Tag Archives: dnd

The Witch of the Citrine Tower

This post is some raw ideas transcribed from some very loose notes from a one-shot adventure I put together for Swords & Wizardry. I present them here as a loose framework for anyone to use however they wish in their own games. 

The immediate area surrounding the town of Silverbrooke has long been protected by the “witch” of the Citrine Tower. Though human, she’s been around as long as a lot of elves can remember. Her tower pulses with a fresh, yellowish glow that casts a serene light by nightfall (and is even noticeable by day.) She only leaves her estate two days a month to acquire goods from the local markets. It’s unknown where her wealth comes from — many speculate she’s a master alchemist, but her coins always have the imperial stamps of the time.

In the past year, however, her absence has been felt across the whole of the countryside. The fresh yellow of her Citrine tower is now a shade akin to a gingivitis grin. The crops around Silverbrooke have been suffering from a blight, and vines of thorns tendril out of the woods as if to suffocate the farmlands.

Continue reading The Witch of the Citrine Tower

Reflections of Malice: Session 1 (R&PL)

The first game of the New Year, in our new apartment, was the kick-off of a campaign centered around Red & Pleasant Land by Zak SFor those not in the know: imagine Alice & Wonderland, if it was ruled by warring vampires mirroring Elizabeth Bathory and Vlad Dracul. I’m holding off on a formal review until my hard copy arrives, but I’m going to say this: I was impressed with Vornheimas it wasn’t so much a complete guide to a city but instead a delightful toolkit set to a particular style and flavor of the author’s game. R&PL is much the same: it’s a very “broad stroke” setting. The details of the land are plentiful, but with tons of wiggle-room for you to make it your own. Folks wanting every location mapped out and scrutinized will be displeased; game masters like me who just want a flexible framework, with plenty of tools to assist, will be very happy.

Probably the best feature is how the book encourages for liberties to be taken. Although it’s designed for the Lamentations of the Flame Princess rules set, it’s written in a way that makes it easily adaptable to any preferred flavor of D&D. Also, the book is written in a verse that pretty much screams “Do what you want with this, it’s your game.” So I pulled out my RPG scalpel and began slicing and stitching as I saw fit.

Our Cast of (Player) Characters:
cast

Alice Northgood is the only daughter of wealthy aristocratic land owners, known all over for their pear orchard and grape vineyard. Although tall, healthy, and book-smart, Alice is also a bit of a firecracker and trouble maker. She’s been caught numerous times dabbling with witchcraft, as well as some other larcenous pastimes. She also has a knack for impulsive actions, which lead her further into trouble.

Beth is a devoted Paladin of St. Cuthbert. Hailing from a troubled past, she follows a zealous path of vengeance and retribution against corrupt forces.

Frang is a druid, the last of his tribe, and loyal friend to Beth after she slayed the witch who had cursed him into forced servitude for years.

Opening Synopsis:
Beth & Frang were visiting the town of Southwold for its annual Pear & Wine festival. After a night of festivities, a crier interrupts their hangovers for a call to aid. The Northgood estate was in dire need of any adventurers who were experienced in “hunting down and dealing with witchcraft and devil work.”

Answering the call, Beth and Frang arrived at the Northgood estate to inquire about the matter. They were met with a hysterical mother, and a bitter father, who were “deeply embarrassed” by the afflictions of their daughter Alice. She had woke up that morning without a reflection, instead finding only a note (in the mirror) in her hand writing that said “HELP ME.”

The suspected source of this “devil’s mark” was the young vistani lad, Zsilvester, that Alice had apparently “lost her virtue” to the night before. Agreeing to aid the family, Beth and Frang (with an insistent, won’t-take-no-for-an-answer Alice) set out from Southwold into the “Fair Forest” in search of the Vistani Encampment, in hopes of tracking down Zsilvester and, hopefully, young Alice’s reflection.

Campaign Notes:

  • We are playing with Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition rules.
  • We are using the Ability Score Proficiency variant rules from the Dungeon Master’s Guide. One caveat is that instead of picking a second Ability proficiency tied to the character Background, I opted instead to just simply let the Background be the proficiency. My only rule is they don’t stack, and I have final say if an action allows a background proficiency bonus.
  • For The Alice character class, we are using David Rollins’ 5e version.  It’s less random, but still feels like an “Alice” character should.
  • The “Quiet Side” of the Looking Glass is actually the D&D game world the players originate from. I’m striving to keep it somewhat whimsical, yet macabre, kind of like a Terry Gilliam sort of fantasy. Aristocrats are over the top with their poshness, bandits and peasants are dirty to almost obscenely comical levels, etc. It’s human centric, but Dwarfs and Halflings are around.
  • Vistani replace Elves. They often travel the mists between the “Quiet Side” and the land of Unreason quite frequently.
  • Alignment is kept to the 3-scale system (Lawful, Neutral, Chaotic) as interpreted by Lamentations of the Flame Princess. 
  • Also, obviously from the synopsis, I’ve altered the rules about merging with the “twin” when traveling to the other side. I haven’t decided if this was a freakish case for The Alice, or if it’s just going to be how I roll.
  • We’ve also chosen to forfeit XP. Instead, every couple adventures will net a level-up. I started everyone at 3rd level, went ahead and bumped them up to 4th at session’s end (first time gaming in months, plus we had a long 8+ hour session.) My goal is to bring the campaign to an end around ~12th level.

Session 1 Recap

  • Bandit Ambush: On their journey through the woods in search of the Vistani Encampment, the PCs happened on a couple “merchants” with a broken wagon wheel. This was meant to be a bandit ambush, but upon seeing the Paladin lift the wagon up while the druid attempted to affix a temporary sled, they were slightly intimidated. However, the Paladin noticed the tumbling of the bandits hiding in the wagon, and immediately called for them to identify themselves.

    This turned into a nasty combat that resulted in a couple bandits being cleaved in half by the Paladin’s great sword, another taking a point-blank shot from Alice’s flintlock pistol, and the contents of the wagon being set on fire by the druid’s flame blade spell. At one point, Alice exasperated “Why must these types of conflicts ALWAYS be resolved with violence?” which resulted in her pulling out a second pistol as if by magic from her bodice, unloading it at the cab driver’s face (who just missed her with his crossbow.) One bandit fled the scene, another was brought to his knees to repent his wickedness. After soiling his pants and being harassed by Alice’s prestidigitation, he wept loudly and openly as he shamefully marched back to town defeated.

  • The Vistani Encampment: Alice opted to enter the encampment boldly, but in a manner that didn’t threaten the inhabitants of the encampment. She approached playing her lute, with Frang banging away on a tambourine (and Beth rattling her alms box to the rhythm.) This made a good impression upon the Vistani, whose Matriarch informed them that Zsilvester had already moved ahead to the village of Kraighten to “trap some hares and kittens.” The player characters had never heard of this town, but were ensured that it was “deeper in the woods.” They were offered a place among a Vistani trade caravan that had intended to travel that way by night. Although put off-guard by their choice of travel time, the players suspiciously accepted to tag along.

    (( At this point we broke for supper.))

    black___white_wonderland_by_miyako1993-d3hrrv7
    by Miyako1993
  • The Lurkers in the Woods: When we returned to gaming, I pulled a dick DM maneuver and announced “Okay, your characters wake up in a dark, foggy woods. You see no trace of the Vistani caravan, your personal belongings are still on you, but your horses are also missing.” Luckily, my players are cool when I pull a stunt like that. So the druid shifted in a wolf form, and attempted to track the scent of the Vistani in hopes of finding where they went. The characters were so focused, in fact, on the tracking that they totally didn’t see the giant, four armed, withering yellow humanoids with multiple faces and scythes for hands.

    For those keeping score at home, what I did here was mix “The Guest” monster tables from page 47 of R&PL along with the Quick Monster Creation rules on page 247 of the DMG. I wanted something to A) Freak the players out (and let their characters know they weren’t in Kansas anymore) and B) Something that would kick their ass but could be dispatched. 

    So, as I had hoped, the Paladin walked right into Mr. Scythehands while Mrs. Scythehands accosted Alice with “hugs.” Frang attempted to grapple Mr. S with thorny vines, only to see them ripped away. Alice unloaded both of her pistols into Mrs. S, causing her to be at death’s door reeling in agony. Mr. S was eventually taken down, and Mrs. S was “mercifully” killed when it was obvious she could only communicate in screaming vowels with her 10 mouths.

  • The Hamlet of Kraighten: The characters stumbled, eventually, into the hamlet of Kraighten. In R&PL terms, this was an “Orb Loc” (a human settlement ritually protected from the vampire King & Queen’s attention.) The inhabitants were oddly dressed, and likewise found the character’s peculiar — especially the Alice, who decided to strip down at the nearest fountain and change into less-bloody clothes. They rested up, disturbed some locals asking about mirrors (the town keeps no mirrors), and learned that Alice’s lover had once again evaded them to the town of Southwall (not Southwold, although directions sounded similar.)

    For those keeping score at home: Yes, Kraighten is the small Irish  town from The House on the Borderland. 

  • Riots in Southwall: The final act of our first session entailed the players riding back to Southwall. The town looked like their familiar homestead, but engulfed with the oppressive wooded canopy that has loomed over them since outside of Kraighten. To their surprise, they were first taken aback by the multi-colored. animalistic guards patrolling the city — all adorned in black uniforms with red crowns. Wanted posters with Alice’s face, claiming her to be “Enemy of the State, Bride of the Terrorist, and member of the Queen’s Court” were plastered all over. A few of them, though, had the words: EXECUTION TODAY stenciled over them.

    They stumbled onto the town square, where the inhabitants jeered at the hooded figure being brought out for beheading. An exotic, wiry bird-man began to shout out a list of the crimes this “Malice Southcut” had comitted against the Red King. Alice herself was in the crowd, having disguised herself as a muddy peasant, and approached the stage in order to use her Mage Hand to muffle the bird-man’s speaking. Frang attempted to sabotage the staged disguised as an executioner/torturer, only to be unmasked. Guards drew pikes on Beth and Frang, but Alice remained incognito in the crowd. Frang shapeshifted into a rabbit (unaware of what that symbolizes in the land of Unreason), and fled out among the panicky crowds. Shots rang out not only from Alice’s pistols, but from a masked Zsilvester upon the rooftops as he fired his musket into the crowd (with everyone going “GASP! THE TERRORIST!”)

    With the guards distracted, Alice unchained Malice, and together they both sprang into the crowd attempting to flee. Beth was engaged with the guards, taking some nasty blows and struggling to keep her guard up. Alice tripped over some townsfolk, causing Malice to trip over her, and both were engaged heatedly with some guards. Frang decided that, now that the town was in riot and chaos, to unshift and let loose a flaming sphere to roll around the town square. Malice managed to escape, Alice continued stabbing her assaulter with her daggers, and Beth broke off from her attackers as a ball of fire rolled over them.

  • Pinning Down Malice: Alice had recalled in her exasperated state that her favorite hiding place entailed taking a dumbwaiter used for laundry at the local Inn from the backside of the building up to its attic. She managed to sneak her way in, with Beth following (Frang kept guard outside), and behold! Malice was inside laying low. After some arguing (including a heated discussion and some name-calling when it was revealed Zsilvester had slept with both of them) Malice admitted that, on her side at least, she and Zsilvester  were involved in a rebellious plot against the Red King, whose armies were keeping the townsfolk corralled like cattle for feasting. Malice also explained, frantically, that until things go back “to normal” on her side, she cannot be Alice’s reflection (especially since their estate had been taken over, and the parents are likely eaten on her side of the Glass.)

    Alice aggressively imposed that she needed her reflection back, to which Malice proclaimed “Oh, mom and dad are embarrassed because some gypsy plucked your flower? Over here, they’re likely being interrogated, if not devoured already. Fuck it, I’m going over to the Quiet Side.” This resulted in a crazy fight where Alice attempted to cuff Malice’s feet, and then was looking down the dual-pistols Malice kept in her bodice (Frang’s out of character comment: “Sucks to fight yourself sometimes!”) Beth, however, saved the day as she Abjured the fear of St. Cuthbert into Malice. From there, it was decided to lay low for an hour or so, and then sneak Malice out of Southwall. The plan was to move her to safety in Kraighten, and from there discuss what actions need to be taken so Alice can get her reflection back.

 

My Playlist for D&D Comparisons…

This should be filed under “stuff I think of in the shower.”

A long time ago I compared d20/3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons to your standard, Wheel of Time fantasy cover art, while 4th Edition was like the front cover of a Hammerfall album cover.  In the years since then, I must say my views of older and newer editions have shifted quite a bit. So I think a better comparison scale would be actual music and songs to represent each edition.

Typical disclaimer: I’m not trying to associate bands that were popular during the years these editions came out, and these are strictly my picks for songs that I feel capture the moods and memories I have tied to playing those editions.

Older Editions, up to AD&D 1e — “Broadsword” by Jethro Tull

Reasons: This song reminds me of the feelings I had glancing at my older brother’s AD&D books as a child: something powerful, epic, with imagery of valor and knighthood. Not so heavy on the magic, but filled with wonder, faith and honor.

 

AD&D 2ND EDITION — “Over Hills and Far Away” covered by Nightwish

Reasons:  It’s that feeling of “Oh hey, I know this — but, it’s different. A bit prettier in places, a bit more refined.” Some people swear by this version, still many preferred the original.

 

D&D 3e/3.5/d20: “Instrumedley” by Dream Theater

Reasons: Because sometimes the beauty is found in the complexity of things. So much depth, layers, and technique. It’s daunting as all hell to play but damn if it isn’t awesome.

 

 

D&D 4e: “Through the Fire and the Flames” by DragonForce

Reason: Because upon first playing it I’m like “Holy shitballs THIS IS EPIC!” Then it got old pretty quick. I still like it, still have fond memories, but if given the choice I’d rather play Dream Theater again.

 

The OSR / Retroclone Games:  “Riders of the Night” by Stone Axe

Reasons:  “DUDE we were rocking this back in ’76!”   “Dude, this came out in 2009…”  “Oh, well, shit it still rocks.”

 

Special Mention — Lamentations of the Flame Princess: “SadoWitch” by Electric Wizard (NSFW)  (See what I did there?)

Reasons:  Because some people actually enjoy the aesthetic of black magic, acid, and S&M.

 

5th Edition D&D: “Far Cry” by RUSH

Reasons: Because it’s too new to be Old School, too old to be New School. It’s enough of a throwback to what made the older stuff good but still feels fresh. It stands on its own just fine, and there’s a lot to enjoy here. Who cares if it’s new or old…it’s FUCKING D&D  FUCKING RUSH.

 

Handy Stuff for My 5E Game

We just had the release of the 5th Edition Player’s Handbook and we won’t be seeing the Monster Manual until the end of the month (or the DMG until around November.) But I honestly feel “all set” to enjoy this edition. The free Dungeons & Dragons Basic Rules is pretty much the “core”  I’d ask for anyway; everything else is just extra bells and whistles I may or may not use. Not that I’m not grooving it — there’s a lot of cool stuff to enjoy.  But things the fan community has thrown together has really “umphed” the mileage for me.

From the D&D PHB
From the D&D Player’s Hand Book

Stan Shinn’s 1e-to-5e Combat Tracker (Link)
Before we were blessed with WoTC giving us monster stats in the Basic rules, we were left having to consult either the Starter Set, encounters handouts, or sleazily pirating play test documents to get an idea of how monsters were supposed to be. It’s not perfect, but Stan Shinn’s worksheet to convert AD&D first edition monster stats to something usable with 5E has been a godsend. Heck, even now that I have 5e creature stat blocks, I usually just find myself resorting to converted monster stats anyway.

It should be noted that Brent Newhall took this a step further, and created a converter page that supports both Stan’s formulas for 1E, as well as the math from a discussion on converting 3.5/Pathfinder stats to 5E.

theRPGSite’s BIG! List of Backgrounds (Link)
For my dream campaign, I think I desire more Backgrounds than I do more class options. And this list of fan-contributed stuff has a lot that piques my interest (such as Grave Robber and Animist Acolyte.)

Dungeons & Donuts 5e Quick Character Generator (Link)
This sucker is going into my DM screen (read: OneNote file) as a quick and dirty reference to generate NPC’s on the fly.

Stuff That Isn’t 5e Specific:

  • Ye Olde Mapper (Link): A simple, web-based map maker for encounters/rooms. I shelled out a few bucks for the android app. It has minimal bells and whistles, takes a moment to get comfortable with, but when I’m wanting to scratch out small interiors for combat, it does the trick.
  • Dave’s Mapper (Link): When I do need a full dungeon map slapped together, I let Dave’s Mapper slap it together. The tiles feature work from Dyson Logos, Stuart Robertson, and other OSR/DIY types that I love.
  • My big, fat stack of old-school/OSR books: AD&D, Rules Cyclopedia, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Vornheim, and even ACKS has provided plenty of tinker toys, tables, setting guide lines, idea farming and plot hooks to keep me going for some time. 5e isn’t the “Rosetta Stone” of D&D, but, it has been relatively easy to “hack it forward.”
  • EDIT: Evan Lindsey was cool enough to point out in the comments this massive list of fan material. Not to mention, the blog itself has some really cool fan creations in it.
    http://chainsawchirurgeon.blogspot.jp/2014/07/the-collected-5e-homebrew-index.html

What resources are you guys throwing together? Have any house rules or home-brews you want to share? Hit me up!

Mumbling Thoughts: Basic D&D (5th Edition)

Interrupting my self-imposed blogging hiatus to ramble a bit about the game everyone is talking about: D&D 5th Edition (at least, the freshly released-for-free Basic D&D game.)

I’m going to be lazy and, first, point you to this awesome post on RPGMusings with DM Samuel’s impressions. Seriously, click it, read it, and resume here. I honestly can’t say it any better than him, and I pretty much echo his sentiment. Exceptions being where he’s got mixed feelings on Backgrounds and Inspiration, I have “Shutup and Take My Money” for them.

I ran a one-shot game over the July 4th weekend, with buddies that I used to regularly play Red Box/Basic old-school D&D with. We all share a love for a game that plays pretty quick, isn’t a bitch about table economy, and where character creation doesn’t involve a whole session of time to itself.

I had minimal preparations — I copied some stat blocks of Monsters from one of the playtest packets into One Note, and kept open a PDF of the adventure module Better Than Any Man (written originally for Lamentations of the Flame Princess.) I didn’t run the adventure proper, but I was in the mood for using its historical backdrop of the Thirty Years War, and took advantage of its setting details and random encounters for guide lines.

imagesInstead I ran a simplistic plot of the heroes being mercenaries answering the call to “weed out” chaos cultists who were plaguing the countryside, killing people in their sleep and converting others into “Pigmen” (read: Orcs) to ransack the villages and cause more panic in a time of witch hunts and pending invasion from the Swiss.

It was a good time, resulting in a couple players getting dropped in combat (and the complete death of the Rogue, whom despite having the Cleric constantly healing him ultimately met the working end of an axe by the last pig-man standing, who was near death but still capable of rolling criticals at full force.)

Having become burnt out on 4th Edition after a two year campaign, and then enjoying older editions (coupled with OSR variants) as well as lighter titles like Warrior, Rogue & Mage and BareBones Fantasy, it was nice to sit down to a whole new edition that maintained the romantic feelings I have for the brand but offer some fresh new mechanics.

I think once the Player Handbook and the other core manuals come out, the full game will be a good bridge between OSR and d20/3.5/Pathfinder types. I have no idea if WoTC plans on expanding rules for more 4E style — I’d probably point new-school die hards to 13th Age (from my impressions of a quick glance through) before 5E. But, man, 5E (from the Basic game standpoint) feels good to this veteran of many games and editions.

Already I’m scheming on a campaign that mostly focuses on Basic rules, with perhaps a sprinkling of options from the PHB. I’d like to see concepts like Barbarians, Bards, Rangers and Paladins be built more like Backgrounds and Class Archetypes of the core four classes (Fighter, Rogue, Wizard and Cleric) than full classes. But even if I am suckered into running the “full” 5E game, it’s nice to know I’ll probably have a much easier time hacking d20 or OSR content than I did with fourth edition.

Which is nice — I practically sold all of my 4E rulebooks. I still have a couple shelves filled with older material — including hefty tomes like Ptolus which I would love to crack open more often. It would be cool to finally have a base rules set that could potentially handle a couple decades of collecting.