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.)

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.

Fungus and the vulnerability of community

I’ve just released a new set of printable paper miniatures on DriveThruRPG, featuring some fungus people. At the moment the pack is US$1, but I’ll put it up to a regular price of US$3 in a couple of days. (I’ve also tried out making some tokens with the same illustrations, and I’m wondering if those are useful for people using virtual tabletops for their games?)

I’ve been using fungus people (in Dungeons & Dragons they’re called myconids) a little bit in the Out of the Abyss adventure I’ve been running for my Thursday night D&D group. There’s been a young myconid accompanying the group for most of the adventure, but in our most recent session the party came across a group of myconids who were acting quite unusually.

In D&D myconids are presented as peaceful creatures who live an idyllic existence in small, subterranean communities where they dream together and seek higher consciousness. This works because each community of myconids submits to a leader. In Out of the Abyss, the close-knit communities of the myconids are used by the demon lord Zuggtmoy to spread her maddening influence through the subterranean realm of the Underdark. This demonstrates that, while we tend to think of ‘community’ as a good thing, it can also be used to spread malevolent influence. (i’f you’re interested in reflecting more on the tensions between community and freedom, I’d suggest looking up the philosopher Zygmunt Bauman.)

Here’s the chant: randomised beholders; defiling and preserving magic; and Nentir Vale

Each week I post a roundup of content about tabletop roleplaying games, particularly 5th edition Dungeon & Dragons. Here’s this week’s roundup:

For players or dungeon masters:

For players:

  • ‘Why You don’t Need a Backstory’Cup of D20s – this article suggests that rather than writing backstories for new player characters, we should let their stories emerge and develop through play

For dungeon masters:

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

  • ‘Existential D&D’Cup of D20s – this post looks at connections between roleplaying and existentialist philosophy

My recent content:

How it all goes together

One of the things I said I wanted to do this year was to write regularly – and that has taken different forms throughout the year, but I’ve found it has been really worthwhile. Being a personal blog, the content here has changed over the course of the year. (I’ve also done some private writing for my study, as part of a Period of Discernment with the Uniting Church in Australia, and as part of a pilgrimage to Lake Mungo.) On this blog recently I’ve almost only been talking about tabletop roleplaying games, particularly Dungeons & Dragons, but earlier in the year I was also posting a lot more religious-mythological Bible content, stuff I’d been observing in my neighbourhood, opinion pieces about the proposed homeless ban in Melbourne, stuff about migrant-settler-colonial identity in Australia…

Sometimes people tell me I’m doing an awful lot of different things, but in my mind all of those stuff comes back to one thing, and that’s critical engagement with stories. As my collaborator Matt Valler has been saying,

‘Every city is full of hidden stories that quietly enforce the rules we live by. Labyrinth uncovers those stories so that together we can rewrite the rules.’

We need to be able to engage with stories in a critical way because they can shape our society for better or for worse. (And it’s often a lot more complex than just good stories and bad stories!)

Anyway, that has been my focus, and I hope that gives an idea about what holds my year together!

Religious-mythological story
This year it’s been really helpful having regular contracts with the Victorian Council of Christian Education, illustrating resources written by my friend Beth Barnett. (I also did a little bit or writing for the season of Lent early in the year.) What I like is that VCCE are really in favour of critical reflection on the Bible, not just in academic institutions and not just for adults but for the whole church. Personally it’s also been helpful just having regular stuff to work on so that I can improve my skills and reinforce a regular practise of drawing – which makes it easier to pick up other religious-mythological work with groups like Scripture Union Victoria, Gembrook Retreat, Baptist Union of Victoria, Surrender and Melbourne Welsh Church.

Story through gaming
The discipline has also meant I’ve been able to start expanding into doing tabletop roleplaying illustration through Owlman Press (I’ll be playtesting our new game Phantasmagoria next week) and Encounter Roleplay (my new Dungeons & Dragons adventure King Dawutti’s Legacy is now available to our Patreon supporters). I find there’s often also cross-pollination between the two, because a story from the Abrahamic mythologies might provide a structure or a setting for an adventure, or the elements of a parable might provide an idea for a monster. In the new year I’m excited about some new gaming projects that I’m currently working on thanks to connections with the #DnD community on Twitter.

What interests me most is how our games often draw on stories that are already part of our society, but invite us to engage with the creatively. I think there are also opportunities to experiment in how we cooperate with others or engage in conflict at the table. It’s been great getting back into a regular rhythm of hosting games (and getting to occassionally play!) with a fairly diverse group of players.

While I’m talking about gaming, I also need to mention that I’ve appreciated being able to continue working with Evan at Rival Sky. I don’t play most of the games we sell (I do play Star Wars: Imperial Assault a little bit) but it’s really helpful having something to do that’s regular, dependable and practical. (You might be surprised how therapeutic the physicality of packing parcels can be!)

Story in the real, physical world
I think physicality is really important. I don’t think our engagement with story can stay in the realm of reflecting on Biblical mythology or participating in narrative through games. I think it has to have an impact on our actual world. With Labyrinth we’ve been inviting people to do this kind of critical reflection on stories in the city streets, as we have done in Melbourne for a long time. It’s been great being able to see this practise continuing in Melbourne as Urban Seed (where I learned this practise) has been gradually winding up, and seeing experiments happening in London, Dallas and Washington DC. Reflection on the stories needs to lead to response, and for some of us that has meant engaging with the government and wider community about the homelessness ban that was proposed by the Lord Mayor Robert Doyle.

What we do in our home is also being informed by reflecting on our story. Our household, the Indigenous Hospitality House (named in honor of the hospitality we’ve so often received from Aboriginal and other Indigenous peoples) is a response to the story of our colonial history and the to the question ‘What does it mean to live on stolen land?’ In recent years we’ve been trying different ways of inviting other people to reflect on and respond to that story and question, because we think it’s something our whole society needs to grapple with. Early in the year we released a book as a way of sharing some of our learnings and inviting others into reflection. Mehrin and I got to take some time out to participate in the Yingadi pilgirmage to Lake Mungo with Vicki Clark, a Mutthi Mutthi woman who helped set up IHH at the beginning. As we finished up this year we have a few people leaving our household, but the three of us who’ve been living there for a while feel encouraged to have others joining us – especially since a few years ago we weren’t sure where we’d find enough people to keep operating!

In 2018
I mentioned at the beginning of this post that this year I participated in a Period of Discernment with the Uniting Church. My sense throughout this period has been that what I need to be doing is spending time near the boundaries of the church and out in the wider world, where people are engaging with and responding to the stories of our world. (I think that fits within the scope of the Uniting Church’s understanding of what a deacon does.) I expect I’ll be continuing these practises and seeing where they lead.

Here’s the Chant: Hogwarts RPG, gith and Dark Sun

Each week I normally post a roundup of content related to tabletop roleplaying games (particularly 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons). Here’s this week’s roundup:

For players and dungeon masters:

  • ‘Githyanki and Githzerai’D&D Beyond – this video (there’s also a transcript) looks at the backstory of the two gith races and their relationship with the mind flayers and Tiamat. (I wonder if this might give us some ideas of how the gith will be used in future storylines?) Here are some githzerai I’ve drawn for Planescape adventures I’ve run this year:
  • ‘The Dark Sun of Athas’Bell of Lost Souls – here’s an overview of D&D‘s Dark Sun setting. The article suggests that the conflicts built into this world helped to draw players in.
  • ‘The Harry Potter Tabletop RPG Guide’Google Drive – here are some revised rules for running 5th edition D&D adventures set in the world of Harry Potter, including a comprehensive list of spells

For players:

  • ‘The Dark Sun Mystic’ThinkDM – here is some speculation about what we might be able to expect from the new mystic class option when it is officially released. (I also covered this topic at Encounter Roleplay a little while ago.)
  • ‘Determining Ability Scores’The Kind GM – this post looks at the pros and cons of a number of different ways of generating ability scores in D&D. (Make sure when you’re determining scores that you know what the agreed options are for your group!)

For dungeon masters:

My recent content:

A merry Kranglemas to all

Tonight at Games Laboratory we ran a Christmas themed adventure. We started with the same premise: a village of drow artificers in the frozen north, about to celebrate Kranglemas – the longest night of the year. The patron of this sacred day is Krangle, who delivers radioactive crystals to bad children and toys to good children. The crystals turn children into aberrations and the toys are actually automatons who kidnap the good children to work in Krangle’s mines. A half-orc called Grinchen is trying to thwart Krangle’s plans by stealing the presents before they are opened.

Running this adventure was a lot of fun. My table spent some time carolling, and eventually ended up drinking and singing in the street with some rowdy drow.

One of the most memorable player characters was a halfling warlock whose patron was always reminding her of how small she was. The halfling had developed a very obvious insecurity about her height. When she opened her gift from Krangle it turned out to be one of the radioactive, green crystals and it turned her into a gibbering mouther. She was very pleased, because this meant she was now the largest party member.

Later on, when they were trying to find Krangle’s mine, they found a magical stone door, which the mouther decided to eat her way through. I decided that eating a magical door should have some kind of magical effect, to I had her roll on the wild magic surge table. The result was that if she was killed in the next minute she would be reincarnated. So when the centaurs who were sheltering behind the door trampled the gibbering mouther, she was reincarnated as a dwarf. She felt short again, so she asked the centaurs to trample her again, and she reincarnated as a dragonborn.

Here’s the Chant: racial stereotypes, Christmas cantrips and the origins of saving throws

Each week I put together a wrap-up of tabletop roleplaying game content (mostly related to 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons). Here’s this week’s wrap up:

For digital RPG players:

  • ‘Sword Coast Legends Last Chance Sale’Sword Coast Legends – I really enjoyed playing this game when it was released, and I think it failed because of runaway expectations from fans. (To be fair on the fans, these expectations were stoked by the developers in no small way!) Sword Coast Legends is heavily discounted at the moment, and will not be available after the end if the year, although the servers will keep running.

For players and dungeon masters:

For players:

For dungeon masters:

  • X Marks the Spot – Wizards of the Coast have released a short D&D adventure set on the plane of Ixalan (from Magic: the Gathering)

For anyone wanting to learn about RPG history:

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?

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.