Saturday, December 29, 2012

Christmas Loot DM's Notebook

My wife listened to me well and got me an awesome present this Christmas.  She bought me two really nice large blank unlined hardcover notebooks with sturdy bindings to use for my DM's notes. She got my name inscribed on the front and a dark brick red cover that reminds me of some old textbooks I have.  I usually scribble my notes in random lined notebooks, on graph paper or in art notebooks.  None of those typically hold up well in my backpack as they are used heavily for a year.  My usual DM's notebooks are a tattered wreck by the time I fill them up and move on to the next one.  These feel really solid, the binding looks great and the book opens up rather nicely.

The stats:  168 pages, cover dimensions: 13 3/4" x 9 1/8" x 7/8", inside page dimension:  13 1/2" x 8 7/8"

Here is the new book open to my first page of notes, with my other active notebook of standard size paper open on top of it for comparison.

Here is the book closed with the regular notebook closed for comparison.
Here is the binding from the outside.

After I fill up these two she is going to buy me new and different ones, so from here on out I will have an awesome collection of my DMs notes, well bound in sturdy hardcover.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Let it fly for all to see

One of my favorite DMs tricks is to make a quick decision as to the probabilities of some possible outcomes facing the party and then convert that into a dice roll that I do in front of everyone, clearly stating the parameters of the throw before letting it fly.  This is of course an alternative to simply deciding what happens and then narrating the events to the players.  It is part of my collaborative world-building philosophy of DMing.  Vocalizing the possible outcomes and throwing in plain view makes the moment of suspense as the dice roll across the table a shared moment between the players and the DM, instead of that awkward moment behind the screen as the dice are thrown and interpreted in inscrutable mystery.  Plus it eliminates the compulsion to "cheat" and ignore the behind the screens dice throw :)

Often I introduce far worse possible consequences than I would have comfortably decided upon by fiat, cushioned by the unlikelihood of rolling that nat 20 for the outlier result.  I have had d100 rolls to end the universe, and d20 rolls to blow up the entire party to smithereens.  For the random rolls that contain truly horrific outcomes I delight in making a party member do the actual rolling.  So you want to take the time-travelling hummingbird-masked sorcerer up on his dare and jump into the lava tube down to the magma chamber like he did?  You plan to replicate the complex ritual he did with his bad hummingbird self as he fell and jump into an existence outside of time and space like he did?  If you roll a 1 you are going to be dead with no possibility of a raise and all your equipment will be lost.  You still have a chance to chicken out... roll a d20...

During the last session of the 4e game I run I had several out-in-public rolls involving a rift to the future and a robotic incursion into a sacred grove in a volcanic crater.

16 or higher, more of the future robot mining machine comes through the time rift, 15 or lower, it stays put.  

10 or higher, the time rift to the future grows wider, lower than 10 it shrinks.

1-3, the robot dragonfly shoots a missile at Beautiful Bob, 4-6 at Hammer.  (I like d6 throws for determining who in the party gets attacked.  Always have.)

I am sad to say that I used my nightly d30 roll for the first example last session and did not manage a 16 or higher (to my chagrin).

Likewise I failed to roll a 10 or high on a plain ole d20 attempt at the second example.

Next time, my pretties!

Friday, December 14, 2012

One Disappointed Hobbit

I went to my first midnight movie screening last night, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, with my wife, sister-in-law, and sister-in-law's fiancee.  The experience itself was enjoyable and mildly exciting, with a long line stretching out into the parking lot even though we had shown up 30 minutes earlier than our screening time.   We waited out in the cold with all the other excited midnight moviegoers.   The staff of the movie theater was abuzz, all hands on deck, managers walking around in suits coordinating the lines, the popcorn machines hardly pumping out enough to satiate the hungry mob.
"Good Looking Dwarf" Numero Uno

And then the movie happened.  I didn't have high expectations after learning the story of the Hobbit had been split into three movies, but I was still very disappointed.  I think my malcontent started the second the first of the "good looking" dwarves showed up, peaked with Radagast the Brown's entire run in the movie and then just sort of ended with a whimper when I could have given a shit if every one of the dwarves somehow managed to jump from tree to falling tree and finally skydive to the safety of the soaring eagles below or not.

There were highlights for sure, the beautiful landscape of the middle earth being chief among them for me.  Gollum was beautiful to look at and matched my childhood imaginings eerily well.  But the story they chose to tell here really was not the Hobbit that I remember.

I guess I will have to watch it again when it does not end at 3 AM and give it a fair shake.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

How I DM in 30 Words

Throw a lot of hooks out there.  Whichever ones get sniffed by the PCs, throw a few more hooks out related to those ones.  Write 'em down.  Rinse and repeat.

The key is to really make sure it is a LOT of hooks that you throw out initially, and then like a hydra you throw out five new ones whenever one old one is chased down.  The rest is all details.  When the PCs decide to attack something related to one of the hooks, then combat happens.  When the PCs decide to investigate a hook, you get to improvise some more hooks based on that one.  Write them down.  Don't worry about trying to make them awesome, or trying to make them make sense.  The PCs will figure out inter-connections that you could never have dreamed of.  And you know what?  The improvised hooks you throw out there all come from your imagination... they have a shared heritage... chances are they are inter-connected in ways that you are not fully aware of consciously.  They are informed by your own unique DMing lifeblood and should be trusted.

Outside of sessions, D&D is a fun strategic wargame of the mind as you spin out possible scenarios for what is happening outside of the PC's control in the world.  You should have a lot of hooks dangling out there, and many of them will be swinging out of sight and mind of the party.  But as long you let the PCs keep chasing after hooks of their own volition, you have to respect where that chase may take them, and trust in your ability to improvise some fun details.

My 4e game started in a new-world setting, with the Forgotten Realms being the colonizing power to the west.  The east shore of the new world was a narrow rainless desert overshadowed by an impenetrably steep and high mountain range that ran north-south down the entire continent and had thwarted all past attempts at crossing.  A fertile river valley had recently been discovered on the desert coast and the first expeditions found gold in the streams in great quantities.  The PCs arrived on a ship mostly full of slaves destined for the mines and found a port settlement decimated with a plague the settlers called the "white death".  I threw out a bunch of hooks and the PCs have been merrily wreaking havoc ever since.

Rinse and Repeat for three years, and the party has spent as much time in alternate dimensions, on alien planets, creating alternate timelines, and utilizing altered states of awareness as they have spent in the jungle, and they have loved every minute of it. I have had my work cut out for me keeping up with the directions they chase my leads off in, and I continually surprise myself with how well it all works out and connects with itself when I look back at the whole that has been constructed between the players and myself during this game.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


I have always been fascinated by pterosaurs.  I loved all manner of dino-critters when I was a wee lad, memorizing the names of several bookfulls before I was in kindergarten.  It's probably no surprise that I like to stick dinosaurs into the RPGs that I preside over even if genre and convention would dictate otherwise.  As soon as the PCs in my 4e game crossed the great mountain range and descended into the seemingly endless jungle beyond, they ran into a group of allosaurus.  When they first encountered the volcanic island  at the confluence of the of the major tributary rivers of the Zamonas, they saw winged dinosaurs soaring on the thermals overhead (yes, I know that pterosaurs are not actually dinosaurs, but come on).

I get to geek out on dinosaurs this week in my prep work for my 4e game, because the players time jumped into the past at the end of last session.  As far as I am concerned, if your PCs time travel into the past, there better be some dinosaurs on the other side.  Conveniently I just bought myself a cool book on dinosaurs which I am going to spend the evening looking through, but first I did some internet searches on pterosaurs.

Often Google image searches of real life monsters like pterosaurs or deep sea critters yield some incredible results.  Feast your eyes on this awesomeness (image lifted from this website about pterosaur flight).  It is a dimorphodon.

I ended up sketching the dimorphodon picture in my game notes, along with a Quetzalcoatlus (the largest pterosaur ever discovered, with a wingspan that may have stretched greater than 30').  Then my wife got home from work and colored my pen and ink sketches, so I figured I should upload the end result.


Fire Breathing Pterosaur

I added a bit of a Pelican like pouch to the beak, because this is the ancestor of the dragons of my world.  A colony of chemosynthetic, heat-resistant bacteria live in and coat the inside of the beak, digesting minerals that the Quetzalcoatlus scoops into the beak-pouch and emitting a flammable gas as a by-product which is stored in special sacks along the neck.  The heat-resistant bacteria also coat the gizzard, and the fire-breathing pterosaur swallows live embers and keeps them in the gizzard until blowing them out mixed with the gas to form a fiery blast. 


Killer Toothed Pterosaur

My wife thinks her version is colored "much more realistically" than the original artist's.  She does have a lot of experience handling raptors so maybe I will believe her. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Library of the Bati-Bati Temple

The players in my 4e game recently looted a temple's library.  Most of the literature was inscribed on clay tablets and stacked on massive stone shelves, with a few smaller wood shelves of papyrus and vellum scrolls in bone tubes.  The party webbed all the contents of the shelves securely and then put shelves and all in pocket dimensions that they created for that purpose.  Showing uncommon foresight, they recorded the relative positioning of the shelves before they stowed them in hyperspace.  They literally looted the library, which made my mental jaw drop and led to some very fun DM's prepwork as I told them I would have to get back to them on the exact contents of the library.

Before the party jumped into the future to fight a vampire, they left an NPC (Wa' Halia, an escaped slave from the Temple of the Bull in Siss-Anor who had been trained as a scribe and librarian for the temple library, picked up by the party a few sessions earlier) with the task of cataloging the contents of the library.  Luckily, Wa' Halia was a ritual caster who actually had both the ability to read the various languages of the collection and experience as a librarian, so she is going to have a detailed report for the party... which I told the players I would just post on my blog for them between sessions. 

This is the third library I have tossed hints of to the party, but the first that they had physically encountered (let alone looted).  They had previously heard about the sunken temple city of Adamaskas with its great library maintained by monks preserving the early records of the seven city states and the library of the Temple of the Bull in Siss-Anor (the temple they heard about a long time ago but it was not until a few sessions ago when I introduced Wa'Halia that they learned about the library at the temple, the second largest library of the coastal city-states).

The Library of the Bati-Bati Temple

Wa'Halia's report:  

Not entirely what I would expect from a library from the late temple era (12,000-10,000 YA), the bulk of the collection is written in an ancestral form of the modern tongue and inscribed in clay in the temple style of the old river god civilizations.  One peculiarity of the temple collection is that nearly all the tablets are circular.  Some of the subject matter is unusual in general but perfectly in keeping with the dedication of the temple to the Bati-Bati and the worship of the dark gods of death and transformation.  The collections of astronomy might even exceed those held in Adamaskas, long believed by most knowledgeable sages to be the greatest collection of celestial knowledge ever assembled.  Very unusual for a late temple era library are what appear to be archaeological collections of the earliest languages preserved in clay in the region (~40,000-35,000 YA), even including tablets dedicated to gods ideologically opposed to the death and transformation gods.  One set of tablets appear to be alien in origin, the composition of the materials is unknown to me and the engravings change as the tablets are rearranged.

Works Concerning the Gods of Death and Transformation:  Huana-Hatle, god of were animals and death; Supay, ruler of the underworld and horned demons; and Ilamatecuhtli, aged goddess of earth, death and the galaxy whose roar signaled war.  Each god is represented in the collection by several different epic histories, some of which appear to have been collected from earlier inhabitants of the region judging by language differences and inscribing style; prayers and hymns;  and detailed instructions concerning every aspect of all associated ceremonies and sacrifices.

History of the Bati-Bati:  Known incursions of the Bati-Bati into this reality; a record of every lunar eclipse related to Bati-Bati activity; descriptions of the mind-warping abilities of the Bati-Bati; various legends linking the Bati-Bati to the gods of death and transformation; symbology of the Bati-Bati; descriptions of several journeys into Bati-Bati reality by the priesthood over the years; detailed anatomical notes of the physiology of the Bati-Bati.

Histories of the Priesthood and Temple: (1/4 of the collection by volume) Dates of birth and death of the priests; calendar roll of all ceremonies and sacrifices, major and minor, through the years; individual biography tablets detailing major life events of important priests, updated throughout their lifetime; ranks of the undead priests (dating the beginning of the undead priesthood tradition at this temple to 11,130 YA); and genealogies of the troll breeding programs (which interestingly begin in the earliest days of the temple and continued uninterrupted until the collapse of the island civilization).  Notable individual biography tablets include: Epunamun, great statesman and warrior who entered the church after a career in the army commanded by the kings of the island; Anhanga, who came to fame as a necromancer and instituted the tradition of the head priest joining his predecessors upon death in an undead council that shared power with the living head priest; Maricanchi, who rose from obscurity with a series of prophetic dream revelations and ended up being sponsored first by Epunamun and later by Anhanga while creating the star chamber, dream tablet and the dimension shifting properties of the temple from instructions he received while dreaming; Trumak the Keeper of the Chamber, an outsider to the temple who succeeded Maricanchi as master of the star chamber and dream tablet and created the ritual separation of all star chamber operations from the temple proper; and Mamagal, an otherwise seemingly minor figure from the early priesthood whose prophesies were uncommonly accurate, who I had previously identified as being the same author as Maricanchi because of a very unusual and characteristic way of inscribing date characters that marked the prophesies of both men (this stood out enough to me while I was looking through the collection of prophesies that I am now puzzled to note that Mamagal and Maricanchi apparently lived nearly 800 years apart but wrote in an identical style).

Astrological and Astronomical Collections: (1/2 of the collection by volume) Celestial observations and predictions of the early priesthood from 12,000-11,130 YA, reflecting a two dimensional understanding of constellations as seen from a surface perspective but a very accurate understanding of the motions of the planets, eclipses, comets and meteor showers; and the staggering output of the newly founded college of astronomy after the introduction of the shadow table and the star chamber paved the way for a three dimensional understanding of every star's relative position to each other and the world (11,130 YA - 10,000 YA).

Epunamun's Edicts:  A series of broad sweeping reforms authored by Epunamun, these edicts centralized power within the church into the hands of a head priest, set limits on the powers of the council of elders, specified allowable uses of tithe received by the temple and mandated certain portions be set aside for a variety of purposes; mandated early childhood education within the priesthood, established several colleges, raised an army, established protocols for training officers, and authorized the church to aggressively convert neighboring tribes into tribute paying worshipers of the temple.

Anhanga's Necromantic and Animating Collections:  Copies pressed from originals in the Adamaskas collection, easily identifiable by the characteristic angular Adamaskan characters, reproducing the necromantic and animating knowledge of the early (25,000 - 20,000 YA) and middle temple period (20,000 - 12,000 YA, prior to the last meander of the Zamonas river); papyrus copies of several notable dissertations submitted by sorcerers to the council of the lich kings including Manu Jablitu's famous treatise arguing that certain metals found on alien planets in alternate realities could enable animation of far larger structures with far less expenditure of power than held possible by the lich kings (these dissertations and many others are often referenced in texts held at the Temple of the Bull but all known copies outside of Adamaskas were destroyed 10,000 YA after the collapse of the old temple system); three studies commissioned by Anhanga on the monumental architecture of the middle temple period, focusing on the temple complex surrounding Kariki-Kalos and two other temple complexes built around imprisoned godbeasts in the jungle; and a collection of advanced necromantic rites authored by Anhanga himself.

Prophesies:  A collection of predictions and dates, on subjects ranging from rainfall and propitious times to conceive a child to the ultimate collapse of the universe.  The priests did not foresee the calamitous downfall of the island civilization.  Early prophesies are inscribed on two sides of a tablet, with two possible date readings.  Prophesies made with the aid of the star chamber (11,130 YA - 10,000 YA) have only one possible date reading.

Nightmares:  A collection of recurring nightmares endured by leading undead priests.

Alchemical Collection:  Recipes for potions and poisons; instructions for the transmutation of metals and the creation of alloys, reflecting what appears to be a more advanced understanding of metallurgy than presently found in the empire.  This collection is etched on gold plated copper tablets.

Anatomical and Herbal Notes and Drawings:  A rather extensive illustrated herbal of jungle plants and anatomical drawings of humans and animals.  The organs and vital points are given names that clearly place the origin of these works with the Gadoro Temple.  These are the only vellum scrolls in the collection and great care was taken in their creation.  Epunamun's seal was unbroken on the ivory tubes.

Archaeological Collections:  A collection of what appear to be artifacts from the ancestral populations of the jungle lowlands, including: Clay tablets; ceramic pottery; wood, stone and bone tools and weapons; beads of many materials; masks; feathered headresses; feathered capes; and penis gourds.

Gaming Artifact for submission to the D&D Library of the Future:
My original page of notes about this library (this page also contains some gameplay notes in the right margin from the session the players looted the library) 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Guachimines "Guacamole" Left Hand of the Keeper and the Jump to the Future

The players in my 4e game surprised me last session by deciding to track a fleeing vampire into the jungle rather than deal with any number of what I had figured would be seen as more pressing matters.  They had ended the previous session at one of those crossroads moments when they had just wrapped up one little mission and had a wide open decision about what to do next.  I try not to over prepare as a DM in these situations because you never know what the party is going to do, but I figured they were most likely to either cash in on the offer to be introduced to Ruskus and his band of River Dragons that was made by the defeated slaver a few sessions ago (and learn more about another aspect of the fractured river deity), visit their connections in the city of Siss-Anor (to learn more about the activities of the snake men) or investigate the ruined dungeons left behind when Manu Jibleetu blasted off into space in his twisted tower.

So of course they decide to chase after a vampire that they didn't even know about until two sessions ago and who has really never done anything to the party, or even done anything to make himself a logical target.  He just existed, and he was a vampire, and he ran away, and apparently that was enough to make the party chase him.  His name is Guachimines and his title is Left Hand of the Keeper, but the party has been calling him "Guacamole" and I even found myself calling him Guacamole a few times last session when I wasn't being careful.  Guachimines was created by Trumak, the Keeper of the Chamber, who was defeated by the party two sessions ago and his consciousness trapped in a blood gem.

The party knew Guachimines was originally from the head-hunting tribes that lived in the foothills of one of the Zamonas' major tributary rivers, and figured he might be heading back to his old homeland.  At first they were just going to fly the hovercraft over to the hills and find his home village and poke around there before he showed up, but eventually they figured out that they could track him directly through his connection to his master Trumak, even though Trumak was mostly destroyed and what remained was bound inside the gem.

The party eventually caught up to Guachimines and his group (Guachimines had several vampire thralls and 18 abducted river worshipers with him that he had transformed into a flock of bats and flown off with) about 50 miles from the confluence and discovered that they had arrived about a half hour too late to keep Guachimines from jumping into the future.  An uneasy standoff with the vampire thralls ended surprisingly with a decision to parlay with Ibi Shadowhands, the leader of the thralls.  Most of the vampire thralls had one arm that ended in a large metal flamethrower, but both of Ibi's arms ended in shadow appendages intended to make him a more formidable ritual caster.  When Guachimines jumped into the future the vampire thralls suddenly found themselves free willed and masterless for the first time.  Ibi turned out to be a somewhat sympathetic character and the party, after much debating, decided to spare the lives of the thralls and task them with rebuilding the Badi-Badi temple that the party had just destroyed, minus the complex shadow circuitry.  This pleased the thralls, who had been members of the temple in life and then had spent thousands of years of undeath assisting in the rites of the chamber.  I think this also helped appease Tilia a little bit about the decision to spare their lives, because Tilia had been upset that the rest of the party destroyed the temple while she was lucid dreaming on the shadow table trying to figure out more about the temple's past and purposes.

After investigating the bloody ritual sacrifice of the 18 worshipers and the intricate pattern of entrails left behind by the time jumping vampire, Beautiful Bob called on the restless spirits of the recently slaughtered to help the party follow the vampire into the future.  He succeeded wildly and the session ended a little early with me saying that I wanted to make sure I was fully prepared for the awesome encounter that was sure to follow.

You see, even though the party was almost an hour behind Guachimines when they too jumped into the future, they are going to arrive at the exact same instant of time as Guachimines does... and he will have no idea they are coming.  Guachimines will have the advantage of terrain, having jumped into his secret future lair, but the party will have the element of surprise.

This is going to be fun.

There was some amusing back and forth before the jump as the party instructed Curious George (their sentient magical hovercraft) to "meet them in the future" but not tell them about anything their past selves said after they came back from the future.  That way, they told me, Curious George wouldn't influence the events in the future present and they could come back to the proper past.

Ah, I love time travel.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Five Minute Friday Map

This is my first Five Minute Friday Map, inspired by this meme on Google+.

It is a cross section of a spherical mini-dungeon.  The PCs start in the center, teleporting or gating or dimensional shifting or somesuch to arrive there in the first place.  There is a large window that looks out over a gap to a much larger window opening into a lush garden chamber lit from above.  The light that comes out the window of the garden room is the only illumination inside the structure, providing indirect lighting all around the central opening.  The only door out of the start room opens onto a log bridge over a gap.  A demon beast of some variety is lurking below out of sight.  Roll 1d6 1: Giant Demon Porcupine 2: Two Headed Demon Wolf with Human Hands 3: Demon Bear 4: Giant Demon Spider 5: Giant Demon Toad with Toothed Tongue 6: Demon Minotaur with Battle Axe from Hell

The light source is a miniature sun that hangs in the air in the middle of the room above the Garden Room.  It does not produce heat but inflicts 2d6 damage per round to anything inserted into it, melting metal in 2d6 rounds.  

All of the plants, bushes and trees in the Garden are contained in large ceramic pots glazed with magical symbols.  They are a rare mixture of medicinal and poisonous herbs, trees bearing magical fruit and bushes with shadow berries useful for summoning dark creatures.  Both the pots and the plants radiate magic.

Defeating the Demon Beast causes a portal to open up in the Start chamber that leads back to wherever the PCs came from.  This portal will remain open for 2d20+4 rounds.  It will begin flickering with blue light when 5 rounds remain.

The chambers directly above the start chamber are a wizard's comfortably furnished living room appointed with indestructible lounge couches and low tables (lower chamber with two doors and a ladder to a trapdoor above)

and a wizard's mostly looted and totally ransacked laboratory/library with a secret door to the wizard's back door, a teleportation chamber.

The secret chamber below the demon beast contains the magical machinery that generates the light source, controls the humidity of the garden chamber and links with the magical pots to keep the plants in perfect health, and summons a new beast automatically 1d4 days after the death of the last

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Dwimmermount Doesn't Suck

Dwimmermount doesn't suck from my perspective as a player.  I played in a play by post Dwimmermount game run by James M. a while back at   I responded to an open invite James made on his blog.  This was before Google+ existed in all its free multi-person video chat glory.

I played Kersa Duer, female goblin thief and shit stirrer (we were Group 2 if you actually check out the posts on the odd74.proboards).  I had a lot of fun and I think the group as a whole was having fun before James completely dissapeared without even a goodbye post.  Just like Joe the Lawyer  et al we were exploring the 1st level of Dwimmermount coming in the main entrance.  We found a secret door and an alchemist's workship and before that we tangled with metal infused skeletons that were guarding a door, and we found a metal disk that was a key in the secret room, and it fit in the door...

Level 8 Warlock
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Whipping Boy


Joined: Dec 2007
Gender: Male 
Posts: 812
Location: The Echo Chamber
Karma: 25
 Re: [GROUP 2] Beyond the Door
« Reply #78 on Sept 29, 2009, 10:29am »

Sept 28, 2009, 12:00pmcarlnash wrote:
"Pull boys! Pull! Lets see them ignore this!"

Whether for good or ill, the lead skeletal warrior springs to life as the noose lands around his neck and you pull on it. His companions then do the same, all twelve of them rushing forward in battle formation, clanking of they go.

Clanking -- that's the odd thing about the skeletons before you: they make too much noise for the armor they are wearing, especially as their feet are not shod with sabatons. Looking more carefully at the skeleton you have ensnared and pulled closer into the light of your torches and lanterns, you see that its bones are shot through with a silvery-black metal -- metal you assume it to be, because it reflects the light. All the skeletons have the same appearance to them, with veins of this strange metallic substance covering their bones and, judging from the clamor they make as they advance, weighing them down somewhat.
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James Maliszewski,
Writer and Sleep-Deprived Dad

The Purpose of D&D

I really enjoy reading the Tao of D&D blog.  I fully recognize that Alexis comes across as an asshole and may in fact be exactly that, although I would certainly not presume to judge a man's character by the content he posts on a blog.  I enjoy the blog because it makes me think; I enjoy thinking.  The vast majority of the posts on D&D blogs that I read do not make me think.  It is an almost vanishingly small minority of Alexis' posts that do not make me think.  I could care less if the man is an asshole - mine is a utilitarian liking, a purely selfish acknowledgement of the pleasure it gives me to read someone's point of view which is simultaneously utterly alien to me, very intelligent, and quite thought provoking.

Today Alexis tossed out a line while responding to a comment on his blog that I think is worthy of taking out of context and presenting here on my blog for my own readers, many of whom might not have the required temperament to navigate the treacherous shoals of Alexis' blog.  Alexis succinctly states the Purpose of D&D, and I think he nailed it:

"My perception of the purpose of D&D is that is should be so interesting you perceive it as one of the three fundamental activities of your life. "

How frickin' awesome is that?  Say what you will about the man, that is a powerful summation of what keeps people addicted to this hobby.  It made me think, as usual, and while eating and fucking would definitely top D&D for me, right after those two D&D joins making music as one of the most fundamental activities of my life.  I am constantly whistling or singing, melodies erupting unprompted from unknown quarters, and likewise I am constantly viewing the world with the eyes of a DM, appropriating cool bits of real life, imagining cool bits of unreal life, rehashing the events of the last game, imagining the actions of all the NPC players in the game, frantically scribbling down the places and people and events that burst forth unbeckoned from the burbling morass of my subconscious brain.  Despite working full time and having a wife who demands and deserves attention and time and an under-the-table second job, I consistently make time in my life for D&D. I make a lot of time for it.  It is clearly one of the fundamental activities of my life.  And I think that is awesome, and I thank Alexis for making me realize it more clearly.

Thanks Alexis!

DM's Trick: Name Lists

Name Lists

Name lists always turn out to be one of the most useful things I can do for a campaign in play.  For every language group in my campaign world I have a list of names, at least a full page in 12 point font, of male and female names.  I use common names in different real word languages; I prefer lists that have a quick description of name meaning when I compile these "DM's Cheat Sheats".  A little bit of time spent Googling and Copy Pasting into notepad and printing out a few pages of names for all the language groups in the campaign is incredibly useful at the table.

No matter what the situation, when your players run into an NPC, you can pull a name out that not only is consistent with the background of the NPC but also suggests a personality trait.  I just circle the name on the sheet and draw a line to the margins and note what the encounter is.  Once a campaign has been going for a while, just referring to the sheets for each different language group is a succinct reminder of every randomly encountered NPC in play.

This trick is one of those DM's sleight-of-hands that makes it seem like you are never unprepared.  Of course you had some planned out material if you could rattle off the names of the seven sleeping liches and what their demi-Godhood was focused on...

Friday, October 5, 2012

Tour of the Universe - Pan-Galactic Luxury Liner "Starfriend"

I really like this cutaway view of the pan-galactic gargleblaster, er, the pan-galactic "Starfriend" luxury liner.  Like many of the awesome illustrations in "Tour of the Universe", it is a two-page spread which sucks for scanning but it does make for an impressive experience leafing through the book (which is printed on a ridiculously heavy stock of paper).  The tickets and clearances needed to board the starliner are also presented, wonderfully anachronistic forms that appear to be filled out in the future by hand or typewriter.  If you were running any kind of game set in the future, there would be a lot of very useful handouts in this book.

Most of the keyed locations on the map are self-explanatory, but I am very curious about the "witchhold" located to the aft below the main thrusters.  I have not read the book word for word despite looking at every page for a while, so I could have missed something about the witchhold.
Our couple of inter-galactic tourists visit Orionis Delta III, or Behemoth's World, home to the universe's largest life forms.  Dig the scale on this pic - that is a spacecraft of some sort cruising by in the foreground, dwarfed by the behemoth it is flying past.  The behemoths strain "flying plankton" out of the atmosphere with their massive heads, which float along with the help of a series of helium sacks in the head and neck.  Another great picture shows the tour ship flying out the mouth of a behemoth skull and kneck preserved in upright position for tourism (steel trusses just barely visible in the skeletal remnants - I should probably scan that picture in too if I get a chance).

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Tour of the Universe - Tombworld

A friend of mine just lent me a book called "Tour of the Universe" by Robert Holdstock and Malcolm Edwards.  It is presented as the scrapbook of a lucky human couple in the future who win a lottery and receive tickets to a tour of the universe.  The book is lavishly illustrated and includes ticket stubs, hotel brochures, starliner publications and all the ephemera collected on your average tour of the universe.

I intend to scan in several of the illustrations, but let me start off with a cross-sectional map of one small part of Tombworld, a tourist destination planet that was used for millions of years in the past by spacefaring species from many different planets to inter the remains of powerful individuals.  The surface of the planet is hidden beneath kilometers of ruins, but recent award winning work by a corporation holding tourism rights showed that sunshafts designed to bring sunlight down onto the masks of the sleeping kings from the earliest levels were incorporated into the designs of later tomb builders and provide uninterrupted vertical access; hundreds of sunshafts have been identified granting access to all layers of the mausoleums.

I am totally stealing this map:

Friday, September 7, 2012

Books vs. RPG Products

I won a Barnes & Nobles gift card at the white elephant gift exchange last Christmas at my grandparents-in-law's.  Rediscovering it recently, I have been poking around on B&N trying to figure out how to best spend my $20.

I long since discovered the wonders of buying books for $.01 + S/H from Amazon, using this amazing resource to fill in many a hole in my sci-fi / fantasy library.  When my friend lent me Halbritter's Armory recently and proudly told me I "wouldn't find another copy" of this "rare" and out-of-print book I didn't say anything, but sure enough, I found it for one penny on Amazon.

My current working list of B&N titles that I am trying to choose from (after a very brief session of poking around in the B&N search engine):

"Weapons - an International Encyclopedia from 5000 B.C. to 2000 A.D." for $.09 + S/H;

"Encyclopedia of the World's Special Forces" for $.21 + S/H;
"The Encyclopedia of Genetic Disorders and Birth Defects" for $.12 + S/H;

"Ancient Wisdom and Secret Sects" for $.01 + S/H;

"A Dictionary of the Martial Arts" for $.01 + S/H

"The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom: A Celtic Shamans Sourcebook" for $.01 + S/H

"The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft" for $.85 + S/H

"The Ultimate Dinosaur Book" $.34 + S/H

"A Bestiary" $.01 +S/H

The question begging to be asked is why in the world anyone would spend money on buying products created for RPGs when products created for other markets with much higher production values are available for pennies and are infinitely more useful than all the RPG crap ever put up for sale.

I have a large collection of RPG books that I never use.  I compulsively buy cool RPG books when I encounter them in the wild, sometimes irrespective of the fact that I own the exact same edition of that particular book.  The desire that I have to buy cool looking RPG books when I encounter them in used bookstores and comic shops has nothing to do with their utility in my games.  I will not use them.  Most of the material sprung upon my players in any campaign I run is original Carl madness.  I do use some published resources, however, and they are hardly ever "RPG Products".

 I do use my ethnographies from my days as a cultural anthropology major at the University of Oregon quite often in my campaigns, and academic texts on subjects as disparate as the city states and orthography of ancient Sumeria and quantum mechanics.

Imagine a subject that is of paramount importance in the RPG you are currently playing in.  Google that subject with possible book titles in mind and figure out what kind of books are out there on that subject.  Search for those books on Amazon or B&N or just freakin' Google it again or something.  If you do a rational analysis of the bang for the buck it makes no sense to buy an RPG product in physical form for $10-15 + S/H when you can get multiple books of source material on the same subject for less money.

I'm not sayin' I'm just saying.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Dream Physics and the Bizarre in Gaming

I have run PCs through dream sequences in almost every campaign I have ever DMed.  In my early days as DM (we ran 2e and loved it) I used dreams as plot hooks and a way to introduce demonic and magical influences in ways that made the players think beyond the dungeon.  I started exploring gaming in active dream state with an adventure I wrote involving four pocket dimensions contained within the rubies on a ring the players found in a treasure trove.  Powerful entities in these dimensions reached out to the PCs in their dreams and planted the seeds which would ultimately result in discovery and exploration of the pocket dimensions in the ring.  This was an example of my "gaming" in college, when I was not actually playing but still compulsively wrote D&D material.

  My games tend toward the extremely bizarre by almost any standards, so perhaps the dream state is the platonic ideal that my games strive toward.  Long before the recent dream adventures of Tilia, I introduced many other situations in my 4e game that are analogous to the lucid dreamstate; I have always liked the results when I give the reins to the players and let them come up with the limits of their actions.

The first time this happened in my 4e campaign was toward the end of the players' exploration of the Temple of Tamoachan.  Naturally I had placed the temple above a long-since-covered-in-solid-rock-by-tectonic-processes alien spacecraft, which radiated the energy used to power many of the crazy magical networks the party had discovered throughout the temple (I have to crazy up even a crazy tournament killer death trap 1e module, of course).  A near climactic battle in a sub-level I created featuring a massive worship hall with "benches" that animated into minions and huge statues that animated into huge demons that kicked major ass was close enough to the energy-emitting alien vessel that I allowed the PCs to take a full rest and refresh all their powers as a minor action by focusing on allowing the alien energy into themselves. Once the PCs got into the swing of things it was a spectacularly fun combat, with me hurling far greater numbers and more dangerous opponents against the PCs than they could have ever expected to survive, and them blowing daily power after daily power and refreshing all damage each round in a whirlwind of death and destruction.

 This was just a primer for when the party managed to teleport inside the spacecraft.  Finding themselves floating in a sphere of white energy that responded and conformed to their expectations, the players soon figured out they could "operate" the spaceship using whatever method they were best at. Hammer the barbarian fired lasers from the energy sphere at far away targets by visualizing his target getting blown the fuck up and using special 4e style attack powers with his ax to cleave the space where he was visualizing the target; meanwhile Beautiful Bob talked the white energy into doing what he wanted and soon gained access to the "ships logs", the total input the energy field had ever received from its former alien users as well as the myriad of sensors scattered throughout the solar system the ship was connected to.  Beautiful Bob soon absorbed the entire history of the world from birds eye view, seeing the continents split and join and the oceans rise and fall and the eventual beginnings of plant and animal life.  This is when the party learned that all intelligent humanoids were the failed byproducts of alien snake man experiments to produce a superior race of bipedal snake warrior servitors, cast off from the golden city on the meteorite into the swamps and forgotten about by the snake men.

Unlike bending reality in the alien spacecraft, I usually make limits to dream physics beyond simply what the player thinks to accomplish.  When I ran Tilia through her dream recently, I made a few notes about the physics of each stage of the dream journey and also improvised details on the fly.  Once Tilia became lucid, I allowed her more control over the dream but I did not give her 100% freedom.  Early on, she mostly walked because that was what her player expected her to do.  I had made a note that she could fly by walking or running on air in most of the dreamscapes, but Mike never thought to try that.  Floating in the mist and the great fall were examples of dreamscapes that started out with the presupposition of not standing on solid ground as part of the beginning dream description, but in all of the other scenes that unfolded in two long dream sessions, Mike assumed that Tilia was standing on the "ground" the whole time.

I assign a sort of elasticity to dream physics; they mostly resemble normal physics at first glance, but prolonged prodding and investigation will soon push them far past the normal state.  More accurately, the act of prodding and investigating shapes the direction in which the dream is pushed past normal expectations; the elasticity is a way to describe the resistance when approaching the limits of human comprehension (which a dream cannot stray beyond), and the resulting snap back into a more normal state of affairs.

There are limits to the bizarre in Dream Physics which do not exist in my alien and trans-dimensional gaming explorations (both are also strong recurring themes in my gaming).  A dream is after all a product of the mind, which experiences and processes reality while awake, and then deals with it while asleep.  Even though the sleeping conscious is not constrained by physical laws, physical reality forms much of the basis of dreams and provides a general framework past which a dream cannot be stretched too far.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Halbritter's Armory

Halbritter's Armory 

by Kurt Halbritter

First published in Germany 1977
English Translation 1978 - Jamie Muir 

A friend lent me this curious volume and I have derived a fair amount of amusement from its pages.  It purports to be an "Introduction to the Secret Weapons of History".  It is a farce, poking fun at war and instruments of war with one ridiculous, improbable and often immoral "weapon" after another.  My friend told me an amusing anecdote about lending this book to a fencing student of his, whose strict fundamentalist Christian parents were horrified at many of the illustrations.  First, a more typical example of the tone of this book:


And now a couple of illustrations that I think could be horked for your fantasy RPG setting:

Rad Maze to the Citadel

Cool Crescent Clifftop Castle 

Three Illustrations pertaining to the land of Bolt


I still intend to write another post about the conclusion of Tilia's journey through a constructed dreamland to wake up six slumbering liches, but for now I am just going to post a page out of my session notes.  This is the "wicked awesome drawing" Tilia's player Mike referred to in his guest post about the first dream session.  It gave me a loose structure for my prep work for the dream and helped set the mood nicely at the table.  I intend to post more of my session notes because a lot of them are crazy artifacts in their own rights.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Islets of Langerhans

A location for fantasy role playing found in the pancreas :)

I ended up wondering about insulin production and was reading about the endocrine system tonight on good old Wikipedia.  As it turns out, insulin and several other hormones are produced in the pancreas in special nodes called islets of Langerhans.  I found myself looking at this visually appealing image of the difference between a rat islet of Langerhans and a human islet of Langerhans when it struck me that it would make for a beautiful city map.

I present the duchy of Langerhans, the walled city, the sinking city, the city of canals:

Originally a city built on rocky outcroppings emerging from a coastal swamp, the land slowly sank and the sea encroached until many of the lower lying sections of the city were underwater.  A wall was built around the city in an unsuccessful attempt to keep the sea out.  Roads became canals and the inhabitants simply filled in old stone houses as they became submerged and built new ones on top.  This resulted in the famously confusing "floating neighborhoods" of Langerhans, houses built on top of rock pillars and often connected with rope bridges at the 2nd or 3rd story.

I see the white areas as canals, with the main gates opening into major East-West canals interrupted by large walled structures (cathedral and castle?) and two diagonal North-West and South-West canals leading to the other gates.  Other than that, the duchy is a chaotic sprawl of densely packed houses on rock pillars (blue) with some solid ground in the form of rocky islets  taken up by markets (brown), public squares/civic structures (purple) and spectacular hanging gardens (green).  All of the white areas circled by brown are large walled structures built on craggy rock outcroppings, some private castles, others religious or military structures.

I am seeing all kinds of adventure potential in the now flooded and mostly filled in houses that support the current dwellings, like a submerged Tekumel underworld.  Obviously there has to be an Esoteric Order of Dagon here as well, with fish-men and dark temples not far below the placid surface of the canals - there is a Shadow over Langerhans...

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

To Dream

It’s Mike here, coming to write a post on some of the most recent happenings in our 4e campaign. I play Antillia (Tillia) the albino minotaur warden. I wanted to start off by summarizing some of the recent events that will have a bit of a role in some of the events that happen here.
If you’ve been keeping up to date you’ve probably read this post here, which details how Tillia is currently in a dream state with a bunch of liches. They are all asleep in a long-sealed circular catacomb, each lich in its own niche’. There are 6 liches and 7 places along the walls, dominating the center of the chamber is a giant pearl-like black sphere. This sphere I will refer to as the Dream Sphere. Each of the liches has projected themselves, via dream, into the artifact in order to become deities in the world. You will also realize that Tillia managed to wake up one of these liches in the last session, who happened to be the God of Lightning and Thunder. He wasn’t very happy to be awoken. He was confused and to make things worse he discovered that the priests that had built their temple around the sleeping chamber were harnessing the liches for their magical energy. This was causing damage and corrupting their original setup and being as I was the only other thing in the chamber, he turned his wrath upon me. Tillia still being hopped up on all kinds of psychotropic drugs to increase her arcane skill managed to relay that it wasn’t her, she just opened the door and stepped in. The lich immediately realized that Tillia didn’t have the skill to form such a complex network, and let her go. After dealing a wicked amount of lightning damage by grasping her throat and holding her aloft. I felt pretty good about opening the door until he dismissed me so easily! He then released Tillia and began trying to undo some of what had been done. Tillia offered to help and this sealed the deal that she wasn’t an enemy, but an ally of circumstance. This came about when the lich tried to do an arcane check to get a better view of all the shadow circuitry that had been used to drain energy from the liches. He wasn’t doing so hot Carl rolled a 1 and groaned from behind his screen. and so Tillia jumped in using her song hekura which allows her to perform rituals via song, and make them take less time by increasing the DC and allowed him to make another arcane check, with a +20 bonus from the ritual. Needless to say, he didn’t fail this one, and was grateful, if still not pleased. He at least stopped trying to kill her.
At this point Tillia also realized that the Nightmare Beast we had found behind a different iron door much newer than the one to this chamber was sealed in by energy from this room. To top it off, its nightmare powers were being used to cause the dreaming liches massive problems inside the dream and as the temple was closing, it was being unleashed into their dream to the point of causing them to release more power from the increased suffering. This was being siphoned off to power the sealing temple, the reanimation of the skeletons, and the opening/domination of the bati-batis. The lich, obviously, wanted to jump right in and sever all the ties to the liches, thus unleashing this VERY powerful and VERY angry Nightmare Beast. Tillia managed to talk him into letting her release it and she ran to the dark crystal chamber that allows projecting rituals and used it to put her drugs to good use, sealing the beast in a circle of protection and then sending it back from whence it came. The lich then jumped back into the dream world to set things right, and managed to fail miserably Carl rolled another 1 at releasing any of the shadow ties to the liches.
You may ask, why is any of this important? Well, because this drove Tillia to want to help the liches. It also made the dream landscape a little less…painful by removing the Nightmare Beast from the equation. However, this still wasn’t a light decision for Tillia. Nor was it a light decision for me, the player, because Carl made it a point to let Tillia know that entering the dream wasn’t easy and IF I returned, it would change me. This put a lot of pressure and stress on me, because failure could be catastrophic and not acting could be just as bad.
One other thing I should point out that makes an impact later on, is that after defeating the intestine/boar heart beast in the ritual projection chamber Bob sacrificed it to link Gootie and Tillia, so that Tillia could see through Gootie’s eyes without Gootie knowing. After having forced him to go into deep shadow during their last encounter, having an early warning system would be helpful.

To Dream a Little Dream…

So began the dream session. Carl started the session off by asking me some questions about Tillia’s background. I hadn’t discussed her back-story much from the time I had first made the character, and I was honestly surprised that Carl even remembered most of it. It was just a concept I had come up with when creating the character and giving them life. I always like to have something to draw on when making my characters, to flesh them out, even if I do enjoy pouring over feats/abilities for hours finding cool and interesting ones to use. To fill the rest of you in, Tillia came from a tribal culture. Her father was Chief of the tribe and her mother was a Shaman of the tribe. Tillia is one half of a pair of identical twin albino minotaurs. She was named after her father Antilles who was a previous minotaur character of mine a LONG time ago in another campaign and followed in his footsteps. Both Tillia and her sister were highly spiritual, but upon growing older Tillia spent more time training with her father, while her sister trained with her mother. As she aged the weight of responsibility came down upon her shoulders and she realized that only one of the siblings would be chosen to lead the tribe, and that their husband would be Chief after their father. So with the blessing of her family she handed leadership over to her sister to avoid fracturing the tribe loyalties and causing a bitter rivalry. Her father had two great axes he fought with and when he stepped down as a warrior he handed one to each sibling. Upon declaring her faith in her sister, she gave up her family axe to her sister. By giving up her rights, she also gave up her place in the tribe, so this left Tillia in a very awkward situation. Her family would have gladly had her stay, but there was little left for her in the tribe. With that in mind Tillia set off on her own, prepared to travel and find her place in the greater world around her. A lot like her father before her. Her mother cried, her father put on a proud face, and her sister hugged her. Those are the last memories Tillia has of her tribe and family.
Carl then asked me various questions about Tillia’s fears. Would I fear losing my health or sanity, strength of body or strength of personality, my intellect or my reflexes. This of course did nothing for the anxiety that this could have been a very, very, very bad idea for Tillia. After that quick fleshing out, we sat down to the most amazing D&D session I’ve ever been a part of.
Unable to lucid dream right out of the gates, Carl narrated what I perceived and then allowed me to make a check to do things in the dream that I wanted to do. This did a few things: For the first it made me really think about what I wanted to do before I asked to do it and for the second thing, it took away all my normal skill bonuses. This is a lot more stressful than it sounds, when you’re used to skills you’ve come to rely on and worked to master. I have also grown used to the luxury of being able to roll twice on some of my major rolls due to a feat and my nature hekura. The only bonuses I had on any rolls in the dream were my Wisdom modifier (+6), a focus if I had one (which I did with the artifact black orb +6), and half my level (+8). I also got a sliding bonus depending on how much I stayed with the dream (up to +4), or fought against it (-4). Carl also informed me that besides trying to do things, I was also in a large multi-tiered skill challenge. He then showed me a wicked awesome drawing I hope he posts some version of, and pointed out where I was on the path. On my right I had the “Sea of Dreams” no matter where I went, it was always directly to my right. I could jump into it and try to navigate my way and skip ahead at a very high failure rate or return to the shore I left if I got washed into it a relatively lower DC, failure meant being lost in the endless “Sea of Dreams”. On my left was Deep Shadow, of which, I knew a little… but seeing the effects it had on Old Man Gootie, I was not exactly too thrilled to try out. I also felt a current pulling me in the direction of a castle I could see in the distance. I felt the liches were in this castle and following the stream was the lowest DC, and also where the skill-challenge came into play. In the beginning I had the leeway to fail twice a third fail meaning I’m done, but must make three successes to move forward. As I progressed along the “path” towards the castle, the leeway got smaller with one failure and two successes to move on. Anything I did outside of moving forward, didn’t count as a success or failure for the skill challenge itself, but might help me succeed overall.
In the first stage of the dream I was standing in a swamp as a young girl, the only visible structure being a hut on some very tall stilts. It was surrounded by mist otherwise and all beyond it was shrouded in mist as well. As I approached the hut I made a “dream check” for my perception and noticed that the stilts were moving and squirming like snakes. I continued my approach and some abomination emerged from the inside of the hut like a hermit crab emerging from its shell. Four snake heads moved towards me and opened their mouths wide, their throats and the inside of their mouths inflating out to make four identical faces. The faces looked like the pale, waterlogged faces of an old woman. She had milky white eyes and spoke with a watery voice. “Umsala, is that you? Come closer so I can feel your face.” Needless to say, Antillia has been around and in Carl’s universe that is saying something. To her this was more every day, frightening as it may be, than a rarity. As a player this was some chilling imagery, but I had to decide how Tillia would see it. She has stared a gods in the face, studied giant sentient plants, and come toe-to-toe with the end of the world.
As she stepped beyond the house she began drifting into the mist. She felt herself becoming light, but the first step still gave her a bit of a shock as she stepped out into nothingness. This gave me the first chance to become more lucid, but I rolled terribly and did not succeed Feeling so light and weightless like she was flying, she started to zoom down the path excitedly. I felt that this was probably one of the times she felt safest in a long time and carefree. I’ve also felt quite happy and carefree while flying in my own dreams This was until I rolled a 1 on my second check to move along the dream path. Suddenly something swooped out of the mist and took a bite out of Tillia, draining her sanity and willpower and leaving her hurting. Carl rolled a nat 20 on the dice and the creature drained 4 Wisdom from me, one of my greatest fears and also the stat that helped me navigate the dream. Now, minotaurs in 4e are constantly waging a battle against their bestial side and their more humane side. This loss of willpower, this sudden fear that the pristine and careless mist is full of predators, and the shock of it all cause Tillia to give in to her bestial side. She stomped her hoof, her horns twisted and grew in wickedness, and she bellowed out a challenging cry to the Dream Hunter. Charging forward she felt the mist coalesce and tore through an image of Old Man Gootie that seemed made of paper, and burst forth from the mist. I had succeeded on my third check and passed on
I would also like to point out that at no time did Carl ever tell me what form Antillia was in unless she looked around or took notice, and even then she had the greatest influence on herself by expecting to see herself as something in specific when she looked. As Tillia plummeted through the edge of the mist she found herself falling over the edge of a cliff. Having been in a few dreams over the years where I’m falling, I had a pretty good idea how this would go down, but Tillia isn’t me. This also gave me my second chance at lucidity… I failed. She started to panic at first, but long ago Tillia had learned how to shapeshift into a Gadoro. A Gadoro is a four-armed white ape, highly spiritual and hanging out on the sacred island at the confluence of all the rivers. The major benefit being that the form is immune to falling damage. She had done this before on an occasion when falling from the air ship, so it came naturally to her. This also took her mind off of falling and allowed her to calm down, making the fall go much slower. During the fall she was passing backwards through her life, seeing the most recent things she had done, then middle years, then childhood. This coincided with making the 3 checks to pass through this area. Because Tillia had managed to calm down, she had the option to influence an event in each stage of her life. This may not have a direct affect on her current reality outside of dream, but it would increase/decrease the multiple realities that follow in a similar choice. Basically, she could choose one terrible thing to reverse, or one good thing to enforce upon the multiple realities that exist. This was amusing because thinking back, I had a hard time thinking of anything GOOD Tillia had done. She always TRIED to do good things, but they often seemed to backfire in some way. I mentioned this and all had a good laugh about it. I did eventually think of a few things. Needless to say there were a few things that weighed heavily on Antillia’s conscience. The first was when she unleashed Kariki-Kalos the jellyfish god and it sank the continent she and her party came from, presumably killing millions of people. The second was when she trapped Old Man Gootie in the shadow realm for the first time, sucking the energy out of the whirlpool he had created in the confluence of the rivers.
In the grand scheme of things, she had mostly come to terms with having trapped Old Man Gootie. She felt terrible about his insanity derived from his stay in deep shadow, but she had corrected a large disturbance in nature that he had originally created there. She also went on to help Akili and keep Slotek, the abomination of a river god, from being born out of the corrupted union. Given the chance she would have saved Old Man Gootie from being trapped, but she wouldn’t have reversed removing the unnatural whirlpool. She chose to do her best in the dream world to reverse releasing Kariki-Kalos. This hit her harder because it meant the deaths of her family, tribe, Beautiful Bob’s past, and millions of others for no reason. Simple destruction. This pained her the most of the two. She then slowly drifted downward into her adolescence and began seeing flashes of the time before she left her tribe. She latched on to a particular point in her life when her father first bestowed his axes upon Antillia and her sister. She reached into the dream, drawing out the axe, remembering happier times. Remembering her family and what she had left behind. Feeling happiness and sadness at the same time, but she did not regret her actions. At this point Carl said that by drawing out the axe I had a sort of dream “wild card” that I could use at any point. At this point Hammer and Bob piped up about how it was kind of like a game show. Presumably the wild card would grant me a boon in the dream at a later time. With visions of her life flying by, Tillia slowly drifted down into her childhood. Here she spent a lot more time with her sister and chose to strengthen that feeling of the bond between twins. Both children spent a lot of time with their mother at this point in life and so it was filled with time spent outside, playing, exploring, and generally enjoying exploration of the world.
Thus Tillia touched down and entered stage four of the dream sequence down the path to the castle. When she looked around she realized she was standing in a clearing that looked like home, but things were unsettled. Her father and tribesmen faded into view and a battlefield unfolded before her. It wasn’t a battlefield she had ever really fought on, but it was one she had encountered in her dreams before her first real battle ever took place. Her nerves were on edge and fear gripped at her heart. She looked down making sure she was equipped in her traditional war gear and paint. At this point I made a check, Carl pointed out that had I not, it probably would have been brought to my attention that I was naked in the middle of battle at some point. I think everyone has had a version of this dream at some point in his or her life. She wielded a large two-handed warhammer in a fashion mimicking her father’s preference for large weapons, having trained under him up until this point. She fell into line with her comrades and prepared to face the enemy tribe. With a battle shout they all charged into the oncoming enemies, Tillia swung her hammer and was failing. She seemed weak, scared, and her courage dwindled. She was forced back into a corner and surrounded. They disarmed her, and she let out a scream of rage and fear. Suddenly a wall of water from the “Sea of Dreams” rose up over the battlefield and Antillia gazed on in horror, as it was full of the waterlogged dead of her tribe. They screamed out her name and moaned in anguish, their bloated bodies and pale, lifeless eyes gazing into her soul. The washed over the field and consumed all of those in the dream, her father looking to her with fear in his eyes as he was washed away, his axes falling to the ground. Antillia broke free of her paralysis as the wave was closing in on her, arms of her dead loved ones stretching out to pull her down. She charged forward and picked up one of her father’s axes, using both hands to slam it into the ground and anchor herself from being washed away. As she swung the axe downwards it split the wave and it passed on either side of her and faded.I used my nightly d30 roll here to give me the best shot at success, rolling a 27! She turned to the oncoming army, alone. She reached down and picked up a shield and one-handed warhammer from the field, strapping them on. She gazed into the eyes of her enemies on the field and let out a roar, “YOU WILL NOT HAVE MY FAMILY!” and charged… the seemingly solid forms evaporating before her onslaught and the scene fading. Antillia was left panting heavily as she moved on into stage five of this landscape. Just some notes. This was changed to a 2 success 1 failure skill challenge and the DC had increased. I rolled a 5 on the first roll resulting in a failure, and then proceeded to roll a 1, so I was about to be washed away into the Sea of Dreams. I used the axe wild card I had been given earlier to buy myself a chance to re-roll with a +4 bonus. I succeeded and finished up the skill challenge to move on to the next phase. At the point where Tillia stood up to the army by herself I, as a player, was tearing up a bit. I’ll admit I get emotional at the sappy scenes in movies, but this was a lot more personal. We’re only level 18 now, but we’ve been at it for 3 or so years and I’ve grown attached to the character as a whole. Hammer’s player even admitted to feeling a little teary eyed at parts. It just goes to show you how emotionally invested we all were at the table, that’s how much this whole event gripped us. Not to mention the fact my heart was racing and my nerves were on edge with every roll of the dice to make a check.
Antillia emerged from the fading battlefield to find herself in a more recently familiar clearing. This clearing was full of trees and plants that had their roots weaved into the shadow realm by Old Man Gootie. All of the trees had large burls that made up the majority of the tree. These burls were hollow and full of Old Man Gootie’s shadow gardens, where he grew crazy herbs and plants to use in his magic and to feed Akili. This was our first meeting with Old Man Gootie and I believe is somewhat outlined here. She was afraid at first that he was there to come back into the world, but soon realized something wasn’t right because the link Bob had created to Old Man Gootie’s vision wasn’t showing him as being there. This just goes to show you that even when we’re split, the party is still there backing each other up. Bob’s earlier sacrifice of the boar intestine creature gave Antillia the chance to make a lucidity check with a high bonus, which she made with flying colors. Thanks Bob! At this point Antillia fought off some of the dream state and was better able to get her mind around things. She pictured herself in adult form and looked down. She gasped out loud as she realized she was pregnant! At this point everyone around the table groaned, I believe there was some cursing, and throwing up of arms in disgust. The reason being that Gootie often revives himself by impregnating someone and birthing himself through them, with some of their powerful traits, in turn making him more powerful each time. As a player I was wracking my mind as to how Antillia would handle this, having previously stopped Gootie from impregnating her and even trapping one of his “children” in a field. Antillia at this point could hear Gootie approaching, but she used her lucid will to ensure that a young Gootie came forward. He turned out to be even younger than she had ever met, and she smiled at him. Rubbing her belly as she also used her influence to make the child in her womb a normal baby, half minotaur and half human. She embraced Gootie and stepped back, her waters breaking as she went into labor. Thinking to herself, “This isn’t so bad… it’s kind of nice.” Then realizing, “Oh ya, it’s a dream.” She pushed out out of some fanciful shinning light came a clean and healthy satyr looking child. She held him in her arms and kissed him, handing him over to his father, Gootie, who smiled and took the child as that section of the dream began to fade. More notes! This is one of the points where your character manages to surprise even the player. I mean, at the risk of sounding crazy, Antillia did something that even I had a bit of trouble realizing before I had said it and it was done. Everyone at the table was shocked, and I think I even surprised Carl. Carl let me know that I would be seeing my child in my dreams and that I had given Gootie a hook point to return, without so much of the hatred and craziness if he chose it. He said by no means would this alleviate everything, but it was certainly a good start. This whole event and how it unfolded actually left me feeling pretty great for Antillia, and very happy. Hopeful for Gootie even.
So Antillia moved on to stage six of the dream walk. At this point my hands were shaking, I had come so far and come SO close to failure before this. Things were only going to get harder. Luckily I was now lucid, so that gave me a leg up, but it only allowed me to be more creative with my choices. It wasn’t a guarantee of anything. This portion of the dream was just before the “Gate House” to the castle. Immediately after entering this phase, Kariki-Kalos loomed before me, maw agape, heading right at me! He was enraged and ready to swallow me whole, I could see little more than his maw and the shadow eyes surrounding it. At this point I made a check to bring a dream version of Bob and Hammer on either side of me. I also summoned up the liches that had imprisoned Kariki-Kalos to begin with. I think put a Horn of Kariki-Kalos in Bob’s, Hammer’s, and my own hands. We all blew them at once and the deep bellowing sound reverberated throughout the dream. Kariki-Kalos represented all the doubt, regret, and pain that Antillia had been feeling over the years and she called upon her friends for help in that moment of need to overcome all of it. The horn mesmerized Kariki-Kalos and Tillia took advantage. Rather than proceed on she chose to mount Kariki-Kalos with her friends, now family, and the liches to ride him through the “Sea of Dreams” to the base of the castle. She envisioned him being re-imprisoned below the castle, much like he was below the original temple we found him in. She then dismounted as the dream faded and the session ended with Antillia inside the Castle of Dreams, which was crowned with the golden sphere where all the liches were. I think the move of riding Kariki-Kalos caught people at the table by surprise as well. I know Hammer said something along the lines of, “I wasn’t thinking that, but once you said it, it was like… Yeah, that’s totally the way it should be.” I made a strong success to navigate Kariki-Kalos and thus next session will bring the hardest challenges to date!


Words from the player…
I didn’t expect this recap to be so long, but once I got going… it was hard to stop. My notes throughout pretty much cover everything, but this entire night was a supremely fun night. I don’t think I’ve had a better session. Emotions were high and everyone was locked into every detail of the events unfolding before us. I think one thing that made this night a smashing success was that we kept swapping back from what I was doing with Antillia, and what Hammer and Bob were doing. It gave us all time to think in the interim without detracting from the ongoing stories. I was as much enthralled with what they were doing, as they were with what was going on with me. Plus it gave me a chance to wipe off the sweat from my palms and take a breath.
I am also amazed at how well the whole dream walk unfolded. Carl took the little he knew of my background, with my input as we went along, and made a very intriguing dreamscape. I felt that we both worked together to flesh out my character beyond anything I had previously done with her. It was like a brainstorming session that was enacting our ideas, as we had them. Roleplay at its best! I think basing Antillia’s father on my previous minotaur character from back in the day, also helped me quickly think of what Antillia might see in her past.
Bob and Hammer’s players did an amazing job keeping quiet when I was in the dream, not shouting out advice and giving me tips. Usually we are very discussion heavy when we are doing things as a group and I’m sure it was hard on both of them to keep their lips sealed and just listen. I know I probably would have done a much less fabulous job of keeping my trap shut.
I knew I was stepping into a dreamscape at the beginning of this session, but I had no idea it would turn out so crazy, and so defining for my albino minotaur. I’m probably just gushing now, but this goes to show what a creative DM can accomplish. It’s not an easy role to fill and even harder to fill well.
-Mike P.
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