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A generator of (almost) everything for a campaign in Mystaraby Francesco Defferrari from Threshold Magazine issue 26
Tables to create almost any Mystara PC’s, NPC’s, story and adventure!
Part 1: Creating a Character and a Story
The purpose of this series of articles is not really to create a tool to layout a Mystara character or adventure on the fly. As canon Mystara material already provides a lot of inspiration for many characters and adventures, and fan material even more so, I don't really have the need to create random Mystara characters or adventures, but I wanted a tool to create additional Mystaran stories.
Such people and stories can be used in many ways to populate the game world, creating a live background for the PCs to interact with. But obviously the generator can also be used to create any Mystara personality or adventure, or at least provide a good idea on how to develop one.
The purpose of this article is also to gather all the different generators which are present in Mystara canon products, some others developed by fans over the years and a few I’ve created myself for my campaign.
In this issue I will focus on Character creation in the first part, gathering all the excellent resources which are present in Mystara supplements and, obviously, pointing also to the many fan creations in the Vaults of Pandius.
In the second part instead I have listed some adventure and campaign ideas. In the next installment of Threshold magazine, the article will continue with Encounters, Animals and the many other tables which can be found in Mystara products and in the Vaults and used to populate the game world and bring it to life.
Protagonist: once upon a time there was someone
Obviously this is an oversimplification, as a story could well start from an item or a place, but places and inanimate objects need an acting person to become relevant in a story, so we’ll start with one (or more) protagonist(s) i.e. an intelligent creature. The same tables can obviously be used to generate any number of NPC’s.
Character(s) and Gender
- An 1d4 roll can determine if we are speaking of a creature (1-3) or more (4)
- An 1d6 roll can determine if the protagonist is female (1-3) or male (4-6).
As the modern world now well knows, gender is one thing but sexual orientation and gender identity are another one. The DM could roll another dice, for example 1d100, to determine the possibility that the protagonist identifies him/herself as non-binary or having a sexual orientation different from the one commonly associated with her/his gender. The amount of such percentage has to be determined by the DM. It is quite likely, as shown in modern studies on the topic, that such percentage of the population is at least around 2%, but probably higher the more a society accepts different sexual orientations. In a fantasy environment there is also the possibility that a creature is asexual. In the real world, this only happens in very simple organisms, but in fantasy it could be used even for intelligent creatures. Hermaphroditism1 is more common in fish, slugs and worms, and rare in mammals, but in Mystara there are intelligent creatures inspired by the former animals (such as kna and wurmlings). Obviously the gender roll should be done for each protagonist, if the first roll created more than one.
Characteristics, Class, Skills, Spells, Equipment, Languages
These are the ‘normal’ procedures of character creation as presented in the Rules Cyclopedia and, before it, in the Basic, Expert, Companion, Master and Immortal boxed sets. For simplicity sake I will mention here only Chapter 1 to 5 in the Rules Cyclopedia and the modifications/expansion done by fans and stored in the Vaults of Pandius.
For classes the best resources are probably the List of BECMI/RC Classes by Giampaolo Agosta http://pandius.com/becmicls.html and the BECMI Indexes: Classes, Subclasses, Secondary Classes, Paths, Backgrounds, Clans and Skills by Peter http://pandius.com/BECMI_Indexes.ods.
Several Gazetteers have additional lists of skills but the best resources for this are in the Vaults of Pandius, in particular Index of Skills in Mystara products by Pasi Anias and Mischa E Gelman http://pandius.com/skills.html and the compilation of skills by Robin http://pandius.com/skills_compilation.pdf. Gazetteer 12 The Golden Khan of Ethengar has also a Training Background Table on page 30 of the Player’s book which assigns some skills based on the chosen class.
The Vaults has also a section on Spells and Spellcasting which includes exhaustive lists and compilation of the spells described in Mystara modules http://pandius.com/spel_dwo.html, and another sections for items, including mundane and magical equipment http://pandius.com/items.html.
Gazetteer 10 The Orcs of Thar has also a Weapon Defects table (page 42 of the Player’s book) and a Partial Armor and Armor Failure table (p.44-45) for particular people or race with no easy access to metallurgy (but could also easily be used for any character coming from a poor family or a small village).
Many Gazetteers and other modules indicate the language a PC can know in each country and the Vaults of Pandius obviously also has a dedicated section: http://pandius.com/eth_lang.html. The appropriate language of the region/country can also provide inspiration for the name of the character.
As detailed in the Hollow World Boxed set and the supplements HWR1 Sons of Azca, HWR2 Kingdom of Nithia and HWR3 The Milenian Empire, Hollow World Characters have special cultural Benefits, Limitations and Bias. Such features could potentially be adapted for any culture of Mystara.
The AD&D 2nd ed Mystara supplements (Karameikos Kingdom of Adventure boxed set, Glantri Kingdom of Magic boxed set, Red Steel boxed set, Savage Baronies boxed set and the online only Savage Coast Campaign Book (in the Vaults http://pandius.com/svge_cst.html) and The Orc's Head Peninsula Campaign Book (in the Vaults http://pandius.com/orcshead.html) have AD&D Proficiencies and Kits for Characters.
The Vaults of Pandius in the Player Characters section http://pandius.com/clas_kit.html also has more Kits created by fans and also Prestige Classes and Feats (D&D 3rd ed.) and Powers (D&D 4th ed)
Agathokles has also made a Mystaran NPC Generator (BECMI rules) which can be found in the Vaults here: http://pandius.com/mnpcgrtr.html
Beyond the above ‘basic’ features of Character Creation, the Gazetteers and other Mystara modules have several other tables and ideas which I will explore below.
Geographic location or Sub-setting
Mystara has an Outer World, a Hollow World and much more. To randomly roll a geographic origin or location for a character in Mystara my recent series of articles on Mystara’s subsettings (in THRESHOLD Magazine issues #23, #24 and #252) come in handy. In the below table I have however grouped several subsettings which were separated in the articles to lower the number of options, but obviously these geographic divisions (and their groupings too) are purely arbitrary choices on my part, so any DM should divide them as he/she prefers. To choose a geographic location randomly, two d10’s could be rolled; one for the continent and else, and another for the region.
Smaller version of this map: http://pandius.com/Mystara_subsettings.png by author
Main Table - Continent
Moons and Mystaraspace
Other planes and dimensions
Sub-Table A: Regions of Brun
The Known World (Tertiary Table A1)
The Adri Varma plateau/The Great Waste, Sind and the Serpent Peninsula
Hule and Kavkaz/The Borean Valley and the Midlands
The Savage Coast and Yazak steppes
Yezchamenid Empire and The Arm of the Immortals/The Endworld Line and Zuyevo
Heldann, Wendar Idrisian Sphere, Ghyr and Western Alliance/Norwold and further North
Hyborea/The Sea of Giants
Alphatia/Bellisaria/Isle of Dawn/Alatians
Thanegioth archipelago/Ochalea/Pearl Islands
Tertiary Table A13: Know World Countries
Wendar, Heldann and Norwold are not included in the above table as they are under point 7 of Sub-Table A with the rest of the ‘GazF regions’. Shadowelves lands, even if part of the original Gazetteers, are not included either as they belong to Sub-Table F below.
Sub-Table B: Regions of Davania
Ice Wall, Ice Peaks and Old Evergrun/South Pole
Green Bay and Fire Bay/Vulcania
Cestia, Oceania and Everfeed/Gulf of Mar and Varellya
Milenia and the Jungle Coast
Sub-Table C: Regions of the Sea
Sunlit Sea/Sea of Dread
Izondian Deep/Addakian Sound
Sea of Brun
Bay of Pelatan
Farend Ocean/Sea Kingdoms
Sea of Steam/Fire Bay/Green Bay/Gulf of Mar
Gulf of Tangor/Tangor Bay
Bellisarian Sea/Alphatian Sea/Sea of Dawn
Sub-Table D: Regions of Skothar
Gulf of Tangor
Steppes of Jen
Tagh Mountains and Thunder Rift
Old Blackmoor and Old Thonia
Sub-Table E: Regions of The Skies
Over Brun/North Pole
Over the Southern Pole
Over the Sea of Steam/Farend Ocean
Sub-Table F: Regions of the Shadowdeep4
Upperdeep: 1st to 3rd Layer
Upperdeep: 4th Layer
Underdeep and Far Underdeep
Sub-Table G: Hollow World5
The Eternal Dark or the Hollowdeep6
Floating continents and skies
Anathy archipelago and Jomphur
Aerical and Suridal
Sub-Table H: Moons and Mystaraspace7
Ixion (Sun) or Alphatia
Damocles and the Pyrithian Archipelago
Comet Belt or Dwarf planets
Sub-Table I: Other planes and dimensions8
Ethereal, Limbo, Shadow, Faerie or Pandius
Plane of Air
Plane of Earth
Plane of Fire
Plane of Water
Outer Planes: Brynn, Draesten, Entrem, Mirage and Pyts
Other Dimensions: Nightmare, Myth or Other
Alternatively, the Atlas section in the Vaults of Pandius http://pandius.com/atlas.html could also provide a resource to randomly select a Mystara location.
The below table lists all the known intelligent races of Mystara, which theoretically could be used as PCs or NPCs. It is also a possible roll table for random encounters which partially takes into account the relative prevalence of each group of races in Mystara, while still leaving at least a single chance to encounter each one. Obviously it is another arbitrary supposition on my part so any DM should change it as she/he prefers. Each race (but species would be the more appropriate word) will have multiple cultures around the world. The culture is strictly connected to the geographic location, so it would be related to the previous roll.
Roll 1d100 to randomly determine the race below.
Table: Race Generator
Humans (neathar, oltec and tanagoro and various mix.)
Demihumans (halfling, dwarves, elves, gnomes, ee’ar, brutemen)
Humanoids (beastmen, goblins, hobgoblins, thoul, bugbears, kobolds, trolls, orcs, ogres, gnolls)
Mammalians (lupin, rakasta, yetis and sasquatches, ape, baboons, neshezu, cryon, hutaakan, jorri, mugumba mud-dwellers, actaeon, goatman, enduk, minotaur, mythu’nn folk, pachydermion, phanaton, ratling9, and other based on animals)
Giants (hill-, rock-, mountain-, fire-, frost-, storm-, cloud- giants, cyclops, garls, stalwart, ubue, hephaeston)
Fairy folks (fauns, centaurs, chevall, dryads, nymph, pooka, hsiao, sidhe, faerie, faedorne, leprechaun, brownie, gremlins, shargugh, redcap, imp, flitterling, pixie, sprite, pegataur, wychglow)
Plants (gakarak, treants, fungoid or myconid, stolari10)
Birds (gyerian, faenare, harpies, nagpa, duckman11)
Demihumans, aquatic (tritons, merrow, sea elves, sea giants, nixie)
Mammalians, aquatic (omm-wa, dolphin and shimmerfish, narwhal, dendan whale)
Other aquatics (kna, kopru, crabman, shark-kin, marine decapus, devilfish, sea dragons, dragon turtle, sea hag, sea hermit)
Arachnids and Insectoids (aranea, manscorpion, hivebrood)
Silicians (geonids, rockmen, sand folk)
Intelligent ‘Monsters’ (bargda, beholder, bhut, diger, scamille, tabi, chrone of chaos, hag, dark wing, decapus, dragons, frelôn, medusa, sphinxes, wurmlings)
Shapeshifters (adaptor, baldandar, doppelganger, metamorph, mujina, polymar, randara. Their origins have never been explained in Mystara, some could be of fairy origin and/or from other planes or planets)
Planar races (many different races depending on the plane, see also Encounters in the next issue of Threshold Magazine, including elementals and possibly tiefling and genasi)
Undead (see also Encounters in the next issue of Threshold Magazine, some of them are intelligent such as vampires, nosferatu, lich. See also Undead of Elegy Island by Giampaolo Agosta, John Calvin and Francesco Defferrari from Threshold Magazine issue #13 http://pandius.com/lgyunded.html)
Constructs (most of them are not really described as intelligent, but some could be, such as gargoyles or warforged, see also Encounters in the next issue of Threshold Magazine)
As in BECMI races are normally also classes, most of the above have been described as such in the Gazetteers, the PC series and other supplements. The Vaults of Pandius has extensive lists of all the Mystara classes here http://pandius.com/clas_kit.html and another section about races http://pandius.com/races.html
In “Glantri Kingdom of Magic” boxed set, which uses the AD&D 2nd ed. system, there is also the Progeny on page 123, i.e. people descended from wizards and inhuman races, with special Defects, Powers and Extraordinary Abilities. The percentage for a Glantrian human to be a progeny is given at 2%, but only 6% of them have Defects or Powers. The same ratio could be applied in Alphatia and a minor one in other countries.
The supplement GAZ2: “The Emirates of Ylaruam” (page 31) has a list of all the above for Ylari characters. GAZ1: “The Grand Duchy of Karameikos” only has the choice between Human, Traladaran, Human, Thyatian, Human, mixed and Elves, Dwarves, Gnome or Halfling. Obviously such a list should be different for each country and so it’s impossible to make a generic one, but it is useful to keep in mind such backgrounds when creating a character. List are present in other Gazetteers, such as GAZ5: “The Elves of Alfheim” (pages 47-48), GAZ6: “The Dwarves of Rockhome” (page 9), GAZ7: “The Northern Reaches” (pages 12-14), while other Gazetteers are based on Guilds (GAZ9: “The Guilds of Minrothad”) or races, hordes and origins (GAZ10L “The Orcs of Thar”), or tribes (GAZ12 and GAZ14).
A list of Names by country of the Known World is also present in the AD&D 2nd ed. Player’s Survival Kit from page 4 to 11. There is also a guide to Heraldry from page 12 to 16.
Handout 10 from the Kit allows for randomly selecting Class and Homeland.
Handout 11 and 12 of the Player’s Survival Kit allows for randomly selecting the PC’s parents, siblings, spouse, children, relatives profession and status.
A whole chapter is present in GAZ14: “The Children of Atruaghin”, for determining the Starting Age of the character, Parent Status, Siblings and their status.
Alternatively, a 1d12 could be made for determining the numbers of people in the immediate family, ranging therefore from 1 (the character has only one relative left, meaning all the others are already dead), to 12 (meaning the character may have 2 parents, four grandparents and 6 brothers and sisters). Another 1d4 roll could be done for determining the other relatives the character has contacts with (ranging from 1, only immediate family, to 4, meaning the character has relations with a clan of uncles and cousins up to the fourth degree).
Another roll could be made about the internal relations and dynamics in the immediate family (parents, brothers and sisters, grandparents). This roll could also be done with a d100 to distribute the percentage differently:
Family Internal Relations Table
Loving and unite family: the character’s family is united and supportive and has not big problems among its members.
Difficult relations: Parents may be tyrannical, siblings may be rebellious, couples have split or brothers could be in litigation about some heirloom, either way there are serious clouds in this family.
Fall apart: Most relatives do not speak to each other at all, or the family is divided in two or more factions which are fighting each other. Children probably have gone away or wish to do so at soon as possible.
Hate and drama: The situation has deteriorated to the point of hatred, violence or even murder. Probably there are wounds that cannot be mended.
This table is to determine if the character is from the country or a city, mirroring the one present in GAZ1: “The Grand Duchy of Karameikos” (page 8), but making it more generic. Other Gazetters have their own too:
Internal Origin Table
Wilderlands: The character has grown up among humanoids, monsters or in rough places. Her/his family however could have good relations with the local inhabitants. Anyway is likely the character is not naive and knows things about the world’s dangers.
Homestead or isolated farm: Still borderlands, but in a more traditional farming environment. Parents could also be local guides, loggers, druids or miners.
Village or town: The character has lived among a community of at least 50 inhabitants, so more than just her/his family. Possibly still near borderlands but in a more civilized environment.
City or Capital: The character comes from a city of over 1,000 inhabitants. Probably she/he does not know much about wilderlands and monsters beyond folk tales.
This roll is about the means of the family. Should be preceded by a roll about the social class which mostly depend on each country’s situation, ranging from the royal family (if there is one) to slave (if there is slavery). It’s not impossible to be royal and poor and slaves and rich. Both things have happened in history, albeit in particular circumstances.
A similar table, called ‘Family Social Standing’ is present on page 6 of GAZ1: “The Grand Duchy of Karameikos”, ranging from Penniless to Struggling, Comfortable, Wealth and Very Wealthy up to Royal family with different percentages. A Wealth and Status Table is also present in “Karameikos: Kingdom of Adventure” (page 112-116) for all the races of Karameikos. Another table on page 12 of GAZ6: “The Dwarves of Rockhome”, also combines economic and social situations from Poor & Despised to King. In GAZ7: “The Northern Reaches” (page 20 of the Player’s book) there is one for Family Status and another for Inheritance. My first one below only considers the Social Class. GAZ10: “The Orcs of Thar” has a Tribal Standing Table on pagea 39-40 of the Player’s book. GAZ11: “The Republic of Darokin” has Money tables for PCs on page 7 of the Player’s book. A noteworthy variation is present on page 23 of the Player’s book in GAZ12: “The Golden Khan of Ethengar”, where there is a Clan Status Table, which also influences clan wealth and the PC’s starting equipment. In Ethengar the clan is the basic unity of related families which form the tribes, but a similar table could be used also for families in other countries.
Social Class Table
Royal family or similar: Character’s family is extremely privileged, related to the ruling family(ies) of the country.
Nobility or ruling elite: The family belongs to the very upper class.
Freemen: Most of the population is here, from big merchants to free farmers, or even beggars. Anyone who is free to move around.
Serfs or Slaves: A very large percentage of the population in ancient societies, with huge local variations had no freedom of movement even if not slaves. For example country serfs could not leave the lands of their lord. Indentured servants were not free until the completion of their contract. The same also often happened to young apprentices.
The below table refers instead to the economic situation of the family. It is an average estimation and should be adjusted by the DM depending on the home region/country and obviously in any situation of prolonged crisis, such as war and famine, the percentages of poverty will dramatically increase.
Family Economic situation Table
Filthy rich: Character’s family has such huge fortunes it can buy a minor country, should it want to. Or maybe it already has. Probably nobility or equivalent.
Rich to very rich: The family can afford to build a house, or fit out a ship. Could be a family of traders of city level importance, courtiers, landed lords, or high level artisans.
Good income: Family can afford horses, armor, fine taverns and foods, good clothes, even travel. Probably small traders, artisans, guild members, successful shopkeepers.
Average income: Family can afford food, clothes, a decent house and some leisure, but nothing extravagants. Maybe small shopkeepers, free farmers, well paid servants or skilled workers.
Barely making it: The character’s family lives just above the level of subsistence, managing somehow to put a little food on the table, but paying rent and buying clothes always poses a problem. Normally rent farmers, partially unemployed, or unskilled workers.
Searching for scraps: The family manages to eat only on some days. Probably beggars, or people with serious problems preventing them from earning a living, such as failing crops, alcoholism, orphans, disabled, sick or illegals.
Starving: The family is actually dying from hunger and thirst. Normally this happens only to refugees in war situations, but can also happen to persecuted minorities, victims of local crime or during droughts and natural disasters.
Each character could have a different social status in her/his community, which is usually, but not necessarily, partially linked to the Economic Situation above. The DM can also decide to assign a bonus or malus to the below 1d20 roll depending on the result of the previous table:
Social Status Table
Admired, famous: Character has a high social status and famous, due to her own merits or due to some fortunate circumstance (high charisma, very beautiful, or from a rich and powerful family, or a combination of all)
Highly liked: The character is not famous, but is well liked by numerous family members and friends, and is happy in her/his community, probably she/he is also from a family of good means or liked for other reasons (family of local clerics, for example).
One of many: The character has a ‘normal’ number of friends and family (<10), so it’s one of the many living in her/his community.
Socially isolated: The character has just a few friends or family members (>5), maybe because she/he is an orphan or belongs to a minority.
Alone, persecuted: The character is alone or has just one friend or family member, probably because friends and family died in some previous tragedy, or maybe she/he is a newcomer/refugee (18-19)
Sociopathic, criminal: The character is a criminal, or the son/daughter of one, and therefore is completely isolated in her/his home city/town. Or he/she has some serious relationship problems, or belongs to a despised minority.
The Rules Cyclopedia does not have a table to randomly determine the appearance of a character, but the tables for height and weight are present on page 12 of the Rules Cyclopedia. Such a table for Savage Coast races is present in the AD&D 2nd ed. Savage Coast Campaign Book (online in the Vaults here: http://pandius.com/sc_pcs.html, table 11.8) and in the Orc’s Head Peninsula Book (online here: http://pandius.com/oh_char.html). The same pages also have Age modifiers, while Life Spans for humanoids are present in GAZ10: “The Orcs of Thar” (page 35 of the DM’s book), andAging rules for human and demihumans are on page 143 of the Rules Cyclopedia.
GAZ2: “The Emirates of Ylaruam” has also a list of distinctive features for the appearance of a character which could be very useful when creating NPCs (and PCs). Here it is a slightly modified and expanded version. The roll on this table could be done more than once:
Distinctive Feature Table
Physical deformity (as hunch, acne, misses an arm, leg, or hand, limping or shaky, old wound)
Distinctive body (very skinny, fat, double chin, tall or short, muscular, long arms, prominent belly)
Distinctive skin (leathery, tanned, lily white, dark complexion, rugged, smooth)
Particular face (hawk nose, big lips, buck teeth, big nose, big ears, moustaches or beard, scar, noteworthy beauty )
Distinctive hair (pony tail, very long, very short, feather decoration, forelock, balding, whitening)
Particular dress (lizard boots, fur, outlandish cape, very bright, metallic, scraggly, ornate armour, weapon or shield)
Wears a decoration (scarf, hat, rings,bracelets or jewels, headband, belt)
Distinctive eyes (very light, almond shaped, deep, big, long eyelash, big eyebrows)
An interesting alternative to the above table is in GAZ10: “The Orcs of Thar”,(page 31 of the Player’s Book) as ‘Other Physical Details’ Table. Even if specifically for humanoids, it could be used also for near-humans15 (rakasta, lupins et others) and even for humans and demihumans with some modifications
GAZ2 has some possible distinctive idiosyncrasies or habits, which a character could have describing him/her, which I have expanded to 1d20 roll. This table could be used more than once for each character:
Distinctive Idiosyncrasy or Habit Table
Loud voice or thin voice, foreign accent or high pitched
Coughs often, and/or spits
Whistles, sings or plays a small instrument
Rubs nose or chin, or other body part, or fidgets with hair, beard or moustache
Chew lips or hands, or aromatic stick/leaves, or smokes
Never looks into the eyes, or scares easily, or craven
Brave to the point of recklessness
Has compulsions or ticks (washes hands often, or blinks)
Haughty and/or rude
Timid and/or kind
Complains often, or is always negative, pessimistic or depressed
Chatters all the time or tell tales, interested in gossip, or inquisitive
Always joyful, optimistic, emotional, enthusiastic, or loves to tell jokes
Obsessed with horse racing, hunting, swordsmanship or other pastime/sport
Expert on some item or theme for professional or leisurely reasons
Drinks too much alcohol (or coffee) or is obsessed with some food
Reserved, doesn’t speak much
Eager to help others
Used to have servants, spoiled, capricious or childish
Seductive, or adulator, or fanboy/girl
GAZ2 (page 31) also has a list of possible nicknames for characters, which could be any special characteristic, appearance, habit or story for which she/he is known for.
Introduced in GAZ7: “The Northern Reaches”, Personality Traits are a great tool to give more personality to PCs and NPCs. There are 12 of them, with their opposite, and appropriate modifiers depending on home country, class and Immortal served on page 10 of the Player’s book of GAZ7. The DM could also add more modifiers based on the character’s family or economic situation.
The traits may have a value from 1 to 20 and a 1d20 roll could be made against the value, with the lower result meaning the Trait prevails, and the upper result that the opposite trait prevails. The value may be assigned at will by the player or with a roll.
The Traits are:
Cautious (Rash) - Modest (Proud) - Peaceful (Violent) - Generous (Greedy) - Courageous (Fearful) - Reverent (Godless) - Forgiving (Vengeful) - Energetic (Lazy) - Honest (Deceitful) - Trusting (Suspicious) - Loyal (Unreliable) - Dogmatic (Open-minded).
Another tool of GAZ7, very useful for NPCs. It calculates the probability someone can be recognized by people based on her/his level (5% chance per level) plus modifiers for attack ranks of demihumans and a higher chance for skalds (10%). Therefore a skald will know any NPC or PC of at least 10th level and any other class or normal person will recognize any PC or NPC of at least 20th level. The DM could adjust this chance, increasing or decreasing it, based on various circumstances. For example people living in small isolated villages may have malus, while nobles living in a big city should probably have a bonus.
Another great idea of GAZ7 (pages 20-22 of the Player’s book), they are divided in Afflictions and Accidents, which affect negatively ability scores if a 1d100 roll is below 10 or above 90, Important Past Experience Table, Character Building Table and Combat Experience Table, which instead lower or increase Personality Traits.
It’s also possible to combine and simplify them as in the below table, rolling 2d12:
Important Past Experiences Table
Survived a debilitating malady (+1 Constitution)
Suffered a debilitating malady (-1 Constitution or Dexterity, -2 Energetic)
Had a major accident (-2 Dexterity, +2 Cautious, -1 Courageous)
Leaned from a major accident (+1 Wisdom, +2 Cautious)
Had excellent education or training (+1 to chosen Characteristic, +1 Courageous)
Had terrible role models (-1 Intelligence or Wisdom, -2 any or more Traits)
Had access to a good library (+1 Intelligence or Wisdom)
Learned from a famous expert or adventurer (+1 to relevant Characteristic, +1 Courageous, -1 Modest)
Rigid training schedule as a teen (+1 relevant Characteristic, -2 Forgiving, +2 Energetic and Dogmatic)
Was betrayed by friend or family member (-2 Trusting and Loyal)
Was humiliated or mocked by bullies/enemies (-2 Peaceful and Forgiving)
Was widely praised by friends and family (-2 Modest)
She/he or family were cheated or suffered poverty (-2 Trusting and Generous)
Inspired by a famous hero/heroine (+2 Reverent and/or Courageous)
Was raised in strict religious environment (+2 Dogmatic)
Had to protect family and/or friends (+2 Loyal)
Saw innocent hurts or hurt them by accident (+2 Peaceful)
Taught to be bold no matter what (+2 Courageous)
Taught to lie, con or deceit (-2 Honest)
Forgave a Miscreant Who Becomes a Close Friend (+2 Forgiving)
Had combat experience, uninjured (+2 Courageous - 2 Peaceful)
Had combat experience, was injured (+2 Cautious)
Had combat experience, was badly injured or saw friends die (-1 Constitution -1 Courageous +3 Cautious)
Present on page 46 of the Player’s book of GaAZ10: “The Orcs of Thar”, it is generic enough that could be used for any character, maybe with the modification suggested below:
Unfortunate Legacy Table
Addiction to alcohol, drugs or else
Allergy to pollen, food, substance or creature
Color blind or lack of infravision if applicable
Hearing impairment or short sighted
Phobia of places, situations or creature
Multiple afflictions, roll twice
Such Unfortunate Legacies could have a different grade of Seriousness, for example rolling 1d4 and applying the result as a malus to any saving throw against the legacy with 1 (no malus) 2 (-1 to saving throw) and so on. An allergic character for example could need a saving throw against poison when he/she gets into contact with the allergen. A saving throw could also have a critical failure (if 1 is rolled on d20) leading to death (or another saving throw against death).
GAZ12: “The Golden Khan of Ethengar” has a Disability Table on page 14 of the Player’s book, which is a d6 roll on Ability scores. This is theoretically only for Ethengarian Shamans, but could be used for other ethnicities and classes too, or applied to Characters with Ability scores below the average.
Presented in GAZ8: “The Five Shires” (page 6 of the Player’s book), Omfluence is accumulated by halfling in good standing with their clan, through normal experience points, exercise of powers or rank (1d6), good deeds (2d4) and great deeds (5d4). With the system a halfling could raise to Elder and Clanmaster.
The same system could be used for any other demihuman or for humans, as an alternative to the awarding of Dominions of the Companion Set. The DM may decide that a PC needs to accumulate Influence to earn a Dominion, not just be of at least 9th level.
A common system for all classes and races could be as such:
Respected member of the community, or full clan member when appropriate, has voting powers in local assembly.
Character has important Clan or Guild membership, can serve as a Juror in Court.
Character can rise to the rank of knight, landed lord, ambassador, relic keeper or equivalent
Clan Master, or noble, i.e. people petition the King or ruler to award the character a dominion, or any petition by the character is successful.
Influence points should be HALF of the earned experience points, but could be increased by Services to the Community (1d6x100) Good Deeds (2d4x100) and Great Deeds (5d4x100).
Beside the usual success in the adventuring life several other things could qualify as Services or Good Deeds, especially charity, community service or donation to Churches.
Animal Spirit or Totem
A d20 table to choose an Animal Spirit is provided in GAZ12: “The Golden Khan of Ethengar”. Even if it is meant for Shamans and possibly appropriate only for tribal lands, it could be used for any race, faith or society which has a strong connection with Nature. Each Animal Spirit gives an Ability Score bonus and a skill.
GAZ14: “The Children of Atruaghin” has instead (on page 7 of the Player’s book) a General Totem Type Table and a Totem Ecology Table. The Totem is supposed to affect only personality and experience points (if played accordingly). The Totem could be obviously combined with the Animal Spirit above.
This can be used as an alternative to the above for characters born in countries with less connection to Nature. The twelve star signs appeared first in the Poor Wizard’s Almanac (page 163), and give the characters Traits which are not exactly the same as GAZ7 but could be adjusted to be compatible with that system. The Poor Wizard’s Almanac II also includes Predictions for the year AC 1,011 for each star sign on page 154, and Poor Wizard’s Almanac III on page 119-120 for the year AC 1,012.
These cards are present in the AD&D 2nd ed. Player’s Survival Kit. They vary from helpful aid to true curse so it could be tricky to use them in play, and the DM should exercise some caution.
There are a lot of possible classifications of stories from the Propp cards to Tvtropes, and a lot of random adventure generators in D&D and other roleplaying games. This is just my attempt to toss some ideas around, gathering them under four major themes: External Threat, Internal Tension, Love and Relationships, Exploration. Note that often the best books and stories may not have a single theme, but multiple ones.
Obviously many Gazetteers and other Mystara modules have their own place specific ideas for adventures, and there is also a quite big section in the Vaults of Pandius http://pandius.com/adv_camp.html.
Otherwise, randomly choose one of the ideas below or roll as suggested in parenthesis.
This is obviously a pillar of D&D and other roleplaying games. The problem is on the outside, could be something minor, such as humanoid raiders or bandits, or major, such an incoming enemy army. If the solution is easy and obvious in the case of a simple band of bandits or raiders, other external threats are not. How to stop a raging dragon, a powerful druid, or a conquering army? The PCs may need to search for outside help, in the form of central authority, allies, magical items or powerful NPCs. Even the minor nuisance may not be so minor as appeared initially. Maybe the raiders have inside connections, leading to the internal tension theme below, or their leader or shaman may be much more powerful than expected, forcing the PCs to retreat and reconsider. The initial external threat may be defeated, only to reveal later additional and unexpected powerful enemies, or the first threat may be only a puppet of some greater evil.
And some more ideas which could be chosen randomly or with a d20 roll:
- (1,2) Environmental hazards: The major external threats, which could also trigger plenty of Internal Tension when the various parties in the community disagree on how to face them. Earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, fires, plagues and famines. The natural world provides plenty of hazards and in a fantasy world they may well be driven by some evil magic, some hidden cult or some angry elemental being. What if humanoids are targeting farms? This will create famine in cities. What if fire giants have awakened a dormant volcano? Disasters have extensive consequences too, requiring evacuation plans, survivors to save, looters to stop, refugees to help, culprits to be found etc. Or maybe a disaster could be averted only by obtaining the help of some powerful creatures, such as dragons or giants.
- (3) Help needed: The main consequence of natural disasters as the above, or of war as below are communities without food and shelter. Such people could easily become refugees, with more consequences (see below) but they will need immediate help, and this means money to purchase food and build shelters. The PCs may need to reach into their pockets, but this will probably not be enough, and so they will have to persuade authorities or rich donors.
- (4) War: PCs are involved on either side, have to escape with civilians, have to kill an enemy commander, steal something, sabotage troops movements, find food, bring messages, spy on the enemy, stop the war before it destroys even more, sneak behind enemy lines, foster a rebellion among enemy soldiers.
- (5) Diplomacy: The PCs are hired to avoid violence/escalation at all costs, preventing a feud, a war, racial riots, a trade war, or revenge.
- (6) Prophecy or dream: A great evil will come, or someone will die, or great prizes can be won. Could work in many ways, and also as Internal tension, warning against an Environmental Hazard, or threat to Loved one or, obviously reason for Exploration (see themes below).
- (7) The monster(s): A dragon or another potent creature menaces the land. Maybe she/he has an army. Maybe it’s not a monster, but has suffered some great wrong. Maybe it is not what it seems, but a princess polymorphed by an evil wizard.
- (8) Humanoids: or any other different species, is menacing the community, raiding and attacking, but why? Maybe some adventurers stole something, or killed someone? Maybe they are on the payroll of enemies? Or of some internal party who wants to damage the government.
- (9) The rebel(s): maybe it was a famous hero, but the local authorities have exiled him/her. Maybe it’s the puppet of a foreign power, or of some internal traitor, connecting it to the Internal Tension theme below. Maybe a whole region, race or social group is in revolt, due to abuse of local governors, religion issues, famine, or manipulation by external elements.
- (10) The Portal: To another world, dimension or plane. A lot of things can come from it, nasty things or apparently benevolent, or even environmental threats, like viruses. Could be a great trigger for exploration and a big reason for internal tensions if people have different opinions on what to do. And lovers and friends could obviously disappear into it, more likely if the Portal is just a common door in a basement.
- (11) Their land: the enemy wants your land, or you want their land, oldest possible reason for conflicts and wars. But usually politicians find a different, apparently noble excuse. What if the PCs discover their side is indeed the true aggressor?
- (12) New species: maybe a magical creation, maybe intelligent, maybe good, or evil or near extinction, or reproducing too fast, or invasive. And probably there are people trying to exploit the situation for their own ends.
- (13) Trade disruptions: Raiders against caravan, pirates against ships, or a remote local lord harassing merchants. Monsters, humanoids, some magical phenomenon or the fraud or unfair competition of dishonest traders, it’s a PCs’ job.
- (14) Kidnappings: Bandits, pirates, cultists, someone who took the wrong persons. The targets could be the PCs themselves or they could be sent to investigate. If someone is kidnapped and left in unexplored land, this could obviously lead to the Exploration theme (below).
- (15) Mining: can start a gold rush, or prompt Exploration, or any conflict with External or Internal parties. Or maybe the extracted material is dangerous, or magical, or poisonous. Maybe the miners are trapped inside, or go on strike, or they have accidentally awakened a dragon or some other monsters.
- (16) Dragon: one has been killed, but his family comes for revenge. Or he just feigned his death, and now he is inside the city. Or he was connected to the local nature, and now a terrible famine grips the countryside. Or she controlled local magic, which now does not work anymore. Or he wants to run for office in the country/city, becoming Internal Tension
- (17) Failing Magic: or clerical powers are gone, or psionic (if used), but why? a curse? or the immortals have been imprisoned (as in the HWA series of adventures), or some enemy of the country is using an artefact?
- (18) Mercenary company: or fleet of pirates, is menacing the land. Maybe the government does not know who hired them. Maybe they do not know who their employer is either, but have been paid already. Maybe they are sacking the country/coasts because they were left without employment or cheated out of their pay. Maybe the PCs have to take control of the company, or have to seek employment into it to find/save someone.
- (19) Refugees: As we can well see in our times, refugees can be perceived by many countries as an external threat, even if they are unarmed and unthreatening. And governments may well resort to unjust imprisonment, shady deals and violence to stop them. What if PCs are hired to do such a job? What if one of the PCs’ family is among the refugees? and if the PCs choose to help the refugees and are persecuted by the government for their actions?
- (20) You cannot fight it! What if some enemy which is much more powerful than the PCs is coming after them? Could be a powerful monster, a high level character or even another country, or an Immortal. They have no chance for defeating it in a fair fight. They must hide, run, find help or deceive to survive.
Another major theme with endless possibilities for role playing are tensions and conflicts internal to a community. They may take various forms, from monsters living in the sewers or in lost ruins under the town to criminal activities to corrupt and evil leaders. Even better if prepared by the DM are the conflicts in which the evil party is not easily recognizable, or does not exist at all, as both parties are right and wrong in different ways. This may apply for several social and religious conflicts in any community.
Some more examples which could be chosen randomly or with a d100 roll: :
- (1-3) Murder: of a friend, of someone extremely important or of someone no one cares about. Maybe the killer is known, but not his motif. Maybe the victim was evil, maybe he knew things, maybe now is clear the victim was not who everyone knew. If it is a string of murders, what’s the reason? revenge? or a serial killer? but how does he choose his victims? Maybe he is possessed, or maybe he is used by someone to distract the citizens’ attention.
- (4-6) Rising crime: there is always a reason for that, usually it is poverty and degrade in vast areas, but in fantasy crime can have some help, such as demons, evil wizards, underground enemies, entropic cults, thieves guild or an apparently respectable but corrupt guilds or officials.
- (7-9) Theft: something precious has been taken and someone wants it back. Could lead to all kinds of Exploration or even External Threat if an enemy country ordered the theft of the magical Royal Crown. To all kinds of Relationship complications if the thief is a friend or relative. What if the PCs track down the thief only to discover the magical object was taken to save the life of a child? What if the only way to achieve this is to destroy the object? Or maybe the object is evil, and the thief has reasons to destroy it, but still the PCs risk an accusation of complicity.
- (10) Defamation: Common in ancient and modern politics, and in any conflict among different parties. The PCs could be subject to defamation if the opposite party wants to damage their reputation. Once it often led to duels, but if there are laws against them, the only defense against defamation may be to prove the truth. Maybe an hostile bard/cleric is targeting the PCs (or someone who hired them), but why is he doing this?
- (11-12) The one who got away: an awful criminal had escaped where he cannot be brought to justice by lawful extradition. Maybe in the new country he is rich, well liked and has powerful friends. Maybe he even has children who love him. How to bring him to face justice? Can the PCs find some peaceful way or will they resort to kidnapping or assassination? Maybe they must find a way to kidnap him, even if he is very well protected.
- (13) Fight the Law: PCs may find themselves on the wrong side of the Law for any number of reasons. Maybe the Law is plainly evil, or the Law it is not, but those who should uphold it are. Or neither are evil, but the PCs still want to help a relative or friend which has committed a crime for good reasons. In ancient societies, and in several modern ones too, it was way too easy to become a fugitive just because the Law was on the side of the rich and powerful committing abuses. Or maybe in this case the guards have been really substituted by doppelgängers or controlled by some enemy, but who the PCs can trust? and how they could prove the truth?
- (14-15) Outlaws: the local thieves, pirates or smugglers maybe this time need help against a government which is much worse than them, or they risk defeat from some organization which is much worse than them. All good reasons for the PCs to join the lowlife.
- (16) Innocent wanted: Slight variation of the above, maybe an innocent man/woman has been framed, or is accused of something which is technically unlawful but not morally unjust. Real history has plenty of examples, as things such as adultery, relationships, hunting, fight slavery, arguing or expressing an opinion, even self defense could be crimes in certain times and places. Are the PCs ready to deliver an innocent to an unjust punishment? Or will they become fugitives and rebels too?
- (17-18) Fugitive: in this case the PCs are the trackers of some wanted criminal. Maybe they only do it for bounty, but what if the wanted man is innocent? What if the wanted person seduces a PC? Or is a PC’s friend or relative? What if the fugitive does not have really combat abilities, but is extremely good at running/hiding/disguising him/herself?
- (19) Pacifism: What if the PCs have to deal with a Buddha/Jesus/Gandhi-like figure? a pacifist leader who gathers a large following but is despised by the authorities because he/she defies the government and the social order? The authorities may be willing to resort to violence to stop him/her. Which side will they take? What if the pacifist leader is a friend or relative? What if they want to protect him/her, but he/she prefers to die rather than let them kill for him/her?
- (20-22) Festival: Every culture and town has many over the years, and in some cases they create internal tensions, such as in case of revelries disapproved by the church or the government, or celebrations staged by a party or ethnic group against another. Also the festival may be the ideal time for rebels and evil parties to create all sorts of mayhem, and for thieves and assassins to strike.
- (23-24) Parties and feasts: Similar to the above, with similar possible complications, but usually not city wide events, but rather based in a palace, mansion or guildhouse. Such social gatherings can provide a lot of intrigue and mayhem, from love interests with jealous partners to thieves, brawls and vampires.
- (25-26) Tournament: a variation of the above, with the added bonus of various possible intrigues, frauds and sabotages, or maybe competing groups whose rivalry deteriorates into full scale War on the Streets (see below).
- (27-28) War on the streets: Members of rival noble families, guild, ethnic group, classes, church or what else dueling in broad daylight, assassins in the night, altercations and political maneuvering. Nobles against merchants, church against church, workers against government, wizards against warriors. Cities or towns, all communities are bound to have internal rivalries, sometimes getting heated only in courts, sometimes shedding blood.
- (29) Mad Wizard: a classic, could also work as an external threat if he/she is on the payroll of an enemy, is the mad wizard creating some dangerous weapon or creatures that has to be stopped, or else the end is nigh.
- (30) Anonymous message: saying you are about to get arrested, or that a powerful enemy is coming, or setting a place and time to meet you. The sender obviously has an agenda, which may not be immediately clear to understand.
- (31) Mistaken identity: often related to some internal tension, but possibly also to love and family. The PC or someone else is mistaken for a notorious criminal, the lost heir of a noble family or an ancient hero, or a loved one, leading to being involved in intrigues, escapes and mayhem. Or maybe just someone who has offended a powerful man. Obviously the identity may not be mistaken at all, and the PC could really be the one some people say he is. Also to the ‘Destiny’ trope, below.
- (32) The Dying Man: A wounded person and his/her last words, a classic trope. Usually has been murdered because he knew too much. But maybe he spoke in an unknown language, his words made no sense, his words were a spell, or a poem, or a name. Various ways to connect this to any other theme.
- (33) The Beggar: could be anything from a dragon in disguise to a prince, or maybe an old enemy now disgraced, but with an offering the PCs cannot refuse.
- (34-35) Some other adventurers: are a fraud, but enjoy good press. Are on the payroll of the PCs enemies. Have received the mission the PCs must have. Are too unskilled to succeed. Or are headed by a former lover, friend or relative (Love and Relationship theme) or the pawns of an external enemy (External Threat theme) or missing (Exploration theme). Or maybe the local authorities are calling a lot of adventurers, but why? to stir chaos? to attack some nearby enemies? to send them all on some hopeless mission?
- (36-37) Witness: Has criminals wanting to silence him. Is a child, or an animal. Denies to have seen anything. Is a false witness who wants to frame someone, or the PCs. Are the PCs, but the victim was an enemy and the perpetrator is a friend. Are the PCs, but they do not want their involvement to be publicly known.
- (38) Whistleblower: a variant of the above. As happened in recent, real world history, someone who denounces the crimes committed by a powerful government or organization risks to be persecuted and prosecuted to the full extent of the law, as well as anyone who takes his/her side.
- (39) Fame: the people love this person but.. he/she has a secret, has powerful enemies, is undeserving of such notoriety, is a liar, is very different from what appears to be.
- (40-41) Time: there is only little time to save someone, prevent something, find someone or something, be somewhere. Works with any theme.
- (42-43) Minority: a minority group is despised or persecuted, usually because powerful men want to take what they have. Or because they have cultural habits which the majority does not tolerate. Or because it has really some evil elements inside. Women, old people, youngsters are not really ‘minorities’ but can rise against the ruling elite if they are kept in some sort of minor capacity, as it happened several times in history all around the world.
- (44-45) Religion: a big theme which could also work as External Threat and any complications in relationships (see above and below). A new religion or a new interpretation of an existing one can lead to new sects and new social demands, with the official churches opposing it. Or churches can be in competition for an artefact or for any internal and external social and political issue, such as trade, wealth, slavery, peace and war, minority rights, education and health. Maybe an important relic has been discovered, but not in a dungeon, in the hands of a collector who does not want to let it go.
- (46) New Power: an emerging powerful leader in some group, or someone who wants to topple the existing government or social order. Complications if she/he is connected to external agents, or represent a minority, or is a relative of the PCs. Works also as a new organization, such as religion (see above), trade or workers union, class (psionics? sorcerers?) or guild (as thieves).
- (47-48) Abuse: someone is a victim and needs help. Maybe a foreigner, or a child. The victim may be persecuted by criminal elements, by corrupt guards or even by the official authorities.
- (49) New Tech: a new invention has impact on the community, it could be something internal or even something an enemy had developed (and thus External Threat). Maybe the PCs have to protect the inventor, or to stop him/her. Maybe it has unforeseen consequences on the community, provoking fear and opposition.
- (50) Building project: Something to build, maybe encountering opposition, disturbing some ancient tombs or hiding some evil purpose. Or if to be built in the wilds, maybe leading to External Threat or Exploration themes.
- (51) Art: A painting, a sculpture or some other object, or music. It can be coveted by different parties, willing to kill for it. Maybe it has magical properties, maybe it was stolen from a tomb, maybe it is sacred for an External enemy who wants it back. Maybe it is made with human souls.
- (52) Trends and fashion: something new swept among the PCs community, but is that a mundane event or the result of some sort of magical influence? the more strange the new trend is, the more probable the latter.
- (53) Theatre: A source of fun, drama, rivalries, sabotage, ghosts, assassinations. Or maybe a Play is offending someone powerful, who decides to stop it. Or a Play is in truth a magical rite to summon in the city some ancient demon.
- (54) Hate campaign: some local leader is calling for the persecution of some group, class, or maybe of all adventurers. But why? Is he hiding something? Is he a puppet of some power? and how to turn the people against him or, if bad come to worse, escape?
- (55) Insurrection: or golpe. Planned by the army? or the people? But the revolt will fail because the government already knows of it. Or the rebels seem on the good side, but are maneuvered by something evil. Or the revolt has been staged from the inside.
- (56) The Child: is the prophesied saviour to be. But maybe of an evil party. Or maybe the prophecy is just false, but people believe in it anyway. Or maybe she is not the true child, just a decoy. Or maybe is a relative of one of the PCs.
- (57-58) Tyrants: the governor becomes tyrannical, or any group, class or church which rises to power starts to oppress the people. Obviously typically tyrants enjoy vast popular support, or at least the support of the best armed, or some powerful external element. What if the Tyrant is not so evil after all, but just presented as such by his internal enemies, which are really more evil than him? What if he is a tyrant, but his true masters are even worse than him?
- (59-60) Sacrifice: maybe a cult is secretly performing sacrifices and has to be stopped. Maybe the victims are so fanatical as to be willing participants. Maybe the sacrifices are keeping away something, or bringing in something. Or a hero or heroine sacrifices him/herself for some higher purpose. Or some protester sacrifices himself to show the evils of the government.
- (61) Symbol: someone is tracing a gigantic magic symbol. Maybe with murders, plants, architecture, rituals, or anything else. But what’s its purpose? is it a portal to another world or dimension? Could not be something good, right?
- (62-64) It’s the Economy: guilds, trade, a lot of money and a lot of intrigue. Strife conflict can arise between different guilds, groups of merchants, traders and artisans, any social class and the government, the country and other countries or races. Or maybe some powerful criminal syndicate is taking over, maybe backed by magic. Or a powerful church. Or a new religion/prophet pushes the local rich to donate to the poor, but the idea is not appreciated by other wealthy and powerful.
- (65-66) Too successful: what if an important trader gains some serious competitive advantage over other traders/artisans/shoppers due to some new product or technique? People get ruined, go out of business and rage ensues. But if the trader is not breaking any law, what side the authorities and the PCs will take? Maybe the matter should be resolved without blood.
- (67-68) Fishing and shipbuilding: Seas, lakes and rivers have a whole range of activities associated with them, activities which can be menaced by creatures of the deep or any internal tension such as greedy owners, extreme competition, strikes or various criminal activities.
- (69-70) Industry: normally associated with the modern world, but older times had it too, for example in textile production, dyeing, metal working, ceramics, logging and more. Activities which could incur in all the same problems as above.
- (71-72) Hunting and gathering: Quite an important activity for any community, usually it was heavily regulated and it will be even more so in a world with druids and forest creatures.
- (73-75) Markets, artisans and shops: Markets, shops and small traders are very important in a community, and conflicts can arise from many things, from external competition to excessive government taxes, racial tensions or thefts. Or a new exotic product can produce a ‘gold rush’ up to market saturation and dramatic failures.
- (76-78) Services: this range of human activities include a lot of things, such as banking, money lending, insurances, legal defense, animal training or companionship. Lots of people have such jobs and may need protection, for various reasons.
- (79-80) Servants and workers: guards, personal servants, couriers, construction or port workers are the salt of a community. The strike and opposition of any such category can have a huge impact on society and the government have fallen for such reasons. Slaves and serfs revolts also happened quite often in countries which had these despicable institutions.
- (81-82) Bureaucracy: Modern governments have ministers, hospitals, schools, retirement and unemployment benefits. Ancient governments often left much of these activities to churches and private citizens, but even the smallest governments will have a basic bureaucratic structure, either composed of nobles or selected by training, with all the associated problems of inefficiency, abuse and bribes.
- (83-84) Army and guards: any country has them to defend itself from external and internal enemies. They inevitably tend to form a caste and to be inclined to stage a coup d’etat in the more unstable countries.
- (85-86) Taxes: Everybody hates them, and people have revolted when such taxes were perceived as unfair for some reason. Forcing people to pay with arrests and bloodshed is never a good idea, but in most cases governments need the money for some serious reason and will not just let the matter drop. In the times when taxes were collected by hand obviously tax collectors were a favourite target of bandits, but authorities were also very keen in punishing such thefts.
- (87-88) The Trial: Someone is on trial and the PCs have to help her/him. Maybe they must find proof of her/his innocence, maybe the trial is not fair at all and they have to plan an escape before the defendant is executed. Maybe they must defend jurors as someone is threatening them. Maybe someone wants to kill the prosecutor. There are a lot of procedural stories which can supply endless inspiration.
- (89-90) Corruption: Any government, no matter how lawful and counterchecked, will have some. And the people doing it will resort to various means to silence anyone who could discover them. If corruption is widespread, it will lead to extensive social strife and economic crisis.
- (91) Buyer: There is an item, or building, or government position which is highly sought and rich people are ready to offer a king’s ransom for it. All manners of intrigues can ensue. Works also for auctions and slavery in the countries where it is allowed. Or the PCs could work for a Collector of some specific things, leading also to the Exploration theme.
- (92-93) Ransom: Historical pirates often earned more money from ransoms than pillaging. Ancient kingdoms did the same with kings, princes and nobles captured in battle. Plenty of opportunities for PCs, maybe to bring the ransom safely at destination or to free the important prisoner without paying it.
- (94) Test subjects: A wizard offers money to people, or maybe scrolls and potions to the PCs, if only they will allow him to experiment with a new tattoo/spell/item on them. What could go wrong?
- (95-96) Competition: Two beautiful and noble women compete for fame and beauty and engage the PCs to find magic, cosmetics or hinder each other. Same for two rich men, or the rulers of two competing cities or countries. Could also lead to Exploration if the PCs are sent to search for some exotic items all around the world (and beyond).
- (97) Recipes: A famous cook is looking for a rare ingredient or wants someone to try his dishes or wants help to get to the table of a powerful person or is sabotaged by a rival. What if the cook is specialized in strange monsters?
- (98-00) Inn or Tavern: Such establishments are a standard trope of a gigantic number of stories. Maybe because they are a den of rebels, spies and criminals, maybe because the authorities decide to close one for ‘immorality’, maybe because they have access to the underground or other worlds, or the owner has some interesting backstory.
A pillar of literature in all of the world, this theme may be used in many ways to create interesting adventures. In classic fairy tales, often the hero had to complete a quest to win the hand of his beloved, defeating several obstacles and sometimes also rivals and opponents. Often roleplaying characters downplay family relations and many PCs start as orphans, but family is a great opportunity for adventures. Not just the often abused trope of family in danger, but so much more, such as annoying relatives, overbearing parents, embarrassing cousins, competitive siblings, criminally implicated friends in all shades of possible relationships from the helpful to the abusive.
Typical variation which could be chosen randomly or with a d100 roll:
- (1-5) Star crossed lovers: Two people or creatures which love each other but are hindered by opposing parents, difference in status or race, war or conflict, physical distance, persecution or any other problem. A PC could be a party or the PCs may be hired by either party, or even by the party who has reason to stop the relationship.
- (6-10) Lost love: A loved one is kidnapped, or leaves, or dies. In a fantasy world, the second event may be due to magical rather than mundane reasons, for example an evil wizard charming someone. And the third event in a fantasy world may not be final at all, prompting a quest to obtain a chance of resurrection.
- (11-15) Unwanted love: the opposite of before, what to do with an admirer who is too demanding, aggressive, jealous or just embarrassing, annoying or maybe threathens suicide? This could happen to a PC or a family member, or PCs could just be hired to help. What if the unwanted admirer is extremely rich, or powerful, or someone who the family or local government does not want to disappoint?
- (16-20) Trouble in Paradise: someone (or a PC) is happily married (or happily single) but suddenly falls in love, or meets again an old, unforgotten lover, or discover he has an unknown son/daughter (or she is pregnant), or starts to question his/her whole life and choices.
- (21-25) Infidelity: the source of a billion pieces of literature, plays and movies. Maybe the lover is a friend, or an enemy, or the lover has disappeared (is dead) and the PC (or the person who hired the PCs) is suspected of such strange disappearance/murder. Or both lovers have disappeared, but it’s just an elopement or something else?
- (26-30) Divorce: the division of wealth, properties and custody of children, with all the possible complications of a fantasy world. Who gets the magical mount? Who keeps the right to use the name of the adventuring group if they were both in the same? Or more simply, any of the two parties could hire PCs to investigate/frame/protect or attack.
- (31-34) Orphan: every one of them dreams that one day his/her true parents, kings and queens, will come back for him. Or that just two good people will adopt him. Maybe sometimes it becomes true. Maybe a parent is an evil demon. Maybe an orphan wants the PCs’ help to find his true parents. World literature has tons of stories you can draw from.
- (35-39) Sickness: a mysterious malady affecting the loved one will send the hero searching for a cure, which may be a particular plant, a magical object or simply to gather enough gold to pay for an expensive magical cure. Such sickness could be natural or provoked by something or someone, who the PC will have to stop. The same may apply to any family member, see below.
- (40-42) Madness: variant of the above, a mental sickness may be even worse than a body sickness, but would still need a cure. What if this malady is really a magical curse? How to treat a friend or family member which has completely changed his ‘normal’ behaviour? Is he/she sick or not? What if he/she does not want to be ‘cured’?
- (43-47) Sister/Brother: she/he is in danger, or disappeared, or in conflict with someone. Works also for nephews, nieces, grandsons and granddaughters. Extensively, a sister or brother could be anyone who is a close friend, either of the same class/race/guild or not. Or a sister/brother may request help on behalf of a close friend, even if maybe the latter is not on good terms with the PC(s). Alternatively, a PC could find himself on the opposite side of a brother, sister or close friend.
- (48-52) Son or daughter: Similar to the above, but with more extensive complications due to the added responsibility. The care for young children demands a lot of time, especially if someone is a single parent. Strange abilities, powers, sickness, tantrums, school, friends, toys, disappearance can add a variety of troubles from the mundane to the terrifying ones. Teens get in trouble, take excessive risks, use drugs, make terrible choices of friends and relationships. Magical teens could get in bigger troubles, as much as teens who like swordplay (or hiding in shadows). And clerical teens can easily become fanatical and rebel against moderate fathers and mothers. Older offsprings should be more manageable, unless there is some serious reason for discord with the parents. The sons and daughters of the rich and powerful can obviously have problems of a whole bigger magnitude.
- (53-56) Grandpa: or grandmother, or old uncle/aunt, despite his/her age, gets in trouble, escapes from home, hangs out with bad company, uses drugs, or finds a new young lover, or departs for a dangerous adventure, or returns to a young age by magic, or become rich and changes his life. He/she may suffer from more or less harmless dementia, or just feign it. If he/she is a powerful wizard or cleric, a lot of trouble could ensue.
- (57-61) Father and son: Or mother and daughter have quarreled, fallen apart, at various drama levels. It could be just a family altercation or something much more serious, such as a King and his Prince fighting for the kingdom with opposition factions. The reason could be anything from misunderstanding and manipulation to something one did and the other can’t forgive. PCs obviously will be in the middle of it.
- (62-65) Gift: a PC may receive an uncomfortable gift, such a monster infested land with manor, or have to obtain a gift for a family member. And maybe the requested gift is in the hand of someone unwilling to sell it. This may apply also to the Lover Theme above.
- (66-70) Jobs: could be lost, due to economic hardship, or the mysterious death of the employer, due to unjust firing, slander, sickness, old age. Jobs could be found, but maybe the employer is evil, or just too demanding. Or maybe the new job forces the PCs (or whoever asked for their help) to make some difficult ethical choices, or to work against former friends or relatives.
- (71-74) Teacher: some abilities can be gained only through a teacher, who may be difficult to find or unwilling to teach. She/he may require a price or request a task to be completed. Or a former teacher may be in danger, and ask for the help of his/her former pupil. Same applies to any organization, church or guild the PC(s) may wish to become a part of.
- (75-79) Heirloom: the source of so many family feuds. It is probably haunted, or leads to some uncomfortable place, or it will lead to more expenses than gains.
- (80-83) Destiny: The PC or someone else is the ‘Chosen One’ to do something, or to search for something, or to save something. She/he may be chosen by wizards, clerics, immortals, ancient holy texts or any other party. It could lead to fighting some internal tension, some external threat, and/or to extensive exploration. Or maybe the PCs are chosen to protect the ‘Chosen One’ from her/his enemies. It will certainly be a lot of trouble.
- (84-88) Disappearance: could apply to relative, friend, lover, familiar, steed, object or any other possession. Was it stolen or went away? Why, and where is now. This theme could easily lead to Exploration, to Internal Tension or to External Threat, depending on the reasons for the disappearance.
- (89-91) Where did she go? A lover or friend went to the place from which nobody ever returned. Why did she go there and how to save her? And also quite important, why has nobody ever returned from this wood/cave/plane/ruin? Obviously can be connected to any kind of External Threats or Explorations.
- (92-94) She does not want to be saved: Classic princess rescuing with a catch. Maybe she ran away with a lover, which is an enemy or a commoner. Maybe she is not in danger at all, but she is the danger who is gathering an enemy army. Works with all themes. And maybe this time is a male prince, or an old, not so-senile, deposed king who escaped from unjust imprisonment.
- (95-98) Family in trouble: they have gained enemies, or there is a feud among family members, or they have lost their house or possessions due to some disaster. Or someone has prophesied something bad to happen, being real or not, or there is an actual curse from some powerful wizard or cleric, or fairy (but why?).
- (99-00) Come back home: little variant of the above if the PC(s) is recalled to his/her home town due to a great danger, or the disappearance of a loved one. Maybe the letter calling him/them home has been forged for some purpose. Maybe the PC(s) cannot get there in time, or has to do a great personal sacrifice to save his/her birthplace. Maybe the PC(s) hates the place from which he came from, but somehow he cannot escape the obligation to return.
The Exploration (4 on 1d4)
Another pillar of D&D and many other games, from exploration of nearby wilderlands, ruins and dungeons to other nations, planets, planes and dimensions. Or the other way around if the explorers are not the PCs, but visitors from another strange place, with the resulting cultural clash. Exploration may also involve competing parties to claim foreign lands, resources or lost treasure, or pursues, with the PCs as trackers or fugitives.
Other possibilities which could be chosen randomly or with a d20 roll:
- (1-2) The Object: From the Golden Fleece to the Holy Grail, a great reason to explore far away lands is to search for some fabulous object or, as in the case of the Lord of the Ring, to destroy one in the only spot where it can be done. Also work to create internal or external tension when there is a treasure coveted by many parties. Or the object could already be in the PC’s possession, and reveal unexpected properties, or draw unwanted attention. Weapons are a special kind of objects, particularly if they have special properties or histories. Objects may have activation words difficult to find, or in possession of someone unwilling to reveal them. Another object with plenty of possibilities is the key. Maybe it’s magical, maybe it was stolen to someone powerful.
- (2-3) Treasure map: A mysterious map could be the start of the exploration. It can lead to a treasure, to a lost city, to a magical artifact. But it will not be easy to reach, not easy to get and not without adversaries and maybe betrayal, otherwise it would not be an adventure.
- (4-5) Lost city, dungeon, ruin or island: A classic fantasy trope, normally it contains dark secrets, terrible enemies, lurking danger but also fantastic treasures. The B1, B3, B4, B5, B7, B8 and B10 modules and also X1 could be considered to belong to this section. What’s more interesting are the consequences of the discovery by the PCs. Maybe the lost location will unleash a new threat on the outside world. But the discovery will forever change both the ‘lost’ place and the outside world, creating trade, war or anything in between and probably changing the history of both forever. In Mystara obviously the discovery of Cynidicea and the Valley of Hutaaka are bound to have far reaching consequences for all the nearby countries.
- (6) Getting lost: in a far away island after a shipwreck could be a common situation in adventures, but in fantasy you can also fall from a flying ship, or get lost in external planes and strange dimensions, maybe due to sabotage, or to an enemy wizard.
- (7) A new Continent: or planet, or plane, could be discovered, leading to the foundation of new communities, the discovery of other people, animals, plants, foods and so on. Maybe the native are endangered, or they are dangerous.
- (8) The Strange Village: the inhabitants are unfriendly, or outright hostile, or just a bit strange. They could be undead, werecreatures, doppelgangers, dragons, aliens, fairies or simply live in fear because they have been enslaved by some powerful creature or tyrant. Could also work as External Threat, in the case of a nearby community, or Internal Tension, if it is something which is happening inside the PC’s community.
- (9-10) Natives: PCs must explore and map an area devoid of human presence but inhabited by another race, humanoid or not. This race fears and mistrusts humans but is not violent, so it will try in every way to make life difficult for PCs and prevent them from working, but without attacking them (stealing objects, making them lose, keeping them awake at night etc etc). If the PCs kill any of them, however, they will immediately descend on the PCs en masse and massacre them all without mercy. Will the PCs be able to keep calm and open a dialogue? If they do, the creatures will explain to them that what they are doing will bring an invasion of humans in their lands and could cause a war, and will beg them to stop. How will the PCs react?
- (11-12) Haunted building: many possible variations. It can also be an Internal Tension theme if the building is inside the city, or hides a dungeon with dark creatures below. More in general restless spirits are a variant of this, maybe they want revenge, maybe they deceive, or maybe are not even real spirits, but magical illusion of some wizard with nasty purposes.
- (13) The Lake: or pool, or spring, or river, has mysterious properties. Maybe it disappears. Maybe it is poisoned. Maybe it seems to have healing magic, but with serious effects.
- (14-15) The Trader: A famous merchant is entrusted with the mission of opening a new market for the city/nation by bringing certain goods where they are not yet known and thus starting a lucrative trade. The dangers are not just in the journey, but in the necessity to convince buyers of the goodness of their goods, and having to compete with other merchants who bring other goods and hope to obtain an exclusive trade in the host city at the expense. of the city/country for which the merchant and the PCs work.
- (16) How did we arrive here? PCs wake up in a different location from the one they fell asleep in. Drunkenness is just too obvious in fantasy, probably it was wild magic, fairy circle, planar portal, illusion, time travel, different dimension, immortal intervention or/and enemy trick.
- (17) It’s Another World! The PCs are apparently where they were, but then they start to notice some differences, and discover they are truly in a different world, similar but with a different history. But how did they come to be here? and how will they return home?
- (18) Birthright: All people (or all animals, or plants, or fungi, or stones) born/found in a certain region/area are mutated/magical/cursed/blessed and someone wants to stop this, or steal this, or just to know why.
- (19-20) And the Quest? I have not forgotten what’s probably THE major trope of fantasy and its ancestor, the folk tale. But The Quest, rather than a theme in itself, could happen to resolve any of the previous themes: the PCs may be sent to find something or someone to gain help against an internal or external threat, environmental hazard or simply to explore. Or they may need something to help a loved one, ally or relative. Quests may be further complicated by time constraints, competing parties, places which are uncharted or difficult to be found.
1Yet sometimes happens also in humans, see also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermaphrodite and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/True_hermaphroditism
2See Threshold page in the Vaults of Pandius http://pandius.com/thrs_mag.html and html copies of the articles here http://pandius.com/msubset1.html, here http://pandius.com/msubset2.html, and here http://pandius.com/msubset3.html.
3It would be too long to provide tertiary tables for the whole world, but obviously any Mystara region normally contains a list of 10-20 countries/areas from which to choose.
4See Threshold Magazine issue #14 for this region: http://pandius.com/thrs_mag.html#14 and especially the author’s article Through the Shadowdeep, from Karameikos to the Hollow World: http://pandius.com/thru_sdp.html
6Also see note 2 above.
9From Thunder Rift
13From Blackmoor module DA2 Temple of the Frog
14From Thunder Rift module The Knight of Newts