Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Volo's Guide to Monsters and Freeport

I received both Volo's Guide to Monsters and Xanathar's Guide to Everything as gifts this Yuleltide season, so as I digest them, I'll be sharing my thoughts on how to use them in D&D 5E games set in Freeport: The City of Adventure. Discussing Xanathar's Guide will involve a revisiting of much of the material that I reviewed in my "Unearthed Arcana and Freeport" columns, so doing it justice may require more than one column. For that reason, and because Volo's is the earlier release, I'll start with the Guide to Monsters.

Chapter 1: Monster Lore

The first half of the book is devoted to in-depth background information about nine monsters (or closely-related families of monsters) that are iconic to D&D: beholders, giants, gnolls, goblinoids, hags, kobolds, mind flayers, orcs, and yuan-ti.

Of these nine, three--the beholder, mind flayer, and yuan-ti--were never released as Open Game Content during the Third Edition era, so third-party publishers required special permission from Wizards of the Coast to use them. Green Ronin received permission to use mind flayers and yuan-ti in Mindshadows, a v.3.0 sourcebook in their Mythic Vistas line that is set in the larger World of Freeport. (Psionic yuan-ti also appear in Monsters of the Mind, that setting's companion bestiary.) In addition, one NPC of each race appeared in Denizens of Freeport. Naranjan (the setting of Mindshadows) has been mentioned in a number of Freeport products since then, but none of its content has been converted to later editions. This is partly due to the product identity issue (which would require new permissions, under a more restrictive license), and partly because the setting showcases psionics, which are not covered by the core rules of 4E, 5E, or Pathfinder. (Multiple iterations of a psionic Mystic class for 5E have appeared in "Unearthed Arcana," but it remains strictly in playtest.)

[SIDE NOTE: Among their non-Freeport titles, Green Ronin's Bastards and Bloodlines: A Guidebook to Half-Breeds (for v.3.0) included mind rippers (half-mind flayers) and a half-beholder template, as well as hybrids of two other non-Open Game Content races. The company also released an Eye King template, allowing the creation of new, fully OGL-compliant beholder-like monsters, as a web enhancement to their v.3.5 Advanced Bestiary. The Eye King was later included in the Pathfinder Edition of that book.]

True giants are rarely if ever encountered in the Serpent's Teeth, and only the amphibious storm giants would be remotely at home in such a location. Campaigns involving visits to the Continent, or to other lands across the sea, could make use of this material.

Encounters with gnolls would be similarly limited (though they can at least fit on ships more easily). The distant land of Hamunaptra (from Egyptian Adventures: Hamunaptra) has a variant race of gnoll that was created by Anubis rather than Yeenoghu, and bears little resemblance to them as a result.

All three goblinoid races can be found in Freeport, though only hobgoblins have any real status in the city. Goblins and hobgoblins are restricted to Bloodsalt, where they are policed by the Redblades (who have a military culture similar to that described in Volo's Guide to Monsters, albeit one even more hostile to non-hobgoblins). Bugbears presumably are as well, but are more skilled at keeping out of sight, and sometimes serve as hired muscle on ships crewed solely by monstrous races.

Hags never appear openly in Freeport, but have been known to inhabit islands within easy sail of the city.

Like goblinoids, kobolds are known to dwell in the city's slums. It's possible that they may have been imported to dig (or expand) Freeport's extensive sewer system at some point in the city's history, much as orcs were recruited to build the Lighthouse in more recent years. If so, then the majority of kobolds in Freeport would dwell below its streets by preference, despite the dangers of vermin, serpent people, and worse Down Below.

In the World of Freeport, most orcs worship only one god, Krom, who is largely indifferent to their prayers. (This god is borrowed from Green Ronin's Ork! RPG. Black Sails Over Freeport gives some suggestions for using Krom in Freeport.) Krom does not usually have priests, but the Blade of Ilneval and Red Fang of Shargaas stat blocks are suitable for skilled orc war leaders and assassins, respectively.

Chapter 2: Character Races

The slender middle chapter of the book presents several new races for use as PCs. Some receive a full Player's Handbook-style entry, while the monstrous races discussed in Chapter 1 merely list their racial traits here.

As stated in the Freeport Companions, nearly any exotic race can be justified in passing through Freeport. Therefore, all PC races in this chapter are potentially available, if the DM allows.

Two of the new races not covered in Chapter 1 are already part of Freeport canon: At least one aasimar is known to live in Freeport, and lizardfolk live on some of the islands within a few days' sail of the Serpent's Teeth (and are occasionally seen among monstrous ships' crews).

Firbolgs and goliaths, like the true giants in Chapter 1, would be a rare sight, but not impossible. Alternately, goliaths could be reskinned as a playable half-ogre race, which would be much more common in Freeport.

Kenku resemble the tengu of Japanese folklore, so might have their origin in the Eastern Empire mentioned in Buccaneers of Freeport. If so, then an exceptionally self-disciplined kenku might become a monk or even a samurai (a fighter subclass; see Xanathar's Guide to Everything). The race's speech limitations would make playing a spellcaster (such as the wu jen mystic from "Unearthed Arcana") difficult, but some players may enjoy the challenge.

Tabaxi likely come from Khaeder or some other tropical land across the sea (such as the Aztec-based Maztica setting from AD&D 2nd Edition).

As natives of the Plane of Water, tritons can be encountered in any deep sea in the Material Plane. However, many Freeporters would mistake them for sea elves, or even merfolk. The tritons' highly developed sense of honor and morality would quickly lead to conflict with many of Freeport's unsavory residents, as well as with local authorities and some of the rank and file, live-and-let-live citizenry.

See the notes on Chapter 1, above, about races in the Monstrous Adventurers section (bugbear, goblin, hobgoblin, kobold, orc, and yuan-ti pureblood).

Chapter 3: Bestiary

The second half of the book is taken up by a collection of new monsters. This section includes new variants of the nine types of monster featured in Chapter 1. In addition, dozens of other creatures are updated to the Fifth Edition rules; there are only a handful of creatures, like the grung, that I did not recognize from previous editions of the game. Another handful, such as the girallon and annis hag, have already appeared in published Freeport adventures.

Appendix A: Assorted Beasts

This appendix is very slim, containing only the aurochs, cattle, dolphin (a common sight near Freeport!), and swarm of rot grubs.

Appendix B: Nonplayer Characters

This appendix greatly expands the selection of ready-made humanoid NPCs from the list in the Monster Manual. Most notably, it offers NPC versions of most of the other core classes not covered there, as well as specialists of all of the core warlock patrons and wizard schools. (There is a high-level Blackguard, or fallen paladin, but no "heroic" paladin.)

The kraken priest could be used to represent a leader in Yarash's cult, while a warlock of the Great Old One could be the same for the Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign (see Cults of Freeport). The sea spawn from Chapter 3 also make good minions of Yarash's cult.

(Tim's) Appendix

For ease of reference, I've compiled a list of all my previous columns discussing running D&D Fifth Edition games set in Freeport.
Watch this space for my upcoming column(s) about Xanathar's Guide to Everything, as well as continuing reviews of "Unearthed Arcana"!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Forge of Fury #2: Bloody Stirges!

Our heroes for The Forge of Fury include:
  • Raven Flare, female tiefling rogue 3 (assassin, urchin)
  • Kalitni, female human ranger 3 (beast master, hermit) with Daikitsu, wolf companion
  • Xuri, female blue dragonborn sorcerer 3 (wild magic, sage)
  • Sir Dain (NPC/guest-PC), male hill dwarf paladin 3 (oath of devotion, knight)
  • Erky Timbers (DM-run NPC), male forest gnome cleric 3 (life domain, acolyte)

(Warning: Spoilers for The Forge of Fury follow.) 

Last time, the heroes located the hill known as the Stone Tooth, where they believed the lost dwarven stronghold of Khundrukar was located. They found an entrance and fought their way inside, through a large force of orcs led by Great Ulfe, a ogre. After slaying all the forces mustered against their intrusion, they freed a couple of local villagers captured by the orcs, and holed up in an empty barracks room to rest and recover from their wounds. This room also had a secret passage that the orcs had not found, which made it a convenient place to cache treasure, as well as a way out that avoided crossing the rope bridge.

After their rest, the heroes led the rescued prisoners, Geradil and Courana, out of the dungeon to where Sir Dain's retainers were encamped, awaited their master's return. The paladin instructed his followers to take the two villagers home, while he and the other heroes stayed here to continue clearing out the dungeon.

The party returned to the barracks room, then slowly made their way back through the other orc chambers. Previously, they had heard growling behind a large ironbound door. Raven heard movement there still, so Dain opened the door. Inside were two dire wolves, who were hungry after being left alone for some time. The heroes slew the wolves, then searched the room, which reeked of wolf and ogre. They found two chests with coins, a potion, and a well-made rapier. They carried this treasure the short distance back to the barracks in order to count it and study the items: a potion of climbing and a +1 rapier. Raven gladly took the rapier to replace her nonmagical blade.

The PCs returned to the level's central chamber, where the orcs kept the loot from their raids: a stockpile of food, ale, building supplies, etc. None seemed worth the effort of moving at this time, so the heroes merely searched for passages they had not seen before. They found the orcs' crude kitchen, which proved to be at the bottom of the natural chimney they had discovered when searching the hilltop earlier. The rogue also found a secret door leading out of an apparent dead-end. Beyond this was a short passage to another secret door covered in Orcish writing and symbols--obviously a warning of some kind, but none of the party could read the language.

Beyond that door, they encountered three female orcs, one of which was the Eye of Gruumsh that they had been warned about by the prisoners. The priestess failed to command the dwarf paladin. Raven's blade, Xuri's twinned witch bolt, and Kalitni's arrows made short work of the orcs. [Kalitni used her Sharpshooter feat to do extra damage twice, which quickly dropped the Eye.] The party then collected the orcs' ears for collecting bounties, and looted the room.

The priestess's room also had a door to the north, which was locked, but the key was in the door. The rogue heard the faint, distant sounds of running water and a strange buzzing. The party opened the door, finding a long, high-ceiling chamber decorated with carvings of dwarves at their forges, and a deep natural rift in the center. As the heroes passed through the chamber, they learned the source of the buzzing, as four stirges flew up out of the rift to attack. The PCs quickly slew the flying pests, before any of them managed to hit their prey.

Near the far end of the room was an iron gate, beyond which was a blocked passage (which they had seen from the other side when searching the hoard cave). The long chamber ended in a door carved to resemble a glowering dwarf's face. A few severely scorched orc skeletons were scattered nearby, and Raven and Kalitni's examination of the wall revealed secret spouts that were certainly some kind of trap. Dain gave the rogue a boost up to those holes, and the tiefling used her thieves' tools to disarm the trap. The party then opened the door, finding a small room with little in it other than the mechanisms for the trap--which sprayed some kind of liquid from a reservoir--and a counterweight to close the door after someone entered. They noticed the latter in time to use a piton to wedge the door open. The ranger guessed that it would be possible to extract whatever was left of the trap's fluids, but the party decided to not take any risks with trying that at this time.

The party had one more room to check before exploring the stairs that descended into the rift. That room proved to be another bunk room, so after they searched it thoroughly, they returned to the rift room and followed the stairs down into the fissure.

The tunnel narrowed as it sloped steeply downward some distance, but the floor had numerous cut into the rock. The passage branched after a while, with a shallow rivulet of water crossing the main tunnel and following the side passage downward. The flowing water covered most of the side path's floor, so the party crossed it and continued down the drier way. This soon opened into a large natural cave with a high ceiling. The path followed the north wall of the room down to the floor below, where a slightly larger stream (perhaps the same one?) crossed the space. As the heroes descended this stairway, they drew the attention of more stirges. This time, the little monsters had better luck, with two attaching to Dain and one to Kalitni, draining their blood. The paladin and ranger each killed a stirge, and Xuri poison sprayed the last one. They descended to the bottom of the stairs, and Erky uttered a prayer of healing to restore his friends.

The group then searched the chamber, finding little of note except three exits to the east. The northernmost of these was the source of the stream, and after some exploration up that wet passage, it proved to be the same stream they had crossed above. About halfway up that tunnel was a small side cave, where the party found a half dozen sleeping stirges. Before the monsters could wake fully and attack, Xuri obliterated them with a thunderwave. (This spell is extremely noisy, but she deemed it worth the risk to eliminate this threat.) Inside the cave was the dessicated corpse of a dwarf, who they guessed must have belonged to one of the past expeditions to seek Khundrukar. The body bore a pouch with some coins, but nothing else of worth. Their curiosity satisfied, the party returned to the room below. However, Kalitni slipped and fell hard going down the steep and slick tunnel, and required some first aid.

The heroes next turned to the nearest of other two eastern exits, and came to another large natural chamber. Two reptilian humanoids lurked here, but the party noticed them despite their camouflaged colored. One attacked Dain, sorely wounding the paladin with both claws and its bite, while the other opened a wooden gate on the far side of the room. Raven dashed around the nearest reptile-person, and delivered a deadly sneak attack. However, this left the tiefling closest to the gate when a brown bear charged out and attacked. It mauled her, but then Kalitni cast animal friendship and worked to calm the beast. The other scaly humanoid ducked into a nearby tunnel, and Raven pursued, but was unable to find it again. Only Kalitni noticed when the chameleon-like reptile scurried down a different exit, to the south, a moment later. Meanwhile, Erky examined the dead one and claimed that it must be a troglodyte--it certainly smelled foul enough to be one. [The troglodyte was killed so quickly that none of the party had to make a save for being adjacent to it at the start of their turn.]

Dain noticed a slight draft from the north, and informed the others that the tunnel on that side must lead outside. Once the bear was pacified, Kalitini persuaded it to take that path to freedom, which it gratefully did. There was no sign of any other danger coming their way, so the party took a short rest to tend their wounds before proceeding.


Here are some close-up photos of the minis from this session:

Dire wolves [LOTR wargs]

Front: Eye of Gruumsh [Castle troll head, Wicked Witch body, LOTR Uruk-Hai shield];
Rear: orc minions [L: Star Wars Gamorrean Guard, R: Castle troll]

Troglodytes [L: Minifigures Lizard Suit Guy; R: Star Wars Bossk head,
Castle forester body] and brown bear [Arctic polar bear]

Tales from the Yawning Portal: Past Columns

The Sunless Citadel

#1: Down into the Ground
#2: Lost Dragon
#3: Through the Dragon Door
#4: Goblin Boss Battle
#5: Through Pallid Gardens
Campaign Update
#6: Belak, at Last

The Forge of Fury

#1: Orc Gruel

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Forge of Fury #1: Orc Gruel

Over the holidays, I was able to find time to start running The Forge of Fury for my wife and children. This is my summary of our first session; I'll post session #2 next week.

L-R: Dain, Xuri, Raven, Kalitni, Daikitsu, Erky
Last time, the party completed The Sunless Citadel (the first adventure in Tales from the Yawning Portal). The gnome cleric who they rescued, Erky Timbers, has joined the party as a full member, and most of the party has upgraded to more protective armor. Our heroes for The Forge of Fury now include:
  • Raven Flare, female tiefling rogue 3 (assassin, urchin)
  • Kalitni, female human ranger 3 (beast master, hermit) with Daikitsu, wolf companion
  • Xuri, female blue dragonborn sorcerer 3 (wild magic, sage)
  • Sir Dain (NPC/guest-PC), male hill dwarf paladin 3 (oath of devotion, knight)
  • Erky Timbers (DM-run NPC), male forest gnome cleric 3 (life domain, acolyte)

(Warning: Spoilers for The Forge of Fury follow.) 

During there adventures in the Sunless Citadel, the party found a fragmentary scroll that mentioned "Khudrukar" and "Durgeddin the Black." After some research, they learned that Durgeddin, a highly skilled smith, founded the dwarven stronghold of Khundrukar after his tribe's previous home was overrun by orcs and trolls. From this secret home, he sought vengeance for his fallen kin, and forged many blades in pursuit of this goal. Eventually, the orcs found Khundrukar and mined its defenses. The stronghold was sacked, but rumors persist that some of Durgeddin's blades remain within. The party has determined that Khundrukar must be located near a rocky prominence known as the Stone Tooth. This peak is located in a dense forest a few days' journey north of the mining town of Blasingdell.

They reached Blasingdell, and sought out local dwarves for any information on the Stone Tooth or Khundrukar. One shopkeeper told them of recent orc raids near the town. One wounded orc was captured and interrogated, and revealed the location of his tribes' lair near the Stone Tooth. In order to deal with this new threat, the mayor of Blasingdell was offering a bounty on orcs, dead or alive. When they inquired about this bounty, the mayor told the adventurers that most raids of outlying farms involved a mere handful of orcs, so they don't know the tribe's full numbers.

The party got directions to the Stone Tooth, and made their way north through forested hills. When they spotted the peak, they could see a path climbing the near side of the hill, and smoke issuing from some place near the summit. The heroes found a safe, defensible campsite for the night, before following the path.

In the morning, when they reached the trail, Dain claimed that the path had once been concealed, but the hillside had eroded enough of its cover to allow it to be seen from the valley. They followed the trail for a while, until it was clear that it did not go to the same point where the smoke issued from. They wanted to find the source of the smoke, so climbed the steep hillside towards it. They soon got lost in the trees, but were able to regain their bearings after an hour and reach the smoke. It came from a natural chimney in the rock, which looked difficult to climb down without a rope. They debated whether to risk it, but then decided to search for an easier entrance.

They returned to the path and followed it up to a ledge where two inattentive orcs stood guard. Raven and Kalitni attempted to sneak up on them, but the ranger made too much noise, and the orcs hollered a warning. Xuri used her new wand of entangle to slow down the two orcs, then Raven (who had successfully hidden near the ledge) sneak-attacked one orc. Another spell and an arrow from Erky killed the other.

The rogue advanced around the switchback and noticed three concealed arrow slits in the rock face above her. She warned the others, and Xuri used her wand to entangle the area behind one of these arrow slits. The orcs inside the archer stations, having been alerted to the presence of enemies, started to shoot down at the heroes, who did their best to minimize their exposure on the open stairway. (As a sharpshooter, Kalitni was able to target the orc archers with no worries about their cover.)

The party found a grand entrance at the ascending path. They had taken down the first sentries very quickly, and reached the chamber beyond the entrance before the archers could get off more then a handful of shoots each. In this chamber, they found a 30-foot wide natural chasm spanned by a rope bridge. On the far side were two more orcs, who started hurling javelins at the party--or more specifically, at the hated dwarf. (However, the chasm put their targets at long range, so no javelins hit their mark.)

Once some of the heroes reached this chasm chamber, and were thus out of view of the arrow slits, one of the orc archers used a secret door to attack more directly. However, Raven was hidden right next to the door, and waylaid the orc.

The rogue, ranger, and paladin took the fight to the archers, with Kalitni mostly concentrating on the orcs on the other side of the chasm. After her arrows downed one, the other fled through the doors behind its post. Meanwhile, Dain had located another secret door on his side of the ledge, but could not open it, so began using Shatterstrike (the magic longsword he had received from the dying Sir Braford) to smash through the stone. However, before he finished, he broke off to help his companions slay the orcs they could reach.

Once all the orcs were dead (excluding the one who escaped), the party conducted a quick search of the rooms around the entrance, and collected orc ears to claim their bounty. Xuri crossed the rope bridge, but could not see or hear anything from the doors on that side. She rejoined the party when Kalitni found a secret door in a room off of one of the archer stations. This led to a short passage and another secret door.

Beyond that second door was an empty barracks for about a dozen humanoids, that showed signs of being recently vacated. Apparently the orcs were not aware of this well-hidden passage, and had gone elsewhere in response to the alarm about intruders. The heroes passed through this room quickly, finding a larger hallway beyond it. They passed a statue of a dwarf (strangely undefaced, considering the current inhabitants), and a large ironbound door with a human skull staked to it. Raven and Erky heard growling behind this door, so left it alone for now. The hallway eventually led to a natural cavern filled with a vast number of crates, barrels, and sacks of unknown goods. From here, Raven could hear speech coming from the south (roughly in the direction of the chasm chamber). The speaker had a loud, booming voice, and was berating the orcs (in Common) for cowardice in dealing with the invaders. The tiefling warned the others, then stealthily moved closer to learn more.

The next room held a number of orcs, as well as their leader, a ten-foot-tall giant. She could also see the door to a wooden cage on the far side of the room, in which two prisoners cowered. As she watched, the giant ordered the orcs towards the chasm. She counted ten orcs, including one wearing plate armor.

Dain moved up, no longer caring for stealth, and cast shield of faith on the rogue before closing with the giant. Erky cast bless on them and Kalitni. The ranger moved forward to see the giant, and recognized it as an ogre. She cast hunter's mark and shot the boss monster. Xuri followed with a witch bolt.

The ogre roared, "Great Ulfe smash stinky dwarf!" It missed the dwarf, but the heavily-armored orc (an orog) hit Dain hard. Raven sneak attacked the ogre, which drew its ire, and it smashed her to the ground--but suffered a hellish rebuke in retaliation. A divine smite from Dain downed Great Ulfe, and Erky (protected by sanctuary) channeled divinity to heal the paladin and revive the rogue.

Kalitni turned her 'mark upon the orog, and Xuri used entangle on him and some adjacent orcs. Hits from the rogue, paladin, and ranger soon took down the orog.

More orcs poured into the room, swarming the party. The fight became quite desperate at this point, as lucky hits from orc greataxes knocked out Raven, Xuri, and Erky (whose last spell healed the rogue again), and seriously wounded Dain and Kalitni. However, the orcs took heavy losses as well, and eventually only four were left. The three nearest the exit disengages and fled towards the chasm chamber. The fourth took Kalitni down with a critical hit before leaving by another exit--but ran into the ranger's wolf, who mauled it.

Raven, furious at seeing her companions hurt, pursued the orcs. She killed one, and caught up to the other two as they were crossing the rope bridge. She jumped onto the near end and began shaking the bridge. This caused one to lose his grip and fall into the chasm.

Meanwhile, Dain healed Erky, who then healed Xuri and Kalitni. (The ranger narrowly avoided dying only through using inspiration on a death saving throw.) Xuri joined Raven, and cast a spell at the remaining orc. Her witch bolt failed to hit, but the resulting wild magic surge mortally wounded it (and hurt Raven) while healing the sorcerer.

The fight was finally over, after 31 grueling rounds of combat since engaging the first sentries. Dain smashed the padlock on the cage door, freeing the prisoners, a pair of humans. As the heroes searched the room and rested for a while, Geradil and Courana told their story: They were from a small settlement near Blasingdell, and had been captured about a month ago. Their families could not pay the ransom the orcs demanded, so it was only a matter of time before the orcs would have killed them. They warned the party about the ogre's pet wolves (who were much bigger then Kalitni's companion) and a scary one-eyed orc priestess. (The ranger realized that this must be a priestess of Gruumsh, the leader of the orc pantheon.)

The heroes took orc ears (and the ogre and orog's heads) as trophies to claim bounties when they returned to Blasingdell, then pushed the bodies into the chasm. Geradil and Courana were anxious to return home, but most of the party wanted to finish clearing the orc lair before leaving the dungeon. However, all of them desperately needed sleep and healing, so they went back to the barracks room, where they staked and barricaded the door. (This room's secret passage would give them an escape route if necessary.) The dwarf knight considered the possibility of having his retainers (who awaited the party back at their campsite outside) escort the two villagers home in the morning.

Great Ulfe and some of his tribe

Tales from the Yawning Portal: Past Columns

The Sunless Citadel

#1: Down into the Ground
#2: Lost Dragon
#3: Through the Dragon Door
#4: Goblin Boss Battle
#5: Through Pallid Gardens
Campaign Update
#6: Belak, at Last

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

2017 in Review: The Blog

2017 has been a momentous year, for myself, for my blog, and for our country. However, I try to avoid discussing politics here, so I'll keep the focus of my review of the past year on my own work. I started this blog in late 2014, and have managed to keep it going on a weekly basis for most of the time since then, which is an accomplishment I'm quite proud of.

For those new to this blog, I write about roleplaying games, LEGO toys, and how I combine the two, with occasional forays into my other hobbies. I have a number of ongoing series that I add to as I find the time and inspiration. These include session summaries for the campaigns that I Game Master, reviews of RPG and LEGO products, and other subjects. Each item below includes a link to the most recent installment; most of those pages include links to previous columns in that series.

"Building the Bestiary" is my series on how I build LEGO miniatures for my tabletop role-playing games. It focuses on the first Pathfinder RPG Bestiary and the D&D 5E Monster Manual. It's my longest-running series here, with 17 installments, and I added an Index this year to help readers quickly find specific monsters I've covered.

I also post reviews of the collectible LEGO Minifigures Series once I acquire enough of each new set. I only wrote one such column in 2017 (The LEGO Batman Movie Minifigures), but I anticipate doing one of The Ninjago Movie Minifigures series sometime soon, as well as the upcoming second The LEGO Batman Movie series.

"Time of the Tarrasque" is a homebrew Pathfinder campaign that I started in January 2017. This is a world that I've been tinkering with for years (decades, really), so was very pleased for it to see actual play. We are currently on hiatus due to many of our players having changes in jobs and/or residences this fall and winter, but we hope to resume again soon. The heroes have reached 3rd level and I hope to see them advance to 20th level (and possibly some mythic tiers) by the end of the campaign.

I also started running Tales from the Yawning Portal (D&D 5E) for my wife and children this past year. We have completed The Sunless Citadel, and started The Forge of Fury over the kid's winter break. I'll be posting summaries of our first two sessions of Forge over the next couple weeks. (We previously started Lost Mine of Phandelver with some friends, but had to put that game on hiatus. Yawning Portal has allowed us to move forward with a more regular game.)

I am a long-time fan of Green Ronin's Freeport setting. My long-running third Freeport campaign, which ended in 2016, used D&D v.3.5 and later Pathfinder, but I've been considering using D&D 5E for my next foray into that setting. My Freeport 5E articles include reviews of Wizards of the Coasts' "Unearthed Arcana" and Plane Shift articles, Green Ronin's Book of the Righteous, and other 5E titles with an eye to using them with Freeport. I recently acquired Volo's Guide to Monsters and Xanathar's Guide to Everything, so expect columns about them within the next month or two.

I am also making an effort to get more experience with Green Ronin's Fantasy AGE system, and have started posting my thoughts on that game. 

Friday, December 22, 2017

Fantasy AGE: Starting Adventures

I am posting next week's column early, because I expect to be traveling part of the holidays. Enjoy your own solstice celebrations, and I will see you here again next year!

[This column contains spoilers for the adventures "Choosing Night," "Children's Crusade," and "Drive for Justice."]

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Unchaining your LEGO Keychains

As I have mentioned in a previous column, LEGO keychains can be a useful way to acquire certain characters that are otherwise only available as part of large, expensive sets. In addition, a very few characters (like the VIP Club exclusive minifigure) have only been made available as keychains. Keychains typically retail at $4.99 each, which means that they are not much more expensive than a character from the collectible Minifigures line ($2.99 each) or assembled at the Build-A-Mini kiosk found in LEGO Stores ($9.99 for three). Discontinued keychains can sometimes be acquired at a significant discount, usually 50% off. More rarely, individual characters will be marked down to as little as $0.99 if the LEGO Store wants to dispose of their stock of less popular characters quickly. (This is how I acquired several cheap Bossk heads that I recently used for kobolds in The Sunless Citadel.)

The main obstacle to using a keychain as a RPG miniature is, obviously, the chain itself. The chain can be removed by using needle-nose pliers to pry open the loop connecting the chain to the top of the minifigure's head. 

This leaves only the smaller loop set into the head itself. This loop is the head of a screw that is approximately 1 inch long and goes through the hair/headgear (if any), head, neck post, and torso of the minifigure, and ends in the waist piece of the leg assembly. This screw firmly connects all the main body pieces to the chain so that they won't fall off. (The only keychain that I have actually used as a keychain is a Mordor Orc. In the 4-5 years since I bought him, he's lost almost all of his printing, and one leg has come off due to a broken hip post, but everything directly attached to the screw is still as solid as ever.)

I have found instructions online for removing this screw, but every technique involve tools and methods that I am unable and/or unwilling to try, such as excessive brute force or a soldering iron. (Here is one such tutorial, for those who are more willing to risk their minifigures than I am.)

I have, however, been able to use needle-nose pliers to remove the loop from the top of the screw on several figures. This allows the removal of the head and hair/headgear to use with other minifigures. This methods works best on figures who have clear, flat space around the screw, so that the cutting edges of the pliers can get in close to the bottom of the loop to cut it off. Alternately, if you can get a good enough grip on the loop, you can snap it off by bending it sideways. Sometimes, this can result in a break that is both cleaner and further down the screw than cutting could give you (and if you're lucky, less damaging to the plastic).

If you can't quite get to all the way down to the base of the loop to cut it off there, cut off half of the loop, then use the tips of the pliers to bend the remaining bits of loop back and forth until they break off. You may still end up with enough protruding metal at the top that the head doesn't pull off easily. In that case, very carefully apply force to the head to pull it off. Be sure to cover the head with a bit of cloth to protect both the printed face and your fingers. In some cases, I've had to twist the head back and forth until the spur dug the hole just a little larger to allow the head to come off.

Once the head is off, you'll have a quarter-inch or so of screw sticking out of the neck post. Trim that off with the pliers as close as you can (or snap it off by bending it to the side). Unless you have a metal file, you'll probably be left with a small bit of sharp, exposed metal. For this reason, I don't recommend using this method on any keychain that children will be playing with! I always store such minifigure bodies with a head over the neck post, so that the exposed metal will not scratch anything else in the container. Note that the screw makes the neck post thicker than normal, so a head from a keychain may fit a little loosely onto another minifigure's neck due to the time it spent on its original, deformed neck post. And normal minifigure heads may require a little effort to put on or remove from a keychain's neck because they have not been stretched in this way.

A modern standard minifigure head has a partially hollow stud on top, rather than the original flat, solid one. This will help hide the hole left by the screw--and new headgear will cover it entirely. The holes on hair and headgear from keychains will be much more obvious, especially if you had to widen the hole in order to remove the piece. If you wish, fill these holes with putty and paint the patch to match. For my own collection, however, I just leave them as is and ignore the holes.

Unchaining complete!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Winter Holiday: A partial Pathfinder conversion

"Winter Holiday" was a Christmas-themed AD&D adventure by Steven A. Hardinger that appeared in Polyhedron Newszine #56 (November 1990). The adventure involves a plot against the Giftmaster, and encounters are based on a parody of "The Twelve Nights of Christmas":

...Six geese melee-ing,
Five golden rings,
Four colliebirddogs,
Three French Horns, 
Two turtledoves...

I ran it for some friends back in early 2000, and we had great fun with it. I've occasionally considered running it again, but would need to convert it to another system because I no long play AD&D 2nd Edition. Around this time last year, I got as far as converting the adventure's encounters to Pathfinder and having some friends start creating characters for it, but scheduling is always difficult around the holidays and we failed to find the time for it. 

This year, I've decided to share some of the weird creatures that appear early on in the adventure, which won't spoil the surprises too much if I do run it again someday. These were also the easiest monsters to convert to Pathfinder, as I needed to do little beyond applying templates (from the Pathfinder Bestiaries or Green Ronin's Advanced Bestiary) to existing animals.

Turtledove (CR 6)

XP 2,400
Avian archelon (Bestiary 3 192; Advanced Bestiary 39)
N Huge animal
Init +7; Senses low-light vision; Perception +20
AC 19, touch 11, flat-footed 16 (+3 Dex, +8 natural, -2 size)
hp 52 (7d8+21)
Fort +8, Ref +8, Will +5
Speed 15 ft., fly 50 ft. (average), swim 50 ft.
Melee bite +10 (2d8+9)
Space 15 ft.; Reach 10 ft.
Special Attacks capsize (DC 25)
Str 22, Dex 17, Con 17, Int 2, Wis 12, Cha 6
Base Atk +5; CMB +13; CMD 26 (30 vs. trip)
Feats Improved Initiative, Iron Will, Lunge, Weapon Focus (bite)
Skills Fly -1, Perception +20, Swim +18; Racial Modifiers +10 Perception
SQ avian
Environment warm or temperate water or coastlines
Organization solitary or bale (2-6)
Treasure none

Special Abilities
Avian (Ex)
A turtledove has a lightweight body structure, weighing 20% less than a non-flying archelon. They can weigh up to 4,000 lbs.

A turtledove is a huge turtle with four white-feathered wings in place of flippers. They are aggressive, but easy to outmaneuver as they are slower than most flying creatures. Dead turtledoves continue to float, so their bodies are valuable sources of components for spells and magic items granting flight.

Flying Reindeer (CR 5)

XP 1,600
Fey awakened elk (Bestiary 3 116, 147)
N Large fey
Init +4; Senses low-light vision; Perception +12
AC 15, touch 13, flat-footed 11 (+4 Dex, +2 natural, -1 size)
hp 47 (5d8+25)
Fort +9, Ref +8, Will +2
Defensive Abilities +4 to saves vs. mind-affecting effects; DR 5/cold iron; Resist cold 20, electricity 10
Speed 50 ft., fly 75 ft. (perfect); trackless step
Melee gore +8 (1d8+6), 2 hooves +6 (1d4+3)
Space 10 ft.; Reach 5 ft.
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 5th; concentration +5)
3/day--dancing lights
1/day--entangle (DC 11), faerie fire, glitterdust (DC 12)
Str 22, Dex 19, Con 20, Int 13, Wis 23, Cha 11
Base Atk +3; CMB +10; CMD 24 (28 vs. trip)
Feats Lightning Reflexes, Multiattack, Run[B], Skill Focus (Perception)
Skills Acrobatics +12 (+20 jumping), Fly +18, Perception +12, Knowledge (geography, history) +6, Stealth +6, Survival +6
Languages Common, Sylvan
Environment cold or temperate plains
Organization solitary, pair, or herd (3-50)
Treasure none

The Giftmaster's reindeer are indistinguishable from normal animals of their type except for their size and noble bearing. When hitched to the Giftmaster's sleigh of delivery, their speed is effectively instantaneous.

(These reindeer were advanced by adding HD, with a size increase because their HD were more than doubled. Unlike other fey creatures, they are wingless, but still gain the ability to fly.)

Colliebirddog (CR 4)

XP 1,200
Awakened avian riding dog (Advanced Bestiary 39)
N Medium animal
Init +4; Senses low-light vision, scent; Perception +18
AC 14, touch 14, flat-footed 10 (+4 Dex)
hp 22 (4d8+4)
Fort +5, Ref +8, Will +2
Speed 40 ft., fly 40 ft. (average)
Melee bite +5 (1d6+3 plus trip)
Str 15, Dex 19, Con 13, Int 10, Wis 12, Cha 8
Base Atk +3; CMB +5; CMD 19 (23 vs. trip)
Feats Flyby Attack, Skill Focus (Perception)
Skills Acrobatics +8 (+16 when jumping), Fly +4, Perception +18, Survival +1 (+5 scent tracking); Racial Modifiers +4 Acrobatics when jumping, +10 Perception, +4 Survival when tracking by scent
Languages Auran, Common
SQ avian
Environment any
Organization solitary, pair, or pack (3-12)
Treasure none

Special Abilities
Avian (Ex) A colliebirddog has a lightweight body structure, weighing 20% less than a non-flying dog of its size.

Colliebirddogs are large collies with feathered wings sprouting from their backs. They are employed as watchdogs, despite being more friendly and inquisitive than trustworthy or brave.

Goose Knight (CR 1)

XP 400
Manimal trumpeter swan fighter 1 (Bestiary 4 257; Advanced Bestiary 197)
N Small monstrous humanoid
Init +2; Senses low-light vision; Perception +2
AC 21, touch 12, flat-footed 20 (+9 armor, +1 Dex, +1 size)
hp 12 (1d10+2)
Fort +3, Ref +2, Will +1
Speed 10 ft., fly 100 ft. (average) (fly 70 ft. in armor)
Melee longsword +3 (1d6/19-20), bite -3 (1d4), or
bite +2 (1d4+1), 2 wings -3 (1d3)
Str 10, Dex 15, Con 12, Int 12, Wis 13, Cha 9
Base Atk +1; CMB +0; CMD 12
Feats Precise Strike (Advanced Player's Guide 167), Weapon Focus (longsword)[B]
Skills Fly -3, Intimidate +3, Perception +2
Languages Auran, Common
SQ animal blood
Environment temperate lakes or swamps
Organization solitary, pair, or flock (3-10)
Treasure NPC gear (full plate, longsword)

Special Abilities
Animal Blood (Ex) A manimal counts as an animal, a monstrous humanoid, and a humanoid for any effects that specifically affect creatures of those types. It is allowed a Will save to resist spells and effects that specifically target animals, even if the effect does not normally allow a Will save. Success renders the manimal immune to that particular effect for 24 hours.

Manimal Swan Characters

As a monstrous humanoid with only 1 racial HD, a manimal swan replaces that racial HD with class levels (just as a humanoid would).

Goose knights consider themselves honorable and chivalrous. They will challenge the party to send a champion to fight the group of them, then will use Precise Strike to "goose" their surrounded foe for extra damage. As long as their opponents obey the rules the geese set, they will only seek to render opponents unconscious, not dead.

Some of the geese in "Winter Holiday" use flails or spears instead of longswords. Adjust their damage (flail 1d6/x2, spear 1d6/x3), feats, and gear accordingly.