Thursday, March 30, 2017

Building the Bestiary #12: Vermin

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

Basic Bugs

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

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

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


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


Beetles

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


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

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

Bees and Wasps

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

Giant wasp (L) and giant bee (R)

Centipedes

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


Scorpions

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


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


Spiders

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


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

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

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

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

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

Other Vermin-like Creatures

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

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

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

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


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

Appendix: Past "Building the Bestiary" Columns

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

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Storing and Transporting LEGO Bricks and Minis

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

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

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

Previous Sessions: 
Interlude: Edel and the Virrens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Session #6: Where All the Bodies are Buried

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Unearthed Arcana and Freeport, Part 4 (Class Options, Part 2)

My previous review of "Unearthed Arcana" columns covered the new class options for Barbarian through Fighter, plus the revised Ranger class, with suggestions for using them in Green Ronin's Freeport setting. This week's column covers Monk through Wizard, plus the new 20-level Artificer class.

Monk: Monastic Traditions (12/12/2016): Monks who follow the Way of the Kensei gain additional training with weapons, providing them with more weapon proficiencies and more tricks in combat. Those who follow the Way of Tranquility are seekers of peace, and are skilled diplomats and healers. The latter choice is probably less than optimal in a rough-and-tumble town like Freeport, but might make for an interesting challenge in a campaign more focused on social interactions than murder-hoboing.

Paladin: Sacred Oaths (12/19/2016): The two sacred oaths in this installment are designed for villains rather than heroic PCs. A paladin with the Oath of Conquest, also called a hellknight, seeks to subjugate his enemies, not merely defeat them. A paladin with the Oath of Treachery, or blackguard, has no allegiance or code and will use any means to secure his own power. These paladins exist alongside the Oathbreaker from the DMG, and often have ties to the devils of Hell and demons of the Abyss, respectively. Even in Freeport, hellknights and blackguards rarely act openly--not only is the worship of devils or demons among the city's very few capital crimes, but a paladin of Treachery prefers deception by his own nature.

Artificer (1/9/2017): This "Unearthed Arcana" article presents the Artificer as a full 20-level character class replacement for the wizard subclass from the initial "Eberron" column (2/2/2015). This class works very well with Freeport's unusual mix of eldritch magic and experimental technology. The Alchemist specialist would probably be the better-established tradition, with the Gunsmith only appearing very recently, with the advent of black powder weapons.

One point that needs clarification is whether the Gunsmith's Thunder Cannon can be used by a non-artificer. If so, this would make an artificer highly prized as an ally who can provide firearms more cheaply than mundane gunsmiths--or a target for thieves or kidnappers. (I have submitted this question via the feedback survey.)

Ranger and Rogue (1/16/2017): This article presents two new ranger conclaves that can be used with either the Player's Handbook ranger or the "Unearthed Arcana" revised ranger. The Horizon Walker will have plenty of work in Freeport seeking out planar portals and the threats they can unleash (possibly leading to encounters with hellknights or blackguards!). The Primeval Guardian could be drawn to Freeport to commune with the jungles of A'Val--or might visit them to escape the city's oppressive corruption.

This column also offers one new rogue archetype, the Scout, who is an expert at woodcraft, mobility, and group tactics. This subclass will enhance the effectiveness of any party that prefers stealth and advance warning to simply running headlong into trouble, especially at higher levels. One issue with the Scout, however, is that a previous "Unearthed Arcana" ("Kits of Old," 1/4/2016) used the same name for a fighter archetype, which could cause some confusion.

Sorcerer (2/6/2017): This installment presents an update to the Favored Soul, which is radically changed from the version presented in "Unearthed Arcana: Modifying Classes" (4/6/2015), but is still easily used in Freeport. The column also presents three completely new sorcerous origins: Phoenix Sorcery, Sea Sorcery, and Stone Sorcery. Of these, Sea Sorcery is clearly the best thematic match to Freeport, and could result from having a merfolk, nereid, or marid ancestor. Stone Sorcery would be common among crag gnomes (who are masters of earth magic), while Phoenix Sorcery could be found among the azhar; sorcerers of either origin might be drawn to Freeport to explore Mount A'Val.

This column lacks an air-based sorcerous origin because Storm Sorcery previously appeared in "Unearthed Arcana: Waterborne Adventures"; the final official version appears in the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide.

Warlock and Wizard (2/13/2017): The Hexblade and Raven Queen warlock patrons both have ties to the Shadowfell, so they are likely to be interested in the elusive places near Freeport where the barriers between the material and shadow worlds grow thin. The Raven Queen also hates intelligent undead, and Freeport seems to attract such horrors in droves. This article also presents several new eldritch invocations for various warlock patrons from both the Player's Handbook and the "Unearthed Arcana" series.

Only one new arcane tradition for wizards, Lore Mastery, is presented. These academics are likely to have ties to the Wizards' Guild in Freeport, or to seek to study texts possessed by that guild or by the famous library of the Temple of Knowledge.

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.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Time of the Tarrasque: Funeral Customs

After the introduction of a death cult and the heroes' first encounter with undead in my "Time of the Tarrasque" game, I felt it necessary to give more thought to some of the funeral customs that the characters might witness in the campaign.

Asasor


The Sultanate of Asasor is composed primarily of humans and halflings that worship the Javanian Pantheon (the original religion of the halflings). The central conflict of that mythology is the eternal war between Talitar, the good god of the sun, life, and healing, and Asmolon, the evil god of death, destruction, and the undead. Apart from them stands the moon goddess Yaziel, whose duties include guiding the dead (whether good, evil, and neither) to their final homes in the outer planes.

Funeral rites for the dead help both the living and the dead make peace with their loss. These rituals purify the dead and prepare them for their journey to the afterlife. In most of Asasor, bodies are buried in the ground or, for those who can afford it, in family monuments (usually of stone). Worshipers of the Javanian pantheon prefer to be buried in specially consecrated ground near a temple, in order to benefit from the protections of the gods and their priests.

Cremation may be an option if a city becomes too overcrowded to allow burial of complete bodies, or if the deceased's remains needs to be transported a great distance. An outbreak of undead often results in more widespread use of cremation, for the duration of the immediate threat and some time afterwards, because the burning of bodies prevents most forms of reanimation. (It also makes returning the dead to life by more benevolent magic more difficult, but only the wealthiest can afford such miracles anyway.)

In the Lokoran Desert and other inhospitable places, a burial might not be as simple a task as in fertile farmland. Sandy dunes shift over time, and are vulnerable to digging animals, while rocky badlands might lack sufficient earth to cover the remains. In these regions, a tomb might be excavated from bedrock if time and wealth allow, or a natural cave or hollow might be used as a crypt. Alternately, a well-made cairn of stones provides at least minimal protection from scavengers.

Thovalas


In the human Empire of Thovalas, military expediency has done much to influence funeral customs. The bodies of slain soldiers are frequently burned on pyres, often sharing a fire with fallen comrades from the same unit. Such cremations help curb the spread of infection that runs rampant near battlefields, denies the enemy the chance to dishonor the fallen (whether to erode morale, or perform black magic), and saves the army the burden of having to transport the bodies home. In the case of a fallen general or other distinguished officer or hero, the funeral pyre will be larger, so as to burn longer and brighter, and the charred bones are sometimes recovered for return to the deceased's next of kin or liege lord. If the army finds itself in a place lacking sufficient fuel for burning, they will resort to earth burial, cairns, or other means to dispose of their dead respectfully.

Among the civilian population, burial is common where space allows. In most farming communities, the dead are buried in fields and orchards so that their remains will nourish the crops. (The wise will invest extra labor into burying the dead deep enough to not be disturbed by plows.) Large urban areas that lack room for cemeteries will build crematoriums outside of the city, where the constant smoke and stench will bother as few as possible of the living. Many urban families hire special porters to transport their dead to the crematorium after memorial rites are concluded; for many poor families, this fee represents the bulk of their funeral expenses. (In a prosperous, lawful city, these collectors are well paid and carefully monitored; in a poorer town with lax authority, they are easily corrupted.)

The Elves

Most elves, including those of Fendorlis, believe in returning the dead back to the natural world from which they came. For most, this means an earth burial, often beneath a tree or in a meadow, or near a powerful fey site. If the deceased had sufficient status, the location might be marked with anything from a carving in a tree's bark to a ring of standing stones, but normally the community simply preserves the knowledge of grave sites as part of its oral traditions.

Elves who have left their homelands often attempt to make arrangements for their remains to be returned to that native land. Failing that, burial in some other fey-haunted woodland is the next most acceptable alternative.

Orcs and Half-Orcs


The orcs of the Lokoran Desert (and many other places) revere the memory of their worthy dead, but rarely enshrine their remains. Many tribes are unrepentantly savage barbarians and cannibals. who consider their fallen enemies--and sometimes their own dead--to be a valid food source.

Those that worship the Tarrasque often look to that beast as a model, claiming that anything that they are strong enough to kill and eat is theirs by right. The stronger the creature killed, the more glory earned, and the more strength received from consuming it. Even those tribes who have turned away from outright cannibalism still find their hunting and warfare influenced by this philosophy--warriors seek suitably dangerous game to prove their worth, and after defeating a challenging foe (whether intelligent or not), many take a trophy from the body. Any dead bodies not collected for food are left where they lie for the scavengers to devour, unless the body is too close to the tribe's lair or camp (in which case they will remove them to a safe distance, to avoid polluting water sources or attracting undesired animals to their homes).

Half-orcs raised among the humans and halflings of Asasor often adopt their ways--sometimes even worshiping the Javanian religion (see Asasor, above). Others alter their old traditions to be more palatable to non-orcs, such as abandoning all rituals that involve mutilating or consuming any sentient being's corpse. Some desert settlements, consisting almost entirely of half-orcs, engage in sky burial: carrying the deceased to an exposed height for scavenger birds to pick clean, then collecting the bones for storage at a sacred site.