Category Archives: Opinion piece

Non-Homogenous Random Tables

In the balanceRandom tables are a great way to introduce some unpredictability into a game, but they can also be a tad predictable , same-ish, consistent, ‘one size fits all’ … mono-dimensional?

I thought it would be nice to have a random table that responded to a situation/condition, rather than any given result having the same likelihood.

For example, I like the idea that:

(a) the deeper you are in a dungeon, the more likely the random encouters will be dangerous; or

(b) the further from town you are, the more likely you’ll encounter goblins; or

(c) a landscape than favours some creatures in one area, and other creatures in a different area, but where there is a theoretical continuum between the two areas and so encounters; or

(d) Henchman ‘moral check’ indexed to the threat level … etc.

There are several solutions to this, the simplest of course being to have different random tables for different situations, or even to use modifiers.

Another way to go, the idea that I quite like, is to stratify the encounters from one extreme to the other and use an advantage/disadvantage type mechanic to ‘tip’ the results depending on the current situation.

Below is an example lifted straight out of my procedural adventure ‘Carapace’. The random table is ‘stratified’ into three main layers: the lowest values (blue layer) giving giant ants, the middle values (green layer) giving wildcard monsters, and the highest values (yellow/pink layers) giving the boss monster and its elite guards.

So, in ‘Carapace’ the idea was that the area being explored (a giant ant’s nest) was divided into 4 Zones, with the ‘Big Bad’ most likely being found in Zone 4. The more mundane monsters being located in Zone 1 and 2. There was also a fair chance of getting ‘wild card’ monsters basically anywhere.

Carapace encouter table as per zone

If it is not clear from the above, you roll a number of D20s equal to the zone you are in (so 3 x D20 in Zone 3), and use a tailored advantage/disadvantage mechanic to influence the result (to swing the result towards one end of the table or the other).

So, for example in Zone 1 you’ll never get the Queen Ant (the boss encounter), in Zone 2 it’s 1 in 400 (i.e. possible, but improbable), in Zone 3 it’s 3 in 20 and in Zone 4 it’s 4 in 20 (i.e. now getting quite likely).

The reverse of this for example would be, in Zone 1 a lone worker ant is 1 in 20, but in Zone 4 it’s 1 in 160,000.

Even if I’ve messed the maths up above, I think the idea is clear enough, that is you can tip the result of a random table using a system like this. Of course, this idea could be applied to any random table outcome (not just encounters), e.g. types of terrain, NPC reaction dependent on closeness of alignment etc.

Again, there are other solutions, I just think this one appeals to me. I’m also fairly certain this has been done before in some form at least, but this post is an attempt to flag the idea up as an option for the old ‘DM tool kit’.

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InHotS the cover imageMe on DriveThruDriveThru; at the moment I’m mainly pimping my procedural High Seas ‘Hex Crawl’ – In the Heart of the Sea.

Monstrous plagiarism …

I created a monster, it was sort of an anti-unicorn (my blog post is repeated in full below). I had fun with it and quite like the idea overall.

But … a week ago I downloaded Monsters of Myth, which is a free monster book download available on Lulu and published in 2016.

I started scrolling through the pdf, just skimming the images and what not, pausing to read a few  … when I saw this:

Karkkadann image

My eyes fair nearly popped out of my head. But, I figured my anti-unicorn was going to be original over this evil beast! Right? Not so much …

Here’s the text for the Karkadann:

Karkkadann text.png
(Monsters of Myth was published in 2016, with the Karkadann being created by B.J. “Stranger” Poirot, in 2006, so the idea predates mine by about a decade).

So let’s do a check list:

  1. Horn modification – CHECK (I have two horns, they have a twisted one)
  2. Monster trades off its resemblance to unicorns – CHECK
  3. Fang like teeth – CHECK (removed from my version for the sake of brevity)
  4. Preferred prey – CHECK (mine preferred halflings, but removed for brevity)
  5. Link to Paladins – CHECK
  6. Hates unicorns – CHECK 
  7. Horn does extra damage – CHECK 

I think the only thing missing is the lion-like tail. I do have some additions though, e.g. my ‘anti-unicorn’ has some guff linked to its Nightmare lineage, weird smells and monster parts.


So, this left me wondering … am I a terrible hack? And/or does a monster concept (in this case an ‘anti-unicorn’) naturally and almost inevitably lead to shared themes. Perhaps the same is true of say things like ‘new’ magic item concepts or traps.

In this case, the key USPs of a unicorn are – a horse with a horn, and that it is good (some other guff about virgins). So … does it follow that an ‘anti-unicorn’ will have a horn modification (i.e. evidence of perversion) and be basically bad (e.g. hates paladins and unicorns). Since it still looks mostly like a unicorn, it seems natural it will use this to its advantage. Maybe anything else would be another monster concept, but not an anti-unicorn?

Therefore, this thought experiment makes me wonder: If two people decided to write up an “Undead Gelatinous Cube” or perhaps a “Coin Golem”, would many/most of the key features of these monsters be the same? I should probably Google these examples … as they’ve probably been done!

That is, maybe once the ‘monster concept’ has been fixed, little extra elaboration is needed? Perhaps the monster writes itself …

I bet there are lots of Ice/Fire Wolf concepts out there. Probably most of them spew forth cold- or heat-based damage respectively. Probably most of them suffer extra damage from the reverse of their respective powers. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with an Ice Wolf per se.  I can imagine players enjoying such an encounter, and the smart players thinking of using fire on it etc. There’s a natural gaming dialogue that follows and is fun. Players hate nothing more than a trap/puzzle that is toooo subtle to figure out!

But, do we need another “Ice Wolf” that’s basically the same as all the others …

So, to create an “original monster” we could make it look like say an anti-unicorn, but give it the powers of a Phase Spider (this idea seems a bit bankrupt though); or better, put more work into the ‘monster concept’, but let the ideas naturally flow from there. Perhaps, like jokes, we could/should reject the most obvious ideas that occur, as they may have already been done.

For example, perhaps it would be more interesting if the tundra-based Canidae breathed fire, or burst into fire as a defence mechanism (I bet if I Googled these, they will have been done). But, perhaps that’s the kind of thinking that is needed for new monsters?

But, …. what do I know?

PS – Of course, I haven’t ruled out the option that me and B.J. “Stranger” Poirot are simply geniuses.

COPY of my original (cough) post

:: Yfelcorn :: 


YfelcornFrequency:                 Very Rare
No. Appearing:          2-5
Armor Class:              2
Move:                          24’’
Hit Dice:                      4+4
% in Lair:                    5%
Treasure Type:          X
No. of Attacks:           3
Damage/Attack:        1-6/1-6/1-12
Special Attacks:        See below
Special Defenses:     See below
Magic Resistance:    See below
Intelligence:              Average
Alignment:                Neutral Evil
Size:                            L
Psionic Ability:          Nil
Level/XP Value:        500 + 6/hp

Also known as lacharmata, hippomal, rhinocorn, and Chevalier’s Bane. Yfelcorns are the malign sterile progeny of Unicorns (MM, pp 98) with Nightmares (MM, pp 74).

Yfelcorns are sly ambush predators using their appearance to deceive prey. Yfelcorns resemble unicorns, except they have:

  • a small additional horn
  • hot hooves which will eventually scorch the ground
  • an odd garlic-mint smell that unsettles the stomach;
    Elves find this smell especially repugnant (-2 to hit and damage); but oddly, Halflings find the smell quite pleasing

Lower plane denizens prize Yfelcorns as mounts (though treacherous); impressing minions/peers, and deceiving goodly creatures alike.

Yfelcorns share the primary statistics and abilities of a unicorn (i.e. +2 to hit with horn; charging double damage; poison immunity; sense enemies within 24’’; surprise 1-5; teleport 36’’once per day; 11th level magic-user save; death spell immune).

Nightmare lineage
Horn does double damage to good creatures. Paladins are polluted by a horn wound, and need a wish/quest to restore their powers. Stallions have the Nightmare’s smoking hot cloud ability once per day (i.e. failing save gives a -2 to hit and damage); albeit garlic-mint reeking stench. Immune to fire magic. Triple damage from cold and holy based damage.

Yfelcorn horns are deadly to unicorns; which later rise as undead unicorns. Zombiecorns start as shambling heaps of horse flesh, progressing to have the abilities (and stats) of a ghast (MM, pp 43; although cannot turn humans into ghouls). Later, a Yfelcorn foal erupts from the zombiecorn destroying it. This is how they breed.

Yfelcorn parts
Horn – crumbles into chalky ash upon death, makes hard to detect poison coveted by assassins.
Hide – makes a fire-resistant covering; but retains unpleasant garlic-mint smell.
Hooves – can store heat, releasing it again slowly. Can absorb 6D6 HPs of heat damage from fireballs, but have the same % chance of being destroyed.

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Me on DriveThruDriveThru; at the moment I’m mainly pimping my procedural adventure ‘Carapace‘ about a giant ant colony.

Ability Checks are you doing them wrong? | Dies, Dies, and Statistics

Is a D20 ability/skill test system better than a 3D6 test system?

and-mag-i14-thumb-150x150The full article on this (with numbers) can be found here:
& magazine #14 – Animal Companions
please see pages 29 to 35


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1988 Dungeon
Me on DriveThruDriveThru
At the moment I’m mainly pimping my procedural adventure ‘Carapace‘ about a giant ant colony
and my ‘1998 Dungeon‘.