The Tidequeller

Busy busy. Work Work. GMing GMing. Blog Post!

I like Dark Souls. One of my favorite things the game does is give every item in it a story, or a small portion of a large story. It’s colored my view of how I include magical items in my fantasy games. In my most recent campaign I have handed out a handful of magical items, either from.


Magic items shouldn’t just be +1 swords of stabbening. They should have history and more importantly magic items should have purpose. There’s a reason it has the properties it does, they are tools that perform very specific functions. They could be equivalent to Weapons of Mass Destruction or Defenses of a Particular Kind or more simply a Maguffin that moves the Story Along.  I’ve made a habit of typing up Souls-like descriptions for these items, as a way to keep their place in the world in mind and to help them tell small stories as the players begin to use them. Helping tell the story of the world bit by bit without having to frontload exposition onto the players (this will be my next topic, probably.)

Surprisingly, the DnD 5e Dungeons Masters guide has some fun ways to generate a magic items backstory. Here’s some random ones I’ve created.


The Tidequeller – turquoise tinted dagger with a hilt of fish scales.

The Tidequeller was a weapon used in the war between the Pantheon and Yylir, when Yylir corrupted Findui’s creations to use against them.  This weapon was forged by the Smiths of Gadyran, and though it carries her blessing, it’s carrier cannot help but occasionally feel a bottomless sorrow.”

Sesquipedalian – giant’s dagger.

“A large greatsword whose proportions look slightly off, looking more like a gigantic dagger rather than a sword. It appears to be made out of pure obsidian, and flint-knapped into its current shape with small grooves and serrated edges. It’s previous owner used it to cut the tongues out of talkative giants, and when he was slain the blade was cursed through some means. At the blade’s insistence, it’s wielder is prone to speaking the tongue of giants.”

Diplomat’s Band – dull iron jewelry.

“The Bands of Passage are either rings, or bands that would go around ones wrist, very rarely a necklace. They were created and gifted to the Emissaries of the Pantheon, to provide safe travel amidst the various dangers the Pantheon had put in place. No matter the shape, they are made of plain dulled bronze.”

Potion of Invisibility – clear-syrupy flask.

 “This potion was gifted to Daham the Jackal by his patrons. On the top of the flask around its neck is a small piece of parchment glued onto it which reads ‘For dire straits’ only. The liquid drains out of the flask like water, but its texture is similar to molasses. Upon imbibing the flask all sentient beings within eyesight of the imbiber disappear, but leaves their actual presence very much visible. Apparently the Jackal did not curry lasting favor. 


The Tidequeller


No post in awhile. Sorry about that. I got tons of topics lined up to write about. Probably will get something in this weekend. Stay tuned!


Right and Wrong

Shorter post. Busy week!

If there’s one RPG truism that irks me, it has to be “There’s no wrong way to play RPGs, if you are having fun you are doing it right!” It isn’t necessarily that I believe this statement is false, it’s more that it’s not helpful in any way and it sort of implies that “fun” is the end all to playing a game at the table. Having fun is why we play, it isn’t how we play.

It’s so generic that it isn’t useful. Every person is different, and every group is made up of different people with wildly different tastes and expectations from a table top game. Some groups can have a good time sitting around a table, regardless of system or type of being run, or the skill of the GM or players.  Some groups like or require a very specific experience to enjoy themselves.

So instead of just saying “You’re having fun so you are doing it right!” Keep your brain on and ask yourself some questions after your sessions are over.

What worked in the game, what didn’t?

What could work if I iterated on it?

Why was a particular session fun? 

How can I experiment and introduce new things to keep it fresh?

Is the game helping or hindering me in what I want to accomplish, narratively or mechanically?

Are the expectations of me and my players in alignment?


I ask myself these types of questions in mid-session during the breaks, or after the sessions are over. Fun is important, it’s the most important probably. But don’t stop there. Asking yourself these questions helps you GM and adapt to groups with different expectations.


Right and Wrong

New Year, New Post.

I’ve been borrowing a lot from Kevin Crawford’s games lately (shocking, I know.). Even if I don’t use the Faction system for every game I run I still structure it similarly enough. This time however I’ll be talking about adventure outlines and how the ones in Stars Without Number can be ported to any genre of game that focuses on adventurers. These outlines are useful because it allows you a basic structure to get your ideas down without having to plan linearly and most importantly it allows you to plan lots of adventures which is useful in sandbox play.


Instead of prepping only for the upcoming adventure, I can use the outline to prep lots of adventures in case the PC’s decide to do a 180 and go somewhere completely different. Of course these outlines aren’t as in depth as more fleshed out adventures would be, and porting them to games like Dungeons and Dragons takes a bit of work due to how it purports to balance encounters. Stars Without Number doesn’t have that problem as the game itself isn’t really about “balance” and the stat blocks are fairly simple to memorize or even come up with on the spot. For DnD we’ll have to work at it a bit more at the end of the post I’ll provide my method of handling it.


The Format.


Adventure Name: I like to name my adventures, as it helps me stick to a theme or idea.

Location: The main locations where it’ll take place, where they pick up the rumors, where the adventure is, other locations the PC’s MIGHT go to.

Seed: The details residing which NPC needs help, or what impetus the PC’s would have to get involved. You can include multiple seeds here that all point to the same thing.

Friends: The NPC’s whose goals line up with the PC’s goals, or NPC’s who are friendly to the PC’s.

Other NPCs: Neutral parties, bystanders, shopkeepers, bartenders, that kind of thing. I just list their as well as 3 single word details about them. This is just an outline.

Complications: Here’s where you brainstorm what kinds of bad things can happen or what obstacles will be in the way of PC’s. What enemies might show up, hazards, traps, ambushes, deceptions, bureaucratic red tape, etc.

Things: This is one of my favorite ones, it’s simply background (unless the players pull it into the foreground.) It’s things that are going on in the area, or aspects of the place the PC’s are in, or the people they are around. If the PC’s walk into a new place I use these details to set the scene as they walk into a new city or town, or an old ruin lost to time.

Places: This is a followup to locations, it is all the minor places the PC’s might go. Bars for information, the castle they get sent to if they get arrested. That kind of thing.

Governance: PC’s are always getting up to trouble, and so for me it’s important to note what will happen if they start breaking rules. It’s also useful to note here what the governance IS and what they are DOING.

Rewards: Either in terms of payment for an adventure from an NPC, or the kinds of stuff they find along the way. Or just raw XP and gold.

Enemies: This is where all the antagonists go. Either in name or their minions. People whose goals are against the PC’s or their allies, or who are against the PC themselves for whatever reason. I usually put their goals in the complication section but it can go here too. Here is the tricky part, in Stars Without Number I just put normal statblocks here, but for DnD I use Kobold Fight club to come up with groups of enemies the PC’s might encounter based on the details we have filled out before followed by what ratings the groups are for the PC’s based on what system I’m using.  SWN doesn’t really have a rating system for its bad guys so I just have to guess based on the damage they do. Remember this is just an outline, something to springboard your ideas into more fully fleshed out adventures or dungeons depending on what threads the PCs tug on. I play mostly theater of the mind however, and so using these outlines is more often than not enough to provide a great session.


Examples from my DnD game.


Adventure: Archaeological Discoveries

Location: Zerinnth, the surrounding area. The warrens underneath. Dahams Stronghold that is

located in an old Maalati fortress.

Expected Levels: Level 3

Seed: The ruins of an ancient Shaper temple has just been discovered by the PC’s.

Multiple parties express interest, especially the Church of the Shaper who say that this

city should be declared officially the main holy site for which all the Tribes and believers

should pay tribute. Additionally Daham the Jackal is still around, intending to ramp up his

efforts against the PC’s. The PC’s will make their own goal here, pursue The Jackal.

Handle the political turmoil between the Church and the State here. Shareen and Saratavi

seek the party out in order to inform them of the suspected location of Daham the Jackal,

whom has been disruptive to the Maalat tribe.

Friends: Doctor Gregori, William One-Eye, Shareen (female, dark hair, Maalati tattoos,

no-nonsense.) the visitor from the Maalat tribe accompanied by an Okeshir apprentice

Saratavi, (female, long-dirty brown hair, curious, naive, esoteric knowledge.) Vasumangla

the Azer trapped in the ruins of the Shaper.

Other NPCs: Nisil the Magistrate Superior (female, elven, warm outside, cold

underneath.) Ober the Magistrate Interior (square jawed balding tough man.) Yylsalrin The

Magistrate Exterior (brutish female, short hair cut but beautiful.) Mauldis the New Temple

of the Shaper leader (charismatic, young, well dressed, short cut dark hair).

Complications: Daham sends more assassins. The church causes a ruckus. More

kidnappings. Some minor elementals start to appear in the city and start a ruckus. The

Fortress of the Maalati is far away. Taking 3 days travel to reach. (9 hexes) (DC 10

Survival to not get lost, DC 15 to avoid a random encounter.) The party encounters the

bandits wandering the desert.


Things: A fire elemental appears from the Shaper, burning part of the bazaar. Resurgence of the faithful to the Shaper, protests. More trade caravans get hit. A beggar becomes target for public shaming.


Places: The Merciful Efreet, Zerinnth Garrison HQ, The Well. Slums area being turned

into dig sites. The abandoned Maalati fortress (known to them as The Old Trials) where

Daham is currently residing (can be seen in the distance from the main road, at the top it

gives a great view of the deserts, surrounded by dunes.)


Governance: The Zerinnthian Hegemony is not happy with the recent developments,

trying to suppress populace from digging up their own homes for rare artifacts or digging in

the streets.


Rewards: Bounty for Daham is 2500gp.


Enemy Groups: 1x Fire Elemental MM pg 115 (VD)

5x Magmin MM pg 212 (H)

1x Bandit Captain (Daham), 1x Thug (H)

1x Scout 1x Spy pg 349 1x Thug  pg 350 1 x Acolyte pg 342 (H)

12 x Bandits mm pg 343 (H)

1x Giant Hyena pg 326 3x Hyena pg 331 1x Scout pg 349 (M)


What Now?


Now comes the more in depth methods of adventure prep, which can be short but more importantly are informed by the ideas written in the outline. I would write my own but honestly it’s been covered more thoroughly and better than I could ever do by The Alexandrian 

New Year, New Post.