Category Archives: Advice/Tools

Ideas For Hidden Items/Secret Doors

This is an exercise to help me with my own planning and preparation of adventures for hidden and secret items/treasure/doors/etc. I wanted a quick page to have all the things I wanted to make sure I considered when planning hidden item(s).

See this article on locks. My article on trade goods has some insight on items that might be hidden. Last year’s entry on V – Vaults for the A to Z Blogging Challenge. See also E – Entrances & Exits and D – Dungeons.

The d30 Sandbox Companion, d30 DM companion and other tools are a great way to figure out locations, guards, etc. Don’t forget the many tables in the 1st Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide.

Type of Hiding:

  1. In Plain Sight*
  2. Container**
  3. Magic***
  4. Hidden****
  5. Trap*****
  6. Combination of the above.

*This can vary from the object is in plain sight, but could be obscured in a minor way, it is very plain looking, it is in a room with multiple similar or identical objects, illusion, magic, mirrors, etc.

**Containers may be hidden or in plain sight. Containers are anything that holds something. Sacks, bags, bottles, kegs, casks, barrels, scroll cases, cups, glasses, chests, luggage, rooms, planets, pocket dimensions, etc.

***Includes magic and illusions. Any way that a spell can be used to hide something. Darkness, polymorph, invisibility, duo-dimension, etc.

****Hidden can vary in how well something is hidden from not well to devilishly clever. This type of hiding is non-magical.

*****One or more normal or non-magical traps that are part of the hidden location of the item(s).

Effort Given to Hiding:

How much time and effort the possessor and/or owner of an object spends hiding it determines how easily is is found and retrieved.

  1. Quick/Rushed – For example, a pickpocket hiding his new loot.
  2. A few uninterrupted minutes. – This is slightly better hidden, but without a known location to deposit it or a magic item or spell to place on it, one will not hide it too well.
  3. An hour to think and plan it.
  4. Days or more to plan it.
  5. Special building project, craft project, etc. to hide/conceal it.
  6. Magic and/or illusion to hide it.
  7. Guardian(s) placed to defend and prevent finding the hidden location.
  8. Inaccessible location – top of mountain, bottom of sea, middle of desert, etc.

A good example is the myths about Oak Island indicate that it is a vastly complex route to a hidden treasure. If it really is a hidden treasure chamber with various obstacles along the way, it shows maximum effort. Tides, weather, geology, hydrology, atmosphere, traps, barriers, etc.


  1. None* – Solely reliant on how well it is hidden.
  2. Obstacle – In addition to traps or hiding, there might be a moat, cavern, etc.
  3. Lock/Seal/Glyph – From physical locks to magical or holy/unholy protections.
  4. Normal creatures – from unintelligent to highly intelligent
  5. Magical creatures – from charmed normal creatures to magical creatures or even extra planar creatures.
  6. Combination**

*There might be no guards for other reasons, such as the guardians are dead or defeated by those who have gone before, but the hidden location/item(s) was not found.

**Combination could indicate competing groups out for the honor of guarding the item the best. This could lead to one group sabotaging the other or making it appear the other is the one who let the item(s) get found and removed from hiding.

NOTE: Guardians that are intelligent can be highly organized, like a secret society dedicated to keeping something hidden, or a tribe whose goal is to keep something hidden.

Guardians will also vary in how efficient and effective they are. A single guardian that has to eat will have to be away seeking food, unless there is a ready food supply. If the guardian eats adventurers, there will have to be a steady stream of new ones to feed the guardian to keep it from hunting.

Guardians with a large area to patrol will only be as effective as the amount of area they can survey/patrol.

The loyalty and dedication of guardians will also be a factor. A bound magical creature might have learned loopholes that it might use to let the item be found to spite the one who bound them. If the binding has a bit that will harm the bound if the item is recovered, it would motivate the guard to do a good job.

Lack of food, pay, discipline, etc. will have an impact on how motivated and loyal guards are.

NOTE: It is possible for the guardian to be the hiding spot, i.e. a large creature, like a dragon or some such has swallowed the item(s) and you have to slay the creature to get it.

Tools for guardians:

Intelligent guardians will be given tools they can use. Unintelligent guardians will have the environment designed to maximize the effectiveness of the guardian. For example, a ten foot cubic passageway around a room that is a ten foot cube patrolled by a gelatinous cube fed by the refuse from the sewers of the city above. Rats and other denizens of the sewers would be between the hiding spot and the character’s starting point.

A great aid to helping guardians do their job is that they don’t know the secret(s) needed to retrieve the item(s) or even the exact location of the hiding place.

  1. Knowledge – lore, map or other secrets to help protect item(s)
  2. Items – Specialty items whether normal or non-magical specific to keeping it hidden.
  3. Magic – Spells, charms, or magic items designed to help with the mission of guarding the item(s).

For a science fiction or modern setting, replace scrying devices with closed circuit TV, add motion sensors, laser defenses, etc.

What is hidden?

  1. Good guys hide something from bad guys.
  2. Bad guys hide something from good guys.
  3. Money
  4. Gems & Jewels
  5. Money, Gems & Jewels.
  6. Magic.
  7. Magic & Money
  8. Magic & Money, Gems & Jewels
  9. Unique interesting item – could be magical.
  10. Nothing*

*The reasons for this are manifold. The place of hiding was prepared, but the item was never put in place. The item was moved for cleaning and lost. The item was acquired by a prior person or group. More examples could be found.

To whom is the hidden valuable?

  1. The person who hid it. Others consider it junk, odd, etc.
  2. Specific species/race.
  3. Specific class.
  4. Specific alignment/affiliation/group with a common goal.
  5. Specific person/creature*
  6. Everyone who knows about it.**

*The big bad, the big good, some average Joe, like a farmer, player character, dragon, lich, diety, demon, devil, etc.

**Watch It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World to get an idea of how this might work.

Multi-part items with multiple hiding spots

Just like Harry Potter seeking the horcruxes of Voldemoort, each hidden in its own unique way, a multi-part item or treasure could contain clues or the requirements to find other location(s).

This gets complicated. Each individual location is subject to each of the above criteria, in addition to the specifics of the item.

Take a mythical 7 part item. In the initial hiding the only way to find the items is to find them in the correct sequence. If you find item 7 first you can’t find item one or six, since an item only tells you how to find the next item. In addition, over the ages, some items have been found or moved, or the custodian(s) of the items did not place the item in its hiding spot.

I need to start an adventure with finding the last item in a series and seeing if the party takes the bait to figure out how to find the rest of it. Lots of money spent with one or more sages, wizards, and clerics seeking clues.

Custodians – Similar to guardians, and may be a subset of elite/senior guardians who actually know the secret location and many of the secrets to get close to the item, and even interact with it. As a last resort, custodians can move that which is hidden.

More Variation on Magic Items

The last two days I wrote posts on magic dishes here and here.

This got me to thinking about ways to mix up magic items so that they are not the same rods, staves, wands, rings, scrolls, or expected miscellaneous items as listed in the DMG or other resource.

You roll up a ring of invisibility, but what else might it be besides a ring? How to decide?

You can make up a table and roll (Go ahead, I’ll wait while you make a table….)

Oh, good, you’re back.

Another way to do it is when sitting at your desk or table or other location prepping for the next session, or at some other time between sessions and prep time, look for an ordinary every day item. What might it be? If you keep your work area spartan, you may have few choices. If like me, you best efforts to minimize falter when things get busy, you might have a wealth of things to choose from. Letter opener, paper clip, business cards, pen, pencil, eraser, coffee cup, index card, scissors, ruler, flashlight, battery, eraser, etc.

Go to your junk drawer in the kitchen and see what unexpected thing is in there.

Generating ideas doesn’t have to come from rolling dice or struggling to come up with yet another idea to round out your table to roll up something.

What is the weirdest thing your locker mate in high school ever had in the locker?

What object(s) did your grandparents or in-laws have that stood out until you got used to them? They might be the item you think of if you imagine being inside their house.

Go to a flea market or swap meet and make a list of all the things that catch your imagination.

A meat grinder that plays Danse Macabe and animates d12 skeletons once per day.

A feather duster that causes a gust of wind once per day.

A frying pan that is +2 vs. all who rob or invade the home.

A cutting board that functions as a lid to a portable hole. You can fit a lot of scraps in there….

A piece of furniture that functions as a portal to another world….

CAT 5 cord of strangulation or tripping.

I need to remember to keep a list of things I see that are ordinary but would make an interesting magic item. I made a list in Evernote, since I use it for all kinds of other lists.

Page Number Notation For Spells

I read somewhere a good suggestion to not the page number of spells for each spell a spell casting character uses.

In AD&D, to save space, the magic-user spells refer to the earlier cleric or druid spells of the same name. Plus, the DMG has more information on some spells for the DM to consider when ruling on spell effects, etc.

I’m playing a magic-user in the first session of a new DM’s campaign, and decided to write down the page numbers. Then I realized I needed notation for spells of the same or similar name on an earlier page, and then recalled the DMG pages for some spells.

Being a player that is also a DM, I thought of the simplest way to do this would be Spell Name p. ##&##/##. For example, the first level magic user spell, Charm Person, would be p. 65&55/44. The magic user spell is on page 65, and refers back to the druid spell Charm Person or Mammal on p. 55, and the DMG p. 44 has a blurb on it.

Read Magic is a spell that is unique to magic users and there is no mention of it in the spell section of the DMG, so the notation is p.68/0.

The question is whether I can remember the notation when it comes to play time.

I have the PDF’s of all the manuals, so I will copy and paste the descriptions so that I’m all set. If I mislay a printout or file, as long as I have my character sheet, I’ll have the exact page number all set.

I think I’ll need more than one session of play to know how well it works.

Multiple spells and spell level tracking could do with simplification.

OSR Is Good/OSR Is Bad

I saw some headlines that indicate there’s another argument on the internet about the OSR. Again?

To which I present this little “poem”.

OSR is Good, OSR is Bad

OSR is Happy, OSR is Sad

OSR is Joy, OSR is Mad

OSR is Fun, OSR is Glad

OSR is three little letters that don’t give a flying #$%^# if you like them or not.

If you like OSR, tomorrow will come.

If you don’t like OSR, tomorrow will come.

If everyone agrees with what is the OSR, tomorrow will come.

If no one agrees with what is the OSR, tomorrow will come.

I don’t get why some people live to stir the pot, kick the anthill, mountain climb molehills, and pick arguments when they have thin skin and long toes.

Games are supposed to be fun.

If you aren’t having fun, you’re doing it wrong.

Translated Wrong

Today, over at OSR Today, for Table Tuesday, they had a table about being translated into another existence.

When I read the title, I was expecting something about language translation.

It got me to thinking, so I came up with the following:

How close did the language “expert” get their facts? Was it a rush job? Are they not as skilled as they claim? Is the translator under the thumb of someone opposed to the party? Any reason you can think of for something to be wrong.

  1. Direction wrong. Varies from exact opposite direction, to slightly off, such as North-North-West instead of North West.
  2. Structure/Location wrong. Instead of a castle it is a hovel, instead of a dungeon it is a cave.
  3. Size wrong. Instead of a huge ancient red dragon, it is a young adult dragon. Instead of a hill, it’s a mountain, or a mountain range.
  4. Color wrong. The evil wizard wears blue robes instead of black robes.
  5. Name wrong. The name of a person, place, or thing is off just a little. Jan instead of Jane, vial instead of vile or viol (I played with a guy in high school who rarely grasped the difference.), H2S04 instead of H20, etc.
  6. Wrong race. Hobgoblins instead of goblins, ogres instead of pixies, make it good. Wyverns instead of dragons, etc.
  7. Wrong alignment. The person who has the information they need is of a different alignment. Perhaps it is the big bad himself, as yet undiscovered by the players, and only the big bad knows how he can be stopped.
  8. Wrong generation. They need Junior, and not the decrepit Senior. Or they need the skilled senior, and not the ineffective Junior.
  9. Wrong map. The translation might be spot on, but the translator either goofs and give you the wrong map, or is of ill intent and gives them a map to a very bad place.
  10. Scope wrong. Numbers are involved and they are a few orders of magnitude in the wrong direction. The fabulously huge treasure of gold and jewels, is a big sack of copper coins and some cheap garnets. Or the small patrol is actually an army.
  11. Language wrong. The translator is confused by a similar script of a branch language, but various vowel and verb form changes have any translation with the translator’s knowledge being wrong about everything.
  12. The next map the player’s find already has a translation on it that they can read, but it is wrong in one or more of the above points.

I think this is an interesting idea, and I’ll see about adding to it in the future.

Near Misses – Thieves

I had an idea for thieves picking pockets from an experience prior to my last game at UCON. The idea coalesced as I was in that dreamy, glad to be sleeping state before I woke up this morning. (I’m off all week; so I got to sleep in today to recover from both low quantity and quality of sleep the last few days.)

As I have mentioned in at least one other article, my Dad was a locksmith and I was drafted to help from the time I was about 13 until I went off to college. Dad gave me my own basic set of lock picks. I thought it would be fun to plop them down at a game, if I ended up running a thief.

I was getting stuff out of my bag, dice, paper, pen, pencil and other things so I wouldn’t have to keep rummaging in my bag during the game and slow things down. I was wearing many layers, including a jacket sort of like a hoody with out the hood. It has packets inside next to each outer pocket.

I put my picks in my pocket, or so I thought. I felt both sides of my hand feel fabric, so I thought it was in my pocket. I had just placed something else in that pocket and realized that I was about to drop it between my jacket and shirt instead of my pocket, so I corrected. I then checked and my picks weren’t there, so just as I was getting ready to bend down to get them, +Laura Rose Williams says, “Here, Larry, you dropped this,” as she hands it to me.

This morning in my dreamlike pre-wake state, this idea hit me, and I can just see a thief picking someone’s pockets and rolling 1 or 2 under what they need. So from now on, I will rule that a thief doing this, gets what they were after, or at least something, and they “pocket” it. Some kind soul will see them drop it and come up and give it to them in full view of all around. The “FUN!” will then ensue.

I did not play a thief as planned, +Laura Rose Williams wanted me to play a wizard along with her, which I did. So I got out my picks after the game to share what I was prepared to use as a prop.

CSIO Kickstarter – October Update

I got the CSIO Kickstarter October update in my email yesterday.

As has become usual, it is good news/bad news.

The good news is that the player maps and minis seem to be on track.

However, the bad news, while not a health crisis involves two complications.

First, their webhost GoDaddy is dropping support for SharePoint and Outlook, and did not warn them it was coming, so they have a short period of time to the new email platform. I did a quick google search, and it appears that the issue is Microsoft dropped support for some features of Sharepoint and Outlook, and are forcing people to Office365, or priced it so that GoDaddy had to force them, is more likely.

That GoDaddy waited until the last minute to tell them, I have no idea, never used GoDaddy. But my experience with Microsoft products in a web environment 15+ years ago convinced me not to use Microsoft products for my personal projects. I have no choice about using them in my day job.

Second, in addition to the unexpected time sink re-doing their website, one of the people working on the CSIO Book [the part I backed], has quit after a month of no progress. Here’s a quote on that, emphasis mine:


We’re fleshing out the final two chapters of the CSIO portion of the book dealing with Crime, Punishment, Manumission, and other rule variants. This should be completed within the next couple weeks and then we can run over the Thunderhold portion, then start the final layout. End of November may be cutting things close. We want this out before the holiday season madness. On another note, the person responsible for mining all of the stats to put in a spreadsheet for checking has quit after a month or so of no progress (Bob III will probably have to pick up that load).

So it may yet be out this year, only a year late. I suspect that it will slip into early next year since one person strung them along for a month.

I think this is a prime reason not to launch a Kickstarter until the book is ready for layout. That is, the text is written and through all the various drafts, and been proof read and edited. Even a revision of an existing book, especially something as big as a city, can’t just be done quickly.

The other lesson to take away is, don’t let people drag you down. If the people who are supposed to do the work are not doing the work, cut them loose before it drags down the entire project.

Most people were worried about how the miniatures add-on/stretch goals would kill this product, and the thing that is dragging it down is the centerpiece.

Another example of how to do a Kickstarter is the B/X Monster Reference Index, which ends Sunday, October 4th, and I expect to have before the end of October. This is someone who does lots of Kickstarters one after the other, but the product is ready to go. It is more of a pre-order system, and stretch goals/add-ons are done in a way that make sense and don’t interfere with the weight of the project to skew the costs of international shipping. This is an example of finding a niche with a product target that is easy to hit for quality and on-time delivery. By creating satisfied customers and maintaining the quality of responsiveness to questions and suggestions, and delivering ahead of the promised delivery date, +Peter Regan has customers that will back most, if not all of his Kickstarters.

Because of his diligence, if he ever did have a family emergency, he has earned the credibility that we wouldn’t question it. This is a big difference between first time Kickstarters that go crazy with funding and stretch goals and suddenly are delayed by mysterious and uncommunicated illnesses. Many of these have been people with mental illnesses. I am not against people who struggle with their inner demons sharing their efforts with the world. But if you know you have this struggle, do the work and be ready BEFORE launch!

If you are relying on other people, get their part of it before you absolutely have to have it, and cut them loose if they do not keep you in the loop. Be professional about it and hold others to a high standard. One cannot avoid sudden illnesses and accidents, so it makes even more sense to have the work ready to go before launch.

If you have to send something off to printers, make sure to keep up with them and make sure that they will be ready to start once you have the funds to give them the go ahead. Make sure they are a reputable company with references.

Most of all, if it’s your first Kickstarter, make sure to ask others who have done successful ones what it takes.

Except for something else cool by Peter Regan, I’m not backing any more Kickstarters until I start getting my stuff. CSIO [due November, 2014], Grimtooth’s Traps Hardcover [due July, 2015],  Remix Mini [due October, 2015], Marmoreal Tomb [due March, 2016], MA Epsilon City  [due March, 2016], Schlock Mercenary 70 Maxims Book [due May, 2016].

The one Kickstarter for which I have kissed my money goodbye is the stalled in legal limbo D&D Documentary, The Great Kingdom [due July, 2015]. Due to legal mumbo jumbo, no one outside the proceedings gets to know what is doing on until there is an eventual settlement, whether by court decision, or agreement among the parties. I would pay to see both movies, so what’s the problem? Settle your interpersonal crybaby $#!^ and make one movie. I don’t care which. I can live without the $50 coming back. If either side has a GoFunMe for legal bills, they have all the money I am going to give them.

I could never spend another dime on RPG materials or ever order something online and be happy. I’d have more money for other things. I really need to do more to start using all the cool things I’ve bought for RPG’s over the last few years, plus all the accumulated free downloads. There is so much material that I could stop going online and never use it all. I only go online because I like all the cool ideas that others have come up with and how they have used them.

If I spent less time online, I would have more time to make my own ideas bear fruit for sharing with others….

AD&D and Other Editions to 5e Conversion Methodology

A lot of common sense stuff here. If the monster in the module is in the Monster Manual of the rules you are converting to , use that. Other creatures can be substituted for others, or converted by bits and pieces of creatures with similar stats.

The reverse can also work, taking new creatures and adventures from 5e back to older editions or even other systems.


Yes, I Backed Another Kickstarter

I recently wrote that I wouldn’t be backing any other Kickstarters until all the outstanding ones delivered.

That was before I knew that +Peter Regan, of Oubliette Magazine and Square Hex would be offering his latest Kickstarter, the B/X Monster Reference Index.

It is a spiral bound reference with over 500 B/X monsters in a one line format for each. It will come in at 24 pages. For about $6.00 you get one, and less than $5.00 shipping from the UK.

I went in for the pledge level that gets me two of them, with shipping, only about $17.00.

Why two of them? Because I can! Who doesn’t need a backup of one of these?

This is Peter’s 14th Kickstarter! All of them have Funded and been delivered in a timely manner. He obviously has done the work in advance, and is just using Kickstarter to fund. He has a short time frame to get it out the door. He knows his market base and seems to have a laser-like focus to accomplish these projects.

The project already funded today. He keeps any stretch goals within reason, and does good work. This one has a two week time frame to ensure it is delivered before Christmas.

Reading the comments, backers get the PDF and a Spreadsheet, plus the cover will be laminated. Other stretch goals may be a possibility.