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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Dice, Camera, Action Episode 76 - Tomb of Annihilation


Episode 76: Band on the Run

Anna has bronchitis, so she can't say much. Nate got engaged! Maybe we'll have some kind of waffle wedding.

 The Party

(Matthew Lillard) Bag of Nails - Tabaxi Hunter
(Anna) Evelyn - Human Paladin of Lathander
(ProJared) Diath - Human Rogue
(Holly) Strix - Tiefling Sorcerer
(Nathan) Paultin - Human Bard

Here's the deal. Paultin has the ring of winter. It's evil, and has taken control of him. A huge red dragon named Klauth knocked a wall on the group. Strix is in gaseous form and Evelyn is flying near in front of the dragon.

Klauth clears the rubble off of Paultin and is demanding that he hand over the ring of winter.

Strix tries to talk Klauth out of all this. Doesn't work! Paultin puts the ring on his little undead, animated severed hand and throws it through a dimension door. The hand is somewhere nearby. Clever!

The Acquisitions, Inc. airship is hovering nearby, crewed by some NPC flunkies. Bag of Nails is on board as well. The harpoon gun is loaded.

Bag of Nails fires the harpoon.. critical!! 12d10 damage!! He does 75 points of damage!! Klauth is injured, but not bloodied.

Bag of Nails wants the crew to flt the ship right into the dragon.

Klauth is scouring the area, looking for the hand. Then he looks up at the airship. He has a bunch of wands on his wing. He uses them to hit the ship with a fireball and a lightning bolt. The crew dies, but Bag of Nails survives! He has four hit points left!

Here come dozens of serpents.. Yuan-ti in disguise.

Diath hits the snakes with his horn of blasting. Three yuan-ti assume their humanoid forms. One has black scales and is wearing a golden collar, some kind of religious piece of jewelry.

The airship is crashing! It's heading right for Paultin. Bag runs to the wheel. The NPC that was driving it is dead and crispy. Bag is able to pull up and turns the ship in the direction of Klauth.

Uh oh. Klauth found the ring of winter. He grabs it and the severed hand (whose name is "Handrew").

What the... there are three frost giants here! They've been looking for the ring of winter since Storm King's Thunder.

In the rubble, Dragonbait actually kept the rubble from squashing Waffles until the group could free them. Anna points out that since Dragonbait smells and she cannot smell anything, Evelyn assumes he is a mute.

Klauth is surprised at the frost giants arrival. The hand skitters free.

Paultin puts up the waffle hut. Diath wants in.

Bag of Nails jumps on Klauth's back.

The giants attack Klauth! The dragon is actually bloodied! It flies 80 feet up.

The group runs. They want to actually flee INTO the tomb to escape the chaos.

Diath uses his horn of blasting, blowing a hole in the wall of a building. The heroes flee right through. The hand comes with them.

Paultin has a crown of madness on a black-scaled yuan-ti, which forces it to attack its allies and then the dragon.

Bag of Nails ends up back on the airship. He busts out a crossbow. He has an arrow of dragon slaying! He does 47 points of damage. Klauth lets out a horrible wail and flies away.

Uh oh.. the frost giant leader has the hand with the ring on it.

Bag of Nails flies the airship and chases the dragon. Looks like he'll be a guest star on a future Acquisitions Inc adventure?

Strix casts a fifth level fireball spell and kills the two frost giant flunkies! The female leader is hurt but still alive.

That's where we stop.

Overall

Good show!

PAX South is this week. Chris will be running the live game.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Dragon+ Issue 17

You can read this issue here.

This issue is holiday-themed an feel quite a bit shorter than the others. 

We start off with a tribute to Dawn Murwin, who's been working as an art director for 25 years. She is apparently married to Dana Knutson, the artist who designed the Lady of Pain.

Interview with Adam Rex, who did the cover art. He made a book called "Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich", which is pretty awesome.

Adventure Crafting: This is an interview with Dani Hartel. She was on Dice Camera Action (and was awesome, IMO) and he makes the costumes for the Acquisitions, Inc. shows.

There's... a link to a pdf that allows you to make your own puzzle cubes!! I am doing this. Clear my schedule! There's also an interview with Mazzmatazz, who makes D&D monsters out of yarn and ran a hilarious Christmas adventure on Twitch a few weeks ago.

Character Spotlight: We get Strix's character sheet! She's level 9. Her sorcerer powers became active after she spent time living with Baba Yaga. I hope we learn more about her time in Baba Yaga's hut at some point.

Behind the Screen - Roll For Success: Ethan Gilsdorf writes about the benefits of playing D&D. He says it gives tools for empathy. Can empathy be taught? In my experience, either you have it or you don't.


D&D Classic: We get pdf of some articles from old issues of Dragon. One is a write-up of D&D Santa. Another is a gamma world article.

The third is a 5e update of a 3e article! The pdf looks as official as can be. It's a mini adventure, complete with new monsters like "gnome toymaker" and magic items. OK.. I don't like holiday-themed adventures, but the Yule Log made me laugh out loud. I am using that!!

Maps of the Month: Free Maps of the tomb of the nine gods!!

Best of the DMs Guild: Interviews with the Guild Adepts! They talk a lot about the collaboration process, and how it requires structure but usually leads to much better results.

Overall

Short, right? This is worth it for the maps and the adventure pdf.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Interview with RPG Author Craig Campbell

 

You can check out Murders & Acquisitions right here.
You can get the CAPERS preview right here.

Recently, I reached out to ask some RPG professionals to play on one of my Youtube shows. One of them is Craig Campbell, a man who's written a pile of D&D stuff and is now making his own RPG products.

I really wanted Craig on my show because I love his version of Baba Yaga's Hut and I think his nerdburger podcast is hilarious.

I was even able to interview him! I wanted to pick his brain and learn more about D&D and RPG stuff. Here's what I got.


How did you get into freelancing for Wizards of the Coast?


"I went to college with Jason Bulmahn and he became an organizer for Living Greyhawk back in 1999/2000. He had me write a module for the Highfolk region."

"Eventually, I wrote a feature article for Dragon Magazine when he was an editor at Paizo. Through him, I met Chris Tulach who had me write a few adventures for the RPGA. Around 2009, I started freelancing in earnest. My name sort of got passed up the line to other folks at WotC, which got me work writing for the website as well as both digital magazines during the 4e period."

"I pitched a lot of ideas and got a few accepted, but much of my work came from specific assignments. Also, WotC pitched a list of things they’d like to see to regular freelancers and I picked up a few of those articles and adventures."

You knew Jason Bulmahn in college? Did you game together? What RPGs did you play?


"We were both going to school for architecture. We actually met playing Magic: the Gathering at a hobby shop across the street from the college. Eventually we were each playing in each others’ games. We played a lot of D&D but also some Vampire, Call of Cthulhu, Deadlands, and even tried Rolemaster."


Tell me a little about Murders & Acquisitions.


"It’s a game of subterfuge, espionage, intrigue, theft, and murder in an absurd, over-the-top corporate world. Characters are literally backstabbing their way to the corner office. It’s filled with hyperbole and not meant to be taken too seriously."

"The game system is a custom one I designed. Pretty simple dice versus target number but with a few other things added in to make things fun when dice hit the table. The character sheet looks like a resume and features skills like Loss Mitigation, Force Application, and Resource Management."

Can you give an example of how to work monsters into a Murders & Acquisitions adventure?

"The optional stuff for monsters is built around the idea that monsters exist in this version of the world. So any of the intelligent monsters, particularly those that pass for human, can be actual corporate officers and workers. Some of the monsters have descriptions of how they’re used by corporations."

"For example, the cockroach people are used as scavengers and cleaners. Some of the bigger monsters might be employed as bodyguards or to watch over sensitive technology or information."

Do you have any good campaign stories about sessions of Murders and Acquisitions that you have run?

"In the magic and monsters variant of the game, there’s a monster called a thumpster. It’s basically a mimic that looks a big, green, trash dumpster. I had a character prepping to throw a lit Molotov cocktail at the thing in an alleyway when it opened its maw and pulled him inside it with its trash-tentacle tongue. Then the cocktail exploded. Things went poorly."


Tell me a little about CAPERS.


"CAPERS is a super-powered game of 1920s gangsters. You play gangsters looking to make their fortunes in the Prohibition era of the US, but you have mid-range superpowers. And so do your rivals. And so do the feds."

In CAPERS, you use a poker deck in place of die rolls. Have you thought about making a custom deck of cards to use in the game?

"Already done. When the Kickstarter goes live (Tuesday, March 6, 2018), you’ll see more specifics, but suffice to say there is a CAPERS-themed deck of playing cards that will be available. If the Kickstarter does well, the face cards will feature portraits of NPCs from the game."

Any good CAPERS playtest/campaign stories?

"During playtests, I was trying out different scales of combats to run the system through its paces. I had five players and we’d been playing for a few sessions when I introduced a big combat. Five super-powered characters versus four super-powered foes along with five weaker mooks. The whole thing took about an hour. It was my first chance to see that big combats aren’t necessarily going to bog down."

"I’ve had multiple playtesters tell me the system is very engaging. When you roll dice, you often roll it, look at the number, determine what that does, and move on. In CAPERS, you can flip multiple cards on your turn, but each time you flip one, you have a choice to make. Players really get into it, including paying attention to other players’ turns and giving advice on whether they should flip another card."

In Murders & Acquisitions, you play as ruthless, backstabbing corporate types. In CAPERS, you play as a super-powered gangsters. It seems like the players are playing some fairly villainous character types in both games. Why did you make that choice?

"I didn’t make a conscious choice. It occurred to me that my first two games are about playing “bad people” a few months back. It just sort of happened. I guess maybe I find “bad people” and antiheroes more intriguing with more potential for character depth. Or maybe I just like to pretend to be a bad person. Hard to tell, really."

What do you plan on doing once CAPERS is released?

"I’ve started designing a GM-less, dice-lite, narrative-heavy story game called Die Laughing. You play characters in a horror comedy movie and you’re all gonna die. It’s just a matter of when and how funny it is. Even after your character is gone, there are things for you to keep you involved in telling the story. A single session only lasts 1-2 hours, depending on the number of players."

"I have a few other ideas floating around my head, including a couple that DON’T involve the players portraying “bad people.” There are some heroics in there somewhere."


Dungeon #177: Nightmares Unleashed


This one has Blando maps! Do you get to pick who makes the maps?

"I never had a say in which cartographer or artist worked on my adventures. Though I did write some of the art orders during the later projects, so I had some say in what the artwork would look like. And I had to submit my own crudely drawn maps which people like Jared Blando would then make much nicer."

Redra's Nightmare is listed as a devil. Is the nightmare something conjured up by her dreams, or did that devil exist prior to all of the nightmare episodes?

"I imagine the devil existed previously but didn’t have a way to exert influence until it latched onto Kirstal’s (and then Redra’s) dreams."

The nightmare monster serves a devil currently trapped in the plane of dreams who believes that it will be killed by Redra's daughter when she is grown. Did you have a particular devil in mind? Is it a new pseudo-archdevil?

"Given that this was a side trek adventure, I didn’t have plans for the devil beyond that little adventure. I suppose it could be an “up and comer” devil that could turn into a recurring villain if you were to devise a way for it to keep coming back. If it’s a devil that’s specifically tied to recurring nightmares, it’s only appropriate that it be very difficult to kill once and for all."

Dungeon 193: The Beached Leviathan


Did you come up with this?

"I had told WotC I was open to doing quick pick-up work when an author had to drop out for real life reasons. The only time this happened for me was right in the middle of working on Baba Yaga’s Dancing Hut. The Tavern Profile series was still running then and they wanted something to tie into Neverwinter. So I crunched this article out in two evenings and then went back to Baba Yaga."

Any ideas on how someone could turn a person's shadow against them? A ritual? Infusing an actual shadow (monster) into the person's shadow?

"Using a ritual is kind of the default for something like this, but I feel it lacks flavor. Maybe a side trek to the plane of shadow to commiserate with a being that lives there and convince it to inhabit an enemy’s shadow."

"Or if a shadow is the “negative” of a person, maybe you give up a little part of yourself, your soul, to create the shadow being. This could be part of a pact with a greater being (like what warlocks do) or an ability in a devious artifact."

Dungeon 196: Baba Yaga's Dancing Hut


Why did you change Elena the Fair to Elena the Mad?

"In previous iterations of the hut, Elena is generally mentioned only in passing. She’s a blonde and she’s kind. I wanted to twist her up a bit. Spending centuries with Baba Yaga should do things to you. So I built on how her sister Natasha had left the hut and Baba Yaga was off trying to become an archfey, leaving Elena all alone and eventually going a little mad."


What is your take on the connection between Natasha the Dark and Iggwilv?

"My understanding is that Natasha the Dark left the hut and eventually BECAME Iggwilv. Dream Natasha, who is still in the hut, was conjured out of Elena’s madness at missing her sister."

Did you refer at all to the 2nd edition Baba Yaga adventure?

"My adventure is a reimagining of the classic 1984 Dragon magazine adventure “The Dancing Hut” by Roger Moore. The bulk of the layout is the same, just with a few things repurposed. The inhabitants are similar, though some changes took place translating an AD&D 1st edition adventure to 4th edition. Certain monsters didn’t match power level. Some didn’t exist in 4e (allowing me to create a few). And a bunch of new stuff came out of 4e design principles."

Did you consider taking the tank out of the adventure?


"Gods, no! Part of the charm of the adventure is that it expands Baba Yaga’s world hopping to our actual real world. I even briefly considered writing rules for using it. But that felt a little too Barrier Peaks to me."

Did you run this adventure?

"I ran two playtests, though we never made it through all the rooms in either playtest. I focused on things that needed actual playtesting, like some of the random stuff and the curses. I didn’t concern myself with most of the combats, since 4e design principles already had CR and EL and all that stuff worked out."

Dungeon #207: Starhaunt - with Chris Perkins



How did this work? Did Chris write an outline that you worked from? What was it like working with Chris?

"This adventure came from a list of things WotC folks wanted to see in the magazine. I’m 99% certain Chris Perkins put it on that list. I designed the whole thing and submitted it."

"Normally, anything submitted by an author goes through a certain amount of development before reaching its final form."

"Chris added and modified so much that he felt it warranted a co-design credit and I agree. He got rid of a few parts that didn’t work all that well and added some really fun stuff."

Dungeon 217: A Rhyme Gone Wrong



This one has a whole sleep-theme going on. You've mentioned the plane of dreams in another adventure. Do you have a particular interest in the plane of dreams?

"I’m fascinated by dreams, mostly because I rarely remember mine in any detail and I have friends who have recounted very specific dreams. I even know someone who is adept at lucid dreaming, which makes me super jealous."

"In gaming, I like how dreams can be used to manifest things that don’t otherwise have rules for such a thing. I’ve used dreams a number of times as major plot points and important milestones in several campaigns I’ve run."

Thanks to Craig! You can check out CAPERS right here.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Dice, Camera, Action Episode 75 - Tomb of Annihilation

Episode 75: Apex Predator
First show of the new year!

 The Party

(Matthew Lillard) Bag of Nails - Tabaxi Hunter
(Anna) Evelyn - Human Paladin of Lathander
(ProJared) Diath - Human Rogue
(Holly) Strix - Tiefling Sorcerer
(Nathan) Paultin - Human Bard

The waffle crew is in the Lost City of Omu. We're in the huge final section of the Tomb of Annihilation adventure.

Paultin is wearing the ring of winter, a very powerful and evil magic item. A red dragon named Klauth is demanding that he hand it over.

When we start the session, Klauth is flying 180 feet away from the group.

Chris notes that Klauth can smell treasure from thousands of miles away.

Evelyn tries to parlay with the dragon. "We're real good at negotiating.."


Klauth says he just flew thousands of miles and boy are his wings tired. Everybody is quite revitalized from the Christmas break.

Bed of Nails sits crosslegged and tells the dragon how proud he would be to be slain by it. He's trying to stall so that the group can have time to figure out what to do.

They are near a wall that can be climbed over. Paultin says has an idea about what to do here. He doesn't want to hand over the ring of winter, not at all. I don't think we ever find out what this plan is in this session.

Strix casts death ward on Paultin and runs toward Diath, who is heading for a partially-collapsed wall.

Paultin also tries to parlay. He calls up to the dragon: "My dude!" Paultin makes a vague offer.. share the ring of winter? Persuasion check: 25! Hmm... No, the dragon isn't biting.

Guess who shows up? The Acquisitions, Inc airship! It is manned by members of the C-Team! The ship comes up over the trees and drifts toward the dragon!

There are 3 figures on the deck of the ship: A half-elvish woman. a gnome or halfling in a vest, and manning a harpoon gun is a tiefling. I'm ashamed to say that i am not up on my Acq Inc, not sure who these NPCs are.

The ring of winter is evil and sentient. It wants nothing do with Klauth and does not want to end up sitting in its hoard.

Klauth grabs Paultin and holds him in front of his mouth. Paultin tries a whole bunch of lies, but Klauth doesn't buy it. Paultin casts cone of cold right in Klauth's face! "Plan B, my dude"

Bag of Nails hits the dragon and causes it to drop Paultin.There was some grumbling in the chat about this, which I'll talk about at the end.

The dragon breathes on Bag of Nails and does 91 points of damage. Bag is still up!

The group is running away. Paultin dimension doors to safety. Bag of Nails stays where he is and hits the dragon again.

The heroes are fleeing into a maze. The yuan-ti show up and attack the dragon. Klauth is not using his wands.

Klauth collapses a wall on the group. All but Diath are buried. The yuan-ti are buried, too.

Strix casts gaseous form and escapes the rubble. Paultin notices that a snake (a yuan-ti in snake form) is crawling over his body. I wonder if it is going to stow away in Paultin's pack and transform at a later time?

Bag of Nails gets on the ship and is ready to fire the harpoon.

Klauth stomps on the rubble. Then he reaches down and clears the rocks that were pinning Paultin.

Evelyn is pinned. Strength check: Natural 20! She explodes out and is free!

Paultin considers handing over the ring. Nope. We learn that he is, in fact, under control of the evil entity

Diath helps Paultin up and tries to steal the ring! Paultin refuses to hand it over. Chat is angry that the sleight of hand didn't work. Paultin rolled a 32.

That's where we stop.

Overall

Very good show! I like how Chris runs his battles. As a DM, I always slip into "you roll, I roll" mode and forget to portray the combat as a scene rather than an encounter in an old Final Fantasy game.

Backseat DMing: When it comes to watching streaming D&D shows, it feels utterly wrong to criticize someone's DMing. As a DM, I know that people could tear me a new hole every single session when it comes to rules accuracy and leniency. So far, D&D fans have been extremely polite and haven't done much griping at all on the DCA streams.

The show is getting bigger and I am thinking that the bigger it gets, the more we will see of a certain amount of "backseat DMing".

Suboptimal Klauth: Klauth held back. He could have just bit Paultin's hand off (the hand with the ring) and flew away. The ring wouldn't be digested, as it is nearly impossible to destroy the ring of winter (see Tomb of Annihilation page 208).

Why didn't he? Who knows. You got the sense Chris was looking for a specific scene to play out, but the group wasn't reacting as he anticipated. He was walking a tightrope, trying to get that scene without overtly railroading the players.

Scrambling: Then, when Paultin tried to steal the ring, Jared rolled a 32 on his check and still failed. A 32 is insanely high, far higher than what is necessary for attempting an extremely difficult task. If it's impossible to do, why have him roll?

I think most of us have been in this spot. Chris might have been quietly trying to keep up and adjust to unforeseen events. Things happen so fast in the game! When you're caught off guard, you make decisions off the cuff that might not look right in retrospect.

In this case, though, the effort hinged on whether Paultin was willing to let the ring be taken. Chris specifically asked Nate, and Nate said no.

Skill Checks: In general, there seems to be a bit of outrage whenever someone rolls a 25+ on a skill check and Chris says they don't succeed.

On one hand, I get the outrage. But on the other hand, if Klauth innately knows where the ring is located, tricking the dragon into thinking that the ring is somewhere else through sleight of hand isn't going to work no matter what.

You can try anything with a skill check, but some things are just impossible. Sometimes, the hero won't know that and will try anyway. In this case, the player forgot that Klauth could magically sense the ring.

Creating the Uber DM: I would caution anyone to be careful when criticizing Chris or anyone's DMing, especially if you yourself have only been DMing for a few years!

I recommend instead that you learn from what they're doing and figure out ways to avoid making the mistakes you think other DMs are making.

The fact that we can now watch hundreds of DMs means that a new breed of ultra-DM should rise up, better than anybody who's ever DMed before. Focus on becoming the best and try to keep the criticism constructive.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Dice, Camera, Action Episode 74 - Tomb of Annihilation


Episode 74 - Gods Rest Ye Merry Wafflecrew
This is the final show of the year!

 The Party

(Matthew Lillard) Bag of Nails - Tabaxi Hunter
(Anna) Evelyn - Human Paladin of Lathander
(ProJared) Diath - Human Rogue
(Holly) Strix - Tiefling Sorcerer
(Nathan) Paultin - Human Bard

The heroes spends some time studying the ring of winter and the weird egg they found. Paultin claims the ring and uses it to create an ice rhino.
After a bit more travel, the waffle crew arrives at the lost city of Omu. It is sunk into the ground, surrounded by cliffs on all sides.

The heroes scope out the city. They spot some shrines in the distance.

What's this... A guy is running. He's got arrows in him. He yells, "He's mad, he'll kill us all!" He's hit by another arrow and dies.

The assassin is Matt's character, a tabaxi hunter named Bag of Nails. He tells the group to come out or he'll kill them all. After a bit of parlay, the heroes say that they are here to stop Ras Nsi.

Bag of Nails likes this and he approaches the adventurers.  He ends up making a "blood bond" with Diath.

There are some chwingas about, little mute jungle spirits.

Bag of Nails warns the heroes that the yuan-ti move through the city disguised as normal snakes.

The group scopes out a kamadan shrine. Lurking there is a giant, four-armed gargoyle. It's just watching them. Bag of Nails shoots arrows at it. The gargoyle attacks!

The gargoyle has five attacks. It goes after Evelyn.. A crit with a bite does 25 points of damage to the paladin. One claw does another 9 slashing.

Paultin uses his ring to hit the gargoyle with a cone of cold. Does 50 points of damage! Strix follows up with a fireball and destroys the gargoyle.

Strix is not thrilled that Paultin is stealing her thunder.

Strix transforms herself into Viari's yuan-ti girlfriend (from the Acquisitions Inc. show). She says that the group should pretend they're her prisoners. Holly does a very amusing snake voice: "Sssut up! I'm a snake!"


Suddenly, six yuan ti appear. 4 have snake heads. The other two have human heads and upper bodies, but they have snake tails instead of legs.

They are led by Fenthaza, an NPC of note from the Tomb of Annihilation adventure.

Strix does a cone of cold, trying to out-do Paultin.
As they mop up the bad guys, a giant creature swoops down from the sky. A red dragon! It says, "At last!" It's Klauth, the ridiculously powerful red dragon!

The remaining yuan ti turn into snakes and flee. Bag of Nails says he will hold off the dragon. Diath urges the group to run.

Klauth busts out his wands. The group tells Paultin to take off the ring. That's where we stop!

Overall

Good show! I'm happy that the group is in Omu. Can't wait for them to get into the Tomb of the Nine Gods! Will Chris have them go through the whole thing? Maybe he'll have them head to the bottom levels right away?

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Adventures in Eberron - Daughters of Sora Kell


We played some more Eberron last week. I play a 12th level sorcerer with tons of body hair.

I've never been that into Eberron. I mean, it has lots of really cool things in it, but it was definitely not a priority as far as what settings I wanted to run.

The settings I am most into are Planescape, Spelljammer, Al Qadim, and generic adventures that I can use to flesh out my homebrew setting that all of this revolves around. Pathfinder paths have been an absolute goldmine when it comes to generic D&D material, and I still think nothing else comes close.

Because I left it alone, Eberron is a great setting for me to play in. I know absolute nothing about it!  I get to experience everything fresh. I love Sharn, the city of towers. Lately, we've been adventuring in the monster kingdom of Droamm, and I think that it is really awesome.

A city ruled by medusas where cockatrices and gorgons (both are creatures that turn you to stone) is just a really cool idea.

So, in this session, we continued to search for our wizard's special magic gift that fell from the sky. By the end of the session, I think I inadvertently screwed over the group.

The Party

Davven - Human Fighter
(Me) Endarian Nimbus - Human Sorcerer
Kethra - Human Wizard

My DM, Dennis, actually wrote this summary to me/for me! I'll add in my thoughts in italics as we go.

You were brought before the three hags that rule Droaam, the Daughters of Sora Kell. They offered to let you take the "Chaos Star" even though the Queen of Stone, the medusa Sheska, had already claimed it - but they had to make sure you were strong enough to take it.

We had to go through three tests! A classic D&D trope.

First, the green hag bard Sora Katra tested your wits by asking you to convince the Queen's envoy to tell you where the Chaos Star was. Knowing the medusae to be coldly rational, and picking up on his hatred of humanoid oppression, you told him that you needed the Chaos Star to save monsters and humanoids alike; he seemed to accept this and told you of a great chasm in the center of the goblinoid ruins of Cazaak Draal where the star could be found.

I have been on a kick lately of trying to resolve encounters without combat. I always get into this mode when I'm running Planescape games, as that setting is one in which you rub elbows with all sort of monsters. I think my campaigns benefit from this mindset. When I do it as a player in other people's campaigns, it's a bit jarring for the group, but the DMs always roll with it nicely.

Second, the night hag barbarian Sora Maenya summoned a three-headed frost giant and told you to wrestle it to the ground. It was too strong for Davven to trip, but Kethra forced it to the ground with her telekenesis magic.

Third, you went into the chamber of the blind dusk hag oracle Sora Teraza, who told you that the true enemy between you and the Chaos Star was not the Queen of Stone but a demon queen of "scale and steel." This demon wields four swords from hobgoblin heroes whose souls were trapped in Khyber dragonshards near her lair. Sora Teraza gave you a potion to pour on the shards that would reveal their names; speak the names and their swords would betray the demon. The dusk hag's challenge was merely for you to trust her, so you took the potion and left.

We first hypothesized that this mystery monster was a warforged dragon (which is an epic idea). But once we got more clues, we realized we were up against a maritilith! Those things are really, really tough.


Before leaving town, Endarian caught a bit of local color at a harpy inn. You remember that I bet! That was fun, thanks for suggesting it.

The others wanted to go to the ship, thinking that it was too dangerous to wander the monster city. My character is a "live life to the fullest" kind of guy, so I boldly sought out a place to drink and meet the locals. I went to a harpy inn and challenged the harpies to a singing contest. I lost! 

The harpies pranked me. When I woke up the next day, I was outside the city on a rock, surrounded by wolves. I used a fly spell to escape. Hey, could have been worse!

My character has been trying to urge Kethra, our wizard, to enjoy life more. She's very into reading. Once in a while, I can get the group to get into some hijink with me.


You flew your airship to Cazaak Draal, a city destroyed by petrifying monsters thousands of years ago. There are still hobgoblin statues all over the place, and the city is overrun with cockatrices - some huge - basilisks and gorgons, only some of whom have been tamed by the medusae. 

I really love this place! What happens if you turn the hobgoblins into flesh again? Could you build an army out of them and retake the city?

Just the idea of a city full of people turned to stone is absolute gold.


In the center of town is a big park in front of a ziggurat, and in that park is the chasm the envoy told you about. You got jumped by some gargoyles - maybe you hadn't won over the envoy after all - but were able to go down some rickety stairs into the chasm.

At the bottom of the chasm you eventually found a web of caves, with a wailing noise off in the distance. In most of the caves you found khyber dragonshards (blue ones, used in binding rituals). When you poured the potion on them, you saw a little memory of the lives of hobgoblins struggling to oppose the daelkyr (read:  aberrations) who would one day destroy the hobgoblin empire. You had to match up the names of the hobgoblins in the memories with clues Sora Teraza gave you to know which ones were the command words to mess with the demon's swords.

But you also found the demon's lair, where you discovered the broken remains of a meteorite and a pile of cut snakes. You learned where the snakes came from when you were attacked by the Queen of Stone. The demon had cut off the medusa's snakes, turning her petrifying gaze into a constant stream of indigo eye beams (kinda like prismatic spray) that had a nasty Dex save instead of the more common Con save. 

I felt sorry for the medusa whose snakes had been cut from her head. Again, another really cool idea! I actually tried to reattach her snakes but it really didn't go well.

You did a lot of damage to her - and poison began to spray from her head wounds as her HP dropped - but with magic, Endarian was able to convince her to stop attacking you. She left to chase the demon but got killed.

With the Queen dead, the demon tracked you down before you could learn the names to disable all four of the hobgoblin swords. The demon was a marilith, which could have been a deadly encounter, but when you spoke the correct names  she was forced to drop half her swords. You unleashed some very big spells and attacks and brought her down fast.

I thought this was a very cool way to de-power a marilith without just cheating to keep the group alive. We were able to cut down on the amount of attacks she made by braving different rooms with uniqe dangers.

In "Nemesis" by Chris Perkins, there's a marilith with 6 magic swords. I love that idea, and I like it when people build on top of what's there to create new twist on what you can do with them.


A glowing necklace fell from the dead marilith's neck and broke, releasing the stolen contents of the Chaos Star meteorite - a wolf spirit. It merged with Kethra and she gained a large unique dragonmark on her shoulder. In addition to boosting a lot of her existing powers - hopefully helping her player become the true melee/spell dual threat she'd wanted at character creation - she could also summon the wolf to get advantage and extra damage. We'll see how broken it ends up being!

She got a ton of powers! We're starting to get into the whole Draconic Prophecy story in Eberron, which is very cool.

As you headed back to leave, you found the Daughters of Sora Kell and their three-headed giant waiting for you at the foot of the stairs. They demanded either the wolf - which they say they can pull from Kethra's corpse if needed - or her Book of Shadows. 

The PCs refused and Endarian teleported himself and Kethra up the stairs. Endarian started flying back to get Davven, but the giant dealt him a nasty axe blow and then the hags knocked him unconscious. Will Davven survive? Will the PCs escape Droaam with their treasures? And if they do foil the hag's schemes, what reprisal might they seek? 

So, yeah. I screwed up. I don't think Kethra wanted to be teleported away, but I was thinking that we couldn't let the bad guys get their hands on the book. That book has a ton of secrets, and it is something the whole campaign revolves around!

But, I left Davven alone and wasn't able to save him. Next time we play, I'll go down there and try to help him, or I'll share his fate. If I can, I'll give him a chance to escape and if I get taken down, so be it!

Friday, December 15, 2017

Dungeons & Dragons - Xanathar's Guide to Everything Review


You can buy Xanathar's Guide to Everything Here.
You can buy the DMs Guild Xanathar's Lost Notes to Everything Else here.

Xanathar's Guide to Everything is a book full of new sub-classes, rules, spells and more for Dungeons & Dragons. I'm going to go through the book, then talk about the art, then give my overall thoughts. I put most of my favorite pieces of art in this review.


Rules: We start this thing off with some rules clarifications. The very first one talks about how the DM is the final authority on how the rules work in play. It can be very hard to figure out when you should deviate from the rules. I tend to hand-wave rules too much, and I think it cheapens the game.

Most of the other entries in this section tell you not to stack things of similar type.

The most important of these, in my opinion, is this: "If you want to cat a spell that has a casting time of 1 bonus action, remember that you can't cast any other spells before or after it on the same turn except for cantrips with a casting time of one action."

I've seen a lot of confusion on that one.

Character Options
I'm not too big on this stuff, but it makes up the bulk of the book. There are new subclasses for every major class!

Here's my favorite things:

Barbarian Superstition: "If an elf looks you in the eyes, she's trying to read your thoughts."

Bard Instrument: "A tinker's harp of gnomish design."

Druid Mentor: "You were tutored by a dryad who watched over a slumbering portal to the Abyss."
How does a slumbering portal work? Does it require a key, but nobody knows what the key is?

Forge Clerics: You can imbue a weapon or suit of armor, giving it a +1. You can create items through an hour-long ritual. Anything! You need to use metal (coins!) to form the item. It's a fun way of buying items when you're far from civilization.

Fighter: Fighter is probably my favorite class in D&D. The charts of details for them are a bit tame. The Arcane Archer is pretty cool. As you level, you can infuse your arrowa with different magical effects.

Beguiling Arrow greatly amuses me. Basically, you're Cupid. Your target takes 2d6 psychic damage and has to make a save or be charmed by your chosen ally.

Samurai: Wow. You can give yourself advantage on attack rolls on your turn and 5 temporary hit points. You can do this three times before taking a long rest!

Monk: The monk stuff is just awesome. Monk monastery: "Your monastery is built beside a volcanic system of hot springs, geysers and sulfur pools.You regularly received visits from azer traders."

The monk masters are very cool. Whenever I think of a monk master, I think of that dude from Kill Bill vol. 2.

Drunken master! I love everything about this. I would be dying to hit 6th level so I could use "Tipsy Sway" to redirect an enemy's attack toward someone else.

Kensai: A weapon specialist that can parry and does extra damage with thrown weapons.

Story time: Long ago in 2nd edition, I made a hengeyokai (shapechanger) kensai. My job was to guard a woman who was going to become a goddess of good. Another member of the party became a super-vampire, and he decided he wanted to abduct her for his own evil purposes.

The super-vampire was extremely powerful! I squared off against him. He punched me, and I rolled to see if he knocked me out, as per the 2e rules. There was like a 5% chance. I rolled a d100 and got... a 02. He knocked me out with one punch.

Then he did horrible things to the lady and it's haunted me ever since.

Paladin Nemeses: "A rival paladin who trained with you became an oath-breaker and holds you responsible."

Oath of Redemption is one of those sort of "pacifist" character types. I haven't really seen that ever work in a campaign. The rest of the group kills and the pacifist is sort of neutered. I think it could be awesome with the right group.

Ranger: "Gloom Stalker" is such an awesome name for a subclass. The art seems completely wrong for this. A blonde-haired dwarf with a pick? Gloom stalkers should be creepy and dark. This one is  wearing bright green?

Horizon Walkers.... why didn't they call them Planewalkers? That's what they are, right? Maybe they're saving that term for a future book.

Aside from that quibble, horizon walkers are really cool. They can detect planar portals and, eventually, they can enter the ethereal plane. They get teleporting powers and everything. I love this one!

Monster Slayer! The name alone has me interested. They can look at monsters and find weaknesses, a handy way to avoid the "how much do I tell them?" problem when the group rolls an Arcana check for Monster knowledge. At 11th level, you can use a reaction to try to shut down a spell being cast.

This doesn't really feel like a monster slayer at all. They're not particularly monster-focused.

Rogue Benefactor: I really live this one. "A dragon didn't eat you when it had the chance, and in return you promised to set aside choice pieces of treasure for it."

An inquisitive is a detective, sort of. They can pick out lies. I was thinking that this is cool but nobody will use it, and then I saw the power that lets you make sneak attacks even if you don't have advantage as long as you can win a special opposed check. People will use it!

Swashbuckler! Wow. You get sneak attacks as long as no other creatures are adjacent to you. I love "Panache". You're so charming that your foe is distracted by your witty banter and has disadvantage  when trying to hit you. Love this one!

Sorcerer: I like this arcane origin: "You were made in a vat by an alchemist."

The shadow sorcerer  is just awesome. You draw your power from the Shadowfell, you can cheat death, and you can summon a "Hound of Ill Omen." They have a great list of quirks, too.

Warlock: They give some details on the relationship with a patron, something that I think could lead to tons of awesome stuff. Using the patron as a recurring NPC could be really cool.

I like this: "When you use an eldritch invocation, you must speak your patron's name aloud or risk incurring its displeasure."

Hexblades are epic. You can keep the spirit of someone you just killed as an ally that serves you until the end of a long rest. You could do so many cool thing with this!

Wizard: Lots of great charts. Only one Arcane tradition: War Magic. Normally, I don't care about stat stuff too much, but this strikes me as a bit weak in terms of power.

You can give yourself a bonus to your AC as a reaction, but you can't cast anything but cantrips until the end of your next turn. Then at 6th level, you can give yourself a few points of extra damage if you use counterspell or dispel magic successfully.

Counterspell is a real downer. I use it on my players once in a while, and it seems to hurt the overall experience. I don't like the idea of encouraging it with this class.

I guess it could be fun, but honestly I feel like I almost feel like I am bullying my players when I use it. The spellcaster character is completely shut down.

This Is Your Life

This is an extensive series of charts that let you randomly determine your background. I love this thing.

I'm making a character for a charity game that will take place tomorrow. I'm making a fire genasi forge cleric.

My idea is that my character is grim and gritty, but also relentlessly positive. So, basically, I'll angrily hiss at someone: "I offer you unconditional love!" and then punch a wall. Let's roll my life:
  • I know who my parents are, I have no siblings.
  • Lifestyle: Wealthy!
  • No permanent residence. We moved around a lot.
  • Why am I a folk hero? A parent or one of my relatives was an adventurer, and I was inspired by their courage.
  • Why did I become a cleric? A supernatural being in service to the gods called me to become a divine agent in the world.
  • 2 life events: 1. I fell in love and got married...? 2. I made an enemy of an adventurer. I am to blame for the rift. Sounds like this is my wife!
My Wife: Let's randomly determine the details of my estranged wife with the charts on pages 72-73:
  • She's Neutral
  • She's a cleric! Like me!
  • She is alive and well.
Putting it Together: Huh. So why did we break up? The DM told me that I found a relic, and that's what I draw my cleric power from.

My character is a good guy. Maybe she just wasn't "good" enough. Maybe we came upon someone who needed help, but she didn't want to take the risk. Disgusted, I went to help. Maybe she reluctantly followed and almost got us killed, and that was it for me.

Maybe..! She's the only other person in the world who can also draw power from the relic, and she wants to take it from me.

I rolled pretty tame on these charts but I still ended up with good stuff that I wouldn't have come up with on my own. This is my favorite thing in the whole book.

Feats: There's some Nine Hells stuff in here! I definitely get the sense that a future product will be tied to the Nine Hells in some way. Here's the hell feats:
  • Flames of Phlegethos: Phlegethos is a fiery layer of hell ruled by Belial and his daughter, Fierna. They have a creepy relationship. The feat gives you a stat boost, a fire damage boost, and you can call forth a protective wreath of flame that does a little bit of damage.
  • Infernal Constitution: Resistance to poison/cold, +1 CON. This one feels like it could use some pizazz.
Dungeon Master Tools


DM stuff! We start off with some rules notes.

Sleeping in Armor: If you take a long rest in medium or heavy armor, you only regain only 1/4th of your hit dice and no levels of exhaustion are removed. That seems fair. Players HATE taking off their armor when sleeping. Make sure you know how long it takes to put armor on. Plate takes forever.

Knots: When tying someone up and using a knot, a sleight of hand check determines the escape DC..

Tools: Then comes a great part. They expand what the different tools can do.

For example, if you use your Cook's Utensils to prepare a meal at the end of a short rest, you give everyone a +1 to every hit die spent! These are really great and should not be overlooked.

Spell Info: We then go into some rules about identifying spells being cast, the shapes of spells, and encounter building.

Traps: This section details more elaborate traps. I tried some out. They worked fine. I would have preferred it if they put the countermeasures near the top of the block, but no big deal.

Downtime: I went over all this when it was being playtested. This section elaborates on what happens during downtime. I like it, but I still feel like it's not detailed enough.

Awarding Magic Items: This helps you figure out how many magic items the party should have at different levels. The charts confuse me a bit, because they are listing the total items an entire group gets, but how big is the group? I assume that it is 4 players, so that means each character finds 25 items from levels 1-20.

I like having this as a guideline, but I enjoy dumping lots of items on the group. They can only attune to 3 at a time, and the ones with attunement are the most powerful!

Common Magic Items: These are very weak items. They're great! I love the tankard of sobriety: You can drink alcoholic beverages without becoming inebriated.

Spells

There's a lot of spells in here. Quite a number of them are taken from the Elemental Evil Companion, which is a bit of a bummer. That said, there's a lot of cool stuff in here.

Charm monster is in there. They have been really careful about summoning and charming monsters, haven't they?

I love ceremony, a utility spell that lets you make holy water, conduct marriages (giving the couple a +2 to AC when they're 30 feet of each other.. lasts one week).

Healing Spirit is very cool. You summon an entity that can move around and heal allies each round for up to 1 minute!

My favorites are the devil and demon summoning spells.

Summon lesser demon and summon greater demon lets you summon them for up to 1 hour. Lesser summoning calls forth a random number of low-level demons who do not follow your orders. Greater demon summoning lets you control your demon a long as you maintain concentration.

Infernal calling is similar. You summon a devil of up to a challenge rating of 5. Commanding it to do things requires an opposed check.

I just love the idea of summoning demons and devils. It seems like a really cool thing for a character to do and could lead to all sorts of great moments. It's nice to have concrete, simple rules for doing it.

Character Names: Then we get a massive pile of character names. This is so handy! Any time your group meets a random NPC, you can pull a name out of here real quick. They even put it in the back of the book, so it's easy to flip open to and find.

The Art

The art is good, but in most cases, not too exciting. There's no "edge" to anything. In some cases, they make fantasy worlds look mundane. I was able to post most of my favorites in this review, but I also LOVE the fountain on page 122, which has the "badass" quality I think 5e art is lacking. I also love the halfling vs. the ettin on page 15.

Full Pagers: My biggest observation is that the art on the full page spreads just don't work. The piece on page 6 is very dark, not too detailed, and looks very mundane.

I get that a fantasy world should look "lived in", but to me, these come off like photos from the set of a low budget fantasy movie.

The one on page 76... most of it is an owlbear's arm. We can't really see the heroes and they don't look cool. It feels like the space wasn't used well.

These spreads also focus on the 5e halfling. The 5e halflings have really weird proportions and they just don't look right to me. 

Recycled Art: There's a lot of recycled art in this. I don't have a big problem with that, as most of the recyclables are mauled to death by the page rips, so you won't really notice. I still wish they'd actually let us see the full landscape art in these books.

Overall

It's hard for me to say anything negative about this book when it is apparently the best-selling D&D book of all time. You can't argue with success.

I guess I like it. The fact that a lot of the content in Xanathar's was released as playtest material long ago left few surprises. Using all of those spells from Elemental Evil kind of took the air out of my tires, too.

When it comes down to it, the subclasses are cool, many of the new spells are a lot of fun, and the name list is handy. Xanathar's Guide to Everything is sort of like the 1e Unearthed Arcana book, but much better.