Black Rock Bandits

Black Rock BanditsBlack Rock BanditsBlack Rock Bandits, my second 6-pack adventure, is out. The band of misfits have been plaguing the King's Road for years, collecting tolls from the caravans as they passed through the Black Rock Hills. This time, however, the caravan leader wouldn't pay and a fight broke out. Several guards were lost in the ensuing fight, along with one of the wagons. However, the remaining guards didn't walk away empty handed; they captured one of the bandits. Unfortunately, he seems a bit out of his mind at the moment. Can you put an end to the notorious Black Rock Bandits? Will you uncover the secrets of their hideout, an old ruin from a forgotten time?

6-Pack adventures provide everything you need to fill 2 to 4 hours of gaming. They come with battle maps, tokens and pre-generated characters. For this adventure, the maps on the front and back work side by side to create a complete mini-dungeon. Also, I limit the pre-generated characters to player options available in player's handbook 1 and 2 for easy reference.

I had a lot of fun working on this adventure. Trying to fit a dungeon on two 8"x11" maps was interesting to say the least. I added a few areas to explore outside of the encounter areas. Here's one.

F. Shrine to Yeenoghu – Long ago, worshippers of Yeenoghu fastened the bones of their victims to the wall in the form of the triple-headed flail. Thick, red water seeps from a crack in the wall above the flail, giving the appearance of blood dripping from the heads of the flail.

J. Hope’s Bedchamber – A feather bed, complete with four posts and bed curtains fills the southeast corner of the room. Across from it is a small dresser, with a silver brush and mirror set, inlaid with semi-precious stones (set worth 50 GP).

You can buy the adventure at RPGNow.

I want to thank all the people who helped me playtest and edit before it was sent to Postmortem Studios.

Playtesting
Jonathan Misner
David Flor
Daniel Fiore
Eric Paquette
Andrew Gatlin
Alex Mason
Brenda Samler
Steve Maguire
William McDougall

Editing
Jim White
Michael Mallen

Lost City: The Chuul

How could I forget to write about the chuul? I think out of everything I did for Lost City, they were the most fun. Whenever I worked on their section, I would turn to my husband and make claw motions with my hand. *Click-click*

When I was working on my chapter, one of the things I really wanted to do was to make sure everything had a purpose. This was important due to the limitations of designing for Lost City. There were only so many pages in the book and there wasn't enough room to detail every encounter, especially not in the tactical encounter format 4e is known for. Combined with the sandbox-style of the adventure, this meant the DM would have a fair bit of work to do to make things happen. I wanted to give the DMs as much as I could in hopes of making their job easier.

I added chuul to my pitch mainly because they were a vaguely level appropriate monster from the Monster Manual. This was important for a few reasons, but a big one was we weren't sure how much space we would have for monster stat blocks. I also liked the idea of these brutal fighters who could rise out of the water behind one of the PCs and maybe drag them under. I bet you didn't expect that in the middle of a desert.

So the first question I had to answer was why in the world there would be chuul wandering the depths of the Lost City. There aren't any major bodies of water around and the 4e Monster Manual entry didn't give me a whole lot to use. The earlier edition stuff that I could have really used was stripped from the 4e version so that was no good either. I started to get worried, telling myself, "Don't worry. They just are. People will be ok with that."

But that didn't really make me happy either. Then, while waiting for the bus home after one of my writing sessions, I had an idea. They are the Lost City's version of alligators in the sewers. The giants who lived in the Lost City were a brutal lot. It would make sense that they might raise chuul gladiators who would fight to the death. Over time, some of those chuul might find their way to the waterworks and set up their own home down there. As the waterworks became more and more neglected, they would be free to start their own colony and grow in numbers. The giants wouldn't really care, they would help keep any invaders out. To this day, the hatchlings from each batch of eggs fight themselves until only one of them survives.

As the Kadrana’s society grew, so did their hunger for brutal amusements. They created a large arena and held brutal death matches for the ravenous fans. Their favorite creatures were the chuul, a race they came across in their travels. The cannibalistic tendencies of the creatures appealed to the giants’ natural bloodlust, and many homes of the upper classes housed specially crafted aquariums for holding the egg sacs. When the eggs hatched, family and friends would gather around and watch as the siblings battled each other for supremacy. The winners would be raised and cared for by the families, trained to become gladiators in the ring. It was a high honor to raise a champion.

If you want to add some additional chuul encounters, I would suggest having at least one cage match with the creatures, maybe using the burrows idea from the hatchery encounter in Lost City.

5000 Gold and an Ice Cream Cone

This story totally made my Tuesday morning. It sounds like a group bickered in character about how to approach a temple and the youngest child of the DM decided to have some fun. She wandered over to the table, tapped one of them on the shoulder, and offered to sell him the key they needed. The group stayed in character for the bit and it was absolutely wonderful. Please check it out in the Wizards community forums.

"What if I just give you six thousand gold instead?"

"Okay, six thousand gold...and an ice cream cone."

"No. No. I meant six thousand gold and no ice cream."

"No ice cream, no key." she says with her hands on her hips and a scowl on her face.

I personally love these stories and it illustrates why I love playing with new players so much. They have a take on the world that I really enjoy. It doesn't matter that there wasn't a key in the DM's notes or that ice cream might not exist in the world. Now, I know it's not for everyone, but it is what I enjoy. Thanks to the author for sharing it, and to Mike Robles and TheAngryDM for sharing it on Twitter.

Warrior Women: 3000 Years of Courage and Heroism

Recently I've been reading the book Warrior Women: 3000 Years of Courage and Heroism by Robin Cross and Rosalind Miles. I have to admit up front that I love the book. It has some issues that I will address later, but overall I've found it interesting and inspiring. It has approximately 75 chapters of individuals and groups of women, spanning from the Amazons to 'Tammy' Duckworth. In addition to these, the book has a number of other stories in sidebars, increasing the overall number quite a bit.

Historical Accuracy

This book is not a rigorous academic exploration of the topic of women in war. That's not to say that the research is bad or it's full of inaccuracies. But if accuracy is very important to you, you might want to at least peek at the book before buying it. It doesn't cite sources and lacks a bibliography. However, the authors seem to have decent credentials. Robin Cross was a Gulf War reporter and a military historian. Dr. Rosalind Miles is a bestselling writer, lecturer and BBC broadcaster. I cross referenced some of the stories in the book with Wikipedia. I didn't really see any obvious omissions, but the wikipedia entry was far more likely to call something out as a myth or legend than the book was.

Inspiration

In my mind, the book really shines as a source of inspiration for stories and games. After reading a chapter, I often thought of a number of adventure hooks and NPCs I wanted to create out of the 3 or so pages of text. In addition, there's just a wide variety of women in the book. Some are much more brash, they directly take up the sword and fight alongside men. Others are efficient leaders, using their social skills and sometimes even feminine wiles to get what they need and want.

Here are some interesting tidbits:

  • Caterina Sforza was despatched to Rome in August 1484 to hold the Castel Sant'Angelo. Well-known for her beauty, she wore a gold satin gown and plumed hat. At the time, she was seven months' pregnant. She held it until October 1484, surrendering it on her husband's order.
  • Grace O'Malley (c. 1530-1600) was born into a famous family of sea rovers. If you want a colorful character for a sea campaign, she's a great one. She was a constant troublemaker and excellent defender. After her first husband's death, a rival clan tried to recapture an island castle he had taken. She defended it not only against them, but against a later attack by the English. Legend has it that she melted lead taken from the roof and poured it down over the heads of the attackers. Sir Richard Bingham, Lord President of Connacht, call her the "rebellions in the province for this forty years." She even met with Queen Elizabeth I after sending her a petition which read in part "...to grant unto your said subject...free liberty during her life to invade with sword and fire all your highness' enemies."
  • "Black Agnes" Randolph (c. 1312-69) was the countess of Dunbar in March through her marriage to Patrick Dunbar. He was away when their home came under attack by an English force. She refused to surrender even though she had few guards to mount a defense with. Still she held her own against the formidable Earl of Salisbury. After the first round of siege engine attacks, she and her maids appeared on the castle's outer walls, "dusting" away the damage. She then used one of the boulders shot by the siege engines to disable Salisbury's battering ram. Later the earl captured her brother and attempted to negotiate his life in exchange for the castle. Agnes's cool reply was to urge the earl to go ahead as her brother's earldom would then pass on to her.

Why is this better than Wikipedia?

So why buy the book over just visiting Wikipedia? For one, the writing is much better. I love Wikipedia for a lot of reasons but the quality of its prose is not one of them. It's often a bit dry and lacks color. This makes sense, it is more of an encyclopedia after all, but when I'm looking for inspiration, I prefer something that isn't as dry. In addition, the book's layout is just so much nicer. The accompanying illustrations are bigger, time and thought went into the layout and it's a great book to curl up with on the couch.

I definitely plan on using this book in my games and writing and I hope you will check it out. What non-gaming books do you use for inspiration?

Recently Initiated Loud Mouth :)

Yesterday neogrognard posted a great new article, Essential. If you haven't read it yet, I really suggest you go and read the post. It is full of the sorts of wisdom and critical thought that made me such a big fan of his. In my understanding, the thrust of his argument is this, to survive as a D&D or rpg company, it's important that the current, initiated fan base have a reason to not only buy, but also love, your product. To the initiated, few things are as important as feeling that years of mastering a game means something. If a game does a reboot and significantly changes its mechanics, as 4e did, that fan base will balk. Not only will that not buy the books, they will tell and shame others to do the same. Since RPG companies need to make money now, not take a loss for a few years as new markets are developed, this can really hurt a company.

I fully admit, I have no idea about the financials of a company such as Wizards of the Coast. I'm a smart person and I can make lots of guesses, but that sort of bench racing doesn't really appeal to me, at least not as a subject of a post. What I will say is that srm's discussion of the tension between the initiated and uninitiated matches my experience pretty well. He knows that of course, it was a big thing on my mind at DDXP, especially after Essentials came out. I saw it in my own gaming group. When the guy who had been DMing our game became a player, he constantly tried to create a single, awesome character and was frustrated in the process. 4e had changed the group dynamic and focus enough that he felt a bit lost at what to do. He would talk, at the table, about how this or that was so much better in 3.5 than in 4e. On one hand, I empathized with him and tried to find ways to make things more fun for him, reward him for that knowledge he had gained over the years. On the other, it kind of killed the fun for a portion of the group. We weren't as intent on having to know a rule for every situation or how to make a super awesome and capable solo character.

And when it comes down to it, that's the heart of the disagreement I had with srm's article. I agree with pretty much all of it except for the end where newbies are assigned to board and card games or comic books as the main way of getting them into the hobby. I think board games are useful to a degree, but unless there is a bridge between them and his version of AD&D, I think we'll still run into problems. On top of it, board games by their nature emphasize the mechanics over the story. Lots of people, maybe not a majority but I argue they do constitute a significant minority, love D&D despite its mechanics. If they are funneled into boardgames first, it's quite possible that we'll lose them. Of course, I'm highly biased here. I'm one of those people who don't enjoy boardgames that much but loves D&D.

I also bristled at the use of "our games" as a way to make those of us who don't value the elements of the game in the same way into a different group. I happen to know srm and I definitely don't think he's telling me to go away, but this type of language is used by many players as a sort of "Nerds Only" sign outside the clubhouse door. Sometimes I wonder if it's that, and not the game itself, that keeps people out. If so, no matter how many roads to Rome we build, we're still shutting out a large portion of people who might love and revere the game.

Leaving aside matters of money and a fan base for a second, I would love for this sort of advanced game to be tied to settings instead of the core rules. When I hear initiated, invested fans talk, they describe settings: Greyhawk, Mystara, Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, Spelljammer, etc. They get that twinkle in their eyes and their voice changes to that awesome story-telling voice many of us have. From there they go to specific supplements. They'll go to their shelf and pick up a book. "I love the wilderness charts from this" or "Man, I've got to tell you, the random encounter charts from that were amazing."

I'm sure there are lots of reasons why this isn't a great idea, but I really think it would solve a number of issues. People would know from the setting what subset of rules were likely to be used for the game and the rules could be tailored for the types of stories people are likely to tell in that setting. So a low magic setting is likely to use the inherent bonuses and a setting that isn't points of light based might get rules for a richer society. Since the majority of specialized rules would be in the settings instead of core, a group could pick their setting based on their level of expertise and how much time they wanted to devote to the game. Groups who wanted to, could cross-pollinate to their hearts content and create the games they most enjoyed for their tables.

At least that's my opinion. What's yours? :)

Lone Wolf

All through my childhood, I was a bit of a lone wolf. It's not that I didn't have friends, because I did. I loved my friends and I thought they were intelligent, funny and creative. But I was also cocky and self-assured. I spent long hours reading books, fiction books, non-fiction books, books about books and how to write them. I dedicated myself to learning every possible fact, to reading the great literature, and so on and so forth. In other words, even as I played sports and had other hobbies, I was a hyper-nerd. I thought because I had read all of these things, I knew all I could possibly know.

My dad would get upset at me overtimes over this. "Yes, yes," he would say. "I know you read about the Vietnam War, but I lived it. Those books are a bunch of hogwash." Of course, I didn't have enough years in the world to understand this. I mean, how can you argue with facts?

So what in the world does this have to do with D&D or RPGs in general? As I grew older, I realized the need to have a diverse group of people around me. People who are older, and those who are younger. City people, country people, rich people and poor people. Their experiences challenge my own in new and interesting ways and enrich them in ways I often can't imagine beforehand. They help me make better stories and adventures and see things from a different point of view. Those different angles fuel my imagination.

And I think that's what turns me off to a lot of lone wolf design. Holing myself up in my office or sitting in a tea shop interacting only with my computer doesn't help me become a better designer. I love the interactions with people. It's part of the reason I love hanging out in the 4e chat room on the at-will blog, doing Open Design, co-hosting podcasts and hanging out in twitter. It's what I like about group collaboration projects (something young me always despised). Some people are really good at lone wolf design. I can work through it, but I'm happier when I can bounce ideas off of people.

What about you? Do you prefer to be work on your own or as part of a team? How do you develop your ideas?

Lost City: Malsalix

One of my favorite things to design in Lost City was the malsalix. It started life as a humble shambling mound in the oppulent bathhouse scene. As I sat down to write the adventure, however, it became clear that I needed to combine the spores that caused the original madness with the shambling mound and create a new, even more dangerous plant in its stead. Hence, the malsalix was born.

While the plant is integral to the story of the Kradalhu, there's no reason it can't be used elsewhere. In fact, story has it that the plant was bred by dark druids to protect their dark, humid caves deep in the forests of the feywild. Provide some humidity and a few sources of lightning, especially traps, and the plant will be more than happy to wander the halls of your dungeon. It's particularly good at stealing powers from creatures, making it a good partner for less intelligent guardians or highly intelligent but also highly squishy ones.

The plant is reminiscent of a weeping willow, with long, rope like branches that sway to and fro. It starts life as a spore, released by an elder plant. It lies dormant until it finds its way into a moist, humid environment such as a swamp, pond, or a cave pool. From there, it grows into a slime, with thin threads of cells weaving themselves together. As the weave grows stronger, it takes the shape of a small seedling. The threads become larger and more wood-like in appearance and the malsalix becomes a mature plant. A rare few will keep growing like this and become elder plants.

If you have the patience or luck to find and capture one, and elder plant is particularly useful for protecting a room or area. Just provide it a sturdy structure for its central stalk to climb. When it senses invaders, the plant will go on the defensive, filling the area with spores  and poisoning those within the cloud. When the area is full, it lets off its lightning attack, bouncing the energy off of the spores and burning them up in the process. Anyone within the cloud at this time contracts tainted water madness, the disease caused by the plant.

In addition to this spore cloud, the elder plant has the ability to call seedlings to its defense. The immature plants often come up from behind the group, whipping the invaders with their tendrils.

If the combination of these two defenses is not enough to scare away the attackers, the elder plant goes into stage 2 of its defenses. It breaks apart into 5 plants. The central stalk remains, continuing with its spore cloud although no longer able to call seedlings. The other four, the runners, move away, teleporting behind the enemies if possible. These plants remain connected to one another and don't die until they are all defeated.

In addition to its defenses, the malsalix is a component of a number of magic items. Two found in the Lost City are memory pots and paralyzing nets. The former provides a way to steal the powers of an enemy by hitting them with a pot of spores you've attuned yourself to. The other is a net you can throw at an enemy. Not only does it immobilize the enemy on a hit, but while they are in this state, they cannot use anything other than basic attacks.

Personally, I have a certain cave in Newhamshire that is perfect for the malsalix. The local town has been experiencing nightmares for over a year now and they live right near a swamp. I'd love to see some of these plants rise out of the swamp water to ambush the PCs. If you were to use the Malsalix in your game, how might you do it?

Lost City: Jury of Your Peers

Generally when I pitch, one of three things happens. Most often, I hear nothing at all, what we often refer to as the black hole. With some companies, I'll get a thanks but no thanks response. A few times I'll get a "yes, please write that for us" response. The problem for me is that none of these answers tell me what I did right or wrong in the pitch. It's totally possible that I wrote a poor pitch but had a truly awesome idea or that the pitch was solid but the idea itself was weak.

With Open Design, it's a bit different. In my last post, I mentioned the steps I went through to create my first pitch, The Waterworks of Kradalhu. What came after was a bit nerve-wracking but well worth it. Since Open Design projects follow the patron model, patrons often get to vote on the options available and, in that way, help decide what ends up in the final project. Often we use polls to do this and discuss in forums before, during and after the vote. So in the case of the adventure pitches, Logan gathered all of the pitches and put them in one post with an accompanying poll. He stripped identifying information from the pitches. Then, people were encouraged to discuss what they liked or didn't like about the pitches.

If you think sending pitches into a black hole is scary, then you haven't had your work critiqued in a forum. Yeah, I was nervous as heck about it, but I knew that this was the best way for me to learn a few things. First, sometimes I feel a bit like an imposter when it comes to game design. It's my own brain, but because I gained popularity with this blog and on twitter before I did any formal design, I sometimes worry that while my words are good, my design is not. By taking my name off of the pitch, I didn't have to worry that people were going to vote for it because I wrote it. It may sound silly, but it is what it is.

Another lesson the exercise reinforced is that we are all there to make the best product we can. What I mean is that I had to remind myself not to take any of the criticism or questions personally. It's really hard sometimes too. It's easy to focus just on the time or energy you spent on what you wrote and dismiss others' criticism or requests as the product of jealousy or that they just don't get your vision. The truth is, they don't have to get it. It's possible that your vision is wrong for the book, wrong for the market, or just poorly explained. But at the end of the day, it's not about you, it's about the product.

In addition, since the pitches were supposed to remain anonymous during the voting period, I couldn't respond to any comments about my pitch, whether they were good or bad. Reading others talk about something you wrote is an invaluable experience, made all the more so by the inability to reply. If you can stomach it, it means you actually have to listen to what other people are saying about it. It gives you the chance to look at what you created from a different point of view. You don't always have to agree with their view, but if you can understand where they are coming from, there's a good chance it will make the product even better. Once I let my natural defensiveness go, it was one of the best experiences ever and definitely helped me later on when we got to the writing phase.

Finally, Logan gave a short critique on each submission. Getting that sort of feedback from someone who does this is well worth the price of admission. Also, we got to see his critiques on everyone's work, which means I can go through each one, see what the author did and see what Logan thought.

So that was the voting phase and much of what I learned from it. I also learned that I will totally hit that refresh button every 15 minutes for days on end to see how many votes I had. But that's another story. :)

Lost City: Learning to Pitch

Last night I got wonderful news. My first ever RPG project, Lost City, is finally finished and out the door. This means quite a few things. People other than patrons can finally view it, comment on it, and hopefully play it. I also feel better about writing about it because I know that what I write about will be what everyone else sees.

So what is Lost City? It's a 4e adventure sourcebook for levels 14-17 published by Open Design. A crack team of designers and patrons (ok, I might be biased) took on the challenge, led by Logan Bonner. It centers on Kadralhu, a once-great city lost beneath the shifting sands. One of my favorite things about it is it's a sandbox adventure. We provide some structure if you want to use it, but PCs have a lot of choice in what they do and how they do it. In addition to providing a city and some locations within it, we provide some new creatures, some interesting twists on old ones, encounters, skill challenges, magic items and more. If you want more info, check out the Kobold Quarterly blog post, the store pages for the product (pdf, print), or the previews (The Forbidden Archive, Trignotarbs, Oklu Roles and Themes, Malsalix)

My main contribution to the project is the waterworks. It might seem like a strange thing to focus on in for a city buried under tons of sand in the middle of a desert. But, when we wrote our initial round of pitches, we didn't have a clear idea of what the city looked like, either currently or in its glory. In part, the pitches were meant to decide what shape the city would take.

I tend to work better when I can take a small nugget of something tangible and build out from there. So I had to figure out something that was tangible to me, gave some flavor to the city we built, while still being flexible to work with whatever everyone else brought to the table. After some brainstorming, the idea for the waterworks was born. Most cities, even in fantasy settings need water. Whatever carried the water around the city, whether it's pipes, channels or portals, could help the PCs get around a city overrun with sand, providing a practical benefit.

Next came the fun part, populating it with creepy crawlies. I spent hours pouring through the monster manuals I owned trying to find creatures of the right level that made sense in the city. I didn't see a ton there that struck me as perfect for this project. The two that I most liked were the Shambling Mound (mainly for the opulent bathhouse scene) and the Chuul (because they are just awesome), so I added them into the pitch.

Finally, I wanted to make the waterworks more important to the city. Much of the history of the city was still a blank canvas. I remembered the stories I had heard as a kid about people trying to put LSD in the NYC reservoirs. Knowing that we had the Oklu, a race who acted as servants for the original inhabitants of the city, I wondered what would happen if a few of them had poisoned the water supply to gain the upper hand on their masters. What if the waterworks master was blamed for the downfall and thrown into the waterworks, never to be seen again?

I worked on refining and expanding these ideas for two weekends. I asked trusted friends to give me feedback on it and I worked and reworked the language. For a first real pitch, I'm still pretty proud of it. And yes, I think it's hilarious that I was pitching a dungeon of sorts at the same time I wrote posts against some types of them on my blog.

So what did all of this teach me about ptiching?

  • Rarely does the idea come all at once. Heck, some of the best stuff from the section had seeds in the pitch but it wasn't until I spent more time playing with the ideas that they became awesome.
  • Getting a group of friends to brainstorm with helps a ton. It's great if you can find people who don't have the same exact tastes as you do but who understand that some things are a difference of style rather than being inherently good or bad. Not everyone in your group has to like every idea, but if most of them don't like it, you might want to rethink your idea.
  • The scariest part is often the fear of rejection. If you let that get to you, you've lost the game from the start.

Crafting Items

In my last post, "Waste Not, Want Not," I gave some guidelines for harvesting parts from fallen beasts. In that article, I didn't include information for adjudicating a PC creating their own equipment from those parts. Instead, it suggests they find an NPC crafter to do it instead, giving them a discount on the new magic item. One reason for this is that I was, and still am, in love with Mike Mearl's article, "Who You Know, What You Know." By asking PCs to rely on others in the world, it gives me more opportunities to add richness and diversity. If they can go out and do everything themselves, I'm forced to do more work.

However, maybe you have a player in your group who loves to do this stuff. They are a weapon and armor history buff and want to provide some historical detail to the game or they enjoy finding new ways to use items. So what should you do in these situations?

The exact answer will depend a lot on what type of game you all want. Does your group like to get detailed with their actions or would they rather handwave certain details? Also, do they find trying and failing fun? Some groups like getting into the nitty-gritty of their characters lives and prefer a higher rate of failure than other groups.

Steps to Crafting an Item

  • Gather the components
  • Create a mundane version of the item, e.g. a set of bracers, hide armor
  • Enchant the item

Is crafting the item interesting?

Each group is likely to have their own answer to this. Personally, I'm not a fan of restriction-heavy games so I tend to be much more lenient with what I let my players do and like to do the same as a player. This doesn't mean I think my half-elf rogue with a +0 strength modifier is going to be forging swords any time soon. For my group, I'd probably just ask the player if he or she thought this was something her character would be able to do. If the response is yes, then I'd ask him or her to note it on the character sheet and viola a mundane sword is created.

If you want to make them roll, try to make it interesting. Failing to make a mundane item after gathering the resources for it should be pretty infrequent. One way to handle it would be to have them roll a check and how well they do determines the quality of the item they can make. So if they are making a weapon, perhaps beating a hard DC means they can make up to a superior weapon, medium means up to military, easy means simple only. Anything below that is akin to an improvised weapon. I would set the DC equal to the level of the creature killed although I can see an argument that it should just be the level 1 DCs regardless of the PCs' level. Another way to handle it would be to set the DC for the exact item they want to create. You can use DCs similar to the above method but feel free to add to them if they want to do something really fancy. If they fail at the check, still let them create the item. If they are going to turn it into a magic item later, perhaps they can enchant it only to 2 levels below them.

As for what skill to use, well that would depend on the item being crafted. For a carved, wooden holy symbol, I could see thievery, nature or religion working well. Athletics and dungeoneering seem to be decent fits for anything forged from metal. In my games, I would concentrate on making a check for whatever addition to the item makes it interesting. For instance, if a player wanted his PC to make a chest with a false bottom, I wouldn't ask for a check to create the chest. Instead, the only check would be on how well hidden the secret area was. For this, I'd probably use Stealth although I'd be open to thievery and bluff as well, at a much higher DC. I would also note the result in my notes and ask the player to add it to his character sheet.

Making it Magical

At the end of this process, the group should have a mundane item of some sort. Now comes the less-interesting part, making it magical. Why did I call it less interesting? Well a rule already exists for this in a way. The 4th level enchant magic item is the standard way of giving ordinary items something cool. Truth is, I don't like it. It sidesteps the DM's desire to control access to certain items and doesn't add anything to the story. It doesn't even require a check and its use of arcana seems strange to me if what I'm doing is making a holy symbol. I mean, it's not necessarily a bad way to handle it, especially given the limits of the 4e system, but it's not a great way either. It feels like one of those things added for legacy reasons.

In my game, I would limit enchant magic item to common items, not uncommon or rare. This fits with the information given about the item tiers as well. Anything else would be truly bespoke. As a DM, I would work closely with the player and the group to figure out what they wanted from the item and a fair way for them to get it. Perhaps they have to travel to a crafting expert and work under that person's supervision for a week or a month. Another option would be to require a special component or for it to be forged in a special place, perhaps even giving them a discount on the overall cost.

Item Breakage

While my world tends to have a fair degree of magic, something tells me that these items should have a degree of uncertainty to them. I might suggest to my players a variation of the Dark Sun breakage rules. Here's a rough draft of what I'd tweak.

  • On a critical miss, they can decide to press forward with their attack (giving them a reroll), but a mundane crafted weapon automatically breaks and a crafted magic one breaks on a natural roll of 1-5.
  • When you are the recipient of a critical hit, you can reduce the damage of the hit by 1/2 if you sacrifice a crafted item, to 0 if the item is irrecoverably destroyed. Repairs can be handled similar to the original creation for sacrificed items.

    Those are some of my thoughts on item crafting. What are yours?

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