Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The New Exploration

In a land far, far away...
I've been thinking about my next campaign for a little while now, and I think I want to run a shared campaign.

I've noticed that people in my circle of players are often willing to play D&D, but finding a time when a specific group of players can meet regularly has been challenging. As you know, I run monthly games for multiple groups, with the effect of usually having a game or two each weekend. If I try for something more consistent week-to-week, the players either get burnt out, or have things start coming up that force us to schedule less frequent games.

So, my current idea for a solution is a shared campaign, a bit like the West Marches campaigns. It would allow for me to utilize my large pool of players, and the players could "lead expeditions" based on their interests. Because I wouldn't have to worry about getting the same players every week, I could actually run the games on a weekly basis. And once I get a decent head start on building out the map they are exploring, I might even be able to run more traditional narrative campaigns simultaneously.

But this means there have to be rules for exploration. And as I've discussed before, D&D isn't really the best at non-combat things. However, I think the travel rules I've used in the past ended up being a bit too heavy-handed for my players. So, it's time for a new system!

Exploration Rules

Imma climb that thing
The exploration system is based on a hex grid. Each hex is 6 miles, according to the "Kingdom Scale" of the DMG (pg. 14). The players should begin by clearing out a single hex and establishing it as a base of operations. This can be handled before the campaign if preferred.

The base counts as Settled Territory. Settled Territory is easy to travel through and contains NPCs and services, but requires resources to create and can be attacked by monsters.

At the beginning of the exploration, the map should be mostly blank, or occupied by Unknown hexes. The following geographical features could be visible at a distance, and should be added to the map at the beginning of the exploration. They count as Discovered hexes. If these features are obscured by a larger feature, they should not be added.
  1. Towns and Cities within 1 hex of the Base. Adding these is discouraged, to allow players freedom to explore the wilderness.
  2. Large Ruins or Castles within 1 hex of the Base (which should adventuring sites on the Discovery Tables, see below)
  3. Rivers and Lakes within 1 hex of the Base.
  4. Oceans within 2 hexes of the Base.
  5. Hills and Forests within 2 hexes of the Base.
  6. Mountains and Volcanoes within 5 Hexes of the Base.

Every Hex has the following properties, which become known to the players as soon as the hex is discovered:

  1. Status: A hex can be Unknown, Discovered, Conquered, Settled, or Pillaged.
    • Any hex that has not been entered or does not have a visible feature in it is Unknown.
    • Any hex that has been seen or entered is Discovered.
    • When a hex has its random encounter and discovery tables completely revealed, it is considered Conquered. A Conquered hex can provide resources.
    • A Conquered hex can be Settled by providing the right amount of Resources.
    • A Settled hex can be Pillaged by an enemy force, requiring further Resources to restore.
  2. Discovery Time: The amount of time it takes to discover or explore the hex. For open areas such as grasslands, hills, or coasts, this is one day. For more complex areas such as mountains, forests, or the Underdark, this is two days. More than two days is extremely rare.
  3. Danger Ranking: The amount of HP required to pass through the hex. If a character cannot pay the HP to pass the hex and remain above 0 hit points, they must wait until the next day or return to the base. If multiple hexes are traveled through on a single day, the character must be able to pay the HP cost for all hexes and remain above 0 hit points to complete the journey. HP guidelines are given below:
    • Settled/Conquered Territory, Completely Barren lands: 0 HP
    • Open Frontier, Basic Wilderness: 5 HP
    • Dangerous Frontier: 10 HP
    • Enemy Territory: 15 HP
    • Forbidden Wilderness, Hostile Environments: 20 HP
    • Actively Patrolled Enemy Territory: 25 HP
    • Hostile Environments with Enemies (such as the Abyss or the Hells): 50HP
  4. Supply Cost: The amount of gold required to pass through the hex. If a character cannot pay the gold to pass the hex, they begin to starve. Use the starvation rules on PHB pg. 185. If multiple hexes are traveled through on a single day, the character only has to pay for the hex with the highest gold requirement. Gold guidelines are given below
    • Settled/Conquered Territory: 1 GP
    • Forests, Coasts, and other resource-rich regions: 2 GP
    • Grasslands, Swamps, Oceans, and other places where food is harder to come by: 3 GP
    • Tundras, Mountains, the Underdark, and other regions with few resources: 5 GP
    • Deserts and other barren regions: 7 GP
  5. Resources: Once a hex has been Conquered, it can begin providing resources for the players. There are three types of resources: Food, Construction, and Defense. These are outlined in greater detail below.

Your objective: spoil this unspoiled land!
Additionally, each hex has two tables associated with it: a random encounter table and a discovery table.

The Random Encounter Table should have a number of entries based on how complex the terrain of the hex is. This is similar to the Discovery Time property. If the terrain is more difficult to explore and easier to get lost in, there should be more entries on the table. Grasslands and Coasts should have the fewest entries, usually 4 or 6. Complex areas such as mountains and forests can have 10, 12, or more. I like to keep them linked to a particular type of die.

The table begins with only one type of entry: "Become Lost." Whenever the HP cost is paid for the table (that is, whenever the hex is traveled through), one of the "Become Lost" entries should be revealed to the players, as they encounter or see signs of that creature. Entries should be revealed in order, so harder-to-find encounters will show up last.
When the players wish to start an adventure in an adventure site, they must roll on the Random Encounter Table. Note that this is the only time the table is rolled on - when the players are travelling or discovering new areas, they simply pay the HP cost and learn a new entry on the table.

If the "Become Lost" entry is rolled, that means the players can't find the adventure location they wish to explore, and must spend another day's worth of GP to camp out in the hex. The random encounter table can then be re-rolled, or the players can move on to a different site.

The Discovery Table is a list of potential locations that could be explored as an adventure, such as ruins, towers, villages, dungeons, etc. This list will always have 12 entries on it, but not every entry will actually be an adventuring site.

A group can choose to spend a day in a hex exploring it. The first day they explore a hex may be a partial day if they travel through other hexes to reach the hex they wish to explore. However, they must end they travel in a hex to count it as explored.

At the end of a day of exploration, the group rolls a Discovery Die. All entries on the Discovery Table that are less than or equal to the value of the Discovery Die are then revealed to the players. The die starts as a d4 and increases in size (to d6, d8, d10, d12, then d20) each subsequent day spent exploring the hex. Each day, the gold and HP costs must be paid for the hex.

Most of the entries on the Discovery Table should be "Nothing." The DM is encouraged to add a few flavorful encounters in place of these, such as finding the grave of a fallen warrior or a particularly shady apple tree. However, each Discovery Table should have 2-4 adventuring sites.

These adventuring sites are where the players will recoup their gold, clear out monster lairs, and gain experience. They should be ranked on the Discovery Table according to how well-concealed they are. A large Ruin or abandoned castle might be ranked at 1 or 2, while a Wizard's Secret Tower or a Deep Underground Portal might be 11 or 12.

Additionally, it is wise to place signs around the adventure site that indicate what level of difficulty a player exploring the area can expect to face. I would divide these up by level, since at low levels the group will have a lot of trouble with a challenge even 1 level above their current party level. This could even be related to intelligence.

  • A character can accurately determine the danger level of wizards, magical monsters, magical locations, and spells if their Intelligence (Arcana) bonus is equal to or greater than the player level the threat is built to challenge.
  • A character can accurately determine the danger level of humanoids, significant ruins, legendary objects, and weapons if their Intelligence (History) bonus is equal to or greater than the player level the threat is built to challenge.
  • A character can accurately determine the danger level of mystery-solving locations if their Intelligence (Investigation) bonus is equal to or greater than the player level the threat is built to challenge.
  • A character can accurately determine the danger level of beasts, plants, caves, hunters/druids, and poisons if their Intelligence (Nature) bonus is equal to or greater than the player level the threat is built to challenge.
  • A character can accurately determine the danger level of undead, desecrated areas, fiends, elementals, fey, and unholy creatures if their Intelligence (Religion) bonus is equal to or greater than the player level the threat is built to challenge.

So if you design a natural cavern built for characters of level 4, a character would need a +$ on their Nature check to know how dangerous it was. Otherwise, you would simply tell the players that this site is dangerous, but they have no idea how dangerous.

This does mean the players might find adventuring sites that are far too high or low for them. Encourage your players to seek challenges equal to their skill level, and leave those adventures for other groups of explorers.

Let us not go to the mountain of dragons. 'Tis a silly place.
Once the Random Encounter Table and the Discovery Table have been completely revealed in an area, the area is Conquered can begin producing Resources. There are three types of resources: Food, Construction, and Defense.

Each hex produces 1 type of resource. A forest might be good for logging, hunting, or might contain some primordial magic that wards the area from attack. A mountain could be home to flocks of birds, have good stone for building homes, or have a mine which produces iron for swords and armor. The DM determines which of the three categories the hex produces.

At the DM's discretion, a hex may produce 2 of a particular resource. Perhaps the fish of a particular lake are enchanted and never seem to run out. This should be an extremely rare situation, however.

The players can use these resources to expand their settlement or create new settlements. Every Conquered hex is assumed to have at least one small village or homestead in it. To create larger settlements, the players must Conquer adjacent hexes in certain amounts.
  • A town requires 2 Food, 2 Construction, and 2 Defense resources
  • A city requires 5 Food, 3 Construction, and 3 Defense resources
  • A metropolis requires 10 Food, 5 Construction, and 5 Defense resources

Thus, if the players were able to Conquer six hexes, all in an adjacent group, they could build a town on one of those hexes, preferably the most centralized one. The settlement only occupies 1 hex, but its influence can be felt in the villages and homesteads that occupy the other hexes. A hex with a settlement in it is considered Settled Territory.

Of course, the player's home base can be expanded in the same manner.

A Settled hex can be attacked by monsters. Unless the players are present in the settlement's influence area, they will generally hear about the attack on the second day of the battle. A messenger will likely come to the group by horseback, requesting aid. Each PC that participates in the battle counts as 1 resource for the settlement.

Monsters that attack settlements have one stat: Siege Points (SP). If the PCs wish to engage the monster directly, they can use its stats in the Monster Manual. Otherwise, play out the battle using the following stat guidelines. All final values should be rounded down to whole numbers.
  • Gargantuan creatures have 1 SP per 25 HP in the MM
  • Huge creatures have 1 SP per 50 HP in the MM
  • Large creatures have 1 SP per 100 HP in the MM
  • Medium creatures have 1 SP per 200 HP in the MM
  • Small creatures have 1 SP per 500 HP in the MM
Thus, a single Ancient Red Dragon has 21 SP. Meanwhile, a goblin hoard of 1000 Goblins (at 7 HP each) would  have 14 SP. Each day, a monster deals damage to a settlement equal to its Siege Points.

A Settlement defends itself with its resources. Each point in Construction reduces the damage taken by a settlement by one. Each day, the monster takes damage equal to the remaining defense points of the settlement. The settlement and the monsters deal damage at the same time, then the SP and resources are deducted afterwards. 

PCs can count as any of the resources by healing/feeding the wounded, reinforcing the walls, or striking back at the enemy. If a Settlement reaches 0 Food resources, they begin to starve, and can no longer deal damage. with their Defense resources.

Any resources lost in a battle by a settlement can be reclaimed at a rate of 1 resource per week, as long as the settlement survives the attack. If the settlement was reduced to 0 resources (not including those provided by the PCs), it becomes Pillaged.

A Pillaged Settlement loses all of its resources. The Random Encounter Table for every hex influenced by the settlement becomes unknown again, and should be repopulated by the DM to include the monsters that destroyed the city or their servants. The random encounter tables will have to be re-explored to reclaim the resources they provide. Additionally, each resource Hex becomes "Enemy Territory", with a Danger Ranking HP requirement of 15. The Pillaged Hex becomes "Actively Patrolled Enemy Territory" with an HP requirement of 25.

Logistical Rules

Dangit Brent, we got lost in the Plane of Eternal Torment again.
On a given day, a group can travel through up to four hexes if they have been discovered. Discovering a hex ends the day of travel, and counts as the first day of exploration.

When they characters finish adventuring in an adventure site, they all gain 1 Encumbrance point. A character can carry Encumbrance Points equal to their Strength score divided by 3. Of course, a particularly weak character can give their point to a stronger character if necessary.

If a character's encumbrance point limit is exceeded, their speed is reduced by 10 feet, and they can only travel through 3 hexes each day. If a character's encumbrance points exceed twice their encumbrance point limit, their speed is reduced by 20 feet, they have disadvantage on attacks, ability checks, and saving throws using Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution, and they can only travel through 1 hex each day.

The following items can increase a group's encumbrance load:
  • Carriage: Can hold 3 Encumbrance points. Requires 2 animals. 100 GP.
  • Cart: Can hold 1 Encumbrance point. Requires 1 animal. 15 GP.
  • Sled: Can hold 2 Encumbrance points. Only viable in snow or sand. Requires 2 animals. 20 GP.
  • Wagon: Can hold 2 Encumbrance points. Requires 2 animals. 35 GP.
  • Heward's Handy Haversack: Can hold 2 Encumbrance points.
  • Bag of Holding: Can hold 3 Encumbrance points.
  • Portable Hole: Can hold 4 Encumbrance points.
The following animals are available to pull these vehicles. Animals must pay the HP requirements of the hexes they pass through, and cost gold each day to feed:
  • Camel: 15 HP. 2 GP/day in hot climates, 4 GP/day in other climates. 50 GP to buy
  • Donkey/Mule: 11 HP. 2 GP/day. 8 GP to buy.
  • Elephant: counts as two animals. 76 HP. 10 GP/day. 200 GP to buy.
  • Draft Horse: 19 HP. 2 GP/day. 50 GP to buy.
  • Riding Horse: 13 HP. 1 GP/day. 75 GP to buy.
  • Mastiff: 5 HP. 1 GP/day. 25 GP to buy.
  • Pony: 11 HP. 1 GP/day. 30 GP to buy.
  • Warhorse: trained as a combatant. 19 HP. 4 GP/day. 400 GP to train and buy.

If the players are able to travel by flight, they pay only half the HP cost of each hex they travel over. The speed of travel can be greatly increased in this manner, depending on the speed of their flight.

If the group has a ranger in favored terrain or a character with the Outlander background, and they roll "Become Lost" on the random encounter table, they may re-roll the random encounter. They must keep the new roll.

When entering an adventuring site, the following spells can affect the random encounter roll. The character must then enter the adventuring site having spent those spell slots.

  • Augury, Divination, or Commune: re-roll the random encounter. You must keep the new roll.
  • Find the Path: ignore the random encounter roll and find the adventuring site
  • Pass Without Trace: If the random encounter was a creature, you may re-roll the random encounter. If the new roll is "Become Lost", you instead find the adventure site. Otherwise, you must keep the new roll.

A ranger in favored terrain or character with the Outlander background has the Supply Cost of traveling reduced by 1 GP, to a minimum of 1.

Characters that can cast the following spells can lower their Supply Cost, to a minimum of 1. The amount lowered per casting is listed below. On the day the group enters an adventure site, the character must pay the full Supply Cost for the day or enter the adventure site without those spell slots.

  • Goodberry: reduced 1 GP, limited to 1 per day (Yes, I'm nerfing it. Yes, I have to.)
  • Locate Animals or Plants: reduced 1 GP
  • Locate Creature: reduced 1 GP
  • Create or Destroy Water: reduced 5 GP, can be distributed
  • Create Food and Water: reduced 10 GP, can be distributed

When a character is exploring an area, they can use the following spells to automatically reveal certain items on the Discovery Table. If the character chooses to enter an adventure site that day, they must do so having expended those spell slots.

  • Arcane Eye: by sending the eye upwards, you reveal all sites ranked 4 or lower on the table, provided it is visible from the sky
  • Divination: pick a single number on the table. It is revealed to you.
  • Commune, Commune with Nature: pick three numbers on the table. They are revealed to you.
  • Contact Other Plane: pick five numbers on the table. They are revealed to you.
  • Legend Lore: If there are any adventuring sites in this hex suitable for characters level 7 or higher, they are revealed to you.
  • Find the Path: When you cast this spell, name a specific adventuring site. No matter which hex it is in, the site is revealed, and you know which hex it is in. The hex still has the Unknown status.

Other Rules

Do not attempt
This is mostly for my own reference, so I can plot out the proper trajectory of these campaigns.

Characters should start at level 1. They level up based on the number of adventuring sites they explore.

  • An adventuring site should have at least 2 experience points in it.
  • 1 is generally for fully exploring the site.
  • 1 is for finishing the quest associated with the site. This could be solving a mystery, finding an item, uncovering history, or slaying a nasty monster.
  • If a character completes an adventuring site that is of a much higher level than they are, they earn 1 extra experience point. This generally means at least 3 levels higher.
  • If an adventuring site is particularly extensive, or requires 2 or more major goals, an additional experience point may be available for completing it.

A character needs 4 experience points to level up from level 2-4. A character needs 8 experience points to level up to level 5 or higher. I don't plan on playing past level 11, because any character will basically be unstoppable at that point.

Characters should have an exploration guild, adventuring guild, or some sort of organization they can join. Characters should at the very least want to explore and join this organization. Each character level should correspond to a rank within the organization.

Monsters should drop loot. This loot can be crafted into magic items. If a player is looking for a particular item, try to include a monster lair that can translate to that item. Encourage players to look for particular items. Use the item lists in Xanathar's Guide to show the player's what is available.

Also, the players can find craftspeople in the wilderness, as travelers, hostages of monsters, or hermits. These craftspeople can occupy settlements and provide services to turn monster loot into magic items. Remember, master-crafting an item with magic requires a powerful wizard, so the wizard needs a good reason to not want to explore.

Settlements should also be a place where downtime activities can occur. players that aren't playing will have free time as characters, and they should be encouraged to do downtime and gain skills. Proficiency in Smith's tool could save the group a lot of money. Also, remember that downtime costs 1 GP per day unless the character is working a job for an NPC.

A settlement should have the following goods available for purchase:

  • Village/Basic Base of Operations: Anything in the PHB worth 25 GP or less
  • Town: Anything in the PHB worth 100 GP or less, magic items worth 50 GP or less
  • City: Anything in the PHB, magic items worth 100 GP or less
  • Metropolis: Anything in the PHB, magic items worth 200 GP or less

Gold, gems, and valuable art objects should be found at adventuring locations. In particular, an NPC at the Base of Operations should be interested in buying old relics to give the players a source of income.

An adventuring site should have the following properties:

  • Takes approximately two hours to explore and clear.
  • Begins with a random encounter outside the site.
  • Features 2-3 other combat encounters, or 1 simple and 1 complex combat encounter
  • Can replace any of the combat encounters with social encounters.
  • Should reward each player with approximately 25 GP per level of the site

Hostile monsters should have territories, where they are present on the random encounter table and the HP requirements are higher. These territories can be cleared away by the players, but upsetting the power balance will likely lead to other monsters pillaging settlements.

Recurring enemies and larger mysteries around the area can provide an overarching plot for the group. Additionally, new items can appear on discovery tables as the group faces new enemies or discovers new methods of exploration (such as a castle entirely in the ethereal plane). Old adventuring sites can occasionally be reclaimed by monsters, but for the most part a cleared site should stay clear.

I want to use a Slack Channel to encourage role-playing and character development. Characters that get played infrequently, or are played once and abandoned, can remain in the channel as "townsfolk." I'm still trying to work out how to offer group rewards for interacting with NPCs and each other on the channel.

Well, that's about all my thoughts, dumped out onto a page. I'm going to run it by my players and get some feedback, then update this article with any changes or suggestions. I might reformat it as well, since I don't know if the layout is as intuitive as I think.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, April 23, 2018

Monday Recap: The Fall of Salothzar

Zovira is ready to finish this!
Another week, another campaign ending! One of my players pointed out that it's been almost exactly a year since Dragonborn Quest began. Maybe there's something about spring that makes me want to wrap up my stuff and start something new?

Hopefully not, since I still have Campaign of Chaos to complete...

Dragonborn Quest: The Fall of Salothzar

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, planning to destroy it
NPC: Oddmund, Nerithya's Shield Guardian, has a smiling face painted on his head

When we last left our heroes, they were halfway through storming the castle of their sworn enemies, clan Z'ildroth. They had fought through several elites and remained fairly stealthy all the while, though it seemed some sort of alarm had been sounded and the castle was now engaged in some sort of defensive measures. Fortunately, the group avoided them, and found a mirror leading to the Nine Hells. They killed a devil which had made contracts with some of clan Z'ildroth's members, hoping that would be enough to put an end to the Death Knight Favnir that had been plaguing them.

After knocking out the traitorous clan leader Turnuroth Zofrixis, the group cautiously explored the room below his, the War Room. A large map hung on the wall, an extremely complete map of the island that Kreev remembered his father had told him never to touch. He went to touch it, and was immediately blasted back by a magical ward placed on the map.

The rest of the group explored the room, finding maps and blueprints of the castle, old military campaigns, and the island itself. Kreev realized that the large map might have something behind it that the trap was protecting, and had Nerithya remove the map with her Mage Hand. As she did, the bar holding the map up fell to the ground with a clatter, drawing a pair of Blackwing guards into the room.

The party temporarily abandoned the prospect of treasure behind the map and engaged the Blackwings in combat. Even after fighting through several Blackwings and a Devil, the group was easily able to overpower the intruders and return to their investigation.

Behind the map was a small safe, which Nerithya easily opened. Inside was a collection of things left by Kreev's father, Rhoyax. There were some highly classified scrolls, a spell scroll of Mind Blank, and a Manual of Gainful Exercise. There was also a map of a military campaign, one that Zovira had participated in. It was the campaign of genocide against the Gold Dragonborn clans. Faelynn, who had found the map, tucked it away.

Faerbor doesn't have time for this crap
The group returned to the castle's Western Hall, and decided to head down to the basement. Not only was it likely that Kreev's captive mother Shreeva would be down there, but there was a horde of Kobolds attacking the castle from below, thanks to Kreev's Half-Sister Dalyassa. They made their way downstairs, finding that several of the clan's quarters had been converted into dungeons, slaves' quarters, and and overseer's office.

They went to the dungeon first. Most of the prisoners were unruly Kobolds, but they noticed three Daardendrians in chains. One of them, Kreev recognized as his half-brother Kraxos, though the prisoner was missing a forearm and both his feet. Kraxos had always been a brooding rebel, and Kreev guessed he had opposed Z'ildroth. Nerithya picked the lock and they entered the room.

The Kobolds immediately began to pull at their chains and try to attack Kreev, but Faelynn gave them a look that immediately shut them down. Nerithya, using her new boots of Spider Climbing, just walked across the ceiling and unlocked the captive red dragonborn's chains. Kraxos seemed relieved to be free, and Zovira helped him out of the room.

They decided to free the unruly Kobolds and have them cause a little chaos until they found a better place to keep their injured friends. Kreev suggested they check the Overseer's Office, since it would probably have a lock and be nicer than a dungeon. The group moved quietly across the hall while the newly-freed Kobolds went on a rampage in the Z'ildroth clan quarters.

They burst into the Overseer's office, surprising him and leaping forward to attack. The black Dragonborn barely had time to react before they had pinned him to the ground. The office was indeed nice, though he had a rather tacky portrait of himself hanging behind his desk. While Zovira and Faerbor held their captive, Kreev used Detect Thoughts to get more information on where Shreeva might be.

The overseer revealed that Shreeva was currently working in the mines, the same place the Kobold attack was happening. But as Kreev dug deeper, he found something more disturbing. The Overseer had been approached by the Blackwing Ravager Zraghull, who had offered him a deal with Tor'Galluth the Pit Fiend. The group was still uncertain if the infernal contract had ended, but they now knew that Zraghull had also taken it up. They also learned that the Dragon Queen Tiamat was behind this deal, and she was trying to use her undead Knights to dethrone Salothzar.

Kreev finished off the overseer, but not before commenting on his bad choice in interior decoration. The group quickly moved Kraxos and the two young Daardendrians to the Overseer's Office, then headed towards the mine entrance connected to the basement. They could hear the sounds of Kobolds battling Blackwings as they descended down, passing Red Dragonborn miners who had retreated from the conflict.

Murdering Dragonborn, with your host Nerithya
They reached the back lines of the Blackwings, who were completely engrossed in the battle with the Kobolds. Not a group to let such a chance slide, they attacked the Z'ildroth soldiers from behind, finishing them off in their own unique ways. Nerithya and Kreev went one by one, stabbing them through with their swords. Zovira went down the line cutting off heads, and Oddmund just punched all of the ones he could see. Faerbor, no longer able to use the magic of his axe, switched to a magical glaive to attack, and Faelynn provided bagpipe accompaniment.

They broke through the line of Blackwings, and the Kobolds regarded them cautiously. The party decided to simply allow the Kobolds to carry on with their attack, and a horde of red-scaled raiders swept past them. Meanwhile, Kreev lead the group towards where he had seen Shreeva was being kept.

They arrived not a moment too late. Dalyassa was holding a crumpled Shreeva in her arms, and turned to Kreev as he approached. Shreeva was barely hanging on to life, and Kreev reached out and touched her with his bardic magic. A low hum filled the air, and his mother relaxed from the pain. She looked up and smiled at her son, before falling gently asleep. She would be safe, for now.

Dalyassa was injured herself, but the waves of Kobolds had prevented the Blackwings from harming her too badly. The heroes decided to bring Shreeva and Dalyassa to the Overseer's Office, where her brother Kraxos was already staying.

After dropping off those who couldn't fight, the group went back up into the halls of the castle, intent of confronting Salothzar and ending this mess. They found the halls oddly deserted, aside from a chef and some Kobold servants. Even the throne room was emptied. Faerbor took a moment to magical seal the other exit to the castle.

They made their way to Salothzar's chambers, but came across an extremely unusual sight: the grand, opulent chamber had been looted, with only furniture and wall hangings in tatters remaining. Kreev also noticed the room had a feature he didn't remember: a large hole in the wall, large enough for a giant-sized creature to pass through. The group feared Salothzar had tried to make his escape, however, a monstrous roar from the tunnel complicated that theory.

Standing guard outside the tunnel were four Blackwings, one of them the Ravager Zraghull. He started to approach the party to talk, but Faelynn simply responded with a Fireball. Nerithya cast a Hypnotic Pattern to confound the enemies, and a combat broke out.

Punching things and absorbing damage, all day every day
Fortunately, thanks to Nerithya's spell, the group was able to pick off their foes one by one. She even added a rubber duck balloon Crown of Madness to Zraghull so he would attack his own allies. The Blackwings quickly fell, and soon only Zraghull remained.

Zovira made a move to run him through, and with his last breath he smiled and asked Tor'Galluth to bring him back from death. The group remembered what had happened when they killed Favnir: a massive explosion, which transformed him into his Death Knight form. Sure enough, the room was rocked with a huge Hellfire explosion, knocking the group back. But when the fire cleared, all that remained was a burnt, skeletal corpse. The deal with the devil had ended.

The group took a moment to recover the damage they had taken from the blast. The tunnel in the wall looked to be of recent construction, and the blueprints they found in the War Room seemed to confirm this was a new addition to the castle. The group finished up their healing and pressed forward towards whatever awaited them in the cavern.

They rounded a set of stairs and found themselves looking upon an awesome and terrible sight. Atop a gigantic mountain of gold and precious objects lay the corpse of a Black Dragon, slain through the heart with a Vorpal Sword. Standing atop that was Salothzar himself, wings unfurled, holding the Sun Amulet up in the air and praying, apparently in praise of himself. Around him, a half-dozen Blackwing Elites were frozen in place, seemingly stopped in their efforts to reach him.

As they approached, they entered a wave of energy surrounding Salothzar, and found themselves frozen in place as well - at least, those Dragonborn among them. Nerithya and Oddmund were able to move still, and proceeded to immediately pocket the Vorpal Sword. Faerbor, through great effort, was also able to shake off the stunning effect. While their companions struggled to break free, they decided to move forward and attack Salothzar to try and end the spell he was casting.

Salothzar kept praying, ignoring their accusations. He even shot a ray of acid from his mouth at Faerbor in between verses of his prayer. It seemed that only a direct assault would break him from speaking. However, at that moment, an unexpected ally appeared.

Cheskapen, the Couatl that had stolen their ward Torrin from them, appeared, unaffected by the power of Salothzar's stun spell. He reached out and touched Faelynn, ending the spell on her, and asked her to use her Bardic magic to help her allies. He then strode towards Salothzar, transforming back into his true winged-snake form.

Back off, buddy!
Faelynn got to work, while Faerbor and Nerithya began lobbing projectiles at Salothzar to break his hold on their allies. Finally, he relented, and Zovira and Kreev were released from the effect. The Blackwings were also released, and began to rush forward to attack their leader, likely due to his recent slaying of a Black Dragon.

However, Salothzar's abandonment of his prayer only meant he could devote his full attention to fighting. With a wave of his claw, he released a black spot which expanded into a huge field, draining the energy from those within it and blinding the group.

Now struggling in the dark, Zovira pulled out a pair of potions to restore her own sight and Faerbor's. The Blackwings kept attacking, though they had little success. Between their blindness and Salothzar's supernaturally thick hide, their blades did little damage. Kreev and Faelynn did their best to heal and inspire their allies, while Nerithya used her acute elven senses to move and attack despite her blindness.

Though they were fighting well against the blinding blackness, Salothzar had barely been scratched, and was still blasting them with rays of acid and Vitriolic Spheres. Cheskapen had bitten Salothzar, but to little effect. Salothzar simply brushed hum off with a huge maul, causing him to fly against the cavern wall and begin to discorporate.

Things were looking grim, and Faelynn decided to pull out her final trump card. Long ago, she had devoted a massive amount of gold and time to creating a bag of beans marked with Explosive Runes. Throughout her adventure, she had used them to get out of sticky situations, and though each of them individually had little power, she still had 5 dozen remaining.

Salothzar shouted at the group that they weren't enemies, that there was more at play here than they knew. The Gods were conspiring against them. But the group wasn't going to take any chances on his words, and Nerithya ignited Faelynn's beans in Salothzar's chest with her Mage Hand, while Faelynn used a Wall of Force to protect the party.

Lots of small magic, applied all at once, courtesy of Faelynn
The bag of beans, ignited all at once, bathed the chamber in light and fire. Directed by the ring of invisible force around Salothzar, the fire seared upwards and scorched the ceiling of the cavern, creating a concentrated point of flame that burned into the eyes of those who dared look upon it. When the smoke cleared, Salothzar remained, charred but still on his feet.

He looked down at his attackers, lifted the Sun Amulet above his head, and... threw it at Kreev's feet. "If you believe you can do better than I, then it is in your hands now." With that, he teleported away in a flash of magical energy. The group stood in confusion and frustration for a moment, but quickly realized their work was far from finished.

With Salothzar gone, the Blackwings turned to the nearest threat they perceived, that being Faerbor. They attacked him, but Kreev quickly stepped in and calmed the situation. The Blackwings revealed that Salothzar had indeed slain the Black Dragon, which they hadn't even known was below the castle. They were attacking him, but the stunning effect had kept them from doing so while he was praying. They had no idea what he had been planning or why he was praying.

Narithya began inspecting the hoard of gold and items laid out before her while the others bandaged up their wounds. Kreev brokered a temporary truce with the Blackwings, hoping to figure out what was actually going on and put an end to this before they had to fight again.

As they spoke, another figure burst into the room: Tofras the Smiter, a cleric of Bahamut who had assisted Cheskapen in his quest. Zovira was quite angry with him, and demanded to know where Torrin was. Tofras was quite compliant, telling her that Torrin was safe at the Church of Bahamut in Dovuaka. He had followed Cheskapen because the Couatl was a literal messenger from his deity, but now that the plan had failed, Tofras was more than willing to reconsider his involvement with Bahamut.

Kreev asked further about that, remembering that Salothzar had said the Gods were conspiring against them. Tofras confirmed that Cheskapen was trying to "cleanse" the Dragonborn using the Sun Amulet and Torrin. However, it became clear during their travels that Cheskapen meant to eliminate the Dragonborn. The group was appalled, but Tofras said that the Dragonborn were considered abominations among the true Dragons. Bahamut was acting in the interests of his followers.

The group left the treasure in place for now (aside from the gold Nerithya stuffed in her Bag of Holding) and went back up to the Throne Room. At this point, Kobolds had spread over the entire castle, unable to leave since Faerbor had magically sealed the main exits. The group retrieved Dalyassa, and she harnessed the Kobolds and told them to head back into the mines. With a shout of "Guks!", they retreated.

As the Kobolds dispersed, a roar was heard outside the castle, and a massive form burst in through the large stained-glass windows of the chamber: the Silver Dragon Chevnyl, here to join the fight! Unfortunately, the fight had already ended. Chevnyl reverted to her Silver Dragonborn monk form, and explained her appearance.

So majestic
She had been told by Cheskapen about the plan to eliminate the Dragonborn, as a kind of courtesy since the history of the Dragonborn was her most valued treasure. She had thought about leaving and giving up on the island, but in the end she simply couldn't. She had flown down to the castle to kill Cheskapen or die trying. She had expected this to be her final stand.

The group reassured her, and after some tears she agreed that Kreev holding on to the Sun Amulet was for the best. Kreev vowed to try to destroy it, hoping that such a fate would never befall the Dragonborn clans.

With that, Kreev gathered his allies and went to unseal the front gates of the castle. Faerbor released his spell on the door, and it burst open as Blackwing soldiers rushed inwards. Kreev stopped them by holding up Salothzar's Sun Amulet, and gave an impassioned plea: the fighting was over. Salothzar, Favnir, and Zraghull were gone. There was no longer any need to kill or enslave other clans.

As he spoke, another Blackwing Ravager, Z'ildroth Otiroth, stepped forward. He was young, and interested in what Kreev had to say. They took an uneasy peace there upon the front steps of the castle, both sides promising to step back and re-evaluate the situation with the information Kreev would provide.

The next few days involved Kreev and the party conveying everything that had happened on their journey, from fighting a devil-powered Favnir in Dovuaka to discovering a plot by Bahamut to undo the entire race of the Dragonborn. Otiroth listened intently. He was younger than the other Ravagers, and seemed to be more open to making reparations.

Shreeva joined her son at the negotiations, more to lend credence as the clan matriarch than anything. However, she seemed very proud of her son and his skill in diplomacy. A plan was quickly laid out to unite the Dragonborn, in order to stave off the potentially disastrous fate they would face by turning away from the Dragon Gods.

Nerithya was put in charge of counting the treasure hoard Salothzar had amassed, and even after she skimmed some off the top it came out to nearly ten million gold. Many of the powerful magic items in the collection were actually clan artifacts, meaning they would need to be returned to their respective owners. However, the massive amount of gold gave clan Daardendrian and Z'ildroth a pool of resources for their plan to unite the clans.

A diplomatic tour of the island was put in place, and the group began to assign roles. Kreev, Otiroth, and Faelynn would be in charge of the main negotiations, travelling to major cities around the island with a core of diplomats to handle the smaller burgs and villages. Zovira would be in charge of reforming the Blackwings and providing military guidance for a new, multi-clan fighting force.

Nerithya debated for a while on if she would stay with the clans, but eventually realized that she had finally found a group of people that she could trust. She decided to stay, though she did demand a warship and personal crew to play with.

Faerbor hung around for a few days after negotiations were complete, but soon disappeared. He was intent of finding a way to destroy the Axe of the Elders, which had cursed his family for generations.

Chevnyl also disappeared, going back to her mountaintop to continue recording the history of the Dragonborn. Faelynn occasionally went up the mountain to visit her, getting to know the ancient dragon better than anyone else on the island.

And Torrin, the young Gold Dragonborn, came back to the castle, where he was formally adopted by Zovira and granted his clan's name, Ziadoa.

Though they had lots of work ahead of them, the heroes of the Dragonborn had completed their task, and saved their island. Kreev was crowned the new King of the Dragonborn, and began his work of uniting the clans. As to how that turns out, we'll have to wait and see.

You're a king, Kreev! "A what?"
And that's the game! It took 10 session and about a year of playing to finish the story, and that feels about right. I feel that each session was memorable and we had a lot of epic and hilarious moments as a group.

Eventually, these heroes might have to come out of retirement to fight the forces of Chaos, but for now, I'm happy to say their adventure is complete.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, April 20, 2018

New Creature Loot PDFs!

So, as you might know, I occasionally write articles about Creature Loot. And I recently added loot for Volo's Guide and Tomb of Annihilation.

Well, with the incredible help of Reddit user /u/writerchild85, I've updated the PDFs for the original Creature Loot tables as well as adding one for Volo's and Tomb. The Volo's Guide PDF has a full crafting index, including every monster part in The Monster Manual and Volo's Guide. The Tomb PDF has all the Volo's Guide Monsters that appear in the book, instead of links like my articles.

Here are the finished products!

The Monster Manual Creature Loot

Volo's Guide Creature Loot

Tomb of Annihilation Creature Loot

I say "finished", but I'm sure I will go back and find mistakes or update language as I find errors. Fortunately, I'm keeping these on GM Binder now, which provides great support for updating these documents. I plan to keep these links up to date! And if you want ot modify them for your own purposes, you can always copy the source code and do so.

Thanks for reading! And thank you, /u/writerchild85!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Making Races

Everything seems about normal here. 'Cept that bug guy. And is he missing his skin?
On the D&D wiki, you can find literally thousands of homebrewed classes, races, subclasses, equipment, spells, backgrounds, and more. For the most part (aside from a fairly extensive list of loot and some backgrounds) I've veered away from building homebrew materials for players. I find there's just so many options already, and I'd rather make something cool and memorable using the basic rules than try to "inject" cool into my character with a custom set of abilities.

However, there is some very good design philosophy on the Wiki when it comes to creating homebrew material. It boils down to this: if you're going to make a class, you need to make it impact the game as little as possible.

You might be thinking, class? Isn't this article about making races? Well, sort of. Hold tight.

There are a lot of issues in adding material to the existing rules. Look at Pathfinder and D&D 3.X for examples. Without properly understanding the system and playtesting the material, it's difficult to tell how something will interact with the other parts of the game. Perhaps your "Spirit Fighter" idea is cool, but with a Cloak of Etherealness he becomes invincible. Maybe you have a great "Pirate" class, but you end up totally overshadowing the player with a Swashbuckler Rogue. Each class has a role they fill, and you can't let the core classes lose that.

And that's not even addressing the issues of minor balance. D&D 5e isn't a perfectly balanced system, but its balance is intentional. Did you know that classes always get two saving throws: a common one (Dex/Con/Wis) and an uncommon one (Str/Int/Cha)? So if you make a "Drunken Master" class with proficiency in Dex and Con saves, you've changed the balance of the game. There are hundreds of small design rules like this that we can only infer, since we don't have access to the WotC 5e  Design Documents.

So, how do you add something new to the game? Well, according to the Wiki, there are five steps you have to consider.

Druid? No, you have the wrong guy
First: Can you simply reflavor the class? This one is my favorite. I've played a wizard who thought he was a fighter, a druid that looks and acts like a barbarian, and a whole game of warlocks pretending to be something else. And yes, all of that is using the basic rules. One of the examples in the Wiki is calling a wizard an "alchemist" and just making their spells be potions. I love it.

The next step is if creating a background is enough to get the character you want. For characters who are odd, like Demigods, or characters who want to be former adventurers turning over a new leaf, such as a retired assassin, a background is all that is necessary.

After that, you might use a custom feat to get the character you want. If you want to create that "Spirit Fighter", maybe all you need is a feat called Ghost-Touched that allows them to attack incorporeal creatures. That would have very little impact on the game, but at this point you have to accept that the feat is canon - something all players could take. If you build your game around fighting ghosts, that's fine, but your players might not like the prospect of being forced to take a particular feat.

The second-to-last step to consider before creating a class is if a subclass to an existing class would do what you want to do. This has been the approach taken by Wizards in Xanathar's Guide, and I think it's quite appropriate for this stage in 5e's development. A subclass adds a lot of flavor, but remember that it can't be too restrictive. People need to be free to play the subclass in multiple ways, to allow different characters to be created.

The final step, of course, is making the class as a class. That's assuming none of the above options worked out for you.

Just rename the classes. I mean, you're already using your imagination, right?
So, after a long detour, we can talk about making races!

The same design philosophy applies here. If you want a new race, consider re-flavoring an existing race, changing or modifying a single feature of an existing race, or adding a sub-race to an existing race. Don't make a Demigod race, just use Aasimar.

But the races in the current game simply don't cover everything. That's because classes are fairly flexible, and the idea of "fighter" or "rogue" can cover a multitude of fantasy character tropes. But races (and therefore appearances) are much more difficult to spread out in such a way.

The good news is that the issue of balancing races has mostly been worked out by clever players. You can find a massive list of racial features and their relative strengths here:

But the design philosophy above should still be followed! If you are able to use an existing race as a template, do so! A race of cursed humans could be based on Tieflings, Kenku, Half-Orcs, or even Goblins. Just modify them slightly.

However, the real difficulty of creating races isn't the mechanics of it. It's the culture.

Some have more than others...
When designing a race, think about how that race fits into your world. Unlike classes, races don't have to "fill a role" or be completely unique. Dwarves, Elves, Humans, Gnomes, Orcs, and Lizardfolk all have their own type of smithing or crafting. The overlap expands the world and makes it more realistic. There can be several races all with similar traits, but no two races should have exactly the same traits.

When working out a culture for your race, it's good to consider the following things:

  • Appearance (not too specific, to allow for individuality)
  • Traditions and common mannerisms among members of the race
    • This includes what the race traditionally values
  • Families and relationships within the race
  • Relationships with other races
  • Where this race lives (again, not too specific! Races expand and move throughout the world!)
  • Why a member of this race would leave home and go adventuring
  • Traditional race names
  • Age and Alignment (actually part of the race description but still informed by the culture)

Classes give the people in your world a set of skills they can use to influence their surroundings, but races are those surroundings. Thus, defining their place in the world helps forge the nature of your world.

So, when designing a race, I like to cover a lot of these bases by using traits, much like I did for the races in the Player's Handbook. Personality traits can cover common mannerisms, relationships with other races, and reasons a member of the race would go adventuring. An Ideal can relate to the race's traditional values, including relationships within the race or the race's normal alignment. Bonds, or Motivations if you prefer, can deal with values, relationships, adventuring reasons, and even where the race normally lives. And flaws can cover mannerisms and inter-racial relationships.

This leaves only the age, alignment, appearance, and names for the actual description. Age and alignment go in the stat block itself, so no worries there. When we create the list of features, it's easy to include them.

For names and appearances, I like to give examples as reference. Pictures are good for appearance, and I use for inspiration on names. Usually I just pick one of the generators on the site and state that it will be the basis for naming this particular race. More often than not, I can find one that's pretty close to what I was thinking! For example, a race of dryads could use this name generator under the Magic: the Gathering section.

With that all in mind, here's an example of the traits I would give to the Aarakocra.

As you can see, from this we learn a lot about the type of culture Aarakocra have in Ahneria. They value song and family, but also the ability to move and fly. They are generally Chaotic Good, and seek to discover new experiences or to help those in need.

Of course, a player doesn't have to select from these options. But if they do, they will find themselves more like the Aarakocra who are their kin. And if the players meet an Aarakocra, they can expect them to have some of these traits.

I'm planning on going through this exercise because I want to start exploring a new part of Ahneira: the Republic of Khoomes. And I think I'll be going for a kind of "animal kingdom" vibe. I'm talking Disney's Robin Hood style.

Classic rogue
I realize this article was a lot of design philosophy and not a lot of design. But I am working on the actual races, and when they are ready I'll be posting them in their own article. Hopefully there will be enough flavor and variety to make the continent interesting and exciting for exploration!

Thanks for reading!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Wave Echo Cave

The ACTUAL LOST MINE from the Lost Mines of Phandelver. 
That's right, another week, another campaign completed! I'm burning through my roster of games! Is something new and big on the horizon??

Yes. But more on that later.

Lost Mine of Phandelver: Wave Echo Cave

Cast of Characters
Jon: Dungeon Master
Makayla: Fwip Arda, Gnome Bard of the Blades, born into a long line of musicians, prefers the avant-garde
Shannon: Rune Coldiron, Dwarf Knowledge Cleric, born into a long line of War Clerics, prefers thinking
Will: Valkas Barthen, Human Storm Herald Barbarian, son of a peace-loving shopkeeper, has accepted his new Storm God overlords

When we last left our heroes, they had rescued Rune's Uncle, Bartholomew "Bart" Coldiron, and retrieved his map to Wave Echo Cave from the murderous King Grol. Bart, the heroes, and an old soldier named Sildar Hallwinter were all interested in finding this cave, to find Bart's brothers Harry and Horace Coldiron. But also, by uncovering the fabled Forge of Spells, they could bring wealth to themselves and this area.

Using the map, they traveled to the mouth of a cave less than a day's journey from Phandalin, hidden in the woods. It appeared to be a normal cave mouth, but a soft pulsing sound could be heard from inside at regular intervals. The group wondered aloud what it might be, and Fwip wryly remarked it was probably a wave echoing.

They began their descent, following the rocky tunnel about 100 feet before coming to a open cavern area overlooking a tunnel leading deeper into the cave in two directions. As Sildar cast his lantern about, the light landed on a pile of supplies and bedrolls, and a lumpen form beneath one of them. Fearing the worst, Rune and Bart rushed over.

As they drew closer, the form became unmistakable: It was Harry Coldiron, dead and covered in a bed roll. They said some words over him and moved his body out to their travel cart for a proper burial. While doing so, Rune inspected his body. It appeared he had died from wounds reminiscent of a Magic Missile spell, but she couldn't be sure. Valkas wasn't too concerned, and decided to grab some sacks of flour from the pile of rations instead.

Having temporarily found a safe spot for Harry's body, the party pressed onward, following their map into the entrance halls of what was once a mine. The torch sconces in the walls were long out of use, and the ground was littered with skeletons. Upon closer inspection, they appeared to be a mix of dwarves and orcs, wearing rusted scraps of armor. A battle must have happened here, long ago.

As they inspected the bones, Valkas heard a flapping sound above them. Stirges! The party was surprised as the blood-sucking monsters swooped down and attacked!

The stirges quickly attached themselves to the faces of the party members, but the group had learned how to deal with them since their forays in the forest: squish them! Valkas and Fwip immediately began slapping their faces and killing the offending creatures.

The true villains of the series
Rune and Bart, however, weren't faring so well. Rune had one she just couldn't shake, and Bart fell unconscious as soon as one had attacked him. Fortuantely, Valkas had finished his own stirges off and was happy to help Rune out, which gave her a chance to cast Spare the Dying on her uncle, saving his life.

Valkas administered a health potion to Bart, which brought him back to his feet. Fwip suggested they move Northward, towards a location that seemed like it might house the Forge of Spells. As they passed through the halls, Fwip and Rune noticed a crunching and splintering sound coming from behind a door. They cautiously approached, and saw a trio of ghouls chewing on the skeletons littering the ground.

The group decided it would be better to finish off these undead creatures instead of risking them attacking from behind. Valkas kicked open the door and stood in its frame, blocking the ghouls from reaching the weaker party members (i.e. Bart).

The ghouls looked up, abandoned their meal, and rushed forward, howling and clawing at the prospect of fresh meat. Though they weren't able to squeeze past Valkas, they did crowd the doorway as much as possible, and ended up hindering their own efforts to reach the heroes.

Fwip and Rune launched spells at the undead, while Valkas cracked them in the heads with his hammer over and over. Bart watched their backs, and Sildar shot at them using his crossbow. However, Sildar turned out to be a pretty terrible shot, even accidentally hitting Valkas in the shoulder with an errant bolt.

The fight was over quickly, and Rune finished off the final Ghoul with a dual strike from her Spiritual Weapon and her own hammer. Valkas confronted Sildar about the crossbow bolt, and the old soldier apologized. He claimed it was hard to fight by torchlight, and the group couldn't disagree.

Seriously, dude?! (Art by Shannon!)
They finished their trek to the room they suspected was the Forge of Spells, but it ended up only being a storeroom. They decided to take advantage of their circumstances and take a quick rest to bandage up their wounds from the previous encounters.

Once they had rested up (thankfully, undisturbed), they pressed ahead to a large connecting room that could lead them to other locations they suspected could be the Forge of Spells. As the light of their torches filled the room, they heard the sound of more ghouls rushing towards them from the darkness.

Valkas decided now would be a great time to unleash those sacks of flour he had picked up earlier. He had heard flour was flammable, and just for good measure he added a flask of oil to it to make it burn better. He threw the mixture forward and watched it splat on the ground, before telling Bart to light it up with a torch or tinder.

Unfortunately, flour is only explosively flammable when it is in the air, and all that resulted was a pile of burning oil and flour that smelled vaguely of bread. The ghouls were bearing down on the group, and Fwip realized what Valkas was trying to do. She opened up another sack of flour and threw it at the fire, spreading the fine powder into the air.

Everyone ducked behind a rocky outcropping except for Valkas, who was too busy fighting the ghouls to retreat. A small explosion rocked the room, scorching the Ghouls and Valkas alike. However, it wasn't enough to slow down the Ghouls' advances. Seeing that the party's plan hadn't worked well enough, Rune leapt from hiding and presented her holy symbol.

A deep voice emanated from the jewel in her amulet. "Disturb not the secrets of the mountain!" The ghouls, presented with holy magic, turned and fled. Valkas and Fwip picked off a few of them as they retreated, but the group decided to move forward before the effect wore off.

Fwip shows off her flour power (art by Shannon!)
In the next area, they discovered a large waterwheel-like contraption over a long-dry channel. They immediately noticed a small, floating skull wreathed in green flames, looking down on them with sharp red eyes. Valkas waved hello to it.

Rune and Fwip talked to the skull, asking it what it was and why it was here. It told them that it was guarding the entrance to the Forge of Spells, and wouldn't move for anyone. It even zapped Valkas with a ray of fire just to prove its point.

The party didn't like the idea of fighting a creature unnecessarily, so after a bit of joking with it they went in a different direction, hoping to find an alternative route. Unfortunately, they came up against a door with the sound of several bugbears behind it, and they didn't like their odds on fighting them. So they decided to go back to the dry channel and follow it until it came out somewhere.

They came out to a room with a large chasm in it, the waterway spilling out into the chasm itself. Searching the chasm were three bugbears, lead by a dark-skinned elf: a drow! This group seemed connected to the Cragmaw goblins that had been terrorizing Sildar and Bart, and the group decided to attack.

From their hiding hole, they flung javelins and spells out at the Bugbears, who began to climb up the chasm walls to reach them. One of the creatures finally managed to get up on the ledge, only to be knocked off again by a powerful blow from Rune's warhammer. However, as they finished off the bugbears, the drow turned and ran further down a dark passage.

The group gave chase, climbing up the other side of the chasm wall. They passed a small room, but after confirming it was empty, pressed forward.

They ended up in a large chamber built to Dumathoin, the Dwarven God of Secrets and Rune's patron. Standing in the center was a different Drow, this one dressed in dark robes and holding a staff with a spider on the top. He was holding a knife to the throat of Horace Coldiron, who was struggling against the elf's grasp. The group also noticed dark shapes in the corners of the room, too large to be human and moving unnaturally.

The dark elf introduced himself as the Black Spider, the villain behind the Cragmaw attacks and the Redbrand ruffians. He was curious about the party, but they had little to say to him while he was threatening Horace. He even offered to work with them, but the group turned him down.

Finally, Valkas had seen enough, and rushed forward to attack. The dark shapes lurched out of the corners and crawled forward, turning out to be giant spiders. one of them shot web, restraining Valkas in place, but not before he brought his hammer down on the Black Spider.

The Black Spider turned invisible and tried to flee, but was met with another swing from Valkas' hammer. He used a Shield spell to save himself, but became visible and was targeted by Fwip's Heat Metal magic. Under the stress of the fire and pain of the hammer blows, he collapsed.

Horace, now free, turned and punched Valkas in the stomach. The group was shocked by this, but Valkas responded in kind (as best he could with the webbing holding him back). However, once the Black Spider was dead, Horace ran towards another exit to the room.

Meanwhile, the party was fighting to drive back the spiders who were attacking them. Fwip nearly fell to their bites, but managed to press it back just in time. Bart helped Valkas get free of the webbing, and together the group drove the spiders back into their corners. Without their master, it seemed they had little reason to fight.

Horace managed to slip away, despite the group's efforts. There was a table full of interesting materials in the room, but they decided to retreat rather than fighting off the spiders. As they pulled back, Rune whispered a prayer to the statue of her God.

Surprisingly, as she spoke, the room began to shake, and rocks fell from the ceiling into the corners of the room, crushing the spiders hiding there. Dumathoin apparently wasn't pleased with his temple being used by spiders. The group grabbed the items from the table and the Black Spider's body, and retreated into the small room they had passed to rest up a bit.

Dumathoin is watching...
Going through their loot, they found a partial map of the mine, a sack of valuables, and a healing potion, as well as the Spider staff and a key to the room they were staying in. Rune attuned to the Spider Staff, learning she could use it to walk on walls and shoot webbing.

Rune and Bart were both sad and confused about Horace's behavior in the fight. Bart didn't think that Horace was that skilled of a fighter, and there must be some magic or trickery afoot. Unfortunately, they didn't have any means of tracking him down, and decided to leave the matter be.

After healing up, the group managed to piece together a route that would bypass the floating green skull and lead them to the final location they thought might be the Forge of Spells. They traveled back to the chasm room, picking up a buried pair of Gauntlets of Ogre Strength that were marked on the Black Spider's map as they did so. They climbed up an old obscured passage and into a large cave.

The cave opened up onto a huge underground lake, and the rhythmic pounding of the water was causing the pulsing noise they had heard all over the cave. This was the echo of Wave Echo cave! The lake was huge, and possibly lead into the depths of the Underdark. They had no way of knowing how vast and deep this underground lake could go.

Minor geographical revelations aside, the party followed a stairway up into the eastern half of the cave and into the final area they suspected the Forge of Spells might be. They discovered a room with an ajar set of double doors, the handles burned open, the floor still littered with skeletons. Gently, they opened the door, and a voice spoke in their heads: "Hello there!"

They saw a workshop of sorts, with weapons and armor hanging from the walls. In the center of the room was a brazier with faint green fire coming from within it. And behind that was a large, spherical creature with four eye stalks and a large central eye. They feared it might be a Beholder, but in fact it was a related creature: a Spectator.

They spoke with the creature a bit, and learned that it had also been summoned here to guard the Forge of Spells, which was the green fire brazier. They tried to convince the creature it should leave (since the original owners of the mine had died), but it said it could only be released by a descendant of the original owners - which nobody present could claim.

Bart and Valkas suggested they just kill the monster and take the Brazier, but Fwip stopped them. Their research on the map had shown this site had been lost for at least 300 years, and she had remembered that Spectators are only supposed to guard a location for 101 years. The Spectator confirmed this, but insisted it had only been a few days since its summoning.

They tried to convince the creature that its guardianship had long since expired, but it refused to listen. After an increasingly frustrating series of arguments back and forth, they decided to give up on changing the insane monster's mind and attacked.

A perfect picture of sanity
The Spectator, being a floating monster, immediately lifted itself up to the ceiling, out of reach of Valkas' hammer. Rune summoned her Spiritual Weapon, but before she could use it properly the Spectator shot her with an eye ray and paralyzed her! Valkas, Fwip, and Sildar all began firing crossbow bolts upwards, hoping to bring the monster down before it could unleash another volley of paralyzation.

Fortunately, the Spectator wasn't terribly strong, and Fwip finished it off with a well-placed bolt. As it sank to the ground, it vanished, and the party took comfort in the fact that they had ended the creature's curse of servitude. Their task of finding the Forge of Spells was complete.

Valkas grabbed some of the weapons and armor, while Rune shook off the paralysis. Valkas and Fwip (the latter now wearing the Gauntlets of Ogre Strength) slowly and carefully dragged the brazier all the way back through the tunnels, eventually making it back to the very entrance they had come into several hours ago.

It was near dark now, and the group camped outside the cave before returning to Phandalin in the morning. The townsfolk were grateful to see them return, especially with such a powerful and valuable item in tow. Bart and Sildar we quite happy to have succeeded on their quest, and began the process of installing a magical weapons shop in the town.

Valkas decided that he would stay in Phandalin, since the forge would need a guard and he could have access to better magical weapons. Bart told Rune that he would help her get a position as a knowledge cleric, as she had proven her interest in lore and magical secrets, but Rune didn't feel her quest was quite over yet. She chose to continue her search, perhaps to find Horace or to discover why her God had sent her on her mission. And Fwip, having learned that bold action isn't always the best path, decided to go with Rune.

The three parted ways, but the town of Phandalin began to grow, always remembering the trio of brave adventurers who brought life back to their town.

Until we meet again...
And that's the game! I can finally say I've run a group through Lost Mine of Phandelver.

I think the group really made it fun. All three of them were interesting characters with good motivations and fleshed-out conflicts, both internal and external. The dungeon was really just a dungeon, it was how they faced the challenges that made it fun and interesting.

That said, I like the fact that these characters are departing. It's sad to lose cool characters, but they did what they came together to do. I think it helps the world grow when characters can simply retire. Who knows? Perhaps Valkas, Fwip, and Rune will keep growing and become patrons of future adventures!

Anyway, overall, I'm happy with the campaign.

Thanks for reading!