Monday, February 27, 2017

Monday Recap: Saving Bryn Shander

Staying Lit in the Icy Tundra
This game was the group's first encounter with honest-to-goodness evil Giants. It was also probably the best session of the campaign so far. Let's get right into it!

This story is part 6 of a series. This campaign was discontinued.
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16 | Part 17 |

Storm King's Thunder: Saving Bryn Shander

Cast of Characters
Jon: Dungeon Master
Megan: Cecelia Sondheim, human bard, a Harper hoping for a bright future!
Cody: Rolen Dundragon, half-elf Warlock of the Archfey, a scoundrel with a heart of gold
Cait: Mialee Galanodel, elf ranger, from a distant land and doesn't have personal space boundaries

We left off last session with Cecelia meeting Beldora, a Harper agent with a lot of information and connections. Beldora promoted Cecelia to the rank of Harpshadow, and gave her a Sending Stone so they could communicate. Beldora is now Cecelia's mentor.

Come visit the Ten-Towns! There's Ten of them!
The group is in the distant northern town of Bryn Shander, part of the Ten-Towns allegiance in Icewind Dale. They came this way to let the Sheriff, Markham Southwell, know that his sister died during a Giant attack in Nightstone.

First, however, the heroes decided to warm up and grab some drinks in the local tavern with Beldora. The players walked in, dropped 20 gold in the barkeep's pocket, and asked to be taken care of. This sent a flurry of whispers through the tavern. Who were these strangers, and what were they doing throwing around that kind of money in a tavern?

This happened because I started listing prices for food and drinks. That might have been a little too pedantic on my part, but I liked getting the chance for the players to make a splash in the town. Fortunately, I had prepared for this by having each player write a rumor about the other two!

Rumors began to fly through the tavern. People thought Mialee glittered so much because she was a vampire trying to use a spell to protect her from sunlight. Rumors flew that Cecelia's stone chest, which she had earned in a close call with a dragon, was actually from a wizard she had turned down on a date. And some old housewives assumed Rolen's magical snake staff could hypnotize people.

Amidst the flying gossip, an armored man with silver in his hair wandered up to the table. He introduced himself as a member of the Order of the Gauntlet, Sir Baric Nylef. He was searching for a dwarven rogue, Worvil "The Weevil" Forkbeard, and wanted to know if the party had seen or heard anything, being from out of town.
Sir Baric Nylef: not a bad guy, but not really this group's cup of Firebrandy
As soon as he placed the wanted poster on the table, Mialee recognized the dwarf in question. It was Larg, a dwarven adventurer who had told her to find Morak Ur'Grey in Nightstone! However, Mialee was slow to trust this stranger, and didn't reveal her information.

The group told Sir Nylef that they would keep an eye out, and finally had a chance to talk to Beldora. They told her about the attack on Nightstone, the Cloud Giant Zephyros, and the unrest among the Giants. Beldora said she would pass on this information, and in the meantime they should arm themselves for fighting Giants. Beldora suggested they pick up some meat hooks at Rendaril's Emporium, so they could climb up a Giant's back if needed.

While all this was happening, Rolen summoned another Tressym to accompany their already-existing flying cat Rillex. He decided that it would be named Morgana, and since it was technically fey it would be a black cat with butterfly wings. He then sent it out to gather more rumors about the town.

The party made their way to Rendaril's Emporium, where they found the owner, a half-elf man in Waterdhavian finery,  arguing with a young, well-dressed woman. The woman successfully convinced Rendaril to hand over a share of taxes, and then introduced herself to the party, apologizing for any unpleasantness.
We run these streets. Literally.
Her name was Duvessa Shane, and she was the Speaker for Bryn Shander. This made her the de facto leader of all the Ten-Towns. The characters were very polite, and asked when Sheriff Southwell would be back from patrol. Duvessa suggested they finish their shopping and then come back to Town Hall, she would allow them to stay and wait for the sheriff.

The group went shopping, dealing with Rendaril, a veteran of Waterdeep's Marketplace and a shrewd purveyor of basic supplies. The group decided to pick up Yeti-Skin coats to help stave off the cold. Rolen went for a fur dyed with black ink. Mialee chose pink. Cecelia decided that ink was too expensive and stuck with plain white, looking instead for some armor to shore up her defenses.

Beldora told her not to pay for armor, and gave Cecelia her very own Chain Shirt to wear. It had been specially enchanted by the Harpers to prevent her from being possessed by undead spirits, and Cecelia was very grateful. Beldora also gave everyone a pair of meat hooks, in case they ran into any Giants.

The others finished up shopping, and they all began to head towards the Town Hall, much warmer in their coats. Outside the hall, they saw a group of the town guard gathered around a tall, dark-skinned man. Augrak Brighthelm, the dwarf who had welcomed them into the town, was also there. The party figured out that this must be Sheriff Markham Southwell, simply based on the dreamy-eyed look Augrek was giving him. The Sheriff gave some orders, and the group dispersed. The heroes approached.
The man of the month!
Cecelia carefully let him know what they had traveled so far to tell him: his sister had died in Nightstone, crushed to death by a boulder dropped from a Cloud Giant. Sheriff Southwell hardly reacted, but Augrek tried to comfort him anyway. A quick glance made her pull back. He thanked them and turned to start a patrol around the square. Augrek apologized for the Sheriff, he was always like that and he really did appreciate the group's efforts.

Suddenly, Duvessa ran up to Sheriff Southwell and the group. She told them there was a problem at the Southwest gate, and she needed the Sheriff and his deputy there quickly. Southwell's eyes narrowed. Giants?


People in town began to duck into their homes as news spread from the southwest. The group ran towards the gate as they heard a voice boom, "Surrender Artus Cimber or die!"
I made the picture really big, because they're Giants, GET IT?
This is the (possibly infamous) combat in Storm King's Thunder where the players get to control some of the NPCs they met during their visit to the town being attacked. I decided to give Megan Beldora and Duvessa Shane. Cait got Augrek Brighthelm and Markham Southwell, I figured she'd enjoy controlling them and trying to get them to fall in love. Finally, Cody played Sir Baric Nylef and Sirac of Suzail, who didn't reach the combat until the second round.

Overall, I think the players enjoyed playing the NPCs. It was a risky move on Wizards of the Coast's part, but I think if handled well it can definitely work.

The group arrived at the main gate and stood atop the wall with Duvessa, Sheriff Southwell, Deputy Brighthelm, and Beldora. Below them, a female Frost Giant with two guards and two winter wolves demanded that Artus Cimber be handed over. Duvessa and Sheriff Markham had no idea who Artus was.

Fortunately, Cecelia knew the legendary Artus Cimber, and insisted that he wasn't inside. The Frost Giants insisted he was, and the leader blew an ivory horn she had been holding on her belt.
People like to think they're pretty, but don't like to be called "toss-able"
As she did, several Frost Giants appeared from over the hills and began to lob rocks at the walls of the town. At the same time, the two Giant bodyguards lifted the winter wolves onto the wall itself, and the Giants began to break down the gate!

Ceeclia immediately made one of the wolves retreat from the wall, down the tower and into the town with her Dissonant Whispers, where she figured the gate guards could handle it. The other wolf was confronted by Augrek and Southwell, working as a team. Meanwhile, the heroes and Beldora began to bombard the Frost Giant leader with magic and arrows.

While the female Frost Giant and one of her guards wailed on the gate, the other guard pulled out a weighted net and threw it over Rolen. Rolen (who has a strength of 4) was immediately restrained and it looked like he had no hope of getting the net off of himself. Duvessa ran over to him and began to cut the ropes of the net, but it was very large and heavy and it would take quite a while.

At this point, Sir Baric Nylef and Sirac of Suzail arrived from the commotion, hoping to help. Together, they confronted the Winter Wolf on the ground below the gate. Sirac hadn't heard the call for Artus Cimber, but he had heard the commotion and came to defend his home.

Despite the group putting forth great effort, the Giants finally broke through the gate. One of them rushed forward and began to attack Sir Nylef, the leader turned to use her axe on the heroes positioned on the wall.
If I had the money for miniatures... #poorDMproblems #weliterallyusedwaterbottles
The group finally brought down the leader, and as they did they could see the Giants encircling the town begin to fall back. However, the Frost Giant told her guards to finish the job, or Jarl Storvald would have their heads. The characters would have to kill these final Giants before this was over.

Just as Sir Nylef and Sirac defeated the Winter Wolf on the ground, the guard Giant's axe crushed Sir Nylef, and he fell. The Giant bellowed, "Bring us Artus Cimber!" Sirac, honest to a fault, leapt forward.

He told them that Artus Cimber was his father, and that he would tell them whatever they wanted to know. The other Giant paused, grabbed Sirac, and demanded to know where Artus Cimber and the Ring of Winter were. Sirac admitted he didn't know.

The Giant growled and crushed Sirac in his hands. Those remaining on the wall realized that there was no nobody on the ground preventing the Giants from rampaging into town. Mialee decided to leap into action.

With a howl of her battlecry (ooweeooweeooweeoowee, apparently) she leapt off the wall and embedded her meat hooks into the Frost Giant's back. Dodging the Giant's axe attacks, she climbed up the monster and began to stab it in the shoulder with her shortswords. The Giant guard howled in pain.

Right in the Winter Wolf!
The climbing another creature rules are on DMG pg 271. If you run this module you ABSOLUTELY MUST use them. It was awesome.

On the wall, Rolen continued to struggle against the net. Even with Duvessa's help, he had been trapped and tangled in the net for nearly the entire encounter. Meanwhile, Augrek and Southwell were locked in combat with the Winter Wolf.

The wolf made a move to bite Augrek, an attack that would have killed her. However, in a daring maneuver, Sheriff Southwell took the blow for her, bringing him dangerously low but saving Augrek's life. There was some serious romantic tension happening.

Cecelia, having taken a serious blow from a Frost Giant's greataxe, decided that if she was going to die, it would be in the most heroic way possible. She leapt onto the other Giant (not the one with Mialee on it), and began to stab it with her magical Harper sword. Suddenly she realized that she was within touch range of the Giant.

Summoning the power of her newest spell, she laid a curse on the Frost Giant, making it howl and clutch its head in pain. Rolen, seeing this strategy, laid a Hex on the Giant as well, causing it to fall to its knees in mental anguish.

Megan used Bestow Curse to force the Giant to make a Wisdom save each turn or waste its action doing nothing. Then Cody used Hex to give it disadvantage on Wisdom saves. Even with a +3 modifier to Wisdom saves, that Giant was pretty much already dead from this point on.
Nothing helps a miserable winter town be more miserable like a Giant attack!
On the wall, Augrek was dealing lots of damage to the Winter Wolf while it was focused on Southwell. Just as the Sheriff looked over at his deputy with admiration, the wolf dealt a vicious bite that felled Markham. Augrek and Mialee simultaneously yelled "No!", Augrek for her fallen love, Mialee because she really wanted to see true love prosper.

Fortunately, Rolen sent his familiar Morgana to Markham's side, casting a Cure Wounds scroll via the flying cat. Markham stood back up, but he and Augrek were both badly injured. Rolen decided to turn his spell magic on the wolf. Of course, he was STILL tangled in the net, with Duvessa frantically cutting ropes to free him.

As the Giant that Mialee was standing on fell, she leapt off of it, did a sweet backflip, and shot an arrow into the wolf's side. The beast still hadn't fallen! Meanwhile, Cecelia and Beldora stabbed the Giant who was under the curse.

The Winter Wolf chomped one last time on Southwell, bringing him down once again. This time, there was no Cure Wounds available. As the Wolf fell to Rolen's Eldritch Blast, Markham Southwell's life flagged away. Cecelia finished off the Giant she was on and rushed up to heal the Sheriff, but it was too late. Sheriff Markham Southwell was dead.

The next day, there was a funeral held for the three dead men who defended the town. Mialee played a mournful song on her Ear Flute (a traditional instrument of her people) as Augrek cried and the heroes watched solemnly.
Mialee's Solemn Ear Flute song. By Lathander, I wish I was joking.

We stopped there. The players got to level up to sixth level, and there will be some treasure to loot, but overall I think that was the best game of this campaign so far, and one of the most fun combats I've run. There was dramatic tension, plenty of jokes from the players, and everybody (except poor Rolen... they did finally get him out of that net) had a chance to look cool.

One of the players in my monthly games has expressed a desire to play in a weekly session, and since we're currently only at 3 players I think that would be awesome. I'm currently working with her to figure out why her character is in Bryn Shander, how they would meet the party, and why they'd be interested in learning more about giants.

I hope to have her in by this Friday's session. If so, I'll start next week's Monday Recap with her backstory and character description.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Delving into the Tomb of Horrors: Entrances (of Horror!)

One of my favorite comics from one of the most NSFW fantasy blogs around
Welcome back to Delving into the Tomb of Horrors. Today I'll be analyzing chapter 4, "Entrance Level", and covering areas 1-7.

Tomb of Horrors: Cliff Face Encounter Area Descriptions

The chapter begins with a description of the cliff face on the North side of the hill. The book tells you to be very particular when asking the players where and how they are searching, as they can only open an entrance when they "prod high in order to collapse sufficient material to expose a portion of a tunnel entrance. Low probing, or probing with short implements [will] not reveal anything."

So, essentially, the adventure is hinting already at the importance of a "long probing implement". Those of you who have been gaming for a while know what this is: the mighty 10' pole. Now, as written, I'd say that an area could be discovered otherwise, but there's another important lesson here: equipping your players.
More powerful than a vorpal sword, more useful than a bag of holding
When it comes to putting cool hidden items/plots in your game, you have to make sure the players have a decent chance of finding it. If you put an invisible gem into your dungeon, and the wizard doesn't have See Invisibility in their spellbook, you're just making extra work for yourself. Why put something in the game nobody will find? In my experience, it either ends up being a waste of prep time, or I feel bad for the players and give them the item anyway. Either way, there's no challenge, no choice, and no fun.

Tomb of Horrors: Tomb Entrance Level Area

1. Western False Entrance Tunnel

Let's start with the best part of this area: the illustration.
Not much to look at, but Gary had tricking players down to an art. If you are going to put a fake entrance in somewhere, make it detailed. Give it a picture and read-aloud text. Make the players feel like they have a valid option presented to them. We'll discuss this more later, in another great room in the dungeon, but for now area 1 and 2 get a gold star for detail.

Now, in the original module, trying to open those doors caused a rock slide with no saving throw that dealt 5d10 damage. That an average of 55 damage, just for finding the wrong entrance. Yikes.

Since HP calculation hasn't changed much since the days of AD&D, we can guess at how much damage this would have done to a party of 10th-14th level adventurers. The answer is: not terribly much. A wizard, with their 1d4 Hit Dice, might be in trouble. But most other classes with decent Con would be fine.

However, all those lackeys and hirelings that the DM was supposed to give to less-experienced players have just died. So much for helping out the novices.

2. Eastern False Entrance Tunnel

We're not into the main dungeon yet, but here comes our first trap with the potential to instantly kill characters. When they venture down this longer (but still nicely detailed) hallway, a large stone block can slide into place, trapping them inside.
The Tomb of Horrors: perfect for couples
Gary gives weirdly detailed instructions for running this encounter. You have to count down from 10 to 1, not moving anything or any of the characters, and at the end of it you determine what happened based on what the players said during the count. Essentially, Unless a character stayed behind or specifically started running as soon as the count starts (and they hear rumbling), they are likely to be trapped by the stone block.

I think the intent of this session was to provide a way to recreate the feeling of not knowing what was happening, rather than just going into the wall closing immediately. The players know this is going to be a dangerous encounter, they should approach cautiously and use any opportunity given to them to save their skins.

But this section also addresses a concept that was still developing in 1975: how do you act fairly as a dungeon master? What is the difference between "Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies" and a deadly but well-thought out trap?

This is Gary's presentation of proper DM behavior. "Break down the action into small, individualized tasks." "Assure them you understood their intentions." "[Take] into account their stated actions and [allow] them to respond." A popular opinion of Gary Gygax is that he is a tough old DM who would kill players easily and without hesitation, but I'm getting a different vibe here.
It's ok to still hate him, though
The real question is this: If he ran this trap with such careful consideration, how did he run the rest of the Tomb of Horrors? The Tomb gets a reputation of deadly difficulty, but maybe a lot of that is from Dungeon Masters who didn't play as fairly as Gary.

3. True Entrance Corridor

Finally! The real entrance. This is probably the most iconic area of the dungeon, probably because it's the only one most people see.
Pictured: a freaking graveyard
This area has a few entrances and exits, and several pit traps. We'll be covering them over the next few areas. However, I want to point out the trap in this particular area: the trapped chest.

This seems to be a trap that breaks the rule I stated last week: that the pit traps are introduced, taught, and then expanded upon. But I don't think that checking out the chest was meant to be the first thing players did. More than likely, they were meant to walk around the area, learn about the other pit traps, and then come back and try the chest, maybe after a couple of them died at the end of the hallway.

The actual door to the rest of the dungeon is behind a plaster carving of... a door. The module gives no way to figure out that the plaster has to be torn away, but again, I don't think players are supposed to find this right away, or even easily. They literally need to be tapping the walls, at wit's end, to figure it out.
Shut your eyes, Marion!
The last thing in this room is a clue that helps the players find where to go. A poem has been inscribed on the floor. The first line tells players to "Enter the Prison", which references the plaster carving of the door (it has a monster in a prison on it). The rest of the poem provides more hints:
  • The mists are also a valid passageway
  • There is a temple, which Acererak calls "His" temple
  • There are lots of colors to avoid
  • A magic ring is needed to continue on
  • "Skip two" and find a "Fortuitous fall", then "No lower goest"
  • The keys are important
  • beware "trembling hands" and "that which maul"
  • Follow a false door to find a true door
  • There is a key in the columned hall
  • "Iron men" are hiding "More than meet viewer's eye"
  • Then, turn left twice
A lot of this is babbled up in nonsense. The official reason Acererak would give all this information is because he's insane, and wants heroes to find him so he can steal their souls, but again Gary is giving out good hints and information. Even in the "Deadliest D&D Module of All Time" he places foreshadowing and clues.

This is a really vital point, so I'm going to repeat it. If Gary Gygax put hints and clues in the Tomb of Horrors to help his players, you should put them in your adventures too. There's really no excuse.

4. Perforated Fit

Yes, it's probably a typo, but it's in the module
This area is another that likely won't be fully explored by players on their first pass through, and for good reason. After players have spent a few characters dying in this dungeon, it becomes a secret passage that can bypass several dangerous areas. It also will not likely be found until the idea of doors at the bottom of pits is explored.

This definitely goes on the list of "Cool things most players will never find". I think it's important to have at least a few of those in every dungeon. If players feel like their exploration has yeilded them an advantage, they will be more likely to engage in the dungeon. Just make sure to balance it - when you say "you don't find anything" in a room, you want your players to trust you instead of poking every inch of the walls. Make the secrets found via unusual uses of obvious things. Perhaps the treasure is only found when the treasure chest is lifted up, not in the chest itself. That sort of thing.

5. Fork in the Road
The face that launched a thousand rage quits
Well, here it is. The infamous Green Devil Face. I was surprised to read that the devil face wasn't a Sphere of Annihilation in the first iteration of the Tomb of Horror. Instead, it was just a "lethal teleportation device" that killed the target and turned them into a zombie before moving them to another part of the dungeon. This actually sits better with me. Later in the dungeon, we find more devil faces, and they are actually teleporters in a (slightly) kinder sense. This sort of logical consistency sits better with me than creating a new magic item to account for an old trap.

The other thing to note is Gary is still giving hints out: "This whole area radiates evil and magic, both of which may be detected using appropriate spells, abilities, or devices." Gary has already made it clear that this dungeon is for a large group of characters, one of them dying to this trap wouldn't be terrible. But in a modern setting, such a trap wouldn't be as viable. And I think that is where the Tomb of Horrors gets some of its vile reputation.

Modern players might struggle to understand where to go in this first corridor. The doors are hidden. Every other way leads to death, spikey pit death, or insane lever trap death (see next section). One of them is going to brave the devil's mouth. They will declare their player crawls into it. And some DMs will let them. The emphasis on character and interaction rather than dungeon crawling becomes their downfall.
Here come dat lich
However, I think this scene can be run in a modern game. This is where you can teach the players to detect evil and magic before they do things. And for Pelor's sake, don't let someone just crawl in. Their hand would come off first. And then you can put a crawling claw in the teleportation destination rather than cruelly killing a player. Nothing wrong with that!

So, with that in mind, I think this trap, properly signaled and prepared for, can work, and actually teach the players more about Gygax's dungeon. I would keep it, and if I ran a super-dangerous lair of a Big Bad Ultraboss, I might even use it as a template for my own "If you're stupid enough to go in you deserve to die" trap.

7. Forsaken Prison

This is the last area in what I would call the "Entrance", in that it can be teleported to via the misty arch before player find the concealed door.
A puzzle without hints: another theme of this dungeon
This "prison" presents an interesting puzzle. The puzzle itself isn't too challenging, except that it could trap you in a pit after taking (on average) about 50 damage. The book also explicitly states: "If the victim can hold onto the levers for one turn, he might be able to escape falling." So I don't think this was really meant to be a deadly trap.

Instead, this room simply gives players something to do after they are teleported, while their friends are scratching their heads and starting to consider the devil's mouth. It also gave players an opportunity (though, a small one) to find a shortcut forward in the dungeon.

Now, finding the shortcut would require a very specific search in a very normal-looking area, but that also clues players into another theme of this dungeon: normal-looking things can hide secrets. And if you think that isn't something every adventurer should know, you need to go re-watch Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Now, this particular shortcut isn't too difficult to get around, and players might well miss it with little consequence. But it's there. And this is how DMs can rewards clever players or intelligent adventurers. Give them shortcuts. Give them treasure. Let them escape and come back even more prepared.
Daaaaaaal Canto Miiiiioooooooo
I think that about wraps it up for the entrances to the Tomb of Horrors. Next week, we'll go over the next big area: The Hall of Spheres. That will actually wrap up Chapter 4: Entrance Level.

The players still have a few more hints to gain and lessons to learn before they really start delving into the deep parts of the dungeon. Believe it or not, Gary is still holding back a bit.

But not for long!
An accurate representation of role-playing games
Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

PCs of Burden

On the road again
So after writing up a version of The Angry GM's travel rules last week, I have been thinking about encumbrance. See, Angry says you can use encumbrance rules, particularly the variant rules, if you want to. but i hate the idea of keeping track of weights for every dang thing I'm carrying. And If I don't want to do it, I guarantee my players won't.

So, based on some ideas I've seen elsewhere, I put together my own version of encumbrance rules. I haven't started using it yet, but I think it will be easier than dealing with individual item weights, and can actually encourage players to think about their travel situation. Do they need horses and carts? How much does a bag of holding help, really?

I'm pretty excited about it.

Encumbrance Rules
Max out strength for great potential. Gnome barbarians forever!
Your size and your strength score determine how many slots you can use to carry items. If you aren't wearing a backpack, your slots are halved, since you only have so much space on your belt, hands, and pouches.
  • Tiny: 1 slot for every 4 points of strength
  • Small: 1 slot for every 2 points of strength
  • Medium: 1 slot per 1 point of strength
  • Large: 2 slots for every 1 point of strength
  • Huge: 4 slots for every 1 point of strength
  • Gargantuan: 8-16 slots for every 1 point of strength
Your first two slots automatically go towards anything marked as a “free” slot. This includes your basic armor and weapons, as well as things you would normally wear or carry without much trouble. If you really need those last two slots, you'll have to give up your basic fighting gear and gold.

A creature with no slots (such as a tiny creature with a strength of 2) can only carry a single small item. Note that this assumes medium-sized items. Pixies and sprites, for example, can carry their clothing and equipment because it is appropriately sized.

If a character tries to push or drag an object, they can do so if it weighs less than double their remaining slots, or about 30lbs per slot. Lifting an object requires an equal amount of slots, or about 15lbs per slot.

Using Slots:

Gold, Gems, and Art objects:
Everyone gets 1 free slot for coins and gems, up to 10,000 GP in value. After that, coins and gems require 1 slot per 10kGP in value. As you'll see, this can be broken down into partial slots if needed.

Most art objects act as a small item, taking up 1/5th a slot.  Large or heavy objects (paintings, tapestries, idols, jugs, etc) take up 1 slot, and extremely large or heavy objects (thrones, idols, chariots, etc) can take up to 10 slots. Really big items (that golden statue of the Evil Overlord) can weigh anywhere from 60 to over 1000 slots.

Everyone gets 1 free slot for armor, which can also be used for clothing if armor is not being worn. Scale mail, Half plate, and all heavy armors take up an extra slot. They also take up 2 slots when carried, whereas all other armors take up a single slot. Padded armor or normal clothing counts as a small item, taking up 1/5th of a slot.

Everyone gets 3 free weapon slots, which include ammunition as long as it is in a quiver, pouch, or case. Any extra weapons take up one slot each.

Some weapons are small and can be carried more easily. In a single slot, you can carry 2 daggers, 2 handaxes, 4 javelins, or 10 darts. Also, slings and blowguns are small enough to be carried without using a slot.

A dwarf who knows his way through mountains, valleys, and the turtleneck section of Kohl's
Adventuring Gear:
Most of the items on the adventuring gear table (PHB pg. 150) counts as a small item, taking up 1/5th of a slot.

You can carry a backpack, up to 10 rings, a pair of boots, a hat, up to 10 amulets/necklaces, and any pocket-sized trinkets (from the trinket table, PHB pg. 160) without using a slot. Additionally, some objects are small enough that a group of them counts as a small item. You can use 1/5th of a slot to carry 5 candles, 3 hand bells, 3 books, 30 pieces of chalk, 2 flasks, vials, or bottles of any liquid, 10 pitons or iron spikes, 3 days of rations, 10 sheets of parchment or spell scrolls, 2 scroll cases, or 10 torches.

Also, some items can come in a set and be stored as a single small object.
  • Ink + Ink Pen + Sealing Wax
  • Lock + Key Ring
  • Whistle + String
  • Soap + mirror
  • Censer + Incense
Component pouches, holy symbols, and most arcane or druidic focuses don't use a slot. Wands or staffs used as a focus count as a weapon. Spellbooks count as normal books, so a wizard can keep two of his other favorite books with him as a small item.

Some heavy items take up an entire slot: barrels, bedrolls, buckets, chests, ladders, 10ft poles, 50ft of rope, sledgehammers, shovels, hunting traps, portable rams, and tents. However, if you are wearing a backpack, you can reduce the weight of these items to 2 small items by strapping them to the outside of the pack.
Whatever you do, don't judge your players for picking up stupid, meaningless things
Tools and Trade Goods
A set of tools or an instrument takes up 1/2 a slot. A gaming set counts as a small item. Any trade goods can be carried using a single slot for 15lbs of material. This is generally true of miscellaneous loot such as dragon scales or wolf hides that the players pick up.

Equipment Packs:
The packs should be divided up into their components and counted separately.
  • Burglar's Pack: 3 slots and 2 small items
  • Diplomat's Pack: 3 slots
  • Dungeoneer's Pack: 2 slots and 2 small items
  • Entertainer's Pack: 1 slot and 4 small items
  • Explorer's Pack: 2 slots
  • Priest's Pack: 1 slot and 2 small items
  • Scholar's Pack: 1 slot
Magic Items:
Armor/weapons: as normal
Potions/scrolls: as small items, 10 potions/scrolls take up 1/5th slot
Rings: no slot
Rods/staffs/wands: as weapons
Wondrous Items: as art object/adventuring gear equivalent
You can't tell, but that little backpack can hold 1000 slots
Creatures (weight):
Meaning, yes, you might have to have a slot open if you want your imp familiar to sit on your shoulder.
Tiny: 1 small item - 2 slots
Small: 3-7 slots
Medium: 8-12 slots
Large: 13-20 slots
Huge: 21-40 slots
Gargantuan: 41-1000 slots

Getting more Slots
His charming personality imposes quite a few slots of stress on his teammates
Now, it might seem like even a small haul from a dungeon would be beyond a party of adventurers to carry. And I agree. But how much should a person really be able to hold while they are still capable of walking and fighting? Fortunately, this is a game where gold can get you everything you ever wanted. Including the ability to carry more! But wearing multiple backpacks won't help you. Rather, you need something to help you spread out the weight burden.

Camel: 32 slots (large)
Donkey/mule: 14 slots (medium)
Elephant: 176 slots (huge)
Draft Horse: 36 slots (large)
Riding horse: 32 slots (large)
Mastiff: 6 slots (medium)
Pony: 7 slots (medium)
Warhorse: 36 slots (large)
Animal-specific items:
Barding: uses up half available slots
Bit and bridle: none
Saddle: 1 slot (2 for a huge creature's saddle)

Remember that animals require food! A medium animal eats as much as a character, whereas large animals eat twice as much and huge animals eat eight times as much. So some of what your horse will carry might be its own food.

Untrained: 5 slots
Skilled: 10 slots

Alternate title: "The Hireling's Fate"
For this, I'm using the idea that a slot equals 15 pounds of material, and that the average "passenger" weighs around 12.5 slots.
Carriage: requires 20 slots to pull, provides 50 slots
Cart: requires 5 slots to pull, provides 20 slots
Chariot: requires 5 slots to pull, provides 10 slots
Sled: requires 40 slots to pull (20 in sand/snow), provides 30 slots
Wagon: requires 30 slots to pull, provides 100 slots

Ships: (DMG pg. 119)
Airship: requires 10 skilled crew, provides 155 slots 130 slots and 20 passengers
Galley: requires 80 skilled crew, provides 20,000 slots but no room for passengers
Keelboat: requires 1 skilled crew, provides 150 slots or 75 slots and 6 passengers
Longship: requires 40 skilled crew, provides 3,500 slots or 1,500 slots and 150 passengers
Rowboat: requires 1 skilled crew, provides 40 slots or 3 passengers
Sailing Ship: requires 20 skilled crew, provides 13,500 slots or 13,250 slots and 20 passengers
Warship: requires 60 skilled crew, provides 27,500 slots or 26,750 slots and 60 passengers

Magic Items:
Apparatus of Kwalish: 30 slots or 5 slots and 2 medium passengers, weighs 10 slots
Bag of Holding: 30 slots, must be able to fit through opening, weighs 1 slot
Daern’s Instant Fortress: 1,000 slots when expanded, 0 when collapsed, counts as a small item
Heward’s Handy Haversack: 1 slot per side, 5 slots in main, counts as backpack
Immovable Rod: holds 535 slots before failing
Portable Hole: 80 slots, counts as a small item
Quiver of Ehlonna: 10 slots, limited as described by items, doesn't use up a slot

Leomund’s Secret Chest: 5 slots, tiny chest is a small item
Leomund’s Tiny Hut: 10 slots per person not inside (max 90)
Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Mansion: 1500 slots (apart from furnishings)
Rope Trick: 10 slots per person not inside (max 80)

Mundane Items:
These are really for storage only, carrying them still requires full slots for contents
Barrel: 1-5 slots
Chest: 3-7 slots

Of course, I don't expect the players to keep track of all this junk on their character sheet. That would be even more insane. Instead, I designed a small sheet, much like the spellbook sheets, that they can add to their character sheets and use separately.

In all its glory
I'll put this up on my Google Drive, you can access it here. I also included a sample of the Bag of Holding and some hirelings!

Thanks for reading!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Monday Recap: A Two Year Affair

Time for a nap...
Well, it finally happened. I finished my two-and-a-half year long storyline, involving 15 players, 6 campaign groups, and two massive all-player games.


In the spirit of my End of Evil post, this article will go over the broad strokes of the various campaigns and discuss the things I enjoyed, the things that went well, and the areas I felt were weak or could be improved.

Also, as a side note: no weekly game this week. We had a lot going on!

Orphan Quest

Half-man, half-woman, half-elf
Megan: Orianna No-One, Tiefling Rogue who loved her pet Wyvern
Jackie: Leigh, Half-elf Bard, sassy, androgynous, had the hots for nearly everyone
Tom: Keth Hilltopple, Half-halfing-half-half-orc Fighter, constantly mistaken for a goblin
Notable guest: Liz, Tom's sister: Luca Jin, a future-seeing wizard working for Garlancia's spy network

This was my first campaign using 5th edition. Wanting to see how the system functioned at different levels, I ran 12 games, starting at level 0 and ending at level 20. The characters began as children in the same orphanage, joined up with Garlancia's grassroots spy organization the Cobblestones, and traveled across the country to learn more about a strange situation with the king.

Along the way, they made enemies with the king's champion, Sebastian. He worked for the King (who was a total jerk) and killed their mentor, Hilde. They eventually found out that the King was running a war just for the sake of pitting Garlancia and their northern neighbors, Norstone, at odds. Also, the King and Sebastian were a pair of Rakshasa devils in disguise.

The campaign ended with the heroes personally going to Norstone to stop the war, getting trapped in Hell, and making a deal with Asmodeus that allowed them to escape - at the cost of Keth and Leigh's half-sister being trapped in Hell.

Multivarious D&D

Still bitter about losing that cup that turned anything into chocolate milk
Will: Kreev, Red Dragonborn Bard, former prince of his clan, fled to be a hero
Cody: Mr. Lizard, Red Dragonborn Chaos Sorcerer, brother of Kreev, hid his real name, crazy chaos magic
Laura Lee: Runa, Human Barbarian, raised by wolves, loved battle and drinking in that order
Jake: Kalara, Drow Cleric of the Raven Queen, hated undead a lot
Wes: Legolad, Elf Fighter, deadshot with a bow and really into baked goods and beauty products
Tom: Callie Hilltopple, Halfling Druid of the Sewers, unaware of her half-brother Keth
Honorary kid NPC: Torrin, a little dragonborn without a breath weapon, admired Kreev

This group formed because everyone at Multivarious Games (MVG, the video game company I write music for) wanted to play D&D. I decided to stick to a monthly game, since everyone was pretty busy, and instead of using experience, we used a system based on the tiers of play and sessions attended. The characters began by taking a job for Captain Barker of the city watch of Garton, eliminating a corrupt leader of the local thieves' guild. They kept taking jobs, growing in power and influence.

In their adventures, they got involved in all sorts of strange things: rumors of demons, dealing with an undead police force, and constantly trying to mitigate the effects of Mr. Lizard's powerful chaos magic. They became known as the C.H.A.O.S division of the city watch.

This campaign didn't end, so to speak, as much as it merged with the next campaign.

Intern Quest

Have you heard the good news about my backflipping skills?
Quinn: Rank, half-orc totem barbarian, alcoholic and back-flipper who loved his sword, File
Wade: Voronion Fael, Half-elf arcane trickster, member of the Thieves Guild of Eastcliff
Shannon: Aethryn, Tiefling Dragon Sorceress, looking to improve her fiery temper
Bria: Faelynn, Silver Dragonborn Bard, out to avenge her twin sister Faerynn, hates her dad Raavodar
Honorary kid NPC: Pity, a tiefling girl they saved from slavery, attached to Aethryn

This campaign started when the interns we had one summer at MVG complained they weren't involved with MVD&D. At the time, I just couldn't get enough D&D, so I agreed to take on a third campaign (as long as it was also monthly). The characters started by going to a cave full of Kobolds and quickly got embroiled in a massive conspiracy featuring the mysterious noble Lord Theobald, and the sinister Cult of Kam.

After they quashed the cult and revealed Lord Theobald to be a generally okay guy (when he wasn't being possessed by demons), the group traveled to Garton, fighting a rival adventuring group and getting some really weird horses along the way. They got to Garton and immediately became mixed up with the Mage's Guild, the Cobblestones, and of course, C.H.A.O.S.

This campaign didn't end, so to speak, as much as it merged with the previous campaign.

Evil Quest

Together, they ensured that at least one demon died 1000 times.
Megan: Azrae, Blind Drow Fighter, exiled worshipper of Nerull
Will: Aryte, Draconion Paladin, they tried to make him go to rehab and he said no, no, no
Quinn: Nepher, Aquatic Halfing Warlock, last survivor of his tribe, nihilistic and sociopathic
Shannon: Noxa, Centuar Druid, enslaved by humans, broke free and swore vengeance

I've already covered some of this campaign here and here, but this was my experimental campaign. The players all started off dead, and were raised by a semi-demon lord as his undead/demonic/demigod servants. We tried a lot of different playstyles, alternate challenges, and weird plot devices.

Overall, however, this campaign fit into the others simply by being a looming threat. The evil characters got extremely powerful, between power-leveling, demigod rules, extra bonuses, and additional NPCs they got to control. Meanwhile, the players were acutely aware that if their evil characters ever went to the material plane, their other heroes would die horribly.

From that perspective, it worked very well.

All-Player Game #1: A Fancy To-Do

Players love in-game parties. Fact.
This game involved all the players from Multivarious D&D and Intern Quest. They teamed up to sneak into a Cult of Kam party, and learned there were two forces at play: a contingent of demons providing resources, and the Cult of Kam, who were looking to summon their demon masters (the characters from Evil Quest).

After this game, the party split again into two groups, some of which contained new members (due to deaths, additions, and swaps).

Demon Quest

Graz'zt, the guy with the great hair
Quinn: Rank, half-orc totem barbarian, alcoholic and back-flipper who loves his sword, File
Wade: Voronion Fael, Half-elf arcane trickster, looking to avenge his Mentor (eaten by demons)
Shannon: Aethryn, Tiefling Dragon Sorceress, looking to improve her fiery temper
Wes: Legolad, Elf Fighter, deadshot with a bow and really into baked goods and beauty products
Bria: Faelynn, Silver Dragonborn Bard, out to avenge her twin sister Faerynn, hates her dad Raavodar
Tom: Callie Hilltopple, Halfling Druid of the Sewers, there's demons in them thar sewers
Jake: Floris, Human Paladin, captain of the city watch, running this investigation

I wrote a bit about this campaign here and here. Basically, they were in charge of hunting down the contingent of demons. They investigated corrupt nobles, beat up some gangs, and headed to Breaddington, home to the best baked goods in Garlancia. Along the way, they lost some good folks, but ended up defeating Drogen, the leader of the demons, and closing the portal she had snuck through.

Cult Quest
Who's throwing shade? Spit it out!
Will: Kreev, Red Dragonborn Bard, former prince of his clan, fled to be a hero
Cody: Mr. Lizard, Red Dragonborn Chaos Sorcerer, brother of Kreev, hides his real name, crazy chaos magic
Matt: Re'lar, Tiefling Wizard, former member of the Mage's Guild of Garton
Cait: Caitness, Elf Fighter (Archer), she wants to be the very best, from a distant land
Michelle: Nerithya Finzerwin, Half-drow Rogue, former member of the cult who defected
Laura Lee: Runa, Human Barbarian, raised by wolves, loves battle and drinking in that order
Megan: Zovira, Red Dragonborn Fighter, aunt of the dragonbros, here to take them home but helping out in the meantime
Wade: Luth, Human Rogue, rescued from the streets by Voronion, joined up with the group
Jake: Floris, Human Paladin, captain of the city watch, running this investigation
NPC: Oddmund, a shield guardian who belongs to Nerithya, has a smile painted on his face

I wrote about the last game of this campaign here. This group was responsible for staying in Garton and stamping out the Cult of Kam. They fought some gangs as well, busted the Cult's headquarters, and in their last big game wrapped up plots involving the Mage's Guild, the gangs, and the King (all the way back from Orphan Quest!).

All-Player Game #2: Ritual Busters

My name is Thron Magnus, and this is my first time at Cultists Anonymous
This game involved all the players from Demon Quest and Cult Quest. As the folks from Demon Quest returned to the city, the Cult managed to finally get its ritual to start, and the players had to hustle across the city to stop it. Faelynn's dad Raavodar showed up and was generally unpleasant. Pity and Torrin did their best to help. Luth got some good intel.

In the end, the players were victorious. The King gave each of them a title, a promise to house them as long as they remained in the city, and hero treatment by the populous. They each went their various ways, some to continue the fight against the next great quest, others to retire or seek smaller adventure.

The Long Game: Thoughts

Things that Worked:

Fun and meaningful NPCs: Some of them were meant to be made fun of, like Gary the City Watch Accountant. Some of them were meant to make a connection then die heroically, like Hilde. Some turned into much more than they were intended, such as Oddmund. Some were just cute, like Pity and Torrin. But overall, there were a lot of good NPCs in the game.

Session 0's: had these for a few of the campaigns. It's a good way to bring the group together without making them scared for losing their character. However, I know there are DMs out there who would play this exactly the opposite... with session 0 just there to kill off level 0 characters until your level 1 character appeared.

Long-running plots: Using the rule of 3 Why's, I was able to dig pretty deep into the plot and had things to reveal all the way up until the final games. One player even had an item (which he had totally forgotten to label) which gave away major plot that he got in game 1. I thought this went very well, and I had a few involved players who enjoyed theory-crafting on the plot. There are also a couple groups who want to continue their plots forward!

Slack and Doodle: I know a lot of DMs use Roll20, Discord, Google Hangouts, and Skype to organize and run their games, but I think that if you have a group of players in the same general location, nothing beats organizing games on Slack and Doodle. These tools were lifesavers and literally changed the face of a few of my campaigns.

Things that Needed Work:
Get it? Because it's a forge? Yeah.
Group size: I'm becoming increasingly convinced that four players is the perfect group size for D&D 5e. Three is decent but can lead to one player being excluded or taking complete control. Five and Six are doable but usually someone gets lost in the mix and combat starts to bog down. Seven and up just lead to sluggish gameplay and difficultly in table control. Not to mention that in my later games, some players had nearly zero plot due to having to spread my plot among lots of players.

Play Time: Meeting once a month made for interesting games. It was hard to keep a consistent schedule, players weren't prepared for a "regular" game length and many games were four hours or less, and we regularly had people drop due to busy lives, illness, or schedule shifts. Fortunately, the structure of the campaign kept things "mission-based", meaning people could drop out of a game and catch up on Slack. The downside of that is they then had two months of not playing to forget rules and plot. Even those who made it every month would often forget plots that happened to their characters.

Rest and Recovery: Another issue with playing short, story-focused games infrequently is one of rest and recovery. D&D assumes that the players have about six combats per day, of challenge varying easy to hard. However, with so many players, combats ended up taking a full hour apiece, and I couldn't possibly have more than two or three a session. There's no way we could have gone through a day of story in two months of play. So, I defaulted to making those two combats very difficult. There's nothing wrong with that, but it lead to some very anti-climactic boss fights and overly-climactic minion skirmishes. I think I might try out the alternate ruleset in the DMG (pg. 267) where a short rest is 8 hours and a long rest is 7 days. That would allow me to get through 2 weeks of plot instead of 24 hours, and I can lower the challenge level of the combats to something more manageable.


Time to tune up my games...
I'm very happy with how the game turned out and that the players were interested enough to stick with it for so long. I need to seriously consider how I'm going to run campaigns in the future, though, because at the moment I can't see my players moving down to weekly sessions. Maybe bi-weekly. Maybe.

I learned a lot about how the structure of your sessions changes the type of story you are able to tell. In retrospect, this makes a lot of sense, since a movie tells a different type of story than a comic (looking at you, Zach Snyder), and a weekly long session can get through a lot more plot/dungeon than a monthly session with limited time.

The last thing I want to end with is a tribute to the characters who fell in the course of the adventure. This is PCs only - many good NPCs such as Hilde and Captain Barker also met their end.

Fallen Heroes
"Avenge me!"

Faerynn of Clan Druuga
Dragonborn druid, daughter of Ravodaar, loved adventure
Fell to Kranky the Kobold Kaptain

"Someone has to keep you lot alive"
Dark elf cleric, worshipper of the Raven Queen, tried to be matronly
Fell to Mu-Aquibatt, demon librarian
"I shoot him in the crotch while stabbing him."
Voronion Fael
Half-elf rogue, deeply connected to the thieves guild, tried to keep it going in Garton.
Fell to Drogen, demon general
"You have got to try these muffins!"
Wood elf fighter, loved beauty products and baked goods, master archer
Sold himself to Graz'zt in exchange for magical shampoo

To those who follow the blog, thanks for reading!

To all my players, thanks for putting up with scheduling headaches and odd hours to play D&D. I look forward to our future adventures, especially the ones I get to play in!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Delving into the Tomb of Horrors: Setting the Stage

Meet Acererak, with his sidekicks Turkey-Kenku and Uni-Orc!
Welcome back to Delving into the Tomb of Horrors. Today I'll be covering chapter 3, "Setting the Scene", which goes into the background of the adventure and give the players some hints about what to expect.

Before we dig in, I just wanted to point out how nice it is to see not one but two chapters dedicated to events and preparation to be done before the adventure. This is another thing that modern modules need to do better. Curse of Strahd and Storm King's Thunder show that Wizards of the Coast is in the loop, but the 3rd party modules (I'm looking at you, Out of The Abyss) have a long way to go. Gary gives a great example here, and it would be wise to follow in his footsteps.

Tomb of Horrors: Setting the Stage
I want YOU! die horribly for my amusement
This section starts with a short paragraph describing where the setting could be placed in the world of Greyhawk, Gary Gygax's original campaign setting. Surprisingly, even in his home world the Tomb doesn't have a single set location. He offers six choices, and gives guidelines on placing the dungeon in other settings.

This is very nice to me as a DM, because if I was running a game in Greyhawk, I could run a game in the Bright Desert (option 3) and not have to worry about my level-2 PCs stumbling upon this location. Good stuff.

Backgrounds, Legends, and Rumors

Now, here's the real meat of the adventure. Gary lays out who Acererak is, how he made the Tomb, and the reasoning behind some of the traps and puzzles within it. He also provides a fantastic narrative that learned scholars would relay as the "Legend of the Tomb", and rumors and riddles that could help the players.
Though he be little, he is fierce...
We start with the background section. This reads more like information that the DM would need to know, not the players. I would use some of this if the players rolled high on a Legend Lore spell or if they were somehow able to view back in time to the creation of the tomb.

However, I think some of the background information, like Acererak's soul roaming the planes and the magical effects of the keys within the tomb, is simply placed here because there wasn't anywhere else to put it. Now, I would be very cautious to hand out such information to the players, but in this context I think it's important to include here at the beginning.

For a example of the effects of the opposite approach, I'd like to use what I consider a great plot within the Curse of Strahd module. Without spoiling too much, there is a site of ancient evil that the characters can travel to. Of course, it is far out of the way of civilization, so how do the players get there? How do they even hear about it? To find the plot, the DM must read a character description in a completely different area, and connect that information with a short bio in the back of the book. Essentially, unless the Dungeon master realizes that this NPC is a quest-giver, they could miss an entire plotline. They could even tell their players there is cool treasure in the site of ancient evil and miss out on they NPC who gives them a role-playing reason to go there. If that plot had been laid out in the front of the book, along with the main storyline, perhaps people could more easily see how the threads of the adventure tie together. I've read quite a few reviews that complain about "buried plotlines" in that particular module.
Acererak is an "All Dungeons, no Dragons" type of guy
The "Legend of the Tomb" section is great, and I'm actually going to print it here, just because it sets the tone of the adventure so well. This is how legends of ancient evil should sound.
Somewhere under a lost and lonely hill of grim and foreboding aspect lies a labyrinthine
crypt. To slay the unwary and uninvited, it is filled with terrible traps and not a few strange and ferocious monsters. They guard rich treasures, both precious and magical.

Be warned that the tomb was built by the demi-lich Acererak, who still wards his final

haunt. This being is said to be possessed of powers that make him nearly undefeatable. By all accounts, it is quite unlikely that any adventurers ever find the chamber where his

bones lie, for the passages and rooms of the Tomb are fraught with terrible traps, poison
gases, and magical protections. Furthermore, Acererak has so well hidden his crypt that even those who avoid the pitfalls are not likely to locate it.
Parties large and well-prepared have boasted that they would relieve his tomb of its treasure, but these have not been heard of since they set off. Thus, only the bravest and strongest should even consider the attempt, and if they do locate the Tomb, they must be prepared to fail.

Note that even here, Gary is giving out hints. Breaking it down, the players know:
  • They should expect traps
  • The final boss is a Demi-Lich
  • They should expect poison gas, magical traps, and pitfalls (literally)
  • The final room will require careful searching to find
  • It's going to be a very difficult adventure
This goes even further in the "Rumors and Riddles" section. Some of them continue to set the tone, but there are a lot of good hints to help the players avoid instant death as well.
  1. "Look not into the eyes of the Tomb of Acererak" can obviously refer to the eyes of the Demi-Lich himself, but also provides hints to the true entrance to the tomb. The "Eyes" are on either side of the real tomb, and they are both death traps.
  2. "The wise use wits / All others die / In Lich's Tomb / Beneath the sky" This riddle again sets the tone to emphasize the "brains over brawn approach needed for the tomb.
  3. "Acererak still wanders the passages of his tomb, setting traps to kill the unwary." Though technically not true, this reveals a key part of the Tomb: the traps reset if you leave the tomb.
  4. "The Keys you need / They you must use / Unlock the Door / Surprise you lose" Keys are important to this dungeon, both for the players and for Acererak. The keys cause Acererak's spirit to return to the treasure chamber, setting up the final encounter.
  5. "A vorpal blade or sharpness carry / If against the lich you venture / Forget or shatter by the wary / Holy spells for this adventure" is a good way to let the players know what sort of magic they will need to use on Acererak. Note that this riddle contradicts Gary's advice to withhold this information from your players. I think he meant for these riddles to be found in order, increasing in difficulty, so only the most savvy of heroes would know exactly what items they needed to bring.
  6. "Her call your ship to rock walls break. / Your call her help your fortune make." This riddle hints at one of the best brain-teasers in the adventure, a Siren that Acererak has captured and uses to torment the adventurers. Again, I think this was only meant to be available to the heroes who deeply investigated the Tomb before entering.
But nothing about this guy, HUH, GARY?
I really enjoyed this section, and in a modern game I would even email or message the "Legend of the Tomb" to my players before the game. It's a great addition.

Starting Play

Interestingly, it tells where Gary himself set the Dungeon at Origins I. It was in a swamp that was only accessible by barges.
Actual art for this area. Slightly off-color, much like Gary's sense of humor
We get the first boxed text of the adventure, describing a medium-sized plateau with skull-like rocks planted in the top. Perhaps this is hitting the nail on the head a bit hard, but this is old school D&D, when that sort of obvious imagery hadn't been played out as much. If I ran this, I might keep the obvious metaphoric imagery just to invoke the Old-School feel, when every dungeon had a monster-mouth shaped entrance and you could reasonably expect to fight and kill every creature in an entire dungeon.

Now that the stage is set, we can finally start delving into the Tomb itself! Next week, we'll take a look at the entrance(s) to the dungeon, and how you can make a group of players consider deicide within an hour of starting your game.

Thanks for reading!