Jeremiah McCoy

Geek For Hire

Category: Games

These are game related blog posts.

The Basics of the Game updates and The Tal Dorei Setting

Here I am making another video.  Crazy talk. I talk about recent projects, new audio gear, and I briefly review the Tal’ Dorei Setting.



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Different Rules for Death.

Why I am I talking about death on a blog dealing mainly with games?

Medieval Drawing of skeletons

Well, games handle death differently.   In many video games, you simply return to prior save point if you die. In Dungeons & Dragons we have spells which can bring you back from the dead. Death does not have the tight hold on a character it does on people in the real world. How easily a caster can gain access to these Resurrection spells says a lot about the setting. If it is just something you pay some gold for at the local temple, then death is less scary. If it is something that only pc’s can learn, then that puts PC’s in a unique position in your world. Suddenly, they go from just being another adventurer to being some of the most important people in the world.  The notion of someone dying and being brought back to life is kind of a central tenant to at least one major real world religion.

The thing is, I am not super satisfied with the treatment of death in most fantasy games. It makes sense with how D&D evolved.  Of course bringing someone back from the dead boils down just casting a spell.  That is how player controlled magic works in D&D. Having your character die can suck. It is not as traumatic as having a real person die, but you can invest a lot in that character. Often you will spend many hours playing, making and thinking about your character. You get invested, so of course you want to have them brought back.  It all makes sense but it also removes something. If death is a guaranteed non permanent thing, if it is a simple fix, then why should you care if someone is under threat of death?

Larps Handle Death A Little Differently….

Boffer or Action Larps often bring an even strong sense of attachment to a character. You are spending whole weekends in costumes you either bought for the character, or made for the character. You inhabit that character in a way you cant at a tabletop session.  You are physically doing many of the things you might describe in a tabletop game. This means the impact of character death is even stronger here, so having an easy(ish) way to bring people back is essential, but, again, how do you put people at risk if they know they can be brought back? A few games I have played have done that differently, but they all boil down to a couple of strategies.

The Drawing

The first tactic is adding the chance you might not come back. Whether you are drawing a card, or a domino, or a specially marked stone, you take a random chance when bringing people back.  The more often they get brought back, the worse their chances become. As you die, the folks running the game would record it in a book. When you died again, they would prepare the pool you are drawing for based on the number of previous deaths. You will likely have no problems coming back for your first few deaths, but as you go along the chances to comeback are reduced. You can add complications to this system.  Perhaps you could make a draw result that is not just alive or dead, but different. You could be brought back with a venerability to silver or mind magics. Some spells may have a greater chance to be brought back different, much like the Reincarnate spell of older editions of D&D.  Add in a few cards that could change you from a Human to an Elf, for instance.


This adds threat the longer pc’s are played. They may become more powerful, but their death draw becomes more and more likely to be their last.  It also allows you to add effects that increase the stakes of an encounter. Say you are fighting  bad guy who uses some dark magics. He drops your friend, and you think “well there is a still a good chance that he will come back, lets rush the guy.” Then the bad guy casts a spell that weakens peoples souls, making that draw even more likely to fail.  That bad guy becomes an even more of threat.  Suddenly the PC’s feel more at risk. You could also have spells that there is no coming back. Rather than just killing you, they obliterate you leaving nothing to be brought back.  That sense of threat is put back into dying. Obviously, you want to advertise that and not have a surprise permanent death, but making that known makes an opponent that much more frightening.  It marks the clear difference between early campaign and late campaign content, where the stakes should be higher.


The Conditions

Some Larps placed a particularly limit on bringing someone back.  For instance, a couple of larps I played required that you get to the body of the person you want to bring back before the sun sets or rises. No body, no coming back.  This creates a sense of pressure on the heroes.  Not only do you have to get out of the dungeon with your dead friend, but you need to do it quick.

It also presents an interesting set of complications for stopping the bad guy.  That ritual the  bad guy is going to do to give himself nearly godlike powers? Yeah he is doing that at sunset.  Jump too late, he is a god. Jump too soon and your heroes face a real chance of dying permanently.

Other games I played did not have this complication and the body of heroes dissolved and appeared in a magic circle.  This presented a different complication.  All their gear is wherever they died. People familiar with MMO’s will be familiar with  the corpse run.  That is unpleasant, but it is even more unpleasant in a circumstance where you are not a ghost, where all your nice weapons, armor, spell books and the like are in a dungeon that was bad enough it killed you once already. Many an adventure would have a  point where someone would die and resurrect  in the circle and hope their buddies grabbed all their gear on their way out of the evil temple.


Role Playing Death

Another big part of this process was the description. You died and it is not a binary proposition bringing you back. Narratively, there is struggle.  There would often be a description of the spirit reentering the body, or the sensation of resistance on resurrection that was not going well. A pc’s ghost might meet other ghosts while dead, or Death herself. The point is it was rarely a simple spell cast and poof you were fine. That isn’t interesting.  There is little chance for story in binary death interactions.

Oi, Mate….How Does This Relate To Tabletop?

That is a good question, and why are you suddenly English. This relates because you can bring a lot of this over to D&D (or Fantasy AGE or insert your game system here).  MAking death a more interesting and role play heavy experience can change how session goes.  A nearly Total Party Kill can have a more interesting aftermath. Here are some options.

The Magic Circles

There are Magic Circles scattered through out the world. The art for making them has been lost, but their power remains.  A person of sufficient power and ability(like a hero) can attune to one. Normal attunement rules apply.  If they do, they can use the circle to bring people back from the dead.  To use it, they must bring at least most of the body back to circle. Once there, they must make an Arcana or Religion check to begin the resurrection. The person being brought back rolls a d20. For the first death, anything above a 1 succeeds.

However, each time they use the circle to come back (or any other method) they also add a d4 to the roll.   If they roll lower on the d20 than what they roll on the d4’s the resurrection fails. If it fails three times, they can never try again. That person is beyond the veil permanently.

Example:  Charley the Bard has died 3 times before. This is his 4th death and his cleric buddy is trying to bring him back in a circle. Charley roles and 11 on his d4’s, to represent the damage his soul has taken in the past. He roles the D20 and gets a 6. He fails his first attempt. He can try to role under 11 on two more tries.  If he succeeds he comes back.  If he fails, the party is going to need a new Bard.

Note: You could replace that with a card pull.  Have 10 hearts cards.  With each death add a spades card. A spade means failure. You could add other suites for more exotic results liek raise changes or developing flaws.

Make a Deal

There is a ritual, which anyone with ritual casting can cast.  It costs 100 gold in certain herbs burnt over the body of a fallen person.  This summons a being. The type of being summoned is decided at the casting.  This can be a spirit of death, a demon, or a fae.  The summoned being will bring the person back from the dead, but all magic of this sort has a cost. To bring your friend back from the dead, you must make a sacrifice something. The first time can be relatively minor, but as someone becomes more powerful, it cost more.  The GM should work out the cost but a good rule of thumb is if the dead person is less than level 5, a material object of some rarity or power(example: minor magic item, the sheets from the kings bed, a work of art) is sufficient.  If they are between 5th and 10th levels, it costs the equivalent of a difficult service or curse. Above that, get creative.  A soul is not out of the question.

Note: This is very much on the GM to come up with something, often on the fly, and with little mechanical guidance. That said, it also adds a lot of story to the process. It is not going to be for everyone, but it can be a fun addition.  


We Are The Princes of the Universe

You could also make it so the PC’s by nature of being PC’s are immortal unless killed in a particular way.  This is decided at the beginning of the game and can vary per person. One Fighter can only be killed by decapitation, while the Cleric can only be killed by  a blade of mistletoe wood, or the Bard can only die by being burned to death. Be creative but the way should not be overly specific.  A vulnerability to only spears forged by gods from star metal on a Tuesday is not really a good choice. If they are brought unconscious, they will wake up in 30 minutes no matter how badly damaged, assuming death condition is not met. This does not increase their healing rate, so being beat down to 0 hit points still takes a bit to recover from. To make this work it needs two extra bits. First, there need to be villains also so endowed.  This is a touch of divinity or destiny and the bad guys get that too. Second, there has to be a way for the bad guys to learn what the heroes can die from. Maybe it is a prophesy, or book, but there has a to be a way for the villains to learn it.  Dying to random orcs becomes a lot less likely. It also hammers home that the PC’s are special, but the moment that Cleric notices a bad guy with wooden knives, he begins to sweat.  When that Bard hears that you have to stop a dragon, he will have reason to feel extra concerned.

Note:  This radically changes the nature of a campaign, obviously.  This probably doesn’t fit into every campaign world.  Also, there is a significant chance of having the odd problem prop up due to the seeming immortality of characters.  A character falls into a nearly bottomless ravine with no chance of ever making it out.  Do you count that as dead and make a new character? Eternal toture also becomes an issue.  


There are a range of ways to make death more interesting in D&D and other games.  Death is a compelling driver of stories because it is something we all deal with in the real world.  It has a profound effect on those left behind. It should have weight and power in a game, as well. Hopefully these ideas will help do that at your table.

Bringing Tal Dorei races into Fantasy Age

Trying something new here. Bear with me….


I am fond of the Fantasy AGE game system. It is, in many ways, very reminiscent of old school D&D in feel, but with some more modern tweaks that make sense.  The die mechanics of the AGE system are not the same, but they are clean and simple to understand. I have not, however, tried making things for it. I mainly work in D&D, specifically in 5th Edition, because it is easy and there seems to be a higher demand for D&D material. That said, I kind of want to take a whack making things for Fantasy AGE if for no other reason than to stretch my creative muscles.

Note: Critical Role Setting  of Tal’ Dorei is copyrighted to Green Ronin.  I will be converting things not actually in the D&D 5e SRD.  This is purely a fan build and not intended as an infringement of any properties. Just a fan trying to make some things for fellow fans.

So, this is my experiment. Lets make something for Fantasy AGE.  I want to start simple.  I figure expanding on the racial options is a good place to start. Also, I am big fan of Critical Role show and the Tal’ Dorei setting. You should be able to run a fairly accurate version of Tal’ Dorei in Fantasy AGE, but there are a few things missing. There are no Goliaths.  If there are no Goliaths, there is no Grog, and you can’t have that. There are no Dragonborn or Teiflings in Fantasy AGE  These are pretty basic options for characters in the world that have already been presented so they seem like something people might want if they were doing a Tal’ Dorei game using the AGE system.



The Goliath are a race of mountain dwelling giantkin. They are tied to stone giants in a way that is not fully understood and the Goliaths are not telling that tale. They do keep some old stone giant traditions, but other traditions are uniquely their own. They live in small villages in the mountains or as nomadic hunter gatherers.  They have an oral tradition among themselves but some can read and write, if only to trade with others.  They are not common on Tal’ Dorei, but they are not unheard of either.

If you choose to play a Goliath, modify your character as follows:
• Add 1 to your Strength ability.
• Pick one of the following ability focuses: Constitution (Stamina) or Strength (Might).
• You consider targets within 4 yards to be in melee range. (the normal range is 2 yards)
• Your Speed is equal to 12 + Dexterity (minus armor penalty if applicable).
• You can speak and read Giant and the Common Tongue.
• Roll twice on the Goliath Benefits table for additional benefits. Roll 2d6 and add the dice together. If you get the same result twice, re-roll until you get something different.

2d6 Roll                 Benefit
2                                 +1  Fighting
3-4                            Focus: Strength (Climbing)
5                                 Focus:Willpower (Courage)
6                                 Focus: Intelligence (Nature)
7-8                            +1 Constitution
9                                 Weapon Group: Heavy Blades*
10-11                      Focus: Accuracy (Brawling)
12                             +1 Willpower



The Dragonborn in Exandria are from the nation of Draconia on Windmount. The nation is an archipelago and its floating sky cities were brought down by the Chroma Conclave in recent years. There is a dark side to Draconian society. There is a strict division in their society between Dragonborn with tails, who are the upper class, and those without tails which are basically treated like slaves.

If you choose to play a Dragonborn, modify your character as follows:
• Add 1 to your Strength ability.
• Pick one of the following ability focuses: Intelligence (Arcane Lore) or Willpower (Self-Discipline).
• Your Speed is equal to 10 + Dexterity (minus armor penalty if applicable).
• You can speak and read Draconic and the Common Tongue.
• You can breath a breath attack once per combat based upon your Draconic ancestry.  (pick one at character creation)

Black = Acid in a 30 ft. line
Blue = Lightning in a  30 ft. line
Brass = Fire in a 30 ft. line
Bronze = Lightning in a 30 ft. line
Copper = Acid in a 30 ft. line
Gold = Fire  in a 15 ft. cone
Green = Poison  in a 15 ft. cone
Red = Fire  in a 15 ft. cone
Silver = Cold  in a 15 ft. cone
White = Cold  in a 15 ft. cone

The effect of the breath is a blast of the energy from the type defined by your Draconic legacy. Anyone hit by the blast takes 2d6+1 damage. Targets that make a successful Dexterity (Acrobatics) test vs. 5 + your Willpower + your level only take 1d6+1 damage.

Roll Once on the Dragonborn Benefits table for additional benefits.

2d6 Roll             Benefit
2                             +1 Willpower
3-4                        Focus: Constitution (Stamina)
5                             Focus: Intelligence (Historical Lore)
6                             Focus: Intelligence (Nature)
7-8                        +1 Intelligence
9                             Focus: Intelligence (Research)
10-11                  Focus: Strength (Intimidation)
12                         +1  Constitution


Teiflings are found through out the world Exandria but their origins are murky. They carry infernal traits, but the individual members of the race are no more or less apt to evil than any other person. Their appearance can cause distrust and fear in the less metropolitan areas of the world.  They do carry a certain amount of magic in their blood due to their connection to the infernal powers.

If you choose to play an Teifling, modify your character as follows:
• Add 1 to your Communication ability.
• Pick one of the following ability focuses: Intelligence (Arcane Lore) or Perception (Empathy).
• You have Dark Sight, which allows you to see up to 20 yards in darkness without a light source.
• Your Speed is equal to 10 + Dexterity (minus armor penalty if applicable).
• You can speak and read Infernal and the Common Tongue.
• If you are playing a Mage you gain novice in one extra Aracana at first level and only roll once  on the Teifling Benefits table, otherwise roll twice on the Teifling Benefits table for additional benefits. Roll 2d6 and add the dice together. If you get the same result twice, re-roll until you get something different.

2d6 Roll                 Benefit

2                             +1 Willpower
3-4                        Focus: Communication (Persuasion)
5                             Focus: Intelligence (Historical Lore)
6                             Focus: Perception (Searching)
7-8                        +1 Intelligence
9                             Focus: Intelligence (Religious Lore)
10-11                  Focus: Accuracy (Arcane Blast)* Note, if you get this and are not a mage, make that Focus: Accuracy (Grenade)
12                         +1  Dexterity



So, this was my first attempt and doing something for a non-D&D system.  Yes, it shares some similarities but is different enough to present some interesting challenges.  For instance, you really dont want to give more than a +1 to anyone ones stat. The scale of the stats are such that providing a +2 to one stat could be unbalancing. I suspect the Teifling may be too powerful, or at least run the risk of being the one race every mage should take.  I don’t think the Dragonborn are over powered, but I am sure there are those who can argue that point. I started with races because it is a point of similarity between D&D and Fantasy Age so I had a context to work with and build on.

As to the other elements, class works differently in Fantasy Age. Mage is a catch all class with both arcane and divine casters sort of wrapped up in it. A druid in Fantasy AGE is just a Mage with Druid Specialization.  I might write that at some point, though I suspect it already exists. A Barbarian is a Warrior with a Berserker Specialization.  There are some differences but these things are similar enough that you could represent the things from the Critical Role setting easy enough.


I am looking to hear some feedback. Are you interested in seeing more content for systems other than D&D?  Would you want more stuff for Fantasy AGE? I am obviously going to do some more D&D stuff as well, but I am enjoying stretching the horizons some. Let me know what you want to see.

More Thieves Guilds To Further Your Criminal Endeavors

So here are a few of more Thieves Guilds archetypes. Clearly, I have a problem. This is my cow bell to be sure. I think the Thieves Guild is an interesting element and can be used to serve a lot of functions. Sometimes they are just vehicle for the thief in a party to get things. Sometimes they are plot hook providers.  You can use them as the premise for a group of PC’s or you can use them as antagonists in your campaign.

With all of that in mind, here are an extra set of guild ideas. They could easily fit in a number of campaigns.  I also have my previous post listing some World Guilds. Between these I hope I have given enough fodder to help spice up your underworld.


Continue reading

4 Grand Thieves Guilds

Large Scale Thieves guilds

The thieves guilds are an integral part of the standard generic fantasy worlds in which D&D takes place. This is partly due to the inspiring fiction. That said, it is often portrayed as a local phenomenon. There is a local guild or two in the city, or maybe the bandits inhabit a particular forest. I am looking at you Sherwood.

World guilds, which is the term I am going with, are not quite so local. They have a broader reach but still remain secretive and unknown. This could be like La Cosa Nostra, or the Yakuza in the real world. They may have local affiliates, but they also are part of a broader underworld. I prefer the world described by John Wick, with the Continental in every city, but there are other examples.

Here are a few examples I came up with that you could drop into most campaign worlds.


The Shado Linar

The Shado Linar translates to the Family of Shadow. This group has existed since ancient times in the shadows throughout the world. It came about during a great war for survival against a dark power. It has persisted as a unifying force in thieves guild across many lands ever since. The Shado Linar claims to have noble guiding principles such as protect the weak from the strong and protect the commoner from the powerful. In practice, this is often just a thin pretext but, for the more traditionalist members, it often defines and constrains their actions.

The Shado Linar has local chapters around the world. There is no single leader to the Shado Linar. Instead, local guilds follow the same traditions, and occasionally form councils in times of need. The individual chapters can often be in conflict, but will follow traditional rules in their conflicts.

The local Guild head is called Aunt or Uncle. The Uncle/Aunt maintains the guilds relationships with other local groups. They are also responsible for finding talented amateurs and encourage their joining the guild. New recruits are called Nieces and Nephews. Long time members are Cousins. Members of another guild are often called distant Cousins.. The Aunt/Uncle also tend to be the keepers of the traditions. They are often responsible for the final test for membership. These tests are usually difficult trap filled houses, or picking the pocket of an important person without getting caught. Tests are also sometimes arranged to resolve disputes to avoid war in the streets.

The Shado Linar has a public facing advocate called Mensata. Mensata are sought out in disputes by members and nonmembers alike. They are generally sought out to resolve difficult matters but that advocacy often comes at a price. That price can be a favor, monetary reward, or something else entirely. The Mensata is sent to speak to all parties and the guild head to seek an accommodation, or a test of skill which will resolve the matter.


Each Member of a local Shado Linar guild must leave a marker after a theft. This marker will have the symbol of their guild, and a symbol indicating who the thief is, if you know how to translate it. This is an attempt by the thieves in Shado Linar to show that they are just, in their own fashion.  “Never take the last, or more than someone can afford” is the traditional rule and the marker is part of that.

To say that the guild is always fair and good to the common people would be an exaggeration. Many local Shado Linar guilds will operate protection rackets. Don’t pay up? Well then, you can probably afford to lose more. There are some members who do not leave markers, but not doing so can be grounds for a severe form of discipline.  It has resulted in death of the offending thief, or worse.

If the victim of a robbery finds a marker, they can seek out recompense. Going to a Mensata or an Uncle looking for your stolen property can be a big risk. If it is found you can afford more than you lost, then you may well lose more. That said, once the marker is presented, the guild is obligated to provide a test. They could return the item if they feel it was taken in error but that is rare. If you pass the test you will get your stolen item, or be compensated for it. Don’t pass……well, material things are not really that important, right?

Design notes:

The Shado Linar was the product of the Dust to Dust larp which I helped write with Harbinger of Doom, Stands in the Fire, Kainenchen and others. One of my particular areas of interest was the thieves guilds and writing their traditions. Brandes said he wanted there to be a mechanism for PC’s to be able to try and get their stuff back if they got raided by thieves, which is where the tokens came from. The modern thieves guilds, and their traditions, were descended from the more ancient Shado Linar. A lot the choices made were to create thieves guilds for the rogue type pc’s to interact with. They were shady but not so terrible as to make you be a “bad guy” just to be a member. For what it is worth, I think the token and challenge thing works in a tabletop game context as well. It gives great adventure hook potential.



The dead in a fantasy world really have a bit of a hard time. First, they are dead. That is certainly a bummer, but in the real world that at least means you are no longer have anything to worry about. In a fantasy world, you have hauntings, gods of undeath and a surprising number inconsiderate necromancers. Your troubles do not go away when you die.

Luckily, the Gravediggers are there for the recently deceased.

This guild is a much more informal affair than the Shado Linar. They do not have regimented ranks. There are no tests for membership. While there is an origin to the guild, no one seems to remember it. Throughout the world you can find the Gravediggers toiling away making sure that the dead stay undisturbed.

The Gravediggers do not have a group structure. Individual Gravediggers will take apprentices and train them in the ways. This training is not just in the thieving arts they use to protect tombs, but also how to slay undead. They also teach them Gravescript. That is a collection of marks left on tombs indicating where traps are, what tombs may attract unwanted adventurers and if there is a history of undead in the area.


Gravediggers are an unlikely thieves guild. In many ways, they are the opposite of the standard guild as they are intent of preventing a crime, specifically grave robbing. They do not tend to collect in groups of more than a handful. Some take to the road, which is referred to as “Digging a Path.” They travel to points of conflict and war and see to the needs of the fallen. This allows them to learn new burial practices. The more practices a gravedigger knows the greater their prestige. By tradition, the only payment they take for the burials are as laborers. Sometimes, an event will come that attracts many Gravediggers in a region. This is called a Grave Moot. Grave Moots are truly a dread sign. Those who know of them know that it is a sign that the Gravediggers see their services being in high demand soon. A Moot can be called by any Gravedigger but is usually only called by the oldest and most experienced.

Design Notes:  

This is obviously directly tied the Gravedigger archetype I already wrote up. Is this guild for every rogue? Nope. It does give a nice mix of adventure hook potential and possible adversaries depending on your group. Trying to rob a tomb protected by these guys can be rough. Or they might be who turns you toward the necromancer big bad operating in the area.


Strands of Fate

The dark cousin of a thieves guild is an assassins guild.  Most thieves guilds pursue criminal endeavors, and may even kill someone if they need to. An assassins guild provides a single service to a discerning and somewhat demanding clientele. They reduce the life expectancy dramatically for coin. The Strands of Fate are the premier assassins guild. They have offices in most large cities. An office does not have a sign hanging out front which says “we kill people.” If you are the sort who occasionally needs to hire such services, you know the offices are disguised as a tailor’s shop.

The order is placed and sent to the Weavers for approval. The Weavers decide which contracts to take. They sometimes inform a noble that he will want to hire them for an assassination. This noble probably had previously not known someone needed to be killed, but who is he to argue with experts. Other times a contract can be declined. Only the Weavers know why. Only the Weavers can give the order. A member of the guild who performs unapproved services often finds they have a much shorter and remarkably unpleasant life.

The cost for an assassination is high, and the individual members of the guild end up quite wealthy. They often can afford the best gear. Once a contract has been accepted, it cannot be rescinded. The assassin will continue to attempt to assassinate the target till the either the target or the assassin is dead. If the Assassin fails another is sent to finish. An accepted contract is permanent and only ends with the death of the target even if the whole guild has to become involved. That said, it rarely involves more than one or possibly two members.

The preferred methods of assassination depend on the assassin.  They are often assigned based on their specialties and the requirements of the job. Sometimes, the job is rather public and clearly an assasination. Other times, well…it is possible the king merely died of old age, right? The merchant who died from a common cold is not unheard of, right?


The Strands of Fate carry a knotted thin cord. They add a knot for each person they kill. When orders come to assassinate a target, it is embroidered on a silk handkerchief. The Weavers are not field agents nor have they ever been. This is not known by people outside the guild. They are said to be oracles who see a potential future that each assassination brings closer. Another rumor has that they have the Tapestry of Fate in their possession and can see who should die in every thread. Whatever the case, their decisions are final in the guild and have an uncanny ability to know when someone has not followed orders.

Design Notes:

This is a mystery cult at its heart. Assassination, taking money to kill people, is ultimately an evil profession. There are not a lot of ways around that. The Assassins Creed games address  this by framing assassination as being in service of a mysterious greater good. It allows the player to feel like a good guy while going about killing people. If you don’t have an assassin in your party, you can also use this group as a major plot complication. Why did the weavers take a contract on Lord Gimel? What do you do if they take a contract on your cleric?



The Shadow Court

Sometimes, theatrics are part of the game.  You need to have style and flash. Sure, there is a place for the unseen and unknown anonymous cutpurse, but that is not for everyone. There are those for whom glory is the call, even in the shadows. The Shadow Court is for those people.

The Shadow Court has chapters in every city. They are not a terribly well-kept secret and anyone with some knowledge of an area has heard of them. They are certainly criminal and dangerous, but they do cultivate a romantic and mysterious charm. Each member has a faux noble title. When in the capacity of a member, they wear a mask to disguise their features. Real names are not to be used and illusions are often used to obscure their true identities.

This showmanship does not make them any less effective. The integration of magic into the guilds mythology is more than just show. The guild has many magicians in their employ and many members are spell thieves themselves. They use magic, skill, misdirection and a flair for the dramatic to take almost anything they choose.

The Shadow Court does try to avoid presenting a bad image so they rarely involve themselves in petty street crime and attacking the poor. Not that they have any moral qualms, just aesthetic ones. They are often approached by nobles to acquire hard to obtain objects from rivals, or ancient tombs. They trade in favors. A deal with the Shadow Court is kept always.


The Shadow Court has a separate court for every city. The leader of the guild in a city is called the Prince or Princess. The court for a city has a particular color or theme. The court of one city might be the Purple court. Another might be the court of Thorns. The titles will share this theme. The guilds enforcer for the court of Thorns would be Lady Rose, Dame of Thorns. The quartermaster in the guild might be called the Bishop of Thorns, and so on.

There once was a King of the Shadow Court, hundreds of years ago. But the last one died long ago and no one has had the power and prestige to claim it again.

Becoming a member is sought out. There are some who join as legacy members. Their parents were members so now they are. Some join by proving their skill to the court and earning the place. The Shadow Court is popular among young rebellious nobles who fancy themselves as rogues, and some even survive trying to prove that they belong.

Design Notes:

In my head, these guys are based on comic book super villains. They are flashy, dangerous, and amoral for the most part. Maybe not the Joker, but certainly the Riddler or Captain Cold would be good examples. The game is the point. The showmanship is part of that game. If you have a rogue in your group who wants to be showy, this is their playground. If not, well this would be a good source for recurring adversaries.


Designing your own

The larger regional or world guilds give you a few things. First, you ave a consistent underworld you can keep going as your players travel. This invests your rogue type pc’s in each new city. It also allows you some story options that would not really carry over from a small local guild.

If you are going to design a guild, large or small, you want them to be memorable. This is true of any NPC element in your game world. Details and traditions make the world have a sense of reality, a sense of being a “secondary world” as professor Tolkien might put it.

Don’t just call it the “thieves guild.” Names are powerful. The Shadow Court says a lot about the group before you ever meet them. Also, give the group a theme or cultural touchstone to make it easy for you and your players to latch on to them. If you have a semi secretive group of criminals who rule the streets and all have ornate body tattoos, then you have a built in set of expectations and questions.

Undead Beware the Gravedigger’s Wrath: The Gravedigger Rogue Archetype

I have a long history with the concept of playing a gravedigger. I played one for over a decade at a larp in the Atlanta area. I rather think he may have been the most interesting character I have ever played. For all his sneaky abilities (he was a rogue) he was also noble in thought and action. He was tremendously creepy and people expected him to be evil, but he wasn’t. He was just not socially adjusted. That lead to some amazing role play sessions and I kind of miss playing the guy.

Anyway, I always liked the vision of champions of death that are not evil. With that in mind, here is my take on Gravediggers as a rogue archetype in 5th edition. In keeping with their semi-divine devotion to caring for the dead, I set them up with paladin spells. I am interested in some feedback on this. It is not too unlike the Avenger class in 4th edition. I don’t think it is over powered, but others might disagree. Tell me what you think.

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Yet another take on Kalashtar for 5th edition

I recently offered to run the alternate, off-week, D&D game for the group I play with on Tuesdays. I would be the fill in guy for weeks when the normal DM did not want to run. My offer was generally greeted with some enthusiasm. The normal DM and another player expressed a desire for Eberron. Now, I love me some Eberron.  I could wax rhapsodic about it for days.  It is a setting with a wider range of setting conventions than are found in Forgotten Realm. And then there is Sharn: City of Towers.

That said there are some issues with running it in 5th edition,  at the moment. Some things just haven’t been written yet. They only now released The Mystic (see also Psionics) and the Artificer. They do have some race stats for some of the races, like the Warforged, on the Wizards of the Coast site. Others have not been done. Also Dragonmarks have been accounted for, but I feel like they need some clarification. I will tackle those another time, but the race I was asked for was Kalashtar. There are some fan versions out there, but nothing definitive. I figured I would take a pass at it.

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5 Magic Spears…you are on your own for the Magic Helmet

So…magic weapons are a thing in D&D. They have been since the early days of the game. Certainly the most often remembered ones are magic swords. A sword is a good weapon. It is versatile, with chopping, slashing, and stabbing elements throughout its various iterations.  It was the go-to weapon for professional soldiers through a lot of history.

However…. There are other contenders. Let me tell you about spears. The spear is also a weapon with a long history. Spears are useful for a number of reasons. First, they are cheap to make. You find a straight piece of wood. Forge about a daggers worth of metal to add to the point, or don’t.  You can stab people from long sword distance with a lot less cost. Spears, like swords, can be more involved affairs in the hands of a true craftsman. Materials can be rare and exotic as mithril or adamantine. It is often the weapon of a stalwart footman, or a barbarian on the fringes who can’t afford much more, or even the martial arts master. There are a number of magic spears in real world myths around the world.  It is especially prevalent in Irish Legends.

Sadly, there are not many famous magical spears in D&D, though.  My friend Brandes did his part to add some to the pool. It is the least I could do to continue that trend. I also borrowed some of his formatting. I hope they are useful additions to your magical arsenal.

You can get your own magic helmet.

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New Spells for new Spell Books

So, first let me welcome you to my new..ish blog address. I moved everything over to because I felt like that was a good way to consolidate my online presence. I owned the rights to the domain but had not been using it as much as I should. I also have more control over the site than the one on the free WordPress hosting. I will be doing all my future blog postings here, and I have moved all my past content here, as well. I hope you like the new digs.


That bit of business out of the way, let me show you some of what I have been working on of late. I talked a lot about spell books on my blog and different ways to handle them in your game. I figured if I was going to be talking about spell books, I should also write some spells to go in those books. Here are a few spells inspired by those books from previous posts. These are works in progress, and when I eventually publish my pdf on spell books, I may revise these. I am definitely looking for feedback. I should add the proviso, these are designed with the notion that learning new spells is not quite as easy as is presented in the 5th edition players handbook. These are meant to be rare or uncommon spells and might be a substitute for other rare or uncommon spells found in the world.

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