One Shot Part Two

The chaos continued this weekend, as the reverse heist D&D caper hit the point where the plan met reality – and the silliness was wonderful. A fairy sorceror, a harengon monk, a human rogue, a halfling wizard, and a tiefling bard made their plans to deliver presents as snows fell on the neighbourhood. Nobody made the Christmas connection, or if they did they didn’t mention it – but that was fine.

All focus was on delivering presents to Valenia’s parents for the first part of the session. They were staying at a guest house, and so a distraction was needed. Between sandwiches from the pub and Cupcake’s non-stop babbling, all eyes were distracted while Fearne, Ignis, and Guiness crept upstairs, evaded a tabaxi reading in a window seat, and broke into the correct room to deliver presents.

One successful drop-off later, the group made their excuses and headed out into the gathering gloom of the evening. They hadn’t managed to get the key from Coal, so some old-fashioned breaking and entering was called for. First, however, Cupcake made friends with the mimic disguised as a bench in the front garden. Bribery and a distressing amount of rabbit droppings left a cheerful mimic promising to not raise the alarm while they wandered around the garden.

By hook and proverbial crook they made their way up to a first floor balcony, and found a way in to Thorin’s bedroom. The only sound came from a chest in the corner which was gently snoring, so everyone was very careful to tiptoe to deliver the first present and then out into the hallway.

The whole session followed a similar pattern of bypassing sleeping mimics, a sleeping wolf, and dealing with a prank-trap of a wasps nest over a door. The group met Tanglefinger too – the boggle who shares the house with the DDC – and as they framed their intrusion as part of a prank, they were able to persuade him to help and again, not raise the alarm.

Having reached the top floor and dropped off the final present on Kerne’s bed, they then escaped by way of ropes down from the top balcony – well, apart from Fearne, who fell most of the way and broke his leg. They all then hobbled back to the Clubhouse for payment and healing – and a bonus present delivery to Odif of a set of mini automatons modelled after the DDC.

All in all, a gentle and funny romp was had – with lots of laughter and silliness – what a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Next week, hopefully, the DDC return…

NPCs: A Coven of Trolls?

I’m not sure if these will turn up in either of the games I’m running at the moment, but I like the design and it wouldn’t be too difficult to fit them into the ongoing story on either front. I was playing around in HeroForge and was looking at trolls when the idea came to see if I could make them look like the sort of hags that the DDC had already encountered – there’s a subplot involving Kerne’s sister and rules for custom lineages that give ideas for those sworn to or in the company of hags to begin to take on their qualities and appearances – notably horns as a sign of power.

And so with some tweaking of faces and bodies and scratching of heads I came up with these lovely individuals – and I’m still undecided as to whether they are hags (in the D&D monster sense) or trolls who achieved hagdom and formed their own coven.

So welcome to Granny Riptooth, Nanny Gutrun, and Missy Lambrot – who may well be gathering together the scattered trolls defeated by Thorin’s clan during the Last War to contest the area again. I haven’t decided if they are aligned with the Winter’s Knight as an ongoing threat, but it would fit the themes of the story and the pattern of past encounters. I’m really pleased with how these models have worked out – there are more detailed schemes out there, but this works for virtual counters and inspiration for the games.

Well, I think we’ve all learned a valuable lesson about what you’ll find if you go down to the woods today…

Map – Volcanic Lair

I spent most of yesterday quietly rumbling through a low patch with making maps, watching old Time Team videos, and playing on the XBox in between conversations with people. It was an unashamed day of taking care of myself, and my partners very wisely let me get on with it and made sure I ate properly and didn’t mumble into my beard too much. I ended the day with the beginnings of a migraine (light flashes and loops of a song fragment) but the near total shut down was very much needed.

And so to the map: I was looking at potential lair ideas and followed on from the bridge maps I’ve been experimenting on. There’s always an epic feel to raised areas over a lava field so went with something that could possibly once have been natural and that now shows signs of having been coopted and adapted.

To the right of the map is a fiery magical portal at the top of carved steps coming down onto the broken circle of level ground. Obsidian walls reach down to the cooling lava surface that still puffs with flames and shimmers of heat below. There’s a lit brazier in the middle on top of an obsidian column in the centre of the “donut” and to the north of that, an eldritch obelisk next to a broken altar. There are bundles of books on that and a broken ramshackle bookcase nearby and some scattered timepieces. To the very west lies a tomb slab. Could the old tomb be what this chamber was built for, or was this space found and then repurposed? Perhaps clues are inscribed on the triple-sided obelisk?

This chamber could therefore be the last resting place of a buried being whose grave goods contain something the adventurers seek. It could be where a missing field researcher is found, overcome by heat or monsters that must be overcome. Maybe it is the lair of some dark spirit risen from death and seeking some elder knowledge or to overthrow the lands below the volcano, or far above this hidden space.

The map is based on a 30×40 landscape grid but doesn’t have one superimposed so you can import it to a VTT of choice and grid scale that suits you – I’ve assumed five foot per grid square as a standard measurement when planning this. If you use it, have fun! Let me know if you remember and tell me what story you told with it.

Map – Arch Above The Ruins

I’ve been doing some more map making to wind down in the evenings – this time using Inkarnate as I get used to the layering options and thinking about the constructive layers involved in areas with multiple levels. In this case the concept was a battle location on a walkway high above some ruins below in some vaulted space underground. Depending on which way any of the various groups wander this may turn up in a session at some point as something I can just drop people into.

The map is for a 40×30 grid square on a landscape orientation for a virtual tabletop – with the main battle areas being the more brightly lit landings and walkway connecting them. The ziggurat and other buildings below could be any depth below depending on how you might want to run the encounter – anywhere from tens to hundreds of feet drop. Even now, looking at it, I’m considering how I might add a blur to the lower level so its implying a different height for the purposes of suggesting eye focus.

I’ve added a couple of lighting shades and textures to the lower level to try and suggest depths apart from the braziers on top of the ziggurat – and then added some lanterns on the walkway to make it stand out a little and draw the eye.

The types of encounters that could be run here range from being cornered by guardians, being attacked by flying predators, stand-offs threatening an object being dropped over the ziggurat’s flames, traps defending the entrance to the complex while implying what is to come later – go wild – and if you let me know some of the uses you put it to, that’ll be lovely.

Enjoy! The map is yours, freely.

HeroForge: Rakkan and Rekkam

There’s been new content added to HeroForge in the form of mounts and companion animals so I’ve had a bit of a play and then added in one of the new faces from last week. I’m not sure how or even if I’ll use this so I’m throwing the concept out there for anyone to grab and use.

Introducing Rakkan and Rekkam – a dragonborn monk and his raptor mount and companion. Rekkam favours the use of a bo staff and tends to have a veneer of amiability over the hardened discipline that his meditation and training have developed. Rekkam hails from a snowy mountaintop monastery near to where he was born – and unsurprisingly his lineage descends from one of the ancient white dragons that lair in the highest reaches. A follower of the Way of the Ascendant Dragon, Rekkam embraces his heritage and devotes himself to working in his local communities as a mediator and defender.

Rakkan is a trained raptor raised as part of a cadre of beasts by the monastery. While capable of fighting and hunting alongside his partner, Rakkan is mostly used for longer journeys where Rekkam acts as a courier. There is a deep affection between the two and more than one bandit has needed a change of underwear when Rakkan has crept up on them and growled in their ear.

As to how to use these characters? Well I’ve left lots of space for you to flesh them out. In my mind’s eye, Rekkam moves with purpose but sits or stands very still when others are talking or if he is observing them. He’s probably about 5th or 6th level – competent enough to deal with most common challenges and be a noted defender of the local community. He is most likely to be encountered as a courier – perhaps as a target for the party to intercept, or encountered while defending himself against bandits. Perhaps he is encountered as a scout, or a mystic contemplating the view in a mountain pass. Perhaps he rides to the aid of a group if they are being overrun.

As a couple, Rekkam is serious but kind – while Rakkan is curious and willful. You could probably get some humour from describing their interactions which may feel more like partners in misadventure rather than rider and mount…

D&D Shaping Life?

I learn all sorts of things from the random conversations we have in the polycule. One thing that puts a smile on my face is hearing how stories, events, or characters from the D&D games end up having an impact in other people’s lives. One example is Odif – the kobold child adopted by the DDC after drunken shenanigans (and that was a whole series of subplots and adventures unexplored at the time – but who knows how things will loop back?)

I had a couple of crocheted wool dolls made up of Odif – one for Lady M and one for boy s – as presents and Lady M has been known to show her Odif on video calls. This particularly happens if one of her colleagues has a young child appear onscreen. Well, now those children have started asking after Odif and how he’s doing – and as this is usually relayed by their parents to Lady M during work calls, a wider group of people now know about and have encountered Odif.

So this year, Odif received Christmas well wishes from people at Lady M’s workplace.

Jumping to another example: Mx J has been playing Thorin in the DDC as a well-meaning, laid back and generally affable barbarian “himbo” over the last couple of years. The main story thread we just completed saw him step up into a leadership role for his people and reunite them to take back their lands and foil a plot to plunge a sizeable chunk of the surrounding countryside into a never-ending winter. Mx J has also been streaming and cosplaying for a number of years as Miss Time Bunny. They have been widely called Bunny for quite some time – especially in their local area.

In one of the places that Mx J frequents there are also people who watch the streams and are friendly with both Bunny and Lady B – and, you guessed it, they started getting Christmas well wishes under the name Thorin this year.

I find it rather heartwarming – that these characters and their world are living in people’s thoughts and memories, inspiring laughter and smiles and new stories to come. I have the kernels now of the next act in the adventures of the DDC so I can’t wait to see what really lands with people and inspires them – and how else our small entertainments may take on lives outside the confines of the Twitch Stream.

Oh – one last thing that came up in conversation – I don’t see them as its not my Twitch channel, but Lady B gets all manner of notifications and keeps an eye on things while we game – and I was delighted to hear that every now and then familiar names from the past appear as viewers, checking in on how we’re all doing and the latest silly shenanigans of the DDC. I hope they’ve had a good Christmas too – and hope to see them again soon.

HeroForge – Faye Hagsworn

An influential background character who hasn’t had much visibilty so far is Kerne’s younger sister, Faye – who went to study in the Feywild after their family was split up. There’s been a loose connection between the sisters by way of an enchanted journal, which each has a copy of, and that they can read and reply to each other by writing in it.

It was fairly late in the first year – as the group closed in on a group of Hags who had kidnapped an alchemist – that the DDC realised that Faye was apprenticed to the same Hags, and had been learning their crafts. When they defeated the coven, there was no sign of Faye – and it looked like she had fled with some of their research and materials after chaining up the nearby portal to the Feywild with iron. Removing the chains allowed Faye’s warlock patron – the Winter’s Knight – to emerge into the swamp. He too wanted to know where Faye was – but on learning that Kerne didn’t know anything permitted the group to leave.

Later investigations determined that a block on the group’s memories about their first adventure had been put there through the actions of Faye so that they would not remember Faye’s involvement in an ambush that took place by Morgrave University, and for a while there was a chill in relations between the siblings.

During their most recent adventure, the sisters began sharing knowledge again. Faye confirmed that she was on the run from the Winter’s Knight as the research she had taken pertained to making a drug that the Hags had been creating and planning to spread that made people more susceptible to magics cast by the fae. She was keeping that knowledge hidden to frustrate those plans while the DDC acted against Knight. Cooperating, the siblings were able to create a potion to cure lycanthropy, with Faye passing on the Hag recipe and Kerne interpreting the instructions and ingredients to what was available locally.

What is known is that Faye is Dragonborn, and a warlock sworn to the Winter’s Knight or some other high ranking Fey. She may or may not have taken on Hag-like characteristics as part of her training with the Broken Eye Coven – and quite what her plans and allegiances are remain somewhat nebulous.

As ever, feel free to appropriate character design and concept for your own uses

Map – Closer View of Amberhammer Environs

I’ve been catching up on shows this evening through the fog of painkillers and decided to spend a bit of time fleshing things out around the DDC adventures – so I’ve just drawn this up on Inkarnate. Its only a first draft to get used to a different style of map so I’m not sure yet if it will get used in this format or see major revisions.

parchment-style map of land bracketed by mountains and hills with extensive forested areas. A river and lakes descend along the left hand side. Various unnamed icons are dotted around suggesting ruins, farms, a mill, and a main settlement within a shield shape

I wanted to suggest features I threw in off the top of my head while describing the area during sessions – with hilly approaches from the south east and north east, and a mountainous pass to the north west. I also made mention of a forest that the DDC fled through after their first encounter with the denizens that had taken over the Hold, so that had to make an appearance. I’ve dotted a few farms – two grain and one gourds to the north, and marked good fishing to the west along with a mill.

During the attempts to draw together allies I mentioned an abandoned settlement near a depleted mine so reasoned there would likely be several of those in the area – marked with ruins and mine signs dotted around. There’s also a nice big open plains area to the north of the Hold where the main pitched battle took place, but that can also develop into a location for a trading hub now that House Sivis has opened the teleport circle. I’m still mulling over how much of a time elapse there will be in-game before the next game chapter – if only so the poor adventurers can have a rest and catch a bit of a break to enjoy the fruits of their labours.

Campaign Break

We’re not doing any more D&D until the New Year – busy time and seeing folks and all that – and hand on heart this week I’m glad because everything hurts from yesterday (especially my rib). It does however give me more time to come up with both a story and resources for the one-shot planned as light relief as well as work out the next chapter for the DDC.

Part of that preparation has been spending more time in HeroForge to come up with concepts as well as fleshing out sample characters in dndbeyond. I generally find the process suggests characters whose stories need telling. As the D&D sessions are an ongoing story-telling venue, well who am I to ignore potential new characters or plot points.

Four of these characters started in D&D Beyond, and the fifth – on the right in the picture above – has sprung entirely from playing around in the HeroForge toybox.

From left to right we have Fane: a warforged priest that the group has already encountered and defeated once; Hook: a warforged scout; Arnaud Gloomstalk: a bugbear ranger; Perrip: a tabaxi rogue; and Rekkem: a dragonborn monk. I’ve roles in mind for the warforged already, connected to the wider plot, while as for the rest, I haven’t decided whether they’ll be allies, foils, or adversaries in the stories to come. I look forward to finding out.

Unused Scenario – Summoning School

This scenario was an encounter keyed to the Amberhammer Hold and would have been something wandered into had the group taken a stealthier approach. Unfortunately things didn’t go that way and it didn’t feel right to bring this in as events escalated. So the scenario is presented here to spark ideas for you.

So, in the original draft of my notes, the cult of the Triumphant Dead is in many ways a fledgling group and looking to garner power. To that end they have been making alliances and summonings and gathering favours from a whole slew of occult and obscure sources. These have ranged from books stolen from libraries, deals with Daelkyr, favours from and for the Fae, and nefarious connections to the Lords of Dust.

The Summoning School is found within a warehouse area, carefully cleared and engraved with sigils and a circle. Seven cultists and a cult fanatic are being led and instructed as the group arrives on the scenet. Ofalgrim Grazztblood has agreed to instruct the Cult of the Triumphant Dead in how to raise Banderhobbs. These ogre-sized creatures of shadow and corrupt flesh with a toadlike appearance can then be sent to assassinate, kidnap, or steal on the cult’s behalf. As the encounter begins, the small cult group has just succeeded in their first ritual.

The cultists are spaced around a complex glyph laid out in charcoal and salt while the cambion directs them and leads the chant. Connected to the first glyph is a larger one, within which the Banderhobb has just formed from a desecrated pile of corpses. Spooked by the group’s arrival, Ofalgrim will tell the cultists to stand their ground and use their new power. He and the Cult Fanatic (Tesselthwaite Cobb) support with spells unless the group is a serious threat – in which case Ofalgrim will either fly or plane shift away and attempt to flee.

The cutlists have 21sp, 6ep, 4gp, potion of healing x2. Ofalgrim has 240sp, 90gp, potion of invulnerability, a potion of healing, spear is of dwarven make from a clan destroyed by Thorin’s folk for worshipping devils. It can only be destroyed on their original forge, heated by infernal flames. Its head is cast to resemble twisting corkscrewed flames, and flame motifs run up and down the shaft. It feels cold to the touch.