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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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:
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.
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.
I wrote down Water, Chaos of Limbo, Feuding Deities. I wrote down Lake Monastery and crossed it out. Then I thought about it a while and got excited about Xaos, the Portal City between the Outlands and Limbo. In the process of thinking about that, I forgot about the water aspect of this roll, which is just fine.
In the end, the players had to head to Xaos, a Portal City on the edge of the Outlands to end a God-Feud that was ripping the town apart.
Chaos Worshippers on Pilgrimage to look upon Limbo
Alright, let’s put these pieces together.
Taking a cue from Trophy Gold Incursions I’m going to break the Portal Town into sets. This is helpful to me because structure is helpful, especially with an idea as big as Gods Feuding in a Portal Town between the Outlands and the Elemental Plane of Chaos.
Front Gate, Portal Platform, Bell-Tower, Shrine-Town
Front Gate is built under a cyclopean statue of the ancient hero-saint Gith, cross-legged, meditating upon a sword, a broken chain and the elements.
Portal Platform has Githzerai with long polearms to keep out any chaos monsters that might spill forth from the gate. They are milling about but always with one eye on the portal, ready to spring into action.
The Bell-Tower is where the Abbot of the monastery lives and studies. The bell is only rung when something comes through the gate.
The Abbot’s Library – lots of planar theory about law and chaos, meditations on hierarchy, why the fist is more potent to the sword, martial arts manuals
The Bell of Chains – yes, it is made of melted chains from their days as Illithid Thralls.
Shrine-town is a ramshackle town where the chaos pilgrims stay.
The Eight-Pointed Star is the lone inn with shrines to Arioch and other Chaos Saints.
Squats – none really own land here, folks stay in the shacks here for as long as they need to and move on when they are ready.
One of my favorite parts of Trophy Gold adventure’s format is moments. Little things for the players to see, little things for the GM to say when there is a lull.
Front Gate Moments
Crow caged prisoner asks for water (Githyanki, Illithid and one other. to be determined at the moment or randomly..)
Monk meditates on four elements rotating around his head, changing the nature of each; she will talk about nature of the planes if folks want to chat about philosophy
Portal Platform Moments
Guards tell anyone coming too close to be careful but don’t hold anyone back CHAOS REIGNS
Chaos Pilgrims look upon the Chaos of Limbo, weeping on their knees
Fallen Paladin looking upon chaos; he came here to throw his broken sword into Limbo itself
The Bell-Tower Moments
The Abbot meditating upon the nature of lava.
The room, silent and inviting, only a sleeping crystal bat and Limbo’s portal lighting your way.
Chaos pilgrims debating hierarchies and their place in Law and Chaos…
But what do they DO?
They track down gods.
During the first session I had 3 player characters, so I based the gods roughly and loosely on them.
The Bandit God, The Hanged Man, the Road Agent
Escape, Ambush, Criminal Recruitment
The Sorcerer God, the Wizard-Toad, The Blesser of Towers
Spells, Lore, Towers
The Elder Ring, Dryad Crone, The Holy Willow
Roots, Seeds, Secrets
The first game was travel and getting used to the area. The second game I started with a bang. The Bandit God mugged one of the players at knifepoint while the kids of the town were watching a puppet show about Gith liberating her people from the cruel Illithid.
I decided the gods were weak and had trouble healing. They’d have 4d10 hit points and powers that went with their spheres of influences.
The Toad-Wizard-God tossed an acidic mist spell into the plaza, trying to kill the Bandit God and a brutal battle followed. I liked it. I haven’t run a good D&D combat in a long while and this one was fun.
At the end of the game, the players were gathered around Trundle as he tried to destroy the stone that had done the first murder in the gods’ dead world. It was a brutal death artifact. The Elder Ring approached. I rolled an encounter table and rolled a 10 – considers offers/leaves. She was not willing to jump them; they were right in front of the portal to Limbo. She asked them to give the stone to her. They refused.
She nodded and walked away.
On the Bingo XP table, I covered, Players make an enemy and told them I did so. There’s an angry tree goddess from a dead world pissed at them.
Next game the players are heading to a party in Faery. Dark Powers are afoot. I won’t tell you what I rolled but I’ll post the notes just like this once I’m done.
The players are an Outland Exhibition Team (O.E.T.) operating out of Sigil. O.E.T.’s are city-funded adventuring parties that head out into the Outlands and restore balance to situations that arise there. When they return they sit down with the community where they live and discuss the philosophical and moral implications of their choices.
“I just want to point out that outsiders entering a community to restore some idea of balance is colonial nonsense that is harmful to the world.”
“Do you attend every O.E.T. community discussion to say this?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Fair enough. So noted…”
I rolled up the adventure and mapped out an outline using the Trophy Gold incursion structure (more on that in a future blog post). The players were heading to Xaos, Portal City between the Outlands and the Ever-changing Chaos of Limbo to stop a god-feud happening there. Gods from a dead Prime Material World were feuding and causing problems.
I decided that there was a rival group of assassins known as the God-killers on their way to Xaos to kill the feuding gods. I wasn’t sure of much else about them. Would they get there first or show up later to heighten the tension? Not sure.
I rolled on the Encounter Table for their first day of travel.
Lost Souls…Dead Adventurers. I think my encounter just told me that the God-killers are dead.
INTERESTING. I did not see that coming.
The gods heard about them and panicked. They set aside their differences for a bit, made sure they were killed and then went back to their in-fighting. If the players find out that they set aside their differences once, they can figure out how to get them to do it again.
It also was a nice way of giving an info dump because assassins who call themselves the God-killers definitely did their homework.
One of the God-killers was a Tiefling and asked Kuru the Halfling Thief to burn some incense at the shrine to Asmodeus back in Sigil. Love it.
For the next day, I rolled a 12.
On the third d6 I got a 6. The dragon is taking treasure. Cool. But from who? I rolled again. I could’ve chosen but I was curious to see what the table would say.
Merchants. Makes sense. More simple than a dragon mugging an angel but sometimes simple is good.
I described the players arriving to a one-inn town with a merchant caravan leaving as a thunderstorm began. The players noticed right away and asked the inn-keeper why they were leaving into a storm. She told them that the caravan had a delivery that was time sensitive (what was that about? I’m still not sure and I’m not sure I ever will be) and so they left despite her warnings. She said that the storm wasn’t natural and they were leaving into doomful circumstances.
The next morning as the players were leaving, lightning-scorched survivors from the caravan were in the common room, talking about how they survived a dragon attack the night before. The blue dragon had attacked the caravan and pillaged its treasures before flying away.
I decided the rest of the journey went by without a hitch. I roll every day or two of travel.
Why did I roll these encounters? There weren’t any fights.
That is okay. Friendly and neutral encounters are fine. We’re into our third session. It fleshes out the world. I get to learn about what the characters are like.
The players could’ve gone after the caravan and talked them into staying. They could’ve decided to hunt the blue dragon. For now it is just color.
Sometimes I roll. Sometimes I choose. Sometimes they players sprint headlong into a brewing situation that has nothing to do with the oncoming adventure. Sometimes they hang back and smoke a pipe in the rain, under the eaves of the inn. Sometimes the players’ actions make something on (or off) the table obvious, so the encounter for that day is taken care of. Sometimes they get the jump on the encounter and other times they encounter will get the jump on them. It all depends on the circumstances and what the fiction demands.
I’m not calling them random encounter tables anymore. They’re Inspirational Encounter Tables.
After 4 hours of play we’ve got one level. They decided to give it to Bugwump, the frog-kin wizard, whose spell slinging was key to the group’s success in their first job in Keymont.
On their way back to Sigil, I rolled Godless Pilgrims. I decided they were refugees from a dead world, killed by warring gods. They had hired holy knights from the Outlands to guard them on the last leg of their journey. I rolled Ioun, so they were arcane knights. When the thief, looking for an opportunity for another score, asked how they had paid for these leal bodyguards I said that they had done so by giving books from their world, the last of their kind.
The corpseflea is a neat option from the Five Torches Deep Origins supplement. It is a death cleric and is helping the pilgrims to say last rites over their world, first talking to them about their world. “How do you say last rites over a world?” is one of the coolest things I’ve gotten to say while gaming in a long time.
The group met when they were all sentenced to the Labyrinth. Now they are an Outlands Expedition Team, officially sanctioned by the Lady of Pain, heading out to deal with imbalances that crop up around the Outlands. We’ve been using some flashbacks to strange things that happened while in the Labyrinth.
“I remember when we got attacked by that Bear back in the Labyrinth and Trundle talked the beast down. Trundle should talk to the town.”
How is the Bingo XP Variant?
I like it. It is a little slow so far but I think it’ll speed up with a few levels all in a jump. When bingo is called, I’m keeping any chips that are in another line that is in motion already.
I like it and like coming up with new ideas for bingo squares with the group. I wonder if the XP will speed up as we get better at coming up with them.
Having the jamboard where I keep the bingo card also be where we keep character art and NPC names might help us all interact with it more.
It is coming together as we make it our own. Next game will be our first full session in Sigil. We’ll carouse for three days and then have a community discussion about the expedition to the Outlands. I want that philosophical vibe that the original Planescape boxed set promised. Essentially, that’ll happen by the community that hosts the O.E.T. (Outlands Expedition Team) gathering to discuss the morality of their decisions in an open forum. Discussion
And then we’ll pick the next expedition.
Five Torches Deep is a fun and fast D&D variant. If I had to run D&D, it is what I’d use, without a doubt.
I’m using Moldvay reaction table with Charisma adding to the roll when it makes sense to do so. I’d imagine the way I’m using the proficiency checks is very Apocalypse World-y. When the halfling wanted to know more about the knights guarding the pilgrim, I asked the player to roll a Charisma check to see what they noticed. When they rolled successfully, I told them to ask questions about what they wanted to notice during the interactions and I’d answer them.
Need to be careful about that, don’t want those cool questions to get in the way of players questions should be asking all of the time.
I realize now I’m using stats as different types of perception, rather than just using Wisdom. Charisma as a kind of social perception? I dunno. Hm, we’ll have to discuss that and make some decisions together.
I’ll go over the characters in the next post-game AP post. It is an odd group but I don’t have trouble finding the humanity in them and I dig that.
I’ve been thinking about Planescape recently and wrote up some tables for our Thursday night game. As Stras says, “Encounter Tables are setting design,” and if you look at Band of Blades you can see that in action. I don’t think of the tables as Random Encounter Tables but as Inspirational Encounter Tables.
Inspiration > Information. If choosing from the table helps me create a cool thing or if the players’ actions mean something on or off the table should definitely be around, I’ll use that. As Apocalypse World says, “Sometimes disclaim decision-making.” Sometimes, though, it is obvious from the way the players’ actions have pinballed off of your prep, that a dragon-is-a-coming. When that happens, I’ll let the dragon in.
There is a blog post about having 2d6 Encounter Tables and always having a Dragon as the 2 or 12 and I always lose that link. If you have it, please post it in the comments.
Sometimes I need a delve, an imbalance to address. When that happens I roll 2d6, not adding them up and looking at the tables below, rolling or picking until I have an idea for an adventure.
And sometimes I’m goign to use these tables so that I have the planar bits at my fingertips. I remember that Story Hour on ENworld where there were elves whose plane had cracked and fallen into fell realms, changing the fey beings there forever. I want to be able to take an Elf Citadel and decide that there was a cataclysm and it…got jammed between *rolls dice* a plane of Magma and one of the Nine Hells, creating these volcanic elves who worship the Devil-God.
Our first game was about Keymont. I rolled and looked and daydreamed until I had this little cliff-side town on the edge of the Astral Sea, a failed whaling town that used to be the Nantucket of the Astral before all of the whales disappeared. Now they make keys but the machinery that syphons stuffs out of the sea to make keys out of is frozen and winter should be long gone by now.
Sometimes it’ll be like that, a town in trouble, a community in need. Other times it’ll be a dying god hit by a Fire Bolt fashioned in the Heavens who fell onto the Outlands and became a fell dungeon. Roll. Pick. Pick and roll until I have something. Who knows, I might even read through the Manual of the Planes from time to time or just have Githyanki forming a beachhead for a future invasion because I adore Githyanki. We’ll see.
I’m a fan of shrines and like having my favorite deities in a few tables. For some reason d66 makes it easy to list stuff. I can usually think of a dozen or so and then figure out that last 6 when I see a pattern in the first two-thirds.
That isn’t the map I started with, though. At first I started with this one:
What I really wanted was a link from each Portal Town to the plane it led to and the poetic three sentence descriptions from the 3rd Edition Manual of the Planes by Jeff Grubb, Bruce R. Cordell and David Noonan. At some point I’ll make 2 more for the infernal realms and the middling limbo-ish realms but for now, that is fine. I’ve got the idea.
Want to make your own? Here are some PDF’s. I’d love to hear about what you do with them and how they work for you at the table.
I have no idea if tonight’s game is going to work. It has been a minute since I’ve played a d20 D&Dish game. We’ll see! Thank you for giving this a shot with me.
Planescape was this cool setting where the game implied in the boxed set was this city at the center of all worlds and the players take part in these oddly philosophical factions as they venture out into the Outlands and adventure. The adventures in the Outlands were supposed to ripple out into the rest of the planes of reality.
It seemed to me that NO ONE PLAYED IT THIS WAY. Everyone was excited by this city and ended up being a bodyguard for a dwarf crime lord with fire for hair or doing security for an ogre opera house. I dig that but I’ve done my faction-minded fantasy crime saga stuff already. So, I’m trying to play it this way. – into the Outlands.
When folks go out into the Outlands in our game everyone knows. Word gets out. It is DANGEROUS out there. You could get dragged to hell – literally dragged to hell. In our game there is no money nor fame to be made in Sigil. Real fortune is made in the Outlands (and of course we’ll visit Hells or Heavens or Elemental Planes of Fire as needed). The cool thing about Sigil, the City of Doors, is that you can get anywhere from here. If you are interested in a world you learn about on your adventures, opening a gate is something anyone can do if they are willing to expend the will and time to do so.
When you get back from your adventure the philosophical factions will gather in a plaza near where you live and debate your actions with you. No judgment, just a spirited debate on how this made the planes better or worse. It is a big event. Everyone gets dressed up.
When you want to find a portal to another world, sit down with your friends and figure out everything you all know about this place and how you learned it. Consider your sources. If anyone you know might know more, invite them to this palaver.
Names, anything made in that place. Lay it all out on the table. Where in the planes are you guessing this place might be? Make a map of the planes as you understand it and put your guess on the map.
NOTE: I’m not saying sit down and make up a place. I’m saying you must’ve heard of this place in-game. Sit down and discuss that before heading through the portal to otherwhere.
What do you have that could be a key to this place?
The DM will saying, “Sure, you could try to get there but…”
your guess as to where this place is in the planes is a little off, you’ll end up somewhere dangerous but nearby
you need more lore about this place, you’ve heard X knows about this or has info on it
you need an item/spell/artifact made from this place, in the Outlands, there is a place that you can get more
you need more items made from this place, it is going to cost you a devil’s ransom in gold
someone else in Sigil or beyond wants to go there too and you’ll need to pool your resources to open the portal
I’ve got this Bingo XP variant that I’d like to test and thinking about how I’d like to interact with D&D. Homebrew? Hack? House-rule? Hack always sound harsh.
I’m taking Five Torches Deep and their Origins supplement, tossing them in a cauldron, fire stoked to high temperature. I’m dusting off that old Planescape idea. I’m not interested in grabbing old Planescape pdf’s. Nah, it’ll be what I remember and what we make up together as we go. We’ll add Planescape to taste.
I’m keeping that old Outlands map, though. That thing is cool.
If you walk far enough in one direction, you can reach heaven or hell. If we need inspiration for a plane we’ll look at those strange 3 sentence poem descriptions in the 3rd Edition Manual of the Planes.
The Astral Plane – It is the space between everything. It is the road that goes everywhere. It is where you are when you aren’t anywhere else.
Manual of the Planes by Jeff Grubb, Bruce R. Cordell and David Noonan
The Outlands is where I’d like the adventures to happen but I do love Sigil, the city at the center of all things, a philosophical, godless place ruled by the mysterious and powerful Lady of Pain. Sigil is where downtime happens. There’s no gold to be earned there. In the city, onle adventurers and wanderers have wealth. Everyone else gets by on barter and penny-keys for trading. No central government, lots of little city councils with Byzantine relationships.
Speaking of Manual of the Planes, Jason Cordoba said the AD&D Manual of the Planes is one of his favorite books. I should peek at that for inspiration. And speaking of Jason, what from my past year of playing Trophy Gold is going to make it into this stew?
I’ll probably bring the incursion format with me. As a librarian the bestiary brings me joy, a tome full of important information that outlives all of the treasure-hunters, binds them together across time.
Devil’s Bargains? I’m imagining someone casting a spell like, I dunno, Dragon’s Breath and needing more damage – offering them another d6 of damage for every 5 hit points they are willing to sacrifice but they will take another point of damage for every 1 they roll.
Bring it all to a boil at the table, see how it tastes.
Thinking about when and how to bring in notes for spell books from an old D&D hack’s notes.
Hidden Cache of Scrolls from the Mage Wars
Gifts from the Fae Queen
Wizard’s Guild Journeyman Archives
Olde Queen’s Druidaria
Black Market Imperial Cantrips
Lake Country Family Illusions
Copies of the Arch-Mage’s Great Works
Vague notes about becoming a deity and using levels for something other than your character, using them to build something concrete in the world, a nod to Crew XP from Forged in the Dark.
I’m getting ahead of myself. For now, let’s gather a few strange city-folk leaving Sigil, heading into the Outlands to deal with an imbalance, hoping to earn their fortunes and balance the scales of the universe, like trying to change the course of an ocean by throwing a stone in a pond.