Monday, September 26, 2011

Pathfinder Homebrew: Unusual Spell Materials

Material components for spells are glossed over in the modern Dungeons and Dragons / Pathfinder collective. There are untold hundreds, or thousands, of spells, numerous classes with access to those spells, and all around no room for a complicated system which forces a caster to keep track of how much Bat Guano they've got on them. All things considered, I think the current system is adequate. For most spells with material components, those components can be found in the nondescript "component pouch." Those few spells with more costly components, which need to be purchased and tracked, are generally not those which a caster will find themselves casting very often. It's not perfect, but it works.


relegating material components to baubles picked up in any town robs us, GMs and Players alike, of a rich element in fantasy storytelling. So many classic tales of adventure revolve around recovering a rare item required for a wizard's spell. A spell which is, perhaps, the only thing which can wake the sleeping prince, or the best hope of finding the lair of the evil warmistress. Even when spell components are not the in the spotlight, it's almost a requirement for any story which features a wizard to include a list of strange and arcane items. Usually this list is recited whilst the wizard's apprentice runs about the laboratory, madly gathering "Eye of Newt" and "Wing of Bat."

Now, as mentioned above, I think the current system is adequate. There may be a better one, but I'm not concerned with finding it. What I do propose is a system which will allow material components to play a serious role in a game. One which will serve as a compromise between keeping track of each zombie knuckle, or squid tentacle; and throwing everything into a generic "Component Pouch." What if there were special material components which were not required to cast a spell, but could be added to a spell to enhance its effects. Like tossing a tablespoon of dill seed in the marinara sauce.

I'll demonstrate with an example from an upcoming game of mine. My players recently helped a town which was ravaged by fire. Turns out the eons-old red dragon king, Kolgoth'Ronnomaktar, has taken to flying around and breathing swathes of flame across the land in his old age. To prevent the same from happening again, the villages request that the party ask a kindly--but eccentric--old wizard to ward their village against fire. After a series of tests, the Wizard will happily comply, however, Kolgoth'Ronnomaktar's fire is particularly powerful, and normal wards are insufficient. In order to cast the necessary spell, the players will need to gather a branch from a tree which was struck by lightning, but did not catch fire.

This is a very specific example, but I think it shows how powerful and flavorful this element of fantasy has the potential to be. Below, I've compiled a list of unusual components and the effects which they might have when added to a spell. This list can be expanded to the limits of your imagination. However, the most important thing to remember is that none of these components should be easy to obtain. If a wizard can just drop into town and buy a bag of celestial's wing feathers, then all we're doing is buffing an already overpowered group of classes.

Ideally, casters either:
1) Embark on quests to gather these components for a specific purpose.
2) Receive them as treasure.
3) Harvest them when they happen to cross paths with the source during an adventure.

Items with which to enhance spells

[Color] Dragon's Tooth: Adds one damage dice to any damaging spell which uses the damage type of the Dragon's Breath weapon, and adds +1 to the saving throw or attack roll.

Example: Ezren is low on spells and needs to boost his Acid Splash to make it count. Since the spell does acid damage, Ezren uses the Black Dragon's Tooth he's been saving. He receives a +1 on the ranged touch attack required to deal damage with the spell, and since the spell deals 1d3 damage normally, it now deals 2d3 damage.

Example: The next day, Ezren is the last of his party standing and needs to clear a room filled with ghasts in a hurry. He decides it's time to use the Red Dragon's Tooth he found in a chest yesterday. Normally, his Fireball spell has a saving throw of DC: 18 and deals 7d6 damage. By consuming the red dragon's tooth, the spell has a save DC of 19, and deals 8d6 damage.

Handful of [Color] Dragon's Scales: Doubles the effectiveness of protection spells against the damage type of the Dragon's breath weapon.

Celestial Blood: Adds the [Evil] descriptor to any spell. Doubles the effectiveness of any offensive spell against good aligned creatures.

Demon Blood: Adds the [Chaos] and [Evil] descriptors to a spell. Doubles the effectiveness of a spell against Lawful or Good creatures. These bonuses stack.

Devil Blood: Adds the [Lawful] and [Evil] descriptors to a spell. Doubles the effectiveness of a spell against Chaotic or Good creatures. These bonuses stack.

Lock of hair from a King/Queen: Enchantment spells cast as two caster levels higher.

Shed Angel Feather: Adds the [Good] descriptor to any spell. Doubles the effectiveness of any offensive spell against evil aligned creatures.

Treant Branch: Allows a caster who has prepared "Summon Nature's Ally" to cast one level of the spell higher. This does not require a higher spell slot.

Vampire's Fang: Necromancy spells cast as two caster levels higher.

Balance could be improved on these. I have to admit I'm a little conflicted about whether I want to beef up the power on some of the low powered ones to make them more worth the time it would take to acquire them, or if I want to nerf the power down on some of the higher powered ones because casters are already overpowered.

Still, I think the above examples make the point.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Pathfinder House Rule: Ability Penalty Flaws

Just as I knew I would, I forgot an entry into my current list of house rules. Truthfully, I probably missed even more, but this is the only one I came across whilst perusing a recently filled notebook. It comes from the superb Blog of Holding, which I love, and read every day despite their focus on a system I don't play. The outline of the system is detailed on a post from July 20th. You'll notice, however, that my version detailed below is significantly different. Brilliant as Paul's idea is, the flaws listed seem at best goofy, and at worst unbalanced.

In most systems, flaws are used as a kind of reverse-feat. The player agrees to allow his or her character to suffer from some frailty, and in exchange, they earn a benefit of some kind. On the surface it seems like an awesome idea, and I recall being very excited about it when I first read about them. As I've gained experience, however, I've come to the conclusion that it's impossible (or at least very difficult) to implement such a system without inadvertently creating unbalanced characters.

This begs the question: why should flaws come with buffs to characters at all? You and I have flaws, and those don't come with benefits. I'm overweight and dropped out of college due to financial problems. That doesn't mean I got to pick "hilariously funny," "devilishly charming," and "god damned brilliant" to make up for being fat, uneducated, and poor. I have those positive traits despite my failings.

Using the rule below, flaws have no upside. And, since only the most hardcore role player would take such a flaw, flaws are also mandatory under certain circumstances. Please note that none of these flaws are overly harmful to a character. These flaws merely enhance a per-existing lack of ability in small, flavorful ways.

Without further ado:

Pathfinder Flaws System

If a character has a score of 9 or lower for any of their 6 base ability scores, they must select a flaw from the list below related to that ability score. For each ability modifier lower than -1, the character must have an additional flaw related to that ability score. For example, a character with a Charisma modifier of -1 must take one Charisma flaw, a character with a Charisma modifier of -2 must take two Charisma flaws, et cetera.

If any of the ability scores with associated flaws are ever permanently increased, then flaws may be removed at the same rate as modifier penalties are removed. If the ability score modifier reaches 0, all flaws associated with that ability score are removed.


Puny: You are treated as though you are one size category smaller than your racial norm with regards to weapon proficiencies.

Weak Grip: Any time you miss with a melee attack your opponent may make attempt a disarm combat maneuver as a free action.

Bad Swimmer: You cannot succeed on any swim check with a DC higher than 10.

Bad Climber: You cannot succeed on any climb check with a DC higher than 10.

Insufficient Block: If you use a shield, you only gain half of its AC bonus. If your game utilizes the "Shields Will Be Sundered" rule, you may not take advantage of it.


Slow Starter: You cannot win an initiative roll. If your roll is ever highest, you move to second place in the initiative order.

Butterfingers: Upon rolling a natural one in combat, you drop your weapon.

Two Left Feet: When moving over difficult terrain, or trying to move over an obstacle, the character must make a Reflex save (DC: 13) or fall prone.

Pushover: Upon being struck by a critical hit, you fall prone.

Awkward Fall: Add +1 to the falling damage for every 10 feet you fall.


Medicine Dependent: You require a daily dose of medication to avoid the fatigued condition. After two days you gain the exhausted condition.

Slow: You can run at a maximum of twice your normal move speed, rather than four times your normal move speed.

Cheap Drunk: Even a slight amount of alcohol, as much as half a cup of weak brew, leaves you impaired. You take a -4 to all Dexterity checks & Wisdom checks until you've rested for 8 hours.

Weak Frame: If you wear any armor in excess of 40lb, you are treated as encumbered.


Illiterate: You cannot read or write.

Ignorant: You cannot succeed on any Knowledge check with a DC higher than 10.

Inexpressive: You take a -2 on any check which requires you to express yourself to another. This includes Diplomacy checks, Bluff checks, Perform checks, or any abilities or spells which require a subject to understand the character.

Bad Eye for Value: You always pay 10% more than market value when buying items from merchants. You always sell for 10% less than market value.


Tempted: Select a temptation from the list below. Whenever presented with your temptation, you must make a will save (DC: 10 + Your Character Level) or indulge in that temptation. This flaw can be selected more than once, its effects do not stack. Each time it is taken, select a different temptation. List of temptations: Alcohol, Food, Sex, Drugs

Overly Honorable: You cannot make bluff checks.

City Slicker: You cannot succeed on any survival check with a DC higher than 10.

Day Dreamer: You cannot succeed on any reactive perception check with a DC higher than 10.

Spendthrift: For every day your character spends in a town or city, he or she loses 1d10/level gold on purchases of food, drink, and baubles.

Gullible: You cannot succeed on any sense motive check with a DC higher than 10.


Rude: You're unable to bite your tongue. You cannot succeed on any diplomacy check with a DC higher than 10.

Meek: You're unable to assert yourself. You cannot succeed on any intimidate check with a DC higher than 10.

Magically Inept: Any successful Use Magic Device check has a 25% chance to misfire, causing the target to be determined randomly. If the target is self, the spell merely fizzles.

Bad With Animals: Animals which encounter you are unusually aggressive towards you. Those which would normally be friendly are unfriendly. Those which would normally be unfriendly may attack you.

One of the best things about this house rule is that it is nearly endlessly extendable. The flaws are both simple, and entertaining to come up with. As much as I like it, however, it really isn't for everyone. Players will almost always be resistant to something which reduces their effectiveness. As always, the best policy is to work out what works best for your group, as a group.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Pathfinder Homebrew: Corpse Motes

I spent every free moment of today working on a detailed outline for the next chapter of The Girl and the Granite Throne. I've got 22 pages of outline in my pocket-notebook, which is more than I have for most things I write. But try as I might, I haven't been able to force myself to sit down and actually write out the opening lines. I'm sure I'll regret that when I'm at work tomorrow & wishing I could write, but for now I just have to give up.

So instead, I bring you a home brew which I originally created for D&D 3.5. At the time I had a character who needed to have a lot of vices. I wasn't satisfied with any of the drugs I found in the Book of Vile Darkness, because they all lacked a visceral element to them. I envisioned this character injecting themselves with heroin in a fantasy world where nobody had ever heard of a syringe.

And thus, the Corpse Mote was born. There is no upside to using Corpse Motes, as there is with many drugs available in the game. This is purely a detriment to whatever character uses it, and is primarily intended for those who take their role playing seriously. As such, it may not work in most games.

Corpse Motes

Corpse Motes are created when maggots feasting on a corpse are caught up in the negative energy used to turn that corpse into an undead.

Corpse Motes are larger than normal maggots, and grow spines along one side of their body not unlike those of a porcupine. Three powerful pincers, which are used to grapple mice and other prey, surround tooth-filled prehensile tube which serves as their mouth.

Once a corpse mote's prey has is firmly held by the pincers, it latches on to the victim with its mouth. It then injects a powerful paralytic into the victim with its teeth, which allows the creature all the time it needs to suck its prey's innards out for sustenance. For a Corpse Mote's intended prey, this paralytic is a cruel death sentence. For a small or medium sized character, however, the paralytic causes a powerful and addictive euphoria.

Many Necromancers, whether by through intentional experimentation or simply by chance, become addicted to the venom of the Corpse Mote. Injection of the drug is handled by allowing a Corpse Mote to bite you, then squeezing it to death. In its death throes, the vermin will empty its venom sacks into the user's bloodstream.

This can be an extremely painful procedure, since there's no easy way to avoid being injured by the spines of the Corpse Mote while squeezing it to death. The sharp pincers used to grapple prey usually cause multiple painful lacerations before the injection is complete as well. However, many choose to make the pain part of the experience, rather than attempt to mitigate it. Others keep metal gauntlets, minions, or plucked-and-depincered corpse motes around to handle injections relatively painlessly.


Every time a character is bitten by a corpse mote, they get a will save (DC:5) to resist addiction. With each subsequent bite within 1 year of the last bite, the DC rises by 5.

An addicted character takes a -1 penalty to Wisdom to account for impairment caused either by euphoria, or by jonesing for another fix. This is a constant affect until the character has recovered from their addiction.

An addicted character must be bitten by a corpse mote once every 24 hours or they take one negative level, and begin to suffer withdrawals.


Withdrawals begin 24 hours after an addicted character's last dose, and end either when the character has beaten their addiction, or when they give in to addiction and 'shoot up' with another Corpse Mote.

Every 48 hours after the beginning of withdrawals, an addicted character receives a will save (DC: 5 times the character's effective level.) If the will save succeeds, the character has overcome their addiction. If the save fails, the character receives one negative level. Characters must have the desire to quit in order to receive a will save.

48 hours after a character reaches an effective level of 1, they automatically overcome their addiction, whether or not they have a desire to do so.

A character who overcomes their addiction to Corpse Motes must still go through recovery.


Once a character has overcome their addiction, they must must rest. For every 24 hours of rest after overcoming their addiction, they regain 1 of their lost levels. The rest does not need to be consecutive. This continues until the character is fully recovered. Note that rest does not necessarily mean sleep, but the character must be relaxed and restful during this period.

If, at any time during the next year, the character is bitten by a Corpse Mote, they are instantly re-addicted to the substance, and must go through withdrawals and recovery again in order to overcome their relapse. After a year, if the character is bitten by a corpse mote, they are allowed a will save to resist addiction, but the will save is 20 to start with, rather than 5. As per usual, the DC raises by 5 each time the character is bitten within 1 year of the previous bite.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Pathfinder House Rules

For a long while, I have wanted to document all the House Rules which I like enough to make use of in my games. I've always been somewhat bad at codifying House Rules. Many of them come and go, their effect on the game only occurring when I remember to implement them, or when they seem appropriate. In some cases, I haven't even figured out a good way to get the rule down on paper, simply allowing certain actions sometimes, and disallowing them at other times, all by GM fiat. All of the players spread throughout the games I GM are very understanding, laid back folk, so it hasn't become an issue. However, I know only too well that my failure to solidify what is and what is not in the rules has a potential to come back to bite me in the future.

And so this page has been born. Below are all the House Rules which I include in my games. If, in the future, I add or remove any rules, I will make a new post describing the rule (or why I felt it no longer had a place in my game) and I will update this post to reflect the new 'House List.'

Let me say right off that I do not have sources for most of these rules. Many of them were penned by far more inventive GMs than myself. However, due to acquiring them from my brother fa/tg/uys or from some other un-citable source, most will not have sources. If anybody would like to make a correction, please leave a comment, and I'll make sure credit is given where it is due.

Natural 20 Crits: Any roll of a natural 20 on an attack roll is an automatic critical hit. Any other rolls within critical range must still be confirmed normally.

Skill Check Critical Success/Failure: When rolling skill checks, a natural 20 is treated as a roll of 25 (20 + 5), while a natural 1 is treated as a roll of -4 (1 - 5). Add skill ranks and other modifiers normally.

Shields Shall Be Splintered: Anytime a character who wields a shield takes physical damage, they can opt to sacrifice their shield to avoid taking that damage. Masterwork or Magical shields can block a number of blows per day equal to the shield's equivalent numerical bonus (+1 to +10) without sundering. If the shield is used to avoid damage a number of times in excess of it's equivalent numerical bonus, it is destroyed. Magical shields can also be used to automatically save against damaging spells. Treat this as two blows against the shield. Magical shields regenerate this damage whenever the character rests for 8 hours. Shields otherwise act normally.

Shields Shall Be Splintered was originally put forth by Trollsmyth.

Diluting Bad HP Rolls: At each level, players roll their character's total HD, and add their Constitution modifier * their character level to it. If the resulting number is higher than the character's current max HP, then it becomes that character's new max HP. If it is lower, then the character retains their current max HP. Here are two examples:
Valeros the Fighter is level 5. He has a constitution modifier of +3, and a max HP of 40. After killing some Skeletons, Valeros has gained enough XP to reach level 6. Normally, he would roll 1D10 + 3, and add that number to his HP. Using this House Rule, though, he instead rolls [6d10 + (3 * 6)]. He rolls exceptionally well, getting a result of 70! Valeros Max HP is now 70, up from 40 in one level.
Valeros continues to adventure, and eventually gains enough XP to reach level 7. He rolls [7d10 + (3 * 7)] for his new max HP. Unfortunately, his rolls are not so good this time, and he only gets a total of 64. Since this is lower than his previous roll of 70, his max HP does not change.

This list will change a great deal over time, I imagine. Particularly as I am sure I'm forgetting one or two that I normally employ in my games.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Pathfinder Monster: Corpse Sewn Hekatonkheires

One of the games I'm currently running has some seriously overpowered characters in it, and I've found that in the last few sessions I've not done a very good job of challenging them. So, recently, I constructed an adventure which was entirely combat oriented, and filled with custom monsters designed to bypass many of their ridiculous defenses. I wanted something really special for the final encounter of the session, so I made up the monster which is detailed below. I've done a lot of work since the game to polish it up and make it available for Pathfinder GMs.

For the record, the game went pretty well, except the monster below ended up being too much for them. The sorcerer got reduced to -13 HP (dead) after just a few rounds, and the Dawnblade (homebrew variant of the Duskblade) character got reduced to exactly 0 when the beast still had about 50 HP. Fortunately there's a super-secret reason why this particular monster was unable to kill that particular character...but it's still out there.

The name isn't just a jumble of letters, by the way. I noticed after the fact that the monster bore a kind of resemblance to a little-known creature of myth.

Corpse Sewn Hekatonkheires

Eight "tentacles" made of severed human arms--each holding tightly to the stump of the next--wave about the body of this horrifying undead. Its bulbous body is a throbbing sack of vein covered flesh, almost like a massive heart. And, on the end of the pulsating monstrosity, are fifty human heads. Each has rotted away to a sagging gray mess, which stares with white, hungry orbs.

Corpse Sewn Hekatonkheires; CR 14; [Undead] [Swamp] [Temperate Climate]

XP: 38,400
NE Huge Undead
Init +4; Senses darkvision 60ft; Perception +20

AC 8, touch 8, flat-footed 8 [10 + Dex(0) + Size(-2)]
HP 300 (16d8 + 238)
Fort +5 Ref +5 Will +5
DR 10/Slashing

Speed 40-60ft.(See Text); swim 20ft. (Can run 5 at times normal speed)
Melee 2 or 8 tentacle slam attacks + 17 (2d8 + 7)
Space 15ft; Reach 10ft.
Special Attacks Breath Weapon (60ft. cone, DC 20, 12D6 acid)

Str 25 Dex 10 Con -- Int 2 Wis 7 Cha 38
Base Attack +12 CMB +21 CMD 31 (Can't be tripped)
Feats Toughness, Improved Initiative, Multiattack, Improved Natural Attack, Awesome Blow, Ability Focus (Breath Weapon), Ability Focus (Hungry Heads), Alertness, Run
Skills Climb +16, Perception +20, Stealth +16, Swim +16

Environment temperate marshes, riverbeds, small lakes
Organization solitary
Treasure Standard

Awesome Blow(Ex) As a standard action, the Corpse Sewn Hekatonkheires may perform an awesome blow combat maneuver. If the maneuver succeeds against a corporeal opponent smaller than the beast, its opponent takes 2d8 + 7 slam attack damage, and is knocked flying 10 feet in a direction of the Corpse Sewn Hekatonkheires choice and falls prone. The attack can only push the opponent in a straight line, and the opponent can't move closer to the attacker than the square it started in. If an obstacle prevents completion of the opponent's move, the opponent and the obstacle each take 1d6 points of damage, and the opponent is knocked pron in the space adjacent to the obstacle.

Hungry, Hungry Heads(Ex) Any character which stands in a square adjacent to the Corpse Sewn Hekatonkheires' 50 heads is subject to a bite attack. This is an immediate action for the Corpse Sewn Hekatonkheires. Characters are allowed a DC 20 [10 + 1/2 HD(8) + Ability Focus(2)] to avoid this attack. If the save fails, roll 2d6 to determine the number of heads which successfully bite the character. Each bite attack deals 1d4 damage.

Breath Weapon(Su) Using a breath weapon is a standard action. A Corpse Swen Hekatonkheires can use its breath weapon once every 1d4 rounds. A breath weapon always starts at an intersection adjacent to the beast and extends in the direction the creature's heads are facing. Those caught in the area can attempt Reflex saves to take half damage. The save DC is 10 + 1/2 the monster's HD (8) + the monster's Con modifier (0 for undead) + the Ability Focus feat (2).

Tentacles, Attacks, and Movement The Corpse Sewn Hekatonkheires has a relatively light body considering its size, which allows it to walk on its 8 tentacles. Lifting itself from a position resting on the ground or in the water, to a "standing" position requires all 8 tentacles to be engaged in a standard action. Once standing, the creature requires only 6 of its tentacles to remain standing, and may attack with the remaining two. When support itself on 6 tentacles, the creature can move at a land speed of 40ft. When using all 8 tentacles to support itself, the Corpse Sewn Hekatonkheires can move at a speed of 60ft. Shifting between using 6 tentacles and 8 tentacles to support itself is a move-equivalent action.

Background The Corpse Sewn Hekatonkheires is the creation either of an extremely masterful, or extremely foolish necromancer. Animating the creature requires a hundred human bodies, but many power hungry casters view the requirement as worthwhile due to the beast's expertise in keeping troublesome adventurers from getting through the swamps surrounding a necromancer's headquarters.

These amphibious monstrosities typically hunt near shallow water. Often they hide under a bridge or other river crossing, camouflaging themselves as piles of muck, and make their first strike as soon as no one is looking.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Pathfinder Homebrew Spell / Template: Corpse Servant

Tee hee, it's funny when they dance ^_^

For an upcoming Pathfinder game, I needed a special kind of undead. Something not unlike a Lich, but without all the special doodads that go along with that. I also didn't want the creature to be a spellcaster. What I did want was something like an intelligent Zombie without too many of the drawbacks of decomposition. The following homebrew spell and template are what worked for me.

Spell: Create Corpse Servant

School Necromancy[evil]; Level Sor/Wiz 7, Cleric 6
Casting Time 1 minute
Components V, S, M (Onyx gems worth 10,000gp)
Range Touch
Target Dead creature touched
Duration See text
Saving Throw none, see text; Spell Resistance yes (harmless)

This spell creates an undead with the Corpse Servant template (detailed below.) The body which is used can not have been dead for longer than 1 day per caster level. In addition, the subject's soul must be offered something which will cause them to willingly return from death. Common reasons are revenge, or to save a loved one. Most often, a Speak With Dead spell is required to reach this agreement. If the subject's soul is not willing to return, the spell does not work; therefore, a subject that agrees to return receives no saving throw.

Coming back from the dead is an ordeal. Coming halfway back from the dead is less so. However, the subject of the spell gains one permanent negative level when it gains the Corpse Servant template in this manner, just as if it had been hit by an energy-draining creature. If this negative level would reduce the creature's level to 0, the Corpse Servant cannot be created.

Upon completion of the spell, the Corpse Servant is created and is immediately with full hit points, vigor, and health. If the creature had any prepared spells, these spells are not lost by gaining the Corpse Servant template in this manner.

Constructs, elementals, outsiders, an creatures with an Intelligence score lower than 3 cannot be used to create Corpse Servants.

Template: Corpse Servant

Corpse Servant is an acquired template which can be added to any creature (referred to hereafter as the base creature) who has died, and willingly entered into a Corpse Servant Contract via the "Create Corpse Servant" spell. A Corpse Servant retains all the base creature's statistics and special abilities except as noted here.

Alignment: Cannot be good.
Type: The creature's type changes to undead. Do not recalculate BAB, saves, or skill ranks. (See page 309 of the Pathfinder Bestiary for more information on the Undead type.)
Senses: A Corpse Servant gains darkvision 60ft
Hit Dice: Change all of the creature's racial Hit Dice to D8s. All Hit Dice derived from class levels remain unchanged. As undead, Corpse Servants use their Charisma modifiers to determine bonus hit points (Instead of Constitution).
Service and Agreement: Corpse Servants agree to obey their creators, in exchange for some boon agreed upon before the Corpse Servant is created. This boon can be anything which the base creature desires. However, a creature which has passed on will have little care for material goods. Some possible boons include:

-Revenge against the one who caused the base creature's death, or the death of a loved one.
-Protection for a loved one about to face imminent danger.
-The opportunity to complete a personally important quest.
-An escape from an unpleasant afterlife, such as the Abyss, or the Nine Hells.
-In the case of devoted followers, simply the opportunity to continue serving the caster.

In exchange, a Corpse Servant must follow any orders given by the caster who brought them back from beyond the grave. Any attempt to disobey these orders requires an opposed Charisma check between the caster and the Corpse Servant. The corpse servant suffers a -10 penalty on this check. If the check succeeds, the Corpse Servant takes damage equal to the Caster's Charisma check result, but may act freely for 24 hours. After that time, another opposed Charisma check is automatically initiated, regardless of distance between the two characters. If the Corpse Servant succeeds, he again takes damage and gains 24 hours of freedom. If he fails, he travels to the Caster's location, even if he does not know where that is.

If the Caster ever attempts to order the Corpse Servant to take action or inaction which appears (to the Corpse Servant) to prevent the fulfillment of the caster's side of the agreement, the Corpse Servant may make an opposed check to disobey the Caster at a +4 bonus rather than a penalty. The Corpse Servant still takes damage in this case.

If for any reason the Corpse Servant's boon becomes impossible to deliver upon (such as the loved one who was to be protected dying) the bond between the Caster and the Corpse Servant is severed. The Corpse Servant may, at this point, choose between returning to death, or continuing to exist as a masterless Corpse Servant.

Review: Red Son [Some Spoilers]

Superman arrived on Earth in an un-piloted "Planetary escape pod" sent from millions of miles away, right? That would be like aiming a gun at an object so far away that you would need the ability to gaze into the future just to tell where your target would be by the time the craft was close enough to land on it. Given the difficulties of such a feat, do you think Kal-El's parents would be terribly concerned with where on that planet the craft landed? Even a small alteration in when the pod was released, a minute, and hour, could drastically affect where the pod landed. Where the their child ended up. Who raised him, and what they raised him to believe.

This is the idea behind "Red Son"

As you might surmise from the cover art, "Red Son" is an alternate universe story, based on the "what if" world where superman lands in Siberian Russia rather than rural Kansas. Instead of being raised in the wholesome, All American setting of Smallville, he is raised by poor Russian farmers, and holds The Party's ideals near and dear to his heart.

The story doesn't proceed as one might expect, however. It does not cast Superman as a villain. Nor does the story only recognize Superman as a hero after he rejects communism and all its evils. The writers skillfully crafted a more nuanced tale, respecting the philosophical ideals which can lead to a person embracing communism, while simultaneously pointing out the fundamental flaws both historical and theoretical. And this was done not only for Communism, but for capitalism as represented by the United states as well.

Superman is held up as the ideal result of the communist philosophy, a true comrade who believes every man and woman is equal. It is ironic that superman's boy-scout nature is precisely what allows this book to emphasize the ethical ambiguities of governance. He is a hero who epitomizes philosophies which history has taught us to view as more villainous than they might actually be.

All of the characters are more three dimensional than they are normally portrayed, in matter of fact. Lex Luthor, cast as America's answer to the new Russian super weapon, begins the tale as an eccentric genius who grabs the reader's attention merely because his genius is taken to laughable extremes. Moving forward, he shifts into a more traditional role as a mad scientist, albeit a state-endorsed mad scientist with motivations the reader can sympathize with. In the final act the character transforms once more, as his drive to defeat superman begins to be expressed more coherently. As the story entered its final act, I found that I had switched sides, and was now firmly in Luthor's camp, rooting for him to best the comrade of steel.

Other characters in the DC Universe appear as well, and so well crafted are their inclusions that it never quite feels like a cameo. Batman, Wonder Woman, and Hal Jordan (Green Lantern) all appear in the tale; sometimes assisting, sometimes opposing their old chum Superman. (In soviet Themyscira, man rule YOU!) Like Superman and Luthor, each character contributes their own perspective to the story, further fracturing any moral certitude the reader might have. Wonder Woman and Batman in particular serve as superb foils for Superman. They reflect on his successes and failures via their opposition to him as an evil dictator, or their admiration of him as a peacemaker. Plus, nothing can top Batman's new hat:

This abundance of ambiguity regarding who has governance and morality "right" isn't swept under the rug at the end of the story, either. Yes, somebody wins, and that person guides the world into a future based on their own vision of what is right. But there is no true triumph of The American Way over the dirty commies. Eventually, after a long drawn out battle which sometimes plays out more like a debate, everything is resolved and "The Global United States" is formed. Yet even that seemingly decisive vote for capitalism is qualified when the president says, while walking through the fortress of solitude, "Superman [...] had some surprisingly good ideas here, boys." Utopia comes about only after the best of both philosophies are combined.

Perhaps the greatest praise I can offer to this comic book is that the following day, I repeatedly thought I had seen a very good movie the previous evening. Only after spending a moment trying to remember what the movie had been about did I remember that it was "Red Son" I was thinking of.

If you have even a slight interest in comic books, the collection which tells this story is more than worth the $12.23 price tag.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Pathfinder: Hall of a Dozen Deaths


The Hall of a Dozen Deaths is a room I devised for a recent game. I designed it to be, primarily, a kind of fake-out encounter. One which appears very daunting on the surface, but has a very simple and safe solution. However, there's no reason it couldn't be used in a game without including the bypass mechanism, forcing the players instead to make the difficult series of checks required to make it through the hallway in one piece.

I should also note, before anyone corrects me, that there are only 7 traps, not 12. The 'Dozen' in the title is figurative.

I have not included any DCs or other information regarding the disabling of these devices. In part because the players I ran this for had no character who could even attempt such a thing, and in part because it is not in keeping with the spirit of the encounter. For me, this was a magically created hallway meant to test those who wished to beg a favor of a powerful Wizard. For you, it may be used differently.

I would suggest, however, that any disable check DCs be very high. My thinking is that "traps" which are not hidden, and thus lack the element of surprise, would be constructed extremely sturdily, to resist any disabling attempts.

Lastly, if you are putting this on a map, the hallway is 10ft wide, and 60ft long (not including any area used before and after the series of obstacles.)

As you ascend the spiraling staircase, you hear a cacophony of noise from the room above. When you reach the top, you find yourself in a hallway. In front of you, the obvious source of the noise, is a series of deadly traps which separate you from the only door on the opposite end of the hall. It's a maelstrom of blades, spikes, and fire.

Misc Information
Any character who spends at least 1 minute (10 rounds) studying the hallway can add their INT bonus to any checks made to avoid the traps. (They may not, however, add it to their AC, or to any skill checks made to escape the traps.)

Perception check DC: 12 will reveal a button above the door at the opposite end of the hallway. This button deactivates or seals off all of the hallway's dangers, making it safe to walk normally to the door. Attempting to hit the button with a projectile weapon is made against AC: 8, with a 50% miss chance due to the traps constantly getting in the way.

If a character attempting to make a ranged attack to depress the button spends 1 minute (10 rounds) studying the hallway, they can reduce the miss chance by (10% * Their INT modifier.)

Trap 1: Pendulum Blades

Three pendulums swing from the ceiling. They have heavy curved blades at the base, along with smaller blades along the shaft to prevent anyone attempting to jump over them. This section is 5ft long.

DC: 17 Acrobatics check to avoid all 3 blades.

Fail by 1-2: attacked by one blade.
Fail by 3-4: attacked by two blades.
Fail by 5 or more: attacked by all three blades.

Pendulum Blade (Attack) 1D20 + 12
Pendulum Blade (Damage) 3D6

Note: Each blade is treated as a Greataxe made for a large creature.

Trap 2: Acid Pit

A 14 foot long, 3ft deep pit filled with bubbling green acid immediately follows the swinging blades. This obstacle covers 3 squares (or 15 feet)

Acrobatics Check DC: 14 to leap across, +2 for each blade the player failed to avoid with an acrobatics check. If a character pauses after the swinging blades, then they are unable to get a running start, which adds an additional 14 to the DC of the acrobatics check.

Fail by 1-4: land on feet within the acid pit.
Fail by 5 or more: fall prone within the acid pit.

Acid causes 1D6 damage per round of contact. However, if a character falls prone within the acid, they are treated as having total immersion. In cases of total immersion, acid deals 10d6 damage per round.

Climbing out of the acid counts as 2 squares of movement. Standing up from a prone position counts as a full move action.

Trap 3: Smashing Walls

Two 10ft sections of wall on each side of the hallway continually smash together, meeting in the center.

Acrobatics Check DC: 12 to jump through. If the character fell into the acid on the previous trap, the DC gains an additional +4.

Failure results in 4d8 crushing damage. No attack roll or saving throw is available to avoid this damage if the initial acrobatics check is failed.

Note: Each wall is treated as a separate Greatclub made for a large creature.

Trap 4: Floor Spikes

24 inch spikes extend from holes in the ground at fantastic speeds, only to disappear just as quickly, and come shooting out again at a completely different angle. The deadly holes extend for 5ft of hallway.

Acrobatics DC: 18 to avoid.

Miss by 1-2: Attacked by 1
Miss by 3-4: Attacked by 2
Miss by 5 or more: Attacked by 4

Floor spikes (attack) 1d20 + 11 (Shield, Armor, & Deflection bonuses do not count towards AC against this attack. Characters wearing shoes or footwear get +2 to AC.)
Floor spikes (damage) 1d4
Floor Spikes (Special) On hit, movement speed is reduced to half by 24 hours, until the creature is successfully treated with a DC: 17 Heal check, or until the character receives at least 1 point of magical healing.

Note: Spike damage is treated as a rapier made for a small creature.

Trap 5: Fire Pit

The floor in this 10ft length of hallway is a conveyor belt which moves to the left at 30ft/round. The left side of the wall opens up into a large pit filled with fire.

Acrobatics DC: 18 to maintain balance while moving through this area. If a character chooses to pause in this area, they must spend a full move action each round, in addition to a DC: 18 Acrobatics check, to avoid falling into the fire pit.

Characters who fall into the fire pit begin taking 1d6 heat damage every round, beginning the round in which they fall into the pit.

Characters who fall into the fire pit are immediately at risk of catching on fire, and must make a DC: 15 Reflex save to avoid catching on fire. If they fail, they take 1d6 points of damage each round until the fire is put out. The character may make a Reflex saving throw each round (DC: 15) to put the fire out.

The pit is not deep, however, fire spurts from nozzles on the wall, and a speeding conveyor belt is the only thing to climb onto. As such, climbing out requires a DC: 25 climb check. Characters who climb out must immediately succeed on a DC: 18 Acrobatics check or fall back into the pit.

Trap 6: Saw Blades

Massive circular saw blades extend from both the ceiling and floor. There is one inch between each blade in the row, and 2 and a half feet for characters to pass through between the two rows. The blades cover a 5ft length of hallway. Leaping through the space is a DC: 20 Acrobatics check.

Failure deals 3d8 + 3 damage.

The motion of the blades causes characters who fail the check to be ejected back onto the conveyor belt. Characters must make a DC: 20 Reflex save or fall into the fire pit.

Note: Damage is based on the "Chamber of Blades" trap detailed in the Core Rulebook.

Trap 7: The Beasts

A cage on either side of the last 10ft of hallway houses a Hook Horror*. Leaving this area prompts an attack of opportunity from both, as Hook Horrors are large creatures and can attack anything within 10ft of themselves.

Hook Horror
Large Aberration
HP: 65 (10HD)
AC: 22, Touch 12, Flat Footed 19
Combat Maneuver Bonus: 13
Combat Maneuver Defense: 26

Claw(Attack) 1D20 + 13
Claw(Damage) 1D6 + 7

Bite(Attack) 1D20 + 8
Bite(Damage) 2D6 + 3

Saves: Fort +5, Ref +6, Will +8

If players spend at least one round in this square, and do not immediately leave it, then the Hook Horrors can make a normal attack against them.

On a full attack action, a Hook Horror uses its claw attack twice, once for each claw. If both claws successfully hit a creature at least one size category smaller than the Hook Horror (which is medium or smaller), then the Hook Horror can initiate a grapple attempt as a swift action. This does not provoke an attack of opportunity.

If the grapple succeeds, the Hook Horror automatically attacks with its bite attack in the same round. The Hook Horror continues to bite the player until the player gets free. While grappled, the character cannot be attacked by the other Hook Horror.

*Note: I have not yet encountered Hook Horrors in any Pathfinder literature, and pulled their information from the Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 "Monster Manual 2." Since they do not serve as actual foes for the players, I have not included some of their information. If the GM so chooses, they could replace the Hook Horrors with any monster he or she likes.

And that's the Hall of a Dozen Deaths. I hope you enjoyed it! Let me know if you use it. Not for credit or anything, but just so I can bask in the glory of actually devising something other Game Masters liked.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Girl and the Granite Throne: Chapter Two

Erin's eyes fluttered open and glanced out the window. It was still dark out. She started to roll over to find a comfortable spot to drift back to sleep, but the mechanical alarm Master Immar had placed in her room sounded a shrill ringing sound, abrupt enough to cause her to start. She reached out to silence the monstrous thing, cursing it to the depths of the 9 Hells as she did every morning. Moving slowly, with all the eagerness of a 12 year old who had chores to do, Erin pushed back the covers and dropped down from her bed.

Bare footed, she padded across the stone floor, which was pleasantly cool on her feet compared to the warmth of the summer's night. She washed her face at the wash basin next to her door, paying special attention to the creases and folds caused by her scar. Once that was done she pulled on her simple leather breeches and boots, along with her loose white shirt.

Dressed, Erin darted out of her room to get about her duties cleaning her master's laboratory. First, she dusted, using chairs and ladders to get to the spaces she couldn't reach. Following that she swept. By the time she was half done with the mopping, the rising sun's light was making its way down the wall opposite the east window. According to the system she had worked out, she had until it reached the floor to finish her chores and meet her master downstairs. She hurried her way through a cursory inventory of the available spell components, noting that they were running low on Bat Guano, Obsidian Orbs, and Birch leaves. By the time the sun reached the floor she had placed the list on her Master's desk and was darting for the spiral stairs.

Immar often reprimanded her for sleeping in too late to get all her chores done, but what did he know? Every task was complete--at least complete enough that she probably wouldn't be scolded--and she'd gotten plenty of beauty rest. Erin was descending the stairs two at a time as she rounded the final bend. Only to find Immar had gotten there first. He was looking right at her, biting the inside of his cheek the way he always did when he was annoyed with her.

Maybe she should get up earlier.

"Erin," Immar began.

"Yes sir?" she replied, sheepish.

"What have I told you about being late for morning prayers?"

"I am sorry, Master." Erin whispered, head bowed. Not so subtly, the Wizard rolled his eyes and sharpened his tone to emphasize his annoyance.

"I don't buy your false regret for an instant. If you're going to lie, make it better than that."

"Yes, Master" Erin replied, the injection of remorse mostly gone from her tone.

"Now get inside, Child. Priestess Argetta is waiting for us."

Erin did move quickly to enter the small chapel, and wondered (not for the first time) why she had ended up apprenticed to the only Wizard in all of Regalia who made time to serve the gods. Most were too busy unlocking hidden mysteries of the universe to bother with kneeling on a stone floor breathing bad incense and regurgitating the cryptic teachings of some far off deity. Master Immar not only spent time on religion, but had devoted an entire floor in his modestly sized tower, to worship. When she was a wizard, Erin wouldn't waste time on such nonsense.

Still, she was expected to chant along, so she obliged.

"Knowledge is the root which grants the fruit of power." she droned. The words had been heard so often that she didn't even acknowledge their meaning anymore. "Hidden beneath the flesh of the fruit lie the secrets--the seeds which grow and grant evermore knowledge, evermore power."

She listened half-asleep as the old crone, Argetta, told the story of the battle of Fleeth, and the lessons to be learned regarding the value of forgiving one's enemies. Erin had heard it all before, and so far it had not become more compelling as she aged the way master Immar was always telling her it would.

As the short service began to wind down, Erin heard a loud murmuring. It was like a dozen voices all shouting at one another. But the sound was muffled. It was as though the shouting was happening two rooms away, shaving the words down into indecipherable sounds. She looked around to see if anyone else had heard, but wasn't surprised to see them all still intent on the end of the service.

Argatta loudly slapped her hand over her eye, ceremonially ending the service, and with it, the murmuring.

Erin wasn't too terribly concerned about the sound. It was hardly the strangest thing she had encountered in Immar's tower. The constant use of magic had a tendency to cause random minor effects in the area. None the less, she resolved to ask Master Immar about it during their morning study.

She skirted out of the chapel with as much speed as she thought she could get away with and still avoid a lecture on reverence. Once outside, she dashed back upstairs to her the laboratory, and began pulling the last book of spells she had been studying off of the shelf. She was halfway through deciphering the diagrams and runes which made up the "Orb of Acid" spell, when Immar finally made his way up the stairs. Erin stood, making sure she marked her place before doing so.

"Can we study evocation today? I really think I can avoid setting anything on fire this time!"

"No." Immar said, his voice flat.

Erin's face fell a little, but she pressed on.

"Well...maybe we could do some conjuration? It's kinda similar, and it would give me practice!"


Erin screwed up her face, an expression which her scar made a just little more creepy than cute.

"What will we study today, then, Master?" Erin asked, refraining from allowing any hint of exasperation into her voice. Immar was a kind enough man, but her sharp tongue had earned her more than a few switchings over the years. She wasn't eager for more.

"We will study nothing today, apprentice." Immar said. "Today, you will leave the tower, and you will not return until you have correctly summoned a familiar."

"But sir!" Erin wailed in a tone she was starting to get too old for "I've tried that four times already! I can't do it."

"You can, and you will. It's long past time for you to get this over with. Now off with you! I've got work to do, and I can't have you underfoot." The wizard then turned and sat at his work bench, gesturing for a tome which drifted through the air and opened in front of him.

Erin wanted to argue, but she knew it would get her nowhere. She gave a deep, sarcastic bow to her Master's back, then bustled down the stairs to get ready to leave. She realized that, in her frustration, she had forgotten to mention the murmuring to her Master. But she was too upset with him to stomach asking him for any help right now. Fifteen minutes later she walked out the door at the base of the tower and into the surrounding forest. She wore a large hat to protect her from the sun, carried her tiny (and still nearly empty) book of spells in one hand, and her spear in the other. Around her waist was a belt containing what components Immar said she would need, and a few more she'd managed to slip off with in the hopes of trying them out herself.

Lacking any specific destination for the ritual, Erin decided to make the trek two miles north, to a small clearing where she sometimes came to read. Once there, she began using the red mud from her spell component's pouch to make the summoning circle on the surface of a large rock. It was an hour before she was finally satisfied that each and every line was perfect, every arcane word conjugated correctly, and every intersection at the precise point indicated as ideal by her studies.

Stepping back, she tossed a handful of dirt, a feather, a pebble, and a bit of tinder into the circle with one hand, while furiously signing the gestural elements of the spell with the other. She began to mutter the verbal component of the spell as well, but stopped when she saw the items she had tossed into the circle fall naturally to the surface, instantly destroying an hour's worth of labor as it marred her circle. Not that it mattered, if the spell was going to succeed the components would have been suspended in the air above the circle for a moment to allow her enough time to speak the words.

"Curse the Blackleafin' luck!" she shouted, relieved that Immar couldn't hear her gutter mouth.

After gathering her things, Erin began to wander through the woods again, nose deep in the spellbook she had brought. Her circles had been right, she had no doubt of that. She had checked them, and checked them, and checked them a dozen times over. That was far more precision than the spell even called for, so it couldn't be the problem. No, her problem was somewhere in her selection of material components. She knew she needed the dirt, but the rest of it was a bit of a puzzle. She'd tried making the circle out of tree sap, water, even bear feces. Nothing had channeled the arcane energies correctly to allow the other components to work.

A half hour of wandering and reading later, Erin arrived at a small lake where she sometimes swam. The sight reminded the fisherwoman's daughter that she hadn't had time to break her fast yet. She was famished. It was the work of twenty minutes to spear a fish, and only twenty more to cook it over a simple fire made with the flint and tinder in her spell component pouch.

As Erin ate, she thought about the spell. It wasn't the most complex spell she had ever tried to cast, by a long shot. Yet the exact method for casting it eluded her. For every other spell she'd ever learned, everything was very specific. The gestures, the words, the materials, all were specified in exact amounts by whatever spell she was casting. The caster could vary amounts slightly, or even substitute similar gestures or materials to create different effects, but the essential elements of the spell were always there. By contrast, the spell required to summon a familiar left several important spaces blank. Supposedly the intent was for the spell to be more personal, yet Erin didn't see how it could be personal when all the items she had selected had failed.

"Wait a moment!" She shouted, causing a squirrel to flee from a nearby bush. It was obvious! The spell being "personal" was not an invitation to try any elements which struck her fancy. The components had to be personal in order for her to form a personal bond with a creature.

Leaving her fish half eaten, she found another flat rock and knelt in front of it. Using the tip of her spear she made a small cut in her palm, wincing as she drew blood. Using the index finger of her opposite hand like a quill, Erin dabbed blood onto the rock, reassembling the summoning circle just as she had created it back in the clearing. She moved much more quickly now, less concerned that she had been missing some mistake now that she had latched on to this new hypothesis.

When the circle was completed, she began to glance around, trying to figure out what materials she could cast into the circle to be consumed by the spell. She tore a strip of cloth from her sleeves, then grabbed a few bones from the fish she had just caught. Finally, she used a rock to chip off a tiny splinter of wood from the shaft of her spear, then clumped all three into a ball of dirt. She repeated her actions from earlier, throwing the ball into the circle with one hand, while gesturing with the other. This time, the ball of dirt and everything in it did not succumb to gravity. Instead, they formed into a whirlwind, obscuring her vision of the circle. Erin grew excited, but didn't allow her voice to falter as she uttered the verbal portion of the spell.

"Arcanacus chryot zho uleer!"

A sudden gust of wind blew past Erin, whipping her hair into her face. She quickly brushed it back, only to see that the wind had carried everything away. Even the circle of her own blood was completely gone, as though it had never been there. And, in its place, sat a toad.

Grinning from ear to ear, Erin knelt and held out her hand.

"Hello there, little Loattie!" Erin said, having decided a long time ago that she would name her familiar after the stuffed toy she had loved as a younger child. "My name is Erin!"

The toad obediently hopped towards her waiting hand. The moment it touched her, the murmuring returned. It was louder now, like it was coming from just behind her. And now that she wasn't in a wizard's tower, it suddenly seemed to Erin a much more serious thing. She whirled around, holding Loattie to her chest, but saw nothing there which could have caused the cacophony of sound.

The murmuring began to change. The dozens of voices became one dozen, then half a dozen. Each voice seemingly merging into another, until there was only one voice left. One remaining voice which spoke int a terrifying, rasping sound. One whose every word seemed to slice through the word before it.

"Well done, Erin." the voice said. The murmuring returned when it--'he,' she now recognized--spoke, repeating his words over and over again in tones which seemed even more frightened of the original voice than Erin was.

"Who...what are you?" Erin shouted, trembling.

"Be not afraid, child." spoke the voice. "I am here to guide you."

Erin couldn't say she was relieved by that. "But who?!" she shouted.

"I have been with you all your life, child. And with your deepening powers of the arcane, I am now able to speak to you more easily."

Erin was feeling bolder now. "To the Nine Hells with all that, I asked you who are you?" She couldn't be sure, but she thought she heard the voice laugh.

"You know me, child. I am The Whispered One, The Secret Holder to whom you offer your insincere prayers each day."

Erin's eyes widened, and she nearly dropped Loattie to the ground in shock. She let her feet drop out from under her, landing hard on her knees.

" lord I am so sorry..." she began.

"Save your apologies, I have no stomach for them. Nor do I care for your prayers."

Erin nodded, speechless.

"What I want is you. To groom you, to grant you the opportunity to earn the right to be my chosen representative on the Material Plane. I will mold you, if you are worthy."

Erin remained silent. This was too much to take in. But then...the favor of a god could only help her...right? She raised her head, though the voice--the god--had offered her no form to meet eyes with.

"Yes, my lord Vecna. I will prove myself worthy of your favor."
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