Use components to limit cool spells

I like to make up spells. Take this one I just generated with some story cubes.

Banished Mimicry.
Level 2 Abjuration spell. Casting time: 1 action. Duration: 1 round. Range: Touch. Somatic.
Touch the target as you cast this spell. The target may make a Charisma saving throw. On success, the target is immune for 1d4 days. On a failure, they vanish into a pocket dimension. In their place stands an identical mimic, who can convincingly sound and act just like the target. The mimic will obey your command, acting as a Friend, and has 1 HP. The spell ends if it is reduced to 0 HP and the mimic disappears, replaced by the original target.
If cast at level 4, duration increases to 1 minute. If cast at level 6, the duration increases to 1 hour. If cast at level 8, the duration increases to 1 day and the mimic has 3d8 HP. If cast at level 9, the duration is “until dispelled” and the mimic has 12d8 HP.

I mean, that’s pretty epic, right? You can make a whole adventure around rescuing someone from that spell.

But it’s also really kind of powerful. A party of enough wizards and they’ll have a small army of non-necrotic thralls running around for them. (To that I say, does that really matter?) Some would be concerned about giving their players a tool like this.

There’s a way to curb how often it’s used though – without just banning it at your table!

See that required “Somatic” tag? Just tack on a “Material: 1 black lotus petal which is consumed by the spell.” Then who cares if this is even a level 1 spell? You control the market for black lotus petals!

Your wizard will be excitedly scouring the world for helpful flora. Hey, it works for Identify and Revivify.

“I loot the random bag”

For when players want to loot something, and you don’t have anything specific to give them. A mix of wonderful and mundane items.

“Busy pub where someone might steal from a bag.”

“There’s some boring stuff in there, but also…”

  1. Fragile, glass orb. Roll sleight of hand to avoid smashing it, drawing attention. Unbroken, is just a pretty bauble, worth 10sp.
  2. A paper bag of dog treats.
  3. About 1 rations worth of dried fruit.
  4. 1d8 copper pieces.
  5. 2d8 copper pieces.
  6. 2d10 silver pieces.
  7. 3d20 gold pieces. (Why does this person have this much money in a bag?)
  8. A half thought out wizard’s spell. If a spell caster spends 10 days of downtime decypering it, they gain a cantrip. A non-spell caster with a high enough Int, and a mentor, can learn the Light cantrip in 20 days of downtime. (“How long will this take to learn?” “A long time.”)
  9. A note written in druidic. Recipe for a homebrewed healing potions which needs about half the normal amount of ingrediants.
  10. An x-marks the spot map which reveals a secret passage that the characters have so far missed, or is coming up.
  11. A bottle of antihistamines, unlabeled.
  12. The address of a fence (guy who sells and buys stolen goods). Theives cant symbol explains this, but is otherwise unlabelled.
  13. Raw fish. Can be cooked for about 1 day of rations, or sold for 1d8 silver if sold quickly.
  14. An “IOU” from a nearby shop for 1d20 silver pieces.
  15. A list of names. “Trilby. Tha’feth. Trillax. Toast.” The first three are crossed out.
  16. A complete set of dice and some rough rules for something called “Castles and Chimeras”.
  17. A whistle. It can be used to draw the attention of the last or next beast species the characters bump into. “It’s a whistle, but it’s not quite clear what for.”
  18. One of those squeezy-hand exercise things.
  19. A sending stone. The other is in the posession of the next NPC they talk to.
  20. A set of silver lockpicks.
  21. A packet of ballons and tiny Canister of Holding, filled with more helium than anyone could ever need.
  22. An purple spotted egg, wrapped in straw and paper. It’s a Flying Snake egg and appears to be viable.
  23. A lidded pot of Granny Ramsfords’ stew, one ration worth. Grants 4 tempory hit points. Also has a recipe for the stew if they check thoroughly.
  24. A roll of paper, with six chocolates inside. They give weed-like affects after twenty minutes.
  25. A very cool abacus. Is about the size of your hand, and has three rows of beads. You cannot move them. “You don’t know what it’s calculating, but it’s doing something.” Rung one counts the number of hostile enemies or traitors nearby. Rung two counts the number of sentient non-creatures nearby. (Includes mimics, sentient magic items, and petrified creatures.) Rung three counts the number of shape-changed creatures nearby. Maybe the creation of some paranoid ruler?
  26. A fine wrist-watch. Must have been made for someone as a present, because the inside (if they take the back off) has an inscription in silver. Plus, it’s basically unbreakable. This is a lich’s phalactory. He’s got no real way of finding it though and isn’t likely to die-and-be-resurrected anytime soon. This may never come to anything.
  27. An wooden carven, about six inches high, of an owlbear. This is instantly obvious to any cultured person what it is: a very rare collectable. The artist made maybe six of these. Wow!
  28. Pencils, inks, paper. Nothing rare. Seems to just be some student’s backpack. One of the inks are invisible ink. The pages are filled with the most naughty erotica. Goodness.
  29. A little, black book with contacts and addresses. This has three “charges”. The next three times the PC’s look up someone in this book, they’re most likely there, with a sure fire way of getting in touch with them too. After three uses, it likely doesn’t include the person they’re interested in.
  30. An independant, far-left, twelve page newspaper which talks at length about workers rights. There’s an interesting passing mention of an important NPC, which reveals a little more about the plot.
  31. A wind-up music device. It plays the intro to Welcome To The Black Parade for some reason. In the home of whoever they’re stealing this from, the music unlocks a chest with at least 4d20 gold pieces in it.
  32. A beard trimming kit. Comes with scissors, a mirror, and inside a pouch is a Beacon of Light, a device that casts Light in a cone ahead.
  33. It’s a Bag of Guarding, which can only be accessed when wearing the corresponding ring. 2d8 piercing damage and try your best to not yell loudly in pain. The owner has the ring (obviously). Inside is a different item from this table.
  34. A whetstone and a dagger. These two items are magically linked and only work with each other. When sharpened, the dagger becomes +1 for a day.
  35. 3d8 gold pieces. A decent passive Perception will alert the PC that one of the pieces is very light. This piece is a tracking coin. It needs to be soaked in salt water over night to unattune it from its owner, and then it can be attuned to.
  36. Looks like a towel. Smells like a gym towel. It’s a Dry Towel. It’s the size of a bath towl, but folds down real compact. It’s super strong and can absorb a large amount of liquid. Needs to be twisted to get the liquid out, otherwise feels totally dry. The magic doesn’t stop it getting dirty though.
  37. A Magic Eight Ball. One charge per day. Ask the player to roll a d100, and then a d8. Spend a few moments looking through “the table”. Then scoff to yourself and ask for a d4. “That was close! Okay, it says…” Then make something up. Follow this procedure very closely each time and see how long it takes them to figure out what’s happening.
  38. “Key with X written on it”, where X is the result of a d100. When they try to use it on a door, secretly roll a d100. If you roll below X, it opens the door. After that, it only works with that specific door.
  39. A cat collar. Nothing special about it.
  40. A picture of someone who looks very much like the current Prime Minister of the UK, but if they were a hobgoblin. If tested and looked at specifically, the picture is slightly magical. It needs a focus before its magic works (like a magic picture frame, any decent arcane shop has them). Once it has that, it behaves like a Harry Potter inspired magic portrait. Its other frame is somewhere else in your world, possibly in storage but maybe on display.
  41. A bag of marbles. That’s it. Just a bag of marbles. (One of them is a glass eye. It has darkvision.)
  42. Two almost filled loyalty stamp-card things from the local ale house.
  43. An unhealthy number of junk food wrappers.
  44. Enough lottery tickets for each PC, which are for tonight’s draw! They roll 5d6 to figure out their numbers. If the PC’s remember to check, roll 5d6 to find the results. I heard the prize is game-breakingly large.
  45. Some tissues. It’s an endless pack!
  46. A small box of live crickets, waiting patiently to be taken home and fed to whatever pet the owner has. The crickets appear to never die whilst in the box. The box gives any creature inside it 1 temporary HP every six seconds. Only insect-sized creatures can fit.
  47. A Waterskin of Endless Holy Water. I bet not even a priest could tell this was holy water, until it was tested. Tastes like water. Smells like water. Waters plants just fine. The current owner, and the six owners before them, all assume it’s just a Waterskin of Endless Water. A tiny creature can squeeze into the bag, and with the aid of waterbreathing, can find their way to the realm of the water god.
  48. A cursed Ring of Invisibility. Put it on. Go on. It has three charges per day. When used, ask the PC to make a difficult Wisdom save. On a failure add two dislocation beasts to the next combat desperate to get that ring back. If they critically fail, a green hag appears soon. She’s finally found her Ring.
  49. A piece of identification that will help gain access to somewhere. It is photo ID though.
  50. A glass cube with a fiery ball bouncing around inside. Older PC’s will remember the fade of forcing motes of various types down to size and carrying them around. These are considered cruel now, and almost entirely forgotten. Breaking it will release the mote, which returns to full size quickly.
  51. A wrapped gift, with a label. “I’m sorry I missed your birthday again. Lots of love, from daddy.” It’s a rather fancy doll. Three times a day is can cast disguise self on itself.
  52. A trained, pet spider is sleeping in the bag. If woken, it’ll bite for 1d4 damage. Con save or become poisoned for twenty minutes or so. It can’t speak, but understands druidic.
  53. A scroll labeled “Fireball”, in Common. If a wizard sees or tries to cast this, they can make an easy Arcana check. Other classes, not used to reading runes, do not get to make this check. This is not Fireball. (Whatever tricksy enchantment this scroll has means it ignores normal scroll casting rules.) This is Summon Lesser Demons. A blood circle appears automatically around the caster.
  54. An out of tune flute. Sounds okay, I guess. If they attempt to fix it, they discover a Wand of Magic Missiles inside.
  55. A bag of climbing chalk.
  56. A waterskin of orange juice. The lid wasn’t put on properly and it has leaked all over the bag. Very sticky.
  57. Three tickets to see that band you like, playing next week.
  58. A moist block of clay, wrapped in plastic, ready to be moulded and fired.
  59. A make-up kit for a particularlly emo person. Dark blues and blacks.
  60. Three postcards which haven’t been sent yet. “I’m having a lovely time in Duransk!” Duransk is a beachside holiday resort, miles from here.
  61. Two knitting needles and a ball of very soft yarn. It’s not possible to tell what the end result will be.
  62. A map of the route between their home and their work. Includes some interesting details that only locals would know.
  63. A wax seal stamp. Since these are used as proof of sender, these are usually kept safely at home.
  64. A small, but heavy duty, nail file set. Probably used by someone with claws.
  65. A business card for a shipping company that runs from the docks. They’re well known for being on time and doing only legit work. They send ships all over the world and will sometimes take on passengers.
  66. A flyer for Findo’s Embirdium. It’s a gnome-run business selling homing birds. Birds are trained to return to Embirdium branches and return to their owner, carrying messages each way. The flyer has a discount code.
  67. A diary listing past and future astrological events. The owner has written something auspicious about today.
  68. Three wax candles. Each cast Speak With Dead and last for the duration of the spell.
  69. A deck of cards. Instead of the normal suits, it has pictures of members of higher society with their names.
  70. Four or five song sheets with music on them, originally meant for a lute. It’s not good music, unless you recognise it from when it was first released, one thousand years ago. Those people may enjoy the memories it brings. (There are probably some people left that old.)
  71. A wedding ring worth 1d20 gold pieces. (Why isn’t the owner wearing it?)
  72. A childrens book of non-magic magic tricks. False shuffles. Make a coin disappear. Things like that.
  73. x-acto knife and a set of blades. Real sharp. Can cut through glass cleanly.
  74. A small set of black, brown, and white shoe polish, with a buffing cloth. A single drop in a body of water will make the water instantly change to that colour. In a mug of water it might last a few hours. In an ocean it was barely flicker (but will still work). No other qualities of the water will change.
  75. A very detailed drawing of the interal anatomy of a monkey. Druidic runes run around the edges. “Blessed be the forefathers. Only inside them can be we our own truth. Purge self and return to feral.”
  76. A hand radio device. It only picks up a pirate radio frequency. It’s very secret. Run by goblins and wererats. No one knows how it works but them, and they’re not revealing anything. Seems to work anywhere in the material plane.
  77. A highend lock keeping a journal closed. The journal is boring, but the lock is worth stealing. The key is in a nearby coat (which maybe the owner is wearing).
  78. Lotions and oils for someone with scales. Everyone needs a skincare routine.
  79. A set of goggles. They glow red when activated (hard to hide) but then give thermal vision. This special sense can see Invisible creatures.
  80. A magic boomerang. Always comes back, even if it has to spend hours looking for you. Even if you run away from it and hide in a maze. No attunement necessary, always returns to whoever threw it. Harmless if not insistant.
  81. A vial of pale, yellow liquid. It’s somekind of lycanthropy venom that will turn the drinker. It’s not possible to tell what type. (It’s wererat.)
  82. The first draft of a story someone is writing. It details the fictional pursuits of a clockwork loxodon.
  83. A sleeping mask that grants the attuned the Trance (Elf) ability.
  84. A spellcasting focus, worth 10gp. The owner doesn’t realise it’s gone until an unfortunate moment.
  85. A miniturised bicycle. It keeps folding out until it reaches full size. Has “Gimble Hingeworker” etched into it, presumably the original creator.
  86. A four inch idol to the god of war, showing them in a compassionate position. The temple to this god would be very interested in purchasing this (either to hide this unusal side of their god, or attempt to understand it). It can be used to cast Spare the Dying.
  87. A silver bell. When no one is attuned, acts as normal. Can be attuned by multiple people. When rung, only they can hear it (if they’re close enough to hear it ordinarily).
  88. Most of the uniform for the previous or next location the PC’s are going to.
  89. An hourglass. A theif would know that this is a Theive’s Hourglass. The sand falls in an almost imperceptable pattern. A message can be encoded in the sand by twisting the wooden casing.
  90. Deactivated Sentient Hunter’s Trap. When activated, has a move speed of 5, as it silently vibrates to get closer to its prey. It always knows the locations of nearby Beasts and will approach the closest. Once close enough, it anchors itself and waits, just like a normal Hunter’s Trap.
  91. A trainee wizards actual spell book. Includes: Featherfall, Jump, and Longstrider.
  92. A souvenir from a local tourist attraction.
  93. A portable window. When placed on a wall less than three inches thick, you can see right through it. Works both ways.
  94. A blackjack. Same stats as a club (1d4 bludgeoning, light) except when target is surprised by the attack they must make a DC 15 Con save or be stunned for 1 minute.
  95. A voucher for Ev’s Day Workers, a company who operate a network of hirelings. The voucher is for 1 day of skilled work. The note with it says, “you deserve some time off.”
  96. A small tube of Sovereign Glue.
  97. Fire/heat proof gloves. Wear ’em to hold hot things.
  98. A pearl (worth 100 + 1d20 gp) and a feather.
  99. A Scarf of Pass Without a Trace, 1 charge per day.
  100. A Bag of Holding! Inside is another item from this list. (If you roll this again, the bag explodes at it is jostled.)


#dungeon23 is a community event that runs throughout the entire year on Mastodon. Each day you add the description of a room in a dungeon. At the end of the year, you’ve got yourself a 365 room megadungeon. It’s a writing project, with the same aims as Nanowrimo: an endurance building game where quantity is more important than quantity. Hopefully, along the way you realise that anyone can write a thing, and feel empowered by that realisation to write yourself.

Each week should have:

  • 7 rooms which match a theme.
  • A theme is a “subplot” of the dungeon. A question that can be answered in those seven rooms.
    • Why does this thing behave like that?
    • Who invented it?
    • Why are these people like this?
    • How did this status quo end up like this?
  • Consideration for exploration.
    • Answering the above questions.
    • Traps and puzzles.
  • Consideration for social interaction.
    • A memorable NPC that should impact the goal.
    • Exposition should happen via NPCs.
  • Consideration for combat.
    • The hostile creatures should share a theme.

Rough idea. The Mater Wardens are being purged – wiped out! This began a few weeks ago, and only now have they realised they need outside help, something they’re aggrieved and highly reluctant to do. With good reason too since the only way they can ask for help is to give away the secret of their circle: their secret monopoly of the vineways. The vineways allow travel across vast distances instantly. For centuries they’ve been in control of these dimension-bending tunnels, but someone has managed to infiltrate them and take control of various bits. They’re killing Wardens left right and centre to get the remaining bits. These tunnels lead to different parts of the dungeon. Some of the parts are controlled by the Wardens (not all happy to see the PCs) and some are controlled by the mysterious assailant.

The first map.

A seven room dungeon layout. The entrance has a door only possible to make with Move Earth, which leads to other areas of the "dungeon" level.

The map walls are squiggly, rather than straight. The image doesn't show that the terrain is in a dense foods, with clearings. I figured the uneven walls would demonstrate that a little better.
Made with Dungeon Scrawl.

Ideas from The Dark Knight Rises

I finished my rewatch of the Nolen trilogy this week and so I may as well finish off this series of “things you can take from Batman and put them in your game”.

AI generated image: “photograph of a dark alleyway”, the kind which Batman might find himself.

Premise: The adventuring hub is in constant danger

Batman largely sticks to Gotham because The League of Shadows have threatened it specifically. They’ve decided that it’s the heart of human evil and wiping it out will start a human healing process (until the next pit of evil appears). Buffy has to hang around Sunnydale because that’s where the hellmouth is. In Rime of the Frostmaiden, the heros are forced to stay in the Dales because that’s all there is for miles around, but still it’s a good reason for them to protect it.

In many other D&D games, I’ve ended up all over the place, chasing bad guys over a long arc. But there’s definitely a game in the idea of the characters having some attachment to a particular place, and that place being underthreat. Each arc could be two or three sessions long, and then next week comes another bad guy with a slightly different motive and way of acheiving it. (This might be the premise of Monster of the Week.)

  • The PC’s are guardians of the last temple of Ra, and if that falls so does all Order.
  • The PC’s work for the Merchant City of Vilenau, a walled city of business that it always has an enemy after it.
  • A galary of art collected from thousands of different realities and planes, some more valuable than the PC’s realise.

Hire from within

When, sadly, our PC is lost in battle, we tend to reach for a brand new character no one has ever heard of. That leaves a lot of buy in for the remaining members of the group. “Sure, person we literally just met, join us and share the items of our dead friend.”

How about, like Robin was inspired by Batman as a child, your next PC comes from one of the pool of characters that you already know about? I’m guessing that the DM will be more than excited to hand over the reigns of one of their NPCs. Or better yet, in your session zero when you’re creating contacts (you’re creating contacts, right?), create a character specifically in mind as your next character.

That way, the group gets to hang out with them and see scenes with PC 1 and PC 2 together. You’re not a total stranger joining and it’s not weird that Batman left his cave of things to Just Some Guy.

By the way, The One Ring has a whole ruleset for this stuff. Definitely check that out.

Spell: Bomb

Like turning a useful fusion energy source into a time-ticking doomsday device.

Level 3 Evocation spell. Ritual. Casting time: 1 minute.
Place the target item within the 1ft radius ritual circle. Part of the verbal components of the spell require announcing the duration, which can range from instant to 10 days. The duration begins once the casting is complete. When the spell expires, the target item explodes dealing 5d6 fire damage to all creatures within 20 ft.
Fire spreads and the blast goes around corners.
The damage can be increased by 1d6 for each additional level spent above 3.

FYI: DM’s should absolutely cast this on loot left behind as a trap by the bad guys. “I cast Detect Magic.” Well, that spoon sure looks magical.

Specifically items are specified, because targetted people with it is too gross for my table.

Three things from The Dark Knight

Continuing from last time, here’s some ideas I had for tabletop games based around The Dark Knight.

Plot Obstacle: Already on the run

One of the frustrating plot points for characters, especially in their early levels is often “why isn’t the army dealing with the goblins? why us?” and “why can’t I just go to the town guard to deal with this?”

This obstacle takes those options right off the table.

Maybe their goal is technically on the wrong side of the law. Maybe they’ve been framed for something they need to clear up. Or maybe the town guard are all corrupt and working for the bad guys.

Whatever the reason, the adventurers have to contend with the establishment coming after them whilst they try to get on with the story. Town guard are hostile on sight. Bakers will subtly try to alert them whilst the character’s are picking out their rations. Tavern keepers charge them double for the night for the risk they’re taking.

Downtime activity: Foil crimes

The vast majority of adventurers I’ve interacted with have lacked families or day jobs and so many of the potential downtime activities don’t apply to them. But they do tend to towards good and like to take matters into their own hands.

This may not even fall under “vigilantism”; many towns have a bounty board and often adventurers are asked to deal with various problems around town, like kicking out the Redbrands.

Resources required. It starts with a simple petty theif that you’re tracking down, but that quickly spins into a whole network of bad actors, pulling threads in all directions, and you stumble upon a much larger plot. It takes a full workweek to conclude your investigation, infiltration, and dissolution of the network. This work costs you 25gp in bribes and equipment.

Resolution. There are a number of checks to be made to determine the outcome of your week.

How did your initial investigation go? Your investigation certainly lead you to the crime you’re hoping to foil, but how much of an advantage did it give you? Make a DC 15 Charisma- or Intelligence-based check of your choice. On success, you have advantage on the next check.

How did you track down their hideout? You’ve found their hideout, but did you draw a lot of attention to yourself whilst you did it? Do you have any time to come up with a good plan, and set the stage to your advantage? Make a DC 15 Wisdom- or Dexterity-based check of your choice. On success, you have advantage on the next check.

How did apprehending them go? No guarentees here. They may still get away unhindered. They’re slippery like that. Make a DC 15 Strength-, Dexterity-, or Constitution-based check of your choice. On a success, you managed to stop the crime! The bad guys are thrown in irons and locked away. On failure, the crime networks lives on. Maybe there’s a puppetmaster who eluded you. Maybe they were able to flee the scene and vanish into the shadows. Either way, the thread is hanging, and you’ve made yourself known to this underground organisation.

If you succeeded in foiling the crime, a bounty or jesture of good will is paid to you to the value of 100gp.

If you succeeded in any Charisma based checks, you now have a new contact to call on in times of need who will (most likely) help out.

If you succeeded in any Intelligence based checks, you also learn something new about the world that your adventuring group did not already know. This may help your main adventure.

If you succeeded in any Wisdom based checks, you manage to turn the crime to your advantage somehow. This may come in the form of an additional 2d20 gold pieces (or items to that value).

If you succeeded in any Dexterity based checks, you come across the gang’s gold stash whilst sticking to the shadows. Gain 2d20 gold pieces (or items to that value).

If you succeeded in any Strength based checks, news of your heroism has spread. Choose a feature (or one similar to): Faceless Persona (BG), Rustic Hospitality, Bad Reputation. This feature is limited to your current town.

If you succeeded in any Constitution based checks, what didn’t kill you, made your stronger. The blows you took only increased your stamina and confidence. For the next seven days, a long rest also grants you 1d4 temporary hitpoints per your level.

Complications. These are almost unavoidable in this line of work. Likely, someone knows it was you that meddled with their dastardly plans. Your name is almost definitely on someone’s hit list now.

Skill: Grit

One of the reasons there aren’t any Constitution based checks on the default list is because almost always it’s Con is needed when something is being done to you which makes it a Con save, rather than a skill. I’d argue that there are some times when a Constitution based skill would be useful though.

Con and hit points are linked very closely. We also know that hit points aren’t just how healthy you are. You can be psychically beaten down, without taking a lick of pain, or have your Con dropped when you’re exhausted. Someone on 0 HP makes Con saves not only to see if their body can take it, but to see if they have the sheer will to bring themselves back to 1 HP.

Enter, Grit (Con). This can be used in situations where you want to steel yourself for an upcoming blow of some kind. Briefly overcoming your exhaustion and the pain in your battered body to do something heroic. On a successful grit check, you may temporarily overcome a disadvantage or snap out of your fearful stupor. Or just use it for cool roleplay things, and make decisions on how brave your character is.