15 Kinds of Camouflage

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #443

15 Kinds of Camouflage

From Ian Winterbottom

There was a song once, “Camouflage,” which had the refrain, “Things are never quite the way they seem.”

It struck me then and still does now that there was the germ of some good hooks and stories there. To this end, I started methodically going through the reasons why camouflage or its effects might happen, either by accident or design.

Firstly, if by accident, why has it occurred? If by design, is it with ill intent toward the players, or whomever has come across it? Is the reason for it intelligent, or simply hungry? Is the idea as bait, or self-protection?

Secondly, how is it done? Optically, simply clouding the sight, or with more detail?

And lastly, who or what might actually be causing it?

Illusion

The most obvious one: illusion of some kind. How strong or powerful is it? Is it meant as bait to tempt the unwary within reach – in which case it is quite possible for it to be too good to be true.

Is the creature causing it afraid to show its true self for fear of the party, or is it biding its time until it can strike from behind or at an opportune moment?

Is the illusion or magic of its own making? Is it, say, an ogre mage concealing itself under cloak of illusion while awaiting its ideal moment?

Or is it perhaps masquerading as something else, even involuntarily polymorphed? Will a simple Dispel Magic loose Hell on wheels?

Mirror Image

Another kind of illusion, the mirror image. Either a spell producing more than one of whatever it is, or two seemingly identical things or creatures, which will seem like one being to the PCs.

I once used the Black and White Brothers, identical twins who were complete opposites in temperament. One was as evil as the other was good, and both were unwilling to confess to the existence of the other.

It made for some knockout situations as the confused players wondered whether or not to trust this “person,” while the good one tried to help them and the bad one ripped them off and even tried to lead them into a trap.

Right at the end someone put two and two together and noticed a tiny birthmark was on the left rather than the right. The two brothers ended up fighting it out on a high ledge.

Another version of the same type of thing was when the players were trying to smuggle the true heir to the throne into the palace, to replace his usurping twin brother. They got separated and found the twins battling in the throne room, and were at a loss to decide which one they should disarm. Then someone realized that the shoes of one were wet – he was the one who had just entered with them from outside!

Charm and Polymorph

Is there some other magical effect, such as a charmed monster, seemingly friendly to the players until some sort of condition is met? That might be the subtlest illusion of all simply because it isn’t an illusion!

A (comparatively) simple polymorph spell can cover a lot of ground. The next monster can be a camouflaged or polymorphed ally. Is what seeming like an ordinary rat or imp a wizard’s familiar?

4. Geas

Is the person under a geas or some other compulsion? This could be to guard or protect someone, something or some place, or to avoid a specific thing. They might want the exact opposite, but be forced along a certain path because of the geas.

Read some Irish myth if you want to get a feel for traditional kinds of geas.

Petrification

Either a monster such as a Medusa, or more magic. What if a statue or model were the real thing?

Or just seemed likely to be – while the party are preparing for the statue to animate, something else could be creeping up on them!

Hiding Spots

Speaking of creeping, where is it creeping from? There are all sorts of places something can hide. One top favorite is above. In the shadows of a roof, or perhaps clinging unseen to the ceiling while awaiting a chance to drop on prey.

Does it have the power of flight? That’s a good way to beef up your small monsters; give them wings and/or bows.

Phobia

A seemingly fearless character might have a hidden flaw. If he has a terror of snakes, spiders or the like, his courage will fail when confronted by them. What, if anything, might trigger his terror?

Mania

Specifically, something like kleptomania; manias can bring out a different side of someone who appears to be straightforward. What if the person concerned were not even aware of their thievish tendencies?

Lycanthropy

A were creature of some kind is a classic choice. It might be a reluctant one, fighting back the urge to kill as much as possible, or it could be a hidden villain, lurking in the body of a seemingly harmless villager until it is time to strike.

Curses

A curse of some description, placed on the character by a wizard he once offended, or something else of that sort.

When the condition of the curse is met, he or she will suffer its consequences. Berserk madness, physical transformation, or any of hundreds of banes ranging from inconvenient to fatal.

Dupes and Double-crosses

The innocent dupe; the person who thinks he or she is doing good, but finds out too late (or just in time) that someone was lying, and they are actually serving the cause of evil.

Or its exact opposite, Machiavelli; the minion with his own agenda, who may be seemingly serving the aims of the party and/or their patron, all the while waiting for the right moment to strike.

Friendly Fire

The overzealous good guy; say, a magic-hating priest who refuses to countenance the use or even the presence of magic, but is in a position to block vital strategies?

Undeath

Covers a multitude of sins; the voluptuous Egyptian woman in a veil is revealed to be the powerful lich-like mummy queen!

Or the vampire, possibly a reluctant one who might be desperate for the players to bring an end to his everlasting torment.

Treachery

The party’s patron could be undead or a traitor, or in their pay. Is he secretly siccing you onto his own personal adversary, or aiming you at a powerful ally, expecting you to fail with deadly results?

Secrets

Either a PC or an NPC has some secret in his deep, dark past that renders him subject to threat or blackmail. Perhaps in his youth he had a sweetheart, possibly even a child, and someone has found out who and where she is?

The enemy might not be able to get to you, but they know enough to reach someone else.

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A Brief Word from Hannah

Wolfsbane and Mistletoe

A few days ago I picked up Wolfsbane and Mistletoe, a compilation of werewolf Christmas stories. That’s right: all about werewolves, and all taking place at Christmas. It’s kind of a niche topic, and you’d think it would wear thin over the course of a dozen or so short stories.

But not so – each author has their own spin on both the holiday and the species. There are a variety of origin stories given for werewolves; some connected to the season, others not. It got me thinking about the ways in which DMs can put their own stamp on fantasy tropes in their game worlds.

Do regular dogs like werewolves, or hate them? I can’t recall it being addressed anywhere in myth, and the different answers the authors give to that question lead to very different places. How did lycanthropy come to be connected with the full moon? There are as many reasons as there are stories, and all of them put a subtle spin on the idea of what being a werewolf is all about.

If you like lycanthropes or holidays, or just need something to read that’s more uplifting than it is dark, I’d recommend checking the book out.

Wolfsbane and Mistletoe

Some Random Bits

Here are a few gaming-related things on my mind at the moment:

* I’ve realized that, without a thermometer, I can only be partially sure whether or not I have a fever. Can a PC really tell instantly that he’s taking 5 ongoing Poison damage? And what would be the ramifications if he couldn’t?

  • Some horses are friendly, but some just don’t like you. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a party member purchase a mount, only to have the DM roll that said mount will attempt to land them in the dirt at every opportunity. Hilarious realism, or just mean?
  • Come to think of it, I’ve yet to see a PC that wasn’t especially good with animals of all kinds. The adventuring gene is connected to the animal-lover gene? Not to mention the “allergy-free” gene.
  • Things besides allergies that rarely happen to PCs: inability to hold their liquor, poor memory, insomnia, other garden-variety mental illnesses (schizophrenia is plenty common; ADD, not so much), chronic injuries. Don’t give me the “that’s because they’re heroes” spiel; the next time you roll a low Con or make a character with lousy Int, think outside the box.
  • Something for modern games: Jewish werewolves. Christian ones only have the full moon fall on Christmas every once in a while, but Jewish holidays are on the lunar calendar. How do you manage to hide that from your family? Do they have their own synagogues?
  • What if it’s cloudy on the night of the Magical Apocalypse-Inducing Eclipse? How do the villains know when to start the ritual? Does it not count?

The One Page Dungeon Creation Contest

Chatty GM and the Old Guy RPG Blog are holding a contest with a ton of prizes. The idea of the contest is to create a dungeon level using their template. Judges will be looking at such criteria as most evocative setting, funniest entry, most creative use of a trap, and more.

The contest sounds like a lot of fun! It ends May 14th. Visit Chatty GM’s site for details: http://chattydm.net/2009/04/14/new-grand-contest-the-one-page-dungeon/

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For Your Game: 9 Burial Customs

From Valadaar

Digging more into my setting, World of Neyathis, I was thinking about the various cultures that would populate it – I have only barely touched upon most of them so far. One of the questions I think has many applications for roleplaying as well as how the culture thinks is, how do they dispose of their dead? Think of the Egyptians and the value of describing this area is immediately shown.

There is no need to choose one custom – you can mix and match and combine many of the following to produce unique customs for your race or culture.

Embalming

Careful preservation of the dead has been practiced by many real-world cultures; perhaps the most famous are the Egyptian mummies. Generally, this involves chemical treatment of the corpse. Some of these dead have been known to arise as Bandage Beasts, much to the dismay of tomb robbers.

Clay coating

The corpse is coated by a thick layer of clay. It is not typically fired, as the corpse would cause the clay to break, so it is left soft. The clay figure may then be painted to resemble the deceased in life.

Some cultures may choose to skeletonize the corpse first and then built the deceased back up with clay. In this case, the final product is much closer to the deceased in size and so may be outfitted with the deceased’s clothing.

Freezing

Those cultures closer to arctic regions or with availability of cold-inducing magics may preserve their dead by freezing.

The Melashar people, a mountain-dwelling race living close to great glaciers, have built massive ice domes where they incorporate their dead into the icy walls, each posed peacefully with their hands crossed on the chest. Occasionally, priests will converse by magic with these frozen dead.

Asphalt coating

Similar to clay coating, this substance can be an even better preservative. In Locastus, City of Mirrors, they use asphalt to coat their dead as part of the process of creating Deaders.

Pickling

Alcohol, honey and other substances can be used to preserve the dead in large vessels – perhaps glass or pottery. In later times, perhaps the alcohol might be used by grave robbers for other purposes.

Some sources indicate that Alexander the Great’s corpse was preserved in honey for its journey home. This would make a sweet treat for a ghoul!

Similarly, grave robbers in Egypt were said to have found a cask of honey in a tomb, apparently still edible. After helping themselves to the rich treat, they then found hair in the jar, still attached to someone.

Drying

Perhaps the simplest means of preservation, this is common in desert regions. This can happen naturally, possibly creating The Parched. Large quantities of salt or other chemical desiccants can also be used to dehydrate the corpse, allowing for long term preservation.

Cremation

A common method of disposal of the dead; the body is burned. Some cultures will also dispose of grave goods in the fire. An excellent example of this is the Viking longboat funeral. With access to magic, the cremation could be accomplished via spells of power.

Disintegration might be a culture’s method of keeping the nobility, at least, from experiencing the indignity of rotting. This is also an ideal method of preventing corpses from rising as corporeal undead, but can sometimes allow for other forms of undead to arise, such as the Urn Beast.

Other cultures with access to volcanic areas may cast their dead to be consumed by lava. Often, the ashes, or a sample thereof, are retained and placed in various containers.

Fed to the Power

The deceased is provided as food to some powerful flesh-eating entity.

The Maletanalu tribe of the Hanaset provide the bodies of their dead (or other undesirables, for that matter) to their crocodile totem Malitazum one-eyed. Similarly, pigs such as the Yird-Swine may be used to keep the quantities of dead on hand to a limited level.

Sometimes, lesser beasts may be retained and cultivated just for this purpose. Some cultures use pits filled with Swarm Snakes or other similar creatures for corpse disposal.

Dissolved in acid

More common as a means of disposing of murder victims, societies that live near large sources of acid, such as the Acid Lakes of Neuapar, make use of these to dispose of their dead.

Want more? 30+ Burial Customs

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Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Do you have a game mastering tip to share? Perhaps related to something you read in this issue? Or a tip on how to game master better, be more organized, plan better, improve roleplaying, run fun combats, or be a better storyteller?

E-mail your tips to [email protected] – thanks for sharing!

Ogre Surprise

From Mike Evans

re: RPT#18: 10 Ways To Make Your Ogres More Intimidating

I was reading through some of your old Roleplaying Tips and came across issue #18, which is about making ogres smarter.

One of the things I did was make the ogres have clubs, bows and arrows so the characters would underestimate them. After all, the PCs were all using metal weapons and powerful armor. That’s when the ogres tossed sacks near the players and out skittered several rust monsters. You wanna talk about fear and panic….

Watch characters trying to flee as they are getting the stuffing beaten out of them by laughing ogres, and they are watching their beloved magical and masterwork weapons and armor disintegrate right before their eyes.

Create Your Own Deck of Rewards Cards

From Frank Carini Jr.

Hey Johnn,

I have been a loyal reader of your newsletters since around issue 19 (of course I went back and read the first 18!). This is my first time submitting a letter, I hope it’s useful. Each gaming session I try to reward my players when they put forth extra effort, such as keeping notes, making maps, not breaking character for long periods of time (including PC interactions with each other), or attempting to use the PC’s skills in unique, useful ways (not just the typical min-max skills required for survival).

Usually, I reward them with extra experience points, but sometimes I vary it with random loot, money, special encounters (friendly, hostile, or other), or helpful events. My players like to know they had a hand in shaping their own fortune, so I devised a way to let them choose their own reward, while allowing it to stay slightly random (prevents them from always expecting generous returns or feeling slighted).

I use a deck of cards and assign each suit a theme. Sometimes I separate the deck into the different piles, and mark each theme. For example, one pile will be marked Experience Points, and will be the diamond suit. On a sheet of paper, behind my GM screen, I have the values of the draw listed.

A more involved method requires multiple lists that utilize the entire deck for a single theme. If one player wishes to draw for experience points, I let them draw a single card at random from the entire deck (52 cards) and reward them accordingly. If the players are allowed to draw from a different theme, the next player might wish to be rewarded with some random loot. Using the same deck, I just refer to a different list to see what he will be rewarded with.

This also allows for new side quests, plot rewards, or storylines to be developed to explain the reason for the acquisition. Some rewards are held back for a short time until it is appropriate to introduce it into the campaign.

As a side note, if you are looking to be diabolical, you can introduce obstacles or detriments into the draw piles. I just caution using this tactic when rewarding the players for good participation. It’s no fun having your reward be a poisoned potion. In turn, if the players want to search through an ogre’s lair for some nifty loot, you can allow the players to draw several cards from the top of the pile (which might include some nasty surprises or useless items mixed in with the pretty shiny ones!).

I found this to be a fast, effective method of awarding my players some bonuses with some added tension in the mix.

What Happens When the Blight Ends? Here Are Some Ideas

From Joel Fox

I saw the reader request in the latest issue (Reader Request: Rousing Passive Players, from Mike) and thought I would reply.

I read this reader request and a number of ideas popped into my head. I think one of Mike’s adventure seeds (the heir to Breland) touches on one of the biggest societal impacts this renewal would have. After such an extended period of terror and chaos amongst civilized races, the sudden removal of the Blight would create a sizable vacuum not only in the royal court, but among other social circles as well.

  • Adventuring organizations, orders of knights, monster slayers, and other such ‘forces of good’ that once worked in concert to repel the encroaching darkness are now in a pickle. With the number of monsters dwindling with each passing day, these groups might experience a sort of recession, in that there isn’t enough work to go around.

They might argue over who has rightful claim to remaining peacekeeping duties, or change tactics to survive (an order of knights becomes mercenaries, an adventuring guild becomes a thieves guild, etc.). Worse yet, they might fight amongst themselves and be too preoccupied with their squabbles to actually perform their duties (once orderly streets are rife with crime, monsters reach the city on a daily basis, and so on). The party might have to do their jobs for them in the interim before a reasonable settlement comes about, or act as arbitrators for various organizations — no easy feat if they themselves are members, and a group’s recent actions warrant ‘decisive action.’

  • The biggest vacuum, of course, is that of evil in the world. Criminal organizations might be recruiting (as Mike theorized) because they are expanding to fill the void left by monsters. Humans who worked in concert with monsters or were apologists are hunted down with extreme prejudice, leading to a witch hunt. Monsters, who before were unrivaled but now imperiled, might change tactics as well, going from outright oppressors to joining criminal organizations themselves. When the party’s favorite haunts are threatened by organized crime, their old allies either recruited or murdered in their beds, and — gods forbid – the prices of their equipment doubled since caravans are getting raided more often, they’ll spring into action.
  • On the other side of the coin are groups that suffered during the Blight and now thrive: magicians, priests, and other magic-users that were weakened during the chaotic times before. Now that they are back at full strength again, they might preach more draconic measures for preventing another Blight from coming about: magic illegal to non- members of a wizardly order, certain religions of questionable morality outlawed entirely, and such.

Even more drastic measures, such as attempting a coup to establish a magocracy – so that if the Blight does return, the wizards will have the resources to end it quickly – aren’t unthinkable. An army of zealous wizards and clerics marching down the street would draw the attention of any unmotivated PC.

More than these three social circles would be affected by such a world-changing event. How would the druids react to their Blighted lands growing fertile once again? How do the various races and nations react to a major force of evil being vanquished? Think Return of the King: how would people have reacted after Sauron was slain, his armies scattered? Then apply these reactions to things the PCs care about, take for granted, or haven’t thought of. Mike, I hope you can rouse them from their laziness!