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Monday, October 31, 2016

Dungeons & Dragons - Volo's Guide to Monsters Preview


This book isn't out yet, but there is a metric ton of preview material out for it. I figured I'd make this page a hub of links for all of the previews out so far and I'll go over what we can learn from them. I'll have a real review up once the book comes out.

You can buy Volo's Guide to Monsters here.

Preview Links

Preface: We get a look at how this book is written. It's written "in character." Volo is a traveler who writes guides. Elminster is a legendary wizard who is not a fan of Volo. From what I understand, Ed Greenwood wrote Elminster's stuff.

Chapter 1: Monster Lore


Page 7 Beholders: Apparently one beholder can "dream" another beholder into existence. In previous editions, they barfed up an egg. This whole page is about the dreaming and how different dreams or nightmares create different versions of beholders.

Page 23 Giants: We get bonds, ideals, flaws, etc. We get some info on cloud giants. They are no longer able to make cloud castles. That's kind of weird.

Page 27 Frost Giants: We get some info on frost giants. Weaker ones sometimes begin to worship Vaprak, who turns them into an "everlasting one,"which is a giant of great power.


Page 34 Gnoll Info: It says Yeenoghu is possibly the most active demon lord on the Material Plane. 

Page 38 More Gnolls: Wow, it looks like there are at least 6 pages devoted to gnoll lore. There is a mention of maw demons. I hope that means that there are new demons in this book.

Page 43 Goblins: We get a little info on goblins using wild magic, which sounds great.


Page 55 Hags: There's a list of hag ideals, bonds, names, etc. I love this ideal: "I will metamorphose into every kind of hag and live a century as each, becoming something greater in the end." I wonder if there are any hags nearing the end of that process now?

I like this, too: "I traded away something before I realized it was priceless, and now I want it back." That seems like a pretty sweet thing to set up with a character.

I love this one: "I cannot tell a lie, but I can still say nothing, nod suggestively, or bend the truth a little to suit my needs." That's really fun, especially once the heroes figure this out.

Page 64 Kobolds: We get a quick recap of Kurtulmak's story, which I think is just like it's been in previous editions. He got tricked by a gnome god and lives in tunnels (in Hell, I think).


Page 72 Mind flayers: The authors integrate tons of awesome stuff from one of my all-time favorite supplements, the Illithiad.

Ceremorphosis is a plot device that seems under-used in D&D. That is when the mind flayers stick a tadpole in your head and, over the course of a week, you become a mind flayer. The flayer retains a few of its original memories. It would be cool to have this happen to an NPC who still sort of remembers you.

"In some ways, a mind flayer colony is like a great library of lore stored within its members' minds, with the elder brain as its librarian."

(No page number) This page has a great "dissection" image of a mindflayer. Most of the time, these monster dissection drawings don't come out tight, but this one is very cool. This page goes over creatures related to mind flayers:
  • Intellect Devourers: Brains with four legs.
  • Mindwitnesses: Mind flayer/beholders. It acts as a psychic hub for a colony and can collect psionic power.
  • Neothelids: Sometimes, when tadpole pools are left untended, the tadpoles attack each other and the survivor grows into a thing like a purple worm. Mind flayers fear them.

Page 83 Orc Stuff: Ilneval, the right-hand man of Gruumsh, has certain chosen orcs who are masters of strategy. Baghtru is the big, Hulk-y son of Gruumsh. Young orcs revere Baghtru and do really cruel things to each other.

Chapter 2: Character Races

Firbolg

Page 105 Goliath: We get a page on one of my favorite races, the goliath. They don't understand social classes. They think that people should be positioned according to talent. Adults who can't contribute to the tribe are expelled. Goliaths die young... often, when they become 'useless,' they slip "...away into the night to seek the cold will of fate."

Page 107 Firbolg: These creatures have blue skin and reddish noses. They are up to 8 feet tall and they can can talk to plants and animals. Once per day they can cast either detect magic or disguise self. That's handy! I really love the idea of naming a Firbolg after the typo version of their name: "Fireblog."

Page 112 Lizardfolk: They are emotionally different. They think nothing of eating a fallen comrade in battle. I find this quirk quite amusing: "You have learned to laugh. You use this talent in response to all emotional situations, to better fit it with your comrades."

Breathless NPC: "The King has been poisoned!"

Mike the Lizardfolk: "Ho ho hoo! Oh myyy!"

Chapter 3 Bestiary



Page 123 Barghest: They are goblins who can shapeshift into big, evil wolf-monsters. They have a very specific goal: Consume the souls of 17 goblins. Basically, they are part of a revenge plot by the General of Gehenna, a yugoloth NPC that has a surprising amount of lore attached to him. I have no idea if this is new or an old concept but I really like it.

Page 125 Gauth: This is a beholder variant that eats magic and can drain magic items. Yikes. When you start your turn near it, you must save or be stunned! It has an eye ray that can de-power a magic item for a time.
Page 145 Froghemoth: We get the stats and everything. It is possible that a froghemoth will swallow you and then vomit you back up, which is amusing. I love this part: "A journal purportedly written long ago by the wizard Lum the Mad describes strange, cylindrical chambers of metal buried in the ground from which froghemoths emerged."

What's the deal with Lum the Mad, anyway? I feel like I should dig around and see what info is out there on this person.

According to wikipedia, he was a warlord on Greyhawk who had an artifact known as the Infernal Machine. Then he fell into Limbo, but the machine kept him alive. Sounds pretty cool.

Page 150 Stone Giant Dreamwalker: This monster has an aura that charms and it can turn you to stone by touching you! It's got a challenge rating 10 and the save DC is a 17. It seems like they beefed up the monsters a bit.

Storm Giant Quintessant: They turn themselves into semiconscious storms and can revert to giant form when they like. It can form elemental weapons out of thin air.

Page 153 Flind: A gnoll with a special connection to the demon lord Yeenoghu. It has a flail that deals out three different effects, each of which are very nasty.

Page 162 Hobgoblin Iron Shadow: These ladies are the secret police of the hobgoblins. They are assassins and spies who wear devil masks. I gotta say, the devil mask in the art accompanying this is pretty goofy. These are CR 2 monsters that make 4 attacks! They can teleport from one dark space to another.


Page 166 Kobold Inventor: These are like the kobolds from the 4e DMG adventure Kobold Hall. They chuck pots full of stuff. Lots of good ideas! Basket of centipedes, green slime pot and a skunk in a cage. That's great.


Page 171 Alhoon: These are sort of mind flayer liches. Instead of a phylactery, they use a periapt of mind trapping. They live as long as the lifespan of those they sacrificed to become an alhoon.


Page 176 Mindwitness: This is about as awesome as it gets. This thing is a cross between a mind flayer and a beholder! It has eye rays, it can stun you with a grab, really awesome.


Page 182 Nilbog: We get stats for these goblin variants. If you try to attack them, you must make a save or be charmed. It also has the ability to reduce damage to 0 and regain d6 hit points! It is a spirit of a shattered trickster god, and killing it just means that the nilbog possesses another goblin.

Page 186 Tanarukk: This creature is a cross between a demon and an orc. I much prefer how they looked in 3rd edition. It says here that Baphomet is involved in creating tanarukks, corrupting an unborn orc. Some tribes actually kill tanarukks when they are born (!).

Page 191 Slithering Tracker: When a person has a deep desire for revenge, they can get a hag or lich to turn them into a slithering tracker. Most of them go mad and forget their true purpose.

Page 205 Yuan-ti Nightmare Speaker: It can cast a ton of spells. It's a CR 4. It can create illusions of your nightmares to frighten you.

Thoughts
 
The Grung

This looks like a fun book. It seems like they are making lower level monsters tougher. The stat blocks are also getting bigger, which I don't like. I do love it when they compile and build on old lore, and that seems to be a huge part of this product.

Quotes: The book really doesn't have much Volo/Elminster banter in the actual text, which is good. It is mostly in the form of quotes. I loved the quotes from various NPCs in the Monster Manual and I'm bummed that most of them seem to be from Volo and Elminster in this book. I get a kick out of trying to dig up obscure NPCs and monsters. I can't figure who almost half of the quoted people in the MM are.

Muppet Overload: My one concern about this book is that there is too much focus on 'whimsical' monsters. I don't mind them. Almost every session I run includes a creature described as if it were a fraggle with floofy hair.

I want a certain amount of "badass" monsters in my monster books and I'm not sure if this is going to cut the mustard. The mind flayer stuff alone makes me happy so it's not the end of the world, but right now it looks like there is too much stuff like the nilbog, firbolg, froghemoth, and those grung frog-creatures (do we really need another frog-person race?).

It's not that big a deal. The book looks great. We'll see what the final verdict is in just a few weeks.

Planescape - Lord Stillborn


Last night we played some more Planescape. The group is 11th level and I am planning on having them hit level 12 in about 4 sessions.

Weak: It always feels like almost any monster can take the characters down. I have loaded them up with magic items to try to give them a boost, but they still feel weak for some reason.

Don't get me wrong, they aren't pushovers. Bidam gets three attacks per round and thanks to the sword of sharpness, he does max damage on every hit. So that's something like 57 points of damage per round right there.

To prepare for tonight, I read up on demon summoning:
Summoning: Lost Caverns has a fantastic description of the different summoning circles you can make and how it all works. It is very handy. The summoned creature loses one point of INT per day when they are trapped, so after a week or two, the creature is useless as far as being someone worth interrogating. That's pretty clever, IMO.

The group is helping their demon ally merge her abyssal realm with  Graz'zt's Triple Realm of Azzagrat. I had no idea how this could be done, so I did some reading. From older editions, there is a spell called "planar breach" that literally creates such a connection between two planes.

So the tentative plan here goes like this:
  • Tonight: The heroes check out their little kingdoms in Azzagrat.
  • Next Week: Planar breach is cast and the merging is very tumultuous. It will be like a disaster movie sort of adventure.
  • The Week After: Graz'zt tries to connect his city, Zelatar, to the new plane. I'm not sure how this will go yet.
  • Ultimately, the group betrays Grazzt. Not sure how that will go, either. Graz'zt is insanely powerful!
The Party

(Jessie) Bidam - Platinum-Scaled Dragonborn Fighter
(George) Theran - Half-Dabus/Half-Elf Wizard
* NPCs: Fall-from-Grace (level 11 Succubus Paladin)

Last Time: The group and their demon lord friend, Bazuuma, cut a deal with Graz'zt. She's going to marry him and merge her abyssal layer with his.

As part of the deal, the adventurers were each granted rulership of a ruined area of Azzagrat:
  • Theran: Skyshrine, an earthmote where air genies once traded with the demons.
  • Bidam: Allagash, a demon breeding ground that was over-run by demons of Orcus.
Return to Sigil

Sigil

The group headed back to Sigil and went on a mission. They needed Amulets of Proof against Detection and Location. With the amulets, they wouldn't have to worry about enemy agents scrying on them and learning about their secret plan to betray Graz'zt.

They did a quick little tour through Sigil, buying amulets at A'kin the Friendly Fiend's, Tivvum's Antiquities and the Great Bazaar.

Theran also bought rings of joining for the secret wedding between Bidam and Bazuuma. Rings of joining were a 2e magic item where each person who wore one could see and hear what the other person was doing.

Bidam had a vision of the Orcusword, which shattered during the Dead Gods adventure. A few sessions back, Bidam made a dark pact with Tenebrous (the undead remains of Orcus) and now every session it urges him to do stuff. Bidam had a vision of the Orcusword being repaired by the golem known as Coaxmetal who lives in Undersigil.

Theran helped Seoni out with her dreams. It turns out that Seoni is being contacted by the Codex of the Infinite Planes. It is eating her soul, slowly. Theran figured this out really quickly. He's not sure what he can do about it, though.

This Seoni stuff is just to kind of set the stage for the Codex of Infinite Planes adventure that I'll run in around 15-20 sessions from now.

The Secret Wedding


The next day, it was back to the abyssal realm of Burningwater, where Bidam married the demon lord of positivity, Bazuuma. My Donald Trump NPC conducted this wedding. The group hated him, and dumped him in the river styx many sessions ago. He has no memory of who he is, but he's still very Trumpy.

This wedding was an excuse to use real life Donald Trump quotes and work them into D&D for jokes:
  • "We're joining with Azzagrat. Azagrat is a complete catastrophe beyond imagination. Demons are leaving, monsters are quitting, merchants are fleeing, torturers hours are being cut, part time jobs are all over the place and deductibles are through the roof. You don't get to use it. If we don't get rid of Azzagrat, the Abyss will be gone forever."
  • "Bidam is rich, he's famous. He sees beautiful women and he just starts kissing them. He grabs them by the pussy and he gets away with it because he's famous!"
They put on their rings of joining and had a honeymoon skill challenge that Bidam barely survived through a series of constitution saving throws. He used indomitable, which helped him reroll a bad roll.

Iggwilv's Reward


Theran is an apprentice to Iggwilv, the Witch Queen. He had found out some demon truenames in the Whispering Library. She was greatly pleased.

Iggwilv rewarded him by allowing him to study a book called "Thesis on the Planes of Antimatter" by Leomund of Leomund's secret chest fame. This book has a magic item formula for a cubic gate. The group has a cubic gate, but it got damaged in an abyssal storm. Three of the six buttons don't work. Theran can use this to repair the gate and choose 3 new planar locations that it can take the group to.

Iggwilv is working on taking control of a demon lord named Codricuhn, who is from 4th edition. He has a really cool story:
  • He was an elemental lord of the sea's fury
  • He was transformed into a "bloated bag of blood and filth" by the Chained God. He is hundreds of feet tall.
  • His mind did not change - all he really wants is to go back to the way he was. His body operates on its own.
  • One day he will finish his ascent and emerge from the blood rift. At that time, he will destroy the prime material plane, the feywild, and the shadowfell. The Abyss will spread everywhere.
  • There are 6 semi-demon lords who have floating islands that orbit him as he climbs.
Using her truename, Iggwilv summoned The Lady of Sorrows into a pentagram. She began aggressively interrogating her. Theran's job was to hit her with spells to get her to talk.

Moral Dilemma: I was wondering if he would feel conflicted by this. Iggwilv is evil, but so is the Lady. The Lady is kind of sad, though. She collects Codricuhn's tears and yearns for "perfect mortal love."

Theran had no problem with this at all. He did have a problem figuring out what spells to use. Iggwilv got really mad at him when he started launching lightning bolts at the Lady. The Lady of Sorrows is a marilith, so she has resistance to lightning.

Spell Selection: Theran really struggled here trying to figure out what spells to use. Iggwilv started flipping out on him. I run her like she's calm when things go her way, but she gets extremely dark and vicious when you fail her.

Theran eventually settled on using chromatic orb spells that do acid damage. The Lady spilled all of the above information and more. Once Iggwilv had enough for the day, she left the room.

The Lady reached out to Theran, begging him to free her. I thought it would be fun to dance around the idea that Theran could be her "perfect mortal love." I should note that her realm is dotted with lakes that have other "perfect loves" floating in them.

He showed no sympathy at all! He didn't buy in and didn't feel bad in the least. I thought he'd be conflicted about what he was being forced to do. I'd be conflicted! But he wasn't. It was interesting.

Skyshrine


The next day, the adventurers returned to Azzagrat to inspect and clean up their little domains. They decided to explore Theran's realm of Skyshrine first. He was given two underlings:
  • Lynxia: A tattooed succubus he'd befriended way back when the group first adventured in Azzagrat.  
  • A Vrock: He was also given a vrock (vulture demon) as a personal guard.
I built Skyshrine using Cloud Giant's Bargain. As they explored, the heroes were hunted by a Pathfinder villain who goes by the name of LORD STILLBORN.

His story goes like this:
  • The air genies lived in Skyshrine and traded with the demons.
  • The queen of the air genies seduced Graz'zt.
  • She got in Graz'zt's ear and told him to let her replace his sidekick, Verin.
  • Verin, a demon lord in his own right, found out. He went to Skyshrine and killed the queen.
  • Verin told her air genie subjects to leave and never to return. They did. Six months later, they were all dead.
  • The Queen was pregnant. Her unborn baby became undead and is now the monstrosity known as LORD STILLBORN.
Edgelords: My group gets amused at the forced "edginess" of some Pathfinder products. For me, I'd rather that Pathfinder didn't use phrases like "maiden of miscarriage," or openly declare that rapers worship Nocticula. I just don't want those ideas in my game at all in any way. I'm not thrilled with suicide demons, either.

I mean, I can always reskin or modify them, and I do. It's just a little too 'real' for me and I'd be concerned to use them at a table where someone might have had a miscarriage or been raped. We're playing this game to get away from that stuff, not having it waggled in our face.

An undead genie fetus is pretty borderline, but I felt it was ridiculous enough to go ahead and give it a try.

Stalking the Heroes: I did a thing with Lord Stillborn that I always wanted to do more of. I had him stalk the group as they explored.

First, when the adventurers were in the library, I had Lord Stillborn use a sort of telekinetic wind power to try to send Theran flying out a window and hurtling to the ground 150 feet below.

Falling in D&D: When preparing something like this, I always debate with myself. Should the hero get an extra save to grab onto something to prevent their fall? I feel like I always make the wrong choice in these sccenarios, no matter what it is. I want the fight to be dramatic, but it often comes off as too easy or too brutal.

Theran failed his first save and went hurtling through the window. He made his dex save, grabbing onto the huge chain that connected the earthmote to the ground. Fall from Grace flew over and saved him.

Stillborn turned invisible and fled.

The heroes went into a temple and learned about the history of Skyshrine from a gargoyle.

Then they came upon a gallery. Again, Lord Stillborn sent Theran flying, but he made his first save. Theran's robe of eyes allows him to see invisible, so he fired off a spell. Lord Stillborn was able to get away.

The final showdown came in the throne room. I put a trap in front of the throne, where a lever could be pulled that would open a trap door and send the group plummeting to their doom. All of them made their saves!

Bidam hated Lord Stillborn and took great delight in killing him with a natural 20. Skyshrine was theirs.

Allagash
Rot Harbinger

Allagash was a demon breeding ground where they were trying to create new types of demons. The D&D demon wiki was a fantastic resource for this. I put in a whole bunch of perverted stuff that you probably don't want to hear about.

Bidam also got two underlings:
  • Areelu Vorlesh: A repurposed Pathfinder NPC. In my game, she is a daughter of Graz'zt.
  • A Vrock.
This place was overrun with Rot Harbingers - servants of Orcus from the 4e monster manual. They were originally angels who attacked Orcus. He turned them into undead abominations that can rot things with a touch.

The rot harbingers were going to attack the adventurers, but they sensed Bidam's connection to their master and backed off. Bidam can't order them around until he reassembles the Orcusword.

The heroes explored the ruins and I presented them with all sorts of gross devices and experiments.

They found a partially-ruined scroll that listed some of the experiments. They saw that the demons had somehow merged a beholder and a mind flayer into something called a "Mindwitness."

This is a monster from Volo's Guide to Monsters (it is one of the previews on this page). I figured I'd try it out. Looking at the encounter building rules, one of them is easy, two is considered "deadly."

So I had one show up to attack and I planned on having a second one show up if things were too easy.

Boy, were they easy. The group rolls high on initiative all the time. I don't know why. They won initiative and killed the first one before it got to go! It had 75 hit points.

The second one at least got to fire off its eye rays, but the group made their saves. The battle was short. Bidam did get hit once for 27 psychic, but I really wanted more peril. I mean.. it's a mind flayer/beholder hybrid! It should be tough!

I think part of the problem was that I had them calmly approach the group and wait for them to be ready to roll initiative. I could have had the mindwitness be high in the air or far away. I could have tried to give the bad guys surprise. But I was afraid it would be too hard, so I erred on the side of caution. It was still cool to introduce them, but I feel the need to try to use them again so I can give them the respect they deserve.

It was a very good session! We've been on a roll for a long time and we are on another upswing right now. The Iron Shadow stuff ended up being a bit of a drag in parts and now that it's over, things feel simple, loose and fun again.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Adventures in Eberron - Soul of the Warforged

We played some more Eberron yesterday. I am a player in this campaign. My character is an 8th level sorcerer who is big and hairy.

Terrible News: I go out of my way not mention people's names in these blog posts. I checked with the DM if I could talk about this and he said it was OK.

I've played with this group for about 4 or 5 years. The DM is married and he and his wife are about 30 years old. They had a baby who is now 2 years old. A little over 3 weeks ago, my DM's wife passed away in her sleep. From what I understand, she had an undiagnosed heart condition and it was very sudden.

She was nice and really smart. She was a professor at a big college and she looked to me like a really great mom.

My DM is doing well under the circumstances and remains the polite, kind person he's always been.

He's going to have to sell his house and move back to another state. So this might have been our last session... we might do one more. It looks like we're going to try to keep the campaign going online through Skype, so we'll see.

His baby is doing very well, too. She's a really fun kid. She's shy at first, but then she warms up to you after a while.

The whole thing is just horrible and a total shock.

Last Time: We were in a dungeon looking for the soul of a warforged. Tonight we finished the dungeon.

We started off on the second floor. There was a long, twisting hallway that had prison cells and a few rooms. The cells held different monsters. It went like this:
  1. Manes
  2. Grell
  3. Will o Wisp
  4. 2 treasure chests
  5. Snake Swarm
  6. Ghoul
  7. Quasit
There was a lever near each cell that could open them.

Being super cautious, we guessed correctly that pulling one lever would open all of the cells. We also guessed correctly that at least one of those chests was a mimic.

We decided to leave the cells alone. We ended up tackling this "Hallway of DOOM" at the end of this session.

There were three rooms in this hallway as well.

Portal Room: This room had a swirling vortex. We figured out that if we got close to it, it would suck us in and eject us into a random plane.

Loom Room: There was a loom and some spider thread. This was where drow made clothes/armor. The fighter found a pair of mithril scissors.


Library: Our wizard loves books and immediately began rifling through everything. We found a journal of the guy who once lived here. He was a wizard who studied evil creatures and apparently something bad happened to him. His name was Tyrien D'Shar. I think he is a real NPC from an Eberron book. This place was at one time a shrine to The Traveller, a sort of evil Eberron deity of luck.

It had since been transformed into a lair of followers of Lolth and Orcus.

We found a secret area with magic items. There was a dagger of warning, a staff of striking, and a wand of wonder. I was all over the wand. The DM knows I love random charts so he knew I would want this thing.

We took a short rest to learn what the items did, and another rest to attune to them. The other heroes were wounded really bad but forgot. So they didn't spend any hit dice. This obviously would become a problem very soon.

The Drow Mage
We heard noise in the hallway of doom. It was a drow who was in spider form wearing glasses. It went into the loom room.

We tried to sneak to the room but my stealth roll was really, really bad. The drow cast cloudkill under the door crack. This spell dropped everyone but me!

I quickly made myself invisible and used a potion on one of my allies. She got up and healed the fighter. She hit the spider with a gust of wind and the fighter plugged it with some arrows. Then the drow dropped them again with a lightning bolt spell.

The spider came out and headed down the hall. It had tremor sense so it sensed where I was. I said some swear in my character's Sean Connery voice. It is really fun to say "Shtupid Shun of a Bi-yutch" in a Sean Connery voice. I think I called this spider a "Fuck Faysh." I unleashed a fireball and killed him.

Thankfully we had loaded up on healing potions last session. I got my trusty allies up and we went and actually took a short rest.

The Bathroom Encounter


From there, we went upstairs to another level. We found a kitchen where humans were being cooked (yeargh). Because we are so careful and perception-checky, I found a gear. It would turn out that we'd need to find three gears to open the exit to this place.

In another room I found a gear in a clock. We came upon a bathroom. The shower curtain was closed. We pulled back the curtain, and found four suit of animated armor standing in there.

The door shut. The fighter and I were in the bathroom, the wizard was not. This was alarming because it was a tiny bathroom, meaning I was adjacent to these animated armors.

I cast dimension door so that the fighter and I could get out of there. To our dismay, we learned that the door was not locked! I could have just opened it and left. Instead I wasted a level four spell, which was pretty hilarious.

The armors walked through the door and we kicked the crap out of them with shocking grasp and shatter spells.

We found the last gear, a skull and a scroll of speak with dead. I kind of wonder if the skull belongs to Tyrien D'Shar.

We opened the exit with the gears. Before us was The Cogs, a section of the city of Sharn. We realized we hadn't fond the thing we came here for yet - the soul of the warforged.

The fighter had been pretty sure it was in the chest in the Hallway of Doom. So, down we went.

The Hallway of Doom


After some planning, we decided to open all of the cells and to just go nuts. We dragged the corpse of the spider/drow in front of the ghoul's cell, figuring that the ghoul would be distracted and would start eating it.

So I hit the lever and a train of monsters came at us. We dropped the quasit, the ghoul and the snake swarm with no problem. 

I had been worried about the will o wisp, but I was able to kill it with a single magic missile spell cast with a 3rd level slot.

The grell gave us some trouble. We defeated it and learned that one of those chests was, in fact, a mimic. I decided it was time to pull out the wand. I used it three times:
  1. I stunned myself.
  2. I made it rain in a 60 foot radius. The group killed the mimic.
  3. I decided to use it one more time even though the bad guys were gone. I pointed in a safe direction and fired off a lightning bolt!
I love that thing.

In the chest we found a mini-castle. Basically, it's a magic castle that we need to go into to find the missing soul. It is likely guarded by the rakshasas I'm so worried about facing (they are immune to level 6 spells and lower!).

The DM did a thing where the castle was in pieces and we got to assemble it. We had to configure the rooms he had made on three floors. Basically, we built the dungeon that we'll be going through next session.

Overall


It was a very good session as always, and we might squeak in one more live session in November, depending on when his house gets sold.

Dungeons: I think this was the first big dungeon we've gone through in this campaign. Dungeons are really fun.  I don't like dungeons that are just rooms with monsters. I like ones where each room or area has a unique gimmick, and this one had that.

Monsters: The DM also does a really good job of portraying each monster like a fleshed-out creature rather than a list of stats. That goes a long way in making the game fun.

Wand of Wonder: I'm a little torn on using the wand. If I had my way, I'd use it all the time. I'm just afraid that some of the effects will hurt my allies. So for now, I'm going to try to use it only in situations where we're not in tons of danger.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Dragon Plus Issue 10

 

You can read this whole issue for free right here.

It is time once again for some of that sweet, sweet Dragon Plus digital freebie speculum. I know that is not the correct usage of the word "speculum" but I really just want to use it more in my life, so I'm shoehorning it in.

As always, this magazine is worth checking out at the very least for the free download. There's some nice Volo's Guide to Monsters previews and a big pile of free Curse of Strahd maps, each with a DM and a player version.

I'm pretty sure last month we had a new editor. That person appears to be gone already. This time, Bart Carroll is running the show.

In the editorial, he says he will be "...providing you, the readers, with material that supports your roleplaying campaigns, that entertains you between sessions, and that informs you of products that we and our partners are hard at work creating."

Deadstone Cleft


Wow. This is crazy. It's an adventure! Basically, they give you the option of running/"re-skinning" one of the dungeons in Storm King's Thunder so that it is combined with Ravenloft. Madame Eva is in it and one of the stone giants is transformed into a stone giant variation that will be in Volo's Guide to Monsters.

You actually do a tarokka deck reading and just like in Curse of Strahd, this determines plot points of the adventure.

They give us a link to a pdf of the new stone giant type. The link didn't work for me, but I was able to find the location.

Then we get articles articles on:
  • Carving the Pumpkin Cover: The artist is ridiculously talented. They have a picture of a sand sculpture he did.. of Dante's Inferno! Fun fact: In college, I wrote an edgy short story called Dante's Inferno: Special Edition that was not well-received by the class due to the celebrities that I portrayed as being in Hell.
  • Dungeonology: They give us a metric ton of images of pages from the book. I swear the book has about 30 pages and we get around 10 of them here. They are giving away 30% of the book!
  • Betrayal on the House on the Hill Board Game Expansion: The people who worked on this thing are really, really fired up about it.
  • Making the Gold Dragon Costume: We get a bunch of info on how the costume that Chris Perkins wore at the Acquisitions Inc game was made.
There's more stuff that is semi-related to D&D..

Holly: We also get an article where Holly, who plays Strix on Dice, Camera, Action, gives cosplay tips. She shows how to make scars, blood, pointy teeth, pointy ears. She is so awesome at this stuff and she's very versatile. She's good at sculpting, making props, making costumes, you name it.

Drizzt: There is an interview with R.A. Salvatore on the new Drizzt book. From what I understand, the entire line of D&D books is ending, so I guess this is the final Drizzt book? Here's what he says reader reaction to the end will be: "OK, now what? Wait. What?"

Best of the DMs Guild: We get a spotlight on a few products:
We get some more Volo's guide previews. I have trouble with the links again but I dug them up.
  • Hag Traits and Names: I love the list of names. Here's my favorite combo: Rickety Agnes Wormwiggle. "Rickety" is a word that needs more use, in my opinion. Same with "jostle," "percolate," and "miasma."
  • Annis Hag: It is not pronounced "anus." She can hug you and do 36 damage to you. It is extremely painful.
  • Slithering Tracker: They look different than I remember them. They have sort of a John Carpetner's The Thing vibe going for them now.
Demogorgon: Prince of Demons


Shannon Appelcline whips up an article on Demogorgon and Stranger Things. This was too brief, but I liked what was there. I think Shannon had already written a big Demogorgon overview for the wizards site and maybe they didn't want to rehash it. Still good stuff, though.

Map of the Month


Then we get free maps! A bunch of the maps from Curse of Strahd, both tagged and untagged, all by Mike Schley. They even have my favorite, Baba Lysaga's Creeping Hut. This alone makes this issue worth it.

Unearthed Arcana: The Ranger
 

Mike Mearls writes about fixing the ranger class. I really appreciate the approach they take with this edition, which I think is the key to its massive success. They just listen to what people want and try to give it to them. They don't let personal preferences get in the way. I'd imagine this can be hard to do sometimes, but they do a really great job with it.

He actually says this: "Over the past year, you've seen us try a number of new approaches to the ranger, all aimed at addressing the class's high levels of player dissatisfaction and its ranking as D&D's weakest class by a significant margin."

It's really disorienting to see such frankness. There's no ego at all. All they care about is making a class that works.

Walkthrough Map


Then we get to the best thing of all. A walkthrough map of the entire Storm Giant dungeon from Storm King's Thunder! It's just awesome and really useful as a DM. The level of detail is insane.

Overall

I could say the same things every month. Dragon Plus is what it is. This issue feels better than some of the others and there's a lot less shilling in it. I also really appreciate the stab at presenting an adventure.

Dice Camera Action: As a DCA fan, I'd like if they would write an article about the campaign each issue. They could ask the players for insight into why they made the decisions they did. Actually, I'd like to see character sheets and a written background for each hero.

Essential Stuff: The most important thing to me each issue is that there is a walkthrough map, an Appelcline article and free stuff. This issue didn't have an Ed Greenwood article in it, which is a bummer. He should be in every issue, too.

Needs More: I still feel like there is not enough tabletop content. At the very least, I'd like some lists of stuff like in the back of old Paizo Dragon issues. "10 Inns," "40 weird NPCs," that kind of thing.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Dice, Camera, Action: Episode 27 - Curse of Strahd


Episode 27: Thing in the Rug
This one is really fun! Liisa is back but she doesn't have too much to do. I sort of feel bad for the guest stars. The Godsfall guy in particular didn't really get to do much. I guess that's just how the guest star thing goes.

The Party

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


Last Time: The heroes are thinking about using a ritual to defeat Strahd, but it means killing a little girl named Arabelle. Diath stole the hag pin that can kill her. Van Richten does not know that.

The group is being rewarded with treasure from the vistani. Strix picked a rug. Something is in it and she is about to unfurl it.

Arabelle uses her tarokka deck and does a reading. The cards tell her that the hag pin is close.

The rug has a unicorn on it. Chris points out that this is not Strix's style at all, and that it would look terrible in her hovel.

In the rug is... a little jester guy. I see why Chris is wearing the jester hat now. He has a little club. Strix snatches it from him. He is a silent, evil little golem. The group doesn't find out his name, so I won't say it. Check out Curse of Strahd pages 235-236.


His eyes open. Evelyn senses evil coming from him. She commands him to no longer be evil. It doesn't seem to work.

Arabelle thinks he looks cool and wants to be friends with him. She asks him to find the hag pin. Yikes. Diath has it.

Luvash declares that the evil toy is now the property of the heroes in a most gregarious manner. Jared wonders if they will one day turn him into a real boy.

Paultin goes to scope out Van Richten and somehow gets lost in the tiny camp by rolling a natural one. It is a maze of horses. He eventually finds Van Richten, who seems to be crying. Paultin has no sympathy whatsoever.

The adventurers grab some more treasure. They get non-magic jewelry and a potion. Check out the contents of that onyx box with gold filigree on page 123. Luvash says that the potion is a potion of mind reading. My two favorite Chris Perkins voices: Luvash and Barmy the lich. They both crack me up.

Wow.. they're going to get their waffles! They are being made, as we speak, in a vistani tent. Most of the group goes into the tent.

Strix stays outside the tent. She's sure something bad is going to happen. She spots two vistani talking quietly outside. Strix goes into gaseous form and learns that one vistani is leaving to inform Strahd that the adventurers are here. Holly is really on the ball with her spells and character stuff. She puts a lot of thought into everything and it really does make the show better.

Diath rolls a natural 20 on his perception. He sees that the shadows of the vistani and Paultin are moving of their own accord. He joins Evelyn dancing and warns her that something's up, and they hilariously dance out of the tent.

Chris points out that the waffles are still being made. What a waffle tease. To dangle it out there like that is so cruel. They were a good 20 feet from those waffles.


Van Richten tells the group that Strahd is linked to the vistani and that their shadows are representative of that. Diath grabs Paultin and asks him what he did. Paultin goes, "Is this the part where we kiss?"

Arabelle shows a kid named Joseph her new buddy. The group is calling the little serial killer golem "Murderbot." The kid spits on Murderbot. Murderbot opens his mouth and fires a dart into Joseph's neck. He falls over. He's dead!

Van Richten says he can bring the kid back to life, but he won't do it unless the group agrees to stick the hag pin in Arabelle (killing her).

Evelyn grabs Van Richten and says, "You heal this child, you dirty cockroach." She intimidates him and throws him to the ground. Wow.

We end up rolling initiative. Arabelle runs and Diath tries to grab her, but he rolls a 3. Paultin casts sleep on Arabelle, which works. Diath pulls out the hag pin and stabs Arabelle!! She reaches up and smears her blood on his face. Then she shrivels into a husk, dead. Ohhh wow.

Strix has see invisible going and rolls a 20 on her perception check. She spots an individual watching from the shadows. The mad mage?! No. Strix decides to cast enlarge/reduce on this person. He makes his save.

The mystery person steps out of the shadows and stabs Van Richten. It's Arugal the vistani.


Paultin casts thunderwave, hitting Arugal and a couple of party members. Strix's moths and dirt clumps go flying everywhere.

The vistani in the tent have heard the activity. Strix freaks out and uses a fireball to set the tent on fire. She apparently has named her horse Mr. Runawayface.

An angry mob rushes Diath, who is holding dead Arabelle. He chucks her corpse at them and turns to run.. and there's her dad, Luvash. Diath avoids eye contact.

Luvash starts choking him with his whip. Diath slips out and jumps on Strix's horse. Paultin turns invisible and heads for a horse. Evelyn flies into the air with her magic boots, crying. She wants to get the dead kid, Joseph, and take him along. She could roll him up in the unicorn carpet and make a delicious corpse burrito. No.. she decides to let him go to The Morninglord.

Van Richten rolls a critical on Arugal. Strix can see Paultin because she can see invisible.

Arugal kills the horse that Van Richten and Paultin are on.

Strix and Diath are actually torn on whether to go get Paultin and Van Richten or not. Wow. Strix decides to go back for them and yells, "Friendship!" Diath mutters "we're dead" over and over.

Strix casts darkness right on top of the group.. oh geez. She thinks her darkvision will work in there. Ohhh no. Paultin gets off the horse and puts Van Richten on.

Paultin and Diath hold hands in the magical darkness and everyone starts yelling "friendship!" Evelyn flies down and grabs onto Strix's horse, which is fleeing. She is "horse surfing."

Oh no. The vistani get on their horses. Paultin and Diath are running. The group actually makes it into the woods. Evelyn casts cure wounds on Van Richten, who was at 0 hit points. Evelyn summons Mourning Glory with a Disney Princess mini-tune, which is hilarious.

That's where we stop.

Overall

This one was funny and it flew by. It was very, very good. In my episode guide, I put an asterisk next to the best episodes of the entire series. I'm not sure if I am ready to hand out that prestigious award to this particular session. I think I'll wait a bit and check out the reaction online before making such a momentous decision.

Clip Show: I think that when this season is nearly over, they should make a youtube video that has clips of the best moments from the show so that people can get a good look at it without having to wade through so many hours of content. That way, new viewers can decide if they want to jump in on season 2. Season 2 should be awesome because the group has momentum and they're all comfortable in their roles.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Planescape - The Whispering Library

Tonight's session of Planescape was all about returning to Graz'zt's realm and making a decision. Graz'zt wants to marry the group's demon lord friend and annex her abyssal realm.

The players had to choose:
  1. Graz'zt marries Bazuuma
  2. Bidam (Jessie's character) marries Bazuuma
I had planned for either one. I knew there was a good chance that the heroes would go for the Graz'zt thing because they usually go for nutty stuff like that.

I have been working on a guide to the plane of positive energy and it is really mind-blowing. There isn't a lot of material on it, but what is there is really cool. In a 4e Blackmoor campaign I ran, Bazuuma was infused with positive energy which made her a sort of "good" demon lord. Now that I've read more about positive energy, I can give her some cool powers.

I made stat blocks for her and her demons. They aren't completely done yet. I'm going to post what I have so far at the bottom of this post.
  • Jovocs: This is a conversion of a 3e monster. These demons serve Bazuuma
  • Contempticorns: Foul-mouthed red unicorns lifted from the Slaughtergrid adventure.
  • Bazuuma: I am still working on her eye rays. Right now she has the ten traditional eye rays and then ten others based on 5e spells which need a lot of tweaking.
Most of the material in this session was taken from a 4e dungeon magazine adventure called Court of the Dark Prince.

(Jessie) Bidam - Platinum-Scaled Dragonborn Fighter
(George) Theran - Half-Dabus/Half-Elf Wizard
* NPCs: Fall-from-Grace (level 11 Succubus Paladin)

A marilith
The adventurers had been tricked into using a quasit key to teleport to Graz'zt's court with Bazuuma. Graz'zt immediately hit them with a command spell and said.. "Halt." That meant that on their next turn, they could do nothing. The save DC for this was 23, so all of the heroes failed. Bazuuma was immune.

Graz'zt is way, way too powerful for the heroes to fight. I had considered doing some kind of skirmish between him and the group but that just doesn't seem feasible for these 11th level characters.

Nine mariliths advanced on the heroes and Bazuuma fired off 5 eye rays at them (she has 20 eyes). Then she used her concentrated beam of positive energy, which overheals you until you explode!

Grazzt was impressed. He has this sidekick, another demon lord ho is named Verin. Verin did the talking. He explained:
  • Graz'zt meant them no harm.
  • He wanted to marry Bazuuma and annex her realm.
  • Together they would rule the "Quadruple Realm of Azzagrat."
  • The heroes would be given settlements in Azzagrat to rule.
  • He asked the group to stay for dinner to consider the offer.
They decided to stay and hear them out. They were brought to a guest room where they would wait for two hours while dinner was prepared.

A vrock

Scrying: Theran's robe of eyes can see invisible, so he noticed a scrying sensor in the room. Graz'zt's high priestess, Lavendeth, was spying on them. The group communicated via Bazuuma's telepathy.

Bidam was torn. He didn't want to get married, but he was appalled at the idea of Bazuma marrying Graz'zt. She basically told Bidam that if he wasn't going to marry her, she was going to marry Graz'zt and then try to overthrow him to take the Triple Realm for herself!

The group took a quick jaunt to The Velvet Realm, a tower where Graz'zt's wives and concubines lived. Graz'zt's first wife, Ela Zalag the Abat Dolor told Bazuuma what she was in for. This basically was an excuse for me to run a bitter divorcee smoking and complaining about her ex. While we're doing simpson clips, here's my favorite part of that episode.

Iggwilv: The heroes went back to the guest room, and Iggwilv's scrying sensor appeared. She wanted Theran to go to Graz'zt's library of whispers. There, if you utter a secret, you can learn a secret in return. The problem is that each time you do this, you must make a saving throw or be trapped in the library.

She wanted Theran to go there and find out the truename of the demon lord Codricuhn, and the other semi-demon lords who accompanied him.

The group went to the library, and shared some secrets about Orcus, and the modrons  In return, they learned the truenames of Codricuhn and two of his sidekicks. The heroes had laid the groundwork for Iggwilv to take control of a truly gigantic demon lord.

Malcanthet, Demon Queen of Succubi

The Angel of Love: Fall from Grace wanted to learn something, too. She revealed that when she ended up in Malcanthet's realm, she was tossed into solitary confinement. Fall From Grace is Malcanthet's granddaughter, and she isn't too thrilled with the fact that Fall From Grace is a paladin.

Fall From Grace says she was visited by an Angel of Love - a good creature that is what the succubi were before they turned to corruption. The Angel told Fall From Grace that if she kept on the path of good, she could one day become an Angel of Love and at last be free of her succubi form.

The group couldn't hear what secret she learned about the angel of love... low perception checks.

Vrock Battle: With that done, they were attacked. Basically, an incubus named Ghavish was afraid that Iggwilv had sent the group to kill him. He had betrayed her not too long ago. Ghavish decided to try to kill the heroes first.

The group fought Ghavish and two vrocks and it was quite a battle. The vrocks stunning screech is no joke. Bidam now gets 3 attacks a round with his sword of sharpness and it's pretty epic. Theran has yet to use his staff of power once and it is starting to bug me. The heroes prevailed and Ghavish is no more.

The Decision: So we got to the dinner and Bazuuma and Bidam were still telepathically trying to decide what to do. Their decision: Bazuuma was going to secretly marry Bidam. Then she'd marry Graz'zt and they'd try to take him down from the inside.

Crazy idea! I have no idea how this is going to play out. But what happened was that the group got really excited when they heard Verin's offer.

Theran's Domain: Theran was offered rulership of an earthmote in Azzagrat called Skyshrine, a place where djinns had mysteriously disappeared.

Bidam's Domain: Bidam was offered rulership of Allagash, a former demon breeding ground that was attacked by the army of Orcus and now was home to weird demons. Bidam has a dark pact with Orcus/Tenebrous, and Bidam sensed that the demons there were linked to Orcus and would do his bidding. Tenebrous wanted Bidam to muster them and attack Lamashtu, who (in my campaign) had taken over Orcus's plane of Thanatos.

As soon as Jessie heard that, she got really excited and the deal was made.

The bad guys had two meals prepared, one for a "yes" and one for a "no."
  1. Yes: Giant space hamster steak.
  2. No: A baby pegasus on a spit roast.


Delicious space hamster it was!

Next session, the group will clean up their new dominions in Azzagrat and perhaps we'll do the secret wedding.

I have absolutely no idea how this will play out. I guess it will go like this:
  1. Secret wedding.
  2. Wedding with Graz'zt? Maybe Bazuuma will try to put it off.
  3. Magical connection of Burningwater to Graz'zt's Bay of Choking Bile (wish spell?).
  4. Graz'zt expanding his city, Zelatar. Zelatar currently exists in 3 planes at once. Now it will extend to Burningwater, too.
  5. How the hell could Bazuuma overthrow Graz'zt? Would Iggwilv stand for it? I doubt it. I assume Tenebrous can help, as can Codricuhn if Iggwilv can force him to kneel before her. Bechard, the obyrith, is loyal to the heroes because they freed him way back when, so he's the one who will likely keep them alive.
I hope I can fold this into my upcoming plans of running the Hellbound boxed set. We'll have to see how everything plays out. I'm a little worried that the group is in way over their heads on this one. Graz'zt is insanely powerful.

A great session! We are on a nice little roll. We don't do a lot of combat and I'm making an effort to try to make sure each session has some sort of "set piece" encounter.

Here's what a Jovoc looks like:


I made these stat blocks with the 5e monster maker, which is completely free and quite awesome. Here's the stats:


Here's the foul-mouthed unicorn stats:


Here's the rough draft/unfinished Bazuuma, demon lord of pride and positive energy: