Resurgence of the Illithids

On Friday afternoon I ran Rrakkma!, the Dungeons & Dragons adventure that’s been released to promote Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes. (I wrote a review of it last week.) The adventure is about a group of githyanki and githzerai who hope to reunite the two gith races in their struggle against the illithids (a.k.a. mind flayers) who once enslaved them. I’d watched Powerscore RPG streaming a playthrough of this adventure, and they got through most of it in two hours. (I believe they’re going to stream the second session this weekend.) Our group managed to finish in four hours, partly because I kept reminding them that they needed to were racing against the illithids’ plot.

Sadly, in the final stage the whole party perished fighting the mind flayers in the Far Realm. Presumably, the whole gith race was enslave again, and the mind flayers have been able to re-establish their rule of the Prime Material Plane. But, you could say that the gith have been reunited, right? It can’t long until there’s another gith rebellion, and that could be a good basis for another adventure.

In preparation for the adventure I made a whole lot of paper miniatures, and you can find them on the DM’s Guild here. (There’s also tokens and art files.)

Learning (and altering) the D&D magic schools

Over the last two weeks I ran a short Dungeons & Dragons adventure using the Planescape setting. Planescape adventures normally involve travelling between different planes of reality, which often changes the effects of magic. The laws of a particular plane tend to alter whole schools of magic, so this has been a good excuse to brush up on the eight schools. (I’ll often be asked by a player what kind of magic is being used in a situation, and won’t be able to tell them.)

Schools of Magic

Abjuration magic is protective.

Conjuration magic summons things from other places.

Divination magic provides information.

Enchantment magic influences minds.

Evocation magic produces different kinds of energy.

Illusion magic deceives the senses of others.

Necromancy magic interferes with life and death.

Transmutation magic alters the nature of things.

Magical effects on Avernus

As I said earlier, the laws of various planes change the way magic works. There is a whole lot of material from Second Edition D&D that provides information about this, but it doesn’t all translate neatly into Fifth Edition D&D. Our short adventure today was set on Avernus, the first layer of Baator (similar to Dante Alighieri’s conception of Hell), so I had a look at the magical conditions described in Second Edition’s Planes of Law. This is how I adapted the conditions for our Fifth Edition adventure:

Abjuration and Transmutation

Because abjuration and transmutation magic alter the natural properties of things, both of these schools of magic are considered to be in conflict with the lawful alignment of the plane. I decided I would require a successful DC 15 Arcana or Religion check to cast an abjuration spell. (Arcana for an arcane spellcaster. Religion for a divine spellcaster.)

Conjuration

In Baator, conjuration spells require a ritual in order to bind any creature that has been summoned. I decided I would require a DC 15 Arcana or Religion check to determine the success of a binding ritual. If the binding was not successful, the summoned creature would be in control of it’s own actions, and would likely be pretty angry about being summoned to Baator…

Divination

Divination spells cast on Baator always show negative outcomes, with at least a grain of truth. Divination magic is also likely to attract the attention of baatezu (devils).

Enchantment and Illusion

Enchantment and illusion spells are not altered.

Evocation

Evocation spells may be altered depending on the layer and the kind of energy they produce. On the layer of Avernus, fire and earth energy are both more effective. I decided I would probably allow players to cast fire and earth spells as though they were at a higher level, but wasn’t totally sure if this would be appropriate.

Necromancy

Necromancy spells that grant healing require a successful DC 15 Arcana or Religion check. Necromancy spells that cause damage or pain; or that control undead, can function as though they are one level higher.

Wild Magic

Wild magic isn’t a school of magic, but it is effected by the lawful nature of Baator. I decided that the lawful nature of Baator would stop wild magic sorcerers from experiencing wild magic surges or from using any of their wild magic features.

First time DMing over audio stream

On Friday last week (so eight days ago now) I had my first attempt at running a D&D game over audio stream using Discord. (I have run a short game using Roll 20 before, but found it awkward to use on my small computer screen.) One of the things I was expecting was that it might be hard for players to avoid talking over each other. This happens enough when we’re sitting around a table playing, but it’s a much bigger problem over an audio stream. What’s been suggested to me by more seasoned streamers is that, over time, players tend to get better at sharing the stream and and that it can actually help encourage the players to be more attentive to each other’s characters, not just listening for their next opportunity to act.

One of the things I really enjoyed about the adventure happened close to the end, when a devil (we were playing a Planescape adventure and the adventurers had gotten stuck in Baator/Hell) asked our bard what friendship was, so the bard sung a terrible rendition of ‘You’ve Got a Friend in Me’ over the stream and made the devil cry. I like the idea that lower ranking fiends can be won over by beauty or kindness, but it will be interesting to see how that devil responds when more powerful devils show up.

Starting a sleep routine

I’ve often had trouble getting sleep. Sometimes it’s because I’ve been working to hard and it’s hard to wind down, sometimes it’s because of stress that I need to get out of my body, sometimes it’s because of noise in the neighbourhood, sometimes it’s because of hot weather or hayfever. However, I’ve recently found something that seems to help.

Last Sunday afternoon, after a few nights not not much sleep, I was watching Ask the Doctor on the ABC. The episode was about sleep and why people have difficulty sleeping. If you’re in Australia (or using a VPN) you should be able to watch it here while the episode is available.

One of the suggestions that I found really interesting was having a wind-down routine before going to bed. They suggested turning off screens at a set time, having a snack (eg. milk and a biscuit), a shower (I normally shower in the morning and not the evening), and reading something that isn’t work or study related.

So I tried doing something like that last Sunday. At 9pm I started getting ready for bed. Most of the stuff I’m interested in reading is on my tablet, so rather than turning it off I put it on night shift (which gives the screen a dull, brownish shade instead of the normally bluish glow). I had some milk and crackers, had a shower and then got in bed to read. I pretty quickly found I was falling asleep. Each night in the last week that I’ve been able to follow that routine I’ve had a great sleep. Even if I have a couple of nights where I don’t get a good sleep, that’s entirely manageable when it’s compared to a week of poor sleep.

Another thing I’ve been trying is sleeping on my side. I haven’t slept on my side since a few years ago when I was very sick and was diagnosed with an arthritic condition. At that time I found that if I slept on my side it was really bad for my joins, so I started sleeping on my back most of the time. However, sleeping on my back was probably making me snore more.

This week I have found that sleeping on my side still causes some pain, and I often wake up for a bit in the middle of the night. However, if I have gone to bed early enough I can manage waking up in the middle of the night, getting up for a little while to rest my joints, and then going back to sleep again. Because I’ve gone to bed early enough, I’ll still get enough sleep.

I’m not saying that this kind of routine would work for everyone, but I’ve found this works for me. I’m interested in hearing what others have found helpful?

Collaborating with players in D&D

I’ve been running Out of the Abyss for my regular Dungeons & Dragons group. The adventure takes place in the Underdark, a vast series of subterranean tunnels and caverns inhabited by strange and often dangerous creatures. The adventure involves a lot of time travelling through caves between settlements, which I’ve found can be a bit tedious. Trips between different settlements can mean weeks of travel, which might mean four or five sessions if you run them as the published material suggests.

The last three sessions, my group has been travelling between the dwarven city of Gracklestugh and the trading post of Mantol Derith. For the start of the journey I useds an encounter from the book involving gnolls and hook horrors. For the next two sessions I tried something different. I gave each player the opportunity to nominate something that I needed to include in the journey. Once I had included all of them, the journey would be finished. Not everyone made a suggestion, and a couple of players gave me more than one option, but the list I ended up with was:

  • an elven community
  • a Belt of Dwarvenkind (which gives the wearer some dwarven qualities such as resistance to poison)
  • a Tome of the Stilled Tongue (a powerful and dangerous spell book associated with the evil god Vecna)
  • more information about the influence of the demon lord, Demogorgon
  • a giant goat

In doing this I wanted to reinforce to my players that they can contribute to telling the story, and that they can set challenges for me as the dungeon master. I’m also trying to find ways to make sure there is something for everyone in the adventurer. I’m pretty happy with how it went, and I would definitely use this method again.

In the first session the party met a group of surface elves who said they were investigating the influence of the demon lords (including Demogorgon) – but they turned out to be controlled by a mad mindflayer. Our githzerai monk ended up tracking down their master, who was unconvincingly disguised as a dwarven doctor, using a belt of dwarvenkind.

During the final journey session I had the party stumble across a disciple of Vecna who was was about to sacrifice a giant goat in a dark ritual. The elf fighter tried to rescue the the goat, which created tension in the group because the party cleric is also a disciple of Vecna and wanted to help her fellow devotee.

Many sessions ago, when the rest of the party had found out that their cleric was a follower of Vecna, they had forced her to eat a Tome of the Stilled Tongue that she had obtained. Her fellow devotee ended up reaching into her body and pulling the book out intact. The cleric then ended up losing the book again, but there’s a strong possibility that the book will be back and will have an important role to play. Interestingly, after that session it seems like the cleric is wanting their character to pursue a new (less evil) direction.

What I liked about these sessions is that they have felt a lot more collaborative and they’ve been unique to our group. I included a little bit of content from the published book we’re using, but the rest is stuff we’ve come up with ourselves together.