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Friday, February 28, 2014

5 Awesome Rooms in The Dungeon of The Bear

Yes, it takes 3 hours to brush it
First off, there's spoilers for The Dungeon of the Bear in here. Second, this campaign has been and may continue to be very x-rated, so please proceed with caution.

Still here? Thanks pal! I first learned about this adventure from the great blog called Ten Foot Pole. The Dungeon of the Bear was made in the '70's and is just a wacky, weird dungeon full of stuff. We are using the D&D Next playtest rules.

I have 2 players now, a fighter and a wizard. I pared down the group, as I mentioned in my Perverts Run Amok blog post. I think our heroes will need an NPC cleric. So I am going to snag an NPC found in level 3 of this dungeon, and have the heroes bump into her as they enter. That's her to the left.

She's found on level 3, in room D. The mad orc wizard has been making humanoid-animal hybrids. She is a "female-alligator combination" originally meant to be found chained to a wall. "She looks just like a human warrior but has the pebbly skin of a gila monster or an iguana and a very powerful tail." Cool, right?

I'm going over my notes and I'd like to share with you some of the more exciting rooms our heroes may stumble onto in level 1.
I may have to watch this movie for research purposes

Room I. The heroes' path is blocked by a long pit 15 feet deep. Oh, but look, there's a ladder down and on the far end, a ladder back out. Let's just climb down, walk across, and climb out! But wait... you get into the pit, and the ceiling opens up. Water starts pouring down, filling the hole you're in at an incredible rate. And what else is falling in the watery pit? Why... hundreds of pirahnas!

Room J. In this room is a 10 foot long serpent. When the heroes enter the room, it immediately slithers back in fear. If our heroes slay it, it turns into its' true form: a beautiful maiden with a magic ruby in her mouth.

She had been forced to swallow the magical polymorph ruby. Should one of our heroes swallow it, they too become a 10 foot long serpent.

Room L. This starts off a bit similar to Room J. A gremlin cowers in the corner. Should our trusty adventurers slay the little fellow, the ceiling disappears and the room fills with copper pieces! Our heroes may end up buried and crushed by this torrent of coins!

I managed to squeeze some Clyde Caldwell in this one
I may change this so that the gremlin thinks he's real tough and hurls ridiculous insults at them. Or is that cruel?

Room V. Three vampires who can only be killed by a stake through the heart (I'm retooling them, same concept, weaker stats based on the 2e Vampyre monster). If the PCs run, the vampires trail them.

The big gimmick here is that one of them is wearing a Ring of the Vampire: "This ring is magical, and causes the wearer to turn into a vampire who, unbeknownst to his fellow delvers, must have human blood every 15 turns or he will perish". Removing the ring does not cure this. And the PC loses his/her shadow. I can just smell the hijinks here.

Room AA. This room has a "ragged starving man" who got stuck in here after being chased by some lions (true story). There's some magic statues guarding a magic sword: SUNSLAYER.

"Lords of Light!"
SUNSLAYER is an awesome epic blade (I am making it a flame tongue - appropriate, right?). But it has some drawbacks. It "renders the bearer blind in all but the dimmest of light. He'll be blind in sunlight, moonlight, torchlight, or even candlelight. He can, however, see in total darkness, in starlight, or by the light of luminous insects or moss".  And there's more. "The character who has picked up the sword cannot ever relinquish it, or it will take his soul, drive him mad, or whatever you choose to make him keep it."

That's an odd last sentence there. Make him keep it? Some players would see this as a character-ruining hindrance... luckily, I know my players and they will find this to be awesome and hilarious. For them it is character-defining, perfect for helping flesh out a new character's personality/gimmick.

There's all sorts of other cool stuff too. They can find the "infamous" badger gem. Touch the gem.. become a badger. You revert to your normal form in sunlight.

I know these kind of dungeons aren't for everybody. But I think you can appreciate some of the more clever creations, even if you wouldn't want to run them as written. There's a certain charm here. The whole thing is very lively.

This adventure pdf is a measly four dollars! Four dollars for 3 dungeon levels. You can buy it at drivethrurpg.

I'll let you know how the game goes. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Coolest Tony Diterlizzi Monsters from the Planescape Monstrous Compendium

I think a lot of us have a favorite RPG artist or piece of art. Some love the iconic cover of the 1st edition player's handbook with the demon idol, others (like me) love the orange border DMG cover with the robed guy opening the doors. Some swear by the Dragonlance paintings of Larry Elmore, others prefer "boobs and gems" art from Clyde Caldwell (also me). Newer fans might be truly inspired by the art of Wayne Reynolds and his many, many great pieces.

I picked up the Planescape Monstrous Compendium yesterday. As you may or may not be aware, Planescape was a planar campaign setting that was quirky, punky, and definitely had a very strong following when it was released in the early 90's. Lots of people still to this day play and enjoy the computer rpg Planescape: Torment. Planescape's city of Sigil was included in 4th edition, and hopefully will remain a fixture in D&D canon for good.

Tony DiTerlizzi did the bulk of the art for the early Planescape products. He did every single piece of art for this book! His work is a little different, more Barry Windsor-Smith than Alex Ross. Let's take a look at what I consider some of his best, most inspired work from this book and see what these monsters were like in 2e.

I'm going to be using some photos from my actual book in addition to google images. I think it'll give you a nice look at how cool it is the way they wrapped the text around his work, rather than confining it to little boxes like in the other compendiums of the time.

The cover was by Jeff Easley and uhh.. well... the brain goggle monster is kind of cool. The one-eyed scorpion-spider I could do without, and that's a blue lady with triangle hair in her underwear, there. Well.. ok then...

This one is one of my favorites - The Pit Fiend. I always get this mixed up, but I believe the 2nd edition devil/demon renaming goes like this:

Baatezu = Devils (Lawful Evil, live in hell)
Tanarri = Demons (Chaotic Evil, live in the Abyss)

These guys are "born" when, as a gelugon, they are thrown into the Pit of Flame for 1,001 days. They are 12 feet tall, have 6 attacks per round, can cast fireball and improved invisibility every round, and can cast WISH once per year. "They lead legions of dozens of complete armies into battle against the tanarri". Very cool monster!

Then there's the Nightmare.
Nightmares are "the evil steeds of the lower planes". The thing I like most about this art is the thing riding the nightmare. What is that guy's deal? Is he undead? Is his mouth sewn shut? He is an NPC waiting to be created.

The nightmare has glowing red eyes, orange nostrils, and "hooves that burn like embers".  They can fly, and "they hate all life". They also "willingly serve as a mount for any mission involving evil". Sheesh! So negative!

It just gets more awesome. Any wizard of level 5 can summon a nightmare by casting mount, monster summoning III, and then wall of fog. When this is done: "The nightmare comes galloping through the fog, nostrils flaring and eyes gleaming." (!!) (!!!!) Then you have to feed it "oat-like flakes made from platinum (200 gp value)". Then you are its' master for 72 hours. SO AWESOME.

I don't know if this Fire Imp can possibly match the nightmare in sheer greatness, but he sure looks cool. He's 2 feet tall, and is a familiar for evil wizards and priests. He can turn into 2 different animal forms, usually a raven and "a goat". I guess he can butt you something fierce.

He's got himself a tail stinger. What happens when it hits you? You save or die! If he is slain on the mortal plane, his "corrupt spirit" reforms on his home plane and after a year and a day he returns. 

He has a telepathic link with his master and gives his master 25% magic resistance.

The Erinyes is a monster that gets changed around quite a bit in each edition. I know in 4e they are more muscular and soldier-y, maybe to help differentiate them from the succubus.

But here in Planescape, they are tempters of mortals. Only 500 of them exist at one time, and they report directly to the Dark Eight (the 8 pit fiends on the first level of Hell that are the generals of the blood war, if  remember correctly).

They can do something no other baatezu can do: Enter the mortal realm unsummoned. They can cause fear or charm person on anyone they look at within 60 feet. They also have a rope of entanglement for.. uh.. woah... getting kind of sweaty here...

They are able to bring one person back to hell with them, but no inorganic matter. So.. the victim shows up naked. Once the poor sap is in hell, should they die, they become a lowly lemure and are added to the legions of devils.

Let's check out the demons' answer to the mighty pit fiend - The Balor! His image is pretty cool. He's kind of like a bouncer. Looks like he'd be right at home leaning against a camaro waiting for his girlfriend to get out of school for the day.

His body is shrouded in flames. At least 24 of them exist. They wander The Abyss, forming armies and commanding them into battle against the devils.  They're obsessed with The Blood War.

He's got a vorpal sword that looks like a bolt of lightning. It's got a Thor's hammer kind of deal - "Any creature picking up a balor's sword suffers 10d6 damage and must save vs. spell or die." Yikes!

When he punches you, I kid you not, you must save vs. spell with a -6 penalty or run away for 10 minutes to 1 hour! The Mighty Fear Punch... I'll have to use that somehow in a game.

And should you kill this dude, he "explodes in a blinding flash of light, inflicting 50 HP of damage to everything in a 100 foot radius (save vs spell for half damage)". Good luck with that one!

And then there's a rare miss by Tony DiTerlizzi with his depiction of the Glabrezu. I took the liberty of depicting a, in my opinion, more definitive version of the same monster from the Shackled City adventure path. I can't tell if this is a joke from a fried artist on a tight deadline, or maybe just a rare mis-step.

They're the covert agents of the underworld. They possess "rich treasure that they hoard in vast subterranean lairs in the Abyss". They don't get along with mariliths.

They can also cast power word stun... 7 times a day!  You're going to need a +2 weapon just to hit him, and he can plane shift at will. Not surprised that this is what became of Paris Hilton's dog.

I think we learned a lot today! Thanks for sitting with me for a spell, chum. Join me again tomorrow, won't you? I may be running my "main" campaign tomorrow, where George and Jessie will be going through more of the Dungeon of the Bear, this time without Robert Downey jr. and.. uh... Squirting Vajlick. If we do, you will hear about it. Every scandalous detail!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Scourge of the Sword Coast Session 1

Not comfortable with this!
I spent some time today further preparing Scourge of the Sword Coast for tonight's D&D Encounters session. It was very dull, and this "pdf only" business is going to take some getting used to. I always take extensive notes (5 pages just for tonight!), which helps me retain everything as well as have something i can glance at so i don't need to rummage through the module.

Anyway... I get to the store. They haven't received any of the free stuff. This season was supposed to start last week, but I couldn't make it and apparently only a couple people showed up. I was aware that I might not get enough people for a game this week - but I also know some of them come really late. Sometimes an hour or more!

So I get there, and I have 2 players. I take the opportunity to ask them questions about their "real lives" (I am one of these nosy people who likes to learn people's secrets). One of the store regulars, a fellow best described as "eccentric" came over and joined us. He told us about all sorts of things which made almost no sense, such as:

- Starching your collar
- Origami sundial watches
- A guy in England who wanted a vegetable burrito and had to go to another country
- That straightjackets in Washington DC have the presidential seal on them

Ahhh, the joys of public gaming! I told him my worst nightmare would be waking up at night to find him standing there watching me sleep. This guy once blindsided me with the question: "Would you like to buy papercut insurance?"

After about 30-45 minutes after start time, 4 more players arrived. And so we began. I was kind of pumped, as this session involves a village that was raided by goblins/hobgoblins/bugbears. All of the villagers were enslaved and shipped out, and now the goblinoids inhabited the village and had built some defensive fortifications. Very cool, very classic, but not a scenario I've actually run often.

We started with a homebrewed attack on their caravan by goblin wolf-riders. This took much longer than expected. The players just couldn't roll above a 10. They took a lot of damage.

It took so long that when they got to the farmstead, I removed the monsters so we could move on. 

The guy who does these maps is awesome
They arrived at Daggerford the following day. The refugees were angry that the guards wouldn't let them in. One guard was nervous and had a twitchy finger. Our heroes walk into this scene and take action:

- The evil cleric egged the guard on, telling him to shoot
- The hack and slash warrior started punching out refugees
- The good cleric tried to calm the twitchy guard (rolled a 1)
- The warforged slapped the guard on the back
- The good paladin called out for everyone to stop this madness (rolled a 4)

So the warforged slaps the guard on the back, the crossbow is fired, a refugee dies, chaos ensues... pretty fun.

Long story short, our heroes are allowed into Daggerford. Evil cleric decides to wait outside Daggerford with the refugees. Why? Because he wanted to kill them. He ended up killing 3 refugees before other refugees beat him down with a rock and a guard on Daggerford's wall shot a crossbow bolt into his brain, killing him. Everyone asked him why he did this, he said he was just "playing his character". He plays in my Monday Dungeon Crawl Classics game, and I wonder if he just wants to play that and doesn't care about this game anymore...? I don't know. It was pretty random.

Then our stalwart adventurers entered the vastly disjointed and wordy section of the module, where a halfling shows them around town and 5,000 adventure hooks are dropped on them simultaneously. I streamlined this, putting them on a monorail express to the "village we haven't heard from in a tenday", aka Julkoun the goblin town.
5b... the BARN OF DOOM
They took a fishing boat there, and crept into the outlying areas. I realized I need a printed-out map to show them this rather complicated, difficult-to-describe town. So I let them explore some shacks and the barn. They walked right in to that collapsing-loft trap. When I read that one, I thought that would never happen, but it did. How would two of them end up in a barn loft, I asked myself.Answer: The door was barred and they had to climb in the loft window.

We ended it there, as it was getting late and the mood had kind of gotten weird due to the evil character's murdering of refugees, but mostly because I needed a map.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Scourge of the Sword Coast

I ran my second session of the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG last night. It was really fun. We got through most of The Old God's Return. The details are here.

Tomorrow I begin running D&D Encounters - Scourge of the Sword Coast. I paid $18 for this thing. That bothers me.

On the first page, they say: "Playing in the store is fun and a great way to enhance the experience. Here are some of the benefits of playing in stores.

✦ Participants receive a twenty-sided die designed especially for this season.

✦ Players receive a color map of the Daggerford region.

✦ Dungeon Masters receive a poster map of Daggerford as well as its surrounding region.

✦ Dungeon Masters receive six nonplayer-character cards that they can use as a play aid.

✦ It’s a really great way to support your friendly local game store!"

Poster map... dice... kewl. Now obviously we're about to enter the SPOILER ZONE so.. fairly warned be thee says I!

My hair distracts from my weird collar
This is linked to the special Ghostspear Castle adventure which I think came out at Gen Con. The story here is that the Red Wizards are working on an a dastardly scheme, and a few devil agents are in Daggerford sowing chaos to keep the local heroes busy.

Our heroes come in on a caravan, park by a farm, maybe have an encounter with goblins, then get to Daggerford. I have decided to throw in an encounter previous to this. This group likes fighting, So I want to throw a fight at them right away to capture their interest and get things rolling. I'm going to have some goblins riding wolves ride in and attack. Maybe they'll shoot flaming arrows at the caravan, that might be cool.

So anyway, once our heroes kill the fire arrow wolf-riders, and then deal with the farmhouse vandalizers, then they arrive at Daggerford. Outside are a bunch of refugees who want to get in. Sherlen, a town guard who is "sturdily-built"... hahah. Really, that's what it says. How can they not include a picture?!
Behold! The Mystic Urinal

The Fugees want in, but someone stole the duke's magic-rock-thing and he blames the outsiders. He won't let them in. A riot brews, a guard has a twitchy finger and is freaking out, and we have a fun encounter that can go many ways. A problem here is that some of my players might just want to kill the guards, but I guess we'll just see what happens.

There's a bunch of different ways for the heroes to gain access to Daggerford. Once in, the module really wants the PCs to hang out with a halfling named Curran, who really wants to show them around town. Then things bog down as the heroes can explore the town, learn rumors, blah blah blah. My players won't like this so I will streamline it.

It's funny. Some players like to be railroaded. Especially in encounters, They don't want to wander willy-nilly, partly because the players don't know each other that well and butt heads when it comes to this kind of decision-making. It seems like everyone is more comfortable when they are on a set path.

A lot of times in Encounters, you'll get a few players who "don't play well with others". Maybe that's why they're at encounters, because no home group will have them? I don't know. I'm not trying to badmouth my group, they're all pretty cool, but there's definitely some turbulence and a little bit of anti-social behavior that I need to monitor at my table.

All I know is my internal alarm bell is going off at this point in the adventure. I guess we'll see what happens tomorrow.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Let's Read Spelljammer Part 2

The Croissantship - crewed by Buttermen
Just want to point out an awesome map of the phlogiston here. That is a map of where every published universe is, in relation to each other. 

Chapter 2: AD&D Rules in Space

Who wants to be a lizard man?

They have three fingers, they're sort of dumb, and they're 5 to 7 feet tall. They're short-tempered and emotional, and they call other races their prey which in their language goes like this: "BreK/qq/zz". That's a direct quote.

They eat a lot. They have natural armor (AC 5... in second edition, low AC is good. A -3 AC is really good. The town drunk has an AC 10). They don't gain a DEX bonus to AC though. They can attack with claw/claw/tail. They live to be 350 years old and can be fighters, thieves and clerics, though racial level restrictions apply.

It's funny... I'd happily play a dragonborn. But there's something very unappealing about playing a lizardman. I don't remember anybody in our games playing one.

Magic Use in Space

A cleric in the phlogiston cannot gain spells above second level. Yowch. Same if the cleric goes to a sphere that his god has no influence in. But if he casts a gate spell in the sphere, that would "afford his deity access to the foreign shell".

You can't summon elementals, planar creatures, etc in the phlogiston.

In the phlogiston, you can't access the planes. Things like armor of etherealness don't work. Portable holes don't work!


If paladins and rangers can cast spells, they can operate spelljamming helms.

A helm has recesses for your head, hands and feet.

A major helm converts magical ability at a 1 per 2-level rate, rounded up. So if you're a second level caster, your ship's spelljamming rating is a 1 (we get into Spelljammer ratings later on).

A minor helm is a 1 to 3 ratio.

There's also a thing called a crown of the stars. You wear it on your head and it acts as a minor helm. Awesome.

If a caster trying to use a helm has cast any spells that day, his rating goes down by one. Yikes. Using a helm causes you to lose all of your spells until you rest and regain them normally.

My cat's breath smells like cat food
Mind Flayers use special helms. Beholders use a mutated version of their race known as an "orbus" to move their ships. All these little details are making me really excited to run this. Dwarves use strange forges to power their ships (more on this in Chapter 3).

New Spells!

Wizard spells

(lvl 2) Locate Portal: Find the nearest portal on a crystal shell. Most portals are 2-20 days away! Material component - Conch shell. Cue Survivor theme.

(lvl 3) Chill Fire: Can only be cast in the phlogiston. Suppresses the flammable nature of the phlogiston in a 40 yard radius. Component - sliver of glass or ice.

(lvl 3) Enhance Rating: Bump up your helmsman's SR rating by 1-2. You can cast the reverse of this, too. Component - small ivory arrow. Point it up to enhance, down to decrease (not kidding).

(lvl 5) Create Portal: Make an entry into a crystal shell, lasts 2d6 turns. If it ends up closing on you while you're passing through, there's a little chart to roll on. There's a one in ten chance your ship is cut in half, ho ho ho. Component - wire wrapped around a piece of amber.

(lvl 5) Enhance Manueverability: Bump up your ship's manueverability class (dunno what that is yet). Component - vial of wind from an air based world. That's uhh kind of rare.

(lvl 6) Create Minor Helm: Turn a chair into a spelljamming helm! Lasts one week per level.  Component - chair or... stool. Uncomfortable!

(lvl 7) Create Major Helm: Same kind of deal

You know you want to be a SPACE WIZARD
Priest Spells

(lvl 1) Create Air: Generate bubble of fresh air around a person. Can help push out cloudkill or stinking cloud for a second. You can also cast the reverse of this.. destroy air. Awesome. Component - small, stoppered flask.

(lvl 2) Contact Home Power: Lasts one week. Lets you get all your spells! Nice. Component - small horn. Blow it to get your god's attention. Like an air-horn at a sporting event.

(lvl 2) Detect Powers: Cast this outside a crystal shell to see if the gods within are friendly. There's a chart to roll on if the PCs are going to a sphere that the DM has not designed yet, heh heh. Component - handful of sand. Chuck it at the crystal shell.

(lvl 4) Softwood: A spell to preserve those cast adrift in space. You are wrapped in wood and in suspended animation. Dissolves when you hit fresh air. Component - bit of bark.

(lvl 5) Create Minor Helm again

Next time we'll take a look at the ship stats!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

10 Awesome Things About D&D 4th Edition

"Is that a bewb? Oh.. nevermind."
I love 4th edition. I'd guess that I played more of it than almost anybody on the planet. That said, I know it is far from perfect. The fights take way too long... usually at least 45 minutes. Too many powers. And try picking a feat for a 14th level character. See you in an hour.

I had a friend who put it best. He told me, "It's D&D Tactics".

But every edition has its' flaws. I do not hate 3.5 or Pathfinder. I simply embraced 4e and let it be what it was, and worked to make it as enjoyable as possible.

Now, with 4e in its' death throes, I'd like to look back and salute 10 things that I thoroughly enjoyed about 4th edition:

1. It was so easy to DM: You know how long it took to prepare a session of D&D Encounters? 10 Minutes. 10 minutes of reading allows you to run it for an hour an a half and everyone loves it. Yes, that's because it's basically one fight on a poster map that takes the entire session, but I prefer that to this new season of Legacy of the Crystal Shard where you have to read a 30 page adventure book, a 64 page campaign guide, print out a 30 page stat book and know it all.

The monster stats were so ridiculously simple. It was so easy to level them up, level them down, or re-skin them. 

"Yes, my hentai pop-up book is nearly complete!"
2. The art of William O'Connor: Why does this man get overlooked so often? Wayne Reynolds, I know, is the guy. He seems to primarily do Pathfinder, but he did the major 4e books as well. Our man William quietly filled in everything else, pumping out piles of great art in a fresh modern style.

At the beginning of this article is his rendering of Orcus killing the Raven Queen with the shard of evil. It is awesome. Look to the right. That is a lich modifying a ritual book he stole from Bahamut the dragon god. It is also awesome. 

I like to think as time goes on, and the veterans of this edition war look back, they will come to appreciate how this man defined the look and feel of 4th edition. 

3. It was balanced: Yes! Yes it was! Anything that popped up, like Frostcheese or hybrid abuse, would be errata'd a few months later. But the scary thing was, at least in my experience, there really wasn't much imbalance to be dealt with. The biggest issue was the early monster math. The monsters did too little damage and had way too many hit points. The early epic tier adventures in particular suffered from this.

Any issues could be handled with minimal effort, and, by gum, you could take a character from 1st to 30th level and not have to deal with certain classes being more powerful than others. I know that concept is not for everybody. But I liked it, and the dozens of people I played with liked it too.

4. Poster maps: Here's what you do in 4th edition. You buy yourself an adventure, like, say, E3 Prince of Undeath. You roll out that poster map of Orcus' Chaos Ship, you put your heroes' minis on there, you fly through the abyss fighting demons and freak out because it is so awesome!

The Care Bears' home lies in ruins
Why did I run Lair Assaults? For the free poster maps. Look to the left. That is a floating temple, partially destroyed, hovering far above the world. Lightning energy crackles between it.

Your heroes, riding hippogriffs and pegasi must fight monsters while avoiding the lightning and plunging to their doom.

Yes, this fight will take an hour and a half. And you will love every minute of it.

5. The Deck of Many Things: In one of the final big releases of 4e, the boxed adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey, included an actual Deck of Many Things. I know it's been made by other companies before. And I know a different one was published in Dungeon Magazine which, I guess, you could bring to Office Depot and pay to have printed out...?

But here, we had an official, snazzy deck to use forever.

The Deck of Many Things has popped a few times in the games I've run and played in over the years. It truly is a campaign killer. I remember way back in 2nd edition drawing cards from it over and over, until I finally pulled the death card. I've always enjoyed random charts, like the wand of wonder, the wild magic table in the Tome of Magic. This is just a cool thing to own.

"Whoops - That's my gall bladder"
6. The Character Builder and Compendium: I don't know why, but it seems like whenever Wizards of the Coast announces stuff, they go a little overboard. When 4e was on the horizon, they made a lot of noise about all of the digital offerings they would have for us. Maybe, what, half came to fruition? 

Gleemax didn't work out. I understand that the online gaming table didn't last. But the builder and the compendium, for me, were resounding, thunderous successes. 

The builder literally let you make your character with all the info from all the books and the magazines right there. Just click on it. It saved so much time. It was so easy.

The Compendium made it so simple for me. I could look up any monster. When I was cooking up treasure, it was all right there, organized by level and type. The compendium alone was, for me as a DM, worth the monthly price of DDI.

7. The Scales of War Adventure Path: I always feel like this just doesn't get its' due. Yes, in 3.5, Age of Worms was awesome. Savage Tide was fantastic. The Pathfinder paths are incredible. I am dying to run Carrion Crown. But nobody ever talks about Scales of War.

This is a path about Tiamat and the githyanki invading the world! You go the astral sea! You go to The City of Brass! You fight Dispater! Bahamut is killed, and you try to bring him back to life. You fight Tiamat on a floating platform in her lair.

I know that the heroic tier adventures are shaky. They needed an editor to connect them all better. There's one or two adventures in there that are basically useless. But the second adventure is one of the best 4e adventures ever made. And The Mottled Tower was one of the coolest. 

"Guys - I think  have something in my eye."
This path also has the single best encounter I've ever run in any edition. Look to the left. That's the map of The Fortress of Three Sorrows. Yes, that is a stone head floating in the astral sea used as a githyanki base. Those chains connect to three earthmotes with ballistas on them.

Your heroes must attack this mote, which is full of githyanki, on an astral skiff. Githyanki riding red dragons fly out to attack as more githyanki open fire with their ballistas. And yes, since this is the astral sea, your heroes can fly up to meet them.

This took 3 hours to play out. Nobody was complaining. Because it was the most awesome thing ever done in 4th edition.

8. The D&D Encounters and Lair Assault programs: Encounters is run in a game store every week. The idea is to get people to try it, like it, and buy D&D stuff. Lair Assaults were for players looking for a challenge - cool encounters to show off what 4e could do.

Neither was perfect. I had very few players who could handle or enjoy the Lair Assaults. And some of the Encounters adventures were truly dull (Dark Sun, I am looking at you). 

But for me, there were a couple of benefits. First, I got free stuff. If you look on ebay, these things sell for $25 or more. And they're just cool to own. The poster maps can be used over and over.

The biggest boon, though, was that I got to meet so many awesome players to add to my "pool" for my home campaigns. You wouldn't believe the cool guys, the hot girls (yes that's right) and the fun people that I met and became friends with. 

9. The Epic Tier: When I first began playing D&D way back when, our 2nd edition characters started to become unwieldy at about 12th level. We had so much stuff, so many powers, that the DM just couldn't challenge us without handcuffing us.

I did not play much of 3e, but I have read many threads about people discussing the problems with high-level play.

In 4th edition, it was fixed. You can play all the way to 30. I had two groups do it. There was a problem with monster math, but that was easily fixed. I ran the Tiamat fight from Scales right out of the adventure, and it ran perfectly. It was challenging and deadly, but the players still got to use all their cool stuff.

10. Chris Perkins: He is "The Best DM in a Building Full of Good DMs." I am talking specifically about his column - The Dungeon Master Experience. As 4e was going on, he was running two games a week in his awesome Iomandra setting. And his columns were about what he learned both about 4e and about the art of being a dungeon master.

It was so useful. Because he was playing so much, he was working out the kinks of 4e faster than most. He began running just one set piece (tactical) encounter per session, and lots of little stuff. I followed suit. My players loved it. 

Yeah, you had to jury-rig stuff in order to run your games Perkins-style, but your night was suddenly full of less tactical combat and more of everything else that makes D&D so much fun. 

A few years back, Wizards did a thing where you could call their "DM Hotline" for a single day. I called. Guess who picked up? Chris Perkins! For one hour, he helped me work on my campaign. He was full of great ideas. He was a great listener. He is a very smart person.

So there you go. Again, I know 4th edition is not perfect. But it always pains me to see people go on about how bad my little buddy is. It has merit. It brought me great joy for many years. While I am thrilled with this new edition, I will always look back on 4th edition with great fondness.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Let's Read: Spelljammer Part 1

"Keep alert. That mind flayer could be anywhere"

Next year I plan on running a huge Spelljammer campaign using D&D Next (5th edition?) rules. I played Spelljammer a lot in the early 90's, but it's been a long time. I've decided I need to read the whole boxed set and get myself re-acquainted with it.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this. Spelljammer is not D&D with laser guns and space ships. It is wooden ships that fly through space through magic. There are gunpowder guns, but they're optional.

The set has two booklets, poster maps up the ying yang and a bunch of other kewl stuff. Let's do this!

"Your armpit fart noises shan't dissuade me"
Concordance of Arcane Space

The Jim Holloway cover is great. A space pirate guy is looting a necklace vial off a wounded mindflayer. The mind flayer is either clutching at his wound or reaching for his vibrissagauntlet to tear out the pirate's brain.

This is written by Jeff Grubb, who I met at a convention in the early 90's. He told me a story about how TSR almost trademarked the term "nazi".

Ad astra per aspera - "To the Stars through hardships"
- Latin proverb

The Foreward:

Jeff tells us that d&d space does not operate like outer space in our real world. "...the laws of Mordenkainen, Elminster, and Fistandantilus rather than Galileo, Newton and Einstein."

There's two books. Concordance of Arcane Space (lays out the rules for space travel, building ships, new spells, items, etc) and The Lorebook of the Void (races, monsters and weird things that can be encountered).

The box comes with full-color heavy sheets with deck plans and ship details. TSR loaded their boxed sets up back then with bonus stuff.

And there's a bunch of poster maps. One lays out the actual Spelljammer ship itself, which he calls "a huge, powerful ship of legend. It is the Flying Dutchman of the space lanes, the ultimate goal and dream of many a space pirate and adventurer."

There's a map of a space citadel.
There's an outer space hex grid! For ship-to-ship combat.
And a complicated-looking map of a typical solar system with planetary orbit diagrams.

Chapter 1: Arcane Space

There's two kinds of space: Wildspace and The Phlogiston.

The Phlogiston is a turbulent multi-colored gas. Little is known about it (except that if you cast fireball in it, you will kill your whole party).

Floating in the phlogiston are massive crystal spheres. Inside a crystal sphere is a universe. Wildspace is the vast emptiness that lies between the planets and the stars.

Celestial bodies

Planets, asteroids, a planetary mass. Most have a regenerating atmosphere. There are flat worlds, cubic worlds, ring-shaped worlds, maybe even a mobius world.

Some are suns, fueled by internal activity or links to the plane of fire. They often provide heat and warmth for the crystal sphere.


OK, this is a weird rule but essential: When you climb a mountain and the air gets thinner and thinner and finally, unbreatheable, your gravity creates an air envelope around you. The envelope is small, however. You'll exhaust the air in your envelope in 2d10 turns (a turn is 10 minutes).

If you're on a large vessel, then you're inside the vessel's air envelope and thus there's a lot more air for you to breathe. Ships need to be a least 100 feet in length to be able to provide air for a crew.


Attracts from both top and bottom.

If you fall off a ship, you will oscillate back and forth across the plane of gravity. You'll bob up and down.

The Helm

A helm is what powers a spelljamming vessel. It's a magical device that converts mystical energy into motive force. Often, a helm is a magic throne. A spellcaster sits on it and flies the ship (and loses all his or her spells for the day!).

Crystal Shells

Usually a sphere has a radius twice as big as the orbital radius of the outermost celestial body in the system. Because they're so big, the outside of a crystal sphere looks perfectly flat.

The spheres are made of unbreakable ceramic material. No spells work on them, except for spells that cause portals to open in them. They're immune to wishes and the wills of planar powers!

Five ways to get from one side of a crystal shell to the other:

1. Teleport or Dimension door past it.

2. A phase door spell allows the ship to become immaterial, and can pass through the shell.

3. The crystal shells have naturally occurring portals which appear at random.

4. Sometimes, stars embedded on the inside of the shell are portals which reach through to the outside. "Stars" are often affixed to the interior wall of a crystal shell, and sometimes they turn out to be weird things like geysers of unstable energy or "great cities inhabited by alien creatures".

5. The legendary Spelljammer and space dragons (~!) seem to have an innate ability to open portals through (SPACE DRAGONS!!)

The Phlogiston

Has varying thicknesses, and forms dense rivers. The denser the river, the faster your ship can move.

It's very flammable. We get a chart that shows us how big the explosion is if you light a candle, a lantern, a cooking fire, etc. If you cast a fireball spell, it has three times the size and the effect. And the fireball is centered on the caster, as it ignites at the very first spark.

Most phlogiston rivers flow in both directions, so you can go back the same way you came.

The spheres containing Toril (Forgotten Realms), Krynn (Dragonlance) and Oerth (Greyhawk) form a triangle. Elminster could go hang out with some kender. Lord Robilar could go beat up Driz'zt, maybe.

Breathing in Space

For each ton a ship weighs equals 100 cubic yards of space, which is enough air for one human-sized crewmember for 4 to 8 months (!). A 30 ton ship can support 30 crew. Pretty neat.

Air Quality

There's three classes of air quality:

1. Fresh Air: Breathable and succulent. Air on a vessel remains fresh for four months.

2. Fouled Air: Humid, smells bad. This happen after 4 months of fresh air. You now have -2 to hit and skill checks!

3. Deadly Air: Depleted, cannot support life. This happens in month 9. Anyone stuck in this deadly air must save vs. poison. First failure means you pass out. Second failure - you die.

We are given a couple handy ways to figure out if air should deplete faster than normal. Like if there's 25% more people on board than there should be.

Your air is replenished when you enter a larger air envelope, like one of a planet. If your fresh air ship comes close to a deadly air ship, you lose weeks of fresh air, The bigger the other ship, the more you lose.

In the phlogiston, when you succumb to deadly air, you don't die. You lapse into suspended animation. Your flesh turns gray and stone-like. You can be revived with fresh air. That is really cool.

Matters of Gravity

Anything 25 feet long or bigger has enough gravity to attract other objects (insert penis joke here). Gravity extends the same distance as your air envelope.


If you fall overboard, you bob up and down, "falling" down, then up, then down. Slowly, you end up hovering weightless on the horizontal plane of gravity - but you are slowly pushed out to the edge of the gravity plane (and the air envelope). You'd then be pushed out into wildspace and your own gravity plane would kick in, so you can float out there and breathe for about 20 minutes and then die.

This is good to know: If you're floating next to your ship, and the ship turns, there is no relative motion. You don't turn, too. The ship would just smack into you.


If you fall uncontrollably more than one mile, you can heat up and ignite from friction with the air (become a shooting star)!

Weightless Combat

Penalty of 6 to initiative and -2 to hit. When you shoot arrows and ranged attacks in space, the projectile just keeps going forever. Extreme ranged attacks with a bow have a -10 to hit.


Most Wildspace has a temperature equivalent to a "moderate summer day".

Sidebar - Ships have a gravity plane that runs through horizontal axis of the ship. So this means you can stand on the bottom of your ship when it flies through space.

You could build a ship with a deck on top and on bottom, but it is "human nature" to make it like a boat (Plus, most spelljammers need to land in water).

Also, when two large bodies meet in space, the larger gravity plane takes over.

Multi-Sphere Churches: Most gods only have influence in a few crystal spheres. The wording is a bit confusing here.. I think the cleric doesn't have access to spells above second level. There's details on a faction too..

The Polygots: They worship an entire pantheon rather than a specific deity.

Perverts Run Amok

I have three games going, now:

(Mondays) Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG

(Wednesdays) D&D Encounters

(Fridays) The Shadow Pantheon (D&D Next)

I discuss the DCC RPG game here. Encounters, I'll get back to you once I've actually read the new adventure (which, yes, I have to pay for). Today I'd like to talk about The Shadow Pantheon.

The idea of this campaign is steeped in the events of previous games. The gist of it is that there's this evil god Zev (all of the gods of my campaign are former characters who ascended) who wants to plunge the world into eternal night. He's assisted by a bunch of zombie gods, demon lords and primordials. Our heroes are trying to stop Zev's agents in the massive city of Olwynn.

My idea is to connect a whole bunch of "old school" published adventures together and link them all to this overarching plot. I knew I wanted this to end with the Labyrinth of Madness, Monte Cook's 2nd edition adventure which is said to be "the most difficult adventure ever made". I love the idea of my players braving killer dungeons, one after another, honing their skills and surviving hideous, ridiculous traps, all of which will get them ready for an adventure I have waited 20 years to run.

Here is the art I had commissioned of Zev and his Shadow Pantheon:

From left to right: Shar (Forgotten Realms goddess killed by Zev), Piranoth (bad guy from Revenge of the Giants), Timesus (bad guy from The Orcus 4e path), Orcus (killed in said Orcus path), Aoskar (from the Planescape setting) and Zev, wielding the wand of orcus.

I did a lot of reading and was finally able to settle on which adventures I'd run. Many of them will be "abridged", as in, I'm cutting them down to the 10-15 best rooms. Time is precious, after all!

I started with the Dungeon of the Bear, a truly zany old school dungeon featuring cursed items, pirahna pools and a crossbow the size of a tractor trailer.

The first session recap is here. I kept the dirty stuff vague, but maybe don't click on it if you're easily offended.

I have had a weird phenomenon develop over the years. I find that sexual stuff adds a lot to the game. Especially in a group with males, females, straight and gay, like mine are. I have been exceptionally lucky to find great players with vastly different lifestyles to play with.

So over the last 6 years or so, the perverted stuff has gotten more and more pervasive and ridiculous. It boiled over in my Skull & Shackles game and finally jumped the shark with me. I am hesitant to even tell you the things that went on in those games. It was done amidst much laughter and light-heartedness, but in that pirate game we pretty much plumbed the depths and then some.

The filthiest pirates in The Shackles
By the end of the campaign, it was all about making sweet, sweet love to anyone and anything. The modules were almost the backdrop for it. And that was not cool, as those modules are awesome. Skull & Shackles is without a doubt one of the best series of RPG books I have ever read. It is a fantastic campaign.

So once that was done, I worked with my players to tone it down. And now, with The Shadow Pantheon, I was ready to fire up a truly epic, back-to-the-basics game of Dungeons and Dragons which heavily featured - Dungeons to explore and Dragons to kill.

I am blessed to have many players to choose from. So for this campaign I grabbed my two favorite players, George and Jessie. And then I decided to bring in two newbies I'd met at work, both female. I'd told them about my games and they wanted in. Cool right?

They'd heard about the dirty stuff. They liked it. And what I got was one character who was literally Robert Downey, jr. As in, he somehow got transported from earth to my world of Nyrod. And... a transgendered cleric who shifted sexes each day, but always had a penis.

OK, well, there's lots of possibilities there, right? Now obviously these concepts could end up just too silly. I always remind myself that every time someone makes a silly character in one of my campaigns, after a few sessions the joke wears thin and they either make a new guy, or they start playing their silly guy serious. One of the greatest characters in the real life 23-year history of my world is Penn Silverfist, whose original name was "Natas Silvernuts". Yes. "Satan" backwords.

This session was full of breast-milk distribution, and absolutely obscene methods of clerical healing which could not merit an R rating.

After the session I decided to pare down the group to just George and Jessie. The newbs are great people, very fun to hang around and drink with. But I am dead-set on running a more traditional game.

We should start back up next friday. I'll tell you more as we get closer.