Friday, April 21, 2017

A Visual Guide to Scarabae Characters

I was thinking of how I envision my Scarabae setting, and decided to pick some representative images--something like Pathfinder's iconics--for each class in 5e D&D. Some of these I scavenged from one of Blizack's collections, others I had to search out on my own.


Aarakocra warlock

Dhampir warlock
Human sorcerer


Kenku sorcerer
Tiefling monk

Hill dwarf monk

Human fighter


Aasimar fighter


Dragonborn druid
Goblin druid
Triton cleric

Human cleric
Tiefling paladin

Earth genasi paladin


Yuan-ti pureblood bard
Rock gnome bard


Lizardfolk ranger

High elf ranger


Gearforged wizard
Eladrin wizard
Tabaxi barbarian


Stout halfling barbarian


Half-orc rogue
Lightfoot halfling rogue

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Bewildering Attitudes I Have Encountered in the Wild (part 3 of y'all be cray)

  • There is no gate-keeping in the hobby. Here is my list of people you shouldn't listen to or talk to.
  • We must decry the lack of imagination in this company's products! But we should discourage critical reviews of products coming from our camp, I mean, it's not like reviews matter anyway.
  • Characters should only ever be generated by random rolls. Here's my house rules for swapping stats around to get the character you want.
  • Games with disjointed mechanics are more streamlined than games with unified mechanics because you only have to remember ten ways of doing things instead of one.
  • Gamers are more well-read than other people. I have only read books listed in Appendix N of the first-edition Dungeon Master's Guide. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Knife Fighting

Daggers are pretty cool weapons, but they're generally not even that great as back-up weapons in D&D. Maybe a 5e feat could make them viable? For instance:

Dagger Expert

  • You gain a +1 bonus to attack rolls you make with daggers.
  • When you use a dagger, its damage die changes from a d4 to a d6. (This benefit has no effect if another feature has already improved the weapon’s die.)  
  • When you use the Attack action and attack with a one-handed weapon, you gain an extra attack with a dagger you are holding.

Notes: This is really just a first draft. I'm still not wild about the idea of feats giving bonuses to attacks rolls; that might encroach too much on 5e's bounded accuracy. It might also be not much of a big deal. Who knows?

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Mortzengersturm, the Mad Manticore of the Prismatic Peak

Let's be upfront: I was one of the editors of Mortzengersturm, Mortzengersturm's author plays in two of my online D&D games, and I consider Trey Causey to be a friend even though we've never met in meatspace. With that disclaimer out of the way, I highly suggest you check out Trey's newest adventure, Mortzengersturm, the Mad Manticore of the Prismatic Peak. It's really, really good.

Here's why I think it's a great adventure:

  • Most adventures--whether published by the major companies or by small-press auteurs--tend to do a poor job of presenting information in a way that makes them usable at the table. Mortzengersturm feels like it was designed with utility in mind. The copious use of sidebars and short, descriptive text is illustrative of the best practices in presenting an adventure.
  • Mortzengersturm fills a gap and shows that 5e D&D can do more than just Forgotten Realms-style fantasy. The mood of Mortzengersturm is not high fantasy; it's a bit Wizard of Oz, a bit Saturday morning cartoon, and more than a bit satirical and whimsical. It's refreshing because it occupies a thematic space sorely neglected in the current range of adventures for the modern incarnation of D&D.
  • Jeff Call's art style--a cross between children's book illustration and Rankin-Bass--feels fresh and doesn't pander to expectations about modern or old-school game art.
  • It's inventive and fun. Mortzengersturm gives you a solid depiction of an adventure location and its major players, but it's open enough that it will survive contact with your players' crazy plans. It could be straight-up hack-and-slash or it could be run with stealth, diplomacy, and exploration as the order of the day--either way it would make for a fun session.
  • It's got monsters you would never have thought up.

The bottom line: it's no secret that I think most published adventures are either lacking in quality, simply don't fit with the kind of game I like to run, or require a lot of work on the part of the DM to be interesting. Mortzengersturm isn't like thatMortzengersturm is the rare prefab adventure I'm actually looking forward to running in my own campaign. That's really the best praise I can give.

The pdf of Mortzengersturm is available here.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Curse of the Moroi

Campaign: Krevborna open table G+ campaign (5e D&D)

Characters:

  • Marek, human fighter
  • Elaria, wood elf ranger
  • Erron, half-elf bard
  • Erasmus, tiefling barbarian

Objective: Bring the murderer of Evanus Ogarski to justice.

Events:

  • Marek and Elaria were summoned to the home of Andullah, Piskaro's most notorious sea witch, in the midst of a torrential storm blowing in from the sea. Andullah asked them to investigate the murder of her old friend, Evanus Ogarski, and to bring her the head of his killer. Andullah did not offer gold as a reward for the completion of this task; rather, she offered to give both of them a potion of healing upfront and to brew whatever kind of potion they desired should they succeed in their mission.
  • Andullah took them to meet with Ivanna, Evanus's widow. Ivanna sat in a rocking chair in front of the house she shared with Evanus, smoking a clay pipe. Inside the house, Elaria and Marek examined Evanus's corpse; no ordinary murder, this, for Evanus had been turned to greenish-gray marble by his killer! In fact, it looked as though petrification had inadvertently been the cause of his death: after being turned to stone, he had fallen to the floor and his head and left hand had broken off his body. Examination of his petrified form also revealed that he had been wounded before being turned to stone; his body and clothes showed the work of a serrated bite--but the pattern of teeth marks didn't match any animal that Elaria was familiar with.
  • Further investigation of the house revealed signs of a struggle, and broken glass that seemed to be from a shattered bottle of "Doctor Voke's Blood-Cleansing Tonic." Erron arrived to help with the investigation at this point and noticed an usual object that didn't belong in the house under a fallen bookcase--a farrier's rasp.
  • The adventurers found their way to Doctor Voke's Apothecary, where they found the walrus-mustached man vending his tonics and patent medicines of dubious efficacy. Inquiry about his blood tonic revealed that Voke had run out of the stuff, that it was hard for him to keep it in stock, and that it was concocted from rare roots and herbs. 
  • Voke was distressed at the idea that one of his products had been found at a crime scene, and mentioned that the blood tonic seemed to be causing no end of problems lately. When pressed as to what he meant by that, he explained that he had sold his last bottle to Evanus Ogarski, but right after Franz Melville, a local farrier, had come in to buy a bottle for his afflicted daughter. Franz was distraught that there was no tonic for sale, and demanded Evanus's address so that he might try to buy that last bottle from him.
  • Sensing a strong connection, the group again traversed the rain-swept streets of Piskaro to the home and business of Franz Melville. Before they reached his home, their approach was spotted by a teenage girl with blonde hair in a calico dress. She ran into the entrance of the farrier's and the party overheard a man saying, "Stay in the house, Yetel, and do not let yourself get upset. I will get rid of them!" The group entered Franz's shop and found him to be a bald, middle-aged man with a sunburned face. Perhaps trying to put Franz off his guard, Marek quickly and directly accused him of the murder of Evanus Ogarski.
  • Franz denied murdering Evanus, even when it was pointed out that there was an empty space on his rack of rasps where the tool recovered from the scene of the crime aught to go. Yetel rushed in from the house, clutching her stomach, obviously upset at the party's intrusion and accusations. Suddenly, she fell to her hands and knees and began to change into a beast covered in green feathers, scales, and with a beak full of serrated teeth. The transformed Yetel lashed out at Marek, but luckily he was not turned to stone. Elaria managed to sink an arrow into her, and Erron assaulted her mind with magic. Marek grabbed the girl and bore her to the floor; he could feel her changing back into her girlish form underneath him. 
  • A barrel was used to keep Yetel confined. Franz explained that yes, his daughter had killed Evanus while in her transformed state. He had gone to buy the blood tonic from Evanus, and they argued when Evanus would not sell him the tonic. Yetel became upset and transformed into her monstrous form--a form in which she has no control over her actions. Franz further related that Yetel's affliction was a curse. When he and his wife were courting, they would meet at Marsburg Swamp to spend time in each other's company. Their joy, however, offended an Unseelie fey spirit who lived in the swamp. This moroi was a bear-like thing with the fangs of a vampire; it cursed Franz and his wife, saying that their joy would become their sorrow. The curse did not affect them directly; it fell upon their pride and joy, poor Yetel Melville.
  • Even though their task was to bring the head of Evanus's killer to Andullah, no one in the party wanted to kill Yetel. Franz proposed that they might seek out the moroi, kill it, and bring the witch its head in place of Yetel's since it was more properly the cause of all this horror. The party sought out Andullah to see if this would be agreeable to her, and she let them decide how they might best mete out justice. Erasmus joined the group's venture at this point.
  • Using a map provided by Franz, the party set out the next day and arrived early at Marsburg Swamp. As they stood on the bank, they observed that a massive fallen tree acted as a bridge across the swamp's water to the cave known to be the lair of the moroi. Erron used an illusion to simulate the sound of people walking across the tree to see if it would attract the interest of any waiting creatures, and it did. A deer's head emerged from the surface of the swamp. Noting that deer are not generally submersable creatures, Marek fired his crossbow into it, wounding it--but it didn't seem phased by the pain. In fact, it declared his action rude in a human-like voice. Erasmus then began to parlay with the creature; it offered him information on the moroi if he would pluck the bolt from its body. As it drew near, more of the deer's body became visible--well, what was left of it. The creature only had two front legs and half a body; its entrails spilled out behind it like a tail of viscera. Erasmus pulled the quarrel from the being, who introduced itself as Lashenka. Laskenka explained that the moroi could not be trapped within the cave, that the moroi had evil fey allies within the cave, and that in the old pagan days men used to bring their firstborn to the moroi as sacrifices.
  • Now thusly armed with some knowledge about the beast in the cave, the party traversed the fallen tree and dropped down into the cold water of the swamp, making their way into the cave. During their exploration, they encountered the spirits of those slain by the moroi, and the spirits demanded payment from the living to be allowed to pass within; they found and restored a statue of St. Elusia, the found the valuables the moroi took from the bodies of its victims, and they found the moroi itself. Lured from deeper within the cave by the party so that they might fight it in a larger chamber of the cave system, the moroi emerged as a bear-like monstrosity covered in patches of thick vegetation. It attacked with talons and blood-drinking fangs; its bellowing cry turned their blood to poison within their veins. Even so, the crew made quick work of their foe, and severed its head to take back to Andullah.
  • The party knew that the moroi had allies within the caves, and they had previously heard what sounded like the giggling of children coming from one of the unexplored passage. Was it a sense of completionism or greed that drove them to explore further? Whatever it was, it nearly ended in tragedy. They came to a junction where the waist-high water in the cave grew warmer and was bubbling softly. Suddenly, a gremlin-like creature made of mud erupted to the surface and vomited a stream of filth onto Erron that fixed him in place. Battle was joined. 
  • At first, the moroi's minions proved ineffective, but then the tide of battle turned. Marek was bludgeoned to death's door, then Erron fell beneath their hands, and then Erasmus found himself breathing what might be his last. Elaria stood alone against three of the monsters. While her compatriots fought against the dimming of their life's lights, she slew two with her short swords; as the final creature attempted to pull Erron under the murky water, she fired one last shot from her bow and destroyed the monster. Elaria managed to revive the rest of the party using their healing potions before any of them slipped into whatever awaits them in the afterlife.
  • The party returned to Andullah's house and presented her the head of the moroi. Marek also paid a visit to the Melvilles' house, where he was showered with affection from Franz--and a tentative embrace from Yetel. The curse afflicting the girl had been lifted!


Spoils:

  • XP: Marek and Elaria each gain 279 XP, Erron gains 251 XP, and Erasmus gains 190 XP.
  • Treasure: Marek, Elaria, and Erasmus each get 136 gp from the coins and gems found in the moroi's lair; Erron gets 86 gp since he left a gem as tribute to the statue of St. Elusia.
  • Magic Items: Marek has a potion of superior healing; Elaria has two potions of superior healing, and Andullah will brew her three potions of her choosing in addition; Erron has a potion of superior healing and the promise of magical training from Andullah; Erasmus has a potion of superior healing and a bag of vicious, primordial teeth (they would be a good material to have enchanted and added to that sword you already had, if you wanted to search out someone capable of such).

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Watcher in Darkness Opens His Eyes

Campaign: Krevborna (open table G+ game, 5e D&D)

Characters:
  • Verdagan Wils, kenku rogue
  • Thane Ganymede, darakhul wizard
  • Tobias Rune, human warlock

Objective: Find a Father Nicholaz, a missing priest.


Events:
  • The party was hired by Father Eskil to find his friend, the missing Father Nicholaz. Nicholaz had a history of strange events befalling him: during his adolescence his personality changed suddenly, making him irritable and violent-tempered or fearful and paranoid; he acquired the ability to speak in tongues (or at least in a language his fellow faithful could not understand); he began to spend much of his time in the Church's archives, searching for something he would not name.
  • Months after these alterations in his personality, he was expelled from the Church for violating a tenet of the faith. After his, he disappeared for four years. When he returned, Nicholaz begged to be readmitted to the Church's grace and, after a private meeting with Father Claudio, was invested into the priesthood. After eight months of service to the Church, Eskil noticed that Nicholaz looking haggard; Nicholaz confessed that he was haunted by dreams of a great bleeding eye that gazed at him unflinchingly from the darkness of the night sky. 
  • Four days ago, Nicholaz disappeared--and now it is up to the party to find him. Eskil didn't say that he suspects foul play, but Father Claudio's reaction to Nicholaz's disappearance struck him as strange. Also, Lucia, who had been rescued from the Easterly House in the last game, was researching a connection between Nicholaz's dreams of a baleful eye and an unearthly entity known as the Watcher in Darkness or the Elder Scholar. The party has some vague ideas about the Elder Scholar--it is an entity that some warlocks formed pacts with in the past, but such bargains have been unknown in recent memory.
  • After Tobias's imp scouted Nicholaz's home, the group used the key given to them by Eskil to gain entrance. The young priest lived in a very small, bare house with very few furnishings. Verdagan unlocked a desk drawer and discovered Nicholaz's journal; from the journal, the party learned that Nicholaz's dreams involved "great eyes that descended from the cosmos to bleed upon a blighted earth," that he remembered nothing of the years he was missing from Piskaro, that the dreams had recently started again, and that Father Claudio told him to simply forget the past and move on.
  • The trapdoor in Nicholaz's main room led down to a library chamber. The shelves of the library were obviously new, and the room held an impressive array of books on theology, the lives of the saints, collections of sermons, and the like. There was a noticeable gap among the packed shelves; clearly, about three or four volumes usually shelved there were missing.
  • The group decided that their next stop should be the Church of St. Nephemias by the Docks, the church that Nicholaz, Eskil, and Claudio were attached to. The party arrived just in time to take seats in the pews and hear a sermon from Father Claudio, an old man with long white hair and a large, bushy white beard. The congregation was comprised of sailors, fishers, and their families, and the sermon dealt with the rest and succor that St. Nephemias provides for those lost at sea.
  • After the sermon, the group posed as a group of hungry immigrants, which caught the attention of one of the church's younger priests; she took pity on the "newcomers," and led them to one of the church's kitchens, where she provided them with a meal of bread, butter, cheese, and rum. While eating, they plied her for information and eventually made it clear that they had an interest in the whereabouts of Father Nicholaz. Sister Vittoria claimed that Father Claudio blamed Nicholaz's disappearance on his weakness for strong drink. She also arranged for the group to talk to Claudio himself.
  • The party was led to Claudio's office, where he sat in a leather chair, writing steadily, barely looking up as the group put questions to him. Claudio described Nicholaz as a good priest, but also as someone prone to making poor decisions. Claudio would not divulge the reason why Nicholaz was initially expelled from the Church; since he was Nicholaz's confessor, that would be a breach of ethics. He let slip that Nicholaz's re-entry into the fold was enabled by Nicholaz presenting Claudio was some very rare books, which Claudio claimed were texts of a religious nature. Claudio declined to let the party see the books; he said that there were still in the process of being cataloged for the Church's archives.
  • After their audience, the party decided to return to the Black Albatross, a tavern where they could send word to Eskil. On the way, a shot rang out in the deserted, rain-swept street; someone had shot at Verdagan! The group quickly realized that two ruffians with cutlasses were approaching from the front, and a further ruffian and a woman with a rifle were closing in behind them. A fierce battle ensued in the midst of the storm, but the party was triumphant. Thane's fiery bolts immolated the riflewoman, and his sleep spell knocked another thug out of the fight. Verdagan managed to render another thug unconscious, giving the party a total of two captives to work with.
  • Once roused, the sleeping captive revealed that his group of mercenaries were hired by a man with white hair and a big, white beard to eliminate the party before they got too close to Nicholaz's whereabouts. Recognizing that the mercenaries' employer was likely Claudio, the party realized that Claudio had been keeping his eye on Eskil and knew that they had been hired to delve into this mystery. Their would-be killer bartered for his freedom by offering to show the group the secret lair of his employer.
  • The building the mercenary led them to was an old brick building in a row of abandoned warehouses. Verdagan picked the lock easily, allowing them access into a small room lined with large casks of wine. One of the wine barrels was hollow; further investigation revealed that the barrel was a false front for a tunnel leading down into the subterranean depths.
  • The first room explored in the depths was a chamber in which the walls and ceiling had been painted black. The ceiling was further decorated to resemble a starlit sky. An altar, decorated with golden candelabras, incense burners, and a glass disk resembling a human eye, stood against the back wall. The center of the room was dominated by a strange sculpture formed from porous black rock; the sculpture was essentially a roughly-formed pillar that had handholds, as if it were meant to be climbed. Verdagan decided to see what would happen if the pillar were surmounted; once at the top, the stars painted onto the ceiling began to twinkle, the skyscape began to move, and the stars blossomed into eyes that stared down at the assembled adventurers. A disembodied voice then asked Verdagan if he desired to make a pact, and then it told him to bring a suitable sacrifice to seal his devotion. When Verdagan climbed back down the pillar, the ceiling returned to its normal state.
  • Another chamber contained a small desk. Upon the desk were four books: The Book of the Unkindled Scholar, Rebirth of the Old Ones, Spawn of the Stars, and The Cult of the Icarus Heart.
  • The party also discovered what appeared to be a treasury; there were four chests in this chamber, and two skeletons sat upon a pair of them. The skeletons appeared to be normal human skeletons, except the eye holes of their skulls had merged into one vacant, cyclopean socket. The party initially left this room alone, but returned because Thane detected magic within the chests. He also detected that the skeletons were magical, so it was no surprise when the skeletons animated and attempted to keep them away from the contents of the chests. A hard-fought battle spilled out of the chamber and into the hallway. Verdagan's life was endangered by a fierce blow from one of the skeletons, but Thane managed to revive him by pouring a potion of healing down his throat. In the end, the party was harried but victorious; fleeing and sniping with magic and bow carried the day.
  • The last chamber explored was the largest yet; it featured six pillars of black porous rock that resembled columns of unblinking eyes, a central altar to which was chained a beaten and bloody man who matched the description of Father Nicholaz, and two figures who had their backs turned to the characters: one who was clearly Father Claudio, the other was a younger acolyte in a black robes. Verdagan attempted to sneak up on the pair, but they were ready and waiting for the party's approach. Claudio attempted a dire black magic spell against Tobias, but Tobias's fiendish pact warded off the "clergyman's" spell; in return, Tobias made quick work of Claudio--his eldritch blast hurled the old man against the altar, breaking his back in the process. The acolyte drew a knife and charged at the party, but a sleep spell from Thane subdued her easily.
  • The group released Nicholaz, who wanted to beat a hasty retreat from the place of his imprisonment, and the group reunited him with Eskil back at the Black Albatross. Nicholaz explained that he truly had no memory of the events that transpired during the years he was missing from Piskaro, but that he had discovered that when he was abroad he collected rare books--seemingly under direction to give tomes about elder beings to Father Claudio. Claudio believed that Nicholaz knew more than he let on, and that the young priest was keeping back important secrets relevant to Claudio's secret occult aims, and so had abducted the priest and had begun to torture the information out of him. 
Loose Ends: 
  • What is this Watcher in the Darkness, this Elder Scholar, and what danger might it still represent in Krevborna?
  • The party discovered a note on Claudio's body that reads: “Our preparations are almost complete. We will arrive in Piskaro on schedule. Make sure that all is ready for us. The Brethren are counting on you – Neria”
  • The party took the young cultist captive; what are you doing with her and what questions do you put to her?
Rewards:
  • XP - 408 each.
  • Treasure - Tobias and Thane receive 513 gp each in assorted coin, Verdagan takes four onyx gems (worth 60 gp each) and 273 gp.
  • Magic Items - a potion of healing, the shield of Sir Malafort (as a sentinel shield in the DMG).
  • Other - Father Eskil owes you a favor to be redeemed at a later date.