Monday, June 5, 2017

June 4th Play Report

I had a great first session running a game for my brother and some friends who aren't in my normal Sunday game.  I asked everyone to send me a quick description of their character and a play report, which Oscar stepped up to do (thanks!)  I'm waiting on the descriptions of the party members which I'll edit in later, but for now I'll include the awesome play report.

Party Members:

Borgnir Vikingsonn (Oscar)

Raised by a family of smiths who found him abandoned in a basket on the side of the road as a child, Borgnír has never learned who his original parents are or where he is from. The only clue he has to go on is a runic symbol he has had on his left arm since for as long as he can remember. As a young boy, he was often belittled for the mutation he was born with allowing him to extend and retract claws from his fingers.

Through his adolescent period, Borgnír found himself to be naturally gifted in the art of survival and tracking.

Up til now he has lived a life as a smithy and been a secretive follower of the trickster god Ellis, which entails that he always carry a small statue of the goddess with him.

Working as a smithy in Denethix allowed Borgnír to meet many interesting citizens who were patrons of his forge. He befriended an old scholarly mage from the Academy of Elevated Thought who informed him of a historical rumor that before the Wizards were in power, Vikings used to come up the river to Denethix and pillage the city and its citizens.

This newfound information granted Borgnír the curiosity and sense of adventure to venture out from the life he knew in Denethix in search of his true origins.

Natak the Dwarf (Mike)

Natak appears to be simultaneously 10 and 50 years old, suggested by a ghostly white beard and yellowing of the eyes complimenting the skin, albeit grey, of an infant.

As to personal history, Natak is a bit confused himself, having come to consciousness in what him now assumes to have been a lab, but at the time was perceived as a labyrinth of dark, cold rooms that were in pristine if barren condition. Natak still carries around the little plastic swipe card that he found rapped around his big toe that served as his escape key - opening several sets of labs doors to the outside world, though upon attempted re-entry refused to let him back in. With no historical memory beyond that point, Natak has taken to light mercenary and adventuring work in part because of this ability to shed all wounds given (thus far). Natak suspects that he must have had a prior life outside the lab, as from time to time situations will shake a bit of muscle memory "hey I know how to whistle", or non-memorial understanding "don't plug that in there" loose. Other than that, he is blank slate learning about the wasteland the hard way.

Natak will take an opportunity, if granted, to check out any similar labs or compounds that appear similar to his original point of origin for hints about his past.

<Edit in later>

Play Report (written by Oscar)

We managed to sneak into the Western Woods after the Thief shared rumors he had overheard of a nasty Orc living in the depths of these woods. We tracked the Orc on a long path leading us deeper into the dark forest which is known for its nefarious tribal-like inhabitants. Through quick thinking by the group, we decided to take an off-path from the trail and managed to avoid a myriad of traps set by some unknown people. Along the way we found a dead man stuck in a trap who curiously had a lot of male beauty products in his pack. Next to him in another trap was a rabid talking bear that charged at us in a furious rage. We managed to do some good damage to him before one of our party members charmed the bear into leaving us alone. As the bear walked away we continued down the tracks and ran into the terrifying Orc we had heard of.

He revved his chainsaw while charging at us. As each of us attacked this ravenous creature we underestimated the elusiveness of this Orc. He dodged attack after attack from all members of the party. However, after landing a few deafening attacks on the beast one of our party members decided to try to emphasize with the creature. We learned of its quest to collect 1000 human skulls and asked it to join us as we journeyed. Not long after the Orc deciding to join us, the Thief tried to get his slimy little hands of the Orc’s gear without him noticing. This did not end well for out party as the Orc quickly turned rabid again due to our treasonous actions towards it. At this point, the Orc was so wounded from the prior fight that a quick lightning bolt took care of him and he dropped dead towards the ground. The Thief now had his chance to loot his dead body and picked up his chainsaw and gold. Satisfied with our quest we headed back to town, Orc head in hand, to receive our reward for slaying this foul beast. The roads are once again safe due to the heroic actions of the party.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Meet your God

This is a lore post that contains spoilers.  If you're a player in any of games I would recommend not reading below the page break.  The part your characters would know is included here.

There is a distinction drawn in Denethix between being in the eye of the gods or being where the gods can't see you.  It's widely believed that gods see and judge everything we do in places where you can see the sky.  Behavior in outdoor marketplaces, open fields etc are generally held to a higher standard of godfearing-ness.  While being indoors or under a cloudy sky isn't total license to do as you please, it's held that gods have a more difficult time learning about our behavior when they can't see us. For this reason, temples are always constructed either as an open amphitheater or with a literal God's Eye within the building (a screen the gods can watch through.) Amphitheaters are usually considered more "old-school,"  and many of them date to periods where the state religion was the only one permitted.

Godkiller Rocket Orcs

I've discussed orcs in this setting before, but this is a larger write up on their culture, with goals and adventure hooks.


Orcs are recognized as the most spiritually attuned race, with each orc having a personal connection to at least one god in the heavens.  Unfortunately, this "personal connection" usually takes the form of radio transmissions beamed into their skulls from the god's star as it orbits the earth.  These radio transmissions reverberates among the orc's teeth and can produce anything from voices to an incessant series of numbers. Since their main interactions with the Gods are to be screamed at by them, orcs are generally considered to be hated by the gods. Orcs are highly aware of the location of their god's star in the sky, as the location influences the volume of the transmissions. Orcs are highly regarded as astronomers (the sane ones) and soothsayers (the insane ones).  Orcs are often held up as an example of the damaging effects of extreme religiosity.


Orcs live in the Worthless North, a place of cold winters, shattered settlements and howling void. One thing it has in abundance is spaceship parts.  A huge pile of second and thirdhand steel parts from previous civilizations is the seat of orcish civilization, and all orcs desire to have access to the Spaceship Graveyard.  They need access to the parts to build their own spaceships and go on crusades.

Orcish Crusades 

After years of infighting, tribal warfare and interminable theft/kidnapping of valuable spaceship parts/engineers, one tribe will have enough parts, know-how and rocket fuel to march to the Launch Pad and declare a crusade.  The crusading tribe will build and launch a rocket out of scrap, with the goal of flying into the heavens and killing a god.  Thirteen crusades have been launched so far, with three successful god-kills.  The kill usually takes the form of the spaceship crashing into a random god's star and destroying it, leaving the clerics and followers of that god bereft of spells, divine intervention and spiritual succor.  The orcs still on earth who had a connection to that god find that the voices in their heads are blessedly silent.  (This is why you will occasionally find a sane orc.)  The only exception is the Quiet God's Star, which was long ago reached by orcs yet still remains in the sky.  The First Crusade was lead by Orc-Pope Michael the Unloved against the star of Cyric, the God of Lies.

4 Quests

1. Two competing orcish commando forces are each attempting to kidnap a professor of Engineering from the Academy of Enlightened Thought.

2. A poorly constructed spaceship has crashed into Denethix, with dozens of half dead orcs and their engineer slaves sheltering in the wreckage.  The townsfolk want to kill everyone on board and sell the ship for scrap.  Representatives from the Academy want to kill most of the orcs, save the engineers and take the ship to study. The orcs want to pull their spaceship to the top of a nearby mountain and try a "gravity launch" (pushing it off the top and hoping the boosters are powerful enough to catch the ship before it hits the ground).  The engineers want to get out alive, hopefully without anyone knowing they were ever slaves.  Due to Denethix's complicated legal system, all four have the legal right to do what they desire.

3. An orcish priest dedicated to destroying a god the party hates invites them on a crusade to fly into heaven and kill that god.

4. Orcish regiments stole a large quantity of nuclear rocket fuel from the dinosaur clerics of the northern mountain.  They are moving it to the Worthless North via an ancient train.  The clerics hire the party to steal it back, giving them velociraptor mounts to accomplish their train heist.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

5 Campaign Ideas

Some of these would be easy to slot into any edition of DnD.  Some probably require a new game or at least heavily modified mechanics.

1) Polynesian style island chains.  Magic, war and culture are all heavily influenced by Polynesian mythos.  Party starts on a island, earns a boat by heroic deeds and then sails around the ocean discovering new islands and fighting evil spirits.

2) Toy Story: Wizard brings inanimate objects to life in order to find his glasses, which have been stolen.  The players are the objects, which are rolled up like normal characters but instead of a race they have properties based on their object.  What does it mean for scissors to have high strength?  What if a pencil has a high con? The players start with no inventory but themselves, and are small objects in a huge and dangerous wizard's tower.

3) Warring States Period. Mainland China split between warring kings, brilliant tacticians, and travelling schools of rival philosophers. The outlandish personalities of the period go very well in high fantasy.   Cao Cao, Liu Bei, and Sun Quan could be fantastic patrons, rivals and villains.  Start them off as guards to a legalism philosopher, put them in a warlord's court and start the assassinations!

4) Osmosis Jones: The players play as white blood cells (5 types, 5 classes), medicine or whatever else they can reasonably justify.  They travel around the body fighting infectious diseases and cancer cells. Everything is highly anthropomorphized and the terrain is three dimensional and dependent on blood vessel structure (capillaries give you more freedom of movement than you'd think).  

5) WWE:  Players are star pro wrestlers tasked with planning and executing thrilling, dramatic shows for their AMPED UP fans.  Half showmanship and planning, half real combats, all EXTREME.  Name your wrestler and their catch phrases/moves, execute a series of betrayals, team ups and rivalries to give the people a show.  Extra points for playing Stone Cold.  

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Terrain for Random Wilderness Encounters

Roll as many times as you like on Natural, Manmade and Magical Terrain tables.  Roll the d8 on the play mat and wherever it lands, that is where that terrain feature is. Also, roll once to determine a random quest elsewhere in Denethix, this encounter is connected to that quest somehow.


1. Beehive on Tree
2. Bear Den
3. Thorn Bushes
4. Thick Vines
5. River with Piranhas
6. Dead Tree (falls in random direction 2 rounds in)
7. Rocks with deadly snakes sunning themselves
8. Flock of crows

Hunting Platform


1. Elevated Hunting Platform
2. Deer Blind
3. Bear Traps with bait (for actually catching bears)
4. Wolf Pit
5. Famine Wall 
6. Encounter takes place adjacent to farmland (fence, livestock, angry farmer, etc)
7. Crumbling, ruined tower
8. Ancient Auditorium


1. Hate -Murder occurred here, auto crits if hit
2. Fey Circle - Get inside the circle
3. Eclipse - Halfway through battle, the sun starts to fade
4. Earthmotes
5. Broken Down War Machine
6. Un-detonated  Artillery
7. Ancient Flag from long ago battle still rallies ghosts
8. Straight up Ghost

Terrain that doesn't suck

One thing I really liked about 4th edition was its focus on terrain.  The combination of a high magic default setting and the intense focus on tactical combat was a very fertile ground for terrain.  I mostly map out combats with just a few lines these days, but every so often I'll create a huge setpiece in roll20.  My favorite types of terrain are actually live creatures, either humans or animals.

Crowds: The best terrain isn't rocks, it's people.  I don't put a person in each square and keep track of them, I just list a huge block as "CROWD," and it all moves together. Crowds are hard to push through (2x movement required), can run away from threats and trample folks, and have opportunities for social encounters mid combat.  If you want to hack folks to death or take hostages you can just snatch them out of the crowd. You can intimidate the crowd to form a path through, or to send them trampling over your enemies.  You can get them on your side and have them throw rocks and bottles.
What happens to all the people when initiative is rolled?  

Animals:  A classic example that I use all the time is your horses in a camp.  A 5 foot aura around the horses where if you enter, you're getting kicked. Consider a bear baiting pit with bear inside, or maybe the rocks over yonder have poisonous snakes within.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Dungeons and Dinosaurs

The dinosaur clerics up north have hollowed out their mountain and filled it with a complex series of oil wells, with pumps, pipes and control structures that are mostly scavenged from ancient ruins.  They use fracking to harvest vast supplies of oil needed to power their time machine.  Oil is a perfect fuel, as it can supply the mechanical and psychic power needed.

Oil, ancient compressed ferns, dinosaurs, trilobites and trees, remembers what it once was, and yearns to return to itself.  That vast longing is a source of fuel as surely as the complex hydrocarbons are. If not properly managed, that longing can also be an explosive, dangerous force.

There is a T-Rex ghost inside the mountain. It staggers between the ghostly world and our own, confused, betrayed and ravenous.  After months of rumors and attacks, the complex has been shut down, and requires adventures to put the T-Rex ghost to rest.

Pastor Ian asks the adventurers to delve into the mountain, slay the T-Rex and minimize damage to the archaic machinery. The dungeon is dirt simple in layout, but the description of the rooms should be a confusing haze of anachronisms.  The awakening of the oil means that ghosts of half remembered ferns, giant dragonflies, and trilobites flitter about anachronistic metal machined pipes and simple steam driven computers.

Pastor Ian gives them directions, so the party can go on a direct line through the three encounters and find the T-Rex den quickly.  They can also wander down unlighted corridors, roll on wandering monsters if they do.  The idea is that the actual dungeon layout is insanely complex and could be a megadungeon, but the party is there for a surgical strike.

First Room simply contains a weird piece of machinery that produces a high pitched noise that knocks humans (and demihumans) unconscious when within 30 feet (no save).  The first person in marching order sees the machinery first, then falls unconscious presumably.  They have to get past this machine or else take a long detour, remember Ian told them not to damage machinery.  

Second Room contains velociraptors, which emerge from caves holes in the wall and leap down on the party. Inside the bellies of the ghostly velociraptors is a ghost of a miner who was devoured before they shut it down. He asks the party to take the money off his corpse (nearby) and use it to pay his debt to the Bowery Boys, or else they will come after his family.  He also says the afterlife is horrible.

This thing is awesome

Third room has the T-rex, which, similar to the oil all mixed together, is more properly described as an amalgam of thousands of different creatures, with contrarily shifting skin boundaries and appendages.

Wandering Monsters
1) Minotaur
2) Ghostly Giant Insects  
3) Ghostly Triceratops
4) Ghostly Trilobites
5) Mind Flayer gone insane by psychic reverberations
6) Lost miners


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A Different Country

The first quest tied to the interior of the ASE, this quest is meant to allow the party to become familiar with Denethix the Capital City and to see that their choices have repercussions.

"The atomic bomb made the prospect of future war unendurable. It has led us up those last few steps to the mountain pass; and beyond there is a different country." -J. Robert Oppenheimer
As the party is exploring the dungeon, they find some scientific papers.  The papers themselves are inscrutable, but they look Very Scientific.  It's well known that the Cult of Science will purchase authentic Science looted from ruins.  Usually the Science is filed away, never to be seen again.  The party finishes up their exploration of the dungeon and surrounding environs, but knows that there is a
Cult of Science church in the capital that they can bring the material to and receive a reward.

Players don't read past this part

The Elves Below

In Denethix, there are no "drow" to speak of, but there are subterranean elves.  Cut off from the surface, these elves have multiple adaptations to their home, including shrunken eyes, total loss of skin pigment and darkvision (all elves started as subterranean elves but have lost the first two traits).  Underelves have their own weird societies separate from the wizard dominated surface, and their society and rituals are subject to much speculation by social scientists and archaeologists from the Academy of Elevated Thought.  It's commonly thought that their societies were the only ones to retain artifacts and rituals from before the time of cleansing.

Quest: Investigate a passageway into the earth and document underelven society, preferably with a wide variety of artifacts that can be hauled back to the Academy for study.  (The Academy is in the Indiana Jones/Early British style, of smash grab and steal)

Players don't read past this part 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Switching Systems

The systems of Dungeons and Dragons are largely designed to work with a small group of PCs.  The systems can start to break down when used to model interactions that are outside that scope, like a huge pitched battle.  Individually tracking hp and attacks from thousands of combatants takes too long, so we have to use some other way.  The DMG has some skeletal mass combat rules, you can make up your own, or you can set up a normal dungeon/encounter structure within the larger battle.

-The PCs fight the enemy king and his honor guard, while the rest of the army battles around them, acting like terrain.
-The PCs sneak off on a special mission that requires them to sneak into the castle and open the gates, dispatching guards silently along the way.

Stuff like this is cool, fun, and works with the systems of DnD we're used to. It treats the PCs as special commandos that accomplish specific tasks.

There is another option though, one I have always wanted to try.  Use several obviously different systems to model one shared imaginary world.  As a (bad) example, let's say there is about to be a huge battle. The DM takes out a chessboard and says that the players are black, the DM is white, and whoever wins the chess game wins the battle.  The black left knight represents a favorite NPC of the players, while the white bishop is a hated foe.  So if these pieces are taken, a player can narrate a quick death scene for them, and the players might play chess differently to keep their knight alive.  Halfway through the game, they take a break and play a quick encounter with DnD rules.  If the players are smart, they can gain some advantage on the chessboard.  Then they finish the chess game with their new powers (because they found horses and gave them to that group of spearmen, this pawn moves like a knight)

Look at all these NPCs

What I like about this is that the world is understood in both systems, and can lead to weird gameplay.  Maybe the PCs just want to kill the white bishop, and then they think that they can convince the other king to make peace?  So you play chess, with a totally different aim than normal, with one side trying to kill a bishop and the other playing normally.  Then you switch to the PCs riding out to parlay under a truce flag.  Did the army kill the queen while attacking the bishop?  Maybe the king is now distraught and angry, unwilling to make peace.  Did the PCs have to sacrifice a lot of material to get the bishop?  What does that mean for the social structure of their army?

In general, I think switching systems like this could lead to a lot of emergent gameplay, with weird objectives in both games as the players try to use both systems to their advantage.  Chess is actually not a great choice here, since chess skill can vary so widely and it takes a long time.  You could use a game of Magic the Gathering with special decks representing both sides.  If your players are short on mana, they can do a little DnD encounter to get "supplies" and add one mana to their pool.  It could work with a lot of different games. What kind of situations could Love Letter model?  What if you played Werewolf but the werewolf is eating beloved NPCs?

Probably shorter games are better in general for this.

Monday, March 20, 2017

10 Weird Ways to Attack the Well of Dragons


We're coming up to the climactic battle in HOTDQ.  If you are unfamiliar, all the factions and folks you've talked with throughout the campaign rally their forces and march on the Well of Dragons to stop a big bad ritual.  It takes place in the caldera of a volcano, where the Cult of the Dragon has built a big bad spire to house their big bad ritual.

Honestly, it's pretty ballin'.  Not everyone likes the Wizards prewritten modules but I found this one really fun.  And it ends with a bang, a huge battle between good and evil for the fate of the world.  The battle is basically a distraction so that the party can sneak in to the spire to stop the ritual.  It's a smart way to essentially make the fights appropriate for the DnD structure, which emphasizes skirmishes and battles with less than 25-50 people.  So you're having a regular dnd shesh in sneaking around a tower and killing small groups of people, but the outside is a huge pitched battle.

One thing Tom (DM) said struck me as we were prepping for the battle with our allies. The head of the council asked the party if we had any suggestions for the battle.  It always feels good to get asked for feedback like that, like we can plan anything or throw out any kind of idea and it will actually impact the progression of the campaign for good or ill.  That freedom is one of my favorite things about DnD, and planning and scheming before a fight is probably my favorite way of engaging with the DnD world.  

So, here are 10 weird ideas I came up with to help the battle.

1. We bring a team of Dwarven Sappers to dig underneath the tower and topple it
2. Artillery fire with a series of Eleven spotters on the edge of the caldera using semaphore to guide the fire.

3. Kamikaze griffons with explosive strapped to them (Emerald Enclave might nix this one)
4. Druids with necklace of fireball turned into birds on a bombing run
5.  Mass Blessings - Exodus 17:12 "When Moses' hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up--one on one side, one on the other--so that his hands remained steady till sunset." 
6. A river runs nearby the Well of Dragons, a floatilla with marine strike forces to flank the army, also see Harriet Tubman's famous raid. Perhaps with the aid of the spirit if the river?
7. Erupt the volcano somehow.
8. One spy infiltrates the spire and disguises himself as the head of the Cult and sows confusion (maybe run out and scream contradictory orders at the army)
9. Release a group of doppelgangers in the high Cult command.
10. Distribute leaflets among the Cult army that offer pardons and remind men of their past duties.  Many of the folk in the armies are there against their will, and might desert.