The Rise of Tiamat, session 5

The Tomb of Diderius. The Serpent Hills.

The adventurers had rested following their discovery of the secret entrance leading to the yuan-ti tunnels, and they were now ready to proceed. As the secret door opened, it revealed six lizardfolk guarding the door, who sprang to attack the adventurers. They were not the greatest threat, and soon dispatched. One was taken captive, and left behind, tied up, after revealing only a little about the passages ahead.

A more dangerous situation presented itself as a slender bridge, slippery due to its dampness and large patches of moss, was the only way to reach a group of lizardfolk supported by yuan-ti archers. Unfortunately for the snake-people, Ice was getting more comfortable using fire magic, and fireball spells inflicted more damage than their arrows did in return. Danger might have waited below the bridge, but no-one slipped off, even as they walked across without roping each other together! (Seriously, it’s astonishing to see the incredibly high rolls this group can make at times when it would be quite bad for them to roll low… although, they’re very good at rolling low in combat. And especially at rolling high for initiative and then low for attack rolls!)

The group continued straight ahead when they came to a side passage, and so came to a large meditation chamber, with twin statues of two yuan-ti gods, as well as two suits of armour. Gems glittered in the eyes of the statues, attracting the attention of the adventurers, especially Ice, who was very eager to pry them from their sockets. When that was attempted, however, a multitude of snakes slithered from the walls into the suits of armour, animating them and causing the adventures some discomfit at, not only would they be struck, they would be poisoned as well! A little curative magic was needed afterwards, but the snakes were destroyed and the gems gained, so the adventurers were happy.

Another group of yuan-ti and lizardfolk confronted the adventurers as they came across some living quarters, but they hardly proved a threat, as they were surprised by the adventurers and soon subdued.

Pressing onwards, the adventurers avoided a trap, then proceeded through a secret door into the yuan-ti’s prison complex, which was quite empty of prisoners. Where was the Wyrmspeaker?

In fact, he was in the very next chamber! However, he was not alone: several yuan-ti, including their priestess, were awaiting the arrival of the adventurers. The adventurers chose not to immediately attack, instead listening to the demands of the priestess. The demands were slight: she only wanted for them to leave the lair without killing any other yuan-ti, in exchange, they’d let them have Varram – although he would be under an enchantment that would kill him if the adventurers broke their word. The group considered the situation, and agreed, taking Varram… and with Mordechai picking up their lizardfolk prisoner on the way back. The enchantment was lifted in a little while, and they bundled Varram up for delivery back to the Council of Waterdeep… and his interrogation. His Mask of Dragons was nowhere in sight, and he revealed that it had been retrieved by the Cult and taken to the Well of Dragons.

Just before the group left, Mordechai returned back to the Tomb, filled the pool of prophecy, and sacrificed the lizardfolk captive to learn the location of the Draakhorn. (Lawful Evil characters apparently have little respect for intelligent life!) He was disappointed by the result, however: it, too, had been taken to the Well of Dragons, the stronghold of the Cult of the Dragon. The adventurers were not prepared to go there just yet, but it is likely that the day is coming…

Posted in D&D, D&D 5E, D&D Adventurers League, Session Report, Tyranny of Dragons | Leave a comment

Pathfinder Adventure Review: Daughters of Fury

Daughters of Fury is an adventure for level 3 characters using the Pathfinder system. It is designed by Victoria Jaczko, the winner of the 2014 RPG Superstar competition that Paizo runs on an annual basis, and is the adventure she won the competition with. It has the normal, high production values you expect from Paizo, and includes a small, double-sided poster map that illustrates a couple of the adventure locations.

The book is 64 pages long. The adventure itself takes up 49 pages and there are three appendices: a description of the mining town where the adventure takes place, a bestiary of four new monsters designed by the finalists of the Superstar competition, and 28 new magic items also designed in the competition.

I do not like the adventure’s story. It revolves around the corruption of an innocent half-orc woman by an erinyes. That, in itself, is not a problem. The problem lies in its complete disregarding of Pathfinder lore. The erinyes comes up with a scheme that takes twenty years to come to fruition. Meanwhile, from the Bestiary entry on Erinyes: “Yet despite their beauty, erinyes are not seducers—they lack the subtlety and patience required for such fine emotional manipulations, and instead vastly prefer to solve their problems with swift and excruciating violence.” This is a disconnect between how erinyes are described and how they are used in the adventure.

This might be acceptable if the story otherwise made sense. However, it doesn’t. The erinyes wants to convert the half-orc, Vegazi, to an erinyes. Not now, but in twenty years. Vegazi apparently possesses the type of good soul that makes the best sort of erinyes.

The erinyes, Shayle, comes to Vegazi’s mother and offers her power in exchange for one of her children, twenty years hence. Kelseph, the mother, accepts, thinking it would be one of her sons the erinyes wants, but not caring either way. In the chaos of Kelseph’s rise to power, Vegazi escaped and then lived in the wild for 20 years, which is when the adventure begins. The bargain is now due, Kelseph doesn’t know where Vegazi is and – for some unknown reason – bargains her own soul away for extra time to find her, and sends her tiefling children out to find her daughter. Shayle’s eventual end-game is to cause Vegazi to sacrifice herself in Shayle’s name to stop Kelseph’s attacks on a local village; this sacrifice will cause Vegazi to become an Erinyes herself.

So, for a devil that lacks “subtlety and patience”, we get this crackpot scheme for corrupting a half-orc. Given that half-orcs reach middle-age at 30 and old age at 45, the 20-year plan also seems entirely too long a timespan. Of course, we also have the conclusion of the adventure – but more on that later.

If you can accept this scheme and begin running the adventure, the plot works like this:

The adventurers come across the ending stages of a battle between devils and a party of the local villagers; the villagers are dead, but the remaining devils are fighting Vegazi, who came down from the hills to help the villagers. It turns out that the leader of the village was slain in the attack, and once the group get to the village, they discover (a) the villagers distrust half-orcs, and (b) they’ll soon be in the middle of another devil attack. Once that’s dealt with, it’s into a small dungeon to deal with the person responsible for the attack, who is one of Vegazi’s sisters, a tiefling. (Kelseph had further children after rising to power).

The second chapter sees the group escorting outlying farmers back to the dubious safety of the village, while a tiefling druid (another of Vegazi’s sisters) causes trouble for them. Once back in the village, the Erinyes sends a curse devil to curse a few of the townsfolk, hoping to covertly cause Vegazi to realise that her very presence in the village puts the villagers in danger. Note that Vegazi doesn’t live in the village, and doesn’t visit it.

The final chapter has the group taking on Vegazi’s mother and final children, and then persuading Vegazi that she shouldn’t sacrifice herself to save the village. This last is handled by the relationship mechanics from Ultimate Campaign, which is to say, you get points during the adventure for doing various things and lose points for other things. If the points are in your favour, you persuade Vegazi! Or you could handle it by roleplaying, a task made more difficult by there being about no description of Vegazi’s character anywhere. Even after putting together all the scattered information from the relationship system together, she’s still very much a cypher – which is a massive problem when the story is centered on her.

The individual encounters and scenes of the adventure aren’t that bad, but the story is a disaster. Shayle comes off as a complete idiot; she has two goals: to corrupt Vegazi and gain a foothold in the orc tribes. By her actions, she destroys the second to try to achieve the first, and if she’d just gotten hold of Vegazi twenty years ago none of this would have happened. Is there something special about letting a half-orc soul simmer 20 years until its done?

Paizo generally puts out good adventures with good stories. This is not one of them.

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5E Adventure Review: Bandit’s Nest

Bandit’s Nest is a short adventure by Dan Coleman for 1st level characters presented for free as an example of his Dungeons on Demand Kickstarter. The PDF is 15 pages long, with one page used for the cover and the last page used for a very brief legal notice, apparently requested by Wizards of the Coast – a much nicer move than just shutting the Kickstarter down with a C&D letter!

The adventure concerns a band of kenku bandits who have recently captured a local villager, as well as conducting regular raids on local travellers. Three adventure hooks are presented: rescue the villager, find a stolen MacGuffin, or be raided by the Kenku (and follow them back to their lair).

The “nest” is an old, abandoned temple complex, with seven buildings surrounding a central area. A number of monsters and traps make up the encounters. There’s a nice amount of detail in the text, and the chaotic nature of the creatures is displayed by their poor responses to a sudden attack. Some of the encounters could be challenging – especially to a party who blunder into things – but it looks nicely balanced. There are one or two tricks to entertain the players, although the adventure generally leans towards not including a lot of weird stuff.

The maps are basic but effective, and the one piece of art it uses is excellent. The writing is generally good, but it would benefit from another pass by an editor; there are a number of instances where the words used aren’t quite correct, in addition to the text displaying poor sentence construction and several grammatical mistakes.

Overall, it’s a competent adventure, if not a spectacular one. It fulfils its promise of delivering a short adventure that can be easily dropped into an existing campaign, and it does so with some nice, inventive touches. It shows enough promise that I am very interested to see what Dan Coleman can do with the higher-level adventures he intends to write as part of his Kickstarter.

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D&D Adventurers League: Creating a character for the Elemental Evil season

The new season for the D&D Adventurers League is upon us! The new Encounters season, Princes of the Apocalypse, begins this Wednesday in a lot of stores (some might delay it just a bit), and there are two shiny new documents to peruse – the Elemental Evil Player’s Companion, and the D&D AL Player’s Guide.

All new characters must begin at Level 1 with 0 Experience Points.

In general, you follow the rules in either the Basic Rules or Player’s Handbook to create a character, but there are certain modifications for this process in the D&D AL Player’s Guide, which you really should read before beginning. Here’s a summary of what you need to know:

Story Origin: Each character has a story origin, which dictates which rules you can use for character creation. There are only two choices, and there are very few benefits from choosing Tyranny of Dragons. Your story origin is Elemental Evil. It allows you to use the following rules sources to create your character:

  • D&D Basic Rules (all rules except rolling ability scores and hit points, rolling for starting wealth, some alignment restrictions)
  • D&D Player’s Handbook (all rules except rolling ability scores and hit points, some alignment restrictions)
  • Princes of the Apocalypse appendices A and B
  • Elemental Evil Player’s Companion (all rules except aarakocra)
  • Monster Manual appendix A (beasts only)

At present there is no place to record the story origin (although the new character sheet has an elemental evil icon on it), but it can’t be changed, even if you rebuild your character.

Starting Equipment: The beginning equipment for your character is determined by the packages available through your character class and background. In the last version of the guide, you could take maximum gold and buy equipment. This is no longer an option. You must take the gear given to you in the packages. You can spend any gold you get from your background as you wish, however.

New Races: There are four new races in the Player’s Companion. Unfortunately, the Aarakocra is not available in D&D AL play. You can choose from the Deep Gnome, Genasi, or Goliath races if you took the Elemental Evil origin, in addition to the Player’s Handbook races. (If you play a human, you may use the variant human traits).

Ability Scores: You do not roll ability scores. Instead you can take the standard array or use customizing ability score variant in the PHB.

Alignment: You cannot choose Neutral Evil or Chaotic Evil. You may only choose Lawful Evil if you belong to the Zhentarim or Lords’ Alliance faction.

Factions: You may choose one faction to join: Emerald Enclave, Harpers, Lords’ Alliance, Order of the Gauntlet, or Zhentarim. They are described in the Player’s Guide.

Deities: You may choose one Deity from the Forgotten Realms or nonhuman deity list in the PHB.

All of this is described in authoritative fashion in the Player’s Guide. Download it to be sure of the rules! (This post is not authoritative!)

What adventures can you play?

Now you have your shiny new character, what can you play with it?

  • D&D Encounters begins on Wednesday 18th March in a lot of stores, playing through the first stages of the Elemental Evil campaign. Especially designed for low-level play, this is the obvious place to start.
  • D&D Expeditions have a number of offerings becoming available for play in public places. You can play any of the Tier 1 adventures from Tyranny of Dragons immediately, or wait until April 1st, when the first of the Elemental Evil adventures become available. DDEX2-1
    City of Danger is written especially for new characters (levels 1-2) and is a collection of five, short (1-hour) adventures. DDEX2-2
    Embers of Elmwood also caters for tier 1 play. More will become available over the next few months – see the schedule here.
  • Of course, you could just play through Princes of the Apocalypse when it becomes available in early April. (Note that D&D Encounters consists of the opening section of that adventure, and so you can get a preview of the adventure through the Encounters season).
  • Despite having an Elemental Evil character, all Tyranny of Dragons adventures are still legal to play – including Hoard of the Dragon Queen.
  • And the adventure in the Starter Set, Lost Mine of Phandelver is always legal to play for low-level characters!

Remember – as long as your character matches the tier (levels) of the adventure, you can play any D&D AL adventure with your character!

Princes of the Apocalypse

It is possible that there are additional story bonds and backgrounds in this adventure. Those playing D&D Encounters can check with their DM what options are available.

Posted in D&D, D&D 5E, D&D Adventurers League, Elemental Evil | 4 Comments

AD&D Adventure Review – DL2 Dragons of Flame

In July 1984, DL2: Dragons of Flame was published. Written by Douglas Niles, it was the second adventure in the Dragonlance Saga, an ambitious fourteen-part series of adventures that told a story about dragons returning to the world.

Dragons of Despair, the first adventure in the series, had been a spectacular success. This wasn’t the case with this adventure. It took a great story idea and showed exactly what problems could be caused by putting it into adventure form. The term “railroading”? It pretty much describes the opening section of this adventure. You could argue that DL1 also had railroading, but it wasn’t executed as poorly as in this adventure.

Of course, in 1984, the typical experience of most players of D&D was with sandbox campaigns or megadungeons: campaigns where player decisions were the drivers of the campaign. The Dragonlance adventures were introducing a new form of telling D&D stories. These days, we call this style of adventures an “adventure path”, but it was brand new back then.

Even so, Dragons of Flame pretty much deserves its poor reputation. It takes a heavy-handed approach to the adventure, forcing a lot of player actions. The first half has almost no player decisions at all. Instead, they’re at the mercy of the story. Get captured by the draconians. Get put on carts. Meet Gilthanis. Get rescued by the elves. Meet elves. Meet Laurana. Laurana captured. Party given mission. Adventure begins… why is it page 19 of 32 already?

The problems caused by the first half of the adventure almost obscure what an interesting scenario the second half presents. The Dragonarmies have taken a number of captives and brought them to the old fortress of Pax Tharkas. The heroes are sent to the keep to free the captives – and to provide a distraction to allow the Qualinesti elves to escape. The general selfishness and unlikeability of the elves is quite a surprise to those who had traditionally seen elves as being good-aligned in D&D. The task of rescuing the prisoners is complicated by the chief villain, Verminaard, being smart: he’s separated the men, women and children, so that the men won’t rebel without knowing their families are alright, and the children are being cared for by a senile red dragon, who thinks they are her own children. It’s an unusual scenario – really, a puzzle scenario – which must be solved by wits and role-playing instead of brute force-of-arms. An optional ending provides closure for if the adventure runs as planned (and the adventurers sneak the families out instead of fighting). Despite Douglas Niles’ name on the cover, this feels very much like something Tracy Hickman has developed.

Actually running this section is quite challenging. When you get down to it, it’s Verminaard and his dragons that are the problem, as there aren’t that many hobgoblins and draconians in the fortress, and those that are present can be isolated and killed – a little more difficult with the pregenerated characters, given that Raistlin is only a 4th-level magic-user at the time. However, fighting a red dragon with a lot of women and children about? Not that simple a task for good-aligned heroes!

The strength of this adventure is in its descriptions: plenty of text describing the fortress, the elves, and the main non-player characters. It’s very easy to properly describe the world to the players as a result.

There’s an additional wrinkle in this tale. You see, Dragonlance was the first time TSR had tried creating a multi-media property. (At that time, that meant adventures, novels and the odd calendar. AD&D computer games were still a few years away). The first Dragonlance novel, Dragons of Autumn Twilight came out in November 1984, only a few months after this adventure debuted – and before most people had run it. And so, a lot of potential players read the novel.

Dragons of Flame is the adventure of the series that is most like the novel. The later novels diverged greatly from the events of the adventures, but that wasn’t the case in the first book. Dragons of Despair is open enough that it doesn’t feel like you’re forced down the book’s path. Thanks to the railroading of the first half of the adventure, it really felt like you were forced to play the novel. And, unfortunately, a traitor gets introduced in Dragons of Flame… and the identity of the traitor is spoiled in the novel. The idea of the traitor is fantastic. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work if everyone knows who he is!

There must have been a moment when the designers realised what had happened. This led to two things: first, DL5, which acts as a sourcebook for the first four adventures, offers suggestions to change the identity of the traitor. And second, several of the later adventures gave multiple goals and endings, much like Tracy Hickman had done in Ravenloft, to ensure that players wouldn’t know exactly what was going on. It’s quite possible that Hickman would have done that anyway, but it did stop a repeat of the problem caused by the revelation of the traitor in the novel!

TSR put a lot of effort into these modules. The artwork is Dragons of Flame is very good; the maps likewise. The long poem, “The Canticle of the Dragon” adds two new verses to describe the heroics of the first adventure – something that, alas, never happens again – and a four-part elven hymn gives a good insight into the mindset of the elves.

Ultimately, despite a lot of good material, Dragons of Flame forces the players’ path too much. It’s quite close to being the weakest of the Dragonlance series. However, the next adventure would see the series move into uncharted terrain…

(The D&D 3E revision of this adventure has just been released on DNDclassics.com as part of the adventure Dragons of Autumn)

Posted in AD&D, D&D, Dragonlance, Review | 1 Comment

Elemental Evil Player’s Companion is available!

The Elemental Evil Player’s Companion is now available. It is a 25-page free pdf that contains 4 new races and 43 new spells.

The new races are Aarakocra, Deep Gnome, Genasi and Goliath.

Enjoy!

Posted in D&D, D&D 5E, Elemental Evil | 1 Comment

5E Adventure Review: The Business of Emotion

EN World have just launched a 5E-compatible “magazine” through Patreon called EN5ider, which will consist of various articles and the odd adventure. The first adventure, The Business of Emotion by Paul Oklesh, is available as a free download. The adventure is written for 3-5 adventurers of levels 2-3.

The adventure is presented in an 11-page document, and is nicely interested. The premise is intriguing: the village of Lanidor is suffering from an overdose of amorous affection. Simply put, they’re more interested in making love than anything else, and as a result have fallen behind on their trade contracts. Two potential hooks are given for the adventure: either the group are hired to discover what has happened to the adventure, or it’s just the next village they come to along the road.

The adventure has a mix of role-playing and combat encounters, as the players attempt to solve the mystery of the village (which isn’t that difficult). The balance of the combat encounters is problematic. A group of three 2nd-level characters have a good chance of absolutely being slaughtered by a CR 3 owlbear, let alone five CR 2 dire wolves. I would have much preferred if the adventure gave the baseline it was balanced for (four adventurers of level 3, for instance) and let the individual DM adjust encounters as needed. Especially for low-level adventures, characters are so fragile that special handling is needed; it doesn’t take much to overwhelm them.

The NPCs of the adventure need more definition. A sidebar of NPC descriptions manages to leave out a lot of important details about how to role-play them. One encounter with an aggressive man, Markus Dunwit, is poorly written. The encounter text just has Markus attacking if the PCs attract his ire – you have to go back to the previous page’s sidebar and read his NPC description to discover that he attacks if anyone returns his sweetheart’s advances. Given that the NPC descriptions pertain only to this encounter and are placed amongst the text of a completely different encounter, I’m not impressed. When there’s a lot of detail to the NPCs, it might be worth splitting important information, but that isn’t the case here.

The formatting of the adventure isn’t good. I absolutely despise columns of unequal width. It was tried for a few products in the late 90s in the Greyhawk setting before (thankfully) being retired, and its use here just makes it hard to determine what sections of the adventure are important. The adventure also has entirely too many font sizes, with the smaller font for tables and the even smaller font for NPC descriptions proving distracting rather than illuminating.

There are a few minor editing errors (“slight of hand” instead of “sleight of hand”, for instance), but generally the adventure reads well. There is little artwork, but what does appear is attractive.

Despite my problems with the adventure, most of them come from issues with its formatting rather than the adventure content itself. It’s not a bad adventure. It has an unusual situation and gives a good mix of role-playing, combat and exploration. I’d be very careful about the balance of the combat encounters when running it, but it’s unusual enough to give an entertaining session for you and your players.

Posted in D&D, D&D 5E, Review | 1 Comment