Friday, September 16, 2016

Dungeons & Dragons Has Always Been Cool

This morning I read this article and immediately wanted to follow-up. Dungeons and Dragons has always been cool. Sure there was a time when it was not socially accepted by the mainstream. But that was also during an age when information was shared by only the press and various networks. Today social media has opened the eyes of many people regarding a plethora of subjects. Role-playing games have certainly gained traction because of this phenomenon.

The difference between the gross misinformation of the 70s and 80s, and watching people having fun playing D&D on YouTube is like night and day. Now even the remotely curious can investigate any tabletop game before purchasing it. Since 1974 players have been sitting around a table with friends playing Dungeons & Dragons. I would argue that other forms of entertainment will never be as compelling. Why? Because whether playing a video game, watching a movie, or reading a book, you are using someone else’s imagination.

Figment is exhausted after batting around a D20.
When playing a game such as Dungeons & Dragons you are using your own imagination. In terms of a collaborative story-telling game, it’s just timeless. It does not matter what edition you play, or the genre, role-playing games are a wonderful hobby. If anything I think we are experiencing a renaissance of sorts right now with table-top games.

While social media is wonderful, we are really NOT connected by it. Nothing replaces gathering a few friends and socializing in real time. A role-playing game is often a great catalyst to make this happen. Even if your table-top is virtual, the end result is better than refreshing Twitter or Facebook relentlessly while bored out of your gourd.

So yes Dungeons & Dragons has ALWAYS been cool. For over thirty years dedicated and enthusiastic players have helped to make the pastime infectious. I’m glad some people are finally catching up! And more importantly that a new generation of players is growing into the hobby during this wonderful and open-minded time. So dig out those dice and take a romp through the dungeon this weekend. Who knows what adventures await!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Monster: Pumpkin (Spice) Pudding

As usual this time of year the pumpkin spice apocalypse has started early. Everywhere you look products that should not even have the flavor are jumping on the pumpkin cart. In response to this craze I decided to create a monster for use in during your Fall game sessions. In the very least this should cause a few chuckles around the table. Well at least until they realize this nasty ooze is more than tongue in cheek.

These custard horrors are formed from the innards of a rotted pumpkin. The latter cannot be any ordinary jack-o’-lantern however. Instead it must be from a pumpkin patch which has been enchanted with foul magic. The origin of the magic is often debated by scholars, but almost always involves malicious fey. Pumpkin delights are popular in the realm when the leaves begin to change color and fall. The fey decided to emulate these treats and punish the humans encroaching on their sacred forests.

A pumpkin pudding appears and smells much like its namesake. Unlike other oozes, a pumpkin pudding is intelligent and very patient. The creature wishes to be consumed so it may create more Pumpkin Zombies for the control of its fey masters. If discovered, the pumpkin pudding will fight to the death if escape is not an option. If the opportunity presents itself, the pudding will attempt to slither into the mouth of any unconscious or disabled foe. There are even tales of these puddings creeping into the mouth, nose, or ears of sleeping victims.

Pumpkin (Spice) Pudding
Small ooze, unaligned
Armor Class 8
Hit Points 22 (3d8 + 9)
Speed 10 ft., climb 10 ft.
STR 12 (+1) DEX 6 (-2) CON 16 (+3) INT 10 (+0) WIS 10 (+0) CHA 2 (-4)   
Skills Stealth +2
Damage Resistances acid, cold, fire, bludgeoning, piercing, slashing.
Condition Immunities blinded, charmed, deafened, exhaustion, frightened, prone
Senses blindsight 60 ft. (blind beyond this radius), passive Perception 8
Languages —
Challenge 2 (450 XP)

Amorphous: The ooze can move through a space as narrow as 1 inch wide without squeezing.
False Appearance: While the ooze remains motionless, it is indistinguishable from a delicious treat.
Pulpy Innards: If consumed, 9 (2d6 + 2) necrotic damage, and the target must succeed on a DC 13 Constitution saving throw or its hit point maximum is reduced by an amount equal to the damage taken. This reduction lasts until the target finishes a long rest. The target dies if this effect reduces its hit point maximum to 0. A humanoid slain by this attack rises 24 hours later as a Pumpkin Zombie under the control of dark fey. The caveat being the humanoid is restored to life or its body is destroyed.

Pseudopod: Melee Weapon Attack: +3 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 4 (1d6 + 1) bludgeoning damage plus 7 (2d6) necrotic damage.

DM Tips
Although it’s a very tough creature because of its resistances, combat is something the pudding prefers to avoid. Instead it will wait patiently to be consumed or for an opportunity to enter a helpless victim. As an agent of evil fey, the pudding is calculating and very careful.

For some added fun, when using this monster be sure to include some real pumpkin pudding to your game session. Although the players may be a tad reluctant to eat it after meeting these creamy nightmares!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Adventures in the Upside Down

*Warning Spoilers* After watching Stranger Things, I spent some time digging through old D&D books. Since I started playing D&D in 1983 the show really resonated with me. It was like Steven Spielberg and Stephen King sat around and created an old school D&D module. Like most viewers I became very interested in the Vale of Shadows as referenced by the kids:

“The Vale of Shadows is a dimension that is a dark reflection, or echo, of our world. It is a place of decay and death, a plane out of phase, a [place] with monsters. It is right next to you and you don’t even see it.”

There has been some postulation that the Vale of Shadows is just the Plane of Shadows or the Shadowfell from the Forgotten Realms. But in the spirit of D&D canon, and looking back to 1983, I found something more compelling to use. In Dragon 73 (May 1983) Gary Gygax explores quasi-elemental planes. One of these places which existed between the Positive and Negative elemental planes was the Plane of Ash.

It was not until 1987 that Jeff Grubb expanded the quasi-elemental Plane of Ash in the Manual of the Planes. As I read through some of the descriptive material in my copy it was hauntingly similar to the Upside Down. Here are a few potentially relevant excerpts:

The plane of Ash exists without light, heat, or flame in the same fashion as Vacuum exists without air. Breathing is difficult as there is no breathable air, similar to the plane of Vacuum. Unlike in Vacuum, the cool, charred remains of this plane can be transformed into a breathable element.

“The atmosphere is toxic” - Chapter Eight: The Upside Down

Art by Matt Ferguson
The plane of quasi-elemental Ash is the depletion of warmth and fire. The transition from the plane of Fire to that of Ash occurs in a region of cooling temperature and the dusty remains of burned materials hanging in the atmosphere. The plane is bone chillingly cold. Finally, the ash thickens to a grey, dusty wall, beyond which is the darkness of the Negative Material plane.

Vision in the plane of Ash is reduced to 30 yards because of the dust-like particles in the air.

Obviously I am not suggesting that the Upside Down is indeed the Plane of Ash. That said I think it would be good starting point to design your own version of the Upside Down. Ash by its very definition is the residue of something destroyed and descriptive of death. Perhaps in this alternate dimension or potential future reality as we understand it is destroyed, reduced to ashes. The membranous material seen in the Upside Down reminds me of something new growing from the decay.

That strange something may indeed also be the weird alien creature, or Demogorgon as referenced by the kids.  Whatever this tenebrous reality may be, it remains a very intriguing place for adventurers to explore in a table-top session. Perhaps the creatures inside the Upside Down are powerless to affect our world until a portal is mistakenly opened? This could be a great adventure hook because of some magical mishap, or ill-advised use of psionic powers.

At first the creature begins to hunt for food in the game world, which consists of hapless animals. Then it grows more daring and takes humanoid victims to incubate with parasitoids. These larvae will eventually consume their victims and grow into offspring. The adventurers are perhaps hired by some remote village to investigate the disappearances. For fans of Stranger Things a session like this could be a fun diversion from a regular slog through the dungeon. And with Halloween around the corner it contains enough mystery and horror elements for a scary evening of D&D.

If you are looking for an example Demogorgon to use for your own Upside Down, Newbie DM released one today.
Shirt available here

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Curse of Strahd: Dark Zodiac

I have always been fascinated with the zodiac and think it remains really gameable for an RPG campaign.  People have thought for generations that maybe the personalities of newborns were shaped by the Zodiac. Fast forward to 2016 and I still find it fun to poke around modern horoscopes when I see them. The Vistani and their fortune telling seem to align perfectly with the Zodiac. Below is a list I was working on for my own Curse of Strahd campaign. It could be used during character generation or alternatively when travelers cross the mist into the Demiplane of Dread.

The attribute changes are just suggestions based on the feel I was trying to accomplish. Obviously change them as you see fit for your own campaign. The dark powers are strange and affect everyone in ways that are not always the sum total of game mechanics. In the very least the Dark Zodiac opens all sorts of role-playing doors for your group while on vacation in Barovia.

No mater your choice, the Dark Zodiac is a fun way to introduce changes in a character’s personality. The more time they spend in Strahd’s domain the darkness seeps into them. Some of their worst qualities are heightened, while perhaps more redeeming ones are suppressed. Perhaps the characters can explore these changes around a campfire with a Vistani fortune teller? Maybe there is a way to reverse the changes that only the Vistani know about!

Dark Zodiac (1d12)

1. The Despot: March 21 - April 19 (Aries): You begin acting impulsively and demand things more often. You are prone to losing your temper when things don’t go your way. -1 to Wisdom and +1 to Strength

2. The Sinful: April 20- May 20 (Taurus): Your vanity knows no bounds. In addition you have become very materialistic. Self-indulgence is your new guilty pleasure. -1 to Wisdom +1 to Charisma

3. The Doppelganger: May 21 - June 20 (Gemini): You are prone to extreme shifts of being cheerful and then melancholy. You also love to hear yourself talk. -1 to Charisma +1 to Wisdom

4. The Spider: June 21 - July 22 (Cancer): You are very cautious and will not be easily pried away from your perceived safety zone. You have little trust of others. -1 Charisma +1 Intelligence

5. The Radiant: July 23 - August 22 (Leo): You are extremely charming but often to your detriment. You prefer to be the center of attention, regardless of the cost. -1 Wisdom +1 Charisma

6. The Mist: August 23 - September 22 (Virgo): You have become very pessimistic about everything. So much that you question the trust of everyone around you. -1 Wisdom +1 Intelligence

7. The Gargoyle: September 23 - October 22 (Libra): You have become very unsure of things and must weigh every option before making a decision. -1 Dexterity +1 Wisdom

8. The Zealot: October 23 - November 21 (Scorpio): Your mood has become fiery to say the least. What used to be passion is now anger over most things. -1 Wisdom +1 Constitution.

9. The Arcane: November 22 - December 21 (Sagittarius): You have become an insufferable know-it all with little social filter. Blunt would be putting it mildly. -1 Wisdom +1 Intelligence

10. The Monarch: December 22 - January 19 (Capricorn): You have developed a taste for controlling those around you. Everyone else is there for your benefit after all. -1 Constitution +1 Charisma

11. The Crow: January 20 - February 18 (Aquarius): Those around you are suspect and you now feel it’s your duty to judge them all. You often seem cold and aloof to others. -1 Charisma +1 Constitution

12. The Vagabond: February 19 - March 20 (Pisces): You have become gullible in wishing to leave this dark land. Your lack of direction at times is an albatross. -1 Wisdom +1 Dexterity

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Quest: Hugh's Weird Dice

Hugh the Valiant...
  • He once won a fist fight, only using his moustache.
  • His bell bottoms never wrinkle.
  • When critically hit, his blood smells like cologne.
  • He once rolled a fumble, just to see how it feels.
  • His friends call him by his name, his enemies don't call him anything because they are all dead.
He is the most Interesting Barbarian in the World.

Hugh is one of the iconic characters of Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. A few years ago an official tube of weird dice belonging to themed after Hugh were released. The dice are colored the same white and red as Hugh's legendary bell bottoms.They contained D3, D4, D5, D6, D7, D8, D10, D%10, D12, D14, D16, D20, D24, and D30.

Unfortunately, they have been sold out at the Goodman Games website for quite some time. I have been told on several occasions there is no intention for now to make them again.

For the better part of the last year I have been trying to find a set to no avail. If you know anyone with a tube for sale (or trade) and could point me in the right direction it would be greatly appreciated. Please email me at realmofultanya@gmail[dot]com

Thank you in advance for helping complete this quest!

UPDATE: My quest is complete. Special thanks to Matt Hildebrand​​ for trading with me!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Play’s The Thing

This past weekend marked the fifth year of our friends and family event, Ultracon. A good portion of the year two other DM’s and I work on a collaborative adventure. One which will accommodate up to eighteen players over the course of two days. This year we re-skinned the classic D&D module, S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. I plan to write another blog post with details and pictures, but suffice to say the event was a blast. Crashed spaceship and lasers? Roll initiative!

In the evening we had after hours gaming and I ran DCC RPG using Black Powder, Black Magic by Stormlord Publishing. I used the zero level funnel in volume one, The Devil’s Cauldron and everyone enjoyed it. It was at the very moment I realized just looking around the room how much I enjoy actually PLAYING these games. As an adult with a ridiculous schedule it’s very easy to lose track of how much fun the RPG hobby is.

I can count on two hands the amount of times we gathered for a game session in the past year. Most of the gamers in my circle have kids, crazy work hours, and just family life in general. I’m definitely counted among one of those with the wackiest of schedules. Ultimately this is why our event Ultracon is so important, as it gathers us all for a short period of time. That said, I can see the same sentiment being shared by attendees of Gen Con this past week. Reconnecting with old friends and enjoying the timeless pastime of RPGs is invigorating.

So who else is left with wanting more? I personally have been filling the gaming void with DIY publishing and blogging over the years. It really has scratched that itch to play for me and served as a great creative outlet. But after every Ultracon I realize that it’s really just a band aid, a dice tower to contain that d20 just wishing to roll across the table. I have even purchased more OSR products then I can ever use as my gaming library is massive. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy all of these publications and admire the work of the amazing OSR community. In the end through, all this reading throughout the year is just another distraction. A good one, but a distraction.

I plan to try and game more often in the future. Because nothing replaces gathering around the table, wooden or virtual, to enjoy an RPG. I often wonder when I read the plethora of blog posts every week if other people are suffering the same fate. Everyone seems to be talking about gaming, but how many are actually playing? If you are counted among those living vicariously through watching other people play, or reading about it, make a change.

Sure everyone’s circumstances are different, and schedules don’t fit neatly in a box. But with a little effort you may be able to help organize more game sessions, whatever your favorite RPG may be. Social media alone is riddled with players looking to connect and gather for a game. Or you may not have to look further then your own friends and family.

I purposefully named this blog post The Play’s The Thing. Shakespeare's plays were created first with performance in mind. For the uninitiated, they first existed on the stage well before ever existing on the page. In my opinion reading Shakespeare is far duller then experiencing it. The same can be said for RPGs, which ultimately are a collaborative story telling performance. Whatever your strategy may be, make it happen and roll more dice, because nothing replaces actually playing the game!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Castles Made of Sand

As usual my blog went mostly silent in July as I prepared for Ultracon and was on family vacation. I cannot reveal the theme for this year’s Ultracon as some of the players read this blog. Suffice to say, it contains six months of work and a custom 5E adventure. I will follow-up for sure with a post-convention report to share what we did. While on vacation I made a promise to myself that I would read a book. Interestingly, not was I only able to complete the book, but I never turned on my laptop once during vacation. My choice was Empire of Imagination by Michael Witwer.

For the uninitiated, this is the dramatized biography of Gary Gygax, co-founder of Dungeons & Dragons. I had several people asking me on Twitter if I enjoyed the book and my response is a resounding YES! If you have ever been curious about the origin of this wonderful hobby, and D&D specifically, you should read this book. I was pleasantly surprised of how easy of a read it was, and was wishing for more at the end.

The book was a fascinating look into how the game was created, TSR was formed, and the rags to riches – and back to rags element. Working in the legal field, the litigious nature of the gaming industry was saddening to read about. That said the vignettes of Gary’s early life were my favorite part of the book. I think Witwer did a good job of taking us back to the beginning and showing all of Gary’s influences. My only criticism of the book is the length at 300 pages which I think is a tad short. It seems to me a life so well played has many more stories to tell. Maybe the Gygax children will follow-up one day with their own books.

Gary Gygax day actually just passed on July 27th, which celebrates Gary’s birthday each year. One of the items featured in Empire of Imagination is Gary’s legendary sand-topped table. Gary played many wargames on that table in the basement of his home. In the video below gaming historian Jon Peterson visits the old Gygax residence and shows what the sand table would have looked like:

As my own feet were buried in the sand of the beach, reading Empire of Imagination, my mind started to wander. What if player characters found a similar table that was magic? What sort of strange trinkets and objects may be buried in the sand? Please find below the start of fun list of such Gygax themed items. Perhaps you can help expand it by posting an idea?

Mordenkainen’s Marvelous Miniatures (1d4)

1.    A 35mm Tiger tank, complete with working cannon. The tank is able to attack as per a Lightning Bolt spell cast by an 11th level wizard once per day. If left in the sand of a gaming table for 24-hours it will recharge.

2.    70mm Fire Giant, complete with Hellhound sidekick. Upon the command of Ironbelly the figures will animate and attack one chosen target. Even in their diminutive state they have full attacks as per the Monster Manual. After one full round the figures turn to a pile of smoking ash.

3.    25mm Green Devil Face on a small stand. If taken off the stand the face will open its mouth, thus activating the Sphere of Annihilation inside. Any object inserted into the mouth will be subject to the sphere. Once something is so affected the Green Devil Face will dissolve into a cloud of smoke which briefly spells the name Acererak.

4.    54mm thimble which appears to be a suit of Chainmail armor. If placed on a finger it will magically garb the user in chainmail which is virtually weightless. The armor will last until the end of one full combat, at which point it reverts back to its original form. If left in the sand of a gaming table for 24-hours it will recharge.

And so castles made of sand, fall in the sea, eventually.