Sunday, December 10, 2017

Animate with the Spirit

Undeath is a pretty fun well to dip into, so long as you aren't actually drinking from it.

The thing is, it's a tricky and contentious brand of magic. The last couple of articles might have gotten you interested, but of course, it's not like just anyone can cast animate dead. (Sorry sword-swingers, before you get too excited, I'm not about to reveal a way for you to reanimate undead minions.) Animate dead is only for wizards and clerics, and worse still, the moral implications of even using such a spell are... suspect, at best. Being a heroic fantasy game, D&D characters are generally going to be good, and it can be hard to justify reanimating corpses with negative energy as a result. The problem is, naughty necromancers don't get any love from Santa come Christmastime. So how do capital-G-Good characters get in on the fun? And in the spirit of the season, can't rangers, druids and paladins also get a present while we're at it?

Sunday, November 19, 2017

On the Proper Care and Maintenance of Undead

We can all take solace in the common struggle that we as human all face: we just want someone to boss around. That's probably a big draw for the fantasy escapism of D&D, but astonishingly even therein it's easier said than done. Pelor knows your party's an ornery bunch, and they'd rather shake down commoners for copper pieces than do anything you suggest. The Leadership feat is banned in some campaigns, and you have to be careful with your followers lest they become disenfranchised. Most campaigns don't run psionics (for you wannabe thrallherds out there) and planar binding can be a real hassle with all of the costs, exacting rules and opposed charisma checks. What's a power-hungry lunatic to do?

Fortunately, for any problem, we have undead. Order them around, use them for combat, hard labour, hat racks, you name it. They don't complain or disobey, and best of all, you don't even have to feed them. Ah, the wonders of magic. One casting of animate dead and you've got a contingent of skeletons ready to either kick ass or kiss ass, at your option.

...not that it's without its deficiencies, however. Having no intelligence or self-sufficiency feel like par for the course; I'm referring more to the fact that animate dead can get damned expensive, at 25 gp per hit die. One Turn Undead from an enemy cleric and that's all of your money and hard work wasted. Plus, there is a limit to how many you can command - 4 HD per level may sound like a lot, but the low hit points, saves and BAB of undead mean that most of the worthwhile options need HD as high as possible to make a dent.

So how can you ensure a reanimated legion is worthwhile? A gang of bloodthirsty corpses can pull apart most commoners with ease, but you're going to have to put in a little more effort than that if you hope to pit them against level-appropriate threats. Here, then, I have a short treatise on what corpses to aim for when reanimating, and how to best make use of them once they're active.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Haunt Shift

Halloween draws near, dear readers, and with it comes all manner of ghosts n' goblins. And ghouls and ghasts and goristros and gorillons and... uh, well, you get the picture. So with all of the restless spirits coming to roost, why not embrace the season and get in on a bit of the haunting yourself?

Necromancers have always been able to order around undead armies and generally bend entities of negative energy to their whims. But why settle for undeath by proxy? D12 hit dice and a list of immunities longer than your arm sounds like a good time for any spellcaster, but of course, trading in your meat bag for another, more gangrenous meatbag with an abysmal Fortitude save has its own disadvantages. Really, there's no reason to trifle with bodies at all - once you've crossed that hurdle into undeath, a mid-level spellcaster can make themselves a haunting presence, and go around possessing one item, Poltergeist-style. Of course, you're not just going to pick any Tom, Dick or grand piano off the street: if you get to possess an object and pilot it around, you might as well custom-make the best you can get.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Cheap Items

Being an adventurer isn't easy. Sure, there's the delving into moldy crypts, the sleeping rough, having to pick through lethal traps and of course regularly fighting for your life versus eldritch monstrosities. But asides from all that, it's expensive! Naturally there's fantastic wealth to be gained in the deal, which is going to be at least partly why your characters got themselves wrapped up in this whole business in the first place, but the cost of entry is substantial. Like that John Candy-lookin' guy from The Yukon Trail said, it takes money to make money. Generally your character's going to start with 100-odd gold pieces to spend, which is basically nothing to a seasoned adventurer but on the other hand more than enough for a commoner to retire with and live comfortably.

Regardless, you're gearing up to brave the unknown and cross blades with whatever the DM throws at you, so you'd better make sure your money's working for you. There are of course ways to get more than your fair share, but when that's not really an option, you ought to know where to look to get the most bang for your medieval buck. Collected here, then, I have several cost-effective items - some well-known, others more obscure - that can provide useful effects most adventurers need for 1000 gp or less. Special attention was paid to inexpensive items that can replace the common, more costly choices.

Sunday, August 13, 2017


They prowl dungeons the world over, lurking around corners, behind locked doors and in treasure chests. They have no conscience to appeal to, no mind to reason with. Negative levels or ability drain won't so much as slow them down, and even no-save, no-SR spells like forcecage or maze won't do a thing. They can threaten any character, from level 1 all the way up to level 20, and take many forms. What deadly creature could this possibly be...?


Yes, the staple of dungeon hazards, traps have been dutifully stabbing, poisoning, dropping, slicing, dicing and polymorphing-into-spaghetti-ing hapless adventurers since time immemorial. Generally they are something to suspect and avoid, to shove the rogue at in hopes of tasty XP before moving on. But in truth, traps are misunderstood creatures. Their name might inspire fear and caution in seasoned adventurers, but with a bit of kindness and a lot of gold, one can bend these gentle, beautiful, inanimate creatures to their own whims. With some careful set-up and some rather gross subversion of the game designers' expectations (as usual,) traps can be a source of immense power.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017


Think of that spell that lets you do anything you want.

Most magic has an effect that you have to make do with and apply to the situation at hand. You know the one, though: that spell that lets you perform any feat of your choice, without that choice being made when you prepared spells at the start of the day. All you need do is word what you want exactly and you can make it real.

Which spell were you thinking of? Wish? Miracle, perhaps? Forget those; too costly. I'm talking about the Level Zero Wish here - prestidigitation, baby!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Eternal Wands

Disposable magic items were always a moral dilemma for me. Investing in something that's single-use leaves you really intent on getting your money's worth out of that one usage. A scroll, for instance, can cost you a pretty penny but holds a spell you can only cast once. Thus, it's not uncommon (in my experience, anyway) to hold onto the item indefinitely, always convincing yourself that it's being saved for when you really need it. Even when you do really need it, you'll save it for when you really, really need it. In such a case, it ends up being wasted money. Most players are more comfortable buying a ring or a +1 weapon or some other item with a permanent and tangible benefit.

Wands are the beginnings of a compromise in that direction. With 50 uses before they're spent, they have a large enough store that players are usually comfortable spending charges when they're needed. However, 50 is indeed a finite number, and for wands that aren't holding severely specific spells, one that is liable to run out eventually. Until you've used all 50 of those charges, you haven't actually gotten your money's worth out of the item - and yet after you have used all 50, you no longer have anything to show for your spent gold!

So what's the real solution? Is there a way to comfortably spend money on an item that isn't yet another +1 to something on your character sheet? Can one make appropriate use of an activated item and still have something to show for it one or twenty levels later? Surely there's a way to take the utility of a wand and stretch it out a bit, isn't there?

Saturday, May 27, 2017


Feats are a precious resource: most characters get seven over the course of their entire career, with humans getting eight and fighters getting eleven more... but at the dire cost of having to be a fighter. That's not even taking feat taxes into account, with many of the more desirable prestige classes necessitating one or more feats that are otherwise of little to no use.

So how can you ensure your feats are working hard enough for you? In particular, more specific feats might have a strong effect, but they run the risk of being useless in most situations. Well, there is a rather simple way to not only get more feats, but to get them on-demand, picking up whatever suits the situation as you need it.

There's a little gem in the Spell Compendium called heroics - a level 2 sorcerer/wizard spell that lets you grant the subject a single feat off the list of fighter bonus feats for 10 minutes per level. Even at minimum level, that's half an hour to make use of your new feat. Having to be a fighter bonus feat is indeed a big restriction, especially from your viewpoint as a spellcaster - no crafting, no metamagic and nothing along the lines of spell focus, obviously. But if you look, you might be surprised by how extensive the list really is, often with bonus feats appended to it with every book. In particular, versatile feats that grant you choices gives you a 'feats-within-feats' situation that can be tooled to suit any character.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Items of Creation

It's said that half of an adventure's successes are determined beforehand in town. Actually, nobody's ever said that, but I figured it would lend some credence to my words if I make it sound like an established idea. Really though, asides from preparing spells (which only some of us get to do,) before every adventure it's wise to properly equip oneself. How can you be exactly sure what you need, though? Rope and torches are safe bets, but will you need a mirror? What about a shovel, or a crowbar, or chalk? How much easier would things be if you had antitoxin or holy water? Will there be a water hazard? An airless room? A chasm too wide to cross...?

Forewarned is forearmed, but most of the time you'll ultimately be guessing at what obstacles you'll encounter, or simply settling for the most standard useful items and hoping ingenuity will take care of the rest. After all, it's not like you can afford to haul around every single mundane tool and semi-magic item in existence 'just in case.' Wouldn't it make things so much easier if you could, say, choose which items you brought after the fact? I'm not advocating for lying about what's written on your equipment list, but rather relying on a single item that can replace a whole suite of mundane tools on a whim!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Trickery Devotion

It's a rewarding feeling to make the most of low-level spells. Knowing you're working within a restricted but open-ended set of guidelines makes for the most delightful creativity, and creativity is often what helps you achieve greater power than the game designers ever counted on. A chief example is unseen servant, mentioned in a previous article as an excellent way for a low-level spellcaster to expand on his or her combat actions. Of course, non-spellcasters should be allowed to get in on that fun, too.

Feats, one of those things that every character gets, aren't quite the same. Even if you carefully sidestep the lousy "+1 to something" ones, they're almost always set in what they can or can't do. Power Attack is a great feat, but it's not like there's a wide variety of things you can do with it. Surely you can get a versatile and open-ended feat you could use in a different manner every day? For just any character to pull that off, well, it will take some real... trickery, won't it?

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Iron Heart Surge

Tired of needing to be a spellcaster to perform supernatural feats? Man-with-stick has long been able to perform truly ludicrous damage outputs, but asides from just hitting things with a stick, he has no versatility or special defenses to speak of. Surely being able to remove negative levels, blindness and antimagic fields is purely within the realm of the spell-slinger, right? Well, have we got news for you.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Aptitude Weapon

For the sword-swinging adventurers of the world, you don't have to worry about spell selections. Your big choices in leveling are going to be feats, those precious resources that all-too-often give less than they ought to. Feats that add a bonus to something you can already do - what one might call "number feats," since they only make your numbers go up - are rarely worth it. While it's nice to be able to do something better, it's more important to be able to do something at all. The other option is "ability feats": those that give you more options in what you can do.

Asides from the more general combat maneuvers (tripping, disarming, sundering etc.) most ability feats are going to be hindered by specificity: if you want the option to do something cool with your weapon, chances are it's going to have to be a specific kind of weapon. Want Boomerang Daze? Well, you'd best be using a crapsack boomerang or it's not happening. Think of it as the divine/arcane split, except much more unfair and crippling. We're not here to complain, though, we're here to break the system open a little and make it work for us. This game is about open-ended character creation, and one should be able to fit together options however they please. So wouldn't it be nice to make use of all those neat weapon-specific feats on whatever you like?