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Friday, July 29, 2016

Dungeons & Dragons - Building Encounters in 5th Edition

Today I am going to write about making encounters in D&D. First, I'm going to go over the rules and give some sample encounters in case you are new to the game. Then I'm going to talk about the pitfalls to avoid and the general approach you might want to take when making encounters for your campaign.

Rule of Thumb: A lot of times, when I am making an encounter, I flip through an adventure like Curse of Strahd. I find an area that is the same level as my heroes and I look at the encounters. It's an easy way of checking out monsters that are suitable for your group. If you're running a low level game, Lost Mine of Phandelver from the Starter Set is invaluable in this regard. 

The Basics of Encounter Building

First of all, grab this pdf from the wizards site. It lists every monster in the Monster Manual by challenge rating! It makes this much easier.

I'm not a math guy. These encounter rules are a little tricky for those us who are numerically challenged. I'm going to try and explain how it works. Encounters are broken into categories: Easy, Medium, Hard and Deadly.

How Many Encounters are there in an In-game Day? Check out "The Adventuring Day" (DMG page 84). It says that most adventuring parties can handle 6-8 medium or hard encounters per day. Most groups will need to take a total of two short rests between these encounters if they are able.

How Many Encounters Before You Gain a Level? Level one and level two go by really fast. From what I understand, levels one and two are sort of "training wheel" levels so new players can ease into learning all of the things you can do in D&D. Check out "Character Advancement" (PH page 15):
  • Going from level 1 to level 2: 300 XP (That's 6 medium encounters).
  • Going from level 2 to level 3: 900 XP (That's 6 medium encounters).
  • Going from level 3 to level 4: 2,700 XP (That's 12 medium encounters).
Leveling can happen fast because in 5th edition encounters often only take 5 or 10 minutes to play through. Even new players could get close to level 3 in a single session.
The challenge rating of a monster is listed in the stat block
The Chart: OK, now let's get to the main information. Check out page 82 of the Dungeon Master's Guide.We get a chart that tells us how much XP worth of monsters equals a balanced fight for your characters. If you choose to use more than one monster, then you have to add multipliers.

A few notes:
  1. Powerful Monsters: If the challenge rating of a monster is higher than the party's average level, it says to be very careful using them at low levels.
  2. Certain Abilities have Impact: Also be aware that certain monster have powers that make thing rough for low level characters.
  3. The Number of XP Might not be Exact: Making encounters is a little tricky if you're shooting for the exact XP number. Sometimes you'll be a little over or under the number of XP you want.
The Multiplier: If you are throwing one monster at your 2nd level group, just grab one worth 200 XP. If there's two or more, we're going to multiply that XP value by a number. That's because generally the more monsters there are, the harder the encounter is. So here are the multipliers:
  • 2 monsters = x1.5
  • 3-6 monsters = x2
  • 7-10 monsters = x2.5
Other Things That Make an Encounter Harder: The DMG talks about certain things that make an encounter harder for heroes. If you use one of these, technically your encounter is harder and when you award XP you should give out more. So, if you have an easy encounter with 300 XP worth of monsters and then you add in one of these factors, your encounter is now Medium and worth 450 XP. Bump the difficulty up by one if:
  • The party is surprised.
  • The enemy has cover.
  • The heroes can't see the enemy.
  • An environmental effect is doing damage to the heroes.
Let's Make Some Encounters

Let's say you have a group containing four 2nd level characters. According to the chart on page 82 of the DMG, an easy encounter for those four heroes is 200 XP worth of monsters. Let's go over the different types of encounters for 2nd level characters. I'll math them up and factor in the modifier so you can see how this works.

Easy Encounter: 200 XP

Single Monster: Challenge 1 monsters are worth 200 XP each! That's nice and easy. Let's pick some:
  • A ghoul
  • A harpy 
  • A kuo-toa whip
Two monsters: Now we have that modifier to factor in. We want a total of 200 XP. Doing math, I see that 150 x 1.5 = 225. Close enough! Let's look over the list on our challenge rating pdf. Let's use one challenge 1/4 monster (50 XP) and one challenge 1/2 monster (100 XP). So 100 + 50 = 150. Then I factor in the modifier: 150 x 1.5 = 225 XP.

It's really weird to try to backtrack mathematically. I know a lot of you D&D players are very smart so this probably isn't a problem for you. It takes me a minute to figure some of these out. Anyway, here's some pairs of monsters that are easy for your level 2 heroes to defeat:
  • Bullywug and a reef shark
  • Goblin and a hobgoblin
  • Panther and an orc
    Six Monsters: OK. Keep in mind that when there are more monsters, the encounter is a little harder. Now our multiplier is x2, which is easier to figure out. Let's use four pathetic challenge 0 monsters (value is 0-10 XP) and three challenge 1/8 monsters (worth 25 xp each). That's about 100 xp and then the x2 multiplier makes it 200 XP.
    • 3 crawling claws and 3 cultists
    • 3 homunculus and 3 kobolds
    • 3 vultures and 3 tribal warriors

    Medium: These are average encounters for your level 2 heroes. The total value is 400 XP worth of monsters.

    One Monster: The closest would be a challenge 2 monster, which are worth 450 XP. Usually I go under the XP total, but in this case I think we're OK. There's some really cool monsters that are hard to resist:
    • Gelatinous Cube
    • Ogre
    • Will-o'-wisp
    Two Monsters: We're going to mix and match here. We'll use one challenge 1/2 monster (worth 100 XP) and one challenge 1 monster (worth 200 XP). So 100+200 = 300 XP. Then we factor in the modifier 300 x 1.5 = 450 XP. Let's make some dynamic duos:
    • Black bear and a brown bear
    • Hobgoblin and a bugbear
    • Scout and a death dog
    Six Monsters: We're going to mix and match again. We'll use five challenge 1/8 monsters (25 xp each) and two challenge 1/4 monsters(50 xp each). That's 125 XP + 100 XP = 225 XP. Then 225 x 2 = 450 XP.
    • 4 cultists and 2 acolytes
    • 4 kobolds and 2 pteranodons
    • 4 guards and 2 flying swords
    Hard: 600 XP

    One Monster: A challenge 3 monster is worth 700 XP. Let's go ahead and grab one, they'll be fine!
    • Displacer beast
    • Green hag
    • Owlbear
    Two Monsters: Challenge 1 monsters are 200 xp each. 200 + 200 = 400. 400 x 1.5 = 600 XP. We're right on target, people.
    • Goblin boss and a dire wolf
    • Copper dragon wyrmling and an imp
    • 2 spies
    Six Monsters: Let's use 6 challenge 1/4 creatures. They are 50 XP each. So that's 300 XP x 2 = 600 XP. Check out that mephit combo:
    • 6 zombies
    • 3 skeletons and 3 violet fungii
    • 2 smoke mephits, 2 steam mephits, 2 mud mephits
    Deadly: 800 XP.

    One Monster: Challenge 3 monsters are 700 XP, sounds good enough to me! Let's pick some:
    • Hell Hound
    • Water Weird
    • Wight
    I think you get the idea!

    You Must Use Your DM Senses

    The general feeling seems to be that building encounters in 5e or, really, any edition (aside from 4th) is an inexact science.

    Knowing Your Group: If you are running a campaign, building encounters is no big deal. You are going to know what your group can handle pretty quickly because you play with them every week. Between sessions, when you look at monsters, you're going to know your group's go-to powers. If the group is loaded up on fire damage, you will know that throwing creatures immune to fire is likely to be more challenging to them than an average party.

    Test Fights: Sometimes I run "test" fights. My group was going to fight Tiamat at the end of Rise of Tiamat, so to prepare for it I slapped my custom Tiamat stats (slightly lowered) on another dragon for them to fight a few sessions before the Tiamat battle would take place. I took notes during this fight. Was the AC too high? Did the monster do too much damage? Did it feel like a threat?

    That's a nice way to make sure that your climactic battles are challenging but not too overboard.

    In general when making encounters, I also always aim low. I err on the side of too easy. When I run a session, if things are too easy, I add monsters to the subsequent encounters until everything feels right. Haphazardly throwing deadly monsters at the group can turn your campaign into a car wreck. Either your group is going to die or you're going to have to fudge things and everybody will sense it.

    Fudging like that cheapens things. We all have to do it sometimes, but avoid it when you can. If the players feel like you're saving them, it takes their feeling of achievement away.

    Re-Skinning: A lot of times, people will ask me how I statted out a monster in my 5e Planescape game. All I do is take a monster from the Monster Manual and change the name. I'll look up the creature I want to use from an old edition and add some of its powers.

    As an example, a few weeks ago, I used a rust dragon. I grabbed green dragon stats from the 5e Monster Manual - the AC, the bonus to hit, the damage, some of the legendary actions, etc. I kept the DC and the damage from the breath weapon, but I changed it to the rust dragon breath from 2nd edition. It takes one minute! 

    Let it Hang Loose if you Can: I can't find it now, but Chris Perkins was asked about making encounters on twitter and whether he follows these guidelines. He doesn't! He just plops in whatever feels right.

    He's talked about this before in his 4e DM Experience columns. Even in 4e, he just threw whatever he wanted at the heroes.

    There is a certain art to this. When you run a big, chaotic encounter, you don't have to have every bad guy attack on every round. Some might stand there and cackle nefariously. Other villains might try to do something else: escape, steal something, tip something over, whatever.

    The trick is to make sure it doesn't feel obvious that you're holding a bad guy back on purpose. You should establish that villain's motives well in advance so it doesn't feel tacked on.

    Your Mentality is Key to Engaging Encounters: When you are running a game or working on material for your campaign, you should always keep the mindset of "what if this was real?" I don't mean that literally, I mean you should think about what things are really like in your world. Not every enemy should be just running up, doing damage and trying to kill the PCs.

    When your group is in a city, the guards have to follow rules. Some of those guards don't want to kill anybody. Some of them might secretly agree with whatever shenanigans your heroes are up to. Things like this are key. Say the group is getting beat down by these guards. One guard secretly likes whatever cause the group is behind. The guard covertly helps the heroes flee the scene by creating some false alarm or distraction.

    Think about what a monster would do or feel. The group is going through the forest and they stumble on an owlbear. The owlbear hoot/roars and the group attacks it.

    The owlbear might just have been looking for a snack. Maybe it doesn't want a fight. Maybe it's ill.

    Don't Fall Into a Rut: It's good to have variety when it comes to encounters. It is so easy to fall into the trap of having every encounter in your game be nothing but fights to the death. It's happened to me many times. It is a rut that you want to avoid, because I've found that it can make your campaign feel stagnant to everyone. It gets too one-dimensional. Sessions become a collection of battles and little else. It starts to feel like a chore.

    NPC Motivation: You always want to reset your brain and think from the perspective of the NPCs in the campaign world. Think about their motivations. Some NPCs will try to trick heroes. Some will do anything to help them.

    Some bad guys might want something the heroes have and remember, there's a million ways for them to try to get that thing that doesn't involve four orcs in a square room.

    Not that I am trying to poo-poo the idea of combat. Combat is great! It's fun! Just keep in mind that variety is the spice of life. Players love using their skills and spells in new ways, in new situations. I think it's a great idea to go out of of your way to make encounters where a character's skill or spell will save the day.

    Fun Encounters

    It's hard to sit in front of a blank piece of paper or computer screen and come up with a cool encounter that will be different and exciting. Here's some encounters that I like. Maybe they will give you ideas of your own:

    The Endless Stair: I ran this adventure when I was a kid and really made a mess of it. It's all about these mysterious translucent stairs that spiral up into the clouds. Where do they go? Spoiler alert: A dungeon.

    Today, I love the idea of running an encounter on those stairs. There's no railing! You could have flying creatures attack. The danger here wouldn't be damage from the monsters - it would be making sure you don't fall off! All you need is some flying creatures that can push people off of the stairs and you have yourself a fun, crazy encounter.

    Falling Into Hell: I know I got this idea from somewhere online, but I can't remember where. I ran a combat in 4th edition that occurred as the characters were plummeting into hell. The whole thing was in mid-air battling flying devils. It was a ton of fun. I can't remember how they survived the landing - I think they fell into a pool of molten iron! They took plenty of damage from the devils but once they'd slain them, they still had a few rounds to buff/protect themselves from the landing.

    Theft: This is another one I ran when I was a kid. This was in an adventure from one of the Lankhmar setting books. Basically, the group had to infiltrate a costume party at a noble's house and steal a magic item (the "star of the east") that was on display. On that day, I learned a valuable lesson that has served me well since: players love in-game parties. Every single time I run one, it is a hit. Additionally, the whole idea of this kind of mission is so different that it is very refreshing and can really energize a campaign.

    The Evil Sword: I love Bane of the Shadowborn, an old 2e Ravenloft adventure about an evil sword named Ebonbane. It could animate weapons, including the ones the heroes had! It was so different. All these hovering knives just slicing and flying around as the group's own weapons turned against them. You have to be careful with things like this because players definitely feel weird about it. It has a bit of a "the DM is screwing with me" vibe. Once in a great while, however, I think that it's OK to do it.

    The Fortress of Three Sorrows: This is from the 4e Scales of War adventure Path. This is the best encounter I have ever run. It's in the astral plane. The heroes have a ship. Their job is to overtake this outpost built on a giant stone head. There are ballistas, there are githyanki riding red dragons, it is just beyond epic.

    The Bounty Hunters: In a Ravenloft campaign from way back when, I had these three unique bounty hunters chasing the PCs. These villains were tough. One was a beholder that constantly emitted a humming noise. Whenever the heroes heard that noise, they ran. So after many sessions of buildup, there was a showdown with the bounty hunters in an abandoned village during a rainstorm. I made the mud a major factor in the battle in part to drive the heroes to fight on the rooftops of the buildings. The roofs could cave in, or catch fire, who knows. All sorts of great stuff. It was a very well-received encounter.

    Ship-to-Ship Battles: I love pirates. I love ships. I love running battles where two pirate ships are close together and the bad guys pour onto the ship of the heroes for a huge, chaotic battle. It is always awesome. The thing about ship fights like this, though, is that the heroes always want to claim and sell the enemy ship. You could make it a haunted ship, but you can't do that every time. That was a big problem in the Spelljammer setting. Every ship had a magic helm, and every helm sold for between 40,000 gold and 100,000 gold. The heroes get rich after a single battle!

    Web of Chaos: This is from Rogue Mistress, a Stormbringer campaign I converted to 2e. There are these planar webways, tunnels that can take you from one world to another. These tunnels are full of monstrous spiders called Arachnars. You have to pass through the center of the Webway realm, which is between worlds. When you go into that central area.. your body turns inside out. You still move around, you still keep heading for your destination, but you're a humanoid pile of exposed nerves and organs and the massive 40 foot tall mother of the arachnars is none too happy about you trespassing in her domain. I've had groups go through this place two or three times and it is always a heck of a lot of fun.

    Zuggtmoy's Throne: This is one I never got to run. It is in the Temple of Elemental Evil, which I tried to convert to 4e but it just didn't work. I was most excited about one of the final rooms, the lair of a demon lord. It wasn't so much about the demon lord, it was about these gems. There's a throne of silver set with 666 precious gems, each worth anywhere from 50 to 5,000 gold. Each stone is attuned to a demon. If the group pries them all free, they "gain demonic attention at a time they least desire it.." 666 demons! I don't literally want to run this encounter exactly like it is, but I feel like there's some really cool variant of this idea that would be great but I haven't figured out what it is, yet. I really like the idea of a demon linked to each gem. Maybe they are trapped in there?

    I hope this was helpful. Good luck with your encounter building!


    Official .pdf of a list of monsters by challenge rating
    Sly Flourish has awesome quick encounter building guidelines here.
    The Kobold Fight Club 5e Encounter Builder

    Wednesday, July 27, 2016

    Acquisitions Incorporated: The Series - Episode 8

    Watch this episode on youtube here.

    This is the final episode of part one. Part two starts next week.

    The Party

    (Jerry) Omin Dran - Half-Elf Cleric
    (Mike) Jim Darkmagic - Human Wizard
    (Scott) Binwin Bronzebottom - Dwarf Fighter/Barbarian
    (Patrick) Viari - Human Rogue  

    Last Time: The heroes are in a dwarven fortress that is on lockdown. Somebody stole a belt of giant strength and it wasn't the heroes. The group did steal something else - a piece of the rod of seven parts.

    The heroes are in the tavern. The group lets Carrington go search around. The sleazy Zhentarim people are nearby. They've got their little winged snakes, which are used as messengers. A Zhentarim guy has a ring with a snake image on it.

    Jim and Binwin are creeping around the fortress. Jim is invisible. There's a locked iron door. Binwin tries to bash it open. Someone opens it. It is Zardak's daughter, Rizwin.

    In that room are trophies and mounted monster heads: Owlbears, yetis, etc. Binwin is real smooth with Rizwin. She shows him the secret door that connects to the Lord's chamber.

    In the bedroom, Jim looks for a secret door. He rolls a natural 20! It's there! We get a graphic of it and everything.

    Back in the tavern, Viari tries to schmooze the Zhentarim but they're not having it.  Dwarves come in and say that a shipment was stolen. The group is certain there is a third party here stealing stuff.

    The Zhentarim immediately draw their weapons and attack the heroes. It's just Omin and Viari in here. Yikes. Viari uses his item to summon an owlbear to help.

    Back in the bedroom, Binwin is going to distract the lady. He kisses her. Jim leaves to get the others.

    Zhentarim agent with winged snake
    The battle rages in the tavern. A winged snake bites Viari. Jim arrives and sees his allies battling 4 Zhentarim and 2 snakes. Jim stays invisible and tells Omin he found the exit.

    The group debates whether to leave or finish off these guys. Viari wants to take them down. This feels like a fateful decision.

    Two Zhentarim flee. The winged snakes remain and are really whittling down Viari. The heroes give chase. Viari gets shot in the back. One of the zhents has a pistol or an arquebus. Patrick refers to a 2e rule: When you roll a one using a flintlock pistol (I think), it explodes for a pile of damage. That dude has played him some D&D!

    While running, Omin wants to heal Viari but Viari waves him off. Viara has half of his hit points left.

    The heroes burst into the bed room and Binwin is mid-coitus. Binwin grabs some of Rizwin's jewelry and says it is to remember her by.

    The group runs into the tunnel. Jim casts web to slow down anyone who tries to follow.

    They realize they left Carrington and shrug it off. Binwin forgot his pants. And we are done! That flew by.


    (7:37) Binwin is smooth with the ladies
    (22:50) Roll for kiss check


    Great episode! This was probably my favorite of the whole series both because of the action and because there were constant jokes. The group got through this relatively unscathed. I have no idea what happens from here.

    This was a great week of D&D shows. We are starting to get to the point where I am sort of mentally assembling "dream teams" of players from different shows. I am really looking forward to seeing how this builds up to the live PAX game.

    Dice, Camera, Action: Episode 16 - Curse of Strahd

    You can watch this episode on youtube here.

    Title: A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing.

    That title works a few different ways!

    The Party

    (Anna) Evelyn - Human Paladin of Lathander
    (Nathan) Paultin - Human Bard 
    (Holly) Strix - Tiefling Sorcerer 
    (ProJared) Diath - Human Rogue  

    Last Time: The group beat up a tree in an awesome battle. They obtained one of the magic gems they needed. Evelyn was unconscious. Paultin was going to heal her, I think...

    Paultin administers a potion to Evelyn. Holly is wired, she says she drank tons of coffee today. Evelyn wakes up, hugs him and thanks him. She has a death grip on him.

    Mourning Glory (the undead horse) makes a kind of barfing noise. It always makes that noise.

    The group heads back to the winery and meets with Davian and his family, the owners of the winery. Evelyn grabs their baby Yolanda and starts warbling a country song about Lathander to it.

    It is time for a long rest. The group chains Evelyn up in the basement of the winery, because she's a werewolf. This area is is on page 178 in the Curse of Strahd book if you're reading along.

    There's a wall covered in frost down there. Diath finds a secret door. He opens it. There's a tunnel that leads to a cave. Evelyn figures out that brown mold is in there. It feeds on fire.

    This is area W15 (page 178). The entire cave is covered in brown mold. Evelyn fails a saving throw. The warmth is getting sucked out of her body. She takes 22 damage!

    Check out the mold on page 105 of the DMG. There' a bunch of molds in this cave, but Chris only did damage for one. The whole party could be wiped out by this depending on DM interpretation.

    The group starts drinking Purple Grapesmash number 5, a wine made at the winery. The whole group makes constitution checks.

    When the group wakes up the next morning, Evelyn is gone. The chain snapped. Someone cut the chains! I wonder if Strahd took her. Her equipment is still in the cellar.

    The heroes run around the winery looking for her. The group sees a door ajar in the room with the vats. They hear a scream upstairs. It is one of the Martikovs. The baby Yolanda is missing. Ha, wow. Did she eat the baby?!

    The Martikovs are extremely angry. Paultin decides there's only one way to lighten the mood - he's going to play the bagpipes. The Martikovs shut it down.

    The Martikovs turn into ravens - they are wereravens. They take flight and search the grounds.

    The group continues searching the winery. They find Evelyn's pan flute, which she played wayyy back in the beginning of the campaign.

    Strix has Evelyn's mouse, Juniper. She sets it on the ground, hoping it will lead the group to Evelyn. They follow the mouse. They find tracks. They also find Evelyn's boots. They realize that Evelyn was in human form until this point.

    Strix points out that if she ate the baby, she is going to be in big trouble with Lathander.

    Diath sees Evelyn.. she's in mist. Her face and mouth are drenched in blood! She's dazed. She has no memory of the night before. I wonder if Strahd bit her? How weird would that be - a werewolf/vampire.

    Davian flies in and demands to know where the baby is. Davian starts yelling at her. Maybe they should give her ipecac and make her throw up to see if there are baby parts in her stomach.

    The group follows her tracks to the edge of the vineyard outside. A man is coming down the road on an ashen white horse with glowing white eyes. Riding it is an elf with grey skin and black, long hair. He has something in his arms. It's the baby!

    The elf says he found the baby in the wolf's den. This elf is detailed on page 237, a fairly major NPC in this adventure. He says his name is Kasimir Belikov. He is seeking a hanged man (Diath!). Evelyn points Diath out, to his chagrin.

    He comes close to Diath. As the mystery elf gets close, Diath hears the screams of thousands of men (his deathly choir aura). Strix and Paultin hear it too. It reminds Strix of the sound of the River Styx. River Strix?!

    Kasimir here says Strahd captured his sister. Madame Eva told him Diath could help. He says the Amber Temple can remove the curse. Strix wonders if the temple could remove Evelyn's curse, too.

    Evelyn realizes she has goat blood on her. She's relieved. Diath points out that there are no goats at the winery.

    The heroes drop the baby off with the Martikovs and then they leave with the NPC. They are going to check out the wolf den where he found the baby.

    Creatures are lurching out of the woods - Strahd zombies! They're covered with dirt, they apparently just crawled up out of the ground. They're coming from all directions.

    Evelyn got no rest the last night, yikes. She heals herself with lay on hands.

    Strahd zombies have a fun little thing where you can cut their limbs off and the limbs attack.

    Strix drops a fireball and slaughters them. She stands on a rock and laughs maniacally.

    The NPC thinks this is part of a trap set by Strahd. Evelyn says she wants to smite him from the face of the land and Strix begs her to stop saying his name out loud.

    The group finds Evelyn's tracks and realize she was running around like a maniac and she basically exploded the goat. Kasimir urges the group that the curse must be removed.

    Wow. Sounds like we are going to the Amber Temple. I am very interested to see Chris run this place.

    Diath realizes someone else stole the baby. He thinks the NPC did it, and the two get into an argument. Kasimir says, "Madame Eva put us together for a reason." He says that he will help the group defeat Strahd.

    Anna smartly asks to make an insight check. She rolls well. He's lying!

    Kasimir tells them his origin story. Strahd wanted to marry Kasimir's sister. He and some others stoned her to death. Strahd locked her remains in the castle and murdered all of the female elves in his clan, destroying their future.

    Diath is the "Hanged Man." Strix wants to be a wereraven. That's where we stop!

    Anna says that Muriel, her half-minotaur died in the Seaborn campaign last week. Muriel is an NPC in my Planescape game, my players will be amused.

    Chris says next week's show is entitled, "the road never traveled." Chris says it will be a good one. He looks excited! I am looking forward to it.


    (46:00) Anna wonders if Chris would...
    (1:30:10) Evelyn is full of the loopy power of Lathander.


    The show hit its stride a month or two ago and now we're in the zone. Every week is good. This episode flew by and was fun from start to finish. This was just a perfect episode of Dice, Camera, Action and I really hope people are noticing.

    Toolkit: I'm definitely seeing the approach Chris is taking to this. He knows all of the "tools" at his disposal and he drops them in when it feels right. That's good, but I think a lot of DMs would have a hard time doing that as this is a gigantic book and it is hard to retain all of that info. The NPC he used tonight is completely out of left field.

    No Check: When Evelyn went on her werewolf rampage, there were no rolls or anything. Chris just told the group she was gone. I think some of my groups would balk at that - they'd at least want some kind of perception check, some kind of chance to notice she got free as it was happening. I think that if you have established trust with your players you could pull this off, but you'd probably need to demonstrate that you are fair-minded a few times in advance before cashing in on this kind of thing.

    Monday, July 25, 2016

    Force Grey: Giant Hunters - Episode 3

    You can watch this episode here.

    Ok, strap yourself in. This is a good episode.

    The Party

    (Chris Hardwick) Whil Wee-Tawn - Sun Elf Wizard
    (Ashley Johnson) Dagny Halvor - Half-Orc Cleric
    (Shelby Fero) Brawlwin Chainminer - Dwarf Fighter
    (Jonah Ray) Joppa - Human Monk
    (Utkarsh Ambudkar) Hitch - Human Rogue

    Last Time: The group is trying to meet with a sun dragon. There's a frost giant assembling an army of ogres, goblins, and who knows what else.

    I still don't know what the heck the NPC's name is. The group decides to head through the swamp. We get some semi-animated willow wisps. I love these little animated things they do with the actual 5e art.

    Brawlwin fires off a crossbow bolt at one. She rolls a natural 20. Matt multiplies her damage by two instead of having her roll double dice. Double damage is quintessentially 2e.

    The wisps vanish. Huh, I think we edited through some stuff there.

    The group continues on and sees what looks like a camp up ahead. The group decides to split up and circle the camp. Splitting the party, crazy.

    Whil, Brawlwin and Joppa creep closer and see four camp fires. They hear angry voices chanting. Goblins are dancing around the flames. There's about 9 goblins. There's ogres, too. They're eating people!

    There's also a frost giant with long greasy white hair. His torso is riddled with wounds and he has a deformed arm. Matt does an amazing.. AMAZING.. giant voice. Did they tweak the audio to make his voice deeper? Or did he do that on his own? Either way.. epic.

    The frost giant is named Zagthos, I think. He busts out a soliloquy and we learn that the frost giant challenged and was defeated by another giant named Dovak. Zagthos is an outcast, so he has gathered other outcasts to his side so they can have revenge.

    OK. That was the best roleplaying "performance" I have ever seen in a D&D game. I don't think I've witnessed someone in D&D give an in-character speech that comes even close to that.

    It's funny, these shows get me thinking about the game in completely new ways. I've never really thought much about people's delivery at the table.

    We bust out a battle map. Wow are we going to have this fight? That's a lot of bad guys.

    Whil does it again. Fireball! 26 damage, most of the goblins are dead. We roll initative.

    The frost giant chucks a boulder at Whil and does 21 damage. He's got 6 hit points left.

    Whil casts lightning bolt and does 27 damage to the frost giant. Hitch ends up taking piles of damage and is barely still standing.

    We're flying through combat. Lots of editing. We keep cutting to character sheets and the power that is being used is highlighted. Seems like a good way to get casual viewers to understand the game.

    Poor Dagny goes down. There's natural 20's flying left and right. An ogre drops her.

    Hitch climbs up the giant's body and attacks - and rolls a natural one. The giant throws him to the ground. Hitch tries to be buddies with the giant but he calls him by the name of the giant who beat him and yikes.. the giant hacks into him. Hitch is able to roll to safety, barely surviving the assault.

    Joppa heals Dagny and she's awake. She grabs his cheek and gives it a squeeze. Now they are best friends. 

    Whil casts sleep on the giant. It fails its save. The giant collapses on top of Hitch.

    The NPC shoots an ogre and kills it. Brawlwin kills the other one.

    Hitch stabs the giant from underneath and does piles of sneak attack damage. Hitch is covered in giant blood.

    The heroes are victorious. That's where we stop.


    (7:10) The giant's speech
    (23:49) Hitch vs. the frost giant


    I think this is the best episode of any D&D show I've seen. This was just tremendous. Really great pacing. They trimmed out all of the extraneous stuff and the combat flew by. I think you could show this episode to people who know nothing about D&D and they would enjoy it.

    I really think that Matt is helping D&D and RPGs in general. He's giving DMs an example of how to run a game in a way not many try to do, and I'm certain he is getting people to try the game once they watch him.

    Honestly, I am really excited to see other DMs use his work as a foundation to branch off and elevate their own styles. It's so nice that we can use each other as a resource to learn new tricks and to figure out what works and what doesn't. Collectively we can all improve now that D&D is something of a "spectator sport."

    Sunday, July 24, 2016

    HarmonQuest - Episode 1

    You can watch this episode on youtube here.

    Today we're going to take a look at HarmonQuest, a new D&D show that focuses on the improv comedy side of the game. HarmonQuest is actually filmed in front of an audience, but pretty much the whole show is animated. 

    I don't understand why this show is called HarmonQuest. I googled Dan Harmon to see who this dude is. Dan Harmon created the NBC show Community and tons of other stuff. He has a very loyal, rabid fan-following.

    Apparently he was fired from Community and re-hired soon after. The more you read about him, the more you want to back away slowly. This Hollywood Reporter article describes him by using phrases such as "rude asshole," "rage-fueled prankster," and "a ninja of alcoholism."

    I really wish I hadn't read that because I think it is going to color my opinion of the show. Who knows, maybe this guy is really funny.

    They are using Pathfinder rules, but I'm not sure if they edited all the rules talk out or if the DM is just running it really loose. I don't think we even see people roll for initiative.

    Spencer Crittenden is the DM.

    The Party

    (Dan Harmon) Fondue Zuback - Half-orc ranger
    (Erin McGathy) Viari Shimp - Half-elf barbarian
    (Jeff B. Davis) Boneweevil - Goblin rogue
    (Paul F. Tompkins) Teflonto - Half-orc Cleric, captain of the village militia

    We start off with a cool animated intro and then the players talk for a minute. Paul is a guest star. He says that he last played D&D in 8th grade.

    The campaign starts off in the town of Earthscar. There's a lot of orcs and seedy folk, but it's not such a bad place. The people are in the middle of the festival of restoration, celebrating the demonseal. This thing keeps demons out of the mortal realm.

    The chief asks Teflonto to speak the oath in front of the town as part of the festival. Paul makes up the oath on the spot. It rhymes and everything. Pretty amazing.

    A barbarian busts into town. It is Erin's character. There's danger and she needs help. The heroes go outside town with her to investigate.

    There are these suspicious trees out there. Suddenly, the trees whistle and turn into evil cultists. The barbarian draws her axe, named "Only Friend," because, you know, it's her only friend. Then she goes into a barbarian rage which looks like this:

    One cultist pulls off its hood. It has the head of a jackal. It demands the binding runestone. Looks like we are going to have our first combat.

    The DM rolls dice for everyone, which is weird. They have this really nice set, but the DM is rolling on a crumpled notepad that we zoom in on.

    The goblin goes for a sneak attack. He's actually going to run all the way around the town so he'll be gone for a while. The barbarian pulls out the ribs of a cultist and puts them in her hair. She attacks another cultist and gets a critical, cutting him in two.

    Teflonto pulls out some alchemist's fire and chucks it. He rolls a one. He tosses it in the air and it lands on his head. His hair is on fire and remains so for most of the episode.

    The heroes question the bad guys and kind of criticize their whole plan. The goblin is back from his trip and creeps up behind the cultists. He tries to cut their achilles tendons. It's weird how there are so many of that certain type of D&D player who try this achilles tendon thing. He misses and just keeps running.

    An evil dude in armor suddenly marches into the town and grabs the binding runestone. A rift opens and three giant abominations come through.

    The evil armor guy shoots red energy at the heroes. For some reason he does four times as much damage to Teflonto compared to the other characters. I guess this is because he is a guest star and he's meant to die now.

    The bad guys take off. Teflonto is dying, and he asks the heroes to take care of this whole runestone thing.

    The barbarian wants to honor him. She starts pulling his bones out of his body while he is still alive. She's going to make a "skull tree."

    The group prepares to head out and that is where we stop.


    (12:16) Teflonto busts out his flail.
    (18:36) The goblin tries to cut some achilles tendons.


    I love the use of animation in this. The live crowd didn't seem to add much, but it's hard to judge from just one episode. This show is way heavy on the improv, which isn't a bad thing, but if you're looking for a more straight rules-abiding show, this is not for you.

    As a TV Show: If you approach this show just like any other show, I'd say this is worth watching. It's short, it's fun, and I really like some of the players. It's too bad Paul is here for just one episode, because he was really great. I also like the barbarian - she came right out of the gate as a fully-realized character.

    As a D&D Show: If you come at this show from the perspective of a gamer, it's fun. I watch Dice, Camera, Action to see Chris Perkins run Curse of Strahd. This is nothing like that. HarmonQuest is all about comedy. While I don't think we're going to learn how to be a better DM by watching this show, it's still really nice to see D&D used in a comedic way.

    What is the Format? I feel like nobody has been able to figure out the best way to do these shows. What stat stuff should be kept and what should be tossed? How loose should the game be? The DM gave the players a lot of control over the narrative, which made me a little uncomfortable. The whole concept is a work in progress.

    We are living in a really fun time. I hope these kind of shows are here to stay.

    Thursday, July 21, 2016

    Acquisitions Incorporated: The Series - Episode 7

    Watch this episode on youtube here.

    I still can't figure out how this will link to Force Grey.

    The Party

    (Jerry) Omin Dran - Half-Elf Cleric
    (Mike) Jim Darkmagic - Human Wizard
    (Scott) Binwin Bronzebottom - Dwarf Fighter/Barbarian
    (Patrick) Viari - Human Rogue  

    Last Time: The adventurers stole a piece of the rod of seven parts but are stuck inside the dwarven fortress that houses the vault. A band of Zhentarim are suspected of having stolen a belt of giant strength from the dwarves, but the Zhentarim were saying that it was the heroes that did it. The adventurers were standing before the king when an NPC named Carrington pointed that one of the heroes is in disguise as his own sister. It looked like things were about to implode...

    Viari tries to play it off like Carrington, the accuser, is drunk. He slaps Carrington a few times. Carrington turns around and tells the king that the heroes are impostors.

    Omin casts command on Carrington. He commands him to apologize. Carrington fails his save and calls out, "I'm sorry!"

    Omin gets in an argument with the Zhentarim, each accusing the other of theft.

    Ironbeard, the dwarf they bribed, is up for looking in the box. The group is outraged.

    The group decides to let the dwarves look in the box. Jim and Binwin are in there, but I think one of them is invisible. Ironbeard is going to examine

    As Ironbeard gets close to Viari, Viari whispers, "We don't have it, but if things go bad here, you are going to die first." He rolls a 19 on the intimidation check.

    Ironbeard looks in. He sees Jim Darkmagic curled up in there, glaring at him. I think Binwin's invisible, not sure.

    Ironbeard looks in the box and says that the belt is not in there.

    So who stole the belt of giant strength? The heroes wonder if maybe Portentia did. She's the one who sent them in here in the first place.

    The dwarves consider searching the whole place. The Zhentarim offer to help search. Those dirty dogs.

    Zardak Horn wants to put the heroes in the tavern while the dwarves search the complex.

    The group likes this idea. They remember that Portentia told them that there is a secret exit somewhere in this place. The group doesn't know where it is, though.

    I am a little confused where the heroes are located now. The players are talking openly and planning, but I can't tell where the characters are. I assume they are quietly talking in the hallway?

    Scott and Mike really want to get their characters out of the box. Looks like we're going to sneak into the King's bedroom, as they assume that's where the secret tunnel is.

    The group's plan is to leave the box containing the two heroes in their bedroom. Then they can pop out of the box and creep around, searching for the exit.

    Right at the end, Scott jokingly tells a crew member to stop making noise. I couldn't hear anything.


    (10:22) Ironbeard has no scruples
    (29:42) Being extra safe


    I kind of got lost mentally during this episode. I'm not sure who is where or what is going on. My initial thought about these D&D shows was that the concept wouldn't work because watching people play D&D is boring. This wasn't boring, but not much happened and I had a hard time paying attention.

    Tuesday, July 19, 2016

    Dice, Camera, Action: Episode 15 - Curse of Strahd

    You can watch this episode on youtube here.

    Just so you know, I'll be putting my Guide to Curse of Strahd on the DMs Guild a week from this Friday. I think I'm going to add in the things I have learned from this show to it.

    The Party

    (Anna) Evelyn - Human Paladin of Lathander
    (Nathan) Paultin - Human Bard 
    (Holly) Strix - Tiefling Sorcerer 
    (ProJared) Diath - Human Rogue 

    Last Time: Evelyn brought Strix out of an evil hallucination by hugging her really hard. The heroes got rid of the evil druids at the winery and now they have traveled to Yester Hill to find a magic gem.

    When we stopped, Evelyn was about to pull an axe from the trunk of a giant evil tree. There is a giant wicker statue of Strahd.

    Blood pours out of the tree when she removes the axe. She can tell it is magical, but she's not sure what it does.

    Evelyn holds the new axe in one hand and her magic axe, Lightfall, in the other. She asks the group if she looks cool. She does.

    They hear the Friday the 13th noise coming from the stone circle. They smell death on the wind and hear an evil voice calling for its master.

    Strix wants to burn the tree down, but Diath points out that if they do that, any creatures in the area will see it.

    There's a creature dancing around the wicker Strahd saying "Wintersplinter" over and over. If you're reading along in the Curse of Strahd book, check out page 200 Druids' Ritual for the crazy stuff that might happen.

    Strix gets scared and casts fireball at the chanter and the wicker effigy. Now the statue is on fire, which is going to make things more complicated.

    The druid takes 23 damage from the fireball and is still standing. In case you are wondering, the statue has 50 hit points. It is burning and taking an additional 2d6 per round.

    The druid continues dancing around the statue chanting "Wintersplinter." A tree bursts out of the earth under the statue. It is big, evil and animated. It picks up the druid and bites him in half.

    More dirt-caked human barbarians burst up out of the ground wielding great axes. They charge the heroes.

    Paultin casts invisibility on himself. Diath hides behind a stone. Strix and Evelyn are feeling a little alone here as the other two are hiding. Anna's dog makes a guest appearance.

    Barbarians run up and hack into Evelyn. She has to make a concentration check, as she has a moonbeam spell going. Chris actually looks up concentration check rules in the book. This is why I made that forgotten rules index (cheap plug).

    Evelyn's concentration is broken. Chris says that her moonbeam spell may remain there for one minute, but she can't control it.

    Evelyn blocks an attack on Strix with a "Mom arm" (which is a little like stopping short), reducing a critical into a regular hit.

    The tree leaves and starts heading north. Diath thinks it is heading for the vineyard.

    Chris is rolling insanely high. He rolls a critical on Evelyn and drops her. Chris later realizes that Evelyn is actually still up. She only was taking half damage because she's a werewolf and they only take half damage from non-magic weapons. Wow.

    Strix drops a fireball right down on the party, using a sorcerer power to protect the group from it.

    Poor Paultin has been rolling really, really bad. The last bad guy is very close to death. Paultin has a chance to kill him. He does!

    The group jumps on their horses and chase after the tree blight. Anna invents a new way to talk about hit points: She has "25 units of well being."

    Wow, Jared is smart. He points out that the axe they found might do special damage to the tree and that's why it was stuck in the other tree. He is exactly right. Evelyn soon names it "Treebane."

    The group wants to trip the tree. It doesn't work out. The tree does stop and turn to fight the group.

    Paultin decides to use his vistani evil eye power. He can curse the tree and do all sorts of stuff. He chooses to make it vulnerable to fire.

    Strix uses sorcery points to regain a spell - fireball!  With the vulnerability factored in, it does a total of 64 points.

    Diath spots a weird glow in the trunk of the tree. The gem they need is inside it! Diath has a great idea - use Paultin's wine to make a molotov cocktails. He uses his cunning action to jump off the horse and climb the tree!

    The tree pummels Evelyn, knocks her out and throws her into the forest.

    Diath blows the tree up with his cocktail, literally. The gem plops at his feet. It is full of good magic

    That's where we stop.


    (27:35) Cosmic initiative coincidence
    (1:21:22) Paultin has a shot at the last barbarian


    It's a good show every week! This one was very combat-focused and it felt more like most of the D&D games I see people play. I don't know if this is still the case, but in my experience most games of D&D are more like this session and less like the stuff I see happening on Critical Role. I'm not saying that one is better than the other, I'm just saying that this session in particular really felt like a "real" session of D&D to me.

    Now I "Get" Yester Hill: I think if I had run Curse of Strahd, I would have handled Yester Hill really poorly. Watching Chris do it, I see all sorts of mistakes I would have made. I don't think I understood the druid ritual when I read it and honestly I didn't even remember about the tree blight under the statue. The fact that there is the Gulthias tree on the hill confused me. I thought the Gulthias tree was Wintersplinter when I read it.

    Alterations: From what I can tell, Chris changed some stuff again. In the book, if I understand it properly, there's supposed to be 10 rounds of chanting in order for the blight to rise up. I would guess he just had this go off after a round for dramatic effect. Also, in the book, Strahd makes an appearance during this ritual. It's possible Strahd was there, unseen. The druid did call out for "Master," if I heard that correctly.

    I know that none of the stuff in the book is set in stone. I like when Chris deviates from the book. It gives us new material to work with if we like.

    Again, I'd say that people need to watch this show if they are going to run the adventure. It helps so much.

    Anna: Anna was in a really good mood this week. She was pretty much hilarious from start to finish. Evelyn is a classic D&D character.

    Strix: Holly is really on the ball with her character. She got to really unload in the battle at Yester Hill and the way Chris was rolling, she might have saved the party.

    Homework: Nate didn't seem to know his plus to hit or what spells he could cast, among other things. I think he should sit down and write out the main things he needs to know on an index card:
    • His bonus to hit and melee damage
    • His spell attack bonus and difficulty class
    • What Bardic Inspiration does and how many time he can use it.
    • How many spells he can cast, and what they do. 

    Monday, July 18, 2016

    Force Grey: Giant Hunters - Episode 2


    You can watch this on youtube here.

    What a nice way to start out the week. Let's see if we find any hints of how the rod of seven parts plays into this campaign.

    Chris Hardwick: Apparently there are a number of people who found Chris Hardwick to be annoying on this show. He only said about three sentences last episode, so I guess I'll just wait and see. I don't really know anything about him.

    The Party

    (Chris Hardwick) Whil Wee-Tawn - Sun Elf Wizard
    (Ashley Johnson) Dagny Halvor - Half-Orc Cleric
    (Shelby Fero) Brawlwin Chainminer - Dwarf Fighter
    (Jonah Ray) Joppa - Human Monk
    (Utkarsh Ambudkar) Hitch - Human Rogue

    Last Time: The heroes beat up some of Hitch's old allies, stole a cart and headed off to find a sun dragon.

    The adventurers ride north of Waterdeep. Joppa spots remnants of what seems to be a mining camp.

    The camp seems to have been abruptly abandoned. There's blood. Hitch finds tracks - very large prints.

    Chris Hardwick literally gets up and climbs into Jonah's lap. Jonah cradles him and busts out a sea shanty. And then Chris won't get off of him.

    Apparently, giants were here. Giants, goblins and ogres all seem to be working together.

    Up the road a bit further is a barricade. There's a symbol in the language of giants that says: "Serve."

    Heyyy they are near the Mere of Dead Men! You may remember the mere from chapter 6 of Hoard of the Dragon Queen. I wonder if we will have a Voaraghamanthar sighting.

    Here come some monsters. Wow. We get semi-animated graphics! That is very cool and much appreciated. I still think the people making this show are a little too worried about people getting bored, but maybe that's just me.

    I love the 5e ogre:

    So the group has a choice - fight the monsters or head into the swamp.

    Suddenly, Whil casts a fireball. Yeah, he's definitely an instigator type. We get a cool graphic for it (top of this page).

    The goblins die. The ogre turns and runs.

    Jonah uses a power called step of the wind and races all the way up to the ogre 120 feet away. Brawlwin shoots a crossbow bolt into the ogre's neck.

    This is all a loose scene, no initiative. Darby's gizmo flail lets loose cables and wrap around the ogre and basically tie him up. Her flail is really cool.

    The ogre says the dwarves were dead already. Dagny intimidates the ogre by putting her flail under his chin. The ogre admits that a "giant ice man" is giving him orders.

    The ogre breaks free. Brawlwin races forward, jumps up, hits it in the stomach and the face, killing it. The group gives her a slow clap.

    That's where we stop.


    (6:57) Joppas's sea shanty
    (15:20) The ogre


    It goes by so quick. Good show! I see what people are saying about Hardwick, but maybe he'll tone it down as the show progresses.

    Planescape - Coirosis, the Rust Dragon

    We just finished up another session of Planescape and I think it might have been the best one of the whole campaign.

    I've been trying out the Chris Perkins method, where you run each session like an episode of a TV show. I zoom in on a scenario and don't fill it with clutter.

    It is working really well, honestly. By slowing down the pace a little, I think the players are able to absorb everything better and feel more involved in what is going on.

    The Party

    (Jessie) Bidam - Platinum-Scaled Dragonborn Fighter
    (George) Theran - Half-Dabus/Half-Elf Wizard
    * NPCs - Fall From Grace (Succubus Paladin), Selinza ("Litorian" Wizard, level 8)

    Each character has powers linked to the Lady of Pain:
    • Theran can create buildings in Sigil and he can banish people to extra-dimensional mazes.
    • Bidam can look at people and cause cuts to appear on their body and he can create portals in Sigil.
    When they use one of these powers, they gain level four exhaustion. The only way to remove the exhaustion is to spend days pursuing their beliefs (belief is a big deal in Planescape).

    The heroes own a cluster of buildings known as "Deadbook Square."

    Last Time: Theran is a fugitive. He escaped custody and the Mercykillers have a bounty hunter coming after him who has a magical warrant of holding. The heroes decided to go to the plane of Acheron to free some prisoners who can prove that the leader of The Mercykillers is crazy.

    A Mercykiller
    The heroes were in Sigil. They decided to free the Mercykillers who were unjustly imprisoned by Factol Nilesia. They hoped that this would mean that the Factol would be forced to step down by her own faction.

    Theran's girlfriend Convivia Kettle gave him three more goodberries. She's still having trouble with the recipe. Each berry had a magic power that would actually help the group in this session:
    • White: The power to magically create a perfect forgery.
    • Blue/Purple Swirl: Heal/repair metal three times
    • Reddish Orange: Create a protective dome in a 20 foot radius as a reaction one time. Lasts just 6 seconds at most.
    Theran suddenly felt dizzy. He fell to the ground. He realized he'd lost his ability to turn into a dabus, see dabus portals, all that stuff. He was still a half-dabus. He correctly assumed this was his punishment for using the secret city to evade the Mercykillers last session.

    I decided that Foulgore Grue, the Mercykiller with the warrant of holding, was three hours behind the group. So basically, if they stayed in one spot for three hours, he'd catch up to them and we'd have ourselves an encounter.

    The Mile-Long Stairs

    The group ended up in the gate-town of Rigus and headed down a mile-long stairwell to get to the portal to Acheron. People were coming up the stairs - slave-soldiers of The Mercykillers. They'd just finished a tour of duty.

    As the groups squeezed past each other, a slave-soldier tried to pick Bidam's pocket. Bidam grabbed her by the arm and threw her down the stairs.

    A fight broke out and Theran killed the other two with magic missiles. They looted a scroll containing the 6th level spell Cube Hopper - it lets you teleport between cubes on Acheron. This is part of my policy of always giving the group new spells if they're in the material I am using.

    The woman Bidam threw was alive but hurt badly. Bidam wanted to finish her, but Fall From Grace stopped him. She used lay on hands to heal the woman and gave her some gold to start a new life.

    She scolded Bidam for his callous attitude.

    Vorkehan, City of Fumes

    The group went through the portal and appeared in Acheron, on a massive cube that housed Vorkehan, the Mercykiller city. In the sky above, they saw two other massive cubes very close together. They were clearly going to collide soon.

    The Spell Crystal: I wanted to remind the group about spell crystals (they whiz around Acheron, containing a spell that goes off when they shatter). A crystal hit Theran and let out a burst of positive energy that gave the whole group inspiration. I've decided to actually put inspiration into an encounter each session so I don't forget about it.

    They arrived at Vorkehan, a city made of huge pieces of metal bolted together. The adventurers lied to the guards and said they had come to sign on as slave-soldiers. They were allowed in.

    The Revolutionary League had to told the adventurers to meet up with their spy in a bar - his name was Waldgrave. The heroes made their way through the noxious fumes of the city.

    Waldgrave's Magic Power: In the bar was Waldgrave and three Mercykiller officers. The group clued Waldgrave in to who they were. He was a jolly fellow, and he revealed to them that he had a special magic power - he can store things in a pocket realm. He was very mysterious about it.

    He said he came from a world here everyone was born with a power similar to a magic item. His was like a bag of holding.

    George knows me too well. He immediately asked this guy if the portal was in his butt. Waldgrave stammered a lame denial.

    I made this guy after I saw Jim Darkmagic mention keistering the rod of seven parts on Acquisitions Incorporated. I immediately paused the show and wrote this idea down.

    So here's the deal. The prisoners that the heroes need are being forced to work in The Mines of Marsellin on another cube. That cube is about to collide with another cube within a few hours.

    The miners got attacked by rust monsters, and thus they are stuck in the mines and will likely die when the cubes collide. The collision will cause all sorts of cave-ins and carnage.

    The group needed to get to the mines, rescue the miners and get off of the cube before the collision occurred.

    But first, they needed to get the portal key to use the gate to the Mines of Marsellin. There were three officers in the bar that knew this information.

    I was looking for more races to use in Planescape and I stumbled on the Planetouched. There's all sorts of cool stuff! I've begun adding them in to my campaign. The officers were all Maeluths (half-dwarf/half-demon). They have red eyes, are almost hairless and wear spiked armor. The officers:
    • Lamina: Rainbow hair, looked bored.
    • Flaneur: A severe gambling problem
    • Xertz: Follows orders to the letter
    Basically I was giving the group a choice as to how they wanted to get the portal key. All of the officers were drunk, so the group could exploit their weaknesses in whatever fun way they liked. I did my best to demonstrate their gimmick at the table. For example, Flaneur was shuffling a deck of three-dragon ante cards, etc.

    Bidam lives by the philosophy of "hit it and quit it," and so he seduced Lamina and learned the portal key in no time. The key was a spoken motto: "Slavery is just."

    The Mines of Marsellin

    Then we were off to the mines, on a cube made entirely of metal junk. The heroes appeared in the mines and tried to find the slave-miners as fast as possible. Time was of the essence.

    I ran this like a 4e skill challenge. Failure on a check meant that more time was taken.

    1. The group stumbled on a band of modrons sorting items into piles. The modrons gathered around Bidam and Theran, recognizing them as the heroes who helped them complete the rogue modron march. They bopped up and down, letting out the AOL dial-up modem noise.

    One modron agreed to help the group traverse the mines. It knew exactly when the cubes would collide, and could provide a countdown.

    2. The group found a really cool item - a metal carriage with demons carved into it. The main demon was Nocticula. Waldgrave offered to use his magic power to store it, and made up some story to get them to let him do it in private.

    Theran used Selinza's mirror to peer around a corner. Yep, the portal was in his butt. The carriage went in. The portal stretches... you don't want to know.

    3. The group needed to cross a rusted bridge. No check was needed. Bidam ate a goodberry and healed the metal of the bridge.

    4. They heard the sound of battle in a side-tunnel.

    Rust Monsters

    The slave miners were being attacked by rust monsters! The group dropped some fireballs and Bidam used his breath weapon. The rust monsters were wiped out and the heroes had found the prisoners!

    These were indeed the political prisoners Factol Nilesia had sent away simply because they didn't agree with her politics. I used some more planetouched races for NPCs:
    • Atromesia: A fey'ri (half-elf/half-demon). She was tall, had reddish skin and batlike wings.
    • Dromos: An azerblood (half-dwarf/half-azer). He had brass skin and his irises danced like flames.
    After a bit of talking, everyone was on the same page. They wanted to get off this cube and expose Factol Nilesia as the maniac she really was.

    The modron blurted out: "T-minus 5 minutes and counting.." The collision was imminent! The group needed to get to the gate to Mechanus deeper in the mines immediately. This was a skill challenge that was fated to be interrupted:

    1. Help the prisoners who were wounded so they could keep up. Fall From Grace used the rest of her lay on hands to heal them.

    2. Most of the shackles were rusted off by the rust monsters, but three remained. Bidam used his sword of sharpness to slice them off.

    3. Head to the gate..

    The skill challenge was interrupted. The group was racing through the mines when a massive creature came out around a corner - Coirosis the rust dragon!

    The Rust Dragon

    George rolled an arcana check. It turns out Theran knew a lot about rust dragons. He knew that if rust monsters live long enough, they turn into rust dragons! How crazy is that?

    Bidam tried to play the dragonborn card. He told Coirosis that the collision was imminent and that they were both dragons, so they should just go their separate ways.

    Coirosis didn't seem worried about the collision. Jessie rolled high on her diplomacy, so Coirosis told Bidam to move on. Coirosis wanted the others. Bidam refused. We rolled initiative!

    Bidam and Selinza dropped more fireballs. Theran also used an ice storm.

    The dragon's legendary actions were devastating. Three tail swipes that do 15 damage each!

    The dragon breathed oxidants and reddish-brown liquid that destroyed all metal. Dex save DC 18. Saves were failed.

    I declared that magic items were not affected. To me, that would be a really harsh thing to do. The sword of sharpness rusted into oblivion? Not cool, IMO.

    Bidam's plate mail was gone. He was completely naked. Fall From Grace's chastity bodice lost all the clasps. The chastity bodice is what keeps her on the path to goodness! It never comes off. She had to spend a round to secure it.

    The Iggwilv dress
    Worst of all, Selinza's Iggwilv dress was mauled! You might remember that Iggwilv let Selinza take one of her dresses when the heroes broke in to Graz'zt's palace. If you look at the art of the dress, there's a lot of metal on it.

    Selinza flipped out and dropped big spells on the dragon.

    The modron blurted out: "10...9...8.." The collision was about to happen! The dragon flew away, down a mine shaft.

    The group wasn't going to make it to the portal. They had a goodberry that could create a protective dome, but there were 50 prisoners! Only a few could fit in the dome.

    There was one other option. They had to climb into Waldgrave's butt of holding. They did, all cringing and holding their nose. Bidam picked up Fall From Grace, who was unconscious, and put her in there.

    Bidam got a glimpse of the Keister-Realm: There was grass, light, piles of weird items... and yes, a mountain of feces off in the distance.

    The cubes collided with a deafening thud. Huge chunks of metal fell from the ceiling. Theran created the protective dome. It blocked the falling debris for 6 seconds, then shut off.

    More debris fell, injuring and partially burying the group. Waldgrave failed his save. Metal fell on his head. He died. All those people were trapped in the Keister-Realm!

    The heroes got up, coughing. They were covered in dust and were generally in shambles. Bidam picked up Waldgrave's body, intent on having him raised. The group limped to the portal to Mechanus and uttered the portal key: A math equation whose answer was 3.14.

    Escape to Mechanus

    The heroes entered Mechanus, the bright realm of giant gears. Home of the modrons!

    To their surprise, high-ranking modrons were waiting for them. It turned out that a prescient visitor had known the group would come here and wanted to have a special meeting. That visitor was Quimath the chain devil, agent of the Iron Shadow!

    He looked down on the group from a balcony, with his devil allies beside him. He held up a wine glass and in his German accent said, "You have nussing to fear! Ve are going to make a deal..."

    That's where we stopped.

    The whole thing flowed real nice and it was a lot of fun. The less I prepare, the better the game is.