The Gatecrasher’s Song: Mapping and Naming an Absence

One of my colleagues found a planar map in the University of Sigil’s Arcane Sciences Department that was fascinating. For centuries this elven wizard charted all summonings that were licensed in Sigil. Points on the map noted where the summonings were from, as in this case, all of the summonings led to Sigil.

little circles

Centuries of summonings, thousands of spells cast, from angelic monkeys from heaven, to demon lords, to elementals of the basic elements to elementals of the quasi-planes where elements merge and react to become something new. There was a clear gap.

summoning circle

At first we thought it was Ravenloft but it was not. It turns out some murder elementals and mist demons are brought forth from the plane. For a while we wondered if we could summon a trapped mortal out from Ravenloft but none of us had the arcane acumen to begin to create such a spell.


No, this was a hole, where nothing was summoned out.

I was unable to leave Sigil but I interviewed countless travelers who had been near the gap and here are the facts that I can corroborated by more than a few trustworthy travelers, pilgrims and petitioners.


Gods are reticent to go anywhere near this place and Clerical spells work at a deficit, even to the most favored psychopomp or saint.

Magic is weakened here. At first I thought this was just a magic null zone but this turned out to not be true. One merchant who had travelled around this zone several times to avoid Githyanki pirates, told me that magic could work just as powerfully here as anywhere. However, to allow magic to work, one had to feed it with life energies. Only wizards whose towers are right on the border of this place and whose morals are flexible have discovered this.

Psionics seems to work well and children born near it are more often born with psionic abilities. I even met one such child, a daughter of a gun born on an elven Armada ship who could pyrokinetically light candles with her mind.

Having put these pieces together I have decided that I have, in fact, discovered this place and so I will name it. There is a word in the trade tongue that means a lack, a hungry, angry lack that makes folk thirsty to the point of murder. I chose this word because it sounds very much like a word that means gateless or doorless among the Sigil street urchins.


Athas: To be without resources or doors, thus inspiring murder and rage.

Adapted from The Gatecrasher’s Song, a planar wanderer’s journal.


There are those who say he found his way to Athas and that is why he was never seen again. Among many gatecrashers who follow in his tradition, to be Athased is to be stranded in a faraway plane without sufficient resources to make your way back to Sigil or even the Outer Planes.


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.


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.


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).


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


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

All Hail the Victorious Dead: Waking Playing Characters

Inspired by this post:

(PC funerals are an underutilized thing, I believe.)

I agree! Some ideas on adding some mechanical punch and oomph to waking an adventurer in a few games.


When a character is waked, every character who shared a memory can take an inspiration if they change either their Ideal or Bond to reflect how knowing their dead comrade changed them.

Dungeon World

When you wake a dead player character and have recovered the body, all of the characters talk about a memory they have of the character. If they have the body and can put it to rest as per appropriate custom, the dead character will show up in the future. The player allows one character to have access to one of the dead character’s moves, showing how the ghost returns for one shining moment to defend an old friend.

Dungeon Crawl Classics

When reavers, cut-purses, heathen-slayers and warlocks lose one of their band to death and chaos, it is often an orgy of alcohol, drugs and other vices that blur their pain, allowing them to put it out of their minds that next time it could be them. Every character should give a remembrance, be it somber and respectful or loud and heretical. If the body is recovered and can be put to rest via the character’s religion (as understood by the other characters) any extra XP the character had is spread among the party in any way the player pleases. If the body was not recovered, the wake goes on just the same but in the end, the extra XP is lost to chaos. 1 Luck for every character level the deceased character had at the time of death is distributed among the party, as decided by the dead character’s player.

Lamentations of the Flame Princess

When you wake a dead character in Lamentations of the Flame Princess, the uncaring universe offers the silence of the void that will eventually swallow you all. Was anyone covered in their gore when they died? If so, they can see the restless, silent dead who quietly watch the party, waiting for another to fall and join them in the quietlands whenever they reach 3 hit points or less. Now is a good time to hire an accountant, invest wisely and stop adventuring.

Apocalypse World

When you wake a dead character in Apocalypse World, the body with all the gear is sitting between you all.

Roll + Hot (+1 if you provided any grub or hooch for the wake or ever had sex with the deceased back when they were alive) when you want to lay claim to a piece of gear off of the body.

On a 10+ you take that piece of gear. There might be some grumbling but for now, it is yours and no one is saying shit about it.

On a 7-9 you take that piece of gear but someone has a problem with it. You’re going to have to offer them something or force them to back the fuck down.

On a miss, the wake erupts into screaming and bullshit and violence. Maybe this will be a two-for-one wake.

Spelljamming Memories

Keith posts these fun retrospectives about Dragon magazine on G+ and the latest one got me thinking about Spelljammer.

First Time: In Media Res

The players made up characters and picked a ship. One of the players mentioned that they didn’t have a Thief. I had just learned about in media res in English class.

“We’re starting in media res!,” I announced, proud of my ability to play 8th grade English to D&D. “You are chasing this fiery pyramid through space, trying to catch and kill the Sun Pharoah!”

“Why are we chasing him?”

Why? Huh.

“Because the Sun Pharoah killed your party’s thief!”

And off we went…

The Next Time: Bral Prison

I was in college and we had spent the day in Ithaca’s gorges but had gathered in the late afternoon at a friend’s house. We were perusing his milk crates of 2nd edition material. Someone said something about gaming and someone else said something about how off-the-cuff games never seem to work. Jason looked at me because he knew I’d take that as a personal challenge.

Jason was right.

I asked the players to make up anything they could make from the material in the crates – their characters had to be criminals who were imprisoned on the under-side of the Rock of Bral. “The only catch is that you were not framed. You did the crime.”

While they made up characters I jotted down a page full of names. We gamed out asses off and it was good fun.

Good times, Spelljammer.

D&D begins

Riffing off of this post, a few local gamers got together and made their characters for some surface crawling.

The party (so far):

Zuul, the Quaggoth/Folk Hero/Ranger CG

Saav, the Drow/Acolyte/Monk CG

Gorgolog, the Orc/Gladiator/Fighter CE

Vistra, the Dwarf/Acolyte/Cleric LG or NG? (DM’s NOTE: I kinda like that we aren’t sure just yet)


I gave them a hand-drawn hex map of the area, as it was known to a dwarven general during the war, over 1000 years ago. This rag-tag group was brought together because they pooled their money and purchased a charter that allowed them to have sole access to this portal to the surface.

I asked us all to gather around the map in character to decide which direction they would head into next week. So, they huddled around a bio-luminescent mushroom growing out of a table in a lean-to at the bottom of the pit that they’ve chartered the rights to. This will be their town, their home base, growing with them.

“Would you like to name your little charter corporation?”

“We can’t name it yet. Naming it gives it power over us.”

Nice, Dev.

Gorgolog made a roll to see where the orcs were in the area…but I had the area made up and there were no orcs. 😦 He rolled a 10 on his history check and found out that the elves, when they established their fort, exterminated any and all orcs that were in the mountains. Gorgolog’s hero, Bogg Skullsplitter, used to spin a dagger when he was unsure of where to go (unless it pointed to where he had been, then he would spin again). Using that bit of orcish game design, we spun a pencil.

The group will head off into the northeast.

GM’s Chores:

Re-read the races with an eye towards hacking. I have to do a full write-up for the Quaggoth, Githyanki and maybe some underground Backgrounds. Bret is already hard at work on his write-up for full-blooded orc as a PC.

Get some maps printed out for what awaits them to the northeast.

Read up on Inspiration, relevant Monsters, Combat.

Dark Sun Tweets

Sounds pretty damned cool. I’d love to see the environment be a real hazard, an enemy all on its own as it is in Mouse Guard.

From Critical Hit’s amazing coverage:

  • Athas in Seven Sentences (pic to come later), 4e setting had to follow all of them or else they did it wrong.
  • Area covered in Athas is “smaller than the state of Texas” unlike other settings.
  • Trying to take all the parts that original Dark Sun fans loved and take them back to their first exposure.
  • Dark Sun Campaign Guide: 8/2010, 224pgs, 2 new races, 10 character themes, paragon paths, feats, and gear.
  • Incorporates “Cutting edge D&D tech” incl. new traps and terrain powers, revised skill challenges, etc.
  • Theme is like a template for characters of any class. Things like Gladiators extend to all classes, so need another mechanic beyond classes
  • Themes give one encounter power, as well as powers you can substitute your class powers for. Some limits & restrictions
  • Gladiator gives a “controller theme” so it’s a backdoor way to get into a martial controller.
  • Themes might make their way into core #dnd – could represent something like a Pirate.
  • Creature Catalog: 144pg softcover, 50+ Dark Sun monsters in 120 varieties. 7 Sorcerer-Kings and Dragon of Tyr. +Templates, hazards, etc
  • Retailers gave feedback that players wanted more of the description of the world in the book that they read for campaign guides
  • Insights from Monster Manual 3 design were used in Creature Catalog. More flavor, more story, integration with hazards, other hooks
  • Marauders of the Dune Sea, 32pg adventure for 1-3rd level Dark Sun characters, designed by @brucecordell
  • Dark Sun will have support in D&D Insider
  • List of setting questions is up- pic to come later. Things like using dungeons in Dark Sun, role of Gods, handling Dragons, etc.
  • Q on Cosmology: decided to include core D&D cosmology. Part of the reason was for monster origins. Not that far from original Dark Sun cosmo
  • Shadowfell is close to the Gray, magic deserts and remaining forests relate to the Feywild.
  • D&D Cosmology included, mostly noticeable with monster origins. Dark sun twists on how the planes might be seen in Athas
  • Dragonborn “aren’t just bolted on”, and Tieflings will be there as well, both with hooks back to the original setting.
  • One of the themes emphasizes Psionic wild talent.
  • Wild talents can also get some “cantrip-level” psionic
  • In Dark Sun, trying to downplay the importance of magic items, and will use the options from DMG2 to achieve this.
  • Two races in setting book are thrikreen and mul
  • Mul is +2 Con and other choice +2 Str OR Wis. Edge against condition/status stuff.

From Wizards_DnD tweets:

  • Dark Sun- Dessert, savage, arcane magic defiles, sorcerer kings rule with an iron fist, gods are silent, brutal environment
  • Character Themes – A template that you can apply to any class. examples – Templars can be applied to casters, gladiator to melee combatants
  • Themes will provide powers that you can take in lieu of class powers, also required for some feats and other character options Schwalb: Race and class are two legs in character creation – Themes can be a third
  • DDI: Monthly support for Dark Sun. Maybe not an adventure for every month, but split between adventures for Dungeon and options in Dragon
  • Goliaths are flavored as half-giant in Dark Sun. HG changing alignment no longer required. Still have fluctuating personality as an RP hook.
  • Metal is scarce – Bone, stone and wood weapons are staple. No attack or damage penalties, but new breakage rules

Let us not forget our ideas for Dark Sun 4e back in the blog posts Dark Sun 4e and Dark Sun 4e: The Hard Parts.