Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Time of the Tarrasque #9: I Double Dog Dare You

A two-headed death dog (built from two LOTR wargs)
Previous Sessions: 
After spending the day getting some much-needed rest and healing, Jumari [half-orc inquisitor] led the party back to the city wall to try to find the tracks of the large wolf once again. This time, they searched the ground outside the city, and despite the time that had passed, Jubair [human rogue] and Lucretia [half-elf monk] were able to locate faint paw prints. Jumari followed the tracks into the hills to the east of town, They eventually veered northward towards the main eastward trail from Zahallan, which the tracks followed. The wolf had turned aside from the trail a few times but always gone back to it. 

Around dawn, the party found a campsite a short ways off the trail that had obviously been used by their quarry. There was no trace of a fire, but they found bloody bandages and more tracks: boots that probably belonged to the wolf's master, plus halfling-sized footprints. There were also tracks that looked humanoid but with long nails or claws. Only the last set of prints, and the wolf's, left the camp. 

The party continued on a couple hours past sunrise, then found shelter and rested during the hottest and brightest part of the day. When night came, Lucretia lost sight of the tracks in the dark, despite her elven sight, but Jumari had no problems following them.

Grr! (Grr!) Fighting the death dog 
Late that night, the party spotted a large animal--a massive two-headed dog--lurking behind a rocky outcropping near the trail. Its hunger and impatience made it too eager to attack, and it failed to surprise them. The party reacted quickly, closing the distance. The dog rushed at Jubair and Jumari, who were closest to it, and bit each of them with a different head. ZhaZha [half-orc cavalier] closed in and flanked it, impaling it upon her lance from behind. The beast fell dead as the other heroes caught up to their companions. Fatou [human wizard/cleric] identified it as a death dog, an intelligent evil hound that carried disease. She and Edel [elf bard] examined their friends' wounds, and were relieved to see no signs of the wormpox infection that clearly riddled the death dog's flesh. Edel warned the others not to touch the corpse, for their own safety.[1] Jumari searched the area where the death dog had hidden, and concluded that it had been waiting there for some time, after coming here from the south. Its prints were much easier to find than the wolf they were following, so the death dog must outweigh it.

The wolf tracks did not lead to another campsite before dawn. Their quarry was almost certainly getting further away, as the wolf and its rider did not appear to be taking any special pains to hide its trail. By the next dawn, the party thought they must be getting near the village of Spine Hollow. Fatou was the only one of them who knew anything about the place: it was a tiny settlement of nature worshipers, some of whom occasionally visited Zahallan, but mostly kept to themselves. Her best guess about their religion was that it was of a druidic bent, as opposed to the elemental gods worshiped by the desert giants.

Early that morning, the tracks left the trail to go north. An hour or two later, Jumari spotted a lion moving along a nearby ridge, keeping pace with the party. She warned the others, some of whom say it eventually. ZhaZha and Fatou could see that it was only the size of a pony, not a full-grown lion, and bore a halfling rider. Jubair was bored and irritable by this time, so turned aside to confront the halfling. The lion and rider stopped, allowing the party to get a better view of them. The halfling wore lion hides as armor and carried a spear. Jubair accosted him in the Halfling language, but the rider only asked him their business here--these hills were Spine Hollow territory. Fatou translated this exchange for the others, and Edel promptly chimed in to try a more diplomatic approach, in Common. The bard explained that they hunted a desecrater of graves, who rode a large wolf. The halfling seemed relieved to have someone more friendly to talk to, and replied that a wolf had passed through here, with two riders (one his size, one their size). The one who told him about it had said it was no natural animal, but misty or ghost-like. Another creature, that was both like a man and not, traveled with them but the halfling's source couldn't describe it better. When asked about the Ghost Fist Clan, he didn't recognize the name. 

Edel asked if the party could speak to the one who saw it. The halfling replied that--he gave a name, in an unknown language made of clicks and whistles--did not speak with outsiders. They thanked the halfing and left, but soon had to look for a camp to rest during the midday. During this time, their finally saw signs that the wolf and its master were trying to hide their tracks--probably to avoid notice by the Hollow's inhabitants--but Jumari was still able to follow them. The tracks also stopped going due north, at least in part due to the rough, rocky badlands here, but possibly also to dodge pursuit. 

Around midnight. Lucretia caught a glimpse of the wolf as it passed through a low spot between two ridges. She led the party that way, and was soon able to see the wolf again, with its two riders, and a humanoid figure loping alongside them. The walker turned and froze upon noticing her, warned its companions, then headed towards the party. Fatou blessed the heroes, who moved forward to engage the enemy.

Battle with the wolf rider, alchemist, and undead.
The wolf's master, a half-orc with his face painted white like a skull, cast a spell, summoning a skeletal aurochs. This bull charged and gored Edel, who fell unconscious from the hard blow. Jumari cast shield of faith upon herself, and she and Jubair and closed with the skeleton. As expected, the other rider was Jibral, the halfling alchemist they had fought before. He started casting protective spells upon himself, starting with sanctuary, and argued with the half-orc between spells. 

ZhaZha charged the unknown humanoid creature, who turned out to be the same kind of ghoul-thing that they had fought outside the alchemist's shop. She speared with with her lance, but it decided to attack her camel instead, mauling it ferociously. The wolf-rider hit ZhaZha with a magic ray that sickened her.  

Fatou channeled healing magic for her friends, which roused Edel and put the camel out of imminent danger of collapse. Jumari switched from longspear to morningstar and finished off the skeleton, which crumbled away to dust. Lucretia shot the ghoul--which exploded in a cloud of ash like before--and also hit the ghostly black wolf. Its master cast protection from arrows on his mount, but Fatou finished it off with a force bolt. The wolf evaporated into mist, dropping its riders to the ground.

The skull-faced half-orc quickly stood and cast a spell that created a pit beneath Jubair, but the rogue nimbly dodged aside. Both ZhaZha and Jubair charged forward to strike him.  Edel cast grease under both enemy casters, and the halfling fell prone again. ZhaZha missed Jibral as he stood up and fled, so she pursued him.

The wolf-rider attacked Jubair with a flail, but Jumari charged him, and he withdrew. This gave Jubair room to charge him and hit again. Edel's acid splash and Fatou's force bolt finished him off. The rogue performed a coup de grace to make sure that the half-orc was truly dead.

Meanwhile, ZhaZha pursued the fleeing halfling, but Jibral's expeditious retreat spell made him even faster than her camel. She switched to her crossbow, but failed to hit him. The alchemist slowed enough to cast cause fear on the camel, but the animal resisted (just barely, thanks to bless!). The cavalier closed with him, preventing him from being able to withdraw safely. He cast a doom spell on her, making her shaken (on top of already being sickened). The camel spit on Jibral, making him sickened as well. The halfling then used ghoul touch against ZhaZha, paralyzing her--and sickening her camel from the stench she gave off [2]. The camel bit Jibral as he fled, which toppled the helpless cavalier to the ground, but it also finally downed the alchemist.

ZhaZha recovered a few minutes later, but neither she nor the others reached Jibral's body before he bled out. He had acquired a new unholy symbol: a black-stained wooden disk with the word "IZAZ" carved into it in Orcish. The thief Rozhelle, who the party had captured and turned over to the authorities a few weeks before, had claimed to be hired by a half-orc by that name. 

(L-R): aurochs skeleton, ghoul, ghostly wolf, unnamed half-orc summoner, and Jibral the alchemist

[1] Edel's player: "Except for Jubair. I don't bother warning him, because he never listens anyway."

Other players (chanting): "Touch it! Touch it!" 

Edel's player: "I double dog dare you!" (And thus was our title bestowed.)

[2] There were a lot of conditions inflicted this session! I had recently bought Pathfinder Cards: Condition Cards after seeing them used in Pathfinder Society games, and this was the first session we used them in my home game. These cards provide an easy-to-use rules reference for each condition, and their bright colors make it harder to miss that a condition is still in play. I also want to acquire the Buff Deck, but that's out of print, so I haven't found it for sale at anything remotely resembling a reasonable price yet.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

D&D with the Kids: Lost Mine of Phandelver, Part 5 (Finally!)

(Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3) (Part 4)

As I've reported in previous columns (see links above), I've been running The Lost Mine of Phandelver for my children and a friend and his children. We had not been to play in several months due to scheduling issues, but were finally able to resume the adventure this past weekend.

This was a relatively short session, because we needed some time to review the adventure so far, and the plans they had made at the end of our last session. I also knew that the first of their short side quests would earn them enough XP to reach 3rd level, so we would need some time to advance their characters before we could go onto the next quest.

(Obligatory spoiler warning for "Lost Mine of Phandelver")

Last time, the party finished dealing with the threat of the Redbrand gang in Phandelver. They now have three side quests to pursue while they seek out the location of Cragmaw Castle: dealing with orc raiders near Wyvern Tor; investigating reports of undead near Old Owl Well; and searching Thundertree for a lost necklace. They plan to do these quests in that order, with a visit to the town of Conyberry on the way to Thundertree.

The party went to Wyvern Tor, and searched for the orc camp. Caboose, the gnome bard, was the best tracker, so led the way, and soon found orc tracks leading to a ravine. He spotted an orc sentry near a cave entrance, so the party withdrew a bit to plan their attack. They decided to have the bard cast dancing lights to try to draw the sentry away from his post. The orc didn't move, but the spell kept him distracted, so Sothleene, the human rogue, sneaked up to the orc and took him out with a single well-placed thrust with her rapier.

The stealthiest party member with darkvision was the Caboose, so the gnome led the way up to the cave entrance. Inside he saw seven orcs--and an ogre! After some quick whispered planning, the party launched their surprise attack. The human wizard, Gybrush, cast sleep, which unfortunately only took down one orc. Bahli, the dwarf cleric, cast bless on the party. Sothleene shot an arrow from the entrance, and the dragonborn barbarian, Starfright hurled a javelin. 

The ogre was the first resident of the cave to react, and moved to the entrance to engage the party. Before he could attack, though, Gybrush cast grease under him, and the giant fell prone. The orc leader moved up behind the ogre and tried to hurl a javelin past it, and some of the other orcs followed to do the same. The orcs landed a couple lucky shots, but their leader soon decided to withdraw to watch and wait, content for now to just egg on the ogre, Gog, to smash the intruders.

The fight proved challenging--and bloody. Starfright took the brunt of the giant's fury--she was knocked unconscious, healed by Bahli, then knocked out again. Eventually, the party's weapons and Gybrush's spells whittled down the giant, and it finally fell down dead.

At this point, the leader ordered the others to attack, despite the hazard still posed by grease spell. This kept most of them tangled up and unable to attack effectively. However, Bahli and Caboose both took hits that dropped them. Gybrush, who was down to cantrips at this point, dragged each of his fallen friends out of harm's way and stabilized them. Starfright, healed enough to fight again, stepped back into the fray in their place. 

Eventually, the party was able to take down the leader, at which point the four surviving orcs surrendered. The party accepted their plea, and even let them keep their weapons, as long as they left their treasure behind and promised to leave the region. The orcs gladly complied (for now, at least, as far as the party knows). The party searched the cave and found a chest of coins. 

We stopped there in order to allow the PCs to heal and receive their XP. They now have enough for 3rd level, so I spent some time with each player to take care of that bookkeeping. Three of the PCs (the bard, barbarian, and rogue) got to choose their subclasses at this time. The party now looks like this:
  • Bahli Kegstander, male hill dwarf cleric 3 (guild artisan background, war domain)
  • Caboose, male forest gnome bard 3 (entertainer background, college of lore)
  • Gybrush Threepwood, male human wizard 3 (sage background, conjuration school)
  • Sothleene, female human rogue 3 (charlatan background, arcane trickster), and her familiar, Sasha (fey cat)
  • Starfright, female dragonborn (black) barbarian 3 (outlander background, path of the totem warrior [wolf])

Other 5E Games

As I mentioned recently, I plan to start running Tales from the Yawning Portal for my wife and kids sometime soon. (We would have done that this weekend if Phandelver hadn't worked out.) Because of this, I am retitling this "D&D with the Kids" series to "Lost Mine of Phandelver," and will make each adventure in Yawning Portal into its own separately-numbered series. 

Character Sheets

Finally, I would like to recommend the ForgedAnvil D&D 5E Character Generator, available from the ENWorld downloads pages. I'm currently using this for the Phandelver game, and plan to use it for Yawning Portal as well. If you're familiar with HeroForge (for D&D v.3.5) or sCoreForge (for Pathfinder), this Excel-based character sheet works very much the same way. It allows you to enter character data and choose options from drop-down menus, then it does the math to calculate total hit points, armor class, skill modifiers, and other statistics. It also provides reference text for race, class, and background abilities, so that you don't have to keep flipping through your Player's Handbook to choose your next action.

5E is far less math-intensive than v.3.5 or Pathfinder, and has significantly fewer and less complex crunchy bits, so the ForgedAnvil sheet is likewise much simpler. This means that opening and saving the character sheet takes far less time than in HeroForge (which on older computers is prone to serious lag in processing and saving data, often crashing the worksheet). ForgedAnvil is also able to generate a spell reference sheet as part of the same worksheet, rather than requiring a separate SpellForge file.

According to the FAQ, ForgedAnvil only supports official WotC content, not any "Unearthed Arcana" or third-party material. There is some capability for customizing built in (for races, subclasses, deities, and spells), but I haven't yet needed to use that feature so don't know how difficult it is to implement.  

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Unearthed Arcana and Freeport, Part 5

It's time to review more "Unearthed Arcana" with an eye towards using this material with Freeport: The City of Adventure. This time, I'll catch up on articles from the second half of February through April 2017, which continued to appear once per week. However, with this week's column (5/1/2017), Wizards has returned to their previous rate of only one or maybe two UA columns per month.

Mass Combat (2/21/2017): This article provides an alternative to the Battlesystem rules presented in "When Armies Clash" (3/2/2015). Its focus is resolving large battles quickly and easily so that the game can remain focused on the PCs and their actions. As I said before, mass combat rules are rarely needed in Freeport except in naval battles, occasional riots or gang wars, or in an invasion scenario like that in Black Sails Over Freeport.

Traps Revisited (2/27/2017): This long column expands upon the trap rules in the Dungeon Master's Guide, discussing how to create simple and complex traps and giving several examples of each. If I ever convert The Freeport Trilogy to Fifth Edition, this "Unearthed Arcana" will be invaluable for adapting a certain infamous death-trap in one of those adventures!

The Mystic Class (3/13/2017): This article builds upon two earlier columns (7/6/2015 and 2/1/2016) to expand the mystic class to a full 20-level psionic class, with six mystic orders to choose from. An Avatar manipulates emotions to bolster allies and demoralize enemies. An Awakened mystic reads minds and psychic imprints, and excels at direct mental assaults. An Immortal mystic manipulates his own body to become a living weapon, and become increasingly difficult to kill. Nomads are obsessed with acquiring knowledge and gain improved powers of teleportation. A Soul Knife manifests blades of psychic energy, at the expense of the bonus disciplines that other orders receive. Finally, a Wu Jen is a master of elemental power, and eventually gains some limited wizard spellcasting ability.

In the World of Freeport, psionics are mostly common in Naranjan, the land of the Mindshadows setting. Third Edition psionic classes become much easier to convert to Fifth Edition with this new expanded selection of orders. For psions, use the Avatar, Awakened, Immortal, or Nomad; for psychic warriors, use the Avatar or Immortal; and for soulknives, use the Order of the Soul Knife. Wilders have no obvious equivalent yet, so choose an order that best aligns with the individual's psionic powers.

The Wu Jen hail from the exotic Eastern Empire (see Buccaneers of Freeport), along with the Samurai (see Class Options, Part 1) and the monk class. (Pan'Lo Skree, the Kodath half-orc adept from True20 Freeport: The Lost Island, would be a wu jen.)

Wizard Revisited (3/20/2017): This article presents two arcane traditions for wizards: Theurgy (revised from an earlier column ["The Faithful," 8/1/2016] based on playtest feedback) and War Magic. Both are very well suited to Freeport.

A Trio of Subclasses (3/27/2017): The three subclasses of the title include: the Way of the Drunken Master for monks, the Oath of Redemption for paladins, and the Monster Slayer for rangers. The Drunken Master is a classic martial artist type, suitable for Eastern Empire monks. An Oath of Redemption paladin is dedicated to peace, which is an especially difficult ideal in the rough streets of Freeport.

The Monster Slayer is, per the Wizards site, "a reimagining of the Monster Hunter that we previously released for the fighter" (see "Gothic Heroes," 4/4/2016). DMs will probably want to choose one or the other for their campaign, but not both. Either would make a good choice for converting the Freeport monster hunter class.

Starter Spells (4/3/2017): This article presents several new cantrips and 1st-level spells, providing at least one new choice for each spellcasting class. Many of these are spells from previous editions that had not yet been updated to the current rules set (cause fear, ceremony, snare, virtue), while others are, to my knowledge, new to this article (infestation, puppet, toll the dead, unearthly chorus). All are suitable for Freeport.

Downtime (4/10/2017): This article expands upon the options for characters' activities between adventures that are presented in the Dungeon Master's Guide. It also introduces the concept of foils, NPCs designed to oppose the heroes. These new options can be used to enrich a Freeport campaign by giving the PCs more options for disposing of their ill-gotten gains, as well as getting them more involved and invested in the dynamic nature of the city and its inhabitants. Using complications from downtime activities or foils can help make the introduction of new adventures feel more organic by tying plot hooks to the heroes' own actions.

Feats for Skills (4/17/2017): This document presents 18 new feats, one tied to each of the skills in the Player's Handbook. Each feat gives three benefits: increase the related ability score by 1; gain proficiency in the skill (or if already proficient, add double your proficiency bonus to checks); and gain one other minor ability thematically connected to the skill. All are suitable for use in Freeport.

Feats for Races (4/24/2017): This installment presents 23 new feats with racial prerequisites. Each race in the Player's Handbook receives two or three choices, with some of the elf and gnome options specific to subraces. As discussed in More Thoughts on D&D 5E Freeport, pretty much all of the Player's Handbook races can be found in Freeport, so none of these feats would be out of place.

(However, one comment I should have made back then is that since Fourth Edition, tieflings have become much more inhuman looking than in previous editions. Such obvious "devils" are likely to face heavy persecution in Freeport, where fiendish cults have caused so much trouble in the past. The new Barbed Hide and Flames of Phlegethos feats make this infernal heritage even more blatant.)

Revised Subclasses (5/1/2017): This installment presents five popular subclasses from previous "Unearthed Arcana" columns, with revisions that resulted from playtest feedback: Path of the Ancestral Guardian for the barbarian (11/7/2016); College of Swords for the bard (1/4/2016); Arcane Archer for the fighter 12/5/2016); Way of the Kensei for the monk (12/12/2016); and Favored Soul for the sorcerer (4/6/2015 and 2/6/2017; this third version mixes features of the previous two). All remain just as suitable for Freeport as they were before (see previous installments of my UA reviews for details).

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.
Finally, as a side note. I backed Green Ronin's recent Kickstarter for the Fifth Edition version of their classic The Book of the Righteous. When that is released later this year, expect a few columns about combining that material with Freeport!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Time of the Tarrasque #8: Privy of the Void Cult

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 decided to search the alchemist's shop, but first had to determine what to do with Jibral himself. They did not want to waste their dwindling spells on healing him enough to question, and didn't want to risk what he might try if he was awake again. Taking him to the temple would lose precious time in which his accomplices might hide evidence at his shop, but carrying him around the city would draw unwanted attention. They settled on emptying out one of the boxes in "Azul's" shop, packing him inside, and putting another heavy box on top to make sure he stayed put.

They easily located his shop, a small, sturdily built, one-story structure with a sign reading, "Jibral, Alchemist" in Common and Halfling. While the rogue Jubair examined the single door, the bard Edel got a boost to the roof from ZhaZha, the cavalier, so that he could investigate the chimney. This appeared to be the only other way into the house,  but it was barred by iron grates at the top and (as dancing lights revealed) the bottom of the flue.

The ghoul fight, with alchemist's shop map
(covered by yellow paper) and
improvised building (pencil box)
Jumari, the inquistor, went around back to watch for anyone trying to use a secret door to escape. She caught sight of a figure watching the shop from the shadow of a nearby alley, and rushed to confront it. The thing was humanoid in shape, with leathery skin on a gaunt frame, and sharp claws and teeth. It mauled her, knocking her unconscious, then turned towards her friends, who were drawn to the noise of the scuffle. It attacked Jubair next, but then the cavalier ZhaZha struck it a hard blow with her pick. It cursed at her in Orcish, and tried to flee, but the monk Lucretia's arrow dropped it. Jubair charged the prone creature, and when he stabbed it, it exploded in a cloud of ash.

Meanwhile, Fatou, the cleric, had rushed to Jumari's side and revived her. The priestess told the others that she thought the creature was a ghoul, and then proceeded to scold several of them for their rashness. How was she supposed to keep them all alive with her limited healing ability when they kept running headlong into danger? (Her complaints largely fell on deaf ears.)

Jubair failed to pick the very good lock on the front door, so he and ZhaZha used a crowbar to force their way in. The shop consisted of a front room for dealing with customers, a back room with additional goods for sale, a bedroom with a privy in a closet, and the laboratory. The shop and laboratory rooms held little of interest to them, as they were looking evidence to use against Jibral rather than goods to steal. (Jumari did, however, pocket a handful of tindertwigs.)

The bedroom contained a heavy locked chest, which Jubair could not open quickly. He and ZhaZha picked it up and dashed it on the ground, which only dented it a little, so they had to resort to the crowbar again. Inside, they found some books, which they promptly tossed aside to their companions. Below that was a smaller box, which was now leaking from the rough handling. They handed this to Edel so he could examine and clean it. Inside the box were a half-dozen vials, now all cracked. None registered as magical, and none of the party knew enough alchemy to identify the liquids--or what danger they might pose upon mixing. The bard used mending on the vials, and tossed the contaminated box down the privy, just in case.

Edel did sense a magic aura within the bottom of the chest, and found a secret panel under which a small stone pot was hidden. Fatou studied its aura, and identified it as oil of decompose corpse (a spell that would remove the flesh from a corpse, leaving a clean skeleton; it could also be used to hamper a corporeal undead's movements for a short time).

While the rest of the party thoroughly searched the rest of the shop, Fatou studied the books taken from the chest. The first was a formulary book, which an alchemist could use to prepare extracts that worked like spells. (Sadly for the wizard/cleric, while an alchemist can study a wizard's spellbook to learn new spells, a wizard cannot do the same with a formulary. But the book could be quite valuable to another alchemist.)

The next book was a business ledger for the shop. On a cursory examination, Fatou could find nothing incriminating--no records of Jibral owning other property (such as "Azul's" leatherworking shop) or anything that involved the corpse trade they were investigating. The last book was a book of scripture, one of the standard texts of the local Javanian religion. She decided that she should study this in more depth later, to see if its content diverged from the conventional texts she knew.

The party's searches turned up only one other item of interest: Jubair determined that the shaft under the privy was wide enough for a halfling to climb down, so it could be a possible way for Jibral to leave and return from his home without being seen. He decided to investigate, and managed to squeeze his tall but lanky frame down the hole, with a lantern in hand and a rope around his ankle in case he needed to be pulled back up. The shaft descended for 10-15 feet, then leveled out in a slightly larger (but still cramped) tunnel that led towards the river at a gentle slope. He crawled along the passage for a while until it joined a couple other tunnels. The rogue could not determine if any of these passages had seen any traffic recently, so he used the intersection to turn around and returned to the shop to report his findings to the others.

Fatou shared her information on the books (or lack thereof) with her companions, and expressed her puzzlement: If Jibral was a priest of some kind, where did he do his priest stuff? (Jubair's answer was, "I think I was in it...")

The party returned to the leatherworker's shop, only to find that Jibral had vanished. Jumari found muddy bootprints inside the building, where someone had come in, moved and opened boxes, and left. There were no smaller footprints or any drag marks, so apparently someone human-sized had found the halfling and carried him away. Outside, the bootprints ended but Jumari found faint prints like those of a gigantic wolf. She followed these tracks, and her companions followed her.

The tracks led through back alleys, showing that Jibral's presumed rescuer had trying to avoid being noticed as he or she worked their way across town. The trail eventually led to the nearest part of the city wall, where the paw prints stopped. The party searched the area, and found signs that someone had climbed the wall here. Jubair started to climb the wall, but a guard on the wall bellowed a challenge and other watchmen soon had their crossbows trained on him. The rogue asked if they had seen a wolf, to which the guards demanded to hear what he knew of it. After a tense moment, Jumari explained that they were following someone on orders from the Temple of the Sun's castellan. This gained enough cooperation that the guard sergeant told them that some of his unit had seen a man cross the wall here, but a huge wolf had appeared out of nowhere, and the man rode it out into the desert. His men did not get a good look at the man, because the wolf unnerved them, but one embarrassed guardsman claimed his face looked like a skull. (It's perhaps just as well that Jumari, an albino half-orc, keeps herself thoroughly covered up.)

Jumari had heard that one of the orc tribes in the desert, the Ghost Fist Clan, was known for painting their faces to look like skulls. They were rumored to worship some death god rather than the Tarrasque, but she didn't know any more about them. That knowledge did not, however, answer why one of this clan would be here in the city, and how they knew about Jibral. (Edel suspected that the party was being watched.)

The tired heroes made their way to the Temple of the Sun around dawn, just as its religious community was busy beginning of its day. Jubair and the two half-orcs remained outside, and went in search of food while they waited. This left Lucretia, Edel, and Fatou to go inside to find the castellan. They were told that he was at his dawn devotionals, so the monk and cleric passed the time they had to wait by performing their own morning prayers.

After some time, Kasim joined them and listened to their report of the night's activities, while a servant brought in a stimulating morning brew. After hearing their tale, the castellan took Jibral's ebony ring (and apparent unholy symbol) and ledger as evidence and promised to investigate further. (He was not familiar with the Ghost Fist Clan by name, but would look into that connection, too.)  He then advised the trio that the next time that they wanted to raid a local business, they should seek assistance from legal authorities first.

With that, the party left the temple to return to their own lodgings and get some much-needed rest and healing. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The LEGO Batman Movie Minifigures


My children and I loved The LEGO Batman Movie. It was great fun as both a cartoonish action movie and as an affectionate (and comprehensive) spoof of past TV and film Batmans. However, I have no urgent need to own a half-dozen new Batman outfits, or the Dark Knight's entire rogues gallery, so I only bought 9 out of 20 of the minifigures in this series. (Those minifigs are marked with an asterisk [*] below; eight of them are shown above.)

Barbara Gordon: This is Barbara as she's first introduced, the model GPD officer in formal uniform. She carries handcuffs.

The Calculator: This villain's space suit has a tile with a push button array on his chest, and "07734" (which spells "HELLO" upside-down) printed on his visor.

Catman: This Batman variant, in brown and yellow, has clawed hands and wears a utility belt that fits between the torso and legs.

Clan of the Cave Batman: This Batman wears furs and carries a huge club--essentially, the Bat as Captain Caveman.

Commissioner Gordon: Jim carries a walkie-talkie and a wanted poster for the Joker. One point of interest with the Gordons is that the movie-makers gave them light brown skin rather than the pinkish skin tone used for most licensed characters. This gives them a subtly non-white ethnicity that is never mentioned in the script, which makes that choice an even classier move for diversity in comics.

Dick Grayson: This is Dick before he becomes Robin--he has been given the dubiously useful shark repellent but no costume yet.

*The Eraser: This character has a pencil eraser for a head (a 1x1 round pink tile and a printed "metal" band) and a pin-striped yellow suit that makes him look like a No. 2 pencil. He has a printed tile to serve as a pad for noting people or things "To Erase!" but he seems to have erased his list, too. (His freakish head reminds me a great deal of Chairface Chippendale, from The Tick. )

Fairy Batman: This Batman wears a pink cowl, fairy wings, leotard, tutu, and ballet slippers over black tights, and wields a pink wand.

Glam Metal Batman: This Batman has a KISS-style '80's rock costume with spiky shoulder pads and an electric guitar.

*The Joker – Arkham Asylum: The Joker is dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, plus handcuffs. His head is two-sided, with a smiling side and a frowning one. The wavy, spiky green hair piece is a lovely part, and begs to be used in a D&D or Pathfinder game for a dryad or a gnome druid.

*King Tut: Tut's headdress and robes are both printed to match the 1960's Batman TV show villain. This (plus his pinkish skin) makes him nicely distinct from previous Egyptian-themed characters. His snake and staff, on the other hand, are unchanged from older LEGO parts.

*Lobster-Lovin’ Batman: Batman, dressed in a smoking jacket and his ever-present cowl, prepares to tuck into a lobster, which comes on a platter printed with a lettuce leaf and smears of butter. The lobster is a very nice-looking piece, but sadly has no attachment points except a single anti-stud on the bottom. (This makes it inferior as a potential building brick to the classic LEGO crab and scorpion, which are the same size but also have a stud and a point to attach a clip.)

*March Harriet: This villainess wears a light brown rabbit-eared hood, and has a corseted dress, boots, and cuffs of the same color. She wields a standard Tommy gun. March Harriet is apparently an established Batman character (not surprising, given the Wonderland-related name), but I will probably just keep calling her "gun bunny."

The Mime: This character wears a leotard and body stocking, white face paint, and a dark blue mohawk. She comes with two lighting blasts like those that come with Emperor Palpatine and some Ninjago weapons.

*Nurse Harley Quinn: This is a classic Harley outfit, dressed as a nurse to break "Mr. J" out of Arkham. The nurse's cap is a removable piece held on by a tiny pin (like those on tiaras and hair bow bricks), making it easy to resuse the head and hair with other outfits. Her only other prop is a medical chart with the Joker's picture and "H+J" written inside a heart. This figure's red-and-black palette matches that of her original costume rather than her more recent Suicide Squad look, which is a nice retro touch. 

*Orca: This figure is a re-issue of the Shark Suit Guy (from Series 15) but with an orca's black-and-white markings. The minifigure head inside is dark red, printed with a gaping mouth. This character is rather too small to serve as a mini for an actual orca (which are Huge in d20/Pathfinder terms), but if you remove the legs, you get a perfect Medium fiendish shark. (See Building the Bestiary #11: Aquatic Animals.)

*Pink Power Batgirl: This is an all-pink variant of Batgirl's costume, which is purple and gold in the movie. I would have passed on this gender-stereotyped palette, except that Barbara's hair is a great new piece: a wavy dark red 'do with a silver (not pink!) band. (See also my note about her skin tone under Commissioner Gordon, above.)

Red Hood: This character wears a tuxedo with a red cape, which consists of a cloth cape under a plastic shoulder piece designed to attach the bell-jar helmet brick. The building instructions show that the minifigure head underneath is a second red hood, printed with eye lenses.

Vacation Batman: This Batman wears a bat-patterned Hawaiian shirt (possibly a nod to Adam West's post-Batman role on Hawaii 5-0?), swim goggles, and flippers. He also wears a duck-shaped flotation device (which fits between the torso and legs, like Batgirl and Fairy Batman's skirts do).

*Zodiac Master: This villain's sky-blue suit is decorated with the signs of the Zodiac on his chest, back, arms, and legs. Strangely, several signs are repeated (Taurus, Libra, and Capricorn appear three times each!) while four other signs (Leo, Scorpio, Aquarius, and Cancer) do not appear at all on his costume. Zodiac Master wields two signs--a fish (Pisces) and a crab (Cancer)--as weapons. I believe this is the first time the crab has been available in pearl-silver, though the fish always has been. 

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.)