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

Exandria Unlimited – A setting boundaries moment from Episode 3: A Glorious Return

Aabria Iyengar is doing an amazing job as the DM of Critical Role’s latest mini-series, Exandria Unlimited. There was a moment I want to highlight as a technique that newbie DM’s need to know and veteran DM’s need to remember.

The moment is small, blink and you might miss it. It isn’t a moment where she’s making an NPC with depth and Machiavellian motivations. It isn’t a moment where she describes a magic elemental rift or a giving personality to a monkey made of fire. In the example below, she sets boundaries and lets her friends at the table know that she’s done and would like to move on.

One of the many cool things Aabria’s NPC’s has said in-game: My rage is my own and I choose when. – Fire Ashani Mantra

The players have been shopping for more than 40 minutes and Aabria has been playing NPC’s, having those NPC’s cut deals and feel bad for characters, flirt with characters and quote prices for magic items (and just make items up) for that entire span of time.

Then she does this, watch for a few minutes, starting at around 2:47:18:

There isn’t enough of that in tabletop gaming. We elevate the DM/GM/Storyteller/Referee/Hollycock God above the table as if they are an omniscient party motivator/fantasy novelist. Putting the night’s fun on one person’s shoulders is a bad idea. Bad games become good and good games become great when everyone at the table takes responsibility for the table’s fun. DM’s are players too (not deities, not authorities on the rules, not judges who dispense blue lightning bolts when folk do wrong). Set your boundaries. Tell your friends that you are done with this and would like to move on.

Watch Aabria Iyengar at the table if you want to watch someone who is full of rocking descriptions, amazing NPC’s and cool fantasy ideas but will also pump the breaks and say, “I’m done with this, my friends. Let’s move on and get to something more fun.”

A silly inside joke from an earlier episode, in which a player said, “We’re not in Kansas anymore…”

Check out the Tabletop Role-Playing Game collection for all those who want to know if it is Thursday yet…

100% of Artist’s Proceeds go to amazing organizations with a little extra kicked from Threadless. I am not profiting from this; I just enjoy turning my geekery into something positive in the universe.

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 […]

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.

Tomb of Annihilation: Chultan Skies

“Find out why this lich is breaking death on this back-water prime world.”

The group is flying south, following the souls of their first guides, found out to be Zhent spies, being sucked southward by the Soulmonger, Azererak’s creation. A gnome with tech gear allows them to track the spirits.

Activate Indiana Jones travel-red-line!

They are flying on pterodactyls, their guide is a merchant prince’s sister, Tefnek. I rolled a herd of pegasi and so she followed them to a safe valley.

“Pegasi are a safe bet; I like to follow them to find a good place to camp for the night. This valley is solid – a pack of t-rexes cover the southern entrance and some ancient ward I didn’t see on the way in must cover the north.

“In a few days we’ll reach The Heart of Ubtao, a holy site of floating earth where priests once went to have visions. It might be an auspicious place to keep tracking the path the souls are taking.”

Because the FB event needed a cover.

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

Made a t-shirt for the Thursday night D&D group.

Outlands Expedition Team

Outlands Expedition Team

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

The Lady of Pain expends most of her energies making sure no one attempts to gain power within Sigil. She has spies and allies in the Outlands and beyond, making sure the planes do not become imbalanced in a way that could spill out across creation and endanger her home – the City of Doors, where gods are banned from entry.

The Outlands Expedition Teams were put together as a way to counter those imbalances and forge friends between Sigil to the planes. When the teams return to Sigil, they sit in a forum, held in a plaza near the community where they live and discuss the outcome of the mission. This allows the community to interrogate the teams their taxed gold supports and allows the varied

Teams are called upon to think outside the box and adapt their approach based on the mission-at-hand but often, an approach rises to the surface.

Team Types

Mazers | A team brought out of the Labyrinth, serving the rest of their sentence in service to the city that imprisoned them.

Spies and Diplomats | Sometimes a more subtle and nuanced approach is necessary.

Watchdogs | Other times you have to cut off the arm to save the body.

Scouts | Some places are so dangerous all the team can do is look, assess and report back.

Scholars and Librarians | The planes, its inhabitants and the way they evolve need to be catalogued.

Mercantile Opportunists | Others see the planar scales as nothing but a way to make some gold.


O.E.T. Perks

Lifestyle

As long as you find your way back to Sigil, you can live a modest lifestyle for free. Your housing is paid for by the city and no one in the City of Doors would force an Expeditioner to pay for a meal or a cup of tea.


Known

In Sigil, if you make a CHA check to find someone, you always roll with Advantage. You are well known in the City of Doors. This Advantage also applies on a mission if the city officials have had time to put assets in place to support the team.


Diversity

Before a mission, city officials will ask anyone who has lived near or studied the forces at work. The team will have access to people who have on-the-ground knowledge of the forces causing or effected by the imbalance.


Gear

Specialty gear can be asked for to help support a mission. Time is often of the the utmost importance but Sigil is a good place to find things.


Portals

The City of Doors has doorways to everywhere and anywhere if you know the right key that opens the right portal. It might take some doing but if an Expeditioner needs to get somewhere, they should be able to get there or somewhere near it if they are willing to get the right elements necessary to make the key the portal demands.


O.E.T. Contact

City Clerk | Official, a bit cold and businesslike but also staking their career on this team’s success or failure.

Retired Expeditioner | Someone who once went out and get things done in the trenches; often opinionated on the best approach for a given mission.

Faction Leader | A philosopher who wants to see their faction’s point of view reflected across the planes.

Labyrinth Priest | A minotaur priest who worships the labryinth, an idea that our choices ring out across the planes and sustain reality.

Box | A Rogue Modron, still dedicated to order and setting the planes just so.

Cynic | They have been in Sigil too long and only see the problems, none of the beauty. Will likely be adopting a doomful philosophy.


Team Roles

Those who try to find a pattern to find the best paths of life and fate that make for a successful Expeditioner or what blend of people from what backgrounds makes for a good team have come up with nothing concrete just yet. Still, factions will argue about it in cafes and taverns all over Sigil.

Basher | Folk Hero, Knight, Marine, Mercenary Veteran, Soldier

Spellslinger | Investigator, Noble, Urchin, Sage, Hermit

Spiv | Charlatan, Criminal, Spy, Gambler, Pirate

Primer | Entertainer, Far Traveler, Folk Hero, Outlander

Kneeler | Acolyte, Cloistered Scholar, Urchin, Sailor, Sage

Greybeard | Archeologist, Cloistered Scholar, Haunted One, Sage, Noble


Academy Quests

No single d6 table will show the breadth and width of the many kinds of imbalances in the Outlands and beyond.

For more on this, check out this blog post if you’d like to see how I do it.

Inspirational Tables for your own Githyanki Invasion at the Dungeon Master’s Guild

https://www.dmsguild.com/product/356828/Silver-Swords-of-the-Lich-Queen-Inspirational-Tables-for-a-Githyanki-Invasion

Silver Swords of the Lich Queen: Inspirational Tables for a Githyanki Invasion

Check out my Inspirational Tables helping you say cool shit when depicting a Githyanki Invasion.

Table of Contents / Page 1 Table of Contents and Using this Supplement / Page 2 Githyanki Invasion Encounters / Page 3 Local LEaders’ REactions to Githyanki Invaders / Page 4 What do Githyanki Want around here? / Page 5 What is creating tensions among invading GIthyanki? / Page 6 What are the dragon-riders fighting? Winning? / Page 7 What did soldiers leave behind? Githyanki Reaction / Page 8 Githyanki Name Generator / Page 9 Githyanki Logistics / Page 10 Arcana Check and History Check / Page 11 Blank d6&6 Table HAlf Page / Blank d6 Table / Page 12 Blank 2d6 Reaction Table and Fast Githyanki Names / Page 13 Blank 2d6 + 1d6 Table / Page 14 Blank 2d6 Table / Page 15

The Godroads

A few years ago I wrote some notes in a notebook about the Godroads. They were pathways from shrines to temples to cathedrals taken by the gods. Whispered prayers could be heard on the wind. In the D&D houserules-turned-game I had notes on how players could become deities and the Godroads would be available to them. I think of this project as:

Project Ampersand / House-ruled and Homebrewed, because I got emblem templates today and got excited about using them.

In our last session, the players were tasked with stopping a feud between a trio of gods, the last survivors from a dying world. Their characters were caught in a battle between a toad-wizard-god and a bandit-god. They killed one another; the players helped them along.

Jesse is playing a corpseflea, a nifty and delightfully strange heritage from Five Torches Deep’s Origins sourcebook. We skipped a week and so I totally forget that last game, Jesse told me that he was going to transfer into the body of the dead bandit-god.

Holy shit. As they left the Portal Town of Xaos, Jesse’s character noticed a portal that had not been there, behind the traveler’s shrines on the way into town. And so the players discovered the Godroads.

Baska’s elf’-barbarian navigated the roads through faith to her moon goddess.

When it became clear that the Mists of Ravenloft were infiltrating the Faery party the players were looking after in an attempt to snatch the sun and world being born (the party was celebrating the birth) the players talked to the party’s host. With the Fey Queen’s permission, they took the stone and the sword that represented the sun and world being born and headed into the Godroads, Demi-Plane of Dread hot on their heels. That is where the game ended.

I thought about what might live in this place, what the ecology of a place so alien might look like. I don’t need to create a whole eco-system but I wanted the encounter tables to hint at such a thing.

I like having this written up a week before the game. Having these to daydream on allows me to use them as more of a menu. I can roll when I want a surprise and choose when I have an idea. There is an eco-system inferred here. I think there were griffons once upon a time but they were domesticated and so now the manticore are running a bit rampant. Angels probably get together with paladins and sphinx and go Manticore hunting from time to time to clear the roads up.

Are unicorns and manticores and sphinx bog-standard D&D monsters? Yes, absolutely but I’m hoping but jamming them together into a series of secret roadways used by gods will give them new context. If I want to spice them up I can add a little planar conditioning and roll on the table below to see which plane(s) have had an effect on this particular herd or pride.

I need to re-write these tables. The icons with 3 d6’s confuses folks who think they have to roll 3d6, instead of rolling 2d6, one white and one black.

The group was sent to the Labyrinth for 15 years by the Lady of Pain. Teo asked a really interesting question, asking the players if they thought it was a fair sentence based on their crimes. During that fascinating conversation I found out that the Frog-kin wizard, Bugwump, was far more powerful a wizard before being sentenced.

When I rolled an Arch-mage encounter, I asked John about Bugwump’s rivals and Cret, lizard-person/saurian arch-mage was born. I role-played him as cloying fake and the players hated him right away. Kuru, the hobbit thief, cut past his wards with his magic knife and stole some books from Cret’s camp. His black robes have twinkling stars on them and every so often a shooting star launches across his arcane raiment.

Now we have a new rival, Arch-mage Cret, Saurian Wizard, and his apprentices.

They never saw the manticore but did see an angel fly overhead, delivering a message from some deity. I’m thrilled the Godroads made it out from the notebook to the table. I hope we get to learn more about them.

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

Find this design and more in the Tabletop Role-Playing Game collection…

Thursday Night Delving Club t-shirt

At the start of the pandemic, a little more than a year ago, my friend, Anthony was feeling sick. It turned out to just be a cold but we didn’t know that. We were scared. I asked him if I could grab some groceries for him and leave them on his porch or get something from the pharmacy. He didn’t need any of that.

“Could you run a game?”

“Fuck yeah, I can.”

We’ve been gaming strong for more than a year now and this t-shirt celebrates that.

100% or the proceeds generated by this shirt go to Stop AAPI Hate (and Threadless throws in a few more bucks). We love the idea of our geekery and friendship somehow, in some way, making the world a better place. After the brutal hate crime last week our Asian siblings, friends and colleagues in the hobby, have had a brutal week after a particularly brutal year. It is nice to use our creativity to support them in some small way.

All of the items in this story go to wonderful charities.

LINK TO SHIRT

So, you’ve hit 0 Hit Points with special Guest-Star, Asmodeus

Noticed the max HP on the Stonetop character sheets is 16 hit points, found that amusing and it started a conversation with a friend about death mechanics in RPG’s. He shared a few of his favorites along with his thoughts and then I had a template so I decided to stat up an arch-fiend.

What is keeping this character alive? Raw will? Love of comrades? Something more fell and dark? If you can’t think of anything that would keep them going, then they are dead. We will toast their bravery later.
 Tell your friends at the table what is keeping this character going and check off one skull below. Each skull can be checked once in the existence of a character.
 A greater power has sent you back for a purpose.

 You have been dealt a grevous wound and will perish without a healer’s touch in 1d6 days. Make a Con check every time you try to do anything.

 Death is coming for you. Roll a 1d6 at the start and end of every session. Rolling a 1 means an avatar of Death comes seeking your soul. +1d6 if you did any of the following this session: 
 + Entered the Temple of a Death Deity
 + Gained a Level
 + Killed (don’t count the kills)

 This is your last stand. When this battle ends, so does your life. The Referee will roll 1d20 for every hit die your character possesses; that is how many rounds you have left. The roll can be secret or out in the open; your choice. 
 While you yet live, you can either take Advantage for a roll that round or inspire another to take Advantage that around.









Shit, now I need to stat out a Death Avatar, don’t I?

And then I got on a roll, so I decided to stat up Asmoedeus for 5 Torches Deep and then I needed to stat up Pit Fiends…so…

I like the process of statting up monsters for 5 Torches Deep; it is about cutting out the things that aren’t key to the concept.

These designs and more in the Tabletop Role-Playing Games collection…

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