Saturday, May 21, 2022

Rival Adventuring Parties - The Silver Blades

I introduced the Silver Blades to my campaign as potential rivals when the player characters were barely second level (5 years ago at the time of this writing). 

The Blades had returned from a brief journey to a small ruin two days to the east of Little Plains where they uncovered some treasure. Talk around town about the group suggested there was much more loot to be had in that ruin and this stoked some interest among the PCs. The party didn't speak with the rival group to learn what transpired so they were acting only on rumors when they decided to find and explore the ruin for themselves.

Later in the game the Silver Blades geared up with wagons, hirelings, and supplies for a journey to an abandoned dwarven stronghold somewhere to the southwest. Their return months later was somewhat somber as they had lost half their number and a hireling, but they had also become very rich.

The player characters were somewhat jealous of the rival adventurers and annoyed by the stand-offish nature of Fertik and his companions.

On another occasion after returning with the corpse of a dead Grell in their wagon the party encountered Fertik in town and learned what it was they were hauling. That was the most Fertik had spoken to them.

While visiting the Silver Blades at their home, Daris the halfling member of the Blades proved illusive as he moved unseen from hiding place to hiding place, throwing his voice and cracking jokes during their conversation. Harak the human fighter only said that the wizard was busy and could not speak with the party.

When the party needed better armaments, the Blades lent the party three magic weapons which were later returned, and gave them 6 magical arrows and a couple of scrolls to keep.

Until the recent events in the campaign, the Silver Blades have left all of the town difficulties to the PCs to handle.

Below the Silver Blades are roughly described. Feel free to steal them for your game. If you are going to use them in an Old School system give them all equal experience points and determine their levels based on XP. Their levels can be whatever you want of course.

Fertik - Human. Wizard 10. - Very intelligent. Limits conversation to relevant information, not prone to make small talk. Willing to offer information on subjects that interest him. He wears dark robes and a black Cloak of Protection, and possesses a magical staff made of black wood, capped with mithril and moonstones. There are cryptic engraved runes spiraling the length of the staff. 

Harak - Human. Fighter 10. - Tall and broad shouldered. Barely says anything. To non-members of the Silver Blades he seems emotionless. He possesses magical scale mail armor of a dull blue metal. He wields a double headed magical battle-axe.

Daris - Halfling. Rogue 10. - A wise-cracking jovial individual. He can't resist ridiculous or ironic  comments and puns, especially when he can make them involving the words small, tiny, little, short, diminutive, etc, and have the joke be at the expense of taller people he is addressing. He possesses a Ring of Invisibility, and a pair of magical silver daggers.

Image of daggers.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Campaign Diary - Bad Moon Rising

Location - Little Plains, a town halfway between Ptolus, Slune, and almost equidistant from Dorhinthas in the south of the empire.

Party in Play

Rae - Elf. Fighter 1/ Wizard 4.  One of the original members of the party that originated in the town of Little Plains. She is somewhat of a strategist and creative tactician always looking for an edge when the situation gets dicey.

Wulfe - Elf. Fighter 1/ Wizard 4. Originally from a small town north of Ptolus near the Moonsilver Forest, he wandered westward to satisfy his curiosity about the frontier areas of the empire. Joining the group early in their adventuring career he has been a steadfast companion and effective in any dangerous situation. He wields Cheval, a Faery forged longsword known for occasional bursts of radiant energy.

Korved - Human. Cleric 4. An itinerant priest, he arrived in Little Plains hoping to come to grips with his recent experiences. He had joined the Gaen faith at a young age and over time found his thinking more in line with her masculine aspect Hannan. The non-violent and amicable split in the church was his signal to explore the world.

Sparky - Human. Fighter 4. She's a force to be reckoned with in a toe to toe fight. Recent life as a sword for hire had led to some less than respectable jobs and little in the way of pay. Joining an adventuring group seemed a wise choice.

Celestia - Elf. Fighter 1/ Wizard 2. A bold and confident adventurer, she puts forward an unfearful countenance. A recent addition to the group Celestia is making herself at home as if she were there all along despite lacking the experience of the other members.

Jill - Human. Fighter 3. A sell sword by trade, she has recently been down on her luck and in need of work. Hired to deliver a bag of coins to this group she ended up joining as a means of escaping from the butt end of the empire. Capable with sword and bow Jill is a good fit for the team.

Jackalope - Human. Fighter 3. A stranger in Little Plains that arrived about the time the wolf attacks began. Staying at the Brown Dog, Jackalope approached the party after overhearing their intent to go north. Volunteering additional information about the wolf problem, the party agreed that an extra sword arm might be in order.

Jackalope had listened to the group last night before everyone called it a night. She decided the best time to approach them and ask to join up would be after they woke up, but before they settled in for breakfast. She had information that might prove helpful and another sword arm in events such as these is unlikely to be turned away. 

Rising early, Jackalope made her way to a small table in the cramped tavern room and waited. It wasn't long before the adventurers filed in, still sleepy and hungry. She introduced herself and began sharing what she knew. "I've been north three times so far. The wolfpack is large, maybe 20 strong, and some are larger than normal. They seem to be sending out pairs to scout during the day. If you're going there I would like to join you."

After some questioning it was revealed she had arrived around the time the wolf attacks started. This caught the attention of the more cautious members of the party, but was not enough to dissuade them from agreeing to take her along.

During breakfast they discussed a plan of approach. Wulfe, Sparky and Korved would head west out of town to gather the skeleton horde and head north avoiding notice to bring the horde to bear on the invading wolves. Meanwhile Rae would lead Jill, Celestia, and Jackalope directly up the north road to the farm. If only things were that easy.

Lorn met the farm bound party just outside of Little Plains. The farmer had married Sroka, Widow Penik's eldest daughter when the widow had wandered north a five years ago and not returned. It was presumed that she had died, a victim of wolves. All they found of her was part of her blue shawl amid some blood and many wolf tracks. Of the four party members taking the north road, only Rae was familiar to Lorn.

"You're back! I'm so glad to see you! Deek is missing, he hasn't been back here since the wolf attacks started. He usually comes home from your farm every evening, but, well, please find him." The conversation was a rapid back and forth with assurances that they would do everything that they could to see the 12 year old home safely. 

Along the way farmers could be seen bringing their livestock out into small corrals close to their barns. Everyone was afraid to let them out on larger fields for fear the wolves would prey on them as they had done, so often in the recent week. 

To the west Sparky, Korved and Wulfe weren't much surprised that there were now 27 undead present with three arriving just as they reached the two dozen from the night before. It was hoped that nobody would observe their small army of undead just 1500 yards from town. Korved despised that these things existed, and everyone worried about the questions they had no good way to explain without revealing the presence of the Crystal of Calling to potential bad actors. It was urgent to get these skeletons north as quickly as possible.

The Crystal of Calling was becoming even more of a problem when close to civilization. Graveyards were proving a ready source of corpses to animate and bring forth. Already existent undead proved even easier for the artifact to draw to its presence. So far the party had been lucky that they had only seen skeletons and zombies, unintelligent undead, as these would stop when close by and wait for commands. The situation might not be the same for higher forms of thinking undead. After-all they had taken it from intelligent ghasts and ghouls that were gathering their own army of abominations. What the crystal might do in a city full of graves had not yet occurred to them.

On approach to the farm Rae became more concerned at the sight of 4 wolf pelts nailed to the side of the barn. Close to the house the party encountered the Silver Blades who had come here three days earlier. Beyond them in the field was a smoldering burned area, two charred wolf bodies at the center.

"I don't suppose any of you thought to bring along coffee did you?" Daris the halfling Silver Blade piped up as the party approached. They had been awake for most of the past three days and were exhausted from their around the clock vigil and fighting off wolves. 

Rae had never really trusted the Silver Blades, though she had no real reason for the mistrust. Perhaps it was their penchant for dark clothing and having been distant on their return from the south. They had lost three of their party on that trip, maybe that explained the attitude, but something had not sat right in Rae's mind even in other encounters with them. 

Fertik leaned heavily on his staff, his eyes sunken and dark. The wizard was clearly very fatigued. "We're happy to see some relief." Gesturing over his shoulder at the burned area, "Sorry about your field."

Rae shrugged off the matter of the charred ground. "That's ok. Do you know where Deek is?"

Daris pointed to the root cellar doors. "Sorry about the lock, but we needed some place to keep him safe. Deek was bitten by a wolf three days ago. The wolf could have killed him, but instead ran off. We left rations and water for him. The doors are now sealed with a board through the handles. That should secure him for a short time."

"Do you think it was a werewolf?" Rae's concern was growing.

Fertik's shoulders slumped. "The way this pack is behaving, the possibility is real. We've seen similar things before and we chose not to take chances with the boy. You may need magic or silvered weapons if a werewolf is involved."

Harak shrugged. It was the first indication that the big warrior was even awake, standing there silent and unmoving. 

With that the Silver Blades excused themselves and headed to town. 

After a brief discussion it was decided that Jill and Jackalope would take Celestia's sword and head to town to try and have their swords coated with silver. Meanwhile Celestia and Rae would see what they could learn about Deek's condition and what he might need.

Knocking on the cellar doors Rae called down to Deek. "Are you ok down there?"

"My arm hurts and I'm hungry." came the reply. "When can I come up?"

A series of questions determined that his wound had healed completely, but his arm was still sore. He had also consumed all of the rations and water left for him and had resorted to eating all of the mice that resided in the root cellar.

With careful consideration Celestia removed the board holding the doors closed and Rae handed down a full waterskin with a promise of food later. Then they resealed the doors.

Wulfe, Sparky, and Korved had begun trekking north with their army of undead following. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

You Own How Many Player's Handbooks?!

Four. This could be the end of the post, but of course it's not the end.

When 5th edition D&D launched in 2014 I decided to pick up two copies of the Player's Handbook, two copies of the Monster Manual, and one copy of the Dungeon Master's Guide. This was initially because I took advantage of a huge sale at a friendly local game store concurrent with my pre-order of the 3 core books from an online retailer, and having a spare PHB at the table has benefits.

It has always been the case that rules, spells, and other information need to be looked up during play. I have never met a gamer yet that can actually memorize and spontaneously recall everything in the book despite one who claimed she had an eidetic memory.

When I began playing AD&D in 1981 at least half of the large group picked up their own copies of the Player's Handbook despite being a bunch of cash strapped teenagers, and we always had plenty on hand at the table (and we read them too). Over the years that has not always been the case. 

During the second edition years I stuck mainly to 1st edition rules until close to the end of 2e. Within my group I was the only person to pick up the 2nd edition PHB. I suppose that was a good thing because less than two years later the campaign switched to 3rd edition (pre-official launch, I had an advance copy because I worked at a distributor and had to drum up sales) and more of the players picked up their own copies.

When 3e revised into 3.5e, most of the owners of the 3e version upgraded to copies of 3.5e so there wasn't a shortage at most tables where I played the game.

I did in fact pick up the 4e books and honestly tried to play, but over time it became apparent that it wasn't working for my group so I only know of two of us that had the book. This was what lead to me having a rekindled enjoyment of Old School Rules.

About two years ago I decided to switch my campaign over from using the Lamentations of the Flame Princess rule set to 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons to take advantage of the update of Monte Cook's Ptolus. We would have been playing 5e in the run-up to receiving the revised Ptolus, but COVID had other ideas.

Wait, what about the third and fourth copies of the PHB? Knowing it would take some time for my large group to get familiar with the differences between the OSR system and the modern game, I decided having ready access to the books was a good idea. 

My goal was not just to make the rules available at the table, but to have them available to the players between sessions. Besides myself, all but 3 of my potentially 10 strong player group (if everyone played at once) live under the same roof. By making copies accessible the thought was that the players could get a jump on class, race, and system knowledge. I don't know if that is working, but suspect not. 

Regardless, they have adapted quickly to fifth edition and enjoy playing with the newer rules. The books see lots of activity during the game sessions as players are seeking info on what their characters can do, what their spells do, and how to beat the crap out of their opponents. 

One of the four copies stays at home along with a copy of the Monster Manual and DMs Guide, for my use preparing to DM sessions. I also play in a Roll 20 group and find it handy then as well.

I'm aware that Wizards of the Coast are planning a special relaunch of the game to celebrate the 50th anniversary of D&D. What has been said so far is that this will not be 6th edition, but more like a 5.5e. I will certainly be picking up one copy of the book to join in the celebration of my favorite hobby, but I have no interest in trying to convert everything again.

So there you have it, four copies of the 5e Player's Handbook.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Ptolus: City of Adventure Review (500th blog post)

Another of the rewards from the Ptolus update Kickstarter a couple years back is the book of new adventures titled Ptolus: City of Adventure. It contains three adventures within the setting, Doctrine of Ghul, The Runeblood Blessing, and Return of the Ebon Hand. All three have already been released in .pdf form to the backers. All three adventures are aimed at characters of level 5 or level 6, but can easily be modified to allow for other levels (easier upward I think).

Monte Cook Games recently announced the pending release of the softcover book through their online store. Anyone will be able to purchase the book, and backers will receive it for only the cost of shipping.

The first of the three scenarios, Doctrine of Ghul, is time sensitive with the characters racing against a potentially permanently lethal deadline. There is a lot to like in the adventure, but there are a few very dangerous points that can derail not just the story, but even the campaign. I may be running this one for my group, but it will require some re-engineering to avoid a disaster. Run out of time and any characters affected by the hook are just gone.

In the early .pdf version there are some discrepancies with the Challenge Rating of a few of the NPC antagonists. Pella should be a CR 6 instead of CR 5 based on the Mage character type in the NPC section of the Monster Manual. Pella also has an extra capability, but I cannot see pushing her CR to 7 because of it. The Formless Hunger might actually be over valued. I seems like it is pretty close to the capabilities of a Gelatinous Cube which is CR 2, but with a few peculiarities. Alberik Vormund is clearly about two CR below what he should be based on capabilities (8 instead of 10). Sadly these issues were not corrected for the print version.

The more egregious of the mistaken CR values occurs at a point where the NPC could easily TPK a party that are likely nearly out of resources and very low on hit points. Action economy aside, there are abilities available to the opponent that can partially shut down PC effectiveness and the firepower of the foe is great.

Doctrine takes place both in the city and in the dungeons and caverns below.

The second adventure, Runeblood Blessing is the real gem in the trio. I cannot give enough praise about how solidly this one has the feel of the setting. It is packed with sidelines that make use of the core elements to add flavor through the course of events. Several districts of the city become sites of activity as things progress and I find that exciting because the city deserves to be explored and experienced.

The core of the plot involves a pair of NPCs granting some advantages to everyday residents on up through delvers, and even members of the nobility. Of course with the gifts comes the cost. While fortunately this adventure doesn't have the race against the clock urgency of Doctrine of Ghul, it does still give a sense that things cannot be ignored for long.

Characters will need to do some investigating to sort things out, but the central focus and the various sidelines make the process fun. There's also a little twist for the purpose of aiming the PCs in the direction of the root issue, and to give them a chance to get involved in something positive.

I don't recall finding any CR problems with Runeblood Blessing like there were in Doctrine of Ghul and there's nothing in it that is likely to wreck your campaign. It is high on my list for possible inclusion in my game.

Third and definitely my least favorite of the adventures is Return of the Ebon Hand. It explores aspects of the setting faithfully, though it fell somewhat flat for me. 

The scenario takes characters into the dungeon below the city, but the hooks that get them there might be ignored without working in connections the players will feel inclined to pursue. The fix for this deficit is simple enough so you shouldn't write this one off. There is enough here to keep a dungeon focused party interested for some time, and the amount of available experience points will certainly keep level grinders invested.

Encounters within feel too tightly packed, but maybe the close proximity of everything is meant to evoke a sense of claustrophobia or to hearken back to some of the old dungeons from the early days of D&D.  

Everything about the dungeon and the inhabitants carries a weird and sometimes intentionally horrific vibe. Characters will definitely feel the need to put a stop to the machinations of at least one of the three factions they'll interact with. Also important is the fact that the Ptolus setting has a way to fix almost anything that might affect characters in a negative way.

Maybe Return of the Ebon hand is a better adventure than it feels to me. It is entirely possible my mood wasn't right when I chose to read it through. You should certainly give it a look to see if it would work in your campaign. I haven't had a chance to introduce the party to the Ebon Hand so using Return is not in consideration till well after that happens.

TM and © 2021 Monte Cook Games, LLC

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Thursday Knights

Eberron continues.

Being half-owners of the ship Unfettered, the party had to work out some logistics once it was decided where we were going for our next exploration.

We're head to some ruins to get more info about some grey dwarves in order to help a businessman we trade with. He'll be coming along on the trip.

In the process of finding the route to the ruins, our dwarf drank some of the nastiest stuff one could imagine and managed to keep it down, earning the party some gravitas among the bar patrons at the Leaky Dingy. We found the captain we sought and got the map drawn out by him.

Then it came down to arranging supplies and finding a sellable cargo. We settled on beer. The party went to the brewery and made a business arrangement to sell beer on a semi regular basis at a nearby dangerous port. 

It was a role-play session and we kept it short. The adventure starts next session.


Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Blog Monetization Update

It has been about seven years since I chose to allow advertisements to be shown on the blog. This was never expected to provide any real income and was merely an experiment to see how it would perform. 

I disallowed subjects like Politics, Religion, and Porn from running ads since the site is relatively open to all viewers with minor exceptions. I also don't agree with some of the advertisers that would have been pushing their ideals.

You may be asking (though likely not) "how did it do?" The short answer is so far, over seven years it has earned a whopping $8.88, enough for a big name coffee chain latte. 

So why keep monetizing the site? You never know when I might be craving an overly expensive yet sub-par coffee with weird names. That, and I am really curious about ways to generate more views worthy of earning a penny now and then. So far, the ads don't seem to be hurting anything.

There's always the possibility that one day this blog might even pay for a game book or set of dice. 

Friday, May 6, 2022

Candlekeep Mysteries - In Ptolus?

 As it turns out there are a handful of adventures in Candlekeep Mysteries that might work in a Ptolus campaign. The general idea for CM is that each adventure has its roots in or about a book or books, perhaps tied together by the city library in Oldtown. With some surgery on the locations and a bit of stitching in connections with organizations, the scenarios within the book-of-books may fill gaps in your plans.

A little creative editing takes place below to show a way to plug these into your City By The Spire campaign. WARNING: SPOILERS

The Joy of Extradimensional Spaces - This one is simple and short. It can fill in as a brief 'this guy needs help for a friend' situation. A spell caster has disappeared, can the party figure out the problem. It presents a self contained spot that doesn't go running around the city. This might work somewhere in Oldtown, perhaps near Vok Row perhaps on Dweomer Street. Nothing special in this one, but it can likely be knocked out in a day of in-game time and one or two play sessions.

Mazfroth's Mighty Digressions - Some Uraqi in a new North Market book stall have been selling what they claim to be original rare tomes. Most are just very good copies, and some are problematic, hosting creatures that attack readers. Tracking down the sellers is not too difficult. Discovering their identity and objective follows easily as well. Then it's a matter of deciding what to do about the problem. This one might make for a good concurrent set of activities to pair with your main focus.

Book of the Raven - It's possible you could place the location in a couple of districts, perhaps the Warrens, but it isn't a good fit. Players could mistake the NPCs as having something to do with the Killraven Crime League, but that would be a short lived thought. The ending location could be the Shadow of Ptolus or maybe somewhere under the Necropolis. It screams high risk of a TPK in the ending location based on how it has to happen. Not to my tastes.

A Deep and Creeping Darkness - Focused on a mine, a small town, and some nasty little creeps. I'm uncertain about how it would match up with anything in the city. Again, not to my tastes.

Shemshime's Bedtime Rhyme - Sounds like an interesting idea and could fit just about anywhere other than the Docks or Warrens, A bit too railroad-like for me. If you don't do the exact right thing . . . seems like it might need some re-working. Maybe I just need to re-read it.

The Price of Beauty - Characters get transported to a secluded, forested locale. Maybe the Moonsilver forest, but could a coven of hags remain unnoticed there? Not sure this would be a good enough fit, but if you need a vacation to the outside then maybe you could use it.

Book of Cylinders - You might be able to relocate the action to deep below in the caverns. Change the Grippli out for Kuo Toa perhaps? It doesn't really have much in the way of appropriate Ptolus flavor and would require a lot of reworking.

Sarah of Yellowcrest Manor - Now this one has some fitting elements. A murder mystery starting in Oldtown or even the Nobles Quarter, some activity probably in the Guildsman District or maybe the South Market, and a short trip to a small hamlet southwest of the city to deal with the killer, his chaos cultist underlings and some summoned aberrations. Maybe the murderer and his victims have membership in House Abanar. One NPC is a former delver who might be useful as an information source about some area of the dungeons at a later time in your campaign.

Lure of Lurue - Involves transporting characters to a fey-like demiplane. Another hag antagonist. Wizards of the Coast seems obsessed with hags these last few years. I suppose it could be a break from the urban and dungeon environments. 

Candlekeep Dekonstruktion - If you want one of the towers of Dalengard to possibly launch into space then this is your adventure. Not my cup of tea, but maybe some DMs would enjoy wrecking the city infrastructure.

Zikran's Zephyrean Tome - Missing people including another missing Wizard. A seaside magic laboratory. Another extraplanar space, and cloud giants. Nothing sings to me as fitting into the Ptolus campaign setting except maybe the seaside location.

The Curious Tale of Wisteria Vale - A play that parallels things the characters are experiencing. A village east of the city (across the bay or southeast at the bottom of the bay). Another flipping demi-plane. Had it focused more on the play it might make for a scene or two at one of the theatre locations, but nope.

The Book of Inner Alchemy - Here's an adventure that will interest monk characters. With a fair amount of work you could shoehorn the locations into Ptolus and information could be gathered by contacting the Order of the Fist and their leader Wynn Rabinall in the Temple District. It is mostly an opportunity to bust knuckles against some seriously powerful monks. 

The Canopic Being - There happens to be an NPC with the last name of Sadaar. Could they be a member of House Sadar? I see an opportunity to involve a Noble House that might ingratiate them to the party and make their usual antagonistic role become a bit twisted from the norm. A rather unusual temple and a very odd tomb put this in and below the Temple District. The prospect of being taken control of by someone else and discovering that someone has done surgery on you without your knowledge might be a great motivation to do something NOW! This has plenty in it to have a Ptolusy feel.

The Scrivener's Tale - A book of mystical writing infects readers and others close to them with writing on their skin that is added to over the course of the adventure. This one has a clock running for accomplishing the cure. For information the characters have to look into an NPC former adventurer who could easily be a member of House Khatru. Another NPC of the same House (likely a lesser, but very ambitious member) drives some of the narrative, but the story given breaks from what House Khatru is like. Some detailed re-writing will be needed to refocus the plot kick-off. There is a trapped fey entity of power trying to get loose and using the characters as the tool to accomplish the release. A vested of the Galchut or a demon might be substituted for the fey. This could also get its start as a plot of House Vladaam to get the characters to do their bidding by getting the book into PC hands.

Alkazaar's Appendix - This one requires a rewrite, but contains some good elements. There's a powerful scroll which could be a Bane and of course reside within the Banewarrens. There's a dragon who might be a member of the Quaan that wants the scroll. There could be Celestials involved so perhaps the Malkuth can be worked into the scenario. There's a lich. There's a powerful golem that could be useful. This is very high level and with the rewrite it makes sense as a candidate for inclusion in Ptolus.

Xanthoria - Hmmm . . . a powerful lich creates a very virulent plague. Sounds familiar to me, something similar to Kagrisos the Ghost Lich who tried and failed to unleash a plague upon the city of Ptolus and was stopped by Abesh Runihan (the guy there's a statue of in Delver's Square). In my campaign there's a chance he could return way in the future based on the pace of the campaign sessions and levelling. Locations that could come into play include the caverns, and a mushroom forest (something I will definitely have in my game).