Spelljammer – If I did it

My Ruins of Chult campaign has been sputtering for a while (curst ye thrice gloomhaven) and now is on hold with summer finally upon us (time for garden luv). I say there’s nothing more pathetic in life than a campaignless DM. Alone. Adrift. Aimless.

And so:

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Hey, that’s out of the blue, isn’t it?

Well, not totally (for me, at least) as I read Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun a few months ago and it struck a swordsspaceships chord I didn’t know I had.

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Anyway, loosely based on something mentioned on this book (it’s so packed with amazing ideas, it’s incredible!):

  • there’s only one spaceship, of unknown origin and it’s absolutely gigantic
  • it sometimes encounters other spaceships
  • they’re, in fact, alternate, and sometimes very weird, versions of the one spaceship
  • because the spaceship can go beyond the speed of light, as a result, SPACE AND TIME ARE BADLY FUCK*D UP AND WEIRD SHIT HAPPENS (I mean, who cares)

The main idea is that the PCs (humans, elves, dwarves and whatnot) awaken, pandorum-like, aboard the eternal spaceship and, you know, proceed to explore, or die trying. Once in a while, the spaceship temporarily halts its mysterious course, as it crosses the path of an alternate, different (subtly or not) version, and, well, things get interesting…

The best thing? All the weird monsters I never use (looking at you intellect devourer)? You bet they’d be there!

Papua New Guinea arrows (for D&D)

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Papuan traditionnal hunters use a variety of arrows, each specialized to hunt specific preys (birds, wild pigs, etc.). And then there are arrows for warfare, for humans…

Those are serrated, barbed, jagged, lined with porcupine quills, so that they do gruesome damage when they’re removed. And there’s more: orchid fiber is laced on the arrows, bits stay inside the wound leading to infection.

Papuans are badasses

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Jagged Arrows for D&D

  • typically used with a short bow
  • range 10′ less
  • 1d4 damage
  • 1 damage each round until removed (per arrow), unless victim is prone
  • to remove:  Wisdom (medicine)  DC 13 (as an action)
  • advantage on check with expanditure of 1 use of healer kit
  • success: 1d4 damage and arrow is removed
  • failure: 1d4 damage and arrow still stuck

 

  • orchid fiber causes 1 level of exhaustion next dawn unless medicine check was succeeded by +5 or more (note that another try could be attempted IF someone has any idea what’s going on)

 

Session 15b – Serpent-Skinned Monks

The PCs could not afford to take another long rest if they wished to be away from Tamaochan before the arrival of the Pick & Axe co. 

Characters:

  • Shin (level 4>>5), Tabaxi Fighter (Arcane Archer), Outlander; big-game hunter, has no patience for weakness
  • Flyzus (level 5>>6), Wood Elf Ranger (hunter), Outlander; sole survivor of his tribe after an orc invasion
  • Rufb (level 5>>6), Half-Orc Barbarian (berserker), Mercenary Veteran; captured by pterafolks, his fellow mercenaries killed, seeks riches and glory
  • Vorn, Shield Guardian, found masterless beside a gaping hole in the ground

Stay Still Forever

In a part of the dungeon yet unexplored – the PCs had successfully avoided a sand-filling trap – a few turns later they got almost in the middle of two rows of skeletons, a sort of honor guard by the look of it, standing on a ledge each side of a passage. The 15 skeletons jumped down and attacked (1)…

The adventurers kept their calm, even after seeing a skeleton still fighting after receiving a killing blow, what should have been a killing blow anyway. It helped that they could  now count on the powerful Vorn to back them up. An exploding magic arrow from Shin did a lot to soften the undead warriors. It took some time but they managed to prevail with only a few light wounds in return (2).

You don’t see any traps

At the end of another passage they could see a golden bat statuette. Rufb took it from its pedestal and got shot in the back by several crossbow bolts. Wounded and angry, Rufb smashed the statuette under his foot. This released a creature made of light, a will o’ wisp they knew from previous experience,  that quickly got away along another passage.

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Shed Skin

Now, for some reason, having a will o’ wisp on the loose didn’t sit well with the PCs (3) so they tried to find it, backtracking a little doing so. Flyzus ordered his pseudodragon pet to follow the evil light but the poor creature got zapped and… died (4). Next, the PCs got into an room they had opened but had chose to ignore earlier, a room with two slabs of stone with shed serpent skins… wait a minute… weren’t there bodies the first time around? Darn! More things roaming free…

Stuck in the Middle with You

To go further in this area, the PCs had to move a heavy block of stone on some rail mechanism up a ramp, the Shield Guardian was put to the task. They were halfway when things got complicated… First, there was sudden resistance against the block, something was pushing back… Second, bats. Lots of bats. Third, the will o’ wisp chose this moment to reappear…

Vorn proved more than strong enough to keep the block from crushing them. The Ranger got rid of the bats around him quickly and then attacked the will o’ wisp. He was joined soon after by Rufb (Shin was still swarmed by bats) and the two successfully avenged the pseudodragon.

No Escape

Finally out of this passage, the PCs saw two nimble figures sprint away from them. The Barbarian, the fastest runner, caught up with them in the central room of the ziggurat’s lower tier. Attempting to communicate  proved fruitless, as Rufb could not understand a word they said. Resigned, the two mysterious sleepers-no-longer assumed fighting stances (5).

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Rufb wasn’t in full combat shape at all, so facing these two adversaries with unknown abilities was daunting. He chose to use one charge of his gem of mud elemental summoning, a reward he had received from the Three Cascades’ frogmen. This proved a wise move as the mud elemental pummeled and mired in mud one serpent-skinned monk. Rufb then finished her with one massive blow of his greataxe. The surviving monk shrieked in anguish and attacked Rufb, sweeping his legs from under him.

Flyzus and Shin now got at the scene too. The outnumbered monk turned his back and fled once more. Shin shot an arrow at him but amazingly, he catched it middair without even looking!

Try to dodge that

He then started to cross the passage to the north, the one with spikes at the bottom, swinging from bar to bar. Rufb got back to his feet and jumped right beside his foe and started grappling him. He easily outmuscled the monk and sent him crashing through the spikes. Flyzus put an end to his life with precise sword thrusts (6).

The PCs finally felt comfortable enough to get down below, to the Hidden Shrine.

DM’s notes

  1. I had described them as skeletons but they were statted as zombies, with the undead fortitude that do a lot for their durability. But this fight was meh.
  2. Too easy! Would have been better if they had to be smart about it…
  3. Players paranoia!
  4. Félix kept forgetting that it existed, so… no big deal, I guess?
  5. The monks tried their best to escape, the PCs, the barbarian in particular, just wouldn’t let them.
  6. This proved to be a really good fight, with a lot of cool, cinematic manoeuvers.

 

 

 

Session 15a – No Stone Unturned

Third session inside the Hidden Shrine of Tamaochan. I had kept it relatively faithful to the module (70% maybe?). But now? Less so…

Characters:

  • Shin (level 4), Tabaxi Fighter (Arcane Archer), Outlander; big-game hunter, has no patience for weakness
  • Flyzus (level 5), Wood Elf Ranger (hunter), Outlander; sole survivor of his tribe after an orc invasion
  • Rufb (level 5), Half-Orc Barbarian (berserker), Mercenary Veteran; captured by pterafolks, his fellow mercenaries killed, seeks riches and glory
  • Vorn, Shield Guardian, found masterless beside a gaping hole in the ground

Psychic Cyclop. Psyclop? huh

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After a well-earned rest outside the PCs got right back to exploring the ancient ziggurat. They went  to a room they had passed the first time, in the second tier (1). The bronze door had a strange engraving on it, a couatl and a cyclop locked in a fierce struggle. Rufb pushed the heavy door and, to his surprise, found himself in the middle of the jungle in front of the very same cyclop warrior, now coming wildly at him with a greataxe! That was all in his head, of course, but the imaginary combat was taking a very real toll on him. Shin ignored his companion’s plight and went straight into the room and got into troubles of his own as a set of giant antique armor assaulted him. Meanwhile, Flyzus was at a loss as to what he could do to save Rufb, as smacking the Half-Orc behind the head did not look like it helped that much… Finally, with scrambled brains and bleeding nose, Rufb managed to overcome the psychic invasion by himself and the three defeated the helmed horror together. This activated some kind of magic from the (avenged) crystal couatl statue that was in the middle of the dais, as they were rewarded a Tray of the Ages (2).

Terror from Above

Nrak, the Firefinger’s ertswhile pterafolk leader, had apparently found a way to track down Flyzus in a vain attempt to avenge himself for the attack on his lair. One of his underling let drop something in the middle of the ruined temple where the PCs were  resting. The package, wrapped in leaves, exploded as it touched the floor, releasing some kind of poisonous pollen. Other pterafolks then dived and hurled javelins at the PCs, some blocked by the Shield Guardian. Mostly unfazed by the surprise attack,  the adventurers responded with projectiles of their own. The Tabaxi Arcane Archer, as always, was utterly deadly with his bow, but the decisive blow was delivered by Flyzus as he hurled back a javelin, powered with an ensnaring strike, that sent Nrak crashing to the ground to his death (3). The few surviving pterafolks had had enough and flew away.

A Sticky Situation (4)

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A few hours after the doomed pterafolk attack, the Ranger could see a giant spider coming their way. Using his hat of the spider the Tabaxi had a quick conversation with it, he learned that the giant spider was upset about being followed and, uh, aggressively courted… Said courter arrived a moment later, it was Mister Sticky the ettercap, who had lost his precious Darling at the hand of the party a while ago. Mister Sticky pleaded to give crucial information if only the PCs stopped besmirching him in front of this « magnificient specimen » of a spider. And so the party learned that members of the Pick & Axe co were on their way towards Tamaochan. The PCs accepted to pay the Ettercap to learn more:

  • P&A group is made up of  seasoned, armored and very sweaty dwarves
  • they have an ankylosaurus
  • the leader have a flying monkey (the PCs had spotted it flying around their camp earlier)
  • they are armed to the teeth, all have crossbows
  • they are half a day’s walk from Tamaochan

Another Way In

As the previous foray in the shrine had proved almost fatal for Rufb, the PCs sought a way to get the mighty (and large) Vorn in the lower tiers with them. They resolved the matter using a scroll of shape stone on a part of the cliff that connected to a room below the ziggurat. The magic scroll enlarged a small hole already there, but getting inside, the party disturbed a family of stone-skinned zorbos. The PCs dispatched the cute but ferocious beasts and had another go at exploring the ancient ruins.

DM’s notes:

  1. I’ve kept the couatl, phantasmal force and helmed horror but changed about everything else in this room
  2. The original treasure is a Balance of Harmony but an item to detect good and evil is rather useless in my game. The Tray of Ages (homebrewed) is me being generous, as the PCs can cast identify as a ritual with it, so they don’t have to wait to be in town (like in 3 sessions) to know what their items do.
  3. Being a large creature, Nrak had advantage on his str save to resist the ensnaring strike and still failed!
  4. That part was, hmm, maybe a little too much on the silly side…

 

A note on dinosaurs

I gotta say, all this nonsense of Lost World-style D&D I’ve been doing for a year now has rekindled my childhood’s interest. Not too surprisingly, the D&D Monster Manual (where fungi creatures are classified as plants!) isn’t very accurate when it comes to dinosaurs, at the very least the section should have been called « prehistoric creatures ».

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  • Pterosaur, plesiosaur and dimetrodon are not dinosaurs at all, they belong in other clades. The latter in particular became extinct 40 millions years before the first dinosaurs and is, in fact, closer to the mammals in the evolution tree.
  • Crocodiles (crocodilians) are contemporary of the dinosaurs. Some, as the deinosuchus, a 36′ long crocodilian, easily justify the use of a giant crocodile template without any stretch of imagination.
  • Many dinosaurs lived in big herds and as such, would have lived in vast plains with big meat-eaters trailing them.
  • There’s a paleontology bias for recovering bigger fossils as big bones are more likely to be preserved than smaller ones. In all likelihood, dinosaurs occupied every possible ecological niches and diminutive (gliding, tree-climbing, insect-eating, etc.) dinosaurs were abundant.
  • Birds are feathered, flying non-extinct dinosaurs.

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Dinosaurs in a fantasy world

It’s all about what we accept as tropes of the genre. Dinosaurs in a vanilla fantasy setting will readily seem awkward. Dinosaurs in a Lost World-themed setting à la Isle of Dread or Chult, now, that’s far more easy to swallow. In such a place, dinosaurs should be seen as nothing more than exotic animals (or just plain animals for the locals).

I would go further, if there is dinosaurs, lets give them (most of) the place. I mean, would there be still jaguars, elephants or whatever,  if packs of deinonychus roamed the jungles?

What about monsters? In fact, one option would be to monsterize dinosaurs from time to time, to spice things up. Here’s some basic reskinning:

  • spike-throwing stegosaur (manticore tail)
  • multi-headed plesiosaur (hydra)
  • gorgoceratop (gorgon-triceratop)
  • fire-breathing T-rex (a classic)
  • displacer raptor (deinonychus-displacer beast)

 

 

Reputation- Seven Associates- update

In the Renown option the DMG tells us that it cannot get lower than zero. I disagree, I think it can reflect an increasing enmity. As I see it, a -5 renown score would lead to a NPC/faction actively trying to hinder the PCs. A +5 renown would be the opposite, helping the PCs as they can.

Here’s how the 7As renown stands after a few more dealings & side quests with Chult’s denizens:

Port Nyanzaru

The Merchant Princes:

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Zhanti: +3

  • defended the Amnian Fop (showed valor +1)
  • played an important part in capturing the pirate ship The Stirge along with its captain (commerce interest: +2)

Ekene-Afa: +2

  • freed a spy working for Captain Soshen that had been held prisonner by the Bridgerunners in Malar’s Throat (took side: +2)

Kwayoté: +1

  • exterminated the critters in newly acquired mine (commerce interest +1)

Jobal: -3

  • have freed a spy working for Captain Soshen that had been held prisonner by the Bridgerunners in Malar’s Throat (took side: -2)
  • killed more Bridgerunners that attacked them, with the help of Purple Hands (took side -1)

Jessamine: +2

  • secured a shipment of frogmen-made pottery by helping the tribe overcome a crisis (commerce interest +1)
  • killed Bridgerunners that were encroaching in affilated Purple Hands‘ territory (took side +1)

Ifan Talro’a: 0

  • participated in many events at the Grand Coliseum (showed valor +1)
  • crossed swords against Flaming Fist allies (took side -1)

Port Nyanzaru: other factions:

Port-Nyanzaru’s Populace (+3)

  • participated in the finals of Liberation Day’s Tournament (showed valor +1)
  • captured pirate ship the Stirge (showed valor +1)
  • killed the pirates in naumachia event (showed valor +1)

Flaming Fist Mercenaries: -3

  • killed Flaming Fists to save a merfolk (took side -3)

Greater Chult

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Pink Reef’s Merfolks: +4

  • traded with the merfolks (+1)
  • saved a captured merfolk by killing its assailants (took side +3)

Three-Cascades’s Frogmen Tribe: +5

  • saved the tribe from a terrible plague by getting the cure in the Forbidden Valley (saviors +5)

Valley of Mist’s Albino Dwarves Tribe: +3

  • defeated the Caves of Decay troglodytes that were attacking the tribe (defeated a major threat +3)

Plateau of the Aarakocra’s Flock: +1

  • made a deal  useful for both sides (+1)

Pick & Axe Company Dwarves: -2

  • looted the treasures of Tomoachan (- 1)
  • forced a weeklong pursuit in the jungle and finally evaded the Dwarves (-1)

Of Stickers and Unlocking (for D&D)

 

My ongoing D&D campaign is set in the jungles of Chult. I have the Tomb of Annihilation adventure book and while I don’t use its main plot *shudders*, I love the setting. I mean, I could very well have done the same thing with the old Isle of Dread module, but I didn’t know of its existence when I bought ToA. Anyway, I feel like ToA grafted a sandbox to something that wasn’t exactly meant for it. The PCs must find a specific location (the tomb duh) and have no real incentives to explore the fantastic locations on their way (not that there’s much of it tbh). More so, the players have this bigass map with the blanks… well unless you have a really dedicated cartographer player, it doesn’t see much use in my experience. Which is a shame.

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In retrospect, what I would have liked is stickers. I’ve discovered the fun of it in my recent experience with legacy-type boardgames (gloomhaven, betrayal legacy).

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From Cephalofair’s Gloomhaven

You’ve found/unlocked a location! Put a sticker!

Nah, really, it’s a thing. I like it.