Thursday, September 28, 2017

Campaigns Update

Due to many recent changes affecting my various gaming groups, it seems necessary to give a quick update on the various campaigns that I feature here on my blog.

Time of the Tarrasque (Pathfinder)

I noted in my last session summary that we have a couple players who are in the process of moving to another state. Since then, job changes have affected the short-term availability of another player in the group. I have also started a new job, which is absorbing more of my time and energy than expected as I settle into the new routine. Because of all these disruptions, I have decided to put the game on hold for now. Hopefully we can resume in a few months, once life becomes less hectic for most of us.

Lost Mine of Phandelver (D&D 5E)

School and other scheduling issues have kept this game on indefinite hiatus. We've only managed to fit in one session in the past year (in May), so I may as well pronounce this campaign over. Meanwhile, my kids and I still have Yawning Portal (below) available, which doesn't require coordinating schedules with anyone outside the household.

Tales from the Yawning Portal: The Sunless Citadel (D&D 5E)

I've just posted a summary of our latest session, from this past weekend. I think we will be able to finish The Sunless Citadel in one more session (probably this weekend). After that, we will either continue on to The Forge of Fury, or take a break for a different game. The kids and I would like to try out the AGE system, either Fantasy AGE or Blue Rose, so we may do that next.

The Sunless Citadel #5: Through Pallid Gardens

Our friend Jeff (who played in my Lost Mine of Phandelver game) joined us for the latest session of The Sunless Citadel, in which he played the paladin NPC, Sir Dain.

(Warning: Spoilers for The Sunless Citadel follow.) 

Last time, the heroes reached the hall of the hobgoblin who ruled the goblin tribe, and took down him and his entourage. They then intimidated the remaining goblins into leaving the citadel rather than share his fate. The party rested before descending to the next level of the dungeon.

The party had reached 3rd level, so left the dungeon long enough for Kalitni to find a wolf to bond with, who she named Daikitsu. (Sir Dain's retainers, who had remained outside, reported a wolf lurking around, and were glad to see the ranger take it away.) This means that the party now consists of:
  • Raven Flare, female tiefling rogue 3 (assassin, urchin)
  • Kalitni, female human ranger 3 (beast master, hermit) with Daikitsu, wolf companion
  • Xuri, female blue dragonborn sorcerer 3 (wild magic, sage)
  • Sir Dain (NPC/guest PC), male hill dwarf paladin 3 (oath of devotion, knight)
  • Erky Timbers (GM-run NPC), male forest gnome cleric 2 (life domain, acolyte)
They returned to the chief's room, which contained a deep shaft lined with pallid vines, and a dim violet light coming from below. Kalitni convinced her new wolf to allow Sir Dain (the strongest member of the party) to carry her during the climb down. The paladin and ranger went first, with the others following shortly behind them.

At the bottom, the shaft opened into a large chamber covered in soil, in which pale, sickly plants and fungi grew. The purple light came from phosphorescent fungi on the walls. Two skeletons with shovels tended the plants, and Dain and Erky recognized two saplings in the room as twig blights like the one in the chief's room. Erky's sacred flame utterly destroyed one blight, and the party quickly dispatched the other one and the two undead.

Two doors and a passage led out of the room. Xuri was closest to the open passage to the north, and heard stealthy sounds of movement from the room beyond. The party advanced down the short passage and entered a rough cavern that smelled of blood and animals. Two giant rats ambushed Dain, but only inflicted scratches. A bugbear wearing a helmet decorated with antlers emerged from a more distant niche of the room, and attacked Kalitni, yelling (in Goblin, which only the ranger understood), "Get ready to meet the cook pot!" The paladin landed a critical hit and added a divine smite to it, sorely wounding the bugbear. The party then surrounded their foe, but all missed their attacks. The big goblinoid hit Dain hard, but the paladin downed it with another solid blow.

The party found the bugbear's stash of coins, and took the collection of weapons from a rack in the back of the room. They also found a narrow, winding passage exiting the north side of the room. Kalitni saw only tracks from the bugbear and giant rats beyond this opening. The party explored it for some way, but found nothing interesting after some time, so turned back to check out the doors in the shaft room--which suggested heavier use, so more likely routes to the druid Belak. [This passage gives DMs the option of expanding the adventure, but I decided to just reveal to the players that I had nothing special planned here. There is already enough to do in this adventure--and the following ones--that I wanted to just move on.]

The heroes investigated the southern door first. The hallway beyond went a short ways then met a shallow rift, where the earth had opened and shifted sideways. The hallway continued on the far side, but offset a good ten feet. The rift itself had none of the glowing fungi found in the other rooms, but the party had magical light sources. The floor was riddled with large, deep holes that were too deep and winding to probe very far--only Erky could have fit into them, and the gnome was not willing to risk himself exploring them alone.

The party carefully crossed the rift, and following the hallway to a room with decaying mosaics on its walls and an iron pedestal shaped like a dragon in the center of the floor. The dragon held an empty tray. Xuri, whose recalled another dragon sculpture concealing a trap, studied the stand carefully with the rogue's help. They found no traps, so the sorcerer removed the tray--and nothing happened. She then got Dain's help to rotate the heavy pedestal, but nothing worse than the painful screech of metal on stone occurred. Xuri was disappointed, but suggested that they might use this room as a place to fall back and rest while exploring this level.

The group then followed the rift going west, and found that it opened into a chamber with more of the strange holes in the floors and walls. A dim glow came from one of these holes, so the stealthier members of the party investigated. They found a fiery, serpent-like creature [a flame snake] in the hole. It soon heard one of the PCs moving, and slithered out to attack. A couple of sneak attacks from Raven, a poison spray from Xuri, and a sacred flame from Erky slew it, with those closest to it taking some damage from the intense heat of its body. Once dead, it began to cool and dim slowly, much like a red-hot iron taken away from the fire. The gnome spotted a couple small sapphires in the hole that the snake had exited, but they found no other treasure here.

The heroes then followed the rift the other direction. It ended in a hole in the wall of a small, empty room. A door on the far side of the room was ajar, so Raven crept closer to take a look. The door opened into a wide hallway that contained several tables heaped with bowls of plants and fungi, and various other tools and supplies. Six other doors exited the hallway: two more on this side and three on the far side,  all partly open, plus one door at the west end (which the rogue guessed led to the shaft room). Raven motioned the others forward, and they cautiously entered the hall. Xuri went ahead to look into the nearest door, and saw three goblins examining a giant rat strapped to a table. The goblins turned and saw her, so she quickly closed the door, but not before one of them squawked an alarm.

Two goblins door peered out of the opposite door, and Kalitni promptly shot one dead. Raven bounded across the room to run the other one through. Dain moved to the last door on the south wall, and saw two goblins just inside. Both goblins were half-covered with vegetable pulp, and the dwarf could see a large tun behind them, in which they had presumably been standing to mash things. Xuri checked the opposite room, and found three sleepy goblins just climbing out of their beds. They grabbed weapons and rushed her--but were slammed across the room and slain by her thunderwave. The heroes swiftly finished the remaining goblins.

The captive giant rat turned out to be covered in weird, fruit-like tumors, unlike any disease the PCs had ever seen. They decided to put it out of its misery.

Xuri had cast blur upon herself at the start of the fight, and was eager to press on before the spell expired. The last room in the hall contained a small stash of weapons, and a door on the east wall. The party quickly passed through it and the tiny room beyond, and found a long chamber with large patches of soil supporting fungi and some sun-starved plants. A bugbear had been tending to this weird garden, but the party's entrance caused her to attack with her sickle-bladed glaive. Dain used his protective fighting style to save Raven from a blow that would have been a critical hit without his help, so the bugbear accomplished nothing before she went down under the party's blows.

This room had three doors, one at each end (north and south) and one in the center of the east wall. Xuri opened the eastern door and found an octagonal room filled with various fungi and subterranean plants. There were more of the strange holes in the floor, and several patches of scorched plants. Seeing nothing else, and no other exits, she and her companions took the north door. This was another long chamber like the one where they encountered the bugbear gardener. Another door here led to another dead-end octagonal room, where the party fought three skeletons and two twig blights.

To the north was another octagonal room, this one with a door out. The led to a short hallway that opened into a room lit by red light coming from somewhere around a corner. They could see that the room's walls were covered in tiles decorated with dragons. Xuri's blur spell was just about to end, so the party fell back to the previous room to spend a few minutes healing their wounds before going further.

The room around the corner held a marble statue of a red dragon. The red light came from the dragon's empty eye sockets. Just in front of the statue was a disk of dark stone on which were inscribed with runes. Raven, who was in the lead, spotted a shadowy figure hiding in the inky darkness behind the statue, where the red light did not reach (but her darkvision did). When she shot it with her bow, it did less damage then she expected. Dain advanced to engage the shadow, but it landed a critical hit on him, and the paladin felt some of his strength and life force sucked away. [As a tough hill dwarf paladin, he was the only party member who would not have been taken out by that single attack!] Xuri missed with her witchbolt, and the shadow resisted Erky's attempt to turn it. Dain finally struck it, and his divine smite destroyed it--the radiant energy shredded the dark figure into nothingness.

As Erky healed the paladin, he explained how fortunate the party had been--a shadow was an incorporeal undead that, if it drained enough of your strength, would kill you and turn you into a shadow, too.

Xuri studied the statue, and concluded that it must represent Ashardalon, who was worshiped by the ancient cult who first built the Sunless Citadel. She also examined the circle of runes, which were in Draconic: "Let the sorcerous power illuminate my spirit." She recalled other Draconic inscriptions in this dungeon that produced strange effects when spoken aloud--some helpful, some painful--and asked the others to leave the room before she read these. When she did so while standing inside the circle, she was engulfed in phantom flames. (She now has advantage on Charisma checks for a limited time.)

This room had a door leading out of it. However, the party had traversed a number of rooms in a hurry, without taking time to search them, and was nearly out of spells and healing abilities. They decided to return to the room with the dragon pedestal to rest before going further, but made a point of searching each room on the way back so that they wouldn't miss anything of value. In the statue's room, they found a loose tile hiding some coins and a couple flasks of alchemist's fire.

When the reached the first octagonal room that they had seen, they found that it was not empty after all. Another one of the fiery serpents laired here. It tried to bite Erky, who managed to dodge it. Xuri reacted quickly, roaring at it to scare it off so that they wouldn't have to fight it. This intimidation worked, and the snake fled the room. Xuri followed in order to see where it went; the creature burrowed into the ground near the southern door in the gardens that the party had not yet opened.

The party retrieved the bugbear gardener's glaive, which Dain decided might be handy if he ever found himself stuck in the second rank of a crowded battle. The goblinoid also carried a potion of healing, which Kalitni claimed as she had given hers to Dain following one of the last few fights.

Back in the goblins' workshop, the party found enough supplies to make up a healer's kit, herbalism kit, and alchemical supplies. In the room with the dead, tumorous rat, they found a crystal flask filled with a liquid they could not identify. (They took the flask, but were careful not to touch or drink its contents.) The pressing room contained a tub full of mashed roots and fungi, a dirty straining basin, and several casks of finished brew. Kalitni could identify many of the ingredients, and knew that goblins liked such crude stuff; however, few other races found it palatable. The party took none of it.

The party barricaded themselves in the dragon pedestal room and took a long rest. Next time, they will see what lies beyond the dragon cult's shrine.

The Sunless Citadel: Past Columns

#1: Down into the Ground
#2: Lost Dragon
#3: Through the Dragon Door
#4: Goblin Boss Battle

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Book of the Righteous and the World of Freeport

In 2016, Green Ronin conducted a Kickstarter to update The Book of the Righteous to D&D Fifth Edition. The print book debuted at GenCon 2017, and backers like me received their copies about the same time. I had never acquired or read the original Book (written for v.3.0), largely because it was a thick, expensive hardcover (320 pages!) and I tend to prefer creating my own pantheons for my D&D campaigns. However, I've come around to thinking that I should try using those gods in my next Freeport campaign. The City of Adventure uses deliberately generic deity names (God of the Sea, God of Pirates, etc.) to make it easy for DMs to fit Freeport into their own campaigns. Using the gods from The Book of the Righteous seems the next logical step in creating a more uniquely "Ronin" campaign.

The 5E version of the book also promised to have a wealth of new crunchy bits for religious characters. One of the few real disappointments I've had with the 5E Player's Handbook is how short the list of domains is compared to 3E. The new Book of the Righteous fills in most of the "missing" domains, and adds some new ones (like Beauty and Corruption). Non-clergy in the gods' service also get new options, with at least one new subclass or other option for each class in the Player's Handbook.  That's very welcome material for a DM like me who enjoys homebrewing, because it facilitates giving each god and their church a distinct flavor. That's ultimately what sold me on backing the Kickstarter.

The Pathfinder edition of Freeport: The City of Adventure (FCoA) gives the most extensive list of gods (pages 401-402) of any sourcebook yet produced for the setting. For the remainder of this column, I will try to match that data to suitable gods from The Book of the Righteous. (The new edition omits the original book's "Listing of the Gods," which provides a quick summary of gods by portfolio. I have used that list to double-check my own conclusions below.)

The four most prominent gods in Freeport are the Gods of the Sea, Knowledge, Warriors, and Pirates.
  • Shalimyr, CN god of water, is perfect for both the God of the Sea and God of Storms. His domains are Tempest and Water. 
  • Tinel, god of magic, knowledge, and truth, fills the role of both God of Knowledge (in his CG aspect, which is open with knowledge) and God of Magic (in his N aspect, which keeps secrets). His domain is Knowledge, but the text implies that similar domains would also be appropriate. The Arcana domain (from the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide) would be another good choice for clerics of his archmage aspect.
  • The God of Warriors could be either Terak, LN/LG god of war and valor, or Canelle, CG goddess of victory and strength. The God of Strength has a separate shrine in Freeport's Temple District, making Terak the better choice for the local war god, despite FCoA listing all these martial gods (Strength, Valor, and Warriors) as chaotic. 
  • The Book of the Righteous mentions Freeport a handful of times. Two of those references (pages 103 and 162) state that Darmon, CG god of travel, wealth, and joy, is worshiped as a god of pirates in that city, and the latter mention suggests that the heretical Cult of Possession (CE) runs his temple there. Darmon is also God of Roads and God of Commerce, and possibly the God of Luck. I would recommend using the name Darmon for his more reputable aspects, and Harrimast for the god of pirates. (The name "Harrimast" is never used in FCoA, but was applied to the canonical God of Pirates in many earlier Freeport titles.) Darmon/Harrimast's domains are Travel and Trickery. 

Other gods worshiped in the city include:
  • Maal, LN god of law and justice, is both God of Justice and God of Retribution. His domain is Balance. Maal is the god of the Hexworth Inquisition, on the Continent (see FCoA, pp. 293-295). Many of his courts and inquisitors in that nation have been corrupted by the excessive zeal of the Necromantic Censure.
  • Morwyn, LG Goddess of Healing, has the Life domain. 
  • The "God of Life" is a nature god rather than a healer. Use Rontra, LG goddess of the earth (domain: Earth or Nature); Eliwyn, the N Tree of Life (whose guardians are druids); or Thellyne, NG goddess of woodcraft, nature, and the hunt (domain: Nature). Thellyne best matches the alignment given in FCoA.
  • Urian, NG god of the air and sky, is the God of the Sun. His domains are Air and Light.
  • Mormekar, N God of Death (and rebirth) has the Repose domain. The corrupted Cult of the Icy Breath (NE) worships him as God of Murder, using the Death domain. As God of Death, Mormekar is also popular among the Druzhdin of the Continent (see FCoA, pp. 291-293).
  • Thellos, NE god of greed, gluttony, and desire, seems the best match for an evil God of Thieves, though Darmon and the Cult of Possession both have significant followings in the criminal underworld. Thellos also qualifies as God of Lust (though Aymara, CG goddess of love and the arts, and Zheenkeef, CN goddess of wine, madness, and inspiration, provide non-evil alternatives).
  • Followers of the God of Penitence worship either an aspect of Shalimyr (attended by his holy ascetics, separately from the local sea god's temple) or of Mormekar (possibly led by one of the Reborn). It's conceivable that both may be true, if the shrine was established by an atoning Shalimyn.

The "Unique Gods" listed on page 402 of FCoA do not have counterparts in The Book of the Righteous. I would suggest the following domains for these gods:
  • Crawling Chaos (CN): Death, Madness, and possibly Arcana (Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide)
  • Unspeakable One (CE): Madness
  • Abaddon (CE): War
  • Dagon (CE): Madness, Water
  • Oona (NE): Madness, Repose
  • Yig, Hitthkai Sect (N): Knowledge, Trickery
  • Yig, Sskethvai Sect (NE): Fire, War

Some of these unique gods are given more detail in Cults of Freeport. I intend to write a future column about using that sourcebook with The Book of the Righteous.

In addition, cults of Asmodeus (LE god of lies, power, and fire) and various archdevils have operated in Freeport in the past (see especially Hell in Freeport). The King of Hell's domains are Fire and Tyranny.

Finally, the Continent is also home to some other religions not listed on pages 401-402:
  • The Eternal Flame, worshiped by the azhar of Kizmir, may very well be a part of the secret church corrupting the faith of Anwyn, LG goddess of homes, the hearth, and servants. The conspiracy's priests are LE.
  • The Way of Astrape is the dualistic faith of Tagmata, in which saints are revered instead of gods. Consider this religion to be NG with the Light domain. Its holy warriors are paladins with the oath of devotion.
  • Krom, God of the Orcs, is almost certainly another name for Canarak, CE god of destruction, violence, and rage. (The name "Krom" originally comes from Green Ronin's Ork! The Roleplaying Game; see also Black Sails Over Freeport, pp. 28-29.)

Note that the Great Church has not yet been mentioned in any of these suggestions. In the World of Freeport, that religion either lacks the ubiquitous nature ascribed to it in The Book of the Righteous, or it is most active in regions not dominated by a specific god's church. The latter would be the case in my proposed "all-Ronin" take on Freeport. For example. the Great Church is unlikely to have as much influence in Hexworth, where the Inquisition rules supreme, as it would in the more cosmopolitan Ivory Ports. It lacks a proper temple in Freeport, though the Continental Great Church almost certainly sponsors missionaries to seek converts in the city.


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, September 13, 2017

Unearthed Arcana and Freeport, Part 6

As many of you already know, I periodically review "Unearthed Arcana" articles with an eye towards using this material with Freeport: The City of Adventure. (If this is your first time seeing one of my UA reviews, see the appendix at the end of this column for links to past installments.) This time, I'm reviewing columns from May to September, 2017.

Unearthed Arcana Update (5/25/2017): This short piece explains the R&D group's process for further playtesting for the artificer and mystic, two new classes that were introduced (and revised) in previous UA columns.

Revised Class Options (6/5/2017): This article presents four subclasses that have been revised based on feedback about their earlier appearances in UA: Circle of the Shepherd for the druid (11/28/2016); Cavalier for the fighter (1/4/2016); Oath of Conquest for the paladin (12/19/2016); and the Celestial (formerly The Undying Light) for warlock (11/2/2015). It also updates past eldritch invocations (2/13/2017). All remain just as suitable for Freeport as they were before.

Greyhawk Initiative (7/10/2017): This document provides variant rules for initiative, in which characters roll dice for initiative determined by the type of action(s) they wish to take that round. These rules add more drama and unpredictability to combat, at the cost of a bit more complexity. Some groups may find that added chaos fits in well with Freeport's rough-and-tumble style, while others may find the setting to be more than sufficiently unpredictable already.

Three-Pillar Experience (8/7/2017): This alternate system for XP focuses on all three of the games's pillars: exploration, social interaction, and combat. Inspired in part by the milestone system of awarding XP, it also simplifies the tracking of XP, and gives the DM more control over the rate of advancement. This system is no better or worse than the standard rules or the optional milestone rules, simply different, and as such, is just as suitable for Freeport as either of those methods. However, if you feel that exploration and social interaction get short shrift when it comes to XP awards, this system may appeal to you.

Race Options: Eladrin and Gith (9/11/2017): This article presents a revision to the eladrin subrace that appeared in the Dungeon Master's Guide. This version plays up the eladrin's mercurial nature by tying its use of racial cantrips to emotional states associated with the four seasons. As an elf subrace (albeit a rare one), eladrin are suitable for characters from Rolland.

This installment also presents the gith races--githyanki and githzerai--as playable PC races. While nearly any race can be justified in visiting the City of Adventure, gith have never appeared in any Freeport products because they have never been Open Game Content. (On the other hand, none of the UA series is open content, either, so DMs are perfectly free to use gith in their home games.) In the World of Freeport, the usual origin of psionic characters is Naranjan (Mindshadows) rather than extraplanar races.


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, September 6, 2017

Kickstarter and Me, Revisited

A little over a year ago, in "Kickstarter and Me," I listed the various Kickstarters that I had backed. At that time, The Book of the Righteous Kickstarter had just recently concluded. I received my copy of the book last week, so it seems to be an appropriate time to revisit that list.

First, the following projects have updates since that column:

Freeport: The City of Adventure for the Pathfinder RPG: Half of the six-part Return to Freeport adventure path is now available, and I've been told that Part 4 will be released later this month. (Green Ronin has announced a February 2018 release date for a print edition of Return to Ftreeport, but that omnibus is not part of the KS rewards.) The final backer reward, a Freeport Companion for the Fantasy AGE system, still has no scheduled release date.

Prospero's Price; A Lovecraft and Shakespeare Tale: This graphic novel is still in limbo. The authors have sent out brief updates once or twice a year to say they're making progress, but I have serious doubts whether I'll ever see this book.

Epyllion, a Dragon Epic RPG: I have received the book, and my kids are very curious about the game, but we've not yet made the time to try it out. (Between school, continuing our D&D 5E game, and my other GM duties, we simply don't have the time to try to teach them another system right now.)

Blue Rose: The AGE Roleplaying Game of Romantic Fantasy: This game has been released, and the book is both huge and stunningly gorgeous.

Spirit Island: This game (and its first expansion) shipped earlier this summer, and we've been able to play it a couple of times so far.

The Feminomicon: This book has arrived, and is solidly on par with Stoll's earlier book, A Natural History of the Fantastic. He has started new Kickstarter projects along the same lines as those two art books, but I've decided to save my money for more games instead. Those seem to give a bigger return for my investment.

Book of the Righteous for Fifth Edition: I've only just started reading this, but it's a very pretty book, and full of richly detailed pantheons. The new crunch for 5E is very intriguing as well, and I will definitely be writing one or more blogs about how to use The Book of the Righteous with Freeport.

I have only backed one new Kickstarter since that previous column:

Isometric Gaming Paper Rolls by Erik Bauer (October 2016): This project produced mapping paper with an isometric grid for drawing 3D or forced perspective maps. The product funded and shipped quickly, though the erasable isometric mats that some backers have only recently been produced and shipped due to difficulties finding a manufacturer. I did not choose that reward, just the paper map sheets. I have yet to try them out, but they would be perfect for something like the maps of Castle Ravenloft in Curse of Strahd.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Finding Me Online

Besides this blog, you can find me, or my work, in the following places online.

Online Communities

I am active in the following online communities:

Ronin Army: The Green Ronin Publishing community forums. Most of my posting there involves Freeport, but I sometimes dip into the Fantasy AGE and Blue Rose forums as well.

The Piazza: A fan forum dedicated to the many campaign worlds of Dungeons & Dragons, but members are encouraged to discuss any RPG or setting that catches their interest. (I reported on my most recent Freeport campaign there, before I started this blog.)

The Paizo Messageboards: Primarily dedicated to the Pathfinder RPG, but other RPGs and many non-gaming topics can be found there, too.

DeviantArt: An online community for artists and art lovers. My gallery is here.

LEGO Dungeons & Dragons: This Facebook community is a closed group to prevent spam, but it is very welcoming to new members who enjoy LEGO, RPGs, and combining the two.


Gaming-related material that I have posted online can be found here on Studded Plate, at some of the communities listed above, and on the following sites I've created:

Tim's Errata ArchiveTim's Errata Archive: Unofficial errata that I've compiled for Green Ronin's Freeport line as well as many other products.

The Stuff I've Written page on that site lists my professional publications, with links to online stores for the PDFs (or the files themselves, for free web enhancements).

Thastygliax's Vault: Characters, monsters, campaign settings, and other material that I've created for a variety of role-playing games. The home page provides links to the various wikis I've created for my past and present RPG campaigns (like my current Pathfinder game, "Time of the Tarrasque"). Anything that doesn't fit one of those other wikis, and hasn't been published here on my blog, ends up in the Vault.