Thursday, March 29, 2012

Al-Qadim: Isles on an Emerald Sea

A funny result of my DMing style is that my players never finish their missions. I run published Al-Qadim modules, but almost never as they’re written. I use the situation and the dungeon descriptions provided, but ignore the plot railroad, running the provided encounters only when they make sense. Because the PCs are free to go wherever they want, they often wander out of the current “story” and into a new one.
The campaign started with the PCs getting entangled with an evil cabal of fire mages, but they soon decided to follow up rumors of bandit activity and left town. They travelled with a caravan, landed in a sand storm and the afterlife, forgot about the bandits, and were hired to find an old man’s long lost love. In the genie stronghold where she was held, they failed to locate her but found a one-way portal to the City of Brass instead.
This gives a nice stories-within-stories atmosphere to the campaign, and it feels very Arabian Nights to me.  I can almost hear the sultan yelling to Sherezade: ‘But did they find Sita? Tell me!’
Last session, the PCs escaped on a plane-hopping ship and made their way back to the prime material plane, but instead of leading them back to one of the former plot strands, I decided to start a new campaign sequence of sea travel, inspired by the voyages of Sinbad.
Monday I ran Melan’s excellent Isles on an Emerald Sea from Knockspell #1. So far, we didn’t do a lot of exploration based adventuring in the campaign, and this module made for a nice change of pace. The adventure provided a number of very memorable encounters.
The session started with the PCs on captain Soot’s plane-hopping ship The Ebony Queen, traveling back to Zakhara. During their travel, the ship was caught in an astral storm, and the sails were damaged. Back on the prime material, the crew started repairs. Shihab, hanging over the railing because he was seasick, saw something flickering on the horizon. The PCs decided to investigate it and landed on the isle of the birds.
Bakri found narrow stairs cut in the rock and climbed it with Jamal to investigate. At the top of the stairs they found a strange, alien idol. While they examined the inscriptions on the idol, Shihab and Zobeida were attacked by giant crabs. Bakri hurried towards the fight, leaving Jamal behind. That’s never a good idea.
Jamal sacrificed some incense he found in an earlier adventure to the idol, and his player voluntarily failed his saving throw. Jamal received a boon: seven new eyes, of which only two functional, appeared in his skull. (The two functioning eyes appeared both on his forehead, so no 360° vision for him.) The PCs are still trying to decide if they should try a remove curse to get rid of the extra eyes or, according to Jamal’s wishes, they should use a regeneration to restore eyesight to the five other eyes.
They found a roc’s nest, but luckily, the giant bird was away for the moment, and investigated the ruins. In the cellars beneath the ruins they found a statue of a goddess on a pedestal, which turned out to be not one but two mimics, “served” by 16 giant centipedes. Bakri used a scroll stolen from an efreeti sorceress and decided the fight by casting a 10th-level fireball.
In another chamber they found a well with the spectre of Osori the Creeping One bound to it. Unable to attack because of the binding, Osori begged the PCs to set him free. The PCs agreed and cast a dispel magic on the well. Of course, the spectre immediately attacked and drained two levels from Shihab. Zobeida cast a forget-spell on the spectre, causing him to forget the PCs freed him already. Thinking he was still bound and couldn’t attack the PCs, he started pleading again to release him. The PCs just walked away. We imagined Osori to stay there in the well for another thousand years, completely unaware of the fact that he was no longer bound and was free to leave at any time. Funny stuff.
Finally, a bubble of force brought them to the isle of the goddess Hakiyah, where they explored a ruined tower, befriended a pack of wild dogs, and found a mausoleum, where we ended the session.
I think it’s remarkable that the three combats this session were all decided by spellcasting: half the giant crabs were defeated with a fear-spell, the mimics and centipedes by a powerful fireball, and the spectre by casting forget. However, this didn’t feel wrong or unbalanced in any way, not even the fireball scroll which was of much higher level than the characters. At no point did it feel like the PCs shouldn’t have these abilities. On the contrary, it felt as the outcome of good play and added to the fun.
Next week we’ll finish this adventure, and more.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Al-Qadim: In the City of Brass

After 4 weeks of scheduling problems, we finally managed to play last Thursday. I ran my ongoing Al-Qadim campaign. This week’s session started with the PCs in the City of Brass, in the middle of an adventure in the Secrets of the Lamp box.
For this campaign, I only run published adventures. These have the same problem as most of the Type II adventures TSR published at the time: They are not that good, and often unplayable as written. It’s often as if the designer wrote the adventure in a vacuum, and it’s obvious these adventures weren’t written for an ongoing campaign, or even playtested. The modules make assumptions about player actions and situations that will never happen in actual play.
For example, this was the second adventure in which the PCs were supposed to be captured. I’ve been playing this game in one form of the other for more than 25 years, and I’ve never had a player character allowing himself to be captured. PCs fight to the dead, or escape. But surrender? Never.
In this adventure, an efreeti noble falls in love with the female PC and tries to seduce her. When she doesn’t respond to his advances, he enslaves the PCs and takes away their equipment. At least, that how it’s written. My players, however, were able to put some salt in the food, thereby establishing the salt bond. The efreet was unable to take them as his slaves, and had to treat them as his honored guests. It was a lot of fun, and a real accomplishment on part of the players, probably worth a lot more XP than I awarded them for it. But the adventure as written didn’t help me here at all.
So what else happened? My favorite bit was when the PCs bought a magical palace, had the bill send to the efreeti noble, and had one of their fire salamander escorts sign for it. And after they had stolen the efreeti’s albino nightmare, instead of riding it in the horserace (as was written in the module, of course) they went back to the efreeti palace and looted it, among other things stealing his other nightmares and geldings.  Good fun!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Castle Verge: Dungeon Level 2

Here’s level 2:

The south of this level was part of the original castle dungeons. In the north it connects to natural caves leading outside. There is an elevator at #70, which can take PCs to levels 3 and 4 (mostly natural caves) and level 5, the Locked Level.

The cave at #37 is a Chaos temple. It contains a sem-sentient idol whispering evil secrets to those present in the northern rooms (#2 - 26), driving them insane. The Temple was inaccessible due to the cave-in at #2, but the kobolds excavated it from the east, with the help of charmed
pig slaves. The death knight's evil priest henchman practices his fool rites there.

Areas #102 to #105 can only be reached from level 3 below.

Sunday, March 18, 2012



Requirements: CON 9
Ability Modifiers: STR +1, CHA -1

Pigs are anthropomorphic creatures with muscular builds and the head of a pig or boar. They typically weigh about 160 pounds and stand between 5 ½ and 6 feet tall. Pigs are the result of magical crossbreeding experiments conducted many aeons ago, but have since then developed into a true-breeding race. Pigs have a reputation for being aggressive having surly attitudes. They have long memories, and are known to hold grudges for a very long time.

Pigs have 60’ infravision. If actively searching, they can detect hidden and secret doors with a roll of 1-2 on 1d6. They have inherited a resistance to disease and poison, receiving a +4 to saving throws against to defend against these effects. They have a bite attack they can use instead of a weapon attack (1d4 damage). Pigs may speak their alignment language, common, pig latin, and ogre.

Pigs may select from the following classes, with the indicated level limits.


Level Limit

Pig thieves receive the following bonuses and penalties to thief abilities:


Pick Locks
Pick Pockets
Hide in Shadows
Hear Noise

*Pigs receive a better dice range for hearing noises. For example, 1st level pig thieves hear noises on a 1-3, and at 9th level it is 1-5. Hear noise may never be better than 1-5.


Requirements: None
Ability Modifiers: None

Porcine, or “half-pigs”, are the result of human and pig mating. Both heritages reject them, and they often take up the wandering live of an adventurer. They have the same average weight and height as humans, and if they hide their pig-like features can pass as humans.

Porcine have 60’ infravision. If actively searching, they can detect hidden and secret doors with a roll of 1-2 on 1d6. They have inherited a resistance to poison, receiving a +2 to saving throws against to defend against its effect. Pigs may speak their alignment language, common, pig latin, and gnoll.

Porcine may select from the following classes, with the indicated level limits.


Level Limit

Porcine thieves receive the following bonuses to thief abilities:


Hide in Shadows
Hear Noise

*Porcine receive a better dice range for hearing noises. For example, 1st level porcine thieves hear noises on a 1-3, and at 9th level it is 1-5. Hear noise may never be better than 1-5.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Moons of Anderove

The grey moon Seralin is one of 66 moons circling the gas giant Anderove. Seralin is about half the size of Earth, but has about double the density and the same gravity.
According to the astrolosophers of the Luminous Sphere, only four of Anderove’s moons are able to support natural life. Besides Seralin, those “living moons” are: the white moon Belewana, the red moon Vermelhina, and the black moon Chernaja. Only Seralin contains intelligent life.
High-level mages travel between the moons in the same way they travel the planes in other worlds, and have done so for many aeons. Many mages have build strongholds and secret gardens on the moons. As a result, many of the so-called “lifeless moons” are anything but lifeless, and strange new species have evolved.
King Heremod IVCXXVII, also known as the Mad Philosopher King, claims he visited 6 unknown, invisible moons, where terrifying inhuman creatures live in gargantuan arcologies made of black stone.  However, the Mad Philosopher King claims a lot of things, and the astrolosophers cannot find any evidence in their calculations about their existence.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Castle Verge: dungeon level 1

I tried to build this level around circular routes, and to provide easy access to deeper levels of the dungeon. The stairs in #1, #5, #6 behind #11 are entrances leading up to the surface. The stairs in room #87, hidden behind several secret doors, leads to a smaller sublevel. The chasm is a large vertical sublevel in itself, and PCs can take the stairs at #13 to reach the lower levels of the dungeon, as well as some very, very dangerous treasure vaults. All other stairs lead to levels 2 or 3.

The well on the surface level connects to #29. The cliff/waterfall at #36 leads to level 2, but is also connected to a smaller cave complex leading to the surface and inhabited by morlocks. It could be used as another entrance to level 1, if the PCs enter the caves and climb up to #36.

The whole area east of #12 was built by the original inhabitants to control access into and out of the dungeon. Now it's occupied by kobolds, and I'm kind of hoping players will find the entrance south of #9 first, and approach the bridge at #12 from the east. Kobolds behind the arrow slits at #11 will prove interesting, I think.
Except for the kobolds, I really don’t know anything about the monsters on this level. The southern part exists of catacombs and tombs, but filling the area with undead seems a bit boring...

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Castle Verge

I started work on my mega-dungeon “Castle Verge” about 2 years ago, when I was completely bored by the 4th edition campaign I was running at the time. Inspired by James Maliszewski’s, Castle Verge was built by a mystical order of knights in a place where Chaos leaks into the world. The order was betrayed from within by a knight secretly working for an insane chaos mage, who wanted to use the dungeons beneath the castle for his own purposes.
Originally, I planned to place an abandoned dwarven kingdom beneath the castle, but right now I’m revising it for use in a world without dwarves.  Luckily, I was able to reuse parts of already completed maps in my new map of dungeon level 1.

The Castle: The castle itself consists of 4 levels. Often the above-ground levels of a mega-dungeon are smaller or less detailed than the underground dungeon levels, but I wanted to make the castle itself worthy of exploration, to give low level character more options. The southwest tower will be a sublevel for higher level characters, but I’m not sure what to put there yet.
The castle levels are occupied by a tribe of ratlings (re-flavored kobolds) working for a death knight, the undead form of the same knight that betrayed the knightly order.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

D&D with a 6-year Old

For the past two days, I've been playing D&D with Mathijs, my 6-year old son. Here's his character sheet for Tohmas, the fighter:

We're using the Basic set (the original "red box"), because that's the only version of D&D available in Dutch. And it’s probably my favorite version of D&D, aside from my own house-ruled variant. We have played through the choose-your-adventure-style solo adventure in the Players Manual, and now we’re playing M1 Blizzard Pass, another solo adventure.  Basically, I act as DM and read him all entries, after which I give Mathijs the options he can choose from. Sometimes I try to get him to roleplay by acting out the part of NPCs instead of just reading the text, but so far Mathijs doesn’t respond to that yet.

Mathijs is a cautious player: if given the option, he often flees from a fight after being wounded. But he’s adventurous as well:  when fleeing he often takes an exit leading to a part of the dungeon he hasn’t explored yet.

I’m impressed with the way the solo modules teach new players the ways of old school dungeon crawling, especially the adventure in the Players Manual. Plenty of options involve listening, peaking around corners, and other ways to find out what dangers lie ahead. It also enables the player to leave the dungeon when he’s had enough, and to come back another time fully healed. Mathijs’ fighter Tohmas made several forays into the cave before he was finally killed by a blade trap.

After finishing Blizzard Pass I’ll try to round up some players to join us in a group adventure. We still have to kill Bargle!

Welcome to the Opera House

Welcome to my Blog! This is a blog about RPGs. (Dungeons & Dragons, mostly.)
I'll post here about the campaigns I play, house rules I come up with, and adventures I write. I plan to post about once or twice a week, but I expect it will take me some time to find a nice rythm that works for me. If that means I'll blog more or less often, we'll have to see.
But for now, welcome to the opera!