Nov 19, 2015

Game Session: Dead Man Walking

After the events of the last session, the PCs made their way back to the town of Saltmarsh. As an extra reward for rescuing and returning Oswald and Humbert Fastralli, their father, Conte Fastralli, held a private dinner in their honor at The Silver Raven, one of the nicest restaurants and gentelmen's clubs in the city. Also at the dinner was Pinch, a private agent of the Fastralli family who also had done the family great service, though neither Pinch, nor the Fastralli clan were willing to elaborate on just what Pinch had done for the Fastralli's.

Before the dessert course, Conte Fastralli and his sons were called away on business by one of his attendants, but bid everyone else to stay and enjoy to restaurant's hospitality on him

Later, while everyone was enjoying a creme pastry dish with a heated chocolate drink, there was a mild commotion from one of the upstairs rooms. Hoskin Lashti, the owner of The Silver Raven, went to investigate. A short time afterward, he sheepishly approached the party. With worry in his voice he explained that there had been an "accident" in one of the upstairs private rooms and that one of the guests was dead. It seemed the patron, Milo Bornal, had enjoyed the company of a female companion a bit too much.

Hoskin then asked the party for a very special favor. The deceased man's wife, who was not the companion Mr. Bornal was with at the time of his passing, was a influential force in town, and if she learned the true manner in which her husband had died, she would use her connections to get this fine establishment shut down. Hoskin asked if the party would be willing to take Mr. Bornal back to his home across town, secret him back into his house, and allow his wife to think he had died at home in his personal study. The owner would be grateful and would cover the party's food and drink bill for an entire month at The Silver Raven.

Feeling sorry for the owner, they agreed. After first concluding, without a doubt, that Milo Bornal had died of natural, if not pleasurable, causes.

After sneaking the body out of the back of the Silver Raven, the party started making their way across town from the edge of the North Hill district to the riverside part of First Gate, all the while trying to avoid the attention of guard patrols. This took the party through various alleyways around the city.

by Merewina
While they did a good job of avoiding the town guards, they weren't so successful with one of local street urchins.
“Hey Misters, watcha doin’? I see ya walkin’ all funny around the streets like you don’t know where you’s are.”

“That’s not a smart thing to do in these parts.”
After talking with the young boy, Krist, who was asking more questions than the PCs were ready to answer, the party was able to send him on his way with a few coins.

Continuing their trek through the city, the party took a wrong path down an alley and suddenly found themselves in a dead end. Before they could back their way out, a nest of spiders skittered down from rooftops and out of abandoned crates to take notice of the prey that had fallen into their webs.

The largest of the spiders shot webs that trapped some of the party, while the smaller ones attacked directly. With a combination of magic and steel, the party skewered a few of the smaller spiders and one of the larger ones. This caused the rest to scurry up the building walls leaving the party alone.

After tending their minor wounds, the party set out down another path with their charge in toe (pun intended). While darting out a side street, quickly trying to cross the main street, the party turned a corner right into a patrol of local guards.

The obvious leader of this patrol greeted them, “Hello citizen”.

As they make their way closer, he adds, “nice night, don’t you think?”

Everyone froze as the head guard spoke to them. As the guards waited for them to respond, the air grew thick with nervous tension. If they didn't say something soon, maybe the guards would suspect something was amiss.

After a moment, Pinch spoke up and talked to the guards for a few moments. As the guards noticed Duncan and Ataraxia carring Milo over their shoulders.

It was Duncan who made a passing comment that their friend here had too much fun and they were taking him home. Duncan was apparently convincing enough that the guards laughed and waived them on their way. At the first opportunity, out of sight of the guards, the party ducked back into an alley, hoping to avoid any more patrols for the rest of the night.

After a few more alleys, they found themselves crossing through the business district, which was mostly shut down at this time of the night. Unfortunately, that left them vulnerable to the thieves that inhabited these alleyways as their own under cover of darkness.

The thieves thought they were mugging a group of drunkards that had wandered in to the wrong part of town, but after the heroes put Milo's body down and drew their weapons, the thieves soon realized they were in for a real fight.

With shadow and stealth, the thieves, tried surrounding the party. The two leaders of this pack tried to take Duncan down first, while the other members (including a dwarf and bugbear) concentrated their attacks on Pinch and the monk.

Duncan fought off one of his attackers, while Ataraxia went after the other. Soon, the two leaders were dead, and the other thieves ran off in to the night.

With their attackers gone, the party picked up the body of Milo Bornal and continued their city trek to his mansion. As they made their way down the alley toward the Bornal estate, a soft moan came out of the shadows.

Shambling out of the darkness a pale, gaunt figure with soulless eyes, covered in dirt and rags and smelling of death and decay emerged. It’s one hand out stretched as it slowly moved toward the

Then the thing opened its mouth... and promptly burped and stumbled before you!

“Spare a few coins or a drink for a bloke down on his luck?”

After giving the homeless man, Calden, a drink and a few coins, the man continued.

“You tryin’ to get into the Bornal place? You won’t make it through the front. Lady of the house got some kinda party goin’ on tonight, but I seen the ol’ man get in through his private entrance in the back."

"‘E’s fond of slippin’ out a catchin’ a drink or two from time to time, and always sneaks back in with
he’s private door. Door musn’t be locked, cause the good sir never carries keys, or anything else that makes noise, I guess so’in’s the misses don’t ‘ear ‘em comin’ back in.”

As the party sneaks on to the mansion grounds, they find all the guards are busy attending to the door and party guest scattered around the front of the house. When they get up close to the back door that Calden was talking about they see the door is sealed shut, but, there is no discernible lock or key hole.

Engraved on the door is the phrase, "Steady profit is the Key to success", and under that is a three by three grid. Within each grid are piles of coins, in various piles and denominations.

After looking over the images for a while, Duncan and Pinch realize that within each row of images, one pile of coins shows the same value. Remembering the phrase above the door about steady profit being the key, they touch the one image of coins in each row that has that similar value.

With that the door magically opened for them. After that, they party was easily able to sneak Milo Bornal's body into his private study and make it look like he died there, hunched over his accounting ledgers.

Then the party was able to sneak away, back into the darkness, after one of the strangest nights of their lives.
Behind the Scenes: Like Embreth in the last session, Pinch was also supposed to be a new member of the group. This player, sadly, wasn't able to continue with my group past this single session.

Sep 11, 2015

D&D on Your Small Screens

For this week's post, I wanted to share a cornucopia of links, all D&D related, but in wildly different areas.

First, up: Video Games

If you were a fan of the old SSI D&D games from the 80s, like Pool of Radiance and Eye of the Beholder, GOG (Good Old Games) has laboriously tracked down the rights owners, bought the game rights, and are in the process of updating the code for modern computers.

You can read more about their efforts here:

Next Up: Digital Comics

DriveThruComics has recently made available a number of D&D comics in digital format. The back catalog is extensive enough to include the old DC comics (including the Dragonlance comics I previously reviewed and the Forgotten Realms comics) from the 80's, to newer D&D comics, including the wonderful 2010 series (set in the 4e realm of the Nentir Vale).

Other offerings include:
Ianto's Tomb - a Dark Sun mini-series
Several 4e and 5e era Forgotten Realms comics
Serveral mini series adapting Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance novels, like some of the early Drizzt novels, and the Dragonlance Chronicles books.

Check out their offerings here:

And now for something completely different: Game Play

First, I have to admit, that I'm not a fan of watching people play D&D, so actual-play videos or podcasts are something I usually just skip over, but when I heard about the Geek & Sundry show Critical Role, I had to at least check out the first episode.

And I'm very glad I did. The show has an excellent lighting and sound, and in some ways a bit better than the recent WotC live stream games. The fact that all the players are voice actors means that everyone is able to stay "in character" 90% of the time really helps set the bar high for what a D&D game could be.

As a DM, I've been watching it to see the unfolding story, but also for how the DM, Matthew Mercer (@matthewmercer) does voices, descriptions, and anything else I can steal for my own games.

You can check out the G&S page here with links to all the past episodes:

Lastly, a bit of humor

What would D&D be without a little humor. I recently came across Dungeons & Dragons: Gangsta Edition on YouTube. It's a funny look at the game if the setting was more urban and less fantasy. The channel also has several variants, including D&D: Hipster Edition and The Game of Thrones Edition.

Sep 3, 2015

GenCon 2015: The Review

My GenCon experience this year was in some was very different from previous years, in other ways much the same, and overall a wonderful time. As I think I tweeted during the con, "if you're not smiling at GenCon, you're doing something wrong", and I firmly believe that.

Wed (Day 0) - Day 0 was a bit different this year than in years past. Instead of driving out to the con, I actually flew out. Due to a airline issue a few months ago, I had a voucher for the cost of one flight, good for only one year. This was about the only time I would be able to use it, so it was an easy choice. While flying to GenCon means you get there relatively quick from the East Coast, it also meant that I wasn't driving out with my long time con-buddy.

To make up for the lack of pre-con adventure in the car ride out, I finally started reading Playing at the World by Jon Peterson about the early days of wargames that preceded D&D as well as the history of D&D as well. I've only gotten a little way into the book, as it's an exhaustive tome. The size, and level of detail may discourage some readers, but for others, we can reveal in the earliest days of a hobby that has grown beyond most people's wildest dreams.

After we both got to the hotel (the downtown Marriott), we went to get our badges. The line was epicly long, like in years past, but moved really quick. In short time we had badges and tickets in hand and were on our way for some dinner. We passed by a few places that were more crowded than I expected (Day 0 is becoming more and more the unofficial 5th day of the con), and so we ended up at the Hard Rock. I had to go there anyway for my yearly purchase of the GenCon exclusive pin for my mother in law who collects those things. I actually liked the design enough this year to get one for myself.

Thur (Day 1) - I no longer need to be at the Dealers Hall doors the moment they open, so I actually scheduled myself for a D&D 5e game early in the morning. Since I'm usually DMing, I don't get to play as much as I would like, and GenCon is one time I try to sit on the other side of the screen as much as possible. I recall it being a fun table and good DM, despite the issues I have with Hall D (where all the Adventure League D&D events are run).

After the game, I started walking the Dealers Hall before my next events, a pair of writing seminars. I often attend almost as many (if not more) seminars than I do gaming events, and this year was no different.

Later in the afternoon, I played a demo of Imperial Assault, the Star Wars minis game. I was wholly unfamiliar with the game (if not the setting), and really enjoyed playing it. I didn't pick it up at the con, as it's rather pricey and my get a copy of Amazon with its significant discount. As you may recall from past posts, every Gen Con I play at least one new game. Imperial Assault was this year's new game.

Lastly, I ended the night doing another Read and Critique, where I show up and read some of my own creative writing and get feedback from a panel of 4 published authors. If you have any interest in fiction writing of any kind, this kind of trial by fire is a great way to learn were you might need some work. I've done it before, so this time was less stressful, but just as helpful.

Fri (Day 2) - Friday included some more seminars, some writing, but also one discussing issues related to women at the gaming table. As a male gamer, I've never had to deal with some of the issues I've read about, and as someone who regularly has women players in his games (though not as many as I would like), I want to make sure I'm conscious of issues they related to making sure everyone has a great time during the game - because, when it comes down to it, that's what we're all there for anyway.

Later in the afternoon, after some more time in the Dealers Hall, my con-buddy and me played Shackles of Blood, one of the new Adventure League Season 3 D&D 5e adventures. Luckily we had a great DM for this module, and even though I found parts of the module a bit too railroad-y (even for a con module, where I expect it), I still had plenty of fun.

Sat (Day 3) - Saturday included some more seminars, from Scott Rice-Snow, Chairperson of the Department of Geological Sciences and Professor of Geological Sciences at Ball State University. Last year I attended his Cave 2.0 seminar, and this year I went to both his Rivers 2.0 and Mountains 2.0 (and if he had hosted a third one, I would have been there for that as well) and picked up a lot of details I'm sure to include in my next outdoor adventures.

Also, Professor Rice-Snow announced the release of his first game-related book Look Where You're Going: Prime Landscape Sites for Storytellers now available on It's a system neutral book looking at some real-world environments that would make good backdrops for stories or adventures. I haven't picked it up yet, but will be doing so after I finish Playing at the World.

Later in the day, I was lucky enough to get my 5e PHB signed by Mike Mearls and Jeremy Crawford, as well as pick up some neat little swag, including this nifty DM patch. Now I just need a shirt to to sew it on.

After that I played a bit more 5e with the Harried in Hillsfar mini Rage of Demons adventure (lasting about 90 minutes compared to a typical 4hr adventure). Unfortunately I didn't like it as much as Shackles for a number of reasons.

Finally, I finished up the day by watching the fall of the Cardhalla display, a nice little charity event head every year at the con since 1999.

Sun (Day 4) - The last of the con is usually a short day for me, and this year was no different. I actually had no events this year and instead just walked around the Dealers Hall looking for a few bargains and some small games to bring home the next time I go to a board game night.

After a few purchases and a final lunch with my con-buddy, I was set to leave Indy for another year.

Final Thoughts

In addition to all the events I took part in, there were also plenty of great lunches and dinners, hitting up most of the local hot spots I'm familiar with, including The RAM, Stake and Shake, Fridays, and Champions. We skipped Scotty's Brewhouse as the wait was typically too long - if you ask me to wait 2 hours, your food better be incredible.

I also made a goal of trying to avoid the on-site con food, as it's usually very greasy, cold, falling apart, and generally not that healthy for you. That said, my very first lunch was pizza from the convention as I forget my lunch snacks and didn't have time to go out for food. While the pizza certainly wasn't the best I had, I did enjoy striking up conversations with the other con goers, some of who were here for the first time, others who were seasoned veterans.

As you can see, I played a lot of D&D 5e at the con, but I choose to skip the Epic events. I played in last year's Epic, and as I mentioned then, I didn't really enjoy it, so I skipped it this year. Based on some of the reports I've read about this year's event, I'm glad I did.

As someone who's DM'd in Hall D, it's not very forgiving. It's very wide open with lots of metal and stone so the sound just bounces around the room. You end up really need to shout to be heard. I miss the old days when D&D was in its own room, the Sagamore ballroom, which was quieter thanks to the carpets, low ceilings, and smaller space. Sadly, that room has been taken over by Paizo, for their Pathfinder games. To me it was stark visualization of everything Paizo seems to be doing right at GenCon (I won't elaborate as that topic alone could be its own post).

Last though, I had another great time at GenCon. I hope I get to go again next year. Thinking about my "GenCon Bucket List" maybe the only thing left would be for me to run a one-shot of one of the obscure RPGs I have, like Legacy: War of Ages or Noir.

Maybe next year, maybe next year...

Aug 27, 2015

Best of Friends in the Dungeon

I recent saw the following article about frogs and spiders

Tiny frogs and giant spiders: the best of friends

It seems in some environments, the two will develop symbiotic relationships where the frogs control the threats against the spider's eggs and the spider provides protection to the frog from other predators as well as food remains for the frog.

It got me thinking that in dungeon design, I've often limited monster pairings, like goblins and ogres, kobolds and dragons, based on intelligent monsters that can communicate and knowingly set up a social contract based on mutual benefit.

As observed, theses mutual relationships can develop among a variety of animals, from pilot fish and sharks, to certain birds and crocodiles.

How can you use this in your game? Well, first, it allows you to explain why certain animals are in such close proximity without one having wiped out the other, an issue often cited as a problem of poor dungeon design. Second, it offers a way to allows knowledgeable PCs to be able to anticipate threats. For instance, if the party is in a swampy area and comes across the plover birds, the druid or ranger might be able to make a Survival roll to know that these birds, especially in large numbers, possibly indicate that crocs are nearby, allowing the party a chance to do something, set traps/alarms, or spend extra time watching the waters to prevent one or more from sneaking up.

Either way, it can be a fun way to add a bit more detail into your world and your dungeons.

Jul 21, 2015

Getting Some Inspiration!

Awhile ago, I noted that at D&D Adventure League tables that I ran, few of the players had never had DMs who used the new Inspiration mechanic from 5th Edition.

Worse, in games I played as a player, none of the DMs used the mechanic, which I think is great way to help encourage roleplaying at any D&D table (from AL to home games).

To try and turn the tide, I wrote a little article about it for the D&D Adventure League website, which you can check out here:

I hope you check it out and feel free to leave any feedback (good or bad) on the official website (You can leave feedback here, but more people will probably see your comments there).

Jun 5, 2015

Looking for a Brothel? Right Over Here

Recently during my weekly D&D game, I had my players tracking an NPC in a city with the purpose of abducting and getting information out of him about a greater villain they sought. The only known location the NPC could be found was a local brothel he frequented on a regular schedule.

Since I didn't have any brothel maps in my collection, it was off to the Internet. I thought this was going to be a fruitless search, when what to my wandering eyes should appear? An article on a former brothel for sale, complete with a floor plan of the building.


Since I wasn't planning on combat in the brothel, I didn't bother to make a battle map out of the floor plan, but I did have it on hand for reference as the PCs scouted out the interior of the building, as they checked out this room or that.

Anything on the map that was modern, I just changed to some other type of room, or left the door locked.

In case you need such a building in your own game (for whatever reason), here's the link to the article and map. Be warned, while I wouldn't consider the article NSFW, others might.

(Article on the building)

(Link to the floorplan)

May 7, 2015

Rise of the Minotaurs (in 5e)

If you're a Dragonlance fan, and a Dungeons and Dragons 5E fan, you'll definitely want to take a look at the recent Unearthed Arcana article on the Wizard's site.

This new article series on the site presents unofficial rules, or rules in development for the game. This recent article goes by the unassuming title of "Waterborne Adventures", but for the Dragonlance fan should be "Rise of the Minotaur" since the article presents, for the first time, rules for minotaur PCs. In addition to the minotaur race, it also includes a Mariner fighting style, along with some goodies for rogues and sorcerers.

One of the things I enjoyed most about the article were the sidebars where the designers gave their behind the scenes commentary about what they were accomplishing, and how to apply the same principles to other race or monster modifications.

Since its only a 5 page article, it's a quick read, and well worth the time, Dragonlance fan or not.