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.