Curse of Strahd, Session VI, Enter the Amber Temple

Curse of Strahd, Session VI, Enter the Amber Temple

Curse of Strahd / Session VI / Enter the Amber Temple

In which the Amber Temple is entered, two members of the lost team are saved from Flameskulls and a bedraggled wizard is found running from an Amber Golem…

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  • The vaulted chamber of the temple had a statue of a wizard whose face was shrouded in darkness and (inspired by DragnaCarta’s Curse of Strahd Reloaded) it asked those who entered to leave a secret or something holy at the feet of the statue. That prompted cool shit from the players.

    Jusko whispered, “I belong here,” while pressing his family signet ring into some wax on the statue. EEK.

    Failed Soldier wrote a sealed note about the sailor he killed in a previous adventure in a shrine to a storm goddess.

    Kuru tried to get by leaving a cheap coin and pretending it was holy to him but the statue was on to his bullshit.

    Trundle left one of his carvings of the world they saw born in a previous adventure.

    Helewynn left her holy symbol since the moon here seemed to be godless.

    Bugwump left a mask of himself from back when he was an arch-mage that he wore during a 1000 Faces Festival in Sigil.

  • They found the two lost members of the other team surrounded by 3 Flameskulls…

    One of the Flameskulls unleashed its fireball, doing some healthy damage but all in all, the 3 were dispatched without too much trouble. The other team missed in a terrible first round of to-hit rolls, prompting Jusko to fuck with them later…

  • Trundle engaged Crum, a Dwarven cleric of Portals, who wears a key holy symbol. I rolled to see how informed he was on getting in and out of Ravenloft and rolled a 20. He knows shit.

  • Bugwump’s Arcana checks are off the chain since he has a magic staff from Tomb of Annihilation. They know all about Sergei’s Sunsword, the other team believes the sword is here somewhere.

  • There was some talk about just heading back to Ravenwatch and getting to the portal. I reminded folks that Kuru had cut up the portal with his magic-cutting knife and it wasn’t a sure thing that it was working.

  • Helewynn hasn’t seen moonlight since being bitten by the werewolf. When she does, we’ll make some rolls and see what happens.

    Chekov’s werewolf bite…

  • Failed Soldier gave Lem the Nine Gods Orchid he picked for her from the previous adventure. I said that it felt like a lifetime ago that she asked him for that but thing is, it actually does kinda feel like a lifetime ago. It was cool that we got to see that completed.

    What does Nine Gods Orchid do? I’m thinking some kind of cool tea that inspires prophetic dreams.

  • After a short rest, the team heard someone screaming for help and found a wizard with a quazit familiar running from an Amber Golem. Kuru and Trundle stealthed over and engaged; we’ll start there with everyone else rolling initiative next week.

    “Thank Vecna you folks showed up to save me,” the burned, half-starved wizard said.

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Making Magic Items Inspired by Apocalypse World

D&D Ideas

When I read Apocalypse World I can see that (like me) Meguey and Vincent spent their college years playing Ars Magica. I can feel seasonal arcane lab work in the ole Savvyhead. Inspired by their Tinkering move in their Burned Over ruleset and a question on an RPG slack I frequent, here’s a move for making magic items in D&D:

So you want to make a magic item?
When you want to improve upon an item, enchant a mundane item or repair an item, tell your friends at the table what you want it to do. Is there something else that does it already? Let’s keep an eye on that for inspiration.
Is making this going to change the world forever? Let’s keep on eye on that and discuss it as a group because that’s cool but let’s make sure we’re not changing the world in a way that won’t make it fun to play or making a character useless.
Someone will take up the role as the DM for this process. They’ll say, “sure, no problem but…” and suggest 1 to 4 of the following.
• It is going to take time.
• First you are going to have to X
• You are going to need X to make this happen.
• It is going to cost a dragon’s hoard of gold.
• It is going to mean exposing yourself to dangerous arcane forces that could change the character forever.
• The best you’ll be able to do will be less than optimal, it’ll have limited charges or slow or weak or unreliable.
• You are going to need a wizard’s sanctum with X.
• It is going to take many attempts to get it just right.
• You are going to have to do an arcange ritual with X to get it done.
X should be attainable through a dangerous adventure or series of adventures.

I’ve been inspired by the Bakers many times. More recently, when I made a checklist to make a space station inspired by the Lawmaker playbook.

Forgive me as I imitate AW’s examples of play, my favorite examples from any RPG:

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Bugwump the Frog-kin Wizard wants to add charges to Kuru’s Wand of Lightning. Poor Kuru, the Hobbit Thief, has been moping ever since the wand lost its oomph. “Clearly you need to go to a mountaintop and get this thing hit by lightning,” I say.

“Oooh, it should be a special mountain, holy to the Storm Giants,” Kuru’s player says.

Bugwump’s player says, “You aren’t making this easy.”

“It’ll be fun! What is the worst that could happen?”

“Lightning from a Storm Giant’s holy mountaintop. Sounds awesome. There is one you’ve heard about not too far away, the Sky’s Anvil…”

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Jusko’s player wants to keep his ancestral blade but it isn’t magical.

“Maybe you could unlock its secret powers by vanquishing an ancestor who is making a nuisance of themselves as an undead menace…” Helewynn’s player says.

“That is amazing. Do you want to run that adventure?” I ask.

“Nah, I have some ideas about it that’ll email you, though,” Helewynn’s player says.

I nod, keeping an eye out for opportunities for new DM’s to take the reigns.

“My friends, could you help me vanquish my wraith great-uncle who is causing problems for the countryside?” Jusko asks his comrades.

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After another lightning wand goes dead in the middle of Strahd’s family tombs, Kuru throws the dead stick to the ground. “Bugwump! This is nonsense!”

Bugwump says, “I’m not just adding more charges to the wand this time.”

“That Storm Giant jarl nearly killed me!” Kuru says.

“I’m making a lightning pistol,” Bugwump says.

Kuru’s player becomes the living embodiment of the heart-eyes emoji.

“We have been rocking a western vibe. Are we okay with pistols that spit lightning in-game?” I say.

A long discussion about fantasy fiction and westerns and blending genres ensues. We agree that it is okay but don’t want pistols to become ubiquitous. I’ve got ideas on how to make certain that doesn’t happen.

“First, you are going to have to get a smith to make a pistol that can hold lightning,” I say.

“My sister is a smith. I could write her a letter,” Trundle’s player says.

“She might want a favor or a huge pile of gold to make a weapon like this – even for family, ” I say.

“Once it is completed you’ll have to get it hit by six different arcane lightning bolts from six different sources,” I say.

“I can throw a lightning bolt,” Bugwump says.

The group starts brainstorming where to get the other five lightning bolts – the local blue dragon who hit that merchant caravan last year, that monk who has a lightning fist, the Storm Giant who seemed ready to rebel against her father’s rule during a previous adventure…

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Leomund’s Tiny Hut in Barovia

Leomund’s Tiny hut in Barovia

In my head-canon, Leomund is a brilliant apprentice to Mordenkainen, saw his magnificent mansion spell and said, “What if we scaled it down and gave young, up-and-coming adventurers the safety they need?” and Leomund’s Tiny Hut was born.

The description of the spell:

A 10-foot-radius immobile dome of force springs into existence around and above you and remains stationary for the duration. The spell ends if you leave its area.

Nine creatures of Medium size or smaller can fit inside the dome with you. The spell fails if its area includes a larger creature or more than nine creatures. Creatures and objects within the dome when you cast this spell can move through it freely. All other creatures and objects are barred from passing through it. Spells and other magical effects can’t extend through the dome or be cast through it. The atmosphere inside the space is comfortable and dry, regardless of the weather outside.

Until the spell ends, you can command the interior to become dimly lit or dark. The dome is opaque from the outside, of any color you choose, but it is transparent from the inside.

PHB, page 255
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The Thursday night crew needed a rest after a dramatic entrance into Ravenloft from a portal in Sigil. Bugwump magicked up the tiny hut. There was a thread in the DM’s of Curse of Strahd and Ravenloft FB group about it.

First a group of wolves came and sniffed around the edges of the spell’s bubble. Of course the packs of wolves in Barovia are commanded by Strahd. The First Vampire has to be curious about these newcomers but even with curiosity is some boredom. He’s seen this shit before. Strahd has lost count of the number of scrappy adventurers. He’s an accomplished wizard; he knows what this spell is. Shit, he’s probably met Leomund.

More about this session here if you’d like to see the full write-up.

Kuru, the Halfling Rogue on watch woke everyone up to let them know about the wolves but then the wolves left. They returned with a villager, who the largest wolf pinned to the ground by his throat. The villager began reciting, “Strahd is the Land and the Land is Strahd!” over and over. Strahd was curious as to what they’d do. The characters jumped out of their bubble of safety and saved the villager. It was a fun fight.

Strahd got the measure of the heroes. He saw the fighter’s vorpal sword in action. He saw how they worked as a team and got the measure of their morality. They will leave safety to save a villager…somewhere Strahd smiles a feral grin.

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Strahd is circling the party like a shark. What is the scariest part of a shark movie? Let the players sit in their tiny hut. Yes, it infuriates Strahd that there is a bubble on his land that he can’t Scry. Yes, they are safe but the hut doesn’t last forever. Having that kind of safety for a little while is good for horror.

Ask the players questions about their characters while they sit and wait.

Was there a time when your character felt trapped?

What was a safe place the character can remember?

Tell me about a time when your character’s home was broken into and what happened. Was anything stolen? How did it make the character feel?

Jaws, comparing scars

Send the players an email before the game asking them to daydream about a short campfire story about what their character’s homeland says about vampires. It isn’t the DM’s job to single-handedly set a scary tone without any help from anyone else; tone (especially horror) has to be done together as a table.

Sit in Leomund’s finite bubble. Compare scars. Tell stories. Moments of safety with doom all around is great horror content.

Strahd is patient. He’ll be waiting in the Mists.

Fictional Torture and Real Life Frustration at the Table

Has it ever happened to you ? You write an RP encounter with an NPC you think will be cool. Like he knows important informations or has something the party wants and they’re gonna have to convince/bribe/persuade/lie to him to get it. But then all of a sudden you realise the PCs will just torture him or kill him because it’s way easier to do.
This happened a lot. I’m all for player’s agency but this shit gets repetitive and exhausting after a while. They’re supposed to be the good guys.

Talk to your players and ask why they do that.
They might be coming from tables where that is the ONLY way to get information out of people.
I’ve definitely had conversations with my friends about gaming and how torture does not reveal reliable intel in reality and that I don’t want to see it at the gaming table. In my experience, characters torturing NPC’s is a sign of frustration.

From this thread…

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I’ve seen friendly hobbit parties cut off goblin’s fingers and local heroes done good threaten worse than that. In my experience, it is a sign of frustration at withheld information. Step out of game and talk it over, my friends.

I talked about this in Episode 22 of Daydreaming about Dragons…

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Curse of Strahd, Session IV, Ghosts and Bones

Curse of Strahd, Session IV, Ghosts and Bones

Curse of Strahd, Session IV, Ghosts & Bones

In which the dead are spoken to, a father is left to decide his son’s fate and hunted comrades are tracked across Mount Ghackis.

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  • Kuru talked up the three Vistani ladies who owned the Blood of the Vine Tavern.

    “Judd, what is the name of the tavern?”

    “Blood of the Vine…”

    “Of course it is…”

    They learned that the previous team had been driven from town for assaulting an old lady who is a witch – the bad kind, that the Vistani saved Strahd when he was mortal and some serve him as penance for helping create such a devil.

  • Trundle, when he entered the inn, offered a prayer against fiends (his chosen enemy) in Infernal. Just a nice bit of color that I loved.

    Also, we learned that Jusko’s family, the Hajeks, rule a city in the west, Vallicki.

    These details didn’t mean anything today but I adore them and sometimes they end up being THE thing that changes the campaign. Ya never know.

  • The team witnessed the March of the Dead, in which the ghosts of adventurers who have fought Strahd and died rise and march to re-live their deaths as they walk to Castle Ravenloft.

  • They dug up the body of one of their former comrades from another team, Dylan was a warlock. Strahd ripped out his heart with his bare hands. When they asked Dylan how he suggested they proceed he said, “Don’t. This mission is folly. Pay the Vistani whatever they ask and make your way to Gloomwrought. From there you should be able to make your way home eventually through the Shadowfell…”

    They learned that the previous team had headed west to find something called the Amber Temple on the western slopes of Mt. Ghakis.

  • They found Father Donavich holding his son, Boru, in the undercroft while sobbing. The boy, inspired by strangers recently in town. After some discussions about morality and such, they decided to chalk this up as a local conflict and leave it be. They vampire-bitten young man had gone berserk right about when Bugwump cast Leomund’s Tiny Hut (scrying doesn’t penetrate the hut).

    As they left, the priest to the Morninglord was sitting atop the undercroft door, sobbing quietly.

    Ah, Ravenloft…

  • They tracked the previous team as they went off the road and headed west. They team left glyphs to let any other Outlands Expedition Teams know that they were headed to the western slope of the mountain and that they were being hunted by something following them.

    One of the awesome players at our table suggested that these glyphs teams leave for one another are an off-shoot of thieves’ cant; so rogues can often tease out more details or leave more nuanced messages.

  • The pack of werewolves hunting the team (7 in total, Trundle the Dwarven Ranger could tell) suddenly headed westward, up the mountain. It didn’t make much sense. They found a barrow adorned with goat and deer skulls where one of the werewolves was interred, having been killed by silver arrows and a pit trap and some more silver arrows. Helewyn wisely dug out the silver arrows.

  • Next week we begin with the pack trying to flank a lone archer on an old goat path known as the Blood Moon Path.

  • This game being a mission, where they want to get their comrades out and get back home to Sigil has changed the tenor of the game. Destroying Strahd is a tertiary goal. The team is very willing to leave situations be and not get embroiled in what they see as endless local nonsense. They are invested but they have their eye on the prize – getting their friends out. Very interesting…

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Today’s shirt reads: “I survived the Satanic Panic and all I got was this t-shrit, creative lifelong friends and a love of fantasy, history and literature.”

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Curse of Strahd, Session III, Wolves and Souls

Curse of Strahd, Session III, Wolves and Souls

In which the Outlands Expedition Team heads to the village of Barovia and is tested by a pack of wolves.

  • Bugwump throws up a Leomund’s Tiny Hut and everyone tries to get some rest after the battle of Ravenwatch. Kuru was on watch when the wolves came the first time, digging around the magical bubble put up by Bugwump. Then they returned in greater numbers with a villager. When the biggest wolf put his jaws on the villager’s throat, the villager says, “Strahd is the Land and the Land is Strahd!” over and over.

  • Bugwump wanted everyone to just let him sleep but that wasn’t the team consensus. They jumped out and handled the wolves. Helewyn misty-stepped and saved the villager. Kuru threw a lightning bolt and zapped 6 wolves in a shot. In a round of combat the wolves were about wiped.

  • The last wolf vomited out an envelope but the group just shoved it into a fire before retreating into the forest.

  • The villager they saved is named Kobal. Gem of True Seeing showed that Kobal didn’t seem to have a soul. After some discussion and some History and Arcana rolls, they realized that there aren’t enough souls in the demi-plane, some are without. What does this mean?

    Welcome to Ravenloft: Enter the Mists for
    the Gothic Fantasy.

    Stay for the philosophical debates concerning souls.

    Failed Soldier is eyeing Kobal’s body; his current body, the corpse of the thief-god, is starting to decompose.

  • They visited Bildrath’s Mercantile and saw Outlands Expedition Team code (y’know, like the old hobo glyphs). It said that the prices were inflated. And now that is a cool thing in the setting to look for when another team has been somewhere.

  • One of the members of the previous team was a vampire in the initial attack but they’re thinking about the rest of the team. A while ago I asked friends to make up members of an expedition team, so I have fun descriptions of the other team.


    An inquisitive bespectacled dwarf knowledge cleric who has spent a century cataloging various Outland portals. Membership in the OET feeds his need for discovery. Send this fool to Ravenloft.


    An herbalist who rustles when they walk from all the dry leaf-filled pouches they have with them. Their sense of organization is terrible, though. Lot of digging, fair amount of tasting & chewing to verify. Which sometimes leads to minor incapacitation, sure.

    Adjo, a veteran of three wars, a skilled tracker of a dozen terrains, cursed with a soft heart. Also: He could give a shit about the O.E.T., only agreeing to it to use the deputization in his secret quest to find his fugitive daughter.


    A one-eyed Tiefling Warlock pledged to Vecna.  They wield a wickedly sharp sword made of bone and sinew.  They are tasked by Vecna to find strongholds of Kas and destroy them.  The OET is a cover for their real mission. How does the Lady of Pain feel about this?

  • After seeing Helewyn misty-step, Jusko told her about his magic sword, a vorpal blade with a long and ancient history of beheading. “When the time comes, you misty-step to Strahd and you will have this sword. He saw it on me but won’t know that it is on you now…”

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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
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  • 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.


  • 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:

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    Dungeons and Dragons and Me

    The Third Bedroom was the room where the entrance to the attic was and it was filled with stuff my parents did not know what to do with – luggage, old crafting supplies and this little game in a box called Dungeons & Dragons. My parents had it as received as a gift at some point in the late 70’s, early 80’s.

    Every once in a while I’d go into this room that had never been repainted, still with those lime green walls, I’d open what is called by old school folks as the Holmes Boxed Set. I’d roll the dice in the box-top and read it over. I couldn’t ever quite make sense of it. When I asked my mom, she told me it was a game that did not use a board and took place only in our imaginations.

    I was intrigued but I didn’t get it.

    A local kid I knew had the AD&D hardcovers. I asked him about them. He told me that I’d need the Player’s Handbook, the Dungeon Master’s Guide and the Monster Manual at least, if I wanted to play. I told my mom this and she told me that was nonsense, the game took place in one’s imagination. She never told me I couldn’t have those books but just wanted me to know that kid was probably wrong.

    I sat on that for a year or so and that is when I met Rob. Rob was a few years older and his backyard and my backyard were connected. I could see his house from the northern window in the lime-green Third Bedroom. He introduced me to Marvel’s FASERIP and brought me in to the D&D group. I started 6th grade that year and the only fun social interactions I had in middle school were with a bunch of eighth graders in the library before school.

    Now I’m a librarian. Coincidence?

    The unforgettable FASERIP chart.

    The group was playing AD&D. I made a Kender/Thief because I heard they had a power where I could make fun of a bad guy and make them angry. As a stuttering 6th grader that sounded amazing. I hadn’t read the Dragonlance books.

    The AD&D books were opaque to me. I was the youngest in the group and did not understand them.

    Outside the box thinking – sure. Making up fun, goofy shit – absolutely. But I started to tell the group and told myself that I just didn’t have the head for these game mechanics.

    The books I would borrow and flip through and skim and read over and over were the Monster Manual, the Monster Manual 2 and the beloved Fiend Folio. I’d spend whole afternoons just slowly flipped through them and daydreaming.

    By the time I was coaxed into DMing a game, 2nd edition had come out. After years of bouncing off D&D game books, I wasn’t that interested in the Player’s Handbook or the Dungeon Master’s Guide but I loved the new Monster Manuals. Again, I’d flip through them for hours.

    Monstrous Compendium volume one, the old 3-ringed binder.

    When we talked about game mechanics, everyone had strong opinions that mostly led to – system doesn’t matter, the people at the table matter more. Game mechanics seemed to get in the way, teenage Judd thought.

    I didn’t know the rules real well but I read every fantasy novel I could get my hands on and had daydreamed enough about monsters that I had ideas on where to insert them and how to play them. Repetition and osmosis had given me enough of a grasp on the mechanics to run a game.

    I ran a D&D game in high school, ripping off the Wheel of Time. Taking what D&D mythology I could glean from here and there, I ran a game in the pre-history of D&D, where elves (the Drow hadn’t left yet, the were rumors of demon-spider cults) and dwarves had just ended a long war; Vecna was still a human wizard-emperor with a loyal knight named Kaz.

    In college I found Ars Magica, Deadlands and Legend of the Five Rings. I went away to Japan and didn’t game at all. When I got back, 3rd Edition was in full swing. I picked it up and liked it. I liked the chapter where they walked through making a new class, the Witch. The game seemed to know that the players were going to hack the game.

    In the months before Fellowship of the Ring came out, I rolled up a bunch of Hobbit (okay, Halfling) characters and ran a game where they found a dragon egg and had to protect it against evil forces.

    Late twenties were a blur –, the Forge, Dust Devils, Sorcerer, Riddle of Steel, Unknown Armies, Burning Wheel…

    Holy shit, I’m 30-something.

    4th Edition came out.

    I had watched 3rd Edition’s release on Eric Noah’s site that is now EN World. But 4th Edition was the first time I saw D&D under the full weight of the internet’s gaze. I liked D&D but I had other games I could go to. I didn’t feel like I needed D&D to be any particular thing.

    I never DMed 4th edition but I played it a bit and liked it. The online vitriol surrounding it was odd to me. It was the first edition that came out where I didn’t approach the text with a I’m-no-good-with-game-mechanics mindset. I felt confident in my ability to understand a game and had other games to go to if I didn’t like this one.

    D&D 4e Player’s Handbook.

    My most profound 4e moment: A friend told me about a campaign he was playing in and his character was getting into arguments with other characters. Tensions were high. I suggested that he, “Stop playing Burning Wheel and enjoy D&D 4th for what it is. There is no way to mechanically make those arguments have any weight. Enjoy the teamwork and the synergy. Enjoy D&D.” He took my advice, pivoted and enjoyed the game.

    My 4th edition books went to a friend who was getting into a game right as I was moving; I gave him the books with no obligation to ever return them. I didn’t hate 4e but wasn’t sure I’d ever run it.

    “It is a cool game, just not for me right now,” I said as I piled a few boxes of books into a friend’s car.

    D&D Player’s Handbook, 5e

    5th edition came out when I was on the verge of turning 40. There are so many indie RPG’s I enjoy playing that I felt pretty distant from it.

    Nowadays, I GM a D&D 5e game on Thursday nights, not streamed. That game began as the pandemic started and a friend was feeling poorly. We weren’t sure what it was and I asked if I could do something for him – “Can I grab you something from the pharmacy or do some food shopping for you?”

    “Could you run a game this Thursday?”

    “Of course I can,” and we’ve been gaming most Thursdays since then.

    And that is where we are. D&D is the 800 pound gorilla of the industry. I’m not sure what the industry has to do with me. It sometimes feels odd to play a game a friend didn’t make.

    D&D is the category, tag and hashtag that gets lots of eyes on words. Mostly D&D is the game we play on Thursday night.

    I don’t hack and homebrew D&D rules (BINGO!) because I need D&D to be anything. I hack and homebrew because I want tools to help our sessions be better.

    An example bingo board; how we level up on Thursdays…

    I like playing it with my friends. I like how that play inspires stuff I can publish.

    After years of playing, writing forum posts about, podcasting about and thinking about indie RPG’s, I struggled with a bunch of guilt playing a corporate game. I still do. This game, owned by Hasbro, that has contorted and changed as I’ve grown up gaming is just another game I play sometimes.

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    Questions before the Curse of Strahd

    Questions before the Curse of Strahd

    Curse of Strahd, big moon, bats, castle…you get the idea.

    I like having an online community for a particular game night and/or campaign (Oy, I miss G+). One of the things I’ve been doing is asking the players questions in the week before the game. If they answer it, GREAT, I have material to inspire the game. If they don’t answer the question because they’re busy or don’t spend as much time on social media platforms, GREAT (and legit), I can ask the question during the game and get inspiration and energy during the session.

    Even if I don’t ask these questions in play and the player never answers it out loud, seeing the question gets the players thinking and daydreaming about the answers and more often than not, the idea comes out in play through the players’ actions. Asking good questions is a good tool for getting the vibe of the game across.

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

    Jusko is a human fighter with a complicated family and a sense of honor about him that I enjoy. Clearly, his family knew Strahd’s family when he was mortal, back in the day. There have also been clear hints that the Mists are interested in Jusko as possible Darklord material.

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

    Helewyn is an Eladrin Barbarian who served a moon goddess. The player’s answer was awesome and gave me clear ties to lycanthropes and their relationship to the moon.

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    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?

    My question for Kuru, Halfling Rogue (but really, he’s an old school Thief all the way) brought out a great conversation about the depiction of the Vistani, racism against the Romany people and not wanting to punch down. It was a valuable conversation, not only for the real life implications but because it really tied Kuru to the Vistani people in a real way and allowed me to, as Apocalypse World would say, announce future badness (link to AP post about the previous session if you want to see the Future Badness in action).

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    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?

    I didn’t get an answer to Trundle’s question, so I’ll save it for the game. I might ask during play or might ask before play when we’re just getting prepped and putting our dice in order in our pre-game.

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

    Bugwump’s character handed me a gift that I’ve written about before. The player treated Ravenloft with an appropriate amount of dread and foreboding in his answer. Even as an Arch-Mage, his character avoided the Demi-Plane of Dread. Cool stuff.

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    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?

    Again, Failed Soldier’s player didn’t answer, which is great, I’ll ask later. Failed Soldier (whose name is derived from the first corpse the Corpseflea character was in when the game began) is a Grave Cleric. I can’t wait to get this character to Ravenloft. I think it is going to be fun.

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    Mistakes Were Made (it was fun) and more designs like this in my TTRPG Collection…
    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…

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    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.