Archive for the 'Design' Category

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 I’ve since rescinded that ruling and have allowed players to buy magic items (albeit at a 40% markup like anything else in the town).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.


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!

Long Time

It’s been a long time since I updated this blog. That’s my bad.

A lot of real world stuff has been keeping me preoccupied (work woes), but that hasn’t stopped me from DMing many sessions of the Port Havenholde Campaign. In fact, we just had a 3 sessions in one week marathon that saw the first characters to get past 1st level (and see those higher levels in action) since we began. In fact, four players are now 3rd Level (as of the end of the last session). I’ve been using a combination of my random encounter tables, published dungeons, and home-brewed encounters/dungeons. So far, it’s working out great.

I’m having a couple worries about characters getting higher level. The four PCs that just reached 3rd Level really haven’t ventured out past the 1st Level Areas and I’m worried about them continuing to adventure in the 1st Level Areas and exploit the fact that they are quite powerful compared to them now. I’m hoping that they see that while they are safe, they aren’t getting as much XP as they could be by venturing into harder areas. As long as everyone is having fun, I don’t care honestly. And, they seem to be. At least the players who’ve been playing.

I’ve had some issues with a few players not stepping up to the plate and playing. Two players have all but dropped off the map, and one player is iffy at best having troubles with rides and other absenteeism issues. On the other hand, the game has blossomed somewhat since I last spoke – in the last week or so we’ve had 4 brand new players express interest and I think next week we should see them getting their characters into their first gaming sessions.

I’m interested to see how they respond to the higher level, more experienced characters, and I’m looking forward to seeing those higher level characters showboating and showing off their hard work and dedication to the game. After all, almost everyone (except two players), has lost a few characters to the wilds [note: I find this ironic because most people consider 4th Edition to be too “easy” and catering to players – it’s not.]

I’ve decided my encounter tables need to be expanded and fleshed out with more non-combat encounters. I’d like to see more clues on there, perhaps with a chance of rolling an encounter or some area descriptor instead of an encounter or nothing…

Customizing loot and adding in historic relics has been an issue as well. I’m still struggling to define the history of the world and conveying that in loot. Right now, it appears that a group of elves lived in this area once. Kobolds have taken up residence in their woods and bullywugs in the bog to the east. The hills to the north have been unexplored so far. There is also an area with high-level sahuagin in very close proximity. A group of players encountered them, but ran quickly when they realized their power. Most of the ruins appear to be elven in make and the PCs have found coins that bear the emblem of some elven profile. There is also an elven tree city somewhere in the forest (a group actually found it, but was TPK’d there). This city will possibly hold some clues to the history and of what’s beyond.

The map is starting to come along nicely with the players starting to check and double check their findings, refining the map and so forth. I’m planning to upload a copy of this map for the players to look at on our wiki

Ultimately, I think the players are having a blast and I’m having fun as well. I’m hoping in the next couple post I’ll focus on refining my encounter tables, plotting some more areas within my low level ones that are higher level, and working on the history a bit more.

Treasure – Revisited

So, after getting some advice from Ben and Frost, I’ve decided that magic items should be rare (and hence not sold in the town), but because of the Enchant Magic Item ritual, players will generally have access to them.

That leaves PCs with two options for getting items: get the Ritual Caster feat and Enchant Magic Item ritual (or find another adventurer who has it) and make their own items, or, find what they can and trade/sell/barter for items other adventurers have.

Again, this is one of the more troubling aspects of designing this campaign for me.

In addition, items found out in the wilderness will generally be on the more powerful end of the spectrum and have a direct tie to the history of the world, giving clues to what else might be out there. I’m going to insert a few Paragon Tier items in the world for high level areas that are truly remarkable (remember, PCs can only make their level or lower items, so a 10th Level PC can’t make Level 11 items) and possibly an artifact or two.

Fleshing Out

I’ve been doing a lot of fine tuning to the three random encounter tables I’ve developed so far. I’m using 2d6 for each table to determine a result – this creates a nice bell curve where the middle results are more common. So, it’s more common for a 7 to come up rather than a 2 or a 12. What I’ve done is fill in the middle range with “standard” encounters and as I expand to the outer spectrum, the encounters get harder or easier until you reach 12 (Too Hard) and 2 (Too Easy). This creates a nice percentage of standard and common encounters, but also allows there to be easy or hard and rare encounters also.

As noted in my last blog, my XP totals for the standard encounters were a little on the harder side. I’m already designing each encounter level to the 5 PC standard, and chances are there will be times when 4 or even 3 PCs will be adventuring. This means the encounters are skewed toward the harder side (purposely), but I didn’t want the encounters overly hard even for 5 PCs. So, I tweaked the encounters in the middle range slightly, moving some around and reducing the number of monsters in the encounters. I feel like I have a balanced set of encounters for the first three areas.

I put all of these encounters into an Excel spreadsheet that basically has a tab for each level area. So, all level 1 areas are on the first tab, and all level 2 areas on the second tab, and so on. I’m hopeful this will be extremely handy when it comes time to game.

I’m also starting to get a good feel for the ecology of each area. I’ve got a forest, some hills, and a bog at this point. I’ve given each a brief description and I’m envisioning some cool locales for each. I’ve yet to map anything and I plan to hold off on that until I can hold off no longer. This way, as I flesh each area out more and more, when I finally map I’ll have a good indication of what’s there instead of making it up as I go (which I’m sure I’ll have to do plenty of). I’m also going through the traps and hazards in 4th Edition to see if I can come up with a hazard/encounter complication table for each area to throw some wildlife and terrain features into encounters and whatnot. My goal is to have a good list of features, encounters, and possible terrain hazards for each area – not including dungeons, ruins, caves, etc…

Recruiting continues to move along. I’ve put out a few more ads on sites such as Nearby Gamers and Craigslist. I’ve gotten two responses from Craigslist, but none from NG so far. Seems like people probably check that site less often.

I’m hoping some players come together and get a session going this week – I’m itching to run the first session and get everyone hyped to play again (or for the first time).

My next goal is to develop an adventure site that the treasure map for the first group will lead them to. My plan is to have it lead them to a landmark or two (from which they might learn some more about the world and possibly have a random encounter) and then to a small dungeon where they can delve and get some phat l00t.

A Failed First Session – And Random Encounters

But, not in the way you think. Basically, we had rounded up several players for a first session this past Saturday, only, I got a cold and had to cancel. It kind of worked out in a way because I didn’t have nearly as much prepared as I had hoped. This postponed session gives me a bit more time to flesh out the starting areas I’ve tentatively called – The Bloodsand Forest, The Tainted Bog, and The Goblin Hills. I keep racking my brain trying to get awesome names for my areas and monsters, but they just don’t come. I’ve decided to keep it simple using simple descriptors for now considering the players might name areas something else entirely.

Anyways, so the first session was canceled. Not good because I don’t want to appear to be a flake DM – especially to some of the new recruits. Speaking of recruiting – an update. Basically, I got a couple more players and in addition I’ve teamed up with a local gameshop owner to possibly host the game there and advertise for players. So, that’s a bonus for recruiting.

I’ve done a lot of work making random encounter tables – especially today. I fleshed out the three starting 1st level areas. The 4th Edition D&D rules have made developing random encounter tables very interesting albeit time consuming. Instead of just choosing a bunch of creatures for each region, I’ve had to make balanced encounters for each region based on a number of different creatures inhabiting the region.

I’m still debating the random encounter frequency. For now, I’ve estimated a good amount of time that the party will be outside of town and after those several hours, they roll a “saving throw” to see if a random encounter occurs. I’ve broken down the encounter table into difficulty and used a 2d6 bell-curve roll to determine which encounter occurs. On the rare ends of the spectrum are Too Easy and Too Hard. And from there it goes Easy, Standard, and Hard. I’m worried the encounters I designed today might be a little too hard as I’ve designed them to range from 4-6 PCs on the encounter scale. Meaning, at 1st level, 5 PCs are supposed to have a 500 XP encounter. My standard encounters on my 1st level tables range from 500 to 700. That probably needs to be around 400 to 600. So, I may have to tweak that.

Now that I’ve got my Random Encounter Tables for Areas 1, 2, and 3 setup though, I’m ready to start planting adventure sites. Ruins, dungeons, temples, camps, landmarks, etc… This is going to be the hardest because I’ve still to flesh out my map. I want to start small and flesh out the town and the immediate surrounding areas. Once I’ve got those, I can start planting sites.

I’ve already thought up how to get the first group out of the Admiral’s Rest and into the wilderness. Like Ben suggests, I’m going to use a simple treasure map. Along the way, I hope the PCs will find some clues to further locations.

Another issue I’m having is forcing myself to take a hands-off approach to the game when it comes to scheduling and whatnot. I’ve been pretty good about it, encouraging players (notably my wife) to set up games to get the ball rolling. I’ve taken the time to set up a wiki in order to detail the town (so I don’t have to in-game) and that’s about it. I’ll hand out a rough map at the first session and let the players start filling it in.

Anyways, that’s all I have for now. I plan to get a map and some adventure sites set up next, tweak my encounter tables a bit, and wait for some players to reschedule the game that got canceled.

Recruiting Players

I’ve found recruiting players is harder than it looks. I think once the campaign gets rolling, recruiting will be easier – but I’ve found most people are skeptical at first about a West Marches sandbox game (mostly my normal group of players). It doesn’t help much when there are two other full-time games going on in our group of players, and that’s one reason (among others) I decided to run a flexible, open game like this.

I’ve put out calls on our group’s forums, WotC forums, Paizo forums, local gaming site forums, and sent personal invitations to family and friends and put out the call for anyone to invite others. This has yielded roughly 8-10 ‘potential’ players and I think I’ll have enough to get our first session going (hopefully this Saturday). What I want to avoid though is the same four to five guys and gals participating in every game session, which defeats the purpose of the West Marches game.

Right now I’m trying to stick to the mantra of, “If you build it, they will come.”


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