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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Chaos Ships in the Nine Hells

We played some more of my version of Descent into Avernus on Sunday. When I was putting the session together, I had this feeling I knew how far we would get. My outline involved three things:
  1. Wrapping up things in Mordenkainen's tower.
  2. Riding through the Nine Hells, being attacked by the Queen of Chaos.
  3. Exploring the Bleeding Citadel.
That plan assumes the group doesn't decide to do something completely different, which you always have to be ready for. Having read Descent makes that a bit easy. There's a whole book full of stuff to use if the group decides to drive in a random direction, or if they seek out some random thing that was mentioned three sessions ago.


I've been doing better at giving the group space lately - just letting them roleplay and dictate the pace. With a 2-hour session, I'm always a little wary and watching the clock. I want to make sure stuff happens.

That said, I've found that it doesn't feel like D&D if you forcibly march the group from one thing to the next. They need time to inhabit their characters, take in the scenery, and explore the group dynamic.

I had a feeling that they'd spend that time in Mordenkainen's tower roleplaying. What's fun about that is that I, the DM, have absolutely no idea what will happen. The players are completely unpredictable.

So I made it even more fun for myself by putting goofy stuff in Mordenkainen's tower. He's got guest rooms, each themed after once of his favorite planes. Which one would each hero pick? Would they take different rooms, or would they share one?

Magic Hot Tubs

Each of these rooms have a magic item created by the Mordenkainen from the original, somewhat blasphemous Castle Greyhawk parody adventure: A hot tub of relaxation. What are the command words for this magic hot tub? "Hot" and "Not Hot."

So we started and boom they were off and running, picking their themed rooms, checking out the hot tub, and deciding which NPCs slept where. One of the biggest surprises was how Winthrop, the party's shadar kai dude, shared a room with "Twinthrop" (Winthrop had grown a second head which was severed and attached to a suit of magic wind armor). Winthrop has this magic tattoo kit he got like 40 sessions ago, and ave his "brother" a cool face tattoo.

The group also debated the fate of Strahd, who had been traveling with them until last session, when Mordenkainen hit him with a banishment spell. Strahd is obsessed with one member of the party named Seraphine, because the soul of his beloved Tatyana merged with hers.

It's so amusing to me to listen to them talk about Strahd, because nobody can quite decide if he is Seraphine's boyfriend or what. Seraphine actually got in an argument with Mordenkainen about how Strahd can be a help and isn't necessarily going to ruin their quest for the rod of seven parts.

If you read my old Planescape session stuff, you know that I had made the two heroes of that campaign into living embodiments of the laws of the multiverse. There are three of these laws, and in that game, I left the identity of the third a secret.

In this Dungeon Academy campaign, it has been revealed that Lilia, the gnome warlock, is actually Center of All, the embodiment of that third rule. What that exactly means, she's not sure. If she dies, what does that mean for the multiverse? She is literally the center of the multiverse. What happens if that goes away? Is the multiverse unmoored? Does it collapse in on itself? Do planes start to shift in position?

So! Yes, just spending time in Mordenkainen's tower ate up a good portion of the session. It was all worthwhile and, to me, did not drag.

The Hell Chase

The group got into their van/war machine, put on their seatbelts, and rode toward the Bleeding Citadel, with their 15 abyssal chickens chasing behind them.

I want to make sure I solidify the threat of the Queen of Chaos, who is trying to get the rod of seven parts so she can free Miska the Wolf-Spider. Most of the time, the group has been in a place that is beyond her reach. Their spelljammer is protected by Umbra, the goddess of good. "Powers" like herself can not enter Sigil.

But now, the group is in the Nine Hells! The Queen can get at them! In the boxed set, it describes how the Queen can warp the land just by fixing her gaze on it. So, I had the Queen's face appear in the clouds. The land all around the van turned into a tentacle-scape.

From the clouds came a bat-shaped chaos ship! You might remember that I wrote a guide to chaos ships a few years ago in this blog. This blog is, if nothing else, a repository for all my DM prep, and boy did that thing come in handy.

My first thought was to say that the sibriex that is loyal to the Queen made the chaos ship, but when I went through my guide, I realized that making a chaos ship is very involved so I thought up a bit more to the story which has yet to be revealed.

I love running vehicle chases in D&D. I wanted this to be like the crazy chase levels in Half-Life 2, where you're in the dune buggy and the freaky alien gunship is dropping mines on you and opening fire as you are careening around swampy land littered with tunnels.

I had the chaos ship driven by one of the queen's agent, a solamith (my favorite D&D monster) named Barzhim Rangoth.

What followed was a pretty epic battle with Seraphine driving the van, avoiding mines and tentacles, while the heroes fired harpoons from their war machines at the massive chaos ship. Winthrop was clever and used magic to pull the solamith out of the chaos ship. He ended up floating safely down and landing on the roof of the van.

The chaos ship, a sentient thing, took control of itself and continued the assault. Demons onboard fired lightning ballistas at the group. Winthrop and Twinthrop suddenly took to the air and flew onto the chaos ship!

That's about where we had to stop.

I had this feeling that's as far as we'd get, and I was right for once.

We're rolling along real nicely in this campaign, and we'll be done soon. I've got everything all prepared, and all I have to do is sit back and roll with what the players choose to do.

I have warned them that in the final fight, anything goes. The last piece is in Pandemonium - I'm using the final level right out of the 2e Rod of Seven Parts boxed set. That's a general rule of mine. I might pull punches in a lot of fights, but in the final battle, if you die, you die. If there's no risk, what's the point?

Monday, November 4, 2019

Using the Tower of Urm

I ran a couple of games over the weekend, both went OK. This was one of those times where I felt a little run down, so I let the players "carry the burden" of making the game entertaining, if that makes sense. This almost always leads to a good session, yet I still find it difficult to find just the right balance between being too railroad-y and letting the players run amok.

The Patterns of a Long Term Campaign

We are barreling toward the end of the Hell's Rebels adventure path. This is always the best time in a  campaign, in my opinion - when the end is in sight, you've totally got a handle on everything's that's coming, and now your primary concern is pacing.

As a DM, you've already gone through the "launch" of the game, where the initial enthusiasm propels the group forward. Then, usually somewhere around session 6-10, that enthusiasm wears thin and you need to re-calibrate and quickly find the things that interest the players to keep the game from becoming a slog.

Some time after that, you get into a rhythm and you just roll on and on. Once the players get used to the routine of playing at the same time over the course of months and not only do they want to play, they expect to play, at that point, you're just holding back your own dungeon mastering demons and making sure you don't kill your own campaign through bad habits or losing perspective on what it's like to be a player.

Hell's Rebels

We are deep into book 5 of 6. The group has taken a side trip into the Feywild in a homebrewed thing I whipped up, because my group likes the city of Vyre and it was an opportunity to work in Fio's backstory.

So as the session approached, I realized I had to actually come up with a bunch of Feywild stuff for the session. I still don't really have a handle on Feywild lore, so I dug up material from the products I am somewhat familiar with:

Dungeon 166 has a high level Feywild adventure in it for the 4e Scales of War adventure path. Running Scales was one of the best things I've ever done as a DM, and I am always going back to it to use stuff. This Feywild adventure was actually not especially essential to the main story, but it  has an NPC that I love: The Sky Shaper, a sun with a face on it that will give you information if you flatter it or do cool acrobatic tricks.

Heroes of the Feywild is a 4e sourcebook that has tons of lore and information on the Feywild. I used this mostly just for general ideas, the spark to get things moving.

Then, when I really need ideas, I go to the Dungeon Dozen index and after about 15 minutes I have tons of building blocks to work with.

The heroes made their way into a forest, looking for a captured NPC who is one of Vyre's 5 rulers. They had these goofy encounters:
  • A leprechaun illusionist tried to steal colors off of the heroes to make a custom rainbow to impress his Feywild superiors. 
  • A bunch of snobby talking cats drank from a small milk lake that issued whispers relating to the dark past of some of the heroes.
  • A treant had grabbed a stork who was carrying a baby and fell asleep. This was specifically a way to show Essie how her fey baby would arrive.
Then we got to the main event. I had found some awesome fey-themed maps from this person right here.

Tooth Fairies

I knew I wanted to use Pathfinder fey monsters that had appeared earlier in the Hell's Rebels Path. Tooth fairies! Basically, they are Pathfinder goblins with wings and pliers.

I had the NPC glued to a bridge above a chasm filled with teeth. I was using goblin stats for these monsters and checked kobold fight club to see how many goblins were a challenge for four level 11 heroes. the answer: 32 goblins!

I was a little concerned. Can a group fight 32 monsters? I gave it a try and Fio, a spellcaster, dropped 20 in one shot, so everything worked out fine.

I stuck a "tooth golem" in the pit to attack anyone who fell in, and as the battle commenced, 3 of the 4 heroes ended up in the pit, either through being shoved in or jumping down.

Then I had the tooth fairy monarch show up, and the whole thing worked out nicely. The heroes ultimately rescued the NPC and wiped out the tooth fairies.

The Tower of Urm

Last week, I wrote up a guide to Mordenkainen mostly because I knew that the Dungeon Academy group would be going to his tower in Descent into Avernus this week.

In Descent, the Tower of Urm encounter is way too short in my opinion. All they tell you is that Mordenkainen is in the tower, and that a bunch of yugoloths work for him. I have this natural aversion to using yugoloths in my games, so the whole thing didn't sit right.

If I was going to "fix" it or expand on it, I figured I could just use all of the published lore to do so.

The thing that I liked the most from all of the Mordenkainen lore that I found was the notes in the 2e Outer Planes Appendix discussing the Codex of Mordenkainen. In the codex, it is revealed that Mordenkainen went through a magical sleep ritual which allowed him to visit the Coils of Time, which have all sorts of information written on them about places and events.

I love the idea that Mordenkainen learned bits of information about the future on this visit, and that one thing he learned was that my Dungeon Academy group was actually going to assemble to rod of seven parts.

As a believer in "the Balance," Mordenkainen thinks that artifacts need to be locked away. This is actually specifically discussed in Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium. Artifacts are very hard to actually destroy, so it's better to just set them aside and let the knowledge of their existence fade away.

As my Mordenkainen started telling the group about how he thinks they need to give the assembled rod to the Wind Dukes, the group actually piped up and started talking about how it might be best to destroy it. They basically came to the same conclusion that Mordenkainen did with no prompting!

Mordenkainen was impressed. You may be aware that Mordenkainen has had some adventuring groups before - The Citadel of Eight and the Circle of Eight. My Mordenkainen is wondering if maybe these heroes might become a new Circle of Eight, or some new, similar organization of a different name. I think that would be pretty cool.

One other thing that happened in this session was that Mordenkainen cast banishment on Strahd von Zarovich, the legendary vampire. Strahd has been traveling with the group because the soul of his beloved, Tatyana, merged with the party cleric.

This led to an internal debate amongst the group - was this a good thing or a bad thing? Strahd was the cleric's "boyfriend," one player pointed out, and the whole group thought it was not cool to banish a boyfriend.

On the other hand.. he's evil. They noted that he's constantly tempted to drink their blood, and he's had it out for the party fighter since she called Strahd a "pu**y."

If you read Curse of Strahd, you know that Mordenkainen and Strahd are enemies and have fought before. I thought it would make sense for Mordenkainen to do this to the vampire. Additionally, having an evil vampire in the group could upset the group's own "Balance" in the eyes of Mordenkainen.

Mordenkainen gave the heroes a copy of his Magnificent Emporium. Basically, if they write down information on magic items in that book, it will appear in Mordenkainen's master copy. The group immediately pointed out that it was a "pokedex," which is something I never considered.

We're building up to the big final fight with Miska the Wolf-Spider, an ancient demon lord who has blood so toxic that if it gets on you, you must make a saving throw or die. Mordenkainen pointed out that this makes the party's archer crucial in the final battle, so he gave her three arrows of demon slaying and he enchanted her bracers, making them bracers of archery (+2 to hit and damage with bows!).

I'm sort of tempted to have the group visit the Coils of Time, but I think that is something that will require some thought and planning, not just a throwaway encounter. I might write it up at some point in the future. I think I should consult the old 2e Chronomancer sourcebook for inspiration, first.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Dungeons & Dragons - A Guide to Mordenkainen

This guide is my attempt to grab all of the lore about Mordenkainen and collect it in one place. That should make it easier for you if you decide to use Mordenkainen in your campaign. 5th edition has done some sneaky and very cool things with him!

Short Version: Who is Mordenkainen? He's an archmage (MM pg 342) from the Greyhawk setting. He is sometimes in charge of a group of wizards known as the Circle of Eight. He has spells named after him in the Player's Handbook.

But what's really special about him is that he is the most famous real life character played by the co-creator of D&D: Gary Gygax.

Mordenkainen, the Character

Mordenkainen in the publications differs a bit from the "real life" pen-and-paper version. When Gary Gygax was playtesting D&D, he'd sometimes have Rob Kuntz (player of Lord Robilar) run him through adventures. Rob had Gary play through some now-famous scenarios, including Maure Castle aka Mordenkainen's Fantastic adventure.

A few years ago, I wrote a few articles collecting all of the information I could find about the original Castle Greyhawk campaign. Here's what I learned about Mordenkainen:

According to this blog, these are his stats:
  • STR 9
  • INT 18
  • WIS 13
  • DEX 13
  • CON 16
  • CHA 17
He has a staff of power and a ring of x-ray vision.

His henchmen included:
  • Bigby: A wizard
  • Zigby: A dwarf who led Mordenkainen's 300 dwarf followers.
  • Riggby: A cleric
  • Sigby Griggbyson: A fighter
  • Nigby: Bigby's apprentice
  • Digby
Pet Dragons: He owned two red dragons named Gorky and Porky.

Home: He lived in an obsidian citadel with Gary's other characters - Yrag, Vin & Vram (elf twins), and Felnorith (a fighter who collects swords).

Adventures: It is known that Mordenkainen barely survived Maure Castle, which I write more about further into this guide. Dave Arneson also ran Mordenkainen and Lord Robilar through City of the Gods.

Quick Note: I'm sure I've missed stuff, but I took a stab at it. I am fairly certain that the 3e stuff summarizes the events of the 2e Greyhawk sourcebooks. I have a lot of trouble reading the 2e Greyhawk stuff - massive walls of text.

In a lot of D&D supplements, Mordenkainen has teams of allies that get into all sorts of shenanigans. Here's a list of his two big groups:

The Citadel of Eight

Devoted to maintaining the cosmic balance between good and evil, this group fell apart due to infighting.
The Circle of Eight

This is a band of very powerful wizards who eventually fell to infighting. Here is a list of the members, which changed over time.
Rogues Gallery

This fun book is full of people's characters, many of them who played in Gary Gygax's own Castle Greyhawk campaign.

Apparently Gary Gygax says that Brian Blume made up these stats, as he refused to give Brian Blume his real stats. As Gary put it in 2003:

"The information in the ROGUE'S GALLERY was quite fallacious, made up im many cases when we refused to give Brian our PCs' stats. Rob respected my wishes and didn't use Mordie's actual stats and information, and whatever was written thereafter based on those works continues the error."

According to this book, Mordenkainen is a 16th level mage who "spends much of his time pondering over new bits of magical research." He usually travels with henchmen, but sometimes disguises himself as an old, poor merchant.

"He is an active and aggressive person, not failing to attempt bold, sweeping plans when the situation demands."

"He is stubborn and his decisions are often harsh. For all this, he is a clever and useful ally."

Mordenkainen has a lot of magic items, including an efreeti bottle, a bag of holding, and a crystal ball.

Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure

Gary Gygax explains in the special preface that explains this adventure was made by Rob Kuntz, and that Gary ran Mordenkainen and Bigby through it alone. "The terrible iron golem on the first level spelled petrifaction for Mordenkainen, and Bigby teleported out in great haste to bring reinforcements. With the aid of Yrag and Riggby, the monster was finally destroyed. Mordenkainen was restored to flesh again."

In this adventure, your players have the option of playing Mordenkainen, Yrag, Riggby, and Bigby. This group of heroes decided to go on this adventure when they heard that there were doors in Maure Castle that could not be opened.

Appearance: Mordenkainen appears to be a middle-aged man bedecked in simple grey robes.His beard is black with silver streaks and well-waxed.

Mordenkainen is statted out in the appendix. He is a 12th level wizard and he's got a mighty pile of magic items, including a carpet of flying, bracers of defense, a "scroll of the efreeti," and a Silver Key of Portals.

The Scroll of the Efreeti: This scroll is made from a lesser demon's skin, and bears flaming runes and sigils. When a spellcaster holds the scroll, it acts as a ring of fire resistance. If read, an efreeti appears and will serve the wielder for 2-5 hours. Once that time is up, the genie leaves and the scroll is useless.

Silver Key of Portals: This silver skeleton key was found in an abandoned chapel of Dalt, a lesser god of portals and enclosures. When the key is touched to any portal, "be it magical or other," the portal will slowly open. This key can be used to open four portals per day, and no more.

Statistics: What are his stats, you might ask:
  • STR 10
  • INT 18
  • WIS 15
  • DEX 17
  • CON 17
  • CHA 18
  • AC 1 (in 5e, that's an AC of 19)
  • HP 52
He worships Boccob, god of magic.

Bigby: He's a level 10 necromancer. He is described as oddly nervous and is extremely cautious.

Riggby: A lvl 9 high priest of Boccob and Zagyg, his opinions are "short and succinct."

Dragon Magazine - The Wizards Three

Through the history of Dragon Magazine, the great Ed Greenwood wrote many articles where wizards from different setting met with one another. They usually involved Elminster, from the Forgotten Realms, and Mordenkainen, from Greyhawk.

Reading these was a wild ride. Basically, these stories are a way to introduce new spells, monsters, and magic items. Mordenkainen, Elminster, and Dalamar get together and share these things with each other. They also drink and eat a lot (and.. well, you'll see).

This serves as a very early attempt at portraying the D&D "multiverse" and has characters cross over from one setting to another. 

Dragon #185 "Magic in the Evening"

Elminster is hanging out with the author, who lives on our Earth. Mordenkainen is coming to visit, and the author is hiding in a suit of armor hanging from hooks on the wall.

Here's what we learn about Mordenkainen, as well as some of the wacky things that happen in this story:
  • Here's the deal. These stories take place in Ed Greenwood's home on Earth. The wizards actually meet in his house.
  • Mordenkainen's Appearance: "A middle-aged man with a wise, craggy face." His face was "...alert and almost angry, like a hawk looking about for prey."
  • Mordenkainen likes soda. 
  • Mordenkainen is aware that Elminster tells a young lad (Ed Greenwood himself) all the secrets of Faerun. He gestures to "a few modules and boxed sets on a high shelf."
  • Mordenkainen can magically summon slim, dark cigars.
  • Elminster wants to create a wizard team-up group called the Wizards Three - and he wants to include an apprentice of Raistlin named Dalamar.
  • Mordenkainen explains that Tenser and Bigby have been attacked by some mysterious individual.
  • Mordenkainen thinks the Zhentarim are "dolts." 
  • Spelldreams: Mordenkainen weaves "spelldreams" for merchants which slowly unravel the spells other wizards have on the merchants.
  • Samander's Ring: Mordenkainen has Samander's Ring, which can be secretly placed on a person and block attempts to charm that person. Mordenkainen can summon it back to himself.
  • Mordenkainen likes mayonnaise.
Dragon #188 "The Wizards Three"
  • The author again hides in a suit of armor to quietly spy on the wizards. He notes that "Dalamar the Dark" is indeed going to meet with Elminster and Mordenkainen.
  • Vecna Lives: Mordenkainen is in a dark mood. The Circle of Eight are dead and Vecna is supposedly gone for good. I think this is a reference to the events that occur in the adventure called Vecna Lives.
  • Dalamar is edgy and Mordenkainen threatens him.
  • Daunskul: Mordenkainen talks about Daunskul, a wizard who walks between worlds and is a shapeshifter. He is a "Lord High Necromancer" who can grant undead the ability to use spells, and make false liches." He also can create undead that reflect spells back on the caster.
  • These Visits are Personal: Elminster refers to Ed Greenwood as his "pet."
  • Dalamar likes mustard.
  • Mordenkainen eats a giant cheese-and-turkey sandwich that is as thick as Ed's forearm.
Dragon #196 "Three Wizards Too Many"
  • Elminster possesses mint-wine given to him by a gold dragon named Galglentor.
  • Mordenkainen Saying: When Mordenkainen is surprised, he yells "Dancing hobgoblins!"
  • Another saying: "I'm on blade's edge these days. A great war rages in my world."
  • The Wizards Three are laughing and probably a bit drunk. 
  • Dalamar doesn't like marshmallows or root beer floats.
  • Spell Mirror: A fragile oval of polished glass. Each one guards against a specific spell
  • Big Crossover: Mordenkainen met Fistandantilus. "The memory of our meeting is not a happy one." It is explained that Fistandantilus at one times wandered worlds, seizing magic and killing people with his Bloodstone. Mordenkainen says that he taught Fistandantilus "the wisdom of staying closer to home."
  • Mordenkainen can have a third hand come out of his robes to hand you things or perhaps use magic items.
  • An old saying on Oerth: "Secrets kill."
  • Bloodglass: It shows how many hit points an enemy has left.
  • Friendly Fungus: A living mushroom familiar, that can fetch things that you visualize while touching it. 
  • Uh oh. Mordenkainen might know that Ed is hiding in the armor. The visor suddenly seals shut as Mordenkainen leaves. 
Dragon #200 "The Wizards Three"
  • Mordenkainen definitely knows Ed is there, hiding. Mordenkainen winks at him.
  • Mordenkainen is still upset about the wars on Greyhawk. He has the "stink of spell-battle" on him.
  • Mordenkainen's Involuntary Wizardry: This spell forces a random memorized spell out of the mind of an enemy wizard, and visits its effects on them.
  • Bonebind: This spell immobilizes undead and rolls them up into balls. Seriously! That's Mordenkainen's spell he's sharing in this one.
  • So... a fork started moving, and turned into Elminster's girlfriend - The Simbul. "A fire-eyed woman whose long silver hair curled around her shoulders with a life of its own."
  • Dalamar keeps getting mad that everyone is higher level than he is.
Dragon #211 "The Wizards Three"
  • Elminster isn't thrilled with Ed's chili.
  • Mordenkainen is in a better mood.
  • They pranked Dalamar. Something about a "flatulent eructation." Mordenkainen calls him a "youngling."
  • Mordenkainen used to take trips to Waterdeep. "I used to go with some friends to Waterdeep fairly regularly, for - ah, recreation."
  • Night of Shadows: A frolic, a night of fun. On Oerth, it refers to a night of doom that befell many Bakluni mages so long ago that what happened has been twisted into several legends.
  • Mordenkainen can snap his fingers and cause a flurry of parchment to erupt on wings from his book. 
  • Mordenkainen can summon a fine dark red cloak out of nowhere, which settles on his shoulders.
  • Dalamar is now 100% friends with the other wizards.
  • Argaster's Cloak of Shadows: Targeting one creature, this spell boosts AC, makes the wearer hard to see, and allows the wearer to walk through web and evard's black tentacles spells.
  • Belsham's Mace: This spell summons a magic mace that, if it hits, knocks the target unconscious for one round. 
  • Othnall's Spectral Dagger: A hovering weapon that attacks enemies.
Dragon #219 "The Wizards Three: Warmer Than Expected"
  • This story is a turning point. All of the tales after this one get wackier and wackier.
  • Ed's bedroom has a poster of unicorn-riding ladies. Elminster grunts in an approving tone. 
  • The Wizards meet in the woods behind Ed's house. Dalamar is bringing a guest who breaks things. Ed is able to spy through Elminster's belt buckle
  • Elminster doesn't like hot dogs: "They seem to represent the first feeble reachings of thy culture toward achieving undeath for no-longer needed body parts!"
  • Shaaan the Serpent-Queen: Dalamar's guest. She has soft white skin and wears a garment made of serpents' scales, and a green half cloak. She ends up being an extremely powerful villain with a big backstory. Shaaan has a "spell-shield" that she once used to disintegrate an island.
  • Mordenkainen goes to kiss her hand, and suddenly "hooked white fangs protrude from her knuckles" and give him a poison bite. Mordenkainen doesn't care because the dude can handle the poi.
  • Shaaan turns into a pillar of flame and attacks the wizards. She apparently cast time stop, but Elminster broke it somehow.
  • Elminster has a steel codpiece. What is happening right now
  • Elminster confines Shaaan to the "Floating Helm of Tarados" in the Astral Plane, drifting endlessly.
  • Mordenkainen likes hot dogs. 
  • Ring of Lady Summoning: OK. So, Mordenkainen has three "rebellious young beauties" who are his apprentices/girlfriends, I guess. He has a ring that he can use to summon them. He does so. Elminster then makes sure Ed can't see anything else and the Wizards Three party all night. Elminster meets with Ed the next morning, with "smudges of rouge and kohl" on his face.
Dragon #238 "The Return of the Wizards Three"
  • I swear this is real. Elminster claims he was on the internet and that he was not happy about people talking about his shenanigans with the ladies in the last Wizards Three story that Ed wrote. He says that all they did was wash each other's backs. All 6 of them, together.  Elminster starts to describe an "undignified" game mages play with each other. It involves taking off your clothes and is called Twenty Transformations.
  • Rautheene: She is Mordenkainen's apprentice, a tall woman.  I think she was one of the apprentices from the last story.
  • Dalamar won't be here, because of "magical trouble" on Krynn.
  • There's a lot of talk about Rautheene's bodice and red lips.
  • They get wasted and eat piles of pizza and ice cream.
  • Firedart: Basically a firebolt spell.
  • Backshift: This spell forces a creature who changed shape back into its original form.
Dragon #242 "Jest the Wizards Three"
  • It looks like Rautheene has replaced Dalamar in the Wizards Three.
  • She calls Mordenkainen "Master."
  • They talk about dipping cheddar in mustard. 
  • Rautheene says that her career tended toward deception before she met Mordenkainen. She has a spell called "false ioun stone."
  • These last few stories have taken a weird turn. Elminster actually tells Ed that Rautheene is gaining weight and that he secretly noticed that her dress size went up since their last meeting.
  • Echo: "Records" all sounds heard by its caster in the round immediately preceding its casting. 
  • Fingerblade: When cast, this spell calls forth a smallblade that can desstroy one non-magical bladed weapon.
  • Spy: Summons an eye or ear that the caster can perceive through if within 90 feet.
Dragon #246 "The Night it Wailed Wizards"
  • Mordenkainen likes old sherry.
  • Rautheene had tried to cast fly for the first time, but a storm was raging and I think she got hit by lightning. She's not hurt too badly.
  • Elminster likes to turn into a tree branch during a thunderstorm?
  • The wizards worry that Krynn is going through another cataclysm. Rautheene wants to go to Krynn to find out. 
  • They eat a lot of ice cream.
Dragon #344 "A Dark and Stormy Knight: Another Evening With the Wizards Three"
  • This should be interesting. It's been 100 issues since the last story! We're jumping from 2nd edition to 3.5.
  • They actually follow up on Rautheene's attempt to learn the fate of Dalamar. She says her magic isn't strong enough and that the mages of Krynn are arrogant gluttons.
  • So... Elminster does some magic thing and Rautheene burps. Then she wipes a deviled egg on his face.
  • This whole series changed completely once Mordenkainen summoned those lady friends. Ever since then, it's been nothing but food, pranks, and the aggressive teasing of Rautheene.
Dragon #359 "Goodbye and Hello, as Always: One Last Evening with the Wizards Three."
  • The weird Rautheene stuff reaches critical mass when she falls in Elminster's lap, and he seeks to "buck her off by repeatedly thrusting his pelvis sharply upwards."
  • Dalamar shows up! He's fine, just crabby.
  • They watch television and Dalamar decides that all the women of Earth must be fat. Really!
  • Elminster confesses that Ed has been spying on them all this time and writing about them in Dragon Magazine. When Mordenkainen is assured that these articles are of good quality, he decides to let Ed live.
In the beginning, these stories were very intense and pretty serious. Mordenkainen and Elminster were trying to subtly influence Dalamar, trying to make him a force for good, or at least, not an evil-doer.

But halfway through, this turned into stories about wizards eating ice cream and a heck of a lot of Rautheene silliness.

I honestly feel the urge to try to portray Rautheene differently in my game - as a serious spellcaster and not quite so silly.

Castle Greyhawk

I've written about this "parody" adventure before and it annoys me even more now. The real life Castle Greyhawk is Gary Gygax's own dungeon that he playtested the entire D&D game with! This published thing is a "comedic romp" which in part lampoons Gary's time in Hollywood working on the D&D cartoon.

Mordenkainen is actually in this adventure. He's gone Hollywood, see? So Mordenkainen cleared out the 11th level of the dungeons so he could set up a film studio.

He made friends with "Sam and Irwin Splitstein" on a world very similar to our own 20th-Century Earth.

Mordenkainen has branched out from Sword and Sorcery films. Here's some of his movies:
  • "Seven Secrets of Kung Fu Death."
  • "Monster Fraternity Vacation II: Daytona Daze"
  • "Fantasy: The Movie" The author actually writes out a page of the script of this movie.
  • "They Saved Tenser's Brain" Tenser is a severed head floating in a fishbowl, leading an army of 90-foot-tall orcs.
  • Mordenkainen's Groupies: 2d6 giant trolls from the Pomarj.
  • "Balzor the Warrior"
  • "Island of the Sorceresses"
  • "Anak!"
Apprentices: Mordenkainen's apprentices are all helping out with the movie biz.
  • Mort and Gort: They run a small movie theater in area 2. 
  • Bort: The projectionist. 
  • Cort: Handles casting.
  • Qort and Xort: Filming special effects. They're using a miniature model of the City of Brass.
  • Port: Works in the cafeteria, selling "Cream of Human Soup", "French Fried Dwarves," and more.
  • Yort: Director of "Monster Fraternity II." The writers of this movie are "fat orcs with perms."
Shockingly, these apprentices are actually used in the 4e Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium in an extremely cool way!

Mordenkainen has a hot tub of relaxation. The group finds him in the hot tub with his "very special friend," Fiona. She is a 14th level thief. Seems like a personal jab, doesn't it?

Mordenkainen wants to hire any character with a Charisma of 16 or higher to be in one of his films.

Yes The Tarrasque is in This: The  tarrasque agreed to make a cameo in "Fantasy: The Movie." It is wearing sunglasses that make it immune to light or continual light spells.

The heroes can actually step through a portal into the Splitstein's world.

Couch of Casting: If you sit on it, the couch tries to charm you on the behalf of the director of the film.

Dungeon Magazine #112 "Maure Castle"

This issue includes Gary Gygax's own account of when Mordenkainen was turned to stone. He states that Mordenkainen and Bigby were accompanied by "the doughty Lords Yrag and Felnorith, as well as a cleric, the Bishop Raunalf."

The battle against the stone golem went very badly. Bigby was turned to stone and Yrag was killed. Felnorith defeated it alone.

"With the aid of a minor artifact known as the Silver Key of Portals, Mordenkainen and his companions entered the dungeon twenty-five years ago."

In this adventure, the bad guy Eli Tomorast was resurrected by a gnoll shaman named Yug-Anark, who was sent visions by the demon lord, Yeenoghu.

In the 4th level of this dungeon, there are two hirelings of Lord Robilar, named Vlarda and Nornuk. They ended up joining the side of Eli Tomorast as spies, but Eli is on to them. He hopes he can use them to strike down Mordenkainen and the Circle of Eight in "glorious revenge."

Living Greyhawk Gazeteer

"Mordenkainen the Archmage formed the Circle of Eight as a tool to manipulate political factions of the Flanaess, preserving the delicate balance of power in hopes of maintaining stability and sanity in the region. Mordenkainen's view of 'enforced neutrality' is not a tit-for-tat equality but rather a detailed theoretical philosophy derived from decades of arcane research. He has fought ardently for the forces of Good, most recently during the Greyhawk Wars, but just as often has worked on darker plots to achieve his ends."

Epic Level Handbook

There is a section in the back of the book which gives stats for some famous NPCs, including Elminster and Lord Robilar.
  • He runs the Circle of Eight, who work to ensure that no one power gains dominance over too much of the Flanaess.
  • He has a dark beard trimmed to a point and a shaved head.
  • "His apparent age is around 40 (though his true age is twice that)."
  • The Obsidian Citadel: His private army, who fights for good.
  • Mordenkainen has often worked on the side of infernal forces.
  • Those who count him as an enemy: Evard the Black, Terik, and Rary.
  • Silver Key of Portals: It functions like a chime of opening and automatically dispels arcane locks. It can cast passwall, ethereal jaunt, and word of recall.
Expedition to the Ruins of Castle Greyhawk

The book gives an extensive history of Mordenkainen's life.

36 years ago, Mordenkainen came to the city of Greyhawk after hearing about Zagig and his Company of Seven. Mordenkainen form the Citadel of Eight, and went on many adventures.

The Citadel Implodes: He developed a rigid philosophy based on cosmological balance. Tenser did not like it and wanted the Citadel to dedicate themselves to eradicating evil. This conflict eventually tore the group apart, though Mordenkainen remained friends with Lord Robilar.

The Prison of Demi-Gods: Robilar and Mordenkainen traveled to the City of the Gods. Mordenkainen ultimately discovered Zagig's prison, an entire dungeon level under Castle Greyhawk designed to imprison nine demigods. Zagig used it to steal some of their own power and becoming a god who served in the court of Boccob.

Assassinating Iuz: One god trapped in the prison was Iuz. Mordenkainen knew that his prison wouldn't last forever, and sent Lord Robilar down there to kill Iuz while he was still trapped there. But as Robilar got in the prison, Tenser, Bigby, and Neb Retnar appeared in an attempt to stop the scheme. In the chaos, Iuz escaped, plane shifting to the Abyss.

27 years have passed since that happened. Riggby died of natural causes.

The Circle of Eight: Mordenkainen regretted freeing Iuz, and formed the Circle of Eight, an association of wizards. Then, Rary betrayed the group, killing Tenser, and Otiluke. Bigby was gravely injured. Lord Robilar, a surprise ally of Rary's, had attacked the strongholds of the slain and prevented them from being raised from the dead.

The Expedition: This adventure gets underway and at one point, the heroes run into Mordenkainen. He has the key that will allow the heroes to enter the Tower of Magic in Castle Greyhawk.

Bilarro: He explains that there is an artifact called the Orb of Opposition that is a key to an alternate world called "Uerth," which is like Oerth, but darker. Long ago, Zagig and his allies actually swapped worlds with their counterparts from Uerth. Mordenkainen is convinced that the Robilar of this world is actually his evil double, Bilarro (of Iron bands of Bilarro fame).

This is an extremely clever way to explain why Robilar sided with Rary. The betrayal never matched up with Lord Robilar's character. 

At the end of this adventure, Mordenkainen might consider the heroes as new members of the Circle of Eight.

Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium

I did not expect to find anything interesting in here, but man was I wrong.

This is a 4th edition sourcebook full of magic items, many of which have weird lore attached to them. This book was a bit of an effort to encourage 4th edition players to utilize story and roleplaying, which was a bit tricky to do for some in 4e with the gridded combat and abstract skill challenges.

Destroyed? Mordenkainen's secret master copy of the Magnificent Emporium tome was destroyed. Mordenkainen "burned its pages and then disintegrated the ash."

Introduction: The intro to this book is an epic screed written by Mordenkainen. He says stuff like: "But for a few dust-mad liches dreaming in their lonely tombs, my friends and I represent the last of the old guard. Who born in the last forty years can measure of themselves an ounce of the worth of Otiluke, Bigby, Tenser, or Robilar - or even Rary or Evard? Bah! What does it matter?"

Some other choice nuggets:
  • Mordenkainen once sought power, but now he seeks to keep it from others.
  • "Power wielded to dictate over all is power used to disastrous effect."
  • "By cataloguing what exists - and what is rumored to exist - I hope to be forewarned of the danger of any item when it falls into the wrong hands."
Scholar's Note: "This excerpt and others to follow were gleaned from the original master text during the production of one of its eight copies. As a former apprentice to Mordenkainen, please understand that I take my life in my hands by disseminating his work without his permission. Please treat this text with the utmost care and secrecy.  - Qort"

Yes.. that's Qort, being canon. Qort, one of Mordenkainen's apprentices in charge of filming special effects in the 1st edition parody Castle Greyhawk adventure.

Armor: In the armor chapter, he mentions that Robilar wore armor of all sorts.

It notes that this entry was "from his master copy of the Magnificent Emporium, on a magically hidden page accessible only by those who can cast spells."

Weapons: "Woe would come to us all if Blackrazor or a vorpal sword were allowed to circulate unchecked by our vigilance."

"When you find new properties on weapons (or upon any other items,for that matter), please record them in your copy of this book. Doing that will transfer them to my master copy, and I will then disseminate that knowledge to the others who hold a copy of this work. Please include any information you gather about creating the various properties of magic items, and be assured I will keep such knowledge in the strictest confidence."

Qort writes: "Of special note is the last paragraph, which was redacted from the few copies that Mordenkainen disseminated before he reclaimed and destroyed them."

Implements: "I have collected an array of the most powerful of these items, and those that serve no purpose for me I subject to disjunction."

Qort writes: "Though it cannot be confirmed, it is the belief of this scholar that the paranoia evinced in his words might be due to a curse or even possession by some foreign spirit. Doubtless Mordenkainen could have held thoughts such as those he expresses here, but it is unlike him to betray such concerns so candidly."

Magical Gear: Mordenkainen writes that magic is not a system or a language. "... the truth is that all things are part of the same continuum. Why else would magic of so many types accomplish much the same end, and why else are so many things - from old gloves to living beings to entire planes - able to be created and imbued with magic?"

He further writes that it is probably beyond the capacity of mortals to comprehend. He wonders if that is why there are gods. "Certainly they've proved themselves good for little else."

Artifacts and Curses: "Any artifact puts the scales out of balance." Destroying them is difficult. He prefers that they remain unfound and inaccessible.

Adventuring Gear: After Mordenkainen writes about how he likes his hirelings to be predictable,

Qort writes: "I do not doubt that Mordenkainen would consider my copying of a text he eradicated from existence to be a betrayal. And the manner in which I left his service can leave no doubt. Did he know that I would create this extra copy of the work? If so, did he predict that I would kill the other seven apprentices to protect my secret? I would not put such a callous calculation past the old scoundrel. But if he knew I would act this way, am I being allowed to live out my part in his plans, or shall I be eliminated now that my part is done?"

Qort Killed the other Castle Greyhawk apprentices! Amazing.

Dungeon Master's Guide

On page 68, it says: "On Oerth (the sword-and-sorcery world of the Greyhawk setting), heroes such as Bigby and Mordenkainen are driven by greed or ambition."

Monster Manual

On page 167, there is a quote:

"Beyond the unopenable doors lay a grand hall ending before a towering stone throne, upon which sat an iron statue taller and wider than two men. In one hand it clutched an iron sword, in the other, a feather whip. We should have turned back then.

- Mordenkainen the Archmage, chronicling his party's harrowing exploits in the dungeons below Maure Castle.

Pretty cool that they slipped this into the MM. I love all the quotes and references they sprinkled into the book.

Curse of Strahd

So, what is Mordenkainen up to in 5th edition, you ask? Why, he's the Mad Mage of Mount Baratok!
  • A man in tattered black robes. His hair and beard are long, black and streaked with gray.
  • Mordenkainen came to Barovia more than a year ago to free its people from Strahd's tyranny.
  • Strahd drove the Mad Mage to the mountains and sent the wizard hurling over Tser Falls.
  • He lost his staff and his spellbook.
  • He survived the fall but was driven mad by the realization that he no longer has any hope of defeating Strahd or freeing the people of the vampire's damned realm.
  • Greater restoration would normally cure his madness, but he has cast a mind blank spell on himself.
  • Stats: He's an archmage.
  • The Mad Mage's Mansion: He has a hidden Mordenkainen's magnificent mansion on the mountain.
  • "If the characters come from the Forgotten Realms and mention this fact to Mordenkainen, he asks them if they know his old friend Elminster of Shadowdale."
  • "With his sanity restored, Mordenkainen can be stubborn and difficult even with his friends, and doesn't suffer fools."
Death Masks

I had absolutely no idea that this novel actually tells the story of Mordenkainen recovering from his time in Barovia. I am relying partly on this post to describe the content of the book.
  • This is a recent book by Ed Greenwood about Elminster and Mordenkainen.
  • Mordenkainen heals himself in Waterdeep, and Elminster protects him while he does so.
  • Mordenkainen goes from gibbering and violent at the start of the book, to composed and helpful by the end.
  • This takes place as Storm King's Thunder gets going.
Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes

Shemeshka the Marauder actually has a note in the beginning:

Preface: Shemeshka claims much of this book was written by Bigby, who was under a charm spell. "Mordenkainen released Bigby from the spell once he had turned Bigby away from his evil ways and Bigby had earned Mordenkainen's trust."

Qort: Guess who also has a note? Qort! Amazing. Qort paid Shemeshka to steal this book from Mordenkainen. This book is the birthplace of Mordenkainen's philosophy of the Balance.

In this book, Mordenkainen writes about the Blood War, Elves, Dwarves, Gith, halflings/gnomes, and various monsters. Here's some of the info found in the quotations scattered throughout the book:

Rary Corrupted by Demogorgon? Modenkainen studied the symbol of Demogorgon through a mirror, but was still magically affected by it. "It was Rary who saved me, and I thought that he had been spared the symbol's effects. I don't have many regrets, but underestimating that symbol is one of my greatest."

Elves: "In so many worlds, the rise of humanity seems to follow the fall of elves. What will follow, should humanity fall? Orcs."

Drow and Elminster: "I have heard tales of drow who have forsaken the evil ways of their kind. I give these stories no credit, though Elminster himself swears they have validity. Never trust a drow, or the word of an archmage."

Mordenkainen and the Githyanki City: "I have been to Tu'Narath. A heaven for the githyanki it is not. Their apathy and frustration manifest as a visible fog, which clears only when the githyanki ready for war.

Mordenkainen and the Githzerai: "I couldn't discern if the githzerai leader was alive, dead, or undead. But the psychic stress in his audience chamber was so intense that I could barely think. Did that pressure come from Menyar Ag-Gith, or from the dozens of followers that surrounded his body? Alas, I left with that thought and my original question, unanswered."

Githzerai Inspiration: "I studied for a time with the githzerai in Limbo. Their adamantine citadels inspired a spell I created."

Elminster and Gnomes: "Elminster calls gnomes the Forgotten Folk - an apt name for them in most worlds. I've walked many realms, and nary a one has even a hint of a gnome nation."

Gith and Mindflayers: "The githzerai are a check on the githyanki and the illithids. The githyanki are a check on the githzerai and the illithids. Thus, three unequal forces enforce the Balance."

Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus

Mordenkainen is in The Nine Hells! He has a dwelling called the Tower of Urm that can shift between planes.
  • The Tower: "An iron tower rises atop an island on a lake of boiling blood." "Red lightning crackles constantly between two horns of metal on the tower's roof." Mordenkainen remains "deep inside his tower and swiftly shunts the building to another plane in times of danger."
  • Studying: "Mordenkainen, a chaotic neutral human archmage, often sojourns to Avernus to study how the Nine Hells affect the schools of magic."
  • Yugoloth Agents: He pays yugoloths to do his bidding in Avernus. He has 9 mezzoloths and 3 nycaloths at the tower. Two of the Nycaloths - Torgrazk and Shraal - are loyal to Zariel and have been sent here to kill Mordenkainen. 
  • Appearance: "Mordenkainen is a stern bald man with a neatly trimmed black goatee beard and a penetrating stare."
  • Simulacrum: He uses a simulacrum outside the tower.
Books Written By Mordenkainen

Most of these come from an article in Dragon #82.

“Epic Saga of the Great Conjurers”: Contains these spells: Mordenkainen‘s faithful hound, conjure animals, monster summoning VI, cacodemon.

“Architecture” by Leomund & Mordenkainen: Contains these spells:Leomund’s secure shelter, Leomund’s tiny hut, forcecage, Mordenkainen‘s magnificent mansion.

“Cosmogony of Magnetic Fluids: Contains these spells: Chain lightning,  Mordenkainen‘s disjunction,
volley, energy drain.

The Dark Sides of the Memory”: Contains these spells: Banishment, Mordenkainen’s lucubration, ensnarement, contingency.

“The Weapons of the Ether” by Melf & Mordenkainen: Contains these spells: Whip, Melfs acid arrow, magic missile, enchant an item, enchanted weapon, Mordenkainen’s sword.

Codex of Mordenkainen: This book is detailed in the AD&D 2e Outer Planes Appendix. Information in the Codex:
  • Mordenkainen suggests that a day will come when the plotting of the devils will come to a fruition and a gate will be opened into the Prime Material plane.
  • Mordenkainen scryed into the Abyss. "The great writhing mass of torment and hatred that extended infinitely in all directions tore my soul asunder and caused me to weep."
  • He saw a pillar of flame that extended up into the sky that rose from a base of torment. The dead of the Abyss lined the base.
  • The archmage studied the Blood War and used a ritual that put him into a deep sleep , where he dreamed of history and prophecy.
  • He saw "coils of time and written upon them were the histories of all deeds and places."
You could do a lot with that last bit. Mordenkainen has glimpsed the future! Apparently this has reinforced his belief that the balance between good and evil should be maintained.

Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium: This book describes magic items. There are/were 8 copies in existence, distributed by Qort, an apprentice of Mordenkainen's. Mordenkainen may have destroyed what he thought was the only manuscript.

Apparently, if you write down notes in a copy, your writings would also appear in the master copy.

Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes: Another book stolen and distributed by Qort. It contains a lot of lore on a variety of subjects, and may have been partly written by Bigby under duress.

Mordenkainen's Cookbook: According to this ENWorld thread, Mordenkainen may have written a cookbook. This qiote is allegedly from Gary Gygax:

"Mordenkainen thinks of blueberries as food. He has written a 500 pp cookbook listing his favorite recipes, and spells, employing this blue food item. One of the premier ones is a recipe for blue-fin tuna. The Blue Bolts dish is rather shocking, though...."

Spells Researched/Created by Mordenkainen

Mordenkainen's Buzzing Bee
Mordenkainen's Capable Caravel
Mordenkainen's Celerity
Mordenkainen's Defense Against Lycanthropes
Mordenkainen's Defense Against Nonmagical Reptiles and Amphibians
Mordenkainen's Disjunction
Mordenkainen's Electric Arc
Mordenkainen's Encompassing Vision
Mordenkainen's Faithful Hound
Mordenkainen's Faithful Phantom Defenders
Mordenkainen's Faithful Phantom Guardian
Mordenkainen's Faithful Phantom Shield-Maidens
Mordenkainen's Force Missiles
Mordenkainen's Involuntary Wizardry
Mordenkainen's Lucubration
Mordenkainen's Magnificent Mansion
Mordenkainen's Penultimate Cogitation
Mordenkainen's Private Sanctum
Mordenkainen's Protection From Avians
Mordenkainen's Protection From Insects and Arachnids
Mordenkainen's Protection From Slime
Mordenkainen's Sword
Mordenkainen's Trusted Bloodhound


Greyhawk Online
Forgotten Realms Wiki
The Great Library of Greyhawk
ENWorld - Books Written by Mordenkainen
Merric Blackman - Who is Mordenkainen the Mage?

Monday, October 28, 2019

Should a Group Keep Abyssal Chickens?

This has Descent into Avernus spoilers, so bail out now if you might play this at some point in the future!

Preparing Avernus

In my Dungeon Academy campaign, my group has entered Avernus in search of the sixth piece of the rod of seven parts. Avernus is the first layer of the Nine Hells, and of course it is detailed in Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus.

When I sat down to prepare this, I knew I needed to tie in backstory elements into this. I had set up some stuff that I intended to merge with the content in the adventure. I've got some agents of the Raven Queen running around, a character's evil parents are up to no good, and a character is searching for the lost soul of a loved one.

I've connected them to three locales from the book that I like - the Bleeding Citadel, the Tower of Urm, and Mahadi's Emporium. The biggest surprise for me when I first went through the book was that I actually liked Mahadi's Emporium. I generally dislike the use of non-devils in Hell, but there's a lot of fun ideas in there.

Bleeding Citadel is a piece of cake to change up. You can just swap out the bad guys in the book for the ones that you want to use. Mahadi's is mostly a matter of adding in the one element I need, which is easy because they left space for you to make your own vendors.

Mordenkainen and the Tower of Urm

The Tower of Urm is Mordenkainen's tower that can travel the planes. I think that this location could be awesome, but as presented int he book, there are very few details. So my plan is to dig up a bunch of Mordenkainen lore and try to create the tower based on all that.

I'm also going to try to figure out how to explain how Mordenkainen, the "mad mage" from Curse of Strahd, escaped Barovia and is no longer mad. If I remember right, he actually fought Strahd and fell from a vast height and barely survived.

Escaping the demiplane of Ravenloft has always been an amusing thing to me. The old 2e boxed set talked extensively about how hard it was to escape Barovia, but almost every published adventure had a way out. I know that was probably just put in for groups who were going to just do a quick excursion into the Demiplane of Dread before resuming their campaign, but it always amused me.

So how does Mordenkainen get out? Vistani can come and go as they please, so maybe they helped him get out? Maybe Mordenkainen cut a deal with a Dark Power in the Amber Temple? Maybe he had a re-match with Strahd and was about to win, so Strahd summoned the mists to take him away?

In this campaign, the group is actually traveling with Strahd, so the fact that these two have fought before should make it very interesting. I love playing Strahd as this over-dramatic, fawning dude who yearns for Tatiana, whose soul currently resides in the body of the group's cleric.

The Hellfire Engine

I've always loved the Hellfire Engine. In 3e, I think the engine was a giant steam-powered humanoid that rampaged through Hell. In the 5th edition Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes, it is a giant steamroller with a variety of deadly weapons attached to it.

We had left off last time with the group under attack from an engine, so we picked up from there. In between sessions, I had done some reading and was surprised to see that the hellfire engine doesn't have a pilot - it is a living creature that controls itself.

I changed it, because I like the idea of it being a war machine in its own way.

The group is 11th level, and I quickly saw that the hellfire engine was way, wayyy too powerful for them. One shot from the bonemelt sprayer was absolutely devastating. It does a pile of damage, and then the acid and fire continue damaging a character each round until they take an action to remove it.

The group immediately knew they had to run away, even though Strahd and the ranger were inside the engine killing the pilots. This led to another thing I had wrestled with when preparing: Should I allow for the group to actually take control of the hellfire engine?

In a campaign I played in on the Greyhawk channel called Mordenkainen's Path of the Planes, we actually got a Hellfire Engine and drove it around for a few sessions. I loved it and never wanted to leave it!

I ultimately decided not to allow it in this session. The group has a lot of powerful stuff as it is, and I have a tendency to give my groups so many magic items that the magic items lose their "specialness" and become boring. Also, I thought the idea of the hellfire engine self-destructing would be cool.

So a devil pilot set the engine to self-destruct, and the group was able to outrun the massive explosion in their war machine.

The Choice

At this point, I had planned to let the group make a somewhat fateful decision. In theory, what they should do next is use their 5th piece of the rod to locate the 6th piece. That is, after all, what they are here for!

But as I'm sure you know, players often do things you don't expect. The group had the ability to obtain leads on some of the subplots going on in Avernus. I had prepared some stuff in case they decided to pursue one of those.

What followed was a lot of banter in the group's war machine, which has been described as a "van" with "seatbelts" (Strahd, being lawful, always wears his seatbelt). After a healthy debate, the group decided to pursue the 6th piece.

Who has the sixth piece? Why, the archdevil who rules Avernus! Zariel! The group saw Zariel and some devils fighting hundreds of demons (spyder-fiends - agents of the Queen of Chaos). I made sure to describe that Zariel was using the huge hammer that she took from Kostchchie.

Long story short, the heroes snuck onto her flying fortress (I used the "fallen fortress" stuff from Descent) and they tried to use the device that communicated telepathically to devils in a one mile radius. The group tried to make up an emergency using a phony "voice."

Zariel ended up confronting them, and the group made a deal with her. Zariel said she'd give them the sixth piece if the group stops agents of the Queen of Chaos from burrowing into the Bleeding Citadel.

Abyssal Chickens

The heroes got in their war machine and sped off toward the Bleeding Citadel. A massive dust cloud rolled in, lowering visibility. The group almost ran over an abyssal chicken. The cloud cleared up, and they saw some shadar kai agents of the Raven Queen who'd been in an accident. Their war machine was sinking into a lake of demon ichor. The 2 raven knights were on the shore of the lake being swarmed by 15 abyssal chickens.

The group proceeded to... try to make friends with the chickens. The demon chickens who grow on tress in Hell. They of course rolled really well, and got the chickens to stop attacking the shadar kai.

That's where we stopped. They really love the idea of packing 15 abyssal chickens into their already cramped van and continuing on, and I'm not sure exactly what to do yet. These are evil, chaotic chickens, right? And the rod radiates law, which is repulsive to them.

Strahd might want them, so he can drink their blood. Not sure if vampires can ingest demon blood, I'll have to look that up.

Right now I'm leaning toward letting them keep the chickens, because it is funny to me, and D&D is all about fun.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Dungeons & Dragons - 5MWD Rod of Seven Parts

While I was putting together something else, I noticed this product on the DMs Guild. I am right now running a Rod of Seven Parts campaign and this seems like it could be real handy. It's only 50 cents, so what the heck, let's check it out!

You can buy this right here on the DMs Guild

I have written a few articles about the Rod of Seven Parts:
We start off with a synopsis of the history of the rod, which is more or less a summation of what is written in the 2nd edition boxed set.

Then we get the statted-out rod. This should be handy!


"If targeted by an effect that could unmake it or if it’s placed in a situation where it could be destroyed, the rod teleports away 1d100 miles in a random direction."

The tendency to scatter has actually killed my previous attempts to run this campaign. I tried once in 2nd edition, once in 3rd, and once in 4th.

"Every time the wielder uses a resonance property of the rod or property gained from having 2 or more pieces they roll a d20. On the result of 1, the rod is sundered and each pieces teleports away 2d100 miles in a random direction."

On one hand, it's cool to have the rod be so volatile. But I've seen this type of thing make the players want to give up, especially if they aren't even aware that the rod might do this!

Driven to Order

This is a power in the 2nd edition boxed set which I have, so far, discarded entirely. The rod makes the wielder more lawful and imposes personality traits on them. Depending on the player, this could be a lot of fun or a character-ruining experience.

In my campaign, the wielder is Lilia, a cheerful gnome who believes in goodness. I feel like the rod's law powers as described in the 2e boxed set would hurt more than help, so I've ignored it.

The author has transformed the lawful stuff as "flaws", which seems like a very cool idea. Here are a few examples of the seven flaws:

"I will not knowingly violate the letter of the law, no matter how absurd that law or how minor the infraction."

That one could get weird, especially if your player is in a mood.

"Extreme emotion make me uncomfortable, and I strongly dislike becoming angry, envious, or fearful."

Lilia, the wielder in my game, is extremely emotional. I just don't see much upside in implementing these.

"I take everything I hear or read absolutely literally. I lack any understanding of sarcasm, metaphor, or symbolism."

I have some friends who are like this!


All of the powers are converted to 5e here. Very handy!

In general, with the rod, I've found that it has so many powers that it can be confusing. The rod has three sets of powers:
  1. One power for each piece
  2. Powers that are "unlocked" as the rod is assembled.
  3. Minor and Major Beneficial Powers
This is awesome, but, weirdly, my group almost never uses the rod. At all! Never! Part of it is that they know that, when the rod is used, the Queen of Chaos might sense it and open a portal for her demons to attack.

But right now, they are in Sigil, a place that the Queen can't open portals to. And still, they don't use it.

Assembling the Rod

This is one of my favorite things about assembling the rod. Putting it together is intense! Combining two pieces is a process that takes hours, special ingredients, and ability checks. Failure means at least one piece vanishes and teleports somewhere far away.

My group went through this a few times, but as I realized that they had a chance to actually get all 7 pieces, I decided I didn't want the campaign to possibly collapse due to a failed check. So I had them find these spelljammer alchemy plants that produced an ingredient that would prevent the piece from teleporting if the check was failed.

The author has reduced the amount of time it takes to assemble the pieces, but did keep the ingredients (which includes the hair of a lawful creature and a chaotic creature).


Then we get stats for a few different types of spyder-fiends and Miska the Wolf-Spider, the big bad guy that the Queen of Chaos is trying to set free.

Looking at Miska's stat block, I think his damage should be raised a bit.

The most interesting thing is that, in the boxed set, it says that Miska's blood can kill you! As in, if you hit him with a melee attack, his blood sprays on you. You must make a saving throw and if you fail, you die!

In this book, the author understandably changes it to poison damage.

I thought about this quite a bit, and ultimately I decided to let Miska's blood be lethal. After all, the whole story is that it was Miska's blood is what caused the Rod of Law to shatter into the Rod of Seven Parts to begin with!

To make this fair, I had a wind duke warn the group about Miska's blood in our last session. He told the group's ranger that her ranged attacks will likely be the key to defeating Miska.

I also told the group that the Queen of Chaos actually created Demogorgon, and discarded him when he proved to be too out of control. She then created Miska, who is part-man, part-spider, and he has a wolf head on each shoulder. The group decided that this means that the Queen of Chaos is "into furries."

The author gave one type of spider "iridscent webbing," which blinds you. Very cool. Another type throws venom grenades! Love it! I'll definitely try out these stat blocks in the coming weeks.


This pdf is 7 pages long. I can see that a lot of work went into it. Converting those stat blocks is a pain in the butt, and wrestling with the insane powers/re-categorizing everything for 5e takes time and effort. The rod is a centerpiece of entire campaigns!

It bums me out to see that the author priced this at just 50 cents. It looks like this was published in 2016, when the DMs Guild was just getting started.

But the author deserves more. In the DMs Guild, you make half of what people pay, and the other half goes to the site. So that means with each sale, the author makes a quarter!

From what I understand, the majority of DMs Guild products sell under 50 copies. Selling over 1,000 copies of something is a major success! So that means that the author busted his butt and probably didn't make a lot of money, which is a bummer because this is a very useful product.

What's the minimum you would pay for a DMs Guild product? $2? $3? I would have had no problem paying a few bucks for this, as it is worth it and will definitely be useful.

If you are thinking about putting something on the DMs Guild, don't sell yourself short! I get that it makes sense to create one or two products that are pay-what-you-want so people can try out your stuff risk-free, but just don't sell yourself short.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Online Campaigns

Art by Nelson Vieira

I have been running a bunch of games - all online - for quite a while now. Each campaign has its own challenges, and it is an eternal struggle to keep each one "afloat" and healthy.

If you're a player in one of these games, please don't read any further, as I'm sure it will contain spoilers.

Online Campaigns

Art by Vaughn Distrito

Since 2008, I've gotten into something of a rhythm where I run 1-3 games per week. I made a conscious choice to prioritize D&D and RPGs in my life. This means that I don't get to play as many video games or watch as many shows/movies as other people, but for me, D&D is a social outlet.

With the addition of streaming technology, this means I can "create" a substantial body of work. I've always enjoyed cataloguing the events of my campaigns. Every session matters. Things that happened in games 10 years ago can impact what is happening now. In theory, players from different eras could interact with one another, in a weird "crossover" that, until now, only I could enjoy.

From 2017 onward, All of my games are right there on youtube. Forgot what happened in a particular session? Go watch it! Need clarification on a complicated in-game event? Go check!

I get really excited when I think about my youtube channel 3 years from now, or even 7 years from now. I will have all sorts of awesome, long-term campaigns right there on youtube neatly organized in playlists. You can watch us all age! You can see players who moved on, only to show up again 5 years later.

I will probably continue to run the published 5e adventures in these campaigns, as I get a kick out of running "official" stuff. Although I must admit that I am really losing enthusiasm for the published D&D adventures, mostly because they are dealing with areas of the D&D multiverse that I just don't care about.


Art by Vaughn Distrito

I feel like I should mention something about viewers, both on Twitch and on youtube. I run these games because I love D&D. This is what I enjoy doing, but I'm not Matt Mercer and I'm not Chris Perkins. I don't get hundreds of people watching my stuff.

Hey, it would be nice to have piles of viewers who rabidly follow the campaign and donate bits (on Twitch, people can basically give you money through bits or donations, which is pretty great) in a large amount. I mean, how cool would it be if your campaign was popular enough that you could pay your players? Imagine making a living running D&D games! Amazing.

Looking at the youtube analytics is a lot of fun. I relish every comment, every view, and I marvel at the small but steady growth that occurs over time.

For example, my Tomb of Annihilation Episode 1 video has over 7,000 views! That's the one that sort of launches the current "Power Score Multiverse."

My current videos usually get 20-40 views on youtube, and slowly grow over time.

The idea that, if I continue to make a sustained effort to improve the presentation aspects of my games as something worth watching, it will continue to get a little more popular bit by bit, is very rewarding to me. I enjoy clawing and scraping for every subscriber, like, and view.

I think that it ultimately helps me become a better DM. If my campaign is appealing to the viewer, than presumably it is also appealing to the players.

Current Campaigns

Acquisitions Incorporated - Orrery of the Wanderer: This is the adventure in the back of the new Acquisitions Inc book. This is the one I'm having the hardest time with.

Hell's Rebels: This is a Pathfinder adventure path converted to 5e. I do intend on posting a conversion guide on this blog at some point, as I know a number of people have asked me to do so. I absolutely love this path, and it's right up there with the best stuff I've ever run.

Dungeon Academy: We have been using the 2e Rod of Seven Parts boxed set as a framework. I've placed each piece of the rod in a different D&D campaign setting/adventure.

This campaign features a group of players who had actually gotten into D&D through watching Dice, Camera, Action. It's been fun to watch them learn the game and it's also been a new challenge to try and give them situations that are engaging to them.

Future Plans

I am always thinking about the future. There's so much stuff out there to run! I know for sure that once Hell's Rebels is done, that group will pick up their Tomb of Annihilation characters ("The Shiftspice Trading Co.") and they will play through four classic Monte Cook adventures converted to 5e.

I've already done a lot of work on that campaign. Two adventures are fully converted as of this writing. One of which is the legendary Labyrinth of Madness, which I have waited 20 years to run!

Deciding what's next for the Acq Inc players has been difficult. I love the idea of running the first Pathfinder 2e adventure path, Age of Ashes, and converting it to 5e, but I've been reading that it is not especially good.

That made me think I should run Curse of the Crimson Throne, which I actually ran one session of long ago. I really love the stuff in that path. My only concern is that I don't really want to run just old material on my channel, I'd like a nice mix of old and new.

The Dungeon Academy crew is a big question mark as far as what to do after we finish the Rod of Seven Parts. The heroes will be around level 14. They do have spelljammer ships and I'd love to run some of the old 2e spelljammer modules, especially the one about the gigantic beholder ship, but I'm not sure if they'd enjoy it.

This group is more into developing their characters' personal stories. I've always been terrible at this! So I guess I'm just sort of worried about actually focusing an entire campaign on homebrewed stuff based on their backstories.

I could try to work their stories into smaller adventures - maybe high level DMs Guild adventures like Invasion From the Planet of Tarrasques. Although I'm not in any way sure how the Tarrasque would fit with anything we've done.

Acquisitions Inc Ep. 14

Art by Dylan Ramsey

This campaign is rolling along nicely now, but I was having a hard time in the beginning. My problem is that I am just totally done with these 5e Forgotten Realms adventures dealing with cities and dungeons. They're too similar to each other.

The Acq Inc book does have a lot of cool ideas in it, and I love the sense of humor in the whole thing, but I've been struggling to make myself read through the whole adventure.

There was an incident in the session before last.. There are shadows at the top of a light house, which has a lantern that spews forth a magic zone of shadow. I decided that the 4 shadows lurking up there would all attack one character. The heroes are a bit higher level than they should be, so I wanted to make sure this adventure would be a challenge.

Welp. When a shadow hits you with an attack, it drains 1d4 points of Strength from you. The shadows attacked the kobold member of the party who has a 6 Strength. He died. In a surprise round.

The way things played out, there's not really a way to bring him back to life. I felt bad about it and promised that, in the next session. I'd be "nicer".

So in the next session, I handed out stuff people almost never use - the "charms" from the DMG. I made up some BS about "Fate" blessing the party and doled out the charms, which basically replicate the effects of magic potions.

Soon after, the group triggered two encounters in a circular stairwell. At the top of the stairwell were two hell hounds. At the bottom were 4 ghouls. One character got paralyzed repeatedly and was nearly murdered.

The players took all of this in good stride. I mean, the game should be dangerous. Ultimately, I think that I feel bad because I did not describe the shadow effect on the light house adequately enough as the group approached it. I also arbitrarily decided that the shadows got a surprise round.

I felt like I didn't have a good handle on what was in the book, because I haven't really prepared it like I normally would. To be honest, right now I couldn't tell you exactly how the magic shadow effect affectsd visibility up there at the top of the light house.

Hell's Rebels Ep. 42

Art by Shauna Nakasone

I usually stick to the book and try to avoid homebrewing stuff, but this was a special case. In this part of the adventure, the group can return to Vyre, the City of Masks. The heroes had been here during book 3 and they really liked it. So did I!

I decided to whip up a storyline linked to the backstory of Fio, one of the heroes. Fio used to serve Verenestra, the Fey entity that I wrote up in this blog last week.

As far as I can tell, there are no official "nymph" stats in 5e. They are creatures who are so pretty that they blind you permanently! I made up this story about one of Verenestra's nymphs replacing one of the city's 5 rulers.

I didn't feel adequately prepared. I had created a scenario and only an outline of events and NPCs. I got through the session, but I could feel it running thin toward the end.

Next time, the heroes will go to the Feywild and I'll be using a map from this dude's patreon, which is pretty great in my opinion.

Dungeon Academy Ep. 52

Art by Aya Golender
My focus shifts quite a bit over time. Lately, this campaign has been getting a lot of my attention in the week between sessions. I finished preparing the final scenario (the rod is in the Citadel of Chaos, detailed in the boxed set). I had mapped out a "sandbox" in Avernus, utilizing a lot of the material from the DMs Guild products I reviewed last week in the blog.

I even made a new overlay I was quite proud of and picked out new music in Syrinscape.

I've gotten a bit better at shutting up during the game. This group in particular likes to roleplay and interact with NPCs. In the past, especially in 4e, I was so obsessed with making progress in the adventure, that I'd "crack the whip" and get the group to move on if there was any lull in the dialogue at all.

But in this, I was able to sit back as they divided up new magic items and decided what to do with this severed head that was attached to a demon. Basically, One of the heroes had grown a second head, which was lopped off and attached to the body of a demon. A unicorn's horn destroyed the demon's body and only the head remains.

I did interject to play Strahd von Zarovich, the legendary vampire who is traveling with the group. They helped him escape Barovia, and his beloved's soul merged with the group's cleric. So now, Strahd buys her gifts and says things in a really bad accent like "Come, my sweet, we have an empire to rebuild!" as his cape flutters in the breeze.

When planning this session, which sees the group leave Sigil and begin Descent into Avernus, that one thing was missing from Descent - A hellfire engine. The devil steamroller with a bonemelt sprayer!

So, as soon as the group stepped through the portal, what rolled over the hill? Why, a hellfire engine firing a thunder cannon. It was awesome, but I'm a bit concerned that it is too deadly for this group.

We had to stop in the middle of the battle, so I have a week to tweak it a bit and read up on whether the heroes are able to drive this thing.