Worldbuilding: Spell Maps and a Pathfinder Puzzle

A group of New York friends have asked me to DM a short Pathfinder session for them, which means the last couple days have been spent rummaging through my notes from the last campaign I ran, which was about four years ago, back in Washington State, with about 7 people. It ended up being a fantastic experience, despite the fact that, over the course of that 8-month campaign, every character tried to kill themselves at least once out of a combination of despair and existential angst.

But this group doesn’t know that.

The Pathfinder session is going to take place in the fantasy world I’ve established in my stories, which means house-ruling a lot of the magic. It also means I end up spending hours on designing extremely complex puzzles for my players.

This particular puzzle stopped being a puzzle at about the 3-hour mark and became an Occult Triangle Lab project. It’s got everything: triangles, some research into magnetism, mathematics, and a practical application in a fantasy setting.

occult triangle lab

These are my notes for a spell map that will allow one of the mages to enchant a piece of magnetite so that it becomes a strong, permanent magnet. This is meant to be a major plot point in the upcoming session, so I wanted to take some extra time to create something more engaging, rather than just have the players roll a dice and beat a hard DC.

The rabbit hole I fell down was creating a spell map for the enchantment (If you haven’t read my post on spell maps, you can check it out here). After reading up on magnetite, which is the source of naturally occurring magnets called lodestones, I found that it naturally forms octahedrons. Rather than having players working on a 3-D puzzle, I drew out a 2-D version of an octahedron on graph paper and started seeing if I could make a sort of Sudoku puzzle:


The idea was that the spell map would be a miniature octahedron, reflecting the crystalline structure of magnetite, but the sudoku idea didn’t work out so well. Still, the diamond pattern ended up forming some interesting patterns: the octahedrons in magnetite are actually formed by thousands of smaller octahedrons, so it was cool to graph out a spell map that was made up of small versions of itself (huzzah, it’s recursive!).

But I wanted the players to feel like they’re actually learning about magic rather than just doing a stock puzzle, so I started seeing if I I could weave information about magnetite into the puzzle, such as its melting point, durability, metallic qualities, etc.


But that didn’t lend itself to puzzle solving. I took a look at the cool, nested design of the 2-D octahedron and thought maybe it would be fun for the player to use the patterns found in magnetism itself to solve the puzzle. I tried superimposing the lines of magnetic pull on the octahedron pattern:

occult triangle lab magnetism








I found out I could superimpose the patterns in a simple bar magnet on a lattice of octahedrons to create a pretty cool design that might have the material needed for a puzzle: structure, patterns, and a goal. That led to this design:


The idea would be to build a sort of “connect-the-dots” puzzle built on the patterns in both magnetism and the structure of magnetite, with the player following rules to recreate the design formed by the magnetic paths (which are like big loops radiating out from the North and South poles).

Below are some of the important graph points I isolated (along with the qualities of magnetite). At the center are the two poles, with the outer dots forming the boundaries of the magnetic patterns. These are meant to form the guidelines of the puzzle, which will require the player to do some tracing to recreate the drawing in the previous picture.



Eventually, I created a blank grid of numbers, which the player will use to reconstruct the whole design by following a set of instructions (sort of like a human computer program).









Compare the grids and sketches above to the sketches in the last post about spell maps:

occult triangle lab chris mahon worldbuilding fantasy spells

What I found was that this layout, made up of numbers arranged on a grid, ended up looking a lot like Pascal’s Triangle, which in turn forms the basis of the Sierpinski Gasket, one of my favorite fractals:

fractal triangle occult triangle lab


I don’t know if the puzzle will end up being a functional part of the upcoming session, but I thought I’d share it here on the blog. It’s a cool intersection of geology, mathematics, and fantasy, and it ended up being good practice for figuring out how a mage would go about enchanting a rock to become a compass.


Worldbuilding: Spell Maps and a Pathfinder Puzzle

24 Characters in 1 Hour: Improv D&D NPCs

I’ve never been a fan of timed writing prompts, but somehow this happened this past March. The following is a transcript of a Facebook conversation within my D&D group (formerly known as “The Orthodox Church of Tesalasism”). All of the posts occurred over the course of one hour.

DM: I’m working on a list of NPC’s that I can use for later games. Anybody have some suggestions? Looking for something not too bizarre (loxodon horizon walkers need not apply), but still with a unique quirk to set them apart (bandit chief that obsessively collects shoes or such).

Chris Mahon: A young, handsome man who plays harmonica with a dancing monkey. In reality, the harmonica music is a distraction so that a second monkey can pickpocket the listeners.
February 8 at 5:15pm

Chris Mahon: An old man who sells funnel cakes from a cart or a stand. He gives out fatherly advice to all who sit down to eat his funnel cakes, and tells stories about his son, who he hasn’t spoken to in years. In reality, he never had a son. His entire backstory is an elaborate personal fantasy.
February 8 at 5:18pm

Chris Mahon: A dashing young female rogue who has a terrible habit of falling off of buildings. She is now afraid of heights, and only robs people at street level.
February 8 at 5:18pm

Chris Mahon: An insane magician who walks around with a sack of potatoes. He hands them out to the beggars, who are grateful for the food. In reality, he is a master transmuter, and all of the potatoes turn into gold when cooked.
February 8 at 5:20pm

Chris Mahon: A blind tavernkeeper with preternatural hearing, able to hear all of the conversations in the bar, and hear anyone who pulls a knife.
February 8 at 5:21pm

Chris Mahon: An eight foot tall mercenary with sandy blonde hair and boyish charm. He has a wonderful singing voice, and wishes he were a sailor, but never learned to swim.
February 8 at 5:22pm

Chris Mahon: A necromancer who raises up dead cats and dogs on the street. He uses them to ferry messages to his other cabal members, and is known to have ears and eyes in every alley.
February 8 at 5:23pm

Chris Mahon: A skilled archer who has fallen from grace, traveled the world as a carnival performer, and now makes his living as an unhappy, drunken hitman. His accuracy never suffers from his inebriation.
February 8 at 5:26pm

Chris Mahon: A young bard searching for his long lost father, who went mad when he thought his son would never come from his travels. In reality, he is a demon whose sole pleasure derives from driving the funnel cake man insane.
February 8 at 5:27pm

Chris Mahon: A lowly rookie town guard who has been practicing every day to master his slingshot abilities. He is in love with the rogue with the fear of heights.
February 8 at 5:28pm

Chris Mahon: An old sailor who has finally ended his sailing days and decided that what he really wants is to be a professional boxer. He is too old to compete, but he does anyway, and gets the shit kicked out of him time and again, but it’s the only thing that makes him feel alive.
February 8 at 5:29pm

Chris Mahon: A beggar woman searching for the man who made her destitute by stealing her family fortune. All she knows is that he trains monkeys, and is the most soulful harmonica player she has ever heard. She will kill any harmonica player on sight.
February 8 at 6:14pm

Taco: A master magician who can’t stop jumping face first into walls no matter how many jump spells he uses.
February 8 at 5:34pm

Chris Mahon: A female sorcerer who runs a dance club and a drug-running operation. Anyone who crosses her has a fireball stuffed into their urethra. She enjoys hurting people, and spends all of her time in a sauna.
February 8 at 5:33pm

Chris Mahon: A group of six men who are prophets of a new saint. They silently hand out flyers and charms to anyone who will accept them, praising “Saint Olvidar.” Olvidar, they say, is the flesh incarnation of all the worlds pain and suffering. He takes all of it upon himself so that others can heal themselves by forgetting. Any supplicant can attend a ritual, and have memories wiped from their minds forever, transferred to Olvidar.
February 8 at 5:36pm

Chris Mahon: An old beggar who doesn’t know who he is, where he came from, or what he’s doing. He spends all of his time sitting at a fountain, crying silently. He is Saint Olvidar.
February 8 at 5:39pm

Taco: Jesus Christ Chris was this all on the spot?
February 8 at 5:41pm

Chris Mahon: A wizard who faked her own death four years ago, and has become a maker of porcelain vases and cups, weaving magic into her creations. She listens to the eight-foot-tall mercenary sing sometimes, and they have become good friends.
February 8 at 5:42pm

Chris Mahon: A young woman who sells necklaces and trinkets on the street. In reality, she takes the trinkets/jewelry off dead people. She’s afraid the town guard will figure out her scheme.
February 8 at 5:43pm

Chris Mahon: Two men in bandannas who rob people at night, then spend the money on nicer shoes and bandannas. They spend a lot of time in different bars, trying to get laid, but the have bad teeth.
February 8 at 5:45pm

Chris Mahon: A witch who can eat and drink almost indefinitely. She never gets full, and doesn’t know why. She has eaten almost every kind of cuisine, and has a vast knowledge of alcohol and exotic drinks. She is a legend in the taverns.
February 8 at 5:47pm

Chris Mahon: A drug smuggler who has crossed the sorcerer who runs the nightclub. He is addicted to his own product, and is now in a self-destructive spiral downward, trying to take the entire criminal underground down with him a bloody vendetta.
February 8 at 5:50pm

Chris Mahon: A cleric slowly losing his faith in his god. He is visited every Friday by a powerful demon, who challenges him to a game of cards. The cleric always loses, and finds himself deeper and deeper in debt to the demon. For some reason, the demon always has funnel cakes.
February 8 at 5:56pm

Chris Mahon: A silent assassin who wears a white mask all of the time. He plays with matches, and can be recognized by the smell of smoke on his clothes. In reality, his hit victims are the source of the young trinket-woman’s jewelry supply.
February 8 at 5:59pm

Chris Mahon: A carnival ringleader searching for the man who stole his trained pickpocket monkeys. All he knows is that the man is the most soulful harmonica player he has ever heard.
February 8 at 6:16pm

Chris Mahon: A former adventurer who spent all his time looting old ruins. His clothes his burned flesh and dozens of gashes from traps and enemies. His prize possession is a glass eye that lets him see through walls. He is known as “Dingy,” but no one knows why.

DM: I love you Chris Mahon.


24 Characters in 1 Hour: Improv D&D NPCs