Spells: preparation vs. improvisation

 Everybody has an opinion on the so-called Vancian casting system of classic D&D. Some (myself among them) find the idea of "fire-and-forget" spells to be a poor representation of the kind of fiction we want to represent. Some (again, including myself) find it too rigid, and dislike the incentives it provides toward spell selection. And then there are those on the other side of the fence, who like the in-fiction implications (still not a fan) or who see value in such a system for the purpose of promoting game elements of resource management and player skill (for which I do have an appreciation.)  Not a whole lot need be said about the in-universe implications of spell preparation. It could literally be a case of impressing patterns of magical energy (or imprisoning a minor daemon or other entity) in the mind and then discharging it, losing the pattern or knowledge until it is prepared again) but it could just as easily be reskinned as carefully preparing proper reagents,

Magical pools

 Magical pools of water have been a part of D&D since at least B1: In Search of the Unknown and its infamous room of pools, and of myth, legend, and fantasy for far longer. A "pool" can be found in a dungeon, a deep forest, a mountaintop, a ruined castle, or even in a town. It can be a standard pool, or a font, a fountain, a basin, a pond, a spring, a cistern, or any other smallish body of water. Typically, the powers of a magical pool are invoked by drinking its water, bathing or sprinkling oneself or another object, immersing something in it, or gazing at its surface, though other methods are possible. Its waters are usually only potent in the immediate vicinity of the pool, and lose their powers if bottled and carried away. Pool of Vanity : The surface of the water reflects the images of those gazing on it in an exaggeratedly grand fashion, making them more attractive and more extravagantly attired. Pool of Clarity : This pool reflects only the truth, revealing the tru

Wait, what?

 Apparently there's some sort of kerfuffle going on involving 5E and ... baristas? I'm so confused. Does 5E have a barista class now? With a Create Espresso spell to double movement and attack rates? Does the class feature a Caffeination ability that makes them immune to sleep spells? Can they mire their opponents in a froth of latte foam? Do they have to write their target's name on a paper cup?  I've paid little to no attention to 5E since its release, but now ... I have questions. So many questions.

Magical trees

Every fantasy world needs more than just monsters and dungeons populating its wilderness areas. Magical trees are a great way to add a little color and mystique to a campaign setting, and something for adventuring PCs to interact with and possible use. If you've got a dark and gloomy forest, a haunted graveyard, a mystical mountaintop, or a desert oasis, what better way to give them some extra zing? Magical trees may look like some type of ordinary tree, or may be of unusual color, shape, size, or otherwise distinctive features. Trees have all manner of possible uses, from shelter to materials for constructing things mundane or magical to food and medicine. When some magical effect is mentioned below, and no means of invoking them is mentioned, consider whether fruit or nuts, sap, leaves, blossoms, bark, or wood lends itself best to a particular use, and by what means. Tree of Life : A leaf from the very top of this tree has the power to restore life to a recently deceased creature

Dungeon design: Clusters and corridors

 Thinking about dungeon design and mapping today. I've always had a tendency to cram as much into a sheet of graph paper as possible. Sometimes this makes sense due simply to the type of structure, but I'm starting to think that however paper-efficient it may be, it's often suboptimal in terms of a fun, playable dungeon. Thus, I'm exploring another dungeon paradigm, one featuring lots of long corridors connecting clusters of rooms. Don't underestimate the importance of corridors. I've drawn a fair number of dungeon maps in my time, and I've tended to think of corridors as simply connections between one chamber and the next. This, I believe, has been a mistake. Look at any large public building with many rooms -- a courthouse, a hotel or convention center, a school, even a shopping mall. In all of them, corridors aren't connections between rooms, but more like roads through neighborhoods. Roads provide access to each lot, not connection between rooms of a

Encounter metatypes

 Well, it's been months since I've written or thought much about D&D, and a lot longer since I've actually played it, but I've recently been mulling the idea of writing and publishing some sandbox adventure settings. In that vein, I've been thinking a bit about adventure design: specifically, encounters. Not combat encounters vs. roleplay encounters or anything like that, but the big picture way in which encounters are integrated into the matrix of space, time, randomness, and player agency that makes up the game. The encounter types listed below may be incomplete, but at least serve to illustrate how the different types of encounters serve different purposes. A good mix of encounter types ensures a balance between DM preparedness, unexpected twists and complications that enrich the game, and respect for player agency. Random: An encounter that occurs when and where the dice dictate, fixed neither in time nor space. It is procedurally generated during play by r

Ability score impact in B/X

 In the early days of Dungeons & Dragons, ability scores had little function in the game but to act as prime requisites for the three (eventually four) classes, determining whether a character received a bonus to earned experience points. When they did affect resolution of actions during actual game play, the impact was limited to a bonus or penalty of + or -1. As the game evolved, ability scores began to apply more directly to in-game actions, such as attack and damage rolls and saving throws, and the range of adjustments was expanded. With the increase in the role of ability scores, they became important to all classes, not just the one for whom each is a prime requisite, and their relative importance and impact also shifted greatly, with some becoming very powerful and others much less so. In this post, I'm going to analyze the power of each ability in the B/X D&D rules, including factors such as which rolls or stats an ability modifies, the relative magnitude of modifie