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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Scourge of the Sword Coast: Laptops and Magic Items

Z is for the Zombies in 13b!
I just got back from the game store. I ran another session of Scourge of the Sword Coast. Quite exhausting! There are big time spoilers in here, so proceed at your own peril.

As usual, I waited until just a few hours before game time to prepare Floshin Manor, the final 'dungeon' of this adventure. There's not exactly a big build-up for this. And the manor isn't anything special, either. Firehammer Hold was much cooler.

I've been leveling my players slower, as they wanted to keep their PCs from legacy of the crystal shard at least through this season. But now that I know that the next season is level 6, I suddenly need to bump them up! Encounters players really hate having to start over at level one all the time, so this next season is already exciting to them.

I leveled everyone to level 5. None of them can do this on their own, because they don't read their packets or do anything outside of this session. Leveling up is easy: hit points, maybe a new spell, maybe a bonus, and one thing. It is really nice.

The thief now has an ability called Evasion, where she can take half damage once per round. That is great. The fighters and paladins now have two attacks per round, which they loved. The two attacks worked extremely well, it wasn't overpowered somehow. It just made the fights snappier. And the clerics got level 3 spells - mass healing word heals up to 6 people for d8+2! Nice.

The group is almost entirely made up of high school kids. It really does feel like I am running an after school club. Their attention spans are pretty bad. I have started letting two of them use their laptops while we play. Yes, this means they don't pay attention but it also keeps them from being a distraction.

This is something I would never allow in a home game, but I don't consider encounters a "real" game. Unfortunately, when I looked at my players tonight, I saw three that are really mature and into the game. I kind of think the laptop deal bothers them. It almost feels like maybe I am letting them down, and am not giving them the best game experience possible by essentially giving up on two of the players. On the other hand, nobody is punching anyone in the arm or savaging bathroom walls.

The actual encounters were very dry. Fight after fight after fight. I tried to dress it up a bit but it still felt a bit stale.

One player decided to have his character get drunk off of a barrel of dwarven beer found in the Swan's Nest/Crypt area. I declared he was intoxicated, a condition that gave him disadvantage on just about every roll. He soon after ended up drunk in a combat, pinned to the ground by a portcullis while a gnoll tried to cut his head off. The most brutal part about the portcullis trap was that if you fail the save by five or more, you take more damage.. 18 damage! Poor guy had disadvantage and thus rolled real low on his save.

Our heroes found some cool items. They found a bag of holding, which they were insanely pumped up about. They were asking me if they could climb in and be carried around, prompting me to tell them some bag of holding stories from other campaigns. They also found a cloak of elvenkind, which is kind of odd. If the wearer is 20 feet away from other people, she can put up the hood and get a bonus to her stealth. I guess she's predator-invisible? I don't know, felt a little wacky to me. Why not let her just be invisible? She can appear when she attacks.

I have some serious issues with this manor map. I brought dungeon tiles this week to help depict it. The map is ridiculously complex with a million different entry points. The PCs could have theoretically taken stairs right down to the final fight, skipping two levels of dungeon (i.e. TWO HOURS OF PREP WORK). Our heroes are going level by level, though, so we didn't get nearly as far as I thought we would. The heroes got into Floshin manor, killed some gnolls, a dread warrior, shadows and zombies. I made sure to try to emphasize the cool elven magic in the manor: Elven command words can be used to clean the bathroom and summon water from the nearby waterfall to come out of a tap. The water's temperature can be magically adjusted. That's a cool touch that I think gets PCs thinking about putting magic stuff in their own home.

The adventurers got to the master bedroom, where a pair of grues are supposed to ambush them. They found the magic items in there, and they were so excited that the session kind of screeched to a halt as I fielded a million questions about magic items. Honestly it was the best part of the whole night. It is nice to play D&D people who are new to the game. Everything is fresh to them.

Overall I'd say this was an OK session. This Floshin Manor, though... kind of sucks! It feels too similar to some of the other ones. I would have liked the final dungeon to have been something really cool. Floshin Manor is pretty much the most bland of them all.

Oh well, almost time for the Doomvault. Can't wait!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Spelljamming to Greyhawk

Y is for YOINK
I ran another session of Dungeon Crawl Classics last night. The rundown is here.

I had been up for 24 hours straight when I ran it, which is always a little odd. Honestly I think I DM better in that condition. I'm much looser and off-the-cuff.

Our heroes busted into a dragon's lair which was also formerly the hidden vault of a lost wizard. I was able to work in the weird device depicted in that drawing from the Campagin Guide & Catacomb Sourcebook which we talked about the other day.

I couldn't wait for them to check it out because I wanted to see their reaction to the 6-armed lady with 4 breasts. She was the wizard's cousin, see. She explained that the wizard trapped her in that thing because "he didn't want anyone else to have me." Cue the horrified roars. Ahh I was so amused.

The device had three traps which had to be disabled in succession: darts, spinning blades, and spears. A PC actually was killed by a single dart. Quite an eventful little encounter.
This thing shot darts that killed Jax the Thief.

Now they have this blue/green alien lady with 6 arms who is related to a major NPC with them. I'll have to figure out what weird little powers she has. 

I found a massive, incredible map online. A guy made a map of all the crystal spheres (universes) in all published D&D Spelljammer products. Then, he looked online and found every fan-made sphere that he could and he put them all on one map!

So I was looking it over. I'd always had my crystal sphere, NyrodSpace, in the "Radiant Triangle" where Clusterspace is. There's a few reasons for this:

- When I was 14 years old, I ran a campaign where soldiers from Greyspace flew on winged space wolves to aid our heroes in a war. I had officially declared Greyspace to be close to my sphere in my own continuity.

The connecting lines are river paths
- ClusterSpace is the sphere described in the boxed set "The Astromundi Cluster". It is gigantic. Reading it wuld be a huge undertaking. I never thought I'd use it, so I saw little harm in just saying my sphere was in its' place, nicely close to Greyhawk, Dragonlance, and the Forgotten Realms.

It's been that way for many years of real life time. But when I was looking at this map, I spotted... my sphere. This person who I don't know at all found my sphere online and placed it on this map!

How awesome is that?

So I thought about it and decided that I could explain away how my sphere moved (long, boring-but-plausible campaign story). In my next D&D Next campaign, the heroes will be assembling the rod of seven parts, whose pieces are spread out in many different universes. I want them to go to the city of Greyhawk to get a piece.

Greyhawk is no longer a quick trip across the rainbow river. Now it is months and months of travel time away. To get to greyhawk, our heroes will need to pass through some extremely dangerous places - some from official products, and some from home-brewed settings. I have done my best to dig up the material.

The numbers are the amount of days it takes to travel
The journey begins with a 16 day trip through the rainbow river known as the phlogiston. Then the adventurers will have to pass through Tidespace, a fan-made universe which has quite a bit of material.

Tidespace: The universe is a massive whirlpool with 7 world-sized turtles swimming in it. On each of their backs is an "island" whch constitutes a planet. The "sun" is in the mouth of a giant otter who swims along the perimeter of the whirlpool. How awesome is that? Can you imagine flying a magic ship over that?

GolotSpace: This sphere is detailed in the module Under the Dark Fist. The worlds in it are ruled by Dragon Barons who were humbled by the emporer of the Vodonoi - a massive empire of SPACE WEREWOLVES.

Zalanispace: This sphere is also from Under the Dark Fist. It is inhabited by black, fearsome gargoyles known as the Zalani. They are peaceful. They are shipbuilders for the Vodonoi.

Gimlunspace: I can't find any info on this one. I will probably use the Spelljammer Crystal Sphere Generator, a program that simulates the sphere-making charts from the actual spelljammer books. The one I generated is a universe where "stars are illusory cities on the inside of the crystal shell."

Then our heroes will have to pass through a space-cloud known as THE WEIRD. What does it do? I have no idea. Googling "Spelljammer weird" doesn't exactly produce helpful results.

Falxspace: I believe this sphere is somewhat detailed in Practical Planetology. There's a world called Falx which has "hundreds of tarrasque-like creatures roaming in packs". Uhhh yikes. It's also a place ruled by mindflayers.

Ilsisinespace: This is another mindflayer sphere, I believe created by a fan. Not a lot of info. I will probably use a lot of material from the great Illithiad supplement to flesh this out.

Redeyes: This sphere is mentioned in a sidebar in Ed Greenwood's great Lost Ships supplement. It is a "huge sphere dominated by a pair of large, deep red fire worlds" which look like evil eyes peering at you from the darkness. Awesome. Humans and mindflayers are at war here. How the hell are our heroes going to survive this?

Stormspace: Once gain my google-fu is weak. I assume there's some kind of sphere-wide magic storm or something. A click on the random sphere generator gives me.. "Stars are pools of sun rays along the interior of the crystal shell.

Wildspace Conditions:
- temperatures cool at the outer edge, warmer towards the center
- space storms"

Space storms! Well how do you like that?

From there it is 38 days to Greyhawk. Then our heroes can land, and I am thinking they will have to make an expedition into the legendary Castle Greyhawk to gain the piece of the rod of seven parts.

All in all it will be somewhere around a 230 day journey. Two hundred and thirty days! It should be pretty epic.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Very Best Spelljammer Magic Items

X is for.. XTERMINATION.. yeah, I know..
On Friday, Wizards of the Coast posted a Q&A video about the new edition, featuring Mike Mearls, Rodney Thompson and the great Chris Perkins. Stuff that caught my attention:

- There are downtime "mini-games". As in, when your heroes stop in town to make magic items, there's a few rolls to make, stuff like that. There's also little rules for building a keep or "going on a crime spree".
- Rodney is a big fan of Al Qadim. That is cool.
- There is a magic wild surge random table where you could end up accidentally summoning a bunch of angry flumphs! That sounds great, I loved the wild magic table from the Tome of Magic.
- There is going to be art for a lot of the classic magic items

This got me thinking that it was time to look at the Spelljammer magic items. In order for us to become authorities on all thing Spelljammer-related, we're going to have to dig deep. We've gotten a grip on the monsters... well... most of them...

I was reading a blog by Spelljammer designer Jeff Grub. He pointed out that clockwork horrors are just re-skinned Daleks from Dr. Who. I had no idea. And I also realized I didn't include the clockwork horrors in any of my Spelljammer monster blog posts! They deserved to be in there. They are awesome. So here they are:

Clockwork Horrors

They are "viruses" meant to destroy the crystal spheres. They are made of different types of metal. They are immune to all sorts of stuff, especially electricity.

They were made by a foolish race of "Lost Ones". The horrors mission i simple: To survive. All living things are a threat to them.

When they land on a world, over the course of 250 years they strip the world of all resources.

Copper Horrors: The weakest version. They do menial labor.
Silver Horrors: The warriors. They have buzzsaws and can shoot darts.
Electrum Horrors: Commanders. Has a bigger buzzsaw and can shoot steam-jetted darts.
Gold Horrors: There's only one of these per planet. Has a sharp razor and can shoot lightning every other round.
Platinum Horrors: There are one of these per crystal sphere. It shoots bigger lightning.
The Adamantite Horror: There is only one. It is cold and calculating. It has a razor and "the nightmare stick" (no penis wart jokes, people, come on now) - it shoots a disintegrate beam every round. Every round!

Before we begin our thorough examination of SPACE MAGIC ITEMS~ I'd just like to point out that I can't wait to sarcastically read the boxed text to my players from the adventure anthology Skull & Crossbows. The late, great Nigel Findley had a penchant for going a bit overboard with his intro flavor text, complete with blatantly telling the PCs how they feel and what they say. Here's an example:

"You’re starting to think that this adventuring in space isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Whatever happened to meeting interesting new people for informative and stimulating conversation? It seems that everyone you’ve met lately, every ship you’ve encountered, has wanted to attack you. No “Pleased to meet you, where are you from?” Just “Fire the catapults and board them!”


“Battle stations!” you yell. “Again . . . ” you sigh.


Space turtle in an asteroid field? "Battle Stations... again! Sigh."
We're gonna list these mothers by sourcebook. I had heard that there were two spelljammer artifacts - yep! - in a Dragon magazine article, so those will be the main event of this blog post. Wow.. in the tradition of the rod of seven parts, the eye of Vecna and the deck of many things, I wonder what crazy crap they made for Spelljammer. Take a look with me, won't you, pal?

War Captain's Companion:

Neverending Barrel of Grog: Mmmm. Grog. Watered-down rot-gut rum. The barrel remains empty until tapped, at which time it dispenses grog until you stop the tap. "After the fifth glass in an hour's time, an imbiber must roll a Constitution check with each glass or pass out". You fall asleep for 2d8 hours and can't be wakened.

Neverending Barrel of Salt Pork: You can take 100 pounds of salted pork per day (feeding 50 crewmen). Snap into a Slim Jim!

Basket of Devouring: It's basically a garbage can, except that the stuff you throw in it eventually disappears (5% chance every ten minutes). Rumor has it these items are shifted to the astral plane, where the Arcane sift through it for valuables and information.

The HOLD OF HOLDING: Yeah!! A magic door knocker that is placed on a door inside a ship. Do a special knock and say a secret word and poof, the door opens into an interdimensional space to store your crap in. If you steal the knocker and put it on a door in your ship, you can access all that stuff. Crazy. Players could do all sorts of zany stuff with it.
Guys.. I think they're doing it.
Lantern of Spying: Allows you to hear the voices of everyone on the ship. It even has a volume knob. Good for paranoid captains!

The Plank: When you walk this plank, it extends all the way out of your ship's air bubble. Each step you take magically sends you four steps closer to he edge - where you will end up floating in space until your air runs out.

Statue of Power (Old Salt): These are statues that can become people when a magic word is spoken. Here's two of my favorites:

- Swabbie with Bucket: I imagine him as a paunchy smelly pirate with a big belly. He cleans the ship, 5 feet per round, and doesn't stop until he's done or he DIES.

This will serve me well on those lonely nights at sea.
- Pirate with Peg Leg: ..."When this statue is activated, all enemies aboard the ship must roll a save vs spell or be forced to dance the pirate's jig for d6 rounds." Nuff said, true believer! Excelsior!

This reminds me of an Al Qadim NPC I had named Shipboard Pete (he was basically a ripoff of the sailor guy from the Simpsons). His gimmick was that every adventure he'd lose another body part. So by the end he had two peg legs and two peg-arms with hooks on the end. He had this secret story where his brother was cursed to become a shark, and endlessly followed Pete and bit him whenever he went overboard.

Lost Ships: (By our good buddy Ed Greenwood!)

Anti-Magic Egg: Jeez. This is a bit much. It's a one-use magic egg that forces all magic with 30 feet to save or be drained. It drains ship helms (which are the thrones that power spelljamming ships) for about an hour. Spellcasters lose a random spell. You're looking at a player riot if you drop one of these on them.

Crown of the Void: A magic crown that replenishes your personal air, so you could drift alone in space indefinitely without losing oxygen. You can expand this bubble up to a 90 foot radius.. So basically, your ship will never lose air or get fouled air. Powerful!

Gemsword: These were made by ancient space elves. They are +4 (!) weapons made of electric-blue metal. They gather light energy and once per day (Ed actually did the "144 turns" thing again!) can make a POWER STRIKE - it can do one hull point of damage to a ship or do 3d4 damage to a person plus magically confuse them.. for 12 rounds.

It also has 2 or 3 powerstones which have powers like, oh I don't know, shoot lightning bolts, teleport without error and give you regeneration.

Did he actually give these out in his campaign? These things are ridiculously powerful.

The Astromundi Cluster:

Always a full parking lot at make-out spacedock
- It's made from shadowstone that flickers with cold white flames.. It's a +2 weapon that can destroy clothes (!) or non-magic armor when it hits (magic stuff gets a save..!). Save or be nude.
- If exposed to sunlight, its' flames go red and five times per day the wielder can fire a 30 foot long beam of energy for d10 fire. This bypasses all resistances.

See now, this is how you do a magic sword. Ed Greenwood went way overboard with the gemswords, although they are very cool. The soulblade has really cool flavor without being a game-breaker.

Heart of the Enemy:

Dragon Flag: Check this out. When this flag is raised, it causes the ship to appear as an immense three-headed multi-colored dragon! It's an illusion, lasts one hour per day.

And now we get to the artifacts! Let's see what they made for us...

Dragon Magazine #159:

Blackjammer's Cutlass:

- The hilt is carved to look like a sailor being keelhauled
- The blade is made of a non-reflective black substance
- Gives +2 to AC(!) and +2 to hit/damage
- The sword is intelligent and can speak Common and Elvish. The sword demands piracy be undertaken, and is known to be "singing bawdy sea chanties and telling ribald jokes that make even a sailor blush". Wow... must use this sword in my next campaign!!
- Over time the wielder may talk like the sword "...repeatedly saying 'Arg!' to himself'". I guess they mean "Arrrrr"
- The sword is said to be adrift in the Phlogiston between OerthSpace (Greyhawk) and KrynnSpace (Dragonlance).

Gauntlet of Tamus:

- Can create an explosion three times per day like a fireball without flames, doing 5-40 damage to all adjacent opponents. ..the wearer takes half damage. Well.. ok then.

Final verdict: One is awesome, one is kind of half-finished. Blackjammer's Cutlass, get in my campaign! See you tomorrow, my trusty compadre.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Why You Must Keep A Campaign Journal

Pigtails and a bathing suit, huh?
OK people, today we're going to talk about why you should maintain a journal of what happens in your games. I am sort of obsessed with this, so I plan on using all of my political skills to manipulate you into keeping an online record (partly so I can read them and steal your good ideas).

You will notice that this post is littered with black and white art from the Campaign Sourcebook & Catacomb Guide. In the real world, cool guys with thick glasses and tattoos of anchors call it the "CSCG" and they're already bored with it. Me, I think it is a great book to read while you're going to the bathroom.

I especially love the art, most of which is by the severely-underrated Thomas Baxa. His stuff in this has humor and a sense of fun.. though one or two of these drawings are a bit insulting. 
Must use this device in an adventure! What is it, though?

You spent all this time working on it. You ran it. And in a month, nobody is going to remember much of anything. Future adventures may build on the past. If you can't recall certain details, then everything is going to get messed up. A campaign journal allows you to to preserve your own continuity, and provides a resource for your players. You can all look at it and feel a sense of accomplishment: "This is the story that we created". The players can also sift through it for clues as to any secrets in the campaign.

But, uh, don't expect your players to look at it. Do it mostly for you. Because there's a very, very good chance they will never look at it at all. Years later, you may get an email out of the blue from a former player who tells you he just read through them and laughed his face off. And that kind of makes it all worth it.

Details can be deceptive. I suggest typing up your summary as soon after your session as you can. Running a game is mentally draining. You might need to wait until the next day, but don't wait too long or you may lose some details.

A DM working on his campaign... uh... really, guys?
Keep each entry short and to the point. As you are typing the summary, it may feel like every detail is important. But then when you look back, not so much. An example of what I think is a good summary would be Shannon Appelcline's Actual Play threads on They are fun to read, they are concise, and they make you want to play D&D. Pretty good!

You should most definitely put out of game stuff in your summaries. As in, funny jokes, what good food that was eaten, stuff like that. Years later when you look back, these things will make you laugh. This is not just a log of a story you created, this is also a record of the fun times you had with your friends. The goofy stuff is probably even more important than the adventure story stuff. One of my summaries has photos of a goofy player sitting at the table covered in a blanket while we are all playing like it's normal. He was a weird guy. The picture always makes me laugh.
The wizard has a propeller hat?? Why is there blood on the horns?
If you truly want an accurate account of your games, you may want to invest in a digital recording device. I use an Olympus WS-400S digital voice recorder. Just put it on the table and hit record. Make sure your players know that this recording is not going to be posted online. When it's over, plug it in to your computer (it has a built-in USB) and transfer the file over.

During the game, when something funny happens or there's a good quote or scene, jot down the time it happened on a piece of paper. Then, after the game, you can skip to that part in the recording and get an accurate account of what happened. You can type up exact dialogue quotes from pivotal scenes. Plus, if everybody is laughing, it is very fun to listen to. You'll hear jokes you may have missed or forgotten about.

Rules Lawyer runs roughshod in the days before online errata
I bought my recorder in 2008 for $60. From what I am seeing on ebay, you can get one now for $20-$30. If you are serious about your game, this is a great investment. Just don't be a weirdo and record people secretly like my boss used to do.

As far as where to post your summaries, Obsidian Portal was literally built for this purpose. You could also set up a free site at or some other provider.

This may sound like a lot of work, but it could boil down to an hour a week. If you're a DM and you are into what you are doing, you are probably spending a lot more than an hour a week on your game already anyway.

The summary is the result of all your efforts. Just getting people together to play one time is an accomplishment. A finished summary really can make you proud, and give you the drive to continue to improve and make each game even better.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Great Spelljammer D&D Next Playtest

I usually run a D&D Next game for two players every Friday, but one couldn't make it tonight. I cooked up a special solo scenario for the other player - we were going to try out some Spelljammer stuff using D&D Next rules!

Let me warn you, this post has dirty stuff in it. That is correct my trusty companion, we explored Ed Greenwood's "Bedwarmers and Willing-arms". Explored them thoroughly!

She runs a male dragonborn fighter named "Mu Yung" who wields a soul-sucking sword called diamond death. She is a veteran of Skull & Shackles, as well as the early 4e adventures and of course she was the player who seduced the bad guy to create a certain Sperm Blade. As is the custom, we both wore pajama pants for the occasion.

I dropped the side quest hook on her full force and in seconds Mu Yung had paid a spelljamming ship captain to take him to an asteroid which was a few days away. The galleon was crewed by grommams (kimono-wearing ape men who spoke in sign language), as well as a SPACE SAGE, a space pirate and a space babe with big hair and face paint.
It's like a go-bot
Those clear dice are SPECIAL DICE~
They'd barely left the planet when a scro ship attacked. If you remember, scro are literate space orcs. I like the scro, but wow... their ship is a little goofy looking. It looks like a toy. The preying mantis arms are meant to hook on to the ship so the scro can board.

I did very simple conversions, basically reversing the armor classes and keeping the to-hits the same. A galleon has 40 "hull points" (hit points) and the scro mantis has 60, so this was not a fair fight. But it was just a test and I would have an elven ship jump in to help Mu if things got scary.

She agreed that the scro ship looked sort of stupid. She also added that she didn't like the name "scro". I asked why."Scrotum." Oh. Now they're ruined.

The elves are sort of the police of space in spelljammer. They are known as the Elven Imperial Fleet, and they hate the scro. My findings:

The ships are too slow: With an SR of 2, the ships move 2 hexes (if you want to turn your ship, that costs 1 hex). Encounters start with the ships 11-20 hexes away from each other. The range on the ballistas is about 4 hexes. So yeah, it's a little slow and awkward.

Too little damage: Ballistas do d3 damage and fire once every 3 rounds! The scro ship has 60 hull points. That's an awful lot of back and forth. It seemed pointless not to just board, as it seems like the fights would get dull. I am thinking of bumping it up to d8 damage, though she thinks that is too high. It was also quickly apparent that book-keeping was necessary to know when you could fire your weapons again. It was trickier than expected. Maybe it would be easier to just get rid of re-load times.

The critical hit chart is awesome: The expanded threat range and the crit effects really add a lot of realism and excitement. A critical hit in ship-to-ship is a big deal. The galleon was hit with a critical, and one of the ballistas was destroyed.

Facing confusion: I couldn't tell if a ship could only move in the direction it is facing. What made me wonder were the rules on moving backwards (up to 2 hexes). I guess that means you can't "shift" sideways in a spelljammer?

Overall, it was OK. She seemed to like it. It was so different that it felt pretty fun, even in "test" mode. It has a slower "Star Trek" ship fight feel. 

The Elves bailed out Mu and the galleon. One of the elves used one of those gadabout vine things that sprouts wings to fly on to the galleon. She definitely liked that and wanted one for the Mu-man. The spelljammer elven plant-items are very cool.

The galleon stopped off at an asteroid settlement for repairs. Oh hey look, there just happens to be a "festhall" over there! What are the chances?! Utilizing all that I've learned from Ed Greenwood's extensive efforts, Mu Yung was soon over-whelmed by the wide variety of supple companions.

A day later, the galleon flew toward its' destination. Along the way, the ship ran into some scavvers and spaceworms. What I like about these creatures is that they don't automatically attack. The weaker scavvers just scrounge for food and are a nuisance. The spaceworms actually have a chart that you roll on to see what they do. I rolled a 4, which meant that they landed on crates and began to wither and die. How weird!

I realize now that I should have portrayed the crew getting rid of the bodies of the scavvers and spaceworms, as that could be a real problem on a ship.

The Galleon at last reached its' destination - an asteroid with a weird magic garden. The asteroid was being colonized by gnomes who had built lots of tubes for their giant space hamsters.

She wanted a space hamster as a pet. She also met a SPACE OWL who became an ally.

We did some stuff with the garden and the godspawn (also taken from the Ed Greenwood archive) and wrapped up the session. I decided against running another ship fight against a gnomish sidewheeler, partly because I felt that the rules needed tweaking, and partly because it fired globes full of black pudding which seemed like it would be time-consuming.

Overall: We both liked it and feel we could definitely jump in to a whole Spelljammer campaign. I really look forward to handing the players a ship full of fun NPCs and let them cut loose, but there will definitely be some tweaking involved. I would like to have at least one ship battle per session, but as it is right now it seems like it would get tedious.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Ladies of the Night in the Forgotten Realms

V is for VAULT... as in, THE DOOMVAULT
Heads up, partner. This blog post is about "ladies of the evening", if you know what I mean. The more you scroll down, the dirtier this post gets.

It looks like I'll be testing out some Spelljammer D&D Next stuff tomorrow night, we'll see how that goes.

The great Dungeons Master site has all the news on the new D&D Encounters adventure. Here's some of what we learned:

- It's a mega dungeon. Awesome.
- The PCs start at 6th level. This means my players get to keep using their characters! Thank you!
- Free cool black dice for everybody! YUSS
The Anti-Life Equation?
This has got me very excited about Encounters, which is... some kind of miracle.

I become darkly amused when I read how this dungeon can be run with multiple groups going through it at the same time. I can barely get one table of Encounters running at my store. Nobody... and I mean nobody... wants to DM the Encounters program around here except me. Personally I'd much rather DM than play, but apparently I'm in the minority.

Ed Greenwood's online archive continues to be a treasure trove of ideas useful for any D&D campaign. His list of nicknames for prostitutes is so long it goes beyond parody. It is unreal how much thought was put into this.

I also found some other cool stuff, like: 

Godspawn: These are plants that contain the essence of the deities. If allowed to fully grow, they can become spare bodies for the gods. What a cool idea. Maybe there's a hidden godspawn garden somewhere, with empty bodies sitting in huge pea pods.

"...both Eldath and Silvanus have spawned spare bodies for themselves in the form of various plants that remain small, exquisitely-shaped, never-dying (no matter how abused or neglected) specimens unless or until either deity sees the need for a new avatar-body in Faerûn - - whereupon they manifest within the plants, able to see, speak, cast spells, and so on normally as the plant swiftly expands in size and grows human-like limbs.

At any given time, either deity will have over forty of these 'proto-bodies' waiting, all over Faerûn, and some of them may well be found and "harvested" for houseplant use thanks to their superb appearances and vigor. They may never see divine use, and possession of them gives a being no power over, or direct link to, the deities at all - - but the deities can sense what happens to each of these plants, nd can travel into any of them at will, either perceiving, speaking, and casting spells through it (which need not affect its appearance at all), or actually possessing it (which will cause it to grow and transform).

So PCs beware: while leaning over your potted plants, don't murmur any curses against Eldath or Silvanus - - or you may taste retribution."

The Thareea: You've probably asked yourself, how do adventurers wipe themselves? Ed has you covered:

Question: "What do adventurers do for the wiping of the behind when deep into a dungeon or similar areas? No leaves, no vinegar, no moss... hummm... what about my cloak of protection +3?"

Ed replies: "Adventurers typically carry along (in a belt pouch, or sometimes strapped to boots [under the cuffs of turned-down bucket-top boots, for instance]) a thareea (the scented brown bum-wiping cloths, for those who missed my earlier replies) folded and wrapped in an oiled-innards leather pouch.

Wipe with just one side of it, fold it up around that soiled side, and rinse (in a pool, stream downstream from where drinking water's taken) or wipe (on grass, for example) it clean, the first chance they get - - and wash it properly as soon as they can."

Amazing. I can't even... wow. And now we come to the main event! Your game will never be the same!!

Can we not...?
 "...what are specifically Realmsian terms for prostitutes? I don't mean the specialty... ah... ladies... such as Calimport's bearded entertainers..."

Cue record scratch noise. Bearded entertainers?! Are they talking about bearded dwarven women?? WHAT

"...(whom you have already dealt with at length).."


"...but the everyday, run-of-the-mill sex professional. Also, are there specific "terms of art" to refer to the entertainers from Kara Tur and other such exotic locales who might be considered prostitutes by the undiscerning, but who really do "just" entertain in intimate situations without doing the wild thing?"

Ed responds with a list. A list of THIRTY FOUR NICKNAMES. I'm going to give you the highlights:
A classic Larry Elmore Warmflanks of Nulb

Bedwarmers: " can imply either gender, and everything from a personal maid who literally warms a rented bed with a bedpan and then departs, perhaps never being seen by the renter, to a regular companion hired repeatedly by a given traveler on every visit to a given establishment; usually means "good, hard-working, trustworthy prostitute"

A rented bed with a bedpan??

Snakehips: "An exhibitionist and willing sexual partner who is either contortionist or acrobatic, or "willing to try" precarious sites for trysts, such as rooftops, high tree boughs, atop wagons, high windowsills, hanging from ropes or balconies, on horseback, and so on; again, need not be a professional"

Hanging from ropes, you say? My spidey sense is tingling.

Willing-arms: "...usually used to refer to a village whore, as in "ah, this'll be the local willing-arms"

Warmflanks: "A very 'polite' way of referring to prostitutes; can be said in polite social conversations by or in the hearing of anyone, including disapproving old matrons and children."

Everyone should own at least one prostitute mini

Whiplovers: "... its use broadened to include masochists venerating Ilmater, and finally all sexual masochists; recently, has seen use in Amn, Tethyr, and Calimshan as a term for those who offer their bodies to be whipped in return for coin"

2 silver per whippin'!

Footwarmer: "...the term literally means to provide companionship in bed for the lonely, so they have a warm body to warm their feet against; increasingly, this term is applied to aging, less athletic and adventurous prostitutes."

She-eel: "A snarled near-curse, implying someone who teases, takes coin, and then slips away [or robs clients], OR an approving advertisement for someone very supple and willing to use her skills for adventurous sex or to increase the pleasure of clients."

Banner: "A male prostitute."

What, no description? Are there He-eels? Why don't we pause here and take in Gary Gygax's own AD&D HARLOT ENCOUNTER TABLE:

A saucy tart!
Darksail: "Someone who makes love for pay while masked, or with identity magically disguised; originally many elves and half-elves of Waterdeep used a "shiftmask" spell that covered their faces - - except for their eyes - - in amorphous darkness; this spell is sometimes cast for hire on wealthy wives and husbands who want to "cheat" at masked revels... 

...the spell can also be cast to cloak most of the body, so once garments are removed, the body can be felt more than it can be seen, an aid in concealing wrinkles, or identifying marks that betray identity"

That's a cool one. Well, except the wrinkles. If they are elves, remember that their ears are erogenous zones.

Slyblade: "Prostitute who dresses as a man, to woo female clients or as protection against the disapproving or lawkeepers, when meeting male clients who know her true identity and profession very well, or are "tipped off" by prearrangement plus a card, message, or signal."

Hmm that's an interesting one too. It's like that movie Sleepaway Camp. Or maybe not at all.

Catclaw: "Prostitute who likes rough sex or domination, or who will for coin try to seduce others, or act the role of a slave, spouse, conquered war-captive or former rival who is now a willing lover [in other words, benefit or enhance the status of a paying client by her acting, from wearing chains and willingly accepting abuse to pretending to have been smitten by the sexual prowess of the client"

OK we're really uhh... chains? Pretending to be smitten? I'm sorry, paying someone to pretend to be smitten, that's really sad. Hmm might make for an interesting NPC...

Slapthighs"Low-rate or coarse or willing-to-be-abused prostitute; the term is descriptive, NOT pejorative"

Awww... that's a sad one.

Glimmersheath: "A strikingly beautiful prostitute, or a male crossdressing prostitute; in either case, the term refers to eyecatching beauty and willingly receiving the "dagger" of the male physique."

!!! Ed has thought of everything. He could make a whole sourcebook out of this stuff. And really, now.. the dagger of the male physique?

Gold Tigress: "A prostitute who likes to wrestle with or fight [to be "conquered"] clients, or to bite and claw them..."

And for the record, Ed Greenwood has never gotten a prostitute. But...

"...though a (gaming!) business partner once sent a lap dancer to visit him for a "private dance" as a joke (Ed kept his hands to himself and let it be just that: a dance), and on another (gaming convention!) occasion Ed was taken to a club where ladies dance nude and then ask clients to buy them drinks; drinks were duly purchased, pleasant chat was enjoyed, and further offers politely declined. Ah, self-discipline.

Or as Ed put it: "My eyeballs certainly enjoyed that."

Leaving a Con to go to a strip club seems so wrong to me. How dare you sully a weekend of dice-rolling with your She-eels and Gold Tigresses? Fargles, I say.

See you tomorrow.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Scourge of the Sword Coast: Lawflame

As I write this, I have just returned from the game store. I ran another session of D&D Encounters, which thus far has been very hit and miss. Get ready for spoilers..

The heroes had left off last week in the dungeon under the Phylund hunting lodge. I didn't really realize until a few hours before game time that they would finish the dungeon pretty quick. I'd need more material to fill out the session. I certainly didn't have enough time to prepare the next location, which is a ridiculously large building/dungeon/vale probably half full of privies and rooms with crates in them.

So I flipped through the pdf and found some notes on the Duke. He's been possessed by the spirit of a pit fiend. And he's dating a succubus. The module says that at some point he will invite the PCs to his home for dinner. His guards will block the exits. And then he and his succubus girlfriend will try to kill them!

The module says that there comes a point in this battle where the Duke shakes off the pit fiend's influence for a moment and tosses the heroes his magic flaming sword - Lawflame. The succubus' plan is actually to kill everyone - including the Duke, and then impersonate the Duke's sister to take over the town of Daggerford.
Purple bow ties are all the rage in Daggerford

This scenario is so much better than the any of the dungeons. It is outlined in a single column. There is no map of the Duke's dining room. Nothing. This is really the penultimate encounter of the entire adventure and it's buried on page 22 of an 85 page book!

So I sat down and wrote out the scenario, wrote down the stats, and looked up the spells (not a fan of doing that). I was actually kind of excited! One thing that's always tricky is when the monster has a power that requires an action that doesn't do damage. I am referring to the Duke's sword, Lawflame. As an action, he can cause it to burst into flame. So that means that the Duke can't attack that round. Just like with the duergar, where they use an action to enlarge.

So I concocted a scheme. During the dinner, I was going to have the Duke get up and show off his sword. I wondered if the heroes would start to become alarmed and attack him before he said the command word and dramatically stabbed someone. Let's find out...

We had six players this week. Unfortunately, our table was placed incredibly close to two warhammer games. We barely fit. I was worried that the warhammer guys would be too loud and it would affect the game. Well... that's not exactly how it went down.

We had a new guy - a friend of the 13 year old girl. He had never played before. He was smart and picked it up with great ease. He did a very good job as a spare cleric (which the party desperately needed).

Our brony was back, and he was getting angry every time he got hit. It is so astonishing to me how often I meet players like this. If low die rolls and taking damage make you mad, why even play? Go do something else. He got mad when a mane hit him for 2 damage. TWO DAMAGE.

The dungeon just had a few skeletons in it, and a cool trap room where a black skull launched fire beams out of its' eyes. That worked out really well, very fun. A good intro encounter for the new guy.

Our heroes cleared the place. Gnolls that had been missed in a building ambushed our heroes on the way out. It was a brutal fight, but I knew they'd make it because the party had two, count them, two clerics.

They returned to town, rested, and were invited to the Duke's.

The Duke chatted with our heroes. He asked them if they had found any magic items on their latest adventure. The heroes were paranoid and lied. They said no.

This module makes even a succubus boring
I started to describe the Duke pulling out Lawflame, his sword. The group got really loud. And then the warhammer guys turned and politely asked us to be quiet.

Welp. Here I was worried that they were going to be too loud. What a twist! I made sure to talk to the warhammer guys after the game to smooth things over. There is so much space in the store, I don't know why they want us crammed so close together. Next week I'm going to make sure we're in a better spot.

So the Duke gets up at the dinner table. He says the command word, setting Lawflame ablaze. And then he plunged it into the party fighter! As the heroes reeled in shock, the succubus assumed her true form and summoned five manes (little demon men) to attack!

Some of our heroes were confused, and looked into the Duke's eyes. I told them they saw a magic flame in his pupils, and they could also see a fiery spectral form overlapping his body - the duke was being controlled by a pit fiend.

Two cool things happened:

1. Hack-and-slash fighter guy wanted Lawflame, bad. He wanted to grab the blade, pull it out of him, and snatch it away. So, we did an opposed strength roll. He won!

2. There comes a point in the fight where the Duke comes to his senses after taking some damage. At this time, the party paladin cast protection from evil on him. At first I was skeptical. But here's the deal:

The target has to be willing. But because the Duke was having a moment of clarity, he was willing.

Here's a quote from the spell entry: "The protection grants several benefits: Evil creatures of those types have disadvantage on attack rolls against the target. The target also can't be charmed, frightened or possessed by them. If the target is already charmed, frightened, or possessed by such a creature, the target has advantage on any new saving throw against the relevant effect."

The Duke rolled a save (I rolled a one but disregarded it)... goodbye pit fiend! This was a case where the idea was so good that in my head, it had to happen. The paladin deserved to be rewarded for this kind of thinking. Sometimes when somebody has an exciting idea it trumps the dice. They are making the game fun for me.

Our heroes saved the Duke and killed the demons. They were declared Knights of Daggerford. After some discussion and begging, the Duke decided to give Lawflame to the fighter as a reward. The PCs did, after all, save him from demonic possession as well as a murder plot.

Then he reminded them.. there's rumors of more gnolls in the Floshin Estate.

Cue disappointed groans. I know I ran this Duke encounter too soon, but this module is all backwards. But this was a pretty good session.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Fun Facts about Ed Greenwood's Forgotten Realms

Yesterday we talked about Ed Greenwood and why he is one of the Greatest Dungeon Masters of All Time. He sold his Forgotten Realms campaign to TSR in 1986 and it has been around ever since. The Realms is the core setting of the new edition of D&D.

I found a fascinating and massive archive containing endless words from Ed about his campaign. I've been digging through it. I have unearthed a number of gems, my friends. I'm talking drugs, swears, and even some dirty stuff! Well, a lot of dirty stuff, honestly. So yeah, click away now if that's not your bag.

Let's start with... THE WEREPEGASUS.

- They are female humans or half-elves that can turn into a pegasus that is white or blue.
- They can't infect others like a werewolf
- Their shape change transformation takes 2d4 minutes.. "..and the change is often accompanied by releases of body gas (yes, farting) due to instantaneous digestion of whatever either the human or the pegasi form might have in its stomach."

... What? What the... Why??
Yes, soon the other planes will be mine!

I talked a bit about the spelljamming race known as The Arcane the other day. They are 12 foot tall blue guys who sell spelljamming stuff. They are powerful and have mysterious motives. Well guess what? Ed spills the beans while talking about the idea of game universes being contained in vast crystal spheres which could be traveled to by magic ships. Mystery solved:

"The idea of the spheres wasn't mine; it came from TSR, not just as a way to link their game settings, but also as a way to turn the focus of D&D at the time away from demons and devils (who would reappear as "baatezu" and "tanar'ri") and the planes (that was the secret of the Arcane: to distract races into spelljamming whilst they tried to dominate the planes)."

They are trying to dominate other planes? There is an arcane in Planescape's city of Sigil. Estevan, I think his name is. They don't seem to have had much success. I'll have to mull this one over..

Maybe getting on the roof was a stupid idea
You may be aware of the monster known as The Tarrasque. It is a giant monster that periodically goes on rampages and is almost impossible to destroy. Well, Ed says that there is, in fact, more than one Tarrasque:

"I stealthily included some Realmslore on this beast in my most recent Spin A Yarn tale, and the converse there betrays the fact that I'm SURE there's more than one of these beasts in the Realms. Many of the rumors you allude to are linked to the activities or deaths of various tarrasques. I'm being deliberately vague here because I don't want to mess up any plans Dungeon Masters might be unfolding in their own Realms campaigns that view the tarrasque differently, but yes, I'd say you can deploy one whenever you want to (and as soon as it's slain, establish another one somewhere else in Faerun)."

He made up some drugs! I like to include drugs in my games. It's fun. I usually use the list on the Dungeon Dozen site. Here's Ed's drugs:

Alindluth ("AL-inn-dluth"): (ingested)

- Deadens all pain for a few minutes.
- Overdose induces short-duration coma.

Chaunsel ("SHAWN-sell"): (bare skin contact)

- Makes affected area VERY sensitive for up to twenty minutes
- Used in festhalls (Ed explains that "festhall" is the family-friendly TSR term for "brothel") to increase sensations of pleasure - and by torturers to increase feelings of pain.
- Can cause a coma or days of numbness in affected area.

Vornduir ("Vorn-DOO-eer"): (inhaled powder)

- For most, this does nothing, or causes a rash
- "For a few, it 'switches' pain and pleasure for an hour or two (so a gentle caress brings excruciating burning/ripping pain, and a slap or flogging or heavy punch or cutting wound can induce orgasm)"
- Vornduir is a mixture of herbs and animal essences, and also acts as a "complete and instant" antidote to certain poisons.

There's a number of expressions that people say in his games. These are good for stealing. I admire Ed's ability to create such a rich world. I could not possibly keep all of this straight.

"Forward the Game Undying!"

"Nothing is truth that has not been tested in battle."

"Peace stands on a sharp sword."

Ooh that's a good one. I will use that along with "Fargles!" on Friday.

Here's some obscenities:

"Blood of the Lady!" (equivalent of "Oh my [insert strongest personal obscenities here] God!" [used as a stronger replacement for "Alavaerthus!")

"Keltor!" (equivalent of "Damn!" and pronounced as "KEL-tor" [spat out swiftly])

"Blood of the Lady" seems usable.
Check out the ears on her!


"Foreplay among elves and half-elves (particularly strangers) often includes the wearing of full-face masks or hoods that leave bare only the ears -- and caressing, kissing, or licking of ears (plus throat, backs of knees, and palms of hands) for and by both partners leads to more ardent activities."

And more...

"Another postscript from Ed to Erik Scott de Bie: yes, I made those elven erogenous zones up (plus the backs of the knees, and the throat), tips of the ears being THE most sensitive..."
This is just the tip of the iceberg as far as Dirty D&D stories in this archive. It's just.. wow. So much. I'm not sure what to do with it all, if anything.

Here's how a person can get a date in the realms. It's kind of like "hanky code":

"Men trying to signal their interest in sex or courtship will often wear an artificial flower perched on one shoulder: a red rose for "I'm looking for courtship," a black rose for "I'm looking for sex," and a steel rose to signal homosexual interest (a device also used by lesbians)."

What about nipples, you ask? Don't worry, there's plenty of Realmslore on nipples:

"Nipples are clinically referred to as parlarren (singular: parl) and sometimes called thorns, daggerspikes, or (poetically or more politely, as in one woman to another, or a male noble trying to be daringly gallant when speaking to a female noble) springbuds. When trying to be coarse, speakers usually dub them "teats" or "suckworts."


He addresses criticisms of DIRTY D&D:

"Bear in mind, however, that many Realms fans delight in pouncing on me for being a dirty-minded 'pervert' (most of them, of course, not even understanding the meaning of that word) for merely showing casual nudity, kissing, caresses, and even footrubs in my fiction... things many Canadians (and, from my conversations with them, more than a few Americans) who went to summer camp in their teens accepted as normal in such settings."

I never got a foot rub in summer camp. I just made a metric ton of those stupid twisty bracelets.

And then Ed goes to town on how to be a good DM. Here's his 5 main points:

"Five DMing Tips:

 1. Give your players what they want. NOT "give in to them," but work hard to find out what settings (city, wilderness, dungeon, arctic, naval, underwater) and styles (intrigue, hack-and-slash, chase or hunt, etc.) of adventure your players prefer, and make sure you give them the entertainment they crave. Otherwise, why are you wasting your time doing this?"

OK, I got that one down..

"2. Everybody loves a mystery. Work three sorts of mysteries into your campaign play: little things tied to the PCs' pasts (e.g. The Six-Fingered Man from THE PRINCESS BRIDE), mysteries unfolding under PC noses... It doesn't matter if you don't know what this motif means; as the campaign unfolds, you'll find a clever explanation for it that will make your players think you've been planning this for years!"

Mysteries have rarely paid off for me in D&D. Just causes a lot of confusion. Either the players guess it right away or they never get it. And I've never been comfortable with the concept of making u an explanation after the fact - it feels like I am cheating the players.
"3. Like a favorite series of novels or television show, build up a colourful cast of NPCs that the PCS, love, like, hate, or just know (as gossips in the tavern, as shopkeepers who know where to get this item or that, and so on). Keep track of the lives, ambitions, and interests of these NPCs to make the setting seem rich and real, and to give the PCs sources they can 'check in with' or 'call on' if they're bored, or need information."

Got it!

"4. Intrigue and power groups. Remember, manipulating others is something all humans do, and dreaming and scheming is something most of us love to do. Most power groups won't be Fell Wizards with a Diabolical Plan, but a few fat merchants meeting in a back room to get girls behind their wives' backs, or work a little swindle, or something of the sort. Surround the PCs with dozens of these little mysteries, until they think they can uncover something really big - - and then the players will start their own adventures, and you as DM can sit back, 'ride the fun,' and embroider new side-adventures accordingly.

Remember: the PCs are heroes who SHOULD take charge, not just reacting to the world by following the scripts of adventure after adventure you slap down in front of them."

I don't like "power groups". Especially cartels and organizations. They feel kind of mundane to me.

As for letting the PCs take charge... I am kind of leaning toward doing that in my games. I've been running lots of modules and I can definitely feel the players "settling" for it lately. I feel like I am almost walling them in a bit by running a module. I am going to try and mix it up more.

"5. Play sessions are ENTERTAINMENT - - or should be. Watch your players, change things if they get frustrated or bored, keep the pacing moving, forget the rules (except when to do so will start fights/anger players), and concentrate on acting and describing and making things seem alive. Watch a caper movie (for example, the recent remake of OCEAN'S ELEVEN) and notice how (without quite the frenetic jump-cutting pace of a rock video) things keep swiftly and smoothly moving along. By all means plan breaks (gossip and pee-break and chips-devouring time) in play sessions, but otherwise build things to cliffhangers, raise the volume and pace when fights are going on, and generally KEEP YOUR PLAYERS MORE INTERESTED THAN AN ACTION MOVIE DOES. They'll remember your play sessions fondly."

More interested than an action movie. Sheesh, that is a tall order!

I'll be running D&D Encounters at the store today. I'm all prepared, so I'll see if I can make this one more fun than the last. It's tough to use Ed's advice for the game, though - it's a module, and one that I am none too interested in. More interested than an action movie? Yikes, we'll see.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Greatest Dungeon Masters in the World: Ed Greenwood

We played Dungeon Crawl Classics last night. It was ok (info is here). The next session could be legendary if I put in the right amount of preparation work..

Today I was going to write a blog post about "The Five Greatest DMs in the World". I intended to detail the famous people and write a little about their real-life campaigns. I've always been interested in that topic. I love digging up information on Gary Gygax's original Castle Greyhawk game.

My thinking is that by studying these games, we can see what these DMs do that works and make our own games better. Also, some of these games have impacted the entire hobby and deserve to be archived somewhere in some capacity.

We spend so much time creating these stories. Often, they are never committed to paper. They exist only in the memories of the participants - and details are misrembered or forgotten altogether. I bet most of you have been there. You talk with someone about an awesome session from years ago... and sadly you can't remember half of the details. It is lost to time.
Here is Ed undercover as the Drizzt guy
I decided to start my list of the Five Greatest DMs in the World with Ed Greenwood. I began looking online to see if I could find any information on Ed's home game. It turns out that there's so much that it's overwhelming. It is all buried in an online archive which dates back to 2004. One of his players relays questions to Ed and types in his answers. It's gigantic.

I could post about this for months. I don't even know where to start. Let's see if we can put together a general sense of Ed and his games.

Here's something that blows my mind. He works in a library. This happened:

"....more words from Ed (who is sick as a dog, but soldiering zombie-like through his working day at the library because it's Spring Break off school up in Ontario, Canada, so all the kids who aren't outside getting into mischief are in the library asking him to referee Pokemon and Magic rule disputes to them, despite him telling them frankly he's completely unqualified to do :}):"

I cannot fathom this. Some kid going up to Ed Greenwood with a Pokemon rules question? This really happens in real life??

As far as how the Realms came about, the poor guy is probably tired of answering this question. Here's his reply:

"As for the tale of how I created the Realms, well, one more time: me writing fantasy stories featuring the fat merchant Mirt, travelling along the Sword Coast from city to city working swindles and suchlike. (Following Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd & Gray Mouser tales in FANTASTIC, which are self-contained tales but share the same setting, and if you read enough of them, you can piece together 'the world behind the action.')

Expand outwards from there (if this ship is carrying this and taking on a cargo of that, and these caravan wagons ditto, then in Distant Place X they must have a lot of this to sell and need a lot of that, whereas in Distant Place Y they need textiles but can spare timber, and here in this port folk obviously need . . . and so on. So then it gets thought out carefully, climate and trade winds and currents and geology and all -- and then TSR publishes it and entire continents later get grafted on and many minor changes are made and it may no longer look quite so cohesive and planned."

It's pretty amazing. He made a D&D campaign and sold it to TSR. How cool is that? Apparently he sold it for a "nominal fee". Nominal fee? That is depressing. I hope it was more than a few thousand bucks. I can't imagine how much money is made off of all the realms books, heck, just the Drizzt stuff alone.

How did he sell it? Here's what he says:

"It seems TSR was looking for an "campaign world setting" for the forthcoming 2nd Edition of AD&D right about then (in the end, the Realms beat that edition into print, which brought about the Time of Troubles/Avatar adjustments, but that's another story), and TSR designer Jeff Grubb telephoned me one day and asked: "I've been reading your articles in Dragon. Do you really have a complete, detailed fantasy world, or do you just make it up as you go along?"

"Yes," I replied, "and yes."

"Good," he said, "send it!" (Actually, I'm telescoping here. Jeff and I talked for a bit, so he had a better idea of what beast they'd be buying, and then he asked me to call his boss, Mike Dobson, at home that night. I did, and TSR bought the Realms and me as a consultant for what is by today's standards a tiny amount, but I was quite happy because I was looking forward to getting professionally-printed maps for my players; if I did my own with pencil crayons, there was no way not to have the seas and deserts show pencil-strokes.)

Seems like an incovenient place for an outhouse
I spent most of the spring and summer of 1986 sending weekly or bi-weekly typed packages to TSR (some 800 pages or so, in all), until they frantically told me to STOP (Jeff would say: "Do you have anything on dungeons? Holy symbols?" and I'd write up what I had and send it along, whereupon he'd say: "Okay, now we'd like . . ." It all started with the master map of Faerun and the various dale and city maps). Then Jeff and Karen Boomgaarden [yes, that's the correct spelling these days, and she's a heckuva good editor, if anyone wants to hire a freelancer] set about turning all my lore into what became the Old Grey Box."

Bruce Heard (then acquisitions manager, which meant "guy who hires freelancers") assigned me to do a D&D module (which became The Endless Stair) to 'learn the ropes' (Karen doing the edit), and then I handed in my magic stuff (which got turned into FR4 The Magister, just as my stuff on the North became FR5 The Savage Frontier), whilst I got to work on FR1 Waterdeep And The North."

I ran The Endless Stair when I as 13 or 14. I did a poor job with it. I don't remember much except that the concept was really cool - in a field there are stairs that ascend up to the clouds. Some of the steps are trapped.

This also spawned a goofy joke amongst the players. They'd stare at me... endlessly. I'd ask them what they were doing. They would inform me that the were giving me... "The endless stare."

Ed talks about his favorite creations: 

You got the stuff? I'm jonesing bad.
"My two personal favourites of my own racial creations are the Malaugrym and the weredragons. Someday I'll do a novel that includes a malaugrym/weredragon romance and pairing . . . heh-heh."

Weredragon? Malaugrym? What the hell is a Malaugrym? I looked it up.

Malaugrym are floating round things with beaks and three hooked arms. They come to our realm through the plane of shadow. They like to eat people from the inside out. They are super-smart and can shapechange into humanoid creatures.

Kind of cool.

Now what the hell is a weredragon? A weredragon is from Dragon 134. They got a cool Jim Holloway drawing. Here's the lowdown:

SyFy presents Tara Reid in: WEREDRAGON
- They live among humans, revealing their dragon forms only in great crisis.
- They are "fertile in both human and dragon forms; they are always female.."
- They cannot infect other people with weredragon-ism
- Wow. OK: "...appears as a human female of about 20 years of age... with a Comeliness of at least 18". For you newer folks, Comeliness was a controversial 7th stat that scored your character's looks separate from Charisma.
- They never sleep, eat without gaining weight
- As a dragon, their scales are blue and silver, they have no wings but a magical organ in their brain allows them to fly.
- Breath weapon: A cloud of blue vapors which causes silence and snuffs out fire/heat/electricity (what an odd breath weapon)
- They amass treasure by "beguiling rich suitors".

So.. a weredragon is a hot chick. I am starting to sense something here. Hmmm...

At this time his campaign's characters were "Knights of Myth Drannor". Their hijinks included:

- Smuggling a person polymorphed into a gem in a codpiece
- A body-swapping adventure: "...the results were still dangerous and at the same time screamingly-British-farce-funny, as a Shaerl who wasn't Shaerl went off to bed with a Mourngrym who wasn't Mourngrym"
- This quote: "...Trying to distract him (in character here), I gasped loudly, 'I can't remember the command word!'

The Zhent spun around and peered at me -- I flashed my breasts at him, and gave him a cheesy grin to boot, just trying to buy Torm more time to get out a dagger or something. The Zhent saw that I had no magic item at all. He burst out laughing at my feeble deception -- and stepped right into the shaft. He broke his neck at the bottom, and for weeks of play sessions afterwards I had Torm pawing at my character, gasping teasingly, 'Oh, no! I can't remember the command word!'"

Ladies and Gentlemen, Ed Greenwood plays Dirty D&D! Well now, how do you like that?

He made up Forgotten Realms swears. I have always wanted to do this but it's difficult to come up with a fitting word (I understand Battlestar Galactica got some mileage out of "Frak"):

"As for the compilation of oaths, I handed one to TSR back in 1986, in the original Realms turnover (both straight-Realms equivalents of our dirty words, for use when you didn't want characters to just say, "Oh, DUNG!" and turns of phrase like "By the steaming loins of Sharess!") . . . and they promptly 'lost' it. Several times. Until I got the message. ;}

We've all added dozens of naughty expressions to the Realms since then, of course, because we NEED cuss-words when doing Realms fiction. Not just for comic fun, but for realism when characters are upset, facing imminent death, and so on.

Yes, I DID pull "Dark!" and "Dark and Empty!" out of thin air, because my mind works that way, but it also works like this: after they pop out, and get written down to banish the Dread Devil of Forgetfulness, I take a look at them.

He further notes: "Anne McCaffrey invented one swear-word I just hate: 'Fardles!'"

Fardles, you say? Well, I know what word I have to work in to my game this Friday!

We haven't even scratched the surface, my stalwart compatriots. I'll definitely revisit this stuff soon and see what other jewels lie in this internet archive. I will also continue in my efforts to enshrine the FIVE GREATEST DMS OF ALL TIME.

I am also interested in talking about other less famous DMs that are out there in the world. I have no idea how to find them, though. I can think of two people in the internet community that seem like great DMs: Shannon Appelcline and Merric Blackman. If anyone has any thoughts on this or nominations, please feel free to email me.