Monday, September 30, 2013

D&D 30 Day Challenge: Day 30 – Best DM I’ve Had

Last day!

It’s impossible to name the best DM out of the DMs I’ve had. They all were very different, and they all had good moments.

My cousin Rutger was my first DM. Actually, we always ran our campaigns together. We would take turns DMing and playing. Sometimes we would prepare our own separate adventures, but more often we would prepare for the game together, and decide who would DM two minutes before we began.
My friend Alex was my DM for most of my time at art academy. Alex was a big horror fan, and read a lot of Stephen King. He was attracted to Ravenloft, and ran adventures in that setting exclusively . 

Being both an art student and a horror fan, it’s no surprise Alex was very good at building atmosphere. His Ravenloft game often went beyond the gothic horror the setting usually provides, and our PCs encountered scary dreams, serial killers, and a rusty petrol station from another time. He often used out-of-game elements like music and lightning in his game

My friend Martijn was a believer in The One Way: the DM providing the railroad and the player’s staying in character as much as possible. His favorite setting was Al-Qadim, and for the most part he ran published adventures. I have written about those before (here and here), because I’ve used them for my own Al-Qadim campaign as well, and sometimes I could see he had difficulty making the adventures work. That’s not to say he was a bad DM, it was the adventure’s fault. He was especially good at using props: clay amulets, handwritten documents, that sort of thing.

Martijn was running his Al-Qadim campaign when 3rd Edition came out, and converted the campaign to the new rules. In hindsight, the shift from a more story-oriented game to a more combat-oriented game was very clear. The story elements were still there in 3rd, of course, but because the characters had more combat-oriented abilities and the fights took a bit longer, there was definitely more combat in the game than before.

My brother Jorrit DMed Dark Sun for a bit, decided he didn’t want to play AD&D anymore, played and ran a lot of games in the Storyteller system, and came back with 3rd Edition. When 4E came out we started a campaign together, each of us running adventures in turn, but he quickly decided 4E wasn’t for him and left our group. Now he mostly plays Pathfinder.

I’ve played in two of Jorrit’s campaign: the Banewarrens campaign and his Castle Greyhawk campaign. Both had the same faults, pretending to be large megadungeons but really being 3.5 adventure paths. However, both have enough fun set-pieces, and Jorrit is especially good at those. He was also good at managing a big rule-set like 3.5 and Pathfinder.

So all of the DMs I’ve had were the best in some aspects. It’s interesting to note all of them were especially good at things I don’t do in my games. I don’t use music, and my games are more about ideas than about atmosphere. I hardly use any props, and while I’ve had long miniature combats in my 4E game, of course, I’m not really that good at the tactical side of the game. Maybe it’s because I’m not very good at those things that I admire their skill with them.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Faces of Pretomournon: The Priestess


The Cathedral of Clouds in Pretomournon is the largest cathedral in the world. It’s home to nearly a hundred small orders, all of which are members of The Temple, the global organization for waning religions. The cathedral is a wonder to behold: a huge structure of more than 500 feet high, made of large grey stones, with gates big as titans, sixteen bell towers touching the sky, and guarded by terrible gargoyles patrolling the walls.

Inside there is plenty to see, hear and experience as well. The floor is inlaid with the sacred symbols of a thousand gods. High stained-glass windows display scenes out of the stories of Deucalion, who saved mankind and wildlife by building the ark Utnapishtim, of Rystespyt, who teached humanity to speak and write, and of Crow, who slayed The Chimera Out Of Nowhere.

Each god has its own shrine – the greater gods a chapel - and each shrine shows the power and greatness of its god. The water in the font of Elgar, god of Patrionism, heals all who drink from it, as long as he or she demonstrates to know the full text of the national anthem, including the lesser known fourth stanza. The dead husk of the Lord of Apathy, hanging on iron chains suspended from the ceiling,  promises to prophesize for those who sacrifice a finger. The statue of the Invisible Queen will make everyone with pure hatred and darkness in his or her heart beautiful in appearance.

Despite all these wonders, the Cathedral is rarely visited, and there are hardly any people other than priests and tourists. One of those priests is Amariza, priestess of Muizi, goddess of memory.

At first sight, her shuffling gait and stooped posture remind one of an older person, but once she starts talking and laughing, it becomes clear immediately that she is younger. Amariza is in her early ‘30s and small of stature. She wears her dark blond hair pinned up in a bun and she always wears the light blue robe of office. A  cloud of about 10 dragonflies – insects sacred to the goddess Muizi – circles her constantly. When starting a conversation, she always asks people the same question: "Do you remember Muizi?"

Amariza grew up in Heugenis, a small village in the northeastern part of the Mournful Kingdom. All residents of Heugenis worship the goddess Muizi, and from an early age Amariza knew that she wanted to dedicate her life to serving her goddess. The priest Pascer took her on as an acolyte at the age of twenty, and inaugurated her into the mysteries of the faith. She learned to talk to dragonflies, to read and interpret signs in the collective memory of humanity, and how to cast some spells. Once her training was complete, the disadvantage of living and working in a small town like Heugenis became clear: the shrine to Muizi was small, and could be managed easily by one person. Amariza stayed on as Pascer’s assistant much longer than normal for an acolyte, but eventually it became clear she had to find her own path to walk. Therefore, Amariza decided to leave her home village to travel to the capital, where the largest and most important shrine to Muizi was located in the Cathedral of the Clouds.

Amariza’s idea was to join the priestly order of Muizi. However, as she arrived in Pretomournon, to her dismay she discovered that no such order existed in the city. The shrine in the cathedral was abandoned and no one – not even the leadership of The Temple – knew about the shrine’s goddess. Amariza was shocked to learn that no one knew about Muizi.

When Amariza learned more about the religious and philosophical schools in the city, she came to the conclusion that the majority of the population had forgotten the gods. And, as the new high priestess of memory, she felt it was here duty to do something about it.

With the help of a young nun named Trudi, she obtained from the library of The Temple an obscure ritual that calls a god into the material world. Amariza wants to use this ritual to summon Muizi. She believes when the goddess of memory walks in the world, people will remember again.

The ritual requires an enormous magical symbol drawn on the ground, covering an area of half a city quarter. Although there’s enough space in the ruined part of Pretomournon to make this half-mile-wide sign, the ruins in the outer circle of the city are not quite uninhabited. Therefore, Amariza hired the “fixer” Carter Don to ensure that the necessary area is clear, and the people who live there are paid to move.

Although Amariza is a sweet woman, she is very naive and gullible. She truly believes Carter Don uses the money she pays – almost her entire salary as a High Priestess of The Temple – to compensate people for leaving their homes, and she has no idea of his true methods. She has no suspicion of her confidant Trudi's true identity either, and has no clue about the real objective of the summoning ritual: to bring about the Apocalypse.

Amariza: AL N; MV 12; AC 9 (unarmored); Human Female Mage 1; hp 4; #AT 1; Dmg 1d4 (dagger) or by weapon; S 11, D 10, C 13, I 14, W 9, Ch 14; M 6; Items: medallion of thoughts; XP 13.

Spells: Amariza can memorize two 1st level spells, or one of 2nd level. Favorite spells are amnesia, augury, and know alignment.

Faultless Memory: As a priestess of Muiri, goddess of memory, Amariza never forgets anything. She can recall anything she has heard.

Sacred Dragonflies: Amariza always has 1d6+6 dragonflies flying around her. If Amariza is attacked, the dragonflies will fight as an 2 HD insect swarm with a number of hit points equal to the number of dragonflies.

Dragonflies (1d6+6): AL N; MV 3, fly 6; AC 7; HD 2; hp 1 per dragonfly; #AT 1; Dmg 2 hp (bite); Save as human0; M 11; XP 29.

Location: In the Cathedral of Clouds during work hours, or in her small home in the Priests’ Quarter.

See also: Carter Don, Quinzel, Sylgya.

Note: Because the cleric class doesn’t exist in the Weird Opera world, Amariza is a mage. If you want to use her in a more traditional game, make her a cleric of intermediate level. Give her faultless memory as a granted power instead of turning undead, or give her both.

D&D 30 Day Challenge: Day 29 – What is the number you always seem to roll on a d20?

Okay, the maker of this list truly was out of ideas at this point. Thank God the challenge is over tomorrow. We wouldn’t want him to suffer for much longer.

How am I going to answer this? 3? 4? I always seem to roll low when I want to roll high, and I always seem to roll high when I want to roll low, but I think everyone has that problem.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

D&D 30 Day Challenge: Day 28 – A Character I Will Never Play Again

I’m with Christopher Eccleston on this one: when I stop playing a character, I never go back to playing it, even if it would be for a 50th anniversary celebration.

Usually, when me and my group end a campaign, we start up something else entirely. For example, now I’m playing Vampire. If we go back to D&D we’ll probably start at 1st level, so previous characters are often too experienced. Also, there are many different character concepts, and returning to the same character means I can't play them.

I do use favorite previous PCs as NPC in new campaigns regularly. Sometimes they’re given a new name, appearance, and role so the players don’t recognize him or her. At other times, the character is pretty much the same. I like to have some continuity between my campaign worlds, even if they're not really in the same universe. For example, Quinzel is the character I played in my brother's Greyhawk campaign, Saldoran Gorst is from my Dromenon campaign, and Kata from an old 2nd Edition campaign all exist in the Weird Opera world in one form of the other.

Friday, September 27, 2013

D&D 30 Day Challenge: Day 27 – A Character I Want To Play In The Future

I’ve been DMing for most of the past 6 years, and before that I played an Ice Witch and a bard/jester. I haven’t played a thief in about ten years! And it is my favorite class! So for my next character (not my Next character, mind you) I’ll probably roll up a thief. To be more precise, I’ll play her:

Her name is Blasphemy Battleship (now where would I have gotten that name?), and only steals so she can provide for her poor, sick mother.
Or so she says...

Thursday, September 26, 2013

D&D 30 Day Challenge: Day 26 – My Favorite Non-Magic Item

As we approach the end of the 30 day challenge, the questions become more and more dull. The imagination of whoever wrote these questions didn’t reach very far. Oh well, we knew that going in.

Anyway, my favorite non-magical items are books. Of course, there are many magical books, tomes, librams and manuals in the game, but regular books can be just as much fun.

Spellbooks: Can be found in adventures when the bad guy is a mage, or when adventuring in a library. Found spellbooks are the most common source of spells for PC mages to add to their own spellbooks. For the DM, they’re also the best way to introduce new spells into the campaign.

Exposition: Books are a good way to fill in your players about certain aspects of your campaign world, or, if you’re into that kind of thing, the plot of the adventure. For this kind of books handouts can be nice, representing interesting pages in the book and detailing one of the campaign world’s forgotten legends, or pages from the vampire’s diary.

Traps: Books make great traps, because when PCs find a book, they’ll want to read it. Any book kan be firetrapped or inscribed with a sepia snake sigil. The adventure “Ex Libris” from Dungeon Adventures # 29 had Abishai devils imprisoned in its books that were freed when a book was read. The letters on a page can be an entity existing of ideas, that jumps into the reader’s mind as a parasite, or they could be a spell that casts itself.

Mythos Tomes: Books that slowly drive you mad while you try to decipher the mad ramblings of the writer are always a favorite. These books are somewhere between a spellbook and exposition. Realms of Crawling Chaos from Goblinoid Games has a good system for reading Mythos Tomes and learning spells from them. And the Madness rules from Call of Cthulhu are actually in the 3.5 Unearthed Arcana, which means they’re available through the OGL.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

D&D 30 Day Challenge: Day 25 – My Favorite Magic Item

My favorite magic item is the wand of wonder. There’s a number of items of random magic in the game (bag of tricks, deck of many things, etc.) but none of them strike me as whimsical as the wand of wonder. The wand has a nice balance between effects: they are funny (turning permanently purple), useless (grass grows), damaging (a 6d6 fireball), and useful (invisibility).

I use the wand often. Recently, I gave the apprentice mage Lessie in Three Sad Wizards a variant wand of wonder. For her wand I removed the more damaging effects to make it less deadly and more humorous. Quinzel from Faces of Pretomournon has a wand of wonder as well.

Why WotC thought they needed to change the wand into a rod of wonder is beyond me. Just another case of fixing things that aren’t broke. Wand or rod, this magic item is always fun.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

D&D 30 Day Challenge: Day 24 – Favorite energy type

Gosh, finally an interesting question on this list! I love energy types, they’re my favorite part of the game! I can’t imagine how we ever managed without them. I mean, when a fire giant that is immune to fire is attacked with a torch, does he get damage? How do you know if the torch is doing fire damage? Leaving it to the DM seems unfair and untrustworthy. Fortunately, energy types were introduced in 3rd Edition, and 4E made them even better! And I'm liking what I've seen so far in Next.

Anyway, my favorite energy: I ‘m a big fan of Necrotic energy and Radiant energy. Necrotic comes from the negative energy plane, and Radiant comes from the positive energy plane, but the designers were smart enough not to call these energy types “positive energy” and “negative energy”. That would have been stupid. “Necrotic” sounds much awesomerer!

However, the very best energy and my true favorite is Fire energy, because it can set things on fire and burn things. Now that’s what I call awesome!

Monday, September 23, 2013

D&D 30 Day Challenge: Day 23 – Least Favorite Monster Overall

I’ve said I dislike dragons. But I dislike dragonborn even more. I hate them.

Excuse me for ranting a bit.

To me, they personify lack of imagination and making everything boring that was cool. They make the fantastical outright mundane, and that’s never a good thing. The existence of dragonborn severely undermines the mythology of dragons. Apparently, WotC wants to make dragons truly legendary. Well, if people see dragon creatures in the streets every day,  that just isn’t going to work.

Dragonmen were around in the game before 4E. In order of most interesting to least: Dragonlance had draconians, born out of corrupted eggs stolen from metallic dragons. There were different kinds of draconians, and they were pretty cool. For example, the Aurak draconian would explode when it reached 0 hp, and another one turned to stone, trapping his attacker’s sword. Dark Sun had the Dray, a race created by an undead dragon king, and the Forgotten Realms had Dragonkin, barbarian dragonmen under the control of the Cult of the Dragon.

So it might have been a good idea for 4E to combine them into one dragonkin race. But did the designers make them barbarians created by an undead dragon king, born from corrupted dragon eggs who explode upon death? No, they made them boring paladins.

I hate dragonborn.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Faces of Pretomournon: The Jester


Quinzel is a jester who is rapidly making a name for herself in the city. She started her career in the Comedy Dungeon, a club where the less fortunate come to listen to jokes about the upper class. When she climbed the stage, the innocent looking blonde immediately charmed the audience. To everyone's surprise this little girl told the most coarse, rude, and vulgar jokes. Her performances were an instant hit, and soon Madame Cherisse came knocking on Quinzel’s door.

Now she regularly performs at the Palais Cherisse, on the leading stage in the city. Quinzel ’s performances here are attended by the same high class men she makes jokes about. On her first night, Madame Charisse tried to have Quinzel adjust her repertoire, and eliminate some jokes about important customers. But Quinzel would have none of it. She stepped onto the stage and began with a joke about Garrelt Cristofoletto, who sat less than 10 yards away with a courtesan on his lap. The whole room held his breath, but Cristofoletto took it all in good fun and began to laugh. The ice was broken, and since then Quinzel can say and do whatever she wants when she’s on stage. No matter how far she goes, she comes away with anything.

This is mainly because of how she looks. Quinzel is small in stature, unruly blond hair and big blue eyes. Although she’s in her early twenties, she can look as if she’s anywhere between 15 and 30 years, depending on how she wants herself to present. With her hair loose and without her jester makeup, Quinzel is practically unrecognizable, and she makes good use of this in executing her mistress’ plans.

See, Quinzel is the Disciple of Padat, The Fall, the 8th Lord of Misrule. This demonic entity will destroy the world of Seralin by collapsing it into the gas giant Anderove. To do so, it must first reach the world and enter it.

Quinzel is originally from another world. Padat has plucked her from another world called Oerth to achieve the end of Seralin. Now, Quinzel is working to call her mistress to this world.

She does so by using the resources of The Temple. Disguised as a young nun named Trudi, Quinzel has won the trust of Amariza, a priestess of Muizi, goddess of Memory. Amariza is very upset about the advancing humanotheism and atheism in Pretomournon and decided something had to be done. Thanks to Trudi she came into possession of a ritual which will bring her goddess into the world. Of course, the ritual Trudi/Quinzel has provided will not call Muizi, but Padat, The Fall.

It should be clear by now that Quinzel is insane. Traveling between worlds and seeing what lies behind Reality has made ​​her certifiable nuts. At night she has horrible nightmares, at daytime she has regular fits of crying. On days when she is not performing sometimes she fills sketchbooks with drawings of the hideous monsters from her dreams, and she plays haunting melodies on her flute that make listeners either sad or terrified.

However, there are few who ever see this side of Quinzel: for almost everyone she is the cheerful, provocative, mischievous jester who tells rude jokes. Ibbo, himself the Disciple of Arak-Kur-Mortahn, The Death Titan, 5th Lord of Misrule, knows who she is and assists her sometimes - even though he would prefer his own master to destroy the world. Madame Cherisse sees Quinzel’s depression and anxiety behind the scenes of her performances, but  she’s unable to bond with the young woman. She has instructed a number of her spies to keep an eye on Quinzel, but so far none of them has found out she’s the servant of an Apocalypse Demon.

Quinzel: AL C; MV 12; AC 4 (manifesting leather armor +2, Dex); Human Female Jester 8; hp 29; #AT 1; Dmg 1d6+1 (short sword +1) or by weapon +2; S 9, D 14, C 12, I 15, W 13, Ch 15; M 10; items: wand of wonder; XP 1560.
Spells: Quinzel cast spells as a 4th level Mage.
Manifesting armor: Quinzel usually goes about her business unarmored. The armor instantly manifests automatically when she is attacked. If she wants to, she can also summon the armor.

Location: At The Comedy Dungeon or the Palais Cherisse performing, in the Cathedral of Clouds (as Trudi), or in her apartment in the River District.

See also: Amariza, Madame Cherisse, Garrelt Cristofoletto, Ibbo.

Sources: I use my own version, but there are many good Jester classes on the web. Depending on which system you use, you can try one of the following versions:

-          Swords & Wizardry and OD&D compatible games: (obviously, Quinzel isn’t immune to insanity).
-          Labyrinth Lord and B/X compatible games: (obviously, Quinzel isn’t immune to insanity).
-          For OSRIC and AD&D compatible games:

D&D 30 Day Challenge: Day 22 – Favorite Monster Overall

It makes sense that today’s monster is one of those I wrote about this week. It’s between the shambling mound and the harpy, but I went with the one I used most often of the two.

I’ve used harpies in my three most recent campaigns, and they’re already inhabiting at least one dungeon I haven’t run yet. In the BECMI campaign I ran a couple of years ago, two harpies were nesting in a dungeon. The magic-user managed to put one to sleep, but one of the monsters was enough to kill the thief and severely wound the others in the party. In a short-lived 4E campaign, the party’s flying ship was attacked by harpies. There’s also a pair of harpies in Three Sad Wizards, and there’s a harpy nest in Castle Verge.

Like I said last Friday, my love for the harpy comes from exposure to the monster at an early age. Astrid Lindgren’s Ronja Rövardotter, and it’s atmospheric illustrations by Ilon Wikland, had a big impact on me, and they still are the foundation of what I like in fantasy.

The bird-witches from the book always tried to claw out the eyes of their victims. Harpies in the D&D game could use a good Claw Out Their Eyes rule. Maybe something like this:

Claw Out Their Eyes: When the harpy’s attack roll is a natural 20 and she rolls maximum damage (4, in RC), she claws out one of the target’s eyes. For the remainder of the fight, the target suffers penalties as if he was blind (in RC, -4 to saves, -6 attack, +4 to AC).  After healing or first aid is applied, these penalties are reduced by 3 (so in RC, -1 to saves, -2 to attacks, and +1 to AC remains). The eye can be restored with any form of regeneration, but not by cure blindless.
In addition to the harpies in Ronja, these were very influential . Lindgren may have put bird-witches in my imagination, Carl Barks made sure they stayed there.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

D&D 30 Day Challenge: Day 21 – Favorite Dragon

I really dislike dragons. That’s why I changed them to Xaoclost. The drawing is the one that will show up in Lost Library of the Deathspeakers.

I used to like dragons, back when they were the most terrifying monsters in the Monstrous Compendium. But over the years, the designers at WotC made them boring and dull.

Friday, September 20, 2013

D&D 30 Day Challenge: Day 20 – My Favorite Humanoid or Fey

I went for a monstrous humanoid with this one. I think my love for the harpy comes from reading Ronja Rövardotter by Astrid Lindgren as a kid. The “bird-witches” in that book scared the hell out of me. They wanted to claw out your eyes, how terrifying is that!

Either that, or  The Golden Fleecing by Carl Barks.

Originally, in ancient mythology harpies where beautiful women with wings. Only later they were mixed up with sirens, and became ugly bird-women. I tried to design a harpy that can be both, and in the Weird Opera world beautiful harpies with colorful feathers exist. No matter how beautiful, however, all harpies are evil bird-witches that want to claw out your eyes.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

D&D 30 Day Challenge: Day 19 – Me Favorite Plant Monster

Ahoy me hearties! Today be Talk Like a Pirate Day! Now we pirates usually don’t no speak ‘bout monsters other than t' kraken, but t’day is ‘bout me favorite plant monster.

Me didn’t really notice t' shambler at first when ah got t' Monstrous Compendium. But me do remember an issue o' Dungeon Adventures which included one, and me be a fan since.

At first, me wanted t' compost heap in Three Sad Wizards t' be a shambler, but alas, it would ’ve been a bit too tough for cabin boy-level characters. But me am sure t’ have a chance t' use it again sometime. Arrr!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

D&D 30 Day Challenge: Day 18 – Favorite Outsider

Of course I like modrons. In Monster Manual II they were silly-looking geometric shapes with legs, but for Planescape they were redesigned by my favorite artist to include steampunky clockwork elements. They were still silly looking, of course, but in a good quirky way.

The first chapter of The Great Modron March was the last Planescape adventure I ran. After that, 3rd Edition came out and the modrons were no longer the primary inhabitants of Mechanus, being replaced by centaur ants and robotic giants. The boringifying of D&D’s monsters began there, and continues to this day.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

D&D 30 Day Challenge: Day 17 – My Favorite Vermin

Searching for reference for this drawing made my skin crawl. If normal spiders are that creepy, imagine one the size of a horse!

Monday, September 16, 2013

D&D 30 Day Challenge: Day 16 – Favorite Aberration

The first issue of Dragon Magazine I bought had “The Ecology of the Gibbering Mouther”. It was the first time I encountered AD&D’s brand of weirdness, after being exposed to the Tolkienesque fantasy of Das Schwarze Auge. I liked the creature ever since, even though I can’t remember ever using it. I don’t know any published adventures that use a Gibbering Mouther, but this post inspired me: Lost Library of the Deathspeakers will have one.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Faces of Pretomournon: The Manipulator

Carter Don

Do you want someone busted out of jail? Do you want the guards at Cristofoletto to look the other way while you climb over the wall? Do you want to be allowed into the Palais Cherisse, even though you’re a penniless nobody? In short, do you have an illegal or semi-legal job you want done? If so, there is only one man who can help. That man is Carter Don.

Carter (never, ever Mr. Don) is a manipulator, a lobbyist, a fixer and a corruptor. There are generally two types of manipulators: the person who knows everyone, and the person that is a spider in a web of connections. Carter Don is both. He has connections in every layer of the population, and he’s constantly expanding its network. Many of Carter’s contacts have their own extensive network, and through them he can reach people that remain closed to most.

Anyone can hire Carter. That is to say, anyone with 1,000 gold pieces. That is his minimum price, and that amount is often doubled when expenses are charged. At first meeting Carter, one is often taken with his jovial demeanor. He’s friendly,  tells little jokes, and makes people feel like they’ve known him forever. However, beneath the friendly exterior hides a man who is willing to do everything to achieve his goal. And he does: violence, and murder are often used to get the job done. He never tells his clients about his methods, usually giving them the impression he uses the coin they pay him to bribe the right people.

For example, Amariza, a naïve priest of Muizi has hired him to evacuate the homes standing in the way of her ‘Sign of God’. So far, Carter has been very successful in clearing houses, sometimes by paying the residents to leave, but mostly by threatening them and beating the up. For this work, he hired the Basher Brothers, a trio of pigs known for their love of violence.  If Amariza would know, she would immediately take her business away from Carter.

Carter’s clients better not expect any loyalty from him. Carter only has one loyalty, and that’s to money. He has nothing against working for opposing sides, as long as it pays well, and he can see a way to get the job done. He would just as easily use his contacts to smuggle weaponry into the city, as he would assist a thief to steal the weapons.

In fact, that’s what he did recently. Carter is a key figure in Vithimiris Reizensteijn’s arms smuggling. However, he has also ensured that the dwarf Ibbo could steal a chest of weapons. This has brought Reizensteijn into trouble, because his financer Garrelt Cristofoletto wants his money.

Carter Don: AL L; MV 12; AC 4 (chain mail, Dex); Human Male Fighter5; hp 25 #AT 1; Dmg 1d6+4 (short sword +2, Str) or by weapon +2; S 17, D 15, C 10, I 15, W 11, Ch 15; M 8; items: short sword +2, ring of command human; XP 350.

Location: In his office in the Money District (during the day), in the Palais Cherisse (at night), or wandering the Day Market, Night Market or Nightmare Market to maintain his network.

See also: Amariza, the Basher Brothers, Madame Cherisse, Garrelt Cristofoletto, Ibbo, Vithimiris Reizensteijn.

D&D 30 Day Challenge: Day 15 – My Favorite Undead Monster

I like ghost stories. I like it when the protagonists of the story must research the history of the ghost in order to lay it to rest. In my campaign, ghosts can be beaten in a fight (with magic weapons), but it will reappear the next night. The only way to get rid of a ghost is to find out what keeps it on the mortal plane.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

D&D 30 Days Challenge: Day 14 – My Favorite NPC

Saldoran Gorst (you can call him “Sal”) was a NPC from my Dromenon campaign. He was a trader in souls. In the very first adventure of the campaign, the party came into the possession of a shard of glass, actually a piece of the soul of Zebulon, a disciple of the messiah who killed Iscariot (and was responsible for the rebirth of the Ashen God).

At first, the PCs knew nothing about the shattered soul of Zebulon, and Sal came to them wanting to buy the ‘magic piece of glass’. When they found out what the shards of glass were, they soughed Sal out to buy shards from him.

Sal was a yugoloth, but the party never found out what kind, since they met him only in human form. This being 4E, I statted him and his Marut bodyguards three times, but every time I thought the party would fight him they didn’t. They would rather negotiate with him.

Sal was originally inspired by A’kin the Friendly Fiend (from Uncaged: Faces of Sigil), but he quickly took on a personality of his own. He was a shrewd businessman, but he was amazingly fair (for a yugoloth). He reasoned that customers would come back if he treated him fair. And he was right: the PCs did business with him again and again, and Sal made a lot of money from them.

Saldoran Gorst trades in souls no longer. Now, he sells dreams and nightmares in Pretomournon’s nightmare market. He will make an appearance in Faces of Pretomournon, here on this blog.

Friday, September 13, 2013

D&D 30 Days Challenge: Day 13 – Favorite Trap/Puzzle

‘The Face of the Great Green Devil’ from S1 – Tomb of Horrors is perhaps the most famous trap in D&D history. And with good reason: it has everything a good trap needs.

1. It’s deadly: who leaps into the mouth of the devil is completely and forever destroyed.
2. It’s easy to detect: any PCs taking the time to examine the devil’s mouth will certainly detect the sphere of annihilation almost immediately.
3. Examining it is still dangerous: the PC examining the trap shouldn’t put his hand in. This is why you have a 10-foot pole.

The 2E module Return to the Tomb of Horrors improves the trap, and makes it even better, in my opinion. In that scenario, anyone stepping into the devil’s mouth with dust from Acererak’s discarded physical form in hand will not be destroyed, but is transported to The City That Waits.

Tomb of Horrors is often cited by new school players as the foremost example of an “unfair” module. Although it certainly was designed to be deadly, examining everything, having a thief to scout,  and detecting magic or evil regularly saves a lot of trouble. It seems to me in new school games, the most common way to interact with traps is falling in them. Instead of teaching players not to walk into traps, traps became less and less dangerous. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

D&D 30 Days Challenge: Day 12 – Favorite Dungeon Type/Location

I like to use buildings: castles, wizard towers, temples, and other above ground structures. My adventure locations are often in use, either by the original users (for example, a cult in a temple), or by new (for example, a kobold tribe living in a ruined castle). The PCs in my campaigns are often invading people’s homes (as they do in Three Sad Wizards), or raiding the headquarters of evil organizations.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

D&D 30 Days Challenge Day 11 – Favorite Adventure I Have Ran

I usually run adventures I’ve written myself, like Three Sad Wizards, but less eleborate.

However, for my Al-Qadim campaign I ran published adventures only. And my favorite among them was ‘In the City of Brass’ from the Secrets of the Lamp sourcebox by Wolfgang Bauer. It’s a 2nd Edition module, and it has the same flaws as most 2E adventures: it shows no understanding of what DM and players actually do at the table, and it assumes a sequence of events that almost certainly will be disrupted by the very first logical action the PCs take.

So why do I like this adventure? Well, for one thing, it takes place in the City of Brass. The TSR version of the city is pretty good, and gives exactly what you want from the place: fields of molten lave, golden towers of the azers, salamander slaves, and the palaces of the Efreeti.

Secondly, even if the plot is abandoned the minute the PCs arrive in the city, the adventure describes many locations and encounters that can be used right out of the book: an Efreet palazzo, complete with all the guards and treasures to be had, many encounters for characters roaming the streets, and captain Soot, who sails his ship between worlds and is a good candidate for favorite NPC.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

D&D 30 Days Challenge: Day 10 – Craziest Thing That’s Happened That I Saw to a Party/Character/My Players, Etc.

When in the Banewarrens, the party was caught in a teleportation trap, that teleported everybody in the room to a pit trap, doing 10d6 of damage. We barely survived, and after we were healed, a new problem arose. The Pactlords of the Quaan, an organization of weird monsters, had sent a dearch party, existing of a mind flayer, an ogre mage, a hieractosphinx, an ettercap, and a monstrous spider.

With most of our hit points lost in the trap, we were hardly in a state to fight. However, the Pactlords closed off the way back. We retreated, and decided to use the teleportation trap to teleport behind them. Now we knew what was waiting for us, we could activate our spells and magical items to walk into the trap with minimal damage. So we activated the trap, teleported to a good distance from the monsters, and fled.

I don’t know if it’s the craziest thing ever, but I think using a trap to escape monsters is pretty unusual.

Monday, September 9, 2013

D&D 30 Day Challenge: Day 9 – Favorite Character I Haven’t Played

Back when we often played superhero RPGs – mostly Mayfair’s DC Heroes and Green Ronin’s Mutants & Masterminds – we always made up a comic book “universe” for the adventures to take place in. This included a lot of other superheroes which we created and made stats for, but never actually played. My favorite among them is Duplica, the Multiple Girls.

Duplica could multiply herself into many versions of herself, much like Marvel’s Jamie Madrox. Every version of her came from a different concept universe, and had a different personality. When she would send the Multiple Girls away, a different girl would stay behind on this Earth.

I think the multiple personalities of the character would be fun to play, as well as examining what takes place in those other universes.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

D&D 30 Day Challenge: Day 8 – Favorite Character I Have Played

Quinzel was the female jester I played in my brother’s Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk campaign. She was inspired in no small part by Harley Quinn from the Batman Animated Series, and
This being 3.5, Quinzel was a bard with the jester prestige class, which meant she could use the spell Tasha’s hideous laughter a few times a day, and she could play the flute. But she had a rod of wonder (for OSR people better known as a wand of wonder), and that magic item is awesome. Quinzel would yell ‘Fireball!’ whenever she used the rod, and enjoyed watching the monsters dodge out of the way of a stream of butterflies.

Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk makes use of some famous or high-profile places and NPCs. Quinzel performed at the Green Dragon Inn, and made fun of Damaris and Lord Robilar (and got away with it).

In the dungeons deep beneath the Greyhawk Ruins, she had to fight an Evil version of herself from an alternate reality. She lost, and the Evil Doppelganger took her place. I played the rest of the adventure as a Quinzel of LE alignment.

In the short-lived 4E campaign my brother ran, I played Quinzel again. I figured, if she had changed places with an Evil Quinzel of another world, this was that other world. I played her for one adventure, but in 4E, it just wasn’t the same.

After that, I made up a new world for Quinzel to live in. I was planning on using her in a novel, but after a few false starts I ended up writing another story, in which she didn’t appear. Quinzel stayed imprisoned in Limbo for a while, and I decided to make that part of the character.

So now Quinzel is a NPC. The wandering between worlds has driven her mad. She has become a disciple of the Lords of Misrule, powerful demon lords that destroy world after world. Quinzel looks for suitable worlds to destroy and leads her demonic mentor to them, all Silver Surfer-like.

Quinzel will make an appearance in the series Faces of Pretomournon, here on this blog.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Faces of Pretomournon: Introduction

Pretomournon is an extraordinary city. As capital of The Mournful Kingdom, it’s the city where the Queen’s palace stands. It’s the place of the largest and most important university in the world. And although most of the people in the city are humanotheists, the largest cathedral of the Temple is there as well.

First-time visitors to Pretomournon marvel at the layout of the city: It’s not built on, but in the ruins of older versions of the city. Crowded streets run through uninhabited expanses of debris and half demolished buildings. Some of the ruins are inhabited by the city’s underprivileged. No homeless sleeping in the streets of Pretomournon.

The people of the city are just as remarkable as its buildings and ruins. Their clothing resemble stage costumes, and many of the inhabitants act like they’re thespians, talking as if they’re orating a monologue. Every man and woman in Pretomournon presents himself how he wants to be perceived, not how he or she really is.

That is why visitors to the city never get to see the real Pretomournon. They get to see the façade – the false faces the inhabitants put forth. The real Pretomournon hides behind the façade, where the inhabitants scheme and plot against each other. Every Pretomournian is involved in a conspiracy or two.

The series Faces of Pretomournon will present 30 inhabitants of the city. Every one of these NPCs takes part in one of the many conspiracies the city has. You will learn about:

Book Trade: A librarian illegally sells books from the university library, and with the money buys terrible books of forbidden lore on the Nightmare Market.

Dead Master Thieves: A lich tries to turn the local thieves’ guild into one of the worldwide Meta-Guilds. To assume Guild leadership, he raises famous thieves from history as Dead Master Thieves.

Dreams and Nightmares: A succubus courtesan steals the dreams and nightmares of her customers, and sells them on the Nightmare Market.

Making Art: The up-and-coming artists of the Pretomournon art world center around a single art gallery, where art created by nightmares and genies

The Romanticist in Trouble: A romantic swashbuckling rogue climbs into the rooms of teenage girls at night. However, he picked the wrong window, and a powerful mage wants him dead for touching his daughter.

Sex, Spies & Murder: The Madame of one of Pretomournon’s pleasure palaces is secretly a senior member of the Secret Masters. In addition, she’s the city’s primary spymaster and conspirator.

Summoning the Anti-Deity: A small cult within the Temple works to summon their goddess to the mortal world. However, disciples of the Lords of Misrule conspire to summon one of their masters, and with it, the apocalypse.

Weapon Smuggling: Weapon smugglers bring strange, powerful magic weapons into the city. Recently, shipments are disappearing. The seller wants his money, and the owner wants his weapons.

D&D 30 Day Challenge: Day 7 – My Favorite Edition

The Mentzer sets, also known as BECMI, for Basic Expert Companion Master Immortal. Of course, this is the edition I started with, but actually I never played it much beyond the basic set, changing to AD&D. I didn’t see how great this version of the game is until I started playing it again about 5 or 6 years ago.

It’s the most complete version of D&D, with rules for dungeon and wilderness adventures, Domains and Strongholds, weapon mastery, and adventuring on alternate planes of existence. Characters can advance to level 36 and even beyond, petitioning to become an Immortal (god). Maybe it’s a bit much, and, since few campaigns will run that long, unnecessary, but it’s nice to have these options.

BECMI also has the best adventures published for it. Each set has a series of adventure modules associated with it: the Basic Set has the B-series of modules, the Expert Set the X-series, etc. This are not edited tournament modules that give a wrong picture of how an adventure fits together. Each adventure teaches DMs the rules from the corresponding boxed set. In Search of the Unknown and The Keep on the Borderlands are great dungeon adventures, and The Isle of Dread is a fantastic wilderness adventure.

Friday, September 6, 2013

D&D 30 Day Challenge: Day 6 – My Favorite Deity

In my 4E Dromenon campaign, one of the big villains was the Ashen God, Eater of Souls, God of Undead, Decay, and Betrayal. He was served by a cult known as the Glassmakers, a splinter group of the capital’s glassblowers guild, who harvested souls for their deity to eat.

The Ashen God was originally the Apostle Iscariot, who betrayed the Messiah. He fled into the Elemental Chaos, followed by Zebulon, one of the other Apostles. When Zebulon caught up with him, a fight ensued, and Iscariot was incapacitated, pinned to a black monolith by Zebulon’s sword. Of course, you shouldn’t disturb Evil Black Monoliths in the Chaos: Iscariot merged with the entity trapped in the monolith and became the Ashen God.

My favorite bit involving the Ashen God was when the party tried to enter one of his monoliths in order to kill the high priestess inside. The smooth black surface didn’t reflect their own faces, but that of the Ashen God, who asked: ‘Who will you betray in my name?’

Every PC had to vow to betray someone, in name of the Ashen God. One PC betrayed herself, another betrayed her clan, and the third swore to betray one of the other characters. And they couldn’t get out of the deal: they had to fulfill their vows, or nasty things would happen.

Of course, this being 4E, the party fought him in the end: think Vecna wielding Stormbringer. (Literally: I based the stats on info found in the Monster Builder.)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

D&D 30 Day Challenge: Day 5 – My Favorite Set of Dice/Individual Die

I never understood why some gamers like one type of die better than another. I couldn’t care less what die I roll.

However, I liked the dice with swords and the shields and the skulls in the old Heroquest board game. Also, the dice that came with the D&D board game from 10 years ago (see picture). Dice of different colors had a different number of swords on them. Weapon attack power came from different combinations of dice. Cleverly done, and should be made into a role-playing game.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

D&D 30 Day Challenge: Day 4 – Favorite Game World

This one’s easy: Planescape. Everything about Planescape is awesome: the art, the writing, the graphic design, the monsters, the NPCs, the art… All different components of the setting were cool, and amplified each other’s coolness. A demon is pretty cool in itself, but a demon drawn by DiTerlizzi talking the chant and selling you spell-keys is a whole other thing.

I saw the original boxed set on my monthly  trip to the gaming store and bought it immediately. Even then I was bored with the usual dwarves and elves and dragons, and Planescape’s weirdness was a breath of fresh air. It reinvigorated D&D for me.

The Planescape campaign I ran consisted mostly of small adventures from Well of Worlds, with freeform role-playing in the city of Sigil between. I also ran The Eternal Boundary and some chapters from The Great Modron March. I also like Harbinger House and Something Wild, but I never got around to play them. A large part of In the Abyss is basically a hexcrawl in the Abyss. It’s pretty awesome.

I think towards the end of the product line, the quality of supplements and adventures dropped a little. A Guide to the Ethereal Plane and The Inner Planes are well-done, but they just don’t do it for me. The later adventures were all “Epic Mega-Adventures”, which I don’t like because they don’t leave much room for the DM to form his own campaign: The Great Modron March, Dead Gods, Hellbound: The Blood War, Tales from the Infinite Staircase, and Faction War all have some nice ideas, but when run take over the campaign entirely.

When it came out, the tagline for the campaign setting was “Fantasy taken over the edge” and for a while that was what it did. It took fantasy to places where it hadn’t gone before. However, a funny thing happened in the years following its release: the edges shifted. Things like Githyanki and tieflings started to pop up in other D&D campaigns, and the style of D&D fantasy changed.  Now, tieflings are in the Player Handbook (even if they are nothing like Planescape tieflings).

Runners up: Spelljammer, Al-Qadim, Time of the Dragon (but not the rest of Dragonlance. Just Taladas).

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

D&D 30 Day Challenge: Day 3 – Favorite Playable Class

I usually play mages or thieves. If I would have to choose, I would pick the thief, but it’s a close call. I like shady characters, and I like playing the thief as a scoundrel or knave. But then again, that’s how I play my mages as well.

I’ve played a number of characters that were both: magic-user-thieves, inspired by Leiber’s Gray Mouser. For one 2E character I used the tables in the Dungeon Master Guide to create a new class for a thief character with spellcasting abilities. She had to gain an enormous amount of XP to gain a level, but at the time we used a freeform system to handle XP awards (“everyone gains a level”, basically), so it didn’t matter. Later on, I made similar characters using the Player’s Option books. (multi-classing didn’t work, because I only played human characters, remember?)

Monday, September 2, 2013

D&D 30 Day Challenge: Day 2 – Favorite Playable Race

I almost always play human characters. I think my first AD&D character was a half-elf, and I once played a Chaond (chaos planetouched), but usually my PCs are “plain” humans. I don’t know why exactly, but maybe it’s because I don’t like the archetypes associated with the standard demi-human races. In my mind, all dwarves fight with axes or hammers, and wear horned helmets. All elves use bows, and all halflings smoke pipes. Stereotypes, instead of archetypes.

Or maybe I’m just not attracted to the archetypes these races represent: if I wanted to play an archer, maybe I would play an elf. But playing an elven archer doesn’t appeal to me: I usually play witches or thieves, both of which are human archetypes.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

D&D 30 Day Challenge: Day 1 – How I Got Started

My first role-playing game was the German RPG Das Schwarze Auge (DSA). It came out in 1984 and it was the first RPG translated into Dutch.  At first I played only now-and-then, but later, after moving, I formed a group and we played any time we could – sometimes daily.

Then, in 1989, while visiting the American Book Centre (a well-known store selling American English-language books) I found the AD&D 2nd Edition Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master Guide. I bought them, together with an issue of Dungeon Magazine, and went home to read the rules.

I didn’t understand them. Because of my familiarity with DSA I couldn’t wrap my head around some of the differences between the games. For example, DSA uses the term hit points for how much damage a character does, and mages start with 20 life points, not 1d4. Also, AD&D is more of a dungeon exploration game (even though the 2E books told me otherwise), and I didn’t understand open doors rolls and saving throws. The 2nd Edition books just weren’t very good at teaching the game.

Lucky for me, by that time the Dutch translation of the Menzer Basic Set was out. I bought it, read it, and played it. I quickly hunted down all translated adventure modules: In Search of the Unknown, The Keep on the Borderlands, Horror on the Hill, Rahasia, and the solo module Blizzard Pass.

Unfortunately, no more boxed sets and adventures where translated into Dutch after that. We played the available adventures, and after that I started an AD&D campaign.

So that’s how I started playing D&D: first Das Schwarze Auge, then the Mentzer red box because the 2nd Edition books were not good at teaching the game.