Monday, November 20, 2017

Monday Recap: Mt. Draco

Still can't beat Skyrim for Dragons and Mountains.
Another month, another session of Dragonborn Quest! This ended up being one of my favorite sessions so far, not just for the campaign but for all the games I've run. I think I hit a lot of good emotional notes within the confines of a short but intense game.

It's exciting when you finish up a session and the players all start talking about their characters and what they want to do next session, instead of immediately switching to non-gaming conversation. Nothing wrong with taking a break from gaming, but I love it when I can get players invested in the game!

Dragonborn Quest: Mt. Draco

Cast of Characters
Jon: Dungeon Master
Will: Daardendrian Kreev, Red Dragonborn Bard, former prince, back to set things right
Megan: Daardendrian Zovira, Red Dragonborn Fighter, Kreev's aunt, champion of the clan
Bria: Druuga Faelynn, Silver Dragonborn Bard, avenged her sister, now to fix the isle...
Michelle: Nerithya Finzerwin, Half-Drow Rogue, ex-cultist looking for a new purpose to her life
Matt: Myastan Faerbor, White Dragonborn Fighter, Kreev's friend and owner of the legendary Axe of the Elders
NPC: Svihios Torrin, a clanless young Gold Dragonborn who is eager to go on adventures and become a hero
NPC: Oddmund, Nerithya's Shield Guardian, has a smiling face painted on his head
Other traveling companions: Tofras the Smiter (War Priest of Bahamut) Cheskapen the mysterious monk (???)

When we last left our heroes, they had defended a lizardfolk shamaness and a clutch of copper dragonborn eggs from the Dragonborn Death Knight Favnir. However, before they could slay him, he had cut down the leader of the Copper Dragonborn, Aquorel Drachedandion.

Two of their companions, Kreev's sister Dalyassa and Faelynn's friend Ariann, decided to stay behind and help the Copper Dragonborn escape the island. After all, even though Favnir was dead, the black Dragonborn clan of Z'ildroth was still hunting them.

The Lizardfolk Shamaness returned the favor by telling them that there was information they needed to know is a wizard's tower on Mt. Draco, and the legendary Dragon that guarded its peak was not there at the moment. In fact, they had met her - in the guise of a wandering monk named Chevnyl. Nerithya had traded stones with the friendly traveler, even as Faelynn suspected her true nature.

The party left the dark reaches of the swamplands and began to climb Mount Draco. As they climbed, they were able to see much of the island, including clan Delmirev's pirate ships and the mines where Kreev and Zovira's family was likely working.

One night, as they made their ascent, Faerbor was visited with a strange dream. He was at home, as a child, surrounded by his friends and family. However, there was one White Dragonborn who was out of place.
Let me Axe you a question
The stranger introduced himself as Cestovat, a champion of the clan from over 1000 years ago. Faerbor had finally surpassed his cousin Faergrax (the current clan champion) in strength, and thus was eligible to undergo the Trials of the Axe of the Elders. He had to attain three great victories, each with a penalty to his power. If he won, he would become the clan's champion. If he failed, he would die, and the Axe would return to Faergrax.

However, the most potent part of the Trial was that, if he succeeded, his soul would be bound to the Axe, just like Faergrax's already was. When Faergrax died, his soul would be absorbed into the Axe and increase its power. Faerbor realized that this was why his clan opposed raising old champions from the dead - not because it was dishonorable, but because they couldn't.

The first trial began immediately, despite Faerbor's hesitation. It was the Trial of Strength - forget all you know, and rely only upon your own power (in game terms, his proficiency bonus was reduced to 0). The next morning, he informed his companions of the trials (but not the soul-binding part).

As the group climbed, they discovered a stream of water running down from the mountain, and hundreds of small chunks of bone and flesh scattered everywhere. They suspected it might be the dragon's prey, until a frozen Blackwing soldier tumbled down from the mountain and shattered. Ice breath was a sign of a silver dragon - they were getting close.

The top of the mountain was shrouded in fog and clouds, so much so that they barely noticed the pure white stone castle before they walked into it. Nerithya, with her sharp eyes, was the only one who didn't actually hit the wall.

Moving to the entrance of the castle, they found dozens of frozen Blackwing soldiers, encased in ice except for their feet. Faelynn figured out that there must be some sort of Cone of Cold effect, since it looked like the ice was forming at an angle. In front of them stood a massive pure white door, flanked by two white stone dragon sculptures.

Don't worry, we'll get to the real dragon soon...
Zovira made a move to open the door, and the dragons turned to look at her. They spoke in turn. The right one said:
If you wish to pass
You mustn't think fast
Follow our lyrics, our wordplay
Do it right and you will win
Do it wrong and you will chill
Turn our madrigal upon us!
And the left one replied:
Test me, vexed nemeses!
Seek betterment, exert the self!
We behest thee, reflect me
Then free these speeches, else freeze!

The characters realized this was some sort of riddle, and got to work deciphering it. Zovira tried to say one head's message to the other, and was blasted with a Cone of Cold. Fortunately, her Ring of Warmth protected her from most of the damage.

Faerbor, used to spells and incantations, realized that the left head only used the vowel "e", and the right head never did. Kreev then put together that they had to get the heads to break their own rule while only saying words that followed the rule.

The right head was easy enough, they managed to get it to say "ice". But the left head proved more difficult, and they were very nearly blasted again before they managed to figure out a way to make it say "castle". Slowly, the great doors opened, revealing white stone corridors shrouded by fog.

Faelynn recognized this as a Guards and Wards spell, and they didn't have enough magic to dispel it. However, Nerithya was adept at sneaking around confusing places from her time in the magical Cult of Kam, and she guided them with little trouble to an area that was not warded.

The room was labeled "Gods of Dragonkind", and had three shrines: A large shrine to Bahamut, the Platinum Dragon God of Justice, a large shrine to Chronepsis, the Dragon God of Fate, and a small shrine to Tiamat, the Evil Dragon God. Tofras, a Cleric of Bahamut, knelt before the shrine.

Suddenly, the group heard the massive white stone doors open again, and huge footsteps moving through the castle. Then, a small Silver Dragonborn monk head popped around the corner. It was Chevnyl!
Birds running into the walls is a real issue
The players were not at all worried to be facing down a legendary ancient dragon - she had already proved to be very friendly. However, they were hesitant to ask about the wizard's tower directly, worrying that there was a reason Chevnyl was guarding it so closely. So, as Chevnyl began to take them on a tour of her castle/museum, they began to work on convincing her to show them the truth.

(In order to facilitate this long-form discussion, I used the Angry GM's InterACTION! system. I made sure to use every trick he mentioned, even though a couple of them didn't come up. The players had a blast! Each "round" of debate was hotly discussed, and I got some of the best interaction role-playing I've seen in my games so far.)

The castle was divided up into various rooms containing history of the island and its people. They saw a magic heart of a Chaos sorcerer who had been born long ago on the island (not that one, though), historical information about the Dragonborn clans, their artifacts, and their leaders, and information on prominent locations and events in the island's history.

On the tour, they learned many important pieces of information. They learned about the dragons who the oldest Dragonborn clans were named after, and they saw the frozen corpse of Nemmonis Frowarum, a White clan leader who was purported to have the strength of a True White Dragon. They also saw his sword, a massive slab of stone named Mountaincrusher. They met Nimogglefer, a Kobold historian of the isle, learned more about the Castle of the Ruling Clan (including a secret passage in!), and learned about the history of the island before the Dragonborn arrived: it was infested by evil but cleared by paladins of Bahamut.

All the while, the characters pushed harder and harder for Chevnyl to tell them about the secrets she held here. They had to convince her that it wasn't just enough to record history, but she was duty-bound to use it to help save the people of the island. After several heartfelt speeches from Faelynn, Kreev, and even Zovira, Chevnyl relented, and lead them through a secret passage into the wizard's tower.

Chevnyl, ever the historian, gave them a guided tour of the tower. It once belonged to a wizard named Avubafarihm, who had been slain by the Paladins of Bahamut. Chevnyl had used a Gentle Repose-like spell to preserve the tower as she had found it.

The passed through the living quarters and down into Avubafarihm's trophy room. Here, they say pieces and parts of nearly every dragon that the oldest Dragonborn clans were named after. Avubafarihm had gained his riches by adventuring and hunting dragons, particularly young ones. Chevnyl was quite upset to talk about this, and the party hurried down deeper into the tower.
Also, tons of icky stuff.
On the next level, they found a library, most of the books burnt badly from the Paladin's attack. A few books were still preserved, though: a book of Ritual Spells, a book of Unusual Necromancy, and a book about using magic to brainwash and train an army. Chevnyl told them that Avubafarihm had been in the process of creating an army before he was killed. She also said there was one more level, but she refused to go down further - it was too painful. Chevnyl, Torrin, Tofras, and Cheskapen stayed above while the rest of the party ventured downwards.

The final level was a laboratory, with a large model skeleton of a humanoid with a dragon's head and wings. Lining the walls were sarcophagus-like containers built for creatures of the same shape and stature. There was a darkened room which contained hundreds of egg pedestals the right size for Dragonborn eggs, which had been broken out of from the inside. Finally, they found Avubafarihm's diary.

The diary told of his days as a wizard in Gwenland, a country long, long ago. He had a dream of combining Dragons and Humans into a single race, and began hunting dragons to obtain parts for them. He then fled to the then-unnamed island, atop Mt. Draco, and began building his army, which he called Draconians (yes, they're a race in Eberron. I'm adopting them into my campaign world!).

Fortunately for the world, one of his adventuring companions, a Paladin of Bahamut named Arrakas, realized what he was up to and built Fort Platinum, the castle which would eventually become the Castle of the Ruling Clan. There was a great battle, which ended with Avubafarihm being slain.

The diary gave a bit more insight than that, however. The characters learned some strange pieces of information:
  • He had something called the Sun Amulet, which gave him the power to give the Draconians wings and brainwash them. He noted that without it, he wouldn't be able to do either.
  • Avubafarihm had never obtained a Silver Dragon to make his Draconians with. However, by combining the essence of other Dragons, he was able to synthesize a Silver Draconian.
  • However, even though he had obtained a Gold Dragon, he was never able to create Gold Draconians. At least until right before his death - he had just created a young Gold Draconian and hadn't even had time to give it wings or brainwash it. (this was an easter egg for Will, since he played this exact Gold Draconian in my first Evil Campaign)
  • The Draconians could reproduce, grew to full size in a short time (like Dragonborn) and had been in the eggs in the Hatchery when Avubafarihm was attacked.

The group puzzled about the meaning of this information for a bit before realizing the truth of the situation, and why Chevnyl had been so hesitant to let them down here.

The Dragonborn, their entire race and clans, had been crafted by Avubafarihm.

Pictured: a lie, a fabrication
After his death, the eggs in his hatchery, which he had hidden from the paladins, hatched. Without the "Sun Amulet", they were wingless and free-willed, and had climbed to the surface. Along the way, they had found the dragon trophies of Avubafarihm, and named their clans after their fallen progenitors.

They also realized that Z'ildroth Salothzar, the totalitarian ruler of the island, during his travels, had come across this Sun Amulet, and was using it to gain power. As far as they knew, he had no idea it could be used to brainwash Dragonborn or give them wings. But he was certainly gaining power - the last time they had seen him, he had grown twice the size of a normal Dragonborn and had gained terrible powers.

The group realized they had to act before Salothzar realized what he was wielding. Not only that, but Chevnyl had informed them that the Dragonborn Death Knight Favnir would return from the grave within a week, at the location he died: right in the middle of the Dovuaka City Council room.

They rushed back upstairs to collect their companions, but nobody was anywhere to be found. They looked through the rooms, but didn't find anyone until they arrived back at the front gate, where Chevnyl stood in their way. Behind her, traveling down the mountain, was Torrin, Tofras, and Cheskapen.

The party was confused. Zovira was furious. Chevnyl explained as best she could: Cheskapen, their mysterious companions, was a Couatl, a messenger straight from Bahamut. He had told her to keep the heroes locked up in this castle, while he took Tofras and Torrin for some unknown purpose. The players tried to press Chevnyl to know what Cheskapen could have said to cause such a change of heart, but she refused to say. She transformed into her full Ancient Silver Dragon form, heartbroken but making it clear they couldn't leave.

Faelynn summoned all of her magical might and began to cast her most powerful spell: Teleport. Chevnyl cast a half-hearted Counterspell, but it was too late. The party slowly faded from existence, leaving the weeping Silver Dragon alone once more.

They reappeared in Faelynn's home, the Prisma School of the Arts. People seemed shocked to see them, but Faelynn's uncle realized what was happening. The group told him they had a lot to discuss, and he told everyone in the area that they should forget what they had seen.

The heroes began to plan their next move, hoping to stave of the destruction of their race before it was too late.
He's coming, he's coming, he's coming...
Whew! We stopped there for the night. I really enjoyed this game. I got to finally drop some revelations about Dragonborn in Ahneria that I've been sitting on for a while now. I actually like the idea that there's a campaign going on that just works to define a particular culture or race. I'm currently playing in one about the elves! Kinda. When we get back to it.

Also, it looks like December is going to be a tough month to schedule a game in, so I don't expect another Dragonborn Quest until 2018. However, I definitely will be working on playing a game every weekend that I can, so these Monday Recaps can keep going! Hopefully, I can even get a week or two ahead and make it all the way through the holidays.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Creature Loot: The PDF
We interrupt our regularly scheduled program to bring you some amazing news!

I recently shared my creature loot tables with Reddit's Unearthed Arcana subreddit. The talented and kind (and probably handsome/beautiful) /u/writerchild85 took the time out of their day to turn my work into a searchable PDF. I'm at a loss for words. Thank you, internet stranger!!

Here's the link:

Thanks so much for reading, Reddit!

Lore of Ahneria: Gods

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.
In the beginning, there was Light and Dark. Life and Death. Growth and Decay.
They formed intention, coalescing into two opposed beings: Pelor, God of the Sun, and Nerull, God of the Void.
The stars were Pelor's first domain, burning so brightly that the coldness of space could not snuff them out. The warmth of these stars began to spread to the worlds surrounding them, granting them nurturing heat and light. Soon, Pelor's influence spread beyond the plane of positive energy, and he took command of the elemental planes.
Nerull, realizing he was losing ground, divined a plan: he would split his godly essence into shards, hundreds of thousands of them, though he kept most of his power for himself. With these shards he began to populate the lower planes with beings whose powers mirrored his own. The first Demon Lords, Archdevils, Elemental Princes of Evil, and Dark Gods were born. Many of their names are lost to history, replaced by those who would come later. But now Nerull had an army, legions he could command to destroy Pelor's light.
Pelor, in kind, created his own subordinate Gods. Celestials formed, Gods of Light reigned the upper planes, and the Elemental Princes of Good fought back among their planes. The war between light and dark became a thousand struggles, rather than a single confrontation.
A divine spark granted power over a "Domain", but also bound a creature to serve the aspects of that domain. A shard granting the domain of water also forced its owner to take on the chaotic aspects of the element. The idea of a moral alignment was formed.
It was at this time mortals began appearing on Pelor's worlds. These primordial races were the curiosities of the Gods: could beings survive without a divine spark? How would they behave if not bound to an alignment? Could they serve? Could they fight? Many died out, as their patron Gods were defeated in cosmic warfare. The most prominent survivors were the humans (Pelor's race), the elves (Corellon Larenthian's children), and the dwarves (the creation of mighty Morodin). They were created closely in the image of their patrons.
The battle between light and dark continued to rage. The Feywild and the Shadowfell formed, allowing their respective forces a more direct route to the material plane (which was a common battleground). The currency of war was the divine shards that had come from Pelor and Nerull. Redeeming or corrupting a shard was a victory for these immortal warriors, who could otherwise never die.
Above the conflicts, Pelor and Nerull guided their forces, hoping to gain the upper hand. They were nigh-invincible: no immortal could hope to match their power, or steal a shard away from them.
That is, until a sorceress, now known only as the Raven Queen, rose from the ranks of mortality and obtained hundreds of divine shards, making her like a Goddess on her own world. Realizing the endless struggle of life and death could not be quenched, she offered her power to Pelor in hopes of destroying Nerull once and for all. He turned her down.
Despite this, the Raven Queen chose to face Nerull anyway. Though she had kept relatively quiet up until this point, this battle shook the heavens. A mortal had stolen enough shards to stand before one of the Over-Gods. And not only that: she had prevailed. Nerull's shards were broken, scattered, and divided.
Try as she might, the Raven Queen could not take in the amount of divinity Nerull had still retained. Indeed, the immortals were in awe at how much power Nerull still held, and how exactly the Raven Queen overcame such strength is still questioned and debated. She chose three of his strongest domains (Death, Fate, and Winter), making sure they contained aspects of neutrality, and took her place as a true Goddess.
However, the confrontation and the victory were small events compared to what happened next. Pelor, who had declined to help the Raven Queen, stepped in, channelling the countless shards of Nerull into the creatures of the material planes. Now, they were so small that they no longer had power over a domain, miracles, or even a predisposition towards evil: simply a spark of darkness deep within them.
Dark Fey, aberrations, undead, evil elementals, chromatic dragons, and monsters filled the worlds. The shards would not birth new evil gods, but as a result, the multiverse was filled with horrors. Some were shaped further by the dark gods, however, as Gruumsh birthed the Orc races and Maglubiyet spawned the goblin hordes.
This greatly concerned the Gods of Light, and many began to redeem these creatures to bring new races into the world: Metallic Dragons, Summer Fey, Good Elemental creatures. The Gnome and Halfling gods spread their races far and wide, hoping their predisposition for community and friendliness would overcome the now-pervasive darkness.
But something happened that the Immortals didn't anticipate. The mortals, unbound from alignment, began to fight for good. Not all of them, of course, but many realized that unless they chose to oppose evil, they would die. The immortals, bound by alignment and undying, hadn't realized how strong this survival instinct would become.
However, an unspoken pact was formed among the Gods. Now that it was known that divine shards could be stolen from the Gods, the Immortals decided that the mortal races shouldn't have the opportunity to gain such power again. Of course, this pact was far from perfect, and mortals such as Vecna and St. Cuthbert ended up making their way into the pantheon.
The Gods also began to focus on the redemption and corruption of mortals. In a world full of evil monsters, the Gods of Light needed as many champions as they could get. But in a multiverse dominated by Pelor, with no one to match him, the Gods of Evil would snare any modicum of power they could get their hands on. The battlefield once again shifted to a yet smaller scale.
And so, in this age of Light, does  the fate of good and evil lie in the hearts of mortals, unbound by divine alignment, able to choose their path: towards light, or into darkness.

Gods in Ahneria

There are many Gods that are worshipped in Ahneria. In truth, these are merely creatures that have enough divinity to shape reality and the planes to suit their whims.
However, all planes connect to the material plane, the ultimate battleground for this cosmic conflict. Gods must tread lightly here, for interference in mortal affairs will surely bring the wrath of a rival God. The machinations of Gods on the material plane are slow, quiet, and shrouded. A God never acts directly.
In different areas of the world, Gods have different names. Humans mostly know the Gods by the names they use in Greyhawk (PHB pg. 295). This is no coincidence - the Archmage Mordenkainen, while travelling through time, visited Ahneria when it was still young.
However, the other races have their own names and images for the Gods. On the elven continent of Jeonju, the nature God Obad-Hai is known as Rillifane Rallathil. The Dragons worship Chronepsis, Dragon God of Fate, though in the human lands she goes by Istus. And the Orcs, lovers of war, worship Haxtor, even if they call him Ilneval.
The Gods themselves have a ranking of power that can be clearly defined. They can use stats found here unless otherwise specified.
  • Over-Gods: currently, only Pelor has this level of power. For combat purposes, he is unkillable.
  • Greater Deities: CR 40+. Controls an entire race, a major domain, or a majority of an outer plane.
    • Moradin, Corellon Larenthian, Boccob, Obad-Hai
  •  Intermediate Deities: CR 35+. Less powerful, controls a smaller race or domain
    • The Raven Queen, Ralishaz, Bahamut, Istus, Garl Glittergold
  • Lesser Deities: CR 30+. Controls an evil race or a niche domain
    • Fharlanghn, St. Cuthbert, Vecna, The Giant Gods, Gruumsh, Lolth
  • Demigods: the half-children of the Gods.
    • Powers range wildly: they could be mortals with magic powers or an extended lifespan, or they could be as strong as Empyreans
    • Pelor has a son named Raynathius who is particularly powerful
  • Titans: beings constructed by the Gods.
    • Could be through magic, physical construction, the ground where a God's blood was spilled, etc.
  • Avatars: a vessel for a God that allows it to travel outside its domain without fear of harm
    • A God can create an avatar at any power level below theirs. Thus, a Greater Deity could make an avatar as strong as an Intermediate Deity or as weak as a mortal.
    • Since the death of an avatar does not affect the God using it, nearly all Gods conduct business as their avatars. A god can only create one avatar at a time, thus they usually keep their true form hidden away in a secret and well-guarded location.
  • Aspects: an independent creature which embodies part of a God's personality, principles, or domain.
    • An aspect can be any form that is two power levels below the God themselves. Thus, a Greater Deity can make Aspects as powerful as a Lesser Deity or as weak as a mortal.
    • Gods have a limit on how many aspects they can create. In most cases, this is approximately equal to their CR.
    • To most mortals, an Aspect is their God. In fact, many Clerics only ever interact with Aspects, and are none the wiser. An aspect can take any form, and its form can be changed by its God at will.
    • Aspects are utterly loyal to their God. They serve as the Generals and Advisers to their deity.
  • Vestiges: No combat stats. These are ancient gods that have lost all their shards. A powerful ritual might allow a mortal to converse with them or even gain some modicum of power, but they can grant no divinity.
    • Nerull, Astraroth, Zhudun the Corpse Star
Finally, outside the domain of the entire multiverse, are what mortals refer to as The Great Old Ones. These are the leftovers from the creation of the multiverse, before even Pelor and Nerull. Who made them, and by what device they grant power to certain mortals, is beyond the comprehension of Mortals and Immortals alike.
If you wish to become a God, there are a few known methods.
  1. Kill a God and obtain their spark. (Proven by St. Cuthbert, who killed a Lesser Deity of Injustice and gained divinity)
  2. Steal enough of a God's worshippers that the power of their domain transfers to you. (Proven by the Raven Queen, who gathered hundreds of shards in this manner)
  3. Use the power of vestiges to overcome Gods and destroy them. (Proven by Vecna, who did this multiple times)
  4. Ask a God really, really nicely if you can have a shard. (Some say this is how the Raven Queen defeated Nerull)
Finally, I have to mention Pelor's personal aspects, since they are extremely powerful and legendary throughout the multiverse. They are known as the Solars, twenty-four beings of perfect Law and Good. It is well-known that Pelor could create many more aspects, but either they are hidden away, or he has chosen not to.
  • Acies: epitome of empathy
  • Amina: epitome of spirit
  • Capitosus: epitome of knowledge
  • Curabitur: epitome of bodily skill
  • Duri: epitome of endurance
  • Exponentia: epitome of magic
  • Fidelis: epitome of faith
  • Mendacium: epitome of concession
  • Nequitia: epitome of cleverness
  • Praestare: epitome of artistry
  • Praeteritum: epitome of lore
  • Prodigium: epitome of the hunt
  • Salvos: epitome of willpower
  • Sanitatem: epitome of healing
  • Sapientiae: epitome of instinct
  • Secandi: epitome of speed
  • Sensus: epitome of awareness
  • Statera: epitome of balance
  • Suadere: epitome of logic
  • Tacet: epitome of silence
  • Terra: epitome of nature
  • Terrent: epitome of awe
  • Verum: epitome of truth
  • Viribus: epitome of power


Using This Material in Your Setting


  • Use the Gods to define the central tension of your setting (in this case, Good vs Evil)
  • Give the Gods fears, weaknesses, and flaws (they fear their divinity being stolen away)
  • Give the Gods history that can be spun into lore (the breaking of the divinity, the Raven Queen)
  • Give the PCs a way to interface with the Gods (avatars, aspects, demigods, titans, vestiges)
  • Create a reason why the Gods don't take care of all their problems (danger of retaliation by other Gods)
  • Create a reason why Gods are interested in mortal souls (power in the cosmic struggle)
  • Create power levels for your Gods (Over-Gods, Greater Deities, etc)
  • Give the most powerful Gods an extra leg up (Solars)
  • Create horribly difficult ways to become a God (kill/steal/overpower/beg)
Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

When You Just Cant

Ey, girl, lemme whispa in ya ear
Language in games is a tricky business.

Sometimes it's easy - just have a creature only able to speak broken Common, or put something in a language that a player can translate. Or have a code-style minigame, where the players slowly gather words and translate a message.

However, there are two languages that are a bit special: Thieves' Cant and Druidic. These "class languages" are supposed to be known by everyone who has received the training required to be a Druid/Rogue. But surely not every Thieves' Guild uses the same signals and codes. Surely each forest has a different language.

So, here's some ideas to spice up these "code" languages in your game. Also, how to justify that whole "Thieves' Cant takes four times as long as normal speech" thing.

Thieves' Cant

In essence, this is a manufactured code. It doesn't have to be sophisticated, though.
Like murderhobos, but without the murder
Every Thieves' Guild, Urchin Collective, and League of Assassins will have their own version of the Thieves' Cant. Just because a rogue knows Thieves' Cant doesn't mean they'll completely understand someone who learned to speak Cant in another city or country. However, you could certainly say they have advantage on deciphering it, or give them a few words of the overall message.

Thieves' Cant (according to the PHB) comes in two varieties: spoken and written. The spoken variety is the trickier of the two, so here's some good ways to implement it within a community of rogues.

  1. Doublespeak. The least sophisticated type. You simply say one thing and mean another, like "I whacked the guy." It can be used as slang, and low-intelligence thieves might use this exclusively as their spoken language.
  2. Hand Signs. Usually different than the signs used by the deaf community, to avoid being spied on by deaf people. In the Forgotten Realms, the Drow have this kind of communication. More common among political rogues, who already lie about everything.
  3. Codespeak. Requires a decent level of intelligence. This will sound like gibberish unless you understand the rules of the Cant. Pig latin is a classic example: "I-ay illed-kay im-hay".
  4. Key Words. This is a very difficult type to implement into a community, which means it's usually the best for keeping dark secrets. In this Cant, certain words have predetermined meanings. Instead of "I killed him", you might say "the Pegasus has flown the coop". Without knowledge of the predetermined meaning, the message is undecipherable.
  5. Magic. Finally, among arcane tricksters, spells like Message and Silence would certainly be used to conceal communication. Of course, they'd probably be used in conjunction with the above methods.

Of course, these are drawn from real code languages. Here's a good list of them. (Note that the "official" thieves' cant is a Key Word code. That's tricky to implement among a less-educated medieval population...)

As for the written language, I would actually shy away from using coded messages. First off, we want something that even the burliest of thugs could understand. Second, I don't want to step on the toes of the linguist feat. And finally, if I do put a code in game, I usually want the players to solve it, not the characters. So having the rogue simply read it would break the encounter.

Instead, we can use the simple symbols used by miners and wanderers as Thieves' Cant. They do this in Skyrim and it's very good.

At the very least, you need symbols for "safe", "danger", and "this way". Symbols for "home" and "loot" aren't a bad addition. After that, you can simply combine the symbols together or make them more specific.

And remember, each city will have different symbols. A rogue might need to relearn the code when they visit a new city. However, unlike spoken languages, all organizations within a single city will usually use the same symbols.


Druidic can be manufactured as a code language, but that never really felt right to me. If you can turn into animals, why not just talk like the animals do?

Bark, bark
If spoken, druids can simply imitate the calls of animals and understand them. Practically, this would work like the Key Words codes above, but with noises instead of words. A druid might give the howl of a wolf, the taps of a woodpecker, or the melody of a bluebird. And they could differentiate it just enough that another druid would know it wasn't an actual animal.

Some forests have wilder druids who wouldn't want to memorize such calls. They could communicate like dogs do - mostly through facial expression. Or they could train their bodies to give off certain pheromones, then interpret them entirely via instinct. Either way - nonverbal communication that wouldn't be accessible to non-druids.

As for written communication, I think they would use the natural environment when possible. It'd be very similar to tracking - a broken branch here, an upturned stone there. Together, they form a message.

Finally, every forest is different. The birds of one forest sing differently than those from a distant wood. Though druids would likely pick up on simple messages more easily, they would still require some time to learn the full lexicon of Druidic in a new forest.

How to Use This

If your rogue comes from a different city, or if your druid comes from a distant land, they'll have to learn the new signs. Could be a fun mini-game, especially in a quest oriented around starting a new thieves guild or moving to a new area.

Every rogue/druid will have a particular method of communication they prefer, and not all members of their class will communicate the same way. Similar to a dialect of the language, the player might need to figure out what an NPC means or risk misunderstanding.

Or, just treat it like a different language or ignore it altogether. Not every group of players enjoys decoding messages and learning about regional dialects!

Thanks for reading!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Monday Recap: Tomb of the Serpent Kings
"A feeling of unease and dread" - perfect!
One of my sub-hobbies (D&D is a hobby. This is a hobby within that hobby) is taking cool old adventures I find and converting them to 5th edition D&D. If you couldn't tell by the blogs listed to the right, I am interested in "Old School Rules" style play, where the point of the game is interacting with the environment and trying to avoid combat. Of course, I do my fair share of epic fantasy, too.

So, this past weekend, I put together a 5th-edition conversion of Tomb of the Serpent Kings, a fantastic little dungeon that's designed to be a "tutorial" for OSR-style play. Also, it's supposed to help Dungeon Masters understand how to run the dungeons as well. It's free, and unless you are the players listed below, you should download it and check it out.

Now, this would be my fifth (!!) concurrent campaign, so instead of putting together a full, brand new group, I decided to continue the experimental storyline I started in the game without character sheets. So, the players used notebooks full of information about their characters, instead of sheets with numbers.

I think this made the game a lot more tense and exciting. Of course, I had to describe things very well, but the players seemed very invested. However, I don't think I could keep track of more than two character sheets at a time. And higher levels will prove interesting...

Also, as usual, spoilers if you haven't played this adventure. I placed this game in Auraglow, a city of magic and wizards within Garlancia.

Monday Recap: Tomb of the Serpent Kings

Cast of Characters
Jon: Dungeon Master
Megan: Zylphia Radcliff, Human Dragon Sorceress, smooth talking fire-wielder
Shannon: Ruby Goldberg, Human Wizardess, dreams of being a monster hunter and an inventor

In their first adventure, Zylphia and Ruby had gone on a mission to raise money and save their school's 4H Club (Hippogriffs, Harpies, Homunculi, and Horses). Now that they had completed their task, they were given a new assignment: pick their specializations for their senior year at Academy Realis. Zylphia was taking her Instinctive Magic classes, and Ruby had to pick a new magic tutor based on her topic of interest.

Ruby, after a heartfelt talk with her Basic Magic advisor, decided to sign up for the Artificer specialization, taught by one Osvifur Sigurfinnursson, aka Professor Oz. Feeling a little awkward, Ruby asked Zylphia to come with her when she introduced herself to her new teacher.

Must resist... using Harry Potter art...
Professor Oz invited them in and offered them cups of tea, which created steam in strange colors. He said he was excited to meet his new student, and wished her the best of luck. However, he also mentioned that, in the interest of full disclosure, he may not be her instructor for long.

The girls pressed further. Oz told them that there had recently been an outbreak of student disappearances, and he had been tasked as Student Safety Council Overseer to address the problem. His research had pointed towards the existence of a vampire somewhere on the campus, and he had placed garlic and holy symbols across the school to prevent further kidnappings.

However, just that day, he had found out there had been another kidnapping: Jess, another girl from the 4H Club. Now, his position was in danger unless he could figure out the real culprit. Ruby and Zylphia were shocked. Professor Oz warned the girls not to go investigating the catacombs of the school, where the vampire was rumored to be laired.

So, that night, Ruby and Zylphia went into the catacombs.

They wandered the catacombs for some time, passing the graves and holding places of various wizards. Some they recognized from their textbooks or history, others were from some distant time or not important enough for a place in the textbooks. Along the way, they were guided by sconces containing Never-Ending Flames. As they went deeper, the sconces became further apart.

Deep underground, they found a strange hallway that was built from poorly-laid stonework, rather than the smooth carved tunnels of the rest of the catacombs. Zylphia used her Ember's Glow spell to light up a handful of gravel with a dim orange glow, and tossed the pebbles down the hallway. It went on for quite some distance, with four small alcoves divided evenly along its sides.

The girls cautiously checked each alcove. They contained wooden coffins, painted with strange scenes and containing clay statues of humans with snake heads. Zylphia was sure they would leap to life, and was too scared to touch them directly. Ruby was much more interested, and wrote down everything she observed in the alcoves. One of the claw statues had a silver ring on its finger, and the pair decided to leave it be, out of respect for whatever society had made these statues.

They pressed on, and reached the end of the hallway. There was a large stone door, sealed with a stone bar set on iron pegs. Ruby noticed that the ceiling above the door seemed unusual - like it might drop down on them. Further inspection revealed the iron pegs were actually sitting in vertical slots that they might slide up.

Ruby decided to cast Cloudfall on the ceiling, trying to make whatever would happen, happen slower. They then worked together to lift the stone bar off of the pegs. Sure enough, the iron pegs slid upwards, and the ceiling turned out to be a large hammer, slowly dropping on them to smash them against the door.

Moving as quickly as they could, the girls dropped one end of the stone bar and lifted the other end together, causing the dropping ceiling to be stopped by the bar. They wedged it tightly, making sure the ceiling wouldn't drop in on them.

Moving to the next room, they found an area featuring two coffins and a large snake statue. They inspected the coffins, finding snake-person skeletons inside them. However, unlike the statues from the alcoves, these leapt to life, drawing rusted shortswords and rushing towards the girls!

Spooky snake attack!
Zylphia drew on her dragon magic and unleashed her Fire Breath spell, catching one of the skeletons completely in the blast and blackening its bones. The other leapt out of the way, though it was still charred by the gout of flame.

Ruby unleashed her Wizard Bolts, sending a ray of magic into the charred skeleton's ribcage and making it explode from the inside out. The other skeleton was also hit by the Bolts, but it blocked most of the damage and rushed forward, striking at Zylphia with its blade.

Zylphia threw up her daggers in response and just barely caught the sword before it struck her. She then reached up into the snake-skull face and unleashed a blast of fire from her hand, blowing the skull from the skeleton's shoulders and making the body collapse to the floor.

The girls took a quick breather, then moved to inspect the snake statue. Ruby determiend that it was actually a statue of a Snake God, Dendar the Night Serpent. They also realized there was a secret passage beneath the statue, where a trickle of water had eroded away a small gap into a deeper passage.

Ruby summoned her bat familiar, Coco, and sent it scouting ahead. After it had determined the area was relatively safe, they ventured down into the next tunnel. Ruby was very excited to actually be on a monster-hunting mission! Zylphia was less enthused, since her main interest in monster-hunting was to hang out with Ruby and build a foothold for her eventual political career. She wasn't interested in actual danger.

They found themselves in a long hall lined with six menacing statues. Ruby noticed one was slightly out of alignment, and discovered it was hollow after throwing a pebble at it. Zylphia pushed it aside, and they discovered another secret passage!

However, it only lead to a room full of broken furniture and dust. Zylphia eyed some polearms hanging on the wall, but they looked too unweildy for either magic user to brandish effectively. Ruby found a small silver snake totem, and pocketed it to sell later.

They returned to the statue hall, and pressed forward into the darkness. Zylphia kept throwing small pebbles around them, dimly lighting the area.

They came to an octagonal room with a pool in the center and eight doors/archways on each wall, including the one they had just passed through. Zylphia ventured close to the pool, hoping to drop a pebble into the water and see how deep its murky depths were. However, when she did so, she saw something moving in the water, climbing up the walls of the pool right towards them: two disembodied hands!

One of them jumped out of the water and latched onto Zylphia's leg, crushing it with inhuman strength. Ruby leapt into action, coating her fist in crackling energy and pummeling the hand off her friend's leg. The independant appendage flew off, twitching on the side of the room.

Custom art by Shannon! How cool is that!?
However, the other hand reached the surface, and leapt up at Ruby's face, hoping to scratch at it with its sharp fingernails. Zylphia returned the favor, blasting the hand away with her Flame Shot spell. The hands were defeated.

Zylphia formed a magical hand of her own out of grey ash, and sent it down into the pool to retrieve some objects, now illuminated by her pebble. The first two turned out to be valuable: a golden chain, and a silver ring! The ring eminated odd magic, and Ruby decided to put it on to see what it did. After a bit of experimenting, she realized she could now pop out one of her eyeballs and still see through it!

Zylphia was grossed out by this new power, but continued searching for objects in the pool. The next item was a small stone sphere, marked with snake motifs and a phrase that Zylphia guessed was ancient draconian. The final item turned out to be a snake-mummy head, and to the girls' surprise, it spoke once it had been lifted from the water!
Like this but only that top bit. Also very dead.
The girls spent a bit of time talking to the head. It was very rude to them, but it did tell them they were in the Tomb of the Serpent Kings. Ruby remembered reading how the Yuan-Ti had inhabited this area long, long ago, before humans had moved in and established Garlancia. They both wondered how such an ancient place had survived so long. The mummy head called them barbarian mammals and didn't offer much help.

Zylphia wasn't ready to give up on making friends with the head just yet, and decided to take him with them. They poked around in some of the rooms, finding old tools and scrolls. Ruby kept everything of value she could find, especially the scrolls. She thought their Professor of Ancient Languages might take interest in such items.

The next area they opened was a set of stairs, leading further downwards. They began to descend, but on the third step, the stairs sunk into the ground and formed a ramp! Both students and their mummy-head companion tumbled down the stairs, landing hard at the bottom.

They found themselves in another octagonal room, this one lined with shields and built like an arena. On the far side of the room was a lrage archway leading into darkness, and in the center of the room was a huge statue of a warrior with a cobra head. As they picked themselves up, the statue cracked and rumbled to life, and attacked!

The statue raised an arm to the air, and summoned a shield which flew from the wall. Zylphia, taking the opening, rushed forward and doused it in flames from her Fire Breath spell. Ruby tried to follow up with her powerful spell, Faultless Lightning, but the creature blocked it with its newly-aquired shield. Fortunately, the shield crumbled after blocking a single blow.

Zylphia loosed a burst of flame from her hand, and used her Ashen Hand to bring the mummy head up to the construct, hoping to negotiate somehow. The statue didn't seem to respond to the crazed mummy head, however, and with two swings of its massive greatsword, crushed the mummy head and landed a strong blow into Zylpiha's ribs, causing her to collapse in pain.

Ruby ran up, hoping to distract the statue from attacking Zylphia again, but her Lightning Fist spell didn't seem to be doing much. Meanwhile, Zylphia healed herself with a potion, and began firing more Flame shots at the enemy. The statue kept summoning shields to its hand, both making Ruby duck to avoid the flying object, as well as blocking each of Zylphia's flames.

If this were a much nicer adventure...
The battle had become one of attrition, and the girls wouldn't be able to hold out forever. Fortunately, Ruby noticed that the stairs had reset themselves back from a ramp into a stairway. She shouted for them to make a break for it, and they both turned tail and fled. The statue leapt through the air, landing hard and knocking Ruby to the ground, but she crawled to the stairs and made it just in time.

The stone cobra warrior poked at them with his greatsword, but after a moment's scampering, the girls were beyond reach. Zylphia, dually frustrated at the loss of her mummy head and the beating they had just taken, unleashed a barrage of fire upon the statue until it had become completely inert, completely blackened and crumbling apart.

The girls were exhausted and hurt. Zylphia suspected she might have a broken rib, and Ruby was completely drained of magic power. They made their way back past the pool, up the tunnel, into the chambers and hallways above, and back into the catacombs.

On the way out, Zylphia grabbed the silver ring from the statue they had found earlier as a consolation prize. The statue crumbled a bit, revealing another snake-person skeleton and some rotting poisonous gas. However, this skeleton didn't come to life.

They returned to the catacombs, only to find that they were lost. Tired and confused, they wandered for a bit before they were found by Fritz, the school's keeper of the catacombs. He helped them find their way back out.

The sunlight pierced their eyes as they exited: they had been underground nearly all night. However, they hadn't come any closer to uncovering what was down there, or what had happened to their friend Jess. They resolved to return and enter the Tomb of the Serpent Kings once again... after they had gotten a good couple night's rest and visited the nurse's office.
Until we meet again...
Overall, I enjoyed this "tutorial" adventure. The atmosphere of tension and discovery was palatable. It's definitely something that doesn't usually make its way into my more epic fantasy games, and from a strict D&D perspective, I feel like this is more in line with how the game was meant to be played.

That said, I think there's room enough in RPGs for everything from generic dungeon crawls to Lord of the Rings-style world saving games. And honestly, I'd like to be able to tell both kinds of stories: those of dread and those of hope. I am really enjoying the opportunity to learn a style of play that I'm less familiar with!

Thanks for reading!