RPG Design – Magic Item Monday: Gimlet of Irresistible Mental Penetration

Magic item by Carlos celurian JorreblancaGimlet of Irresistible Mental Penetration

Aura Strong Abjuration; CL 17

Slot – ; Price 40,000 gp Weight 1 lb

 This gimlet is made of iron and gold, fashioned with a snakelike visage. Mind-affecting spells or abilities cast by the wielder of the gimlet negate half the targets’ resistance bonuses to Will saves.  

Construction Requirements Craft Wondrous Item, mind blank, antimagic fieldCost 20,000 gp

An ancient cult sought to gain control over the mind of the king and his nobles with their dark rites, but were foiled time and again by the mind shielding magic of the royal wizard. After much praying and sacrificing, the forces of darkness taught the head priest how to create an item that could pierce the veils of magic. However, it had taken so long that the king’s paladins finally found the den of iniquity and destroyed the cult, taking their magic items for the royal college. 


This item is very difficult to balance, because you don’t know how much resistance the target is going to have. It might be easier to just give the caster a bonus, but that just didn’t seem as fun. 


–Max Porter-Zasada

RPG Design – Sunday Spell: Binding of Arach

Binding of ArachBinding of Arach

School conjuration; Level magus 4, sorcerer/wizard 4
Casting Time 1 standard action
Range close (25 ft. + 5 ft. per 2 levels)
Components V, S, M (spider web)
Target creature
Duration 1 minute/level
Saving throw: reflex negates, see text; Spell Resistance: no

This spell creates masses of sticky strands that bind a creature’s arms and legs to a solid surface, holding them in place. The target creature must make two Reflex saves, one for its legs and another for its arms, or the nearest equivalent. If either save fails and there is a solid surface adjacent to that part of their body, the creature becomes entangled. If the Reflex save for its arms fails, the creature  cannot cast spells with a somatic component and cannot use its arms for any task. If the save for its legs fails, the creature is held in that space and cannot move. The creature can take a full-round action to make a Strength or Escape Artist check against the DC of this spell to break free of the strands holding either its legs or arms. Otherwise, the strands function like webs from the web spell. Creatures without anything resembling legs or arms are immune to this spell.

Deep within a dark forest there dwells the wizard Arach, a mad loner. They say he is a sworn hermit, spending his days and nights in the study of strange texts and stranger magic. Spiders lurk about his decrepit castle, and the trees for miles around are shrouded in the grey webbing of their kind, as they wait and plot and decide when they will turn on Arach and devour him. Once, so they say, a brave sorceress ventured into the forest to seek knowledge. She emerged days later covered in webs, but bearing a scroll with the Binding of Arach inscribed on it. She gibbered for weeks of poisons and creeping, crawling, darting things in the shrouded woods, but when she came to her senses she was able to teach the powerful spell to her students. 


I like spells that come in a series, and web is one of the coolest and most evocative spells in the caster’s arsenal. Let me know here if you use the binding of Arach spell in your game!

– Max Porter-Zasada

RPG Design – Tuesday Tweak: The Incorporeal Problem

ghost-handIncorporeal Rules

Well, this problem has always been a bit difficult to pin down.

On the one hand, the rules for ghosts and such in D&D and Pathfinder have always been mostly clear, if overcomplicated with all kinds of specific cases and applications. On the other hand, these rules are mostly a failure, in my estimation. While they do work, the rules for incorporeal creatures add zero flavor, richness, or realism to the game. It’s worth noting that Paizo came out with the Haunt rules so that ghostly events could happen without evoking the spirit rules.

Instead, we have ghosts and wraiths taking partial damage from spells and magic weapons and floating around on another plane of existence. There are even rules covering the inevitable “hide within the stone wall and attack people” rules exploit. These mechanics are fine if you just want to play extended encounters and tactical games, or find all kinds of ways to exploit corner cases and creative interpretations. However, if you want your spirits to strike fear into the players’ hearts or evoke an eerie mood, they need to interact with these monsters with a phrase other than “Hey, are you carrying that ghost touch dagger or did we sell it? This fight could be annoying.”

I haven’t yet worked out a system of mechanics for incorporeal creatures that evokes all the right feelings. I’m still experimenting. However, the first step to making a better rule is to identify what bothers us about the old rule and figure out the goals for a new one.

Any thoughts?

-Max Porter Zasada

RPG Design – Magic Item Monday: Bracers of the Silent Stalker

magic_item_by_ianllanasBracers of the Silent Stalker

Aura Faint Transmutation; CL 3rd

Slot wrists; Price 2,000 gp Weight 1 lb

 These leather bracers are embossed with copper and animal designs. The wearer gains a +2 competence bonus to Stealth checks and a +2 competence bonus to initiative if she is allowed to act in a surprise round. 

Construction Requirements Craft Wondrous Item, anticipate perilCost 1,000 gp

They say that deep in the darkest wood there lives a ranger gone mad. He stalks the silent trees, looking for civilized folk. When he finds someone, he demands they answer three riddles, all of which only a true woodsman  could answer. Those who answer incorrectly he hunts down mercilessly, firing arrows from the dark. To those who know the correct answer he gives a precious gift, a pair of bracers that grant a hunter’s skill.


I had to take a sick day Sunday, but we’re back with a magic item. I think these bracers would work as well on a  Pathfinder Diviner as on a ranger. Enjoy!

–Max Porter-Zasada

RPG Design – Feat Friday: Hold Charges

Hold SpellHold Charges
You have increased control over the forces of magic at your command.
Prerequisite: ability to cast spells, wis 13
Benefit: When you cast a touch spell you can hold the charge for up to one hour and can even cast other spells while holding the charge, although you cannot use that hand for anything else.


Feats like this one are fun partly because they let you do something that you really want to do, but can’t because of certain somewhat obscure rules. I think this feat is pretty powerful, and maybe it should have another prerequisite, but I couldn’t think of a good one. Any suggestions?


-Max Porter-Zasada

RPG Design – Weapon Wednesday: Blade Bow

Rough_Bow_designs_by_carlos1170Blade Bow

Two-handed exotic ranged weapon. 1d8 piercing damage. x3 critical. 5 lbs. 205 gp. Special: see text

This longbow is fitted with extra braces and blades so that it can be wielded in hand-to-hand combat. It can be wielded as a two-bladed sword that does 1d4/1d4 damage. However, at the beginning of your turn you must declare whether you are using the correct hand position to wield the weapon as a melee or a ranged weapon and that choice holds until the beginning of your next turn. Even if you are using the blade bow as a ranged weapon, you can use the blades to make a melee attack, but it is considered to be an improvised weapon and you do not threaten squares with it.

Developed by the warriors of the plains to battle their centaur enemies, these bows give several options to a master archer or dervish, who can change his manner of fighting in the space of a moment. 


Exotic weapons should be truly unusual or strange, and give special power to the Exotic Weapon Proficiency feat.

Max Porter-Zasada

RPG Design – Tuesday Tweak: Handling Diplomacy

diplomacyIn Pathfinder and D&D, the Diplomacy skill is almost a joke. The immutable DCs presented with the skill are clearly bunk; they are high enough so that in the first few levels it’s practically impossible for players to affect an NPC, yet scale slowly enough that with a little bit of investment in later levels players can easily convince the biggest, baddest villains in the game to be their best friends. Worse yet, there’s very little guidance on what the levels of hostility or friendship actually mean, making the skill seem like magical mind control as a default. The whole system is a complex thing that doesn’t appear anywhere else in the game. Here are the best ideas I’ve been able to find out there on the wild frontier of the internet about changing the Diplomacy rule:

Justin Alexander gives an incredibly thorough analysis of the problems with Diplomacy here

Rich Burlew, creator of Order of the Stick, has this somewhat over-complex but solid idea, which has become quite well-known

An excellent rule idea called Social Combat, which makes some major changes to the way roleplaying skills work, can be found here.

Alternatively, one of the simplest things you can do is to make Diplomacy opposed to some other skill, such as another character’s Diplomacy or Sense Motive roll. Have players make checks every time they want to convince someone to do something (just like how it works with Bluff), and you’ll solve many of the inherent issues with the skill.


–Max Porter-Zasada