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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Dice, Camera, Action: Episode 57 - Curse of Strahd


Episode 57: Wrath of Strahd
Lots of preamble stuff.

Animated Intro: You should definitely check out this animated intro right here. It is beyond awesome. They need to dump a truckload of money on the creator so that they can polish it up for season 3. That's Nate's music for the theme, really awesome stuff.
Gutter by Dimas Wahyu

I commissioned some art of Diath's sword, based on the description Chris gave a few weeks ago. Here's the details that we know so far:

Gutter, the Magic Short Sword of Backstabbing:
  • The pommel has a fox head with a dark red gem gripped in its jaws.
  • The sword is light, a good fit for Diath's hand.
  • The red gem lights up when it speaks (?). It said to him, "Hello, Diath. It's so good to be with you." Only Diath can hear the sword's voice.
  • Worked into the hilt is a keyhole.
  • There are designs and patterns that indicate it is from Sigil. (I went with some DiTerlizzi Planescape -style curved blades and the Planescape "verdigris" color scheme)
  • In the blade are abyssal indentations - abyssal glyphs: It spells out: "Gutter".
  • The sword requires attunement.
  • The sword wants to be with the Woodrows.
  • +2d6 damage when backstabbing.
Relatives of Diath:
  • Ashton Woodrow (male), friend of the half-orc/half-dwarf. “We adventured together for years.” Ashton died and gave him the sword to give to Woodrow’s inheritors.
  • Dareth (female).
  • The sword told Diath: "If you'd like to use more about your origins, I suggest you use a key."
  • Note: Diath has a mysterious ring of keys. He's not sure how he got them or what they are for. He used one key a while back. It opened the tome of Strahd.
Shemeshka:
  • Using a key in the sword: A planar gateway opens. Stepping through the gate is a 6-foot tall robed arcanaloth wearing spectacles. Her immaculate robe is red with designs in black thread. On her head is a wreath of vines with razor-like spines (this is razorvine, see the DMG page 110). Some vines trail down her back and move of their own accord.
  • The nails of her taloned fingers are painted.
  • She did not recognize Diath on sight. She said: “I see the sword has found a new owner. And you are..?”
  • When Strix was in the care of her grandmother, Shemeshka may have tried to buy Strix as a slave.
Three Questions:

Shemshka said, "You have summoned me. I will answer 3 questions, no more than 3, and I will take that key with me. If you wish to summon me again, use another one of your keys."

She also said, “I am a researcher. If it can be learned, I know it."

The questions asked:
  1. Who made this sword? "I did."
  2. For what purpose? "As a gift to an ancestor. You bear a resemblance to her. Her name was Dareth."
  3. Why are we dying? "This type of thing is exactly what might happen if an evil godling was in the world sucking energy to rejuvenate itself, feeding on the lifeforce of puny mortals. What world is this?" (Toril) "I suggest you learn everything you can about Acererak.
When the questions have been asked: She takes the key in her hand, leaps through the portal, and it closes up behind her.

The Half-Orc/Half-Dwarf

This guy is the mysterious friend of Ashton Woodrow. Here's what we saw:
  • When the half-orc guy shows up, he is in a bit of a daze, like he's sleep walking.
  • For a moment, he doesn’t want to give the sword away. He says: “No! The sword is mine! ...forgive me. It's not mine. I was a friend of an adventurer who shares your name.”
  • This NPC doesn't know where Sigil is. So if I heard that right, then Ashton adventured with this guy somewhere other than Sigil.
  • The guy rogueishly disappears into the shadows, suggesting that he is a rogue like Diath. If Ashton was also a rogue, then they could have been members of a thieves guild.
  • There is a half-orc/half-dwarf in "Danger at Darkshelf Quarry", the special prequel adventure to the slavers series written by Skip Williams. Chris Perkins was involved in this project, as he was he one who asked Skip to write it.
  • Brubgrok is a slaver. He is humorless, unkind, somewhat hunchbacks, and has "eyes as red as his coarse hair and beard." This doesn't sound like the NPC Diath met, but maybe this is where the idea to use a half-orc/half-dwarf came from.
The Tarokka Cards


Chris tweeted images of the tarokka cards set up in the alignment that the group found them in last week.

In the Curse of Strahd adventure, it explains how to read them (like a fortune teller). I’m going to dust off my guide to Curse of Strahd and see if we can glean any clues from these cards. I went overboard and looked up the 2nd edition version of reading the cards, too.

1. Rogue
  • 5e Meaning: Location of the Tome of Strahd is the Blue Water Inn, home base of the wereravens.
  • 2e Meaning: This is the focus card, representing the person the reading deals with. So, the rogue... Diath. "Are his intentions noble or corrupt? The answer cannot be easily told."
2. Raven
  • 5e Meaning: The Holy Symbol of Ravenkind is with Davian Martikov - the old wereraven who owns the winery.
  • 2e Meaning: This card represents the past and a hidden source of good - often a new ally or item. The Morninglord aka Lathander aka Butthander! He is watching over Diath!
3. Elementalist
  • 5e Meaning: The sunsword is in the amber temple.
  • 2e Meaning: This card represents things that oppose the focus (Diath). What's opposing him? The natural forces of the cosmos, this generally represents an elemental force coming into play. This could refer to the fact that he is dying thanks to Acererak's soulmonger.
4. Paladin
  • 5e Meaning: Strahd's enemy - this doesn't match up exactly, but is easy to interpret. Sergei's tomb, aka Sergei. That works!
  • 2e Meaning: This card represents the future - the triumph of good over evil! Wow, spoiler alert.
5. Healer
  • 5e Meaning: This is where Strahd can always be found. The Shrine of the White Sun in Krezk, which has a statue of... the Morninglord! See Curse of Strahd page 146.
  • 2e Meaning: This one indicates "the beneficial things that will speed the object of the casting along to his or her ultimate goal." It mainly represents good and holy clerics/entities such as... the Morninglord! It also warns of illness and disease like... the Soulmonger! Woo!
In 5e, there is only 5 cards in a tarokka reading, so all I can say is who or what the card represents.

What's interesting is that there actually is a 2e tarokka pattern that almost accounts for 8 total cards. The way Chris set them up nearly matches a pattern known as “the tower.” It goes like this:

9 10 11  (so, uh, if there's three cards on the ceiling, jackpot.)
   4         (rogue)
2 1 3      (raven, elementalist, paladin)
   5         (healer)
6 7 8      (executioner, marionette, tempter)

6. Executioner
  • 5e Meaning: The brother of the devil's bride, Sergei or Ismark.
  • 2e Meaning: This is the hangman in 2e. This card in this position means that someone will be caught doing something wrong and are punished, even if they are falsely accused. This marks aspects of the past that have informed the future. Like when Diath got hanged! Hung? Hanged.
7. Marionette
  • 5e Meaning: Murderbot aka Simon aka Pidlwick II.
  • 2e Meaning: This card indicates the presence of a traitor or a minion of some greater power as well as an aspects of the past that has informed the future. Welp.. that's Murderbot! His parents don't treat him like a traitor, but he keeps trying to kill nice people.
8. Tempter
  • 5e Meaning: Vasilka the flesh golem bride.
  • 2e Meaning: A person not aware that their values have been compromised and aspects of the past that have informed the future. That could be Diath's sword. Using the sword might/will lead to bad things in the future.
9, 10 and 11 would indicate the future - one of these will occur depending on the actions of the focus (Diath).

Time Travel

I looked up timelines to see how far in the past the group went: 
  • 2e: Looking at an old Ravenloft timeline, Barovia appeared in the demiplane of dread in the year 351. The year 740 is when the 2e adventures take place.
  • 5e: On page 26 of Curse of Strahd, it says that in 346, Strahd inherited the land. He died and became a vampire in 351. The current year is 735.
It matches up! Curse of Strahd is a retelling of the original Ravenloft adventure, so this actually takes place before the wonky 2e “Conjunction cycle”.
This means the group traveled 389 years into the past. I don't think time passes the same in comparison to the Forgotten Realms.

The year is around 1491 in the Realms. 389 years ago is 1102, which is actually before the events of 1st edition and part of the insanely detailed history of Toril.

It's in the Age of Humans. 1102 is the "Year of the Chaste Maiden". Hmm! Nothing of note happened that year. The year before, the abbey and temple to Lathander became part of Waterdeep as the city expanded. There's also some covenant that lures the Red Wizards into a "series of portals."

 The Party

(Anna) Evelyn - Human Paladin of Lathander
(ProJared) Diath - Human Rogue
(Nathan) Paultin - Human Bard
(Holly) Strix - Tiefling Sorcerer

The group was pulled into Barovia by Paultin's Shadow, which was possessed by a fragment of Strahd. Paultin stabbed his shadow with his sunsword and somehow the waffle crew got shunted back in time. They are at the wedding where Strahd will kill his brother out of jealousy. Tatyana, the bride, jumps to her death. Strahd’s actions here attract the Dark Powers and they make a pact with him, giving him tremendous power and transforming him into a vampire.

So far, this wedding is playing out differently. The waffle crew meddlers are poking around. They found a wedding gift and they unwrapped it. It was Simon, aka Murderbot. A fresh version! It shot poison darts into Tatyana's neck and she would have died if Evelyn hadn't healed her.

At one point last session, Strix snatched some poisonous plants from the garden.

Strix saw some tarokka cards. Chris points out that the 5th card was the healer. Three more cards were on the floor: The tempter, the marionette and the executioner.

These cards might refer to the Duchess and Simon. Paultin has a new mandolin, obtained from a guy named Jesper, who might be an ancestor of Paultin.

Lots of backstory! Here we go.

1e Tatyana

Jesper, the bard of Berez, is going to perform. The group has been mistaken for the wedding staff. The group ends up going with it, sort of. Strix casts death ward on Sergei.

Diath can sense that Sergei and Tatyana might flee if they get the chance.

The group prepares to infiltrate the wedding dinner. Diath disguises himself as a servant. Strix decides to be in gas cloud form. Paultin will be the performing bard and Evelyn will be his robot dancer.

Diath sees the duchess talking to one of the guards. She’s talking to Leo.. ohh sweet jaysus.

The duchess is his mother. A reader pointed out to me that this is Duchess Dorfinya Dilisnya. Her son is (possible spoilers in this link) a well-established NPC.

In Curse of Strahd, the group can find his severed head. I forgot.. I wrote about him in this old article about the Ravenloft/Strahd "prequel" adventures (also spoiler-y).

Diath hears her saying that she has made arrangements to leave the present in the room but if things go wrong, Leo should bring the guards in to take them out. "This marriage can not be allowed to survive."

Time for the dinner! Simon is disguised, too. He's got a pumpkin head now and a wig. The Duchess doesn't recognize him.

The group is basically alone in the room with the couple, Strahd, the Duchess and a few servants.

Strahd is slumped in his chair, obviously miserable. Strix un-clouds under the table. She uses her mage hand and slips a poisonous plant and drops it into Strahd's soup. I did not expect that! She’s being very proactive here.

The group is really excited and fired up. They are being very amusing.

Paultin gives her bardic inspiration. Nice! Nate is really sharp today. Strix rolls a 22 on her stealth... did Strahd notice the poison sprig?

Strahd picks up the bowl, dumps it on the floor, and puts it back on the table. Servants come to clean it up. One of them sees Strix under the table. Strix screams and turns into a cloud.

Strix seeps through a door crack. On the other side of that door is Strahd’s evil flunky, Rahadin. He grabs his sword. Strix leads him on a chase up the stairs.

Strahd has gifts for the couple! A tapestry of their father, King Barov, wielding the sunsword. Sergei is a man of peace, a servant of the Morninglord who never understood his father. This tapestry is a message to Sergei: This is who we are, this is who we have to be.

Here comes another gift. A gigantic painting of Tatyana. Strahd notes that the painter did not survive the experience. The painting is taller than she is and it captures her in an almost doll-like way. There's no life in her eyes.


Meanwhile, Strix loses Rahadin and sees Jesper (a bard apparently related to Paultin) creeping around. It looks like he's trying to quietly leave. Strix de-clouds and casts a spell so that she looks like Rahadin. Stirx/Rahadin demands to know what he’s doing and threatens him.

Jesper tells her he's a vistani and Strahd won't allow harm to come to him. Strix admits who she is. She wants Jesper to help the waffle crew. Jesper tells Strix that he's preparing a coach for the couple to escape with. Jesper says he is their only hope. Apparently the tarokka cards say so.

Back at the awkward dinner, Strahd tells Paultin to stop playing. Strahd starts playing the organ – a haunting tune that moves Evelyn deeply.

Diath makes a sweet stealth maneuver and crawls under the table. He snatches Strahd's sword. Somewhere in here, Rahadin re-enters the room.

Cloud Strix floats into the room and becomes solid behind the tapestry. She sets it on fire!

Strahd stops playing and looks at the burning tapestry. He tells Rahadin to get Sergei and Tatyana to safety. He sees that his sword is gone, and pulls a sword out of a secret compartment in a chair. He points the sword at the throat of the duchess and says, "Your treachery is revealed."

Evelyn decides to stand in front of and protect one of the couple. She chooses Tatyana! Oh no... Sergei's the one who's going to be killed. He’s wide open now.

Wait… Sergei grabs Tatyana and flees! Evelyn runs with them. Paultin and Simon run that way too.. but the exit is blocked by Rahadin.

Strix runs over and casts a cone of cold. It's a cone, is that going to hit the others? Nope. Chris says something about it coming down from above him. I must have missed something? That cone is massive (60 feet!). In theory, Strix could hit everyone and probably kill Sergei and Tatyana, just like Strix killed Ireena back at the Abbey of St. Markovia.

45 points of damage. Rahadin is hurt but still up.

Diath dramatically removes his servant clothes in a single sweeping motion. He describes this in a really hilarious way.

The Duchess throws herself at Strahd's feet and says this was all her son's idea and that she begged him not to do it. Wow, she threw her son under the bus. Not cool, lady.

The only image of Sergei I can find
Sergei and Tatyana head outside and get in the carriage. Jesper’s there, driving. They’re leaving! Rahadin stands in their way. Rahadin gets trampled by horses... he's still alive, but half of his face is missing. His sword is broken. He limps after the coach.

Strahd comes outside and calls his horse, Beucephalus. The group is quite amused at the horse’s name. It’s right out of the 1e Ravenloft adventure, if I remember right.

Strahd is going to chase the carriage! Strix stands in front of Strahd to block him from mounting Beucephalus. He stabs Strix with his back-up sword, doing does a total of 32 damage with most of it being necrotic.

Maybe the dark powers are already infusing him with power? Or maybe Strahd has a lot of cool items around.

Paultin tells Simon to dart the horse. Ha, great idea. He does! The horse is still up.

Diath draws Gutter! I think we just entered the danger zone. Diath stabs Strahd between his shoulders. Strahd is in pain, but still up.

It’s about time to stop. Earlier, the group glimpsed Strahd talking with Katarina/Madame Eva. Chris shares it with us, the viewers:

Katarina: “The gods have taken her from you. They mock you.”

Strahd: “What do these powers offer me?”

Katarina: “They can defeat time. They can make can make you immortal. They exist only to serve you, my master.”

Eva setting Strahd up with the Dark Powers! Yikes.

Overall

The group was so sharp this week, I don’t know what got into them. All of them were extremely pumped up. It was very fun to watch.

I really feel like DCA took a step up in the past few weeks in terms of popularity. The subreddit is getting more active, the view counts of the videos keep creeping up and up and up, and there are truckloads of fan art each week. 

If you’re not on the bandwagon, you should definitely get on now! Season 3 is going to be really great.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Adventures in Eberron - Strahd in the Shadowfell

George's work schedule changed and Jessie has all of these Korean music concerts she's going to (she's going to see G. Dragon) so we've missed a few weeks. Hopefully we can work out a new time in a week or so.

We did play some Eberron yesterday. I'm a player in that one. My character is a 10th level sorcerer.

Character Arcs: Somebody asked me about character arcs and if I do them. I don't! Usually that kind of thing works out on it own. I feel strange talking about a character arc in D&D - the character is not my domain. As the DM give them situations, they declare how they react to them.

It got me thinking about my character's perspective. My guy is a gigantic, jolly, hairy sorcerer. The wizard of our party is a basically a studious librarian.

There was a point in this session where we went to a (vampire) party, and my character started to live it up. I figure that the wizard was going to try to make a beeline for a library in another room. I gave her a big speech, something like: "You know, we could be dead tomorrow. Remember when I wrestled that bear and it kicked the crap out of me? Remember when I literally got killed by a troll?! You need to enjoy life while we have it!"

It added a lot, at least, to my enjoyment of the game, so maybe I'll rethink how characters experience D&D and what I can do to make it deeper.

The Dracolich: We were in the Shadowfell. A dracolich attacked us. We spread out and I got breathed on for 72 points of damage! It was horrible. I have 82 hit points total, so I was still up.

This dragon was a white dragon in life. I forgot about that, and cast cone of cold. It did absolutely nothing.

Thankfully our fighter does a pile of damage with ranged attacks and we were able to take it down. It kept its loot in big hollow gem containers that were buried in a grave. We dug them up and decided not to open them until we were somewhere safe.

We had what we came for - two feathers of the Raven Queen that would allow us to repel the pending assault. Orcus and Lolth are trying to get into Eberron!

Vampire Party: We start heading home and we find a carriage waiting for us. It's drawn by two horses and there's no driver.

We didn't trust it. I was in favor of us using magic to fly back to the portal. I stopped in my tracks and had a teeny tiny existential crisis. Does the DM need us to use the carriage? If we don't follow this lead, are we missing out on cool stuff? Would my character do what I want to do?

The DM pointed out that there's wine in the carriage, so my character jumped in.

We took the carriage to Fallcrest where there was a big vampire party going on. The servants were zombies. When one vampire mistreated a zombie and slapped its head off of its neck, my character got offended. I stuck the head back on the zombie and gave her a bad Sean Connery-voiced dressing down which included me saying: "You blood shucker!"

We met this mysterious first warden, ruler of the entire Shadowfell (?). Guess who it was. Strahd! Strahd with an eyepatch?!

This campaign is linked to events in our 4th edition campaign from years ago. In our campaign, Strahd killed Vecna...! Also, apparently, Strahd is a close ally of the Raven Queen.

I love D&D lore and "official" NPCs so I was pretty bowled over. Strahd tried to convince us to take him to Eberron with us, but we weren't having it.

We were able to get home. We fired up the D&D hot tub (we obtained some magic heat boulders from a giant lair a while back) and set about opening our gem containers. We decided to open the gold one last, as that probably had the best treasure in it.
  • Over 12,000 gp each
  • A ring of x-ray vision
  • Magic armor
  • Slippers of spider climbing
I've run into a problem. Attunement! I have too many items that require attunement. I can only have three going at once, and none of these new items feel like they should be swapped in. I guess we can use them when it seems appropriate, but we'll need an hour to attune first. It seems hard to make that feasible.

What was in the gold egg? A stinking cloud! I took 40 points of damage, dangit.

That night, there was trouble. Agents of Orcus had somehow gotten into the city of Sharn and were killing people. Mohrgs are undead with intestines that are like blood-sucking snakes.

Mohrg 
We ended up in a battle where we were all split up, each fighting a mohrg on our own. I thought that was really cool. I think I want to try to do that. I'm always wrestling with keeping encounters interesting and not letting it devolve into an exercise in number crunching. This seems like it would help.

I cast fly, grabbed my mohrg and took to the air. Nearby was a church of the silver flame, which actually had a flame burning in honor of their god or whatever it is. I chucked the mohrg into it. It was awesome.

Our wizard had a pretty epic battle inside - this band of mohrgs were breaking into the apartment she lived in. The fighter kicked the crap out of his. That's about where we stopped.

I really enjoy the use of Strahd, Orcus, etc. and I like experiencing Eberron fresh.

We hit 11th level, so now I'm getting to experience what it's like to play a high level character. It is really fun to have all of these awesome spells at my disposal.

I have absolutely no idea how these mohrgs got to Eberron. Maybe we'll find out next time.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

D&D Beyond


I've been meaning to check this out for a long time. It is D&D Beyond, an online D&D program where you can make characters, look up stuff and make monsters, spells and magic items. One of the guys who works here was one of the only survivors of the Chris Perkins meatgrinder at the Stream of Annihilation, which was pretty epic.

In 4th edition, D&D Insider was the best thing ever. You had access to every monster made for the game, and the character builder was so useful that most of my players never once made a character by hand. D&D Beyond seems to be the 5e equivalent.

Signing Up: When you sign up, you do so through the twitch game-streaming service. Apparently the company that made D&D Beyond is owned by twitch, and twitch is owned by amazon. I watch Dice, Camera, Action on twitch every week, so I should have signed up a long time ago. Here's a message I got right away:


I feel like a kid who just moved to a new school district.

Here's the main page:


I don't know what to click first. I guess I'll do compendium content.

Compendium: This is the srd. All of the basic D&D rules. The magic items list is gigantic! Very useful.

The rules I have the hardest time finding are the swimming and drowning rules. Swimming is right in the combat section. It doesn't have drowning information. That is in the "environment" section, under 'suffocating'.

Let's check out the monsters..

Wow! You can organize them by type, search by environment (!). That's very handy.

I just searched for underwater monsters. First result is archdruid! That's a little odd. But the rest are appropriate.. dolphin, dragon turtle, marid, morkoth, etc. I'll click on the dragon turtle.


Hey! It's got the art and everything. It's a little weird how they stuck the armor class next to the challenge rating, a little disorienting. AC 20! People don't use dragon turtles very much. The best use I ever saw of them was in the Pathfinder Skull & Shackles path. The group is in a boat race with other pirate ships and a dragon turtle pops up, very awesome.

This monster is so powerful that it's a bit hard to use until the group gets way up there in level.

Monster Creation: Let's see this create-a-monster thing. You can create one from scratch or base one on an existing monster. Let's see an orc.


Wow.. you can edit it however you like! That's really awesome.

Hey... you can see homebrew monsters. Is that..? It is! A massive list of other people's homebrew monsters! 28 pages of them! Let's see if I can find a cool one.

I'm tempted to pick "Alumnoch the pink unicorn", but I assume you want something semi-serious here. An amber golem! You could stick a vestige in there, how awesome would that be?

It says at the bottom that the amber golems are created by spellcasters to track other creatures. They are usually in the form of a lion or a tiger.

I think there is a ton of material I can use in my Planescape campaign. Let's make a list:

Alumnoch the Pink Unicorn: It has vicious mockery! Hilarious. The unicorn heckles you. Description: The pink gorgeous unicorn from Lewollyn soars through the skies with the help of his majestic mane and tail."

Ancient Red Hydragon: A hydra/dragon?! Whoa.. challenge rating 30. That's too high.. Demogorgon is what, a CR 25? Very cool idea, though.

Contract Devil: I worked on these for my guide to devils. I found it very hard to make rules for the actual contract. I think Pathfinder did it best. This stat block doesn't have rules for contracts.

Cthulhu: Wow. Also a CR 30. If Cthulhu is killed, R'yleh sinks back into the depths. I think that this monster needs a madness chart! Right? More than any other entity out there. Lots of fun details in this entry, lair actions and everything.

I skipped to the last page. The very last monster is Ysgrove the Unkillable, a blue dragon. He's CR 30, too!

I'll filter it for monsters appropriate for my planescape group. That's a challenge rating of 8.

Two pages of results!

Chained Angel: This sounds cool. Really nice description on this one! "These angels have been captured by fiends, tortured and turned to serve darkness. A pack of chained angels is considered a status symbol among the servants of evil." If you kill one, it will either reward you with a spell effect or become a storm of destruction. That's great!

I'd want to rescue them, not kill them.

Hill Giant Butchers: Do they have giant meat cleavers? They do! When in their kitchen, they get lair actions.

There are a lot more cool ones. Lava dragon, mindflayer corpsewalker, skeletal tyrannosaurus rex, treasure golem and.. The Mother of Squorms. What is that? Let's see.

The Mother of Squorms: She's a horror created by the pollution of alchemy labs. She has "horrid fertility", she breeds asexually, spawning dozens of squormlings after every large feeding. Well, I'm sold! Just the name "squormling" is enough to win me over.


Character Builder: OK, let's look at the character builder. I imagine this is the thing that will get used the most. I really don't want to hand-make a character. Let's randomize! I am going to make a level 9 goliath warlock. I like goliaths, I guess they're my favorite race. And warlocks are cool.


I need a name. Let's see, something stupid. This page has a list of craptastic names. Henry Cooldown, that's pretty good/bad. Or bad-good. Dingo Egret! That's great. Darkdeath Evilman!!! Wow. Trevor McFur. If I was making a tabaxi, that would be a shoe-in.

There's so many!!! Cream the rabbit? Let's go with Hot Coldman. You pronounce it "Cold-min." Maybe it should be Hawt Coldmin.

I have a 6 Wisdom! Why?! Hawt Colmin is not optimized. I guess and I can get into that. He's got a 16 charisma.

They picked my spells. Nice! I have counterspell to shut you down. Banishment.. contact other plane! Very cool.

They did my background, too. I was a soldier. I have a military rank. Soldiers recognize my authority and influence. I can requisition horses and etc. Officer Coldmin!

My alignment is "unknown" for some reason. They left bonds, flaws, and personality blank.

You have to pick equipment, they don't randomize it.

I can speak with animals at will, and I can disguise self at will. What the heck is gaze of two minds?

It's here. Wow. HaĆ¼t Cold'mynn can touch a creature and see through their senses. I can sustain this by using an action each round. I'm blinded and deafened while doing this.

OK. The builder is pretty great. Let's see homebrew content.

Homebrew Spells: Wow. Homebrew spells?! 27 pages of homemade spells! Let's search by "spell tags". Creation spells, please.

Clone Hero: That sounds cool. It's a level 8 spell that creates a hero that will fight for you for 24 hours. Awesome idea, but it is very vague. What are its stats? If it's an 8th level spell, it should be pretty powerful. Maybe like a blackguard from Volo's or something.

Dark Maiden's Moonfire: I like the way this one is written. You summon the moonlight, which illuminates the area around you. When you want, you can use an action to hurl the moonlight and do radiant damage. That's really great! It's a cantrip, too.

Remove Hand: "This spell lets you remove one of your hands and control it while it is separated from your body." Sold! 100%!

Homebrew Magic Items: This should be good! Let's do my favorite, wondrous magic items.

Endless Keg of Mead: It has 30 gallons, refilling itself at dawn. If it is not used for five days straight, it is destroyed. I like that a lot.

Traveler's Chest: A chest that follows you around, like a drow crawlchest. Very cool!

Headband of Goblinkind: You gain the goblin ability to disengage or hide as a bonus action once per rest and you can speak and understand goblin. But you can't speak or understand other languages except thieves cant and the Druidic language. That's pretty rough for an item requiring attunement!

Overall

D&D Beyond is extremely useful! Why wouldn't you use it? It's full of ideas for you to use in your game. I immediately saw a bunch of things I would want to put in my campaign.

Official Release: D&D Beyond is set to officially launch on Tuesday, August 15th.

Through D&D Beyond, you will be able to buy digital sourcebooks like the Player's Handbook or Xanathar's Guide to Monsters. The core books will be $20 for the first week of launch, then it goes up to $30.

There are subscription options:
  • Hero Tier: $3 a month. It's for players. It removes ads, lets you make an unlimited amount of characters, and utilize homebrew content.
  • Master Tier: $6 a month. The DM can share all of their content with other players within a campaign, so content does not have to be unlocked by every player.
I'm a little confused as to how the subscriptions work with the digital books. From what I am reading, you don't have to buy the books to use it, but the books add content..? You can use the books offline. I don't know if they are pdfs or if they are locked into an app or something.

My first instinct was to turn my nose up at people complaining about buying the books again, but I see that some people have already bought the physical book and then they bought it again on roll20! I can understand why they wouldn't want to pay for them a third time.

It's a very useful set of tools. D&D Beyond i definitely worth a look!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Dice, Camera, Action: Episode 56 - Storm King's Thunder (sort of)

Episode 56: Prime Evil
On twitter the other day, Chris put up some polls on that were pretty interesting. Check it out:


Strix wins! I picked Evelyn because of Paultin, and Drizz't as her fallback option.

Strix wins again! I picked Paultin because he had no problem eating the mother of Waffles.
Strix with a clean sweep. I picked Paultin because he gets drunk and I imagine that's very snore-y.

Anna cooked up some Lathander stuff:

That's when you know a player is 100% in the game. A long time ago, I ran an Al Qadim game where there was all this goofy drama between the heroes. One character decided that since he couldn't get with another character's sister, he was going to commit suicide. The player wrote the suicide note in real life and handed it to me between sessions. He was not a depressed kind of guy, he was just really into the game.

The next session, he got turned into a badger and he tried to kill himself by swallowing his tongue. The player was very insistent that such a thing is possible. The group had a big debate about it and I ruled that the bottom line is, if he wants to kill himself, he'll find a way to make it happen.


The Party

(Anna) Evelyn - Human Paladin of Lathander
(ProJared) Diath - Human Rogue
(Nathan) Paultin - Human Bard
(Holly) Strix - Tiefling Sorcerer

The group is in Barovia.... in the distant past, apparently! The dark powers want Paultin to marry an undead lady so that he can be the new evil ruler/prisoner of the realm.

Strix has a witch's broom. The broom's name is Whiskey.  We're reminded that last time, Izek threatened Diath and called him Lorcatha (?) scum. My headphones were all messed up so I got new ones after this show. These earbud things, I'm not a fan.

Strix and Diath appear in a morning-lit rose garden. They hear someone humming. It's "Ireena" (Tatyana - Ireena in Curse of Strahd is a reborn version of her). She's picking roses.

Evelyn and Paultin appear in Castle Ravenloft. A woman mistakes Paultin for the bard performing at the wedding between Sergei and Tatyana. Paultin plays along. She looks at construct Evelyn, and says she has one of those, too. It's a wedding gift. Murderbot?!! 

This mysterious woman's name is Duchess Dorlithia, something like that. I feel like I should know who this is, but I'm drawing a blank. Evelyn and Paultin are brought to another room.

In this room is a woman who looks like Ezmerelda. She's drawing a deck of cards. A tarokka deck! It's a young Madame Eva.

Evelyn says hello to Madame Eva. The woman says her name is Katarina, but she says she like the name Eva, she'll remember that.

A guy with blonde hair enters the room. It's a relative of Paultin's! He as a scar above his eye. Is this his dad? We don't find out this session.

Outside, Strix and Diath watch three people arrive at the castle. It's Strahd, his brother Sergei, and someone wearing a helmet (I assume that's Rahadin, the dude with the howling souls around him). Young Strahd's horse looks a lot like his nightmare. It is Rahadin! They dismount and talk.

Tatyana points at Sergei and declares that he is "dashing."

Evelyn and Paultin really want to see what's in the big box. Paultin makes a sleight of hand check and is able to remove the wrapping paper without ruining it. That's a very amusing use of sleight of hand.

They open it.. inside is Simon, aka Pidlwick aka Murderbot! He's not all creepy and evil, he's a fresh toy, well-painted. Clownish and freakish. Paultin drops to his knees and goes, "my son!"

Strix is able to figure out that the group was sent back in time by a god or someone with a wish spell. She thinks that they might be in a version of Barovia that is locked in time, replaying over and over. Aha... so maybe the Dark Powers sent them here? Or Lathander?

Diath and Strix climb in a window after shooing Tatyana away. Diath is less than thrilled to see Murderbot.
OK. Here's the tempter.

Strix thinks that whatever they do here will affect Barovia only, not the entire multiverse. The characters won't have to worry about being erased. They might be altered (especially Paultin) but no matter what happens, they'll know what they know.

Despite this very clear information, Diath is really wary about changing the timeline. He says that it might undo everything and the group won't know each other. He tells the group that they are more important to him than anything else.


Last session, we had a similar confession from Strix. Hmmm.

The group discusses using... the sword! Diath's sword! The Planecape sword! Evelyn wants it to happen. Strix actually throws it out there that they could use the sword to jump through the portal to Sigil. Wow. My mind is blown.

Diath does not want to use the sword, not at all. He totally shuts it down. OK. We're going to need to petition Jared and insist that he use the sword once every session. You can't tease it like that. It's not acceptable in any way, shape or form! I, for one, am not going to sit here idly by while the mystery of those keys taunts us mercilessly.

Evelyn thinks Lathander sent them here to kill Strahd. Somewhere in here, Strix gets a decoy name: Amy.

Eep.. Rahadin comes into the room. He kicks the group out. They see a magic lute. An instrument of the bards, the Cannith mandolin? I'm missing all of the important words today.

Strix goes to grab Eva's tarokka deck (Eva's gone). Strix sees the formation they were in.
  • Top Card: Two of Swords/Paladin (Evelyn)
  • Bottom: Raven (Paultin)
  • Left: Master of Coins/Rogue (Diath)
  • Right: Five of Stars/Elementalist (Strix)
  • The Card Between Them All: The Three of Glyphs - the Healer  (Lathander?!)
Sergei and Tatyana stumble into the room. They're going to make out! Is Chris going to roleplay it? Will he make the noises? No, they notice the group and regain their composure. Evelyn politely tells them: "So. We're from the future..." I died laughing.
Here's the marionette

Then Strix turns into Sergei and says, "I'm you from the future." Paultin helpfully plays dramatic music. They try to explain to Sergei that he's in grave danger.

Suddenly, a dart sticks Tatyana in the neck. Simon?!?! Simon did that! In slow motion, the group sees that there are three other tarokka cards on the floor:
  • The Tempter (??)
  • The Marrionette (Simon, right? Or Evelyn? Maybe the paladin up there is Sergei?)
  • The Executioner!(??)
Evelyn tries to lay on hands while Paultin quietly disciplines Murderbot. Oh no... it's the bad dart! The death dart! Tatyana's dead.

Strix polymorphs Sergei into a tiny mouse. So, will time repeat like groundhog day? Does the group get to keep trying until they get it right?

Evelyn casts revivify! Tatyana's alive!

Ugh, the noose. Diath will have flashbacks.

To prove that what they are saying is true, Diath shows Tatyana the Tome of Strahd. Awesome idea! Tatyana is shocked - she reads through it a bit, and now she believes the group. Then Simon darts her again!

Luckily, the group has set her up with a protective spell, so Tatyana doesn't die.

Chris points out that there's a third card. Who is the Tempter? It was the Duchess who sent Simon.

That's where we stop.
Strix? The Elementalist.
Overall

Good show! The players were really fun together this week. The chemistry in the group just keeps getting better. The group has a good handle on their characters and they're poised for all sorts of interesting developments. The show itself feels like it has a lot of momentum and is gaining a bigger following. It is very fun to watch it grow.

I am really glad that this is a long campaign. I feel like a lot of people don't get to experience 50+ sessions of the same game that often. I know Critical Role is on episode 100 or something and etc, but I think one of the best things about D&D is how deep you can go.

It feels like a real accomplishment when you get a pile of sessions under your belt. The players really get attached to their characters, everyone' s comfortable, and there's a million plot threads to choose from. I guess I hope this encourages people who can do so to go ahead and grind it out every week rather than doing a single session once a month.

What World Are They On? I can not figure out where Chris is going with this. Why is this happening? Chris did mention in the game today that nobody knows what world Barovia is on and he seemed like he wanted the group to leave the castle, although that could have just been to set up the next encounter on the way to the exit.

The world they're in could be anything. It seems like Greyhawk is a logical choice. Or maybe Krynn (from the Dragonlance setting), because Tracy Hickman wrote the original Ravenloft module and he was the co-creator of Dragonlance.

It might be the 4e Nentir Vale. I think I saw someone mention that the raven-thing that gave Paultin the severed hand was actually the Raven Queen. Maybe this is all the doing of the Raven Queen? She hates undead, I think. She's pro-dead, that's for sure.

If we're going to do Tomb of Annihilation for season 3, at least some of that adventure is set in the Forgotten Realms, so I don't think we'll be going on a long term trip to any other world.

Who Sent Them? It could be that Lathander sent the waffle crew back to help them save Barovia for good, but if Lathander could do that, he would have done it a long time ago, right? Maybe because Strahd is gone, the border in the realm is weaker and Lathander can extend his reach a bit more.

It could be the Dark Powers messing with the group. Why would they do this, though? Maybe if the group stops Barovia from forming, then the Dark Powers never get stuck in Barovia? I think the powers want to be there, though, right?

We haven't seen Van Richten yet. There's no vampires here, but if Paultin's dad is a werewolf right now, then Van Richten might show up to try to kill him. That will be really awkward.


Also, maybe we'll see Escher and his buddy Falkon. The group could have a chance to snag young Falkon and undo his grisly demise.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Running Gods in Dungeons & Dragons

Today I'm going to talk a bit about running gods in your D&D campaign. Gods are supposed to be important - powerful and influential. It can be tough to figure out how to best get that feeling across in a fun and fair way.

First, we'll go over the godly information in the 5e core books, then I'll yammer on about things I learned about running gods in D&D over the years.

Bahamut in his "old man" form

On page 10 of the 5e Dungeon Master's Guide, we go over the idea of a what a pantheon is (a collection of deities). There are two types:
  • Loose Pantheon: A collection of deities that aren't overly intertwined. There are temples devoted to single deities, and often there is conflict between the followers of different gods.
  • Tight Pantheon: This pantheon has a cohesive vision. All of them are worshiped, though individuals might "specialize" in one deity more than the others. One temple honors the entire pantheon.
The Godly hierarchy goes like this:

Greater Deities: They can't be summoned and are always removed from the direct affairs of mortals.

Lesser Deities: These gods are embodied somewhere in the planes. Lolth is in the Abyss, Bahamut is in Mount Celestia, etc.

Quasi-deities: They don't answer prayers or grant spells. There are three types:
  • Demigods: Children of a god and a mortal.
  • Titans: These might be constructs made by a god, the child of two gods, or born from the spilled blood of a god.
  • Vestiges: Deities who have lost nearly all of their followers and are considered dead. Rituals can contact them and draw on what power they have remaining.
Human Gods: On page 13, it says that there is no single god that can claim to have created humanity. Humans worship a vast array of gods. In my game, I like to say that He Who Was (a 4e entity who cast the first devils into Hell) is the god who created humans.

Empyreans

On page 130 of the Monster Manual, we get stats for empyreans, who are "the celestial children of the gods of the Upper Planes." The empyrean is listed as a "Huge celestial (titan)."

The stat block of the empyrean make for a good starting point when trying to figure out stats for avatars and aspects. If these are the children of the gods, it stands to reason that a god's avatar is at least as powerful as empyreans. Their stats: AC 22 HP 313 +17 to hit, 31 damage and the target must make a saving throw or be stunned.

Their moods affect the land around them. When they die, their spirit returns to their home plane. There, one of their parents resurrects them.

Clerics of the Gods

Cleric of Lathander

On page 59 of the Player's Handbook, it says that once per long rest, clerics of 10th level or higher can call on their deity to intervene on their behalf. You roll percentile dice, and if you roll a number equal to or lower than your cleric level, your deity intervenes. Once an attempt is successful, the cleric can't try again for 7 days.

When you are level 20, your call for intervention automatically succeeds!

Domains

If you are making your own gods, you should make sure that you take into account the possibility that a player will make a cleric. Make sure you have your bases covered. These are the different divine domains that a cleric might utilize:
  • Knowledge: Learning, craft and invention. This includes spells like identify, speak with dead and scrying.
  • Life: Healing the sick an wounded. Spells include cure wounds, revivify and raise dead.
  • Light: Rebirth, renewal, vigilance. Spells: Faerie fire, fireball, guardian of faith.
  • Nature: Forest stuff. Spells: Speak with animals, plant growth, dominate beast.
  • Tempest: Storms, sea and sky. Spells: Thunderwave, call lightning, destructive wave.
  • Trickery: Thievery, rebels and liberators. Spells: Charm person, dimension door, modify memory
  • War: Courage and might. Spells: Shield of faith, crusader's mantle, flame strike.
If you're stumped and have no ideas on making your own pantheon, you can make a god based on each domain and extrapolate from there.

Page 294 of the PH lists the gods of the different D&D settings.

How to Run an Omniscient Being

Follower of Tharizdun

Once you have the basics down, you'll need to figure out how you want to handle the gods in your game. I've always struggled with this. Are they omniscient? What do they know? How do you keep a secret from them? Can you keep a secret from them?!

It's very hand-wave-y and it can come off as a little too convenient if you're not careful.

Why Don't They Do It? Another thing I've always had a hard time with is why the gods don't just handle things themselves. For example, some mortal bad guy is going to pull off a scheme that will let evil dominate the world. Why wouldn't a good god just pop down there and take the bad guy out? Why all the omens and dreams and prophecies?

What I say in my game is that the gods have a pact of non-interference, at least as far as directly intervening. That's because it won't take long for two gods to show up in the world and fight each other. That kind of battle could destroy the entire world! Then the gods would have nothing to reign over. It is in their best interest to make a binding agreement not to set foot on the world in their true, most powerful form.

Avatars and Aspects

Takhisis from the Dragonlance Setting

From what I understand, it goes like this:
  • Avatars are a piece of the essence of a god. It is sent on a mission, and when it is done, it comes back and is reabsorbed.
  • Aspects are independent entities, clones with their own thoughts and feelings.
In one book, it says that Asmodeus can create up to 10 avatars. Once those 10 are out in the world, he can't make any more.

In Dungeon Magazine #111, an aspect of Asmodeus is detailed. This aspect is named Nyxthseht, "an aspect of Asmodeus that personifies the arch-devil's persuasive voice and fearful countenance." He commanded a host of bearded devils in the Blood War. In this adventure, Nyxthseht is trapped in an iron flask.

So the aspect has its own name, it is actively involved in affairs of mortals, and has limited power.

How Do Gods Gain Power?

Blibdoolpoolp, goddess of the kuo toa
I think the general idea is that the more followers a deity has, the more powerful they are. The belief itself empowers them. So, if people abandon a faith, that god is going down.

That's a little weird for evil gods. There's not that many people openly worshiping them, right? I suppose that the world has plenty of orcs, goblins, drow, gnolls, trolls and those kind of monsters to worship evil gods, though many of those races already have their own god.

Dead Gods

Tu'narath, city on a dead god

There's a whole adventure book on the topic of Dead Gods. When a god dies, a mile-long stone statue of the god appears in the astral plane, floating among many other dead gods.

These dead gods can be visited and there's all sorts of weird stuff on them - godsblood, atmospheric phenomena, etc. The githyanki travel to them often.

Tu'narath: The githyanki actually built the city of Tu'narath on a dead god. Vlaakith, the lich queen of the githyanki, calls this god "The One in the Void." The god corpse holds a spark of divine life in it. Vlaaskith tries to harness it and become a goddess in "The Lich Queen's Beloved" in Dungeon #100. Capturing this spark involves casting thousands of wish spells.

Having the Characters Meet a God

Iomedae, deity from Pathfinder
The best way I've seen this portrayed is in the Pathfinder Wrath of the Righteous Adventure Path. The group meets a goddess named Iomedae. One piece of advice the book gives you: "Deities exist beyond anything the rules say can or cannot happen."

The heroes are about to go to Baphomet's maze, a mission that will affect the lives of Iomedae's followers. Iomedae meets with them to evaluate them and give them aid. The meeting with Iomedae goes like this:
  • The area fills with light and the heroes are filled with a sense of pride and hope.
  • The group find themselves in a cathedral. Soft light fills the vast space and choirs of angels and archons can be heard singing.
  • If Iomedae wills it, anyone looking at her is forced to make a saving throw or they have to avert their gaze.
  • If a hero mocks her, a deafening trumpet blast echoes through the cathedral. The mocker is permanently deafened and must make a saving throw or forever be mute. This condition can't be removed by anything except a deity's will.
  • If someone mocks her twice or attacks her: She fires off a shaft of light from her shield. The character must make a saving throw or drop to 0 hit points and appear back in the world they came from. If they succeed at this saving throw, they are permanently blinded and appear back in the world they came from.
Iomedae asks the group three questions based on the tenets of her faith. If they answer correctly, they are given an artifact chalice, a spell-like ability and a thread from her cloak - a thing called the Stole of the Inheritor (another major artifact!). Each time answer incorrectly, her choir sings and the whole group takes 5d6, 10d6, and 20d6 damage respectively.

Pantsing a Deity

Church of the Silver Flame from Eberron
You might notice that there's a lot of details focused on what happens if a hero mocks her. That's because in a lot of groups, that's what happens! You need to be ready for this amusing but very tone-shattering kind of behavior.

When I ran Scales of War, the group met Moradin, god of the dwarves. The party wizard was an elf with a smart mouth. His character didn't like dwarves, and began mercilessly mocking Moradin and would not let up. I sat there and thought over my options. Would a god kill him? I mean... you're mocking a god, a supremely powerful being! How do you decide what is appropriate?

The first thing I did was to make it clear to the player that this is a god who has incredible power and that his character was likely to provoke some sort of retaliation. He said he knew that, and kept on roasting the god of the dwarves.

So Moradin decided to teach him a lesson. He turned the wizard into a dwarf! For pretty much the rest of the campaign, the dwarf-hating character was a dwarf. Moradin was hoping that if the wizard walked in the shoes of a dwarf, he'd understand them and stop with the blind hatred.

The wizard just kept hating dwarves. In fact, he hated them even more. Eventually he regained his elf form and became the god of magic in my campaign. To this day, all of his followers hate dwarves, and dwarves hate them.

Change is Unlikely: That's something that I learned in D&D many times over. Most players cannot be "taught a lesson," in-game or out of the game. I have never had a group change their tactics, even when their strategy gets them killed time and time again.

What I eventually concluded was that everyone has their own sense of how things should work, and they are not going to change those beliefs based on what happens in this game. If they were running the game, what they did would work. To them, I'm the one making the mistake.

They know that this is my game, my vision of how things work, so they are happy to ride along but they will never buy into something that they fundamentally disagree with.

Battling a God
 
Kyuss, god of worms

This one is really hard to handle. If the big bad guy of your campaign is an evil god, how do you do a final battle that "makes sense"? It's a god! How can mortals kill a god?

Usually the story involves some artifact that can kill the god in one shot, or some kind of ritual that weakens the god for a short time, effectively making them a CR 22 monster or whatever. Some campaigns go with banishment - the heroes get some device or spell that traps the evil god in some nether-realm.

That's the really hard part about using gods. How do you fight them?

Make Consistent Rules

You should decide at the outset of the campaign exactly what the god's capabilities are. What does it know? What can it do? What can't it do? Maybe it can see through the eyes of a certain type of creature, such as a bat or a raven. Whenever the god wants, it can scan their minds and see where they're at and what they're seeing. Maybe the god can speak through them or use some kind of power through them.

Maybe the god has an aspect down in the world handling everything, practically cut off from the true form of the god. The aspect won't have that nebulous god-power to worry about, it would be more on the level of the demon lord stats in Out of the Abyss.

How does the god communicate with its followers? Does it hear every prayer? Does it know what all of its followers go through and think about?

How does the god reward followers? How does it punish them?

Can the god just make an artifact - conjure it out of thin air? What about magic items?

These questions are important because players can tell when you're pulling ideas out of your butt during the game. They'll realize that this god can do whatever the DM wants it to do, so it's pointless to try anything outside the box because the god will know what it needs to know.

If you have these "rules" in place, that frees your players up to come up with schemes and scenarios to work around those rules. If they know the god sees through the eyes of every raven, maybe they'll have every raven in the kingdom captured and locked up somewhere. Maybe they'll befriend another type of bird and get them to scare off the ravens.

Spending a little extra time to clarify how the god does things can make your game much more fun and the players will come alive when they sense it.

Roleplaying a God

Vecna, God of Secrets
I see a lot of people lately getting hung up on doing a voice. Newer players: You don't have to do a voice! That's a thing on Critical Role - a show full of voice actors! Most of the groups I played with in my life don't do voices at all. You can do it if you want, but it's fine if you don't want to. You are not failing in any way if you can't do a good Darth Vader impression.

The important thing is to try to convey the specialness of a the god. You should come up with a few things that make the god special. Three things, probably. The god shows up, and what happens? Holy light has some effect, when the god speaks some effect goes off, and gazing upon them has some effect. Maybe just being near them temporarily enchants weapons and armor as the metal absorbs divine radiation.  Maybe flowers spring up in each of their footprints.

The most important thing, as weird as it sounds, is to be ready for goofing off. If you want your god to be taken seriously, be prepared for inappropriate behavior. Definitely warn the players that this god isn't likely to put up with fart jokes. They've been fairly warned... then do what you have to do, just make sure it's not overly harsh. It should fit the tone of the god.

Ascension

You should also think about how gods become gods. Is it possible for mortals in your world to become gods? How does that happen?

In my games, the characters can become gods. All of the gods in my world are former characters. Sometimes, when the character hits the highest level, I'll run a special event where the heroes can become a god if they kill a god. I first did this as a little kid. The characters were ridiculously powerful. The players flipped through deities and demigods. They picked out the weakest gods in there and asked to fight them. Sure! Why not? They killed them and became the gods of my realm.

That's a great way to immortalize your friends. One day when I was running a game in the game store, my old friend came in to say hi. I told the group, "He ran Thennrynia." Everyone gasped and started asking him questions. He went, "You mean my cheesy Drizz't rip-off character?"

This campaign had partly revolved around his character. People who had never even met him got to interact with him in a small way without ever meeting him. In a very tiny way, my friend was "famous".

To me, that's a fitting reward for someone who put so much of their time and energy into my goofy campaign.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Dungeons & Dragons - A Guide to Fraz-Urb'luu, Demon Lord of Deception

Today we’re going to check out one of the oldest demon lords in the game of D&D: Fraz-Urb'luu. I went through old products and compiled all that is known about Fraz-Urb'luu into this one guide.

I’ve never been a Fraz-Urb'luu fan. I hate typing his name out, and I’ve always had a hard time running bad guys who are deceivers or illusionists.

As I got toward the end of this, I found some really cool stuff. I missed a note in Out of the Abyss which might hint at an epic future storyline!

The Essentials
Here's a quick overview:
  • He was involved in some big stories in the original Gary Gygax Greyhawk campaign.
  • He rules an Abyssal Realm called Hollow’s Heart, which is a plain of white powder that Fraz-Urb'luu can turn into whatever he likes.
  • Legendary spellcasters Zagig and Iggwilv trapped Fraz-Urb'luu in a bas relief for over 200 years. Iggwilv interrogated him and put much of what she learned in the first Demonomicon of Iggwilv.
  • Fraz-Urb'luu has an extremely powerful staff that was stolen from him. He wants it back. It’s broken into four pieces and if someone else gets their hands on it, they could take Hollow’s Heart from Fraz-Urb'luu.
  • He had a son with a witch named Vilhara. The son is Tsojcanth, a demon prince.
  • Fraz-Urb'luu wants to kill all human beings everywhere.
  • In 5th edition, Fraz-Urb'luu ended up trapped inside a gem. Anyone who touches it goes mad.
Real Life

Here’s the real-life origin: In the original Greyhawk campaign in the '70's that Gary Gygax ran, Ayelerach (played by Mark Ratner) and Erac's Cousin (played by Ernie Gygax) had both obtained vorpal swords that were ruining the campaign.

They stumbled onto Fraz-Urb'luu's prison and freed him. The adventurers panicked and used a scroll to call on the god Zeus to save them, but he ignored their pleas. Fraz-Urb'luu took them to his abyssal realm, destroyed their swords and sent them packing.

AD&D 1st Edition - Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth

We learn things:
  • His face is beautiful but cruel! His head is large and pointed and he has blue fur.
  • For centuries, he was imprisoned in a bas relief visage in the dungeons beneath Castle Greyhawk. He speaks all "human languages" and is capable of telepathy.
  • He can gate in demons or "deceive another demon prince into believing he has been summoned to the spot."
  • He rules an Abyssal Plane that seems to be totally flat and featureless. Magic items taken there lose their magic!
  • Fraz-Urb'luu has a staff that combines the powers of a rod of beguiling with a rod of rulership and a staff of command.
  • The staff was stolen while he was imprisoned.
Monster Manual II

Mostly the same entry with a few changes.
  • When Fraz-Urb'luu summons demon lords, he goes elsewhere.
  • His realm is "alive to the demon's wishes, and shapes itself accordingly."
AD&D 2nd Edition - Faces of Evil: The Fiends

We learn a few things, berk.
  • Fraz-Urb'luu is an 18-foot tall hulking humanoid with blue fur and black leathery wings.
  • He has the ability to trick other demon lords into believing that they have been summoned by a mortal. This lasts for two minutes, and then the demon lord is returned to whence it came.
  • When a demon lord is summoned, it does not die when slain - it reappears in the Abyss.
D&D 3rd Edition – Fiendish Codex I

  • Fraz-Urb'luu is immune to scrying and divination spells/effects.
  • Fraz-Urb'luu is the demon lord of illusionists and tricksters. His mortal minions trick others into worshiping him and sacrificing themselves to him.
  • Since his escape from Castle Greyhawk, Fraz'Urb'luu has been rebuilding his realm Hollow's Heart and searching for his magic staff.
  • He employs succubi, lilitus and a number of chaotic evil rakshasas known as the Hollow Rajahs.
  • His cults are known as the Cults of Deception. A cult has about 12 members who eventually sacrifice themselves. They become prisoners in the city of Zoragmelok on Hollow's Heart.
  • His staff: A jeweled scepter of adamantine cast at the end to resemble five bestial arms that grip a horned and fanged humanoid skull.
Dragon Magazine #333

Again, Fraz-Urb'luu has the most annoying name to type. He is considered to be a "primal lord of the Abyss," one of the first demons to rise to dominance. He has been a terrible constant amid the writhing change of abyssal nobility.

When Zagig summoned him, Fraz-Urb'luu thought he would run roughshod over the mortal realm. Zagig confronted him with an artifact known as the ichor lance to drain some of Fraz-Urb'luu's essence. Fraz-Urb'luu snatched and disjoined it, but in doing so he released energy that stripped him of his powers. Zagig had tricked him!

Fraz-Urb'luu was imprisoned within the dungeons below Castle Greyhawk inside a massive stone bas-relief for over 200 years.

Powers:
  • Disjunctive Touch: Fraz-Urb'luu can absorb or negate magic effects with a touch. He can turn magic items (including artifacts) into mundane items.
  • Inscrutable: Immune to divination and scrying.
  • Item Master: He can create any kind of magic staff without expending resources or spells.
  • He can reform the appearance of his realm with a thought.
When Fraz-Urb'luu was imprisoned, other demon lords sent hordes into the realm and killed everyone. The realm became an endless white plain of powdery sand under an empty black sky.

The demon lords fought over his staff and it shattered, scattering throughout the multiverse.

Once Fraz-Urb'luu escaped and returned to his home, he was extremely angry. Without his staff, reforming his layer is very difficult.

Graz'zt, Demogorgon and Socothbenoth (!) all almost forced Fraz-Urb'luu from his realm.

He is building an army to wage war on humans. Fraz-Urb'luu intends get revenge on the entire race because of what Zagig did to him.

The Staff of Fraz-Urb'luu: A jeweled scepter of adamantine. The staff can be used to bend the will of huge armies. The staff has been shattered and the parts scattered. If all of the parts are brought to Hollow's Heart, the staff will instantly reform.

Powers of the Staff:
  • Enhances enchantment spells
  • Casts Charm person, command and suggestion.
  • 2/day cast charm monster, dominate person, mind fog
  • 1/day dominate monster
  • Ir has the powers of a rod of rulership
  • It is also a +5 weapon.
His current symbol is of a partially-devoured human skull with eyes in the sockets that can roll around.

Sacrifices to Fraz-Urb'luu occur once per year. The victim must be someone who has been tricked, preferably lawful good.

Thralls of Fraz-Urb'luu have some cool powers:
  • When a creature is summoned by someone, they can trick he creature into thinking they summoned it.
  • They can use magic staffs without expending charges at the expense of some of their “life force” (temporary CON damage).
  • They gain the service of two skurchur demons.
  • Once per day, they can turn an illusion into reality!
Favored minions of Fraz-Urb'luu: Succubi and skurchurs

The Hollow Rajahs look quite different from normal D&D rakshasas. Instead of tigers, they take on the humanoid forms of other animals. They rule and govern Hollow's Heart.

Skurchur: These demons are plucked and wingless vulture/dinosaur things that serve Fraz-Urb'luu. They magically disguise themselves as halflings or gnomes and become advisers to kind mortal rulers. Very odd! They have a power:
  • Touch of Vacant Beauty: They can enhance someone's beauty and drain their willpower/dull their intuition simultaneously.

Hollow's Heart: Piles and piles and piles of info:

The sky is black, but it is somehow brightly lit. No shadows are cast here.
  • Athawyn: A decadent city of curving towers and decadent domes ruled by succubi and skurchurs. The guards are orcs. Humans who appear here are eaten by orcs or enslaved by the rulers. The main ruler is a very powerful succubus bard named Nyrashlia.
  • The Blood Dunes: A desert of blood-red particles that are actually scabs and clots of dried blood. There are mysterious ruins here inhabited by liches, mummies and other undead.
  • Bonepus: A small town of 1560 fiendish goblins ruled by a crocodile-headed rakshasa named Rontakus.
  • Deathrot Woods: A forest of sickly trees that is home to demonic plant monsters, including 13 demonic treants.
  • The Demon's Teeth: A mountain wilderness where creatures hide from Fraz-Urb'luu.
  • The Drooling Jungle: A jungle full of trees that have muttering mouths on them. Lots of barlgura live here, along with massive basilisks and acid-spitting hydras. There are rumors that a massive nalfeshnee called the Gardener lives here, too.
  • The Flensers: Volcanoes
  • The Forever Gash: Land of white powder that Fraz-Urb'luu cannot figure out how to transform.
  • Harrowfen: A swamp of poisonous muck inhabited by hezrou and skulvyn.
  • The Hollow Sea: An ocean with many islands containing portals that bring unlucky travelers to this realm.
  • Karantis: A temple-city ruled by a gorilla-headed rakshasa named Kiltikatrit.
  • Karugoze: A raven-headed rakshasa named Liorkian rules this city of orcs, ogres and "fiendish gnomes." What the heck is a fiendish gnome like? For that matter, what would a fiendish lawn gnome be like? Humans are sold here for an average rice of 100 gp.
  • Magghat: Home to slaving sailors, ruled by boar-headed rakshasa named Magghat. Magghat makes disgusting statues.
  • The Red Rapture: A plain full of torture devices operated by vrocks.
  • Scarwood: Fraz-Urb'luu hunts this vast woodland full of feral tribes of humans.
  • The Spiral of Ugudenk: One of Fraz-Urb'luu's great enemies is Ugudenk, demon lord of worms and parasites. He used to burrow into Hollow's Heart and a massive tunnel to his realm still remains. The tunnel leads to the 177th layer of the Abyss.
  • Zoragmelok: This is where Fraz-Urb'luu's lair and fortress is. A nearly-empty city of corkscrew towers and twisted domes. The only inhabitants are Fraz-Urb'luu his consorts (high-level succubi bards, sorcerers and clerics) and humans tricked by his cults. Each of the deceived humans lives alone in a section of the city that has been changed to resemble where they came from.
Expedition to Castle Greyhawk

Kalystis
Kalystys is the daughter of a drow and a succubus who leads a cult of Fraz-Urb'luu in cavers under the city of Verbobonc. In this adventure, she's trapped in a hedge maze. Her ultimate goal is to become a full-fledged succubus. High level followers of Fraz-Urb'luu are given the ability to alter reality, a power she can use to do so.

Excursion to Hollow’s Heart: In this adventure, the group goes to Hollow’s Heart. The group needs find the three pieces of the Godtrap Key. Doubles of famous Greyhawk NPCs each took a piece and brought it somewhere for safe-keeping:
  • Murlynd's Double: Dungeonland
  • Nolzur's Double: Isle of the Ape
  • Zagig’s Double: Hollow's Heart
The heroes go to the Forever Gash - the area Fraz-Urb'luu can't transform. They come up the ichor shrine, a pyramid of red stone with a flat peak. Suspended in the air above it on tall tenterhook is an enormous, disembodied black heart. This heart was torn from a massive nalfeshnee minion of Graz'zt.

An outcast Hollow Rajah named Vajakilar lives here with tiefling minions. He's trying to use the heart to create a massive, undead nalfeshnee

Dungeon Magazine #151

There's a sequel to Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth in here. We learn that Tsojcanth, son of Fraz-Urb'luu is a demon prince! His mother is "a witch named Vilhara."

Who is Vilhara? No idea.

Tsojcanth is a 9 foot tall human with leathery gray skin and a serpentine tail with two poison barbs. His eyes are completely black and he has a steaming tongue.

D&D 4th Edition - Dragon #414

The Iggwilv-Graz'zt affair article has a bit of Fraz-Urb'luu stuff. It says that Zagig imprisoned Fraz-Urb'luu partly to teach Iggwilv (his apprentice at the time) how to handle summoned fiends. She took further instruction from Fraz-Urb'luu, extracting countless secrets. Once she had learned everything she could, she stole stuff from Zagig and fled.

Tsojcanth, son of Fraz-Urb'luu, was a half-demon who was disguised as a mortal for years.

Graz'zt viciously attack Fraz-Urb'luu once solely because he had been Iggwilv's prisoner and plaything at one time - a 'privilege' that Graz'zt no longer wished to share with anyone.

Dungeon #208 - Fraz-Urb'luu: Prince of Deception

Another Demonomicon article. It’s so weird how they did two of the same demon lord when so many have gone undetailed.
  • Orcus is worried that Fraz-Urb'luu might recover his staff. Graz'zt is trying to find the parts of the staff.
  • Fraz-Urb'luu has found the crystal of the staff, so anyone who wants to make the staff whole must get the crystal from him.
  • He likes to corrupt devas, as they are reborn in his layer as rakshasas
  • Some cities in his realm are abandoned facades.
  • Fraz-Urb'luu is saving most of his energy to be channeled into his staff when he succeeds in reassembling it. Upon its completion, the full extent of his power will be realized and he can use the staff to restore and sustain the rest of his domain.
  • The High and Holy Rajah: A rakshasa who rules a golden city called Ketilon. It is on the shore of a sea that connects to the astral plane.
  • There are four pieces of the staff: Two halves of the wooden shaft, a claw of adamantine and the crystal.
  • Reassembling the staff could enable a wielder to usurp control of Hollow's Heart.
D&D 5th Edition - Out of the Abyss

I'll do his stats first and then talk about how he's trapped in a gem.

Staff Changes: The staff of Fraz-Urb'luu is referred to as "the legendary staff of power" and it was "taken from him by those who imprisoned him." Hmmm. I missed this when I read this so long ago.

It was taken from him by Zagig and Iggwilv?! That sounds like a possible clue to a future adventure, no? Will there be a Castle Greyhawk adventure where the group assembles this "staff of power"? Probably not, but that’s a really weird detail to throw in there.

Many of his worshipers think he is a beneficent being and a granter of wishes. Fraz-Urb'luu delights in aiding demon hunters against his adversaries.

Hollow's Heart is described as a featureless white plain of white dust. So everything's gone? Did it revert to white dust when he got summoned again? His lair is the city of Zoragmelok, which is still standing.

Madnesses of Fraz-Urb'luu include:
  • I have intermittent hallucinations
  • I never let anyone know the truth about my actions or intentions, even if doing so would be beneficial to me.
Fraz Isn't So Smart: Fraz-Urb'luu had taken precautions to try to prevent being summoned and trapped again which backfired spectacularly. When Gromph's spell goes off in this adventure, his failsafe kicked in. Fraz-Urb'luu’s lifeforce shunted into a black jewel.

Gromph's spell was so epic that it actually pulled the gem into the Underdark with the other demon lords.

The Gem: When you touch the gem, you must make a DC 23 Charisma saving throw or succumb to a form of indefinite madness (listed on Fraz-Urb'luu stat page).

Anyone who touches this gem falls prey to delusional madness. While imprisoned in the gem, Fraz-Urb'luu retains his alignment and senses but loses all of his other attributes. This gem has an AC of 10 and just 1 hitpoint, but it's immune to non-magic weapons or spells that require a saving throw.

Shattering the gem releases his lifeforce, and he can return to his body in the Abyss.

Story Possibilities: That actually sets up some interesting possibilities. In Out of the Abyss, it's clear Fraz-Urb'luu might spend up to nine months down there. While these demon lords are trapped in the Underdark, their Abyssal layers are up for grabs! Demon lords like Lolth and Pazuzu can swoop in and take them, in theory.

If Fraz-Urb'luu's body is just lying there for nine months, all sorts of things could happen. A spirit (maybe a loumara) could inhabit it, or one of his hollow rajahs could use it to pretend to be him. An astral being could possess it.

What happens if his body is destroyed? Like.. thrown into a sphere of annihilation? Would he just be a roaming spirit? Would a new body form? Would he merge with his own abyssal layer?

Fraz-Urb'luu seems more interesting if he actually stays in this gem, whether he rules his realm or not. Maybe he somehow bonds with his staff so that he actually is the staff.

Now that I think about it, if Fraz-Urb'luu is gone, all someone has to do is assemble his staff, go to Hollow's Heart, and they can steal his realm from him! The hollow rajahs are probably racing each other to find the pieces.

Maybe his son, Tsojcanth, would take it over.

There you go. Fraz;Urb”loo{} is done.

Links

Field guide to Fraz-Urb'luu
History of Fraz-Urb'luu
Fear of the Dark - A DMs Guild adventure that expands Fraz's role in Out of the Abyss