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Monday, June 29, 2015

The Great Modron March - The Modron Judge


Jessie is back from her trip to Disneyland and it turns out that she hates hot weather. Legoland, however, is reportedly awesome.

I warned the players that this adventure has an extreme railroad in it. I've learned that's the best thing to do when running a published adventure that forces the PCs down a certain path. Just tell them and ask them to play along. It saves a lot of time and aggravation. Anyone who played that Ravenloft adventure where the headless horseman beheads the PCs no matter what they do knows the pain of inflicting a railroad on your buddies who just want to have a good time.

The Party

(Jessie) Bidam - Dragonborn Fighter
(George) Theran - Elf Wizard

Downtime in Sigil


Last week's session in Limbo was pretty awesome. I asked Jessie what her character was doing while Theran was on the adventure, and she said she was at the Brothel of Slaking Intellectual Lusts.

We started off with Theran dealing with two afflictions. He had been implanted with a slaad embryo, which means he'd die in three months when a tadpole exploded out of his chest. He was also rapidly turning into a red slaad and losing 10 max hit points per day.

Bidam took half-slaad Theran to Fall-From-Grace, the succubus paladin. She was able to cure him in exchange for a donation to the Sensates.

Then the heroes spent three months messing with downtime. Theran made a +1 staff out of the unofficial metal of planescape - crusty verdigris metal.

Bidam decided that he wanted to research the Lady of Pain. He read up on her, and then decided to talk to the blue-skinned alu-fiend named Vrischika, who runs the curiosity shoppe. It turned out that Vrishika actually had a lady of pain doll for sale in the store, which was a pretty amazing coincidence.

The Curiosity Shoppe and the items for sale are right out of Planescape Torment. If the heroes worship the doll, they will be sent to a maze! I'll definitely follow up on this.

At the end of three months, Theran suddenly woke up in great pain. The slaad tadpole would hatch in 24 hours. Bidam took him to his githzerai friends, who had a lot of experience with the slaad. They diagnosed him and were able to find a healer to cure him.

Bedlam

Then I dropped the hook on the heroes - a wizard needs some volcanic ash near a portal in the gate town of Bedlam.

Bedlam is a gate town in the Outlands that contains permanent portals to the plane of Pandemonium. Foul air and the sounds of screaming wash out of the gates and fill the city. The wind and screaming drives the inhabitants insane.

The deal here is there's this crooked faction of guards known as The Sarex. They have a shadow fiend leader named Hrava, who wants the town to slide into Pandemonium. To do so, he must sow as much chaos as possible in the town.

The adventurers appeared in Bedlam and immediately come upon a poor githzerai who's been killed. Someone cast magic mouth on his organs, and they're babbling about their functions. The guards/Sarex come upon our heroes and arrest them for murder.

There's our railroad! The heroes must be imprisoned in this scenario. My players are very laid back and were OK with the whole thing. They were thrown in prison and would have a trial the following day.

Prison

I made up some prisoners so the heroes could talk to them and learn certain details that would be helpful later in the session. They were:
  • An elf with an eyepatch. She missed her boyfriend, who was a member of the Guiding Light, a faction that tried to make Bedlam safer
  • A barlgura who hated Hrava, the shadow fiend leader of The Sarex
  • A cambion who spoke of the weird "ruler" of Bedlam, a homeless wizard named Tharick Bleakshadow
I also cooked up a dream sequence for when the heroes went to sleep. I am currently watching the entire run of the TV show Twin Peaks, and there's this really weird dream in one episode that gives the main character clues as to what's going on. I decided that Bedlam is a crazy place and that the fetid winds of Pandemonium might cause the PCs to have the same dream at the same time.

Jessie got a bit metagame-y, though, and saw that I was excited about them falling asleep, so she declared that Bidam would be staying awake all night. That meant that only Theran had the dream.

In the dream, Theran was sitting on a chair on a cloud. NPCs were sitting in chairs near him, too. Two monodrones were marching around them. everything was in slow motion and a strong wind was blowing everyone's hair back.
  • Fall-From-Grace whispered in Theran's ear. He made a perception check and heard something about the king, a ring, and escaping. This clue was to help point out to them that the "king" of Bedlam, Tharick Bleakshadow, had a ring that was a portal key back to Sigil.
  • Alamandra the githzerai began dancing in slow motion and spelled out words of fire that hung in mid-air: "Rogue Judge Wants Freedom." This was a reference to the judge of Bedlam, who is a modron. The judge wants to flee Bedlam and rejoin the march - that's the real point of this adventure.
  • The displacer beast cub that was a pet of modronoid Xaldra Miloni spoke: "The palm is a door." This refers to the place where the ring can be used to open a portal to Sigil - there's a giant hand on a tower by the pandemonium portals.
  • Ebb Creakknees played a tune by blowing into a jug. The tune, he said, was called "Shadows Cannot Endure the Light." This was a clue as to how to defeat the shadow fiend at the end of the adventure - use a light spell.
  • The dream ended when the living cloud known as Breath of Life showed up, said "BIDE," and blew Theran out of the dream.
George is smart, so he picked up on some of these clues right away. Others didn't connect.

Trictaculus

The next day, the heroes went to trial. In the adventure, there's a whole lot of text devoted to what happens even though there's only one outcome - the heroes are sentenced to death. The adventure expects you to play out the trial even though the verdict is set in stone. I just glossed over it.

The judge is a decaton, which is a high-level modron with ten tentacles. During the previous modron march, the decaton got snatched by the people of Bedlam and was forced to be their judge, in an effort to create enough order to keep Bedlam from slipping into the plane of Pandemonium. The new march just passed through, and the decaton now wants to flee Bedlam and join the march.

Basically, after delivering the verdict, the judge calls the heroes into his office and asks them to help him escape. The decaton's name is Trictaculus.

The Escape

From here, the adventure becomes a series of encounters that the heroes have while fleeing through Bedlam to the portals to Pandemonium. They stopped at the jail to get their gear. Here's how it went:

The Guards: Three Sarex guards were outside the courthouse. The heroes tried to sneak by but failed their rolls. The adventurers decided to fight them even though they had no armor or weapons.

Trictaculus was a great help with his five attacks (!). I allowed the heroes to disarm the bad guys. Normally I don't allow that kind of thing as it leads to abuse, but these players aren't going to abuse the system like that.

The heroes killed the bad guys with their own swords.

Tharick Bleakshadow Part One: The heroes made their way through the streets, pretending to be members of The Sarex with the decaton in tow. They ran into the "ruler" of Bedlam, who accosted them in a crazed fashion. He seemed unable to see the decaton. He ended up rocketing toward the courthouse to find Trictaculus.

The Prison: The adventurers, wearing Sarex armor, killed three more guards and got their stuff. They freed the prisoners that they had made friends with, but not the others.

Tharick Bleakshadow Part Two: Bleakshadow returned. Now he could see Trictaculus (I didn't really understand why he couldn't see the modron. The adventure explains that so long as there is a haft of a spear impeding his view of Trictaculus, he could not see him). He pointed an accusatory finger at the modron. Theran saw that Tharick was wearing a ring, and remembered the clue from his dream. He chopped off Bleakshadow's hand! They snatched the ring off the severed hand and ran.

I added the ring into this adventure. It's a ring of protection +1 with a gem on it. Inside the gem is an image of a swirling cloud. It's the "key" to the portal home.

Guiding Light: Members of the Guiding Light came upon the heroes. They were able to befriend them and convince them they were doing the right thing by helping Trictaculus escape. Bidam gave a rousing speech, telling the Guiding Light that they needed to step up to keep Bedlam together in the absence of the judge.

Barmy Mob: The adventurers raced through the dark streets. They were spotted by a mob, angry at the theft of their judge. There was a great chase. The heroes raced into an alley and tried to jump a fence. Theran made it. Bidam and the modron didn't.

The crowd entered the alley and advanced. Bidam stepped in front of the modron and breathed acid, killing 6 people! The acid did 9 damage and the mob was full of four hit point commoners. The barmy mob went even more barmy. Bidam and the modron got over the fence, and all three were able to ditch the mob.

The Shadow Fiend: The heroes had made it to the portals. There's a tower with a grasping hand built into the top. That's where I placed the portal back to Sigil, activated by the ring they took from Bleakshadow. At the base of the tower are 6 portals to the plane of pandemonium, spewing fetid air and howling winds.

Hrava was here, too. He was a shadow fiend.

Hrava the Shadow Fiend

Ravenloft & Planescape Shadow Fiends
I have always liked shadow fiends. It was the 2e art that did it, specifically Baxa's depiction of them from the Ravenloft setting.

In my high school Ravenloft campaign, one of the adventurers got their hands on a shadow lathorn - a device that summoned shadow fiends. All sorts of shenanigans ensued.

There are no 5e stats for shadow fiends, so I based Hrava on the 5e shadow. I decided not to use the shadow fiend magic jar power, as that's way too deadly for the PCs in this campaign. Instead, I kept the shadow ability to drain d4 strength on a hit. I also gave the shadow fiend the ability to cast darkness.

As written in the adventure, this is a pretty anticlimactic scene. Hrava tells the heroes he wanted Trictaculus to escape through the portals, as that would cause Bedlam to slip into chaos and get sucked into pandemonium. Hrava even lets the PCs go!

I didn't like that at all. I changed it so that Hrava lets Trictaculus go, but wants to kill the heroes for slaying so many of his Sarex guards. The shadow only had 14 hit points (though he takes half damage from just about everything), so I had him shrouded in darkness (as per the spell). I had him cast darkness on an armband he wore, so that the darkness would move with him.

We had a pretty epic battle. Theran hit Hrava with a thunderwave spell and followed up with a scorching burst, both area effect spells that didn't require seeing the target. Hrava dropped Theran with a pair of claw swipes, draining 4 strength and putting Theran at death saves. Bidam spent a few rounds stumbling through the dark until finally finding and hitting Hrava, dropping the shadow fiend to two hit points.

Hrava fled, cursing the heroes and warning them never to return to Bedlam.

Theran was making death saves. Bidam needed to stabilize him. What followed was a series of comical dice rolls, failing over and over again. Bidam finally stabilized him when Theran was on the edge of death.

They snatched up some volcanic ash by the portals, climbed the tower and stepped through the swirling portal in the palm of the giant hand. They appeared back in Sigil.

This is a fun scenario once you get to the chase. The whole force-the-PCs-into-jail thing won't go over well with a lot of modern gaming groups. I didn't like how much text was devoted to that stuff, as it made for a lot of extra unnecessary reading. Bedlam is a really cool place though, and Hrava can be a really cool villain.

I think I am going to give my players the chance to activate the Lady of Pain doll and end up getting sucked into a maze. I feel like we could do with a little side jaunt to stimulate character development before launching into the next chapter, which is set in the Abyss.

Click here to continue to the next adventure, where the heroes are enslaved by a wizard in The Abyss.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Great Modron March - Law in Chaos

I had a hard time adjusting to not running the Wednesday game, so it was nice to get a session of The Great Modron March going tonight. Jessie is away, so I was able to bring in a guest star - Dark's dad!

He has taken over my Wednesday Elemental Evil game, and he told me about how the game has been since I left. He decided he wanted the adventurers to go into the earth temple, so he somehow worked in a trip to Womford, which led the group back to the Sacred Stone Monastery and down into the earth temple. When they left off, they were about to walk into some kind of massive battle involving cultists, duergar and maybe even a bulette.

He made a gnome wizard for tonight's game. That meant the party consisted of ... 2 wizards.

The Party

(Dark's Dad) Aluran - Gnome Wizard
(George) Theran - Elf Wizard

Aluran was new to the city of Sigil. He was in search of the answer to a great question of life. He was in The Friendly Fiend, a magic store run by a grinning ravaasta, when he was accosted by a Xaositect (a faction full of crazy people). The Xaositect recruited Aluran for a job that paid quite well and it involved the Great Modron March.

Theran was in his office in the Clerk's Ward. His friend Alamandra, the githzerai, came to visit and told Theran of a job opportunity.

The Face of Gith

Theran and Aluran both headed to The Face of Gith, a githzerai tavern. In the middle of the place was a blob of primordial chaos hovering in the air.

They met with a githzerai named Haeronimil who told them about the job:
  • The heroes were to escort the modrons through Limbo.
  • The heroes would have to use their minds to "chaos shape" Limbo, to create an orderly path through the chaos of Limbo.
  • They'd need to watch out for the slaadi, chaotic frog monsters who loathed the orderly modrons.
  • The modrons were petrified of Limbo and would need to be handled carefully
The githzerai were helping the modrons just to get them through Limbo and out of their hair. The githzerai lived in Limbo and didn't want the modrons there causing problems. Modrons and slaadi were more or less mortal enemies.
From the 5e Monster Manual
Chaos Shaping

The adventurers each took a stab at chaos-shaping the primordial blob in the bar. The surly githzerai watched on, and were impressed. Both wizards did extremely well.

In fact, Aluran came back the next day to practice some more, and had a little chaos-shaping competition with a githzerai. The githzerai shaped a bust of Aluran looking a little stupid. Aluran responded by creating a sculpture of the githzerai going to the bathroom.. and rolled a natural 20. The patrons of the bar were very impressed at Aluran's natural skill, and he was accepted amongst the githzerai there.

A few days later, the heroes took a portal to Yggdrasil, the world tree, where the modrons were marching. The modrons were divided up amongst many different guides. The heroes were given 200 modrons to lead through limbo.

The trip through the chaos of limbo would take about 36 hours. 15 hours in, they'd need to pass through a chaos storm called the maelstrom. On the other side of it was a more unstable region of limbo called the Immeasurable. There, they'd find a portal to the gate-town of Xaos in the Outlands.,

Aluran took charge and chaos-shaped a meadow and a path out of the raw matter in limbo.

Chaos Shaping is extremely cool. The higher your intelligence, to larger a region you can create. Characters with high intelligence scores can create regions miles wide, buildings, forests, you name it.

In the adventure, it says that the chaos-shaper can't do anything else but walk, as they needed to concentrate to maintain the stability of their creation. I changed this so that it used the 5e spell concentration rules, to allow the PC the ability to do stuff. There's only two PCs, I can't have one be useless in combat.

The journey began with the modrons asking the heroes all sorts of questions about the nature of chaos.

Then they experienced miniflux:

Slaad Attacks

After hours of marching, the slaads began to attack. A swarm of red slaads exploded out of a fissure in the meadow, attacking the modrons and the heroes.

Because I was running this for just two PCs of 3rd level, I scaled this way down. These "lesser slaads" were basically orcs. I gave the red slaads a croaking power that caused those who failed a save to have disadvantage. This is a scaled-down version of the 2e red slaad ability to stun people on a croak (!).

During the battle, Theran was clawed and he was infected. A slaad tadpole was growing inside him. In three months time, it will explode out of his body and kill him!

Ten modrons died in the battle. They continued marching... and a swarm of blue slaads attacked! A blue slaad bit poor Theran, and infected him with a different malady - Over the course of three months, he'd turn into a red slaad! Theran's future was looking grim indeed.

The Maelstrom

With the blue slaads repelled, the march eventually arrived at the maelstrom. The maelstrom is so chaotic, that the adventure says that attempts to chaos shape have a -4 penalty. I posed an interesting question to the heroes. What do you create to get you through the maelstrom? The modrons were utterly terrified of it.

The wizards came up with a cool idea. Theran created a vessel.. basically a submarine. Aluran created a tube of water that shot straight through the maelstrom. The idea was that Aluran would control the current of his water tube to propel the vessel through the maelstrom.

Once into the maelstrom, though, their dice went ice cold. The chaos shapers failed roll after roll. The vessel was hit with a huge boulder. Then it was struck by lightning! The river dispersed into the vortex and the vessel was torn apart. The heroes and the modrons were tossed about in the chaotic storm. Many modrons vanished screaming into the howling chaos, never to be seen again.

The adventurers and many modrons grabbed hold of a building on an earthmote. The building had greek columns that they were able to clutch on to as the maelstrom raged around them.

The wizards shouted to each other above the cacophony, and came up with an inspired redesign of the vessel. Together they chaos shaped a new vessel with a treadmill in it. The modrons could march on the treadmill, which gave the vessel power to propel it forward.

I thought this was so hilarious and clever that there was no roll - it just happened. The chaos shapers used the raw material of the building with the greek columns to create their vessel, and they triumphantly powered their way through the maelstrom to the other side.

The Immeasurable

Now all that was left was to pass through the Immeasurable. Aluran decided to chaos shape a safer path - a long hall with walls 20 feet high in each side. This put the modrons at ease. There were only 90 modrons left alive at this point.

They marched without incident until the final encounter...

There's this githyanki named Torrenth who wants the modrons to stay in Limbo to mess with the githzerai. She has some allies - chaos imps. Check out their crazy power:

They infest the heroes equipment!

So... the imps swoop down on the adventurers. An imp inhabits Aluran's dagger, turning the dagger into a pamphlet entitled: "Why You Suck - an informed critique of the gnome wizard." The chaos imps are perfect foes for low level PCs, because they theoretically don't have to do damage but are still obviously dangerous in a weird way.

Torrenth uses misty step to appear before the group. She gives the heroes a chance to surrender, but a fight breaks out. I severely de-powered the githyanki, as a normal githyanki does piles and piles of damage. The wizards were clever, using multiple rays of frost to reduce her movement to zero.

She surrendered and after a lengthy interrogation, the adventurers decided to let the modrons kill her.

The heroes brought their 90 surviving modrons to Xaos. As it turned out, many expeditions fared even more poorly. The heroes were paid 500 gold and they went home to Sigil.

Aluran decided to live above The Face of Gith, to hone his chaos shaping skills and to befriend the githzerai.

It was a very fun session. It's always cool when people you know meet each other for the first time. They got along very well.

I am thinking of maybe running Out of the Abyss on Sunday nights when it comes out, as I really like running the current 'official' adventures. That's months away, though. We will easily be done with this by then. I may be able to squeeze in the Chris Perkins Planescape adventure "Umbra" as well.

Check out the next session, where Bidam returns and the heroes try to rescue a modron from an insane gate town.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Dungeons & Dragons - Why I Quit the Adventurer's League


I run games of Dungeons & Dragons in a game store. Currently we're playing through Princes of the Apocalypse. I write about it every week in this blog.

I am using art by Jason Thompson in this article. His walkthrough maps are insanely fun and detailed

What is my Role?

I have long been confused about my role in the game store. Am I the official coordinator, or am I just a DM who reports the games in the DCI system? The store owner would sometimes address the tables as if he was running the show.

I assumed I was just a DM who did the reporting. Every few years the store would tell me that they'd take over the reporting (why, I never knew) but within a few weeks they'd stop doing it and our store would lose our gold status. Gold status means that your store gets D&D books before the release date, and it used to mean getting cool free stuff.

The communication in the store is not ideal. I long ago learned that the best way to exist in that store is to just do your thing and don't ask questions. It's a space to meet people and run games, and in that department it is pretty fantastic.

I had an ominous feeling a month or two back. It was after the store owner came up to me and made a comment to me about reporting the games in the DCI system. He said something to me about showing the other DMs print-outs of the reports, which was completely out of the blue. I didn't even know what he was talking about.

Basically, I was reporting the games, but sometimes I'd smoosh them into one big report. That meant that sometimes, a DM would be put in as a player. Additionally, sometimes I listed Encounters games as Expeditions games. I've called wizards before, and they told me as long as I listed the names of everyone who played, it didn't matter. It was true that I wasn't reporting the games completely accurately.

So I thought to myself, well, OK, let me do this right. I will report these games perfectly. I took the owner's comment to me as a challenge to myself to make this game in the store as good as I could for everyone, not just my table.

I made sign-in sheets in photoshop. I encouraged each group to give themselves a group name and to share with me what was going on in their game. I tried to assume more of a coordinator role. But at the same time, I also was getting really fed up with the whole situation.

I decided to write an article about the game store, not to post in my blog, but just to vent and try to sort out the situation. Once I had finished it and read it over, I decided that I was nearing the limit of my tolerance for this place, and if it got worse, I'd quit.

The Fateful Sunday Game

That was the situation heading into Sunday, June 7th. I was running a special session of Princes of the Apocalypse. I wanted to make sure our campaign got done by the time Out of the Abyss came out.

This session was awful. I had what I like to call a "problem player", and for almost a year I've tip-toed around the guy. His dad plays in the campaign, too. In this session, the problem player complained about getting attacked while resting in a dungeon. He tried to rules lawyer his way into casting spells on invisible monsters. He tried to claim that a djinni's create whirlwind power was a spell that he could counterspell, and then when I shot it down he laughed and said, "It was worth a try".

Most offensive to me was that he greedily snatched up windvane, the artifact spear to the dismay of the 14-year olds he was playing alongside. This player had taken the only artifact in the previous campaign as well.

After this horrible session was over, I tried to move this player and his dad to another table. His father, who plays the game with him, refused to move. He said that his son was disabled and that I was violating his "civil rights".

I had been extra tolerant of this guy because I suspected he was not well. When I worked at the movie theater, we had a lot of group homes come in. When I say group home, I mean disabled people who live in assisted living communities. Sometimes, they'd bring someone who would make a scene in the theater. We'd have to ask them to leave. So they left.

Maybe I am just wrong. Maybe my job as a DM to manage this kind of thing. I could certainly understand the dad wanting to protect his son. It is nice that the guy cares.

All I know is that a thought popped into my head during all of this: I don't want to do this anymore. All of this people management stuff has become too difficult.

The father and I ended up having a series of heated phone conversations. I explained to him that his son could still play D&D in the store, just at a different table. His father again said no, his son was playing at my table.

Now I was getting really mad (as well as slightly amused). I said, "So the next time we play, you two are going to sit at my table? And I am going to refuse to run the game for you... and so we're all just going to sit there?"

"Civil rights", he said.

I wonder if we had moved our seats to another table and left him and his son where they were sitting, if they would have moved with us.

The Store's Take

I called the store twice in between phone arguments with the dad. During the first phone call, the store owner was very receptive to me. I later found out that the dad had called the store owner many hours before. I don't know why the owner didn't tell me that up front. He already knew the situation, but he let me explain it again as if he'd never heard it.

Why wouldn't he have told me that he already knew what was going on right when I called?

The whole thing boiled down to this situation where the owner claimed they would make them switch tables, but I was wary.

This is what I feared would happen: They'd bend to the dad's will and tell me to just keep running for him. The dad was hellbent on sitting at my table, and I could honestly picture having mall security come and drag him out. Neither scenario was at all appealing to me.

If I could have, I would have just kept running the game for the dad and his son to avoid all of this conflict. But the fact is that my patience had simply run out.

I Failed My Save

Another thing hit me as I talked to the owner. Even if I did get these people switched out to another table, that leaves a seat open at my table for someone new.  If I remove this problem player, there's a chance another problem player will take his place. That's the nature of public play.

So I said to the owner, "I think I should just quit. This isn't for me."

For seven years, I've been running games in this store. I built D&D in there from absolutely nothing. In 2008, there were no games of D&D going on. Now in 2015, we have five tables going and the store contains more D&D players than magic players, in a store that has massive magic events.

Would the store owner beg me to reconsider? Would he reassure me that this could be taken care of in an efficient manner? Would he give me a nice little thank you for helping him build D&D games in his store while encouraging the players to buy things to support him?

Here's what he said: "OK. See you around".

Seven years of encounters seasons, lair assaults, game days, free RPG days and my own Scales of War public play campaign which went from level 1 to level 30 (two years of weekly play!). That's all he had to say. "See you around".

What Now?

I've been talking to other players. My table in the store is going to be run by Dark's dad, and I think he will do an awesome job. I have put out feelers to certain players. I am going to try and keep going with Princes at my place. I am not sure if I will be able to make it work just yet.

I still have my Great Modron March home game, but that is on hold for a couple of weeks until Jessie gets back from vacation.

I have a number of D&D dreams, many of which were fulfilled in the game store. I was able to run a bunch of classic adventures like White Plume Mountain and Baba Yaga's Hut. I got to run a game for kids, and it was extremely awesome.

I have two D&D dreams left:
  1. I want to form a group of all-female players and a female DM. I don't want to play in it, I just want to hear about the game and what happens in it.
  2. I want to run a game for senior citizens. When I say that, I mean I want to go to an old folk's home with a briefcase and run a campaign for people 67-years old and up.
I don't know if either of those things will ever happen, but I'm keeping my mind open.

I will probably write a few guides in the next few weeks while I set up new games. It's a weird time but hopefully things will work out,

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Princes of the Apocalypse - Aerisi Kalinoth

This past Sunday, I ran a special extra session of Princes of the Apocalypse at the game store. I want to make sure we get this book done by mid-September, when Out of the Abyss comes out. Also, my great modron march game will be on hold as my players are on vacation, so I figured running this would give me something to write about.

Well, it is now Tuesday and I can barely bring myself to write this article. Sunday's game was the worst session of D&D I have had in years. When it was over, I wanted to quit running these things altogether.

I don't even know how to write this. I want to tell you what happened, but I don't know the fair and polite way to do so.

I've decided for now to edit this and leave it alone A lot of stuff is happening. As of now I am no longer running games at the game store. I'll probably have more to say in a few days when the smoke clears, so to speak.

Sorry to be a "tease", but I don't want to write things that I might regret down the road.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Princes of the Apocalypse - Temple of Howling Hatred

I spent a few hours preparing for today's session. We're finally in the temple of elemental evil, and I wanted to make sure I had the whole place ready. We're doing the air temple, aka the Temple of Howling Hatred.

I've pretty much taken all the sand out of the sandbox. I removed two exits in this temple section. They lead to the fire temple and to the Fane of the Eye, both areas much higher level than they are. I have constructed this so that the characters will march right into the water temple next, as that is for level 7 characters.

A weird thing about this dungeon is that there's a good chance that the characters will end up heading right to the big bad guy (Aerisi) right away. But they'll still have to make their way through more of the dungeon, which seems a bit awkward.

The Party
  • Elf Rogue: Played by a 4th grader, her character's name is Lucky and she has a black cat named "Bad Luck". Her character loves ghost peppers.
  • Dwarf Cleric: In real life, played by Lucky's dad. He has a scottish accent and worships Ilmater.
  • Drow Rogue: Middle Schooler. Wants to be evil, but Adventurer's League rules restrict this. Has a dog.
  • Goliath Barbarian: Middle Schooler. Really nice guy.
  • Human Bard: The player is about 25 years old, knows the rules pretty well. 
  • Human Paladin: Worships Helm. Played by the bard's dad, who played old D&D and is new to 5e.
  • Human Rogue: A new player. Taking to the game very well.
Plaza of the Muses

The bard is in room 4.
We had left off last time with the adventurers walking through a hallway. Arrow slits opened in the walls and kenku started pelting them with arrows.

We picked up from there, and to my surprise, the heroes ran from this room into room 4, where a bard named Windharrow was playing the flute with five initiates. They were terrible musicians. The heroes ran in, one by one, and Windharrow thought they had come to audition (I swear this is in the module). So, the adventurers began to play the flute, mostly unsuccessfully. The kenku ran into the room and attacked the heroes, who suddenly had a giant pile of foes to defeat.

The characters are level 6, and today we got to see just how powerful they are. The party bard shut down the enemy bard with counterspell and then a hold person spell. The adventurers chopped up these bad guys with ease. One kenku ran, the heroes didn't follow. He ran to the temple to alert Aerisi (the prophet who is on the cover of the adventure).

The characters then explored a hallway where three guys were tied to pillars, starving. To join the cult, they had to subsist on nothing but air for days. The heroes tried to free them, but the crazed would-be cultists told them not to. Lucky finally forced a guy to eat some rations, but he declared that Yan-C-Bin, prince of elemental air, would see to it that no digestion took place.

Palace Plaza

Then the adventurers came to the main area in this place - a giant pyramid surrounded by a moat. On the top of the pyramid was a cultist (a skyweaver - powerful spellcaster) riding a wyvern!

Since they'd been warned by the kenku, the bad guys attacked. To my utter surprise, the heroes trounced these two. Part of it was some massive critical hits rolled by the players. The wyvern was very, very deadly (the poison in its tail does 24 damage!). One rogue actually did go down, but the party has an abundance of healing and they won out in a swift and convincing fashion.

The Waterfall

Then, we had... an incident. The heroes were about to enter the pyramid. They picked a set of double doors at the base of it, ready to bust in and mess some bad guys up. I narrated the nearby crashing sound of the waterfall (the moat nearby had a waterfall that plunged into a dark chasm). Lucky, whose player is nine years old, told me she was going to swim to the waterfall.

I stopped her and told her it looked incredibly dangerous to do that - the current looked strong and if she got dragged into the waterfall she could fall and die. She still insisted. I asked her why, and she said she wanted to see the chasm. I think what was going on in her head was that there was likely more to this area than it seemed. She was right!

There's a couple things to know about this moat:
  1. The bottom of this 20 foot deep moat is littered with gold and treasure. I had rolled earlier in the day where the platinum chalice worth 2,500 gold was in the moat, and I'd actually rolled this side by the waterfall!
  2. Patrolling the moat is a 12 foot tall dwarf statue, which is a stone golem with +10 to hit, an AC of 17 and an immunity to non-magic weapons!
  3. When in the water, a PC must make an athletics check or get dragged 20 feet toward the waterfall - and maybe right over the side!
What followed was utter insanity. Lucky dove in. Her driftglobe illuminated the treasure on the bottom of the moat, including the chalice. She also saw the statue stomping toward her.

Other heroes dove in to fight the statue. The new guy, the rogue, got taken by the current and dragged right to edge! Others tried to attack the statue, but saw that their weapons did nothing to it.

Almost the entire party was in the moat, but for the most part they rolled freakishly high on their swim checks (every roll was terrifying for all concerned!). The statue pummeled poor Lucky, who ended up unconscious.

The cleric was able to toss a rope to the rogue. Other heroes got out of the water and were able to pull him to safety.

But now Lucky was unconscious, certain to go over the waterfall on her next turn! A rogue hooked her with a grappling hook while the barbarian kept the statue busy. In the end, everyone got out of the moat and the statue resumed its never-ending underwater patrol.

Lucky's player felt bad and was worried aloud that everyone was mad at her for almost getting them killed. I told her that if she hadn't gone in the water, she'd never have seen that goblet that was worth 2500 gold!

The goblet was still there, underwater. One rogue, an arcane trickster, had an idea. He cast mage hand. He focused, and levitated the goblet out of the water and into his grasp! The heroes have very little gold (they make maybe 30 gold per session each). This goblet will increase their wealth immensely.

We were out of time. I am so glad Lucky messed with the moat. The moat and the statue is one of my favorite parts of the air temple.

It looks like we are going to get in a special session this Sunday, so I should have a report up on it soon after.

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Great Modron March - Modron Madness

We played through another chapter of The Great Modron March last night. The heroes are now 3rd level. This might pose a problem in the latter chapters, as I think they are made for characters of significantly higher levels. I am pretty sure I can adjust them without too much difficulty, though.

For tonight's game, I used stats from Elemental Evil. I think I based the bad guys on the air cultist numbers.

The Party

(George) Theran - Elf Mage
(Jessie) Bidam - Dragonborn Fighter

Bidam leveled up to 3, and decided to become an eldritch knight.

The Brothel of Slaking Intellectual Lusts

Fall-From-Grace
The adventurers returned to Sigil, still suffering from the beast pox. Theran had owl features, and Bidam had dog features. They bumped into the cadaver collector they'd created, who was politely handing a corpse over to a dustman collector (I wanted to show that the creature was overly-nice due to the silver sea water running through its veins).

The next day, still beast-poxed, Xaldra Miloni showed up. She needed help with a job. This was my way of trying to make them feel connected to her, and also to run them through a Planescape: Torment plot that I liked from the computer game.

Basically, the heroes had to go to the Brothel of Slaking Intellectual Lusts and find the lost/stolen veil of one of the Sensates (she's a medusa - she really needs that veil). It was stolen by a guy who was magically disguising himself as an armoire in the building. I ran him like he was a bit of a pervert.

The players really got a kick out of this, and got to interact with a few of the sensates. Remember, this is the place where beautiful women talk to and listen to anyone who comes in.

I made sure to have them meet Fall-From-Grace, who is a succubus who abandoned her evil ways. She is a great NPC, maybe the coolest succubus NPC in D&D (check out my article on the succubus and see for yourself).

There's one sensate, Kimaxsi Adder-tongue, who has spiky hair and goat legs. She is very cruel. People come in just to be insulted by her. Bidam figured out that Kimaxsi likes to be insulted back, and after a few volleys of vile, profane insults, the two took a liking to each other.

The reward for finding Marissa's veil was a 3 month stay in Sylvania, the gate town to Arborea. This launches us right into Chapter 5.

Return to Sylvania

Sylvania is #5 on this map.
The heroes go to their suite at the Drunken Leaf and we commence with weeks of drunken debauchery, of course using the carousing table in the DMG.

Theran ends up losing at a game of strip poker. Bidam runs into his enemy, Titanicus, who defeats her in a game of chance and Bidam ends up having to spend a night in a rotating vomitorium.

The modron march eventually comes through the town. The people treat it like a festival, painting the modrons, putting beads on them, stuff like that.

The adventurers lost sight of their friend Xaldra during the revels, and the next day she still hadn't been found.

It turned out that she'd been abducted and brought to a wizard in the woods. The wizard, named Valran, was doing experiments like the Tacharim did in chapter 3. He was trying to merge people and modrons into one monstrous creature.

So Xaldra did return to the suite, but in "modronoid" form. She had arm blades and was completely insane with rage! The heroes subdued her and brought her to a jail where she could be held and restrained safely.

The Bleak Cabal

The adventurers asked around town. All signs pointed to some creepy, drab guys in the woods. The heroes tracked them down to a cave, and decided to talk to them. By now, Jessie understood that in most of these Planescape adventures, talking to the bad guys is an option.

The guards were wary, but the adventurers won them over. They played dice (Theran won). It turned out that these guards were members of the Bleak Cabal, a faction that believes that there is no meaning in the multiverse. They follow three main points:
  1. Quit looking for meaning
  2. Accept whatever happens
  3. Look inward
The adventurers learned that the cabal was working for Valran the wizard. They pretended they wanted to get hired by him. The cabal gave the heroes directions.

Valran's Home


Valran's home is in the shape of a flower. Jessie insisted it was a mustache. They explored the place, which has a lot of neat little rooms in it. They found:
  • A magic stone that repels small insects (for use in a dining area).
  • A room with over a dozen glowing colored stones. Experimenting showed that the stones became inert when taken out of the room. They would eventually learn that these were sensory stones that held memories of the people Valran had abducted.
  • A tapestry that, when touched, showed different landscapes.
  • Another tapestry in a room with a crystal ball that Bidam immediately figured out was sort of like a security camera. It showed the exterior of the building, as well as the interior rooms.
Using the tapestry, the heroes scanned every room. They found a room with humanoid prisoners, another with modron prisoners, and a room with 7 modronoids who were held in place by a magic web. The modronoids were hacking their way out of the web and would soon be free!

Valran

The heroes then found the room with Valran in it. He was in a blood-spattered lab, taking notes in a big book.

The heroes found the room, exploded in and got the surprise on him. Bidam scored a critical hit. Poor Valran never had a chance (I gave him a few first level spells and about 35 hit points). They knocked him out and tied him up.

To their dismay, the modronoids broke out of their room and came rampaging down the hall towards them. Bidam killed two and then they barricaded the door shut. They could hear the other modronoids shambling like zombies out in the hallway.

The heroes forced Valran awake and questioned him. They learned that Valran was a sensate, and wanted to merge with a modron to experience what that was like. Valran admitted that pressing a sensory stone to the chest of a modronoid could infuse the creature with memories from its old life and restore some of the modronoid's sanity. They'd still be a hideous monstrosity, but perhaps they wouldn't be insane murder machines.

Theran put his finger in Valran's ear and cast firebolt, killing him.

"Curing" the Modronoids

What followed was a pretty insane plan. The heroes ran out into the hall, ducking modronoid attacks. They got two modronoids to chase them to the sensory stones, and then Bidam fought them while Theran grabbed sensory stones and pressed them to the modronoids, until the right one was used and the modronoid gained its memories.

Bidam has a high AC so this worked for a while, but Bidam took a few slices and then Theran got cut down! Theran was dying! There were two modronoids trying to murder him while Bidam frantically tried to use the sensory stones.

Jessie remembered that she had belief points, and used them to pick the right stones and to render the modronoids inert. Bidam healed his trusty wizard buddy and stabilized him.

Bidam carried Theran's unconscious body around. He freed the prisoners and the modrons. Then he went to the crystal ball room. He was curious about it...

The Crystal Ball

Bidam plopped Theran to the ground and touched the crystal ball. Poor Bidam. He failed a saving throw and was paralyzed! And in this adventure, he was not paralyzed for a minute or even an hour. He was paralyzed until someone cast dispel magic on him!

Hours later, Theran awoke and saw Bidam standing there, paralyzed. He knew they didn't have a lot of time before the Bleak Cabal guards would come to the complex. He would have to get Bidam out of there....

That's where we had to stop. This was the best session of the campaign so far! I didn't think much of this adventure when I read it, but as is often the case, it comes off differently when you actually run it.

My players have vacations for the next three weeks (George next week, and Jessie the two after). I'm trying to get "guest stars" to fill in, but Sunday at midnight is a hard time for most people to make.

Click here to go to Session 6, where the heroes go to Limbo and battle slaads