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.)

Learning (and altering) the D&D magic schools

Over the last two weeks I ran a short Dungeons & Dragons adventure using the Planescape setting. Planescape adventures normally involve travelling between different planes of reality, which often changes the effects of magic. The laws of a particular plane tend to alter whole schools of magic, so this has been a good excuse to brush up on the eight schools. (I’ll often be asked by a player what kind of magic is being used in a situation, and won’t be able to tell them.)

Schools of Magic

Abjuration magic is protective.

Conjuration magic summons things from other places.

Divination magic provides information.

Enchantment magic influences minds.

Evocation magic produces different kinds of energy.

Illusion magic deceives the senses of others.

Necromancy magic interferes with life and death.

Transmutation magic alters the nature of things.

Magical effects on Avernus

As I said earlier, the laws of various planes change the way magic works. There is a whole lot of material from Second Edition D&D that provides information about this, but it doesn’t all translate neatly into Fifth Edition D&D. Our short adventure today was set on Avernus, the first layer of Baator (similar to Dante Alighieri’s conception of Hell), so I had a look at the magical conditions described in Second Edition’s Planes of Law. This is how I adapted the conditions for our Fifth Edition adventure:

Abjuration and Transmutation

Because abjuration and transmutation magic alter the natural properties of things, both of these schools of magic are considered to be in conflict with the lawful alignment of the plane. I decided I would require a successful DC 15 Arcana or Religion check to cast an abjuration spell. (Arcana for an arcane spellcaster. Religion for a divine spellcaster.)

Conjuration

In Baator, conjuration spells require a ritual in order to bind any creature that has been summoned. I decided I would require a DC 15 Arcana or Religion check to determine the success of a binding ritual. If the binding was not successful, the summoned creature would be in control of it’s own actions, and would likely be pretty angry about being summoned to Baator…

Divination

Divination spells cast on Baator always show negative outcomes, with at least a grain of truth. Divination magic is also likely to attract the attention of baatezu (devils).

Enchantment and Illusion

Enchantment and illusion spells are not altered.

Evocation

Evocation spells may be altered depending on the layer and the kind of energy they produce. On the layer of Avernus, fire and earth energy are both more effective. I decided I would probably allow players to cast fire and earth spells as though they were at a higher level, but wasn’t totally sure if this would be appropriate.

Necromancy

Necromancy spells that grant healing require a successful DC 15 Arcana or Religion check. Necromancy spells that cause damage or pain; or that control undead, can function as though they are one level higher.

Wild Magic

Wild magic isn’t a school of magic, but it is effected by the lawful nature of Baator. I decided that the lawful nature of Baator would stop wild magic sorcerers from experiencing wild magic surges or from using any of their wild magic features.

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.

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:

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: