The Halls of the Archmage Aesolyn – Part 2

I my last post I began my run down of the Halls of Aesolyn. To go check that out, click here! But now, on with the rooms!

Area G

Behind a secret door (a stone wall which can be pushed backwards and moved aside), which can be discovered on a DC15 Intelligence (Investigation) check. The room is diamond shaped, with an alcove directly across from the door. In the alcove stands a leering demon statue, 6 feet tall and standing on a large, high dais. In it’s hand is a scimitar made of blackened steel, with a crossguard of bleached bone, and a human leather grip etched with golden script too ancient to understand. The scimitar is a +2 weapon with the following special rules:

  • Bloody Wound:When you hit a living creature with this weapon, you can choose to make a superficial but bloody wound. The attack deals no damage, but the target suffers 1d8 slashing damage, minus their Constitution modifier (to a minimum of 1), at the beginning of each of it’s turns until it or an ally makes a DC10 Wisdom (Medicine) check as an action, or until it receives magical healing.
  • The Devil’s Curse: You gain the ability to speak Abyssal and Infernal. Each time you speak one of these languages, all neutral and good creatures around you must make a Wisdom saving throw (DC = 10 + Charisma (Intimidation) modifier), or be frightened of you for 1 minute. (Recommended: DM only should be aware of this until it becomes apparent).
  • Emnity of Halsh: Halsh, a Chain Devil in the service of a Lord of the Hells, becomes aware of the character attuned to this weapon. He will seek to take the weapon from the wielder, and kill them. He will then take the weapon back to The Hells, and there torture the devil that resides within, eventually destroying the weapon. (Recommended: DM only should be aware of this until it becomes apparent).

Area H

This room is the home of a Spirit Naga. As the party walk in they see a lush, but over grown room with a floor carpeted with various sizes of writhing snakes. The snakes are a clever illusion, which will be noticed by any character with a passive Intelligence or passive Wisdom of 15 or higher, or any character who rolls higher than DC15 on an Intelligence (Investigation) check. Lavish couches line the walls, paintings of lascivious men and women, intertwined with massive snakes with human faces. Snakes carpet the floors, and even seem to be used as keys by the individuals in the paintings. The party can make Intelligence (Religion) checks to recognise the bizarre, snake-like creatures:

  • DC 20: Nagas are the legendary, immortal guardians of Stycian myth, that protect knowledge, rituals, magic items, and magical locations.
  • DC 25: Neither starvation nor old age will ever claim a naga, but it can be destroyed. Some nagas abandon their roles as guardians to achieve personal power, setting themselves up as the rulers of primitive tribes of reptilian humanoids.
  • DC 30: Different nagas guard different types of knowledge. Guardian nagas usually guard arcane secrets, rituals, and powerful items. Bone nagas guard necromantic secrets or the places of the dead—particularly tombs, sepulchers, and catacombs
    where the remains of powerful evil creatures reside. They also guard portals to the Shadowfell. Dark nagas guard prophecies and oracles, along with relics and rituals related to the same. They also protect magical locations in the Underdark.

A Spirit Naga, old long before the elves took Talomire from the orcs and dragons of ages past, lurks in the deep shadows of the rafters, hidden from all sight. It will wait for an advantageous moment to strike.

There are two doors leading from this room. Both are locked, and require keys to open. The keys are, in fact, enchanted snakes. The door to Area I is opened with a small, green and black adder, and the door to Area J is unlocked with an evil looking King Cobra. When a character finds one, and picks it up, it stiffens, and twitches itself into the shape of a small, intricate key. These two snakes are the only real snakes in the room, aside from the Naga. They can be found with a DC20 Intelligence (Investigation) check, although other options (such as, for example, dispelling the illusion spell) will make this far easier.

Area I

This room is made up of a small, round room with a very high, domed ceiling, and three, hidden, rooms. Each of these rooms contains a spell scroll. Either decide which spells are in each room, or randomly decide on the spell scroll levels using the table on page 200 of the 5e DMG.

As the party enter, the notice a new, lithe, female figure amongst them. She walks ahead of them, and stops, looking at them. She speaks, and each character hears her words in their own native tongue. She tells them that there are three spell scrolls in this room, hidden behind the walls, and she tells them what those spells scrolls are, but not which door they are behind. She then points to each of the hidden doors and asks the players to choose one. When they have chosen, she picks one at random. The door she chooses opens, the scroll levitates towards her, and she informs the players which scroll she is holding. It bursts into flames, and is destroyed. Finally, she asks the players if they are happy with their decision, or if they would like to change their choice. The door the finally decide to choose opens, and the spell scroll levitates towards them, and is theirs to take. The scroll they do not take is destroyed at this point.

If the party attempt to cheat the process through magic or sleight of hand, the woman will warn them. If they try a second time, she flies into a rage and attacks the party, becoming a Ghost. She will attempt to use her Horrifying Visage on her first turn, and then will simply attack the party. She can also, as an action, summon one of the spell scrolls to herself, and can then attempt to cast it later, as an action.

Area J

The room is incredibly dark. In the centre stands a Yuan-Ti male, with a cobra head. He gives the party a choice; in one hand he holds a small, wooden owl. In the other he holds a golden apple.

The owl represents wisdom. In Aesolyn’s mind, the wise thing to do is to turn around and leave. These halls are not for the meek. Only the reckless and the ambitious can truly attain greatness in magic…

The apple represents knowledge, and a desire for power.

If any member of the party chooses the owl, they are instantly teleported to the entrance. The door closes, and the Halls vanish, reappearing in 1d6 months, within 3d12 miles. If a party member takes the apple, however, the Yuan-Ti smiles, then slowly vanishes, his gleaming grin disappearing last, like the Cheshire Cat. The secret door leading to Area K opens, light streaming into the room down the passageway.

Area K

Area K is a simple corridor, ending in a long, spiral staircase down into the next layer of the Halls, where Aesolyn’s true powers, and dangers, lie…

Closing Comments

I hope this dungeon has given you some ideas to run with. It is by no means a complete dungeon, but that’s kinda the point. Take what you like, get rid of what you don’t, and make the dungeon your own. If you use this map, or any part of this dungeon in commercial work, then please do include credit, and a link to this blog (my name is Chris Hately, by the way!), and feel free to fire me your content, and I’ll happily review it on the blog!

Anyway, thank you as always, and I’ll speak to you soon.

Prepping For Talomire: Part Two

“When last we met our heroes…”

In my last post I talked a bit about how my preparation for D&D games has changed and evolved over time. In this post I’d like to go a bit more in-depth with my latest campaign (Curse of Strahd notwithstanding), in my Talomire setting.

Context

Best to start off with exactly what I’m preparing for. With Talomire I’m aiming to run a few campaigns, with different parties, all in the same continuity. My folder needs to reflect that, and be built in a way that makes it easier for me to do that. I want these campaigns to be open ended sandboxes as well. I have a few plot threads in my head, in terms of what is going to be happening in the world around them (what the elves in the north are doing, what is happening in the frozen tundras of the very far north, and the political manoeuvring in the south), but it’s up to the players how they want to interact, or if they want to interact, with these events.

So, my folder needs to be easy to navigate, and have enough content to satisfy my players’ desires and actions, while not requiring me to write the backstory of every single NPC in every single tiny village…thankfully there are tools that allow me to do this, such as my DM screen. I’ll go into a bit of detail on each of these, culminating in the contents of the folder itself.

1 – The DM Screen

I love DM screens. I’ve always thought that the actions of the DM should be hidden, and that a good DM can gain the trust of their players without making each and every die roll public knowledge. I feel it adds mystique to the game; a lack of knowledge that is entirely accurate, and which I feel makes role playing easier and more dramatic. That said, the official screen from WotC is in no way suited to my style of DMing. 50%-75% of the screen is given over to things I either don’t use or need, things I already know, or things I regularly homebrew anyway. I tend to run a number of campaigns anyway, in different settings, so the information I’m likely to need from session to session is different, so a static screen is unlikely to be much use to me. For ages my screen was simply something to block my notes and my rolls from my players.

A few months back I decided to build my own screen. My first mock up was built using 3mm artist’s backing board, sandwiching sheets cut from a magnetic whiteboard. Thes panels were held together using a hinge made from duct tape, and reinforced using electrical tape. It wasn’t perfect, but it meant I could use magnets to attach print outs to my screen. All of a sudden I could have party trackers, region maps, initiative orders and even magic item cards on my screen, able to be switched out at a moment’s notice.

With my MkII build I adapted the original concept slightly. Still built from 3mm backing board, I cut out sections of the inner board to expose the whiteboard inner. Now I can write on that layer, take notes or jot initiative orders, as well as change all of that information whenever I need to. IMG_1543The white boards I used also came with pens and, more importantly, clips. I currently have three attached to my screen. One is currently surplus to requirement (although I do have a couple of ideas for it), and one holds my whiteboard pen. The third, though, allows me to switch out party trackers incredibly easily. I mounted thin plastic sheeting to the clip, which is large enough for four player-tracking sheets. The plan is to have one of these clips per party.

I also built a small, magnetic shelf to put visual aides on for my players…which is by far my favourite thing about this screen right now…

Untitled

The screen, eventually, is going to have five panels; one for party tracking, three with whiteboards exposed, and one similar to my original build; magnetic, but without the whiteboard exposed. The middle three are designed to be used for session specific things, with the final panel given over to rules I often forget.

2 – The Journal

Drunkens & Dragons introduced me to the concept of a DMs journal. This idea of a repository of information is literally what began Talomire. Instead of building concepts in my head, everything was thrown on paper and built on. Numerous dungeons, traps, financial and religious systems have been born in my journal, and are there now for me to call upon should I ever need them.

During sessions, my journal’s use is two-fold. It’s there for note taking, and remembering what has happened in sessions previously. It also contains ideas I haven’t fully fleshed out yet. If the players decide to travel north, they might run into the small coastal town of Falas Londé, or the ruined watchtower of Duvain Maegorod.IMG_1577

IMG_1579

A couple of dungeons I didn’t use in my last campaign.

The journal, therefore, is something I can plot campaign progress in, as well as reference things that I hadn’t committed to PDF yet, but that might fit nicely with where the party are headed.

3 – NPC Face Cards, Weapon Cards, and Other Handouts.

I’ve played about with a number of different concepts in my previous games, regarding combat, equipment and NPCs. My first campaign was completely theatre of the mind, for example, while in Curse of Strahd, I have experimented with using Index Card RPG and 2.5d terrain, both of which work nicely, but don’t give the feel I want from Talomire.

I found a couple of great resources on Drivethru RPG, which I feel can help me as a DM in NPC and item generation, while giving the players the visual aides I’m been looking for. The NPC deck and weapon cards are fantastic. My plan is to have a bundle of both behind my screen. If the players meet an NPC I haven’t planned, I can grab one of these cards and write the character’s name on, taking notes on the back. The same applies for the weapon cards, which can be handed to the player who owns it, creating a tactile sense of ownership of these weapons, and giving even mundane weapons a sense of importance in a world where magical weapons are incredibly rare.

 

4 – The Folder.

I use a standard sized, two ring, lever arch file, and I don’t use pockets (with the exception of character sheets and handouts). My folder is arranged into several sections, designed to allow me to skip to the parts I need easily. Broadly, they are arranged as follows:

  1. Locations
  2. Adventures & Sidequests
  3. Random Events
  4. Stores & Equipment
  5. Spare Adventures
  6. Spare Maps & Locations
  7. NPCs
  8. Rules

Each tab will then have a number of tabs within, so I can get to exactly the right place at the right time.

My locations tab is for areas I plan on using in my game. For example, I have maps and descriptions of North Tower, Low Briar, and other areas I created. I also have a few I lifted from other sources, such as the Village of Hommlet (the intro adventure to the original Temple of Elemental Evil), and one of Dyson‘s village maps for Briarwood, an area of my own that I haven’t had time to draw yet.

Adventures and sidequests is designed for adventures I know I am either going to run, or am likely to run. Here I’ll have my notes, for ease of access. Finished adventures will likely be put somewhere else when done, but I’m not sure about that yet.

Random events are the life and soul of a sandbox game, in my opinion. They make the world feel real and dynamic, so I make sure to have a number of different encounter tables and random event tables. The Dungeon Master’s Handbook volumes one and two are great for these.

Stores and equipment is something I loved about my Forgotten Realms folder. It shows the prices and availability of equipment in different types of location, adjusted for Talomire’s economy. Rather than  gp, cp, sp, etc, Talomire uses a version of medieval England’s currency. As such, all prices are adjusted to better suit that currency and economy (meaning full plate armour now costs the equivalent of around 19,000gp).

Spare adventures are simply adventures I can pull out at any time. The players decide they want to travel west, and they discover a small town at the base of the Spine mountains. I feel they need something to do, so I grab a spare adventure and throw the plot hook their way. I’ll then move that adventure into my ‘Adventures & Sidequests’ tab, and run it from there. Spare maps and locations is pretty much the same, but is filled with maps and locations I’ve drawn from other sources (mostly Dyson, who’s maps are mostly free, and absolutely amazing).

The NPCs tab is just somewhere I can hold my NPCs, and keeps notes on them, their goals, and what they’re up to when the players aren’t around.

Finally, the rules tab is where I keep all the non-standard rules I want to use. At the moment these are the Stonghold rules, the rules for dragons in the DCCRPG, rules for magical research from DCCRPG, and (Not So) Legendary Actions.

I also have a campaign calendar and a region map in the front of the folder so that I can mark new locations for future reference, as well as make sure important dates in the life of Talomire are observed, and time can be kept properly within the world.

Closing Thoughts.

None of this is really tested in it’s current iteration, but I’m very hopeful. Please, let me know what you think, and what you like to have prepared; I love to learn from other people and steal their ideas! When I start running my campaign(s) I’ll do an update with what has worked, and what has not.

Anyway, thanks for reading!

DCC Magic in 5e

Drunkens and Dragons was the first place to put me onto Dungeon Crawl Classics, in particular, the DCC RPG rulebook. This 400+ page long monster is a love letter to the feel of AD&D, and is filled with incredible art and inspired ideas. One of these ideas is its incredible, and wildly intuitive, magic system.

Whereas D&D 5e’s magic system is what Gygax himself once described as:

“a spell point system whose record keeping would warm the heart of a monomaniacal statistics lover” (AD&D Players Handbook, pg 6,

an opinion that I am, much as I love D&D spellcasting, inclined to agree with. In a world where magic is so commonplace that cantrips are thrown around like petty novelties, such as the Forgotten Realms, the spell slot system works fine. But when I’m introducing a new player to the game (which is, blessedly, fairly regularly), explaining the spell slot system is a pain in my arse.

When I’m teaching new players, the first thing I tell them is that, while the character sheet is complicated, and full of numbers and jargon (I use this incredible sheet, which is even more intimidating than the official one), as long as they know where the basics are I can simply guide them to what they need to roll. This teaches them, through experience, how to play the game. I’ve found it works wonders; players get to roll dice and have fun, with me telling them which dice to roll and where on their sheet the appropriate information is, until finally I don’t need to anymore, after a few sessions or less. The huge bloody spanner in the works is magic.

One of my friends decided he wanted to play at the last minute. It was going to be his first time playing, and I didn’t have time to build him a character. What I did have was a dwarvish bard, designed for another friend who was unable to play. We handed him the character sheet, and went from there. During the session Tim had fun, and even did some great things, but he was unfulfilled by the character. He, in truth, didn’t understand the magic system, and who can blame him? As if learning the very basics of the game wasn’t enough, while also trying to role play for the first time, and trying to be immersed in the story, he also had to learn what eight spells did, and how spell slots worked. In the end he did what so many first time spellcasters do – he spammed one spell until it worked.

DCC offers something I’ve never experienced in D&D’s spells. There is uncertainty as to what they will do, and whether they will work. This might not sound great, but it really is. In order to cast a spell you roll a d20 and add certain modifiers. You compare that result to a chart, and that tells you what happens. Each spell is different, and has effects of increasing severity as the roll result gets higher. Now break that down; rather than making the new player learn another mechanic, on top of the d20 + mod mechanic which anchors the vast majority of 5e, you simply use what you’re already teaching them. On top of that, it makes each casting something to be attained! Rather than knowing the spell works, there’s a chance it might not, and worse, a chance it can go horribly wrong. Each success ends up feeling like an achievement, and the wizard gets to feel the same exhilaration the fighter feels when his blows find their mark.

All of this is amazing, but the thing I love most about the DCC system is the feeling of mystery. When I began adapting the DCC ruleset to 5e for my Talomire setting, the first change I made was to take away completed spell sheets from the players. A player’s physical spellbook is, then, not a sheet filled with spell names, but a physical booklet, with spell names, types, and empty charts below. Each spell must be cast in order to learn exactly what it does. You know to some degree that Magic Missile fires an arcane dart at your foes but, unless you’ve rolled a 28 before, you have no idea that it can fire 1d12+2 darts, each dealing 1d8+1 force damage! Imagine that! You cast magic missile as a first level wizard, and roll a natural 20. Add your +3 Int bonus and +2 prof bonus for 25, and a d6-1 for your critical success (let’s assume +3), and now you have a 28! The four goblins you’re facing explode in a shower of sparking bolts!

There are balancing issues, obviously. My way around this is to seriously limit the number of spells a caster can use. Some players may see this as a bad thing, but to my mind it simply reinforces the idea that this knowledge is not easily come by. You have to seek it out, rather than relying on the two extra spells you gain per level, or the six you start with. And each spell, even first level spells, has the opportunity to be useful at later levels.

You can find the VERY EARLY draft for my DCC ‘conversion’ HERE. Feel free to give it a try and let me know how you feel it works. I’ll be updating it a lot over the coming days, and then more as I begin my Talomire campaign proper. Please note that the document is my attempt to create the DCC system using existing 5e concepts and mechanics, and is not a conversion per se (as a general rule, though, I replaced ‘caster level’ with proficiency, and luck with the Int modifier. There’ll be issues in there, but they should iron themselves out in the long run.

Cheers,

Chris.