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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Acquisitions Incorporated - Enter the Trash Witch

You can listen to this show right here
Season 2 of Dice, Camera, Action just ended, and we got ourselves a surprise! A special podcast D&D game where one of the heroes of DCA joins the Acquisitions Inc team.

This is a hilarious show and you should definitely check it out.

At the end of Dice, Camera, Action episode 60, Strix disappeared, drawn away by some kind of infernal force. In this show, we find out where she went and learn more about her mysterious origin.

The Party

(Jerry) Omin Dran - Half-Elf Cleric
(Mike) Jim Darkmagic - Human Wizard
(Patrick) Viari - Human Rogue    
(Holly) Strix - Tiefling Sorcerer

Omin Dran is flying the airship. He drops K'thriss, who was a guest star in the last Acquisitions, Inc. show, off in the Dessarin Valley. He flies to Waterdeep and leaves Morgaen there.

The group needs to pick up some interns for a new mission. We get into a discussion as to whether the word "mook" is racist.

Omin picks up some interns in a dismissive manner. I think the group makes these people up on the spot. The interns:
  • "Hell's Adjacent" Hibner: A tiefling that doesn't sleep much.
  • Tweed Barsum: A gnome.
  • Alandria Primp: An acolyte in her early days of wizard training.
  • Scubby Hornswallow: A scruffy forest gnome with small, rough hands.
Viari is suffering from the death curse, apparently caused by the incident with the apocalypse dagger. Jim has sores on his body that he is covering with powder, sunglasses and a wig. The wig is of black, luxurious curly black hair. Jim is strutting around, looking good.

Omin has been buying stuff, like how some companies buy medical debt. One such acquisition is an infernal contract, which is a binding agreement linking a soul to the owner.

Wow. We learn a lot about Strix! This is what Omin learned: The Skizzixes were a human family from Sigil that feared annihilation from their rivals. They made a pact with Asmodeus to become tieflings and they were also awarded vassals - devils to serve as bodyguards and assistants.

This contract that Omin has lets you call forth the family's most powerful member: Strix!

This representative of the infernal house is bound to do as Omin commands.

Strix Speculation: I don't even know where to start with that. Strix appeared in Sigil as a child with writing in green on her arm that spelled out "Strix" as her name. People assumed that was her name. Is it possible that it actually said "Skizzix?"

Who were her family's rivals? Was it one of the factions of Sigil? Why did her family turn to Asmodeus? What's the link to the Wachters?

Was the enemy of the Skizzixes wiped out? If not, they would have come after Strix when she was dropped off in Sigil. Maybe they didn't know she had come back. Maybe that's who sent the shadow monster after her... but then, the shadow monster didn't kill her when it had the chance.

Summoning Strix: Anyway. Omin uses the contract to summon her. A pentagram forms and Strix appears in a flash. She's got her staff in one hand and her flying broom in the other.

Strix freaks out for a second. Jim tries to figure out her deal with an insight check. He rolls a 1. He declares that she is a dumpster witch, or maybe a trash witch.

Strix can see that Jim is suffering from the death curse, the same curse that She and Diath had been suffering from.

Omin explains to Strix that her family is in league with devils. Omin was able to buy her contract for a cool 10 gold. Wait.. 9 and change. Strix is insulted. Is there a name on that contract? Who signed it?

Jim has been trying to shake off the death curse by juicing. Strix and the Acquisitions Inc. team get to know each other and compare robots. The waffle crew has a kid-killing robot. Acq, Inc. has fraternized with beer robots.

Omin informs Strix that once this mission is done, he promises not to summon her again unless he feels like it. He might summon her for a snail-eating competition, something like that.

Traveling to Chult: The group flies to Chult, a trip that takes 10 days. Strix sometimes chucks hand-written notes over the side of the ship, hoping to make contact her friends. Jim sees this and tries to be all smooth, offering her a dove. Strix loves birds. She nonchalantly thanks him.

The curse is slowly killing Jim. His max hit points drop by 10. He's down to 28. Yikes.

As they get close to Port Nyanzaru, they see some winged gnashers and they spot a massive turtle in the water.

A creature flies up to their ship. It is a friendly half-dragon with gold scales holding a staff. He is Zindar the Quartermaster.

Jim is very into dragon loving, it is one of his fetishes. People and polymorphed dragons really tickle his fancy.

Omin tells Zindar that they need to find the soulmonger, but Zindar knows nothing. He's a nice guy.

Zindar explains that normal sailing ships pay a dragon turtle in gold and gems for safe passage to the bay. There are pirates out there causing problems for the city, and they have a secret cove. Omin really wants to take down the pirates once the death curse is dealt with.

Skills Assessment: The group asks Strix how she is in combat. She talks about shaping her fireball spells and Jim declares that it is impossible to do such a thing.

Jim realizes that she's a sorcerer. Jim says that she is a pervert. Viari can't believe that Jim is calling her a pervert - he assumes she must be into really freaky stuff for Jim to say such a thing.

The group wants to see what Strix can do. Viari shoves Hibner over the side, and he begins falling toward the ocean below. Strix flies on her broom and tries to grab him. She rolls a 9. His shirt rips and he keeps falling. She tries to polymorph him into a bat. He rolls a save... natural 20. Hibner falls into the water.

Strix has flashbacks to when she accidentally killed Ireena. Viari dives in and they find Hibner in the water, alive and unconscious. Strix polymorphs him into a bat. They bring him on the ship and give him bat CPR.

Strix shuts off the polymorph spell. Hibner gets up and punches Viari in the nuts. Omin authorizes it.

Jim is not impressed with her magic, and he notices that people in the harbor are watching this spectacle. Viari takes off his shirt off, because it is so hot out.


We get a description that includes hairy barrels... or Harry Barrels, the dockmaster. This should definitely be an NPC.

The group lands and heads into Port Nyanzaru, a jungle city where dinosaurs are beasts of burden.

There's a really nice boat with a bright blue sail. The crew waves in a friendly manner. Omin sends them fruit baskets. "A galleon of seamen," Viari notes. Truly exquisite wordplay on this podcast.

Port Nyanzaru: The heroes heads toward Kaya's House of Repose in a nicer part of the city.

A little kid offers her candy. Strix shakes the kid and more candy falls out. Jim's makeup is running.. He has a purple silk parasol for protection against harmful UV rays.

Viari wants to buy some clothes to fit in. He gets a turban and billowing Errol Flynn-style clothing. A long time ago, I read Errol Flynn's autobiography. He once got stabbed and had to run through the streets holding his guts in. He had a big, hairy friend named Dr. Mahamoti that I have based many NPCs on. Amazing book!

Make a Wish Foundation Dinosaur: Ankylosaurs are pulling a ship into a berth. Jim walks up to one of them and puts a hand on it, Jurassic Park style. His handlers poke him with 10 foot poles.

Jim wants to buy one. They go check out dinosaurs for sale. They learn that the city holds dinosaur races. Omin thinks Jim doesn't have much time left, and maybe this would be nice for him.

Jim acts sicker and claims that dinosaur racing might be something he needs.

The group agrees that a triceratops is the way to go. They want to raise dinosaurs. Strix doesn't.. wait.. her infernal contract kicks in. She wants to be pit crew for the races.

Viari feels sympathy for Strix, knowing what it's like to be an intern. He buys her a custom witch hat. It's light and has pouches. Strix cries and says how nice it was. Viari wants a hug. Strix doesn't do hugs. She gives him a weird hand touch.

Jim's makeup is running. He rudely tells Strix that he can give her makeup tips. She casts alter self to look like him and insults him. Jim runs away, weeping, saying that they need to get rid of this trash witch.

The Merchant Prince: They meet with a merchant prince to discuss getting in on the dinosaur races. 

The prince offers them pistachio nuts and the group is all over it, Strix especially. The prince learns that Strix beat the death curse and wants to hear about it over dinner. She panics, and then is relieved when the whole group is invited.

Jim, resentful of Strix, says she's lying about the cure, and also, she can't cast any good spells. Strix quietly sets the bottom of his robes on fire. He snaps his fingers and puts the fire out. He threatens to set her on fire. Someone points out that she's a tiefling - fire doesn't bother her all that much.

Jim quietly says to Omin, "I'm going to roast this pervert." I died.

The Meeting: Later, the group is going to meet with the prince. They're in a tavern. A woman gives Jim a harlequin mask. "Prince Wakanga offers you this gift. A magic item given to him from a friend long ago. It will enhance your natural beauty."

Jim puts it on and it creates an illusion that makes Jim as handsome as he's ever been.

The prince meet with the heroes. Jim is very annoyed that the merchant prince is paying attention to Strix. He finds a picture of himself in the place and offers to autograph it. Nobody's impressed.

Jim "accidentally" spills wine on Strix, but she doesn't notice because she's generally a pretty filthy person. She rings it out and drinks it.

Viari like this prince and gives him a gift. He returns the favor and gives them a spellbook. Both Jim and Strix lunge for it. They roll off to see who is faster. Jim wins. Strix starts crying.

There's these weird rugs with mouths on them. Jim "accidentally" knocks her into one. She fails her save. It's a rug of smothering! It engulfs her.

Omin scolds Jim. Strix escapes it by turning into a cloud. Jim goes: "gross."

The Library: The group goes to the prince's home and checks out his library while they wait for him to be ready. They decide to read some books. Chris wants the group to roll percentile to see what book they find. Seems like Chris has a list, maybe this is something right out of the Tomb adventure. Viari rolls a 100! Wow.

The group learns a ton of lore. They learn about Ubtao, a god who lived among the people, the father of Chult. The Chultans became so warlike with each other that Ubtao left Chult. He wanted them to solve their problems themselves. Ubtao loved mazes and it is said that if you trace a path through one of his mazes, you earn his favor.

The group also learns that there are rumors of a portal to the underworld in the mountains. Lurking there is Dendar the night serpent, who will devour the sun if she is released. Dendar is a god of the yuan-ti.

Bad Guys: As the group reads, 4 assassins creep into the room. They're wearing black and they have wavy daggers. Omin spots them.

Omin is very interested to see Strix's capabilities. Viari warns her - no fireballs in the library. She does it anyway and she shapes the fireball so that it doesn't harm the group or the books. She looks at Jim while she does it.

Jim is not happy.

The assassins are snake people. One tries to charm them. Jim casts magic missile. Strix heckles him for using a 1st level spell.

The heroes pummel the assassins. Viari likes the snake lady assassin. She flees the scene. That's where we stop!

Overall

I thought this show was hilarious! Strix vs. Jim is top notch. This podcast was so fun and laid back, definitely makes me want more.

This story will pick up at PAX West, which takes place in a few weeks.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Dice, Camera, Action Episode 60 - Storm King's Thunder


 
 Episode 60 - The Red, the White, and the Crew


There were a few interesting tweets from Chris Perkins leading up to this episode:

"Remember that D&D live game after the battle vs. Isohedrus when Viari threw a pile of ?? at a big red dragon to appease it? I do."
 

"Well, in next week's season finale of #DiceCameraAction, I finally get to pay off that "payoff.""

Then there was a question and answer:
"So the blood sacrifice Strahd made to the Dark Powers was....The Waffle Crew???"

"Well, they *do* represent all that is good in the multiverse, so yeah."


The Waffle Crew

(Anna) Evelyn - Human Paladin of Lathander
(ProJared) Diath - Human Rogue
(Nathan) Paultin - Human Bard
(Holly) Strix - Tiefling Sorcerer
(Dani Hartel) Captain Xandalla - Elf Sorcerer, I think

Last time, the group made friends with Captain Xandalla and they went to find the legendary ring of winter. They ended up in a frost giant village called Kronenheim in a glacial rift, where the frost giants had been killed by one or more dragons. Evelyn blew a giant alpine horn, and alerted a massive three-headed giant - an everlasting one from Volo's Guide to Monsters.


The giant charges across the room and Xandalla takes flight. Paultin summons the hut and takes refuge inside. Paultin and the dragon cultist crew are in it together, safe.

Diath runs up, draws Gutter and hacks into the giant's ankle. Chris reminds him he gets his sneak attack damage and Jared makes a funny/sleazy cackle.

Xandalla casts fireball and does 42 points to the everlasting one. The group is very pleased with this. Strix is dismayed.. she never gets applause for her spells.

Paultin is dismayed when he notices that the cultists are quietly discussing slitting his throat.

Xandalla sees that the giant is regenerating. The giant rages and does 56 points to Xandalla, who is very bloody but still standing. Some of her blood pours onto the dome of the magical hut. Paultin is even more alarmed.

Evelyn blinds one of the three heads with blinding smite. Strix polymorphs the giant into a three-headed bantam chicken. What the hell is a bantam chicken? I googled it. They are small chickens.

Everybody, including Chris, is really excited today, sort of giddy.

Diath grabs the chicken.

From the back of the hall comes a giant vulture made of ice ridden by a human in a winter parka. Artus Cimber? Yup! Xandalla recognizes him. That's the guy with the ring of winter from this novel.

Xandalla tells the group that he has the ring. Paultin really wants the ring so that he can create his own ice vulture.

The cultists leave the hut, run up and destroy the vulture. Artus plop to the ground.

Description of Artus Cimber: He is middle-aged, athletic, handsome man with a mustache and beard. He has hair down to his shoulders and wears leather armor. He's got gloves on, probably covering the ring on his finger. The chat declares that Artus Cimber is Nicholas Cage.

Evelyn runs over to him and tells him to stay down "in the name of Lathander."

Paultin chugs on over. He tries to convince Artus to give him the ring, saying "Ice bird please." Artus warns him that the ring will control one who is weak of mind. It is evil.

Paultin casts levitate on him. It works! Artus is hovering.

Strix is on her broom and now she has the chicken. She sticks it in one of the cages up near the ceiling.

Diath watches the cultists for a moment. He doesn't trust them. He spots a white dragon in the sky! Eep.. it's an old dragon. It might be the same dragon at the ranger's lodge. It is. It's Isohedrus, the dragon that Acquisitions Inc fought on one of the last live shows.

Xandalla tells Paultin to get the sending stone from the cultists - the cultists have been using it to talk to the red dragon, Klauth, who was also on the Acquisitions Inc. show.

The cultists turn against their captain. Nyzroth chucks daggers at Xandalla, but she uses a shield spell to block them. Dani is very sharp and she has a real good grasp on her character.

The dragon approaches! Frightful presence kicks in. Evelyn and Paultin fail their saves. Wait... Evelyn uses inspiration. She's been rolling bad today. Re-roll... she rolls an 18. She makes her save! Chris decides to give Paultin advantage because he's drunk. Nate rolls a natural 20.

Strix kills all but two of the cultists in a fiery explosion.

Nyzroth is still up and so is the woman with the stone. She's grappling Evelyn. Diath runs up and yoinks the stone with an earth-shattering 31 on a sleight of hand check. Wow.

The dragon claws and bites Artus, who is bloodied. I assume his mullet is still intact. Didn't Nicholas Cage go to jail in The Rock just because he didn't walk away from some dudes who were saying mean things about his wife? That was dumb, Artus. Although, to be fair, he saved the world from a plane full of serial killers.

The dragon hisses to the heroes, "This is between him and me." The group is accepting of this.

Xandalla knows this might be Isohedrus, a dragon that lives in a crashed icy citadel.

Xandalla tries to polymorph Isohedrus into a sea cucumber. It makes its save.

Artus uses a power called flesh to ice. If the dragon fails three saves, it will be an ice statue. Does it have legendary resistance? Chris explains after the show that the dragon used up its 3 legendary resistances fighting the giants.

Artus starts running for the airship. The female cultist runs over to Xandalla and hits her twice, once with a critical hit, dropping her to exactly 0 hit points.

Evelyn drops the cultist with Treebane. Nyzroth is the only cultist left. Strix fireballs Nyzroth, shaping it around Diath, and Nyzroth is very dead.

The dragon breathes ice and hits Diath. He takes 54 damage and he's down. Evelyn uses lay on hands and Diath springs back to life. Evelyn takes back the Heart of Spinelli, her flaming sword that he had been holding for her.

The flesh to ice spell is successful. The dragon turns into an ice sculpture. Evelyn heals Xandalla and gives her the stone. Evelyn wants to use her fire sword to try to melt the statue. She writes an "E" for "Evelyn" in it.

Xandalla hears a voice through the sending stone. It says, "Report." Xandalla says that the cultists are dead. Klauth says, "I'll come to you in three days."

Diath notices that Strix is gone and he is extremely concerned.

We learn that while the group was mopping up the bad guys, Strix had heard somebody talking over her shoulder. Someone was peaking arcane words - an infernal incantation. She's gone. Sound likes she just went to hell?!

Diath grabs Xandalla and demands to know what she did.

Heyyy... he's going to have to use Gutter to find out what happened! Right?

The group gets on the ship, ready to search the area for Strix. Jared doesn't waste time putting a key in Gutter. I blow an air horn in celebration.

Paultin feels an itch. He scratches himself and a piece of his neck comes off. That's where we stop!

Sounds like Paultin got himself a death curse, bah gawd.

Chris says that this is the last show of season 2. Season 3 begins on September 19th. Apparently there are a bunch of announcements that can't be made yet. I know there were hints on twitter of some kind of crossover with Acquisitions Inc., which would be awesome.

Overall

Apparently something was announced an hour after the show ended. I'm writing this a few hours after, so let's go see. Here it is!

Holly is going to be on the next Acquisitions, Inc live show! Wow. They've got art and everything. Jim Darkmagic, Omin Dran, Viari, and Strix.

If you want to see where they left off in the Acq Inc game, I have a summary of their last live show here.

On that show, the heroes learned that the soul of Omin's sister is in the soulmonger. The group will need to defeat the.. "Sewn sisters"? And their child?

Strix was pulled away by an infernal entity? Infernal usually means hell, aka devils. Strix is half devil. Maybe her devil parent took her?

Thinking about it - devils would be angry about the soulmonger. Devils traffic in souls, and Acererak is likely stealing souls that should be going to hell.

Who could Strix's father be? If it's an archdevil, the choices are:
  • Dispater: The paranoid guy who rules the city of Dis
  • Mammon: The greedy guy
  • Belial: The sleazy guy
  • Levistus: The dude frozen in a glacier
  • Baalzebul: The slug guy
  • Mephistopheles: The cunning schemer
  • Asmodeus: Lord of Hell
Asmodeus is the most dramatic choice. That would make Strix related to Glasya, who is extremely dangerous and would want Strix dead. If they're not related, maybe he wants Strix to be his bride. His wife was killed by his daughter, so there's a ruby-studded diadem worth 50,000 gp up for the lucky gal who is ready to relocate to the bottom of the lowest crack in Nessus.

Mephistopheles would be a cool option, too. There is plenty of room for Chris to flesh him out. I'd love to see more info on his wife, Balphegor.

I wrote a really long guide to the archdevils on my blog here.

Aha.. a podcast went up! There's a whole podcast session of Acquisitions Inc with Holly up right now. I'll write that up, hopefully, tomorrow. Sounds like it explains some of Strix's origin!

Dani: I think Dani is one of my favorite guests so far. She's very comfortable and "real". She feels like your friend, or someone you'd want to be friends with.

Season 2 Thoughts: Thinking about this season as a whole, I'm not sure how to sum it up. I love that they kept to a regular schedule, and I personally like the lessened emphasis on guest stars.

The popularity of the show grew greatly, especially in the past few weeks. It very much feels like something that will be around for the long haul.

There were two very significant episodes this season that were probably the highlights of the series so far. The whole campaign definitely has an emotional heft to it that a lot of D&D campaigns don't have. I think a lot of that is due to the enthusiasm of the players. They love playing the game, and that makes it very fun to watch.

It was interesting to watch Chris kind of dance around, mixing concepts from the published adventures. There is something so relieving about watching him run games and doing things that you've done or would like to do. He's a DM just like us! He leans toward whatever takes hold with the players and works in stuff that he thinks will be cool.

The show is very good and I think season 3 is going to be a very big deal!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Planescape - The Blood War XIX. The Iron Flask

Last night, we continued going through an old Chris Perkins adventure from Dungeon Magazine called Bzallin's Blacksphere. I honestly think that this is an adventure everyone should know about. There is so much to pull out of it to use, especially the 12 apprentices. Each and every apprentice is unique and has an interesting story. Many of them make for great villains for any campaign.

The one problem I have with this adventure is that it is incredibly dense. It's a very intimidating wall of text that I have a lot of trouble wading into and making sense of. I think that's more a problem local to my brain than most of you.

I decided to get a pixel art gif of Bidam and Theran. Here's Bidam so far:


This adventure is loaded with treasure! Dozens of magic items and over 100,000 gp in gold, gems, and lewt. I converted a lot of old, obscure items like:
  • Ohm's Black Box: You can trap someone in this box. Inside, a custom, luxurious realm is created. There is no escape except for a wish spell. Once 5 days have passed, the prisoner is magically released.
  • Magemask: This is a half-mask with a crystal eye lens that gives you the ability to see invisible, spot hidden glyphs, etc.
  • Ioun Stones: This thing is loaded with ioun stones. My favorite is one that can absorb 5th to 8th level spells. That is very handy for this group.
The heroes had defeated the lich named Bzallin. They'd taken his talisman of the sphere, which is the source of the growing sphere of annihilation in their friend's abyssal realm.

Handing Out Treasure: I had made index cards for the magic items, so I could just hand them over instead of wasting time at the table telling the players what they did and them writing it down and inevitably asking question about it.

One of Bzallin's items is a black robe of the archmagi. In all the time I've played D&D, I don't think I've ever seen this item used. I didn't even know what it did! They come in different colors. A black robe can only be attuned to by evil creatures. A white one is only for good creatures. The robe gives a +2 to your spell attack bonus and some other stuff.

He also got a staff of the magi, which can absorb spells and can cast 50 levels worth of spells. It's an amazing item.

The Summoning Room

Hordelings

The heroes listened at a door and opened it a crack to peer in. Stealth check... natural 20! They saw a vrock guarding a spellcaster who had summon a 10 foot tall hunchbacked fiend with two 12 foot (?!) long tentacle arms and two arms that end in pincers. It's a hordeling, another monster I have never used outside of an old campaign where each session, the D&D heroes went to another RPG - Marvel, Shadowrun, etc. It might sound dumb, but that campaign really clicked.

Theran dropped a fireball in here, with the intent of melting the gold paint that comprised the boundary of the summoning circle. The hordeling immediately lashed out, grabbing a vrock and throttling it (I rolled a natural 20). I rolled a lot of 20's tonight. I had forgotten my dice, so I was using Jessie's white dice and that white d20 is like a critical hit factory.

The caster woman fled to another room to get reinforcements. The reinforcements:
  • A githzerai caster wearing a girdle. She had been shunned by her people for her evil nature.
  • A male caster who had an accident with a polymorph spell that warped half of his body into the form of a nabassu (demonic gargoyle).
  • 6 zombie assistants.
The heroes dropped that fireball in there, shut the door, and hid.

The zombies opened the door. Fall From Grace turned them. The group was hit with a chain lightning spell that did a pile of damage.

The hordeling killed the vrock, and the other two casters killed the hordeling.

Bidam and Fall From Grace charged into the room and killed the main caster I gave the apprentices the stats of an evoker from Volo's. They only have 66 hit points but they have incredibly powerful spells (up to 6th level!).

Theran's spells got counterspelled and Bidam and Fall From Grace chopped up the half-gargoyle. The githzerai pleaded with the group to let her leave.. I dropped a whole bunch of githzerai-talk like "There cannot be two skies" and saying "know" a lot. She was able to flee the scene as the heroes killed the gargoyle guy.

Treasures: They grabbed a massive pile of loot, including four ioun stones. The spellcaster's spellbook included a ritual that could summon hordelings. Theran had been trained in summoning when he was an apprentice of Iggwilv, so I'm interested to see what he does with this. Every hordeling is completely different. I should read up on them some more.


Yugoloths: I should note that this adventure has a lot of yugoloths in it. I have never liked yugoloths and I replace them with demons or devils whenever I can. If you're not familiar, it goes like this:
  • Devils are lawful evil
  • Demons are chaotic evil
  • Yugoloths (also known as "daemons") are neutral evil
When I was younger, I found this to be very confusing. There were too many fiends to wrap my head around. I've always felt that it is simpler to focus on demons and devils.

The Prisoner: The next room contained a prison. There were two prisoners: A troll with 6 arms and two heads, and Narkel, an apprentice who tried to steal a magic staff from Bzallin.

In the adventure, it says that Narkel will betray the group if they let her out. She's chaotic evil. The way things played out, Fall From Grace decided to try to teach her how to be good. I used some ability checks to see if Fall From Grace was convincing.

In the beginning, Narkel was not buying it. As the session wore on, Narkel warmed up to them. The heroes were extremely accommodating and nice to her, and she weirdly fit in well. Theran likes the idea of making her one of his apprentices, although she's just about as powerful as he is, at least in terms of what spells they can cast.

Narkel knows the layout of this place. She excitedly told the heroes that they should loot the treasury! This treasury is LOADED with stuff.

The players were extremely fired up about this idea. They really like this adventure and are getting a big kick out of looting piles and piles of magic items.

No Collapse: In the adventure, this lair is supposed to fall apart very shortly after Bzallin dies. This place is a small dimension in the shape of a cube. I figured my players might want to "keep" it so I didn't have it disintegrate. They started talking about claiming it as their home, so it looks like we are headed in that direction.

The group looted a lab and scored formulas for making potions: invisibility, frost giant strength, etc.

The group busted in on an apprentice named Pentriss, who was talking in a magic mirror with a demon, trying to convince it to join the cause of Bzallin and the demon lord J'zzalshrak in the Blood War.

Narkel hates this woman and busted into the room, cursing her out, which amused the group greatly. Poor Pentriss didn't know what hit her. Her little dretch minions were reduced to stink clouds by Theran's magic missiles.

Theran was really interested in the mirror. It is magic item that allows you to contact anyone on any plane, more or less. I'll rule it needs to be someone the user has met. Still... a very fun magic item. It's really big and really fragile. The group was afraid to move it, and they became more certain that this place was going to be theirs.

The group went into a bedroom (the two hag cooks sleep here). It was unoccupied. The secret entrance to the treasury is here. Narkel had never been in the treasury and didn't know what traps or monsters might be in there.


The Treasury: After much cautious prodding and peeking, the group cracked open the secret door and saw... a room that was empty save for a massive ball of prismatic light. It's a prismatic sphere, an old spell thing that lashes out and does all sorts of bad stuff to you.

The deal here is that the sphere must be destroyed. When that happens, the treasure appears in the room.

The group had obtained a scroll of antilife shell. Theran decided to try to cast it. It's high level, so he had to make a roll. He succeeded, but just barely.

The shell was centered on him. All of his magic items became mundane and no spells could be cast. He walked into the room and to his relief, the sphere vanished and the items appeared!
The heroes got to looting. Here's the highlights:
  • The Libram of Silver Magic: A five foot tall book. In old editions, when you read it, you gain XP. I changed it so that you gain 2 points of intelligence.
  • The Dread Wand of Orcus: Seriously! This is a replica/facsimile of the wand. It can animate and control undead. It can also cast finger of death. This plays right into Bidam's story. He has a dark pact with Orcus, and is expected to claim Orcus's former abyssal realm for his own.
  • Iron Flask: This item can trap one creature. When you release the prisoner, they are friendly to you and obey your commands for one hour.
  • Cubic Gate: Yup, the group now has two cubic gates.
The cubic gate can take you to 6 locations:
  • The Material Plane: Bzallin's home world - Tal'Dorei, the Critical Role setting.
  • The Abyss: J'zzlshrak's Realm
  • The Nine Hells
  • Limbo
  • Elysium
  • The Elemental Plane of Water
The group can go to Tal'Dorei, where Bzallin's home and phylactery is! The players say that they plan on doing this. I like the idea of them going to each plane to learn of Bzallin's schemes and connections. He's on the side of demons, yet he can go to the Nine Hells. Why? What is he doing there?

The group shook the flask. They felt a soft thunking noise from inside. Someone was in it! The group excitedly opened it.

The Mysterious Iliara: Out of the flask came a 5 foot tall asian woman with prismatic-colored hair, black eyes, and a huge sword that left a trail of necrotic energy. Her name was Iliara and she was from the Elemental Chaos.

Fall From Grace did not sense evil from her. Iliara excitedly started talking and then suddenly recognized the group. She glared at Theran and said, "Renbuu changed you! You imprisoned a slaad!"

This is a reference to an event that happened a long time ago when the group went into the plane of limbo. Theran busted open the head of a slaad, pulled out the gem inside and used that gem to control the slaad. Slaads are beings of pure chaos, and being controlled in this manner enrages them.

Shortly after that, the heroes met a slaad lord named Renbuu, a guy who goes around changing black dragons into gold dragons and stuff like that. Renbuu was deeply offended that Theran had come before him with a slaad slave and demanded Theran release the slaad. Theran refused!

Renbuu flipped out and changed Theran from a regular elf to a drow. In a later session, he turned Theran's skin red and slipped him a golden ball, a "prank" that will come into play soon.

Iliara was perturbed - she was now under the control of Bidam and Theran and she was not thrilled about it. The power of the flask made her friendly and obedient.

The group got really curious about her and kept asking her what she was and how she knew Theran. Iliara was evasive and crazy and revealed that she'd seen Theran driving his modron machine through Limbo way, wayyy back in the great modron march.

This made the heroes even more curious. I was doing a stupid voice for her and the group really got a kick out of her. I realized that this NPC was really clicking. The group was fascinated with her and really wanted to figure her out.

In the adventure, she's supposed to turn against the group. In my campaign, even the bad guys are kind of nice and I think in the case of both Narkel and Iliara, it's more interesting to just play it out and not commit to them being traitors. Let's let the group's treatment of them determine their reaction.

That's where we had to stop.


So here's the deal. Iliara is a death slaad. In the adventure, it says that the death slaad takes the form of Iliara to deceive the group.

I made up her physical appearance based on Jessie's love of korean pop culture. She really likes this guy "G. Dragon" and a group whose name translates to "Bulletproof Boy Scouts", which I find extremely amusing. You can pay to go to their concert and give them a "high touch", which is not a sensual caress but rather a great new name for a high five.

In older editions, there are only a 4-6 death slaads in existence. They are the most powerful slaads aside from the slaad lords.

Ygorl

Judging by what I am seeing from my old guide to slaads, it looks like most death slaads directly serve Ygorl, lord of entropy, the most prominent slaad lord. Ygorl is the "Bringer of Endings" and he rides a brass dragon infused with chaos energy.

Here are the "official" death slaads in D&D lore that I know of:
  • Sorel (Dragon Magazine #221): Sorel is being groomed by Ygorl to become a new slaad lord.
  • Thurupl the Kicker (Planes of Chaos): Thurupl leads a gang of blue slaads called The Quick Tongue. They hang out at the spawning stone in Limbo.
  • Skirnex, Voice of Ygorl (Plane Below): Skirnex is a three-armed death slaad, a pseudo-priest touched by the Far Realm. Skirnex speaks for Ygorl.
  • Vinakr Abudn (Plane Below): A black slaad who meditates near the Great Red Tempest of Limbo. Vinakr is trying to find a way to tear down the walls of creation.
  • Iliara (Dungeon Magazine #64): It just says that she's afraid of Bzallin, not sure what her full story is.
Next time, the group will clear out Bzallin's lair, then probably rest in Sigil, an then go hunting for Bzallin's phylactery. Methinks that phylactery article in Dragon Plus will be extremely useful.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Dungeons & Dragons - The Book of the Tarrasque

You can get this book right here.

I read Teos Abadia's review of this the other day and it sounds really cool. I bought it both in pdf form and in print. The print one won't be here for a few weeks, but I got the pdf right here, right in my face, right now.

What is the Tarrasque? The Tarrasque is more or less the ultimate D&D monster. There's only one in existence (supposedly). It has been used in adventures in almost every edition, and there's been at least two cults created in different issues of Dragon Magazine that worship it.

It sleeps for years, then it wakes up and goes on a rampage like Godzilla.

This book is 80 pages of material all dedicated to the tarrasque. I'm interested to see what ideas they came up with.

Foreward: There's a forward by Ed Greenwood, who actually wrote the ecology of the Tarrasque in Dragon Magazine years ago. He gives some advice and some amusing stories about old TSR employees using the Tarrasque in their games.

Running the Tarrasque: The author has run the Tarrasque against many groups, so he has a lot of insight as how to best use it. The main thrust is that level 15+ groups can handle the Tarrasque pretty easily. Give it regeneration. 

As far as implementing the recovery of hit points, there's a very cool idea on "tiered regeneration". Basically, the more damage the Tarrasque takes, the more points it regenerates each round.
Lots of really good stuff:
  • Rules for charging, trampling, chucking buildings, etc.
  • How a bad guy might take control of the Tarrasque for a time. There is a really awesome section on getting swallowed. It explains how you move in there, the AC of the innards, damaging the heart, etc.
Walking the Tightrope: The author has a similar mentality to mine. He talks a lot about holding back, and ways to run the monster in a way that feels menacing without giving away that you are helping the group out.

The thing about that is when the players see that you are holding back, it takes the game down a few notches. Usually the players are too into what's going on to notice, and they're so relieved to have breathing room that they don't think about what the DM just did for them.

When players get to know you, that's where it gets tricky. You don't want to invalidate your own encounter, but in this case it is hard to work around it. It's the Tarrasque! It does a pile of damage in a single round!

I think if you play it like it is a dumb monster (which it is), then you give yourself some leeway. It can have moments of surprising cunning when needed.

One awesome tactic in this book blows my mind involves a zombie and a potion of growth.

This is an incredibly thorough book, the author has really rolled up his sleeves and got into the nitty gritty. He talks about flying PCs, reverse gravity, polymorph, tricks with bags of holding and portable holes. Then he gets to the wishes.

Wish Spells: I have a real thing about wishes. The advice here is to "look for the loopholes." I don't like screwing over players with wishes, it just feels wrong. If wish is fundamentally a game breaker, then it shouldn't be in the game, right? Who is going to cast a spell like that when they know the DM is going to try to twist it?

Worse, people casting wish have earned it. They're really high level. They clawed their way to the top to get what is one of the ultimate spells. Now we're jut going to block it and slap down everything they want to do with it?

Here's a quote about wishes from page 20 of the book: "Of course you can just grant them with the intent they had in mind, but where is the fun in that."

Well... it would be fun for them! The problem is that the spell could turn the encounter into an anticlimax. I'm not sure what the answer is to this, although the wish spell is pretty limited as it is written in the Player's Handbook.

Surprise Material: The author mentions his campaign setting, which sounds really great: "...a homebrew setting where the world is dimensionally locked and teleports gone wrong, spelljammers, or banishment type spells trap people on 'Lockworld.'"

Later, it is suggested that this "Lockworld" was made to keep the Tarrasque imprisoned there.

That is really epic, I am definitely going to use that in my campaign when I can squeeze it in.

There's other really great ideas:
  • Trolls were actually created to feed the Tarrasque endlessly.
  • A lich wants to transfer its essence into the Tarrasque
  • They actually mention the world of Falx from Spelljammer! A traveler comes bearing small creatures - young Tarrasques, which have an incredible appetite and begin growing.
We go over the appearances of the Tarrasque in older editions and products. Some stuff I didn't know:
  • Rob Kuntz (A co-DM of Gary Gygax's Castle Greyhawk) has made reference that there is a spike on the Tarrasque's tail that is a relic linked to Tharizdun.
  • In the old D&D comics (which I owned but never read.. they just looked too weird and non-D&D to me), an evil magic user with a staff that held five severed heads of dragons summoned the Tarrasque and the heroes fought it off with.... golem bombs..?
There are a ton of note on the Tarrasque appearing in 3rd party products and video games.

The Machine of Unmaking: We get an adventure for 15th to 20th level characters. Basically, the Tarrasque is on a rampage. The destruction is powering a "machine of unmaking" which is warping the world. The longer the group takes to get to the end of the adventure, the more difficult the final encounter will be.

There's a very handy chart to describe how the unmaking works. In the early stage, when a character roll a 1 on a d20, something they own disassembles into component parts. I love that. At the higher end, the ocean begins to evaporate, forests are unmade... egad.

The adventure seems pretty cool. There are "mini-Tarrasques" normally kept in adamantine cages.

Then we get a pile of handouts. I love the "Inside the Tarrasque" playmat.

Overall

The book is very professional-looking and it is very easy to read. The thing I like the most is that it is fueled by experience and expertise. The author read up everything he could on it and he ran many encounters with the Tarrasque.

I personally would have liked more artwork. Some of the art looked too comic-booky for me. I would have liked om e pictures of the Tarrasque rampaging, fighting a party, that kind of thing. I know that art isn't cheap, though!

I think it is definitely worth buying if you have any interest in using this monster at all.

I love assigning "experts to D&D topics. That's one of the cool things about the game. If you use one official thing in your game a lot, and you read everything there is about and expand on it, you are pretty much the world's authority on that thing.

D&D is so vast that there's a billion monsters, items, and NPCs to flesh out. While writing for this blog, I've stumbled upon a few such experts:
Looking forward to finding more!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Force Grey Season 2: Episode 3

You can watch these episodes on Twitch right here.
You can buy Tomb of Annihilation right here.
You can buy Xanathar's Guide to Everything right here.

This week, the adventurers head into the jungle. Half hour episodes are very easy to watch.

The Party

(Joe Manganiello) Arkhan - Dragonborn Paladin of Tiamat
(Deborah Ann Woll) Jamilah - Human Barbarian
(Dylan Sprouse) Tyril Tallguy - Firbolg Druid
(Utkarsh Ambudkar) Hitch - Human Rogue
(Brian Posehn) Calliope - Half-Elf Bard

The heroes are getting equipment for their expedition into the jungle to look for the lost city.

The adventurers head into the jungle. It's hot, there's a thick canopy up above and they hear all sorts of weird animal noises.

Jamilah leads the group to an area near the river. She's wary of flying monkeys (seriously). The group hears a roar in the distance.

The heroes hide, and Tyril turns invisible. A tree falls over. A huge creature with plates on its back comes lumbering by. It has a mace-like tail. Stegosaurus?

It passes by. The heroes set off a plant that releases a spore cloud. The group makes their saves and are unaffected. They notice there are many more of these plants all around them.

Tyril has a great idea. He transforms into a mole and digs a tunnel to get the group out of the area safely. It takes about half an hour.

The group makes their way through the tunnel safely. On the other side, they find the bones of a long-dead explorer. There's loot on this here body!65 gold, some silver, a rusty short sword, a mostly-dissolved suit of armor, and a pair of boots that are untouched.

Calliope casts identify. The boots are magic... boots of elvenkind. Jamilah is wearing a pair just like them.

Calliope keeps the boots and the group continues on for a bit. They've traveled for a few hours, total. Tyril hears a birdlike noise. Arkhan warns them that there are a band of evil aarakockra here that serve a medusa. That's where we stop.

Overall

Nothing wrong with this, I guess. In the teaser, they reveal that the group encounters pterafolk next week, so things should get rolling a bit.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Dice, Camera, Action: Episode 59 - Storm King's Thunder

Episode 59 - Snowflakes in Kronenheim
Lots of pre-game notes!

I made a page for the backstories of the wafflecrew.

I signed up for Holly's patreon. She actually made a D&D adventure, which of course I grabbed and devoured right away.

Devastus: While making that page, I rewatched lots of old episodes. On episode 8, when Strix is meeting with Lady Wachter, Strix learns she is the daughter of a devil. Lady Wachter notes that her "devil bible study group" is reading The Grimoire of the Four Quarters, a book that details an entity known as Devastus, who led one of the "greatest diabolical cults in history." Devastus was torn apart by "heretics" and it sounds like he was broken into four pieces and scattered.

Who is Devastus? Did Chris make him or her or it up? I dug deep into google. The only thing I could find was in Dungeon Magazine #77, edited by one Chris Perkins. There is an adventure dealing with Keraptis, the villain from White Plume Mountain. At the end of it, the group might go to a plane called Devastus. It has some pillars/standing stones (like those found in every published adventure so far).

I have no idea what the deal is with this or why Chris even mentioned it at all. Is Devastus the father of Strix? Is there any connection to the plane of Devastus?

Lots of art and writing this week:
Last Name of Strix: Holly was asked on twitter: Is Strix's full name "Strix Strazni?" This question refers to the fact that this is the last name of her brother, Izek (the guy with the monster arm from Vallaki).

Her answer: "Not technically. That secret will be revealed soon."

The Waffle Crew

(Anna) Evelyn - Human Paladin of Lathander
(ProJared) Diath - Human Rogue
(Nathan) Paultin - Human Bard
(Holly) Strix - Tiefling Sorcerer
(Dani Hartel) Captain Xandalla - Elf Sorcerer, I think

Strix is driving a vistani wagon, cutting a path through the snow. The heroes have returned to Toril (the Forgotten Realms). Evelyn is sitting next to her.

The snow is high - it is up to the horse's stomach. There is a skeletal horse following them ridden by Sir Godfrey. Also following is Waffles the owlbear, who is now very old.

In the wagon is Diath, Paultin and Simon.

Strix starts humming and Evelyn joins in. They actually sing a song on the stream. It's very good!

We learn that someone named "Father Sunbright" sang the same song.The group is aghast that everyone in Evelyn's life has these ridiculously sunny names.

After 50 years as a lonesome spirit, Evelyn didn't realize that this was real. Now she's snapping out of her stupor.

There are two casks of wine in the wagon, which Paultin begins to drink from. Once the group left Barovia, Paultin felt a weight lifted from his shoulders. The wagon hits a bump and a bunch of stuff stashed in a weird spot in the carriage falls on them.

Among the detritus is an envelope with a seal that bears the emblem of Strahd. In it is a note: Chris posted it on twitter, I hope it is OK for me to repost here:

Chris mentions the narcissist's curse - Strahd cannot love anyone other than himself. I'm sure I'm not the only one here who learned that lesson the hard way.

The waffle crew have emerged in a different section of the realm. They are very far from Citadel Adbarr. The heroes were supposed to help the fake king, but methinks that guy is screwed.

They make camp. Evelyn realizes that Paultin's son is 50-something. They send Simon out for firewood and he comes back an hour later with a single pine cone.

Strix drinks from a flask of goat blood, which she now uses to remain eternally young. Waffles goes into the woods and comes back with blood on her. She hunts for her own food, now.

Strix speculates on the possibility of shoving Simon into the fire. Simon gives her the finger and she returns the gesture.

Here comes a flying ship... It's the airship from Storm King! It is kept aloft by a giant balloon.

It's got a draconic symbol on it and has ski runners on the bottom. It has mounted weapons: A harpoon and a heavy crossbow.

Dani's character is Captain Xandalla, who spots the group. Her crew is dressed in black and wearing masks. Sound like the Cult of the Dragon.

He first officer is Nyzroth. The crew is right out of Storm King's Thunder: Nyzroth, Brassik, Laz, Oriskus, Perella, Tralt, and Zalthia.

Diath realizes that they're a cult. The captain has a pet pseudodragon named Summerwise. The pseudodragon likes Paultin, who pets it.

The captain offers to give them a ride. Offer accepted!

Strix has a bunch of new gear and new clothes. She has three puppets, one that looks like each of the heroes.

Xandalla meets with the group in her cabin and explains that she's on a secret mission to the spine of the world. The cultist crew kind of came with the ship and are unaware of what her true goal is.

Xandalla asks the waffle crew to help her. She's a member of the Harpers, a secret organization of good guys. Her mission is to obtain... the Ring of Winter! It's in the hands of the bad guys. The ring is mentioned in Storm King and apparently is part of Tomb of Annihilation. Maybe Chris is using this to get the group involved in the new storyline.

Captain Xandalla actually mentions Artus Cimber. who is the last person known to have the ring. Artus is the star of the old novel The Ring of Winter. A relative of his is in Storm King.

Dani actually made models of the pseudodragon and the severed hand. Really awesome, especially the hand!

The group agrees to help her. The waffle crew is going to Kronenheim, a lair that not much is known about.

We learn that the year is 1490. The group came back to the time they left.

Chri mentions that Paultin had no drinks for the 50 years he spent as a lonesome spirit.

The heroes are given cabins to sleep in. They'll need to buddy up. The players amusingly declare they don't care who sleeps where. The arrangement ends up like this:
  • Strix and Diath: Strix sleeps in a circle of salt and screams in her sleep.
  • Paultin and Evelyn: Waffles squeezes in here, too. The cabin is transformed into a dutch oven.
We learn that the group did take the horse that was pulling the carriage along. Sir Godfrey is on board as well.

The next day, Strix notices that the ship's crew is acting shady.She spots one of them is talking into a sending stone, a device that allows you to communicate with someone else long distance.

The group informs the captain that treachery is afoot. She knows about this and she says that she knows who they're talking to. he doesn't tell the group. I is probably the legendary red dragon, Klauth, who is part of Storm King and appeared in one of the recent Acquisitions Inc games.

It is pointed out that Paultin can use his mandolin to make things invisible. Diath goes invisible to spy on the bad guys. He rolls well. The bad guys communicate this through the stone in draconic, which Diath doesn't speak.

Dath and the heroes go to tell Captain Xandalla, who is below decks talking to Gale, the air elemental that powers the ship. The heroes notice that Xandalla's skin has light scales. Sounds like she is a dragon blooded sorcerer, just like my Eberron character!

Xandalla is quite unimpressed with Diath's attempt to recall and relay draconic words and phrases. My favorite made-up word that Jared comes up with is "Letallica," who fans agree peaked with their fourth album.

The ship has drifted over a canyon of ice. As they look down, they spot a closed-off section. There are giant buildings built into the ice that protrude slightly. This is the frost giant village of Kronenheim.

As the ship descends, the adventurers see that the plaza of the town is full of dead giants and slain giant wolves.

The airship lands. Cautious investigation reveals that these corpses have been in the cold for some time. The snow has obliterated any tracks. All of the lodges have huge open doorways.

The wounds indicate that the corpses were torn apart by something much bigger than them. Sounds like a dragon. Maybe the white dragons they spotted at the start of this season.

Yup.. Nyzroth says he thinks that the giants were killed by a white dragon.

Sir Godfrey is going to watch the ship. Xandalla asks Summerwise to stay on the ship, along with waffles. I kind of wonder if this is a fateful decision.

The heroes enter a building and spot the tracks of a lone humanoid. This person made their way from the rift up into the lodge. The tracks are very recent.

The heroes come to a big hall. There's a massive chair that has skulls piled around it. The tracks lead to another area. The person seems to have climbed up a pillar.

The heroes ascend the pillar, which leads to the rafters. No more tracks. There's a huge horn here. It's 30-40 feet long. Evelyn yells "hello" in the horn. It echoes throughout Kronenheim.

Uh oh... Three voices, giant voices, ask each other what that noise is. A billowing curtain pulls away. It's a 30 foot tall frost giant with three heads! That's where we stop.

Chris says that next week is the finale of season 2.Chris loved this session and that Holly and Evelyn's song was a blessing - he's never ever had anything like that in his game before. Holly says they both were in choir - they wrote the song and the lyrics.

PAX West is coming up. The waffle crew will do a Q&A there.

Holly will be streaming while creating a list of items that Chris made. She's going to make a jar of tongues and Diath's magic sword, Gutter! She actually has already started:

That's the bottom of the hilt - the red gem is in its mouth.

Chris says that the next episode is called the Red, the White and the Crew.

Overall

Very good show! The players seemed to have put a lot of thought into how the 50 year gap affected their characters in a fun way, which was a relief for yours truly. 

Dani: Dani was really fun, probably one of my favorite guests so far. She had a cool character and she has a wry sense of humor that added a lot to the game.

Some of the guest stars have trouble adjusting to the group's style and hey, who can blame them? It's hard to hit the ground running with a new group. I think Dani watches the show, so she's totally familiar with everyone and was able to jump right in.

Frost Giants? Chris really threw me with Kronenheim. A white dragon killed the giants? Where is the dragon now? What's the deal with the 3-headed giant? Is it a titan? I feel like I should know some of this, but I am drawing a blank.

OK... A reader was nice enough to fill me in. Check out page 27 of Volo's Guide to Monsters. Sometimes, frost giants reach out to Vaprak, the god of trolls and ogres. Vaprak transforms them into an "everlasting one", a powerful outcast giant.

There are stats for the everlasting ones on page 148.

To become an everlasting one, the frost giant must eat a troll, "Only the boldest and most determined frost giants can finish such a gory feast." The giant gains the power of regeneration, and sometimes extra limbs or heads.  It can also rage... yikes.

Season 3: There will be a few weeks between seasons 2 and 3. They did a great job this season of keeping a weekly schedule, and I think it helped tremendously. Last week felt like a turning point for the show and it has led to a very palpable surge in popularity.

How Long is this Campaign? It was smart of Chris to slow down the leveling. It isn't noticeable, but means that the group will have more episodes to play around with before they hit those heady high levels and max out. Maybe Chris is shooting for 100 episodes total? 125?

He could be thinking of it in term of storylines. The crew could do Tomb of Annihilation and then whatever comes out after it.

I guess we'll see!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Planescape - The Blood War XVIII. Bzallin's Blacksphere

George's work schedule changed so we weren't able to play for a few weeks. Now we're hopefully back on track. I hate missing so much time.

From '08 to '14 I was running 2-3 sessions a week and I got very used to the grind, so missing sessions like this feels really weird.

I was very rusty tonight, but it was still pretty awesome.

Plans Change: I had planned this session about a month ago. The group was going to go to the Wells of Darkness, utilizing material from an old adventure that is part of the Savage Tide path.

Yesterday, I was sitting there thinking that it just didn't feel like it was time to go the wells. I would have to sort of shoehorn it in to the story. Plus, the realm is cool, but there's not that much to do there. I didn't feel like I would be able to make it fun. I needed to mess with it a bit more.

Just a few hours before game time, I decided to completely change my plans. I wanted to run Bzallin's Blacksphere, a Chris Perkins Dungeon magazine adventure that I'd already laid the foundation for.

Learning How to Prepare: It took me about 6 years to learn how to prepare an adventure in a way that worked for me. I have to read the whole thing and write notes as I do it. That's the only way I can retain it and at the same time, I'm giving myself a "cheat sheet" to refer to when running it.

By going over the module in such a thorough manner, I can look up any spells, items or powers that would have tripped me up during the session.

Way back when I first got this issue of Dungeon, I was recovering from DM burnout. Planning a new campaign, I grabbed a bunch of issues of Dungeon magazine and decided to make a "sandbox". I was going to place all of the adventures on one map, link the stories, and then let the characters roam free.

I thought that if I could prepare all of the adventures in advance, that would give the players an incredible amount of freedom and I think the game would feel really fun.

I didn't actually run this campaign, I just prepared it. Bzallin's Blacksphere was going to be the final adventure. I mined the "mere of dead men" mini-path as the probable main storyline.

This morphed into another campaign. As I was working, I started getting a million idea that I was excited about and I realized that I didn't need these published adventures because it had inspired so much content of my own making.

I proceeded to run a campaign that I was extremely happy with, following up on a lot of tuff from previous campaigns. The god the dwarves died (the dude in the banner of this site - that's his body in the astral sea) and there was this mad gnome in a ruined city who was siphoning the power from magic items to create and fuel an army of clockwork golems. One of the heroes actually fell in the magic furnace and became a clockwork golem himself.

In a way, Bzallin's Blacksphere was the catalyst that finally brought me to a point where I was happy with how I was running games. There's still a million things I wish I could do better, but it gave me the confidence to know that I could run a game that I personally was proud of and I have not suffered any kind of creative burnout since then.

Anyway, Bzallin's Blacksphere involves a pocket dimension/lair inside a cube. The map is literally a cube:


I hastily slapped together a cube map of my own:

I bet a lot of you could make a really cool homemade cube map.

The Party

(Jessie) Bidam - Platinum-Scaled Dragonborn Fighter
(George) Theran - Elf Wizard  

Last time, Graz'zt had a temper tantrum. He flew a chaos ship into the Abyssal Undersump and destroyed the portal to Thanatos that the group and their devil allies were using.

Their pit fiend friend proved he was loyal to the heroes and made Iggwilv really angry.

The adventurers had gone to the abyssal realm of Bidam's wife, Bazuuma. Bad guys had installed a sphere of annihilation in the center of this realm, and it was growing.

Worse, two demon lord avatars were there, alone with 13 wizards, intent on killing the adventurers and Bazuuma.

Nocticula
The demon lords:
  • J'zzlshraak: A beetle-woman demon lord right out of Bzallin's Blacksphere.
  • Nocticula: The pathfinder demon lord of succubi/assassins/shadows.
Both of them are controlled by Iggwilv the witch queen (she knows their truenames). Iggwilv has set up this assault as a way to please Graz'zt, so he will release her from her prison - she's trapped in his palace.

J'zzlshraak has allies:
  • Bzallin: A very powerful wizard
  • 12 apprentices, each pretty powerful in their own right.
The group's ally is Bazuuma, a "good" demon lord of positive energy with 20 eyes that she can shoot eyebeams out of.

The Blacksphere: Theran quickly scanned the sphere of annihilation. He could see that it was going to grow slowly, it would take a month to engulf the entire realm. In my game, I say that things "destroyed" by the sphere of annihilation are actually teleported to the plane of Acheron, where in ten minutes' time they turn to iron and become part of the mass of a huge cube.

The Plane of Acheron
This cube is the home of a rust dragon named Coirosis, who the group had a harrowing encounter with long ago.

Let's Jump In: Theran thought that they should... jump into the sphere. Yes, jump into a sphere of annihilation. They'd take a lot of damage, but they'd survive. They'd appear in Acheron and they would have ten minutes to get out of there before they turned to solid iron.

I really didn't expect that. They came extremely close to doing it.. but they remembered that Bazuuma would probably die here alone.

The Deal: Nocticula contacted Theran telepathically. She wanted to make a deal... she'd spare the heroes if they swore to find a way to free her from Iggwilv's control. They agreed. She took a dive.

Bzallin, acting like a teacher, told his students to carefully prepare to cast magic missile. They did. Then he told them to cast it. They did. 36 missiles came hurtling at the heroes and tore into them. They were still up, but it definitely hurt.

Bidam charged J'zzlshraak (one of the most fun names to say out loud in D&D) rolling a natural 20 with the sword of sharpness! He sliced into the demon lord's carapace.

Bazuuma fired off a thick combination eyebeam that hit J'zzlshraak and the clump of wizards.

J'zzlhraak teleported away. The wizards fled through a planar gate. They figured their job was done - the sphere was going to grow and completely obliterate the realm.

You really shouldn't hold it like that
Theran studied the sphere and saw that it was a portal to the quasi-elemental plane of vacuum, an airless void. So.. yeah, jumping in would have been bad.

The sphere had been infused with negative energy. He surmised that there was some magic device that needed to be nullified to reverse the growth effect.

He'd soon learn that Bzallin has a talisman of the sphere that he magically altered. That talisman is the source of the problem.

Sigil: The heroes went home to Sigil and we did a bunch of goofy stuff before they rested:


Baba Yaga's hut marched into deadbook square. Out of it came Burba Larga, Baba Yaga's goofy stepdaughter that my players enjoy. She had come here to tell Zaraga, the hag of deadbook square, that it was almost time for the Gloom Meet, a hag "convention" that I have been planning ever since I wrote the guide to nightmares a few years ago.

The Michael Jackson NPC, Eo Kaplan, was carrying around a pet monkey. In real life, Michael Jackson had a monkey named Bubbles (if you are interested in the 80's, you should check out my favorite book of all time - The Clothes have No Emporer by Paul Slansky). So, since my game is stupid, Eo's monkey was named Nipples.

The heroes were slightly alarmed to see Eo interacting with Baron Flumph (D&D Barron Trump) and his mom, Mel Narnia. Mel seemed to like Eo. Eo seemed to like Baron. Baron looked bored.

Somehow we ended up a doing a thing where Burba Larga tried to do a moonwalk and by gawd she rolled a natural 20. People in the square gathered around and cheered.

I also had the "official" stepdaughters of Baba Yaga make an appearance. Elena the Fair (aka Elena the Mad) and Natasha the Dark. I pointed out that Natasha looks exactly like Iggwilv, and the group freaked and started asking a million questions.

Basically, Natasha is Iggwilv. She grew up and left the hut. The Natasha in the hut now is a magical duplicate created by Elena, who misses her sister.

Then we did some perverted stuff involving golems and lightning, then moved on to Bidam's employees watching him perform lewd acts. It was a long rest well spent.

Fall From Grace as she appeared in Planescape:Torment
Favorite NPC: The next day, the group was surprised to see their good friend Fall From Grace had the day off from her "secret mission" with the Sensates. The group hates that mission. She's definitely their favorite sidekick NPC. They ask me about her chastity bodice every single time we play.

I think part of the reason is because I pronounce it "BOW-diss" rather than "Bod-iss" and they like correcting me on it.

She's a succubus who has never committed an "act of passion". As long as she remains chaste, the Bow Diss grants her special powers.

Fall From Grace agreed to come with them to foil Bzallin's scheme.

The heroes decided that they needed to find Bzallin and top this item that's causing the blacksphere to grow. Theran is a member of the Society of Lumeniferous Aether, and has access to their incredible library.

There, he found a spellbook/journal written by a former apprentice of Bzallin. In it was a sigil sequence that the group could use to teleport to Bzallin's lair. They hired someone to cast a teleportation circle spell, and in they went.

Bzallin's Cube: The cube lair of Bzallin is technically its own demiplane. It is made of smoky marble and the floor is covered in patterned tiles.

The Statues: The heroes appeared in a chamber with five green doors. There were 3 statues of barbed devils. The group immediately was pretty sure those statues would come to life and attack them.

After closer examination, they saw that these were real devils hit with flesh to stone spells.

Let's Begin: The group had to choose one of five exits. We're in room 1. Where did they go? Room 2? Room 3?

Take a look:
Room 30. They skipped the whole dungeon. They started laughing when they saw my face. Jessie pointed out that this was like the time that they skipped that evil carnival from Dead Gods - a huge locale full of encounters that I meticulously prepared and the group had no interest in investigating.

This is also similar how the group demanded that I create a cow lady NPC with 6 udders, and then were completely nonplussed when I introduced her with a special voice and everything.

The Laboratory: The heroes crept up to a door and listened. There were sounds of bubbling, clanking and murmuring. Bidam stealthily cracked the door open to peek in. Rolls a natural 20 on his stealth check! He saw four of the apprentices in a lab with tables made from hovering crystal. The room is LOADED with magic items.

This whole dungeon was completely overflowing with magic items. It's a high level 2e adventure, and in 2e, magic items were necessary for bad guys to be a challenge. My groups ended up with more +1 swords than they knew what to do with.

Mountain of Treasure: I had decided already that I was going to leave all of this treasure in there. We're nearing the end of the campaign, so I thought it would be fun to back a dump truck full of magic items on them and see what happened.

In 5e, thanks to attunement, it's not really that big of a problem. All of the really good items require attunement, and you can only be attuned to 3 of them.

Bidam saw this and the group got really excited about the treasure. They exploded into the room, getting a surprise round. They killed two of the four apprentices (I used Evoker stats from Volo's - deadly!) before they even turned around. One apprentice dropped to his knees and begged to be spared. The other fled into a room and said Bzallin's name.

Almost Done: Yes, the bad guy's room is right there. We're at the end of the dungeon. They thought that was very funny.

This actually isn't a problem because they'll still want to explore the rest of the place to get all of the loot.

I should note that Bzallin has a shadow demon sidekick named Gloomwhisper that I placed elsewhere. He has this thing where he can trap a soul and I didn't really want to get into that.

Keeping the Cube: When preparing this, I was wondering if they would want to "keep" this place as a home for themselves. As written, this place falls apart into nothing once Bzallin is defeated. I know my group, so I decided to see how they felt about the place. If they liked it, I'd have it remain, at least for a while. It's a very cool location, it feels like a waste to destroy it.

The heroes mercilessly murdered the begging apprentice and crept up to the door. Fall from Grace and Theran got up against the wall on either side, and Bidam busted through the door.

Battle With Bzallin: Beyond it was a study/library. Bzallin and his apprentices were there. They'd cast stoneskin on themselves - a pretty useless spell that I shouldn't have chosen. It gives resistance against non-magic damage. This group does nothing but magic damage.

Bidam sliced at Bzallin twice, but rolled really low and missed both times. The bad guys got off two chain lightning spells, which devastated the group. Bidam also got hit with a finger of death as the bad guys misty stepped around.

Theran spotted the modified talisman of the sphere hanging on Bzallin's neck. He could see that it was magically modified. He knew that the talisman is what was causing the sphere of annihilation to grow.

He cast mage hand, summoning the talisman to his hand. Bzallin was alarmed, to say the least.

Bzallin called forth a cloudkill spell in the main room where Theran was. This dropped him.

Fall From Grace grabbed Theran' body and pulled him into the hallway. Bzallin activated a guards and wards spell, which filled the hallway with mist and arcane-locked all of the doors.

Bidam killed the apprentice. He noticed that striking Bzallin was strange - he did not bleed or get cut. Bzallin dropped his illusory appearance - he was a lich!

Bzallin ignored Bidam, intent on killing Theran and getting his talisman back.

In the hallway, Fall from Grace healed Theran back to consciousness. Dispel magic unlocked the door.

Bidam charged Bzallin and sliced into him, reducing him to dust that vanished in a flash (he's a lich, so he'll reform by his phylactery).

Time to Loot: The heroes were hurt very badly, but they hadn't cast many spells. They have this sack of goodberries that they used to heal themselves to full and went on a looting spree.

They didn't have time to examine everything fully, as this place is full of creatures who probably heard all that lightning and would probably be here soon to see what happened. The loot:
  • Ohm's Black Box - No idea what this is, will have to google it.
  • Magemask - Same deal
  • Black Robe of the Archmagi - wow
  • Wand of Armory: ??
  • Dagger +1
  • Ring of Protection
  • Rod of Energy Draining - This thing is black and was owned by an apprentice named Talica. Look at this cheeky comment in the adventure: "Nothing tickles Talica's fancy like touching someone with her black rod..." That's not an accident. No way.
  • Vest of Protection
  • Cloak of Protection
  • Bracers of Defense
  • Many scrolls
  • 2 spellbooks
  • Wand of Lightning Bolts
  • 2 Ioun Stones - One gives you immunity to non-magic weapons, the other allows you to understand every spoken language.
  • Flask of Curses - if you open it, you are cursed to fail every saving throw. In your life. Forever.
  • Staff of the Magi
  • Bone of Slaying - Make a melee attack. Roll a 19 or 20, the opponent must make a saving throw... or die.
  • The Book of Vile Death - A tome that outlines the process of turning oneself into a lich. It can only be understood by wizards of 17th level or higher. That will be Theran pretty soon. He was quite excited about this.
The players were giddy.

I love the idea of the group getting all these items, then arming a small force of soldiers with them for some special mission or something.

We should finish the cube next week. I'll have to make up a list of all the items in this place to give to them.

I know I'm a Perkins fan and all, but I honestly think this is a classic adventure. If they ever do another Tales from the Yawning Portal type of book, this should be in it.