5e AP: Journey to Bridge

 

plains-near-beauvais
Camille Corot – Plains near Beauvais (1860)

Session held on 11/29 with the cast:

  • The Cleric Jannik, Priest of Prios
  • The Rogue Marklech, Spider Cultist
  • The Fighter Stanislav, Monster Hunter
  • The Fighter Frederich, Treasure Hunter

Scene 1 – You have all been tasked to travel from Kastor to the town of Bridge to hunt a witch. Your patron, the Lady Osis, dispatched a seasoned Witch Hunter a week ago. The town sent word that he never arrived so she has sent you all as well, with the additional instruction to be careful along the road. The trip takes four days walking east. The road you have chosen is the well-worn road of the boundary wardens. You are deputized agents of the lady, and on top of your current charge it is your sworn duty to ensure only those who are licensed & permitted enter the Davokar forest to salvage the ruins.

As you crest a small rise, you see some dust coming from the road ahead. A two-mule team pulling a cart heavily laden with barrels rounds the corner. The two men slow their progress when they see you, but then wave and continue plodding towards you. What do you do?

The characters did not pause in their trek, continuing towards the mule team. Jannik said that he wanted to focus his attentions on the team and see if there was anything unusual about them. He succeeded on a perception roll and noticed that the travelers were well provisioned and wearing finely made travel clothes. These men seemed more like seasoned merchants and not any sort of rabble leaving Bridge fearing for their lives. He communicated that to the rest of the group, and as the mule cart neared they greeted the merchants.

The merchants responded with hearty greetings, pausing alongside the party and offering them a sample of the fine brandy in their barrels. The party readily assented, with the exception of the cleric who held back. After the cleric saw that the merchants were sampling their own wares, he accepted a swill. After a brief exchange, the merchants shared some rumors from Bridge, claiming: “fish are dead with blackened hand prints on them”, “a babe born with three eyes”, “the harvest rotted in the field” and other ill omens. The party took this news heavily, and then asked about the road ahead. The merchants said that they passed a dead horse the previous day, but had not investigated for there were some jackals about preying on the corpse.

Finally, the merchants told the group that if they liked the brandy they should stop by the still of Pepi Oldson and tell him that Red & Bran send their best regards.

Allen William Seaby Vulture
Allen William Seaby – Vulture (1910)

Scene 2 – Another day has passed on the road. You see vultures circling ahead, above the low rolling hills. As you arrive, you see a few large birds picking at scraps on the scavenged corpse of a horse. You have each consumed one ration over the last day, please reflect that on your inventory. What to you do?

The characters spread out around the scene, pausing their journey to investigate if this might the horse of the missing Witch Hunter. After a successful investigation roll, Jannik noticed a bloody trail that  led to a small copse of brush trees. At the same time, a successful perception roll alerted Marklech to a dust trail coming towards them from the direction of the Davokar forest. In the copse, they found a bloodied and tattered tabard of a witch hunter. They also found a saddle bag that had been cleared of its contents.

They took a defensive position atop a small hill, some kneeling in the high grass and others standing visible and alert, to await the arrival of whatever was raising the dust trail.

Scene 3 – Two haggard men stumble into view about 150 yards distant. One carries a large bundle beneath his arm, and the other carries a spear shaft that has been snapped off near the end. They seem exhausted and injured, continually glancing behind them as if fearful of pursuit. What do you do?

The party decided to alert the men of their presence, the ragged men seemed thankful to have found the party. They ran towards the members, falling down exhausted on the ground before them. They begged for help keeping them safe from the Davokar Elves who followed them. The party saw that the bundle was filled with poor quality salvage from ruins within the forest and that the men did not have any license for their salvage. Stanislav and Jannik accosted the men, rebuking them for trespassing upon the forest without permit.

arrows-of-sky-spears-of-land-1915
Nicholas Roerich – Arrows of sky – spears of land

Scene 4 – Nineteen lithe figures crest the hill in the distance, pausing briefly and taking a battle formation before advancing towards your position. These figures are tall and elegant, wearing bands of iron on their left biceps and matching armor. Many hold longbows, while some others carry long spears or longswords. They march in well-practiced formation, the archers take a position on a hill opposite yours. The leader holds no weapon and walks a few steps ahead of his honor guard, he looks to you for sign of your intention. What do you do?

Frederick the archer stepped forward and proffered his empty hands as he performed a slight forward bow. He had seen this gesture depicted on salvaged frescoes and fervently hoped that it was the proper greeting. The other party members followed suit, and the elf leader returned the gesture. His honor guard sheathed weapons and did likewise. The elf leader addressed the group in Elven. “We are Summer Elves of the Iron Pact. These brigands have broken the terms of the pact by raiding our realm and disturbing that which should not be disturbed. We demand that they and their ill-gotten bounty be handed over to us, as is our ancient right.” Jannik had studied Elven back at the academy, but he was more comfortable reading it than speaking it. Nevertheless, he stepped forwards to offer a greeting to the elf. In stuttering Elven, the cleric promised to accommodate the elves request by turning over the men and their salvage.

The leader seemed surprised, but nodded his thanks and indicated that the brigands should be brought to his guards. Jannik told the party in common what he and the elf had agreed to, and while some of them might have had qualms with handing humans over to the elves they did not voice them in light of the overwhelming numbers of the elvish host. The haggard men screamed in disbelief, and when Jannik went to grab one of them he got a dagger in the gullet for his efforts. Luckily, his chainmail deflected the blow. He responded by smiting the man with Sacred Flame, killing the weakened criminal.

the-selling-of-the-shadow
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – The Selling of the Shadow

Scene 5 – The brigand’s death rattle echoes through a suddenly tense and momentarily silent field. A scream of anguish suddenly splits the sky as the last remaining scavenger’s spirit breaks. His cry transforms into something unearthly as his eyes blacken and his body lifts from the ground as if a puppet on strings. The air darkens around him, and the blackness seemed to coalesce into the form of a large shadow humanoid. The man’s face hangs silent and expressionless and his veins are blackened from corruption. Please roll arcana to see if you know what is happening.

Stanislav was the only one who passed his arcana check to identify this for what it was, something people called “shadow corruption” or a “blight beast.” They say that if you spend too much time delving in the forest you can fall host to the darkness. Stanislav shouted “Blight Beast!” and the party took action. A few solid blows landed on the body of the brigand, with each blow the shadows seemed to dissipate slightly. The beast scratched Stanislav in response to his attack, leaving a sickly bruise. A volley of well-placed elven arrows dispatched the beast.

In the flurry of combat, the rogue Marklech succeeded in pocketing a couple Symbaric coins from the bag of salvage before returning the bag to the elves.

The elven leader commended the cleric for his rare willingness to abide the terms of the ancient treaty. In thanks, he offered a small scroll bearing the words “This human assisted Talrond of the Summer Guard to enforce the iron pact.” He also handed over a small vial of opaque glass, and said that it should be consumed with tea by one who has been exposed to the darkness of the Davokar blight.

The elves departed after mentioning that these brigands had a base camp at the edge of the woods. The group decided to investigate the camp to see if they might learn more about the fate of the missing witch hunter, despite knowing that this detour would add an additional day to their trip, and they would arrive in Bridge later than anticipated.

fireflies-at-a-country-house
Toyohara Chikanobu – Fireflies at a Country House

Scene 6 – You catch sight of the wrecked camp before you as the sun is setting. On the edge of the camp in a thick grass you notice a strange pulsing luminescence. What do you do?

The rogue Marklech had taken Magic Initiate, and introduced his spider familiar to the group at this time. The spider crawled his way through the grass to investigate the mysterious lights, and found that a number of bioluminescent beetles were crawling around some hastily buried human corpses. The party approached, hoping to scare the bugs away. The archer shot one of them as it flew around for a different position, and in response the whole host of beetles swarmed the party. The bugs spit a bioluminescent acid at the party members, but were slain without much hassle.

Frederich investigated the burial ground finding a leather satchel buried beside one of the men. He twisted his ankle in the process, but also noticed that there were other graves in the area that seemed more soundly dug. At this time the day was quickly descending into darkness. The men retreated to a nearby grove that Stanislav had identified as a secure site and prepared to camp for the night.

The cleric privately shared the truth about the elven vial with Marklech the rogue, asking him whether he thought it should be given to Stanislav who was complaining about his bruise from the blight beast or if he should keep the vial to study. They agreed that it would be better to study the vial and keep it a secret from the other men.

The party consumed another ration and camped through the night, each taking a turn at watch.

in-the-forest-1865
Gustave Courbet – In the Forest (1865)

Session Inspired by Symbaroum & Luka Rejec’s Witchburner

Sack Packs

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After posting about Luka’s Inventory system, I had a discussion with someone on Luka’s Discord channel about how 1 stone per pack seems too light, since in the UVG Luka defines a sack thusly:

A sack is:
• all of a hero’s adventuring or professional gear. Magic
skulls of memory for wizards, a year’s supply of
swordmaceaxes for fighters, golf clubs for the thief,
whatever.
• A sack of supplies. Enough food, water, camping gear,
and toilet paper to survive for a week.
• one rider or unconscious human.
• a unit of trade goods.
• 2500 5E coins of any type.

Now, my initial reaction about all of this is that the intent here of inventory abstraction is not to get lost in the details. If you want details of inventory management, then make your players write down each item they have. But, I had what I think to be a good idea:

A Sack of any of the following Packs1 sack / ∆20 and costs 50+4d6 gp. You can take Packs out of the Sack. Each pack you take out of the Sack is 1 Stone and takes you one step up the dice chain. When a ∆ reduces, one stone of supplies is also removed from your inventory.

So let’s have an example: You have a sack of medical supplies on your mule. When you are with the mule, you can use them as you see fit. When you tie the mule up at the dungeon entrance you take 1 stone of supplies off the mule. The player rolls a ∆20, it comes up as a 14 so the Sack does not step down. The player writes Medical Pack ∆4 on the inventory sheet. The character then takes a second stone of the medical pack, so the player rolls a ∆20 and it results in a value of 10. The sack does not step down, the player writes Medical Pack ∆6 on his inventory. This medical pack now takes up 2 stones. The character takes a third stone out of the sack, because his party tend to be reckless. The player rolls the ∆20 and it comes up as a 2. Now the Medical Sack on the mule steps down to a ∆12 (decreasing from ∆20). The character now has 3 stones of Medical Pack, with a ∆8.

Packs – Each 1 stone  is one step on the ∆chain – Initially, a pack costs 10+2d6 gp. Packs can be increased or refilled for 2d6 gp per ∆ step. If a ∆4 pack reduces, it cannot be refilled.

  • Camper’s Pack – For Making Camp & Camp Life (Ex. Stove, Tent, Bedroll, Pots & Pans, Salt, Fishing Tackle)
  • Excavator’s Pack – For Digging, Unearthing, Reinforcing Tunnels (Ex. Pick, Shovel, Hammer, Block & Tackle)
  • Climber’s Pack – For Climbing, Descending, & Rappelling (Ex. Rope, Pitons, Climber Pick, Chalk, Grapple)
  • Bureaucrat’s Pack – For Notarizing, Certifying, Authenticating, Contracting, Auditing (Ex. Ink, Paper, Wax Seal, Signet Ring)
  • Priest’s Pack – For Rituals, Sermons, Judgment & Penance (Ex. Psalm Book, Incense, Holy Symbol)
  • Healer’s Pack – For Staunching, Cauterizing, Amputating, Bandaging, & Sterilizing Wounds (Ex. Bandages, Bone Saw, Alcohol)
  • Specified Crafter’s Pack – For Crafting with Specified Skill (Ex. Blacksmith hammer, alchemist scale, Forgery tools, Disguise makeup)
  • Outdoorsman Pack – For Hunting, Fishing, & Trapping (Ex. Traps, Whistles, Specialized Knives, Lures, Salt)
  • Thieves Pack – For Picking Locks, Disarming Traps, Greasing Hinges (Ex. Lockpick, File, Grease)
  • Winter Survival Pack – For Navigating Ice, Walking on Snow, & Not Freezing (Ex. Crampons, Ski Poles, Ski Shoes, Blanket)

This all also possibly needlessly complicates a tool that is meant to be a simple way to abstract inventory. I’m not sure if I will actually use this or not, but I feel like it might work.

Luka’s Sack Rule of Inventory

Some initial thoughts on an inventory system based on Luka Rejec’s Skeleton – pulling from UVG and Longwinter but with some extra crunch because I am that guy and I have those players. None of this is playtested.

Luka’s Sack Rule of Inventory – “A Human can carry one sack unencumbered and two sacks encumbered.” Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just leave it at that! 

One Sack is Ten Stones, and one Stone is Ten Soaps. A Stone is equivalent to a normal sized item (~15 lbs), and a Soap is a small item (~1.5 lbs).

1 sack = 10 stones = 100 soaps = 2500 cash

stones soaps

I am hacking Usage Dice onto Luka’s Inventory system, denoted as ∆ and then a number. Usage Dice will step down one dice value each time they are rolled and result in a 1-2. The dice step chain is: ∆20,∆12,∆10,∆8,∆6,∆4.

Strength Modifiers – If you have a Strength modifier, that will simply make a sack larger/smaller by your modifier amount. So Strength 16 (+3) would make a sack hold 13 stones instead of 10.

Encumbrance – If you carry more than 1 sack, you are encumbered. You can’t carry more than 2 sacks.

Coins – 250 coins is 1 stone = 25 coins is 1 soap.

Armor – Light armor is 1 stone, Medium armor is 2 stone, heavy armor is 3 stone. A Shield is 1 stone.

Clothing – Your worn clothing does not take up any inventory space. Ceremonial clothing or anything elaborate would be 1 stone. In Luka’s Longwinter, each layer of Warm Weather clothing takes 1 stone.

Weapons – Most weapons are 1 stone, Heavy Weapons are 2 stones. Ammunition is 1 stone / ∆10.

Lighting – Candles – 1 stone / ∆8. Torches – 1 stone / ∆6. Lantern – 1 stone. Lantern Fuel – 1 stone / ∆6.

Candles provide dim light for 1 person, Torches provide bright light for 4 people, Lantern provides bright light for 6 people.


My fear is that Adventure Pack is too broadly useful, and there are still too many little trinkets in the 5e equipment list to want them all to be Soaps on their own merit. So I hacked down the list of items in the 5e equipment book and made this list of packs:

Packs – Each pack is 1 stone / ∆10 – Each pack costs 20+4d6 gp. Packs can be “refilled” for 2d6 gp per ∆ step. 

  • Camper’s Pack – For Making Camp & Camp Life (Ex. Stove, Tent, Bedroll, Pots & Pans, Salt, Fishing Tackle)
  • Excavator’s Pack – For Digging, Unearthing, Reinforcing Tunnels (Ex. Pick, Shovel, Hammer, Block & Tackle)
  • Climber’s Pack – For Climbing, Descending, & Rappelling (Ex. Rope, Pitons, Climber Pick, Chalk, Grapple)
  • Bureaucrat’s Pack – For Notarizing, Certifying, Authenticating, Contracting, Auditing (Ex. Ink, Paper, Wax Seal, Signet Ring)
  • Priest’s Pack – For Rituals, Sermons, Judgment & Penance (Ex. Psalm Book, Incense, Holy Symbol)
  • Healer’s Pack – For Staunching, Cauterizing, Amputating, Bandaging, & Sterilizing Wounds (Ex. Bandages, Bone Saw, Alcohol)
  • Specified Crafter’s Pack – For Crafting with Specified Skill (Ex. Blacksmith hammer, alchemist scale, Forgery tools, Disguise makeup)
  • Outdoorsman Pack – For Hunting, Fishing, & Trapping (Ex. Traps, Whistles, Specialized Knives, Lures, Salt)
  • Thieves Pack – For Picking Locks, Disarming Traps, Greasing Hinges (Ex. Lockpick, File, Grease)
  • Winter Survival Pack – For Navigating Ice, Walking on Snow, & Not Freezing (Ex. Crampons, Ski Poles, Ski Shoes, Blanket)

Some items seem broadly useful or specific enough that players would want to write them down specifically.

Other Common Soaps: 

Bell, Chalk, Crowbar, Glass Bottle, Hammer, Hourglass, Iron Spikes, Lock, Magnifying glass, Manacles, Soap, Spyglass, Steel Mirror, Tinderbox, Whistle

Cumbersome Items (2 Stones Each):

10 ft. Pole, Ladder, Battering Ram

Consumable Soaps:

Ball Bearings (∆4), Caltrops (∆4), Holy water (∆4), Poison Vial (∆4), Potion of healing (∆4)

Spellcasting Soaps:

Component pouch, Arcane/Divine Focus, Spellbook, Specific Materials

My Love of Symbaroum

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Enthusiasm

I first saw Symbaroum on Kickstarter in July of 2017, when the campaign for “The Witch Hammer” was underway. I was immediately hooked by the art and setting, eagerly backing the campaign at one of the higher levels so that I could get all of the books. When I got the PDFs I was in awe of the art, but felt overwhelmed by the presentation and had no idea what the game was really about. I searched online for actual plays, and I even joined a Twitch livestream of some group playing the game.

A lot of what was happening seemed familiar. At the time, I had been running a lot of Numenera so the player-side dice rolling didn’t bother me. While it was familiar, it was also just unique enough to be discouraging. I am the only GM in my group, and most of my players are still pretty content to play D&D 5th edition every week. As the GM, I have a lot of control over what to run for my players but ultimately need to respect player preference and run games that people are excited to play.

Symbaroum arrived at my house at a inopportune moment in my gaming life. My players were experiencing some acute fatigue from my Kickstarter driven system-of-the-week style of scheduling one-shots or month-long mini-campaigns. I was then (and still am) Kickstarter crazed, and my shelves were (and are) full of games that I hadn’t played or had barely skimmed.

Even so, Symbaroum has stuck out in my mind. Despite not having played the system, I backed the “Monster Codex” when it hit Kickstarter during November 2017. I kept going back to the books, and the setting continued to inspire. I would reference the art with other games that I ran, even using the Symbaroum GM screen to set the tone for other games. It was the game that I kept wanting to run, but the fates kept resisting me.

Resistance

Lots of things can get in the way of running a new system, some of them are in the control of game developers but most exist outside of their influence. The presentation of game content in Symbaroum ultimately is not for me and provided a high amount of internal-resistance to being played, but I don’t want this to be a negative review and so I am not going to go into any of my specific criticisms that are a matter of personal preference.

I haven’t run a campaign for my players in the better part of a year, so when I recently started talking to them about the fact that I was interested in running a new campaign, we started discussing what to play. A few players said “anything,” others said  “anything that we already know, no new systems please,” and a few other players said “I really only want to play 5e.”

I came up with a list of the things that I wanted in my campaign, and I realized that I could achieve them all with 5e. I came up with a list of the things I liked from Symbaroum, and I realized that I could hack them into 5e. My players were excited, they too love the art of Symbaroum and the implied setting. Now I could finally take all these books that were full of setting and lore inspiration and make them usable in a way that they never were to me as a complete system.

My Symbaroum

In my mind, Symbaroum is focused on the forest Davokar. The politics are just a backdrop and the personalities hardly matter. The history is vague and contradictory, every noble and faction tells it differently anyways. The players are all Ambrians, they matter to themselves and they are situated in the landscape. They migrated, they remember the great war and terror. They want to create a better life for themselves, or at least want the power to defend themselves against the hostile world.

There is a lot of rich content in the Symbaroum books. I didn’t know what to do with all of that content over the last year. It felt like I couldn’t access it. There are so many personalities and details that it boggles my mind, “How am I ever going to get any amount of this content across to my players?”

Now, I have a way to engage with that content and bring it to my table. Albeit, on my own terms.

Hacking a Game is not an Insult

This post is largely a response to Paul Baldowski’s post on The Iron Pact:

“All games do not come from the same cookie cutter or jelly mould. Each has a heart set in mechanics and raw concepts, but in building a new game the designers imbue the basics with their own flavour, theme and focus. When we step into Ambria, we enter a world created by a small group of writers and that world has a slant of their own. Coming from any other game, we must cleanse our palette of preconceptions and try hard not to shoehorn Symbaroum into a form like those we have just left behind.

Symbaroum is not Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder, nor The One Ring, Genesys, RuneQuest or Warhammer. While you can read the Core Book and use the setting to run another game with another system, the best approach to actually play Symbaroum requires you set aside your hunger for spell ranges, feat trees, battle mats and point-based character balance and embrace the idiosyncrasies wide-eyed and open-minded.”

I have played in and/or run 32 different RPG systems since my first TTRPG session in 2015. I like things and have learned from each of them. On top of that, I have read, skimmed, or played hundreds of modules, splat books, adventures, monster manuals, blog posts, gaming zines, tweets and G+ posts.

When I land on a book that lodges in my imagination and consciousness for more than an initial skim through, I get excited. When I am excited about a book, the way I channel that excitement is by hacking the content into a form that will be usable by me at my table with my group.

It feels very unproductive to read anyone talk about the “best” way to play a system. Different groups want different things and different GM’s run games differently. At the moment, our hobby feels full of people drawing lines in the sand and planting flags. I believe that we should each be conscious of our actions and engagement within this space. I want my actions to make play culture more diverse, divergent, individual, and free-form. I want to make accessible tools that can be useful for GMs regardless of system.

I understand that game developers create a game with a certain experience in mind. I run and play lots of PbtA games that are clearly designed for a specific play experience. As a GM I am very intentional about player motivation and intent around the games. Symbaroum might have been created to encourage a specific type of play, but choosing to engage with it differently should not be viewed as an insult or as an act of resistance.

In my mind, hacking a game is a compliment. It is a love letter to the game to like it enough to make it your own when it would be easier to use a system neutral setting or something already written for 5e. I want to continue posting about how I am hacking Symbaroum, but I am not sure if there is even an audience of people interested in this type of engagement. I hope that I can make the setting more accessible to GMs by creating tools that I will use at my table and by sharing Actual Play reports of how we are engaging with the setting. I hope that my engagement is viewed not as an insult to the system, but as a contribution to the community.

5e Symbaroum – Session Zero AP

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A few players were running late, so I decided to open the session with a discussion on expectations/hopes about the campaign. Most of the players I had met with prior to session zero, to talk about my intentions for the campaign and hear if they had any concerns with my choice to limit the game to human characters and to introduce some game hacks. As a group, the four players present talked about what they were excited about:

  • The darker setting/tone and the idea that magic is somewhat taboo
  • Playing at a physical table & playing with a more serious tone – not adventure zone
  • Having a regular time to get out of the house to hang out with friends, hoping for a longer campaign
  • Exploring the setting and learning more about the mechanics that we will be hacking into 5e

I was grateful that the players were excited about many of the same things that I was hopeful to do with the campaign. I think that meeting with them ahead of time to discuss my aspirations about the campaign was helpful to get everyone on the same page during session zero.

After one player discussed mechanics, I told the group that I did not want to run a game where character optimization or balanced encounters were a core focus. I shared a bit about the fact that while I do know the rules and want the rules to guide 95% of what happens at the table, I believe that game tone is the most important element. That as long as we have a shared understanding about the tone of the setting, that we can each enjoy the game and have varied sessions that speak to the interests of each player. I want combat to be fun, but I will not usually prepare a series of “set-piece” encounters for any given session. Further, if there are times when we aren’t sure how the rules would work in a particular situation, I will want us to discuss it as a table and choose the option that best fits into the established tone and fiction.


I transitioned us into gameplay by passing out pregenerated “level 10” characters. I used a stripped down character sheet for each one that only had a handful of attributes, abilities, and values. I told my players that we would be playing with cinematic rules for the purposes of this session zero. I had prompted them by emailing that we would be playing out a historic vignette that would have occurred a generation prior to our campaign. I elaborated on this idea at the table, by giving some narration:

“You are elite troops who have spent your lives fighting a generational war against the Dark Lords. A few years ago the king died and the young queen, only 12, picked up his spear and has led the charge against the undead foes. Unfortunately, despite all the gains of late, the young queen was captured within the past month. This loss has galvanized the army, and now you are with a group of templars leading the charge against the Vampire’s Castle where the queen is being held.”

I asked the players to name their pre-gen characters, letting them know that north-east European names would be the norm. We ended up with: Peter Petchkoff, Piotr Metchnik, Akman, Gregor, and (after Gregor died) Irena.

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Scene 1 – Undead Masses

“A trebuchet payload breaches the tower nearest your position, the four of you run through the opening before the stonework crumbles behind you. You are isolated from your battalion. Ahead of you in the dark tower you see one of The Undying. He speaks words of arcane power that awaken the many servitors along the two walls. These skeletal troops wear the armor of your nation, they are the animated corpses of your fallen comrades. The air reeks of carrion and decay. A blue circle fades into life and the Mage disappears, teleportation magic. The circle is still active, but fading. What do you do?”

I had miniatures set out on the table, the players were on one end of a hallway. Each side of the hall had 8 zombie/skeletons and one giant flesh golem. The teleportation circle was about 40 feet away from them. After initiative was rolled, only one player was able to act prior to the horde. The greataxe wielding fighter (Akman) took out two of the lesser undead, and then all the players were swarmed. The masses of foes didn’t do too much damage, but the golems began pounding away at the heroes. The wizard summoned a wall of fire, killing eight undead and wounding a flesh golem. The cleric healed one of the fighters who had been struck by the flesh golem, and then ran towards the portal. The others fought as they could, Akman realized that one of the zombies was the animated corpse of his brother, who had fallen in combat against the Dead Nation. The wizard ended up isolated on one side of the room, and both flesh golems charged him. They pounded poor Gregor into the ground as the other three characters stepped into the teleportation circle.

Scene 2 – War Room & Hallway

“You emerge from the teleportation circle into a round room, ringed with similar circles of power. They are all dull & inert, the one you stepped out from fades to grey. The center of the room holds a heavy wooden table, covered with maps, books and other objects. It appears to be a war room, a place of strategizing. The room is ringed with leaded glass windows. The sounds of the siege echo from far below. You realize you are near the top of the main keep. Some burning pitch flies past the window, exploding in a blaze against a nearby tower. There is one large door leading out from this room. A trail of fresh blood leads from a nearby teleportation circle through the ajar door. What do you do?”

The group took a moment to mourn for Gregor before heading towards the door to scout. They discovered a hallway leading to a large door about 50’ away at the opposite end. Another large door was midway down on the left wall, and a small reinforced door was set into the right wall near the far end. Voices could be heard down the hallway from the room at the end.

The group listened first at the door to the left. They heard numerous footsteps running away from the door. The blood trail led through this door.

The characters proceeded to the reinforced door, and heard a rattle of chains within. At this point, I turned to the player who had been playing as Gregor and told him that he was a woman in her late 20’s who had been captured along with the queen. I asked him what class he was, and he chose to be a rogue named Irena. I said that Irena has been plotting her escape these last few weeks, and has learned how to work her chains loose.

We had a good scene with Irena asking the party who they were with the opening question “Are you the Dead or the Living?” before freeing her from her captivity.

The cleric (Petchkoff) soon convinced Irena that they were allies, but the commotion of the conversation alerted the well-trained ears of the vampire steward in the next room. Filip the steward appeared in the doorway, receiving an arrow to the chest and an axe blow to boot. The party was dissuaded that their blows seemed to barely hinder the vampire, who then bit the fighter and regained his full health.

Petchkoff held forward his holy symbol and channeled his divinity, Prios the Lightbringer. Instead of a normal turning a miracle then occurred, waves of sun fire filled the hallway and reduced Filip to a pile of smoking ash. After the blinding brilliance faded, the cleric found that the holy symbol he held was now a sphere that appeared as a sun.

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Scene 3 – The Dark Lord’s Chamber

“In the silence following the miracle of Prios, you each feel something vibrating the very air of this hallway. In tune with your own heartbeats, the very chamber before you seems to thrum with a heart of it’s own. Beyond the charred doorway you behold a large octagonal chamber with an enormous black iron chandelier hanging far above. The chandelier holds enormous red wax candles that burn crimson. Each candle seems to contain a skeletal corpse within the wax. Opposite you is an enormous bronze and iron sarcophagus set against the far wall. Nex to that chamber is a smaller door, where Irena believes the queen to be held. Laughter fills the chamber, as the Dark Lord whispers telepathic promises of death to each of you.”

Akman ran to investigate the crypt while Metchnik, Petchkoff, & Irena opened the door to the queen’s cell. They freed the queen, who was extremely weak and frail from torture and starvation. She reached out a hand to Metchnik, asking who it was that freed her and offering her blessing against the dark lord. Metchnik received her boon, standing up and applying a vial of blessed oil to both of his short swords.

The sarcophagus opened releasing a thin fog and ten ghasts. The cleric cast holy aura, giving advantage to his allies and disadvantage to the undead foes. After a round of fighting, the fog thickened such that all were effectively blinded. In this chaos, a few ghasts were slain. In the following round, the chandelier flames roared as a deep arcane voice boomed out from the crypt. The flames seemed to depart from the candles, each character saw in their peripheral vision the apparitions of many flaming skeletons flying through the room, but they could never see one clearly, only in their peripheral vision.

These flaming wraiths seared away some of the fog, reducing it from heavy to light. In the light fog, they witnessed a 10’ tall hulking vampire lord emerge from the crypt.

During each round of combat, I described sounds of an approaching force of templars. As the lord emerged, the templars were attempting the breach the iron portcullis that closed off the chamber after the players entered.

The players fought a last round of combat against the giant vampire. Metchniks’ blessed blades seemed particularly effective, and the dark lord’s skin blistered where the blades cut him. The lord spoke arcane words and suddenly appear as multiple identical images. The lord then pointed at Irena and spoke words of death and disease. Irena was reduced to 4hp after failing her con save.

At this point we faded to cutscene, narrating the resolution of the battle as the templars entered the chamber. I worked in the prep questions (below) to the players as they narrated the resolution of their characters.


We talked about these events being part of the lore of the world, and I told the players that they could narrate the fate of each of the characters and also describe whether there was any link between their campaign character and their pre-gen. We had some really good discussion around this topic, the players all really loved Gregor the Wizard who died in the first scene. Since Irena the Rogue was at 4 hp, the player decided that she was mortally wounded in the upcoming fight. He was somewhat gleeful and chuckled “I’ve never had two characters die in one session before!”

With the rest of the time, the players created their lvl 1 characters for our upcoming campaign. They each rolled for attributes and together chose to play two Fighters, a Paladin, a Rogue, and a Cleric.

The only prep I really did for this whole session was writing the following four questions, some of them I was able to get into a scene but the rest of them were answered during the end narration:

  1. You come face to face with your brother, now raised to serve as undead in the dark lord’s army.
    1. How does he appear to you?
    2. What family heirloom do you recover from his body?
  2. In the tower of the dark lord, in a moment of respite you notice an ancient tome of power.
    1. Is it in a script that you understand?
    2. Does anyone see you take it?
  3. Surrounded by skeletal foes, you surge with the holy fire of Prios. After the blaze recedes, a blessed object now rests in your hand.
    1. What form did the holy artifact take?
    2. Was it handed over to the church or kept secret?
  4. After rescuing the queen from her captors, the queen gave you a boon.
    1. What did you ask for?
    2. How did it go awry?

I used the Blood tables in Kabuki Kaiser’s Castle Gargantua to come up with descriptions of the rooms.

Art from Sam Bosma and Lord Baltimore

52 Card Deck of 5e Magic Items

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I was running a one-shot where I wanted to give out magic items more readily than I normally would, so I prepared this list and slapped a deck of cards on the table. When players looted the corpses of each big bad, they would draw a card from the deck and I would tell them what they got from this table. It was fun.

Card Suite Object
K Hearts ELVEN CHAIN
Q Hearts BRACERS OF DEFENSE
J Hearts ARMOR, +1
K Spades SWORD OF DAWN
Q Spades GIANT SLAYER
J Spades WEAPON, +2
K Clubs MANTLE OF SPELL RESISTANCE
Q Clubs WAND OF THE WAR MAGE, +2
J Clubs RING OF SPELL STORING
K Diamonds RING OF PROTECTION
Q Diamonds IOUN STONE
J Diamonds CLOAK OF DISPLACEMENT
9-10 Hearts SHIELD, +1
7-8 Hearts CLOAK OF PROTECTION
5-6 Hearts ADAMANTINE ARMOR
3-4 Hearts MITHRAL ARMOR
2 Hearts CLOAK OF ELVENKIND
1 Hearts BOOTS OF ELVENKIND
A -10 Spades Weapon +1
10 Clubs Scroll (Arcane)
9 Clubs Scroll (Arcane)
8 Clubs Scroll (Arcane)
7 Clubs Scroll (Divine)
6 Clubs Scroll (Divine)
5 Clubs Scroll (Divine)
4 Clubs WAND OF THE WAR MAGE, +1
3 Clubs WAND OF MAGIC DETECTION
2 Clubs STONE OF GOOD LUCK (LUCKSTONE)
1 Clubs WAND OF MAGIC MISSILES
10 Diamonds ROPE OF CLIMBING
9 Diamonds RING OF JUMPING
8 Diamonds KEOGHTOM’S OINTMENT
7 Diamonds IMMOVABLE ROD
6 Diamonds GOGGLES OF NIGHT
5 Diamonds GEM OF BRIGHTNESS
4 Diamonds EVERSMOKING BOTTLE
3 Diamonds ELEMENTAL GEM
2 Diamonds DRIFTGLOBE
1 Diamonds BAG OF HOLDING

Chaotic Villains

This is a continuation of a conversation with Aaron that began over social media.

I have been thoroughly schooled in moral relativism, so it is often difficult for me to introduce one-dimensional “Big Bad” villains into my games. Generally, I think this is for the best as it positions players in a way that they have to make hard decisions between two opposing viewpoints. In that vein, I wanted to explore some of the common motivations that tend towards Chaos and then to imagine what a villain who embodies each motivation might look like.

A word of warning, some of this stuff might be X-Card material or otherwise triggering.


david-and-bathsheba-ii-1985

Sensuality

All know the allure of this force. It can whisper softly in the night, but can also shoot straight as an arrow. Many are willing to temper their otherwise lawful tendencies to indulge in this element of self-indulgent chaos. For example, the king no longer tends to the affairs of state now that he has a new concubine who keeps him away from his throne.

A villain could deplete the treasury to partake in his vice, allow his kingdom to fall into chaos through neglect. A villain could be unsatisfied with simple pleasure and resort to more and more sadistic acts. A villain could seek out specific targets that remind him of his first true love. An army might commit acts of rape upon a conquered populace. A group might be willing to commit other crimes to keep their unconventional practices a secret.

Movies: Dogville (by Lars Von Trier), Lust, Caution (by Ang Lee), Eyes Wide Shut (by Stanley Kubrick)

Stories: King David & Bathsheba, Lancelot & Guinevere, Helen & Paris


Euphoria

Some seek temporary relief by indulging in alchemical or pharmaceutical remedies. Often, this begins innocently enough or by using a substance as prescribed but quickly escalates into a dependency. Once addiction is established, all manner of actions become justified in order to secure another dose.

Villains will hurt innocents and the helpless in order to indulge. Other moralities become secondary to the addiction. The amount of substance required to achieve the same effect increases over time. The villain might act at the behest of another, who controls the supply.

Media: Drugstore Cowboys, Trainspotting, Requiem for a Dream


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Adrenaline

The allure of the battle is something very real, some people never feel more alive that when they are engaged in a stressful situation for which they have been prepared. Those who embrace this as a vice would seek out conflict without reason.

This villain might approach be prone to over-reaction, perhaps a lord resorting to violence over trivial matters. This villain might resort to other vices to stimulate the adrenal rush such as dog-fighting, hunting, martial tournaments, dueling, gladiatorial games, torture, etc.

Inspiration: Hurt Locker (film), Robert Baratheon (GoT), The Most Dangerous Game (film)


batten Lion

Nature

The natural world is cruel and uncaring. The strongest, fastest, and most resourceful are rewarded with the spoils of their victory. There is no moralizing in this jungle, the only logic is that of the hunt.  Strength is a moral absolute, victory is black and white. All disputes are resolved with contest. The victor carries neither guilt nor shame.

This villain believes that “law” has perverted the base nature of man. That society has grown away from its tribal animalistic roots. Wards of the state, the old, the ill are all viewed with disdain and the villain will deal with them as one would deal with a pest. This villain does not act with chivalry and tosses aside moral codes, he views morality as a tool of the system. His goal is his own liberation, to act with freedom and without conscience. He also believes that he is acting to rid the world of the cancer that is “lawfulness” with its false moralities.


Autonomy

Hell is other people. These are the people who cannot stand being told what to do, being beholden to another, or being forced to participate. Even if they see the reason for the requirement, they will do the opposite out of spite. They will lash out at any perceived authority, and take even casual offers of advice or suggestion as an unwanted imposition of will.

These villains will reject any compromise. They will use others, but will never willingly subjugate themselves to another. They might work with someone else if they believe that they have the upper hand, or if they believe themselves to be manipulating the other party. They might strive to lord over others, as in a gang or in an autonomous holding. They might seek isolation in wilderness or in an urban expanse such as an empty library or abandoned catacomb. They might have information that they are unwilling to share or responsibility (as by blood) that they are unwilling to fulfill.


I feel confidant that there are more motivations that would lead one towards chaos. It could be fruitful to see what you all think about Chaotic alignment. I skipped some motivations that felt like “low-hanging fruit” and I tried to steer away from echoing the seven deadly sin model. What do your chaotic villains look like? What other sources of media do you think could inspire a chaotic villain?

Running One Thousand Dead Babies w/ 5e

I statted up some 5e dudes to use w/ One Thousand Dead Babies by Zzarchov Kowolski


Brigand      HP 11, AC 12, Avg. Stats (10).
25xp         Shortsword (+3 d6+1), Light Crossbow (+3 d8+1)

Cultist      HP 9, AC 12, Avg. Stats (10).
25xp         Shortsword (+3 d6+1),
             Dark Devotion. Advantage on saves vs. charm or fright

Ruffian      HP 16, AC 14, Avg. Stats (12), Perception 11.
100xp.       Multi-Attack. Shortsword (+4 d6+2), Shortbow (+4 d6+2)

Elf Scout    HP 16, AC 13, Dex 16, Nature/Survival +4, Stealth/Perception +6.
100xp        Multi-Attack. Shortsword (+5 d6+3), Shortbow (+5 d6+3)

Wolf         HP 11, AC 13, Dex 15, Stealth +4, Perception 13. Speed 40ft.
50xp         Bite (+4 2d4+2)
             Keen Senses. Advantage on Perception Checks
             Pack Tactics. Advantage on attack rolls if an ally is within 5ft of target.

Beast        HP 26, AC 13, Str & Dex 15, Perception 13.
200xp        Multi-Attack. Bite and Claw (+4 d8+2)
             Pounce – If charge 20ft and hit with claw, DC 13 Str test or prone

Evil MU      HP 22, AC 12, Int 17, Str 8, Perception 11. Spells +5, DC 13.
300xp        Cantrips: Light, Shocking Grasp, Chill Touch
             1st Level (4 slots): Charm Person, Mage Armor, Magic Missile
             2nd Level (3 slots): Hold Person, Misty Step, Darkness

Witch        HP 28, AC 14, Wis 17, Str 8, Perception 14. Spells +5, DC 13.
300xp        Cantrips: Druidcraft, Thorn Whip, Poison Spray
             1st Level (4 slots): Charm Person, Faerie Fire, Fog Cloud
             2nd Level (3 slots): Heat Metal, Spike Growth, Flaming Sphere

Cleric        HP 30, AC 16, Wis 17, Dex 8, Perception 14. Spells +5, DC 13.
300xp         Cantrips: Thaumaturgy, Light, Sacred Flame
              1st Level (4 slots): Bless, Command, Inflict Wounds
              2nd Level (3 slots): Hold Person, Spiritual Weapon, Silence

Evil Knight  HP 52, AC 18, Str/Con 16, History/Religion/Intimidation +5
700xp        Multi-Attack. Greatsword (+5 2d6+3), Heavy Crossbow (+2 d10)
             Dark Devotion. Advantage on saves vs. charm or fright
             Leadership. All allies in LOS get d4 on attack rolls and saves for 1 min.
             Parry (reaction). Add 2 to AC against one melee attack that would hit.

Half-Goat    HP 76, AC 11, Str/Wis 18, Perception 17. Darkvision 60ft.
700xp        Multi-Attack. Spear (+6, d8+4) Gore (+6, d8+4)
             Reckless. Gain advantage on all attacks, all attacks against have Adv.

Symbaroum Names

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Thanks Tore for linking me to a list on names for Symbaroum written in the mother tongue.

Ambrier, män Ambrier, kvinnor Barbarer, män
Ader Abesina Adelar
Afadir Adso Alomar
Agani Agathara Arastor
Agramai Agathara Arbusal
Akman Agna Arok
Alamei Ala Aroun
Alavan Aledra Ashfaru
Aldamal Alevia Belun
Alesaro Ana Didramon
Alkantor Ana Dvarak
Almagast Anabela Embersind
Almegaster Anadea Erlaber
Aluin Aragina Gadramar
Ansel Aranitra Gadramon
Anselg Ardetta Galarman
Arelo Asmerda Goroun
Argalo Ava Goured
Argasto Belda Haldron
Argoi Belina Haloban
Argolai Berelin Helionor
Arkali Darda Herek
Arkel Deseba Hoska
Arkerio Desidera Karona
Arno Edria Kodamar
Aro Elindra Konarad
Balon Elionara Leonod
Bartho Elmea Lothar
Bartolo Elvea Ludo
Bartolom Esbetha Maiesticar
Baumelo Esmerelda Malkor
Belago Eufrynda Malrek
Belgo Fabia Manvar
Benefo Fekla Meomaar
Beniam Felega Monovar
Beremo Feona Nikanor
Bolgo Gamalga Odaban
Budol Garala Odalbagar
Cornelio Gerda Odar
Dario Gidia Orameo
Dastan Hurela Orondo
Davidos Hurelia Rábaiamon
Dekamedo Illeva Ranomar
Deledo Illoena Razameaman
Demetro Ireba Taran
Dodramos Isedra Tharaban
Dodrian Jela Vikomer
Dolani Jerea Vikomer
Eberon Kadra Yakobor
Edo Karenia Zoltar
Edogai Katia
Edrafin Katrandama Barbarer, kvinnor
Efram Keitara Adela
Efryn Klarana Agdala
Eglio Koldra Agniesha
Elfeno Korinthia Agshela
Emundi Kumuma Aloeta
Enio Kyhara Aroaleta
Eran Landela Barrvalg
Erdaro Lea Bayela
Ero Lesena Efereneya
Erok Lestra Elbla
Eskander Levia Elda
Eumenos Lida Elinara
Faraldo Lindra Elmea
Fenio Losadra Galoma
Flavus Lukresia Girind
Gadramei Lupina Horosa
Galamar Lysindra Karla
Galeno Marbela Karona
Garasto Marka Kora
Geleto Marla Magdala
Gerek Mehira Miesma
Gidjabolgo Melena Oryela
Golonas Melga Saadar
Goncai Merandra Tyrana
Gorakai Mireda Verama
Gormdan Mirela Vikona
Grafoldo Moria Yagaba
Grego Neferena Yahela
Grendol Nodla Yeleta
Haas Ofelya Yerola
Hadaro Ofera
Handelo Ordelia Bortbytingar, män
Harasto Perela Aka
Harulo Petrona Alahara
Hedero Purgida Ardri
Hen-Loan Ragama Eneáno
Herado Ranid Feon
Herakleo Redeira Galfenio
Herdol Reganna Ganderald
Hide Revina Goriol
Hurian Rilia Grimorio
Iakobo Roia Ibliglin
Iasogoi Salindra Kalfu
Idaros Sarli Klagander
Ilantro Sefira Radomaramei
Isokles Selima Sinue
Jakad Senia
Jeseebegai Serafia Bortbytingar, kvinnor
Joab Serela Ardeánmei
Jomilo Shanda Bekora
Junio Solora Danive
Kaglio Sunna Elorinda
Kalio Suria Hinéua
Karasto Tanfalls Kinlegelana
Kargoi Tariella Niha
Karlio Tealia Riamata
Karon Teira Roha
Karstak Tenid Seanua
Keler Tredella Segvilla
Keroldo Tya Sibela
Keros Vania Varaneia
Kerpano Vanoya Yeloéna
Kheltran Variol
Khenad Verola Troll, yngre
Klamando Vidina Abalog
Klamandro Vilga Aka
Klarag Voldara Aroha
Klavman Erula
Korian Svartalfer, män Hibne
Kranke Alfbolg Ogaloum
Kullinan Barra Ogmaka
Kvarek Ederlug Raham
Laguboi Gabba Riomata
Lasifor Garm Skadal
Lenn Godalg Verhar
Leogoi Goltas
Leohan Idelfons Troll, äldre
Malgai Illefons Aravarx
Mallianos Iold Etaxa
Malmedo Ler Gormyx
Manselm Lurks Noxar
Marvalom Mogga Ognyx
Marvello Olf Onrax
Mergai Prosk Rirbax
Milos Rosti Uhux
Morlam Shigg Vouax
Mullando Shuggludd
Myndol Tengel Alver, män
Nefer Tulga Alal-Roak
Nilos Ugtuls Dareol
Odako Ul Dorael-ri
Ogval Ulofin Eloan-eo
Onedar Urfons Elori
Orai Eneánor
Oreago Svartalfer, kvinnor Godrai
Orlan Aa Ka’eroan
Oromal Fenya Kil-Ano
Pegel Fosa Mearoel
Pellio Fura Renn
Peonios Guhula Saran-Ri
Pergalo Harbassas Tel-Keriel
Piromei Hugalea
Pirosander Nigra Alver, kvinnor
Plendel Njegg Adreanea
Radomei Njekka Ahara-vei
Ralgai Tulga Áleia
Ramigal Udelia Eleanea
Rogan Ufa Gaina-Anali
Sandros Ulehalfa Gealóna
Sarfas Wamba Keri-Las
Sarkomal Ydelia Léa-Kin
Sarogai Yla Leiána
Sarvola Yppa Mael-Melian
Seldonio Naelial
Semel Resar Tara-kel
Seralo Arme Teara-Téana
Seraon Bälga
Serex Barske Dvärgar
Sesario Bauta Artak
Sikander Berge Artek
Skanander Bjässe Bolkor
Talk Brute Brana
Tallios Fuling Dobril
Tamilo Grymkäft Dranek
Tamri Kallhamra Dusa
Tandrag Klagga Ella
Tarleo Kluds Fullangra
Taubio Knöle Jarok
Teoman Manaloum Kasimer
Terr Mangold Kertel
Tonsel Ofreden Lazek
Ulde Ogina Margor
Vallomei Omaka Mirek
Valtos Otymple Radmil
Vendal Proppmätt Stana
Venhal Särling Vesnek
Vernam Stalke Vlador
Ynedar Storkräket Yaruk
Styggnacke
Alvtagna, män Sumpa
Arron Svarten
Awan Ukoul
Beo Urbota
Eral Uwulgas
Gaer Vrede
Kael Vyssja
Lo
Mael
Orel
Tham
Tir
Alvtagna, kvinnor
Anga
Beha
Erli
Fera
Inda
Lonam
Una
Undi
Vird

I’m Crawling, but am I in a Sandbox?

25-Clarke--cover-for-Lennox-Robinson-s-plays--1923

I see a lot of people use the term “sandbox” with very different tones. I see it used to describe games that are aimless journeys with no chance at meaningful character development. Alternatively, I see lots of content come out for sandbox adventures. I see sandbox prep as a solution to complaints about “railroad” stories or instances when the GM is strictly controlling the plot.

I have lots of books about Sandboxes, namely:

I am not sure if I know what a “sandbox” really is. It seems like people use it for a lot of different things. If it exists along a spectrum, what is on the other side?

I think that the core concept of a “sandbox” for me is the idea that the GM spends time prepping materials that can be used regardless of what players end up doing.

“Oh you want to go to the tiny settlement that I didn’t actually name instead of the major town that all my plot hooks are pointing you towards? Good thing I am running this sandbox.”

I think that sandbox prep involves writing random tables, npc names, rumors, random adventure hooks, npc’s to meet on the road, or whatever other events, characters, locations, etc. you want to have populating your world. But does sandbox prep have to be random? 

Is the opposite of sandbox prep, then, to read and run a module without considering these other things? How can a point-crawl also be a sandbox?

Aaron Griffin theorized that “all games are sandboxes,” in the sense that there is always an amount of the infinite that is possible. Instead, Aaron postulated that a more useful axis would have GM-driven plot at one end and player-driven plot at the other.

That spectrum makes sense to me, with module or scenario prep being GM-driven prep and sandbox prep allowing for the GM to have content regardless of whatever the players decide to do.

What does sandbox mean to you?