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Monday, August 31, 2015

Umbra - The Screaming Tower

Tonight we started a new Planescape adventure called "Umbra" by Chris Perkins. It was published in Dungeon Magazine #55. I am converting it from 2e rules to 5th edition, which is very easy to do.

We just finished The Great Modron March, and once Umbra is done we're going through Dead Gods. After that, we'll do the other Perkins adventure - "Nemesis."

Dungeon Magazine adventures at that time were extremely wordy and I found them difficult to read. There was no adventure synopsis. You had to slog through the whole thing to find out what the scenario was about. Most adventures had way too much backstory and far too many dull details of rooms.

Umbra isn't too bad in that regard and the first half of the adventure in particular is really enjoyable. The scenario is entirely set in the city of Sigil, which really helps. Sigil is awesome. I want to run more stuff just in the city. Perkins came up with some truly inspired locations and he was able to really bring the city to life.

There are huge piles of flavor text, but it's pretty fun to read. It's tricky, because it's so easy for a player's eyes to glaze over and miss details while I'm reading paragraphs of stuff out loud.

The Party

(Jessie) Bidam - Platinum Dragonborn Fighter
(George) Theran - Drow Wizard 

Downtime - The Festhall
Our heroes have opened a "festhall," so we got that rolling. The heroes hired a ton of prostitutes. I tried to give each employee a story.

I had a door appear in the festhall. It's obviously a portal to another plane, but nobody knows how to activate it or what plane it leads to. The ladies and dudes who work in the festhall have decided to try to figure it out and they're studying and mapping the planes. They're also keeping a log of every portal that they know of in Sigil.


I also decided to use a cool NPC from Uncaged - The Faces of Sigil. There's this section of razorvine known as "Patch." If you feed it blood, it will answer questions for you by forming words in the blood on a wall. I decided that this thing is right next to Vrischika's new home.

The heroes investigated it. They saw Rule-of-Three (a major Planescape NPC) use it. The heroes tried cutting Patch down, but it grew back. They kept trying to learn more, and almost worked their way to the secret of the razorvine (as it was revealed in Patch's story) but they left it alone for now.

The Black Sail
The heroes were walking the streets of the lower ward, when a Harmonium officer started harassing them. He turned into a barlgura and attacked! The heroes are now 5th level, and they were able to handle this monster. It made me a bit nervous though - the creature has this ability called "Reckless," which means that it gets advantage to attack, and people have advantage when attacking it. This monster gets three attacks per round, all with advantage.

The heroes were rescued by a mysterious cambion called Dirngrin. This whole thing was a setup by Dirngrin. He'd been following the heroes, and had his barlgura attack them as a sort of test.

Dirngrin proceeded to rattle off some dialogue that the players found hilarious. They actually asked me to re-read this part:

"The Cage ain't a place for the clueless, cutter. It'll make a basher go barmy before you can say, 'Pike it, primescum!'"

"Pike it, primescum" has become a new catchphrase among this group. I had told them if they convincingly used planescape slang that they would get inspiration. This lead to an evening full of the word "berk" and the phrase "put you in the dead-book."

Dirngrin works for this yagnoloth called Inimigle. Dirngrin took the heroes to meet him, in The Black Sail tavern.

Inimigle told the heroes there was this hag who owned a restaurant called The Worm's Guts. She sold all sorts of food. Apparently, the heroes were on the menu!

The hag wanted to cook up the heroes and serve them to her customers. What a fun idea. It also makes extra sense, as a platinum-scaled dragonborn is quite a delicacy indeed.

Basically, Inimigle convinced the heroes to go rescue a girl captured in a Harmonium tower. The girl has this special mark on her hand, which means she's a chosen one for this old, lost faction called the Zactars. Basically this kid is going to grow up to become a god.

The heroes agree to go break her out. Inimigle says there's a hag who will help them (not the hag who wants to cook them). This hag's name is Varaga and she lives in The Screaming Tower. To get in, you need to repeat this phrase exactly:

I swear this oath to Sigil's guard:
Lord of all She gazes;
I pledge my life to Her, the one
Who spares us from the Mazes.

The players didn't write it down. I knew we were in for a wacky night.

The Lady's Ward
The adventurers set out for The Screaming Tower, which was in the Lady's Ward. The module says it actually takes a few hours to walk there. I hadn't really given much thought to just how big Sigil was. A few hours.. I guess I like it. Sigil should be big.

Along the way, the heroes were harassed by Harmonium guards. A hag pushing a cart full of larvae helped them by casting a forget spell on the guards. This is the hag who wants to cook them up and serve them to her customers. Inimigle got her to follow the heroes and make sure they got to the tower.

Later, the group spotted a cart full of prisoners. They'd looted a temple and were going to jail. The cart was pulled by... a gorgon! And it was driven by two barghests - blue-skinned goblins that could turn into wolves.

One prisoner could cast some spells. Her name was Heleta Vazgarth. She used a spell to read the heroes thoughts and called out, begging them to save her. She said she knew of the chosen one and could help them.

Our heroes tried to use mage hand to quietly and swiftly pull the key ring off a barghest's belt, but the barghest heard the clinking of the keys (low arcana roll). A fight broke out. The heroes killed the barghests and set the prisoners free.

The gorgon was left to its own devices in the city street. The adventurers didn't even realize it was a gorgon until they heard later that it had run around the city, turning people to stone.

The heroes took Helveta with them. She was a chaotic good mage. She admitted that she had read their minds and didn't know anything about the chosen one. She just wanted to be free! The Harmonium had arrested her along with the looters although she hadn't done anything. Helveta was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The heroes were outraged and made it clear that she was coming with them. Poor Helveta was going to be trap bait.

The Screaming Tower

This place is incredibly awesome. Here's the description:

"Located in the heart of The Lady's Ward is a twisted, hollow structure known as The Screaming Tower. The 250 foot tall tower was built atop a natural portal leading to the Elemental Plane of Air and is riddled with apertures. Every hour, a huge gust of wind erupts from the portal and blows through these holes, creating the painful wailing noise which earns the tower its name."

So remember, the heroes are supposed to walk up to the tower, repeat the pass phrase, and then enter. The problem: Both adventurers had completely forgotten that they even needed to utter the pass phrase. They also didn't remember what it was.

And worse... poor Heleta had to go try the door alone! She approached, and saw a demonic gargoyle statue on either side of the 15 foot tall iron door. She saw a scorched body lying in front of the door. The heroes urged her on. She pulled on the door handle. Lightning erupted from the gargoyle mouths and killed her.

After a bit of laughter and planning, the heroes approached the door. They looted poor Heleta and the scorched body (it had a +1 spear). Bidam tried the door. Bidam was scorched by the lightning trap, and the door didn't budge. The door is so heavy that it takes a total of 22 points of strength to open it.

Bidam staggered back, injured by the trap. The heroes decided to go rest. They went to Fortune's Wheel, a giant gambling complex owned by Shemeshka the Marauder. They sat in The Dragon Bar for an hour. Theran studied the spear, while Bidam burned some surges to heal. They still hadn't remembered about the pass phrase.

They went back to the tower and tried the door together. They got scorched again. Then they remembered about the pass phrase (with some hints from yours truly). They had no idea what the pass phrase was. So, laughing, they walked all the way back to the lower ward.

They tracked down Inimigle's surly girlfriend, a tiefling named Turia (who also appears in the other Perkins Planescape adventure, "Nemesis"). She made the heroes pay her 100 gold. Then she told them the pass phrase. The heroes left, mumbling about coming back and killing her.

They walked all the way back to the tower, uttered the pass phrase, and at last entered The Screaming Tower.

Inside, there's a massive void (portal to the plane of air) and a staircase that winds up, hugging the wall. 99 gargoyles perch in here, looking out of the many holes in the wall.

Eyarq's Way
This is where an awesome encounter kicks in. The heroes are going up the stairs. Once they're about 50 feet up, The portal comes to life, spewing forth a mighty gust of wind. The heroes must grab on to something or go flying. Those who fail their DEX saves have to roll a d6 on a special chart. A 1 means you actually get flung out through a hole of the tower into Sigil!

The portal came to life. Theran grabbed on to a gargoyle as the wind forced his feet off the ground. Bidam failed his save and the dragonborn was blown right out of the building. He soared through the air and crashed to the street below, taking 5d6 damage. He came back in and the adventurers made their way up the stairs to the third room.

They met with a margoyle flunky of the hag's. The margoyle hates the hag and wants to turn the heroes against her. I didn't care for this idea, so I just made him a doofus comedy character.

Zaraga's Lair

The adventurers went up a spiral staircase and came upon Zaraga the hag. She has some pretty epic flavor text. They walk in on her eating an imp:

"With ravenous hunger she shoves the reddish pulp into her toothy maw and devours it all at once, then wipes her talons on the front of her rags. Hanging from the nearby ceiling are three iron bird cages, two of them containing creatures like the one just devoured. Their pathetic cries for mercy can barely be heard above the great hag's belch."

The heroes handed her a disc (a portal key) that Inimigle told them to give her. She agreed to help them. Her plan: Gargoyles would fly the heroes to the Harmonium tower. The adventurers could sneak through the building, steal the kid, and escape..

We'll do that next time. I think we can finish this adventure next week! This was a very good session. I really love this adventure. Tons of fun ideas!

Click here to check out the rest of Umbra.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Dungeons & Dragons - Inter-Party Combat

I am going to try and write about a really tricky topic in D&D - inter-party combat, conflict or competition. Some younger players refer to it as "PVP". It is when one character gets in a fight with another. It is usually to the death. If it's not to the death, it usually becomes a prolonged war erupting over the course of a few sessions.

When it goes right, it can be hilarious and fun. But very often, it goes horribly wrong and can end campaigns and even destroy entire gaming groups.

My Experiences

I've had many instances of inter-party combat in my games, many of which occurred when I was a teenager. They were all different and very memorable:

The Lady's Man: One guy was playing a really evil character who always hit on the character of a female player. Her character finally had enough and slit his throat in his sleep. We had already established the rule that if somebody did this, they were just dead. No roll! He was crestfallen, to say the least.

That Guy: We had a new player join our group who liked to make drow assassins. He'd kill a PC, and then we'd kill him. Then he'd make a "revenge character" and come back for more killing. He got kicked out of the group after about two sessions.

The Rift: There was an epic battle between a psionicist and a dagger thrower. The psionicist put up an inertia barrier, which caused projectiles to lose their inertia and plop to the ground.This of course made for a hilarious battle. All the dagger thrower was good at as throwing daggers. It was a stalemate until the dagger thrower put a bag of holding in a portable hole, creating an explosive rift to the plane of fire that killed both of them.

The PVP Dungeon: Once in a while, we'd play a special one-shot where we'd go through a competitive dungeon. We'd all race through deadly trap-filled catacombs alongside NPCs who would drop like flies. Those of us who survived would face off in a mass free-for-all in the final room of the dungeon. The last survivor got awarded special powers (basically a special "prestige class", before those existed).

The Incident: Last year, I ran The Dancing Hut of Baba Yaga. The heroes were discussing plans, and a party member suggested something that the party wizard didn't like. The wizard hit him with a spell and nearly killed him. Just minutes later, the heroes tricked the wizard into leaving the hut, and then deserted him on the evil plane of his greatest enemy. The campaign pretty much ended right there.

Causes of Interparty Combat

This kind of thing has a number of causes. You'll need to make sure that, when your group first forms or adds a member, that you make it clear whether interparty stuff is acceptable or not. Here's some of the more common triggers:

Let's See Who's The Toughest: If you have a few competitive players who are both trying to make a powerful character, chances are that they'll be comparing themselves to each other. A little good-natured ribbing could slowly turn into  a feud, with everyone else watching on the sidelines piping up and openly speculating on who would win. Sooner or later, these two are going to butt heads to see who is better.

Domination: This is something that really needs to be used carefully. In D&D, especially in 4e, some bad guys can dominate a PC and force them to attack their allies. As DM, you're probably going to dominate the person who does the most damage, right? That means that over the course of the same campaign, the same player is going to be put in a situation where he or she has to hack into their allies. This player will likely become unhappy and the others might even be annoyed at how much damage their ally is doing and begin to question if their character is made correctly. From there, it's not much of a leap to go from forced inter-party combat to voluntary inter-party combat.

Magical Alignment Change: This actually just happened in my planescape campaign. Bidam the dragonborn fighter was hit by an energy field while exploring the corpse of a dead god, and he went from Chaotic Good to Lawful Evil. Sometimes, when a player is put in this situation, it's really weird for them and they don't know how to play it. What would an evil person do? Do you just do the opposite of what a good character would do? Honestly it doesn't seem like there's a lot of upside to even including alignment switches in your game, unless it is to affect NPCs. You're tampering with a PC in a way that might make the player not want to run their character anymore.

Party Thief: Here's the classic. A thief joins the party, and starts stealing from the party and secretly hoarding treasure. You probably know that there is no quicker way to incite player rage than to try to steal from other people in the party.

Claiming a Magic Item: The party comes upon a truly awesome magic item. Two characters really want it. A lot of shouting, rolling and snatching takes place. Player greed is partly the issue here. Also, this could be a case of the DM not handing out enough magic items - players are starved for them and become rabid dogs.

Player Decides to Sabotage the Game: This really does happen. Sometimes, for whatever reason, a player decides that they don't like this campaign and they purposely try to ruin it. I've seen it happen many times. I've heard people brag about it. It's about as pathetic as a D&D player can get. These toxic people need to be ejected when discovered. Just retcon their stupidity.

Using Skills on Each Other

As an aside, I've read about instances where one party member will use their intimidate skill to force other members of the party to do what they want. In my opinion, this should not be possible. A player has the right to decide what they want to do, unless they are magically compelled to do otherwise. You could end up in a situation where one unpleasant human being makes a character with a ridiculously high intimidate skill, and forces the group to do his or her bidding, even handing over magic items. Nobody would want to sit through that kind of game.


One of the best sessions of D&D I ever ran was with two players who were plotting against each other. They split up in the game, each maneuvering against the other. While I ran one player's stuff, the other either left the room or put headphones on. Every five minutes, we'd switch. It's a long story, but one of them ended up turning into a badger and swallowing his tongue.

If you can juggle this kind of situation without boring the group, do it. It's awesome. There's something very exciting about a game where players genuinely don't know what the others are doing. If you have players who aren't going to get distracted or disinterested while you handle other people, definitely give it a try sometime.

Why Even Bother?

Why allow inter-party combat at all? Well, it's fun. These incidents usually become the stuff of legend within your gaming group. There's nothing more intense and unpredictable than when two characters turn their power against one another.

The thing here, though, is that there's probably going to be hurt feelings involved. The person who loses is probably going to lose due to bad dice rolls, and that is a tough pill to swallow. If the winner is going to gloat, then you will have a real life problem on your hands.

To me, the best time to have this happen is when a player quietly comes to you and says that they want to change characters. You can cook up a scheme where the character betrays the party and battles against them, knowing that the character is going to lose or die.

Another good time to do it is in a one-shot competitive adventure, like I've described above.

The most important thing when thinking about inter-party combat is that you need to know your players. I don't want to be condescending and throw around the word "maturity", but really that's what it comes down to. Is your entire group mature enough to handle the consequences? Are they going to be bitter and ruin your campaign over this?

Running an Inter-Party Combat

So, let's just say that war breaks out at your table. Two characters attack each other. Here's things to be mindful of:
  • Make sure this is not an out-of-game issue spilling over into the game. If it is, then just stop the game and work it out before continuing.
  • Every roll must be witnessed and declared. Do floor dice count? Cocked dice? Make sure those rolls are on a flat surface, out in the open. Never is the temptation to cheat so great.
  • You must look up every rule as you go. You cannot blow a call in an inter-party combat. Things might get intense, so you'll need to be double-checking as a player might broadly interpret a rule to gain an advantage.
  • Keep the rest of the party in initiative order. They may want to jump in, heal someone, or try to break it up.
  • It is vitally important to establish who is doing what, when. People will be excitedly shouting things out, lots of words and dialogue coming out at once. Use initiative order as a guideline, as well as common sense. Make it clear what is taking place, and in what order.
Conflict In Your Game

D&D is a story, and a campaign can be similar to a novel or TV show. The Walking Dead is built on tension between the main characters, and they sometimes attack or kill each other. That could be a heck of a campaign, but you have to have the right sort of players for this kind of thing.

Inter-Party conflict doesn't have to involve a fight to the death. It can just be to unconsciousness. It cold even be to "first blood" (half hit points..?).

The conflict might not even be a physical battle. It could be a foot race, a grappling match, an archery contest, a spell duel, a singing competition or a dance-off (which would be hilarious). Or my personal favorite: A drinking competition.

The safest way to explore inter-party combat is in a classic setting: The Arena. You can run a big arena battle, which is to unconsciousness, not death, and you can have other NPCs  in there, too. This will create a nice buffer so that your players aren't directly pitted just against each other. The random nature of the battle will give the players an out, so that the loser could blame the setting for the loss.

It also allows you to add some cool environmental wrinkles - pit traps, projectiles. Heck, maybe even do a chariot race! There was a video game that made a very lasting impression on me when it comes to arena fights. It's called Shadow of Rome. The battles in that game are so crazy, chaotic and fun that I've stolen from it many times for D&D.

Bottom line, inter-party combat needs to be handled really carefully. It can add tons of drama and legendary stories, but it also can kill your game and your gaming group. Tread carefully!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Great Modron March - Mysteries of the Dead Gods

Last Sunday we played through a special session of the Planescape campaign. I wanted to use material from a Planescape article by Monte Cook in Dragon issue 240, "Mysteries of the Dead Gods."

The article is full of charts containing things that you might find on the giant stone god-corpses that float in the astral sea. I figured that would make for a cool session and would be a buffer that would allow us to wrap up The Great Modron March and put some space in before we start "Umbra" next week.

The Party

(Jessie) Bidam - Platinum Dragonborn Fighter
(George) Theran - Drow Wizard   

The Rogue Modron

The adventurers were in Acheron. They made their way through the portal to Mechanus along with the few surviving modrons of the march. They found a portal back to Sigil with the aid of some magic and their planar compass.

The heroes returned to their office in the Clerk's Ward. They had to deal with a few things:

The Lamashtu Painting

They had stolen this in the Abyss and agents of Lamashtu were trying to get it back. They worked out a deal with a very successful, tremendously wealthy business man named Gonard Flumph. He's a rip-off of Donald Trump. I've been working on a Trump voice the past few weeks, as I find him to be very amusing.

Flumph owns lots of real estate, he owns a fragrance called "Achievement," and he runs beauty pageants in gate towns such as Tradegate and Ecstasy. He sat down with the heroes and Vrischika and entered into a tremendous negotiation while the heroes had the best meal of their lives.

Basically they traded the painting to him for a couple of properties. One was a home for Vrischika, who realized she needed a safe domicile after the solamith attacked her in the Curiosity Shoppe.

The heroes were given a choice. Basically this was me giving them a chance to own a business, so we can mess around with the "running a business" downtime rules. Our heroes now own a "festhall" called... "F***Haus.

There's an umlaut in there, but I don't know how to make it. Their talking cat Jysson is going to run it when they are out of town. They'll do the hiring next session.

The Heart of the Lady of Pain

Bidam wants to build a magic heart for the Lady of Pain, who supposedly has a void where her heart is. The void is said to be the source of all pain in the multiverse.

The heroes went back to Undermountain to consult with the drow Paellistra. They gave her the evil, sentient sword Craggis in exchange for guidance. Craggis would be Paellistra's new henchmen, seeing how the heroes had killed her vampire sidekick Cryvistin a few sessions back.

The ingredients for the Heart of the Lady of Pain:
  • The heart of a large creature.
  • Three sensory stones, each one containing an experience of one of the building blocks of love: Understanding, Acceptance and Compassion.
  • A formula for a philter of love.
  • Godsblood.
Godsblood can be obtained by mining the corpse of a dead god. And so, the heroes were off to the astral plane.

The Astral Plane

Their magic pirate ship can fly in the astral plane thanks to the lifejammer helm on board. They brought along Alamandra the githzerai and her boyfriend Stewart Seven-Fingers.

I cooked up four dead gods. In my campaigns, I've had probably a dozen gods die, so I had a nice list to choose from. I won't bore you with all the details - most of them are former characters who became gods, or gods slain by heroes in one way or another. Each god-corpse shares some of its memories with the heroes when they land on it. Here's how it went.

Goddess of the Wamphyri: Wamphyri are super vampires from Brian Lumley novels. This goddess died in a campaign from the 90's that my friend ran. On this corpse, the heroes found plants that could be used to make potions of giant strength. The heroes also encountered some warder devils lounging in a pool of milk. Bidam made friends with them. No godsblood on this dead god.

God of War: This was a character from a 90's campaign who became a god and then was eventually slain by a level 30 character from my Scales of War campaign in 2010. The heroes found ominous markings and signs - githyanki planned to build an outpost here. The heroes mined some metal good for making magic weapons. They also found a pool of water that never freezes, no matter the temperature. No godsblood, though.

Wamphyri demi-god: The wamphyri were a big deal in our campaigns back in the 90's. This particular dead god was actually once a character who betrayed the party. It was a pretty legendary thing in our group. Bidam and Theran had to endure a lot of peril here - madness-inducing memories, an energy field that turned Bidam lawful evil for a day, and plants that were poisonous to the touch. They were also attacked by a two-headed couatyl. These creatures were created in my Savage Tide campaign, another long story.

Goddess of Magic: That's right, Ioun died in my campaign, slain by the evil god who made his own "Shadow Pantheon" of zombie gods (in the campaign I ran last year). This god-corpse let me put all of my research on ioun stones to use.

The heroes found a pulsing node of energy, only able to be mined by magic items. It also exploded. Luckily, the heroes were smart and figured this out (they had come upon a blasted crater earlier). They safely mined the node, and harvested three Ioun stones:
  • Purple Multi-Faceted Cylinder: Creates a pulsing field that does 2d6+2 damage to attacker lasts for d6+4 rounds, once per week.
  • Clear Lozenge: Become invisible once per day.
  • Smooth Pale Lavender Torus: Creates a temporary crystalline duplicate of the user once per week. The duplicate moves under user's control, performs simple tasks (no combat) has 10 hit points. It lasts 24 hours and then crumbles.
The adventurers actually gave the invisibility one to Alamandra. They also found.. godsblood. Mission accomplished!

Githyanki Attack

Unfortunately, on the way back, they were attacked by a few githyanki on an astral skiff. The heroes set their skiff on fire. Ultimately, a githyanki warrior flew onto the deck of the ship while the burning skiff fled. Theran flew after the skiff, and killed both the mindslicer and the hracknir on board.

All in all, it was a good session. I love it when I can mine the history of my own games in a useful way. Next time, we will begin the highly regarded Chris Perkins adventure - Umbra.

Proceed to Umbra here.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Dungeons & Dragons - A Guide to Yeenoghu

Out of the Abyss is going to be out soon, and wizards of the coast has been releasing material on each of the demon lords involved in the adventure each week. I figure that now is a good time to jump in and get a good look at them so we can be fully prepared for Rage of Demons! Today we're going to tackle Yeenoghu, demon lord of gnolls.

The point of this is to collect all of the lore in one place so that when you use Yeenoghu, you will know all of the basic concepts and you can pick and choose what fits your game.

Real Life Origin

From what I can tell, Gary Gygax just made Yeenoghu up. There are a few fun tidbits about the creation of the demon lord.

Frank Mentzer says that there was this newsletter that TSR would publish, just for the employees. Apparently, D&D rules stuff was included in these newsletters. He says that there's one newsletter that stats out Yeenoghu as the demon lord.. of orcs.

James of grognardia relates an amusing urban legend that ultimately turned out to be false:

"In any case, I once heard a story about the creation of Yeenoghu by Gary Gygax. The story goes that players in the Greyhawk campaign, having run afoul of one too many demon lords and archdevils whom they accidentally summoned by speaking their names aloud, got into the practice of using circumlocutions to avoid repeating past mistakes. One such circumlocution was "You-Know-Who." After a while of doing this, Gary sprang Yeenoghu on his players, on the assumption that his name sounded enough like the phrase that he might answer by traveling to the Prime Material Plane."

The Essential Information

Here's the basic stuff you should know when using Yeenoghu in your games:
  • He is the Demon Prince of Gnolls, and is also known as the Beast of Butchery and the Ruler of Ruin. 
  • He wields a triple flail made from the bones of a slain god. 
  • He rules his own layer of the Abyss called "Yeenoghu's Realm", but does not have complete control over it. 
  • He lives in a palace on wheels pulled by slaves.
  • For a time, he was allied with Doresain, King of Ghouls.
  • Yeenoghu hates Malcanthet and Baphomet.
AD&D 1st Edition

It is said that Yeenoghu is one of the most powerful demon princes. He's 12 feet tall, has a hyena head, is thin to the point of being skeletal. He has dead grey skin and his body hair is "...a mangy crest of putrid yellow from his head to his mid back".
  • He'll usually have "...66 gnolls of the strongest sort" with him.
  • He receives homage from the king of ghouls (which is Doresain, ally of Orcus, as far as I know), so he has the power to summon 6-16 ghouls, too.
  • He can see into the astral and ethereal planes.
  • He has piles of spell-like powers, including magic missile, mass charm, teleport, fly and he can gate in d4+1 Vrocks.
He has a triple-headed flail with chains of adamantite. When he attacks with it, you roll to hit for each of the three spiked balls. Each ball does something different:
  1. Does 3d6 damage.
  2. Make a saving throw or be paralyzed.
  3. Save or be confused, as per the spell.
Dragon Magazine #63

Gary Gygax wrote an article about how Yeenoghu created a special form of undead, called the Shoosuvas. It is believed they are incarnations of the spirits of Yeenoghu's greatest shamans.

The most powerful gnoll shamans have an amulet that can summon a shoosuva for aid. It appears as a huge, emaciated hyenadon, glowing with yellow light. Those bit by it are paralyzed. While paralyzed "...only the most basic life functions will continue."

It's also said in this article that any gnoll shaman or witch doctor can call on Yeenoghu for advice.

Manual of the Planes

Yeenoghu gets a blurb in the section on the Abyss. From page 102: "Yeenoghu's great mansion is the size of a city. It rolls across the barren salt-waste of his layers, pulled by slaves and controlled by gnolls."

AD&D 2nd Edition

In 2e, Yeenoghu is detailed in Monster Mythology. Those old blue DM books are my favorite things to flip through to this day.
  • Yeenoghu dwells in " exceptionally dismal and fetid layer of the Abyss."
  • He displaced Gorellik, god of the gnolls. Gorellik wanders Pandemonium and the Abyss, sometimes in the form of "...a mottled white hyenadon."
  • His magic resistance dropped from 80% to 20%.
  • His flail is a +3 weapon. The second ball now causes fear instead of paralysis.
D&D 3rd Edition
Yeenoghu is detailed in Fiendish Codex I, another one of my favorite all-time D&D books.
  • He is the patron of all gnolls and commands ghouls through the subjugation of the King of the Ghouls.
  • He is bestial and straightforward, more likely to charge into melee rather than trying anything subtle.
  • He rules the 422nd layer of the Abyss, a place known as "Yeenoghu's Realm." He spends time there hunting lesser creatures or captured mortals.
  • Yeenoghu's dream is to see gnolls rule, with humans and elves as slaves or food. He knows the gnolls can't do this alone, thus he is always looking for allies.
  • Malcanthet, Queen of Succubi is a hated enemy. He periodically attacks her realm, but is always repelled.
Yeenoghu is in eternal war with Baphomet. Nobody remembers why the war started, but it continues to rage.

Doresain: We get details on how Yeenoghu conquered the ghouls. Doresain, King of Ghouls, was a vassal of Orcus. He had his own layer of the Abyss, which Yeenoghu invaded and conquered. Doresain swore fealty to Yeenoghu. Apparently Orcus is busy and hadn't noticed yet (Doresain is back at the side of Orcus in 4e).

Yeenoghu's Realm: It's the 422nd layer of the Abyss. It was once a desert dotted with ruined cities, ruled by a fallen angel named Azael who was chained to a plaza. Then a god-killer known as Ma Yuan showed up and killed him. The desert is still under Azael's influence - Yeenoghu hasn't taken control of it.

Yeenoghu lives in a mansion that is pulled through the layer by thousands of kidnapped slaves. Once per year, the palace takes a trip around the layer.

Major Locations in Yeenoghu's Realm include:
  • Bechard's Landing: The shore where Bechard, the demon lord (a rotting whale) lies beached. Bechard is one of the obyriths, the ancient race of demons that existed before he demons and devils. He resembles a knotty beached whale, and is incapable of movement. He constantly bakes in the sun and he is very slowly dying. Bechard can barely speak, even telepathically. 
  • The Curswallow: A yellow ocean that prisoners escape to. Cannibal pirates sail these seas.
  • The Dun Savanna: A grassland full of deadly plants, poisonous water and carnivorous beasts.
  • The Screaming Peaks: There's a gate to The White Kingdom, home of the ghouls, here. As such, these mountains are full of ghouls and maurezhi.
  • The Seeping Woods: A vast forest of yellow trees. There's a huge statue of Yeenoghu and a secret band of succubi plotting against the demon lord.
  • The Gathering Gate: A circular portal that allows access to various worlds. This is where slaves are brought through.
Libris Mortis

There's a quick mention in this book that Doresain paid homage to Yeenoghu for a time. Then "...Yeenoghu subsequently lost control of the King's layer, and more recently, Yeenoghu has lost the ability to command the King."

D&D 4th Edition

Yeenoghu got the deluxe treatment in a massive article in one of the first free digital issues of Dragon Magazine. Yeenoghu has "..few ambitions beyond the visceral thrill of rending the soft flesh of his enemies and drinking deep the hot blood from their bodies."
  • The triple flail is made form the bones of a slain god. When used, the flail sprays blood and tears of the fallen deity.
  • In 4e, it is said that Yeenoghu was once a primordial. He was transformed by the Chained God who lurks at the bottom of the Abyss.
Nezrebe, Exarch of Yeenoghu: Nezrebe is an albino gnoll that stands 9 feet tall who wields a magic sword called Winnower. He suffers from a disease that causes him to cough up bloody chunks of his lungs.

Nezrebe hates elves, and hunts them. He has a special chamber set aside for torturing elves. He even crucifies elf slaves to mark off lands under Yeenoghu's control. He spends his time outing minor demon lords who try to encroach on Yeenoghu's plans.

We are told that there are three cities in Yeenoghu's Realm:
  1. Vujak-Riln: A staging ground to mount expeditions into The Seeping Woods.
  2. Vujak-Sesco: A place where creatures of all races mine the mountains for iron and metals. Corpses litter the streets, which are devoured by roaming jackals and hyenas.
  3. Vujak-Kesk: The home of Yeenoghu's cult. Followers gather here to perform ceremonies. There's blood pits where gnolls fight each other to weed out the weak.

There's not much on Yeenoghu in here. I guess they figured the Dragon article covered most of the bases. There is a page on followers known as "Yeenoghu's Death Pack".

"The weakest of his faithful are treated as slaves, but those that can prove their mettle and their battle madness to Yeenoghu can rise high in his service."

They have an array of special powers. They can do damage even on a missed attack, get bonuses to hit when an ally is slain,  give allies bonus damage to a target, that kind of thing.

D&D 5th Edition

So far we only have the flyer that wizards released. Yeenoghu "...yearns to create a world where his gnolls are the last creatures left alive, tearing one another apart for the right to feast upon the endless dead."

In Out of the Abyss, apparently each demon lord inflicts a type of madness. Yeenoghu's brand of madness "...drives its subjects toward the anger of wild mobs bent on destruction and bloodlust."

The madness will make the victim view civilization as a threat to freedom, and give them a hunger for the flesh of sentient creatures.


The 4e article is right here on the wizards site for free.
There's a really well done expansion of Yeenoghu on AuldDragon's AD&D Blog
Chamber Band wrote a song about Yeenoghu

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Dungeons & Dragons - A Guide to Downtime

I posted a new youtube video - episode 5 of the great modron march. It's NSFW. 

Today I am going to write about downtime, the system of between-adventure rules created for 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons. It's a simple set of guidelines designed to help you run your campaign when the heroes are between adventures.

I love downtime. My sessions are probably half spent in downtime. To me, the idea of the heroes going out to get drunk or starting a business is just as much fun as going on a dungeon crawl. The point of this article is to be a simple reference. The downtime rules are spread between two books, which is a little unwieldy. I want it all on one sheet so I don't have to do a lot of page flipping.

I also want to throw out some ideas for expansion, and discuss the potential perils or usability of some of these concepts. I also think some of the downtime ideas are great but are easily overlooked. I'd like to shine a light on them, as they will most definitely enrich your campaign.

Read About Downtime

Obviously I'm only giving an overview in this article. You'll need to refer to the books to get all the rules details. Downtime is discussed in two places:
  • Player's Handbook page 188
  • DMG page 127
Lifestyle: Downtime is frequently tied to "lifestyles", which is the concept of a hero paying a certain amount of money to maintain a style of living. Lifestyles are covered on page 157 of the Player's Handbook. Living a modest lifestyle costs 1 gp per day.

General Downtime Rules: Each activity requires a certain number of days to complete before you gain any benefit. At least 8 hours per day muse be spent on the activity.


You can make non-magical objects. You'll need appropriate tools, usually artisan tools. For each day of downtime you spend crafting, you can craft one or more items worth a total of 5 gold. You'll need to expend raw materials worth half the total market value. So basically you'll be spending 2.5 gold to make a 5 gold item. While crafting, you can live a modest lifestyle without having to pay the cost.

Armor would take a long time to craft. In the book, it gives the example of crafting plate mail. It takes 300 days to make by yourself!

Making leather armor (10 gp) or a shield (10 gp) might work out OK. Or maybe you could make chain shirts (50 gp). The thing about making armor, though, is that you're likely to kill dozens of people on your adventures. You can just take their armor, clean it up and sell it!

Being a bookbinder might be really cool. You could make spell books out of the weird stuff you find on adventures. You could have a book with a cover made of dragon scales, for example.

Practicing a Profession

Get a job! You can live a modest lifestyle while doing this. "Jobs" suggested in the book include:
  • Working at a temple (good for clerics or paladins)
  • Operating as part of a thieves guild (rogues)
Other ones that I can think of:

Fighter: Joining the town guard/militia.
Wizard: Working as a counsel to a local mayor.
Ranger: Working in a stable.
Rogue: A locksmith. How dastardly is that?

Gary Gygax's Book of Names has a nice list of professions on page 163. I am going to pick out the ones that seem the most fun to me:

Shepherd, fisher, "goat boy" (?), "goose girl" (?!?), bailiff, executioner, judge, bowyer, doctor, sage, dancer, jester (the book lists THREE subtypes - buffoon, fool and harlequin), baker, gypsy and crone.

I have no idea what job a crone does, but that seems like a fun character. A gypsy or an executioner sound full of possibilities, too.


After three days of downtime, you can make a DC 15 Constitution save to end an effect that is preventing you from regaining hit points, or for the next 24 hours you have advantage on saves vs one disease or poison affecting you.

I have never seen this come up in 5e.


This one is left largely in the hands of the DM. It could take days, it could include Intelligence (Investigation) checks, and you might need to seek out specific individuals or tomes. It also costs one gold per day to cover expenses.

This is a pretty cool idea that I think is being overlooked a bit in 5e. Most stuff that could require research is sort of handled with a simple skill check. Research is a nice way to have a bit of time pass and make the acquisition of knowledge something that takes a bit of an investment.

One thing that happened in my 4e games is that what skills could do became so abstract and broad that it covered too much ground. There was never a concrete feeling of what one could and couldn't do with certain skills, especially arcana.

I'd say you should go out of your way to put research in your campaign every once in a while. Travel to a certain library in a certain city, track down a dusty tome that needs to be translated, interview an entity through a magic censer. That just feels like a lot more fun than making a simple skill check. It also opens up opportunities for your players to do fun stuff in a town that could lead to some hilarious unforeseen circumstances.

Also, I'd like to see someone work out a sub-section of researching, where a wizard creates a magic circle and summons a demon to be questioned. There's actually a pretty detailed system for this in (I think) The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth.

Gaining Renown

This one is for improving your standing in an organization (such as the Harpers or the Zhentarim in the Forgotten Realms, or maybe the Sensates in Planescape). Renown is explained on page 22 of the DMG, as an optional rule. As you gain renown, you rise in rank and you gain access to perks. You might have access to a safe house or get discounts on adventuring gear. Higher ranking heroes might be able to call on a small army or gain the aid of a powerful spellcaster.

To gain renown, you take on minor tasks and socialize with members. After doing this for a combined number of days equal to your current renown multiplied by 10, your renown increases by one. I think I should be putting this to use in my Planescape campaign.


This is meant to be a way for a hero to acquire a new proficiency, or to learn a new language. You must find an instructor and ability checks may be required. The training lasts for 250 days! And it costs one gold per day.

I just can't see this coming into play much. How many campaigns cover 250 days in game? And how many of them will have so much off-time that you'll be able to learn a single language?

If you have a campaign that stretches 9 months, chances are that the heroes will be fairly high level and will have magic that will give them access to whatever language they need.

Now we're getting into the Dungeon Master's Guide stuff.

Building A Stronghold

You will need a plot of land and if it's in a kingdom, you'll need a royal charter, land grant or a deed. These things are given as a reward, or inherited, or bought. Buying a deed costs anywhere from 100 gold to over 5,000 gold.

We get a sweet table that breaks down how long building different types of places takes, and how much it costs. This chart assumes the hero is there to oversee the whole thing. If the hero is off adventuring, construction takes three times as long!

A castle takes over four years to build!


This is my favorite of all the downtime activities. Most of my adventures involve some level of carousing, and rolls on the epic carousing chart on page 128 of the DMG.

Your character chooses how many days are spent carousing (drinking, gambling and getting up to all sorts of shenanigans). You roll a d100 on the carousing chart. The worst result puts you in jail. The best means you win a fortune in gambling.

Crafting a Magic Item

The creator must be a spellcaster with spell slots, and the character will need to have a specific formula in order to create that particular magic item. The character should be able to cast any spells that the item can produce.

The higher level you are, the more powerful item you can craft (see the chart). Each item has a value in gold. One day makes progress in 25 gold increments. So, making an item that costs 100 gold would take four days of work.

While crafting, you can maintain a modest lifestyle for free.

This one is a little tricky. I would say that the best way for a hero to obtain a magic item formula would be in a slain enemy's spell book. Or it could be a book found in an ancient library or dungeon. Handing out a magic item formula isn't exactly the top priority when a DM is figuring out treasure, but it's pretty fun and it seems like something wizards should do.

I'm half-tempted to say there should be a skill check involved. Roll low and the item comes out cursed or defective. Roll high and it is super-charged somehow. I suppose players would hate the idea of spending all that time and money to end up with a faulty item, though.

Performing Sacred Rites

Basically, you pray for 10 days and gain inspiration at the start of each day for the next 2d6 days.

In my experience, inspiration is a rule that just doesn't stick. Players always forget about it, even when the DM tries to promote it. It's weird, because you'd think the players would be all over something that gives them advantage. But the ways to obtain it are a bit vague and it just feels a little wrong somehow. I think we need more concrete rules for it, like it can only be used once per session or something.

Running a Business

If I was a player, I'd be all over this one! The DM will have to handle how the heroes acquire the business (the book suggests that the heroes get a farm or tavern as a reward). You roll a d100 and add the number of downtime days spent on this activity by 30. Check the chart on page 129.

The lowest result means you must pay 1.5 times the business's maintenance cost for each day. The best result is gaining a profit of 3d10x5 gp. Seems a little low, doesn't it?

Selling Magic Items

This will probably come up with almost every group at some point, when they find an item they don't need or they don't want. Potions in particular seem to sit in backpacks, completely forgotten.

To sell an item, you make a DC 20 Intelligence (Investigation) check to find a buyer. Fail means no buyer is found for 10 days. Success means you roll on the chart on page 130.

The higher the roll, the more money the buyer offers.

Sowing Rumors

This is an odd one. You spend 1 gold per day to cover the cost of drinks. At the end of your gossipy rampage, you make a DC 15 Charisma (Deception or Persuasion) check. Success means the community's attitude toward the subject shifts one step toward friendly or hostile.

There's a little chart that shows how much time is required. A village requires 2d6 days to get a rumor going. A city needs 6d6 days.

I can see players with too much downtime on their hands spreading rumors about each other just for kicks.

Training to Gain Levels

This is a variant rule. Once you gain enough XP to level, you don't actually gain the level until you train. There's a table to show how much time it takes and what the cost is. It takes 10 days and 20 gold to hit 3rd level. It takes 40 days and 80 gold to hit 17th level.

The training rules seem cool, but I've never tried it. Players generally hate the idea, as it seems like a way for the DM to really stick it to them. They put all of that work into hitting the next level, and now they still don't get the benefits until they jump through more hoops.

I think if you are cool about it, you could get some fun stuff out of this. I sure wouldn't have the town be under attack while the heroes are training. But you could cook up some cool mentors and teacher-types, and run some fun training montages. You could make fellow trainees, either rivals or love interests.