Apr 10, 2014

DM Tools: Know Your Enemy

Do you know the enemy?
Do you know your enemy?
Well, gotta know the enemy
-- Green Day - Know Your Enemy

Images can be a powerful tool for DMs. Some of the earliest D&D modules (i.e. Tomb of Horrors) included illustration books that helped DMs to further show what the PCs were seeing at certain key moments and locations in an adventure.

Also, along those same lines, miniatures not only help show where everyone is during a given moment of combat, but the sculpts and paint jobs also help clarify who or what the PCs are fighting (otherwise you could just use chess pieces for positioning).

Another area where images can be very useful is for key NPCs. In any adventure there are usually one or two antagonists for the PCs to face, from the town mayor, to "the evil necromancer" to the "goblin king". For some of these characters (the necromancer and the goblin king) miniatures might be useful, but for the town mayor, a miniature isn't probably very useful, especially if he doesn't fight the PCs.

For some of these non-combat NPCs, images can really help the players know just who they are dealing with. Fortunately there are a number of ways to find just the right face for your NPC.

A simple Google image search can give you plenty of images, but most will probably not fit in to your game setting (unless you are playing in a modern setting). The images can still be useful for a DM as the right image can really help solidify who a character is, even if the original source material isn't something you can show at the game table. For instance, I once based a female warrior character on an image of model Angie Everhart I had seen. Something about the image (an ad for some product), and the toughness she displayed felt right for the character I was coming up with.

deviantART is another great resource for images. When looking for something, I typically start there. Also, it's free and easy to sign up, and having an account allows you to bookmark favorite images. Recently, for my weekly game, I needed an image of a bone devil, and was able to find something useful there I could use in my game.

A couple of other resources not to forget, especially if you're looking for fantasy images.

Your own collections. If you have any copies of Dungeon, Dragon, modules from any edition or system, don't forget to give them a once over for images you can copy and use in your home game.

Wizards of the Coast posts art galleries for most, if not all, of it's print releases. If you have a DDI account, then you can access galleries from various 4th edition products, to the monthly Dungeon and Dragon online magazines.

If you don't have a DDI subscription (like me), the Wizards of the Coast site still has useful places to visit. For instance, back in the days before the walled garden, the WotC site posted the art galleries for free. Check out this archive page fora list of galleries from older products. This can be a great source, especially for monsters, but also for various adventurer types.

When WotC had outsourced the production of Dungeon magazine to Paizo, Paizo would post a free PDF supplement for that month's issue. Check out their downloads page to get free supplements, often with key art and maps for the various modules in each issue. I've used these supplements in several sessions when running a module from the magazine in my home game.

Now while all the above suggestions are free (or products you already own), one last source for NPC images are from the various GameMastery decks Paizo puts out. In addition to their equipment decks, and decks specific to their various Adventure Paths, Paizo also has decks of face cards, like their Enemies, and Dungeon Dwellers decks. For a few bucks (even less if you take advantage of their current Scratch-'n-Dent sale), you can get plenty of images for all types of NPCs. And the nice thing about the cards is that the backs are blank for the DM to keep track of any important details for each NPC.

This list, while offering you a lot of ideas, just begins to scratch the surface of what you can utilize to find the right image for the right NPC.

If you liked this article, or have other suggestions for other DMs to consider, please consider leaving a comment.

Apr 3, 2014

Kreo Warriors Set Review - Drizzt

As my past reviews here and here have indicated, I'm not very fond of the Kre-o Dungeons and Dragons figures, but considering how truly iconic the character of Drizzt is, I just had to pick one up.

As for the figure itself I think it's a wonderful representation of the much beloved drow ranger. The kreon has a nice white hair piece, comes with two scimitars, and has great detail in the torso printing, down to the fur lining of his cloak. The figure also comes with a nice bow and pieces to make a small tree with a practice bulls eye.

Unfortunately, that's all you get, and that's where this set, and all the Warriors sets in general, really miss their mark. For the extra price of the set, the Warriors sets run at least $1 more than the blind figure packs, all you get is a handful of extra pieces. In the case of the Drizzt set, just getting a lone figure doesn't really seem like an iconic presentation. Where is Guenhwyvar, his panther companion? The kre-o line already has wolves (see G.I. Joe and the Beastmaster figure in the D&D line for examples), so adding his trusted companion should have been a no-brainer.

And what's with the tree? I've never read any Drizzt novel where he attacks a tree. Granted, I haven't read all of them, so maybe there is a scene I'm missing, but for this set, we really should have an Orc opponent, like the teaser poster when the sets were first announced. Having Drizzt by himself just seems like a half baked idea.

That said, should you pick one up? Hell yes, even in spite of the omissions in this set, what is here is one great figure. Also, with Wulfgar slated to be part of a future release, you definitely want to have Drizzt on hand.

Mar 27, 2014

DM Tools: Graph Paper (The Right Tool for the Right Job)

No other component of rpgs, from the earliest versions of Dungeons and Dragons to the latest Pathfinder or 13th Age releases, is more iconic or necessary to the game than The Map.

The Map helps new and experienced DMs quickly describe a dungeon, lay out a town, or, in some cases, set up a temporal flowchart of actions and events. And the chief tool for setting any of these up is graph paper.

Now graph paper is readily available in office supply stores and most retail stores. At 4 squares per inch, a single 8.5" x 11" sheet of typical graph paper yields 34 x 44 squares, which at 5ft per square (the de facto scale of modern maps) ends up being over 37,000 square feet of area to map. For most maps, this should be more than enough area, but what if you need something else? Maybe you want more area for a larger map, or to detail a major city, or what if you're like me, and you want extra area around the map to add all sorts of notes and legends? Then you might want to check out some of the links below.

Recently, while looking for non-standard graph paper, I came across a couple of great sites featuring more graph papers than I could have imagined... and they are all free!

The first site I came across, stitchpoint.com is a needlepoint/cross stitch site with a nice select of graph paper templates from 5 square/in up to 20/in, all in PDF format. Here's the direct link to their graph paper page.

If you need more options, including hex paper, isometric paper (for creating 3D maps like the ones in the original Ravenloft module), or polar graph paper (for world mapping), check out printablepaper.net. They also have the same sizes of grid paper as stitchpoint.com. Just looking through all the options is starting to spark new ideas, such as the timeline paper for detailing a world history, to the hex and octagon papers for creating flowcharts, and just like stitchpoint, all the templates are free and in PDF format.

So remember, make sure you have access to the right tools for the right job, and the case of being a DM, that sometimes means the right paper for the right map.


Mar 20, 2014

Communities, Caverns and Conventions

A couple of news bits recently in the world of Dungeons and Dragons.

First off, the TV show Community is doing another D&D themed episode. Considering how well received their first episode was, this is probably required viewing, even if you're not tuning in to the show regularly. Check your local listings for air times.

The folks at Dwarven Forge, who's miniatures terrain is often considered the gold standard for 3D pre-painted terrain is doing another Kickstarter. Last year they ran one offering dungeon terrain in a new durable plastic they call Dwarvenite. This time around they are offering Caverns in the new material. They met their initial funding in under 30 minutes and are now on their way to exceed $2 mil, all of which is unlocking plenty of stretch goals and add-on packs.

If you are interested at all in using 3D terrain at your game, you definitely want to check out their Caverns KS.

Lastly, looking forward to GenCon, Baldman Games has posted some info on what they will be running as well as opened up the judge sign-up form for GenCon 2014.

This year they will be running a standard 3+ hr event as well as the 1hr fast play delves that they had in years past. Also, they mention, but give no real details, on a special event running only on Sat from 6-10pm.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Last year I ran a table of D&D at the con for the first time, and that I would be doing it again this year. If you enjoy playing D&D, consider giving back a little and running a game or a few delve sessions. They always seem to be in need of judges and you could be the difference between six people possibly having the time of their convention, or being turned away.

Mar 13, 2014

Game Session - Dragon Island (Finale)

If you've been following along with the various game sessions and specifically the last Dragon Island session (here), then the start of this entry may seem a little jarring. Here's the real world story.

In real life, one of the players, Eric (who played the kender thief Theo) was leaving town. He was starting law school out of state and would be leaving on a fixed date. I had planned for this adventure to be the capstone for the first campaign arc, and I was eager to wrap the adventure and the arc in the available time left. It seemed right that Eric, who had been a long time player (second only to Mike in seniority) should see the end of all the hard work they and their characters had put in to the game.

Unfortunately, more real world events got in the way and I ended up not having the number of sessions that I thought I would. Still wanting to make this finale take place before Eric left for law school, I borrow the trope of the black-out time jump that would take the PCs from the end of last session (made even easier as they never did encounter who or what was on the other side of the door, to where they would wake up just outside the entry portal to the final encounter.

At one point I had planned to go back and write a "lost session" explaining what happened between these two points, and I still might, but that is looking less and less likely. These game session notes are already almost two years behind the actual game, and I'd rather get caught up on what's actually happening with players and characters at the current table.

Anyway, without further delay, here's the finale of Dragon Island: The Black Scourge of Ansalon

The party awakens in one of the rooms deep within the mountain. Everyone is covered in various cuts and bruises, but no major injuries. Nearby, they find a number of dead Baaz draconians. Noting that the Baaz are still in petrified form, the party realizes the battle must have been fairly recent.
Baaz draconians, when killed, turn to stone for only a short time before crumbling to dust.
Jessriel, the monk, recalled a vivid dream he had just before waking, wherein a water nymph was talking to him, warning him of the "eminent darkness that would appear before yielding to a brilliant light".

Continuing down the natural cave corridor, the party encounters a magic portal. Figuring that the draconians were guarding this portal, the party steps through.

On the other side of the portal, everyone appeared at the far end of a huge, well carved, and exquisitely decorated chamber room. The far half of the chamber floor was raised 7ft from the front half, a 10ft wide stairway connected the two sections.

On each side of the front chamber was a series of five alcoves. The left side alcoves each held a pedestal topped with a dragon statue, featuring the chromatic dragons. The right side held statues of the metallic dragons. That is, except for the middle alcove which appeared to be clawed and damaged, the pedestal within shattered, and the statue of the dragon it once held melted long ago into the unrecognizable pool of brass on the tiled floor.

Circling around high in the chamber above, a pair of demonic creatures watched over the proceedings. These creatures were covered in thick fur while a pair of leathery bat-like wings stretched out more than twice the height of a common man. The creature's main feature was a large, lidless eye that leaked corrosive "tears" at it flew about. The creature also had a gaping mouth full of sharp teeth and and a long barbed tail.

At the party entered the chamber, the creatures, known to some scholars as Eyewings, swooped down to attack.

In the back of the chamber, over a hundred feet away, a lone robbed figure along with two minotaurs, clad in similar robes but without the cowl pulled forward, stood in a circle chanting around a cauldron of fire.

Off in the left corner, a pile of treasure lay about in a disorganized pile, while the incorporeal form of a huge black dragon hovered over the riches like a dragon laying atop it's horde.

While off on the far right side, two more alcoves had their pedestals and statues destroyed and seemingly turned in to cells.

As the party surveyed the room, the eyewings were quick to attack swooping down on the party and raking anyone they could get a claw on. Theo ran off toward the trio around the cauldron, while one of the minotaurs broke off chanting to meet the challenge. Theo was shocked to see the minotaur open it's mouth and begin to breath fire at the kender. Thanks to quick reflexes, and his shorter stature, Theo ducked below the bellow of flame.

Elsewhere Hunter unleashed a volley of arrows at one of the eyewings, while Adow casts devastating magic missiles on the other. In short order the archer and mage felled the two abominations of the abyss.

While that was going on the second minotaur and the robed figure advanced on the party. Theo, ducking away from the fire breathing minotaur made his way around toward the second one, who he attacked with deadly accuracy.

The robed figure slipped out of the garments to reveal a breathtakingly beautiful and demonic woman. Large horns protruded from her head holding back a mane of rich black hair and drawing attention to her sensual, yet demonic, eyes. Thick, leathery wings unfolded and her thin tail twitched and snapped in excited delight. The party found themselves standing before Lilith, the queen of the succubi.

At first Adow moved toward the demon in an effort to cast spells against the princess of the abyss, but he began behaving strangely at first moving and then broke off his attack in order to move toward the back of the chamber, almost as if summoned by the ghostly dragon. A dragon who seemed to be otherwise unaware of the combat that had broken out all around the room.

Not worrying about one lone mage, Lilith concentrated her attacks on the rest of the part, going after Jessriel and Hunter with her razor sharp claws and poison tipped tail.

Lilith wounded the two, but neither fell under her onslaught, and in fact wounded the first succubus more than she had expected. With one of her minotaur servants dead and the other locked in a fight with the kender, she had no help of her own to count on.

Meanwhile as Adow moved closer to the dragon ghost, a swirl of bring light starting engulfing the mage until the light created a wall around the mage. When the light dispersed, in place of the mage stood the figure of a celestial woman radiating her own bright light. She was clad in a simple gown and wearing a expression of sadness and joy, in equal parts on her face. Large wings, like that of a great bird stretched out behind her, and at once everyone recognized her as one of the Favored.

As the Favored turned toward the dragon she spoke, "Bright, do you not remember me after all this time?"

The ghost dragon looked upon a face almost as old as he was and growled, "You can not be, you were destroyed."

"Do not deceive your own eyes, it is I, Glory, just as you remember me? But what have you done? What is this blackness that poisons your soul? Return to me, Bright Redeemer, not as the black scourge that others think you to be, but as the shining beacon that I remember."

From this a wave of light flowed from the celestial around the ghost dragon, until the dragon no longer looked like the Black Scourge that legend described, but as a shinning brass dragon.

Lilith, realizing that her plan to resurrect the destructive Black Scourge was now lost to her, flew away from the attacking party and through the portal back to the Dragon Island.

With the minotaurs and eyewings dead, and Lilith gone, the party could hear a faint voice crying out for help from the back of the chamber. Theo and Hunter went over to investigate while Jes stood in wonder of the celestial before him, one that seemed to hold a similar resemblance to a water nymph he had seen in several dreams.

In the back of the room, the party found a woman in one of the cells. She identified herself as Catriona, and apparently she was to be the final sacrifice that returned the Black Scourge from the realms of the dead.

With everyone now safe, Glory, as the Favored was known, thanked the party for their help in aiding her cause. She began to explain just what was going on and what had happened to their good friend Adow.

It seems Lilith had been trying to capture Glory for some time, as part of her plan to resurrect the Black Scourge. At one point, gravely wounded, Glory was took weak to defend herself, and sought a hiding place where Lilith would not find her. This occurred during the same time that Adow was taking his Test of High Sorcery. As the mage had just completed his Test, but was near death, Glory assumed the form of the wounded mage, who had lost an eye during one of the trials. Glory hid his soul in the magical gem that now served as a new eye, and cloaked herself in the presence of the mage. This allowed the mage to heal on his own and provided cover for Glory.
As an aside, the player of Adow was taking a break from the game and I was running Adow as an NPC. As such, I took some more liberties with his character than I wouldn't have done had Adow still been a PC.
Unable to find the celestial, Lilith found another viable sacrifice, the female Knight of Solamnia, Catriona, who just so happened to be friends of Davyn (Hunter's mentor) and Bergin, and had stumbled on the prophecies of the Black Scourge that Lilith was looking to fulfill.
Catriona and Davyn, by the way, are actually characters from the Dragonlance New Adventures series of books, which, while aimed at kids are wonderful reads for adults as well.
Anyway, after the Test, Glory, now posing as Adow, aided the party in it's various quests to locate the true resting place of the Black Scourge, which she knew as the brass dragon, Bright Redeemer.

In the ancient past, Glory and Bright Redeemer, were a force of good in the pre-history of Krynn. But when Glory was seemingly destroyed right before the dragon's eyes, the brass was enraged. Rage soon turned to anger, and anger to hate, and the blackness that was in the brass dragon's heart soon enveloped him completely, leading most to believe that Black Scourge was just a powerful black dragon.

Glory's mission, when she learned of her former companion's fate, was to return to him, to see if there was still a trace of the goodness left, and use that to restore the dragon's soul to his original form.

With Bright Redeemer restored, the dragon was now able to achieve his final rest, never to plague Krynn again. Glory, seeing that Lilith had escaped, and knowing she would seek revenge on the mortals who ruined her plan, left the part with one final boon. For their own protection she would scatter this Heroes of the Bright Dragon to the four corners of Krynn and cloak them from Lilith's watchful gaze as long as she could. With that she disappeared, and the form of a mostly healed (he still had a missing eye) Adow laid before the party.
This scattering of the party was also due to real life events. With several of the character's leaving, I knew I was going to be rebuilding the gaming group up once again from the ground floor, and this was one way to explain the sudden end of their shared history together, as well as keep the door open for any possible "reunion" adventures.
And with this, we wrap up this campaign. Originally Lilith was going to be a recurring nemesis for the party, but now she's just a plot line that maybe one of my other campaigns will have have to address.
Next time, we'll start a new set of adventures, with all new characters, also on Krynn.

Mar 6, 2014

When Gangsta meets D&D

"Ice-T records D&D Audiobook"

When I first read this, I had to double check that I wasn't on The Onion. In fact I went to several different sources and even listened to the Ice-T podcast to confirm at least his claim of having recorded a D&D book for Audible.

In the podcast, he claims it was a short story, which actually sounds plausible. Various anthology collections (Steven King coming first to mind) will use different narrators for each story.

I tried to follow up with Audible Customer Service, but they had no details on what book or short story he recorded or when such a product might be available.

If this is true, and actually gets released, I look forward to hear it (I think).

File this in the Strange but True (for Now) category.

Feb 27, 2014

Kre-o Dungeons and Dragons Figure Review #2

If you haven't read the first review of the Kre-o Dungeons and Dragons figures, I highly encourage you to check it out. In the first reveiw, I cover a number of generic elements common to all the Kre-o Army Builder Packs, which I won't be repeating here.

That said, let's look at a few more of figures.

First up, from the "good" faction, the Flag Carrier. Overall, I rather like this figure more than I initially thought I would. The head piece, with the helm and chainmail coif is really well sculpted. The blue tabbard pattern is continued from the chest to part way down the legs, but the best feature in my opinion is the spear the flag is attached to. This is an impressive looking weapon, standing more than two minifigs high, with an equally matching oversized blade at the tip. This is clearly a great example of a weapon with reach. There really isn't anything I don't like about this specific figure (I do have some general issues with the Kreons versus Lego minfigs which I talk about later).

Next up is the Orc Axeman. This is another nice figure with printing on the chest and legs that suggest a studded leather armor. Also, the figure has a menacing helm, a snarly face and two axes, one that I would consider a hand axe and the other a battleaxe. The only have one real problem and one quibble, and both are around the weapons.

The battleaxe is a two piece weapon, a blade and a handle. Now this may just a one-off issue, but only the ends of the handle, the very top and very bottom, are actually thick enough for the blade and the figure's hand to firmly grasp. anywhere else in the middle of the handle piece and it just slides along the shaft loosely. This is really a shame because the blade piece is created in such a way that if you had two, you could put them back to back on a handle and have a really nice looking great axe, but not with the handle piece. If I do get a second one, I'll just have to leverage a comparable Lego piece to do the job.

My quibble is around the second axe. This is a one piece mold, but is the same mold used for the axes the Kre-o fireman use. When I first saw it, I immediately firemen and modern axes. I certainly understand why they reused the mold, so it's just more a quibble than a real issue.

For my third figure review, I want to look at the Cleric. This is another really nice figure, with detailed printing on the torso and legs, and great accessories like the large cape, a decorated shield with a dragon head icon, shoulder pauldrons, and a mace. There really isn't anything specific about this figure that I don't like, so this might be a good time to discuss some of the issues I have with Kreons in general.

My biggest complaint about the Kreons is that they don't feel very well held together. What I mean is that the head feels loose when attached to the torso. In face when you go to remove a hair piece or helmet, you're just as likely to pull off the head as well, conversely Lego minifigs have much better "clutch power" (as Lego calls it) in this regard.

The arms, in general, are another area where I have some issues with the Kreons. First, let me praise how much I like their ball and socket design over the Lego minifig arms, which don't have as much option. With the Kreon figures, not only can you move the arms up and down, but you also move them slight side to side. This is especially good for getting them to grip two handed weapons or for more animated poses. The downside of this ball and socket system is that the arms tend to pop out too easily. In the hands of a young child, I can see plenty of armless Kreons after minimal play. It should be noted the legs also suffer this same issue, but to a lesser degree.

Another issue with the arms is the design of the arm itself. Right out of the package, the arms look like they are already wearing pauldrons and bracers. Now this design is standard across all the Kreons, from D&D to Star Trek, to G.I. Joe, but for these fantasy figures, especially savage looking Orcs, it doesn't seem to fit.

Lastly, I don't like the the way the torso connects to the legs. Lego minifigs use two posts to connect torso and legs, the downside here is that the figure can't turn at the waist. Kreons use only one post, and while they can twist at the waist, the more often tend to just twist apart.

Sadly, as much as I want to like the D&D Kreons, I just can't. The quaity of the figures overall is poor, especially when compared to Lego. It does have some nice elements -- weapons, shields, hair pieces -- but so does Lego. And if you're looking for more D&D elements, Lego is actually far superior, with dwarves, goblins, elves, as well as huge monsters like spiders, trolls, and dragons.

For me, I may pick up a few more Kre-o sets (especially with those $3 off coupons in each figure pack), but I'll probably just cannibalize those sets for pieces for my Lego collection.