Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Putting the Dragon Back in Dungeons and Dragons

"Never laugh at live dragons." - J.R.R. Tolkien

Today, while picking up a few extra gifts for my little little brother's birthday, I saw the Dragons Collector Boxed Set on sale at my friendly neighborhood gaming shop.  So, I picked it up.

First of all, I'm very impressed.  I'm ready to have these dragons throw down against an unsuspecting party.  Or, maybe a suspecting party.  Half of the reason I picked it up was because dragons are the iconic monster of Dungeons and Dragons (the game is named after them).  The more I've been thinking about it though, the more I've realized that the monster has seemed to fall out of favor.

Maybe this isn't true for every game and every group.  However, in my experience, I always pass over dragons and simply look for other "big bads".  In heroic tier, it's a goblin lord, or a gnoll chieftain, or some evil from the Feywild.  By the time epic tier hits, people are fighting gods and what not.  What happened to these beasts of legend?
I want dragons to come back and be a force.  Like Smaug, from The Hobbit.  Make players fear them.  

I almost had one character of my own die against a dragon.  He barely escaped by the skin of his teeth.  I know that these beasts are not to be trifled with.  The question is, do the other plays think that?  Only time will tell.

To start off with some inspiration, here's what I'm thinking to use for these dragons:

White Dragon: Ice and snow, obviously.  I have two sets of the Icewind Dale tiles, and I plan on making the most of them.  There are plenty of ice monsters to be used, or the other monsters can just be reflavored to deal cold damage.  Out of all the lower level solo dragons, the white dragon is the lowest level, so one could easily begin a campaign in a snow covered region where a white dragon is terrorizing the local populace.  Bitterstrike, from the Nentir Vale Monster Vault is another solo white dragon that is large sized, so it fits as well.  This gives 4e DM's 3 solid solo White Dragon monsters to use.


Blue Dragon: I made the mistake of thinking this guy was aquatic.  It would've made it a lot cooler, as I could've then thrown him into the Kraken's Skull (giving a solid boss at the end), but alas, he doesn't have one.  I'm still working on this one.

Black Dragon: Swamps, aka the Witchlight Fens Dungeon Tiles.  I know these are the obvious locations, but at heroic tier, I think that a lot of the ideas should be somewhat obvious, with various twists and what not.  After reviewing his stats, I realized that this was the aquatic dragon, so I think he will be a fitting villain for the end of the Kraken's Skull adventure.  I'll reveal more about this boss in later blogs.

Red Dragon: Fire.  I want a volcano, as I think that would be pretty epic.  The problem is some people may feel that it's not the best time to pull that off at heroic tier.  For me, I think you can do whatever you want.  The sculpt of that mini is probably my favorite, so I would love to use it.  My group is getting ready to get back together, and we'll be starting with Madness at Gardmore Abbey (I will be reflavoring it for our home campaign world).  The adventure has a red dragon in it, so this will probably be the first dragon mini I will be using.  I'm very excited.



 Green Dragon:  Forests are obvious terrain, but it is one that I will eagerly accept.  Perhaps I can do something Feywild-ish with it.  I'm a huge fan of the Feywild, so I will probably do something like that after Gardmore (called Dovesong in my campaign world).  I've been debating about running the Garden of Graves after Gardmore, so we'll see if I can find a way to get the green dragon into my campaign soon.


Hopefully, some of my thoughts will inspire you to bring dragons back into your games.  Make them mighty.  Make them fearless.  And most of all, make them monstrous.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Call of Cthulhu (or Really, the Call of the Kraken)

"Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth..." - Alfred Lord Tennyson, The Kraken

A year ago, my friends all wanted to play Dungeons and Dragons.  I was but a player in our group, and the last session had ended with a giant explosion that left the party split up and floating on debris in the middle of the ocean.  It was quite the cliffhanger, and we were all eager to find out what would happen next.  However, it was not to be.  Why?
Our DM was not going to be there that night.

You can imagine the horror and the disappointment.  Everybody was geared up and ready, and yet there was no adventure to be had.  I was determined to still play, so I decided to take on the role of DM for the night.  I had about two hours before everybody arrived and need to come up with an adventure of quality.

I knew three things at this point:
  1. The characters were afloat in the sea.
  2. The adventure had to end that night and put the characters back at sea.
  3. I wanted to engage the character in something besides a dungeon crawl of hack and slash.
One of the players was a genasi swordmage/swashbuckler named Nax.  Nax happened to be a water genasi.  He also had a thing for the high seas.  So, I decided to throw his love interest, a pirate captain, onto the seas and rescue the players.

Predictable?  Maybe.  Awesome?  You bet.  Doing things that resound with players always make for good games, and as the rescue unfolded, Nax was in prime roleplaying form.  I let him roleplay the NPC's, because he knew them better than I did.  He was having a blast.

Until the sea devils arrived.

They attacked the ship, and stole Nax's girlfriend, leaving the ship capsized and floating.  Off in the distance, a rocky island could be seen.  The group swam towards it and landed ashore.  A huge, rocky fortress greeted them.  Nax informed the group that this place must be the legendary Kraken's Skull, a hidden fortress used by a notorious pirate.  I asked him the notorious pirate's name.

"Beatrice," he said.  I was a little shocked, but I rolled with it.  There are so many reasons why a bloodthirsty pirate could've taken the name Beatrice.

I had luckily just purchased the Dungeon Tiles Master Set: The Dungeon, and, in the two hours before the game began, sketched out a rough map with the tiles and threw together a few encounters and created a few puzzles and tricks.  By the time the night was over, the party had only explored about half of what I had planned, and were trying to escape before the Kraken's Skull sank below the sea again.

It was an adventure that I put together in a short amount of time, simply because we didn't have a DM.  And yet, I remember it as one of the best games I ever ran.  Why?  Let me give my reasons.

  1. The hook was near and dear to one player. -This would be Nax.  He honestly felt like a real character at the table, not thinking about strategy in battle, but simply rushing into whatever he thought was right, simply to save his girlfriend.  This in turn made the other players try and become their characters to reason with him, and created a lot of good inter-party moments.
  2. The dungeon was a mix of puzzles and exploration, not just endless combat. - This sounds obvious, but I think that DM's need to re-read it as much as possible.  Giving the players something else to do/think about leads for more interesting games, and makes them want to continue playing DnD.
  3. The combats were exciting. - One of the combats involved fighting sharks underwater, while another had a carrion crawler creeping along a 20 foot wall (the stairs in the room had broken).  This was the most exciting combat of the evening.  I had a lot of fun rolling for the monsters and giving the players a run for their money.
I remember this adventure so fondly that I am going to try and update it.  I have more tiles in my collection, as well as more miniatures and more knowledge of monsters.  I want to finish the dungeon, including giving the backstory on Beatrice and what the Kraken's Skull really is (a temple of the Far Realm dedicated to the Kraken of the Deep).  I plan on documenting the changes and how I make the adventures more challenging/engaging, and then would like to get my friends back together to play it in it's full extent.  Maybe this will turn into our version of Tomb of Horrors (I don't plan on making it THAT crazy though!). 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

How to Build the Harrowing Halls

"Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex...It takes a touch of genius-and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction." - Albert Einstein

Looking through Dungeon Tile reviews, I noticed that other articles wrote about how awesome the Harrowing Halls dungeon tiles set is, yet there are no instructions for how to assemble the pieces.  This confused me, as it seemed like something the Dungeons and Dragons community should have access to, let alone be able to google and get a result.  The best thing I could find was a fast 40 second video from Newbie DM of assembling a platform.  I know that the set came out a little while ago, but since you can still find them in stores, I figured a tutorial couldn't hurt.

1. It's important to notice that though many of the tiles have the same shape, the location of the cuts is different.  Some are at the top of the tile, some at the bottom.  Whenever you're constructing a box/stairwell/ect., it's always important to make sure that the notch it at the top.
2. You will next want two sets of pieces that match.  For example, in the picture above, you could take two of the top tiles and two of the bottom tiles.  Each set needs to have the cut at a different location.  If one set has the cut at the top of the tile, the other set needs to have the cut at the bottom of the tile.  Make sure the notch in the tiles is still at the top.  Slide a top notch into a bottom notch.  See the two following pictures for another example.

 3. The next step involves finding a tile the same shape as the box and sliding the notches on the tiles into the grooves on the roof tile.


All of the other 3D terrain pieces follow these rules.  The picture below shows all of them assembled, except for the 2x1 square piece that can double as a long table.  It seems as though you're supposed to choose a short table or a long one.

The 3D tiles really bring a game to life.  They create interesting locations as well as exciting dungeons to explore.  The following picture came from me playing around with my tiles and brainstorming some ideas.  Hopefully this tutorial helped and shed some light on the initial mystery of the Harrowing Halls 3D tiles.

Crossing the bridge to confront some goblin archers


Map Attack!

"I wanna hang a map of the world in my house. Then I'm gonna put pins into all the locations that I've traveled to. But first, I'm gonna have to travel to the top two corners of the map so it won't fall down.” 
- Frederic P. Miller

To me, the coolest part about any foreign realm (and the real life ones) are the maps.  Even when I was a child, my favorite part of going to the zoo was getting the huge fold out map that showed where all the animals were, among other things.  Something about maps just kind of lets the imagination run wild.  And so, as I grew older, I began to map out my own realms.

Tolkien really inspired me.  I was in 5th grade and was reading The Hobbit, and it was such a completely different book from everything that I had ever read.  Everything about it blew me away.  Up until that point, I spent most of 5th grade reading The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander (The Black Cauldron, ect).  Both had awesome maps.  The cool part about Prydain is that every book had a different map.  It would expand upon some areas or mark new locations based on where the characters would go.  I always enjoyed that, as it made me feel as though I never really knew how large the world really was.

In high school, I began creating a world with some friends.  The world never became official, and it stalled to quite the hiatus until I started DMing.  Once I started playing, I knew that I wanted to create and play in my own world as opposed to playing in another created world.  And so my friends and I began drafting a new world, with new cities and locations that had been named.  A few months into the game, their interest kind of stalled, and I was left DMing various groups and adding to what we had originally created and inputting new ideas of my own.

It's been said before that DM's shouldn't worry about mapping and planning their entire world.  I would have to agree.  It's much simpler to choose one area, a town or such, and then branching it out.  If you run different campaigns, jump to a different area of the continent and start filling that in.  Pretty soon, you have a shape of a continent with a lot of wide open space.  Other times, ideas just flock to your mind, and you start drawing them in where you want them.  Pretty soon, you have a big continent with a couple major points of interest.  And for starters, that's really all you need.

My campaign world is yet to have it's own name, but I have two continents, both of which have some points of interest marked.  Both were drawn on separate sheets of paper, then taped together to start forming the giant map I will probably have by the end of everything.  All in all, I'm very happy with this approach, as I'm not biting off more than I can chew, and, like the players, the scope of the world will slowly open up to me as I grow into it.

Below is my campaign world so far.

Some notes about Aradove:
  • Genkar, the city in the west, is a large seaside port city fill with everything imaginable
  • Raav is a goblin based militarized city.  It has recently been recognized as a standing nation.
  • Noi is the capital of the Noi-Ess region.  Much of their past was spent fighting rebels and insurgents.
  • Elyusis is the elemental capital, hidden in the middle of a great desert.
  • Bloodsand Isle was lost to Noi when the rebels seized it.  It is a lawless, gang ruled world, though much of the island is wild, primal and uncharted.
Notes about Finyar
  • The Sacred Forest, so named in the Common tongue is the largest forest in the world.  It stretches across half the continent of Finyar.  Many fey crossings exist in this forest, as well as mysterious ruins and other hidden dangers.
  • Scryiz, a nation who worships Bane.  Their desire to appease the god of war leads them to march on various other places in the world and always to make sure that their army is at its best.
  • Finyar Keep, a castle ruled by Eladrin.  Their High Court sends diplomats all over the world to speak and trade.
  • Ru'Endaar, a kingdom made up of mostly artists and craftsmen.  They have few warriors, but it is rumored that they have portals with access to Eladrin cities in the Feywild, allowing quick movement of soldiers should they ever be laid under siege.
In a nutshell, this is my (and my players') world as it exists so far.  I hope this will give everybody some insight into their own world building and map making.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Realms of the Masterminds: Chapter III

"Danger, danger, danger" - Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter

NOTE: Be sure to read Whispers in the Dark Chapter I and II before reading this, as the campaign split into two different parts!

Standing amongst the bodies of the two fey who had died on their attempted escape from the goblin fortress of Feuerbrennt, Dawgsin gave them both the blessing of Bahamut, wishing them peace in their next life.  
"Cut off some of their hair," Ragnarok instructed, "we may have the chance to resurrect them at a later time."  Dawgsin did so without question, and Ragnarok put the hair in a pouch on his belt.

"We need to keep moving," Dawgsin said quietly, his raspy voice echoing off the stone walls.  Ragnarok nodded.  As they were about to leave, two more figures ran through the door: a half-orc and an elf maiden.

"We fight here!" the half-orc shouted at the elf.  Dawgsin looked at Ragnarok, who simply nodded.  Sensing the druid's thoughts, Llenherd's body tensed, ready for a fight.

They didn't have long to wait.  Two goblins riding wolves raced into the room, along with a couple foot soldiers. 

Dawgsin's hand flexed, and from the shadows, a short sword formed in his hand.  He drew a dagger in the other one.



The goblins barked commands in their native tongue, and the battle began.  

Ragnarok focused for a moment,



transforming into a large, gray wolf.



The elf un-shouldered a longbow and began firing arrows, throwing the goblin riders from their saddles and leaving only the wolves remaining.  Her half-orc friend and Dawgsin were eager to finish them off.



The elf continued to fire arrows, knocking the wolves into the pits where they could no longer harm the group.

"I thank you for your help," she told Dawgsin and Ragnarok.  "We are trying to escape this place."

"As are we," Ragnarok answered.  "If we join together, we would have a much better chance of leaving."

"I agree," the elf replied.  "I am Shaya Starfall, and this is my guardian, Torgal."

"My name is Ragnarok Senzez, and this is Llenherd," the druid replied.

"You are most strange for a lycanthorpe," Shaya replied.  "Noble, almost."  

Ragnarok nodded while Dawgsin informed them of his name.  The group lifted the gate, and stepped into the next pitch black room.  Ragnarok lit a sunrod, illuminating several groups of four-winged, flying creatures.

"Stirges!" Torgal yelled, charging into them and swiping them with his sword.  The half-orc soon took care of the bloodsuckers, leaving the rest of the group to examine the two dead bodies on the ground.



The bodies possessed enchanted armor made of snakeskin, as well as a staff with a symbol engraved on it.  Shaya recognized it as the sign of the Zyr Ryle, a neutral group typically dwelling in the Feywild.  The bodies also contained journals, the notes of which established that the travelers were attempting to reason with the goblins of Feuerbrennt, before trying to escape themselves.  They were traveling with a third companion, whose body was not found in the room.  Shaya took the journals, reasoning that if she was to meet the Zyr Ryle, they would appreciate having them back.

Torgal opened the doors to the next room, alerting two hobgoblin guards and their captain.  Before the group could react, they attacked.  


The guards soon proved to be an overwhelming force, knocking several of the party unconscious.  The captain ordered the guards to finish them off, while he went to alert his superiors.  Seeing a weakness, Dawgsin was able to finish off the guards and help his friends, who realized that backwards led deeper into Feuerbrennt, yet the road ahead led to the hobgoblin captain and his commanding officers....



-----------
This is the first time I got to actually play DnD in a long time.  I'm usually always the DM.  I usually only play one character instead of four, but that was actually a small annoyance.  I caught on pretty fast, and have different personalities/voices for each character.  That did mean that I would interact with myself on occasion, but it was all in good fun.  I got the hang of playing 4 characters pretty quickly, and I look forward to continuing this story.

The Little Sibling DM did a really good job.  He kept the game moving forward, and at some points, he was cheering for the party to succeed (he's too nice, haha).  I could tell by the end he was feeling pretty confident, so I'm glad that we're going to continue the game as is.  My party earned enough experience to level up, so I get the joy of doing that too.  I plan on playing a bit in the next week, so expect to see more updates on the DnD games (I plan on getting the Grave Secrets group together to play).

Until next time!

Prologue: Whispers in the Dark/Realms of the Masterminds Part II of II

"After all, the well organized mind, death is but the next great adventure." - Albus Dumbledore

Stranded in the chambers below the Goblin Fortress of Feuerbrennt, Syn'Dral had grudgingly agreed to follow Ragnarok's lead, and the druid wasted no opportunity by leading them through the next doorway.
Before them lay a great hall, and the two goblin guards they had run away from after they escaped their cells.  One goblin began shouting in goblin "get them!" while drawing a long wicked looking knife.  Dawgsin charged to the back of the room when four goblins suddenly appeared from among the storage crates, all of them waiting to stab the young halfling.

Dawgsin gets ready to attack, while his shadow dances menacingly around him.
Ragnarok commanded Llenherd to help Dawgsin.  As the giant teddy bear hamster ran, the floor beneath him gave way, opening into a giant chasm.  Luckiliy, Llenherd was quick enough to jump back in time, staring at the darkness that almost swallowed him up.

Krent ran past Dawgsin, taking out the two goblin guards the group had already encountered previously.  Ragnarok, in wolf form, was soon to join him.  The two stood back to back, and made short work of the guards.

Syn'Dral smirked at the entryway, seeing that he wasn't really needed at this point.  Just as he was about to relax, the doors next to him flew open, and more goblin reinforcements arrived, probably having heard the commotion.  The drow drew his rapier and his dagger, smirking at the thought of combat as he began swinging his sword and firing off spells.


In short time, the goblins were vanquished.  Ragnarok turned back into his normal form, telling the group they should head into the next room.  They all agreed.

Ragnarok takes the lead.
The next room was a bigger surprise than they had anticipated.  Large pits pockmarked the floor, and hungry drakes snapped at the heroes as they entered.  Across the room, a portcullis lay shut.

"Looks like we'll have to fight our way across," Krent thought out loud.  And so, they were out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Ragnarok took quick action, leaping across the first pit to attack the nearest drake.


As Krent and Dawgsin went to attack the creatures, they were suddenly pulled through small portals by long, grasping fingers.  A pair of boggles also nested in the room, looking to attack any that intruded.


The drakes continued to attack with a crazed hunger, not stopping until all those in the room fell.  Eventually, they singled out Krent and Syndral, who fell to their snapping jaws.  Dawgsin and Ragnarok were unable to get to them in time as they succumbed to their wounds.  A dark feeling of despair hung in the air as Dawgsin dispatched the last drake.  They had won, but at the cost of two lives.  Ragnarok was barely holding on, while Dawgsin still felt he had a few more fights left in him.  It seemed as though Feuerbrennt had won.


---------------

Author's Note: This battle was extremely difficult, but it made for a great play, and some great storytelling.  After talking with my brother, we decided that we would split this into two campaigns.  I would DM his party, and he would DM mine.  Though death may seem like the end for Krent and Syn'Dral, they will return.  You'll have to wait and see.  I will be continuing Whispers in the Dark, while the story that will continue for Ragnarok and Dawgsin (along with two other newcomers!) will be entitled "Realms of the Masterminds".

Prologue: Whispers in the Dark/Realms of the Masterminds Part I of II

"Catch a man a fish, feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime." - Old Saying

While many have been pestering me about posting new DnD stuff, it just hasn't happened.  My group has been very busy, and, suffice to say, the campaign has not been moving at the speed at which I envisioned.  However, I've been able to plan the next adventure for about two to three months, so I'm really looking forward to us sitting down in the next couple of weeks and cranking it out.

What does that mean for right now though?  I realized that planning wasn't enough; I wanted to play.  I also happen to have a younger brother who loves the game, and will most likely start DMing for his friends as he gets older (he's about half my age).

The DM's Guide and lots of material are great at explaining how the game works and how to build encounters and what not, but it doesn't help with ideas.  It doesn't help with running the game.  I read everything I could, and yet my early games were simple and didn't always necessarily give the players what they wanted.  I think the last few months have give me tons of new ideas and thoughts for what a Dungeons and Dragons game should have.  And those are the lessons I want to teach my brother.

So, here's another problem: how do you play DnD with two people?  Simple.  We work on our own story together, each person playing two characters.  Think of it like the video game Marvel Ultimate Alliance, or X-Men Legends.  A party is controlled, advancing the story in order to accomplish tasks.  That's basically what we're doing.  Treasure is totally random (rolling off a chart), so we are trying to challenge ourselves as best we can.

So, now that you understand how the game is working, let's dive into it.

---

This new tale begins in the Feywild, in a Goblin outpost called Feuerbrennt.  Deep in the prison cells, a new prisoner is being escorted in.  He's a young, half-elf man, clad in forest leathers and hunting gear.  His goblin guards place him in a cell, and walk out, hanging the keys on the wall.  Three other prisoners, a drow, an eldarin, and a halfling sit in other cells.
The prisoners sit in their cells, pondering their fate at the hands of goblins.
The half-elf mutters some words, and green light appears outside his cell.  A moment later, a large hamster with random tufts of green fur stands opposite the half-elf.  The creature sniffs the air and washes its face before looking at the half-elf.  The man proceeds to nod his head, and the hamster walks over to the wall, picking up the keys the goblins had left.
The half-elf and his animal companion.
Bringing the keys, the half-elf unlocks the door with no problem.  As he goes to leave, the drow across the room begins to speak with him.
"I wish for you to free me as well,"
The half-elf pauses for a moment.
"Why should I do so, drow?  Your people have brought nothing but hardship upon my ancestors.
The half-elf begins to walk away, when the halfling speaks to him.
"I wish to escape with you.  I have been waiting for somebody who can help.  Bahamut has surely led you here."
The half-elf nods at the small figure, who then proceeds to deftly pick his lock, stepping out of the cell.  In the torchlight, his shadows seem to swirl around him, at times turning into something that appears to be a horrific creature, then becoming nothing but a swirling mass soon after.
After a moment, the half-elf walks over to the eladrin, letting him out.  The eldarin bows respectfully.  The three begin to leave, when the half-elf hears a whisper next to him.
"You're forgetting me,"
Walking over to where the drow sat, the half-elf eyes him.
"Who are you?" he asks.
"Syn'Dral," the drow replies.  "And you?"
"I am called Ragnarok Senzez."
"If you allow me to escape with you, I shall aid you through this place," Syn'Dral says quietly, waving his hands and creating blazing sparks with magic.  The noise they create echoes off the wall, and goblin guards rush in from both entrances.
"Time to fight our way out!" the halfling growls, drawing two daggers he had recovered from the weapons rack.
Ragnarok hurriedly unlocks Syn'Dral's cell as the guards rush in.  Grabbing weapons, the group beings to battle their captors.
"Get them Llenherd!" Ragnarok shouts, and the giant hamster springs into action.  In short work, the first group of guards are down, leaving the party an exit point.  They all rush out into the next hallway.  
As they come to the next room, they are met by a few sneaking, glowing eyed fey creatures: Xivorts, twisted, mischievous beings.  Throughout the rubble, rats crawl as well.
The battle ensues.
In short time, the prisoners have defeated their foes.  Ragnarok begins to walk to the nearest door, when Syn'Dral stops him.
"Why are you choosing to go that way?  Perhaps I choose not to follow you."
Ragnarok pauses, Llenherd following close behind him.
"That is your choice.  Nevertheless, this is the way I go.  If you have any gratitude at all, you have yet to show it."

----

This starting game only ran two encounters, both of which were created by me to be relatively simple.  Our party made short work of them.  The other characters have not been introduced, because they have not introduced themselves to the party yet.  Just know that Ragnarok is being played by me, and Syn'Dral my brother.

At the end, I assigned my brother his encounter for our next session.  I gave him an XP budget, and told him to construct an appropriate encounter for Feuerbrennt for us to face using monsters from the books.  I will be constructing one as well.  We also touched upon our first lesson.

Lesson 1: Know your monsters.  Read the stat blocks beforehand and familiarize yourself with them.

I'm looking forward to this, as we're trying to add story and roleplaying, not just encounters.  This campaign will probably be updated a lot sooner than the others.  Hope you enjoy it!

Grave Secrets: Chapter II

"Heroes Are Made By The Times" - The Clone Wars

Outside the Fallen Cathedral, an undead horde was ready to lay siege to the living beings inside it.  Inside the Fallen Cathedral, our heroes knew they had to act fast.

Chainer suggested that they begin by fortifying the structure.  As they were about to begin to prepare for the assault, Frenzy heard a voice inside his head.

"I seek your help.  I am a friend."

Frenzy, disturbed by this mental voice, commanded the voice to show itself.  A moment later, a Shardmind emerged from the shadows.

"I am Megamind," he spoke telepathically.  "I need your help to fight them off."

While Niz and Frenzy were skeptical, Chainer shrugged, knowing that they needed all the help they could get.  As they started to shove materials and barricade the doors, a few zombies burst through.  As the group began defending themselves, they became aware of a disturbing revelation: the zombies were trying to get at Chainer and claim the Necroshard for themselves!

The zombies begin to swarm Chainer while Megamind takes notice.
The rest of the group, noticing what was going on, knew they had to do something before Chainer fell.  Frenzy fought his way through the fray, and Chainer handed him the Necroshard.  The zombies swarmed to the dwarf, but were unable to harm him as the warrior swung his massive hammer, sending the undead creatures flying in every direction.

Frenzy holds his own against the undead legion.
As the night continued, wave after wave swarmed inside the cathedral.  For every zombie that fell, two more came to take their place.

Finally, there was a lull in the fighting.  Niz heard the zombies outside, roaring and trying to break in.  He took a quick swig from his flask.

"Any more ideas?" he asked.

Megamind waved his hands, and focused his psionic powers, and created a disc that hovered.

"Let us place the Necroshard on this, and hover it over the brazier," he told the party.  They agreed.

As the disc was put into place, more zombies burst through, this time, a giant undead abomination with them.

"Let's go!" Niz said, gripping both his tonfas in his hands.

Megamind, floating on his disc, stares at the new monstrosities.
The (anti) heroes charged the monsters, while the monsters, in turn, began climbing the desecrated statue in hopes of leaping onto Megamind and his disc.  Eventually, two zombies broke through, clutching their entrails and hurling them at Megamind.  Eventually, the Shardmind fell, his disc lowering him slowly to the ground before vanishing.

Megamind falls, while Niz watches in horror.
The zombies began to swarm Megamind in an effort to get the Shard.  Niz tried to defend his new ally, but fell as well.  Eventually, one zombie took the Shard for itself.  Immediately, it transformed.

The zombie, transformed.
With Chainer and Frenzy left, they knew they had to act fast if they were to survive.  Frenzy finished off the giant zombie, while Chainer began doing everything he could to slay the Shard Zombie.  Frenzy charged, and began swinging away.

"If we defeat it, the power of the Necroshard will wipe the others out!" Chainer shouted, firing every spell he knew.  Finally, the Shard Zombie fell to Frenzy's warhammer.

As the sun rose, Chainer and Frenzy administered first aid to their other two companions.  They knew they had to hike back to Rathbane and deliver Ellustra her prize.

Trekking through the woodlands back to the city, the group was suddenly ambushed by a injured lizardfolk.  The creature collapsed before them.  Chainer and Megamind decided to take the creature with them, and find him some help.  Megamind's summoned his disc once more to carry the creature.

The group decides to take the injured Lizardfolk with them.
Arriving in Rathbane, the adventurers are met by two of Ellustra's guards, who escort them to her private chambers in the Arena.  Ellustra commends them for returning, and tells Niz she needs to speak with him.  They leave the room, leaving the party waiting for Ellustra to speak to them more of what is to happen, and waiting for the Lizardfolk to recover consciousness from his wounds.

The group meets with Ellustra and her guards in her Arena chamber.

Grave Secrets: Chapter I

"It's not the destination so much as the journey"- Captain Jack Sparrow

Dungeons and Dragons revolves around everybody playing their own character (much like many popular video games).  Unlike video games, the characters here aren't limited to programming, but to the player's own minds.  These character concepts are all their own, with a few things borrowed here and there.

Nizumo Misoka - A elven pirate (rogue in game terms), Niz is a tonfa wielding ex-slave who took to life on the high seas.  His charm and optimism (along with his thievery skills) make him a valuable asset to any party.

Chainer - A human shadow mage (nethermancer in game terms), Chainer spent most of his life battling in the gladiatorial arenas, seeking for a prize that would give him even greater power.  He speaks to few, and even fewer speak to him, on account of the giant spiked chain he wields with extreme skill.

Frenzy Forgestoker - A dwarf mercenary (knight in game terms), Frenzy sells his weapon to the highest bidder, hoping to earn enough profit that he might finally be able to buy some answers as to what happened to his family.  His willpower and strength make him a formidable enemy.

Now that our heroes (or anti-heroes) have been introduced, I would like to explain a little bit about where our adventure begins.  The heroes are starting off on Bloodsand Isle, in the only city, a large, coastal port called Rathbane.  There are a few important things to know about Rathbane:
  • It is virtually lawless.  Rebels seized the old barony and made it their own.  Though it is ruled by a powerful Queen, she takes little interest in the subjects.  As such, chaos ensues.
  • Many groups and guilds are constantly trying to gain more power or other goals, moving through the shadows and other hidden means.  Knowing who to trust can be difficult.
  • Rathbane lies with the coast to the south, and a large fortified wall to the north.  This keeps out the wild tribes and beasts.  A large volcano stands on the horizon in the north.
 With this knowledge, we can now begin the adventure.

The three characters have each been contacted by a woman named Ellustra to journey to the Fallen Cathedral to retrieve a crystal known as the Necroshard.  Ellustra also makes a request that they gather a large amount of dirt from the catacombs below the Cathedral as well.  While Chainer and Frenzy have no idea who Ellustra is (at least, not by name), Niz has made her acquaintance numerous times, and can't help but wonder what she has in store for him this time.  And so, the characters, not knowing each other at all, meet at dawn at the Siren's Dock, where they must work together if they wish to claim their reward.  A potion maker named Elric passes by and gives them a few potions of healing, telling them to come find him if they are able to make it back alive.

The party is taken along the coast of Bloodsand on a skiff, paddled by a grim, silent figure known as The Sculler.  Niz recognizes the telltale signs that mark him as being owned by Ellustra, which infuriates him.  The Sculler stops the skiff at the destination, and points up to the top of steep hills.  The Fallen Cathedral lies atop, overlooking the water. a charred black husk of a building.

Climbing the hill, the group sees a large, dead, gnarled tree.  Hanging from the dead branches, tied in chains, are three blackened skeletons.  They sway ominously, despite the air being still.  Chainer says nothing, and walks on.

The inside of the Cathedral is worse than the outside.  What used to be a temple to the Raven Queen (the goddess of fate and death), has now been desecrated into a shrine to Asmodeus, the most powerful devil in the Nine Hells.  Bookshelves hold burned books, religious murals have been vandalized, and a crude statue of Asmodeus stands at the front of the temple, dried blood pooled around the base.  The rafters are in danger of collapse, and a large open dirt pit stands in the center of the floor.  Niz examines it, and can only conclude that something climbed up the pit through the ground.  He climbs out as Frenzy discovers the hidden staircase that leads into the catacombs.

The party descends the staircase into pitch blackness.  As they reach the bottom, Chainer lights a lantern, only to discover the zombified remains of Rathbane soldiers.  They scramble at the party, seeking the fresh humanoids.  As the characters fight, other strange, bloodsucking wood creatures join the fray.  The party has no idea what they are.  Niz recognizes their tongue as elven as they scream "Blood!".
Frenzy takes care of the zombies, while Niz wonders what these new strange creatures are.  Chainer stands at the back of the room, ready to unleash his arsenal of spells.
Startled, but still determined to find the Necroshard, the group pushes onwards towards the direction where the wood creatures emerged from.  They find a few magic items from a bygone day, and they also find some ancient writings that seem to be the writings from one of the last four survivors of the original city before the rebels took over.

The catacombs are eventually discovered after fighting through a hoard of skeletons, although they are not empty, as one would have hoped.  An imp sits on a large pile of debris, muttering to himself while rummaging around.  Three zombies are magically frozen in place by the imp's magic.  Chainer tries to speak to the imp, who mutters and cackles what appears to be his name: M'haarck.  Niz tries to trick the creature into revealing where the Necroshard is, but the imp sees through his bluff and releases the zombies.  Niz, attempts to strike the imp down, but M'haarck vanishes with a mad cackle.  The doors of the catacombs suddenly shut, and Frenzy realizes they've been locked in.  At this time, Chainer notices that these zombies still bear the insignia of Rathbane, but that their appear to have had their fluids drained from their bodies, giving them a sunken appearance.

Once victorious, the party had a chance to explore the catacombs and gather up some of the dirt, as was requested of them.  More diary entries were found, though they it became clear that these were separate entries from the four remaining survivors.  Of the four coffins in the room, three were empty and appeared unused, while one had been broken open.

The journal entries appeared to be from these four people:
  • A knight who perished against the initial onslaught from the rebels while the other three were hidden in the catacombs
  • Zanarth, the baron's son, who perishes trying to defend his bride to be
  • Peleva, Zanarth's bride to be.  It is revealed that she gave the rebels the information they needed to being their rebellion.  The rebels leader, the Blood Rose, sent messengers telling Peleva she would be spared.  In the cathedral, she rushes to the army, only to be cut down.
  • Taloa, a servant girl.  She is the last to survive, and writes her last entry with bitterness, wishing her fate could be avoided

Running in the other direction, in an attempt to find the imp, the group instead found their way into a room with a large brazier filled with oil in the middle.  Two smaller braziers sat in the corners, already lit.  Niz, always one to prefer action, lit the middle brazier.  Instantly, three fire elementals rose from the flames.
Chainer's extreme frustration came through at this point, as he informed Niz that if he had just thought for a moment, the entire fiasco could have been avoided.  The trick was to extinguish the flames, not create more.

Beyond the doors, another set of graves lay.  Using his knowledge of magic, Chainer was able to open a secret door.  In a small room, a statue of the Raven Queen held a spinning purple crystal between her hands.  Chainer studied it for a moment, deemed it was safe, and then took it.  The party had retrieved the Necroshard.
The Necroshard, held by Chainer.  A great use of my artistic abilities, if I do say so myself.


Climbing back up the stairs to the main part of the Cathedral, the sun was beginning to sink.  As the last of the day's light fell below the horizon, the Necroshard pulsed with a sickly purple glow.  Outside, the ground shook, and noise erupted from all over.  Niz rushed to the window, followed by Frenzy.  In the dim light they could make out one thing: a zombie army had awakened.

"I thought you said that thing was safe!" Niz yelled at Chainer.  Frenzy drew his warhammer, ready for the oncoming assault.