Friday, December 8, 2017

Lore of Ahneria: Life after Death
This is part of a series on the lore of my homebrew world, Ahneria. As I outlined here, much of this information will be pulled from existing D&D lore and tropes. At the end, I'll be including a section on how to use this sort of thing in your own games.

Also, I'd be remiss to mention that I took a lot of inspiration from this post at Power Score.

Now that we know what the Gods are up to, let's figure out what these mortals are, exactly.

Mortals in Ahneria were crafted in the image of their Gods. However, the first mortals came about because of an experiment: could you make a creature without a divine spark? The answer proved to be yes, and it revealed something interesting about the nature of Gods and what a soul is.

A soul is not a thing in itself, but more like a vessel. It is the thing that contains the spark of divinity. In the absence of such a thing, the soul gains the will to determine their own alignment. They aren't defined by their spark, though they can still interact with and affect sparks.

As long as the mortal exists as a free-willed creature, its soul lacks an alignment. In this way, the alignment of a character is the result of their intent to behave a certain way. In reality, they won't have an alignment while they are alive.

Note that this isn't true for all creatures. Most monsters are born with an alignment infused into them, meaning they are more like the immortals than mortals. The difference between a God and a monster is that the monster's bodies are able to be destroyed by mortal hands. A true mortal, on the other hand, is guided by nothing more or less than their impulses and philosophies, making them unique among the multiverse. In the terms of the game, these creatures are called "humanoids".
A soul might drift towards certain alignments when it is alive, but when it dies, it travels to the Raven Queen to be judged. Above her fortress in the Shadowfell, a massive tempest of souls is filtered through portals to the planes that most align with their deeds and philosophies in life. Occasionally, the Raven Queen will pull a particularly powerful or important soul from the masses to be judged personally.

If a God or fiend has claimed a soul (which is usually only possible with the mortal's consent) their soul is marked with the sigil of that immortal, which draws it through a particular portal to a particular plane.

If a soul bears the Black Feather Brand, it is destroyed upon death.

After a soul is sorted into the Outer Planes, they become what is called a petitioner. In some planes, these are the lowest and most pitiful ranks, the manes of the abyss, the lemures of the nine hells, the soul larvae of Gehenna. Or, they become the foot soldiers of the plane: the holy armies of Mount Celestia, or the animal hoard of the Beastlands.

As a petitioner, a few things happen. First, you slowly lose your sense of self. Over the course of 200 years, you lose your memories, your personality, and your physical form. This leads to the varying levels of resurrection effects that clerics can cast - it requires more magic to recover an older soul.
  • Revivify: 3rd level spell, time limit 1 minute. The soul has only just arrived at the outer plane.
  • Raise Dead: 5th level spell, time limit 10 days. The soul has lost much of their physical form and must spend some time recovering.
  • Reincarnate: 5th level spell, time limit 10 days. This spell circumvents the degradation of physical form by creating a new body for the soul to inhabit. Unfortunately, this process is random.
  • Resurrection: 7th level spell, time limit 100 years. The soul has lost all of their physical form and much of their memories. Casting the spell transfers part of the soul of the caster into the target to make up for this, meaning the soul returns with its memories but the spellcaster suffers heavy penalties as a result.
  • True Resurrection: 9th level spell, time limit 200 years. This spell is considered nothing short of a miracle. A deity intervenes, allowing a soul that is nearly completely disintegrated to return fully, at little cost to caster and target. Instead, the deity themself takes on the burden of the spell.
After a soul has been completely absorbed into the plane they were sorted into, there are still a few options to go from there. First off, they haven't stopped existing: there's just nothing left of their soul that remains to identify them. Thus, they often take on the characteristics of other creatures of their plane. They become celestials, demons, devils, or are simply absorbed into the environment of the plane.

If they do happen to retain some sentience, they can begin to gather sparks of their alignment and gain power. Lawful planes usually feature a system of promotion, whereas chaotic planes often allow promotion if a creature adheres to the tenants of the plane particularly well.

The leaders of these planes are mostly the Gods whose sparks are aligned to the plane. However, some are notable as petitioners who rose so far up the ranks as to be counted among the leaders of the plane. The most infamous examples are likely the current roster of demon lords. With a few exceptions, they rose from the mud of the abyss and overthrew the previous Lords of Chaos which ruled over the plane.

So if the souls of mortals are whisked away to the outer planes, then what are all these undead still around here for?

Well, that depends. A particular undead creature is caused by a particular effect, and there are many such effects that can lead to the phenomenon of undeath.

The most common way to create undead is for a necromancer to infuse a body with energy from the Shadowfell or the Abyss. Energy of the Shadowfell can be summoned by the Animate Dead spell. Abyssal energy is more difficult to access, requiring the powerful Create Undead spell.
The most basic of Shadowfell creatures is the Shadow (MM pg. 269). Shadows are what is left behind when a soul is brought to the plane of Mount Celestia. Long ago, Nerull, striking back at the Gods of Good, began to siphon off the shadows of those who were purest of heart, since those who travel to Mount Celestia leave no trace of darkness in their wake. These Shadows are drawn to pure souls, clawing at that which was stolen from them. Thanks to the perversion of Nerull, however, they only succeed at making more Shadows.

An Animate Dead spell summons Shadows to inhabit corpses (to create Zombies (MM pg. 315)) or piles of bones (to create Skeletons (MM pg. 272)). The Shadow loses some of its power, but the spell forces the Shadows to become subservient. Lesser Shadows can be summoned to create Crawling Claws (MM pg. 44), or a more powerful Shadow can be summoned into a wizard's corpse to create a Flameskull (MM pg. 134).

On the other hand, there are several undead that form due to the Abyssal energy used in a Create Undead spell, or in a location that is somehow connected to the Abyss. Ghouls (MM pg. 148), Ghasts(MM pg. 148), certain Gnolls (MM pg. 163), and Mummies (MM pg. 227) are all products of Abyssal energy infusing a corpse, either accidentally or purposefully. The process of creating a Mummy or Mummy Lord is actually an ancient, ritualistic form of the Create Undead spell, practiced by long-lost civilizations.

Sometimes, a soul dies with a strong enough bond or ideal that they choose not to pass into the outer planes. These can come in many, many forms. A creature with an unfulfilled bond becomes a Ghost (MM pg. 147). A creature who kills itself while its soul has been placed in a Phylactery becomes a Lich (MM pg. 202) or Dracolich (MM pg. 83). A Naga bound to guarding a single location can persist after death, becoming a Bone Naga (MM pg. 233). A creature wrongfully slain can become a Revenant (MM pg. 259). A Beholder can dream itself into undeath as a Death Tyrant (MM pg. 29).
Other times, a creature's soul is prevented from passing on. A Vampire's curse (MM pg. 295) prevents a creature from passing on. A paladin that breaks their oath might be rejected by the Immortals and become a Death Knight (MM pg. 47). An Elf that suffered too much vanity is often rejected by Corellon Larenthian, returning as a Banshee (MM pg. 23).

However, barring these greater powers affecting a soul, souls sometimes are simply prevented from passing due to odd coincidences of magic: an area infused with dark energy, a spell cast to prevent the soul's release, or some barrier (such as a Hallow spell) preventing the soul from travelling away from the material plane. In these cases, most souls become Specters (MM pg. 279), frustrated and angry that they cannot move on.

In some cases, particularly evil souls might become Will-o'-Wisps (MM pg. 301) instead. These creatures retain intelligence and even personality, and are too powerful to be summoned by Animate Dead. However, a Create Undead spell can summon them into a corpse, creating a Wight (MM pg. 300). This process is occasionally performed by powerful necromancers, but is routinely undertaken by various Immortals of Undeath, such as Orcus of the Abyss.

Finally, sometimes the powers and magic combine. A soul that has been promised to a dark power but is unable to pass on might undergo a transformation into a Wraith (MM pg. 302). In this instance, the soul vanishes completely, becoming essentially an elemental of the Shadowfell, gaining the powers of Shadows and the ability to prevent souls from passing on, creating Specters of its own..

For many religions, the doctrine provides a path to become a petitioner and serve an Immortal after death. Mortals find comfort in this thought, that after they die there will be at least one part of them that continues on. To be prevented from passing is a fate that no mortal wishes. Thus, though all undead are treated with revulsion, those who failed to pass on have a special place of fear in the hearts of mortals.

Using This In Your Game

  • Figure out how souls work in your world
  • Explain alignment: how does it work for mortals? For Immortals? For the PCs in particular?
  • Who judges the souls? Are they benevolent?
  • How do the resurrection spells work in your setting? Why are there time limits on them?
  • How does undeath work in your setting? Are there different kinds? Who causes it?
  • How do people see death and the afterlife?

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Setting Density

Literally the poster child for complex settings
Since I'm currently working on my setting lore, I've been thinking about how that information is going to be used. I definitely don't want to make players read a book before they sit down to play, but if they want to dig into the lore, it should be there. Plus there's the whole thing about me working on my worldbuilding, but that's besides the point.

So today, I want to talk about setting density, or, in essence: how much information does a player need to role-play effectively within a setting?

High-Density Settings

In a high-density setting, you will be creating a lot of information for the players to digest. This can certainly vary from setting to setting, but let's say at the minimum, a dense setting requires the DM to fill in the players with some world backstory and historic information before they can make their characters. If the players can make characters and fit them into the world with little instruction, your setting is fairly flexible.

Now, I want to be clear: ANY amount of world history that your players need to create their characters is going to add density to your setting. I'm not talking about class or race restrictions, or building a party that has the appropriate balance and level. I'm also excluding the basic setting description, like "sci-fi old west" or "conan the barbarian but in space".

Why is the barrier for increasing setting density so low? Well, because you're deviating from the player's resource: the character creation guide. If you say "no elves or warlocks", that's fine because there are still eight other races and eleven other classes for them to choose. You didn't add anything, you just removed some options. Same goes for telling your cleric "we use the Forgotten Realms Gods." It's all still in the handbook.

But if you add information, suddenly the player has something they need to take into account when they make their character. And you, as a DM, will expect the player to know and reference that information in-game. I don't care how little information it is, that changes the dynamic of the narrative.

I want to point out that this is by no means a bad thing: world history creates a sense of gravitas to a game. Establishing events and places makes it possible for the characters to learn about and change them. And some players will latch onto this information and build powerful and compelling heroes within the setting.

And here is the crux of the issue.

If you guys could just look this over and memorize it by Friday, that'd be great
If you have a high-density setting coupled with an invested group of players, you can go into the deep end of setting density. You can recreate Game of Thrones. Forget Star Trek, you can go Blade Runner, or even Primer.

A game like this engages certain types of people. When people consider something fun, they generally fall into several of the categories of fun: Sensation, Fantasy, Narrative, Challenge, Fellowship, Discovery, Expression, and Submission. Most tabletop RPGs already satisfy those who are interested in Fantasy, Fellowship, and Expression.

A high-density setting also engages those who are interested in discovery, narrative, and challenge. Among Dungeon Masters, these players are often considered the "good" players. It's a bit unfortunate, because in many cases the DM simply isn't engaging their "bad" players correctly.

In a high-density setting, a player who isn't invested in the setting might still be interested in the game, if one of the ways they have fun is through submission. Some people enjoy simply sitting back and watching a scene unfold, or hearing their friends pretend to fight orcs, or whatever. However, this is usually interpreted by a DM as "low participation".

Now we can really define exactly how much setting information makes a setting high-density: enough that some of your player's eyes start to glaze over, and instead of playing their character, they sit back and watch the game happen instead.

I again want to point out that this isn't a bad thing, as long as you and your players both accept the situation. If you have a player who can't follow everything you're saying but still enjoys the game, then that doesn't mean you have to cater to them: they might just enjoy being there and hanging out. Go ahead and write your high-density setting. Just know that their character shouldn't be the chosen one. In fact, they might be better off being the dog companion.

One last note: a high-density setting does not necessarily have to be large. A sci-fi game set on a arc-ship carrying the last of humanity can be a very high-density game, especially if the plot of the game is keeping the ship functional.

Low-Density Settings

Yeah, why not?
A low-density setting can be summarized in a sentence. Depending on your players, you might be able to get away with more, but for most groups, this is the gold standard of low-density.

So, that must be an important sentence, right? Not really, actually. The key is using tropes. Sorry for the link there, that website is a trap.

By using tropes, you have a cultural shorthand for the setting you want to establish. It's the basic setting description I was talking about. Ahneria is "generic fantasy but high-magic like Elder Scrolls".

This doesn't stop a setting from being vast and unexplored. You can still have depth in a low-density setting.

For players who are interested in diving into the setting, make sure to give them plenty to explore. Make some areas more challenging.

For players who are less invested, let them play with the tropes. If it sounds like they are having fun, they probably are.

Again, just make sure everyone is on the same page.


I want to make another distinction here. High- and Low-Density setting is a distinction of information. It isn't a distinction of tone. That's what people want to mean when they say a setting is "gritty" - the tone is darker.

As an example, we could make a setting that is fun, wild and fantastical, but very high-density. There'd be almost no grit, but plenty of information for the player to digest in order to play. This could be accomplished by making a vast and complex magic or combat system. The players would really need to invest their mental energy into the system in order to play, but in the end they could just be using magic to make bunnies spontaneously appear from hats.

I cast Light!
On the reverse side, it'd be easy to invent a setting that is dark and gritty in tone, but very low-density. In fact, I could do it with a single rule: in 5th edition, your HP equals your level. Now, players have to contend with an incredibly dangerous and death-filled world, but there's almost no barrier for entry. In fact, that method of HP generations is easier than standard D&D!

In the end, a gritty setting is more about tone and challenge. You can still engage expression and allow players to do what they want, even if the tone is gritty. And a setting that is light in tone can still be complex and even challenging. Just because the setting is more lenient doesn't mean there aren't consequences for a player's actions.

Perhaps This Doesn't Deserve Another Heading But I'm Doing It Anyway and Now the Heading is Way Too Long So I Guess It's a Bit Couterproductive

I mentioned that both types of settings could have a basic setting description. I think this is one of the most important things you can have for a setting, and something that doesn't get enough attention.

Basically, you need to have an elevator pitch for your setting. "Fantasy setting where, half a century ago, a comet fell from the sky and caused a cataclysmic event." "Old school fantasy where the players get trapped in a maze-like demiplane ruled by a powerful monster." "Everyone plays as brand-name foods inside a local supermarket." Whatever it might be.

This is important because it connects with the tropes the players will use to imagine their characters. You don't want a player to build a character with modern tech skills and weaponry in your fantasy horror setting. OR DO YOU?

Thanks for reading!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Monday Recap: Muscle Magic

Now that's what I'm talking about!
I've been trying to play more games recently, rather than just running them all the time. It good to see things from the other side of the screen, and really dig into a single character's personality and choices rather than playing the rest of the world. Plus, DMs can be the worst players, so I will always take the opportunity to work on my player etiquette. Things like "don't rules lawyer" and "give other players a chance to talk" are norms for players but don't always apply to the Dungeon Master.

Also, I really am into the system of 5e, and I want to make cool characters to play. I've talked a bit about my pacifist monk character, and I'm also in a Tomb of Annihilation game (no recaps on that one though!) playing an archeologist.

But for this game, I wanted to try and build the classic Muscle Wizard - basically, a melee wizard that only uses spells with the range of touch and self, and prefers physical combat. I managed to make a very solid build using only the Player's Handbook rules. Unsurprisingly, having a tankload of hit points is way more important than having high Armor Class in a game with bounded accuracy. My Muscle Wizard was as tough as I could get him while using the wizard's pitiful d6 hit die.

But enough technical talk! It's time to hear the amazing exploits of Brick Flexington, Professional Bodybuilder and Adventurer!

Monday Recap: Muscle Magic

Cast of Characters
Makayla: Dungeon Master
Jon: Brick Flexington, Human Abjuration Wizard, punches things with lightning and doesn't believe it's magic
Tom: Willem Dotsk, Human Rogue, in a bad spot with his thieves' guild, trying to make some cash

Our heroes began in the small town of Lakeport, in a tavern called the Smashed Halfling. Willem and Brick were discussing how they could make some gold, since Brick was looking to gain glory in the realm of professional bodybuilding, and Willem was just greedy. They discussed doing a bodybuilding performance for the town's nobility, with Willem acting as Brick's manager. Willem said he needed a code name for his managerial work, and Brick suggested Beef Wellington. Somehow, it stuck.

Look at my muscles! LOOK AT THEM!
The pair knew they would have to make a name for themselves well before they could get invited to the big time galas to perform. While they were talking, a band of adventurers came into the tavern, discussing a goblin attack that had taken place on the road south of the city. Oddly, the goblins had used an upturned wagon for their base. Willem suggested that becoming heroes would be a great way to gain renown, and Brick agreed.

After travelling out of town along the southward road, they came across said upturned wagon, which also featured a small moat of thick black bile. Brick simply rushed the cart, dodging the goblin arrows that began to fly towards him. Willem, still hidden in the trees, pulled of an amazing shot that struck and killed a goblin from between the gaps in the wagon's planks. He then dashed forward to catch up with Brick, and the duo pressed themselves up against the walls of the wagon.

Brick decided it would be best to overturn the cart, so together the two lifted up the wagon and revealed the goblins inside. Their cover destroyed, the goblins fled into the nearby forest, except for the one that Willem had shot. The wagon didn't have much in terms of supplies or loot, so the pair of adventurers decided to follow the fleeing goblins to their goblin-hole hideout.

They delved the hideout, Brick climbing down a ladder while Willem stood on his shoulders. It was dark in the cave, so Brick flexed so hard his muscles shone. He barrelled forward, setting off a goblin trap that smacked him in the face with a garden hoe.

The goblins were huddled nearby, and they laughed at Brick's stupidity. Their leader, a tough Goblin named Dib, challenged Brick to a wrestling match. Willem explained that wrestling meant no fists, so Brick couldn't use his lightning fist. Nonetheless, he agreed to the match. His opening move was a Flying Double Thunder Kick, which killed nearly every single goblin in the cave. The only survivor ran past Brick and Willem, fleeing once again. Willem shot at the goblin, hitting it in the knee, but the little creature still managed to escape.

After looting the cave, Brick and Willem returned to Lakeport, sharing their looted barrel of apples with the patrons of the bar. Willem told brick that he might be able to crush an apple between his pecs and make apple cider, which could be a very profitable business model. Brick obliged. Apple cider for everyone!

The next morning, Brick was doing a small street performance when a group of wizards stopped by and asked him how he was casting spells. Brick showed them his eldritch exercise manual, where he had learned all of his amazing techniques. The wizards tried to convince him that he was just casting Shocking Grasp, but Brick would hear none of it. He didn't believe he could do magic at all.

The wizards left, and Willem decided to tail them for a bit. He caught up with them and asked them if Brick really was doing magic. They said he was, but that exercise manual was very concerning to them. They worried it might be something evil or dark in nature. Willem made a mental note of that and returned to his friend.

The pair decided to head down to the city docks and do more performing. While they were carousing around at the Wooden Duck tavern, they learned that some of their loot belonged to local merchants that had been ambushed, and that there were still goblins in the area they had been at the previous day. They went to the city watchmen, turned in their looted goods in exchange for a small reward, and got the descriptions of more goods that had been stolen. The pair hoped to get some leverage with a local noble for their string of heroic acts.

They ventured back southward, and tried to follow the trail of goblin blood left by the wounded goblin from the previous day. However, they quickly became lost. Willem had to climb a tree to figure out which direction to go, and they ended up finding an abandoned mine shaft.

Muscle lights activate!
They explored the mine a bit, Brick providing his muscle shine lights. There was a mine cart track leading downwards, which they decided to follow. After traveling some distance, they saw the dim outline of a goblin at the edge of Brick's light. Willem tried to tell the goblin they wouldn't hurt the creature, but the goblin said "nope!" and fled.

They chased the goblin all the way down the mine track, with Willem firing arrows into the darkness and Brick struggling to keep up with his fleet-of-foot friend. It took some time (and an accompanying video of Yakkety Sax) to capture and kill the goblin, and when they did they found themselves surrounded by 8 more of the buggers.

Time for yet another Flying Double Thunder Kick! 6 of the goblins were blown back into the walls and to the floor. Willem sniped the other two, one just barely as he tried to run as well.

The heroes explored the mine a bit more, and found a room with light coming from behind some rocks. Brick cleared them away, and they found themselves surrounded by barrels of stolen goods! Unfortunately, they also found themselves face to face with a very angry Goblin Boss.

Willem tried to calm the Boss down, but after a quick exchange it was clear that talking wasn't going to cut it. Brick launched himself forward with a Flying Double Thunder Kick, but this Goblin proved to be much stronger than the ones they had faced thus far. Willem loosed some arrows, and the fight was on.

The Boss struck hard, actually breaking through Brick's seemingly impervious skin and cutting his beautiful muscles! Brick responded with a powerful lightning fist that homed in on the Boss's metal armor. The boss collapsed under the electric punch, his last words a stammer: "I-i-it's sho-o-ocking!!!"

Their safety once again assured, the duo inspected the barrels and found the stolen goods. They found another goblin and captured him, demanding he tell the pair where the rest of the treasure was. The goblin lead them to a small stash of gold and items, including a mysterious potion. Brick used his exercise book to identify it as a Potion of Enlarging, but he gave it to Willem. He preferred natural muscle growth, and didn't want anything to do with that "magic" nonsense.

The pair rode a minecart back up to the top of the mine, travelled back to Lakeport with their goblin prisoner in tow, and handed over the stolen goods and their captive to the city watchmen. In return, they got another reward, and a bit better reputation - which they would need if they ever wanted to make it to the big time.

Thus ends the exploits of Brick Flexington, Muscle Wizard, and his stalwart manager, Willem Dotsk a.k.a. Beef Wellington!

Don't anger the Muscle Wizard
I had a lot of fun with this game, if you couldn't tell. It was Makayla's first time running a game, and she did very well! A big part of D&D is just going along with the various shenanigans your players come up with, and she responded to our ideas very nicely.

I might be playing in a campaign run by her in the future. As I mentioned above, I'm not doing recaps for my Tomb of Annihilation game, but since Makayla's game would be set in Ahneria, I'd definitely want to recap those here on the blog. Maybe I could even get her to write these articles for me.... a man can dream, I suppose.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, December 1, 2017

Lore of Ahneria: The Darkest Sea
This is part of a series on the lore of my homebrew world, Ahneria. As I outlined here, much of this information will be pulled from existing D&D lore and tropes. At the end, I'll be including a section on how to use this sort of thing in your own games.

If we keep moving down the cosmic ladder from Gods and Magic, I guess the next thing would be the planar system and the multiverse. However, I haven't really made many changes to those from what's written in the Dungeon Master's Guide. And with rumors flying about the next D&D setting being planescape-based, I plan on keeping it that way.

So instead, let's talk about the material plane, i.e. the universe the players will mainly interact with. And it wouldn't be very helpful to describe nebulas and galaxies, since Ahneria isn't a spacefaring planet yet. So we'll frame our discussion in terms that the game will actually be able to reference:

What do the skies of Ahneria look like?

Ahneria has one sun, which it circles once every 365 days. The rotation of the planet gives its inhabitants 24 hour days. I believe that unless your fantasy world is particularly affected by the odd length of day/night and year, you should make them generally analogous to the real world.

Of course, the sun is worshipped across the world as a blessing of Pelor, and indeed the sun and stars are products of his fight for light and warmth in the material plane. Within the doctrine of Pelor, day and night are designed to represent the struggle of light and dark, and the dangerous, monster-infested nighttime exists to make Ahnerieans more grateful for the light of day.

Pholtus, the trusted lieutenant of Pelor, is charged with keeping the sun moving through the sky. Folklore tells of his team of Ki-Rin which pulls the sun through the sky. Notably, even in old wives' tales, Pelor is somewhat distant from his worshippers - his blessings of the sun is all in service to his greater plan, to fight the darkness that envelops the universe. He is all-seeing and benevolent, but spreads his worship through his companion Gods.
Legends also tell that originally, the Gods of nature were jealous of the sun and its radiant glory. Beory, Ehlonna, Obad-Hai, and Ulaa convened and conspired to put their own sun in the sky, to show their worshippers that they had not abandoned them in the light of the civilizations of Pelor.

Pholtus opposed this plan, but Rao, ever the voice of reason, suggested that this new sun could illuminate the night sky while the sun was away. The Gods of nature relented, realizing that without the sun to compete with, their new sun could shine even brighter. Thus was the moon born.

Of course, there is some truth to this story, but it likely happened long before the birth of mortals. The moon of Ahneria is called Luna in many cultures, derived from Ehlonna, one of the goddesses of nature. It cycles through its phases once every 13 and a half days, meaning most calendars on Ahneria are divided into "months" of 14 days.

The phases of the moon include a full phase, which means that lycanthropes are a common problem in Ahneria. They lose control of their animal forms once every 13 or 14 days, making it hard for them to integrate into society. Stories of mysterious werewolves terrorizing towns are usually accompanied by strangers moving into the area or camping near the borders of civilized territory.

There are a few other celestial bodies that are visible from Ahneria in the night sky. These are the planets in Ahneria's solar system, and appropriately, they are usually named after the Solars of Pelor. Among the humans of Garlancia, they are called Secandi (the fastest planet), Anima (the brightest planet), and Viribus (the largest planet). They are often prayed to when people would ask Pelor for speed, magic, or strength.

These planets aren't actually the solars in question, and even if they were, they couldn't answer the prayers of mortals, being aspects of Pelor and not Gods themselves. It's just another way that people are faithful to Pelor, albeit indirectly.
Besides the sun moon, and planets, there are many stars in the night sky. Every culture has their own interpretation of the stars into constellations that reflect their deities and legends (except the dwarves of Strofeuwin, who live entirely underground and regard the sky itself as a odd myth). Patterns of constellations include forms of the Gods, Legends among a particular culture, or animals.

The stars really are distant suns, though. A common aphorism is to point out that even in darkness, the light of Pelor can be seen still. The cynical reply usually has something to do with the fact that there is more night sky than stars, or that shadows are only cast by the sun.

In Garlancia, the stars and constellations represent Gods. Since Garlancia is close to the equator, the stars move parallel across the sky with little rotation, so they are vital for navigation and don't change much with the seasons. There is no "North Star", but there are plenty of large, bright stars that are named for important deities such as Rao, Pholtus, and others.

Speaking of the seasons, Ahneria has the usual four. In Garlancia, which is coastal and equatorial, the weather spends most of its time in a hot and balmy state, converting to a dreary and rainy sky for a several months a year.

Since there is much free-floating magic in Ahneria, odd weather is relatively common, with something odd happening about once or twice a year. This could be as benign as colorful rain or as harsh as boulders falling from the sky. Thankfully, the latter is rare in areas that have been populated.

As for the sky in the Feywild and the Shadowfell, I like the DMG description of eternal twilight and eternal night. So we'll go with that.

Using This Material in Your Setting

  • What is the calendar like in your setting? If it's vastly different from the real-world calendar, why?
  • What do people consider the sun to be in your setting? The moon? The stars?
  • What are the phases of the moon? How do lycanthropes work in your setting?
  • What other planets exist in your solar system? How are they named?
  • What sort of constellations are in your setting? In the area you play in?
  • How are the stars used? For prayer? For navigation?
  • What's the weather like in your setting? If it's vastly different from the real world, why? How do the inhabitants deal with it?
  • What are the seasons like in your world?
  • Are there "shadow" planes of your world? What's the weather like there?
Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Tiered Combat

There's no crying in battle!
D&D 5e is broken into four tiers of play. That's not an opinion, that's a fact that's built into the rules and mechanics of the game. If you've ever read the Song of the Lioness series, each book more or less embodies a tier of the system.

Tier one encompasses level 1 to level 4 characters. Characters are apprentices. Everybody gets one attack on their turn. Spells are basic damage-dealing effects or things that only affect one character at a time. According to the Player's Handbook, they deal with threats that endanger farmsteads or villages. The genre is generally considered "Sword and Sorcery" and a lot of OSR games specifically go for this tier due to the constant threat of death. In Alanna: The First Adventure, the heroine spends a majority of the book training and facing small challenges. At the end of the book, she defeats an enemy that threatened a city, with the help of a powerful magic item.

Tier two encompasses level 5 to 10. At this point, the characters are competent adventurers. Nearly all of the martial classes gain a second attack, magic users gain access to much more potent spells, and the party can deal with dangers that threaten cities or even regions. This is the most flexible tier in terms of genre, but a traditional D&D game will fall into "Heroic Fantasy." When most people think of D&D, this is the level of play they think of. In In the Hand of the Goddess, the heroine is recognized as a skilled fighter among all the knights in the kingdom, and disposes of an evil sorcerer with plans to take over the throne.

Tier three covers levels 11 to 16. The characters are now head and shoulders above the common rabble. Spells create devastating effects, or effects that can cover large groups of enemies. Fighters become capable of dishing out massive damage while taking a huge beating themselves. At this point, the presence of high-level magic means that this genre will nearly always be "High Fantasy". The characters are at Lord of the Rings levels - able to take on armies and legendary evils. In The Woman Who Rides Like a Man, the heroine deals with multiple crazed wizards, cursed swords, travels long distances overland, and fights in wars that determine the fate of countries.

Finally, we get to Tier four, levels 17-20. The heroes are now legends. They can take on horrifyingly deadly challenges and can use their might or magic to change the whole world. At this level, "Epic Fantasy" only barely suffices - the characters could hold the entire multiverse in the balance. In Lioness Rampant, the heroine fights alongside a legendary martial arts master and a warrior king, defeats an immortal mountain God, and finishes off an undead wizard (basically Lich-level) with plans to rule the world via horrible disease.

The art goes perfectly with the tiers as well
Now, each of these tiers provide different playstyles and different challenges. Not only does the feel, or genre, change, but the type of enemies changes as well. This isn't just an increase in CR, it's a literal effect of the mechanics of the game.

At tier one, each PC gets one attack. That means if you put a villain in front of the group, they have to be able to take 4-6 hits a round. That's a lot. And the math only gets worse at higher tiers.

Also, what happens when your Bard gets Hypnotic Pattern at tier two? Suddenly your boss monster is incapacitated. There goes a round of damage on your PCs. What about Fireball? Goodbye, room full of minions.

Essentially, each tier doesn't just necessitate a new genre of play. It means a whole new set of encounter design rules, and different styles of combat. If you run a tier three combat the same way you'd run a tier one combat, you're in for a long, painful session.

At each tier, I'm going to go over how you should use:
  1. Initiative/turn order
  2. Strategy
  3. Terrain
  4. Combat Descriptions
  5. Enemy Identification
  6. PC Allies
  7. Ending the Combat

Before we get into this, I do want to point out that this system of running combat is built into how I play D&D: a focus on story, with generally one or two big combats a session. My players nearly always have the chance to take a short/long rest between combats, and as a result the combat encounters are nearly always "deadly" by DMG standards (pg. 82)

Tier One Combat: Threats Everywhere
Every blow matters!
At this point, characters will be challenged by a small number of weak monsters. I find this tier allows for "danger" in the wilderness, as a few wolves can take down the entire party. At this tier, you can play up the party traveling through dangerous woods, and make it clear that the world has threats that would eliminate most common folk.

If you want to run a boss fight at this tier, the best option is to use a mid-level monster with a weak monster as their ally. Despite magic being weak at this tier, spells like Hold Person and Blindness/Deafness can muck up the encounter if the PCs are only facing one enemy.

Alternatively, you can make a single monster who is a paragon (essentially, two or more monsters built into a single enemy). This can be particularly effective if you want to make a Goblin Boss that doesn't suck (unlike MM pg. 166) or a more powerful Kobold. Just stack them on top of each other!

As for running this tier in a combat, you can use a "traditional" combat approach.
  1. Roll initiative for each monster.
  2. For strategy, use the most unique monster ability first. These are the "signature" abilities that make a monster stand out. Nobody is going to use a mimic as just another ooze! Put the PCs in a position to show off the monster's abilities!
  3. Terrain should be varied, so the players have things to move around and interact with. Teach them the rules of cover, improvised weapons, chokepoints, height advantage, etc.
  4. On each turn of combat (monster and PC alike), describe the attacker's position, how they attack, and how their target defends (or how much they injure their target). This is really important: it's how you give a low-level combat "impact"!
  5. Every monster needs a personality. Even if it's "the wolf with white stripes on its head" or "the bandit with a scar over his left eye", the players should be connecting with every villain they face. There are no faceless goons in this tier.
  6. If the PCs happen to have gained any allies (unlikely, but possible), they should be given their own spot in the initiative. Treat them as another PC - give them full descriptions and personality - but don't let the PCs run them quite yet.
  7. Fight to the very last hit point. If you want to end the combat with a chase scene, you can have the monster flee, but most players won't take kindly to that.

At this tier, combat should be visceral and dangerous. A lot of people fall in love with this feeling and try to make their entire campaign world feel like this. If you're into that, an OSR system like Lamentations of the Flame Princess or Dungeon Crawl Classic would provide the right experience.

Tier Two Combat: Bigger Fish to Fry
Commonly heard at this tier: "holy crap, we don't suck!"
Now that the characters are more experienced and less likely to die every combat, you can start throwing bigger threats at them. I'm serious - at level 5 a party of PCs have all the resources they need to take on nearly any threat, with the proper preparation. You have to step up your game.

The players can now face a full horde of weak monsters, even taking them all out in one shot if the wizard gets a lucky Fireball off. At this point, every major mass combat needs to have potential reinforcements. If the characters blast away your group of hobgoblin soldiers, that might be okay. But if this is supposed to be the elite guard of Hobgoblin City, you'll want them to have backup.

A side effect of this is that the players won't feel endangered by the wilderness anymore. So, instead of running every little encounter the PCs would come across, give them the highlights: "you cross through the forest of evil, fending off attacks from packs of wolves and bands of orcs". Then, if they find a suitably dangerous encounter, run it normally: "on the third day, you come across the tracks of a Hill Giant, still fresh".

Your best best is to run the group against a party of mid-level monsters, the ones that would have been bosses in tier one. They can soak up some damage, make saves against debilitating effects, and still dish out a beating. Since each of these monsters is powerful enough to be the boss of a group of weaker monsters (as they were in tier one), you can still make the combat feel like it matters. Just have the angry pitchfork mob take care of the Goblins while your PCs go after their troll bosses.

Finally, if you want to run a boss fight, you'll need to throw in a group of weaker allies to make it feel suitably epic. Don't go too weak - otherwise they'll go down in the first round. But a higher-level monster with some mid-level allies is fairly epic. Again, Paragon monsters are a good way to make a single enemy more durable and menacing.

At this tier, you can use similar combat techniques, with a few truncations:
  1. Roll initiative for monster bosses, then divide the rest of the monsters up by type (all goblins, all skeletons, all goblin skeletons), or just divide the minions into their own groups.
  2. Monsters start getting smarter at this stage. Think about what the monster would do, based on their ability scores (especially their mental ability scores!). This site is a good reference.
  3. Terrain can shift over the course of the battle, and should be able to damage the characters. Lay traps. Fight near lava or spiked pits. Surprise the players.
  4. For the PCs, describe their attacks and positioning, as well as narrating the effect their attacks have on the monsters. Do the same for monster bosses, but skimp on the minions - a simple tally of damage will suffice.
  5. Give monster bosses personality, but for the rest you can use "group mentality" as your description: the goblins are murderous, the zombies are lurching relentlessly forward.
  6. Treat PC allies the same as in tier one - give them their own initiative and descriptions. However, you might consider letting the PCs control them at this point. Many martial classes at this level can become bored when they are just making attacks (while the wizard picks a new spell each round), so giving them an additional responsibility in combat can ease that boredom.
  7. When the enemy has been reduced to one or two minions, end the combat. You can roll to see if the monster escapes or is killed, but unless you want to start a chase scene, assume they die. If they are captured, they'll need a personality and name, so don't be surprised when your players ask!

This is, honestly, the style of combat that D&D is best at. You can really get a feel for the life-and-death nature of the combat while fighting for causes that matter at a local level. Whereas tier one was focused on survival and victory, this tier can encompass larger concepts within the framework of a combat. Make things morally grey, since your players will actually have the time to think about it rather than focusing on pure self-defense.

Tier Three Combat: Saving the World
100 vs 4? No chance - bet on the 4.
Welcome to the big leagues. Your little PCs are all grown up, worthy of the titles of heroes. If they haven't earned the respect of royalty by now, they could do so fairly easily.

The party can take on large groups of mid-level monsters and even multiple higher-level monsters. That isn't a statement to be taken lightly: if every goblin horde is run by a troll, and the heroes can take on the entire troll community, they can scatter an entire army. These are heroes that leave the rank-and-file soldiers to their allies and go right for the generals.

Additionally, spells at this tier make the world easily traversable for the party. Wilderness travel? No worries, the Wizard knows Teleportation. Even if they do hoof it, they will be taking down pretty much everything they come across.

That does mean, however, that they'll attract the attention of the truly dangerous wilderness monsters. Giants and Dragons are going to come to visit them and consider them a real threat.

Also at this tier, mass combat becomes a real possibility. A well-equipped PC can face down a squadron of guards or low-level undead. If you don't have a solid rules system to deal with huge groups of enemies, I'd suggest this brilliant essay on building mass combat units, or use the AoE and Mob combat rules in the DMG (pg. 249-250).

Finally, to run a boss battle at this level, you need to make it a staged battle. That is, the battle has to occur in stages. Run the boss's minions first, then their minibosses, then the boss themselves. No resting in between.

Why do we need to do this?

Well, D&D, at its core, is a game of resource management. If you use your 6th level spell slot on Mass Suggestion, that means you don't get to use it for Otto's Irresistable Dance. In a normal D&D game, the players would be running through 2-3 combats between rests, or 5-6 combats between long rests. That's plenty of opportunities to whittle down the PC's resources before the final, epic fight.

However, in a session with only one major combat, we need to simulate that resource use within one fight. That's why paragon monsters are so useful: since they essentially reset between HP pools, they simulate fighting multiple combats. If Hold Person wears off twice during the battle, it's the same as if it were cast twice earlier that day.

Thus, final boss fights at this tier need to be done in stages, and paragons/multi-stage bosses are basically a requirement.

At this tier, combat becomes a whole new situation. If you want to run a combat that has any modicum of urgency, you'll need to change the way you run quite a bit.
  1. Divide monsters into units. Bosses are their own unit. Roll initiative for each unit (similar to the last tier).
  2. Monsters at this level are nearly always smart. They aren't beasts or thugs. Prepare a strategy for the monsters and figure out a backup plan if things go awry.
  3. Terrain should shift drastically over the course of the battle. Force players to move! Make pillars fall and the ground crack open! There's a reason monsters at this tier start gaining lair actions. Use them!
  4. Reduce your descriptions to basic position and attack information ("You rush forward and unleash a flurry of slashes with your longsword") rather than spelling out each attack. Do this for both monsters and PCs. Then, pick a few attacks per combat to fully describe (big spells, killing blows, etc)
  5. Enemies should have the same level of personality as the previous tier: bosses get personas, minions don't. Minibosses can have simple personalities (Boris the Smasher and Doris the Basher).
  6. At this point, allies fall into two categories: mass units and named allies.
    • For mass units, you can either assign an enemy unit to fight them and take them out of the order, or you can treat them as a single entity as described in the mass combat essay above.
    • For named allies, you can give them their own position in the initiative if they are powerful enough, or you can simply have a PC gain some temporary hit points or extra damage as a result of fighting alongside their ally.
  7. Combat ends when the boss is killed, or when 90% of the minions are dead. Assume that the PCs then finish off the rest of the enemies, since they likely won't need to spend any major resources doing so. You'll nearly always have to deal with captured enemies at this stage.

This level of combat is more difficult to pull off in vanilla D&D. That's why we start pulling in alternate rule sets and expanded strategies. However, it can be done - but if done poorly, you'll end up with a 3 to 4 hour combat on your hands. Speaking from personal experience: ain't nobody got time for that.

Tier Four Combat: The Fate of Existence
Time to fight God's Armies? Must be Tuesday...
We're finally at the top, epic level combat. There's no holds barred here: every PC is now a legend of superhero power level. A PC can take out an army, stand toe-to-toe with angels and demons, and call on the Gods if they need to.

At this level, the party could fight 350 city watchmen without breaking a sweat. They can take out the biggest, baddest monsters of all time, all the way up to the CR 30 Tarrasque.

This means that major villains are going to team up against them. A Lich is easy prey - the undead wizard is going to bring along their pet Dracolich and a squad of Iron Golems for good measure. However, a better approach would simply be to not fight the PCs. At this level, nearly everything would rather save its own hide - even an Ancient Dragon will negotiate rather than face the choice of death or flee.

Of course, you need some high-level combat, not just high-level negotiations. That's why so many of the high-level monsters are irredeemably evil (liches, fiends, dragons, krakens, etc). They will fight the PCs without hesitation. But it isn't quite that simple.

At this point, every monster is smart and informed. The PCs are legendary, there's nobody who they want to fight who isn't going to hear about them coming. The enemy will have a strategy that is specific to the PCs in the party. If a PC can cast 9th level spells, the enemy will prepare 9th-level Counterspells. If a PC has great stealth or perception, the enemy will try to avoid being surprised or not bother trying to cause surprise. They will pull out all the stops.

There comes a problem at this tier: things just aren't strong enough to take on the PCs. Remember, the game is designed to be a battle of attrition. The PCs are supposed to use up their resources before the final battle. At 17th level, the PCs are expected to have already fought 4-5 battles worth 15,600 experience each before they hit the boss fight. Yes, that really does mean they need to fight 4 or 5 Iron Golems before they face off against the Evil Wizard.

And here's the kicker: the Evil Wizard knows that. That's why he built those Iron Golems. So he could fight the PCs when they weren't at their best! So he could stand a chance of winning against four legendary heroes. That's the mentality you have to go into for these battles.

So if you're making a "final showdown", you have a few options:
  1. Do it as above: actually play the game of attrition and have a series of minibosses before the final boss.
  2. Use traps, counters, or terrain effects to hamstring the PCs for the final fight, since the boss would know their weaknesses. Make sure you give the PCs a way to break free of the traps.
  3. Make the boss a paragon monster. Have each "stage" of the boss become progressively more difficult to simulate multiple battles.
  4. Use a beefed up version of the monster with plenty of Legendary Actions and tons of extra HP to absorb the PC's effects. Also, limited magic immunity. I'm not joking. It's not fun when God goes down to Tasha's Hideous Laughter.

Which one is best for a particular situation? Well, it depends. An Evil Overlord will probably use minions to wear the party down, a Mad Wizard will almost certainly use traps to hamstring the party. A God is likely to just use a massive stat block, paragon or beefy.

At this level, the PCs will breeze through "normal boss" monsters and their armies. It's almost not worth it to run anything less than a full-on epic boss battle. However, you can have them roll some skill checks or attack rolls if you want them to take out an army at some point.

From "I cast Magic Missile!" to "I alter the fabric of reality for fun!"
Writing combats at this level is a whole new ballgame. Not to mention running them. You'll need some new tactics.
  1. In mass combat, have the monsters all go at once. Enact their strategies as a kind of push/pull flow of combat: the players go, the enemies respond. If there are few enough enemies to actually have names, give them their own initiative spot. Also, reserve initiative count 20 and/or 10 for terrain effects, lair effects, or traps.
  2. Prepare a strategy your monsters follow. Nearly everything at this level is smart, so know ahead of time what will happen on each round of combat and how the monster reacts to certain things. Tailor your strategy to your PCs! Think about how this monster would squelch their go-to actions. Don't let them use their archetype.
  3. The battle should shift between multiple types of terrain - keep things moving in new directions. Perhaps the villain takes to the sea or sky, perhaps you are teleported to a new locale, perhaps traps start springing or the villain flees through areas already explored. It helps to have minions/paragon stages, as this gives you an easy indicator of when the battle needs to shift.
  4. Final Bosses and named second-in-commands get personality. Everyone else is just a faceless minion. However, you can give certain squads a "group personality", like having the "executioner squad" or an "arrow unit" among the minions. Just remember: they don't get anything more than that!
  5. Allies might be named or full army units.
    • If they have full armies, you can handwave combat between them and the foe's minions, counting up casualties after the battle. Or, you can build Mass Combat Units and grant them initiative.
    • For named units, you can create minibosses for them to fight in the same manner. Or you can treat them as a Mass Combat Unit as well. Perhaps Jerrard the Knight now has an order of knights under his command.
    • For either one, you can grant the ally to a player and give them a big bonus. If a PC has a following of assassins, they could gain a big bonus to damage on their hits, or if a PC is joined by their lifelong knight ally, he could grant an AC or HP bonus.
  6. Similar to the last tier, combat ends when the boss is killed, or when 90% of the minions are dead. Assume that the PCs then finish off the rest of the enemies, since they likely won't need to spend any major resources doing so. You'll nearly always have to deal with captured enemies at this stage.

This is a very difficult tier to pull off in combat, and there are some systems that do it better than D&D. However, the strength of D&D 5e is that it's a robust system that can put up with a lot of homebrew changes. So I think 5e is fine for doing this, workable but not the best.

In summary, running combat in D&D isn't as straightforward as the books suggest. If you want to run impactful, efficient combats at every level of play, you'll need to adjust your strategies.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, November 27, 2017

Monday Recap: City in Chaos
It's a magical world, old buddy
It's time for another rip-roaring installment of chaos quest! This game was the first game I ran using exclusively an excel spreadsheet. I think it worked because we didn't really have any major combats. I want this group to think laterally about how to solve their problems, and boy did they. Chaos quest is coming into its own.

One other announcement: we had a smaller-than-expected game this session. One of the players had to unfortunately drop due to scheduling conflicts, and another ended up being on vacation longer than expected. I find that making game that aren't based around combat allows me to be flexible in my prep: I'm not worried my final boss fight will be too powerful.

Campaign of Chaos: City of Chaos

Cast of Characters
Jon: Dungeon Master
Shannon: Cressen Juhl, Fallen Aasimar Trickery Cleric of Ralishaz, hates their dad Pholtus
Cody: Mist, Tabaxi Rogue, likes the shiny and shoots the arrows
Quinn: Jakky, Darkling Shadow Monk, sneaks into places to do a murder
Wade: Agne, Kobold Warlock of the Great Old Ones, killed his family for creepy powers
NPC: Artorius, Void Dragon Wyrmling, hangs out with Agne

Alternate title: It's Just a Prank, Bro!

Our chaotic crew had previously finished ransacking the mage's guild and taking the Palace of Infinite Illusions, which could create endless rooms and monsters for them to fight. They explored its rooms for a few days, until Mr. Lizard unceremoniously turned the palace sideways and dumped them out of it.

They were in a small stone room, and he explained that he had some things to take care of in the city of Auraglow. Auraglow was a city built around a holy site of Boccob, the God of Magic. Since its inception, it had always been a place where magic users could go for training, buying goods, and even learning forbidden magics. It got its name from a massive glowing sphere that illuminated the city day and night, however, the sphere recently disappeared and has been the subject of recent speculation and theory.

Mr. Lizard opened the door of the stone room and light flooded in. They realized that they were in a mausoleum, in the middle of a park-like graveyard outside the city walls of Auraglow. Mr. Lizard told them to go have fun, cause a bit of chaos, and make sure to bring any new recruits back for chaotic conversion. His task would take a few days.

The first day, they wandered around, bumping into random people and finding those who would be willing to convert. They found a young student named Mackey who was interested in magic, and a hedge wizard named Jinn who needed help stealing the bones of a saint to resurrect his dog. The crew pulled a mission-impossible style heist to get the bones, complete with Cressen lowering Mist down on a rope while Jakky and Agne killed a guard and took his place. They even made the other guards believe their ally had been raptured away, since they left his clothes behind and created an illusion of him floating into the sky.
They also ran into a Dragonborn cleric who looked extremely similar to Mr. Lizard, down to the monocle. Unfortunately for the cleric, their unfamiliarity with Dragonborn lead them to be very suspicious of him, and they ended up stealing his bag of potions. When they asked Mr. Lizard if he knew the cleric, their patron had no idea what they were talking about. He was more than happy to convert Mackey and Jinn, though.

On the second day, the group found out that this Dragonborn cleric, Martin, had a brother named Partin. Cressen disguised himself as Martin and "made amends" with Partin, but then Jakky decided to assassinate Partin via decapitation. It was then the group decided to leave a small card on the body stating "Whoopsie Doodle", which was the beginning of the notorious "Whoopsie Doodle Killer". Later that day, Martin himself showed up, and Cressen disguised himself as Partin to douse his concerns. The crew lead him to an alleyway and killed him as well, leaving another Whoopsie Doodle card. The legend had begun.

They wandered around a bit more. Mist had heard there was a powerful magic item here: an Oathbow. He had Cressen use Locate Object to try to find it, but without luck. Meanwhile, the group saw a patrol of battlemages pass by, and convinced a small child to join their crew because Mr. Lizard requested it. However, he sent the child back after realizing he had made a mistake.

On the third day, the group befriended a hippie-like Bard named Jessie, converted him to chaos, and helped him "prank" an uptight diplomat from the big city of Garton. But instead of pranking him they actually kidnapped him. Then, they knocked him out and left him in an abandoned house with a number of "Whoopsie Doodle" cards, pinning the murders on him. Jessie gave them a cloak in return, a Cloak of Many Fashions that could change its appearance. Jakky put it on over his other cloaks.
The Whoopsie Doodle Killer strikes again!
That night, they decided to look into a mysterious wedding that was happening soon. The bones of the saint were apparently for the ceremony, and the temple had brought in a powerful Priest of Pelor to conduct the marriage. The crew thought of a great prank, involving Agne appearing to the Priest as the ghost of his dead mother and getting him to quit the ceremony. However, the priest got suspicious and started questioning the ghostly form of Agne, which made Mist jump in and try to help, claiming to be "his dead father from a universe where everyone is cat people and also your father died."

Needless to say, that didn't go over great. The Priest summoned a wall of spinning blades and chased the crew from his home. However, they had learned a few things: the wedding would take place tomorrow, and it was between the Headmistress of a local bardic college/orphanage and the new leader of the king's spy network, the Cobblestones. It was sure to be a high-profile wedding, and a perfect place for some serious pranking.

The next day, the group ran into Jessie the Bard again. Jessie lead them to his secret hideout and revealed he was actually an influential Warlock in Auraglow named Elliot Weston, Lord of the Slums. He wanted to know more about this strange chaos power he'd been given, which had caused his clothing to turn to porcelain that morning.

The Chaos crew were quite amenable to Elliot, especially after he told them they would likely be able to find the Oathbow at the home of Humphrey Stempleburgess. He did want to do a little more research on Mr. Lizard before he threw his hat in the ring of chaos, and the party agreed - they were still a little suspicious of their sudden employer as well.

They still had some time before the wedding, so the group decided to scope out the Stempleburgess manor. There was a small gala happening, so they put disguises on. Cressen appeared as a matronly magic item collector, Agne used magic to disguise himself as her halfling servant, and Jakky used the Cloak of Many Fashions to look like a sad little dog. They called him "Blanket". Meanwhile, Mist used his stealthiness to snag some invitations.
Agne as Halfling. Disguise self isn't perfect!
Cressen and Agne staged a small distraction at the front gate while Mist lifted the invitations. However, they both did so well that they felt Chaos magic spark within them, and the gate guard suddenly had their clothes frayed and covered in soot like they had been struck by lightning. They were fine, for now - Cressen knew that his chaos surge had caused the guard to be a lightning rod for the next 11 days. Hopefully there wouldn't be any storms soon.

The crew explored the manor a bit, distracting Humphrey while Mist made off with a music-producing Wand of Conducting. Once he gave Agne the signal, Cressen made an excuse for the group and they left before the theft could be discovered. They resolved to come back the next day and take the Oathbow, since Mr. Lizard had told them they might not have much more time in town.

That night, they went to the Temple of Boccob, where the wedding of the Headmistress and the Spymaster was to take place. Jakky snuck in and disguised himself as the alter rug, right where the priest of Pelor would stand. Mist and Agne infiltrated the side room where the food and gifts were kept, and Cressen sent his illusory double in to mingle with the crowd while disguised as Humphrey Stempleburgess.

Just as the ceremony was completing, they sprung their plan. Jakky pulled the rug out from under the priest, Agne spiked the punch with a Potion of Fire Breath and unleashed a cloud of insects on the food, and he and Mist shoved the entire gift table into their portable hole. Cressen's double lifted the Wand of Conducting and started blasting inappropriate music. The place devolved into chaos!
Come on, grab the presents and run!

The Spymaster of the Cobblestones, a female Tiefling in a big poofy white dress and purple hair, ripped the bottom of her dress off to reveal a dozen blades, and glared around menacingly for the culprits. Her partner, the Headmistress of the Bardic College, however, cast True Seeing and looked around. Having ascertained the situation, she smiled and just said, "Nice!" She then calmed down her murderous bride.

The crew made a dash for it, fleeing the party in an awesome still-frame chase scene with wedding guards tailing them. They made it all the way back to Mr. Lizard, who was finishing up his plan. He said their ride was coming soon, so they should be ready to go at a moment's notice. The group agreed - they were used to having a chaotic escape plan. Mist found a cool Sickle of Poison among the wedding gifts and gave it to Jakky.

The next day, they went to Humphrey Stempleburgess's new gala. Since his gala yesterday had been ruined by the disappearance of the Wand of Conducting, and people were suspicious of his "appearance" at the wedding, he was throwing one of his infamous all-day galas, this time with two magic items: a Cloak of Billowing and a secret surprise item. Mist assumed this must be the Oathbow.

The group donned their disguises and joined the party once again. They loitered around the same ballroom, but this time the magic items were under better care: they were out in the open and under guard, so Mist couldn't simply steal them. The group needed to find a way to get them out of the public eye.

Cressen and Agne came up with a plan: put on a show that would distract the crowd away from the items. Jakky, skilled at acrobatics, would be "Blanket the Wonder Dog" and do flips for the audience's amusement. Meanwhile, Agne could orate the performance. Cressen, using his magic item collector disguise, set up the performance.
Simply beautiful
The performance was wonderful, and there wasn't a dry eye in the house as Blanket the Wonder Dog performed his tricks. Meanwhile, Mist killed the item guard and searched the Oathbow's box: empty! It was just for show! Frustrated, he grabbed the Cloak of Billowing and made off with it in a dramatic fashion.

Agne and Cressen looked aghast as Mist dashed away. He ducked down hallways and through rooms, crashed out a window, and climbed to the roof, but he just couldn't shake the guards. Finally, he leapt from the roof into the topiary surrounding the manor, and managed to hide from the guards. He had the cloak, but now he was pinned down in the shrubbery.

Meanwhile, the gala resumed. Humphrey was nervous, and after a light luncheon he pulled out his trump card to ensure the gala's success: the Oathbow! It was black and covered in skulls and flames, obviously a drow design. From the window, Mist was salivating.

Cressen used his illusory double and his disguise skills to make it look like Mist had returned to the party and ran out into the center of the room. Meanwhile, the real Mist snuck in, grabbed the bow, and left under cover of locust swarm a la Agne. The heist complete, the rest of the crew excused themselves.

The group decided to take one last walk around the city, knowing they would be leaving soon. As they did, someone called out "It's them! The ruffians that kidnapped me and pinned those murders on me!" It was the diplomat from Garton!

Suddenly people started coming forward! Humphrey was there, fuming. The guards of the saint's bones and the Priest of Pelor, the city watch, even the elite guards: the Battlemages! The crew was surrounded! Agne was more surprised that this hadn't happened before now.

Suddenly, a small hooded figure holding a basket of flowers motioned to them: this way! Agne released a swarm of insects from his staff, and the group fled down an alleyway with the figure.

When they were finally safe, the hooded figure revealed herself to be a young tiefling girl. She said her name was Pity. (This is a beloved NPC from our previous campaign! I was pretty sure the crew wouldn't harm her) She said she hated to see people get hurt and had somehow knew she needed to help. The crew was thankful, and took a couple flowers she offered them.
Do not hurt the Pity
Their mission complete, the crew headed back to Mr. Lizard's mausoleum base, though he wasn't there at the moment. Mist and Jakky tried out their cool new weapons, Agne watched a storm rolling in (particularly noting the lightning strikes hitting one spot over and over), and Cressen used the Cloak of Billowing and the Wand of Conducting to take his brooding to a whole new level.

Suddenly, Mr. Lizard came running back to the group, with Magic Man and Ilsa in tow. "Time to go!!" He had with him a pitch-black sphere being controlled by a talisman that featured a grinning devil face.

He pointed out over the city and the group could see these thin black ropes reaching down from the clouds to the ground. "That's our ride!" The group looked mortified. It was raining heavily, and lightning still cracked through the sky.

Mr. Lizard and the crew rushed into the city. As they did, wizards and spellcasters of all stripes were pouring out of their homes and schools to defend themselves against some unknown threat. Also, three people were pursuing them: a half-orc fighter, a half-elf wizard, and a young human thief. Mr. Lizard shot a blast back that obliterated the young thief, and the crew managed to shake their pursuers.

Up close, the crew realized that those black ropes were actually massive chains, with links as big as Agne. Mr. Lizard told them to climb up, and as they did, they saw the apparent destruction that had covered the city. The Dragonborn Embassy, the Stempleburgess Manor, and the Temple of Boccob were all in ruins. From their vantage point, they saw the dark outlines of the creatures responsible: massive, centaur-ian monsters whose thick grey hides were briefly illuminated by the flash of spell light the wizards were using to fight them.

They climbed and climbed, further from the destruction, until the city was no more than a distant garden below them, albeit a garden that was on fire. Finally, they reached the top of the chains, and poked their heads through a layer of thick clouds. Above them, the moon shone down through the clear night sky. In the distance, they saw a massive domed fortress with a golden antennae affixed to its peak.

Mr. Lizard smiled at them. "Auraglow was a good test run. See that fortress over there? Now that's where we really are going to spread some chaos!"
Hello, hello, welcome to my Skyfortress
We stopped there for the evening. This was a great session - the players were hilarious, and we came up with so many good jokes that I'm sure will be references later on. The guy who was struck by lightning a lot was probably my favorite.

Also, I want to again mention that one of my players, Shannon, put together some of the artwork I used for this article. I am planning on talking to her about some commissions for our games, particularly if I can get cool character art that's customized for the groups. Finding art online is fine, but getting exact character art is better!

Thanks for reading!