Here’s the Chant: Santa’s warlocks, rules lawyers and windmill cultists

I try 😂 to post a weekly roundup of tabletop roleplaying game content (particularly about 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons) each week, but it’s getting to that time of year and it’s been hard! Nevertheless, here is this week’s roundup:

For players:

For players or dungeon masters:

  • ‘Storytelling In Tabletop Campaigns’Stronghold Media – this post is about the central role storytelling plays in tabletop roleplaying games
  • ‘Kenku’Bell of Lost Souls – this article looks at things like how kenku moved from monsters to a popular character race and how they lost their wings – speaking of kenku, here’s one I drew to use at PAX Australia:
  • ‘The Dreaded Rules Lawyer’The Yawning Portal – this article talks about the difference between being helpful with rules and being an irritating rules lawyer, recognising that we can all be both
  • ‘Gender and Sexuality’The Yawning Portal – this article is about the importance of including characters of diverse gender and sexuality in our games
  • ‘Upcoming D&D Products for 2018’Tribality – here is some speculation about official D&D releases what we may be able to expect next year. (I’m hoping they’re right about the modron march.)

For dungeon masters:

For anyone who wants to reflect more deeply in the themes of our games:

  • ‘The F-Word: The Arms Race’Legendary Pants – this post talks about the historical development of medieval arms and armour. I also talks about how we might be able to incorporate the idea that different weapons are effective against different kinds of armour into our games.
  • ‘Essential Equipment’d-Infinity – this article os about the likelihood of adventurers developing alcohol dependency and how this might impact an adventure

My recent content:

Combat in Limbo – beware the chaos beasts!

Today I was involved in running a Dungeons & Dragons event at Games Laboratory in Melbourne CBD. Our previous event was a cooperative evnt, so this time we ran a tournament intead. Competitors formed teams of three, with each player creating a fourth-level character. We had four rounds of three-on-three combat, in arenas designed by the dungeon masters. After the fourth round, the top four teams fought it out in an arena based on the Alchemist’s Refuge (Games Lab’s bar) complete with shelves full of random potions.

I decided that my arena would be on the plane of Limbo, which consists mainly of elemental chaos. There are a whole lot of rules in 2nd Edition D&D about the environmental conditions in Limbo. The 5th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide also has some suggestions. I wanted to keep the rules simple so that we could get into combat quickly, so I only used some of the rules from the 5E DMG.

Elemental chaos

If a character entered the elemental chaos or started their turn in the elemental chaos, they would take 1d6 damage. I would roll 1d10 to determine the kind of damage:

  1. Acid
  2. Cold
  3. Fire
  4. Force
  5. Lightning
  6. Piercing
  7. Poison
  8. Radiant
  9. Slashing
  10. Thunder

Stabilising terrain

I decided that each player could use their bonus action on their turn to try to stabilise some of the elemental chaos, so that they might have some safe terrain. In order to suceed, they would have to make an Intelligence check, with the difficulty class depending on the size of the area they were trying to stabilise. To stabilise an area that was 5 feet by 5 feet it would be DC 5, to stabilise 10 feet by 10 feet it would be DC 10, et cetera. If they rolled a natural 20 for the Intelligence check I would let them choose the kind of terrain that was created. Otherwise I would roll 1d6 to decide what kind of terrain was created:

  1. Open terrain – this was just flat terrain, probably grassy.
  2. Watery terrain – this was difficult terrain, covered by waist-deep water
  3. Boggy terrain – this was difficult terrain, covered by stagnant, waist-deep water, providing half cover, but also producing toxic gases. If a character entered boggy terrain or began their turn in boggy terrain, they had to make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw. On a failure they too 1d6 poison damage.
  4. Rocky terrain – this was higher ground. If a player was standing on rocky terrain, they could have advantage on attack rolls against characters in another kind of terrain. Rocky terrain also provided full cover for characters on either side of it.
  5. Leafy terrain – this was terrain covered by trees, providing half cover
  6. If I rolled a 6 I would let the player decide the kind of terrain

Players could choose to stabilise terrain anywhere on the table. They could choose also use the same mechanic to try and transform already-stabilised terrain.

To represent stabilised terrain, I cut up about 50 basic land cards from Magic: The Gathering. (I also stuck coloured stickers on them, to make them easy to identify.)

Chaos Beasts

I also adapted a monster from 2nd Edition D&D to use in my arena: the chaos beast. Chaos beasts don’t do a lot of damage, but the real danger they pose is caused by corporreal instability. Contact with a chaos beast can cause a player’s character to destabilise, losing a lot of their abilities and eventually becoming a chaos beast. A lot of the players freaked out when that started happening!


To represent the chaos beasts I used eldrazi miniatures from the Magic: The Gathering board game, Arena of the Planeswalkers, but I also prepared a few weird-looking paper minis in case player characters were transformed, as chaos beasts can take all kinds of weird forms:

Here’s the Chant: darkling player race, narrative preparation and a massively multiplayer tabletop RPG

For players and dungeon masters: 

For players:

For dungeon masters:

For anyone who is interested in reflecting more deeply on the themes of the games we play:

Some of my recent content:

  • on the weekend I was dungeon mastering with D&D Adventurers League at PAX AUS. (Merric has written about the event here.) I haven’t written about the event yet, but here are some monster illustrations I used in one of the adventures I ran: 

Here’s the Chant: scaring your players

Each week I post a roundup of roleplaying game content, mostly for 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons. This week I’m posting from PAX Aus, and following a horror theme, since Tuesday will be Hallowe’en.

For everyone:

On Ravenloft and vampires:

For dungeon masters:

Here are a couple of zombie illustrations I’ve made to us at PAX Aus this weekend:

#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

Here’s the Chant: planar diseases, gods and sad penguins

I normally write a roundup post on Wednesday, drawing together a whole lot of content about roleplaying games (particularly 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons). This week got away from me a bit, so here it is on Friday:

For players

For players and DMs:

  • ‘The Path of Notes’ Monte Cook Games – this article looks at how the game Invisible Sun has been designed so that players have got to take notes, which will end up becoming a memento of their adventure

For DMs:

Content I’ve published recently:

  • ‘Goofy Descends into Hell’ – in the most recent Planescape adventure I played in, we used the Open Legend system instead of D&D
  • ‘#Dungeondrawingdudes: Week 3’ – each day this month I’ve been participating in the #Dungeondrawingdudes challenge, so there’s now three weeks worth of my illustrations (like this tiefling street-performer), which you can download use in your home game 
  • ‘A Cheeky Response to #Dungeondrawingdudes’ – I thought one of the #Dungeondrawingdudes challenges was a bit disrespectful, so I made a cheeky response
  • ‘Redcaps and Violence’ – #Dungeondrawingdudes and Nerdarchy got me thinking about redcaps and the tendency of violence to escalate
  • ‘Valley of Eternity: The Hunt’ – last week I had my first attempt at running a game of Valley of Eternity, the existentialist penguin roleplaying game

Goofy descends into Hell: My first experience of Open Legend

Last Sunday I played using the Open Legend system for the first time. Our dungeonmaster has been keen to run a Planescape adventure about breaking out of the prison-plane of Carceri, but hasn’t been finding that Dungeons & Dragons rules promote roleplay or collaboration as much as she’d like.

Having a look at the rules, what I like is that character creation is very flexible. Rather than offering classes and races for a specific kind of setting, there are a whole lot of basic character attributes that can be used in different ways. You could use the ‘Alternate Form’ feat to make a lycanthropic character or a shapeshifting druid. You could use the ‘Companion’ feat to represent a character’s hired bodyguard or an animal companion or a sibling who tags along for adventures. So it’s very modular, very flexible. Because there’s no detailed flavour tied to the attributes, you can use them for a whole bunch of genres and settings, or for a mashup of genres and settings. That meant we were able to have an adventuring party consisting of a halfling, an orc and an anthropomorphic cartoon dog.


I think the downside of the openness and flexibility is that the game can depend a lot on the ability of the players to get their character across. In our adventure, I was playing a psionic orc and another player was a shady halfling. The third player, when he was told he could play as anything or anyone, said, ‘I’ll be Goofy.’ I think that was actually really helpful because we know who he is and what he’s like, and we get how cartoon slapstick works. He was able to get the character concept across easily by having Goofy walk up imaginary stairs or elongate his arms in order to catch falling adventurers. I think my psionic orc and the sinister halfling were less clear, so it was harder to get into the swing of things.

Back to the positive: another thing that makes Open Legend stand out if the way that dice ‘explode’. If you roll a die, whether it’s a d4 or a d20, maximum rolls are repeated and added. So If you had to roll a d20 and a 1d6 and rolled a 20 and a 3, you’d expect to get a score of 23. But because you rolled a 20 on the d20, you would roll the d20 again and add the result to the 23. If you rolled another 20, it would explode again. The same thing would happen with the d6 if you had rolled a 6 – you’d roll it again and add the result to your score. This means that you can end up with some really high scores and results, and it means the game really lends itself to characters every now and then managing ridiculous, epic achievements.

* * *

If you want to check out Open Legend, the rules are available for free on their website. You can also try out their free, play-to-learn adventure, ‘A Star Once Fallen’ or support their Kickstarter campaign to publish their Amaurea’s Dawn adventure setting.

#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

Redcaps and violence

On Monday, as part of the #DungeonDrawingDudes challenge, I drew a redcap, which looks kind of like a warped garden gnome.

redcap

I came across this video from Nerdarchy, about redcaps, and I think they make a good observation about redcaps’ relationship with violence. Redcaps appear at the location of a murder, if the murder occurs in a place where the regular world and the Feywild overlap. (A bit like the concept of thin space in Celtic spirituality.) Someone who knows what they’re doing might be able to summon redcaps as minions, but the risk is that they will just kill the summoner. They might follow the person who summons them. But if they do it will only be as long as their master provides more opportunities to kill. If their master doesn’t give them more opportunities to kill, they will kill their master. It seems to me that this monster speaks to us about the tendency of violence to keep generating more violence. Just recently one of our government ministers has been suggesting that our country should become a major arms manufacturer, but that we would only sell weapons to appropriate countries. It seems unrealisitc to think that in the chaos of war, we would be able to control who ends up with our weapons or how they are used.