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Monday, February 24, 2020

5 Waves of Monsters in Two Hours



We are right at the very end of the Rod of Seven Parts boxed set! The group has 6 pieces, and the final piece is in the plane of Pandemonium, guarded by a demon lord named Miska the Wolf Spider.

We had left off with the heroes arriving at the Citadel of Chaos (where Miska is trapped) and Drizzt Do'Urden making a surprise appearance. He's a bounty hunter, hired by the Raven Queen's son (long story).

Avoiding a Slog: I knew I wanted to have one of my patented "break the rules" sessions, where I run an event that only kind of/sort of sticks to the rules. I do this in the interest of keeping things moving.

I first started doing this in 4th edition, a game where every encounter takes at least an hour. The group always liked it when I'd just have them make a few roles rather than going through a tedious exercise in dice rolling that really had no consequence.

I'm always paranoid about pacing. I don't want people to get bored. In this session, I planned on throwing 5 waves of monsters at the heroes, and I didn't want it to be a slog.

Planning It Out: So I sat down and wrote myself a list. First, I figured out how many NPCs the group had with them - 50 or more! The group was leading an all-out assault on the bad guys.

Each wave was one round. One each character's turn, something special would happen. Then at the end of the round, there was a special "mega turn" linked to a particular character.

Also, each character had an NPC paired with them, who could also do stuff on their turn.
  • Lilia (gnome warlock): She had the group's pet blink dog, Good Boi. They've had this dog since just about the very beginning of the campaign.
  • Seraphine (human cleric): Strahd von Zarovich. My favorite NPC! The soul of his beloved, Tatiana, is in Seraphine's body.
  • Winthrop (shadar kai druid): Twinthrop. One time, Winthrop grew a second head. Now it inhabits a suit of wind armor.
  • Aralee (sun elf fighter): Reeves, a guy she was engaged to who ended up in Hell, until the group rescued him.
Each wave featured a different type of spyder-fiend (the monsters who serve the bad guys and play a prominent role in the boxed set adventure). There are 5 types of spyder-fiends, so there are 5 waves.

I'll go over wave 1, so you can see how this works and then decide if there's anything from this approach that might help your game.

Wave 1: Spyder-fiend type: Kakkuu. They have mangy wolf heads, can bark and howl, and weigh 300 pounds.

We rolled initiative. That determined who got which mini-scenario. Lilia rolled highest, so she went first.

Lilia: As the 75+ spyder fiends charged the heroes and their army, Lilia saw a guy named Jaundice Pilsner (top notch NPC name, IMO!) get into trouble. A spyder-fiend used a strand of webbing to reel him in. It was up to Lilia and the blink dog to save him. If Lilia rolled bad, Jaundice was dead!

Lilia was able to save the dude with the help of her trusty blink dog. Basically, in these scenarios, one die roll tells the story. Although a good/clever idea always succeeds, for the most part.

Seraphine: The cleric saw that their weird friend Emalica (from the Chris Perkins adventure, "Umbra") was chucking snakes at her enemies. She keeps the snakes in a baby carriage. A spyder-fiend used webbing to try to send the carriage hurtling over the side of a wall to the ground hundred of feet below.

Seraphine was unable to help, and Strahd was too busy protecting his beloved Tatiana to help a bunch of snakes! Poor baby snakes.

Aralee: The group had befriended a mechanical dragon while going through Blades of Terror, in the Eberron setting, where they got the third piece of the rod. The dragon was flying around, but a bunch of spider-fiends used webbing to pull it to the ground.

Aralee ran over and successfully stabbed the fiends. Her wobbly ally Reeves did, too. He has amnesia, so I roll to see what he likes and doesn't like. Aralee handed him "Swish", her magic sword. Reeves didn't like the sword. Was awkward.

Winthrop: One of the group's oldest friends is a vistani named Markus Nerl. He started off the campaign as a lecherous coward, but the group has brought out the good in him. Winthrop saw that Markus was protecting a fallen ally, but was in way over his head. Winthrop and Twinthrop kept him alive.

The came the MEGA TURN. This one dealt with Winthrop, so he actually went twice in a row. Drizzt, in the chaos, waded through the combatants and attacked Winthrop, hoping to knock him out and bring him to the Shadowfell. Drizzt did PILES of damage, but Winthrop did not go down.

Drizzt ended up being swarmed by spyder-fiends. In later rounds, the group saved him, healed him, and befriended him.

We did about two hours straight of this, and I think it went pretty well. I was able to work in a bunch of story moments, including a betrayal which Aralee took hard.

Risking Strahd: I'm not sure exactly why I did this, but I decided to put Strahd's fate in the group's hands. I love playing Strahd and having him chew scenery, but a lot of the group kind of hates him and Aralee actually punched him a session or two back.

So a pit fiend beat him up, and told Aralee to finish him off. Aralee had a hard time deciding, but ultimately chose to let Strahd live because Seraphine cares about him. I think Seraphine has some special plan for him, actually.

This session was a bit of a risk, but it worked out well. I gave it some SPICE and now we are all set to enter the final area of the whole boxed set!

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Hell's Rebels Unprepared



Last night, I ran some more of the Hell's Rebels adventure path converted to 5th edition. We're in the final book! We've got maybe 8 more sessions to go.

I love this campaign, and I feel like I really haven't run it well. Not as well as I could, anyway. I didn't fully prepare the path until we were halfway done with it, and I think it would have really helped me if I had done it all at the beginning.

The problem for me is that while I love these books, they are not at all easy to refer to in-game. Finding a single piece of information in a sea of text is very difficult while running a session.

Preparing: When I sat down to get ready for this session, I had a really hard time focusing. I already had hand-written notes, which I'd made months ago. I just couldn't retain what was on the page and it was a real struggle to get in the mindset.

Right now, the heroes are trying to deal with "haunts" around the city. There are 5 mini-missions that must be dealt with. Completing these missions gives the group magical visions that point them to the source of these haunts - the Soul Anchor, which sits under the city.

The group had completed two missions. There were three left:
  1. An enemy they killed a while back had returned as an undead nemhain.
  2. A creature known as a "popobala" was riling up crowds of rabblerousers.
  3. A HELL PRISON was drawing people into it.
I didn't really have a good feeling about these encounters. I felt like the nemhain would be a boring fight, I wasn't sure how involved I should get with the popobala, and the Hell Prison was kind of vague and could be run a million different ways. Destroying it would likely involve a drawn-out fight with a slew of barbed devils.

The one thing that sort of tickled me was the idea of having their "frenemy", Shensen (a pretty major Pathfinder NPC) meeting with Mordenkainen and being pulled into the scenario happening in my Dungeon Academy game.

Shensen: We had left off with the group about to enter Shensen's lair. They really enjoy picking on poor Shensen, because her lair is connected to the sewers. The group actually made fun of her when her pet awakened dinosaur Gut-Tugger, was killed in the big battle in the Temple of Asmodeus.

So we kick off the session and I was greatly amused at playing Mordenkainen all dramatic. The group teased Shensen some more, and now she is gone from the campaign. The adventurers ended up giving her secret lair to an NPC they'd convinced to defect from Cheliax.

Narcelia: I've dropped a few clues to the group that their enemy, Barzillai, was obsessed with someone named Narcelia. The players surprised me by trying to find her with scrying magic. I had to go through my notes real quick to find out info on her. It took me a minute, but I was able to place her in Port Peril, the main city int he Skull & Shackles path.

She has a pretty crazy story, and I'm quite interested to see if they track her down.

Horse-Killer: I should note that there's a whole thing going on with Essie, the group's necromancer. She's married to a zombie, and she cheated on him with a feywild horse-spirit. Her baby was delivered via stork last session, and now her husband (who was a serial killer when alive) has begun to serial kill the horses of Kintargo.

The Soul Anchor: Then the group decided to do more research to figure out what these haunts were all about. Here's where I got tripped up. What can the group learn about the Soul Anchor? Am I OK with them skipping these missions and going down there?

I had a feeling that the Soul Anchor was immune to divination, but I just couldn't find that info in the book at the time. It played out piece-by-piece, as I tried to find what they could learn. Ultimately, I just decided to let them scry the location, because I thought it would be cool. It felt kind of lame to block them.

I mean, this might mean they'd skip the three missions, but I wasn't all that keen on those missions anyway.

Garbage Versions of Encounters: They ultimately found the soul anchor with magic, but then decided to deal with the three haunts first. I really didn't want to play out the missions because I just wasn't feeling them, so I did what I used to do sometimes in 4th edition - I ran quick B.S. versions of them where the group plows through the thing in a single round.

They took down the nemhain and destroyed her hellcat bones. Then they tracked down the popobala, and learned about popobala fever (indegestion) sweeping over this area of the city. The group mauled the popobala and conveniently found its massive treasure hoard.

Then the group dealt with the HELL PRISON. Usually the group rolls good on saving throws, but not on this night. Most of the group was sucked into the prison and forced into cells via and imprisonment spell.

Ashes and Raal were outside the prison, and ultimately used Ashes' gun that shoots radiant bullets to destroy the prison and free their friends.

Then they made their way to the magic elevator that would take them to the Soul Anchor.

There's some crazy encounters down there by the soul anchor, so I'm definitely looking forward to next week.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Dungeons & Dragons - Infernal Machine Rebuild


You can buy this right here.

The D&D designers put together this product and put it on the DMs Guild. The proceeds go to charity.

What is it? It's an adventure! I had seen the title and assumed it had alternate rules for putting together war machines for Descent into Avernus, so I never really gave it a look.

It turns out that this is a big adventure that draws from tons of old products! My favorite! I also is somewhat linked to the Lost Laboratory of Kwalish, an adventure that I think is a lot of fun.

Let's go over what's in the book so you can see if it's something you'd be interested in. Then I'll give my overall thoughts at the end.

This an adventure for characters of 5th to 10th level.

Backstory:
  • The craft from Barrier Peaks crashed.
  • Kwalish turned the ship into his lab.
  • A device had been stolen from it: The Infernal Machine of Lum the Mad.
  • The machine allows the ship to travel time and space.
  • Some of the machine's control buttons are missing.
  • Archdevils Zariel and Bel both want to find the control buttons so that they can rebuild the machine and use it for their own nefarious purposes.
Beginning:
  • The heroes are making their way through the woods and come upon a unicorn in conflict with 3 dryads.
  • The group explores a clock tower nearby that contains magic components.
  • An agent of either Bel or Zariel asks the group to find the other pieces.
  • The heroes travel through time to the Tomb of Horrors, back when it was still being built.
  • Then they go to the Temple of Moloch, which is run by Thessalar.
Chapter 1: The Unicorn and the Hags


Aa coven of green hags has grafted myconids into trees. A unicorn named Banrion opposes them.

The unicorn lurks in the ruins of city where the Infernal Machine once stood. "A fallen clock tower still holds some of the machine’s components, which retain enough power to manipulate time."

Sunbeams: There's a great encounter here that cracks me up. SINISTER SUNBEAMS shine through the trees, acting a magic tripwires that can awake a corrupted treant. There's something... not right about those sunbeams. Almost... sinister.

Acorns: Exploring the forest could result in "heavy, spiked nuts the size of mace heads" to fall from the trees.

The hags want the group to capture the unicorn by using a new magic item: a bridle of capturing.

Chapter 2: An Invitation Extended

The group will probably end up as allies with either Lync Creatlach or Sir Ursas.

Lynx Creatlach: Tiefling rogue, collects antiquities for the service of noble causes.

Lynx has pulled a component from her version of the Infernal Machine and installed it in a magical construct resembling a silvery skeleton with decorative wings, nicknamed Eludecia.

That is a deep cut! This refers to an adventure about a succubus paladin that Bart Carroll worked on way back in 2006!

In the very back of this book, there is an entire page devoted to explaining what products all of these little references come from. Love it!

Sir Ursas: A massive warrior with one arm replaced with the paw of a grizzly bear.

"Ursas proudly claims to be the very figure depicted in A Paladin in Hell—a painting that has become famous throughout Faerûn—and that he lost his arm on that expedition, fighting the forces of the archdevil Zariel."

Monte Cook wrote a classic adventure about A Paladin in Hell.

Chapter 3: Construction of Horrors

Yes, we're really time traveling back to when the Tomb of Horrors was being built!

We start off with the origin of the legendary villain Acererak:
  • Acererak was a tiefling fathered by a balor named Tarnhem.
  • Acererak studied under Vecna and became an evil archmage.
  • While researching how to become a lich, he built dungeons and tombs, including the Tomb of Horrors.
  • Acererak became a lich.
The heroes will be traveling back in time to when the tomb was still being constructed. An artificer named Moghadam is overseeing the construction.

Tarnhem: Wow. Acererak is sacrificing his own father, Tarnhem the balor, to help empower the tomb.

Moghadam has a rival - Thessalar. Moghadam has sent thieves to Thessalar's Temple to steal the gems from the Moloch statue - the iconic image on the cover of the 1e Player's Handbook. The gems are meant to be used in the creation of Acererak's demilich skull! Crazy.

There are some other NPCs lurking in or near the Tomb, including Phenex, an incubus cleric of Vecna. He has a second set of arms - grafted-on girallon arms.

Manipulating Time: The group can explore this area, using their "mechanical guide" device to manipulate time, which moves bad guys around and/or changes the area in some way.

The group can meet with Moghadam, who is not overly loyal to Acererak.

Area 5: "Commissioned by Acererak, the wizard Tuerny built these controls for the balor's prison in area 6."

We get a little box explaining who Tuerny was. "According to lore, Tuerny became a nalfeshnee demon before vanishing from history." I'm pretty sure there was an adventure in one of those weird online-only end-of-3.5 Dungeon magazines that explained that Tuerny had actually become a demon lord on his own.

6. Captive Balor: Acererak's father, the balor known as Tarnhem, is trapped here. Acererak has "...fashioned a device from a sphere of annihilation that slowly drains away Tarnhem's essence to fuel the magical workings of the tomb." If Tarnhem is released, the magic binding him becomes a sphere of annihilation and travels through the tomb at random! I love that.

7. Forsaken Prison: Nolzur is here! His alchemical blood is being drained to create the magic pigments used to paint the tomb's murals. This is crazy stuff. If things go well, Nolzur can give the heroes extremely cool items - tiny versions of themselves that can complete small tasks when the heroes are asleep.

Chapter 4: Temple of Moloch

I highly recommend using Jason Thompson's walkthrough map to understand what's in this dungeon.

The temple is the former home of Thessalar, a necromancer/alchemist/monster-maker. Thessalar's blood possesses dire magical properties.

History of the Temple of Moloch:
  • The temple is built in a cavern where Olhydra and Ogremoch once battled.
  • The cavern contains portals to the planes of Earth and Water.
  • There is a stream that carries gemstones of extreme size and qualities.
  • Ancient people built a temple to Moloch here, which includes the famous statue.
  • Centuries later, Thessalar took the temple over and repurposed the temple for his own needs.
  • He created many monsters here, including the thessalhydra and the owlbear (!).
  • Moghadam, the guy building the tomb, is a rival of Thessalar's.
Good Name: There's a wererat in here with a great name: Mack Francache.

Thessalheart Construct: A mechanical device that struts about like a chicken, with a human heart beating behind its glass front. The heart in it is connected to the thessalhydra that lurks in the dungeon. If the thessalhydra is slain, it comes back to life in 1 hour thanks to the magic of this construct.

15. Thessalar's Laboratory: Thessalar himself is here. There's also some experimental stuff:
  • "A miniaturized human lies in apparent stasis in a windowed glass case."
  • "A vermiform pseudodragon twists and crawls about inside a large crystal tank."
Thessalar has a homunculus with ruby eyes that resembles Moloch.

23. Body Tanks: This room contains clones of Thessalar floating in glass tanks filled with fluid.

25. Main Temple: In here is the famous statue. The gem eyes are connected to the magic of the temple, and removing them causes, uhh.. multiple disasters. Don't want to spoil it!

31. Gemsmith's Cell: A genasi named Seodra is being forced to create the skull of a demilich. Very cool. Thessalar  plans to use the skull for his own ascension to lichdom, either as his lich's phylactery or as the skull of a demilich.

Chapter 5: Final Showdown


I don't want to spoil this either.. but Lum the Mad is actually present and involved in the big finale.

Appendix C: New Magic and Special Items

Tons of cool stuff in here! Here are some of my favorite things.

Blood of the Lycanthrope: Inject this into someone and they become a lycanthrope if they fail a saving throw!

Thessaltoxin: A poison that causes the victim to polymorph into either a random form or a creature it has seen within the last 24 hours.

New Spells: There are even new spells, including Summon Greater Demon, which lets you summon a demon of CR 5 or lower.

Claws of the Umber Hulk: Gauntlets that give you a burrowing speed and can be used as a melee weapon.

Ioun Stone of Vitality: +1 to death saving throws.

Ruinblade: "A small jade version of the green devil face of the Tomb of Horrors is fashioned into the hilt of the weapon." It's a +2 sword that can cast blight and disintegrate!

"The weapon's purpose is to ruin and unmake existing objects..."

Spell Gem: A gem that can contain one spell from any class's spell list. You can cast the spell in it as an action if the spell is on your class list.

The Infernal Machine of Lum the Mad: This is an artifact! It has the power to bend the nature of reality "...with the proper combination of controls recreating the effect of a wish spell (including all side effects)."

Wow.. whoever is attuned to it gains 1d4+1 beneficial properties and 1d4+1 detrimental properties. There's charts for both!

Beneficial properties include:
  • You summon a unicorn that obeys your commands.
  • You have a +1 bonus to attack rolls with weapons or spells.
  • While you take a short rest, the area within 50 feet of you takes on the illusory appearance of a beautiful forest glade.
Detrimental properties include:
  • All animals despise you.
  • Metal rusts in response to your touch.
  • An exact duplicate of you appears next to you, dressed as you but lacking any gear. It loudly tries to convince all other creatures that it is you, and you are its familiar.
There are literally 100 entries on the chart for each. I love this thing!

Right at the end is a page that lists the sources for all of the stuff in this adventure. It's an amazing list.

Overall

So is this worth $10? Yeah, I think so. This is packed with stuff you can use. The magic items are awesome, the dungeons have some very cool encounters (I really love the thessalheart construct), and in general I really like it when they refer to and build on adventures and products that have come out in the past.

I have three minor complaints.

1. Dungeons Are Too Big: I'm not sure if traditional dungeons "work" any more. They're too big for most groups, and they get boring fast. Maybe that's just me. I'm very done with meaningless combats in hallways with guards.

2. The Name: They really need to rename this product. I literally didn't know it was an adventure. Maybe I'm just missing something.

3. The Tomb: I am totally done with the Tomb of Horrors. Enough already!

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Sage Advice: Rules in the Handbook




This official D&D rules clarification video was posted on youtube yesterday and I decided to do a quick recap. Why not? I constantly forget rules, so this seems like it will help me.

I did once write a "forgotten rules index" to help myself with things I just can't keep straight, such as concentration and underwater combat. It will be interesting to see what's covered on this show.

This show is hosted by Greg Tito and Jeremy Crawford. Jeremy says that he thought it might be a good idea to actually go through the Player's Handbook to see what's in there. Even he forgets some of the things that are in the PH.

Jeremy says that the Dungeon Master's Guide is "wall-to-wall goodies," but right now he wants to go through the Player's Handbook to highlight some rules that people have forgotten.

Specific Beats General: If two rules conflict with one another, the more specific rule always overrides the more general thing. The game is exceptions-based. The game is build to "accommodate surprise."

I honestly can't think of one time when I've ever had this come up in D&D.

Round Down: If you ever have a fraction in D&D, you round down. Jeremy says he gets this question all the time. Jeremy thinks that, looking back, fractions don't come up too much in D&D and so when it does come up, it throws people.

This rule was burned into my brain in 4th edition.

Proficiency Bonus Rule: You can never add your proficiency bonus to a roll more than once. For example, if you are proficient in playing a piano and you are proficient in performance, you do not add the proficiency bonus twice.

Greg points out that, if you're a rogue, you do get a doubled proficiency bonus in some instances. That's a case of "specific beats general," says Jeremy.

Jeremy calls this next one one of the most-missed rules. In the section about Armor Class...

Calculating AC: If two or more things in the game give you different ways to calculate your armor class, you use only one of them. You do not get to add them all together.

So, if you put on a suit of armor, which gives you an armor class calculation, and you're a barbarian who has the unarmored defense ability, you don't get to do both. You pick one. Jeremy assumes that you will pick the one that gives you the best AC.

Jeremy says that he didn't realize back in the beginning of 5e how much this would come up.

The hosts note that there is a big section in the Sage Advice compendium pdf on this topic.

Jeremy says that he doesn't get frustrated being asked these same questions all the time. The fact that he gets the same question means that lots of new people are jumping in to the game every single week.

That's it! Short, but useful.

Continue on to the second episode.


Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Dragon+ Issue 29

This issue of Dragon+ is the holiday issue, and thus it is full to the brim with products and ads. I've sifted through it as best I could to pull out the stuff that I think is most useful or interesting for the tabletop D&D people out there.

Most of this is just me blabbing about D&D, honestly, but there's plenty of maps and useful pdfs to grab as well!

You can read this issue right here.

Imagining the Ampersand: Mazzmatazz

We get a massive interview with Mazz, who knits all sorts of D&D stuff. We see photos of the tons of stuff Mazz has made, including a bag of holding and the D&D ampersand.

Fun fact: Mazz made me a modron hand puppet! I call it M4ZZ. I have used it in my games a few times, but I've had a lot of ideas to do more.

I had been thinking of making it like a recurring character who had a real-life personality as my actual roommate, but then I think that might be too weird. Every once in a while, I give the M4ZZ NPC a test run... the verdict is still out.

In some far flung alternate universe, I am making youtube video D&D guides with this modron hand puppet hamming it up.

Dungeon Mayhem: Monster Madness

We get a big article on the new Dungeon Mayhem card game. It has a lot of art of Blurp the gelatinous cube, my favorite monster in the set.

Wizards sent me a preview copy of this set, and it is really awesome. Three decks, a big box, thick index inserts, counters, you name it. Seems like a very fun game! I love the art.

Dungeons & Dragons Mad Libs


This one is definitely a blast from my childhood. There is now a D&D/Mad Libs book! Mad Libs is the game where you and a friend whip up a list of whacky words and insert them into a story.

When I was a kid, I had two competing elements for my free time: D&D, and going to my friend Sven's house. D&D weekends were spent usually at my friend Barry's house. We'd literally play D&D from Friday night to Sunday. It was crazy.

On other weekends, I'd go to Sven's house, where we would play baseball, football, and "floor balloon volleyball", until we died of exhaustion. Sometimes at night we'd play mad libs. As a kid, coming up with vulgar words and then listening as your friend read the finished product could be hilarious.

One time, I tried to cross the streams. I invited Sven to play D&D. He hated it, and actually left after just a few hours. I really don't know why. I guess it just wasn't his thing.

Years later, Sven's little brother Kevin started playing D&D with us. He was a funny guy.

Gale Force Nine Miniatures & Maps


We get a couple of free map pdfs, including a labeled version of the Avernus map in Descent into Avernus.

D&D Campaigns and Sourcebooks

We get a short article on Descent into Avernus. Chris Perkins talks a bit about how they aren't afraid of setting an adventure in Hell anymore.

Chris goes on to say: “I’m a big proponent of remembering where D&D came from but looking at it through a modern lens and with modern sensibilities."

What does that mean, exactly? What is different? What is a modern D&D adventure? I don't see too much of a difference. The new adventures are more sandbox-y, I guess.

I'm not sure what a "modern" D&D adventure should be. Shorter? Easier to digest? Should we stick to remaking old adventures or should we make new stuff?

The question I always come back to is this: How often do people actually play D&D adventures?  People buy the adventure book, but do they use it? Do they run it? Does  the campaign fizzle out or do they get through it?

It still seems like the biggest hurdle in D&D is forming a group that can actually play on a regular basis. If you don't have a person in that group willing to take the reigns and get everyone organized, it is just not going to happen.

We get a pdf version of the Blood War section of Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes, which is awesome.

D&D Classics: 45th Anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons

We get pdf versions of some old 1e articles on wishes, gems, and Nolzur.

We also get another mention that this is the 45th anniversary of D&D, which again gets me thinking about the 50th anniversary of D&D.

Let's say 5th edition sticks around. What would you want the big adventure be for the 50th anniversary? Castle Greyhawk? That would be fitting, as it was the very first D&D dungeon (if you don't count Castle Blackmoor, I guess).

The problem with doing a Castle Greyhawk adventure is that they put out a mega-dungeon already in Dungeon of the Mad Mage, and I'm not sure how excited people would be about another one.

The story could be something dragon-centric. Maybe Tiamat finally escapes hell and chromatic dragons go on a rampage? The heroes team up with Bahamut and the metallic dragons to fight them off?

Maybe Vecna has some secret scheme linked to the mysterious pillars which have appeared in almost every published adventure so far? A sort of super-crossover, where the heroes travel to the many different settings that have come out? That'd be Barovia, Waterdeep, and Sharn or some other Eberron locale...?

Creature Feature: Fiend Folio

Mordenkainen's Fiendish Folio is a product on the DMs Guild that updates some of the old 1e Fiend Folio monsters to 5e. We get a pdf of one of the monsters - the forlarren. Looks like it is linked to Fierna, one of the archdevls. Seems cool.

The Imminent Light

Next up is a "deleted scene" from Descent into Avernus. This side quest was cut for length from the book. I think it is an awesome idea to put stuff like this in Dragon+.

This adventure expands the Candlekeep section of the adventure and involves a very powerful magic staff. The pdf is here.

Maps of the Month: Extra Life 2019, Baldur’s Gate, Avernus and Eberron

We get more maps from Descent into Avernsu, tagged and untagged. We also get maps from the Eberron book AND the Temple of Moloch from Infernal Machine Rebuild. Awesome.

Comic: Jason Thompson’s Temple of Moloch


We get another fantastic walkthrough map by Jason Thompson. This one is of the dungeon in Infernal Machine Rebuild. This dude deserves so much more recognition than he gets. This map will make it so much easier to prepare this adventure.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Dragon+ Issue 28


It's Dragon+ time! This month we have all sorts of stuff. The highlight, to me, is an absolutely epic map of the Nine Hells by Jason Thompson. That thing is unreal.

You can check out this issue right here.

Imagining the Ampersand: Dariusz Piotrowski


We start off with an interview with a dude who worked on the insanely awesome Falling Star Sailing Ship Miniature which I am seeing on amazon for $134. He discusses making a special pirate ship diorama, which includes minis and a kraken.

There have been a number of cool ship tiles and poster maps. My favorite poster map is this one by Mike Schley. Back in the 4e era, on of the "DM Rewards" for running games in the store was ship tiles, which I used so much they started to fray.

If you don't have $100+ to spend on a ship mini, you can find woodcraft 3d ships for just a few bucks. The only drawback is that you have to put it together yourself. I was lucky that one of my players, who played "Pirahna" Lana Redwater, Pirate Queen of the Shackles, liked doing puzzles. I paid her to put mine together. It was perfect for D&D minis. There is a how-to video right here.

D&D Sapphire Anniversary Dice Set: Collector’s Limited Edition


After a section on the Eberron book, which includes a pdf of living spell statblocks, we get a section on a product I totally missed out on. A sapphire dice set commemorating the 45th anniversary of D&D!

One of the d20s contains a laboratory-created sapphire inlaid where the 20 would be, and that’s the focal point of this set."

So.. the 50th anniversary of D&D is in five years! That's a very big number. Is that when we'll see a 6th edition? Do we need a 6th edition? I have no problems with 5e at all. I wonder if they have anything planned yet.

Syrinscape’s Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus Soundpack

This article covers the custom Avernus sounds from Syrinscape. I use Syrinscape for my online games and I love it. I guess it depends on your group, but IMO using all of the sounds for different spells and attacks add a lot. Although I suppose your DM might get annoying with it, spamming grunts and things like that.

Plotting the Descent: Infernal War Machines


In this huge article, D&D designers talk about creating the infernal war machines for Descent into Avernus, and how they worked out the mechanics.

At first, they made the rules similar to the sailing ship mechanics in Ghosts of Saltmarsh. Ultimately, they decided to keep it simple, and treated the war machines almost like monsters.

I have run a few war machine encounters, and it works pretty well. I probably didn't have as firm a grasp on the rules as I would have liked, but that's on me.

I'd really like to sit down someday at a table, with a huge gridded poster map and war machine minis and run a proper epic chase with people jumping from one vehicle to another.

Creature Feature: Thessalar


"...on the Player’s Handbook, for example, that’s no mere battle against a giant, it’s a fight with King Snurre himself! Similarly, that’s not just any beholder on the cover of the Monster Manual, but the Xanathar (later shown in all his googly-eyed glory). And of course, there’s Acererak raising hell (see what we did there?) on the cover of the Dungeon Master’s Guide."

So there's an adventure on the DMs Guild called Infernal Machine Rebuild. The dungeon in this adventure is the generic one from the 1e Dungeon Master's Guide! This dungeon has a famous statue in it - depicting Moloch, one of the rogue dukes of the Nine Hells.

this article explains that in the Age of Worms (!!) adventure path, there is a lich named Thessalar who created the thessalhydra, the owlbear, and other creatures.

The Temple of Moloch is Thessalar's home! I'll definitely check this out, sounds awesome. I'm pretty sure that the 1e DMG dungeon has been re-made in other editions before, but it's fun to see people's different takes on it.

We get a pdf of Thessalar's stat block. Very cool.

Kayla Cline: Sketches from the Mists


We are given a pdf of neo-otyugh stats and then we get a profile of D&D artist Kayla Cline. I've always wanted to see a 5e Planescape book full of DiTerlizzi art that intrudes on the text in weird ways, like in the old 2e boxed sets. I'd love to see a similar book with nothing but Kayla Cline art.

Jason Thompson’s Nine Hells



This is beyond amazing. A complete map of the Nine Hells by Jason Thompson. I mean... holy crap.

We follow the route of 15 recently slain adventurers. Here is just a fraction of the shenanigans:
  • Knight is decapitated by a comet strike.
  • Warlock skinny dips in the River Styx and is eaten by Crokek'toeck.
  • Tiamat is distracted with "...an illusion of six teenagers and a baby unicorn."
  • Barbarian realizes that the entire City of Dis is a magic item and stays behind to destroy it.
  • Pursued by an army of erinyes, wizard/archaeologist activates war machine's "aquatic mode" and they splash down to level 3.
  • Lute Bard and rogue demand they stop in Abriymoch, party capital of hell. They enjoy drinks mixed by the multiverse's preeminent dead lawful evil mixologists.
  • Rogue tricks fight/magic user into taking a shot of Styx water...
Seriously, this is one of the most epic pieces of D&D art I have ever seen. Unreal!

D&D Classics: The Alchemist

We get pdfs of the Alchemist class, all from 1e.

Maps of the Month: Baldur’s Gate


One of my favorite things about Dragon + is the maps!! This month, we get maps of the city of Baldur's Gate. Most of these are tagged and untagged versions of maps from Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus.

Good issue! I can't get over that Nine Hells map. It's absolutely amazing.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Dragon+ Issue 27


You can read this issue right here.

This is a gigantic issue! I'll talk mostly about the D&D-centric stuff. As usual, there are some extremely handy maps in the back that you should grab ASAP, as wizards D&D free online stuff tends to vanish online over the course of a few years.

This issue has a "guest editor" named Chris Boyce. We learn about his campaign at the end of this issue, and it's really awesome.

Chris started playing D&D with the original red box, and his group played all the way up to the immortals set!

Then as he got a bit older, he switched to AD&D and his group got very into earning every XP. He says they played for four years and only got to 5th level by the end.

I have known a few groups who are very into earning every single XP. I had a friend who was in this group that played a lot, and yet after years of play, they were only 2nd or 3rd level. They literally roleplayed everything out - going to town and shopping was an immersive experience.

Imagining the Ampersand: Emi Tanji

Emi is the Art Director for Wizards of the Coast. We learn about her job and where she works.

She talks a bit about how she'd like to make a version of D&D for kids. That sounds like a fun idea. Can you strip the game down, sort of like how they did way back when with basic and advanced? Would the adventures be super-short and simple?

Years ago when I ran games in the store, one of my players was 9 years old, and she used to try to make friends with the monsters. We turned it into a mini-game called "Dungeons and Friends." It was pretty awesome.

 In the Works: Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus Platinum Edition

There's some nice freebies in here. Check out this map:


That's for an area in the Bleeding Citadel from Baldur's Gate: Descent Into Avernus. There's also a really nice map of Idyllglen.

These sets look really cool. If somewhere down the road I play with a real life group as opposed to an online group, I'll definitely get there things.

In the Works: Adventurers League: #Votepipyap


OK, this is weird. There was an event in Hell, Michigan, where an actor playing an imp NPC from the Adventurer's League became mayor for a day?? The event featured lots of D&D. Sounds fun!

There's an article on Baldur's Gate 3, which utilizes mindflayers (I think that, in this game, the mind flayers use nautiloids - illithid spelljamming vessels), are in the game.

Kind of bums me out to think that the DCA voice pack will probably never come out.

In the Works: Death Saves

We get a look at some new D&D shirts from Death Saves. They're not messing around! Using some of that old 1e drow art.

In the Works: Wizkids Figures


We get a look at some minis, including Arkhan the Cruel's minions and... a war machine from Avernus. How awesome is that thing?

Plotting the Descent

Artist Max Dunbar talks about making concept art for Descent into Avernus. He mentions that a lot of ideas didn't make it into the book, including a demon lord who has a war barge that sailed the River Styx! Sounds very cool.

Pictured above is his design of a blood war chain devil.

Character Concepts: Wizard Fashion

This article is all about what wizards wear, by Samantha Darcy. It has a number of designs in it. Apparently the author is making "The Adventurer’s Fashion Primer", though I can't find anything on it right now.

When I was first making my campaign world as a kid, I decided that everyone in my games dressed like they were in the revolutionary war. Long coats, those weird boat hats, powdered wigs. My players hated it and refused to dress like that.

I like to think that in my game there's still plenty of people dressed like George Washington.

Adventurers League


We get a discussion of the season linked to the Descent into Avernus adventure. We get the first adventure of the season, Escape from Elturgard, free!

It looks like this adventure deals with what happens in the realms once Elturel is pulled into Avernus. Overall, the story involves the adventurers exploring the different layers of the Nine Hells:

They "...accompany a mysterious young girl into the hellscape as she searches for hellrider souls that remain untarnished despite being trapped in Avernus." The hellriders are the paladins that accompanied the angel Zariel when she initially decided to go to Avernus to kill fiends.

D&D Classics

I love it when they feature old content from Dungeon and Dragon Magazine, especially if they update it to 5e rules. Unfortunately, none of these are conversions.

There are a few old articles about using tanks and helicopters for Star Frontiers and Top Secret (talk about a deep cut). Then we get a 4e article including info on siege engines, one of which is an infernal embassy! Yes, it has a 4e stat block. Very cool. It shoots HELLISH METEORS.

I just imagine a hellish meteor flying at Raal from my 5e Hell's Rebels campaign and missing because he has an AC of something like 22. Curse you, Raal! Do not dare mock my hellish meteors!

The guest editor adds in one more article - a 1e class called the genin. A ninja!

Maps of the Month: Ghosts of Saltmarsh, Barber of Silverymoon, Six Faces of Death

 
This is what I came here for! Some of those sweet, sweet maps, both tagged and untagged.

Creature Feature: Terror of Undermountain


There was a contest awhile back for fans to design a monster in adobe photoshop. This is the winner! We get a pdf containing its monster entry. It has a disease bite and a claw attack. Apparently it was created by Halaster himself.

Extra Life

Sorceria

This issue's guest editor and Extra Life contributor, Chris Boyce, Discusses his campaign world, Sorceria. He paid a Warhammer 40k artist to make 12 illustrations for his campaign! Most of the art is in the article. Amazing.

He goes into the backstory, and then describes Sorceria as one of the great magical cities in the multiverse.

"At the city’s center, rising from a great hole in the earth, is the Master’s Tower, a colossal structure whose peak disappears into the clouds above the magical metropolis."

I'm 100% going to use this in one of my campaigns. Very awesome and tons of detail.

Good issue! Plenty of FREE STUFF, and that's what it is all about.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Dungeons & Dragons - A Guide to the Solamith

by Dave Allsop
This is my absolute favorite D&D monster. The solamith is a demon who eats people, and those people end up trapped in its belly pressing out from the inside, trying to get free.

Honestly, I like it mostly because of the way it was drawn in 4e. The blue and red seems like a bad idea - too cartoonish - but for whatever reason, it works.

When I look at this monster, I immediately imagine its voice. To me, this is a new york city cab driver going: "Hey, youse look delicious" and tearing off goo from his belly and chucking it at some guy who won't stop honking their horn at him.

The miniature was sublime as well. Check it out:


The mini doesn't look exactly like the art, but it is definitely striking. My friend Matt noted at the time this mini came out that someone sculpting these miniatures spent a lot of time on the butts. If you turn this mini around, he does indeed have a detailed butt. Many other minis had them, too, each carefully rounded and dimpled.

I have dug through every old product I could think of to pull up as much information on the solamith. There really isn't all that much. Most of the time, they are used as "some monster" in a lair - a guard or sentry.

We don't know if they have an abyssal layer of their own, we don't know if there is a demon lord that spawns them, we don't even really know how the whole "eating people" thing works. Can they communicate with the creatures they devour? Can they access their knowledge? Can they devour the people's clothes and items, too? Are there magic items rattling around in those bellies, and do the solamiths gain power from them?

To me, there is just a ton of potential in these monsters. But, like so many, they've been lost in the endless march of creation. There's a lot of cool D&D things that are made, put into a book, and then left to collect dust, as people seem more focused on making new things than developing the awesome things that are already there.

Looking around on the internet, I see virtually nobody talking about this monster, aside from settling the mini. Let's fix that!

Monster Manual 5
MM 5 came out at the end of D&D 3.5's lifespan. In D&D, often times the very best books come out right at the end.

"A corpulent monstrosity at least 10 feet tall lumbers forward on slablike legs. Rings of flabby flesh cradle at its horned head. Pressing out against the green-veined and pallid skin of its great gut are screaming faces."

Appearance:
  • Weighs up to a ton.
  • Horned head has burning eyes and flat teeth.
  • Skin "...pale with bright green veins." The 3e solamith looks cool, but I prefer the 4e version with the blue skin.
This big fellow has a speed of 40!

Soulfire: The solamith can tear flesh from its body (taking 5 damage) and hurl that flesh up to 100 feet away. The flesh explodes in a 20-foot-radius, doing fire damage. If it deals more damage to itself, it can increase the radius and the damage.

Soulfire Retort: When hit with a melee attack, the Solamith can unleash a 15-foot cone of soulfire.
It can summon 1d2 solamiths once per day.

"A solamith is a manifestation of depraved gluttony and burning hunger, drawing energy from the spirit it devours. That power charges its flesh with spiritual fire, which it uses against its enemies by tearing away and hurling bits of its own body."

Eating: Solamiths scour the Abyss for lesser demons and petitioners to eat, despite requiring no sustenance.

They tear their victims to pieces, but become "dainty eaters," chewing slowly and enjoying each morsel. Once the meal is finished, a new face appears under the skin in their gut, pleading for release.

"Solamiths are animalistic and savage, except when they eat." They are content to prowl the Abyss, paying no heed to the suffering they cause.

Role: Solamiths wander the Abyss. Some serve as artillery in armies.

"When in the presence of a more powerful demon or evil entity, a solamith fawns and snivels, hoping to be taken in as a pet or prized soldier."

They don't collect treasure.

Quinix's Gatehouse Guards: Quinix is a glabrezu who lives in a ruined city as a ruler of gnolls and lesser fiends. He has two solamiths who guards the city gates. They sometimes attack the gnolls and servants, as they are a bit "too zealous."

4e Manual of the Planes

by Steve Ellis

I love this book.

"A corpulent creature of all-consuming hunger, the solamith attacks by tearing off chunks of itself and hurling the wads of necrotized, exploding tissue at enemies. Those it slays, it devours to replenish its spent flesh."

Claw: Does regular damage and fire damage.

Soulfire: The solamith can tear chunks of itself off to throw. "The solamith cannot reduce itself to 0 hit points or fewer in the fashion." It has three options as far as throwing chunks. It can take 5-15 points of damage. The explosions now do fire and necrotic damage.

Soulfire Retort: When it takes damage from melee, it fires off a cone of fire and necrotic, which also pushes the enemy 5 feet.

"Despite its imposing bulk, a solamith is a soft target that must rely on protection from its allies."

Solamith Lore:
  • "Its favorite food is the flesh of mortal humanoids."
  • "When the creature finishes, a tortured face appears under the skin of the demon's belly - a spiritual echo of the dead creature's soul."
Dungeon Delve

by Felipe Torrent

This book is a collection of mini-adventures.

Caverns of Demise: In this adventure, the heroes seek out the caverns in the hopes of finding the Bloody Maul of Kord, a magic item that the church of Kord lent to an NPC who was slain in the caverns.

"In truth, the Caverns of Demise are a nexus of planar portals, an area where the fabric of reality is susceptible to incursions from other planes."

The first section of the dungeon has a portal to the Feywild. Quicklings and a treant have taken it over.

The second section has a portal to the "Elemental Chaos", which encompasses both the elemental planes and the Abyss. A bunch of creatures came through - infernal bats, a salamander, and two solamiths!

"Two ponderous demons with tortured faces showing through their stratched bellies crouch in a pair of alcoves, while a number of fiery bats flit through the air."

Field of Everflame: "When a gate or portal to a fiery region of the Elemental Chaos remains open for several centuries, a small area around it can become imbued with the magic of everflame."

In case you are wondering, the third area has a portal to the Far Realm, which contains a beholder (!), a rakshasa (!!) and two Far Realm insanity portal traps (!!!).

The Plane Below: Secrets of the Elemental Chaos

Mal Arundak, the Bastion of Confusion: There is a fortress in the Abyss where angels believe that they are guarding the trapped essence of the Chained God, Tharizdun. They've been tricked. The angels have been here so long that the Abyss has transformed them into demons. They have horns, their wings are fiery, but the former angels are not aware of their dread transformation.

In the vast wasteland near Mal Arundak, there is a vast, unmoving demon called Asag. "This strange being engulfs any creature that attempts to gain refreshment from its sparkling but poisoned waters."

Several solamiths dwell within burrows dug into Asag's massive body!

It doesn't say exactly what Asag looks like, other than that it resembles a "shining and treeless oasis." How does a demon look like an oasis? Is it underneath it or something?

Dungeon Magazine #163

Brink of Madness: This is an adventure about the Far Realm, the third part of a well-received arc called "The Tear of Ioun."

The Demon Pit: The heroes are making their way through the fortress of the bad guy. One area is known as the Demon Pit: "These room bear witness to Malachi's dealings with demons."

There are a bunch of demons in this area. A solamith is in the actual demon pit:

"An obese demon surges from the pit, its belly a glowing red mass distended from its blue body. Tortured faces press against the skin of its abdomen as if trapped within. The demon has clawed hands, a horned head, and a fanged maw. From its belly it rips a chunk, which begins to smolder and smoke."

E3 Prince of Undeath

This is an amazing adventure. Orcus stabs the Raven Queen with a shard of evil and she is slowly dying. It is up to you to save her!

This adventure has a variant of a solamith in it - the solamith hunter. The creature shows up three times in this scenario.

The first solamith hunters are part of a blood war squad. These 2 solamiths are teamed up with an immolith and a shadow demon.

Level Up: Basically, the solamith hunters are just higher level solamiths with beefed up stats. Regular solamiths are level 15, these guys are level 30. They take 8-32 damage when they use their soulfire.

Later, Orcus uses more hunters to guard a different area. The description: "A corpulent demon with a bulging belly of wailing, decomposing faces tears off chunks of itself and hurls them toward you."

A solamith is used a third time, guarding the door to the Raven Queen's throne room where she lays, dying. Check out the flavor:

"A maelstrom of souls swirls above this grand courtyard, screaming like a cyclone. Two reflecting pools tainted with blood stretch to either side..."

That's it! That is all I could find. Let me know if solamiths have appeared anywhere else. I feel like I might have missed something.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Dungeons & Dragons - A Guide to the Sibriex

The sibriex is a monster that you'd think wouldn't have survived through multiple editions. It's very high level, so presumably not too many groups got a chance to use it. It's weird/disgusting, which I assume means it wouldn't fit the tone of certain campaigns. It has a strange role - a monster that creates and mutates others, sort of like a mad scientist.

But here we are in 5th edition, and the sibriex are still with us. Heck, there's a sibriex encounter in Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus.

Why? I think the sibriex is unique and interesting enough that it stands apart from most other monsters. It is an obyrith - the race of "demons" before demons existed. They have a ton of potential, which I don't think has yet been fully realized. They can create demons! They can modify bodies! There is a ton that you can do with them.

I personally like them mostly because of the above art, which appears in the 4e Demonomicon sourcebook. I can't figure out who the artist is, unfortunately, but I love this painting. This is a very "badass", heavy metal type of monster that can cause players to freak out when they see it.

Lemoriax: Years ago, I ran a Savage Tide campaign, and I swear that I had read something about how there are these fleshforges.. or fleshfurnaces.. under Demogorgon's abyssal city of Lemoriax. I had all these ideas about running an adventure down there.

But now, years later, digging through my Savage Tide stuff, I can't find any info on it! I know I had the group go to Lemoriax and the group really enjoyed it, but I just can't find anything on what lies under Lemoriax.

Lair: Make sure to check out the links at the bottom of this article. There's a guy who made a sibriex lair, complete with a map, that I thought was really cool and useful.

Fleshwarping: The sibriex warp flesh, modifying bodies, sometimes "installing" weapons or enhancements into demons or mortals. The D&D books give a little bit of info on what kind of "grafts" there are, but I think there is an old sourcebook that can give you one million fantastic ideas on cool sibriex grafts to put into your game: Chaositech, by Monte Cook. It's written in 3e rules, so you'd have to do a bit of translating, but IMO the ideas in there are so good that it's worth the effort.

Fiendish Codex I

by Tom Baxa
"Ancient and enigmatic, a sibriex is a master of augmenting and enhancing the flesh by grafting Abyssal matter into the physical body of the subject."

Appearance:
  • Smells like rotting flowers.
  • Large, bloated, floats lazily in the air.
  • "Hardly more than a malformed face the size of a wagon."
  • Has arms where its ears should be.
  • Everything below its neck is a writhing nest of puckers and stalks.
  • Tethered to the ground by four steel chains that end in spikes. They can use the chains to "walk" on the ground.
  • They are 15 feet tall and weigh 1,500 pounds.
Role:
  • The Queen of Chaos tried to get the sibriex to work for her during the war between law and chaos, but the sibriex avoided getting overly involved.To this day,t hey avoid the politics of the Abyss.
  • They currently serve demon lords as sages and sculptors of flesh.
  • Sibriex may not be able to reproduce. That's interesting - they can create almost anything, except more of their own kind.
  • It is estimated that only a few hundred sibriexes exist. There is never more than one on a given abyssal layer. 
  • Sibriexes played a major role in the shaping of the tanar'ri race.
  • Powerful and highly intelligent, sibriexes bully and torment weaker creatures. 
"Whether the sibriexes had a larger goal in mind when they augmented the race that would ultimately replace their kin as the rulers of the Abyss remains to be seen."

They often control large fortresses or swath of unclaimed Abyssal regions.

Powers:
  • Spells: Charm monster, hold monster, command, feeblemind.
  • Animate Chains: The chains are not technically part of its body. A sibriex can create new chains via magic.
  • Form of Madness: Seeing a sibriex can drive you mad if you fail a save.
  • Instant Graft: 3 times per day, the sibriex can form a graft out of Abyssal chaos and attach it to a willing or helpless creature.
  • Squirt Bile: It can spew black bile from the tubes hanging from its lower body. Does acid damage.
The Waverazer: A ship full of gnolls that was taken over by a sibriex, who has enhanced the crew with fiendish grafts. The ship haunts trade routes, capturing ships. The gnolls loot, and the sibriex experiments on the captured sailors.

The Scabwash Sentinels: In Demogorgon's Abyssal layer, there are hollowed-out stone pinnacles that contain workshop-domains of five brilliant sibriex obyriths and their numerous servitor demons. "The ocean nearby churns with the idiot gyrations of failed experiments released into the wild, while great ducts attached to the workshops constantly spew toxic alchemical runoff."

Dragon Magazine #359

It appears that the sibriex have a deep connection to the Fleshforges, the 558th layer of the Abyss. It is ruled by a supreme fleshcrafting demon lord named Dwiergus.

Dwiergus can cover enemies in "silk and flesh", cocooning them. The victim emerges 24 hours later as a half-fiend thrall of Dwiergus, their former personality gone forever.

Appearance: Dwiergus has no set form. He's often a "house-sized thick soup of swirling demonic arms, legs, heads, wings, tentacles, and other body parts that liquify as quickly as they reform."

Dwiergus has a constant drive to convert all life into demonic life.

His few servants are soon absorbed into the Prince's mass after a short period of servitude.

The Fleshforges: The 558th layer of the Abyss, a plastic, ever-shifting realm of living hate and protoplasm.

"Other demon lords have tapped into this realm, creating smaller portal pools in their strongholds to serve as cauldrons in which they can brew new minions - several such pools exist in Demogorgon's city of Lemoriax (where he uses them to create Lemorian half-fiends, among other monstrous minions)."

Original Home of the Sibriex? "Sibriex obyriths are thought to have been born in this realm's undulant bowels - the demons are certainly the most commonly encountered monster in this foul smelling realm..."

There are lakes of organic fluid and mountains of twisted bone.

The Chitin Palace of Dwiergus: Floats above a perpetual maelstrom at the center of an ocean of molten flesh. It is an organic edifice grown from the body of Dwiergus. He can control the palace, or wear it as a suit of armor.

Demonomicon

4e's lore diverges from the lore of other editions, so it doesn't totally match up with what has come before or since. I personally enjoy trying to utilize the 4e ideas, but I'm honestly not sure what is canon and what isn't/ They seem to leave things loose enough so you can decide what fits into your own campaign.

"When Tharizdun plunged the Shard of Evil into the heart of the Elemental Chaos, he freed the last of the obyriths from their decaying universe."

Aliens: Sibriexes are creatures of an alien universe. Their chaos manifests as a thirst for the subjugation, transformation, and destruction of all other creatures. They consider other demons to be raw material for their experiments.

The most powerful obyriths became demon lords. The lesser obyriths were absorbed by the Abyss. Sibriexes were spawned from clans of obyrith slavers, savants, and flesh crafters.

There are three types of Sibriex in this book. Chain masters, flesh crafters, and sibriex spawn.

Sibriex Chain Master:
  • Appears as an enormous deformed head that seems to be tethered to the ground by heavy chains.
  • It has a bunch of attacks involving its chains. It can hit all within 15 feet with its chains.
  • It is vulnerable to radiant damage.
Sibriex Flesh Crafter:

"The flesh crafter is the artist of demonic forms, employing its flesh-warping disease to corrupt the forms of its foes."

It can create a "restraining cyclone, stun you with "crafter's madness" (does psychic damage), and can instantly warp the flesh of those within 15 feet.

Flesh Warp: There is a disease associated with the sibriex called "flesh warp." "The infected creature's flesh warps and twists into disgusting demonic forms as it slowly and painfully transforms into a child of the Abyss."
  • Stage 1: The target's body warps to take on a demonic form, as determined by the DM.
  • Stage 2: The target's body loses almost all semblance of its original form. Whenever they hit a demon with an attack, they take 15 psychic damage.
  • Stage 3: The target becomes a free-willed sibriex spawn.
So it looks like they do have a way to reproduce!

Sibriex Spawn: "The foul nature of the sibriexes can infect other creatures, creating vile spawn beholden to more powerful masters.

These guys are "minions," which in 4e means that they have one hit point. They can bite, have an aura that does psychic damage, and when dropped to 0 hit points, they explode and their bile does acid damage.

Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes

by Christopher Burdett
"Thought to be as old as the Abyss itself, sibriexes haunt remote parts of the plane, where they use their vile abilities to breed new horrors and apprehend forbidden lore."

Blood and bile cascades from their body, which pollutes the ground around them.

Plants around them wither and the ground becomes difficult terrain. Just being within 30 feet of them does poison damage.

Powers:
  • Spells: Charm person, command, dispel magic, hold monster. 3 times per day: feeblemind.
  • They can attack with their chains and squirt bile.
  • Warp Creature: Up to 3 creatures within 120 feet (!) must save or become poisoned and gain 1 level of exhaustion. This sends you into a spiral of saving throws. Failing too many saves can lead to 6 levels of exhaustion, which leads to death.. and then you transform into a living abyssal wretch under the sibriex's control. This transformation can only be undone by a wish spell.
So they changed it up a bit. You don't become a sibriex spawn any more.

Keepers of Forbidden Lore: Even demon lords sometimes seek out a sibriex to learn secrets and knowledge.

Demon Crafters: They channel the power of the Abyss to create new demons from other creatures. They can create vast numbers of rutterkins over the course of just a few days. "Some demons petition sibriex for physical gifts.."

Then we get my favorite D&D thing.. a random flesh warping chart! Whenever a creature fails a saving throw against the sibriex's Warp Creature effect, roll a d100 and consult the chart. My favorite results:
  • The color of the target's hair, eyes, and skin becomes blue, red, yellow, or patterned.
  • The target's eyes become beacons, filling a 15 foot cone with dim light when they are open.
  • A pair of wings, either feathered or leathery, spread from the target's back, granting it a flying speed of 30 feet.
  • The target's eyes turn black, and it gains darkvision out to a range of 120 feet.
Baldur's Gate: Descent Into Avernus

In this adventure, the heroes end up in the first layer of Hell. They drive around in magic war machines, accomplishing various tasks. There are a TON of encounters in Avernus.

One of them involves a sibriex! Check out page 117 of the book.

The pit fiend Bel's agents have actually captured a sibriex. They've been torturing and interrogating it for a long time. "The sibriex is restrained by infernal chains from Bel's forge that also prevent it from using its spells or actions to escape."

Two chain devil guards watch as an arcanaloth named Fetchtatter asks the Sibriex about different topics, but the sibriex is becoming obstinate.

Fetchtatter will give the group 3 soul coins if they can get the sibriex to talk.

The sibriex uses its telepathy to contact the heroes, offering information in exchange for freedom.

Freeing the Sibriex: Breaking 3 of the 6 binding chains frees the sibriex.

"A creature can willingly submit to flesh warping, an agonizing process that takes at least 1 hour while the creature stays within 30 feet of the sibriex. At the end of the process, roll once on the Flesh Warping table to determine how the creature is transformed permanently."

Links

The 5e pdf preview of the Sibriex
Demon Tactics: Sibriex
D&D Designer Discusses Sibriex
A Sibriex Lair (with map!) by DM Dave
3D Print a Sibriex Mini!
The 5e Sibriex Artist Shows the Art Stages

Friday, February 14, 2020

Dungeons & Dragons - A Guide to the Queen of Chaos

by Glen Michael Angus
The big villain in the Rod of Seven Parts boxed set is a demon lord named the Queen of Chaos. She is portrayed as one of the most powerful villains in the multiverse. She created Demogorgon, the current ruler of the Abyss!

And yet, there really isn't that much information out there about her. In this guide, I'm going to try and dig up all the information about her so you can get a look at what should be one of the ultimate bad guys in all of Dungeons & Dragons.

She's been given tiny mentions in many different old supplements, and a lot of them repeat the same info over and over.

James Jacobs and the Queen

There's something I want to talk about before we get going, here. The Queen of Chaos is basically Ursula, the villain from the Little Mermaid. It threw me when I first read the boxed set, and I've never really figured out what, if anything, I should do about it. Should she burst into song? Should my campaign have a talking crab?

Check it out:


When putting this guide together, I see that I'm not the only one with this concern. James Jacobs, author of the tremendous Demonomicon of Iggwilv series of articles from Dragon Magazine, mentioned on a message board that:

"I'm not particularly keen on the mythos for her and Miska from the Rod of Seven Parts adventure, nor am I that keen on her resemblance to Whats-Her-Name from "The Little Mermaid," nor am I too keen on the fact that her name is the "Queen of Chaos." And I don't really like the spyder demons much either, especially how you can't really just update one, you have to update all seven or however many there are. All of these things can certainly be addressed in a ret-con type article, but I'm also aware/suspect that a lot of people out there really like her as she is, so I'm hesitant to dive in there and do a lot of changing just to satisfy my own hangups about her."

Erik Mona, a D&D designer and massive Greyhawk enthusiast, chimed in:

"As the guy who "brought back" the Queen of Chaos and tied her into the Age of Worms and Fiendish Codex 1, I thought I might suggest that the "Queen of Chaos" works as a name because she is from a very, very early time in the history of the multiverse, as much a concept as a living, breathing thing. She is the most powerful of the obyrith. Perhaps the most powerful demon ever to have lived. She doesn't need a name more specific than the one she's had for almost 20 years, now.

She's shuttered away for the same reason as the demons imprisoned in the Wells of Darkness. She serves the same purpose as Tharizdun. As Fafnir and the Midgard Serpent.

Basically, she's an Apocalypse Trigger.

Bringing her back is Bad in the way Vecna entering Sigil is bad. For the Queen of Chaos to stir, major, multiverse-shaking plots are afoot.

And major, multiverse-shaking plots are really the domain of the individual DM, in my opinion.

Now that said, were I publishing a compilation of world-ending bad guys, the Queen of Chaos would be a perfect fit.

But, alas...."

Designer and Shemeshka enthusiast Todd Stewart said:

"Pre-FC I that's how I envisioned her, as a renegade Slaad Lord who was exiled from Limbo by Ssendam and Ygorl after having been corrupted from CN to CE (similar to how Bazim-Gorag is existing only by the sufferance of that pair due to his own slip into CE).

But since I've never really used the Queen, I might muddy the waters if I ever do and offer that as one myth, and incorporate some of Erik's notions from FC:I as well."

Being a fan of Limbo and the slaads, I do like this idea. Maybe the Slaad Lords are even older than the obyriths?

The Rod of Seven Parts Boxed Set

by Glen Michael Angus
 Long ago, there was a war between Law and Chaos. I wrote a whole article about it here.

Basic Premise: The Queen of Chaos was in charge of the hordes of Chaos. Her general, Miska the Wolf Spider, was defeated and imprisoned by the Wind Dukes of Aaqa. The wind Dukes used the Rod of Seven Parts to imprison Miska in the Plane of Pandemonium.

Since that time, the Queen has scoured the multiverse, looking for the rod.

Limbo: The book declares that she is "a native of Limbo," though she is later described as an obyrith (the "demons" that existed before the tanar'ri - modern day D&D demons - existed).

Appearance: Here is what she looks like.
  • Her lower body is a mass of 10 mauve tentacles, like a giant squid. shiny with slime, red and purple veins showing through her skin.
  • Her skin is blue - lighter at the belly and darker in back. Her eyes and hair are green, locks hanging in drooping curls. Her tentacles reach up to 90 feet
  • She has a huge trident tied to her wrist. 
  • Wears a coronet of bones decorated with black pearl and a sahuagin skull. I wonder if the sahuagin was anyone important?
  • Also. She, uhh... has a beak... down there in the tentacles.
Chaos Gates: The Queen can create chaos gates, portals to the Material Plane.
  • Lasts 1 minute
  • Portals can open to the Steaming Fen or the Prime Material Plane.
  • There is a 25% chance that non-demons will magically age 1d10 years when they step through a chaos gate.
  • "Objects and magical effects cannot travel through the passage unless carried by creatures."
  • The gateway is all but invisible in anything except bright light. Although.. later it is said that the gate looks like a disk of black fire from the side.
  • The queen can extend a tentacle through the gate and pull you through. "No feat of strength can save the character, but the tentacle can be severed."
Warping Effect: When a chaos gate is opened, there is a cumulative 20% chance that a wave of chaos sweeps of the world. When a wave hits:
  • The terrain around the heroes changes. Mountains might become a desert, the grass might turn blue (the sun might turn green!).
  • Each day the heroes stay in this landscape, they must make a saving throw or take damage (toxic air, hot weather, etc).
  • Beasts of Chaos: Animals are transformed into Beasts of Chaos, chaotic neutral tentacled monstrosities. Bright light enrages them.
The Steaming Fen: The 14th layer of the Abyss.
  • The Steaming Fen a swampy island with a sprawling palace filled with treasures from every world that the Queen's agents are active on. 
  • The Queen rules the Fen through intimidation, favors and bargaining.  
  • A vast salt marsh and a turbulent ocean. Smells of decay. Lots of insects and vermin.
by Glen Michael Angus
The Queen's Throne Room: Located in the 14th layer of the Abyss, known as The Steaming Fen:
  • A vast cavern nearly 200 feet wide with a ceiling 500 feet high.
  • Her throne is a rock rising from a lake of fire. From here, she monitors the Steaming Fen and conducts her never-ending search for the Rod of Seven Parts.
  • Demons and yugoloths come and go from side tunnels.
  • The throne room is part of a gigantic castle carved from a massive mountain. Many rooms reach down into the briny, foul waters of the Steaming Fen's ocean and high into the air. 
Places in or near the Throne Room:
  • Lake of Flame: This pool of brackish salt water is forever covered with a sheet of oil that burns, creating a pall of choking smoke. Swimming does d6 per round. Exiting the lake leaves you coated in oil, tar and lumpy ash.
  • Throne: A pillar of obsidian polished to a mirror shine by hundreds of slaves. Has a flat top made of pure silver. Rises 20 feet above the flames.
  • Audience Area: Floor is covered in silver.
  • Wall of Gold: A huge slab of gold 60 feet square, is attached to one wall. She can call forth Miska's image in it, and it operates as a crystal ball.
  • Ramps: Leads to elsewhere in the castle - a maze of tangled passages. Large groups of spyder fiends
  • Balcony: 100 feet above the audience area. If Miska ever appears here, this is where he'll show himself to the troops.
  • Treasure Room: More than a million coins piled up in drifts up to 8 feet high. You can grab 2 magic items per round or 1500 platinum pieces.
Abilities:
  • She has a swim speed. How else will she deal with that accursed mermaid?
  • She can telepathically communicate with any creature that has a 3 INT or higher
  • Her tentacles reach up to 60 feet away!
  • She can force you under her body, where you are constricted by her tentacles. The beak down there can, uh, bite you and stuff.
  • You can sever her tentacles, but the tentacle remains animated if severed. She can regrow any severed tentaces in 24 hours.
  • She can shape change into human or merman form.
  • She can cast suggestion 1 month duration. She can polymorph you.
  • 3/day: Chain lightning, mass charm.
  • 1/day Symbols of discord, fear, hopelessness and pain/
  • Once per hour: Expel a cloud of smoke (or ink if underwater) she chooses one effect: darkness, stinking cloud or solid fog.
  • 3/hour she can create a chaos gate.
  • She has a "sixth sense" about the rod.
  • Weapon: Giant Trident +5
Book of Artifacts

One suggested way to destroy the Rod of Seven Parts: "Turn the Rod over to the Queen of Chaos, who will attempt to pervert its nature and neutralize it in the process (Characters who do this will not be treated with respect by the Queen).

Dragon Magazine 224

This issue has an article about the rod, sort of hyping up the boxed set. Two relevant quotes:

"The queen is a titanic lord of the Abyss, standing at about 24 feet tall. She has a corpulent humanoid torso that sits atop a mass of powerful tentacles."

"Direct confrontations with the queen tend to be short and painful for lesser creatures who displease her."

The Rod of Seven Parts Novel


The Queen of Chaos actually appears in the novel. Miska escapes the citadel of chaos and the heroes end up in the Queen's throne room. They overhear her arguing with Miska (they're speaking common?).

The Queen says to Miska: "It has been too long since I have known your embrace."

And he says his army awaits, and that "vengeance demands that I strike."

The Queen Responds: "My pleasure has been denied for too long" and she gets angry.

The heroes actually decide to attack them. We get a description of the Queen:

"The Queen of Chaos towered like a large building, rising from the midst of a nest of tentacles. Her body was a dark and shapeless blob, almost black in color, the upper portion resembling some grotesque, unspeakably foul version of a giantess. The form was vaguely humanoid and female, yet so bulbous and disfigured as to barely resemble anything like a woman."

I SWEAR it says this next: "Miska's human face was buried somewhere in the folds of the queen's monstrous body, but the two wolf heads were upraised and alert." Really??

The heroes attack Miska and the queen. The queen paralyzes one hero with her gaze, and swats the other aside with one of her tentacles. She summons a snake (?) which killed the third adventurer with a poisonous bite. 

The queen reads the main character's mind and finds out where he is from - a village called Colbytown. She decides that her army of Chaos will march there first.

Arquestan the Wind Duke shows up and holds the rod over his head, banishing Miska back to his prison. The Queen kills Arquestan with bolts of energy while the heroes grab the rod and run away.

The adventurers used Arquestan's wind chariot to escape and return home. They use the rod to resurrect their slain friend, and the rod pieces scatter.

Yeah that's right, I spoiled the ending for you.

Fiendish Codex I: Hordes of the Abyss

The obyriths were the creatures that existed in the Abyss before demons came to be. The Queen of Chaos was an obyrith lord, who "...cowed most of her rivals under her banner, driving defiant lords to the lowest depths of the uncharted Abyss."

The Queen of Chaos called upon the sibriex to augment her armies with fiendish grafts.

"No new obyriths have been created since the Queen of Chaos retreated into the depths of the Abyss."

Dagon is her Rival: "When the Queen of Chaos called upon the obyrith lords to aid her in her battle against the Wind Dukes of Aaqa, Dagon refused her call. Other obyriths did as well, and the Queen destroyed them for her trouble." Dagon was powerful enough that the Queen didn't dare battle him.

She Killed Obox-ob: Obox-ob was the Prince of Demons during the Age before Ages. The Queen killed him and granted his title to Miska the Wolf Spider. An aspect of Obox-ob lived on.

Pazuzu was a thorn in the side of the Queen of Chaos.

Cabiri: An ancient obyrith, Cabiri was banished to the Wells of Darkness for refusing to fight alongside the Queen in the war against law.

The Queen's hordes conquered entire worlds on the Material Plane. "World after world fell under the Queen's dominion, and with each victory that which was once immutable became fluid; laws of nature became half-forgotten memories from a saner time. Chaos ascended, and the Abyss ascended with it."

When Miska was defeated, the Queen retreated deep into the Abyss, seeking refuge in the Steaming Fen.

Some few obyriths hold out for a return of the Queen of Chaos, but she has not emerged from the Steaming Fen since retiring there on the eve of the Upheaval.

Dragon Magazine 349

The Queen of Chaos "...looked past the Abyss and discovered something unthinkable - life had sprung up in those realms beyond. When this life began to seep into the Abyss, the obyriths quickly learned to shape these spirits, and by enhancing the evil and chaos they found in them, they created the first tanar'ri..."

The Queen marshalled the obyrith lords to her banner and murdered or imprisoned the rest:
  • Cabiri: Imprisoned in the Wells of Darkness.
  • Bechard: Beached on his own deviant shores.
  • Ubothar and Vroth-Khun: Imprisoned in other realms.
Dragon Magazine 357

When the Queen of Chaos marched on the multiverse, her first act was to strike against Obox-ob. "It was the sheer audacity of this move that ensured her victory - although powerful in her own right, she paled in comparison to the Primal Chaos that was the first Prince of Demons."

The Queen of Chaos was among the first to cultivate and nurture the first demons. Demogorgon was the first. The Queen tossed him aside.

A demon lord named Astaroth wanted to fight alongside the Queen of Chaos, but was rejected.

Cabiri: An obyrith who once ruled a large section of the Plain of 1,000 Portals, Cabiri had the ability to peer into possible futures. The Queen used Cabiri as an advisor. Cabiri foresaw the Queen's defeat, and fled the field of battle.

Dungeon Magazine 129

Bwimb: Bwimb was an elemental ooze who fought against the Wind Dukes in the war.

Elder Evils

Sertous: A minor demon lord of parasites and crawling things. He slew every one of the Queen's recruiters that entered his lair. "He had little defense against the Queen herself, who quickly grew tired of his insubordination, destroyed his body, and cast his essence into the gulf between planes as one might cast aside a carcass..."

Heroes of the Elemental Chaos

Bristia Pel, the princess of everlastin flame, was destroyed in the battle that led to the defeat and imprisonment of the Queen of Chaos.

The Queen is described as "dormant." She is a "...demonic primordial or obyrith now dormant in the Steaming Fen, an Abyssal layer."

The Blade of  Chaos: "The original blade of chaos was forged from a broken piece of panoply belonging to Miska the Wolf-Spider that was lost when the fabled Wind Dukes of Aqaa defeated him."

Demonomicon

In 4e, it looks like they tried to tie the war between law and choas with the Dawn War, which was the war between gods and primordials. It appears that in 4e, the Queen did not create Miska.

During an eclipse, the armies of Obox-ob were defending the layer's portals against Miska the Wolf-Spider and his forces. The Queen swooped in and killed Obox-ob.

Deal With Miska: Miska swore allegiance to the Queen in exchange for her aid in destroying the gods of the Astral Sea. "The alliance between the Queen of Chaos and Miska the Wolf-Spider began a climactic epoch of the Dawn War."

Wind Dukes are Dragons? An exarch of Moradin and 7 angels of Bahamut known as the Wind Dukes of Aaqa (!) crafted the Rod of Law.

The Rod of Law turned the tide of the war in the Astral Sea. The Queen of Chaos will not return until the Plain of a Thousand Portals is blighted by eclipse once more.

Obyrith Hall: Once per millenium, the obyriths meet at the Great Ziggurat of Oth-Magluroth on the Plain of a Thousand Portals.

Eclipse: Once every millenium, an immense orbiting mote of elemental earth eclipses the dying star that marks the edge of the upper abyssal vortex. This earthmote is known as A'othorh. It heralds the end of one great cycle and the start of the next.

The rare twilight lasts for several days. During this time, Pazuzu defers his authority to the Queen of Chaos.

The Queen Emerges: She crawls up to the Plain of Yawning Pits from the Steaming Fen and holds court with the remaining obyrith lords.

"Seers have prophesized that the Queen of Chaos will claim the Rod of Seven Parts during the next conclave, heralding the intervention of the Wind Dukes of Aaqa and the start of the next Chaos War."

Obyrith Realm: Inside the Great Ziggurat is the Well of Entropy, a portal said to be the only connection to the ruins of the obyriths' former realm.

The Fetid Pit of Vakorcha: This abyssal layer has a sucking pit that leads to the Steaming Fen. Vakorcha is home to three bebiliths that are loyal to Miska.