Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Using Google Translate to Obfuscate

Here's a little trick you can use to slightly obfuscate notes, journals, or any text that PCs might find in another language.

  • Paste the text of into Google Translate
  • Pick a foreign language and translate it
  • Copy the translated text and paste it back in
  • Translate this back to your native language
The resulting text will contain cool little quirks that will lend it an exotic and non-human feel.  Perfect for that note that the PCs find written by the Orc commander.


Here's a note that the PCs in my D&D Next campaign might find:

My Lord,
We secured site.
Tenants under control.
Glaragula located book.
Magic stone is here, funnels power.
Ritual maybe only works here.
Many living dead ones still here.
We made four already.

I translated this to Arabic, and then the Arabic back to English, and this is what I now have to give to the players:

We are securing the site.
Tenants under control.
The book is Glaragula.
Magic Stone is here, and the entrances to power.
Rituals may only work here.
Many of the dead who live here so far.
We made four already.

The gist is the same, but somewhat less clear.  Imperfect information.  Translation errors.  Great stuff!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Bean (or coin) Counting

I love resource management in D&D. Enforcing limited resources on the PCs provides tension to the game, and often forces them into situations where they have to make tough choices. The more interesting choices a player has to make in a game, the more engaged they become.

Types of Resources

There are many resources specified in the rules that are inherently limited, and thus subject to resource management. Some that come to mind are: money, hit points, hit dice (D&D Next), rations, arrows, torches, spells. In order to avoid having the game degenerate into a tedious session of bookkeeping, we need tools to help us manage these resources in game.

Physical Props

What I do to help alleviate the tedium is to use physical props to manage some of the more mundane resources I want to track. For example, I use poker chips to represent coins. When a PC has to hand over physical coins when paying for something, it's a much different feeling than erasing a number on their character sheet and writing a new one in. It's far more immediate and creates a feeling like they're actually spending money.

For money, I use red poker chips to represent copper, white for silver, and green for gold. I also use a black sharpie to write denominations like 5, 10, 25, etc. on the chips to make this easier to manage. Since I use a silver standard in my games (see below) copper is relevant.

I use black poker chips for hit points, toothpicks for arrows, and glass beads for rations. The players appreciate that they don't have to constantly scratch out or erase numbers on their character sheets.

I have another approach for gear, weapons, and other items the PCs carry. When someone gains an item, I quickly write it down on a half index card. I write down the item's name, it's weight, and any important properties it has, like damage for weapons, then hand the card to the player. A PC doesn't have an item unless they have the card! If the item has a number of uses, like vials of oil, I draw little circles on the card that the player can check off as uses are expended. When a PC loses an item, they really feel the loss because they have to hand that card back!

The Silver Standard

In previous campaigns, copper had always become somewhat of a worthless denomination, since prices are mainly expressed in gold. Players would even ignore any copper pieces found in treasures. That's why I adopted a silver standard in game. Basically, any book price listed in gold is actually silver, and any price listed in silver is actually copper. If a price is listed in copper, I make it 1 cp, or allow the copper piece to be physically split into quarters. But I hint that using quarters is for the poorest folk only, so the PCs always round up to 1 cp minimum.

Now, the PCs actually care about finding copper in treasures, and you should see their eyes light up when the find those elusive gold pieces, not to mention platinum!


Using physical props like poker chips provides a tactile element to the game that can produce more of an impact on a player when their PC gets wounded or spends money or other resources. For the resources that you as a DM feel are relevant and worth tracking, this technique can make resource management more painless, and even fun.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Make Looting Fun

One of my favorite parts of Warhammer Quest was the Gold Treasure card. The card instructs the player that they can roll as many d6's as they like to see how much gold they find, but if any of the dice come up a 1, there's no gold at all.

I use this little trick all the time when PCs loot bodies and find small treasure stashes. It's a perfect "tough decision" that plays their fear against their greed. I can almost see the wheels spinning in the players' brains as they agonize over how many dice to roll.

The more interesting choices you can throw into your game for the players, the more the game will hold their interest. This little Loot Roll is a great way to inject some tension into an otherwise static part of the game.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

You tell me "What's in the Room?"

When I create dungeons and other adventure locations for D&D games, I write sparse descriptions of the rooms.  I allow the players to help flesh out the details of what the rooms contain.  This frees me from having to painstakingly detail every little item in the room, and lets the players feel more involved because they're participating in world creation. Note that this option will allow players to locate mundane items only that might realistically be expected to be in that environment.  A player won't be able to suddenly discover a Vorpal Sword in a toilet.

World Building Example

I might describe a store room with barrels, crates, shelves of nails, tools, and other building materials.  At this point, one of the players might ask "Is there any rope here?"  At this point, I'll assign a DC based on likelihood of such an item being in this room.  There's a good chance that this storage room would contain rope, so I'd set the DC at 10.  Then, the player would roll a WIS check to see if the item in question is present.

No "Me Toos"

If it's one thing that I dislike about the ability check mechanic, it's when one player fails a roll, then all the other players chime in and say "I'll make that check too".  For purposes of world building, only the player who asked about a certain item is allowed to make the check.

Diminishing Returns

It's assumed that the longer the players look for things in a room, the more difficult time they'll have finding them, because you'd think they'd be able to spot most mundane items right off the bat.  To represent this, subsequent world building checks in the same room by the same player are made at a Disadvantage.

Consequences of Failure

If one of the WIS checks results in a Hazard (the player rolls 10 or more below the DC) then something bad has happened.  Maybe they made too much noise and alerted a guard patrol.  Maybe they disturbed that patch of Yellow Mold.  This should keep the players from abusing this option.  The more "out there" items they look for in a room, the greater the chance of a Hazard.

Tap into the Players' Creativity

Allowing the players to help build the details of the world not only takes a burden off the DM, but also hopefully makes them feel more invested.  Who knows what kind of twists the adventure can take with the combined imaginations of all participants involved?  I'll find out after my first D&D Next playtest, which is scheduled for tomorrow!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


Orcs often carry a vitality drink, usually stored in crude, clay flasks. When consumed by an Orc, they gain 1d8 hit points.  Note that this can cause the creature to exceed its normal maximum hp.

A PC examining the liquid will note a slightly syrupy consistency, a deep amber color, and large flecks of something black floating inside. The aroma is that of deeply spiced honey.

A PC consuming Orcade must pass a DC 11 CON check or suffer intense cramps, and Disadvantage, for 1d20 minutes. If this check results in a Hazard, they are knocked out for this amount of time.  A successful check invigorates the PC, granting them 1d8 additional hit points.  If this places them above their max, they revert back down to their max after the next Long Rest.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Skeleton Keyring

DM: When you disburse this item, you should specify how many keys are on the keyring.  Roll 2d4 if you want to determine this randomly.

When a PC tries one of the keys to open a lock, roll 1d6 (this costs an action during combat). On a 5 or 6, the key fits the lock.  The keys can be tried in this manner one by one, but once a key's lock is determined, it cannot be used in future attempts.  The PC should track how many available keys are left on the ring.

During combat, if a PC wants to lock or unlock a lock for which they had already discovered the key, they must pass a DC 10 INT check. If they fail, they fumble around with the keys and try the wrong one this round. Clever PCs might somehow mark the keys to bypass the need for this check.