Friday, May 27, 2016

Undermen, Grues, and Grue-coins

The Undermen

They come to greet you.

You will hear them before you see them, unless they don't want you to.  They call out to each other with whistles, the noise that carries best through the caverns.  They carry hooked staves, which they use to tap-tap-tap on the rock, the noise that carries best between them.

Pale men climbing down the slick limestone, their knife-slender fingers finding hidden holds in the dripping rock.  They wear harnesses, tight against their armpits and groins.  Small breasts wobble as one of the women traverses a wall of stalactites.

Their faces are wildly dissimilar.  They are the faces of deformity, or of accident, or of bats.

Most folks just call them Uglies. They call themselves Urshek.  When the Prophetess called, they were among the first converts.

The Underfolk are blind.  They see through echolocation, but they have no specialized organ for this.  They click their throats and cock their heads, and somehow that must suffice.  Compared to a true bat, they are greatly impoverished.

If you ever find yourself fighting the Underfolk, you must hold very still, move very slowly, and make no brazen attack.  In the dark, you are blind, and they will find you (swinging their hooked staves, back and forth) and they will spill your innards on the cold stone floor, and wash their faces in the steam.

Their weapons are the hooked-stave, the rope, and a strange form of cave-wrestling.

But in the light, you may see them a long way off, creeping through the caverns like stick insects, and they are the blind ones.  Just mind that it won't work up close--they can feel the heat from your torches.

The Underfolk have a secret.  They can turn invisible.  It isn't their first resort, since they must strip down and discard their hooked-staves, but they do it nonetheless.  They use this ability only when their primary tactics have failed them.

They have excellent senses of humor, and are valued companions among those who win the honor.  Those who are familiar with the Underdark will say that Urshek are much more reasonable than the dwarves, and less prone to wickedness.  And they are far, far superior companions than morlocks, who fetishize their own bondage and speak only of reconquering what was once theirs.

Despite their strange culture, Urshek are reasonable and open-minded.  Much more so than humans, say their devotees.  (Like small, ugly dogs, the Underfolk have stalwart fans in small, certain circles.)

These are basically a rewrite of the Ethrum.

from Merlin Tuttle

They were dire moles when they were alive.  Now they are a conglomerate of three things: the (paltry) remains of a dire mole.  A shadow,  And the deep earth, crushing and hungry.  (This is why we bury our dead; to appease it.)

Grues have the stats of owlbears, except they can move perfectly silently.  They have one special ability.  It is this:

*Unknowable -- If a grue would even be seen, it instead teleports to the nearest unobserved location.  Usable 10/day.

If a grue is ever actually seen, it instantly unravels into a pile of black, brittle dirt.

A grues world is one of strange limitations.  The are not hindered by earth and stone.  Torchlight forms the walls that limit their world.  And far above, they have a dim perception of sunlight, a vast and horrible ocean where they can be instantly seen by birds and the gods that watch from the upper air.

In gameplay, this means that a party will have an extra incentive not to leave their circle of torchlight.  If a torch goes out, a grue will be upon you, pulling limbs from sockets and crushing legs under the weight of their bodies.  As soon as a torch is relit, there will be nothing there.  Except for the carnage, it will be as if the grue never existed.

No wonder most people think that they are ghosts.

DM's Note: This is one of the mechanics that is only challenging if darkvision is difficult to come by.  And it should be.  Also, this a rewrite of my old grues.  I like the new grue.  You too?

Observing the Grue

If a grue is prevented from teleporting, and then observed, it turns into a pile of dirt forever.  To know a grue is to destroy it.  Although it eats flesh, it merely does so out of spite.  What really sustains it is its own unknowability.

If a grue is observed through scrying by someone who can see it (darkvision, true-seeing, etc), it will flash teleport through many possible locations, sometimes travelling hundreds of miles.  The scrying and the grue must make an opposed Con check.  If the grue loses, it succumbs to exhaustion, is observed, and dies.  If the scryer loses, they go blind for 1d6 days.

It looks like an enormous mole with a fleshless head.  But that is deceptive, because it's anatomy is only a mockery.  The head can swim to any point on the body, the heavy limbs can bend in any direction, and the spade-like claws pass through earth without any need for digging.

The real grue is in the shadows around the grue, and in the darkness inside the soil beneath it.

Hunting the Grue

Goblins and morlocks sometimes hunt grues.  (Urshek struggle with it, as echolocation doesn't allow them to know a grue as well as it requires.)  They spread out, each alone so that they can cover the greatest area.  And then they spin around, so that they can see the widest range of areas.  They leave no place for the grue to hide.

And yes, other monsters sometimes prey on goblins and morlocks when they are spread out, spinning in circles.  This is why grues are often exterminated last.

Dwarves hunt grues as well.  They do not have darkvision nor echolocation.  They accomplish this feat with enormous fires in every cave, mirrors in every intersection, and vast, subterranean panopticons.

Grues are the tigers of the underdark.  They only make noise when they burrow.


A grue that is seen is destroyed, but you can still kill them the old-fashioned way: cold steel and hot sorcery.  Their corpses remain on the ground (or in it) and can be butchered, clean, and rendered into a poison.  However, if the corpse is ever observed, it will crumble into a pile of black dirt as well.

And so the trick is to kill them and harvest them without ever looking at them.

Goblins make new grue-coins by blinding a bunch of people and making them fight a grue.  Sometimes the grue loses.

Grue-poison is not directly fatal, but over the next three days, the imbiber will gradually develop a deadly allergy to light.  When the curse is terminal, they will take 1d6 damage every round that they are exposed to light.  The poison retains the original fragility of the grue; if the poison is inspected too closely, it turns into water.  If detect poison is used, poison will be detected once, briefly, and then the poison will turn into water.

Grue-bones turn into black dirt.  They are often used in traps as part of the triggering mechanism.

But the most common use of a grue corpse is the production of grue coins.

Grue coins are produced by taking the long bones of a grue and sawing them into coin-sized sections.  If a grue coin is ever seen, it turns into black dirt.  They are usually transported in thick sacks, and those who handle them are very careful not to look at them.

Even learning too much about a grue-coin can turn it into a dirt.  If you rub your finger across most of the surface of the coin, you will build a picture of the coin in your head.  The coin will become known, and then it will turn into black dirt.

The standard way to test the veracity is to reach into the bag, grab a few coins, and then look at them.  If you see nothing but crumbling dirt in your fingers, the grue-coins were genuine.

Grues haunt their coins.  Except haunt isn't really the right word.

When you kill a grue, you are really only killing the mole-body, which is only part of its dread summation.  The grue is still alive when you hack it apart, and it is still alive when you spend it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Game Design: When To Be Random

Random is Good

First, let's talk about how random tables are used.  *holds up spork*

1. Inspiration

Sometimes a random table is used more for information or inspiration, rather than to actually generate a random result.  (I'm willing to bet that most people use The Dungeon Dozen to cherry pick brilliant ideas (and there are tons) than to actually roll on it during a game session.)  In this sense, it's just a broad palette of colors presented to the DM, like a menu.  (That's why I like Elfmaids and Octopi, too.)

As a way to present information, it works great.  And you can always roll on it and challenge yourself to use whatever comes up.

2. Information

This is almost the same as #1, except it's used to deliver information.  A table of "d6 townsfolk and their houses" would primarily be used as a listing of the town's inhabitants.  Only would it possibly be used to generate a random townsfolk (or a random house) if the party starts jumping in random windows.

Again, this is a good way to present information, and has the added benefit of extra functionality if you ever do need to roll on it.  Yoon-Suin's setting information is presented almost entirely in tables.  It's one of the books best features, since you never have to read the same thing both in the summary and again in the table.  ASE 1, too.

3. Verisimilitude

People use random tables to track the untrackable, like where each NPC is at any time in a city.  The game only cares which one you bump into next.  It tries to mimic a chaotic, complex system (people or monsters moving around an area) through a simple process.  It also sometimes gets labeled as "realism".

You sometimes see people making encounter tables based on a 2d6, so that some entries are more common than others.  The idea being that you will encounter wolves more often than Sparthak the Headless Ogre, since there are more wolves, and only one Sparthak, and the tables should reflect this.

I have some objections to this usage, which I'll talk about below.

4. Freshness

I'm not talking about keeping it fresh for the players.  Whatever happens, the players don't know if it was scripted / written as part of this room, or if it was something that the DM spawned from a random table.

What really matters is keeping it fresh for the DM.  When you use random tables, the game develops a miraculous ability to surprise you, the DM, with the variety of situations that develop, especially when results from random tables start interacting.

If you feel tired of DMing, try leaning on random tables more.  The game becomes chaotic, surprising, and fresh again.  And you are right there, discovering it simultaneously with your players.  You feel more like a player, and less like a scriptwriter.

This is one of my favorite things about OSR gameplay, actually.  The willingness to pull from a random table and accept the results, no matter how much or how little chaos it spawns.

5. Expand Coverage

Do you feel like writing entries for all 200 hexes on the new hexmap you just drew?  No?  Well, you should write up a random table that covers them.  This works well because your players will move across the map in a way you can't predict, and they probably aren't going to visit all 200 hexes.

The same principle is true if you don't want to write up all 666 layers of the Abyss.  You could write up a d20 table of specific layers, or you could write up a recombinant generator that uses several subtables to generate the layer.

Random tables are the key to sandbox play, because that's what you reach for when your players wander off the written path.  That's also why you can't "derail" a sandbox game.  The DM just reaches for the stack of random tables at her elbow and says, "You want to steal a boat, huh?  Well, there are two ships in the harbor, and they look like this. . ."

Random Is Bad

Here are reasons why a random table might suck.  *puts down spork*

1. Versimilitude

I know I listed this as a strength, but I think it's more of a weakness.  Sure, it makes a game feel realistic, but if you wanted realistic, 98% of all the DCC level-0 funnel characters would be farmers.  Instead, DCC makes the much smarter choice to throw that out the window and use a much more interesting variety of careers instead.

The same is true if you are using a 2d6 for your random encounter tables.  Why not use a d12, and let your players bump into a wider variety of things, with a smaller chance of repeat encounters?  If you want one of the encounters to be very rare (1-in-36, for example), I'd ask you to make up your mind.  Do you want this thing to happen, or not?  If yes, then make it likely.  Most groups that run the adventure aren't going to find it, otherwise.  If not, then cut it.

Plus, flat probability curves have more entropy than a pyramidal (2d6) or bell-shaped (3d6) curve.  Only paladins are afraid of a little chaos.

2. Too Big

If your players are only going to bump into an average of 3-4 of these entries, do you really need a d20 table to contain them?  Yes, a big table is still useful for Inspiration and Information, but think hard about whether some of that stuff would be better presented somewhere else.

So, if you have 20 entries, why not trim them down to the 6 best ones?  Which brings me to. . .

3. Variable Quality

Sometimes I see a d8 table with some good entries and some shitty ones, and I wonder, why not just ditch the shitty ones and keep the better stuff.  Knock it down to a d6 or even a d4.  Distill that brain-brandy into a higher proof.

If you want to keep the shittier ideas, you could mention them elsewhere so that the DM can still use those ideas if/when they restock the random table.  Or heck, you could even make a Table Restock Table if you were feeling saucy.

I also have mixed feelings about randomly generated dungeons.  On one hand, Castle Gargantua and Scenic Dunnsmouth are awesome.  On the other hand, I can't shake the feeling that they would be better if they were static.  A fixed adventure allows for better spacing, pacing, and dramatic delivery (you know, like finding blood-drained victims before you find the mouthless vampire lord with symbiotic stirges nesting in his ribcage).  Using randomly-generated adventures doesn't seem to solve any of the problems that random tables can solve, except Freshness, which seem silly because (a) there's enough variance in adventures to keep it fresh for the DM anyway, and (b) it sacrifices a lot of good structure opportunities.

4. Disconnected

One of the biggest complaints that gets made about old-school games is how random the random encounters are.

The rooms all have interesting monsters doing interesting things that reveal more about the history of the dungeon, and give useful clues, while wandering monsters do none of those things.

And so I say, make your random encounters less random.  Connect them to other parts of the adventure.  Detail the entries for wandering monsters as if you were detailing a room of your dungeon.  If you have a table for "random fellow prisoners", then make sure that some of those prisoners connect with things outside of the prison.  I tried to do that exact thing here.

Just Kidding.  Random is Spork.

If you are one of my rare readers that doesn't already make extensive use of random tables, go try some!

If you are writing an adventure or whatever, tighten up your tables!  Polish them until they bleed sparkles.  They really are one of the best parts of the game.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Game Design: When to Write a Rule

Are you designing a game and writing rules for stuff?  Here's a rule about when you should write a rule and stick it into your rulebook.

  • Only write a rule when it is better than what you could come up with on the fly.

Better in this case can mean:

  • More interesting.  By this, I mean mechanically (but it can be flavor-wise, too).  Green slime is a tricky thing to adjudicate.  I'm glad I spent some time brainstorming a good green slime mechanic and writing it down.  Now, when green slime happens to my players, I can refer to that mechanic, which generates interesting choices better than what I would probably come up with on the spot.
  • More balanced.  Perfect balance is silly, but referring to a recorded rule reduces the chance of you making a sloppy ruling--one that easier than you would like, harder than you would like, or inappropriate (like a player is trying to turn a giant crank, and you call for a Dex check, realizing a minute later that a Strength check would have been more appropriate).
  • More consistent.  If the party fights an ogre that is HD 2, and then later fights an ogre that is HD 6, they no longer no what to expect when they bump into a third ogre.  (Knowledge is an important resource, like lamp oil.  Make it count.) 
  • Objectivity.  It helps keep DM bias from creeping in.  I'm not (only) talking about fudging dice, but the subtle psychological biases that you have little control over.
If it don't fulfill one of these needs (compared to what you could come up with on the spot), don't write it down.
by Alexandre Chaudret
This is why I have rules that assume a number exists (like an orc's Str or Dex, when trying to shove an orc) but don't actually give you that number.  Because that's something a DM should be able to adjudicate.

More accurately, I'm not going to write down the Str for an orc, because the number I come up with in the middle of the game isn't going to be any better than the Str I come up with now.  Both will be pulled from my ass.

Sure, some guidelines are nice.  Human = Str 10, Orc = Str 14, Ogre = Str 18, Giant = Str 24.  Now I don't have to include Strength stats in my monster manual.  But this is just a yardstick that DMs can use to generate Str scores on the fly.  It's me saying "You know those orcs you saw in the LotR movies?  Those dudes were Str 14."  It's not me saying "All the orcs in this game have Str 14."  It's a calibration standard that DMs can use to generate the Str score for orcs and alligators.  It's not a reference for orcs and alligators.

There's a trend in this hobby for completeness.  When a person writes an entry in their monster manual, there's a drive to include all the numbers that might possibly be relevant, partially because all of the other stat blocks used those numbers.

That's why you sometimes see entries like this.  "Talking tree. . . Move 0', Fly 0', Swim 0'".  That author has chosen completeness over usability.  

The same trend leads to setting books that include populations for every town, including percentile breakdowns by race.  "Shropshire, pop 370, 80% human, 17% half-orc, 2% dwarf, 1% halfling".  And that's awful.  It's boring and it gets in the way.  Leave it at "Shropshire, town."  If the 17% half-orcs are significant, mention that.

Never write anything down unless its better than what you could come up with on-the-fly.  The default should be rulings, not rules.

by Alexandre Chaudret
So here are some reason's why you shouldn't strive for completeness. (Why you should have more rulings and fewer rules.)
  • More usable.  When you look up the stats for a talking tree, you aren't looking for it's flight speed.  The less irrelevant stuff you have written down, the faster you can find what you're looking for.
  • Less wasted space.  Do you really need to write four paragraphs about what humans are like?  Do you really need to record the fact that eagles have Wis 15 and hawks have Wis 14?
    • *Pathfinder is a famously over-complete game.  Not because it's crunchy (crunch is often good), but because there is so much data that must be handled by the program (the DM).
    • It's not hard to imagine a bird bestiary being published, with hundreds of slightly-different stats for mundane birds.  You want your bestiary to be the opposite of that.
  • More tailored.  In your game, orcs might be just green-skinned humans with bad PR, and so a Str of 10 might be appropriate.  In another game, orcs might be formed by demons raping gorillas, and so Str 14 might be more appropriate.  It gives the DM more leeway to make the stats fit closer to the concept.  
    • Yes, DM's can always overwrite a number if they don't like it, but that's difficult when the stat block is already in front of you.
    • Yes, this means that two different groups will be playing slightly different games.  But this is a feature, not a bug.  When one DM runs B2, it'll be slightly easier than another DM running B2 (because their orcs have different Strengths), but that's okay!  It never was the same game in the first place (there are so many differences besides orc Str scores) and trying to hard-code perfect balance into your game is a futile task.
  • Fewer knock-on effects.  By introducing rulings as they are needed, you can assign a sane, logical procedure for settling them.  By hard-coding all of your rules into the game book, you are potentially creating situations that could conflict in strange ways, or create weird outcomes.  Have you heard of the peasant railgun?  Or pun-pun?
    • These are problems in systems that are assumed to be complete.  With the peasant railgun, it is assumed that if there is no rule limiting how many times an item can be passed in a round, then there is no limit.  The assumption is only made if the system itself professes to be complete.  With pun-pun, that's just a bunch of small rules interacting in a way that was unforeseen by the designer.  Yes, these are very extreme examples, but smaller ones happen all the time.  
If you were programming, which variables would you want to hard-code into the program, and which variables would you want to generate at run-time?

So there's a koan of game design for you.  The best game is not the most complete game.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Purple Lightning People

The Purple Cloud King rules over the sunken cavern of Lethlygon (rhymes with "meth begone") and the mechanical city whose name has long been forgotten.  He is tormented and diffuse.  His mind is fragmented in a thousand different directions, and each fragment knows this and seeks the others in vain.  This is what forms his ripples and ghastly winds--it is pieces of a singular mind trying to reconnect.

The city is littered dessicated mummies, their bodies frozen at the moment of their death, their poses still unchanged.  A violet salt rims their sunken eyesockets, and flecks the corners of their shriveled mouths.  Many of them are out in the streets, shading their their eyes as they gaze upon a now-darkened spire at the center of the city.  Others are in their homes, forks still lifted to their mouths, with the crumbled ruins of books caking their fingertips.

The most popular theory is that the city was once the site of some ancient disaster.  Perhaps they sought immortality for themselves, or perhaps they were victims of some terrible demonic atrocity.

It is believed that the same calamity that killed the population also bound up their souls into a single mass, creating the Purple Cloud King.

And Powermen are created from the people who occasionally survive the lightning bolts that the Purple Cloud King throws.  They are also crazy, but a very different kind of crazy.  No one is quite sure how they fit into the soul-jambalaya theory, but they're working on it.

Adventuring in Lethygon

It's a ruined, industrial city.  Waterfalls fall from the ceiling.  Moss covers large patches of brutalist architecture.  Purple liquid pools inside cracked concrete.  Like a subterranean Chernobyl.

There is a metal spire at the center of the city.  Prism golems guard the base of the spire.  They cannot shoot lasers, but they can redirect lasers fired by the laser golems, atop the spire.

There are three unique adventuring conditions you should know about.
  1. The false sun flickers.  Every 10 minutes, there is a 1-in-6 chance that it turns itself off (if on) or on (if off).  It illuminates the whole cavern when it is on.
  2. You must not let the Purple Cloud King see you.  Everyone must travel under umbrellas.  Those killed by the Purple Cloud King's lightning bolts rise immediately as powermen.
  3. Don't fuck with the mummies.  Although they wear tempting jewelry, taking even a button off their faded jumpsuits attracts the wrong kind of attention.  Parties that are carrying loot from a mummy roll on a slightly different wandering monster table.
from here
Wandering Monster Table [d6]

Parties that are carrying mummy jewelry roll [d6+3] until they return the stuff.
  1. Sullen amberino seeking oblivion.
  2. 3d6 goblins led by a vandalism shaman (HD 3).  50% of a graffiti familiar.
  3. 2d4 cannon lizards.
  4. 2d6 powermen.
  5. 1 false golems, like cracked golems that stink of rot.  They are not golems; a blood-filled undead controls the stone from inside.
  6. 1 necrotic dracoplasm, seeking food and gold.  It sleeps in a gold urn beneath the mint.
  7. 1d3 shades.  1 wields the dagger of extinction.
  8. 1d3 zombie giants (HD 12, attack as HD 8).  They wear faded tabards and blinders.  There is a hole in the back of their head that leads to a small room, containing the necessary things to pilot the zombie giant.
  9. The Hungering Eye (HD 9 ioun beholder that steals traits/abilities that it is jealous of)
Loot Worth Dying For

The Mechanism of Lethlygon is a fully functioning marine chronometer, the only one in the world.  It weighs 200 lbs and is worth a fortune to anyone who recognizes it for what it is.

The Spider Armor is plate +1.  If you grind your teeth, eight steel spider legs sprout from the crown of the helmet, and you gain the effects of spider climb for 10 minutes.  Usable 1/day.

The Hell Train Ticket is a ticket, but on the back of it is a scroll that can summon the helltrain.  You can ride it to any major location (basically anything that is labeled on the map).  The ticket grants you free passage, but the trains 1d6-2 other passengers will all want something from you (merely combat, if you are lazy).  Each other passenger is a random type of demon.

Bottled Lightning is a small amphora that shoots a 3d6 lightning bolt when opened.  If left unopened, it sheds light as bright as a candle.  Here is a cache of 3 of them.

The Rocket Hammer is a maul +1.  It is capable of making a single attack that does an extra +1d6 damage when you push a button on the handle.  It must be refilled with oil before each use.

The Golem Key awakens a servant golem with an empty cage for a head. It will obey you in every way, but it will not engage in combat.  (It is not a war-golem; those were taxed too heavily.)  It will do nothing except follow you until a bird is placed into its head.  The type of bird affects its behavior.

The Lethlygon

The caverns share their name with a monster.

A purple-eyed serpent.  White scales, with a white mane.  Ravenous, cheerful.  Attempting to convert to Hesaya, but doesn't know much beyond the basics.  Wants to eat a cleric so that it can learn more about the human religion.  Wants someone to fix whatever is wrong with the Purple Cloud King (he' getting worse).  Refuses to approach the spire.

It sleeps at the tomb of the civil serpents, and weeps while it does, because Lethlygon is sister-city to Lapidir.

HD 6  AC chain  Bite 1d10 + grab
Fly 15  Int 9  Mor 6

*Purple Lightning Bolt - 3d6, usable once every 1d4 rounds.  Those killed by it rise the next round as a powerman.

*Zone of Flight - Everyone within 50' of the Lethlygon gains Fly 9.

*Curse Eater - Eats curses.  Feeding it a tasty curse is pretty much the only way to get on its good size.

*Cursed Blood - Any weapon that gets the killing blow on the Lethlygon becomes a cursed weapon.  (Sort of like an anti-jabberwocky.)

The Powermen

Every powerman believes that they are THE POWERMAN, ultimate and invincible.

Although they work together, and sort of live in a society (barely), they all mantain the delusion that they are THE POWERMAN and all the others are merely their servants.  No one involved will be happy if you take the trouble to point this out.

They all live in tiny garbage houses shaped like castles.  They all sit on kludge-thrones, surrounded by whirring mechanical salvage.  They frequently go out and "levy taxes on the peasants", which is mostly just demanding money in exchange for freedom from violence.

They also do parades, and award each other medals with great frequency.

There are female powermen, too, but they also think that they are THE POWERMAN.

Playing a Powerman

Powermen are basically fighters possessed by insane electric ghosts, who all believe that they are the invincible POWER MAN.  They start play with a bladed staff (stats as glaive).

Powermen believe that they are invincible.  They get +4 Save vs negative emotions, +4 Save vs death effects, and -1 Defense.

At level 1, they replace Parry with Electric Ghosts: Whenever they would take electric damage, they are instead healed 1 HP.  They can power dead electrical devices by grabbing them with both hands and screaming.  (Electrical devices are rare outside of the Bruhok underdark, although the ostrogaunts are known to have a few.  Also try Lapidir.)

At level 3, they replace Tricky with Purple Lightning Bolt: They can fire a purple lightning bolt at will.  This does 1d6 damage to the powerman.  Treat it like a 2d6 lightning bolt.  Humanoids who are killed by it roll a save; those that succeed instantly turn into powermen themselves.

Newborn powermen have a 50% chance of deciding to wander off, and a 50% chance to pledge loyalty to their parent (with starting morale as normal).  This loyalty lasts for 1d6 days.

There may be a way for a powerman to actually become THE POWERMAN, who definitely has better lightning bolts.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Three Types of Green Slime (and Three Types of Traps)

So, I was writing up some rules for green slime earlier, and I was wondering what to write.  Is green slime something that is noticed with a Wisdom roll?  Is it noticed when the player specifically looks at the location where the green slime is hiding?  Or is it out in the open all of the time?

It's a tricky question, but only because I was making it tricky by trying to bake it into the description for green slime.

The reality is that green slime is not really a monster.  It's a trap, or part of a trap.

And when a DM plops some green slime down on the map, they should be able to use green slime however it best fits their ideas for encounter design, depending on what kind of slime it is.

Here are three kinds of slime.

The first kind of slime is always out in the open.  Players always notice it.

You can see it covering the entire ceiling of the hallway, ready to drip down onto anything that walks below it.

With this kind of slime, the question is "how do we get past this hallway full of green slime?"  That's what is tested.

The players must think of creative solutions to this problem.  Rolling a wheel of cheese perhaps?  Taking cover under a tower shield and simply running for it?  

It's an interesting problem, and one that leads to creative problem solving. Good job, slime.

The second kind of slime requires players to look in a specific spot.  If the players don't look in the right spot, they won't spot the slime.  

With this kind of slime, the question is "how do we search our environment to avoid traps?" and that is what is tested.

If you fail at searching your environment carefully before advancing, you get a face full of slime as punishment for being bad at the game.  Do you hear viscous dripping behind the door?  Is the bottom of the fountain thick with green growth?  Do you try to illuminate more of the mine shaft before you climb up it?  

Also an interesting problem, and one that leads to thoughtful exploration.  Good job, slime.

The third kind of slime will only be noticed by players if they roll well.  Perhaps it is as random as a coin flip.

With this kind of slime, there is no initial question.  You're gonna get slime on you, or you're not, and your choices have no effect on whether or not you get green slime on you or not.

So, you're gonna get slimed, and there's nothing you can do about it.  The question becomes, "what do you do when you get slimed?" which is more interesting when there are multiple things going on at once, so you are forced to divert your attention between the slime and the other thing.

That's an interesting problem, and one that leads to tense moments.  Good job, slime.

It's a brutal mechanic, that's for sure.  But so are petrification and level drain, so there is precedent for brutal mechanics.  I have a monster that spits green slime, which is a little more interesting, because then players have to choose between cleaning the slime off or dealing with this tubular cassowary.  And since the players can learn of it's slime-spitting tendencies and perhaps get it to blow it's load onto a tower shield or something.

The fourth kind of slime is the bad kind of slime.  It's the kind of slime that falls on you as soon as you walk into the dungeon and eats your armor.

You had no agency.  You had no chance to detect it or bypass it.  It's just a tax that is levied on you as you progress down the corridor.  A shitty toll that you must pay in order to proceed.

It's the same if there is a Perception roll.  Either you make your roll and avoid it, or you fail your roll and take damage.  Again, there is no agency, no interesting choices to be made.

This is bad.  Don't do it.

The Straw Man Speaks

SM: Hey, I thought of some situations that fall into multiple categories.

AK: Yes.

SM: You know, you could extrapolate this to all traps.

AK: Yes.

SM: So which one of these should I write down when I'm writing my Monster Manual entry on green slime.  Which is the best kind of green slime?

AK: You haven't been paying attention.  Don't write down any method of "how to spot green slime".  You're only limiting its usage, and that's not the interesting part of green slime, anyway.  The whole point of writing things down is to give us a hard copy to refer to, usually in shorthand.  This gives you freedom to write up green slime traps however you want, which all have the same penalty for failure: you get green slime on you.
  • Use obvious slime if the puzzle is "how do we get past it?".
  • Use findable slime if the puzzle is "how do we search this environment for dangers?"
  • And use luck-based/automatic slime if the puzzle is "how do we handle getting slimed?" and you are kind of a dick.

The GLOG: Alchemy and Oozes

Here's an 18-page PDF about alchemy and oozes.  It's a lot longer than I originally intended, and yet, there are still things that I could add.

I tried to make a super-usable d100 table of potions.  They all have details on potion appearance and taste, which I'm not sure I've seen before.  I tried to make all the details give strong enough clues that players would have a strong hunch what the potion did (or at least when they should drink it) without giving it away 100%.  That's more fun than some fucking identify spell, methinks.

In terms of the d100 potion list, I'm not 100% happy with it, but I think I did a good job of hitting all my goals.

There's also a bunch of lore fluff (alchemical oblates) and random shit that is ripe for importing into your game (alternatives to potions, sludge vampires).  Actually, I hope all of this stuff is easily adaptable to your game.

Most of the stuff in here is not new stuff.  It's old stuff that has been organized and touched up.

If you've read all of my blog posts ever, here are the things in this document that you haven't seen before:

-Potion Appearances, Scents, and Tastes
-Alternatives to Potions
-Alchemical Oblates

by Svetlin Velinov

Friday, May 13, 2016

Potion Rules + Some Oozes

So I wrote a list of potions, but there's still a lot more that needs to be said.

Falling Damage Rule

Whenever you take falling damage, each of your potions has a 50% chance to break open (rolled individually). If any of the potions react with objects, apply it to another random object.  For example, sovereign grease could spill on your stowed rope, or a potion of invisibility could spill on your spellbook.  Both are hilarious.

If multiple potions in the same pack break open, pair them off and roll on the potion miscibility table (below).

Potions are normally bundled (3 per Inventory Slot) but it is possible to wrap them up carefully so that they are not at risk of breaking. Wrapped potions take up 1 inventory slot each.

There's a complement to this rule involving fire damage and scrolls.

Potion Miscibility

This is what happens when two potions are mixed, or what happens when you drink one potion while still under the effects of another. Roll a [d6]:
  1. Deadly poison (2d6). 1-in-6 chance it becomes gaseous, affecting everyone in 20' with inhaled poison (1d6).
  2. A cursed potion is created. (Contains a random curse.) 1-in-6 chance of becoming gaseous, in which case everyone in 20' must save or contract the curse.
  3. A random potion is formed. Roll d100 on the Potion Table.
  4. Potions are blended together. The DM determines the precise effects.
  5. One potion is subsumed by the other, which is enhanced. Roll on the Spell Mutation Table, and ignore the Random Drawbacks Table. If you get 18-20, ignore the Spell Mutation Table result; the potion effect is now permanent.
  6. An alchemical ooze is formed. It has the powers of both potions used in its creation (see below).  An alchemical ooze in your stomach is fatal unless you quickly vomit it out (Con check or die).
by Cryptcrawler
Hashing Potions

Sometimes a player will pick up a potion in a dungeon and won't identify it until later. At that point, you've forgotten what potion it was.

The solution to this problem is that there is no problem. Just roll the potion's identity when it is identified, and not when it is found. This fits with the philosophy of Just-in-time Resolution.

But sometimes you will give out a known potion and want to keep track of it. Perhaps because it wouldn't make sense to find a potion of zombie blood in a druid's root-grave (or would it make perfect sense?). You don't want to have to keep track of this potion's secret identify. You're a DM; you're already keeping track of a million things. So here's my advice, just use a hash function.

A hash function, which is some way of secretly modifying the number so that you can recover the original number, but your player has no idea what the original number was.

When you put a potion into a player's inventory, identify it by a number that is the hashed result of whatever number it was on the d100 potion table. Here are some sample hash functions:
  • Add a nonsense number to the left of the original number. #07 becomes #307 or #707 or whatever.
  • Add nonsense numbers on both sides and in the middle. #07 becomes #10171 or #30179 or whatever.
  • If the number is odd, double it. If it is even, subtract 1. #07 becomes #14. #08 becomes #07.
  • A complicated one: reverse the order. Double odds, reduce evens by 1. Add a nonsense number in the first and last places. #07 becomes #7693 or #9690.
You can make it as simple or as complex as you want. The point is just to hide a potion's identity in its description so that you know what it is, but your player doesn't. And so these potions will sit in your player's inventory, described as “potion #9690” until they are identified.
Alternatively, you can use this method:
  • Give each potion a description. The first few letters of the description also refer to the first few letters of the potion's name.
  • “Potion of HEAling” becomes “HEAvier than it should be” or “HEAdy aroma of cinnamon”.
  • You can also hide the potion's/scroll's name further on in the description, maybe starting it on the second or third letter. Or reverse it and put it at the end of the description.
  • “Potion of SOLipcism” becomes “potion labeled telLOS” or “dusty liquid with internal haLOS”.
Just make sure that they write down the whole description.

By Der-Reiko
Alchemical Oozes

Alchemical oozes are formed by alchemy, whether intentionally or accidentally.  How else could a green slime devour so much, so quickly?  It may very well be that all oozes have their ultimate genesis in an alchemist's laboratory or boiling ponds of sulfurous sludge.

Here are the stats for a full-grown alchemical ooze.  (Alchemical oozes are just first-generation oozes.  They may not all breed true, and most are singular creatures.)

Level 7 Armor none Psuedopod 1d8 + engulf
Move 6 Int 1 Mor 12

*Split – When this ooze takes slashing damage, it splits into two smaller oozes, each with half the remaining HP. Left alone, the pieces will rejoin.

*Potion Abilities – Each alchemical ooze enjoys the effects of the potions that created it. The ooze permanently enjoys the effects of beneficial potions, while negative potions are applied to its enemies when hit by a psuedopod.

Oozes that have a potion related to language have Int 10. Oozes that have “transformation” effects have the intelligence of the creature, and will transform one part of their body at a time unless a full transformation is really necessary. Elementally aligned oozes will deal an extra +1d6 damage of that element on a strike.

Some oozes will be more deadly than others (flight + invulnerability) and this is okay.  You may have to take some liberties in interpreting your results.

Here are some proof-of-concept oozes, freshly rolled:
  • The Great Gambler + Transformation: Bees = Swarm of tiny, flying slimes.  Attacks against them are either crits or misses.
  • Time Hack + Grandeur = Magnificent, kingly slime.  If it is at full HP, creatures must succeed on a save to attack it.  Once per day, it is able to undo all damage done to it in a single turn and teleport back to where it was last turn.  It uses this immediately to return to full health.
  • Water Breathing + Transposition = Looks exactly like water.  The first person to see it must save or switch places with it (works 1/hour).  When it comes after you it makes Darth Vader breathing sounds.
  • Acid Resistance + Darkvision = Ooze does an extra +1d6 acid damage.  Ooze is cloaked in darkness out to a distance of 20'.
Copper Ooze Attenuator

This is a magic item.

All copper within 20' turns into coppery ooze.  This process takes about 8 hours.  These oozes rush over to cover the copper ooze attenuator.  Once they've done this, the whole mass behaves like a normal ooze.  It has 1 HP for every hundred copper coins (or equivalent) that went into it's manufacture.

Treat it like a normal ooze (see above) except that copper will continue to join up with it, making it larger.  When it is below half HP, it begins generating electricity, shocking anyone who hits it when a metal weapon.

When killed, it turns into a crumbling pile of lead and asbestos.

Helmet Ooze

It has a shell, like Arcellinida.  Increase its AC by 4 points.  Engulfed creatures who fail a Strength check have their spines broken as the helmet ooze pulls them sideways into its shell.

Velvet Ooze

This rare ooze is kept in small boxes in their bedside tables.  Like the name implies, it is soft and velvety.  It is harmless and is only capable of eating milk and sugar.  It's about the size of a fist.  It's mostly used for masturbation.

Larger ones are used for orgies, but you have to be careful--it is still instinctively trying to kill you.  A bit like a toothless, boneless lion.

by Fyreant
Alchemical Resurrection

Reviving the dead is possible. There are many ways, but they are rare, difficult, and always come at a great cost. The sacrifice of a hundred to save one. An infernal contract, with only the abyss yawning before you next and final death. Or perhaps the thing that returns is not you, but instead some wretched, half-formed shade of yourself.

Regardless, the success of the process has less to do with the method of resurrection and more to do with the method of death.

There are some who die alchemical deaths: devoured by an acid, digested by an ooze, transformed into stone and then shattered, or with an alchemical poison that turned your veins into dust.

Those that die through alchemy are best resurrected through alchemy.

If you die through alchemical means, you may be resurrected by an alchemist. This requires the alchemical element that destroyed you. For example, f you were devoured by an ooze, then the entire ooze must be brought to the alchemist. Incomplete remains result in incomplete resurrections.
Then, if the need is great, the alchemist is puissant, and the pockets are deep, it is possible to develop a recipe to resurrect your dead friend. A quest may be involved for some trivial thing, such as the air from a freshly dead dragon's lungs. And then the alchemist will present to you a case of resurrection elixir.

Dead characters can continue playing as long as the supply of resurrection elixir holds out.

Resurrection Elixir

You turn into the person who was resurrected into these potions. Lasts until the next day. Efficacy is lost with age, and loses duration while the resurrection person eventually loses their memories.

DM's Note:

I normally make resurrection a difficult, shitty process because I don't want players to come back from the dead without having earned it twice over.

But, resurrection elixir is so interesting that I think I would make it a lot easier, just because (a) it's so fucking interesting, and (b) it's not really resurrection anyway.

How would a player handle it, I wonder, playing a dead character who is only alive for one day at a time, and only through a dwindling supply of elixirs.

It's like playing as Mr. Hyde when you know that Dr. Jekyll has run out of reagents to make more potions.  Is it death or homeostasis that will greet you?

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Perfect Potion List

I did something a little different today.  I tried to write out the potion tables for my fantasy heartbreaker, the GLOG.

Usually I just try to pump out as much fresh brain juice as possible, which is fun because I just write about whatever is interesting.  But today I was trying to answer the question of "what is the best possible potion list to have in a game"?  Which is a surprisingly different process.

I wrote a list of potions, nearly 200.  A lot of them were crappy and I deleted them, but it was clear that the best potion list is not the longest potion list.  You want to distill the good stuff down and discard the chaff.

Sure, a bloated potion list is good for DMs to steal ideas for their own adaptations.  But a system's core potion list should be as high quality as possible.  It also needs to be large enough to feel like there's a good variety there.

Anyway, most games have potion lists with about 20 entries, which seems thin to me.

Or they'll have potion lists that are just adapted straight from the spell list.  Which is fine, but it makes it seem that potions are just liquid spells, and I want them to be more than that.  I want potions to have their own feeling and their own lore.

Besides, spells have to be (sort of) balanced.  Potions are things that you find randomly or at the DM's discretion--there's no need to make them psuedo-equivalent in power level.  You can go pig wild when writing them.

I had a few goals when I wrote up my potion list:

  • Make a list of 20 old-school potions for people who want a more retro potion list, and who want to avoid the weird stuff.
  • Make more potions that were useful for exploration, not just combat.  (Spells are prepared with an expectation in mind.  Potions are just found.  Therefore potions can afford to be more situational than spells.)
  • Make potions that are good for solving (and creating) OSR-style challenges (especially of the dungeoncrawling variety).
  • Make potions that had multiple (but intuitive) uses.  Unlike spells, potions are a known substance (liquid) with known properties (liquidity).  It has a context and a known behavior (we already know what we can do with 1oz of liquid).  Potions should have uses other than just drinking.  For example, if a potion of invisibility is poured out on the floor, it should make a small section of the floor invisible, creating a window.
  • Make a list of 100 potions.
I failed miserably at the last bullet-point.  That's where you come in.

I wrote too many potions.  Please comment on which potions you think are crappiest.  Either because they're boring, or you've seen them too many times, or because they wouldn't lead to good gameplay.

by Alexander Fedosov
Too Many Potions

Note: Potions descriptions start with a description of what happens when you drink the potion.  ("You heal 1d8+1 HP".)  Other uses of the potion are detailed later on in the paragraph.

1. Clairvoyance

By designating a location within 100', you can see that location as if you were there. You can look at a different location each round. Lasts 1d6 rounds.

2. Deadly Poison

Created by feeding a chain of poisonous animals to each other. Poison (2d6).

3. Flight

You gain a fly speed of 24. Lasts 1d6 rounds.

4. Fire Resistance

All incoming fire damage is reduced by 6 points. Lasts 30 minutes.

5. Gaseous Form

As the spell gaseous form. Lasts 30 minutes.

6. Giant Size

You triple in size. Your physical attacks deal double damage and you take half damage from physical sources. When making Strength checks, treat your Strength at 24. Lasts 1d6 rounds.
Alternatively, it can be poured on an object or part of an object to make it triple in size. Lasts 30 minutes.

7. Healing

You recover 1d8+1 hit points.

8. Heroism

You get +4 to all d20 rolls. Lasts 1d6 rounds.

9. Invisibility

You are invisible. If poured on a wall or floor, creates a psuedo-window that you can see through. Lasts 1d6 rounds.

10. Invincibility

You are immune to damage. Lasts 1 round.

11. Nondetection

All magical attempts to learn about you fail. People forget you exist as soon as they stop looking at you. Lasts 30 minutes.

12. Petrification

Turns you into stone. If poured on stone, turns it into flesh.

13. Polymorph

A piece of a creature must be added to this potion before it can be used. You transform into an exact copy of that creature. Multiple donors creates chimeras. Lasts 30 minutes if same species or 1d6 rounds if different species.

14. Purge

Any poisons in your body are vomited out intact. You can vomit the poison into the (now empty) potion bottle if you wish.

15. Shrink

You shrink to a twelfth of your normal size. (Feet becomes inches.) Your Strength is 1, all of your attacks deal a single point of damage, and you take double damage from physical sources. Lasts 30 minutes.
Alternatively, it can be poured on an object or part of an object to make it shrink down. Anything smaller than a couch can fit in your pocket. Lasts 30 minutes.

16. Sovereign Glue

Elemental stickiness. Glues anything to anything, forever. Very difficult to see if spread on a surface.

17. Spider Climb

As the spell spider climb. Lasts 30 minutes.

18. Universal Solvent

Dissolves any adhesive. Neutralizes sovereign glue and sovereign grease. Causes hard materials to become softer. (Stone becomes like clay, adamantine becomes as soft as normal steel.) Don't get it on your hands.

19. Water Breathing

You can breath underwater. Lasts 30 minutes.

20. Zombie Blood

You appear to be a cold, rotting corpse but can still act normally. Unintelligent undead will ignore you as long as you ignore them. You count as undead. Lasts 30 minutes.

Acid Resistance

All incoming acid damage is reduced by 6 points. Lasts 30 minutes.


Plants and animals instantly grow to their adult size and form.

Alternate Self

You die and a version of yourself from an alternate reality is permanently summoned to your location to be your new replacement PC. This character is exactly like your previous character except they [d4]: 1 = are a different gender, 2 = are a different class, 3 = have opposite values and Convictions, 4 = are a different age.


You cannot be moved from your location. If poured on an object, it cannot be moved from its location. If poured on a creature, it cannot move from its location if it fails a save. Lasts 30 minutes.

Animate Object

You turn into an inanimate piece of furniture appropriate to the environment; this lasts until the following morning. If poured on an inanimate object, that object permanently wakes up as the spell animate object.


You return to the location of your birth. No save. If poured on a creature (instead of consumed) a save is allowed.


When making Charisma checks to impress people or get them to like you, treat your Charisma as if it were 18. Creatures that might be sexually attracted to you must make a Save or be fascinated by you, unable to look away, as long as no one takes any overtly hostile actions.

Bottle Imp: Black

Answers one question truthfully. Knows everything that Hell knows (which is damn near everything). If you eat it, or if it crawls down the throat of an intact corpse, it can possess that body for 30 minutes. Dies quickly upon contact with air. Can only answer questions that start with “what”.

Bottle Imp: Blue

Answers one question truthfully. Knows everything that Hell knows (which is damn near everything). If you eat it, or if it crawls down the throat of an intact corpse, it can possess that body for 30 minutes. Dies quickly upon contact with air. Can only answer questions that start with “why” or “how”.

Bottle Imp: Green

Answers one question truthfully. Knows everything that Hell knows (which is damn near everything). If you eat it, or if it crawls down the throat of an intact corpse, it can possess that body for 30 minutes. Dies quickly upon contact with air. Can only answer questions that start with “when” or “where”.

Bottle Imp: Red

Answers one question truthfully. Knows everything that Hell knows (which is damn near everything). If you eat it, or if it crawls down the throat of an intact corpse, it can possess that body for 30 minutes. Dies quickly upon contact with air. Can only answer questions that start with “who”.

Bottomless Puddle

Nothing you swallow will affect you in any way. If poured on a ground, creates a bottomless hole about 5' in diameter. Lasts 30 minutes.


You gain 50 pounds. If poured on food, it erupts into 3d6 more servings of that food. Copies are delicious, fancy, and have none of the magical properties of the original food (if any). “Food” is limited to human food.


You no longer need to breathe. You cannot speak or cast spells. Lasts 30 minutes.


If you are caught in a breath attack, you can choose to inhale the breath attack, thereby negating it. You can hold it in you for as long as you can hold your breath, then breath out the breath attack normally. Also works on strong wings and gases. You are immune to any negative effects of inhaled things. If you can kiss someone, you can suck out their breath, and they take 3d6 non-lethal damage. Lasts 30 minutes, or until used.

Bubble Breath

You breath out a 20' cone of sticky pink bubbles. Creatures caught in this area are covered with bubbles, and get -2 Attack, +2 Defense, and move at half speed. No save. These effects last until successfully scrape off the bubbles, which takes a standard action and a successful Dex check. The bubbles remain on the ground for 30 minutes, and behave like a big, sticky pile of mattresses.


You gain a Burrow speed of 6 in dirt (not stone). Lasts 30 minutes. Alternatively, if this potion is poured on the ground, will excavate a burrow large enough for 6 people to sit inside comfortably. Only works on dirt, not stone.


If you drink this, you die (no save). If this potion is broken or poured out, it creates a noxious yellow cloud 20' in diameter. Creatures inside this cloud take 1d6 Con and HP damage each round (Save for half). Creatures with 1 HD or less must also Save or die. Vermin die automatically.

Cold Resistance

All incoming cold damage is reduced by 6 points. Lasts 30 minutes.


You comprehend all written languages. You are mute. Lasts 30 minutes.

Contagious Laughter

Whenever you spend a standard action laughing, all creatures that can hear you must save or spend their next standard action laughing as well. Once a creature saves against this ability, they are immune to it. Lasts 30 minutes.


You are immune to fear. If you would normally roll a save vs fear, you instead gain +2 Attack vs the source of that fear (non-stacking).


You can see in the dark. Range 30'. You cannot see colors, just shapes. Lasts 30 minutes.

Deep Sleep

You sleep for 30 minutes and cannot be awoken by any means. This refreshes you as if it were a full night's sleep.

Doom Treading

You receive 1d6 visions of death. Your DM describes different ways that you might die in the near future, beginning with more likely deaths. If you are in a dungeon, this can be as simple as describing the monsters (briefly but accurately) and how they kill you, as well as some traps.


You immediately gain 5 points of drunkenness. You must make a Con check every 10 minutes or fall asleep. Lasts 30 minutes.


You become flat and two-dimensional. You can walk through cracks, behind bookshelves, and most closed doors. If you turn your body so that you are facing someone edge-on, they cannot see you. You weigh one pound. You take double damage from piercing and slashing. Lasts 30 minutes.


You gain echolocation 50'. You are blind. Lasts 30 minutes.


You become ethereal (basically an invisible ghost). Roll a random encounter check for ethero-pelagic fauna and demons. Lasts 1d6 rounds.


You teleport out of the building or dungeon, arriving near the main entrance. If poured on an object, teleports it out of the building or dungeon. Teleported objects have a 50% chance to end up somewhere awkward, such as in a tree of beside a band of bandits. No effect outdoors.

Extra Arm

You grow an extra arm. It is awkwardly placed. If you use it to attack, it gets -4 to hit and deal half damage. Otherwise, it can do anything an extra arm could do.

False Life

You gain 2d8+2 HP, exceeding your maximum HP, if applicable. Your HP cannot be restored by any means for the rest of the day. Multiple uses of this potion stack (both HP increases and duration of no healing).

Fleeting Journey

You teleport to a point within sight. At the end of your next turn, you teleport back.

Fire Breath

You can breath out a 30' cone of fire that deals 3d6 points of damage (save for half). If the potion is not drank but instead contacts air, it explodes, dealing 2d6 points of damage in a 20' diameter (save for half).--


You fuse with the next creature you touch.

Ghost Form

You appear to be a ghost. Additionally, you may be incorporeal for 1 round at any point during this duration. Lasts 30 minutes.


The next thing you say will be believed by the creature you are talking to. No save. This effect ends as soon as the creature sees or learns something which contradicts your statement. (So “I am a pterodactyl” wouldn't be believed, because you don't have huge leathery wings. But “Your house is on fire” would be believed, unless your target was currently looking at their house and could see that it was not on fire.)

Golden Dreams

You have a brief vision of all of the treasure hoards in the dungeon, with all of the major items described briefly but accurately.  If poured out on the floor, it creates an illusion of a small pile of treasure, which lasts for 30 minutes.

Green Slime

Don't fucking drink it.


Your clothing, armor, and weapons are instantly repaired and polished. You are instantly cleaned and styled. You get +2 when attempting to impress people. If you are at full HP and not doing anything undignified, creatures with fewer HD than you must succeed on a save whenever they wish to harm you.

by Alexander Fedosov


You take an extra round at the end of every round (after everyone else's initiative count). Lasts 1d6 rounds. You age 1 year for every round that Haste lasts.


You hate the first person you see after drinking this potion. You must succeed on a Cha check to avoid attacking them whenever you see them. When you attack them, you fly into a Rage (as barbarian). Permanent.

Hide From Animals

Animals cannot see you, hear you, or notice you by any means. Lasts 30 minutes or until you do something (except movement).

Hide From Dragons

Dragons cannot see you, hear you, or notice you by any means. Lasts 30 minutes or until you do something (except movement).

Hide From Undead

Undead cannot see you, hear you, or notice you by any means. Lasts 30 minutes or until you do something (except movement).


Dispels any negative emotions. You automatically succeed on your next save.

Ice Seed

As a poison (2d6) except the damage is cold. If poured out into a body of water, it will freeze the surface of the water a foot thick, 50' in diameter. If poured out on a creature, treat is as a poison (1d6) except the damage is cold.

Iron Seed

Your skin becomes metal. Reduce all incoming physical damage by 3 points. If poured on an object, turns it to metal. Lasts 30 minutes.


Teleports you to a random room (if in a dungeon/building), a random building (if in a city), or a random location (if on the overworld). If poured on an object, does the same thing.

Lantern Eyes

Your eyes emit light as if they were a bullseye lantern (narrow cone 60'). At one point during this potion's duration, you can choose to have X-ray vision for 1 round. Lasts 30 minutes.


You can a Fly speed of 1, but only when you concentrate, and only vertically (up and down). Flying horizontally requires a flat surface to push off from. If poured on an object, the object becomes weightless. Lasts 30 minutes.

Lightning Resistance

All incoming cold damage is reduced by 6 points. Lasts 30 minutes.

Liquid Boat

You turn into a boat. The type of boat is relative to your size and cultural maritime history. You are sentient, but have no way of communicating or doing anything. No save, permanent. If this potion touches water, it immediately expands into a full-size sailboat. If rationed out in dribbles, can also be used to create 4 small rowboats.


You fall in love with the first person you see after drinking this potion. As charm, except romantic. No save.


You contract lycanthropy.

Magic Weapon

Your punches and kicks count as magic weapons +1. If applied to a weapon, it becomes a magic weapon +1. Lasts 30 minutes.

Magpie Charm

All silver objects within eyesight are teleported into your backpack. All local birds are enraged and will convene at your location to attack you (4-in-6 chance of a hostile swarm of birds arriving in 10 minutes, 100% chance of aggressive poop-bombing campaign for the week to come). This also works on very large silver objects, with potentially disastrous results.


You learn the number of floors in the dungeon, the number of secret doors, and how many rooms/hallways are connected to your current room. If poured out, the potion will turn into ink and attempt to make an accurate map of the surrounding countryside. The map uses pictograms, not words.

Mirror Image

1d4+1 mirror images of yourself appear beside you. They mirror your movements perfectly. When an enemy makes an attack against you, they strike a random target (possibly you, but probably one of your images). Images vanish after being targetted.

Mutate Spell

One of your memorized spells mutates.


You gain a random mutation. Alternatively, can be poured on a mutation to cure it.


You pause time for 3 rounds. During this time, you cannot move from your location or interact with anything except yourself. After these three rounds, you must return your limbs to their exact position, or you will die.


While this potion is active, HP damage that you take is postponed until after the potion elapses. Lasts 1d6 rounds.


As the barbarian ability.

Raise Dead

You die. You will return to life unharmed after 30 minutes. If poured in the mouth of a corpse, it permanently returns an a zombie. It is not under anyone's control.

Recapture Spell

You remember one of the spells that you have cast earlier today.


Nothing, not even inanimate objects, want to be near you. Creatures must succeed on a morale (or Cha) check in order to approach you. If they fail this check, they will not approach you for the rest of the potion's duration. You get +2 Defense against small ranged attacks (such as arrows). If poured on an object, it has the same effect. Lasts 30 minutes.

Reverse Gravity

Gravity is reversed for you and all of your inventory. If poured on an object, it has the same effect. Lasts 30 minutes.

Seal Soul

You lock away your soul in the prisons of your limbic system. You are effectively soulless. You are immune to emotions, level drain, and necromantic death effects. You feel no kindness nor compassion, but you know what your soul wants you to do, so you generally act the same as you would when you had a soul. You will have no memory of this afterwards. Lasts 30 minutes.

Silver Dust

Cannot be drank; it is literal silver dust. Contains enough silver dust to spread across a doorway. (Demons cannot cross lines of silver.)


You vomit out a tiny fetus, which quickly grows into a clone of yourself. Your clone has a 50% chance to have a random mutation. Your clone will live for 1d6 minutes, but if you roll a 6 on this your clone is instead permanent. Your clone knows that it is a clone and that it will probably die soon (chest pains). Your clone has a morale score of 1d20. Unlike normal hirelings, you clone can sometimes be persuaded to do suicidal tasks. It has no clothing, gear, or memorized spells.


You can see through smoke and fog perfectly. If broken or poured out, creates a prodigious amount of fog—a 100' sphere, or enough to fill approximately 5 dungeon rooms.

Snake Arm

Your arm turns into a python. If you attack with it, it has Attack 14, Strength 14, and deals 1d8+1 damage + grab. Lasts 1d6 rounds.

Snake Conjuring

You can shoot vipers out of your fingertips. You can shoot one per round. Treat this as attacking with a bow, except the arrows are poisoned (1d6) and leave angry vipers where they land. The snakes and the shooting ability last 1d6 rounds.


If you believe something is true, it is true for you. This allows you to walk across a chasm by imagining a bridge, or open a locked door by imagining that it is unlocked. This only works if you fail an Int check, and only works on environments and local objects. Lasts 30 minutes, or until you use it once.

Sound Bubble

Creates an invisible, intangible bubble around you with a 10' diameter. Sound cannot pass through this bubble..

Sovereign Acid

Elemental acid. Will melt through anything except glass and adamantine, and will eventually melt a hole all the way down to Hell. If poured on a stone floor, hole is 1' wide and narrows as it goes down. Lethal (and messily so) if drank.

Sovereign Grease

Elemental Slipperiness. Surfaces coated with this become perfectly frictionless. Coats an area about 5' in diameter. Nearly invisible when spread thin. If drank, negates the effects of anything you ingest for the rest of the day; food, edible poisons, and potions will have no effect—they just pass right through you.

Spell Ward

The next spell that targets you fails. Lasts until you go to sleep.

Speak With Beasts

You can speak with all non-swimming, non-flying, non-crawling, animals for 3 minutes (use a timer). Smaller animals tend to be smarter. Carnivores tend to be demanding.

Speak With Birds

You can speak with all flying animals for 3 minutes (use a timer). Birds are usually very smart, very stupid, or very smart and pretending to be stupid. Migrating birds are the primary source of gossip in the world, especially modern gossip.

Speak With Crawling Things

You can speak with all crawling things (such as lizards and slugs) for 3 minutes (use a timer). Reptiles tend to be careful, pragmatic, and stubborn. They usually know the deep history of a place. Insects know many useful things, but they struggle with human concepts of time and identity.

Speak With Dead

You can speak with a corpse as long as it has an intact mouth (or if you reattach the jawbone) for 3 minutes (use a timer). They tend to be incoherent, obtuse, and prone to reminiscing.

Speak With Fish

You can speak with swimming things for 3 minutes (use a timer). Cetaceans want to know all about you so they can fit you into their theories and stories. Fish tend to be amazed by everything, forgetful, and a little awkward. Sharks talk of nothing else except eating things, often times you.

Speak With God

You can speak with a god of your choice, who will answer one question, and optionally a follow-up question. But gods also ask questions of the querent (mostly pertaining to morality or their domains) and will not help you if they don't like your answer. Greater gods tend to be more accurate, but are also more likely to convert you to their religion.
If a god converts you to its religion, you must change one of your Convictions to reflect this. If you would be converted but already worship that god, you are instead compelled to donate to their cult or perform a small quest at that god's behalf at the earliest opportunity. Gods don't speak with words, just crystal-clear impressions, like ideas that someone else plants in your mind.
  • Dead gods that dwell in the ashes of the earth are accurate 50% of the time. They are beyond caring about your moralities. You must be underground to speak with them.
  • Lesser Slave-gods (such as Briga, the goddess of shoes) and great souls (popular heroes from folklore) are accurate 70% of the time, and have a 10% chance of converting you.
  • Greater Slave-gods (such as Brigadoon, the most powerful of the many competing harvest gods), saints, and dead popes are accurate 85% of the time, and have a 30% chance of converting you.
  • Zulin, Prince of the Upper Air, is accurate 100% of the time and has a 50% chance of converting you. However, he only speaks to royalty, since he is royalty himself (king of the gods).

Speak With Metal

You can speak with metal for 3 minutes (use a timer). Metal tends to have a pretty good knowledge of everything that has directly happened to it since it was forged, but not things that happened to it. Weapons speak of their kills; locks speak of what they guard. Cursed and trapped metal objects tend to be liars.

Speak With Plants

You can speak with plants for 3 minutes (use a timer). Plants often have either a deep-seated hatred towards things that eat them and cut them down, or resignation. Trees tend towards the hateful side of things, and sigh a lot. Flowers tend to be optimistic idiots and/or sexually graphic. Grasses are nearly impossible to talk to because they all shout at once.


The next thing you say is a suggestion, as the spell of the same name.

The Hero

You are possessed by the spirit of Braddon the Breaker, a legendary hero who was eventually devoured by an alchemical ooze. He is honorable, cheerful, and boastful. Your Attack becomes 14 and you replace all of your class abilities with those of a level 6 Fighter. This lasts 30 minutes of until you fail to roleplay Braddon.

The Great Gambler

You are possessed by the spirit of Amashak the Evergreen, the greatest gambler who ever lived, and who was eventually devoured by an alchemical ooze. She is pragmatic, calculating, and flirtatious. Your d20 rolls are instead handled by coin flips. On a heads, treat it like a natural 1. On a tails, treat it like a natural 20. Lasts 30 minutes or until you fail to roleplay Amashak.

The Poltergeist

You are paralyzed. During that time you can use telekinesis once every 1d4 rounds. You cannot use telekinesis to move your body. Lasts 30 minutes or until something ends your paralysis.

The Scoundrel

You are possessed by the spirit of Mingola the Thrice-Vanished, a legendary villain who was eventually devoured by an alchemical ooze. She is sarcastic, quippy, and despises heroics. Your Attack becomes 14 and you replace all of your class abilities with those of a level 6 Thief. Lasts 30 minutes or until you fail to roleplay Mingola.

The Spook

Your eyes glow blue. Glass objects vibrate near you. Your voice becomes a hollow reverb. Dogs flee from you. Cats are attracted to you. You can convince domesticated animals to kill themselves by succeeding on a Charisma check (once per target). Lasts 30 minutes.

Transformation: Bees

You turn into a swarm of bees. You can speak with insects and flowers (who adore you). Your gear transforms with you. Lasts 30 minutes.

Transformation: Cat

You turn into a cat. You can speak with felines. Your gear transforms with you. Lasts 30 minutes.

Transformation: Dolphin

You turn into a dolphin. You can speak with air-breathing, swimming animals. Your gear transforms with you. Lasts 30 minutes.

Transformation: Gecko

You turn into a tiny gecko, 2” long. You can climb on walls and speak with reptiles. Your gear transforms with you. Lasts 30 minutes.

Transformation: Seagull

You turn into a seagull. You can speak with flying animals. Your gear transforms with you. Lasts 30 minutes.

Transformation: Troll

You turn into a troll (including all its special powers: regeneration, darkvision, multiple attacks). You can shout any language you know, poorly. Your gear transforms with you. Regenerated HP remains after you transform back. Lasts 1d6 rounds.


You switch places with the object that you are staring at. Creatures get a save to resist.


You have two-way telepathy, 200'. Lasts 30 minutes.

Time Hack

You jump 6 seconds backwards in time. If used in combat, this potion can only be used to redo your turn (but remember that drinking a potion counts as your action for the turn); you cannot use this potion to redo other people's turns. Outside of combat, you can use this to undo everything that happened in the last 6 seconds.

Time Skip

You leap exactly 24 hours forward in time, reappearing in the exact same place.


You can speak all languages spoken by people (but not read them). This potion also makes you voluble, and when you speak to someone, you have a 1-in-6 chance of saying something you'll regret. If there is something you don't want the other party to know, you'll say that. Otherwise, you'll merely insult them.

True Seeing

You can see through all illusions and disguises. You can see the true form of transformed objects and creatures. Lasts 1d6 rounds.

Void Metal

Metal becomes intangible to you. If poured on an object, it becomes intangible to metal. This potion passes right through metal objects. Lasts 30 minutes.

Void Wood

Wood becomes intangible to you. If poured on an object, it becomes intangible to wood. This potion passes right through wood objects. Lasts 30 minutes.

Water Walk

You treat water as if it were solid ground. Lasts 30 minutes.


You can make your voice emerge from any point within 50'. You must still move your lips. Lasts 30 minutes.

by Alexander Fedosov
Closing Thoughts

Use more potions.

They're situational tools with lots of different applications.  Lots of them encourage lateral thinking.  They're (a) usable by anyone, and (b) all single-use.

(These are basically the features that define Monte Cook's cyphers in Numenera, and everyone loves those.  With good reason.)

They fact that anyone can use them leads to more tactical thinking.  If you find a scroll you give it to the wizard.  If you find a potion, you need to think about who gets it.

And because they're single use, you don't need to worry about balancing them so much.  A potion is never going to break your game.  Who cares if they use a potion to finish your boss battle in a single round?  It probably took some clever thinking, and there will be more boss battles when they don't have the perfect potion at the perfect time.

Let me know which potions you think are the weakest links.  I appreciate it.