The Dragon Hoard

This post is part of the Got Loot RPG Blog Festival. Make sure to check out the other posts under the banner of this festival!

The dragon’s hoard. The very image of a dragon’s hoard is sure to draw immediate visions grandeur to any fantasy gamer’s head. Think about it for a moment, what images came to your mind when you read the title of this post?

I remember as a kid thinking of that huge red dragon dwelling in some deep, dark cavern lit by the glow of dimming embers from some unknown source. The floor of the cavern mounded high with coins, a mound that rivaled the size of the small hill at the local park. Amidst the near uncountable coin pile were more treasures – portions of armor, shields, swords of unknown legend, rings, chests and don’t forget the gems of a dizzying array of colors.

These images of a dragon’s riches have been a staple of fantasy for a long time. Smaug from The Hobbit was the first dragon to conjure this image for me. Later reading of various D&D rulebooks and monster tomes further cemented this thought of great red dragons sitting atop piles of riches.

That was then, this is now

Of course as we gamers play the game longer some of the things that once held mystery and excitement become the mundane. After defeating the great red dragon its treasure hoard becomes simply a pile of game statistics. How many gold coins, how many silver coins? Then a series of detect magics for sorting the magical items from the non-magical items which is soon followed by a series of identify spells and spellcraft checks to figure out just how many pluses and special abilities does that glowing sword have.

Treasure becoming mundane is not just a problem with dragon hoards. It is just the prime example of if even the dragon’s hoard can become mundane, loot held by other creatures during the course of a gaming adventure has no chance.

In fact I have posted previously about this issue in my Putting the Magic Back article just a month ago. That article was a broader look at magic items becoming mundane, here we will be focusing in on the dragon’s hoard and bringing the magic and mystery back to it.

Turning it around

Where do we start as a GM? What can we do to put the wonder back into this hoard of treasure the heroes are going to get when they put an end to that evil red dragon living under the mountain?

First, as the GM you must embrace the wonderful opportunity you have to make this dragon hoard part of something much more! This is your chance to introduce plot hooks galore or simply offer ways to explore the history of your world.

The ordinary

Let’s take a look at the more predominant item in the dragon’s hoard – gold coins! Lots of them! This dragon has been the terror of this region of your world for many years, right? It will only make sense that the coins in this hoard will not be ones the party is used to seeing in day to day exchanges. There will be coins from ancient civilizations. Describe some of these coins to the party as they find them. Note unusual depictions, perhaps of great structures that no longer exist or that serve to make the characters curious. Some of the coins are likely to have the visage of great leaders, or perhaps dictators of years past. Use these coins to build depth to your world with its histories and tie-ins to your present time in your world.

The hoard is quite likely to also contain normal objects from a different era as well. Lanterns of an old style, masterwork leather backpacks with unusual cuts or design and other such items a dragon is bound to accumulate over the years. Take a little extra time to write some short descriptions for some of these items. The extra attention to detail here will help convey a sense of age to this hoard.

The magical

Any dragon hoard worth its merit will have a plethora of magical items. Take some time as a GM and give a few of these items some stories. Not every magical item needs such detail but use enough to spice up the hoard with flavor.

That bastard sword with the unusual carving in the hilt, how did it get there? Perhaps a hero that fell to the dragon’s breath many years ago? Maybe the sword has a hidden opening in the pommel to hold something of personal value to the original hero that carried it, or maybe the sword is an intelligent sword to be unlocked and recant past tales of the hero, tales that could lead this current set of characters on to other locations and treasures.

That Bag of Holding that you find in the hoard, certainly it isn’t empty. Perhaps it held the belongings of another fallen hero. Belongings that may be magical in nature, or maybe it holds a normal walking stick that has carvings from the travelers day on the road.

The near complete skeleton found at the edge of the treasure hoard, the one with singed leather armor and torn backpack. Inside that backpack is an incomplete letter back home, perhaps a letter talking of the final days leading up to this adventurer’s assault on the dragon’s lair that ended so direly for him. The current party can end up with a feeling of others who have fell to the dragon’s wrath and possibly be motivated to return these remains to the fallen’s family.

Bringing it together

I have made several suggestions on how to make the dragon’s hoard a little more mysterious and magical. The hoard can serve many roles to a GM willing to put some extra time into the details. These small details can serve as the spice to build verisimilitude in your world, to introduce other hooks for the characters and so many other things. In addition to providing the GM powerful tools to further the campaign, they can equally serve to make the dragon hoard mysterious and wondrous again!

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Review: Hero Lab Beginner Box

Developer: Lone Wolf Development
Price: Free
Tankard Rating: 5/5 

Lone Wolf Development, the makers of Hero Lab, released a free version of their character generation software for the Pathfinder Beginner Box. Being a current user of Hero Lab for main Pathfinder game I was anxious to download the tool for the Beginner Box and see how it looked. This was particularly good timing as I had run my first Beginner Box adventure last weekend for my son, which went very well.

Currently the software only runs on Windows 7, Vista or XP machines. A Mac version is slated for release early in 2012 for both the Beginner Box version and the main Pathfinder version. Luckily I still have a Windows box around and I downloaded the application from Lone Wolf’s site and installed it there.

The download and install were painless. I found it refreshing that Lone Wolf was not even making people provide email addresses and login information for their site. Just click the download link and off you go. The install went quickly and I was soon ready to start entering my son’s character into the software to see how it went.

First up after launching the software is a welcome screen prompting for whether you are a player in the game or the game master. Choosing game master unlocks a few more options in the software we will look at later. For now I chose player and entered my son’s character name – Dolgrim and his own name for Player name.

There is only one choice to make on this screen and there is a short paragraph on choosing one. Click the drop down and you can choose from Human, Dwarf or Elf. I went with Dwarf here and then clicked on to the Class tab.

Under class you get to choose from the classes included in the Beginner Box and the Player Option Pack download from Paizo. The choices are Barbarian, Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, and Wizard.  We went with Wizard as that is the character we had created last weekend.

Here is a look at the race and class selection screens.

Next up is the Ability Score screen. Here you are directed to follow the rules in the Beginner Box which use the 4d6 drop the lowest method. The option to use the built in dice roller is also noted. We had rolled our scores earlier so I put them in as we rolled them.

Moving on to the class tab, Wizard for us, though it will change title depending on what class you chose earlier in the process. Here we chose class specific items such as school of magic, populate the spell book and pick the spells prepared for the day. It was on this tab I discovered an error we had made last weekend and noted that we had shorted Dolgrim one spell from his spell book. Another reason I find Hero Lab a great tool! It always catches my careless mistakes!

We rolled through the next tabs pretty quickly. There is a dedicated tab for skills, feats, weapons, armor, and gear. Having chosen these this past weekend we just selected the items the character had. Painless. Dolgrim is also the proud owner of a new ring of protection +1 that he picked up on an adventure last weekend and we were easily able to add that magic item to the character sheet.

With the character created we could save it as a PDF or export a stat block which can be handy for online games and such. The PDF looks pretty good. They emulated the character sheet format the included sheets had in the Beginner Box minus some of the window dressing. The data is in very similar spots for people going between character sheets.

I tried out the interface from the GM’s side as well. Choosing the “I’m the Game master” option from the drop down brings you into this portion of the tool. It is nearly identical to the Player’s side except you get a few more options. One of the biggest is that you can choose monsters as a race. Even better you can add class levels to these monsters!

While in as a GM I also played a little with creating multiple troglodytes, adding a rogue level to one of them, and importing Dolgrim from the player portfolio I created earlier. This all worked quite well.

With multiple NPC critters and the heroes in the same portfolio I brought up the tactical console. With the tactical console a DM can use it as a combat board and also track hit points and such. You can also apply combat effects such as dazed, nauseated, and more to NPCs and characters on the tactical console to update their stats on the fly. A very powerful tool if you use (or want to use) electronic aids for play.

I am already a happy user of the full version of Hero Lab for Pathfinder, but this free release for the Beginner Box is an excellent addition to the line from Lone Wolf Development. It is an extremely easy to use character generator and the pairing with the Pathfinder Beginner Box makes a very strong combination. From the player perspective the tool provides a fast way to accurately create and level a character. With the journaling ability you can also track your gold and experience rewards from session to session.

As a GM, Hero Lab for the Beginner Box will ease your prep greatly and allow you to craft interesting creatures with class levels if you desire. Throw in the combat manager and ability to apply conditions on the fly and this can also be a very powerful tool at the table as well.

If you find yourself with the Pathfinder Beginner Box in your house this holiday season make sure to check out this free version of Hero Lab. I think you will be quite impressed with what it can do.

Tankard Rating: 5/5

Week In Review: 12/18/2011

The last week got away from me and I missed getting out a post here at The Iron Tavern. I have had several things keeping me busy and I will put some of the related ones up here for a week in review post!

Kingmaker Transition

My weekly gaming group just transitioned into Book Five of the Kingmaker Adventure Path. I always find blending the transition from one installment to another takes a bit more work in my game preparation. Without some additional preparation it seems a little rough going from one book to another. I am not sure why this is; it really shouldn’t be any different than any other transition in the campaign.

Our most recent session found them investigating some disgruntled pixies in the forest who had a rather unusual surprise for them, then to the Kingdom of Pitax to partake in a festival there, followed by an attack on their own kingdom by some unknown armies at this time. The session went well and it feels good to have the Kingmaker campaign back on track again!

Pathfinder Beginner Box

This week was also IronPup’s birthday. He received the Pathfinder Beginner Box for it and was quite excited to unwrap it. He spent this week writing up his character. He will be going with a Dwarven Wizard for the first session. He worked through most of it on his own and I sat down to help him get his information transferred to a character sheet yesterday. Later this afternoon we will be running through the first adventure in the set. He is looking forward to it. This initial session will be part of the actual play review I write up for The Iron Tavern.

Writing Contests Galore

It seems to be a busy time for writing contests! First we have Paizo’s RPG Superstar 2012. This is an annual contest that Paizo puts on and is probably the best chance an unknown freelancer has of getting noticed by Paizo. The number of entrants is rumored to be quite high and the bar for making the first cut of 32 is also quite high. I am entering the contest this year and hope to learn some things through the process by being more vested in it with an actual contest entry.

Today is also the last day of @Brainclouds‘ design a treasure vault contest. He has posted a blank treasure map with some interesting features to act as a blank canvas to design what is in that room. I have some ideas scrawled down on a print out of a map, I just need to get them written up and submitted by midnight tonight!

Basement Remodel (a.k.a. Game Room)

And finally I have been busy the past several weekends working on phase one of a basement remodel of which a portion will be used for a game room. I am not doing anything overly elaborate. First phase consists of painting the basement walls. I believe I finally have that portion wrapped up. Phase two is to clear out way too many years of computer equipment and parts along with other things accumulated over the years. Phase three will be putting up a wall to keep the utilities and storage side of the basement hidden away. Phase four will be to improve the lighting a bit to not be so industrial.

Once those phases are complete I will begin work on getting a portion of the basement ready for a gaming area. I see a decent table and comfortable chairs as must haves. I will also include an area for some easy access to minis and hang some small speakers for background music and easy sound effects. I am also planning on hanging a webcam to possibly open the door for streaming a video of the battle mat for remote players. We will see how that all works out!

Where the Week Went

That sums up where the following week went for me. With holidays approaching it is likely to be a busy next couple of weeks!

Beginner Box Anticipation

Anticipation? The Beginner Box has been out for well over a month you say?

Yes, I have a still shrink-wrapped, unopened Pathfinder Beginner Box on the top shelf of my closet. Why in the world do I have that? It is going to be a gift for IronPup’s rapidly approaching birthday next week. So far I have made all of my Will Saves to keep from peeling away the shrink-wrap and peering inside. This in spite of numerous blog postings, tweets and message board forums talking about how great the set is.

I will admit that I did take the money I saved by ordering from Amazon and picked up the PDF of the set from Paizo. But honestly, that’s just so I can be ready to run it when IronPup opens the set himself on his birthday! Well, that is the story I am sticking to!

That is why you have not seen a review or unboxing of the Beginner Box at the Iron Tavern yet, because it is sitting on the top shelf of my closet.

The Iron Tavern and the Beginner Box

I will be taking pictures of the set similar to my other unboxings here at The Iron Tavern. The caveat being that IronPup will be the one doing all of the opening initially. I hope to at least get some good shots of the pawns up, included battle mat and dice that come with it. That post will come pretty early after opening next week.

Even with the delayed opening I still plan on reviewing it once it has been opened. To help make up for the late review I will be holding off on reviewing until after we have had a chance to play it, then I can justify the later review with an actual play review! Not only will it be an actual play review, but it will also be one with a youth. He has some Pathfinder experience already, but through my own trimming down of the rules. I think with the Beginner Box he will be able to read and verify the rules himself and possibly build his own adventures to run me through as well.

So keep an eye on The Iron Tavern for these upcoming posts coming in the next couple of weeks. If there is anything in particular you want to know about feel free to drop a comment here and I will try to include it in the unboxing or actual play review.

Beginner Box Campaign

I also have plans as to how I will be using the Beginner Box with IronPup once he opens it. We will certainly start with the first solo adventure at the beginning of the Player’s Guide to start.

One IronPup finishes that we will roll into character creation for a character we will embark on a longer term campaign with. We’ll start with the introductory adventure and then the freely downloadable one form the Paizo site. If he is happy with his character we will probably get some friends together and start off a mini-campaign with The Crypt of the Everflame. I am hoping to get a few friends together, possibly over Skype and play a few hours on the weekend every other week.

If all goes well with that then we’ll add in Masks of the Living God and  City of Golden Death to round out the mini-campaign arc.  Where we go from there is undecided. A lot will depend on how much IronPup seems to enjoy the game and how he wants to proceed. I am looking forward to seeing how it plays out!

Your Beginner Box Plans

Now you know my plans for the Beginner Box, both for The Iron Tavern and games I plan to run with it. How have your experiences with the Beginner Box been? Anyone else planning on running a campaign with the Beginner Box and use it for more than just an intro to Pathfinder?

Kingmaker: The Exploration Blues

My gaming group is three sessions back from our Kingmaker hiatus I mentioned in a previous post. We have had a good start back and will be starting in on part five, War of the River Kings, of the six part Adventure Path next session. We came back from hiatus with part four of the AP, Blood for Blood, though we were already halfway through that module when we came back from the hiatus. The fact that it took three sessions to wrap up what was essentially the bulk of the exploring in that installment is the topic of this post!

We have really enjoyed the Kingmaker campaign so far. The sandbox nature of the adventure path, while trickier to GM, allows plenty of room for a GM and players to make the campaign their own. Kingdom building has been quite entertaining and it has been fun to watch the kingdom grow over the many months.

Exploration Blues

The part that I find most difficult as a GM running the adventure path is the monotony of the exploration. Exploration and the quests associated with the exploration was fun for the first two books of the adventure path. It was pretty easy to come up with varied terrain descriptions and travel. The early quests were enjoyable and provided some of the early interaction with the locals before the characters were more of a driving force.

From book three, The Varnhold Vanishing, on though it has felt like a real slowdown to me as the GM. By this point in the Kingmaker campaign I had a harder time making the descriptions of terrain and travel entertaining enough. I tried of course, but after two books worth of travel and exploration of hexes this task began to feel monotonous.

I have also found it harder to get the quests properly introduced without it feeling like a laundry list of tasks. With the kingdom growing and more interactions from the characters with their neighbors the action within the adventure path by book three was steady enough that quest introductions felt shoehorned in.

And finally, it seems that several of the quests are a much better fit for adventurers hired by the rulers of the kingdom, not the rulers themselves. Giving some of the quests out just seems silly sometimes given who the characters are within the scope of the kingdom.

What to do?

Admittedly given the exploration necessity in Kingmaker to grow the kingdom it can be difficult to handle this. The need for exploration in the campaign means we cannot drop it completely from the adventure path.

I felt exploration worked well in the first two installments of the adventure path. As noted above the adventure path was fresh, it was easier to come up with unique terrain, weather and travel descriptions and the quests helped introduce the characters to the locals.

Moving past the first two installments of the adventure path I think the number of quests given should be dropped significantly. The quests that are left should be ones that the rulers of the kingdom would have real motivation to pursue. Additionally tying some of the quests together with a related thread between them could help make them more interesting.

GM prep can certainly help some with the exploration monotony by having terrain descriptions and such at the ready. This becomes a touch burdensome after time though as I can only think of so many ways to describe a grasslands and such. Several of the hexes with encounters do have some terrain description included which helps to a degree.

In my own group I have even suggested that we could bypass some of the exploration and focus on the meat of the campaign more if they wanted to hire some adventurers to take care of the work for them. They voted this idea down, rather unanimously. So maybe I am doing a better job at running the exploration than I give myself credit for!

Take Away

Kingmaker has been a great campaign so far. The group is enjoying it and I have been fun running it. This post has focused on exploration being one of the parts of the Kingmaker adventure path that I have found more difficult to run.

Despite this complaint the adventure path of a whole is a very fun one. It gives the GM plenty of room to work in as well as the players. It takes a bit more work to run because of the sandbox nature, but the rewards are there.

How are other people’s Kingmaker campaigns going? Have you had more success or ease at running the exploration bits than I have?