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Monday, February 29, 2016

Dead Gods - The Deadbook of the Gods

Last night we played through the last chapter of Dead Gods. Overall, I'd say that Dead Gods is good, but I didn't like some of the early chapters.

After this, we're going to go through the other Chris Perkins Dungeon Magazine Planescape adventure, Nemesis. I've prepared most of it, and I like the first part but I'm not that into the rest. I'm probably going to edit it down.

Then we will start Curse of Strahd, which I am really pumped up about.

Quick Note: I refer to the big bad guy of this as "Orcus," but the adventure calls the reborn Orcus "Tenebrous." I don't use the name "Tenebrous" as the Orcus name has a lot of value in my game and calling him Tenebrous might make things a little confusing for my players.

The Party

(Jessie) Bidam - Platinum-Scaled Dragonborn Fighter
(George) Theran - Drow Wizard
* NPC - Fall From Grace - Succubus Paladin

Downtime in (blank) Square

Our heroes had received ownership of an entire square of buildings. I ran a few scenes to demonstrate their new status.

The whole thing started off with a question. The place needed a name. I had a list of suggestions in case the players were stumped. They quickly decided to call this place "Deadbook Square." They find Planescape slang amusing, and they like saying that they are going to "put someone in the deadbook."

I had an NPC named Lissandra the Gateseeker come and study all of the new portals in the square. She keeps a record of portals in Sigil, and charges people for portal information.

I was wondering what the heroes would do with her. These portals are a big deal. While it is illegal in Sigil to charge a "toll" for a portal, they could have done it anyway. Or they might have come up with some other wacky money-making scheme.

The heroes talked to Lissandra and tried to buy her entire portal book off of her. Lissandra was appalled at the lowball offers. She said no. The heroes just let her catalog the portals and went about their business.

The Free League

I also wanted to establish their new high rank in their factions. Theran is a member of the Free League, who are merchants that watch each other's backs. He was invited to a meeting in the gate town of Tradegate.

Deadbook Square has this huge, empty 3-story building. Everyone at the Free League gathering wanted to rent it from Theran to start a business. There was a lot of haggling. Shemeshka the Marauder expected to have it, as Shemeshka had helped the heroes out during "Umbra" adventure (the group had accidentally sent a gorgon on a rampage in the streets and ran away).

Ultimately, the heroes decided to give each floor to a different business person. This upset Shemeshka mightily and there will probably be repercussions.

The Sensates

The Gilded Hall
Bidam was invited to meet with the Sensates in The Gilded Hall in Arborea. This place is so beautiful that devils have actually died just looking at it. People come here to join the never-ending party.

Basically, the high-ups in the faction talked with Bidam, discussing theories about what happened with Orcus. They talked about the Lady of Pain, noting that since Bidam gave her the Heart of Lady of Pain she hasn't killed anyone - she just sends people to The Mazes now.

They also tried to figure out what happened to the NPC Srivlanka Flumph. The heroes never found out.

The truth is that she had found a gem in Tcian Sumere that summoned her to Orcus. Orcus killed her and her soul was in this magic cauldron in Tcian Sumere. Now that Orcus is dead, Tcian Sumere has vanished. Flumph is just gone and the heroes will never know what happened to her unless they use some divination spells.

The Thief

This adventure has some railroading in it. This whole chapter kicks off with a thief stealing the handle of the wand of orcus from the heroes and giving it to the ogre mage intent on resurrecting Orcus. Here's a quote from the text:

"Quah-Nomag hires the top-shelf thief Ash Vodiran to steal it for him. Vodiran can easily overcome any locks, barriers, guardians or magical wards put in place to protect the wand, and the PCs eventually learn that it's gone missing from wherever they left it."

Now this could be a big problem with some groups. You can get into this real hazy territory where the group might protest, saying they had set magic traps. They might have even mentioned this 5 months ago in real life and you just forgot or didn't hear it.

Not a problem with my group. They have never set traps or wards (even after I gave them warding spells!) in their home. In fact, they were attacked at home by a fire demon a while back, and even after that event no precautions were put in place. I had given them a map of their home and everything.

So yeah, Ash Vodiran just walked into their house while they were sleeping. He rifled through their stuff, took the handle of the Wand of Orcus, and pocketed 2,000 gp of their money. He left a note that said:

"Thanks for the wand and the money! -Ash Vodiran."

Boy, were they mad when they woke up. The heroes rounded up their buddy Fall From Grace and scoured the city. They found out from Kylie the Tout that Ash had headed to the Astral Plane. That lead us to the official adventure...

The Guardian of the Dead Gods

The heroes use a portal to the Astral Plane. There, this god is waiting for them. He's Anubis the Egyptian God, known here as The Guardian of the Dead Gods. He warns the heroes that things are afoot, and points in the direction of the calamity.

I was wondering if the heroes would summon their pirate ship with their magic whalebone. They didn't. In the Astral Plane, you can fly with a thought, so they just started flying toward the trouble.

Quah Nomag is on the giant, stone dead body of Orcus, which is maybe a mile across. It has this magic field, which means that the heroes can only land on Orcus' feet. The place has its own gravity, so they'd have to walk and climb to get to the head, where Quah-Nomag was.

Forest of Death

The heroes came across a "forest" of visages, all turned to stone. They could still warp perceptions, and so they gave the heroes some freaky visions of Orcus moments from my past campaigns (including when Orcus attacked The Raven Queen at the end of the 4e main adventure path). The heroes made their saves and moved on.

They climbed up Orcus' belly. At the summit, 12 skeletons burst out of the ground. These guys have 13 hit points, and they do 5 damage. My group is 8th level. These 12 skeletons really ripped up my group! Theran relies on magic missile too much, and Bidam's breath weapon just isn't powerful enough to be effective against them.

This was a bloody battle. When it was over, Fall From Grace used up her entire Lay on Hands power (she has a pool of 40 hit points to heal with).

The Everchanging Fiend

The group made their way down the belly, coming upon pools of liquid/negative energy. Even getting near them causes damage.

When describing them, I used the word "miasma." I don't know exactly what it means, I just like saying it. Jessie got really excited and she told George to steer clear of the pools. Because they contained miasma, you see.

They continued down and came upon an awesome little entity. It is this creature that changes forms every round, simulating Orcus' rise from mortal to demon lord. It goes like this:

Portly, Evil Wizard - Larvae - Manes - Barlgura - Chasme - Vrock - Hezrous - Balor - Ram-headed Balor - Orcus - Dead God Orcus - "Tenebrous" - Portly, Evil Wizard, etc.

I didn't know Orcus was once an evil, human wizard. I thought that was really cool. Guess what my group did? Avoided him completely! Son of a...

The Ritual of Revival

The group climbed to the head of Orcus. Theran actually fell while climbing, but Fall From Grace flew and caught him before he plunged to his death.

Orcus' mouth is a cavern full of bat swarms and abyssal bats (varrangoin). The group was careful not to disturb them.

They spotted Quah-Namog, chanting away. They rushed him, but this flavor text kicked in:

"You stand in the City of Doors, yet somehow you realize that you've also been catapulted into the future. The burg you once knew so well has become a charnel house. Bodies lay strewn about the streets red with blood. And in the middle of the carnage is a sight that makes your mind reel."

They see Orcus in Sigil, standing over the corpses of Zeus, Thor, Paladine, and Mystra. Also there were dead homebrew gods from my campaigns, including the goddess that Fall From Grace worships. To the shock of the heroes, Orcus is holding the severed head of The Lady of Pain.

"Sigil is dead. The Multiverse belongs to Tenebrous."

The heroes had absolutely no idea what to do. Orcus roared and rushed Bidam. Bidam had been the one who shattered the Orcusword a few sessions back and clearly Orcus wanted revenge. Orcus swiped him, with +17 to hit. He did 21 points of damage.

Now the party was really freaked out! They looked around for a recognizable portal. Theran summoned the nightmare from his wand of darkness. He wanted to use it to shift to the Ethereal Plane. But for some reason, the power didn't work.

Fall From Grace was spoiling for a fight now. Orcus had killed her god! Bidam shouted to her to use her kiss on Orcus. Fall From Grace can kill people with her kiss, but up until now she swore never to do it.

Fall From Grace charged Orcus, but Orcus snatched her up in his mighty hand and began to crush her, doing 21 points per round.

Bidam pulled out the planar compass. He knew they needed to find a portal and get the heck out of this place. To his shock, he saw the dial on the compass spinning wildly.

I dropped a slight hint here - Fall From Grace wondered aloud how they had even traveled to the future in the first place.

The heroes realized that this was some kind of visage hallucination. They disbelieved, made their saving throws, and appeared back in the Astral Plane.

The damage they took was real. This was a last-ditch effort by Orcus to stop the heroes while his servant completed the ritual.

Free, the group rushed Quah Namog, disrupted his ritual, and chucked him into Orcus' mouth, where the bats and varrangoin swarmed him.

Orcus vanished. The heroes were suddenly floating in the Astral Plane. No sign of the bad guys.

It's All Over

They made their way back to Sigil, and in the days ahead there were all sorts of rumors. Some said Orcus was truly dead, others said his body had gone somewhere for safekeeping until he could be revived.

In my campaign, Orcus is now just a vestige residing int he Amber Temple in Barovia (see Curse of Strahd for details).

During his rampage, he'd caused a lot of destruction. Orcus killed:
  • Bwimb, paraelemental prince of ooze
  • Primus, lord of the modrons. He was replaced by a secundus.
  • Maanzecorian, mind flayer god of secrets. Now Ilsensine was supreme god of mind flayers.
  • Tomeri, goddess of wisdom and love.
  • Camaxtli, god of fear.
Further Effects:
  • Nekrotheptis Skorpia, my super-cool NPC who lived in Set's Realm, was injured but not killed.
  • Kiaransalee, the drow goddess who had hid the wand of orcus was now really worried that Orcus would pop up and get revenge on her.
  • The Sigil portal to Ranais/Crux on Yggdrasil had vanished.
  • Tcian Sumere, Orcus' home on the Negative Material Plane had vanished.
  • House Tormtor was defeated in the Vault of the Drow.
And here's one I found quite amusing. The heroes skipped a huge section of the Pandemonium adventure (it involved a huge traveling carnival called The Cynosure), which I think the author of this adventure really liked. Here's this quote, one of the final passages in the whole book:

"The Cynosure continues to flourish, and the show goes on..."

I read this quote aloud to the group. My players started cracking up. I shook my fist at them in mock rage. How dare they skip The Cynosure!?

Overall, this was a really fun adventure. I waited about 20 years to run it, and I'm glad I did.

Next up is Nemesis, an adventure where our heroes go to an Abyssal Realm to claim four, count them, four magic swords from a marilith.

Click here to read how Nemesis went.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Curse of Strahd - Death House

You can download this adventure for free right here in Dragon Plus Issue 6

Wizards just released a .pdf of Death House, a 1st level adventure that is part of Curse of Strahd - the new adventure that comes out next month. I'm going to read and review it right here for you so we can get a look at what Curse of Strahd is going to be like.

This is an adventure that will be run in game stores, so there's spoilers in here. If you're a player, you should really skip this article as you're just going to ruin it for yourself and possibly everyone else.

You can buy Curse of Strahd and the Tarokka Deck on amazon here:

Curse of Strahd: A Dungeons & Dragons Sourcebook (D&D Supplement)
D&D: Curse of Strahd Tarokka Deck

The Story

The Death House is in the village of Barovia. It has burned to the ground many times, only to rise from the ashes time and again. It was once home to a cult slain by Strahd. Their spirits still lurk in the dungeons underneath the Death House.

The heroes are pulled from their world into a forest in Barovia by the mists of Ravenloft. They come upon a village at night and meet two little kids named Rose and Thorn. The kids say that there's a monster in their house and that they won't go back in until it is gone.

The truth is that these kids are illusions made by the house. Here's the deal with them:

"The children died of starvation centuries ago after their insane parents locked them in the attic and forgot about them. They were too young and innocent to understand that their parents were guilty of heinous crimes."

How about that? Yikes. Later, the heroes might come upon their skeletons and even be possessed by their ghosts.


Haunted House: Running the exploration of the Death House is going to require finesse on the DM's part. There's a whole lot of rooms with nothing in them. Some players might be hungry for combat and may get turned off by the lack of action. Remember that this is an adventure that ramps in intensity from start to finish. The beginning is slow and the horror builds all the way to the frenzied escape at the end.

Once the heroes begin exploring, the mists of Ravenloft surround the Death House. Basically, the group is trapped into the Death House and they can't leave until they've gone through it. I'm not sure exactly what happens if they go into the fog. I suppose that's elaborated on in the hardcover book.

Trinkets, Clues and Loot: Each room has interesting little things, like a top hat, or suits of armor with visored helms in the shape of wolf heads. These kind of things are cool, because some players might latch onto something and use it to help define who their character is.

Here's an example of the weird little details spread throughout the Death House:

"Oil lamps are mounted on the oak-paneled walls, which are carved with woodland scenes of trees, falling leaves, and tiny critters. Characters who search the walls for secret doors or otherwise inspect the paneling can, with a successful DC 12 Wisdom (Perception) check, notice tiny corpses hanging from the trees and worms bursting up from the ground."

Possession: There's a chance the heroes will be possessed by the ghosts of Rose and Thorn. If so, they gain flaws. Thorn's is "I'm scared of everything, including my own shadow, and weep with despair when things don't go my way." I can see some players having trouble with this, so I think you should be mindful of how you use it.

Nice Treasure: There's a lot of cool loot in one of the final areas, including a bunch of trinkets. Who wouldn't want a hag's severed finger? Imagine the hijinks the heroes could get into with a bag full of guano.

There's also an aspergillum carved from bone. I have no idea what that is, so I googled it. An aspergillum is an implement for sprinkling holy water - a perforated ball at the end of a short handle.

Final Room is Decent: The final encounter involves a dais and chanting ghostly voices. They demand a sacrifice. If the heroes don't provide one, a monster lurches up to attack them. It's kind of cool, though I don't really like the choice for the final monster and I think I might change it when I run this.

The Best Part of This Adventure: My favorite part of this adventure occurs at the end. Once the heroes have either made a sacrifice or killed the monster, the Death House itself tries to do them in. The doors are all replaced by slashing scythes. How awesome is that? Every room with a fireplace or oven is filled with poisonous black smoke. You have to roll initiative and everything - it's the group vs. the Death House. Awesome.

Once the heroes escape, they will be 3rd level.

Overall Thoughts

Building Tension: This is a severe change of pace from the previous adventures, and it will require a different set of skills from the DM. Running your heroes through a haunted house means in theory you want to build tension, which is very tricky in a game where the players are likely to be joking around.

You might want to use the Fear and Horror Check rules in the DMG on page 266 for a few scenes.

I'm a little concerned that players will get bored exploring so many empty rooms. You'll need to be very mindful of pacing. If you let the group linger and sift through each room, it could really drag. Don't be afraid to say "That's all that's in there."

Resting: You should also think about what to do if the group wants to take a long rest. They could hole up in a room. Does anything happen overnight? I think something should. Maybe they have weird nightmares, maybe the specter comes to haunt them, who knows. I think one cool idea is for them to hear rats in the walls, to foreshadow the final "escape" section.

Combat: If you have a group that is combat-oriented, you might want to throw one or two battles at them when they first arrive in Barovia. They could fight Strahd's bats or wolves in the woods, perhaps. Or you could run a variant of the vampire spawn encounter in the Volo story in Dragon Plus. This way, the group has scratched the itch and will be more inclined to accept the opening exploration.

Foreshadowing: I think it might be helpful to foreshadow the final escape portion by trying to creep the players out. As the players explore, have the PCs smell smoke, maybe have them hear a scythe cutting through the air as they pass through a door, that kind of thing. It's always nice to plant legit clues and give the group things to speculate about. Just remember that if they correctly guess what's being foreshadowed, don't punish them. They were clever, let them reap the rewards.

This seems like a decent adventure. I'll be interested to see how it goes when people run it.

For more, check out my Guide to Strahd.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Dungeons & Dragons - Dragon Plus Issue 6

You can read Dragon Plus Issue 6 here. Short version of this article: Go read this. It's much better than the previous issues, and it has a free download of a portion of the Curse of Strahd adventure.

A new issue of Dragon Plus has been posted! This one is full of Curse of Strahd stuff. Let's check it out and see if there is anything we can loot for our campaigns.


Unraveling Ravenloft

This is an interview with Tracy Hickman, co-author of the original Ravenloft AD&D adventure. He was a consultant on Curse of Strahd.  This is basically the same article posted on the D&D site a few weeks back, talking about the origin of vampires and how he came up with Ravenloft.

The part I find most interesting is the section about researching the origin of vampire stories (it traces back to Lord Byron):

"What the Hickmans found was that the romantic vampire of the earliest years of the genre was not just a spouse beater but a spouse killer, the archetype of abuse in the worst kind of destructive codependency.

“Strahd came directly from the roots of vampire lore. The origins of the modern vampire spring from feminine cautionary tales warning women away from the 'bluebeard' archetype. It was essential to understand this in order to properly construct him,” Hickman says. 

“But the vampire genre has taken a turn from its roots in recent years. The vampire we so often see today exemplifies the polar opposite of the original archetype: the lie that it’s okay to enter into a romance with an abusive monster, because if you love it enough, it will change.”

The thought that the Twilight movies boil down to the idea that a person can change her abusive partner if they just love them enough.. how awful.

When I run Curse of Strahd, I am going to keep the idea that Strahd is an abusive boyfriend at the forefront, making sure to subtly have him behave in the same manner. He'll do something terrible to the one he loves, but then apologize and be all sweet and use the excuse that he's a vampire - he can't help what he is.

What does it say about the target of Strahd's affection that they would decide to actually become a vampire in order to be with him? Not only have they failed to change him, they have now become a monster just like he is.

Volo's Visit to Barovia

Behold, the best article in all of Dragon Plus history thus far. The mighty Ed Greenwood is the author of a really fun story which is absolutely loaded with information on Barovia.

The Story: Volo goes to Barovia with the aid of Elminster's magic. He runs into a vampire spawn and he is saved by a gypsy/adventurer. Then he stops at the Blood of the Vine Inn and on to a new town where he meets a weird NPC and has a run-in with Strahd himself.

The Talisman: Elminster gives Volo a way to escape the mists of Barovia - he implants a talisman (which contains a piece of one of Strahd's fingernails in it) under Volo's skin in a complex magic ritual. When Volo wants to return home, he must say "Dharts" three times to activate the magic.

Great Greenwood Detail: Elminster gives Volo a bunch of equipment, including a waterskin full of water with a little mint in it. Ed Greenwood is so good at giving details that make the world feel real and interesting.

Ezmerelda D'Avenir: She saves Volo, and seems to be a gypsy vampire hunter. She has a piece of art and everything (this issue is overloaded with new art from Curse of Strahd, to my delight). I assume she is an NPC in the Curse of Strahd adventure. Volo gives us an interesting description of her:

"Flashing eyes, nigh-fearless, and knows what she’s doing when it comes to battling undead. I couldn’t help but notice there was something odd about her right boot; it didn’t match her left."

The Blood of the Vine: An inn right out of the original Ravenloft adventure. It's warm and cozy, if shabby. A place where people trade, gossip, smoke pipes, whittle and gamble. They sing loudly, laugh often and react quickly.
  • Barkeep: "Goodman" Arik, a quiet, wary-seeming sort.
  • Menu: "Stews and ale and warm round loaves of dark nut bread with strong yellow-green cheeses of unfamiliar local varieties."
We actually get a map of Barovia in this issue
We get a bit of info on the expanded realm of Barovia:
  • Landmarks - Mount Bartok, Mount Ghakis and Lake Zarovich
  • Vallaki - A pallisaded town
  • Krezk - A walled village
  • Abbey of Saint Markovia - I wonder if this is an update of the Brotherhood of Contemplative Monks from Thoughts of Darkness?
  • Argynvostholt - A ruined mansion that was once home to a knightly order. Possibly a version of the Knights of the Raven from Expedition to Castle Ravenloft?
  • Vallaki - A cheerful place, ruled by Baron Vargas Ballakovich. Plagued by wolf attacks.
The Mysterious Rictavio: A half-elf bard who has a cane in his hand and a pet monkey on his shoulder. I get the feeling he is Van Richten in disguise. He urges Volo to stay away from Castle Ravenloft.

Volo the NPC: A really fun idea might be to put Volo in your Curse of Strahd game. He can accompany the heroes, and when he is in danger, he can say "Dhart" three times and vanish. I actually mis-typed that word as "Shart", which might also be a fun command word. I once knew a guy who had a band named "Shat", which I thought was quite clever.

Interview: Patrick Rothfuss

What, Ho!
You might know this fellow as one of the players in the Acquisitions Incorporated games, or from his many novels.

He talks about how when he was a kid, the other kids at school wouldn't let him play D&D with them. How depressing is that?

He also says this:

“It is hard for people to understand these days that you did not instantaneously have access to a community that fits you."

I wonder what it's like for younger people. Can they even imagine the world without the internet? I'll tell you what it was like: It sucked. You watched what was on TV or you rented movies and games from a store. You read magazines that had news that was very out of date. There is more of a sense of what is acceptable behavior now.

Let me tell you, when I visit New York City today, it is full of kind, smart, well-groomed people compared to the city from just 15 years ago. I was astonished when I rode the subway into Brooklyn last year. Everyone was so well-behaved.

Dungeons, Dragons & Disabilities

This is an article about disabled players and characters. Check out what the author says:

"Our characters were thinly veiled caricatures of ourselves, and my companion’s storytelling stumbled when I announced that I wanted to shoot the dragon with an arrow.

“But… you’re blind. You can’t see well enough even to shoot a bullseye with a bow and arrow!” Even though I’d rolled a natural 20, and this was just a game, he told me that we had to go by the limits of what people think a blind person can or cannot do. This was my first exposure to rules that said I couldn’t do whatever I wanted with my imagination because of implicit assumptions about disability."

Ok. I hear what she's saying, but in the example there about the blind archer, I don't understand what she thinks is the correct answer to the problem. I do think that on a natural 20, the blind archer should definitely have hit.

But in other situations, should the DM allow the blind archer to shoot unimpeded? Should the DM give them a magic item that lets them see in a magical way (like Daredevil's sonar), or is that insulting?

Then there's this:

"A sighted DM can theoretically call someone out for cheating, but with a blind DM it’s all about trust."

If you cheat while playing D&D with a blind DM.. wow. That is about as low as it gets.

Very interesting article!

This is an awesome issue and you need to check it out, if just for the free adventure.

Check out my review of Dragon Plus issues 1-5 here.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Dead Gods - Mysteries of the Stones

Tonight we wrapped up the "side adventure" that is meant to be threaded through the main storyline in Dead Gods. Honestly, they probably should have just published it on its own. It's pretty good but it has nothing to do with the main Orcus storyline.

If I were to run this again, I think I might have changed the side adventure to link it to Orcus. In Dead Gods, we learn that the actual skull on the Wand of Orcus is a guy named Anarchocles. Orcus used to command his skeletal remains to do stuff for him using the golden circlet (which the heroes used last session to destroy the Wand of Orcus).

I think I would change the story of Anarchocles to make it that Anarchocles was a god who fought Orcus long ago and perished. And now, through the stones in his fallen temple, he is reaching out to aid the heroes in defeating Orcus.

The Party

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


We picked up right where we left off last time. The group had just defeated Orcus and destroyed the Wand of Orcus. They kept the iron handle of the wand, and Bidam decided to keep the shattered Orcusword.

They were seemingly trapped in the 4th layer of Pandemonium with no way out. Theran used his wand of darkness to summon a nightmare. If you read the 5e monster manual, you'll see that nightmares want food and if they don't get it, they still serve their master but do so resentfully.

The heroes used the nightmare to shift into the ethereal plane. They floated around there and followed their planar compass until they found an ethereal curtain which got them back to Sigil, in the poor and dangerous district known as The Hive. I later realize that you can't get to the Ethereal Plane from Pandemonim (in the 2e cosmology, at least), so I guess there was some weird cosmic conjunction caused by the death of Orcus.

Demonic Madness

The heroes were in Sigil but they were still suffering from demonic madness. Bidam had the urge to make the weak suffer. He viciously berated a poor slovenly strumpet. Theran wanted to experiment on the dead, and Fall From Grace nearly abandoned her faith. She had to be restrained from using her deadly kiss, something she swore never to do.

The adventurers were able to pay a healer 450 gold each to cast Greater Restoration on each of them, curing their madness.

The group met with the leader of the Sensates, Factol Erin Montgomery Darkflame. There, they pieced together what had happened in this campaign:
  • Orcus had killed Primus, lord of the modrons, and replaced him. 
  • Orcus sent the modrons out on a march to search the planes for the Wand of Orcus. 
  • Once he got some lead, he left and another modron transformed into Primus and none was the wiser.
  • Orcus made visages to go hunt down the wand and the two amnesiac drow who had hid it, but the heroes beat him to it.

The heroes were given high faction ranks, as a result of their heroic deeds.. Bidam is now a factotum in the Sensates, and Theran is a.. guy in the Free League. The Free League has no Factol or structure, that's part of their whole gimmick. Both are potentially movers and shakers in the faction world, if they want to be.

The Heart of the Lady of Pain

At last it was time to pull the trigger on this. After a few days of rest, the heroes were accosted by Gonard Flumph. This Donald Trump NPC was angry at the heroes for what happened to his daughter (she had found a cursed gem which Orcus used to summon and kill her.

Flumph had some hired goons and went on a rant which turned into a tirade on the Lady of Pain. I tried to include all the classic Trump quotes, including of course the Megyn Kelly "Blood coming out her.. wherever.." comment.

The Lady of Pain appeared and mazed Flumph for daring to speak her name. Then, she stood there looming over the adventurers. They handed her the Heart of the Lady of Pain. The Lady pressed it into her chest. Things got trippy. Her shadow turned to iron and floated toward the heroes' festhall. The lady vanished.

The heroes followed the Iron Shadow (which is the villain of Tales From the Infinite Staircase, which I may or may not run one day). The Shadow passed through the door that would not open in the festhall.

This triggered an event the Dabuses had been preparing the building for - the building was about to 'give birth' to a new section of the city! The door that would not open swung open and building materials rocketed out. Everyone ran for their lives. When they came to, the group found that they now owned an entire square in the Lower Ward.

The square included relocated Sigil locales, including the Zactar Cathedral (Umbra's temple), The Screaming Tower (home of Zaraga the hag and her 99 gargoyles), Vrischika's Curiosity Shoppe and more.

Additionally, there were many archways in the square, each containing a portal to a plane. A dabus handed the heroes three metal keys. These keys could unlock any door or portal in the square.

The portals led to places the heroes had been, including: Limbo, the Astral Plane, Undermountain (in the Forgotten Realms), the City of Greyhawk, and more. There was one portal that led right to the Infinite Staircase, just in case I decide to run that down the road.

The basic idea here was that since Bidam had given the Lady a gift, she gave the heroes a gift in return. Bidam had attempted to fill the void inside the Lady of Pain, which is more than almost anyone else had ever done for her.

The First Stone

After the group had digested all of that stuff, it was time to kick off the actual adventure. This is the third part of the side-scenario in this book. It is about a temple with mysterious stones that two factions are fighting over. It is all a plot by this guy Argesh Fiord, who is trying to use the temple to force a faction war. Argesh hates both factions and wants them to destroy each other.

This is a really railroad-y adventure. It starts off with flavor text where Argesh walks up to the PCs and uses a geas on them - no saving throw. The heroes must go to the temple and say the word "Badir."

The adventurers went there, snuck past the guards into the temple, and said the word. They were sucked into a stone, into a quasi-realm.

They were adventuring through the memories of a dead god of wind and rain, named Badir. Each time the group completed a memory, one of them had a gem embedded into their forehead. Once they'd completed them all, they could place their gems into the stones.

The group appeared in a temple of Badir, where priests prayed. In a back room, the group found dead clerics and two men struggling. Basically, the other priests burst in and thought the heroes had killed all these people. Badir contacted Theran mentally and Theran spoke the wisdom of Badir to the priests.

This was a really weird one that I couldn't make a lot of sense of, so we just moved on.

The Second Stone

In this memory, we learn that Badir's father, Nol, hated Badir. Nol is a god of the sun and couldn't accept that his child was a lord of wind and rain.

Nol called on a brass dragon to kill his son when he was a child. Our heroes were there to protect him! Theran cast darkness where the dragon was, but the dragon had blindsight. The dragon breathed fire on Theran, but the wizard was protected by his amulet of flowing flame.

Theran summoned the nightmare and tried to escape with Badir to the ethereal plane, but alas these memory scenes are like an "instance." You can't leave their boundaries.

Bidam jumped on the nightmare with the kid and flew into the air. The dragon flew up after them. The group begged the kid to use his powers, which are not defined in the book. I decided to have the kid roll to see if he could pull something off - I rolled a natural 20. The kid created a storm cloud that blasted the dragon with lightning and did piles of damage.

Theran pelted the dragon with magic missiles. Fall From Grace flew up and cut into the dragon, killing it. Memory over.

The Third Stone

In that last memory, all damage the group took was healed. Even if they died, they'd come back to life. In the rest of these, any damage taken "counts."

The group was on a battlefield where the armies of Badir and Nol were at war. The heroes were soldiers of Badir. They rode into combat as archers fired on them. They tore into their foes, defeating enemy soldiers and berserkers. Piece of cake.

The Fourth Stone

The heroes appeared here as ghosts in a crumbling citadel. They looked down on Badir, who was old and dying. His followers were gone, and thus he had no power to continue on.

The group searched the citadel and found a lone weeping handmaiden. They brought her to Badir. She wept over him, and he died.

The Fifth Stone

The adventurers appear in the astral plane. They see Badir's followers, who are taking apart the dead god's stone body. They would use the stone to create the temple in Sigil.

There was nothing to do here but bear witness as Badir spoke in their minds about how what they did wasn't right or wrong, it just was.

The Sixth Stone

Argesh Fiord and his slaad
A sixth stone rose from the ground. This one is really, really weird. The heroes go into some sort of future memory. They're still in the church. Argesh Fiord and a red slaad attack the heroes.

Theran was slashed repeatedly by the slaad, and was infected by a slaad tadpole, which will hatch in three months. It was nice to see that even though I had run the Limbo adventures so long ago, the group remembered exactly what slaads could do.

The group defeated them and placed their gems in the stones. The final flavor text:

"Golden light shines everywhere. The ground shudders as if in a rumbling earthquake, though there's really no "earth" in Sigil. The entire floor of the church glows like an activated portal, and the stones and the ruins begin to tumble downward into what looks like the astral plane. In a sudden shaft of bright illumination, the silhouette of a fine-featured man turns toward you, nods, and walks straight into the portal's light."

The heroes fall back into real Sigil, and they see that the temple is entirely gone. This actually makes the factions happy, as there's nothing there to fight over.

It's an interesting adventure and I think the right DM could make it really awesome.

Next time we'll go through the very last chapter of Dead Gods.

Click here for the final chapter of Dead Gods.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Dungeons & Dragons - A Guide to Vampires

In this guide, I will attempt to give an overview on how vampires can be used in Dungeons & Dragons. I'll go over their stats and abilities in each edition, and then I'll discuss popular vampire movies that you can mine for more material.

There's so much stuff out there that I'm going to try to just go over the main books and dragon articles. I won't discuss the main vampire NPC in D&D, Strahd, as I've already written a guide for him. If you think I missed something major, let me know.

In my opinion, there are two things you should check out if you plan on using a vampire as a major villain in your campaign:
  1. Van Richten's Guide to Vampires: This 2nd edition sourcebook is brimming over with useful ideas.
  2. Bram Stoker's Dracula: This movie is, in my opinion, really under-rated. I watched it the other day and it blew my mind. If you are going to run Curse of Strahd, you should most definitely check this out.
The Essential Information

This is the basic stuff you should know when running a vampire:
  • Those who have their blood drained by a vampire and drop to 0 hit points become a vampiric thrall.
  • Vampires must rest in a coffin during the day.
  • If they are dropped to 0 hit points, they aren't slain - they assume gaseous form and flee to their coffins. There, they rest and heal.
  • Vampires have innate regeneration.
  • Can turn into a bat at will.
  • They can charm people as per the spell.
  • Vampires have the ability to summon hordes of bats, rats, or wolves.
  • They recoil from garlic, mirrors and holy symbols.
  • Direct sunlight kills them, as does being immersed in running water.
  • Holy water damages them.
  • The most effective way to kill them is to drive a stake through their heart (which paralyzes them) and then cut off their head. 
  • There are a ton of vampire variants with all sorts of different powers and abilities.
AD&D 1st Edition

The vampire is in the Monster Manual and he is the "...most dreaded of the chaotic evil undead..."
  • Vampires live in two planes at once - the material and the negative material.
  • Vampires have an 18/76 strength.
  • If it hits an enemy, the enemy loses two levels. Yes, from each attack.
  • There's also a note about vampires of the 'eastern world'. They're invisible!
  • Creating a thrall involves draining their life energy and then burying them. The thrall rises up after a day. "If the vampire which slew the creature is itself killed, the vampires created by it become free-willed monsters."
Dragon Magazine 126

This issue has a few articles on undead and vampires.

Hearts of Darkness

We are given a rundown of all the ins and outs of being a vampire. There are a few interesting notes:
  • At night, a vampire is invulnerable to most attacks.
  • Ingesting food and drink causes them pain. They can only nibble on a few crumbs and sip wine.
  • Vampires have no soul, and that is why they have no shadow or reflection.
We get an in-depth history of the real-life Vlad the Impaler and full-blown stats for Dracula. There's stats for a few other creatures:
  • Vrykolakas: Greek vampires. The vrykolkas are corpses possessed by demons who like to spread fear.
  • Baobhan Sith: Evil demons who appear as young women. They trick their victims into letting them drain all the blood from their victims' bodies.
A Touch of Evil

This article fleshes out undead creatures. It provides vague details on a demonic type of vampire:

Demon Vampire: Demon vampires are "...among the greatest and most evil servants of Orcus." These vampires rise up after being killed by the kiss of a succubus. They don't rest in coffins and they can walk during the day. At night they can summon demon-spawned vampires from the abyss. Sometimes they serve or marry the succubus that slew them.

AD&D 2nd Edition

There are a million variants of vampires in 2nd edition. First I'll go over the main (errata'd) entry, then I'll add in notes on other types.
  • They cast no shadow or reflection. They move in complete silence.
  • 2e vampires have the ability to spider climb to scale sheer surfaces.
  • They recoil from lawful good holy symbols.
  • When destroying a vampire, holy wafers must be stuffed in its severed head.
  • Vampires can't enter a residence without being invited. Charmed victims can be used to invite the vampire in.
In Dragon Magazine 150, an updated version of the vampire appeared. Apparently there were some errors in the vampire that appeared in the compendium.

Ravenloft Vampires: There are three ways to become a Ravenloft vampire:
  1. Deadly Desire: This person gives up a portion of their spirit to the Dark Powers of Ravenloft. They are stripped of their humanity and become vampires. Over centuries, they come to regret the decision and seek out their own destruction.
  2. The Curse: The person becomes a vampire through a cursed item (like a ring) or someone curses them. Often this type of vampire hates who they have become.
  3. The Victim: Those slain by a vampire become a vampire.
Cerebral Vampires: These vampires absorb mental energies of their victims. They sink their fangs into the back of a victim's skull. These victims become ghouls under the vampire's control.

Drow Vampires: Drow consider it an honor to become a vampire. Their touch drains hit points and their gaze can make enemies become awestruck. They can turn into spiders and assume the form of a poisonous cloud.

Dwarf Vampire: These guys can permanently drain points of constitution. They can walk through stone and are harmed by water from a natural spring.

Elf Vampire: They transform forests into places of death and decay. They drain Charisma and leave victims with permanent scars.  Their own faces are scarred and twisted, causing those seeing them to make a saving throw or be paralyzed with horror (and if you roll a natural one... you die!).

Gnome Vampire: Gnome vampires have a "painful arthritic attack." Yep, they drain Dexterity and cause stiffness to the joints and muscles. Seriously. They can laugh hideously and cause people to feel the effects of a Tasha's hideous laughter spell.

Halfling Vampire: Halfling vampires radiate an aura that fatigues enemies. They can't stand the odor of a smoking pipe, and burning hearths can destroy them.

Illithid Vampire: These are from the high-level Ravenloft adventure Thoughts of Darkness. Vampire mind flayers! They are utterly insane. Their mind blast causes victims to make a madness check.

Vampyre: These creatures are variants. They are not undead.
  • They "...employ the wanton garb of a harlot to lure victims into their clutches."
  • Vampyres lure some poor sap to their homes, and then they and their vampire friends pounce on him or her. They drink the victim's blood over the course of a few days.
  • They travel in packs and are able to have children.
Van Richten's Guide to Vampires

This sourcebook is by the late, great Nigel Findley and it's pretty much the best source of vampire material for D&D that I know of. I am going to present some of the good stuff, but there's a lot more in the book that you should definitely check out if you're thinking of using a vampire as a major villain in your campaign. Vampires are categorized according to age. Vampires under 99 years old are known as "fledglings". Vampires over 1,000 years old are known as "patriarchs".

Vampire Blood: It actually does d6 damage if it touches bare skin. If the blood is in a vial and it is exposed to sunlight, it explodes!

Gaseous Form: Vampires can modify their gaseous form, changing it to a thick fog to a thin, almost invisible mist. The book suggests that some vampires may have their coffins in a building with no doors. The vampire enters and leaves simply by passing through a tiny crack in the wall while in gaseous form.

Blood Lust: Some vampires suffer from this curse. The mere sight of blood sends them into a frenzy which can be satisfied only by the ingestion of that source of blood, by any means. Once the vampire drinks the blood, it won't suffer from blood lust for 2d6 turns (1-2 hours).

Vampiric Curse: Some vampires can cast a special curse spell that slowly transforms someone into a vampire. They need to make a saving throw every time the sun rises. Fail means they lose a point of Strength. Once it's at 0, they die and rise up as a vampire under command of the vampire.

Using a Stake: The stake must be wood, and should be made from wood that relates to the vampire's personal history. If the stake is removed from the vampire's heart, the vampire will rise again. You have to cut off its head. Attacking with the stake means rolling to hit an AC of -1 (AC 21 in 5e terms). If the monster is immobile (ie, asleep in its coffin), no roll is required.

Sunlight: Fledglings can't use any powers in sunlight, and all they can do is try to get out of it. It dies in a minute and is completely destroyed. Each round, the vampire takes 3d6 damage and the exposed flesh will burst into flame. Ancient vampires might survive in sunlight for up to an hour. Patriarchs can actually walk in sunlight with no ill effects. 

Vampires That Don't Drink Blood: The book has a lot of cool ideas on other things a vampire might feed on, including spinal fluid, hearts, memories, or good old-fashioned hit points.

How Often do Vampires Feed?: Fledglings need to drink 12 hit points worth of blood every 24 hours. Patriarchs can live on 6 hit points worth per day.

Creating a Vampire Groom or Bride: The vampire can bestow a "Dark Kiss" on a mate. Hold on to your pants:
  1. The vampire drains the blood of the mate three times, almost to death on each occasion.
  2. This process causes no pain. In fact, it is "...the most euphoric, ecstatic experience, in comparison to which all other pleasures fade into insignificance."
  3. Then the vampire lets the mate drink the vampire's own blood.
  4. The mate goes into a blood frenzy! The vampire may actually have to struggle to survive this process. The mate can only feed for a short time, or they will be driven incurably insane and will die in agony within 24 hours.
  5. The mate goes into a coma for an hour or two, and then rises as a vampiric bride or groom.
  6. Usually the mate's sanity isn't completely intact.
  7. The vampire and the mate share a telepathic bond.
Miscellaneous Stuff:
  • If a vampire is blinded by a spell or effect, it can shift into its bat form and use sonar. Deafness would shut down the bat's echolocation ability. 
  • Polymorph spells only last for a minute, and then the vampire resumes whatever form it was in previously.
  • Those with evil holy symbols can "turn" a vampire - success means the vampire is under their control! The vampire will obey the letter of the commands, but not the spirit. 
  • Blessed weapons harm vampires, but do minimal damage.
  • 3/4ths of the vampire's body must be submerged in running water for an entire minute the water to kill it. The heart in particular must be under water.
Drinking Blood: This section is awesome. It gives a lot of fun details on how the process works.
  • The vampire uses its 'eye teeth' to open a major vessel, usually in the throat. "Sometimes vampires will choose another major blood vessel such as the femoral artery, on the inside of the thigh near the groin..." Egad.
  • Vampires drink the blood like "..a babe drinks its mother's milk."
  • Usually a vampire will open a small wound and drinks just a bit of blood. They don't want to kill their victim because they generally don't like creating subservient vampires (potential rivals).
  • They can feed from freshly-slain victims, but the blood spoils rapidly. Once four hours have passed, the blood is no good.
  • Drinking the blood of animals makes a vampire ill.
  • No PC Vampires: This book repeatedly warns DMs not to let PCs become vampires. If they do become vampires, they should turn over their character sheet to the DM and let the DM run them as an NPC. The reason for this is because the character will simply be far too powerful.
D&D 3rd Edition

In 3e, vampires are a template - a set of stats you slap on to an existing creature.

They can now dominate a foe - completely controlling them for as long as the vampire spends a standard action.

They still drain 2 levels per hit, and now they gain 5 temporary hit points per level drained.

Dragon Magazine 348 - Bloodlines: Three Variant Vampires

This article gives us a few new types of vampires:
  • Savage Vampire: Ogre vampires! Those they slay rise up as zombies under their command. They can turn into animals and can summon animals like bears or crocodiles.
  • Shadow Vampire: These vampires can literally travel between shadows as if they were dimension door spells.
  • Terror Vampire: These creatures feed on fear. They can suppress their vampiric traits for 7 rounds per day, appearing to be 'normal' living humanoids. Their gaze attack is identical to the eyebite spell which can sicken you, panic you or even put you into a coma. Terror vampires also have a suite of spells they use to mess with people.
D&D 4th Edition

Many of their resistances are gone. They're not harmed by garlic or even wooden stakes!

A vampire lord has a spiked chain and can use a nasty power when an enemy is bloodied - blood drain, which weakens the foe and heals the vampire for 46 points.

Heroes of Shadow

Get a load of this. In 4e, vampire is also a character class! It's in the Heroes of Shadow supplement.
  • A vampire character can actually take healing surges from willing characters during a rest.
  • When bloodied, vampires gain regeneration equal to their Charisma modifier.
Over the course of 30 levels, the character gains all of the powers of a vampire, including the ability to turn into a bat, dominate foes, and assume gaseous form.


Even weirder, this book also includes a vampiric race called the Vryloka. You could make a Vryloka Vampire. Vryloka are basically 2e Vampyres - living vampires. They keep their true nature a secret and live as nobles displaced from their ancestral homelands. It was a weird choice to make them have red hair.
  • When they kill or bloody an enemy, a Vryloka can gain temporary hit points, move or gain a +2 to hit.
  • They have eyes that turn red when angered or excited.
  • Most of them have red hair and pale skin.
  • Their origin involves a Red Witch who gave the original Vrylokas a blood-bonding ritual. It gave them the power of vampire without the taint of undeath. Some think the Red Witch and the Raven Queen are connected somehow.
  • As they gain levels, Vrylokas gain the ability to turn into a "bloodwolf" (a shadow wolf with red eyes). They also eventually gain the ability to fly by assuming the form of a hazy red and black shadow.
D&D 5th Edition

I think they did a great job with vampires in the 5e monster manual.The 5e vampire is very powerful and has a lot of cool options. I also think that legendary actions are a fun way to give major monsters a big boost.
  • 5e vampires have extremely strong regeneration. They train 20 hit points per round! Sunlight does 20 radiant damage per round.
  • They take 20 acid damage per round in running water.
  • 5e vampires get two attacks per round. Ideally, they grapple you as part of their unarmed strike, and then bite you. The bite reduces your hit point maximum and the vampire regains that amount of hit points.
  • They get legendary actions, which take place at the end of other creature's turns. They can actually make another unarmed strike/grapple and a bite before their next turn.
  • Their lair has a lot of regional effects, including a large population of bats, rats and wolves, withered plants, shadows that are gaunt and seem to move on their own, and creeping fog.

To gear up for Curse of Strahd, I watched a bunch of vampire movies. Many of them are Dracula films, as that's what the Strahd story is similar to.

Bram Stoker's Dracula

Gary Oldman as Dracula
This film really blew my mind. I think if there's one movie to watch before you run Curse of Strahd, this is it. The movie is just dripping with utter creativity.

I can't express just how dirty and zany this thing is but I'm going to try: Dracula's brides (one of which is a topless Monica Belluci) eat a baby! And then we get an extreme close-up of Keanu Reeves in full-on Bill and Ted mode screaming and gnashing his teeth in a truly comical fashion.

This movie is really fun. It's too long, but there's enough good parts to make it worth watching.

Van Helsing

Richard Roxburgh as Dracula
Hugh Jackman plays the vampire hunter in a movie that is absolutely overloaded with action scenes and horror movie monsters. I enjoy the spirit of the thing, but some of the concepts just don't work. The idea that Dracula's vampire brides gave birth to hundreds of stillborn bat-babies that need to be brought to life by Frankenstein's lightning contraption is just too stupid for me, even when I'm trying to cut the film some slack.

Dracula Untold

Luke Evans as Dracula
This film creates a backstory for Dracula. Most of the movie is set in the 1400's, and tells a story of how Dracula decided to become a vampire to save his people. This is a very, very D&D vampire movie. Vlad is ridiculously powerful once he gains vampiric abilities. He literally fights 1,000 soldiers and kills them all. Then, later, he summons a swarm of thousands of bats to create a cyclone and.. well, it's ridiculous. I think the best way to describe this movie is "a bad idea done well". It never should have been made, but they did the best they could with it.

Nosferatu Phantom Der Nacht

Klaus Kinski as Dracula
This one's in german and is directed by the great Werner Herzog. The Dracula in this movie is the Nosferatu version, and he is really creepy. The film moves real slow, but it's very good for the first hour or so before it starts to drag. Compared to the panicky explosion-per-minute feel of Van Helsing, this feels refreshing. This movie is good if you want to run a really creepy, more monster-ish type of vampire that is in no way sexy at all.

Interview With The Vampire

Kirsten Dunst as Claudia
This film is based on the extremely popular "Vampire Chronicles" novels by Anne Rice. In the '90's, the Vampire: The Masquerade RPG was a very big deal and there were lots and lots of people really into this stuff.

If you haven't seen this movie, the idea of Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt as vampires may not seem like something worth seeing, but this movie is really awesome. It gives you a very viable alternate view on vampires, particularly on how and why they make other vampires and the rules in which they govern themselves.

This movie also has a truly great vampire NPC - a little girl vampire named Claudia. Her mind is old, but her body is eternally young.

Let the Right One In

This one doesn't really have many D&D implications, it's just a great movie and I feel like I should point it out in case some of you haven't seen it. This movie also involves a child vampire and how it survives. In Interview with the Vampire, the vampires are killing a few people per day, and nobody seems to notice. In this film, the vampire has to go to great lengths to pull off such a feat.

This film has a really cool take on what happens to a vampire when they enter a residence uninvited. This is one that will stick with you after you see it, especially if you read up on it a bit. I haven't seen the American remake of this, but if you can handle subtitles you should definitely check this version out. Here's the trailer. As of this writing, it is on Netflix.

Mina Murray from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Mr. Hyde is fond of Mina
I want to talk about one "NPC" in particular in the Dracula movies. The female victims, Mina and Lucy, are used in different ways in each film. Mina, wife of John Harker, is usually the object of Dracula's "affection."

In Alan Moore's comic, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Mina is the main character. Mina was bitten by Dracula, but Dracula is slain and thus the vampiric curse is lifted from her (in the movie version, she is a vampire).

Alan's take on vampirism is very amusing. As a result of Dracula's feeding, Mina has these burn scars on her neck. His take seems to be that vampirism is similar to a sexually transmitted disease - an idea that I find hilarious.

Also, there's this underpinning notion that since Mina's fleeting encounter with a vampire, her husband just doesn't do it for her (although in the comic, he has rejected her because of her scars). You get the feeling that if given the choice, she'd pick the vampire over her husband despite all the baggage that comes with it. Now she's out in the world searching for similar thrills from other adventurers and monsters.

Further Reading

Vampire Name Generator
Hack and Slash: Ecology of the Vampire
3rd Edition Vampire Template
Dice of Doom Vampire Overview
Types of Vampires Wiki