Jan 28, 2016

Game Session: Pilgrimage (Part 1)

Some time after the events of the previous game session, Duncan is given a task by Lady Miranda, his superior in the Church of Kiri-Jolith. It seems a group of lay followers of the church have recently gone missing during a pilgrimage to the shrine of Arden Brightheart. The party is several days overdue, and Lady Miranda would like Duncan and his friends to quietly check out the shrine and its caretaker, Jarson Tender, and find what happened to the missing people.

At this point, the party consists of:
  • Duncan - Cleric of Kiri-Jolith
  • Ataraxia - Monk
  • Rainos - Apprentice mage
Arden Brightheart was a legendary Knight of Solamnia around the time of Huma Dragonbane. His shrine sits on the sight of his greatest battle, destroying the necro-lich Dread Watcher. The site also serves as his tomb, as the brave knight did not survive the battle.

To aid the party, she acquired the services of Rainos, a local apprentice mage. Rainos' mentor, Santos, is a powerful and well respected member of the Saltmarsh community.

After meeting up with Rainos, the party sets out in the direction of the shrine. It takes them about a day and a half to make the journey. Along the way, the party is forced to camp out under the stars and keep watch, but being so close to the city, nothing bothers their campsite.

By the middle of the second day, they arrive at the shrine. From the outside, it appears to be nothing more than a cave opening in the side of a hill. The real majesty of the shrine was inside the cave. The finely carved entrance stood nearly 20 feet wide. The walls curved to a rounded ceiling nearly 15ft overhead and on each side of the hallway, alcoves held ornate statues depicting Sir Arden Brightheart, along with placards detailing his many heroic achievements, including:
  • Defeating the One Thousand Fists goblin tribe
  • Slaying Sunfire, an orange dragon
  • Discovering the Helm of the Squire
  • Defeating the Plague Lord of Morgion
The last statue in the hall, seemed to be in much poorer condition than the other statues. When Ataraxia went to look closer, he set off a trap that caused the huge statue to fall on him. The monk dodged most of the attack, taking only minimal damage.

While the party was helping Ataraxia back to his feet, several stalactites that hung from the unfinished portion of the hallway appeared to break and fall to the ground. Before hitting the floor, the "stalactites" starting flying through the air toward the party. Only then did they realize that they were being attacked by magical beasts known as darkmantles.

After dispatching the creatures, the party continued down the finished hallway. They came across two doors, one on each side of the hallway. From the door on the right, they could hear monstrous noises coming from within, but the door seemed sturdy and the lock was strong, so they decided to leave whatever was inside the room there.

Across the hall, they found the door to this room unlocked. As they listened at the door, only small clanking and chipping noises could be heard. They opened the door slightly to look inside. Within, the party could see about half a dozen people all in tattered travelers clothes. They were all tending to a huge mural, depicting Arden Brightheart's conflict with Dread Watcher, that filled up three sides of the room. The people made no notice of the party when they entered.

The people within this room all seemed to be under some magical compulsion to tend to the mural here. But it was only after careful examination that the party realized these people were not caring for the mural, but instead making changes, big and small, to the narrative it presented. In one case, the mural was altered to show Dread Watcher killing Arden Brightheart. On another part of the mural, it was modified to show Dread Watcher leading an army of under toward a town. This town, newly added to the mural, had a clock tower at the center -- matching exactly the clock tower in Saltmarsh!

After some discussion, the party decided to leave these people in this room. It was the party's hope that they would find the source of this compulsion further within the desecrated shrine, along with the remainder of the missing followers of Kiri-Jolith.

Jan 19, 2016

D&D Goes Bump in the Night

Wizards of the Coast made an interesting announcement Monday, the ripples of which affect much of the official gaming content to be coming out over the next several months.

First, and foremost is the announcement that the next D&D module will be called Curse of Strahd. This represents the forth module to come out for 5th Edition since its launch (not including the module that was included in the Starter Set). Those previous modules have all touched on classic D&D adventures/themes, including Tyranny of Dragons/Rise of Tiamat (the evil dragon goddess Tiamat), Princes of the Apocalypse (Elemental Evil), and Out of the Abyss (Demons). Therefore it shouldn't come as a surprise that Strahd, the main villain of one of the most popular modules of any edition (I6 Ravenloft) should be the center of the latest offering.

While the original I6 module has been updated several times before for various editions of Dungeons and Dragons, see House of Strahd (2e) and Expedition to Castle Ravenloft (3.5e), this module claims to be the most expansive and open ended version of the classic storyline.

Some other little interesting tidbits about this module.
  • This is the first of the major module releases to be developed in house at WotC, instead of being outsourced as they have done for all their previous modules. 
  • This module was written by Chris Perkins, one of the most prolific module writers for Dungeon magazine before becoming a full time TSR/WotC employee. 
  • This is the first updated version of the module to include input from Tracy and Laura Hickman (authors of the original module). 
  • Unlike past 5e modules, this only offers enough content for players to reach level 10. I personally don't see this as a bad thing, part of the appeal of horror is the heroes being underpowered versus their opponent.
But there is more going on here than just the release of just this one module. Since all the previous seasons of D&D Adventures League have tied in to the current module release, it's not surprising that season 4 will also tie in to Curse of Strahd with approximately 14 AL modules that will have characters starting out in the Realms (per usual) and ending up in Barovia for the bulk of the season. As usual there will be some new rules (once a character starts season 4, that character can't play in other season's adventures - i.e. leave Barovia - until the end of the season). Also, while not officially stated yet, I would expect the module and/or the AL season to leverage the Fear and Horror checks from the Dungeon Masters Guide (page 266). For more details on Curse of Strahd and AL Season 4, check this official post here.

Random notes:

Anyone familiar with any version of the Ravenloft module knows that one of the key elements are tarokka card readings. The original version of the module provided charts to roll on, as well as instructions on how to modify a regular deck of cards to simulate a tarokka deck. Later, TSR or partners produced real tarokka decks for use in the game. For Curse of Strahd, WotC has licensed with Gail Force Nine for a new version of the deck.

As a way to generate more interest in Curse of Strahd, if you tweet to Madam Eva (@Wizards_DnD) with the hashtag #DnDFortune she will reply with a new "reading" each day!

Finally, if you are interested in reading more behind the scenes details about the creation of this module, check out this interview on Geek and Sundry's website with Chris Perkins, Tracy Hickman, and Laura Hickman.

So, until the module is release on March 15, 2016, beware of things that go bump in the night...

Jan 7, 2016

5 Reasons You Should be Watching Scooby Doo Mystery Incorporated

As I've mentioned from time to time, I often look for inspiration as a Dungeon Master from a variety of different sources, and I'm always on the lookout for inspiration from unlikely channels.

Recently, as I was trying to introduce my 5yr old son to Scooby Doo, one of the cartoons I loved as a kid, and I found myself seeing the show as a wonderfully plotted long term Dungeons and Dragons campaign.

Now, just to clarify. When I was growing up, I was watching reruns of the original Scooby Doo, Where Are You! show, which, while good for its time, had some shortcomings in terms of story and animation. The show I was trying to introduce to my son to was the 2010 Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated (henceforth abbreviated as SDMI). After the first episode, I was hooked, not just as a TV fan, but also for the story telling techniques that I could borrow for my own D&D games.

Now, here are a few reasons you should be watching Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated right now!

  1. Easy Availability - This is a simple one, but still important. Unlike some other shows I might want to recommend for DM inspiration, this one is currently available for instant streaming on Netflix, lending itself to binge watching. As a DM, you could easily borrow the outline of one or two episodes (with a few minor changes) for entry level parties.
  2. Balancing Story of the Week and Ongoing Story - Most episodes included not only the monster/villain of the week, but also clues and details about a much larger mystery the group would investigate and solve by the end of the series (a refreshing aspect few of the other incarnations of the show follow). Watching how this unfolds and how seemingly inconsequential details all add together can offer inspiration and suggestion for DMs on how to do the same things in their own campaigns.
  3. Character Arcs - In addition to the monster of the week and the overarching story lines, SDMI also develops the background stories of many of the main and recurring characters seamlessly into the story of the week. Once again, all DMs can use these techniques to weave character backgrounds, either directly (like encountering a past villain) or indirectly (upholding a personal ideal), into any adventure they are running.
  4. Real Consequences - Unlike many of the other Scooby Doo shows before or after SDMI, this show had characters suffer real consequences over the course of the series, including the heavily implied death of several key characters. All D&D campaigns can be strengthen by reminding the players of their own mortality through the death of key or beloved NPCs.
  5. Setting Consistency - One of the best things I liked about this show over any other incarnation of Scooby Doo was how it took effort to be consistent in its setting and explain that consistency to the viewer. Thorough the course of revealing the overarching story, the show explains why Crystal Cove (the home base for this party) is so prone to strange events and even why Scooby (and a few other animals) can speak. It's often said that DMs can craft settings as fantastical as their imagination will allow, but those settings must be consistent. With SDMI, we learn the rational of some of the more fantastical elements presented.
In addition to these reasons, if you are a fan of the original show, other Hanna-Barbera (HB) shows from that era, or just geek culture in general, you'll find plenty to enjoy in this show. Many episodes have allusions and callbacks to classic Scooby Doo adventures, such as villains from the original 1969 show or references to characters like Vincent Van Ghoul, Flim-Flam and Scrappy Doo from later shows.

Several episodes featured characters from other HB shows, including Jonny Quest, Blue Falcon and Dynnomutt. One episode in particular featured a bunch of characters from other similarly-themed HB detective shows, including Speed Buggy, Jabberjaw, and Captain Caveman.

Lastly, the show makes great reference to other shows and movies, from Terminator, Tremors, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and even Star Trek, to name a few.

If you have a Netflix account, and some time to kill (the series consists of 52 episodes, each running about 22 minutes), I highly recommend checking this out.