Posts Tagged With: Dungeons & Dragons

Tomb of Annihilation – Session 4

After a too-long hiatus intended to prepare me for Gary Con culminating in my NOT going, we resumed our adventures in Greyhawk, playing WotC’s Tomb of Annihilation.

After spending a night in Camp Vengeance, our heroes embarked on a short trip (relatively) to Mbala, where Nanny Pu’pu was reported to live. They suspected she was behind the increase in undead roaming the jungles, and to aid in that investigation, the commander of Camp Vengeance sent two of his soldiers with them.

The jungle’s oppressive heat beat down on them, and with not even a cool breeze to provide scant relief, the journey proved exhausting. Mid-day, they came across a hut along the trail. Poking around, they determined it was not abandoned per se, but merely unoccupied at the moment. They found evidence that a druid lived in the hut and leafed through her journal. She spoke of a friendship with an aarakocra who gifted her with a feather, and that she left to rescue friends from yuan-ti, but nothing leaving a clue to her whereabouts or that of the snake-people she sought.

They left the hut behind and continued for the rest of the day, making camp near a river they would have to cross in the morning. Shortly after dark, they heard noises from the jungle. A baboon approached the camp, then another. Then another and another and another until they were surrounded by dozens of the primates. A rock flew and the baboons attacked!

During the fight, a towering four-armed ape emerged and joined the fray. Though its attacks were brutal, Nali began to wear the gorillon down. Herrick noticed the beast wore and earring, and in a spectacular feat of agility, he climbed up its back and yanked it from its’ ear in the hopes that it would sever its control over the baboons.

That didn’t work, but within a few more rounds, it fell and the rest of the baboons fled into the jungle. Upon examination, they saw the token resembled that described in the druid’s journal, yet they still had no clue as to her whereabouts.

The next morning, the continued to Mbala, reaching the plateau around mid-day, then spent the rest of the day following the winding trail to the top. When they reached the summit, they were greeted with a wooden gate, surrounded by piles of human skulls….

I spoke of this on Twitter and Facebook, but this is the first edition in which I’ve found it more work to run pre-published material than to just make it up on my own. The difficult lies in the lack of guidance in the adventure books themselves. It would be helpful if Wizards of the Coast would include an outline of the plot points character should hit, or an adventure flowchart of some sort. Blogs and Third Party Publishers (3PP) have stepped in to fill gaps, but still, I shouldn’t have to pay a third party for something that the adventure ought to include.

I’m sure I’m not alone in the expectation that if I buy a $50 adventure book (or however much you spend on it), I should be able to spend less time prepping a session, but it seems like they expect me to study a 256-page tome thoroughly before even starting the first session. I think it would be more reasonable to have a section at the beginning outlining (i.e. NOT pages of dense paragraphs will superfluous information) how the adventure is intended to go, followed by information on getting started on session one. Time is at a premium for many GMs and if they think buying an official hardcover adventure is going to save them time (as I have foolishly done on more than one occasion), they’re sorely mistaken.

It’s one thing to say “Read through this adventure before running” when you’re selling a 16, 24, or 32 page adventure. But, when it’s 256 pages, that’s like insisting someone read the novel before going to see the movie; you’re going to lose a lot of people. Still, I’m going to keep at it once I get moved. Maybe I’ll switch tactics and use the book as more of a guide rather than even pretending it’s an adventure module I can run straight out of, because clearly, most of these hardcovers WotC are producing are unsuited for that purpose, despite what they claim.*

*This is all my opinion. If you disagree, great, but you’re not going to change my experience by telling me I’m wrong.

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Tomb of Annihilation – Session 3

We join our heroes in Camp Righteous. There will be spoilers for Tomb of Annihilation, if that isn’t clear by the post title and subject.

Batari goblins awaited our heroes as they fled the collapsing shrine. While the battlestacks intimidated them at first, they soon cut the gobbos down to size and defeated the snarling, smelly humanoids. After determining the goblins hadn’t injured their triceratops, now named Stampy, they searched the camp again. Sobek surmised the goblins were not the perpetrators of the attack on the camp, nor were they guardians of the shrine; they were simply a wandering band seeing an opportunity for looting.

The group found survivors’ tracks leading further along the river, and followed them. After another day of rainy travel, they encountered a group of adventurers from Sasserine clustered around a tortle showing off his shell. After their anti-social counterparts departed, the tortle greeted the heroes. He introduced himself as Baka, a jungle guide. A map of the jungle was carved in his shell, and he traded information with the heroes. He told them of a location nearby he called The Stairs to Nowhere, and told them about the hag at the Mbala ruins, Nanny Pu’pu. They decided to stay the course and continue following the trail. Baka thought it was possible the tracks lead to Camp Vengeance, a few more hours up the river, and they surmised that the hag was a possible candidate for the cause of the undead troubles.

They arrived at Camp Vengeance and were permitted entry. The Commander, a human native of the area and staunch worshiper of St. Cuthbert immediately attempted to conscript them into his service. As far as he was concerned, nothing they were doing was as important as going on patrol in the jungle to combat the undead. He knew nothing of the curse they’d been told about in Sasserine and didn’t care; people who died should stay dead and he was going to make sure as many as possible would do so. Fortunately, he was not entirely unreasonable, and Baer was able to convince him that their next destination, Mbala, might prove to put a stop to the undead scourge once and for all. He agreed to send two soldiers with them, and they settled in for the evening.

Camp Vengeance is encounter about which I have mixed feelings. As it is written, it seems like the writers think the PCs will have no problem whatsoever being conscripted by a commander who has piles of smoldering corpses just outside his compound. Yeah, you can assume the bodies are of undead, but once they’re in a burning pile, how can you really tell if they were undead or if they’re just the bodies of people who pissed him off. Plus, the fact that he just assumes the PCs are his to command, regardless of the circumstances and it’s written so that he will just outright arrest anyone who says “Screw you, man, we don’t work for you!”, well, that has the makings of a very ugly situation. The camp could easily turn into a TPK for an independent-minded group. I’ve never gamed with a group of players who, when confronted with an belligerant NPC who insists they now work for him, go along with it right away. “Yeah, OK! Cool, we’re now conscripts. Awesome!”

On the other hand, it could have been really interesting to see what happened if they set Stampy on a rampage inside the compound; Camp Vengeance’s stockade is strong enough to stop a rampaging triceratops from the outside, but is full of tents and squishy people inside.

So, that’s two major locations in two consecutive sessions in this adventure so far that I’ve come away thinking “How the F— is this supposed to be fun for the players?”

Also, I want batari battlestack minis. I had ZERO luck stacking my existing goblin minis, and if I had, that would have been AWESOME.

We will now be on a multi-week hiatus as I prepare for Gary Con X. Next session will be a playtest of one of my D&D adventures, “Fairy, Faerie, Quite Contrary” and the session after that will be a Cyborg Commando playtest so I’m familiar with the rules for the game I’ll be helping run a tournament of.

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Tomb of Annihilation – Session 2

We join our heroes in the Amedio Jungle (or the Jungles of Chult if you think this should be in the Forgotten Realms), after having a dinner and breakfast of roasted (or raw, in Sobek’s case) allosaur. There will be spoilers for Tomb of Annihilation, if that isn’t clear by the post title and subject.

The next day, they pushed south, following the river deeper into the jungle. Camp Righteous, their ultimate destination lay several days away through difficult terrain. Fortunately, Sobek’s expert guidance allowed them to make better time than perhaps they would have.

While most of the journey proved uneventful, they did have a brief, though harrowing encounter with a swarm of stirges before being approached by some druids who warned them away from the jungle interior. The druids explained the increasing numbers of undead taking over the deepest parts of the jungle, though they knew nothing of the curse Syndra described. They parted ways amicable and the next day, arrived at Camp Righteous.

Rather than a camp full of pious knights, as they expected, they instead found the remains of an abandoned camp. Some force or creature clearly attacked the occupants of Camp Righteous, though it appeared as though some of the defenders escaped into the jungle. After searching the camp for clues, they turned their attention to the large statue of a man carrying a crocodile. A tunnel extended into the hillside upon which the statue was built.

They proceeded into the hill. Herrick fell into a large pit just over the threshold. After helping him out, they proceeded with more cautions and successfully crossed a puzzle-tile floor section only to be stopped at a near-duplicate tile puzzle upon a huge stone door. After much trial-and-error and a few missteps which almost resulted in Herrick’s death by thunderwave and fire trap, they opened the door to the inner chamber. Spiral stairs surrounded a pillar atop which perched an ornate jug. Deducing that there was yet another puzzle in this room, Baer and Nali retrieved the jug with no mishaps until they slipped on the stairs on the way down, triggering the trap and causing the entire chamber to collapse.

The heroes fled the crumbling ruins, avoiding the falling stone blocks and rocks only to be stopped short by a 9′ tall stack of goblins barking at them in their guttural language…

And we come to the first puzzle in Tomb of Annihilation where the PCs can waste MASSIVE amounts of time if they’re not on the same wavelength as the adventure writer. Technically, all the clues are in the story of Man and Crocodile, but what is required is for two characters to team up in a way that really most groups don’t think of, in my experience. Needless to say, my group was not a fan of this puzzle (“It sucked!” is an exact quote). In retrospect, once it because clear to me they were spinning their wheels, I should have just had them roll Intelligence checks to see the solution to keep the game moving.

Live and learn.

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The Next Campaign

Tomb of Annihilation banner

After much deliberation, we have decided that starting January 5th, we will embark upon a new D&D campaign: Tomb of Annihilation.

Amedio JungleI’m changing the campaign setting to Greyhawk and expanding the list of player character races available. Newly arrived visitors to Sessarine (aka Port Nyanzaru to the natives) can be from any standard Player’s Handbook race. If a player chooses to create a character native to the Amedio Jungle, however, Kenku, Batiri, Tabaxi, Lizardfolk, Kobolds, or Tortles are also available.

No word yet whether or not my players will make a four Tortle band of martial artists named after Renaissance artists.

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5th Ed. Spelljammer – The Wand of Orcus, session 28

The voyage to Varlden Dod required Sea of Stars to pass through several sphere in the Illithid Dominion. Fortunately for them, the mind flayers were pre-occupied with a war against the witchlight marauders and they were able to complete much of the journey unmolested. One flight of nautiloids approached Sea of Stars, seeking parlay. The mind flayers demanded to know their business in the Dominion, and offered safe passage, as well as a guide them through the most dangerous battle zones. The price: slaves to power their lifejammers, though gold would work in a pinch.

Not willing to sacrifice any of their crew to known brain-eaters, Captain Straxius elected to give the mind flayers their price in gold. A nautiloid broke off from the flight and escorted them through the remaining two spheres until they reached Sunless Sphere.

A single planet orbited a black star. Varlden Dod was a dead world, covered in stagnant marshes with twisted, bare trees. Overhead, the “light” of the black star cast a pall and chill over the world. Preliminary scouting revealed the location of the ruined temple containing the well that once served as a fountain of good; the place where the portal to the positive material plane could be opened.

The wood tower shows the elevation of a flying PC

The crew brought the wand out from the various bags in which they stored it. Straxius summoned a floating disc to hold the pieces. When they were in proximity to each other, the fragments of the wand snapped together until they formed the whole. As soon as the wand was assembled, a visage of Orcus himself appeared above the well as Straxius and Garria approached it to begin the ritual to open the portal. “Bend your knee to me. I’ll give you a minion for each enemy you’ve slain. You will have any army.”

They refused and Orcus commanded his minions to arise and destroy them. Swarms of wolf spirits and ghouls charged out of the swamp. Straxius and Garria continued the ritual as the rest held the undead off. Once the initial wave was destroyed, more poured forth from the befouled waters, ghouls, ghasts, and wraiths attacked.

Straxius left Garria to continue the ritual alone while he lent his magic to defeat the second wave. Still, more undead clambered forth from the marsh. The ghoul king himself appeared, with more wraiths, and a giant skeleton. The battle was hard fought, and though several officers of Sea of Stars nearly fell, they were, at least, victorious. Orcus roared in anger and another form emerged from the swamp: the rotting corpse of a great dragon, its middle torn open, as if exploded from within. Two battered, ruined corpses dangled from the wound.

Garria completed the ritual as the dragon pulled itself from the muck. A geyser of positive energy filled the well. She snatched up the wand and dashed into the portal. As she did so, a flash of warmth washed over the


crew, destroying the dragon. Once their vision returned, they saw a bright, warm sun in the sky, birds and insects resumed their songs, and wind rustled the leaves of once-dead trees. The Wand of Orcus was destroyed and life returned to Varlden Dod.

And with that, another D&D campaign is concluded. For the first time in years, I managed an epic conclusion to a long-running campaign, befitting the destruction of a major artifact. We may return to these characters in the future (they’re only level 11, so they’re perfect for Against the Giants–they even have a Hammer of Thunderbolts and a Giant Slayer sword (but no Girdle of Giant Strength or Gauntlets of Ogre Power), but they’ll have to retire from Spelljamming first; I want to run something more grounded in the future. There’s been some talk about possible playing Tomb of Annihilation, but first, I’m taking a break from GMing for most of the rest of the year.

It’s a little bittersweet to bring a long-running campaign to an end (long being relative; this wasn’t a 20-year campaign, but it was certainly one of the longest-running campaigns I’ve ever run), but honestly, I’m just glad that when the session was over, no one said “Well, thank goodness THAT’S over. What a drag that campaign was.” Now, I’m sure there were highs and lows (certainly, I can identify some sessions where I feel like things could have been a lot better), but overall, I’m pleased with how it all turned out.

Straxius’s player is stepping up to run something for October and November, what exactly has yet to be revealed, and then Sumner/Rune’s player will run his annual Doctor Who Christmas special in December. After that, depending on where I am with the new house my wife and I are building, we’ll see if D&D continues, or we’ll keep doing short 2-3 session games until we get settled. Until then, thanks for reading and keep those dice rolling!

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5th Ed. Spelljammer – The Wand of Orcus, session 27

From the sky, it didn’t take long for the crew of Sea of Stars to locate the main battle. A group of fire giants worked to break the shackles binding the world serpent while frost giants attempted to prevent them from doing so.


The crew discussed options as they descended toward Eorôe. Their first thought was to help with fire support from their catapults. Straxius directed Sumner to barrel through a gap in the friendly lines, ramming the ship into several fire giants, sending them off the edge of the world. The world serpent managed to set Sea of Stars’s port side ablaze with its fiery breath. As they came around, the crew fought the fire with their decanter of endless water. Straxius reconsidered using the ship and they landed at the edge of the battlefield.


Wading into the fray, they worked their way through the salamander minions to reach the giants trying to break the shackles. While they weren’t entirely successful staying out of range of the world serpent’s breath, they did defeat enough giants to inspire the fire giant king to show himself.


He called the crew out, ordering them to cease their fighting and accusing the frost giants of being the true enemy. “It is THEY who upset the natural order of things. Too long have they dwelt in the light; it is time for the World Serpent to cleanse the land and renew the cycle of life. We have dwelt in darkness past our time and it is our turn now to dwell in light.”


The sole remaining frost giant had only one thing to say as she reaffirmed her willingness to fight to the death: “They seek to destroy all that we have built and nurtured. They seek to bring into darkness all that which dwells in light.”


Through a slip of the tongue, Rune challenged the fire giant king to single combat. The fire giant leader accepted, though made no promises his people would accept the outcome. Rune took to the sky and was nearly victorious, but was brought low by thrown boulders. Once the single combat was decided, Veya charged in and killed the fire giant king, rallying the frost giant reinforcements.


Though the force seeking to free the head of the world serpent from its shackles was defeated, there remained several other groups. Over the next several weeks, the crew of the Sea of Stars flew with their frost giant allies around the world, sending the fire giants back to the darkness and earning the Frost Giants and their vassals a century’s reprieve from the Change of Ages.


The crew feasted with the giants and recovered from their wounds before facing the final leg of their voyage, seeking out Sunless Sphere, no fewer than an additional two hundred days away. It was there, on the world of Varlden Dod orbiting the Black Star, that they could open the portal to the Positive Material Plane through which Garria, the reincarnation of Hrothgar the Penitent, would carry the Wand of Orcus to its ultimate destruction.

The whole story with Eorôe and Patria sphere: The outer lands of this disc world are populated by giants who stand vigilant against the threat from the other side. The interior is populated by two groups of avian-folk, White Ones and Black Ones (so named for the color of their feathers). The folk on the interior live and work together in peace, though technically, they are vassals of the giants (the frost and the fire, respectively). Every thousand years, the world serpent is awoken and the world flips. The frost giants, who have been in control of the light side for the last thousand years, bound the world serpent to prevent the Change of Ages, precipitating this conflict where the fire giants fight for their time in the light. As far as the White Ones and Black Ones are concerned, the Change of Ages is akin to a changing of the guard; it doesn’t overly affect their lives.

Eorôe’s Change of Ages is really a whole campaign… which was NOT the one the PCs were currently playing; they just came in at the end and acted as a wild card to change the outcome.

Now, onto the finale…

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5th Ed. Spelljammer – The Wand of Orcus, session 26

Boccob’s Barge

As the hammership approached, Straxius ordered his crew to bombard it with Sea of Stars’s catapults. While their aim was true, Boccob’s Barge continued to close and increased to ramming speed. With a crash, the two spelljammers collided. A mass of arms, legs, and torsos tumbled from Boccob’s Barge onto Sea of Star’s main deck. The Ghoul King contacted Straxius telepathically:  “Surrender the wand and I will call off my minions. You may live and return to your mundane life of hauling cargo. I will even transfer all this infernal beer in my hold.”


The mass rose up and began attacking the crew, even while the Ghoul King and his minions attacked from afar. Straxius and Rune concentrated on the Ghoul King and a familiar woman, Gwen Sallas, the woman they freed from slavers on the Rock of Bral, now a vampire in the service of the Ghoul King.


As the Corpse Mound disgorged zombies to further challenge the crew, Straxius countered spells thrown by the Ghoul King, until the undead leader dimensioned door to a safer haven within the ship.


Though they lost some crew, they were eventually triumphant over the undead crew of Boccob’s Barge. Unfortunately, the ship itself was a total loss, so they looted everything they could from Straxius’s old ship, then scuttled her. There was no sign of the Ghoul King, yet curiously, he left behind all of his accumulated treasure, including Hrothgar the Penitent’s skull; the last piece of the Wand of Orcus. Sumner discovered the skull by licking the Ghoul King’s collection until he tasted the distinct taint of the Demon Prince of Undead.


The crew quickly decided to keep the pieces of the wand separate in the hopes the minions of Orcus would have more difficultly tracking them as they determined how best to dispose of the vile artifact. Meanwhile, they resume their flight to Patria sphere.

Weeks later, Sea of Stars arrived at her destination to find a world on fire… .

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#RPGaDAY 2017 – Which RPG have you played the most in your life?

I started with Dungeons & Dragons and I always come back to Dungeons & Dragons. Since my first experience with the Moldvay (and Mentzer; we mixed and matched freely ’cause we didn’t know the difference) boxed sets back in 1982, I have played every edition released: D&D, AD&D, AD&D 2nd Edition, D&D 3rd edition, D&D 3.5, D&D 4th edition, and D&D 5th edition.

There have been other games, to be sure. We played a LOT of Paranoia when I was in school in Germany because it was quick and easy and we could play it during our lunch period. In the ’90s I played a LOT of West End Game’s Star Wars RPG because the friends I played with weren’t allowed to play D&D (the whole Satanic Panic thing). But through it all, there was always Dungeons & Dragons.

No matter how I feel about a particular edition, there’s a part of me that still wants to play D&D. I expect that won’t change, even if the edition I play and the current edition don’t always match up.

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#RPGaDAY 2017 – Which RPG has the most inspiring interior art?

When I think of an RPG with inspiring interior art, I have to go back to the ’80s and AD&D 2nd Edition. It wasn’t as picture packed as a modern RPG and color was use sparingly, but to my young, teenaged imagination, just starting to explore worlds of imagination, nothing inspired me more than those full-page color plates by Larry Elmore, Jeff Easley, Keith Parkinson, and all the other talented artists TSR employed. More than the writing, it was the art in those books that inspired me.

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5th Ed. Spelljammer – The Wand of Orcus, session 25

After determining that they were, in fact, on in a pocket dimension, the crew resigned themselves to having to climb back down through the tower to return to the Rock of Bral with the shaft. They took a moment to prepare themselves, then re-entered the storage room at the top of the tower were Seravos laired. They found several valuable items to take with them, and then cast several invisibility spells before descending into the combat zone.


Undead continued to battle with Seravos’s golems, so the crew was able to pass most of the fighting unseen. When they reached the bottom floor, the dead apprentice at the desk in the foyer had become ghoul food, so they quietly evolved a plan to deal with them. Unfortunately, they were not mere carrion-eating ghouls as one might encounter in a cemetery and Rune’s attempt to turn them failed.


They beat down the tough ghoul and exited the tower, Arcane Locking the door on their way out. On the city streets, no one seemed aware of what transpired in Seravos’s tower. The crew returned to the Laughing Beholder for an evening of drinks and carousing before boarding Sea of Stars.


As they made preparations to leave, another Nkosi approached the ship, looking for Captain Ra-Jareez. Suli-ban, Ra-Jareez’s cousin, was greatly amused to hear of the Nkosi’s misfortune in losing his ship and informed Ra-Jaeerz he was there to bring him home. After a brief discussion with the crew of Sea of Stars, Ra-Jareez made his choice: he would stay with his friends on the Sea of Stars until their task was done.


Boccob’s Barge

They set off to sail to Patria sphere and Eorôe to fulfill their obligation to the giants there. As they pass by the Tears of Selune, they discovered they would not have to seek long for the skull to complete the Wand of Orcus. A familiar hammership approached, Boccob’s Barge, it’s crew of undead drawn to the nearly completed artifact.


They readied themselves for battle…

Since I know what’s coming next and the hour was growing late, I ended the session a little early. It was either that, or stop in the middle of a combat (which suuuucks). In two weeks, we’re going to play a Middle Earth adventure to help one of my players play test the adventure he’s running for Cubicle 7 at Gen Con. Two weeks after that is Gen Con. Then, on September 1st, “The Wand of Orcus” will continue. It’s all climax from here on out; the campaign is nearing its close. Will the crew of Sea of Stars be able to reclaim Boccob’s Barge from the Ghoul King and his minions? Will they be able to resist the temptations of a reassembled Wand of Orcus? Will they be able to destroy it before the Demon Prince of Undead comes to claim it?

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