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Saturday, July 22, 2017

D&D Beyond


I've been meaning to check this out for a long time. It is D&D Beyond, an online D&D program where you can make characters, look up stuff and make monsters, spells and magic items. One of the guys who works here was one of the only survivors of the Chris Perkins meatgrinder at the Stream of Annihilation, which was pretty epic.

In 4th edition, D&D Insider was the best thing ever. You had access to every monster made for the game, and the character builder was so useful that most of my players never once made a character by hand. D&D Beyond seems to be the 5e equivalent.

Signing Up: When you sign up, you do so through the twitch game-streaming service. Apparently the company that made D&D Beyond is owned by twitch, and twitch is owned by amazon. I watch Dice, Camera, Action on twitch every week, so I should have signed up a long time ago. Here's a message I got right away:


I feel like a kid who just moved to a new school district.

Here's the main page:


I don't know what to click first. I guess I'll do compendium content.

Compendium: This is the srd. All of the basic D&D rules. The magic items list is gigantic! Very useful.

The rules I have the hardest time finding are the swimming and drowning rules. Swimming is right in the combat section. It doesn't have drowning information. That is in the "environment" section, under 'suffocating'.

Let's check out the monsters..

Wow! You can organize them by type, search by environment (!). That's very handy.

I just searched for underwater monsters. First result is archdruid! That's a little odd. But the rest are appropriate.. dolphin, dragon turtle, marid, morkoth, etc. I'll click on the dragon turtle.


Hey! It's got the art and everything. It's a little weird how they stuck the armor class next to the challenge rating, a little disorienting. AC 20! People don't use dragon turtles very much. The best use I ever saw of them was in the Pathfinder Skull & Shackles path. The group is in a boat race with other pirate ships and a dragon turtle pops up, very awesome.

This monster is so powerful that it's a bit hard to use until the group gets way up there in level.

Monster Creation: Let's see this create-a-monster thing. You can create one from scratch or base one on an existing monster. Let's see an orc.


Wow.. you can edit it however you like! That's really awesome.

Hey... you can see homebrew monsters. Is that..? It is! A massive list of other people's homebrew monsters! 28 pages of them! Let's see if I can find a cool one.

I'm tempted to pick "Alumnoch the pink unicorn", but I assume you want something semi-serious here. An amber golem! You could stick a vestige in there, how awesome would that be?

It says at the bottom that the amber golems are created by spellcasters to track other creatures. They are usually in the form of a lion or a tiger.

I think there is a ton of material I can use in my Planescape campaign. Let's make a list:

Alumnoch the Pink Unicorn: It has vicious mockery! Hilarious. The unicorn heckles you. Description: The pink gorgeous unicorn from Lewollyn soars through the skies with the help of his majestic mane and tail."

Ancient Red Hydragon: A hydra/dragon?! Whoa.. challenge rating 30. That's too high.. Demogorgon is what, a CR 25? Very cool idea, though.

Contract Devil: I worked on these for my guide to devils. I found it very hard to make rules for the actual contract. I think Pathfinder did it best. This stat block doesn't have rules for contracts.

Cthulhu: Wow. Also a CR 30. If Cthulhu is killed, R'yleh sinks back into the depths. I think that this monster needs a madness chart! Right? More than any other entity out there. Lots of fun details in this entry, lair actions and everything.

I skipped to the last page. The very last monster is Ysgrove the Unkillable, a blue dragon. He's CR 30, too!

I'll filter it for monsters appropriate for my planescape group. That's a challenge rating of 8.

Two pages of results!

Chained Angel: This sounds cool. Really nice description on this one! "These angels have been captured by fiends, tortured and turned to serve darkness. A pack of chained angels is considered a status symbol among the servants of evil." If you kill one, it will either reward you with a spell effect or become a storm of destruction. That's great!

I'd want to rescue them, not kill them.

Hill Giant Butchers: Do they have giant meat cleavers? They do! When in their kitchen, they get lair actions.

There are a lot more cool ones. Lava dragon, mindflayer corpsewalker, skeletal tyrannosaurus rex, treasure golem and.. The Mother of Squorms. What is that? Let's see.

The Mother of Squorms: She's a horror created by the pollution of alchemy labs. She has "horrid fertility", she breeds asexually, spawning dozens of squormlings after every large feeding. Well, I'm sold! Just the name "squormling" is enough to win me over.


Character Builder: OK, let's look at the character builder. I imagine this is the thing that will get used the most. I really don't want to hand-make a character. Let's randomize! I am going to make a level 9 goliath warlock. I like goliaths, I guess they're my favorite race. And warlocks are cool.


I need a name. Let's see, something stupid. This page has a list of craptastic names. Henry Cooldown, that's pretty good/bad. Or bad-good. Dingo Egret! That's great. Darkdeath Evilman!!! Wow. Trevor McFur. If I was making a tabaxi, that would be a shoe-in.

There's so many!!! Cream the rabbit? Let's go with Hot Coldman. You pronounce it "Cold-min." Maybe it should be Hawt Coldmin.

I have a 6 Wisdom! Why?! Hawt Colmin is not optimized. I guess and I can get into that. He's got a 16 charisma.

They picked my spells. Nice! I have counterspell to shut you down. Banishment.. contact other plane! Very cool.

They did my background, too. I was a soldier. I have a military rank. Soldiers recognize my authority and influence. I can requisition horses and etc. Officer Coldmin!

My alignment is "unknown" for some reason. They left bonds, flaws, and personality blank.

You have to pick equipment, they don't randomize it.

I can speak with animals at will, and I can disguise self at will. What the heck is gaze of two minds?

It's here. Wow. HaĆ¼t Cold'mynn can touch a creature and see through their senses. I can sustain this by using an action each round. I'm blinded and deafened while doing this.

OK. The builder is pretty great. Let's see homebrew content.

Homebrew Spells: Wow. Homebrew spells?! 27 pages of homemade spells! Let's search by "spell tags". Creation spells, please.

Clone Hero: That sounds cool. It's a level 8 spell that creates a hero that will fight for you for 24 hours. Awesome idea, but it is very vague. What are its stats? If it's an 8th level spell, it should be pretty powerful. Maybe like a blackguard from Volo's or something.

Dark Maiden's Moonfire: I like the way this one is written. You summon the moonlight, which illuminates the area around you. When you want, you can use an action to hurl the moonlight and do radiant damage. That's really great! It's a cantrip, too.

Remove Hand: "This spell lets you remove one of your hands and control it while it is separated from your body." Sold! 100%!

Homebrew Magic Items: This should be good! Let's do my favorite, wondrous magic items.

Endless Keg of Mead: It has 30 gallons, refilling itself at dawn. If it is not used for five days straight, it is destroyed. I like that a lot.

Traveler's Chest: A chest that follows you around, like a drow crawlchest. Very cool!

Headband of Goblinkind: You gain the goblin ability to disengage or hide as a bonus action once per rest and you can speak and understand goblin. But you can't speak or understand other languages except thieves cant and the Druidic language. That's pretty rough for an item requiring attunement!

Overall

D&D Beyond is extremely useful! Why wouldn't you use it? It's full of ideas for you to use in your game. I immediately saw a bunch of things I would want to put in my campaign.

Official Release: D&D Beyond is set to officially launch on Tuesday, August 15th.

Through D&D Beyond, you will be able to buy digital sourcebooks like the Player's Handbook or Xanathar's Guide to Monsters. The core books will be $20 for the first week of launch, then it goes up to $30.

There are subscription options:
  • Hero Tier: $3 a month. It's for players. It removes ads, lets you make an unlimited amount of characters, and utilize homebrew content.
  • Master Tier: $6 a month. The DM can share all of their content with other players within a campaign, so content does not have to be unlocked by every player.
I'm a little confused as to how the subscriptions work with the digital books. From what I am reading, you don't have to buy the books to use it, but the books add content..? You can use the books offline. I don't know if they are pdfs or if they are locked into an app or something.

My first instinct was to turn my nose up at people complaining about buying the books again, but I see that some people have already bought the physical book and then they bought it again on roll20! I can understand why they wouldn't want to pay for them a third time.

It's a very useful set of tools. D&D Beyond i definitely worth a look!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Dice, Camera, Action: Episode 56 - Storm King's Thunder (sort of)

Episode 56: Prime Evil
On twitter the other day, Chris put up some polls on that were pretty interesting. Check it out:


Strix wins! I picked Evelyn because of Paultin, and Drizz't as her fallback option.

Strix wins again! I picked Paultin because he had no problem eating the mother of Waffles.
Strix with a clean sweep. I picked Paultin because he gets drunk and I imagine that's very snore-y.

Anna cooked up some Lathander stuff:

That's when you know a player is 100% in the game. A long time ago, I ran an Al Qadim game where there was all this goofy drama between the heroes. One character decided that since he couldn't get with another character's sister, he was going to commit suicide. The player wrote the suicide note in real life and handed it to me between sessions. He was not a depressed kind of guy, he was just really into the game.

The next session, he got turned into a badger and he tried to kill himself by swallowing his tongue. The player was very insistent that such a thing is possible. The group had a big debate about it and I ruled that the bottom line is, if he wants to kill himself, he'll find a way to make it happen.


The Party

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

The group is in Barovia.... in the distant past, apparently! The dark powers want Paultin to marry an undead lady so that he can be the new evil ruler/prisoner of the realm.

Strix has a witch's broom. The broom's name is Whiskey.  We're reminded that last time, Izek threatened Diath and called him Lorcatha (?) scum. My headphones were all messed up so I got new ones after this show. These earbud things, I'm not a fan.

Strix and Diath appear in a morning-lit rose garden. They hear someone humming. It's "Ireena" (Tatyana - Ireena in Curse of Strahd is a reborn version of her). She's picking roses.

Evelyn and Paultin appear in Castle Ravenloft. A woman mistakes Paultin for the bard performing at the wedding between Sergei and Tatyana. Paultin plays along. She looks at construct Evelyn, and says she has one of those, too. It's a wedding gift. Murderbot?!! 

This mysterious woman's name is Duchess Dorlithia, something like that. I feel like I should know who this is, but I'm drawing a blank. Evelyn and Paultin are brought to another room.

In this room is a woman who looks like Ezmerelda. She's drawing a deck of cards. A tarokka deck! It's a young Madame Eva.

Evelyn says hello to Madame Eva. The woman says her name is Katarina, but she says she like the name Eva, she'll remember that.

A guy with blonde hair enters the room. It's a relative of Paultin's! He as a scar above his eye. Is this his dad? We don't find out this session.

Outside, Strix and Diath watch three people arrive at the castle. It's Strahd, his brother Sergei, and someone wearing a helmet (I assume that's Rahadin, the dude with the howling souls around him). Young Strahd's horse looks a lot like his nightmare. It is Rahadin! They dismount and talk.

Tatyana points at Sergei and declares that he is "dashing."

Evelyn and Paultin really want to see what's in the big box. Paultin makes a sleight of hand check and is able to remove the wrapping paper without ruining it. That's a very amusing use of sleight of hand.

They open it.. inside is Simon, aka Pidlwick aka Murderbot! He's not all creepy and evil, he's a fresh toy, well-painted. Clownish and freakish. Paultin drops to his knees and goes, "my son!"

Strix is able to figure out that the group was sent back in time by a god or someone with a wish spell. She thinks that they might be in a version of Barovia that is locked in time, replaying over and over. Aha... so maybe the Dark Powers sent them here? Or Lathander?

Diath and Strix climb in a window after shooing Tatyana away. Diath is less than thrilled to see Murderbot.
OK. Here's the tempter.

Strix thinks that whatever they do here will affect Barovia only, not the entire multiverse. The characters won't have to worry about being erased. They might be altered (especially Paultin) but no matter what happens, they'll know what they know.

Despite this very clear information, Diath is really wary about changing the timeline. He says that it might undo everything and the group won't know each other. He tells the group that they are more important to him than anything else.


Last session, we had a similar confession from Strix. Hmmm.

The group discusses using... the sword! Diath's sword! The Planecape sword! Evelyn wants it to happen. Strix actually throws it out there that they could use the sword to jump through the portal to Sigil. Wow. My mind is blown.

Diath does not want to use the sword, not at all. He totally shuts it down. OK. We're going to need to petition Jared and insist that he use the sword once every session. You can't tease it like that. It's not acceptable in any way, shape or form! I, for one, am not going to sit here idly by while the mystery of those keys taunts us mercilessly.

Evelyn thinks Lathander sent them here to kill Strahd. Somewhere in here, Strix gets a decoy name: Amy.

Eep.. Rahadin comes into the room. He kicks the group out. They see a magic lute. An instrument of the bards, the Cannith mandolin? I'm missing all of the important words today.

Strix goes to grab Eva's tarokka deck (Eva's gone). Strix sees the formation they were in.
  • Top Card: Two of Swords/Paladin (Evelyn)
  • Bottom: Raven (Paultin)
  • Left: Master of Coins/Rogue (Diath)
  • Right: Five of Stars/Elementalist (Strix)
  • The Card Between Them All: The Three of Glyphs - the Healer  (Lathander?!)
Sergei and Tatyana stumble into the room. They're going to make out! Is Chris going to roleplay it? Will he make the noises? No, they notice the group and regain their composure. Evelyn politely tells them: "So. We're from the future..." I died laughing.
Here's the marionette

Then Strix turns into Sergei and says, "I'm you from the future." Paultin helpfully plays dramatic music. They try to explain to Sergei that he's in grave danger.

Suddenly, a dart sticks Tatyana in the neck. Simon?!?! Simon did that! In slow motion, the group sees that there are three other tarokka cards on the floor:
  • The Tempter (??)
  • The Marrionette (Simon, right? Or Evelyn? Maybe the paladin up there is Sergei?)
  • The Executioner!(??)
Evelyn tries to lay on hands while Paultin quietly disciplines Murderbot. Oh no... it's the bad dart! The death dart! Tatyana's dead.

Strix polymorphs Sergei into a tiny mouse. So, will time repeat like groundhog day? Does the group get to keep trying until they get it right?

Evelyn casts revivify! Tatyana's alive!

Ugh, the noose. Diath will have flashbacks.

To prove that what they are saying is true, Diath shows Tatyana the Tome of Strahd. Awesome idea! Tatyana is shocked - she reads through it a bit, and now she believes the group. Then Simon darts her again!

Luckily, the group has set her up with a protective spell, so Tatyana doesn't die.

Chris points out that there's a third card. Who is the Tempter? It was the Duchess who sent Simon.

That's where we stop.
Strix? The Elementalist.
Overall

Good show! The players were really fun together this week. The chemistry in the group just keeps getting better. The group has a good handle on their characters and they're poised for all sorts of interesting developments. The show itself feels like it has a lot of momentum and is gaining a bigger following. It is very fun to watch it grow.

I am really glad that this is a long campaign. I feel like a lot of people don't get to experience 50+ sessions of the same game that often. I know Critical Role is on episode 100 or something and etc, but I think one of the best things about D&D is how deep you can go.

It feels like a real accomplishment when you get a pile of sessions under your belt. The players really get attached to their characters, everyone' s comfortable, and there's a million plot threads to choose from. I guess I hope this encourages people who can do so to go ahead and grind it out every week rather than doing a single session once a month.

What World Are They On? I can not figure out where Chris is going with this. Why is this happening? Chris did mention in the game today that nobody knows what world Barovia is on and he seemed like he wanted the group to leave the castle, although that could have just been to set up the next encounter on the way to the exit.

The world they're in could be anything. It seems like Greyhawk is a logical choice. Or maybe Krynn (from the Dragonlance setting), because Tracy Hickman wrote the original Ravenloft module and he was the co-creator of Dragonlance.

It might be the 4e Nentir Vale. I think I saw someone mention that the raven-thing that gave Paultin the severed hand was actually the Raven Queen. Maybe this is all the doing of the Raven Queen? She hates undead, I think. She's pro-dead, that's for sure.

If we're going to do Tomb of Annihilation for season 3, at least some of that adventure is set in the Forgotten Realms, so I don't think we'll be going on a long term trip to any other world.

Who Sent Them? It could be that Lathander sent the waffle crew back to help them save Barovia for good, but if Lathander could do that, he would have done it a long time ago, right? Maybe because Strahd is gone, the border in the realm is weaker and Lathander can extend his reach a bit more.

It could be the Dark Powers messing with the group. Why would they do this, though? Maybe if the group stops Barovia from forming, then the Dark Powers never get stuck in Barovia? I think the powers want to be there, though, right?

We haven't seen Van Richten yet. There's no vampires here, but if Paultin's dad is a werewolf right now, then Van Richten might show up to try to kill him. That will be really awkward.


Also, maybe we'll see Escher and his buddy Falkon. The group could have a chance to snag young Falkon and undo his grisly demise.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Running Gods in Dungeons & Dragons

Today I'm going to talk a bit about running gods in your D&D campaign. Gods are supposed to be important - powerful and influential. It can be tough to figure out how to best get that feeling across in a fun and fair way.

First, we'll go over the godly information in the 5e core books, then I'll yammer on about things I learned about running gods in D&D over the years.

Bahamut in his "old man" form

On page 10 of the 5e Dungeon Master's Guide, we go over the idea of a what a pantheon is (a collection of deities). There are two types:
  • Loose Pantheon: A collection of deities that aren't overly intertwined. There are temples devoted to single deities, and often there is conflict between the followers of different gods.
  • Tight Pantheon: This pantheon has a cohesive vision. All of them are worshiped, though individuals might "specialize" in one deity more than the others. One temple honors the entire pantheon.
The Godly hierarchy goes like this:

Greater Deities: They can't be summoned and are always removed from the direct affairs of mortals.

Lesser Deities: These gods are embodied somewhere in the planes. Lolth is in the Abyss, Bahamut is in Mount Celestia, etc.

Quasi-deities: They don't answer prayers or grant spells. There are three types:
  • Demigods: Children of a god and a mortal.
  • Titans: These might be constructs made by a god, the child of two gods, or born from the spilled blood of a god.
  • Vestiges: Deities who have lost nearly all of their followers and are considered dead. Rituals can contact them and draw on what power they have remaining.
Human Gods: On page 13, it says that there is no single god that can claim to have created humanity. Humans worship a vast array of gods. In my game, I like to say that He Who Was (a 4e entity who cast the first devils into Hell) is the god who created humans.

Empyreans

On page 130 of the Monster Manual, we get stats for empyreans, who are "the celestial children of the gods of the Upper Planes." The empyrean is listed as a "Huge celestial (titan)."

The stat block of the empyrean make for a good starting point when trying to figure out stats for avatars and aspects. If these are the children of the gods, it stands to reason that a god's avatar is at least as powerful as empyreans. Their stats: AC 22 HP 313 +17 to hit, 31 damage and the target must make a saving throw or be stunned.

Their moods affect the land around them. When they die, their spirit returns to their home plane. There, one of their parents resurrects them.

Clerics of the Gods

Cleric of Lathander

On page 59 of the Player's Handbook, it says that once per long rest, clerics of 10th level or higher can call on their deity to intervene on their behalf. You roll percentile dice, and if you roll a number equal to or lower than your cleric level, your deity intervenes. Once an attempt is successful, the cleric can't try again for 7 days.

When you are level 20, your call for intervention automatically succeeds!

Domains

If you are making your own gods, you should make sure that you take into account the possibility that a player will make a cleric. Make sure you have your bases covered. These are the different divine domains that a cleric might utilize:
  • Knowledge: Learning, craft and invention. This includes spells like identify, speak with dead and scrying.
  • Life: Healing the sick an wounded. Spells include cure wounds, revivify and raise dead.
  • Light: Rebirth, renewal, vigilance. Spells: Faerie fire, fireball, guardian of faith.
  • Nature: Forest stuff. Spells: Speak with animals, plant growth, dominate beast.
  • Tempest: Storms, sea and sky. Spells: Thunderwave, call lightning, destructive wave.
  • Trickery: Thievery, rebels and liberators. Spells: Charm person, dimension door, modify memory
  • War: Courage and might. Spells: Shield of faith, crusader's mantle, flame strike.
If you're stumped and have no ideas on making your own pantheon, you can make a god based on each domain and extrapolate from there.

Page 294 of the PH lists the gods of the different D&D settings.

How to Run an Omniscient Being

Follower of Tharizdun

Once you have the basics down, you'll need to figure out how you want to handle the gods in your game. I've always struggled with this. Are they omniscient? What do they know? How do you keep a secret from them? Can you keep a secret from them?!

It's very hand-wave-y and it can come off as a little too convenient if you're not careful.

Why Don't They Do It? Another thing I've always had a hard time with is why the gods don't just handle things themselves. For example, some mortal bad guy is going to pull off a scheme that will let evil dominate the world. Why wouldn't a good god just pop down there and take the bad guy out? Why all the omens and dreams and prophecies?

What I say in my game is that the gods have a pact of non-interference, at least as far as directly intervening. That's because it won't take long for two gods to show up in the world and fight each other. That kind of battle could destroy the entire world! Then the gods would have nothing to reign over. It is in their best interest to make a binding agreement not to set foot on the world in their true, most powerful form.

Avatars and Aspects

Takhisis from the Dragonlance Setting

From what I understand, it goes like this:
  • Avatars are a piece of the essence of a god. It is sent on a mission, and when it is done, it comes back and is reabsorbed.
  • Aspects are independent entities, clones with their own thoughts and feelings.
In one book, it says that Asmodeus can create up to 10 avatars. Once those 10 are out in the world, he can't make any more.

In Dungeon Magazine #111, an aspect of Asmodeus is detailed. This aspect is named Nyxthseht, "an aspect of Asmodeus that personifies the arch-devil's persuasive voice and fearful countenance." He commanded a host of bearded devils in the Blood War. In this adventure, Nyxthseht is trapped in an iron flask.

So the aspect has its own name, it is actively involved in affairs of mortals, and has limited power.

How Do Gods Gain Power?

Blibdoolpoolp, goddess of the kuo toa
I think the general idea is that the more followers a deity has, the more powerful they are. The belief itself empowers them. So, if people abandon a faith, that god is going down.

That's a little weird for evil gods. There's not that many people openly worshiping them, right? I suppose that the world has plenty of orcs, goblins, drow, gnolls, trolls and those kind of monsters to worship evil gods, though many of those races already have their own god.

Dead Gods

Tu'narath, city on a dead god

There's a whole adventure book on the topic of Dead Gods. When a god dies, a mile-long stone statue of the god appears in the astral plane, floating among many other dead gods.

These dead gods can be visited and there's all sorts of weird stuff on them - godsblood, atmospheric phenomena, etc. The githyanki travel to them often.

Tu'narath: The githyanki actually built the city of Tu'narath on a dead god. Vlaakith, the lich queen of the githyanki, calls this god "The One in the Void." The god corpse holds a spark of divine life in it. Vlaaskith tries to harness it and become a goddess in "The Lich Queen's Beloved" in Dungeon #100. Capturing this spark involves casting thousands of wish spells.

Having the Characters Meet a God

Iomedae, deity from Pathfinder
The best way I've seen this portrayed is in the Pathfinder Wrath of the Righteous Adventure Path. The group meets a goddess named Iomedae. One piece of advice the book gives you: "Deities exist beyond anything the rules say can or cannot happen."

The heroes are about to go to Baphomet's maze, a mission that will affect the lives of Iomedae's followers. Iomedae meets with them to evaluate them and give them aid. The meeting with Iomedae goes like this:
  • The area fills with light and the heroes are filled with a sense of pride and hope.
  • The group find themselves in a cathedral. Soft light fills the vast space and choirs of angels and archons can be heard singing.
  • If Iomedae wills it, anyone looking at her is forced to make a saving throw or they have to avert their gaze.
  • If a hero mocks her, a deafening trumpet blast echoes through the cathedral. The mocker is permanently deafened and must make a saving throw or forever be mute. This condition can't be removed by anything except a deity's will.
  • If someone mocks her twice or attacks her: She fires off a shaft of light from her shield. The character must make a saving throw or drop to 0 hit points and appear back in the world they came from. If they succeed at this saving throw, they are permanently blinded and appear back in the world they came from.
Iomedae asks the group three questions based on the tenets of her faith. If they answer correctly, they are given an artifact chalice, a spell-like ability and a thread from her cloak - a thing called the Stole of the Inheritor (another major artifact!). Each time answer incorrectly, her choir sings and the whole group takes 5d6, 10d6, and 20d6 damage respectively.

Pantsing a Deity

Church of the Silver Flame from Eberron
You might notice that there's a lot of details focused on what happens if a hero mocks her. That's because in a lot of groups, that's what happens! You need to be ready for this amusing but very tone-shattering kind of behavior.

When I ran Scales of War, the group met Moradin, god of the dwarves. The party wizard was an elf with a smart mouth. His character didn't like dwarves, and began mercilessly mocking Moradin and would not let up. I sat there and thought over my options. Would a god kill him? I mean... you're mocking a god, a supremely powerful being! How do you decide what is appropriate?

The first thing I did was to make it clear to the player that this is a god who has incredible power and that his character was likely to provoke some sort of retaliation. He said he knew that, and kept on roasting the god of the dwarves.

So Moradin decided to teach him a lesson. He turned the wizard into a dwarf! For pretty much the rest of the campaign, the dwarf-hating character was a dwarf. Moradin was hoping that if the wizard walked in the shoes of a dwarf, he'd understand them and stop with the blind hatred.

The wizard just kept hating dwarves. In fact, he hated them even more. Eventually he regained his elf form and became the god of magic in my campaign. To this day, all of his followers hate dwarves, and dwarves hate them.

Change is Unlikely: That's something that I learned in D&D many times over. Most players cannot be "taught a lesson," in-game or out of the game. I have never had a group change their tactics, even when their strategy gets them killed time and time again.

What I eventually concluded was that everyone has their own sense of how things should work, and they are not going to change those beliefs based on what happens in this game. If they were running the game, what they did would work. To them, I'm the one making the mistake.

They know that this is my game, my vision of how things work, so they are happy to ride along but they will never buy into something that they fundamentally disagree with.

Battling a God
 
Kyuss, god of worms

This one is really hard to handle. If the big bad guy of your campaign is an evil god, how do you do a final battle that "makes sense"? It's a god! How can mortals kill a god?

Usually the story involves some artifact that can kill the god in one shot, or some kind of ritual that weakens the god for a short time, effectively making them a CR 22 monster or whatever. Some campaigns go with banishment - the heroes get some device or spell that traps the evil god in some nether-realm.

That's the really hard part about using gods. How do you fight them?

Make Consistent Rules

You should decide at the outset of the campaign exactly what the god's capabilities are. What does it know? What can it do? What can't it do? Maybe it can see through the eyes of a certain type of creature, such as a bat or a raven. Whenever the god wants, it can scan their minds and see where they're at and what they're seeing. Maybe the god can speak through them or use some kind of power through them.

Maybe the god has an aspect down in the world handling everything, practically cut off from the true form of the god. The aspect won't have that nebulous god-power to worry about, it would be more on the level of the demon lord stats in Out of the Abyss.

How does the god communicate with its followers? Does it hear every prayer? Does it know what all of its followers go through and think about?

How does the god reward followers? How does it punish them?

Can the god just make an artifact - conjure it out of thin air? What about magic items?

These questions are important because players can tell when you're pulling ideas out of your butt during the game. They'll realize that this god can do whatever the DM wants it to do, so it's pointless to try anything outside the box because the god will know what it needs to know.

If you have these "rules" in place, that frees your players up to come up with schemes and scenarios to work around those rules. If they know the god sees through the eyes of every raven, maybe they'll have every raven in the kingdom captured and locked up somewhere. Maybe they'll befriend another type of bird and get them to scare off the ravens.

Spending a little extra time to clarify how the god does things can make your game much more fun and the players will come alive when they sense it.

Roleplaying a God

Vecna, God of Secrets
I see a lot of people lately getting hung up on doing a voice. Newer players: You don't have to do a voice! That's a thing on Critical Role - a show full of voice actors! Most of the groups I played with in my life don't do voices at all. You can do it if you want, but it's fine if you don't want to. You are not failing in any way if you can't do a good Darth Vader impression.

The important thing is to try to convey the specialness of a the god. You should come up with a few things that make the god special. Three things, probably. The god shows up, and what happens? Holy light has some effect, when the god speaks some effect goes off, and gazing upon them has some effect. Maybe just being near them temporarily enchants weapons and armor as the metal absorbs divine radiation.  Maybe flowers spring up in each of their footprints.

The most important thing, as weird as it sounds, is to be ready for goofing off. If you want your god to be taken seriously, be prepared for inappropriate behavior. Definitely warn the players that this god isn't likely to put up with fart jokes. They've been fairly warned... then do what you have to do, just make sure it's not overly harsh. It should fit the tone of the god.

Ascension

You should also think about how gods become gods. Is it possible for mortals in your world to become gods? How does that happen?

In my games, the characters can become gods. All of the gods in my world are former characters. Sometimes, when the character hits the highest level, I'll run a special event where the heroes can become a god if they kill a god. I first did this as a little kid. The characters were ridiculously powerful. The players flipped through deities and demigods. They picked out the weakest gods in there and asked to fight them. Sure! Why not? They killed them and became the gods of my realm.

That's a great way to immortalize your friends. One day when I was running a game in the game store, my old friend came in to say hi. I told the group, "He ran Thennrynia." Everyone gasped and started asking him questions. He went, "You mean my cheesy Drizz't rip-off character?"

This campaign had partly revolved around his character. People who had never even met him got to interact with him in a small way without ever meeting him. In a very tiny way, my friend was "famous".

To me, that's a fitting reward for someone who put so much of their time and energy into my goofy campaign.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Dungeons & Dragons - A Guide to Fraz-Urb'luu, Demon Lord of Deception

Today we’re going to check out one of the oldest demon lords in the game of D&D: Fraz-Urb'luu. I went through old products and compiled all that is known about Fraz-Urb'luu into this one guide.

I’ve never been a Fraz-Urb'luu fan. I hate typing his name out, and I’ve always had a hard time running bad guys who are deceivers or illusionists.

As I got toward the end of this, I found some really cool stuff. I missed a note in Out of the Abyss which might hint at an epic future storyline!

The Essentials
Here's a quick overview:
  • He was involved in some big stories in the original Gary Gygax Greyhawk campaign.
  • He rules an Abyssal Realm called Hollow’s Heart, which is a plain of white powder that Fraz-Urb'luu can turn into whatever he likes.
  • Legendary spellcasters Zagig and Iggwilv trapped Fraz-Urb'luu in a bas relief for over 200 years. Iggwilv interrogated him and put much of what she learned in the first Demonomicon of Iggwilv.
  • Fraz-Urb'luu has an extremely powerful staff that was stolen from him. He wants it back. It’s broken into four pieces and if someone else gets their hands on it, they could take Hollow’s Heart from Fraz-Urb'luu.
  • He had a son with a witch named Vilhara. The son is Tsojcanth, a demon prince.
  • Fraz-Urb'luu wants to kill all human beings everywhere.
  • In 5th edition, Fraz-Urb'luu ended up trapped inside a gem. Anyone who touches it goes mad.
Real Life

Here’s the real-life origin: In the original Greyhawk campaign in the '70's that Gary Gygax ran, Ayelerach (played by Mark Ratner) and Erac's Cousin (played by Ernie Gygax) had both obtained vorpal swords that were ruining the campaign.

They stumbled onto Fraz-Urb'luu's prison and freed him. The adventurers panicked and used a scroll to call on the god Zeus to save them, but he ignored their pleas. Fraz-Urb'luu took them to his abyssal realm, destroyed their swords and sent them packing.

AD&D 1st Edition - Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth

We learn things:
  • His face is beautiful but cruel! His head is large and pointed and he has blue fur.
  • For centuries, he was imprisoned in a bas relief visage in the dungeons beneath Castle Greyhawk. He speaks all "human languages" and is capable of telepathy.
  • He can gate in demons or "deceive another demon prince into believing he has been summoned to the spot."
  • He rules an Abyssal Plane that seems to be totally flat and featureless. Magic items taken there lose their magic!
  • Fraz-Urb'luu has a staff that combines the powers of a rod of beguiling with a rod of rulership and a staff of command.
  • The staff was stolen while he was imprisoned.
Monster Manual II

Mostly the same entry with a few changes.
  • When Fraz-Urb'luu summons demon lords, he goes elsewhere.
  • His realm is "alive to the demon's wishes, and shapes itself accordingly."
AD&D 2nd Edition - Faces of Evil: The Fiends

We learn a few things, berk.
  • Fraz-Urb'luu is an 18-foot tall hulking humanoid with blue fur and black leathery wings.
  • He has the ability to trick other demon lords into believing that they have been summoned by a mortal. This lasts for two minutes, and then the demon lord is returned to whence it came.
  • When a demon lord is summoned, it does not die when slain - it reappears in the Abyss.
D&D 3rd Edition – Fiendish Codex I

  • Fraz-Urb'luu is immune to scrying and divination spells/effects.
  • Fraz-Urb'luu is the demon lord of illusionists and tricksters. His mortal minions trick others into worshiping him and sacrificing themselves to him.
  • Since his escape from Castle Greyhawk, Fraz'Urb'luu has been rebuilding his realm Hollow's Heart and searching for his magic staff.
  • He employs succubi, lilitus and a number of chaotic evil rakshasas known as the Hollow Rajahs.
  • His cults are known as the Cults of Deception. A cult has about 12 members who eventually sacrifice themselves. They become prisoners in the city of Zoragmelok on Hollow's Heart.
  • His staff: A jeweled scepter of adamantine cast at the end to resemble five bestial arms that grip a horned and fanged humanoid skull.
Dragon Magazine #333

Again, Fraz-Urb'luu has the most annoying name to type. He is considered to be a "primal lord of the Abyss," one of the first demons to rise to dominance. He has been a terrible constant amid the writhing change of abyssal nobility.

When Zagig summoned him, Fraz-Urb'luu thought he would run roughshod over the mortal realm. Zagig confronted him with an artifact known as the ichor lance to drain some of Fraz-Urb'luu's essence. Fraz-Urb'luu snatched and disjoined it, but in doing so he released energy that stripped him of his powers. Zagig had tricked him!

Fraz-Urb'luu was imprisoned within the dungeons below Castle Greyhawk inside a massive stone bas-relief for over 200 years.

Powers:
  • Disjunctive Touch: Fraz-Urb'luu can absorb or negate magic effects with a touch. He can turn magic items (including artifacts) into mundane items.
  • Inscrutable: Immune to divination and scrying.
  • Item Master: He can create any kind of magic staff without expending resources or spells.
  • He can reform the appearance of his realm with a thought.
When Fraz-Urb'luu was imprisoned, other demon lords sent hordes into the realm and killed everyone. The realm became an endless white plain of powdery sand under an empty black sky.

The demon lords fought over his staff and it shattered, scattering throughout the multiverse.

Once Fraz-Urb'luu escaped and returned to his home, he was extremely angry. Without his staff, reforming his layer is very difficult.

Graz'zt, Demogorgon and Socothbenoth (!) all almost forced Fraz-Urb'luu from his realm.

He is building an army to wage war on humans. Fraz-Urb'luu intends get revenge on the entire race because of what Zagig did to him.

The Staff of Fraz-Urb'luu: A jeweled scepter of adamantine. The staff can be used to bend the will of huge armies. The staff has been shattered and the parts scattered. If all of the parts are brought to Hollow's Heart, the staff will instantly reform.

Powers of the Staff:
  • Enhances enchantment spells
  • Casts Charm person, command and suggestion.
  • 2/day cast charm monster, dominate person, mind fog
  • 1/day dominate monster
  • Ir has the powers of a rod of rulership
  • It is also a +5 weapon.
His current symbol is of a partially-devoured human skull with eyes in the sockets that can roll around.

Sacrifices to Fraz-Urb'luu occur once per year. The victim must be someone who has been tricked, preferably lawful good.

Thralls of Fraz-Urb'luu have some cool powers:
  • When a creature is summoned by someone, they can trick he creature into thinking they summoned it.
  • They can use magic staffs without expending charges at the expense of some of their “life force” (temporary CON damage).
  • They gain the service of two skurchur demons.
  • Once per day, they can turn an illusion into reality!
Favored minions of Fraz-Urb'luu: Succubi and skurchurs

The Hollow Rajahs look quite different from normal D&D rakshasas. Instead of tigers, they take on the humanoid forms of other animals. They rule and govern Hollow's Heart.

Skurchur: These demons are plucked and wingless vulture/dinosaur things that serve Fraz-Urb'luu. They magically disguise themselves as halflings or gnomes and become advisers to kind mortal rulers. Very odd! They have a power:
  • Touch of Vacant Beauty: They can enhance someone's beauty and drain their willpower/dull their intuition simultaneously.

Hollow's Heart: Piles and piles and piles of info:

The sky is black, but it is somehow brightly lit. No shadows are cast here.
  • Athawyn: A decadent city of curving towers and decadent domes ruled by succubi and skurchurs. The guards are orcs. Humans who appear here are eaten by orcs or enslaved by the rulers. The main ruler is a very powerful succubus bard named Nyrashlia.
  • The Blood Dunes: A desert of blood-red particles that are actually scabs and clots of dried blood. There are mysterious ruins here inhabited by liches, mummies and other undead.
  • Bonepus: A small town of 1560 fiendish goblins ruled by a crocodile-headed rakshasa named Rontakus.
  • Deathrot Woods: A forest of sickly trees that is home to demonic plant monsters, including 13 demonic treants.
  • The Demon's Teeth: A mountain wilderness where creatures hide from Fraz-Urb'luu.
  • The Drooling Jungle: A jungle full of trees that have muttering mouths on them. Lots of barlgura live here, along with massive basilisks and acid-spitting hydras. There are rumors that a massive nalfeshnee called the Gardener lives here, too.
  • The Flensers: Volcanoes
  • The Forever Gash: Land of white powder that Fraz-Urb'luu cannot figure out how to transform.
  • Harrowfen: A swamp of poisonous muck inhabited by hezrou and skulvyn.
  • The Hollow Sea: An ocean with many islands containing portals that bring unlucky travelers to this realm.
  • Karantis: A temple-city ruled by a gorilla-headed rakshasa named Kiltikatrit.
  • Karugoze: A raven-headed rakshasa named Liorkian rules this city of orcs, ogres and "fiendish gnomes." What the heck is a fiendish gnome like? For that matter, what would a fiendish lawn gnome be like? Humans are sold here for an average rice of 100 gp.
  • Magghat: Home to slaving sailors, ruled by boar-headed rakshasa named Magghat. Magghat makes disgusting statues.
  • The Red Rapture: A plain full of torture devices operated by vrocks.
  • Scarwood: Fraz-Urb'luu hunts this vast woodland full of feral tribes of humans.
  • The Spiral of Ugudenk: One of Fraz-Urb'luu's great enemies is Ugudenk, demon lord of worms and parasites. He used to burrow into Hollow's Heart and a massive tunnel to his realm still remains. The tunnel leads to the 177th layer of the Abyss.
  • Zoragmelok: This is where Fraz-Urb'luu's lair and fortress is. A nearly-empty city of corkscrew towers and twisted domes. The only inhabitants are Fraz-Urb'luu his consorts (high-level succubi bards, sorcerers and clerics) and humans tricked by his cults. Each of the deceived humans lives alone in a section of the city that has been changed to resemble where they came from.
Expedition to Castle Greyhawk

Kalystis
Kalystys is the daughter of a drow and a succubus who leads a cult of Fraz-Urb'luu in cavers under the city of Verbobonc. In this adventure, she's trapped in a hedge maze. Her ultimate goal is to become a full-fledged succubus. High level followers of Fraz-Urb'luu are given the ability to alter reality, a power she can use to do so.

Excursion to Hollow’s Heart: In this adventure, the group goes to Hollow’s Heart. The group needs find the three pieces of the Godtrap Key. Doubles of famous Greyhawk NPCs each took a piece and brought it somewhere for safe-keeping:
  • Murlynd's Double: Dungeonland
  • Nolzur's Double: Isle of the Ape
  • Zagig’s Double: Hollow's Heart
The heroes go to the Forever Gash - the area Fraz-Urb'luu can't transform. They come up the ichor shrine, a pyramid of red stone with a flat peak. Suspended in the air above it on tall tenterhook is an enormous, disembodied black heart. This heart was torn from a massive nalfeshnee minion of Graz'zt.

An outcast Hollow Rajah named Vajakilar lives here with tiefling minions. He's trying to use the heart to create a massive, undead nalfeshnee

Dungeon Magazine #151

There's a sequel to Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth in here. We learn that Tsojcanth, son of Fraz-Urb'luu is a demon prince! His mother is "a witch named Vilhara."

Who is Vilhara? No idea.

Tsojcanth is a 9 foot tall human with leathery gray skin and a serpentine tail with two poison barbs. His eyes are completely black and he has a steaming tongue.

D&D 4th Edition - Dragon #414

The Iggwilv-Graz'zt affair article has a bit of Fraz-Urb'luu stuff. It says that Zagig imprisoned Fraz-Urb'luu partly to teach Iggwilv (his apprentice at the time) how to handle summoned fiends. She took further instruction from Fraz-Urb'luu, extracting countless secrets. Once she had learned everything she could, she stole stuff from Zagig and fled.

Tsojcanth, son of Fraz-Urb'luu, was a half-demon who was disguised as a mortal for years.

Graz'zt viciously attack Fraz-Urb'luu once solely because he had been Iggwilv's prisoner and plaything at one time - a 'privilege' that Graz'zt no longer wished to share with anyone.

Dungeon #208 - Fraz-Urb'luu: Prince of Deception

Another Demonomicon article. It’s so weird how they did two of the same demon lord when so many have gone undetailed.
  • Orcus is worried that Fraz-Urb'luu might recover his staff. Graz'zt is trying to find the parts of the staff.
  • Fraz-Urb'luu has found the crystal of the staff, so anyone who wants to make the staff whole must get the crystal from him.
  • He likes to corrupt devas, as they are reborn in his layer as rakshasas
  • Some cities in his realm are abandoned facades.
  • Fraz-Urb'luu is saving most of his energy to be channeled into his staff when he succeeds in reassembling it. Upon its completion, the full extent of his power will be realized and he can use the staff to restore and sustain the rest of his domain.
  • The High and Holy Rajah: A rakshasa who rules a golden city called Ketilon. It is on the shore of a sea that connects to the astral plane.
  • There are four pieces of the staff: Two halves of the wooden shaft, a claw of adamantine and the crystal.
  • Reassembling the staff could enable a wielder to usurp control of Hollow's Heart.
D&D 5th Edition - Out of the Abyss

I'll do his stats first and then talk about how he's trapped in a gem.

Staff Changes: The staff of Fraz-Urb'luu is referred to as "the legendary staff of power" and it was "taken from him by those who imprisoned him." Hmmm. I missed this when I read this so long ago.

It was taken from him by Zagig and Iggwilv?! That sounds like a possible clue to a future adventure, no? Will there be a Castle Greyhawk adventure where the group assembles this "staff of power"? Probably not, but that’s a really weird detail to throw in there.

Many of his worshipers think he is a beneficent being and a granter of wishes. Fraz-Urb'luu delights in aiding demon hunters against his adversaries.

Hollow's Heart is described as a featureless white plain of white dust. So everything's gone? Did it revert to white dust when he got summoned again? His lair is the city of Zoragmelok, which is still standing.

Madnesses of Fraz-Urb'luu include:
  • I have intermittent hallucinations
  • I never let anyone know the truth about my actions or intentions, even if doing so would be beneficial to me.
Fraz Isn't So Smart: Fraz-Urb'luu had taken precautions to try to prevent being summoned and trapped again which backfired spectacularly. When Gromph's spell goes off in this adventure, his failsafe kicked in. Fraz-Urb'luu’s lifeforce shunted into a black jewel.

Gromph's spell was so epic that it actually pulled the gem into the Underdark with the other demon lords.

The Gem: When you touch the gem, you must make a DC 23 Charisma saving throw or succumb to a form of indefinite madness (listed on Fraz-Urb'luu stat page).

Anyone who touches this gem falls prey to delusional madness. While imprisoned in the gem, Fraz-Urb'luu retains his alignment and senses but loses all of his other attributes. This gem has an AC of 10 and just 1 hitpoint, but it's immune to non-magic weapons or spells that require a saving throw.

Shattering the gem releases his lifeforce, and he can return to his body in the Abyss.

Story Possibilities: That actually sets up some interesting possibilities. In Out of the Abyss, it's clear Fraz-Urb'luu might spend up to nine months down there. While these demon lords are trapped in the Underdark, their Abyssal layers are up for grabs! Demon lords like Lolth and Pazuzu can swoop in and take them, in theory.

If Fraz-Urb'luu's body is just lying there for nine months, all sorts of things could happen. A spirit (maybe a loumara) could inhabit it, or one of his hollow rajahs could use it to pretend to be him. An astral being could possess it.

What happens if his body is destroyed? Like.. thrown into a sphere of annihilation? Would he just be a roaming spirit? Would a new body form? Would he merge with his own abyssal layer?

Fraz-Urb'luu seems more interesting if he actually stays in this gem, whether he rules his realm or not. Maybe he somehow bonds with his staff so that he actually is the staff.

Now that I think about it, if Fraz-Urb'luu is gone, all someone has to do is assemble his staff, go to Hollow's Heart, and they can steal his realm from him! The hollow rajahs are probably racing each other to find the pieces.

Maybe his son, Tsojcanth, would take it over.

There you go. Fraz;Urb”loo{} is done.

Links

Field guide to Fraz-Urb'luu
History of Fraz-Urb'luu
Fear of the Dark - A DMs Guild adventure that expands Fraz's role in Out of the Abyss

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Dice, Camera, Action: Episode 55 - Storm King's Thunder

Episode 55: Flesh and Blood
This was a pretty unpredictable one. I have no idea what's going to happen next week!

There is a discussion on the Dice, Camera, Action subreddit about whether or not they should include NSFW content. I have to say, that cracks me up. What exactly are people going to post? Stories? Art?

There is also a really great piece of art depicting Paultin and Escher right here.

The Party

(Anna) Evelyn - Human Paladin of Lathander
(ProJared) Diath - Human Rogue
(Nathan) Paultin - Human Bard
(Holly) Strix - Tiefling Sorcerer
(Sam Witwer) Mordenkainen, the Mad Mage

Chris starts off by reminding us about the story of Mordenkainen, aka "the Mad Mage," and his battle with Strahd in the backstory of Curse of Strahd (fell of a cliff, didn't die). Mordenkainen helped the Waffle Crew defeat Strahd by shattering the giant crystal heart that gave Strahd magic protection.
Mordenkainen
Paultin's shadow has pulled the group back into Barovia so that Paultin can link up with the dark powers and his shadow can link up with him. The dark powers want Paultin to be the new ruler of Barovia. To do this, Paultin will have to marry the flesh golem lady.

We left off last time with the Abbot being none too happy with Paultin. They're in a chapel where the wedding is about to take place. The rest of the group is on the roof of the chapel.

A wereraven kid lands on the roof and tells the group to wait for the wizard to arrive. The wereravens are good guys. The heroes met them a few times, most notably at the wine-making place where Evelyn almost ate a baby.

Paultin talks to Escher. Escher was just messing with a corpse. As Paultin is smelling the corpse-stink on Escher's hand, the bride comes in. Escher asks where her bridesmaids are. Who are the bridesmaids? Mongrelfolk? The witches? It is not yet revealed.

The golem bride talks. She makes a corpse-y croaking noise. So she doesn't talk... I thought she talked when they met her last time. They should get Ireena's corpse and animate that.

Up on the roof, the bells ring. The belfry is right above the group. The doors to the chapel open and a line of ghosts enter. That's the ghosts from one of the very first sessions. The ghosts do this every day, I think. It was a very cool part of Curse of Strahd that you could do a lot of fun stuff with.

The vampire altar boy that the group almost killed in one of the first sessions spots the group. Evelyn approaches him, friendly. She tries to grab him. Rolls a 20! He turns into a bat.

Down below, Escher says that it's time. He's all keyed up. We learn that the witches are the bridesmaids. They've gone missing.

Escher brings Paultin to see a corpse... it's Falkon! Escher says he blames Strahd for his death. Escher's plan is for the wedding to happen, and then once it is complete, they'll kill Paultin's shadow. There's only one thing that can hurt the shadow. The sunsword! Paultin has it, but he doesn't use it much.

Up above, Strix uses magic to look like Strahd. I love it when he does the Strahd voice.

The wedding starts. The group is about to spring into action. The wereraven kid tells them to wait - it's not time.

Ireena

The ceremony starts. Paultin's shadow looms near the altar, watching intently as the Abbot performs it. It's not so much a wedding as an incantation. Evelyn gets the sense that once Paultin says "I do", the spell is completed.

The vampire altar boy tells Evelyn that she's a construct - she could marry Paultin and embrace the darkness. Evelyn is deeply offended at the idea of embracing evil and starts going off on him about Lathander.

Here come the good guys. They burst through the doors of the chapel. A mob of villagers led by Ireena's brother, Ismark. He beheaded 3 of the witches and he's holding their heads! We can only wonder if he sundered their brooms.

Wereravens are with him, as is and Mordenkainen. Murty Gurty has returned, and he is drinking buttermilk!

Evelyn tackles Paultin and demands to know if he was actually going to marry the golem. Paultin doesn't answer.

The Abbot strikes her with his mace for 25 points. Escher grabs Paultin and pulls him to his feet.

The villagers all have polearms - each a different type! If you're new to D&D, you might not get that.  Mordenkainen was Gary Gygax's (the co-creator of D&D) real life D&D character that he put into the actual published game in the form of names of spells and in Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure. Gary Gygax was obsessed with polearms. He always wrote about and statted up tons of polearms. I think Zeb Cook said that part of his job application actually had a quiz on polearms.

Hey! The Abbot tinkered with the golem. The bride now has has Ireena's head! The head is frozen with the same scream on her face that she had when Strix accidentally knocked her off the nightmare and she fell to her death. That is funny.

Diath is freaking out. He is afraid to fight. Ohhh... here come the witch brooms! Of course, they're coming right at Diath. Someday he's going to have to fight a colossal undead spell-casting broom. Or maybe a broom golem! Has there ever been an artifact broom in D&D? Someone should make one.

Strix wants a broom to keep. She grabs one and she's pulled off her feet. Diath leads the brooms on a chase. Look like he's got some sweet maneuver planned.

Ismark is going after the bride. Escher tries to stop him, but Ismark pushes him into a fire.

The villagers drag down the Abbot. Mordenkainen uses Bigby's crushing hand to do a massive pile of damage to the bride. In real life, Bigby was one of Mordenkainen's NPC sidekicks (along with Rigby, Zigby and others).

Paultin spots his shadow creeping up on Evelyn. He runs over and attacks it. Natural 20! Wow. The shadow is obliterated! It scatters like a bunch of bats. He hears Strahd's voice howl. It looks like he destroyed what was left of Strahd.

Lightning hits the chapel. The dark powers are not happy. The roof crumbles. Strix, luckily, is flying on the broom.

The only creature still on the roof when this happens is Waffles the baby owlbear! The owlbear falls. Diath catches it! Phew. A roof chunk falls on Escher. Methinks we have not seen the last of him.

In the sky, the clouds take the form of a giant face. It looks like Strahd. He's angry! Lightning flashes and tears cloud-Strahd apart. The chapel flickers between night and day.

Wow... Barovia's about to go back to wherever it came from! That's cool, I don't think it has ever been officially stated where Barovia came from. Do you think Chris will place it in the Forgotten Realms? Or... Greyhawk?

Mordenkainen realizes this flickering indicates that there's a fracture in time. If the group stays here, they're either going to go to the past or the future.

Izek, Strix's brother with the big demon arm, hucks a ball of flame at him and calls out, "Lorcana scum!" I think that's what he said.

Diath is getting beat on by brooms. Strix casts dispel magic and all of them clatter to the floor! The one remaining broom lands next to Strix and pats her. It doesn't want to be dispelled. I am very glad Chris let her have the broom, that should be fun.

The Waffle Crew is fading away. Wow... they're going back in time. Mordenkainen thinks they're going back to AD&D 1st edition and hands them a 10 foot pole, an iron spike, a flask of oil and buttermilk. I hope they have flint and steel.

That's where we stop. Very good show!

Overall

There is a 2e Ravenloft adventure called From the Shadows where the group goes back in time to when Strahd had his freakout and killed his brother, Sergei. The heroes possessed wedding guests  and get the thrill of being slaughtered with the rest of the people.

We are given this advice: "The rest of this encounter is a merry chase in which Strahd kills all the characters one by one. The DM should be cruel; none of the players are losing their real characters."

Even as a kid, I knew my players would hate this, I don't think I used that section at all. That adventure has cool stuff in it, but it requires a lot of tweaking.

Another interesting thing is that Chris said recently on twitter that time travel ruins campaigns, or something to that effect. Maybe this is an isolated jaunt that won't negate any campaign stuff. Who knows? Maybe we'll see the the origin of the amber temple, or what Barmy the lich was like as a regular dude.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Planescape - Blood War XVII. The Battle of the Abyssal Undersump

I spent some time the other day mulling over the campaign I'm going to run after this. It's going to be a Spelljammer (D&D in space with magic ships, not technology) 5e game that involves a quest for the rod of seven parts. I read up on the Queen of Chaos, who will be the main villain. She is right up my group's alley!

The crew of the ship is going to be really important, as those are the NPCs that the heroes will interact with from beginning to end. I've been keeping a file on my desktop that lists ideas for the crew. Whenever I get an idea that I think is worthy, I add it to the file.

I will be a bit bummed when this campaign is over. I feel like I could run Planescape forever. It never gets boring!

I've always loved Spelljammer, and I really like the idea of showing readers who are new to the game all that awesome Spelljammer stuff. It's not for everybody, but you can do a lot of cool things with it. If nothing else, you will see how the neogi can be used to make first-rate villains!

Demon Lord Convention:This one's really long. Here's the super-short version:
  • Graz'zt is angry that the group won't help him unite the demons and devils.
  • Graz'zt is blowing up the group's homes and destroying a portal that is important to them.
  • Iggwilv is trying to use this situation to please Graz'zt so that he will free her from her imprisonment.
  • Iggwilv has sent some demon lords after the group, including one from an old, epic Chris Perkins adventure that I read yesterday.
There's a ton of NPCs involved. Here's a quick look at the many people involved in this thing:

Graz'zt, Iggwilv and the cloak that became Drokkarn the pit fiend

Bad Guys:
  • Graz'zt, Demon Lord of Azzagrat: He is furious that the group won't help him win over the devils/help him hunt down Verin, his former ally.
  • Iggwilv the Witch Queen: She's trapped in Graz'zt's palace, but she can send out simulacrums (clones made of ice and snow). She wants the group to convince Graz'zt to free her. She's also outraged that Graz'zt is making babies with Lamashtu.
  • Lamashtu, Demon Lord of Monsters: She is the main demon lord supporting the demon armies in the blood war. The group wants to kill her and give her abyssal layer to their friend, a pit fiend.
  • Korramzedah: Lamashtu's 20-foot tall balor general

Good Guys:
  • Pazuzu, Demon Lord of Pazunia: Pazuzu hates Graz'zt and despises Lamashtu who is his ex-girlfriend. He ate her eyes and impaled her on a spike (she got better).
  • Umbralinda, Queen of the Harpies: Pazuzu's current consort. She's tired of Pazuzu (he's very whiny) and keeps asking the group to get her a pile of soul larvae so she can consume them, become a demon lord and get away from Pazuzu.
  • The Ferroliths: Graz'zt threw these succubi into a lake of molten iron long ago. Now they're ferroliths, demons covered in different types of metal. They obviously hate Graz'zt and are allies of the heroes.
  • Bazuuma, Demon Lord of Positive Energy: She is the wife of one of the heroes and she's a good-aligned demon lord.
Wild Card:
  • Juiblex, Demon Prince of Oozes: Juiblex rules the Abyssal Undersump, slime tunnels that act as secret entrances to abyssal layers. The devils have quietly been using them to get to Lamashtu's realm.
The Party

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

Last time, the heroes were at Theran's floating castle in Azzagrat. A chaos ship was flying toward them! A chaos ship is a huge, evil, living demon ship that shoots lightning bolts and force/disintegration rays.

The group spotted someone on the deck: Rule-of-Three, son of Graz'zt. He actually shed his disguise right in front of them. He looks like a spindly old githzerai, but in truth he is a cambion with charcoal-black skin, bat wings and hooves.
  • The ship opened fire on the castle. The heroes rounded up the people who lived there:
  • An old genie (I keep getting mixed up and calling him a giant) who sits in a sauna all the time.
  • 3 alu-fiends who are friends with the giant.
  • A succubus nurse. A few sessions ago, she got turned to stone and the group saved her, so she is loyal to them.
  • 13 babies, all children of Graz'zt that the nurse takes care of. One of these babies is a child of Graz'zt and Lamashtu.
If you look at Rule-of-Three's stats in Faces of Sigil, you'll see that he has two javelins of lightning. Theran makes and sells those in Sigil. Rule-of-Three pull one out and goes to chuck it at the group, and George was none too pleased to see that this javelin was one of his own creation!

Bidam got hit with lightning and the javelin itself doinked off of his armor of invulnerability, plopping to the ground. The group used their cubic gate and their jar of Lord Stillborn to escape.

Refugees of Azzagrat
 
 The group owns a dorm-style building in Sigil. The refugees were left here. They sent the genie to their mansions in the Elemental Plane of Earth.

The players were really sharp tonight! They realized they'd better go to Allagash, Bidam's demon-making farm in Graz'zt's realm, as it was likely under attack.

Before they did so, a gnoll woman approached the group. She was looking for Eo Kaplan (the gnoll Michael Jackson NPC). George looked at me and asked, "Is her name... Billie...?" Billie Jean! Yes it was.

The group went up to Eo and told them that Billie Jean was looking for him. That gave me the opportunity to have Eo say, in a bad Michael Jackson voice, the lyrics to Billie Jean in a conversational way - but I kept the "hee hees", the "nyuh"'s and the "NOno, nono."

Eo mentioned that the group owned a mansion in Sigil, and how he always wanted to live in a mansion. It would let him have a place to unleash his inner child. Right now, Melnarnia Flumph and her son, "Baron" Gonard Flumph (Trump parody NPCs) live in the mansion. Eo seemed very keen on meeting the young Baron.

I plan on slipping them a Michael Jackson nugget each week if I can. I can do the chimp, naming a child after a blanket or some other household item, Lisa Marie Presley, Latoya (!), you name it.

Allagash: The heroes went to Allagash. In the distance they could see a horde kicking up dust clouds. It was the bloodseep demons, the demons that Theran accidentally dropped a huge chain on, killing dozens of them. Apparently, Graz'zt had sent them here to help them get their revenge.

The group repelled them in "adult" ways involving fluids being projected with the power of a riot police firehose. Then, the PROGENITORS (6 demon dudes that the group liberated from Lamashtu) beat the bejeezus out of them. The Mother of All (Also freed from Lamashtu) launched out monster egg projectiles. The bloodseep demons kept slipping in the fluid and were no match for the surprise counter-assault.

Now the group had more refugees to relocate:
  • The Mother of All
  • Areelu Vorlesh (the administrator)
  • A succubus
  • An ogre who is basically the Hulk
  • 30 abat-dolor (the race Graz'zt may have come from)
The heroes relocated them to the Pathfinder festhall in Malcanthet's realm that I haven't had many ideas for. This worked out very nicely!

A few sessions back, Bazuuma created a new Abyssal realm and ultimately, I hope all of these NPCs end up living there in the Mithral City.

Graz'zt's Revenge


The heroes got a sending spell message from the Queen of the Harpies. She said that Graz'zt was in the abyssal undersump killing devils! The undersump is slime tunnels that connect different abyssal layers, They are sort of the sewers of the Abyss.

The devils were using this section of the undersump to get to Thanatos. Graz'zt is having a temper tantrum and is trying to teach the group a lesson.

Bidam and Theran geared up. Theran's apprentice, Selinza the cat lady, volunteered to come along. She had mentioned ways to overcome Iggwilv's counterspells, and she wanted to come along to back Theran up in case Iggwilv was somehow involved.

Jessie surprised me. She said, "We'd better tell Bazuuma to get everyone to the safe fortress in the Plane of Positive Energy." I did not expect that! The players were really on the ball. This altered the final thing I had planned for tonight!

The group drops into the undersump and is greeted by their hellhound friend, Fireball. Bidam can speak to hellhounds. Fireball informed them that Graz'zt has a big ship in here and that it is "immune to barking" (Fireball barks at bad guys and thinks he's helping).

The heroes started to head through the utterly trashed slime tunnels. Huge chunks of side walls had been obliterated and there was bits of ooze and slime everywhere.


A creature appeared before them - an avatar of Lamashtu! She is Graz'zt's ally and the group's enemy. The heroes were more then a little alarmed as a gooey maw demon plopped out from her undercarriage and hissed at them.

Selinza used buff spells on the group as they attacked the avatar. Allies showed up to aid them - an avatar of Pazuzu and Umbralinda, Queen of the Harpies. I played them as a couple on the verge of a breakup. Pazuzu is a big baby and she's over it.

Pazuzu has these elephant-sized dragon-cats called anzus. One of the anzus really likes Theran (he rolled a 20 when trying to befriend it back when the heroes were in Pazuzu's palace).

Together, the group were able to defeat the avatar.

Pazuzu angrily asked why the anzu liked Theran so much. "It's never that nice to me!" He got mad at Umbralinda when he tried to explain and it got uncomfortable. Ultimately, Pazuzu told Theran to keep it.

I should note that Selinza the cat lady hates cats. She thinks they're really dumb and embarrassing, a less-evolved version of herself. Theran paid her no mind.

Khorramzedah: The team followed the trail of destruction. They came to the big slime lake. Standing in it was the 20-foot-tall balor general, Khorramzedah. He and his zovvuts were fighting a few hell knights.

Rocks were falling from the ceiling... this whole section of the undersump was coming apart. Fireball alerted the group that their friend, the Fulsome Queen (she's a filth elemental - an "excremental"), was buried in the rubble.

Pazuzu and the Queen of the Harpies went after the balor, while the group tried to save the Fulsome Queen. A rock fell from the ceiling and hit Theran, knocking him off of the anzu and into the ooze lake. He took a pile of acid damage, and was barely able to get out of it.

Bidam tried to lift the rocks, but they were too heavy. Theran used levitate to free the Fulsome Queen.

Khorramzedah was destroyed. He has a demon amulet, so he didn't die. He reformed in the Abyss next to his amulet. Any demon worth their salt has this. Pazuzu and Umbralinda were hurt quite badly. Bidam used his positive energy "stream" to heal them (don't ask) and they continued on.


Graz'zt's Chaos Ship: They came to the big area with the conveyor belts loaded with gelatinous cubes. The portal to Thanatos was completely destroyed. The chaos ship was up in the air (this place has a really high ceiling). The group could see that their devil friends were fighting Graz'zt's avatar on the deck of the ship. Graz'zt was teleporting all over the place and slicing them up with his acid-dripping sword, Wave of Sorrow.

Also on the chaos ship were cambion rangers wielding special soul-swords. This was the Razor Legion, Graz'zt's elite soldiers, sort of like navy seals. They're from one of those weird no-man's-land issues of Dragon Magazine from the time between 3rd edition and 4th edition.

30 members of the Razor Legion flew at the group. Bidam, Theran and Selinza were on the back of the cat-dragon. Bidam started slicing into them with the sword of sharpness, and was dismayed to see that they were not mooks (each of them has 82 hit points).

The Iron Maiden: The heroes were relieved to see their friends, the ferroliths, swoop into the room and hack into the legion. They were led by the Iron Maiden, their ruler (I swear that's her name in the 4e Demonomicon book).

This cleared the path for the group to get to Graz'zt before he killed their friends Drokkarn (pit fiend) and Feurina (warder devil/Bidam's "sister").

Battle With Graz'zt: Bidam dropped onto the deck and hacked into Grazzt

Graz'zt has a legendary action that allows him to control your movement. He used it to force Theran off of the anzu. Theran fell to the ground below, severely denting the floor grate. Beneath the floor grate is an ooze river.

This room was also crumbling because the chaos ship had been firing off force blasts like crazy. This crumbling caused a stone to fall from the ceiling right at Theran! He rolled out of the way. The rock punched through the grate and plunged into the ooze river.

Selinza flew the giant cat down and Theran climbed on the anzu. He saw that the chaos ship had portholes in the form of translucent blue blisters. He peered inside, looking for some kind of control room.

He and his apprentice jumped through a blister and found a room with an arcane-locked door. They dispelled it and blew it open with a thunder-related spell. Inside was a closet-like space containing two big demonic hearts. This ship is alive!

He smartly scanned for traps. There's two in here! One stuns you, the other entangles you in vines. Selinza and Theran stepped back and launched off spells, damaging the hearts and causing the ship to shudder.

A big section of the place collapsed, blocking off Pazuzu, Umbralinda and the ferroliths from the group.


Juiblex: Up on the deck, Bidam was taking a lot of damage from Wave of Sorrow. A side wall of the huge room they were in burst open and a huge, black ooze with glowing orange eyes came at the ship like a tidal wave. It was Juiblex, demon lord of ooze! He was none too happy that Graz'zt was destroying his tunnels, and he was also aghast to see devils in here, too.

Juiblex slowly enveloped the chaos ship, angrily chastising Graz'zt. Drokkarn grabbed Bidam and Feurina and flew them to safety.

Theran and Selinza destroyed the hearts and saw Juiblex slowly covering the ship. They were about to get trapped inside the chaos ship and would probably be engulfed by the demon lord! The anzu flew close to the blister/porthole.

Selinza refused to get on it. It was very chaotic and Theran didn't notice. He jumped through the blister, his hands slipped on the oily hide of the anzu and he fell to the floor grate again. The grate almost gave way, but it didn't break. on the anzu.

The chaos ship sealed up. It was completely enveloped inside Juiblex.

Theran realized Selinza was in there and frantically looked for some way to get her out.

When they destroyed the hearts, they caused a decaying effect - the chaos ship would crumble apart in 2d6 rounds without even factoring Juiblex into the equation.

The group watching in horror as Juiblex compressed, getting smaller and smaller, finally ejecting refuse and detritus

Graz'zt's avatar had been destroyed. Juiblex slithered off to assess the damage to his realm.

The Fate of the Apprentice: I had another big thing planned, but I gave them a moment to see if they'd search the wreckage for Selinza. They did! Dodging falling boulders, the group tore through the refuse. Drokkarn and Feurina were hurt very badly, so they stayed in a spot where boulders weren't falling.

They unearthed a sheer black dome. Selinza has Leomund's tiny hut! She had just enough time to cast it before the ship came apart. I thought she was going to die until I looked at her spell list! As soon as I saw it, I thought of Paultin on Dice, Camera, Action and was quite delighted.

The group helped her up and regrouped with Drokkarn and Feurina. Someone came out of the shadows. Iggwilv!
Iggwilv
Iggwilv Triumphant: She looked at Drokkarn, who looked down at his feet. The group has been given a number of clues that Drokkarn was going to betray them and side with Iggwilv. For decades, Drokkarn was a sentient pit fiend-skin cloak resting on Iggwilv's shoulders. While in cloak form, he fell in love with her. Iggwilv was now using that to get him on her side.

I had this whole thing written out. The group groaned as I cleared my throat. The heroes were injured really badly! They couldn't possibly defeat Iggwilv in this state!

I read Iggwilv's dialogue. She gloated as she pointed out that Drokkarn was going to give Graz'zt what he wanted (an alliance with the devils) on the condition that he free Iggwilv from her imprisonment.

Drokkarn told the group that they shouldn't have trusted him. He's a devil! Deceit is what they do!

The heroes were extremely dismayed. They tried to talk sense into him. I wanted to give them space to see what they did here. I was wondering if they would attack him. They pretty much were letting this play out, unsure of what the truth was.

Drokkarn said, "I made a choice between the one I yearn for and the ones who brought me back to life and fought at my side against Socothbenoth..."

The group started getting mad now. I was getting heckled!

"...The choice was easy." He turned and tore into Iggwilv with his claws. "I am lawful! I stand by those who honor me!"

Iggwilv reeled, shocked at this turn of events. The group got a surprise round and proceeded to beat the crap out of Iggwilv. Bidam cut her head right off! She was a simulacrum, so the head hit the floor grate and became a melting ball of ice.

Recuperating: Pazuzu and the others finally got into this room. The place was coming apart! I asked them where they want to go, as there was one more thing planned.

The heroes went to Pazuzu's floating palace. Umbralinda whispered to them that she really needed those soul larvae. "You see how he is, right?" The group agreed. Pazuzu was pretty annoying.

There were two guest rooms here. I wondered how they'd split them up. Bidam, Drokkarn and Feurina slept in one room. Feurina is basically Bidam's sister, they've actually slept in the same bed before.

Theran and Selinza were in the other room. Theran has rejected Selinza before, saying something about sullying the master/apprentice relationship. Selinza almost died today! She heroically fought beside them, despite being quite a few levels lower! Would he reject her now?!

Yes. Yes he would. They slept in the same bed. Her knee touched his knee. Theran had no reaction. Her tail started getting animated.. and he rolled over, going to sleep.

Jessie and I were stymied. I think Jessie set up the living arrangement, trying to force this thing. Nope! Theran is a mysterious dude.

They woke up, fully refreshed. They got a sending from Bazuuma. Apparently, there was a problem. They went to her realm, Burningwater, which was evacuated. The inhabitants were all safe in the Positive Material Plane.

The Demon Lord Assassin: Something was in the center of the main island in the abyssal layer of Burningwater. It was a sphere of annihilation. It was growing!

Last night, I read through an old Chris Perkins adventure called Bzallin's Blacksphere. I had always wanted to run it, but it's pretty high level and it never quite fit into my campaigns.

I'm working on my "Emirikol' Guide to Demons" DM Guild product, so I read through this adventure (there's a new demon lord in it). Bzallin's Blacksphere is awesome! The premise: There's a sphere of annihilation slowly growing in the middle of a city. What do you do? That's pretty awesome, right?

The group took a look at it. Theran has a robe of eyes. He can see invisible creatures. Bazuuma has 20 magic eyes! She can also see invisible creatures. Both of them spotted invisible creatures creeping up on them. These foul beings slipped into this layer and set this trap while Bazuuma's demons fled to the Plane of Positive Energy.

Who are these dastardly villains? I've mentioned before that Iggwilv has 12 demon lords under her control (she knows their truenames). Avatars of TWO of them are here:
  • Nocticula: Demon Queen of Assassins
  • J'zzlshraak: A beetle demon lord, a general of the Blood War. The Chris Perkins demon lord!
J'zzlshraak also brought along the powerful wizard Bzallin and his 12 mighty apprentices. They're all from Bzallin's Blacksphere and they're really well-detailed.

Bzallin had set up the sphere. Nocticula kills demon lords - that's her whole deal. Iggwilv thinks that destroying this layer will convince Graz'zt to free her from his palace. 

Graz'zt once tried to take over this layer, but found that because it is infused with positive energy, it is utterly toxic to him. He has no use at all for Burningwater, therefore destroying it might please him.

So next time, we'll deal with that! I've been waiting to use Nocticula for a long time, can't wait to put her into play!