Monday, July 25, 2016

Keeping Towns Weird

Every D&D town should have a couple of weird NPCs that use some sort of magic or super-science as part of their trade and daily routine. This is a True Fact and is not up for debate.

For the hexcrawl I’m running now, I was initially planning on writing up a couple of those weird NPCs and then assuming everything else in town was fairly normal (well, normal for a town of pseudo-Japanese dinosaur people anyway).

I was also only planning on including two settlements. With this default method, more settlements = more prep work.

Instead, I’m testing out this subroutine where I have a list of skilled trades that are represented in each of these towns, writing up some sort of weirdness for ALL of the trades I’m listing. Each NPC tradesman has a 1 in 6 (maybe 1 in 4 we’ll see) chance of being weird, rolled when the PCs first meet that NPC. Otherwise, their businesses operate pretty much how you’d expect. I’m sure there’s going to be plenty of trades I forget for now, so this list might grow. I’m intentionally leaving out food producers for the sake of my own sanity.

Between this method, the philosophy table (from which I can pretty effortlessly extrapolate the personality of the ruler and the laws of the town), and the events table (which, for me at least, tends to impact the game a lot more directly than a traditional rumor table, which is good), more settlements = more emergent complexity (another good thing) without any extra prep work at all (even better).

Also it occurs to me that if I was running a game in a borderland area between two (or more) dominant cultures, prepping one set of those three tables for each culture would be a really easy way to make sure they’re distinct from each other, while still baking enough variety into the towns themselves to keep them interesting. 


Slave Merchant- Possesses a gateway that leads to whatever location in the world is currently experiencing the most human(oid) suffering. She doesn’t like to go through it herself, but is always sending groups through, and there’s always plenty of citizens who could use the money. In my game, the continent is currently in 16th century Earth (nicknamed the General Crisis by historians), so the gateway could lead to pretty much any place I feel like.

Gunsmith- In addition to regular flintlock weapons and ammunition, produces exploding “dragon shot” bullets that explode on contact, doing an extra 2d8 damage in a 15’ radius. A critical failure would mean the bullet explodes inside the firearm instead, destroying the gun and hurting or killing the marksman. They also have a chance to explode if the person carrying them takes fire damage. Dragon shots can be used with slings, but don’t gain enough speed to explode on contact. I could see clever players setting something/someone on fire and then using these with a sling— in that case I would rule that they explode every time.

Blacksmith- His magic hammer, which allows him to work at a superhuman pace, has been stolen. He suspects his estranged brother, the master blacksmith in another settlement, of being behind the theft.

Gardener- Grows three varieties of lotus, each of which is a save-or-die poison when eaten but can be distilled into potions.
Tiger Lotus (black & orange): Hallucinogen that allows the drinker to see into the 4th dimension for 2 hrs, but forget most of it when they come down. The PC essentially sees their entire life laid out before them at once. Save vs magic to remember one useful thing from either the future or the past. The player gets to choose what it is but it must be something that their character could potentially learn or experience at some point in the future. This can be presented as a statement (there’s treasure buried under a tree in the town square) or a question (fuck you dm how do i open this stupid magic door). Since this information is remembered from the PC’s past or future perspective, it also has a 1 in 6 chance of being completely wrong.
Fire Lotus (red & yellow): X-ray vision that can’t be turned off for 4 hrs.
Midnight Lotus (black & purple): 150 lb telekinesis for 30 min.
She also sells these potions for 500 sp each.

Beekeeper- The honey produced by this beehive can be rubbed into open wounds to heal all HP damage the character has taken in the last day. Does not cause limbs or organs to grow back, just heals over the stump or eye socket or whatever. The patient also permanently gains 2 points in a random physical attribute (STR DEX CON) and loses 2 points in a random mental attribute (INT WIS CHA). No known alchemical process can reproduce these effects, even starting with the same unusual mixture of pollen the bees gather in this area. Always leaves badass scars.

Chandler- A holy man whose candles incorporate incense, dyes, and carved sigils to reproduce the effects of certain spells (beneficial first or second level divine spells) whenever they are lit. Users need to spend at least ten minutes holding the candle (the dripping wax hurts in a narrative sense but causes no actual HP damage) and meditating on the flame to receive the spell’s effects.

Silk Farmer- Whispers to his specially bred and trained silkworms, who follow his direction to weave their own silks into finished garments of the finest silk, dyed in impossibly intricate patterns. He cannot cast or even truly learn magic, but can direct the worms to weave spell effects directly into the fabric under a spellcaster’s close supervision.

Printer- In addition to the usual weekly propaganda rag, she can produce monoprint maps that change based on the viewer’s location like the GPS on your smartphone. They do not show secret areas unless it’s one of those deals where the door itself is obvious but the way to open it isn’t.

Fletcher- His arrows have been imbued with a sort of intelligence, and will change course to fly toward anyone whose name is written on their shafts. The name ritual must be performed by a magic user at the end of a ten minute ritual. Some of his arrowheads are specially forged to carry poison, but he keeps those in the back and doesn’t show them to customers he doesn’t trust.

Jeweler- His grandmother was a sorcerer of some power, who left him with a set of twelve iridescent luckstones. She also showed him how to turn them into jewelry that grants the wearer a +1 bonus to AC and all saving throws. Bonuses from multiple luckstones stack. He’s only made a few of these over the years despite many offers from would-be customers, and still has 5 of the luckstones left.

Beastmaster- Breeds, trains, and sells a (mostly) randomized dinosaur species. The animal’s size is tiny, it is about as intelligent as a human child, and can speak and even learn new languages.

Watchmaker- Has been experimenting with clockwork robotics. Could use the help of a magic user in researching artificial intelligence (treat as assisted spell research) and would offer that magic user a serious discount on these steampunk golems in the future. In addition, the grateful watchmaker would count any money spent by the magic user on this research towards the first purchase.

Glass Blower- Her elaborate, sculptural hookahs take advantage of hyperdimensional geometry and their compositions seem to change depending on the angle they’re being viewed from. Every time someone smokes stardust out of it, roll to see what happens to them. 

  1. PC becomes host to their own future self. The entity refuses to directly reveal secrets of the future to their hosts, but sometimes whispers hints to them about how best to deal with their immediate situation. Once per day, the host can try to commune with the entity. This has a 2 in 3 chance of one roll automatically achieving a critical success. The number of uses per day increases by one each time the host levels up without the entity being banished or dispelled in some way. Each use triggers a save vs. madness with advantage; failure means the entity has partially taken over and the host must save to avoid it taking over during any period of increased danger or stress (as defined by the dm). If it takes over, it decides to proactively kill the viewer’s allies, since it remembers them betraying it at some point in the viewer’s future.
  2. Mirror image, six images with no duration limit. These are alternate versions of the smoker pulled from adjacent realities, like the LotFP version of the spell. They’re usually annoyed about their predicament and they argue with each other and the PC a lot, but they have no choice but to follow until they all die horrible deaths one by one. The PC needs to make a wisdom save each time this happens or permanently lose one point of wisdom (because it’s driving the character slowly insane). If you’re using something like Arnold K’s insanities table you can have the player roll on that instead.
  3. The PC is physically transported to the upside down or the loud side of voivodja or carcosa or whatever for the duration of their high (4 hours). If the rest of the party wants to follow, each PC that takes a hit automatically gets this result. If anyone dies there, their bodies and possessions immediately return to wherever they were when they smoked.
  4. The PC gains the ability to sidestep between this and other possible worlds for the next hour, dragging their companions with them, but does not have complete control of the ability. Each time the PC decides to use the ability, they may change one thing about the world, but the DM also changes one thing, and doesn’t tell them what it is. Whatever version of reality the PCs wind up in at the end of the hour is where they’re stuck, i.e. all changes made by the high PC and the DM during this hour are permanent.

There are more I'd like to come up with something for but this is taking too long to write and you get the idea.


  1. That hookah's a reference to time-travelling bong, right?

    1. Sure, if you want it to be. This is the first I've heard of it, though.