An Example

The 3 x 3:

Creature Clue: Siolim’s conversation is important in determining what happened to the residents of this land prior to Port Havenholde – he mentions something of the “Maddening” and the Hag’s hurt on the northern edge of the swamp.

Treasure Clue: The PCs find a black dragon idol – it appears to be made from the time of humans and its name is written in Draconic on it with a phrase. “Hail the Lord of the Bog, Syvestrix, for he has spared us from his wrath. May this idol show our gratitude, sitting majestically on our doorstep.”

Journal Clue: The PCs find an ancient journal. It appears to be the warden of this prison’s personal journal. The journal is intact, and is probably quite valuable as a historical archive. The date on the journal is 486 A.E. – whatever that means. It is written by an apparent human named Reginald Balkstaff IV. Mostly, the journal details daily happenings and various criminals admitted here. (PCs can roll History checks pertaining to criminals of the ancient Human realm).

1. It appears this land was once a verdant pasture. Since the coming of the black dragon, however, this place has sunken into a wretched marsh. The lord of this region has kneeled before the dragon at the behest of his captains and myself. He wishes all nobles to place idols on their doorstep to show our gratitude for the beast’s mercy. If I had the backing, I would travel to its lair past the once great Lake Genevene (now a lake of mud) and slay it myself. Argh! Damned the lord and this wretched land. I have applied for transfer to command a company on the warfront with the Dwarves of the North.

2. A very infamous criminal, Sedrick the Butcher, has been recently incarcerated. The captain confiscated his weapon of legend and has hidden it in a secret room detailed on the map of the prison. (Unfortunately, this weapon has already been looted… It is now in the hands of a dragonborn prince. The glass case it was in has been smashed and is covered in mold and the felt has been ripped.)

3. Later in the journal, the warden mentions prisoners and guards starting to “lose their mind” and exhibit irrational behavior, even ones he would normally consider some of his best guards and most behaved inmates. The last few entries in the journal appear to be erratic and nonsensical.

3 x 3 History Clues

This has been the hardest (and most time consuming) aspect of the game for me. Fleshing out the history of the world and distributing clues for the PCs to gather and understand it. I have an idea to help me with it.

I read about a method for crafting adventures and plotlines some time ago called the 5 x 5 method. Basically, you takes 5 quest ideas and interweave them all together to create this rich and interlocking tale. I’ve decided that I want to use a similar method to weave my world into my history. Instead of 5, I’m going to use 3.

Here’s how it works: I pick a location (you can certainly use the location your PCs are next going to…) and at that location I want to plant 3 clues that lead to 3 other locations on my DM map. These clues can be vague or direct, but ultimately need to get the PCs wheels turning and set them in motion toward some other objective outside the current adventure locale.

I haven’t exactly began this process, but I intend to do this very shortly and I’ll be posting some examples when I hash out a couple ideas.

Oh No! A Magic Item

Two sessions ago I broke a cardinal rule of mine, and I placed in the treasure a … magic item.

This created a stunning situation in a five-player party; they simply couldn’t handle it. They went nuts trying to figure out who should get it, how they person should repay the others, what about magic items that have no clear benefit for one person, what about a magic item that clearly does but that person has no way to repay the others… It created a slew of problems.

I realized then that keeping magic items out of the equation is a very good decision I made early. Instead, giving them incredibly valuable treasure piece worth X level magic item they can split evenly seems to be the best solution.

Am I going to get rid of magic items out there totally? No. No I am not. I’ve decided to add some more flair to the world, in trying to give my world some more history. Each region I’ve decided is going to have one powerful relic, artifact. This is going to more of a plot point, a reason for the party to go exploring a certain location than anything else. But, as far as magic items go, that’s about it. I’ll still throw consumables out there, but Magic Sword +1 ain’t gonna make the cut.

So, be forewarned 4th Edition West Marches DMs – with a varying group of members with very different play styles in their own home campaigns about dividing magic items, be careful what you give out.

More On Treasure

In an earlier post, I noted how I didn’t want characters to be able to buy magic items. I’ve since rescinded that ruling and have allowed players to buy magic items (albeit at a 40% markup like anything else in the town). This allows players to have options to purchase items they generally need for their characters [in 4th Edition, some magic items are assumed – armor, weapon, amulet, etc…], but also gives them the ability to forgo the markup with Enchant Magic Item rituals.

Last night, I played with my new random treasure tables, and they definitely need tweaking. Right now, the chance of getting consumables seems very high and although I want them in the mix, I don’t want that to be the ONLY thing the PCs find in treasure. Coins and treasure items should be more commonplace than flasks of alchemist acid.

In addition, I’ve realized there aren’t that many wondrous items. I’m considering adjusting my table to make the chance of getting a wondrous item even rarer – instead of having the chance of getting a wondrous item on a d6 roll of 6 on parcels 1 through 4, you’d only have a chance to get it on a roll of a 6 on parcels 1. Then, I’d roll a d4 to determine which level the item was (based on the parcel level).

It seems like this might be a LOT of rolls for determining treasure, but in practice it’s not. Roll d10, check result. Roll d6, check result. Roll d20, check result. That’s about it.

A Quick Map Update

I’ve been converting our paper map into a digital map, regularly adding things from what the players write on the map. This map mirrors my DM map somewhat, although on my map I have a grid and every location specifically placed.🙂

Compare this with the paper, hand-drawn version.

Random Treasure

Random treasure gets the shaft in 4th Edition. In fact, it’s so frowned upon with the way treasure works in 4th Edition that the developers encourage DMs to actually request wishlists from their players that detail items they want for their characters.

How I’ve Been Doing It

For Port Havenholde, I’ve changed up the way treasure is allocated quite a bit. I’m still working on integrating “history” into the treasure I hand out, but it’s slow going. I’ve spent so much work developing the gears and mechanics of the world, that I’ve neglected the fluff. It’s sorely missed so far, especially when my players want to roll History checks and whatnot and I’m scratching my head like, “I don’t know – I’ll get with you on the forums.” Part of this is lack of planning, and part of it is that I simply don’t know and I’m making it up as I go. That’s not so good with the sandbox style, and it’s something I plan to remedy soon.

For now though, I’m working on dealing with this treasure issue. I’ve learned early on that I do not want to hand out magical items. Quite simply, I don’t want PCs fighting over who gets what item and how to deal with that. So for this purpose, I hand out gold and treasure PCs can sell for gold. I’ve literally handed out one traditional magic item – a suit of +1 eldritch serpent chainmail that was lost due to a TPK. Instead, I’ve opted to hand out gold, a few potions here and there, and treasure items that are significantly valuable. Typically, when I decided a parcel that would normally be a “Magic Item of Level X” comes up, instead I hand out an art object equal to the value of that magical item. So, instead of handing out Magic Item Level 4, I hand out an art object worth 840 gp.

A couple things:

1) This allows the PCs to sell those items for an evenly distributable amount of gold – and a significant amount above a normal parcel of gold. That gold can then be used to purchase or create magic items.
2) This keeps PCs from having to figure out who actually gets the +1 armor while everyone else gets shafted. Because of the nature of the constantly changing party-makeup, I like that at the end of the adventure everyone can evenly distribute that loot instead of “owing somebody next time”.
3) These extra valuable treasure items also double as the “historical” items of my campaign world – these still need to be fleshed out. After all, when I say, “you find a ceremonial headdress made of platinum and gems, it’s easily worth 2600 gp” you pay attention and then I insert my historical clue/tidbit like Ben Robbins suggests.
4) I don’t have to worry about studying your character’s sheet and trying to figure out which items to place in the damned treasure parcels. I also don’t have to ask you what you want and break the mystery and suspense of finding treasure.
5) I also don’t have to worry about neglecting one player’s character… “Wait? A sword? So, Nathaniel the Fighter gets ANOTHER item and us Wizards don’t get anything??? It’s useless to me, so I guess we give it to him.”

Now… This is how I have been doing it.

How I’m Going To Start Doing It

Tomorrow, we’re playing another session of my Port Havenholde campaign. Today, I’ve worked a lot on fleshing out the method I have been using and adding some more details and randomness (like the old days of D&D) to treasure. I’m keeping the same basic principle, magic items that PCs generally need for their characters to be effective in 4th Edition will be purchased with gold they gather from treasure and treasure item parcels that replace the normal magical item parcels. This means, you are still more likely to get a ceremonial silver-plated sword worth 1000 gp than you are a +1 magic sword. This way, each person in the party gets 200 gp to put toward whatever magic item they want to buy.

There is one small catch to this. Wondrous Items.

I’ve inserted a chance (albeit small) that something unique, cool, interesting, and most importantly actually magical will be found among treasure out in the dungeons. I am going to use wondrous items. These are items that can generally be used by anyone. This basically solves two problems with my former method. First, it adds some magic back into the treasure. Second, it is things usable by anyone so I don’t have to worry about fitting it to particular classes or characters, and in addition it’s usable by any party most likely. My players have come upon a method of “sharing” potions and other consumables. They’ve determined that a basket should be placed in the Admiral’s Rest (Port Havenholde’s adventurer inn) and when a party comes back from adventuring, you put any consumables found as treasure in the basket for all to use. Any adventurer who goes out to adventure can take whatever they want out of the basket, so long as they bring it back if they don’t use it up. Give a potion, take a potion. They came up with this on their own! Awesome idea!

I don’t know if this will follow-on to the wondrous items they might find, but the reason they are there in the first place is because of that sharing basket.

Now, remember, it’s only a small chance the party will find a wondrous item – these also double as history items, but if they don’t find a wondrous item, they still find a treasure item valued at what the magic item would have been worth.

The other thing I changed is the non-magical item parcels. In the DMG, a parcel looks like this:

2 Magic Item, level 2

or, like this…

6 180 gp, or one 100 gp gem + 80 gp, or one potion of healing + 130 gp

That’s easy enough right? Simply choose a parcel (there are 10 examples, 4 with magic items and 6 with gold, gems or potions of healing) and a variation, and bam! You got loot.

I’ve already talked about how I ditched the 4 magic item parcels pretty much entirely. Instead, I’ve changed the parcels to look like this:

1 (1-5) 1000 gp in coin or treasure, (6) or a level 5 wondrous item

It reads like this – if I roll a 1 to determine this parcel is selected, I then roll a d6. On a 1 through 5 result, the PCs get 1000 gp in coin or a treasure item (like a silver-plated ceremonial blade or something) worth 1000 gp. On a result of 6, they get a random wondrous item (I then roll randomly among that level of available wondrous items and whatever comes up is inserted into the loot).

You may have noticed a couple things in there I haven’t discussed – notably the randomness of this system. Well, basically, I have a series of rolls that determine which parcel to use, and then within that parcel which variation to use. It’s quite simple. I’ve kept the 10 different parcels the DMG offers (of course I’ve changed the them to represent my new system). So, I roll a d10 to determine which parcel is inserted into the loot (typically 1 parcel per encounter – if I want the loot to be all at the end of a dungeon, like a hoard, I’ll just put it all there and roll numerous times). Once I’ve determined which parcel to use, I roll a d6 to determine which variation to use. For the magic item parcels, it’s easy; 1-5 you get gold or treasure, 6 you get a wondrous item.

Following me?

Now, the next thing I wanted to change (besides treasure or wondrous items instead of magic items, and adding randomness) is the other 6 parcels. Basically, it kind of drove me nuts that the only potion offered in the DMG parcels was potion of healing. I wanted to change that. So, I had to customize the parcels a bit. I took all the consumable items in the Compendium and ordered them in terms of their value. I then took those values and added them into the parcels. So, instead of getting a “potion of healing”, you will get one random consumable valued at 50 gp. From the same table as above, check it out:

8 (1-2) 120 gp in coin or treasure, (3) one 120 gp consumable (4) one 100 gp consumable and 20 gp in coin (5) one 75 or 80 gp consumable and one 40 gp consumable, or (6) two 50 gp consumables and 20 gp in coin

You can see this is quite different from the 1st level number 8 parcel in the DMG… The first thing I did was get rid of “or gem”. Let’s face it, PCs don’t care if you give them 100 gold coins or a 100 gp value gem. They want cool treasure items or straight up gold. I don’t need to be told to differentiate gold coins from gems. If I want to add gems to the loot, I just convert the gold coins straight up.

Secondly, I’ve added in more variations AND instead of just potions of healing, I’ve given a wide range of possible consumables that the PCs can get in the loot. These all add up to the total amount of GP they should be getting for that parcel, but sometimes they’ll get interesting consumables instead of treasure or gold.

Again, I roll a d10 to determine which parcel is given (1-4 are treasure items or wondrous items and 5-10 are consumables and/or gold coins). Then, I roll a d6 to determine which variation of that parcel is given – on a 1-2, coins and then 3, 4, 5, or 6 gets a variation of consumables and coins.

So this is what a full table looks like:

Level 1 Encounters
1. (1-5) 1000 gp in coin or treasure, (6) or a level 5 wondrous item
2. (1-5) 840 gp in coin or treasure, (6) or a level 4 wondrous item
3. (1-5) 680 gp in coin or treasure, (6) or a level 3 wondrous item
4. (1-5) 520 gp in coin or treasure, (6) or a level 2 wondrous item
5. (1-5) 360 gp in coin or treasure, (6) or a level 1 wondrous item
6. (1-2) 200 gp in coin or treasure, (3) one 160 or 200 gp consumable (4) two 100 gp consumables (5) one 75 or 80 gp consumable, one 20 gp consumable and 150 gp in coin, or (6) three 50 gp consumables and 50 gp in coin
7. (1-2) 180 gp in coin or treasure, (3) one 150 or 160 gp consumable and 20 gp in coin (4) one 120 or 125 gp consumable and 55 gp in coin (5) one 100 gp consumable, one 50 gp consumable and 30 gp in coin, or (6) two 50 gp consumables, one 20 gp consumable and 60 gp in coin
8. (1-2) 120 gp in coin or treasure, (3) one 120 gp consumable (4) one 100 gp consumable and 20 gp in coin (5) one 75 or 80 gp consumable and one 40 gp consumable, or (6) two 50 gp consumables and 20 gp in coin
9. (1-2) 60 gp in coin or treasure, (3) one 50 gp consumable and 10 gp in coin (4) one 40 gp consumable and one 20 gp consumable, (5) two 30 gp consumables, or (6) one 25 gp consumable and 35 gp in coin
10. (1-2) 40 gp in coin or treasure, (3) one 40 gp consumable, (4) one 30 gp consumable and 10 gp in coin, (5) one 25 gp consumable and 15 gp in coin, or (6) two 20 gp consumables

Again, I roll a d10 to determine the parcel. Then, I roll a d6 to determine which variation of the parcel.

Does this mean that a party may in fact get lucky and find several very valuable treasure items? Well, yes and no.

Yes, that is entirely possible. Such is the nature of sandbox gaming. One party might find a hoard of treasure items and another find a few coins and consumables in the same amount of game time.

But, there are some other things to factor. For one, treasure items and wondrous items will generally NOT be found on random encounters. These parcels are reserved for dungeons. Most of the time, monsters will not bring their treasure out into the “field” with them. So because of this, when rolling to determine treasure for random encounters, I roll a d10 as normal, but if the result is 5 or less, I add 5 to the score. If I roll a 3 for example, that would actually be parcel 8.

Secondly, there may not be treasure at all. In most cases, I will roll a d20 to determine whether treasure is available in the first place. On a 10 or better, the PCs get loot. On a 9 or lower, they get nothing.

The exception to this rule is of course “bosses” and certain dungeons where I want there to be certain treasure items. In these instances, I’m not rolling for random treasure, but I’ve already pre-planned the treasure.

Anyways, that’s how I’ve done it. This is a brand-new system and I’m sure I’ll tweak it. In the meantime, comments are welcome!

Blood-fing-thirsty

I’ve been running a lot of games of Port Havenholde for some time now. The popularity of the game has expanded immensely, with several waves of new players entering the fold. Unfortunately, with that, we’ve also lost some players (for now anyways) that I typically play with. I’m not sure if they’ve just been preoccupied or what, but they haven’t played in some time. Nearly all of the new players, with the exception of maybe one, has really enjoyed themselves and keep coming back for more.

One thing I don’t think they are enjoying is PC death that seems to happen regularly! I’ve been keeping a wiki online to track player characters and in-game information about the town and whatnot. I keep a list of characters there; the living and the fallen. Here’s a snapshot of our current characters:

The Adventurers of Port Havenholde

Living
Controllers
Llewellenar – Female Elf Seeker – 3rd Level

Defenders
Jhintoth – Male Kobold Paladin (Bahamut) – 3rd Level
Nathaniel – Male Human Fighter – 3rd Level
Alin – Male Human Fighter – 1st Level
Jabronicus – Male Eladrin Swordmage – 1st Level
Grundle Grimhammer – Male Dwarf Fighter – 1st Level
Harbek – Male Dwarf Warden – 1st Level

Leaders
Gwyer Rose – Male Human Bard – 1st Level
Trey Dradul – Male Human Artificer – 1st Level

Strikers
Leucis – Male Tiefling Rogue – 1st Level
Olo Nimblefoot – Male Halfling Rogue – 1st Level

And, now a snapshot of who has died:

Fallen
Tariq – Male Deva Cleric (Tymora) – 3rd Level
Garuph – Male Dwarven Ranger – 2nd Level
Aelar – Male Elf Assassin – 1st Level
Burell – Male Eladrin Avenger – 1st Level
Darvin Bersk – Male Human Bard – 1st Level
Garoon – Male Shifter Cleric (Melora) – 1st Level
Kalasta – Male Dragonborn Paladin (The Silver Flame) – 1st Level
Lu – Female Human Paladin (Kord) – 1st Level
Minharath – Male Kalashtar Cleric (Ioun) – 1st Level
R’gile – Male Dwarven Artificer – 1st Level
Talamonde – Male Human Wizard – 1st Level
Xuli – Female Drow Sorceress – 1st Level

As you can see, the list of “fallen” adventurers is substantial. In fact, many players are on their third characters. I believe there is only one player who is still on his first, and that’s a battlerager fighter, who seem to be nigh indestructible with their temporary hit points. I say “nigh” because during the last session, he very nearly bit the dust.

Because of all this, I’ve acquired the title of “His Bloodythirstyness”. Yikes. I keep reminding the players that a lot of the deaths are centered around being less-than-cautious, tactical errors and bad luck. Afterall, I’m only playing the pre-determined encounters as they happen… I try to play the monsters as ‘realistic’ as possible. Most intelligent creatures don’t go after downed PCs, while animals and bloodthirsty creatures might take a bite out of an unconscious PC. Most of the encounters are pre-determined via random encounter tables and pre-planning dungeons. So, I do feel good about being an arbiter, or judge, more so than a challenger, an enemy of the players.

On the other hand, there’s a secret to this that I should divulge. For one, I like that Port Havenholde has a reputation for being the deadliest campaign most of these guys have played. I like how cautious and empowered the players who reach level 2 and 3 feel; the sense of accomplishment I can see on their faces. Don’t get me wrong, I would love for these guys to level up and quickly so they can get to exploring all these higher level areas I’m itching to unveil. But, I also like the sense of dread players have when they realize they are in an area well out of their league. It’s intense, and very suspenseful to see if they survive.

Part of this “degree of difficulty” is by design. I’m designing nearly every encounter around the idea that there are 5 PCs in the party. This basically means, if you have less than 5 PCs, you are at a disadvantage, even against encounters equal to your level. If you are silly enough to adventure with 3 PCs, you are even further behind the curve (and I believe most people have learned to try and get 4 PCs at least!). In addition, my random encounter tables are designed with a bell-curve grade of difficulty. Meaning, you have a chance of encountering those standard budget encounters, or… you might face off against something much easier – or much more difficult.

I roll to randomly determine the situation (whether one side is aware, or both) based on the stealthiness of the party, so if you do happen upon a harder encounter that you are unaware of, the decision to fight them might not be in your hands.

Most dungeons are of a level equal to the region. If I have a 1st level forest, most dungeons will be 1st level in there. Meaning, you are almost better off finding a dungeon and delving than you are roaming around aimlessly. After all, you will most likely encounter level 1 encounters in a level 1 dungeon.

The exception to this rule is, of course, the “pocket of danger” the original West Marches campaign detailed. I’ve spread several “high-danger” areas in each region, and in some cases, each dungeon. The PCs have encountered one of these areas in my 1st Level Forest (an island set in the center of an undead lake) and unfortunately they also happened upon one area and the first “dungeon” they happened upon was a pocket of danger… This was where the aforementioned battlerager nearly died. Let’s hope they avoid that area for a while.

Next time, I’m talking about turning the standard treasure parcel tables into random treasure tables.


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