In the last couple of days I’ve reviewed some books that have information that looks useful for developing fantastic locations. Of those there are four that I look to most often.
Revised System Reference Document
The only thing I’ve found in the RSRD regarding chaos lands has to do with planar traits.
These are the obvious traits to look at (they say ‘chaos-aligned’ right on them), but they aren’t the only ones to consider. For that matter, a chaotic place isn’t necessarily Chaotic. I’ll start here, though.
Mildly Chaos-Aligned: Creatures who have a Lawful alignment take a -2 circumstance penalty to all Charisma-based checks.
Strongly Chaos-Aligned: Creatures who are not Chaotic take a -2 penalty to all Charisma-based, Intelligence-based, and Wisdom-based checks.
So far, this doesn’t sound very chaos-like to me. Let’s see what else I can find.
These sound more promising, they talk about how the place changes, and change is a major marker of chaos.
Alterable Morphic: On a plane with this trait, objects remain where they are (and what they are) unless affected by physical force or magic. You can change the immediate environment as a result of tangible effort.
This sounds like the real world. This isn’t very chaotic, but it is a place to start.
Highly Morphic: On a plane with this trait, features of the plane change so frequently that it’s difficult to keep a particular area stable. Such planes may react dramatically to specific spells, sentient thought, or the force of will. Others change for no reason.
This sounds pretty chaotic.
Magically Morphic: Specific spells can alter the basic material of a plane with this trait.
This sounds like Alterable Morphic but bigger — applicable, but unless it happens often or easily I’m not sure I’d really count it.
The remaining traits (Divinely Morphic just indicates that a powerful-enough creature has full control, so now it’s up to that creature; Static is unchanging; Sentient is Divinely Morphic but self-mastered) don’t sound very chaotic to me so I won’t detail them further.
There are a few physical traits that sound promising.
Subjective Gravity: The strength of gravity on a plane with this trait is the same as on the Material Plane, but each individual chooses the direction of gravity’s pull. Such a plane has no gravity for unattended objects and nonsentient creatures. This sort of environment can be very disorienting to the newcomer, but is common on ‘weightless’ planes. [eliding rules on applying gravity rules and changing your ‘down’ direction]
Each creature getting to choose its own ‘down’ sounds like it has room to be chaotic. Also, thinking of the Goblin King walking on walls in Labyrinth suggests it’s a good fit.
Erratic Time: Some planes have time that slows down and speeds up, so an individual may lose or gain time as he moves between the two planes. I’m eliding the table showing rates between 1 day: 1 round and 1 round: 1 day.
Going into a place and not knowing when you’re coming back sounds pretty chaotic to me. If you can even go backwards it could be even more so (also, to the game as a whole, so treat that idea carefully).
There are a few magic traits that might apply.
Wild Magic: On a plane with the wild magic trait spells and spell-like abilities function in radically different and sometimes dangerous ways. Any spell or spell-like ability used on a wild magic plane has a chance to go awry. The caster must make a level check (DC 15 + the level of the spell or effect) for the magic to function normally. For spell-like abilities, use the level or HD of the creature employing the ability for the caster level check and the level of the spell-like ability to set the DC for the caster level check. Failure on this check means that something strange happens. [wild magic table elided]
Cast a spell, something weird and unexpected happens. This sounds chaotic to me.
Impeded Magic, Enhanced Magic, and Limited Magic could all be used in developing a chaotic place, but they can be used almost anywhere. I consider them basic elements in the toolbox.
Comments on the RSRD Elements
Overall, this isn’t hugely inspiring. There are other things that can be done with spells and the like, but it looks like support for ‘chaotic places’ is pretty weak, and most of the heavy lifting is in my hands.
Let’s see what else I can find.
Classic Play Book of the Planes
This book takes the RSRD material described above and expands on it.
I didn’t mention it yesterday, but the various traits and quirks in Book of the Planes have or can be treated as point values. This mostly comes up with regard to plane crafting, something I’m not planning to look into. At least, I’m not planning to look into it today, but I really don’t have a problem with a model that considers ‘construction’ of a fantastic location using some kind of framework.
The ‘chaotic trait’ is now an axis, ranging from -10 (totally lawful: “The entire plane exists as a single equation. Anyone entering such a plane is either integrated into the equation (if sufficiently lawful) or opposed with overwhelming force (if deemed an undesirable random factor).”) to +10 (total chaotic, and I’ll describe it below).
We’re interested in the 0..+10 part today, obviously.
Mildly Neutral or Strongly Neutral: A plane only becomes Strongly Neutral if there is a genuine commitment to actively balancing the cosmic scales there, as opposed to merely indecision [or disinterest –kjd]
Large civilizations become rare.
Anarchic communes or warlords are the most common forms of government.
Logic tends to fail here; intuition is a better guide.
Mildly Aligned to Chaos: Those not aligned to Chaos suffer a -2 penalty on all Charisma-based checks.
Chaos becomes the dominant ethos, even among animals.
The landscape warps and changes randomly.
Strongly Aligned to Chaos: The laws of physics change randomly here. [No “-2 to Cha, Int, Wis-based checks unless Chaotic”, per the RSRD here? –kjd]
Reality fails. Small bubbles of order exist, but most of the plane is random chaos. [This is probably where I could put my plane of amorphia, where the gods originally formed. The next step down doesn’t allow for the events that happened there –kjd]
The whole plane exists in bubbling nuclear chaos. Anyone entering such a plane is either absorbed into the madness (if sufficiently chaotic) or opposed with overwhelming force (if unpalatable).
This considers things on a planar perspective, so some of the comments above wouldn’t apply to smaller places directly. However, they could be adapted somewhat – the +3 entry “anarchic communes or warlords are the most common forms of government” could be adapted to “the temple hierarchy is controlled by the most influential priest, often from the shadows”.
This axis doesn’t mention any quirks (similar to the manifestations I talked about in my previous two articles) for the Law-Chaos axis.
As with the Chaotic trait, this is now a scale from 0..20. Chaotic places tend to be highly morphic.
Static: These planes are unchanging. Visitors cannot affect living residents of the plane, nor the objects that its denizens possess. Any spells that would affect those on the plane have no effect unless the plane’s Static trait is somehow removed or suppressed. Spells cast before entering a plane with the Static trait remain in effect, however. Even moving an unattended object within a static plane requires a Strength check (DC 16). Particularly heavy objects may be impossible to move.
Ageing, change and decay are unknown to the inhabitants.
Slightly Morphic: This plane can change, but only slowly. Reality moves sluggishly here. The DC for all checks is increased by +10 and all creatures or objects gain damage reduction 10/-.
Empires and forces that have been established for millennia control the plane.
Change is seen as something undesirable and wrong.
Alterable Morphic: On a plane with this trait, objects remain where and what they are unless affected by physical force or magic. You can change the immediate environment as a result of tangible effort.
The pace of change here is slightly faster than normal.
Synchronicity: The plane warps and folds imperceptibly, magnifying heroic acts. Characters gain a +1 luck bonus to all rolls for every five character levels they have. Monsters receive a similar bonus based on their Challenge Rating.
Fate and prophecy become less dependable; each mortal forges his own destiny here.
Demi-gods and half-divine beings become more common.
Divinely Morphic: Specific unique beings, such as deities or similar great powers, have the ability to alter objects, creatures and the landscape on planes with this trait. Ordinary characters find these planes similar to alterable planes in that spells and physical effort may affect them. These deities may cause such areas to change instantly and dramatically, creating great kingdoms for themselves.
Strong servants of the gods or powerful mortal mages looking for their own strongholds often claim such planes.
At this level, the plane tends to slip between Magically Morphic and Narrative Morphic at certain times.
Magically Morphic: Spells can alter the traits of the plane directly, without the need for ritual magic.
Narrative Morphic: The needs of drama and belief shape this plane; it operates according to ‘fairy tale logic,’ not physics. True love literally conquers all here.
The Fey claim most planes at this morphic level.
Dreams have as much effect on the world as physical actions.
Highly Morphic: On a plane with this trait, features of the plane change so frequently that it is difficult to keep a particular area stable. Such planes may react dramatically to specific spells, sentient thought or the force of will. Others change for no reason.
There are only a handful of people on such planes: those who have the strength of will to seize control of it. All others are absorbed into the desires and fantasies of these dream-kings. Such planes often fragment into dozens of smaller demi-planes.
Sentient: These planes are those that respond to a single thought – that of the plane itself. Travellers would find the plane’s landscape changing as a result of the plane’s thoughts on the travellers, becoming either more or less hospitable depending on its reaction.
Completely Morphic: The plane is catastrophically changed by every event; the flapping of a butterfly’s wings might increase the gravity of the plane by a thousand times or summon hosts of angels. Life and sanity are utterly impossible here and these planes usually boil away into the Astral Plane within 1d100 days.
Unlike the Chaos trait, the Morphic trait has some quirks.
Quirk Value Effects Limited Morphology
The plane’s structure can be altered, but only within certain parameters – no trait can be altered by more than + or – 5. Restricted Morphology
The plane is as morphic as its Morphic trait indicates, but only to a specific group of creatures (only elves, only sorcerers, only the members of the Order of the Star and so on). For everyone else, the plane’s Morphic trait is 5. Seasonally Morphic
The plane’s morphic trait varies by up to + or – X at various points during the year. Any time spent at a positive Morphic value must be balanced with time spent at a negative value.
Subjective Gravity: Works the same as in the RSRD.
The Time trait is pretty similar. The axis ranges from -10 (Utterly Timeless: Time on this plane has stopped. Cause and effect are impossible – nothing can happen here) to +10 (Utterly Timeless: All possible things happen simultaneously). These two values are kind of useless to me, the scales in between range from ratios of one century to one round, to one round to one century.
There are also a few quirks available.
Quirk Value Effects Erratic
Time flows differently during each visit; roll 10+1d10 and -1d10 and add the results to see how time flows for each visit. For example, rolling a +6 and -8 would result in a 10+6-8=8, one round on the plane equals five rounds on the Prime. Backwards
Time on this plane flows backwards with respect to the rest of the universe. This has no effects on cause and effect within the plane, so characters can act normally. However, it often causes temporal paradoxes when a character leaves the plane. Pent-up Time
This quirk only affects planes with a negative Time trait. When a traveler leaves these planes for one where time flows normally, conditions such as hunger and ageing occur retroactively.
Magic traits get broken out as well. Each type of magic is considered separately. ‘Arcane’, ‘Divine’, and ‘Green’ each has its own axis. In all cases low ratings (below 0) mean that various effects fail. For instance, Arcane -3 means that “8th level arcane spells cannot be cast”. High ratings mean bonus metamagic levels (every arcane spell cast can have up to a certain amount of metamagic applied, even without the feats.
I can easily see chaotic places having higher access to certain magic and lawful places having lower… but I can also imagine the opposite.
The above effects are applied consistent to the three types of magic. The axis for each type of magic has other effects, usually describing societal changes (“most local priests are not clerics; they are experts in Knowledge (Religion). True clerics are scarce and their powers seen as wondrous”) or situational (“Fey and magical beasts become common”).
Wild Magic is still the major quirk applicable to chaotic places. Impeded Magic happens at -8 on the axis (and is probably pretty silly – DC doesn’t exceed 22 because you can’t cast anything over third level, and if you’re in a place with that extreme an axis value you can probably make that trivially, at worst).
Comments on Classic Play Book of the Planes
I like that this book goes into greater detail for the various traits that appear relevant, but for my purposes here it isn’t a lot more inspiring or useful. If I consider the plane crafting rules it might become more so, but at this point I think it’s closer to a minor tool – perhaps more useful for establishing a baseline for the location but not a lot more. I expect the manifestations will be much more interesting.
I have considered a Time trait that instead of manipulates the passage of time measures the era of the area (prompted by thoughts of lost valleys with dinosaurs and of crashed space ships). I have concluded that can be done at least as easily just by modifying local conditions. The ‘lost valley’ is warmer and has denser air than most, plus big lizards and huge bugs, while a ‘future’ time might be represented by zero gravity (everyone lives on a space ship) and so on.
I would probably change how the negative magic trait values are applied. Instead of removing the ability to cast the top-level spells, I would consider increasing the spell slot required to cast the spell (just as the positive values let you cast metamagic spells with lower-level slots that would normally be allowed). For it to be impossible to cast spells above sixth level seems like it would be a less noticeable change than all spells having up to two levels of metamagic applied. Requiring spell slots two levels higher means you would need to be third level to cast cantrips, fifth to cast magic missile (or cure light wounds if we look at the divine axis instead) seems to me like it would be a more noticeable effect and better aligned with the positive axis effects.
Advanced Gamemaster’s Guide
This is a very small section and there are only three pieces here.
“Terrible, arcane storms infused with transmutation magic” sounds likely to be chaotic.
When a creature first enters a transstorm, and after each hour of exposure, it must make a Fortitude save or suffer changes. 75% of all such changes are negative, 25% are positive (after a fashion, they are often of little use… but at least don’t usually make more problems).
Transstorm Power DC Effect Change-rain 13 1 minor change Minor Transstorm 18 1-3 minor changes Moderate Transstorm 23 1 major change Major Transstorm 28 1-4 minor changes, 1-3 major changes Transstorm Hurricane 33 1-6 major changes
I won’t go into what the changes are, here – just take it that it’s best to not get involved in this sort of thing. However, as an effect that can randomly warp creatures and the terrain, it certainly feels like it would be an appropriate manifestation of chaos.
Chaotic locations (suggested attuned locations and events: ocean storms, ancient battlefields) are good places to cast spells with the (Chaotic) subtype.
Minor: Acts as a Heighten Spell feat for all (Chaotic) spells, increasing their effective level by +2. This effect increases the save DCs of such spells, as well as possibly allows them to bypass some defenses (such as minor globe of invulnerability). It has no effect on spells prepared there but cast elsewhere.
Moderate: increases caster level of all (Chaotic) spells by 3.
Major: (Chaotic) spells are cast or prepared as if they were one spell level lower. A major location has so much power, however, that any spell cast within it (whether cast at the location or prepared there and cast later) has a chance of getting out of control. The caster must make a Concentration check (DC 20 + double spell level) to control this power. If the check fails by 5 or less, the spell is cast, but the caster takes 1d4 points of magic damage per level of the spell. If the check is missed by 6 or more, the spell is wasted without creating the desired effect, and the caster still takes 1d4 points of magic damage per level of the spell.
Holy site powers are modeled after or based on cleric domains. The three degrees of effect for the Chaos domain are below.
Minor: All spells and abilities that have a listed percentile chance to be effective (such as displacement or confusion) add +10% to all percentile rolls.
Moderate: All creatures with lawful alignments take a –1 morale penalty to all attack and damage rolls, skill and ability checks, and saving throws.
Major: All spells cast from magic items (including wands and staves) have a +10% chance of acting
Comments on Advanced Gamemaster’s Guide
These look like useful tools for tweaking a location, but overall I don’t know that they are all that interesting. Ignoring the rest of this book (which is full of good stuff), for the purpose of identifying effects for fantastic locations I’d keep this one handy, but more as a backup in case you just want a simple bump.
Portals & Planes
This book focuses more on manifestations of the traits than the previous two books, which I think will make it more useful to me.
The book does present some alternate terrain features (terrain modified by the nature of the plane) but the only entry applicable here is for forests, where the trees move around, confusing trails and forcing those moving through it to change their paths to avoid walking into trees. I would want to expand on this.
Four manifestations are presented here (identified as ‘traits’ from the Chaos group; I prefer my label).
Each time a caster uses a spell, there is a percentage chance that his magic takes on a radically different form.
Level of Chaos Magical Error Chance Faint 5% Light 10% Medium 15% Heavy 20% Overwhelming 25%
Each time a caster tries to use a spell, roll d% and check the magical error chance. If the result of the roll is less than or equal to the listed percentage, the caster’s spell mutates and changes. Randomly select a spell of the same level from the caster’s spell lists. The easiest way to randomly pick a spell is to roll 1d20 and count down from the first spell. Use a smaller die for short spell lists. Resolve the spell against the original target. If the spell has an area of effect, center it on the target. Cones and similar effects extend from the caster to his target. Spells with a target listed as “you” affect the caster.
The chaos ascendant trait lends strength and vitality to creatures with a chaos subtype or alignment. Their muscles bulge, blood rushes through their veins, and their hair and skin shift colors as raw chaos permeates their forms. Depending on the level you select for this trait, they gain a variety of benefits.
Chaos Level Str Bonus Con Bonus Fast Healing Faint +0 +2 0 Light +2 +4 0 Medium +4 +6 1 Heavy +6 +8 2 Overwhelming +8 +10 3
The ground shimmers as raw magic runs through it, turning lakes and forests into empty deserts. Rivers run red with blood. A moment later, the desert gives way to an endless ocean. These are the chaos lands, realms where the land itself constantly changes shape.
A chaos land is so thoroughly impregnated with the stuff of raw chaos that it constantly changes shape. Even the duration of these changes shifts over time, with some areas remaining stable for weeks or even months. You can modify this trait in a number of ways. The basic system given below allows you to randomly generate new terrain around the characters. You can also modify how often the terrain changes.
Level of Chaos Time Between Changes Faint 1d6 days Light 1d3 days Medium 2d12 hours Heavy 1d12 hours Overwhelming 1d4 hours
The random terrain table can generate changes for you, or you can use it as a model for a custom-designed list of traits. You can give chaos lands a set of consistent traits, such as cold weather, or you can allow almost anything to change over time. Shifting the probabilities for certain results also allows you to customize this trait. For example, you could create a table that yields a forest-themed change on results of 1 to 80 and a few radically different results for rolls of 81 or higher. In this case the terrain displays seemingly static conditions, but once in a while they undergo a dramatic change.
The table presented in the book, that I have elided, shows equal chances of desert, mountains, forest/jungle, mechanical, organic, plains, subterranean, swamp, tundra, water.
I would be inclined, if using this manifestation, to use to not only indicate the frequency of the change, but the scope. If the manifestation is faint or light it should probably have the same fundamental nature as it did before the change – forest stays forest, but the trees change type or the topology changes. Medium, and perhaps heavy, the changes might gradually shift the fundamental nature – forest thins and gives way to plains, or the ground becomes wetter and wetter and the area becomes a swamp. Only if the manifestation is overwhelming would I have the terrain change very drastically.
The frequency and scope could then each be a separate consideration. Overwhelming frequency but faint scope means that the trees shift constantly, but otherwise the changes are not very big, while faint frequency but overwhelming scope means that every few days you have to replan your camp (you probably don’t have a house… any more).
Lawful creatures despise this area. The matter that forms it is composed of chaotic energy that works to subvert their efforts. Bad luck flows to them in a river, while in extreme cases they literally shrivel up and die.
This trait weakens creatures with a lawful subtype or alignment. They suffer a penalty to their Strength scores and to all actions they attempt. The action penalty lists a die type. Each time a lawful creature attempts to defeat a DC or AC, roll the appropriate die type and add the result to that DC. Lawful creatures suffer bad luck in chaos planes. They slip while performing a delicate task, or a target moves mere inches away from a sword blow. The plane conspires against their efforts to impose order upon it.
Chaos Level Str Penalty Action Penalty Faint -0 1d2 Light -2 1d4 Medium -4 1d6 Heavy -6 1d8 Overwhelming -8 1d12
Comments on Portals & Planes
I like the idea of manifestations because they make easy building blocks for different areas. Each has a number of ‘settings’, from faint effect to overwhelming, making them suitable for a wide variety of locations.
I might want to adjust how the manifestations are implemented mechanically, but the framework presented makes it easy to consider each piece independently and design accordingly. I would also like to see the manifestations expanded, more options available, but since you can also draw on manifestations of other powers (one example presented in the book, “Chaos Mountain”, has
- Blizzard Conditions (overwhelming cold: concealment, 10% miss chance 0-4 feet, 20% miss chance 5-20 feet, 40% miss chance 21-40 feet, 50% miss chance 41-60 feet, total 60+ feet) [written in 3e era, miss chance and concealment were simplified in 3.5]
- Chaos Ascendant (medium chaos: +4 Str, +6 Con, fast healing 1)
- Freezing Conditions (medium cold: 30 minute interval, DC 15 Fort save (-1 penalty per interval), 1d4 subdual damage)
- Ghost Wind (medium weather: 6 round interval, DC 15 Will save (-1 penalty per interval), 1d2 temporary Wisdom damage and affected by confusion for 1d8 rounds, lasts 1d4 minutes, 5% chance per hour)
In this case it has only a relatively mild chaos component, it is mostly a Cold place (with chaos and weather), but since I’m talking about selecting manifestations now and not chaos specifically I’m okay with it.
The Book of Immortals
I described, wellsprings are the manifestation of a primal power, and may manifest one or more effects. I have included those identified for the wellsprings of chaos below.
Wellsprings of Chaos
Wellsprings of chaos may have some or all of the following effects.
Aura of Freedom: The wellspring’s aura strengthens those aligned with chaos while weakening creatures associated with law. Chaotic characters within the wellspring gain a bonus to skill checks and saving throws equal to +1 per effect level. Lawful characters suffer an equal penalty to attack rolls and saving throws. Mortals feel this aura as a charge of possibility, as if anything could happen at any moment. Effect Level: 1 per point of bonus/penalty.
Bastion of Many Worlds: The powers of chaos listen closely to words spoken at the wellspring. Once per lifetime a mortal may enter the wellspring and swear his allegiance to chaos. This act instantly changes the character’s alignment to chaotic. The mortal may then request one boon. This boon is roughly equal in effect to a wish spell cast by a 20th level caster. If the mortal ever forswears his alliance to chaos he immediately loses d4 character levels and the effects of the wish vanish. Effect Level: 4.
Freedom’s Touch: The wellspring’s aura causes the local environment to suffer from the effects of random cantrips equal in effect to the prestidigitation spell. Items become soiled, cleaned, moved or colour-changed at random intervals. The Games Master is encouraged to torment the players with this effect, making every action a minor nuisance and dying particularly beloved possessions paisley. All effects vanish as soon as the object leaves the area of effect. Effect Level: 1 per one mile radius.
Pool of Colours: Within the wellspring mythic chaos physically manifests as a glowing pool of multicoloured liquid. A character drinking from the pool suffers from the effect of one random spell of 1st to 3rd level (determined as if it were a treasure scroll) cast by a 20th level caster. Liquid taken from the pool loses its effect as soon as it leaves the wellspring. A creature dwelling in the wellspring may carry the liquid with him and use it as a potion, but it is not possible to know what effect this potion will have without imbibing it. Effect Level: 4.
Guardians of Choice: Fey spirits have answered the wellspring’s call, migrating from their original homes to take up residence in its protected grottos. The first level of this effect causes the wellspring to call up to 30 CR of chaotic fey. No individual fey will have a CR greater than 10. Each additional effect level adds +15 CR to the total number of fey called and +2 to the maximum CR. Effect Level: 1 (30 CR, Max CR 10) + 1 per 15 additional CR and +2 Max CR.
Comments on the Book of Immortals
Wellsprings are intended to be fantastic locations that may be used as sources of power on the path to immortality. I think Mongoose was on a good path with their implementation. As with Portals & Planes above, I might want to tweak some of the manifestations mentioned here and expand on them, but overall the direction looks sound.
In using planar traits and their manifestations to design a fantastic location, it helps to start at a high level. For that part I favor Mongoose Publishing’s Classic Play Book of the Planes over Wizards of the Coast’s Manual of the Planes (the key material for this discussion is also in the Revised System Reference Document) because of the higher level of detail and expanded range of choices. However, this is only a very high-level view that may be useful for classification, I don’t find it produces exciting or interesting places.
The second part is to identify and describe how the traits are manifested, the exact ways you can see that the place being described is not normal. As they say in writing, “show, don’t tell” – the axes and scales measuring the traits are telling you “chaos rating of 7, be careful”, the manifestations show you that it literally is raining cats and dogs… except they are now small birthday cakes… made of diamonds… that shatter on landing and start growing leaves.
I am reasonably confident people will pay more attention to and remember the night of pet-cake-diamond-plants rather more than ‘7’… and memorability of a location is a strong indicator of how fantastic it is.
I have to think about it before I start working on it – I’ve got a lot of projects that want my attention – but a repository of manifestations of various traits (planar or not) might be a very useful thing.