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: 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.

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.

Starting at higher levels in D&D

last night I got to play a Planescape game as a player character for the first time. (My second time should be Sunday, but we’ll be trying out the Open Legend system rather than using Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition.) We were playing an adventure from Tales from the Infinite Staircase, and we started with 4th level characters. I played as a bugbear mystic (using playtest rules for mystics), which was a lot of fun.


I did find however, that starting off at level four made it harder for me to have my head around all of my character’s abilities. I need to keep that in mind for when I run adventures myself. Last time I ran an adventure (a few weeks ago) we were starting at a higher level, and one player who’d never played before found it hard to get their head around all the things they could do at that level. I think it’s a good reason to start new players at 1st level, even if they’re playing alongside other players with higher level characters. It’s easier to learn your character’s abilities if you start off with just a few and gradually gain more.

Here’s the Chant: Sheep Lord, fungal fey and Amonkhet

On Wednesdays I normally post a roundup of content related to Dungeons & Dragons and roleplaying games in general. Here’s this week’s roundup:

For players or DMs:

For DMs:

For anyone who wants to reflect more deeply on gaming:

Content I’ve recently published:

Sheep Lord and Crab Lord

On Sundays I’ve normally been posting some illustrations that can be used in tabletop roleplayng games like Dungeons & Dragons. (This week’s is a bit late – our household’s on holidays from our common work, so I’m out of town for a few days.)

Last week I asked which animal lord folks would like me to draw. Particularly in the Planescape D&D setting, animals lords are almost like minor gods who protect various kinds of animals. I’ve been interested in using animals lords as ways to promote reflection on our relationships with animals. This week folks chose the sheep lord for me to illustrate:


I’ve also put together some statistics for the sheep lord, and for the crab lord that I drew as part of the #DungeonDrawingDudes challenge. If anyone gets to try these out I’d be keen to receive feedback.
Sheep Lord

Medium fey, neutral


STR 17 (+3) DEX 18 (+4) CON 16 (+3) INT 10 (+0) WIS 20 (+5) CHA 16 (+3)

CHALLENGE: 15 (13,000 XP)

ARMOR CLASS: 17 Natural Armor

HIT POINTS: 97 (13d8 + 39)

SPEED: 30 ft.

Saving Throws: STR +8, DEX +9, WIS +10, CHA +8

Skills: Intimidation +8, Nature +10

Damage Resistances: Bludgeoning, Piercing, and Slashing from Magic Weapons

Condition Immunities: Charmed, Exhaustion, Frightened, Paralyzed, Poisoned

Senses: Passive Perception 15

Languages: Telepathy 60 ft

Shapechanger. The sheep lord can use its action to polymorph into the form of a humanoid or into its sheep form. Its statistics are the same in each form. Any equipment it carries is not transformed. If slain, the sheep lord reverts to its sheep form.

Magic Resistance. The sheep lord has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects. 

Succession. A destroyed sheep lord will be succeeded by another sheep in 24 hours. The successor becomes a sheep lord and gains the memories of its predecessor. 

Spellcasting. The sheep lord is a 13th-level spellcaster. Its spellcasting ability is Wisdom (spell save DC 17, +9 to hit with spell attacks). The crab lord has the following druid spells prepared:

Cantrips (at will): shillelagh, druidcraft 

1st level (4 slots): charm person, detect poison and disease, entangle 

2nd level (3 slots): gust of wind, moonbeam, pass without trace 

3rd level (3 slots): conjure animals, meld into stone

4th level (3 slots): divination, plant growth

5th level (2 slots): geas, mass cure wounds 

6th level (1 slot): wall of thorns

7th level (1 slot): plane shift


Actions

Multiattack. The sheep lord makes one attack with its horns and one attack with its planar crook.

Horns. Melee Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 35 (9d6 + 4) bludgeoning damage and the target is grappled (escape DC 16).

Planar crook. Melee Weapon Attack: +11 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 6 (1d4 + 4) piercing damage and the target is grappled (escape DC 16). The crook can only be used to grapple small, medium or large creatures, and only one creature at a time. When a creature is grappled with a planar crook it cannot be transported to another plane. If it tries to do so, it is inflicted with 1d10+4 magical damage and must succeed on a DC 16 Constitution save or become unconscious. The sheep lord planar can only use the planar crook while in humanoid form.


Legendary Actions

The sheep lord can take 3 legendary actions, choosing from the options below. Only one legendary action option can be used at a time and only at the end of another creature’s turn. The sheep lord regains spent legendary actions at the start of its turn.

Attack. The crab lord makes one attack with its horns or planar crook.

Blinding Dust. Blinding dust and sand swirls magically around the sheep lord. Each creature within 5 feet of the sheep lord must succeed on a DC 16 Constitution saving throw or be blinded until the end of the creature’s next turn.

Bolster. The sheep lord bolsters all nonhostile creatures within 120 feet of it until the end of its next turn. Bolstered creatures can’t be charmed or frightened, and they gain advantage on ability checks and saving throws until the end of the sheep lord’s turn.

Description

The sheep lord can appear in sheep form or in the form of a horned, fleece-clad. The sheep lord is the protector of sheep or various kinds, and may also take responsibility for other herd animals. It makes its home on the Beastlands, but it could turn up wherever crabs are in trouble.
The crab lord is typically accompanied by a retinue of 2d20 + 10 sheep or goats and 1d12 + 2 giant sheep or goats.


Crab Lord

Large fey, neutral


STR 18 (+4)   DEX 10 (+0)   CON 17 (+3)   INT 16 (+3)   WIS 20 (+5)   CHA 16 (+3)

CHALLENGE: 15 (13,000 XP)

ARMOR CLASS: 17 Natural Armor

HIT POINTS: 97 (13d8 + 39)

SPEED: 30 ft. (swim 30 ft.)

Saving Throws: CON +8, INT +8, WIS +10, CHA +8

Skills: Intimidation +5, Nature +5

Damage Resistances: Bludgeoning, Piercing, and Slashing from Magic Weapons

Condition Immunities: Charmed, Exhaustion, Frightened, Paralyzed, Poisoned

Senses: Blindsight 60 ft, Passive Perception 15

Languages: Telepathy 60 ft


Shapechanger. The crab lord can use its action to polymorph into the form of a humanoid or into its crab form. Its statistics are the same in each form. In its crab form it uses a claw attack and in in its humanoid form it uses a crush attack. Any equipment it carries is not transformed. If slain, the crab lord reverts to its crab form.

Amphibious. The crab lord can breathe air and water.

Magic Resistance. The crab lord has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects. 

Succession. A destroyed crab lord will be succeeded by another crab in 24 hours. The successor becomes a crab lord and gains the memories of its predecessor. 

Spellcasting. The crab lord is a 13th-level spellcaster. Its spellcasting ability is Wisdom (spell save DC 17, +9 to hit with spell attacks). The crab lord has the following cleric spells prepared:

  • Cantrips (at will): spare the dying, thaumaturgy 
  • 1st level (4 slots): command, sanctuary, shield of faith 
  • 2nd level (3 slots): hold person, silence, spiritual weapon 
  • 3rd level (3 slots): dispel magic, meld into stone
  • 4th level (3 slots): divination, control water 
  • 5th level (2 slots): dispel evil and good, geas 
  • 6th level (1 slot): forbiddance
  • 7th level (1 slot): plane shift

Actions
Multiattack. The crab lord makes one attack with its claw and one attack with its planar mancatcher.
Claw (Crush in Humanoid Form). Melee Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 35 (9d6 + 4) bludgeoning damage and the target is grappled (escape DC 16). The crab lord has two claws (or two arms in humanoid form), but one is large and the other is small. Only the larger one can be used to attack or grapple.

Planar Mancatcher. Melee Weapon Attack: +11 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 6 (1d4 + 4) piercing damage and the target is grappled (escape DC 16). The mancatcher can only be used to grapple small, medium or large creatures, and only one creature at a time. When a creature is grappled with a planar mancatcher it cannot be transported to another plane. If it tries to do so, it is inflicted with 1d10+4 magical damage and must succeed on a DC 16 Constitution save or become unconscious.

 

Legendary Actions

The crab lord can take 3 legendary actions, choosing from the options below. Only one legendary action option can be used at a time and only at the end of another creature’s turn. The crab lord regains spent legendary actions at the start of its turn.

Attack. The crab lord makes one attack with its claw or planar mancatcher.

Blinding Dust. Blinding dust and sand swirls magically around the crab lord. Each creature within 5 feet of the crab lord must succeed on a DC 16 Constitution saving throw or be blinded until the end of the creature’s next turn.

Whirlwind of Sand (Costs 2 Actions). The crab lord magically transforms into a whirlwind of sand, moves up to 60 feet, and reverts to its normal form. While in whirlwind form, the crab lord is immune to all damage, and it can’t be grappled, petrified, knocked prone, restrained, or stunned. Equipment worn or carried by the crab lord remain in its possession.
Description

The crab lord can appear in crab form or in the form of a large, armored humanoid. In humanoid form it has one large, muscular arm and one small, weak arm. The crab lord is the protector of crabs or various kinds, and may also take responsibility for other crustaceans. It makes its home on the Beastlands, but it could turn up wherever crabs are in trouble.

The crab lord is typically accompanied by a retinue of 2d20 + 10 crabs and 1d12 + 2 giant crabs.

#DungeonDrawingDudes: Week 1

For the last week 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.

One thing I’ve realised so far is that it’s a lot more sustainable to be sticking to black-and-white line drawings – especially when I have other illustration projects I need to be working on. I think it’s also meant I’ve been able to be more reflective.

On day one I decided to draw the crab warrior as a crab lord. (Animal lords can be important in Planescape, so I’ve been keen to work out how to approach them. I’ve also got to come up with a sheep lord over the weekend.) I’ve also been working on stats for a crab lord on D&D Next, but I’ve been finding it difficult – the platform’s still got some problems. I’ll probably post what I’ve come up with here over the weekend.

Crab Lord

On day two when I was thinking about how to approach the pirate’s mimic, the obvious approach was to portray it as a treasure chest. That’s how these monsters normally disguise themselves. But I wondered about drawing a mimic disguised as a boat? I imagined adventurers trying to escape a pirate ship and jumping into the lifeboat, only to realise it has sharp teeth. It should be no surprise that this also got me thinking about the fear Australian society seems to have about boats, hiding the fact that many of us came here by boat ourselves.

pirate's mimic - Drawing 1_1

On day three I drew a wereshark, which I’ve already reflected on here.

On day four I drew an anemone monster, and came up with some thoughts about how to use it in an urban setting like Planescape’s Sigil. What I was thinking was that folks might be getting these creatures installed on their roofs to deter feral pigeons, but that they might also be up to something sinister…

anemone monster - Drawing 2

On day five I did a search to see how other folks had approached kraken priests, and I ended up coming across China Miéville’s novel Kraken, which I’m now enjoying reading over the weekend.

kraken priest - Drawing 1_1

 

Here’s the Chant: Planescape factions, dragon totem barbarians and frogs

On Wednesdays each week I’ve been posting a roundup of content related to Dungeons & Dragons and other roleplaying games. Here’s today’s roundup:

For players and DMs:

  • D&D Beyond – the second and third stages of beta testing are now live, which means you can create characters, manage campaigns and publish some forms of homebrew. I’ve enjoyed seeing how this is eveloping, but there are still some problems – it’s beta testing. (The main problems are with being able to edit homebrew items after they’re saved or published, and I’m sure those problems will be ironed out.)
  • ‘Eberron turns Thirteen’ Keith Baker – the creator of the Eberron campaign setting reflects on the thirteenth anniversary of the setting’s first publication, and answers some players questions about the setting

For players:


Godsman illustration: Tony DiTerlizzi

For DMs:

Content I’ve published:

Are kobolds really evil?

On Sundays I normally post some illustrations of creatures that can be used in tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons. (Because last week was really busy in our household and this week I’ve been doing an intensive class, I haven’t been able to post as often as I have been, but I’m posting some illustrations now.) Folks on Twitter voted for me to draw some kobolds this time, so here are a kobold dragonshield and a kobold inventor:


I drew a winged kobold earlier in the year. Having reflect on them a bit, I’m not convinced that they should be considered lawful evil. In Volo’s Guide to Monsters they’re described as being willing to sacrifice themselves so that other members of their tribe might escape their enemies. It seems like the main reason that they’re considered to be evil-aligned is because they tend to come under the sway of evil dragons and other evil creatures. I’m not saying that they should be considered good-aligned, but I wonder if they should be considered lawful neutral or true neutral?

A couple of other things I’ve been wondering about have been elderly kobolds and the lost kobold god Kurtulmak. Volo’s Guide says that while most kobolds are short-lived, some live up to 120 years old. I wonder what kind of abilities such an elderly kobold would have?

I was also thinking that it would be interesting to run an adventure involving kobolds trying to free Kurtulmak from the maze where he’s imprisoned. Since I’ve been running Planescape adventures recently, I thought it could be interesting to change the Kurtulmak’s story a bit and have him trapped in the Lady of Pain’s maze in the city of Sigil – perhaps due to gnomes’ trcikery.