The Between: The St. James’s Street Ghost

The Between: The St. James’s Street Ghost

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/360858/The-Between

“But if one is to engage with the primordial forces of darkness, one must expect a bit of social awkwardness.”

Penny Dreadful, S1E2, Séance

The Thursday night posse six players, only two could make it. So, I invited a dear friend who I knew was game-hungry (after checking in with the two other players) and read over The Between by Jason Cardova. There are only so many nights for gaming during the Halloween season and the slight chill in the air means tonight is one of them. Felt wrong to cancel; let’s play.

Pumpkin headed ghost things riding black cats on a Hallowe’en card from NYPL’s Digital Collection: https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/5b060c20-5234-0132-c398-58d385a7bbd0

I don’t like one-shots. I can do them but just don’t really enjoy them. At cons, even after a great con session, I’m always left feeling, “That was fun but the next session would’ve been even better.” The Between‘s mechanics agree with me. The game’s structure has different phases (Dawn, Day, Dusk and Night). We get through Day and into Dusk in two hours (including chargen). The first session guidelines are very clear. After two hours the mechanics were just starting to get warmed up and we had details generated through play that were good fun.

Bar-armed skeleton

Clues

Below are the clues gathered by the intrepid supernatural hunters of the Hargrave House:

Harold’s ledger contains entries for strange household expenses he can’t explain, like “thought-casting” and “dream whisperer” and “pig gifts.”

A porcelain vase filled with fresh, warm blood.

The sound of someone falling down stairs; there’s no one there when you investigate.

A stack of love letters from another time.

Those are right off of the pre-made Threat, The St. James’s Street Ghost out of the book, suggested as the Threat to start with. But it isn’t a monster of the week, where each threat will be tidied up. During the next Day phase I’d probably introduce a new threat. I like the idea of them piling up a bit – not EVERY Day phase but enough that things get a little hectic and busy.

Bar-armed skeleton

Residents of the Hargrave House

Our characters were (with pics of Queen Victoria’s blood-spattered head as bullet-points):

Eoin Clay, the American, the Duchess’ resident American, don’t you know.

Winfree Humes, the Duchess’ servant

Duchess Josephine Thornwood, Duchess of Abercald

Bar-armed skeleton

Mechanics

During the Dusk phase, we set a scene in a room in Hargrave House, the characters’ headquarters, and flesh it out a bit. The question for the Trophy Room asked the table what the hunters of the supernatural who had previously lived in the house had left. We’ve got a box full of vampire teeth, a fire-scorched unicorn’s horn and a jar filled with vinegar with an organ floating in it labelled, Siren’s Voice-Box. The Questions put in place to ask players for these kinds of scenes (painting the scene, Jason calls it) are well wrought, written by someone who has used this technique for years.

I need to talk more about Unscenes but barely got to touch this new toy, only kind of hinted at their existence as we finished the Dusk phase and ended the first session. They come to life in the Night phase. More on Unscenes later.

When I read that the GM didn’t have an idea of what the mystery actually was and would find out through dice rolls along with the rest of the table, I was skeptical. Shit works. The way the Answer a Question move is fed from clues found in the Information Move is really slick.

The Dawn Questions are clearly Blades in the Dark XP tech but choosing 2 of the 5 XP prompts from a list is a classy touch.

Masks are kind of like Resistance Rolls, only instead of rolling the player narrates something about their past or evolves and changes and it nudges the results up a tier. From a miss to a 7-9, from 7-9 to 10-11 and 10-11 to a 12+. You can nudge the dice but doing so either unveils a piece of the character’s history or activates something from their past and brings it into the game as a concrete Threat.

I’m smitten and not because Jason is a friend and co-conspirator. Believe me when I tell you that I’ve played friends’ games before and not written about them. It is $15. Go grab a copy and walk the streets of Victorian London with your friends this Halloween. Let me know how it goes.

Bar-armed skeleton

Epilogue

As the game ended, Mr. Humes handing the Beale baby off to the Duchess’ maid, the Duchess was reading up on London ghosts and Eoin Clay was standing under a neighbor’s eaves in the rain, smoking a cigar, watching the haunted house they were investigating, waiting for something to happen.

Night was about to fall; something was about to occur.

Looking forward to finding out what and how this trio will deal with it, what we’ll learn about them in the process.

Bar-armed skeleton

https://shopofjudd.threadless.com/designs/october-hugs

Curse of Strahd, Session II, Battle of Ravenwatch

Curse of Strahd / Session II / Battle of Ravenatch with bats fluttering in the light of a huge moon
human/bat skeleton
  • Kuru, being followed by Strahd, throws a fake amulet in another direction so he can get to Jusko and turn invisible. Deception with Dex bonus; Strahd falls for the sleight of hand.

  • Battle on the stairway continues with Failed Soldier, Corpseflea Grave Cleric, Helewynn, Moon Elf Barbarian and Bugwump, Frog-kin Wizard. Interesting judgment call when the cleric cast Daylight. Does it count as sunlight against vampires? Third level cleric spell, I said it does (to great effect). It doesn’t say so in the spell description but…seems clear to me.

    Thoughts?

  • Failed Soldier opened a portal door near a shrine to Ulmed to what usually leads to a Godroad but it was only a closet with old scrolls with desperate unanswered prayers. No Godroads in Ravenloft, it seems.

    There was a prayer from a young lady who has dreams about being chased and killed by Strahd…

  • Jusko tried to intimidate Strahd but they tied. Would it have damaged Strahd’s mystique if he had pulled back his forces after an intimidation check? Maybe.

    It was a cool-ass speech.

  • Trundle tried to save the Cardinal Inquisitor’s life after his chest was ripped open by Strahd but they died for good when Strahd threw a fireball at Kuru, the Halfling Rogue, Jusko, Human Fighter and Trundle, Dwarven Ranger. He damaged them badly, some folks were in single digits at that point.

    Jusko talked shit to him about throwing a spell.

  • Then Jusko and Trundle joined the battle on the stairwell, leaving Kuru alone and invisible in the room with the portal to Sigil. Strahd polymorphed into Jusko and begged the City Agent to take away the telekinetic block on their side of the portal. The block came down and Kuru attempted to destroy the portal with his knife that can cut spells. He did 18 of 20 points of damage but didn’t quite bring it down. Next round, Strahd would walk through the portal into Sigil.

  • Helewynn traded blows with a Moon Elf sworn to Strahd. Helewynn expressed disdain for one of her own kind serving a monster; the Moon Elf sister answered, “You should learn more about the Lady of Pain before judging me for serving Strahd.”

    For those following at home, Rahadin is now a Moon Elf maiden.

    In the end, Rahadin misty-stepped away as Strahd departed.

  • Jusko tackled Strahd and Trundle cut him with a flame-brand short sword, leaving a scar. Strahd turned to mist and withdrew as Bugwup took position in front of the portal, rocking a, “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!”

    Strahd could’ve made it through the portal but he would’ve been damaged during daylight (it was day in Sigil) in a strange new place. He had seen a Githyanki mage and a Drider on the other side. Nah, he’ll withdraw and come at it another way.

  • They grabbed what they could from the monastery and headed out into the forest.

    Stuff: magic sword from Cardinal Inquisitor, map of Barovia, Book of Strahd, Holy Symbol of Ravenkind, Books on Monster Hunting, Books on Demi-Planar Theory, cloaks, foodstuffs, etc.

    One of the dead vampires was a member of the former Outlands Expedition Team

  • No levels this session via the Bingo Board XP:

human/bat skeleton

This design and more in the Tabletop Role-Playing Game Collection…

https://shopofjudd.threadless.com/designs/talk-sh-t-roll-crits-d20-edition
    Curse of Strahd, Session I: Welcome to Barovia

    Curse of Strahd, Session I: Welcome to Barovia

    Curse of Strahd I Welcome to Barovia
    Skeleton with bat-skeleton wings, section divider
    • The Outlands Expedition Team goes through a portal in an abandoned side-street of Sigil into Ravenwatch, a monastery in Ravenloft, the Demi-Plane of Dread, being used as a chapterhouse by the Ulmist Inquisitors. The Outlands Expedition Team’s mission is to retrieve any living members of the last team to attempt this mission and stop Strahd from breaking free of Ravenloft.

    • The Godroads have been their ace in the hole and their research to find out if the Godroads reach into the Demi-Plane of Dread was inconclusive. They found a vague mention of it in Jusko’s great-great aunt’s diary: “No prayers seem to reach this fell place.”

    • Speaking of Jusko, his family abandoned his ancestral home. Turns out someone (psst, it is Jusko who did it) wrote the family name on a young world and the family has left to live there, as it is their birthright. I’ve been sitting on that detail for months; it was nice to finally have a good reason to share it.

    • Another bit of lore they dug up, talking to Jusko’s dead great-grandfather, is that Strahd had a wizard counselor who became a lich and left Barovia to rule a domain of his own in the Demi-Plane of Dread. If anyone might know a way out of Ravenloft, it’d be Azalin Rex…

    • The portal is locked on the Sigil-side by a Githyanki psionicist who blocks it with a telekinetic wall. As they enter into Ravenwatch’s cellar, Strahd’s attack begins. Swarms of bats and rats cover the floor and ceiling.

    • Bugwump thunderwaves the swarms back, clearing the path for Failed Soldier and Hellewyn to take the fight to the stairs, where heavily armored vampire spawn are attacking with zombies on chains like hounds. They feel Strahd’s fell presence move by them at great speed but do not see him.

    • In a moment of the battle in which Bugwump thunderwaves the vampire spawn and their zombies, Hellewyn sees a moon-elf, of similar lineage to her own, fighting on Strahd’s side at the top of the steps.

    • Jusko stayed in the room with the portal, seeing himself as the link between the split party. As Strahd passes, he welcomes his cousin, Jusko Hajek, to Barovia. Jusko, vorpal sword in hand, beckons Strahd to come closer. Strahd recognizes the ancient blade and declines. “We will talk under more hospitable circumstances. Welcome to Barovia.” Jusko feels Strahd move away.

    • Kuru and Trundle use oil and fire to clear the swarms, trying to get to a secret armory. The inquisitor is killed by Strahd, who plunges his hands into his chest cavity and opens him up like a can of beans. Kuru’s failed Perception check tells him that the Inquisitor is dead; there is no saving him.

    • I forgot to look at the map I keyed weeks ago and the notes I made for that map. *sigh*

      Still, it was a fun start. We ended in the midst of the battle and will begin there next week.

    Return of the Skeleton with bat-skeleton wings, section divider

    If you want to read more about the Ulmist Inquisitors, I wrote up 13 fell pages in a pdf.

    Post-Tomb of Annihilation/Pre-Curse of Strahd

    Post-Tomb of Annihilation/Pre-Curse of Strahd

    Omu: the Lost City in their past, Curse of Strahd in their future.

    Back from thwarting Acererak (but not facing him directly), the Outlands Expeditions Team returns to Sigil in the midst of the 1000 Faces Festival. Music and dancing in the streets at all hours…

    Silver Sword/Lich Queen line separator

    I did a few things with the Facebook group to get some details and flesh some things out. I made a poll with a bunch of masks for characters to wear during the festival. Some chose from the choices, others made up their own.

    And I asked questions to get into the spirit of heading to the Demi-Plane of Dread.

    Jusko – Your family’s ancestral lands neighbored ancient Barovia. What was the Hajek family’s relationship to the cursed von Zarovich clan?

    Helewyn – How do you (or your Goddess) feel about lycanthropes who change shape with the full moon?

    Kuru – What do you remember of the nomadic Vistani people who would stay for a season near the shire you where you were raised and trade with your family?

    Trundle – What was Trundle’s first brush with the darker parts of the forest, where sun never penetrates the canopy and fell beasts hunt the weak?

    Bugwump – What had you uncovered about the Demi-Plane of Dread when you were an Arch-Mage?

    Failed Soldier – What does your religion’s parables say about the First Vampire, Strahd, a great warrior whose fell deeds drew the attention of fell powers?

    Not everyone answers but the answers I get I use. It led to a good discussion about the Vistani and not wanting to punch down in our depiction of them. Those who didn’t answer in type I’ll ask “face to face” over Zoom at the next game; I forgot to do so tonight.

    Basic, ask questions and use the answers stuff but having a digital home for the game makes asking the questions easy.

    Outlands Expedition Team, Deputized by the Lady of Pain, Clerk Ward, Sigil
    • Trundle got into the spirit of things, wearing a Devil mask and doing a public carving celebrating their last adventure, carving a triptych of hobbits upon dinosaurs out of a piece of wood the size of an elephant.

    • Anthony described Kuru wearing a kind of rosary beads that Vistani would recognize. I told him that in Barovia the gods are Mother Night and the Morning Lord. Perhaps the beads are Mother Night’s stars. He met an old woman and had his fortune read. I dropped some game details as per the module.

    • Kuru specifically asked about allies, which is part of the fortune telling in the book. I offered a few – a Mad Mage near Mount Bartok, an undead knight in his old order’s keep and the people they would meet upon arriving, could be allies, if any survived. “Your arrival will be covered in blood. I doubt any will survive.”

    • Bugwump took what the woman said very seriously, having known about the Demi-Plane of Dread from his Arch-Mage days. He sought out an arcane historian and learned that Strahd was the First Vampire and is a capable wizard in his own right. He also learned that Strahd seeks out Tatyanna because she is a capable Planar Arcanist who could help him escape his prison.

    • Kuru visited the tenement building the Vistani were staying with in Sigil and learned that *DUN DUN DUN* /dramatic music Mother Eva had been dead for a week! He had been visited by her spirit. It was a nice way to wrap up a low-key game.

    I’m looking forward to getting into Ravenloft just as Autumn approaches. Our next game isn’t for 2 weeks, a friend at the table pointed out that we’d be heading to Ravenloft as Halloween approaches, which is fun.

    As we approach Ravenloft, this shirt seems relevant. Check out this design and more at this link.

    https://shopofjudd.threadless.com/designs/goth-af
    Tomb of Annihilation – Hit and Run Finale

    Tomb of Annihilation – Hit and Run Finale

    Tomb of Annihilation cover by me.
    • The team shamed the Red Wizards into dealing with every other puzzle room. They dealt with a room with anti-gravity and a whirling death fan. Two of the Red Wizards died and when the anti-gravity ended it rained death down on their friends. Kuru the Halfling Rogue subtly mage-handed the magic items on the dead wizards; it was a good haul.

    • Having smart NPCs handle 2 of the puzzle rooms was a fun way to speed it up. I made some rolls on their behalf to see how they did. My disdain of some parts of this adventure were made known to my friends.

    • Then they jumped into the room with the Godling and the Soulmonger, the engine that Acererak was using to make his own death god. The Soulmonger was held up by Adamantine struts. Cut down one strut and the engine falls into the lava below. I secretly hoped that Jusko’s vorpal sword would cut down a strut.

    • They dog-piled the Godling. I forgot lots of stuff in the room that would’ve made he fight harder. It was still fun, still felt epic.

    • Before they entered the final room, Trundle the Dwarf Ranger did the math on the nearest Godroad; it was a hundred yards from the opening of the dungeon back the way they came.

    • While everyone else was killing the Demi-Lich’s Godling, Trundle was poking around the balconies and found a portal to an altar. And there was a doorway to a Godroad. They had an exit plan. Nice work.

    • At one point Bugwump the Frog-kin Wizard made a HUGE Arcana check on the Godling and realized that Acererak would arrive within a few rounds of them killing it due to a spell on it. I rolled a d4 when the Godling died. 3 rounds.

    • Jusko the Human Fighter, Helewyn the Elf Barbarian and Failed Soldier the Corpse-flea Grave Cleric were doing their best on the struts but not having much luck. Then Jusko talked to his word and beseeched it to do its old head-lopping job (what Drew said was way cooler). Nat 20. Boo-ya.

    • They ran out the fading door to the Godroads just as Acererak arrived, screaming in frustration. – mission accomplished.

    • They earned a boatload of levels on the Bingo Board. 7 levels to be divvied up among the party.

    • We’ll do some fun downtime during Sigil’s carnivale/Mardi Gras-style mask party holiday. I’m going to make up funky carousing rules based on what mask they choose to wear.

    • Then we’re off to the Demi-Plane of Dread, where a neighboring Outlands Expedition Team went on a mission and went missing.

    Outlands Expedition Team, Deputized by the Lady of Pain, Clerk Ward, Sigil

    In honor of those vorpal blade 20’s that come right when you need them, you deserve a Talk Sh!t; Roll Crits t-shirt.

    https://shopofjudd.threadless.com/designs/talk-sh-t-roll-crits-d20-edition

    Tomb of Annihilation: Identity and the Tomb

    • After stealing the last of the puzzle-cubes from the Yuan-ti, the players had to decide if they were going to kill the Red Wizards in their sleep while their spells were depleted.

    • The discussion took about 40 minutes and was really interesting. Jusko said something interesting: “Who are we? Are we people who crawl into our allies’ camp and slit their throats while they sleep?”

    • Drew (who players Jusko) did something cool and prompted everyone to step out of character and also discuss this purely on the terms of what would be fun. That is a veteran-gamer move right there.

    • I added that they could make this decision based on what their characters would do, based on the strategic advantages of having 4 Red Wizards and their 20 guards on their side and the general fun of who will betray who first.

      In the end, they decided not to attack the wizards and continue this frenemyship.

    • Jusko gave Mykal, the leader of the Zhentarim thugs employed by the Red Wizards a small fortune in gold to switch sides when the time was right in exchange for not only the gold but safe passage out of Omu.

      Mykal, leader of the Red Wizards’ thugs, let them know that no one can figure out how the team got in and out of the Yuan-ti nest. The Red Wizards think Bugwump might be Arch-Mage Bugwump and is hiding his power levels from them. Jusko made an Insight Check to see if she would keep to her word. “Probably…”

    • The group marched up the main boulevard towards the tomb entrance on the northern cliff-face. Kuru and Trundle (Rogue and Ranger) scouted it out and saw the Queen of Feathers dragging some kind of beast westward. Kuru used an illusion of a wounded pterodactyl to send the Legendary T-Rex northward to flush out any enemies who might be in their path.

      Trundle marked the hidden kobold cave entrances in case the wizards need to target them in the future.

    • The Queen of Feathers was driven away by kobolds. A kobold in a wooden Acererak mask spoke to her in draconic; having tried killing kobolds in the past and finding them too difficult an effort for the scant meat, she headed westward.

      Queen of Feathers eating the Thursday Delving Club logo

      The kobold in the mask told the approaching adventurers that they should be honored to die in the Great Acererak’s tomb, where their bones will surely turn to dust as the ages spin by. Bugwump destroyed the kobold with a spell.

    • They made their way through the True Door and into the Tomb. I cut the dungeon WAY back, using only one final level. They solved the Trial of the Triangle by accident, surrounding the blocked lever they had to switch to open one of the five locks on the door and forming a triangle.

    • I hate puzzles but enjoy seeing this posse interact with it all. one level will be more than enough. They know that Acererak’s godling and soulmonger engine fueling its birth is on the other side.

    • No levels this week but they are close to getting bingo on a few different axes.

    Check out this design, made for the group who played the above game but good for anyone who wants to celebrate any fantasy role-playing games being played on Thursday nights, and more in the TTRPG collection…

    https://shopofjudd.threadless.com/collections/tabletop-role-playing-games

    The Between: The St. James’s Street Ghost

    “But if one is to engage with the primordial forces of darkness, one must expect a bit of social awkwardness.” Penny Dreadful, S1E2, Séance The Thursday night posse six players, only two could make it. So, I invited a dear friend who I knew was game-hungry (after checking in with the two other players) and […]

    Tomb of Annihilation: Robbing Yuan-ti and Contemplating Multiple Magicide

    In which Yuan-ti are robbed and multiple magicide is discussed.

    Omu: The Lost City
    • The Yuan-ti have the last pieces of the cubes needed to open the door to the tomb. The Red Wizards of Thay were throwing Fireballs and such as a distraction while the team sneaked in.

    • After some discussion, the team decided to use their access to the Godroads, as there is a fell shrine in the Yuan-ti compound. They found themselves in a serpent cathedral in the middle of their fort.

    • They had several choices for exits out of the cathedral and they chose the hallway to the throne room. The guard was sleeping, as was the Yuan-ti leader. Stealth rolls were rolled and made.

    • Kuru the Hobbit thief, covered in mud spread on his face in Conan-and-company-invade-the-serpent-cult-orgy-style, mage-handed the cubes to his comrade, Jusko after looking closely for traps (I should have asked HOW he was looking for traps; I’ll ask more before hitting the dice next time). He also took the sleeping Yuan-ti leader’s gladius-style short sword, which turned out to be a flame-brand.

      War Paint Conan Action Figure
    • The team spread out across the room while Kuru used Mage Hand. Bugwump climbed up the wall above the door. When the yuan-ti knocked to tell their leader about the attack and no one answered, they were too scared to knock again. The team got out without any blood spilled – a flawless heist.

    • The Red Wizards met them afterwards and were shocked to find them entirely unharmed. None of the Red Wizards saw them go in. They were unnerved but low on spells.

    • During the week I wrote a dream for each character with questions. Some of the players responded in the comments, others responded verbally before the game. Bugwump had dreamed about his Arch-mage self, before his power had been taken away by the Lady of Pain. His Arch-mage self gave him advice but he couldn’t remember what it was.

      As the Red Wizards flew away, I asked John if Arch-mage Bugwump would have told him to always kill rival wizards after they had been in a big battle and spent their spell slots – he agreed that was the kind of advice his old Arch-mage self would have given along with, “Never trust wizards.”

    • They discussed murdering the Red Wizards. After an Insight check, they think one might switch sides if offered but they are not sure. That one knows they are from Sigil.

    • Bugwump the Frog-kin Wizard got to 4th level (using the Bingo XP Variant).

      Next week we’ll start with them sitting around the fire, discussing whether or not to murder the Red Wizards before opening the locked door to the Tomb.

    https://shopofjudd.threadless.com/designs/thursday-night-delving-club

    Wizards, derring-do and a legendary Tyrannosaurus Rex

    Tomb of Annihilation continues…

    After last game, we began this game in the midst of combat. The following things happened in no particular order:

    • Trundle and Kuru ended up on the Queen of Feather’s head, trying to hit the sword embedded in her skull but missing. Still, leaping on a T-rex’s skull is cool.

    • The Queen of Feathers bit Failed Soldier nearly to death but spit him out because she was wounded, he tasted funny and Kuru hit her in the face with pepper spices.

    • Trundle ran into an old Tabaxi hunter, praying to the Cat Lord before letting arrows fly. Trundles whispered, offering the support of the Omuan deity in his head.

    • The Red Wizards let loose some vicious spells; they are formidable.

    • Jusko saved his doomed pterodactyl and named it Mishka. It was touching af.

    • The blade in the legendary T-Rex, the Queen of Feather’s skull was dislodged – turns out it was a +3 vorpal longsword (snicker-snack, mofo’s!) made for human pets kept by giants during the ancient wars between the giants and dragons.

    • They know that Red Wizards are here to grab either the young god Acererak is growing or the battery he’s using to grow it.

    • The Red Wizards do not know about the party’s access to the Godroads. They are keeping it as their hidden ace.

    • The Queen of Feathers side-stepped through reality to gain access to a wall she should have not been able to climb with her natural gifts. She wandered northward after taking a grievous headwound.

    • Jusko was frustrated by the whole mess and suggested the Red Wizards relocate to a nearby pillar of earth that he thought was easier to defend than their camp. They agreed and moved.

    • Failed Soldier, Corpseflea Grave Cleric and Trundle, Dwarf Ranger, both leveled up.

    • Next game – the Red Wizards will toss up a series of distractions while the party sneaks into the Night Snake’s Fane to get the key-cubes the Yuan-ti have in hand.

    Used the Insight rules as Jusko took stock of the Red Wizards as they ate their first good meal in a long while.

    5e enemies have LOTS of hit points. Dag. Still, they put a hurt on the Queen of Feathers.

    Next session will start with another bang, looking forward to it.

    Our Thursday night group has a shirt – or a sticker or duvet or towel or shower curtain depending on which buttons you click on…

    https://shopofjudd.threadless.com/designs/thursday-night-delving-club

    Landing in the Lost City of Omu

    After 4 sessions in Tomb of Annihilation adventure, the players landed their pterodactyls in the Lost City of Omu. 1 session was getting to Port Nyanzaru, another couple of sessions shopping and dinosaur racing in the city and another flying pterodactyls across Chult.

    This is our second session have switching over to 5e. The party just got to 3rd level.

    • They decided to land on a pillar of land above the lava, hoping that the lack of easy access would keep them safe.

      Their Gnome-inventor friend, Dosk, is setting up her equipment to see if she can figure out exactly where the Soulmonger is pulling the ghosts.

    • “I am going to use the Gem of True Seeing to make sure no invisible wizards fly in and sneak up on us,” Kuru said, right before a pair of Red Wizards tried to fly in invisible and take stock of them. Contact was made and the group was invited to the Red Wizards’ wreckage of a camp.

    • Jusko was worried about the letter of introduction Vandrilla Shadowmantle gave them to give to the Red Wizards, worried they might get Rosencrantz-&-Guildenstern’d.

      Kuru removed the wax seal and Bugwump read the letter in ancient Mulhandori. It was legit, no coded kill-orders.

    • They split the party – Failed Soldier (Corpseflea Cleric of the Grave) and Trundle (Dwarven Ranger) looked into the Godroad entrance near the shrine to an ancient Omu God while Jusko (Human Fighter) and Bugwump (Frog-kin Wizard) took Pterodactyls to make contact with the Red Wizards.

    • Kuru remained at camp with the guides and the remaining steeds, using his spyglass to keep track of things.

    • The camp was a mess, having just survived a Yuan-ti attack. Bugwump corrected their assessment of the Yuan-ti as “snake people” repeatedly. Jusko invited the Red Wizards to dinner at their place that night.

    • Failed Soldier and Trundle looked at the local Godroads, making contact with an ancient Omuan deity who Trundle took into his flesh for the power of Invisibility.

      They could see the other shrines to the other Omuan deities and some fell shrines in a temple complex that would turn out to be run by the Yuan-ti.

    • On their way home, Jusko and Bugwump are hit by a flurry of arrows from Yuan-ti scouts who were watching their approach. The archers targeted their pterodactyls, killing one.

      Jusko and Bugwump wade in and drive 3 of the 5 scouts away with spell and steel.

    • Kuru sees something moving towards Jusko and Bugwump from the north of the city.

      The Queen of Feathers, a legendary t-rex with a beautiful ridge of black and blue feathers, attracted to the sounds of dying pterodactyls is making her way south. It has a sword stuck in it skull, flesh and bone healed over it, from someone who tried to kill her and failed.

    • Next game will begin with Yuan-ti, Red Wizards, Queen of Feathers and a few new faces colliding as Trundle and Failed Soldier enter the fray from a nearby shrine-door from the Godroads.

    The amount of hit points things have in 5e is shocking to me after months of 5 Torches Deep. I’m wondering if an E5 hack would be the way to go. I’ll give 5e a go for a while.

    I think I got distracted by the combat and maybe didn’t split up the spotlight time as well as I should’ve. Something to watch out for in the future.

    Using the Bingo Style Experience Points, we started the game writing up the outer ring of the Bingo Board. Bingo chips can be taken off the board to be used as Inspiration.

    The covered squares from this session are: Discovered Secret Lore, Earned the Trust of a Wondrous Ally, Added a New Detail to the Map, Built a Bridge (relations with the Red Wizards).

    After reading over the full Tomb of the Nine Gods, I’m trimming that dungeon way, way back. More on that later…

    https://shopofjudd.threadless.com/collections/tabletop-role-playing-games

    See this design and more in the Tabletop Role-playing Game Collection…

    Bugwump’s Gift to the D.M.

    SPOILER! We are playing Tomb of Annihilation and this post will spoil some secrets concerning the Heart of Ubtao encounter. If that doesn’t matter to you – READ ON. If you want to play that module and don’t want to know the secrets behind it, maybe come back to this later.

    My friend, John, is playing Bugwump – a frog-kin wizard.

    The team’s back-story is that they were all sentenced to the Maze by the Lady of Pain; I didn’t choose that but it seemed to gel everyone together and gave them a timeless period where they were all together. Now they are deputized by the Lady of Pain as an Outlands Expedition Team.

    John mentioned that before the Lady of Pain sentenced him, he had been a powerful wizard, high-level (as the D&D folks say). So, when they met an Arch-Mage on the Godroads, it occurred to me to ask John if Bugwump knew this guy and he did. It was a cool encounter – reminded me of running into an old college buddy on a day when you feel like you haven’t accomplished anything. Suddenly, a strange moment – encountering an Arch-Mage on the Godroads – became very relatable.

    Enter this odd encounter in the Tomb of Annihilation – The Heart of Ubtao.

    The Heart is this magically floating mote of earth, about the size of 3 cottages. Valindra Shadomantle is there, an agent working for the Red Wizards. Though a powerful necromancer, she isn’t a Red Wizard herself. The big secret is that she is a lich.

    As I read the encounter, I realized Bugwump might know her. The Arch-mage on the Godroads felt like running into an old buddy from school. Valindra was going to feel like…

    …holy shit, Bugwump dated her, didn’t he? I asked.

    John agreed. I mentioned that when they were together she’d take consulting work from anyone. She had helped liches hide their phylacteries and trapped dungeons and lairs against intruders.

    Being Bugwump’s ex gave her this realness. Bugwump was much less scrupulous in his youth. We have seen that change from when we first began the campaign.

    Hasn’t everyone dated someone in college who, if they turned out to be undead, you’d say, “Yeah, that scans.”

    Through stealth checks the a Gem of True-Seeing the players figured out Valindra’s lichness. Bugwump told her that they’d meet her cohort of Red Wizards and come back to figure out what to do next with whatever Acererak was up to in the Lost City of Omu. He was lying and she knew it but suddenly, it wasn’t about adventurers stealing. It was an ex saying he’d come back when he never was going to come back.

    I know that adventurers (particularly, bards) dating monsters is a kind of RPG-twitter cliche. Tonight it made a dangerous and interesting totally unbalanced encounter even more interesting.

    Thank you, John, for making interesting choices.

    One more interesting moment from that game. The guides were frantically saddling the pterodactyls to get off the earth mote.

    Drew’s knight, Jusko, knocked on Valindra’s door. He had a game board that we called Outlands Chess – it is round and the center of the board represents Sigil. You can win by taking the other’s Wizard or by taking Sigil. Valindra won by taking both but Drew’s roll had been higher (he rolled GREAT and she rolled poorly).

    He learned about her through play and I let him ask questions about her to see what the game taught him about her character. Love it.

    When characters play strategy games I almost never make the die roll about winning; I make it about seeing what you can learn about the person playing.

    Sometimes, though, winning is cool.

    Next week…

    Does our Thursday night D&D group have its own t-shirt? Yeah, we do.