Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Making Gems Fun

I like to make finding gems an exciting experience for the players in my campaign, and here are some tools to help you accomplish this.

Gem Tokens

Download the PDF below, print a few copies on card stock, and cut out the gem tokens as needed.  I keep a stack of the lower base value tokens handy, and cut out the higher base value tokens as needed.

Gem Tokens PDF

Finding Gems

When PCs discover gems as part of a treasure, determine how many they find, and the base value level of the gems.  Use your discretion as DM.  If they're in a low-risk environment, the base level would be 10gp.  Deeper in the dungeon, the base level would be higher.  As a reminder, the base gem value levels from the DMG are:



Have someone in the party roll a number of d6's equal to the number of gems found.  For each 1 rolled, that particular gem goes down by 1 base level (if it's above 10gp).  For each 6 rolled, that gem goes up 1 base level (if it isn't already at 5,000gp).

These 1's and 6's are exploding dice.  For example, if a player found a 10gp base gem, and rolled a 6 for it, the value is bumped up to a 50gp base.  They then roll that die again.  Another 6 means another bump up to 100gp, and keep going until a 6 is not rolled.

Distribute the Loot

Reach into your gem token stacks and give them a gem token for each gem found.

Using Gems for Rituals

This is a completely optional house rule that I instituted for my campaign.  I felt that there was not enough cost to performing rituals (basically a time cost only).  So I established that you need 50gp worth of gems per spell level to cast a spell as a ritual.  The gems are consumed in the process.

Appraising Gems

Players can visit a gem shop in a settlement to appraise, cash in, and exchange gems.  During this process, the gemologist might determine that an individual gem is worth less, or more than its base value.  The cost for the service is 1gp per gem.  Have the player roll 1d10 for each gem being appraised.

If a die comes up a 1 or 10, consult the tables below.  Roll on the Gem Flaws table for 1's, and the Gem Bonuses table for 10's.  Then, roll that die again, repeating the procedure, until a 1 or 10 is not rolled.  You might wind up with an unusually large, finely-cut, exceptionally clear garnet that's worth more than a diamond.

Gem Flaws - d4
1. Smaller than normal, value halved
2. Cracked, value halved
2. Flawed, value quartered
3. Unusually cloudy, value quartered

Gem Bonuses - d4
1. Larger than normal, value increased by half
2. Exceptionally clear, value increased by half
3. Striking color, value doubled
4. Unusual and exquisite cut, value increased by 100-400%.

Do it Yourself

Any PC with proficiency in Jeweler's Tools can spend a Short Rest or longer appraising gems themselves.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Using Equipment Cards in D&D 5e

I use small cards to represent gear and other physical items that the PCs possess in my game.  I found that a standard index card cut in half is the perfect size for a gear/item card.

On the card I write the item's name, some important stats, such as attack and damage if it's a weapon, or it's illumination range if it's a torch or lantern.  If the item has multiple instances, like a group of torches or pitons, I write a number of circles on the card.  The player scratches out a circle as they consume an item.

On the bottom right hand corner of the card I write the item's weight.  This makes it easy for players to total up their weight for purposes of calculating encumbrance.  You'd be amazed at how quickly the weight of gear adds up, especially if you're using the Encumbrance Variant rule from the PHB.  All of the PCs in my game are at -10 speed.  A backpack can mitigate this, and I'll detail how I use this lowly piece of gear in a future post.

Now in my games, a PC doesn't have something unless they have the card.  This can really make the players feel the sting of losing items.  It's more painful to give up a physical card than it is to erase something from a character sheet.  The system makes it easy for players to exchange items (just swap cards), or to store their gear in a common pool in their wagon (throw all the common cards in a plastic baggie).

I also took advantage of this system when an NPC in the party started stealing from the group.  Whenever this thief succeeded at his DEX(Sleight of Hand) roll contested by the PC's Passive Perception, I surreptitiously removed the gear card(s) from their stacks between sessions.  Fortunately for the party they eventually caught the thief NPC red handed and quickly put an end to his shenanigans ... by killing him.  When they went through the slain NPC's gear cards, there was quite a laugh when they saw all of the items that he'd pilfered from them.

Making Passive Perception more Fun

I've had a love/hate relationship with D&D 5e Passive Perception since I first read the rule.  On the one hand, it's nice to have a simple way to resolve whether or not the PCs notice something without tipping your hand as a DM and calling for a WIS(Perception) Check.  On the other hand, the static nature of the Passive Perception takes some randomness out of the game that I miss.

When I design a dungeon, I don't want to know that the PCs will notice a secret door with a DC of 15 because of the highest Passive Perception in the party.  I still want there to be a chance that they don't notice the door.  On the other hand, I also want there to be a chance that they do notice a door that they normally wouldn't based on Passive Perception.

My solution is to pre-roll a number of WIS(Perception) Checks.  Each PC gets a row on an index card, and I first write their name and their WIS(Perception) modifier.  Then I partition the card into a number of columns, make some dice rolls, and write down the results.  When I need one or more Passive Perception values during play, I look at the next result on the card.  Once I use a value, I scratch it out.

In this way, I can keep the suspense of Passive Perception, and still have the uncertainty that a die roll brings to the situation.

Monday, December 1, 2014

5e DMG Encounter Tables - Vulture Hills

The 5e DMG offers an elegant example of a random encounter table driven by a d8+d12 roll.  The outliers of the table represent very rare encounters/events, and the entries nearer the center of the table are more common ones.  The table contains several plain old monster encounters, but it also has a fair number of environmental encounters, and even an NPC.  The encounters, taken together, form a kind of story that has the potential for occurring in the sylvan forest that the table was constructed for.

The DMG contains only one example table, a sylvan forest.  The idea is that you (the DM) create one of these tables for each region in your world that the PCs have a chance of wandering into.  The story potential in the table drives the campaign forward into new and exciting directions.  The random nature of this system means that not even the DM knows in advance exactly how that story will unfold.

When constructing a random encounter table, be sure to have a few different factions present in the target region.  I present an example of my own below, of one of the hill regions in my campaign, the region of Vulture Hills.  I had previously established that these hills were subject to flash floods, and home to a variety of unsavory denizens, including tribes of savage ape-men.  I introduced a group of dwarf miners establishing a colony named Pickfarther as another faction, and also make liberal use of the region's namesake vultures.

Vulture Hills Encounters (d8+d12)

  1. Zixius (adult black dragon) flying overhead, DC20 Perception Check (+11) to spot party.  2d6 rounds to arrive, they'd better find a hiding place before he does!
  2. A spontaneous thunderstorm erupts.  Unless party indicates they are seeking high ground, a flash flood sweeps them away.  DC15 DEX save or character is swept away.  Each character swept away must make a DC15 CON save or take 2d10 bludgeoning damage (save halves).  Must also make a DC10 DEX save or lose what they were holding.  A roll of 1 indicates they lose their backpack as well.  The swept away characters are deposited in an unknown area, lost.
  3. A small side cave contains figures and maps painted on the walls.  A crude representation of a dragon, and the rough location of Zixius' lair.
  4. A number of vultures are seen circling in the distance.  If investigated, they are seen eating the remains of an adventuring party.  Characters can fight off the 2d6 vultures, of wait them out (1 day).  On the remains are found several pieces of mundane gear, some silver, and a map to a nearby tomb.
  5. 2d4 red ape-men bringing tribute to Zixius' lair
  6. 2d4 ape-men hunting party carrying their catch (goat, elk, etc).
  7. Remains of 2d4 ape-men dissolved in a huge pool of acid.
  8. Two rival ape-men tribes fighting, 2d6 in each group.
  9. Narrow, winding gullies confuse the party.  Navigator must make a DC20 WIS(Survival) roll or the party becomes lost.
  10. 3d6 hungry and aggressive blood hawks.
  11. 2d4 elk (75%) or 1d2 giant elk (25%), grazing peacfully.
  12. 1d4 giant goat, running from 2d4 ape-men hunters.
  13. Unstable slope gives way.  Each character must make a DC15 DEX save or suffer 1d10 bludgeoning damage as they tumble down the side.
  14. An ancient ice dwarf shrine carved into the side of a vertical cliff.  A DC20 INT(Religion) check allows a willing character to undertake the proper ritual and receive a boon of 1 extra inspiration token.
  15. 1d4 giant vultures.
  16. 2d4 dwarf prospectors, lost, looking for way back to Pickfarther base.
  17. A dying dwarf peppered with crossbow bolts.  Was ambushed by ape-men.  Can be stabilized with a DC15 WIS(Medicine) check, or magical healing.  If characters escort him back to Pickfarther base they are rewarded with 2d6x10 gold.
  18. Flies buzz around the remains of a gutted dwarf staked to a tree.  (Ape-men don't like dwarf flesh).
  19. Front rank characters detect this natural pit on a Passive Perception check of 15+.  Failure leads to collapse, DC15 DEX save or fall down 20' shaft into the entry chamber of a new dungeon.