Sunday, February 26, 2012

Into the Fire

"You know about all those dangerous mutants you here about on the news?  I'm the worst one."
 - Pyro, X-Men 2

Out of all the elements that I will write about (water, air, fire and earth), fire is by far the most common.  Why?  There are just so many spells/abilities that deal with fire, and, in my experience, people just seem more drawn to wielding fire.  It's like everybody has an inner pyro.  And so, because fire is the most commonly seen element, it becomes harder to make it interesting and finding ways to make it awesome.

Out of all the players in my group, we only have one min-maxer.  For those unfamiliar with the term, a min-maxer is a person who builds their character in a way that makes them as powerful as they can be.  Most of these players tend to focus on being the best and dealing massive amounts of damage.  Needless to say, outside of combat, they don't tend to do very well unless there's something to break/attack.

I'm not trying to give our optimizer a bad rep.  He is a great player, and while he builds his character to be powerful, he gets into all aspects of the game, exploring and interacting with the world.  However, his character is driven by one thing.

To be the most powerful wizard of all time.

This wizard, Krenlor, is also a pyromancer.  Kyle, my friend who plays this character, has taken all fire spells as the character has leveled up.  He has one daily spell that is non-fire, but everything else is fire (except Magic Missile of course).

The mini Kyle uses for Krenlor.  It's pretty accurate.

 Krenlor has given huge advantages to the party, simply by the infernos he can create and enemies he can set alight.  There have been encounters that I've built that became a lot easier simply because Krenlor threw down the fire and everything burned.  So, as a DM, I have to find a way to challenge Krenlor.

While playing through Madness at Gardmore Abbey, the problem solved itself.  Fire resistance.

So far, the last 2 elemental posts have written about building elemental characters and how, as a DM to incorporate these fantastic elemental terrain into your games.  Now, I want to talk about ways to challenge the characters.  The first, and easiest way to do this, is to have the character face monsters that are immune to their attacks.

For Krenlor, this came about fighting corrupted angels of Bahamut.  The angels had a strong fire resistance, negating most of the damage Krenlor would be able to deal.  Later on in the adventure, the party learned of a red dragon that had taken residence in the underground temple.  Krenlor groaned.  This was definitely going to be a challenge.  The rest of the party became quick to discuss how they could hope to defeat the dragon with Krenlor neutralized.

As the group has yet to challenge the dragon, the question still remains up in the air.  I will be interested in seeing how the whole adventure pans out.  I am sure that this dragon will become a hi-light of the group in the future to come, simply because of the obstacles they will need to overcome to throw down the mighty wyrm.

For fantastic fire locations, I think the most obvious place is a volcano.  It's a place brimming with danger and excitement.  In reality, any place with lava would work well.  In most situations, you could take a water based location and change the water to lava.  Instead of pirates sailing the seas, have them sailing on a river/lake of lava (using magic boats of course).  The crazier things sound, the better they become.

When I first started playing DnD and creating my world, I played a goblin artificer named Kov.  (He originally made constructs, but with all the changes in the last year, I would turn into more of an alchemist).  Since I was the only goblin in our game, I wanted to create a goblin kingdom, a place where my character was from.  And so, I created Raav, the goblin city inside a volcano.  The place was originally home to an ancient red dragon, whom the goblin armies assaulted and slew.  From there, they were able to claim the dragon's hoard, resulting it currency and wealth for the new kingdom, as well as respect from the lands around it.

Kov, with some of the constructs he created (before my re-build).
I've been hoping that my players will decide to journey to Raav at some point, simply so that I can pull out all the stops and create some  a really memorable part of the adventure.

Kov greets Caitrisana, Kat, Alfred and Murph as they enter Raav.
Of course, there always needs to be a threat or a challenge.  I'm trying to throw out some ideas about Raav.  Perhaps the city holds a portal to the Elemental Chaos, being inside a volcano and all.  Or maybe a young red dragon, hearing legends of the ancient red that was slain long ago, has come to try and turn Raav into it's new lair.  Or even a civil war between the goblins.  Regardless, there are plenty of opportunities  and reasons to turn a simple visit to Raav into something much larger and much grander.  The following picture was me toying with the idea of the dragon swooping in, killing goblins and claiming Raav for its own. 

Throwing down against the new dragon in town.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Gust of Ideas

"We are flying high, there's no way to say goodbye" - DJ Splash, Flying High

In the last post, I wrote about water and water encounters.  My good friend Rob (who plays Murph, a character you will see later in this post) made a request that I write about all four elements (earth, air, fire, water).  I thought it was a good idea, and so, I happy to be here writing my ideas about air.

The most common thing seen with air magic is wind.  You create gusts and whirlwinds, or you spin around like Link in the Legend of Zelda games.  There are plenty of spells and abilities that represent this, so being one attuned with air shouldn't be hard to play.

However, the biggest benefit of harnessing air gives is the ability to fly.  The pixie races already starts out with this ability, and other classes can pick it up depending on what they level up into.  Drow can take the levitation ability as a racial utility power, or they can gain it by taking the Bregan D'aerthe Spy theme.  Other races (non-drow) can gain the ability to fly through other theme powers.  Windlord, from Heroes of the Elemental Chaos, is probably the most obvious choice, but there are others like Wizard's Apprentice that give you the option as well.

For most characters though, the ability to fly is going to be gained through magic items.  I started to browse through the Compendium again, but the list was so huge that I opted not to give a list.  One can find items that possess powers that grant flight pretty easily.  The next easiest way to give them the ability to fly is by riding flying mounts.  More on this below.

Encounter wise, I've been toying with the idea of a fight amongst the clouds, with PC's jumping and flying between platforms.  I'm a huge fan of the 3D terrain elements from the Harrowing Halls and the Deserts of Athas Dungeon Tiles (if you want to make me happy, just give me a set.  I can always use more 3D tiles). 

My friend P@ has long talked about the idea of a floating castle in the sky.  The idea finally made it into our world as Cloud Keep.  However, this location has never been explored, just simply placed on the map.  I've been brainstorming what kind of a place this is (with P@'s contribution), and toyed with a lot of ideas myself.  I think a battle amongst the clouds on flying platforms makes sense in a location such as Cloud Keep.  I could also see it being located among a djinn's palace or something fantastic in that regard.  I got out my dungeon tiles and began constructing a rough area connected by bridges and floating platforms.  To me, it could be slightly more refined, but the whole thing was pretty inspiring, and sometimes you just need to start laying tiles down.

The heroes battle a gang of hired drow amongst the clouds.
I used a regular wet erase battle map to lay the 3D tiles on.  This divides the "sky" part of the battlefield into spaces, which can help the players visualize things like distances.  It also helps me keep track of where things are.

In the foreground, Murph the cleric grapples with a drow.  Behind him, an elevated drow prepares to fight Kat while she rides her hippogriff, launching spells at her foe.  Alfred the Wise guards the bridge, while Caitrisana picks her next target.
Using dice is an easy way to keep track of how many squares above the map the figures are.  It's not totally to scale, but 1 die = 1 square is just an easy way to keep track of what's going on.  I don't believe that you really need some sort of 4 inch tall platform to show the levitating drow.  It would become too easy to get knocked over.  The effect looks cool anyway.

One of the bigger questions I've been asking myself is, what if the characters can't fly and pursue a battle like this?  I think the most important thing is to give players little bonuses that encourage them to be heroic and have fun, but don't make it broken.  Caitrisana, for example, is a star pact warlock.  If she's fighting among the clouds, we could say that the power of the stars is stronger up there.  Perhaps by allowing her to make an Arcana check, she is able to harness that power and move between platforms.  I think the best way of accomplishing this would be to make it an encounter power so it is not abused.

Another important thing to note in the picture is Kat the Witch riding a hippogriff.  As I had stated above, flying mounts open up realms of possibilities for open air combat.  All the players don't even need to have the mount.  Give it to one player and let that player play in a unique way and be somewhat of the "star" of the encounter.

Not having all the answers for an encounter is a good solution too.  The players will always be trying to brainstorm and fight as a team.  You'd be surprised with what they will come up with.  Remember to encourage out of the box thinking,relax, and to take a deep breath of air.

Kat, with her hippogriff and her bound demon familiar

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Under the Sea

"We got no troubles/life is the bubbles/under the sea" - Sebastian, The Little Mermaid

This post is dedicated to my good friend P@.  These are the kinds of adventures he lives for.

In every group of friends, everybody seems to always be a different element.  Somebody tends to gravitate towards earth, another water, one fire, and yet another air.  I don't really know why.  Different personalities I guess.  
I'm always the earth/nature guy.  It's just what I enjoy/what I feel I identify with the most.  However, this post isn't about me.

It's about P@.  You see, my good friend P@ is extremely attuned to the water.  So much so, that every character he makes seems to have a connection, whether it be water magic/abilities, or simply having a background that encourages one to be close to the sea (like a pirate).  He has two DnD characters, both of which are tied to the water.

Nax - a water genasi swordmage.  Nax has a second elemental manifestation, but I cannot recall it at this time.

Niz - a elf (possibly a half-elf) pirate (rogue).

Niz fights an Aboleth with his friend Ragnarok (in wolf form).  Behind them, Llenherd and Celeste Veron fight another.
Lunaki - This character hasn't been created, but he has existed for some time in our imagination.  I foresee P@ creating this character at some point in the future, using the new Watershaper theme below, as it fits everything that he's done with the character.

Now that I've been able to introduce P@ and his characters, it's time to dive into the main focus of this article: water combat.

In my opinion, there seems to be a lack of water support at first glance.  DnD seems to encourage players to stay on dry land and simply venture into dungeons and fallen ruins instead.  But what about these characters that simply do not want to visit these places?

The more I've explored the rules and looked through various things, I've found a number of answers that leave me quite happy.

1. Magic Items - There are plenty of magic items that allow characters to gain swim speeds or bonuses to being underwater.  If you plan on running a water centered campaign, I would recommend (as a DM) to award some of these items in the treasure troves that are discovered.  Small rewards like that help support the story you're telling, and encourage players to want to face aquatic combat.  When I first ran "The Kraken's Skull", one of the first treasures discovered by the party was a Swimtide Harness, a item that gives bonuses to swimming and holding one's breath.  The party was glad to get it, as it gave another party member a better chance of helping Nax underwater.

I did a quick check through the online compendium.  Here's a list of items that help with water combat and being underwater, or just have a water theme.  I was surprised to see how many of these items were in the Adventurer's Vault.
  • Wave (Artifact, The Plane Below)
  • Potion of Water Walking (Dragon 393)
  • Elixir of Water Breathing (Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium)
  • Floating Shield (Adventurer's Vault)
  • Silt Sandals (Dark Sun Campaign Setting)
  • Shoes of Water Walking (Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium)
  • Opal Carp (Dragon 381)
  • Fishscale Armor (Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium)
  • Surfsurge Shoes (Dragon 381)
  • Swimtide Harness (Adventurer's Vault)
  • Waterbane Weapon (Adventurer's Vault)
  • Cap of Water Breathing (Adventurer's Vault)
  • Jade Sea Snake (Dragon 381)
  • Pouch of Frozen Passage (Adventurer's Vault)
  • Silt Striders (Dark Sun Campaign Setting)
  • Coral Armor (Adventurer's Vault)
  • Seashimmer Cloak (Adventurer's Vault 2)
  • Aqueous Armor (Adventurer's Vault)
  • Oceanstrider Boots (Adventurer's Vault)
  • Saddle of the Shark (Adventurer's Vault)
  • Whirlpool Weapon (Dragon 381)
  • Battle Standard of the Tides (Dragon 381)
  • Cloak of the Manta Ray (Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium)
  • Rom Kala's Tideshield Ring (Adventurer's Vault 2)
  • Ring of Aquatic Ability (Adventurer's Vault)

2. Train Skills - Certain skills, like Endurance and Athletics, come in handy when fighting and trying to cross water.  Training these skills gives characters a better advantage when trying to deal with water.

3. Themes - The Watershaper theme (in the brand new Heroes of the Elemental Chaos) is a great way to create a water themed hero.  The theme already grants the ability to breathe underwater and a swim speed, so characters who are looking to explore the depths have a great start.  Since themes are extra after race and class, one could simply build whatever character they wished, and then add the theme to give the final touch.  I really like the Watershaper theme, as its main power is a crashing wave, yet is also has other powers of healing and disguise. 

4. Feats - There are some really good feats that help certain races get a knack for being in underwater situations.  I found these browsing through the compendium.

  • Foamgatherer Heritage (Human only) (Dragon 386)
  • Thaliessan Blood (Half-elf) (Dragon 401)
  • Child of the Sea (Heroes of the Elemental Chaos)
While they don't seem to be many, I want to re-state using the Watershaper theme if you run out of options.  It's a great choice.

5. Rituals - One of the most common things I read about 4th Edition is the complaint that nobody uses rituals.  I think this is a poor excuse, and that DM's should take a more active role in providing them to the players.  Maybe give ritual scrolls in treasure parcels?  Maybe give the scrolls out and create the dungeon so that the players have to use the scrolls to proceed?  I think many players don't understand what rituals can accomplish.  It lends to more of a "think out of the box" kind of game approach, and good DM's will be quick to build on it.

Looking at water rituals, here's what I found:
  • Water's Gift (Primal Power)
  • Lower Water (Arcane Power)
  • Water Walk (Player's Handbook 1)
  • Water Breathing (Player's Handbook 1)
  • Waterborn (Forgotten Realms Player's Guide)
I really like the Lower Water ritual.  It reminds me of playing through The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and making my way through the Water Temple, having to lower the water in order to get to new places.  Perhaps this might be something I use when re-doing my Kraken's Skull adventure....only time will tell.
Aquatic combat isn't much different from regular combat, except that characters can move up and down as well as side to side.  I've found that dice are useful for tracking where a character is at a given time.  Water can be a great challenge to players, most of whom wield weapons that don't work as well in water and will be penalized. 

Many water monsters can be stealthy.  Let them lurk, or retreat to the depths if the party purses them, simply to make the party fight the monster on its own terms.  You will see your players squirm in their seats as they consider what it will mean to descend into the murky depths to battle (most of them anyways.  The water lovers, like P@ will gladly relish the battle that is being presented).

In conclusion, water is a terrain piece that adds character and depth (no pun intended).  It creates a new sense of uneasiness as players move to explore it, and it creates adventures that will be talked about long after they have been concluded.

Hovering above the water, the dragon lets out a mighty roar.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Madness at Dovesong Part I

"This is madness!" - C-3PO

Note: This was the first time my "original" group of DnD friends got back together to play.  My one buddy decided that he missed the game and wanted to give it a try (which was great by me, since I consider my DMing skills to have vastly improved from when we started two years ago).  So, we updated our characters (we were almost at level 6, so everybody got to start at 6, giving them gold and weapons based on what the Dungeon Master's Guide says about starting at a higher level). 

The adventure?  Madness at Gardmore Abbey.  I had purchased it a couple of months ago and decided that it the perfect opportunity to play it.  I had already created a fallen abbey in my home campaign, Dovesong, and so, with a little tweaking, Dovesong would finally come to life.

Here are all the characters playing:

Bastin - Male Dragonborn Paladin (Cavalier) of Bahamut.  The group knows little about him, as he just recently joined as an escort back to the village of Daemonwe.  Much of his personality and past is revealed as the adventure continues.

Krenlor - Male Eladrin Wizard (Arcanist).  Krenlor is a mercenary of sorts who specializes in fire magic (aka, he's a pyromancer).  He seems to have some sort of discord with his fey brethren.

Poglitten (Pog) - Male Bullywug Barbarian.  A giant frog warrior, Pog speaks little and cares even less for treasure.  A former slave, he seeks his new freedom as the opportunity to form his own tribe.  He respects those he journeys with, as they were the ones that freed him.

Zaktis - Male Minotaur Sorcerer (Wild Magic) - Zaktis is the purest form of the struggle of his race: to follow the noble path, or his own animalistic desires?  Only time will tell.

So, here we go.

I was originally going to write two sessions worth of notes, but I soon realized that nobody would want to read everything that happened, especially since anybody running the adventure themselves would encounter most of the things I would write (the adventure is unique that drawing cards from the deck determines enemies and certain points of the adventure).  Instead, I would like to write about some of the hi-lights and cool unscripted things that have taken place and restored Bastin's (or at least my friend playing him's) faith in DnD.  We've played two sessions so far, and I am stoked for the third.

First Session:  This session started with a lot of roleplaying.  People had to get back into their characters again, and I gave them a lot of good NPC's and plot points to jump off of.  They explored the village of Daemonwe (Winterhaven in the adventure), and met a few interesting people.  Eventually, they journeyed to Dovesong (Gardmore) Abbey and sought to reach the temple first.  They were also escorting a knight of Bahamut, Sir Oakley.  Zaktis was able to locate the secret stairs, and the group reached the highest point of the Abbey and defeated the harpies and corrupted angels inside the temple to secure it.  Sir Oakley revealed that he could only purify the temple if three relics of Bahamut were obtained.  He believed them to be somewhere on the temple grounds still.  This was the end of session one.

Pog fights an angel.  The magic wielders stand in the back of the room and Bastin battles another angel.

Second Session:  One of the treasures found in the harpies lair is a rare magic item.  I scoured the books for what I could use, and found a magic weapon that was basically a bane to dragons, dealing them extra damage and giving a better chance against slaying them to whoever wielded the sword.  I knew the party would be encountering a red dragon at some point in this adventure, so I decided to use this weapon as the treasure.  It also seemed something that would be fitting to find lying around an Abbey where paladins of Bahamut, the dragon god of law and order dwelt.

The weapon could have any kind of resistance, based on what the DM (me) chose for it.  I didn't know what to do, so I simply rolled a 6-sided die for a random effect.  Believe it or not, the roll came up to make the blade powerful against red dragons.  I'm pretty sure Bahamut's favor was resting on the party.  Bastin took this weapon to wield.

As the group continued to explore, they did choose to venture into the room of the sleeping red dragon.  Zaktis peeked into the room first and saw only kobolds, so Bastin decided he would go in and attempt to persuade the kobolds that he was powerful and that they should serve him.  Bastin was shocked when he walked into the room, only to see a sleeping dragon in the corner atop a pile of treasure!  Even more shocking was seeing cards from the deck and a object needed to purify the temple amidst the pile!

Trying his best to play his part, Bastin put gold and extra magic items onto the treasure pile, while he spoke with a wyrmpriest of the dragon Mekkalath.  The kobolds thought Bastin was the son of Mekkalath, their god, and so were eager to hear his words.  They informed him of the minotaurs and the gnolls that were dwelling within their god's kingdom.  Bastin promised he would sort it out, and exited the room.  The dragon remained asleep the whole time.

Bastin enters Mekkalath's den, while his companions look on.

Outside, Bastin discussed with the party what he had seen and discovered.  The plan for the next session is for Zaktis to glean some information from the minotaurs, and perhaps find a way to get the items from the Mekkalath's hoard.....

My players are stoked to continue, as the adventure has given them more than enough surprises.  I'm putting everything together to make sure the next session runs just as well.  Hopefully Bastin's player finds his Dragonborn min, as he now has a little more incentive to.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Force is With...Your Minis?

"Your eyes can deceive you.  Don't trust them." - Obi-Wan Kenobi

Last summer, I came across a fantastic deal at Target: they were selling Star Wars miniatures for about 75% off.  These were the same miniatures made by Wizards of the Coast, and had the same quality and size as their Dungeons and Dragons miniatures.  Needless to say, I started off by purchasing about $20 worth (all the one Target had), and spent the next week raiding all the Targets in my area.  I ended up with a huge hoard of miniatures for quite the low price.

The biggest issue was that I play Dungeons and Dragons, not Star Wars.  Does this become an issue?

The short answer: nope.  If anything, this became a win-win situation.  I love Star Wars the point that anything cool like miniatures belong in my collection, and, if anything, these miniatures force me (pardon the pun) to use my imagination (and forces my players to use theirs).

I'd like to go into some examples of the miniatures/creatures I'm turning them into.  Hopefully this can inspire you to either use some of your Star Wars miniatures, or just other things you have lying around that you never thought could stand in for Dungeons and Dragons.

The Shadow Yeti - One of the coolest monsters in Monster Manual 3 was, in my opinion, the yeti.  It was the classic snow and ice monster, and part of me always wondered how to use it without the proper representation.  I could always place a mini/monster token and say "ok pretend", but as the Dungeon Master, I think it's better for me to find/craft something more appropriate.  You always get a good response from the players.

After going through my miniatures, I had collected two Whiphid Trackers.  In my mind, these were perfect for Yetis.  They had long hair, tusks, and could just survive in snow (for more information, check out their Wookieepedia page: Whiphid). Though the miniature had bows and tools and gear pouches, I thought that would make for a more savage version of the yeti, something that had a sharp, wicked intelligence that allowed it to take gear off of its prey and made crude tools.  I originally planned to use them in a dark, snowy mountain in the Shadowfell, but they really work anywhere.  Add some monster template powers, and you have a totally new yeti that your players will soon fear.

Aberrant Transfigured - Some aliens in Star Wars look like something straight out of the Far Realm, and so using them as humanoids corrupted by its influence work extremely well.  The Aqualish, for example is perfect for representing something corrupted, either on its way to becoming a foulspawn, or even something worse.  I plan on building an encounter around the use of the Mon Calamari warrior miniature in my adventure in the The Kraken's Skull that I'm writing.  It fits the underwater feel of the adventure while explaining what happened to a prisoner/pirate stored in the fortress.

Homunculi/Constructs - In my campaign world, I've created a guild that creates and builds constructs, using them for guards, soldiers, etc.  However, I wanted a wider range of some of these constructs, not just the few monster tokens that came with the Monster Vaults.  The miniatures of astromech droids, Separatist combat droids, and assassin droids all serve this purpose.  Changing your descriptions of the creatures gives a whole new feel to them.  For example, the astromech droids could simple be two legged homunculi that crawl around with their two legs, using various other small arms or telekinetic powers to manipulate objects/deal with intruders.  Same with the Bacta Tank.  It can be a large construct with tons of "arms" that can extend and thrash out.  Is this a little far fetched?  Yes.  However, if you believe it, your players will want to as well.  If you're ever afraid, make the miniature a particular dangerous encounter.  Your players will always remember it, and they will definitely fear it, whenever it comes back again.

Various Constructs

The Bacta Tank

Imagine fighting this construct

I use a Commerce Guild Homing Spider Droid to represent the Thallud Constructor, a large construct from the Neverwinter Campaign guide.  It gives quite the effect when you place a giant miniature on the battlefield.

How neat is that?  That's pretty neat.

Guns ---> Other Weapons - Many of the Star Wars miniatures have guns and pistols, holding them extended.  I simple change them to hand crossbows, and imagination takes over.  In some cases, the blasters are so small that they can even be considered knives.  My campaign world tends to have more steam punk elements, so some of this stuff isn't too far fetched.  My favorite would have to be the Death Watch Raider, who turns into quite a cool character to introduce with his helmet, armor and cape when you pretend he has a hand crossbow.  I wouldn't even mind using him as my own PC miniature.  I just have to make sure he gets a sweet Head Slot Magic Item! 

Death Watch Raider.  How awesome is this mini?

Re-Skin to Fit Races - Some of the races in Star Wars can easily fit into the look of some of these miniatures.  Take the Bothan Commando, Twi'Lek Black Sun Vigo and Utaupaun.  Compare these miniatures to a Shifter, Tiefling and Goliath.  Are they slightly different?  Yes, but it adds great diversity, and gives you some awesome miniatures to throw into any battle you need.  NPC-wise, it helps diversify the characters your players will interact with. 

Shifters (Left to right: Crimson Nova Bounty Hunter, Shifter Ranger, Bothan Commando)

Tieflings (Twi'lek Black Sun Vigo and Tiefling Paladin)
Goliaths (Utapaun Warrior and Goliath Barbarian)
Search Out PC Miniature Possibilities - Players are always supposed to be, well heroic.  To me, it doesn't matter what the DM is using for the enemies and objects and maps, as long as I have a miniature for my PC.  It makes me feel that much cooler and ready to be more imaginative when I can look down and see a sweet figure sitting there.  Maybe it's just me.  Regardless, I try and take a look at the opportunities I have, and the stories I can craft with these miniatures.  I've taken the Mistryl Shadow Guard and used her for a friend's Witch.  I've also taken the Exceptional Jedi Apprentice and have used him for my Alchemist Artificer.  It makes for a sweet character, and you get a chance to diversify the weapons and how they use their powers/magic.

The Witch and her Bound Demon Familiar

Galvan, my Alchemist Artificer
This guy just looks like he would fit in any setting, but Dark Sun immediately sprang to mind as well.
This was Chainer, a friend's spiked chain wielding wizard.

Think About What You're Trying to Convey - This is the most important part.  Jedi Lightsabers are a great example.  Simply make them magic swords, or swords that create light (since some do exist).  It's all about how you want to express yourself.  I opened up about 4 of these Jensaarai Defenders, and they're used as knights.  In the Madness at Gardmore Abbey adventure, I used one to represent a knight that was summoned when the Knight card's power was used.  It created exactly the effect that was I wanted to create for a being summoned by the magical artifact.  Below are more pictures of other miniatures I pulled, and their placement in locations I think would work well.

Jensaarai Defender, the Knight from the Deck of Many Things
This has to be something straight out of the Feywild.

The only issue I'm still having is trying to think about what storm troopers/clone troopers could be.  My only thoughts are an army of some sort.  

If you have any questions about the miniatures you see here, please let me know, as I would be happy to give you the names of them if you're looking for some of them for your own collection.  Feel free to check out my other posts and let me know what you think!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Evils of Fey

"They were big and little creatures. Some were hairy with long, thin tails, and some had noses long as pokers. Some had bulging eyes and some had 20 toes. In they came -- crashing through the door, sliding down the chimney, crawling through the windows. They shouted and cried. They banged pots and pans. They twirled their tails and tapped their toes upon the wooden floor. He watched as the trolls gobbled the food and threw the plates and drank everything in sight. They continued to shout and scream, to scratch the walls and pound the floors and slap their tails upon the table. The tiny trolls were the worst of all. They screamed at the top of their lungs and pulled each others' tails." - The Brothers Grimm

In the previous post, I wrote about broadening the use of monsters in my campaigns.  I mentioned my love for the fey and the Feywild, and how I was trying to step away from it.  In today's post, I want to embrace the fey, and write about all of the wild ideas that I've been forming for a couple of years now.

Most of these ideas came from a campaign I started with some friends called 'The Seasons of Sorrow'.  I was pretty new at DMing, so I tended to focus the early modules on dungeon crawling and "fighting X encounters to level".  Needless to say, the first couple sessions got to be pretty boring.  As the year progressed, I became more and more comfortable DMing, and learned a lot about what worked and what didn't.  If I hadn't run Seasons, I wouldn't have learned a lot of skills necessary to become a better DM.

Despite having played a couple sessions a month for Seasons, it's been a long while since the group has gotten together.  We're still in heroic tier, and I've had loads and loads of ideas for villains and monsters.  Some of these I've used, or have started planting the seeds.

Sisters of Affliction - I think hags are some of the coolest monsters in DnD.  They can change shape, they encompass everything about the evil witches in fairy tales, and they just can kick butt.  So, when I was creating villains for my campaign, I created my own coven of hags.  It's made up of three, a howling hag, a bog hag, and a night hag.  Their names are Shrei, Xia, and Darkiss respectively.  I'm upset that there is no bog hag mini, as I invested in the howling hag mini, and had to try my luck at a couple bids before I was able to land the dark hag.

So, what is so great about this group of villains?  At first, I didn't know either.  I thought that hags just made for cool villains, but they had no motivations.  After a while, I realized that they were slavers, ferrying captives between the Feywild, the Shadowfell, and my home campaign world.  Though they weren't directly involved in every trade (they have many other underlings), one character in the Seasons campaign has caught their attention.  In fact, this character has been with the campaign the entire length.  My girlfriend plays an Eldarin Star Pact Warlock named Caitrisana.  The very first session started with her (and other players who are no longer in the group) being approached on the outskirts of town by a group of three hooded figures.  These were, in fact, the Sisters.  As game sessions went on, they would occasionally appear at a distance and creep players out.  At one point, the group was exploring a ruined keep.  Murph an ex-soldier warpriest, looked out the window to see a hooded figure staring back at him (this was Shrei).  When he looked again, she was gone.  The player legitimately seemed pretty spooked by what could possibly be happening.
Darkiss, with guards.  I hope that satyr is ok!

I have very little character information about Caitrisana.  My girlfriend likes to make it up as she goes along.  The one thing I do know is that Caitrisana's sister was killed, and Caitrisana feels very guilty about it.  I had nothing else to go with, so I've been planning on revealing that her sister was killed when trying to escape from the Sisters as a slave.  The hags are quite upset by this, but they know that there is another sister, and are now following her, in hopes that whatever they had intended with Caitrisana's sister can be fulfilled through her.  Like I said, there's still bits and pieces of this story, but that's the plot hook that I'm trying to throw out and see where it goes.

At some point, the Seasons party will encounter Xia in the form of a beautiful elf, tricking those around her.  I'm excited to see how the group reacts to her, and what they will do when they find out she's a hag.

Scarecrows - I love scarecrows.  I think they are perfect fey monsters that evoke plenty of creepiness and, when used correctly, can set the players on edge.  You can put a random scarecrow in a certain location and make it harmless and inanimate, and then put another one in a location later on and have that one animate and be a surprising monster fight.  I also love them as the guardians of hags and other evil fey.  I plan on using a few when my PC's finally confront Shrei.

Shrei and her scarecrows as infernos blaze under a full moon.
Elves - So far, the only elves my players have fought have been elves under the influence of the Bramble Queen (though they don't know that it was her).  Elves make for good combat opponents, as you can use difficult terrain and still be able to move around about it, and most players tend to think of elves as being good combatants, so it creates some tension.

I'm a big fan of primal jungles in my campaigns.  Things like Indiana Jones and just overgrown areas with lots of wild beasts.  I've begun throwing in primal, savage elves in these places as well.  They give some good NPC interaction, as well as creating enemies that the PC's might need to defeat in order to proceed past a sacred place.

Here's a picture that I used to show my players the corrupted elves.  It's taken from Wookieepedia, the Star Wars wiki, on the Nightsisters page, but it works awesomely, in my opinion.

Archfey - Out of all the enemies that Epic Level PC's would have to battle, my favorite have to be the Archfey.  These guys are the epitome of classic fairy tale characters go wrong (or right).  In fact, when I first started my Seasons of Sorrow campaign, I had huge plans involving many archfey in epic tier.  As the campaign is not even close to that, I know have no idea what I will end up doing.

My biggest complaint is that we don't have very many Archfey stat'ed out.  Baba Yaga, the wicked hag was finally given a stat block in November, but I still want to know more about the others, especially the Sea Lords.

I've recently begun working on creating my own Archfey, a neutral characters who is more of a patron of sorts.  I submitted the idea to Wizards of the Coast, so we'll see if I get an acceptance.  If not, prepare to read about it here later.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Varying Your Villains

"As there is a use for poisons in medicine, so the world cannot move without rogues."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

As I've been DMing my campaign, I've realized one thing: my villains and monsters tend to be from one group: fey.

I think this is because I think the Feywild is the coolest place out of all the planes.  I enjoy the fairy tale atmosphere, and hags are some of my favorite monsters (though I am trying to throw in some dragons!).  Regardless, I think it is important for DM's to throw around other different types of villains and monsters, as it adds more diversity to the adventures that you're running, and allows new things for your group.

Let's do a quick break down of the different types your villains can belong to.


I've noticed that I there are certain types that I don't use as much, and I want to fix that.  Here are some of my ideas in my upcoming games.

Immortal - In Gardmore Abbey, the party will end up fighting angels.  I also want to use more devils, especially if they journey to Bloodsand, a location in my campaign where a tiefling gang rules.

Elemental - My home campaign world has a city of the genasi, which has a portal to the Elemental Chaos.  One of my PC's happens to be a genasi who hails from the city and has made some enemies there.  Creatures pursuing him could easily be elementals, or, the heroes could simply choose to journey into the Elemental Chaos.  Another idea would be to have them fight cultists of Elder Elemental Eye.

Fey - I have so many ideas for this type.  Hags, corrupted elves, servants of the archfey, etc.  I love the Feywild and the opportunities it gives me for many of my adventures.

Shadow - I have another player who was a a Shadar-kai, so we already had a reason to venture forth into the Shadowfell.  Another reason is to hide locations of secrets there.  I have another dungeon that I've been working on called the Library of Lost Secrets.  Its location is within the Shadowfell in the upper reaches of an icy mountain.  The best part of the adventure?  Shadow yetis.  

Abberant - This is the monster type that I have used the least, or ever thought of.  I guess for me, dragons were always cooler than beholders.  However, now that I'm trying to expand my use of villains and monsters, I've found that the Kraken's Skull dungeon will work really well with abberant threats.  The Neverwinter Campaign guide had heroic level aboleths, and I happen to have a couple minis that have been sitting around.  So, as I continue to brainstorm and write ideas, the Kraken's Skull will grow into a better, fleshed out dungeon where the heroes will be able to fight these threats.

I'll continue to update the kind of monsters my players are battling, as well as the villains I've been crafting for my campaigns, as well as their motives and backgrounds.