Magic Item Design | Pokémon

Pokémon and Magic Items?

Yes. You read that correctly.
I’ve been re-playing one of my all-time favorite video games: Pokémon. I’m usually thinking about one of my all-time favorite hobbies: Dungeons & Dragons. For months, I’ve been trying to bring the magic of both together, in one glorious union. I’ve failed over and over again. A bag of holding full of familiars that could fight? No, definitely not. So I set out to find a better way by asking myself the right question:
What makes Pokémon so appealing?
  • Collecting mysterious and unique creatures
  • Battling the mysterious and unique creatures
  • Trading mysterious and unique creatures
  • Growing your collection to take on bigger challenges
Of course, there are dozens of other things that make the game appealing but let’s start here. What part of D&D aligns with those? MAGIC ITEMS! Continue reading to learn how to make it work for your game.

Living and Breathing

Magic items need to be living and breathing, like Pokémon. This will provide rich backstories and a deep connection with the owner of the item. On top of that, the item has wants and needs, giving you unlimited hooks and adventure seeds. Dungeons & Dragons has a few examples of living (or “sentient”) magic items. For another interesting look, check out 13th Age and how it handles magic items.
“Create emotional ties between the character and the magic item.”
If you lose a Pokémon, you’re upset. If your Pokémon faints, you’re sad. Make the player character feel the same way about the magic item! Create emotional ties between the character and the magic item.

Mysterious & Unique

Pokémon are mysterious. Each has a unique look, personality, and set of abilities. Until you come across one, you may have only heard stories and legends. Let that inspire your magic items. Your adventurers should hear rumors about most of them before coming across them in the wild.
Because you have 5, 10, or 15 different magic swords in your world does not mean they all have to look the same. For example:
  1. Joltera is a charred and chipped sword that radiates lightning.
  2. Vapora is a sword covered in coral that causes the victim to feel the sensation of drowning.
  3. Flarea is a white hot blade that the owner can’t even touch.
Make your magic items mysterious and unique.

Battle & Evolution

Let’s battle! Of course magic items (and Pokémon) aren’t fun if you don’t get to use them. For magic weapons, this is in battle. For other items, it may be roleplaying or exploration that allows the adventurers to use them. When the time comes, let them shine! Some items should be more useful in some situations than others. At the same time, some magic items should be useless in certain situations.
One of the coolest things about Pokémon is that they grow and evolve. Do the same with magic items. Allow the bonuses/powers to change and improve over time. What if the adventurer unlocks a brand new power because he used the item in a certain way?
The magic item can change in appearance over time. Fable III follows this approach. Magic items change in appearance based on how they get used. What if a magic item begins to fall apart if its used against its will? What if a magic item begins to look like the adventurer? What if the magic item starts to reflect the alignment of the user?
Let the items be useful and let them evolve.

The Ultimate Prize

What’s the most interesting and exciting magic weapon? The powerful, frightening, and sentient item that few know exist.
mewtwo

The Power That’s Inside

We can use Pokémon’s appeal create more interesting magic items for our campaigns. This is a powerful technique. To summarize it:
  1. Create emotional ties between the character and the magic item
  2. Create mysterious, intriguing magic items
  3. Create unique magic items
  4. Create dynamic and useful magic items
  5. Create magic items that evolve over time
  6. Create the ultimate prize
What other connections have you made between Pokémon and magic items or D&D?
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Worldbuilding With Artifacts

Over the last 5-6 years, I spent hundreds of hours worldbuilding. Imagining and defining fantasy worlds was a fulfilling activity that allowed me to create dozens of wonderful settings. These settings led to hundreds of hours at the gaming table and memories to last a lifetime.  Lately, worldbuilding has become more difficult. My last article mentioned Collaborative Worldbuilding. This post outlines yet another new approach that can breathe life back into the process.

Worldbuilding Approaches

There are two major schools of thought in worldbuilding:

  1. Start small and build out.
  2. Start big and drill down.

The first approach is very successful most of the time. You start with a simple location, such as a town or tavern. From there, you detail the necessary aspects needed to play a session. The edges of the map are undefined and the possibilities are endless. The world expands as it needs to.

The second approach is the one that will inflict worldbuilder’s disease, if you’re not careful. I’ll admit, it is quite fun and intriguing to the worldbuilding game master but it is dangerous. You define an entire kingdom or continent and slowly add details such as cities and histories. You often start with the cosmology and grand history of the world before boiling it down to regions.

Worldbuilding is not limited to these two approaches. They are just the most common. I often used a mix of the two. The method that I will talk about next can be used with both but is more similar to the first approach.

jerichoblade

Using Artifacts

1. Create an artifact.

Instead of starting small with a town or village, start even smaller. Think of an artifact. Let your imagination wander. The artifact could be a magic item or just an item of great importance. If it is a magic item, don’t rush things. There is no need for a stat block or defined abilities at this point.

“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

2. Develop its location.

Moving outward, develop its location. If it’s a book, the logical next step would be a library. Was this library built to house this specific book? Or did this book happen to end up here? Either way, why is this library special? Why does it belong in your fantasy world and what flavor does it add?

Next, you can move outward to the district within the city or the town in general. As we move outward, we define less and less. If you defined the sections of the library and added an NPC or two, just define the population or general layout of the city. Again, we have no need for great detail. Let that happen at the game table.

Ask yourself a single question during each stage of development. “How has my artifact defined or affected this place and its inhabitants?”

3. Develop its history.

Where was the artifact made? Who made it? What was it used for? These questions will help guide the development of your artifact’s history. By asking these questions, you are creating small stories in the history books of your world while adding interesting icons and NPCs.

How did the artifact make its way to its current location? As you blaze the trail your artifact took, you develop small pieces of your world. Remember, keep the details limited. This should give you the plot hooks and fuel to run a great game later on.

4. Create 5 more.

Follow steps 1-3 until you have a total of 6 artifacts, along with their locations and brief histories. Now, should you need to call one randomly or make a decision about where to start your game, you can roll a d6.

5. Create 6 more artifacts without locations and histories.

Repeat step 1 until you have a total of 12 artifacts. Only 6 of these should have locations and histories. The last 6 provide flexibility and the “unfinished edges” of your map. Let their histories and locations come up organically in the game. Now, you can roll a d12 to randomly select an artifact when you need to.

6. Play the game.

You now have small threads and loosely-built locations that you can string together. As you play, tie your stories and plot threads back to your artifacts. Each time you create a faction or NPC, think about which artifacts they relate to and why. Actions with and around these artifacts should have a profound impact on your world.

Example Artifacts

Here’s a small sampling (half of the recommended amount) to inspire you. Go ahead, roll a d6.

  1. Stone’s Swallow – a small, glass bird with rubies for eyes and a diamond tail. This artifact sits atop a red cloth on the window sill of the Lord’s Tower in Harkhold. The famed glassblowers of the east created this as a gift for the Lady of Harkhold, long ago.
  2. The Glass of Eliah – a small monocle, framed in silver and connected to a silver chain. This artifact rests in the pocket of the famed dwarven adventurer and fighter, Baurus. He lives out his retirement in the Halls of Battleguard. This item is often called a “trinket of the Age of Giants”, a time when magical items were forged. This small glass will show you the true form of anything you look at.
  3. Histories of Old Dorgoth – a great tome, bound in colorful leathers. This artifact sits atop a stone altar in the Library d’Arcana, home of the most protected and magical tomes. It is the only written history of the lands across the sea where it came from, known as Old Dorgoth. Spiritual Law prohibits the copying of this tome.
  4. The Flame of Uldurn – an everburning candle that has been lit since before the histories were written.
  5. Galdur’s Rock – a small rock that will purify any small body of water.
  6. The Shovel That Moved The Earth – a gold-plated, steel shovel with a unique history.
What artifacts can you come up with to build your world? Leave them in the comments!
Roll dice and have fun,
Kirk aka PhD20 aka PhDnD

Collaborative Worldbuilding

In my experience, building worlds is best done as a group. I am a worldbuilder often afflicted with worldbuilder’s disease so I have put hundreds of hours into creating dozens of settings and I thoroughly enjoy doing it. But my best setting was created by my entire group. This might scare some hardcore worldbuilders but it shouldn’t. Trust me, it’s better together. 

 

Find Your Medium

The first thing you need to do is find where you will keep your project. You want a place that’s easily accessible by all involved. Having a shared physical notebook is a very cool idea but unless you see each other quite often, it’s not easy for everyone to share and work on it.

The easiest approach would be to create a closed or secret Facebook group with the members of your gaming group. That way, everyone can post from anywhere and your posts will stay put. Another easy approach is Google Drive. You can all add/edit documents together and easily collaborate.

Options with more RPG tools include City of Brass and Obsidian Portal but these are not necessary, just extra.

Provide Limits

This is the most important tool for your worldbuilding and your collaborative worldbuilding. Provide limits on what to work on. We are often more creative when given limits.

Bad: “It’s an open world! Just make something up and start worldbuilding!”

Good: “The setting has two big landmasses and a large island. Which would you prefer to work on?”

Great: “Norsten borders the sea to its west, but the whole border is blocked by a mountain range. There are two countries that border it to the south/east and north/east. Two countries and one dwarven colony need to be named and given a ruling house/leadership. You divide the countries as you see fit. Be creative with your deets.”

Ways to Engage

Players may not jump right in to helping you worldbuild. This isn’t always because they don’t want to but they’ve often never been asked. Here are a few ways to engage the players.

Player Choice

Give the players the choice of what to worldbuild. Let them choose a region or faction to flesh out and provide details for. The Great example above is a perfect look at this. Give them limits but still choice on what to work on.

Player Assignments

Give the players specific worldbuilding assignments. “Max, I need you to work on the dwarven colony that roams the desert. Do whatever you want with it but that’s yours to work on.

This technique will resonate with some players but not others. If the player isn’t digging an assignment, give them the choice option instead.

Player Rewards

You can even offer players rewards for helping worldbuild. I did this with my 4th Edition D&D campaign and the players loved it. Here are some reward ideas:

  • Player starts the next session with 1 point of Inspiration
  • Player starts the next session with 1 Plot Point (5E DMG pg 269)
  • Player gains certain amount of wealth (must come up with why)
  • Player gains an item (must come up with why)
  • Player gains an in-game favor (must come up with why)
  • Player gains a Bond related to the work he or she did

Depending on the type of game/campaign you are running, rewards can even be things like magic items. Suit it to your needs and gauge which players are more intrigued by the promise of an in-game reward.

Keep It In Check

Allow players to fill in as much information or as little information as they wish on assignments/choices but keep the majority of the focus on the actual game sessions. You don’t want players building a dozen kingdoms between game sessions. A small tidbit or detail between each session is more than enough.

Keep It Going

Keep this train rolling. Don’t stop once you feel like you have enough. Allow them to add fun flavor to the world until you are done playing that setting. Even then, it won’t hurt anything to keep it going.

Roll dice and have fun,

Kirk aka PhD20 aka PhDnD

 

 

Worlds of My Imagination

In my career as a DM, I have created a number of fantasy settings. This post will give you a glimpse of those settings, my evolution as a worldbuilder, and a look at what’s ahead. Enjoy!

The Fold

It all started here. In December of 2010, I set forth on my journey as a DM for the first time. It was also my first time playing in a D&D campaign. We had only just purchased the 4E core rulebooks the summer before and had only done one-shots up to this point. We were mostly testing the waters. But in December, the greatest campaign ever would begin. It continues to this day, although its more of a myth than reality with how little that group is able to play.

This setting grew organically. We started in the Valley of the Tors, made our way to Stallcroft, crossed the Northern Mountains to reach the Misty Kingdom, and then ventured off into the Feywild. After that, the world exploded with collaborative worldbuilding. I awarded the players with in-game rewards and XP if they helped build the wiki. See it here: https://quest-for-starfire.obsidianportal.com/

We piggy-backed off the D&D 4E standard setting and created the most wonderful place to adventure. The storyline grew epic and remains unfinished to this day. 90+ game sessions helped take this world and make it real and full of flavor and life. This stands as my favorite setting of all time.

Aer

Those of you that followed the YouTube channel during its peak and during the first episodes of Coffee & Campaign Building will be familiar with Aer. This is the setting I built during those live hangouts.

Most of Aer was built before the campaign started. I had a timeline and important historical figures to fill that timeline. I was inspired by Chris Perkins Valoreign campaign bible structure. I had two kingdoms and two large, natural regions.

I dropped the players right into the middle of a political and religious revolution to start this campaign. Although the campaign was short due to the release of D&D 5E, we will always love it. The NPCs and a few specific locations really shined in this campaign setting.  Cordyr’s Coast will forever remain one of my favorite fantasy cities. 

Kandalur

Sweet, sweet Kandalur. 6 months of only brainstorming happened before ever actually worldbuilding. 100+ hours of solid worldbuilding went into this beast before we ever started the campaign. Custom player races, homebrew rules, and more were prepared.

Two massive continents with a rich and epic history. 7 kingdoms shattered. The Everwar rages on. A dozen interesting and rich NPCs were ready for the beginning of this campaign.

I’m very proud of this setting. My worldbuilding process produced one of the richest settings that I have ever seen and enjoyed. So much was detailed yet so much was left for the players to add to. I perfected my process with Kandalur, that’s for sure.

But the greatest lesson that Kandalur taught me is that without a game, you have nothing. Unfortunately, this campaign never really took off. We had 4-5 very fun sessions but real life and schedules got in the way of getting any further. It’s a shame to see so much work and potential sit idly in the digital archives and on my bookshelf. But maybe someday, we will meet again sweet Kandalur.

Ezaros

Ezaros is a free supplement that I designed. Find it here:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B7s015mqri1BZE9nX2JGSHh5R2M/view?usp=sharing

I don’t have much emotional connection to this setting. It was more of an experiment to see how little a DM needed to feel a setting. I have no idea if this has ever been used but please let me know if you run it!

Panthea

Panthea never made it beyond having a badass map.

Atheos

Atheos is a dark setting (think Dark Souls) that I’m working on a for a small gaming group of friends that wants that feel. It will be used for a mini-campaign but has been quite fun to design since its different than a typical fantasy setting.

Into the Future…

I don’t know what the future holds for my worldbuilding but I have a general goal for my capstone setting as I call it. This setting would be one that allowed for years and years of play and worldbuilding. Whenever I get the urge to build the next world, this setting would suit that and allow me to keep adding to it.

But true inspiration has not struck me outside of the name. A name which I can not reveal because there is no setting behind it yet 🙂

Roll dice and have fun,

Kirk aka PhD20 aka PhDnD

 

 

 

Absolute Tabletop’s “The Convocation” | A Critique

I critique products based on DesignArtwork, and Structure. If you ever wonder what those areas mean to me, feel free to reach out. Maybe someday I will get a blog post up explaining my process. For now, enjoy the critique!

Introduction

DISCLAIMER: I consider the team at Absolute Tabletop to be good friends of mine. This is not a paid promotion of any sort. I am going to critique this product in the same manner I would any product. I plan on being respectfully blunt and delivering #realtalk where its needed. Enjoy.

Absolute Tabletop came out swinging in 2016 with a large supplement called The Convocation. This supplement is 52 pages of griffon-riding excitement for fans of Matt Click’s Erenoth setting. Below is my critique.

Design

The overall appearance of the supplement is quite nice. There appears to be a lot going on with each page which shows the time and effort put into making it. I do believe there is a little too much going on with this aspect. A few more pages with just text-based content wouldn’t hurt the overall design and would lend the reader some visual relaxation and balance.

The beginning appears to have some logo overload. I felt like page 3 had too much going on (even though I know its just an info page). 4 different logos in a single page felt like too much.

The paragraph-level fonts allow the supplement to have some character without being distracting. I can’t say the same for most page headers. Where much of the supplement feels stoic to me, the header fonts feel a little wavy and silly.

The border styles used on the timeline and at the top and bottom of each page are beautiful. They feel consistent and well-designed along with the watercolor appearance around them. I will say that the texture-like background does make the paragraph text somewhat more difficult to read than it should (too much white speckled in) although it does lend a nice feel to the pages.

Those stat blocks, though. Damn, they’re nice.

Artwork

The artwork in The Convocation is mostly wonderful. The cover art is perfectly chosen and beautifully drawn. The individual items (helmets, rings, etc) and the scenic pieces are outstanding.

If the supplement struggled at all, it was with people and creatures. The humanoids felt inconsistent with the rest of the artwork. Some had odd proportions and most had a more animated feel than the rest of the artwork. Even the suits of armor gave me this feeling.

Structure

The overall layout of this supplement is quite good. The ease by which you move from one section to the next makes 52 pages go by quickly.

I found it surprisingly easy to know where I was at within the supplement at all times. It’s also easy to reference specific areas quickly and jump around. One possible change could have been the addition of broader sections of the book. The table of contents makes it almost feel as if there are 21 different topics when I’m sure that could be broken up into a few sections containing the rest.

Overall Impression

Worth every penny. You may read this and say, “Damn, you are picky. This supplement is great and you’re an idiot!” Well, you’re half right. The supplement is great.

The last thing AbTab needs is another voice praising their work (BTW they deserve every voice that already does that). They also don’t need another review coming from me with all the others already out there. I felt like approaching this differently and trying to give my honest opinion and constructive feedback.

I hope you enjoyed it and I hope you are enjoying The Convocation around your gaming table this year!

Roll dice and have fun,

Kirk aka PhD20 aka PhDnD

 

D&D 5E Unique Background: Physician

Physician

You are a trained physician. Your experience probably started out as a simple barber surgeon but you’ve had proper training since then. Perhaps, you attended a structured school or university. Or perhaps, it was just a simple apprenticeship under a master physician. Either way, you know more about the mysteries of the human (or other) body than those around you. You know how to identify wounds and you know the materials and methods needed to attend to them.

Skill Proficiencies

Investigation, Medicine

Tool Proficiencies

Healer’s Kit

Equipment

A small knife, a candle, a scroll case stuffed full of notes and drawings, a healer’s kit, a small jar of leeches, a surgeon’s robe, and a belt pouch containing 10 gp.

Feature: Healer of Many

Thanks to your time spent traveling, you are familiar with the regions of the world enough to know where the skilled healers and surgeons are, as well as where to find the right herbs or materials needed for healing. In a world of few physicians, you can also easily trade your services. Setting up a clinic or healing tent in town for a few hours can result in a free meal and roof over your head. But be sure not to mess up a diagnosis and piss off the wrong person.

Suggested Characteristics

With great knowledge and skill comes great pride. Many physicians practice for the right reasons and follow a set of strict guidelines. Many do not. It’s a balancing act between truth and morality and the physician is right in the middle.

Personality Traits

  1. I save lives. What you do is probably not as important.
  2. There’s a reasonable explanation to everything. If I don’t know it, I will find it.
  3. I look for those in need because I can help. I almost need the needy.
  4. I am constantly pointing out the flaws in others and their arguments, as if diagnosing an illness.
  5. I’ve read every scholarly text on medicine. I know what I’m doing.
  6. I know there’s a pattern to everything, even if YOU don’t see it.
  7. I’ll settle for nothing less than absolute perfection in my work.
  8. I know there are greater physicians in the world and I seek to find them.

Ideals

  1. A Gift for All. I have been given a gift to share with others, not for my own personal gain. (Good)
  2. Logic and Law. Logic can explain everything and I can’t let emotions get in the way of that. (Lawful)
  3. New Frontier. Old rules and traditions will not keep me from trying new things in pursuit of greater truths. (Chaotic)
  4. Your Life, My Hands. My knowledge and skills with illness and disease give me power over the life of the sick and dying. (Evil)
  5. Morals and Medicine. There’s no room for morals in medicine. There is only the cure. (Neutral)
  6. Self-Improvement. I know a great deal but not nearly enough. (Any)

Bonds

  1. I’ve been searching my whole life for the cure to the sickness that killed my mother.
  2. I long to return and check on the elderly barber surgeon who first introduced me to medicine.
  3. I owe everything to the master surgeon who made me the physician that I am today.
  4. I still use my first set of physician’s tools, a treasured possession.
  5. I long to visit the school where I became the physician that I am today.
  6. I remember my first patient and just how beautiful he/she was.

Flaws

  1. Most people run at the site of something hideous while I stop to take notes about it.
  2. Unlocking the mysteries of medicine is worth ignoring old religious traditions.
  3. I often complicate simple situations in hopes that there’s more than meets the eye.
  4. I will stop at nothing to find the cure that evades me.
  5. I fear magical healing because it cannot be explained.
  6. I let my need to win arguments overshadow friendships and kindness.

 

I hope you enjoyed this background as much as I enjoyed making it. If you haven’t already, watch the film The Physician to get even more inspiration. As always, leave a comment below and enjoy!

Roll dice and have fun,

Kirk aka PhDnD aka PhD20

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens Review

Let’s change the pace of this blog and do a little movie review. I saw Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens about a week ago. After letting my emotions calm down, I decided to review it. SPOILER ALERT! THERE WILL BE SPOILERS THROUGHOUT SO STOP READING NOW TO AVOID THEM!

I am a huge Star Wars fan. You may not be able to tell it by the content that I produce, but I am. I used to be obsessed with it. I have books upon books about the Force, the Star Wars universe, novels, etc. I have played most of the games to date. I wrote lengthy fan fiction back in college. Friends and I would meet at a coffee shop to discuss our novels and how they fit into canon and into each others’ stories. Yeah. Big-time Star Wars fan.

But after my junior year of college, the excitement died down. With no more movies in sight, I lost my interest. Even when Episode VII was announced, I was excited but not that excited. It actually didn’t hit me until the opening title scroll. Then I’m pretty sure I had tears in my eyes. What follows is my opinion of the movie, story, and characters. I will wrap up by addressing some of the main arguments that I’ve heard.

OVERALL RATING: A+

I don’t just toss out an A+ rating. I loved this movie. I thought it was exactly what it needed to be and didn’t lack anywhere. Sure, there are things that I wanted to see more of, but there always will be. For a feature-length film, they did as well as they could have. But let’s break it down.

The Story

The story is awesome. We knew nothing going in, which made it even better. Luke has gone missing. He has become an enigma. How awesome is that? Some dark order (The First Order) has started to take up power in the power vacuum left after the Empire fell. Awesome. There’s a resistance led by Leia. Awesome. Han Solo has become an even cooler smuggler. Awesome. There’s a creepy and mysterious villain (Snoke). Awesome. Ok, I’m done using that word but you get my point. The story was so good.

The Characters

This is where this movie goes above and beyond. We have NEW and interesting characters. Rey, Finn, Poe, BB-8, etc. All of them are unique and fun to watch. Rey is the ultimate badass of a character (more on that later). Finn has a truly unique backstory that adds so much depth to his character and the story. Poe is the best-damn pilot in the galaxy and a total badass. BB-8 is a fun droid full of personality. There are more characters to love but I’m just covering these for the sake of brevity.

Winning Moments

A number of moments in the movie stood out as “winning moments” to me.

Kylo Ren takes off his helmet. Vader didn’t until the end. Kylo Ren does halfway into the movie, giving him a different feel and giving us a look at exactly who he is.

Kylo Ren throws a temper tantrum. He destroys a poor room with his lightsaber in a fit of anger. This shows us how real and unstable he is. He’s not the perfect villain yet, which makes him an amazing character.

Rey and Kylo Ren’s lightsaber fight. This was a gritty fight, full of emotion. Their fighting is unrefined and downright messy. I loved it.

Rey’s flashback. There’s so much within just a few minutes here. It’s hard to catch it all but its a powerful look at the galaxy and Rey’s past/present/future.

X-Wings descend on the First Order troops. The First Order attacks the pub/castle on Maz Kanata’s planet where the heroes are. Things aren’t going well until you see a line of X-Wings zipping across the water. Poe arrives with other pilots and they destroy the First Order troops. We see just how skilled Poe is during this awesome scene.

Bullshit Arguments

“It’s the same as Episode IV.” ~ No, it’s not.

“Rey is such a Mary Sue character.” ~ You’re an idiot.

Thanks for reading!