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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Dungeons & Dragons - Curse of Strahd

Now that I've gone over the book in agonizing detail, I am ready to write a review of Curse of Strahd, a Dungeons & Dragons adventure meant for characters levels 1-10. I'll try and make this short and sweet (hours later: I failed).

You can buy this adventure and the tarokka deck on amazon here:

Curse of Strahd: A Dungeons & Dragons Sourcebook (D&D Supplement)
D&D: Curse of Strahd Tarokka Deck

We'll go over the good stuff, the bad stuff, and then I'll give my overall thoughts.

The Good

This adventure is something of a "re-imagining" of the original Ravenloft adventure, with a bunch of extra stuff added in. They did this in 3rd edition with Expedition to Castle Ravenloft, and I think Curse of Strahd pulls it off far better.

The entire concept of needing to go track down the different items to defeat Strahd gives the heroes a reason to go to these side places, so they don't feel like filler.

You can really tell that a wizards staffer wrote this adventure, as opposed to the outside studios that made Princes of the Apocalypse, Out of the Abyss and etc. This adventure is much tighter and cohesive. Everything has a certain rhyme or reason, and the different locales are linked to each other in natural ways.

Often in the other 5e adventures, you could sense that different people worked on different chapters. This led to an uneven feel and a lack of cohesiveness that meant you had to sit down and put in a lot of work to make the adventure feel like a continuous story rather than a collection of isolated locales.

Lots of Material to Raid

My favorite NPC
Many of the locations in Curse of Strahd are a lot of fun and are worthy of being pulled out and used in your own campaign even if you never use this adventure.

Vallaki: This area is overloaded with great stuff. It's a little crowded and confusing, but I love the Wachters and I think Izek Strazni is a top notch bad guy.

Ruins of Berez: Baba Lysaga is a fantastic villain. I think every DM should try and put this chapter into their campaign in some way. I am fascinated to see if there is any link to Baba Yaga. There's so many possibilities.

The Amber Temple: I'm a bit torn on this place. It feels sort of like it doesn't belong in this book. It's a great locale and maybe I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure it actually defines just who the Dark Powers of Ravenloft are! I love it. If you are running a campaign that involves Vecna, I think you should definitely use this place. It honestly feels like this temple can be the centerpiece of a Vecna-based adventure or campaign.

Van Richten's Tower: I love this area so much. It's simple and very D&D. You can use the traps here in any campaign.

Billions of Good Ideas
 

The most important thing to me in any product is new, fun ideas. Stuff that inspires me and the players. This book is full of them.

The Dream Pastries are fantastic. Stella, the girl who acts like a cat is in my opinion a really fun NPC. The Revenants in Argynvostholt are very cool and I think Sir Godfrey looks awesome. The flesh golem bride is a hilariously creepy idea that can lead to all sorts of great things. As soon as I read the name Seriach the Hell Hound Whisperer, I knew I had to use this NPC in my own campaign in some fashion. Even though she's just one of the NPCs in the crypts, Sasha Ivliskova the old vampire wife of Strahd's who has been locked away and forgotten immediately gave me a lot of cool ideas.

There's even good little ideas in a throwaway item like Rictavio's journal. There's a mention of an orc who can bite through chains and there is a description of conjoined goblin twins. You just read those entries and an NPC pops into your head, fully formed.

Links to Many Different Settings

Tenebrous aka Undead Orcus
One of the most enjoyable things about this book is that there are quiet little links to many other D&D products. From what I understand, the Wizard of Wines is from Rahasia (which was written by the Hickmans, who also wrote the original Ravenloft adventure). There's a prominent NPC linked to Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure. There's vestiges linked to Dead Gods and Savage Tide. I bet there's a ton more that I didn't even pick up on.

I really appreciate the time and effort put in to give us those sorts of details. This book was not slapped together. It feels like they went over it time and again, adding layers of tweaks and details. It really shines through.

The Art

One of my favorite pieces of art in Curse of Strahd
I am really pleased that they put some full-page images in this book. I love D&D art. It really helps me visualize things. I would say that most of the art in this book is above average, but there has been no art in 5e that has really blown me away. Are we simply past the era of superstar artists?

I still maintain that if there is a great 5e artist, it is Mike Schley. His maps are fantastic and fun to look at.

Steady Improvement

Each time wizards of the coast puts out a new D&D adventure, they fix some mistakes from the last one. Previously, there was a problem in that the adventures were simply too long. Going from level 1 to 16 or whatever takes a lot longer than 6 months for most groups.

In this adventure, you go from levels 1-10. There is still a ton of material and you will definitely get your money's worth, but you won't necessarily need to invest a year of your life of weekly play to get through it.

The Bad

Let me say that I think this is the best adventure so far, and I think it wins by a wide margin. Tyranny of Dragons was uneven and underdeveloped in many places. Princes of the Apocalypse just felt flat to me and I hated the haunted keeps. Out of the Abyss was cool but read like it was a slog and I get the sense a lot of people bailed out on the adventure once they got to the surface at level 8.

So I definitely would say that Curse of Strahd is worth buying. Even if you don't run it, there is a metric ton of material in the book that you can use for your campaign. That said...

Does Anyone Really Want a Remake?

Judging from the popularity of this adventure, I'd say that the answer to this is "yes." But for me, I'd much prefer a sequel that builds on past events rather than a "re-telling." This adventure is handled in a way where you could say it is a sequel, but if you ran the original Ravenloft adventure then you're putting your players through a deluxe version of the same thing.

I want new ideas. I want underdeveloped concepts from previous editions to get a chance to shine. I want new classics. Re-creating old material is, to me, a way of saying: "The old stuff was better and we can't top it." That's not true. There's a lot of people out there with awesome ideas. Just give them an outlet and let's move things forward.

Filler

While they put in a herculean effort to make all of the locations worthwhile, some of them come off as filler. Tsolenka Pass seems very insignificant. Yester's Hill is basically an elaborate encounter with druids. The Werewolf Clan feels extremely optional and the werewolves feel like one horror element too many. Argynvostholt comes off to me as overblown and almost completely extraneous.

The weirdest one is the hags in Old Bonegrinder. There is a good chance that the group will be 4th level when they go here, and they will be walking into a TPK against three night hags. What's weirder is that when the author ran this on Dice, Camera, Action, he changed them to weaker green hags. Why were they night hags in the first place?

New DMs Don't Know What to Do with This

I have read similar comments from numerous new DMs on Reddit. They are saying that they bought this book and they have no idea how to run it.

That is because wizards is still organizing these books in that weird way where each location gets a chapter and you have to dig through them to find out how the plot gets you from one place to another.

The whole book starts off with miscellaneous jumbled chapters loaded with all sorts of disparate concepts like how the mists work and where things are on the overland map, often then referring us to another chapter for the bulk of the material.

The entire Tser Pool Encampment is actually lodged into one of these chapters rather than being given its own section. It's a tiny location, but it contains such a major part of the plot (the tarokka reading) that you expect it to have its own chapter rather than being buried in that miscellaneous Barovia description section. I think that if they had put Tser Pool, the gypsy description and the tarokka rules all in one singular gypsy-centric chapter, it would have made things easier for me.

In the case of Curse of Strahd, the organization makes a bit more sense because the entire idea of this adventure is that you do the tarokka reading and are basically randomly assigned areas to visit. But it's up to the DM to figure out how to get the group to these places, and new DMs are going to have a hard time with that. The hooks that take you from one area to another are buried deep in each chapter. You have to read the entire book to understand how to link things together, and you better take notes because few people will be able to remember all of that material.

This is a big book and it requires a lot of reading. I can see how many newcomers might feel overwhelmed. We really needed a page with a synopsis/sample plot, detailing how the campaign progresses from one location to the next.

I still think they should be organizing these adventures like Pathfinder Adventure Paths - linear. If you want a sandbox, It's not hard at all to make a sandbox out of a railroad. But it is very time-consuming to turn this sandbox into a path. And I still really wish they'd put page number references rather than "see chapter 5 of the DMG."

Continuous Organizational Issues
I found this hazard to be annoyingly difficult to look up.
What's funny about these organizational choices is that I personally benefit from them. My "guides" to these adventures where I try to help DMs prepare are by far the most popular articles on my site. To me, that says that DMs need help with these books. That should not be the case! The point of a published adventure is to make it so that the DM does not have to do a lot of work!

Even the best adventures require a certain amount of prep and research. When I ran White Plume Mountain for 5e a year or two ago, it took just a few hours to prep. I got four full sessions out of it. I cannot tell you the hours upon hours I have spent looking up stuff and connecting dots with Curse of Strahd. It felt like a chore. It felt like work. It took me weeks and sometimes I dreaded going back to it. And I love D&D! I am a big Chris Perkins fan!

Having to sit there and look up every god damn magic item, monster and especially the traps and environmental hazards (which are really annoying to find) was the worst! Here's an example...

The Charm of Heroism: On page 39 of Curse of Strahd, the heroes might be given a charm of heroism. We are told to "see "Supernatural Gifts" in chapter 7 of the Dungeon Master's Guide."

Now let's go find it. We don't have a page number so we have to flip through the book. What a pain. We find it. It says "This charm allows you to give yourself the benefit of a potion of heroism as an action."

So guess what?! Now we have to find the potion of heroism. No page number, no nothing. Let's go find it.

It's on page 188 of the DMG. Guess what it says? "...For the same duration, you are under the effect of the bless spell (no concentration required)."

NOW WE HAVE TO LOOK UP BLESS.

It's on PH page 219. +d4 to attack rolls or saves for one minute.

I really, really wish that they would just write what some of this stuff does right in the adventure text. So many games are going to come to a screeching halt because of this charm of heroism. DMs who don't prepare this kind of thing in advance are suddenly flipping through multiple books while their players sit there and time ticks away. It's an easy thing to overlook, as you'll assume you can just flip to a page and boom there's the info.

The Art

I mentioned the good stuff about the art, now here's the bad. I personally don't like the way Strahd looks. To me, Strahd will always look like the guy in the AD&D 1st edition Clyde Caldwell painting. In this book, Strahd is.. purple? Sort of? And the details on his face in almost every piece are a bit mushy. 

Seriously though, look at the above comparison. Am I just an old fogey? The 5e cover certainly isn't bad at all. I like the surreal quality of it, which is something I really enjoyed on Jeff Easley covers. It really isn't fair to ask anyone to follow up an iconic piece of D&D art. But to me, that is not Strahd.

Couldn't they have just hired Clyde Caldwell to do the 5e cover and update his look? I understand that the Bela Lugosi-style vampire is extremely dated, but this new dude does absolutely nothing for me.

The interior art is also hampered by the 5e "page rips," something I've groaned about before. This design choice actually obscures parts of the art and in some cases makes them look significantly worse.

Check out this example. This is art of the gates of Barovia:

Do you see how the white paper obscures the top of the art? It's so close to one of the statues that it lessens the effect - it becomes difficult to see that both heads are lopped off.

There also seems to be an issue with how the art turns out when printed. While I like that full page art is used, a lot of the full page pieces are muddy or vague. Take a look at this image from page 83. I have the digital version and how it looks in the book side by side.

And keep in mind that the above book version is actually a bit brighter than what I am looking at in my book! I understand that some of this must just be the mechanics of how things are printed. But between the darkening and the page rips, I think the artists are being done a disservice. When I saw this art of the ghoul in the book, I thought it was horrible. Most of the page was black. It felt like a missed opportunity. But then I found the original art online.. and it's good!

The Poster Map

I think I am in the minority on this, but I feel strongly about it. The poster map feels wasted. On one side, there's a map of Barovia and the towns. This is useful to a degree, as you and your players can look at it on the table and track where the group is, particularly when they are on the road.

The other side has the Castle Ravenloft map. Even at poster map size, the castle sections are small. They're isometric, which is a bit confusing. Worst of all, this poster map has the secret doors and the traps on it.

So if you plop this thing down on the table, your players are going to know a lot more about the castle than they should and an entire element is taken out of the game. That's not the end of the world. But even when this thing is on the table, you need to squint and turn this gigantic map around to kind of, sort of, point out where the heroes are.

Even if the DM just wants to use the map to personally refer to in play, how the heck are you going to do that? It's gigantic! Are you going to fold up your map in ways it wasn't meant to be bent? Are you going to unfurl this massive thing and hold it up in front of your face and speak to the players?

To me, this thing is completely impractical. I would have preferred a separate booklet with the castle sections on individual pages with DM notes.

I have always liked battle maps. This poster could have had one side with some generic, reusable areas at five feet per square. Divide one side up into quarters for four maps: The road, a village street, an inn and a church, cave or dungeon interior. The other side can have some specific but reusable locales. Mostly Castle Ravenloft areas - especially the crypts! In fact, an entire side might be devoted to the crypts, as that is a massive area that the adventurers will probably spend a lot of time in.

I know 5e is miniatures-optional, but there are some locations in every adventure where you just need minis or some kind of visual representation of where the characters are and what the room is like.

Death House

This mini-adventure is designed to get the heroes from level 1 to level 3. Honestly, I think it doesn't belong in this book. It's not a bad adventure. I love the idea. It would be a great Expeditions scenario.

I think there's too many rooms in Death House and it feels like if you don't run the adventure carefully, your group will get bored. I also don't like the choice of final monster at all. This location has no real connection to anything in Curse of Strahd, which is a bummer because there is so much material out there to play with.

Instead of going through Death House, the group could have interacted with Strahd or one of his underlings like Rahadin. They could have encountered Beucephalus the nightmare in the woods. They could have found Ezmerelda's trail, or a villager comatose from a dream pastry. A vestige could have reached out to tempt them. Sergei's spirit might have lead them into Barovia. They could have had some kind of chase or interaction with the gypsies. There's so many possibilities.

I think Curse of Strahd would have been much better served with an introductory mini-adventure that brings the group into Barovia and lets them have a few easy fights and roleplaying encounters, so that new players have the opportunity to learn the basics of the game. In fact, they probably should have just done the Madam Eva tarokka reading right off the bat rather than hoping the group makes their way to Tser Pool.

Tarokka Woes

It's not the end of the world or anything, but I pre-ordered the tarokka deck well before the Curse of Strahd book even came out. The deck did not actually come out and arrive at my house until at least a month after the book did.

I had originally planned on starting Curse of Strahd right when the book came out. I would have been really annoyed to find that I wouldn't even have the deck when my group got to the tarokka reading. I actually looked into buying an older version of the deck online when I heard that the official deck wouldn't be out on time.

It doesn't seem like rocket science to know that the tarokka deck should be out by the time the book is, if not before. All of those Adventurer's League groups are starting Curse of Strahd right when the book is out. These potential customers are right there in stores where the decks can be sold. The tarokka reading is essential to the adventure and is meant to be done in one of the first sessions. If the group goes through the reading and the deck isn't even out yet, then that DM isn't going to buy the deck when it does come out because it is no longer needed! It's too late!

Overall

Most of my gripes really have nothing to do with the actual content of the adventure, but rather how it is presented. Every single 5e adventure requires a ridiculous amount of "homework" and I think that is a shame.

But the fact remains that if you can get past all of that, this is the best 5e adventure yet. It is full of great ideas. Many of the locations are fantastic. Tons of thought and care went into this and it really shows.

I think a lot of people might regard Curse of Strahd as a modern classic, perhaps even moreso than The Red Hand of Doom. Time will tell on that one. But there is no question that this is a great adventure that is well worth your money.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Planescape - Bechard, Demon Lord of Tempests

On Sunday I ran another homebrewed session of Planescape. Next week, we're going to start Tales From the Infinite Staircase.

This session was all about "playing with toys." I picked out NPCs and concepts that I personally enjoy and worked out a scenario with them. The topics included:
  • Bazuuma: A goofy home-made "good" nascent demon lord that I use quite a bit.
  • Bechard: A demon lord who is barely detailed in the books, mostly in the Fiendish Codex. I like his story and the players latched onto it when it was firs introduced way back when.
  • Succubus Problems: The tension between Red Shroud and her daughter, Fall From Grace
  • The Iron Shadow: I am developing the "curses" the Lady of Pain gave the heroes a few sessions ago. These curses are actually tools to defeat the Iron Shadow, the villain of the Infinite Staircase.
Occipitus
The "Good" Demon Lords: This concept kind of blossomed out of my Shackled City campaign in 2008. In The Shackled City adventure path, one PC can become the ruler of a demonic layer called Occipitus. The character gains a smoking eye and special powers. Awesome, right? Since that time, in my campaign there's been a few 'good'-aligned demon lords:
  • Lord Pip: The halfling who gained the Smoking Eye.
  • Dyakis: A demon lord that was bound in a sword. The wielder eventually merged with it and rules a layer I made up called Nephrax.
  • Bazuuma: A beautiful lady with 20 eyes who is on her way to becoming a demon lord. Originally she was going to be a demon lord of vanity, but the heroes in my Blackmoor campaign infused her with positive energy (long story). So now she's all about positivity and self esteem.
I don't know what this is building towards, but it's a long term story in my campaigns that will be good fodder for us to mess with however we like.

The Party

(Jessie) Bidam - Platinum-Scaled Dragonborn Fighter
(George) Theran - Drow Wizard
* NPCs - Fall From Grace (Succubus Paladin), Selinza ("Litorian" Wizard, level 4)  

Downtime

We did a big old pile of downtime stuff. I love the downtime between adventures, as you can develop the NPCs and do lots of fun little stories.

Last time, the heroes had found a building full of demon treasure (a "tanari treasure cache") with no entrance. They debated whether or not to go enlist the aid of "The Greatest Thief in Sigil," Ash Vodiran. They'd left him in a prison, in custody of paladins in the Outlands.

Ash had the ability to become insubstantial. In theory, he could easily get in and out of the cache, which was the size of a shack. But Ash had stolen from the heroes twice and they really don't like him. They decided to leave him there for now.

We did some stuff with their festhall. Basically I just wanted the heroes to get a glimpse of Aza Dowling, the "post-coitus depression councilor." The heroes don't know it, but she is a spy of Shemeshka. So far they suspect nothing.

The heroes own a bunch of buildings in an area of sigil known as Deadbook square. Because of recent developments, two groups moved out (the devils and Shemeshka's casino), leaving vacancies.

These vacancies were filled by:

The Drow: A handful of male drow from Undermountain have moved in. They are led by a drow who is possessed by the evil sword Craggis (the villain in the final adventure of the Great Modron March). The heroes had given Craggis to Paellistra, the drow priestess in Undermountain. The heroes don't know it yet, but these guys are here in Sigil to acquire slaves.

The Creepy Guy: In Curse of Strahd, there's this wizard who is making a flesh golem bride for Strahd. I decided that there's a guy in Sigil who is opening a high-end store where people can buy flesh golem husbands and wives, girlfriends, whatever. You pick a head and a body and they're all yours for a considerable investment! He tried to get the heroes to sign a contract so that he could use their bodies once they're dead, but the heroes didn't bite.

The Other Adventurers: Each session I have the NPC heroes go on an adventure. This time, Selinza, Theran's cat lady apprentice, went with them. She's trying to level up! They went on this whole quest that I spent too much time cooking up. The gist of this whole thing was that the group got split up and Selinza used Theran's Portal Beacon to get them re-united.

Hit it? Or Quit It?! Bidam's Lady of Pain curse is tied to his life philosophy of Hit it and Quit it. Last session, he learned that when he hits it, his partner gains an iron coating over their heart. Bidam's not sure what that means.

So this session, he looked at Vrischika, the blue-skinned alu-fiend who runs a magic shop. She's been an ally of the group for a very long time. Bidam suddenly had to choose whether to hit it or quit it. Jessie (Bidam's player) agonized over this choice. She was afraid something bad would happen. Bidam eventually decided to not hit it. He heard a slicing noise and a splatter sound. He doesn't know it yet, but one of the Zactars (worshipers of Umbra) is dead.

Sark Axebarrel is One Day from Retirement: There's these NPCs who deliver soul larvae to Bazuuma, the nascent demon lord. They just go through the portal and her fortress is right there on the first layer of the Abyss. They are getting rich off of this easy gig.

I had Sark tell the heroes that he's got enough money to buy a home in Heart's Faith and settle down. Basically I was recreating this scene, really fighting hard not to let myself go too over the top and make it obvious what was about to happen.

So Sark and the bariaur go through the portal, there's an explosion and they die. The heroes catch a glimpse of this as the portal closes.

The heroes run through the portal and find a bunch of Solamiths scooping up the larvae. In the distance, the heroes can see Bazuuma's fortress going haywire.

The heroes pummelled the solamiths pretty good. During the battle, Theran's spellbook glowed. His curse from the lady of pain is that his spellbook can give him valuable information, but he has to look at it in one round or it disappears forever. He looked and learned about the Iron Shadow's shadow (it's made of radiant energy) and he also learned a magic item formula. He can now make a whispering flask, which is a githzerai healing powder.

The solamiths were defeated. The group raced to the fortress.

Theran can see invisible thanks to his robe of eyes, and he saw a red-skinned succubus invisibly flying into the fortress. He didn't recognize her, though they had actually met her before.

Red Shroud
They run inside and saw Bazuuma giving birth. Gonard Flumph, my Donald Trump NPC, was here helping to deliver the baby. The heroes had wiped his memory in the River Styx and left him here with Bazuuma. Red Shroud, invisible, was poisoning the drinks on the table next to her. These drinks are meant for Bazuuma and the baby, once it's born.

Theran got weird here. He didn't attack. He didn't do anything, really. He just watched Red Shroud. She flew away. He didn't stop her. Bazuuma gave birth to an abyssal dragon (Bidam is the father, FYI).

Bazuuma reached for the drink, and only then did Theran stop her. The way it played out, she probably could have drank it if I felt like it.

The heroes did let Gonard Flumph drink it.. all of it. The heroes hate Gonard Flumph! To their dismay, he didn't die. They didn't know it, but Red Shroud had used a poison that only affected evil creatures, called Golden Ice. Neither Bazuuma nor Flumph are evil. So in the end, this poison wouldn't have worked, anyway.

My idea here is that Red Shroud had been ordered to poison Bazuuma. I figured the heroes would think Pazuzu told her to do it, as he rules the Plane of 1,000 Portals. But it was actually Red Shroud's mother, Malcanthet (Queen of the Succubi), who views Bazuuma as an abomination - a "positive" demon lord. Red Shroud did not realize that Bazuuma was actually good, and so her golden ice wouldn't work.
Pazuzu
Bazuuma gave birth to the Abyssal Dragon. The heroes retrieved the soul larvae that poor Sark Axebarrel died delivering. Bazuuma ate almost all of them and transformed into a full-fledged demon lord! She was all disoriented and knew that many demon lords would want her dead.

The heroes decided to hide her and find a new home for her. They stashed her by the River Styx in the secret area that they'd used to sail to Kaliva's Isle during Nemesis. She pulled out one of her 20 eyes and handed it to Theran. She could see through it and teleport to it once the heroes had found her new home.

The adventurers headed to the portal to Nephrax, the abyssal realm of my homebrewed demon lord from my last campaign.

The heroes shmoozed with demon NPCs in the palace of Dyakis (demon lord of "soulstones" - demonic ioun stones). Bidam ends up with another hit it or quit it - he hooks up with a fun-loving demon named Yulmanda. She now has an iron-coated heart and thus will play a part in the endgame of the Iron Shadow.

The heroes figure out that their best plan is to seek out the demon lord Bechard. Bechard is a beached whale rotting away in Yeenoghu's layer. He is also an obyrith, one of 12 ancient demons that predate almost everyone else alive. They assumed he had tremendous knowledge.

The heroes had heard about him before and felt sorry for him. They decided that they'd try to help save him if he'd tell them of an abyssal layer that Bazuuma could dwell in.

As fate would have it, the heroes have a cubic gate. That's a magic item that can take you to six different planar locations. One location is Bechard's Landing! I'd wanted the heroes to meet Bechard for a long time, so I had already established it as one of the places they could go to using the gate.

They appeared on Bechard's Landing in Yeenoghu's Realm.

Out on the water, they saw Bechard's Cyst, the pirate ship they can summon with a magic whalebone. They used this magic ship to sail through Limbo and the astral sea in separate adventures. The ship started heading toward them - skeletal Captain Ricketshanks spotted them in his trusty eyeglass.

The heroes saw Bechard not far away, laying on the beach, covered in rotting wounds. A hurricane was localized over him, pelting the poor whale with acidic rain.

Yeenoghu
He was impaled on a giant harpoon that pinned him to the ground. The harpoon was attached to a chain that connected to a huge statue of Yeenoghu looking down on him.

Basically, this was a 4e skill challenge. Bidam headed into the hurricane:
  • Wind:  Sent Bidam hurtling into a rocky outcropping.
  • Acid Rain: Failed to pierce his hide.
  • Debris: Wind blew Bechard's caustic blood into Bidam, searing him.
  • Demonic Entity: A demonic presence in the hurricane entered Bidam's body. I was originally going to have it just be a thing that gives Bidam disadvantage once in a single session, but I had another idea at the table so for now Bidam has yet to feel the effects of the entity.
Bechard telepathically reached out to Bidam and agreed to the deal. Bidam needed to deal with the chained harpoon. My intention here was for Bidam to use his sword of sharpness to cut the chain. But instead, he pulled out his horn of blasting and used it on the statue of Yeenoghu. Awesome! The statue crumbled and Bechard was free.

They fed Bechard 30 soul larvae, given to them by Bazuuma. This gave Bechard the strength to swim again. He blew blood and gore out of his blowhole, trying to clear out his system.

The heroes boarded Bechard's Cyst and followed the whale. Bechard led them to an area of the Abyssian Ocean called The Stygian Eye. This is a magic maelstrom that randomly teleports you to an abyssal layer. Bechard, being an obyrith, had long ago devised a way to use the maelstrom to teleport to a layer of his choosing.

As the heroes got close, the clouds above shifted. They formed the twin heads of Demogorgon! One mouth opened, and out came a hideous savage wyvern, which swooped down at the ship. Theran hammered away at it with lightning bolts. It hit Bidam with its stinger, doing a total of 35 points in one shot! Bidam chopped it up, and another lightning bolt killed it.

The other head in the clouds roared, and a massive tidal wave struck the ship! Bidam and Fall From Grace went overboard! Bechard opened the portal. Bidam and Fall From Grace were in danger of being stranded!

Fall From Grace made some big rolls and was able to take flight, grab Bidam, and get back on the ship. They sailed through the portal, escaping Demogorgon's wrath. As they sailed into the Maelstrom, thin bolts of energy danced over them and created sparks. Theran didn't notice it, but his cubic gate was struck with a bolt and damaged.

When I was cooking u this adventure, I looked online for abyssal lairs with no ruler. I ended up going with layer 9 - Burningwater. There's very little detail on it. I didn't like the name, but in the end it seemed like the best choice.

It's an endless sea. Inside the water are "twisted lobsters, shellfish and armored fish." I decided to tie it to another Obyrith (using an article by James Jacobs from Dragon Magazine #357) named Cabiri.

Bechard let out a whale call, and a ruined city rose up from beneath the water. This was Bazuuma's new home.

Theran held up Bazuuma's eye, and she appeared in a flash with her dozen demons. The heroes had succeeded.

As Bazuuma was still getting used to her new powers, she couldn't teleport the heroes anywhere safe. Burningwater has virtually no portals in it - that's why it's abandoned, I decided.

Bechard was out in the ocean, so the heroes had to figure out their own way home. No problem, right? They have the cubic gate!

They looked it over and decided to go to the astral sea - Hestavar, the heavenly city where angels and devils co-existed in peace.

But when Theran pressed the button, he realized too late that the cubic gate had been damaged in the maelstrom! The heroes disappeared from Burningwater and appeared... somewhere else.

That's where we stopped. It was a good session. The players really like the whole curse of the Lady of Pain storyline, so it's going quite well.

Click here to read the next chapter.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Dungeons & Dragons - Dragon Plus Issue 7


It's that time again! Dragon Plus Issue 7 is out. Let's roll up our sleeves and put on our pointy wizard hats.

You can read this issue here.

As always, I am focusing on the tabletop D&D stuff in this issue. There's also articles about the Baldur's Gate expansion, the Tyrants of the Underdark minis game, and more. Each of these articles is gigantic and seem like they are full of useful material.

My biggest beef with the first bunch of issues of Dragon Plus was that it felt shallow. That is no longer the case. Each article is well thought out.

Letters From The Editor

Matt Chapman talks about how he watches about 16 hours of streaming D&D games per week. Wow. He actually uses the phrase "celebrity DMs." What a weird time we live in.

I kind of feel like I should be checking these shows out, but it feels like a significant investment of time. This is coming from a dude with piles of free time!

Dice Camera Action: D&D as Entertainment

In this article, we get quotes from a number of DMs who stream online. They talk about how good audio equipment is important, the importance of improv skills to keep the game from being boring to watch and making rules calls on the fly.

They also talk a bit about the weirdness of having people watch you play. I imagine it must be quite nerve-wracking. I suppose the watchers who don't like it will just leave.

I'd like to see another article that describes what a streaming session is like, from setting up the software to wrapping up. What kind of technical glitches can happen? What kind of feedback do you get? Do you need a tech person there? That kind of thing.

The Journal of Ezmerelda D'Avenir

Ezmerelda's Wagon
Here we go. I'm most interested in Curse of Strahd stuff. One of the things I like most about Dragon Plus is that they use "clean art" from 5e products. It is shockingly hard to find the original art online. In this one we get the full version of Ezmerlda's cart, which is something I dug around on the internet to find in vain.

The journal starts off like this: "In the event of my death, it is my wish that someone take up a sharpened stake of silver and bury it in the chest of Strahd von Zarovich, who I believe to be a grand progenitor of vampires, and possibly the first of their kind. "

That's pretty awesome. There are passages on vampire spawn, Strahd, and holy water.

If you have a player in your Curse of Strahd campaign who is up for reading in between sessions, you might want to have the heroes find this journal.

In my opinion, the group should meet Ezmerelda at around 6th level. So I'd say the group should find her journal on the road to Vallaki. Maybe she was attacked by wolves, was wounded and staggered off, inadvertently leaving some of her stuff behind.

Making Madam Eva

My Madame Eva Twitter Fortune
This article is about how they made the twitter bot that tweeted out fortunes to everyone. I got a fortune back then, it was fun.

The best quote from this is: "Determined to capture Barovia's dank vibe..." I have to work "dank vibe" into a real life sentence.

These developers have made other apps, including this weird one:

"Neither of which is as weird as Kazemi’s killer app. Every month $50 worth of goodies turn up at his door, purchased by an automated shopper that randomly scours Amazon for him. “Everyone loves that thing but me because we have to live with the stuff it sends,” says Stanton..."

So.. what does it buy? I don't understand why anyone would want this.

Unearthed Arcana: Gothic Heroes

This has a .pdf with rules for you to make a revenant character (!), as well as some new builds. There's a monster hunter and the inquisitive.

They suggest the idea of letting a slain character rise up as a revenant. That's pretty awesome.

Community: Is No Fun, Is No Blinsky

One of the more amusing weirdos in Curse of Strahd is Blinsky, the toymaker. His creepy toys are strewn all throughout the adventure.

This article is loaded with creepy Blinsky toys. Some of them even get art. Really fun stuff, very useful!

Tavern Tales

Mike Mearls talks about some of the best stuff from the DMs Guild so far. He talks about:
  • Blood Magic: A mechanic that allows casters to burn hit dice for special abilities.
  • Book Of Beasts: Stats for a number of demons from previous editions that I like, including the gnaw demon and the blood demon.
  • Battle for the Undercity: A collection of three short scenarios to drop into a city campaign.
I have a hunch, old chum. DMs Guild authors, you might want to title your products starting with the letter "b."

Return to Ravenloft 
 
Holy Crap. A Curse of Strahd walkthrough map! Get this now! Right here.

Overall

This was a pretty awesome issue. No article can touch Ed Greenwood's Barovia tour from last issue, but this has plenty of useful stuff.  You get a heck of a lot of material for free.

I personally would have liked to see an article detailing possible encounters with Strahd in Curse of Strahd. That seems like a part DMs are struggling with. But I am thinking that this publication really isn't about articles like that.

This issue is worth looking at, just for the walkthrough map alone.

Dice, Camera, Action: Episode 5 - Curse of Strahd

Episode 5: Raven Kind

You can watch this episode on youtube here.
Check out the dice roll stats for this episode here

The alternate title of this episode is: Naked Uppercut in the Rain

There was no DCA last week, probably because of PAX. I really wish they'd keep this on a weekly schedule.

Last Time: In the previous session, we left off with the group battling a bunch of hags. Most of the group is by the front door of the windmill dealing with the "mother" hag, Morgantha. Paultin is over in the grass and he has two other hags looming over him.

The Waffle Crew+1

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

We start off with no sound. Critical Role DM Matt Mercer is running the game...? They're fighting four tarrasques? Paultin dies.. Evelyn cries and says, "My one and only love!"

Chris Perkins kicks Mercer out. Chris says he had to use the restroom.

Green Hag
OK, here we go. Paultin's about to die. Two green hags, invisible, are about to murder him. Suddenly, the NPCs we forgot were there jump in! Ireena and Ismark attack the hags. They are fighting 5-10 feet from a precipice. Paultin grabs the kids and flees. We learn later that one hag falls off the side and the other one lies in the grass, presumably dead.

Over by the front door, the group keeps rolling natural ones. It's pretty uncanny. Diath stabs the mother hag. Falkon, in bird form, chews up a dream pastry and tries to regurgitate it into the hag's mouth. The hag fails her save!

Wow.. check out page 125 of Curse of Strahd. She's in a trance for d4+4 hours! She's incapacitated!

Oh nooo... Evelyn stabs her, which wakes her up! The hag is out of her stupor. The group had Morgantha defeated but they didn't realize it!

Strix casts a chromatic orb spell.. and rolls a natural one! Their dice are ice cold. Falkon assumes human form, he's naked now. He calls out "Eyes up here, hag!" and gives her an uppercut, but her chin is like iron. It is decided that the name of this episode is "Naked Uppercut in the Rain."

The hag turns invisible.

Strix
Strix hears trouble over by the precipice. She sees Ireena is 40 feet down, hanging on to a rock. A hag is holding onto her. Both are dangling 120 feet in the air.

Strix tries to intimidate the hag into letting go of Ireena. Strix tells the hag that her mother is very angry. She has disadvantage on her check. Strix rolls well! The hag falls 120 feet to the rocks below.

Back by the front door, Paultin casts faerie fire which illuminates the invisible mother hag. Wow, that's like the only time I have ever seen faerie fire used in a useful way, and it helps the party big time.

Evelyn drops the mother hag and does a dramatic religious prayer/pose.

Strix lowers a rope to Ireena and almost falls off the side. Ireena is wearing heavy armor, and is too heavy for one person to hold. Ismark and the party run over to help.

As the party is trying to pull up Ireena, we learn that the hag in the grass isn't dead! The hag runs up and crashes into the line of people holding the rope! The group makes their saves. Ismark finishes her off.  Wow that would have been pretty crazy if the group rolled poorly.

The group goes over to Morgantha's cart by the front door and pulls the third kid out of the sack. So there's three rescued kids in total: Myrtle, Freek and Emmerich (Chris took this last name off the list of names on page 25). Emmerich is a shell, he has no soul. Freek is attached to Paultin and follows him around. Paultin doesn't want to call the kid "freak" so he refers to him as Jimmy.

We learn that Falkon was once close with Escher (who the group learned a bit about back in the village), but Escher is now evil and allied with Strahd. Falkon tells the heroes to kill him and to make it quick and merciful. It's interesting that Chris is making Escher a featured NPC.

Diath loots a dream pastry. The group decides to take a long rest at the windmill. During this time, Strix wisely inspects the potions she found last time. One is a potion of longevity, another infects the drinker with cackle fever, and the last one is a poison called pale tincture.

The next morning, they set the windmill on fire. Ismark takes the children back to Barovia for their own safety. Falkon has to leave the party.

Chris Trott is really good! He added a lot to the game and he gave a sort of weight to the proceedings. He knew a lot about the backstory and it was very impressive.

We get a bunch of hilarious goodbyes, including a naked hug between Falkon and Diath.

The group is stopped at the gate to Vallaki. The group tells the guards they are here for waffles and to defeat Strahd. Diath is introduced as "Diath, Windmill's Bane." The group learns that waffles can be had at the Blue Mountain Inn.

A guard points out that Strix, a tiefling, looks like the burgomaster's right hand man. Wow! I think Strix's brother is Izek Strazni, one of my favorite NPCs in Curse of Strahd. Izek has a thing for Ireena, so this should get real interesting.

Check out Izek's origin:

How crazy is that? Strix is basically canon.

The guards give a pile of info. The group enters Vallaki, and that's where we stop. Vallaki is loaded with stuff to do. We may be spending quite a while here.

The group has hit level 4. Next week we will have a guest: Erika Ishii. Chris decides to give Paultin inspiration for the faerie fire and gives Strix inspiration for intimidating the hag. If you don't know, that means that the heroes can re-roll one roll in a future session.

Inspiration has been tricky to use in an effective way. I've found that players don't really care about it after a couple sessions and that it feels cheap when given out too freely. I guess Chris is using it sparingly to make it feel more special.

Timestamps

(12:00) Morgantha the hag also has a foul mouth.
(30:00) Strix tries to help the dangler.
(48:27) The Rear Huggy/Evelyn makes the party barf.
(1:23:28) The group says goodbye to the kids.
(1:32:00) Diath wants a special goodbye from Falkon.

Overall

This was a very fun session. The group really clicked nicely and it was a very enjoyable episode to watch. For me, personally, I wish the group would get more done, but I'm probably in the minority on that one. In particular I feel like time was wasted once the fight was over. We could have got a good 15 minutes of exploring Vallaki instead of the extended rest sequence, but again maybe that's just me.

Somebody Draw Them: I am hoping some enterprising artist out there draws this group. I'd really like to see exactly what they look like.

D&D is Sort of Popular: On top of that, does anyone else find it weird that D&D is more socially accepted now? I'm not complaining! It's just hard to adjust to. For most of my life, people would outwardly kind of roll their eyes when I talked about D&D, but once they heard some stories about it they'd get interested. Then they'd play and love it.

It's really odd to live in a time where comic book movies and fantasy stuff are cool and mainstream. I'm glad! I wish it was like this when I was a kid.

Click here to proceed to episode 6.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Planescape - The Slags


On Sunday night we played through another session of my Planescape campaign. Right now we're going through a trilogy of homebrew adventures that will bridge the gap between Nemesis and Tales From the Infinite Staircase.

This is partly to buy me time while I read and absorb the staircase adventures. I'm pretty sure I won't be using all of the scenarios in that book, as a number of them don't appeal to me.

Ignus

This session revolved around an NPC from the Planescape:Torment computer game. His name is Ignus. He's a sinister wizard obsessed with fire. He is actually on fire, in fact.

In the game and my campaign, Ignus starts off immobile - an attraction in a bar. In the game, you can free him and have him join your group. In my game tonight, the heroes could free him and cure him, too.

I changed the story of Ignus. In my game, Ignus was tricked by Shemeshka the Marauder into committing arson on her enemies. Then she manipulated him into becoming an inert humanoid portal to the plane of fire.

The Arcanaloths

A'kin the Friendly Fiend
Shemeshka's enemy/rival, A'kin knows this. He helps the heroes free Ignus and use him to blackmail Shemeshka into leaving the heroes alone.

Shemeshka and A'kin are fascinating Planescape NPCs. They are both Arcanaloths, both possibly exiled from their home plane of Gehenna. They have what appears to be a love/hate relationship. Shemeshka has burned down A'kin's magic store three times in the last hundred years.
  • A'kin: Always seems friendly. Some people hear him screaming and throwing things at night. The book suggests that he might have been an ally of devils in the Blood War and that he did something so terrible that he was exiled. No specific details, though.
  • Shemeshka: She's an amoral manipulator. She has agents spying on everyone, and she secretly controls a number of organizations. I thought I had read somewhere that Shemeska is actually a male who lives as a female, but I can't find it now. Shemeshka is referred to as a "she" in Uncaged, but the gender symbol in the stat block says Shemeshka is male.
I decided for the purposes of my campaign, that A'kin cut a deal with the devils. He was going to hand over almost every single arcanaloth to them, so that the devils could enslave them/kill them/use them for nefarious purposes relating to the Blood War. A'kin was essentially going to commit genocide on his own kind! In return, he asked the devils to spare himself and Shemeshka, who he loves.

The arcanaloths found out about this plot, and A'kin and Shemeshka had to flee Gehenna, never to return. Shemeshka is mostly furious, but slightly flattered that A'kin wanted her spared. So now they do this dance where A'kin trolls her, she gets mad, and then he says sorry and they make up for a day.

Plans for the Infinite Staircase

Ignus
Last time we played, the Lady of Pain did stuff to the heroes. She did something to Bidam's heart, and enchanted Theran's spell book. My idea is that if each hero adheres to their core philosophy, they will be given tools via the heart and spellbook that can help them defeat the Iron Shadow (the villain of the Infinite Staircase). Here's my plan as of now:

Theran: He believes in reading and learning, basically. So each adventure, when an encounter is getting crazy, Theran's spellbook will glow. If he takes a round to read it, he will be given magical knowledge - he'll learn a bit about the Iron Shadow and he'll learn a magic item formula. If he doesn't read the page right then, it's gone forever. The book will also be a key tool in defeating the Shadow.

Bidam: He likes to love them and leave them, or as he says, "Hit it and quit it." Every adventure he will meet someone. He will have a choice of hitting it or quitting it. Either choice has ramifications:
  • Hit It: The person is imbued with a metal coating over their heart. All of the people Bidam infects will become minor sources of pain in the multiverse. The heart of the Lady of Pain is failing, and she wants others to help her carry the burden of the void inside of her. Each of these people will have the lesser ability to look at people and cause bloody cuts to appear on their body like the Lady of Pain can.
  • Quit It: If Bidam decides not to seduce somone, or if he tries to go back to someone he had a fling with a while before, a member of the Zactar faction dies. You may remember that the Zactars are the followers of Umbra - the Lady of Pain does not want new factions in Sigil, so this is a way to eliminate them. It hinges on whether or not Bidam stays true to his beliefs - belief is the most important thing in Planescape.
I used a lot of material from Uncaged: The Faces of Sigil. That book is loaded with NPCs and has a few detailed locations, too. I've been going through that book and taking notes, as that is how I retain all this stuff.

I also decided that from here on out, I will try and make sure that in each session Theran's robe of eyes is useful (see invisible) and Bidam's sword of sharpness is useful (cuts through stuff). I want them to feel like their magic items are useful and have a lot of value.

The Party

(Jessie) Bidam - Platinum-Scaled Dragonborn Fighter
(George) Theran - Drow Wizard
* NPCs - Fall From Grace (Succubus Paladin), Selinza ("Litorian" Wizard, level 3) 

Back to Deadbook Square

We picked up where we left off last time, In A'kin's office. He explained that Ignus knows things that they can use to blackmail Shemeshka into leaving them alone.

They left to go to the Smoldering Corpse to check out Ignus. They were stopped by an NPC that I stole from Curse of Strahd: "A small man with no legs named Filmore Stunk, who can drink whole casks of wine without getting drunk." He sold them two poisons - torpor and essence of ether (from the 5e DMG). Both of them can knock people out. I put this here to give the heroes a chance to buy an item that would help them in a later encounter. At the very least, it reinforces the notion that their choices matter in game.

As they finished their transaction, they heard A'kin screaming and trashing the upstairs area of his shop. They came very close to investigating, but decided against it. This is a trait he has that is unexplained in the books. For my game, I'm saying he's endlessly tormented by his failed scheme and the fact that Shemeshka won't be with him.

Festhall: Clients are becoming depressed. I had read this funny idea on reddit about how some people feel ashamed by the porn they watch, and that they could use a "post-porn depression councilor." I decided some "johns" at the festhall become depressed after their visits (I googled some vile acts on urban dictionary, and invented "the Sigil Hot Pocket"). The heroes hired a councilor named Aza Dowling.

Here's the deal. This councilor is actually an agent of Shemeshka from Uncaged. There is this NPC shapechanger named Fallow. He has multiple personalities. He is a member of every single faction, and he spies on them all for Shemeshka. Aza Dowling is the Sensate spy!

So the seed for Shemeska's revenge is already planted. A spy is in their midst.

The group checked out Ignus and talked with Drusilla. She's this real sad NPC (also from Planescape: Torment) who was in love with Ignus before all this happened. She continues to watch over him and hopes one day he will be free. The heroes felt sorry for her and gave her a job.

They did some research and learned they needed two things to free Ignus:
  1. A decanter of endless water, No problem, they know a dabus who has one. The dabus gladly loans it to them)
  2. A "Ritual of Hydration." I made this up. It's a ritual that creates links to the plane of water - it can counteract the link to the plane of fire in Ignus.
The Doomguard

The Armory
The heroes found out that the Doomguard faction created the ritual for their tower of salt. The group headed to their headquarters... to steal it!

The Doomguard is a faction that believes in entropy. They want to speed along the death of the universe. So they make weapons. The armory has four towers attached to the building, each of which also exists in a different plane.

The "Tower of Sealt" exists on the elemental plane of Salt. It is overseen by a guy called Roth, Doomlord of Salt.

Long story short, Fall From Grace shapechanged into the form of a Doomguard member. The heroes enlisted the help of Turia, the crabby tiefling from Nemesis.

The heroes got a look at the leader of the Doomguard, Factol Pentar. I want to introduce her now, as she is a big deal in the Faction War adventure.

Factol Pentar
The heroes sneak up to the room where the ritual is, and they poison a guard (torpor - knocks him out). They go into the room, detect and avoid a glyph of warding, cut a steel cord with the sword of sharpness and yoink the ritual, which is inscribed on a sheet of metal.

As they turn to leave, two guards come up the stairs. I gave them 5e thug stats and decided to give them this slightly modified 2e doomguard ability:

Entropic Blow: Once per week, a doomguard can attack with disadvantage. If they hit, they do half your hit points in damage!

The group subdued the guards. Turia came up and was most distressed. The group told her they'd go do the ritual and bring the sheet back. They could even cast mending to fix the steel cord!

The group raced back to the Smoldering Corpse bar, and they cast the ritual using the decanter. Ignus was free, but still on fire. And he was saying crazy crap like:
  • "I live! Long have I slept! Dream of Flames!"
  • "Ignus hears you all! Burn!"
  • "The fires grow dim - soon, I shall perish."
The heroes had a hard time figured out how to de-fire him. Theran has this amulet of flowing flame that belonged to a demon lord named Alzrius (they stole it from an abyssal fortress long ago). He put the necklace on Ignus and poof - flames out. Ignus plopped to the ground, a withered up burnt fellow.

The Other Place

Iarmid, owner of The Other Place
After some healing and examination at the church, the heroes were having a hard time getting coherent speech out of Ignus. There was only one thing that could help him recover - take him to a magic spa. Yes, my campaign is stupid. This is an actual location in Uncaged: Faces of Sigil called "The Other Place." The heroes took Ignus, Drusilla, Fall From Grace and Selinza the cat lady (who is now a 3rd level wizard) to the spa and we had ourselves a montage:
  • Bath: The heroes got a cleansing bath. Theran and Fall From Grace took a bath in holy water (Fall From Grace did not remove her chastity bodice for this - everyone else chose to be butt-naked).
  • Grooming: Then there was skin-grooming, scale scraping, etc. Poor Ignus got a whole layer of charred skin removed.
  • ManiPedi: They got their nails manicured/sharpened.
  • Massage: Then they got hour-long massages from four armed reaves. A reave is.. a four armed creature with leathery skin. They are warrior mercenaries, except for these people, I guess.
Wouldn't you know it, Bidam and his reave lady masseuse hit it off! Bidam used the ancient art of seduction on her and had himself a romantic encounter. When it was all over, he felt his metal heart beat oddly. He somehow saw the reave's heart through her chest - he watched as a liquid metal coated it. Bidam was extremely alarmed, to say the least.

Jessie (she plays Bidam) eventually vowed that Bidam would purposely not seduce the next person to come along, to see if anything weird happened.

The spa worked. Ignus remembered! Sort of! He realized that he had stashed sensory stones in his house long ago. The sensory stones contained incriminating memories that would show that Shemeshka was guilty of a myriad of crimes. These stones were what the heroes needed to blackmail Shemeshka. Ignus was still too frazzled to record new ones or, really, be coherent for long.

I should note that normally, sensory stones are wiped when the are taken out of the Civic Festhall. There were some in The Tacharim base in the Modron March, but those also lost their power if they were taken from the room.

So the deal here is that the little box is the sensory stone's "room." If taken out - useless. Wiped. I'm going to say that to make a box like this is ridiculously hard, probably needing the blood or ashes of a past factol to power it.

The Slags

Before he became a fiery guy, Ignus lived in a section of The Hive (the worst part of Sigil). In the years since Ignus had last been there, the area his home was in had become The Slags.

The Origin of The Slags: The blood war spilled over through portals into The Hive. For weeks, devils and demons battled each other, destroying buildings and magically warping the area. Now it is a place that has earthquakes, ruined buildings, and there are tanari supply caches everywhere (magic crates full of demonic magic items!). Cool, right?

So the heroes go in and walk through the "crooked maze of ramshackle buildings." The whole place rumbled. Fall From Grace warned the heroes that earthquakes were common here.

A two-headed dog that was five feet long glared at them from a side alley. Bidam threw it some rations and made some great animal handling rolls! Bidam befriended this creature - which is an Aoskian hound. Followers of Aoskar bred the animals long ago. They have the ability to stun you with their bark.

The group continued on, and they found the remains of Ignus' home. It had been cut in half by an explosion. In the years since, razorvine had grown over it almost completely. A ladder led from the ground to the third floor, where Ignus' stash was.

Ignus had told them he had a secret compartment in the wall - it was a metal carving of the Lady of Pain's face that opened when you said the command phrase: "Dream of Flames."

The group climbed up. The saw some slimy eggs in a corner. They found the stones, as well as the spell book of Ignus. Then... an earthquake hit! The floor split wide open and Theran fell 3 stories, cut by razorvine the whole way down (that's 3d6 + 15 points of damage)! He had just a few hit points remaining.

Worse, a chasme flew toward them. Those were indeed chasme eggs in that building.

5e chasmes are really deadly. If they hit you, you take 16 damage + 24 necrotic! And the necrotic can't be healed until you take a long rest! It also has this droning power, which knocks you unconscious if you fail your save.

I knew this was a tough monster, but it only had 84 hit points. The heroes are 8th level. They can do a lot of damage in a single round.

As it turned out, I think the group barely got a shot in. This was a very deadly encounter.

The chasme did piles of damage to Fall From Grace and dropped Bidam unconscious with the droning aura.

Selinza jumped off of the building and used feather fall to land on the street next to Theran. She made him invisible.

Theran spotted a building nearby - an invisible building that he could see thanks to his robe of eyes. It was just ten feet high, and cube-shaped. It had demogorgon's face carved into each side and no visible entrances. It was a tanari supply cache!

Theran actually ran over to it, invisible, and began to study it.

There were some shenanigans. Ultimately, Fall From Grace got the chasme to chase her, allowing the heroes to flee to safety. Fall From Grace was ultimately able to lose the chasme thanks to some good die rolls.

Theran kept studying the cache. He really wanted to get inside it but he couldn't figure out how.

Bidam realized a way - they could get Ash Vodiran, the greatest thief of Sigil, to walk through by becoming insubstantial!

That was my idea when I made this. I just wanted to see if they would be willing to let Ash out prison, or if they could come up with some other clever way to get inside.

The heroes regrouped at home. They put the sensory stones in a magic vault to keep them safe (The Vault of the Ninth World, from Planescape: Torment).

A'kin delivered a message to Shemeska, then hid with the heroes in the shadows near his magic shop. He gleefully rubbed his hands together. Theran could see Shemeshka approach The Friendly Fiend shop invisibly. She was furious. She cast fireball and blew the place up!

A'kin cackled in delight and told the heroes that Shemeshka would leave them alone for a while at least.

That's where we stopped! It was a really good session. Planescape is so rich with material that it feels like we've barely scratched the surface of the setting.

Click here for the next chapter.