Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Plundering 5E Adventures for Freeport

I own a few of the many adventures that Wizards of the Coast has published for Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition. Most of them would be difficult to use as-is with Freeport, unless you set the City of Adventure in the Forgotten Realms (see my column on The Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide and Freeport). Even then, Freeport would definitely not be the focus of any campaign based on these adventures.

On the other hand, almost any adventure will have some material that can be plundered for use in other campaigns, including a Freeport-centric one. In this brief column, I will look at some of the adventures I own (or have access to through my local library) and discuss what content would be most useful for a D&D Fifth Edition Freeport game. Magic items and creatures reprinted from the Monster Manual or Volo's Guide to Monsters are omitted.


NOTE: This column contains spoilers for the D&D adventures discussed here, as well as for a few Freeport adventures.



Lost Mine of Phandelver (Starter Set)

Magic Items: Death in Freeport features a staff of defense, a version of which appears in this adventure's appendices.

Monsters: The Evil Mage and Redbrand Ruffian are suitable for use as NPCs in Freeport. (Simply rename the Redbrands to match one of the city's many gangs.)


Princes of the Apocalypse

I have not read this adventure, but I do own the Elemental Evil Player's Guide (a free PDF), which reprints the genasi race and new elemental-themed spells from that book.

Races: Fire genasi can be used for the efreeti-blooded azhar with no changes needed, making them a reasonably common sight in Freeport. Unlike genasi in most other settings, the azhar have bred true for generations and formed a cohesive culture, long before they founded the nation of Kizmir on the Continent. The Azharan language can be treated as being either the same as the Ignan dialect of Primordial, or a separate language derived from it.

Water and air genasi are likely to visit Freeport from time to time as well, but earth genasi would be an extremely rare sight, given their preference for solid ground.

The three other new races in the Elemental Evil Player's Guide are aarakocra, deep gnomes, and goliaths (with the last being reprinted in Volo's Guide to Monsters). These, too, would be rare visitors, most likely originating in small enclaves on the Continent (or under it, for svirfneblin) or more distant lands.

Spells: As I mentioned in my review of Xanathar's Guide to Everything, elemental magic is quite popular in Freeport, so most of these new spells are highly appropriate for the setting.


Curse of Strahd

Character Options: The Haunted One background would be right at home in Freeport, which can easily provide enough trauma for many such back stories. Likewise, the monster hunter's pack should be available, and Gothic trinkets would not be out of place.

Monsters and NPCs: Mongrelfolk can be used for the calibans in True20 Freeport: The Lost Island.


Tales from the Yawning Portal

Of the adventures in this collection, Lost Shrine of Tomoachan would be the easiest to use as-is in a Freeport campaign--simply relocate it to a lost continent or sizable island. See my column on Plane Shift: Ixalan, the setting of which was inspired by Tomoachan, for suggestions.

Creatures: Nereids appeared in Creatures of Freeport, and a choker appears on the cover of the upcoming hardcover omnibus of the Return to Freeport adventure series. Several of the aquatic and plant monsters from Lost Shrine of Tomoachan and White Plume Mountain would be appropriate for the islands of the Serpent's Teeth and surrounding seas. Freeport also seems to be a magnet for exotic undead, and this book presents several new varieties.


Tomb of Annihilation

I have read very little of this jungle-themed adventure, but the appendices have a great deal of useful material for Freeport campaigns. Enterprising DMs should be able to tie Chult to the World of Freeport in some way, if they wish.

Character Backgrounds: Both the Anthropologist and Archaeologist are suitable backgrounds for adventuring scholars. They are most likely to be encountered at the Temple of the God of Knowledge, at the Freeport Institute, or in the field.

Monsters and NPCs: Assassin vines appear in True20 Freeport: The Lost Island, and all other plant monsters from this book are suitable for the Serpent's Teeth (and elsewhere in the subtropics). The stone juggernaut can be used for the Naranjani juggernauts of Mindshadows. In addition, the aldani, flying monkey, jaculi, kamadan, tabaxi (see Volo's Guide to Monsters for PC tabaxi), and new zombies would easily fit into a Freeport campaign.

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For my past columns about using D&D Fifth Edition sourcebooks with Freeport: The City of Adventure, see the Freeport 5E Index.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Mike Mearls Happy Fun Hour

Mike Mearls
(by Tim Emrick)
I've recently started watching some of the short videos that D&D Beyond has posted on YouTube. These are mostly short interviews with the designers of Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition, in which they plug the latest "Unearthed Arcana" article, share some teasers about upcoming products (such as bits of lore from the upcoming Mordenkainen's Book of Foes), or give nuggets of advice on various subjects (such as running one-shots or making memorable villains).

One of these videos plugged "The Mike Mearls' Happy Fun Hour," a weekly Twitch stream by one of the co-creators of of D&D 5E. In these streams (which are later posted on YouTube), Mearls shows how he goes about designing new content for the game. For these first few months of the show, he has presented new subclasses for the Player's Handbook classes. He goes into some depth about how each class works, and the space that a subclass fills within it. For example, the warlock and sorcerer gain their subclass at 1st level, so those abilities pull more game-mechanical weight, and are more central to the character's core identity, than they would be in a class like the rogue, which doesn't pick a subclass until 3rd level. In the latter case, the subclass tends to be more about offering new ways to exploit the class features that defined the character at those first few levels.

The Happy Fun Hour will not, obviously, be everyone's cup of tea, as Mearls regularly gets very technical about game mechanics (though he does so in a way that's easy to follow if you're reasonably familiar with the rules). Watching Mearls' process can give insight into the rules that will be invaluable to anyone who wishes to design their own new material for the game, whether for publication or just for a home campaign. His design philosophy includes a few key tenets that he returns to frequently, and that all 5E GMs and designers would do well to keep in mind:
  • Refer back to the rules frequently while you are creating. Don't assume that you remember everything about how a given piece of the game works, because nobody has a perfect memory.
  • All new material must be balanced against the core rules, not against supplements alone. Forgetting to compare your creation to that baseline can lead to broken rules and power creep.
  • The designers don't assume that players own more than the Player's Handbook. They want new players to be able to get started playing without feeling like they need to buy yet another book in order to have a viable character.
  • They also don't assume that players use any of the optional rules (like feats and multiclassing) in their game.
For example, a subclass that grants access to new spells will draw them only from the Player's Handbook. (If a spell from Xanathar's Guide to Everything is truly necessary for the subclass, then they'll reprint that spell in a sidebar.) And when creating a new subclass, you have to be careful to not make it so good that it becomes the only option worth taking. That's a sure sign that something's broken.

Mearls has promised that some of the new material he produces in his show will eventually see print in "Unearthed Arcana," after he polishes it further and has a chance to get the other 5E designers to vet it, too. (One of his new subclasses had already appeared there by the time I starting watching.)

The episodes that I've watched so far cover January-April 2018:

1/30/2018: In this debut episode, Mearls creates a Kraken patron for warlocks. (I'm looking forward to seeing this in UA, and trying it out in a Freeport game!)

2/6/2018: Mearls starts with a recap of the previous episode, with notes on what he's done to flesh out the subclass since then. This will be standard format for the show, with some weeks getting more discussion of past work, and others glossing over it if he's not happy with his progress. This week's new subclass is the Acrobat, for rogues.

2/13/2018 and 2/20/2018: The Giant Soul subclass for sorcerers draws power from the character's giantish heritage. This subclass offers a variety of options based on the different types of giants (stone, fire, and frost, for now), so serves as an example of a subclass that (like the Draconic sorcerer) is effectively several related subclasses bundled together. As such, it takes more time to design, so Mearls takes two episodes to cover everything. One key point of the discussion is his comparison of the sorcerer and wizard classes, and their access to spells--and what can be reasonably done about the sorcerer's very limited spell selection at low levels, without going too far.

2/27/2018: Next up is the cleric, and the Order Domain. Mearls talks about how domains have changed since 3E, and states that clerics' abilities are not defined by their alignment so much as by their god's theme or portfolio. Therefore, alignment domains were not a priority for 5E; a god of chaos might grant Trickery, while a god of good might embody Light or Life. In contrast, the Order Domain is a deliberate attempt to create a "lawful" domain, but still grounding it in more flavorful concepts (civilization and leadership, in this case).

This subclass is the first from this series to see publication in "Unearthed Arcana" (in April). I will revisit it when I do my next "Unearthed Arcana and Freeport" column. (I anticipate referencing The Mike Mearls Happy Fun Hour quite often in those columns from now on, assuming the show continues to hold my interest.)

3/6/2018, 3/13/20183/20/2018, 3/27/2018: Mearls tackles a much more complicated concept--a Warlord subclass for fighters--so he needs a few weeks to develop the idea properly. Among the topics that he touches on are the pitfalls of calling any class a "leader," determining whether a character concept should be a new class vs. a new subclass, and using the spell creation tables in the Dungeon Master's Guide as a benchmark for how good new class features should be. He also expresses his belief that challenging yourself and learning from failure are important to one's growth as a designer (or in any other career), and confesses that this is probably the most complicated subclass he's designed for 5E to date. In the fourth episode, Mearls finally has a first complete draft of the Warlord subclass, and he goes over its tactics and gambits abilities in detail.

4/4/2018: Mearls revisits the Acrobat, finishing off its higher-level abilities. He then begins design on a new barbarian subclass, the Marauder, discussing the fine details of the class's rage ability, and how concerns about multiclassing inform design choices in 5E.

4/10/2018, 4/17/2018: Development of the new barbarian subclass continues. It goes through a couple of name changes (from Marauder to Volcano Barbarian to Disaster Barbarian) as Mearls' core concept morphs. The primary inspiration for these later changes is the 4E warden class, which is not yet represented in 5E. Trying to model that class, in which the character partially transforms during combat, has to be considered carefully in order to avoid copying too closely certain abilities of the Totem Warrior (PH) and Storm Lord (Xanathar's).

(I'm curious about how much this wealth of new elemental-themed subclasses--this one, the giant soul sorcerer from earlier episodes, and the elemental sorcerers from UA--would affect the tone and outcome of adventures such as Princes of the Apocalypse, Storm King's Thunder, and "Against the Giants" in Tales from the Yawning Portal.)

Going Forward: I haven't yet watched the last few videos (4/24/2018, 5/1/2018, 5/8/2018), which according to their blurbs on YouTube, dive into psionics (which have already seen a few iterations in past UA columns). But a dozen episodes is more than enough to share with you for now. I'm not sure yet whether I'll try another review of the Mike Mearls Happy Fun Hour after a few months' more episodes, but (as I mentioned above) you can expect some references to it in my future "UA and Freeport" reviews.

Counterpoint!: While finishing up this column today, I discovered that D&D Beyond has also uploaded Designing D&D Subclasses with Jeremy Crawford Part 1 (5/10/2018). This video hits many of the same points that Mearls regularly returns to on his show, but from a slightly different perspective. If your time is short and you just want a high-level overview of game design, this first part is only about 14 minutes long. (The initial video doesn't indicate how many more parts there will be, or how frequently they will appear.) If you are willing to invest more time in witnessing the full process, then the Mike Mearls Happy Fun Hour is the better choice--and yes, the more fun one.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Studded Plate mentioned at Attercap.net

I'd like to thank Erich Arendall for mentioning "Studded Plate" in "Lego My Game," today's post for his gaming blog at Attercap.net.

If this is your first time here, welcome! "Studded Plate" is my weekly blog dedicated to RPGs and LEGO toys (sometimes discussing one, sometimes the other, and often both together), with occasional forays into my other geeky hobbies.

Erich linked here because of my "Building the Bestiary" series of tutorials about building RPG minis with LEGO. It's been a few months since my last installment of that series, but you can find the links to past columns on the series' Index page. Other ongoing series here include session summaries for the games I run, which almost always include at least a couple photos of LEGO minis that I used during play.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Tales from the Yawning Portal: The Story So Far

It's been almost one full year since I started running the first adventure from Tales from the Yawning Portal for my wife and children. Despite numerous interruptions, we're now over halfway through  the second adventure, and everyone is still eager for more. I felt it was time to move the ever-growing appendix of links from the end of each session summary to its own page. From now on, I'll simply include a link to this page with each new installment.

Following that index are my house rules for the campaign, which for now just consist of the options from the core rules that we're using.

Our Heroes


Our heroes for The Forge of Fury include (from left to right, above):
  • Sir Dain (NPC/guest-PC), male hill dwarf paladin 4 (oath of devotion, knight)
  • Xuri, female blue dragonborn sorcerer 4 (wild magic, sage)
  • Raven Flare, female tiefling rogue 4 (assassin, urchin)
  • Kalitni, female human ranger 4 (beast master, hermit) with Daikitsu, wolf companion
  • Erky Timbers (DM-run NPC), male forest gnome cleric 4 (life domain, acolyte)

The Story So Far...

Tales from the Yawning Portal (product mini-review; 4/19/2017)

The Sunless Citadel (2017)

#1: Down into the Ground (5/31/2017; started at 1st level)
#2: Lost Dragon (6/7/2017; reached 2nd level)
#3: Through the Dragon Door (6/14/2017)
#4: Goblin Boss Battle (8/9/2017; reached 3rd level)
#5: Through Pallid Gardens (9/28/2017)
[Campaign Update (9/28/2017)]
#6: Belak, at Last (10/5/2017)

The Forge of Fury (2018-)

[2017 in Review: The Blog (1/2/2018)]
#1: Orc Gruel (1/9/2018)
#2: Bloody Stirges! (1/16/2018)
#3: Into the Glitterhame (2/13/2018; reached 4th level)
#4: Even the Rocks Want to Eat Us (2/28/2018)
#5: The Wrong Kind of Dwarf (5/8/2018)

House Rules

Most house rules for this campaign pertain to available options for player characters, but I am also using a couple of the optional rules from the core rulebooks.

Books: At present, the only books that are being used for this campaign are the core rulebooks (Player's Handbook [PH], Dungeon Master's Guide [DMG], and Monster Manual [MM]), plus--of course--the adventure anthology Tales from the Yawning Portal.

Determining Ability Scores: Use the ability score array of 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8. (In order to keep character creation quick and simple, the Customizing Ability Scores option will not be used.)

Races: All PH races and subraces are allowed except for dark elves (drow). Variant human traits (p. 31) are an allowed option.

Classes: All PH classes and subclasses are allowed.

Backgrounds: All PH backgrounds (pp. 125-141) are allowed, including variants.

Starting Equipment: Characters receive equipment based on class and background, not random gold. (If we ever need to introduce a new PC later on, we'll combine this with the DMG guidelines for wealth at high levels.)

Multiclassing: (I have not yet determined if multiclassing will be an option for this campaign. And no one has asked to yet.)

Feats: Feats (pp. 165-170) may be chosen in place of Ability Score Improvements, or at 1st level if the variant human traits (p. 31) are chosen.

Combat: The flanking rules will be used; see p. 251 of the DMG.

Gods of the MultiverseTales from the Yawning Portal includes adventures that were originally written for multiple campaign worlds. There will be minimal attention paid to the world outside the adventures, so any gods from the Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, or Nonhuman tables (PH, pp. 293-299) are suitable.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Forge of Fury #5: The Wrong Kind of Dwarf

It's been a few months since we were able to fit in a session of my Tales from the Yawning Portal game, but we've returned to it at last.

Our heroes for The Forge of Fury include:
  • Raven Flare, female tiefling rogue 4 (assassin, urchin)
  • Kalitni, female human ranger 4 (beast master, hermit) with Daikitsu, wolf companion
  • Xuri, female blue dragonborn sorcerer 4 (wild magic, sage)
  • Sir Dain (NPC/guest-PC), male hill dwarf paladin 4 (oath of devotion, knight)
  • Erky Timbers (DM-run NPC), male forest gnome cleric 4 (life domain, acolyte)


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


Last time, the heroes descended to a new level of the dungeon, where they encountered a gray ooze and had a harrowing encounter with a roper. After a short rest to allow Dain to heal some of his wounds and Xuri to study the magic ring found in the roper's gizzard, the party was ready to finish exploring this level.

A door near the roper's lair led to a small long-abandoned prison. Two cells were open and empty, but the third held the corpse of a dwarf. Whoever had put him here had not searched him thoroughly, because the PCs found a small purse of coins and a key on the body. Dain did not wish to leave the dead dwarf here, so carried his remains back up to the Glitterhame to place within one of the empty sarcophagi there.

Once Dain finished performing simple rites for the dead, the party returned to the iron door with Durgeddin's smith mark. The key from the cell unlocked this door, and they walked up the stairs beyond.

At the top, they found an octagonal room with three large bronze statues of dwarves holding axes and shields. Between the statues were two doors, but Raven felt something was wrong about the one she examined--it didn't look like it had ever been used, and something had scored the floor in front of it. She stepped back and short an arrow at the door, but nothing happened. Meanwhile, Xuri had found faint tracks in the dust on the floor, which led to a secret door behind one of the statues. The party could hear the muffled sounds of hammering, and Dain thought it came from that direction. The sorcerer opened the door, finding a short flight of stairs up to another door, this one decorated with a glaring dwarf's face. She promptly walked up this other door, but as she did so, it animated to call out an alarm in Dwarvish.

[Xuri's impetuousness gave the enemy warning, but also meant that the other PCs didn't have the time to identify or trigger the other trap in the room.] 

This door opened easily, revealing a great hall with pillars carved with images of dwarves and dragons. The walls bore the remains of tile murals, which had been defaced with graffiti in an unknown language (they guessed Orc). At the far end of the room was a dais with a simple stone bench, and near it was a campfire surrounded by some pallets and packs. A voice from the shadows demanded that they go away. Dain, who was incensed at the defiling of this place, rushed to the foot of the dais, roaring a challenge.

Two bald, gray-skinned dwarves suddenly became visible as they hurled javelins, which hit the paladin. These were duergar, an evil subrace of dwarf, and the sight of them made Dain's fury boil over. Before he could move to attack his foes, however, a third duergar appeared right beside him, and sank her shortsword into his side.

Kalitni shot one of the first two duergar, scoring a critical hit. Xuri unleashed a witchbolt on the female dwarf, and Dain's sword landed a critical hit on her, boosted by divine smite. The two male duergar grew to double their normal size, but Kalitni downed one before he could attack again. Raven stabbed the other with both her rapiers, then moved to flank the female duergar. She withdrew and enlarged as well, but Xuri's witchbolt dropped her before she could do more. Dain and Raven promptly finished off the last duergar.

Erky forced Dain to sit still while he administered healing and the others searched the bodies and the room. Besides the gray dwarves' arms and armor, the woman carried a potion of healing that she never got a chance to use.

The great hall had five other exits, and the hammering came from beyond one of the doors to the south. The party decided to deal with whatever lay beyond the other doors first. They started by listening at the northwest one, which bore an inscription in the same language as the graffiti on the walls nearby. Raven heard nothing through the door, so Dain opened it. The room beyond was once a shrine to the dwarven gods, whose likenesses were carved on the walls. However, the place had been defiled: the pews were smashed, the gods' images defaced, and the altar was surrounded by piles of bones and a desiccated orc corpse. The paladin used his divine sense before entering, and detected three undead: the orc, and two piles of bones. When Dain drew his warhammer entered the room, the bones formed into two giant skeletons, and the orc rose and grinned evilly, its eyes lit with green fire.

Two giant skeletons and a wight
(mini with gray hair and white skin)
The orc and one skeleton closed with Dain, while the other lumbered over the broken pews to reach other members of the party. Raven maneuvered around to flank the orc, while Kalitni and Xuri flanked the second skeleton. The paladin and rogue whittled away at the orc, who proved to be resistant to nonmagical weapons. However, one of Raven's rapiers was magical, and Dain took a moment to sanctify his hammer with a spell. Meanwhile, the orc (a wight) consistently failed to hit the paladin with its sword and life-draining touch, and growled frustrated curses at him. (Dain replied with colorful Dwarven oaths.)

Xuri managed to line up an attack with her breath weapon that hit all three foes, though for minimal damage. Raven finally downed the orc, and turned her attention to the skeleton (which had only hit the paladin once, and flailed ineffectively otherwise). Dain downed that skeleton with a mighty blow of his hammer, then helped finish off the other one. The paladin continuing his cursing as he smashed the undead's bones beyond any change of rising again.

Searching the room, the PCs found a sack with some gold and two spell scrolls among the bones. A dwarf body lay on top of the altar, so Dain examined it carefully. This dwarf wore plate mail (now useless) and bore the marks of a brutal battle. The paladin guessed that the body had been laid here after death, before graffiti had been written over it and the altar. With soap and water, and help from Xuri's prestidigitation, they cleaned the room as best they could.

The party needed to heal and recover spells, so they barricaded the door with some of the broken benches and settled in for a long rest. Before doing so, however, Xuri expended her last spell slot to place witchbolt in her new ring of spell storing.

Duergar

Ogre skeletons, with normal skeletons for comparison

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
#2: Bloody Stirges!
#3: Into the Glitterhame
#4: Even the Rocks Want to Eat Us

Thursday, May 3, 2018

LEGO Minifigures Series 18: Party


Series 18 of the collectible Minifigures line has a party theme, because it celebrates 40 years of the LEGO minifigure. This set of 17 includes 16 new characters, all in party clothes or costumes, plus a copy of a 40-year-old minifigure. This set introduces a new baseplate color, a bright orange.

1978 Police Officer: This character is a replica of one of the very first LEGO minifigures, with the classic minifig smile, and a simple uniform design. Because this is a birthday party, he is bringing a gift of a vintage LEGO set made of a 1x2 plate and printed tile.

Birthday Party Boy and Birthday Party Girl: These two children have fancy party outfits, including short pants on their short legs. (These legs are molded in multiple colors, but with visible mold lines rather than the smooth join found in earlier series with this technique.) Each guest comes with a balloon (a single piece formed by fusing two halves around the string) and a gift box. Each box holds a couple of printed 1x1 tiles: a couple of cookies or donuts from the girl, and vintage Minifigures (yellow Series 1 bags!) from the boy. Finally, the girl has a party hat that attaches to her hairpiece with a small pin.

Cactus Girl: This guest's torso (under the main barrel of her costume) is printed with a striped sweater, and has cactus arms rather than minifigure hands. Her head is two sided, one side smiling and the other looking uncomfortable. I look forward to swapping in a green head to use this minifigure as a saguaroi (an intelligent cactus race in Pathfinder).

Cake Guy: This guest's powder-blue tux is smeared with pink frosting from the cake that he stands waist-deep in. It's unclear whether he's meant to be springing out of the cake, because the large two-tier cake brick is clearly too small to hide a whole minifigure. The cake can be used on its own by filling in the 1x2 leg slot (which 4 plates deep).

Cat Costume Girl: This black and white cat suit has two-color molding on the arms and legs, with printing to make the seam look more furry. (However, the seams suffer from the same problem as the party guests' pants.) The head under the mask sports cat makeup, which is a nice touch, and means the piece could be used for a more human-looking catgirl by swapping the mask for a wig. She comes with a classic fish as a prop, but it's in turquoise for the first time.

Cowboy Costume Guy: This variation on the "cowboy riding a horse" costume is really quite clever, with the front half of the horse being a much smaller copy of a LEGO horse (specifically, the newer, hinged version that can rear). This costume would be very useful for representing a Small humanoid riding a Medium pony--and would be much easier to fit into a 1" square than most alternatives.

Dragon Suit Guy: This is easily my favorite entry in this Series! The costume uses the same small wings as the Cute Little Devil and Gargoyle from earlier series, but the reptilian head and tail are new. The minifigure's (human) head has two faces: one smiling, and one angry. By swapping in a blank black head (or Orca's gaping mouth, from The LEGO Batman Movie Minifigures Series), the costume makes an lovely Medium dragon, or (minus the wings) a fierce dragonborn. The head, wings, and tail remain useful for draconian characters who wear armor (or any clothing at all).

Elephant Costume Girl: This girl wears a gray elephant costume with a pink tutu. She comes with a cute, small mouse, which would make a great figure for a mouse or rat familiar. Her face is also crying, as if she's as scared of mice as elephants are supposed to be.

Firework Guy: This costume is a big, chunky cylindrical piece that fits over the head. The torso underneath is plain, but with red hands to match the cone. The pants are printed with the blast of fire for the rocket, which suggests a whole host of snarky jokes (not all suitable for children).

Flowerpot Girl: This costume consists of a large flowerpot that fits around the waist, a torso printed with a flower stem, and a large flower around the face. For a more ambulatory plant monster, remove the pot and replace the legs with green pants.

LEGO Brick Suit Girl and LEGO Brick Suit Guy: These two matching costumes consist of special new torso pieces that look like 2x3 bricks (but are an additional plate thicker to allow enough room for the head and legs to attach.). Each comes with a nice hairpiece that will be very useful for other characters, as well as a 1x1 plate for a gift. Because the back is molded to match the bottom of a plate, these costumes easily snap together front-to-back. The result is a bit kinky-looking, but could also be used as the basis for a multi-legged, many-armed monster.

Party Clown: This clown wears a gaudy orange, purple, and green suit with absurdly long coattails. (This fabric piece is the same as the Joker's from The LEGO Batman Movie, except for color.) He also has a bow tie and large top hat, but the best parts of this character are his props: two balloon-animals, in transparent pink and green. These dogs' legs are too rounded to stand up easily by themselves, but the body is a standard bar diameter, so improvising a base is fairly easy. (See the photo below for two examples.)

Race Car Guy: This costume is a typical race car driver's jumpsuit with a helmet, but with a car that fits over the hip posts. The car's wheels are skateboard wheels, and the engine in back is covered with a printed U-shaped 1x1 tile. The car is too small a scale for microfigures, and even trophy figures would stick up quite a bit. However, a 1x2 plate (or jumper plate) with a 1x1 round plate or two would be just about right to suggest passengers.

The Party Clown's balloon animals,
and the Spider Suit Boy's backpack.
Spider Suit Boy: This costume consists of a web-patterned jacket, a hood-like spider head, and a large rubber spider body that fits over the neck. This last piece would be perfect for use as a Medium giant spider by itself (see photo at right). The boy also comes with a standard spider prop, and a double-sided white head that would be useful for a vampire, fetchling, or other very pale race.

Unicorn Guy: The final character is a powder-blue male version of the Unicorn Girl from Series 15. This one comes with a shield with a unicorn emblazoned upon it and a golden longsword. The face is smiling and winking, as if he knows he looks ridiculous, but is owning it. As with the Unicorn Girl, this costume can be turning into a young unicorn by simply swapping the head for a blank one of a color matching the suit.

Back view of the Dragon Suit Guy, Cat Costume Girl, Cowboy Costume Guy, and Spider Suit Guy.

Past Collectible Minifigures Reviews 

LEGO Minifigures Series 14: Monsters!
Series 15 Minifigures
Disney Minifigures
LEGO Minifigures Series 16
The LEGO Batman Movie Minifigures
The LEGO Ninjago Movie Minifigures
The LEGO Batman Movie Series 2

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Creating Pantheons for "Time of the Tarrasque"

Matt Colville has started streaming some brainstorming sessions for his upcoming D&D campaign. The format is far longer and more rambling than his "Running the Game" videos, so they might not appeal to anyone who isn't already a Colville fan and interested in experiencing his thought processes. I doubt I'll watch all of them, but I did listen to the first two, Creating a Pantheon, Part One: Culture First and Worldbuilding II, Gods and Culture.  It prompted me to think about my own methods for creating a pantheon of gods for my campaigns.

One of Colville's main points was that the gods should be tied into the culture and values of the people who worship them, so these two videos involved at least as much discussion of the culture of the campaign's setting as it did about the god themselves. I've found this to be true in my own world-building. I've often started with a sense of needing gods for various portfolios (to cover all the existing alignments and domains, for example), but the best results come from considering the history of the world and tailoring the gods to better fit the specific people who worship them.

When creating my "Time of the Tarrasque" campaign, I started with gods ruling over the seasons, the elements, various celestial bodies, and dragons. I didn't want to have to create a separate, full pantheon for every race (as has been done in most "official" D&D worlds), so I initially kept my list of gods very short. As I added details to the various subsets of gods, I realized that some would appeal to certain races more than others, so the list slowly morphed into several small, distinct pantheons of a handful of gods each, which appealed to different races but weren't necessarily exclusive to one.

Then I focused for a while on working out the broad strokes of the history of the world. Each of the core races has an origin story that involves an exodus from another continent (humans and halflings), from under the earth (dwarves and orcs), or from another world (gnomes and elves). These migrations suggested further refinements to the gods and their relationships to each other, and pointed out places where I needed to invent more gods to fill in some gaps. I ended up with the following groupings of gods:

Dragon Goddesses: The chromatic and metallic dragons each have a parthenogenic patron goddess. Their one and only mating was a disaster, spawning the abomination called the Tarrasque (which is revered as a god by races that prize raw strength, like orcs). Beyond this dubious legacy, the Adamantine Dragon has been adopted as a patron by some paladin orders, and at least one minor island nation, while the Prismatic Dragon has recently gained much more influence through the conquests of a dragon-ruled kobold nation.

Dwarven Gods: This was the only pantheon that I borrowed from another source (Green Ronin's Hammer & Helm: A Guidebook to Dwarves), because it consisted of an elegant, minimalist trio of gods--Smith, Hammer, and Anvil.

Faerie Sovereigns: These deities of the four seasons are worshiped primarily by the elves and gnomes, who claim to have come from a primeval faerie realm parallel to this world. These gods change gender and partners with the turn of the seasons, which results in far less rigid definitions of gender and sexuality among their followers than among other races. Druids of these and other races often revere the Faerie Sovereigns and other nature spirits.

Celestial Gods: The sun god and moon goddess, and their child, the sexually ambiguous god of shadows, were first worshiped among the halflings. This holy family is opposed by the Void and its death cult, who are responsible for the catastrophe that drove the halflings out of their homeland to the far south. (Distressingly, the Void cult has apparently infiltrated a number of Underdark races as well.)

Elemental Gods: These four gods were originally worshiped by the ancient giant races' civilization that predated the arrival of the smaller races on the continents of Iath and Hemut. Few if any giants worship all four gods anymore, and the evil giant races follow corrupted versions of their favored elements' gods.

Human Gods: The first true human empire was a matriarchy, with a pantheon ruled by goddesses of justice, crafts, and war. A war with evil titans destroyed the empire, and the survivors sought a new home across the sea to the east. This pantheon is also the largest, mostly because I wanted some of the feel of the Roman Empire, which was one of the primary inspirations for ancient Prothonia and its descendants.

Because of this past conflict with the titans, most humans still fear and hate giants of any kind. However, during their long exodus, some humans abandoned their ancient gods, and turned to the worship of the four elemental gods, whose ruined temples they discovered in their new-found home. These reconstructed cults are anathema to the Prothonians, because they are derived from giantish traditions. Centuries later, this religious conflict still plays a major part in the politics of the modern human nations.

A third group of humans made friendly contact with the halflings, and settled among the smaller race. These men eventually adopted the worship of the celestial gods, which led to the founding of a theocracy ruling over both races.

Outsiders: Finally, a number of outsiders of various alignments provide minor gods and demigods for races who don't follow any of the preceding pantheons. Some examples include the Lord of Kytons (hobgoblins), the Hag Queen (hags, orcs, bugbears), and the Prince of Vermin (drow).