Looking for VFF Publishing?

What’s VFF Publishing, you ask? Why, it’s my publishing imprint! Yes, I write and publish novels. This blog is about gaming, but I see no reason not to redirect you to the Visions of Fantasy & the Future site (or Facebook, if you prefer) if you’re curious about what I write. I write fantasy and sci-fi. You can buy my novels at Amazon and other fine sellers of literature.

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Doctor StrangeRoll – Post-Gen Con Hypnosis

We’re taking a break from the Spelljammer campaign on Doctor StrangeRoll so I can concentrate on writing my next novel*. I’ve found it increasingly difficult to write a mostly-original D&D campaign and try to write long-form fiction at the same time.

Not to worry, this hiatus is only going to last six weeks or so (the length of time it takes me to complete a first draft), though it’ll probably be November before a proper resumption of D&D since I want to play-test a Ghostbusters adventure on the session just prior to Hallowe’en.

For our post-Gen Con session, we BSed about Gen Con, broke in a new player with CAH (apparently, it’s becoming my group’s litmus test, because it’s far worse than ANY jokes we make during a regular game), and created character for the first of possibly two short games.

dungeoncrawlclassicsThe first of these two is Dungeon Crawl Classics. Next game session, we’re going through a 0-level funnel. My four characters are: Dennis the Mendicant (think Dennis the Peasant from Monty Python & the Holy Grail), Lazlo the Smuggler, Bob the Butcher, and Lightfoot the Shaman. We’re a four-man frat party! Dennis has cheese dip, Bob has a side of beef, Lightfoot brings the herbs, and Lazlo… well, Lazlo has a waterproof sack. Maybe they’ll mix some trash can punch in it.

Between the five players, we have a LOT of herbs. “Herbs.” The jokes have already started. Of course, one could argue that to go off on a life of adventuring in the world of Dungeon Crawl Classics, one would HAVE to be high (or drunk, or insane). We also have a lot of chain, for some reason. I should douse one of the chains in oil, light it, and pretend I’m Ghost Rider!

GMG5070WCoverLargeWhile I played Dungeon Crawl Classics at Gary Con last year, that was a playtest (I suspect of something Lahnkmar related) with pre-gens. This is for real.

* What’s this novel, you ask? (If you’re not asking, skip this part.) It’s the fourth book in the Zack Jackson sci-fi series for all ages. I spent a lot of time trying to find my voice for this series again because I spent way too much time writing Scars of the Sundering (not that it wasn’t worth it, it was just more time-consuming than I expected and Zack Jackson sat fallow too long for a series in which I plan 6-7 books). You can stay up-to-date on all my fiction by going over to my other blog: VFF Publishing.

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Handicap Awareness at Gen Con

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Gen Con is nigh! With less than two weeks to go before the best four days in gaming (as of the time I’m posting this), I’m not going to rehash what so many others have put out there; there are tons of blogs and articles out there with advice regarding large conventions like Gen Con. My advice is going to be different. I am going to rehash what I’ve posted in previous years (they’re my most popular posts!). To most of it, Wheaton’s Law applies. For those of you who are link-averse, Wheaton’s Law is this: Don’t be a dick.
However, the things about which I’m going to speak, are the sorts of things people are not aware they’re being dickish about. They’re not being malicious; they just don’t have any personal experience with these sorts of issues, so when they start breaking Wheaton’s Law, they don’t know they’re doing it. My job here is not to castigate, but to educate.

Specifically, I’m talking about dealing with those who have physical challenges at conventions. The handicapped, to be blunt. People like my wife. She can walk, but conventions like Gen Con are too big for her. So, she uses a wheelchair to get around. She has a snazzy metallic red electric wheelchair, but in years past, I’ve pushed her in a manual wheelchair. This gives us a unique experience at Gen Con.

Be Aware of People Around You

The average con goer is, shall we say, Plus-sized. OK, that’s fine. I’ve been there; I lost nearly 50 pounds a few years ago. At conventions, people often have large backpacks. Sometimes, everything they brought to the convention is in this backpack. People are not always aware that this backpack adds two to three feet to their girth. They spin around quickly. If you’re in a wheelchair, those backpacks are level with your head. More than once my wife has narrowly avoided being clobbered in the head by an unaware con-goer suddenly spinning around because something caught his or her eye. When I pushed her, I watched for this sort of thing. Now she drives herself, and I worry she’s going to get beat up.

Step to the far sides or into a booth space, if possible, to have conversations with friends or on your phone, or to look at the map, in your backpack, etc.

Moving through large groups of slow moving people is a challenge in a wheelchair. Sometimes people back up unexpectedly. Worse, they often stop unexpectedly. Sometimes it’s because the crowd in front of them has stopped. Sometimes it’s because something caught their eye. Sometimes it’s because someone caught their eye, and they’re stopping to chat. If this happens to you, look ahead a bit and see if there’s a spot in a booth where you can divert to stop. Please, please, please don’t just stop in the middle of the aisle to root through your backpack or catch a Pokémon. You’re not in a high school hallway; stopping in the middle of the aisle is hugely disruptive. Also, if you’re pushing your kids in a stroller, you really need to watch where you’re pushing them. My wife almost got t-boned by a stroller a few years ago because the mother had her head turned one way, watching something, and was pushing and walking in a different direction… in a CROWDED hall way (not even the Dealer Hall). She also almost got run into by a guy walking very fast and not watching the direction he was walking. His friend yelled to get his attention, otherwise he would have tripped over my wife’s (in motion) wheelchair. She had no chance to take evasive action because he approached from an angle that was mostly behind her. Situational Awareness is a thing. You don’t have to be a fighter pilot to practice it. Seriously.

Bathe regularly. Use deodorant.

Shower regularly and use deodorant. This has been covered by almost every blog and podcast I’ve seen on the subject. I bring it up because something most people aren’t aware of: Gamer Funk is worse when your head is at waist level to the average con goer. Think about it: you sit on your butt every day during the con, often for four to six hours at a time. Frequently, walking around the city during the Con can be like walking on the surface of the sun (i.e. it’s HOT). The chairs don’t breathe. The A/Cs in the convention center will have trouble keeping up with a roomful of gamers when it’s hot and humid outside. Except for a very few, select people, most attendees have the crotch region covered completely by a couple of layers of clothes (basically, I’m talking about everyone who can’t get away with wearing something like a swimsuit or lingerie to Gen Con). Sweat happens. Funky things happen in dark, warm, moist areas. This is not shameful, it’s just a fact of bio-chemistry. Cleanliness saves noses.

Give wheelchairs a wide berth; don’t step over them.

Often, those of us using wheelchairs move a little slower than others in the Dealer Hall. Sorry, it’s just difficult to push a large mechanical object through a crowd. Sometimes, we have to stop for a moment to wait for an opening to cross an aisle. I know you’re in a hurry. I know there’s a demo you think you’re late for, or a game in another room. But FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY: DO NOT STEP OVER THE LEGS OF THE PERSON IN THE WHEELCHAIR. This happens to my wife at least once a year. Someone will get the bright idea that they can cut a corner if they just step over my wife’s legs. That is 100% NOT OKAY. For one, these people usually misjudge how much space they need and end up kicking my wife’s feet or the wheelchair. She’s not paralyzed, OK? She has feeling in the lower half of her body. In fact, because she has a degenerative spine condition, she feels these jolts acutely. IN HER BACK.

Pain is a funny thing (and I mean funny like a heart attack). In my wife’s case (and I know many people experience this same thing), it’s like gas prices. It’ll spike very quickly, and then take FOREVER to come back down. If you kick her wheels (however accidentally) or kick her legs because you felt stepping over her was quicker than going around, or accidentally knee the back of the chair because you’re standing too close in line, all of those jolts go right into her back. The extremities are ALL connected to the spine in some way. That jolt of pain doesn’t just go away. It takes HOURS. Often, it takes her lying down for hours before it gets back down to a manageable level and it’s not something that can be alleviated by popping a couple of ibuprofen. Chronic pain does not work that way.

More than once, she has missed out on a half-day or a whole day of a con because of this pain. When you are the cause because you carelessly stepped over her wheelchair and kicked her legs, causing a flare up of pain in her back, you have taken a day at Gen Con away from her. Is that worth saving five seconds to you?

Don’t tie up handicapped accessible bathroom stalls unless you have a Potty Emergency.

A comedian once proclaimed the virtues of the handicapped rest room stall, saying it was “the Cadillac” [of the stalls]. While it is true these stalls are often very roomy, there is a reason for that. Here’s a hint: the reason is NOT SO YOU CAN USE IT TO CHANGE INTO OR OUT OF YOUR COSTUME. I respect cosplayers. What they do is AMAZING. But if you’re tying up the accessible stall chatting on the phone, changing clothes, having a quiet moment, you may be preventing people who need to use it for its intended purposes from using the facilities they require. From what I hear, because I don’t have first-hand experience with the ladies restrooms, for every ten to twenty standard stalls, there are one or two handicapped stalls and one or two “family” stalls (if you’re lucky). The family stalls are slightly smaller than the handicapped stalls, but larger than a standard stall so that a mom can stand and assist her toddler. Handicapped attendees don’t expect the handicapped stalls to only be used by handicapped people. With some 50,000 – 60,000 attendees anticipated, it is understood that sometimes there will be a line for the facilities. People expect to have to wait their turn. The main point is to use a non-handicapped stall if one is available and to be aware that people in wheelchairs cannot choose one of the smaller stalls.

Look, I get sometimes you need a quiet moment, or have to change clothes, but that stall is that big so that wheelchairs can get into it. My wife told me of an experience last year where she was in a line three wheelchairs deep waiting for the accessible stall while two young ladies were changing clothes and giggling and were pretty much oblivious to the fact that they were not the center of the universe.  Apparently, of the twenty or so other stalls, only two others were occupied at the time, so it’s not like these young ladies had no choice (and couldn’t wait). One woman had to get out of her wheelchair, crawl along the floor, and into a non-handicapped accessible stall because she could not wait any longer. My wife confronted them and politely made them aware they were holding up the line and they cried and accused her of being rude.

When people abuse the handicapped restroom, handicapped con goers risk wetting their pants. That shouldn’t have to be one’s main concern in a public restroom.

It’s a safe bet that most cosplayers are from out of town and have hotels. Perhaps they see the bathroom, the handicapped stall in particular, as a more convenient place to work on their costume than going back to their hotel. Well, tough. That stall is for handicapped people to pee and poop. You don’t get to act put out when one of them calls you on it. Besides, have you SEEN what’s on the floor in a public restroom? I certainly wouldn’t want to get that on my costume.

NX_senior_man_wheelchairDon’t be a Dick

This last thing actually is castigation because this happens every Gen Con and it’s not a matter of people being unaware; it’s a matter of people being rude jerks. If there’s a person with a wheelchair waiting for an elevator and they were there waiting when you and your group of friends arrived, WAIT FOR THE NEXT ELEVATOR IF YOU ALL WON’T FIT. More than once we have had our elevator poached by a group of rude assholes who rush to get into the elevator before we can. That’s being a dick. That’s being rude. You are bad people and should feel bad. When that happens, we hope the elevator breaks down with you in it. Don’t make me be a bad person for wishing bad things upon you.

Let’s work together to make sure the Best Four Days of Gaming are the best days for ALL attendees!

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5th Edition Spelljammer – Favors of the Arcane, Session 12

spelljammer logoStraxius, Sumner, Zinniana, Veya, and Flint dragged Ra-Jareez and Kagark with them as they called upon Ulfda the Mighty. No one responded when they knocked on the door, so they attempted entry to find the door was unlocked.

Inside, was a horrifying sight. Hanging on the wall opposite the door was Ulfda the Mighty, eviscerated. It was obvious he was killed in some sort of ritualistic fashion. As they searched for clues, Flint recognized that the ritual strongly resembled a sacrifice to Orcus. They continued their investigation and noticed the man hanging on the wall resembled Ulfda the Mighty, but was not, in fact, the wizard who sent them looking for jeweled skulls and spoons.

Just then, a bear of a man burst into the room. He carried an axe larger than a gnome and demanded to know what was going on and why his brother was strewn all over the room. Cool heads prevailed and they convinced the large, angry man that they were not the murderers. He introduced himself as Ragnar, the Great Bear of the North, Ulfda’s brother.

It soon became obvious that whoever sent the crew of Boccob’s Barge on their interplanar journey was not Ulfda the Mighty. Ragner suggested it might have been Zagyg in disguise; the Mad God was fond of impersonating his brother when they weren’t around.

They explained the situation to Ragnar. It turned out he and his brother were from Faerun; he knew of another spelljamming vessel, but he and Ulfda lost it some time ago. He knew where it was, though, and believed the crew’s help could be just what he needed to recover the lost ship.

Ragnar led them into the Gnarly Forest, explaining they were looking for the lair of Feykromaar, a mighty green dragon who took their vessel. The dragon had an arrangement with the werewolves of the Gnarly Forest and his lair opened into a ravine deep in the wood. Ragner knew of a secret entrance beneath an old, dead tree, however. At least, he was pretty sure that’s where the cave under the tree went.

2016-07-08 23.24.32They found the tree of which Ragnar spoke and he led them down. Straxius passed around anti-toxin in preparation for whatever they found down there. The narrow tunnel was choked with spider webs. Unfortunately, the spiders which spun the webs were still there. They were quickly dealt with, but not before enough noise was made to attract the cave’s other denizens: a pack of werewolves.

The crew made short work of the werewolves and proceeded deeper into the cave. Finding the ship in a cave wasn’t difficult, but their hopes of stealing it from the dragon were dashed when they saw a young dragon hunkered down on the ship’s deck. Ragnar noted it was much smaller than Feykromaar; perhaps one of the larger dragon’s young. They had little time to speculate, however, because the dragon leapt to the attack, breathing a noxious cloud that caught the entire group!

Ragnar was most severely injured by the breath attack and as the rest of the group pulled themselves together, he began to change. He transformed into a bear-man hybrid and raised his axe in fury. The werebear Ragnar pressed the attack on the dragon.

Sumner summoned his elephant, which proceeded to charge the dragon, knocking the wyrm over. The rest of the crew, now sufficiently recovered from the breath attack, leapt to the attack, slashing and hacking the young dragon. Finally, Zinniana loosed an arrow which flew true and buried itself deep in the dragon’s eye, killing it.

Stam

Stampy danced a jig on the dragon — cloud giant not included.

 

 

 

And there was much rejoicing.And There Was Much Rejoicing

 

They gathered up what treasure they could find and boarded the ship. It was much like Ragner and Ulfda left it, except filled with the rest of the dragon’s hoard in addition to the deactivated clockwork automatons the brothers were forced to abandoned. Sumner attuned himself to the helm while the others tended to their wounds and kept watch for the other dragon.

As soon as they were able, they departed, using the ship’s helm to fly out of the ravine and back to Wildspace on Sea of Stars….

The idea to make Ulfda the Mighty an avatar of Zagyg the Mad God was inspired by my player’s speculations. I was playing it straight at first; he was just a kooky mage, but when their wild speculations drifted toward him actually being Zagyg, I decided to run with that.

I was amazed how quickly they dealt with the dragon, as well. I was really hoping the spiders and werewolves would eat up more resources. At least I got to use the breath weapon. How fortunate for the party that they all took anti-toxin prior to going into those caves.

Part of the issue is that there’s nothing between a Young (CR8) dragon and an Adult (CR15) dragon. If I had time to prep more, I might have been able to work something up, but I had a lot going on during the week that just ate into my prep time every time I turned around.

Oh well, at least I get to break out the Maiden of the High Seas again!

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5th Edition Spelljammer – Favors of the Arcane, Session 11

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The crew wandered the streets of Sigil for a bit, utterly lost. Their distress was obvious to the planars around them. A young man approached them. His name was Gip and he said they needed a tout, lest they get taken advantage of by less scrupulous berks.

Gip knew about portals, of course, but after accidentally traveling through one and being forced to spend a week with satyrs in Arborea, he actively avoided them after that. “It was a laugh for a few days, but I was glad to get home. If you need the chant on a specific portal, you need a smarter cutter than me. I know a fella.”

Society of Sensation

Society of Sensation

The tout led them to the Civic Festhall, headquarters of one of Sigil’s many factions, The Society of Sensation. He had a friend among the Senates, Grim Barnabus who knew the chant on portals to prime realms.

After being accosted by a Sensate who begged to know what it was like to be shivved by a warrior woman (and Veya kindle obliged), they discovered Grim was not in the Civic Festhall. Another Sensate, Niles, suspected he went to Amoria to go fishing, but quickly corrected himself. Grim Barnabus went to Eronia for fishing.

As Eronia was one of the planes of Elysium, they would need to find a portal and key to take them there. Fortunately, Gip was familiar with that portal, though he never used it. There was a stall in the Grand Bazaar that served as the portal. By happenstance, the herbalist whose booth contained the portal sold the key: a vial of water from Oceanus. Along the way to the Grand Bazaar, they stopped at a tavern to have a grand meal and filled a magical bag they’d acquired with a variety of planar cheeses they belived they could sell on the Rock of Bral for a profit.

After pay 50 gold for a tiny vial of water, the crew used the portal and were transported to Portico on the plane of Eronia. As they stepped through, they saw jagged peaks in the distance and the roar of crashing waves closer. Portico itself was a short distance away, a small seaside village where the buildings appeared to be made from enormous sea shells and the people resembled tall sea elves. They were greeted with smiles and waves by the residents of Portico. They asked one resident if she could direct them to Grim Barnabus, and though she didn’t know him personally, she offered to go around with them and help them look.

They found him lounging on some rocks near the shore with a fishing pole. A fishing pole with no line.

Grim was amenable to leading them back to Greyhawk, though the portal would deposit them a day or so outside of the city in the Steaming Springs. They would have to wait until he was finished with his fishing for the day, unless they had their own foo dog tooth.

Since they didn’t, they waited. Straxius relaxed with Grim by the sea, conjuring his own fishing pole while the others found their own ways to relax. When it was time to depart, Grim took them back to Sigil and led them through the streets to a bricked up doorway in the Hive. He and Gip bid them farewell, and as easy as walking through a door, they departed the City of Doors and were once again on Oerth.

Straxius used the sending stones in an attempt to contact the crew, but only received a message back from Ra-Jareez telling them they needed to return to Greyhawk as soon as possible. A few quick conjurations later, they were cruising down the river toward the city. When they located the Nikosi sailor, he informed them that Boccob’s Barge was attacked in the night while they were gone. Fanged creatures surprised them in the night. He overheard them talking about an orc-something or another and assumed they were after Kagark, so he grabbed the ship’s strongbox and convinced the half-orc to flee.

The attackers took the ship and, as far as Kagark and Ra-Jareez could tell, killed the crew. The Nkosi suspected the young woman from the Rock of Bral, Gwen Sallas was in league with the villains, though he had no evidence.  The crew decided to pay a visit to the man who sent them away, Ulfda the Mighty, as they planned their next move….

That was brief. I intended the jaunt to Sigil and the Outer Planes to last a couple of sessions and have more encounters, but they were having a lot of trouble getting orientated in Sigil and I forgot to mug them before introducing the tout (Gip was supposed to come to their defense as the Harmonium was hassling them about killing some muggers). Oh well.

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5th Edition Spelljammer – Favors of the Arcane, Session 10

spelljammer logo

The officers of Boccob’s Barge spent the next several hours poring over Murlynd’s library and holding the stirrup in various ways (and by various people) trying to get the door through which they entered the house to led back to Greyhawk. Unfortunately, their efforts were in vain and they decided to explore the surrounding countryside for another option. As they began their reconnaissance, they discovered that neither their levitation, nor their flying magic worked.

Once outside, they followed the path down to a garden. Divided into four plots, the center of the garden was dominated by eight foot tall glittering flowers. They decided to avoid that section of the garden, in case there was a guardian of some sort, and headed toward a hill just south of the house to get a better sense of their surroundings.

Atop the hill, they could see the whole area was covered by forest. To the south, was an odd field, arranged into alternating plots of trees and clearings with streams dividing them into a grid, or a checkerboard. An unsettling sense overcame them as they stood on top of the hill. When they descended, whichever direction they traveled was the opposite in which they intended. Straxius tried the novel approach of running in his intended direction, tumbling down the hill toward the checkerboard. Upon seeing him arrive at his desired location, the rest of the heroes also chose to tumble down the hill toward the checkerboard. Somewhere, in the distance, a faint refrain of “As you wish…” could be heard.

The plots of the checkerboard field were far larger than they first appeared. The crew could tell there were creatures milling about in each of the square plots, but were unable to positively identify any of them due to the distances involved. After fighting their way through a couple of the fields, a griffon descended onto the field, demanding they stop. They weren’t playing the game right, and Gamemaster Griffon demanded they leave immediately. Straxius and the others asked the griffon where they were, exactly, and how to return to Greyhawk. Gamemaster was unable to help them and suggested they seek out other denizens of the realm.

After knocking the heads together of a pair of incessantly arguing twins and the clueless chirpings of a Jub-Jub bird, they finally found their way out of the overgrown forest to a beach. There, they saw a man and a bipedal walrus walking down the beach talking about clams and the relationship between shucking clams and organized religion. Despite their proclivity for distraction, the Walrus and the Carpenter did, indeed, know a way back. They Way Back, they said, just needed the proper key. Unfortunately, someone tossed it in the ocean in a fit of drunkenness some time ago. They knew where the box was, though, but it was near an ill-tempered, giant clam.

With a bit of help from Sumner’s spells, Veya was prepared to dive to the clam beds to retrieve the key. The Carpenter lent the crew his row boat and showed them where the clam beds were. It didn’t take long for Veya to retrieve the box and, as promised, contained within was a tarnished brass skeleton key.

The Carpenter explained they needed a door for the key to work. A key for a door couldn’t work without one, after all. Straxius obliged by conjuring a door right there on the beach. When they opened it in proximity to the key, they saw a crowded, dingy alley beyond. The Carpenter warned it was one-way.

The crew stepped through. The salt air of the beach instantly changed to the dank, polluted air of a crowded city. Haze obscured the sky, but peeking through they could see the tops of more buildings, seemlingly suspended above. In front of them was the door to a tavern. They could hear the raucous noise of revelers within. The sign hanging above the door read “The Way Back.”

Art by Dana KnutsonThe sight of an abashai pushing its way past them and entering the tavern hammered home Straxius’s suspicion. Not only were they nowhere near the city of Greyhawk, they weren’t even on the Prime Material Plane anymore. They made their first priority finding someone to restore Straxius’s youth, before the ghost’s effect on him became permanent. The barkeep pointed them towards a barely-sober patron. While he was barely coherent, he was more than happy to use some of his restorative magic before asking for payment, realizing after the fact that he should have negotiated for payment before casting the spell. Then, he passed out in his ale.

No one in The Way Back was interested in helping them return to Greyhawk; knowledge of one particular portal to one particular place was hard to come by. They went back out to the main street to take stock of their surroundings. City stretch out as far as they eye could see, looping up and around them in a never-ending loop of ever-changing urban jungle. The good news was there was surely a portal home somewhere. The bad news was they were clueless berks in Sigil, the City of Doors….

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5th Edition Spelljammer – Favors of the Arcane, Session 9

spelljammer logoThe journey to Greyhawk was a simple matter of flying to the Nyr Dyv, then sailing down the Silentan River to the docks. After pay what was almost certain an extortive docking fee, Sumner and Flint split off from Straxius, Veya, and Zinniana. The minotaur and dwarf would scour the High Market for trade goods and inquire at the Temple of Pelor for information regarding the Black Star while Straxius, Veya, and Zinniana sought out Ulfda the Mighty.

Although Sumner and Flint were unable to learn anything from the priests of Pelor, the others did find Ulfda the Mighty. They learned from the College of Magic where he lived (and that he definitely was not affiliated with the college). His tower was a tower only in the academic sense. It was round, with a pointed roof, but was obviously only two stories and towered over nothing. Also Ulfda himself seemed quite mad. He was obsessed with his finger bones and claimed Murlynd never returns what he borrows, though he couldn’t be sure if the spoon was actually his to begin with. He was willing to share some spells with Straxius, though. He just needed someone to retrieve his belongings from Murlynd’s house, especially his spoon, even though it might actually be Murlynd’s. He suggested they bring back ALL the spoons, just in case. And his finger bones. AND a jeweled brain box.

When asked how to get to Murlynd’s house, he produced a tarnished silver stirrup. Straxius quickly learned this was some sort of portal key, as it made the door exiting Ulfda’s tower lead not to the city street from whence they came, but rather some sort of plant-filled conservatory. They briefly thought about going while Sumner and Flint were running their errands, but decided to track them down first instead.

Murlynd's HouseOnce reunited with Flint and Sumner, the five officers of Boccob’s Barge passed through the portal into Murlynd’s House. From Conservatory, to Pantry, to Kitchen, to Sitting Room, they explored the odd home with trepidation, fearful of the wrath of a powerful wizard. They found a hot metal box and a cold metal box in the kitchen and surmised they were for cooking and food preservation, respectively. A collection of tiny colored pieces of paper were in the sitting room, along with glass frames containing pinned insects, as well as a talking clock! They gathered up every spoon they could find, but then found a note:

“Dear Folks,
So happy you were able to stop in during my absence. Please be careful not to disturb anything! Check to see that the plants and pets are being properly cared for—they should all be alive and healthy! Help yourselves to whatever you need to eat. Mind you don’t eat me out of house and home, though! The two scrolls might be of some small use to you in the adventures ahead. If you notice any other small objects you are in need of, help yourselves, but leave the silverware alone. If you should see Zagyg, do tell him that Keoghtom and I are waiting for Denkainen, who will be along soon enough. Have fun! Dr.M.”

Straxius immediately became suspicious: perhaps this mad Ulfda the Mighty was actually Zagyg in disguise! They contemplated the implications while enjoying a brief meal, then continued searching for the finger bones and jeweled brain box.

Nothing was found in the bedrooms, upstairs, so they proceeded to the attic. The clutter was prodigious and they discovered a baleful ghost in the attack. It gave Straxius a fright that greyed some of his hair before Sumner was able to banish it. Near where the ghost attacked was a trunk in which they found a few minor magical items, as well as blackened, gnarled finger bones and a jewel-encrusted skull.

After a quick examination, it was clear the finger bones were another piece of the Wand of Orcus. They skull appeared to be just an oddity. They reluctantly gathered up the bones, aghast that yet another component of the foul wand of a demon god was in their possession and decided to check the basement before returning to Ulfda.

In the basement, they found some more curiosities, such as lightning elemental that apparently provided power, and a tunnel that seemed to stretch for miles, but nothing else of note. They returned to the conservatory, made sure they had the stirrup in hand, and opened the door.

It led outside, to the grounds around Murlynd’s House, not back to the Free City of Greyhawk….

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5th Edition Spelljammer – Favors of the Arcane, session 8

spelljammer logoThe next morning, they were awoken by an alarm bell and shouts from the dwarves on overnight watch. The bugbears had returned in force. Half-a-dozen were assaulting the compounds walls and in the distance, two wyverns approached.

The officers of Boccob’s Barge donned their armor and joined the battle just as the wyvern with their riders arrived. Sumner noticed the wyverns carried cauldron or pots of some sort.

Straxius fired a hold monster at one of the wyverns, paralyzing it. It fell from the sky. The pot shattered, splashing it and its rider with the black pudding it carried.

They were not so lucky with the second wyvern, and it managed to drop its pot behind the wall, between the palisades and the building. The pudding oozed out and attacked the nearest dwarves fending off the bugbears scaling the wall.

From the central courtyard, Veya, Zinniana, and Dalshar fired arrows at the wyvern. The rest of the group divided their attacks between the bugbears, the black pudding, and the wyvern. They brought the wyvern down as it descended to engage Veya. By the time they killed the pudding, it had taken out three of the dwarves. The rest of the bugbears were easy to defeat by comparison.

Unfortunately, the pudding that devoured the wyvern and its rider outside the walls wasn’t quite finished, but was persuaded by judicious use of fire to seek prey in a different direction.

They retired inside to take stock of their wounds and decide their next move. Dalshar paid them the bounty she was offering for the second bulette on the island for helping defender her home. Outside, the earth shook and a terrible voice shouted: DALSHAR, YOUR TIME HAS COME!

She explained that old-timer spelljammers like herself often made powerful enemies, especially when they also explored the outer plains.

glabrezuA glabrezu kicked down the gate as Sumner and Straxius quickly came up with a plan. Sumner was made invisible and used fly to exit out the back. Unfortunately, the glabrezu saw him and attempted to dispel his magic. Straxius saved Sumner with a quick counter-spell. The dwarves, Kagark, and Veya engaged the demon in melee as the rest used missile weapons.

The demon attempted to confuse its attackers with a spell. Veya turned and attacked the dwarves. Meanwhile, the beast took a pummeling from the rest of the group.

Veya shook off the confusion before causing too much damage and Zinniana brought the demon down with an arrow to the face.

Once again taking stock of their wounds, Dalshar indicated her desire to march on the bugbears fort. Straxius and the rest of the officers of Boccob’s Barge decided they needed to be on their way. They inquired if there was anyone Dalshar knew who could help Straxius expand his arcane repertoire and she referred him to an acquaintance. She knew a wizard, who was last known to be in the Free City of Greyhawk, Ulfda the Mighty. He could help them, and also she wanted to know if they could pick up a load of steel for her?

They prepared to once again make way, a little stronger and a little wiser for their adventures.

So, this time, I made a concentrated effort to challenge them. Of course, the bugbear attack in the morning was planned since last session (we just didn’t get to it). I knew I’d been light on the challenge of fights previously; I was taking stock of their abilities and getting a feel for what they were capable of. Experience taught me that going by pure Party Level vs. CR tended to be really conservative due to the random nature of die rolls, and I was right. While the first fight took a lot of the PCs’ resources, none of them were actually injured by the time they defeated all the bugbears, wyverns, and puddings. Have NPC dwarves as damage sponges helped with that, I suppose. So too, went the fight with the glabrezu. Though they had leveled, they didn’t have a chance to get their new spells. Still, they defeated it with only the NPC Kagark (and some dwarves taking damage). They actually killed the glabrezu faster than I expected.

Of course, all this means that things get real from now on.Evil Raccoon soon

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5th Edition Spelljammer – Favors of the Arcane, session 7

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Prior to Boccob’s Barge’s departure, half-a-dozen armored men marched up to the dock. Brother Maynard from the Pantheist Temple of Tyr led them. The senior priest told Straxius and three of his men were prepared to travel with the crew on their quest to deal with the Wand of Orcus. The extra two men were just there to carry their effects. They loaded the priests on the ship and were on their way.

The journey through Realmspace, into the Flow, and into Greyspace was uneventful for once. Though the voyage took several weeks, the gods of travel were with them. As they crossed the void to Oerth, Straxius consulted his charts to find Lake Quag and Flinterlord Island.

As they approached, they saw there was a dock in the crook of the dogleg-shaped island. Boccob’s Barge set down in the water of Lake Quag and came to rest at the dock. Straxius, Sumner, Veya, Flint, Zinniana, and Kagark disembarked and approached a shack at the end of the dock. A lone dwarf was inside sleeping.

Flint roused the dwarf and learned the domicile of Dalshar Stormstone was but a few miles inland. They needed only to follow the road. After about twenty minutes of walking, they spotted movement through the grassy hills in the distance. Zinniana sent her raven, Nevermore to investigate, but by the time the bird arrived, there was nothing to see.

BuletteThey continued their journey, but were interrupted by an armor-plated beast bursting from the ground. The bulette attacked savagely, but forewarning of its attack allowed Straxius and Sumner to take to the air with fly spells. They blasted the landshark from above while the rest engaged it in melee. A judicious use of hold monster stopped it in its tracks and they put it down.

Zinniana remembered something about bulettes having indigestible treasures in their gizzards, so she dove in with a knife and managed to recover a corroded bone scroll tube and four small gemstones. After cleaning up a bit, they continued their walk to Dalshar’s stronghold. A few more hours of walking and they crested a hill to see a small fortified building under siege.

Dwarves held off half-a-dozen attacking bugbears led by a burly bugbear riding a wyvern. The crew made some quick plans, then rushed to help. Kagark and Veya concentrated on helping the dwarves while the rest worked on bringing down the wyvern.

The battle raged and the wyvern and its rider savaged Sumner, causing the minotaur’s fly spell to fail. He fell to the ground, forced to feign death long enough to quaff a potion. In time, however, the crew of Boccob’s Barge and the dwarves fought off the bugbears and slew them.

The dwarven female leading the defenders thank them for their intervention and introduced herself as Dalshar Stormstone. She invited them in for a celebratory feast. During the celebration, she revealed she was once served on a spelljammer under Herzog, until she led a mutiny against his poor leadership and deposed him as captain. She was pleased he seemed to harbor no ill feelings and promised to discuss trade in the morning.

With bellies full of roasted pork and ale, the officers of Boccob’s Barge stayed the night in Stormstone Stronghold.

After several weeks of pulling my punches with encounter design, as I tried to get a handle on just what the PCs capabilities were, I finally put forth a real challenge. The bulette was an appetizer, so to speak, the real challenge was half-a-dozen bugbears with a bugbear leader riding a wyvern. According to an online encounter calculator I found, this was rated to be a “deadly” encounter. I didn’t take into account the helping dwarves, but their contribution, frankly, was minimal (as it should be, since this is not their story). I was confident that the PCs could handle it; one thing I’ve learned over the years is that online encounter calculations can’t take into account clever tactics and PCs can easily punch above their weight. The randomness of dice rolls can affect that, too. The online calculators can be a good place to start, but shouldn’t be relied upon as the end-all-be-all of encounter design.

And now that they’re on the World of Greyhawk, I could really lean on the nostalgia button hard, so I choose to indulge…

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5th Edition Spelljammer – Favors of the Arcane, Session 6

spelljammer logoThe return voyage to the Rock of Bral was an uneventful flight through The Flow. Boccob’s Barge passed several traders, all intent on keeping to their own business. Meanwhile the crew discussed what they were going to do with the pommel stone from the Wand of Orcus. They decided it would be best if they try to find a temple of a powerful good-aligned power to take possession of it.

drakkar-gdBoccob’s Barge arrived at the Rock of Bral to find a smoldering drakkar in the berth next to theirs. Lizardfolk scrambled to quench the last of the embers. The crew discovered they were attacked by a ship of ghouls who searched their ship as they attacked. They abandoned the drakker when they couldn’t locate what they were looking for, leaving the lizardfolk to drift. They made port at the Rock of Bral for repairs so they could continue their search for a new home world, a world said to orbit a black star.

The crew wished them luck and proceeded to the market to sell their trade goods. There, they encountered Herzog. He approved of their initiative in finding profit, but suggested there were better places to sell the furs than a city where the temperature was mostly constant. He happened to have a friend on Oerth, in Greyspace, who traded frequently with northern nomads, and winter was coming. He told them to seek out Dalshar Stormstone on Flinterlord Island in Lake Quag.

That night, Sumner dreamt.

You fall into a deep sleep, a sleep more restful than you can ever have cruising through Wild Space or the Flow.
A dark void.
Endless stars dot the background, like pin pricks in a black cloth hanging in front of a sun-flooded window. A shape comes into focus, approaching you from the endless black. It is everything and nothing at once.
An untempered schism.
It engulfs you, fills you and surrounds you. For a moment, you know the unknowable, see that which you cannot comprehend. A vision fills your mind: an emaciated man wearing fine robes that would not be out of place on royalty. His fingers are bent, sharp talons. His mouth is fill with cruel teeth flecked with dried blood and ragged flesh. He throws back his head in silent laughter and holds up a blood-red human skull.
The man stands atop a stone platform, surrounded by ancient columns. The columns lined an avenue leading toward a statue of a grotesque, ram-headed man with an enormous belly and cloven hooves. A black star rises behind him.

He told the rest of Boccob’s Barge’s officers of his vision from his patron, Krivbeknih. After breaking their fast, they sought out and divided their time between the Pantheist Temple of Tyr and the Library of Spheres.

At the Library of Spheres, Straxius researched the Wand of Orcus. He learned what it would take to destroy the artifact: it must be cast into the Positive Energy Plane by the hero whose skull tops the wand. Obviously, no small task. His research revealed nothing about why the wand was broken or where any other pieces might be. There was no mention of the hero’s, Hrothgar the Penitent, final resting place. He did find a reference to Varlden Dod, a world orbiting a Black Star.

At the Pantheist Temple of Tyr, they spoke to priests who shared their concern over the reappearance of the Wand of Orcus. They pledged to aid the crew of Boccob’s Barge when they were ready, but would not take possession of the pommel stone.

The crew returned to their ship and prepared to shove off once more….

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5th Edition Spelljammer – Favors of the Arcane, Session 5

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Boccob’s Barge approached the dwarven citadel. While light could be seen through windows, no other signs of life were evident. The hammership flew an orbit around the citadel and saw only one docking cavern open. They entered the citadel and securing Boccob’s Barge to the dock.

Half-eaten, dead dwarves lay on the pier, their weapons broken and bloody. The lights the dwarves used to illuminate their corridors still shone. Straxius, Veya, Zinniana, Flint, and Sumner ducked into the first room they encountered. It appeared to be some sort of bathing pool adjacent to a sweat room.

More dead dwarves lay in the hallways leading toward a cluster of defense towers. The crew found some weapons scattered on the floor near a weapons rack, and a few unused suits of chain mail, but no life.

After the first set of defense towers, they continued down the corridor that ran along the remaining docks. More dead dwarves lined the halls, fallen by an unknown foe who seemed to fight tooth and nail, ripping and tearing… and eating their way through the dwarven defenses.

In the final docking bay, there were two small longboats. They quickly piled the gear they’d found so far into one of the boats, and then continued their exploration of the citadel. The crew passed through some crew quarters. Dead dwarves lay eaten in their bunks, others on the ground with broken weapons. Scattered among the defenders were others, tall humanoids with talons and jagged teeth: ghouls.

From the half-eaten state of the defenders, Straxius surmised the ghouls were being controlled by someone more powerful than themselves; otherwise, there would be nothing left but bloody bones. They continued into a great tiered room, lined with cold forges. The tiers led to a room in the center: the bridge of the citadel within the Great Forge.

Inside the bridge was a dwarf in fine clothes, torn to shreds, surrounded by his defenders and ghouls alike. The captain’s rutter lay open on the table, several pages torn out. Straxius grabbed it and they continued their search.

After exploring a few more sections of living quarters, they came across a market. Food stalls were overturned, their wares scattered across the floor, rotting. They group made their way to the stair leading down to the cargo hold.

Barricades made from cargo crates blocked the path through the cargo hold. Dwarves and ghouls alike lay strewn across the barricades. The clusters of bodies were a trail telling of a running battle leading from the upper level through the cargo hold to yet an even lower level.

2016-03-25 22.36.52Stairs from the cargo level opened into a cavern in the deep recess from which the citadel was built. The cavern was covered with ice and when they entered the first chamber, they saw why: a churning, bubbling fountain of ice. After a brief examination, Straxius realized it was most likely a portal of some sort leading to the para-elemental plane of ice.

Sounds from an adjacent cavern drew their attention. They entered to see ghouls gnawing on hanging slabs of meat. More interested in fresh blood than frozen entrees, the ghouls turned and attacked. The battle was over swiftly, but the crew moved to watch if their fight drew any other attention. One of the ghouls grasped a small sack with a few gems inside taken from its dwarven meals.

As they advanced through the caverns, they found another ghoul corpse, trapped beneath fallen rocks and ice. Something was clutched in its outstretched hand.

A black pearl.

It radiated almost overwhelming magic and after Sumner and Straxius examined it closely, they determined it was a piece of something bigger, a pommel stone, perhaps. They moved deeper into the caverns.

They entered a large cavern containing a small pond and a clusters of ghouls digging at a stone door. The crew attempted to sneak into an attack position, but Flint’s clanking gave them away, drawing the ghouls to them. Two of the ghouls exuded a horrible stench and seemed to lead the rest of the pack, splitting up to come at the crew from both sides of the pond.

2016-03-25 23.09.01The battle was short, ghoul were no match for the experienced crew of Boccob’s Barge. After the battle, they opened the stone door to reveal half-a-dozen emaciated, starving dwarves: the lone survivors of the citadel.

None of them were craftmen or casters; they couldn’t get the forges running so the citadel would move again. Straxius offered to take them to a safe port. They left the caverns behind and took the small longboats around to Boccob’s Barge. They agreed to give one to the dwarves and decided to keep one for themselves for use with their ship.

As they pulled out of the dock, they saw another ship approaching. The dwarves identified the ship as the one carrying the ghouls. The crew decided to return to their original course as the ghoul ship returned to the citadel. Straxius and the others surmised they returned for the black pearl they left behind.

Boccob’s Barge cruised through the phlogiston on their way back to Realmspace. Straxius and Sumner examined the pearl. After a few simple experiments Straxius realized what it was: the pommel stone to the Wand of Orcus. He told the others how Orcus would sometimes let his wand loose among mortals to wreak havoc. It was obvious that’s what the ghouls were after. Whoever was controlling them was using intent on reassembling the wand.

To what end, they did not know. They knew only that whoever was searching could not be up to anything good. The crew doubted they could peddle the pommel stone and throwing it into the void would accomplish nothing; some creature, some evil would be drawn to it.

Straxius turned to the book of charts and began to research the missing pages….

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