Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Unboxing Icingdeath

"Chill!" - Mr. Freeze

I've lately been on an ebay kick.  I've been searching for minis and trying to find some cool stuff for my campaigns.  I stumbled across the gargantuan dragons, and I felt like they would be an awesome epic threat to my campaigns (as well as being dragons).  Unfortunately, most of them were pretty expensive and hard to find.  

I did some exploring on Amazon, and I was able to stumble across a gargantuan white dragon for cheap.  I quickly ordered the special set.  

And so today, I was able to unbox it.

The dragon came in this box.

After cutting the tape and opening it up, I pulled out the cardboard that the miniatures were attached to.

Inside the box was another little case with the map, scenario packet, and the cards.

Once that was done, it was time to look at the minis.  Wulfgar and Drizzt seemed to have paint jobs that were sub par for most of the other minis I have purchased, and Wulfgar's hammer was broken.  I searched for the other half, but couldn't find it.  Oh well.  It's a small price to pay, as I got a great deal on the minis.  Honestly, the Wulfgar mini could now be used as a brawling fighter, or something else.  Minis don't even have to be perfect for PC's.  People need to use their imagination as well, so I'm not really upset. 

Happy with two new minis!

The dragon on the other hand was perfect, which was exactly what I wanted. 

The package also came with a double sided map, a snow village and an ice cave.  Both are really cool and fit with the theme.  I could see these being used in my campaigns for mountainous regions or even locations in the Elemental Chaos or the Prince of Frost's demesne.  I did notice that the village looks very similar to the snow village map from the Monster Vault.  It's not a big deal, as they can be combined to create one large village.

Ice Village from the boxed set
Monster Vault Map
Ice Cavern
Frenzy, Alfred the Wise, Ragnarok and Gregg go toe to toe with the dragon while Caitrisana fires spells at it.  Llenherd stands by to protect the eladrin warlock, on Ragnarok's orders.
Special thanks to my girlfriend for her overwhelming support on this entire blog.  You're the best.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Hungry for a Fight

"May the odds ever be in your favor." - The Hunger Games

While I have never read the books, I know many people who are stoked for the movie of The Hunger Games.  I thought it would be cool to look at some of the themes from the novels and apply them to various Dungeons and Dragons adventures.  I hope that fans of the books will be pleased with the results.  Forgive me if I make an basic mistakes, I'm simply looking at overall themes, not nitty gritty details.  Don't worry, I have no desire to watch the movie before I read the books myself.
This post is dedicated to you Hunger Games fans.  Have fun at your midnight release!

Pretty much "the" big even in The Hunger Games is the actual games themselves, a free-for-all fight to the death in a large arena-like location.  There is only one victor.  I can see many DM's and players getting excited over the thought of such an event for DnD games, but there is somewhat of a problem.  In fact, this problem stems from the unofficial #1 rule of DnD.

Never split the party.  (Just ask Wil Wheaton).

However, as many of us all know, rules were meant to be broken.  And so, having your own DnD style Hunger Games may very well be one of the most interesting nights in your entire campaign.

First, you will need some sort of reason as to how the heroes are captured.  Perhaps a mad archmage has his own magical arena that they will be placed into.  Perhaps the minotaur magus has a colossal labyrinth created for such a task.  Regardless, setting up a scenario that forces the players into the games isn't so hard.  It's the rules that come afterward.

For simplicities sake, I created a small map to use as an example of your own Hunger Games arena.  Whatever you decide to create, make it large, and make sure you can lay the entire map out with your tiles or drawings.  This will keep things quicker for yourself.  You might want to cover up the rest of the map so the players can't see everything, but will have a general idea of where they stand in the grand scheme of it.  Label your rows and columns.  I suggest using a alpha-numerical system, so that you have A5, B8, etc.  Like Battleship.  This helps players (and you), remember where characters were as they take their turns.

My sample map.  Not the greatest, but to be used as an example.
You, as the DM must decide where all the players are going to be starting.  For example, player 1 starts at X1, player 2 at K12, etc.  Players will take turns based off an initiative roll.

The game will begin to differ drastically here.  Your players will have to sit in another room.  I suggest having them have a TV show, or a video game.  Something they can easily leave to take their turn.  You, as the DM, get to continually sit at the table.  

It should be noted that you can add whatever roaming monsters you want to the arena, as well as NPC enemies who are competing as well.  This increases the number of threats/interesting things players can encounter as they try to survive the arena.  Adding extra threats gives the players a good reason to quickly find each other and team up again.  Then they can roam the arena, finding and defeating their enemies while figuring out a plan of escape.  They could also try and negotiate with the other creatures, maybe teaming up with them.  Be warned though: some PC's will love the opportunity to betray the rest of the party, and may go rogue.  Chaos can quickly ensue.  Be warned with how you present these ideas.

Now that I've explained how this works, let's use a quick example.

Tonight, we will have four heroes trapped in the mad wizard's arena of death.

Our first heroine
Our first heroine, named Kat (the player actually created this character a few months back, and named her in honor of The Hunger Games main character).  A deva witch, she is an immortal being full of magical skill.  Her familiar is a bound demon, and she was involved with a cult back in the day.

Our second heroine
Caitrisana is an eladrin warlock with a strange connection to the stars.  She has journeyed far, looking for clues to her sister's death.  Unfortunately, she has ended up here.

Our third hero
Ragnarok is a half-elf druid werewolf who has journeyed across both the natural world and the Feywild, searching for his mother.  Though his father died in Brokenstone Vale, he was able to inform his son to seek the Formorian Kingdoms in the Feydark for clues about where his mother could be.

Our fourth hero
Gregg is a half orc and the son of a fierce orc warlord.  Driven by hatred of his father, Gregg seeks to be the opposite of everything his father is.  Honor bound to the last, Gregg will not rest until his father is dead and the grief he has caused has been dealt with.

And so we have our four characters.  They each will start at different locations.  Each will have a full turns worth of actions for their turn (standard, move, minor).  I would suggest making skill use like Perception minor actions so that the characters can use their full actions to move and explore.  Players can also hide and ready actions, getting ready to ambush whoever will come their way and get a surprise round.

Sometimes the players will simply stumble across an enemy of another player.  If that is the case, bring them both in the same room to determine what happens.  If they decided to fight, they both roll initiative and combat will proceed as normal.  If they decide other things, roll with it!  You're the DM.  It's your job to roll with it.

Caitrisana encounters Ragnarok.  The two decide to form an alliance.  Ragnarok leaves to scout ahead.

Kat decided to hide behind a rock, waiting for somebody to show up.  This requires a Stealth check.
A clay golem lurks amongst the skeleton of a giant.
Gregg spots the clay golem and attacks!
Ragnarok approaches the rock Kat is hiding behind.  He fails to see her.

Kat ambushes Ragnarok, hitting him with a spell and sending him sprawling.
Ragnarok recovers and transforms!  The battle begins.

Hopefully the pictures/writing will give you an idea of how the exploring/interaction should work.  If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment/send me a tweet.

Sometimes though, when it comes to arena fighting, you just want the classic gladiatorial arena.  Luckily, such a map exists.

The Arena
The only catch is that the map came with 2009's Free RPG Day module, Bloodsand Arena by Chris Tulach.  As of this writing, there are about 5 copies on ebay, some of them bids, while one is available for purchase for ~$25.00 (USD).

I hope you enjoy adding a Hunger Games twist to your DnD game.  As always, please leave comments/follow me on twitter @artifceralf.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Paradise Lost

"And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed."
- Genesis 2:8

Being a Christian, I have always thought about finding ways of putting the Faith in my games/stories (Tolkien is one of my heroes).  Lately, I've been studying Genesis, and how many of the pieces fit together, and how the book explains the beginning of our existence.  And from that, I've been inspired to bring some of that into my DnD game.  The following quote explains my thinking about why I want to, and why I get excited at the thought.
"We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming 'sub-creator' and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic 'progress' leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil."- J.R.R. Tolkien

In a nutshell, once the Fall occurred, Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden.  The entrance to the Garden was guarded by an angel with a flaming sword, so that humanity could never return.  As I read this, I thought "this is pretty cool stuff."  Another lady in my Bible study pointed out that without the caretakers, the Garden would probably become overgrown quickly, with thorns (coming into existence through sin) overwhelming many aspects of it.

At this point, I sat in my Bible study thinking "I want to use this in my DnD campaign."  And why not?  Most of the dungeons and adventures I've done so far have all been underground, using tiles and things from The Dungeon Master Set.  I bought the Wilderness, but it's been sitting for a while.  This gives me a good chance to explore tiles and create new maps (hand drawn stuff).

When I think the words 'garden', 'lush', 'plentiful', etc. for DnD, I tend to think of the Feywild.  And so, this is where I am ultimately choosing to set my Garden.  My only issue on this is that the Feywild already has a "Garden" dungeon, called the Garden of Graves as part of the Tomb of Horrors, but honestly, there are always different gardens in the world, and this one will have a very different feel/reason, so I think it all works out.

If my Garden is in the Feywild, I think it needs connection to the fey.  Elves, eladrin, drow, and all the like.  Since Eden was the birthplace of mankind, I think it would be cool if there was a place where the first elves dwelt.  It was created by Corellon and Sehanine, and given to them.  (Note, I'm not sure the whole cosmology of DnD, as I adapt and create the stories to fit what I'm trying to tell, so, if this doesn't work for you and your campaign, feel free to change it.)  While the early fey dwelt within this garden, they had everything they needed, until Lolth causes them to turn away, creating the first drow, and starting the war among the elves.  Corellon sealed the garden, so that the paradise could never be entered again.

Searching for the hidden entrace
 Now, this is where things get interesting.  God sealed the Garden of Eden from humans because if we were to return and eat from the Tree of Life, we would forever be in sin and could not be redeemed.  This guardianship of Eden was a way to protect us from ourselves, so that we could eventually be saved thought Christ.  In terms of DnD and the Feywild, I don't have a good reason for sealing the Garden, other than perhaps it contains some essence that could be detrimental to either the Feywild or specific Fey in general.  Maybe, after the fey were banished from the place, Corellon hid something there that could prove his undoing.  Maybe some sort of ancient artifact?  I'll need to spend some more time thinking about this.  Monster Manual 3 does talk about artifacts that prove to be Lolth's undoing, things that Corellon has chose not to use (for whatever reason).  Perhaps the item could be hid here instead....

A tunnel. leading below ground, through secret paths to Corellon's Garden (or maybe not.  It's just an idea)
 Regardless, the Garden is a place the PC's are not supposed to go.  It is a place of divine protection, a place ruined by the actions of Lolth.  And so, to enter, the PC's will have to deal with the angelic protector Corellon has put in place.

The angelic protector, standing among the wild garden.

This would be a solo monster, something that the PC's need to expend resources against.  They need to feel challenged, as the angel does not want to let them pass.  The battle could turn into an interesting skill challenge, as the PC's attempt to negotiate, or to simple show the angel that they are not seeking the artifact, but maybe are trying to protect it in some way.  If the artifact is something that could harm Corellon, maybe Lolth has already infiltrated the Garden and the PC's need to prevent her from reaching/taking the item.  Or, perhaps the PC's are seeking the very item to destroy Lolth, something that Corellon has never been able to do.

While the Garden was once a paradise, I want to make it overgrown, with lots of difficult terrain and overgrown.  Signs of a once verdant and beautiful paradise should show signs of chaos and overgrowth.  Any plant could be hazardous, as the very terrain is against the PC's.  Lolth's betrayl and corruption is evident here.  Other angels and divine beings from Corellon should guard the garden, as well as powerful fey exarchs the Elven God placed within the realm.

Exploring the flooded, drowned paradise.
 Water should be collected in pools as well.  There needed to be a way to water the Garden and create growth, so there should be lots of areas of water, with stagnant pools and places where the garden has turned into more of a giant swamp/marsh.  This gives great excuse for a black dragon to be dwelling within it, either as a minion of Lolth (adding some template powers), or as something powerful enough to rival the angel that guards the entrance.   

Scary stuff.  Art by Jim Nelson.

 If Lolth is involved, I think spiders are a necessity.  It just creates the correct feeling of everything.

Lastly, while DMing is about being creative and doing what you want, part of me suggests that this type of dungeon/adventure is probably best for Epic Tier characters.  At that point in the story, the characters should really be able to go toe to toe against protectors of the paradise Corellon had allowed the elves to originally dwell in.

If you're interested in the tiles, they are from the Wilderness Master Dungeon Tile Set, and the Witchlight Fens set.  I debated about using Sinister Woods, but as there were a lot of ruins on those, I opted not to.  My idea for a Garden is something that is natural, without construction.  Although why there are ruins and things like that could be an interesting explanation as well.....

I've really enjoyed studying Genesis and learning more about the beginning and things God did.  Hopefully this Garden of Eden inspired adventure will give you some ideas as well.  

I'm messing around with trying to put polls in the blog and add more interesting features, so for right now, be sure to leave comments!   

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Dig It!

"The earth belongs to the living, not the dead." - Thomas Jefferson

Today I'll be talking about the last of the elements, earth.  I wrote about the first three (water, air and fire), took a little bit of a break, and am now back to finish up the series I had started.  And so, it's time to talk about earth.

Earth has long been my favorite element, as I like plants and nature.  However, earth can also describe the rock formations and dirt, etc.  And so, there are many topics to discuss when it comes to the element of earth.

The most obvious thing, in my opinion, to do for earth is to create an earthquake in the middle of a battle.  The players confront the big enemy, until their foe casts a hugely powerful spell which creates a huge rift in the middle of the battlefield.  This is a game changer, but it's not crazy enough for me.

And so, enter the Dungeon Tiles.  This is my favorite set to use for pictures in the blog, and it's also the set that I have the most experience building with.  The squares stand out in the pictures, making it easier to get my point across.

A picture is worth 1,000 words, so I present you the Dungeon Tiles Master Set: The Dungeon.

If we slide off the slip case, we see an interesting box that is covered with dungeon squares.  

And, if we empty the box of its contents, we gain two large platforms.

In order to use 3-D terrain, it is important to know how tall it is, for the sake of climbing, movement and falling.  I simply take a regular dungeon tile and line it up, counting the squares.

Once I get an idea for how tall all the various pieces are, it's time to get to work.

My idea for an epic "earth elemental" themed battlefield is to creating roiling terrain.  Parts of the battlefield will rise and fall, stranding some characters on platforms, lest they risk jumping off or climbing down.  Throw an earthquake into the mix, and you have a crazy battle that jumps all over.  I suggest making a random effect chart that you roll for at the end of each round to create an effect.  Rolling 1d10 gives you enough possibilities to have enough interesting effects.

1. A 20 foot tall pillar erupts from the ground
2. Earthquake! - A 10 foot gap appears in the middle of the map.
3. A 20 x 20 platform that's 10 feet high erupts.
4. Place another 3D tile on top of another pillar.
5. A pit opens up in the ground.
6. A pit closes.
7. A pillar falls back into the ground.
8. The map comes back together if it had broken apart by an earthquake.
9. A 10 foot high platform rises from the ground.
10. The earth shakes, sliding all characters 1d4 squares in the direction of your choice.

While this list might need a little tweaking, it adds enough chaos to make it feel like the earth is truly alive.  My advice for monsters are ones with earthwalk and burrowing speeds, as they can burrow through the pillars and below them, moving across the battlefield at ease.  Climb speeds are always useful as well.

Below, I've taken some pictures to give some visuals of things that can be done.

Start of battle.  Spider on raised floor.
Main floor raises as the earth roils.
Pillars of earth erupt from the ground, changing the battlefield dramatically.
I hope this inspires you to create your own crazy earth elemental encounters.  Good luck!

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Mother of all Dragons

"We're gonna need a bigger boat." - Jaws

Today,while at my friendly local gaming shop, I decided to purchase a box of the Pathfinder miniatures.  I had already bought a few singles (the goblins are by far my favorite), and I decided that I wanted to invest in a box.  And so I did.

However, that doesn't amount to the awesome promo figure my shop was selling: a huge black dragon.  Now, the price was a little crazy, so I had to stop and think about it.  And the more I thought, the more that little voice said "Karl.  You wrote about how dragons need to be a big deal.  You're slowly creating a nice heroic level threat for your players.  How about something to build up to next?"

And I said "I want this."

I came home and went online, looking at ebay for how much the dragon was going for.  To my great joy, I was able to buy mine at a cheaper price than what it was going for on ebay.  That felt like a win to me.

To make matters even better, I pulled 4 more goblins, a giant spider, a werewolf (for Ragnarok when he hits level 10), and a lich.  The lich will definitely make a good villain at a later point, just not sure when.  For now, the main focus is the dragon Mekkalath.  The players will definitely have their hands full.

That is one angry dragon.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Madness at Dovesong Abbey Part II

"They debated long on what was to be done, but they could think of no way of getting rid of Smaug - which had always been a weak point in their plans, as Bilbo felt inclined to point out." 
- The Hobbit

I was extremely excited for the next session of Dovesong Abbey.  So much so that I had built and constructed the vaults a weekend in advance (people had other life things going on, so we had a little bit of a break).  My biggest complaint about constructing the Vaults was that I couldn't do it with one set of "The Dungeon" dungeon tiles, so I had to borrow some tiles from other sets to complete it, with a little bit of my own tweaking.

Half of the ping pong table converted into "The Vaults"

The session started well, with a lot of roleplaying and character interaction in order for the group to win over the minotaurs.  Bastin lured a kobold to help him, which was promptly slain with several minotaurs to make it look like the kobolds were attacking the minotaurs.  Zaktis went and spoke with the minotaur's leader, who informed him to go and speak to the Shadow being in the upper rooms.  The group went, meeting with the strange shadow being who was a mixture of gnoll and minotaur.

The shadow being was strange and creepy, and my switching between different voices gave the players kind of a weird feeling/strange looks around the table (it was like switching between Ziro the Hutt and Heath Ledger's Joker).

Nobody wanted to deal with the Shadow, especially as he became angrier and angrier.  Eventually, he set his servants upon the party.  As the demonic minotaur and gnolls began to attack, the group realized that this might be a fight they could not win.  And so, all craziness broke loose.

Bastin fled.  Krenlor fled.  Zaktis did his best to flee.  And all the while, Oakley and Pog were trapped in the room.  Eventually, they both fell.  The Shadow devoured Pog's soul, while Oakley was impaled on the minotaur's horns.  This brought a strange quiet to my group of friends.  More from Pog's death than Oakley's.

Bastin was able to bring the kobolds to his aid, who began to swarm the monsters while the heroes made their escape up the stairs into the Hall of Glory.  The dragon had been out hunting when Bastin persuaded them.  Krenlor ran into the room to steal treasure as they fled, and the dragon returned, seeing the thief.  Roaring his fury, Mekkalath tore off through the tunnel, waiting for the heroes to emerge outside to he could have his revenge.  The session ended with the heroes inside the Hall of Glory, listening to the fury of the dragon flying overhead.

The kobold army comes to save the day.

At this point, the adventure has moved extremely far from what was originally written.  And honestly, that's what makes the game great.  This is going to be something that is talked about, not because of the adventure, but because of what happend and how we made it ours.

I spoke with Pog's player, and we already have a new character that we will be introducing next session.  He will have some good ties to Dovesong, yet he has quite the backstory, something that Pog really didn't.  I think he will be a solid character for our campaign, which will make the rest of the group become better players.

I think the most exciting part is that Mekkalath will become a great threat/character, as opposed to "that dragon in that dungeon".  It seems as though I am fulfilling my desire to inspire great fear of dragons and make them might creatures.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Say What?

"Thought is the blossom, language the bud, action the fruit behind it." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

I'm taking a short break from writing about the elements.  I wanted to write about something different while I collect my ideas.  And so, I'm writing this blog.

I spoke with my mom about my blog, and about the things that I'm writing/sharing and the ideas.  She suggested using these games and blog to promote other things.

So, today I want to talk about language.

The core DnD game has several languages.  Common, Goblin, Elven, etc.  The real world has several main languages.  Coincidence?  I think not.  Language is something that adds depth and character to the world around us.  I'm fascinated by language.  I spent some time studying German.  My grandfather can speak it, and I think it's cool to learn another language, as well as learning a part of my family history.  Many of my friends can speak other languages, or have dabbled in them.  I want to take this to the next level for DnD.

I could take different languages and apply them to the game.  Since my friends and I are all native English speakers, I could use English as Common.  I'm a huge fan of goblins, so I would probably want to speak in German when I'm speaking "Goblin".  My girlfriend plays an Eladrin, and knows a lot of French, so I think that would be appropriate for "Elven".

I have yet to apply this to my game.  There are too many languages, and I only really have an understanding of about 3.  For example, I don't really know any friends that have knowledge of Portuguese (a shame).  However, I could see some really cool things be done with it.

  • Role play an encounter with a player in a different tongue.  If that player is the only one who speaks Elven in game, and you both can speak Spanish, speak in Spanish with them.  Write notes if you have to, but really make the rest of the group clueless to the discussion.  Their reactions will be much more real.
  • Write letters/notes in different languages for certain characters to find/read.
  • Create your own language for the game.
Tolkien used different languages in his books, and I loved them because of it.  The man was a linguistic genius.  He spoke many languages and created his own.  His languages will probably be a lot more complex than what I (and probably you) will create, but it will add a lot to the game.

I started to create my own language back in the day.  It was pretty basic, but it was an interesting go.  At this point, I would rather just apply real world languages.  You can find level one language textbooks at college bookstores and start applying basic sentences such as "how far is that?" and "That costs 50 gold".  A dictionary between the two languages will also help.  One of the first words I looked up when I was in 9th grade was the German word for dragon (Drache).  I still remember it.