Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Tales from the Yawning Portal

Tales from the Yawning Portal is a new collection of classic D&D adventures updated to the Fifth Edition rules. The seven adventures include:
  • The Sunless Citadel and The Forge of Fury, originally written for Third Edition; 
  • The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan, White Plume Mountain, Against the Giants, and Tomb of Horrors, originally written for first edition AD&D; and 
  • Dead in Thay, a mega-dungeon written during the development of the Fifth Edition rules.
These adventures are not linked in any way except for the first two (The Sunless Citadel and The Forge of Fury), and that only tenuously. They are also chosen from multiple D&D worlds: the first edition adventures default to Greyhawk, while Dead in Thay is steeped in the Forgotten Realms. However, they were chosen in part because they provide a range of levels of play, from 1st to 11th and beyond, and thus can be run in order as a campaign if the DM wishes to do so.

I bought this book because I intend to run more 5E for my kids (who are 13 and 11). Our Phandelver game has been on hold for a while due to scheduling issues. We intend to resume that sometime in the near future, but I've been looking for something to run when we can't get that group together. I'm already running a full-time campaign with a homebrewed setting ("Time of the Tarrasque," using Pathfinder), so don't have the time and energy to craft my own adventures for a second such game. That's where a book of canned adventures is invaluable. This collection promises to provide us with enough material to keep my kids busy for the next couple years or more.

The adventures seem to be solid, if a bit grueling in places--Dead in Thay has over 100 numbered encounter areas, and uses something on the order of a third of the Monster Manual, plus much of the book's appendix of new creatures. I haven't played or run a ton of 5E yet, and I want to keep my kids continually excited and surprised as they play, so that kind of variety is just what I'm looking for.

I only have one real beef with Tales from the Yawning Portal at this time: the maps are too darn small. Some of them (like the first level of The Sunless Citadel, below) should have been given a full page, but weren't. And others (most notably Dead in Thay) cover so too much territory that even a full page isn't enough space. When a 5-foot square is only a millimeter across, there's no way a DM can read that during play without serious eye strain! Also, some of the older adventures retain their original map scale of one square equals 10 feet, despite the fact that 5-foot squares have been the standard since Third Edition. To mitigate both issues, I have been copying the maps onto graph paper in order to have copies that I can reference during play. This is also giving me the opportunity to simplify the maps somewhat so that I can more easily reproduce them on the battle map during game. Some of these maps would be absolutely gorgeous if presented at a more reasonable size, but in many cases that just makes them harder to render on a battle grid.

I have just today finished reading the last couple of adventures (Against the Giants and The Tomb of Horrors). But my wife and kids have already created their new 1st-level characters and are raring to go. We hope to start The Sunless Citadel sometime within the next few weeks.

Our heroes (L-R): Raven Flare, tiefling rogue; Sir Dain, dwarf paladin (NPC); Xuri, dragonkin sorcerer; and Kalitni, human ranger.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Time of the Tarrasque #7: Zombie Dogs

Every few decades, that dreaded abomination, the Tarrasque, reawakens from its long slumber. At such a time, the world's greatest heroes must defend the world from its nigh-insatiable appetite. Sometimes these heroes fail, and civilizations fall. And even when they succeed, the lands in the Tarrasque's wake are changed forever.

Previous Sessions: 

The party staked out the Temple of the Sun's cemetery to watch for graverobbers. Jumari, the inquisitor, hid behind a marker near the grave that had been disturbed during the criminals' last visit. The wizard/cleric Fatou and monk Lucretia watched from the shadows around the nearest mausoleum. The bard Edel hid among a small copse of trees just outside the bit of damaged wall that the intruders had used to climb into the grounds. The rogue Jubair and cavalier ZhaZha patrolled just inside the wall. 

Late that night, the moonlight allowed Edel to see a group of figures moving towards the rough spot in the wall. A halfling-sized figure led the way, followed by a half dozen or more human-sized folk. When the gang reached the wall, one of the the larger men boosted the halfling to the top to look over. This small scout didn't see any trouble, so dropped down on the other side and moved to take cover by a gravestone. ZhaZha caught sight of him then--and he noticed both her and Jubair, but not in time to warn his allies before ZhaZha impaled his head upon her pick. 

Edel could hear the sickening thud from his hiding place, so moved closer and cast grease upon the ground under the rear members of the gang, spilling them to the ground. This drew the attention of the gang's leader, a half-orc woman in dark robes, who moved his way but failed to frighten him with the spell she cast. 

ZhaZha easily climbed over the wall and clobbered the nearest human before most of the graverobbers could react. Most of them appeared to be simple human townsfolk equipped for digging and carrying but not for a fight. More fell prey to a second grease spell from Edel, but one was made of sterner stuff: a male half-orc who engaged ZhaZha with a spiked chain. 

Edel managed to trip the leader, and Jubair, who had just crossed the wall, quickly took her out of the fight despite her use of a mirror image spell. 

Lucretia and Fatou arrived on the scene, having run here from the mausoleum. The half-dozen human gang members had started to flee by this point--those who could get out of the greased areas, at least. Lucretia climbed atop the wall and started shooting at the fleeing men. Fatou climbed over and did the same with her force darts. The luckier runners had enough distance by now to make this a bit challenging. Two successfully fled far enough into the city to be lost to sight.

Fatou and Lucretia arrive on the scene (left rear). The gang's leader is down (far right), the other half-orc is surrounded (center), and the minions are fleeing or still trapped by grease (front and left).

Jumari had trouble climbing the wall, but eventually managed to cross and help ZhaZha fight her foe. The chain-wielding half-orc held out long enough to strike Edel when he came to assist his friends, but then fell to ZhaZha's pick. The cavalier and bard started tying up the unconscious half-orcs, while the inquisitor started stabilizing the prisoners (numbering six in total). 

The party stripped the would-be graverobbers of their weapons and other gear, and tied them up the rest of them. The spellcaster bore no obvious holy symbol or spell component pouch, but did carry a small bag around her neck which contained humanoid finger bones. Between this and the contents of a few scrolls on her person, Fatou concluded she must be some kind of adept rather than a cleric or sorcerer. 

Lucretia went ahead to inform the temple guards of their encounter, while the others dragged the prisoners to the temple. (ZhaZha's camel, tethered nearby, proved invaluable for this task.) The monk was told to bring the prisoners to the infirmary, and the castellan, Kasim, would join them there.

At the infirmary, they were met by Lubna, the temple's halfling apothecary, and a lay healer. She directed them to a room apart from the more welcome patients. Kasim arrived on the scene while Lubna started tending to the captives' wounds. He asked for a report, which Edel gave with occasional supporting comments from his companions. He omitted mentioning most of the gear that the party had seized, but did produce the bag of bones as evidence. Kasim concluded that the leader must be some kind of hedge-witch involved in the death cult, which confirmed the PCs' suspicions. 

The castellan asked the party if they wished to be present when he interrogated the prisoners. Jubair asked if he was going to kill them, and Kasim replied calmly, "Not without a trial." Kasim ordered temple guards to replace their rope bindings with manacles, and Lubna healed them enough to rouse them to consciousness. With some help from Jumari's incredibly intimidating presence, the castellan extracted quite a bit of information from the gang's leader, who went by the name "Spooky." (The PCs didn't find her very scary, but her minions clearly did.) She told them that her gang stole bodies to sell to Azul, a human man in town, and she provided the location of the leather goods shop where they delivered the remains. She knew little about Azul himself, but suspects him of belonging to Asmolon's cult. She had worked with him in the hope of learning more of that god's forbidden magic. 

Spooky also revealed that Azul was only in his shop after dark, and would be expecting her gang there sometime tonight. The party decided to pay a visit to Azul's shop that very night, and wrapped up the dead halfling's body in case they needed to bluff their way in. Edel feared that the two escaped graverobbers would have alerted Azul by now, which gave their proposed raid some added urgency.

Leaving Kasim to deal with the prisoners, the party went to Azul's shop, which was a simple rectangular structure with a door at one end. It also had a side door located inside a small fenced lot that contained a wagon. There were no obvious lights or other signs of activity, so Jubair and Jumari went to the side door while the others gathered by the front door. The rogue and inquisitor thought to check the wagon, and Jumari saw marks that looked like old bloodstains. (However, at a leatherworker's shop, such traces were hardly out of place.) Both doors were locked, but Jumari could see a glimmer of light through cracks between boards. When she looked in, she could see a pair of dogs standing within. Jubair unlocked the door--and discovered that the dogs were zombies! These attacked Jumari as Jubair ran to the front door to let their friends in. 

While trying to fend off the dogs, Jumari heard spellcasting from a back room, and warned the others. Edel headed that way to deal with anyone joining the fight from that direction, and heard more spellcasting for himself (a shield spell; the unseen caster was obviously taking time to cast buff spells). The zombie dogs badly mauled Jumari, but Fatou's channeled energy revived her as the others destroyed the undead. 

Edel opened the door to the back room, and saw the caster: a scruffy-looking human in light armor, holding a dagger. The man flung open a window and jumped out, but the bard cast grease on the spot where he landed. This slowed the man down enough for the rest of the party to either rush into this room or run outside in pursuit. ZhaZha tried to attack Azul, but was unable to due to one of his protective spells [sanctuary]. The man stood up, taking a couple hits from PCs who resisted his ward. Cursing, he channeled negative energy at the party. He took a blow from ZhaZha, so attempted to cast ghoul touch on her, but the cavalier resisted. A bleeding touch from Jumari and an arrow from Lucretia dropped him. Fatou then stabilized him before he bled to death. 

While tying him up, ZhaZha and Jumari discovered that Azul's appearance was an illusion--he was actually a halfling! Searching him produced a platinum ring decorated with Javanian iconography (marking it as a wedding band), an ebony ring with one of Asmolon's titles inscribed inside the band (likely a disguised unholy symbol), some onyx gems (suitable for use in animating undead), and a few potions.

After Azul's illusion wore off a few minutes later, Jubair recognized him as Jibral, a local alchemist who operated a popular shop in a nearby neighborhood. 

(Due to time constraints, we had to do the fight's aftermath over email. The players are currently discussing what to do next with Jibral. That will determine where we pick up next session.)

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Building the Bestiary #13: Non-OGL Monsters

Verboten!: Yuan-ti, beholder, and mind flayer
One of the most important innovations of the Third Edition of Dungeons & Dragons was the Open Game License, which allowed third party publishers to use "Open Game Content" in their own d20 products--and their creations in turn would be available for other companies to use. However, Wizards of the Coast never released the entirety of the core rules as Open Game Content (and only very limited content outside of the three core rulebooks). Most notably, some iconic D&D monsters like the beholder and mind flayer remained off-limits.

Paizo's Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, a variant of the d20 rules, is one of the greatest success stories of the OGL. When Wizards released D&D Fourth Edition, support for the previous rules set (v.3.5) ended, both from Wizards and from any third-party publishers who still wanted to make money off of D&D. Pathfinder provided a home for gamers who preferred v.3.5, because its rules were backwards-compatible with that edition, and because Paizo never stopped producing new material for their lucrative house system.

I continued playing and running v.3.5 throughout the 4E era, eventually switching over to Pathfinder only a few years ago. Because of this, I have tried to make this "Building the Bestiary" series useful to both D&D and Pathfinder GMs, and have been using the Pathfinder RPG Bestiary as my default reference. But now that I have an even dozen of these articles under my belt and am growing more interested in running D&D Fifth Edition, I have decided to devote lucky column #13 to some of these D&D-only monsters.

Specifically, I will cover the ten monsters from the Third Edition Monster Manual that were never released as Open Game Content: the beholder, carrion crawler, displacer beast, githyanki, githzerai, kuo-toa, mind flayer, slaad, umber hulk, and yuan-ti. (I've referred to illustrations in the Fifth Edition Monster Manual for some of these models, but the 3E version established this list.)

The Humanoids (or Nearly So)

Half of these creatures are more or less humanoid in appearance, so are easy to represent using existing LEGO minifigures.

For githyanki or githzerai, look for characters that look gaunt and/or have unusual skin tones to help distinguish them from the common humanoid races. The photo to the right shows two Gundabad orcs equipped similarly to the gith entries in the Fifth Edition Monster Manual. Don't forget to give those high-level githyanki fighters their signature silver greatswords!

Kuo-toa can be represented by a variety of underwater monster races, such as the Swamp Monster (Monster Hunters) and various fish-men from the Atlantis theme. (See Underwater Races for more ideas.)

(L-R): Gungan (Star Wars) with an Alien Conquest head; Swamp Monster (Monster Hunters); Portal Emperor (Atlantis)

The Alien Trooper from Minifigures Series 13 makes a perfect mind flayer, even down to its tentacle count. Some of the aliens from the Space Police and Alien Conquest themes are also suitable. You can also build a decent mind flayer by replacing a minifigure's head with a travis brick (a 1x1 brick with studs on all four sides). Add 1x1 round plates for eyes and a 1x1 plate with a clip to suggest the tentacles.

The serpent tribes from Ninjago provide a wide variety of choices for yuan-ti miniatures. Use a character with a snake's lower body for an abomination (which conveniently fits its Large size), and one with legs for a malison (which were called "halfbloods" before 4E). For purebloods, use regular humans if they are posing as such, or overtly snake-themed characters like the Anaconcrai cultists (from Ninjago Season 4) if they are operating openly. (See the Humanoids column for more ideas for building reptilian races.)

Back to Basic Beasts

For a carrion crawler, see the notes on centipedes from my last installment (Vermin). The model above shows a rearing carrion crawler, with tentacles provided by clip-plates (as with the mind flayer, above, but on all four sides of the travis brick).

For a displacer beast, see my discussion of Four-Legged Friends about how to build a monster with multiple pairs of legs. The model shown here uses three sets of minifigure legs inserted into a 2x4 brick. Two whips are attached with clips to provide the tentacles.

Beholders (and their kin)

The main challenge in building a beholder is attaching enough eyestalks to a model small enough to serve as a miniature. The tan beholder below is my earliest attempt at a LEGO beholder (from several years ago), while the smaller gray beholder is a Medium-sized gauth. In both models, levers were used to provide eyestalks.

The next photo shows two versions of a spectator, a four-stalked beholderkin from the Fifth Edition Monster Manual, which is Medium in size. The larger figure is a bit oversized, but with a few more eyestalks added could serve as a regular Large beholder. The smaller figure uses an Alien Clinger (from the Alien Conquest theme) on top of a Mixels eyeball minifigure head.

Finally, here is another view of my most recent beholder model (below left). This model makes heavy use of sideways building techniques (using "studs not on top," or "SNOT," bricks) and a variety of attachment points for the eyestalks (which are trunk and tail parts).  A clear brick suspends it above a Large-sized (6x6) base.

On the right is a death tyrant, an undead beholder from the Fifth Edition Monster Manual. This creature is essentially a cyclopean skull with glowing motes of light where the eyes used to be; its flesh (including the eyestalks) has long since rotted away. I've used small clear plates to attach a number of trans-yellow plates to "float" about the head, and a trans-yellow minifigure head for the central eye.


The most powerful slaadi are Medium-sized, so can be represented with minifigures. The gray slaad shown here is an Exo-Force robot with a horn and claws added. The black death slaad uses a piece of armor (and a cheese slope) to suggest its numerous body spikes.

The red, blue, and green slaadi below are Large-sized, so require brick-built models. (See Giants for the basics of building characters at this scale.) The arms are built from hinges and plates, and attached to Technic half-pins inserted into the holes of special 1x2 bricks. The same kind of brick is used to attach the eyes (and for the death slaad's head, above). In the Fifth Edition Monster Manual, the green slaad is shown with more variation in skin tone than his lesser kin, and actually wears and carries some gear, so I've added those details to its model.

Umber Hulks

The umber hulk is Large and primarily insect-like in form. The model shown here makes use of the small ball-and-socket joints from the Mixels theme to attach its limbs, and click-hinges for other joints. The mandibles are Hero Factory parts clipped to L-shaped bars on 1x2 plates in the head.

Because this model is a bit top-heavy and just a little oversized for its creature, I have attached the feet to a 6x6 round plate to mark its 10-foot space on the map.

My next "Building the Bestiary" column will return to creatures found in both D&D and Pathfinder, but I haven't decided yet on which kinds of monsters to tackle next. If you have any special requests, please let me know in the comments!

Appendix: Past "Building the Bestiary" Columns

#1: Humanoids
#2: Underwater Races
#3: Giants
#4: Undead
#5: Tiny Creatures
#6: Four-Legged Friends
#7: Oozes
#8: Spell Effects
#9: Elementals
#10: Devils
#11: Aquatic Animals
#12: Vermin

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Gazebo: "A little vocabulary is a dangerous thing."

Why does the mention of gazebos set off knowing chuckles among so many long-time Dungeons & Dragons players? Because it's one of the classic humorous stories of the role-playing hobby, a story about how players can completely overreact to mundane things when they don't take a moment to get even the most basic information.

I first came across the story in the form of "Lair of the Gazebo," an installment of the Knights of the Dinner table comic published in Dragon Magazine. (That link goes to a redrawn version of Jolly R. Blackburn's 1994 original. Go read that comic, then come back here. You'll thank me.)

That comic was inspired by an earlier account by Richard Aronson, "Eric and the Dread Gazebo." Between these two tales, the gazebo became an enduring in-joke among the RPG community. When the Munchkin card game, which satirized numerous Dungeons & Dragons tropes, was released in 2001, it naturally included a Gazebo monster card:

Displaying Bf9vxnt.png
Munchkin is copyright Steve Jackson Games

Over the years since, there have been a number of attempts at producing actual monster stats--as well as miniatures--for a gazebo, for use in D&D and other game systems. Perhaps the only one that could be considered "official" is the Gazebo entry in the d20-based Munchkin RPG's Monster Guide.

However, I haven't read that book and can't resist taking my own stab at the creature. My go-to system these days is Pathfinder, so I'll use that system. The simplest interpretation of a gazebo that actually poses a threat is an animated object (see Bestiary 14, with additional options from Ultimate Magic 111*).  Assuming a typical gazebo is 12-15 feet across, that makes it a Huge animated object. Spend its 4 Construction Points on augmented critical* (1 CP), improved attack* (1 CP), and trample (2 CP).

Displaying 20170118_110904.jpg
This rare Horned Gazebo lures in its prey by
posing as a Pokemon gym in my neighborhood.


XP 3,200
Huge animated object
N Huge construct
Init -; Senses darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision; Perception -5
AC 15, touch 6, flat-footed 15 (-2 Dex, +9 natural, -2 size)
hp 78 (7d10+40)
Fort +2, Ref +0, Will -3
Defensive Abilities hardness 5; Immune construct traits
Speed 30 ft.
Melee slam +15 (2d6+15/19-20)
Space 15 ft.; Reach 10 ft.
Special Attacks trample (2d6+15, DC 23)
Str 30, Dex 6, Con --, Int --, Wis 1, Cha 1
Base Atk +7; CMB +19; CMD 27
SQ construction points

This stat block can easily be altered by adding templates, from the obvious (advanced, fiendish, giant) to the frightening and absurd. Useful templates from Green Ronin's Advanced Bestiary include the transforming construct template to allow it to change into more versatile forms, the lifespark construct template to give it intelligence, and the amalgam template to combine it with any (and I mean any!) other creature your demented imagination desires.

More links of interest to gazebo scholars:

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Building the Bestiary #12: Vermin

Mirkwood spider (back left), Shelob (back right), and two Bionicle spiders
In previous columns, we've briefly touched upon creatures of the vermin type. Tiny Creatures gave a few suggestions for small vermin, as well as for swarms, and Aquatic Animals covered crabs, clams, and jellyfish. This week, we're going to take a longer look at building insects, arachnids, and related creatures.

Basic Bugs

As I mentioned in the Tiny Creatures installment, a few options exist for small insects using existing parts, as shown below. 

Ants, scarab shields (Pharaoh's Quest), ladybugs (Friends), and kraata (Bionicle)
Kraata, from the BIONICLE theme, are slug-like aliens molded from rubber. They are designed to fit inside Rahkshi heads, so lack a flat base and do not have any standard connectors. However, the hollow underside will hold a 1x1 cylinder, which can be attached to a plate or radar dish for a base, or a 1x2 bamboo brick. I have several of these parts, and find them useful for beetles, maggots, and other small creepy-crawlies. (They are also easily available at Bricklink.)

When building insects, SNOT bricks are invaluable for attaching legs to a brick body. The photo below shows two very basic insect models, using faucet pieces as legs. Note how "travis bricks" (1x1 bricks with studs on all four sides) are used for both the body and the head of the gray bug.

For larger bugs, plates with multiple bar attachments are useful for attaching multiple legs that can be posed. The photo below shows some examples, using droid/skeleton arms and "bad robot" arms (as the thicker parts on the left side of the octagonal plate are known). 1xN plates with clips can be used to attach longer legs, as well as heads and tails. To build additional body parts on top of the octagonal plate, start with a 2x2 round plate to give you enough clearance above the bars and legs.


The blue and black scarab below, from the Pharaoh's Quest theme (Scarab Attack), is an excellent model for a Large or Huge beetle. It uses the octagonal plate shown above to attach the legs and head. I modeled the brown ankheg beside it after that general body plan, changing the style of the head and legs.

The next photo shows the deadfall beetle, a new monster of my own creation, that uses camouflage to ambush its prey. This bug is long and tree-like, almost like a walking stick, but the large mandibles would also be suitable for a stag beetle.

Deadfall beetle, upright (L) and showing the underside (R).

Bees and Wasps

Bees and wasps have similar body types which can be suggested by just a few bricks. The two models below both use a travis brick as the starting point.  The bee uses feather plumes for wings, and a weapon handle to attach a tile base. The larger wasp uses stepped clear 1x2 plates for wings, a blank minifigure head for the bulbous abdomen, and a headlight brick to attach a head made of small plates.

Giant wasp (L) and giant bee (R)


The easiest way to build a centipede is to add more segments to the six-legged insect from "Basic Bugs," above, until the needed size is reached. The black centipede shown below uses 1x1 bricks with studs on only two sides, for a smoother body shape. However, simply repeating segments will quickly produce a model that is far too long and skinny to conveniently fit onto a battle grid where all creatures take up square spaces. A longer body can be built in the same space by using travis bricks to add 90-degree bends to the body. I did this for the gray centipede below, and also used levers to provide longer, slimmer legs.


Small and smaller scorpions are best represented by the prefabricated LEGO animal. Medium scorpions can be built using droid parts and a "bad robot" arm, as shown below. A clip plate attached to the neck-point allows the attachment of a base, to give this model some stability. (This and another small brick-built scorpion were previously shown in Tiny Creatures.)

Larger scorpions will need leg assemblies like those described under "Basic Bugs." The black and white scorpion below uses an octagonal plate to attach legs, a tail, and the head/pincers segment. The gray scorpion uses two of the tapered three-bar plates to attach the legs, and other hinges to attach the pincers and tail.


The basic LEGO spider is almost always in production, so is easy to acquire. The old Harry Potter set Aragog in the Dark Forest included 1x1 and 2x2 tiles printed with spiders, which are perfect for Tiny spiders and as swarm counters, respectively. That set also included the largest spider model produced up to that date. 

For larger spiders, the leg assembles described under "Basic Bugs" are a useful starting point, but are not the only option. The black spider above is from the Monster 4 LEGO Game, but is made entirely of easy-to-find parts, including short legs bad from "bad robot" hands. The light gray spider uses droid arms, but is a little top-heavy, so includes a clear brick to support and balance the body.

The gray-and-brown spider is an even simpler build using one of the relatively new tree branch plates, inverted to turn its hooks into legs.

Another easy method is to attach two BIONICLE claw-hands to a foot piece, as shown by the blue and black spider in the photo at the top of this column. The orange spider in that photo is a slightly more complex model taken from the BIONICLE Master Builder Set; the abdomen is built from a Toa head and mask. (That set also includes instructions for a crab, a beetle, and a very large scorpion.)

For even larger spiders, you'll want a more stable base than those shown in "Basic Bugs." Hinged plates are best here, particularly the click-hinge type, which can support the model's weight while maintaining an action pose. The spiders from Escape from Mirkwood Spiders are an excellent example of this technique, and make suitable Huge or Gargantuan miniatures. (The small ball-and-socket joints from the Mixels theme are useful here, too.)

The largest spider model produced so far by the LEGO Group is, of course, Shelob  (from Shelob Attacks), who would be a Colossal miniature. A smaller (Large to Huge) version of Shelob, using the octagonal barred plate as a base, appeared in the Lord of the Rings Gollum Fun Pack for LEGO Dimensions.

Other Vermin-like Creatures

A number of Pathfinder monsters are very similar to vermin in appearance, so I will mention just a few of them here. 

Ankhegs have already been mentioned under "Beetles," above. 

Araneas, bebeliths, phase spiders, and retrievers are all arachnoid in form, so simply need appropriately-sized spider miniatures.  

Driders have the lower bodies of spiders and the upper bodies of drow. The spider body is easily made using the octagonal plate shown in "Basic Bugs." Add a 2x2 round plate to the top, then a suitable minfigure torso and head. Additional plates to make a longer abdomen are optional. The Legend of Chima theme has some Spider and Scorpion Tribe characters that would make excellent fully-arachnoid driders, but mine (shown here) uses a Darth Maul minifigure.

Ettercaps are vaguely humanoid spider-folk, and can easily be represented by Spider or Scorpion Tribe characters from the Legend of Chima theme or by the various insectile aliens from the Galaxy Squad theme. (The Spider shown here has rubber claws in its hands to make its arms look longer and pointier, like the Bestiary illustration.)

Appendix: Past "Building the Bestiary" Columns

#1: Humanoids
#2: Underwater Races
#3: Giants
#4: Undead
#5: Tiny Creatures
#6: Four-Legged Friends
#7: Oozes
#8: Spell Effects
#9: Elementals
#10: Devils
#11: Aquatic Animals

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Storing and Transporting LEGO Bricks and Minis

The LEGO Dungeons & Dragons group on Facebook recently had a discussion about sorting and storing LEGO collections. I kept my comments on that thread fairly short, but then decided to expand upon them here. This column will give a quick overview of how I sort and store my LEGO collection, and how I transport LEGO miniatures with me to games. This is simply how I do it, and my priorities will continue to change over time, so simply take away whatever ideas you think will help you, and feel free to ignore the rest.

My personal LEGO collection totals over 50,000 bricks. That's just the sets for which I have documented piece counts; that number doesn't include any of the sets from my early childhood for which I no longer have boxes or booklets to identify the set, or any of the loose bulk bricks that I've bought through Pick-A-Brick, grab bags, Bricklink, eBay, etc.

To give you an idea how much space that takes up in my house, the 6' x 3' x 1' bookshelf in the photo below (left) holds most of the bricks that I'm not currently using in any projects: small tackle boxes of tiny and/or specialized parts on the top shelf; larger boxes of bulk bricks sorted by color on the next two shelves; minifigure parts and accessories on the shallow shelf below that; more bulk bricks; and boxes of random, rarely-used specialty parts on the bottom shelf.

The 5' x 2' x 1' pantry cabinet above (right) holds tackle boxes with LEGO miniatures on the top two shelves. This is where I keep minifigures and minifigure-scale creatures sorted out by creature type and where I keep boxes of minis that I've prepared for games I'm running. The bottom shelf holds LEGO Games and some additional minis, and the remaining shelf holds my and my wife's dice collections and random other gaming accessories.

Wherever possible, I prefer boxes that have good, strong latches, to prevent lost pieces. Some of my older bulk boxes lack such closures, but the newer ones (like the Room Essentials boxes with green clips in the first photo) were bought specifically for them. I'm much pickier when it comes to the tackle boxes that I use to sort parts and minifigures. After all, if the lid isn't tight, then carefully sorted parts can drift into neighboring bins, as well as escape the box, and then you've lost pieces and labor.

For my smallest parts, I use shallow tackle boxes with many compartments, like the ones below. The smaller boxes on the right have a very simple snap along the edge of the lid, but the ones on the left have actual latches. (Both kinds of box stack very nicely, as you can see above in the bookshelf photo.) I use these boxes for very tiny parts like 1x1 plates, 1x1 and 1x2 tiles, and 1x1 cheese slopes, as well as small specialized parts, such as printed tiles and Technic pins and axles, that I don't want to waste time digging around for in a box of bulk bricks.

The boxes shown below are a bit larger and are used to sort larger pieces that I have in volume. These three hold the collection of bricks that I use as miniature bases: 2x2 and 2x3 plates for Small-Medium creatures (bottom), 4x4 plates (top), 6x6 plates and radar dishes for Large creatures and 8x8 radar dishes for Huge (right).

For minifigures that are not currently being used, I keep most of the bodies in a large divided ArtBin case (below left), with accessories and extra heads in a second, shallower case (below right). I recently had to separate out weapons into their own tackle box as well (not shown).

The pantry cabinet holds a number of tackle boxes in which I have minifigures, and minifigure-scale monsters, sorted by creature type (animals, humanoids, undead, etc.) or by campaign. The photo below shows a few examples: small animals and vermin (including those often encountered in swarms, top left); other small animals (bottom left); larger animals (top right); and humanoids (bottom right). Both the size of the minis and the number of them I own will determine what size tackle box gets used.

My regular gaming group meets at the home of two of my players who have a toddler. We gather there to socialize over dinner, then help clean up and set up the game space while they put their son to bed. This arrangement means that I need a convenient and secure way to transport my LEGO miniatures to and from game. (It's also one of many reasons that I very rarely use any kind of terrain other than a gridded easel pad or battle map.)

For an ongoing campaign (whether I run at home or elsewhere), I will use one of my smaller tackle boxes to hold the PCs' minis, and put any creatures that I need for upcoming sessions in a couple of larger ones. The photo below shows two examples: The small box on the right holds minis for the Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure that I've been running for my kids, as well as the PCs for the "Champions of Floris" game that I hope to resume with them someday. However, the latching on this style of box is not really secure enough for transporting it away from home, so I make sure to put a rubber band (or better yet, a hair elastic) around the box to keep it tightly shut.

The larger box on the left holds the minis for my current "Time of the Tarrasque" campaign; it needs more space in order to hold the cavalier's camel. (The other minis are just some extra NPCs, for now.) I used this same box for my "Winds of Freeport" game, when I needed space for an elasmosaurus companion and an occasionally enlarged crocodile. This box has good latches, so doesn't need any extra binding for travel.

The Creative Options carrying case shown at right holds one 1.5"-deep tackle box (like the Tarrasque party box above), plus two 2.5"-deep boxes, and has an undivided storage bin in the top. I typically use that top compartment for dice, scratch pads, snacks, and the occasional large mini that won't fit into any of the case's tackle boxes. If needed, it can hold an additional tackle box instead.

(As an aside, yes, the bottom box in that photo does not match the carrying case. It holds the minis from my HeroQuest boardgame, which are some of the few non-LEGO minis that I still use regularly. I call this my "mook box," as it holds a good number of goblins, orcs, and undead for use when I don't want to bother custom-building LEGO miniatures for everything the party might encounter. Conveniently, it's just a little smaller than the 2.5" deep boxes that came with the case, so I haven't needed to re-box these minis.)

I have acquired a few extras of both sizes of Creative Options boxes so that I can easily swap them in and out of the case as needed. This was very handy when I was running my "Gorilla Island" adventure, because I had many more minis prepped for it than would fit in this one case. By organizing those minis by what sections of the island they would be needed for, I could easily grab the one, two, or three sets that would be needed for a given session.

I typically acquire new tackle boxes at Michael's (check the bead aisle first) or the sporting goods section at department stores like Target or Wal-Mart (though you might need to search a while to find some that aren't sold full of fishing tackle). Larger storage boxes can be found in the home storage department of most large stores. In the past, I have also found useful storage containers at The Container Store, fabric stores, and art supply stores. Ironically, I have bought very few LEGO brand storage containers because, sadly, they rarely have sturdy latches and hinges, and never have the kind of movable dividers that I prefer.

That concludes this brief tour of my LEGO collection and my storage habits. I hope this was helpful to anyone thinking about how to better organize their collection. As always, feedback in the comments is welcome!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Time of the Tarrasque #6: Where All the Bodies are Buried

Every few decades, that dreaded abomination, the Tarrasque, reawakens from its long slumber. At such a time, the world's greatest heroes must defend the world from its nigh-insatiable appetite. Sometimes these heroes fail, and civilizations fall. And even when they succeed, the lands in the Tarrasque's wake are changed forever.

Previous Sessions: 
Interlude: Edel and the Virrens

The elf bard Edel returned to the Virren home that evening to meet Naladella's father, Laeroth. This elderly, silver-haired high elf commiserated with him over the loss of their homeland, Fendorlis. Laeroth had been a minor noble with contacts in the royal court, so while he was not present for the destruction of Amaranth Palace, he had heard fragmentary stories of what happened.  He knew that the "Eight Swords of Amaranth," composed of King Mellaranthiel and the greatest heroes of the elven court, attempted to defend the palace from the Tarrasque, but half their number (including the king) were slain by the beast.

When the kobolds of the Zolothi Compact conquered the kingdom a few years later, many high elves swore the Oath of the Bloody Tree, promising to avenge their dead and reclaim their homeland. Some of the Sworn lead the resistance against the Zolothi. Others led and defended the survivors who sought safe haven elsewhere. Laeroth claimed to know some of the Sworn, but communication with the rebels was, naturally, rather difficult.

Fendorlis was made a Zolothi province, and is now ruled by Viceroy Thraximandrykar, a half-dragon kobold general. The kobolds have used their sorcerers and growing fleet of airships to pacify the region to an extent, but the resistance still fights on. Two major holdouts that Laeroth knew of were Changir, the orc-infested southern border, and the Dragon's Eye, a gnomish stronghold on the Dragon's Head peninsula.

Laeroth eventually revealed that he was a dreamspeaker, a rare type of mystic with special powers over dreams and sleep. This gift allowed him to send messages to others via dreams. He used this power to keep in contact with other dreamspeakers scattered by the diaspora--but over the past few decades, age and war have thinned their ranks to a bare handful.

Sadly, Laeroth did not know Edel's missing mentor, Ruvaen Luvaris, but was familiar with the city where the bard last saw him during the invasion.

However, the older elf was able to give some information about the surviving Swords of Amaranth. These include: Corodel Zorliss, former captain of the royal guard, a famous swordswoman, and one of the first to swear the Oath of the Bloody Tree; Seledrine Delune, royal archivist, who led part of the diaspora to Radavalion (kingdom of the gray elves); Tornask Starbrow, a gnome holy man and explorer originally from the Eye; and Aiziria, a fey mistress of plant magics. Laeroth has had occasional contact with Aiziria since the conquest, and believed she could be found in the Eye.

In return for Laeroth's information, Edel told him about his own recent adventures. The young bard believed that his new companions might, in time, become allies in the effort to retake Fendorlis. This news pleased the elder Virren--though he was surprised that a high elf would count half-orcs among such allies. He found Edel's story about the death cult quite disturbing, but admitted to not being well-versed in non-elven religions, so was unable to contribute anything on the subject that the bard did not already know. Laeroth advised caution, but observed that this seemed a good opportunity for Edel to test his mettle and start making a name for himself.

Session #6: Where All the Bodies are Buried

During Fatou's training period, the rogue Jubair and cavalier ZhaZha spent some of their idle time scheming about ways to make more money. One of their plans involved writing up a deed to the world--the entire world--in the name of "Blackbeard the Undying" (which Jubair thought "sounded like a good death cult name"). They have yet to show off their handiwork to any fellow party members, or potential marks.

Edel spent a good deal of time exchanging geography lessons with the half-elf monk Lucretia, comparing notes about their elven heritages. (She is a half elf, kin to the wood elves of Allasimar on the northern continent.) Edel shared most of Laeroth Virren's news about Fendorlis with her.

Meanwhile, the half-orc inquistor Jumari was determined to track down more death cultists. During her last stay in Zahallan, before the caravan adventure, she had encountered a gang of graverobbers. One of them had borne a symbol of Asmolon's cult, and she suspected the existence of a black market for body parts. She decided to stake out a local cemetery as a way to find more of these criminals. She chose the graveyard attached to the Temple of the Sun, formally known as the Garden of Orlar (after the halfling name for the Sun). Her first few attempts had to be cut short because the temple's patrols detected her presence; her darkvision helped her elude pursuit by the human guards.

Then one night, she managed to evade the patrols long enough to see something of interest. Flickers of dim light drew her towards the northern side of the cemetery, where she saw a half-dozen figures gathered around a burial plot. Three men dug up the grave while a fourth held a heavily-shuttered lantern for them. Two others, a man and a woman, stood a short distance away, keeping watch. Jumari patiently remained hidden to watch them. After a while, the male lookout--a burly half-orc in light armor--relieved one of the human diggers, but the woman merely supervised, giving occasional hushed orders. Eventually, she spoke to a smaller figure that Jumari hadn't seen at first. This was a halfling, who started skulking in the inquisitor's direction. Jumari retreated; the halfling followed her, keeping behind the cover of stone monuments as much as possible. When the little sneak got close enough, he tried to hit Jumari with sling stones, but missed. He then hissed, "Get Spooky," and a black cat burst from cover and darted off towards the rest of the graverobbers. Jumari rushed the halfling and downed him with a bleeding touch attack. She lingered long enough to wipe his blood off her hand with a rag, which she pocketed. She then left quickly, before the cat, which she suspected was a familiar, could bring reinforcements.

The next day, the party reunited to exchange news. The wizard Fatou announced her new status as a cleric of Yaziel, goddess of the moon and magic. Edel shared some of his news about his homeland, complaining that Fendorlis remained in the hands of despicable kobolds.

Jumari reported on both of her encounters with graverobbers, which prompted a discussion of how to address the problem. Fatou suggested they write a letter to the temple to warn them of the issue, while Lucretia proposed posing as guards to catch the villains. ZhaZha was in favor of finding and beating up the cultists, leaving one left to question to squeeze for information about the operation. Jumari pointed out that telling the temple would result in more patrols, which would likely scare off the graverobbers they wanted to catch. Edel suggested they all visit the cemetery during daylight first, before making any further plans. and the others agreed.

The Garden of Orlar was a large walled memorial garden in the southeast corner of Zahallan. It stretched nearly half a mile from the temple hill to the town wall. A number of temple servants and townsfolk could be seen around the grounds, which reassured the party that daytime visits were commonplace here. As Jumari led the group into the grounds, they passed a funeral service for one of the sun god Talitar's flock. Fatou paused to watch the proceedings from a respectful distance, curious about how similar such rites were to her experiences in the capital. The others split up to look for disturbed graves.

Edel and Lucretia wandered through the southern side of the cemetery, but found no disturbed earth there. They paused at one of the larger mausoleums, but could not read the Halfling script carved over the door.

Jumari led Jubair and ZhaZha towards the northern side of the grounds, where last night's crime had occurred. Two temple servants were refilling a grave there, overseen by a cleric chanting some prayers. Rather than disturb that work, the trio scouted around at a distance. Jumari found the marker beside which she had taken down the halfling, and found copious bloodstains on the ground. She doubted the loss was fatal, as she saw signs that someone had kneeled here, plus both human- and halfling-sized tracks leading away. The tracks led them to the north wall of the cemetery, where they found signs that the graverobbers had climbed a section with a rough patch in need of repair. They searched around to see if any tools had been concealed nearby for a later attempt, but found none. After the temple folk finished their work restoring the violated grave, Jumari took a closer look to see how recent the burial had been. Based on the dates on the stone, the deceased was interred a couple months before--too long ago to provide a fresh corpse to any robbers, but likely still more than just bones.

Lucretia and Edel returned to the others. The monk asked Fatou if she wanted to go inside to talk to the priests, and the newly-minted cleric agreed. Inside the main entrance, they found a large open area where visitors, priests, and temple servants passed in and out on various errands, while a handful of armed warriors in temple livery stood guard, and a minor cleric greeted visitors. Fatou approached this priest in order to ask some questions. She started by inquiring why Zahallan had separate temples for Talitar and Yaziel, while back home to the south, she was accustomed to all the Javanian gods being worshiped in a single shared site. The priest explained that when Zahallan was first settled, this temple had been founded by a group of clerics specifically dedicated to the sun god Talitar. Some generations later, a pair of powerful wizards took up residence here, and endowed a temple to Yaziel, goddess of magic and the moon.

Fatou then revealed that a friend of hers had witnessed a graverobbing incident here, and she wished to speak more privately with someone in authority. The priest's cheerful demeanor vanished. He declared that they needed to speak with the castellan about this. and led them to an office located just off of a wide corridor leading towards the sanctuary. Here they were introduced to Castellan Kasim, a halfling man dressed in a fine chain shirt, a prominently displayed holy symbol, and additional badges of his office. Fatou, with help from Lucretia, told him about the graverobbers, and added that she and her companions had discovered an Asmolon shrine in the desert. They had also been the ones responsible for the capture of the cultist thief at the Blind Camel the previous month, and understood that she had been brought here for questioning. The two women declared that they wanted to help further with rooting out this cult. (Their approach, while blunt and meddlesome, was at least perfectly honest and forthcoming.)

As Kasim questioned them further, he located the report on the thief, and pried Jumari's name from them. He insisted on hearing the half-orc's testimony before taking further action. Fatou realized that the castellan had used detect evil on her and Lucretia during this discussion, and excused herself. She promised to bring Jumari, or to send a message with her information, and also promised to stay off the grounds at night without the castellan's permission, as she did not want to stir up bad blood between her temple and his.

Meanwhile, the others went to take a closer look at the northernmost mausoleum in the Garden, which was labelled "Taroon" in both Common and Halfling, Edel recognized this as the surname of the current Constable of Zahallan, Sheik Nerida Taroon (a human woman). While ZhaZha stood lookout, Jubair approached the door and found it locked. He attempted to pick the lock, but failed, so moved away from the building to avoid being seen working at it. This turned out to be wise, as a pair of temple guards passed by moments later. They eyed the PCs warily--particularly Jubair, whose cheerful wave seemed suspicious. But seeing the PCs moving along, they resumed their patrol.

Fatou and Lucretia found their friends, and relayed the result of their talk with Kasim. After some discussion, Jumari agreed to speak with him, and Edel accompanied them in case a more diplomatic voice was needed. Kasim questioned the half-orc at length, until she gave complete enough answers to satisfy him. When Jumari stated that she planned to kill any death cultists she found, Kasim pointed out that there were ways to take them alive, as prisoners for further questioning. Jumari acknowledged the sense in that, and admitted that she should have brought the halfling graverobber to him instead.

(During this talk, Kasim used detect evil on Jumari and Edel, while the inquisitor determined that the castellan was both lawful and good. This information made her more willing to trust and work with him. Her divinations also gave Fatou enough clues to guess that Jumari was some sort of inquisitor, which added more fuel to the wizard's curiosity about her.)

Kasim asked the others what they proposed to do about the graverobbers. The PCs wished to stand guard in the cemetery, without the temple guards interfering, so that they could try to catch these criminals. Kasim asked if they knew how the robbers got into the grounds. Jumari explained about the wall, and at the castellan's request, led him to the spot. Once there, Kasim concurred with the half-orc's findings, and asked further questions about what she had seen of the intruders' locations and movements.

While they waited for the others to return, Jubair and ZhaZha checked out the other large mausoleums in the Garden. Jubair was able to read the name "Jurjani" on the southern crypt, and recognized this as the name of a prominent family of halfling merchants in town. A third large mausoleum stood atop a large hill at the garden's center. The religious iconography here was elaborate, even by this cemetery's standards, and its exposed position made the rogue give it a wide berth.

The rest of the group located their two missing members and introduced them to Kasim. When Jubair asked if he could use the central mausoleum to stake out the cemetery, the castellan sighed, and very politely asked him not to--the temple's departed priests were interred there. Edel persuaded Kasim to agree to let the party keep watch in the cemetery--at least for a few nights. The castellan introduced them to the guards who were on the roster for patrol duty that night, so that those minions would be aware of the plan as well.

That night, the party chose their positions for staking out the north side of the cemetery. Jumari would hide near the grave that was disturbed the previous night, and make use of her detect evil ability as she kept watch. Jubair would hide near the north wall, while ZhaZha patrolled part of it. Lucretia and Fatou would wait near the Taroon mausoleum. Edel would wait outside the wall, using detect magic, to watch for the cultists' approach.

(Next time, we will see whether the stake out succeeds...)