Saturday, December 9, 2017

Storm King's Thunder #29: Heavy Lifting in the Battle of Ascore

TL DR  Ultimate battle?  In the midst of the heroes battling gargoyles above the sands of the Anaurach Desert, it was proposed that initiative be decided based on contests of strength between me the DM and various players (we usually use side initiative on a d12).  I won the first push up contest(22), then lost the second(31),  then lost a pull-up contest(7), and finally outlasted my wife in a side-plank contest.  Hilarity ensued.  Yes a bottle of wine was involved.

DM Notes
The end is nigh.  I can almost taste it.  And I don't mean the imminent return of Tiamat.  I mean the campaign itself.  With this last battle against the Blue Menace of the Anaurach I plan to hand over the reins to a friend and retire from DMing type V D&D.  I hope it feels satisfying enough for the group, but I'd like to pause it for awhile and pick it back up on an episodic basis, roleplaying a scene here and there before another epic battle with the queen of dragons.  At this level plot points seem sort of inevitable and less surprising, at least for me.  I'd like to make the playing through of those plot points special occasions instead of weekly affairs.  I'd never really agreed with the term "to play through" a module until things got to around the 10th level, when astute players can more or less make things happen as they like.  I'm looking forward to being surprised by the game again, this time as a player in Tomb of Annihilation!

In the meantime, I'm hoping to make this battle one to remember.  They've already taken down a couple dragons during this campaign.  This time they've already had their plans shifted by terrain and spells drained by multitudes of minions.  I hope to make it a running battle in a cyclopean min-dungeon, with mysteries and traps along with their ultimate foe.  I won't say I want to kill some characters, but if one or two die it wouldn't make the campaign less dramatic.

The Story
The Red Balloon arrived in Silverymoon to great fanfare.  The glitterati of the city turned out to celebrate the heroes of the realm, who had walked the very halls of the Maelstrom Court and not only lived but returned as friends and allies of the Storm King himself!  They were invited to many balls, feasts, and theatrical performances, their deeds were turned to song, and all the kind help of a grateful kingdom was opened to them.  For a time, all was well, but the doom of the Drakkorn still echoed in the hearts of the mighty and though giant kind had ceased their destructive depredations, dragons continued to sail out of the northern reaches, headed for some southern clime.  A migration? or a meeting?

Feeling there was little time to waste, the Red Ballon set forth once again, now crewed by hearty men with curly beards, into the oncoming storm of the desert.  From the ancient ruined city of Ascore could be seen a violent thunder storm swirling above the great amphitheater said to crown the lair of the ancient sapphire wyrm to whose credit was due the manifold sufferings of the Forgotten Realms these many months.  The crew landed the Red Balloon and approached under the influence of magical spells of Flight, cruising low.  Even so, heavy stones, fragments of statuary were launched at their approach by vigilant gargoyles, one catching the cleric Apollo on the shoulder blade, sending him crashing into the sand. 

Althea the Wizardess and Ezra the Storm Sorceress summoned fire and ice to shatter the guardians, and Ezra sensed a great malevolent presence guiding the storm above.

Circling about, chased by dozens of stoney, bat winged devil statues, the heroes dove into a great hole in the ground within the amphitheater, finding themselves in a massive vaulted underground chamber.  Gargoyles screeched above.  A massive presence filled the space.  They were not welcome here...



Barrowmaze #27: Driven Deeper into the Chaos Sepulcher


TL DR  Tired, tense, driven by hunger.  Unable to escape the dungeon, with running low on food and torches, the explorers found a secret door into an ancient elemental crypt and hurried down forgotten halls, desperate for an exit.

DM Notes: In Too Deep and the Public Doom Die
Tuesday's session was a pretty great one.  The tension was thick.  Resources dwindled.  Lost and short on spells, the their exit route cut off, they delved ever deeper into the dungeon, hyper aware of the mounting danger.  I have no idea what will happen next.

We have been playing this Barrowmaze campaign for about a year now.  It's usually me as DM and two players with two or three characters and a few henchmen.  We play using roll20 video chat (the fog of war feature makes dungeon exploring very easy).  After quite a few early deaths the guys have gotten their characters up to 4th level.  I was starting to think they were getting a little big for their britches.  Not any more.

With the exception of the Skull Mountain excursion, most of the campaign has taken place in and above the Barrowmaze, and most sessions have involved walking from town, exploring a bit, sometimes just a mound or two and returning for some carousing.   The last few sessions have been different.  Each time we ended in the dungeon.  Characters had no rest.  At first it was because they really wanted to explore deeper to find the fabled Fount of Law.  The second time it was because I rolled a random encounter as they tried to leave and we did not have time to play it out.

I've run games before where characters got in over their heads and bit off more than they could chew in the past.  Usually I would feel a bit guilty and responsible.  I would conveniently forget about some things like torches and food, exhaustion etc.  This time was different.  With the Doom Die being rolled by the players after nearly every action, the ticking of time became very clear.  Through a series rolls of 2 and 4 (hunger/exhaustion and torches) resources became taxed.  It was a lot of stress eating apparently.  By the end of the session they were down to their last couple of rations.  They had even chosen to take the 1hp a couple times.

The Doom Die was really great here.  It gave me a sense of when to have the pursuing necromancer appear, and the rolls of 4 and 6 made me think hard about what clues or boons I could offer the desperate party.  I think one clue unfortunately compelled them away from a safer choice, but oh well.

We used the Battle Die as well.  This was again interesting.  It made it clear when spells ended, when it was time to introduce a complication, or when to offer an extra action to a player.

This was a session were a combination of the familiarity with the context of the Barrowmaze and the procedures in place made for a really cool experience.  I can't wait for the next game, though it could easily end in a TPK.

The Saga
The session started with the four grave robbers at the door of a large room through which they needed to pass to get to their exit stair.  They were weary but triumphant with their newly acquired orb.  They heard chanting in the "Dark Speech" and the groans of many voices.  Peering under the door they could see orange light and smell brimstone.

They decided to find another way around, but searching unexplored passages yielded no secret passages.  Worried now, they tried to backtrack, exploring side passages they had passed on the way to the Fount of Law.  These passages were a maze of narrow, natural tunnels.  After a few dead ends they discovered a crumbled wall of masonry.  In the chamber beyond their dim light fell upon a livestock sized insectoid creature, it's tentacled head buried in the corpse of a goat-headed beastman, which itself reclined upon a pile of jewels and coins.  Striking from ambush, the group quickly slew the thing and gathered the treasure, a kings hoard!  They also found a concealed stone door.  An escape.

The door opened to the space behind a massive stone statue depicted a four armed demon holding skulls of various provenance: a bird, a reptile, a fish and a badger.  The room was huge, with a vaulted roof.  Doors to the north and south were locked and elaborately designed, so they were ignored and the party fled east.

Immediately the floor fell out from beneath the fighter.  Luck was on his side.  A Dexterity Saving roll of 1 saw him leap to safety as the trap door spun beneath him.  There was a bricked up door at the end of the corridor beyond.

As the group began to work on it with sledge and crowbar, light appeared in the demon chamber behind.  It was a Necromancer of Set with his retinue of skeletal minions and the zombified corpses of the band of goat-headed beastmen with whom the party had recently parlayed.  There ensued a strange stand off.  The players were somewhat protected by the pit, into which two skeletons immediately fell.  The trap door was doused in oil and set afire.  The cleric used the final charge of his Wand of Wonder to create a globe of darkness for a time.  The Necromancer called out, demanding the Font for the glory of Set, but with his Stinking Cloud ineffective and unable to send his clumsy minions across the trapped pit, eventually resorting to skeleton rock throwing.

 Meanwhile, three tomb robbers attacked the bricked up wall relentlessly, finally breaking through a small hole and tumbling through.  A long, silent passage stretched into the darkness.  Hurrying, the group passed doors and side passages, finally exploring north, turning back with a bad feeling from a northern door and exploring a few alcoves, discovering yet more wealth (cleverly avoiding a collapsing floor to do so).  They had discovered more ancient coinage and gemstones than ever before but were no nearer to any known exit.

Again footfalls could be heard in the darkness beyond the light...








Saturday, December 2, 2017

Storm King's Thunder #28: A Deal is Struck with Old Snarl

TL;DR 
The heroes did some dragon research at Candlekeep and used the Scry spell to scout the Klauthen Vale.  Klauth the Red greeted them and they came to an agreement: A loan of the airship in exchange for the hoard of Imryth the Blue.  The sounding of the Drakkorn.  Picked up the ship (delivered by Harshnag the Frost Giant), and sailed toward Silverymoon, enduring a demon attack along the way.

The Saga
The King has returned!  The giants have ceased their depredations as the Lord of the the Storms walks among them, re-asserting his authority.

Back in Waterdeep, the Company of the Raven wasted no time in deciding which dragon to confront -they wanted that flying boat back.  The wizard, sorceress and bard spread liberal coin around the libraries of Waterdeep and Candlekeep, traveling down the coast to that citadel of scholarship was a boon.  There was a myth of Maegara the Fire Elemental once walking the cleft of Klauthen Vale, thus creating it's temperate climate within the frozen Spine of the World.  Klauth himself was said to be an elderly dragon, appearing in every era of history, clever, cruel, imperious, and often covetous of other dragons' wealth.  It was said that 100 years ago a Company called Force Gray made a pact with the old wyrm in order to slay a lesser one.  This was good beta!

As the Company returned on horseback to Waterdeep, all the land was deafened by a long droning sound.  A sound of portentous doom.  None knew what was the providence of this sound, though none in all of Faerun failed to hear every note.

Using a newly acquired Crystal Ball, Althea the Wizardess set about searching for the Flying Ship she had learned to fly those many months ago.  She did so, finding it tethered within a grand cavern.  Panning about with her Scrying spell, she came upon a pool of water glowing with a strange light.  Looking closely at the water she found herself looking at the back of her own head!  The dragon was spying on them as well!

A game of Message spell ensued.  It became clear the old red was willing to lend his ship in exchange for the hoard of Imryth.  That was good enough for the Company.  They made haste to the Harper Circles of Rapid Transit and swiftly found themselves expeditioning from Mirabar to the gates of the Vale.

Approaching the Vale, a figure strode from the mist, a long chain trailing from his massive should like the string on a balloon.  It was their old companion Harshnag!  He had survived the collapsed of the Temple of Annam by joining Klauth's teleport and the two had reminisced about old times, for Harshnag had been a member of Force Gray 100 years ago.  He presented the ship, the Red Balloon, sadly scoured of the hoard of Skyreach Castle.

Back in the skies, the Company of the Raven flew east, hoping to reinforce their magic resources in Silverymoon.  In the distance they saw a flight of dragons, heading south.

In a cloud of fire and brimstone, a trio of demons appeared on the deck of the ship.  A fat pig headed demon radiant with rainbows, caused many to cower in his presence.  Two vulture like creatures screamed and farted death spores.  A desperate fight ensued, only ended when Esra the Sorceress came to her senses long enough to cast Banish and send two of them back to hell whence they came.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Barrowmaze #26: Goo for the Goatmen and the Discovery of the Font of Law

Saga:
Deep in the catacombs of the Barrowmaze...

The cave pool was a viscous pearlescent.  After much hemming and hawing, the apostate cleric filled up a bottle with the stuff, thinking to try it out on an underling.  Turning back and exploring east, the group found a harpy corpse, dungeon graffiti, and suffered an ambush from a lurking crustacean, a Cave Fisher (had to scramble to figure out what this was.  Not in the LL books or the BMC book.  Found it in Tome of Horrors a little late to do the fishing shtick).

After cracking the carapace, they tried eating the meat.  Made them sick.  One of the fighters explored the ceiling above, climbing above to find a victim of the cave lobster, a dead elf with a mysterious scroll and some very nice suit of leather armor.  While attempting to quickly don the new duds, growling and bleating was heard in the darkness.  Soon a small herd of beastial goatmen crept into the edge of the light, growling in the Dark Tongue.  Aliontus replied in kind, praising Orcus: "Blood for the Blood God!"  "Skulls for the Skull Throne!" The beasts replied in kind, holding up the severed head of a trio of Necromancers of Set.  After some tense negotiations, the two groups of explorers agreed to go opposite directions, though not before they were given a tithe of a few gold coins and bottle of the pearlescent goo.

A tomb was discovered.  A different style than before, hastily excavated.  A sarcophagus and three warrior statues looming.  The cleric surged forward to assess the stone box and the barrow guardians stepped forward to confront him.  In the ensuing battle, the tomb robbers used their sledgehammers to smash the stone guardians of Ygg, though not before one of their number received a mighty blow that he only survived due to the grace of some higher power.

After the battle the tomb robbers opened the stone box to discover the holy orb called the Font of Law!

Notes: 
I continued to use the Doom dice, based on the Hazard System developed at the Necropraxis blog.  They have a glowing magic sword which negated the attrition of torches part, but exhaustion, dungeon dressing and discoveries played a part.

The Combat Doom table was used in place of initiative.  I suddenly remembered and introduced it mid-stream, but it was great.  There was less tension in terms of who goes first each round (I had been using side initiative), but it was useful for expiration of spells, exhaustion and even a lucky break!  I gave an extra action to the party on a roll of 6.  The 4 roll was interesting.  I had to think about how to change the environment.  I decided to change monster tactics each time.  These rolls were good prompts for me to think outside the box during combat.

Finally, the new "Fallen in Battle" table got a roll out.  This is a 2d6 death and dismemberment table. I had been using a d100 table from the DNDWPS site, but this new one is based mostly on the Trollsmyth blog.  The roll was very positive, 12 (+1 due to a Bless spell) which gave the character a surge of adrenaline that allowed him to stay fighting and even take another hit.  This certainly makes it harder to die, which is ok I think.

Tables Used


Dungeon Doom Die
1
Encounter
Roll on Encounter Table and Distance
d6: melee 1, short 2-3, medium 4-5, long 6 & Surprise (2 in 6)
2
Exhaustion
Weary. Rest & eat food or Exhausted (-1hp all rolls); roll again
3
Expiration
Spells & potions expire
4
Torch & Lantern
A fickle torch or candle gutters & burns out; ½ flask of oil has burned
5
Discovery
Signs and portents.  A clue, secret or premonition of nearby danger
6
Luck
Dungeon dressing, curious event or useful provenance

  1. Setback Opponents act first, reinforcements or additional encounter
  2. Fatigue: All suffer minor harm (1 HP) if engaged in melee
  3. Expiration :Spells, light, burning, etc)
  4. Locality Shift battlefield (or other local change)
  5. Clue regarding dungeon or next encounter
  6. Advantage: Extra action or other boon


Fallen in Battle
2d6
2
Horrific Demise!  You are decapitated, torn to pieces, disemboweled, or crushed.  Allies make Wisdom Saving Throws or stunned for 1 round
3
Fatality (gutted, stabbed through lung, broken back, etc.) Unconscious. Die in 1d6 rounds
4
Severed limb: die in 3d6 rounds unless tourniquet, cauterized, potion or 3rd Order Heal is used.  Does not restore lost hp -1d6 DEX/STR, limb restored by Make Whole spell
5
Broken bone  -1d6 DEX or STR, 2d4+9 weeks to heal, unless healed by 3rd order prayer
6
Lights out.  In a coma.  Constitution Save each day or die.  Alleviated by 2nd Order prayer
7, 8
Knocked out for 1d6 turns. With helm, stunned for 1 round
9
Bell ringer.  Stunned for 1 round, unless wearing helm
10
Knocked down, but not out.  Must use an action to stand
11
Someone is watching over you, and doesn't want you to die yet for some inscrutable cosmic reason.  Roll a die.  Even it is a benign or benevolent being, Odd it is a creature of Chaos...  You have 1 Hit Point... but you aren't alone anymore.
12
Surge of adrenaline returns 1d4 hp per level.  At the end of the combat, the adrenaline drains away, hit points are reduced to zero, and the PC faints for 2d6 turns

Monday, November 20, 2017

20 Questions for the Barrowmaze Saga

Eh.


What is the deal with my cleric's religion?
There is the Church of Law, with many saints. Some call it the Church of the One True God but all shrines are dedicated to a saint. St. Ygg is popular as is St. Cuthbert. Also St. Ahleena. St Clewd is mostly forgotten. Old gods such as Crom, Arcantra and Silvanus are paid respects, but they have no church. The Death gods Orcus and his sister Set are worshipped in secret or far from Lawful society. There are other less known Chaos Cults as well, such as Khorne and Slaanesh.

Where can we go to buy standard equipment?
Barrelgut the Blacksmith, Turgen the Trader
Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended?
Dwarves of the the Moonpeak Mines
Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?
Perhaps the Drune in Dolmenwood, or Ygraine the Sorceress.
Who is the greatest warrior in the land?
Sir Wolverhampton the Wanderer, Red Knight of Blackburn

Who is the richest person in the land?
It is said the Dwarf King is the richest, but it is actually Duke Kell Ironwood
Where can we go to get some magical healing?
Shrine of Ygg in Helix. Church of Law in Ironwood Motte
Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath?
Church of Law in Ironwood Motte
Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells?
No.  Mazzah the Magnificant has a few to sell. 
Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC?
Twisted Tower of Mazzah the Magnificent
Where can I hire mercenaries?
League of Ordinary Gentlemen Hiring Hall in Helix
Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law?
Within the walls of Ironwood Motte.
Which way to the nearest tavern?
Center of town
What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous?
Ravenous Zombies and Steel Skeletons, Crypt Things and Sons of Gaxx, Barrow Wights and Gehennian Goats
Are there any wars brewing I could go fight?
Up north in the Forbidden Lands, and army of Chaos grows. Also, there's some crazy stuff in the Underworld.

How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes?
Perhaps in the Dolmenwood? Or East in the Slumbering Ursine Dunes?

Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight?
Chaos Cults, the Drune, Black Hand Thieves Guild

What is there to eat around here?
Mutton

Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for?
The Font of Law

Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure?
In the BarrowMaze or in Skull Mountain

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Uncommon Evening: Playing Elf Games While Married

I'm newly married.  Last night my wife and I enjoyed a pleasant evening in, cooking a lovely meal, drinking wine, and making it halfway through a game of Ticket to Ride.  During dinner we got to talk about the state of the new marriage.  I am so very happy with my lady love, but there's one thing she's never done for me.  
-"What's that?" she said.  
-"Be my Dungeon Master."

She plays an elf wizard in our weekly D&D game, but she plays very casually and she had never even considered running a game herself.  Half drunk, we gave it a go.

I said, "I'm a hobbit named Dougie." 
She said, "You are walking through a forest, a clear path, but brambly.  Why are you there?"
-"I'm looking for the witch of the wood.  I want her to turn the evil duke's tax collector into a pig."
-"Ok.  How do I decide what happens next?"
-"Here, use this chart.  I think you roll a d20." I handed her the Labryinth Lord book. 
-"You see a bugbear!  He says, 'What are you doing here?'"
-"Oh shit!  I tell him I'm looking for the Witch.  Can he tell me which way the witch went?"
"I don't know what the bugbear will do.  How do I know?"
"You either decide, or you can roll the dice. 2d6 for a reaction roll."
"I'll roll."
"Hold on. Let me find out what my Charisma is!"  I rolled 3d6, scoring a 16!  "Rad.  I get +1 to that roll."
She rolled a 7: Uncertain.  
-"I toss him a half empty wineskin.  'Take it good sir! Brambleberry Wine, the best!'  And I run away down the path."
-"I guess he doesn't follow.  He drinks the wine."
-"What next?"
-Roll: "What is this?  I don't even know [looks it up] .  You see and eagle a huge huge eagle -a roc."
-"Woah that's big.  You said it was overgrown.  I hide under the brush."
-"Make a roll."
-Roll to find out my Dexterity score: 7 "Terrible!  Roll under on a d24.  Not even close!  I ask the roc if it knows where the witch is."
-"I'll roll to see if he speaks."  1 or 2 on the d6.  Rolled a 1.  "It doesn't talk.  The roc swoops down and starts pecking, looking for a little morsel to eat."
-"I run for it!  Can I roll Wildcraft find a hollow log or something?"  Roll to discover a wisdom if 10, then rolled under it on d24.  "Huzzah!  I crawl through the hollow log into a creek bed."
-"You can't say where the log goes!  But ok.  You go up the creek for awhile, leaving the roc behind.  Then you see an elf.  He's fishing with his hands.  He says his name is Eugene."
-"I impress him by catching a fish." Failed roll.
"He's not impressed.  But he sort of likes you so you guys hang out and make camp.  He says he'll show you the way to the witch in the morning."
-"Great.  We camp out then."
-"In the night you are ambushed by the Bugbear!"
-"Oh no!  No you have to play the Elf and the Bugbear."
"Oh geez..."  There ensues a bit of discussion about what Hit Dice are and how they affect attacks and hit points.  The LL book is not perfect for my Uncommon systyem, what with it's descending AC.
Finally, "Working together, you and the elf kill the Bugbear."
-"Huzzah!  Thanks babe."
-"Sure."

18 Charisma!
So, we had a totally spontaneous game, using nothing but the LL wilderness wandering monster tables and it was great.  The wife was totally imaginative and got right into it, rolling to discover the answers to questions she hadn't thought of.  It was a pretty amazing moment.  One I never really thought about or thought would happen.  Silly as it was, it was pretty intimate imaginative moment.  What a rad lady.  I must have aced a bunch of reaction rolls myself.  

Later I rolled the rest of the ability scores for the hobbit.  Dougie is terrible.  6 Intelligence, 7 Dexterity... I made him a cleric.  He just has to pray he survives to find the witch.  



Storm King's Thunder #27: The Return of the King


Probably just a session or two until the end of the campaign, though I have it set up to continue on to the showdown with Tiamat, we will pause for awhile while another takes a turn behind the screen.  

NOTES: DMing wizard fights is hard.  I had to bust out the spell cards to be able to keep track of things (I wouldn't mind cards for monsters and magic items to).  It is very hard to keep them from dying super fast.  I had this one somewhat well defended, but...  battles at 12 level are silly.  Things feel inevitable.  

STORY
An archmage, an assassin and a dragon turtle were not enough to keep the Company of the Raven from freeing the Storm King and setting him back on his throne.

The wizardess sent her owl familiar out to the floating island towers to investigate.  There were three structures, a keep, a longhouse and a short round tower seemingly floating in the rocky bay.  The words of the dead casino boatman of Yartar implied the king was held there somewhere.  But where?  The owl looked in the window of the round tower.  She saw a humble monk in his study, a magical flame lighting the place.  The monk spoke to the familiar, inviting the wizard to speak one on one, without her entourage, for the wizard was wearing the Mask of the Black Dragon.  The owl left and went to look in the longhouse, but a bolt from the keep flew out and speared the poor bird.

The cleric cast Water Walk and the party made their way to the round tower.  There the wizard Althea was called out as the imposter she was (not really a Wyrmspeaker of the Cult of the Dragon), but offered one final chance to give up the mask and join the cult.  She refused and battle between two powerful mages was joined, though the elf wizards allies swiftly came to her aid, the Bard Thief stabbing the flaming archmage in the back.

The archmage soon retreated and the Company gave chase, the barbarian busting down the massive front doors of the long house.  Within were two giant feet, taller than a man!  The ankles were held to the floor by massive chains that glowed with eldritch light.  Beyond, the body of the royal vastness lay still as stone, wrapped in brilliant links.

Battle was joined again as cultists burst forth the defend their prisoner.  The archmage and a certain hidden archer rejoined the fray as well but the spells and blades of the Company put an end to them, as Otto the Bard's epic shout Knock'ed the chains from their hold downs.  The king was free and furious!  He swung the chains in wide arcs, buffeting his rescuers until again the Bardthief spoke of his meetings with the Oracle of Annam in the great temple at the spine of the world and of the state of things in the Maelstrom Court and who sat upon the Wyrmskull Throne.  The king listened to this story and his visage calmed.   "Perhaps the smallfolk are not all so devious and vile.  You have provided me a great service.  Come with me to my court."

But all was not yet over!  Before the barbarian could blow the Conch of Lordship, the island itself surged and shifted and a great head lifted itself out of the water, a tower perched upon its head.  The "island" was the back of a great turtle!  The thing exhaled a mighty blast of steam from its nose, causing the wizardess great pain as she returned to the court beneath the waves, though she was swiftly healed by the cleric.


In the court, the Storm King swiftly asserted his authority, seating himself upon his throne he bestowed gifts upon his rescuers and a quest as well: "I must tend to my lords, for the dukes, counts, and jarls of giant-kind are gripped by the madness of freedom from authority.  It will take me some time, but there may be little time to confront my nemesis Imryth the Blue Dragon, nor to stop her mad plan to renew our endless war by summoning the Mother of Dragons to this world.  You must find her lair and confront her.  Do not be tempted by her offers.  Tiamat is the destruction of the world, and we are its defenders."

MORE NOTES: The three buildings was improvised based on this cool picture.  Otherwise I kept things more or less by the book.  I tried to use the assassin to pick them off, but rolled low.  Knock was a great idea from the player.  I asked for an Arcana roll to see if it would work for each chain.  

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Barrowmaze #25: Vault of Gelatin and Ghouls


Once more into the maze.  This week, six doughty venturers braved the barrow horrors.  Getting an early start, two dwarves, two clerics, and two warriors made a swift march to the Mound of the Secret Stair, a discovery from the previous season exploring.  This entrance is known, and they were following muddy tracks down.

Not sure where to explore, the dwarves insisted on following the tracks, until they came to a large chamber with a rune carved  black obelisk.  Lurking at the eastern doorway were 6 ghouls.  The hungry dead were swiftly beaten back, and some of them fled before the light of Ygg.  Chasing east, the company was bemused to see a tomb robber suspended in the air.  It was suspended in a Gelatinous Cube!  The dwarf nearly lost all.

Sometime later, the group were rifling through old bones, pulling up various treasures, when a passage was found in the wall, a secret network of natural tunnels.  Besting a group of sapphire skeletons the group pressed on into the warrens, discovering and slaying a set of runaway ghouls.   They paused as they discovered a dead end chamber filled with musty smelling water, deep in the maze.

They've run down a torch, eaten a ration and used up a handful of their spells.

Notes:
Tonight's battles felt a little easy.  It's got to be a little quick I guess because the monsters do a significant amount of money.  I worry a bit about this continuing as they level up.  Fighters do a lot of damage with the added Deed Dice at 3rd level.  I might have to give monsters full HP per Hit Die, or maybe just switching up to scarier monsters.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Uncommon Dungeons: Thinking about Design Decisions


Lately I've been fiddling about with my "Uncommon Dungeons" ruleset.  A year ago I wrote about my design goals.  The post is still accurate though there has now been over 50 hours of game played, so little things have been tweaked, most recently by adding an encounter or "doom" die. 

I've played it regularly the last year and besides a few bits of confusion with spells, it's feeling pretty smooth.  Characters are reaching 4th level now, which feels pretty high!

Layout
Ultimately it's just another hack like all the others, but I've been laying it out on google docs, squeezing in some old nostalgia art so I can print up a couple of booklets.  It's just 16 pages long including minimized spell lists and a death & dismemberment table.  I've been swapping things about, adjusting fonts and its slowly looking more presentable.  Gear charts are one spread.  Combat on another.  It's all very terse and bullet pointy, but its really only meant for me and my friends.  That said, I think it will feel pretty cool and official to have a physical thing.  In my weekly type V game I don't enforce many houserules because others like to look things up in the books and it feels like its more for those players to play the official game.  When I say it's my "Uncommon Dungeon" game, its a whole different vibe!

Weird Dice Chain and Roll Under Mechanic
I probably didn't think of it myself, but the most unique part is using the roll under mechanic for Ability Checks and Saving Throws, paired with the "weird dice chain" inherited from Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG.  This has worked out great.  Rolling a d30 under an average score of 10 is a similar probability as 2 in 6, which is the old Basic Expert way of doing activity checks.  Gaining Expertise to roll d24 is a significant boost but still a crapshoot unless the character has a strong score.  I enjoy the way it emphasizes the actual 3-18 numbers on the sheet and de-emphasizes recalculating numbers before each attack (it's enough that Fighters have to add their Deed Die to hit and Deed Die+Strength bonus to damage, another rule cribbed from DCC).

Spells & Slots
These have been a little tricky as I've avoided writing up big descriptions and tried to mix up spells from Gavin Norman's B/X Essentials project with Lamentations of the Flame Princess spells (though a player messed around with the Summon Monster spell for a moment and decided, "Not worth it".  I think I will allow a standard "double level bonus" to make the "Dominate Monster" roll a little more doable.  So, a 3rd level Wizard gets +6 to the roll, which seems to make summoning 1 and 2 HD demons a little more predictable.  It's still super hectic though.  Not likely to get used often.

The other tricky piece is spell slots.  I allow spontaneous casting.  Almost purely for layout reasons I don't want to make a "Spell Slots per Order per Level" chart.  I'm trying to use "Order" instead of "Level" for spell power categories.
I've settled on the following:
  • "Spellcasters' (wizards and clerics) power is limited to spells of Order ≤ ½ level, rounded up. A spellcaster may never cast more higher than lower.  Ex. a 3rd level cleric may cast one 2nd Order spell and two 1st; at 4th level: 3 & 1 or 2 & 2"
I hope that's clear and that it works.  I've tried to offer flexibility to spellcasters.  I hope it doesn't make them dominate at mid-levels.  There have been few attempts at Dangerous Sorcery and Divine Petition.

The DOOOOM Die
We've just used this for three sessions but I really like it.  It's a unified Encounter roll on a d6, based on ideas from the Dungeon of Signs blog.  A roll of 1 still refers to a further encounter table (and encounter distance), but everything else is contained in a single table.  Suddenly resource management is part of the game rather than a forgotten annoyance.   It takes into account fatigue and rations, torches and lantern oil, spell and potion durations! as well as chance discoveries.  I've had the players roll the die for it which keeps me honest and they are starting to dread 1s and root for 6s.

1
Encounter
Roll on Encounter Table and Distance
d6: melee 1, short 2-3, medium 4-5, long 6 & Surprise (2 in 6)
2
Expiration
Spells & Potions expire
3
Torch & Lantern
A fickle torch or candle gutters & burns out; ½ flask of oil has burned
4
Luck
Dungeon Dressing, foreshadowing or useful item.
5
Discovery
A clue, secret or curious event
6
Exhaustion
Weary. Rest & eat food or Exhausted (-1 all rolls); roll again
Encumbrance
Finally, I've worked up an encumbrance table, again based on the HMS Apollyon rules, but I haven't used in much yet.  We'll see.

OTHER NOTES

Monsters
I've been using straight B/X monsters, mostly out of the Labyrinth Lord book.

Party for Extra Experience Points
Carousing has been popular, and has inspired a lot of the emergent campaign world.  It is also necessary because at times it doubles the XP for a session.

Monks
No one has played a monk yet.  I've messed about with it, offering a Deed Die that adds a variable bonus to Armor Class as well as attack and damage.  Also Mastery(d20) of the Stealth, Athletics and Lore skills and a better chance to use scrolls.  Could be pretty cool, but maybe too much?





Saturday, November 11, 2017

Barrowmaze #24: Crypt of the Grey Ooze

A short session in barrow mound 5.

It turned out the antifa tomb robbers were actually in the employ/thrall of the newly created Church of Aliontus, who showed up with his entourage to dig into the crypt while the dwarves did some drinking.

Aliontus had been reading some old scrolls reference an expedition by paladins long ago, corroborating the story of the ghost of Sir Guy.  It is suggested that the blackguard apostate Sir Dhekeon is entombed in one of these mounds.

Skeletons came alive while the delvers rifled through old bones.  The power of St. Ygg held them back and they were destroyed while cowering.  A sarcophagus was looted only after splattering an acidic grey ooze, at the loss of a suit of chain armor.

Back in town, the carousing ending in many hangovers, and a goblin disease.  The afflicted has begun to turn green, his nose elongating and sprouting warts, eyes be-yellowed.


Storm King's Thunder #26: Sky Whales over the Sea of Swords


Having learned the giant king is "held on the Morkoth", the bard and sorceress did some scholarly research in the libraries of Waterdeep.  Amongst the musty scrolls references to a Morkoth as a type of giant squid, a pirate ship and buried in a list of dragon names.  What could it be?


The crew of the Kelpie's Kiss set sail at dawn, despite the time of year being a dangerous one to sail the Sea of Swords, but the captain was a Harper, who was willing to risk his ship to save the world from the casual violence of giants.

The first days were clear and cold, making good time with the wind in the sails.  "Uncommonly consistent easterlies," muttered Captain Flossin.  Esra the Dark smiled under her hood.

In the distance great sky whales could be seeing plowing through clouds, occasionally diving into the ocean to come up trailing long strands of sea vegetation.

Then the weather turned.  Esra frowned.  A storm came quickly.  The winds howled and ripped at the sails.  The sea grew into a maelstrom of surging waves.  The bard was sea sick.  All the passengers huddled below deck until a crash of lightning and thunder was followed by the arrival of a bedraggled first mate, Sprite, who begged the to come above, for there was company.

Seeming to wade just off the lee of the boat, two massive giants had appeared out of the storm, their hands crackling with electricity.  The first called out in a booming voice like thunder, "Puny small folk!  The queen ordered you to never approach her court again.  She was too kind.  Now you will forfeit your lives."

Battle was joined.  The storm kings threw lightning bolts and boulders at the ship.  The heroes replied with fireballs, and a water walking barbarian who stood toe to toe with the mighty foe.  The drow sorceress took control of the winds around the ship and started pulling it desperately away.

The giant Orlekto fell, slain by a single charmed arrow from the bow of the bard.  His companion wailed in distress and they sank beneath the waves.

Two days later the Kelpie's Kiss limped into the harbor of Rhauthym Isle, in need of repair and resupply.  The small port was full of grim warrior sailors.  The talk of the taverns was the plunder they would gather in the wake of giant destruction.  They did not seem concerned that giants would turn their attention to this small isle.

The Company of the Raven disembarked and hiked overland to where they had heard of a gathering of purple hued warriors, paying passage through the pasturelands with songs and news of the mainland.

The purple beach on the western shore held a crude encampment of some two dozen men, long haired, heavily tattooed, their skin stained purple.  They confronted the company, crying out "Hail Tiamat", but were quickly scattered by demon skull mace of terror.

Suddenly Althea the Wizardess donned her Mask of the Black Dragon.  Instantly the purple barbarian dragon cultists dropped to their knees.  "High Wyrmspeaker!  We did not know!  What orders do you have from Tiamat, Mother of Dragons, whose wrath will return to burn the world in flame and fire!"

Althea demanded the location of Hekaton the Storm Giant King.  The purple men pointed west, where just off shore a small islet with a keep could be scene.  As they watched, it seemed to move...

.......

DM Notes: 
I thought quite a bit about how to run the nautical travel section.  I've been talking with my friend who will take over DMing next for Tomb of Annihilation about hexcrawls.  We tested out some hex-crawl procedures, then tested the journey rules from Adventures in Middle Earth, which we preferred.   I thought of using those, but finally decided to just hand wave it.  At this point in the campaign the players and I want to get there.  The end is in sight.  Rolling for encounters and events would be a side track.  We didn't need to add rules and procedures.  As it was I decided an attack at the behest of the evil Queen Mirran was in the cards, which took up most of a short session.  Two storm giants are a serious handful for a 11th level characters.

I completely improvised the island of Rhauthym.  I read the paragraph in the book, then riffed made stuff up.  The encounter on the beach was improvised but I had a great minds eye image of an early scene from the show Vikings, when they encounter the Saxon king.

I hadn't completely had it clear in my mind until this session, but the "Purple Rocks" and "Purple Vikings" thing is all a call back to the purple robes of the Cult of the Dragon.  They are all out there helping keep the giants out of order so Tiamat can return.

The wizard has had the Mask of the Black Dragon for three years of play time.  She got it when I used part of Hoard of the Dragon Queen in a different campaign.  That character then joined up with this group when they returned to the Forgotten Realms from Ravenloft.  A dragon stole it once, but she got it back.  It may end up being the key to the end game of the campaign, though that might not actually happen for a long while as I think we'll suspend this one pretty soon.


Sunday, October 29, 2017

We Were Wizards: Halloween Costume Game of Forbidden Caverns of Archaia, A Play Report and Review

TL;DR Played a session in this dungeon while dressed up as wizards.  We had a great time but I wish the module was better.


It's a strange Halloween year.  Tuesday is an awkward day for the holiday, so people have been intermittently partying all weekend.  I've avoided most of it, but the party happily came to me in Friday.  Our good friends Nick and Michelle came over after dinner with wizard costumes, but no party to go to.  Jah and I put on what we had, Medusa and random Renaissance Faire stuff respectively, and there we were, eating and drinking cocktails.  How about a game?

Nick was intrigued by my copy of Forbidden Caverns of Archaia sitting on the coffee table.  It's Fall colors appealed.  "Let's play that!"


AN UNCOMMON EVENING
We whipped up characters for my "Uncommon Dungeons" ruleset.  It was quick and easy.  My wife and our friends have mostly played type V D&D, but they soon got into rolling 3d6 for the stats, writing the minimal information on a blank paper and getting down to business.  I was pretty happy with the speed and ease of it.  The longest time was spent writing down gear.  I had no time to prepare so I got right to it.  "You have been trekking through the badlands all day, through sand storms and scorching heat, buzzards circle overhead as you pass macabre crucifixions in wastes.  Finally you arrive.  You see this."  I held up the illustration.

An overly fanatical Dwarven Cleric, a crafty Elf Wizard, and a brave Fighter descended the rocky trail to canyon floor.  I said, "Now you see THIS," again I held up a picture in the book.

Player rolls on the Doom Die forced the group to hunker down and eat their rations.  While they did that, a tremor rumbled through the canyon.  The walls shook and one nearby cliff partially collapsed.  They group rushed into the nearest cave they could find, for shelter.

Within, an ominous silence.  Torchlight revealed a long hall, pockmarked with holes and splattered with dried blood.  The sharp eyed elf spied a secret door on the right so the dwarf barged in a promptly fell through a trap door!  A Pfaetherfall spell saved him but he happily took a proffered rope back up as he found himself in a barred cell with a skeletal inmate and a jailor coming to investigate.

The trio fled that cave and ran across to an ancient arch with a skull shaped keystone.  Carefully tapping their way down a long stairs, the three began to explore what was certainly an ancient Archaian building.  They found an old scroll still sealed in its stone tube.  A rigged crossbow trap shaved a whisker off the dwarfs beard.

Then a sudden tremor shook the complex violently.  Stone and dust rained down, the earth lurched and suddenly a gaping crevasse opened across the trio's retreat.  Then came the zombies.  They came through a crack that had been opened in a wall.  The wizard stepped forward and poured fire upon them all but it wasn't enough.  Still they advanced.  The fighter hacked with her axe.  The cleric healed then tried to heal again.  He remembered this morning's augury.  "Woe".  The dwarf died at the hands of his own hubris.

A the last zombie fell, and the fighter realized she was on her own for the wizard had succumbed to her own magics as well.  The fighter loaded the frail elf on one shoulder and ran out of there.  She didn't stop until she got back to Eastdale.

 The Forbidden Caverns were gamed.  Totally spontaneously.  They claimed their first PC.  We had a great time.  In wizard costumes.  The players did more drama troupe acting and funny voices than I did this session.

REVIEW OF THE FORBIDDEN CAVERNS OF ARCHAIA
I have to admit I've been fairly ambivalent about the Forbidden Caverns.  I'd been looking forward to it for about a year as I have been steadily playing the Barrowmaze Complete book I bought as part of the same kickstarter.  I was stoked when I finally got my copy in the mail, started doodling in it but lost interest kinda quick.  I've gotten more playtime out of BMC than most game books in my collection.  The classic simplicity of it works well.  This is all well and good.  I really like the aesthetic of the book.  Stefan Poag and Peter Pagano do a lot of really great work that really makes the whole things look really cool.  I don't love the cover.  Erol Otus is awesome but the covers for these two books are not that rad.  Maybe too cartoony, not mysterious enough. 

The Forbidden Caverns are more of the same after Barrowmaze.  That's part of the problem.  The set up doubles down generic/classic depending on your perspective.  There is a canyon full of ruins and caves inhabited by every type of evil humanoid monster: goblinoids, beastmen, lizardmen, evil humans, even giants.  They are all part of an army that will one day pour forth to devastate the world.  In the meantime they are collecting trash and living in a very geologically active area.  There are dozens of small to medium to huge dungeons in the book,  Unfortunately the dungeons themselves are pretty straightforward.  Here's this kind of monster.  Now here's this other one.  I have had to really look through the book carefully a couple of times to start to figure out which questions to ask to make this dungeon interesting.  How is it any different than Barrowmaze (or even Caves of Chaos)?

It actually suffers from some of the same problems as Barrowmaze in that it is unclear what anyone is doing there.  In Barrowmaze most things are undead, so they're obviously just hanging around zombie-ing out, but then you occasionally run into Necromancers of Orcus or Set or Nergal and there is no personality to any of them, no sense of in what way the three factions are different (skull face,  pentagram head, uh) or really what they want in the maze.  The campaign setting is super similar as well.  The town of Eastdale is basically just a re-skinned Helix with some mention of how the local paladins are teetotalers so carousing is frowned up.  Now there's the mission!

Forbidden Caverns is similar.  There are all these monsters and hideouts and lairs, and a bunch of them have these Chaos Priests/Warriors of Impurax lurking in the back rooms but there's no sense of what their doing and why.  The Chaos dudes get names but no sense of who they are our how the wrangling of their particular group of evil humanoids is going.   Deep in the final dungeon are the High Priestess of Impurax and also a couple of old magical liche type creatures.  How do they relate each other?  I'm going to need to use one of those old npc relationship tables from Vornhiem to make it interesting.

It all seems very static, but unlike Barrowmaze, the Forbidden Caverns are the opposite of static.  There are constant earthquakes and collapses (I decided that anytime a Doom Die roll repeated itself that would signal a quake), there is a growing garbage mound, there are violent evil monster armies full of factions who don't like each other.  This sandbox needs to be dynamic.

The DM needs to do a bit more prep.  Basically, every dungeon resident needs to have a grudge against or alliance with another (Froglings plotting to take out the Kobolds for example).  Especially the Chaos warriors.  They have names, so we need to make a table add some random stuff and give those guys problems with each other, goals, attitudes toward the beastmen and orcs they are supposed to by wrangling.   The archons at the end need it as well.  Just a couple of "wants" and "needs" phrases for these guys would really help the whole thing.  The only reason for all these different monsters to be hanging to together is because this great prophecy of Impurax that must say something about how it will require "ever finger of the hand of Chaos to bring the dark god to this realm."  That has to be the thing, and that needs to become player character knowledge pretty early on in a campaign but that sort of hint and clue is left entirely up to the DM.  At the very least all the Impurax guys should be carrying around the Rotting Hand diagram.

I get that this style of dungeon module is supposed to be bare bones so that the detail and amazing parts can be more emergent, but for such a huge module, you'd think there'd be more color, more about the npcs and some more creative weirdness in the dungeons.  For a city of lost magic, the magic is pretty straightforward.  Where's the crazy weird remnants of magic as technology stuff?  I don't know how much I'll use this book, but if I do I'll be using my old Ruins of Myth Drannor and Undermountain item cards for sure.

I don't mean to bag on the book too much.  I just had a great session with it.  I obviously have been thinking about how to run it.  I love the art.  The "wheel of time" is great.  There are some cool magic items, especially the modular staff items that can be put together in different combinations to unlock different abilities and different magic gates.  It is totally playable from cracking the book and I love the illustration section.  I love BMC's illustration section.  I always dig the illo sections of Goodman Games modules as well.  All modules should have dedicated illustration sections.

All in all, I'm going to stick this dungeon in my campaign world somewhere, but it doesn't make me want to lure my players out of the Barrowmaze to explore the Caverns.  Might happen at some point though.
This diagram needs to be found in the possession of the Horde bosses and Fanged Legion reps, because how else are they gonna keep it all straight?