The Freedom of Simplicity – The ICRPG: Core Review

What is ICRPG?

Index Card RPG: Core is a self contained roleplay system written and designed by Hankerin Ferinale of Drunkens and Dragons fame. The system pulls together much of what Hank has espoused on his YouTube channel for the last couple of years, from his thoughts on room design and encounter construction, to his love of clean mechanics and player agency.

It is worth noting, before we continue, that this product is not the first to carry the ICRPG moniker. Volumes 1 was released in December last year, with Volume 2 following close on its heels. These two PDFs are completely system agnostic, and are designed to be used as tools for the DM, either for story construction, or as visual aides during the game. They’re well worth the $6 they each cost, and play a role within Core, but are not what we’re talking about today.

What do you get?

ICRPG is available in both physical and digital formats, with the two bundled together at a discount. I don’t have a physical copy (though I do hope to grab one at some point), so I won’t be reviewing that here.

The digital copy consists of :

  • The Core rulebook. This includes the rules of the game, the stat blocks of monsters, a section on game mastery, d100 loot tables, and primers for a sci fi and a fantasy campaign setting.
  • Print and Play minis. This includes a huge number of player characters for both the sci fi and fantasy settings, as well as the monsters within the rulebook.
  • The Character sheet as a separate PDF.
  • An online play kit.
  • A Tabletop Simulator Mod.

It should be pointed out that the last two were not available at launch. Hank has done a great job of updating, correcting and adding to Core, and is constantly talking to the community about what is coming, and responding to feedback from the community. The one element I do feel is missing here is a change log file which would quickly and easily draw attention to any major revisions of rules, additions, etc. That said, this whole project is overseen by one man who only has so much time to work on these things, so I’ll let it slide.

Bookcraft

Good stuff

The core rulebook is stands at 121 pages and is, in the most part, very well laid out. The colour scheme of black and white with red highlights is bold and eye catching, without becoming wearying to read. The chapters make sense, and can be printed as separate books to create the more traditional D&D, three-book format. The language and descriptions are well written, concise and easy to understand. The artwork is truly wonderful; simple and evocative, and reinforcing the concepts described in the text in a way that makes learning the rules incredibly simple.

The not-So-good stuff

There are two issues with this book, one of which has been corrected in PDF v1.1, but is still worth mentioning as it will be a part of the current print release (note, this is the reason they are currently reduced – 7/5/17).

The first is typos. There are, by Hankerin’s own admission (and grovelling apology), a number of typos in v1.0. These have since been corrected, but will still exist within the first edition print copies. Unfortunately I can’t detail these errors, as I only have v1.1 available to me at the moment.

The glaring issue in v1.1 is that of confusing text. The worst example of this is in character creation. In the starting equipment section it states that you may choose three items from the list, one of which is a common weapon. The common weapon text states that you may take up to three of these weapons. The confusion I, and many others, had was this – does each weapon count towards one of your three starting item slots, or do all three count as one slot? This has since been answered by Hank on the Google+ forum (turns out all three weapons count as one slot), but it’s not the only example.

In my first read through I found there was a strange splitting of the rules in the book. The first section detailed how to play the game, but missed out topics which are detailed later in the book, such as initiative order, hard and easy rolls, and ‘dynamic dice’. I came to understand what I think is the principle behind this; that these concepts are for the Dungeon Master, not necessarily the player, and are therefore kept in the Game Mastery section. However, I feel that this puts those things into the hands of the DM, where they should be the responsibility of the player to keep track of. Let’s take an example.

You walk into a wide, open space, with a narrow, but deep, gorge. You know you need to leap the gorge, but are worried about the room DC, which is 14. You have no Dex bonus, so the idea of rolling a natural 14 is terrifying. You pull the grappling hook from your bag and throw it at the tree branches above you. You miss, but on your next turn you try again. Because you failed to complete this action last turn, the roll is now considered ‘easy’, so you get a -3 bonus to the target DC.

In my opinion, in a circumstance like this, it is the job of the player to remember that they are entitled to the easy roll. As a DM I want to offload everything I can, and that is appropriate, to the players so that I can just get on with running a dramatic game. I feel like including these sections within the players’ handbook (so-to-speak) section of the book would greatly benefit this. There is also the matter of these sections’ placement within the Game Mastery section. They sit between sections on DM theory, such as adventure construction, how to use hearts to denote levels of challenge, and using ICRPG as a plug-in for other games systems. This feels weird, and I don’t feel helps the flow of the DM’s section of this book. In my opinion, the rules should be together, with more story-centric concepts given their space in the GM section.

The rules

The bit you all wanna hear about. First things first, it’s important to note that ICRPG, at it’s core (no pun intended…wait, who am I kidding?), is the offspring of WotC’s 5e OGL. While they might be hidden behind different terms, many of the ideas and mechanics D&D 5e is known for reside here too; AC is now called armour, the classic, six attributes are there, the system is d20 based, and, as far as I can tell, most of the maths is roughly the same.

To call this a D&D variant, though, feels reductive, and ignores much of what makes ICRPG appealing. The system feels more a love letter to the game, taking the best from it, while adding something new, and unique to the game. Rather than give a page-by-page account of the rules, I want to focus in on what I think are the most important, or innovative ideas in the book.

Lastly, to paraphrase the game’s own designer, ICRPG is less a game system, and instead more of a philosophy on how to run an RPG. I’d agree. But I’ll talk more about that soon.

Effort

This is the big one that people have been talking about, and is probably one of the two biggest influences on how this game actually plays. In ICRPG there are two fundamental types of rolls – checks and attempts. A check is the same as it is in 5e; your character tries to do something, and you roll a d20 to see if they succeed. A stealth check, for example. An attempt, however, works differently. If you want to do something that does not have a binary result (such as picking a chest, lifting a heavy rock, etc), you roll a check to see if you can do it. If you succeed, you roll the appropriate effort die, and that ‘Effort’ is added to the amount required to complete the action. This means that several people can lift a heavy rock, and it may take multiple turns to finally meet the amount of Effort required.

Effort is also tied in with another key mechanic of the game; Hearts. Hearts are central to encounter building in the game as they denote the amount of effort required to complete a challenge. They also denote the hit points of monsters and of players. A heart is, simply, ten effort. So, a two heart encounter will require a total of twenty effort, be it in the form of weapon damage against an enemy, or of Basic Work opening a chest.

Time and Initiative

When I read the rules for the first time, Time was the one thing I thought I’d ditch almost immediately. I relish the free form nature of 5e, and the way that people can jump in and out, in a very real way.

Having played ICRPG, I can promise you I will not be dropping this mechanic (though, it is worth saying, I will not be incorporating it into my 5e game). In ICRPG, there is never a moment when you are out of initiative. From start to finish, the game runs in initiative. On top of that, initiative is never rolled. Turns are taken, in seating order, clockwise from the DM (although astute and cheeky players are welcome to swap seats in order to change initiative, in order to do thing in specific order, or to gain advantages during a fight. If you’re sceptical, let me explain why it works in ICRPG.

  1. Quick turns. The turn sequence in ICRPG is incredibly quick, and simple to understand. You can move ‘Far’ (read: Dash), you can move ‘Near’ (read: normal movement) and take an action, or you can stand still (I go a little further and say you can take a couple of steps) and take two actions. Since characters have almost no special rules (something I’ll come back to), turns tend to fly by. In a group of 7 people, no one ever really had time to get bored, which is unheard of in D&D.
  2. Player Agency. Can I be real here? I’m ‘One Of Those Players’. The long time DM who knows the rules, and can jump into character at the drop of a hat, having needed to do so with NPCs forever. It also makes it very easy for me, in a traditional RPG setting, to become the de facto leader, often at the expense of other people’s agency. People wait to see what I do, because they’re not as experienced, and don’t feel able to jump in over the ones who are usually louder and more self assured. This isn’t a good thing. If a character is easy to push around, and follows the will of those stronger than them, that’s fine, but only if it is a narrative choice made exclusively by the player.

    This is not a problem when initiative order is enforced, because every player is, every turn, specifically asked what they would like to do. They don’t need to assert themselves; the DM asks them what they want. I love this. I really do.

  3. It’s really not that different anyway. Let’s face it, it’s just not. Especially when you factor in the ability to swap seats and the like, it doesn’t change anything. You still get to do all the cool stuff you did before, just now the DM can control time better. Which, speaking of controlling time, brings us too…
  4. Controlling time. Controlling time is a huge thing for DMs. It allows you to ramp up suspense simply by rolling a d4 and saying “something bad happens in 3 turns”. Initiative makes this less arbitrary, and gives the players a very clear idea of how long they have. Physical timers are great, but I feel they have a less terrifying effect. They also have the problem of being completely arbitrary. 3 turns, for example, is around 18-25 seconds, depending on how you break up time. A three minute timer, however, is enough time for the players to either pick a lock and argue, or batter the door down, search the room, kill the skeleton they find, and still manage to escape. That could be anywhere between eight seconds and ten minutes. Control time, throw those d4s, and make your players scared.

Player Characters.

PCs are easy and quick to build, easy to learn to play, and easy to inhabit.

Oh, you wanted more detail?

Building

You have six points to spend, each one representing a +1 modifier. You can add these to any of the stats on your character sheet, be it an ability score, armour, or effort. No derivative maths, no calculations, you just put +1, +2, +3, etc after a few stats. Yes, different bio-forms (Hank, I prefer Xenos, or Species to Bio-Form, but it’s the same difference; you took race out of RPGs. Good lad.) have additional bonuses, but the six point system is the core.

Once you’ve sorted your stats you choose a class. Classes, unlike in 5e, don’t have specific bonuses or abilities. Instead they only come with recommended gear, and an additional piece of starter gear. This means it’s entirely possible to build a kickass fighter who can cast healing spells right from the get-go. It’s hugely flexible, and deliberately so. Each class comes with, however, Milestone Rewards. These are what replaces the levelling feature of most other RPG systems. When the DM feels you’ve done enough to warrant it they will either choose a reward for you, or ask you to choose your own milestone from the list. It’s elegant, simple, and saves players leafing through three to six bits of paper trying to work out what they can do.

Playing

As I said above, playing is simple. You have almost nothing to memorise, which means you can get to the business of being creative and having fun. Even damage dice are simplified to d6 for common weapons and d8 for magical ones. It’s wonderfully easy to play, and makes roleplaying so much easier.

Inhabiting

With such simplicity, you no longer have to find mechanical reasons to do narrative things. That makes the whole business of inhabiting the character so much easier. Just think what they would do, and talk to your DM about it, rather than searching for the mechanic that will help you be your character, only to discover it doesn’t exist.

Universal DC

I cannot believe that I like this, but I do. The idea is that every room has a ‘Target’, and every check that is made, every monster that is attacked, you need to roll above the Target to do so. The thing I love about this? If something considered ‘easy’, the target is reduced by 3 for that roll. If it’s ‘hard’, increase the target by 3. No more arbitrary DCs off the top of your head. Just decide how difficult it is, and either add three, subtract 3, or leave the target as it is.

So, how does it play?

There’s plenty more I could say about the rules, but I feel the most important thing is how it feels at the table. I’ve already covered this a little bit from the player perspective, so I’ll focus more on the DM side here.

Firstly, the game will, at times, almost run itself. During a large encounter you can boil things right down to simple mechanics, and get out the way. My players, for example, jumped into a submarine to get away from an alien Kraken. The Kraken attacked every 1d4 rounds, with 1d4 tentacles, in random sections of the sub, each dealing 1d12 damage. Each tentacle had 1 heart and dealt an additional 1d4 every turn it was on the sub. Honestly, I could have left the table, and the players could have finished that fight themselves. It ran itself, which allowed me to focus on story, description, and helping the players. I loved it.

The hard/easy mechanic also takes a load of stress off the DM. I hate having to make up DCs for things I’ve never thought of; but assuming 12 as a base DC, should the party go to a town I hadn’t planned, or what-have-you, you can set DCs ahead of time for specific areas, then  add or subtract three. Even better, the players should be able to see the DC, meaning that you aren’t even having to tell them if they’ve succeeded! The players are responsible for so much more!

All in all, I feel this game works really well for fast-paced, mechanical games. Turns are fast, the system is low stress for everyone involved, and is incredibly social on the whole. I love it, and see myself playing it for a very long time. With that said, it lacks much of the complexity that I love in 5e; I love cracking out that specific ability with my Paladin, that little thing that gives me a slight edge. But saying a system is not as good as another because it lacks complexity is ridiculous. 5e is a great game, ICRPG is a great game. They both cater to different styles of game, and both have much to learn and take influence from one another.

So, in closing, I can’t recommend this book enough. At the very least there are swathes of the rules (not the mention the amazing Game Mastery section that I simply haven’t had the space to properly talk about here) that you can farm out for your other systems. The world settings are incredible (shout out to my Warp Shell homies), and I hope to write more about them in the coming days. And the whole system is set to get better with time. Expansion 1 was released a couple of days ago (at time of writing), and introduces new loot tables, tables for random characters, and a Warp Shell adventure, including new player races and paper minis. It’s a living system that is being updated constantly at no extra cost. Also, to get the full experience, get involved in the ICRPG Google+ group; the Torton race began life as a homebrew for one DM’s friend, and is now a canonical part of the Warp Shell mythos. The people there are scarily talented.

Anyway, thank you if you got this far. If you have any questions, hit me up at sundaynightdm@gmail.com, @Chris_Hately on Instagram, @SundayNightDM on Twitter, or Sunday Night DM on YouTube – there is also a Warp Shell game (the adventure from Expansion 1) I livestreamed here.

As always, if you enjoy my content and want to help support it, feel free to check out my Patreon. I’m planning to get in there and start updating my goals and reward tiers, so make sure to check back regularly, and contact me if you’re worried about specific rewards changing after you pay for them. I don’t want anybody feeling hard done by!

Cheers guys!

Index Card RPG – First Look

Index Card RPG: Core is the work of Drunkens and Dragons creator Hankerin Ferinale. It’s a complete RPG system, built off the back of his Index Card ‘Volume’ packs, designed to give DMs the resources they need to either build stories on the fly, write adventures, or even do away with the traditional map systems some people use. I love the ‘Volumes’, and I have done since I first saw them used here. Hankerin talked a lot about the book in a Facebook livestream, and on YouTube, and they’re both worth watching in order to gain a fantastic insight into his thinking behind the rule set. Here, though, I want to give my rough first impressions on the ruleset as a whole, and a few initial thoughts on how to introduce elements into your existing games. Next week I hope to have a full review out, if I get the opportunity to actually play the game!

offline glyph

Overview.

The book, in its entirety, is 121 pages, and includes separate pdfs of the character sheet (which, incidentally, is also in the book), and printable, paper minis. But the size belies what makes this system look so appealing; it’s is so, so simple. Combine that with Hankerin’s ability to concisely present concepts I have rarely seen explained well and you have a book that is quick and easy to read, while conveying everything you need to run, or participate, in the game.

The book itself is split into a few distinct parts, each of which I’ll look at seperately:

  • The Introduction,
  • The Rules,
  • Characters,
  • World Primers,
  • Game Mastery,
  • Monsters,
  • and Loot.

The Introduction.

The introduction is really what it says on the tin. It explains generally what you need in order to start a game, how to build the paper minis cheaply and well, and it gives you, the players and Dungeon Masters, the permission to do things your way. This last bit is what makes me most happy – “The game simply says ‘Let’s run with that.'”. Adaptation, houseruling, and flying by the seat of your pants are hallmarks of great RPG groups; your group doesn’t play like mine, which doesn’t play like the group Arveene exists in, which doesn’t play the way Critical Role does. They shouldn’t play the same. Hell, the rules are barely the same. That’s the way it should be. New groups take time to learn this, and I feel having it started, at length, is wonderful.

The Rules.

The meat of what you want to read, I’m guessing, but one of the smaller sections of the book! I’m not going to dive deep into the rules, but there are some things I want to pull out and highlight after my first couple of read throughs.

“On Your Turn.”

In the space of two pages, this book breaks down everything a new player needs to know about how to play the game. Not only that, it does so by reinforcing the text with images so evocative and simple to understand, that the text is barely needed in the first place. I have spent hours, over the last three years, explaining to players how combat works, or that their imagination is far more important to the game than knowing the mechanics of doing what they want to do. These two pages do that wonderfully.

Effort, and the Simplification of DC.

The game, at it’s heart, is D&D 5e. That said, it strips away so much obfuscation and complexity that it becomes it’s own creature. DCs are set at 12, with a +/-3 modifier depending on the difficulty. A hard jump, for example, would need a 15, an easy one a 9. Rolls are made on a d20, with the associated ability modifier (note, skills are nonexistent in ICRPG) added. And that’s that. Pretty much standard fare for 5e.

The major difference here, though, is the concept of ‘effort’. In ICRPG, binary checks are made as they are in 5e – you either succeed in jumping over the gulf, or you fail. Climbing a wall, on the other hand, isn’t a pass or fail. It’s something that you do over time, and that people can help with. First you make your climb check, a single d20 roll, plus your Dex bonus. You pass! So now you roll you ‘effort dice’. This is either a d4 (for basic effort), or a d8 (for magical effort). This, usually, has to add up to 10, and can take multiple rolls over multiple turns. Once you’ve gained the requisite effort, you complete the challenge. I love this concept; it’s a great throw back to the skill challenges of 4e, but over more mundane elements of the game. It’s one example (though there are others) of complexity of game mechanics sacrificed in order to bring life to the game by creating new challenges. What was once a single dice roll, with tension and suspense created by the DMs description, is now tense in itself. How quickly will you climb that wall, with the monster stalking behind you?

Time.

In ICRPG, initiative is not a temporary state. It is a constant of the game, the only distinction being the length of time a ‘turn’ denotes. Initially this was a problem to me; I feel like it would ruin the flow of the game outside of combat. In the context of things like recovery, or even the effort system (and how checks differ depending on how long the turn is designed to take), I can see this working. Personally, I don’t think it suits my style of play, or the players I tend to play with, but I do feel it’s worth mentioning.

Recovery and Death.

I love the recovery system. It simplifies the sometimes difficult Hit Dice system to this – if you spend a turn in ‘Recovery’, you gain a set number of hit points back. In a ‘Moment’, you gain a single hit point if you roll a 20. In ‘Hours’, you regain a full heart (10hp), and a ‘Day’ puts you back to full hit points.

Death, too, is simpler (see the pattern yet?). On your first turn after being reduced to 0hp, roll 1d6. You have that many turns to live. At the start of each of those turns, roll a d20, and on a 20 you leap up with 1hp to fight again. During the countdown any player can use their action to stabilise you, with no check required; that halts the countdown until medical aid is administered.

Again, both these systems are great. In this ruleset they’ll work incredibly well, and the death mechanic is one I’m considering introducing to my home games.

The Banana.

Just a quick one. If you use minis, Hankerin suggests using the Banana rule for movement. Range is broken down into three stages – Close, near and far. Near is a single banana length, and close is base contact.

Now, I realise, using a banana to measure distance in an RPG is as ridiculous as it is arbitrary. One banana will be bigger than another, after all. And that, in my mind, is the whole point! It’s an allegory for this whole ruleset! The game is meant to be fun and fluid, focusing on what really matters, rather than becoming bogged down in the minutiae of the game mechanics. That said, don’t expect to see me using this one.

Characters.

There’s only one thing I really want to talk about here.

Characters.

Do not.

Level up.

You read that right.

Characters advancement in ICRPG is made in one of two ways. Each character class has a number of ‘Milestone Rewards’, which the players can choose for themselves when directed to by the DM. Loot, however, is the most common way of advancing your character. But we’ll talk more about loot later on.

World Primers.

The world primers are pretty damn good. They describe the Alfheim, fantasy setting (one which Drunkens and Dragons fans should be aware of), and Warp Shell, Hankerin’s sci-fi setting. Both settings are nicely described, with just enough information to give DMs plot hooks and atmosphere, while leaving them open for individual groups to build their own mythos.

Game Mastery.

Required reading. Worth the money for this section alone. It even goes so far as including a section about how to fit elements of ICRPG into your own prefered game system. Other things include story construction, encounter achetypes, stuff like that.

Monsters.

Monsters feel fairly similar to those from D&D and it’s kin. The stat lines are incredibly simple, however, with monsters gaining a flat bonus to all rolls, for the most part, as well as other abilities. I don’t feel I can say much else until I actually get to use them, but the simplicity of the stat blocks has me wondering whether it wouldn’t be a better option to what I do right now.

Loot.

Loot is rolled up from d100 tables, and is what drives character advancement in this game, with each item giving a bonus of some kind. The really cool thing is a appendix at the end covering class-specific quests, and the types of loot that characters could be given at completion.

Conclusions (For Now)

I really like the look of ICRPG. It looks really damned fun, and I’m stoked to play a game of it. That in itself is strange; I’d pretty much decided that 5e was my jam, and that I could hack it to do whatever I wanted! Turns out that now I wanna play someone else’s 5e hack!

If you’ve looked through the rules, do let me know what you think. If not, then I heartily recommend checking out the two Drunkens videos linked above and deciding if you can fork out the $17 for the book. Check it out here. As always, thanks so much for dropping by; this month has been amazing, and it’s all down to your support. Thank you. Seriously.

Draft Cartography: Lair of the Xanathar

The final arc of the game I ran in the Forgotten Realms involved the party (11 people in total, at that point) returning to Waterdeep for Midsummer. In the midst of the festivities, Dexter Halebrakt, the renowned illusionist of Baldur’s Gate, displayed his incredible skills. As the show ended, the screaming started. The children of the Sea Ward were gone…

A series of investigations, fights and Skullport-related shenanigans the party fought Dexter, in the illusory guise of a two-headed, golden dragon, and the Ulitharid controlling him. After a brutal fight that the party won, they found the children, only to be approached by a Beholder, representing the Xanathar organisation of Skullport…

The Premise of the Dungeon.

This dungeon was designed to cap off an adventure through the middle layers of the Undermountain, specifically Wyllowood. The Beholder (known as Altas Verdax) is looking to overthrow the leadership of the Xanathar, and needs to clear house in order to do it. Fights, danger and moral quandaries ensue, but that’s not why we’re here. The Xanathar’s Lair is a dungeon level designed to test and kill characters, as befits one of the most powerful Beholders in Faerûn. It had trick doors, a sea hag, and a blinded Beholder.

The Dungeon.

The Lair of the Xanathar

My original notes and sketches of the dungeon.

Rather than brush over every aspect of the dungeon, I’d like to focus on three encounters within the dungeon:

The Sea Hag’s Lair

Immediately after one of my favourite traps (regular readers may recognise the ‘one-player-trips-the-plate-then-the-next-player-gets-trapped-between-two-walls’ concept…this is the dungeon I designed it for!) is a flooded cavern, in almost complete darkness. Broken stone stairs lead into the water, too deep to wade through, too high to keep your head above water. This is the Sea Hag’s lair. Now, of course, for eleven level 5/6 players, a CR 2 sea hag isn’t much of a challenge. In obscured conditions, underwater, with very few air pockets, however…

The intention here is to have the players approach the hag secretly, in very small numbers, taking out the hag, then leading the other party members through the flooded cavern. I designed the encounter to test the tactical aptitude of the party, and involved a creepy, evocative monster with enough magical ability to flounder magical attempts to remove the water. It’s about as simple as that, really.

The Blinded Beholder

Of the three encounters, this is my favourite, and the one I want to focus on the most. The concept is to introduce the party to the mechanics of the Beholder, a creature with the ability to annihilate them if they go about things badly, in a way that allows them some degree of leeway.

The room is large, round, and dimly lit. In the centre, chained to a plinth, is a large, scaled Beholder with a milky white eye, rocking fitfully in it’s sleep. Hiding in the shadows are tiny Beholders, dreamt into existence by their larger kin. This is the central mechanic of the room; the central Beholder creates enemies for the party in reaction to various stimuli.

The room contains a number of Gazers, and a new Gazer comes into existence beside the Beholder randomly, assuming nothing else has happened. The Gazers watch the party, and only attack if they see an opportunity to gain an unfair advantage. As the party make their way through the room, they roll stealth checks against the Beholder’s passive perception. If they fail, the Beholder lashes out in it’s sleep. Randomly choose an eye ray, then make an attack roll at disadvantage. If the attack hits, then the ray has hit its target; resolve the ability as usual, focussed on the relevant character. If it misses, then ignore the rays effect. If the party attack the Beholder, there is a 50/50 chance that it spawns a Death Kiss. The end goal is to reach the doorway leading to a riddle, then take the item disgorged from the riddle area to a second doorway in order to escape (PS; I’m a big fan of not letting my players know if they got the riddle right. Hand them a magic item either way, just make it cursed, or otherwise bad, if they get the riddle wrong).

The trick here is to be stealthy, but escort the characters who can solve the riddle, all while trying to avoid tiny Beholder-kin and eye rays. It’s also a good way to beat out murder hobos –  a blinded Beholder is one thing. Multiple CR 10 Death Kisses, on the other hand, with no real way to escape? Nah thanks.

Xanathar – The Death Tyrant

The idea of Beholders dreaming kinda caught me. Any individual so afraid of their enemies that they build the ridiculous, convoluted dungeon we’re looking at must be terrified of their own demise. It makes sense, then, that they would limit visitors, or cut them out entirely. It turns out that Beholders who are obsessed with their own death become Death Tyrants. That’s kind’ve it, really. The big reveal – the Xanathar is not the entity they were expecting, but something else entirely.

Conclusions

I hope this dungeon has given you some ideas for yourself. The dungeon is by no means complete. The story arc was abandoned when I split my D&D group and handed both parts off to other DMs who were in the group, but it was a very formative dungeon for me, one that has bled into several things I’ve written and developed since. If you’ve got questions about anything else in the dungeon (like the ziggurat with the 50ft drop where you have to save against broken bones – something I flipping love), feel free to leave a comment or drop me a line. If there’s enough support for it I might even do up a proper map and PDF, if I get the time.

Anyway, cheers guys!

A Quick Word About Patreon

I recently launched my Patreon page, and I felt it was important to a) let you know that it exists, b) tell you my thinking behind it, and where I’d like to go with it, and c) ask you to give towards it while making sure you know that I don’t expect anything from you guys at all. Anything you give is absolutely appreciated, is a complete surprise, and motivates me to work harder and harder to be worth the money you pledge. But more on that later.

Why Patreon?

I love writing for D&D. It gets me up in the morning, keeps me alive during work, and relaxes me when I get home. I am constantly running ideas through my head for new campaigns, new regions, new characters, new monsters. I want to do so much; I’m already running one online game on a weekly basis, and am recording it to put up as a podcast; I try my best to write for the blog at least once a week (something I’m failing at due to pressures from work and other projects); I will soon be running a Patreon supporters’ game on a monthly basis; I’m building a campaign world, and campaign arcs for other DMs to use, for eventual sale through private channels (since I want to be able to provide PDFs to Patreon supporters, DMs Guild is out of the question).

Eventually, I want to be running two physical D&D games, each fortnightly, alternating weeks, to help build out Talomire and playtest the setting. I want to start writing Talomire-based fiction to give the world flavour and texture. I want to hire people to write, draw, etc. I want to add YouTube videos to my content, complimenting my posts or discussing things I can’t fit into 1,500 words. Finally, I want to get some of my friends together for a irregular podcast chatting about the differing ways we prepare for games, build worlds and run adventures.

Patreon is a fantastic way for me to begin to build this venture. It allows me to reward patrons with exclusive PDFs, access to our Talomire Slack group, and even to the patrons-only game! I really want to expand this, allowing patrons to be included in adventures, help create storylines and NPCs, etc, etc. I love the concept of fans contributing to the development of the thing they love, and Patreon is the best way for me to do that.

Rewards and Goals.

At the moment I have three reward tiers:

$3+ – PDFs of every map I make, along with descriptions of the rooms, and how I plan to use them.

I plan on getting back into map-making proper, and release a new map every two weeks. Alongside this I want to include a Homebrewery-made PDF detailing each of the rooms in the same way I would for a published adventure. The idea is that DMs can use these maps and the room descriptions in their own personal campaigns as a ‘drag and drop’ feature, should they ever need them. Eventually I’d like to be able to move this to once a week (and way down the line hire someone to help with this), doubling the bang for your buck.

$5+ – PDFs of everything I release for Talomire, before they are released for general sale, as well as access to the Talomire Slack group.

This is the level I really think is going to be worth starting at in the next few months. There are a number of full length campaigns I want to detail, as well as regional supplements and homebrewed rules, all of which will be included in this deal. Previous tiers’ rewards are also included.

$10+ – Access to the patron-only, online game (limited to 5 patrons).

I’m really excited about this game, and already have two backers who want to play! It’s giving me a fantastic chance to explore new areas of the map, and begin to expand Talomire beyond the Northwilds, which is awesome.

Eventually, if I earn enough through Patreon to work on it full time, I’d love to open this up to more backers and run a second (or even a third!) game! At the moment things are fairly open, but I do plan on setting a firm time and rough length for the game, to help me plan my month out. When this happens, all patrons on this tier will be given plenty of warning, should they wish to either adjust or cancel their pledge if the game is no longer viable for them. Of course, I don’t want this to happen, so I’ll be working with you guys to make it work for everyone.

Goals.

At the moment, my goals are as follows:

  • $150/month – I plan on starting print runs of my PDFs, complete with commissioned artwork.
  • $500/month – I plan on spending more time running the blog as a business, reducing my work hours to give myself more time to develop content.
  • $1000/month – At this point I want to be working full time on the blog (subject to conversations with my wife, of course!). This would include the YouTube channel, podcasts, etc.
  • $1500/month – This is where I get really pie-in-the-sky. I would love to hire somebody to come onboard. At the moment I’m undecided on the role, but it’s a toss up between writer and DM, hopefully with an artistic streak. This is very likely to be a way off (should I be so lucky), but I feel it’s important to treat these goals seriously, and mark out the path I want to be walking down eventually.
  • $2000+/month – Here we enter the world of investing in people and products; the world of starting a business, publishing my work on scale. Again, this is in no way defined, it’s just an idea of where I want to go.

The Call To Action.

I can’t do this without you. It’s really that simple. The things I want to release and the content I want to write and record need investment of both time and money, and I want to be in a place to give both . If you enjoy my content, and want to see more of it, have a gander at my Patreon page and consider giving some money towards the dream! That said, please don’t feel that you need to. The map PDFs will still be summarised in much the same way that Aesolyn’s Halls were, and all the Talomire content will available for sale.

If you do give towards the blog, then you have my unreserved thanks and gratitude. Unless you’ve been given money by people to do what you love, you can’t know the humbling experience that it is. It makes me want to work harder, smarter and better to give you all the content you deserve. Hopefully I can do that.

My Patreon can be found here: www.patreon.com/sundaynightdm

Thank you,

Chris.

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.