The Alexandrian

Those of you who follow the site closely have noticed that it’s been dead for a little over a month now. What happened?

Well, basically, I was horribly ill for more than a month and there were some pretty serious health problems in my immediate family, too. The final assessment is that I was sick for 36 days straight, culminating in an “immune system collapse” that resulted in 9 days of pneumonia. Although I had a couple of semi-functional days in the middle of things, I basically lost the entire month of December plus a little extra.

A different perspective, and one that may shed some light on just how ludicrously behind on things I am, is that I usually clock 140-160 hours of work each month (including projects here at the Alexandrian). In the month of December, I logged 18 hours.

I’m generally not a big fan of wringing my hands in public about this sort of thing, but one of the things that fell through the cracks as my regular schedule disintegrated was the monthly Hangout for Patreon patrons. And I wanted to take a moment to publicly apologize to them for that. I’m currently brainstorming a way to make that up to members of the Hangout Club, and I’ll let people know more about that as soon as I’ve come up with something suitably awesome.

When can you expect more regular content here at the Alexandrian? Well, I’m hoping that I’ll be able to have a slate of new material up before the end of January. However, I’m still very, very far behind on… well, everything. And I’m not going to just crank out some random crap for the sake of posting it. So, basically, there’ll be new stuff here at the Alexandrian as soon as I can product the kind of thoughtful, high quality material y’all have come to expect from the site.

Thanks for your patience! And I hope you’re all doing much better than I have been!

Go to Part 1


Lost Laboratories of Arn - Map Courtesy of Dyson Logos

This area is inhabited by the white wyrm Cassandra. She betrayed the Arn, but a sorcerer named Sargas stole her blue key, stranding her here. She will be instantly enraged by anyone with a Sorcerous Brand of Arn, but might be willing to negotiate with others if they can release her. She knows the entire blue network of teleportals.

AREA A – CAVERN OF ICE: All of the caverns are coated in ice. This is where Cassandra primarily lairs (75%). She will crawl up the icy walls, skittering here and there with seemingly impossible speed.

AREA B – CASSANDRA’S HORDE: Cassandra is here 25% of the time.

  • Coins: 12,880 sp, 4,320 gp, 106 pp
  • Gems/Jewelry: banded agate (10 gp), tourmaline (60 gp), silver pearl (130 gp), violet garnet (430 gp), silver anklet (30 gp), crystal bowl and pitcher (300 each), mithral wind chime (400 gp), silver broach inscribed “Tauros of Minoc” (800 gp), holy vestments of samite bearing the holy symbol of Vehthyl (1,000 gp), golden pendant with ruby (1,700 gp)
  • Items: divine scroll (bull’s strength), arcane scroll (unseen servant, spectral hands), arcane scroll (burning hands, disguise self, minor image), arcane scroll (suggestion, tongues), potion of levitate, potion of resist energy (fire), +1 short sword, wand of magic missiles (5th level caster, 34 charges), +1 frost longsword

AREA C – CASSANDRA’S EGGS: 6 white dragon eggs, worth 2,000 gp each. Bitter cold to the touch.

  • Freezing Zone: All of the small caverns in this area are artificially cold, inflicting 1d6 points of cold damage per round (Fort DC 20 negates).


  • D1: Teleportal to area 23.
  • D2: Teleportal to area 25.
  • D3: Teleportal to area 21.

DETECTION – blindsense 60 ft., darkvision 120 ft., low-light vision, Listen +10, Spot +10; Init +0; Aura frightful presence; Languages Common, Draconic, Elven
DEFENSES AC 26 (-1 size, +17 natural), touch 9, flat-footed 26; hp 576 (18d12+72); DR 5/magic; Immune cold, paralysis, sleep; Resist spell 18; Vulnerable fire
ACTIONSSpd 60 ft., fly 200 ft. (poor); Melee bite +24 (2d6+6), 2 claws +18 (1d8+3), 2 wings +18 (1d6+3), and tail slap +18 (1d8+9); Ranged +17; Space 10 ft.; Reach 5 ft. (10 ft. with bite); Base Atk +18, Grapple +28; SA breath weapon, spells; Combat Feats: Blind-Fight, Cleave, Flyby Attack, Hover, Power Attack, Snatch
SQ blindsense 60 ft., darkvision 120 ft., frightful presence, icewalking, spell resistance 18
STR 23, DEX 10, CON 19, INT 18, WIS 11, CHA 12
FORT +15, REF +11, WILL +11
FEATS: Alertness, Blind-Fight, Cleave, Flyby Attack, Hover, Power Attack, Snatch, Weapon Focus (bite)
SKILLS: Appraise +9, Bluff +8, Concentration +11, Diplomacy +8, Fly +7, Intimidate +11, Jump +14, Knowledge (arcana) +9, Knowledge (the planes) +7, Perception +10, Search +9, Sense Motive +11, Spellcraft +14, Stealth +1

Spell-Like Abilities (CL 6)
3/day—fog cloud, gust of wind

Sorcerer Spells Known (CL 1)
1st (4/day, DC 14)—obscuring mist, bless, entropic shield, shield of faith
0th (5/day, DC 13)—create water, detect magic, detect poison, guidance, light

Breath Weapon (Su): 6d6 cold (Reflex DC 23, half damage), recharge in 1d4 rounds

Frightful Presence (Su): 180 ft. radius, 18 HD or less, Will save (DC 20) or shaken for 4d6 rounds

Icewalking (Ex): Like spider climb on icy surfaces.



Swastika-shaped halls (inverted compared to Laboratory #17). The walls are undulated in irregular wave patterns. There is a large sarcophagus of iron at the center of the swastika.

SARCOPHAGUS: Bears the appearance of a man armored in ornate plate with a crystal ball clutched in his hands.

  • Trap: The sarcophagus is filled with burnt othur fumes (Inhaled DC 18, 1 Con drain/3d6 Con), Search DC 16 (pneumatic mucus seal), Disable Device DC 24 (need something to vent the fumes into)
  • Corpse: The corpse wears technomantic animated armor; a high metal collar is plugged into the desiccated corpse’s head.
  • Potion: In the corpse’s hands is a stoppered vial filled with an oily green paste. Anyone who slathers this paste into their eyes and ears will enter a delirious fugue for nine hours, during which time they will commune with the Demon Gods. At the end of this time, they must make a Fortitude save (DC 32) to avoid blindness and deafness and a Will save (DC 25) to avoid insanity.
  • Alchemy/Spellcraft (DC 25): To conclude how the paste is to be applied (based on bio-magical catalysts), but there’s no way to determine what it actually does short of divination.

POWER LEAK: The magicks worked in this hall have been damaged, resulting in a slow arcane power leak. Once per minute, arcane spellcasters must make a Will save (DC 20) or lose a random spell of the highest level they have prepared. Characters with magical equipment must make a similar save or one of their magical items loses +1 or a random ability. It requires a Spot check (DC 24, -1 per failure) to notice what’s happening. (The leak is a temporary draining of magical potential and equipment abilities return at a rate of +1 or one ability every 24 hours.)

TELEPORTALS: Located in each end of the swastika. Non-operational red, two operational blue, and a black.

  • Black Teleportal: No key for this teleportal can be found in the current network. (If it could somehow be activated, it would lead to a different network of laboratories not on the map.)


Animated armor resembles plate armor, but it is covered in moving iron bars, some gearlike apparatus, and even tough, resilient tubing. All the plates and pieces of the armor share sturdy joints and connections so that, once the wearer has donned the suit, it is more like an outer shell than armor. The wearer must attach her headclamp inside the helmet of the animated armor. Without a headclamp, this armor functions as normal plate armor, except that it weighs more. The devices attached to the armor allow it to move under its own power, as directed by the wearer. Thus, it adds its strength to the wearer’s, granting a +4 enhancement bonus to her Strength score. Further, because the armor can walk and run for the wearer, she can move twice the distance she normally could travel before facing fatigue. It provides an armor bonus of +9, has a maximum maximum Dexterity of +2, an armor check penalty of –2, and an arcane spell failure chance of 40 percent.

Headclamp activation; Craft DC 42; Price 20,000 gp; Weight 80 lbs.

Headclamp: A chaos surgeon inserts this small deviceinto the temple of a living creature, or otherwise near the brain. The living portions of the device instantly heal thesurgical wound, then extend tiny filaments into the host’s brain while keeping a small circular opening available on the outside of the head. Numerous non-intrinsic chaositech devices have tubes or other extensions that attach to this opening and clamp into place. This connection allows a device to receive mental commands or to transfer information directly into the host’s brain. The headclamp has no intrinsic abilities or benefits. A host can have no more than two headclamps. Should someone attack a headclamp cord, it has an Armor Class of 14 + the host’s Dexterity bonus. The DM may also grant the cord any of the host’s dodge, deflection, or other Armor Class modifiers, but not armor bonuses, unless the headclamp is a part of the armor (as with animated armor). The cord has a hardness of 1 and 5 hit points. Headclamp cords are fairly easy to repair (Craft (chaotic technomancy) DC 18), but a device that requires the connection cannot function until the broken cord is repaired. One can pull a cord out of a headclamp with a Strength check (DC 8).

Chaos Surgery DC 22; Procedure Time one hour; Recovery Period one day; Price 10,000


A broad, circular chamber of dark, silver-grey stone. There are three teleportals around the periphery of the room. On a throne of black stone in the center of the room is draped a mass of purple putrescence.

PURPLE PUTRESCENCE: If approached, the purple putrescence will suddenly rear up, revealing a horribly bloated and deformed face. It wants nothing more than death after long centuries of decayed existence. “Kill me…” (But its body will fight to the death out of pure instinct.)


  • Search (DC 22): The throne can be pushed back, revealing a vertical tunnel of stone with a ladder of mithril. Climbing down the ladder has the effect of a permanent rope trick, emerging onto a stone table in the middle of a stone circle near Oakhill in the Borderlands.
  • Search (DC 28): Compartment on the back of the throne contains a RED KEY and a bejeweled crown (worth 10,000 gp).

PURPLE PUTRESCENCE (CR 11): 137 hp (15d8+70), AC 22, slimy protuberance +20/+20 (2d8+7), Save +14, Ability DC 20
Str 17, Dex 10, Con 22, Int 14, Wis 6, Cha 4
Skills: Knowledge (arcana) +20, Perception +14, Spellcraft +20
DR 10/acid or slashing
Regenerate 20 (vulnerable: cold iron)

Any material in this post not indicated as Product Identity in the Open Gaming License is released by Creative Common Attribution-Share Alike 3.0.

Go to Part 1

Čeština: Karlův most, Staré Město a Malá Strana, mezi Křižovnickým náměstím a Mosteckou


A long, oval chamber with a circular bulge in the middle filled with a low, stone table surrounded by multi-hued floor cushions. In the center of the table is a large contraption of colored glass.

Around the perimeter of the chamber stand six stone statues depicting knights dressed in full plate and regalia. At one end of the chamber stands a seventh statue of a man in tattered crimson robes.

PERCEPTION (DC 16): The seventh statue is incredibly life-like and its cloths drift slightly in the slight breeze from the incoming teleport.

STONE GUARDIANS: The six stone statues are stone guardians who will attack anyone without the Sorcerous Brand of Arn.

SEVENTH STATUE: This man has been permanently paralyzed save for his eyes and brain. His mouth is frozen in a scream. After centuries in this state, he is quite insane.

KEY RECALL DEVICE: The glass contraption in the center of the chamber can be used to recall any extant keys for the teleportation network.

  • Arcana (DC 20): To figure out that there are six concealed levers that must be depressed simultaneously. (However, these levers only work if depressed by someone with the Sorcerous Brand of Arn.)
  • Arcana (DC 25): To conclude that there is a color-coded selector device. Three of the colors (black, purple, and yellow) have been smashed. Three others (red, green, and blue) have not.
  • Arcana (DC 35): To discover an additional selection device coding for specific “etheric frequency”. Several such frequencies are attuned to each color. (These were unique codes which could be used to pull back a particular key, thus revoking someone’s access to the teleportal network. There’s no way to determine which code belongs to which person/key without the original code books, which are not present.)
  • There are 2d4+1 of each color key type left in the world (including any possessed by the PCs). Determine randomly to see if the PCs pull back one of their own keys.

STONE GUARDIAN (CR 6): 60 hp (8d8+24), AC 19, slam +11/+11 (2d6+4), Save +9, Ability DC 16
Str 20, Dex 11, Con -, Int 10, Wis 6, Cha 11
Skills: Knowledge (Arcana) +11, Perception +8, Spellcraft +11
DR 10/adamantine
SR 18


Laboratories of the Arn - Map Courtesy of Dyson Logos

Map Courtesy of Dyson Logos


  • A1: Teleportal to/from area 21.
  • A2: Teleportal to/from area 24.
  • A3: Teleportal to/from area 22. And a black teleportal. (No key for the black teleportal is present in the current network. If it could somehow be activated, it would lead to a different network of laboratories not on the map.)

AREA B – FOREST CAVERN: A large, vaulted cavern filled with thick, green foliage.

  • Husks(x3): Inhabit this cavern.

AREA C – FOREST CAVERN: A large, vaulted cavern filled with thick, green foliage. About half way up the wall of the cavern (50′ high up to 70′ or so) runs a curved ramp.

  • Dormant Arboreoid: In the center of this area is the Dormant Arboreoid. It bears dozens of curious green-red fruits that do not spoil after being picked. If more than three fruits are plucked in a single day, however, the creature awakens. (Use roper stats.)
  • Fruits: The fruits are bitter to the taste, but they immediately have the effect of a cure light wounds potion on the eater.

AREA D – UNDERPASS: This underpass is inhabited by four powerleeches (which will drop from above or rush out from small burrows to the sides). Powerleaches have the appearance of snakes, but their heads are surrounded by plates of hard, keratinous plates that are vaguely mollusc-like and gleam iridescently. As they leach energy, a small ball of lightning gathers between their fangs.

AREA E – CAVERN OF ASH TREES: This long cavern is filled with ash trees — literally trees which have been reduced to ash, but still stand in their underground grove.

  • Improved Shadows (x8): Lurk amidst the trees.
  • Ash Trees: Any disturbance of an ash tree will cause it to collapse, creating a 20′ radius cloud in which creatures within 5 feet gain concealment and creatures beyond 5 feet gain total concealment. (The ash does not block darkvision and the shadows can see just fine. A moderate wind (11+ mph) disperses the ash in 4 rounds; a strong wind (21+ mph) disperses the ash in 1 round.)
  • Chest: Contains 10 crescent amethysts (each with a crystal imperfection at their heart) worth 500 gp each, a synaptic mask with a meld stone of the alchemist, and a set of crystal lenses set in golden rims (worth a total of 10,000 gp).

AREA F – CINDERSHARD CAVERN: This cavern contains a thick outcropping of cindershard, consisting of 100 crystals.

  • Cindershard: A creature carrying a cindershard crystal (although not in an extradimensional space like a bag of holding) is immune to the harmful effects of sickstone. Once a cindershard is exposed to sickstone, it automatically “burns out” after 1d4 hours, turning into a powdery, non-glowing lump of stone. An intact cindershard is worth 25 gp. Cindershard powder is a mild curative (primarily useful as an ingredient in cure potions).
  • GM Background: Cindershard often erupts in areas near sickstone; a sort of natural reaction to sickstone’s disruption of local balance.

AREA G – SICKSTONE CAVERN: Two hundred feet down this tunnel beyond the edge of the map is an outcropping of sickstone with alchemical equipment focusing its emanations up toward Areas F (in order to stimulate the growth of cindershard crystals there).

  • Sickstone: Those within 30 feet of sickstone must make a Fortitude save (DC 12) or become sickened for 1 minute (10 rounds). This save must repeated once every minute. If engaging in strenuous activity (like combat), the save must be made every round. If a character who is already sickened fails a saving throw, they became nauseated for 1 minute (10 rounds). If a character who is already nauseated fails a saving throw, they suffer 1 point of Constitution damage (and continue to be nauseated).

AREA H – SECRET DOOR: This secret door leads to a staircase that leads up to a barrow mound in the distant lands of Hyrtan. Once outside, characters can teleport normally.

AREA I – ARCANE DOORS: 20′ high doors of copper and brass, engraved with strange runes, have been welded shut.

  • Behind the Doors: If the doors are opened, they lead to a malfunctioning gate (corruscating cascades of purplish light which are painful to the eyes). Characters passing through the gate are returned to the same location 1d4 hours later after suffering torturous extradimensional exertions (inflicting 8d6 damage, Fortitude DC 19 for half damage).

AREA J – COPPER POLES: Two copper poles stuck into the floor, covered in verdigris.

HUSKS (CR 7): 75 hp (10d8+30), AC 20, slam +12/+12 (2d8+3), Save +10, Ability DC 17, Reach 15 ft.
Str 10, Dex 10, Con 12, Int -, Wis 10, Cha 6
Skills: Hide +13, Listen +13, Perception +13, Stealth +13
Exude Spider Swarm (Ex): One full action or when reduced to 30 hp, exude 6d6 spider swarms.
Lurching (Ex): Cannot run.
Spider Reach (Ex): The creature’s arms partially detach (remaining “connected” by an interlinked swarm of extending spiders), allowing them to slam nearby creatures within 15 ft.
Spider Grab (Ex): If both slams hit, start grapple as free action (spiders pouring out to suck the target in).
Spider Swallow (Ex): If it starts a turn grappling, a husk can attempt a grapple check to overwhelm a target in a mass of spiders. Swallowed creature suffers 3d6 damage per round from numerous spider bites. Victims can escape with two successful grapple checks. (Husk can reassert its grip at the start of its next turn if it is still grappling.)

POWERLEECHES (CR 6): 60 hp (8d8+24), AC 19, leechfangs +11/+11 (2d6+4 and leech), Save +9, Ability DC 16, Tiny
Str 8, Dex 16, Con 12, Int 10, Wis 6, Cha 11
Skills: Balance +15, Climb +10, Perception +7, Stealth +15, Swim +10
Burrow 30 ft.
Leech (Su): On a successful attack, spellcasters lose a random spell of the highest level they have prepared. Magical equipment loses one +1 or a random ability. (The leech is a temporary draining of magical potential and equipment abilities return at a rate of +1 or one ability every 24 hours.)
Leeching Rake (Su): If the powerleech strikes a single creature with both attacks, they deal an additional 2d6 damage to the target and leech an additional spell or ability.
Pounce (Ex): As a full action, a powerleech can move up to twice its speed and then perform a full attack.
SR 14

SHADOW, IMPROVED (CR 4) – CE Medium Undead (Incorporeal)
DETECTION – darkvision 60 ft., Listen +7, Spot +7; Init +2 (Dex)
DEFENSES AC 13 (+2 Dex, +1 deflection), touch 13, flat-footed 11; hp 45 (7d12); Miss 50% (except incorporeal attacks); Immune incorporeal immunities (grapple, nonmagical attacks, trip), undead immunities (ability damage, ability drain, critical hits, cold, death effects, disease, energy drain, exhaustion, fatigue, mind-affecting, nonlethal damage, paralysis, poison, raise dead, sleep, stunning, and any effect requiring a Fortitude save (unless it also works on objects or is harmless))
ACTIONSSpd fly 40 ft. (good); Melee incorporeal touch +5 (1d6 Str); Ranged +5; Space 5 ft.; Reach 5 ft.; Base Atk +3; Grapple -; SA create spawn, strength damage; Combat Feats Dodge, Flyby Attack
SQ darkvision 60 ft., incorporeal traits, turn resistance +2, undead traits
STR -, DEX 14, CON -, INT 6, WIS 12, CHA 14
FORT +1, REF +3, WILL +4
FEATS: Alertness, Dodge, Flyby Attack
SKILLS: Hide +11*, Listen +8, Search +5, Spot +8

Create Spawn (Su): Any humanoid reduced to Strength 0 by a shadow becomes a shadow under control its killer in 1d4 rounds.

Incorporeal Subtype: Immune to all nonmagical, corporeal attack forms. Even when hit by a magic weapon, spells, spell-like abilities, or supernatural abilty it has a 50% chance to ignore any damage from a corporeal source (except for positive energy, negative energy, force effects, or ghost touch weapons). Holy water can affect incorporeal creatures. Can enter or pass through solid objects, but must remain adjacent to its surface (enemies have total concealment while the shadow remains inside the object). Automatically succeeds on Move Silently checks. Invisible to nonvisual senses (scent, blindsight).

Incorporeal Attacks: Attacks ignore natural armor, armor, and shields.

Skills: +2 racial bonus on Listen and Spot checks. +4 racial bonus on Search checks. *+4 racial bonus on Hide checks in areas of shadowy illumination, -4 penalty to Hide checks in brightly lit areas.


A synaptic mask consists of several thin leather straps that affix to the wearer’s face. Most of the wearer’s face is visible through the leather webbing. The strands that make up the mask all come together at the wearer’s left temple, where a setting is affixed. The setting contains a clamp in which owners can set various types of special stones.

A synpatic mask uses up the same area on the body as a headband, hat, or helmet.

Synaptic masks have AC 5, 10 hp, hardness 3, Break DC 15.

Synaptic masks are always active while worn (they do not require activation). A synaptic mask confers an effect only when a shard or meld stone rests in its setting. Without a specified stone in its setting, the synaptic mask confers no extra abilities.

Manifester Level: 13th; Prerequisites: Craft Universal Item, fabricate; Market Price: 3,000 gp; Cost to Create: 1,500 gp and 120 XP; Weight: 1 lb.

Meld Stone of the Alchemist: When set in a synaptic mask, the meld stone of the alchemist grants its wearer a +8 competence bonus on their Alchemy checks, a +6 bonus on their Appraise and Use Magic Device checks, and a +4 competence bonus on their Knowledge (arcana) checks.

Manifester Level: 13th; Prerequisites: Craft Universal Item, fabricate; Market Price: 3,000 gp; Cost to Create: 1,500 gp and 120 XP; Weight: 1 lb.

 Go to Part 8: Laboratories 24-26

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Go to Part 1

Banksy - Rat on a Chain

Many GMs have been conditioned to believe that there are two possible outcomes to every skill check: The character has an intention that they are attempting to achieve and they will either succeed at that intention or they will fail: You either walk the tightrope or you fall and you die.

In reality, when we make the decision to roll the dice, what we’re actually saying is, “There is more than one possible outcome to this action. Let’s find out which one happens together.” It’s a fictional cleromancy – a casting of lots to determine a fortune. And when we say that our cleromancy can only have two possible outcomes, we are limiting the efficacy of that fortune telling.


The easiest way to step away from the simple success/fail dynamic is to assign a single difficulty number, but then interpret the result based on the margin of success or the margin of failure. A very simple, universal metric of results looks like this:

Partial Success
Partial Failure

In D&D we could set our margins to 5. If you succeed on a check by less than 5 points, you’ve scored a partial success. If you fail on a check but your result is within 5 points of the DC, you’ve only suffered a partial failure. The key idea behind any partial result is that it does not convey the full benefits of success or the full penalties of failure (and it will often carry with it the possibility of taking additional actions to improve your result).

For example, a character might attempt to leap across a chasm. The GM calls for a DC 15 Jump check. If the player rolls a 20 (a margin of success of 5), they easily leap across the chasm and land on the other side. If they roll a 16, on the other hand, they’ll only score a partial success and the GM might rule that they successfully leap across the chasm but fall prone on the other side. Meanwhile, a result of 12 (a margin of failure of 3) could result in them coming up just short, but managing to grab the ledge on the far side (giving the opportunity of pulling themselves up). Only by rolling 10 or less (a margin of failure of 5+) would the character fall helplessly into the chasm.

It’s also obviously quite easy to expand this spectrum. (Attack rolls in combat provide a simple example: A margin of success of 5 might award +2 damage, a margin of success of 10 might award +4 damage, and so forth.) In some cases the entire concept of “success” or “failure” will evaporate entirely – there is only the question of how well (or how poorly) the character did.

Another way of looking at graduated success is that, when there are multiple possible results, the GM models that by assigning multiple difficulties. I often use this technique with Gather Information checks, for example:

DCGather Information
10“Robert” was making inquiries a few months ago about stonemasons and carpenters who might be looking for work. If he found anybody, nobody knows who.
15“Robert” was attempting to buy large quantities of quicksilver. He was staying somewhere in the north end of the Old City.
20“Robert” was staying at the Broken Moon, but no one has seen him in some time.

Note that both methods are really just different ways of looking at the same thing. We could just as easily write up that Gather Information chart as:

MarginGather Information
0“Robert” was making inquiries a few months ago about stonemasons and carpenters who might be looking for work. If he found anybody, nobody knows who.
+5“Robert” was attempting to buy large quantities of quicksilver. He was staying somewhere in the north end of the Old City.
+10“Robert” was staying at the Broken Moon, but no one has seen him in some time.


Now that we understand that mechanical resolutions can produce a spectrum of results, we can also take the next step of realizing that this spectrum does not need to be all-encompassing: The possible results for a given skill check do not have to range from “abject failure” to “outstanding success”.

Eclipse Phase - Posthuman StudiosA technique I find particularly valuable is referred to as a simple success test in Eclipse Phase: It’s an action where we accept that the character is going to succeed. The only question is how long it takes them or how good their success is.

If we consider our previous discussion of Take 1, we can see how simple success tests can mathematically emerge in many resolution mechanics: Success can be guaranteed no matter what you roll, so the only purpose of rolling would be to determine the quality of that success. (You can see the same thing on our Gather Information tables above: A result of 9 on the skill check would result in failure – they learn nothing about the so-called “Robert”. But if the character has a +9 modifier on their Gather Information skill, then success is guaranteed: They will definitely learn something about “Robert”. It’s just a question of how much they learn.)

In practice, of course, we don’t always have to perform a mechanical calculation to justify the simple success test. We can simply decide that, for example, the characters are professionals and this isn’t the sort of task for which there is any meaningful risk of failure for professionals. At this point, we can either default to yes and declare the action a success, or we can turn to our fictional cleromancy to discover the degree of success the character enjoys.

(We could also hypothetically talk about checks in which failure is guaranteed and the mechanical check merely determines the degree of that failure. I’m generally leery of such an approach because it feels as if it is most often abused in order to enforce railroads and the like. But it’s not impossible to consider a situation in which a character could deliberately choose a course of action for which they know that there is no possibility of success. The Battle of Thermopylae would be an epic example of that in practice.)


Another way of looking at the simple success test is the concept of failing forward.

In its most basic form, failing forward is largely indistinguishable from the simple success test: Mechanical failure is described as being a success-with-complications in the game world.

(The key distinction, if any exists at all, is that with a simple success test the GM is making a mechanical ruling that failure is impossible before the die is rolled. Failing forward, on the other hand, is an interpretation of a mechanical failure outcome after it has been generated. But, in practice, this is a fairly fuzzy line.)

For example, Lucas is attempting to pick the lock on the file room door and fails his skill check. The GM decides that Lucas still managed to get the door open… but it took too much time and now he’s been spotted by the night watchman. Or his lockpick broke. Or he’s gotten caught on camera and the bad guys will be able to track him down later.

Basically, there’s a large body of useful techniques you can explore as you break away from the basic success/failure paradigm. However, I would like to offer a few words of caution when it comes to the concept of “failing forward” because the terminology has attracted a few pernicious ideas.

First, failing forwards has become curiously fetishized by some players who believe that it should be used every single time. This seems to be primarily the result of people believing that failure automatically causes scenarios to grind to a halt. The classic example proffered is failing to find a clue and having a mystery scenario grind to a halt.

As the Three Clue Rule demonstrates, however, the solution to this problem is to offer multiple paths to success. And being forced to route around the roadblocks created by your failures will take you in directions you never anticipated: If you hadn’t failed to bribe the guards into letting you in through the back door, you never would have climbed the walls of the castle, broken in through the window, and fallen in love with the princess you found there. Failure is often the starting point of the most exciting situations and the most memorable of stories. Taking it entirely off the table won’t enrich your games; it will impoverish them. Like railroading, it’s a broken technique being applied as a hasty patch to another broken technique.

Speaking of railroading, the other major problem with “failing forward” is that it has accumulated a large amount of baggage from GMs who want to use it in order to keep the PCs on their railroad. (This may, in fact, be the origin of the term: “Forward” being the direction the pre-planned plot is supposed to be going.)

But neither of those problems are inherent to the basic concept, and the basic concept can be a very useful tool to tuck away in your toolkit.

Go to Part 7

Go to Part 1


Laboratories of the Arn - Maze of Focus

ARCANE RUNES: The walls of this maze are covered in arcane runes.

  • Arcana w/read magic (DC 22): The runes on the wall focus the entangling of the teleportal network; or, more accurately, keeps the energy of the teleportal network from entangling into a collapsed state (by sympathetically channeling its complexity into the structure of the maze).

POINT A: Teleportal to Laboratory #19.

POINT B: Teleportal to Laboratory #16.

BLUE POINT: Teleportal to Laboratory #21.

POINT C: Bronze Tablet #4.

POINT D: A large sheet of oil-cloth is draped over a bulky mass. Throwing back the cloth reveals a wooden wagon, fitted for a dray creature.

  • Animal Handling (DC 12): The wagon’s harness is not designed for a horse… or anything even remotely horse-like. It’s unclear what sort of creature would have fit into its points.

The wagon contains:

  • Dozen bags of sugar
  • Dozen bags of sea salt
  • 6 large pots, each containing a pickled roc’s foot
  • 6 large pots of salted crab meat
  • A layer of boxes containing a variety of antique children’s toys
  • Search (DC 15): Hidden compartment beneath all the packages, containing three masterwork swords.

POINT E: A long, flat chest of obsidian with a golden statue of a dryad embracing an oak tree atop it (worth 2,500 gp). The chest contains 23,350 sp. Atop the silver pieces lies a book with blank pages, between which have been pressed 101 leaves from different trees. (If the book is viewed with true seeing or similar abilities the pages remain blank… but the pressed leaves are revealed to be the Spellbook of Leaves.

  • Search (DC 25): Secret compartment in the bottom of the chest contains a box of cherry wood containing six leaf-shaped broaches of platinum (black ash, elm, gray birch, hemlock, sequoia, and oak) each worth 500 gp.

Level: Sorcerer/Wizard 3
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 1 minute
Range: Touch
Target: One creature or object
Duration: 10 minutes/level or instantaneous (see text)
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: Yes

This spell accelerates a creature’s aging, rendering them temporarily withered and haggard, applying a 1d6 penalty to Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution. This penalty can’t reduce any of these scores below 1. This penalty lasts for 10 minutes per level.

When the spell ends, the target returns to its normal age and vigor. Immortal creatures (including most elementals, fey, outsiders, and incorporeal creatures) are immune to this spell. If you cast this on an object, construct, or undead creature, the spell weathers and corrodes it, inflicting 3d6 points of damage +1 per caster level (maximum +15). This version of the spell has an instantaneous duration.


This spellbook has 101 rare leaves pressed between its pages. The spells can only be read using a true seeing spell or similar methods of viewing invisible text.

1-level spellsacidic grasp, animate rope, change self, charm person, chill touch, comprehend language, cetect secret doors, enlarge, erase, grease, identify, jump, message, undetectable aura, ray of enfeeblement, shield, silent image, tenser’s floating disk, unseen servant

2-level spellsabsorb dead flesh, alarm (ethereal), blur, darkvision, flaming sphere, fog cloud, invisibility, knock, acid arrow, minor image, protection from arrows, spectral hand, hideous laughter

3-level spellsblade of shade and agony, blink, fireball, tiny hut, phantom steed, sleet storm

4-level spellsbestow curse, dispel magic field, emotion, illusory wall, phantasmal killer

5-level spellsinterposing hand, secret chest, passwall, permanency, transmute rock to mud

6-level spellsmass suggestion, lucubration, freezing sphere, planar binding

7-level spellsgrasping hand, delayed blast fireball, power word stun, simulacrum

8-level spellsantipathy, clenched fist, dispel magic field (greater), etherealness, incendiary cloud, maze, summon monster VIII, temporal slam

9-level spellsdominate monster, energy drain, horde of hell, meteor swarm, power word, kill, refuge, soul bind

Necromancy (Evil)
Level: Sorcerer/Wizard 2
Components: S, M
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Touch
Target: Caster
Duration: Instantaneous
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: No

By playing a hand upon a corpse (a dead, and not undead, body) the caster absorbs the flesh of the corpse, healing himself for 1d6 points plus 1 point per level of the caster.

Once cast on a corpse, the corpse shrivels and decomposes rapidly, leaving only a bare skeleton. This spell may only be used once on any corpse.

Absorb dead flesh does not work on any corpse that does not have some rotten meat hanging from its bones.

Material Component: A corpse.

Conjuration (Creation) [Acid]
Level: Sorcerer/Wizard 1
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Touch
Targets: Creatures touched
Duration: Instantaneous
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: Yes

The caster’s hand becomes coated with a sickly, greenish secretion. This allows for a touch attack that causes 1d8 acid damage, which can be used once per caster level. The damage can also be dealt as extra damage when making an unarmed strike, attacking with a natural weapon, or dealing damage with a successful grapple check.

Level: Bard 2, Ranger 2, Sorcerer/Wizard 2
Components: V, S, F
Duration: 4 hours/level (D)

This spell functions like alarm, but can also be triggered by creatures passing through the affected area on planes which are coterminous with the Material Plane (including ethereal and astral creatures, as well as creatures on the Plane of Shadows).

Focus: A bell made of carved crystal and a very fine piece of mithril wire.

Level: Assassin 2, Blackguard 2, Cleric 3, Sorcerer/Wizard 3
Components: V, S, DF
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: 0 ft.
Effect: Dagger-like blade of black flame in the palm
Duration: 1 round/level (D)
Saving Throw: Will partial
Spell Resistance: Yes

The blade of shade and agony can be used to make melee touch attacks that deal 1d6 damage + 1 per two caster levels (maximum of +10). A creature struck by the blade must succeed on a Will saving throw or become shaken for 1d6 rounds.

Level: Cleric 5, Sorcerer/Wizard 5
Components: V, S, DF
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Close (25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels)
Effect: A contiguous area up to one 10 ft. square/level
Duration: 1 minute/level
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: No

A dispel magic field is invisible and can be passed through. Anyone or anything entering it, however, become the target of a dispel magic effect at the caster’s level.

Level: Cleric 8, Sorcerer/Wizard 8

This spell functions like dispel magic field except that the effect is that of greater dispel magic.

Conjuration (Summoning) [Evil, Lawful]
Level: Cleric 9, Sorcerer/Wizard 9
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 10-30 minutes (see text)
Range: Medium (100 ft. + 10 ft./level)
Effect: One or more summoned creatures, no two of which are more than 30 ft. apart
Duration: 10 minutes/level (D)
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: No

Ten minutes after this ritual begins, 1d4 hellcats appear. Ten minutes later, 1d4 chain devils appear. Ten minutes later (at the completion of casting), one bone devil appears. If the casting is interrupted (or if the caster chooses to cease casting), any creatures which have already been summoned remain but no additional creatures will appear.

The summoned creatures obey the caster for the duration of the spell (which is calculated from the point where the casting came to an end). The caster can dismiss them individually, in groups, or in totality at any time.

Conjuration (Summoning) [Evil]
Level: Clr 3, Sor/Wiz 3
Components: V, S, F/DF
Casting Time: 1 full round
Range: Close (25 ft. +5 ft./2 levels)
Effect: Summons shadow raven.
Duration: 1 round/level of caster
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: No

This spell summons a shadow raven from the Demi-Plane of Shadow. Once the raven in on the spellcaster’s plane, the spellcaster may attempt to bind it as a familiar.

The shadow raven enters this world through any shadow within range of the spell, so the spell won’t work in total darkness or total light. The shadow raven serves faithfully for the spell’s duration. If the spellcaster has the proper tribute, the shadow raven may serve as a familiar. The GM is the final arbiter for what tribute is appropriate.

Arcane Foci: A small, shiny object and a shadow.

Level: Sorcerer/Wizard 8
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 1 full round
Range: Close (25 ft. + 2 ft./level)
Target: 1 creature or object
Duration: 1 hour/level
Saving Throw: Will negates (harmless, object)
Spell Resistance: Yes (harmless, object)

For whatever duration he desires up to the spell’s maximum, the caster pushes that target creature and its carried gear (or any one object of medium-size or smaller) out of time. The target vanishes immediately and it no longer exists in the world’s normal time stream while the spell lasts. If the target is a caster, any spells or effects the target was maintaining are affected as though the target just died.

During the period in which it is outside time, the target cannot be located with scrying or similar divinations. Not even a wish or miracle can bring the target back earlier or dispel the temporal slam, since no magic remains within the normal flow of time to dispel.

When the spell ends, the target returns to the same location from which it disappeared. If some other object occupies that space, the target is harmlessly shunted into the nearest open space. For the target, no time has elapsed. A target creature will have effectively transported into the future from its perspective. When the target returns, any timed phenomenon such as poison onset or the duration of abjuration spells will pick up from the point when the target vanished.

SHADOW RAVEN (CR 2) – CE Small Undead Animal (Incorporeal)
DETECTION – Listen +5, Spot +5; Init +3; Languages Common
DEFENSESAC 15 (+3 Dex, +1 size, +1 deflection), touch 15, flat-footed 12; hp 11 (2d8+2); Miss 50% (incorporeal); Immune undead immunities (ability damage/drain, critical hits, death effects, energy drain, fatigue, mind-affecting, nonlethal damage, paralysis, poison, sleep, stunning, any effect requiring Fort save)
ACTIONSSpd fly 60 ft. (good);  Melee incorporeal claw +4 (1d2 Str); Ranged +4; Base Atk +1; Grapple -3; Combat Feats Flyby Attack
SQ incorporeal
STR -, DEX 16, CON -, INT 2, WIS 11, CHA 12
FORT +1, REF +4, WILL +2
FEATS: Flyby Attack, Weapon Finesse
SKILLS: Hide +10, Listen +5, Spot +5

Incorporeal (Su): Immune to non-magical physical attacks. Ignore spells or magical weapons 50% of the time. Move through physical objects. Ignore any physical bonuses to AC (natural armor, armor, shields, etc.). Affected normally by positive energy, negative energy, or force effects.


Lost Laboratories of the Arn - Map Courtesy of Dyson Logos

Map Courtesy of Dyson Logos

TELEPORTALS: In a small chamber outside the door leading to Area 1.

AREA 1 – SOUL NET: A spectral figure of umbral blue seems frozen in mid-air, surrounded by a broken lattice of blue energy.

  • Frozen Shade: This shade is caught in the soul net. If the soul net is dispelled or otherwise removed the frozen shade is released.)

The soul net is spread across the entire entrance here. If someone passes through the soul net:

  • Undead: Undead other than soul shades cannot pass through a soul net. If forced through a soul net, their animating force will be stripped from their body (which turns to dust).
  • Living: Living creatures suffer 8d6 points of damage as their soul is shredded by the net. Their shredded soul becomes a soul shade with a number of hit points equal to those lost. (Going through the soul net multiple times will further shred the living soul, creating more soul shades.)
  • Shredded Souls: Shredded souls can only be repaired (and the lost hit points restored) through the use of a modified raise dead spell after the soul shade has been destroyed. (Soul shades are compelled to seek out and destroy the original sour; abhorring it.)

AREA 2 – ZOMBIE MASTER: The zombie master (who ensconces himself in the rear chamber of this area) and 8 bugbear zombies.

AREA 3 – CYCLOPEAN MUMMY: The far end of this chamber appears to be a massive, 15′ tall bas relief of a king. The floor is a mosaic of orange and blue tiles in a spiraling, hexagonal pattern.

  • Sarcophagus: The bas relief is actually the lid of a massive sarcophagus sunk into the wall. Within is the Cyclopean Mummy. If offered a tribute worth at least 1,000 gp it will not attack and will instead act as an augury, answering three questions.

AREA 4 – THE LICH BRAIN: A pulsing, purplish brain lies in the middle of an arcane circle in the middle of the floor, surrounded by a pile of dust outlining the rough shape of a corpse.

  • Arcana/Spellcraft (DC 28): To identify the ritual as an attempt to create a lich.
  • Arcana/Spellcraft (DC 35): To spot the errors in the ritual that resulted in the caster’s body being annhilated.
  • Lich Brain: The brain is undead (and hostile).
  • Corpse Dust: Within the corpse dust surrounding the brain is a BLUE KEY scarred with several burn marks. (It was damaged during the ritual. Using the key inflicts 4d6 points of damage and has a 25% chance of returning the user to their original location.)
  • Ruined Phylactery: The would-be phylactery of the lich was ruined useless by the failed ritual, but the silver and jewels encrusting it are still worth 10,000 gp.
  • Side Chamber: A blackened and charred barrel sits in the corner of the room, a tall staff protruding from it and topped with the antlers of a young stag. (The staff is made of mahogany, with a central grip of cold iron.)

AREA 5 – COLLAPSED CHAMBER: Contains shattered shards of pottery. Amidst the shattered pottery are Bronze Tablet #7 and Bronze Tablet #8.

FROZEN SHADE (CR 9-1*) – 109 hp (13d8+50), AC 21, claws +16/+16 (2d8+5), Save +12, Ability DC 18
Str -, Dex 13, Con -, Int 6, Wis 12, Cha 13
Skills: Intimidate +17, Perception +17, Search +17
Aura of Fear (Su): 30 ft. radius, Will save or become panicked for 3d6 rounds
Incorporeal (Su): Immune to non-magical physical attacks. Ignore spells or magical weapons 50% of the time. Move through physical objects. Ignore any physical bonuses to AC (natural armor, armor, shields, etc.). Affected normally by positive energy, negative energy, or force effects.
Turn Resistance +6
* Undead

ZOMBIE MASTER (CR 9-1*) – 109 hp (13d8+50), AC 21, claws +16/+16 (2d8+5), Save +12, Ability DC 18
Str 16, Dex 12, Con -, Int 14, Wis 9, Cha 12
Skills: Diplomacy +17, Perception +15
Enthralling Pipes (Su): Standard action; enemies within 30 ft.; Will save or dazed.
Fast Healing 3
Zombie Regeneration (Su): Zombies within 120 ft. gain regeneration 10.
* Undead

CYCLOPEAN MUMMY (CR 12) – LE Huge Undead
DETECTION – darkvision 60 ft., Listen +8, Spot +8; Init +0; Aura despair
DEFENSES AC 23 (-2 size, +15 natural), touch 8, flat-footed 23; hp 240 (32d12+32); DR 5/-; Immune undead immunities (ability damage/drain, critical hits, death effects, energy drain, fatigue, mind-affecting, nonlethal damage, paralysis, poison, sleep, stunning, any effect requiring Fort save); Vulnerable fire
ACTIONSSpd 20 ft.; Melee slam +31 (3d8+18 plus mummy rot); Ranged +16; Space 15 ft.; Reach 15 ft.; Base Atk +16; Grapple +39; Combat Feats Awesome Blow, Improved Bull Rush, Power Attack
SQ darkvision 60 ft., undead traits
STR 40, DEX 10, CON -, INT 6, WIS 14, CHA 18
FORT +12, REF +10 WILL +20
FEATS: Ability Focus (despair), Awesome Blow, Alertness, Great Fortitude, Improved Bull Rush, Improved Natural Attack, Improved Toughness, Power Attack
SKILLS: Hide +12, Listen +13, Move Silently +12, Spot +13

Despair (Su): Those seeing mummy make Will save (DC 20) or paralyzed with fear for 1d4 rounds.

Mummy Rot (Su): Supernatural disease – Fort DC 16, 1 minute, 1d6 Con and 1d6 Cha. Cannot be cured without first casting break enchantment or remove curse; requires caster level check (DC 20) to apply those spells or any healing spells to victim.

Awesome Blow: -4 to melee attack roll. A smaller corporeal creature is knocked flying 10 feet and falls prone (1d6 damage if they strike obstacle). Reflex save (DC = damage dealt) negates.

LICH BRAIN (CR 6+3*): 60 hp (8d8+24), AC 19, Save +9, Ability DC 16, Tiny
Str -, Dex 10, Con -, Int 22, Wis 16, Cha 16
Skills: Spellcraft +15
DR 15/bludgeoning and magic
Immobile (can levitate in place)
Immune mind-affecting
Turn Resistance +8
*11th level wizard (+4), undead (-1)

Wizard Spells Prepared (CL 11)
6th (DC 22)—chain lightning, globe of invulnerability
5th (DC 21)—dominate person, feeblemind, wall of force
4th (DC 20)—greater invisibility, ice storm, summon monster IV, wall of ice
3rd (DC 19)—dispel magic, fireball, haste, lightning bolt, summon monster III
2nd (DC 18)—darkness, detect thoughts, hypnotic pattern, magic mouth, rope trick, see invisibility
1st (DC 17)—grease, magic missile (x3), mage armor, shield
0th (DC 16)—dancing lights, detect magic, mage hand, prestidigitation

Go to Part 7: Laboratories 22-23

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