Here’s the Chant: problems with Chult, Eberron aasimar and trial by ordeal

Each week I put together a roundup of content related to roleplyaing games (mostly 5th edition D&D). I’ve just recently started publishing these on Thursdays instead of Wednesdays. Here’s this week’s roundup:

For players and dungeon masters:

  • ‘Dungeons & Dragons Stumbles With Its Revision Of The Game’s Major Black Culture’ Kotaku – this article looks at the problems with how black characters and cultures have been portrayed in D&D in the past. Cecilia D’Anastasio says that in Tomb of Annihilation there are some improvements but many of the same mistakes.
  • ‘Knife Theory’ reddit/DND – this thread shares a way of writing a player character’s backstory, which offers the dungeon master lots of options for raising the stakes of the story for each player character
  • ‘Dragonmarks: Aasimar’ Keith Baker – in this post Keith Baker looks at how the aasimar player race could fit into his Eberron setting

For players:

For dungeon masters:

For anyone who wants to reflect more deeply on the themes:

My recent content:

  • ‘Thoughts After Running In Volo’s Wake’ – last week I finished running In Volo’s Wake with my regular D&D group. Here are my thoughts on how I think this simple adventure can be deepened, and also some observations on how I could improve my DMing if I was to run it again.
  • ‘Zygmunt Bauman, Social Division and Flesh Golems’
  • I’ve just started running Out of the Abyss with my weekly group. These are some character illustrations I made for the non-player characters who the party found themselves imprisoned with: 

Thoughts after running In Volo’s Wake

This post contains spoilers, mostly from In Volo’s Wake.

* * *

The last couple of months I’ve been running a regular Wednesday night D&D table at Games Laboratory in Melbourne CBD. I’ve been using In Volo’s Wake, a series of six adventures that showcase some of the monsters from Volo’s Guide to Monsters. As these adventures were released through Adventurers League, they are pretty straightforward and don’t have a lot of options for taking the story in different directions. (Adventurers League needs to release adventures like that so they can offer a consistent and balanced D&D experience, where people can take their characters between different tables.)

Outside the Adventurers League environment, I don’t think it’s appropriate to run these as they are written. I think the dungeon master needs to prepare some other possibilities and also be open to new directions that the players might come up with.

I don’t want it to sound like I haven’t enjoyed running these adventures. I think they provide some great seeds to branching off into other possible stories. I also really enjoyed playing and running the second and third adventure in the series. The quest to save the dwarf children from gnolls involves a lot of suspense. Delsy and her magic house also provide a lot of opportunity for humour and player frustration.

Follow the Twig Blights to Sunless Citadel

One possible path I’ve had prepared the whole time has been Sunless Citadel. In the first adventure in the collection, the party meets a treant called Tinus Redbud who needs assistance in fighting off twig blights. If the players want to pursue this story, they could find out that the blights are coming from the ruined village of Thundertree. If you have a look at Lost Mine of Phandelver, from the 5th edition D&D starter set, you’ll find that the ruins are plagued by twig blights. If you also have a look at the Sunless Citadel adventure in Tales from the Yawning Portal, you’ll find that the Sunless Citadel is where twig blights originate, and that it’s quite close to Thundertree. Maybe Reidoth, the druid of Thundertree, would point the adventuring party toward Sunless Citadel? (Tales from the Yawning Portal also places White Plume Mountain nearby, so you could have that as another direction your party could explore.)

Consequences of killing a hag

The third adventure in the series involves Delsy the green hag luring innocent people into the forest for use in dark rituals. My party ended up killing her, with some assistance from the rest of her coven. (The other two hags were concerned that the disappearances would attract attention to the coven’s presence in the forest.)

In Volo’s Guide to Monsters it says that when a hag coven loses a member, the two remaining hags will organise a contest of cruelty for other hags who want to join them. I kept this in mind as an unintended consequence of the adventurers killing the hag, but didn’t end up using it.

Where did Delsy’s kobolds come from?

In the adventure involving the hags, Delsy constantly summons kobolds to hold the adventurers back while she escapes into a different room of her magical house. I found myself wondering where the kobolds come from? I wondered whether Delsy might have captured members of a nearby kobold tribe and imprisoned them in the Feywild, ready to be summoned. I decided to have the kobold tribe turn up camping outside the village of Hallfway, and ask the party if they could help rescue any kobolds who might still be imprisoned in the Feywild – but we didn’t end up pursuing this quest.

Signs of madness

What’s going on behind a lot of the adventures in the series is the story of Gavmogon’s vengeance against the mind flayer colony who enslaved him. Gavmogon was a beholder who was captured by mind flayers, who transformed him into a subservient mindwitness. While Gavmogon was scouting on behalf of the mind flayers, he discovered the Hollow of Dominion (carelessly uncovered by Volo?) which allowed him to break free of enslavement and exert dominance over the mind flayer colony and surrounding area. Using the Hollow of Dominion, Gavmogon was able to inflict madness on the creature of the surrounding area, leaving the mind flayers with few healthy minds to feed on.

I think this series of adventures is improved if there are more signs of Gavmogon’s madness. The main sign of Gavmogon’s madness in the surrounding area (if you just look at the adventures as published) is the angry eye goblins, who worship Gavmogon. The cave where they live is painted inside with burning eyes. I decided to make characters who went inside and saw the eyes do a Wisdom saving throw in order to see if they were also inflicted with madness, which caused them to see eyes everywhere.

I also added a mad bugbear bard to my story. One time when the party was travelling through the Sword Mountains, they met some bugbears, who they ended up awkwardly befriending. The second time they met the bugbear tribe their bard had gone mad, and this was what prompted them to go and investigate the mind flayer colony.

Connect Old Owl Well with the yuan-ti

Since Old Owl Well is close to the quarry where the yuan-ti are performing their evil rituals, I think it makes sense to incorporate the red wizard from Lost Mine of Phandelver. I’ve already written a bit about that here.

Make the mind flayer colony more dangerous

I think the fifth adventure adventure in the series does a bit of a disservice to mind flayers and particularly the elder brain. Even though the adventurers are accompanied by Cerali, the sane mind flayer, I think there should be some risk that the the insane mind flayers in the colony will try to enslave the adventurers, devour their minds or transform them into mind flayers themselves. I think it’s always a bit odd when the collection of stat blocks at the end of one of these adventures doesn’t include stats for the monster supposedly being showcased.

There isn’t a stat block for the elder brain either, because the elder brain just summons minions to defend it in the final scene and makes a psychic attack each turn. I think this could give the impression that an elder brain isn’t really a big deal. (I missed the detail about the psychic attack when I was running this scenario, which was my fault, but I think this made the elder brain seem particularly disappointing.)



Take advantage of Gavmogon’s psychic attacks

In the final adventure, where the party confronts Gavmogon the mindwitness there are opportunities as the adventurers approach the Hollow of Dominion for Gavmogon to make attacks on the adventurers’ minds, which may cause them to accrue levels of exhaustion. When running this part of the adventure, I think it’s really important to make sure you take the opportunities to inflict exhaustion on the adventurers, so that they’re vulnerable by the time they reach the Hollow of Dominion. I let my players take time to recover from their exhaustion, so when they reached Gavmogon I think they were able to fight him too effectively – although Gavmogon was able to take one of them down to zero hit points.

Here’s the Chant: Out of the Abyss

On Wednesdays I’ve been posting a roundup of content related to D&D and other roleplaying games. It’s on Wednesday anymore, and that’s because I’m finding my Wednesdays a bit too busy. I’m going to have a go at posting on Thursdays instead.

This week I thought I’d focus specifically on Out of the Abyss, and adventure that was published about two years ago, which I’m going to start running for my group next week. I’ll probably keep adding to this as I find more content on nthe Underdark, demon lords, madness, the drow, mindflayers. I can guarantee that this will contain spoilers, so if you’re looking forward to playing Out of the Abyss, you have been warned!

For players:

For players and dunegon masters:

For DMs:

  • ‘Out of the Abyss Walkthrough Poster’ Wizards of the Coast – Jason Thompson has illustrated a party of adventurers playing through Out of the Abyss. There are quite a few ideas here that could help you inject some humour into what could be a rather grim adventure.
  • ‘The Insanity of the N.P.C.’ Dragon+ – some crowd-sourced nonplayer characters to incorporate into your Out of the Abyss adventure, with illustrations by Richard Whitters
  • ‘Unearthed Arcana: Fiendish Options’ Wizards of the Coast – this playtest package includes lists of spells that different kinds of demon cultists would be likely to have
  • Tribality’s Out of the Abyss review – this review gives a pretty thorough overview of what’s in the adventure, as well as some thoughts about who this book is for and who should avoid it
  • Power Score’s Out of the Abyss review – the assessment here is that the book provides a lot of interesting NPCs and dungeons, but also requires a lot of planning and note-taking for the dunegon master
  • Power Score’s guide to Out of the Abyss – since Out of the Abyss requires a lot of notes to run, why not take advantage of these notes from Power Score?
  • Elven Tower’s guide to Out of the Abyss – more notes for dungeon masters
  • ‘A Guide to the Drow’ Power Score – more from Power Score? This blog just happens to publish a lot of great content, from across different editions of D&D. This article pulls together content about the dark elves of the Underdark.
  • ‘Out of the Abyss Needs More Mind Flayers!’ reddit/DnDBehindTheScreen – a lot of folks (myself included) were surprised at how little mind flayers feature in the books, especially since they were used to promote the story! This thread has some suggestions about how to involve them more in your own adventure.
  • ‘Mind Flayers Revisited’ The Monsters Know What They’re Doing – this post suggests that mind flayers as they are presented in 5th edition D&D don’t have the kind of stats and abilities that would allow them to achieve any of their schemes. It suggests some simple modifications that should make them a greater challenge.
  • ‘Survival Days’ Charm Person – Out of the Abyss involves a lot of walking through tunnels, often for weeks at a time. The published adventure presumes that characters will be foraging for food each day, which sounds tedious. This article looks at an alternative from the Dark Sun campaign setting.
  • ‘More Fungi for the Underdark’ Charm Person
  • ‘The Mock Dragon Turtle’, ‘Virnig the Dracopillar’, ‘The Similodon Cat’Charm Person – here we have some encounters based on scenes and characters from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which could be added to your Out of the Abyss adventure
  • ‘The Duchess’ Charm Person – another encounter based on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which allows you to incorporate Malcanthet, the demon lord of succubi, into your Out of the Abyss adventure
  • ‘Alternative Indefinite Madness Table’ reddit/DnDBehindTheScreen – here’s a madness table that will give your players some serious drawbacks
  • ‘NPC Companion System Idea’ Giant in the Playground – this forum post is about a system for simplifying NPC party members – because you’ll probably have a lot of them to manage if you run this adventure

My content:

Here are some creatures I’ve drawn recently, which you might expect to find in the Under dark – a quaggoth, a kuo-toa, a myconid, a rust monster and a grick:

Yuan-ti and snake symbolism

This post has spoilers about a Dungeons & Dragons adventure from In Volo’s Wake.

* * *

On Wednesday nights I’ve been running a D&D campaign, and this week we had our third session. I’ve been using the scenarios from In Volo’s Wake (but I’ve also been mixing in some content from Lost Mine of Phandelver). Last night the party investigated what the yuan-ti were doing in the quarry near Old Owl Well. The yuan-ti are humanoids who worship snake gods. Through foul rituals, they have been modified into terrible, snakelike forms. In the adventure, the yuan-ti have captured inexperienced adventurers, who they plan to transform into yuan-ti.

Snake symbolism in European societies seems to be dominated by the snake from the Garden of Eden, which originates in the Hebrew scripture and but been reinterpreted in Christian thought. It’s often associated with evil, temptation and trickery – but it could also be associated with hidden knowledge. We could look at the story as being about humans choosing their own path and the conflict that causes with their creator.

Snakes can also be associated with rebirth or regeneration because of their ability to slough off their old skin and emerge with a shiny new skin. In the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh, it is the snake who possesses the secret of immortality. In paradox, many snakes are also poisonous. So they could be understood as having power over life and death.

I’d say the portrayal of the yuan-ti picks up more of the negative aspects of snake symbolism – evil and the temptation of hidden knowledge. In our game on Wednesday I also wanted to bring out some of the idea of rebirth. A kind of rebirth occurs when a humanoid is turned into a yuan-ti, or when a yuan-ti turns into a more powerful form.

When the players were getting close to freeing all the prisoners, I had a yuan-ti abomination turn up (I have a great abomination miniature that I wanted to use) and invite Sardior the dragonborn paladin to join the yuan-ti and be reborn. Sardior rejected the invitation, so the abomination cast the spell ‘suggestion’ on Sardior, instructing him to kill Kwinn, the half-elf warlock… I let Saridor repeat the Wisdom saving throw each turn (even though the spell isn’t supposed to allow that) and he did manage to beat it before he was able to attack Kwinn. I didn’t want him to actually kill the mage, but I wanted the party to get the idea that they could be corrupted by the yuan-ti.

If you want to read more about snake symbolism in mythology, I’d suggest reading James Charlesworth’s book The Good and Evil Serpent.

Here’s the Chant: Tomb of Annihilation, feathered serpents and Hogwarts

I’m trying to get back into the habit of drawing toegther a weekly digest of content related to roleplaying games (particularly 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons). Tomb of Annihilation is already available some places, so I’ve included a couple of links to related articles.

For players:

For players and dungeon masters:

For dungeon masters:

  • ‘A Guide to Tomb of Annihilation’ Power Score – extensive notes (with page numbers) for running Tomb of Annihilation
  • Dragons Conquer America: The Coatli Stone Quickstart – Dragons Conquer America appears to be a tabletop roleplaying game about the European invasion of the Americas, featuring dragons and feathered serpents. This free introductory adventure is a promo for their upcoming Kickstarter campaign. I’m interested to see how they navigate colonial history and indigenous cultural knowledge. I’m be interested in having a go at running this, so I’ve done a drawing of a feathered serpent that I could use: 
  • ‘Couatl Tactics’ The Monsters Know What They’re Doing – this article suggests how a couatl (feathered serpent) might behave in combat
  • ‘What’s the Goblin Doing’ Raging Swan Press – here are some suggestions about what activities goblins might be doing when your party finds them
  • ‘Mystic College’ Tribality – this article looks at how to run a game with a feel similar to the Harry Potter series
  • ‘Mission to Sewertopia’ Elf Maids and Octopi – this post contains one hundred missions that players could pursue in the sewers beneath a fantasy city
  • ‘Village Backdrop: Farrav’n’ Raging Swan Press – this post features a village that could be included in a desert setting, including a couple of maps
  • ‘I’m Not Going to Let You Do That’ Medium – this article presents some reasons why a dungeon master might stop a player from doing particular things in the game

Content I’ve published recently:

  • ‘Repeating D&D Adventures’ – I’ve recently run a few different versions of the same scenarios from In Volo’s Wake, and I’ve found that’s been a good opportunity to improve my adventures.

Here’s the Chant: revisiting Phandalin, earthy elves and a boat mimic

I haven’t written any D&D roundup posts for a few weeks. Actually, I haven’t written much for a few weeks! I ended up a bit exhausted and needed to rest, and I was also away at Lake Mungo for a little while. I think I’m not ready to get back into regular posting. So here’s a roundup of content related to roleplaying games, particularly Dungeons & Dragons.

For dungeon masters and players:

For dunegon masters:

  • ‘Dealing with Difficult Topics in RPGs’ Tribality – this article looks at how to handle topics that players may not want to explore – particularly by using a session zero to establish a social contract between your gaming group
  • ‘Artifacts of Primordial Power’ Kobold Press – a few magical items infused with elemental power
  • ‘How much setting detail is appropriate?’ RPG Knights – this blog entry looks at how you can get bogged down by too much detail about your roleplaying game setting
  • ‘Memorable Villains’ The Yawning Portal – this post shows how you can build up anticipation in the lead-up to introducing your main villain
  • ‘Bosses that Don’t Suck’ Monster Manuel – this article looks at how you can make sure your boss monsters are deadly but not unbeatable
  • ‘New Elves’ Trollish Delver – this article presents a fresh, earthy take on elves
  • ‘Examining Phandelver: Side Quests’ Merric’s Musings – this blog post looks at the side quests in D&D 5th edition’s introductory adventure, Lost Mine of Phandelver. I’ve recently been running In Volo’s Wake, which also takes place in the frontier town of Phandalin, which creates an opportunity to reuse some of these subplots.
  • ‘Lonely Boat’ Nerdarchy – this article looks at how to use a mimic disguised as a boat – pretty much like the pirate’s mimic I drew earlier in the year: 
  • ‘Creatures of Commander 2017 in D&D’ Kor Artificer – this article presents stat blocks for some of the creatures from Magic: The Gathering‘s upcoming Commander set
  • ‘Sewers and Cesspits’ Elf Maids & Octopi – here are a couple of extensive tables you can use to generate random items or encounters that adventurers might find whule exploring sewers
  • ’10 Stormy Events to Enhance a Battle’ Raging Swan Press – this article suggests running combat during a storm, and includes a table of ways that a storm could effect the battle

Content I’ve recently published:

  • ‘Running Vault of the Dracolich’ – on Saturday I was involved in running Vault of the Dracolich with a team of dungeon masters at Games Laboratory, and this is my reflection on the experience
  • ‘Brushing up on Basic D&D Rules’ – being involved in running a D&D event was a good incentive to get clear on the basic rules. This is a summary of what I needed to brush up on.

Here’s the Chant: will-o’-wisps, ankhegs and cave halflings

For players or DMs:

For DMs:

For anyone wanting to reflect more deeply on game themes:

Content I’ve published recently:

#DungeonDrawingDudes – Week 4

For the last three weeks, I’ve been participating in the #DungeonDrawingDudes challenge. For each day in July, there’s a suggested Dungeons & Dragons creature to draw. If you have a look on Instagram, you can see what everyone’s contributed. I’ve put my contributions here, and you’re welcome to use them in your games if you like them.

I already wrote about my thoughts on day 22’s challenge.

I like drawing gnomes:

sewer-dwelling gnome

I haven’t been drawing bugbears as often as gnomes, but I’ve also been becoming fond of drawing bugbears:

bugbear shaman

#DungeonDrawingDudes: Week 3

For the last three weeks, I’ve been participating in the #DungeonDrawingDudes challenge. For each day in July, there’s a suggested Dungeons & Dragons creature to draw. If you have a look on Instagram, you can see what everyone’s contributed. I’ve put my contributions here, and you’re welcome to use them in your games if you like them.

This week I got a bit behind on the challenges because I was also working on miniatures for the penguin RPG I ran on Thursday and illustrations for an original roleplaying game a friend has been writing. So I did a lot of catching up today, and really enjoyed today’s challenges. I like running city-based adventures, so I enjoyed drawing the first of a number of urban creatures:

Wizard busker:

wizard busker

Tiefling street-performer:

tiefling street performer

Goblin cut-purse:

goblin cutpurse

I also appreciated the vegepygmy challenge, because it meant I read about a monster that I wasn’t familiar with, and it turned out to be fairly interesting. (They basically start off as a brown mould that could infect an adventurer.)

vegepygmy chief

Another monster that I hadn’t read much about, and appreciated the opportunity reflect on was the redcap, which I’ve already written about here.

I also enjoyed drawing the troll messhall cook, because I like drawing ‘monsters’ in incongruous ways that challenge us to think about them differently.

troll messhall cook