Variation: Graded Item Sets

A-Z 2016 "V"“Magic item sets” were an artifact (sorry) of the late D&D 3.x era. A small group of items related by their history and power, with a synergy between them that made them more powerful together than apart.

The regalia of the phoenix consisted of the raptor’s mask, the crown of flames, the talon scepter, and the phoenix cloak. Each was a magic item in its own right, often relatively minor (worth 3,500 gp, 8,500 gp, 10,305 gp, and 50,000 gp respectively). If you had and wore/wielded two or more of them you gained increasing power from their synergy: 5/day resistance to fire when you had two of the items, 5/day immunity to fire when you had three of the items, and 1/day heal when reduced to 0..-9 hit points when you had all four items.

What if you could do something similar with graded items?

One way to go about it — and I’m not entirely certain this is workable — is to have items that are part of the same set add their grades together for effect. Individually they are all still magic items, but together they act as a much more powerful item… albeit in multiple item slots.

The Lightning Harness

The lightning harness might be a suit of armor consisting of several pieces that are individually enchanted. The breastplate (armor slot), helm (head slot), gauntlets (wrists slot), and boots (feet slot) are each magic items that combine to make a more powerful whole. Let’s give them preliminary grades of 7, 6, 4, and 3 respectively — a total of 20.

In the first pass I’ll assign a single quality to each piece

Item Grade Qualities
stormplate 7 (4) +2 enhancement, (2) electricity resistance I (5 points), (1) lightweight
lightning helm 6 (2) +1 enhancement, (2) electricity resistance I (5 points), (1) enemy glow (elementals), (1) alert I (+2 Perception)
shock gauntlets 4 (2) shock I (+1d6 electricity damage), (1) hated foe (elementals), (1) sacred (god of storms)
wind boots 3 (2) dexterity I, (1) nimble I (+2 Acrobatics)

… well. This might be a bust. Of all the options above, only the enhancement bonuses and the electricity resistance can even stack. If one character wears both the stormplate and the lightning helm that character has what amounts to a grade 13 item with +3 enhancement (grade 6, within limits, 7 grades remaining), electricity resistance 10 (grade 4, within limits, 3 grades remaining), then the lightweightenemy glow, and alert qualities (each grade 1).

On the other hand, as a grade 13 item that would normally have a market price of 42,250 gp (13*13*500 gp = 84,500 gp, but halved because it’s all armor). As separate items they have a market price of only 21,250 gp (7*7*500 gp = 24,500 gp, halved to 12,250 gp; 6*6*500 gp= 18,000 gp, halved to 9,000 gp). This is just over half the normal price. If you can afford the slots, it costs a lot less gold to go this way. It does load the item down with more low-grade qualities than might otherwise happen.

All four items together would have the qualities of a grade 20 item, which has a market price of 100,000 gp (20*20*500 gp, halved for being armor… should actually be a bit more because the shock I quality is a weapon quality, but it’s tiny compared to the rest. As individual items the total comes to 27,500 gp, only a little more than a quarter.

I suspect we’ll find the most synergy when more of the items’ qualities match. Let’s see…

The Four-Part Elemental Staff

The four-part elemental staff is currently separated into four wands, one for each element. These wands to not all have the same grades. These wands can be fitted together in arbitrary order to combine their powers.

  • The wand of elemental air is a grade 6 wand and can cast stinking cloud (3), summon monster II (2, air elemental), feather fall (1)
  • The wand of elemental earth is a grade 4 wand and can cast summon monster II (2, earth elemental), detect secret doors (1), magic weapon (1)
  • The wand of elemental fire is a grade 6 wand and can cast fireball (3), summon monster II (2, earth elemental), burning hands (1)
  • The wand of elemental water is a grade 4 wand and can cast summon monster III (2, water elemental), grease (1), obscuring mist (1)

If the wand of elemental earth or the wand of elemental water is fitted together with any one other wand, the result is still a wand, otherwise the result is a staff.

In all cases, the resulting item has the summon monster levels ‘added together’ (two wands means the summon monster II is replaced by summon monster IV, three wands means the summon monster II is replaced by summon monster VI, and all four together allow the wielder to cast summon monster VIII). The charges are likewise added together, and the caster level increases to the sum of the wands’ levels.

The wand of elemental earth and fire (the two fitted together) is a grade 10 item with summon monster IV (4), fireball (3), burning hands (1), detect secret doors (1), and magic weapon (1) spells, and 10 charges that can be spent on any combination of these spells. You can separate the wands if you want a weaker summon monster II again, but it’ll be cast at a lower caster level.

The four-part elemental staff, when completely combined, is a grade 20 item with the following spells:

  • summon monster VIII (8 charges; air, earth, fire, or water elementals)
  • fireball (3 charges)
  • stinking cloud (3 charges)
  • burning hands (1 charge)
  • detect secret doors (1 charge)
  • feather fall (1 charge)
  • grease (1 charge)
  • magic weapon (1 charge)
  • obscuring mist (1 charge)

All spells are cast at 20th level.

As a grade 20 item the staff would be 20*20*500 gp = 200,000 gp. As the four wands the cost would be 6*6*500 gp = 18,000 gp for the air and fire wands, and 4*4*500 gp = 8,000 gp for the earth and water wands, for a total of 52,000 gp.

Clearly Some Adjustment is Needed

I very much wanted this to work, but it doesn’t look quite right to me. “Combining the item powers” doesn’t seem to do enough, and the market price implications can result in wildly cheaper power.

When I say combining the item powers doesn’t do enough, I mean it’s just basic aggregation, and being allowed to do it when you otherwise wouldn’t (the enhancement and energy resistance qualities in the lightning harness, and the summon monster spells in the four-part elemental staff). Boring, not cool.

At the same time, by splitting into four separate items of approximately equal power, the total cost is reduced to a little more than a quarter. For the lightning harness this isn’t horrible, since it also ties up four item slots (armor, helmet, wrists, feet), but for the four-part elemental staff it’s basically a non-issue.

I’ve considered some combination of quirks, flaws, and curses based on level of the wielder compared to the grade of the item, or increasing some element of unpleasantness based on the number of items, but nothing feels right yet.

Umbral Mail

A-Z 2016 "U"Umbral mail, ‘shadow armor’, should probably be a thing. I picture a suit of light mail (chain shirt perhaps?) worn by a rogue who practiced greater and greater acts of stealth.

It is a bit like Gyre’s cunning cambeson, so I should look for some ways to differentiate it.

Gyre’s Cunning Gambeson (grade 7 padded armor)

magic resistance I climbing II hiding II disabling I padded armor

This arming doublet (padded armor) is crafted grade 7 armor with cleverly-hidden pockets and places to conceal tools, and many of its arming points are well-suited for fastening climbing gear. It is made of dark green velvet and has been repeatedly soaked in moly extract. It has the magic resistance Iclimbing II, hiding II, and disabling I qualities.

  • (grade 2) magic resistance I: +1 resistance bonus to saves and Armor Class against spells.
  • (grade 2) climbing II: +4 bonus to Climb checks when the armor can apply (stacks with the bonus gained from a climbing kit).
  • (grade 2) hiding II: +4 bonus to Hide (visual Stealth) checks when appropriate (both hiding the wielder and hiding tiny or smaller objects — including especially thieves’ tools — in the gambeson).
  • (grade 1) disabling I: +2 bonus to Disable Device checks; the right tools are immediately at hand.

An a crafted grade 7 item, Gyre’s cunning gambeson would have a market price of 24,500 gp… but as armor it gets halved, so 12,250 gp.

Umbral Mail Qualities

Chain Shirt by V ShaneFirst, the armor is good at making the character sneaky, so the stealthy quality will probably be pretty high. The shadow (+3,750 gp/+2 quality, +5 to Stealth checks), improved shadow (+15,000 gp/+4 quality, +10 to Stealth checks), and greater shadow (+33,750 gp/+5 quality, +15 to Stealth checks) are all appropriate, but are better served as skill-based qualities.

Second, some measure of Dexterity enhancement is appropriate… but I suspect not ultimately valuable as far as Armor Class is concerned because a chain shirt has a maximum Dexterity bonus of +4 to AC. I’ll likely give a small bonus and stop there.

Third, the creeping armor quality (+5,000 gp, listed in the “+2 armor special ability table”, means the armor’s armor check penalty doesn’t apply to Stealth checks… we’re going to want this, and because it’s with the +2 armor qualities it’ll be a grade 4 quality). However, on a chain shirt (armor check penalty -2) there’s not nearly as much benefit as on heavier armor.

Fourth, the glamered quality (+2,700 gp, listed in the “+2 armor special qualities”… but is very much toward the lower end, I’ll consider it as a grade 3 quality) is appropriate.

I might want to consider some other perks. Of them all, lightweight seems the most appropriate.

This gives me:

  • stealthy (replaces the shadow quality, +2 to Stealth checks per grade instead of +5/grade 4, +10/grade 8, +15/grade 10 for normal quality conversion)
  • glamered (+2 -> grade 3 quality, so the armor doesn’t look like armor), might or might not use.
  • creeping (+2 -> grade 4 quality, armor check penalty no longer applies to Stealth checks), probably won’t use.
  • Dexterity enhancement (+2 grades/+2 bonus to Dexterity), might use a little
  • Armor enhancement (+1 enhancement/2 grades)

Highest priority goes to stealthy, I’ll consider a Dexterity enhancement as available, and the spell casting is a major quality to this item. I prefer that qualities do not get weaker from grade to grade, so I’ll want to assign them carefully.

Grade Quality Added Item Description Notes
1 (1) lightweight lightweight chain shirt half weight
2 (1) stealthy I lightweight stealthy I chain shirt +2 Stealth, half weight
3 (2) stealthy II lightweight stealthy II chain shirt +4 Stealth, half weight
5 (2) +1 enhancement +1 lightweight stealthy II chain shirt +1, +4 Stealth, half weight
6 (3) stealthy III +1 lightweight stealthy III chain shirt +1, +6 Stealth, half weight
7 (4) stealthy IV +1 lightweight stealthy IV chain shirt +1, +8 Stealth, half weight
9 (2) dexterity I +1 dexterity I lightweight stealthy IV chain shirt +1, +2 Dex, +8 Stealth, half weight
10 (5) stealthy V +1 dexterity I lightweight stealthy V chain shirt +1, +2 Dex, +10 Stealth, half weight
11 (6) stealthy VI +1 dexterity I lightweight stealthy VI chain shirt +1, +2 Dex, +12 Stealth, half weight
13 (4) +2 enhancement +2 dexterity I lightweight stealthy VI chain shirt +2, +2 Dex, +12 Stealth, half weight
14 (7) stealthy VII +2 dexterity I lightweight stealthy VII chain shirt +2, +2 Dex, +14 Stealth, half weight
15 (8) stealthy VIII +2 dexterity I lightweight stealthy VIII chain shirt +2, +2 Dex, +16 Stealth, half weight
17 (2) stanching +2 dexterity I lightweight stanching stealthy VII chain shirt +2, +2 Dex, +16 Stealth, half weight, reduces bleed damage by 2
18 (9) stealthy IX +2 dexterity I lightweight stanching stealthy IX chain shirt +2, +2 Dex, +18 Stealth, half weight, reduces bleed damage by 2
19 (10) stealthy X +2 dexterity I lightweight stanching stealthy X chain shirt +2, +2 Dex, +20 Stealth, half weight, reduces bleed damage by 2

Closing Comments

I added the stanching quality at the last minute. I needed a grade 2 power and that was the only +1 armor quality that seemed at all a reasonable fit. I could have gone with another skill-oriented quality (slippery, bonus to Escape Artist checks, came to mind) or another quality, but nothing really fit. I stumbled on a limitation here in that just as you will always have at least one grade 1 quality, eventually you will have either a grade 2 quality or two more grade 1 qualities. Since the armor already has a maximum Dexterity bonus with regard to Armor Class I chose to improve the armor enhancement bonus rather than the Dexterity bonus.

In a case like this I might consider softening the rule in practice. Replacing the stanching at grade 17 with dexterity II (+4 enhancement bonus to Dexterity) would not break anything… but as an example, I suppose I should stick to what I’m presenting an example of.

I must also that I liked the pattern I saw here, with (some quality), (two stealthy quality bumps back to back), (empty grade), and chose to develop that. I originally expected this armor to be more magic-oriented, with the spell casting quality (‘wand’ containing reduce person (Sor/Wiz 1), invisibility (Sor/Wiz 2), shrink item (Sor/Wiz 3), and nondetection (Sor/Wiz3) at increasingly high grade… but with the focus on the stealthy quality, the point of the armor, I never found a good time to fit the spell casting quality in. I could have, it might have looked something like below

Grade Quality Added Notes
1 (1) lightweight half weight
2 (1) spell casting I CL 1, reduce person
3 (1) stealthy I +2 Stealth
5 (3) spell casting III CL 3, invisibilityreduce person
6 (2) stealthy II +4 Stealth
8 (1) +1 enhancement +1 AC
11 (6) spell casting VI CL 6, shrink iteminvisibilityreduce person
12 (1) mindlinked nonverbal activation of the ‘wand’
14 (4) +2 enhancement +2 AC
17 (9) spell casting IX CL 9, nondetectionshrink iteminvisibilityreduce person

I am coming to suspect that the spell casting quality works best in items that do not grow over time. That is, if the armor above were presented in its final form, or even one of its intermediate forms (lightweight stealthy I spellcasting III chain shirt as a grade 5 item) I’d be just fine with it. Presented in table form as above, though, I find it unpleasant to look upon.

Unchained Skill Unlocks for Echelon

A-Z 2016 "U"I don’t often post much Echelon-related material here any more (mostly it’s at, but this particular post fits the skill model I had in mind before I moved over there.

Also, it gives me a ‘U Day’ post for this year’s A-Z Blog Challenge. I am not proud.

I’ve only recently gotten around to reading Pathfinder® Roleplaying Game: Pathfinder Unchained™, and the skill unlocks are philosophically quite close to my early skill model. In my skill model, each skill was a separate talent, and taking that talent at progressively higher tiers gave you options for what you could do with that skill that others could not.

Anyone could try to tightrope walk, but someone who had the skill at the Heroic tier was not only more likely to succeed (higher bonus to the check), but be able to do things on a successful check that others couldn’t. And probably didn’t have to make some checks at all: a test intended to challenge an Expert-tier character could be assumed successful if a character with that skill at the Heroic tier attempted it. If the more-skilled character tried to do a Heroic-tier trick with the skill then a check would be needed again.

For example, in D&D 3.x (which I was using for my base when this was still the skill model) on a successful Balance check you could navigate a precarious surface at half speed. You could try to move your normal speed but took a -5 penalty to your check. In this older Echelon skill model you no longer took this penalty when you tried to move at normal speed if you had Balance at the Heroic tier or higher.

A ravine bridged with a fallen tree, narrow and swaying slightly with the weight of each person crossing it, might have had a DC 10 check to cross — an Expert-level test. Anyone could try it, most people without penalties would succeed (and those of at least Expert tier would have at least +2 level bonus to their check; someone at the Expert tier and the Balance talent at any tier would have +4 on top of that, then Dexterity bonus on top of that). A character with Balance at the Heroic tier wouldn’t even have to check at all, to cross at half speed, and could make a check at no penalty (for increased speed) to cross at full speed.

Higher-tier abilities allowed progressively more. This would be either because of reduced penalties or options simply not available to others. For instance, a trained crafter can make masterwork items, while someone who does not have the relevant Craft talent cannot, regardless of the DC beaten by the skill check.

The unchained skill unlocks are pretty similar, philosophically speaking. Some examples:


With sufficient ranks in Climb, you earn the following.

5 Ranks: You are no longer denied your Dexterity bonus when climbing.

10 Ranks: You gain a natural climb speed (but not the +8 racial bonus on Climb checks) of 10 feet, but only on surfaces with a Climb DC of 20 or lower.

15 Ranks: You gain a natural climb speed (but not the +8 racial bonus on Climb checks) equal to your base speed on surfaces with a Climb DC of 20 or lower, and of 10 feet on all other surfaces.

20 Ranks: You gain a natural climb speed equal to your base speed on all surfaces. If you have both hands free, you gain a +8 racial bonus on Climb checks.


With sufficient ranks in Craft, you earn the following.

5 Ranks: When determining your weekly progress, double the result of your Craft check before multiplying the result by the item’s DC.

10 Ranks: You do not ruin any of your raw materials unless you fail a check by 10 or more.

15 Ranks: When you determine your progress, the result of your check is how much work you complete each day in silver pieces.

20 Ranks: You can craft magic armor, magic weapons, magic rings, and wondrous items that fall under your category of Craft using the normal Craft rules.


With sufficient ranks in Heal, you earn the following.

5 Ranks: When you treat deadly wounds, the target recovers hit points and ability damage as if it had rested for a full day.

10 Ranks: When you treat deadly wounds, the target recovers hit points as if it had rested for a full day with long-term care.

15 Ranks: When you treat deadly wounds, the creature recovers hit point and ability damage as if it had rested for 3 days.

20 Ranks: When you treat deadly wounds, the target recovers hit point and ability damage as if it had rested for 3 days with long-term care.

Not all of these work for me as written, but they’re a starting point.

One change I would make: Echelon is based on tiers being four levels each. Rather than having these skill unlocks take place at levels 5, 10, 15, and 20 — the top of the five-level tiers (unofficially used) in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, I’d assign them to the starting levels of each tier above Expert in Echelon: 5, 9, 13, 17. This does two things. First, it aligns them with the tiers. Second, it aligns them with the start of the tier, so as talents they kick in as soon as you take the talent, and you gain the benefit of the tier ability for the entire tier instead of just a small piece of it.

These are only small benefits, though. I suspect with the revision I made to talents (so skill-oriented talents have a major effect by their focus and a minor effect on the underlying skill) I’d do much the same here. There might be multiple talents that hang off Climb checks, each giving different primary abilities, but all give these minor effects on Climb checks — to the effect of the highest tier in a relevant talent.

Thinking Again About the Price of Graded Spell Trigger Items

I explored the market price of graded wands and staves a couple weeks ago, and I’m pretty satisfied with that result.A-Z 2016 "T"

Then I decided that granting graded items some limited spell casting ability — a few spells that can be used daily, sort of thing — could be pretty cool. The fire gauntlet of Allioch was implemented in part by making a lesser wand of military fire part of its construction, as a grade 5 quality.

Yesterday I got to thinking about the difference between spell trigger item market prices and ‘uses/day’ item market prices. A grade 8 wand (fourth-level, second-level, and two first-level spells; 8 charges) can cast its biggest spell twice per day. I’m confident in my reasoning behind the graded wand market price, but allowing the wand to be added to the gauntlet and used by a non-caster should probably move it to the ‘uses/day’ cost, something like that of an ‘eternal wand’ from late 3.x era… which should be somewhat more expensive, about twice as much.

Then it occurred to me that the ‘spell casting’ quality (that embeds the ‘wand’ into the other item) is a quality of a grade equal to the wand’s.

This means that the same grade 8 wand that costs 32,000 gp as a spell-trigger item is a grade 8 quality, not a collection of smaller qualities adding up to item grade 8.

A grade 8 quality can only be added to a grade 15 (or higher) item. That means that rather than a market price of 32,000 gp, the spell casting quality has a market price of 15*8*500= 60,000 gp, almost exactly double the market price of the original wand (and taking a huge bite out of the grades available to be assigned for this item… and not scaling with the grade of the item itself: it’s always a grade 8 wand).

Okay, adding a graded wand to a grade item as a ‘spell casting’ quality is not giving away too much. It might even be overcharging for what you get… but for now I’ll leave it. The ability for a sword to drop a wall of fire at need is not to be underestimated.

Touching up the Mountain Colors

A-Z 2016 "T"So very close to done with the mapping tutorials for now.

Now for the finishing touch: color.

My focus on the previous images was on developing the height map for mountain ranges, in varying degrees of complexity, and then quickly rendering the result so we could take a look. That mostly looks okay, but in my view

Mapping Landforms 2g Multiple, snow caps

Mapping Landforms 2g Multiple, snow caps

isn’t quite complete. Thankfully, the last part takes longer to describe than it does to execute.

First, create a gradient, green through brown to light grey. We add one new color to the palette.

  • black (0x000000)
  • white (0xFFFFFF)
  • medium grey (0x808080)
  • medium green (0x586E2C)
  • medium brown (0x6E582C)
  • light grey (0xADADAD)

To create the gradient, open the gradients tab and click the ‘new gradient’ button at the bottom.

Mapping Landforms 3 Gradient 50

Mapping Landforms 3 Gradient 50

  • Right-click on the gradient preview shown and select “Left Endpoint’s Color…”, then choose the medium green and click ‘OK’.
  • Right-click on the gradient preview shown and select “Right Endpoint’s Color…”, then choose the light grey and click ‘OK’.
  • In the Toolbox, change the default foreground color to medium brown, then drag the foreground color into the gradient.
  • Adjust gradient midpoint and control points to suit. In the gradient to the right I spaced everything fairly evenly:
    • medium green at 0.00
    • pale grey at 1.00
    • medium brown at (about) 0.50
    • control points at 0.25 and 0.75
  • Name and save the gradient.

Duplicate the last heightmap layer (the black to white one you previously copied and colored from green to light grey) and move it above the green heightmap layer.

Select the new gradient in the Gradients window, make sure your heightmap layer is selected, then apply the gradient to the layer (Color -> Map -> Gradient). With the snow layer turned off, you get something like this.

Mapping Landforms 3 Brown 50%

Mapping Landforms 3 Brown 50%

Now the mountains stand out much better. The gradient allows the color to smoothly shift from green at the lowest elevations into brown in the midrange and pale grey at the highest peaks. This stands out rather better than the previous, green-to-grey version. Still, I’d like to shift the ‘brown elevation’ down a bit and make the peaks a little more prominent.

Mapping Landforms 3 Gradient 40

Mapping Landforms 3 Gradient 40

I copied the previous gradient and edited it. I dragged the gradient midpoint (the black triangle) and the control points slightly:

  • medium green at 0.00
  • pale grey at 1.00
  • medium brown at (about) 0.40
  • control points at 0.20 and 0.70

This gave me more brown in the lower end and more grey at the higher end.

(Actually lying a bit: I did this one first, then made the more evenly-spaced version.)

Duplicated the heightmap layer and applied the gradient to it.

Mapping Landforms 3 Brown 40%

Mapping Landforms 3 Brown 40%

It is, I admit, not a huge difference… but I like this one a bit better.

Then, make the snow layer visible again, and I’m basically done for now.

Mapping Landforms 3 Brown 40%, Snow

Mapping Landforms 3 Brown 40%, Snow

Very simple techniques, easily applied, but they make it look so, so much better.


Finally, in this series of tutorial posts I didn’t talk about masking. The images so far have been ‘only’ of the mountains, but in practice you’ll probably want to mask out part of the layer so only the mountains are evident.

It’s not hard:

  • In the channels tab, for each of your original selection regions, do “Add to Selection”.
  • In the layers to be masked, right-click and “Add Layer Mask…” from the selection.
    • You’ll probably want to mask your color layers and possibly the bump map layers (so they’ll blend somewhat with the texture of what’s under them; I’ll demonstrate below).
    • The other working layers — the height maps, the range selection, and so on — are best turned off. I usually keep them in case I need to make changes later, but don’t show them now.
  • With the layer mask selected, displace it using the same settings (X and Y both 19 in this case, using layers noise-x and noise-y respectively) to make the layer mask the same shape as the mountains, then add a bit of Gaussian blur (5..23 pixels worth — I used 23 here) to smooth the edge of the mask a bit so it blends better.
    • If you have several of these, copy the layer mask from layer to layer; Add Layer Mask and Displace gets old after a while)

In the image below I threw a quick and dirty ‘grass texture’. Add a layer below the mountain colors layer, ensure it’s selected, then use “Filters -> Render -> Cloud -> Plasma Cloud…”. Tweak settings until you have something like — it’ll be garish, but the next step gets rid of that. Use “Colors -> Desaturate…” to reduce it to greys, then set the layer on ‘overlay’ blend mode.

Mapping Landforms 3 Brown 40%, Grass

Mapping Landforms 3 Brown 40%, Grass

Then, above the snow adjustment layer and below the mountain bump map, add a medium grey (0x808080) layer in overlay mode, and give it a mild (depth 3..8 or so) bump map, using the grass layer just created as input. Linear is fine. This to give the ground just a bit of texture. I find that I can see that the bump map is present if the depth is 8, but at depth 3 I can really only see if I toggle the bump map layer off and on. Anywhere in this range usually works for me.

In the image below I used a depth of 3, just enough to give it a tiny bit of texture.

Mapping Landforms 3 Brown 40%, Grass Bumped

Mapping Landforms 3 Brown 40%, Grass Bumped

Without the masking, you wouldn’t see the mottled ‘grass’ at all, it would be a smooth green plane.

Closing Comments

These final touches, simple as they are, make a big difference in how the picture looks. The green-to-grey mountains have visible terrain, but while they have good shape, the color choice can be better.

The easiest way to do this cleanly is to create a three-color gradient (in this case green-brown-grey) and apply it to (a copy of) the heightmap. By using three colors like that, and ensuring the “left endpoint color” is the color of your background, you get a smooth transition from lowest to highest elevations. In this context is also gives you some foothills, the lower elevations that are primarily green, before getting into the middle and higher elevations. Careful color choices help you keep the textures evident; go too light at the highest elevation and the peaks get blown out and turn into flat white patches that don’t look very good.

As always, there is a huge amount of experimentation you can do. Colors, region sizes and shapes, bump map parameters, there are many things to you can do make these techniques work for you.

The biggest, or most likely, problems you’ll run into:

  • Not using ‘sample merged’ when selecting your range selections. If this isn’t on you’ll end up selecting by color on the selected layer, which almost certainlly will not do what you want.
  • Not turning off antialiasing when selecting your range selections. This gives you ‘partial pixels’ around the edge, and that does strange things around the edges of the angular fill at that step.
  • Causing the range selections to accidentally touch when you have more than one. Angular fill works on each selected region, and if they touch it does strange things to the math involved and almost certainly won’t get what you want.
    • Try it and see. I can’t describe it well, but you’ll know what I mean by ‘strange’.
  • Using colors that are too bright. When blending layers (especially overlay; multiply doesn’t have this problem because it’s never brighter than either starting layer) or bump mapping this can easily lead to blowing the colors out. You’ll know it when you see it, it’s not pretty.

Masking the mountains makes it easier to blend them with the other terrain features around them.

Several Mountain Ranges Together

A-Z 2016 "S"I’ve written a couple times recently about simple techniques for drawing mountain ranges. Yesterday I showed how I draw the basic landforms, and on Sunday I showed how I manipulate them to relieve monotonous elements and make them look better to me.

Under normal circumstances I would have presented the material in a different order (and back in 2009 I did! I wrote Yet Another Mountain Tutorial Using GIMP at the Cartographer’s Guild… there’s even a PDF up there that goes into more exacting detail of the GIMP techniques, including dialog screenshots, at each step of the way), but this is the order the topic came up.

So. Yesterday’s tutorial shows how to draw a mountain range. Which is lovely, but possibly not sufficient because in the real world there are often several mountain ranges in close proximity and usually more or less parallel to each other. But not straight.

Today, I’ll show how I do that.

Starting with the image from yesterday’s tutorial,

Mapping Landforms 1j (snowcaps)

Mapping Landforms 1j (snowcaps)

I’m going to roll it back to the original, stark, sharp-edged beginning.

Mapping Landforms 1 Base

Mapping Landforms 1 Base

(This is why I kept it. I don’t make up everything as I go, I can do some basic planning…. sometimes. Also, I didn’t throw the other stuff away, I just moved this layer to the top.)

Create another black layer, grab a white pen (100 sharpness, size 60) and draw some more starting lines on the new layer. I find setting the new layer to partial transparency (this is 70% opaque) so I can see through it gives me an idea where things are.

Mapping Landforms 2a Base

Mapping Landforms 2a Base

Set the new layer to full opacity and apply Gaussian blur with a radius of 91.

Mapping Landforms 2b Gaussian Blur

Mapping Landforms 2b Gaussian Blur

Move the noise-z layer to the top in overlay mode.

Mapping Landforms 2c Overlay

Mapping Landforms 2c Overlay

Select by Color to identify where the mountains are, new black layer, angular fill (white to black).

Mapping Landforms 2d Angular Fill

Mapping Landforms 2d Angular Fill

Move noise-z to the top, multiply mode. Create new from visible (the next step is destructive).

Mapping Landforms 2e Multiply Down

Mapping Landforms 2e Multiply Down

Displace (19 each way).

Mapping Landforms 2e Displaced

Mapping Landforms 2e Displaced

Now, do this a few more times, moving around a bit. Each time, overlap slightly with the previous one.

Here I’ve done two and taken them to the ‘angular fill’ stage. I set the top layer to ‘lighten only’. It should be clear where the ranges touch each other.

Mapping Landforms 2g Multiple, angular fill

Mapping Landforms 2g Multiple, angular fill

Then move noise-z to the top again, multiple mode.

Mapping Landforms 2g Multiple, noise multiplied

Mapping Landforms 2g Multiple, noise multiplied

Create new from visible, then displace.

Mapping Landforms 2g Multiple, displaced

Mapping Landforms 2g Multiple, displaced

Now I turned on all the ‘displaced layers’, with the bottom in ‘normal mode’ and the rest in ‘lighten only’.

Mapping Landforms 2g Multiple, all height maps

Mapping Landforms 2g Multiple, all height maps

… what a mess. Ah well, it’s only to demonstrate the technique. Normally I’d be much more careful about placement. Create a new layer from visible, it’s the ‘new heightmap’ that we’ll render from.

Assign gradient color.

Mapping Landforms 2g Multiple, colored

Mapping Landforms 2g Multiple, colored

Add some bump mapping.

Mapping Landforms 2g Multiple, bump mapped

Mapping Landforms 2g Multiple, bump mapped

That’s… kind of nice, actually. But let’s add some more.

Mapping Landforms 2g Multiple, bump mapped more

Mapping Landforms 2g Multiple, bump mapped more

Yes… there are some fairly strong elements here, let’s try one more.

Mapping Landforms 2g Multiple, bump mapped too much?

Mapping Landforms 2g Multiple, bump mapped too much?

Too much, I think. I’m getting outright shadow in places. While this sometimes is what I want, in this case I think I don’t.

I’m going to back it off to the doubled bump map (‘bump mapped more’ above) and add some snowcaps.

Mapping Landforms 2g Multiple, snow caps

Mapping Landforms 2g Multiple, snow caps

The snow caps are a little more aggressive than I showed yesterday. I wanted them to stand out a bit more.

Closing Comments

Mountain ranges often have several distinct ridges somewhat close together and more or less parallel. In the example from this post I built up many such ridges to show different intersections and alignments. The two west-most might be a fairly common configuration. The southern ‘zigzag patterns’… I don’t know how often that happens in our world, but the individual merges and splits certainly do. The east-most end of the norther ridges show what it might look like when you’ve got three more or less parallel.

The important thing when creating multiple ridge lines and using angular fill is that the individual ridges must not touch. I didn’t show the intermediate layers, and perhaps I should have, but if I were drawing a region full of ridge lines I’d draw them something like ABCDABCDABCD — that is, three ridges on layer A, far enough they won’t touch, then three ridges on layer B far enough they don’t touch each other but slightly overlapping or close to A, three ridges on layer C that… and so on. The angular fill does bad things if the areas being filled intersect or even touch, so keeping them separate and then blending the layers at the end lets you keep the ridges distinct, while retaining valleys and the like between them.

Speaking of valleys, the use of the same noise layers for each of the layers is critical. For the Z (elevation) layer that is why the ridges, peaks, valleys, and saddles tend to be similar close together. The two ridge-peaks at the east-most end — about two o’clock on the image — are so close to the same height because the same noise layer was used to adjust their heights.

Similarly, by using the same noise layers for displacement for all images we get things retaining much, but not exactly, the same displacement. Two ridges that run more or less parallel will continue to do so, modulo the slight differences in the noise layers. The eye can pick up on the similarity, without it be so similar that it seems artificially parallel.

Small Observation

The colors between the very first image (end point of the previous image) and the final version here are slightly different. I believe this is because I ultimately had slightly different degrees of bump mapping between the images, which would have some effect on the color.

Just for fun, though, open the first and last images on this page on separate tabs and toggle between them, and you’ll see just how the pieces fit together. As long as you keep your intermediate steps (especially the noise layers!) you can continue to build on the mountainous region.

Experiment with different pencil widths, change the Gaussian blur parameters, try different blend modes (I like using multiply after the angular fill, but overlay can be good too — you might try changing the curve on (a copy of!) the noise layer so it goes from 0..0.5 instead of 0..1, so the overlay only darkens and peaks don’t blow out).

Revisiting the Mountain Tutorial, Drawing the Initial Landform

A-Z 2016 "R"On Sunday I posted a tutorial on a technique I use when drawing mountains. This tutorial focused on a specific set of techniques used to cause a frighteningly boring mountain range — in this case, several parallel ‘ranges’ that were completely straight, uniformly straight, and parallel. They demonstrated how to take

Linear Mountains, Triangular

Linear Mountains, Triangular

and turn them into something like

Linear Mountains, Multiplied Displaced Double-Bumped

Linear Mountains, Multiplied Displaced Double-Bumped

quickly and easily, using a few simple techniques.

Because the techniques were focusing on how to change uniform height and smooth curves into something organic, I started with the simplest possible ranges. When I draw maps I have several other steps to the process, before and after.

In this post I’ll demonstrate how I build the initial landforms, the regions that will become my mountain ranges.

I will phrase everything in the imperative as I describe what I’m doing. This isn’t the only way to do it, but it’s the way I’m demonstrating today. Take from it what you will :)

It is not always evident on the displayed image what it is I am trying to show. In each example below the presented image is linked to the full resolution image. Clicking on the image presented here will take you to that full image.


Setup is the same as in the previous tutorial. For consistency I’ll be using the same colors as before, and the same image size (1280×1024).


I used five colors in creating these images.

  • black (0x000000)
  • white (0xFFFFFF)
  • medium grey (0x808080)
  • medium green (0x586E2C)
  • light grey (0xADADAD)

Normally I’d probably work with a more complex color gradient (introducing some brown), but for what I’m demonstrating today this should be sufficient.

Create Image

Create a new image, 1280×1024 pixels, and give it a green background (I used color 0x586E2C).

Create three noise layers using maximum detail (15), X-size (16) and Y-size (16). Call them ‘noise-x’, ‘noise-y’, and ‘noise-z’. You will use noise-x and noise-y for displacement mapping, and noise-z for all height map manipulation.

You’ll be moving them around from time to time, but for now place them behind the green ‘background’ layer.

Single Mountain Range

Start with a single mountain range. Add a black layer on top of the background layer and name it ‘range 1 base’. Set your pencil to hardness 100 and size 60, and draw a roughly curved line, as shown below (note: using a mouse is not as nice as using a tablet and stylus. Just sayin’)

Mapping Landforms 1 Base

Mapping Landforms 1 Base

The next step is destructive, and I’ll want this again for a later step in the tutorial, so duplicate the layer.

With the new layer selected, apply a Gaussian blur with radius 91.

Mapping Landforms 1 Blurred

Mapping Landforms 1 Blurred

Now, move the noise-z layer on top of the Gaussian-noise layer (GIMP called it ‘range 1 base copy’) and set the noise-z layer to ‘overlay’ blend mode. You will see a somewhat mottled shape covering where you drew the base range.

Mapping Landforms 1 Overlaid

Mapping Landforms 1 Overlaid

With the ‘Select by Color’ tool (in GIMP, the blue-green-red-boxes-with-the-finger-touching it tool), turn off anti-aliasing and turn on sample merged, then click on one of the bright spots in the range and drag until the selected area is approximately what you want for your landform shape. Save the selection to channel (Select -> Save to Channel), and name the channel ‘range 1 base’.

Create a new black layer on top of all the other layers. Go to your list of channels and select ‘range 1 base’, then ‘channel to selection’. This will give you the initial selection.

Using the gradient tool (with white as your foreground color and black as your background color), select the ‘shaped (angular)’ shape, then on the new layer click and drag with your mouse. GIMP will then fill the selection with an angular gradient as shown below

Mapping Landforms Selected and Angular FIlled

Mapping Landforms Selected and Angular FIlled

Let’s see what this looks like. Do a quick render (select none, duplicate layer, color map, add grey layer overlay, bump map).

Mapping Landforms Angular Filled, Rendered

Mapping Landforms Angular Filled, Rendered

Some wicked artifacting (the horizontal and vertical lines), but that is to be expected. We’re not done yet.

Move noise-z to the top again (in overlay or multiply blend mode; I show both below and I’m using multiply for the following steps).

Mapping Landforms 1 Angular, Multiplied

Mapping Landforms 1 Angular, Multiplied

Mapping Landforms 1 Angular, Overlaid

Mapping Landforms 1 Angular, Overlaid

Then create a new layer ‘from visible’. Do a quick color render with bump mapping.

Mapping Landforms 1 Angular, Multiplied (Quick Render)

Mapping Landforms 1 Angular, Multiplied (Quick Render)

Looks pretty okay, but it doesn’t really pop… but I want to highlight some artifacting. I’ve quadrupled the bump map layer below.

Mapping Landforms 1 Angular, Multiplied (Quick Render, Enhanced)

Mapping Landforms 1 Angular, Multiplied (Quick Render, Enhanced)

The ridge line is still present, we’ve got some distinct peaks, but the horizontal and vertical lines still stand out strongly. Let’s do something about that.

Get rid of the quick rendering, go back to the height map. We’re going to add a bit of displacement (Filter -> Map -> Displace…) to tweak things a bit.

Landforms 1 displacement

Landforms 1 displacement

This gets us to

Mapping Landforms 1 Angular, Multiplied, Displaced

Mapping Landforms 1 Angular, Multiplied, Displaced

Give it a quick render

Mapping Landforms 1 Angular, Multiplied, Displaced (Quick Render)

Mapping Landforms 1 Angular, Multiplied, Displaced (Quick Render)

Push up the bumps

Mapping Landforms 1 Angular, Multiplied, Displaced (Quick Render, Enhanced)

Mapping Landforms 1 Angular, Multiplied, Displaced (Quick Render, Enhanced)

The ridge line is still generally visible, but less pronounced in the saddles and valleys. The lines previously observed are still somewhat evident, but moving them off horizontal and vertical, and giving them a bit more wiggle, does a lot to hide their regularity, while still having them available to add a bit of regular texture — as mountains exhibit in the real world.

One last touch, I like to add a bit of snow to the highest peaks. Copy the last ‘create from visible’ layer (labeled “Mapping Landforms 1 Angular, Multiplied, Displaced” above) so it is above the color layer. Set to overlay blending mode, then open the ‘Curves’ dialog (Colors -> Curves…) and set it to something like I show below.

Landforms 1 curves

Landforms 1 curves

Overlay darkens the underlying image where the overlaying image is less than 50% bright, so setting the curve from the left edge to center at 50% means this will not darken the image. The right side of the curve increases the whiteness faster from the midpoint to the top end (at what was 75%) so the snow line is reasonably smooth. It can be sharpened by going to a steeper angle.

By changing the brightness curve of the overlay layer, you get slightly more white peaks as shown below.

Mapping Landforms 1j (snowcaps)

Mapping Landforms 1j (snowcaps)

I cranked it right up and made it as sharp as possible in the image below… not an improvement, I think.

Mapping Landforms 1j (snowcaps, sharp)

Mapping Landforms 1j (snowcaps, sharp)

Ultimately this requires a bit of experimentation each time. In this particular case the snowcaps are less pronounced because they sit on top of a simple green to pale grey gradient. I usually use a brown to grey gradient (or green to brown to grey), but I didn’t want to get into how to blend the edges today. Color is its own discussion :)

Closing Comments

The techniques demonstrated the other day were specific to masking overly-regular drawing elements. As such they focused on that and used extremely-regular drawing elements as a baseline.

This post described a way to get a baseline landform is isn’t straight, parallel, nor as regular as before.

Quirk, Flaw, Curse: What’s the Difference?

A-Z 2016 "Q"Yesterday I wrote about using flaws and curses when an enchantment check fails, and quirks even when it (barely) succeeds… but what’s the difference? All flaws and curses can be expected to be undesirable and have negative effect on an item or its wielder, and even quirks can be unwanted, or at least unplanned.

For my purposes here, there are two questions to consider.

  • Scope: how much is affected by the unfeature, or how often does it come up?
  • Impact: how harmful is the unfeature?

This breaks down pretty easily.


I see several scopes involved.

  • Item-only. The unfeature does not particularly affect the wielder. For instance, a sword with an ‘enhancement penalty’ or a wand of healing that does heal damage but gives the target a disease.
  • Wielder. The unfeature affects the wielder in addition to or instead of itself. There could be a skullcap that grants a Wisdom bonus but renders its wearer mute while worn, or an axe that sends its wielder into an uncontrollable rage. However, when not using the item there is no effect.
  • Bearer. The unfeature affects whoever carries the item, regardless of whether or not it is being used.
  • Owner. The unfeature affects the person who owns it, but
    • For this purpose, I define ‘own’ as being the claimed or declared owner and having access — you can leave it under your bed while adventuring (or even locked in a safe) and you still own it, but if someone steals it you don’t.


There are a few modifiers to the above.

  • Allies. This is is an addition to the Wielder or Owner scope: the unfeature has effect on the wielder’s or owner’s allies as well as the wielder or owner. This increases the nominal scope.
  • Triggered. The unfeature only happens sometimes, rather than always. A trigger is a specific event (such as the axe wielder above being wounded by an attack) or an outside circumstance (such as “only at night”). If the trigger happens ‘every time’ (the axe sends its wielder into a rage every time the axe is wielded) it isn’t really a trigger. A trigger usually offers some measure of control over the situation, and reduces the nominal scope.


Impact indicates how harmful the unfeature is.

  • Cosmetic/Superficial. The unfeature doesn’t really do anything to the item’s effectiveness or the wielder’s or owner’s abilities. Also sometimes known as ’embarrassing’. Normally a wand of healing simply needs to be touched to the target, but an unfeature at this point might involve the wand extending a pseudopod that touches the target uncomfortably — no real effect on how it works or what it does, but it’s not right.
  • Inconvenient/Minor. The unfeature makes the item more difficult to use or causes a minor inconvenience to its wielder or owner. The tentacular wand of healing might take an additional round to activate because tentacles extend and wrap around the wielder’s hand and wrist (adding a round before the wand can be used… and tying up that hand for a round after the wielder is done with the wand as the tentacles release): not hugely impactful out of combat, but can restrict the ability to do other things such as use a weapon or cast a spell while the hand is occupied.
  • Standard. The unfeature causes a significant but not crippling problem. The battleaxe that sends its wielder into a rage might fall into this category because while the rage can be useful (increased Strength and Constitution), the restrictions it puts on actions allowed can be troublesome, and ‘uncontrollable’ means the wielder can’t choose to release the rage to regain access to those actions.
  • Severe/Major. The unfeature has crippling but not lethal problems. The battleaxe that sends its wielder into a rage until there is nobody within 30 feet able to fight (including allies) would count as severe impact. It is something like the ‘allies’ modifier above… but I could find an argument for that meaning “allies within 30 feet are also sent into a rage”… the two together could count as Fatal, below.
  • Fatal. The unfeature is so devastating to the wielder or the wielder’s goals that deliberate use or acceptance is a very cautious decision indeed. For instance, if the battleaxe I’ve been talking about sends the wielder and everyone around him into a rage until only one figure stands, it could be considered fatal severity for the curse. Similarly, a suit of armor that provides benefits but inflicts (accumulating, not single) negative levels or damage on its wielder could fall into this category: “use the item too much and you die” sounds pretty fatal.

Guidelines for curse effect often include specific penalty values and the like. While those are easy to adjudicate, and I expect to look them up and include them, I have a preference for situational effects.

Evaluation Matrix

We have two elements above to consider. This lends itself well to a matrix, scope by impact.

The matrix can be calculated a couple of ways, added or multiplied. I’ll present both and then explore why I might choose one over the other.

Added Matrix

Item Item+Allies,
Value 1 2 3 4 5 6
Cosmetic 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Minor 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Standard 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Severe 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Fatal 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

Adding the two values together is very simple, and makes it easy to use the ‘diagonal assignment’ of severity commonly seen with such matrices. This gives me a ‘check curse result table’ something like below

Check Result Unfeature Value Unfeature Description
DC +5 or more None
DC +0..DC +4 2 Quirk
DC -4..DC -1 3, 4 Flaw
DC -9..DC -5 5, 6 Minor Curse
DC -14..DC -10 7, 8 Major Curse
 DC -15 or less 9, 10, 11 Lethal Curse

Based on the unfeature descriptions yesterday. I’d prefer to use DC -5..-1, DC -10..-6, etc., but convention is ‘failure by 5 or more’. I might tweak these slightly, using brackets of (2,3), (4,5), (6,7), (8,9), (10,11)… but I haven’t decided to do so.

Not only is the evaluation quick and simple, it puts the unfeature value on roughly the same scale as quality grades. If you wanted to deliberately add a curse to an item you could count it as a quality of a grade equal to its unfeature value.

The unfeature value could also be used to decrease the value (caster level) of a high-grade item, instead of doing it by increasing casting costs. This actually fits with the previous statement if you just say that a curse increases grade without increasing caster level.

Multiplied Matrix

Item Item+Allies,
Value 1 2 3 4 5 6
Cosmetic 1 1 2 3 4 5 6
Minor 2 2 4 6 8 10 12
Standard 3 3 6 9 12 15 18
Severe 4 4 8 12 16 20 24
Fatal 5 5 10 15 20 25 30

Very slightly more mathematically complex (multiplication rather than addition), and the diagonal relationships aren’t quite maintained the same way. However, I do see groups in the unfeature values.

Check Result Unfeature Value Unfeature Description
DC +5 or more None
DC +0..DC +4 1+ Quirk
DC -4..DC -1 3+ Flaw
DC -9..DC -5 5+ Minor Curse
DC -14..DC -10 10+ Major Curse
 DC -15 or less 20+ Lethal Curse

This isn’t quite as simple to interpret — I think I’d end up using the table for quite a while — but it gives greater or lesser weight to the pairing of the scope and impact. Big scope and tiny impact or tiny scope and big impact is not as dangerous as a more average values for both.

One thing that jumps out at me with this, though, is that the multiplied unfeature value provides a nice guideline for the grade at which such effects might be appropriate. A ‘standard, wielder’ curse here might be most appropriate on a grade 9 (or so) item, while the potentially devastating ‘fatal, owner+allies’ might only be appropriate on a grade 30 (or so) item.

Closing Comments

Yet again, I thought I’d have a short post. I’m already somewhat over 1,250 words, and there’s till some thinking left to do here.

That said, I see some potentially useful results coming out of this. I see now how certain unfeatures can be modulated to be more or less powerful. The axe of rage I used in my examples above could come in several different flavors depending how the rage is activated and who it affects (directly or indirectly). This opens up a huge range of unfeatures to apply to magic items.

Originally I thought I was looking for options for when enchantment goes awry, but it looks as though I may have uncovered easy means to deliberately apply curses to items in order to reduce their cost (or to mess with someone you want to ‘give a gift’ that keeps on giving…).

Pushing Your Luck: Enchantment Gone Wrong

A-Z 2016 "P"When enchanting magic items in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, part of the process requires that you make a skill check (usually Spellcraft) with a DC equal to 5 + caster level. This is usually pretty trivial for most crafters — a caster who has maximum ranks in Spellcraft and Spellcraft as a class skill will roll (functionally) caster level +3, failing only on a natural 1, before considering Intelligence bonuses, Skill Focus, or any other modifier. However, items have requirements for their creation, and each missed requirement adds 5 to the skill DC, and that almost-can’t-fail becomes probably-will-fail pretty quickly.

If the roll fails by 1..4 points, the enchantment doesn’t take and the time and materials are lost. Bummer.

If the roll fails by 5 or more, though, the item is cursed — enchanted, but not the way you want.

I’m thinking of expanding on this a bit.

Enchantment Failure Options

A few days ago I looked at new ways to use unchanged item perks and flaws. After doing some more research in other references, I think I’ll amend and extend that idea somewhat.

Perks are grade 1 qualities, since they generally improve the item they’re attached to.

Quirks are minor oddities and unintended but largely cosmetic or superficial ‘features’. Or bugs. Possibly many bugs if you get the ‘infested’ quirk. I’m not entirely sure I’ll use these, but I’m tempted to include a quirk if the check succeeds by less than 5. I’m tempted also to allow a ‘free quirk’ if it is appropriate to the item and the crafter — quirks should be generally neutral in effect and thus not be imbalancing.

Flaws happen any time the skill check barely fails. If the check fails by 1..4 points, the item is enchanted but has a flaw. Flaws generally don’t prevent the item from working, but don’t render the item useless. (This is a change from before; previously it was one flaw per point of failure.)

Curses are outright undesirable and unwanted consequences, and range from barely tolerable (and possible intolerable) to rendering the item useless for purpose. If the check fails by 5 or more it is cursed, if the check fails by 10 or more it is very cursed, and if the check fails by 15 or more it could be lethally cursed.

To illustrate the difference, the fire gauntlet of Allioch is a grade 10 item (base DC 15 to craft, increases with missed requirements and so on).

  • On a successful roll of 20 or more, the item is crafted normally and works normally.
  • On a successful roll of 15..19 or more, the item is crafted almost perfectly; it works, but has a quirk.
  • On a check of 11..14, the item has a flaw, selected randomly. It might be fragile (half normal hit points), delicate (hardness 5 lower than usual), impotent (caster level 1 lower than usual — still enough to cast its spells, just not as well, and fewer charges available), and so on.
  • On a check of 6..10, the item has a minor curse (I’ll be revising the curse list). Let’s say it’s dependent, and works only at night… or bears the curse of the demon’s visage (wearer’s face replaced by that of a demon: allies, friends, and neutral creatures must save or flee in terror; no additional effect on enemies).
  • On a check of 5 or less, the item has a major curse: curse of the bull’s eye, all missiles shot at a target within 30 feet of the wearer are drawn to the wearer instead of the intended target, and gain a +4 bonus to the attack roll.
  • Hopefully there is no way to get a check of 0 or less, or the item could have a lethal curse: it draws the ire of a demon lord, who wants to do something very personal and unpleasant to the crafter… and his friends, family, and pets.

The specific flaws and curses should be deliberately picked by the GM to align with the nature of the object. Flaws might be generally annoying (but sometimes useful), minor curses irritating but do not render the item useless or particularly hazardous to use, major curses can render the item generally useless for purpose or dangerous to the user.

I expect I’ll refine this more as I continue my research. I haven’t gotten into the Ravenloft books yet, and I know they have much more to say about curses than I’ve really touched on so far.

List of Resources

Because I asked in a public forum, and was asked for what we found, here are some references I’ll be using in addition to references in the PRD.

  • Castles & Crusades: 100 Calamitous Curses idea mining for curses, need to be converted to fit the core rules
  • Castles & Crusades: 100 More Calamitous Curses idea mining for curses, need to be converted to fit the core rules
  • Tainted Troves: A Collection of Cursed Items appears very relevant to my interests, including a section on creating (by the DM, not crafting) cursed items.. though there is also a Malign Artificer prestige class that does just that.
  • Ravenloft (3.0) I based the results above on guidelines for grades of curse: embarrassing (quirk), frustrating (flaw), troublesome (minor), dangerous (major), lethal (shouldn’t come up).
    • Succeed by less than 5, the item has a quirk. It works, but it’s not quite right.
    • Fail by less than 5, the item is flawed and has some element that makes it less useful than it should be.
    • Fail by 5-9 and it’s got a minor curse, something particularly and specifically unpleasant that happens to the user (probably just when used or carried, depending).
    • Fail by 10-14 and it’s got a major curse, something that inhibits the user much of the time even when the item is not present.
    • Fail by 15 or more (which requires talent; it means you’re swinging way above your weight in enchanting) and there’s a lethal curse that might kill the enchanter altogether, or make the item so dangerous to use that it becomes a means of last resort.
    • I might also let the effect be reduced if it affects the wielder and allies — a major curse might have the effect of a minor curse, on all affected allies.
  • Diablo II: Diablerie (I see a few minor curse effects I’ve not seen elsewhere)
  • Mythic Mastery: Mythic Curses implementation may need to be cut down slightly to remove the mythic effects…
  • Mythic Mastery: Mythic Curses II … but these two have some good ideas in them
  • Mythic Minis 42: Mythic Curses (ditto above… but if you’re interested in Mythic Minis, grab the bundle: 80 Mythic Minis for $8.88 — I almost freaked, shows $0 for me because I’ve got it)
  • #30 Cursed Treasures shows me a few things I didn’t think of (such as an explicit ‘trigger’ for the curse)
  • 101 Legendary Curses gives some more samples I can mine ideas from
  • The Genius Guide to the Talented Witch, I’m told has some content on cursing people…
  • The Genius Guide to More Witch Talents … not precisely what I’m looking for, but close.

I think that’ll give me enough to start with… but I’m open to suggestions of other curse-related resources.

On Mapping Mountains, Using a Few Simple Tricks

A-Z 2016 "O"On G+ I saw a map that I quite liked, but there was a mountain range on it that seemed too perfect.

The ridge line of the range was very clean, with a couple sections that were quite straight (and at almost right angles), and another that followed a smooth curve. All three of these ridge lines also seemed to have a consistent elevation, and in fact the same elevation. It stood out and bothered me a bit.

I think there’s room for improvement in this small area (literally small, the mountains in question occupy somewhat less than 1% of the map!). The rest of the map looks better than anything else I’ve done.

This is going to be a graphics-intensive post, so I’m going to break it up a bit, into multiple pages showing how I get to the different permutations below. I’ll start with an artificially horrible set of mountain ranges (triangular gradient):

Linear Mountains, Sawtooth

Linear Mountains, Triangular Gradient

And lead to variations such as shown below.

The following images are all on the same page, briefly showing some variation to address differences coming from the multiplication-adjusted height map, and then going back to the multiplied, displaced version and applying part of the variant process to make the mountains stand out a bit more.

All of the images above started with the same base image and noise layers, and used almost exactly the same techniques. When drawing mountains on a map I apply a few more steps and more sophisticated color gradients, but those are outside the scope of what I’m trying to demonstrate today.

I’ll start by describing the tools used, the common process for the final rendering, the baseline image the others are derived from, then go into the variations and how each was achieved (linked from the end result images above), before my closing comments.