Posts Tagged ‘worldbuilding’

Today I’m continuing my quest to add killer undead to the options already available in the fifth edition Monster Manual for my world of Enora. Today we enter the world of undead plants! (You read that right). You might say, “Whoa, James. Plants that are evil and dead? C’mon.” To that I’d say, “Of course, dear reader. Haven’t you ever seen Evil Dead? The most terrifying scene involves trees (that are presumably both evil and dead).”

It is with great pleasure that I now show off vampiric vines.

Vampiric Vine

Vampiric vines are sentient clusters of black thorned vines that thirst for the blood of the living. When a plant dies as the result of necrotic magic and its seeds are scatter on desecrated ground, these vines grow forth and eventually uproot themselves and crawl out into the night in search of a drink.

Nocturnal Hunters. During the day, a tangle of vampiric vines stays in the desecrated dirt from which it sprung forth. At night, the undead plant crawls forth, looking for unsuspecting creatures and an easy meal before returning home. The vines leave the bodies of their drained victims behind, sometimes causing panic that a den of vampires is nearby, attacking the land at night.

Hidden in Plain Sight. Vampiric vines appear to be normal dead brush when at rest. If a victim wanders into a lair, the vine waits until it is within striking distance and then pounces.

Save Snacks for Later. Vampiric vines are surprisingly strong, and will sometimes drain enough blood from a victim to drop it unconscious and then drag the prey back to its lair for more feeding later. Sometimes vampiric vines will feed off a victim for days before drinking enough blood to kill it.

Want the Stats?

Get them in the PDF below or grab them anytime on the Free Game Resources page. These stats are in playtest mode, so I’d love any feedback you have for me!

Vampiric Vines

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

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In the last two weeks, I showed off some new undead (skeletal dragons and husks), to help fill the undead Challenge Rating gaps in the fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual for my world of Enora. Today I’m continuing the parade of new undead with vampire dragons!

Vampiric Dragon

Vampiric dragons are the unfathomable result of dragons undergoing transitions to become potent, blood-sucking undead. Of the few such terrors that exist, most underwent the transition willingly. There are many reasons for a dragon to become a vampire, fear of death and increased power chief among them.

Vampiric Qualities. Like humanoid vampires, vampiric dragons do not cast shadows or reflections and have a thirst for blood. In their normal state, they are generally undistinguishable from their dragon counterparts who are not undead. Unlike normal vampires, vampiric dragons do not need to be invited to enter a residence and have nothing to fear from running water.

Feed and Slumber. When vampiric dragons feed, they can ravage miles of countryside or an entire city in a single night. Their thirst for blood is nigh insatiable, and a vampiric dragon can devastate an entire province before it slumbers, creating armies of vampire spawn to guard its lair.

Relief comes when the dragon decides to rest. Finally satiated, the beast enters a long slumber of one-hundred years before it wakes to feed again.

Undead Nature. Vampiric dragons do not require air. Since they have nothing to fear from running water and no need to breathe, many make their lairs deep in bodies of water.

Want the Template and as Sample Vampiric Dragon?

Here you go. I put them into a nice little PDF for you:

Vampiric Dragons

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

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Last week, I wrote about my desire to create more undead of varying challenge ratings. I need a ton of these rotting beasties for my world of Enora. Up next are skeletal dragons!

By the way, if you like these baddies, you might enjoy my zombie dragons available on the DMs Guild in the pay-what-you-want product Arachnids, Wraiths, and Zombies.

Dragon Skeletons

Animating the bones of a dragon is no small feat. A huge infusion of dark magic must be brought to bear to make the skeleton of an ancient wyrm rise. Even more power is required to maintain control over the bones. While such beasts are most often created by intentional rituals, if a dragon’s grave is desecrated, over the course of a century or more dark magic can seep into the bones. This causes the skeleton to rise and wreak havoc on the world of living for no reason other than it was not allowed to rest.

Not Your Average Skeleton. Dragon skeletons are more mentally capable than their boney counterparts. They can think critically and improvise. These undead sometimes lead other minions as a result.

Undead Nature. A dragon skeleton doesn’t require air, food, drink, or sleep.

Want the Stats?

Here you go. I put them into a nice little PDF for you:

Skeletal Dragons

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

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As I’ve said before, I’m starting to make some progress in my world of Enora, where undead rule the surface of the planet! There’s just one monster of a problem with this idea: the fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual has a serious Challenge Rating gap when it comes to undead. There’s a handful of Challenge 5 undead and then it jumps to 13 with the vampire. What’s a DM with a taste for rotting flesh to do when hankering for some good mid-level baddies (not to mention during the thinner highest levels of the game)? Time to put on the necromancer hat and make some new fifth edition undead!

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be revealing some of my creations and asking for your critiques and feedback. Let me know what you think! These critters are in playtest mode. First up is the husk.

Husks

Husks are the undead shell of a creature, animated skin and muscle of surprising strength that do the bidding of their creators. Many necromancers see these horrid creations as a two-for-one deal that does not waste a corpse’s fleshy parts after animating a skeleton. Husks are loyal to the wielders of dark magic who create them, but sometimes these undead rise of their own accord in places where mass murder occurs. Husks without a master desire only the death of other creatures.

Created by Power. Only the most powerful necromancers and most atrocious acts of murder can create a husk. The creatures require a massive amount of dark energy to move without a skeleton. Having a husk servant is a point of pride for evil spellcasters. The larger the husk, the more dangerous the master.

Insatiable Desire to Kill. Even husks who are bound to masters have a strong desire to murder any living creatures they come across. A husk’s master can feel this desire and only those necromancers with the strongest wills do not give into this temptation themselves. For many dark wizards giving into the temptation is not a problem at all.

Murder Victims Only. Husks can only be created from corpses that were murdered in cold blood. Many necromancers kidnap victims and murder them one at a time when they are learning the ritual required to create a husk. Husks that rise on their own usually do so in groups, and only in places of sorrow after a mass slaying has occurred. Beyond this requirement, any creature with skin and flesh may become a husk.

Size Matters. Most husks of a given size have the same abilities. A husk that was once a human and a husk that was once a panther are statistically the same, but they might move, smell, and sound very different from one another.

Undead Nature. A husk doesn’t require air, food, drink, or sleep.

Want the Stats?

Here you go. I put them into a nice little PDF for you:

Husks

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

It’s time for another fifth edition player option! As I mentioned in some previous posts, I want show off my world of Enora. With that world comes some new player options, one of which I am happy to share now! All of these options are in playtest mode and I am looking for feedback!

Since the world of Deldoroth is six floating cities, it makes sense that druids in these crowded places would be of the Circle of the Sky. Check out the new circle below!

Circle of the Sky

The Circle of the Sky is a sect of druids who move with swift speed and grace to defend the natural world. These druids gather under open skies to hold their meetings, day or night, rain or shine. They wander open plains, traveling within herds of animals, strengthening the local flora so it can grow towards the sun. Circle of the Sky druids often use their magic to aid struggling crop farmers. This order believes clean air is the provider of all life. They abhor beings who unnecessarily pump pollution into the sky.

Speed of the Wind

When you choose this circle at 2nd level, your walking speed increases by 10 feet. This speed bonus applies to your wild shape forms. At 8th level, the bonus applies to your wild shape forms’ flying speeds, if the form you’re in already had a flying speed to begin with.

Stealth Proficiency

At 2nd level, you gain proficiency in the Stealth skill.

Skyward Leap

Starting at 6th level, the distance and height you can jump is double what it would normally be.

In addition, if you begin your turn within the reach of a creature and then jump out of that creature’s reach, that creature has disadvantage on any opportunity attacks it makes against you.

Air Servant

Starting at 10th level, you can summon an air elemental as if you had cast the spell conjure elemental without needing to expend any material components and without needing to maintain concentration. You cannot use this feature again until you complete a long rest.

Wings of the Sky

At 14th level, you have a flying speed equal to your current walking speed whenever you are not underground or indoors.

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

How great is The Adventure Zone? If you haven’t heard this hilarious fifth edition actual play podcast, stop whatever you’re doing and give it a shot right now. While the normal cast on the show is the crem dela crem of actual play awesomeness, during the holidays they went on hiatus and allowed the crew from The Flop House podcast (another great one) to take over the story for an episode. This special game was DMed by the great Stuart Wellington who has inspired me to write about an important topic: keeping the game moving.

Wellington’s players, The Hogsbottom Three, attended a dinner party undercover to complete a sensitive mission. I won’t go into more detail as to not spoil the story. What I will say is that this mission, like many heists in RPGs, had a lot of discussion among players as to what they should do next. It’s the kind of conversation that keeps players talking in circles about whether they should hide in apple barrels or sacks of potatoes. While this conversation can be fun to an extent, it also considerably slows down the game while tens of minutes are wasted talking about whether the kitchen or the drawing room should be searched for clues. A lengthy discussion about which duchess seems a more worthy target of a detect thoughts spell can cut into the chunk of time you need for an awesome boss fight (or other set piece) at the end of the adventure. Wellington knows this, and that’s why he kept the game the moving.

Whenever the adventurers started to overthink or argue in circles about what to do next, a new NPC would walk over an engage them in conversation or the butler would ring the bell and ask everyone to proceed into the dining room for dinner. Startling announcements were made. Surprising events happened! Wellington pulled out all the stops to push the adventure forward and so can you. It’s easier than it seems. You don’t need to plan for every conversation the characters are going to have to make this happen. Just follow my Wellington-inspired tips below.

List Out Events Chronologically

Wellington kept his game going by simply moving the action of a dinner party forward as it might normally occur without the adventurers there. You can do the same for any sort of structured event (such as a ball, thieves’ guild meeting, or night spent in a spooky cabin) by simply jotting down a quick list of events in the order you think they’d happen. This will take less than five minutes. Here’s an example.

The characters are attending a fancy dinner party honoring a newly named baroness because they have gotten wind she might be assassinated by a rival faction. Her assassination could spark a war, so it’s up to the heroes to stop them. Here’s what your list might look like.

  1. Cocktail hour on the castle balcony.
  2. Many important NPCs arrive.
  3. The PCs are recognized by Lady Duafaine, who slips them a note saying not to trust the baroness’ husband.
  4. The baroness arrives with husband on her arm and gives a welcome toast.
  5. Dinner is served in the great hall.
  6. PCs are seated at a table with Lord Marquet, who likes to gossip and knows all about the noble holdings in the area.
  7. The baroness’ husband gets up to give a toast in honor of his wife.
  8. After the meal, the band begins playing and the PCs are asked by guests to dance including the baroness and her husband,
  9. During the dance the baroness reveals in some way she is unhappy in her marriage.
  10. Lady Duafaine asks the band to stop playing and reveals she is the lich Necronstalla in disguise and some of the wait staff are her zombie henchmen! They attack immediately.

The example above shows how the party might flow if the characters chose to do nothing. Odds are most groups will take action, and you may not have every scene in your timeline play out. That’s totally fine. In fact that’s the hope. The list exists so the next time you find the characters talking in circles about what to do next, you can say, “And that’s when Lady Duafaine wanders over…” A new conversation or a change of scene reminds them of the ticking clock and provides them with some new information that allows them to take action. Whenever you feel the characters are dragging their feet, simply move to the next item on your list.

If the characters figure out Lady Duafaine is Necronstalla and attack before dinner is served, that’s ok. This list is to here help you move things along not be a full outline for the adventure. They might also take her advice and arrest the barroness’ husband (which is exactly the distraction the lich wants) which would also shake up the timeline.

A chronological list like this also helps you out when the players go somewhere you didn’t expect. Maybe one of them wants to investigate the kitchen because they’re worried the baroness might be poisoned. Depending on when they sneak into the kitchen, you might describe the wait staff moving mechanically as they lift trays and prepare to bring them to the hall. They don’t speak with one another and go about their tasks like focused robots. Your list told you that because dinner hasn’t been served yet, this is what the zombies would be setting up. Similarly, if a character goes into the kitchen during dinner to see what desserts are offered, they might be surprised to find none are being made… a tip that something indeed is wrong!

Make A List Of Random Events

Of course not all adventures are so structured. The most classic of heists, the bank variety, could follow the bank’s schedule if the characters are using stealth and deception to obtain their goals, or it could take on a less structured vibe if the characters are doing more of an old-fashioned stick up. In cases like these, where there isn’t a set schedule, you’ll just need a list of random events ready to go. You might event put them into a table like the one below. Whenever the characters are talking in circles, roll on the table or pick and event to shake things up.

d10 Event
1 The PCs are alerted their getaway vehicle is compromised.
2 The PCs get word their heist is trending on social media or in the news.
3 The bank enters lockdown mode. All the doors shut and lock making it nigh impossible to leave.
4 A security guard who is late for duty arrives on the scene.
5 An alarm the PCs didn’t know or plan for about begins to sound.
6 A hostage offers considerable wealth or information for their release.
7 A hostage recognizes a PC.
8 3d4 heroic hostages take it on themselves to assault the PCs.
9 A pregnant hostage goes into labor.
10 A voice calls from outside, “This is the police! We have you surrounded.”

Events like these should really keep the pressure on your PCs to keep moving. The longer they dillydally, the more the problems will start to pile up. This method isn’t just for ban heists. Zombie outbreaks, battlefield operations, and all kinds of other missions benefit from having a table like this.

Have A List Of NPCs Handy

No matter what you do, it helps to keep a list of NPCs that might engage the characters to move the story along handy. Don’t spend too much time on this. A sentence or two should be enough for you to improv a quick scene with the characters to keep their butts moving. Use this list in conjunction with your event list to really make your story work. In the bank example above a list like this might give you an idea of which hostage leads the charge against the PCs. Or the list could even make you think of some new events on the spot. Why wouldn’t intrepid reporter Maria Carrana try to engage the PCs for an interview as they rob her bank?

Here are some sample entries for an NPC list:

  • Maria Carrana – Bold reporter for The Daily Drift who will stop at nothing for a good story.
  • Gruff McGriffles – An old dwarf who loves talking about his days as a captain in the orc war.
  • Admiral Gutpunch – A spacemarine android who takes everything literally.

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

Last week I unveiled my plan to make Enora my first fully published world. In that same announcement, I showed off a new player character race, the dwiefling. This week, I have a new cleric domain to share – Darkness.

Avos is the god of darkness worshipped by the dwarves and tieflings of Redwind, but you can use this domain for clerics who worship any deity associated with darkness, night, or secrets. I know that the first gods that spring to mind are evil: Lolth, Shar, The Shadow, Tharizdun, and Vecna immediately come to mind. That’s not the only way to play this though. There’s plenty of non-evil deities associated with darkness (just look at this real-world list). Different arguments can be made for Elistraee, Mask, Moradin, Selûne, Celestian, Wee Jas, The Traveler, and The Blood of Vol. Avos falls into this camp. His faithful seek comfort and safety in darkness and trust in the unknown.

So it is without further adieu that I present the Darkness domain. Please provide feedback as I consider these new items to be in playtest mode!

Darkness Domain

The Darkness domain focuses on what is hidden, both physically and within one’s soul. Followers of darkness gods depend on these deities to keep secrets concealed and loved ones safe in the darkness. These are powers many pray to just before they go to sleep so that they might wake again. Subterranean cultures in particular hold this domain in high regard, since they live in darkness. The gods of this domain are often depicted as hooded or concealed figures that sometimes lack form. Some of the gods are referred to as gods of night, dark magic, or secrets.

Darkness Domain Spells
Cleric Level Spells
1st sanctuary, sleep
3rd darkness, darkvision
5th fear, nondetection
7th black tentacles, phantasmal killer
9th dream, mislead
Bonus Proficiency

When you choose this domain at 1st level, you gain proficiency with heavy armor.

Favor in Darkness

Also starting at 1st level, you gain blindsight to a range of 15 feet.

Channel Divinity: Clinging Darkness

Starting at 2nd level, you hurl a shadow at one creature you can see within 30 feet of you as an action. That creature must succeed on a Constitution saving throw or become fully bound in the shadow for 1 minute. While bound in the shadow the creature is blinded and restrained. It can repeat the saving throw each time it takes damage, or on its turn as an action, ending the blinded and restrained conditions on a success.

Superior Favor in Darkness

Starting at 6th level, your blindsight increases to a range of 30 feet.

Divine Strike

At 8th level, you gain the ability to infuse your weapon strikes with divine energy. Once on each of your turns when you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can cause the attack to deal an extra 1d8 cold or necrotic damage (your choice) to the target. When you reach 14th level, the extra damage increases to 2d8.

Darkness Savant

At 17th level, your blindsight increases to a range of 60 feet. In addition, targets of your clinging darkness take 4d6 cold damage and 4d6 necrotic damage when they first become bound in the shadow by failing a Constitution saving throw. This damage does not allow them to repeat their saving throws.

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

A new episode of Table Top Babble is now up!

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James Introcaso chats with Wolfgang Baur, Steve Winter, and Dan Dillon of Kobold Press about worldbuilding in RPGs, designing new spells, and the upcoming Kickstarter for the Midgard Campaign Setting for 5th Edition D&D.

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If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

It’s a new year! Here’s hoping it brings you gaming goodness.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and running games in Exploration Age since this blog started. I feel I have enough material to publish a book, but it need a lot of work – editing, layout, development, and it’d be great to get some playtesting feedback. The book will most-likely be a massive endeavor unlike any I’ve taken on. I’ve never even created a print product on my own!

To that end, I’ve decided to switch my focus for a while to a smaller world so that I can get my feet wet. Exploration Age will not go away. I’ll still be playing games in that wonderful world, but it may be some time before consumers get their mitts on it. So with that in mind, I want to focus on the smaller, but evocative world of Enora the Bound Sky.

What is Enora?

I’ve already written about this world in two different posts, One-Hour Worldbuilding and 5 Campaign Worlds for Your Next D&D Game. If you want a quick summary, read on below!

Six floating cities hover above the darkness of Enora in Bound Sky. Once a prosperous nation, Enora was home to humans, elves, halflings, gnomes, and dragonborn. The country was run by the Dordune, a council of mage governors, each acting as the leader of one of Enora’s thirteen major cities. Beneath Enora’s surface, the nation’s dwarf and tiefling allies lived happily in the kingdom of Drakefire. Except for the occasional marauding gnoll pack or angry dragon, all was well in Enora. Any threats which appeared were dealt with swiftly and efficiently by the Dordune.

Fifty years ago Governor Kira Vae, an elf wizard, was nearing the end of her long life. Some say fear of death gripped the governor, others say it was an unsatiated lust for power. Whatever the reason, Vae transformed herself into a lich. The transformation warped her mind, seeding a dark hatred of all life in her heart. The lich declared herself Empress of Enora. Empress Vae turned the citizens of her city, Cambor, into an undead army. The rest of Enora tried to stand against the threat, but so sudden and severe did the undead strike that seven of Enora’s cities fell to Vae.

Every victory added more soldiers to her undead ranks. Messengers were sent to Drakefire, asking for military against the undead legions, but the underground kingdom was already over run by Vae’s minions. Any survivors from Drakefire had already fled even deeper underground by the time the messengers arrived.

As the armies of Empress Vae closed around Enora’s six remaining cities, the Dordune made a decision to enact a powerful ritual which raised the cities and their people into the sky away from Vae and her undead. Away from a fight they knew they could not win. As the cities rose, Vae swore to eradicate the rest of Enora’s living. She is eternal as is her hate for all people who defy her.

Now the six floating cities of Deldoroth find themselves safe from Empress Vae’s undead, but they have their own troubles. With limited land to produce resources, the six cities have begun treating each other more like separate countries than one cooperative nation. The Dordune have disbanded and each governor acts as a city’s monarch. As competition for food, water, and shelter grows each day, many less fortunate turn to a life of crime or legal savagery to survive. Airships transporting goods from one city to another are wary of pirates, and many make a killing or die trying in the cities’ gladiatorial arenas (which were introduced by the governors to help control population growth).

Beneath Deldoroth, dead Enora can no longer be seen. Thick layers of black clouds hang between the floating cities and the surface. The undead built massive stoves and constantly pipe ash into the sky to blot out the sun they hate so much. Sometimes at night the victorious howls of the undead can be heard through the blackness by the people of Deldoroth. It is an unsettling reminder that Enora is no longer their home and what drove them out long ago still hungers for them.

The situation underground is no better. Resources are scarce in Redwind, the last remaining city of Drakefire. Plenty of unsavory beasts that burrow made their way underground when the undead took the surface. Everyday the hoard bangs on Redwind’s doors and it is only a matter of time before they break through and devour the residents… if disease or starvation doesn’t take them first.

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This map of Enora before the fall made on Roll20 using Russ Hapke‘s Old World Style Maps

So in the coming weeks, prepare to hear more about the world of Enora. In the meantime, may I present for your consideration…. the dwiefling PC race. This is in its rough stages, so take a look and let me know what you think!

Dwiefling

In the crowded city of Redwind, some dwarves and tieflings have married, producing dwiefling offspring. Dwieflings walk in multiple worlds like other mixed races, but because they grow up in a densely packed city from which there is no escape, they cannot run from odd looks, name-calling, and occasional violent reactions. Though most know taking on a dwiefling mano a mano is a dangerous idea, since they have the toughness of dwarves, the suspicious nature of tieflings, and the self-reliant values of both parents. They are versatile and dangerous adventurers who dare to wander the unsafe halls of Drakefire’s fallen cities. The boldest dwieflings make trips to the surface to scout for more resources and spy on the undead legions of Empress Vae.

Devilish Dwarves

Dwieflings have the basic body structure of dwarves, but stand a bit taller. They are just about 5 feet tall, stout, and compact, weighing 200 to 300 pounds. Many share the blunt tongue of their dwarf ancestors as well. Yet there is no hiding the infernal blood of this race. They have the horns and pupil-less eyes of a tiefling, though they lack a tail. Their skin is often purple, red, brown, or black. Perhaps the most unique feature of dwieflings is complete hairlessness. They do not have a single follicle on their heads, faces, or bodies, including eyebrows.

Reliable and Short-Tempered

A life as outcasts in a city they cannot leave makes dwieflings suspicious of everyone they interact with at first. Most people find them closed off, or even cold. A dwiefling’s trust is difficult to gain, but once it is won, there is no greater ally. They place great importance on the bonds shared with their few close friends, and fiercely defend those allies with a passionate tenacity. Those closest to a dwiefling can even engage their friend in a reasoned debated, something that many fear to attempt with good reason.

The temper of dwieflings is legendary. Most carry an innate anger and explode with words, fists, or spells when provoked, particularly when their heritage is mocked. This causes many closet racists to just give a passing dwiefling a funny look, while other bigots ignite that infamous temper to start a fight for amusement. The latter often regret this decision, since the sturdy dwieflings rarely lose.

Outcast Artists In Crowded Tunnels

Because dwieflings and their parents are often shunned by others in Redwind, most try to keep to themselves. They lurk in dark corners or small alleys, pursuing artistic crafting hobbies, reading ancient lore, or practicing with steel or magic. Dwieflings sometimes pursue these self-taught skills to the point of obsession and become experts in these crafts, though no one else may know it.

Dwiefling Names

Dwieflings usually have a dwarf or tiefling name, given to them by one of their parents.

Dwiefling Traits

Your dwiefling character has the following racial traits.

Ability Score Increase. Your Strength, Constitution, and Intelligence scores each increase by 1.

Age. Dwieflings mature more slowly than humans and are considered adults at around age 25. They can live for 150 years.

Alignment. Dwieflings tend to trust in themselves and are very loyal to the few friends they make. They often favor a neutral alignment.

Size. Dwieflings stand about 5 feet tall and weigh around 250 pounds. Your size is Medium.

Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.

Darkvision. Your infernal heritage and dwarf blood grant you superior vision in dark and dim conditions. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.

Expanded Knowledge. You gain proficiency in one set of artisan’s tools or melee weapon of your choice or one of the following skills: Arcana, History, Nature, or Religion.

Hellish Bind. When a creature hits you with an attack that deals damage, you can use your reaction to force that creature to make a Wisdom saving throw as your pain imparts psychic visions of torture to it. The DC for this saving throw equals 8 + your Constitution modifier + your proficiency bonus. On a failure, the creature is stunned until the end of its next turn. After you use Hellish Bind, you cannot use it again until you finish a long rest.

Menacing. You gain proficiency in the Intimidation skill.

Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common, Dwarvish, and Infernal.

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

Thala pushed back with all her might against the gnoll berserker, but the gnome rogue might as well have thrown herself against a wall made of dragons. She would end up in the bottom of the magic-tinged purple river behind her. The mage was unsure of the spells within the water, but the resident monsters were trying to push her and her companions into it, so a bath would probably not be pleasant. “Whatever it is, it’s better than being devoured by gnolls,” she thought as she  fell backwards into the icy embrace.

Yet as soon as Thala submerged, she began to rocket back out of the water and beyond into the air. She could fly! The dripping wet gnome giggled. The stupid gnoll had just given her a huge advantage by pushing her into the magic river. “Hey everyone!” she cried to her embattled friends as she knocked an arrow twenty feet in the air. “Take a dip and get some wings like me!”

Hagus would not be outdone by his little friend. The elf fighter grinned as he dove head first into the water… and promptly turned into a pig.

I love traps and hazards that have the chance of bestowing a benefit to players. You can get great, surprising moments like the one above, and you get to watch your players ask themselves if the risk is worth the reward. They can even use such environmental effects as a last-ditch effort to try to save their hides. “We’re going to die! Our only shot is to push that gnoll berserker into the river and pray he turns into a pig. Let’s hope he doesn’t get the power of flight instead!”

The earlier examples involve a stream that can make a person fly or polymorphs them into a pig at random, but there’s tons of fun examples out there. In this post I’d like to discuss the types of risk/reward environmental effects I use most often and provide some examples. Hopefully it’ll spawn some ideas for you to use in your own games and give you some crunchy pieces to steal. These environmental effects are both naughty and nice!

Save to Win!

One of the simplest ways to create a risk/reward environmental effect is to assign a save DC to its effects. If a save is successful, the character gets a boon. If the save is a failure, the character is harmed in some way.

The characters enter a room with a fountain statue of a vampire spewing blood in 10-foot-radius blood pool. Any other creature that drinks from, enters, or starts its turn in the blood pool must succeed on a DC 17 Constitution saving throw. Creatures who fail gain one level of exhaustion. Creatures who succeed gain 20 temporary hit points.

You can even assign levels of success and failure to an effect. Maybe if a creature fails the save by 5 or more, they suffer two levels of exhaustion and if they exceed the save DC by 5 or more they get an extra 20 temporary hit points.

These types of hazards are perfect for a simple, binary result, but be aware this is an easier system to game. In the example above characters with high Constitution scores may decide a little dip is worth the risk while others may avoid it once you call for that particular save.

If you want to see you players struggle with the choice like, “Should I bathe in that blood fountain?” make sure the risk is worth the reward. 20 temporary hit points are a big reward, but a level of exhaustion is just as, if not more crippling. If the 20 temporary hit points were put against instant death, the characters might be shocked to see the first PC die, but the rest will have a very easy choice in front of them and choose not to bathe. That’s fine if you play in a game where the risk of random, instant death is enjoyed by the players and aren’t looking for them to struggle with whether or not they should try the hazard for themselves.

Get Random!

Who doesn’t love a good random table? You can assign a random effect for a hazard, make some naughty, some nice and then let the dice decide. For harmful effects, you may still want to assign a save, so a characters isn’t automatically turned petrified for rolling around in magic mud that gave a companion the benefit of stoneskin spell.

The characters enter a room with an altar to a goddess of chaos. Creatures who touch the altar are subject to an effect randomly chosen on the Chaos Altar Effects table. Once a creature interacts with the altar, it cannot be subject to another effect from the altar for 24 hours.

The stone altar has AC 17, 27 hit points, and is immune to poison and psychic damage. If the altar is destroyed, any effects it created immediately end.

Chaos Altar Effects

d6 Effect
1 The creature must make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw. On a failure it is blinded for 4 hours. On a success it is deafened for 4 hours.
2 The creature must make a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw. On a failure it suffers a random form of long-term madness. On a success it suffers a random form of short-term madness.
3 The creature must make a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw as a bolt of lightning flies out of the altar toward it. On a failure it takes 28 (8d6) lightning damage. On a success it takes only half damage.
4 The creature can see invisible creatures and objects for 4 hours.
5 The creature gains a burrow speed of 20 feet for 1 hour. If the creature already has a burrow speed, it is increased by 20 feet for the same duration.
6 The creature gains the benefit of the stoneskin spell for 1 hour.

In the specific case of this altar, you might decide that appeasing the chaos goddess is more likely to give a person a better result. In that case you could add: Creatures who pray to the goddess before touching the altar are given two different effects at random and pick one effect.

Just like with a binary effect, balance is important here if you want the players to struggle with the choice of interacting with the hazard but you have a more ways to achieve that balance. First you can simply have tempting rewards that seem worthy of the risks, just like you would with a binary choice.

Another option is to increase the number of variables, making it impossible for players to determine what they’ll get through trial and error. Don’t feel like you need to put 100 options on a table. Charts with 10 or more options achieve this with flying colors for most groups.

The final option would be to have a table with more instances of one type of consequence with less impactful effects and less of the other type with more impactful effects. Sure four out of six of the options are bad, but the other two are really tempting, or vice versa.

Greed

Maybe there can be too much of a good thing. Certain effects can punish players for their greed. The first taste of meal can be delicious and healing, but beyond that first bite, there are consequences.

The characters enter come across a 20-foot radius lake as they make their way through the Nine Hells. The first time a creature drinks from the water in the pool as an action, it regains 15 hit points. Devils receive the same effect on subsequent drinks from the pool. Other creatures that take subsequent drinks from the pool must make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw. Creatures who fail take 22 (4d10) poison damage and are poisoned for 1 hour. Creatures who succeed take half damage and are not poisoned.

This type of hazard should be used sparingly since it will seem like an unfair trick to some players. Make sure there’s some clue that there could be harmful effects from whatever it is the characters are near. The example above takes place in the Nine Hells, which should be enough of a warning sign in itself to not drink the water. If you’re characters aren’t in the Nine Hells, a dead body, a mind-controlled (or out-of-control) creature, or a petrified creature nearby is a good way to give characters a warning of what’s to come. They just have to pick up on it!

Discrimination

A hazard could have magic effects that only benefit or harm certain races, classes, alignments, etc. Maybe the wizard who crafted a potion of invulnerability really hates sorcerers, so for that class it functions as a potion of poison. Maybe a dragon created a special incense that when inhaled enhances breath weapon of dragon and dragonborn, but rapidly ages any other creature.

The characters come across a closet-sized room in an orc stronghold that has walls covered in Orc runes that spell out prayers to Gruumsh. A creature that is not an elf that enters and reads the prayers aloud gains a +5 bonus to melee weapon damage rolls for 1 hour. An elf who does this make a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw, taking 22 (4d10) damage and becoming blinded for 1 hour on a failure, or taking only half damage on a success.

You could also make this effect much narrower if you say only orcs and half-orcs get the beneficial effects and everyone else is subject to the terrible effect. Again, use these sparingly, and make sure you change-up which characters get punished when you do use such a method.

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