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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Dungeons & Dragons - DDEX 3-16 Assault on Maerimydra Review

Today we're going to take a look at a big adventure from the Adventurer's League: Assault on Maerimydra. You can buy it right here.

The story runs concurrently with the events of Out of the Abyss and deals with Graz'zt, a demon lord I'm using a lot in my home campaign.

I did not know this existed until a reader pointed it out to me. This thing is official and explains what Graz'zt was doing during Out of the Abyss. Let's check it out.

Overview


First of all, this adventure is huge. It's 83 pages long, though there's about 30 pages of monster stats. Costing just $5, this is a ton of adventure for your money.

The premise is that Graz'zt has a force of monsters who have overtaken a former drow city called Maerimydra. The heroes are part of an army who attack the city and try to take it back.

Graz'zt is currently enacting a ritual, designed to protect him fro being summoned by Vizeran De'Vir. That's something that happens at the end of the Out of the Abyss adventure.

He also has created an 'abyssal heart.' He is going to try to spread madness throughout the material plane and control the land similar to how he controls layers of the abyss.

Running this as-is probably won't work. It was designed to be run en masse - a whole bunch of tables at a convention at once. Some chapters have 6 scenarios, 2 of which your group can choose to go through.

This is very easily modified for your home game. You can just use them all or the ones you like.

This adventure has a lot of awesome ideas in it, and I learned some new things about Graz'zt. I pulled out some of my favorites so you can get a look.

Hledh Hellspawn: She is a half-fire giant granddaughter of Graz'zt. She rules Maerimydra, the former drow city.

Matliedun: Son of Graz'zt, a cambion. Stuff we learn:
  • Uhh here's a quote: "If captured, Matliedun is the son of Graz'zt and one of his many concubines."
  • He's in charge of tower security in the undying temple.
  • His bedroom contains stuffed people. Two drow females and a quaggoth.
  • He wears demon armor and fights with a clawed gauntlet
Squallocks the Vrock: She is an advisor to Graz'zt. She wears a robe of stars.

Elisande: Mysterious young girl with a black-furred blind goat. She has no concept of right and wrong. I won't spoil it. Throughout the adventure she does cutesy 'crazy' things. I found her kind of annoying and plot-invincible, but I love the goat.

Graz'zt is described as hedonistic, shocking, and just short of god-like.

Graz'zt went to Maerimydra's Undying Temple and regrew a magic heart made of necrotic energy, beating with the raw chaos of the Abyss.

Welcome to the Sporedome


I love the opening flavor text. The group is among the army set to attack Maerimydra:"Excitement wars with panic and those not seated pace back and forth. Secretive drow mix with tall mushroom men while stout dwarves talk with humans wearing helmets capped with red feathers. A little girl in a dirty dress sits alone atop a tall mushroom, her arm around a black goat with milky white eyes."

From here, the group goes on a few missions to capture bases near the city. The heroes might fight alongside myconid allies who use pacification spores to stun enemies.The adventurers also team up with a mind flayer to take on an aboleth.

Bloodfire Dust: Poison that literally boils your blood. How awesome is that?

Umber Hulks: We learn that umber hulks lay eggs! I had no idea.

Grapdol Symbiote: This is a mind flayer item the group can use. Swallow a tadpole. It burrows into your spine for 5 rounds and then you sprout gills, gain telepathy and gain 30 feet of darkvision. It dies after two hours.

Here's quite a scene: A mummy lord knight riding a nightmare who has a squire that is a ghost. I have never heard of anything like that! Very creative.

Fiendborne Forge Giants: These monsters are half fire giant/half demon. That's great. They are immune to poison. Blindsight 60 ft. Can cast Darkness 1/day. They might have leathery, useless wings, horns, extra eyes, etc.

After a bunch of missions and combats, the army is surprised by an assault from the rear. This assault is centered around a truly insane daughter of Graz'zt - The Mother.

The Mother: She is the spawn of Graz'zt and an unknown, unspeakable creature. She"..represents all of the worst aspects of Graz'zt's connections with hunger and fecundity." So many cool details:
  • She's vaguely feminine in form, has three horns.
  • Several tentacles grow out of her abdomen.
  • She has a snakelike tongue that can drag creatures into her mouth.
  • Creatures are birthed from her, pulling their way free of her mass.
  • To use a legendary action, she must consume a derro.
  • The ground around her is littered with corpses that writhe with her parasitic young. If you get too close, a corpse explodes and a swarm comes after you.
  • Her stats are great. As a legendary action she can spawn a succubus, a barlgura or a vrock.
  • She has 7 attacks! 6 tentacles and 1 tongue.
  • The mother literally spews eggs onto the battlefield. We get a chart that says what's in them. There's an ooze, explosive gas, a carnivorous swarm and more. 
The Undying Temple

According to these notes on the 3rd edition City of the Spider Queen adventure, the Undying Temple was linked to the plane of negative energy. In 5e, it's linked to the ethereal plane. I don't think the planes of positive and negative energy are part of the official 5e cosmology.

If the group survives The Mother, they need to bust in to The Undying Temple, find Graz'zt and stop him.

Warped Magic: There's an area of warped magic. If you cast a spell there, you need to make a DC 15 wisdom save or the spell is absorbed and has no effect. The caster also takes d6 necrotic damage per absorbed spell level. Undead are healed by this.

They didn't phone in the flavor text, that's for sure. Check out what can be found in Bexron's Room in the Undying temple: "Large lurid paintings hang on the walls of this bedroom. One depicts a mother cooking and consuming her children, another shows a rider who clearly loves his favorite steed a lot, and the final shows a naked man kneeling in a pentagram of blood as he reads from an evil-looking tome."

Abyssal Energy Orb: A throbbing black orb covered in searing fire.
  • It's a piece of the Abyss consuming the souls of hundreds of slaves. 
  • Drow faces soundlessly scream in the dancing flames. 
  • Touch the orb and wow you are taking 55 damage and you're poisoned. Saving throw DC: 25.
  • You can enter the orb to go into the Ethereal plane.
The Nursery: OK. This adventure is awesome. This nursery has cribs containing 12 of Graz'zt's half-demon babies.
  • Their nursemaid is Joifericus the succubus. "She spends hours every day feeding them and teaching the finer points of evil."
  • The infants are half-drow, fire giant, orc or quaggoth.
  • They have stats. The kids have an AC of 10 and 10 hp. I imagine that might have been a little uncomfortable to run at the convention.
Facing Graz'zt: The final area is really awesome. There's so much in it. There are symbols of each demon lord. It's complicated, but there are ways to use creatures bound by these symbols to de-power Graz'zt piece by piece. Graz'zt sits on a throne made from hundreds of drow corpses.

The group doesn't fight just Graz'zt, but other monsters as well! It is a really insane encounter. They put a lot of thought into stripping Graz'zt's powers to make this fight manageable. You can use that list to help make Graz'zt beatable, if that's what you want to do.

Overall

Seriously, if you ever plan on running a siege in your campaign, you should get this. This is also fantastic to use just for magic items and monster ideas.

The one negative about this is that typos litter the document. I really don't care much about that, but it is very noticeable. I figured I'd warn you. Also, there are maps, but they are hand-drawn o blue graph paper.

I loved this thing and I am working it into my own campaign in a month or two, once we start the blood war.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Dice, Camera, Action: Episode 30 - Curse of Strahd

Episode 30: Nail in the Coffin

Finally we get back to Dice, Camera, Action. It feels like it's been forever.

Over the break, a few things popped up that I think are worth mentioning. Anna got a custom mini of Evelyn made:

That's pretty much perfect!

Chris tweeted some photos of stuff in the Wizards of the Coast offices:

On the top shelf is a lady of pain hat! Below it is the Spelljammer monstrous compendium one, home of the giant space hamster. There are a ton of old D&D action figures.

When I was a little kid there was this really crappy store that carried these toys for cheap. I remember getting an otyugh, a chimera and warduke. Those are long gone now.

This one's full of 5e stuff. I really get a kick out of that beholder sweater. I might get one.

Jared is selling some shirts, including a shirt that looks like his shirt. I like the Hydlide one.

Holly has created a zine being sold for charity. It looks very professional and it appears to have a lot of Strix art in it.

The Party

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

Last Time: The adventurers teamed up with the legendary mage Mordenkainen, went to Strahd's castle and killed Ass Smear ("Kasimir" aka Rahadin). Diath couldn't stop himself from eating a corpse, and it looks like he's a full blown ghoul now.


They are right next to the dining room, one of my favorite encounters in the castle. Mordenkainen left the group to find the Heart of Sorrow, a magic item that powers Strahd.

Diath points out that they still need Strix's tarokka item (the sunsword) in the 'room of bones.'

After a lot of discussion, Diath gives Strix a potion of polymorph. She makes herself look like Rahadin. Then she uses prestidigitation to re-create Rahadin's aura of moaning souls. Clever!

They're going to pretend to be Rahadin's captives. They think the bone place is down in the dungeons, so down they go.

After a lot of exploring, Diath falls into a pit trap. He slides down a ramp into a cell. Evelyn is able to rescue him.

The Crypts


The group ends up in the vast crypt area, which is a pretty iconic D&D location. It is full of crypts, each of which are detailed in the book.

Evelyn is magically drawn to one - the crypt of St. Markovia. This area is on Curse of Strahd page 86, Crypt 6. Chris changes this around quite a bit from what's in the book.

I always thought it would be cool if Evelyn became a Saint. Maybe that will happen somehow. If she defeats Strahd, that's worthy of sainthood, right?

In the crypt, the group sees dust that might be the remains of St. Markovia. The group thinks that if Diath snorts it, he'll be cured. He declines. Strix quietly puts some of the ashes into a potion bottle and keeps it.

The spirit of Saint Markovia appears and blesses Evelyn's weapon, Lightfall. She calls Evelyn "Lady Marthane." Lightfall is imbued with the powers of a mace of disruption

Lightfall:
  • Sheds light.
  • +2d6 radiant damage to undead and fiends.
  • If the undead/fiend target has 25 hit points or less, it must make a saving throw or be destroyed.
There are all these bats on the ceiling of the crypt. They freak out and start flying around.

Diath Drinks Ashes

This is a 5th edition ghoul

Strix makes a mixture of wine and the ashes of Saint Markovia. She wants Diath to drink it. Diath does! Are they crazy?

He is in intense pain and doubles over. Chris tells Diath that this is what it feels like when someone turns undead.

Diath barfs up a black substance. He churns out more of it. Evelyn thinks the evil is coming out of him. It worked! He's not a ghoul anymore. Wow.

Paultin decides to clear out the bat swarm. He drunkenly tells them to go away.. and they do.

The heroes head up some stairs. mist coalesces, and Strahd appears! Paultin says "Nice to see you again, sir."

He tells them their gods can't save them now. The group makes a hilariously lame attempt to pretend they are prisoners of 'Rahadin.'

Diath throws a dagger. Strahd turns to mist. It was an illusion. Evelyn casts zone of truth and the group interrogates Paultin. They become convinced he wasn't actually going to betray the party.

From there we had some issues with the stream. The group encountered a shadow demon and Strix got it to back off by pretending she was Rahadin.

Overall

Good show as usual! I love seeing them go into the crypts. It feels like they could spend 4 sessions in there, easy, but I don't think that will happen.

It feels like we are heading toward the conclusion. If Chris wants to start Storm King's Thunder in the new year, that means we only have a couple of sessions left, and we'll probably miss a week or two due to the holidays.

I realized we might not get to see Baba Lysaga, one of my favorite NPCs from Curse of Strahd. I love the Creeping Hut, I hope we get some kind of reference.

Don't forget, there is a special episode of Force Grey coming up on Monday. Check out my summary of their last session to get caught up to speed.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Planescape - Sphere of Annihilation

We had a really awesome session of Planescape last night, maybe one of the best of the whole campaign.

Tonight was the night that this whole "Graz'zt wants a 4th abyssal layer" storyline was resolved. When planning this, I realized that I'd slipped back into 'overpreparation mode' in the past few weeks and I made a conscious effort to run this like a Chris Perkins session. That means that I did a couple of big scenes that are given enough time and breathing room so that they can resonate with the players.

This one involves a lot of demon lords and NPCs, some home-brewed:
  • Bazuuma: "Good" demon lord, friend of the heroes, is merging her abyssal realm with Grazzt's Three realms.
  • Graz'zt: Demon lord, rules 3 abyssal layers.
  • Iggwilv: The witch queen, betrayed the heroes, now the prisoner/girlfriend of Graz'zt.
  • Ztefano & Verin: Ztefano and Verin are the same person - one is an albino made of goo, the other is a pseudo-drow assassin. Graz'zt's right hand man.
  • Bechard: The demon whale, friend of the heroes.
Planning for the Future: Tonight, I started laying the groundwork for the idea that the heroes are becoming the living embodiments of two of the fundamental laws of the multiverse.

Bidam Will be Rule-of-Three. Things always happen in threes. Throughout this session, Bidam encountered groups of three monsters.

Theran will be Unity of Rings, which is about how things come full circle. Basically, each session I'll have someone say a phrase to him in the beginning, and then someone else will utter the same phrase to him in an entirely different context.

If I can, I want to try and pull off some Curb Your Enthusiasm endings. I don't know if that's possible, but maybe the stars will align.

The players haven't picked up on it yet. It will be fun to watch them as they start to notice all the threes and recurring quotes.

The Party

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

Last Time: We left off with Ztefano hacking into Bechard with his artifact scythe, Riftcarver. Inside Bechard is a bunch of shipwrecks. The heroes were in there.

Babau

We started inside Bechard with the slayer genie looking up at Theran. This genie had two of his arms cut off by Ztefano last session and he was hurt really badly. He asked Theran, "Do you have any spells you can put on me?" Theran told him he didn't have any healing spells.

Ztefano summoned some babaus, which are demons from Volo's Guide to Monsters. According to the book, they actually sprang from Graz'zt's blood, so I should be using them a lot here.

Battle with Demons: The babaus cut their way inside Bechard and we had a sprawling fight on wrecked pirate ships. Bechard swam through the planar breach from Azzagrat to Burningwater (Home of Bazuuma).

Bechard tilted as he dove underwater to escape Ztefano's assault. It worked, but it affected the fight. The babaus went flying. The heroes were able to take them down.

Bechard was hurt badly. He needed to eat a soul to get better. He had sensed a soul in the sea of Burningwater, located in one of the mysterious underwater towers.

The Tower of Oolvanvar

Shadowguard

The group went in the tower and braved a bunch of traps from Grimtooth's Museum of Death. I used the trap where your foot goes through the floor and it is impaled with spikes. Then, a ceiling hatch opens and A COBRA falls on you. They thought that was hilarious.


The Wheel Trap: I used the crazy room where a cylinder rolls down a ramp, squashing everything in its path and then crashes into barrels of acid, causing them to explode.

The players actually figured this one out! Jessie specifically asked to look for tripwires. She says she did that because she's playing a lot of Skyrim and I guess there's a ton of tripwires in that game.

The Lich: The story with this tower is that a follower of Acererak (famous demilich from the classic adventure Tomb of Horrors) found it via a spell mishap. She wanted to use it to store her phylactery, as she was trying to become a lich.

She failed at her attempt to become a lich and died during the process. That means that the soul that she needed to use to become a lich was still stored in her phylactery, and Bechard could eat it and heal up a bit.

We Need a Big Magic Item

When I was planning this, I was sitting there wondering how the group could fight Ztefano, a demon lord. And what about Iggwilv or even Grazzt? The heroes have no chance. I tried to wrack my brain, and I realized that one item could even the score: a talisman of the sphere.

Treasure Overload: The group is already overloaded with magic items. It feels like Monty Haul to give them a sphere of annihilation. But if you look at the sphere of annihilation stat block - any time the sphere goes through a portal or in a bag of holding, you roll on a little chart. There's a 50% chance the sphere vanishes!

Since this is Planescape, the group goes through at least 4 portals per session. So the sphere won't be around for long. I'll just let them mess around with it and see what happens. If it starts to ruin the game, I'll get rid of it.

They Never Lock Their Doors: What's funny is that the group left the sphere in an unlocked building at the end of this session. They have been robbed twice by the greatest thief in Sigil, Ash Vodiran. He stole the Wand of Orcus and 18,000 gold from them!

Honestly I absolutely love the idea of him stealing this thing from them and forcing a final showdown. They hate that guy so much.

Blackfire Creeper

Demon Lord Madness: Theran has Madness from when Graz'zt spoke to him. Nothing gets in the way of his pleasure. Theran's pleasure: books. He made a beeline for the spellbook of Oolvanvar and her other book from the Bleak Academy.

Looting 4e: There is this ridiculously great article on Acererak in Dragon Magazine 371 full of untouched material. What works out so well is that Acererak delivers soul to Orcus/Tenebrous. Bidam has a dark pact with Tenebrous. So in this tower, there are some really cool monsters, but they don't attack because they sense Bidam's connection and respect the Orcusword.

The talisman of the sphere and a sphere of annihilation are in here. The group freaked out. To move the sphere, you make an arcana check. The DC is a 25! If you wear the talisman, you double your proficiency bonus. That gave Theran a total of +13 to his arcana, so he needed to roll a 12 to move the sphere.

Theran spent an hour and attuned to the talisman. He actually de-attuned his robe of eyes, which is his trademark item. So right now he's attuned to: Talisman of the Sphere, Staff of Power, and the Amulet of Non-Detection.

Problem With the Sphere: He tried to move the sphere down to Bechard. He needed a 12. He failed..failed..failed...failed..and failed. Then he succeeded. This became a theme throughout the night. Not good! This is the item meant to ward off the demon lords.

Bechard ate the soul and brought the group to the island where Verin/Ztefano is building a city out of the souls of the people he killed in the town of Crux.

Goofy Demon City: I had an idea that amused me greatly. When I read about how the city of Zelatar is made out of souls and that you can see the faces of tortured spirits in the wood, cobblestones, etc, I thought that was kind of too dark for me at this point in my life.

I was thinking about all of the cheesy crap I can do with this city in a realm infused with positive energy. I could make the entire city full of living buildings and objects, like the candelabra in beauty and the beast. So the heroes walk down a street and a street lamp smiles and says hello. It cracks me up just thinking about it, so that's the plan.

Fighting the Demon Lord Ztefano
 

Spidey Sense is Tingling: While traveling, Bidam sensed trouble from his ring of joining. With it, he can sense the emotions of Bazuuma. She was in pain! She was fighting Ztefano and losing. Bidam's Graz'zt madness kicked in: He is obsessed with making someone his, and that someone is Bazuuma!

The group got to the island. Ztefano was in the center of the city, using souls to create buildings. Bazuuma lied on the shore, sliced open by Riftcarver. Fall From Grace used lay on hands so Bazuuma wouldn't die.

Bazuuma told the heroes that she'd fired all of her eye rays at Ztefano and he was hurt really badly.

Then more bad news. The group heard screeching. Bidam's son, the baby dragon Pyranicus, was attacking Ztefano! Pyranicus had no chance against the demon lord.

Sphere Malfunction: The group ran to help. Theran tried to move the sphere. He needed to roll a 12. He failed. Bidam couldn't wait. He and Fall From Grace caught the demon lord by surprise and did piles of damage to Ztefano. Fall from Grace rolled a critical while using divine smite, so she did 4d6+4d8+5 damage!

Then we rolled initiative. Ztefano teed off and did piles of damage to Bidam with Riftcarver. 66 points, I think.

Theran, back at the shore, tried to move the sphere again. He needed a 12. He failed.

Ztefano killed Fall From Grace. Because she has a demon amulet, she disappeared and reappeared next to it in a church of her goddess in The Outlands.

Theran rolled again. He failed. I swear.

Ztefano cut into Bidam and dropped him. Bidam was making death saves. Ztefano turned to Pyranicus, the baby dragon. If Pyranicus was slain here in his home plane, he was destroyed forever!

Theran rolled again. He made it! He moved the sphere to the location of the battle. Then I let him roll one more time to see if he could send the sphere into Ztefano. He failed. Pyranicus was doomed!

Bidam rolled his death save. NATURAL 20! He got up and killed Ztefano! It was unreal. We were freaking out.

Ztefano vanished when slain. The group realized that Ztefano wasn't dead - he'd appeared wherever his demon amulet was stashed. Some other abyssal layer, no doubt.

The Witch Queen

That's Iggwilv the Witch Queen, by Saniika.

Then there was even more bad news. Someone was yelling at Bazuuma. Bidam ran over to check. Theran tried to move the sphere... and failed. It felt like he was rolling a d12 instead of a d20. It was unreal.

The group saw Iggwilv standing over Bazuuma. Iggwilv was telling her that she'd never marry Graz'zt and that Bazuuma wasn't even worthy of being her puppet. I had set this up where the group's choice would really matter. Iggwilv was going to kill Bazuuma in one round.

Jessie roleplayed Bidam's madness. Bidam wanted possession of Bazuuma and someone was trying to take her away from him! Bidam got surprise and tore into Iggwilv, doing piles and piles of damage.

Iggwilv's Trickery: There was no blood. This wasn't Iggwilv, it was a simulacrum! A simulacrum is a 'clone' made of ice and snow, and it has half the hit points of the original. Obviously, the use of simulacrum is inspired by what Chris Perkins did when he ran the Amber Temple on Dice, Camera, Action.

Iggwilv turned in shock. She couldn't believe Bidam had the audacity to stab her repeatedly with a lightning sword. She looked at Theran and hissed, "Traitor!"

Then she saw the sphere of annihilation! If two people want it, they can do an opposed arcana check. Whoever rolls higher gets it! Her arcana is very, very high.

We rolled initiative. Iggwilv rolled low. Theran tried to send the sphere of annihilation into her. He failed his roll again! Bidam and Pyranicus rolled ridiculously well and destroyed the simulacrum! It turned into a pile of snow.

There was one more visitor. He was nearby, using greater invisibility. It was Graz'zt.

Graz'zt

That's actually some amazing fan art for For Duty & Deity from right here.

Graz'zt became visible. He jabbed his blade, Wave of Sorrow, into the ground. He pulled up some abyssal tissue. He saw that it was infused with positive energy. Bonding with this layer might do him serious harm!

He told the adventurers that he was going to hunt down Ztefano and that the planar breach that connected his layer to this one would be shut down. He told them that one day he'd come for Burningwater, but for now they were welcome to continue to rule their domains in his triple realm. Perhaps their alliance would strengthen over time.

Then, he looked at Bazuuma and walked over to her. Graz'zt obviously finds her attractive. The gimmick with Bazuuma is that she is utterly beautiful except for the fact that she has 20 eyes on her face. She wears a veil to cover them.

Bidam vs. Graz'zt: Bidam stepped in front of Bazuuma. Graz'zt dominated him (DC 23) and made him step aside. Graz'zt whispered something to her that made her eyes bulge. Then he told Bidam that one day, Bazuuma would be his. Bidam was adamant that would never happen.

Survival: Graz'zt left and it was over. Bidam was already abandoning his philosophy of hit it and quit it. Now, with this madness of Graz'zt, he's become utterly devoted to Bazuuma.

I plan on doing a final test of Bidam's beliefs over the next three sessions. Each time, he'll have a opportunity to 'hit it.' If he declines two out of three times, his belief will change to something new.

Hole in the Sky: We did some quick cleanup. The group had hired a wizard to cast another planar breach to connect Bazuuma's realm to the plane of positive energy. I took this opportunity to steal some stuff from Hole in the Sky, which I reviewed the other day.

There is now an invisible bridge that connects all of the islands and towers in Burningwater. The bridge also leads to the portal to the plane of positive energy - a hole in the sky.

Return to Sigil: Bidam stayed with Bazuuma due to his madness. Theran returned to Sigil. He brought the sphere of annihilation through a portal. I secretly rolled on the chart - and as fate would have it, the sphere made it through.

Theran failed 3 more rolls (I swear he only needed a 12) and then was able to park the sphere in his wizard lab. The group wanted to put a post-it note near it that said "do not touch!"

Then Theran opened the spell book he'd taken from the tower of Oolvanvar. A glyph of warding went off - a huge explosion that destroyed the book and wounded Theran. People came running. Theran had been blown up and killed in this very building by an explosion, so obviously people were concerned.

Someone showed up in the square - Drokkarn the pit fiend! He'd finally found the group's demon slaves: Barbagg the imp and Nin the heresy devil.

Drokkarn told Theran that the Dark Eight (the pit fiend generals of the Blood War) had activated him and were going to give him an army. He asked Theran if the heroes would like to fight alongside him against demons in the Blood War. Theran wasn't sure what to say.

Nin started to heckle him and challenged Theran to a sorcerous duel. He went into a big tirade, which ended with the phrase: "Come on, do you want to put a spell on me?!" That's Unity of Rings, phase 1.

That's where we stopped. It was a great one. Running it Perkins-style goes against my nature but sweet jaysus, it works so well.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

DCC RPG - Grimtooth's Museum of Death Review


I am going to review another DCC RPG product today: Grimtooth's Museum of Death. This one is interesting, as it is a "crossover" of sorts. Grimtooth is a character/mascot from a series of "Traps" products that came out decades ago. Those books were extremely handy.

I got one of the Grimtooth books way back in the '90's and I tried using some of the traps on my players. All of the traps in the Grimtooth books are extraordinarily vicious. The players used to groan when I pulled that book out during play.

The Dungeon
 

The tone of this book is different. The whole thing is purposely goofy and sarcastic. The heroes will be taking an elevator through the 101 levels of Grimtooth's dungeon. The adventure takes you thorough an odd collection of floors: Floor 4, then 24, then 13, etc.

Here's an example of the tone. Grimtooth is giving the opening flavor text. He says: "Before you die, please shout out a number between 1 and 10 rating how agonizing your death is, 10 being the highest."

Diagrams: The thing I like most about this book is that there are drawings of the traps. A lot of times, I have trouble visualizing complex traps. A lot of them use words like "promontory" and I can never keep those kinds of words straight.

One weird thing about this module is that vast swaths of some of the dungeon levels are not detailed. In the beginning, the book says: "The maps contain several mystery rooms keyed with question marks. The rooms are supplied for judges to insert their own traps..."

Several mystery rooms? Level 4 has a total of 14 rooms. 10 of them are question marks.

Getting Keys
 
 

This adventure is very brief. The heroes must go into a dungeon level, meet an NPC related to Grimtooth in some way, and get a key to another level. This chain of events ends up sending the group all the way down to Grimtooth's throne room.

During the exploration of floor 4, the group runs into Grimtina, Grimtooth's sister. She is: "...invulnerable to all attacks, possesses inhuman strength and splits anyone who touches her from skull to groin with her chainsaw."

The group goes through a few more levels, braving traps and getting keys. There's a few traps that I thought were really fun.

There's one that seems like certain doom. It involves a rolling cylinder and barrels of acid. If that trap goes off, there is literally nowhere for the heroes to dodge to. They are going to get steamrolled and scorched by acid.

There is also an antigravity room that I got a kick out of. I love it when a dungeon room has a floor like a chess board.

The Climax
 

The group gets down to Grimooth's throne room and I really like the way it looks. A throne surrounded by massive piles of gold is a very classic trope and a really cool place to have an encounter.

Grmtooth ends up screwing the group over and the group might end up fighting his pet dragon Grimfang,

One of my favorite traps kicks in when the group is ready to leave. The elevator literally rockets up through the roof. I really get a kick out of that. I think the players would freak out.

Trap Appendix


Then we get stats for Grimtooth as a patron. In DCC RPG, patrons are powerful god-like entities that you can worship and gain special spells from. You can also call on him for aid. His aid consists of things like dropping a giant bowling ball on your enemies or sending Grimtina to maul your foes with a chainsaw.

If you displease him, he does all sorts of stuff. My favorite is where he leaves a trap for the character somewhere in the world. The hero knows there's one out there, but they don't know where. It goes off at the most inopportune time.

Piles of Traps: Another thing I really like is that there are appendices in the back full of traps to use. There's a page of door traps and a page of floor traps. All of them have diagrams and drawings. They squeezed a ton of content onto each page.

The traps are brutal and/or amusing. I particularly like this one: You are walking up some stairs. Your foot falls through a stair and spikes stab into your foot. It will take five minutes to work your leg free, or you can just rip it out and take damage. As you are deciding what to do, a cobra falls from the ceiling onto you. Just thinking about that makes me laugh. A cobra! How random.

Overall

The dungeon is really odd. It's unfinished. I don't expect 100 levels of dungeon, but it's weird that we adventure through 4 different levels, most of which are left undesigned. It is almost like this book is more about the stuff in the back than the adventure.

Aside from that, it's a very fun book. What's great about it is that it is a fantastic resource. You could buy this and you've got enough traps to last for a very long time. In my opinion, those two pages of door traps and floor traps are insanely useful and on their own made this worth buying.

Friday, November 25, 2016

DCC RPG - Hole in the Sky Review


Expansion: Stephen Murrish made a massive expansion to this adventure that you can get for free right here.

Today I'm going to go through Hole in the Sky, a DCC RPG adventure for level 0 characters. I'm hoping to find some stuff to use for my D&D 5e campaign.

The reason I bought this was simple. This sentence on the back cover: "They are to follow an invisible bridge until they arrive at a hole in the sky – and then jump through."

That's all I needed to hear!

Funnel: DCC RPG 0 level adventures are weird. Each player has at least 3 characters, each of them a farmer, peasant, etc. They go through this meatgrinder of an adventure that will kill most of them. Those that survive gain a class and become level one characters.

You could easily convert this to 5e, but you'll need to change the Wheel of Destiny at the end.

The Plot: The bizarre Lady in Blue recruits people who want to escape their mundane lives. She sends them on a quest to free Drezzta, a powerful green-cloaked woman. There's more, but I don't want to spoil it.

The Hole in the Sky leads to an extra-dimensional prison. Those who free Drezzta get a spin on "The Wheel of Destiny," an artifact that can change your life.

The Lady in Blue


I think the Lady herself is my favorite thing in this adventure. The Lady in Blue is seven feet tall, has the head of a statue and she holds human heads in her hands. The heads do the speaking for her. 

To me, she is awesome because she's unique and different from most of the other female entities in these kinds of games. This NPC stands out as soon as you describe her.

When the metric ton of flavor text tied to the Lady in Blue is done, the heads kiss each hero on the forehead, which is weird and hilarious. Then she sinks down into the earth and is gone, which also amuses me greatly. What a great NPC.

The Invisible Bridge


At midnight, the group must step off of a cliff onto the bridge. "Once the last character has stepped upon it and gone more than 60’ across the bridge, the beginning of the bridge fades from existence, so that the bridge always ends a maximum of 60’ behind the hindmost character, and does not return." That is scary.

The journey takes three days. A storm hits and might blow characters over the side or else they fall to their deaths. They could have done a lot more with this bridge.

The heroes go through the hole in the sky. How can there be no flavor text for that?! On the other side is a weird realm with a purple sky. The heroes must head for the prison.

Along the way, the group might face a Chaos Pig: A "green and black tiger-shaped swine" that burrows out of the ground.

The Prison


The prison is a 300 foot tall monolith with 50 foot long thorns. The double doors are 60 feet tall.

Cur Maxima: A 30 foot diameter pumpkin that moves around using 8 vines as appendages.

This adventure is a little different from the other level 0 adventures. This one has a story and it is more about exploring a place and slowly learning what is really going on. The others are more of a funhouse dungeon.

As the adventurers explore the prison, the heroes are stalked by Cur Maxima. They meet bands of people who were also sent here to try free Drezzta but ended up going mad or just trying to survive.

The group is ultimately meant to free the prisoner, who is extremely powerful and can turn a character inside out with a thought.

The Wheel: Once the group has done this, they must flee the collapsing realm. They then meet up with the Lady in Blue and get to spin the Wheel of Destiny.

The Wheel is just a way to beef up characters and change them a bit. Rolling low is bad - The characters can end up altering time and going back to being a peasant, not even remembering that any of this happened.

Overall


This adventure had a lot of promise, but the actual dungeon leaves me feeling flat. There's really not a lot going on in there. Reading other reviews of this adventure, I see I'm in the minority.

I feel like the journey on the invisible bridge could have had some epic encounters, but there's just bad weather and some bird monsters.

The realm inside the hole is very vague, too. I feel like this adventure needs a lot of tweaking.

Story: That said, this might be one that comes off in play a lot better than it reads. This module has a story that I'm trying not to spoil. The story is very easy to follow and I would imagine that some players will really enjoy it.

I kind of wonder what happens if the group figures out what's going on. There's no guidance on how certain NPCs react if the heroes do certain things. The adventure seems to assume the group won't figure it out, but there's some pretty heavy clues in the prison.

The Pumpkin: I do like the idea of being stalked by a hideous monster throughout the prison. Long ago, I played through an old D&D adventure called Skarda's Mirror. In it, we were wandering in this mirror maze and a magic ape-thing was popping out of the mirror and terrorizing us. It was really fun. This could potentially be similar, though I think that the pumpkin monster might be a little too silly.

A giant skull with spider legs seems much cooler to me. I can just picture people laughing when I describe the pumpkin. I guess they won't be laughing when it mauls a character to death, but I feel a little apprehensive about it.

I think I would use the Lady in Blue as the basis for a demon lord in D&D. I'd definitely use the bridge and the hole in the sky. The rest of the stuff I could take or leave.

This is easily worth the money and I'd imagine some DMs could really do cool stuff with this.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

DCC RPG - The Making of the Ghost Ring Review


There is this sale going on now at DrivethruRPG where all Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG adventures are 40% off. That means you can get a lot of their stuff for $4.00 each.

DCC RPG is a lot like 5e except that it is a little more old school and wacky. I ran a DCC RPG campaign a year or two ago at the game store. I had some group chemistry issues (to put it mildly), but I did get to run a lot of awesome adventures.

I bought a bunch of adventures and today I'm going to review The Making of the Ghost Ring. Basically, I want to go through it and see if there's anything worth stealing for my D&D campaign.

This is written by Michael Curtis. He wrote Intrigue at the Court of Chaos, one of my favorite adventures of all time. I'm really interested to see what we've got here.

First off, the cover is just incredibly awesome. Doug Kovacs has this huge string of DCC RPG covers and art that are just ridiculously great. The guy has been on fire for years!

This adventure involves the creation of a magic item and is meant to be an example of how the characters can make magic item in DCC RPG. I love the idea of an adventure about creating an item. I almost immediately had ideas about how I can work this into my Planescape campaign.

Meeting the Ghost

This adventure is about a ghost who needs to make this magic item within a month or else her soul is claimed by a devil named Maalbrilmorg the Hell Smith. This is due to a contract she signed with him when she was alive. It is up to our heroes to make this item and save her soul.

This review is basically going to be a running tally of all of the hilariously awesome stuff in this thing. There are at least 6 things in this module that made me laugh out loud.

The Stink Pools: This is where the wizard lives. It's a swamp. There is "a tree that forks in twain." Resting in the division is a round hut made of saplings and animal hides.

As if that isn't great enough, then we have flavor text that tells the players that this structure is "beckoning you like the arms of a winsome lover."

The Plot: This adventure is broken down into three objectives. Basically, we're going on three mini-quests:
  1. Rescue a certain master jeweler who has the ability to inscribe mystical sigils into the ring.
  2. Obtain a specific gemstone from an ancient pyramid.
  3. The ring must be tempered in the fluids of a terrible beast to seal its power within the band.
These steps must be done in order.

The Ghost Ring Stats: In case you're wondering, here's the completed item in 5e form:
  • +1 to INT and CHA.
  • Cast mending at will.
  • Cast charm person at will.
  • Absorb a single spell cast upon the wearer once per week.
  • Flaw: Charm person and absorption doesn't work on females.
The Journey Chime: The group can teleport courtesy of this magic item, which is "...a potent object of yore." Ring the bell and it teleports you to different places. 

The Woe-Touched Halfling

The jeweler is "woe-touched," which means that he has magical bad luck that comes out in times of stress. He is being held captive in the city of Oolvanvar. Michael Curtis somehow comes up with all these names that are fun to say out loud.

The heroes appear in Oolvanvar and end up "...stepping into a filthy alleyway and barely avoiding an effluent of human waste running down the grim path's center."

The jeweler is being held by a band of villains. Their lair includes:
  • Attack dogs with their vocal cords severed, transforming them into silent assassins.
  • "Dusty paintings depicting long-dead nobles and wanton tavern wenches hang from the walls."
  • Gnashrilda Foul-Mouth: "Her chainmail bears the scars of a hundred battles and her leather skirt is cut high to allow free movement in battle. Bearing her blood-red hair in dreadlocks, Gnashrilda spews a constant stream of obscenities in combat."
The Bronze-Handed Pharoah


To get the gem, the group must defeat "...the Bronze-Handed Pharoah of old." Yes, he really has bronze hands. His origin goes like this:
  • Both of his arms were severed by a giant foe.
  • Despite having no arms, the Pharoah defeated the foe by tearing out their throat with his teeth.
  • He had magical bronze skeletal limbs attached to the stumps.
  • He had a hole drilled in his skull and placed the gem in there.
The Gem: It is the '"size of a pea," it is embedded in the pharoah's head and it can focus mystical energy unlike any other gemstone.

Getting the Brain Juice

The group has to get cerebral ichor from a huge monster. To me, this creature seems like the DCC RPG version of the Tarrasque. It is known as the Odontotyrannus!

This monster has been forced into a magical slumber. The group will have to creep up and perform surgery on it. You can guess what happens then.

The Odontotyrannus: "Its face is a horrible mixture of human, bat, and iguana bearing a slavering maw."

When it first wakes up, the creature is groggy. It starts off with just one attack per round, but as the rounds roll on, it starts using more and more of its powers. Each round its attack bonuses go up as it shakes off the sleep crust.

Once that is all done, there is another encounter courtesy of Maalbilmorg. That fight is on cooled lava that is thin in spots and there are lava geyser going off.

Obviously I love this thing. As I read it, I was figuring out how to use it and I think I have it. I'll probably run this in 3-4 weeks reskinned. My players have a broken cubic gate that needs fixing and this is a great way to do it.

The sheer volume of good ideas alone is enough to make this worth buying. I also really admire the effort put into making each thing. He could have just thrown that hut in a random swamp, but instead it's a round hut in a split tree that resides in The Stink Pools. It makes me laugh just thinking about it.

This adventure is awesome and right now it's on sale, so check it out if it sounds like it's up your alley.

The State of Dungeons & Dragons Today

Today we're going to talk a little about the state of Dungeons & Dragons through the lens of a panel discussion from Gamehole 2016 in Madison, Wisconsin with Mike Mearls, Chris Perkins and Jeremy Crawford - the people who run D&D as we know it.

It was a great panel. If it sounds like something you're interested in, you should go listen to it. I'm going to 'spoil' it for you. The audio of the panel is right here.

I am going to pull out the most interesting stuff and talk about it a bit.

The Approach to Steering D&D


Mike Mearls explained their approach to Dungeon & Dragons. Wizards of the Coast provides a service. They listen to what D&D players want or need, and do their best to provide it.

As far as I can tell, this approach has been phenomenally successful. I keep hearing that the Player's Handbook continues to be a very big seller. I don't think I have ever heard someone in real life say that they don't like the 5e rules. The game seems to be a critical and financial success.

Some of the other editions didn't really last all that long. 3e had 3.5 roll out a few years after 3.0. I think that D&D Essentials came out two or three years after 4e did.

In 5e, it seems like they are in it for the very long haul, releasing a 'storyline' every 6 months and a few side books each year.

How long can that last? How long do they want it to last? It feels like we're potentially in uncharted waters.

I think D&D is going to be pretty big for as long as people watch other people play games online. D&D can be phenomenally entertaining in that format if you have the right people at the table.

The Roleplaying/Combat Dilemma: At one point in the panel,they took questions from the crowd. One person asked what he should do when he has a group where half of them just want combat, and the other half don't want combat at all.

Jeremy Crawford gave what I think is the best advice I have heard in a really long time. He said that you have to monitor your players constantly. Watch their reactions. Are they having fun? Did they like this thing we just did? Give them more of what they respond to.

Jeremy says he will actually junk his plans for an entire session right there at the table if he sense that it won't go over well on that particular day.

Mike chimed in with more. He pointed out that even in combat there can be talking. You can always have roleplaying going on, even in a string of battles.

Then Chris said to think of the monsters as heroes that are on their own adventure. Groups of monsters are like dysfunctional groups of adventurers and you can play them a such. They have all of the weird relationships with each other that the characters have in their group.

Settings: I really liked this. They said that they consciously try to treat the D&D multiverse as one big campaign setting. Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, Eberron, Planescape, they are all connected and all part of the story.

I really get a kick out of the idea of them publishing an adventure where heroes go on a quest to a bunch of different, less-utilized settings such as Al Qadim, Birthright, Spelljammer, etc. Heck, a spelljamming vessel can take you to all those places.

You could do a Rod of Seven Parts story where each piece of the rod is in a different setting. I would love that.

Volo's Guide to Monsters


There were a number of comments about making Volo's Guide to Monsters that I thought you might find interesting.

Trolling the Forums: Mike Mearls sat down and searched all of the forums (like ENWorld and RPG.net) and he looked for every list of monsters people to seeing 5e. He used that list to help decide which monsters to put in the book.

Powerful Monsters: Mike points out that Volo's doesn't have many high level monsters because their research shows that not many groups get above 10th level. This not because people don't want to play high level games, but because they just don't make it that high due to time.

Why We'll See Lots of Hags: Jeremy Crawford always pushes for hags because he's been using them in his campaigns for decades. He mentions his home campaign a few times in this panel. Chris Perkins plays in it. I would like to hear more about this. What kind of game does the D&D rules guy run?

Everything is Linked: Mike points out that all of the fey entries in Volo's Guide to Monsters together depict the situation in the Feywild. We don't get the full picture but we get pieces. You kind of get the feeling that there might be a big Feywild thing coming up. Who knows, maybe he was just making a broader point.

Picking the Monsters: They had a ton of monsters they wanted to put in the book and didn't have space to fit all that many in. They actually sat down and did a vote, complete with a points system. After that, each person got to pick one monster to put in the book. Here's the picks:
  • Chris Perkins: Nilbog.
  • Chris Lindsay: Grung.
  • Jeremy Crawford: Wood Woad.
  • Mike Mearls: Didn't give himself a vote. He would have picked a Norker but he knew everyone else hated them.
The Decision-Making Process

Why There Are Few "Splatbooks": They feel like player options done poorly can ruin a game, so they are being extremely cautious about introducing new stuff, including spells. They also don't want to confuse people trying to get into the game. They want everyone to know that the Player's Handbook and the Starter Set are what is needed..

They purposely didn't call Volo's Guide to Monsters "Monster Manual 2" because they don't want to confuse new players. Mike once met someone who tried to start playing 4th Edition with the Player's Handbook 3. Wow.

Future Trends
: They want to lay a foundation so that D&D can thrive 40 years from now. They actually made a comment about being ready for what comes if/when online gaming wanes.

What would that be? I've always thought that D&D won't die until they can make video game that allow you to do anything within the context of that world. How far off is that? Many, many years, right?

Future Products


New Storyline: They are a few months way from announcing the next product. I think it was January of last year that they announced Curse of Strahd so maybe it will be January again?

I know there was a D&D book online called "Labyrinth" that had people speculating. So I guess that's a clue of some sort. It could be a reference to the Mazes of the Lady of Pain. It could be a reference to the movie, Labyrinth which was very feywild-y.

Chris says that the adventure he's working on right now starts off sandbox-y, becomes more focused and old school.

He says that Pendleton Ward of Adventure Time was a consultant. Consultants come in to talk before the adventure is written. Chris tried to put Pendleton Ward into the book - as in, his style and sensibility.

Remakes: The general approach to revisiting old concepts is to try to put a fresh spin on stuff.. it's like the temple of elemental evil, but it's not. Curse of Strahd isn't a straight conversion of the original Ravenloft adventure, it's a new version.

Clues: They really hammer one point home again and again. There are loads of clues to future stories are in the main books, including Volo's Guide to Monsters.

Character Death

I found these to be extremely amusing so I figured I'd put them in here. Someone asked them to talk about their favorite death/retirement story in a campaign.

Chris Perkins: Chris was running his Iomandra campaign, which he wrote about often in his DM Experience columns.= during the 4e era. His group sacrificed themselves to kill Vecna. They created a huge explosion that destroyed Vecna, knowing it would destroy him, too.

Mike Mearls: This was in an Eberron campaign, One player was running a warforged artificer, Group was facing an undead warforged that lived on an island that was one giant construct (good god that sounds awesome). The warforged PC "uploaded" himself into the psyche of the island and took partial control of the island. By doing so, he could open doors and remove hazards for the group but his spirit had been permanently removed from his body.

Jeremy Crawford: He was running a Ravenloft campaign. Patrina kept telling the heroes throughout the campaign that Strahd was just misunderstood. He thought the group knew she was just trying to mess with them.

They get to the final battle with Strahd. Strahd pops up and the ranger  says they should help him. They pause. Strahd drops one hero in the first round. The cleric flees! The ranger still just wants to talk to him. It's a total bloodbath. One hero became a vampire, everyone else but the cleric died. The cleric spent the rest of his days gibbering naked in the woods.

I don't know how long these good times of D&D will last. It seems like they're really aiming for a continuous ascent and what's crazy is that it really does feel like it's working. Their approach to the game seems to be working wonders, so let's keep our fingers crossed that D&D is big for years to come.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Blades by the Docks: Episode 1

 

You can watch this right here.
You can check out the Blades in the Dark RPG here.

Nadja: A month or two ago I was watching a panel from a convention. The panel of DMs included Chris Perkins, Matt Mercer and a few other people. I didn't really like the panel, but I did like Nadja Otikor, one of the featured DMs.

She is very new to the game and I thought it was really interesting that she just jumped right into running an online game. That takes a lot of moxy and I heartily approve. I think it would be interesting to watch a newer DM and see how she runs things.

Blades in the Dark RPG: I was set to watch her run MissCliks: Prophecy, but as I was getting ready I saw that she had a new show airing right now! I decided to watch that instead.That being this.

This group is not playing D&D, they are playing John Harper's Blades in the Dark, an "industrial-fantasy" RPG game. The players play criminals in a seedy fantasy city full of gangs and factions. There are steam trains and gas lights alongside demons and mysticism.

Nadja has a nice-looking map on the screen that gives us some details. The two factions important to this session:
  1. The Lampblacks: Shady thugs who hire the adventurers.
  2. The Red Sashes: They run a "sword school." It's a front for selling a drug called black lotus.
The Party

(Nathan) Finn: Street Tough.
(Mads) Rem Daeva: She has 4 black eyes and weird powers.
(Omni) Nuri: She has pale skin and dark hair.
(Tony) Zul: Arabic Ne'er-do-well.


We start off with the characters in an office meeting with a burly fellow named Bazzo Baz, leader of the Lampblacks.

Bazzo wants the group to take turf from the Red Sashes. They have high class drug dens and sell a lot of black lotus.

Rem flat-out tells Bazzo she's going to keep the drugs, which doesn't go over well. The group will be paid "1 coin" which is apparently an abstract way of keeping track of money.

Omni is pretty hilarious and Mads is very helpful. She helps the DM find rules stuff a number of times.

Double Dealing


The group leaves the meeting and begins to scheme. They are talking about trying to make a deal with the Red Sashes to turn against the Lampblacks.

I am wondering if this is something not anticipated by Nadja. Maybe this game isn't as 'set' a D&D is. It seems more abstract and fluid.

In my experience, the natural instinct is to block the players here because if the group goes down a path you didn't prepare for, you might feel like you won't be able to fill the session or that the session will suck.

I think that in most cases you can go their way and make it work. You don't want to "block" the group when their idea could potentially make for an awesome, unpredictable session.

The group wants to give the Sashes info in exchange for drugs. They want to steal the drugs and frame the Lampblacks

Nuri points out that if things go wrong, she has grenades. Awesome.

Mads is really on the ball. She has all the rules handy and can find stuff in a second.

The group heads to Black Hole Sun, the black lotus den run by the Red Sashes. The group is going to meet with two important NPCs:
  • Mylara: She runs the Red Sashes.
  • Talitha: She runs Black Hole Sun.
Mylara is talking with Talitha, Mylara runs the red sashes.

Rem walks up to Talitha and makes a roll. In this game, you roll 2d6. I don't think you add them together. Result: 1, 1.

We get hung up on rules confusion. A viewer in the chat gives us the solution. How handy. Basically, she can nullify the bad result by taking "stress," which gives her an abstract punishment.

Rem tells the Red Sashes that the Blacklamps hired them. Rem offers to give the drugs to the Blacklamp and to taint the supply. Wow.. great idea.

Zul violates Talitha's personal space and drinks her tea.

The deal is made, though it is not on solid ground. It's time for phase 2 of our scheme - tainting the drugs.

Black Lotus


Nuri knows a guy - a "psychonaut." He's hooked on dreamsmoke. She meets him in a bar and has a very amusing car crash of an encounter and eventually she realizes she actually already has the drugs on her character sheet, which is very funny.

Nuri takes her drug that she already had to a lab for some tainting. She rolls bad and starts a fire. There's a few minutes of rules confusion. Ultimately it is determined that there actually is no fire and she successfully laces the drugs.

The group goes back to the Red Sashes and they agree to work together for one week. Rem wants to shake her hand, but Mylara is wary. It becomes more and more obvious that Rem is up to something. She makes a roll to convince her to shake hands. She rolls 4 dice, 3 of which are 6's.

This is a massive success and I don't understand what the effect exactly is. A subtle electric charge goes through Mylara. Because of the good roll, Mylara (leader of the Red Sashes) is a permanent contact/ally.

From there I had a hard time following what was happening. The game is very abstract and there's a lot of jumping around in time.

Rem seduces an office worker but gets caught by his boss.

We stop there and Nadja hands out XP. Giving out XP is done individually in this game so it takes a few minutes. Nathan literally did nothing so he gets 0 XP.

Overall

I like all of the people on this show and it feels like once they get a handle on the rules, this will be fun to watch. It got a bit confusing as it went, but the people are funny enough that it was still entertaining. They all seem comfortable with each other and laugh a lot, which goes a very long way in making a show worth watching.

Leadership: The group dynamic is still being worked out. Sometimes, you get a group of players that are all tentative - they wait for someone else to take the lead. In this group, Mads sensed that happening and stepped up as leader.

That was good, but from that moment on she drove the action and only Omni contributed. It was a little odd to me that in some instances, the group didn't come to a consensus on their plans. People just did things without any discussion or consultation.

Blades in the Dark RPG: The game itself seems pretty cool. I don't get the system at all and it was very jarring to let the players create their own flashback. Creating your own flashback is potentially awesome, but it seems like it will take practice to get right. It feels like it could come off "convenient," like a TV show making up backstory to explain an implausible thing that happens right after.

I think if you're running this game, you should have a list of 'stock' NPCs to pull from. It's hard to come up with names and memorable NPCs on the spot.

All Stars: I always get a kick out of watching these shows and putting together "all star teams" in my head. I'd definitely want to see Omni play in a group with some of my other favorites like Jonah from Force Grey, Shattercock and Grimo from Twits & Crits and Anna from Dice, Camera, Action.

It looks like this show will be airing each Monday so you might want to check it out. This episode should be archived on Twitch for a while, at least.   

Monday, November 21, 2016

Planescape - Swallowed by the Abyss


We did a big session of Planescape tonight that went really well. Graz'zt is trying to add another abyssal layer to his triple realm. The group is trying to steal all of his abyssal realms from him.

The Party

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

We did a huge pile of little tasks in the city of Sigil.

Factol Rhys
Lifepearls: The group cut a deal with Factol Rhys of the Transcendent Order. She gave them 3 lifepearls to use to disrupt Graz'zt's realms. In exchange, the heroes promised her one of the 3 layers. She put in a clause - if the heroes ended up not succeeding in their coup attempt, they'd need to make it up to her by going on a dangerous mission in Pandemonium. She said they'd be obtaining one third of a key.

The heroes don't know it, but this key opens the Bastion of Unborn Souls, the place where all souls come from.

I tried my best to portray Factol Rhys correctly. She's very cool. She ends up being a big deal at the end of Faction War.

I made sure to have one of Iggwilv's apprentices touch base to hear the latest about the lifepearls. Iggwilv is an ally of the heroes and is working with them to get revenge on Graz'zt, with whom she has a very dysfunctional on/off relationship.

Devourer
Orcusword: Bidam got the Orcusword. It's fixed. He had a vision of himself as a devourer, an undead creature from Volo's Guide to Monsters. Whenever a new book comes out, I try to use the material I like right away. Otherwise, I tend to forget about it and it never gets utilized.

I had a neogi named Master Vulgid try to "buy" the woman the group rescued from the garden of floating crystals last session. Neogis are in Volo's guide too and I've always liked them. I just decided to throw him in the mix and see what happens. Right now he hates the heroes because they turned down all his offers.

Crux: The group has a portal to Crux in their square. Crux is a town on the world tree. It's from the Dead Gods adventure. I just don't like that place.

Deskari, Pathfinder demon lord

I did a thing where Ztefano, the mysterious ally of Graz'zt, killed everyone in Crux and took their souls. He's going to use those souls to build the new district of the city of Zelatar.

There are not too many details on Ztefano out there. I decided to loot material from Wrath of the Righteous. There's a demon lord in book 6, his name is Deskari. I don't like him and I don't plan on using him. So I took all his cool stuff and gave it to Stefano:
  • He has a poison stinger that injects eggs in people that hatch demon locusts.
  • He's got Riftcarver, an artifact scythe that can cast gate once per day.
  • I also gave him a version of the flail snail aura. When someone casts a spell at him, there's a chance he reflects it or some other effect goes off.
The heroes went to the Plane of Positive Energy, this time with a map. They got their lifepearls and thy found a "safehouse" for Bazuuma, their demon lord ally. It's on the border of the plane of minerals. It's a floating tower made of Iceland Spar.. I called it dwarven spar" for D&D.

The Plan is in Motion: The adventurers were ready to make their wish. They called on the water genie Lymph Dilutius and they wished for the 3 lifepearls to be put in the center of each of Graz'zt's realms.

My idea here is that since the Abyss is alive and sustains itself by swallowing demon princes and princesses who want to be demon lords, the triple realm of Azzagrat itself would react to the scheme of the heroes.

The genie put a lifepearl in the blue sun of Voorz'zt, the third layer. The sun "spit it out" and started emitting solar flares of cold flame. The sun sent the lifepearl hurtling into one of Graz'zt's 66 ivory towers - the tower of Iggwilv, which the group had been in once before.

The genie had technically completed his task and told the heroes what happened. They decided to go to Azzagrat to get the life pearl. They got there using the Abyssal Undersump, the ooze-infested "sewer" of the Abyss.

Traitors!

Graz'zt and Iggwilv

The secret entrance they knew of led right into Iggwilv's tower. The group crept in and grabbed the lifepearl. The whole plane was shaking. The heroes turned to leave and found Graz'zt and Iggwilv standing in the door.

Iggwilv had betrayed the heroes! The truth is, Iggwilv did not want Graz'zt marrying Bazuuma so she let him know what the heroes were up to.

The group tried to use their cubic gate to shift out of the plane, only to find it didn't work. Graz'zt was blocking planar travel magic during the upheaval. I decided Graz'zt could do this based on a note I saw (I think it was in the PH) that said that a demon lord can block people from gating or plane shifting into their plane.

Graz'zt spoke and both heroes had to make Madness checks. They failed and each had a greed-based madness bestowed upon them. These are right out of Out of the Abyss.

Graz'zt asked about Lord Stillborn, the undead baby genie from a few sessions back. The group informed him that it really was Graz'zt's son, and that Verin, Graz'zt's right hand man was the one who killed the air genies, including Graz'zt's pregnant air genie lover.
 
Graz'zt was enraged at this news and the group was quite intrigued.

Suddenly, tongues shot out of the wall and dragged the heroes... somewhere else.

The Bowels of Azzagrat


I thought it would be fun to have the abyssal plane itself devour the heroes like it devours wanna-be demon lords. The heroes fell through the throat and the innards, encountering partially-digested demon princes and princesses along the way. All of them begged the heroes to help them escape.

I was a little worried about creating these almost-demon lords. It's kind of daunting stuff that feels original enough. Whenever you need creative juice, just go to the Dungeon Dozen, like I did. Here are the goofy demon lords that I made up:

Xanthopsia, Queen of Obscenity: She has four arms and says awful, awful things. She blurted out three weird words. Theran later realized that she had given him her truename. With it, in theory, he could summon her and free her from the gullet of the Abyss.

Forfex the Soul Farmer: He's a "death yak" with displacer beast tendrils. He used to literally grow new demons.

Lady Malisma, the Memory Thief: She steals memories and thoughts - it sustains and powers her. She was so weak that she couldn't steal them any more - the heroes had to consent to it. She tried to steal one of Theran's memorized spells from his mind, but he blocked it. Bidam gave her a memory that he had already recorded in a sensory stone.

Raklivivius the Conquerer: He's a little gnaw demon that controls a demon giant from the inside. Raklivivius is actually in the chest, controlling it sort of like Pacific Rim.

The group ended up fighting him and Bidam figured out his gimmick really quick. Bidam cut into the giant and found Raklivivius. Bidam just sliced him in half.

The Triple Hearts: The heroes were stuck in the "stomach" of Azzagrat. There was a vast lake full of demon princes and princesses reaching out of the water, moaning in pain as they were very slowly being digested.

The group also heard heartbeats beyond the stomach lining. They cut their way through the guts of the plane and came to a cavity that held multiple black beating hearts. There were three - one for each layer of the triple realm.

A fourth heart was half-grown - this represented Bazuuma's layer, which was so far only half-connected to the realm via the planar breach spell.

The group realized they had a lifepearl with them. They thought they might be able to fuse it to a heart and 'corrupt' the heart with positive energy. The plane suddenly freaked out and sucked the group up a tube and ejected them completely.

Verin's Secret

Verin

The heroes found themselves at the Bay of Choking Bile, up by the waterfall of salt. Down the cliff below, they could see the alkaline sea and the portal to Bazuuma's realm of Burningwater.

The plane had placed the heroes before Verin, Graz'zt's right hand man. Verin surmised that the plane wanted him to kill them. But Verin didn't want them dead, he wanted their help.

Verin said he wanted Bazuuma's realm. Verin was a demon lord! Graz'zt actually stole his realm from him. Verin bided his time and now he wanted revenge. He wanted the group to help him kill Bazuuma and take over her realm. In exchange, he promised them all sorts of things.

The adventurers saw someone creeping up behind Verin - it was the slayer genie. Last session, the group had sent the genie to kill Gonard Flumph, my Donald Trump NPC who had been put in charge of Samora, which is on the same layer as the Bay of Choking Bile.

The heroes later learned that the slayer genie was stalking Gonard Flumph and closing in on him. A solar flare hit and injured the genie greatly, so Flumph was still alive.

The genie backstabbed Verin. Verin suddenly transformed. His white gooey form slid off his body. Underneath was Ztefano - the black demon lord who wielded Riftcarver!

The group finally learned that Verin and Ztefano were one and the same.

Narrow Escape: A fight broke out and Ztefano did a number on them. Mid-battle, the group heard a whale call. Bechard the demon whale had come through the portal and was in the alkaline sea below. The heroes jumped off the side of the cliff into the sea and swam inside Bechard - in Bechard's gullet is a weird mini-realm full of shipwrecks.

They felt Bechard turn and going toward the portal. They heard a thud from above. Ztefano had jumped onto the whale and was slicing him with Riftcarver.

That's where we stopped!

Next session, they'll have to shake of Ztefano. Ztefano has betrayed Graz'zt and is now going to try to steal Bazuuma's realm for himself. We'll resolve this story next week.