RPGaDay2018 Day 5: What is your favourite recurring NPC?

In my Forgotten Realms campaign we started off playing some D&D modules converted to RM. The second module the players ran though was FRQ3 Doom of Daggerdale.

The villain in this module was Colderan the Razor and when my players ran through this Colderan survived and has started plotting his revenge against the characters. He has been behind several plots now and in when other modules I have used would have introduced another evil magic user I have substituted in Colderan.

In my players perspective this NPC has slowly been revealed to them as the root evil behind countless plots and intrigues.

You may remember back to some plot outlines I have suggested in the past of evil alchemists and how they could stockpile magic in the form of potions or use a range of low level magic to good effect? All these posts were inspired by what Colderan was up to in my Forgotten Realms campaign.


I should have mentioned this at the time of writing but it slipped my mind. Egdcltd has just released a supplement on NPCs that fitted in well with the recent NPC related questions.

100 NPCs You Might Meet At The Tavern

Characters will often spend a substantial amount of time in taverns, whether following up leads, meeting contacts, resting or looking for clues and information. Some of the people met may be important for whatever quest the characters are currently undertaking. But what about the others?

Taverns and inns are not frequented just by people who are immediately needed. They will have other customers and staff as well. Rather than simply glossing over these individuals, this supplement provides a detailed list of 100 different people to flesh out a tavern. Each is given a name and described. Some of them may have skills and knowledge that characters find useful and others could be a potential source of adventure hooks.

This supplement currently in the Christmas in July sale on RPGnow for $1.99.

Rolemaster Deconstruction: Familiars. How should they work?


Familiars are not only a staple of fantasy fiction but a core visual ingredient of Rolemaster book covers–specifically the ongoing series of Angus McBride covers from earlier RM books that featured a cast of PC’s with several small animal Familiars.

Familiars had a more sinister aspect in early fiction; most often a demonic imp, crow or other dark-aspected animal tied to an evil antagonist. Early D&D applied this concept to any M-U, and broadened it to a simple servitor or animalistic henchmen of a spell-caster.

First, let’s differentiate between “animal control” spells and “familiars”. Animal control spells are featured in the Animist, Beast Master, Druid and similar professional lists in Spell Law and Companions. These are spells that summon/call, control/master and sometimes allow the caster to sense through a controlled animal. These are all powerful affects, in in some ways SUPERIOR to the limitations and penalties associated with Familiars. So how does Rolemaster deal with Familiars? Fairly easily, in fact, so easy that it behooves a caster to immediately have one.

So why would a caster have a Familiar?

Familiars have a symbiotic connection to the caster where animal control is just a magical charm or affect on a creature. So what is the symbiotic relationship? What benefit does it provide besides cinematics? How does it work, mechanically via the rules?

The basic premise is that there is a REAL benefit to the caster, but at the cost of INVESTITURE. In other words, if the relationship is severed there is a real, physical or psychosomatic cost to the caster. Otherwise isn’t it just easier and less risk to control creatures when needed?

So what is the benefit, or possible benefits, of a familiar that differentiate it from other animal control spells? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Communication. The Familiar bond should allow for free two way communication between the caster and creature. This may not be actual “language” but at least a strong empathic bond.
  2. Awareness. The caster and familiar should have some base awareness in terms of location/distance of each other at all times.
  3. Shared Awareness. With concentration the caster might be allowed to project sensory ability and awareness through their Familiar.
  4. Control. The caster, with concentration, should be able to have some control over their familiar or, at least, give simple instructions for a Familiar to execute.
  5. Shared abilities. A caster might gain some extra-abilities through the Familiar relationship. Perhaps better vision, languages, strength, sensory etc. On the flip side, a Familiar could gain some intellectual ability bestowed by the Familiar bond.

Most of these benefits mirror other animal control spells. But those are temporary spell effects; a Familiar is permanent.

My belief is that GM’s are reluctant or adverse to Familiars. Why? Familiars are really NPC’s for the benefit of the PC’s. That really complicates the narrative.  GM’s not only have to manage normal NPC’s but a constant stream of Familiars that can upend the storyline unless the GM takes the Familiars into consideration!!! At that point, who is the audience? Additionaly, Familiars can change the challenge/reaction of normal adventures–familiars act as scouts or agents with heightened senses that can off-set the normal challenge-balance. At the least, Familiars can be the “canary in the coal mine” and alert the group of traps or other imminent obstacles.

Some additional thoughts:

  • Familiars are GM agents. You can better control the narrative through them.
  • They should be of animal intelligence. They may act with pro-forma intelligence via their caster, but their base ability should be simple animal intelligence.
  • Size. Should they be of smaller size? Should a caster have a bull as a familiar? Probably not. I would restrain the spell limits using the size rules to Small or less.
  • The penalty for losing a familiar should be EXTREME, or at least cautionary. The tie that binds should snap back accordingly and in proportion. This could be loss of temp CO. or even a permanent CO pt, a general activity penalty and even worse.

Again, this goes back to risk/reward. No GM wants to manage intelligent Familiars that run the unknown gauntlet, trip the traps and distract the monsters. At that point, who is playing? Familiars should be carefully hoarded resources–a cool benefit that needs to be defended! Are familiars a great resource in you game?

Of course, if easy and beneficial, every player will have a Familiar. But if the risks and rewards are balanced, would it be different? Maybe the whole concept should be reduced to a simplified, professional agnostic “Animal Bond” mechanic and spell list. That eliminates the whole D&D Magic-User familiar trope and become a generic but specific rule-set that could be used by a variety of PC’s or classes: Magician, Animist, Druid, Beast Master, Barbarian etc. What are your thoughts?




The Monster Wiki

This morning the monster wiki was born.

So right now there are only about four or five monsters in there. I have two dozen more to add just to bring it up to date with the monsters I have converted over so far.

I also need to organise the navigation to make them findable. I need category pages and links to individual monsters. The basic site search will find them but as you can imagine searching for Orc will find a lot of pages not just the monster description.

In theory anyone who is logged into the blog should be able to edit any monster, add any monster and so on. If you want player races then get stuck in! Over this weekend I will try and bring this up to date with the monsters I have so far. Having said that I am away this weekend so progress could be limited! If anyone has any thoughts then fire away. I will do anything and everything to make this as useful as possible.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that none of us own these monsters, they are a gift to the RM community and free for anyone and everyone to use.

Face to Facetime

The last time I posted about my face to face game I was dealing with the issue of how do I make it feel like the characters are fully engaged with the the adventure when they are searching for something that isn’t there. I know they will not find it, or ‘him’ in this case as he is not there to be found.

As it happens the session has been delayed, it was originally intended to be played in June but with real life getting in the way it has been pushed back and we are now looking at late October or early November.

Even so it is time to get my gaming notes out again.

If you strip out meal times and the other game (where I get to be a player) I have about 16hrs of game session available to me. 5 5th level characters and a fruitless search in a monster rich forest.

I had a bit of a eureka moment this morning when I remembered Brian’s Vignette post. What I am going to do is string together a series of one off encounters, each one quite atmospheric and evocative.

I am thinking of a witches cottage in a dark shrouded clearing; a pack of wolves, maybe lead by a werewolf stalking the party; an attack by giant spiders coming down from the forest canopy at night. They are adventuring in the Spiderhaunt forest after all! I think I may throw some ghouls at them and a butchered unicorn for good measure.

These could so easily be my players!

A typical dungeon crawl could take 16hrs and would have multiple combat encounters. I can treat the forest as a ‘dungeon without walls’.

My original intention was to run a more coherent side quest but the problem with that, on reflection, is that if the do not complete it in the time I have available we the players even remember what they were doing and why the next time we play? More than a year of real life will have passed between the day they entered Spiderhaunt and when they complete any side quest.

I am the youngest member of our group but a couple of months so I am allowed to make jokes about their fading memories and how they are all getting on. By the new year I will be the only one still under 50!

The more I think of this the more I like the idea. I can let rip a bit and throw some tough challenges at them and at the same time if things go badly I can ease off. They do not have the meet every encounter I throw at them. I can also have them some problem solving like trying to cross waterways, scale rocky outcrops and so on. It may also be an opportunity to replenish some of their herb supplies.

Can you think of any really cool forest monsters I can do atmospheric one off encounters with?

Setting or Unsettling?

Brian recently touched upon the need for Rolemaster to fully commit to Shadow World as its default setting. I am 100% behind this idea.

It is obvious from Brian’s deconstructions that as soon as you start to look critically as Spell Law that the amount of setting specific magic is far greater than one would have given credit for initially. This will always be most pronounced in the Channelling realm as gods have a big role to play in most fantasy settings. That then throws up the issue of why is a cleric of a fire god just as good at healing as a god of healing?

I think it was in Rolemaster Companion IV that they introduced deity specific base lists and I have been using them ever since. For most of my games I have not had a problem with Clerics being broken.

The first version of Spell Law that I used was the blue text with the naff handwritten font. I wasn’t comic sans but it was not far off. Apart from lay out improvements I don’t think Spell Law has changed much since that first edition and I think that may explain some of the problems.

Spell Law was intended as a drop in replacement for the AD&D magic system. I am playing Rolemaster in the Forgotten Realms which is an AD&D setting. My game is set after the time of troubles which gives me areas of wild magic which are not unlike esseance storms.

In AD&D all clerics could cast cure light wounds and at higher level finger of death and raise dead. They could commune with their god and they can turn the undead.

Rolemaster Clerics can cast all the closed healing lists, they can use absolution for the finger of death, life giving for raise dead and there is a whole list for communing and another for repulsing the undead.

RM Clerics are a perfect fit for AD&D Clerics. The fault lines that Brian experiences do not manifest in my games because Spell Law is written to fit the AD&D tropes.

This just goes to show that not only is Spell Law well over due a complete overhaul but BASiL is the way forward.

I don’t care if most people use Shadow World or not. If you set RM, and specifically RMU, to use Shadow World as the default setting, tie in all the rulebook examples to that setting, feature a starting adventure in the setting and describe magic against the Shadow World context then you will have a much richer product.

A significant number of GMs will create their own homebrew setting just as a significant number of 5e DMs create their own homebrew settings.

To all intents and purposes MERP is a homebrew setting these days. Yes, there are old books that are mostly compatible but there is nothing new and there never will be. It is as easy to convert from Cubicle 7’s One Ring or 5e Adventures in Middle Earth resources to RMU as it is to convert from the 1980s MERP region books.

I do not think you can divorce setting from rules once you start to look at magic and channelling magic most of all.

It is not only the magic system but the unique monsters and races that make the setting from a rules perspective. The companion I gave me all the AD&D races I needed but I still see questions on the ICE forums about Shadow World races.

With RMU it is going to be easy to create balanced races but I don’t think ICE customers buying ICE games to play in an ICE setting should have to make the things up themselves!

I don’t think I am a diva or over demanding or is joined up thinking too much to ask?

In Just Seven Days I can Make You A Man!

Tucked away at the back of different versions of Creatures & Treasures are some interesting little add on chapters. In the first C&T that I owned it has the comversion stats for D&D and Runequest. In the RMC Creatures and Treasures it has guidelines for creating your own monsters.

I am a dab hand at D&D monster conversions as I convert from old FR modules to RM all the time but creating new monsters is not something I have ever done.

There are three immediate uses I can think of for new monsters but I only want to discuss one of them here and now.

If your characters have been around for years (such as the hypothetical 50th level characters in BriH’s adventure plans) then they have probably met and killed everything many times over. So how about something completely new?

Trying to find a monster in the book to challenge a party of high level characters is simply not possible. I have never played at 50th level but a small party of 30th level characters, I know from experience, can eat Balrogs for breakfast and have Nazgul for whipping boys. Been there and done that, if not quite literally. Four us us once fought three Dragons simultaneously on the slopes of Mount Erabor. The monsters in C&T simply do not cut it when it comes to VHL characters.

The easy option and the one I have seen most often is to resort to evil NPCs as the end of level boss. These scale well and are the only thing that can challenge a party. 12 50th level bad guys will be a real challenge for a normal party of 50th level characters. The problem is that I guess the end of level boss is always an evil magician or evil mentalist and at that level everyone has all the spell lists so where is the sense of excitement?

Toss in something new and all of a sudden the players do not know how to handle it. So my challenge to myself is to create some adventures around completely new monsters. I have one really cool idea already that is now on my to do list.

So who here has actually made their own monsters?

Personal Bugbear

There is one bit of every version of Rolemaster so far that I absolutely detest. That is the use of cryptic lookup codes. These are the codes that appear on the herbs and poison list and the monster locations/habitats.

It is the monsters habitats I really cannot stand. I know this has come up in the past but I was statting out an adventure the other night and these codes had me flipping back and forth through Creatures and Treasures yet again.

Black Stalker

This time is was the Black Stalker. This is the first line of their entry in C&T.

Black Stalker – [(–)–EK#–8]; 5’6″–7′;

At least it isn’t obtuse or unclear where these hunters are found! What is even more bizarre is the translation of these particular codes resolves as Enchanted/magical places and the cross-over points between dimensions and also ruins. Which is in fact wrong!

The whole point of the stalker is that it can be found anywhere. They hunt their designated target without fail, where ever they are. This really is like having the Terminator after you!

Creature Law

I was looking at the new Creature Law again and I noticed that these codes have finally been stripped out.

In the new Creature Law the Black Stalker has been somewhat toned down making them easier to defeat (slower initiative, weaker armour, poorer stalk & hide skill and the magical bonus on their weapon has been halved).

I don’t think toning them down is a bad thing but I was thinking about BriH’s goal of writing adventures for 50th level characters and these were going to be my go to villain. They were potentially too dangerous to use with a ‘normal’ party. They certainly punch above their weight on the battle field.

In my game I do not use the full breadth of the creatures in the D&D universe. Although I play in the Forgotten Realms the average module will have 20 different species living in the same location often with not a hint as to how they co-exist. I tend to slim those down. RM allows you to level creatures up and down so I don’t need to have kobolds, goblins, hobgoblins, orcs, ogres, bugbears, owlbears, a gelatinous cube, two green slimes and a black pudding all in the same cave to create a challenge. When I am doing a conversion like that those dreaded creature codes can burn up 10% to 20% of all my prepping time trying make these things coherent and true to the setting and rules.

Good riddance to them is all I can say!

Is a Kenku a race or a monster?

I came across the Kenku last week and I really like them. The basic idea is that these are humanoid avians. They are great mimics, infact they have not language of their own but rather string learned phrases together from what they have heard but all in perfectly mimicked form of the original voice. They are also natural thieves.

I am debating as to whether they should be a monster or a race when converting them over to Rolemaster. As a monster they are rather weak but as a race they require a lot more effort from the GM to prepare them before time.

A basic Kenku, as per the D&D to Rolemaster conversion rules is a rather weak creature.

5th level, 55 hits, AT1 DB10 34OB (short sword)/49OB (short bow). They should have a decent Stalk and Hide Skill of at least +25 as well as a +30 Trickery. There is something of the magpie about them and their desire to steal as much as their carrion crow like behaviour. I first encountered the Kenku in a grave robbing encounter so that may have coloured my perception of them. Their big feature is their mimicry. They communicate via mimicked phrases joined together to get the message across. They can also use it to confuse and lure people into traps.

There is great roleplaying protential here with hidden Kenku masquerading as members of the party and giving conflicting orders. They also gather in social groups called flocks, naturally, so you can use any number of these guys. They cannot fly but going by their D&D stats they should have at least a +15 Agility bonus. Play them as fast, stealthy assassin types when defending their territory and there is a great adventure in here. I just want to use them to steal something from the party.

With mimicry there is a lovely opportunity to have witnesses swear under oath that they heard the party talking at the scene of the robbery and with the best megic in the world the witness would be shown to be telling the truth. How were they to know they were hearing a perfect reproduction?

I now have a urge to put a gang of Kenku into my world, set them up near the players and just see what happens. Is there an opportunity for the Kenku to over hear the parties plans? Would the Kenku be interested in stealing what ever it is the party are trying to find or steal? Who will get there first?

I will see if I can work these guys into my game some time soon. If I manage it I will let you rknow how it goes.


Limitless-Adventures Sword Coast Encounters

Sword Coast Encounters

Limitless Adventures have very kindly given me review copies of three of their ‘Encounters’ booklets. What I like about Limitless Adventures is that they sound like a Tuesday night gaming group that every time they have a great idea they publish it, and why the heck not?

The first of these I am going to look at is Sword Coast Encounters. What you actually get is 10 ‘5e’ encounters each confined to a single page for ease of printing. Each contains the opening scene, creature or antagonists stats, a GM only explanation of what is actually happening, advice on scaling the encounter to different challenge levels, the treasure and finally adventure hooks that could spin off of this encounter. When the encounters refer to locations or NPCs these are nicely grounded in the Sword Coast (in this instance). Below is one example.

 Fun Distractions

One of the nice things about this collection is that whilst many can be solved at the point of a sword there are equally moral dilemmas and simply fun distractions.

Limitless do say that every collection contains at least one new ‘thing’ be that a creature, magic item or spell but could equally be a new game mechanic or deity.

Encounters Scale Well

So to using these. I like the self contained single page format. I try to use the minimum of paper in my games but do always have the planned adventure and NPCs on paper. The single page format fits in well with that and as each serves as an adventure hook they could hang around in your campaign for a while. The encounters do scale well when that is required. Not every encounter scales but that is not always required, an interesting NPC is interesting whatever the level and a moral dilemma is independent of the party facing it.

From a RM perspective most of the creatures featured here do not exist in Creatures & Treasures (I will publish the conversions of some of these on Monday), I particularly like the chap at the top of the page here! The same can be said of the magic items. This is an interesting point. When faced with a magic item that does not exist do you a) create the rules required to have that item in RM or b) change the item to fit the RM flavour? What I mean is as an example a +1 ring of protection is a really common D&D magic item. Do you give the party a ring that gives +5DB/+5RR as a constant effect item or do you think well RM doesn’t really have rings of protection but an equally low level item would be a ring castng Aura x3 daily? Another common thing is the D&D potion of healing. You could easily have a potion that casts Heal I from Concussion Ways but equally you could scrap the magic and give the party a vial holding a dose of Rewk (a brewed herb healing 2-20).

I personally have gone down the healing potions are often herb preparations and the ring would be a daily item, Aura and Blur seem to work well as substitutes up to Shield and blade turn spells for more powerful D&D rings of Protection. My players like the idea that items sit nicely alongside their spell lists, it makes them feel like they are playing RM in an RM world rather than a RM in a D&D world.

All in all a D&D 5e DM could use these off the page with no serious prep and not a great deal if they wanted to use the adventure hooks to carry it on. As an RM GM it took me about 5 minutes to do the D&D to RM momster conversion. The power level seems about right. It took seconds to convert the treasure from Gold, Electrum, Silver to Gold, Silver Bronze. I use 1 D&D Gp = 1 RM Sp. Most encounters do not give out magic items from what I have seen and that suits my world where magic is not so common. In the ten encounters here there are what I would magic items one of which is a potion which I would probably make into a herb preparation and one is a collection of runes which are single use. The remaining ones would need a bit of conversion or simply swapping out to offer the party something that you as GM think they need or you know they will need.

There are definitely encounters here I have never used in the past and some I would never have thought of using. For that alone I think it is worth the pocket money prices (most booklets are only $1.99, Sword Coast Encounters is $2.99).  All in all I will seriously consider these if there is a matching booklet to where my party are adventuring. For more information then visit Limitless Adventures or the DMs Guild page for this booklet.

Last Session Debrief #1 Zombies!

There is so much I can write about after the last session I don’t really know where to start.

Firstly, the house from Saltwater Marsh worked perfectly so thank you for that suggestion.

Secondly the Spooky effects from Azukail Games were brilliant and even before the players worked out the place was haunted they were beginning to say that the session was getting creepy. That is all you can ask for really when GMing a bunch of 50 year olds!

What I learned

So down to what I learned this time. I didn’t really learn this but I should have been aware of it. What I think is the obvious solution is never going to be what the players think is the obvious solution. So right now the guy who was trying to trick them into going to their demise is currently being seen as an innocent victim that was tricked into deceiving them against his will. What was his ‘in joke’ about them being of dubious parentage was completely misinterpreted and the characters have constructed many theories about the meaning of it. The prevalent one at present means that they are going to try and make contact with Randal Morn. The next module I am planning to send them through is the Sword of Daggerdale and starts with the disappearance of Randal Morn. What are the chances of that?


The party have only just made the connection between Colderan, the villain in the Doom of Daggerdale and Randal, being related. Colderan escaped at the end of ‘Doom’ and the party have assumed that he is one that has tricked the lay preacher of Lathandar into sending them to the haunted house.

The entire point of this session was to provide an interlude between the two Daggerdale modules. I had set it up so that the mannor house from Saltmarsh really was haunted and in the end I only used two Rolemaster ghosts, both class 2 undead and third level. I gave both ghosts the added innate ability to go invisible. To tie the house into the world I made it a former country house of the Morn family and as the party had said that they wanted to find out as much about Calderan as they could then I made it a former residence of the evil magic user.

Undead army

To add an extra complication I surrounded the house with a sizeable undead army. 300 years ago or so Calderan had started a war against a necromancer and whilst initially he had relished the challenge of move and counter move against this ‘worthy foe’ eventually the necormancer had built up an army of undead and ordered them to destroy the house. The household was the target as that was Calderan’s home at that time. Calderan countered that by using a ritual to slay and create ghosts from his bulter and housekeeper and bound them to look after the house, keeping intruders out and repairing any damage as best they could. As both ghosts and what was initially a zombie army but now mostly skeletons fought this war of attrition then ghosts would use their abilities to drive off the skeletons and the try and repair the house. The necromancer had used the word household rather than house which means that if no one is in the house the undead sit around idol as there is no household.

When someone enters the house the undead march on the house and try and kill them. Between times the butler and housekeeper try and repair the damage with whatever they can lay their cold dead hands on.

Enter the party who force their way into the house though a back door. The ghosts try and scare the party away but at the same time the undead army awakens and starts to converge on the house for the first time in months.

A nice little zombie apocolypse

We then had a nice little zombie apocolypse game with the players trying to battle the ghosts on the inside of the house and also trying to keep the undead out of the building. Their perimeter getting increasingly smaller as they were force back and back. The house was literally crawling with undead they were even scaling the walls to try and come in though the upstairs windows. The party had smashed up the treads of the staircases to try and stop the undead reaching the upper level of the house.

So I can tell you that the ghosts Constitution drain is a useless attack. After about 20 attempts there were only about 5 failures. It would have taken the ghosts weeks to have done any serious harm to any character using it. The ghosts were 3rd level and the party on average 4th. A higher level ghost may have been a different matter but these ghosts were useless at it.

The party had a life giving rune and two does of life giving herbs on hand so I felt completely free to not hold back. Two fatal criticals were delivered one by rolling a good old ’66’ and the other by rolling a 98 on the critical roll. Amusingly both were delivered to exactly the same character. He was not having a good day! I was pleased in that I have removed a large number of healing herbs from the party. This increases the relative value to the party of the more modest stocks they now have.

I was introducing one new undead into the house every three rounds just to see how the party would cope with slowly mounting pressure and it was interesting to see the stress levels go up and the players who were the most active became the most depleted. In theory 4th level characters vs 1st level undead whould have been no contest. The cleric and the sorcerer were trying to defeat the ghosts and the warrior mage and elemental warrior were fighting off the undead horde. The mystic was on healer duty and leant a hand with fighting the undead.

I am pleased that the party is capable of longer running battles and from going from encounter to encounter without having to rest up regain powerpoints so often. I have not haded out any adders or multipliers yet so they are all running on under their own steam.

I will share more on this next time!