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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Dice, Camera, Action: Episode 31 - Curse of Strahd

Episode 31: Let There Be Light
This is it! The final episode of Curse of Strahd. From what I understand, these same characters will be going through Storm King's Thunder next. That's assuming they survive tonight.

Mark Hulmes is back as Ezmerelda. She is the group's ally, according to the tarokka reading.

The Party

(Anna) Evelyn - Human Paladin of Lathander
(ProJared) Diath - Human Rogue
(Nathan) Paultin - Human Bard 
(Holly) Strix - Tiefling Sorcerer   
(Mark) Ezmerelda - Vistani/vampire NPC

Last Time: Diath got rid of his curse and Evelyn got Lightfall enchanted. The heroes are just about ready to kill Strahd.


The adventurers come to a room with furnishings made of bones (Room K67, page 78). Seated in a chair at the table is Ezmerelda. She has a hilt of a sword. The Sunsword! She hands it over. This is the last item they need to use against Strahd.

The group discusses who should have the Sunsword. They ultimately give it to Paultin. It's interesting that the group did not take the items according to what they drew from the tarokka deck.

The heroes talk about the little Strahd doll they have. It is empowered to defeat Strahd. Strix is using to use it.

The group takes a short rest. Paultin attunes to the sunsword. Here's what it does:
  • +2 to hit, +2 to damage
  • Does radiant damage
  • +d8 damage to undead
  • Sheds bright light (mood lighting for the hut)
It has some other things that don't get mentioned.


Once the rest is over, the castle shakes. The group thinks that the mad mage has destroyed the Heart of Sorrow, which means Strahd has lost some of his magical protection (the heart absorbs the first 50 points of damage that Strahd takes).

Ezmerelda says the group might have to knock her out, as Strahd can control her. Evelyn hugs her and Ezmerelda barely stops herself from biting her neck.

Ezmerelda gives Diath a silvered short word.

The group is going back to where they heard the organ music. They think that is where Strahd is.

There's a table with rotting food. The pipe organ is there, but no Strahd. Here's an old depiction of this thing by one of my favorite D&D artists, Clyde Caldwell:


Strahd is not here. Gertruda is. Diath notices a tiny emaciated man crawling on the underside of the table. Diath stabs him through the table. He yells "Evelyn, look out!"

Evelyn hits the creature with Lightfall. It does +2d6 radiant damage to undead. She does 28 damage to it. She sees that it is the vampire spawn from the church that was on episode 2. He fails his save and turns to ashes.

Gertruda says that Strahd told her that if she wants to go to him, she has to play dead. Strix suddenly has a great idea. Play "dead" on the organ. Paultin hits the notes D, E, A, and D... and a secret door opens. Wow, the group is very on their game today.

Paultin uses his charm to win over Gertruda. The group convinces her that he's a prince.

Paultin's Shadow: The adventurers go down a set of stairs past the secret door. Suddenly, Paultin's shadow actually steals the Strahd doll and flees up the stairs. It closes the secret door, which can't be opened from the inside. There's little holes in the wall. Strix casts gaseous form and passes through them.

Gertruda

She sees that the shadow is whispering to Gertruda. The shadow looks like Paultin with bat-like wings. It gives Gertruda the doll and tells her to guard it with her life. She runs as the shadow attacks Strix.

The shadow hits Strix and drains 4 points of her strength. She now has a strength of 6. If the shadow drops her to 0 strength, she becomes a shadow. Yikes.

Paultin shouts instructions and Strix plays the notes on the organ. The secret door opens. Paultin attacks his shadow with the Sunsword. He misses, but it recoils from the light.

Evelyn attacks the shadow. She rolls a natural 20. Boom! It is completely destroyed. Paultin has no shadow.

The group catches up to Gertruda. Strix takes off Gertruda's scarf and sees many bite marks on her neck. Gertruda drops the doll. They leave Gertruda here and go back into the secret stairwell.

Back to the Crypts

Mother's Tomb

The stairwell connects to one of the crypts down below. In the book, this secret door connects to an archer post (K11, page 57). I think Chris has modified this passage to get the group to the crypts for the big finale.

Diath sees that the door at the bottom of the stairs is trapped - it has a glyph of warding on it. Diath disarms it, rolling a cool 24.

They find the mother's crypt (K88, page 94). There's a landing with two statues and a shimmering blue curtain blocking the way down further.

The group messes with the blue curtain. Diath touches it and is teleported back to the top of the stairs.

Cyrus Belview is walking through the crypts. Paultin casts suggestion on him and makes friends. Cyrus tells the group that only people good of heart can pass through (only Lawful Good, specifically).

Cyrus thinks Evelyn isn't good hearted, which makes Strix laugh heartily.

Evelyn is able to squeeze through the gap in the side of the curtain. Strix dimension doors herself and Diath past the curtain. Paultin tries to go through the curtain, but he's teleported back.

So it's just Evelyn, Strix and Diath down there. They see Strahd.. he has thrown himself on his mother's sarcophagus and he is distraught. His weeping is interrupted by Diath and Strix arguing about trying to get Paultin and Ezmerelda in here.

The Final Encounter


I'll do this in detail for the sake of posterity.

Initiative Order:
  • 22 Ezmerelda
  • 20 Diath
  • Strahd?
  • 18 Strix
  • 15 Evelyn
  • 12 Paultin
Ezmerelda: Wants to try to help Paultin get in, but there seems to be no way to do so.

Diath: Diath tries to make Strahd talk to buy time for the others to get in here. "These tombs. Your parents?" Strahd explains that the spirits of his parents don't approve of the pact he made with the dark powers.

Strahd: I think this is his turn. He's just talking, not using his legendary actions or anything.

Strix: Continues the conversation.

Evelyn: She pulls out the Icon of Ravenkind. Evelyn compels him in the name of the Morninglord. She uses the icon to try to paralyze him. He fails his save. He can auto-make this saving throw with his legendary resistance, but he doesn't.

I think we're low on time here, so this is going to be quick. Strahd is perhaps so distraught that he can't shake it off just yet. Maybe he just knows he's doomed. The group has all of the items.

Paultin: He casts invisibility and is able to squeeze through the side of the curtain.

Diath: He casually walks around to the front of the tomb. He condemns Strahd for bringing pain to all of the people of Barovia. Strahd can't respond because he is paralyzed. Diath senses no remorse at all.

Strahd: Is paralyzed.

Strix: Pulls out the doll and sticks it in his face. Opposed charisma check. Strix rolls a 22. She wins! Chris is surprised that she rolled so high. The dolls mouth opens and sucks Strahd inside of it!

Evelyn: She tries to use moonbeam on the doll. No effect.

Paultin: He is about to stab the doll with the sunsword, but Ezmerelda stops him. Ezmerelda knows if Paultin destroys the doll, Strahd will be free and he'll reappear somewhere.

Ezmerelda: She thinks maybe the best bet is to take the doll out of Barovia.

Strahd is imprisoned!

Aftermath

Ezmerelda can never leave Barovia. She puts her stuff on the ground. She wants to be slain.

Paultin's going to do it with the sunsword. Strix insists on watching. Ezmerelda tries to console Strix and wow, Ezmerelda can't resist the bloodlust. She tries to bite her, but misses!

Paultin tries to cast sleep on her, but vampires are immune. Ezmerelda pretends to fall asleep to make it easier on them. He stabs her. She turns to ash.

Diath breaks the hag pin and throws it on the floor.

They leave the castle and they see that the rain has turned to snow. The clouds actually clear and the group can see the sky for the first time.

Then they see a glimmer of sunlight. Evelyn hugs everybody and says how proud she is. Strix points out that everyone's dead. Evelyn: "I just love your realism."

Strix thinks the group needs to give this doll containing Strahd's soul to someone powerful in Waterdeep. How crazy would it be to have Ed Greenwood on this show to play Elminster?

The group gets in the coach. The drawbridge is down. Light strikes Castle Ravenloft for the first time in centuries.

Evelyn wants to get Dee, whose fate is still unknown. They're not going to get her. On the far side of the drawbridge is a large elk. It's Mordenkainen. He nods to the group and runs off into the forest.

Evelyn summons Mourning Glory, who is no longer an undead horse. It's a majestic magic steed. Evelyn asks Strix to get on. She says no. She asks Paultin. He declines. She asks Diath. Diath gets on! Good old Diath!

Strix puts a note on a hag potion that says "For Izek." She leaves it in the snow. She hopes it will kill him somehow.

The others go through the mist. Paultin looks back at the castle. Takes his last swig of wine. Then he goes through the mist, too.

No waffles!

Back in the carriage, something emerges from underneath. MURDERBOT. He gives an evil grin right into the camera. He is going through the mists, too.

Chris asks the players to name their favorite moments from the campaign:
  • Jared: Taking the dark pact.
  • Anna: When the group fought the tree monster.
  • Nate: When he was Batman.
  • Strix: Everything involving Izek.
Overall


I really enjoyed the show. I can imagine some people not liking how easily Strahd went down. I can understand that. I was OK with it for a few reasons.

First, Strahd isn't gone. He's just contained. There is a good chance he will escape sometime during the next season, which will be crazy.

Second, Chris had to squeeze a lot into one session and try to wrap up whatever threads he could. A lot of people in the chat wanted Escher to return, but he didn't fit. I guess he could have put Escher in the dining room with Gertruda.

The people in chat also wanted Dee. The thing about Dee is that she can go through the mists and make a dramatic return next season (if she's still alive).

I think I would have liked it where this whole session was just Strahd hounding the group - popping out of the shadows and then fleeing just as fast. But Chris wrapped up a few important threads instead - Obtaining the sunsword, Paultin's shadow, Ezmerelda's fate, and Gertruda.

I am fine with it and I really liked this. It is so nice to see how the group evolved. The Waffle Crew has been firing on all cylinders for quite a while now.

The Participants


Nate: I was really put off by how many shows he missed this season and I felt like he wasn't putting in any effort. Something must have happened, because for the last 5-10 sessions or so he has been fully present and a worthy contributor. He found his role and got comfortable right at the end of the campaign and he seems to have spent some time familiarizing himself with his powers. What else can you ask for? He's been perfect for this last stretch and I look forward to seeing him stabbing giants with the sunsword.

Holly: She's really into the campaign and she has a great character. I'd say that Strix is a classic character. When Holly is playing, Strix pops into your head. You can imagine her. Holly knows her stuff, she puts in extraordinary effort to fire off Sigil slang, which is hard for even DMs of Planescape to do. I can only remember "berk," "jink" and "cutter" most of the time. Holly was the heart and soul of this campaign. She is playing this for the pure love of the game and I love watching her play D&D. She is really good.

Jared: It took me a long time to realize how much Jared added to this campaign. He was responsible for almost every one of my favorite moments. He takes things seriously but he will joke around when it is fitting. He has a tremendous wit and I felt like he really took the live game to another level. Jared was a courageous performer on that show and I was blown away by his ability. He would fit right in there on stage with Matt Mercer and he wouldn't just be one of the group, he'd be by far the most valuable contributor.

Anna: I don't want to belabor the point but, like I said the other day, I think Anna is the best D&D player on the planet. Not in terms of stat stuff. I'm talking about the things that are, in my opinion, truly important - the intangibles. She helps Chris run the game. She helps with the pacing. She is completely unselfish and she has the rare trait of being willing to make her character look foolish if it makes the game more fun. Every single session she is at 100%. If she's in a bad mood, you don't ever know it. Evelyn is another classic character and Anna is able to bring her to life in a very vivid way. If you ran a game and you wanted to use Evelyn as an NPC, you'd have no trouble, right? You could do the voice, you know what she would do in different situations, and hopefully you'd remember to have her summon her horse by singing a lovely tune.

Chris: I don't know about you, but I learned a lot by watching him. It is really interesting to watch him run an adventure that he wrote. He does a ton of great voices and it is fun to see the decisions he makes. I am endlessly fascinated by the way he lays out a session. He just does a few big things and gives each scenario time to breathe. While doing so, he makes sure it never drags. I feel like when you watch Chris DM, you get a good baseline for what you should do during a game. New DMs should definitely watch him. I still feel like if I watched this show, I could run Curse of Strahd without ever looking at the book.

Storm King's Thunder

I believe season two will see the waffle crew going through the newest Chris Perkins adventure, Storm King's Thunder. The group is 7th level (?). They could conceivably jump in to the giant lairs right away.

Chris has talked about running Storm King as if it were The Walking Dead, but with giants everywhere instead of zombies. I think that will be really fun to watch. I am interested to see which dragons he uses, if any. I'd also like to see which lairs he uses.

One cool thing is that we might get to see the homes of the waffle crew. Where did they come from in the Realms? Will we see Evelyn's paladin school? Will we find the portal to Sigil that Strix used, if there is one?

All in all, this show got better and better as it went and I am looking forward to season 2.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Force Grey: The Lost Episode

You can watch this show right here.
The D&D site has links to all of the other episodes right here.

I couldn't watch this live, so I went to Twitch to watch the archived video. It's four hours long! That is a long time. Was it worth it? Yes. It was really good from start to finish.

In the beginning, there were audio problems with Matt's mic. It goes away after about 20 minutes. It's not a big thing, so don't let it deter you if you have interest.

Spelling of Names: I am having a real hard time finding out the spelling/pronunciation of certain names. Here's two that I have no idea if I am getting right: Limolai and Dalyra. Also, Brawlwynn is spelled different ways in different places.
Delicious Hitch candy.

New Players: Speaking of the new players, there's two of them. Jonah and Ashley are absent. The replacements:
  • Emily Gordon is a producer for Comedy Central and she's writing a movie.
  • Dylan Sprouse is probably best known for his show with his twin brother on The Suite Life of Zack and Cody.
Good or Bad? I am a big Jonah fan. I think he's hilarious. I was wondering what the show would be like without him. It turns out that these two new players were really good. The more I think about it, the better they are. They fit in seamlessly and were a lot of fun.

The Party

(Brian Posehn) Calliope - Half-Elf Bard
(Shelby Fero) Brawlwynn Chainminer - Dwarf Fighter
(Utkarsh Ambudkar) Hitch - Human Rogue  
(Dylan Sprouse) Tyril Tallguy - Firbolg Druid
(Emily Gordon) Skirt of Snakes - Tabaxi Sorcerer


Last Time: The group obtained a piece of the Rod of Seven Parts but had it stolen from them. They are in pursuit of the thieves on a flying chariot.

They have the mini-castle prop that was used in the Acquisitions, Inc live game. This should be interesting!


A white dragon is bearing down on the flying chariot. It breathes ice and Joppa is frozen solid. He falls over the side! Dagny jumps after him. They're gone.

Brian is appalled that Matt kills characters of players who can't make it to the game.

The white dragon vanishes into the clouds. The group gets closer to the flying castle. Their flying chariot disappears and they go tumbling through the air. They land on the side of the castle.

Acquisitions, Inc.:The group is going to the place where the last Acquisitions, Inc. game happened. That's very cool. These heroes are adventuring through the wreckage of what the last group did.

There's two other people here - the new characters. They join up. The new players are very funny.


The Premise: This whole session boils down to this: The castle is broken into three sections, each floating separate from the others. Their magic is slowly failing. The heroes need to somehow get from one to another and get back the piece of the rod before the whole complex falls from the sky

Hitch has boots of spider climbing. He goes up a wall and spots a badly wounded giant. There's a bunch of dead Zhentarim nearby. Tyril wants to heal the giant.

The new players are a lot of fun and they fit in great. Skirt of Snakes in particular is very entertaining.

Tyril Tallguy

Tyril heals the giant. He asks, "Are you Lawful Good?" The crowd loves that.

The fire giant explains that indeed this is shortly after the events of Acquisitions Inc show. The Giant agrees to help them if he can. The giant could throw them, too.

The giant throws Hitch across. There's some Zhentarim over there. Here comes the white dragon! It freezes three Zhentarim.

Brawlwynn climbs on Calliope's back. Calliope wants to be thrown. They get chucked across, through a door and down a bunch of stairs. They end up befriending two frost giants down there.

Exploding Zhentarim


We end up with a severed leg, genitals attached, tied to a rope and thrown across. Hitch is holding the rope while Skirt of Snakes crosses, carrying Tyril in tiny animal form.

Limolai, the woman who betrayed the party and stole the rod, pops up near Hitch. She chucks a dagger at him. Hitch is still holding that rope as the two new people cross. This is nutty.

She shoots at him and misses. Crowd loves it. This is a great crowd, very into it.

Tyril is a baby hedgehog. Hitch tries to shove him down Limolai's throat! No dice.

Skirt of Snakes casts sleep and it works. Uh oh.. Brawlwynn kicks Limolai in the head out of pure hatred. This almost wakes her up!

Tyril still wants to crawl in her mouth as a baby hedgehog. He does... and then becomes normal size! Crowd loves this, hilarious. Nobody saw it coming. Limolai's head "pops like a balloon covered in whipped cream." Wow. Great all the way around.

Uh oh.. the white dragon is back. It flies into a castle and I think it gets hypnotized by that gem.

Auspicia Dran
 

The heroes learn that Auspicia is here. She's the villain from Acquisitions, Inc. and Omin Dran's sister.

There's a whole thing where Tyril uses his tan bag of tricks to give energy to one of the magic gems keeping the castle afloat.

The heroes run into some bad guys. Tyril kicks one of them off the side. Calliope casts suggestion on the other guy and tells him to join his friend. The group tries to persuade the guy to jump. Brian rolls a 21. The guy jumps.

The heroes find some frost giants that are chained up. They free them and make friends with them.

Intermission


There's about an hour and a half left. This show is very good. The new people are great.

MST3K: I think Jonah is currently filming the new MST3K show that will apparently appear on Netflix. If you're an MST3K fan like I am, this is the most insanely great news ever. I was always a Joel guy and originally I was going to skip this new show, but now that I've gotten to see what Jonah is like there is no way I am going to miss it.

The group is at the central castle, home of Stratovan. They burst through the doors with their frost giant allies.

Final Battle
 

A bunch of villains are in here, including Delyra. She worked with Hitch when he was in the Zhentarim.

Auspicia is here, too. She has the piece of the rod. The rod glows and wow, she turns into Miska the Wolf Spider. Miska climbs up the wall.

She's sort of half-Miska. As each round rolls on, she gains more spider legs. This is what Miska looked like in the 2e Rod of Seven Parts boxed set:


He's the sidekick of the Queen of Chaos, an ancient demonic entity who had the epic battle against the wind dukes. I believe Miska's blood is what transformed the Rod of Law into the Rod of Seven Parts.

Tyril summons a giant toad. He tries to ride it up the wall. Many of the Zhentarim and the Dran Enterprises people run away.

Frog Tongue: Tyril tries to swing on his giant frog's tongue but misses when he tries to hit Miska. It was a very cool idea.

Romantic Interlude: A giant throws Hitch at Miska. He stabs it and then uses his cunning action to run, duck a swipe and grab Delyra and dips her. Hitch tells her that he missed her. Crowd gives a big ovation for that. This is good stuff.

Calliope rolls a one and the strings on her crossbow/lute snap. Broken bowstrings on a natural 1 is very old school.

Skirt In Trouble: Skirt of Snakes is being held by Miska. She's right by Miska's face. She swipes at Miska's eyes, temporarily blinding it. Skirt pulls out some whiskers for Calliope to fix her lute with. Wow that's really clever.

Miska hacks into Skirts and knocks her unconscious.

Brawl Win: Brawlwynn rides her flying shield up above Miska's head and brings her hammer down on for a total of 23 points. Then she uses a bonus action and rolls a critical, killing Miska.

The Falling Castle


Miska rots away and Auspicia is underneath all the gunk. She says that she's sorry, and dies. A wave of energy rockets out and causes the castle to plummet to the ground.

Tyril has his giant frog swallow Skirt to carry her. That is really awesome. Skirt fails her first death save.

The group prepares to try to survive the castle's plunge all the way to to the ground. Tyril has a great idea. He is going to use his rope of entanglement on Brawlwynn's shield to tie his frog to it. Skirt is in the frog - her legs are sticking out.

The castle falls! It's like zero gravity in there. The group has a few rounds to do something. Calliope smartly looks for the piece of the rod.

Brawlwynn tells Hitch to use his immovable rod.

The Plan: Dalyra grabs the piece of the rod and tries to float over to Hitch. Hitch has a choice - her or the group. He ties his rope to the immovable rod and tries to throw the rope to Dalyra but it goes straight up because they are in a freefall. Calliope uses mage hand to send the rope over to Dalyra.

So the toad is affixed to the shield and Skirts is inside the toad. They're tied to the flying shield As the castle is about to hit the ground, they trigger the flying shield and the immovable rod at the same time. All that force is transferred to the rope and the toad.

Skirt gets ejected out of the toad's mouth. Calliope needs to grab her... rolls a 20!

Hitch is dangling 400 feet up grasping the immovable rod. His arm breaks! He's holding the rope with Dalyra on the other end dangling.

The heroes sail to the ground into the dirt. The group makes saving throws. 25 points of damage to Brawlwynn, the rest take 13 points (he rounded up!).

Hitch is hanging way up there. Utkarsh gives a speech and explains that Hitch loves Dalyra. Hitch isn't sure what to do.

Here comes Palarandusk the sun dragon! Joppa and Dagny are on his back. The crowd loves this. He says to Hitch: "You've done well." Utkarsh is genuinely touched.

That's where we stop!

Overall

This show is long, but it's good. It's shocking how smoothly the new people fit in. Every single player on this show was fun to watch. Matt did a great job, too. As the show went, he became more and more of a performer. He'd actually stand up and act things out. It was a lot of fun.

I have no idea what this intermingling with Acquisitions, Inc. will lead to. From what I understand, Chris Perkins is working on the new season of Acquisitions, Inc. right now. Brawlwynn killed Omin Dran's sister. Maybe we'll see Brawlwynn vs. Binwin someday.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Dungeons & Dragons - A Wizard's Fate by Chris Perkins


Today I'm going to write about the online game I ran last night. Using 5th edition rules, we played through an old Chris Perkins adventure called "A Wizard's Fate" from Dungeon Magazine issue 37.

As a kid, I flipped through this adventure and decided to run it when my group had level one characters in my home campaign world. Flash forward 20 years and I finally got around to it.

First, I'll talk a bit about this whole online thing, then I'll talk about how it went.

Recruiting Readers: A week or so ago, I made a post asking people if they want to play some D&D online. I am doing this because I want to learn how to run games online and get the hang of it. I am thinking about doing my own little D&D show.

There are a lot of adventures I want to run, and I think it might be fun to put them up on youtube if I can run it in a way that isn't boring to watch. I like the idea of running the hardcore D&D group that never skips a week and tears through classic adventures that few people have played.

Luckily for me, I got a lot of responses. Thank you to everyone on twitter who retweeted my request, especially Teos Abadia and Scarlet Moth. I really appreciate it.

I ended up with over 15 people, so I split them into 3 groups. I will run the other two next weekend.

Running Games Blind: One of the things I liked least in the game store was that there were a number of players that I didn't want to play with, but I had to. I was wondering if this would be the same way.

Quality Players: I ended up with three utterly fantastic players. They were fun, funny, they paid attention, were considerate, they were everything I value in a player. I was really bowled over.

There was a 4th player, but he had connection problems. I kind of assume this will happen each time, so I was ready for that. I'll squeeze him into a future game if I can.

Overprepared Again: When preparing this dungeon, I put too much in. I can squeeze a lot of D&D into 2 hours, but this dungeon has a lot of potential backtracking that can make things longer. I got into overpreparation mode, to the point that I ran out of time and wasn't able to read up on each character's spells and abilities like I wanted to.

The other problem was that I woke up at 4 AM and couldn't fall back asleep. This game started at 7 PM. I was almost falling asleep prior to the game, which really didn't help. I got through it OK, but I definitely wasn't sharp at all.

The Party

(Pat) Gurn Sirensong - Gnome Bard
(Joe) Zavagor - Half-orc Warlock
(Andrew) Finy Teetoe - Halfling Rogue

Zotzpox the Imp

The overall story:
  • An evil wizard named Elzid turned good due to his girlfriend, Erilyn.
  • Elzid's imp, Zotzpox, didn't like it. Zotzpox ended up blowing up his master and his tower.
  • Zotzpox is now waiting for agents from hell to come and pick up the treasure in the vault of the wizard's dungeon.
  • Zotzpox has Erilyn in captivity and will hand her over to the devils as well, for purposes of corruption and evil-doing.
  • A sage hires the heroes to obtain some of the treasure in that vault.
Intro


I started off with quick flashback things, which I like to do to introduce characters and to lay some groundwork for the upcoming story.

Zavagor stole an amulet off of a drunk panda-man and got a cryptic message from his demonic patron: "The gargoyle needs iron. The circle is wooden."

Keyquest: These are clues for the dungeon. There are three magic doors and three keys. If you put the wrong key in a door, horrible things happen to you. I couldn't see any clues at all in the adventure that indicates which key goes where, and I didn't want this to be just a guessing game.

Simple Clues: At first glance, the clues might look too simple (the group gets an iron key and finds a door with a gargoyle lock on it). But in my experience, what is simple to the DM is just one clue in a sea of potential clues to the players.

In this case, they were all over it. They immediately grabbed that clue and kept it in mind.

Finy ran into the imp in town, when he was buying the combustible agents that he eventually used to kill his master, Elzid. Finy actually did some dagger tricks to distract a merchant while Zotzpox snatched them and flew away.

Gurn met Elzid in a bar. Elzid needed help writing a love poem. A half-orc ended up dead and the scene was fled.

Hired: The heroes were hired by a sage to retrieve a specific item from the dungeon - the brain of Bigby's cousin. This brain stuff is taken from the 998th Conclave of Wizards, which I reviewed the other day.

I realized I was in Planescape mode, where we are very joke-y. I should have adopted a more serious approach.

The group took a rikshaw for a bit, then walked the rest of the way. The tower is in the city. In this homebrewed city, there are a lot of wizard towers.

Pollidemia

Cameo: They passed another wizard tower. They saw a goblin trying to trim hedges for his master, a sorceress.

They really weren't sure what to make of it, even when the goblin held up his broken hedge clippers, hoping for help. His master leaned out the window and called him inside.

This was an easter egg for myself. That's Pollidemia the Wicked, an NPC that has been in my games for 20 years of real life time. I just wanted to plop her in there and see what happened.

Bidam from my Planescape campaign used to wash this little goblin's underwear and give him baths.

The Hill
 

The group arrived at the exploded tower. There were dead bodies strewn upon it. On closer inspection, the bodies weren't scorched - they'd each been killed by a little stinger to the neck. These three goons were minions of a woman a few of the heroes had ties with named Dornella.

Almighty Zotzpox: An invisible creature began to heckle the group. Gurn thought a god was speaking to them and he ended up bowing down to Zotzpox. The imp was tickled by this. It was very amusing. For the rest of the adventure, Gurn was praising mighty Zotzpox and it ended up playing into the climax.

Zotzpox called the adventurers names and told them to get off his property. Gurn turned to leave but the group made him stay. Ultimately, the group found stairs into the dungeon of the fallen tower. They went in.

Sealed in: They walked through a hallway and accidentally stepped on a pressure plate. A stone block slid out from the wall and sealed the group in the dungeon. They didn't know it, but Zotzpox was in there with them, invisible.

The Dungeon


Keys: In this dungeon, there are three magic doors that must be bypassed to get to the vault. Hidden throughout the complex are three keys.

It's cool, but a little tricky. If a group can't find a key, you could end up with frustrated players and a session that goes in the dumpster.

The heroes kept finding keys and Gurn kept picking locks. Any locked door that he failed to pick was declared a "false door." By the end of the adventure, the group had given themselves nicknames:
  • Finy: The Living Skeleton Key
  • Zavagor: The Gatekeeper
  • Gurn: The Key Holder
The group's tentative name: The Key Ring

I should mention that the Key Ring had an ongoing gimmick where they'd give an NPC a coin and then steal it back and a lot of variations on that sort of idea, which was very amusing.

Pacing: This was a group where you could just sit back and let them roleplay, and it was very funny. I had a lot of material that I wanted to get through, so I cracked the whip a bit too much.

I think that in short online games, the Perkins Dice, Camera, Action method is definitely the way to go. This group would really shine if I laid out a session that just had a few encounters/scenarios, and each was given time to breathe.

Traitor: At one point, Zotzpox quietly appealed to Gurn. He wanted Gurn to betray his allies and join him. Gurn was in awe of mighty Zotzpox, but never really considered turning against his trusty allies.

Dungeon Crawling


The exploration went like this:

Antechamber: The group unscrewed the head of a devil statue and found the iron key.

Two Partially Collapsed Chambers: The group missed a bit of treasure, which was hard to detect. I hate missed treasure, but I decided to let this go.

Two Locked Doors: Finy declared both of these to be "false doors." These doors would prove to be quite vexing for the Key Ring.

Library: The group quickly found a secret door in here. It led to a large, webby chamber.

Chamber of Webs: The heroes ended up fighting a giant spider. Zavagor and Gurn backed away, firing off ranged attacks. Finy dodged a web glob and jumped on the spider's back. He gouged both of its eyes out and killed it! I am pretty sure one of those rolls was a natural 20. 

The heroes found another secret door. Inside it was a treasure chest. Finy, the LIVING SKELETON KEY pulled off another expert trap dismantle on a magic fire trap.

The chest contained piles of loot, including a magic sword +1, a wand of the warmage +1 and an all-important brass key.


Trapezoidal Door: The group found a weird door that has a gargoyle face with a key hole in its mouth. Remembering the clue from Zavagor's demonic master, they put the correct key in it. The door and the key vanished. Beyond that was a...

Smooth Stone Circle Door: Before the group could mess with this thing, Zotzpox attacked! He was invisible. He plunged his stinger into Zavagor and dropped him! The stinger is very brutal. 5 points of damage and then 10 poison, or 5 if you make your save.

Gurn healed him with a spell as Finy stabbed the imp. Zotzpox turned invisible and fled, heckling them the whole time.

I should note that I de-powered Zotzpox a bit. In the adventure, he has a ring of spell-storing that does a lot of nasty things. I got rid of it.

After fending off Zotzpox, the heroes backtracked.

Rats & Bones: There's a trap on the door. In the adventure, it says that armor and helmets fall on the person who opens the door, doing a lot of damage. I had trouble picturing that trap doing 5 points of damage, so I changed it to a poison needle. Finy expertly detected and bypassed it.

Gurn befriended some rats. The rats directed the group to treasure in the rubble. Gold and a chalice. They also found more keys! These keys opened the "false doors."

False door #1:

Summoning Chamber: The adventurers found a room with a magic circle and a scroll that could be used to send Zotzpox back to hell! The trick would be in luring Zotzpox to it.

The adventure kind of poo-poos the idea of using this to defeat Zotzpox. I liked it when I read it and decided that it was viable if the group wanted to try it.

False door #2:

Woman in White: Erilyn, the woman who had turned Elzid to good was here, in a trance-like state. She was guarded by a giant skeleton. The group's key-senses exploded. They detected a wooden key in the abdomen of the skeleton!

They defeated the skeleton and eventually snapped the woman out of her trance. She explained the basic story of what was going on. Two things I didn't make clear:
  1. Zotzpox had actually been trying to blow her up. He put the explosive agents in two perfume bottles that were meant to be gifts for her. He didn't expect Elzid to mix them before giving them to her, but he did. The tower blew up.
  2. Zotzpox captured Erilyn and decided to hand her over to his devil masters when they came to get the treasure.
She didn't know those things, but I probably should have conveyed this to them somehow. At this point, we were low on time so I was hustling. I wanted them to go all the way through the adventure, as for all I know this is the only time we will play.

Zotzpox vs. The Key Ring


The group decided to deal with Zotzpox. Gurn was alone by the door. Finy was hiding in the shadows, having rolled a cool natural 20 on his hide check.

Gurn lied to Zotzpox and wanted to subscribe to his newsletter. Gurn rolled decently on his deception. He walked Zotzpox to the summoning chamber, where Zavagor was waiting on the lectern, ready to read the scroll.

Zotzpox immediately flew to the lectern and plunged his stinger into Zavagor, dropping him! Finy fought the imp, keeping him in the circle. Gurn healed Zavagor, who got up and used the scroll.

Chris Perkins actually wrote out what the incantation was:

With tongue of flame, I send thee on
Thy journey into fire;
To infernal planes, I say "Begone!"
Lest thou arouse my ire

The circle flared to life. Zotzpox rolled his save. If he failed, he was sent to hell. He made his save - but still took 2d6 damage. He had 1 hit point left!

Gurn stood over him... and he hit his god with a thunderwave. Zotzpox hurtled across the room and was embedded into the lectern, dead.

Gurn was definitely conflicted about killing his god, but he never wavered in his support for THE KEY RING.

Treasure: Now we were way over on time so I hustled them through the doors and skipped the trap in the final room.

This room is interesting. It has hovering spheres that contain treasure, exactly like the dwarven treasure vault on Acquisitions Inc. season one.

The group looted piles of stuff, almost got killed by an iron cobra. They actually got a clue on how to shut it off but they didn't catch it - it was a bit obscure and I was rushing them.

They found potions, a pile of copper, scrolls, a treasure map, and the brain of Bigby's cousin. The Key Ring was victorious and boom, they hit level 2.

Overall

Good Dungeon: The adventure is very good and I did it a disservice by rushing it. This easily could have filled 5 hours or more. The danger with this kind of adventure is in knowing when to let the group roam and when to keep things from dragging.

Great Players in D&D: The players were fantastic. I don't want to get too soppy, but it is a deep honor to me that players like this read my blog. It really means a lot to me. It was an awesome session, a good adventure and the players were top notch.

The Best Player in the World: I don't know if I've ever written this before, but I think that Anna Prosser-Robinson from Dice, Camera, Action is the best D&D player in the world. I know some people will scoff at that idea, as she doesn't remember how many attacks she has and stuff like that.

The thing that I love about Anna is that she is cognizant of the fact that Chris is running a game and juggling many things at once. She actually helps carry the load for him. She keeps it fun, she is ready to smooth over any player interactions and she is in no way selfish whatsoever.

Best of all, she is willing to let her character look foolish if it makes the game better. There are not many people who do that. She is a team player, she is the "glue."

The Cauldron: From 2008 to 2014, I ran 2-3 D&D games per week in a game store and at home. I got paid to run D&D campaigns! It was an intense cauldron where I learned a ton about preparation, the little pitfalls of running the game and what really matters in D&D.

What is Important to Me: In that time, I learned that the key to a fun game is the people. In my opinion, the rules are a means to an end. All of it is junk meant to aid you in creating a story together - a chapter of a book or an episode of a TV show. If that junk gets in the way, you throw it out.

There is a danger in that. If you junk the rules too much, the game starts to feel cheap and victory feels unearned. A lot of twists come from how a spell interacts with specific creatures and that kind of thing.

I honestly felt that these players were right up there with Anna and the people I most enjoy playing with.

Follow-Up: Two things to note:
  1. Zotzpox isn't dead. When devils are killed in the Material Plane, they reappear in hell. He might get demoted for his failure.
  2. It is likely that THE KEY RING will be hunted by devils. They want that treasure.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Dungeons & Dragons - New Printings of Old D&D Books from DrivethruRPG

Drivethru RPG is a site that sells .pdfs of old D&D products. Now they have started selling printed books. When I read the announcement, my eyes almost exploded.

A lot of older D&D products are extremely expensive and most Planescape stuff is very pricy. The cheapest copy of the Hellbound boxed set on amazon goes for $174 right now! This is potentially a way to get a physical copy of a book that you like for much cheaper.

I don't know if they'll ever try making actual boxed sets, but I hope they do.

Protect Your Investment: If you own an expensive old product that you are going to use at the table, you might not want to subject it to the rigors of play. You also might want to buy one of these so that your valuable one doesn't get caressed by cheeto fingers.

Premium Version: I decided to experiment. I ordered Uncaged: Faces of Sigil, which is officially the favorite Planescape book of one Chris Perkins. There are two versions of this product. One is "standard," and one is "premium." Premium costs $12 more. Premium ones, I assume, are made of higher quality paper. There are no changes to the content.

I ordered the "premium" one. Know why I was able to do this? Because you people go out of your way to pay money for those .pdfs I made, so I have a big pile of credit sitting in there. Thank you!

Pricing: It came to a total of $31 with shipping, I think. I saw an original Uncaged on ebay for $30 + shipping. It's a little weird to opt for this new one rather than buying an original. I almost bought both for comparison purposes but hey, I'm not Mr. Peanut when it comes to disposable income.

One thing that had me very worried was a prominent note on the screen. It said that this product was made from a scan. I started to expect the worst.

Wait Time: I ordered it on a Saturday. It took 5 days for them to print it. Then it took 5 days for it to get to me.

Very Happy!

I used the flash on the camera so that you can see that this book is shiny.

I didn't have high hopes for this, but I flipped through it and I was extremely impressed! The cover is glossy and sturdy. They used great, heavy paper for the interior. The art inside looks fantastic! I'm a big DiTerlizzi fan so I am extremely happy. The binding seems secure and when I first flipped through it, this book looked to be flawless!

So this is an easy thumbs up. That said, the closer I looked, the more things I noticed. To me, none of these are a very big deal. I am pointing them out so you can decide if you want to buy one of these products.

By the way, seeing the TSR logo in the corner of a newly-printed product feels really good.

The Spine

This is my biggest bone of contention and, to be frank, my bone isn't all that big. Maybe I'm wrong, but I think they made up their own image for the spine. I took a picture of the book smooshed between "official" books so you can see what I mean:

It's between Hellbound and the Factol's Manifesto. See how it is cream-colored and has that weird font? I am pretty sure that is not what the original spine looked like.

What's strange is that I don't think it is that hard to re-create the spine using an art program. I did a quick planescape spine in photoshop. It took about 10 minutes:
Maybe there's some legal issue or something. This creamy spine sticks out like a sore thumb.

Off-Center

When I looked more closely, I saw that a few things were off. Look at the back cover:

Do you see how the "E" in Planescape is cut off? See how the central text box isn't centered? It wasn't noticeable to me right away. I've had "official" products printed off-kilter too, so this doesn't really bug me.

Chaotic Alignment
Check out the center of the book. See how the text is really close to the spine? You have to pull the book apart a bit to read it, which worries me because I don't want to tear this thing apart with my Herculean strength. It's readable, but it is definitely too far in there.

Wonky Page

This one page is a little odd. If you look at the border on the right, it's aligned weirdly. It's thicker on the side than on the top. It's actually thickest on the bottom. Again, to me this is a very minor quibble.

It Looks Fantastic

Check it out. Judge Gabberslug! I used him in my campaign a few months back and I want to use him again. That's a scan?! To me, it looks great.

One thing I should note. In the old Planescape products, they used shimmery gold ink in at least some of books. These don't. Not a big deal but, again, I figured I'd mention it.

Looky here. Cranium rats! They are statted out in Volo's Guide to Monsters. This will give you a ton of extra lore and ideas to use.

The full page pieces look perfect. Seriously, they did a great job:

Overall

I love this book. It was worth every penny. It's sturdy and the materials seem to be of high quality. If you are on the fence on whether or not to buy this, I say that you give it a shot!

I ordered a module just now so that I can see what that is like. It's The Mines of Bloodstone. Those bloodstone adventures sometimes go for outrageous sums of money, so I figured this is a good one to get.

Realms of Chirak is reviewing ALL of these products right here.

Friday, December 2, 2016

DCC RPG - The 998th Conclave of Wizards Review

In 2014, I ran a DCC RPG campaign in the game store. I wrote summaries of it on the DCC RPG forum and there were a few times that the people who wrote the adventures I ran would respond.

That campaign was a roller coaster. A few of my players really hated each other. The adventures were very good, but the campaign ultimately got dragged down by the group chemistry (or the lack thereof).

The people who make DCC RPG are awesome. At one point, they sent me a box of free stuff completely out of the blue.

Wizard Jamboree: Towards the end of the campaign, I made up an adventure based on art in the DCC RPG book. I had the heroes attend a secret meeting of a wizard society. In it, wizards from previous adventures showed up and I created zany wizard NPCs based on DCC RPG art.

The wizards would have spell duels, trade spells, collaborate on projects, have big wizard meetings, argue about stuff, that sort of thing. I tried to form something of a continuity out of the previous adventures and put it all together.

I thought it was a good idea and I considered pitching that as an adventure, but I didn't. A year later, out came The 998th Conclave of Wizards.

Who knows, maybe it had nothing to do with me. I love the idea that it did. This thing is huge and packed with stuff. The author, Jobe Bittman, did an incredible job. In some ways, I think that this is the very best DCC RPG adventure ever made.

Prior to this, Jobe Bittman wrote one of the best DCC RPG adventures ever - The One Who Watches From Below. In fact, my group loved that one the most, by far.

Bryce Lynch likes to say that DCC RPG has a reputation as being a "con-game." As in, people only play this game at conventions. I hope that's not true, because you can run a hell of a campaign with their adventures. They have about 10-15 adventures that are, in my opinion, as good as it gets. If you string them together, you will have an absolutely epic campaign.

This adventure is loaded with stuff that you can use for your D&D campaign. If you use the Forgotten Realms, you could use this material for the Arcane Brotherhood, a wizard faction that I know nothing about.

The Star Cabal

I think the main thing to know about this adventure is that it is overloaded with good ideas. I am going to talk about some of them, but I don't want to spoil the whole book. There is a lot of stuff in here that really got me excited.

First off, the cover is great. It depicts many NPC wizards who are members of the conclave.

The Star Cabal: A wizard society that has become a shadow of its former glory. Lots of squabbling. Members include, or included, 'famous' wizards who have their names on DCC RPG spells like Ekim from Ekim's Mystical Mask.

The group is invited to join the Star Cabal. But to do so, you must submit to challenges three!

The group needs to find a tower in an extinct volcano deep in "malarial marshlands." I think you could get malaria in them. The tower is a giant crystal. The heroes need to get past a "Prime Tentacled Horror."

It turns out that the giant crystal is a vessel that takes you into outer space. It brings the group to an asteroid city protected by a magic bubble. The city is called Ciz.

Robots: I think this will be the main sticking point for some people. This adventure has sci fi stuff in it. It is very easy to get rid of, but I imagine that some people might be turned off by it. There is a robot wizard and the city guards are robots.

The Star Cabal runs Ciz "...using it as a mobile base of operations in their epic battle against the awakening elder gods."

The city is full of "...star merchants, itinerant wizards, and thrill-seekers from across the cosmos."

We get some really great charts to make up aliens, alien names and pidgin phrases.

Prisoners of the Cube

This is the greatest thing I have read in a long time. I am going to steal this idea and put it in my game so fast you won't believe it. I literally stopped writing this review to jot down the cube details in my campaign notes.

Cubism: There is one punishment for all crimes in Ciz. You are put into a condensed cube of solid matter. And then... people buy you! That is so great.

Cube Auctions: The cubes are sold at judicial auctions. Wizards can "decube" the prisoners for a modest fee. "Bidding wars have been known to erupt over prison cubes tied to crimes of passion as families and other interested parties vie for the chance to mete out their own justice..."

Indentured Servitude: There is an unspoken social contract that the prisoners must be an indentured servant for a week.

Cube are also sold in the market. A merchant might say that his cubes are all full of good people caught in unfortunate circumstances and that they will make good hirelings.

You can do so much awesome stuff with this it makes my head spin. I can't wait to use it!

Exploring the City

The group will be adventuring in the city a bit. My favorite stuff:

Dastardly Villain: There's a chart of random encounters. My favorite: "Your pocket gets picked by an alien cutpurse in a top hat."

Another Random Encounter: Someone hands you a note that says "Pure intention is the currency of heroes."

The Planar Clock: There's a clock tower with a magic, hovering clock that rotates slowly. Instead of numbers, it has celestial runes. It has 5 hands, one of which goes backwards. It tells what time it is in different realms

The Mausoleum of Shared Experience: This place holds the brains of dead wizards. You can put a drop of their spinal fluid on your tongue and ask 1-3 questions of the wizard. This is another idea that is getting wedged into my campaign right now.

They list 8 magician brain, one of which is Emirikol. This is weird because Emirikol is alive in Emirikol was Framed.

Members of the Star Cabal: The two that I like the most are the wizard with the three-eyed cat and the wizard who has a magic ring on every finger. He actually grew a sixth finger on each hand so that he could wear more rings.

The Adventure


Amidst all of this stuff is an adventure. The wizards are all competing, trying to find an artifact called the Baton of Perpetual Light. It was in the possession of a wizard named Reynard, who disappeared.

The adventurers will explore some wizard towers and ultimately go to a weird realm to face a very powerful bad guy. I don't want to spoil it, but it is pretty cool.

Also, they fight "terrordactyls," which makes me laugh.

I should probably note this. I HATE this advice:

If that is too small to read, what it says is that there is a major plot point in this adventure that is not determined. They want you to get your players speculating on what is going on and then steal their ideas.

In my experience, if you do this, players figure it out and they stop trusting you. They clam up in crucial situations, afraid to talk strategy in front of the DM, because the DM has shown a willingness to use their own ideas against them. The game takes on an adversarial vibe.

If I am running a game and a player blurts out an awesome idea, I stop the game and ask them, "Do you want to do that? I really like that idea." Then we go from there. 

Overall

I love this module. There is a ton of useful stuff. This is pretty much a city supplement and an adventure at the same time. They really squeezed a lot of content into each page without making it feel like a chore to read.

This is not one you can pick up and run. You need to read it first and plan a bit. This adventure has a lot of charts, which will grind the game to a halt if rolled at the table.

I think if you were to run this, you should pick stuff off of the charts in advance and have them ready. So, make some aliens, choose some random encounters and flesh them out a bit, pick out a wizards tower, that kind of thing.

This adventure is great and if it sounds like your thing, you should definitely check it out.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Dungeons & Dragons - Come Play Online with Me


I liked playing Eberron online, so I've decided to try running some online games. If you are interested, email me: powerscorerpg@gmail.com.

I am running one this Saturday at 7 PM EST and I'd like 2 more people, so if you can make that, let me know. 1st level characters, I'm running an old Chris Perkins adventure converted to 5e.

I think what I'd like to do is run a few games and get the hang of what it is like. Once I feel comfortable, I have two old mega-adventures I am going to convert to 5e and make a campaign out of. I think I might record them and put them on youtube.

So if you want to be a part of that, let me know!

A few things about my style:
  • The sessions will be 2 hours long. I like to keep it short.
  • I'll be using google hangouts. I think I will try Roll20 at some point.
  • I am very loose with the rules, so if you're a min/maxer or a rules-oriented person you won't like it.
  • I don't care if you're new to the game, all I care about is that you are considerate to everyone and are a team player.
  • I am very joke-y but I take the game serious.
  • I don't like to stop the game to look stuff up, so often I just make a call and look it up later.
  • I will write about these games in this blog. Just so you know!
  • It will be set in my homebrew world that I've been using for 25 years.
  • Try and have your main stats handy - especially your spell attack bonus and your DC. I try to keep things moving.
I hope to hear from you! I am really interested to see how this turns out, or if it will even work at all.


Also, the Force Grey special live show is this Monday. If you live in or near LA, you can get free tickets. I am told they will be giving out a free 32 page adventure and a poster to everyone. I tried to find out what the adventure is, but had no luck.