Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Steve's Tools: Encounter Design.

I do a lot of work as an author, game designer, art director, layout artist, and publisher.

So I am here to post some more of the tools I use. This time lets look at some of the things I use to help design encounters with.

Template for writing location descriptions stolen from Martin Rayla of Treasure Tables (now of Gnome Stew)

Unusual Places you need ideas from the real world before you throw in magic or fantasy too keep your players from getting too used to simple terrain features.

Your encounter now has a stage, now thin about how your going to light it. What about the weather there? Even underground you can have shafts of rising and cooling air.

If your outdoors you can have some amazing or unusual phenomenon that creates strange light or perhaps the locals like to do fun things with mirrors or magic, spotlights, deep shadows, magically enforced utter darkness, strobe effects, scintillating colors, rain, fog, sleet, hail, lightning, wind, dust devils, tornados, hazards & disasters waiting to happen etc.

The Book of Challenges which Mike Selniker worked on, has an introduction that is worth the price of the whole book. But I will sum it up here for encounters:  Box them in, Split them up, Show them one thing and give them another, Make them dig deep, and Hang'em if they can't take a joke.

Use iconic monsters with new twists ! The monster template is perfect for this and its easy to adapt to any game. I like Advanced Bestiary by Mattew Sernett (everyone should own this, if you play any d20 fantasy game), Book of Templates: Deluxe Edition, the whole Template Troves series, I kinda like modifying monsters, If you had not noticed already.

Your players probably have a particular hatred or fear of one kind of monsters. That’s because they have encountered it before and you can milk that emotional reaction. The same goes for iconic Npcs as Brandon Hodge shows us (and Ken Hitte has been telling me for a while)!

New monsters should be used very rarely, fear of the unknown is great, but unless its truly a memorable encounter think about using something else first. Remember GM know these monsters as well and it cuts down on their prep time if they know the monster already. Tweaks and modifications can still surprise players.

Iconic Monsters also have the advantage of rarely being utterly retarded monsters, of course what do I know.

Finally combine everything you have here, remember what I said about show them one thing and give them another, what if your monster was in disguise? A fire giant disguised as frost giant, "Oh no mr. wizard don't use the fireball on me!", then you make him a Jotunblooded Giant, You can now stage the fight in a crooked forest,  with high winds at night, then a forest fire starts raging, and fire whirls start to appear!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Preview 20 Variant Foes: Red Dragons (Omug, The All-Consuming Fire)

This is a preview for 20 Variant Foes: Red Dragons

Illustration by K. Wucke


The All-Consuming Fire

CR 19

Where to begin my tale...
When I was in the egg, I somehow came to be in Hell. I do not know how my master acquired me. It’s not important. I hatched in flames and my master baptized me in hellfire. I serve as a...messenger of sorts for Our Dark Lord of Fire who rules in Damnation, whose very name strikes terror in the hearts of mortals. I keep this terror alive by giving his orders to lesser servants and eliminating threats and enemies in ways befitting his...reputation. I see in your eyes that you understand. And now it is you who will write his message to the world. The message is this: the Dark One is coming. You will all bow to him in proper fear and deference, or you will burn.

Omug is terrifying. Most frightening is his ability to appear human. He assumes this form most of the time. I only saw his dragon form through the aid of powerful divinations. He is a creature of ancient and terrible power. It is wise to avoid him.

Omug, The All-Consuming Fire
CR 19
XP 204,800
Male advanced hellfire old red dragon
LE Gargantuan dragon (fire)
Init +5; Senses dragon senses, see invisibility, smoke vision; Perception +30
Aura fire (10 ft. 1d6 fire), frightful presence (240 ft., DC 26)

AC 44, touch 7, flat-footed 43 (+4 armor, +1 Dex, +29 natural, +4 shield, -4 size)
hp 367 (21d12+231); regeneration 32 (evil, good)
Fort +23, Ref +13, Will +18
DR 10/magic; Immune fire, magic missile, paralysis, sleep; SR 30
Weaknesses vulnerability to cold

Speed 40 ft., fly 250 ft. (clumsy)
Melee bite +35 (6d6+24 plus hellfire), 2 claws +35 (3d8+16 plus hellfire), 2 wings +35 (2d6+8 plus hellfire), tail slap +35 (2d8+24 plus hellfire)
Space 20 ft.; Reach 15 ft. (20 ft. with bite)
Special Attacks breath weapon (60 ft. cone, DC 33, 8d10 fire plus 8d10 divine), crush (4d6+24, DC 31, Medium or smaller), hellfire, manipulate flames (70 ft.), tail sweep (2d6+24, DC 31)
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 21st; concentration +27)
At will—detect magic, pyrotechnics, suggestion (DC 19), wall of fire

Spells Known (CL 11th; concentration +17)
5th (5/day)—cone of cold (DC 21), waves of fatigue
4th (7/day)—bestow curse (DC 20), enervation, greater invisibility
3rd (7/day)—displacement, fireball, haste, slow (DC 19)
2nd (7/day)—alter self, darkness, resist energy, see invisibility, web
1st (7/day)—alarm, mage armor, ray of enfeeblement (DC 17), shield, true strike
0 (at will)—acid splash, arcane mark, bleed (DC 16), mending (DC 16), message, prestidigitation, ray of frost, read magic, touch of fatigue (DC 16)

Before Combat Omug begins each day by casting mage armor on himself. Unless surprised, he also casts see invisibility and shield on himself. All of these are included in his statistics.
During Combat Confident he cannot die, Omug begins combat with his breath weapon, followed by landing and crushing opponents. He then uses his abilities as best fits the situation. Once reduced below 250 hit points, he takes to the air again, executing strafing runs on his opponents where he alternates between using his breath weapon, and snatching opponents and dropping them from 250 ft. in the air.
Morale Omug has not been given permission to die, so he flees if reduced below 100 hit points.

Str 43, Dex 12, Con 33, Int 22, Wis 23, Cha 22
Base Atk +21; CMB +39; CMD 50 (54 vs. trip)
Feats Ability Focus (breath weapon), Flyby Attack, Hover, Improved Initiative, Improved Multiattack, Improved Natural Attack (bite, claw), Multiattack, Snatch, Wingover
Skills Appraise +30, Bluff +30, Climb +40, Fly +11, Intimidate +30, Perception +30, Sense Motive +30, Spellcraft +30, Stealth +13, Survival +30, Swim +40, Use Magic Device +30
Languages Abyssal, Celestial, Common, Draconic, Ignan, Infernal, Undercommon

Special Abilities
Hellfire (Su): While half the damage dealt by Omug is fire damage, the other half is raw divine power which is not subject to fire resistance. In addition, all of his melee and ranged attacks deal +5d6 fire and +5d6 divine damage.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Gaming Music (or Writing Music)

In this segment I will be posting some of the music I run in the background when I game.  

One of the things I like to do when I had a full sound system set up for background music was to create tow different files one for combat music and one for roleplaying or as video games would put it exploration music.

I occasionally would chose a particular song for a particular Npcs. Since moving to texas I don't use music as much as I used to.  

These also serve now as background music when I write. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Beyond The Cover: The Secrets of Adventuring, Taskshaper Introduction.

I thought I might start spending Mondays showing you a glimpse beyond what you see in the normal previews of our books.  Give  you a big piece of meat. Ed Healy told me he really liked the Introduction of the Taskshaper in The Secrets of Adventuring (PDF or Print +PDF) so I though I would share it with everyone. Oh and yes that is a taskshaper pictured on the cover.

New Base Class: Taskshaper

Owain Northway,

You hunt for the secrets of the lost children, those stolen away from this world, tricked by beings who see no value in truth. I have had enough of secrets, I also wish to change the way the world perceives us, and so I will give you truth, I will tell you of the taskshapers.  

Lanshuil Lostdottir

I am a taskshaper, and I will tell you the story of my kind. We are not changelings, we are those that were replaced by them, we are not doppelgangers, though now we often work with them. We are not a race; we are a class of individuals who for the most part share a common background of abduction, which has left us emotionally scarred. We are the mortal children snatched by the fey, kidnapped from our cribs, our playgrounds, and even our schools. We are the lostlings, taken to the primal enchanted homeland of the fey, the secret of our true heritage kept from us, oftentimes our memories altered by magic, especially if we were old enough to remember our previous life. We became blank slates for the fey to write upon.
Auberyon, the Solstice King, used his gift for deceit and the magics of the fair folk to transform us into adaptive tools, claiming we would serve to stop a fell and encroaching threat from the mortal realms. I believe this was his original intent but over time when the threat did not manifest we become something else we became entertainment. The Solstice King and many other fey now do this simply for their own amusement.
Then came the day we learned the great secret, our kindred were being taken to the realm of dreams to perform in a blood sport, a place where taskshaper’s died for the Solstice King’s  pleasure. Horrified by the betrayal we banded together and swore this would not be our fate, and so we brought about our own vanishing.
Learning the true intent of our captors, that there was no great noble purpose to our existence, we cast about seeking meaning, when we learned that the fey kidnapped us from our true lives. We thought to go home, and so the majority of the taskshapers banded together and escaped to the mortal realms, our true home, disguised in various forms and scattering so that the Solstice King could not corral us like so much cattle. Not that we knew what we would come home to find, so many of us taken as small children, barely remembering the vaguest shadows of what home might have been. Nevertheless, we wanted something real, something independent of the whimsy of a callous fey lord.
We hoped our return would be a grand celebration, instead, we found that no one remembered us; no one had ever missed us, for we had been replaced by changelings. Moreover, many of us could not even take revenge upon the changelings who had taken our identities. We were bereft of solace, for not even the ashes of our stolen lives remained. Tragically, we had not accounted for the movement of time in the enchanted lands of the fair folk, most of us had returned long years after our abduction.   
And so it began, we had returned to a world no longer our own, misplaced in time, but with all the talents and skills taught to us by the eldritch fey of the primal world.


Taskshapers like myself, bereft of all else, long for a purpose in life, and I along with them still desire a threat to strive against, to fulfill the emptiness left inside us by the false promises of the fey. Some like me become hidden guardians striving to defend some small remnant of our stolen lives. Others seek masters worthy of our service, becoming agents suited to nearly any task but most especially the betrayal-ridden shadow play of espionage. Others of our ilk seek out the trust and companionship of a loyal fellowship and will not hesitate to sacrifice everything including their very lives to preserve that circle of friendship.
Many of my fellow taskshapers ultimately choose this lifestyle because it is one of the few places we can find acceptance, as few other communities, professions, or tradecrafts will trust shapeshifters. Moreover, while some of my fellows chose to hide amongst you, if locals discover their true nature they flee to a life of adventure away from the prejudice and hatred the world holds for fey-touched lostlings. Ultimately, I believe that this lifestyle may have also be part of a tragic curse placed upon us by the Solstice King, denying us a permanent home since we chose to abandon his.     


Due to our shared upbringing in the primal plane of dark fey, taskshapers share a number of common traits. Most of us share a wild if not fully feral nature having spent our adolescents learning the hedonistic practices of the Solstice Court. Pulled away from our parents at an early age, many of us never truly grow up and seek to relive and recapture our lost childhood. The theft of our identities and our rightful place in the world has also left most of us are psychologically scarred, cynical, and skeptical, we trust very few people and expect little to nothing from people or the world, this has led us to value the beauty of the moment rather than worrying about the future. Moreover, we place the highest value on those who have earned our trust. Some of us therefore act with fits of sensual whimsy while others are grim and distance, regardless all of us are painfully lonely. 


It should come as no surprise to you that due to our ever changing and shifting nature that we taskshapers are usually creatures of chaos, however I know those who take up the neutrality of nature, and those how hold to a rigid code of personal conduct that would press the honor the greatest knight. Ultimately, we can go our own way or serve any of the forces of chaos, evil, good, or law.  
While I myself spend my days searching for my lost son, I have met a stonewarden gargoyle who they fey took from his rookery when he was still an egg. He killed his entire clan when he returned from the Solstice Court, for their failure to notice his disappearance. The authorities supposedly executed him for his crime but he now serves the Mournful Order of Kinslayers as one of their honorable assassins.


Taskshapers generally choose two paths when it comes to the divine. First there are those such as myself that curse and rage against the heavens for allowing this tragic fate to befall us. A few of them have joined with other fell powers and seek to actively overthrow the rule of heaven; others simply refuse to worship any deity.  
 The second group tends to worship deities they discovered during their time with the fey and believe these deities helped them discover the truth of the Solstice King’s deception. These deities tend to include cunning, laughter, madness, rebels, scouts, shapeshifters, tragedy, travelers, tricksters, thieves, and wine. I myself give praise to Our Mother of Many Ways who presides over badgers, creativity, geniuses, gnomes, half- wits, hyenas, inspiration, intuition, invention, jackals, lurkers, madness, oracles, prophecy, shapeshifters, tragedy, wine, and wolverines.
All of the above those are simple generalities and there are always exceptions to our common beliefs.
Govan Goneson is a devotee of The Great Church of the Pantheon believing that all of our tragedy was a test of our faith in Sovereigns of Heaven. While Telyn Wayward who fought in the Coliseum Morpheuon and has totally dedicated himself to the martial benefits offered by his talent for shapeshifting is an adherent of Our War Marshal in Heaven.


All taskshapers share one piece of common background; the denizens of the faerielands kidnapped us and left a changeling in our place. The newest of our kind the renegade taskshapers rescued, taking them on as apprentices. For this is what awakens the gift of shapeshifting within us. Yet the fey chose potentials for a reason, and therefore we have a few common background traits. The first of these is the easiest to recognize as before being taken we showed a propensity for not giving any thought to the consequences of their actions, and as such were often running away from trouble. The second of these traits was much harder for the fair folk to determine but with their ability to walk unseen throughout our lives, they would eventually learn that we tended to delight in the mess we could make of other people’s lives.
In their realm, the otherworldly fey used their magic and lies to manipulate us, until we consented to their torture, fleshly violations, and other things that were far worse so that our gift of shapeshifting could be awakened. Myself, the fair folk seized after I stole the roses from my sister’s wedding, they took me while I was sitting on the limb of a high tree watching people scramble about tiring to find my sister’s roses. The greatest of tragedies though was when the Solstice king seduced me and then later took my child from me, I still have not found him. 
This is another example besides having what could have been our lives stolen away from us, we all have had something even more tragic happen to us while we were in the realm of the faeries. Sometimes this does not happen until after we escape the Courts of the Solstice King, and it is my belief that some fell curse uttered by Auberyon haunts us still even after we leave wrecking misfortune throughout our lives. However, not everyone agrees with me that this is the case. 


Fey, no matter the court, do not care about what mortal race you belong to. They will steal from anyone. However, one will do tend to find that we belonged to cultures that had a greater chance of interaction with the faerielands. As such dwarves of nearly any region and the stonewarden gargoyles of Questhaven are the least likely to become taskshapers.
A few of the satyrs I knew, who were given to talk in excess when drunk on fey wine have told me a dark and disturbing tale about why humans tend to dominate our numbers. That some of the outlying villages in the Questhaven protectorate near the Dire Weald give children the fey select to the Solstice Court as part of fell bargains forged during the age of the Cynmark Dynasty when the Dread Lich ruled the lands.


Taskshapers can get along with the members of nearly any other profession though in general Paladins, Cavaliers, and Samurai often have the hardest time trusting us do to our ability to disguise our appearance, though we seldom harbor any ill will towards them. I have found myself most at home with druids, illusionists, transmuters, and rogues. What I have seen as the most violate of relationships occurs between divine healers and taskshapers who wish the destruction of all that is divine. It is difficult for most to turn away from the benefits of magical healing while still maintaining their hatred for what the Sovereigns of Heaven have allowed to happen to us. 


Within adventuring companies, and especially the Questor’s Society, we taskshapers often serve as the greatest of spies being able to change our appearance and our personalities. We can also serve as gifted scouts able to range far and wide by wing or by fin, often going where others cannot. Some of us become spiritualists spending time with the creatures we imitate, and seeking our own private lore. Others of my kind serve as companions to other shapeshifters from doppelgangers to lycanthropes often passing on our lore so that these creatures learn of our abilities. However, like me many of my kith and kin are outsiders searching for what the fey took away from us, a feeling of belonging and feeling of purpose in this world, or seeking for the truth of their former identity to the muddle of altered and false memories. These and others like me have taken up the life of an adventure and quest.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Steve's Tools: Adventure Design

I do a lot of work as an author, game designer, art director, layout artist, and publisher. So I thought I would on Fridays start posting some of the tools I use.

I have an ENnie nomination for my work on To Kill or Not To Kill so I feel I can show a few good tools to help you with adventure design. Therefore, that is what we will start with.

Adventure Builder by Wolfgang Baur: This article is my bible when I am thinking about writing a new adventure be it for Pathfinder, Arcana Evolved, Fate, or Diceless while a lot of the article is D&D specific it is really a great review source even after you have written your adventure to see what you have missed. (There are six parts to this and you should read them all.

Ray Winniger’s Dungeoncraft Essay’s: Ray’s rules for dungeoncraft still guide everything I write to this day, I love adding secrets to my campaign settings. I have expanded upon them always making them the answers to important questions but everyone should read and/or reread these articles.  I have all the dragon magazines in print and pdf but I love this place for collecting them all.

Let’s Read Dungeon Magazine from the Beginning: You want to learn how to make great adventures? Well how about learning from other folks mistakes, as well as learning what works. I actually do recommend going through the back issues and reading these. I can say the same about reading the reviews of the more successful parts of the Pathfinder Adventure Paths.

How to properly use dashes in text by Sean K. Reynolds; I really wish his Freelancer Advice and Punishment document was available online J

You all meet in a Tavern... by David Morgan-Mar. No, you do not meet in a tavern! It’s way too cliché, so look at this list of different options and come up with something different.

The Big List of Rpg Plots by S. John Ross. You need an idea for an adventure and you need a twist to make things go in a different direction? It is not that complicated because it Mr. Ross shows you what has gone before.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

1001 Spells Mega-Sale Breakdown!

The DrivethruRpg/RpgNow sale of 1001  Spells was a rousing success!

1001 Spells PDF was released to the public February 09, 2012, the same day as the release of the Hardcover via Cubicle Seven (which eventually sold out). It has always been priced an $19.99 for the PDF and $39.99 for the Hardcover. I have only ever discounted it previously during the GM’s Day Sale, the Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales and recently at a one off Pathfinder Rpg sale at DrivethruRpg/RpgNow, and during those times its usually discounted no more than 30% off.

After reading Steve Weick’s Blog post about Pricing for income, that discussed the $5.00 Ptolus sale, I felt that once the Print on Demand 2nd Printing of 1001 Spells was ready it would be a good candidate for such a deep discount steam-like sale.  The timing of this worked out really well as this was also the weekend we released not only the updated Hardcover but also were able to sell the Hero Lab files through Wolf’s Lair Development.

And though my push for that weekend meant I would not get to take advantage of a “event” I felt strongly that 1001 Spells would still do well and it did. But don’t take my word for it. Let’s look at 1001 Spells sales numbers at DrivethruRpg

(Note this does not include our direct sales numbers, print copies sold, or the store sales numbers, nor does this include the 101 Spell series numbers this product was a compilation of).
1001 Spells (PFRRG) PDF total sales at DrivethruRpg/Rpgnow  prior to the mega-sale.
Copies Sold          Gross Sales Revenue         Net Revenue
153                           $2,416.47                         $1,625.86

1001 Spells (PFRRG) PDF August 2012 sales at DrivethruRpg/Rpgnow.
Copies Sold          Gross Sales Revenue         Net Revenue
2                              $39.98                              $25.99

1001 Spells (PFRRG) PDF July 2nd to August 27th 2013 sales at DrivethruRpg/Rpgnow .
Copies Sold          Gross Sales Revenue         Net Revenue
5                              $99.95                              $64.97

1001 Spells (PFRRG) PDF Mega sale at DrivethruRpg/Rpgnow (08/28/13-09/01/13) .
Copies Sold          Gross Sales Revenue         Net Revenue
425                         $1,270.75                         $825.99

What is also interesting is the number of copies sold of the hardback book as well.

1001 Spells (PFRPG) Print on Demand Hardback B&W
Copies Sold          Gross Sales Revenue         Net Revenue
12                           $479.88                            $212.86

I am also hearing good things from Wolf’s Lair development and over a 100 copies of the Hero Lab file have been sold ($9.99 per copy).

Special Thanks to Steve, Scott, and Matt over at DrivethruRpg for working with me to make this happen, as well as special thanks to Marie Small and Dave Paul without whom I could not have ever created this product. I would also like to thank Monte Cook who paved the way for this success by having the guts to be the first guy to do a deep discount sale.

Finally I would like to thank all 590 customers who have bought our product through DrivethruRpg/RpgNow (as well as the folks who bought it other places).   

Steven D. Russell
Rite Publishing