Greyhawk: A Look at Veluna

Veluna is a good-aligned theocracy in the World of Greyhawk, and the setting of my current Greyhawk campaign. It wasn’t originally, but it’s where the adventurers have ended up.

As a result, it behoves me to have a look at the country, and see what adventures it inspires.

I use two main sources for information on Veluna: the 1983 World of Greyhawk boxed set and the 2001 Living Greyhawk Gazetteer. Neither describes what is occurring in my campaign, as it is set 50 years after the 1983 set and 35 years after the 2001 set, but they have useful bits. I tend just to use what I like and discard the rest. Rao is the god of Veluna? Not a chance! It’s St Cuthbert – it fits my game better!

According to its original presentation, Veluna has 250,000 Humans, 10,000 High Elves and 7,000 Gnomes living within its borders. The capital is Mitrik (population 12,600), and its ruler is known as His Venerable Reverence, the Canon of Veluna, the Shepherd of the Faithful and, is a 19th level cleric. Seven noble families support the Archcleric, the Plar of Veluna being the foremost amongst them. The population numbers have gone up with each subsequent release – many think the population numbers are laughably low for every version of the setting!

Veluna is a realm that stands for Good and Law. It is allied with the realms of Bissel, Furyondy, and Highfolk and with the Gnomes of the Kron Hills. It participated in the fight against the Horde of Elemental Evil, and for some reason has sovereignty over Verbobonc, the Viscount being a willing vassal. Verbobonc is the largest population centre near to the ruins of the Temple of Elemental Evil.

This matter of Elemental Evil is key to the more recent history of the state. The daughter of the Plar of Veluna was betrothed to Prince Thrommel of Furyondy; however, he was abducted by agents of Elemental Evil. Alas, he was never rescued. In my Greyhawk campaign, the characters came across the “Tomb of Thrommel” from which they recovered Fragarach, his legendary sword. The builders of the tomb are, at this point, a mystery.

Furyondy and the Vesve Forest protect Veluna from the direct threat of Iuz, so the primary threats to Veluna come from the humanoids and giants of the Yatil Mountains and the raiders of Ket.

Interestingly, the ruler of Ket is known as the “Shield of the True Faith”, but as he’s of Baklunish descent, it’s particularly unlikely that it’s the same god as worshipped in Veluna. I’ve selected St Cuthbert as the deity for the Archclericy of Veluna. For Ket, we have Al’Akbar. This god isn’t mentioned in the 1983 set, but he’s one that has storied lore due to the Cup and Talisman of Al’Akbar, both magical artefacts described in the Dungeon Master’s Guide.

So, the threats that present themselves: Humanoids, giants, raiders from Ket, agents of Iuz, and internal factions. My initial story has heretics of St Cuthbert’s church stealing relics and holing up in an abandoned border fort. The adventurers need to recover the relics, and once they do, they’ll discover items that lead to the next plot thread.

Using the Cup and Talisman of Al’Akbar sounds interesting. The old adventure Day of Al’Akbar has no relationship to this campaign (or much else) and can be ignored.

Looking for inspiration from the player characters, the ones that instantly jump to mind as having potential plot hooks are:

  • a half-elf monk of Xan-Yae (a Baklunish goddess), who was exiled from the Vesve forest,
  • a Greyhawk noble, who likely has links to nobles in Veluna – he certainly does to those in Furyondy
  • a rogue, who links up with the Thieves’ Guild in each city he visits

So: heretics with stolen relics, the threat from Ket, internal politics and the work of agents of Iuz. Those sound like good potential areas to start with as I craft storylines the players can investigate. Let’s also see if I can weave in some character-driven stories as well!

Posted in D&D, Design, Greyhawk | 1 Comment

5E Adventure Review: Pride and Prejudice

The Mother Haggle’s Notice Board series on the DMs Guild aren’t typical adventures. Rather, they’re a collection of one-page scenarios which have an unusual format. Each scenario uses the following sections to describe the situation:

  • The Quest
  • The Core Problem
  • Plausible Complications
  • Unlikely Disasters

Each section has very little detail. Instead of a fully detailed adventure, you get a framework and inspirational elements; monsters are suggested where appropriate.

For those people like me, who grew up with the adventures produced by TSR, these scenarios seem strange and alien. However, the format comes from a different role-playing tradition, and it works very well if you’re comfortable improvising. A situation, a goal, some characters to interact with, and some complications to throw at the players to keep things interesting. That provides enough material to enable some very entertaining games.

My main problem with this collection, Pride and Prejudice, is its premise. The adventurers are hired by Mother Haggle to eliminate competition: “variant humans”, which is to say, humans with unusual powers. Eliminating or kidnapping innocents isn’t something that good characters will like, and even neutral characters should be uneasy. It’s a pity, as the situations are quite strong. Thankfully, you can remove Mother Haggle and then you have three scenarios that take a little problem-solving and negotiation to resolve, with the possibility of some combat to enliven matters.

The product includes a print-friendly version. There are a few typographical errors, such as “chlid” and “does’t”, and occasional infelicities of phrasing. However, there are also nice little jokes; having a pair of outlaws called Pyramus and Thisbe amuses me.

Pride and Prejudice isn’t a product for a DM who wants lots of detail, but if you’re happy to improvise, you may find these scenarios of some interest, both for their content and their presentation. Recommended.

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5E Adventure Review: The Horseman

The Horseman is the penultimate adventure of the Curse of Strahd season of the Adventurers League. It is a two-hour adventure, and it is a relief to return to the main storyline after the diversion of the last two adventures.

The story begins with the adventurers learning from Ixusaxa what is going on in the series. They learn that Esmae, the chief villain, is obsessed with Count Strahd. To become his true love, she has been gathering possessions belonging to Tatyana, which she intends to use in a ritual. She has cloaked her location with powerful magic, and only by finding and interrogating the last of Esmae’s servants, the Horseman, can the adventurers divine her true location.

This exposition is followed by one of the best scenes of the series: the villagers of Oraşnou going mad and killing each other. The Horseman has passed through town, and the adventurers must scramble to save their friends before the villagers perish due to their insanity. There is much potential for the Dungeon Master to make this incredibly horrifying, and the adventure suggests many scenes of madness and despair. You can elevate this into something special. I haven’t managed to, but the potential is there.

After dealing with the chaos in Oraşnou, the adventurers must chase the Horseman through the Quivering Forest. There they meet the last of the Greenhall Elves, who are defending themselves against awakened trees and treants. Sadly, there’s no role-playing in this encounter. Once the elves are saved, they leave without engaging in conversation. It’s a missed opportunity, especially as it would be a chance to reacquaint the party with Aya Glenmiir.

The final encounter pits the characters against the Horseman, a deformed mongrelfolk with incredible abilities. The setting is a cave shrine to Esmae, which contains enough psychically-imbued portraits of her to complete the quest.

The Horseman is extremely dangerous. He has a challenge rating of 10 and possesses both Legendary Actions and Lair Actions. His Mind Blast attack stuns opponents for 1 minute, with a DC 15 Intelligence save to avoid. He gets three melee attacks a round, each one dealing 24 damage. The lair actions may cause every adventurer to become frightened (DC 15 Wisdom save to avoid), or a fall of rocks may bury an adventure and leave them unable to act (DC 15 Dexterity to avoid, DC 10 Strength to break free). A guardian portrait also interferes with spellcasting. Is it too deadly for five level 7 adventurers, the baseline level of the adventure?

It could be a tremendously memorable encounter or a slaughter. Poor rolls from the adventurers may leave them unable to act for rounds. You need to be able to gauge the capabilities of your group and to adjust the Horseman’s abilities and tactics accordingly. The advice proffered for running it for a weak or very weak group is “remove the guardian portrait”. If you’re running a group of four fifth-level adventurers, you’ll need to do more than that to allow them to survive! However, players have found this one of the most memorable fights in the Adventurers League canon.

I find The Horseman has striking imagery, but the encounters aren’t always well constructed. The Horseman himself has a good backstory, but it’s very unlikely to come out in play. The role of Ixusaxa should probably have been taken by Sybil, who appears in the opening exposition, but has nothing to offer. It’s a problem with the structure of the series rather than the adventure in particular: a few too many characters, and information withheld from the players a little too long. The players learning Esmae’s goals in an earlier adventure would have given more context to the strange acts of her servants.

At least everything is now prepared for the finale!

Overall, The Horseman is a strong adventure, but one that requires a good DM at the helm to bring it to its potential. Recommended.

Posted in Curse of Strahd, D&D 5E, D&D Adventurers League, Review | Leave a comment

LCG Report: Legend of the Five Rings

One collectable card game that I was always interested in, but never managed to find players to play with, was Legends of the Five Rings, a card game that concentrated heavily on storytelling through its organised play events.

Now, the game has been redesigned and released in a Living Card Game format by Fantasy Flight Games. As I had a couple of people also interested in the game, I dived in and bought it, and have now played a handful of games.

The game is set in a fantasy setting based on Asian mythology. The play primarily revolves around you recruiting characters and sending them to destroy the provinces of your opponent in military or political conflicts, while defending your provinces against the same. It is also possible to win by amassing 25 Honor, or by driving your opponent to 0 Honor. Seven factions are presented in the game at present, and almost all your cards will come from that clan’s pool. Each clan has different strategies for winning the game, with some preferring fast military conflicts and others preferring a defensive stance while using Honor.

The games I’ve played have been fun. However, there is one significant drawback to getting into the game.

This is the price. The game is released in a boxed set that contains about 230 cards plus various other tokens and game aids. This costs US$39.95. This is enough to learn how to play the game. It is not, however, enough to do any significant deckbuilding. You need three copies of the core set – a total cost of about US$120 – to have all the copies of the cards that you’ll need. And then it is very highly recommended you get the Imperial Cycle of Dynasty Packs for an additional cost of almost US$90. At that point, you have enough cards so you can build decks, and you’re wondering what happened to your wallet. If you wish to construct two decks from that collection, you may need to acquire a few more key cards from Dynasty Packs.

I also haven’t enjoyed deckbuilding that much. I’m not exactly sure why. Partly it is the limited card selection. You need two decks, a Dynasty deck and a Conflict deck, each of at least 40 cards. You can play up to three copies of each card in a deck. For the Dynasty deck, your choice is between faction-specific cards and neutral cards. In the Conflict deck, you can use very few cards from a second faction, but it otherwise conforms to the rules for making a Dynasty deck. In the Core Set, there are 14 faction-specific Dynasty cards and 8 Neutral cards. By the time you get all the Imperial Cycle, you’re up to around 22 faction-specific Dynasty cards and 12 Neutral cards. By that stage, you’ve got enough choice to make decisions, but I do not see the synergies very well. I took to Netrunner deckbuilding very quickly. L5R? Not so much.

However, the gameplay shines. The games I’ve played have been engaging, with a lot of interesting decision-making and bluffing. They’ve also typically lasted about one hour.

Dynasty cards, mostly representing your characters, come into play from your four Provinces. You pay a currency known as Fate to bring them into play, and when you do so, you may place additional Fate on their card. Each Fate means they’ll stick around for one more turn. Yes, if you pay no additional Fate, they go away after only one turn in the game. Even if you do pay for additional turns, your opponent may wreck those plans. As you get a base of seven Fate every turn, and characters cost between 1 and 5 Fate, the board state tends to remain relatively uncluttered. It also changes a lot over the course of the game.

The Conflict Cards are what I like. Each Conflict Card is an Event, Attachment or Character, but you can play almost all of them in the middle of conflicts. Your hand is a source of surprises for your opponent. As a result, each conflict can be full of twists and turns – assuming you’ve kept enough Fate to play cards. Many Conflict cards cost no Fate, but some cost more.

Drawing Conflict Cards is a mini-game as well. Each player makes a secret bid, from one to five, as to how many cards they’ll draw. The difference between the bids is converted into Honor stolen by the low bidder from the higher. So, if I bid 5 and you bid 1, you take 4 of my Honor. This can end games quickly, and if you’re playing against a deck trying to dishonour you, your card drawing is significantly affected.

The game is by no means simple, with a host of interactions and special rules. The rules are indifferently presented; the starter rulebook leaves out many rules and requires you to get a complete rulebook from the website. FFG now have better rulebooks than they have in the past, but they’re still not great, and some of their LCG rulings are bizarre.

The basic game you find in one box is fine, but not that inspiring. The game that you get from three boxes and six boosters is very enjoyable – but these are still early days. I doubt I will engage in this game competitively. Rather, I’m dabbling in it – a strange thing to say about a game I’ve spent a couple of hundred dollars on!

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5E Adventure Review: Temple of the Opal Goddess

Temple of the Opal Goddess is an adventure for 4-6 characters of levels 5-8. It is presented in a 44-page PDF and sets the adventurers the task of rescuing a noble who has been captured by orcs. Unfortunately for the adventurers, the orcs are holding him in a temple dedicated to the “Opal Goddess”, who is far more demonic than godlike, and it she who is responsible for the kidnapping in the first place. To free him, the adventurers will not only have to defeat an organised tribe of orcs but must also brave the dangers of the temple.

The adventure manages to subvert the expectations of the players a couple of times, which I like. The first part of the adventure works as a standard “break into the stronghold” scenario, with the orcs using prepared tactics to defend against intruders. I appreciate that the tactics are described, as determining what multiple combatants do and where they make their stands is difficult to do on the fly. The players can also sneak in or otherwise avoid a pitched confrontation when the orcs are at their strongest; the players have a lot of agency.

I particularly like the role-playing that occurs between the adventurers and the captured noble and his girlfriend, who is, in fact, the “goddess” in disguise. There’s the potential for a lot of misdirection here, and the adventure can develop in interesting ways.

Things get more mysterious in the dungeon level, where an odd effect is slowly turning everything to stone, and a lone archivist works, chiselling works of history and religion onto stone tablets.

I like the overall story of this adventure very much, but I have a few problems with its presentation. There are a lot of rooms in the upper level of the keep, and for the most part, they’re extremely dull. This is a barracks. This is a kitchen. This is a latrine. Fans of dungeon naturalism will enjoy this, but most are skippable. Likewise, the ten-day journey from Baldur’s Gate and the random encounters presented don’t add anything of significance. It’s not all without merit, however; there are rooms with interesting features, and the lower level contains many interesting things to discover.

Stat-blocks are presented in the appendix for all the monsters in the adventure. The maps are excellent, and the writing is mostly good, although occasionally verbose. While I’m not overfond of the mundane nature of most of the upper level, it is well described.

Despite my perception of a few niggling flaws, this is a solid adventure that should appeal to players, Recommended.

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

Greyhawk: To Mitrik!

My home World of Greyhawk campaign has resumed for the new year of 2018. I’ve run campaigns in the World of Greyhawk for twenty years or so, and this current one has been going for about six months. When I last wrote about the heroes of the tale, they’d recovered the sword of Prince Thrommel, presented it to the new King of Furyondy, and, as a result, he’d declared war on Iuz and sent the adventurers into the Land of Iuz to scout.

Iuz is a demon-born godling who rules a land of horrors. In recent times, the neighbouring lands had been attacked again and again by his forces. It was little wonder that King Tobias of Furyondy wanted to return the favour. It was something that worried the adventurers, however. No sword, even one as important as Fragarach, was going to overthrow the Old One. They reluctantly went on a couple of missions into Iuz, barely escaping with their lives, and finally decided that enough was enough. Elspeth confronted the King’s chancellor and explained that due to the will of St Cuthbert, they were summoned to Mitrik and they must leave immediately. St Cuthbert is an important god in my version of Greyhawk, one revered by the folk of Furyondy for his fighting spirit and as the archenemy of Iuz, and so the chancellor paid attention. (The natural 20 Greg rolled helped as well!)

So, the adventurers were loaded up with presents and thanks – many gems and some magic items – and then were escorted to Mitrik by a patrol of knights. As the chancellor explained, he didn’t want anything happening to them. The morale hit to Furyondy’s nobles would be significant. The adventurers were dubious that the escort would help – wouldn’t they be better not paying attention – but accepted it.

It certainly helped keep away riff-raff and bandits. However, it couldn’t help them when an assassin slipped into Iyolas’s room and attempted to slay the sleeping wizard. He came very close; Iyolas only just survived the first blow. Sacre and Zhu were still awake, and upon hearing the disturbance in the next room ran to investigate, calling for help as they did so. The assassin turned his attention to the pair, and the battle was on! It was a dangerous affair, as the poison the assassin used was most potent, and two more of the adventurers were rendered unconscious before it was over. Sacre revived Iyolas with a potion of healing, but then poor Garazhan was caught in a lightning bolt that Iyolas called against the assassin! The assassin, of course, evaded the bolt and took no damage!

Investigating the assassin’s body afterwards, they discovered nothing of note, not even a purse. (The clues were well hidden, and the players rolled horribly on their Intelligence (Investigation) checks). So, after cremating the body, the adventurers resumed their journey to Mitrik.

A few weeks later, they arrived. There, Nil, Paladin of St Cuthbert, introduced himself to Archdeacon Appius, who was in charge of the daily business of the Cathedral of St Cuthbert. After the introductions, he explained that the church had recently seen a splinter group of heretics steal some relics and escape. Nil and his friends were asked to aid in their recovery. No mercy was to be shown to the heretics!

The group proceeded to a small, abandoned fort, built when the borders of Veluna were smaller than they were today. There, Elspeth effected their entry into the fort with superior use of Thieves’ Tools. (One of the peculiarities of this group is that most of the characters have proficiency with Thieves’ Tools!) There, they discovered a group of half-orc warriors training, who they slew before they could alert the rest of the fort. Proceeding to the centre, they faced the main force of the heretics, along with an underpriest, their battle commander, and finally a war priest! The battle was hard. The underpriest used spirit guardians on the group whilst protected by the heretics, and did much damage thereby, although of the necrotic sort with demonic spirits appearing to deal the damage. Heretics of St Cuthbert? It seemed they’d fallen a long way! Finally, a good magic missile spell from Iyolas slew him and allowed the others to defeat the lesser warriors.

The war priest banished Zhu, Nil fought and defeated the battle commander, and finally, they were able to disrupt the war priest’s concentration and retrieve Zhu. The warpriest cast spiritual weapon and flame strike on the party’s magic-users but eventually fell to yet another lightning bolt.

That was likely the end of the heretics, but what secrets did the fort contain? That would be the next session!

This session was, once again, mostly improvised. I wasn’t sure going into it whether the characters would stay in Furyondy or not (if they had, a strange, outer-planar assassin would have stalked them, and mysterious murders would have occurred). But they chose to go to Mitrik, so that story was abandoned and a new one began. The idea of heretics was cribbed from the very first adventure I played in the World of Greyhawk, where my magic-user was hired to recover a relic from heretics. In Mitrik. (It was an adaptation of one of the B-series of adventure modules).

Readers versed in Greyhawk lore may be surprised by my use of St Cuthbert as the chief god of Veluna. I can only say that I was very surprised to finally learn (in 2000) that it was meant to be Rao! I tend to collapse down the Greyhawk gods until only a few important ones remain. It’s nice having 100 or more gods, but if you want the players to care about the gods, keep only a few at the forefront of the campaign and weave plots concerning them into the game. The conflict between St Cuthbert and Iuz is front and centre of this game, but some other gods chosen as patrons by the characters, such as Boccob and Xan Yae, may become important before the campaign is over.

For those interested in the characters, they are as follows:

  • Elspeth (Greg), Human Sorcerer 6
  • Nil (Adam), Half-elf Paladin 6 of St Cuthbert
  • Zhu (Glen), Wood Elf Monk 6
  • Iyolas (Rich), High Elf Wizard 6
  • Sacre Blu (Paul), High Elf Rogue 6
  • Garazahan (Martin), Human Cleric 5/Fighter 1 of Boccob
Posted in D&D, D&D 5E, Greyhawk, Session Report | 1 Comment

Hit Points Through the Editions, part 3

Dungeons & Dragons, 3rd Edition was a major change to how Dungeons & Dragons worked. Over the years, AD&D 2E had become a sprawling beast that had a lot of very good ideas, but no unifying mechanics. Every supplement presented new ways of doing things and the resulting system had turned into rather a mess. So, 3E (which dropped the “Advanced”, though being the direct successor to AD&D 2E) attempted to clean things up. It succeeded in creating a unified system. Some of the results of this unification were unexpected.

It made two very important changes to how hit points were handled. First, it gave monsters ability scores and changed how the bonuses were calculated. The tougher monsters gained a notable number of hit points. For example, the hit points of the fire giant went from 15d8+4 (72 hp) in 2E to 15d8+75 (143 hp) in 3E! Monster hit dice also depended on the type of monster. A giant had d8 hit dice. Undead had d12 hit dice. Fey had d6 hit dice.

The amount of damage Fighters could deal with weapons was generally up, as they gained more attacks, and magic weapons and feats to further increase the damage. In contrast, spell damage remained constant from 2E. Against high Constitution creatures, spells like fireball looked positively weak. To help Rogues keep up with fighters in combat, they gained the exciting new option of Sneak Attack. Note that Dexterity increased the chance to hit with finesse and ranged weapons, but it did not increase the damage dealt.

While you could see how 3E was inspired by 2E, the mathematics behind the game were completely overhauled. My experience was that the game broke down badly at very high levels, particularly due to the variance between characters. Consider a Wizard with a 1d4 hit die and no Constitution bonus. At 15th level, that Wizard has a puny 39 hit points, while the fighter might have 15d10+90 (172) hit points. When damage codes were lifted to challenge these fighters, they doomed lesser characters to not even participate.

The change that had the most effect on the game, both then and now, was the introduction of the wand of cure light wounds. In 3E, it was possible to buy one of these wands for 750 gold pieces, or to craft one for 375 gp if you had the wand-crafting feat. The wand contained 50 uses of a 1d8+1 healing spell. By the time you reached 6th level, that amount of money wasn’t a problem, so every group would make sure they had a wand or two when they went on an adventure. After each encounter, the wands would come out and shortly thereafter everyone was on full hit points again.

Compare this to 1E where 6th-level party with two clerics had access to ten castings of cure light wounds, each restoring 1d8 hit points. Hit point totals were lower in 1E, but ten castings compared to 50? Or 100? And clerics could also turn each of their regular spells into healing spells as well! Where Original D&D was a game of attrition where part of the skill was knowing when to retreat and when to continue, 3E kept attrition in the form of spells prepared, but hit points – at later levels – only mattered if you depleted them in one combat.

The increased damage output and chance of hitting of monsters? This also changed things. The orc dealt 2d4+4 damage with a falchion, but had a very good chance of scoring a critical hit, a new part of the game. On a critical hit, the damage doubled and became 4d8+8, an average of 26 damage. If you didn’t have a good Constitution score, it was very easy to be knocked unconscious. A half-orc with a great-axe and a 20 Strength? That could be 3d12+15 damage in one blow, as the damage was tripled!

The rules on death and dying were only slightly updated. It was now an official part of the game that you were knocked unconscious once you reached 0 hit points and began dying, losing 1 hit point per round. Once you reached -10 hit points, you died. It was very possible, given critical hits, that you could be killed from a single blow from a creature, even if you were on maximum hit points, as a second-level ranger discovered in my game facing a lone half-orc warrior. A more significant change – though it is, perhaps, one that reflected how people played the game – was that you no longer needed bed rest after being restored to positive hit points. You could just keep on adventuring.

Placing this all together, the net effect was that individual combats became more significant in adventure building. Characters would go from full hit-points to depleted and then back again to full over the course of a single encounter rather than over the course of the adventure. If you went into combat without having all your hit points, you were at a significant risk of dying. And you could die just because a monster hit you with a lucky blow.

Poison could be very varied in this edition in its effects. The most dangerous type of special damage was Constitution damage, which reduced your bonus to hit points, and thus your maximum hit points as well. One adventurer in my games was reduced to a 5 Constitution score and had to survive a 9th level adventure with only 15 hit points maximum!

Despite this, 3E was a fun game to play. However, after eight years, it was time for a revision. The holes in the design were showing, and it was something new. This was D&D 4E, and it had learned some interesting lessons from the 3E experience.

Original AD&D AD&D 2E D&D 3E
Cleric (5th) 4d6+1 5d8 5d8 5d8
Fighter (5th) 5d6+1 5d10 5d10 5d10
Mage (5th) 3d6 5d4 5d4 5d4
Thief (5th) 5d4 5d6 5d6 5d6
Constitution Max +1 Max +4 Max +4 Max +12
Strength Max +0 Max +6 Max +6 Max +12
Monsters 1d6 1d8 1d8 1d6 to 1d12
Death 0 hp -3 hp -10 hp -10 hp
Dying? No Yes Yes Yes
Cleric heal 2nd level 1st level 1st level 1st level
Cure Light Wounds 1d6+1 1d8 1d8 1d8+1 (to 1d8+5)
Longsword 1d6 1d8/1d12 1d8/1d12 1d8
Fire Giant Damage 2d6+2 5d6 2d10+10 3d6+15
Fire Giant HP 11d6+3 11d8+2 15d8+5 15d8+75

The maximum of +12 for 3E was calculated from the PC having every form of magical enhancement for that ability score at level 20, which gave a score of 34 (+12). Most characters would have lower, but a +5 to +7 was not unreasonable for characters in the level 6-12 range.

Posted in D&D, D&D 3E, Design | 3 Comments

5E Adventure Review: The Raven

The Raven is the twelfth part of Misty Fortunes and Absent Hearts, the fourth season of the D&D Adventurers League adventures. By this stage in the campaign, we’re getting towards the end. The Big Bad is getting ready to implement her plan, and the adventurers need all the help they can get, because – at this stage – they don’t know where she is!

The last adventure introduced the Bloodhand Orcs, who, like the characters, are from the Forgotten Realms. Their leader is now allied with the party, but some of the orcs have rebelled. The orc leader asks the adventurers for help putting down the rebellion and offers as payment a spellcaster the orcs have captured: Ixusaxa Terrorsong, a member of the Cult of the Dragon who featured in the first season. It’s a bit rich for the leader to be offering her as payment as she’s been taken by the rebels, but there you have it.

On the journey to the rebel camp, the adventurers are menaced by wolves. This encounter can be evocative, but errors in its presentation make it a little trickier to run than I’d hope. The idea of having wolves chasing the party through the night and then disappearing with the dawn is excellent, however.

More presentation errors mar the concluding section of the adventure. The idea is simple: the players need to choose one of two paths to approach the orcs. However, the description is a mess. What should be one section of boxed text explaining the players’ options instead becomes three, and the text that explains how to present the choice is likewise scattered over two pages. Add to that a heading that shouldn’t be there, and it’s difficult to work out what was intended.

The final encounter’s set-up depends on how long the players took to reach it, but the text is inconsistent in describing what a good pace is. It may rely on a decision the players and DM didn’t even know they had to make, back at the beginning of the journey.

If the DM decides that the party were slow, then they have three rounds to defeat the orc rebels before the orcs kill their prisoners. If the adventurers arrived quickly, the combat is easier.

If the prisoners are killed, it throws a huge spanner into the works of the next adventure. Perhaps they spontaneously come to life again, so it has no discernible effect on the story? Either way, this is a problem. Don’t put in consequences if they don’t mean anything!

When I review adventures, I tend to look at their structure and pacing more than the individual encounters. As a stand-alone adventure, the structure of this adventure is adequate, but its implementation is below average. The errors in the presentation detract from its clever ideas; it also feels very slight with not enough action to fill its running time.

As an adventure that is part of the overall season, it has significant conceptual problems. Both it and The Donjon suffer from being irrelevant to the main plotline, bringing in elements that don’t matter, and letting the tension that has been growing through the actions of Esmae and the Burgomaster drain away. The adventure would have more relevance to the players if they were sent to rescue Sybil, who is also a prisoner. Ixusaxa doesn’t do anything in the remaining part of the adventure that needs her presence; her role is easily filled – and more effectively so – by Aya Glenmir, the half-elf who was introduced in the first adventure and has appeared in several other instalments. During the overall plotting of the season, the number of disparate elements needed to be reduced. Consider if the story was recast as Sybil being taken prisoner by Esmae’s agents. At that point, there is real urgency and connection to the overall arc of the season.

The Raven also significantly flubs its connections to the next story, which expects Sybil to be free, but it’s most likely she either remains a prisoner of the orcs or is dead. Oops!

Ultimately, this is a disappointing adventure. It’s not horrible, but it is underwhelming and poorly conceived. Not recommended.

Posted in Curse of Strahd, D&D 5E, D&D Adventurers League, Review | Leave a comment

Basic D&D Adventure Review: The Treasure of the Hideous One

TSR released the D&D game supplement AC2: Combat Shield and Mini-adventure in 1984. It contains a DM screen for the D&D Basic and Expert games, and a short, one-session adventure by David Cook for character levels 4-7. I do not own a printed copy of this adventure; I was only able to read the adventure after it was released on the DMs Guild website.

In so doing, I discovered a forgotten gem of the era. The adventure may only be eight pages long, but it presents a beautifully constructed adventure.

The set-up is as follows: In a previous adventure, the adventurers have discovered the testimony of a survivor of a long-ago expedition to find treasure. Using the descriptions therein, the adventurers can retrace the path of the expedition and discover the treasure, as well as the fate of the rest of the expedition.

It’s a brilliant idea. One of the aspects of old D&D that we’ve mostly lost along the way is that instead of finding treasure, adventurers could discover maps to treasure. This would then allow them to set out on further expeditions, and thereby discover more of the world. Consider Thror’s Map from The Hobbit, the map of Treasure Island, or the three parchments in The Secret of the Unicorn. What makes this particular “map” so inspired is that it’s entirely textual: a description of the area where the expedition had explored and the various sights and hazards they’d experienced along the way. The DM’s map of the area the expedition explored is so rudimentary that it is very easy to adapt the adventure to whatever setting you like.

Part of the joy of the adventure comes from the tension between the original descriptions of the locations and their state now. One village lies abandoned. Another is inhabited – but no longer by the friendly natives that aided the original expedition. And some encounters are new and have no correspondence in the testimony. It feels real, and it’s a wonderful way of highlighting some of the histories of the world.

Interestingly, the adventure doesn’t describe how the expedition ended, only what the adventurers can find now. Much is left to the imagination of the DM as to what occurred.

The acquisition of the treasure by the adventurers is indeed possible, although it’s not quite as simple as a straight-up fight with a monster. A fight there may be, but the adventure leaves open a wide variety of approaches as to how it finishes.

The “Combat Shield” is what you might expect: the tables used by a Dungeon Master running the old Basic & Expert D&D sets. As this is a 1984 product, it goes with the Red Box “BECMI” line of products.

This is a superior adventure and one that few know. I highly recommend giving it a look!

Posted in D&D, D&D Basic, Review | Leave a comment

Board Game Report: Descent – Road to Legend

My main love is Dungeons & Dragons. It’s the game I return to again and again. However, I also play a lot of board games. Some of them are a tiny bit like D&D. Descent: Journeys in the Dark is one of those.

Descent suffers from being a game in a similar space to D&D: It requires a referee (Overlord) and players. The good thing about it is that you only need one player. In addition, because it’s a board game, there much less preparation required than with D&D: just open the box and go! The rules are relatively simple, although there are several exceptions to complicate things, and although there are individual scenarios that take 1-2 hour to play, you can also play in a campaign that lasts up to 20 hours or so (this you’re likely to play over several weeks). Most of the time, I’d rather play D&D, but there’s time when a fantasy adventure board game is the game I want to play.

I’ve been so involved in D&D that I missed that Fantasy Flight Games brought out an app – Descent: Road to Legend – that replaced the Overlord. So, instead of needing one player to control the monsters, up to four players can play the game together with some device (an ipad in my case) dealing with all the adventure and campaign details. Funnily enough, the reason I learnt about the app was because I saw the announcement that they’d just released an app for Imperial Assault! So, now I have both.

I’ve just played through the introductory campaign of Descent: Road to Legend. To play the game, you need the app (it’s free) and a copy of the board game (that’s significantly not free). It was an interesting experience. The app allows you to add material from the expansions, and incorporates into the game, but I played with just the base game. Two main scenarios and two side-quests later and I was finished. That last scenario? It took a while: 2-3 hours, though I may have been distracted while playing it. The other scenarios were significantly shorter.

The climax of a scenario!

The app played well. You, being human, need to make some decisions for it – the best place to move monsters, and occasionally which character to attack. It kept track of all the equipment, gold and XP I gained during the campaign, so I could pack things away between scenarios and then start again later if I wanted to.

The most frustrating thing about the game was it kept referring me to the “Road to Legend” rules, which are available as a separate pdf download. That’s nice, but I really wanted them to be incorporated into the app. On my iPad, switching between the pdf-reader and Road to Legend was annoying. I might end up printing the rules, but they’re very colourful and it would be a waste of ink.

The app describes how scenario-specific features work.

I took a party of two adventurers – a warrior and a wizard – into the introductory quest, where we faced Splig, King of All Goblins. It’s slightly whimsical, with Splig being chaotic and full of self-importance. It felt relentless. Monsters would continually spawn and attack, and there were times where we only just survived. The last scenario, in particular, was brutal, and I defeated it with no lives remaining, and with my adventurers down to their last few points of Health.

The game gives special bonuses to monsters seemingly at random, in addition to changing their tactics from round to round, which means that you’re never quite sure what they might do. Yes, goblin archers will tend to keep a safe distance and fire arrows, but not always! It keeps interest in the game.

Monster Activations

Now that I’ve finished the introductory campaign, I can start exploring the other options. There’s one other free campaign of greater length, another free campaign that requires you to own the Labyrinth of Ruin expansion, and two DLC adventures that can be purchased. The app is available for PC through Steam, and for mobile devices on iPad and Android.

Playing solitaire does mean I lose the social aspect, but at least I get it to the table – with three other players I’m more likely to play a strategic boardgame. My friends, who enjoy co-operative play greatly, will likely use it to turn Descent into a purely co-operative game and enjoy it more that way. It’s a different, more complex game than the Tomb of Annihilation board game, but it is a lot of fun.

Posted in Board Games, Session Report | Leave a comment