Monday, June 19, 2017

Eigengrau

"I will tell you a secret. Sit in your cell, Disciple, and observe the night sky through your lone window. Note the brightness of the stars, and the darkness of the void beyond. Now close the window, extinguish your lamp, let no light touch you.  Behold, the darkness is not quite dark; the night sky was darker than the lightlessness you see. Subtle and dubious is the difference, but full darkness is not full darkness at all. From whence does this not-light come? I tell you, Disciple, the light you see is no worldly light; look into absolute dark, and the light you see is your own self."

- From The Fivefold Discipline of Aldonis of Evandra, "The Weaver of Five Strands"

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Death and Dying

I want to talk about what happens when player characters die in a tabletop RPG.

I am of the generation(s) that have grown up with videogames, as are many of those who play tabletop RPGs. Player death is a common occurrence in videogames; you take too much damage, you make a misstep, you are in the wrong place at the wrong time - you die.
And then you resume. Either at the start of the level, or at the last checkpoint, or (very rarely) from the very beginning of the game. But it is rare that more than ten minutes of play time is lost in a death.

Tabletop RPGs are built around some very different assumptions. One of these is the synchronicity of the worlds of the PCs - if a PC dies, he/she is also dead in the worlds of the other PCs. There is no savepoint - the shared story carries on. (Or simply ends there.) This can be a difficult paradigm to adapt to if one is used to the cheap, reversible deaths of (most) videogames.

Different players react differently to the death of their character.
Some, those who engage deeply with the rules and systematics of a game, stoically accept it, so long as the death was fair and by-the-book. They live and die by the rules they agree to play under.
Some, those who engage deeply with the plot and story-making of a game, are content or even delighted for their character to die in a meaningful way at a meaningful moment - in some great struggle or tragic betrayal, say - because of the emotional punch something like a death adds to a story.
Some, those who constantly seek more powerful abilities and items, those who play the game "to win," are devastated or even aggravated by a character death. It represents a loss of invested time, a setback that will take weeks or months or years of play to recoup.

I am not criticizing any of these reactions. I share aspects of all three of them. I merely seek to illustrate that character death is not fun for everyone.

The question then becomes why we play (or create) games that let characters die. Let's talk about that.

There are several reasons that come to mind, but I think most can simply be reduced into one principle: the specter (and even coming) of character death promotes and deepens player engagement.
1) It encourages careful play that engages with the rules.
2) It encourages verisimilitude (players don't risk their characters in situations that the characters wouldn't themselves risk).
3) It provides tension and drama (not unlike that which fuels a casino gambler).
4) It provides moments of emotional depth when a beloved character dies.

I LIKE promoting player engagement.
But I also recognize that many players have a hard time dealing with the death of a character.
So I'll tell you what I do, as a DM, to accommodate both these factors.
1) I provide risks other than death.
Death shouldn't be the only risk a character faces. Wounds, financial loss, curses, mental illness, connections... there are other ways to make a character (and by extension, a player) feel risk. Use those.
2) I make death a real risk.
Cushy systems that give players mountains of hitpoints and myriad failsafes like resurrection spells keep death in their rules to no purpose. There is no point in making character death a possibility if it is unlikely, painless, and reversible. If you're going to have character death be possible in your game, get your mileage out of it. Use it. Make it a threat. Make it painful. It's doing its job.
3) Give the player the final say.
I have a secret. It is not me that determines whether a character lives or dies. It is not even the dice. It is the player.
I currently run a hacked 5E game, wherein a dying player makes one (not three) death save (with the DC determined by the amount of leftover damage after the PC is reduced to zero hitpoints). I tell the player to come roll behind my screen, And I whisper to them that no matter what the dice say, they decide whether their character survives or not. And they roll. And they look me in the eye. And they tell me whether their character is alive or dead. (I got this idea from The Angry GM. This article. It is worth reading on this subject, if you want something longer and more in-depth. And better. XP )
This allows the kind of player whose day would be ruined by a character death to, well, not have their day ruined. But it preserves the bite of death for those who want to go by the hard-and-fast rules. And it allows story-oriented players to decide the life or death of their character based on the implications for the plot.
I have only had two players, so far, put in the position where they're holding their d20 behind my screen, about to decide whether their character lived or died.
Both players rolled a death. I asked them what happens to their character:
Both players told me their character dies.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Cavern

Can we talk about how this sounds exactly like how a megadungeon crawl should feel?

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Two Questions

Beneath Ieris, the City of Spires, coils the infamous Darkweb, the prisons and dungeons of the Ieran branch of the Church of the Hundred Saints. Its interrogators have a most curious practice, which they call the Two Questions (though few know of this practice, and even fewer of its name). A recalcitrant prisoner is strapped to a table, and asked a question. A crowbar is kept handy and applied to the upper extremities of the prisoner if no answer is obtained (in order to "pry" one forth?). Once it is, the crowbar is brought down upon one of the prisoner's lower legs, and the resulting breakage examined in faith that the Father provides his insight through the wound. If the tibia is shattered, the interrogators know that the prisoner's answer was truth, while if the fibula is broken, the prisoner told a lie (or a "fib," if you will, from whence the term derives). By now it is, of course, evident why the practice is known as the Two Questions: most prisoners have only two legs - though, indeed, it is rare that more than two questions are needed for the Church's purposes. It is thought that the interrogators have grown very skilled indeed on exactly how the crowbar's force is applied and which bone breaks, though to say so to any interrogator or ecclesiast is to invite accusations of faithlessness (and perhaps worse).

- From the writings of Erbius the Lorekeeper, Magus of the Fifth Order

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Cleric Ecology

See, when I think of a priest, I think of the dude in vestments down the road at St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church, not some screaming dude in mail with a mace in hand and holy fire burning on his brow. The Reverend Richard W. Blazejewski in town doesn't dive into dungeons, lead hunting parties against predatory dragons, banish embodied demons by use of a blessed warhammer, or call down curses upon his foes (...probably).

Yet, in games like Dungeons & Dragons, that is exactly what "clerics" do.
(At least, that is how they are portrayed. I've already wrote some on what a cleric "really is.")

Now, I could rant about this discrepancy in two ways. I could say "NO, that's not how things work, really a cleric should be like THIS" and some people might find it interesting and maybe I would have some good thoughts. OR, I could say "okay, now that's not what I think of a priest as being - so what kind of world would make priests like THAT?"

I'm going to do the second one because it sounds like more fun.

So, what weird things do I notice in clerics in traditional RPGs?

1) They're SPECIAL. They get supernatural powers and privileges from their divinity. They have been CHOSEN. Strangely enough, though, after giving their follower all these souped-up magic powers, these divines seem to care very little what the cleric actually DOES with them.
1a) So, I conclude, any divinity with a lot of clerics must have very little headroom of their own with which to decide how to exercise their power, and so must outsource that brainspace to "devoted" followers. Deities in D&D (& Friends of similar ilk) have a lot of magical might but not a very good field of view or attention span. Just as if some random human (with a LOT of power) were trying to run WORLDS and keep track of it all - and decided to share some of that power with OTHER humans who could keep an eye of areas and concerns the "divine" was unable to pay attention to with any regularity. In short, clerics teach us that deities are not so very divine (except, perhaps, in the raw magnitude of their power.)
(Some may here protest that no, actually what is happening is that the cleric prays to an all-seeing deity who then sees fit to reward the cleric's faith with a miracle, but I don't buy that explanation because 1) there would be no reason to have the cleric in the first place, and 2) a cleric's god would seem to be REALLY chill about performing massive acts of wonder in a lot of situations they don't have any stake in, in which the cleric is just pursuing personal goals and just using divine power as a resource to their own ends.)

2) They're EVERYWHERE. Clerics everywhere. Like, they're one of the four traditional core classes, right alongside "people who use magic," "people who steal stuff," and "people who kill things by hitting them." Clerics in every village, clerics in every temple. (Clerics in nearly every adventuring party, it seems.)
2a) So, I conclude, the divines must be REALLY comfortable with all these humans and elves and such running around with their power. Like, they hand out literal godly power like it were candy. You just have to spend a couple years hanging out with the right people and BAM you can do miracles, you and the fifty other people at THIS ONE TEMPLE.
2b) I also conclude the divines REALLY WANT SOMETHING DONE. Whether they want their followers healed or their enemies confounded or monsters slain, they're throwing A LOT of resources around here on the prime planes. (That, or they're just really bored and they want to see what fireworks happen when they give a ton of unreliable little turds access to sparks of the divine. I personally suspect this last option, haha.)

3) They're of ALL KINDS. Not the clerics themselves, necessarily, but they follow all kinds of gods. Gods of war and peace, love and hate, life and death, toads and eagles, greed and poverty, light and dark, goats and snakes, oaths and lies, sun and stone, bears and beetles, fire and water, knowledge and secrets. And all these clerics have legitimate clerical powers, which at least IMPLIES that they worship bona-fide deities.
3a) So, I conclude that there are a TON of deities up there, many of which disagree vehemently with the basic nature of tons of OTHER deities, granting tremendous destructive power to all kinds of followers.
3b) ...Which seems like we have an answer to our question in 2b: the gods are tooth-and-nail AT WAR with each other; sun clerics are expected to strike down underworld creatures, truth clerics are expected to expose and destroy lies (and liars), goat clerics are expected to... screw stuff and eat stuff? ANYWAY, don't think of clerics as passive repositories of power. Think of them as soldiers in a cosmic battlefield. (Better: not soldiers, LANDMINES, blowing stuff up indiscriminately and undirectedly.)


So, next time you're playing a cleric, think a bit more about what that means. Does your deity approve of your use of its power? Does it even know? Does it even CARE?
(And, GMs, ask the same questions for deities in your setting!)

Friday, May 5, 2017

Downtime (WotC Unearthed Arcana)

Earlier this month, Wizards of the Coast put out optional rules for downtime in 5th Edition (accessible here).

Overall, what I saw was encouraging.

It's good to see WotC thinking in terms of a long-form campaign, and what players are doing between adventures. Specific downtime activities I was happy to see include: rules for crafting items of all kinds (and particularly magic items or spell scrolls), rules for training language or tool proficiencies, rules for research of lore regarding foes or locations, and rules for buying and selling magic items.

It was kinda janky to see activities like criminal heists and pit fighting included among downtime activities. They seem more like mini-adventures in and of themselves, to me. The only way I can think to justify it is to say that they're presented in this compressed, abstract format so that one player doesn't take a lot of time away from the party by going out on a mini-adventure of their own while everyone waits for them to finish - which makes sense, I suppose.

The suggestion regarding "foils" (basically villains by another name?) also seemed really out-of-place, especially given that they were given spatial priority in the document. All it really ended up saying is that "yeah, sometimes opponents of the party will be up to stuff while the players are on downtime, too." (I don't think it should take three full letter-size pages to say that.)

I would've liked to see rules regarding more domain-style play, like creating and running factions or building and maintaining manors/castles/towers and their demesnes. (Perhaps that would be another Unearthed Arcana in and of itself, though - which I would be cool with.)

I'm currently running a (heavily-hacked) 5E game, and these rules are fairly lightweight and easy to bolt on without much meddling - and my campaign utilizes downtime. I think I will take advantage of these.

Overall: 3.5/5

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Session 0

Session 0 is my favorite name for that special opening game session where no actual play takes place, but rather players sit about with furrowed brows, either painstakingly building their character or looking bored while waiting for others to finish. There are occasional outpourings of excitement (players gushing details from their character's "deep backstory" or the DM spouting tidbits about their "custom setting"), but on the whole it is the least engaging session of the coming campaign.

I don't aim to change that. It is, perhaps, the way it must be. But, I DO aim to make sure Session 0 isn't a waste of time, that it gives a solid foundation necessary for a successful long-term campaign. 

Here's what I do.

0) Have the Players Read the Relevant Rules
This is labeled "0)" because it is the step BEFORE Session 0.
Players need to know the basic rules of the system you're using.
Don't make them read every little submechanic, and CERTAINLY don't ask them to read up on the various character build options - but they should know how stuff like fighting and magic work.
This will, ideally, save a LOT of time you'd otherwise spend repeatedly explaining basic rules to puzzled players trying to build their characters.
Not all your players will read the rules. This is not the end of the world. Still, ASK THEM TO.
Not all your players will remember the rules they read. This is fine. Still, REMIND THEM to try looking rules up before asking you.

1) Explain the Campaign Premise
Every campaign has a premise.
Every one.
Even if it's just "yeah, you guys are a band of pseudo-medieval fantasy types who got lost in the woods and find themselves in a strange place. It's got lotsa fairies and trolls. You need to figure out how to get back to where you came from - and I doubt the trolls are feeling helpful."
So, you need to LAY OUT what the players can generally expect from the campaign - both in terms of setting (likely allies and enemies, character options, tech level) and tone (mood, flavor), since these may be important for players to account for in step 2).
OBVIOUSLY keep any mysteries or plot twists to yourself. BUT you don't want players showing up to a police drama/horror campaign set in a remote area of Alaska with a character who reads like a gay ex-SEALS Arnold Schwarzenegger.
^ That literally HAS HAPPENED to a friend of mine - while DMing his first session :(
Sometimes, the DM has ideas for MULTIPLE campaigns they'd like to run. If this is you, don't be afraid to bring those options before the players, explain their premises, and have them decide which they'd like to play!

2) Build Characters
This follows on pretty straightforwardly from 1).
DO NOT be afraid do disallow character classes or builds, whether on mechanical or tonal grounds. (I always ban druids from my campaigns, for example - for BOTH reasons.) Character classes should fit the chosen setting. It's part of the storymaking aspect of roleplaying games - a character with no place in the setting sticks out like a sore thumb, breaks immersion, and makes it difficult for the world to interact with it.
DON'T ask for a "backstory." They are 1) time-consuming to write, 2) not fun to read, 3) always forgotten about or contradicted, and 4) not desired by many players. All you and each of your players need to know about their character is WHO THEY ARE and WHAT THEY WANT. These can be very simple things. (That being said, if some screwed-up player wants to write out a "deep backstory," shrug and let them. And then read it when they're done, and try to incorporate an element or two into the campaign, because you are a kind and caring DM and they put in all that effort and care. But DON'T YOU DARE put the idea to make one in their head in the first place.)
Now - and this is THE MOST IMPORTANT PART - an aspect of what each character "wants" must tie in with the campaign premise. That is, each character must have a reason that they are part of the campaign, and that they band together as a party to rise to the challenges they face. Characters without reason to be there just end up as a drag on the campaign - the player will always have to be justify why their character is still part of the party, given that what their character wants has no connection to the goals as a party as a whole. Characters without reason to be part of the party are POISON to a successful campaign. Make sure you establish each character's reason during Session 0. Don't approve a player's character until they have such a reason.
[Edit: I actually just read The Angry GM's article on this bit. If you want a lot more detail on specificity on what to go for in getting a party together and keeping it together, check it.]
[Edit2: most of the stuff I write is more for GMs, but here's something for players: if your GM isn't doing a good job requiring characters to have a reason to be part of the party, get it together yourself and start proposing common goals or means or motivations to your fellow players. A friend and I recently had to do this for a VERY directionless campaign that basically several odd characters dicking about independently until we realized the DM had no plans to do this for us, we had to do it ourselves.]

3) Decide on Play Schedule
Doesn't have to be set in stone for the long term - but you at least need to know when your group is meeting next. This is the best time to establish that, and explore expectations for the continuing schedule for the group.
I like to run weekly games with short sessions. Some groups may do better with longer sessions, or less frequent games. See what's best for your players.

That's it.
All in all, it should take around two hours. Perhaps one, perhaps three. (It will take more like three hours if your players don't know the rules to the game system you're using, or if you're having the players choose from among multiple campaign options.)

A Few General Tips
Be friendly and welcoming. Encourage players to make connections with each other. (Might also be helpful to encourage their CHARACTERS to be built with connections, too.)
Provide snacks, or delegate the task of bringing snacks to a player or two, even if it won't be a customary fixture of following sessions. Snacks alleviate boredom, which is something that Session 0 is especially vulnerable to.
Keep the group spatially together. Not necessarily at the same table, but definitely in the same room. (I like a room with couches more than a room with tables for Session 0, but this is just a personal preference thing, haha.)
Feel free to experiment with the ambiance by altering lighting or playing music, but it's probably just BS tomfoolery to do so. (But hey, a certain kind of player digs that effort.)

Go start that campaign.


(Reader: what does your Session 0 look like?)

Friday, April 14, 2017

What Is This Book About? (Wikipedia Method)

A party of adventurers is creeping through an ancient archive, or rifling through the tools of a deceased Magus, or nosing through the private literary collection of a prestigious noble. They open a book. What do they find?

1) Browse to Wikipedia.
2) Click "Random Article" near the top of the left sidebar. (Optional: stay on the main page and glance at "Today's Featured Article" instead.)
3) Ask yourself if a book could be about the subject of this article in your game's setting. (Proper nouns may be interchanged freely. For example, the article on Adolf Hitler could, in your setting, be about some mythologically wicked villain from the sordid past.) If it could, then that is the subject of the book your players find! If not:
4) Click the first link in the article's body not in parenthesis.
5) Jump to step 3.

Far broader and deeper than a d100 table, and nearly as easy to use.

(Nota bene: this method DOES generate a fair proportion of towns and municipalities. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Substitute in a nearby town or other location in your setting, note some juicy assets and dangers in that location which the book mentions, and you have yourself an adventure hook!)

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Ars Magisterii: An Update

Hello, Readers (such as I have). I may be flattering myself, but it's possible some of you have noticed that I haven't posted in a while.

There are good reasons for this. I've just found a new job after the company I worked for liquidated at the end of last month, and I'm still hitting my stride there in terms of finding normalcy and developing a daily rhythm. Also been starting to plan out several exciting (and scary) life things, so more time and energy have been going there.

In short, Ars Magisterii is not my highest priority. HOWEVER, I anticipate maintaining about a post per week, and hopefully ramping up to two as things settle down for me. This blog is still fun, just hard to fit in right now.

Thanks to any of you who follow this feed, or check in regularly! I get happiness from being able to share. Stay tuned!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Silver and Steel

It's a common fantasy trope that weapons (especially blades) made of certain materials have different effects versus various uncommon and supernatural beings. (Silver being the bane of werewolves is classic, or "cold iron" vs. various fey beings. The Witcher series of videogames, for example, capitalizes on these conventions by arming the protagonist with both an iron sword and a silvered sword, each useful for various foes.)

Anyway, here's how I flesh out that trope in the games that I run.
(This is the kind of post that I may add to and maintain over time.)


Silver
"When the Cosmomachy rent the archaic celestial order, a third of the Archons were hurled from the Heavens for their rebellion, falling to Earth and hiding themselves beneath Her skin to escape the burning Sun. It is said that their mighty fall - tremendous impacts rending and scarring the Earth's surface - caused their revoked glory to slough and shed and become buried in the rock they shattered. Now bereft of grandeur and holiness, these Fallen Archons still infest the subterranean depths of this world, no longer Archons, but Chthons. Their lost glory still remains, however: it forms the veins of silver that we mine for jewelry and coin. Furthermore, this silver still bears all the force and authority of the Chthons' exile: it repels, rends, and burns with wondrous potency any Chthon, their dark spawn, or any being tainted by the Powers Beneath the Earth. Those who venture into the deep places of the world do well to carry a weapon treated with a silver coating, for such precaution may well make the difference between life or death for one who meets a creature tainted or created by a Chthon - or, Heavens forbid, a Chthon itself. As silver is not a strong metal, however, the coating of such weapons may be damaged or rendered useless by even one intense encounter."

Iron
"Esteemed mystics teach that if silver is the lost glory of the Chthons, iron is their excrement, left in the Earth's bones for us to dig up and fashion into cruel weapons for the shedding of blood. While many scholars (such as myself) hesitate to rush into such an assertion, it is true that wrought iron seems to affect Heavenly beings in a strange manner - its touch is reported to chill and repel them as if it were a supreme blasphemy. Fey beings of the upper Earth seem similarly affected."

Steel
"Although, as we have postulated, iron has unexpected effects upon creatures of Heaven and the upper Earth, steel lacks this special character - perhaps the repeated heating and pounding of the forge drive the impurity from it. In any case, good-quality steel seems to have no special character in the way that iron and silver do, but is, of course, simply stronger and more durable than wrought iron, and so much more preferable for most purposes, though its manufacture is still difficult and time-consuming. Indeed, the crafting of steel implements seems to have been the sole domain of the elven peoples as lately as the Northcoming of Numaris, and may even have been lost entirely as a result of that event, only to be rediscovered within the past several centuries. Several cities of the Inner Six claim responsibility for this rediscovery, and it is unclear which claim, if any, is true."

Elfsteel
"The greatest of elfsmiths learned how to forge meteoric iron alloyed with silver into blades as strong as steel, but with the chthono-antagonistic properties of purest silver. (It is thought that meteoric iron, as opposed to chthonic iron, lacks the unholy origins of such base iron and so does not interfere with silver's unique properties.) One legendary smith, Ríma, even went so far as to forge double-edged blades, with one edge of elfsteel and the other of chthonic iron, giving its wielder a potent weapon against beings from both Above and Below. These swords (called Bastard Blades, split swords, or Swords of Ríma) were forged in secret to escape the disapproval of Ríma's peers; however, their makership became known, and Ríma was exiled from her people for what were seen as blasphemous bastard creations. Split swords still resurface from time to time, often in the hands of wealthy and ostentatious nobles of the Inner Six or borne by daring adventurers deep into the Earth and far into the Wilds (where, more often than not, the blades are lost once more).

Bronze
"The Deep Dwarves have known the art of working bronze since time immemorial. It is said that they taught it to Ubaal-Kain, great smith of one of the Surdic peoples - but Ubaal broke his somber vows of secrecy and spread the art amongst his tribe. The gravity of this event is not to be underestimated - at that time, iron forging was unknown outside of the Old North, meaning until that point the Surdic peoples made do with tools and weapons of copper and stone, both being poor materials for such applications. With bronze at their disposal, however, the Kain tribe gained enough leverage over their fellow Surds to begin forging a strong coalition of clans, with them at the head. Ubaal-Kain was long dead by this coalition finally grew to become the legendary Kainic Empire; some say he was assassinated at the behest of the Deep Dwarves whose secrecy he spurned, while other tales claim he met his end at the hand of his most promising apprentice by a blade of his own making. In either case, Ubaal-Kain's end was likely violent and untimely, though the legacy of his actions still endures in the ruins of the great cities and fortresses the Kaineans built across their burgeoning empire. In our time, however, the accessibility of iron and the supremacy of steel has rendered bronzemaking a shadow of its former self, just as the Kainic Empire has ceased to cast its claim across the Sands long ago."

Orichalcum
"The metal known as orichalcum was the great secret of the Deep Dwarves. (It is said that it shall forever remain so, as none alive know the art of its making any longer.) It is a metal - likely an alloy rather than a native element of the Earth - with the weight of gold, the color of bronze, and a strength and a sheen far exceeding both metals (and, indeed, ALL known metals). Furthermore, it glows softly when warm - the grasp of a hand soon gives it a soft light, and the taste of warm lifeblood causes it to shine fitfully. Greater heat brings greater light; myths tell of its ancient dwarven smiths drawing it from their mighty furnaces and working it by feel, keeping eyes covered and closed to avoid becoming permanently blinded, as if they wrought and forged a small piece of the holy Sun itself. It is a most envied material: weapons forged from orichalcum are without comparison, entire suits of steel armor are constructed around a single piece of orichalcum platemail recovered from some lost ruin or secret treasure-trove, and jewelry of orichalcum is treasured above all other materials for its unfading durability and the soft glow it gives off when worn against the skin. Myths and folk tales ascribe to it all sorts of magical and mystical properties, though its supreme hardness and its curious luminosity are usually the only characteristics common through all the tales. (Orichalcum's utility against chthonic beings is probably the next most common property ascribed to it, though precious few orichalcum weapons exist to test this hypothesis.)"

Volcanic Glass
"The bile and tears of certain volcanoes often coalesce into a hard smoky glass, which cleaves into preternaturally sharp edges when carefully shattered. Many of the Surdic tribes have known the art of knapping volcanic glass (called "dragonglass" by what oral traditions and later manuscripts have survived to the present) into deadly tips and heads for weapons since before they began recording history. Volcanic glass, despite its noted sharpness, is brittle and chips easily, usually rendering a weapon made of the material useless after a handful of blows. Although common metals have nearly universally replaced dragonglass in all its former uses (save certain styles of jewelry common in the Sands), the Asani have been known since their inception to use concealed blades of wicked-sharp volcanic glass in their ritualized assassinations, a tradition they still reputedly carry on. (It is even said that the Red Jesters have even taken to such weapons; as it is said of the Jesters, "creativity does not require originality.") Folk tales from the Sands ascribe to dragonglass powerful properties against the undead, unclean spirits, and general misfortune, though I am hesitant to grant much credence to such superstition."

Wrought Crystal
"It is unclear whether volcanic glass inspired the invention of wrought crystal; though their usage is similar, the elves of the Old North likely had minimal, if any, indirect contact with the Surds of the Sands. In any case, the secrets of working crystal are no longer known. It was the ancient elves, long before the Northcoming, who used their arts to sing sand into delicate structures of glass. While it seems the majority of wrought crystal is still encountered as jewelry and elaborate statuary of various scales, it seems the elves of the Old North also used it for weapons of supreme sharpness. Armor of such material has not been discovered, however; wrought crystal, though much more durable than mundane glass, still possesses pressure points that cause its careful structure to shatter uselessly, and such weaknesses likely prevented its use in armor or shields. Rather, its martial use seems to have been primarily in the making of spear- and arrow-heads, and occasionally sword or polearm blades. Such specimens as survive have been untarnished by rust and unworn by time, though they perhaps become more prone to shatter suddenly as they age through the millennia. Though such weapons are noted for their sharpness and lightness, perhaps the most surprising property of wrought crystal is that it is magically inert. Never has a spell been found to mar or alter such crystal, nor has any enchantment ever been placed upon an article of it. As such, wrought crystal weapons have gained a reputation as the bane of both Magi and spirits alike, bypassing arcane defenses and cleaving even incorporeal forms as easily as they pierce flesh. There are even tales of chains and cages wrought of crystal for the express purpose of binding spirits and Magi, though I doubt such stories bear any credence. (Perhaps I, a Magus of the Fifth Order, am unwise to write in such cavalier fashion of a possible means to my demise - but who reads my works, anyway? If anyone, it is fellow Magi, likely already wise to such matters. Though I have heard that my writings often inspire anger in my more opinionated readers, I doubt it is enough to drive one to murder - yes?)"

- Quotations excerpted from the writings of Erbius the Lorekeeper, Magus of the Fifth Order


So, you, the Reader, have read through all of that spew - and now you're wondering: "wait, but how can I use this in a game?" Never fear, I'm here. What follows is centered around a 5th Edition D&D ruleset, but should be easy to extrapolate to any system. I'm gonna tell you what should be different about weapons made from various materials.
(Assumed technology level above and below is that wrought iron is the most common material for weapons, but that good steel is also used, but is usually limited to the wealthy or fortunate. If you're running a game with slightly more advanced metallurgy, such that steel is the standard, merely treat steel as the default material and give iron and bronze minor penalties. If you're running a game where steel is unheard-of or a lost technology, simply drop it like it's hot and carry on.)

Silver - vs. fiends and undead, bypasses resistances or immunities to non-magical weapons (i.e. deals full damage). Loses this property if damage dice come up "1" (or, for a simpler system, has a 50% chance of losing this property after an encounter featuring heavy combat).
Iron - vs. celestials and fey, bypasses resistances or immunities to non-magical weapons (i.e. deals full damage). However, bends out of shape on a fumble (natural attack roll of "1"), dealing half damage until professionally repaired.
Steel - +1 to attack and damage. (This is not a magical property. Does not impact monster resistances or vulnerabilities.)
Elfsteel - +1 to attack and damage. Versus fiends and undead, bypasses resistances or immunities to non-magical weapons (i.e. deals full damage).
Bronze - Nothing special.
Orichalcum - +2 to attack and damage. Treat as dealing either its native damage type (piercing/slashing/bludgeoning) or Radiant damage, whichever is better.
Volcanic Glass - +2 to attack and damage. Treat as dealing either its native damage type (piercing/slashing/bludgeoning) or Fire damage, whichever is better (but DOESN'T actually set anything on fire). Shatters if an attack misses an armored or shield-bearing foe.
Wrought Crystal - +2 to attack and damage. Shatters on a fumble (natural attack roll of "1"). Attacks and damage are not affected by any magical effect - so spells like Mage Armor, or a ghost's resistance to non-magical weapons, or armor enchantments are useless defenses. (However, resistances like an Iron Golem's immunity to slashing weapons are still in effect, as that is of mundane origin - iron is hard!)


A bit of background design philosophy:

I'm tired of games like 5E D&D that treat all weapons equally, except magic ones (which, by the way, are seemingly a dime a dozen). I mean, 5E technically has "mithral" and adamantine weapons (I think?), but they're dead boring and never better than just a good ol' +1 sword. I want to bring back a sense of wonder to finding weapons of different materials.

However, I want to avoid the opposite pitfall of games that just spew out a plethora of ten or twenty weapon types, sort them by grade, and just expect players to gradually progress up the list. (TESV Skyrim and Runescape are examples that have figured heavily in my past.) That is boring AND tedious. Different weapon materials shouldn't USUALLY just be "better" than others - there should be situations where each type is good, and no huge differences between the best and worst materials. (Notice above that the weapons only scale from +0 to +2 - and of the three +2 weapons, two of them are susceptible to breakage, and the other is a lost secret, and extremely rare!)


What do you think, Reader? You gonna use or adapt any of this?


There's an XKCD for this, of course.
(From here.)