Archive for the ‘Epic’ Category

Building Bad: Tips on Creating Memorable Villain NPC’s

January 6, 2020 Comments off


It’s easy, relatively speaking, to run a villain in most campaigns.  You’ve got technical application of the rules, some rudimentary tactics, and keeping track of stats, spells, and wounds, sure…. And sometimes that can be burdensome, but any GM worth their salt should be able to readily handle that aspect of the game, if not right away then early in their GMing career.

But how do you take a pile of stats and make it memorable?  Make it truly villainous?  here are a few tips to creating a bad guy that your players will love to hate.

Reputation / Infamy

You hear about a villain, or their actions, before you ever see them:  You come across the scene of the murder.  You hear the villagers talk about the tradgedy the villain has brought to bear (even if they don’t know that’s who is behind it).  People talk in hushed tones about the warlord  in the neighboring province.  Villagers tell tale of the creature that lives in the woods.

This is best delievered as background noise, tavern rumors, or news reports.  Better yet, it’s learned when the party is busy with another problem.  It builds a richer world, one fraught with problems where the party can only do so much.  The villain is a problem that the party has to work itself up to.  Haunting scenes of death and destruction or chilling tales from victims or survivors build the villain’s reputation.

Villains use others to do their dirty work.

While some villains may be solitary, many villains that wield enough power will draw followers that seek to benefit from the riches or influence their dastardly patron.  Others may see a chance for wanton violence in the company of someone who has mastered it.

This could be as minimal as a hobgoblin or bugbear that commands a small horde of semi-faithful goblins.  It could be a petty crime lord that pays a biker gang to ferry his contraband and protect his holdings for a cut of the take.  It could be an army.  In this agency, there is power over the innocent.  These perhaps not-so-powerful followers can affect change by virtue of their numbers.  They can destroy a village, derail a train, and in big enough numbers, crush a nation.

Use these minions to exact the will of the Villain, spy on their enemies, and create confrontations that remind the party the villain is active without putting the villain himself at risk.  Furthermore, these minions brag about their patron villain.  They want people to know that they are to be feared and respected because of their patron’s power.  Let your minions tell tales of their patron villain, threaten his wrath, and predict his retribution.  You’re building a relationship between the villain and the party without the villain saying a word themselves.

Villains attack heroes where they’re most vulnerable.

Only so much force can be brought to bear agains the heroes themselves.  They are, after all, the heroes!  They were built to overcome adversity.  When a villain cannot eliminate the heroes, they can make them pay.  Often, they have friends, family and loved ones that don’t have the same capability to fight back.  And there’s nothing to make a villain more hated than attacking or exploiting the innocent, especially if the heroes are close to the victims.

Villains live to fight another day.

There is no single thing that drives a party mad more readily than a villain slipping through their grasp.  Villains should plan ways of making their escape so that the heroes cannot follow until it’s time to stop telling their story.  Dedicated retreat can be difficult to counter, especially for a Villain applying a little forethought.  Take note, however, that if you do this, there are two rules you have to follow: One, the escape must make sense in some form or fashion or the party will see the escape as a cheat. Make sure evidence of their escape plan is clear and reasonable. Two, you must eventually let the heroes catch the villain.  The contract you have with the players as a GM is that you will give them the opportunity to be heroic. Give them that opportunity, if not right away.

Villains use their resources to make your misery their hobby.

Villiains have time and resources that allow them to do things that an average hero wouldn’t even consider.  It might be having their goons ransack the heroes’ base, burn down a town, or spread nasty rumors about them.  They can take their time or drop a little money into making the heroes miserable, including impersonating them while doing their worst.  Fire is cheap.  The watch and judges can be bribed. While the possibilities are endless, the goal is to anger the party, not to kill them.  They are owed a confrontation, and their anger is the spice that will make that fight all the more satsifying.

Villains aren’t just cruel to the heroes.

If a villain is cruel, there are plenty of ways to show it.  Sometimes, this involves slaying their own underlings for their own incompetence.  For the chaotic evil out there, it could be slaying bystanders for almost no reason at all.  In most cases, it’s going to be a villain taking the most direct route to solving a problem, even if that means a few people have to get hurt along the way.  Show these victims to the players in your story so that they get the depth of what a jerk your bad guy really is.  If possible, let your villain do this infront of them, but just out of their grasp.  Use the innocent as human shields to cover the villains escape or distract the heroes from seeking their vengeance.

Villians love to hear themselves talk.

There’s nothing more disappointing than fighting your way through multiple floors of a dungeon or secret base and finally cornering the villian you’ve been hunting for weeks to only have him or her wordlessly wade into combat with you without uttering a word.

This is the easiest, cheapest way to make a villain 100% more satisfying.  Call it a surprise round where the villain takes his whole action talking, or do what I do and say it’s a special “drama round” where you apply GM fiat to tell a cool story.  However you make it happen, have your villain at least say a few lines:

“Miserable stinking imbeciles!  You think you can defeat me?  I am Lord Castigar!  I have slain hundrends of so called heroes like yourselves.  Come at me, if you wish to die!”

It doen’t take much to improv some witty (or not-so-witty) dialogue.  But don’t stop there.  Each round, on the villains action, give them some more lines.  Goad the players, mock them, have them explain the cunning nature of their plan, or if things are turning agains tthe Villain, have them start to negotiate.  And when they negotiate, see if there is a way to be reasonable.  See if you can actually tempt the player into taking the deal.  Don’t be surprised if your villain tells the heroes, “Wait! Stop!” and they actually do it, and hear him out (with hesitation).  There’s something about our human natures that make us willing to hear reason, if its possible, and a villain can use that to his advantage.  A real villain will always welch on the deal anyway, so its nothing to make a few promises and then try to get back to their position down the road.  A good villain bides his time. And if they can’t, you have to remember the last thing…

Villains are people too.

Well, some of them are demons, or space monsters or whatever. But the best villain is a villain that can exist in reality.  Sure, there are murdering psyhopaths that cut a swath of death a destruction through the universe for no reason, but the best villains are ones that could exist, that do exist.  They’re usually greedy, money hungry or power hungry people who bend a few rules at first to get what they think they need or deserve.  Soon, when this becomes easier, or if the reward is just too good, they make bolder moves and more people get hurt.  Maybe life has taught them lessons that make empathy a sign of weakness, and they’ve moved beyond being concerned with how others are affected by their actions.  But a complex villain, one that might yet be turned away from their path, or might show vengence another evil for reasons all their own, that’s a truly well developed villain.  They have reasons for acting how they do, and don’t see themselves as evil so much as driven, regardless of the consequences.

In the end, every villain wants to live.  If the choice is obvious death or the possibility of surviving, 9 times out of 10 a villain will choose life unless losing everything is too great of an insult to their vanity. And then, its up the heroes to show mercy, or perhaps begin the road towards villany themselves. Every villain has to start somewhere, and its a fine line between vengence and wrath.

Dungeons and Donations: Encounter at Barrier Peaks

December 3, 2018 Comments off

Dungeons and Donations starts this Friday at The Wyvern’s Tale in Asheville, NC and on for an amazing fifth year! This year will feature a slightly modified version of the classic adventure Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. Judging from the theme on the website and the staff shirts, it looks like an old school Star Trek aesthetic.

For those unfamiliar with previous years, Dungeons and Donations is a 24-hour D&D 5e marathon that benefits Extra Life, the gaming charity for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. In the past the graphics for the stream itself had a retro SSi-Gold Box type of feel that added to the nostalgia of playing through such classic adventures as Tomb of Horrors, Keep on the Borderlands, Shrine of Tamoachan, and White Plume Mountain.

If you are anywhere near the Asheville area, you can play and be on the stream! See how long your character can survive the deadly perils that await the party.

If you can’t make the trip, you can still affect the game! Donations can purchase boons (help the party) or banes (hurt the party). A $5 donation will buy a roll on either table. The peril level dictates what options are available based on how many people are in line waiting to play. The longer the player line, the more deadly the banes. If less players are waiting, the more beneficial the boons!

Can the heroes survive the alien ship and save the children? Join us this Friday for another year of incredible fun! For the children!

Categories: 5e, DnD, Epic, News, Retro, Technology

Trigger Warning: Everything

February 4, 2018 1 comment

Very soon, we’ll be running “Inferno Road” at this year’s Mace West convention here in lovely Asheville, North Carolina. Both Kevin and Scott got a chance to play it at this year’s GenCon, but I wasn’t able to as it coincided with games I was running. It’s an insane DCCRPG death metal tournament in a nightmarish hellscape cranked up to 11 and beyond. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll are just the beginning. The index says “Trigger Warning: Everything” and the pages following live up to that fact. Not for kids, not for the faint of heart and not for everyone. We’ve said more than once we could be asked to never return, but it will definitely be worth it.


Inferno Road binders for the Judges… we may need to burn these when done to be safe.

Here’s the basics:

Saturday, March 10th
Asheville, North Carolina

Slaved to the overlords of Hell… you begin as a soulless grub in a sea of grubs, endlessly writhing in the burning pits of the inferno. Your eternity is suffering with the gnawing hunger for a soul… any soul… ALL souls. Plucked from obscurity and forced on board a Hellwagon in service to a Duke of Hell, you and your ‘companions’ race to overtake Satan’s Wives, pregnant with fresh souls for the Prince of Darkness. With every soul you devour your power will grow, perhaps enough to take on the the Devil himself?

Trigger Warning: EVERYTHING


Giant 4′ x 6′ banner which we’ll have hanging behind the tables, calling those seeking ruination and destruction to join in the insanity that is “Inferno Road”

We’re planning on two tables battling head to head and as such have had to make some adjustments to the mechanics and the storyline, but the core remains the same. There will be prizes galore and a trophy for the winner.

On top of that, the Asheville DCCRPG Road Crew gang will be running a few games, notably “Blades Against Death” by Harley Stroh which Kevin will be handling and I’m scheduled to run “Blessing of the Vile Brotherhood” also by Harley Stroh. More MCC and DCC will be played after hours and on the schedule. There’s also plenty of other games for many systems, and it’s always a great weekend here in Asheville.

You can register for Mace West at THIS LINK. Come play with us… forever… and ever… and ever…

Categories: DCCRPG, Epic, MCC, RPGs, Uncategorized

Forbidden Caverns of Archaia Review

September 11, 2017 2 comments

The latest megadungeon from Dr. Greg Gillespie has been released in PDF: The Forbidden Caverns of Archaia. Greg is known for previous indiegogo campaigns for the megadungeon Barrowmaze, which eventually resulted in a 260-page tome called Barrowmaze Complete. This latest kickstarter featured a lot of similar elements from Barrowmaze and for that matter, classic adventures like Keep on the Borderlands and Temple of Elemental Evil.

This review is not going to be entirely spoiler-free, but I’ll try and keep them to a minimum. This latest megadungeon certainly has enough material for years of play and weighs in at 293 pages. Similar to the aforementioned adventures, your PCs start in a well-detailed fair sized village, and are in a sandbox hex-map region called the Prelacy of Middenmark. Like the Duchy of Aerik from Barrowmaze or Verbobonc in Temple of Elemental Evil, there are several features and settlements to explore in the nearby area other than the megadungeon focus of the adventure itself.

While Barrowmaze was focused on a series of underground crypts linked in one massive dungeon, the Forbidden Caverns of the Archaia is mostly a series of caves and tombs in canyon walls that get increasingly difficult the deeper you go in to the canyon. “Oh, so like and the Caves of Chaos?” Yes, but way more than could fit on a two-page map. Also, malevolent forces are uniting disparate tribes of humanoids in a bid to summon a terrible evil and conquer the world. “So, pretty much Temple of Elemental Evil?” Well, yes, but this outlines the hierarchy and provides heraldry for all the groups as well as attitudes between different sects allowing crafty players to turn evil on itself. Furthermore there are keystaffs that need to be assembled from several parts to utilize hengegates to allow the party to quickly get to different areas. “Now you’re just talking about the Rod of Seven Parts.” Keystaffs are actually way cooler, and have different powers based on the different parts used to assemble them, and parts can be interchanged. There are runes, rings, headpieces and a worksheet for players to keep track of their experimentation. It is an awesome part of navigating the adventure. Finally, at the end of the canyon there is a hellmouth that leads into the base of a volcano! This leads to another huge section of delving that can provide a ton of information on the fate of the Archaians. This leads to the actual end game of the adventure, which I won’t go into the details of here, but it is appropriately epic. With a very prepared and motivated GM, this would be a fantastically satisfying ride.

You can see the fingerprints of some of the greatest adventures of all time in this work, but Greg expands and expounds on them in way that keeps them fresh, yet familiar. Recently there was a discussion on the DCC RPG Rocks! facebook group about the opening language for Dungeon Crawl Classics modules that may need an update. DCC modules have evolved beyond what many would consider “classic” and have started delving into the more weird and less traveled paths of Appendix N inspiration. The Forbidden Caverns of Archaia stays more within what many consider classic tropes of dungeons and dragons. Yet compared side by side, this work really represents an excellent evolution of the old school for those looking to remember and honor the classics, without just replaying them.

The art features several of the same artists from DCC book like Stefan Poag, Russ Nicholson and Jim Holloway, as well as several that have a similar style like Cory Hamel, Peter Pagano, Carl McIntyre and more. Some of these same artists have work in Barrowmaze which is what originally drew me to the book at the Goodman Games booth at North Texas RPG Con in 2016.

Overall, I would highly recommend this megadungeon if you are looking for a big campaign with a lot of old school feel, but something that will keep even the hardiest grognard guessing.

The 998th Conclave of Wizards Review DCC

September 21, 2015 Comments off

15 - 1(1)It is no secret, I have been a fan of Dungeon Crawl Classics since the beta. Since then, I’ve bought just about every module that Goodman Games has released for the system. I’ve also pledged big money to kickstarters for box-sets of both Peril on the Purple Planet, and Chained Coffin before that. When I saw what Goodman Games was planning on releasing for Gen Con, a buddy of mine asked if anybody wanted him to pick up some stuff while he was there. One obscenely large paypal transfer later, and I have a lot of awesome new DCC stuff to review.

The 998th Conclave of Wizards is double the price of a typical DCC module, but its also double the size, and features one of the coolest Doug Kovacs covers of all time. I saw the sketch for it at Gary Con this past year, and knew I had to own this adventure. After reading this cover to cover, I wish it had the received the box-set treatment that Chained Coffin and Purple Planet did. Another boxed-set? Yes. 46 pages barely scratches the surface of the awesome asteroid city of Ciz. It is essentially three entire adventures broken up into three main challenges. For those of you that may play it in the future, I’ll gloss over the secret stuff.

The first challenge is just receiving the invitation to join the Star Cabal and the conclave of wizards, and locate one of their hidden towers. One epic battle later, the party is launched towards the City Palace of Ciz, a spaceport and central hub for various alien life forms. The party is encouraged to explore the ever-changing city and encounter various factions detailed throughout. This adventure is full of tables to randomize alien appearances and names. There is also a d24 table of random street encounters that range from fairly mundane, somewhat dangerous, and the truly memorable. There are notable locations and tons of flavor text describing wizard towers of cabal members as well as places to research magic, as well as a system of law that includes “cubing” prisoners and selling them off as servants to the highest bidder. There is a lot of awesome stuff in here. You could easily spend a session or two just wandering the city.

GMG5089FullCoverEach member of the Cabal is detailed, as well as their motivations, and alignments. This allows for intra-Cabal scheming to take place, as the next challenge involves receiving endorsements of two current Cabal members to spell duel with a different Cabal member as a right of passage to join the Cabal itself. Beyond just descriptions and motivations for each member, a description and a few denizens of each of their towers are provided, as well as a random tower generator and one of the best tables of interesting traps I’ve seen (probably until Grimtooth’s ships). Each tower could be the better part of a session, and there are nine towers. Even if you explored two a session you could be playing around in this adventure for months!

The final challenge involves tracking down a lost artifact by traveling to nearby asteroids, each with their own characteristics. There is a table of Orbital Encounters, as well as a Kovacs gatefold map of the asteroids themselves. If the PCs survive the challenges presented herein, one of their number will become a member of the Star Cabal, and can use the Palace City of Ciz as base for countless other adventures. As a 6th level adventure, this is not for the rookie DCC judge, but could serve as a truly epic finale’ for seasoned adventurers.

One minor gripe was on page 2, the summary of key plot elements left a few placeholders of page ## instead of the actual page number, but this was not indicative of the editing throughout the rest of the module. $19.99 may seem like a lot for an adventure, but it will leave you wishing it was a $39.99 box-set. The 998th Conclave of Wizards is not to be missed!

Princes of the Apocalypse Review PLUS Converting the Temple of Elemental Evil: T1 – The Village of Hommlet to 5th Edition

May 11, 2015 3 comments

First, let’s talk about Princes of the Apocalypse:

I picked up Princes of the Apocalypse a few weeks ago, after we had completed the Hommlet section of Temple of Elemental Evil.  In case you weren’t aware, Princes of the Apocalypse is 5th Edition’s campaign for this year, and is not a reboot of the classic module, but derives core ideas and starts a series of entirely new adventures.  They’ve done good work in not respawning the old story, but creating a new story with continuity to the old.

The philosophy is that Elemental Evil is something that transcends existence, touching down on various worlds through sheer force of will, infecting different communities with its blight.  Ergo, Greyhawk is one of the first places to suffer its wrath, but this time it has found the Forgotten Realms.   I can buy that, despite my intense love for  Greyhawk .

Fortunately, they have a simple and clever conversion guide showing how to place the new events of the Princes of the Apocalypse in Greyhawk, Eberron, Athas, and other worlds.  They translate factions to local entities, making the Harpers equate to the Circle of Eight, the Zhentarim to the Greyhawk Thieves Guild, and so on.

I love the old Temple of Elemental Evil, but as my group stares down the barrel of its 300 room dungeon, I am reminded now that my love is rooted in nostalgia that newer players will likely not appreciate.  Accordingly, it is perhaps necessary for a more modern take on game design be applied to a new module.  The designers nod to the old module, directing you how to get a copy and advising the ease of conversion (which is somewhat true).  I think they have narrowly avoided angering grognards and new players alike by pumping out a spruced up but changed Hommlet and Temple.  They’re not imitating the past, they’re building on it, depriving us curmudgeons of an opportunity to bitch about how they messed everything up in the reboot. So, well played, sirs.

Princes of the Apocalypse contains several new regional settings, great maps, and a story that crosses boundaries, suggesting a unifying element to Elemental Evil.   The remainder of the book contains items make this a must-have for those converting the old Temple.

First, there are several stat blocks for elemental priests and acolytes.  These are kept in a separate section of the book, and are easy to reference.  This is going to save you a fair bit of time when going through the various sects, with stats for elemental creatures as well that are completely new, but add nicely to the campaign world.  Temple of Elemental Evil suffered from a problem of having somewhat limited options (Monster Manual I) for filling the monster hotel.  Choice replacement may spice things up a bit in making your conversion, so I recommend you look at what’s here.

Secondly, Spells, many of which are fairly classic, are found in this book.  I did not pick up the Tyranny of the Dragon Queen, and I’m starting to worry that key and classic spells are going to start to appear in the back of numerous $50+ books, pushing players to collect them for  just a section of the book.  That may be the new way, unless they can be found elsewhere on a legitimate basis.  It’s not a good way to collect information, but I anticipate increasing web resources to fill that gap.

Third, Magic items are found in the book with details on several weapons of great power (artifacts) which I am going to place into my game in key places. Other more miscellaneous magic items also exist, fleshing out the DMG’s selection and providing thematically entertaining tools that keep the mystery of magic items alive.

For those reasons, I would recommend checking it out.  It’s good in it’s own right, and is  a truly epic campaign (taking the players up to 15th level).  I think that you’ll want to have it if you’re doing the old Temple, and see what you want to bring to it or change.


We’ve just finished this part of the module, so I can place the conversion material here now.  NOTE THERE ARE SPOILERS AHEAD so anyone getting ready to play the old T1: Village of Hommlet should stop reading now.  Below are a complete list of monsters found in the Moathouse and their page number in the Monster Manual. Some are quite obvious, but others not so much. I found these to most closely match the original intention and play of the first mod, and the challenge seemed spot-on.

  • Brigands p. 343
  • Bugbear p. 33
  • Crayfish, Giant  = (as Giant Scorpion p. 327 but no sting attack)
  • Frogs, Giant (Large) = Giant Toad p.329
  • Frogs, Giant (Small) = Giant Frogs 325
  • Ghouls p.148
  • Gnoll p.163
  • Green Slime DMG p.105 (it’s a hazard now)
  • Guardsman = Guard p.347
  • Lareth the Beautiful = See below
  • Leader = Berserker p.344
  • Lieutenant = Bandit Captain p. 344
  • Lizard, Giant = p.326 but add 2 to AC because of magic shield in its belly. Stupid, but true to form.
  • Ogre p.237
  • Rats, Giant p. 327
  • Sergeant = Thug p.350
  • Snake, Giant p327
  • Spider, Huge p.328
  • Tick, Giant = See below
  • Zombie p 316

Giant Tick

Reaper’s Giant Tick

Medium Beast, unaligned

AC 16, HP 22, Speed: 20′ Climb 20′

Str 14 Dex 8 Con 16 Int 2 Wis  8 Cha 6

Senses: Darkvision 60ft , Passive Perception 9

Languages — None

Challenge 1/4 (50XP)

SA: Blood Drain Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft, one reature. Hit: 1d6+2 piercing damage, and attaches to target.  While attached, Giant Tick doesn’t attack, each round target loses 1d6+2 for bloodloss.

Giant Tick can detach itself by spending 5 feet of its movement.  Drops off after draining 15 hp.  DC 14 Str check to remove)

Lareth the Beautiful

Medium Humanoid (Drow Elf)

Lareth the Beautiful

Level 5 ClericProficiency bonus +3

AC 21 HP 55 Speed: 25′

Senses: Darkvision 120′

Special Abilities – Sunlight Sensitivity, Channel Divinity (Trickery), Divine Spellcasting, Blessing of the Trickster, Invoke Duplicity

Str 18 (Save +4)

Dex 17 (Save +3)

Con 16 (Save +3)

Int 14 (Save +2)

Wis 18 (Save +7)

Chr 18 (Save +7)

Skills: Deception +7, Insight +7, Persuasion +7, Sleight of Hand +6

Abilities: Dancing Lights 1/day; Darkness 1/day


Staff of Striking [DMG p. 203] (+10 to hit, 1d6+7 plus 1d6 per charge expended)

Inventory – Plate Mail +1, Shield, Staff of Striking, Silver Holy Symbol, etc

Spells (DC 15)

Cantrips –  Guidance, Resistance, Sacred Flame, Thaumaturgy,

Level 1 –Bane, Charm person, Disguise Self, Healing Word, Inflict Wounds

Level 2 – Blindness, Hold Person, Silence

Level 3 –Animate Dead, Bestow Curse, Mirror Image, Pass without trace

DCCRPG – What’s in the box – Chained Coffin Review

January 13, 2015 Comments off

IMG_0002I recently had the pleasure of playing a game of Shadow of the Demon Lord with the creator of the game, Robert Schwalb. He is planning on kickstarting that system in March, and we were talking about RPG kickstarters and stretch goals and I mentioned how pleased I was with the box set from Goodman Games. He responded, “Yeah sure, but then it’s shrink-wrapped there on the shelf and everybody wants to know, what’s in the box?”

Well I can do you this service for those curious about the first box from Goodman Games. I still haven’t explored every piece of it to the very last detail, but it is too awesome not to write about. I recently received my DCCRPG Chained Coffin Mini-Campaign setting box set from one of the recent kickstarters. Really there isn’t much “mini” about it. The actual module itself, which would likely serve as the climax of the campaign is a whopping 40 pages! It is filled with awesome content from Michael Curtis, and art from Doug Kovacs, Stefan Poag, and Mike Wilson. Also included is a 2nd level bonus adventure by Steve Bean: The Rat King’s River of Death, which is just 6 pages out of the 40. I was one of the few that ponied up for the blindingly awesome gold-foil cover edition of the module, and I’m glad I did since the regular art for the module is used on the box itself.

IMG_0004The main impetus for launching the Chained Coffin as a kickstarter was to see if there was enough interest to justify the expense of producing a high quality code wheel for one of the final puzzles in the module. The kickstarter really picked up steam, and the stretch goals got more and more elaborate, until finally there was enough material to turn it into a box set campaign setting in which a party could spend months adventuring! The puzzle wheel itself is printed on cardstock, and all three wheels are printed on the same material. The back features the art used on the silver and gold covers. Towards the back of the module, past several awesome full page handout illustrations are 5 alternate uses for the wheel: Multiplanar Amulet, Talisman of Monstrous Summonings, Orrery of Fortuitous Evocation, Construct Activation Code, and Catastrophe Timer. Just the titles alone get my creative juices flowing! Each has a paragraph description with some details about how they can be implemented.

Unlike the Purple Planet stretch goals that were written by a small team of writers, every book in this set is by Michael Curtis. There is an 11 x 17 map of the Shudder Mountains, complete with hex grid and several notable locations. Many of which are detailed by the Almanac, others are left up to the GM’s designs.

IMG_0008The Almanac of the Shudder Mountains weighs in at 12 pages (if you include the cover) but those pages are put to great use. I would suggest reading this first to get the background and feel of the setting. As I make my home in the very region this setting is based upon, it feels very close and accessible, as I can stare out my window and see a ridge of very old mountains. Much like Gary Gygax using the midwest as inspiration for some areas of Greyhawk, this feels like adventuring in my own backyard. The almanac details a brief history of the mountains, as well as an overview of the shudders as they currently are. The next section goes in to places of interest in the mountains. It details various geographical sites and some descriptions and rumors about them, as well as towns and villages, each with their own description and adventure seeds. Finally there are a few secret places and mysterious ruin descriptions. Easily enough to adventure for many sessions. The second part of the almanac is about the people of the Shudders, as well as life in the mountains, customs and superstitions, and the option to either include or exclude the demi-human classes of elf, dwarf, and halfling for the purposes of having a human-only campaign consistent with the source material the setting is based upon.

Next is the Chained Coffin Companion, another 16 pages (including the awesome Kovacs cover), detailing the magic of the Shudders and the awesome magical chaos of Spoils. I won’t go in to too much detail to avoid… err… Spoil-ers, but they exist in locations that may have had some magical importance at one time, but due to cataclysmic events detailed in the almanac, have become twisted. They are also used as a source for brewing witch liqour, which has it’s own awesome table of possible effects. The Companion also gives more background into relgion, curses, and folk magic. It also details some magical songs, and mentions if you allow some flavor of optional bard class, they may be able to learn a song per level. There are few magic items particular to the region: hex signs, snake sticks (with a tie-in to Tower Out of Time), and witch liqour. The last section provides details for a new patron: Modeca, The second of the three (Ol’ Blackcloak), as well as some unique creatures and additional random encounters. Many of the encounters feature the new creatures, but some reference more traditional baddies in the core rule book.

TIMG_0006he last two books in the box are adventures! A 0-level funnel Sour Spring Hollow, and a 3rd level adventure The Woeful Caves of Yander Mountain (which sounds like a bluegrass song). Both have Kovacs maps on the back, and cover to cover are only 8 pages long. Once again, these additional books are more quality than quantity, but once you add them all up, you could spend years adventuring in the Shudder Mountains. The funnel involves a wedding, and witch liqour, so you know that is going to be a heck of a way to start a campaign, and the 3rd level adventure would be a typical cave delve, if not for the twisted setting in which the cave exists.

This box set provides all the tools to build an awesome campaign, and creates a vibrant, breathing, almost pulsing setting unlike any other RPG setting I’ve read. Now you know what’s in the box. It starts at $39.99 MSRP. What are you waiting for? My name has been on the dotted line of old Blackcloak’s contract for months! See you in the mountains!


The Big Wrap-Up: Closing Vignettes

April 28, 2014 Comments off

Recently, I finished up an epic campaign, probably the last one of such length I’ll complete in my life.  We started playing some iteration of it back in 1997, and finished in March of 2014. I was a lot younger when we started, didn’t have kids but was dating the woman who would become my wife (her tolerance of our gaming shenanigans was an excellent trial by fire).  Accordingly, however we gamed at least weekly in the beginning, going to weekly, then monthly, then quarterly before the game finally wrapped.  Still, after being separated by about 200 miles, the quarterly journey to common ground was a welcome pilgrimage to see old friends.  In many ways, I’m remorseful that we had to call it quits, but we had completed the arc I had redefined in 2004 for the children of the original characters, and the urge to do other things started to make the old game feel like a small burden, which is an excellent sign of it being time for a change.

Point being, how do you wrap up a game that is over a decade in the making?  There is perhaps no fully adequate way, so you’ve really got to just hope you can hit as many high points as you can.  I’ve never been a fan of exposition or narrative telling you what happened (like at the end of some John Hughes film), but I wanted to indicate where the players were going before we bid them farewell.  So after the players believed the final battle was over, I used the tool of the Closing Vignette to give them one more chance to tell their story, and have their old enemy make a final appearance.

[Warning.  This is work intensive.  To pull this off, I had to make about 36 NPC’s suitable for play by players that had never seen them before, not to mention prepping the usual monsters, plots, dungeons, maps, etc.  Fortunately, Paizo’s NPC Codex and Gamemastery Guide were invaluable to making this happen quickly, and the choice use of Lone Wolf’s Herolab saved the day, but it was zero-hour when the printouts came rolling out for the final game.]

The idea behind the closing vignette is similar to the idea we presented several months ago in the Opening Vignettes article.  It’s a way to showcase a character, but here we know who they are, just not exactly who they’re going to be.  Now, while you or the player could do this on their own and everyone read it and smile and say, “Yep, always knew he’d be the Lord Mayor of Greyhawk” I wanted players to shape it… LIVE.

Just like with Live television, there are lots of opportunities for things to hit the fan, so don’t undertake this lightly.  However, with the right planning, you can see that everyone gets their time in the sun.  Here’s what you need to do:

1.  Identify Major and Minor Plot Issues:  This is where you get to attempt to be J. J. Abrams and close all your plot holes, weave together plot threads, and bring in arch rivals, villains, and bit players that delight the characters and players alike.   The more you can identify and bring in, the more satisfied your players are going to be with the fullness of the resolutions.

2. Develop Player Expectations:  Talk with your players to establish what they want to see happen to their character.  This much time invested in a character deserves a consult and some deference.  I asked several hypothetical questions to see how the player thought their character would likely react, and built my story and resolutions generally to concur or enhance those plans.

3. Develop Your Story With Subtle Connections:  Create a small adventure (estimated 2 hour play time) that is essentially a brief set up, some RP with closure of various issues important to the player and their character, and then an opportunity for the PC to shine – lower level threats stomped into the dirt before a more imposing confrontation with a primary adversary.  This isn’t the epic final boss combat, but it’s someone that gives them a visceral reaction, and it should probe their power in a meaningful way.  However, somewhere in this story, place  a seed that is related to the other vignettes.  When each story piece is revealed, the combined stories will lead into and tell the story of the final confrontation.

4. NPC’s NPC’s NPC’s:  So here’s the crazy part I mentioned – to focus on each PC individually, I made NPC’s that helped emphasize who each Epic PC was now (or was going to be).  NPC’s that were followers, admirers, earned allies or powerful friends (but not as powerful as the PC, of course).   These, I doled out at random to the other players.  That way the players can participate and be entertained, but aren’t compelled to bring their own PC crashing into the focus character’s.

5. EPIC FINALE: Each thread leads into the final confrontation.  Your nemesis awaits.  Everyone, playing themselves, plays out the endgame.


In our story, each PC encountered a familiar villain that stood in the way of something they wanted: the now mad hierophant of winter, the political enemies of the party politico, an on arch-enemy demoness seeking to poison the children of the cleric’s orphanage, etc. Each part of that story found a small link (components to a artifact which, if used, could deify the party’s oldest and greatest of enemies, Iuz the Old).   They arrive in the nick of time to thwart his plans, but not before the party paladin has to choose to marry the woman he loves or fight his nemesis.

Fun was had by all, and very few stones were left unturned as we wrote everyone’s ‘final page’.

Of course, this isn’t going to work with every campaign.  You’re going to run into situations where the final confrontation is it, and then you shut the module and say, what do we play now?  But if you have the time to unfold after that and bring a little twist to your conclusion, you can get a very satisfying feeling of closure from the closing vignette.  Give it a try next time you wrap a 17 year campaign and let me know what you think.



Deep Magic Review

April 21, 2014 Comments off

deepmagiccoverI will start off by saying that I am not a huge magic-user player and I second guessed myself about backing this book on Kickstarter. I kept eyeing the project page during its funding period and it drew me closer to backing until I finally felt compelled to… Wait! Oh, great. I bet it was those pesky kobolds and their shenanigans. Seriously though, I thought the way the project unfolded was a great way to get a large amount of information in a manageable, condensed time-frame. By having multiple authors design and create a certain theme of spells, this project proved that it could really work. The result was a huge, beautifully illustrated book with so much information that I am surprised that I did not have a brain overload the first night I started reading it.

Let’s break the book down by chapters. The first chapter, New Magic Options, covers new tomes, ley lines and racial magics. It introduces gambling, saint, and other magic that draw their power from unconventional and new sources. New feats and other options are given for each section to complete each theme. Reaver dwarves and their ring magic and the minotaur magic section both look quite interesting and could be fun to experiment with.

The second chapter is all about new spells; 154 pages of spells. With my math skills I have determined that they make up about two fifths of the entire book! Out of those, almost ten percent of them were created by Kickstarter backers. Amazing! There are so many imaginative spells that if you cannot find a spell that suits your needs, it is probably really there but you’ll need an Advanced Search function to help you. I cannot wait for Deep Magic to hit Hero Lab for this exact reason.

Chapters three and four deals with glyphs, runes, ink magic, words and incantations. The symbols for glyphs and runes are illustrated and explained with great examples while words of power are reviewed, and then taken further than Ultimate Magic. Incantations are very interesting since it puts the ritual magic in the hands of any character, not just magic-users. Magic use such as that could really change a campaign in many different ways.

1-new-magic-optionsNew sorcerer bloodlines and oracle mysteries are detailed in the fifth chapter. The most interesting are the raven-blooded (tengu) and the disgusting ooze. The illustration that goes with the ooze bloodline perfectly describes what that taint involves. Some of the more interesting mysteries for oracles are the clockwork, snake and wine mysteries. Just picture a Greek or Roman blind oracle with the wine mystery lying on a giant pillow, eating grapes, drinking and throwing lavish parties!

The sixth chapter details some very interesting archetypes. Two stand out for the wizard; the clockworker and the iounmancer. The clockwork powers replay throughout the book and the clockworker archetype brings all of that together into a really neat magic-user. The iounmancer looks interesting since ioun stones are so prevalent in Pathfinder and this archetype allows more manipulation of the stones. But the archetype that blew my mind was the Demon Binder for the summoner class. Instead of having an eidolon I can bind demons? Yes please! You mean I can summon AND bind a balor to my will at level 20? Splorch! (head explodes)

Magical constructs make up the seventh chapter with rules detailing the creation of homunculus, leastlings and the undead. The rules for creating the undead are quite detailed and tell exactly what is needed for the desired result; definitely worth the read. There is also a section on clockwork familiars and how to create them using the same forms as normal familiars. This brings to mind Perseus’ Bubo from Clash of the Titans.

Chapter 8 consists of all the high level spellcasters you could hope for. Heroes and villains are presented with full statistics and beautiful illustrations to give you a full feel for each one. Included in this chapter is a certain Rastor Vex, the Undying Hivemind. If its name does not give you an idea of what it looks like, you must see the illustration. Talk about something out of a nightmare!

Overall, this book is a great product. It is overflowing with information and is full of art by very talented individuals. If you are big fan of magic-users and want to play something out of the ordinary or never seen before, this is the book for you. It does not matter if your character is good or evil, there is something for every arcane class. Pick it up, you will not be disappointed.

Worlds Worst Dungeon Crawl Brings Out Players Best Game

January 6, 2014 1 comment

db_wwdc_ks_cover_500pxOur typical gaming night is Wednesday, which last week fell on new years day. With it being a holiday, some people could make it, some couldn’t, so we were looking for a break from the regular campaigns. Luckily, the PDF of the World’s Worst Dungeon Crawl arrived just in time for Christmas.

For the uninitiated, the World’s Worst Dungeon Crawl was a kickstarter by the Dungeon Bastard to create the most trite, played-out RPG tropes and put them all in one adventure, and still make it AWESOME! In short, he succeeded in spades.

Once I started talking it up in our group, attendance went from “I don’t know if I can make it,” to “Make more pre-gens as we will be packed around the table like a can of dice-rolling sardines!” We ended up with 6 players, but I did make a pre-gen Paladin just in case. As it turned out, no one wanted to play the blind cleric/archer with a 95% chance to hit one of your allies on a miss. Wussies. However, in true D&D style no one wanted to play the cleric, so points for that.

We went over the rules for Badass Hack, which is a simplified version of D&D with some excellent additions. My favorite was the introduction of Shame Points. The idea is to have the players do awesome, badass actions on their turn. They are completely arbitrary, and can be awarded anytime at the GMs discretion. Once a shame point is earned, the player has to roll a d20. If they roll under their current shame point total, they are kicked out of the game! To mitigate this somewhat, a player can assume another player’s shame and add it to their shame score, but the player who just got saved owes the other player BIG TIME.

DoomfireThis, along with the comedic awesomeness of the adventure, kept players focused and trying awesome stuff. It also encouraged good gaming habits. Roll a d12 instead of a d20 on an attack? SHAME POINT. Checking your phone when your initiative comes up? SHAME POINT. Negotiate with orcs instead of cutting a bloody swath through them? SHAME POINT. You get the idea.

Also, the GM can award a 1d6 bonus if an action is particularly awesome. This is called GOING EPIC. A half-orc bard with strings attached to his great-axe leaps from a mine cart while rocking a wailing solo on his axe, buries it into the skull of a kobold as his finale? EPIC.

This kind of carrot/stick approach to RPGs was fantastically effective. It lead to players trying to out-do each other, and look at the map to plan their turn, rather than their character sheet. No fiddly grappling rules, no underwater combat, just epic awesomeness! You want to do something, roll a d20. Was it a particularly fantastic plan? Add a d6 or 3.

We all had an uproariously great time, and as Scott said at the end, “It really has about all the rules you need.” If you didn’t get in on the kickstarter (SHAME POINT) I’m not sure what the Bastard’s plans are for general distribution. If enough people bug him, he may release it on some digital platform like In the meantime, if you see this game posted on a schedule for a con near you, sign up, and GO EPIC!