Playing an archeologist in D&D?

In the Tomb of Annihilation adventure you have to find an ancient ruined city somewhere in the middle of the jungle, enter its dungeon, destroy an evil artifact and defeat the evil lich. All very principled. And you can play as an archeologist (or an anthopologist).

Kind of.

You’re still gonna play a fighter, a wizard, a bard or whatnot, but you can choose the aforementionned disciplines as « backgrounds ».

Apart from the fluff, an archeologist has the following ability:

Historical Knowledge

When you enter a ruin or dungeon, you can correctly ascertain its original purpose and determine its builders, whether those were dwarves, elves, humans, yuan-ti, or some other known race. In addition, you can determine the monetary value of art objects more than a century old.

That’s nice, I guess.

But… It’s a bit weird really. Well, first, obviously there’s a major difference with using archeology knowledge for a dungeon master to help with verisimilitude and a player who plays an archeologist…

If there is an archeologist character, it implies the discipline of archeology in-world. Tomb-robbing is often a central thing in D&D (as it is in my campaign), but that’s pretty much the antithesis of archeology, which can be described, I think, as a systematic method centered around a scientific basis for the purpose of finding and studying ancient artefacts.

Sooo…

It is true that the players can be somewhat methodic – in killing and looting everything!

It’s the scientific part that’s a hard pill to swallow for me. You see, archeology did not exist before the 18th century. Indeed, to see the emergence of archeology first you had to have a couple of things in place: scientific theory, a surging interest for things of the past of course, and, let’s not forget, an era of colonialism

Of course, you can do what you want with your elfgame, but for an obsessive-compulsive like me, who wants things to make some kind of sense (as much as a silly game as D&D allows), something that is so steeped in a very modern background that implies modern knowledge and modern infrastructure (universities and museums and so on) is off-putting.

With all of that in mind you could have an archeologist character, but I think you would need either just simply disregard all of the above (the de facto solution) or you could craft a campaign that fits this kind of premise and in that case, it would be very far from the usual vanilla fantasy… But maybe not uninteresting.

Archeologist Treasure Hunter

Or you could just dump the whole thing (with its anachronism and ethical problems) and just refluff the archeologist background as a Treasure Hunter… I mean, it’s a fantasy trope for a reason.

Choose a Sponsor for your Dungeon Delve

A neat idea from the gamebook Battlepits of Krarth (Dave Morris, Oliver Johnson) is to make you start the adventure while choosing a sponsor as the first obligatory step before entering said battlepits. In pure gamebook fashion you can choose blindly and then of course you risk getting a bad one (one sponsor is actually a vampire who, guess what, is more interested in getting your blood than having champions to compete), or, you know, you could try to get some information first and make a better choice…

Those are « Sponsors » too but they’re a bit, huh, different?

Of course, a Choose Your Own Adventure has a limited scope and so there’s only three sponsors to choose from (others are mentionned but aren’t availaible). One good, one bad and one really bad (the aforementionned vampire). An interesting twist is that the good one, Magus Balthazar, is harder to get, he’s actually picky as to whom he chooses. It’s not like he wants the first boneheads to cross his door to represent him in this prestigious, yearly competion. No, no, no. You will be tested, and if your intelligence is found lacking, well… You’ll have to find another sponsor.

This asshole doesn’t care one bit if you die horribly…

With a Tabletop RPG, of course, you could have a lot more options to choose from, leading to interesting roleplaying opportunities.

But what’s the point of having a sponsor? Well, suppose you get one that’s interested in your prolonged well-being, a sponsor could ensure that your chances of success are a bit better, providing you with starting funds, equipment, henchmen and so on… And, depending on the style of play, maybe a kind of insurance against setbacks (healing services, or even resurrection).

In any case, there would have to be something to gain for the sponsor too. A share of the profits, first bid on precious stuff, etc. In a TTRPG, a sponsor wouldn’t be a simple employer, there’s a long-term relationship (or debt serving) to consider.

If I ever do something like a megadungeon campaign, you can be sure there’ll be sponsors around!

Undermountain: Lonely Vampyre

With my previous post you could think I don’t like The Ruins of Undermountain but that’s not the case, there’s a lot of clever stuff in its pages.

One location/encounter in particular reminded me how much I like unlikely allies as a DM. I’m not talking about factions (which are nice too) but monsters or seemingly evil characters that, under certain circumstances, can bond with the PCs. I like it but I also know from experience that Players are absolutely thrilled by it!

But here’s the one I’m talking about here (1991’s spoiler I guess):

This vampyre was once a female human merchant of Waterdeep, Spadreera Omarkhont. She now appears as a slim, svelte, beautiful (but dirty) creature clad only in ash-covered tatters, her eyes glittering with red fire and much of her hair all burnt away.

Yeah, she’s a fire vampire.

Spadreera is lonely, more than anything else. She’d like to chat and gossip about Waterdeep regularly, with someone she could regard as a friend and will try to befriend any beings who survive her initial attack, and cease hostilities when she offers to. PCs who befriend Spadreera never need fear attack from her again. She will not accompany PCs out of the dungeon, and is reluctant even to leave her lair but she will meet PCs at agreed-upon places elsewhere on this level, and even aid them against encountered monsters. She does not appreciate being used, however PCs would be wise not to try to dupe her into fighting every other monster on this level. Spadreera will plead to any befriended creatures for visits as often as possible! In return, she can guard treasure for PCs, give them all the (sadly outdated) information she knows about the intrigues and secrets of Waterdeep, and give them advice on trade (she was a very shrewd merchant). Her lair can become a hideout and safe house for PCs, if they conduct themselves in the right manner.

She’s still a monster in some way but:

Spadreera’s alignment and tendencies are overruled by her loneliness; she will look for prey and opportunities to unleash her cruelty elsewhere, among the monsters that roam this level, and never harm PC friends. She will even nurse injured PCs faithfully back to health without attacking them!

What an interesting NPC!

Do you know of any other cool unlikely ally?

Undermountain: The Wizard inside a Stuffed Beholder

I was skimming through AD&D Ruins of Undermountain, just to see how it compares with 5E Dungeon of the Mad Mage, and I stumbled upon this:

Old Xoblob’s shop

The shop is named for the stuffed, eyeless beholder that hangs from the ceiling inside. Aside from being a curiosity in itself, the beholder conceals a hired wizard who can fire a wand of paralysis out of the dust-covered eye tyrant’s mouth.

I chuckled to myself when I read this. Just picture the poor guy, hidden in a stuffed beholder, twiddling his thumbs ALL DAY LONG!

Adventurers won’t steal from Xoblob’s shop so easily.

Dandalus will trade with whoever comes through the gate. He makes no enemies, he merely charges more for services to those attackers or doublecrossers. Dandalus always takes the following precautions: he wears a ring of spell turning, a ring of free action, and a greenstone amulet; he always carries two potions of extra-healing, an elixir of health, two iron bands of Bilarro spheres, and six beads of force in his pockets.

The shopkeeper will charge more for services to attackers…

A magic shop, a wizard bored out of his mind and a shopkeeper that EXPECTS to be assaulted by his usual clients…

Hilarious nonsense.

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.

A note on Myconids

27. sovereign basidia (2015) - out of the abyss

I don’t think I’ve ever used myconids, but that’s something I want to remediate soon enough. However, if I were to stick to D&D canon lore (which I won’t), myconids are supposed to be found exclusively in the underdark, the subterranean world home to the iconic drow. This was set in stone, so to speak, by Gary Gigax’s D1-2 Descent into the Depths of the Earth (1e), which of course, borrowed heavily on established hollow earth fiction (Jules Verne’s Voyage au centre de la Terre). More to the point, Gigax also borrowed the myconids, which were created in the earlier module  A4 In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords, which was an subteranean adventure (mostly) but in no way deep in the bowels of the earth-subteranean.

shrooms

They belong on the surface!

Leaving the myconids out of most of the more typical (surface) encounters is both sad and needless, in my opinion. Put in any setting, the potential is just mind-blowing…

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Deathbloom Thallid (MtG), perfect for a Chult campaign conversion

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