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Friday, November 17, 2017

Dice, Camera, Action: Episode 69 - Tomb of Annihilation


Episode 69: PAX Sub Optimal
This is a live show at Pax Unplugged! The players have their gear on. Holly looks so good. Anna has robot face paint on, and Jared is decked out in Diath attire.

We have a special guest for this one. It is fantasy author and Acq, Inc. member, Patrick Rothfuss! He'll be playing a character who appeared on Critical Role: Kerrek.

The Party

(Anna) Evelyn - Human Paladin of Lathander
(ProJared) Diath - Human Rogue
(Holly) Strix - Tiefling Sorcerer
(Patrick Rothfuss) Kerrek - Human Paladin

The heroes are in the jungle of Chult. They're freed two prisoners and are making their way back to Camp Vengeance. They are hoping to broker peace between the grung and the Order of the Gauntlet.

Once they get there, they see the camp is under attack by a massive zombie horde!

Patrick's character, Kerrek, had arrived in the camp a few days prior. He was inside a crate. There's a joke in here that people think his name is "Carrot."

The group puts together a plan to deal with the zombies. We later learn that the players brought a pile of tiny rubber frogs that they were going to throw around. There were frog sounds cued up and everything. This plan never came to fruition.

Strix drops a fireball on them. Evelyn casts Moonbeam. It is chaos. Then, a portal opens. 3 figures step through. The people who step through:

Karas the Invincible: A mercykiller from Sigil (!) who wears rusty, blood red armor adorned with spikes. He's got a sword in one hand and shackles in the other.

2 Chronikers (?): They are wearing golden robes wearing tight-fitting helms. They have staffs
They are constructs from Mechanus - robotic, tall and svelte. Cut into their chests are ticking clocks. We are told that they "impose the will of the multiverse."

Karas throws magic shackles at Strix. The clamps tighten around her ankles. Strix falls. she had some frogs in her garb, who desperately hop toward the jungle. Chris ponders aloud if this will be the beginning of a "Green Frogs" catchphrase.

Here come some modrons, too. They are coming after Evelyn.

Karas says that "the Skizzix Kharym (?) is waiting for you." The mercykiller says he is taking Strix back to her family. Chris uses voice effects that echo through the building. Holly hides under  the table.

Evelyn charges the mercykiller and does a pile of damage to him with treebane. She does a total of 52 points.. good gawd.

Sigil, the City of Doors

Karas tells his chronikers to destroy everything. He tries to haul Strix through the portal, but Strix wins the opposed Strength check.

Kerrek does a pile of damage to Karas on an opportunity attack, as does Evelyn.

One of the chronikers has a clock on its chest. It's ticking down. It's going to blow in 5 rounds.

Diathn runs over and actually removes the shackles from Strix's ankles. He grabs Strix and runs.

Strix tries to polymorph him... she wants to turn him into a frog. He makes his save. Green frog?

The broom bloodies Karas and Evelyn tries to chuck the ticking guy through the portal. Nope.

Karas snaps the broom! No! The group is quite unhappy.

Diath stabs ticking bomb guy. He was keeping the portal open. He fails his concentration check, and the portal is off.

Karas grapples Diath and pulls him onto his spikes. Another portal flares open. Diath is pulled through.

The heroes follow and we get a description of 5e Sigil:

They emerge on a street lined with buildings covered inh razorvine. They see a train go by? A train? Like Eberron?

When they look out and up, they see that the city seems to curve up and there is more city high above them. They're near a flower shop with weird plants in it.

Karas says to Diath, "You're not what I wanted, but the Skizzix Kharym (?)will take you for half the price. They don't like your kind very much."

Now Diath has a new name. "Discount Diath."

When Strix, Evelyn and Kerrek come through the portal, Karas says: "My lucky day. Two for the price of one."

The fight continues as citizens of Sigil gawk at the group.

The players are drinking from an actual wineskin that apparently has wine it.

After some more fighting, Kerrek drops Karas the Invincible. The man inside turns into a cloud of mist, some kind of blood mist ghost thing.

Chris points out that some mercykillers have special abilities. If this blood mist spirit-thing returns to the Mercykillers HQ, Karas can reform.

The group gets into a dispute. Evelyn wants to hand herself over. Diath wants to get the other two back to Chult so he can investigate.

Kerrek kills the blood ghost. Evelyn looks at him with clockwork heart eyes.

Diath notices some creatures in the crowd. He sees two tieflings arguing. One is a  woman, short and old. The other is a male, tall and proud. They seem to be arguing. One wants to intervene in some way, the other thinks it is a bad idea.

A human steps out of the crowd. He takes his helmet off. Kerrek can see that half of his face is angelic, the other half is human. He's an aasimar.

Diath doesn't see that. To him, the guy just looks like a human. The stranger gives Diath a look. Diath realizes that this is the man who gave him the mysterious key ring so long ago.

Shockingly, the group tuens to go back to Chult. What are they, nuts? Diath turns to Kerrek and says, "We never got your name."

He pauses and then replies, "It's Carrot."

Then the group goes back through the portal.That's where we stop!

Overall

They actually went to Sigil, which is awesome. You definitely get the idea that one of the next D&D  products is planes-related. The newer unearthed arcanas deal with plane-touched races, there's the arcanaloth in Tomb, and other things here and there.

I really wonder what they're going to do about the faction war. Did it happen in canon? Did things revert back to what they were? I'd like it if they switched it back but maybe got rid of a few factions - there were too man. It got confusing.

Very good show! It was quite amazing to see the group actually go to Sigil, if only for a short while.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Dungeons & Dragons - A Guide to the Medusa

The medusa is a D&D monster ripped from real world mythology, a feared villain who can turn your character into stone with a glance.

Medusas don't get used too much, so I decided to dig around and see what cool ideas are out there waiting to be used. I went through all the D&D products I could and pulled out any interesting medusa-related material that I came upon.

AD&D 1st Edition Monster Manual


Here's what we learn:
  • Medusas dwell in dark caves.
  • They're lawful evil.
  • Their gaze turns creatures to stone unless the victim can succeed on a saving throw vs petrification.
  • "If an opponent averts his eyes, the medusa rushes up so that its asp-like head growth can bite at the victim."
  • Here's where it gets really brutal. If you are bit by one of the hair-snakes, you must save vs. poison or die!
  • If a medusa's gaze is reflected back at it, the creature will turn to stone.
  • They speak the medusa language as well as common.
  • They can see into the astral and ethereal planes. Their stone gaze is effective on those planes. Some cruel DM out there probably did some pretty messed up stuff with this.
  • The body of a medusa is "quite shapely and human."
  • The face of a medusa is horrid. Her snaky hair writhes and she has glaring, red-rimmed eyes.
AD&D 2nd Edition Monstrous Manual
The Monstrous Manual has two versions of a medusa: a medusa and a greater medusa.

Medusa: Lots more details:
  • Snakes are up to one foot long.
  • "It will use its attractive body to lure males nearer while staying in the shadows."
  • They kept it. It's still save or die if you are bitten by a snake.
  • "It retains its petrifying gaze after death." The heads decay within a month and lose the ability.
  • Their homes are full of flickering shadows.
  • They keep some statues, shatter others.
  • No mirrors in her lair.
  • Reflections in water or polished stone have no effect on a medusa.
  • Medusas are infrequently driven to mate with humanoid males. This results in the male's death.
  • After mating, it lays 2-6 eggs that hatch in 8 months.
  • Hatchlings are baby girls with stubby green tentacles. They are revolting to look at, but they cannot petrify with their gaze until adolescence. At age two, their serpent hair comes alive and gains the lethal poisonous bite.
Greater Medusa: Not too much detail on this one:
  • They have serpentine bodies in place of a lower torso and legs.
  • They are 10-20 feet long.
  • They are covered in fine scales.
  • They use bows and poisoned arrows.
  • Their blood is so poisonous that even after one has been killed, touching its body still requires a save vs poison.

 
Maedar: There have been a few tabs at making a male medusa. The maedar are the most prominent:
  • They do not have petrifying gaze.
  • Muscular, hairless humanoids.
  • Can turn to stone to flesh with their touch.
  • Can walk through stone.
  • Immune to petrify/poison/hold monster/slow spells.
  • Only 1% of medusa eggs are maedar. 25% are male medusae! All others are humans who die at the sight of their mother.
Glyptars: This is where it gets weird:
  • A glyptar is a rock crystal animated by the spirit of a maedar. When a maedar has foreknowledge of it death, it can transfer its life force into the rocks.
  • Their spirits are trapped within gemstones such as feldspar and amethyst.
  • If removed intact from the ground, its spirit can animate the crystal and anything inorganic attached to it. If it is set into the eye of a stone statue, its life force animates it as a golem!
  • If a glyptar is set into the pommel of a sword, it can be animated to strike as if it were wielded by the living maedar.
D&D 3rd Edition Monster Manual

They had a hard time letting go of the "well-proportioned body" thing: "Though at first glance this creature appears to be a well-proportioned human, a closer look reveals a hideous face crowned with a mass of writhing, hissing snakes instead of hair, eyes glowing a deep, feral red, and scaly, earth-colored skin."

So what's the deal with this well-proportioned menace?
  • Medusas prize art objects, fine jewelry, and wealth.
  • Medusas usually use a veil to hide their face.
  • They are found in every climate. Some live in cities and are active in the criminal underworld.
  • They speak common. No reference to the medusa language.
  • Their poison no longer insta-kills. It does a bit of poison damage now.
D&D 4th Edition Monster Manual
Are you ready for male medusas? Let's kick it:
  • Female medusas use their gaze to turn other creatures to stone.
  • "Male medusas use their gaze to poison the minds and bodies of their victims before hacking them to pieces, and their lairs are painted with the blood of fallen prey."
  • Male medusas do not have snake hair, but their blood is more poisonous. Their gaze "ravages the mind and body, leaving its victims dazed, weak and ripe for killing."
  • It is possible to close your eyes while fighting a medusa, but fighting it blindly is rarely a good choice.
  • They desire wealth, power and influence in humanoid societies.
  • A brood of medusas might rule over a terrified populace a a royal family, or one medusa might run an assassins guild.
  • "The blood of a medusa can reverse petrification." Apply a few drops of the blood of a medusa that was killed within the past 24 hours to the lips of a petrified creature and succeed on a DC 20 Heal check.
  • Medusas readily consort with creatures of greater might. They work with yuan-ti and hold them in high regard.
Medusa Archer (Female): A medusa specialist.
  • They have longbows and use poison arrows.
  • Their petrifying gaze affect all within 25 feet and progresses in stages. Slowed, then immobilized, then petrified.
Medusa Warrior (Male): Medusa dudes. Medududes.
  • Fights with 2 poisoned long swords at the same time.
  • Also uses a longbow with poisoned arrows.
  • Venomous gaze - their gaze dazes and weakens, but does not petrify.
Medusa Shroud of Zehir (Female): Some medusas work with the yuan-ti.
  • They can attack and move around without provoking.
  • Snake hair does acid and poison dmg.
  • They have a petrifying gaze like the medusa archer.
Allied Creatures:
  • Basilisks (venom-eye basilisks)
  • Snaketongue zealots
  • Grimlocks
  • Gargoyles
  • Yuan-ti malisons and abominations.
Monster Vault

These updated 4e medusas are "Lithe females with snakes for hair whose glance poison body and mind of powerful males."

Lots of Lore:
  • Medusas are now fey creatures. Some believe they are the cursed descendants of elves. Others think that they are betrayers who willingly bowed to Zehir and helped slaughter an entire city of eladrin. 
  • Some even think that they are the progeny of yuan-ti and basilisk blood, created to be a slave race to the yuan-ti.
  • Scholars theorize that Zehir remade dragonborn or humans into medusas after the Dawn War.
  • All medusas have scaled bodies, forked tongues and snakelike eyes.
  • Males are bald-headed. Females have dozens of poisonous snakes for hair.
  • No female can turn another female to stone, but only special males are immune to their mates petrifying glares.
  • The females rule. The males are hunters, guardians, scouts and mates. Only males immune to petrification can rise above females in medusa society. Such males get special treatment.
  • Medusas think they are destined to rule over other humanoids.
  • Some claim godhood and demand worship, others tout themselves as oracles.
Medusa Bodyguard: These guys have a mind-venom gaze. When someone attacks a medusa, the bodyguard can react and stun the attacker with a cone that harms all enemies in the blast.

Medusa Venom Arrow: Her serpent hair does poison damage and gives -2 to saving throws.
Her poisoned arrows slow you.

Medusa Spirit Charmer: Her spirit charm hits all enemies within 25 feet, and if they do not end their next turn within 10 feet of the medusa, they take 3d6 dmg. Awesome power alert: Swords to Snakes! The target's weapons and implements turn into snakes. This affects a 15 foot cube of people.

Cure for Petrification: "The willing kiss of the medusa that petrified the creature." The medusa might do this to interrogate the victim or just to mess with them.

D&D 5th Edition Monster Manual

Here is the current version of the medusa:
  • They suffer an immortal curse brought on by their vanity.
  • They lurk in the ruins of their former lives, surrounded by the petrified remains of past admirers and would-be heroes.
  • Mortals sometimes make sacrifices to and beg gods, dragons, archmages, demons and devils for beauty, youth, immortality and the adoration of all who behold them. After years of living like a demigod, they are transformed into medusas.
  • Their homes are ruins covered in thorns and creepers, riddled with obstructions and hiding place.
  • The curse: By looking vainly upon its own reflection, it turns to stone as would any living mortal.
  • There are no reflective surfaces in their lairs.
Petrifying Gaze: Con save. Fail by 5 or more, instantly petrified. Fail: Restrained and repeat save at end of next turn. Fail again, become petrified. The petrification lasts until greater restoration or similar magic.

A creature can avert its eyes. It can't see the medusa until the start of its next turn, when it can avert its eyes again. If the creature looks at the medusa in the meantime, it must immediately make the save.

OK! Now lets root around for old articles and NPCs.

Dragon Magazine #106 - "Ecology of the Maedar"


Ed Greenwood strikes again! That guy did so much of the heavy lifting when it comes to D&D lore. This article is from the 1st edition days of D&D.

Another name for a maedar is "the stealer through stone".

We get a tale about an illusionist who traveled to the lair of a medusa, tied a mirror across his eyes, and covered himself in his storm cloak. The medusa removed his cowl, looked into the mirror and turned to stone.

The maedar turned her back from stone to flesh. The medusa and the man embraced, and she spoke to him in loving tones.

Here's what we learn about the maedar and medusas:
  • Can turn stone to flesh once every three turns (30 minutes).
  • Maedar can pass through stone like xorns do at their normal movement rate.
  • Medusa treasure hordes contain "a selection of feminine garb that doubles as the medusa's wardrobe."
  • They speak and understand the language of lawful evil, common, and others
  • Medusas produce 1-3 live young every 10 years or so.
  • Medusa offspring become adults in 4-5 years of age.
  • Young are encouraged to strike out on their own.
  • Medusas cannot be truted by their own kind.
Dragon Magazine #296 "Worshipers of the Forbidden"

This is all about people who actually worship a medusa.
  • Snake servants are cultist who revere medusas. They walk a fine line, having to do the medusa's bidding without angering her. They are proxies and middlemen.
  • They set up churches dedicated to the worship of "Shekenster." They mean "Shekinester", who I looked up and will talk about after I finish this section.
  • They corrupt officials, nobles and religious leaders.
  • They are usually rogues.
The cultists accrue special powers as they gain levels:
  • Immunity to the gaze of a medusa.
  • Resistance to poison.
  • Stunning Gaze: They can stun people within 30 feet for 1 round.
  • Immunity to petrification,
  • Medusa Apotheosis: At 5th level, the cultist transforms into an entity more like a medusa. Their skin becomes scaly, eyes become more reptilian, eyelids wither away and are replaced by nictitating membrane. Their eyes never blink again.
  • Those who cease worshiping Shekenster won't lose their medusa apotheosis. They're permanently warped. 
Who is Shekinester? No idea! Google is my friend. It turns out Shekinester is detailed in On Hallowed Ground, an extremely thorough tome that describes every god in D&D and then some.

Shekinester, the Three-Faced Queen: She's god of the nagas. She takes on three different forms.
  • The Weaver: A crone-faced naga who destroys so that creation might come of it.
  • The Empowerer: Bestower of wisdom, asker of riddles.
  • The Preserver: The keeper of light and knowledge, recorder of dead spirits that pass her way.
She lives in the Court of Light, a strange place located in the Outlands.

Ghost Tower of Inverness

The group comes to a clearing, where a robed figure is tending to a garden of roses. "You hear a soft, liquid singing in an unknown tongue with lilting vowels..."

If someone engages her, she turns and lowers her hood. Everyone in the clearing must save or be petrified!

She's got a massive treasure horde in the garden. About 20,000 gold in gems and coins, keoghtom's ointment and bracers of defense.

The Complete Book of Villains


Lady Silith: She's a medusa disguised as an art dealer who creates incredibly lifelike stone statues. Silith always wears a turban and a veil of coins forged into a scaled drape. "She favors silk robes, which accentuate her curvaceous figure, and intricately embroidered cloaks."

She lures good-looking people to her lair so that she can turn them to stone. She has hundreds of petrified victims in her main hall, all of which look like they're at a ghastly festival.

Labyrinth of Madness

I will run this one day! I swear it! There's a room with two greater medusas that I really can't say much about without ruining it. Definitely a nasty trap in there.

Dungeon Magazine #25 - A Rose for Talakara

Another medusa in a garden! Her name is Natasha, a medusa who is vain and an expert musician. This one has hedges and roses of many different colors. The medusa grows black roses for the bad guy, Agrovale.

Ravenloft Monstrous Compendium II

Strahd is not the only Dark Lord trapped in a domain of dread. Another is a medusa named Althea who dwells on a small island called Demise. There is a portal on Demise that leads to a labyrinth of white stone (mostly an illusion). Althea lures adventurers in . She picks one adventurer to be her mate. The rest are killed.

Althea's eyes are like black beads. Her mouth a lipless slit that her forked tongue slips in and out of.
She is sensitive to bright light. Her snakes can spit venom up to 10 feet

Book of Vile Darkness

This book details a number of villains who are particularly grotesque. Siddal the medusa is a masochistic "cancer mage." Siddal lives with Gauderis, a half-orc vermin lord in a cave complex. They are working together to create new, deadly diseases. Gauderis is secretly in love with her, and he actually want her to turn him to stone. He thinks it will feel good.

Dungeon Magazine #93 - Statue Gallery

This is a short adventure involving a medusa named Korakaia who dwells in caverns that hold her collection of petrified victims. The idea here is that not all of the statues are actually statues. The medusa has some pretty clever tricks up her sleeve. There's a magic item:

Amulet of Statues: Once per day, you can use this to cast the statue spell on yourself.

Dragon Magazine #355 - Creature Catalogue IV


Maedar show a fierce devotion to their mates. They can "..take their pick among available medusas."

This article pretty much reiterates what is already known, plus this: "Most medusas have no choice but to mate with blinded or blindfolded human males."

Lady of Poison

This is a forgotten realms novel whose main character is actually a half-medusa paladin. Pretty cool!

Dungeon Magazine #194 - Daask

This article details medusas in Eberron. I'm playing in an Eberron campaign and don't want to spoil it for myself, so here's a link that I assume will give you the info you need.

Princes of the Apocalypse

I forgot about this guy! Earth Prophet Marlos Urnrayle is a.. male medusa. He was a vain, good-looking man who got a ring that held a fey spirit that kept him looking good as he aged. One day, it turned him into a medusa.

He runs the earth cult. Makes sense, since he turns people to stone! Marlos likes to keep the stone faces of his victims and destroy the rest.

Out of the Abyss

Neheedra Duskryn: She was a drow priestess of Lolth who planned to turn Blingdenstone into a drow enclave. This was never to be, as the magical pacts she had made to aid her turned her into a medusa. She turned her servants to stone and went mad. She still looks similar to a drow. Her hair-snakes are white.

Tomb of Annihilation

Zalkore: She was once royalty in the city of Omu, but she was forced to leave when she made a pact with an erinyes to become a medusa.

She ended up killing her husband, mistakenly thinking he had betrayed her. Now she sits in the ruins of Nangalore, hallucinating that he's still with her. Weirdly enough, his ghost just might show up depending on what adventurers do when they meet her.

Links

Medusa Island map
Half-Medusa 3e template

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Dice, Camera, Action: Episode 68 - Tomb of Annihilation

Episode 68: Grung at Heart

No Nate today! A special announcement about Friday's live Dice, Camera, Action show slipped out on the show before Dice, Camera, Action. If you want to know the secret, watch this clip on Twitch.

The Party

(Anna) Evelyn - Human Paladin of Lathander
(ProJared) Diath - Human Rogue
(Holly) Strix - Tiefling Sorcerer

We stopped last week just after the waffle crew killed a bunch of grung (frog-people with poisonous skin). There is a purple baby grung looking at them.

Diath wants nothing to do with it. NPC Paultin actually licks it, starts hallucinating, and wanders off. Strix puts him on a leash.

Diath doesn't want the baby grung. It keeps saying "Yuminugg" or "Yobbnug". Anna theorizes that Chris is setting us up for another "pets" episode. the party would be:
  • Waffles the owlbear
  • Baby grung
  • The severed hand
  • Simon
Anna's my little pony dice are rolling really low. She switches to her tomb of annihilation dice.

The group is attacked by a froghemoth! Strix is grabbed.. it swallows her.. CRITICAL! She's down!

She's going to die... although she does have that evil soul in her, the insurance policy against the death curse.

Diath pulls out Gutter and charges forward. He's going to try to stab it without hitting Strix. Someone utters the phrase:"Strix-shaped bulge".

Dragonbait tries to pull her free, but fails..

Strix takes acid damage. 1 failed death save. Then she rolls, 1 success.

Diath tries to pull her out... natural 20!! She's out.

NPC Paultin is invisible and singing to himself. Dragonbait is swallowed and he starts trying to hack his way out. It works! He tears a hole into the belly of the froghemoth. It regurgitates him back out.

NPC Paultin heals Strix. The froghemoth turns to Evelyn and grabs her. She's hanging upside down. It is bloodied.

The baby grung makes a run for it. Evelyn calls it "Baby Diath".

Strix casts polymorph on the froghemoth. It fails its save! It becomes an axebeak.

Diath helps Strix up. They share a moment. She barfs on him.

The crew continues their journey through the jungle. After an hour, Diath gets a weird feeling. He spots more Grung trying to surround the group. There are a lot of them.

The group starts yelling "Yabanogg."

The grung advance. The baby pops out. The grung point and want the group want to turn around and leave.

Evelyn pantomimes murdering the froghemoth. The group cracks up. She is hilarious.

The grung bring the group to their village. The crew needs to cross a lake.

Strix casts alter self and gives herself gills. She starts swimming. Pirahnas! She takes 22 points of damage. She's down!

Evelyn dives in to save her. Rolls a natural 20 on her perception check. Evelyn pulls Strix out.

The group enters the village. They can see a number of buildings that were burned recently, apparently from flaming arrows.

The grung come out.. there are many different colors of grung. The single gold one looks like the leader.

They put paint on the group's faces, which allows the waffle crew to understand the grung and communicate with them.

The grung explain that the order of the gauntlet has been attacking them. They've captured two human prisoners.

The chief asks the group to get the order of the gauntlet to stop attacking. The grung don't want to leave this area, because the pirahna lake protects them from zombie attacks.

The grung give the group a horn of blasting! Dang. This seems like one of Chris's favorite magic items to give out.

The undead plaguing the grung are coming from the aldani basin (are we heading to Mbala? Or the Heart of Ubtao?). The grung want to work together with the order to fight the undead.

The group talks to two human prisoners of the grung. Their names are Lorsa and Wolf, and they explain that Breakbone is terrified of frogs in general.

Diath is able to get the prisoners freed. He wants to find tons of frogs to freak out Commander Breakbone. Strix collects a pile of frogs.

The group heads toward Camp Vengeance and that night, they rest in the waffle hut.

Strix empties her bag of frogs that she collected. Whoops.. most of them are grung babies. That's where we stop!

Overall

Fun show. I love it when it is just these three players. Don't forget that the PAX Unplugged DCA show is on Friday night, 8:30 PM EST.

Tomb of Annihilation 10 - Tropical Harpies

The heroes continue traveling through the jungle of Chult, searching for the Lost City of
Omu. Their guide, Azaka Stormfang, died when the group fell off the bridge last session. I bought art of her and she died after 2 episodes. Not cool!

You can watch this right here:


I had bought Jungle Treks and I immediately wanted to run the tropical harpies scenario. So, I did!

We had left off last time with Ramrod getting possessed by the ghost of a goblin named Bokadoka. Seeing as how I was robbed of the opportunity of doing my bad Sean Connery voice, I decided to use my "snooty lady" voice. I also got to show off my "woman singing" voice, which always kind of makes people take a step back.

Tangent: When I was going to community college, I'd be home alone with my dog in the mornings. One day, I took advantage of the empty house and began loudly singing in an opera man voice.

I was doing a dramatic, deep version of: "Lay down and boogie, play that funky music... til you DIEEEEEE" and I was holding the last note, cracking myself up. I'm marching around my room singing this stupid song as loud as I can, and suddenly I hear howling.

Stunned, I staggered out of my room, and there's my dog - who had never howled before - singing along with me. The problem was that I was laughing so hard that I couldn't sing with her. She was looking at me like, "what the hell are you doing?"

OK, now that I've told that essential story, we can continue.

There's these skeletons that guard the bottom of the harpy tower. They attacked, and I got a little alarmed. The fight was you-roll, I-roll. No drama, just numbers. I couldn't think of any cool maneuvers to do, so I ended it a quick as I could.


The heroes got into the 3-stories tall harpy tower. The harpies were on the roof. The setup here is that the floors are weak. Crossing the 2nd and 3rd floors require an acrobatics check. Fail, and you fall through!

Val crossed. Ramrod fell through. He tried again. Fell through. Mistletoe tried. Fell through.

At this point, I figured the harpies had heard them.

What followed was an insane battle. where Mistletoe and Zavagor blew up this evil idol on the ground floor (it's the thing on the cover of Jungle Treks).

Val actually climbed in the back of a harpy and rode it around, dodging obstacles and ultimately flying it into a wall.

Ramrod grabbed a harpy on the 3rd floor jumped on it. They both smashed through two wooden floors and crashed on the stone ground below. he tried to flip him so that she landed on him, but he rolled a natural 20 on the opposed strength check.

He killed her. One harpy fled. Mistletoe stopped it with an entangle spell. While the group tried to figure out what to do with her, Ramrod chopped her up with an axe.

It was a really fun session, one of my favorites of the campaign so far.

Due to scheduling, we might not have another Tomb show for a few weeks. I'll be filling the gap with Ruins of Mezro (2 episodes yet to be posted) and Return of the Lizard King (3 episodes yet to be posted).

Jungle Treks is very cool! I look forward to running more DMs Guild stuff.

Xanathar's Guide to Everything - Underworld Speculation

Xanathar's Guide to Everything became available for purchase in game stores the other day. I got it and I should have a review of it up soon. I was also given the special promotional adventure sent to game stores, called "Underworld Speculation", written by Chris Lindsay.

It is a short scenario meant to last 1-2 hours and it comes with pre-generated characters that utilize the new options in Xanathar's. I'm not sure if this will be sold on the DMs Guild. Maybe they will wait a month or two so game stores can run it, then release it?

If you want to watch the session, it is right here on Youtube:


Warning: Major Spoilers! This adventure has some special things in it. If you are going to play through this adventure, you should not read this, as it will lessen your enjoyment of it.

The Party

(Shaun) Lyra - Halfling Rogue
(Brandon) Fosser - Human Cleric
(Matt) Selkie - Human Sorcerer

The group has been in the city of Waterdeep for a few weeks tracking the criminal activities of the Xanathar, the beholder crime lord. They were knocked out and awoke later in a cavern that contained a pool of water as well as a magic orb siting in the center of a magic circle.

The orb reached out to them telepathically. It explained to them that they were prisoners of the Xanathar. Its name was Dawn's Beacon, and it could help them escape.

After some careful study, the heroes saw that it was a magic item of great power. It granted them the power of water breathing, and it had other "legacy" powers it could install in them over time.

The heroes got their water breathing going and dove into the murky water, swimming down and down, looking for an underwater tunnel. They tied themselves to one another with a rope, as the conditions were pretty harsh:
  • Half speed.
  • Visibility of 10 feet!
  • The water tasted grainy.
  • Underwater combat rules (disadvantage on attack rolls unless using a few specific weapons like tridents or daggers).

The heroes were attacked by 2 humanoids that had tentacles instead of legs. One tried to drag Selkie away (she had decided to hold the rope rather than tie it around their waist) but failed.

The group was able to take them down. The rogue did a lot of damage.

Then we came to an area that I didn't quite get. Maybe I missed something. A trip wire in an underwater tunnel? How does that work?

It doesn't matter, because Fosser spotted it and the group was able to avoid it.

They continued swimming and came upon a really tough monster... a flail snail!

This thing has 5 attacks! It can emit radiance that stuns you!

Fosser heroically kept its attention while the others chipped away at it. He used the dodge action to great effect, swimming and evading the dancing flails. Selkie cast create bonfire, which does work underwater.

The bonfire erupted inside the snail's shell and did quite a bit of damage over the course of a few rounds. It used its stunning radiance power, but the entire group made their saving throws!

Lyra sliced off one of its tentacles (when you do 10 or more points of damage in one shot, a tentacle is sliced off). The group defeated it, although Fosser was hurt very badly.

The heroes found an empty side tunnel to rest in for an hour. Once healed, they continued on.

The group emerged in a strange valley. In it was a fortress, 4 clams, and a massive beast that swam far above them.

Something seemed off to the group. I was wondering if they were about to catch it and I almost ruined it by mis-speaking. They decided to go to the fortress.

Descriptive Vagueness: A bunch of "algaepygmies" attacked them. Selkie cast a darkness spell. Watching this back, I don't think I was clear on where the darkness was. Some of the group seemed to think they were all in the cloud of darkness. I thought the cloud had caught only the algaepygmies.

These are the kinds of mistakes I have a hard time avoiding. I have a hard time communicating what's in my head iwith words at the table at that moment. I'm so excited to do the encounter that I sort of take off without the rest of the group having a full understanding of what is where.

Selkie went into the darkness and chopped up some algaepygmies. Others emerged from the darkness. Lyra and Fosser took them down.

The Big Surprise: With the bad guys slain, they looked at the fortress. It was made of one solid block of stone. No windows, no doors. The front gate was held up by a slot.

The light bulb went on. Selke said... "We're in a fishbowl!"

Yup! The group had been shrunk down and placed in the bowl containing Sylgar, Xanathar's prized pet goldfish.

Dawn's Beacon pointed out that if they could swim out of the top, they could escape.

The adventure has a slightly different take. It says that Dawn's Beacon would teleport them out if the group swore a magical vow to one day kill the Xanathar.

I thought it was much more fun to have them try to swim out as Sylgar attempted to eat them!

The heroes wrapped themselves in seaweed and tried to inconspicuously float to the top, which I thought was a hilarious idea.

They got pretty far... then Sylgar came at them. Sylgar has a +9 to hit and over 100 hit points!

It bit Lyra, doing 22 damage. She survived! She swam up and out, vanishing as she emerged from the water.

Then it came for Fosser. It bit him, too, doing 22 damage! He lived! He swam out and the entire group escaped!

Overall

They were genuinely surprised by the twist. It was definitely a unique, fun adventure. When I read it, I wasn't really into it. But, as is often the case, it came off much better in play than I thought it would. This adventure was fun.

I'd tell you to go play this, but I just ruined it for you. If you can get your hands on it, run it for unsuspecting players!

Ruins of Mezro 2 - The Tablet of King Osaw

We played through more of Ruins of Mezro, which you can buy right here.

You can watch this session right here:


The Party

(Shaun) Linnet - Human Druid
(Ashley) Lemuel - Human Rogue
(Jesse) Kyrin - Human Cleric

The heroes were in a large two story building that once held a market, trying to get a stone tablet that was situated in the middle of a zombie horde. It was lodged in the torso of a single zombie.

Theater of the Mind: I had a bit of difficulty describing this place. Half the zombies were on one side, and half were on the other. The first floor was full of lines of tables with products on them. The second floor held offices and desks.

Over-explaining: When you're in the moment, it's easy to either over-explain or under-explain the scene. If you overexplain, some players will tune out and then operate on their limited understanding of the scene. Players aren't keen on piping up and admitting that they don't understand the layout, I think they assumed they missed something.

To combat this, I will often reiterate the basics of the place as we play, to ensure I've communicated the essential details. As soon as I finish reading boxed text aloud, I repeat the bullet points to hammer home the things they need to know.

Under-explaining: If you under-explain, which I often do, each player has their own image of the location that is vastly different from what I had intended.

Accurate Descriptions: I think that when you're running a complicated location, you should probably have some kind of map to show them. Especially if you're running a major encounter!

Also, if a player does something based on misunderstanding the location (for instance, trying to jump a river of lava that they think is only 5 feet wide, not 50) you should rewind. If the mistake isn't realized until much later, you can probably let it go unless it had major consequences.

The Zombie Market: My idea here was that there are crossbeams above the horde. The group could climb on them, drop a rope, and pull up the zombie with the tablet lodged in it.

The group did not do that! They gathered on the second floor and smashed a hole through it, directly above the tablet zombie. They used their weasel, Iris, to draw the horde away. She was killed! She's a familiar, so she vanished and could be summoned again the next day.

I was very alarmed at this point. They were about to lower themselves into a room with 200 zombies!

The group lowered a rope through the hole and climbed down. Lemuel, the rogue, made a beeline for a potion stall that still had some potions intact. There was a zombie hidden under a stall that dragged him under. Linnet ran over to help.

Meanwhile, Kyrin was trying to pull the tablet free of the zombie. Its arms were tied, so it struggled to bite at them. Kyrin kept trying to make strength checks, but the tablet wouldn't budge.

Swarmed: The horde closed in on Kyrin and he was surrounded by about 20 zombies! The dude is 3rd level. I was worried that he would die. The group was able to get the attention of the horde and peel many of them off.

A batch of zombies started crawling under the stalls and tables to get at Lemuel and Linnet. The heroes ended up getting on the tables and jumping from one to the next, making their way toward a window that they could use to escape outside.

Kyrin finally got the tablet free as the zombies bit him a number of times. Then things got worse. Two zombies looked down at him through the hole in the ceiling. They were about to fall through!

He disengaged and fled.

While table-jumping, Linnet crashed through a rotted table and a crawling zombie attacked her. Lemuel got to the window, smashed it open, and called to their guide, Eku, for help.

Eku: Eku is one of the guides from the tomb of annihilation. She has a secret and is a mysterious, friendly old lady.

She came in and used her healing powers to keep the group alive as they made for the window. Thanks in part to Eku, the group escaped with the tablet.

They rested in the building where they'd defeated the goblins. They hated that zombie market and agreed that they were going to burn it to the ground.

The Tablet: They looked at the tablet and were able to figure out that it was a map. There are a bunch of magic obelisks in front of buildings in Mezro. If they are touched in a certain order, they just might open a portal to the real Mezro, which is hidden away in another plane.

Once rested, the group set fire to the market and began touching the pillars in order.

When they got to the library, they sent in to check it out. Zombies were in there, some browsing and some putting books on shelves. My thinking as that a long as the group followed the rules of the library (be quiet, get your books checked out before leaving) the zombies would leave them alone.

The group was amused by this and followed the rules. They found a bunch of books that give them information on the hag Nanny Pu'pu, who Eku had told them about, and the Sewn Sisters, a hag coven. They also read about Ras Nsi and the barae (protectors of Mezro with magic powers).

I had googled the barae, who are mentioned in older D&D products and novels. I described each of them to the group. There are tatues of the barae in the main encounter area of Mezro, so I wanted to set up what could be a very fateful moment in the temple.

That's where we stopped. In the next session, we added a fourth player and the group got hammered with wild magic.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Answering WebDM Interview Questions


Watch WebDM on Youtube here.
Check out WebDM on patreon here.

Today I was on a podcast with Jim and Johnathan Pruitt, the guys from WebDM. We taped a show that will be out next Friday, if I remember right.

We talked about D&D for just about two hours and, somehow, we didn't get to everything. Quite a number of their patrons posted questions for me to answer. I was only able to answer a few, so I figured I'd post the answers to the rest of them right here.


Hunter: Hunter said that his group had kept the little girl from Curse of Strahd as a sidekick, and wanted advice on how to handle it. I assume he is talking about Arabelle, the vistana who is related to Madame Eva.

First, I think you should check out Dice, Camera, Action episode 26. Liisa Lee plays Arabelle and did a great job IMO. Chris set it up where the group needed to kill Arabelle in order to enact a ritual.

Second, I think it would be cool if you played up the mysterious powers of Arabelle and have her be a weird but helpful ally. At certain points in the adventure, she could do tarokka readings that help them out of a jam or give the group some kind of magical boon to aid them in their quest.

The Dark Powers would probably see her as the person who should replace Strahd, so they'd reach out to her now and again. Baba Lysaga might want her as a step-daughter, or maybe the hag wants to eat her.


Daniel: Daniel asked me what influenced me to "smooth out modules" through my guides.

When I was a kid, I didn't know I had ADHD. I also didn't know it was an actual thing that can affect your life until I took medication for it when I was much older. My entire life changed!

Most of the time, I could not read one page of Dungeon Magazine. I'd read the first sentence of an adventure over and over, but I couldn't retain it. Obviously, this made running adventures very difficult.

Eventually, I taught myself to take notes as I read. It helped me retain information and maintain my focus for more than a nanosecond. When I was done, I had a "cheat sheet". Dungeons & Dragons taught me how to study.

Early on in this blog, I was getting ready to run Hoard of the Dragon Queen. As usual, I had pages and pages of hand-written notes that guaranteed I would have no problem running this thing. I was always looking for content to put on this blog, so it seemed like a fun thing to do.

I figured that 5e would have a lot of new DMs who would need help. I started the guide, basically "sharing my work" as I went, so new people could see way to link everything together and all that stuff.


Richard: Richard had two questions. He asked me how I would build a homebrew pantheon and if I had any house rules.

Pantheon: In my experience, players aren't going to remember most of your gods. You can make 20 of them, but the group will probably only deal with a few of them.

The gods that matter in your campaign are the ones worshiped by the party paladin or cleric, the god of healing (if they have churches where people can pay to get diseases cured, raise dead, etc.) and the evil god that's usually the cause of the bad things going on in the world.

If I were going to make a homebrew pantheon from scratch, I'd probably make one god for each alignment. That's a simple, organized way to make 9 distinct entities, and you have a good starting point for each of their personalities.

House Rules: Here's some of my house rules:
  • Floor Dice Don't Count: If your die falls on the floor when you roll it, the roll doesn't count. Some people have a natural tendency to pick it up and re-roll if it's a 1, but they'll keep it if it's a 20.
  • Rape Does Not "Exist": Rape doesn't happen in my campaign except as part of a tragic backstory. Nobody ever considers doing it. I just don't want it in my game. I'm not sure if I ever told the story of how I ran a female character modeled after LaToya Jackson, but you can probably guess what happened. 
  • If It's Cool, It Happens: If someone has an idea that gets me excited, it's happening in some form. I used to let die rolls shut down things that would have been hilarious, but not any more. I think one of the main things we're doing in D&D is mining for cool moments. When you get one, don't throw it in the garbage.


Jacob: Jacob asked what my favorite ways to start a campaign are.

I do a montage of scenes that show off each character. It just involves one die roll. Usually the point of it is to let the player convey their character's personality and style. If it was a TV show, they'd do their cool thing, then the video would freeze with them giving  a thumbs up and their name would appear on the screen for a moment, and then we'd cut to the next character.
 

Robert: I answered some of Robert's questions on the show, but we got sidetracked. He asked me what I recommend for people who want to make their own adventures and content for the DMs Guild.

I made a list:
  • Download the Monster Maker (it's free): It makes stat blocks that look like the ones in the official books.
  • Use the Homebrewery: I don't use this, but it pumps out documents that look nearly identical to the Player's Handbook interior.
  • Art: There are sites that have free art that you can use. Just make sure it's cleared for "commercial use". Pixabay and wikimedia commons have quite a lot of art that is completely free to use. It takes some time to dig through it all.

As far as writing, I'm still learning that side of it. Things I've noticed so far:
  • Try to be succinct and avoid walls of text. Breezy adventures are good, as most people don't have time to read a massive, dense adventure.
  • Look at the work of D&D creators you like and see how they do things. My favorites: Monte Cook, James Jacobs, Bruce Cordell, Michael Curtis and F. Wesley Schneider.
  • Don't under-price yourself! I have no problem paying a couple bucks for a useful book. My experience with pay-what-you-want is that 1 in 10 people pay.
  • Write about what you like. If you used one particular thing in your campaign and made material for it, you should use it. You spent hours and hours creating these ideas and playtesting them, and I think that shines through.
  • The books that generally sell are monster books, new spells and player options. Adventures generally don't sell well. Collections of adventures seem to do very well, though. 
  • Don't be afraid to send your stuff to bloggers to review. Many of them love getting that kind of thing. Just remember that they might not like it, so definitely get a real life friend to give it a look with fresh eyes before you send it out.
Thanks to everyone who sent a question! I loved being on the show and look forward to doing more things like this in the future.