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:

Bargaining with hags

On Thursday nights I’ve been running Out of the Abyss with my Dungeons & Dragons group. Tonight a number of players weren’t able to make it, so I decided to run a little side adventure for the three players who were available, rather than advancing the main plot too much. Only one of the players is an evil character, but I was basically able to get get them all to make deals with a sea hag, Auntie Pong. It was a lot of fun trying to trick the players. One of the players was suggesting that the hag should be giving them cursed items, but my hunch was that she’d be more likely to give them things that she’d find amusing (like the cloak of displacement that looks like a frog onesie) or information that wouldn’t actually be very useful. But who knows, maybe the ‘croak of displacement’ will turn out to be cursed?

Here’s the Chant: Xanathar’s Guide, Mystara, firearms

I believe I’ve missed a couple of weeks again (due to urgent assignments and commissions) but this week I’m back with another roundup of content related to Dungeons & Dragons and other roleplaying games. The first major rules expansion for 5th edition D&D has just come out, so there are a few posts about that.

I’ve also just started writing for Encounter Roleplay, so make sure you check out the site and Twitch channel.

Related to Xanathar’s Guide to Everything:

For players:

For players and dungeon masters:

For dungeon masters:

My recent content:

Dealing with slavery in D&D

Warning: this post deals with the topic of slavery, and it also contains spoilers for Out of the Abyss.


The last few Thursday nights I’ve been running Out of the Abyss for our Dungeon’s & Dragons group. Out of the Abyss is set in the Underdark, an immense and labyrinthine network of caverns miles below the earth and deals with a number of sensitive themes, including madness and slavery.

The adventure starts off with the player characters imprisoned by drow slavers, waiting to be transported to Menzoberranzan. The first part of the adventure is occupied with escaping the drow outpost. I expect a lot of parties would just try to get as soon as possible, but my group decided to fight the drow, despite being hugely outnumbered. (The reason was because they wanted to get their items back, which seemed to have been confiscated when they were captured.) After a lot of drow had been killed and the remainder were cornered in a tower, the dwarf druid brought up the possibility of negotiating with the drow in order to get the items back, but there was disagreement about whether it was okay to negotiate with slavers.

After the party (including a number of non-player escapees) had left the outpost and headed out into the Underdark, they ran straight into a group of goblins transporting two slaves. (We had a couple of new players joining the game, so that’s who the two slaves were.) After a little negotiation, the party ended up fighting the goblins, and once they had killed the leader, the others ran away. However, they managed to figure out that the goblins were a family group (the leader was their mother) and that they may have been acquiring slaves for the drow because their leader knew the drow would take her children as slaves otherwise. (Evil, but complicated.)

Later on, when they discovered a member of the party (a character belonging to a player who could no longer join us) had been brutally murdered in his sleep they began to wonder whether some of their fellow prisoners might have been imprisoned for legitimate reasons. (They know that one member of the party stands accused of murder in Menzoberranzan.) Since they don’t know who killed their friend, they’ve tied up the two main suspects and are marching them through the Underdark. They’ve figured out that this is likely to make them look like slavers themselves. Perhaps next session we’ll find out whether that’s helpful or unhelpful?

Cyborgs in D&D 5e

Today Nick from Owlman Press was asking me about how I would represent cyborgs in 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons. It wasn’t something I had thought about before. I don’t think I’ve actually used any constructs in my games so far, although I have included some elements that border on science fiction. A couple of times I’ve run adventures that involve spaceships (like the ones from the Spelljammer campaign setting) that crashed centuries or millenia ago.

I was thinking that to make a cyborg I’d probably start with stats for some kind of humanoid or beast, amke them a construct instead, raise their armor class and change some of their damage vulnerabilities, resistances and immunities. I thought I’d probably remove their regular attack abilities and give them an attack ability resembling one of the futuristic weapons from the Dungeon Master’s Guide. I also thought of just giving them a set amount of damage for successful attacks, which is based on a planar effect applied on the plane of Mechanus in 2nd Edition.

This got me thinking about how I could incorporate a cyborg (possible from a crashed Spelljammer ship) into an adventure, so I had a go at making one:

Cyborg Rabbit

Small construct, lawful neutral

STR 15 (+2)   DEX 10 (+0)   CON 10 (+0)
INT 16 (+3)   WIS 14 (+2)   CHA 12 (+1)

Challenge: 1 (200 XP)
Armor Class: 17 Half Plate
Hit Points: 27 (6d8)
Speed: 30 ft.
Skills: Deception +5, Insight +4, Investigation +3, Perception +4, Persuasion +5, Sleight of Hand +4, Stealth +4
Damage Vulnerabilities: Lightning
Damage Resistances: Force
Damage Immunities: Poison
Condition Immunities: Poisoned
Senses: Darkvision 60 feet, Passive Perception 16
Languages: Deep Speech, Undercommon

Cunning Action. On each of its turns, the cyborg rabbit can use a bonus action to take the Dash, Disengage, or Hide action.

Actions

Laser. Ranged Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, range 40/120 ft., one target. Hit: 10 radiant damage.

Parrots, raptors and tortles at PAX Australia

This will contain spoilers about some of the short Adventurers League adventures from the Tomb of Annihilation storyline.


Last weekend I was at PAX Australia, helping run games with the Dungeons and Dragons Adventurers League. Merric has written about it here. I thought I’d also write a bit about how I found the experience.

Firstly, it was great being part of something that was attracting so much interest. Over the three days we were running eight tables, and they were booked out pretty much the whole time. It was actually hard to get into games as a dungeon master when I wasn’t busy, so I just ended up running more games!

PAX was one of only a few times I’ve had the opportunity to play through adventures before running them. Playing before running is very helpful. The first adventure I was running was A Day at the Races at 2pm on Friday, so I booked in for the 11am session of the same adventure. I was able to see that the race map included as part of the adventure was kind of hard to understand. So I chose not to use it when I ran the same adventure. As I’ve mentioned before dinosaur races are a lot of fun. However, I think that the dinosaur race from part 2 of City on the Edge are a bit more fun than the one in A Day at the Races, particularly due to the obstacles included in City on the Edge.

There’s a difference between parrots and raptors. When I played through A Day at the Races I didn’t answer the jumbled letters puzzle since I’d already read the adventure in preparation. The group initially thought the answer was ‘parrot’ and not ‘raptor’ – and it could have been the correct answer as they are made up of the same letters. However, the dungeon master just said that it wasn’t the right answer, and then they guessed that it was ‘raptor’. When I ran the adventure myself, the group also answered ‘parrot’ first, so I let them go with that. But when they tried to open the combination lock by turning the dials to spell ‘parrot’ it didn’t work. They realised they must have the answer wrong, but couldn’t figure it out, so I said, ‘Imagine a giant parrot that’s about to rip out your guys with it’s hooked claws.’

A couple of times I jumped in to run adventures at short notice. There was one session where the dungeon master (who was meant to be running the same adventure twice, back to back) couldn’t be found. I hadn’t prepared to run the particular adventure at PAX, but the dungeon master who had been running it in the previous session agreed to run it, and I was able to join in so that I could run it myself afterwards. In some ways, not being over-prepared made it pretty easy to run the adventure.

I also put my hand up to run some tier two (level 5 to 10) adventures, when we had only planned to run tier adventures (level 1 to 4). A guy who I’ve previously run a one shot adventure for was asking about tier 2 adventures, so I said I could run one outside the official program on Sunday when I wasn’t rostered on. Then when we had another group who all wanted to play tier 2, and since I’d been preparing tier 2 adventures I was able to offer to run them for this group as well. They were also able to give me advice afterwards about how to make the most of the monsters in the adventures. This meant I was able to provide a better challenge the second time I ran the adventure.

When running these adventures there was some stuff I ignored or changed because it felt awkward. I don’t feel comfortable using accents as a DM ordinarily, and some of the dialogue for Chultan characters felt pretty stereotyped and and cringeworthy. So I just ignored it and had them speaking normally. If you want to get a sense of how some black players have responded to Tomb of Annihilation, read this or this. I’m confident that Wizards of the Coast are wanting to improve in this area, and I hope they can take on these critiques in order to publish better content.

I found out that tortles are cool. Before PAX I made a player character that I hoped to play with. I haven’t played as a fighter before, even though it’s the most popular class, so I made a fighter. But I made him a tortle fighter called Yog. I found out that tortles can actually be a pretty viable player character option. In part 1 of City on the Edge, Yog was quite effective at dragging adversaries underwater in order to drown them, bringing a bit of a horror element to the game. The dungeon master of that game suggested that he should have been called ‘Yog the Baptist’.

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: