March 30, 2015

Mundane Items Table

There you are writing your Pathfinder encounters for your weekly campaign, and you've got to come up with 1,070gp worth of treasure.  You could just give the PCs 21 pounds of gold, but you want the treasure to be interesting, connected to the story, and varied.

So you turn to the Designing Encounters chapter.  There's some guidance for what to give out for treasure, but it keeps giving general categories like "Jewelry, Minor" and "Mundane Gear."  You find yourself looking for more inspiration.  And a list that has all the different nonmagical items ranked by value.

Well, look no further!  Below is a list of selected, inspiring items across a lot of different categories.  None of it is magic, though spell components and alchemy items certainly show up.

How to Use This List

First, find the value of the treasure for your encounter.  A series of encounters tends to concentrate the loot from all the encounters in the series in one or two places.  For instance, a tribe of goblins might have a cave where they keep looted trade goods (half the treasure) and a tribal chieftain wearing valuable jewels and carrying a magic item (the other half).  The other rooms and encounters might have very little if any treasure.

Second, “spend” the amount set aside for non-magical treasure on the most expensive mundane items possible from this list.  Never “buy” more than ten mundane items for a single set of treasure.  The fewer the better, to keep the players intrigued. Try to give the items a little story as you go "shopping" down the list.  Look for themes, and pick items across themes.

This list is designed for inspiration, not to be exhaustive.  It's long enough as it is!  Don't confine yourself to it.

After the list is an example of how to use it to liven up your adventure's treasure.  The example shows how being thoughtful about mundane items can add a lot of depth and entire subplots to even the simplest adventure.

If you can think of inspiring items for me to add, tweet them at me @RunAGame or type them in comments below!



10-25gp


EQUIPMENT


10gp:  Ten empty glass vials, 20 days of trail rations, 5 days elven trail rations, 5 sunrods, 5 daggers, 2 common musical instruments, 2 sets of cleric’s vestments, a hooded lantern and miner’s pick; portable ram; 50’ of silk rope; a tent; an explorer’s outfit; a short sword; a lance; average loaded dice; map-maker’s kit; ten javelins; 100 crossbow bolts

15gp: Blank wizard's spellbook; manacles; a longsword; a small buckler; 3 bolas; cutlass; scimitar; trident

25gp:  Silver holy symbol; hourglass; Two bullseye lanterns with ten one-pints flasks of oil


COMMODITIES


10gp: Fancy cloth dye (enough for 20 yd); one pound of chocolate; two pounds of salt; 20lb of copper, garlic, mint, mustard, oregano, or tobacco; 10lb of allspice, basil, cinnamon, cloves, dill, honey, maple syrup, nutmeg, or rosemary;

25gp: One large common animal pelt;


PRECIOUS METALS


10gp: Two pounds of silver (small silver figurine; small silver box; silver ewer), or 100sp in a small chest.


ART OBJECTS AND BOOKS


10gp: A bottle of fine wine; 2 bottles of good quality applejack; a book of 20 songs; a book of fairy tales; a silver serving tray; 5 gallon barrel of mead

15gp: A common music box; a false eye; a book of recipes;

25gp: A locking diary (blank or with plot in it); a book of legends; set of finely carved dominoes; tea ceremony set; a bottle of absinthe; keg of ale


ALCHEMY AND POISON


10gp: Flask of acid; a tindertwig; buoyant balloon; 2 doses of vermin repellant; 50 whistling arrows

25gp: Flask of holy water; alchemy crafting kit; can of 5 applications of alchemical grease; one dose of smelling salts; jar of good quality invisible ink; smoke pellet; a trip arrow


TRANSPORTATION AND ANIMALS


10gp: 2 pack saddles, a small animal cage, a riding saddle; a small cage with a rare songbird in it;


GEMS


10gp: Agates; azurite; blue quartz; hematite; lapis lazuli; malachite; obsidian; rhodochrosite; tigereye; turquoise; freshwater (irregular) pearl


SPELL COMPONENTS


25gp:  Gold dust worth 25gp (component for Arcane Lock or Fire Trap); Onyx worth 25gp (Animate Dead requires one such stone for every hit die of undead to be animated); fleece and jade dust worth 25gp worth 25gp (component for Programmed Image);

50gp


EQUIPMENT


Masterwork manacles; a healer's kit; a disguise kit; a heavy crossbow; a steel vanity mirror; superior loaded dice; studded leather armor; parade armor; a heavy mace and a warhammer; 250 arrows


COMMODITIES


Five cows; 25lb of chilles, cardamom, cumin, fennel, ginger, pepper, saffron or vanilla; flash powder; caviar


PRECIOUS METALS


One pound of gold (pair of gold dice, golden holy symbol, golden key, gold nugget) or 50gp in a sack


JEWELRY, ART OBJECTS AND BOOKS


A fancy false eye; a grand book of songs; a brass face mask; a mahogany bracelet inlaid with silver in geometric patterns; simple ebony hoop earrings; an ivory bracelet carved with banyan trees studded with a peridot gems; a fine copper ring that looks like knotted rope; a brass chain necklace


ALCHEMY AND POISON


Vial of antitoxin; a tanglefoot bag; flask of anointing oil; linen cloth containing five star candle fireworks; 100 incendiary bolts or arrows


TRANSPORTATION AND ANIMALS


Pony with saddle, saddlebags, bit and bridle; rowboat with oars; trained falcon with hood and perch; tame parrot on a perch;


GEMS


Bloodstone; carnelian; chalcedony; chrysoprase; citrine; jasper; moonstone; onyx; peridot; rock crystal (clear quartz); sard; sardonyx; rose, smoky, or star rose quartz; zircon


SPELL COMPONENTS


50gp of ruby dust (component for Continual Flame); 50gp of diamond dust (component for Nondetection); 50gp of gold dust (component for Wall of Iron); onyx gem worth at least 50gp (one per hit die of undead created is needed for Create Undead);


100-400gp


EQUIPMENT


100gp: A magnifying glass; a masterwork instrument; masterwork thieves' tools; a greatsword; antidote kit; two bladed sword; chain shirt;

200-400gp: Darkwood buckler (203gp); Breastplate (200gp); splint mail (200gp); Masterwork dagger (302gp), masterwork greatsword (350gp), greataxe (320gp) or falchion (375gp); masterwork composite (+0) longbow (400gp); five adamantine arrows (300gp); masterwork hand crossbow (400gp); masterwork breastplate (350gp)


COMMIODITIES


100gp: A large exotic pelt or hide; ten square yards of silk; ten pounds of darkwood planks

300gp: 50 square yards of sailcloth


PRECIOUS METALS


100gp: Twenty pounds of silver (two silver bars, silver dinner service for four, solid life-sized silver statue of a cat or eagle, solid ornamental silver greatsword, solid silver coat of arms) or 1,000sp in a large chest; or two pounds of gold (100gp in a small chest)

300gp: 1lb cylinder of adamantine


JEWELRY, ART OBJECTS AND BOOKS


100gp: A deck of beautifully painted playing or divining cards; empty puzzle box of moderate (DC 15) complexity; a case of fine wine (worth 100gp altogether); four books on ancient religions (25gp each); folio of rare lost poems; a never before heard musical score; heart-wrenching tragedy play; small landscape painting; large portrait of the second emperor; 25lb marble bust of a great composer; a silver armband studded with onyx; a silver ring with a smooth jade stone and “joy” engraved in elvish; a necklace with a large rose quartz; a silver brooch of a butterfly with amethyst stones; a gold brooch shaped like a leaf; a silver brooch shaped like a skull with moonstone eyes; a gold chain necklace; a copper necklace hung with four citrines; a silver beer stein


ALCHEMY AND POISON


100gp: An everburning torch; five flasks of alchemist's fire; one dose of bloodroot poison; two doses of troll oil; jar of 5 applications of alchemical glue; jar of 5 applications of alchemical solvent; 5 smokesticks;

200-400gp:  Seven skyrocket fireworks (350gp); one dozen thunderstones (360) 3 doses of arsenic (360); 3 doses of black adder venom (360gp); jug (12 doses) of defoliant (360gp); one dose of shadow essence poison (250gp); one dose of giant wasp poison (210gp)


TRANSPORTATION AND ANIMALS


100gp: Light horse with riding saddle, saddlebags, and 2 weeks of feed in a feedbag; one ox and a medium wagon; cage with four tiny hunting spiders in it; studded leather barding for a horse; Chariot or Carriage, or note/map showing where to find a hidden one for the taking; light horse with saddle, saddlebags, bit and bridle; light horse, cart, and harness

200-400gp: Heavy horse with bit and bridle only; riding dog with exotic saddle, saddlebags, and feedbag with kibble for 2 weeks; heavy wagon with a team of four oxen; tame lion; ten sheep; Heavy warhorse with military saddle, leather barding, saddlebags, bit and bridle (400gp);


GEMS


100gp: Amber; amethyst; chrysoberyl; coral; red or brown-green garnet; jade; jet; white, golden, pink, or silver pearl; red, red-brown, or deep green spinel; tourmaline


SPELL COMPONENTS


100gp: Diamond dust worth 100gp (component for Restoration); Granite and diamond dust worth 250gp (component for Stoneskin); eye ointment worth 250gp (component for True Seeing); incense worth 250gp (component for Legend Lore);


500gp


EQUIPMENT


Half-plate (600gp); four sets of chainmail (600gp); two darkwood shields (514gp)


PRECIOUS METALS


Ten pounds of gold (one gold bar, diminutive solid gold idol, tiny hollow gold idol) or a ten pound rod of cold iron; One pound of platinum (big platinum key, diminutive platinum box, four inch platinum tablet, platinum chalice); one pound rod of Mithral; 500gp in a medium sized chest, or 50pp in a small felt bag


JEWELRY, ART OBJECTS, AND BOOKS


Gold earrings with large red garnets; historic antique map of a well known city by a famous cartographer; large still life of a poisoner’s bench; large tapestry of a famous battle; 100lb marble statue of a famous Halfling; 100lb carved wood statue of an enraged mohrg; rare book of a mariner’s travels; platinum brooch shaped like a cat; gold pin of a long-lost family crest with a small topaz in it; necklace of freshwater pearls; hat pin with a beautiful blue spinel; platinum coat buttons; gold belt buckle with an alexandrite gem; fine elf-made gold boot buckles; delicate mithral jacket buttons; gold earrings with and black pearls carved to look like skulls; necklace with a smooth violet garnet with the ancient dwarvish word-rune for “loyalty” carved into it; a shelf of ten rare books worth 50gp each


ALCHEMY AND POISON


Five doses of greenblood oil poison; one dose of wolfsbane poison; 100lb carboy (10 doses) of embalming fluid;


TRANSPORTATION AND ANIMALS


Five light horses with saddles, saddlebags, bits and bridles, and 2 weeks feed in a feedbag, each; heavy warhorse with heavy chariot and harness


GEMS


Alexandrite; aquamarine; violet garnet; black pearl; deep blue spinel; golden yellow topaz


SPELL COMPONENTS


Black pearl worth 500gp (to be crushed as a component for Circle of Death); Ruby dust worth 500gp (component for Forcecage);



1,000-2,00gp


EQUIPMENT


Spyglass (1000gp); water clock (1000gp); full plate armor (1500gp); mithral buckler (1155gp); mithral tower shield (1180gp); masterwork full plate armor (1650gp); 20 adamantine arrows (1200gp)


PRECIOUS METALS


1,000gp: Two hundred pounds of silver (twenty silver bars, life-sized hollow silver statue of a humanoid, silver dinner service for a banquet of forty) or twenty pounds of gold (small idol, gold sphere); or 1,000gp in a medium-sized chest; or 100pp in a small chest


JEWELRY, ART OBJECTS, AND BOOKS


1,000gp: Intricate (DC 20, three layers) puzzle box containing a gold ring set with a deep blue spinel worth 500gp; a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf with a small library of fifty books (thirty worth 10gp, ten worth 20gp, and ten worth 50gp); mithral cincture with dwarven runes; heavy gold chain with an emerald pendant; solid gold face mask of a wolf or skull; platinum armbands studded with red spinel gems; small ruby pendant on gold chain; necklace of jade; platinum belt; gold moon medallion set with a blue sapphire;


ALCHEMY AND POISON


1,000gp:  10 doses of belladonna poison; 5 doses of large scorpion venom;

1,500gp: dragon bile poison; deathblade poison (1800gp); 20 doses of drow poison (75gp each); 10 doses of medium scorpion venom; glass bottle of insanity mist (1 dose)


TRANSPORTATION AND ANIMALS


1,000gp:  banded barding for a horse; tame elephant;

1,500gp: Two heavy warhorses with chain shirt barding, military saddles, lances, saddlebags, bit, bridle, and feedbags with 2 weeks of food each


GEMS


1,000gp: Emerald; white, black, or fire opal; blue sapphire; fiery yellow or rich purple corundum; blue or black star sapphire


SPELL COMPONENTS


1,000gp: Diamond dust worth 1000gp (component of Restoration); sapphire worth 1000gp (component for Instant Summons); 1000 gp jacinth (component for Astral Projection);

1,500gp:  Diamond worth 1500gp (component for Limited Wish);



3,000-6,000gp


EQUIPMENT


Mithral masterwork breastplate (4350gp); Adamantine chain shirt (5250gp); adamantine warhammer (3,312gp), adamantine greatsword (3350gp), adamantine dagger (3302gp),


PRECIOUS METALS


5,000gp: One hundred pounds of gold (ten gold bars, solid gold statue of a cat or eagle, solid gold coat of arms, solid gold staff, small solid gold chest); or one hundred pounds of cold iron plates; or 500pp in a medium-sized chest


JEWELRY, ART OBJECTS, AND BOOKS


5,000gp: A full library of 6 shelves with 240 books (150 worth 10gp; 50 worth 20gp; 35 worth 50gp; and 5 worth 150gp); a dead king’s missing last will and testament; a heavy gold scepter with a fist-sized violet garnet gem; a platinum crown studded with sapphires; an adamantine armband etched against all probability with celestial poetry honoring a long lost god; a gold crown set with diamonds; a darkwood scepter that seems to have been grown holding a ruby eye; a platinum tablet of holy prayers; a solid gold lance; darkwood throne set with glittering yellow topaz; ebony throne carved with skulls with eyes of shifting fire opal; astral diamond pendant; periapt of a mouse-sized black star sapphire; masterwork longsword in a platinum scabbard set decked with two hundred eyes (cat’s eye chrysoberyls)


ALCHEMY AND POISONS


Seven doses of purple worm poison (700gp each; 4900gp total)


TRANSPORTATION AND ANIMALS


Giant owl (6,000gp); full plate barding for a horse (6,000gp); heavy young stallion warhorse of a rare champion breed with full plate barding, military saddle, masterwork lance, saddlebag, bit, bridle, and feedbags with 2 weeks of food (7.000gp); Combat trained riding hippogriff with exotic saddle and tack (5,000gp)


GEMS


5000gp: clearest bright green emerald; diamond; jacinth; ruby; huge versions of lower-tier gems (e.g. “largest sapphire you’ve ever seen”); unique fantasy-world gems (e.g. astral diamond, haunted jade, balor’s eye)


SPELL COMPONENTS


Diamond worth 5000gp (component for Raise Dead); 5000gp of diamond dust (component of Greater Restoration);

10,000gp


EQUIPMENT


Mithral full plate (10,650gp); adamantine breastplate (10,350gp); Adamantine full plate (16,650gp)


PRECIOUS METALS


One ton of silver (a king's treasury with ten large chests of 10,000sp each, a life-sized solid silver statue of a man on horseback; an elaborate solid silver throne; a solid silver idol of a dragon or god); or 200lb of gold (twenty ten-pound ingots, a chest full of gold nuggets); or 10,000gp in a large treasure chest; or 1,000pp in a medium-sized treasure chest


GEMS


Small chest of 100 medium-quality gemstones


ALCHEMY AND POISONS


2 doses of black lotus extract (9,000gp); 3 doses of wyvern poison (9,000gp);


TRANSPORTATION AND ANIMALS


Sailing Ship, Longship, Galley, or map to a hidden ship or galley nearby


SPELL COMPONENTS


Diamond worth 10,000gp (component for Resurrection); 10,000gp in rare incense and offerings (component for calling a creature with Gate, in addition to other offerings needed to secure its services);

25,000gp


PRECIOUS METALS


Fifty pounds of platinum (five platinum bars, small solid platinum idol, small solid platinum altar); quarter ton of gold (man-sized hollow gold statue, golden anvil); or 2,500pp in a medium-sized treasure chest; or five medium treasure chests each containing 5,000 gold pieces

TRANSPORTATION AND ANIMALS


Five combat-trained hippogriffs with exotic saddles and tack; Warship or map to a hidden ship nearby

SPELL COMPONENTS


Diamond worth 25000gp (component for True Resurrection, Miracle, or Wish);

50,000gp


PRECIOUS METALS


A half-ton of gold (a man-sized statue of gold, solid gold altar, hollow gold idol of a Balor or dragon; solid gold sarcophagus); 5,000pp in a large treasure chest; or five large treasure chests containing 10,000 gold pieces each; a 10x10 space covered with 50,000 gold piece coins; or a huge (15x15) pile of half a million silver piece coins.

TRANSPORTATION AND ANIMALS


Airship or map to a hidden ship nearby



Example


Your adventure hook for tonight's game is that a small town offered to pay the PCs 50gp to wipe out the goblins that have been killing and robbing merchants on the road.  They can keep any loot they find, too.  You draw a small dungeon for the goblin hideout.  Your rough encounter design is this:

  • Three goblin sentries at the cave entrance (CR 1)
  • Three more goblins guarding stolen trade goods in a big side room (CR 1)
  • An empty room with a trash heap with no threats or treasure
  • The goblin chieftain (max HP goblin) and his five best skirmishers planning the next raid (CR 2) in his secure chamber.

Two CR 1 and one CR 2 encounter have 260+260+550=1,070gp of loot.  You decide that there are four Potions of Cure Light Wounds – 50gp each, 200gp total – with the Chieftain.  That leaves 870gp of treasure.  You want to apportion 325gp for a cave full of looted trade goods and 475gp to give out for a goblin chieftain’s non-magical treasure.  The PCs will get 50gp from the townsfolk.  That leaves 20gp, which you use for your sentries.

You go "shopping" on this list and pick out stuff for your treasure piles.  Then you go back and forth, making changes as the items you select as they inspire you to give them stories:

  • 50gp for the Reward:  The town will give the PCs 50gp for clearing out the goblins.
  • 20gp for the Goblin Sentry Encounter (3 goblins):  You select a set of average loaded dice (10gp).  You start thinking about the goblins gambling, and so you fill the rest out in low-value coins that they're gambling with:  85sp, 150cp, 
  • 325gp of Looted Trade Goods (3 goblin warriors, 12 goblin civilians): You pick the ox and cart, since that makes sense for goblins robbing a trade route.  So you have one ox.  What happened to the other oxen?  Maybe the goblins ate them.  Now you have one grief-stricken ox, three inexpertly butchered ox carcasses (that the goblins have been eating), and a medium wagon containing four bear skins (25gp each, 100gp total), a silver holy symbol (25gp), and a bolt of 10 square yards of silk (100gp).  So maybe the goblins killed a clothier and a cleric.  That's something to consider.  Now, if this is where the goblins slaughter and eat their meat, there might be goblin civilians here.  You consider that they're not worth XP, and slaughtering them would be a Chaotic and Evil act.  So the trade off is maybe the PCs, if they act evil, can cut the right ears off the goblins and act like bigger heroes in town for saying they killed 24 goblins instead of 12.
  • 475gp of Treasure and 200gp of Expendable Restorative Items found on the Goblin Chieftain (6 goblin warriors): You decide to give the chieftain a set of small breastplate (200gp) which is a popular armor choice that level 1 PCs usually want to find in a dungeon; plus it beefs up the chief without adding any hard work on your part.  You select some jewelry and clothes for him:  A silver armband studded with onyx (100gp), ebony hoop earrings (50gp), two sets of cleric’s vestments worn to look important (we had a cleric theme going); a purse containing a dose of bloodroot poison (100gp), 2gp, 27sp, and 30cp; and a belt pouch containing the four Potions of Cure Light Wounds you had decided to give him.  Now you've got a story for your potions, too:  Signs point to the goblins having killed a cleric.

As you can see, deciding what the mundane treasure is helps you refine your encounters.  Watch what happens when we re-write the encounters, taking into account all the details we added while "shopping" for treasure!

We got the idea that the goblins have hijacked a clothier’s supply wagon (and eaten three of the oxen) and murdered a cleric (who had some healing potions).  Maybe the leather armor the other goblins are wearing is just crude stuff hacked together from the clothier’s furs and pelts (there were certainly more than four on that wagon to begin with!).

So now we can go back and write a murdered cleric and a waylaid clothier into the story.  Maybe the clothier’s client is the one who hired the PCs instead of some generic villager.  The clothier’s client might own a silk orchard, which defines the town with its primary export.

Now the cleric...  Maybe the town has a church now missing a cleric, or a shrine that pilgrims of the cleric’s religion visit.  What religion was that cleric?  Could it have been a good cleric, leading the PCs to visit the shrine to bring news of his death?  In that case, you can put more story hooks at the church or shrine.

Could it have been an evil cleric on some business related to another plot in your adventure or campaign?  That sounds good.  You have a plot involving Asmodeus trying to corrupt the king of this land.  You add a journal with clues to advance the other plot, and put her corpse and the clue in the trash-heap room.

  • The hook is a wealthy silk grower in the village has asked the PCs to head down the road to find the goblins who have been waylaying the merchants visiting town.  He'll give the PCs 50gp if they kill the goblins.
  • The first encounter has three goblin sentries playing dice (CR 1).  Two of the goblins are getting angry because the third keeps winning (because he’s brought loaded dice!).  The PCs can sneak past while they argue or ambush them while they’re distracted (+5 to Stealth checks to ambush or sneak past them).  If the PCs get the drop on the sentries, they can capture them instead of fighting them.  
  • A goblin cook making ox-flesh stew seasoned with tanned hides, 12 goblin civilians (elderly goblins and children), and 3 goblin warriors guarding some stolen trade goods (CR 1).  The civilians will flee if the PCs let them.  Slaughtering them is a chaotic and evil act, but it would let the PCs brag about killing two dozen goblins.  Back in town, when they claim their reward, the silk grower will ask them if they killed "all the goblins."  If the PCs explain that they killed half and let the other half run off, he won't be nearly as impressed as if they say they slaughtered them all.  But he'll still pay.  If they prove that they slaughtered 24 goblins single-handedly, such as by showing severed ears or something, he might give them an extra 10gp, but they will have committed a chaotic and evil act.
  • The goblin chieftain and his five best skirmishers planning the next raid (CR 2) in his secure chamber.  The chieftain is wearing that breastplate, so his AC is increased to 20, but his speed is reduced to 20’.  He also has 11hp (the max roll for his hit die) instead of the usual 6.  Finally, he carries four Potions of Cure Light Wounds, which he will use each time he is wounded, until his skirmishers are killed, at which point he will surrender.  The PCs will want to put a stop to this, of course, so they can keep those potions for themselves!
  • The trash heap room now has a clue to another plot.  The goblins killed a cleric of Asmodeus on her way to town on some shady business.  The PCs have her journal, and if they can figure out who the unnamed contact in town she was visiting was, they can find out exactly how corrupt this town has become.




March 23, 2015

Four Ways to Avoid Monoplot

The topic today is the monoplot.  Monoplot is when your RPG is about just one thing, all the time.  I have nothing against linear stories in RPGs, but I think there ought to be a bunch of them going on at once for variety, for player agency, and to make things a bit unpredictable.

The problem with the monoplot is that everything is connected to it.  If the PCs encounter a tomb that has been defiled, the monoplot defiled it.  A barony that has been taken over by bandit thugs?  Sent by the monoplot; and someone there will help with the monoplot.  Someone poisoned the river?  Done by the monoplot villain.  Artifact in a dungeon?  Use it to solve the monoplot.  And so on.  It gets to the point where the players don't have to think about what's going on.  The monoplot is what's going on.  Everything monoplot.

This kind of super-tight story is ideal for one-shots and fine for single adventurers, but it can be dangerous to long campaigns.  It can cause chronic time pressure, which is bad for pacing and lead to a railroaded feel.  The player characters' personal hooks to the monoplot eventually resolve, leaving them plodding forward trying to save the world only because nobody else seems interested in taking over.  And the player-characters' personal hooks that didn't connect to the monoplot might get ignored.

When you have monoplot, if the PCs discover a group planning to assassinate the king, they can guess who's behind it.  It's always going to lead back to the big bad villain of the monoplot.  When there are two or more major plots in your campaign, they don't know.  Who's behind it?  Villain A?  Villain B?  Villain C?  They're kept guessing, and that motivates them to look for clues.  That draws them into the action much better.

Here are four tips to fight off monoplot:


1. Write another villain.

Too often, a GM designs just one big bad villain.  That villain may have several henchmen doing various things to modulate your players' interest, but all of them lead back to the monoplot.

The solution is to write another big bad villain.  Villains always want something.  Make this villain want something totally different from what the first wants.  It's best if your second villain is pulled directly from one of your PCs' back-story and personal plot hooks.  This draws that player deeper into the fiction.

Say your first villain is the Wyrm that Eats the World, a long forgotten god that is returning to bring about an apocalypse.  Then perhaps the second could be a paranoid empress who wants to trick Eastwatch and Landing, two city-states bordering on her lands, into war with each other to keep them weak and dependent on her grain and ore, and to prevent either from invading her lands.  Sure, it's not as big a deal as saving the world, but one of the PCs has a home, family and allies in Eastwatch, and another has a mentor in Eastwatch.  When they learn that all of that is at risk because of a mad empress, they will want to stop it.


2. Put on the brakes

Solve your chronic time pressure by creating breaks in your monoplot for other things to happen.  When the big bad villain steals the artifact of awesomeness, your players will want to chase him down immediately.  If you want to avoid a monoplot situation, you need to step on the brakes.  Maybe the villain fled with a teleportation scroll, and the PCs need to go back to the city to get a powerful diviner or well-connected spymaster to find out where he teleported to.  This process will take a month, giving the PCs time to explore another plot.

Here are some ways to pause the plot:

  • Have to rely on an NPC to find the next step in the plot.  The NPC will tell them how long it will take to find it.  Maybe it's a merchant whose ships bring back news from around the world.  Maybe it's a druid searching for an omen at the next full moon.  Maybe it's a wizard studying an artifact the PCs brought out of a dungeon.  Maybe it's a sage translating an ancient scroll.  Maybe the PCs captured one of the villain's henchmen, but can't get him to talk, so they hand him over to nearby clerics to use Detect Lie and Zone of Truth and other such spells to try to draw the next plot lead out of him.  He is strongly magic resistant, and quite canny, so it will be some time before he lets valuable intelligence slip out.
  • Travel to the next place in the plot is prevented somehow - medieval folks found travel over mountains to be nearly impossible; same with crossing dangerous seas during typhoon season; maybe there's a desert that can't be crossed without an airship; etc.  
  • On the other hand, travel could be underway.  Say the PCs know the next step in the Wyrm that Eats the World plot is in a city a thousand miles away.  Along their journey, they can learn that the mad empress has built a training camp for her spies in the swamp near a fishing village on their route.  They can afford to take an extra day to try to capture the empress' spymaster.
  • The PCs could play a little henchman whack-a-mole:  Let them totally defeat one of the big bad villain's lieutenants, crushing her organization utterly.  They know there are other henchmen out there, but they have no news, yet, of one of their evil schemes.  But it's only a matter of time!

3. Kill two birds with one stone

When you're designing a megadungeon, site-based adventure, hex crawl or some other kind of modular, open-world segment of the campaign, consider dropping hooks and challenges for two or more main plots in the location the PCs are exploring.  Perhaps as the PCs rush to the ruins of a village in a valley outside Eastwatch to investigate the supposed war crimes of the King of Landing, they'll find the entrance to a newly-carved subterranean temple dedicated to the Wyrm that Eats the World.  Of course, that temple points to the fact that the valley was peppered with three ancient ruins dedicated to the Wyrm that the cultists are searching for.  Plus, you can seed PCs' unrelated plot hooks in too!  Now they have...

  • Some of the empress' scouts hiding in the valley to make sure their ruse worked,
  • Work to do to help rebuild the village (refugees to reunite, lost children to find, monsters to kill to re-open dangerous woods for logging, neighboring villages to do favors for to get much needed building material, ghosts of murdered villagers to put to rest, etc.),
  • Village elders to placate so they don't blame Landing,
  • One PC's mentor who was killed in the attack, who left behind a puzzling will,
  • Suspicious villagers to investigate to find the empress' leave-behind spies and secret Wyrm cultists,
  • A subterranean temple to explore, and
  • Three ancient ruins to find in the valley before the cultists find them.


4. Watch the progress bar fill up

Make the next big step in your monoplot something pretty mundane:  Building something.  The PCs must return to their home base and employ craftsmen or wizards or priests to make something that they need.  Maybe they need to build a fortification to protect a city, or erect a massive monolith to power a magical ritual, or a computer capable of hacking Arasaka's mainframe (I'm using mostly fantasy examples, but, see, this advice works for other genres, too!), or forge a sword capable of slaying the Wyrm that Eats the World itself.  The PCs will do relatively little of the work -- adventurers are great at skirmishes and stealth missions, but they employ experts for careful craftsmanship.

For example, the PCs must use the airship design plans they found to build an airship before the Wyrm cultists can build theirs.  During the process, there is likely to be quite a lot of downtime -- it could take a year for a shipyard to construct a Georgian man of war, so you can easily stretch weeks if not months of downtime between the small adventures involved in the airship building process.  During those downtimes, they can investigate spies in the Eastwatch court sent by the mad empress, and maybe try to turn one of them to their side.  This way they're moving as fast as they can on the apocalypse cult plot while also pursuing the mad empress plot and some of their personal plot hooks.

March 16, 2015

Pathfinder Item Wishlists

After a few weeks posting on pretty general topics, today I'm giving you yet another tool for running Pathfinder.

In past posts, I've provided:

Today, I'm going to give you a way to run Pathfinder without the headaches of the magic item marketplace.

Here's the problem:  D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder are very heavy on magic items.  The base system for disbursing treasure generates quite a lot of totally random magic items.  Modules also produce quite a lot of magic items.  Unfortunately, 3.5 and especially Pathfinder characters tend to become very focused.  A 9th level Barbarian will be so invested in a specific weapon that other weapons -- even similar ones -- won't be very useful to her.  A 7th level wizard will focus on attack spells, save-or-die spells, buffs, or illusions, generally; and items and scrolls that support one wizard focus will not support every one.  There are some generally useful items, but most results off a treasure table and most loot in modules will wind up missing the mark.  Heck, even a well-intentioned DM can miss the mark.  You might think the barbarian wants a +1 keen falchion, but he was planning on taking the Improved Criticals feat; and now he doesn't know whether or not he should still take the feat (what if the next falchion he finds is a +3 ghost touch falchion?).

When that happens, the player characters have a bunch of magic items they don't care about.  This is problematic because as the GM, you want the world to feel special and magical.  But collecting junk magic items to sell later feels more like Diablo or Skyrim.  It also sends the players off looking for buyers for these items, so they can get gold to spend on new magic items.  Now they're looking for Ye Olde Magick Item Shoppe, carrying around junk magic items worth enough to buy a fiefdom.  If they can't find anyone to sell them items, they're going to start taking item crafting feats and making the items they want with the gold they can get for their junk items.  Naturally the wizard and cleric, who take those crafting feats, will get the first and best stuff; so your party balance starts to slip.

It's a mess.  It's a nasty mess.  So here's what you can do for a home game of Pathfinder to fix this problem.

Making Magic Magical

This system is designed for a long Pathfinder campaign covering levels 1-10 (give or take a few), starting at level 1.  It gives the PCs all the items they want; only the items the want; plus a lot of restorative items.  This eliminates the magic item shop problem and lets them be a little more resilient (so you can safely throw the occasional oops-way-too-hard encounter at them and all it should do is burn through some of their restorative items if it turns out they can't handle it).

First, ban item crafting feats except for the ones that can make expendable items, such as Scribe Scroll, Brew Potion and Craft Wand.

Second, let the players pick out the five or six pieces of equipment they want to have at tenth level.  Let them fill a budget of 62,000gp with five or six items worth no more than 31,000gp for any individual item (meaning they can get up to +3 weapons, for instance).  If there are particular scrolls they want (for a wizard's spellbook, for instance, or a witch's familiar or alchemist's formula book), they can put all the scrolls together as a single item.  They should not use their wish list spots on expendable restorative magic items - those will still appear in loot.

Third, don't give out any magic items other than expendable, restorative magic items or the items on the PCs' wish lists.  For their wish list items, design plot around them.  Give them to major villains to carry into combat.  That Lesser Quicken metamagic rod is going to be brutal in the hands of the Marauding Fire Wizard of Westwatch, and that +3 adamantine falchion is going to do some serious damage in the hands of Thag the high orc warleader.  As a rule if thumb, try to give the PCs their offensive magic items (like the aforementioned rod and falchion) first, then their defensive items second.  Make sure they get all their wish-list items before 10th level.  That means giving out something like 20-30 items in 9 levels, which is still a lot slower than the default, but it requires a little forethought.

Fourth, when determining loot other than their wish-list items, you can give out mundane treasure (mundane items, alchemical items, coins, gems, jewelry, and art objects) as normal, and use the following table for magic items.  Roll 1d6 per CR of the encounter and look the total up on the "Result" column.  If the total was an odd number, there is another item.  Take 1d6 away and roll again, if there are any dice left.  Repeat until you stop rolling odd results or run out of d6'es.

Table: Expendable Restorative Magic Items

ResultTypeItemPrice (gp)
1ScrollScroll of Cure Light Wounds25
2ScrollRemove Fear25
3ScrollGoodberry25
4PotionCure Light Wounds50
5PotionEndure Elements50
6PotionRemove Fear50
7ScrollScroll of Cure Moderate Wounds150
8ScrollLesser Restoration150
9ScrollDelay Poison150
10ScrollRemove Paralysis150
11ScrollDispel Magic150
12PotionCure Moderate Wounds300
13PotionLesser Restoration300
14PotionDelay Poison300
15PotionRemove Paralysis300
16ScrollScroll of Cure Serious Wounds375
17ScrollNeutralize Poison375
18ScrollRemove Blindness/Deafness375
19ScrollRemove Curse375
20ScrollRemove Disease375
21PotionCure Serious Wounds700
22ScrollCure Critical Wounds700
23ScrollDeath Ward700
24ScrollFreedom of Movement700
25ScrollNeutralize Poison700
26PotionNeutralize Poison750
27PotionRemove Blindness/Deafness750
28PotionRemove Curse750
29PotionRemove Disease750
30WandCure Light Wounds750
31ScrollAtonement1125
32ScrollBreak Enchantment1125
33ScrollBreath of Life1125
34ScrollMass Cure Light Wounds1125
35ScrollMass Cure Moderate Wounds1650
36ScrollGreater Dispel Magic1650
37ScrollHeal1650
38ScrollRestoration1700
39ScrollMass Cure Serious Wounds2275
40ScrollRegenerate2275
41ScrollMass Cure Critical Wounds3000
42ScrollMass Heal3825
43OtherRestorative Ointment (Keoghtom's Ointment)4000
44WandCure Moderate Wounds4500
45WandLesser Restoration4500
46ScrollRaise Dead6125
47StaffStaff of Blessed Relief7200
48ScrollGreater Restoration7275
49WandDispel Magic11250
50WandCure Serious Wounds11250
51ScrollResurrection12275
52WandCure Critical Wounds21000
53ScrollTrue Resurrection28825
54StaffStaff of Healing29600
55StaffStaff of Life109400
higher
NADiamond worth 25,000gp, take away 1d6, and roll again. NA

(A diamond worth 25,000gp is needed for Miracle, Wish, or True Resurrection, and can be cut with jeweler's tools into multiple smaller diamonds for Raise Dead and several other spells.)

If you use this table for Pathfinder levels 11+, you might want to add more to the table.  Say, "two scrolls of raise dead" and "10 potions of cure serious wounds."  For every level past 10 you intend to run the game, insert two more rows before the "higher" row, and get a lot more d6es.

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Are you interested in a general nonmagical items (including gems, valuable mundane items, etc.) treasure table for Pathfinder that's based on inspiration and fun?  Let me know in comments and I'll see about putting together a post next month with that information.