Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Dark Yule Tree

Having touched on both Krampus and the Yule Cat in previous posts I wanted to design a holiday horror of my own. While sitting in my living room admiring our decorated Christmas tree my mind started to wonder what would happen if it animated. I have always liked the idea of the Treant in the Dungeons & Dragons game. It first appeared as the ent (Tolkien) in the 1974 White Box but was quickly changed to Treant because of copyright issues.

The Christmas or Yule tree tradition finds its origins in Germany sometime around the 16th century. Initially just piles of evergreen wood with candles it soon changed to the entire tree. The tree was a sign of life with the candles arguably being a reference to the sun. One can completely understand why this tradition gained traction during the cold and unforgiving winter months. But what if the tree that was placed inside a home had its own motivations? What if the tree was actually a vile and wicked creature that was simply looking for its next meal?

Dark Yule Tree

These creatures were once a treant that have been twisted and corrupted by evil and malicious fey. When the midwinter festival begins the dark yule trees advance closer to human settlements. Feigning the appearance of a regular tree their hope to be cut down and brought into a home or mead hall. Once there these horrific creatures wait until their host is sleeping to animate and attack. After feasting the dark yule tree returns to the forest to grow new roots and hibernate until next winter solstice.

Druids are regularly asked to inspect pine tree copses but the dark yule tree is a master of deception. Additionally it is very rare for a community to be haunted by dark yule trees on consecutive years. The trees are far too intelligent to return to the same place twice for fear of being discovered. All across the realm the dark yule tree is something most believe just be a story designed to frighten wide eyed children. Unfortunately for the naysayers these carnivorous trees do exist and although their appearance is extremely rare they gorge themselves on human fare every season.

Dark Yule Tree (5th edition)
Large plant, Neutral evil
Armor Class: 16 (natural armor)
Hitpoints: 64 (8d10+20)
Speed: 30’

STR: 18 (+4)
DEX: 12 (+1)
CON: 15 (+2) 

INT: 16 (+3)
WIS: 16 (+3)
CHR: 8 (-1)

Damage Resistances bludgeoning, piercing
Damage Vulnerabilities fire
Senses passive Perception 13
Languages Common, Druidic, Fey, Sylvan
Challenge 6 (2,300 XP)

False Appearance. While the dark yule remains motionless, it is indistinguishable from a normal tree.
Magic Resistance. The dark yule has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects.


Multiattack. The dark yule tree makes two bite attacks.

Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 14 (3d8+4) piercing damage.

Animate Object (1/Day). The dark yule tree magically animates one or two ornaments it is decorated with. The object remains animate for 1 day or until it dies; until the dark yule tree dies or is more than 120 feet from the tree; or until the dark yule tree takes a bonus action to turn it back into an inanimate object. Animated objects have the following base statistics:

Armor Class: 16 (natural)
Hit Points: 30
Speed: 15’
Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 7 (1d8+3) piercing damage.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Behold the Ugly Christmas Sweater

The giant googly eye moves!
The ugly Christmas sweater has become a whimsical gag of the holiday season for years now. What was once something you were forced to wear as a child is now a fun badge of honor with family and friends. Every year I see pictures all over social media of hilarious and tacky sweaters. It really is amazing how much steam the trend has gained and it provides everyone with a good laugh.

Amongst my immediate circle of 30+ gamers we are having an ugly Christmas sweater contest this year. The prize for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place is a full set of new 1985 opaque Gamescience dice. Tanya Logan decided to up the ante and crafted her own ugly Christmas sweater complete with an amazing beholder! I was so impressed I wanted to share it with the gaming community. I love the little Santa hats on the eyestalks and the critical showing on the d20. Tanya worked on this epic sweater for six hours and it shows! 

Many people spend a good portion of their year worrying about their appearance. The great thing about an ugly Christmas sweater party is for one night you can just look ridiculous. The possible themes a gaming group could come up with are just endless. I’m already thinking I need to now host a game night where everyone comes in an ugly Christmas sweater. Who knows maybe the most on target sweater gets a big XP bonus! This holiday season don’t be afraid to get your ugly on! After all with ugly Christmas sweaters, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Ho Ho Ho...roll initiative!

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Yule Cat

Holiday monsters continue to be something that fascinates me since they make such wonderful gaming material. The Yule Cat is one such creature that finds its origins in 19th century Iceland. Yule is an interesting word with etymology in the Old Norse jol (plural). It was used to describe the midwinter festival well before its modern use being associated with the Christmas holiday. With that background in mind it explains why the Yule Cat (Icelandic: Jólakötturinn or Jólaköttur) only comes to visit us once a year.

According to legend the Yule Cat will eat anyone who was not gifted new clothing to wear during the holidays. Uncorroborated history suggests that the Yule Cat was dreamed up to motivate workers to spin wool garments faster for the winter. If they completed all their work they would reap the benefit of receiving new clothing for Yule. Still to this day, some people feel it very important to secure new clothing during the holidays to avoid the malicious beast known as the Yule Cat. Perhaps if I knew this legend as a child all those ugly velour sweaters and corduroy pants I received would have been more important!

Jóhannes úr Kötlum (1899–1972), an Icelandic writer created a poem about the Yule Cat which gives us some additional insight into the creature.

So the question remains how can we add the Yule Cat to our holiday tabletop adventures? Below I have outlined a random table for potential hooks any DM could use.

Yule Cat Adventures (d8)
1.    The PC’s answer a posted reward for locating a missing caravan supply of winter clothing by a panicked village.
2.    A local druid suspects there is an evil fey creature lurking in the woods during Yule and asks for help in locating it.
3.    A strange feline howling can be heard following the PC’s on a snowy road. They are being watched.
4.    Lazy workers are banned from a village and found by the PC’s in a snow drift. They explain they need new clothing before they can return home.
5.    Claw marks are found on the door in the morning of whatever establishment the PC’s are staying in. The locals beg them to purchase new clothes for fear of the snow demon’s wrath.
6.    Frightened peasant children approach the PC’s and plea for new clothing. They appear famished and emaciated but want clothing over food.
7.    The PC’s see the visage of cat peeking in the window of an inn they frequent. The staff fearfully draws the shutters and locks the door.
8.    The PC’s feel as though they are being stalked by something which keeps getting closer as the midwinter festival approaches.

If you don’t have time to develop your own adventure I have created a system agnostic quick one shot below. The village, its NPCs and various parts of the dungeon have been intentionally not fleshed out.

Season of the Witch

With Yule quickly approaching a local witch has kidnapped the village tailor in her lair. If her plans work correctly the winter orders for clothing will not be completed and the Yule cat will make an appearance to feast. Once the village has been purged of guards and officials the witch will be able to subjugate whoever remains very easily.

The PC’s are contacted by a relative or acquaintance who knows they are adventurers. They explain a witch of some power is suspected to have abducted the village tailor. They are fearful that a winter demon will target them if the season’s clothing order is not completed.

Village Rumors (d6)
1.    Stitches of thread may lead to the lair of the witch (t)
2.    The Yule Cat will not eat dwarves or elves (f)
3.    The witch has in her possession a magic bag (t)
4.    The Yule Cat only hunts at night (f)
5.    Catnip can be used to distract the Yule Cat (f)
6.    The Yule Cat is stronger than half a dozen men (t)

The domain of the witch is an ice cavern which exists under an old stone bridge. It can be found by a good tracker because of small clothing stitches found on the wind swept snow. It is roughly a thirty minute trek from the village on foot through the snow drifts. The interior of the lair is not lighted unless noted and consists of stone covered in thick sheets of faceted ice. The temperature is extremely cold and all attempts to melt the ice will fail as some ancient eldritch enchantment prevents it.

Room Key

1.    Entry: Frozen droplets on cobwebs; leering faces carved in ice; unnatural chill. 1d2 rounds after entry the faces will animate with a magic mouth and proclaim, “Interlopers your bones will be snapped like frozen twigs. Leave this place!” If the PC’s leave and re-enter the warning will occur again.

2.    Cold Reception: Long table covered in ice; six chairs with seated suits of frozen (posed as if eating) armor; faded banner collection; faintly working ever-burning torch. Nearing the table will animate the skeletons (6) which occupy this chamber. Each is wearing plate mail armor and fights with the skill they had in life (4th level fighters). Inquisitive PC’s will be able to determine the banners are death shrouds and these were all knights in life who were apparently exhumed and animated. One of the skeletal knights wields a +1 sword named Quintessence (see new magic items).

3.    Alchemy Storage: Wooden shelves crammed with bottles; large bubbling stone bowl; toxic smell. This room is used by the witch to create magic potables. There is a 30% chance for every 10 rounds spent searching the shelves the PC’s will find a rare spell or alchemy component. The bowl in the center of the chamber is a Cauldron of the Witch.

4.    Ursine Guardian: Clusters of ice stalactites; thick clumps of white hair; ice with deep claw gouges; foul animal odor. This massive chamber is the lair of a Dire Polar Bear (1) which is a long time guardian of the witch. The creature is aware of the PC’s and hiding behind a cluster of stalactites. Clever PC’s searching the room may see its reflection off one of the faceted ice walls and avoid being surprised. Amongst the bones of victims can be found 200gp, a potion of water breathing and a cursed -2 dagger.

5.    Reliquary Portal: Columns of magically carved ice; burnt offerings; demonic sigils; heavy air which sparks occasionally. Those skilled in the arcane will sense that dark rituals take place here to open portals to lost places. The runes on the floor indicate (read magic) the witch recently traveled to the lair of a beast named Krampus to trade with it.

6.    Sanctuary: Ice covered bed; small table and chairs; collection of scarfs; animal furs on walls and floor. The witch is here waiting in ambush under one of the largest animal furs. She counts as a 6th level wizard for purposes of spells and abilities. If the battle begins to favor the PC’s the witch will retreat via a Dimension Door scroll to seek out the Yule Cat. She will then lure the beast to her lair with promises of a delicious feast of heroes with old clothing. Any PC who gifts a companion one of the witch’s scarfs will avoid this fate. Under the bed is 1300gp, a wand of lightning bolt (4 charges), and a Bag of Krampus.

7.    Blocked Passage: Hazy ice wall; frozen blood stains; strange pulsating in the area. The wall is actually a massive Ice Cube (1) which guards the area. This creature is a gelatinous cube with the consistency of sloshy ice. Any target trapped inside the cube suffers cold damage instead of acid. Fire based attacks are particularly effective against an Ice Cube.

8.    Prison: Piles of bones; shackles and weights; filthy straw mats; stacks of old clothing; odor of excrement. The PC’s will find the corpse of the tailor here frozen in the corner. The witch has been subjugating villages for decades and the remains of victims here represent that. Enterprising PC’s will find a way to use the clothing here to protect the village from the fate of the Yule Cat.

New Monster

Yule Cat
This evil fey creature does not even need to be represented with any statistics. However I have provided below an example of how devastating it should be using the fifth edition rule set. This is not a creature meant to become another notch on some warrior’s sword. Rather a holiday tale sung by a hearth about a witch, a cat and the kindness of giving a warm article of clothing to someone for the holidays.

New Magic Item

This +1 longsword when wielded imparts a selfless desire to help others. This will occur regardless of alignment although the help could be imparted through good or evil acts. When acting to help others Quintessence becomes a +2 sword which criticals on a 19-20. The DM is the final arbiter of when this bonus should be applied.

Legend holds that Grumpy and the Yule Cat are related.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Bag of Krampus

Krampus has really started to gain traction as a holiday favorite in my neck of the woods. I recently started using Krampus as part of my holiday D&D game to much success. Just the idea of a dark counterpart to St. Nicholas punishing the naughty is perfect for a game session. With Krampusnacht (Krampus night) coming on December 5th I thought this was a perfect time for a new magic item. Legend holds that Krampus captures terribly naughty children in his bag and then takes them to his lair.

I decided that Krampus must have lots of help with this task. Santa has his elves right? Therefore Krampus being an ancient powerful being has created an army of simulacrums. In addition he has a plethora of magical bags to carry away naughty children in.

Bag of Krampus

This either appears as a black cloth sack or a fruit picking basket pack. The bag of krampus opens into a non-dimensional pocket space: The inside being larger than its outside dimensions. Each bag is physically unique but is a gateway to one of the many lairs of Krampus. Regardless of what is put into the bag, it remains weightless. If a sharp object intentionally pierces the bag from the outside its magic will be ruined forever closing the internal gateway thus becoming a mundane bag.

The only way to rescue any trapped children inside the bag of krampus is to actually enter it. Once inside there is no possible way to escape unless the dimensional anchors are located and destroyed. These consist of bundles of birch wood switches known as ruten. Krampus uses them to swat naughty children but the magic also binds other living beings to the lair. If the lair inside the bag is cleared of ruten bundles and any trapped children it becomes a bag of holding. Use the following table to determine the result:

Bag of Holding (d4)
1.    Type I
2.    Type II
3.    Type III
4.    Type IV

If a bag of krampus is placed within a portable hole nothing happens. However if it has been transformed into a bag of holding then all normal rules and penalties apply.

Adventure Hooks (1d4)
1.    The PCs hear of a small town with missing children and a large posted reward for their safe return.
2.    A bag of krampus is found inside the room of a niece or nephew of a PC. They are missing.
3.    The PCs wake up inside a lair of krampus wearing rags with raised switch welts all over their bodies.
4.    The PCs unknowingly purchased the bag of krampus ages ago. Krampusnacht week begins and children vanish wherever the PCs frequent.

Most lairs of Krampus are cold and unforgiving cave systems with long corridors to torment children as they are dragged through them. Loud noises such as screams echo freely and a ghostly light is provided by the icy walls.

Random Corridor Encounters (d6)
1.    1d4 lost children
2.    1d6 skeletons covered in ice (+3 AC bonus. Successful fire based attack negates).
3.    Animated Naughty List. Targets non good aligned PC’s first. Can cast up to 3rd level spells.
4.    1d6 goblin servants pulling a screaming child to the cooking pit.
5.    Animated coal. Large piles block the path. Makes ranged attacks against PCs for 1d6 rounds.
6.    Krampus Simulacrum. Counts as a troll with the visage of a goat with tall horns, long tongue and hoofed feet.

Room Key
1.    Cooking pit: Foul odor of cooking meat; floor strewn with lumps of coal; piles of wood; huge rotisserie. Goblins (3) are happily cooking someone or something in the pit.
2.    Krampusnacht Chamber: Faded mosaics of people parading through villages dressed as krampus; barrel full of ceremonial staffs; piles of coal on floor. One staff is actually a staff of the serpent.
3.    Ruten Garden: Frozen stalactites; sour tree sap odor; groves of birch trees; feeling of being watched. Treant (1) hides in the largest grove. 50% chance any melee weapon striking it sticks to the sappy bark hide. Strength check of 15+ needed to remove.
4.    Dimensional Anchor: Secret Door to enter; four bundles of ruten with arcane glow; clumps of mottled fur; eldritch runes smattered on walls and floor. 50% chance that a Krampus simulacrum is encountered here. All four piles of ruten must be destroyed to disable the dimensional anchor.

Have you been naughty or nice?

If you enjoyed this check out Tales from the Game Tavern issue #2

Monday, December 1, 2014

Silhouette of Annihilation

High level adventurers should always expect the unexpected but sometimes an old favorite can be spiced up to challenge them. One classic item to accomplish this first appeared in the 1979 Dungeon Master’s Guide and is known as the Sphere of Annihilation:

A globe of absolute blackness, a ball of nothingness 2 feet in diameter. The object is actually a hole in the continuity of the multiverse. Any matter that comes in contact with a sphere is instantly sucked into the void, gone, and utterly destroyed. Only the direct intervention of a deity can restore an annihilated character.

It certainly has always been one of the boogey men of Dungeons & Dragons magic items. For example how many player characters met their demise in S1: Tomb of Horrors by stepping into the Green Devil Face? I decided to take the good old sphere and mash it together with a pseudo like ghost to create something new to terrify player characters with.

What if the direct intervention of a cruel deity or similar powerful entity fused an aspect of the victim to the sphere? What if an imprint of their consciousness was left behind in a twisted and deranged way? The idea of a freely moving sphere of annihilation shaped like the silhouette of its last victim is a terrifying prospect indeed. This is especially true considering a sphere of annihilation is normally static in terms of movement without incredible mental effort.

A silhouette of annihilation usually haunts the area of its demise and remains stationary and inert until anything living approaches. Once it senses living matter the silhouette will immediately begin moving toward it very aggressively. It has been cursed to perceive other life as the root cause of its hellish existence. What remains of its mind is exposed to the secrets of the multiverse and all its alien horrors. It cannot be bargained with and no form of communication will work whatsoever.

The silhouette of annihilation counts as an undead creature and therefore it can be rebuked but never destroyed. Most clerics often mistake the silhouette for a shadow which can lead to rather grim consequences. A cleric’s ability to turn a silhouette should be assigned a very high check number by the DM. That being said, the roll should always have disadvantage in 5E or a massive penalty in other editions. If the check succeeds, the cleric can force the silhouette to leave the immediate area as long as they present their holy symbol. 

This prevents the cleric from casting or concentrating upon spells and from making attacks. The cleric may move at their normal movement rate. If concentration is broken for any reason the silhouette will return to attack immediately.

An alternative way to prevent the continued haunting by a silhouette would be to unravel the circumstances of its existence. This could be the subject of a vast ongoing series of quests a DM could add to their campaign world. Perhaps there is a way to undue the curse which binds the crazed consciousness and the sphere of annihilation together?

Should a gate spell be cast upon a silhouette of annihilation, there is a 50% chance (01–50 on d%) that the spell destroys it, a 35% chance (51–85) that the spell does nothing, and a 15% chance (86–100) that a gap is torn in the spatial fabric, catapulting everything within a 200’ radius into another plane. If a rod of cancellation touches a silhouette of annihilation, they negate each other in a tremendous explosion. Everything within a 100’ radius takes 3d6x10 points of damage. 

Below please find a table of example warning signs player characters may experience as they approach the lair of a silhouette of annihilation.

Warning Signs (d10)
1. The area is devoid of all life.
2. There is gaping holes in the structures, ground and vegetation in the area.
3. A strange almost metallic hum can be heard.
4. You feel an otherworldly tug on your person and possessions.
5. A great sensation of cold pressure lingers in the area.
6. Intense waves of claustrophobia fill your head.
7. Your senses are assaulted by a sickly sweet metallic aroma.
8. Horrific alien whispers beckon you to move forward.
9. A feeling of intense hatred raises the hair on the nape of your neck.
10. Brain asphyxiation causes you to almost lose consciousness.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Thanksgiving Smoked Cockatrice

There are many ways one can cook a cockatrice but smoking it for Thanksgiving Day maintains the moisture and flavor the best. The cooked appearance will be different but don’t let that deter you. If you do not want to attempt hunting your own cockatrice and smoking it the Adventurer’s League will be selling 20lb smoked cockatrices by pre-order. This great deal is by market pickup only the rest of the month for 1000 gold pieces.

If you're smoking your own cockatrice, here's what you'll need:

•    Fresh cockatrice. Be careful when hunting!
•    Smoking pit. Arcane vessels are fine. Avoid using a cauldron of the witch.
•    Apple wood for generating the smoke. Aged treant adds a nice flavor but is not advised.
•    Fuel for your fire with prestidigitation or thaumaturgy if possible.
•    Sharp knife – adamantine is best.
•    Metal rack. Your local blacksmith will be happy to make you one!
•    10’ pole.

First use your knife to carefully remove the beak of the beast. Even in death the slightest scratch could turn you to stone. Every year fledgling arcane cooks become holiday statues because of this. For an extra 100 gold pieces you can have the beak professionally removed which is highly advised.

Be sure to remove any scales on the cockatrice with your knife before smoking. This is especially true if they have any red hue indicating potential draconic like resistances to heat and cooking!

Prepare the smoking pit with your spell of choice. Once the heat in the smoking pit reaches a degree that it would incinerate a goblin, rub the cockatrice with a spice blend of your choice, although the added spices are not really necessary.

Place the cockatrice in the middle of the smoking pit on a metal rack. Add your chosen fruit wood to start the smoking process. Never use any wood which contains large quantities of sap such as pine because of odd flavoring. Additionally check your wood for fairies and other malicious fey which may ruin the smoking process.

The cockatrice should cook for at least one hour before you start checking it.  At this point pour over the smoking cockatrice an even mixture of brown sugar and your favorite holiday ale. 

If the wings are getting too dark, use your 10’ pole to flip the cockatrice now and again inside the smoking pit. This is a great time to practice using the pole before your next dungeon delve!

It will take about 3 to 3½ hours of smoking before the cockatrice will turn a golden brown color. This indicates a nice even arcane smoke has been achieved all around the cockatrice. At this point you will want to remove the cockatrice so it does not become over smoked and dry. Allow it to rest for five to 10 minutes before carving and serve!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Metal Imagery and Inspiration

One of the things I like to do when dreaming up new adventures for my campaign world is look at different pictures. People are visual by nature and fantastical imagery is a big inspiration for me. When I begin working on an OSR/O5R style adventure nothing conjures up that vibe more than retro style art. That being said, one type of edgy stuff that has often inspired me is Iron Maiden album covers. I love the mixture of gonzo with heavy metal because it just feels old school to me. Maybe I’m just remembering a nostalgic time when it all seemed so relative but then again that’s also the era that Dungeons & Dragons reached critical popularity.

Admittedly, I’m not even a big Iron Maiden fan but I sure loved the early artwork of Derek Riggs and his portrayal of Eddie, a.k.a Eddie the Head. The leathery skinned undead creature was the trademark of the band since the early 1980s. As a young kid and fledgling DM the imagery created by Derek Riggs was just synonymous with the style of D&D I enjoyed. Below I have picked some of my favorite album covers that have spawned creativity in various game scenarios over the years.

Very Ravenloft black carriage feel to this cover.

Edward the Great or any other undead king you would like.

This screams gonzo and sci-fi meets D&D.

What horrific abomination is being kept alive here?

Stranger in a strange land. Star Frontiers anyone?

A lich using alien technology to birth a new servant?

Necromantic creatures hiding inside foul ancient trees?

My favorite of all time. The pyramid of the Lich King.

One thing that Eddie the Head really resembles is the notorious Githyanki. For the uninitiated the githyanki are astral sea dwellers who were once enslaved by a malevolent and cthulhu-esque race known as the illithid or mind flayers. The githyanki first appeared in the 1979 issue #12 of White Dwarf, in the "Fiend Factory" column. However they are most famous for being depicted on the cover of the 1981 Fiend Folio AD&D book. Interestingly the name githyanki was first coined by George R. R. Martin in his 1977 sci-fi novel Dying of the Light. With that background in mind checkout the below mash-up by artist Ryan Lesser of the Iron Maiden Killers album and the Fiend Folio githyanki.

It looks awesome on this "metal jacket"

Finally no post mentioning Iron Maiden this much and D&D is complete without some music. So as you craft your next dungeon delve and consider old school style encounters and challenges maybe the Number of the Beast will help motivate you. Just be sure not to include the big hair on game night!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Fun with Zombicide

As a big fan of all things zombie apocalypse related last month I finally purchased Zombicide. After one or two playtests of the game I was instantly hooked. The price always deterred me when I picked up the huge box in the game store but I finally found a discounted deal. That being said, the game tiles are beautiful and the box is crammed packed with detailed plastic miniatures. The former was a big selling point for me since the game pieces are reusable in other games and RPGs.

Zombicide uses a collaborative system which remains my favorite type of board game since it makes the experience team based. Sure elimination games have their place but who really thinks going broke in Monopoly and sitting out while the game grinds on is fun? Another great aspect of Zombicide is everyone gets to play a survivor character with their own individual themes and abilities. This makes the game edge up on the periphery of an RPG without getting overly detailed. 

The rule set is very simple to learn (cake for gaming veterans) and the actual play is very fast paced.
Granted certain scenarios can take several hours but you never really feel bogged down. Instead you feel a sense of urgency as the hordes of zombies grow and the threat level increases. The season 1 base game comes with 6 unique survivor characters. Since the release of Zombicide (2012) there have been tons of new characters created for season 2, 3 and various expansions. Additionally you can find many fan created characters on boardgamegeek.com or with a simple Google search.

With so many miniatures and game pieces I decided to take a cantilever toolbox and create a DIY storage system. The theme is obviously based on a traveling medic kit that has been heavily used during the zombie apocalypse. After ordering the season 2 game box and several expansions I now need another storage system. I think my next DIY project will be some sort of olive drab US ARMY ammo box theme. I then plan to use one toolbox for game parts and the other for miniature storage.

I love the Walking Dead so I decided to create my own version of some of the iconic characters from the TV series. I plan to also write some of my own scenarios based on the show and comics to run the characters through. The scenarios will be difficult so my Zombicide versions of the Walking Dead survivors are a tad buffed up with that caveat in mind. Please find them below and feel free to download, print and take out some walkers!

"Team up, gear up, level up, and take 'em down!" is the tagline of Zombicide and I can say the game really delivers that experience. Check it out if you think you have the BRAINS to survive!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Cave of the Great Bell

This adventure was a light bulb moment which occurred after my children asked me about Fraggle Rock this morning. The show launched in 1983 which is also the year I discovered Dungeons & Dragons. In looking for some good pictures online to share with my kids I stumbled across the cave of the great bell map. It is seen in Episode 301: The Bells of Fraggle Rock.  

I decided to take some of my favorite Fraggle Rock memories and incorporate them into a system agnostic dungeon crawl. The Cave of the Great Bell is intentionally not completely fleshed out. I encourage any DM using it to add, modify and delete as they see fit for their respective table top groups. I hope some of you have as much fun using it as I did creating this tongue-in-cheek delve.

DM Background
An ambitious young necromancer found her way into the Cave of the Great Bell. The harmonic chime of the angelic bell was soothing to the necromancer and she wanted it for her own. After subjugating the race of fey creatures which cared for the bell her own lust for power proved to be an undoing. A risky experiment with a gelatinous cube went terribly wrong and the necromancer was dissolved by her own pet. That being said, her evil will remained and tainted the cube. It became distorted in shape, oddly intelligent and able to wield the magic of undeath. It is now simply known as the Glob.

Cave Overview
The caves are considered small by human standards but were voluminous to the Fraggles who stood maybe 25” tall. Most halls and chambers support between 6’ to 8’ ceilings and very narrow widths. The map is not meant to be 100% to scale with the grid so adjust accordingly to accommodate various circumstances. When in doubt remember the theme to fall back on is small and constrained environments. Unless otherwise noted the caves have no special illumination although glowing fungus could grow in patches in various areas of the DM’s choice.

Former residents of the cave
Fraggles were a noble race - fearless, dignified, and intellectual. They represented the very pinnacle of civilization and culture. Music was the greatest of the Fraggles’ art forms, but Fraggles also possessed uncanny curiosity and great athletic ability. Fraggles naturally had physical prowess and a dance-like grace.


Stories of ancient caves and the haunting sound of a great bell fill the tables of a local tavern. The locals are always ready to share rumors over a frothy mug of ale.

Rumor Table

1   There once was diminutive anthropomorphic creatures living in the cave. (T)
2   The bell ringing is caused by evil dwarves. (F)
3   Avoid the mist because it brings death (T)
4   In ancient times there was a legendary sword lost in the cave (F)
5   All who enter the cave must pay homage or be cursed (T)
6   A terrible horror has made the cave its home (T)
7   Diamonds grow everywhere inside the cave (F)
8   There is an area of the cave overgrown by toxic plants (F)
9   The bell is worn on a collar by a great dragon (F)
10 A garden of giant vegetables is in the deepest parts of the cave (T)

Room Key

1. Entrance: A natural cave, small animal bones crunch in the underfoot. A barely decipherable phrase is etched onto one of the walls at knee height: Dance your cares away, Worry's for another day, Let the music play, Down at Fraggle Rock. Any PC walking past the cryptic phrase without playing some sort of music or singing a song must make a saving throw or immediately fall under the effects of Otto's irresistible dance.

2. Mossy Cavern:  Dense clumps and mats of multi colored moss; toxic smell, heavy air; strange bulbous eggs. Hiding under the moss are Poison Cacklers (6). They have large teeth, long, protruding tongues, and tails similar to a scorpion's. The poison cackler emits a terrible shrill like a hyena when attacking. Use a variation of a Giant (poisonous) Spider for statistics. Inside a 3’ high pile of toxic offal is 5 gems (20 gp, 3×75 gp & 200 gp value)

3. Falling Rocks: Crumbled rock litters the floor; impenetrable darkness after 6’ of height; skeletons amidst the rocks; chirping of crickets. The chamber is magically trapped and will drop rocks on anyone passing through for 4d6 damage (saving throw for ½). One of the skeletons still holds a battle axe +1 in its boney grasp.

4. Golden Apple Grove: Sickly Sweet smell; 10’ tall tree with phosphorescent glowing apples; small wicker baskets. The tree has not been tended to and the fallen apples have become a source of nutrition for a Yellow Mold (1) colony. The remaining golden apples can easily be picked and if eaten will heal 1d6 points of damage per apple.

5. Radish Garden: Massive red leafed taproots protrude from the soil here. Bitter smell; damp and squishy ground; strange clicking sounds; many chew marks on the leafy parts of the plants. The garden is no longer cared for and now home to a community of Giant beetles (12). Although they are herbivores they will defend their food supply violently. Metallic colored with great jumping ability.

6. Great Bell: Enormous metallic bell (8’ tall) encrusted with rock; eldritch runes etched in the stone floor; chill air; decaying smell; broken gong in east corner; thick cobwebs. Fraggle Ghouls (6) wait in ambush behind a crack in the bell. Fraggle Ghouls are able to cast Tasha's Hideous Laughter each once per day. They are also considered diminutive and should receive a bonus to their armor class to reflect their very small size. The runes upon the ground are the remnants of a preservation ritual.

7. Batworm Cave: Upturned earth; guano smell; clumps of hair all over ground; stalactites.  A colony of Flying Batworms (40) calls this place their home. There is a 50% they will be sleeping and not awaken if the PC’s do not disturb the ground. If the colony feels threatened it will launch from the soil and swarm any intruders. These creatures appear as large bloated earthworms covered in thick black hair with membranous wings. Use standard bats (or bat swarm) for statistics. The one caveat being mucus the batworms spit which causes Cackle Fever. Saving throw or succumb to disorientation, and frequent bouts of hideous laughter.

8. Terrible Tunnel: Supernatural chill; feeling of being constantly watched; pulsating walls and floor; strange warmth; gold filled treasure chest end of the tunnel. This sentient and malicious cavern feeds on anything which dares to enter. Any PC who spends more than 1 round here must make a saving throw or immediately lost half their hit points. This damage effect will continue every round with a 50% loss of hit points on every failed save. Those affected will feel as if something is chewing them and see thick pools of saliva at their feet. The chest is an illusion created by the cavern and really conceals a sticky pit of tar. Any PC stepping here becomes mired in the tar and must make a strength check (DM’s choice) to escape.

9. Echo Hole: Flimsy Miniature Bridge (fraggle sized) spans 10’x10’ hole; amazing sound echoes; fungal smell; bulky adventurers backpack other side of chamber. The Echo hole is an approximately 10,000 feet abyss, creating a unique echo unlike anything the PC’s will ever hear. The adventurer’s pack is all that remains of the last spelunker to fall victim to the hole. The pack is 15’ past the far side of the hole and stuck on a stalagmite. Floating in the darkness on the other side are Gas Spores (4). Any PC who finds a way to cross the pit will then see the creatures and probably mistake them for Beholders. Characters falling into the Echo Hole should be considered dead unless they have a means to prevent their decent.  The adventurer’s pack contains 3 pine torches, tinder & flint, 20’ of hemp rope, rotted rations, potions of healing (x3), potion of giant strength and wand of fireballs (3 charges).

10. Gelatinous Greetings: Steamy and humid air; multiple small geothermal pools; smoothed crystal walls, unnatural darkness. The Glob waits for the PC’s here in the shadows and will roll toward them for a surprise round. The Glob appears as a large gelatinous ball filled with swirling black magic and bones. Treat the Glob as a Gelatinous Cube for statistics and a 3rd level Wizard for spell allotment. The Glob’s movement rate should be increased to reflect its ability to roll and squeeze past objects. Room contains 512 gp,
potions of poison (x2), a wand of magic missiles (9 charges), and a Necromantic spell book with seven 1st level spells, four 2nd level spells, and two 3rd level spells, determined by the DM.

Fraggles can turn up anywhere!

This blog article and website is not affiliated nor connected to the Jim Henson Company, the Walt Disney Company or any sister companies. This is fan material only.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

5E Background: Techlore Sage

In my own campaign there was a realm changing event which heralded pieces of other worlds falling into Ultanya. Several of these worlds were indeed alien in nature and strange devices and curios have been found by the players. With the release of the 5E Dungeon Master’s Guide preview on alien technology I thought this was a perfect time for a new background. If you enjoy magitech and gonzo themes in your own games then this may be a background for you!

Techlore Sage

You have studied alien devices and technology from other planes of existence for years. Your evidence while sometimes anecdotal has not stopped your tireless review of the subject. You intend to prove to those that remain skeptical that there are other forces at work in the multiverse beyond the arcane and divine.

Skill Proficiency: Intelligence (Arcana); Intelligence (Investigation)
Tool Proficiency: Artisan Tools
Languages: Pick any 2
Equipment: Artisan’s Tools (hand tools), set of study clothes, technology notebook, magnifying glass headband, a belt pouch containing 15gp.

Feature: Alien Technology Expert

While others may find curios and devices of alien nature complex you instead are fascinated by them. Your cerebral research allows you to understand alien technology on a deeper level than anyone else. Because of this you never need to roll to determine the complexity of a simple item (such as a cigarette lighter, calculator, or revolver). You also only need two successes to determine the properties of complex item (such as a computer, chainsaw, or hovercraft).

Suggested Characteristics

d8 Personality
1.  Inquisitive: You wish to understand the inner workings of all alien technology and treat every found device with excitement.
2.  Explorative: You believe alien devices are the portal to new worlds and intend to design experiments to test that theory.
3.  Persistent: You are determined to never be stymied by the most complex alien technology.
4.  Creative: You believe the best way to understand alien technology is to develop your own.
5.  Analytical: You intend to record every iota of alien technology evidence you find for future study.
6.  Rational: You see no connection between arcane or divine magic and alien technology and intend to argue it until proven otherwise.
7.  Humble: You think the best way to end superstitions about alien technology is to share all your knowledge with those willing to accept it.
8.  Open-minded: You do not pretend to understand the complexity of all alien technology. Therefore you are willing to always investigate free of bias.

d6 Ideal
1.    Helpfulness: I want to use alien technology to make life better for everyone. (Good)
2.    Control: Alien technology should be carefully distributed and used in a controlled way. (Lawful)
3.    Freedom: Alien technology cannot and should not be controlled hence the name alien. (Chaos)
4.    Power: I believe that alien technology should be harnessed to defeat my enemies. (Evil)
5.    Inventiveness: I want to find ways to use alien technology in my everyday life. (Unaligned)
6.    Recognition: I want to be known as a leader in my field. (Any alignment)

d6 Bond
1.    I have been secretly hired by a wealthy individual to locate a cache of alien technology.
2.    As a child I recall a home world of alien technology. I must find this place again soon.
3.    Another Techlore Sage got me started and I owe them a big favor because of it.
4.    A friend of mine has a curse magic cannot cure. I intend to find alien technology to help them.
5.    I believe my body is just an alien host. I must find the truth behind this and my lost memories.
6.    Inside an alien device I found was a consciousness. I agreed to complete a task for the entity.

d6 Flaw
1.    I will go to dangerous lengths to not leave potential alien technology behind.
2.    I often grow angered when alien technology is destroyed by others even accidently.
3.    I cannot help myself from hording alien technology that I or others find.
4.    I will spend any wealth I have on acquiring alien technology so it can be studied and used.
5.    My interest in alien technology often clouds my thinking to the potential detriment of my group.
6.    I will exaggerate my expertise on alien technology if it leads to a potential find.   


5E DMG Alien Technology preview

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Cauldron of the Witch

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg and owlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

- Macbeth

The witch’s cauldron is synonymous with Halloween so much it remains a regular decoration item this time of year. The idea that some group of foul old crones could be using one to conjure forth dark magic is perfect for Dungeons & Dragons. That being said, witches would not take the theft or unauthorized use of their magic cauldrons lightly. Although it would take a brave adventurer indeed to infiltrate the lair of a witch their cauldrons remain enchanted with evil hexes.

Those schooled in the arcane arts will be able to decipher the true power of a witch’s cauldron with some study. Each cauldron is normally found in a chamber which is filled with a plethora of unsavory spell components. If a handful is stirred into the cauldron and it's power invoked any common magical potion can be easily crafted. The caveat being those who dare to use the cauldron have a 50% chance to become hexed for 24 hours. A Remove Curse spell will only reduce the duration of the hex from 24 to 12 hours maximum.

Consult the table below each time the cauldron is used to create a magical potion:

Hex Table (1d8)

1. Horrific Countenance: The victim grows unsightly warts and seeping boils all over their face. Their charisma is effectively halved when dealing with any NPC.

2. Malignant Hindrance: Large fleshy growths and cankers form on the appendages of the victim. Their dexterity is effectively halved for any attribute checks required.

3. Fetid Secretion: A reeking odor emanates from the victim which can be detected up to 50’ away. Those within range will be revolted by the smell and avoid the victim. Any stealth type check should be made with a huge penalty (disadvantage in 5E or a large minus in other editions).

4. Wild Anathema: The victim now communicates in guttural growls and animalistic sounds. They are unable to use normal language for anything including the somatic casting of spells.

5. Benumbed Bones: An unearthly chill emanates from the victim who is unable to get warm no matter how hard they try. The victim has their movement halved for the duration of the hex.

6. Repugnant Euthanasia: Wherever the victim goes small insects, animals and plant life withers and dies within a 30’ radius.

7. Eye of Malevolence: One of the victim’s eyes becomes enlarged, blood shot and foul looking. Anyone with 30’ of the victim suffers misfortune (disadvantage in 5E or a large minus to rolls in other editions). Covering the eye has no effect as it is always visible for some reason.

8. Polymorphic Malediction: The victim immediately is polymorphed into a warty toad. Their possessions are not part of the transformation and all fall to the ground.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Ravenloft: Strahd's fifth motivation

 I am the ancient. My beginnings are lost in the darkness of the past. I am not dead. Nor am I alive. I am undead, forever.
Count Strahd von Zarovich

The Ravenloft module (I6) written by Tracy and Laura Hickman in 1983 is my favorite published D&D adventure. Every Halloween I try to run it at least once for those brave souls able to attend. The module has excellent replay value because the villain Strahd von Zarovich has multiple potential motivations. Additionally the castle is massive so it’s quite possible to only explore a small percentage every Halloween. Strahd is a vampire and quite possibly the most iconic villain ever published in a TSR adventure.

Before the adventure begins there are four possible motivations of Strahd for the DM to choose from. Without spoiling them for any players who may be reading this I thought what if there was a fifth motivation? And what if it had foundation in Bram Stoker’s Dracula? In chapter III of the story we get a unique glimpse into Dracula’s motivation when he proclaims, "We Szekelys have a right to be proud, for in our veins flows the blood of many brave races who fought as the lion fights, for lordship.” With that theme in mind it is very apparent that Dracula craves the days of yore when battles and the associated glory were still commonplace.

Strahd, as master of his domain in Barovia has little in terms of challengers. Long gone are his mortal days as a warrior and leader of good armies. Perhaps as a fifth motivation Strahd wants nothing more than a taste of those old times and to be exhilarated again. Decades of wallowing in his tragic self-pity over the murder of his brother and subsequent suicide of Tatyana has boiled into a calculated rage. Strahd uses the mists to bring what he believes may be great warriors to Barovia for no other reason than to unleash his anger and challenge his abilities.

This motivation will be good to use if you are running Ravenloft and have a shortened time frame. Additionally if you have players that are itching to test their mettle against the legendary vampire then this motivation is for you. That being said, there is plenty of room for creative role playing also with this fifth motivation scenario. Clever players may be able to parlay with Strahd if the DM leaves enough clues warning of why they have been summoned.

Conceivably the players learn some of the tragic story of Tatyana and Strahd’s curse and are able to use it to their advantage. In chapter II of Dracula at one point he proclaims, “I long . . . to be in the midst of the whirl and rush of humanity, to share its life, its change, its death, and all that makes it what it is. But alas!” Although it would be extremely difficult some excellent role playing may be able to understand Strahd’s desire to feel alive again even though it may be misplaced with combat and glory. Maybe the silver tongue of some adventurer and a steely nerve is able to win the day so the party can escape the castle and Strahd’s wrath.

Regardless of Strahd’s motivation the dark gothic story of Ravenloft is always such a memorable experience. If you decide to run Ravenloft this Halloween I wish those gallant enough to help tell the tale the best of fortune. Just warn them that garlic, wooden stakes, holy water and prayers are not included and that black carriage mileage may vary!