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?

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:

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.

Zygmunt Bauman, social division and flesh golems

A couple of weeks ago I was reading Zygmunt Bauman’s book Community – Seeking Safety in an Insecure World in preparation for a book review. It was the same week that I first tried streaming my illustration process on Twitch. In a conversation with my friend Nicholas Moll (from Owlman Press) I mentioned that once I’d finished reading Bauman for the night I’d probably jump on Twitch and start drawing requests. Nick suggested I draw a flesh golem, and somehow we ended up with the idea of a Zygmunt Bauman flesh golem. (A flesh golem is basically Frankenstein’s monster – a person made from the parts of deceased people and animated through the power of ‘science’.)


I decided to draw the Zygmunt Bauman flesh golem with a third eye surgically added in the middle of his head, suggesting that his mind has been awakened. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the ‘monster’ is more enlightened than the scientist who created him by the end of the novel. From reading Bauman’s book, I think he is also pretty awake to our current global situation. Bauman talks about how global elites have refashioned our society to suit their own ends. The problem is that because society has become very fragmented it is now very difficult to organise effectively. I think what my own country’s government is doing at the moment is exploiting some of these divisions through the public debate about marriage, in order to distract from the growing economic inequality, which I think is the real threat.

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:

Here’s the Chant: Tomb of Annihilation goes to Eberron and a Spiderman rogueish archetype

Each week I aim to publish a roundup of content related to 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons, and tabletop roleplaying games in general. Here’s this week’s post:

For players and dungeon masters:

  • Skum of the Stars Owlman Press via RPGNow – the core edition of Skum of the Stars, as well as the first issue of SkumMag have just been released. This looks like a very flexible sci-fantasy rule system, and I’m hoping to try it out soon. (I’m also working on illustrations for Owlman’s Phantasmagoria.)
  • ‘A Guide to D&D Coins’ Dungeon Master’s Workshop – ever need to know how many coins it would take to fill a treasure chest?
  • ‘State of Race in the Tabletop Gaming Hobby’ Youtube – Timothy Sherman talks about his experience of racism at the gaming table. People should not have to put up with slurs at the table.

For players:

  • ‘Fey-touched Backgrounds’ Tribality – this post provides a couple of backgrounds you could use if you’re making a character who has been influenced by fey magic
  • ‘Arachnoid Stalker’ Middle Finger of Vecna – here’s a rogueish archetype that seems to be inspired by Spiderman

For dungeon masters:

My content:

Here’s the Chant: Al-Qadim, murder hobos and other disruptive player types

Each Wednesday I’m posting a roundup of content related to Dungeons & Dragons and other roleplaying games. It’s basically whatevery I’ve found this week that I think is interesting, along with some of my own content at the end.

For players and dungeon masters:

  • ‘How This RPG Classic Helped Lift a Depressive Episode’ Optimistic Despite It All – this article looks at how trying out D&D helped get the writer off the couch and interacting with others on the weekend
  • ‘RPG Legends: Al-Qadim’ LitRPG Reads – this article details the history of the Al-Qadim setting (subsetting within the Forgotten Realms inspired by the Middle East)
  • @RichardWhitters – Richard Whitters is the senior art director for D&D, and he’s just recently started posting regularly on Twitter, often sharing artwork he’s done for D&D and Magic: The Gathering. If you’re not already, you should follow him.

For players:

  • ‘Clerics of Thor’ Kobold Press – here are some domains that clerics of the Norse god Thor might use, along with some new spells

For dungeon masters:

My recent content:

  • ‘Yuan-ti and Snake Symbolism’ – last week the party I DM for met a yuan-ti cult for the first time
  • I’ve been trying to find ways to share my drawing process online, so I posted an accelerated video of myself drawing and orc. I’ve also been trying out streaming my drawing process over Twitch, and I think I’ll find a regular time to do that. Here are some drawings I’ve done while streaming on Twitch this week. You can use them with your RPG group if you like.