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 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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Hoard of the Dragon Queen, Session 12

This adventure log will contain spoilers for the D&D 5th edition Tyranny of Dragons adventure, Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Ye’ve been warned!

Using Zinianna’s raven familiar, Nevermore, to scout the castle, our heroes decided to make their way around to the northwest tower. The plan was to scale the wall and sneak around, avoiding the patrols of lizard folk and bullywugs. It was a similar plan to the one they executed at the roadhouse. Veya was the first to climb to the top of the tower. Once they were all up, she pulled away some of the shingles so they could access the top room. It was dark enough inside, that Zinianna sent Nevermore in to scout.

The bird died.

No sound, just the sense of a ghostly hand. Our heroes decided to skip the tower and go into the courtyard instead. A few drakes were patrolling, so Tobin dropped a fog cloud on them and they snuck through in the confusion to the castle’s central tower. They burst in just as the drakes noticed them and barred the door behind. Inside, our heroes discovered they’d just interrupted a meeting between a half-dragon and a Red Wizard of Thay. The Red Wizard they recognized as Azbara Jos, the wizard who joined the caravan from Baldur’s Gate. How he beat them to Naeryar Castle, they did not know. Rezmir ordered the wizard to destroy the intruders.

rezmirA short, brutal battle followed. After a few exchanged, Rezmir, the half-dragon, chose the better part of valor and attempted to retreat just as an elf descended from the upper levels to join the fray. In the end, the three cultists were defeated and the heroes kepts Azbara Jos alive for future questioning. The battle was swift enough that a general alarm was not raised and after deflecting a patrolling lizardman and bullywuf, Broken Sky barred the door with his Immovable Rod so they could search the tower in relative privacy.

It was clear they stumbled into the heart of the cult’s operations in Castle Naerytar. The Black Dragon Mask* was now in the heroes hands, along with a mouthy sword that practically dripped with evil intent. Tobin grabbed the dragon mask and added it to his collection of cultist robes and also grabbed Rezmir’s symbol identifying her as an officer of the cult. They searched the tower, avoiding an attack by gargoyles guarding the top level when they saw the symbol around Tobin’s neck. The top level of the tower appeared to be some sort of observatory and was home to a Farseer of Illusk. They peered through it, spying on the lair of the dreaded black dragon of the Mere of Dead Men, discovering that one feared dragon was, in reality, two! With care, they removed the Farseer from its housing and packed it to carry with them, strapping it to their large, strong, barbarian woman.

They snuck out much like they snuck in, though under cover of darkness, hauling both the Farseer and the unconscious Azbara with them. They returned to their canoes and retreated into the swamp, intent on setting an ambush for the cultists heading north from Baldur’s Gate with the stolen treasure from Greenest…

Normally, I don’t put huge spoilers in my comments, but just be warned: there’s a more spoilery discussion below than is usual:

Ah, the best laid plans… I thought I knew how I was going to get things back on track, but I was wrong. I’m not going to go into detailed spoilers, since some of my players read this version of the log rather than the one on Obsidian Portal, but basically, they have totally broken this adventure and have taken things in a direction completely unanticipated by the designers. On one hand, it’s good that they’ve synergized their skills so well and have become excellent at avoiding conflict when necessary. On the other hand, they’ve skipped several key sections designed to bridge the sections of the adventure. Here is where HotDQ’s roots as a weekly Adventure League scenario shows. While I don’t have direct experience, I suspect what happens in the AL version is each set-piece is a session (the Roadhouse, the Raider Camp w/Dragon Hatchery, Naerytar Castle) and everything designed to get PCs from one section to another is narrated to keep all groups running through Adventurer’s League content on the same page. Giving the PCs freedom to explore the world a bit, as I did on the caravan, in Waterdeep, and ever since, causes them to go off on unanticipated directions. Plus, the descriptions of the castle leave out some important details and the maps are a bit lacking; it’s not clear how some things are designed (like do the castle walls have battlements or are they just walls?) and with three levels (and three maps which do NOT share the same scale and orientation) each with over 20 numbered rooms, there’s a LOT to remember about Castle Naerytar).

So, the way I see it, I have two options:

1) Throw in an encounter that drops some heavy clue bombs leading the PCs back to where the adventure thinks they should be.

2) Wing it (which is what usually gets me into trouble… but how much worse can it get?) and see where they go. They’re planning to ambush the cultists they leapfrogged and then go back to Waterdeep. They have a sentient evil sword AND the Black Dragon Mask. Eventually, that information has to get back to the Cult of the Dragon and they’ll send assassins after the PCs. I could almost start Rise of Tiamat content, except the PCs are not really high-enough level for that yet (they’re only level 5 and they’re supposed to be level 8 before starting Rise of Tiamat–granted, they’ve been taking out threats even the adventure thinks should be too tough for them).

I mean, I could just make a list of all the really important stuff that needs to happen and build a new adventure around that using my own material. That’s basically Option 2, right there. A lot of the criticism Hoard of the Dragon Queen gets is centered around how rigid the plot is, and now I’m seeing the chinks in the armor, so to speak. I think Wizards of the Coast would have been better off waiting until 5E was fully released before publishing this adventure; the fact that it was mostly developed while the rules were still in development show, particularly as the PCs become more experienced. From what I’ve read, Rise of Tiamat is more of a sourcebook than an adventure, so I’m going to have to do that anyway once Hoard of the Dragon Queen is finished.

Looks like I have my work cut out for me.

* Apparently, Rezmir was NOT suppose to have the mask at this point. Later in the book, it’s described as being safely locked away. Unfortunately, the only stat block given for her takes it’s effects into account and there is no indication in the Castle Naerytar section that I shouldn’t have used it as written. Grrrr. It’s editing crap like that that really irritates me. This is also why I really miss the Old School way of listing stat blocks WITH the encounters. Apparently, I was supposed to read ahead TWO chapters and remember details from rooms in that future location that affect THIS location.


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Hoard of the Dragon Queen, Session 11

This adventure log will contain spoilers for the D&D 5th edition Tyranny of Dragons adventure, Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Ye’ve been warned!

As the PCs stared out of the tunnel into the swamp ahead, they heard voices speaking in Draconic. Tobin realized they were lizardfolk and crept up to eavesdrop. The lizardfolk were complaining about “frog-people” muscling in on their territory. Leading with a sleep spell from Tobin, our heroes rushed the lizardfolk to subdue them. After a fairly unproductive conversation with their captives, they learned there was more than one lizardfolk tribe in the swamp, bullywugs being lead by “dragon kneelers” at a castle, and a dragon.

They knocked their captives out again and entered the swamp. After a while, the ambient swamp noises quieted down and they were aware of a creature nearby. Though they heard its approach, they were unprepared for what broke through a tangle of underbrush: a hydra! They were prepared to fall back, but Kagark charged the beast. They fought hard; Kagark fell… twice, but in the end, they were victorious. A few hours later, as the sun rose, they found a campsite along the trail they were using. The campsite was obviously frequently used, but currently unoccupied. Our heroes took the opportunity to rest and recover from their battle with the hydra. Several canoes were moored at the campsite and appeared to be the only means by which they would be able to venture deeper in to the swamp.

Before taking the canoes, Tobin used the fly spell in his cittern to scout the area. Flying high above the trees, he spotted the castle of which the lizardfolk spoke. He marked its location and the heroes set out in the canoes. Kagark was more than happy to paddle the canoe through the swamp with Veya. He even sang as they traveled, “Kagark row the bow ashore | I’m with Veee-yaaa | Kagark row canoe ashore | I’m with Veee-yaaa!”* The rest of the heroes traveled in relative silence and they avoided another lizardfolk patrol in canoes. Shortly before dusk, they arrived at the castle’s makeshift dock, but spotting patrolling bullywugs, they circled around to some land some ways from the castle. They beached their canoes and worked their way overland toward the back of the castle, where they planned their next move…

I thought was prepared for the game session, but I was not. As a result, the session accomplished less than I expected and I felt like I was floundering all night (that and there’s a LOT of things going on in my personal life that has me off-balance). Of course, such clouds often have silver linings, and I know what I need to do for the next session.

That’s the cool thing about sandbox-style sections in adventures. I can manipulate them to last several session or just one. I could have spent several game sessions with the PCs exploring the Mere of Dead Men, but it wouldn’t really have advanced the plot. They had one job, as the meme goes, and that was to track the cultists. With the caravan, it was different because there were dozens of other characters involved. Here, it was just the PCs and their quarry… which they actually skipped ahead of when they left Waterdeep by ship. It was a bit of a derail, but one that has multiple little repercussions down the road rather than one huge trainwreck (and I don’t mean to imply the adventure was a railroad at that point). Basically instead of following the treasure and picking up clues along the way, they’ve leapfrogged the treasure and are trying to wreck the cultists’ shit before they arrive.

But it’s all good. They’re where they need to be to do what they have to do. There’s just some information and opportunities they’ve missed out on because the key events are behind them (geographically). After reflection and sleeping on it, I know where I went wrong and I know how to fix it.

* Sung to the tune of “Michael Row the Boat Ashore”

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Fantasy Maps

I know a lot of gamers are into fantasy maps, regardless of whether or not they use the material in their own games. With that in mind, I’d like to direct you to a recent post over at the VFF Publishing blog. The author side of me is commissioning an update to the map I use in my World of Calliome novels. It’s pretty exciting (for me, anyway)!

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Hoard of the Dragon Queen, Session 10

This adventure log will contain spoilers for the D&D 5th edition Tyranny of Dragons adventure, Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Ye’ve been warned!

After gearing up to follow the cultists out of Waterdeep and discover where they were taking the purloined treasure, our heroes were approached by their old friend, Tom Haverford. He informed them that his employer requested a meeting with them at her home in the Sea Ward: Eagleshield Villa. Once there, they were treated to luncheon with Dahlia Eagleshield and introduced to the other members of the Radiant Shield: Ontharr Frume of the Order of the Gauntlet, Master Leosin of the Harpers, and Aurea Moonshadow of the Emerald Enclave. Lady Eagleshield represented the Lord’s Alliance and explained that they formed the Radiant Shield to do what the leaders of their organizations and homes would not: investigate the activities of the Cult of the Dragon. They were also joined by an eavesdropper, Jamna Gleamsilver who insisted the Zhentarim be included since they also had a vested interest in preventing the destruction of the world by a vengeful dragon god (and she was going to find a way to involve herself even if they refused to let her listen in, anyway).

The Radiant Shield had been piecing together evidence gathered from the Sword Coast raids, and other reconnaissance, and thanks to Tom Haverford’s report on the heroes’ behavior during the long trip from Waterdeep, as well as endorsements from Ontharr Frume and Master Leosin, decided to reveals themselves to our heroes. What they learned was that the Cult of the Dragon’s goal appeared to be to open a portal through which Tiamat could enter Faerun from Avernus. Five Wyrmspeakers of the cult are the primary culprits in this plot. The Radiant Shield believes the half-dragon our heroes saw meeting with the cultists was one of these Wyrmspeakers: Rezmir. Each Wyrmspeaker possesses a Dragonmask which is used in the ceremony to open the portal.

Armed with this information, the Radiant Shield was able to put together a plan for moving forward: capture or destroy the Dragonmasks and take the Wyrmspeakers out of the equation. Master Leosin tracked a few previous shipments of cultist goods out of Waterdeep north to a roadhouse near the Mere of Dead Men, but was unable to investigate further because of a patrolling dragon. He showed them the location of Karnath Roadhouse on a map.

Upon their request, Lady Eagleshield arranged for water transportation for our heroes to head up to Leilon. Their plan was simple: get to the roadhouse ahead of the next shipment. They believed trailing them would be too dangerous since the Cultists were already suspicious of them. Kagark, of course, asked to accompany them and Lady Eagleshield also sent Tom Haverford along with them. In the meantime, the rest of the Radiant Shield would work on their own leaders and try to fortify their alliances.

A few days later, they arrived in Leilon and followed the road south to Karnath Roadhouse. There, they found a working roadhouse that served as a staging area for workers repairing the road between Waterdeep and Neverwinter. It seemed an unusual place for Cult of the Dragon activity, so Broken Sky and Zinianna investigated covertly, discovering that most of the residents were, indeed, just regular folk going about their lives. They did find a trap door in a treasure-filled strongroom and returned in the dead of night to investigate with the rest of the heroes. The chef reported being awakened regularly by noise from within the strongroom, and our heroes discovered the trapdoor appeared to be used as a way for the cultists to move their treasure out of the roadhouse.

They followed the dark, dank tunnel. It led away from the roadhouse, directly in to the Mere of Dead Men…

Another RP-heavy session, and one in which I took a page from the various blogs writing about Hoard of the Dragon Queen and took the opportunity to introduce some elements that will take the forefront in Rise of Tiamat. As written, Hoard of the Dragon Queen has the group pass through Waterdeep and continue on their merry way, squandering the opportunity to begin setting pieces in place that will come together in the next adventure. It seemed to make sense to begin laying the groundwork to tie the two adventures together  more closely.

Of course, since the PCs masqueraded as a brewing company during the caravan, it didn’t make much sense for them to suddenly want to be guards on a caravan taking road-repair supplies from Waterdeep to Karnath Roadhouse. Having Master Leosin do some pre-game scouting helped alleviate the need to hand-wave a few complications that arose from the caravan trip in a way that made it look like the NPCs were actually doing something. The PCs’ plan to take a boat north, then back-track to the Roadhouse put them there at least a few days before the cultists, so they were able to pretty much bypass most of those encounters, making it a trivial matter for them to locate the tunnel the cultists use to transport their ill-gotten booty. 

If they keep being clever, we might get to Rise of Tiamat before Gen Con!

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Hoard of the Dragon Queen, Session 9

This adventure log will contain spoilers for the D&D 5th edition Tyranny of Dragons adventure, Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Ye’ve been warned!

When we last left the Rockbottom Brewing Company, they had just stopped at an inn on the road somewhere between Baldur’s Gate and Waterdeep (actually between Baldur’s Gate and Daggerford). There, they found three belligerent men who were more than they seemed and fought for their lives against a trio of bored, antagonistic assassins.

Fortunately, that would be the last bit of trouble they encountered for some time and when the caravan rolled into Daggerford, everyone was more than ready for hot food, warm bed, and something interesting… which they would not find in Daggerford. While most of the caravan elected to take advantage of the town’s inns, the cultists chose to stay with their wagons. The members of Rockbottom decided it was in their best interests to spend the evening watching them. Tobin did become involved in a Bard Battle with a pair of half-elven minstrels, and many sick riffs were laid down in the pursuit of a victory. Meanwhile, Broken Sky noticed a robed man with poorly-hidden tattoos speaking to the cultists. He concluded it was a Red Wizard of Thay and reported back with some concern when the man apparently hooked up with the cultists. The monk and Zinniana also discovered a gnome casing the caravan, showing particular interest in the cult’s wagons.

They confronted this gnome, Jamna Gleamsilver, about her suspicious interest in the caravan. She claimed to want one thing: a ride out of Daggerford. After discussing it amongst themselves and finding no evidence of malfeasance on the gnome’s part, the Rockbottoms agreed to let her ride along with them. This was mostly so they could keep an eye on her; if they turned her down, there were plenty of other merchants who might not.

The evening passed uneventfully. Several days later, when they were less than a ten day from Waterdeep, Jamna approached them as they were breaking their fast in the morning. She showed them a coiled bone concealed within their oatmeal, suggesting that someone wanted them dead. The bone would soften and unfurl within their stomachs, piercing their guts from within. She promised to talk with them in depth when the caravan camped for the evening.

Once the caravan stopped for the night, and everyone was settled down for the evening, Jamna approached our intrepid heroes. She revealed that she was no mere traveler, rather she, too was working against the Cult of the Dragon. While she would not say for whom she worked, she assured the Rockbottoms that they shared a common purpose in this matter. The organization for whom she worked was committed to stopping their plans to summon Tiamat into this world. That news was a revelation to the Rockbottoms, and they knew summoning the Queen of Dragons was bad news for all.

A few days later, the caravan awoke to find one of the cultists dead. Naturally, they blamed the Rockbottoms, Tobin in particular, since several of them believed they remembered someone matching his description snooping around one of their camps east of Greenest. Azbara Jos, the suspected Red Wizard, played the voice of reason and tried to get everyone to calm down. In the end, no murder weapon was found, and there were no witnesses, so the caravan elected to let the cultists deal with their dead and move on: Waterdeep was only two days away!

When they arrived in Waterdeep, the caravan split up. The merchants went their way and the cultists continued to a warehouse in the northern part of the city. Broken Sky and the two gnomes went to keep an eye on the cult while Flint, Tobin, and Veya sold off the beer and ale they had fermenting during the trip. Kagark, naturally, followed Veya around, and Tom Haverford went with the merchants with whom he’d hired on. The warehouse the cultists were at was one used to stage materials and equipment used to repair the road leading north out of Waterdeep leading toward Neverwinter. They caught wind of rumors of the half-dragon they saw in Baldur’s Gate having passed through the area less than a ten day ago. They returned to the Yawning Portal to plan their next move….

After a solid 6-8 weeks of no D&D, it took a bit to get back into the game. Several of us claimed we’d forgotten how to play. It didn’t help that the last six games in a row I GMed were Fate Accelerated, not D&D. Still, it didn’t take too long, and though I sort of fast-forwarded through a lot of Episode 4, they still hit all the important plot points (which they’d done before our break). They’re about halfway through Hoard of the Dragon Queen now: Episodes 5-8 are all that remain (then on to The Rise of Tiamat). I think the pace is really going to pick up now. Looking ahead, it looks like the rest of the adventure is fairly consistently busy. The caravan to Waterdeep was a sort of calm-before-the-storm, or the big rest between the action-packed beginning and the action-packed end. In other words: shit’s about to get real.


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Gary Con VII Report

So, last weekend, I was at Gary Con in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Gary Con is an annual pilgrimage for me. Firstly, it’s the only convention I currently attend during which I can play games. Secondly, it’s a celebration of the life of Gary Gygax. Thirdly, it’s become like a family reunion. My wife and I always enjoy seeing familiar faces, catching up with old friends, and making new. I didn’t have time to write up day-by-day reports, so this will be more of a greatest hits.

The Bad

  • My wife got Con Crud.
  • It was awkward when people asked where we were from and we answered “Indiana.” Thanks Governor Pence.

The Good

  • I cosplayed! First time for me, really. Dressing up for Hallowe’en is one thing. Spending a good portion of the day is challenging, as I discovered.
  • I started the con off with an Atomic Robo Fate Accelerated game, Action Scientists of Tesladyne – Issue 1: The Madness of Dr. Frankenheimer. Much fun was had by all and several people indicated they would seek out the comic. Fortunately for me, the game was full of people familiar with Fate. It was tremendously helpful in gaining a better understanding of game flow (I had GMed it 4X up to that point, but was not at all confident). So, thanks to those players!
  • After Atomic Robo, I changed into my first costume of the con. Star Trek: TOS. Except for the boots, it was about as screen-accurate as one can get. Concessions are made to studio lighting: Kirk’s wraparound casual tunic was the same color as the standard uniform, but the material made the standard uniforms appear gold instead of avacado. Everyone thinks of them as gold now.
  • It was in the Star Trek uniform that I played in my next game: Airfield Follies, a Hollow Earth Expedition game run by James Carpio of Gygax Magazine. It was pulpy and inspired a bit by King Kong. I played a slovenly movie producer that more concerned with making my final film than everyone’s lives. Still, no one killed me and I got some great coverage of the t-rex chomping down on one of us. Fun fact: those TOS pants are tight enough that they rode up and down while I was sitting, so I was constantly fidgeting. The zipper also liked to open whenever I sat. They fit, but the material from which they’re made has NO give. It’s sparkly, though.
  • I planned to switch to a TNG costume for the evening, but I’ve lost so much weight it fit me like a mu-mu, so I had to ditch that plan.
  • Ever hear of the show “Mountain Monsters“? It was the basis for my first-ever Call of Cthulhu game. It’s like Duck Dynasty meets Supernatural. I played Trapper. I was proud of not making ANY M*A*S*H jokes. We did get an NPC stepped on by a building-sized eldritch horror, though. Kinda feel bad about that.
  • Friday was Fallout Friday! It doesn’t show up particularly well in the pictures, but the Pipboy has a working screen and the laser pistol is painted to look like Pew Pew from New Vegas. Fun fact: the tire pauldron was a real truck tire in a former life and isn’t particularly suited to wearing on a shoulder. I need to line it with foam or something. I had a tender spot there for the rest of the weekend.
  • I played AD&D with Luke Gygax. I created a dwarven cleric and named him Gristle McThornbody. He ran us through a new adventure written by him and a bunch of the other Old Guard (Tim Kask, Frank Mentzer, James M. Ward, etc.) called The Cave of Wisdom. I died two rooms in, crushed by a mama troll with a large frying pan. Good times! It was actually a good thing for me, because that game ran from 9am – 1pm and I was GMing my Fallout-based Fate game from 1pm – 4:30pm. That left NO time for walking to the next game or food.
  • The afternoon was my Fallout Fate Accelerated game, Fire from the Sky. A few younger players tried to meta-game based on their knowledge of the Fallout franchise, but overall the game went well. I had a bunch of Nuka Cola bottle caps I used for Fate Points. My idea of handing out cards with items to represent a more Fallout-y style of Stunt worked well, though I forgot to print out about 1/3rd of them. Some of them need to be reworded, as well.
  • I changed back into civvies for my Friday evening game: Savage Spaceballs! I played Barf, because I wanted to be my own best friend. Lonestar and Vespa were separated with two horrible little children, but reunited to search for the stolen Family Jewels of Druidia. Yes, jokes were made. My wife played Dot Matrix, nanny to the horrible children and her East Coast accent made it easy for her to slip into Joan Rivers mode.  Dark Helmet was relegated to working at Space FedEx and Colonel Sanders took a Batman-like turn in his self-appointed role of Dark Helmet’s guardian (except chicken-themed). It was rather hilarious… particularly since Barf had developed a leg-humping problem. Mogs gotta establish dominance!
  • Saturday I was foolish and scheduled my Saturday Morning Superheroes game (also Fate Accelerated) for 8AM… after a midnight end for Savage Spaceballs. I’m getting too old for that. Plus, I found out that breakfast wasn’t officially served until 8AM. Oops. Oh well, lesson learned. For this game, I was assigned a table in the “Porch” area; the room in which Gary Gygax’s memorial table sits. It’s the room in which most of the Old Guard run their games from cushy, high-backed padded chairs. Nearby, Merle Rassmussen was running his women-only Top Secret game (FYI: Merle Rassmussen designed the original Top Secret RPG for TSR in the late ’70s). I didn’t feel right sitting in the high-back chair, especially since we already received an “Old Guard” parking permit and reserved space due to my wife’s wheelchair. Anyway, the game went well with Casper the Friendly Ghost, Yogi Bear, Captain Caveman, Grape Ape, Hong Kong Phooey, and the Smurfs teaming up to defeat The Cloaked Figure (real identity… SPOILERS! Neener, neener, neener!) after the murder of Dynomutt. Yeah, it was a little dark. But fun and perfect for a Saturday morning with cries of “CAPTAIN CAAAAAAAAAVEMAAAAAN” and someone singing the Smurf song as they hijacked an RC car.
  • Saturday afternoon, my wife played in James M. Ward’s women-only game. Out of 12 or 13 players, only 4 characters died. I first thought perhaps he wasn’t feeling well (he has a reputation), but it turns out they just played really well. He was testing a new game system he’s developing and it earned high praise from all the players. James M. Ward is the man who got my wife into gaming several years ago, and we always make a point of saying “hi” to him at Gary Con.
  • The rest of my Saturday was open. Registration issues kept me from getting into anything else that day, though I did take my wife’s ticket for Cthulhu Invictus (a Call of Cthulhu game set in the Roman Empire). Both of my CoC games were intended for my wife and I to both play in, but she got in and I did not, so I just used her tickets (not to worry… wait until Sunday night). It was a lot of fun and featured many of the same players from Savage Spaceballs. Both events were run by folks from GameHole Con. A documentary crew was filming Stephen Pokorny (the guy who makes Dwarven Forge) throughout the con and they stopped by our table, so you might see my remarks at some point (I had to sign a release and everything).
  • The group photo of the collected mass of Hawaiian shirts worn in honor of Gary Gygax was taken Saturday night. I don’t have a copy of it, but you can see it on Facebook.
  • Sunday morning, I ran my final game of the con: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – 1980s Edition! (Fate Accelerated). This game featured B.A. Baracus (The A-Team), MacGyver, Doc Brown (Back to the Future), Jack Burton (Big Trouble in Little China), Melina Havelock (For Your Eyes Only), and Sarah Conner (The Terminator). I used Karl Keesler’s Savage Worlds adventure for the basis of this game, except I changed some of the characters so they all fit into the 1980s (his PC were all from ’80s films; mine were all from 80s films that took place IN the ’80s). I also added Sho-Nuff from The Last Dragon as one of David Lo Pan’s flunkies. It went really well, with Terminators, three Jason’s (from Friday the 13th), a plethora of Wing Kong, Jack Burton’s truck, and Lo Pan all showing up at the finale. It was a good way to end my run as a GM there this year.
  • The rest of Sunday was socializing and taking it easy. My wife was invited to an encore of the Mountain Monsters Call of Cthulhu game and I encouraged her to take advantage of the opportunity. I planned to play again as a different character, but while we were waiting by the fire, Merle Rasmussen stopped by to say “Hi” and we ended up chatting about Top Secret, TSR, and writing for nearly 3 hours! That’s one of the great things about Gary Con, it’s small enough that you never know who you’re going to run into and talk with into the late hours of the evening.

That’s about it. We left Monday afternoon and drove back. As always, it was a great convention. I’m already booked at The Lodge at Geneva Ridge for Gary Con VII and have begun planning my games*!

You can see a slideshow of all my Gary Con pictures at Photobucket, including my wife’s pirate and Victorian outfits. For once, I remembered I brought a camera, though the number of pictures I took averaged less than 10 a day.

*I’m planning on running four games for the Dead Games Society next year. Two of which will be S1: The Tomb of Horrors, one general admission and one for women only (there are a lot of people who have never experienced it in the original AD&D… they deserve that experience if they so desire). I’m also writing an original AD&D adventure titled “The Wailing Sore,” and will return to Paranoia with “Bugs in the System.”

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Hoard of the Dragon Queen, Sessions 7 – 8

This adventure log will contain spoilers for the D&D 5th edition Tyranny of Dragons adventure, Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Ye’ve been warned!

Work in my Real Life™ got busy and I didn’t have the energy to update this. Now you get a mega-update with two sessions in one! Since the details of the last two D&D sessions are lost in the morass of fog that is the labyrinth of my memories, this will be more like a highlight reel. It doesn’t help that the last two sessions we played weren’t D&D at all; we play tested a couple of Fate Accelerated adventures I was working on for Gary Con.

When we last left our heroes, they were prepared to depart with the trade caravan heading from Baldur’s Gate to Waterdeep. Their cover as ale merchants was established and well-planned. En route, a wild red dragon swarm appeared and wiped them all out, turning the caravan to ash. Ash and tears. And blood. Ash, tears, and blood.

Except that didn’t happen!

What happened was, they learned one of the other members of the caravan was a stuck-up aristocrat who beat his animals. They rescued another traveler from a band of hobgoblin raiders. This grateful traveler joined the caravan. They encountered a field of weirdly fast-growing fungus and later heard horrible singing in the distance* which they chose not to investigate. Several more uneventful days followed, then the cultist’s wagon overturned on a rock, spilling ill-gotten booty. Our heroes helped right the wagon and pretended not to notice the purloined treasure. After a few more days, they were attacked by perytons as they passed near some mountains. Fortunately, they worked together with some of the more helpful caravaners and killed the beasts. The same afternoon, they spotted a marvelous sight: a golden stag leading a herd of deer. Our heroes realized what a portent it was and prevented the caravan hunters from killing the creature.

Eventually, they got a respite from the weeks of camping out under open skies: they arrived at a roadside inn. Oddly, despite the presence of only a handful of other people, the innkeeper claimed the inn was full. What appeared to be a noble with his entourage hurled abuse and insults, almost daring the Rockbottom Brewery crew to attack him. The situation deteriorated and a fight broke out. The noble and his men were not simply drunken fops, they were in fact a group of bored assassins looking to commit murder for fun. Kagark and Tom Haverford** from the caravan joined in the battle. Kagark was determined not to let harm come to Veya. After a hard-fought battle, the innkeeper lay dead along with the assassins. There was much rejoicing.

The encounter with the assassin was widely rumored to be one of the TPK-traps in Hoard of the Dragon Queen. I can certainly see where it got that reputation. The fact that I threw two NPCs into the fight on the side of the PCs really didn’t affect the outcome, nor did my tweak to the assassins to make that slightly less-deadly (I changed the poison on their weapons to work only on the first attack, rather than every attack; since they never hit with any subsequent attacks after their first hit, it never came up). The fact is, my players came up with an effective strategy for battling the assassins, I rolled fairly poorly on average (a switch from the previous session where I seemed to be critting on every other attack), and they earned their victory.

After Gary Con, Hoard of the Dragon Queen will resume. I really needed the break from D&D to test my Fate Accelerated adventures. Pacing FAE game is WAY different than D&D and I would have had all four games run way short if I hadn’t spent March’s game days testing.

* I was going to throw in the classic Dungeon adventure: “Old Man Katan and the Incredible, Edible, Dancing Mushroom Band”, but they didn’t take the bait. Oh well! Maybe I’ll run it at Gary Con next year.

** A halfling whose name came from a random name generator for halflings. I can only assume the programmer is a fan of Parks & Recreation, because one of my players pointed out that Tom Haverford is a character in that show… which I was unaware of.

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Dem Bones — Happy Valentine’s Day!

I wrote a brief story and painted a couple of miniatures for a contest in a Facebook miniature painting group. I thought I’d share it here:
(The contest rules were: “… choose two Bones! miniatures, paint them as a loving couple, and tell us their love story. Don’t feel mired in convention, either… just have fun with it. There are no politics here… man and woman, man and man, man and beholder… we don’t care, just keep it consensual and ‘romantic.'”) Sadly the two miniatures I chose did not have very finely defined detail; a failing common to some of the earlier Bones miniatures castings.)

She was a lady of refinement, daughter of a lord, lost in the Bleakmere. He was a scout for the Mucklebones tribe, one of their most fierce hunters. Draak had her in his sights, ready to shoot the smooth-skinned interloper down. There was something in the way she carried herself, a regal bearing, a quiet dignity in the face of all the dangers of the swamp.

He stayed his hand, and instead showed her the way to safety, revealing himself only at the end. Alora was shocked by her clandestine watcher, her hidden protector, but saw honor and nobility in his eyes. Though they were from different worlds, Alora reached out to him.

“Stay with me. Together, let us discover the wonders of this world.”

Alora & DraakDraak’s heart leapt. Ever since he was hatched, he explored. He knew there must be more to see than the twisted trees and black pools of Bleakmere. He took her hand and let the woman sweep him away. Through thick and thin, fair weather and foul, Alora and Draak traveled near and far, never leaving each other’s sides. Companions true, their love for discovery, adventure, and each other led them to experience all the great adventures the world offered.

Alora & Draak 2These are Reaper’s Bones Juliette Wizard and Lizardman Spearman. Juliette must have been one of the earlier castings of Bones because her features are very soft and poorly detailed. Even Lizardman Spearman suffers a bit from lack of detail around the face and chest (though his tail and legs were really nice). She photographed much redder than her skin tone really is and the subtle dry-brushing in her hair didn’t come through at all. Before I painted her, I looked on Reaper’s site, and I couldn’t even find the Bones version of this miniature. Obviously, Reaper wasn’t happy with the casting.

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Hoard of the Dragon Queen, Session 6 – Merchants & Moneylenders!

This adventure log will contain spoilers for the D&D 5th edition Tyranny of Dragons adventure, Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Ye’ve been warned!

We rewound a bit because I realized as I read ahead in the adventure a bit, that the PCs need to go back to Greenest before heading to Elturel, otherwise they’d miss some good information. Game-wise, it effects nothing they did at the end of last session, so it was mostly an expository jump.

Our heroes enjoyed an uneventful journey from the raider’s camp caves back to Greenest. Mayor Nighthill greeted them and gave them instructions from Master Leosin to proceed to Elturest and meet with him a human paladin of Torm named Ontharr Frume. Despite the soggy weather, they packed up and did so, arriving at Elturest and its perpetual, brilliant light a few days later. They tracked down their contacts at a tavern called Wild Cats.

Ontharr Frume was a bulky, hirsute man, jovial and friendly. After conferring with our heroes, he and Master Leosin formulated a plan. He offered the Heroes of Greenest an opportunity to work with the Harpers and bade them to track the Dragon Queen’s minions to their final destination. They knew they would be joining a trade caravan heading north out of Baldur’s Gate toward Waterdeep and suggested the heroes could disguise themselves and hire themselves out to the caravan as guards. He gave them the name of an ally in Baldur’s Gate who could help them find work.

The heroes boarded a riverboat that would take them to Baldur’s Gate and formulated a plan of their own. They would join the caravan to spy on the raiders, but not as guards, rather as merchants! Flint Rockbottom was already an accomplished brewer, and the rest could just as easily be his guards and support staff as they could anyone else’s. When they arrived in Baldur’s Gate, they bought supplies for the two-month journey to Waterdeep and worked with Ontharr’s contact to put together a wagon and enough equipment to masquerade as sellers of beer and fine ale. While they were setting up their wagon and equipment they spotted the raiders affiliated with the Cult of the Dragon in the staging area. A palanquin was most conspicuous, its passenger hidden from view. Unfortunately, it vanished sometime in the night. A halfling, Tom Haversford, approached Rockbottom Brewery, offering his service as a tinker and repairman, but they turned him away.

While the others were planning their trip, Veya became antsy and engaged in some contests of strength at one of the nearby taverns. She left victorious, with a half-orc following after her, begging to breed with the one who bested him. When she returned to the caravan staging area, everyone was ready to depart: Rockbottom Brewery, Edherlri Lewel (exotic wood), Oyn Evenmor (exotic birds), Achreny Ulyeltin (furs and uncured hides), Lai Angesstun (scented cooking oils), three wagons carrying Cult of the Dragon members in disguise, and one wagon with settlers and drifters accompanied by various carts. For two months, they would travel together. What dangers did the road hold?

Much of the session was spent planning and preparing their wagon. The adventure assumes the PCs will hire on a guards and everything proceeds from that assumption (even in future chapters). I was more than happy to let them choose another route, however. I was dismayed that I could not find, anywhere in the adventure, what the Master Leosin and Ontharr Frume wanted the PCs to accomplish other than following the dragon cultists. I couldn’t find anything that said if the PCs would meet up with them further up the road, or anything like that. This is one place where the adventure would have greatly benefited from some sort of outline or summary at the beginning of the chapter. A list of objectives. A list of challenges. Something. I guess I’m supposed to read ahead and memorize the entire adventure or cross-reference it myself (the next chapter mentions nothing about Master Leosin or Ontharr Frume as far as I can tell). This could also be one of those things that slipped past the editors, like the missing number on the map of Greenest. 

Two month on the road. There’s a whole slew of events that are supposed to happen, but plenty of time for me to exercise some of my own creativity, or even brush off some older material, ripe for insertion. Who would know? I could easily run a whole campaign during these two months.

Exploding Homer HeadI know! The PCs will pass the time by playing a new game… Atomic Robo! An RPG within an RPG!


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Hoard of the Dragon Queen, Session 5

This adventure log will contain spoilers for the D&D 5th edition Tyranny of Dragons adventure, Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Ye’ve been warned!

At the last minute, our heroes decided to not jump blinding into the hole from which they heard the alarmed shouts. Instead, they called back to them, attempting to bluff those below. Unfortunately, Tobin chose to use magic to mimic the voice of the half-dragon, who answered back and raised the alarm!

They retracted the rope ladder and covered the hole with Mondath’s table, then as much furniture and debris as they could quickly find. The Heroes of Greenest then retreated back to the entry chamber and set up an ambush for the forces of the Dragon Queen, using the fungus-filled corridor as a choke point.

A drake led the charge, followed by waves of kobolds. The presence of the half-dragon was felt, but as they battled through the kobolds, he stayed hidden. Two human fanatics* charged through the ranks of the kobolds, and though they gave the heroes some trouble, they too, were dealt with.

The heroes pressed their advantage and found the half-dragon issuing orders from the back, attending by winged kobolds.

I had to switch from Dwarven Forge due to the complexity of the layout. The myconids are stand-ins for the field of fungus in that corridor.

I had to switch from Dwarven Forge due to the complexity of the layout. The myconids are stand-ins for the field of fungus in that corridor.

After a brief moment of panic when they realized they were set up perfectly to be decimated by one blast by the half-dragons deadly breath, they charged into the fray. (You can see the PCs all lined up in the center of the picture there… I don’t mind telling you, had they not realized what they’d done, they would have when that half-dragon emerged and breath-weaponed them all; I was planning on it). It was a challenging fight, and Broken Sky was grievously wounded, but in the end, the Heroes of Greenest prevailed. They took a brief respite to bind their wounds and plan their next move.

Their next move was to continue exploring the cave complex. They returned to Mondath’s chamber, uncovered the hole and descended. Zinniana scouted the room ahead. It appeared to be some sort of temple dedicated to Tiamat. The walls were carved to depict various types of dragons, and beneath a carving of the dragon queen herself, there was a small chest.

The rest of the party kept a safe distance as Zinniana inspected the chest and discovered a series of traps. She disarmed them and unlocked the chest, revealing a handful of baubles. Further investigation lead to another chamber. This cave was essentially a ledge overlooking a sunken area. Two drakes spit and hissed at the party as they approached the edge, and they saw what the drakes were guarding: dragon eggs!

Broken Sky counseled that they stay on the ledge and let the drakes come to them as they peppered them from afar with magic and missile weapons. The drakes were well-trained, however, and remained near the eggs. Broken Sky saw this as an opportunity to keep a safe distance and kill them from afar. As Flint and Veya maneuvered, though, hidden kobolds attacked with glue and fire bombs. The monk made short work of them and the dwarf and barbarian moved down the ramp towards the drakes, despite Broken Sky’s protests.

The monk felt obligated to protect his companions and charged into the fray with the draks where he found a nasty surprise. Near the eggs, one of the stalagmites was, in fact, alive! A roper caught the monk up in his tendrils and tried to make a meal of him. The ensuing battle with the draks was hard fought. Many were brought to the brink of death more than once. In the end, however, the Heroes of Greenest once more prevailed. Tobin took a moment to examine the dragon eggs, and seeing they were black dragon eggs, smashed them, exposing the infant dragons within to a harsh world they were ill-equipped to survive.

Bloody but victorious, the Heroes of Greenest retreated from the caves, leaving several chambers unexplored. They headed northwest, toward their rendezvous with Master Leosin in Elturel….

So, the session was mostly a series of fights since the group basically alerted the entire cave complex to their presence (only by way of trying to trick an NPC by mimicking his voice to him). Instead of stealthing through the caves, taking the rooms one at a time and trying to minimize their presence, they ended up fighting pretty much all the remaining kobolds and cultists at once, except for those who stay to guard the eggs. It could easily have been a TPK, but they used the terrain to their advantage and created a choke point in the fungus-filled area. The roper was, by far, the toughest fight even though I held back for 2-3 rounds trying to get them to talk to it, I finally gave in and had it try to eat them (that’s when their dice FINALLY started playing nice).

For some reason, my dice HATED the monk, Broken Sky. I regularly rolled 18s, 19s, and 20s on him and by contrast, I had a tough time hitting the dwarf (I rolled a lot of 1-5s on him). I really felt bad because it made me look like I was beating up on the monk for playing his character’s background whenever he charged in to protect the rest of the party. It also annoyed me a bit that I was unable to disrupt the dwarf’s flaming sphere which proved to be a great boon to them during the big fight at the beginning of the session.

Still, they prevailed, no matter how close they came to death. Of course, this part of the adventure is really stingy with treasure, and I felt like they needed something, so I gave them all Inspiration to use in the next session.

* Yes, these were berserkers and yes, there were Clerks references, hence the video link.

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