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 wand of military fire part of its construction, as a grade 7 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.

New Uses for Unchained Item Qualities

A-Z 2016 "N"As part of my research for graded items, I reviewed the Dynamic Magic Items material from Pathfinder® Roleplaying Game: Pathfinder Unchained™. The system there is rather more complicated than I am interested in — I generally favor simpler solutions — but I do have use for the Perks and Flaws presented.


The perks look like they’ll generally be decent grade 1 item qualities. They don’t scale all that much, but since every graded item has at least one grade 1 quality it helps to have more than less. I’ll also be using qualities based on Green Ronin’s Black Company Masterworks rules, but the unchained qualities are generally more to my taste.

Some examples:

Draconic: Determine a random type of chromatic or metallic dragon. The item has a sheen in the color of that dragon’s scales, and grants its bearer 3 points of energy resistance against the damage type that dragon’s breath weapon deals.

Probably replaced with energy resistance, which scales. Current draft says 5 points of specific energy resistance per grade.

Durable: The item has twice as many hit points as it normally would.

Eager: The item always wants to be worn or held by its owner. The owner can draw an eager weapon or handheld item as a swift action, don eager armor in half the time, and don any other eager item as a swift action, though it takes twice as long as normal to remove eager armor and 1 full round to remove or stow any other eager item. The DC to disarm or steal an eager item increases by 5.

I so like this one.

Egoistic: All of the bearer’s feats and class features that affect a specific weapon or weapon group change to affect the egoistic weapon’s type or group as long as she possesses the weapon. If the bearer can specify more than one type or group, she can choose which weapon or group she retains and which switch to the egoistic weapon’s type or group.

Enemy Glow: The item glows when a specific type of creature is nearby. Either choose an appropriate type or roll one randomly on the ranger’s favored enemy list.

Yes, please.


As I understand magic item creation from the core rules, part of the process involves a skill check (usually Spellcraft) against a DC that is pretty easy for someone who has maximized the necessary skill — as will normally be the case — and doesn’t skip any item requirements. If the check fails by 1..4 points the item is not enchanted, and if it fails by 5 or more the item is cursed.

In the graded item crafting rules I changed this a little. If the enchantment fails by 5 or more the item is still cursed, but if it fails by only 1..4 the enchantment works… but is flawed. It item is still enchanted, but something’s not right and the item is somehow limited, harder to use, or has some misfeature or another. For each point the skill check fails by, add an item flaw, such as one of the samples below.

Addictive: The owner does not want to give up the item under any circumstances, and suffers the effects of severe addiction when denied access to the item.

Allergic: The item is especially sensitive to the presence of a particular type of creature, and ceases all magical functions whenever it is within 30 feet of such a creature. To determine the creature type, roll randomly or choose an appropriate type on the ranger’s favored enemy list.

Anomalous: The item is instead another random magic item of the same type or slot and the same or similar cost as the intended item.

Backlashing: When attacking with or activating the item, the user takes 1d6 points of damage from magical energy backlash.

Cursed: The item gains a curse. Roll on Table: Common Item Curses to determine the curse, or choose an appropriate curse.

Disregard this one because ‘cursed’ is already the result if the check fails by 5 or more. –kjd

Energy Weakened: The item is particularly vulnerable to one random energy type. That energy type ignores the item’s hardness and deals double damage to the item (but not to the item’s bearer). Determine the energy type randomly, or choose one thematically tied to the challenge that caused the item to have the weakness.

Enticing: Others covet the item and seek to possess it. Upon touching or examining the item, any creature that does not possess the item must succeed at a DC 20 Will save or covet the item, seeking to gain it by whatever means is most expedient and advantageous, though it need not do so immediately. After one attempt to gain the item (or a successful save), a creature is immune to the item’s enticing effect for 24 hours.

Closing Comments

I’ll want to review the perks and flaws, and perhaps expand the lists a bit. In some cases I have other qualities drafted that do much the same thing; I’m likely to combine or discard some of them. In the meantime, these lists come along as a convenient time for me.

Metamagic Feats in Graded Wands and Staves

A-Z 2016 "M"A graded wand or staff can include metamagic feats. The metamagic feats apply only to spells activated from the wand or staff, count as qualities of a grade equal to the spell slot adjustment, and increase the number of charges needed to activate the spell. Below I present the wand of miltiary fire, and a maximized wand of military fire (the same wand with the Maximize Spell metamagic feat added).

Wand of Military Fire (CL 7, 7 charges)

  • (4) wall of fire (4 charges, 2d6+7 points damage, concentration + 7 rounds; 1/day + 3 charges)
  • (2) flaming sphere (2 charges, 3d6 damage, 7 rounds; 3/day + 1 charge)
  • (1) burning hands (1 charge, 5d4 damage; 7/day)

Market Price: 24,500 gp

Adding the Maximize Spell metamagic feat (which requires the spell slot needed to cast the spell to be three levels higher) increases the wand’s grade and caster level to 10. This changes the activation options as described below.

Maximized Wand of Military Fire (CL 10, 10 charges)

  • (4) wall of fire (4 charges, 2d6+10 points damage, concentration + 10 rounds; 2/day + 2 charges)
    • maximized wall of fire (7 charges, 12+10 points of damage, concentration + 10 rounds, 1/day + 3 charges)
  • (3) Maximize Spell
  • (2) flaming sphere (2 charges, 3d6 damage, 10 rounds; 5/day)
    • maximized flaming sphere (5 charges, 18 damage, 10 rounds; 2/day)
  • (1) burning hands (1 charge, 5d4 damage; 10/day)
    • maximized burning hands (4 charges, 20 damage; 2/day + 2 charges)

Market Price: 50,000 gp

The wielder cannot use Maximize Spell (from the wand) on other spells at all, nor even on the spells in the wand unless activated from the wand. However, adding metamagic feats to a graded wand or staff can add quite a bit of flexibility to the use of the item, especially if you add multiple lower-cost metamagic feats instead of one expensive one as I’ve done here. I can imagine metamagic feats might even be a good way to use up otherwise unassigned slots, but I’ll have to see how it plays out.

Midpoint Check-In

A-Z 2016 "M"I thought I’d take a few minutes and do a quick summary of where I stand with this year’s A-Z Challenge.

The big topic this time around is graded items, special items with abilities of various grades or degrees of power or utility. I’ve got a few posts about encounter design that I expect I’ll expand on another time, and mention a couple of books of sorcerer bloodlines (one published, one not yet written).

Given how much I’ve written so far about graded items, I expect that’ll be my next book. Get the rules together and cleaned up, write up a few dozen examples, and it should be good to go. Perhaps I’ll write about that for… well, whatever day I find a good letter to assign to, I suppose.

(The dates will generally disagree with when the blog says I posted them. For this exercise I’m publishing at 9:00 PM Pacific time the day before — partly so it’s at midnight Eastern time, but mostly because I’m up before 5:00 AM the next morning to go to work and I like to post the links to my social media before I sleep.)

Date Letter Words Title Description
2016-04-15 M 296 Metamagic Feats in Graded Wands and Staves
M 296 Midpoint Check-In
2016-04-14 L 457 Legendary/Spontaneous Graded Items, Made Simpler
L 2,096 Legendary/Spontaneous Graded Items
2016-04-13 K 767 “Kill Everything”: Making That Plan B
2016-04-12 J 2,416 JRPG-Inspired Encounter Design
2016-04-11 I 2,055 Improving Encounter Economy and Design
2016-04-09 H 1,157 Hammer Time! Polyhedral Graded Weapons and Armor
2016-04-08 G 940 Graded Weapons and Armor
2016-04-07 F 1,317 Forging Graded Items
F 62 Fey Bloodlines
2016-04-06 E 1,789 Exploring Multiple Charge Casting for Graded Items
2016-04-05 D 845 Determining Market Price of Graded Staves and Wands
2016-04-04 C 907 Crafting Graded Staves
C 718 Crafted Graded Wands
2016-04-03 B 198 Blood of Dragons? In My Veins? It’s More Common Than You Think
2016-04-01 A 466 Assigning Graded Abilities
Total 16,832