Volo’s Guide to Monsters: Kobolds

Volo’s Guide to Monsters continues to be an inspiring and fun read. The section on kobolds is also really cool and makes me want to run a kobold warren campaign using the build for kobolds as player characters.

Favorite Bits

“In the kobolds’ version of a perfect world, the creatures would be left along to dig their tunnels and raise the next generation of kobolds, all the while seeking the magic that will free their imprisoned god…”

“Furthermore, kobolds can slowly change sex. If most males or females of a tribe are killed, some survivors change over several months until the tribe is balanced again.”

“Roughly one-quarter of the towns and cities in the world have kobold communities living under them, but the kobolds are so good at staying hidden that the surface-dwelling citizens in the area often don’t know what lies beneath them.”

“Kobolds willingly serve chromatic dragons and worship them as if they were demi-gods…”

The Pitch

Red Death, an ancient red dragon, was driven from her lair by powerful adventurers a little under a century ago. In the midst of her exodus, she left you all in this warren to hold on to a few of her treasures and one of her eggs. There are rumors that Red Warrens were seeded up and down the chain of volcanoes that range this continent’s coast but none of you have ever seen nor heard from them.

None know where Red Death now lairs but there are warren myths that she will come back and take you all to glory some day when the mountains belch smoke once again.

A party of adventurers, inspired by the original interlopers who drove Red Death from her volcano home, are making their way to your warren with dreams of treasure and glory.

Prepare!

volos_monster_manual_altvolos_monster_manual_1

 

Alignments

Kobolds don’t see the morality of the universe divided along the law/chaos, good/evil spectrum (and I find alignment kinda dull). This is how they divvy it up. In game, following the tenants of one’s alignment would be how players would earn Inspiration, able to change alignments with a short rest and prayer.

The Five-Headed Matron (Tiamat, in Draconic): Actively scouting out coming danger, serving your betters, interacting with sorcery

The Egg (Boosh, in Draconic): Learning new things, staying very still to wait for your moment, becoming something new

The Interloper (Ku in Draconic): Sneaking into danger, acting on emotional attachment like some love-blind human or elf, trespassing

The Winged Kobold (Urd, in Draconic): Personal glory, being special, taking on power and responsibility

Kurtulmak (God of Kobolds): Escaping captivity, finding that which is lost, besting a bully

red-death-mountain

On the Map

On he wall of the warren is a map, copied from a now lost map from the Olde Lair’s legendary library.

Dwarven Outpost: The beards have no time for you; their current grey-bearded Queen was among the adventurers who drove away Red Death.

Elfstone Fields: Border markers the elves put down when humans first made their castles to warn them against wandering too far west.

Goblins in the Mountains: They are spiteful but sometimes can be allies if you can convince them it is in their best interests.

Hobgoblin Border Fort: They will enslave you all and put you to work tunneling under their enemies and making traps if they get through Duchess Pass.

Human City: City Kobolds live underneath it and through them you can buy human goods. There is a wizard with a tower there who even had a kobold apprentice once!

Olde Lair: The volcanic Red Peak in which was the lair of Red Death, the dragon your ancestors served, is currently cool and silent.

Wyvern Barrows:  The spirits of the humans who called themselves the dragon-chiefs are buried here with the bones of their wyvern steeds.

 

Art

Slavic and East European Collections, The New York Public Library. “Kliuchevskaia sopka.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1856. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47df-98de-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
Volo’s Guide to Monsters, covers by Hydro74 (bad-ass retail, Illithid cover) and ???

When giants and dragons made war…

I’m a few dozen pages into Volo’s Guide to Monsters and I’m digging it.

volo

I’m thinking about a world where humans are young and have not yet made their first city; the only city is in this world the giants’ city, Ostoria. Elves are tourists from alien Fey realms and Dwarves are in their glory, profiting hand over fist as the giants and dragons make war and they play both sides against the middle. The Thousand Years War between the giants and the dragons is about to begin.

Humans don’t have gods yet. If players level up, they are the first humans to reach those heights. They’ll meet NPC’s like the inquisitive and young Vecna and his best friend, the hardy warrior, Khaz – maybe a young Raven Queen.

Alignment

Alignment, I’m taking a cue from Court of Swords. Alignment and morality is based on giants and dragons, the foremost powers in the world.

Bahamut: Justice, Wealth and Leadership

Tiamat: Lore, Collecting and Sorcery

Annam: Strength, Breeding and Order

Othea: Building, Defense and Teaching

Sigil: Adapting, Balance and Learning

Bahamut and Tiamat are draconic deities.

Anna and Othea are the all-father and all-mother of the giants.

Sigil is an idyllic nexus where all elements and ideas meet in a beautiful oasis filled with hidden doorways.

 

Planarch Codex has me thinking about Kobolds

From an e-mail about an upcoming DW/Planarch Codex game:

I think I want to play a kobold, straight out of the Monster Manual.

A little scaled, horned being who grew up among 40 to 400 other kobolds. Raised to hate in a huge evil pile but left home with his red robes, his short sword and his wicker shield and is realizing quickly that the way he was raised might not have been perfect.

And so, I re-read the Monster Manual entry:

kobold jpg

Gens?

I asked on G+, thinking I had run into some kind of old school D&D jargon but no. I was set straight.

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 10.52.08 PM

“gens, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2016. Web. 15 August 2016.

Rachel E.S. Walton and Playing Thieves at the Gaming Table

Rachel E.S. Walton is one of my favorite people I’ve met through role-playing games. When I ask some friends if they had a good gaming convention, some have said, “Well, I got to game at the same table as Rachel 3 times, so yeah, it was a good con.”

You can find her on G+ or see an example of her work here, where she made our campaign an amazing movie poster.

We got talking about 2nd edition D&D and playing thieves and then this interview happened.

Tell me about playing a thief in Quest for Glory, please!

Okay, so I’m going back 20-some years here, but Quest for Glory was my first memorable experience playing a thief in a game and one that forever cemented my love for the character type. At the time, playing a computer game was still pretty new and exciting, so it’s hard to separate the game itself from that world-opening experience. But the graphics were really good for the time, and the MIDI atmospheric sound was excellent. I can still feel my gut clench up a bit at the foreboding music of the “pick your hero type” screen and hear the tap-tap-tap sound of distant villagers going about their business in the background. The sound is so cheesy now, but they really knew how to work it.

What I remember the most was practicing abilities over and over to improve them and getting to see them actually improve. Like climbing. At first the hero is slow, but after practicing a bunch, he’d be zipping up and down the rope or gate with comical speed. After dragging myself away from a frustrating encounter, it felt pretty great to practice a bunch and then go out again and overcome that thing. And while that had moments of tedium, overall the game was just fun. Different sorts of puzzles and quests. Talking to people, helping them, and getting clues. Sneaking around. The scary thrill of going through the world at night. Dorky puns and a built-in sense of humor. (Pro tip: do not drink the Dragon’s Breath ale.)

I don’t think playing a thief was spectacularly different from playing a fighter or magic user in the game, but this was a game and character that stood out from any of the other games and characters I had played on my brother’s Nintendo. It was a character type that rewarded preparation, planning, puzzling things out, caution, and a bold move at just the right moment – a manifestation of my personality type like I hadn’t experienced in a game before.

Dungeons and Dragons was still a taboo gateway-to-darkness in my mind, not even really on my horizon yet. But this game! This game was all fun and adventure.

Clearly, we will have to play this for the rest of the interview.

When you describe the way skills go up and planning and puzzling things out, it almost sounds like Burning Wheel! That said, I feel like when we talk, Burning Wheel is always looming in the background when we geek out together.

Did you play every game in the Quest for Glory series?

Were there more steps on the transitional road between Quest for Glory and D&D?

I am listening to it right now. I am mildly horrified that I can enjoy a MIDI soundtrack, but this still has power.

And yes – what you just mentioned is part of why I found Burning Wheel so appealing. With D&D I never liked that advancements did not correspond with what happened fictionally. It broke continuity to go up a level and improve a skill never used or to suddenly have access to complex spells. It always felt like we were leaving out an interesting and important piece of fiction – and this was years before I ever heard of story games.

But going back to Quest of Glory, no – I never played another. As much as I loved various pieces of geeky media, I wasn’t really part of nerd culture in the way a lot of folks seemed to be. I had moments of obsession and did a few intensely nerdy things (nerdiest thing ever: AOL Nintendo summer camp on the internet), but sometimes my love encircled a thing and found contentment and satiety. Quest for Glory was one of those things. And I didn’t find another roguish game I loved as much until the much more recent Dishonored.

As for what came after Quest for Glory, Betrayal at Krondor was another dearly-loved computer game that prepped me for tabletop gaming. But it was a few years before I ever played D&D.

D&D was not something I had heard anything good about growing up. As part of a conservative Christian family and community, I had heard the urban legends. I was a pretty sensible kid and had little interest in opening a gateway to the occult. But then our family became friends with another Christian family and they were awesome. They also happened to be democrats, which was weird for us, and their son, who was my age, ran D&D. He talked about it and it sounded like the kind of stuff we were already into, but more social. So my parents said okay. Softies! And suddenly there were four of us, exploring the Grand Duchy of Karameikos in my room while our parents met for Bible study downstairs.

I played a thief of course! Disappointingly, I remember exactly zero about that character. I think I only played them for a few sessions and it wasn’t particularly memorable. I remember two things keenly though. One, was lovingly pouring over the AD&D Complete Thief’s Handbook. Especially the equipment lists that evoked that most amazing possibilities for carefully planned adventures…caltrops and poisons and oh no! – encumbrance. I’d have to plan my pack carefully…an annoyance I secretly delighted in. But these sneaky adventures never came.

Just a few sessions in, Christmas came around, and my GM handed me a present. He was practically wiggling with excitement about it. So I opened it and was a bit confused – it was the AD&D Complete Psionic’s Handbook (no, my GM was not John Stavropoulos). “This is for you to play!” he blurted out. He was a friend and super excited, and I still didn’t know my way around the game yet, so I said, “Cool, thanks,” while trying to hide my disappointment. I figured I’d give it a go because maybe it actually would be cool. But the psionic proved ill-suited to the world and fun proved elusive. womp womp

On the plus side, even as a tabletop newb, I understood the faux pas and determined to do better when the opportunity arose to GM D&D in college. I never did get a chance to do a D&D rogue justice except with an NPC – it was hard to pass off the mantle of GM! By the time I finally had the chance to play in someone else’s ongoing game, I was deep into the world of indie games and D&D was history I felt more frustration over than nostalgia for.

If you had mentioned any of this before we started our current (and wonderful) BW campaign, that game would have had a very different pitch!

Well then I’m glad I didn’t mention it, because I love our current game a lot. 😉 But I would LOVE to do a rogue-ish Burning Wheel game with you sometime – or try the same setting from a different angle. And as much as I love them, I often don’t play rogues! They’re something of a genre unto themselves, so some of the really good stuff – the sneaking around, the underdog or outcast status, the fraught back-stories, the clever problem-solving, the undermining of the political system, the fun equipment, the mix of undesirable and charming, etc. – these things don’t fit into every game well, nor should they. Not that all of these pieces have to be present to play a proper rogue, but they do suggest things about what the world is like, what the character’s place is in it, and what kind of challenges might happen, or what the game needs to support.

When coming to the table, unless I’ve been asked to, I try not to come with strong preconceived notions about what I want to play. Because more than a black-leather-clad sneak with some lock picks, I want to play a character that fits with what the game does well, feels like a part of the setting (even if they defy it somehow), and works with what other players are trying to do. If I try to force my preconceived idea into what’s going on, it’s rarely satisfying to me or anyone else.

The image of kids exploring Grand Duchy of Karameikos while their parents were studying the bible is delicious! Do you have any particular nostalgia for the Gazeteers or Mystara?

None at all! My memory of that campaign is a handful of fuzzy moments and little else. The pleasure of hosting my friends in my room, the old briefcase the GM kept the books and papers in, the sound of scribbling pencils, the desserts we scarfed afterward when the adults were done – those memories are much more palpable.

Dishonored is a game I’ve heard many of my friends talk about. Is there a common thread between Dishonored and Quest for Glory?

Switching to this soundtrack now. 😉 
The common threads between the two games are just a few basics. They’re both rogue adventure games, although Dishonored is much darker and grittier. And most notably for me: they’re both finite. They have main objectives and side quests and you can decide on approach, but they both head toward an end game. I like sandbox games, but I avoid them because they’re bad for me – I have a hard time stopping! I may blow week on Dishonored, but then it’s done. A sandbox game just keeps going. Of course, it’s different for a sandbox tabletop game – everyone meets for a couple of hours or so and then puts it aside until next time. Much healthier! 🙂

Dishonored though. I have not loved a video game more than this one. It has some problematic content – I won’t deny that, but the setting is rich, and the game play is phenomenal. I have reached such levels of frustration playing games with awkward or highly complex controls. In fact, I used to say I hated first-person shooters for this reason. But I can’t say that anymore because but the controls in Dishonored are intuitive and super-smooth, and if you have a hard time doing a thing, there are other possible approaches – it doesn’t punish you if you can’t master the drop-from-above & stab motion, for example – you can try another way. In fact, you don’t have to stab at all! It’s a violent game no matter what, but you can play the entire thing non-lethally and that influences the game world in subtle but cool ways.

To me, these parts make a huge difference in playing an amazing rogue game! It goes beyond rogue-in-name and takes it to rogue-as-an-experience. Smooth game play means I get to feel like I’m really controlling a badass with physical prowess, not like some other games where there’s a disconnect like, “sorry dude, I know you’re awesome, but I can’t perfect this awkward 6-button forward-up-aim-shoot motion on the controller.” And having options in how I approach a problem or finding another way also feels very rogue-ish to me. I can be straightforward, stealthy, murderous, merciful, resourceful – whatever suits me and the situation and keeps the evil rats away. I’ve played it through twice and I can’t wait to play through it again, but I’m waiting until I finish a big project.

I read somewhere that you started GMing in college. Did you give any special attention to the thieves and rogues in the group you DMed?

I had a big group, so I tried to provide a variety of plot hooks to appeal to different players, but I mostly tried to make interesting situations that didn’t require a single solution. If wanted to see what they would come up with, whether they were a rogue or a barbarian. AD&D gets a lot of flack, but I actually preferred it to 3rd edition because it had suggestions for giving characters XP for doing things that defined them – rogues doing thiefy things, wizards casting spells, etc. Once we converted to 3rd edition, there was really only XP support for killing stuff, if I remember correctly. I worked around it, but I felt much more on my own. It was my first big realization that the system really didn’t support the fun we were trying to have.

Anyway, there were a couple of rogues that cycled through that game – I mostly remember how much trouble they got into because they had poor impulse control. 🙂 And I got a little bit of a rogue fix with an NPC who had a lock racket. He would make and sell master locks and break into homes that didn’t have them. I used him as a bit of a guide in their early days, and he ended up pretty well loved so he was a useful plot device too. When I started a new D&D game some years later, he came with me like a well-worn jacket and he survived our conversion to Burning Wheel. He was mostly a friendly face in the village by that point, but it was nice to have him around.

Any other fond memories of 2E, system AP, whatever comes to mind?

oh! How about I confess my worst GMing sin?

Even early on in my GMing days, I knew it was important to not hold so tightly to my vision that I shut down players, so I was pretty good at working in oddball stuff. BUT I also didn’t have a strong sense of when to say no and what certain imbalances could do to the game. Mostly this was not a problem – my friends were all amiable and interested in having a good time together. But then there was this one guy. He built a Drow or half-Drow and because we used a stat system where you could spend two points from one stat to increase another by one point, he ended up with this monster with 3 Charisma and 21 Strength. We’re like, “that’s ridiculous – you know you have the Charisma of a skeleton and people will run screaming from you, right?” And he was okay with that and the group said okay too. Ugh! But the worst part was, he was also playing Chaotic Neutral and in order to play that up, he made his character start acting increasingly erratic and lashing out. And with 21 Strength, you don’t lash out without huge consequences. He got into a fight with another PC and almost killed them and he threatened the others “because that’s what my character would do.” The other players were pretty upset. They didn’t feel like they could say or do anything to steer his behavior in-character and worried that even if they ganged up to exile, capture, or attack his PC, he would likely kill a couple of their PCs in the process.

Obviously this was something to be addressed out of character. Obviously. But we were worried that confronting the player would only lead to a temporary improvement and we were SO over this character. But rather than handle this like adults anyway, and talk to him, laying out some parameters if he wanted to keep playing with us, a few of us gathered in the dimmed florescence of the cafeteria after hours and plotted his PCs assassination.

We sat there discussing resources and pros and cons of different methods. My above-mentioned NPC had on him a vial of powerful acid for dissolving stubborn locks. Someone else had silencing Boots of Elvenkind. I offered to have my NPC carry out the act so the burden of responsibility would be on my shoulders (how noble of me).

So…the terrible day arrived and we started playing as usual. But I didn’t draw it out too long. I narrated it being at night when everyone was resting. Every moment of this felt heavy. The group was unnaturally silent because they knew what was coming. I made a successful roll to stealthily sneak into the ill-fated PC’s tent. And then I described the awful pain of acid being poured onto his face and the fade to black. The absolute worst part of all of this is that the player didn’t yet understand what happened and he picked up his dice and had this really eager look on his face – he thought it was yet another challenge to overcome because he trusted me. “Okay, what do I roll?!” “Nothing. There’s no saving throw here. The assassin didn’t make a sound and he poured powerful acid on your face…you’re dead.” This one of the most uncomfortable moments in my life. None of us were happy – we were all squirming with discomfort.

The player got up and left, swearing up a storm down the hall. One of his closer buds went to check on him. I can’t remember what conversations were had after that. I think we did manage to talk more directly to him. He asked if he could play another character and of course I said yes because I felt terrible. So here’s the best/worst part: he came back with a new PC: a friendly, boisterously cheerful wizard who spoke in the most ridiculous Scottish accent. It was so obnoxious. But we let it slide. Penance, I guess.

That is a great story. I’ve totally been there.

Thank you for taking part in this interview, Rachel.

Roll a d6 and a d4 for war-torn fantasy strangeness

D6

  1. Lizard-folk atop dinosaurs worshiping dragons.
  2. Ghouls led by the White Handed Ghoul King  and his Ravenous Knights.
  3. Slave-owning Melnibonean-inspired elves, sick of human filth.
  4. Beholders leading humanoid eye-cultists, covered in eye-tumors.
  5. Skeletons who put bones together into frightening sentient war engines seeming to have no leader, operating more like a fungal growth made of bones.
  6. Quaggoth hordes, having awoken their slumbering Cave-Bear Pantheon, with all they have taken from the recently razed Drow civilization at their disposal.

D4

  1. That attack is happening right now. War is upon us!
  2. We are securing the final victory after several decisive battles but tattered remnants of that invasion are still around.
  3. That war is ten years done but they were hear for decades, so scars and monuments still stand.
  4. They are occupying our lands and gathering the final surrendering governments.

Stats and Skills for Illithid

Writing from the Illithid POV is good fun.

Stats & Skills

Your stats are based on the standards the numb-minded lesser races in these planes use to interact with their feeble understanding of the world. The psychic measures we would use when we lived in our home world deep beyond the Far Realms would be beyond even their greatest deity’s comprehensions, and so we measure ourselves by these provincial standards while we devour their feeble minds and gain dominion over what they perceive as reality.

Stats

Intelligence: This is the limited scale they use to measure the mind to recall facts and manipulate reality by bending planar laws.

Strength: This is the power of the body.

Wisdom: This is what the lesser races use to make sense of beings whose power is beyond their pathetic comprehension.

Dexterity: This is the body’s ability to follow the mind’s orders.

Constitution: This is the body’s ability to continue to function while protecting the mind.

Charisma: This is a measure of pheromones, word-play and social leverage lesser races without psychic force use to manipulate one another.

Skills

Hive Mind Navigation (Intelligence): This is the art of communicating and finding information via your colony’s hive mind.

Subdue (Strength): This is the mind’s ability to put your own limbs in position to neutralize an opponent’s limbs.

Anthropology (Wisdom): This is the science of understanding lesser species’ primitive and backwards cultures.

Crystalmancy (Dexterity): This is the art of creating tools with crystals and mucus.

Stealth (Constitution): This is the art of lying in wait, being still, waiting for your prey.

Devoured Skills (Charisma): These skills are what you gain from devouring minds. You can have one such skill for every point of ability modifier you have in Charisma.

Random Encounter Tables: Big Shire

Big Shire is made up of 11 farthings, spread out along the pleasant, fertile, rolling grasslands next to the Govus River. Each Farthing has its own Shirriff and Mayor, both are elected for life or until public outcry demands that they step down.

The only element of Big Shire that is jarring against its pastoral, quaint beauty are the crow’s cages that are outside of every shirriff’s cottage and at incoming roads, major crossroads and town squares. Usually a deputy will be nearby, smoking a pipe and hucking rocks with a sling at bottles set up on a nearby fence-post. Their riding mastiffs will be watching from nearby, perhaps sipping water from a nearby pond or stream. They will both be watching newcomers carefully, friendly but cautious.

Visiting adventurers cannot walk about armed. In order to apply for a Mayoral Writ necessary for permission to carry a weapon larger than a dagger, one has to have lived in Big Shire for ten years or more. However, you can hire a local to walk with you and they might, if given proper incentive, say that your weapons are in fact their weapons and you are doing a public service by carrying the heavy things around for them.

Those caught with weapons without a writ or friendly local will be charged with inciting a riot (1d4 weeks in a crow’s cage, reserved for folks looking for trouble, or anyone who gives excessive resistance or lip to the arresting shirriff and deputies) or inciting adventure (1d6 days in a crow’s cage, can be suspended with a year’s exile or a 50GP fine if the visitor just didn’t know better).

Riot!

Fighting the law in this town is a brutal proposition. Once the hue and cry goes out, the shirriffs will begin closing in with their deputies. Big Shire is spread out over a great distance but once word goes the local law comes hard.

First 1d10 rounds = Local Fathing’s Law Patrol (Farthing’s Law Patrol = Shirriff and 3d4 deputies on riding mastiffs with slings and short swords).

Second 3d6 rounds = 1d4 Farthing’s Law Patrol.

If the fight continues or if a local is killed the stakes go up. The neighboring Shirriffs begin deputizing folks. All remaining Farthings bring a Riot Squad. 1 Shirriff + 3d4 deputies + 5d8 auxiliary deputies.

If things look really bad or someone casts a spell they will Call in the Wizard (said with the same gravity as, “Release the Kraken.”). 1 Wizard of 1d20 levels.

But that won’t happen, right?

Enjoy some pipe weed. Relax. Welome to Big Shire.

Crow Cage’s Inhabitants

1-6: Halfling thief
7: Wizard troublemaker (1-3 human, 4 elf, 5 dwarf, 6 halfling)
8: Ranger (1-3 elf, 4-5 human, 6 half-elf)
9: Dwarven adventurer
10: Tiefling Warlock/Dragonborn Fighter
11: Kobold/Goblin
12: SPECIAL

Special

1: Lycanthrope
2: Angel
3: Devil
4: Githyanki
5: Quaggoth
6: Orc
7: Drow
8: Gome
9: Elven Marine
10: Cultist
11: Kenku Assassin
12: Hobgoblin Soldier

As you enter Big Shire there signs along the road that read, “You must register your weapons and any suspected arcane relics with the law. No instigating adventure nor any trouble-making will be tolerated in Gourd Farthing. – Shirriff Cordelia Timmins”

Around the Big Shire Encounter Table

1 – Halfling Sheriff on patrol with 1d3 deputies and 1d6 watchdogs.
2 – Halfling burglars coming back from a job.
1d6 halflings, 1d4-1 dwarves
3 – Mercenaries heading to 3 Giants Dam
4 – 1d4 Wizards on sabbatical, high on weed (rolll 1d20)
1-10, lvl 1d4, 11-15, lvl 1-8, 16-19 lvl 1d12, 20 lvl 1d20
5 – 1d8 Human Bandits (on the run from a sheriff’s posse)
6 – 1d8 Orc Raiders
7 – Ululan Messenger
8 – Vault Caravan – 2d6 wagons, 1d4 guards for every wagon
9 – Roll on the the High Fell table
10 – Roll on the Corvuston table