Thursday 11 September 2014

The Haunted

*Blows dust off blog*

Marvellous. You're still here.

Things have been quiet on the blog for the past two or three months. I'm pleased to report that I've been busy writing one of the upcoming Adventurers League scenarios for 5th Edition D&D: "Outlaws of the Iron Route". It's part of the "Tyranny of Dragons" storyline, and it's going to debut in November at the Gamehole Convention in Wisconsin. I'd love to be there, but you know - thousands of miles away. If you get a chance to go, I'd get a real kick from hearing how the scenario played out for you.

A mysterious entity manifests! Art by Tjaart Kruger.
All this 5th Edition malarkey has got me fired up to get started on my own campaign. In fact, right now I'm gearing up for DMing two regular games, and consequently, we've been mulling over a whole bunch of new character ideas. Stacey's got this idea for playing a warlock who's haunted by the spirit of her elfin husband: she's planning her as a mix between Michonne from Walking Dead, and some sort of medium. I figured that instead of just winging this in-game, it would be cool to codify the haunting with some actual rules. A background seemed appropriate (I think backgrounds have promise for defining heroic character concepts as well providing mundane origins).

So, to kick this blog back into shape, here's the "Haunted" 5th Edition background. Use it to play any cursed, spirit-hounded, or demon-possessed character that comes to mind. I think it would work well for a warlock or a necromancer.

Thursday 19 June 2014

Mind Blown!

Earlier this week I received the good news that "Mind Blast!" won the EN World adventure contest. I was thrilled to hear my adventure had taken the grand prize, especially coming from such noted judges (Sean K. Reynolds, Keith Baker, and Kevin Pulp). Go here to download the adventure, and be sure to take a look at the other entries. There's some great stuff there.

As a concept, "Mind Blast!" has been hanging around in my head for a couple of years now. The basic premise - a psychic disaster on a colony world that causes personalities to be swapped - came from a Doctor Who game I worked on briefly. It never came out, but we had some fun levels planned for it.

In one, the Doctor comes across a Dalek whose mind has been swapped with the colony's cook: a teenage girl from England. The Dalek-girl escorts the Doctor through the burning colony, using her new body to help him past obstacles. When we saw the scripts for the upcoming series I discovered my idea was oddly close to one of the new episodes, so we ditched it. The idea stuck though, and I was pleased for the opportunity to adapt it to D&D. I now have an owlbear instead of a Dalek, but the basic premise remains the same!

If you get a chance to play the adventure, I'd love to hear how it worked out. Be sure to check out the pre-generated characters I made, and practice your owlbear impressions. You'll need them!

Thursday 5 June 2014

D is for Dracolich t-shirt!

You want a "D is for Dracolich" t-shirt, don't you? I want one. Who wouldn't want one?

Well, head on over to the Tyranny of Dragons t-shirt competition and pop in a vote for Stacey's entry. If she wins, we can all spread the joy of learning our ABCs through D&D monsters. Come on, let's do it for the kids!

You can check out the other letters in her series here.

Monday 2 June 2014

All hail the Lizard God!

I'm delighted to report that "Island of the Lizard God" has won the grand prize in the one page dungeon contest, and if all goes well, will be published in issue #5 of Gygax Magazine! I'm blown away to have won against so many other great entries (my money was on Ramsey Hong's "Crimson Maelstrom" or Lorenzo Santini's "Revenge of Xarr-Zuul"), so I'm feeling pretty humbled. It's also worth mentioning that this year's competition was managed with military efficiency, so props to Mundi King for pulling everything together so quickly.

I was in Birmingham for the UK Games Expo when I found out that I'd won. Receiving the $500 cash prize couldn't have come at a better time (or worse, depending on how you look at it). That morning Stacey and I hit the trade halls and came out with a treasure trove of gaming goodies:

We had a fantastic show, managing to squeeze in sixteen hours of roleplaying across four different RPG systems in three days. We traveled back to the Dark Ages for a rain-soaked murder mystery in Call of Cthulhu, ran riot as goblins in Labyrinth Lord, went on a dungeon heist in 13th Age, and mashed up our favourite characters using FATE Accelerated. It was a real mix of DM styles - narrative, sandpit and ad-lib - which was great to see. When we left, two of our group had purchased new games from the show and were even talking about trying out GMing for themselves.

Overall, we couldn't have hoped for a better weekend!

Tuesday 29 April 2014

Island of the Lizard God

This is my entry into this year's one page dungeon contest!

"Island of the Lizard God" was inspired by the "Isle of Dread" D&D module, and the Fighting Fantasy gamebook "Island of the Lizard King" - both old favourites of mine. This year I flirted with various one-page dungeon ideas: a Call of Cthulhu adventure, a walking castle, even a fold-your-own random dungeon generator. In the end I settled on something simpler, something that spoke back to the classics.  Plus, two dungeons on one page!

This competition gets hotter every year, so I don't hold out much hope of winning. It's fun taking part though, and combing through the other entries is always a great source of inspiration for my games.  Best of luck to all the other entrants!

Tuesday 1 April 2014

The Yellow Banner

The Yellow Banner flies above Fallcrest!
The Company of the Yellow Banner is my original 4th Edition adventuring party. We've been playing fairly regularly since 2009, and are now midway through the official HPE series of adventures. The characters are all 15th level, but we've hardly stuck to the books: I couldn't say how many sessions we've whiled away on side-quests, personal character arcs, and other random adventures. I gave up tracking XP ages ago, and now just level the party when it seems appropriate to the story.

The name stems from an early picture that Sandy drew of his character, the warlord
Brixton. He carried a magnificent yellow pennant, which in-game he proudly brandished at every opportunity. Brixton was beaten down in almost every one of those early fights, but he always gritted his teeth, spat out blood with a grin, and stood up to bring the pain to his enemies. His unstoppable resolve rallied his allies, and at the climax of "Keep on the Shadowfell" each member of the party tore a strip from the pennant and tied it around their arms as a sign of unity.

As they headed into the paragon tier I turned the Yellow Banner into an artifact for the group. I was inspired by a short campaign we'd played with another DM, who'd entrusted our characters with a dangerous supernatural artifact called the Ark. The Ark had a bank of power that could be tapped to heal allies, detect spirits, and lash out at enemies: basically padding out any of the character roles that the party was missing. It was a clever idea, and one that stuck with me for a long while. With the Yellow Banner I initially gave each player their own unique banner power, with each power tapping a shared pool of "Glory" that was built up over time through winning battles. In addition, the banner absorbed the soul energy of any companion characters who died in sight of it, allowing the PCs to call upon them for aid after their deaths. As I don't allow companions to be raised, this added a feeling of ongoing legacy to the artifact, with each dead NPC adding a unique power to its repertoire.

Unfortunately, in play all those powers became a little fiddly: we kept forgetting to add Glory, and the players rarely used their character's banner powers. The banner's main power - adding to the damage of all allies in range - remained pretty solid, but the powers themselves were either too conditional to use or too easy to forget. One of my players recently suggested that I rework the Yellow Banner into something new. I've been inspired recently by 13th Age, so I thought I'd integrate the "Escalation Die" from that system into the artifact. For those who don't know, the Escalation Die is a mechanic for speeding up combat that adds +1 to the players' attack rolls for every round that passes, up to maximum of +6. I like the rule, but I find it a little artificial, as it's a purely mechanical abstraction. I think integrating it to our artifact explains that bonus a little better. I ended up dropping the banner's old character powers, but kept its companion powers, which I reworked to improve alongside the Escalation Die.

Anyway, take a look. We'll see how it plays in our next game!  

Tuesday 11 March 2014

Mind Blast! 5E Pregen Characters

Intellect Devourers prey on the weak in "Mind Blast!"
Last month I put together a submission for the D&D Next Adventure Contest over at EN World: which ended up as "Mind Blast!", an adventure for 4th level characters. The submissions are being judged throughout March, after which they'll be available for everyone to download from the site. Once the winner is announced, I'll also share "Mind Blast!" here on the blog.

I've created some pregens for the adventure using my own character sheets. I stuck to the classics - dwarf fighter, halfling thief, elf wizard and human cleric - but backgrounds and "chunky feats" made them more unique. This aspect of 5E is a winner. Players get fewer choices - great for newcomers - but the results feel more meaningful, and enable some fantastic concepts: jester paladin, wizard thug, and so on. I also like that some of the old prestige classes (or class features) have been folded into feats that are available to all.

Anyway, here's the party (download links at the bottom of the post). There's nothing here that ties these characters explicitly to the adventure, so they should work for any campaign. And as ever, many thanks to the lovely Stacey for all the art you see here!

Raised as a priest of the Sun God, Glaive turned to the God of War after murderous raiders sacked his monastery. Now he travels the realm in search of criminals to bring to justice. 

Time has tempered the furies of Glaive’s youth, and he takes no pleasure from killing. He seems weary beyond his years, and is fond of simple pleasures: good friends, peace and cool beer.     

Ancient spirits of nature taught Meriol her craft. She carves her spells onto bark tablets, and infuses her longbow with primal power. Now she roams the wild, protecting the natural order of things.

Meriol has spent more time amongst wood elves than her high elf kin, and thus shares many wood elf traits. She is quick to anger, full of mirth, and flighty as the wind. 

For years, Ezmaria plied her trade as a wandering charlatan, selling crank cures and potions across the Realm. Glaive eventually arrested her, and offered her a choice between going to prison and working as his underworld informer. She has since formed a new persona as “Kara the Knife”; fence and smuggler – a role that’s certainly taught her how to handle herself!

Gori was exiled from the mountain holds after his love affair with the Princess Royal was exposed. He has since spent many years in the lowlands, but yearns to return some day to the mountains and elope with his beloved.

Gori is more open-hearted than most dwarves, and gets on well with humans. Like the rest of his kin, he enjoys singing and drinking.   


Saturday 15 February 2014

D&D Next Adventure Contest

We're now halfway through the submission period for EN World's D&D Next Adventure Contest. The challenge is to write an adventure based around one of five ready-made maps, with entries judged by a panel of star judges. The winner gets a print copy of "Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle" signed by the Wizards of the Coast staff. If you haven't started writing, you now have just under two weeks to put together your own submission!

So far my adventure features a mind-flayer, some intellect devourers, and a young cook whose mind has been accidentally swapped into the body of an owlbear. "Mind Blast!" is a bit of a lighthearted adventure, and I'm having a hoot writing it (excuse the pun).

I'll have more to share when I'm done, but for now I just wanted to show off one of the pictures that Stacey has drawn for the adventure. This is poor Greta the Owlbear, and she'd very much like her body back!

Thursday 30 January 2014

My D&D Next Character Sheet

Behold the first page of my D&D Next character sheet!

Playing D&D Next, I've struggled to find decent character sheets that reflect the latest iteration of the rules. Those that do often seem to display too little or too much information, are too cramped, or are a bit ugly (I name no names).

In the end I decided to make my own, which I'm sharing here for your use and pleasure. It may not be a perfect design, but it's done the job for us so far. I've tried to keep mechanical stuff on the front page, and roleplay stuff on the back page (plus gear). I didn't bother with item slots, as they're less hardwired into Next. All spell information has been consigned onto an optional third sheet, which is how I prefer it.

Typically, I've since stumbled across some fantastic sheets out there on the internet, making the whole exercise a little redundant. Such is life.

Saturday 4 January 2014

Cloak & Dagger

One of Tjaart's recent constructions: a Spanish falcata.
I am blessed with some truly awesome players.

A few months back, a member of our 4th Edition group left the country to pursue a new job in Singapore, so we held a long weekender in Cambridge to see him off and tie up the group's current adventure. In the run-up to the game I exchanged quite a few emails with my players, plotting various events, power choices, and so forth. One of these conversations took me quite by surprise.

When Tjaart told me he wanted to craft weapons for each of his allies, I naturally assumed he meant that his character would be doing the crafting. I soon learned otherwise! Tjaart had been teaching himself metalwork, and had crafted a set of real-life blades for the group. Best of all, each weapon was tailored to that player's character: a military-looking dagger for the warlord, a curved blade for the eladrin warlock, a hand-axe for the dwarf, and so on.

Drizzt's scimitar
Just before the adventure's final battle, an NPC appeared to present the blades to the heroes - and as each was handed across in-game, we handed them out across the table. As you can imagine, it was a pretty spectacular surprise!

Tjaart has since crafted many more blades - some of which you can see here - and has started taking commissions. If you're interested in seeing more of his work, you can reach him through his Facebook page: The Adventurer's Emporium.

In the meantime, check out the magical weapons I made to accompany each real-life gift. I gave each a utility power tied to its owner, but they should be broad enough for general use. Also, the cloaking dagger isn't completely my own invention: it's essentially an exodus knife with a few mechanical tweaks to make it less powerful.

Enjoy, and Happy New Year!

Note: The above link should work fine for viewing onscreen, but you'll need to 
register with Scribd to actually download the file. Yes - I'm still working on alternatives!