RPG design – Weapon Wednesday: Gemdrain Blade

Gemdrain Blade

Aura strong transmutation; CL 17th; Slot none;
Price 60,500 gp; Weight 4 lbs

This beautifully crafted +1 longsword drains magic power from mages that it strikes. Whenever you score a hit on a spellcaster with this weapon, they must instantly lose a spell slot of a level equal to your damage divided by 5 (if they prepare spells, they choose which prepared spell or empty spell slot is lost). For the next minute, you gain one free casting of any spell you know or have prepared of equivalent level or lower. You may only gain a free casting once per day, although you can drain any number of spell levels.

Craft Magic Arms and Armor, creator must be able to cast 9th-level spells; Cost 30,250 gp

The secrets of this weapon are ancient and well-hidden by the craftsmen of the deepest forges. The gemdrain blade was developed by a fallen paladin seeking vengeance against a powerful evil wizard. The paladin fought valiantly and his weapon served him well, but the vile wizard prevailed and stole the design of the weapon for his own gains. 


A great weapon for a magus or eldritch knight: anyone who wants to combine spell-slinging with sword-swinging!

– Max Porter Zasada


RPG Design – Magic Item Monday: Vest of the Vineswimmer

Vest of the Vineswimmer

Aura medium something; CL something
Slot: something; Price number; Weight 2 lbs

While wearing this green linen vest embroidered with vine motifs, you gain the benefits of woodland stride as a Druid. When in an area of magical plants that would normally impede movement (such as entangle or wall of thorns), you gain a 40-ft. enhancement bonus to your speed instead of feeling the effects of the spell so long as you stay within the area of magical plants.


It drives me a little bit bonkers that there are so many items for spellcasters that enable you to do what you already do, just more of it or in different places: “You can cast spells…more!” or “You can wear armor…wildshaped!”.

I want more magic items that combine with your spells to make more powerful or interesting effects.

Max Porter-Zasada

RPG Design: Theme Thursday: Micro-stories

Theme Thursday: Micro-stories

Well, I’m going to share one of the great secrets of awesome campaign design, and indeed any interactive story. Don’t say I never did anything for you.

The essential point to keep in mind when designing a campaign is that you’re not writing a novel. You don’t have complete control over the characters, the events, or even the plot–you only have control over the setting. The challenge lies in creating a story with all the things good stories have–interesting characters, engaging plot, and a dramatic story arc that suspends disbelief and keeps a disparate audience enraptured. This task might seem impossible given the lack of control you have over the elements of the story, but at least you have one great tool in your arsenal: the micro-story.

The term “micro-story” refers to the way that tiny, minuscule interactions with a game can form their own stories. In a single encounter, tensions rise as the monster takes more and more damage, while the players have to struggle harder and harder to defeat it, until (if things go well) in one spectacular finish, the beast is destroyed, and the micro-story resolves as the heroes count up their treasure.

Better yet, in a D20 system the micro-stories go even deeper. The reason so many people find the 20 system so satisfying is because of the micro-stories inherent to the game. Every time you roll a die, you participate in an extremely brief dramatic tale: with a specific goal in mind, you roll the die across the table. The tension rises as it slows, stops, and a number appears…a flurry of checking modifiers follows, and the story resolves in either triumphant success or dismal failure!

As a gamemaster, you can harness this power of good gaming if you wish. Sure, great campaigns can consist of strict storylines and linear dramatic arcs–but that’s a lot less fun for the players. The truly fun campaigns aren’t simply “sandbox-style” either, where the players are essentially involved in a massive board game. The best kinds of campaigns have plenty of leeway for the players yet feel satisfying no matter what choices they make or how they shape the story. No matter what happens, it should feel right, as well-crafted as the best novel, yet still full of possibility for the players.

The only way to make this freedom into a cohesive story is through micro-stories. They make the campaign satisfying. You need to think in micro-stories: design adventures around the idea, as well as encounters and even small things like skill checks. You can make climbing a mountain memorable if you think of it as a story arc–an easy climb check followed by a hard one, followed by a dramatic rise all the way to a combat with vrocks on a swinging rope bridge (an encounter that itself possesses dramatic tension as the vrocks increase one by one).

Perhaps you never expected the players to go up that mountain. Heck, maybe it was a random decision by one of the players who’s ignoring a major plot-directed adventure in a completely different direction. That doesn’t matter. Maybe you have to slip in a clue or hook somewhere on this mountain that sends the party back in the direction of the main storyline; that’s fine and necessary. It’s going to feel organic to the main story, it’s going to feel right–all because this mountain adventure felt like a story in itself.

An interactive story, whose main characters can make independent decisions, only feels right when the story happens in every direction. Your story arc can be as twisted as a corkscrew, but with the right application of micro-stories it will seem, looking back, that there was only one way the story could have happened.

Magic Item Monday: Crown of the Long-Dead King

Crown of the Long-Dead King – Major Artifact

Aura strong necromancy; CL 20th
Slot head; Weight 4 lbs.


Long ago, the tales say, there lived a nameless king. His people knew not what to call him, nor what to make of his strange and silent guardians that marched out from his vast stone fortress. One day, however, the king and all his armies disappeared–some say their life force was sucked away and bound within the nameless king’s crown. Legends hold that should someone find and don the crown, his visage will peel away and he shall appear as the king in his last moments. Legends go on to say that the bearer of the crown will gain a +6 enhancement bonus to Charisma,  +2 to the DC of any necromancy spell he casts, and the ability to control an additional 10 HD of undead through spells. Some even whisper that those with the ability to command undead as the feat can do so as a swift action while wearing the crown–but they are obviously madmen.


The Crown of the Long-Dead King can only be destroyed by a Paladin of at least 10th level who has never killed a living being.

-Max Porter-Zasada

Weapon Wednesday: Briarblade | Pathfinder RPG Design


2-handed exotic weapon. 2d6 damage. 19-20 x2 critical. 8 lbs. 85 gp. Special: trip

This immense two-handed sword is marked with cruel barbs and prongs to catch off-balance foes.  When you make a full attack and strike your foe with your first attack, but deal more damage with a secondary attack against the same enemy using this weapon, his speed is lowered by 5 ft. for one round and you may make a trip attempt against that enemy with a +2 bonus.

The first briarblades were forged by the Howlers, a savage band of forest guardians who would leap screaming into battle, almost naked save for their deadly two-handed weapons. The Howlers would come away covered in scars, and it was hard to find new recruits. However, they developed the briarblade to put fear into those who would defile their forest, laying enemies low and helpless among the tangled roots of the forest floor.

One of their greatest warriors, known for wearing a single thorny rose in his hair during battle, was felled by a dwarven captain-at-arms who was too difficult to trip. This warrior and his briarblade were brought to a nearby town, and the secret weapon was developed and its use spread elsewhere. Facing enemies trained to counter their best attack, the Howlers were eventually disbanded and driven from the forest, leaving their weapon as a fell legacy. 


This weapon is great for a raging barbarian with a bit of extra style. You don’t have to specialize in tripping to be awesome with this weapon, but that’s the path to getting the maximum benefit. Enjoy the use of a terrifying blade of legend!

-Max Porter-Zasada

Tuesday Tweak: Aid Another’s Knowledge

Yes, that’s right. I promised to put up complete ship stats this week for airships. However, what with all the days I haven’t been able to work on this…it’s been impossible. I will have to save it for another time, if my dear readers are interested. Instead, enjoy this tweak!

Players can aid one another on knowledge checks, as with many other skills. A character must be trained in the knowledge skill to aid, and this can only be done out of combat, as it takes a few minutes when the characters argue and discuss esoteric notations in old texts or hearsay on the street.

Furthermore, a scaled method of aiding: for every 10 by which the player beats the aid another DC of 10, they can add an additional +1.


This tweak makes discovering and exploring your world a fun group process, which EVERYONE can participate in, at the cost of one skill point. It becomes a fun discovery, instead of a boring chore. Best used in a game with a lot of story and background detail, all of which could be important to the players. Using these rules can lead to sessions of rapt attention from players as they explore the richness of your world!

Ooooooh right, and this is the LAST WEEK of interrupted posting. Thank goodness! No post this Thursday or Friday, but Gamingmage will resume its normal schedule on Sunday!

-Max Porter-Zasada