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Friday, August 26, 2016

Dungeons & Dragons - Pacing Your Game


Storm King: I just want to mention that I've been updating the guide to Storm King's Thunder with the free previews wizards has been putting out. You might want to check those out. Storm King's Thunder is out in game stores and it will be out in major stores in September. I'll probably go and buy it in a week or so at my friend's store and then I will get to work on the full guide.

Pathfinder Art: I have been going through my Pathfinder humble bundle stuff and I decided to use art in this post from Ultimate Magic and Ultimate Campaign. I think I want to use their iconic NPC Seoni in my Planescape campaign. She is so cool-looking.

Pacing: Now I am going to attempt to talk about pacing when you are running a game of D&D. I'll try to give advice and notes, but please remember that all of this is just my opinion. Feel free to throw it in the garbage if it doesn't suit you.

Every single DM has their own style and what works for one might not work for another. You should always play to your strengths and do your best to hide your weaknesses.

Here are the topics I'm going to cover:
  • Lingering in Town
  • Travel
  • You Will Get Less Done Than You Think You Will
  • Combat Preparedness
  • Filler Sessions
  • Monitoring Your Players
  • What Pacing is All About
 

Pacing Defined: One of the things that DMs new and old struggle with in D&D is pacing. When I say "pacing," I am referring to the flow of the game and most of all, how much table time is wasted. The tricky thing is that I think what constitutes "wasted time" varies from group to group.

I have been obsessed with "Getting things done" since the beginning of fourth edition, where we would play for 5 hours a week and I was bound and determined to get five encounters done in each session. After years of that behavior it is permanently burned into my brain.

Letting the Group Linger


This is something I really don't like. Some DMs will let their group sit in a town and just wait for them to take initiative to do something. Often, the players aren't sure what they are "supposed" to do and they kind of feel around or sit there in confused silence. Sometimes they get bored and attack each other or the town.

That kind of thing is dangerous not because the town burned down (that seems like that would be fun to play through) but because you are boring your players. That's how you lose them!

Our Job: Often this kind of thing happens when the dungeon master isn't prepared. The DM needs to fill a four hour session and they are kind of hoping the players will generate their own adventure. That might be a fun experiment to do once, but our job as DMs is to be prepared. That's our responsibility and that's why so few people want to be a DM.

I know there are a lot of DMs out there who just wing it. That's fine! But you should have a backup strategy or scheme in mind in case you are running the game and you are drawing a blank. In a way, you have to prepare for being unprepared.

Travel

This one trips up new DMs a lot. The characters have a week-long journey and the DM will kind of struggle with when to play a scene and when to "fast forward."

Here's what I do. I tell the players the weather, the terrain, a few flavor things. I might have an NPC say something to see what the group does with it. Then, I'll ask, "Does anyone want to do anything special?"

When they say no, we move into fast forward or montage mode, which basically is: "You travel for X hours, and then..."

Red Herring: Usually on a trip I ask the group to tell me their camping setup, even if I don't have any overnight encounters planned. That way, they won't pick up on the fact that you only ask them about their camping setup when you do have a night time encounter planned.

On trips, I always try to cook up a few tiny flavor moments to help drive home the setting and to make the players feel into it. Something like the group spotting a harmless, wounded animal. This gives the players a chance to display what their characters personalities are like.

I heartily recommend coming up with a travel montage, possibly based on a montage from an 80's movie. I did this a lot in 4e for skill challenges, and it was always a success. Also, if you can somehow work out a workout montage based on the one from Rocky 4, you have my eternal respect.

You ultimately want to give them the "D&D feeling," and the little touches go a really long way towards accomplishing that. You want to help them imagine their character and where they are.

Combat Preparedness


I am a big believer in preparedness, especially when it comes to combat. In my opinion, prior to the game you should read up on the monsters you are going to use and especially the spells you want to use.

Looking up spells is the single biggest cause of slowdown, in my opinion. You should write down the page numbers in advance, at the very least.

This goes for players, too. The thing I've noticed the most is that players tend to not know their DC and spell attack bonus. We want to keep things moving rather than stopping everything to figure it out. It might sound like a small thing, but it adds up really quick.

I think players should write down the page number of every spell their character has. Personally, I write down a page number and a shorthand description of every spell my character has on a piece of paper. That way, it's all right there and we can look up the spell if there's some question about a specific effect.

You Get Less Done Than You Think You Will


Almost every session, I am amazed that we only did one or two things in the game. Time really flies when you are DMing. In my last Planescape session, we basically did a few little things and one sprawling encounter in the plane of Limbo. I looked at the clock and I was astonished. We were already done.

That's OK. The pacing wasn't a problem. We ate up a lot of time on that one encounter because we zoomed in.

What I mean by "zoomed in" is that I really tried to give lots of detail and flavor. In real life, I have this little pirate ship scaled for D&D minis, so we used it (the group is flying a pirate ship through Limbo). So we've got the minis, the ship, and the encounter started out with a negotiation with a genie that went south. All that stuff eats up time.

Really, the key to pacing is to know when to fast forward and when to zoom in. When you aren't sure if you should move along to the next thing in your adventure, just ask the group, "Do you do anything special here, or should we move forward?"

Weirdly enough, to a degree, your group actually controls the pacing of the D&D game.

Shopping

I have seen groups that have entire sessions where they do nothing but buy things in town. They roleplay out every conversation with an NPC shopkeep or bartender. If that's the group's thing and they like, then there's no problem. I think that could be fun once or twice, but I wouldn't that to be the norm.

When you have a D&D session, you should treat it as special. You got 5 people to come over to your house and commit a few hours of their time. I would honestly say that more than half of the campaigns I've seen collapse within about 7 sessions due to one reason or another (usually either a group chemistry problem or the DM is having trouble).

So, if you have a game where players actually show up every single week, or month, or whatever, you're already doing better than a lot of people. You should keep in mind that you are lucky, and obviously you are doing a good job.

To me, each session is special. Fun things should happen. You want to make it worth everybody's time. If you have a few flat sessions in a row, you might start losing player interest. To me, a "shopping session" is a flat session. If I was player, I'd see it as a waste of time. I'd also suspect that the DM didn't prepare and is trying to filibuster an entire session, which to me is bogus.

Every Campaign Sags: I should note that most, if not every campaign out there has a "malaise" period. Once the shine of the new campaign wears off, the game starts to feel stale. That's not the same as a flat session, that's just the quagmire that DMs have to deal with and overcome.

The best way to battle campaign fatigue is to shake things up in a big way. Don't junk your campaign, just throw in a twist or an unexpected scenario. You don't need to start killing NPCs left and right, really it's more about variety. If you have a whole bunch of sessions where the group is in the same place fighting undead, you could have them fall through a vortex to some other realm that they need to get out of before the undead threat that they were battling reaches their town or kingdom or whatever.

Sometimes malaise also occurs because of your style. It's easy to lose perspective as a DM. Once players "see the invisible walls" of your campaign, the game loses some of its luster.

You Will Be Exposed: That will happen every single time you get a new player. About ten sessions in, the player will see your limitations as a DM. They'll get a peek behind the curtain and deflate a bit, maybe just even in a subconscious manner.

That's OK! It's a natural thing. I was so relieved when I watched Chris Perkins and Matt Mercer DM. We're all in the same boat. Being a DM requires a huge amount of multi-tasking. You literally can not do all the things you need to do at once. So you have pick your priorities and, to me, that defines your DMing style.

As an example, if we're in the middle of an encounter and a question comes up about a monster's power or some trait of a plane, I'll usually make a call right there and look it up after the game. I prioritize the flow of the game over rules accuracy.

For my type of game, the rules are a tool - they are just one part of the D&D experience. My focus is on the group and their hijinks. I will gladly junk a rule if someone has a good idea, particularly if a character wants to do some wacky maneuver in a combat situation that technically they couldn't achieve in a round.

I know other people are different. They will stop and look up the rule. Those people are prioritizing rules accuracy over the flow of the game. Their choice isn't worse or better than mine. It depends on what the group wants out of the game.

There's a lot of groups that are all about combat, gaining levels and treasure. In some of these groups, the players don't even know the names of the other characters. Some characters might not even have a name, they're just "Mike's Fighter."

That is not a problem unless the players decide it is a problem.

What Pacing is All About

I think what pacing is really all about is avoiding boredom. What is boring to one person is interesting to another. So you have to read your group at the table. You want everyone engaged. Sometimes certain types of players won't be engaged and they might look bored, but they are not. It's a tricky thing. Just do the best you can. Identify the things that bore the players and avoid them.

Human Nature: A lot of people have 4 hour sessions. Some are even longer. Human beings rarely have the capacity to laugh or be excited for an entire 4 hours. You will notice an ebb and flow as far as mood goes at the table.

If you watched episode 12 of Acquisitions Inc., you might notice that the group is a little giddy and they are very loose. That happens a lot in longer sessions. I think it's just how humans are. I suspect that there comes a point in a session where each person becomes relaxed, comfortable, and a bit mentally fatigued. They become more comfortable in their own skin.

So keep in mind that you can't control the mood of the group. Sometimes their reactions have absolutely nothing to do with the game and it's just a biological thing.

Your Enemy: What you can control is what is going on in the game. In my opinion, you should be more than willing to cut a combat short if it gets boring and ultimately meaningless. You don't necessarily have to just declare "You kill it," and move on. You could have the villain surrender or run away.

Always remember what really matters. Don't get married to certain encounters, NPCs or scenarios. You should think about what your players enjoy and what is important to them. We're trying to entertain them as well as ourselves. Indulge them!

The whole point of the game is to have fun. Stay loose and fair-minded. Our job is not easy at all but if you're like me, you will find it very rewarding.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Acquisitions Incorporated: The Series - Episode 12


You can watch this on youtube here.

I got the impression that something big happens in this series, and I assumed that meant that somebody dies. I don't know if that is true or not, but we should find out soon enough.

Are these characters "canon"? Is there a "canon"? Do the things they do in the Realms count? For example, if these characters killed Lord Neverember, would he be referred to as dead in future books and supplements? They should be, IMO.

They should make minis for these characters. It feels wrong to see the players using generic minis. Jim Darkmagic is represented by a Strahd mini.

The Party

(Jerry) Omin Dran - Half-Elf Cleric
(Mike) Jim Darkmagic - Human Wizard
(Scott) Binwin Bronzebottom - Dwarf Fighter/Barbarian
(Patrick) Viari - Human Rogue   

Last Time: The group had a massive battle with frost giants. They are allied with the rival organization known as Dran Enterprises, but there is a lot of tension between Jim Darkmagic and his brother, Percival.

Binwin is healed by the rod for 70 points.

The bad guys are defeated. And here comes another one! Chris plops the gargantuan white dragon mini on the table. Some of the group is worried, as they have already used a lot of spells and resources. Binwin isn't worried. He says the group has killed plenty of dragons before.

Jim tries to cast a spell off of a scroll and fails. Flabbergast the NPC wizard says something and Jim threatens his cat.

Binwin uses the wand of wonder! He targets the dragon. Grass grows in a 60 foot radius around the dragon.

The group rolls badly. The dragon uses his frightful presence. Viari and Binwin are frightened. Binwin uses the wand again. Weeds grow out from the dragon's scales.

Omin tries to cast banish, which would send the dragon to a demiplane for one minute. The dragon uses legendary resistance to succeed on the saving throw. The group likes the wording of the ability. They think "choose to succeed" is something Trump would say.


Binwin is down to one hit point from a wing buffet. He second winds to heal a bit, and then he uses the wand again. He summons a rat. Man, he is not rolling well. Nobody is!

The dragon bites and claws Binwin. Binwin is down and dying. Jim is down to one 1st level spell.

NPC Kylo Ren comes over to lay on hands on Binwin. Double cross! Kylo snatches the piece of the rod. No healing. The group is outraged.

The dragon breathes on Binwin, Viari and Kylo. Both fail! They each take 54 cold damage. Binwin is down, Viari has five hit points. Kylo takes damage but has some kind of resistance going.

Jim uses a bead of fireball and does a nice pile of damage to the dragon.

Omin is down. Kylo stabs Viari. Kylo asks, "How does a 19 work for you?"

The group realizes that Kylo is Aeofel! Aeofel is Wil Wheaton's old character (read all about it here). Jim summons his unicorn and charges the dragon. It breathes on him. Jim is down. So is Percival. Wow, the group is defeated!

The unicorn teleports away and takes Jim, Flabbergast and his cat along too.

Viari rolls a 20 on his death save! He's up. He has one hit point. Kylo Ren grabs the other piece of the rod and teleports away.

Viari is playing dead. Binwin fails his last death save. He's dead!

Jim wakes up in a glade. The unicorn heals him for 11.

The dragon is in another room eating someone. Viari brings Omin up with a potion.

The heroes escape and get back to the ship. That's where we stop. This will pick up at the PAX event on September 4th!

Timestamps

(7:10) Jim Darkmagic threatens Mr. Snivelly (or is it Snibly)?

Overall

Epic episode! Even if you haven't watched the rest of the series, you could watch this episode and enjoy it. This was really crazy.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Dice, Camera, Action: Episode 20 - Curse of Strahd


You can watch this episode on Twitch here.

Way back in episode 6, Rictavio helped the group understand Madame Eva's Tarokka reading. Basically, the group learned where the items that they need are:
  • Evelyn: The Holy Symbol of Ravenkind is in Argynvostholt.
  • Diath: The Tome of Strahd is in The Amber Temple.
  • Paultin: Ezmerelda is in St. Markovia's Abbey.
  • Strix: The Sunsword is in a bone ossuary in Castle Ravenloft.
This means that the group will probably find the Tome of Strahd soon. Paultin is in Castle Ravenloft. In theory, he could get the Sunsword. He needs to get to K67 (page 78).

How Will Storm King's Thunder Fare? Storm King's Thunder, the new D&D adventure, is about to be released. I am wondering how it will do seeing how ridiculously popular Curse of Strahd is. Just judging by visits to the different pages on my blog, Curse of Strahd blows the other three away.

It is also nice to see that these reviews get plenty of traffic, too. It makes me feel good to know that there is interest in this show. I have learned a lot from watching Chris run this and for the past two or three months it has been consistently excellent.

The dancing minotaur is back. I like it better than the mind flayer. The mind flayer is somehow too unwholesome, creeps me out.

Jokes: There's some really good jokes on this episode which I kind of spoil, so if that matters to you maybe watch the episode first.

The Party

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

Last time: Paultin is in Castle Ravenloft, about to meet with Strahd. The rest of the group is trapped in the Amber Temple, running from a giant amber golem.


Kasimir brings Paultin up to a chamber where Strahd is, standing near a portrait of Ireena. There appear to be two people sitting in chairs facing away from Paultin.

Strahd tells Paultin a story about how he befriended the vistani in the past. They can come and go from Barovia freely. Strahd says that Paultin is only alive because he is a vistani.

The people in the chairs:
  • Gertruda: A young woman with eyes full of childlike wonder. She seems to like Paultin. She has a little plate of biscuits. One biscuit falls and cracks on the floor. (see Curse of Strahd K42, page 68).
  • Escher: A grey-skinned, beautiful man with grey skin and fangs. He's a vampire dressed in fine clothes (he's the NPC on page 236, lower right column).
Kasimir is blocking the exit, holding the hilt of his weapon.

Gertruda
Strahd says his friends are confined for all time in the Amber Temple. Strahd is holding a goblet full of blood.

Strahd wants Paultin to join him and be his eyes and ears. The other option is to rejoin his friends in the dark tomb and die with them.

Paultin asks for food first. Paultin notices that someone is lying on the floor, dead. It's Father Donavich, the priest from the second episode.

Paultin is led to the dining hall by Gertruda and Escher. The hall is covered in dust. There's an ancient wedding cake, green with age (K36 page 65). They pass through the room and go to another dining room (page 56, K10, one of my favorite encounters in the book).

Chris keeps subtly trying to get Paultin to interact with Gertruda but Nate isn't taking the bait. Nate in general takes a long time to make any decisions or even respond to dialogue.

Finally Gertruda tries to talk to Paultin. She shows him a pendant that Strahd gave her. Nate still not doing much more than giving four-word responses. A mongrelfolk guy comes in. He gives Paultin soup with an eyeball in it.

The dusk elf bullies the mongrelfolk a bit. He hits on Paultin and shakes hands with him - then holds it. "Your hands are so warm," he says.
Escher

In the temple, Evelyn is in gaseous form. Strix is magically disguised as Strahd. She starts doing a Swedish accent and she orders the golem to go smash open the entrance. That is really clever! Her accent is hilarious. Chris says it sounds like the Man From Another Place.

Evelyn spots a skeletal figure who might be controlling the golem (this person is in X27 on page 188). It looks like the creature told the golem to leave the heroes alone.

Diath and Evelyn hide in a closet. Strix/Strahd

The creature is a lich. Time has worn its memory and body to the bone. He explains that the golems can't bash the door out of the temple because they can't leave the temple proper. Chris does a hilarious and awesome lich voice.

He explains that there are ancient entities here who know great secrets. He repeatedly refers to them as the "Dark Powers," which tickles me every time. The Dark Powers of Ravenloft! They were such a big deal in 2nd edition in my games.

The group wants to restore the lich's memories, so they take him to the library (X30 page 189). Right downstairs are the "entities." The lich says that they can grant powers. I really hope the group goes down there.

Strix is staying in the library. The lich leads the group down to the entities. They go right down to my favorite entities! The group realizes that these are the vestiges of dead gods.

Anna points out that during Madame Eva's tarokka reading, she said an item they need is beyond amber doors. They find amber doors and spot a big pile of treasure in a weird fold in reality.

Meanwhile, Escher shows Paultin to his room. While walking through the castle, Paultin sees a portrait of Strahd that is watching him (K47 page 70. "Mind the carpet," says Chris) and brings him to k50, page 71. That's right next to Escher's room! Hilarious.

Escher is still hitting on Paultin, so Paultin shuts the door in the guy's face.

In the guest room, all of the candles go out one by one. Paultin senses that someone else is in here. He uses faerie fire, but it reveals nothing.

Mist comes out from under his bed. It's Strahd! Holy...

Strahd wants an answer. He wants to know if Paultin will join him and be his spy. Nate kind of stammers for a really long time... ugghh. A lot of stammering and silence for over five minutes. I went back and timed it: 5 minutes and 44 seconds. Finally Strahd grabs him by the throat and demands an answer.

Then Paultin... ever so slowly.. finally, signs on with Strahd.

Back in the Amber Temple, Diath pokes an inert amber statue. Evelyn really wants to find a way to cure her lycanthropy. Evelyn tries to use a magic command word to control the statue, but it doesn't work.

Back in the castle, Strahd leaves, annoyed. Escher tells Paultin that he made a smart choice. That's where we stop!

Timestamps

(43:00) Escher really likes Paultin
(1:03:10) Strix pretends to be Strahd and talks to a lich

Overall

I would have a hard time using all these NPCs at once and keeping them all straight. Watching this will really help you run Curse of Strahd. I really do feel like I could run this adventure without ever having read it if I watched this show instead.

I don't know what the deal with Nate is, but I really hope he rejoins the group ASAP. The game comes to a complete stop when the spotlight is on him. I don't know why it is happening. It makes the show very hard to watch at certain points.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Force Grey: Giant Hunters Episode 7

You can watch this episode here.

I guess this is the final episode! It is just about time for Storm King's Thunder to be released, so I guess this will somehow involve Stratovan the cloud giant?

The PAX Acquisitions Inc show is on September 4th. You get the feeling something cool is going to happen. I wonder if they are going to put out a rod of seven parts adventure in 6 months? I would like that to happen some day, but I really have my heart set on a 5e Planescape adventure based in Sigil.

The Party

(Brian Posehn) Calliope - Half-Elf Bard
(Ashley Johnson) Dagny Halvor - Half-Orc Cleric
(Shelby Fero) Brawlwin Chainminer - Dwarf Fighter
(Jonah Ray) Joppa - Human Monk
(Utkarsh Ambudkar) Hitch - Human Rogue    

Last Time: The group fought some displacer beasts. They are in a wizard's lair looking for a piece of the rod of seven parts. Calliope is looking for a wizard named Ozwyn.


The group finds an old elf asleep or inert. His name is Belas. His mind was reduced to that of a child due to a failed experiment.Joppa gives him fish.

The group reads some of Ozwyn's notes about the Arcane Brotherhood, the Rod of the Seven Parts, and his attempts at creating a vial of youth

While the group reads. Brawlwin checks another room and falls into a pit full of broken glass. The pit starts to turn. She pulls out her shield of flying. Joppa lowers his fishing line and she gets out. Joppa says, "This is how people fall in love."

The group explores some more and comes upon a torture chamber. There's some notes about a golem that is out of control. They hear a noise and want to run. Skeletons on the torture devices animate. The groupblows right by them to the next room.

At last they find the rod. It is in the chest of a golem! The golem is holding Ozwyn's corpse. We get an awesome graphic.


The golem does a pile of damage to Hitch. Joppa busts out his decanter of endless water and fires off a geyser of water to knock it prone.

Jonah keeps rolling natural 20's. Hitch tries to pull the rod out of its chest. Dagny is down and dying. Calliope heals her.

Joppa pulls the rod out. It was powering the golem, so it shuts down.

They go to leave. The skeletons are on the other side of the door. Dagny sends a clockwork mouse under the door. It's a bomb! The mouse explodes and destroys them.


I love how Ashley is 100% into the game. She is really thinking about everything that is going on and she has a really cool character.

As the group leaves, they see Belas. He's death, presumably killed by the skeleton.

The group goes outside and there's a dirigible in the sky. They see Lemolai, the Zhentarim NPC who bailed on them a few sessions back. There's a total of 12 Zhentarim.

A spell paralyzes most of the group. The Zhentarim take the rod.

Suddenly, Palarandusk the gold dragon shows up. He's hurt. Apparently he was fighting the Zhentarim while the group was inside. He calls the forgotten chariot of Sustaire. It is a chariot made of flames! Two horses made of flame pull it.

I don't think I have ever heard of this chariot before, but it appears to be in the 1e and 2e handbooks. That's really cool that they incorporate all sorts of lore for these adventures.

Overall

Decent show. Looking at the whole thing, I'd say that this series isn't must-see. I like some of the characters and players a lot. I think you could just watch this episode and you don't really need to see the others.

Planescape - The Dream Diver

Tonight's session was really great, maybe one of my favorites. We didn't get far but the stuff we did was very cool. I've been able to incorporate a lot of things I've seen other DMs do on all the different streams and I feel like I've really improved as a dungeon master in the past few months.

In particular, running encounters like Chris Perkins has helped. I now run less encounters, but each one that I do run is consequential. Crazy stuff happens!

I've begun planning and tooling around with the Planescape Hellbound boxed set. I want to add more adventures. So I decided to squeeze in material from all sorts of places:

Fires of Dis: I'll use the part where the group goes to Dispater's tower, as it is pretty cool.

Savage Tide: The last three parts have lots of cool stuff including a trip to Malcanthet's palace, an adventure in a prison in Demogorgon's realm, and the final adventure is a massive assault on Demogorgon's realm.

I just looked at the Pathfinder Wrath of the Righteous adventure path, and I see that there is an adventure set in Nocticula's realm and another in Baphomet's maze! I just about crapped my pants. I'll be ordering those soon and working them in.

I was looking at the Pathfinder module list hoping to find more stuff set in hell or the Abyss, but I didn't really see anything.

The Party

(Jessie) Bidam - Platinum-Scaled Dragonborn Fighter
(George) Theran - Half-Dabus/Half-Elf Wizard
* NPCs - Fall From Grace (Succubus Paladin)

Each character has powers linked to the Lady of Pain:
  • Theran can create buildings in Sigil and he can banish people to extra-dimensional mazes.
  • Bidam can look at people and cause cuts to appear on their body and he can create portals in Sigil.
When they use one of these powers, they gain level four exhaustion. The only way to remove the exhaustion is to spend days pursuing their beliefs (belief is a big deal in Planescape).

The heroes own a cluster of buildings known as "Deadbook Square."

Last Time: The heroes went on a long jaunt to Acheron, Mechanus and Hell. They've killed the devil controlling the Iron Shadow and now they can return to Sigil. The Iron Shadow had un-made the Infinite Staircase and was moving on to other planes to do the same.

The City of Sigil

The group used their cubic gate to go to Iggwilv's manor, then to the Abyss to visit Bazuuma the demon lord. Bidam decided to take his son, the baby abyssal dragon, along for a while.

Then the group returned to Sigil, where Theran was a fugitive. Their friend the succubus paladin Fall From Grace had smoothed things over in the city. The Mercykiller faction had gone through a change - Factol Nilesia was out, and Arwyl Swan's son was the new leader.

The crazy laws Nilesia had put in place were repealed, and Theran's Law was also shut down. All charges against Theran were dropped.

We burned through a few things so I can remind them of storylines and foreshadow stuff:
  • Unicorn Guy: They saw the goofy unicorn man tending to the sickly unicorns that the group rescued from the Abyss
  • Keister Realm: Fall From Grace asked about what happened to the guy who had the demiplane in his "keister." The group had forgotten all about him! They left his corpse in Mechanus.
  • Lady of Pain: During the night, Theran tranced and had a vision of the Lady of Pain. He learned that every day, her blades rust an fall off. New ones grow out through her skin in what is a very painful process.
  • Warder Devil: Bidam had a dream where he experienced a memory of Feurina, the warder devil he is bonded with. I'm starting to build stuff for the Blood War tuff we're going to do.
  • Ladies: Bidam spent the night with all five of the women he 'infected' with the power to slice people just by looking at them. They live in a dorm in Deadbook Square.
The next day, Theran's book glowed. In it was a map through Limbo to "Navimas." He remembered that Navimas was a special substance that somehow could wipe out the Iron Shadow.

Drokkarn the pit fiend returned from a quick trip to hell. Last session, the group obtained infernal contracts. They now had control of four devils!


I went through some Pathfinder books to find cool new devils. These are "lesser" versions of those devils, much weaker in some cases.
  • Nabkin: Immolation Devil. Drokkarn took him.
  • Barbagg: An Ayperabos devil, a tiny little guy who can burrow into skin. They usually come in a swarm - they're from Fiendish Codex II
  • Sagrata: A handmaiden devil. I ran her like she is an evil maid.
  • Nin: Heresy Devil. A bloated fellow on a floating throne made of iron skulls. He thinks he's really smart and talks about all the stuff he's learned in the "grim libraries of hell."
Sometimes you get an NPC who is a superstar that the group just can't get enough of. That would be Nin. He is a schemer and a greedy little know-it-all, but in a sort of comedic way.

Limbo

This stuff is right out of chapter 4 of Monte Cook's Tales From the Infinite Staircase.

The group found out that the Iron Shadow was starting to unmake the plane of Limbo. They needed to get in there and find the Navimas before the whole place was no more.

They went through the portal to Limbo in Deadbook Square. They appeared in the githzerai settlement of Zerthadlun and saw the Iron Shadow in the distance. She was massive. Slaad of every color were attacking her.

Theran used the power of mutability to create a river. Then the group used their magic scrimshaw whalebone to summon the magic pirate ship known as Bechard's Cyst. The skeleton Captain Ricketshanks and his undead parrot Mockle were delighted to be summoned. The group brought along Fall From Grace, Bidam's five ladies of pain and their devil servants.

After a bit of sailing, they spotted the Chaos Pinwheel in the distance. That's the thing that causes random effects rolled on a chart. A long time ago, Bidam messed with it, rolled a 100 on the chart and earned a wish which kicked off this entire Lady of Pain storyline. Bidam was tempted to go mess with it again but Theran talked him out of it.

The Dream Diver

The Dream Diver

Soon after that, a golden bubble approached them. It was a vessel known as the Dream Diver. It was driven by Rav, a dao (earth genie) and his friend, an earth elemental.

Rav had had a vision sent to him from the Iron Shadow. He had been chosen as a replacement for Quimath the chain devil. The Iron Shadow wanted Rav to take the Iron Tome from the heroes and use it to guide her in unmaking the universe.

The dao tried to bargain with the heroes. I got to use all sorts of old Al Qadim concepts, like the bond of salt and all that stuff.

In the adventure there's these creatures called "shads." I changed it, and named the earth elemental "Shad." The group thought I said "Chad" and they cracked up, so I kept it.

Chad the earth elemental came aboard bearing a treasure chest. If the group gave him the Iron Tome, they'd get 4,000 gold, gauntlets of ogre power and a ring of evasion. The group wasn't into it. So Chad attacked!

What followed was an epic battle with Rav firing off spell powers like wall of stone from the dream diver while Chad pummeled the group.

Theran got trapped in a dome of stone. He looked down at the wood planks of the ship. He could see to the next floor. He cast misty step, teleported down there and ran up the stairs back to the deck.

Theran sent his little devil to the dream diver. He wanted the devil to take the controls of the Dream Diver and try and mess Rav up, maybe tip him out of the vehicle altogether. The devil flew up to him and tried to plunge into his skin, but the genie's pecs were too mighty.

Then Bidam blew the horn of blasting, which hurt Rav, damaged the diver and destroyed the devil! Bidam forgot he was there.

So since he's a devil, little Barbagg appeared back in hell because devils only truly die when slain in hell. The group would have to go find him in hell at a later date.

The group defeated the earth elemental and began hurting Rav. Rav drove the dream diver under the ship and the makeshift river that Theran created using mutability. Fall From Grace flew after him. The group couldn't see what was happening. Fall From Grace was fighting the genie solo but it wasn't going well. The genie has two attacks that do 20 damage each!

Rav looks like the Al Qadim dao

After a few rounds of readying and worrying, the group looked at Nin. Throughout this battle, I had described Nin as greedily putting on the ring of evasion, the gauntlets of ogre power, and hoarding the gold. The group gawked at his floating throne.

They climbed on the throne and ordered Nin to fly them down beneath the river and the ship. Now they were outside of Theran's mutable river in the chaos of Limbo, where there was fire, gas, lightning, molten gold, everything. It was very dangerous!

Rav dropped Fall From Grace and tried to use her as a hostage. I was rolling each round to see what kind of environmental effect would kick in. I just rolled a d20: High was a beneficial effect, low was a dangerous effect. I rolled really low.

So a massive rock, like an asteroid, came barreling at the heroes and Rav. Bidam tried to jump onto the diver but failed and fell into the chaos of Limbo. Nin flew after him. Theran was holding the back of Nin's throne, but he was clipped by the rock and plastered on to it.

Rav can meld with stone. So he literally dove into the rock. Fall From Grace was hit and she was killed! Being a demon with a demon amulet, she didn't "die." She appeared wherever she had stashed her amulet. The group had learned she had a demon amulet back when they were in Graz'zt's realm.

The dream diver was destroyed, which dismayed the group. They wanted to keep it! I wanted them to keep it too, it's cool.

Theran was plastered on the asteroid/rock hurtling through Limbo at an incredible speed. He saw in the wreckage of the Dream Diver a magic crystal which powered it. He made a DEX check to grab it. He rolled a one. It went spinning into Limbo, gone forever.

So Bidam was safe on Nin's throne. Theran was getting further away by the second. Then he did something I didn't expect. He decided to use the cubic gate to open a portal to send himself, Rav and the giant rock to the astral plane!

So.. yeah. The group is split. George, Theran's player, really wants to kill Rav. It was awesome.

While delivering Rav's dialogue when he was trying to convince the group to hand over the tome, I started blabbering about how the group is invited to his three wonderful homes in The Great Dismal Delve. I decided that if/when Theran kills Rav (Rav has almost no hit points left), Theran will find the deeds to his homes. I love the idea of the group going to the Great Dismal Delve, home of the earth genies, and having an adventure there.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Stranger Things Chapter Three: Holly, Jolly

The Party
  • Mike: Dungeon Master Kid
  • Lucas: Intense Kid
  • Dustin: Comedic Goofy Kid
  • Eleven: Kid with psychic powers
NPCs
  • Joyce Byers: Winona! Mother of Will, who is missing
  • Charlie Byers: Her teenage son who takes pictures of people undressing
  • Officer Jim Hopper: Hopper's a damn good cop.
  • Nancy: Mike's sister who has the worst judgment ever.
  • Steve: Her wanna-be boyfriend who needs a punch in the face.
  • Dr. Martin Brenner: Matthew Modine, agent looking for Eleven

We start right out with Barb, the 80's friend. She's all messed up. She's in a weird room. It's snowing. A thing is in there with her!

I messed with the contrast of an image of the alien. It looks like the creature from last episode, but its head is folded in.

It was weird because it came at her by the pool and then I guess they both disappeared.

Wait.. she's in the pool. But the pool looks weird. Barb is screaming. Nancy (the sister) is getting it on with the boyfriend but it seems like she can sort of hear the friend's cries for help.

Barb gets dragged in to the pool. Sister, your priorities are all out of whack.

A little while later, Nancy seems to regret this little escapade and walks home. Nancy tries to sneak up to her room but her mom catches her. I think the actress playing the mom was Betty's best friend on Mad Men. We seem to be getting a theme here where the mom is telling her kids that they can confide in her, but they refuse to do so.

Joyce tries to tell Charlie that Will is communicating to her through the electronics. So it looks like Will might actually be on an overlapping plane, like the Shadowfell or the Feywild.

Then we cut to Eleven holding the walkie talkie. I wonder if maybe one of them will go into this realm with a walkie talkie so they can communicate or something. They keep showing us the walkie talkie, obviously something is going to happen with it.

Lucas has a bunch of equipment from 'Nam. He's got a slingshot. Wow, that's right out of Stephen King's It.

Nancy's at school feeling remorseful. Here comes that boyfriend. Look at him. He's overloaded with smarm. He smooths things over with Nancy. Hey! A trapper keeper!

Now that is dedication. I had a trapper keeper every single year. There was a million different designs on those things.

Eleven is home alone. She watches TV and has a flashback. In the lab, she had wires hooked up to her head. They were testing her psychic powers. She crushed a can of coke - we're talking just flagrant product placement, here.

Officer Hopper talks his way into the laboratory complex. He wants to check the security tapes. Hopper realizes they're lying - there was no rain on the footage.

We see an ominous scene inside the lab. Dr. Brenner is going to do something with the portal-thing.

The kids are at recess talking about whether Eleven is like one of the X-Men. The bullies come over and man, they turn it up to 11. They say Will is dead and then they trip Mike. Those guys are going to get messed up, Lucas has a knife from fricking 'Nam.

Charlie is in the darkroom developing pictures from when he was creeping around. Another student named Nicole comes in and sees the photos Charlie took of Nancy through the window.

Officer Hopper goes to the library. The librarian actually mentions microfiche but she doesn't pronounce it right. It's "micro-FEESH." Wow, we actually get a microfiche montage.

Mike's mom visits Joyce. She put up all these Christmas lights. Oh no.... the little girl wanders down the hall while the grown-ups talk. She's going to the room! The wall! Phew, the mom comes in just as something started to press through the wall.

Back at school, Nicole has told lame boyfriend guy about the pictures. Oh man, this is awkward. They accost Charlie, take the pictures and look at them. Ohhh no, here comes Nancy. This is brutal. They break his camera and tear up the pictures.

But Nancy sees the photo of her friend sitting at the pool! Wow. She takes that picture. Great plotting on this show.

Eleven has a flashback to the lab. Looks like they want her to kill a cat with her powers. She refuses. They drag her down the hall and put her in the room again. Wait.. she uses her powers on the guards. She kills a guard! Snaps his neck!

Dr. Brenner isn't mad. He's amazed to find that she can kill with her powers.

Nancy goes on a quest to find Barb, her 80's friend who got sucked into the pool. She finds Barb's car still where it was parked the night before. A thing is in the woods. It scares her off.

Joyce has all these Christmas lights up. Suddenly, they start going off. Will starts communicating via blinking lights. He blinks once for yes, twice for no. Are you alive? Yes. Are you safe? ...no.

Then she gets an awesome idea. She paints letters on the walls with a light above each one. That way he can spell out words. Crazy. This show is very well thought-out.

Officer Hopper is starting to put things together. He thinks Will might have been at the wrong place at the wrong time, somehow at the lab.

Joyce starts talking to Will through the lights. He tries to tell her that he's right there. Suddenly, a thing comes through the wall.

The kids follow the cops. A body is found in a lake. It looks like Will but we're not sure. Mike flips out and ditches the party.

Overall

They really planned this story out well. Someone put themselves in the shoes of these characters and figured everything out step by step. I also really get a kick out of how they use humor to kind of keep things from getting too dark. Another great episode!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Stranger Things Chapter Two: The Weirdo on Maple Street

I'm having a hard time keeping all the names straight so here we go:

The Party:
  • Mike: Dungeon Master Kid
  • Lucas: Intense Kid
  • Dustin: Comedic Goofy Kid
  • Eleven: Kid with Psychic Powers
NPCs:
  • Joyce Byers: Winona! Mother of Will, who is missing
  • Charlie Byers: Her teenage son
  • Officer Jim Hopper: A hard drinking copper with a tragic past
  • Nancy: Mike's sister
  • Steve: Her lame wanna-be boyfriend
  • Dr. Martin Brenner: Matthew Modine, agent looking for Eleven
The kids have rescued Eleven and they brought her to Mike's house. They give her some clothes and she's not so keen on being shut in the bathroom.

Mike decides to hide her in the house for the night. They don't want their parents to know that they are out looking for Will late at night.

Eleven lets Mike know bad people are after her, and they want her dead.

The sister is in school. Oh no, it's the boyfriend. This sleazy dork is having a party - no parents. Ahh excellent, she sees Will's brother and is nice to him. I see where we're going here and I like it!

Mike is skipping school and we're going to do an E.T. thing with Eleven at home.

Joyce goes to buy a phone. I love frazzled Winona.

The agents come to Joyce's house wearing radiation suits. Nobody's home. They make a beeline for the shed where that thing took Will.

Eleven sees a picture of Will. She knows him. Mike's mom comes home and he has to hide Eleven in a closet. She has a flashback to Modine in the lab forcing her into a little confined area. She kept yelling "papa," I think. So maybe Modine is her dad. Quite an alarming flashback. I have no idea what the heck these alien things do.

The cop is called to check out Benny the dead diner guy. Poor guy. The agents made it look like he shot himself. Hopper questions a dude and learns about Eleven. From the description, Hopper thinks the kid might be Will.

Hopper's got some serious beard problems. It's just not happening on the sides. I'll tell you what though, I get the feeling Hopper always gets his man.

Will's brother goes to his dad's to look for Will. He's not there. His dad doesn't seem to care that Will is missing. What a turd.

Back at Mike's, his friends come over. Lucas flips out and wants to tell Mike's mom. This kid does not mess around. Then Eleven forces the door closed with telekinesis.

That night, the cops find a pipe that leads into the mysterious research compound. They wonder if Will went in there.
 

Sister is going to the party. Her friend, who is quintessentially early 80's, informs her that the boyfriend dude just wants to get in her pants. That's right, you tell her! Oh jeez, she doesn't believe her.

Eleven tries to explain to the kids where Will is. He's hiding from.. Demogorgon! Pants-crapping ensues. Great scene.


Will's brother, Charlie, is going into the woods at night. Come on, Charlie. Don't! Ohh he's going in, all right. He takes some pictures. He hears screams. It turns out it's the lame boyfriend's party.

OK, now it gets weird. Sister chugs a beer. She peer pressures her friend into doing the same, but the friend cuts her hand accidentally. Man that was awkward. Now Charlie starts taking pictures of them. Dude. Come on, now.

Joyce gets another creepy phone call. Her phone gets fried again. Yikes. Lights flicker.. Will's boom box starts playing. Holy.. a thing starts coming out of the wall.


Joyce runs right out of the house. Good gawd. That was scary with headphones on.

She goes into her car.. oh man, she's going back in the house! She wants to know where her kid is.

Meanwhile, the sister tells her friend to just go home. Friend is crushed. The sister goes into boyfriend's room, which of course has a poster of a woman in a bikini and a framed photo of a sports car. She takes her shirt off. And look at that, Charlie the creeper is still taking pictures as they make out.

Sister's friend is bummed out, sitting on the diving board of lame boyfriend's pool. Charlie takes pictures of her. Charlie, this is way out of hand.

A drop of blood from her wound drips into the pool. Uh oh. Stuff is happening. A thing is behind her! It eats her! Or something.

I took a screen cap. It's real dark and you really can't see anything, so I bumped up the contrast. Check this thing out:

Charlie was messing with his camera and missed this event somehow.

Overall

Great episode! They're really giving us stuff. My one concern is that the weirdness won't be properly explained. If these creatures operate by rules, I want them to be explained eventually and be consistent.

Click here to continue on to episode 3.