Tuesday, December 25, 2018

2018 in Review: The Blog

"Studded Plate" is now four years old!

I started this blog in late 2014, and has been a weekly blog since early 2015. This time last year, I posted a brief review of what I had accomplished on my blog during 2017. In the interest of monitoring my own progress, and assisting any new readers I've acquired since then, I've decided to make this an annual tradition. 

To quote last year's review: "I write about roleplaying games, LEGO toys, and how I combine the two, with occasional forays into my other hobbies. I have a number of ongoing series that I add to as I find the time and inspiration. These include session summaries for the campaigns that I Game Master, reviews of RPG and LEGO products, and other subjects." Each item below includes a link to either the series index (if I've created a separate page for one) or to the most recent installment (which usually includes a list of links to earlier columns).

"Building the Bestiary" is my series on how I build LEGO miniatures for my tabletop role-playing games. It focuses on the first Pathfinder RPG Bestiary and the D&D 5E Monster Manual. It's my longest-running series here (19 installments plus the Index), but I only finished two new columns for it this year (Aberrations and Celestials).

I wrote more reviews of collectible LEGO Minifigures Series in 2018 than I did in 2017, covering The LEGO Ninjago Movie, The LEGO Batman Movie Series 2, Series 18: Party, and Harry Potter & Fantastic Beasts.

"Time of the Tarrasque" is a homebrew Pathfinder campaign that I started in January 2017. We had a hiatus of about a year due to some players moving away and others (including myself) having dramatic changes in employment, but we were finally able to start again in September with a smaller group. We've completed 17 sessions of this game so far, so I have finally made an index page for it.

I continued running Tales from the Yawning Portal (D&D 5E) for my wife and children. However, my kids are now playing in local Pathfinder Society games regularly, and "Time of the Tarrasque" has restarted, so we all have less time to devote to this game. That has seriously delayed us finishing The Forge of Fury, but I hope to fit that in soon so we can leave this campaign at a better stopping point while we wait for a good time to start the next adventure.

Speaking of Pathfinder Society, I've played nearly three times as many sessions this year as I did in 2017 (as of writing this, I have played or GMed 107 adventures in 2018). I also earned my first GM star (for running 10+ games) this year. I won't be able to GM as often now that Tarrasque has started up again, but I do plan to continue running occasional scenarios when needed. I rarely discuss those games here in my blog, but many of my "Building the Bestiary" models have seen use in those games (or originated in prep for them), and I recently posted photos of the iconic character minis that I built for PFS. 

I posted a couple of articles about Green Ronin's Fantasy AGE system towards the end of 2017, with the intention of doing more, but other games have taken up too much of my GM headspace to follow through with Fantasy AGE this year.

I did, however, continue my series of Freeport 5E articles. 2018 featured installments about using Volo's Guide to MonstersXanathar's Guide to Everything, the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, and Mordenkainen's Book of Foes with Green Ronin's Freeport setting; using the Book of the Righteous and Cults of Freeport together; and more reviews of new "Unearthed Arcana" and "Plane Shift" material. In addition, I backed four Kickstarters for third-party 5E products this year: Mini-Dungeon Tome (AAW Games), Tome of Horrors (Frog God Games), Strongholds & Followers (Matt Colville), and Pirate Campaign Compendium (Legendary Games). Once I receive my print copies of the last two, I plan to give them similarly Freeport-focused reviews. (I backed the first two at the PDF level only, so might or might not do the same with them.)

I participated in #Drawloween in 2016, but worked far too much overtime in October 2017 to do so that year. This year, I didn't care for the list of prompts for #Drawloween (too many weird, overly limiting puns), so instead decided to try #Inktober (which used single words). I posted those drawings in small batches here in the blog, but you can also see the whole set at my DeviantArt gallery.

During my 35+ years of gaming, I've almost always drawn portraits of my RPG characters, but for some reason, I went over two years in Pathfinder Society without drawing any of those PCs. I drew my first one during #Inktober this year, and drew and posted another (Cassilda Tillinghast) soon after. I've drawn a third PFS PC since then, and plan to do more, but I haven't decided yet how I want to share them here on my blog. (Meanwhile, I'll be posting them to DeviantArt as I finish them.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

My LEGO Nativity Scene

With Christmas just a week away, I was reminded of the LEGO Nativity set that I built for our holiday decorations two years ago. I disassembled those models soon after the holidays rather than storing them, and also so I could reclaim the bricks for other projects. But I took several photos, which I'm sharing here, with a few comments about some the building techniques I used.

Part of the inspiration for this set was a papercraft Nativity that my parents displayed in our home every year. These had originally come as a book of cut-and-assemble models, one for each day of Advent, when I was in very early elementary school. Besides the pieces and instructions, the book also retold the Biblical story of Christmas (including many apocryphal details, like the Magi's origins and the Christmas rose), split up into passages matching that day's paper element. Part of the heavier cardstock cover formed the stable and backdrop for it all. The models were cute little pieces of art, and I usually called dibs on unpacking and arranging them each year.

For my LEGO scene, I first had to choose a scale. Using minifigures seemed a bit like cheating--plus my selection of "Middle Eastern-looking" garb consisted mainly of turbans, hoods, capes, and Star Wars robes. Instead, I made stylized brick-built figures about half again to twice that height. 

The stable was built of plates, with click-hinges connecting the roof and side walls to the back walls. The side walls were positioned at an angle, and their top edges used angled plates to build their trapezoid shape. 

The people's bodies were essentially stacks of regular and sloped bricks and plates. 2x2 cylindrical bricks are used for heads, and various SNOT (Studs Not On Top) parts were used to make beards and headdresses.

The manger was a small ship's hull piece, with bricks filling in the ends, and 1xN plates around the top; a couple more plates gave it a more stable base. Being a much smaller person, the baby Jesus used a blank minifigure head, with a radar dish added for a halo. (Mary and Joseph lacked halos because--unlike the angels below--I couldn't find a solution that I was satisfied with.)

The three Magi were, as befits kings, the most colorful models in this set. I used contrasting colors and styles for their robes and headgear, and heads of different colors (white, yellow, and black) to match one traditional depiction of them as belonging to different races. Two of their gifts were pieces from the Orient Bazaar LEGO Game; the gold crystal is a piece common to mining-themed sets.

The shepherds were built in neutral tones to show their humble origins. Their crooks were built from whips and wands. The sheep were 2x4 bricks covered with SNOT pieces that both suggested their wool and allowed a slope brick head and a 1x1 round plate tail to be attached. (The sheep were inspired in large part by the Wild Wool LEGO Game, though my models weren't designed to be sheared.)

The other animals--cow, camel, and donkey--were built using various techniques that I touched on in "Building the Bestiary #6: Four-Legged Friends," though at a slightly larger scale. This camel was very similar to the model from that column (which preceded this project by a few months), except that the head and neck were built from a number of SNOT bricks.

After taking the previous picture, I redesigned my cow model to make it a little smaller and less blocky.

The angels were monochrome except for their halos and the trumpet. Wings were attached using one of the techniques used in "Building the Bestiary #15: For the Birds" (which was posted the following summer).

The star was built out of round plates and sloped bricks. The 8 rays were sandwiched between two disks of plates, which allows the smaller rays to be turned to the diagonals. The star's tail was attached to the roof of the stable using some click-hinges. This photo also shows the placement of the angels, which were attached with hinges and 2x2 turntable plates.

The photo below shows the finished set, arranged atop a small shelf unit in our living room, where it remained for most of December. The shelf had a very smooth veneer, so I placed a sheet of felt on top before placing the LEGO models. This kept them from sliding around (or off) at the slightest bump or vibration.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hannukah, the solstice, another winter holiday, or none of them, I hope that the close of this year and beginning of the new year prove to be happy for you all!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Building the Bestiary #19: Celestials

It's the time of year when we start to see hosts of angels everywhere, so it seems appropriate to turn our attention this week to building models for those paragons of virtue: the celestials.

Celestials are innately good-aligned outsiders from the Upper Outer Planes. In most D&D and Pathfinder campaigns, they usually appear as allies rather than enemies, most often joining a fight through summoning spells. However, as beings of pure good, they will hold mortals to high standards, and will often punish those who (knowingly or not) profane a sacred site or who abuse their trust. In exceptionally rare cases, a celestial may fall from grace, and become a villain every bit as dastardly as the fiends that they were once tasked to battle.

A few celestials have already been covered in previous "Building the Bestiary" columns. See #6: Four-Legged Friends for the pegasus and unicorn, and #16: Serpentine Creatures for the couatl; all three of these creatures are considered celestials in D&D 5E. I've also presented one angel model (in #15: For the Birds), but this column offers new models for each type in the Bestiary.

For titans, see #3: Giants about building oversized humanoid minis. The Monster Manual's empyreans are Huge, while Bestiary 2's Elysian titans are Colossal. I haven't covered any Colossal creatures in this series yet, but I plan to devote at least one future column to additional techniques for models of that size.



Aasimars are native outsiders descended from humans (and sometimes other bumanoids) who interbred with celestials. They appear mostly human, though many have metallic hair, skin, or eye colors, so simply choose minifigures with the appropriate coloration. A few have halos, which can be added by attaching a transparent 2x2 radar dish to the stud on the minifigure's head; a clear 1x1 round plate can give it more altitude. (See the planetar angel later in this column for an example.)

Creatures with the celestial or half-celestial template look little different from the base creature, except that many have gold or silver coloring, and the latter template adds wings (see #15: For the Birds).


Agathions (Bestiary 2) are neutral good outsiders who combine humanoid and animal features. The weakest, the cat-like silvanshee, can be represented by a black cat figure.

Most others agathions can be built using animal-like minifigures such as those from the Legends of Chima theme: Eagle or Raven Tribe characters for avorals, Lion for leonals, and Fox for vulpinals. (For the avoral's wings, use the Eagle Tribe's wing assembly or see "Building the Bestiary" #15: For the Birds.)

The orca-like cetaceal can be built like a merfolk (see #2: Underwater Races), but with black and white parts. In the photo below, the tail is from The LEGO Batman Movie Minifigures, the torso from an Avengers: Infinity Gauntlet villain, and the head from the Minifigures Geisha Girl.

A draconal has a snake-like body; see #16: Serpentine Creatures for options. The easiest method is to use a Ninjago or Medusa snake body as shown here, which also fills a Large space nicely without needing a base. This model uses a Crocodile Tribe head and torso and Bat Tribe wings (both from Legends of Chima).

(L-R): Leonal, Avoral, Draconal, Silvanshee, Cetaceal, Vulpinal

Detail of the solar's
wing attachments


Angels may be of any good alignment, and can be found throughout the upper planes, as well as pursuing missions almost elsewhere. "Building the Bestiary" #15: For the Birds presented one method of building an angel (with brick-built wings), but here I've built separate models for the three ranks appearing in the first Bestiary: astral devas, planetars, and solars. In Pathfinder (but not in D&D 5E), the more powerful the angel, the more wings it has. In order to mount the planetar's and solar's extra wings. I've used small plates to attach more clip plates to the back of the minifigure. The two senior angels are Large, so have been mounted on appropriately sized bases. The heavily armored solar uses the oversized Axl minifigure from Nexo Knights as a starting point, both for its size and for the 2x2 studs on its back.

Astral Deva




Archons are lawful good outsiders. The weakest, the lantern archon, is described as an orb of light, though the Bestiary picture shows a filigree-like frame around that light. The photo below shows examples of both interpretations.

For the hound archon, use a canine-headed minifigure such as a werewolf (LEGO Studios, Monster Hunters), Wolf Tribe (Chima), or Anubis Warrior (Pharoah Quest).

Trumpet archons are built just like a two-winged angel (see above).

Hound Archon, Trumpet Archon, three Lantern Archons


Azatas are chaotic good outsiders who strongly resemble elves or fey. The Lord of the Rings, Hobbit, and LEGO Elves themes are the best sources of parts to convey this look.

Bralani and ghaele look like majestic elves with obviously magical weapons, so can be built with normal minifigure parts. I've used an Elves minidoll for the bralani, and LOTR elves for the ghaele's head and hair.

The lillend requires a bit more work, as they are Large, with snake-like lower bodies. Like the draconal agathion above, this model uses a Ninjago serpent body. These azatas have bardic abilities, so adding a musical instrument (like the brick-built lyre shown here) is a nice touch.

(L-R): Bralani, Ghaele, Lillend

Appendix: Past "Building the Bestiary" Columns

[#0]: How to Cheat (at Building) a Dragon
#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
#12: Vermin
#13: Non-OGL Monsters
#14: Plants
#15: For the Birds
#16: Serpentine Creatures
#17: Demons
#18: Aberrations

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Pathfinder Iconics Minis

Seoni and Feiya look like they are up to no good!
Around a year ago, I made LEGO minifigures to represent the iconic characters for the 11 classes found in the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook (whose stat blocks appear in the NPC Codex). I take these to every Pathfinder Society event that I attend, in case anyone needs to (or chooses to) play one of the official pregenerated characters. They have also proven useful for representing other PCs or NPCs of the same class, or who have similar equipment, or when we just need random pawns.

I have not yet attempted to build all of the other iconic pregens from other books, because that would require 3-4 times as many miniatures. By my count, including alternate classes but not unchained or prestige classes, there are now 40 classes for Pathfinder! (And I still don't own the books for two of them.) 

I did, however, build a couple of the iconics from the Advanced Player's Guide at the same time as the core characters, because I had recently tried them out for myself. Since then, I have built the other four.

Core Rulebook Iconics

Amiri (barbarian), Lem (bard), Kyra (cleric)

Lini (druid) with Droogami (animal companion), Valeros (fighter)

Sajan (monk), Seelah (paladin), Harsk (ranger)

Merisiel (rogue), Seoni (sorcerer) with Dragon (lizard familiar), Ezren (wizard)

Advanced Player's Handbook Iconics

Damiel (alchemist), Alain (cavalier) with Donahan (mount), Imrijka (inquisitor)

Alahazra (oracle), Balazar (summoner) and Padrig (eidolon), Feiya (witch) and Daji (fox familiar) 

Advanced Class Handbook Iconics

Finally, I have also built the bloodrager and investigator and bloodrager from the Advanced Class Guide. The latter is the ultimate skill monkey class, so is a favorite among our local PFS community. However, I often find that the hybrid classes are confusing for new players (and the occult classes from Occult Adventures even more so), so I feel no pressing need to build all of them anytime soon.

Crowe (bloodrager) and Quinn (investigator)
I strongly encourage people who are still learning Pathfinder to stick to the core class pregens, or at least to core plus APG. Save the hybrid, occult, and Ultimate pregens for later, after you have a solid grasp of the basics and are ready for something more unusual or challenging. Part of the GM's role is to help teach new players, but not all GMs are experts on every supplement. If your GM isn't well-versed on the class you want to play, then the burden falls squarely on you to know how the class works well enough to minimize delays to consult rules. If you're not up to that challenge, then it will be kinder to the rest of the table to choose one of the old staples, and wait for a better time to explore that shiny new toy.

Similarly, if I'm GMing a table that needs a pregen to use as a virtual fourth player, I insist that the choices be limited to classes that at least one person at the table knows well enough to run without help, because I already have plenty to juggle on my side of the screen--as do they, with one less brain to put together to solve the mission's problems.

A lot of this advice about classes applies to your own personal, custom-built characters as well, but it's even more important for characters that you haven't been playing and learning since 1st level.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Time of the Tarrasque: The Story So Far

As with my "Building the Bestiary" and "Freeport 5E" series, the session summaries for my "Time of the Tarrasque" campaign have grown numerous enough that I have decided to create this index page to make linking to those stories easier. (There is also a list of sessions on the campaign's wiki, here.) I will update this page whenever a new installment is posted.

I have added a brief one-line synopsis for each session, to help me and my players find past scenes again more easily.


Our Heroes

  • Edel Naergon, high elf bard (archivist).
  • Fatou Damiri, human wizard (evoker) and cleric of Yaziel; and her owl familiar Nochaesh.
  • Jumari Boneface, half-orc inquisitor of the Lost Egg.
  • Skarlo Rockhopper, gnome summoner; and his scorpion-like eidolon, Skuttledust.
  • ZhaZha, half-orc cavalier (order of the dragon); and her camel mount Zafira.
The following characters have been retired from play:
  • Jubair, gnome rogue (scout); formerly human, but reincarnated.
  • Lucretia, half-elf monk (zen archer).

Session Summaries

When We Were Six (2017, levels 1-3): Edel, Fatou, Jubair, Jumari, Lucretia, ZhaZha
Hiatus (2017-2018)
Present and Counted Four (2018-2019, levels 3-5): Edel, Fatou, Jumari, ZhaZha
Five for Fighting (2019-present, levels 5-): Edel, Fatou, Jumari, Skarlo, ZhaZha

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Time of the Tarrasque #17: Quaint Local Religions

Our heroes include:
  • Edel Naergon, high elf bard (archivist) 4.
  • Fatou, human wizard (evoker) 3/cleric of Yaziel 1; and Nochaesh, owl familiar.
  • Jumari Boneface, half-orc inquisitor of the Lost Egg 4.
  • ZhaZha, half-orc cavalier (order of the dragon) 4; and Zafira, camel mount.
(L-R): Father Abghat; Kelk; Mother Shogar with lizard companion Borba
Last time, the party reached the half-orc settlement of Gorza's Well, but had to slay a dust mantis before they could enter. Once inside, they reported on the fight to one of the village leaders, Father Abghat, and spoke with him about their mission against the death cultists of the Ghost Fist Clan. They learned a bit more about that tribe from Kelk, an orc refugee from the decimated Snakespear Tribe, but it was clear that they needed to seek out more information at the Burburan Oasis.

The funeral for the dead guard Kazar took place the next day. Due to the difficulty of ground burial in rocky desert terrain, and the lack of fuel for cremation, the half-orcs of Gorza's Well practiced sky burial. All the PCs decided to accompany the procession to witness this ritual: ZhaZha because it was her home and she helped recover the body, Edel because he wished to help honor the dead, and Jumari and Fatou out of curiosity. The body, now wrapped in cloth, was carried by friends and immediate family out of the caves and up a long steep path cut in the side of the ravine. Mother Shogar, an old half-orc priestess with no gray in her hair, and Kelk led the procession while chanting for the dead. (This Orcish chant was partly intelligible words, partly nonsense syllables.) Shogar wore a large number of trinkets and fetishes, many of them related to the Tarrasque, but once again, Jumari failed to recognize their significance. A monitor lizard, the priestess's companion Borba, followed her. Father Abghat also attended, because the dead man had been a guard and thus under his command.

Above the ravine, the procession continued to an exposed height, where the body was placed upon a group of large, flat stones and the cloth removed. The long, deep slashes that covered Kazar's body made further evisceration unnecessary, so the villagers merely stepped back, fell silent, and waited for the gathering vultures to descend and begin their feast.

The PCs conversed quietly among themselves as they watched. Fatou's questions about the ritual, which she found both strange and quaint, revealed enough of her own ignorance and superior attitude to irk both ZhaZha and Jumari. After some time, the mourners returned to the village, leaving only Kazar's cousin Zakar and one other half-orc to keep watch over the body. (After a few days, once the body was picked clean, the bones would be collected and carried back to the village.)

The next day, our heroes departed for the Burburan Oasis. This journey took three days, and was uneventful. After a night's rest, they spent a day selling most of the the loot they took from the hobgoblins. They kept most of the magic items [see Session #15], but sold the rest. Jumari used her share to buy a masterwork longbow built for her strength, while ZhaZha finally acquired a masterwork version of her favored weapon, the heavy pick. Meanwhile, Fatou was able to acquire the necessary supplies to copy new spells from the hobgoblin wizard's spellbook into her own, then sold the captured grimoire for additional supplies for future spells and scrolls.

The party then spent time seeking more information about the Ghost Fist Clan, as well as any leads on ways to acquire more money. They learned that the Ghost Fists had been growing bolder in their attacks on caravans traveling to and from the Stairs (the easiest path up the face of the Shalash Escarpment to the north). The last caravan to come in from the north had been attacked by giant vermin and zombies as well as orcs. These monsters had attacked while traveling during the cool night, about a day south of the Stairs. Due to the length of a round trip on this northern trade route, nobody could be certain if any caravans had gone missing recently. The Ghost Fists had attacked a number of caravans over the past year or so, but did not seem to be seeking anything in particular besides easy booty, slaves, and food.

A couple of caravans in the oasis town were preparing to head north soon. One of these groups was composed of desert nomads, mostly halflings, who would be taking supplies to settlements just north of the Stairs. This group was still mustering, so would not be leaving immediately.

The other group was a band of kobolds seeking escorts in order to return safely to their home north of the desert. Their leader, a merchant, was currently a guest of the local sheik, Hafiz Barakat (whom the PCs had met briefly when they escorted Lucan Midorichal here a couple months before). Edel was not a big fan of kobolds, due to his homeland being invaded by them, but he realized that the caravan might be a useful source of news from there--if he could suppress his urge to murder the vile little things.

With that thought in mind, he and his companions asked around for more information about these kobolds. The merchant, a copper-scaled kobold named Vartoranax, dealt in esoteric arcane components, and was returning home to southern Fendorlis after doing business in Almazur. Fatou recognized the name thank to her connections in the arcane community there. Vartoranax had visited the city in the past, and being both a sorcerer and a successful merchant gave him high status among his own people. The merchant was accompanied by a blue-scaled herald named Tyrrentyg, and an experienced guide named Nylrynn.

Edel and his friends decided to seek a job with the kobolds. They found them camped in a small cluster of tents near the sheik's residence. The largest of these tents was a flashy pavilion with a banner hung outside: a kobold coat of arms that resembled a copper snake wrapped around a bag of money. A handful of kobold guards stood squinting in the sun under an awning. Edel addressed these kobolds in Draconic, and one of them fetched Tyrrentyg from inside. Edel greeted her very formally, and inquired about employment. The herald was surprised to be addressed so politely by an elf, and asked about the PCs' skills. Edel replied that Jumari and ZhaZha hit things, Fatou set them on fire, and that he was well-versed in knowledge of the land. When Tyrrentyg asked Fatou what kind of magic she cast, she replied, "both arcane and divine." The herald noticed her holy symbol, and asked if she was a priest of the local moon god. Upon affirming that, it was Fatou's turn to be called "quaint."

Tyrrentyg was favorably impressed with the group, so explained that the caravan would be crossing the desert, then making other arrangements for transport once they reached the forest of Fendorlis. (This detail intrigued Edel, whose home was in that forest, but troubled Jumari, who had never left the desert before now.) The herald made an offer of payment, which Edel and Fatou (the only PCs who spoke Draconic) proceeded to haggle over. While they did so, Jumari peevishly asked in Orcish if they could speak "a reasonable language." Tyrrentyg clearly understood her, and haggled a bit more keenly after that as a result. Eventually, both sides reached an acceptable amount, and the herald asked how soon they could depart. Edel replied, "We are at your disposal." The kobold informed them that they would leave the night after this one, then asked if they would be bringing any animals. On hearing the PCs had camels, Tyrrentyg stated that the kobolds were not accustomed to such animals, so be sure to bring feed for them.

During this conversation, Jumari used her inquisitor's senses to try to determine Tyrrentyg's alignment, as well as that of the guards and any other kobolds that might be inside the pavilion. She detected none of the four alignment components, so concluded that they had no clerics among them.


For more on funeral customs in this setting, see this past column of "Studded Plate"; sky burials are mentioned in the final paragraph.

We left the length of the journey, and the pay offered, to be resolved later, because I needed to do some calculations about distance and travel time, and research suitable payment. The caravan needs to travel about 300 miles: 50 miles across the desert to the Shalash Escarpment, then traverse the Stairs to the top, then 150 miles to the north edge of the Lokoran Desert (stopping at a couple more oases along the way), then about 100 miles across the foothills of the Dragonspine Mountains to the southern border of Fendorlis. This will take a minimum of 24 days, and possibly as long as a month if there are delays.

Appendix: Previous Sessions
UPDATE 11/29/2018: An index of past sessions has been posted here. From now on, I'll be providing a link to that page in each new post, rather then the whole list.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Unearthed Arcana and Freeport, Part 9: More Magic, Eberron, and the Sea

Welcome back to my ongoing series of capsule reviews of "Unearthed Arcana" with an eye for how to use them with the Freport setting. This time, we'll take a look at articles released in August through November 2018.

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

Races of Ravnica (8/13/2018): This installment previews new races (loxodons, Simic hybrids, vedalken, and viashino) slated to appear in the Guildmaster's Guide to Ravnica (released in early November). That sourcebook is an outgrowth of James Wyatt's Plane Shift series, which I've discussed in past columns (herehere, and here).

All four new races are very specific to the Ravnica setting, so will require new origin stories for Freeport if the GM is not using Ravnica or other Plane Shift settings in their campaign. The Simic hybrid might be easiest to explain, as the result of magical experimentation (by guild wizards, cultists, or lone mad scientists), but as presented, that race seems rather blandly generic.

Dragonmarks (9/10/2018): This column is an excerpt from the Wayfarer's Guide to Eberron, available through DM's Guild. It dramatically revises the presentation of dragonmarks that appeared in the very first UA article for 5E ("Eberron," 2/2/2015), where they were tied to feats. Most have been rewritten as variant races or subraces, with only the Aberrant Dragonmark available through a feat. (There is also a Greater Dragonmark feat designed to enhance the racial powers.) One benefit of this change is that DMs who prefer not to use the optional feats rules can still include dragonmarks in their Eberron games.

The Wizards website states, "Even though these marks are associated with Eberron, you could explore using them in other worlds as well." I would be disinclined to use them with Freeport simply because they are so iconic to Eberron.

Magic Items of Eberron (10/8/2018): This article is another excerpt from the Wayfarer's Guide to Eberron. It includes three categories of new magic items: arcane focuses with powers beyond that of the basic tool; common magic items that show off the ubiquity of low-powered magic items in the Eberron setting; and special components that warforged can attune to and attach to their bodies. The arcane focuses and common items could easily be found in most Freeport campaigns, where low-level magic items are fairly plentiful. The warforged components, on the other hand, would necessarily depend on the presence of that race in the DM's campaign (see my comments on "Races of Eberron").

Of Ships and the Sea (11/12/2018): This installment provides rules for ship stat blocks and their use in combat, officer roles and special actions they can take, and how to integrate ships into downtime activity. This material fills a crucial gap in the rules, making adventures involving ship travel or naval combat much easier to implement. In fact, I would go as far to say that this may be the most essential "Unearthed Arcana" to date for running a Freeport campaign--especially one where the PCs are part of a ship's crew.

Vehicle rules have a tendency to become cumbersome in any game system, but this implementation seems to do a decent job of keeping things in line with 5E's simpler rules. Now I'm curious to see how UA's past forays into mass combat rules would interact with these ship rules, because at least one past Freeport adventure (Black Sails Over Freeport) requires both.

(Finally, Mike Mearls mentioned on his Happy Fun Hour that the dev team is working on rules for other vehicles as well, but that they limited this first document to ships in order to get more focused feedback.)

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Cassilda Tillinghast

Cassilda Tillinghast is a character that I created for playing The House on Hook Street, a module that is being run in campaign mode at my local Pathfinder Society venue over the next couple of months. We were strongly encouraged to make characters with psychic magic (from Occult Adventures) due to the usefulness of occult skill unlocks in investigating the adventure's mystery. I chose the mindblade magus (an archetype that makes that class's spellcasting psychic) because it fit a character concept that I already had in embryonic form.

The GM asked us for some character background, including a few specific questions, so that they could work personalized hooks into the story. My answers follow the stat block below.

As her surname may suggest, Cassilda was in part inspired by my old Buffy RPG character Patricia "Trick" Tillinghast, who I've posted about here before. Some of the details below were based on specific parts of Trick's history; others are new, in order to integrate Cassilda into this very different setting. I think of her as a sort of "alternate universe" Trick.


Cassilda Tillinghast
(original art by Tim Emrick)

Cassilda Tillinghast

Female human magus (mindblade) 5 (Pathfinder RPG Ultimate Magic, Pathfinder RPG Occult Adventures)
CG Medium humanoid (human)
Init +4; Senses Perception +9

21, touch 15, flat-footed 17 (+5 armor, +1 deflection, +4 Dex, +1 natural)
hp 38 (5d8+10)
Fort +7, Ref +6, Will +5

Speed 30 ft.
Melee +1 keen rapier [mindblade] +9 (1d6+2/15-20) or
    alchemical silver kukri +7 (1d4/18-20) or
    cold iron kukri +7 (1d4+1/18-20) 
Ranged masterwork composite longbow +8 (1d8+1/x3)
Special Attacks pool strike (2d6), spell combat, spellstrike
Magus Spells Known (CL 5th; concentration +14; melee or ranged touch +7)
2nd (3/day)--cat's grace, invisibility, see invisible, spider climb
1st (5/day)--expeditious retreat, feather step[APG], shield, shocking grasp, true strike
0--acid splash, detect magic, disrupt undead, mage hand, prestidigitation, read magic

Str 13, Dex 18, Con 14, Int 16, Wis 10, Cha 10
Base Atk +3; CMB +4; CMD 19
Feats Bodyguard[B], Combat Casting[B], Combat Reflexes, Weapon Finesse, Weapon Focus (rapier)
Skills Climb +5, Craft (leather) +7, Intimidate +8, Knowledge (arcana) +11, Knowledge (local, religion) +4, Knowledge (planes) +7, Perception +9, Ride +8, Spellcraft +11, Swim +5; Occult Skill Unlocks Phrenology (Knowledge [arcana]), Read Aura (Perception)
Languages Common, Orc, Shoanti, Thassilonian, Varisian
Traits Focused Mind, Seeker
SQ psychic access, psychic pool (6 points, +2 equivalent weapon)
Combat Gear potion of cure light wounds, potion of cure moderate wounds, acid (1) [acid splash focus], 20 alchemical silver arrows, 20 cold iron arrows; Other Gear +1 mithral chain shirt, alchemical silver kukri, cold iron kukri, masterwork composite longbow (+1 Str) and 20 arrows, amulet of natural armor +1, belt of incredible dexterity +2, cloak of resistance +1, ring of protection +1, traveler's any-tool, belt pouch, flint and steel, journal, masterwork artisan's tools (leathercrafting), masterwork backpack, prismatic crystal[OA], scrivener's kit, silk rope, spell component pouch, waterskin, whetstone, 47 gp, 9 sp, 8 cp

Cassilda Tillinghast is a young Korvosan woman of mixed Chelaxian and Varisian descent. She is tall for a woman, slender and athletic, with large hazel eyes and fire-red hair that make her more striking than pretty. Apart from a bow and a couple large knives (kukri), she carries no obvious weapons, but as a mindblade magus she can manifest a magical weapon at will--usually a rapier. Similarly, her armor (a mithral chain shirt) is not immediately obvious under her usual street clothes.

Cassilda's father, Thales Tillinghast, was a sellsword and gambler who fell hard for a pretty young Varisian fortune-teller. Camilla Lupescu's family of wanderers took an instant dislike to him, but Thales' ability to keep both his honor and his good humor during their extended hazing amused and impressed her enough that he eventually earned her kinfolk's grudging respect. Cassilda was born a year or two later, and spent much of her early childhood traveling the Varisian wilderness with her parents and extended family. During that time, she learned some basic magical lore from her mother and the rudiments of fencing from her father.

Shortly after Cassilda entered puberty, her family's caravan was attacked by orc raiders. Cassilda was ordered to hide in the wagons with the other children, but a raider found them. She shielded the others with her own body, and in her desperation somehow manifested her mindblade for the first time--and in a lucky blow, mortally wounded the orc before passing out herself.

The raiders were driven off, but many of Cassilda's kinfolk were injured, and a few slain. The clan was forced to stop wandering and live in a city for a time, until the roads were safer or they could find another band to join. For various reasons (including a plague in Korvosa that claimed some of her clan a few years ago), this temporary measure became more or less permanent over the next few years.

With a city full of trouble to explore, Cassilda grew up into something of a back-alley bravo with a few magical tricks up her sleeve. She has learned the hard way to be careful about she works for, or with. However, she has never forgotten her first real fight, which has left her with a driving need to continue defending the defenseless.

She is also insatiably curious about psychic phenomena. She has little talent for the kind of divinations and blessings her mother practiced, but has picked up some ability to read auras--and regularly uses it before agreeing to work with other adventurers. But once her trust is given, she's fiercely loyal to her allies.

Greatest success: The rescue of young Twilda, whose uncle Glindelmire, a gnome cleric of Desna, made enemies through his charitable mission work in the slums of Korvosa. The priest, normally a pacifist, hired Cassilda to help him get back his kidnapped niece. Her swordplay and his spells kept them both alive long enough to find the girl and fight their way out. The gang members who survived found the locals now rallied around the priest, and were forced to find some other neighborhood to bully.

A failure: Being defeated by a ghoul and a dhampir swordsman on the same night. While investigating some undead attacks, Cassilda came across a man bent over a fallen body in an alley. When he looked up at her, she saw long fangs, so attacked. The man was a dhampir, and a far better swordsman than she was. Their duel was interrupted by ghouls, one of whom struck and paralyzed Cassilda. The dhampir quickly dispatched the undead, then turned back to the fallen man, his friend who had been mauled by a ghoul and was near death. The swordsman tarried just long enough to make sure Cassilda could move and defend herself again before vanishing with the unconscious man slung over his shoulder. Her sword arm still bears a long scar from his blade, where she now knows he struck to maim, not kill. She uses it to remind herself to be more careful about which fights she picks. 

A person you have a positive relationship with: Alishaya, a Qadiran dancer (and sometimes thief) who Cassilda helped free from servitude to a pimp in a nasty neighborhood in Korvosa. The two women are now lovers, sharing the magus's tiny garret room above her Uncle Vigo's leatherworking shop. Cassilda still feels occasional guilt about taking advantage of Alishaya's gratitude, but the other woman seems content, and is well-liked among the Lupescus.

A person you have a negative one with: Konrad Leafsong, a half-elven minstrel with whom Cassilda had a brief fling a couple years ago--until she discovered his drug habit, and grew sick of his chronic shading of the truth. They had a very public row, which both of them have had difficulty living down--Konrad because he was humiliated by a berserk woman, Cassilda because the bard takes petty revenge by mocking her in song.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Time of the Tarrasque: Dust Mantis

The following monster appeared in session #16 of my "Time of the Tarrasque" campaign ("Gorza's Well").

The dust mantis is a giant mantis with the dust creature template applied, plus one additional change: its environment has been changed from temperate forest to temperate and warm deserts.


This horse-sized creature looks like a giant insect made out of sand, with two large scythe-like claws.


XP 1,200
Dust giant mantis [Advanced Bestiary 131; Pathfinder RPG Bestiary 200]
N Large outsider (air, earth, elemental, extraplanar)
Init +2; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +6
16, touch 11, flat-footed 14 (+2 Dex, +5 natural, -1 size)
hp 38 (4d10+16)
Fort +8, Ref +6, Will +3
Defensive Abilities air mastery; Immune elemental traits, mind-affecting effects
Speed 30 ft., climb 20 ft., fly 40 ft. (poor); airborne
Melee 2 claws +4 (1d6+1 plus grab)
Space 10 ft.; Reach 5 ft.
Special Attacks desert blast (20-ft. line, 2d4 slashing, Ref DC 16 half, 1/1d4 rounds), exude dust (DC 16), lunge, mandibles, sudden strike
Str 12, Dex 15, Con 18, Int --, Wis 14, Cha 9
Base Atk +4; CMB +6 (+10 grapple); CMD 18 (22 vs. trip)
Skills Climb +9, Fly -4, Perception +6, Stealth +2 (+14 in desert); Racial Modifiers +4 Perception, +4 Stealth (+12 in deserts)
SQ air breather, airborne
temperate and warm deserts (and Elemental Planes of Air and Earth)
Organization solitary
Treasure none
Special Abilities
Air Breather (Ex)
A dust creature can breathe air, even if the base creature breathed only water.
Airborne (Su) At will, a dust creature can walk on air as though with an air walk spell. In addition, it always falls as if affected by a feather fall spell. When falling, the dust creature can be moved on the wind as noted in the description of the air walk spell.
Air Mastery (Ex) Airborne creatures takes a –1 penalty on attack and damage rolls against a dust creature.
Dust Blast (Su) Once every 1d4 rounds, as a standard action, a dust creature can emit an abrasive jet of dust-filled wind that damages objects and other creatures. This wind takes the form of a 5-foot-wide, 20-foot-long line that causes 1d4 points of slashing damage per 2 Hit Dice (minimum 1d4, maximum 20d4). Any creature caught within the area may attempt a Reflex save for half damage. The save DC is Constitution-based.
Exude Dust (Su) At will as a free action, a dust creature can exude a cloud of dust that surrounds its body in a 10-foot spread. This cloud functions like an obscuring mist spell, except all dust creatures can see through it normally. Any other creature caught within in the cloud must succeed on a Fortitude save or be blinded by the stinging dust. Creatures that close their eyes or have them covered before the dust could affect them gain a +10 circumstance bonus on the save roll. A creature that enters the dust cloud with its eyes closed or covered need not make a save against blindness unless it opens its eyes while within the dust cloud. A creature blinded by a dust creature's cloud of dust regains its sight 1d4 rounds after its last exposure to a dust cloud with its eyes open. Blinding exposure of even a single eye blinds all eyes supernaturally. This is a blinding effect. The save DC is Constitution-based.
Lunge (Ex) A dust mantis's limbs are capable of reaching much farther than normal for a creature of its size. As a full-attack action, it can make a single attack with its claws at double its normal reach. When a giant mantis attacks with a claw in this manner, it gains a +4 bonus on its attack roll. A giant mantis cannot make attacks of opportunity with its lunge.
Mandibles (Ex) A dust mantis that grabs a foe can make a bite attack against that foe as a secondary attack. The mantis's bite is a -1 attack that inflicts 1d6 points of damage on a hit.
Sudden Strike (Ex) A dust mantis is particularly adept at moving quickly when its foes are surprised. During a surprise round, a dust mantis may act as if it had a full round to act, rather than just one standard action.

Time of the Tarrasque #16: Gorza's Well

Our heroes include:
  • Edel Naergon, high elf bard (archivist) 3.
  • Fatou, human wizard (evoker) 2/cleric of Yaziel 1; and Nochaesh, owl familiar.
  • Jumari Boneface, half-orc inquisitor of the Lost Egg 3.
  • ZhaZha, half-orc cavalier (order of the dragon) 3; and Zafira, camel mount.
Last time, our heroes started their journey north from Zahallan to the Burburan Oasis to seek more information about the death-worshiping Ghost Fist Clan, and the area of the Shalash Escarpment near The Stairs that tribe calls home. They made a detour to visit ZhaZha's home village of Gorza's Well, but before they reached that settlement, they came across the scene of a recent battle between orcs and hobgoblins. They encountered some surviving hobgoblins who were looting the bodies, and dispatched them.

Soon afterwards, the party entered a region of more rocky desert. ZhaZha easily followed the landmarks to find the way to her home, despite having been away for over a year. However, when she came within site of the cluster of large boulders that screened the southern entrance to the ravine in which the village lay, she found signs of trouble. A half-orc body lay some distance from the rocks, and she caught glimpses of something large hiding among the rock. She dismounted to check the body; it was Kazar, one of the village guards. He had been slain by something with a serrated slashing weapon, as well as a bite.

Edel caught sight of the thing in the rocks, and used a sift spell to get a closer look. It was a dust mantis: an elemental that resembled a horse-sized giant mantis made of sand and dust. He began a litany of advice to his companions for how to fight it, and fired his bow at the rocks.

The mantis produced a thick cloud of dust around itself, obscuring it from view. When the cloud moved forward out of the rocks, ZhaZha charged it, but failed to strike the thing with her lance--or even see it in the cloud. (She did, however, avoid being blinded by the dust.) Jumari followed suit, on foot, and managed to close with it and shout its location to the others. Fatou cast shocking grasp and moved into the cloud until she could deliver the spell--which hit, and left a small glassy patch in the beast's sandy body. ZhaZha dropped her lance to draw her pick and move close enough to see the giant insect. Edel kept up his naturalist lecturing, but failed to hit anything with his bow.

Inside the cloud, the dust mantis spat a stream of sand at ZhaZha and her camel; she was only slightly injured by the attack, and Zafira was left unscathed. [As a mount, she has evasion.] The mantis stepped back into the cloud, so Fatou cast burning hands at it. She then circled around the rocks to find it again, without getting in the way of Jumari or ZhaZha following it more directly. The cavalier found an easier path through the rocks, and struck it down with her pick. The cloud began to settle, but very slowly. While it did so, Jumari struck the mantis a couple more times, until it collapsed into a shapeless pile of sand.

As the dust cleared, the heores could see the gate beyond the cluster of rocks. An orc poked his head out from cover above the gate and asked (in Orcish), "Is it dead?" ZhaZha recognized him as Zakar, cousin to the dead half-orc outside, and informed him that both the bug and Kazar were dead. She promised to bring in the guard's body, and Zakar opened the gate for the party. He stared openly at the two non-half-orcs with her, before leading them to a second gate further up the ravine, where two more half-orcs stood guard. "ZhaZha is back, and she killed the thing!"

Beyond the second gate, the ravine opened up into a larger space that housed the village itself. The population here was almost entirely half-orcs; full-blooded orcs or humans were rare sights, and no other races were visible. Near the gate, the right side of the ravine housed stables--based on the pungent stink of camel--while the left side held caves from which people carried water.

Almost immediately, a middle-aged half-orc man approached, with a handful of younger warriors in his wake. The older man wore no armor, and walked with a confidence matched by his muscular physique. He accosted ZhaZha with two questions, in Orcish: "Did you kill it?" (Yes) then "Who are your friends?" She introduced the others, using Common to indicate that they did not all know Orcish. (Edel is still learning the language.) The man introduced himself as, "Father Abghat, mate of the Women of the Well, and war leader here." When ZhaZha informed him that she and her companions were fighting a death cult, he suggested that they go somewhere out of the sun, and out of earshot of the whole settlement, to talk. But first, he shed his escort by tasking them with carrying Zakar's body "to the usual place, until Mother Shogar can tend to him," and stabling the new arrivals' two camels. (The one who led Zafira away did so with exaggerated care, as if he knew her or her rider's reputation all too well.)

Abghat led the group into one of the left-hand caves, where Fatou soon had to pull out her everburning torch to be able to see her way. They passed through a larger chamber in which a large hole was surrounded by a low stone wall and multiple machines for drawing water--some of them rather sophisticated for such a small desert settlement. Many other tunnels opened into this room, through which a number of villagers passed in order to draw and carry water. Abghat crossed the chamber to a tunnel without any foot traffic, which led to a small antechamber with a few benches facing two more comfortable chairs. He sat in one of these, and gestured at the benches.

(ZhaZha knew the other chair was for Mother Shogar, the Woman of the Well and the village's spiritual leader. A passage beyond led to the two leaders' private quarters, and to the cult sanctum beyond. Few natives--and no outsiders--ever went further than this meeting room, and the sanctum was even more taboo.)

At first, Abghat asked questions about the monster the heroes had fought outside the gate. Edel did most of the talking for this, with Fatou adding in details as needed. During this talk, everyone except Jumari noticed that the war leader's worn, chipped wooden amulet was a symbol of the Tarrasque.

The war leader then asked to hear more about the death cult that the group was hunting. ZhaZha summarized their adventures so far, leaving out certain details such as Jumari's family and faith. She explained that there was evidence that the cult was growing in influence, encroaching on places it hadn't before, and making allies to help it work unhindered. The party now sought any information they could find on the Ghost Fist Clan, and the region near the Stairs that they controlled. Abghat replied that he knew little about that tribe or its lands. However, Mother Shogar's new apprentice was a recent arrival from the north, so may know more. When ZhaZha told him about the Ghost Fists being led by a human warlord, this disturbed the elder. The Ghost Fists "worship the wrong god," he replied, glancing briefly at Fatou's Javanian holy symbol. (The cleric understood the veiled slight, but did not rise to the bait.)

As the others talked, Jumari remained perfectly silent, with her veil firmly pulled up to her eyes. Being surrounded by so many orcs and half-orcs roused her paranoia. She used her inquisitor powers to try to determine Abghat's alignment, but it didn't register to her senses. Abghat eventually turned his attention to her, and asked which tribe she was from. ZhaZha tried to deflect his questions without disrespecting her elder, but he persisted. Jumari told him, "I have no tribe." She did not know what happened to them--and her tone implied that she didn't care. Abghat asked to see her face, so that he would know it when he saw it again. She complied, and the elder showed no sign of recognizing the significance of her birthmark.

Abghat relented in his prying, and asked ZhaZha how long they planned to stay here. The cavalier replied that it would not be long, as they were eager to find out more about the cult's activities, which would require more travel. She was pretty sure that her father would give them lodgings, so Abghat promised to send the apprentice, Kelk, there to speak with them later.

ZhaZha led the way to her family's cave, which was conveniently on the edge of the settlement--the better to keep her friends from drawing too much attention. ZhaZha's father, who was freakishly tall like his daughter, addressed her consistently as "Zultana," but the cavalier warned her new friends to never call her by that name. ZhaZha's brother, her only other living relative, was the runt of the family at only a few inches over 6'. ZhaZha was able to smooth over the awkwardness of bringing strange outsiders home after being away for so long, and dutifully did her share of bringing water from the well. She helped her friends continue teaching Edel Orcish during their meal and the long rest break during the hottest part of the day.

As the evening approached, Kelk arrived at the family cave. She was a full-blooded orc, much more attractive than most, with her hair shaved into a mohawk. Her eyes were somewhat filmy, though it didn't seem to impede her mobility. She told the group that she was born into the Snakespear Tribe, whose territory was near the Ghost Fists'. She left because the death-worshipers killed most of her tribe. She knew one of their warriors was a human, whose scythe cut a bloody swath through her kin. (While a scythe is appropriate to a death god, Fatou and Jumari knew that Asmolon's Javanian priests favor the flail. So they still did not know if this Yazdanyar was a priest himself or simply a warrior of some kind.) Kelk didn't know about any other leaders among the Ghost Fists, but did say that a few of the orcs who attacked her people were no longer alive. She also didn't know the enemy's numbers; her own tribe had been slightly larger than the Gorza Well settlement (upwards of a hundred), but she feared the Ghost Fists numbered many times that.

Kelk survived by fleeing, but nearly died in the desert. She was found by Mother Shogar--or rather, she was led to her, by a lizard. ("Why a lizard?" "It was the first food I'd seen in three days.") That was nearly half a year ago--well after ZhaZha last left Gorza's Well.

Jumari asked if the Ghosts Fists ever had any peaceful interactions with anyone. Kelk gave her a skeptical look--it's the way of orcs to take what they want, if they can. The 'Fists often attacked merchants on the trade routes to the Stairs. They and other tribes who live near the Shalash Escarpment dwell in caves, which are common in those cliffs.

(Kelk also wore a Tarrasque talisman, one much newer than Abghat's. Jumari failed to identify this one, too, but sensed chaos in the apprentice's aura.)

ZhaZha asked the orc woman if there was anyone she wanted them to look out for, or avenge. Kelk showed them the snake tattoos on her arms, and said they would know a member of her old tribe by similar marks. The cavalier asked if bringing any other survivors here would be a good idea. Kelk replied that before she came here, she would have said that Gorza's people would not want them. Now, she did not know--but the Woman of the Well would be wary of any large group coming here.

The heroes thanked the apprentice for her information, then discussed their next move. They decided to stay for a day before continuing on to the Burburan Oasis.

Fatou took advantage of the delay to scribe a couple of scrolls. ZhaZha took a shift with the village's guards. Jumari stayed out of sight at first, but then ZhaZha offered to spar with her, and decided to help train the village's youngsters while she was at it.

Edel explored a bit, and was propositioned by a brawny half-orc woman. She was not nearly as attractive as ZhaZha or Kelk, but the bard had been without companionship for quite some time, and he was perversely curious. He accepted, but found the experience far less pleasant that he had hoped; he was left exhausted and very sore afterward.


I'll be posting the stat block for the dust mantis very shortly. [Edited to add link.]

After my usual awards for the fight and roleplaying this session, the PCs ended up only about 30 XP short of what they needed for 4th level. I decide to increase the award just enough to get them there, so they are now advancing their characters in preparation for next time. Once they reach the Burburan Oasis, they will be able to convert their hobgoblin loot to cash, so they'll need to consider how to spend that soon, too.

Appendix: Previous Sessions