[Copy] Work Intensive GMing - creating a world

Ralts Bloodthorne

First Post
OK, all thanks to Buttercup for putting this in a Word Document so we can revive this.

Now, if I can just get a moderator to change the title of the other thread to "Creating a World" or something like that...

Anyway, without further ado, there is the old thread...

Tim Willard’s rules of good DMing

The #1 Rule: Know your players and respect their abilities/desires.

Everyone is different. Make a nice list at the beginning of the campaign, and ask everyone to rate how much they want of each, on a scale of 1 to 10:
• Roleplaying
• Hack n Slash
• Politics
• Magic
• Psionics
• Exploration
• Drama
• High Power
• Starting Level
• Starting Gear
• Monstrous Foes
• Moral Dilemmas
• Mysteries
• Dungeon Crawls
• Divine Intervention

This will give you an idea of what they want from the setting. Giving the players a choice of starting level can make a difference. Drop the lowest and highest, get the average, and set that as your campaign baseline, with the highest/lowest as the extremes.

Take the pre-campaign prep time to give the player's a back-story on the location they are starting in, local rulers, famous people, major events. Make a sheet with the different information based by character class, according to the amounts of ranks in Knowledge (Local History) and Knowledge (Nobility) and Knowledge (History) that you can snip apart and hand to character's after creation.

Print up a copy of all house rules, 3rd party rules/material, RAW adjustments that will be standard, and hand them out.

Have notes on local culture, including mode of dress, customs, meal time, etc. Many players will skip over it, but you can make it work. Having culture gives the PC's something to fit within, and gives the players an easier time of coming up with back-stories.

Agree on the following rule: Major NPCs will be no more than 3 levels/CR higher than the highest PC. Average NPC in a group will be lowest PC-3 (or 1/4 CR). Agree to the theory of: As a GM my NPC villains can be ruthless, conniving, and have plans that span months or even years. Sometimes, they will know your weakness. Finally, the most important: Foe level totals will not exceed more than 150% of the parties total levels.

Insist that the player's create a PARTY. Yes, they can be individuals and have individual goals and desires, but they must be compatible.

Insist on a credible back story. All PC's must have relatives. If all their relatives are dead, make sure to penalize them in some way. I know it sounds cruel, but too many times the players try to avoid entanglements with the old "All family killed and eaten by rabid shrews."

Have a village for the PC's to explore, start off your introduction phase.

Devote the FIRST NIGHT to character introduction and creation. Include a few problems, maybe a giant spider or something to kill that fits within the framework you have already established.

Then, listen to any complaints, desires, comments. Perhaps people have changed their minds about what they want, maybe they seriously dislike or find offensive something.

So far, you've devoted a lot of work, well, welcome to being a GM. Still, insist that your player's keep notes. If they don't, then expect you to replay a conversation for their 18 Int wizard, just go on about how Baron Wunderbyte kept blathering on and on while the PC was watching the woman in the courtyard outside go through her morning exercises.

Remember the following thing, and make sure the players understand it also: YOU are the ultimate arbiter of decisions, and they should trust you as much as you trust them to keep accurate track of consumables and hit points.

The Second Big Rule:

No campaign/adventure/encounter survives 1 round of contact with the PC's.

This means you need to familiarize yourself with the player's habits and thought processes, familiarize yourself with their playing style and how they utilize their abilities. This will allow you to keep a step or two ahead of them.

DO NOT USE THIS TO GIVE THE OPPONENTS AN EDGE! This allows you to accurately predict the outcomes of fights. Remain fair and impartial, and use it your advance planning to figure out what your NPCs will do.

That may sound contradictory, but here's a good rule of thumb:

A Monster/NPC has roughly 5% chance of correctly predicting an opponent's actions per CR/Level.

By deciding in advance what a monster/NPC is going to do, when a PC asks "What does it look like XXXXX intends" you can answer firmly. The same goes for monsters, but it requires either a Knowledge (Tactics) [A skill I highly recommend be transferred from d20 Modern, along with the Teamwork feat] with a DC of 15+PC's level, or a die roll of 25-creatures Level/CR.

Eventually, you'll be able to adjudicate this in your head logically.

Rule #3:

The player's don't exist in a vacuum and their actions have effects.

This produces two effects:

#1: The PLAYERS feel like their actions make a difference. Keep a reputation modifier (snatch it out of the d20 Modern SRD) in your notes, and there's a chance that the PC's are recognized, with good AND ill effects.

#2: Foolish or self-destructive actions come back and bite them, making it so that they will think about it.

To further it, you can handle Munchkins in the setting without destroying the game: Use the Old Gunslinger parable. These tough guys hear of the munchkin, and go out to prove their better than the PC. YOU have an unlimited amount of these wannabe gunslingers, the Munchkin will eventually learn his lesson. See, the wannabe doesn't call out the whole party, just the Munchkin.

Rule #4

Make things logically extend. Is the city a haven for mages? Add rival guilds and political power groups, random monsters that break loose and rampage until stopped. Laws regarding magic.

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Ralts Bloodthorne

First Post

Now that you have the basics of the party makeup, the characters, their backgrounds, and the player's desires, you can come up with adventures based on what they know, what they have written in their background, character description/goals, and you can start tailoring adventures to the group.

IF you possess what is considered a serious dog, the Hero Builder's Guidebook, this can actually be of use. Offer players the option of using the past history to help them out. This can even give you filler for history, and make history intersect and affect the PC's back story.

Grab about 20 names from each race and attribute a famous deed to them, making it a family line. Perhaps the PC's know one of the descendants, or are rivals of that house, or were betrayed by that house.

If someone wishes to play a Paladin, then in the name of all the Gods, CODIFY THE CODE THAT THE PC PALADIN FOLLOWS! Introduce the Paladin's mentor, the chapter house they started their career in, and a back story on why they are adventuring rather than guarding the faithful or places important to the church.

Rule #5 fits in here...

Be flexible. Allow the campaign to be derailed quickly if the PC's want to, BUT KEEP THE ORIGINAL STORY ARC PROGRESSING WITHOUT THEM! If they knew they were to stop an goblin shaman from gaining the ancient skull of their totem, and they blow it off to kill pimps in the alleys, then after awhile, have them hear news of a tribe of goblins that are destroying the King's Guard, or have managed to take over a major military fortification.

Have 2 notebooks. One should have section separators. Separate each section as being wholly devoted to a PC. Jot down favorite strategies, notable events, favorite sayings, etc, for each PC in there, including who did the killing blow on major NPCs.

In the other notebook, jot down the parties accomplishments.

After the game, while it's still fresh in your mind, go through and decide what BBEG's or even LBEG's might have noticed what actions, what enemies they might have made, who they might have impressed, etc.

This can be especially important in role-play/diplomacy heavy games.

Don't be afraid to pass notes:

Sometimes, I have prepared notes. Major combats/encounters, I have spot check results based on the individual PC ranked out per possible results, and these are handed out on a spot check.

Don't be afraid to pass a note to the rogue that reads: "Roll a d20 and jot down the number, then give this back to me." What does it mean? Nothing. Or maybe it's their Will Save to resist a curse that a villager they'd offended hired a hedge wizard to cast on the PC.

A Failure Isn't Always Obvious

At the opening of the combat, the PC makes a spot check. The player rolls a 1. Does that mean he doesn't see anything?

No. That means he's completely off track.

How many times, in historical battles, have there been series cases of mistaken identities. Pass a note to the player with a 1 that it looks like the area's clear for a ray attack or fireball, when a PC is in the way.

Miscount the number (too high or low) of enemies. Have the PC completely miss the fact that there is TWO wizards in that group, not two.

It's the Fog of War, baby!

A critical failure on a Craft (alchemy) check doesn't mean the potion is bad. Of course, if you drink that Cure Light Wounds potion, your hair falls out and your skin turns green.

It's good in a pinch, but is it worth it?

If you do something campaign setting altering, you better have a DAMN good reason for it

This goes along with the PC's being able to get advance warning for it.

Let's take, for example, the:

Player: "I use my craft skill to make a potion"
GM: (without rolling or asking for a roll) "You fail. As you're making the potion, it suddenly melts through the bottom of your kettle and eats a big hole in your lab floor!"
Player: "WTF? I have 14 ranks in Craft (Alchemy)!!!"

You can turn this into a beautiful campaign side-arc by the following:

GM: "Startled, you check your ingredients and recipe. Yup, everything is OK. You begin brewing another potion, one you learned when you first began to learn alchemy. Suddenly, the vapors ignite, ruining the equipment!"
Player: "What the hell? This isn't right. I'm going to go check with some other craftsmen to see if everything is OK."
GM: You check with the glass maker and the blacksmith, and both of them admit they aren't able to make anything good since this morning. Something is definitely wrong.

NOW, is when you listen to player supposition, and decide the real cause. Is it the Gond is horribly injured and dying somewhere on the astral plane? Was the village cursed? Did an evil wizard curse all the craftsmen?

More than likely, the PC's will come up with something fantastic on their own.

Don't want the PC's to create items, but a player took the feat anyway?

Easy solutions:

You can make ONE magic item of the type per time you take the feat.
You can make a single magic item of the type for every level above the level you took the feat at.
Require exotic components/locations/creation methods.

Placing controls/restrictions on a campaign can actually add depth and flavor to it.

Did a player lose their character due to some misfortune early in the fight?

Have the player help YOU by taking the part of the opposition, and you just adjudicate. If the PC is dead, let the player know that the level of his next PC depends on his performance.

This will result in balls to the wall combats, without a GM VS Players mentality creeping in. It also keeps the players of dead/out of action characters involved.

I actually saw a player have a goblin rogue coup de grace his own PC during a fight to keep the cleric from bringing him out. It was a logical decision, and perfectly within the goblin's mentality, but it still startled me.

If the players are bored/unhappy, the game will suck. Always make sure that on the average, everyone is having a good time.

Ralts Bloodthorne

First Post
Threat Levels...

Every GM sooner or later makes this mistake: They make the encounter too tough, or too easy.

Too easy is simple to handle, either reduce the XP, or reduce the reward, or don't alter it, rewarding the PC's for excellent tactics, luck, and accomplishment.

However, somehow, your "minor threat" has blasted all the PC's to oblivion, and everyone is dead.


Now what?

Well, there's two schools of thought.

Kill them.
DM fiat it.

Ask for a 5 minute break "to cool off" everyone.

Come up, real quick, with someone who could have armed those opponents with mercy weapons. Maybe it's time to pull the Might Static Man out of beat-down land, or bring out Lord Wimblekrust III.

Have them captured.
Have their souls separated from their bodies, and they have to jump from body to body, having only 24 hours per body, and locate their body before the ritual takes place.
SOMETHING! ANYTHING! Just keep the ball rolling and act like it was your plan all along if you want. A better idea, is at the end of the 5 minute break, say: "Well, that didn't go as planned. BUT I HAVE AN IDEA!" and hit the ground running.

Of course, this ties in with:

Character Death...

Everyone hates it. It happens. You blow a roll. You deliberately hold the tide against the enemy while the rest of the group run for it.

How you handle character death is up to you, but sometimes, it's good to hear some ideas...

Personally, I hate it. A lot of times it screws up my current, hidden, or future story arcs. The bard is supposed to be captured and used to summon a greater demon lord, ala Rock n Rule, but now she's dead, a pile of dust after being disintegrated. Great. There goes 6 months of work.

But wait! It can be fixed.

To many of you, especially the old 1E/2E GM's, you can probably remember every single option I'm about to toss out.

The party's patron has them resurrected, for a price.
The God allows the PC to return, but altered or with a major debt owed.
A priest/church agrees to raise the character, for a price.
They aren't actually dead, it was their twin/clone/an illusion, etc. (Soap Opera/Comic Book time)

BUT, if overused, this can take the fear out of the game. A sparing hand works best, otherwise a PC who feels that it's their turn to be the focus of the campaign gets an invincible attitude.

A way to handle these jackasses is for the party to discover a commoner that was the REAL focus, and now they get to protect the NPC, while the PC who was supposed to be the focus lost their PC for being a jackass.

You can reward a player of a deceased character if the death was heroic by allowing them to come in at higher level than normally allowed, permitting an equipment/skill/feat bonus, or maybe a template/PrC that was normally outside of the player's purview.

A fun one that should be held for once is the "Dead" PrC. Over the course of 5 levels, they slowly lose the appearance of the walking dead and immunities of the undead, but they are forever marked by their journey back to the land of the living.

I do believe that the Dead PrC appeared in a XXXX of Portable Hole Full of Beer, but I can't be sure. I'll check my hard drives and CD's for a copy of it.

Once, it works, especially for low magic settings, and is fairly creepy.

NEVER arbitrarily kill a PC, either through concentrated effort for no reason, or just "BANG! YOU'RE DEAD!" but keep the fear of death there.

Has a single PC offended a power lord? Wait a few weeks, and have assassin's target JUST him.

Oh, wait, the PC's go to the jakes and baths together.

You gotta separate them. I know that split-party GMing sucks, but you need to get good at it. You need to learn how to use this valuable tool. All it takes is practice. Separate the party at times, by magic, tactics, traps, or circumstances.

But do it!

Learn to be able to be flexible about altering the power of an encounter if the group divides, learn to quickly handle the PC's going to different parts of town.

The party has separated to do some shopping, and one PC is slated as the target of an assassination. Give another PC who has just mundane shopping that NPCs stat-block, and tell him: "KILL!"

Take care of other players while the battle rages. Make sure to give a non-XP award to the player of the assassin, succeed or fail.

But learn to handle split party, and get the party used to splitting up without getting attacked by everything in the MM every time they separate. Don't punish them for separating, or they won't.

Depending on how the players wanted the campaign, things will fall into the following category:

Very Rare

I sit down, and decide what category feats, spells, psionics, items, and equipment all fall into.

For Spellcraft, Uncommon adds a +2 to the DC, Rare adds +4, and Very Rare adds a +8, and Exotic adds a +16.

That's for everything from learning the spell, to IDing it during combat, to their chances of finding it.

I do the same for psionics. Even learning that psionic at the next level and alter the DC according to the above.

Equipment, the price alters depending on it's availability. Try finding a 11th Century Katana in 12 Century Central America.

Feats are a bit different, and only rarely do I apply this. Mostly to stuff that can unbalance, or doesn't seem to fit the campaign setting. But I do it occasionally.

BUT, make sure you present the list of common and uncommon to the PC's. With feats, do it all.

PrC's, my advice, decide which ones you have to be part of a group or guild, or you need a mentor for, and which ones the PC can develop on their own.

You can debate with yourself over using the "contest" or "proving" form of PrC entry. There was an article or something on it. Require a PC to make skill checks, demonstrate profiency with weaponry or magic, in order to join the PrC order. (Maybe it was in Unearthed Arcana, I disremember)

Now, why do the "Common/Uncommon/Rare" stuff with spells, feats, etc?

It helps you, the GM, somewhat control the balance of power within the campaign setting, and can also provide an identifying "mark" on NPCs.

If two weapon fighting AND two weapon defense is only available to the Dervishes of the Blazing Sun, and a man attacks them in a dark alley with it, the group knows a lot more.

It adds a sense of... I don't know... realism and strangeness to a campaign setting. Like you're exploring a new world, not altering your PC according to the PHB for the optimum build.

Yes, players are going to discover the best/optimum build according to the feats/abilities you have as common, BUT, you can make that a "common build" for professional warriors/mages/etc, making them region specific.

Of course, when the PC's journey to a distance land, giving them a +2 Circumstance bonus to attack or defense or spell penetration, and a -2 Circumstance penalty on other parts wouldn't be completely outrageous...

"The orc whips out a strangely curved sword and begins whirling it in a strange attack pattern, the weaving of the steel strange and unfamiliar!" would put them on guard.

But remember, the PC's attack patterns are strange and exotic to the NPCs also.

Doing this can create a sense of wonder. BUT, strangeness and exotic becomes familiar. A quick and dirty rule of thumb? The penalty is reduced by 1 after 20-PC level-Int Bonus fights against foes from that region.

Again, your notebooks and GM backwork come into play.

Yes, it adds additional paperwork for the GM, BUT it can pay off.

There's probably the best advice I've seen for keeping a campaign under control. If players want X and you aren't really keen on adding it to your campaign, make it rare. If they REALLY want it, they can convince the rest of the players to come along and help them get it. Built in campaign hooks that allow you to balance off your campaign without forcing you to say no. Now that's nice.

Ralts Bloodthorne

First Post
Player #6: "My cleric kneels down and asks: "Oh powerful Zeus, will we defeat Lord Crookydteeth on the morrow?" and casts Divination."
GM: "Anyone got a gun? I have a need to blow my brains out."

If you haven't faced it yet... You will.

Divination spells, especially the old 1E ones, were bad enough to make a GM curious about the taste of gun oil. They ask about a future, that can hinge on dice rolls, split second decisions, etc, but still, the PC's are willing to find a white ram and sacrifice it and 10% of their wealth, or whatever stricture you have placed.

(I've seen player's hunt down moldy old prophecies hidden in libraries buried by the eruption of a volcano just to see if there was any hint of coming events they were involved in. Don't laugh, you give them a chance, they'll do it to you)

This can drive you crazy, and a vague answer feels like a rip-off to the PC's, and feels like being a cheapskate to you.

So, it's time to fall back on three methods:

#1: The Ancients of Our World: It's time to pull an Oracle of Delphi, a Fates. Use verse. Try to make self-fulfilling prophecies, give specifics that seem like gibberish at the time. If the PC's are hitting Divination level, YOU need to prepare or eliminate divinations all together. The Mallorean and The Belgariad show how to wrestle with prophecy. Have it seem to make no sense unless you know what the hell the prophet, diviner is talking about.

"The midnight shaft speeds from he who bears the eagle's eye and pierces that which brings woe." could have been the divination cast the morning Smaug attacked the town. It makes no sense out of context.

Never forget, they are asking the future of other-worldly beings. What the PC's call each other and themselves have no meaning. The alienist they are paying good money too may refer to the Paladin of Torm as "The Hammerer of the Hands of Cyric" due to his habit of smashing worshippers of Cyric in the face with a warhammer.

A fireball may be "The eruption of the sun!"

#2: Short and easy answers.

Cleric: "Where is the exact location of Count Destructo?"
GM: "The spirit replies: "In his outhouse."
Party: "D'OH!"
Cleric: "Where is the outhouse located?"
GM: "The spirit replies: "Behind his manor.""
Party: "DAMMIT!"
Cleric: "Where is Count Destructo's manor where the outhouse he is located at located?"
GM: "The spirit replies: "On the King's Southern Road. I AM FREE!" and the spirit vanishes."
Cleric: "Well, that was a waste."

BZZZZ!!! No it wasn't. You now know the following: Count Destructo is a living man. He uses an outhouse. He's on the Southern King's Road.

You gave PLENTY of data during the divination. Spirits, devils, djinni, efreet, etc, will give the shortest, simplest answers as possible, as they delight in the frustration.

#3: This is what I call: STOP CALLING!
Every time the Cleric casts a divination spell, the God has to answer. But (s)he's a busy deity, so he pawns it off on an arch angel. The arch-angel is busy planning his next attack on his enemy, so he pawns it off on an angel. The angel is busy making sure that Cleric Ima Holidood survives this assassination, so he pawns it off on a cherub. The cherub's feeling lazy, so he gives it to his stupid cousin.

Who arrives half naked, dripping wet, and covered in soap suds.


This option should be used if divination spells are being used as a crutch to replace player investigation and inventiveness.

Still, divinations are a pain in the butt. For divinations, the players must accept that spirits, gods, demons, etc, all affect the world. This player choice removes the outer powers from aloof and uncaring to meddling and pervasive.

Plus, they aren't the only ones who can perform these. A good rule of thumb is: If more than 1 divination per mission or level is used, for every two beyond this limit, allow their enemies 1 divination attempt. Use the PC's next divination attempt as a guideline for how successful the NPCs is.

But, I still haven't helped all that much yet. Stick with me...

How to determine usefulness?

"Will we beat the troll" is completely random or painfully obvious. For something like this, if it's totally random and up to luck, break out the Magic-8 ball. If it says: "Outlook Good" than adjust the encounter with the troll slightly...

"You enter the cave, weapons ready, and look around. A loud ripping noise echoes, underlaid with savage grunts, and a foul stench fills the cave!" Congratulations, they caught the troll trying to pass the remains of the last adventuring group. He's suffering cramps and his butt hole burns from the hot sauce. +2 Circumstance bonus for the party!

Trust me, buy a Magic-8 Ball at goodwill, bust it open, and take that die out. It works great.

Of course, then you have the divinations like this:

Cleric: "What is Count Krunchem looking at right now?"

Well, you can tell them that he's staring at a crystal ball, scrying on the party, or you can say:

GM: "The spirit flickers for a moment and says: "The back of your head." and grins nastily."

THAT will cause major havoc right there.

In summation, when dealing with divinations, there's several ways to handle it...
• Random answer, with the answer providing penalties/bonuses. You pays yo money, you takes yo chances.
• Deliberate and precise instructions/answers. Too bad you didn't take ranks in "Speak Gibberish"
• Intentionally vague
• Friendly and helpful (These should be extremely rare)
• Exacting and over-precise.
• To the letter of the question, not the spirit.

Divinations have always been risky, and are never 100%, but if handled aren't game breakers, don't make the players feel cheated, and keep the "feel" of the game running.

Ralts Bloodthorne

First Post
Major NPCs will be no more than 3 levels/CR higher than the highest PC. Average NPC in a group will be lowest PC-3 (or 1/4 CR).

Generally refers to what they will be facing at a given level, and expected to fight.

I also promise that the total won't add up to more than twice their average level.

This means, that the BBEG they are supposed to combat, or I expect them to try to face down, won't be 10th level surrounded by a dozen 8th level PC's when they are 4th level. That's seriously outclassed. IF that happens, they know I don't intend or expect them to attack, but rather run, listen to his bragging speech, or observe him threatening peasants.

It boils down to:

A group of foes total number won't add up to more than twice their average level, and each member of the group will be, at the most, lowest PC level -3.

A BBEG or LBEG will be a max of Highest PC level + 3 that they would be expected to face, alone.

It's kind of a balancing act.

You can talk a whole lot faster than I can write.
You've got it all written down already.
If you expect me to write it all down too, you'd better learn how to talk reeeeal sloooow! Oh, and expect to be asked to repeat every few sentences. Or, you can just copy it and hand it out.

Mostly, however, lots of good advice.

Shorthand, or quickie notes.

All else fails, tape recorder and labeled tapes.

Wunderdood da Wyzard, bushy eyebrows, wants us to kill Baron Von Hangover, lives in tower on Market and Fishguts, Coolbreeze Port.


That's the kind of notes I encourage the PC's to take. It's enough to jog the memory, and can occur during the rping and descriptions.


On to something you can do if you REALLY feel like adding a difference.

Sit down with the classes, your players wants and desires, and your setting idea.

Look at each class, and build organizations for each. Make their sigils, denote their code of ethics/conduct/secrecy/etc, major strongholds, notable NPCs, outfits, etc.

If you have the time and inclination, do one for good, one for evil, one for neutral, one for lawful, one for chaotic. It can take some time, but your players WILL notice the difference with this.

Give the various benefits/drawbacks to being part of this group.

Offer each player the option of having their PC start out as part of this guild/church/cabal, and give them the "Known Information" as if they had a Knowledge (XXXX) result of 10 for that group. Let them know the known benefits and drawbacks.

Give them opponent groups, both opposing classes and opposing alignments.

If you REALLY have the time, and want to make the effort, make additional groups for each school of magic. Make sure you add in different outfits, tattoos, etc, to differentiate between the groups at a glance.

Add rivalries with other groups.

Make some groups that are outlawed by kingdoms, declared heretical, or presumed to have been destroyed.

On that note...

Pick some Gods from mythology, or make some up.

These are dead and abandoned gods. Their worshippers died out and the God abandoned, or the worshippers slain and the God destroyed.

Annotate in your notes a VERY FEW that still have hidden worshippers and fanatics.

Sprinkle some magic items here and there with the symbol of that dead god/eliminated group here and there.

And further...

Come up with the "Destroyed Kingdom"

You setting's Camelot, Rome, and the like.

Some are seen as utopia's destroyed by angry/jealous gods, mankind’s foolishness.

Others are seen as victims of neighbors.

Some were destroyed by their own pride/sins.

DON'T make them "Uber-Powerful Atlantis-like Godlike Lands"

Don't be afraid to have the PC's find the remains of a rude cluster of huts rotting in the jungle, with a few skeletons of fur wrapped savages armed with flint spears. However, it's whispered that the shamans of these extinct tribes were powerful and could enslave mighty demons.

OOOOH! A scroll of Summon Demon IV! (Use Monster Summoning (whatever) and make it so whatever is summoned has the Fiend template)

Don't explain everything, if nothing else, don't explain everything right away.

According to legend, the Kingdom of Gruelly collapsed due to it's own sin, evil, and vileness. In reality, the nation collapsed when it's king was replaced by a Pit Fiend who corrupted the religion into a human sacrifice cult. While legends said the kingdom spanned the world, reality is: They spanned the known world, about 50 miles in diameter.

Legend != Reality, and discovering the boundary is the stuff legends are made of.

As PC's discover this stuff, entrenched professors in universities may fund them, or seek their deaths/discrediting. Bards may sing of their exploits, or children may point and laugh at the superstitious fools who are afraid of Urgalak the God of Rending Shadows.

(Of course, when some of these teasing children are found dead, the PC's are suddenly suspect, and a mini-arc begins!)

There's something else I forgot a GM can do, if the player's have bad habits when it comes to jotting notes.

On your own notes, use different color highlighters to denote different DC's to remember.

For example: I use a red highlighter to denote a DC: 30+ for a memory, a yellow highlighter for a DC: 10.

Doing this can make things pretty easy too.

Now... on to... MONSTERS!

AKA: "What's an orc doing here? They're indigenous to the Scabrous Plains!"

Now, this is probably the strangest thing I do, and I haven't found too many GM's that do it besides myself.

I sit down with my handy-dandy list of monsters, and add the following entries:

Commoner names, Sage names, and standard names.

Decide if there are any civilizations or variants. (Higher/lower intelligence, different abilities/appearance, etc)

Jot down locations, whether they are common knowledge, and Knowledge DC's.

Makes it VERY easy for a PC to do a Knowledge (Monster Lore) or Knowledge (Undead) and you to give them what info they find out based on DC and amount over the DC.

Sketching where they lurk, a little base history on them, and deciding origins can make a big difference.

Now, remember, some players, hell, even some groups, won't care about any of this. It's boring, it gets in the way, etc.

But many people thrive on it once exposed to it, and you get the hang of it to the point where it doesn't slow down play.

If trolls are ONLY found in the Greyscum Marshes at the feet of the Backbroke God Mountains, WTF is it doing lying inside a jungle ruin, panting in the daytime heat? Wait, it's got smooth green skin, not warty, and thick neandrathalic hair, not bumps. That means he's intelligent and from the Northern tribe that uses bows! Maybe we can talk instead of getting beat down at 2nd level!


One of the things that irks me about D&D is that it misuses the term "divination". Divinations foretell the future, not detect secret doors, traps, magic, etc. (Same thing with illusions and glamours/glammers (which make things look better)).

Anyway, on divinations (of the true sort), I like to give good information, becoming less useful as the variables increase.

"Will we win, if we go up against the troll?"

"Might and magic may not avail, but oil and fire should blaze a trail!"

"Will our attack against Lord Wilky's castle succeed?" (Many variables, castle with lots of guards, etc.)

"Unlikely." (You could also say "I doubt it.")

"What can we do to improve our odds against Lord Wilky?"

"Low roads run beneath the walls; seek for where the water falls!" (Entrance to old, forgotten, secret tunnels!)

"If we use the low roads to surprise Lord Wilky, will our attacks upon his castle succeed?"


"Why not?"

"Of men & magics, he has not few; many more than you can hew."

"What else can we do to improve our chances?"

"Wilky wins wars with witchcraft. Stop the magic, or slay the witch."

Etc. Of course, the infamous "I don't know." can always get thrown in, on occasion, especially if the PC caster worships some lesser godlet of (say) Nature, and is asking questions outside of their areas of expertise. The Evil ones will lie, and the Tricksters will mislead, too! ;)

A couple of examples:

One GM I had, we were going up against some higher-level baddies, and a PC cast a divination to see if we would be successful against them... The results came back "Not if you go in the next twenty minutes."!

We waited 20 minutes. When we finally rushed the room, the bad guys had vacated it! :p

A trickster god, father of mongooses, and lord of a tribe of barbarians, picked an outcast member of the tribe to go on a quest, and much later on revealed to him that he would bring his people to a new home, in a city... After making a home in the city, and becoming rather famous there, because he introduced his pet mongoose to help quell a rat infestation, the barbarian learned that one of his old enemies now ruled the tribe. The people who had cast him out were now clamoring for him to return, and claim his "rightful place" as their most famous member (and, incidentally, free them from his old enemy, who had been instrumental in getting him cast out). The barbarian planned to oust his old enemy, get revenge, and lead his people back to the city...

The problem was, most of his barbarian people weren't interested in moving! They weren't interested in him leading them, either, they were just desperate enough to get out from under his old enemy to use him to kill him!

Y'see, the Trickster-god, Mongoose, had already used the barbarian to bring mongooses, his people, to the city, when quelling the rat-plaque! "His people" were the mongooses, not the barbarians! (Stupid humans!) :lol:

How do the players know what level the bbeg is here?

A lot of it is description. Tattoos, equipment, amount of troops, racail, all of that can be used to give the party a basic idea of how powerful someone is.

In the setting I use, campaign tattoos or medals welded to the armor is a fairly common thing for NPC warriors to have. Mages are often dressed more outlandishly the higher level they are. A fifth level NPC wizard doesn't have an ion stone orbiting his head and a skeletal snake slithering across his shoulder to whisper in his ear.

It takes practice to do, but eventually, they get a rough idea on the power level of their foes based on dress, amount of henchmen, and rough gear estimate. It's not perfect, and has resulted in some rude surprises, but all in all it usually works pretty good.

That's for attacks/ambushes I plan. If I tailor an orcish attack, it won't have more than 150% of the party's total levels in orcish levels.

If they attack an enemy's command group, all bets are off.

Maybe I should have clarified, it's when I'm designing encounters, not when they grab the riens and take off with them.

Ralts Bloodthorne

First Post
For 3e your NPC max level = party's highest level+3 rule seems a good rule of thumb _for the GM_ when designing foes for major combat encounters, eg the BBEG of a planned scenario, but doesn't seem like anything the players should be told about. The second rule seems pointless, a group of 10th level PCs can kill dozens of 3rd level foes if they want.
I hear that all time. Anyone remember Tucker's Kobolds?

There's a difference in random encounters and trouble the party gets themselves into, and group/solo encounters I design myself. A BBEG that I design, will be 3 levels higher than the PC's at the most, when they encounter him. BUT, BBEG's don't just sit in their castles and wait, they go out and accrue XP also, so they usually stay at a rough parity to that until the party finally kills them.

BUT, these are the rules of thumb I use, and probably won't work for everyone. On the average, before a game, I spend between 6 and 8 hours of prep work. I'm also lucky in the fact my setting is more or less mapped out, and a lot of my old back work has been done. Two of my players have been playing in the setting since the early 1990's, so they know most of the background, appearances, etc.

The biggest thing is to keep notes so that you can have the world move WITH the PC's.

If the PC's drained a swamp by destroying the lizard men's dam in the climatic fight, then have that whole area eventually dry out, ranchers move in there or something else, and the world keep moving.

The world HAS to keep moving, or it falls flat.

This is important and overlooked for campaign settings. Many GM's fall into the habit of making it so that no matter what level the PC's are, they can slither into a dangerous area.

Populate your sections of the world, establish baseline creatures and CR's, and DO NOT CHANGE THEM!

If the party is 20th level and heading out into the Blue Hills (to use his example), unless the PC's are OBVIOUSLY powerful, then getting attacked by some stupid/ignorant Bug Bears will be just as typical, and familiar to the players, as when they were 3rd level trying to sneak into the monastery to loot the ruins.

For example: In my setting, everyone knows that the Vermillion Jungle is populated by minotaurs, vegepygmies and kobolds on the floor, with stranger stuff the further up into the 1000 foot trees you go. (The players know that there at 5 different "levels" of branches in there, the higher you go, the meaner stuff is) If the PC's are going to take a shortcut through the Vermillion Jungle, they KNOW that they are going to get jumped by kobolds, young minotaurs out to prove themselves, and vegepygmies who hate everyone and everything. It doesn't matter what level they are, it will happen. At 20th level you can gloss over it with... "The week has been uneventful, just a vegepygmie attack and a cocky young minotaur you spanked and sent on his way..." but at 1-5th their skulls should be bleaching in the sun.

And speaking of bleaching skulls, a TPK is not a campaign ending thing. Talk to the players, and let them know that one of two things can happen. They can be resurrected in exchange for favors, or they can get a new party.

Now is when the fun stuff occurs. Let's say for example that the party was killed, in the end, by kobold royal guards and some tame trolls, but after they had torn through about 90% of the tribe. Eventually, the players have almost forgotten, but they come across a kobold group with better tactics, and surprising enough, better gear. They all have a half-orc skull painted on their leather armor. Reading through them, they find their old PC's gear scattered among different kobolds, and find a crude altar to the dead PC's as "Gods of Fear, Strife, Death, Destruction, Pain, and Doom!"

While it won't mean anything to the PC's, it will mean something to the players.

And on that note...

Powerful beings and weak parties...

Powerful beings need entertainment and have to travel/get hungry also.

Having a red dragon land and first offer some paltry scales he shed awhile back in exchange, then just saying: "Gimme the damn horses or I eat you too!" is believable, and gives them a story to remember. AND lets them know that a red dragon cruises the area.

Having a lich come out, use paralyzation on them, then measure their clothing, muttering to himself over the "blatant vulgarity and flesh display of modern styles" all the while, then dropping some money into a PC's hand before leaving, not only lets them encounter a lich, but also lets them know that it's in the area, and that it can beat their ass.

I'm not saying do this every weekend, but once in awhile, it can spice thing up. NPCs and intelligent monsters can be just as whimsical or bat-crap crazy as PC's.

You NEED to have NPCs that are familiar with the party, that the PC's can go to, that DON'T get killed off, and who DON'T betray them. This is important, otherwise the players won't even bother with NPCs, figuring they'll just die or are looking for a way to get at the party.

Have a few males get smitten with female PC's, have a few females get smitten with male PC's. I'm not saying you have role play Valentine's Day in the Dungeon, or have the NPC jump their bones right away, but having a young (wo)man run up to the PC and offer them a token to wear (think of the garter around the forearm) on their next adventure can add a bit. If you feel up to up, give the PC who wears the token a +1 luck bonus here and there.

It's a little thing, but it can make a difference.

Don't forget, also, that people get older, and children are born.

Here's a good low level adventure: A young woman died giving birth, and her husband is serving in the King's Army. The PC's need to take this infant to the city and deliver it, and a letter, and an urn with the woman's ashes. The mayor of the village pays the PC's half the gold up front, and a potion of cure light wounds each (with an additional one at the completion) and now the PC's have to travel overland to the city, find the barracks, and turn over the kid.

It works pretty well, especially as time goes by and they have to interact with the King's Army for one reason or another, and the man who they delivered the child to has gone from Spear Carrier Second Class to a Colonel in charge of an entire Legion or 5.

When they return to the village, people will remember the kind thing they did, and they'll get cut rates on inns, food, etc. Plus, now the mayor trusts them, and will tell them about a problem with someone selling drugs, which could lead to an evil wizard and a duel on a the side of the cliff that overlooks the town.

Ralts Bloodthorne

First Post
There's a few other things I kind of want to cover. Two of them are hot topics in current threads, but seeing as they have to do with GMing, I'll put them here.

#1: The Paladin, The Cleric & The Monk Walk Into A Bar....
The Paladin, the Cleric, and the Monk, all have extraordinary abilities compared to the other classes. Even the Wizard and Sorcerer are not as amazing as these character classes, and as such, they are often seen as unbalanced.


This is easily handled, if you place on thing into the setting...


Holy Orders, Monkish Orders.

The Paladin
With his combat prowess, spell, healing ability, and obvious social standing, the Paladin is versatile enough to handle the open combat field, the indoor fighting, and the political arena. Specially chosen by his or her God, charged with seeking out enemies of the church and protecting those the church sees as special, the Paladin is a potentially unsettling influence on a campaign.

However, these powers come at a price that isn't covered by mechanics. It's up to, the GM, to enforce that price, and to make the player aware that the price exists.

The biggest one is the Paladin's Code. In my campaign, this includes: The Code of Conduct, The Oath of Law, and the Bond of Goodness. These guidelines state how the Paladin will comport himself, and is as follows:

Code of Conduct
I will:
Represent my Church and God in a good light
Fight honorably without foolishly surrendering advantages that will allow me to defeat the foes of my church, of law, and of goodly folk.
Treat others with respect due to their station, their rank, their position, or their status as one of God's creatures.
Maintain an appearance that does not bring shame or dishonor upon my church or my order.
Follow the commands of my superiors and of my church.

The Oath of Law
As a standard of law and justice, I hereby swear to:
Follow the Laws of God
Follow the Laws of the Church, so long as they do not conflict with the Laws of God
Follow the Laws of the King, if those laws are indeed just.
Follow the Laws of the Land, providing they meet the above.
Seek to ensure that the Law is obeyed, but temper the Law with justice and mercy.
Encourage others to follow the law by deed and example.
Uphold the Law by bringing Law to the lawless, seeking to redeem those who break the law, and by enforcing the law when needed.

Bond of Goodness
By the powers vested in me, by the love and grace of my God, I shall:
Strive to uphold the tenets of good.
Seek to protect goodly folk.
Seek out evil and bring it unto the law and mete out justice upon it.
Protect places of goodness and kingdoms that uphold goodness.

These codes pretty much cover a lot of things. It lets him go out and slay evil, fight the cackling madman, and protect the innocent, as well as keeping a Paladin from killing anyone who parts his hair differently than the bible states to.

Penances, atonements, and duties to the church and god are also good ways to keep a paladin in line. Having a local vicar tell the paladin that he fears for the paladin's soul, and perhaps the paladin would give the evening sermon for the next week and help chop wood for widows can give the paladin something to do while the wizard researches a spell or creates a magic item.

Having to guard a caravan of pilgrims that must travel through monster infested country, having to check to see if rumors of heresy in a border church, being ordered to oversee the trial of a high profile criminal, all of them are things that the paladin can be ordered by his superiors to do.

Now, many will say: "Oh, that's railroading, and I'd throw a fit!" Fine. Throw a fit. A paladin comes with duties and responsibilities with those cool powers, and you can either play a paladin and discharge those duties and responsibilities, or you can play a fallen paladin that is excommunicated from the church, or you can play a different character.


If he bitches later, he's always free to leave the church and set aside his Paladinhood.

The Cleric...
Spells, armor, decent saves, and good toe to toe slugging ability. A powerful mix, and one players of Wizards always say needs to be nerfed.

However, they have duties to the church also. They may be ordered to go forth and cure the sick and lame, take famine/plague relief supplies through dangerous territory, carry an important message for a nobleman, act as a chaplain to a powerful general (dragging the PC's into the war as the Cleric's bodyguard), etc etc etc.

The most important thing to remember, is that the Cleric is beholden to his God. If his god doesn't like what he's doing, or feels that humility and piety is taking a back seat to blood and glory, the cleric can get visitations by celestial beings, stripped of his powers, or suddenly "called home" to serve the god at his feet.

Now, the last is blatant GM fiat, but hey, it's always out there.

God's won't appreciate being constantly asked to heal the worshipper of another god, or having to constantly heal an atheist or agnostic character, and may communicate to the cleric that the healing recipient can either begin to donate/sacrifice to the Gods glory, or convert.

It's the GOD'S power that the cleric is channeling, and the cleric better not forget it. And neither should his friends. For a good example of what the Gods see, look around the table. The players are the gods controlling the actions of the mortal characters. Just as you and the players know the characters plans, fates, and actions, so do the Gods.

Good luck to the characters trying to fool the gods.

Now, this curtails the cleric, and may seem as draconian and harsh, but hey, you don't HAVE to use it. Hell, I don't even use it all the time. It's an option often overlooked.

On the plus side, both the cleric and the paladin, as being truly blessed by the God, should have access to loans of equipment and money from the church, as well as a place to sleep, respect from townspeople and even nobles. Churches in medieval times were enormously powerful, and a church that could produce miracles as easily as a D&D church would be an almost unimaginable political/military/economic powerhouse.

The faithful may be unwashed and ignorant in the setting, but there's a LOT of them who are willing to lay down their lives, secure in the knowledge that they will march straight into heaven en masse.


The Monk...
Many people complain that Eastern Style monks were included as a "sacred cow" holdover form 1E, and well, that may be true, but complaining doesn't pull it out of the PHB, and you'll have players who see it, and get the image of David Carradine and others karate chopping off an orc's head dance behind their eyes.

So, how do you handle it?

Well, monks primarily come from quasi-religious orders. If nothing else, they follow a specific teaching of one or more teachers. Trainers would be few and far between for the non-ordered monk, difficult to find, and harder to convince to train a character in the Eagle's Talons feat.

Tattoos, brands (think Kane from that old TV show) would be common, as would school/master/order rivalries.

Vow of Poverty comes up a lot, but you realize, competition at those lower levels is intense. Two monks meeting by the side of the road can be suddenly messy, or simply involve a few contested Willpower Checks (think Chi Contest) to determine who steps aside. The higher ranking a monk gets, the more people will wish to challenge him.

Those who follow evil paths, and some neutral, will simply kill challengers, while most good will be involved in subdual combats.

However, having the order could restrain the monk to a set of vows much like the Paladin, even a limit on wealth or even a limit on how long a monk may sleep in the same area. (One order I use does not permit a monk to sleep within 10 paces of the last place they slept outside of the monastery)

These limitation, while limitation, add flavor and some feel of... well... uniqueness to the monk, making it more than just "Generic Killing Character #43452 With Kung Fu Grip" as it's being played.

And on the rivalries...

Have church/militant order/martial society rivalries.

Clerics who meet each other outside a designated field of battle, in a public place, may have to resort to a battle of words and comments (contested diplomacy rolls) and unable to resort to brutish threats and loutish actions. XP for defeating an opponent in such an arena should be given.

After all, local peasants would love the show, and merchantmen would lean forward to listen to the finely crafted platitudes that hide deeply veiled and barbed insults. Humans love drama.

Paladins of the SAME GOD may be part of different orders, and because one group wears the sword buckled one way, why the other uses a clasp instead of a buckle, they may be mortal enemies, considering each other heretics.

Monks of the Way of the Blessed Light may suddenly have to fight inside the tea house with a Monk of the Way of the Bloodied Stone, both of them Lawful Neutral, because their ethics are completely incompatible, and their schools bitter enemies since the Great Earth Dragon gave birth to the world...

Those are ways to handle these three powerful classes. In much the same way, the Wizard, the Rogue, the Bard, the Ranger, the Druid, can all have powerful organizations they have to give way to, to recognize the power of, and to follow orders.

A druid who disrespects his elder, and goes against the wishes of his circle could find himself the centerpiece of next harvest season's wickerman.

The GM Fiat
Seen as evil, seen as completely unfair, we need to look at the GM fiat, and it's beneficial uses to the party and players.

A fiat is more than "Something the players disagree with" but rather the GM doing something without explanation and changing the rules.

Examples are: Not allowing the character the craft anything. Saying: Rocks fall, you're all dead, no save. Having Demogorgon and his buddies attack a 3rd level party. Being attacked by a hastened ethereal mummy that explodes for 20d20 no save when killed. Or being attacked by three of them.

Now, some of these are just plain unfair. Basically, everything after the rocks.

The others, well, there are possible reasons.

I tried out the Craft bit last night, in a game.

Player: I'm going to forge a ring and put this red diamond on it. I'll enchant it afterwards. (reaches for dice)
Me: When you quench the ring, it cracks.
Players: What? No roll?
Me: Go ahead, won't change anything.
Player: Hmmm, I'm going to check my equipment. That shopkeeper better not have ripped me off. (PC's had this happen. A con-man selling bogus spell/potion components. Took them for about 200,000 gp. The slit open his stomach, tied his intestines to a bush, and pushed him down the hill)
Me: Roll your Knowledge (Aracana)
Player: Fifty-two.
Me: It's all fine. Everything looks perfect. The essence of (some crap, I think it was specter, but it might have been illithid lust) looks like it's going bad.
Player: OK, I'll try to make an origami bird. (He's an origami mage) (Reaches for dice)
Me: You tear it's head off when you go to make the final fold.
Player: WTF? I'm going to see if anyone else in the group can make anything.
(Other players easily succeed)
Player: OK, I'm going to summon up [his Pit Fiend Servitor] and question him.
Me: Are you sure?
Player: Sure, I'll draw the outline and...
Different player: NO! DON'T! It's a trap! You'll blow the circle and he'll rip your head off again!

So, they began investigating WHY it was happening.

In the "Rocks fall..." you better resurrect them or have a different idea. I did that before, and handed them the stat-blocks for their henchmen and faithful servants, who went out to see about getting their Lords and Ladies returned to life, and discover who'd teleported a moving avalanche on top of the PC's.

The difference between a good fiat, and bad fiat, is simple...

There is a reason that enriches the story behind the fiat, that the PC's can affect, and that the players can unravel, reverse, or agree to.

You wouldn't like it if suddenly you could only log on to ENWorld with a telnet browser if there wasn't a reason (Morrus gave you $5 every time you did it) and your players won't like it if you take something away for no reason.

Good fiats have reasons behind them. If they ask why, just say: "There's a reason!" if you can't or won't divulge the reason. (The Craft thing is because the demi-lich they defeated about 3 months ago in the Astral Core cursed the mage to never be able to create or give birth again. That means a LOT of spells don't work for him any more either) If it's to keep control of the campaign (IE: No magic item creation) then tell them: "I disagree with PC's making magic items. Magic items should be my venue of control, not yours."

That is a perfectly understandable stance, also. I'm loathe to allow PC's to create magic items willy nilly. I require strange and valuable components. The Essence of an Illithid's Lust is used to create an item that affects intellect. Getting the components for something besides lower level potions and scrolls are side/pre-adventures in and of themselves.

If they need a certain classification of magic items, I'll provide it. That's my job.

But that's my style, and one my players have grown comfortable with. Your mileage may vary.

BUT, fiat also includes saving the party at the last minute when your rolls are positively frightening, or the player is rolling abysmally.


BUT, if they are having a run of bad luck, or YOU didn't describe the situation well enough, you may end up using GM's Fiat to save their bacon.

The Cavalry arrives is always a favorite, and not one to constantly use. ALWAYS MAKE YOUR FIAT WORK INTO THE STORY. The King's Men aren't always available. The cavalry is sometimes busy.

BUT, the Party's Arch-Nemesis now knows where they are. He's gathered his henchmen, and is prepared to finally avenge the fact they took the last piece of sponge cake at the banquet!

POOF! He arrives, teleporting in, wrath and doom apparently, and sees the PC's getting attacked.

"DOGS! HOW DARE YOU STAND BETWEEN ME AND MY PREY!" and the villains starts laying into the people whupping on the party. That's when you pass the party leader, or hell, just anyone in the group, a note that says: "RUN FOOLS!"

While the AN is killing the attackers, the party can run for it.

Or perhaps the enemies of the people currently beating up the party arrive and take the opportunity to attack while their hated foe is being distracted.

I think the most obvious one I've done is a flash flood that separated the two groups, destroyed/lost a lot of gear, and separated the party.

Sudden rain or wind or even a sandstorm can do it too.

To quote Futurama: "The best trick is to make it look like you didn't do anything at all."

Ralts Bloodthorne

First Post
Let's take a look at some spells that need handling...

If you haven't hit a problem with them yet, don't worry, you will...

Shape Alteration Spells, Time Stop, Haste, Creature Summoning Spells, and... believe it or not... Power Word Kill & Other Save or Die spells...

These spells have been headaches since 1E. Remember Haste? OMG!

Shape Alteration
Before you even begin your campaign, you need to sit down, and THOROUGHLY read the entries for polymorph series, alter self, etc. These things can be a TOTAL headache.

Well, it took awhile (till about 1990) but I finally figured out some fixes that work for us. I know, I know, I'm houseruling and varying the RAW, but let's face it, some things NEED fixing to fit in your campaign as opposed to whatever in Hades they were playing in during playtesting...

So, here's how it's handled now: Polymorph series allow ONE creature the character can turn into per "version" of the spell they learn. They want to polymorph into a troll, or turn other people into frogs? They better learn/research/beg/borrow/steal/club out of lich the spell polymorph into frog or they ain't doing it.

Druid's Wild Shape? One creature per point of Wisdom bonus. (Thank Aphrodite for 3.X's multiple stat bonus setup)

Alter Self? One creature per level.

That's it. No more. Deal with it.

You can extrapolate the rest of it from that list. Did I nerf it? Yup. Has it damaged the campaign or produces howls of protest from some of my players? No and yes. When I told the player he had to produce, RIGHT THEN, a complete stat block for his Wild Shaped druid whenever he changed shape, since HE was the one doing it, making it HIS job, not my job, well, the attitude changed.

Nothing hacks people down faster than Haste. From the old 2E double attacks to the 3.5 version, it can still drive you nuts.

BUT, it's pretty much not worth any more.

We left: Double attacks, speed, and actions (yup, that means someone with Haste and Quickened Spell can whip off 3 fireballs in a round. So?) BUT we laid a nice penalty.

A Fort Save with a DC based on age category each round. If you fail... You drop to -1 hp and are considered dying. Undead make a Will Save, and if they fail, they are considered to have overloaded their energy and dissipated. (Ties in with our versions of undead)

Picture what it's doing to the PC's heart. Ouch. If they blow the save, they die, plain and simple.

Haste is now considered an offensive spell by my players, BTW.

Time Stop
Remember the old Gamma World bit where time was frozen inside the park in Pitz Burke? Well...

Except for the caster, everything is frozen solid. Nothing inside can be moved or affected by anything else. No casting can happen inside of it, etc.

The caster and his buddies can escape and wait outside with pointy sticks and readied spells for it to drop so they can quasi-ambush the victims, but that's it.

Go with the "Named Variant" and keep track in your notes of the summoned creatures. When the spell comes up, BEFORE the PC gets it, show the player what creature(s) they can summon. Let them decide if they want it.

Somewhere on ENWorld is an excellent expanded list of summonable monsters.

Power Word Kill & Save or Die Spells
Simple. With the exception of something grotesque like Disintegrate, reduce them to -1 hp and 1 Con and they're dying. Require a Heal spell or a Cure Critical Wounds spell to stabilize them, and the rest of the hp require natural healing or regeneration, and they'll require a restoration spell to bring back the Con.

With Power Word Kill, well, I feel it's weak, so I amped it back up to the bad old days. Up to 100 HD worth the creatures, starting with the weakest, die. No save, no creature with more than 20 HD is affected.

What's all this got to do with you? Simple...

Before starting your campaign, do the necessary work of sitting down and looking at the spells, and deciding what, if any changes, need to be made, and let your players know. This will prevent after action nerfing and complaints. Check out these boards, or simply place a post asking what spells have been the biggest headaches for GM's. I'm sure you'll get plenty of responses and examples.

Make sure the players are OK with the changes though before you do it. I hated the campaign where the GM told me that my wizard would lose 1 hp per spell level for each spell he cast. I needed a mule full of cure lt wound potions to follow me around, since he did it after we reached 8th level, in order to keep me from fireballing people. This was in 1E, it wasn't like I had a lot of HP's in the first place. I had around 15 (I blew a few rolls)

But always remember, you are the final control of what spells the PC's have access to.

Hera can be feeling moody, or dislike the PC's hairdo that day, and not grant a spell.
The Sorcerer doesn't know that spell unless you allow it.
The Wizard can't find that spell if you don't let them.

And so on.

But be open minded, and trust your players. Warn them if they are starting to annoy you with a certain spell, spell combination, or the way they use a spell. Warn them that you can return the favor any time with your NPCs, since a highly successful tactic gets copied, while ineffective ones cease being taught (I haven't heard of any militaries dressing in bearskins and charging across the battlefield with clubs recently) and the PC's can expect to see it coming at them.

It was just pointed out to me, by one of my players, that a lot of this is novice advice stuff, and I might want to include something on starting a homebrew campaign, since the early stages make or break a setting.

So, go back up and copy the list. That's the first thing you need to do.

BUT, for the first night, you should do some prep.

Grab some paper, and some pencils, and get ready...

It's world building time, baby!

OK, so, the first thing we're gonna need is where the PC's are going to start. My advice? A population center. Not a big one, or we'll never pry the PC's out of there. Trust me, I've seen players play for THREE YEARS inside a large city.

Me: The fence offers to sell you a map to the tomb of the Lost Dwarven Lord engraved on the inside of a breastplate found in the sands of the Great Salt Wastes.
Players: And leave the city? NEVER! If we do, we might miss the Countess's party, and I plan on challenging that arrogant elven lord to a duel! Plus, the Guild of Silence might try to stop the Diva's performance again, and the half-orc has almost got her cousin to accept his proposal for marriage.
Me: I hate you guys.
Them: What?

Anyway, we'll give it the basic staples.

A wall. I know, in a fantasy setting, most people don't think a wall makes much sense. Well, against fliers and burrowers, it doesn't, but thankfully, they should be pretty rare in the area. Ogres, on the other hand, climb a lot slower with boiling water poured on them. (Plus their easier to eat later)

So, we've got our town. Well, it's obviously not going to be out in the middle of nowhere, so let's give it a reason for being there. And a place for the PC's to go...

So, let's put it... at the western base of some hills that are covered in trees, and mined by the townspeople, there's a river that abuts the wall to the west, and a trade road north and south of it.

Presto. Water, commerce, and industry. This rocks!

Now, ALL settlements need that. Water. Commerce. Industry. Even it it's a town well, farming potatoes, and surviving monster attacks, it needs those three. Otherwise, people will just leave.

It could just as easy be a lakeshore community that does logging on the nearby forest and has a single road leading to a city a few days walk away. OH! On that, when adding additional settlements later, make sure that each village is only a couple of days walk away from the next one, otherwise they would have vanished from inbreeding. There should be a large city at least a week or two away by cart.

Anyway, so, we have our village. You've put the mark for the town (name? Hell, I don't know... You decide) squiggled the river across the page, and marked the hills, right? No? What are you waiting for? Me? I ain't marking down jack! This ain't PBS! (Hey, it's late)

OK, what do we put in here.

Well, a church, of course. We've got to worship at least ONE god to have us protected from all the bad crap in the world. Let's make it to... ummm... You pick. A neutral at the most, god.

Maybe a couple of other churches, but not too many.

Now, we need a few stores. Let's go with...

Barrel maker
Shoe maker
General Store
Vegetable stalls
Leatherer (tanner, whatever)
Hedgewizard (Hmmm, how about 5th level diviner? That work?)

That ought to do it.

Take your other piece of paper, draw your wall, then do some squares for these buildings.

Add a town square.
Mark some docks for the river.

Oh, crap, add some gates. 3 of them. One to the east, toward the hills, and one for each end of the road. Should we add towers? I don't care, go ahead. Whew, almost forgot.

Add a jail. Oh, yeah, add the church. D'OH!

OK, good enough to start with.

So, more than likely, all the PC's will care about is the general store, the hedge wizard, and the blacksmith.

Detail up what can be bought, and the cost. Have the hedgewizard offer potions of healing and Identify services.

Oh, crap, I almost forgot. Add 4 taverns. 1 of which is a dive, one services the miners, a ritzy one, and one for traveling merchant caravans. And three inns.

Also, in a twist, detail out an old widowed half-orc woman who will allow the PC's to rent the second floor of her little house for a few sp a week.

Now, we need something for them to do.

Well, they've obviously got guards and a militia. They're 1st level PC's. Anything powerful enough to take over the mines and prevent the town militia from taking it back is going to eat the PC's for a snack...


Yeah, rats.

Specifically, moon rats, or maybe demonic rats.


A caravan has a serial killer come in with it.

OK, so you got it? You got something, right? None of my lame ideas? Cool. Good job.

Anyway, onto the CAMPAIGN planning...

So, let's add some dwarves. Let's extend the hills to the east a little (about an inch or two on our map) and to the north and south (about a 1/4 to a 1/2" away from the river) of the mines. (NOTE: Map not to scale!) and add some mountains that go from the south tip of the paper to about 1/3 from the top when they turn back into hills for the almost the remaining. The last inch, turn them back into mountains. Surround the mountains with hills. POOF! Dwarven lands.

Mark a few dwarf hold entrances.

Hmmm, let's add a lake.

Stick it in the upper right. That ought to do it.

Forest. Oh. yeah. Crap.

Ummm... left side of the paper, bottom 3rd, about a 3 inch strip, extend it out to the river. Put a clump of woods on the upper right to about the middle right.

There we go.

Now, mark the eastern strip of the woods, to about halfway to the edge, as elven lands. Make the hills in the north, up by that hilly mountain pass, the gnomish lands.

Oh, yeah, half-orcs. Blast.

Ummm... Orcs are known to lair in the southern reaches of the mountains. There, how's that? Put some half-orc villages down by the road in the southern section.

Presto. Now your races are accounted for. Hey, what? I'm just showing you how I whip one up in a hurry.

Hmmm.. Now, let's add another road. This one will follow the curve of the western forest, arc up through the hilly pass, then follow the north eastern forest boundary. Let's make an off-shoot that goes through the forest, and another that goes south.


At the crossroads of each, put another town.

OK, how did all this crap get here?

OK, after the glaciers receded, humans.... naw... too far back. I'm not dealing with 3,000 years right off the bat...

OK, when the Old Empire collapsed, these small cities were left to fend for themselves. Nobody knows why the Old Empire collapsed, just one day the trade stopped coming, tax men no longer came, and the Imperial Soldiers never came back.

But nothing happened to these towns.

Several keeps and strongholds of the old empire fell to marauding creatures, and a dragon that lives in the northernmost section of the mountains obliterated the two mountain keeps and once in awhile demands tribute from those using the roads in about a 3" radius. (That works)

Some trolls hang out on the fringes of that northern forest, but since some fire wizards ripped them a new one, they kind of stay away from the road.

Some cities went to war, so there is a few ruined cities, and abandoned roads... (Let's make an off shoot on the western road that goes to a ruin in the hills, and annotate it as a poor condition road, maybe use a dashed line instead) An offshoot in that forest and another ruin.

In the last 100 years, very little travel and news comes from the south. Huh, how do we pull this off? OH! I got it! Make a seacoast. There. OK, the Old Empire ruled from across the sea (in the GM notes, mark it an inland sea) and eventually the ships stopped coming. The big travel boats went off to see what happened, and never came back, so everyone decided it wasn't their problem.

OK, so the Old Empire collapsed, and many people reverted back to worshipping the Gods they worshipped before the Old Empire showed up and made them all worship the Nordic and Greek pantheons. So the return of the PHB Gods occurred, and hardly anyone worships the Norse and Greek pantheons.

So, that covers the last century.

Wait? No? Fine. Be that way.


So, about 100 years ago, a young bloodthirsty guy got enough soldiers and wizards behind him to establish nominal control of the three cities, destroy a bunch more, and make everyone kneel to him. So our town has a governor, and the capital is off our map to the North.

let's call it....

Calintran. The City of Eagles. (Good enough, none of the local rubes know jack about it)

The recent king's name is: King Ushlan

He's known as being fairly aggressive, and there's rumors that the king is having the armies push his northern border forward into the untamed wilderness that has fallen into disuse since the fall of the Old Empire. (This was the Southern Center of the Old Empire's northern provinces)

So most of the soldiers left about 3 years ago, as did about 3/5 of the able bodied men.

HAH! Now we've got why the adventurer's are around. But why aren't they in the army? Ummm....


They were. They were drafted to guard the docks till last week. Now they're released from military service, and granted Adventurer's Writ's and Weapon/Magic permits. TA-DAH!

So, we have a starting base. We have some history. We have where the major races live, a feudal system, some background action.

Hell, we're ready for tonight's game.

And it only took me about 30 minutes.

See how I did it? Kind of step by step.

If you start building your campaign setting like that, you could do worse. Of course, you might look at it and go: "Jeez, what a lame bunch of crap." or you might say: "What the hell? How did he go from a blank piece of paper to that?"

Either way, maybe it helps you, maybe it doesn't.

Tomorrow morning I'll check the comments, and maybe even do a quick adventure. IE: "How the Party Got Beat Up"

OK, let's assume you've drawn up a cool map of the known world, have nations tagged on it, rivers, mountains, major forests, deserts, etc.

You still have some things to answer: Where do the major races live? Their major population centers, that is. How old is the largest kingdom, and how big is the largest city? How big are each of the capitals? What's the type of rulership of each kingdom?

You could have early republics quite easily, that are seen as evil and subversive by the large kingdoms and empires that are neighbors. Perhaps it's a lawful evil democracy, where they deny the right to exist for all their neighboring nations.

What about ruins? Where did they come from? Was the known world once ruled over by a collection of city-states that made war on one another until certain city-states gained enough power to hammer out kingdoms and defeat nearby enemies? Was it a spanning empire that used the old Mongolian Yan to deliver messages but collapsed due to insanity? Or perhaps the majestic capital city was buried beneath a volcano, or crashed to the ground when the spell suddenly ended, was destroyed by a tsunami sent by the God of the Ocean in order to punish the vast empire for exploring the ocean without giving proper sacrifice and respect to him?

Where the ruins came from is vitally important. Perhaps several early nations collapsed, some through magical disaster, some through war, some through intervention by the gods, and some through natural causes.

Having a globally spanning cataclysm, while cool, has also kind of been done to death (the biggest example is Dragonlance, which seems to schedule a weekly cataclysm that wipes out all life or destroys the natural order of everything) but it's still a viable reason.

Meteor strikes have been done, but what about a globe spanning cataclysm as recent as a few centuries ago that did grind the ancient world to dust and force it's subjects to flee? A mini-Ice age, with effects like The Day After where there were superstorms and the like. Three hundred years ago the glaciers all receded, but the higher mountainous regions are still covered in ice...

These are all things that you need to address sooner or later, because the players will start asking questions about the old kingdoms, where the ruins came from, how this lich got there and what it was doing.

By having these questions already answered, at least in your own notes, you can quickly reply to your players, and even weave stories based on the party's delving into history.

On the Setting

OK, first of all, decide on a calendar. You can do normal 365 days, or just 360, with 12 months of 30 days, each month broken down to 10 day weeks. Or whatever makes you the most comfortable.

In your campaign book, put a piece of graph paper and annotate a quick calendar, complete with months and phases of the moon.

I'd advise only 1 moon, anything more than 1 or 2 and tides are a bummer to figure out, LOL.

Now, with your calendar, you can track time, and seasons. Having these in there can really make a big difference in the feeling of the campaign. Having the seasons change, the moon change, monsters migrating, etc, can really add in adventures and sub-arcs.

Name each month, then add a calendar name and a commoner name. Tag down some generic holidays the world over, and have done with it.

Now, photocopy it (or print it out again) and hand a copy to each player. Also, don't forget to hand out the sheet with standard modes of dress and any odd customs. This way the players can read it on their own time, or remain ignorant, of their own devices.

When deciding on your various kingdoms, give them varied construction styles and styles of dress. History is full of all kinds of different modes of dress, and Egyptian style is quite different from 300 BC construction.

Try something a little different with some of the kingdoms, and get away from psuedo-European Hovel-esque style architecture. Go with some kingdoms having a road and aqueduct system ala the Roman Empire, have a few with the kind of monument building like Egypt.

Have the dress pattern of one of Earth's ancient kingdoms mixed with the mannerisms of another and the construction style of a third. Mix and match, it will give a feeling of familiarity to your players at the same time as giving the feeling of the exotic.

Use modified real world governments for your various kingdoms. For example, I once made a civilized kingdom of orcs follow a Czarian government, with Greek architecture and 10th Century Japanese dress, and Nordic weaponry. The eclectic mix of everything gave the players a sense of familiarity and wonder at the same time. Having the "Emperor" who was more like the Czar of Russia circa 1800's, with titled land owners, etc, all owned by "The State" (a slight mix of communism within it) created a government they could understand, but slightly different.

Now, with a world where Gods wield power, or grant powers to worshippers, we really need to look at how governments interact with religion.

Having a "State Religion" isn't too much of a stretch in a mageocracy, or even a theocracy. Any other religions would be considered heretical, and would ahve to remain hidden (Think of the Christians in ancient Greece) and their worshippers hunted and killed, sometimes for sport.

With such clearly defined races that differ by more than mere skin color or facial features, there are going to be ethnocentric kingdoms, some of which will be quite xenophobic.

What if we had a race of kobolds who followed the Egyptian Mythos, and ran their government like the ancient Mongols, dressed in frock coats, knee high boots, tri-corner hats, and cotton breeches, and were xenophobic and guarded their borders like the Cold War Soviet Union? What if they were sitting on top of easily accessible copper, iron, tin, etc, and this made them into an economic powerhouse? To top it off, they held elven and orcish slaves, and used hobgoblin overseers to watch over these slaves? Make the Lawful Evil (remember, alignments as listed in the MM are tweakable) population slavish devotional to the "Pharoah", who, after all, is descended directly from Ra. Change the kobold's scales to a light bronze color, make it so 1 out of 20 kobolds are a sorcerer, and you have a serious threat for the PC's to be wary of.

Tag about 50-100 miles around them as "no man's land" as their raiding parties (who are, of course, rogues and criminals, and the neighboring nations are more than welcome to eliminate such scoundrels...) pillage and burn any settlements within that area.

This would be unsettling to the PC's, as it is both familiar, but unexpected because nobody takes kobold's seriously. Make a few kobold specific PrC's and mount some of their forces of saber-toothed tigers, and you've got a long term threat, and even the clouds of war hanging on the horizon.

What if, instead of having the ancient and arrogant elven kingdoms that have existed for centuries, the elves fled to this region from across the seas, speaking only that a great calamity destroyed their homeland. Rumor has it that when they landed, they burned their ships and destroyed their charts, taking their meager possessions and scattering. Some of the elves are arrogant, acting as if they are titled lords, while others seem to revel in debauchery and freedom, acting chaotic and scattering to the winds.

In Earth history, the Mongols came west, not looking for loot, but fleeing from a Chinese punitive expedition that was going to kick their asses off. What if these elves have fled an unsuccessful rebellion in their own lands. The ones freaking out are ex-slaves and servants, while the arrogant ones and the maudlin ones are ex-nobility who orchestrated. Mixed in, few and far between are the house guard, spies, and soldiers who survived.

They've been in the area for 100 years, and nothing has come after them. Those elves who were born in the area, entering the elven equivalence of teen years, are convinced that nothing will happen, and are seeking to reestablish an elven kingdom somewhere. The elves, however, have abandoned their gods, and taken up new ones, mingled into the existing kingdoms, and half-elves have been born.

When dealing with ruins, one thing to remember is that ancient Greece, Egyptian and Chinese monuments are impressive to say the least. Take a look at the one Chinese emperor’s tomb where the sea is made of mercury and details his kingdom. A little real world research can show you exotics that far outstretch what most people think would have been possible.

Anyway, having these ruins scattered about, relics of a kingdom that collapsed for a reason that nobody cares about any more (magic disaster is waaay overused. Try natural, or maybe they drank out of lead lined cups, or maybe they just all vanished up their own butts one morning) and some buildings are used for far different reasons then they were once meant for.

As far as dungeons go, what if it was a volcano, or an ice age, or better yet, a period of global warming or intense UV activity that lasted 100 years? These underground labyrinths, left over from when the surface races fled from the deadly rays of the sun, still exist, although most have forgotten about them, as the exodus from these vast labyrinths was centuries ago.

The magic isn't more powerful, but there can be the scattered relic of great power.

Asking where artifacts came from. Make up some history on the mages/clerics that crafted them. Yeah, Lum the Mad created some junk, but what ELSE did he do? Why was he called "the Mad"? Where did he once rule? What happened to his kingdom?

Answer some of these question, and the campaign starts to breathe with a life of it's own.

In deciding what kind of government, mode of dress, present architecture and ancient architecture a kingdom has, you can easily find the kingdom run away from you, and detailing all kinds of things...


There is such a thing as too much detail. Don't go so far overboard that everyone quits caring and you get bogged down trying to remember how many bastard children the halfling Road Lord Geoffrey Longtoes had 2000 years ago. Who cares? Will it REALLY matter?

Don't forget universities, ala Greece, Rome, Egypt, Mesopotamia, etc.

Don't forget your nomadic tribes, but don't have EVERY tribe be "noble savages", have some of them be brutal, warlike, destructive clans that act more like humanoid locusts.

Don't forget to have some stuff that is incomprehensible to modern times. For example, in the Aztec culture, there are records of hundreds of people signing up, volunteering, to be sacrificed. In a world where the Gods are real, and can and do appear before the faithful, those that demand (demi)human sacrifices wouldn't have to force anyone.

Decide just how much the Gods meddle. Yes, aloof and above the mortals is the standard in D&D, but would the TV shows Xena and Hercules been as much fun without watching Ares getting drunk and brawling in a tavern?

Have some demi-gods and half-gods that aren't above rolling around the floor exchanging fists in the face with mortals, since they are trying to find ancient relics, prove themselves, and in general, show themselves, more than the other gods, that they are better than mortals.

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