Friday, December 30, 2016

Racial Traits: Humans

Counting squares on the playmat is a universal activity
Continuing the mini-series on Race, we come to Humans. This might be a bit contentious, since when most players think of humans, they just think they can act without regard to race. While this is generally true, humans in fantasy settings have slight differences that can be best understood by comparing them to the other demihuman races.

In the Player's Handbook, it notes that humans are conquerors, civilization builders, and tradition-makers. I believe the reason for this is that most humans in fantasy settings will invariably compare their life and works to other races. Is it worthwhile to become a wizard when elves live seven times as long and are trained in magic from birth? Is being a fighter viable when you might have to go toe-to-toe with dwarves, orcs, or ogres?

Humans are not the strongest, fastest, smartest, or wisest. But they do have an advantage: their brief lifespan gives them great ambition. They spread over difficult lands, they dare to press further and build bigger and dig deeper than the other races. They yearn for immortality, which they have been denied, and so they place their future in the hands of their cities, their songs, and their organizations.

With that in mind, I give you a list of traits that are more or less uniquely human, in a land where being a human is anything but special.

Human Traits

Brave enough to be stupid, stupid enough to be brave
d8 Personality Trait
1. I hate being idle, and am eager to meet my goals as soon as possible.
2. I can sleep anywhere, from marshes to mountains.
3. I never dwell on the past, but I often dream of the future.
4. I'll jump on any opportunity that benefits me. You never know when it might come up again!
5. I enjoy creating new and unique things, and can get depressed if I hear it's already been done.
6. I love dedicating myself to a cause that's greater than me. It makes me feel like I'm doing something worthwhile.
7. I never turn down a chance to look good in front of others. I hope to have songs written about me someday.
8. I'm always aware of the political dynamic of a situation.

d6 Ideal
1. Innovation. I want to make something that has never been made, live a life that nobody else has, and do things that have never been done. (Chaotic)
2. Society. By building institutions and organizations, the legacy of a single person can live forever. (Lawful)
3. Acceptance. The world is vast, and there is room for all types and peoples within it. (Good)
4. Ambition. Power is its own reward, and any price to be paid for it is well worth the sacrifice. (Evil)
5. Glory. To be seen as worthy in the eyes of your fellows is to be worthy to the Gods. (Any)
6. Achievement. A life is measured by the impact it has upon the world. (Any)

d6 Bond
1. I have a dash of nonhuman blood from a distant ancestor, and I strive to be more like that race.
2. The kingdom I live in is whom I serve first and foremost, it is greater than I will ever be.
3. I have a plan for my life, and I will stick to it no matter what.
4. I fight for a cause that is greater than any mortal. I'd gladly lay down my life to support it.
5. Someday, I will discover the secret to immortality. That is what drives me forward.
6. I have a big dream and it's going to take more than just me to do it. I am always looking for followers or recruits.

d6 Flaw
1. I am quick to mistrust nonhumans. They don't act quite right.
2. Meeting my goals is more important than those I have to step on along the way.
3. I often make the same mistake more than once because I hate dwelling on my errors.
4. I jump from cause to cause like a butterfly on the wind. I'm not really sure what I believe.
5. Unless someone follows the rules of my organization, they will never really achieve greatness.
6. I believe that everyone is trying to usurp my goals, no matter how much they help me.


With such diverse emotions as angry, angry, angry, and annoyed!
If you would like to read more about why I am writing these, or how I use them in my games, please check out my first post on Dwarves.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Prepping for 2017!

Preach
This post won't contain the usual stuff I would post on M/W/F, but I wanted to post about some goals I have for 2017, in relation to gaming and D&D.

2016 was a very busy year for me! I juggled 3 monthly campaigns while running a weekly campaign on the side. Some weekends I ended up with three games, one each on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Although it was a lot of fun and I learned a lot, I think I will need to cut back on the various games in order to meet some of my non-gaming goals.

Of course, those non-gaming goals aren't boring things like working or studying. I want to write story and music for the video game company I work with, and try out some new skill areas such as drawing and fitness. I've always liked the idea of becoming a polymath, and keeping myself to strict goals is a good way to push forward on that.

Anyway...

Dungeons and Dragons Goals for 2017



Snap into a slim jim!

1. Finish my current campaigns

As I said, I currently have four campaigns running. Two of them are linked, and I'd like to do a combined game (14 players!) to finish off the sessions. But I will need to set it up, meaning I have at least 3 more games to run. One for each group separately and a final combined game. Honestly, that will be pretty difficult, considering how hard it is to coordinate even a few people's schedules.

The other two campaigns will require a different approach. My epic evil campaign only has one game remaining, so I will just have to write that and finish it off. However, my weekly campaign (by y estimations) could go until August. Obviously I will need to think about what sort of games I want to run after that, but unless the players have an uprising against Princes of the Apocalypse, I have some time to think about that one.

2. Start new campaigns using published modules

Will these guys be in it? Short answer: Don't worry about it!
With new goals outside of gaming, I want to cut down on the bulk of the time I spend on gaming: prep. I spent a LOT of time this year writing up games for my campaigns. One session (which is still yet to happen, should be in about a month) ended up at 17,500 words. For reference, that's the length of a novella. Perhaps I have a different style that the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-screen DMs who don't prepare anything, but even then I put a lot of work into these, and if I want to meet my other goals this year, I have to cut back.

That doesn't mean I want to game less, though, so I think I will be kicking off some new campaigns using published modules. Curse of Strahd or Storm King's Thunder would make excellent monthly games, and I can easily continue Princes of the Apocalypse until either a new module comes out or I figure a good way to make Out of the Abyss work. The nice thing about Curse of Strahd is that I wouldn't have to change much to fit them into my homebrewed game world.

Additionally, I'm looking forward to receiving my copy of Operation Unfathomable, which I can use to run a DCC game with. I've only started looking into non-5th Edition systems (my background in homebrew games doesn't lend itself well to complex systems) and Dungeon Crawl Classics has a really cool philosophy around it.

Or I could just play this cracking classic! The best thing about hero quest is...
So, the gaming will continue, albeit without the massive prep time that comes from homebrewing sessions. If I can find enough material, I may even run 4 campaigns again, since the time needed to play isn't nearly as stressful as the time needed to prep. However, that is highly dependant on if my other goals are being met.

3. Continue writing on this blog

I've accumulated quite a bit of material from my old games, and I want to keep sharing it with you. I've already written articles enough to fill my Wednesday and Friday slots through February and into March, so hopefully I will be able to keep producing posts for your perusal in the meantime.

Also, my players have responded really well to the game recaps that I've posted, and I'd like to keep that up to have a record of the games I run. Sometimes (as may happen this coming Monday) I might have multiple recaps to post, but I'd definitely like to make sure each game gets its own post, for organizational capability. So expect those to continue, and maybe even increase as my monthly campaign players come back from the holidays.

Boom shake shake shake the room

4. Maybe write some music articles here too

A fair amount of my 2017 goals have to do with writing and creating music for various projects. In addition to writing music and improving my skills, I am planning to take up piano lessons and work on a couple music transcriptions. But at the moment, all the stuff I'm working on with regards to music is very hush-hush, under wraps, still in development. So while I am working hard on music, I can't really talk about it here. Though this is a small public forum, it is a forum nonetheless, and I don't want to get in trouble with my boss for leaking stuff about the game.

However, that should all change relatively soon. I am planning on writing a few articles for the developer's blog for the game, and when we release more information I can mirror those articles here. I don't want to take away from regularly scheduled content (aside from this article of course lol), so I might put them in on Tuesday or Thursday.

Look at those losers playing Desks and Deadlines
So, that is about all I want to do in 2017 with D&D. It isn't too much, but I find my interests ebb and flow. Maybe taking a year off from writing D&D will help me recover from doing it for the past two and a half years, and give me the itch to get back into it.

At least, that's how I've noticed most Dungeon Masters do it.

Thanks for reading! Your regularly scheduled D&D drivel will return shortly.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Monday Recap: Dark Water Dealings

Makin' my way downtown
This recap is for my weekly D&D game that happened last Thursday. With the holiday weekend coming up, we decided to do things a bit earlier in the week. Fortunately, I was able to get a couple fun guests to join in and make the game very... interesting.

Spoilers for Princes of the Apocalypse ahead!

Badgers of the Apocalypse: Dark Water Dealings

Phoenyx Metalbranch, steampunk aficionado
Cast of Characters:
Jon: Dungeon Master
Megan: Phoenyx Metalbranch, Fire Genasi Eldritch Fighter, half-dwarf and loving it
Cody: Arannis Nailo, Elf Cleric of Corellon Larenthian, slightly racist against non-elves
Cait: Amafrey WindRiver, Human Barbarian of the Badger clan, overwhelmed by treasure
Liz: Thaluna Maah, Sea Hag, Lieutenant of the Cult of the Crushing Wave, hates Gar Shatterkeel
Tom: Grurk and Kokurg, two ogres who serve Thaluna, they have strange powers and treasures
NPC: Hunee, Demi-badger, not much different from a giant badger except for the immortality

Tom and Liz are friends of ours, and Tom is a regular member of one of my other quests. Liz is his younger sister, who was in town for the week and requested a spot in the game. I was happy to oblige, especially since I wanted Liz to get a chance to boss around her older brother. Additionally, I thought the players might find having an ally interesting in this leg of the dungeon.

When we last left our heroes, they were creeping through the Temple of the Crushing Wave under the pretense of being the replacements for the very cultists they killed. After fighting their way deep into the temple, they encountered a mysterious stranger with a big beard and an eye patch. He told them they had to go "smooth things over" with Thaluna Maah, the sea hag who was responsible for the dead cultists. They decided to go along with it since they were in dire need of healing and a rest.

Is there anywhere in this dungeon we could buy a shrubbery?
The heroes opened the marked and marred door cautiously. Amafrey was the first to stick her head in, and to her misfortune Grurk the ogre happened to be looking directly at the door when she did so. He scratched his head and asked if she was "shinee". Amafrey slowly shook her head. Grurk, seemingly satified, told Kokurg there was just a human outside, and she wasn't very shiny.

Of course, behind a ragged green curtain was Thaluna Maah, who burst out as soon as she heard there were humans here. Thaluna isn't on good terms with the human members of the cult, preferring the company of her "pets" while she waits for one of the other cults to finish off Gar Shatterkeel for her.

The heroes, expecting confrontation, all burst into the room. However, Thaluna began to admonish them. They were here to kill Gar Shatterkeel, and should leave her alone. The characters took pause, and told Thaluna she was still defiling an ancient dwarven city. They could leave her alone, but she had to leave the city after Gar was dead.

For Thaluna, I decided to use some of the Hag Traits from Volo's Guide to Monsters. Thaluna was very generous with her deals, but she devised great consequences if the deal was broken.

After shaking on the deal, Thaluna realized the goody-two-shoes heroes might accidentally hurt one of her pets while they wandered the rest of the dungeon. Also, if she were to lead them, they could help her "take care of" a couple other troublesome humans to ensure her ultimate control of the cult. So, Thaluna, Grurk, and Kokurg all joined up with the party, with the promise of guiding the group to a healing fountain and then directly to Gar Shatterkeel.
"And just where do ya think yer goin there, boys?"
As Arannis turned to leave the hag's lair, he ran straight into the bearded one-eyed stranger from before! He had his crew with him, and they were wearing the cylindrical backpacks from the brewery.

He chuckled and accused Thaluna of teaming up with the do-gooders to ruin the cult. Thaluna simply screeched at her ogres (and her new companions) to kill the human as quickly as possible, and let none escape! Amafrey strode forward, and with two powerful strikes, lopped the bearded man's head from his shoulders.

The heroes leapt into battle. Grurk, unable to find a way through the doorframe, decided to use the weird mutation he had gained from Thaluna, and vomited acid to make his own doorway. Phoenyx 's heart sank at the sight of a dwarven wall being destroyed, but she had her hands busy taking down the cultists and their backpacks, which turned out to contain the water weirds from the brewery.

www.ogreshop.com/
Grurk the Vile Vomiter
The weird mutations on Grurk and Kokurg are another idea from Volo's Guide to Monsters. It says that minions who work for Hags are altered by her presence, and she infuses her weird magic into them (VGM pg. 61). I also gave Thaluna and the Ogres some weird magic items, but I don't think they came into play at all.

The cultists were easily dispatched, and Thaluna remembered that the water weirds wouldn't attack those who made the symbol for elemental water. She quickly resealed one the the weirds, and Phoenyx followed suit, ending the fight.

After the battle, the heroes went to work on reliving the bodies of their gear. Arannis dumped one of the water weird from one of the tanks into the fountain in the center of the room, hoping to fill the tank with water from the healing fountain.

Amafrey was about to start picking the gold from the reaver's pockets, when she noticed Grurk was grabbing every gold piece he could find and stuffing them in his mouth. Horrified at the thought of losing gold, she demanded he hand it over or she would kill him. Grurk grinned a golden grin and reached for his club, but Thaluna intervened.

The hag didn't want to see her pet Grurk killed any more than she wanted to see the barbarian smushed over a few gold pieces. So, Thaluna offered a treasure in exchange for the gold lost. She pulled out a dragon bone sword, with a ruby-studded hilt wrapped in dragon leather.

This is probably worth 2000GP, but the best I can do right now is 100.
Phoenyx's eyes bugged out at the sight of the sword. One of her reasons for joining on with the quest was to retrieve a sword lost to pirates, and here it was! Thaluna saw this and suddenly realized that the sword could be a much more powerful bargaining tool. So, instead of just repayment for the gold, Thaluna asked for the guaranteed safety of both her and her ogres. Phoenyx had to talk Amafrey down, but in the end they agreed to the trade. Thaluna would leave and give them the sword after they killed Gar and not her or her pets. "I won't betray you unless you betray me!" They shook on it again.

Some of you might be thinking that Thaluna is being awfully generous for a Hag. According to the module, Thaluna wants more than anything to kill Gar Shatterkeel and take over the cult, so I'm willing to give a few concessions towards her demeanor if her goals are being met. And besides, any enemy the players don't kill can always come back later...

Thaluna lead them to the fountain of magic healing water. On the way there, they passed a door with a small metal slit in it. The slit opened just a Kokurg was passing by. Thaluna hurried him out of the way, and Phoenyx decided to look into the slit. The person on the other side of the door staggered back and closed the slit. Phoenyx nodded to her companions, and gave a mighty kick to open the door!
Doga!
The door was knocked wide open, and the person behind it knocked prone. However, Phoenyx had failed to account for the men behind the door holding crossbows, and immediately three crossbow bolts sailed towards her!

Fortunately, they mostly hit her armor, and she charged in, whooping loudly and hair blazing. Amafrey leapt in behind, cutting down one of the cultists in seconds. Thaluna, who knew about a back door to this room, scurried around the corner with great speed, telling Kokurg to come with her.

One of the men had an eye that looked like a blue orb, and he began to cast a spell. Arannis quickly put up a field of Silence in the room, but that didn't stop the man from casting a Ray of Frost from his eye, dealing surprisingly heavy damage to Arannis. Grurk, seeing the shiny eyeball, charged into the room, his voice muted by silence.
I just love Shivvin'!
Arannis, realizing he was facing off against a magic artifact, pulled forth his longbow and prayed to Crellon Larenthian to guide his shot. As the one-eyed man approached, Arannis loosed a perfect arrow, sailing directly into the man's blue orb eye. He stopped moving as his entire body froze over, and he shattered before their eyes, victim to the icy magic that made him powerful.

These one-eyed guys are called "One-Eyed Shivers", and I found them to be really underpowered. I was probably not playing them as powerfully as well as they could have been played. They are all offense, really no staying power. They would have probably been better served staying back and acting more like casters, but I couldn't give up that Icy Aura ability.

Thaluna and Kokurg burst in from the other door, flanking the enemies. With their numbers reduced and the heroes surrounding them, it wasn't long before they were all slain. Kokurg took great delight in smushing the "tinys".  Grurk once again feasted on the gold while the heroes looked on., more than a little disturbed.

Finally, they reached the magic fountain. The characters were hesitant to drink the water, until Grurk and Kokurg began to slurp it up themselves. Seeing its healing properties, the characters joined in, before the pool became completely made up of Ogre baskwash.

Arannis noticed something lurking in the darkness behind a pillar. After trying to call out to the creature, he lit up the area with a sacred flame spell and saw a small one-eyed creature with long claws and scaled skin - a Nothic!
Eye can read your mind!
Another Nothic peered out and caught Phoenyx's eye. It suddenly said out loud that Pheonyx was scared to meet her Efreeti mother because she knew the evil fire genie would never love her. Pheonyx was shocked, since she had never told anyone that, and flew into a rage, hacking at the pillar the creatures were hiding behind.

The two Nothics were easily dispatched, and the group seemed sullen but determined to carry on. Thaluna ordered her minions to stop drinking the water, and they began to head towards Gar Shatterkeel's lair.

After travelling a ways through the temple, they reached a large bridge spanning the canal, with double doors on the other side bearing the symbol of elemental water. Thaluna told everyone to wait, and went up to the doors and gave the water cult hand sign, dispelling a ward that had been placed on the door.

At this point, Thaluna realized she would be betraying one (possibly two) groups within the next few minutes, and decided to summon her "biggest pet" to watch the door in case she didn't come out. This would be her contingency plan, as well as the "great consequences" if the heroes decided to get uppity and break the deal they had made.
Pic unrelated
If you've read the module, you know exactly who I'm talking about. I'd love to see the players take on that old girl. It probably won't happen, but dang that would be fun.

Just before Thaluna opened the door to the final chamber, she turned to the heroes and gave them some advice.

"Don't be stupid. And watch out for the Trident."

She opened the door. A twenty-foot moat divided the shrine into northern and southern halves, connected by a stone bridge. In the north half, two large stone pillars flanked an altar in the form of a plain stone block. Above and behind the altar loomed a huge version of the Symbol of Elemental water made from beams of driftwood.

In the southern half, two channels ran along the sides of the room, leading out to the canal on the other side of the door, and pillars flank the room.

Standing in the southern part of the room were 5 lizardfolk warriors, and behind the altar, in his druidic clothing, covered in barnacles, with his crab hand and his trident, was Gar Shatterkeel himself.
Wha..? Did somebody order food and not tell me? We're trying to run a cult here, you can't just give out our address!
We wrapped things up there. It was a bit of a short game, but games during the week are harder to pull off, since people have to come from work and go to work in the morning. Hopefully our game next week will be on Sunday or Monday, but rest assured there will still be a Monday Recap either way! I'm running one of my semi-monthly campaigns on the 30th and I will likely have a good write-up from that game in addition to the Badgers of the Apocalypse field report.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Racial Traits: Halflings

voltor.narod.ru/dod/dod20007.htm
Like people, but half a person. Somehow that isn't considered rude
Still working our way through the PHB, here are some traits to be used for everybody's best friend, the Halfling!

Also, I had the realization that these tables would be great for creating NPCs. You could even make a village populated by a single race just by picking an ideal and making it the basis for traditions and customs within the town. That sounds very fun to me.

Halfling Traits


Does this remind anyone else of Attack on Titan?
Am I the only one who just got a great idea for a campaign?
d8 Personality Trait
1. I love discovering new things, especially if they are simple and practical.
2. I'm used to being ignored by the tall folk, so I rarely speak up around them.
3. I always seek out the simple pleasures of life. I'd rather have a warm meal than an extravagant one.
4. I've got a knack for figuring out the simplest and most straightforward solution to problems.
5. I hate being seen as a show-off and am quick to hide my wealth.
6. I've got a kind word for everyone I meet.
7. The world is vast and scary, but I'm excited to see every inch of it.
8. I'm always taken aback when others are purposefully mean. What makes them better than anyone else?

d6 Ideal
1. Hearth and Home. A simple, orderly home where you can put your feet up is a blessing in itself. (Good)
2. Practicality. There's no reason to have things you can't use, nor to want things you can't have. (Lawful)
3. Humility. Simplicity and consideration is a better path to happiness than excess and pride. (Good)
4. Community. It takes a village to make a life worthwhile. (Lawful)
5. Friendship. The finest pleasure in the world is an ally who won't let you down. (Good)
6. Food. A home-cooked meal is as good for the soul as it is for the belly. (Any)

d6 Bond
1. I treat any place with a roaring fireplace and a tasty meal like I would my own home.
2. My family has always been wanderers. I yearn for the open horizon.
3. Anyone who values peace is worthy of being treated like family.
4. A sturdy set of boots is worth more to me than a pile of gold.
5. Any good creature that suffers is quick to earn my pity and mercy.
6. Those who travel with me are like my family. I am quick to care for them and won't let them down.

d6 Flaw
1. I have little patience for those who talk on and on without saying a thing.
2. I am overly trusting of the elderly, and sometimes forget that they aren't always in charge.
3. I'm just as likely to compliment an orc as I am to fight it.
4. I refuse to enter a disheveled home or seedy tavern. It's just too sad.
5. I'm quick to say what's on my mind, especially when I disapprove.
6. I would never turn down a good meal or drink, even if it was served by my mortal enemy.


A not-so-jovial halfling, sadly all too common in player characters
If you would like to read more about why I am writing these, or how I use them in my games, please check out my first post on Dwarves.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Curse of Strahd: Death House Survival Horror Part 3

Spoilers for Curse of Strahd ahead!



Turn up the night, it feels so right
In this post, I want to break down the second "half" of Death House, areas 22-38 and the ending. If you didn't read the previous post, I want to create a feeling of horror and fear by starting off my players with little equipment and having them slowly move through the house, finding items and searching everything, with tension rising as they move from area to area. Because of this approach, I've also included modifications for certain monsters in this area, because I would actually like the party to make it to the final scene alive.

I believe that if the players started off really feeling powerless, they might buy in to the fear a bit more. They might actually be willing to complete the twist ending of the adventure and sacrifice a companion. Also, they might actually flee from the final encounter.

I've read many reviews of this adventure that dislike the final monster, a Shambling Mound. And their concern is well-founded: a party of four 2nd-level PCs would be horribly outmatched by a CR 5 monster. But I think the mound was very carefully chosen. First off, it's speed is only 20ft. Second, the entire adventure clearly calls out that this is a monster the cult has worshipped for decades, something ancient and evil. And finally, the mound in particular has powerful slam attacks and the ability to engulf enemies.

All of this leads me to believe the mound was meant to be a zombie or Frankenstein monster, slow, relentless, and driving the players to turn and flee from the house. If they try to fight it, a nature check should reveal that they are meant to run from this encounter. If all else fails, simply tell your players: they risk character death by staying. If they still want to fight, don't stop them after that.
Alright, let's finish this up! Note that the PCs leveled up to 2nd level when they found the door in area 18. I would probably allow them to keep all the HP they gain from leveling, because they might have an encounter nearly immediately after descending, and some groups will still have lowered max HP from the specter fight.

Areas of Death House

I Durst not enter here...
22. Dungeon Level Access
Mark of Horror: Chanting can be heard in this area until the house is appeased. At this point it should be very muffled and unintelligible, more just a pulsing rhythm of voices in the deep.
Note: Even though the players could head straight to area 27 from here, I would definitely want them to find area 25 and area 34, to get their magic items and find the massive amount of loot hidden there. So, when the characters enter, I would have some of them feel drawn to certain areas, some to the North (Area 25) and some to the West (area 34).

23. Family Crypts
Note: Chanting can be heard in this area until the house is appeased
Note: This area contains the coffins that can be used to lay the children to rest
Encounter: If the coffin in 23D is disturbed, the swarm of centipedes (MM pg. 338) rains down on the PC who touched it. Normally, the players wouldn't have a reason to disturb the coffin, but dropping insects on my player's heads is too good to pass up. So...
Added Item: an uncommon magic item, draws a particular character to it from inside Elisabeth's Coffin
Also, tell your players that the crypts, while small, make for a decent place to take a short rest, so the characters can administer to a paralyzed friend while they rest.

24. Cult Initiate's Quarters
Note: Chanting can be heard in this area until the house is appeased
Added Item: a scimitar with a runic hilt, lying next to a straw pallet. The translated runes read: "Priest of Osybus"

25. Well and Cultist Quarters
Note: Chanting can be heard in this area until the house is appeased
Mark of Horror: pulling up the bucket from the well reveals a rotted human head sitting in the bucket under the surface of the water. If dumped out or reached into, it vanishes.
Items: silver shortsword
Added Item: an uncommon magic item, which draws a particular character to it from inside chest 25E. This should also lead them to the incredibly useful silvered shortsword

26. Hidden Spiked Pit
Note: Chanting can be heard in this area until the house is appeased. Here, it is clear that it comes from area 30.
Mark of Horror: a skeleton lies in the pit trap, impaled. If touched it crumbles into dust.
Encounter: if you run the pit trap, I wouldn't run the ghouls in area 29.
Trap: Spiked Pit
Detect: Active Perception 15 / Passive Perception 20 (no footprints)
Disable: impossible
Effect: 3 bludgeon + 11 pierce dmg 

Also, make sure to have the jumping rules handy (PHB pg. 182) or allow the players to lower themselves into the pit and cross safely after they have found it.

27. Dining Hall

Seems like a nice place to hang around...
Note: Chanting can be heard in this area until the house is appeased
Mark of Horror: a chef's knife is plunged into the table, with a human skeleton hand lying next to it. It is apparent that the knife was used to sever the hand.
Added Item: Chef's knife (dagger)

28. Larder
Note: Chanting can be heard in this area until the house is appeased
Encounter: This area is dark, those with a light source or darkvision can make a perception check vs the grick's stealth (rolled with advantage against the stone walls)
A Nature check 10 reveals that the creature will not likely leave its "lair" unless disturbed.
Added Item: Net, folded, holding some rotted venison. Can be used like the weapon, but will always smell like a rotting carcass

29. Ghoulish Encounter
Note: Chanting can be heard in this area until the house is appeased. Here, it is clear that it comes from area 30.
Encounter: If the players activate the ghouls, I wouldn't run the pit trap in area 26.
These ghouls (MM pg. 148) rise up two at a time, the closest ghouls rise up first, then one round later the other ghouls rise up.
If the ghouls succeed in paralyzing a character, the ghoul uses its actions to grapple and pull the character towards area 30, then 35, then 38. If possible, they sacrifice the character on the altar, causing the house to be appeased.
As the ghouls fight, they scream about their unending hunger and their need to serve "the Darklord"

30. Stairs Down
Note: Chanting can be heard in this area until the house is appeased. Here, it is clear that it comes from below.

31. Darklord's Shrine
Note: Chanting can be heard in this area until the house is appeased.
Encounter: The door to the south is a mimic in disguise. See area 33 for details.
Note: This room contains a secret door (Active Perception 10 / Passive Perception 15)
Encounter: If the orb or statue is touched, Shadows (MM pg. 269) begin attacking the characters. They all appear at once, hidden in the dim light in the corners of the room, but they engage in the fight one at a time. A character who uses an action to make a Perception check of 16 (or has a passive perception of 16) can see their forms moving in the dark corners of the room. The shadow can attempt to hide again on the next round. There are a total of 5 shadows.
Items: arcane focus

32. Hidden Trapdoor
Note: Chanting can be heard in this area until the house is appeased.

33. Cult Leader's Den



It's a dump, but every Friday is movie night, which is nice
Note: Chanting can be heard in this area until the house is appeased.
Encounter: This door is a mimic (MM pg. 220) in disguise. If the characters are fighting the shadows in area 31 and someone tries to escape via this door, I would take an action to have the mimic reveal itself after the character got stuck, to allow the others to deal with the shadows and then the mimic. Either way, this can definitely augment an already deadly encounter.
When the mimic is dead, it reverts to its true form, an amorphous purple blob. The doorway is then clear.
Added Item: Two large candlesticks (clubs)

34. Cult Leader's Headquarters
Note: Chanting can be heard in this area until the house is appeased.
Encounter: Two Ghasts (MM pg. 148), who are the parents of Rose and Thorn. Because this is another deadly encounter, these ghasts enter one at a time, the second entering after one round.
If the ghasts succeed in paralyzing a character, the ghast uses its actions to grapple and pull the character towards area 30, then 35, then 38. If possible, they sacrifice the character on the altar, causing the house to be appeased.
As the ghasts fight, they scream about their unending hunger and their need to "keep the children safe". Otherwise, it might be difficult to tell who these people were in life. You can also have a player make a DC 12 Investigation check to realize they are the same people from the painting in area 12. They will not fight the ghosts of Rose and Thorn.
Items: cloak of protection, potions of healing, chain shirt, mess kit, alchemist's fire, bullseye lantern, thieves tools, spellbook
Added Item: an uncommon magic item, which draws a particular character to it from inside the footlocker.

35. Reliquary
Note: Chanting can be heard in this area until the house is appeased. From here, it is intelligible: "He is the ancient. He is the Land"
Items: Daggers, several trinkets
The book says that these trinkets are useless, but I think they could be used for plot, for character development, or as a minor magical item. Here are my suggestions:
  • Goblin's Hand: grants wishes like a monkey's paw, belongs to one of the Witches in Strahd's tower (CoS pg. 72), or when it touches something it grasps onto it, DC 20 Strength check to remove
  • Human Bone Knife: a vistani-made trinket belonging to Arrigal (CoS pg. 122), can replace up to 50GP worth of valuable components in any divination spell, or contains a secret message within a compartment in the handle
  • Rat's Skull Dagger: A ritual knife used by Rudolph Van Richten that he would recognize on sight, once used cannot be unequipped until you commit a murder with it. or can cast dominate monster on a rat or giant rat (not a swarm) once per day.
  • Nothic's Eye: an old hag's eye made by Morgantha (CoS pg. 127), can be attuned to and allows the user to see out of it as if it was their own eye, or reveals the dark secrets of those within 10ft when cracked upon the ground
  • Aspergillum: belongs to The Abbot (CoS pg. 151), contains a small amount of ashes that act as Dust of Disappearance (DMG pg. 166), or contains dust that causes vivid dreams when inhaled
  • Ghoul cloak: Grants its wearer resistance to poison damage, allows a single character to pass undetected within the Amber Temple (CoS pg. 181), or fills the wearer with an unquenchable hunger when worn or used as a blanket
  • Frog-on-a-stick: actually a Wand of Polymorph (DMG pg. 211) that crumbles to ashes after one use, an incredibly tasty snack preserved by dark magic (gives good characters a stomach ache), or a sacred relic of the Druids of Yester Hill (CoS pg. 198)
  • Bat Guano: can be used to scare of a Swarm of Insects once, can reveal fortunes like tea leaves when scattered, or bag once belonged to Patrina Velikov (CoS pg. 121) as a component pouch
  • Hag's finger: belongs to Offalia Wormwriggle (CoS pg. 127) and she wants it back, acts as a one-use skeleton key, or curls unnaturally when a false promise is made to its holder
  • Wooden mummy figurine: when cracked open, tiny wooden organs tumble out, tag says "Is No Blinsky, Is No Fun!", or gives unsettling dreams when slept near
  • Devil pendant: can be used to disperse the wall of green flame (CoS pg. 158), can't pass into hollowed ground, or contains a bound fiend that is released when it is opened
  • Halfling Head: recites delicious recipes when brought into a kitchen, belongs to a former adventurer in Barovia (note a headless halfing in The March of the Dead, CoS pg. 48), or causes others to think the holder is overreacting to everything
  • Dire Wolf Tongue: wolves and werewolves are drawn to the scent of this item, when removed from the house it begins to regenerate into a full dire wolf, or can be attuned to as a good luck charm (like a luck stone, DMG pg. 205)

36. Prison

In the distance, Blue Suede's Hooked on a Feeling plays
Note: Chanting can be heard in this area until the house is appeased. From here, it is intelligible: "He is the ancient. He is the Land"
Note: This room contains a secret door (Active Perception 15 / Passive Perception 20)
Added Items: Flail, Dagger, Handaxe, Sickle, mace, all bloody and left in various alcoves. Each time a character searches an alcove (other than the one with a gold ring) they have a cumulative 10% chance to find one of these items.

37. Portcullis
Note: Chanting can be heard in this area until the house is appeased. From here, it is intelligible: "He is the ancient. He is the Land"
This is a check that characters who have high athletics will roll over and over until they succeed. I would either say that the portcullis is stuck beyond movement, or that a failed check means the portcullis lifts slightly, then collapses, breaking and becoming stuck beyond movement. Either way, the characters shouldn't be able to break through the iron.

38. Ritual Chamber
Note: The chanting stops when the characters enter this room.


A face only a shambling mound could love
Encounter: in the back of the room is a Shambling mound (MM pg. 270). I love the ending with the cultists (One Must Die, CoS pg. 220), so I wouldn't have the mound react to being attacked. If they strike it, I would just tell them they strike a pile of refuse. Most players would give up after that. If they search the pile, maybe they can find a skeleton of the last sacrifice victim.
When the cult isn't appeased, we need a way for the group to realize that this creature is meant to be too strong for them. I'd have a player make a nature check:
  • Nature check 10 reveals this creature is slow-moving, but deadly strong. It is a shambling mound!
  • Nature check 15 reveals this creature absorbs lightning and can engulf creatures, dealing massive damage.
  • Nature check 20 reveals this creature can deal over 30 damage a round and resists cold and fire damage
Ending


https://www.mvcode.com/lessons/make-a-haunted-house-in-scratch
Everything just went to hell
If the characters sacrifice a creature (it doesn't have to be a PC if they have animal companions or pets), the book says that Strahd becomes aware of them. Awesome. Also, if the players didn't find it themselves,  I'd reveal the secret door in area 31, and have a draft of clean-smelling air coming from that direction.
If the characters don't sacrifice a creature, then we get to run the escape!
  • Make sure you have the Swarm of Rats (MM pg. 339) statblock available in case they break down the walls.
  • Follow the map. If the characters see a door, it's now swinging scythe blades. Note that a character has to spend a minute watching the scythe patterns to make the intelligence check. For 2d10 damage, I think I'd let the players make either check immediately. Also, I wouldn't make the trapdoor in area 32 a scythe trap.
  • Double check which areas have stoves, ovens, or fireplaces in them. Area 2 has one, meaning the characters will have to make at least one Constitution saving throw.
This escape scene is dangerous, but at this point the characters have made their choice, the shambling mound is crawling after them, and if one of them goes down, you should allow the others to pick them up and drag them. This is the big finale!

When they exit the house, you can choose where they end up. I think it would be nice and creepy if they flee out into the Village of Barovia, with the fog around the house gone. However, if you want to place them back on the hill and have them follow Svalich Road into Barovia, that is fine as well. Either way, I would make the house completely ramshackle and tattered afterward. Also, make sure they can take the items they found in the house with them. In the book it says they should crumble into dust or rust away, but that seems unfair with the direction we're taking this adventure.



Coming to select tabletops near you
And that's how I would run Death House! I plan on putting this campaign together in the coming months, so as soon as I run this session I will let you know how it goes. Hopefully my players will feel nice and terrified about the strange new land they have unwittingly entered.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Monday Recap: Back to the Crushing Wave!

This guy looks like he's about to be eaten whole
This recap is actually for a game that happened last Tuesday. One of our regular players, Cait, had something come up this weekend, but fortunately we were still able to get a game in! I'm not too sure about next week, though.

Spoilers for Princes of the Apocalypse ahead!

Badgers of the Apocalypse: Back to the Crushing Wave!
The Cult's finest: rebellious teenagers, murderhobo Santa Claus, and the mascot for Xavier University

That isn't a typo. Our Princes of the Apocalypse game features a giant talking demi-badger named Hunee. Originally, Hunee was the companion to our Emerald Enclave ranger, Kethra Stormwind. But since the first group of characters were horribly and mercilessly murdered by Jolliver Grimjaw, Hunee has tracked down some new heroes to avenge the fallen and carry on the quest. So really, Hunee the giant Demi-Badger is the spirit of the quest.

It doesn't help that she is a sassy, lazy, back-talking badger with a hair poof.
This but in badger form
Cast of Characters:
Jon: Dungeon Master
Megan: Phoenyx Metalbranch, Fire Genasi Eldritch Fighter, half-dwarf and loving it
Cody: Arannis Nailo, Elf Cleric of Corellon Larenthian, slightly racist against non-elves
Cait: Amafrey WindRiver, Human Barbarian of the Badger clan, overwhelmed by treasure
NPC: Hunee, Demi-badger, not much different from a giant badger except for the immortality

The characters just gained a level, putting them at level 8. That's a little higher than a group is supposed to be for the Temple of the Crushing Wave, but since there are only three PCs (Hunee acts more like a companion and guide, not really helping in combat a lot), I'm okay with it.

Last time, the group had been approached by a mysterious Tiefling named Vanifer while they were visiting the town of Yartar. She told them she was a high-ranking member of the Cult of Eternal Flame, and if they could bring proof of the defeat of the Cult of the Crushing Wave (that is, the claw-arm of Gar Shatterkeel), she would convince the Fire Cult to leave the Dessarin Valley.

Gar Shatterkeel: come at me, bro!

The heroes were already planning on delving back under the Sumber Hills for their own reasons, and they accepted. Even though they weren't certain if Vanifer was being honest, they ventured down into the Temple of the Crushing Wave. After defeating the gate guards and wiping out a room full of sleeping cultists, they searched around and fought some lizardfolk. Phoenyx accidentally revealed herself to more cultists in the middle of the battle, but she was able to douse her flaming hair and flash the water cult's hand sign to stave off suspicions. However, the fight left the characters badly injured, and they decided to pull back to rest.


While they took their rest (guarded by an awesome spiritual guardian that Arannis conjured), they each had a small character moment. Phoenyx is extremely excited about being back in a dwarven city, even if it is in ruins, and she could barely sit still. When she did finally take a nap, she dreamt of forges and flames. Hunee talked to Amafrey about her gold lust. They realize that Amafrey started her obsession when she bought a Javelin of Lightning from a traveling merchant. Once she knew you could trade gold for lightning, she couldn't get enough of it. Arannis hated being underground, but since they were still near the river, he trailed his fingers in it, happy that at least the water will be seeing daylight soon.

I try to give characters little moments like that to remind them they aren't just murder machines. Although, sometimes it backfires. We don't talk about the Rabbit Incident anymore.
WHAT DID HE EVER DO TO YOU, ARANNIS? HUH?
Afterwards, they headed back towards the Temple, in a small boat they took from Rivergard Keep. Just outside the entrance, they found a grisly scene. The cultists who saw Phoenyx last time are hanged by their feet, heads underwater. They've been drowned! The heroes realize they were hung like that and left until their stomach muscles strained and they didn't have the strength to hold their heads up anymore.

Phoenyx, using her bonded handaxe named Agony, began to cut the bodies down. However, the water near the bodies turned black, and four tentacles, each the size of a human, snaked out of the water and began to pull the bodies down into the depths. Arannis blessed the party while Phoenyx and Amafrey began attacking the tentacles.

The world turned upside down... for these guys
For some reason, it seemed like the good dice luck from the last game carried over into this game... in this first combat alone the players rolled 4 criticals and I rolled a Nat 20 on a saving throw. The dice were on fire tonight.

After Phoenyx used Agony to simultaneously cut off a tentacle while also cutting loose a body, the octopus (or as the players called it, Quadropus, since they had relived it of half its appendages) began to flee. Phoenyx burned a couple spells to zap it with lightning and ensure it wouldn't come back for revenge.

The party then had a few options on where to go. There were two canals to follow, a small landing they had explored last time, a gravel beach with some boats on it, and a dark, stinking passageway. Amafrey, with the blood of the quadropus still on her axe, suggested they go murder whatever was in the dark passageway.


Let's be friends!
Creeping into the darkness, they found eight pools on murky water next to some stones with rocks tied to them. Phoenyx was eager to look around and explore as always, but she nearly got jumped by a ghoul hiding in the darkness. More ghouls began to climb out of the dark pools of water. The party was completely surrounded.

However, Arannis began to chuckle. With a high roll on a religion check, he realized that not only was he immune to the ghoul's paralyzing touch, but they were just weak enough to be affected by his Destroy Undead ability. Positioning himself near the center of the fray, he lifted his holy symbol and asked Corellon Larenthian to cleanse the evil in this place. Eight of the ghouls were immediately destroyed! One made its save and a few more were outside the radius of his divine call. The rest were mopped up easily.

SMUG
The heroes didn't find anything else here, but realized the pools are used for killing people. Phoenyx wanted to burn the ropes, but they are too waterlogged. They got back in their boat and head back towards one of the canals leading north.

As they passed under a bridge carved with a dragon fresco, an ugly green head the size of a pumpkin popped up out of the water and asked what they wanted. The creature pulled itself out of the water and revealed its large, ugly green form. Phoenyx recognized it to be a troll!

They told the troll they were planning to kill everything in the Temple. They tried to play it off that it could then eat all the dead meat, but the troll didn't buy it. It bared its fangs and jumped directly onto their rowboat! Everyone failed a dexterity save and the ship was capsized. Phoenyx gets dunked underwater and her fire hair goes out.
Blargwargargaala
They had to contend with the troll underwater, where it was resistant to fire damage. Arannis and Amafrey tried to attack it directly, while Phoenyx used her Misty Step to get to the top of the bridge. Arannis had a good plan to feed the roll a magical berry he had found and put it to sleep, but he wasn't able to slip it in the creature's mouth.

After taking massive damage, and the troll regenerating out of death, Amafrey and Arannis began to pull back. Fortunately, this gave Phoenyx an opportunity to blast the troll with fire as soon as it left the water. The troll's fatty body immediately caught flame, and it burned away.

Even though this was a tough battle, the good dice luck continued, and we were now up to 8 natural 20's within this single game.

With their boat capsized and floating away into the distance, the heroes had to continue on foot. Arannis used his channel divinity to heal himself and Amafrey, and they drank a couple healing potions as well. There were a few different ways they could go, and while the others healed, Phoenyx looked around and picked a passageway.

The party found a room with strange copper vats and odd backpacks made from cylindrical tanks. Phoenyx inspected the murals on the walls and the vats, and realized that this used to be a brewery long ago. She began to open up the vats as she explained to her friends.

A dwarf city without a brewery? Why, it's like a day without the sun!
Before she can finish, however, a Water Weird jumped out of one of the vats and attacked her! Arannis realized that only a few of the vats are covered in condensation. That includes the one Phoenyx just opened.

The heroes successfully fended off the Water Weird. Phoenyx got drenched in water and her hair went out again. She's lucky we aren't playing with Charmander rules.

The players used their seeker darts from the Temple of Howling Hatred really well this game. Also, the dice didn't stop rolling high. Two more criticals and Amafrey rolled max damage on a seeker dart. That's 16 on 4d4! According to anydice.com that has a 0.39% chance of happening.

Before the heroes could open the other vats and fight the other water weirds, a door to another room opened. In it stood a man with a ragged beard, an eye patch, and a dagger and a couple vials of liquid tied to his belt. The players could see six Crushing Wave Reavers behind him.
Jeff Bridges as Grumpy Old Murderer, shoulda got the Oscar
Phoenyx reflexively put her hair out and made the sign of the Crushing Wave. The stranger questioned them, and they gave slightly conflicting stories. However, the stranger seemed to buy into their excuses. He said a sea hag working for the cult, named Thaluna Maah, was very upset about her lizardfolk being killed by do-gooders, and that if they are the replacement recruits they need to go "smooth things over" with her.

The heroes played along, even Amafrey decided to back off. The characters needed a short rest. They decided to go along with it rather than provoke another combat.

As they exit, they heard the cultists opening vats and lifting the cylindrical backpacks behind them. The Water Weirds weren't attacking the cultists! Not knowing what to expect, the party headed down the path the stranger told them about until they reached Thaluna Maah.

We decided to end the game there, with the players just about to confront Thaluna Maah. That means our next game is going to start out with combat. I like games that pick up quickly, but I hope the characters can find a place to take a short rest before one or more of them goes down. The players are worried that Thaluna might have troll minions, though fighting trolls out of the water will probably be easier than their last encounter with the regenerating nightmares.

From Hell's Heart I Strike at Thee!
I was worried we might not be able to meet over the holidays, but after the game we worked out a schedule where we can at least get a short game in each week. I have to say, this is the best game I run from a scheduling perspective. We all live near each other, and we can reschedule or find time for a short game without having to contact many people.

My other games are unwieldy and large, or have players who are busy, and it's hard to find time with everyone having jobs and responsibilities. I'm slightly glad that nobody in the group has started having kids yet (most of our players are in their 20's), but when that happens things will get even more difficult.

These logistical problems are definitely going to rear their head when I finish up some of my current campaigns and start up new ones. If you haven't read my other posts, I plan to run Curse of Strahd and probably another game in Garlancia. Though I could easily set the beginning of Curse of Strahd in Garlancia...
Crushing Wave: because WotC didn't want players flashing actual gang signs at each other
Anyway, next time the players will be fighting Thaluna Maah, and might even make it to Gar Shatterkeel himself! Though, I don't know if 10 crits in 2 hours is a feat I will ever see again.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Racial Traits: Elves




us.runesofmagic.gameforge.com/game/index/history
It's possible to have an entire race based on being pretty and grumpy
Continuing the mini-series, here are the racial traits of elves!

I think these lists would be good for games where you do want to restrict backgrounds. If everyone is in the military, the soldier background is obviously appropriate. But rather than have everyone use basically the same personality, each race can bring a little bit of "home" with them and actually have some leeway to roleplay.

Elf Traits


https://silmarillionseries.com/tag/gil-galad/
It's actually difficult to find pictures of more than one elf
d8 Personality Trait
1. Until blades are drawn, I regard any threat with amusement, not fear.
2. My desire to understand the world eclipses my baser instincts.
3. I am difficult to stir, an air of aloofness is vital to me.
4. I am slow to trust others, but when I do, I have a friend for as long as they live.
5. I've collected hundreds of stories and songs over my lifetime, and I always have one that applies to a situation.
6. I'd rather fall back and fight another day than make a costly mistake.
7. I've trained hundreds of human and elven children in my art, and I always effect the air of an instructor.
8. I take my time with everything I do, and savor it. There is plenty of time to live.

d6 Ideal
1. Nature. The beauty and elegance of the natural world is worthy of imitation. (Neutral)
2. Art. Personal expression is the epitome of the mortal experience. (Chaotic)
3. Diplomacy. Through the exchange of ideas, all obstacles can be overcome. (Good)
4. Discovery. The world is vast and fascinating, and I want to see every twig and leaf. (Chaotic)
5. Xenophobia. Those who are not elves will never truly understand the truth of the world. (Evil)
6. Magic. By learning about the secret magic of the world, I become closer to understanding everything. (Any)

d6 Bond
1. My woodland home is a source of great magic and happiness to me, I always yearn to return there.
2. The weapons I forged have protected me through thick and thin, I am loathe to abandon them.
3. The art I create is of immense personal value to me, I trade it away only when I know it will be cared for and appreciated.
4. My freedom is the most important treasure I've earned.
5. I trust the elves of my realm before anyone else. We can speak with a level of discretion and subtlety above any others.
6. I will stand alongside any who fight the oppression of their people.

d6 Flaw
1. I believe I can talk my way out of anything, even if an ogre was barreling towards me.
2. If you insult me, it will take a century to earn back my trust.
3. Even sleeping in the same tree for more than one night feels regimented and oppressive to me.
4. Dwarves are foolish dirt-eaters who lack any redeeming qualities.
5. I can't hear an opinion I disagree with without launching into a verbal repartee.
6. It's hard to take the short-lived races seriously. How do they think they know anything?



melissafindley.deviantart.com
If you've got 700 years to live, that means you're going to be old and achy for at least a century
If you would like to read more about why I am writing these, or how I use them in my games, please check out my first post on Dwarves.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Curse of Strahd: Death House Survival Horror Part 2

Spoilers for Curse of Strahd ahead!



https://archive.org/details/emptyhouseotherg00blacrich
Death House is calling to you...
In this post, I want to break down the first "half" of Death House, areas 1-21. If you didn't read the previous post, I want to create a feeling of horror and fear by starting off my players with little equipment and having them slowly move through the house, finding items and searching everything, with tension rising as they move from area to area. Because of this approach, I've also included modifications for certain monsters in this area, because I would actually like the party to make it to the final scene alive.

I also want to note what may be the finest single page in Curse of Strahd: Marks of Horror, page 7. Tone is very important in a horror campaign (or any campaign, but horror moreso than many others), and this page breaks down how to create that tone. Most of the advice given is best used for creating scene descriptions or NPCs, but the ideas of Foreshadowing, The Unknown, and Humor can guide how you set up encounters and make them truly scary. If you haven't purchased Curse of Strahd, and you plan to run a horror campaign, I would highly recommend buying the book just for this page. And that's not even mentioning the plethora of good ideas squeezed into this adventure.

One last note. In this first part of the adventure, the players may not enter every room or find every item. That is alright. This isn't a dungeon crawl, this is tense exploration. Make sure to allow them to wander, and take advantage of characters with high perception scores to point out the grisly details of the house.

Anyway, on to the actual adventure.

Areas of Death House

Organ on loan from the Ravenloft historical Society
1. Entrance
Mark of Horror: the front door closing behind them, the illusory children disappearing (see last post)
Items: Shield
Added Item: Shortsword with windmill pattern on blade, behind shield on wall

2. Main Hall
Note: This room contains a fireplace and is filled with smoke at the end of the adventure
Mark of Horror: Serpents and Skulls in the wall panelling. I would call out a Perception check to look at the walls here, we want players to be searching the walls later in the adventure.
Items: Longsword, black cloaks, top hat
Added Item: Black Leather Armor that incorporates skeletal designs, in cloakroom

3. Den of Wolves
Note: This room contains a fireplace and is filled with smoke at the end of the adventure
Note: The windows of this room are covered in bricks at the end of this adventure
Mark of Horror: none. This room should be relatively nice (at least for now)
Items: Crossbows and bolts (requires thieves' tools), playing cards
Added Item: Wolf's Hide Armor, draped over a chair. The arrow holes are still apparent.

4. Kitchen and Pantry
Note: This room contains an Oven and is filled with smoke at the end of the adventure
Mark of Horror: if players look into the dumbwaiter, describe the rope and pulley system. If they pull on it, have a shower of dust fall out and choke those standing near the area. This can foreshadow that the house is actually rotten, despite its appearance.
Items: Rolling Pin (club), pantry full of food
Added Item: Butcher's knife (dagger), on counter

5. Dining Room
Note: This room contains a fireplace and is filled with smoke at the end of the adventure
Note: The windows of this room are covered in bricks at the end of this adventure
Mark of Horror: Twisted Faces and Wolves in the wall panelling. I would call out a Perception check to look at the walls here, we want players to be searching the walls later in the adventure.
Items: Iron Rod (club)
Added Item: A particularly gruesome-looking steak knife (dagger) on the table

6. Upper Hall
Note: This room contains a fireplace and is filled with smoke at the end of the adventure
Mark of Horror: Youths fighting off bats in the wall panelling. I would call out a Perception check to look at the walls here, we want players to be searching the walls later in the adventure.
Items: two suits of wolf-headed armor (chain mail), two spears

7. Servant's Room
Mark of Horror: a small copper brooch (worth 1 SP) lying on one of the beds. Inside is a small painting of a young plain-looking boy. An etched description reads "Love that transcends time" (an insight check of 12 can discern that this may have belonged to a servant of the house). This might lighten the mood, make the players search for the owner (she would be long dead), and of course, introduces a major theme of the overall adventure.
Added Item: Thieves tools, in one of the footlockers
Note: if the players don't go back and unlock the crossbow bolts at this point, that is alright. They will have opportunity to buy gear in Barovia and ranged weapons aren't vital to this adventure.

8. Library
Note: This room contains a fireplace and is filled with smoke at the end of the adventure
Note: The windows of this room are covered in bricks at the end of this adventure
Note: This room contains a secret door (Active Perception 13 / Passive Perception 18)
Note: This room contains the key to area 20
Mark of Horror: When the players open the double doors to this area, tell them they hear the whistling of a blade singing through the air towards them. Have them roll a DC 15 dexterity saving throw, but pass or fail nothing happens except they do/don't duck down quickly. This should foreshadow the end of the adventure.
Items: writing supplies
Added item: A rapier with a windmill hilt, in a glass case on a shelf

9. Secret Room

All the charm and glamour of a 16-year-old My Chemical Romance fan
Mark of Horror: Books full of dark magic. Remember that a character needs to spend 1 hour reading the books before they make their arcana check to determine they are false. That means while they are in the room, you should describe the fiend-summoning and necromantic rituals as legitimate. They can read the book more closely on a short or long rest. If they fail their check, I would give them a spell: Summon Dretch. Tell the player it is exactly the same as "Conjure Elemental" (PHB pg. 225) except that it summons one Dretch (MM pg. 57), it is a 1st-level spell that doesn't require material components, and it counts as a conjuration spell that can be copied into a spellbook. Of course, the spell completely fails when attempted.
Items: leather armor, 3 darts (no longer poisoned), 3 spell scrolls, letter of Strahd.
Added Item: an uncommon magic item, which draws a particular character to it from inside the wooden chest
Here, the adventure says the characters can continue to the secret door if they find the letter to Strahd. However, that invalidates the conclusion of the children's story. I'm not sure I would allow the house to reveal its secret unless the children are on the side of the characters.

10. Conservatory
Note: This room contains a fireplace and is filled with smoke at the end of the adventure
Note: The windows of this room are covered in bricks at the end of this adventure
Mark of Horror: Fancy skeletons in the wall panelling. I would call out a Perception check to look at the walls here, we want players to be searching the walls later in the adventure.
Added Items: a flute and a lute of shoddy make, in a small chest on the north wall. They are difficult to play in tune, granting disadvantage to performance checks that use them

11. Balcony
Note: This room contains a secret door (Active Perception 15 / Passive Perception 20)
Mark of Horror: Hanging corpses and worms in the wall panelling. If the players aren't searching the walls on their own at this point, I'd keep calling them out.
Encounter: The animated armor (MM pg. 19) is a dented and rusted suit of black plate armor. It gives the feeling that it is watching one of the PCs. It attacks if touched or attacked. When it moves, a deep voice emanates from within. "He is the ancient. He is the land."
The house is not magically maintaining the third and fourth floor of the house, so the armor should be weakened. I reduced the monster's AC to 17 and lowered it's slam attack damage to 4 per attack.
Items: scraps of plate armor (useless)
Added item: A shield on the wall, with a tree pattern inlaid into the front

12. Master Suite
Note: This room contains a fireplace and is filled with smoke at the end of the adventure
Note: The windows of this room are covered in bricks at the end of this adventure
Mark of Horror: The rotted tiger-skin rug. Also, emphasize that this room is unkempt, dusty, and tattered, compared to the first two floors of the house.
Added Item: a bloodied battleaxe with a jagged obsidian handle, in a cavity under the tiger rug. Discolored planks cover it. (Active Perception 15 / Passive Perception 20)

13. Bathroom
Note: This room contains a stove and is filled with smoke at the end of the adventure
Mark of Horror: the spigot doesn't work. If players bust open the pipes, dust should come pouring out.

14. Storage Room
Mark of Horror: The Broom of Animated Attack. Specifically, use its reaction ability listed in the statblock (CoS pg. 226). I would describe the broom as sturdy, to give a PC the idea that it could be a weapon.
Items: splintered broom (useless)
Added item: a folded set of leather armor with clasps made of a metal that is always cold, on a shelf. Easily noticeable, should draw the players into the room.

15. Nursemaid's Suite
Note: This room contains a fireplace and is filled with smoke at the end of the adventure
Note: The windows of this room are covered in bricks at the end of this adventure
Note: This room contains a secret door (Active Perception 15 / Passive Perception 20)
Mark of Horror: Eyeballs in the mirror frame. If the players aren't searching the walls on their own at this point, I'd keep calling them out. This secret door (or the one in area 11) is required to continue on. If players search the mirror, tell them about the secret door. Also, this should introduce the idea of secret doors to them, which will be helpful throughout this adventure.
Encounter: The specter (MM pg. 279) is here, unless it is defeated in area 18. When a character opens the door, they see the ghostly lady hovering over the crib. She turns and says: "Shh..." (the specter can't speak, so this noise is not speech, just wind)
Since this is an encounter that can quite literally kill a player within one round, I decided to lower the specter's Life Drain damage to 7. Hopefully the players will be able to survive a round or two of that.
Added item: Healer's Kit, on an end table. It contains some questionable items, such as black powders and too-long needles, that you aren't sure what they would be used for.

16. Attic Hall

If you look closely you can see Strahd's fingernail clippings
Note: Characters who enter via the stairs can see the children's room door open just a sliver, but immediately shut when they actually turn to look at it.
Mark of Horror: if players search the room, pick a player who isn't and have a spider (MM pg. 337) fall down onto their face. It shouldn't attack them, just give them reason to react.

17. Spare Bedroom
Note: This room contains a stove and is filled with smoke at the end of the adventure
Note: The windows of this room are covered in bricks at the end of this adventure
Added Item: Longsword with no crossguard, under the bed. The hilt alone is stained with blood.

18. Storage Room
Note: This room contains a stove and is filled with smoke at the end of the adventure
Note: The windows of this room are covered in bricks at the end of this adventure
Note: This room contains a secret door (plot reveal, can't be found until area 20 is explored)
Encounter: The specter (MM pg. 279) is here, unless it is defeated in area 15. When a character inspects the remains in the trunk, the specter appears with a horrified look, and flies into a rage, screeching.
Since this is an encounter that can quite literally kill a player within one round, I decided to lower the specter's Life Drain damage to 7. Hopefully the players will be able to survive a round or two of that.
Added Item: a chain shirt that is rusted but functional, on a mannequin

19. Spare Bedroom
Note: This room contains a stove and is filled with smoke at the end of the adventure
Note: The windows of this room are covered in bricks at the end of this adventure
Added item: bloody knife, stashed in a nightstand. An insight check of 12 or a medicine check of 10 reveals that this was the murder weapon that killed the nursemaid.

20. Children's Room


Mom! Am I un-grounded yet?
This room contains skeletons that can be laid to rest in area 23
Note: The windows of this room are covered in bricks at the end of this adventure
Note: This room contains a secret door in a dollhouse (Active Perception 15, roll with advantage if child helps)
Encounter: The ghosts of Rose and Thorn are here. They can accompany the PCs.
If they possess a PC, the character gains a flaw and the child's voice in their head. The player should continue to play their character, but the child causes emotions in them and urges them to get rid of the monster in the basement.
Make sure to modify the ghost stat block (MM pg. 147) with the stats listed on CoS pg. 217 to make them childlike. I don't like the idea of the players finding the children's crypts in the basement, then having to come all the way back up to the attic to get the bones, so I would have Rose tell the PCs that she's very tired, and her family has a resting place in the basement. A religion check of 12 should suffice to realize what she means: her bones need to be laid to rest.
Added Item: an uncommon magic item, which draws a particular character to it from inside the toy chest

21. Secret Stairs
Mark of Horror: The creaking stairs can be heard throughout the entire house, and the thick cobwebs reduce the visibility to 5 ft. This is a 50ft descent, so that's a long way to go only seeing 5ft ahead. Those with darkvision should be nervous now.
When they reach 25ft (halfway), the character in the back hears footsteps behind them, descending along with the party. When they stop, so do the footsteps. Going back up reveals nothing. They get louder, until the characters reach the door at the bottom, at which point they stop completely.

A skeletal hand under every stair, or your money back
Phew! That was a lot to go over! Hopefully you've gotten some good ideas out of this writeup. Feel free to comment if you think of any other ways to make this exploration tense and frightening. We'll continue with the underground sections of the house next time.

Thanks for reading!