Monthly Archives: August 2011

Twinned Magic Items

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Want to add a little spice to your old-school game? How about something unusual that won’t contribute too much to a character’s power base? Here’s an idea: link two magic items of the same type to a shared pool of charges.

I’ve recently been going through some of my old game files from way back and I thought I’d share some of the ideas from my days of running 1st edition AD&D. This is a magic item, or rather pair of magic items, that allowed me to add a twist to my campaign.

How twinned items work

The twinned magic consists of two magic items of the same type (both rings or rods, etc.). Each item of the pair can perform a separate type of magic–for example, you could link a wand of fire and a wand of lightening, but you couldn’t link a ring of protection and a wand of enemy detection.  Take the number of charges each item has separately and add them together. That’s the total number of charges the two items have to share.

For example, if the wand of fire had 50 charges and the wand of enemy detection had 65 charges, both items would share a pool of a 115 charges.  They could draw from the pool equally until the total number of charges ran out. That means the wand of fire could potentially be fired 115 times, as long as the wand of enemy detection was never used.

Of course, the fun comes when a PC possesses one of the linked items. Most commonly, a party would find one item in a treasure hoard, not realizing it was linked to another magic item elsewhere in the game world. In this situation, the pool of charges linked to the item in the PCs’ possession will have randomly lost 0-5 charges (1d6-1) since the last time they used it. (Not that the players will necessarily know this).

If both items are used simultaneously, one of the them will not work. If the PCs have only one item, give their item a 15% chance of not working because its linked twin is also being used. If this is the case, nothing happens and no charges are deducted from the shared pool.

Frequently, a party won’t realize that there’s anything unusual about their wand (other than, possibly, intermittent “glitches”) until they try to recharge it.  They will be unable to recharge it without its twinned item also present. You can make it difficult for the PCs to determine the reason by requiring the use of some type of divination spell. And even if they discover the nature of the their item, it should require a quest of some sort to find the twinned item.

Creating twinned items

Linked items give magic-users an advantage, in that they’re quicker to create than two completely independent items.  Creating a set of twinned items takes less time than it would take to create each item independently. If you chose, you could also discount the materials cost.

Use the creation method described in the  1st ed. AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide (pp. 87-88) with the following changes:

The items to be enchanted are obtained and prepared normally, as if you were creating two completely separate items, following the instructions given on p. 87, Finding the Right Materials and Preparing the Materials. Once the MU has prepared the items to receive magic, he can begin the process of enchanting them. He needs to touch both items, simultaneously and continuously, during the entire enchanting step and while casting the link spell (described below). The casting time for the enchant an item spell on both items is 24 hours plus 8d8 additional hours.

Immediately after casting the enchant an item spell, the magic -use must cast a link spell. Again, he must touch both items simultaneously and continuously during this stage of the process, which takes 8 + 2d8 hours. This step creates the pool of charges the two items will share.

Only after casting the link spell, does the MU place the desired individual magics in each of the items, as described in the DMG. The desired magics are cast on each item individually, as if the he were creating two separate items. The number of charges in the shared pool equals the total number placed in each item, added together.

For example, Elsa the Enchanter creates two linked items: a wand of frost and a wand of magic detection.  She places 20 charges in the wand of frost and 13 in the wand of magic detection,  creating a total combined pool of 33 charges which can be used by either wand.

Recharging Twinned Items

To recharge a linked pair, the magic-user must have both items within 1′ of her during the entire recharging process, even if she only wants to recharge one of them. Any attempt to recharge an item without its twin present will cause the the process to fail  and any time and/or material components used are lost.  Otherwise, recharging proceeds as outlined in the DMG, p. 88.

The MU can cast cast the recharge on only one of the items, but both items must make the required saving throw individually. If either one  of the items fails its saving throws during recharging both items crumble to dust.

Spell description

Link (Enchantment/ Alteration)

Type: Magic-User
Level: 6
Range: Touch
Components: V, S, M
Duration: Special
Area of Effect: 2 items
Saving Throw: neg.

This spell links two items with a common pool of shared charges. After successfully casting enchant an item on the items, the magic-user casts a link spell. Both items to be linked must be touched simultaneously by the caster. This touch must be constant and continuous during the casting time, which is 8 + 2d8 hours.

Once the spell is finished, the magic-user can cast the desired spell on the items, one at a time. The total number of charges available to both items is equal to the number of charges cast on each item, added together. Note that this link doesn’t allow the items to share powers, only charges.

The material components for this spell are two items to be enchanted. These items are not consumed in the course of the spell.

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Campaign Mastery is Exactly What It Says

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Help is on the WayYou want to be a better GM, right? You know you need to get better at things like improvising during a game session, creating more believable NPCs, and be better prepared for your game sessions. But how exactly do you do that?

Check out the Campaign Mastery blog, written by Johnn Four (of Roleplaying Tips and Gamer Lifestyle) and Mike Bourke. This blog is chock full of useful advice. If you’ve noticed in the “Article Zemanta Thinks May be Related” section at the bottom of my posts, you’ll find I often link to Campaign Mastery. That’s because I find so much useful information at this particular blog, I have to share it with y’all.

No matter what kind of advice you’re looking for, Campaign Mastery’s got a post on it somewhere. Need information about improvising adventures? Check out By The Seat Of Your Pants: Six Foundations Of Adventure. Want some information about how to handling things when the PCs do something totally unexpected? Try A potpourri of quick solutions: Eight Lifeboats for GM Emergencies. How about tips on using spells to develop areas of your game world? Look at How To Cast A Spell On Your Campaign And Polish Till It Gleams.

One of the best things about this blog (in addition to the incredibly useful information) is their “Print Friendly” button at the end of every post. It allows you print out the post without printing all the gagillion bits you don’t need to pring, like all the sidebar information. (This is something I’ve just added to both this blog and product excerpts in the main section of the rpgGM site. Check out the row of buttons at the bottom of each post–when you mouse-over, they expand and the “Print Friendly” button is in the middle of the second row).

And I didn’t write this just because Johnn likes my stuff. 😉

[Image courtesy of Tom T via Flickr Creative Commons.]

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From the Basement: Castle Falkenstein

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Hussars in dashing uniforms, swords always ready to duel over an affaire d’honneur; dainty noblewomen in proper décolletage with tiny pistols hidden in their petticoats; enchanting faerie lords seeking the excitement of love among mortal passions; stalwart dwarven craftsmen seeking that great masterwork that will earn them their second name; willowy tall, cat-eyed dragon lords, resplendent in silk robes from far Cathay…

These are staples of R. Talsorian‘s Castle Falkenstein, an RPG set in a Gilded Age that never was.  Here you can step back into an alternate version of the Victorian age where magick works side-by-side steam technology and faerie lords rub shoulders with both real and fictional characters from that era. What other game could see your character having High Tea with both Dr. Jules Verne (France’s Science Minister) and Captain Nemo? Or solve mysteries with a still little-known Sherlock Holmes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? Steampunk only begins to describe the setting of this game.

The first almost three-quarters of the full-color rulebook immerses you in the world of Castle Falkenstein, via a story narrated by Tom Olam, a computer game artist who finds himself spellnapped into an alternate history version of Victorian Europe, called New Europa. The story is entertaining and makes a good introduction to all things Falkenstein. In addition to describing the politics, history and geography of New Europa (which differ fair amount from our own European history), he gives you an introduction to important NPCs, magick and techology, as well as glimpses of society and the rules that govern it. And does it in a way that makes it very accessible and far more entertaining than most settings rather dry description of details.

Character Creation

In Castle Falkenstein you create a Dramatic Character, which can be anything that would fit into a Victorian setting, and then some. You can play anyone from an anarchist, to a nobleman, adventuress, explorer,  scientist, or writer. You’ll want to be careful to create a character that has a reason for exploring the unknown and participating in Great Adventures, though, because it would be to create a character extremely appropriate to the setting, but who has no reason to venture beyond his or her drawing room. If a more exotic character is to your taste, with your Host’s (the game’s term for GM) permission, you could play a member of one of the fey courts, a dwarf, a sorcerer, or even a dragon.

No need to track down fancy character sheets here; your Dramatic Character is described in words, rather than numbers.  The game suggests you write your character’s backstory before you worry about mechanics. You’re expected to keep a character Diary, a “logbook of the Character’s lives and times in the world of the Steam Age, a storybook in which he or she is the Main Character,” (pg. 154). This can be daunting to players without a writing bent, but the book tries to make it easier by giving you a list of questions to answer in your Diary. By the time you’ve worked your way through the list, you should have pretty good handle on your character concept.

After that, you go on describe your character, both in looks and in abilities. You also need to chose a Grand Passion ( something your character would pursue above all things), a Nemesis (something (s)he  battles, such as a sworn enemy), and a Goal (something (s)he strives for). Finally, you choose three goals: one Social, one Professional, one Avocational.

The actual mechanics of character creation take up less than half a page and involve picking abilities that your character is Great, Good, and Poor at (these are official game terms). Any other ability you haven’t named is considered to be Average, the default level. The abilities are divided into groups that correspond to playing card suits. And that leads us to the…


Because no respectable Victorian Age person would ever play at dice, the game uses playing cards to resolve combat and skill challenges. You’ll need two complete decks (including Jokers) of regular playing cards. One is the Fortune Deck, the other is the Sorcery Deck, so the two should be easy to tell apart.

Each player begins the game with a Fortune Hand of four cards. Players play cards to increase their chances of succeeding at any particular action (called “Feats” within the game). The process goes like this:

  1. The player describes what her character is trying to do. The more vivid the description, the better the Host can resolve the Feat.
  2. Next the player decides what ability she’ll need to use to perform the Feat (with Host’s approval). If the Feat calls for an ability her character doesn’t have, she uses that ability at Average level, with some exceptions. For example, if the PC is trying to fly a airship, the Host may decide that she can’t fly it without some kind of Piloting ability.
  3. Every ability level has a point value from 2 (Poor) to 12 (Extraordinary), with Average being 4. The player then chooses one or more cards who’s total is added to the ability score. But there’s a catch: if the card used is of the same suit as the ability, the card is worth its face value. If it’s of a different suit, it’s only worth one point. Jacks, Queens, and Kings are worth 11, 12, and 13, respectively.
  4. The Host decides the Ability Level needed for the character to succeed at that Feat, plus he can play cards from his own hand to represent situational modifiers. This creates basically a difficulty level that the player has to beat.
  5. If the PC’s total is less than half the Feat’s total, it results in a Fumble. If it’s less than the Feat total, but more than half of it, the Feat simply Fails. If the PC’s total is equal to or greater than the Feat’s total, it’s a Partial Success. And if it’s equal or greater to half again the total, it’s a Full Success. Finally, if the total is equal to or greater than twice the Feat’s total, it’s a High Success and the Host describes what happens in each case.

The cards of a Fortune Hand can’t be discarded–they have to be used in a Feat to get rid of them.  Once cards are used, they’re immediately shuffled back into the Fortune Deck and the Host deals the player new cards to replace those used.This system allows for some strategy when it comes to resolving Feats, which is great for players with really bad dice luck.

The combat system is basically a series of contested Feats and I won’t go into it or the Sorcery mechanics here. The mechanics may feel a little weird at first, but are easy to catch onto once you’ve been through them a couple of times.

Where to Get It

As far as I can tell, the core book is out of print, as are most of it’s supplements. Used copies are going for $50 on Amazon, but you can get PDF versions of the core rules and all six of it’s supplements from DriveThru RPG at $16 for the core rules and $8.50-$10.00 each for the supplements.

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Rules-Lawyers: Dealing with the guy who has all the answers

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The Rules Lawyer

This sub-class of the Mechanic finds great joy in being the “go-to” guy. He’s probably memorized half (if not all) the books the group uses, and then some. While some Rules Lawyers have a strong emotional stake in being right all the time, many more of them just like being helpful. They often see themselves as much a game resource as the books they’ve memorized. Why should the GM have to spend 20 minutes page-flipping to find the special-case rule? Just ask the local Rules Lawyer: he’ll have the answer for you in less than a minute. If he doesn’t know the answer off the top of his head, he knows exactly where to find it.


This player is walking rulebook. Use that information to your advantage. Don’t be afraid to ask the Rules-Lawyer about a rule you may be unsure of. Like all of us, Rules Lawyers need to feel needed. They also make great mentors to players trying to learn the ins-and-outs of a new system.


The rulebook is the law of the land to a Rules Lawyer. He will argue incessantly with the GM over a rule change. A GM who has a Rules-Lawyer in the group will need to make it clear that she, not the rulebooks, is the ultimate authority of her game. If the GM views the rules as guidelines, rather than holy commandments, she needs to make that clear to the rules-Lawyer before the first game session (and often repeatedly throughout the campaign).

Rules Lawyers can also get bogged down in obscure modifiers and rare special cases. They may need reminding that you don’t need to use everything in the system, just because it’s printed in the book. (Unless you want to, in which case you’ll find the Rules Lawyer an even more valuable resource).

Ways a Rules-Lawyer can be useful

Out of Character:

  • As a researcher: if you know you’re going to need some section of the rules you don’t normally use, ask your resident Rules Lawyer to research them for you and make a cheat-sheet you to use at the next game session.
  • As a mentor: pair the Rules Lawyer up with a player who’s new to this game system. That player will get a good grounding in the system’s mechanics–which is always helpful, even if the new person is a Character Actor. Just keep an eye on things and remind the mentor to keep to the basics of the system and not overwhelm his new student with too much detail and crunch.
  • As a devil’s advocate: if another player suggests a rules addition or modification, have her run it by the Rules Lawyer for analysis. He can give you a break down of the advantages or disadvantages of the suggestion and a thorough description of the effect it’s likely to have on the rest of the game’s mechanics.
  • As a creation assistant: Because Rules Lawyers  know the mechanics of character creation extremely well, you can give a character description to a Rules Lawyer and let them work out the mechanics of it. Just make him aware that you’ll be making some changes to his work, so that he doesn’t know everything about that NPC’s powers and abilities.

(I did this frequently with a player in one campaign I ran. I’d write out in words what I wanted the character to be like, pass her to my resident Mechanic and he’d figure out all her stats, powers, and special abilities. I’d then make some changes to what he did to keep mystery involved. Balancing mechanics isn’t my strong suit, so I sought out players who are. It saved me a lot of time and I ended up with more mechanically-sound NPCs than I would’ve if I’d done it all myself.)

In Character:

Rules Lawyers tend to have a difficult time with the concept of in-character/out-of-character. Like the Power Gamer, most characters create by Rules Lawyers tend to be primarily collections of stats and powers, rather than a fully-developed personae. Just accept that you’re dealing with a vicarious player and don’t try to force them to develop acting ability.

(This is an excerpt from my upcoming book The GM’s Field Guide to Players. The book goes into much more detail about a variety of player types and suggestions on how to work with them during a game. It’s tentatively scheduled for release in late November of this year).

[Image courtesy of shawnzrossi via Flickr Creative Commons]

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