Sunday, June 25, 2017

Real World Animal Training For Your Game

Real World Animal Training

 For Your Game
By: Jesse C Cohoon

Author's note: This is a bit different of a style of writing than I normally do simply because I don't often bring "Real World" experience to the gaming field. 

Recently, I just picked up a part time job at a pet store as a "Pet Counselor." In this role, I am taking care of animals by feeding them, medicating them, socializing them, helping to train them in some limited fashion, and cleaning up after them. The ideas I learned in this can be transferred from real life to your game(s).

When someone in your game gets an animal - 
  • be it a standard animal: a horse or dog, or hawk
  • something more exotic like a wizard's familiar: an owl, a rat, or a snake,  
  • a ranger's or druid's companion animal like a bear or a wolf  
  • or even something more exotic like a dragon
there are a variety of things that the DM needs to take into account to not only make the world seem more real, but to give the PCs some more challenges.

The first of these things is food: what will the creature eat. Most of the time this is simply hand-waved  saying that the animal can hunt on its own, help kill other monsters, and the like. This is all fine and well provided that you're not raising or traveling with something with an unusual appetite. For instance, if players are trying to have a rust monster travel with the party as a companion, how will they feed it without losing their weapons or armor? Or what about an Aurumvorax, called the "gold gorger" that eats precious metals. How would the party satisfy its appetite without emptying their purses?

Another way this may play out is that the animal or monster may need a diet specific to their habitat. Pandas, for instance, only can eat bamboo. What happens if you are traveling with a panda where there's none?  

The next item to consider is the health of the animal in question. Today, we can simply google the results to find out what's an appropriate temperature range for an animal, but a day and age without such information readily available, the PCs might have to go on a quest in order to find out how to appropriately take care of their newfound companion. They might have to perform a quest to find the Dragonfriend Sage, who's gathered all the information available on the medicines that are useful in treating dragons to save their sick friend.

Another way that this may play out is that the animal or monster in question has some sort of genetic defect. In regular animals, this may show up as problems with their hips, breathing, eyesight, hearing, or digestion.  

A third say this could show up is that the animal can get injured in battle. How can it be healed? Will healing magics even work on it?

An additional worry that PCs might have when dealing with animals or their more exotic monstrous counterparts is finding lodging for them. Not all inns will be happy to see you bringing your wolf or black bear into town, and some may outright refuse service due to this fact, especially if they recently had problems with such creatures. This may be especially problematic if the PCs need to leave the animal or monster in town while they go do something else, because the animal or monster either can't survive or won't fit where they're going without problems.

Furthermore, PCs might have problems actually training the animal. A dog (or similar) creature can be trained with a leash. As can raptors (though most of the time you'll need a glove and hood). But what about animals that aren't able (or even willing) to wear a leash? The PCs / the animal's handler can try to get them to use their natural instincts to perform a certain behavior, but the animal or monster in question needs to be able to understand what you're asking it to do and do it within the best of their abilities.

Another way this can show up is in battle. Injured animals and monsters tend to lash out when hurt. Can the PCs control the animal while it's lashing out or do they risk getting injured in the process?

Then there's the very real problem of the animal waste. It's one thing to dispose of in solid dog or horse waste, but imagine how problematic it would be to muck out a stall for a dragon! Also, if the PCs are in a dungeon leaving solid waste laying around might cause other monsters in the area to know there's intruders in their lair and step up their patrols accordingly.

Also, there's the issue of the cleanliness of the animal or monster in question. Some animals might need daily grooming and if they don't get it, won't be able to use their natural abilities. In real life birds preen their feathers to clean them and rid themselves of mites. If a bird gets too dirty it might not be able to fly, or if it does, it might be not able to do so for very long because its aerodynamics is affected or it's too distracted because it's itchy. Similarly, a dirty bear's coat might be less protective of weather (just as dirty clothes aren't as insulating in real life). 

Finally, there's the issue of socializing the animal or monster in question. In real life, some animals are attached to one person. How does the animal react when faced with multiple people it's trying to deal with? Does it attack them? Or simply put up with them, but refuse to show any affection? Is it affectionate with everyone unless it's told to attack? Or is there one race that its hackles are constantly standing up around, and won't calm down no matter what?

13 Animal or monster flaws
  1. HATES water. Won't approach it no matter how it's bribed. Will attack anyone who tries to force it near
  2. Is overly playful/ energetic. Will bounce around and play endlessly. Getting it to be serious for training is a problem.
  3. Will not willingly go back into its cage/ pen.  
  4. Will literally bite the hand that feeds it. May require a muzzle or other restraining device
  5. Refuses to be "potty trained" and will leave waste wherever it wants to for the unfortunate PCs to clean up.
  6. Cowers when asked to leave its cage and needs to be forced out in order to play or do work
  7. Constantly has an upset stomach. Requires a special diet (or timing) in order to ensure its health. Either vomits or has diarrhea
  8. Is a glutton and will eat anything presented
  9. Has bad body odor. Bathing it does nothing to rectify the problem 
  10. Is a one person animal or monster. Will refuse to work with or for anyone else. May actually attack them.
  11. Cannot be quiet. Will robustly vocalize at the top of its lungs no matter what.
  12. Is constantly underfoot. No matter where the PCs move, the animal is constantly tripping them
  13. Actively dislikes magic and magic users. Will deliberately give them a hard time because they once were hurt by magic  
13 great bonuses for the animal/ monster
  1. Understands directions easily. (Think Lassie)  "Go get help!"
  2. Communicates verbally in a language known by the PCs, even if normally unable to do so
  3. Is able to be ridden or can carry the PC even if that's normally not appropriate. Maybe it's able to grow large enough to support their weight, or it's simply a LOT stronger for its size. 
  4. Accepts magic readily - even spells or items normally disallowed.
  5. Has class levels (if your game has them)
  6. Calms situations down. Think of it as an animal that helps calm PTSD victims/ therapy assistant animal.
  7. Is able to think/ act on its own without commands
  8. Is extremely loyal. Can't be charmed into attacking its former masters. 
  9. Is robustly healthy. Has more HP than normal
  10. Is able to become a token, but stays out as long as needed (think Drizzt's token Guenhwyvar from the Forgotten Realms campaign setting).   
  11. Is easy to train, will either have 1d4 tricks known or can learn an additional 1d4 tricks above and beyond what's normal
  12. Is extremely resilient. In games that have saving throws, choose one and increase it.
  13. Is difficult to hit/ damage. This could be from an increased speed, or a thicker hide. 
With all these ideas on how training can be handling in your game, as well as some problems and bonuses why not try some of them out and let me know how they work out for your game. Thanks for reading the article. Feel free to like, comment, and reshare!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

What’s in the Excavation site?

What’s in the Excavation site?
By: Jesse C Cohoon

Excavation is an activity that mankind has done from ages past and will continue to do for many years in the future. In many cases, in an RPG, evne if such activity is mentioned, it’s often glossed over and not found to be something interesting, bit with a bit of brainstorming, a moment’s preparation, and these suggestions, it can lead the PCs to some truly unique adventures.

D20 things in the excavation site
  1. Nothing of interest. Maybe some pipes (or the sewer). Just a hole to be used to build the foundation of the building on.
  2. Collapse! Anyone unlucky enough entering the area will cause the walls / roof of the hole to collapse, trapping anyone who’s there underneath the dirt and debris.  
  3.  Something of historical import
    1. Dinosaur bones or other fossils. The entire area is closed off and becomes a paleontologist’s dig.
    2. Pottery shards from a forgotten time. The entire area needs to be closed off and it becomes an archaeological dig.
    3.  A meteorite or crashed space ship
    4. a second basement. Maybe this was a place where slaves hid out enroute to freedom
  4. An underground river or lake that no one knew about before now.
  5. An old cellar filled with wine or other liquors. The wine is in:
    1. Oaken or cedar barrels
    2. Wineskins
    3.  Clay (earthenware) containers/ jugs 
    4.  Distilling equipment
  6. A secret passage connecting all the nearby buildings that would have never been discovered if not for the dig.
  7. An opening to the Underdark or other such underground location in your game world
  8.  A murder victim. Depending on the era of the game, they might be the cause for an investigation to be opened into what happened and why
  9. The remains of a forgotten prison, complete with locked doors/ gates, bars, etc. There may even be a long deceased resident still chained to the wall.  
  10. A mass grave from a forgotten war or a graveyard that was built over.  
  11. An old, boarded up mine.
  12. An old forgotten warehouse/ storehouse that was housed underground
  13.  Gas.
    1. Explosive gas. Better hope no one’s carrying a torch! If they are roll 2d8 for damage to everyone/ everything in the area.  
    2. Noxious fumes. Roll against the PC’s health stat. If failed, the character is nauseated for 2d4+1 rounds and unable to act
    3. Weakening gas. Roll a 1d6: 1) Strength 2) Dexterity, 3) Constitution 4) Intelligence 5) Wisdom 6) Charisma stat is lowered by 1d6+2, and will take that many days to return to normal. 
    4. Mutating gas. Characters exposed to it develop a random mutation. May be radioactive too
    5. Fear Gas. Those exposed to the gas have their fears come to life and attack them.
    6. Roll twice and combine results, ignoring further rolls of 6.  
  14. A long-forgotten military weapon. What it is or how it works is up to the DM
  15. A cursed object. Anyone exposed to said object gets weakened and dies or suffers as per a glyph of pain or the like. Can the PCs discover what’s going on before it claims another victim?   .
  16.  A treasure of some considerable size. What is it and why is it there?  
  17.  A trap is sprung! Choose an appropriate trap and place here.
  18. An entire hidden community of outcasts or slaves beneath the city that no one knew was there
  19. Monster/ animal! (Roll 1d10)
    1. Vermin: spiders or other insects, bats snakes, rats or the like.
    2. Fungus/ mold/ jelly/ spores 
    3. An elemental
    4. A golem
    5. A troll 
    6. Undead
      1. Skeleton/ Zombie
      2. Wraiths/ Ghosts
      3. Ghasts/ Ghouls
      4. Mummy. Mummy Lord
      5. Lich/ Vampire
      6. Revenant 
    7. Rust Monster or beholder
    8.  A werewolf
    9.  A dragon asleep for a millennium. It is not happy about being awakened
    10. An Umber Hulk
  20. A yawning portal to another dimension  

The next time someone asks what’s in the hole, you now have an answer for them, and with it, the ability to expand your gaming world.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Making Undead Scarier Part 3: Intelligent Corporeal Undead: Part B: Mummies & Ghouls

Making Undead Scarier
Part 3: Intelligent Corporeal Undead:
Part B: Mummies & Ghouls
By: Jesse C Cohoon

Miss the other parts? 

Part 1 is located here 
Part 2 is located  here
Part 3 A is located here

Mummies, and ghouls are common threats found in many types of RPG games. Unfortunately, it’s far too easy for the GM to roleplay them in a simplistic manner, as simple monsters to vanquish, giving them no backstory or interest, and an opportunity for world building is lost. But by giving them unique places to be, interesting attributes, and different causes of creation they can truly become the threats they should be.

Mummies in real life are deceased humans or animals whose skin and organs have been preserved by either intentional or accidental exposure to chemicals – including plastics, extreme cold, very low humidity, or lack of air, so that the recovered body does not decay further if kept in cool and dry conditions. They may be anthropogenic or spontaneous. The former were deliberately created by the living, most commonly being for religious purposes, though in the case of plastination, it can be said it’s being done for scientific purposes. The latter were created due to natural conditions such as extremely dry heat or cold, or anaerobic conditions such as those found in bogs.

In Hollywood myth, mummies are the protectors of ancient tombs, cursed (or blessed) with unlife, either due to some misdeed they did while they were alive or a priest whose sacred duty it is to protect the tomb. The idea came about after famous Egyptologists died shortly after opening a tomb of natural causes, and sensationalized by the media afterwards.   

Ghouls, on the other hand, are similar to both zombies and vampires, having attributes of both. The myths
originated in the Middle East. They eat flesh like zombies, but make spawn like vampires, but if the slain creature was powerful enough, it rises as a ghast. Ghouls and ghasts typically reside in graveyards and catacombs where there’s a steady supply of bodies available to consume, though they may also follow in the wake of conquering armies. In D&D lore, they automatically retain the abilities they had in life. Some tales speak of them eating children.

20 Unique Places for Undead to show up

Instead of using the same boring locations for undead to show up, why not consider some of these to spice things up a bit.

1.      At the local mall/ shopping bazaar. 
2.      On a ship or ocean liner
3.      In a night club, restaurant or bar as a patron, owner, server, or bouncer
4.      Serving as a doorman or valet of some stripe
5.      A guest of some special occasion (1d6)
a.      Birth/ birthday party
b.      Death/ funeral
c.       Marriage or commitment ceremony
d.      Treaty    
e.       Holiday/ Holy day 
f.        Dedication of a memorial
6.      Serving as the shock troops in an army
7.      In a city dump, scavenging for food
8.      In a mass grave, or pit getting rid of the bodies 
9.      In a court of law serving in some capacity
10.  In an office setting as decoration (invisible security)
11.  In a laboratory to be experimented on or as the ones running the lab
12.  In a caravan as the cargo  
13.  As a tireless labor source
14.  At a doctor’s office, providing treatment, but getting more than money back in payment
15.  At a morgue, feasting on the flesh of the dead
16.  In secret passages or sewers within a city
17.  In tunnels/ mines (modern day, subway tunnels)
18.  In an abandoned/ desecrated church or temple
19.  In an underwater facility / location
20.  As a part of a traveling entertainment troupe
Interesting Attributes  

Undead should be individual, unique and identifiable as individuals. The following table can help you make them more unique   

1.      (coin toss) Rotting clothes / bandages Neatly tailored or well-kept clothing  
2.      Missing limb(s) or facial features
3.      (coin toss) A shuffling, uneven gait or a smooth saunter
4.      Slumped or hunched over
5.      (coin toss) Emaciated and wiry or fat
6.      Skitters on all fours, able to climb walls
7.      Stealthy
8.      Evil energy pouring off the creature. 
9.      Able to use magic or divine abilities
10.  (1d3) Bestial, canine, or lizard-like
11.  (coin toss) hairless or hairy
12.  Able to shapeshift or assume different forms at will
13.  Able to possess others/ bend others to their will
14.  (coin toss) Able to cause insanity or take the memories of their victims
15.  Amplified strength/ muscles
16.  Larger than usual or lopsided in scale.
17.  Able to speak or vocalize
18.  Curses or infects those that fight against it.
19.  Regenerates over time or by causing damage
20.  Unusually frail.

10 Different Causes of Creations

Instead of having the undead be just there, maybe the players can track down the cause of the infestation, and possibly end it.

1.      Result of a divine curse: the creature was cursed to become an undead due to some evil act they committed, or was unable to repent from doing. Some myths say that ghouls are created when a person dies while engaging in cannibalism.  
2.      Choice of the creatures involved: the creature involved asked to be turned into an undead for whatever reason.
3.      Deal with the devil: the creature involved made a deal with an evil entity for eternal life/ youth/ beauty/ whatever and they kept their end of the bargain… literally.
4.      Spawn of another undead: creature was killed by another undead and rose as one themselves
5.      Will of the deceased: the creature was so burned up with rage and came back to exact revenge
6.      Science experiment gone wrong: The Umbrella Corporation in the Resident Evil Games
7.      Caused by a virus or disease: many of the modern zombie movies are
8.      Result of a wild magic surge
9.      Supernatural pollution: Just being near the source of the evil is enough to cause some to rise as undead  
10.  Deliberate creation/ summoning by an outside source (either supernatural or magic): magic like “create undead”

By making undead show up in unusual locations, giving them interesting attributes, and giving them a different creation backstory, there’s never a reason to have a boring encounter with these undead ever again.

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