The Elder God’s Cavern, level 2, session 2

The group re-formed to finish the second level of the dungeon. We had Crohm (human fighter), Uatu (halfling warlock), Black Lotus (drow monk), and two newcomers: Dre (dragonborn barbarian) and Goris (half-orc barbarian). I run the group through Meetup, so try to accommodate people who join halfway through. Once again, we met at the excellent Killer Rabbit Comics and Games in South Burlington, VT.

The group took a long rest to recover from the fight. After waking, they heard a commotion: what sounded like shouting, and someone running towards them.

They decided to prepare by hiding the tiger corpse to avoid raising suspicion. Unfortunately, it proved heavier than they expected, so they were still pulling on it as a dragonborn and half-orc ran into the cavern, followed soon after by three hobgoblins [everyone failed their strength checks].

The group rushed to attack, while the Dre and Goris turned on their pursuers. Goris ripped out one of the tiger’s fangs to use as a dagger, and Dre attacked with his hands. The group quickly took care of the hobgoblins, and introduced themselves to the new-comers. They had been travelling through the highlands to the west when they were set upon by a group of hobgoblins and captured. Their captors were escorting them back to their lair when they made a break for it.

After introductions, the group explained what they were trying to accomplish. The newcomers knew the way to the hobgoblin lair, but they decided to look for the alternative power source for the submersible first. Heading northwest, they came into a slimy cavern that ended in the rushing river. While exploring the riverbank, a green slime dropped on Uatu, injuring him. He scraped it off with a rock, and they moved on.

The next cavern was overgrown with waist-high (for a human) mushrooms. The group began cutting their way through when suddenly a horrid shrieking sound erupted beside them. Uatu saw it was coming from a strange fungus, and realized it was a shrieker [rolled a Nature check]. He tugged on it, but it wouldn’t budge. Goris tried to help by tugging on Uatu, but it still wouldn’t come out. Then Dre shouted, “I’ll just smash it!” ran over, and missed, kicking Uatu in the head [two failed strength checks, and a critical failure by Dre].

The group decided to move on. They came out in a familiar passageway. Remembering that it led to the trapped passageway Black Lotus stumbled over (last session), they headed the other direction.

They came out into a ruined temple. A statue of a blinded and maimed god stood on a pedestal, with a sealed chest behind him. On the pedestal was written, “follow in my footsteps to gain my aid.” On the wall were carving of horrific beasts—reminiscent of the tentacled creatures in the carvings above them—attacking human cities but being held back by figures emitting light. In one corner, a figure holding back the beasts had a different beast behind him, aiding him.

The group tried to figure out how to open the chest, but it wouldn’t budge. Black Lotus walked in the direction the statue was looking, but nothing happened. Uatu identified the statue as Tyr [religion check], and Dre closed his eyes and walked blindly. At this, the statue clicked open. Inside they found a decanter of endless water, a rope of climbing, and two sending stones.

They backtracked their way south, past the tiger lair, to a large, oddly shaped room with numerous, dark, alcoves. The floor was covered with a fungus Goris recognized as growing from corpses, and the room had a horrid, rotting smell. As they carefully explored the alcoves, a ghoul appeared out of the darkness, and bit Uatu in the shoulder.

The others rushed in as two other ghouls and a zombie came out of the darkness. The ghouls bit Black Lotus and Dre as well, but they fought off the stiffness in their limbs [succeeded in saving throw against paralysis]. They defeated the undead rather easily [I was a little disappointed, was hoping for a least one paralysis]. In the alcoves they found assorted treasure, and a glowing stone [“does it look like a power source?” one of my players facetiously asked]

They headed back to the passageway to the hobgoblin lair. Remembering the traps last time, Black Lotus walked carefully, but still got hit with an arrow. He then decided to poke the floor ahead of him with a stick, and discovered the rest of the traps. Unfortunately, that included a set of bells that rang alarmingly loud.


Thoughts on dealing with multiple PC ability checks

This is a post on some guidelines I’ve developed in my sessions (for 5th edition D&D) on ability checks. This may be blindingly obvious, and something everyone else does, but I thought I’d write it down in case it’s helpful.

These guidelines are inspired by my experience as a PC. I often like to invest in intelligence skills (in D&D) or knowledge skills in other games. It’s interesting to have a player who’s an expert in something besides fighting and talking, but it can come in handy. It doesn’t always work out though.

In one D&D campaign, I had a wizard who had proficiency in all the intelligence skills (arcana, religion, etc.). But I never used any of them, because my DM never called on them, and didn’t see the need to when I suggested it. This was frustrating.

When I was playing Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, though, I had a different experience. My character was Arkdo (who I wrote about here), a Duros archeologist. He had a lot of knowledge of the Outer Rim and interesting lore. So the GM would occasionally suggest I roll when encountering new situations. This helped out the group immensely.

Out of sympathy with characters who invest in utility skills, I’ve adopted that approach. If a character is proficient in survival, I suggest they roll to see if they can figure out which direction they’ve been heading underground. If a character is proficient in religion, I have them roll to see if they recognize the half-ruined altar they’ve discovered. It increases immersion, and includes all players in the game.

But a problem often arises. When I suggest a player rolls and they fail, the rest of the group asks if they can roll as well. More often than not, someone will roll a success. This kind of defeats the purpose of my suggestion, which was based on certain character’s background knowledge or hunches.

The solution I came up with was pretty simple, and role-play appropriate. I’ve started telling players that they have a choice with these sort of checks, and they must declare it ahead of time. Either the PC I suggested roll is the only one who can attempt the check, or all PCs attempt it as a group check. This fits with role-play; one character has a hunch something is off, and either looks into it themselves or tells the group, and the whole group checks it out.

This has been working well so far. Players still get some control over their ability checks, but I also get to include all players in exploration without making the game too easy.

Any thoughts? Does this seem useful? Is there a better way to handle this?

Origin Stories: Roland, mechanics

Last time I presented the backstory of Roland, an Aasimar paladin. This time I’ll discuss how I created this character. This was kind of a case of group need driving character creation, although I had an archetype in mind for the character I’d use.

Our group seemed like it could use a tank and a healer, so paladin seemed appropriate here. I was intrigued by the Aasimar race since it appeared in the Volo’s Guide book; I played an Aasimar Paladin in Neverwinter Nights 2, and thought it was an interesting idea. So I thought I’d go that route here as well.

There are three Aasimar sub-races, the protector, the scourge and the fallen. All Aasimar get a Charisma bonus, but they get a second bonus (and additional powers) by sub-race. The protector fit the initial idea of my character, but it received a Wisdom bonus, which was not very useful. I went with the scourge Aasimar instead, which got a helpful strength bonus.  Scourge Aasimar are consumed by their celestial nature and desire to defeat evil, and can use their power to cause an explosion of searing radiant light that harms themselves and nearby enemies.

The choice of this sub-race influenced my decisions for focusing the paladin class. Paladins get a choice of “oaths” at 3rd level, which give them standards for behavior and a variety of powers. The Oath of Devotion is closest to the classic LG Paladin we all love. Then there is the Oath of the Ancients, which one of my friends describe as a green knight; a holy protector of the wilds. I played this sort of character in the past. Then there is the Oath of Vengeance, a paladin focused more on defeating evil than spreading righteousness. (There are additional oaths in the supplements as well if people are interested).

I was leaning towards oath of Devotion, but the scourge Aasimar fit with the idea of an Oath of Vengeance Paladin. So I decided to create the character with that eventual path in mind. This didn’t have any effect on creation at first level, but it did affect my backstory (as I will discuss in a bit).

For stats, I rolled them instead of taking the pre-set values. I thought I’d go for a little randomness, in the hopes of getting a powerful character. I ended up with a 16 and two 14s, along with some more mediocre rolls. So, not great but not bad either. I put the 16 in strength, which ended up as a 17 with the sub-race bonus. And one of the 14s went into Charisma, which increased to 16 with my bonus. I then put the second 14 into Constitution. So I had a starting character with pretty good stats for the most useful attributes (Strength for fighting, Charisma for spells and social interaction), and respectable Constitution for hit points.

I turned to the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide for my background. One of the new backgrounds  in this supplement is “Knight of the Order.” I chose the Knights of the Gilded Eye, an order dedicated to Helm. I thought it made sense for an Aasimar to have been taken in by a knightly order, and I’d been interested in trying one of the new backgrounds for awhile.

I could now work out my skills. I took Athletics and Religion for my Paladin; Athletics is always useful, and while knowledge skills are often under-used I liked proficiency in Religion for role-playing reasons. Then for my background, I took Persuasion and Insight. Both of these should come in handy. I really wanted Intimidation, which fit with the backstory I was developing as I finished character creation (again, see below) but I thought that would be redundant. My background gives me persuasion, so I felt like it would be a waste to also use Intimidation. I later realized that both would have been useful, so that’s worth remembering for the future; go with your gut.

For alignment, I went with Lawful Good. There is some debate about the appropriate alignment for Oath of Vengeance Paladins, with some suggesting they be Lawful Neutral and others Chaotic Good. I don’t think ruthlessness particularly corresponds to any one alignment (with the exception of certain behaviors like killing prisoners). Helm is Lawful Neutral, but Aasimar are Good; Lawful Good is the obvious mix of the two. I don’t think alignment necessarily determines personality, it just sets parameters for behavior. So Lawful Good behavior guidelines combined with my personality traits seems like it would produce my character. There will be some tensions, especially when dealing with evildoers who don’t cooperate, but that could make for a good character, as I’ve discussed. (At some point I’ll write about alignment, which I really think we under-utilize, but that’s another post).

Finally, I just took the basic starting equipment. For my weapon I chose a war hammer instead of the default longsword. It had the same stats, but I wanted to try something different. I also kind of liked the idea of my scourage Aasimar resembling Thor at times in combat…

So by this point you may have figured out where my backstory came from. A scourge Aasimar spends much of his life in hiding due to his obvious celestial nature; many reject or expect too much of them, while evildoers want to kill these celestial representatives. Meanwhile, an Oath of Vengeance Paladin has a Batman-esque need to defeat evil everywhere. Where would this come from? And why would a new member of a Knightly Order be travelling on his own?

I tied this all together with last week’s backstory. Roland was sent to the knightly order by his mother to keep him safe. But his unit was ambushed and wiped out, which explains why Roland was on his own and driven by a desire for vengeance. Based on this backstory, I chose his personality traits (drawn from the soldier background); he obeys authority and is polite, but is haunted by the death of his comrades, for which he feels responsible.

So that’s how I developed Roland. The party had a hole to fill, but I was able to use the basic archetype–tanking paladin–to come up with a unique and fun character. Since I am currently using Roland in a campaign, I’ll have a post up in a few weeks on how I leveled him up through the first few levels, and how I’ve been roleplaying him.




Origin Stories: Roland, backstory

As I’ve discussed on Twitter, I’ve started a new 5e D&D campaign as a player (the first time I’ve been a player in a few years). We’re running through the Sunless Citadel adventure in Tales from the Yawning Portal, before starting Tomb of Annihilation. I thought I’d start a new Origin Stories post–my series on the background and mechanics of characters I’ve played–for my character in this campaign.

I’ll add posts as he levels up, which may be useful for players looking for info on how to advance their characters. As always, part 1 is the backstory, and part 2 is the actual mechanics of character creation.

My character is Roland Arkbury, an Aasimar Paladin (aasimars are human touched by celestial blood, kind of like a good version of tieflings).

Roland was born in Mulhorand, among a surge of Aasimar births in that war-torn land [as discussed in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide and online]. Roland’s mother fled with him when he was young (he never knew his father) . They settled in Neverwinter, where his mother worked odd jobs. Roland’s celestial nature became apparent as he neared puberty, however, so his mother sent him to a local Knightly Lodge–of the Knights of the Gilded Eye–to properly train him.

The Knights trained and supported Roland well, and he became devoted to the worship of Helm. After graduating from squiredom, he joined his unit on their first patrol through the Mere of Dead Mean. Unfortunately, they were being followed…

A group of cultists of Orcus had become aware of the Aasimar in Neverwinter and desired him for their rituals. They followed the knights deep into the swamp, surrounded them and attacked.

Realizing what the cultists were after, Roland’s commander ordered him to fall back behind the more experienced knights. The knights fought bravely, slaying many cultists, but they were outnumbered and outmatched by the evil cleric of Orcus who led the cultists.

As the last of his brothers in arms fell before the onslaught, Roland drew his warhammer and threw back his hood. His glowing eyes flared in rage and he called out a challenge to the cultists. He knew he would probably not win, but he would avenge as many of his friends as he could.

Suddenly, a flurry of arrows shot out of the darkness. Seizing the confusion, Roland charged and, combined with his mysterious savior, killed the remaining cultists.

As the last of them fell, a man stepped out of the shadows. He introduced himself as Evan. His village had been destroyed by the undead, so he now ranged the wilds, hunting them whenever he could find them. Roland thanked him for his aid, and asked if he would help him bury the knights.

After they finished, Evan mentioned he had heard that a wealthy woman in the village of Oakhurst was looking for heroes, to help find some missing relatives. He suggested they join up to check out the situation. Roland agreed, and secretly vowed to never rest in his struggle against evil, and to never forget how he had led his brothers into death…

Next week I’ll present the character creation mechanics for Roland.

The Elder God’s Cavern, level 2, part 1

As I’ve discussed, I am working on a multi-level dungeon that will take characters from Level 1 to 5. Each level is an open-ended dungeon crawl with the objective of getting to the next level, but there is a storyline connecting them as the group progresses (I don’t want to give away any details in case my players read this).

Last time, a group of new adventurers were hired by a mysterious stranger to figure out why a river had gone dry. The town the river supplied was suffering, and he offered a rich reward for their help. The group entered the ruins of an ancient wizard’s tower and discovered a group of bandits had blocked the river. Along the way they found signs the wizard had worshiped strange, tentacled beings that seemed to threaten the world. After releasing the river, a ghostly voice emerged from the depths, and the group fled in terror…

The group from the first session of the Elder God’s Cavern re-gathered to being the next part of our journey. We had Uatu (Halfling warlock), Black Lotus (drow monk), and Crohm (human warrior). Nailo—the elf ranger—wasn’t able to make it.

After returning to the village in triumph, the group were cheered as heroes for restoring the river. They then proceeded to celebrate for the next week, spending much of the loot they found in the cavern on fine food, drink and clothing. Unfortunately, Nailo spent a bit too much, and skipped town in the middle of the night to avoid a bar tab (which Black Lotus had to pick up) [this is how I explained his absence]

As the group finished up another night in the pub, they heard a horrifying scream from outside. Rushing out, they saw a ghost grabbing a man, and flying up into the air with him. The ghost wailed, and the group recognized it as the same voice they heard as they freed the river.

Uatu panicked, and jumped headfirst into a rain barrel, but the rest of the group maintained their composure [he failed a Wisdom check]. As the ghost disappeared with the man, the cowering villagers turned on the group. They shouted at them for bringing this evil upon them, and started threatening their lives.

The group gathered back to back (after Crohm fished out Uatu), and thankfully Randulf appeared—in a burst of smoke and brimstone—to calm the crowd. He reminded the villagers that the group had saved them by freeing the river. If that indeed caused the ghost to appear, he was sure the group would fix it. He nudged Black Lotus as he said this. Taking his hint, the group offered to leave immediately and investigate.

They hiked through the night towards the hill with the river flowing through it. As they got closer, they realized an eerie silence hung over it, the normal nighttime sounds of insects and animals were missing. They slept fitfully by the side of the mountain, and entered the cavern the next morning.

As they travelled through the level they’d recently cleared out, they noted it was just as still and quiet as the outside. They stumbled upon the body of an elderly wizard; there were scorch marks around her, as if she’s used all her spells, but she seemed to have died of fright. Shaken, the group moved on, and found the stairs they had uncovered their last time here.

Climbing down the stairs they came into a damp cavern full of ankle-deep water (waist-deep for Uatu). The group moved out towards a closed door at the other end, when suddenly two constrictor snakes attacked. One managed to wrap itself around Uatu and drag him into the river, but the rest of the group freed him and killed the snakes before moving on.

They came on a forked passageway. One path looked relatively well-maintained, with a smooth floor and corners cut into the rock. The other looked like a natural cavern, worn and twisting. They chose the artificial path, which took them along a rushing river. Uatu noticed that the river flowed uphill, eventually bursting into the level above them in a sort of reverse waterfall. The group made a note to investigate that further.

As the group crept along in darkness, Black Lotus snuck ahead. He came upon a goblin peeing into the river. He snuck up behind the goblin, grabbed it, and held his knife to his throat. He then called for the group to catch up as he interrogated it.

The goblin—who introduced himself as Hoggle—tried to convince the group he was friendly, and just lived in these caverns. After Crohm smoothed things over, Hoggle told them a bit about the level. A group of “frog people” lived to the south, and they fought with hobgoblins across the river. The “frog people” had taken the controls for the bridge, leaving it submerged in the water, to defend against hobgoblin attacks. When asked about a ghost, he said something horrible flew through the cavern about a week ago, but he hid. He knew of a way down to lower levels, a weird machine floating on the opposite river bank; he didn’t know much about it, besides the fact that the hobgoblins took something from it.

After the rest of the group treated him nicely, Hoggle agreed to take them to his lair, which has a secret door into the “frog people” camp. He tried to keep his distance from Black Lotus, though.

The group passed a fountain flowing from a wall, but decided not to investigate it. They then arrived at Hoggle’s lair, a small cavern set high up above the river bank. He showed them the secret door, but asked that they promise not to tell the “frog people” about him. [this was meant to be an ally for the group, so I found it funny they nearly killed him.]

I’ll post the rest of our first session on level 2 next week.

Why I love D&D

This is a short post for people who are kind of interested in trying D&D but aren’t sure if they’d really like it. It’s hard to explain what makes this game so great, so I’m going to give an example of a great in-game moment that captures the unpredictable fun of D&D. Hopefully veterans will recognize this sort of story, though, and enjoy this post as well.

I recently started a new campaign as a player character, rather than a DM (who runs the game). I’ve been mostly DM-ing for awhile, so I was looking forward to playing from the other side. My character is an Aasimar Paladin, Roland. Paladins are the stereotypical holy knights from literature, like Sir Percival. Aasimars are a D&D creation, the offspring of a celestial being and a human. So he’s basically a really holy warrior.

My group and I were exploring a castle that had sunk into the earth (the Sunless Citadel adventure from Tales of the Yawning Portal). At one point we found a room containing five sarcophagi. Paladins can sense undead, so I determined there were skeletons in each of them. We readied ourselves for a fight, and opened one.

The other four opened as well, and the skeletons stumbled out. My character particularly hates undead—undead cultists killed a unit of his knightly order—and excitedly rushed into battle. But he rolled a low initiative. Initiative rolls determine who goes first in combat, so low rolls means you have to wait for others.

The group’s ranger went first, killing one in a volley of arrows. The wizard went next, damaging a skeleton with a fire bolt. After a few more turns Roland finally got to attack…and missed. The group’s rogue killed another skeleton in a flurry of dagger stabs, while the dwarf barbarian hacked another to bits with his axe. Roland swung…and missed again.

Soon there was only one skeleton left, and Roland began to despair he would have a chance to demonstrate his martial prowess. The dwarf barbarian swung and damage the skeleton, but it was still up. Then it was Roland’s turn.

He attacked, and hit! But he didn’t just hit the skeleton. I rolled a 20 on the attack dice and a maximum on damage (8). A natural 20 on attack is a critical hit, which means damage is doubled. And the skeletons were vulnerable to the war hammer I wielded (they’re more hurt by bludgeoning damage) so the damage was doubled again. It ended up with 22 points of damage.

Roland shouted a challenge, swung…and the skeleton exploded into dust.

And that’s why I love D&D.

It’s always hard to predict what will happen, as a powerful warrior can miss with every attack in combat. But just when all seems lost, you land a good blow, and have a satisfying encounter like this one.

Sometimes it can be pretty dramatic, such as a recent adventure I ran in which the entire group except the fighter was knocked unconscious in a fight with the hobgoblin boss. The fighter charged the hobgoblin and fought him on one on, killing the enemy with a lucky blow.

Everyone has stories like this, stories you can’t quite replicate in computer games or more structured tabletop games. And that’s why I love D&D.

Why don’t I play wizards in CRPGs?

I know it’s kind of weird to write a blog post asking my readers a question about myself. But it’s a question I’ve been pondering recently.

I started re-playing the expansions for Neverwinter Nights. The two expansions—Shadows of Undrendtide and Hordes of the Underdark—actually form a series separate from the main Neverwinter Nights campaign. It takes your character from level 1 to epic levels, and is a lot of fun.

As I was making my character, I realized I tend to play melee characters in computer-based role playing games (CRPGs). My first game ever—Baldur’s Gate—used a paladin, and I repeated that in its sequels. Other times I’ve played a ranger or a melee-focused rogue, but that’s as far as I stray.

That’s not the case with pen and paper RPGs, like D&D 5th edition. While I have played paladins here, I’ve also played clerics, warlocks and wizards. My favorite so far was a wizard (Fonken, who I’ll discuss here at some point). So I thought I’d try a wizard in my latest play-through of Neverwinter Nights. But after about halfway through Shadows of Undrentide, I stopped.

Why? Part of it is the nature of that game; your choice of henchman disadvantages non-frontline characters. But it was also the gameplay. I found myself spamming the same set of attack spells in each combat. And if the enemy broke through my outer defenses, I had to reload the last save. Ultimately, it proved one-dimensional and both tough and boring at the same time. So now I’m playing as a ranger.

But obviously some people play CRPGs as a wizard, and have a lot of fun. So the problem must not be in a design flaw, but some difference between tabletop and computer-based Dungeons and Dragons games.

Indeed, the tabletop experience as a wizard is a lot different than in a computer game. Some people do just spam magic missile, and have a great time. But there is a lot of opportunity to use attack spells that disadvantage enemies, giving your melee companions a chance to attack. And all the non-combat encounters provide an opportunity to use utility spells in a manner that really makes your party’s lives easier. I tend to follow this guide’s approach to wizard, which de-emphasizes damage per second (dps) and focuses more on controlling the environment.

A lot of this doesn’t translate into computer games. There are many spells I prepare as a wizard that I never use, as the situation doesn’t arise or there are other easier means. For example, in Shadows of Undrentide, I had knock prepared, but my panther familiar ended up just breaking down locked doors. So as a wizard you tend to gravitate towards spells that cause a lot of damage or that summon allies.

As a result, wizards just become dps machines. This is the role they play in World of Warcraft. That might be fine if you have a large party to control—as in Baldur’s Gate—but when you control just yourself and a henchman (like in Neverwinter Nights) it can be limiting.

More importantly, it’s not what draws people to play a wizard. Wizards are smart and inquisitive. They’re masters of lore and problem solvers. None of that comes across if you just cast attack spells over and over. I guess you could still add in some role-playing elements, but it’s rarely directly connected to the story.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure if there is a way around this. Games like the Elder Scrolls—in which there is a lot more freedom to interact with the environment—are more fun to play as a wizard. You can use your spells in creative ways to avoid combat if needed. But ultimately, a lot of the non-combat encounters from D&D would be difficult to pull off in a video game (although if someone has a good example, please let me know).

Overall, this may be a good case of how tabletop gaming does not translate well into computer games. They’re both good, but are not exactly the same experience. Are there other areas where we lose something important if players only know D&D through computers? Am I being unfair to “support” characters in computer games?

Out of the Abyss conclusions, wrap-up

Well, my final session for the first half of Out of the Abyss never happened. A few of the members cancelled at the last minute (I may write a post on how to deal with this increasingly common part of modern gaming) and the rest of us decided to play the excellent Lords of Waterdeep instead.

As I mentioned on Twitter, I’m taking a break from DM-ing and we’ll be starting a new campaign, so we thought we’d just move on. I’ll still be doing walkthroughs of our sessions, although from the perspective of a player.

In this post, I thought I’d write up how I was planning to conclude part 1 of Out of the Abyss, in case anyone is following along for ideas to use in their own campaigns. I’ll also provide a few of my thoughts on the campaign.

Concluding Part 1

When we left off, the group was getting ready to wage the Battle for Blingdenstone. They needed to accomplish a few tasks for the deep gnomes before the battle could begin. And then, assuming they defeated the villainous Pudding King, the deep gnomes would lead the party to an exit from the Underdark.

The campaign book provides several tasks for the group. Some occur around Blingdenstone–putting deep gnome ghosts to rest, cleansing a holy site, defeating Ogremoch’s Bane (which corrupts earth elementals), and finding Entemoch’s Boon, which aids in their summoning. There were others that took the group to other areas of the Underdark–fetching special fungus materials from Neverlight Grove, and procuring a shipment of high-quality weapons from Gracklestugh. For each task the group undertook, they would gain some benefits in the battle.

I decided against running the outside-Blingdentsone tasks. These would be useful if the group went to Blingdenstone first, and the DM wanted them to fully explore the Underdark. But it would add too much time (and be a little annoying for them) to backtrack now. I was going to run through each of the three tasks in Blingdenstone, though, as they were varied adventures that provided more depth to the city.

After that would be the battle. This involves the group dealing with a few random encounters before battling two powerful oozes and then the Pudding King himself. As I’ve done before, I pre-rolled the random encounters so they would be all set–in this case the group would fight two waves of black puddings and ochre jellies. I’d then run the final battles.

The escape details are left up to the DM. I tried to come up with a simple, but memorable final battle. The deep gnomes would escort the group to an exit they knew of. This is a cave lit with wondrous light, which is a mixture of nightlight fungi growing in it and…daylight! The cave has a shaft leading up to another cave, which opens onto the surface.

The upper cave was an ancient elven temple, which they carved out and structured to Corellan Larethian. They carved steps into the shaft, and set up mirrors so the two sets of lights could intermix. If this sounds a little familiar, I took the idea of an abandoned elf temple as an Underdark exit from Baldur’s Gate 2 (see my thoughts on these games here).

But the drow who had initially captured the party would be awaiting them, as they’d gained intelligence on the party’s movements while they were in Blingdenstone. The drow would be hiding, try and surprise the party, and a chase would ensue.

I drew out a map and would use miniatures to track the progress of the chase. The varied terrain and option to ascend into daylight might have led to some interesting tactics.

And that would be it; they would be free from the Underdark, hoping they’d never have to return… (which is what would have happened if we continued the campaign)

Thoughts on Out of the Abyss

Overall, I thought this was a very well-done adventure. It’s my first published multi-adventure campaign for D&D, and I thought they did a good job. The encounters were varied and interesting, and the setting made for some memorable adventures.

DMs definitely need to read through the whole thing a few times, though. The adventure is open-ended, so you’ll need to have all chapters prepared simultaneously. Also, the flow of the adventure is not always clear. Without planning out various options, you may stumble while directing the players; this was especially the case in Gracklestugh.

My big complaint would be the cinematic nature of some encounters. As I’ve noted, at times the players just sit back and watch as things occur. Nothing they do really affects the outcome. This is particularly the case in the Kuo-Toa city on Darklake. Some parties may enjoy this, as they can interact with NPCs and try various options as things progress. My party tended to be on the quiet side, though, so they kind of waited until they had to act. So I’d be prepared for these sequences if you have a similar type of party.

But all in all, it was great. Maybe at some point I’ll reconvene the party and return to the Underdark…

Is the DMs’ Guild bad for game stores?

In January 2016, Wizards of the Coast (WOTC) announced the Dungeon Master’s Guild. The DMs’ Guild is an online platform that would allow WOTC to release material for the fifth edition of D&D, while also allowing players to upload their own material. It’s a great idea, and has made it a lot easier to keep the momentum going for 5e. But it seems like it cuts out an important part of the gaming community; friendly local game stores (FLGS).

First, the DMs’ Guild is a great idea. It enabled the D&D community to develop and grow as the fifth edition took off.

Starting with the Basic Rules in 2014, and followed soon after by the core rulebooks, D&D’s 5th edition revitalized the game. Streamlined and dynamic, both accessible for newcomers and nuanced enough for veterans, the newest edition of D&D was a hit. But demand outpaced supply. In my FLGS at the time–Labyrinth Games in Washington, DC–they couldn’t keep the D&D books on the shelf; unless you pre-ordered, you were out of luck.

WOTC focused on releasing the core rulebooks, important supplements like Volo’s Guide to Monsters and Tales of the Sword Coast, and massive campaign books. They also facilitated games around the country through the Adventurers’ League. But this didn’t leave a lot of time for minor products, like one-shot adventures or small rule variants.

This is where the DMs’ Guild came in. The game designers can release minor updates through this. More importantly, the legion of players and DMs creating adventures, character options, and home brew rules can make them available for others to use.

So what’s the downside?

It has to do with my memories of D&D back in the early 1990s. I started playing D&D after I found my dad’s Basic Set as a kid, and soon moved on to the then current second edition of AD&D. I bought the Players Handbook and the Dungeon Master’s Guide, but wanted more. So whenever we visited game stores (which were more common back then) and I had some money,  I’d grab another adventure to play with my brother. Now, I can still find those adventures, but it involves going to a website.

Some of my old D&D collection, being guarded by my daughter’s Puppy

The DMs’ Guild basically takes away this product line from FLGS’, which can be a problem. FLGS’ are under an immense amount of pressure, as Barnes and Noble and Amazon both offer easily-accessible alternatives for customers. But FLGS’ serve an important role in their towns, bringing gamers together and sustaining a welcoming community. My FLGS–Killer Rabbit Comics and Games–runs numerous events for local gamers, and has helped connect me with many others interested in playing D&D. If gamers can/have to go to their FLGS for the latest D&D content, this will do a lot to sustain these businesses. If new products are often not available in stores, customers will just shop online. Barnes and Noble will survive (maybe) just through customers occasionally buying the $50 rule books, but FLGS’ will suffer.

Like I said, DMs’ Guild is a great idea, which should be encouraged. So what can WOTC do to help FLGS’? There are a few options.

First, they could print some of these products. It could be the official D&D products, or best-sellers from users. But print versions would probably sell well. There are lots of D&D fans–like me–who want more content. WOTC could even mark them up, and they’d do well. This would bring business to FLGS’, but it would also ensure a steady stream of product releases to keep players from wandering away from D&D.

Second, they could leverage the excellent Adventurers’ League. This initiative has helped gamers to get together, often via FLGS, to play D&D. It’s actually how I got back into D&D after 5e came out. And it really helps FLGS’, as many of the players end up buying their D&D and other gaming materials from the store hosting their sessions.

So why not extend this, and make some DMs’ Guild content available for Adventurers’ League organizers? The printed versions of popular DMs’ Guild products could be sold through Adventurers’ League organizers–making distribution easier. Or WOTC could even offer some printed versions for free as an incentive for exceptionally successful hosts.

I know that WOTC cares about FLGS’, and don’t think DMs’ Guild was an attempt to hurt them. I think DMs’ Guild is a great idea. I just think there are a few ways to tweak it to make sure this great resource doesn’t hurt the local game stores that sustain D&D.


The Elder God’s cavern level 1, part 2

Last week, our heroes entered into the mysterious caverns to figure out why a river had stopped flowing. The party was Black Lotus (a drow monk), Crohm (a human fighter), Nailo (an elf ranger) and Uatu (a halfling warlock) [Uatu replaced another player who couldn’t make it to this session.

The group woke up after a restless night (thanks to Crohm’s maniacal laughter), and decided on their next steps. They decided to backtrack a bit until they came to a passage leading further north. They also hoped to find some sign of their missing rogue.

The group entered a room that appeared to be an old study. Inside was Uatu, a friendly Halfling warlock (Callie’s replacement). The group chatted with him, and learned he had been hired by Lord Martyn—a noble from the town—to help explore the ruins. Martyn had gone mad, and claimed he was reclaiming his throne. He fled to the eastern part of the dungeon, and Uatu hoped to find him. The group agreed to help, and—after deciding there was nothing of value in the room—moved on [I put a chair in the middle of the room that hurt lawful players and healed chaotic players, but no one investigated it]

They crossed the long passageway they had encountered before, and entered a room with crumbling furniture but nice tapestries on the walls. One tapestry was flapping as if in a breeze. Nailo found an ancient keg of beer, tried a sip, and felt a surge of confidence [he passed a Constitution check; if he had failed, he’d be sickened]. This confidence led him to strut past the tapestry to see what happened, and he passed unscathed. Uatu cast mage hand to investigate it, and the magical hand disappeared as it touched the tapestry. The group decided to move on [it teleports players to the entrance]

They found another corridor, running north to south. Uatu could hear the sound of machinery below him, and as Crohm was investigating his foot slipped into a space along the wall. He realized there was another corridor running perpendicular to theirs beneath them. They decided to remember that, but press on.

To the south they came on a room with a floor one foot below the doors that was full of water. Various boxes and pieces of furniture floated on the surface. Nailo very acrobatically danced across each of the boxes, further increasing his confidence [he got a natural 20 on his acrobatics check, so I gave him advantage on his next roll]. Uatu followed, trying to sail a box across the room with his mage hand; unfortunately, it tipped and he fell into the disgusting water [poor dexterity check]. Crohm also fell in as he tried to jump across, but Black Lotus made it with little problem.

After leaving this room, they saw the corridor open up into another room to the north. Inside that room, they found Lord Martyn. As they entered, a giant wasp buzzed them and landed on Martyn’s shoulder. Martyn challenged the group, and demanded their loyalty to him and his “new lord.” Uatu attempted to reason with Martyn, and then secretly tried to charm him; this failed, and Martyn attacked. [I actually hadn’t thought of what to do with a charm here, so I decided Martyn would be immune]

The wasp struck Nailo, felling him with a lucky blow. At the same time, Martyn slashed at Uatu with his rapier, seriously harming him. Meanwhile, a sword lying next to Martyn leapt into the air and attack, harming Black Lotus. Black Lotus, however, knocked down Marten, and Uatu finished him off. The sword flew down the corridor.

The group took a short rest to recover some health, and moved on. To the north, they found a room that was full of machinery. A piston and gears ran east to west through the room, while another set of piston and gears ran into the ceiling; the two were connected by a giant spring. The ceiling was blocked, and the machinery would slowly turn the spring until the tension got to be too much. At this point it would suddenly reverse, tensing the spring from the other side. Uatu recognized this as the machinery noise he had heard, and the group guessed that this was part of the machinery the old wizard used to channel the river’s power [I was impressed, that was correct].

As they explored, Uatu found the piston ran through a narrow corridor that opened up into a broader cavern. Here a river flowed from the west, but its passage out of the cavern was blocked, creating a pool of water. At the south end of the room, he saw a hobgoblin (Bort) playing cards with a human in red robes and a kenku. Two mastiffs were chained to the west wall. Uatu also found another secret door connecting to the room from the area they found Lord Martyn.

Realizing this would be a tough fight, the group set up an ambush. Black Lotus and Uatu would attack from the north, while Crohm and Nailo would fire arrows at the monsters from the secret door. [I was impressed here with their ingenuity, as they very well may have lost this fight]

The attack began with a hail of arrows from Crohm and Nailo, which severely wounded the human and bounced off the hobgoblin’s armor. Uatu rushed in and cast Arms of Hadar, killing the human. The kenku ran to the flee the mastiffs as Black Lotus leapt into action.

One mastiff charged Black Lotus, but he jumped over it, closing on Bort. Bort had already engaged Uatu, felling him with a series of mighty longsword blows. Black Lotus ran up to avenge his comrade.

Meanwhile, a stray arrow from Crohm nipped the ear of a mastiff, and it charged  enraged. Dropping his bow, Crohm drew his greatsword and—using the beast’s own momentum—swung a mighty blow that chopped the mastiff in two [he asked for advantage, and had a good reason for it, so I gave it to him]

Nailo continued to fire arrows at the Kenku and the other mastiff and Bort and Black Lotus fought. Unfortunately, Bort proved too much for Black Lotus, and he too fell before the hobgoblin’s blade.

All seemed lost. The remaining mastiff had charged Nailo, who fled back into the passage to gain some cover. Black Lotus and Uatu lay, bleeding, in front of the hobgoblin, their lives draining away.

The only person who could save the group—and the village—was Crohm. He felt a flicker of uncertainty, as he had tended to do more harm than good with his sword so far. But he knew his friends were counting on him, and he charged.

Bort and Crohm engaged in single combat, their blades ringing off each other. Finally Crohm saw an opportunity after one of Bort’s wild swings and plunged his blade into Bort’s side. The hobgoblin fell, letting out a wild roar. The remaining mastiff heard this, and ran in circles, whining. The kenku shrieked and ran to the south, but Nailo pinned him to the ground with a well-placed arrow.

[I didn’t plan on this getting so dramatic at the end, but it really worked]

Nailo and Crohm revived their friends, and gathered up Bort’s treasure. They then set up the blasting powder Randulf had given them, and stepped back. The rocks burst in a great explosion, and the river poured free.

Suddenly, the group felt a malevolent force approaching from below. It was almost a psychic rumble. This turned into a horrifying voice shrieking “I’m free!” Crohm panicked, and jumped into the river [failed Wisdom save]. The rest ran to the south.

They ran all the way out of the dungeon and down the mountain before the calmed. Crohm was sitting, embarrassed, by the side of the river, and they patched him.

The party was greeted to a hero’s welcome back in Slyhow. Everyone was out cheering for them as they walked to Randulf’s tower. Randulf paid them what they were promised, and identified some of the magical items they couldn’t figure out.

They also told Randulf of the ghost. He seemed concerned, and suggested they keep this to themselves for now. The group agreed, and prepared to celebrate their great victory.