Table of Contents - A handy way to check out my articles by topic
My most recent Guides:
As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
You can reach me at:

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Dead in Thay: Legendary Actions

Another Dead in Thay session is in the books. You may recall that last week my players were misbehaving a bit. This group has one player in his 40's, and the rest of them are between the ages of 13-17. When we sat down to play tonight, I explained that I don't want to hear anybody badmouthing anybody else's character, just in general. That's just not acceptable at my table. They understood.

Then I went on to explain that this dungeon is a test of their skills as players. I told them that I hoped that by the time they were at the end of it, they'd be a well-oiled machine.

They took all of this well. I was pretty angry last week. I had to remind myself of how young they are. I am in my 30's. I don't have any kids. I love kids, but I have no plans of ever having any of my own. Tonight they started calling me "dad".  I was also accused of making "dad jokes". You be the judge, here. There is a paladin named "Duracell" (yes, it is that kind of game). Every time his turn came around I'd call him a different name, with my goal being to make the worst/best joke that I could muster:

"Duracellular phone"
"...Paramecium" (I was trying to come up with something about a biological cell but failed)
I should have said "Cell-fee". Selfie! Pretty sweet, right? ...Don't hit me.

Last time, our heroes had barely survived room 15, the teleport maze with the glabrezu in it. They had to rest again. Tonight they were off to rooms 10 & 11.

For the love of... the PCs are SIXTH LEVEL
Room 10 is the scary one. It is the one with the LICH, and four dread warriors with 75 hit points each! When I was preparing it, I just did not see any way that this group could survive. Look at those stats. He has an AC 16 and 135 hit points. Blight does 8d8 damage, half as much on a miss! And Fireball does 6d6 to everyone within 20! He has a "legendary action" where he can let out a wave of energy that does 10 damage to all within 20 feet..

Ooh I'm gonna have the lich cast prestidigitation every round!
Legendary actions, I guess, are a gimmick for powerful monsters. They can pick and choose from a bunch of little powers to pull off at the end of the round between their turns. They have 3 points to spend, and different things cost different amounts of points.

I like the idea of the legendary actions. It feels like a continuation of the work Wizards of the Coast was doing in 4e to make certain monsters more special, particularly dragons.

The battle was insane. Blight dropped Hack and Slash Fighter real fast. The players were stunned when I shared with them how many hit points the monsters had. Each of the dread warriors had 75! Because I only had four players this week, I had the PCs face 3 warriors instead of four.

The "Horrible" cleric turned 2 of the 3 dread warriors (even with their advantage against being turned), effectively taking them out of the fight. It is interesting to note that a Lich has the power to succeed on three saving throws automatically. I guess that will help avoid anti-climactic "boss" fights, but it makes me worry that once players pick up on this, they'll just make sure the group has four or five turn undead/stun powers to circumvent it. I don't know, I don't have enough experience with D&D Next at higher levels yet to see if this is an issue or a possibility.

The heroes kept dropping, but hung in there thanks to the cleric's heals, and their trusty NPC (Manny the man-at-arms, who is basically a D&D cowboy with a severe drinking problem) also dumped a potion of healing in the rogue to get her back to her feet.

I might have cheated in favor of the PCs once (and I didn't use cloudkill), but for the most part, they beat the Lich on their own. I unloaded on them with blights and fireballs. Not too shabby!

They headed to room 16, which is a really cool trap room full of dead bugs, and pit traps, and trapped platforms, and demon faces that spew insect swarms. It is a fantastic room. They got a little frustrated with it, but made it through in OK shape.

That was it. Three rooms! I had originally been hoping we would get through 60-70 rooms in the dungeon before the season ended, but it actually looks like we'll do considerably less than that.

Some of the players asked me to run a 4e game on Thursdays. I decided to go ahead and give it a try. I kind of get the feeling it will only happen once or twice. My 4e is rusty, but I like the idea of going through the newer issues of Dungeon and checking out their first level stuff. Plus, it gives me more material for this blog.

So all in all, this week went pretty good. I'll be back tomorrow with a bunch of yammering about the basic set that wizards is trying to.. DuraSELL you. Right? Not too shabby!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Top 5 Dungeon Master's Guide Covers By Edition

Uhhh... that is not the Dungeon Master
We got some cool news today. For the new edition of D&D, there will be a basic set with rules for character levels 1-20 completely FREE and available online. How awesome is that?

For me, this will make for a fascinating test. My encounters group is full of people who do not buy books, they do not know the rules, and some of them do not even own dice. And yet they come to play D&D week after week, month after month. I honestly believe that they will not download this COMPLETELY FREE document, let alone read it! I have no idea why these people are like this. This is why I can't care about Encounters like I do my home campaign.

Last Friday, I was able to work the parody Castle Greyhawk into my D&D Next campaign. It's a long story, but basically the heroes can go there when they dream and keep the loot they find.
"The unicorn horns... urp.. will be MINE"
I was worried how this would go over. Castle Greyhawk is sort of funny, and sort of really stupid. Would they find it dull or lame? I originally would have liked to play through this dungeon while drunk in real life, but I generally don't like to mix booze with D&D for a whole bunch of reasons. The main reason being that I almost never drink and when I do, I have a ridiculously low tolerance. I once drank half of a bud with lime while DMing and.. well... I still hear about it 7 years later.

Castle Greyhawk went fine. The most well-received things were the jet-propelled stalagmites and the uni ducks. The group seemed to enjoy tricking the "Cretin" (a really dumb ettin). One player has a habit of "collecting" NPCs. She wants to have a "harem" or something. So a few creatures were abducted and brought into the real world: One minitaur, one uniduck, 5 miniature giants (fire, stone, hill and 2 frost giants - 5 feet tall).

If she does this for each level of Castle Greyhawk, their home (they live in a keep in a haunted forest) will be overflowing with completely ridiculous NPCs. That's fine with me, I love having NPCs interact in weird ways and seeing what happens.

Yesterday, I ranked the Top Five Player's Handbook covers. Today, I am going to do the same for the Dungeon Master's Guide. Again. I will pick my favorite from each edition. A commenter pointed out to me that the orange spine Player's Handbook cover was better than some.. I agree. I just didn't want to overload the list with books from the same few editions.

I think I will also do a "Basic D&D"/boxed set list, too. Obviously, Larry Elmore's red box art is going to be difficult to beat.

Now let's look at the Top Five D&D Dungeon Master's Guide Covers By Edition:

5. 5th Edition Dungeon Master's Guide

I'm not sure if this is the final art, but it's what we have to go on for now.  I like the lich, though his headgear is a little goofy. I don't like how undetailed and dark the lich's garb is. I really don't like the choice of using purple as the dominant color. I wish they would have gone with black and red. I guess maybe the red might conflict with the trade dress.

I don't like the pseudo-realistic style, with the white lighting and the lit mist. It's so real that it looks like they're on the set of the Mortal Kombat TV show. It looks like a straight-to-DVD movie set.

But what I really don't like about this cover is the hero. Does he have to look right at us? And does his hair have to stick up like that? I don't want to play that guy, and I don't want to play with that guy at my table. Everything is the same color and it all blends together and is, in my opinion, unappealing and forgettable.

4. 2nd Edition Dungeon Master's Guide
The thing I like the most about this cover is the colors. It's very bright and eye-catching. I love the Easley dragon. His dragons always had a heavy, distinctive look to them. They are brutish and powerful.

I don't know what the hell the deal with this wizard is. He is made of swirling energy...? Is he really shooting fire at a red dragon? And what exactly is the story with those bubbles on the left hand side? Why the hell are they there?

Clearly, this cover isn't too interested in telling a story, but rather it just focuses on making a pleasing swirl of colors that create an attractive piece of cover art. I like it.

3. 3rd Edition Dungeon Master's Guide
A lot of my complaints about the 3.5 Player's Handbook apply here. I hate the "Core Rulebook" text and I just feel like this was not the optimal idea for a cover. That said, from what I understand, these books sold extremely well, so who am I to argue with success?

There's something about this cover that I really like. What a weird idea. A tome with a (rotating?) metal globe embedded in it. It's cool. You could make a cool magic item inspired by this design. The world could be your fantasy world. What would be in this book? Secrets of your campaign world? The laws of creation? While I prefer a different style of cover, this one works and I like looking at it.

2. 4th Edition Dungeon Master's Guide

This thing is awesome. It's so simple. A red dragon looking at a magic scrying orb. The dragon looks incredibly cool. Wayne Reynolds is the man. But what I love the most is that this monster is looking at the heroes from the Player's Handbook cover. What a cool idea! This is a fantastic cover.

1. 1st Edition Dungeon Master's Guide
This is not even close. The orange spine AD&D 1st edition DMG cover is so much better than any other. This robed guy - he could be an evil wizard, or he could be you: the dungeon master. He has the key to the dungeon, and beyond him is a horde of monsters and a huge pile of gold with a shimmering beam of light striking it.

This tells you what you are and what your job is. You are the DM. You hold the key to everything. That's the fun of being a Dungeon Master. You get to sit down with your friends and create a great movie or novel - and nobody knows how it is going to end.

Tomorrow I run Dead in Thay. I've had a week to recover from the Bullying Incident. Tomorrow I'm going to have a little talk with them and hopefully we can put this "you're a horrible cleric" business behind us for good. I'll let you know how it goes.

The Top 5 Player's Handbook Covers for Dungeons & Dragons

I am going to utilize some Gygaxian flavor text to sum up my feelings on current events: Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition draws me to it as surely as a lodestone draws iron.

This blog entry is going to explore it just a little. I love D&D art, so I thought it would be fun to rank the covers of the Player's Handbook by edition.

But first I want to jump on a few things I've been reading online. Specifically, the comment sections on sites that run articles on the new edition. I am not an "edition war" guy. I love 4th edition, but I certainly understand why people wouldn't like it. I really don't like the rules for 3/3.5, but I don't feel the need to dive in on discussions and scream about how much I hate feat trees and how long it takes to make NPC stats.

Here's some of the general comments I've been reading:

You can't play it until November when the DMG comes out

First of all, we have the playtest packets right now. We can fill in the blanks until those books come out. Second, I would guess this will be like the 3.0 release, where important DMG/MM information is printed in a back section of the book. Or, most probable of all, you'll have that information already in the starter set.

Comments like this boggle my mind. You're a DM. Make it up. You're not stupid, you can work it out for a few months.

D&D Next is just as "video gamey" as 4e
THIS is video game-y
No, it's not. That's just crazy talk. Yes, 4e was "D&D Tactics". 5th edition, from what I've played so far (and I've played a lot) is like a stripped-down 3rd edition. The focus is on simplicity in character creation, adventure design and in the game. In 4e, it took at least 45 minutes to get through one combat. In 5th, you can plow through a good portion of an adventure in that time.

The price is too high

I guess this is somewhat subjective. It depends on how much you are going to actually use the stuff. Most people are players. All they need is the PH, which is $50 ($40 on amazon). You will use that book for years. People buy video games for $50 every month. I guess if you don't play much, then maybe it's not worth it. If you're on the fence about the whole thing, you could grab the starter set for $20. That will take you to level 5, from what I understand.

How many years until 6th edition?

That is a great question. They blew through 4e alarmingly fast. I would guess that it depends on how this edition does. There seems to be an awful lot of mistrust and contempt for the newer editions. People really swear by their preferred edition and seem to kind of fear the new stuff. I refuse to be tied to rules. I like to stay current and in touch with what is going on now, while integrating the cool stuff from old products into my game.

Releasing an adventure before the MM or DMG is "idiotic"

You can't go in here til November!!
Again, to me this demonstrates a slavish need for rules. You are a DM. This is not hard. the module will have everything you need. If you can't fill in the blanks then I can't imagine how you are running a game in the first place.

This also is an out-of-touch sentiment. Wizards has released a bunch of adventures without the official rules, like the incredibly great Dead in Thay. The monster stats are in the back. 

Wizards will have a hard time "stealing" Pathfinder players

What a bold statement! 5th edition rules are like Pathfinder/3.5, but without all of the annoying BS. It runs much faster and doesn't get bogged down with constant breaks for rules references. At least, not in my experience. I converted the Pathfinder Skull & Shackles path to D&D Next. It was a piece of cake and worked great.

There is room for two companies. Competition sometimes breeds better products. Marvel has Spider-man, DC has Batman. That works out great for all of us. When one sucks, maybe the other won't. They drive each other to be better. Does anyone really want D&D to die? That would be terrible.

OK, enough of that. The cover art for the new edition player's handbook is out! Let us rank the covers of each edition once and for all. To the winner goes all of the yellow starbursts I refused to eat Friday night.

This is obviously completely subjective. And I am not including basic D&D. In the case of editions with .5's, I just picked the one I thought was best. Which means you won't see the AD&D 2.5 books with their hideous black borders. I hated those books. The interior art was god awful, too.

5. 2nd Edition Player's Handbook

I loved 2nd edition. It was what we played when I first started. I like Jeff Easley and I like this cover. It is definitely eye-catching. A fighter on a horse in what at first glance looks like a wall of flames, but upon closer examination is a dusty canyon or something. Kind of boring. The wings on his helmet look stupid. The little banners on the horses bridle thing bother me too - it reminds me of TSR's penchant for going overboard with actual historical weapons, dress and armor. Heck, they put out complete sourcebooks for vikings, celts, etc. For me, that stuff is dull. I prefer it when they build their own lore using the real life myths as inspiration.

4. 3rd Edition Player's Handbook
I think this one is the 3.5 cover, which was a more elaborate version of the 3.0 book. I think the idea is a cool one - make the book look like a magic tome you might find in a real fantasy world. How cool would it have been if they were actaully able to make the book with the actual clasps, gems and metal? The whole illusion is ruined for me, though, with the words "Core Rulebook" complete with a little photoshop stroke to make the words pop. It doesn't fit with the rest of the "real" look.

Also, books with paintings of heroes are more fun to look at. They fire up your imagination. This thing is kind of dull.

3. 5th Edition Player's Handbook

I don't even know if this is the final version of the cover art. This is a cool piece of art, but to me it is not up to the standard of Wayne Reynolds or Wiliam O'Connor. The fire giant looks fantastic. It's the heroes that I don't like. That woman looks blurry and drab. What is she doing? What is she wearing? Is she covered in furs? She does not inspire me at all. The other hero in the bottom right isn't any better, either. Too vague, dull and undefined.

I love... LOVE... that they used King Snurre. It reasurres me that they are not throwing their old designs and concepts in the garbage.

I also really don't like that red line on the bottom left with the Dungeons & Dragons text on it. I think they wanted it there because the "D&D" at the top might confuse newer people. This begs the question: Why not just write out "Dungeons and Dragons" at the top? The red blurch down there cuts right into the art and is distracting. I'd have gone with a full "Dungeons & Dragons" at the top, and the "D&D" at the bottom center, underneath the little blurb.

2. 4th Edition Player's Handbook
I love this cover. The cover text is clear and simple. And the art depicts two heroes with tons of detail. It features the dragonborn race, which is extremely popular and really helped set the edition apart from the others. But the best part to me is the caster (who also appeared on the cover of the DMG 2). She looks so cool. She has a magic staff, she's got a revealing but somewhat functional outfit, and Wayne Reynolds loaded her up with buckles and gear for a bored guy like me to stare at. When I look at this, I see two cool characters with personality and it makes me want to make my own.

1. 1st Edition Player's Handbook

I decided to post just the art so you can get a better look at it. 1st edition was before my time. I thought the art was crude and often amateurish/lousy. This cover isn't perfect. I think the heroes look really dull. Lizard men are boring. And the statue has a weird face. But the idea is awesome. This thing makes you wonder - what is going to happen when they remove that eye? You definitely get the sense it could be bad.

To me, this is the best cover because it fires up your imagination. In this game, you can do whatever you want - but you need to decide carefully. Should those guys be taking those gems? Should their allies be so non-chalant about it? And which way should they go on the map from here?

On top of that, the statue is so ominous and memorable. It burns right into your brain. It's so weird, colorful and evil. You've never seen anything like it. It becomes associated with this weird thing you do that other people may not understand.

Tomorrow I'll rank the DMG covers, and tell you how it went when I ran level one of the parody Castle Greyhawk on Friday. Jet-propelled stalagmites were launched, and uni-ducks stood tall, noble and true.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The FORGOTTEN Dungeons & Dragons Monsters from the Creature Catalogue

I have mentioned before that way back in the 80's when I was a kid, I didn't understand the difference between Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and Basic Dungeons & Dragons.

My first character, the silver-haired elf named Konami (what a guy) was a basic D&D (red box) character on an AD&D character sheet. He went through a portion of the Isle of Dread (basic D&D), and may have blundered through some of the Temple of Elemental Evil (AD&D). My best friend made my character's step-brother: Thorn, the red-haired half-elf. He rode a bear. A cloaker kicked the crap out of us and we fled the Temple forever.

Years later, I would hear people say that they thought Basic D&D was for kids. All I knew was that in the later 80's, there were hardly ever any basic D&D adventures in Dungeon Magazine. Once 2nd edition hit, there wasn't much material for Basic, and it all seemed pretty bland compared to Planescape, Spelljammer and Al Qadim.
He has a dorito dust aura and is on his 3rd xbox
What I am trying to say is, I never really even considered the fact that there was a "monster manual" for basic D&D. I saw it in a store the other day, and realized I have never looked through it. For all I knew, it had all sorts of lost and forgotten monsters that I can use today for my campaigns!

I love the cover. The interior art is... not great. And there's a lot of pretty crappy monsters in there. Just dull and uninspired. And a lot of the art is pretty rushed or ugly.

But then there are things like the...


I don't think you want to mess with a frickin' tortle. Even if you do manage to get him on the defensive, he will retract into his shell (though it doesn't seem to give him any kind of AC bonus at all). He can hold his breath for about 2 hours. He lives to be about 50, and in his later years he'll lay some eggs in a Tortle compound, barricade the entrance, and die.

If you should manage to creep in to one of these compounds, you can make yourself a light-weight suit of Tortle Plate Mail from 25 fresh tortle-egg shells. Why the heck would you want field plate when you can be wearing TORTLE PLATE MAIL?

Death Demon

Well, this just gets right to the point, doesn't it? The great hero Stealth Phoenix at last has a worthy adversary!

Also known as an Ostegos, these guys are 10 feet tall and they have bat wings. Their claws can paralyze you for an hour or so. They can teleport at will and create darkness, which they can see in.

Here's something. If they bite you, you make a saving throw at -2 or DIE. There is no information on what their deal is, or where they come from.


These guys fly right off the side of a 70's van directly into your campaign. They are PEGASUS CENTAURS. Do I need to say anything else?

They are aloof, and don't really like talking to non-flying races. They are mercenaries. They can cast a few spells. There's an annoying paragraph about there being a 20% chance that they have one additional level of weapon mastery.  Sure, don't tell us where they live, what they eat, or adventure ideas. But spend a whole paragraph on how some of them might have an additional +1 somewhere.

Undead Dragon
That is one freaky Jim Henson-looking dragon. An undead spirit has inhabited the body of a dead dragon. It can't talk or fly. No matter what color they were in life, they are now immune to cold and they breathe a "noxious cloud of foetid gas..". Save or "take damage equal to the dragon's current hit points and become afflicted by the foul rotting disease".

What's the foul rotting disease? Oh, your skin starts to rot and you lose 1d4 points of Strength, Dexterity and Constitution per day until you die or get a cure disease cast on you. Wow.

Grey Philosopher

I am using the picture from the more modern version of the creature catalogue (I bought both). The newer version of the book is even uglier than this one, but it has a couple of cool new drawings.

A Grey Philosopher is the spirit of a chaotic cleric who died with some important philosophical deliberations unresolved in his or her mind. These notions become little creatures known as malices that swirl around it.

That's really cool.

These are found on battlefields. They are the collected angry spirits of the dead. They appear as a large skull surrounded by a many-colored mist. If it hits you, you lose a level while the mist starts choking the life out of you.

Just... run from this thing.

I think we all learned something here today. We're in total agreement - a Tortle NPC is a must for any modern D&D campaign. Get to work, pal!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Goofiest Official Dungeons & Dragons Adventures

This is art from the actual, official D&D adventure "Castle Greyhawk"
Warning: new edition of D&D approaching. We might as well start working "tenday" into our every day conversations.

I have mentioned a few times in past blogs that I never much cared for the sense of humor in TSR-produced Dungeons and Dragons products. It's one thing to throw in a joke somewhere, one time. Like a one-paragraph flumph encounter in a fart cloud-trap room or something. But it's another thing entirely when you base the entire premise of an adventure or product on something that appeals to your '50's style Looney Tunes sense of humor. I am paying money for adventures where my players jump off of flying ships onto the backs of dragons, not questing for Odin's colossal whoopee cushion or whatever.

I began to wrack my brain for some of the more amusing or egregious examples of terminal, eye-rolling, somebody-shoot-me, who-actually-laughs-at-this BS from official D&D products. I immediately recalled quite a bit of stuff from Dungeon Magazine, but I've decided to limit it to non-magazine material.

No, one of the first things that popped in my mind was from the Al Qadim setting. For you younger folks, Al Qadim was an arabian-style D&D setting that came out right around the time the Disney Aladdin movie did. It was great timing. It's a very overlooked setting and very much worth tracking down.

The Al Qadim setting of Zakhara is on the same world as Toril, aka the Forgotten Realms. Zakhara is to the south or something. Deep in the City of Delights boxed set is a fellow named:

I actually like this one.
This guy lives in the city of Huzuz. He looks just like Elminster. But he's not. He's "Elfinster". And he gets really mad when you confuse the two!

Honestly, I actually got a kick out of this back then. I don't know if you remember this, but there used to be articles/short stories in Dragon Magazine where Elminster would meet with some powerful NPC, and TSR employee Roger Moore would be there hiding and eavesdropping. I remember a drawing of him hiding in a suit of armor, shaking, as Elminster had some tense negotiation with a powerful person of note.

In my campaign, I had Roger Moore accidentally visit Elfinster through some cosmic confusion. He was stuck in Al Qadim, and became a buddy of the PCs. All sorts of horrible D&D-type things would happen to him. I think he ended up as a zombie wandering the desert.

Your High Level PCs go to... New York City

What a waste of cool art
The Immortal Storm has a truly badass cover by Larry Elmore which the interior doesn't really live up to. Our heroes... high level "immortals".. go on a fetch quest throughout the multiverse for objects that represent each of the five senses.

The quest for the essence of sound takes the adventurers to a plane of music notes (yep).

The quest for the essence of smell takes them to... New York City. Yeah. Because it's smelly! Fuhgetaboutit!

The author just goes on and on, describing this "strange world" and all its' "weird customs" with sentences like:

"Many countries pursue an expensive nuclear hobby, spending vast sums on the creation of atomic weapons but never using them, all the while ignoring widespread needs of the people such as food, shelter, the arts and so forth."

Our heroes appear in a subway car and have an encounter with "local ruffians". Our ultimate destination: a laboratory for a major perfume manufacturer in Illinois.
"Hold up, gang. I think Knocko smells somethin'."
The gang of 80's movie thugs are "The Fangs": Mig, Bruno, Butch, Knocko (really..? KNOCKO?), Big Chuck, Raoul, Stiggie and The Cub. They say they want a donation to their college funds, and that it is "tax deductable". They say this to your level 30 D&D character.

If the PCs beat them up, they have the opportunity to join the Fangs! The adventure says the PCs would be wise to join, for the purposes of gaining  information. But it warns: "They should not spend their nights out mugging victims.."

If the PCs go to Harlem: "Over 90% of the local residents are dark-colored, openly scornful of light-colored folk."

We also learn that:

Can your heroes defeat this secret agent posing as a secretary?!
- One gold piece is worth 500 dollars
- A PC can learn to operate a car in 6 rounds. SIX ROUNDS.

The secretary at Creative Fragrances Laboratories is super-hot and actually a secret agent for the National Intelligence Agency. She is a 10th level thief who does quadruple damage with a handgun on a roll of 19 or 20.

After our heroes buy their perfume of smelling, a giant worm rampages through New Yawk. If the PCs talk to it, it is impressed with them and decides not to fight them.

Queen of the Demonweb Pits

Deck A Room 1: So here you are. At last, you are finally going to fight the demon lord/demi-god Lolth on her weird Spidership. You go inside and in the first room is a type V demon (that's a marilith - 6 armed woman with a snake bottom half) who sits at a desk that is far too small for her. The desk is littered with papers. She calmly tells the PCs that they need to sign in. She then asks the party to have a seat in chairs lining the walls (like a doctor's office). She can't find the ledger that the heroes are supposed to heroically sign in on and might cry about it. She leaves to look for it and a few minutes later she finds it and returns. If the PCs waited patiently, she escorts them right to Lolth in room 13.

Yes, this is the penultimate adventure of one of the great D&D adventure series of all time. Sign in to go fight Lolth. WHAT.

Castle Greyhawk

Then, of course, there is the legendary Castle Greyhawk. Looking through it now, it really feels like a middle finger not to Gary Gygax but to me, the reader. Fans waited so long for THE dungeon to finally be released... and it's a joke.

Castle Greyhawk was the dungeon Gary Gygax created to playtest Dungeons & Dragons with in his home campaign. It is the place where Melf (Melf's Acid Arrow), Otto (Otto's Irresistible Dance), Tenser (Tenser's Floating Disk) and many more adventured in. Gary Gygax used to write about it in early issues of Dragon Magazine.

There's a million stories and rumors about what may or may not have happened in that original campaign. There was a mysterious man made of gold that the heroes chased around but never caught. There was an "ogre highway" - full of ogres. There was an entire dungeon level full of dragons!

Once Gary Gygax was gone from TSR, Castle Greyhawk was finally published - as a 128 page parody adventure. Some people claim this was made just to stick it to Gary, while others say that's not true. All I know is that this is a partial list of the monsters in the adventure:

Mustard Jelly
Mini-Onions of Set
Horizontal Jet-Propelled Piercer (a stalagmite that attacks like a homing missile)
Minitaurs (3 foot tall minotaurs)
"Zando's Performing Porpoises"
Killer Dolphins
Uniducks (unicorn ducks that "tend to squash when sat upon")
"Oh, hello Poppinfresh!"
A Flesh Golem Butler who asks, "Hors d'oeuvres?" over and over.
"Poppinfarsh" the Dough Golem
Strawberry Gelatinous Cube

Check out this part:

The PCs end up as waiters at a party for orcs. Their job is to fill people's water. Asmodeus, Lord of Hell, shows up with three pit fiends, not amused at being summoned for this stupid party. A wizard named Mudstone animates roasted seagulls, making them dance on the dinner table for some reason. Worst of all, this is even railroady. "All this happens so fast, the PCs can do little else but watch. If they try to escape, attack, or otherwise draw attention to themselves, the pit fiends cast pyrotechnics and produce flame as necessary to keep them in their place."

I have two reactions to this:

1. What absolute asshole would waste everyone's time and money just to troll their paying customers? It would be bad enough to just publish this under some joke name (Like: "The Worst Adventure of All Time"), but they actually called it Castle Greyhawk!

2. I kind of love the idea of getting some people together, getting really drunk, rolling up terrible characters and playing through this whole thing.

Here's some places you can go to:

Otto's Irresistable Dance Studio
The Demi Plane of Flowers

OK, I'm sort of amused now.

The final room in CASTLE GREYHAWK is the home of an illusionist named Voyeux who spends his time watching a giant tapestry which is basically a TV. He has a "random monster generator" that spits out monsters... you the DM roll on tables to generate them (that's pretty clever)... it feels like something you'd need to roll up well ahead of time. In fact, that is one of the last sentences in the whole book, a warning for the DM to roll up a bunch of these monsters prior to running it. Let's roll one now:

Man-Sized Average-Looking Chaotic Neutral Creature AC -1 (That's a 21 AC in D&D Next terms) 33 hit points  3 attacks per round
- Regenerates 1 HP per round
- Has a 1 Intelligence
Has these powers:
- Detect Illusion
- Silence
- Haste

Well, I don't know what that is. I seriously kind of want to run this. See you next time!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Dead in Thay: The "Bad" Cleric

This just in: I still love Dead in Thay. Our heroes mauled their way through a handful more rooms tonight and as usual, there were some developments. P.S. Spoiler alert for Dead in Thay.

Real quick, I want to point out that I love the "safehouse" the PCs can go in. It's a tiny demi-plane. Each hour you spend in it ages you one month! That is a cool way to discourage too many long rests.

I also get a kick out of the treasure tables. Like picking spells, it is a bit of a pain to look them up - IMO this has to be done before the game, so that means your prep time is that much longer.

This group is in love with the bag of holding, so I read up on the D&D Next version to make sure I was doing it right. It holds 500 pounds, you can breathe in it for 10 minutes and then suffocate. If the bag is pierced, all of the items (except artifacts) are lost forever. When I told the group this, they had a fun idea. If they were in a deadly session, they'd climb in the bag and let it be cut or damaged. Then the party would be whisked away to parts unknown on what would likely be a super-awesome adventure.

Love the chart, hate rolling d4's.
A new guy jumped in on this session. He looked like he was around 19, a bit older than most of the other players. He had some experience with older editions, and had brought a 3rd edition elf rogue with him. I was stunned when I realized how quickly we converted his character to 5th edition and leveled him up to 6th level. It took about 5 minutes. Awesome.

This new guy is a roleplayer and a thinker. He immediately "got" what was going on better than some of the other players.

We did a few more rooms in the Abyssal Prison:

Room 7. The elemental vent that lashes out with random energy attacks. If you jump it... it takes you to a random plane! I had my deities and demigods random plane chart at the ready. New guy almost jumped in, but thought the better of it.

Room 12. This room has a gimmick where when you step in, you are magically flung up into spikes on the ceiling. There are open pit traps in the room, and it turns out they have invisible covers which means the only safe way to traverse the room is by standing on the pit traps.

There was a lot of experimenting. It was all new guy figuring it out. The rest of the group was utterly lost trying to navigate this room.

Room 13. A ghost warned them about room 15 and told them a glyph key was in 14.

Room 14. A bunch of wizards and undead were guarding cells full of demons. Hack and Slash Fighter ran in here alone and ate piles of magic missiles. He then proceeded to tell the healer he was terrible and I almost lost it. I never get mad, but this was just so offensive to me. I'll explain in a minute.

Room 15. This is a room that has a glabrezu (giant 4-armed spellcasting demon) and random teleportation traps. This was epic. You get teleported on the ceiling, and then you stay on the ceiling til the end of your next turn - then you fall.
It's hip to be.. squares. .. sorry.

New guy immediately started mapping the room and marking down where traps were. Hack and Slash Guy ran around angrily trying to kill the demon, but kept getting teleported far away from it. The party paladin got in an epic one-on-one battle with the glabrezu, and he was pretty much saved by the party cleric who torched the demon with radiant ranged attacks.

This session took quite a while, as these players are just not prepared to handle traps like this at all. They either barrel into them, get hurt bad and then get upset in real life, or they just stand there waiting for someone else to figure the trap out. The brand new guy single-handedly led the group through the dungeon, honestly.

At one point in the night, some of the players turned on the party cleric. They sometimes jokingly tell him he is a "horrible cleric", but they mean it. This is partly because he doesn't know all of his powers. This upset me, because.. none of them know their powers! The two main people bothering the cleric are:

Hack and Slash Fighter - He has NEVER USED HIS SECOND WIND. I have repeatedly offered to send him the playtest packet so he can sharpen up on his fighter, but he never accepts. He keeps thinking he has powers and abilities from older playtest packets. He does not own dice. He does not bring a pencil to the game. This kid charges every monster. He runs into rooms all alone, gets mauled, and then thinks the cleric has failed him because he is bleeding to death.

Brony - Brony plays a dwarf fighter who knows none of his powers. He is one of the laptop people. He never pays attention and frequently has to be told to be quiet as all he wants to talk (loudly) about is My Little Pony and video games. This is a player who has used his fighter ability to use an extra action each encounter... TWICE. In his entire career! You are telling the cleric he doesn't know what he's doing?

The hypocrisy was staggering. It swiftly began to turn into a sort of bullying situation, where they all wanted to gang up and blame the cleric for anything making them unhappy. The new guy was distressingly quick to join in.

I immediately leapt to cleric's defense, telling them that they take so much damage because they play stupid. He's just one cleric. He can't heal you when you stand in the open while 4 casters launch a total of 12 magic missiles per round at you! And man, playing a cleric is thankless as it is. Maybe one of them should play the healer and see what it's like.

I shut them up, but I could sense it wasn't over. I have a deep desire to embarrass these goofballs next week, but I'll try and stay cool. It is incredibly disappointing when you see bullying behavior in a game that often serves as a refuge for people who suffer from bullying in real life.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Dungeons & Dragons: The TV Series

Geeky stuff has become pretty mainstream in the last 10 years. Marvel movies, The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones are about as big as it gets in our culture these days. I actually see all sorts of people walking around in public wearing shirts with retro comic covers on them. So I was sitting around thinking about how this is certainly the best time I can think of for a D&D movie to come out. People grew up on Harry Potter and many adore the Peter Jackson LOTR movies - there is an appetite for fantasy out there that has not been fully sated.

The more I thought about it, though, I realized that a D&D movie isn't as interesting as a D&D TV show could be. I don't mean a cartoon. I loved the 80's cartoon, but what I am talking about is a massive dramatic series full of action and effects. An HBO kind of show.

Draw attention to my farts at your peril, Shadow Demon
Which setting should be used? Or should they make up their own? I would guess that wizards would want it set in the Forgotten Realms, as that is their core world for the new edition and it is a very popular brand. I can see that, but I personally would not be a fan. I don't want to hear someone talk about a "tenday" on my TV. I sure don't want to see Elminster smoking a pipe and scoring with 20 year old women.

The Characters: We should go with a mix of iconic selections and different choices just to keep things from being too dull. I'd like to see a party of 3 males and 3 females, something like that. I'm hesitant to pick races like tieflings and dragonborn, as those would be difficult to pull off on a live TV show without looking like crap. I did not like the way that dwarves and hobbits looked in the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings/Hobbit movies. I just didn't buy that they were small - it didn't look right in many scenes. If there is a dwarf in this show, I think it should be Peter Dinklage real life-style. In fact, now that I think about it, I'd like the dwarf to be female. I don't think we get to see too many female dwarves out there. The gruff male dwarf is such a dull stereotype.

Yes those hobbits are clearly not CGI'd in there, no sir
We will need sex appeal, so we'll designate one male and one female as the token hotties.

Female Dwarf Fighter - She is a badass with an axe and shield
Male Elf Cleric - Our walking exposition dispenser. He knows about everything and he's aloof. Someone will need to die a shocking death in the first few seasons and this is the guy! We can have one of Lolth's shapeshifting handmaidens, a yochlol, strike him down in an epic twist of some sort. This will also build tension for the eventual showdown with Lolth.
Female Half-Elf Wizard - Booksmart lady who will start the show out as really weak with her one spell, but by the end she's firing off fireballs and lightning bolts every round.
Female Half-Elf Rogue - She's our token hottie. We can give her a troubled past and a bad attitude and, of course, tight leather armor
Male Human Bard - He's our other token hottie. He's quite the ladies man and his shirt is always open.
Male Human Fighter - Kick-butt Russel Crowe kind of guy
Hat hair strikes again
I am really amused at the idea of having the old iconics show up on the show in cameos, particularly the controversial weird elf, Mialee. Maybe we could get a Snails cameo too so he can die again (you do remember the Wayans who infiltrated the original D&D movie, right?).

Did you know that the 3rd edition staff hated Regdar, and tried to depict him getting killed in the artwork as often as possible?

Monte Cook explained it here:

"Regdar intruded his way into 3E, empowered by marketing and sales people. At the last minute, in a matter of just those few short weeks, the old TSR standard reared its ugly head. Not only was Regdar on the scene, he was in the spotlight. This was the character that would be on the cardboard standees and other promotional items, and would usually take center stage in the covers. I was caught entirely off-guard and was far too late to even comment on him. Now, to his credit, the initial Regdar artist, Todd Lockwood, made Regdar's ethnicity kind of vague. (Regdar had shown up in Todd's earlier 
It's German for "The Regdar, The."
sketches when he designed the look of 3E armor.) It's only in later artwork that Regdar seems to be pretty clearly the white male fighter we tried to avoid. And to the credit of a number of people--artists, art directors, designers and editors alike--our disdain for Regdar made its way into a lot of art. If you look closely, Regdar is getting thrashed on most of the early pieces he shows up in. (Look for his ignominious fate on the original DM's Screen, for example.)"

The Villains:

I am thinking that the show's main villain could be Lolth. She's one of the most iconic NPCs in D&D, and dark elves are very popular. She's very versatile - she can be a hot chick in a spider web bathing suit and she can also be a hideous spider-thing with a lady head. Throughout the series she can have her little plots, sending her minions to mess with our heroes.

I would like to see Greyhawk as the setting. The series could be based on many of the great adventures hat so many D&D players are familiar with.
I would LOVE to see a mind flayer on TV
Season 1: Castle Greyhawk

This is a great locale because it is THE dungeon, and yet it has never actually been published in its' true form. That gives the show lots of creative leeway. They can focus on establishing the characters and their relationships, and they can roll out all the classic dungeon tropes that we want to see like spiked pits, the "chained-up woman who is actually a succubus" and hey, maybe a dragon on a pile of treasure.

I would also assume that certain D&D monsters would be very expensive to depict. A goblin would be quite difficult, IMO. An orc, since it is man-sized, less so. With castle greyhawk, you could just use orcs and nobody will care because you have a lot of freedom.

Season 2: White Plume Mountain

I'm not sure if you can get a whole season out of this. I think you can if you expand on it, specifically the sword Blackrazor (which is a juicy storyline for a PC), the undead dragon Dragotha off in the distance, and the whole idea that the heroes are supposed to hand over the 3 artifacts to the guy who hired them. Has any PC ever handed these things over? I doubt it.

Season 3: Temple of Elemental Evil

The temple could almost be a whole series on its' own. There's tons of room for drama with the four elemental temple factions. I would cut out the village of Hommlet (I'm not a fan) but keep the scumbag village of Nulb.

Coolest dude ever
Season 4: The Tomb of Horrors

A hero should probably die in this one. Wow, I would love to see this in a TV show. Each excursion back in would be so intense.

Season 5: Against the Giants/Drow stuff

Not sure if giants would be too expensive? But if the series has gone on this long, it'd be a success so maybe this would be doable.

Season 6: Queen of the Demonweb Pits

The drow Series is capped off in the demonweb pits with the battle against Lolth on her spidership. The Demonweb has portals to all those other worlds, each with their own story. You could definitely get a season out of that.

As far as who the actors should be, you'd probably have to go with no-names along with one or two notable actors. I don't watch a lot of TV so something tells me you the reader could think of a number of actors who would fit this show nicely.

Now we got us a TV show!
If I had my picks, though, I would work in a favorite or two. I think Patrick Wilson is the coolest guy ever, so I'd get him in there. And I'd try and figure out some way to get Kat Dennings on the show, because.. well.. she's Kat Dennings. It feels like she deserves more than she gets. I never understood the way they used her in Thor. Don't hit me, but I'd have rather seen her in Natalie Portman's role. Or heck, they could have made her The Wasp or something. It felt like they wasted her. She would have made a great Scarlet Witch, even.

So there you go, we have mulled over something that will probably never happen. But it should! And I don't think there has ever been a time when the public would be more receptive to it than right now.

Please do not exit the blog until it has come to a complete stop. See you next time, my trusty chum.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Dead in Thay: Into the Doomvault

Spoiler alert! Don your protective headgear and sanitize your rubber gloves.

I can't express how beneficial it is to a game when you have genuine enthusiasm. Last season of D&D encounters, I really had a hard time getting motivated to run the game. Scourge of the Sword Coast wasn't a bad adventure, but it was sometimes a drag to prepare and run.

But Dead in Thay... wow. I love it. And there really is something about the map that helps it tremendously. The rooms are fun to look at. The maps really put the adventure way over the top.

I had wanted to print out some poster-sized ones this week but I didn't have the time or the money. I did print out a few color Doomvault maps on 8.5 x 11 cardstock for my players. I am going to see if it is OK for me to post blown-up maps somewhere online so any of you can download them and print them out. I print them at office depot. It costs $2.50 for a black and white map and about $30 for color. It takes about 10 minutes, depending on when you go and who is working.

I like go the extra mile, just to make the players smile~
I had run the game day on Saturday, which was awesome. And tonight our heroes were stranded in the Doomvault, with no choice but to help the rebel Red Wizards in their fight against their insane leader Szass Tam. Our heroes need to slaughter their way through the Doomvault to destroy some lich phylacteries or something.

The heroes have a little safe room that they can use special keys to teleport to for resting..

What is really nice so far is that most of the encounters have a roleplaying element. You don't have to fight all that much. Observe:

Room 1: The PCs can talk their way past a sexy vampire lady. My heroes didn't. They pummeled her and her cohorts.

Room 2: The heroes can befriend a vampire and save their friend from an arena fight against a wounded vrock. They did. Shalendra Floshin just has the worst luck - first possessed by a pit fiend, now this.

Room 3: Prism traps! (the vampire talked my PCs into staying out of the room - it is where he sleeps and keeps his treasure)

8 rooms down, 102 to go!
Room 4: A lightning trap that my heroes couldn't figure out. They just kind of took the damage twice and stumbled on past.

Room 5: Our succubus from season one is here, posed as an NPC from Daggerford. What amused me is that if the PCs thought about it at all, they'd know there is no way this woman could be here. But of course, they didn't. They brought her to their safehouse! So now, when the wounded party comes there to rest, she can kill them in their sleep.

Room 6: A fire elemental trapped in the room just wants to go home. Our heroes didn't bother looking at the weird runes on the walls, they just killed the poor elemental. They'd be severely bummed if I revealed to them that this giant elemental would have fought alongside them for the rest of the session.

Room 8: A room where there's undead that are guarding demons who are trapped in magic circles. The demons beg the PCs to be let free, and then of course immediately turn on them. Our heroes indeed let them out and had to fight the undead and a bunch of quasits too . What was funniest to me was a player who wasn't paying attention and tried to free a vrock after the quasits had turned on them.

They didn't do this room yet, I just think it looks cool.
Room 9: It's a dead end hallway with double doors. The doors are trapped - the hallway goes dark and our heroes must save or be paralyzed and take 7 necrotic damage. Next round, same thing. It keeps going until they all escape. Again, I was most amused as our heroes escaped, went back in and got paralyzed again trying to save each other. For some reason, hack and slash fighter made and threw a "molotov cocktail" in there which obviously made things worse.

That's what we did. It was very fun. I drew out the rooms on a sketchpad, which worked out fine. But I'd really like to print these maps. The adventure deserves it.

My players behaved today. In fact, they've been much better lately. The same 5 people show up every week and we have a nice vibe going.

I cant recommend this adventure any more highly. You should definitely check it out.