, Spellcraft

Table: The Called One

Level BAB Fort Ref Will Special Max Spell points:
1 +0 +0 +0 +2 Ceremony 1 3
2 +1 +0 +0 +3 4
3 +2 +1 +1 +3 Prayer 4
4 +3 +1 +1 +4 5
5 +3 +1 +1 +4 Ceremony 2 6
6 +4 +2 +2 +5 7
7 +5 +2 +2 +5 Miracle 7
8 +6/+1 +2 +2 +6 8
9 +6/+1 +3 +3 +6 Ceremony 3 9
10 +7/+2 +3 +3 +7 10
11 +8/+3 +3 +3 +7 Vision 10
12 +9/+4 +4 +4 +8 11
13 +9/+4 +4 +4 +8 Ceremony 4 12
14 +10/+5 +4 +4 +9 13
15 +11/+6/+1 +5 +5 +9 Intercession 13
16 +12/+7/+2 +5 +5 +10 14
17 +12/+7/+2 +5 +5 +10 Ceremony 5 15
18 +13/+8/+3 +6 +6 +11 16
19 +14/+9/+4 +6 +6 +12 16
20 +15/+10/+5 +6 +6 +12 Holy One 17

Class Abilities:

Skill proficiencies:

2 at first level, plus one additional every 5 levels above first.

Weapon and Armor proficiencies:

Called Ones begin with two weapon proficiencies. A new weapon proficiency is gained for every four levels above 1st. The proficiencies may be selected from the following list: bola, bo stick, club, flail, godentag, jo stick, hammer, mace, maul, morningstar, quarterstaff, sling, staff sling.

Called Ones are proficient with any armor and shields.


Unlike Arcanists, who recognize patterns in the universe and exploit them to create magical effects, the Called are individuals specifically chosen by a supernatural power (either a god or an agent of a god) for a special task on the Material Plane.  The Called are themselves aware of their particular mission, but often it is to spread the knowledge of their deity and increase the number of worshippers (meaning that the player is allowed to determine their own divine mission, which once chosen cannot be changed).

When a Called One casts a spell, it is not so much the Called him/herself manipulating the thaumflow, but the supernatural entity assigned to the Called One which does the manipulating.  The Maximum Spell Points given on the table above indicate the maximum number of SP that the supernatural entity attached to the Called One (hereafter called the Guardian Angel or Angel) will allow in any one casting.  The number of castings per day is unlimited so long as the Called One is directly acting to accomplish their mission.  If the Called One wishes to cast a spell not directly pertaining to the mission, the Angel will allow a number of spells per day equal to the Called One’s level plus Charisma Modifier.

There are 4 “Realms” which comprise the Called’s spell bases:

  1. Blessing – aid for those who the Called wishes to bring into the fold
  2. Bane – curses against those who oppose their deity’s agenda
  3. Creation – Bringing material objects into existence
  4. Destruction – Removing material objects from existence.

Base effects for each Realm:

Blessing –

  • +1 to attack or damage for 1 round – 1 SP
  • Cure subject of natural disease – 3 SP
  • Restore 1d6 HP – 1 SP

Bane –

  • -1 to attack or damage for 1 round – 1 SP
  • Cause natural disease – 3 SP

Creation –

  • Create food for one meal for 1 person – 1 SP
  • Advance 1 lb plant by 1 season – 1 SP
  • Create 1 gallon water in held container – 1 SP
  • Restores deceased 1 HD creature to life – 10 SP

Destruction –

  • Remove 1 cu. ft. of inert material from existence – 1 SP
  • Inflict 1d6 HP loss on touched target – 1 SP
  • Raise corpse as 1 HD undead – 5 SP

Any spell which a Called One casts through his guardian angel will be tied to one of these four Realms, and may not combine realms.

Divine Focus:

A Called One may possess or create for themselves a symbol which assists in the channeling of thaum  from the Angel to the material world.  Such a symbol will either be an image of the deity itself, or a part thereof, or else a stylized representation of a key portion of the deity’s theology.  The purpose of the benefit of the divine focus is to make more clear to unbelievers who is responsible for the power that they witness.  There are four classes of divine focus, which provide increasing benefit to the Called One who wields it:

Type Cost Benefit
Humble 10 gp +2 SP per spell
Righteous 100 gp +4 SP per spell
Mighty 1000 gp +8 SP per spell
Exalted 10,000 gp +16 SP per spell

Benefit:  A divine focus increases the maximum SP available to the Called One per spell.


The Called is invested at various levels with the authority to conduct certain ceremonies on behalf of the calling power.  The format of the individual ceremonies varies greatly between religions, but lasts at least an hour and involves many symbolic elements, whether physical objects, actions, or invocations.

  • Ceremony 1:Burial, Induction

The induction ceremony “claims” a soul for the deity and opens access to the deity’s particular afterlife for the individual.  Spells cast by Called Ones of the same deity as the Inducted person belongs to are cast at a 20% SP discount.  Receiving a second induction from a different deity invalidates the previous induction, and will mark that person as a traitor to the Called Ones and priests of the original deity.

The burial ceremony (usually) places the soul of a deceased person to rest, opening the way into the afterlife for the soul, and preventing the recently deceased from rising as undead.  This may be performed on any dead person, not just those who follow the same deity as the Called One. An emergency burial may be performed in one minute given a grave is already provided.

  • Ceremony 2:  Marriage, Investment

Married individual enjoy several blessings in relation to both their relationship and the production of offspring.  +2 Morale bonus to attacks, damage, and skill checks while the spouse is within 30 ft, +4 to attacks and damage when the spouse is in mortal danger, +20% to fertility checks.

Invested priests may participate in religious ceremonies and are blessed with the power to perform some simple magic and ritual magic dedicated to the deity. Priests may perform induction, burial, and marriage ceremonies, as well as lead ordinary worship services, offer standard sacrifices, and hold revival services to encourage more worshipers to join.

  • Ceremony 3: Excommunicate, Consecrate

Inducted followers who deviate greatly from the teachings/laws of the calling deity may be excommunicated by the Called of the same deity, whether in person or not.  This ceremony strips the offending individual of any blessings currently ongoing, and marks forever that soul as one who is cursed.  This mark is visible to all Called Ones and Priests, and may only be removed by an Atonement ceremony.

Holy ground or buildings may be consecrated by a Called One.  From that point on, as long as the site is maintained, any dead buried in the consecrated ground/building are immune to spontaneous undead generation.  Blessings cast and ceremonies performed on consecrated ground by followers of the same deity receive bonuses.

  • Ceremony 4: Atonement, Imprecate

Atonement will restore an excommunicated individual (of any religion) into the good graces of the deity (and church) the Called One serves.

Imprecate will call down the wrath of the divine upon any individual, typically leaders of groups directly opposed to the mission of the church or deity served by the Called One.

  • Ceremony 5:  Anoint, Desolate

Anoint is the ceremony whereby sovereigns of nations or heads of churches are installed in their offices, granting blessings to the rulers as long as they support the deity which installed them.

Desolate calls a curse upon an entire nation or region for their defiance of the deity confirming the desolation ceremony.  Effects may vary widely.


A Called One may spend at least a minute in prayer to ask for intercession in an urgent matter to the Called.  The prayer may be accompanied by any number of rituals (including sacrifices, relics, and any other manner of thing depending on the deity being prayed to) for increased effect/likelihood of intervention.  Things typically in the purview of a Prayer are blessings for a large number of people (such as an army before a critical battle), good weather for abundant crop production, or other wide-ranging but numerically small boons.


The Called One may request some form of miraculous event from his deity.  Such things may be creation of large amounts of material, forestalling or causing natural events, or other signs and wonders.  Final result left to the discretion of the DM.  Typical miracles might include the destruction/rout of a military enemy, the creation of enough food to support a nation in time of famine, a particularly showy event to convince undecideds to follow a particular deity.


The Called One may receive an immutable vision of the future (typically far in the future). Most will be compelled to record the vision for future generations.  Sometimes the vision is of the deity itself imparting knowledge for a particularly important upcoming event, or for the encouragement of the Called One.


Once per week the Called One may ask his deity for some direct intervention on the part of himself or another which is not technically directly involved in the Mission the Called One received.  (effects similar to a small Miracle or a larger Prayer)

Holy One:

The Called One has gained the highest honor from the deity who called him.  He may now perform at will any minor miracle (any miracle that would have a minor effect on a large number of people, or a profound effect on one person that does not defy existing natural patterns).

Categories: Rules | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment


I’ve been working on bulking out the second entry in my Non-Vancian Spellcasting classes series, but I’m not going to have it done in time for Friday like I hoped, so I’ll post something else that isn’t finished to make up for it.

That’s right, my much-vaunted gigantic cross-referenced index of every monster published (nearly) I am releasing into the wild.  It isn’t finished but the Agglomerated Monster Index Sorting Suite (AMISS for short) is now available for viewing here:  LINK.  I have it set up so you can sort, filter, and list by every category available.  Feel free to save a copy to your own Drive to set your own filters, and keep checking back because you never know when I might be adding monsters to it.

As I said, it isn’t done yet, but it does have more than 500 individual monster entries included so far.  By the time I’m done, it may well have over a thousand.  I am totally finished with the Heroes of Horror and the Monster Manual III.  I am mostly finished with the Monster Manual/SRD monsters.  I plan to have in the final product the following:  Monster Manual/SRD Monsters, Monster Manual II, Monster Manual III, the Fiend Folio, Heroes of Horror, and any other books I own with monsters in them (version 3.5, but since there aren’t any stats included you should be able to utilize the list for any edition of the game).

What good is this list?  Well, it’s super cool for me because with the filters on I can compile in under a minute a custom random encounter table for any given CR range, climate, environment, organization, sourcebook, type, subtype, and even weight!  No more long prep time coming up with random encounter tables for Warm Forests 5, 10, 20, and 40 miles from civilization.  Just set the filters, =randbetween(1,n) the number of options, and off you roll!

Now, I should say that those entries are based on 3.5/Pathfinder monsters, so perhaps the CR listing won’t be as advantageous for you 5th Editioners out there, but hey, this is a tool I made for me that I’m sharing with you.  Feel free to copy it and edit to your heart’s content.  At least take a look at it, though.  Took me forever to get it this far.

Bonus:  On the second tab (titled “Calculation”) there is my rough guide for levels of encounters based on relative settlement level, as well as percent chance for any given encounter to be one with intelligent humans/demihumans.  Also a seagoing encounter table with weather events.  But wait, there’s more!  If you act now, you will see four whole days of hourly encounter rolls on that same sheet.  Refreshes at the editing of a cell!

Categories: Monsters, Rules, Setting | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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