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Dungeon Crawling: Making It All Up

Lords, ladies, lads, and lasses, I am Vinni the Troll and I am a Dungeon Master. I have always loved to create, and that is what I enjoy about being a DM. As a player, I was always happy to have a character die off, as it meant I could then create a new one.

As a DM, that means that I have a sizable retinue of NPCs waiting in the wings. Sometimes, they are ghosts of my own creations, and other times they are stolen from my youthful memories. Recently, on our Sunday night stream of Malhaven, I introduced the real names of the hacker Oracle, and his brother, Captain Happy. They are Pete and Bobby. If Ash had asked about other siblings, I would have gone on to list one other brother and 3 sisters. Quite the bunch.

Sunday nights, I run Malhaven on our Twitch channel. Perhaps you’ve watched an episode or two? I hope you’ve enjoyed the zombies and weird science that I’ve thrown together. On Sunday mornings, I run a D&D game for Crymson, Fluffy, Aiks, Vanri (sometimes), and my lovely Dragon wife. Still I find that is not enough. This new world I’ve created has many places to explore, so I’ve started another weekend game on Saturdays using Discord and playing theater-of-the-mind.

We started with barely anything. Two players and a loosely described city. The Monk was new to town and really playing up the fish out of water. He’d been told that he would find either work, or a fighting circuit at a certain tavern. The Bard, who worked the tavern, came up with the name “The Slaughterhouse.” I’ve already come up with rules and notes for this world, and during a one-shot, one player played a Minotaur. The proprietor had to be a Minotaur. Somehow, in my head, I started with heifer and twisted it into Festus, and he had a name.

Starting in a tavern is an old trope, but cliches are there for reasons. Another is low levels fight Undead, or rats (but I had that twist on my Sunday morning group already). There is a website called Kobold Fight Club; it’s a wonderful tool to help a DM build an encounter based on the level and size of the party. I set it to Undead, then 2 players of level 1. The lowest creature that came up was a Crawling Claw. I have never heard of or seen this type of Undead before, but they seemed really easy and tiny and I knew I’d found my start.

A comical scene unfolded in my head of the Bard and the Monk fighting a cluster of Undead hands straight out of a cartoon, or Sam Raimi movie. I only needed to set the trap.

With over 3 decades of gaming under my belt, I had an advantage. I knew a lot of quest hooks and styles. I decided on “The Milk Run.” It’s an apparently easy task of carrying an object from point A to point B, but it never goes smoothly. They never do.

With a large metropolitan city, I decided that the quest board on the tavern wall would direct the party to the College Arcanum, where a certain Professor Weir (I have no clue where I pulled that name from) had a crate that needed to be delivered. Weir worked in a sub basement of the College called the Dead Wizard’s Library. The hallways of skulls chatted with each other on all manner of topics, serving as reference tools.

The professor gave the crate to the party, along with a shipping strap that would help levitate the crate. His instructions were to take it to The Inner Ring, where all the wealthy estates were, and deliver it to a Lord Krocerian (a name resurrected from my gaming past) for disposal.

I only need to find a moment for the contents to escape. Sometimes while you plot, your players provide the means. As they cross the campus with the floating crate, the Monk wanted to see how much weight the strap would hold. To the chagrin of the Bard, the Monk lept onto the crate and I decided that was the perfect moment.

As the crate cracked, and the contents began clawing their way out, our heroes tried to put it back together again. With a failed attempt at reactivating the belt, the claws emerged.

When the combat had finished, the goods were put back into the crate, and a helpful student fixed the belt. Our heroes were on their way once more.

So far, all of this had been off the cuff. I wanted to finish with a big baddie, but an Ogre Zombie was bit much for the duo. Looking at the page in the Monster Manual, I saw that a regular zombie was probably more suitable.

The Estate of Lord Krocerian was quiet, the gates unlocked, and the guard dead and hidden in the bushes. Turning to call for help, the heroes were interrupted by a hooded figure with a glowing circlet charging from the house.

They won the day and called for the Watch. Statements were taken and then they returned to The Slaughterhouse for payment as the Watch assured them, and signed off on it, that the claws would be destroyed.

Now I look forward to the next game, and the mystery I have seeded. Who was behind the controlled zombie? Why did they want the Krocerian family dead? Would our heroes give a rats ass? We shall see.

Critical Brew

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Dungeons and Dragons has a lot of variety for players to choose from. The combinations between the 9 races and 12 classes from the Player’s Handbook alone will grant you 108 possible combinations, not accounting for multi-classing, subclasses, and racial variants. For some that is not enough though, or perhaps their inner creativity just can’t be sated by what’s offered officially.

So we have Homebrew. Many a player and Dungeon Master has spent their time to craft homebrew classes and races. If they wish to share with the world, many of these creators post their offerings online in a Pay-what-you-wish format. There are too many for me to review here, but I will showcase two Homebrew classes created by Matt Mercer of Critical Role.

In season one of Critical Role one of the heroes of Vox Machina was Lord Percival Fredrickstein von Musel Klossowski de Rolo III, or Percy. Percy was a Gunslinger; a homebrew fighter subclass created by Mr. Mercer. In season two we saw Mollymauk Tealeaf, a Blood Hunter, join the Mighty Nein. The Blood Hunter is a full class, complete with subclasses to choose from. Both the Gunslinger and Blood Hunter were played by Taliesin Jaffe, and over the course of both campaigns his characters were adjusted as Matt tweaked and modified the homebrew classes.

The Gunslinger uses a mixture of Dexterity and Wisdom to make incredible shots with firearms, some of which they must create themselves. When you choose Gunslinger you gain proficiency with firearms to better hit your target, tinkers tools to craft your weapons and ammunition, and your choice of trick shots to give that added oomph to your attacks.

The trick shots are fueled by Grit, which is based on your Wisdom modifier, and can either be replenished when you rest or when you roll a critical success in combat. This is a good thing as rolling a critical failure will result in a gun jam, and should you fail to clear it, the weapon will break and need to repaired outside of combat at not-to-cheap cost of gold.

The action economy of the fighters multiple attacks and action surges will keep you busy as you unload and reload your weapon multiple times during an encounter. As you level the speed with which you can reload increases, so there is that. With the many Ability Score Increases a fighter gets you can customize the type of gunfighter you wish rather well. A Gunslinger with sharpshooter and the Bad News rifle can make the ultimate sniper, while choosing crossbow expert can make a dual pistol wielding Gunslinger rather fearsome in close quarters. In the latter case wielding two might be considered unnecessary and your DM might be convinced to extend that Feat’s hand crossbow bonus action to your pistol.

Ammunition is not cheap however, and it’s cost varies by the weapon you wield. The palm pistol will run you 2 gold for 20 rounds, while the Hand Mortar is 10 gold for 1 round. That is if you can find the ammo at a market. Most likely you’ll have to craft your own, and that cuts the cost down by half.

There are 8 trick shots to choose from. As you level on your way from Fighter 3 to Fighter 18 you’ll have the opportunity to choose 6, changing out ones you don’t like when you also have the chance to learn a new one, much like spells. These trick shots can intimidate foes, disarm them, give you advantage or grant them the reverse, and even greatly increase the damage you do, while also increasing the chance for your gun to jam.

I say double down on Crossbow Expert and Tavern Brawler, dancing through melee combat with pistol in hand and pistol whipping targets when the gun jams or you run out of ammo. Maybe there’s room for a Gun Fu Monk homebrew there somewhere.

Now the Blood Hunter is another creature entirely. With a fighters hit die, light and medium armor, and all simple and martial weapons they can be sturdy warriors. These arcane rangers are skilled in tracking fey, fiends and undead. Their class features allow them to sacrifice their own vitality in order to charge their weapons with magical energy and cast curses upon their foes.

With the Crimson Rite they can reduce their maximum hit points (which Mollymauk did by slicing himself with his own blade). This adds an extra die of arcane energy, that scales with their class level, to the imbued weapon. Starting at 1st level they choose one of basic types (fire, cold, lighting, or acid) and will gain 1 more each at levels 6 and 9. When they hit level 13 they can choose one from the lesser types (thunder, psychic, or necrotic).

Upon reaching 3rd level you have another major choice before you. Which Blood Hunter Order to you follow; Ghostslayers, Profane Soul, or Mutant. Like other martial classes they can choose a fighting style at level 2, and gain an extra attack at level 5. Further on they gain the ability to cast blood curses, determine an object dark past through psychometry, fend off fear and charm, move swiftly around the battlefield, and even have a greater chance to stave off death.

The Ghostslayers seek the Undead and add a splash of Radiant damage on top of their chosen damage from their Crimson Rite. They can also hasten their actions gaining another attack and bolstering themselves from the defeat of a foe, extend their Blood Curse to targets without blood, see that which others cannot, and continue to fight in spirit form while their mortal form slowly bleeds out.

The Order of the Profane Soul have borrowed a few pages from the Warlocks handbook. They choose a few cantrips, a few spells, and may use their weapon as an arcane focus. Further advancement along this subclass sees them casting cantrips and making a bonus action attack in the same turn, or channeling a spell through a weapon attack in the same blow. They can also gain resistance to magic energy that matches their currently chosen Crimson Rite, make a spell attack as a reaction to a foe’s error in combat, or regain a spell slot upon the defeat of a powerful foe.

The Order of the Mutant consists of Doctor Jekylls that alter their own bodies on the fly through alchemical experimentation.  They eventually master the knowledge of 5 mutagenic formulas, and become immune to toxins because of it. The creation of these mutagens requires a short rest, and by level 15 you’ll be able to craft 3 separate formulas during a single short rest. Drinking these requires a bonus action and their affects, and deleterious side affects last until you take a rest or mediate and flush the toxins from your system. As your body grows accustomed to these toxins you’ll be able to ignore the side affects, and find that you’ve begun naturally producing one of them permanently.

There are 15 mutagens each with side affects, and class level prerequisites. Any of the six attributes can be boosted, but they are accompanied by a penalty to one other. You may find yourself able to fly, but physically weaker. Foes may not be able to restrain or grapple you, but you’ll be slower in the combat order. Every pro has it’s con, at least until level 15.

I suggest watching the 1st season of Critical Role, or listening to the podcasts of it, and paying close attention to Percy to gain a better feel of the Gunslinger class. Taliesin’s luck, good and bad, with dice was most entertaining and showcases the pros and cons of that class very well. As for his Blood Hunter, Mollymauk, in season 2…

The risk of betting ones own health did not fare well for poor Molly. He did shine bright, even if only briefly.

 

 

 

 

For The Hoard (Of Dice)

Games, Dice, Play, Gamble, Success, Casino, Fun, Bet

One of the first things that people new to Table Top Role Playing Games take notice of is the oddly shaped dice that are used. More than just a six-sided die left over from a copy of Monopoly they range from 4 sides to 100 sides. Veteran players tend to develop collections, nay even a hoard, of dice.  Why, you may ask? What is the attraction to the random tokens of fate that we roll across tables,, into dice trays, and drop down dice towers?

Depending on the game, you may find yourself wanting multiple sets. Deadlands for instance has a mechanic where you’re required to roll multiples of the same die for each skill check. It’s easier to purchase 5 sets and roll a handful of D8’s instead of picking up the same one and making several rolls with that. Champions, a superhero game I locked onto through most of my 20s and early 30s relied on your standard D6s but would see dozens of them being rolled for damage depending on the power level of the hero you had created. When I started I would stroll the aisles of my local pharmacy searching for  5 packs of black and white D6s from Hoyle. I’d pick them up regularly. gathering more and more until eventually I found myself purchasing bricks of tiny 6 sided dice in different colors to match the color scheme of my heroes.

To an outside observer our behavior concerning dice is odd. We anthropomorphize them. We talk to them. We “train” them to roll well by displaying them on the table with the better numbers on top. We scold them when they roll poorly and put them in dice jail after a string of bad rolls. We are superstitious about them as well. You never roll someone else’s dice (without permission). We treat specific ones as blessed or cursed as we watch them roll consistently well or poorly.

Dice also come in all colors, sizes, styles, and materials. No matter your budget you can build up a collection of these precious rolling gemstones. Translucent or solid colored plastic dice are the base models. You can get a set for free with shipping if you trust certain overseas shopping apps, or a drawstring bag decorated as a bag of devouring full of 20 complete sets from Amazon for around $30.

True collectors though can expect to pay out some serious cash for dice crafted from metal, stone, bone, or even wood. From the moderate pricing like Skullsplitter Dice to the high end cost of Level Up Dice you can satisfy your inner dragon and amass a hoard of fateful gems.

The accessories we get for our dice need to be discussed as well. The first is the dice bag. Usually a felt drawstring bag, sometimes lined in bright colors, or decorated on the outside as a magic bag. Many dice hoarders begin with a borrowed, or stolen bag from Crown Royal. Like a pouch of coins we arrive at the gaming table and set down our purse of luck pulling them out and testing to see which ones will behave that night. Some people use dice chests, designed to look like…chests…or mimics. I’m a bag man myself.

Rolling them across tables can be problematic, what with maps and miniatures getting in the way. Dice towers sculpted from wood and plastic resembling watchtowers and fortified walls with little trays or courtyards below restrain range our dice may wander. There’s also portable trays that fold and snap into form that are more easily transported.

So search high and low, near and far. Find the shiny baubles that speak to you. Feed your inner dragon and collect your hoard of dice, but I issue you a warning:

Never let Wil Wheaton touch your dice. You may as well toss them if he does.

Dungeon Crawling: My First Hero

…Or Dungeons and Dragons for Beginners.

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So you want to play Dungeons and Dragons, but you don’t know where to begin. There are so many books, so many rules, and so many choices that the options can be a bit overwhelming. Fear not for I shall simplify it for you.

Before you worry about what books to get, and what rules to learn, you need to find a Dungeon Master. They’re the arbitrator of the rules, the referee if you will. They are also in charge of all the monsters and characters not in control by a player. The will have a story in mind (also called a campaign). You need to check with them to see if there are any classes or races they don’t want you to choose from when creating your hero. Most likely, they will also have all the books you’ll need to make your hero.

So now you know what you can’t choose for a race, or a class, if there are any restrictions at all. This means you still have quite a few choices to make, and even though you’ve seen Lord of the Rings, you’re still not sure how to narrow it down. D&D is a game of “let’s pretend…with rules” as such most it is left up to your imagination. There is a mental exercise called The One Room Dungeon.

Before you stands a long corridor. Torches light the way every ten feet, and somewhere in the distance you hear the constant drip of condensation on the flagstones. At the end of the hall stands a solid oak door. It is closed, but flickering lamplight can be seen shining from the crack beneath it. There is a treasure chest behind the door, but also an Orc Warrior guarding it. How do you approach the door? Do you use stealth to sneak up? Do you stride confidently down the hall, clad in your heavy metal armor? Do you cast a spell that silences your footsteps? Once you open the door, do you sneak attack the orc, face him head on with a deadly weapon, or blast him with arcane spells? Which of these choices excite you the most? Are you feeling like a rogue, a warrior, or a spellcaster? Maybe you’re a combination of two or three. When you can imagine how you deal with the orc and gain the treasure, you should begin to have an idea of what class you want to play.

So you’re beginning to have an idea in you head of what your hero is. Great! Borrow the Player’s Handbook from your DM. Flip through the races and see if any jump out at you. There are quite a few to choose from, and you should be familiar with the basic idea of them if you’re into the fantasy genre at all. D&D tries to balance them all out, but if looking over their mechanical benefits helps you decide, then by all means do it.

Next you’ll want to narrow down your class. There’s more than three in the PHB, so the choices you made in The One Room Dungeon are just the tip of the iceberg. Did you choose stealth, using your skills to overcome the orc? There’s a Rogue, a Monk, and a Bard to choose from. Maybe weapons were your go to solution. Fighters, Barbarians, Rangers, and Paladins await you. Or if spell-casting was your thing there are Wizards, Warlocks, Sorcerers, Clerics, and Druids waiting to be called upon. There is no wrong class, race or combination of the two. Sure, you’re choice might not seem optimal mechanically, but if you have fun that is what matters.

The final choice is your Background. What’s your story? Who were you before you took to the life of adventuring? Were you a sailor making a life on the open seas? Did you grow up in the posh life of a Noble house? Were you a criminal thumbing your nose at authority?

Between your race, your class, and your background you have you’re starting equipment and skills. You’re almost ready to play.

You need to generate your ability scores. Ask your DM what method they want you to use. Are you going to roll six-sided dice, spend an allotment of points, or place a static array of numbers? Your class choice will determine what score is important for its features.  Do your weapon skills rely on Strength or Dexterity? Is Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma your spell-casting stat? Perhaps you just want to have a high Constitution and be healthy as an ox.

All those choices made during creation and you’re finally ready to play. “How do I play?” you ask. Improvisation. The Dungeon Master will describe a scene and ask you what your hero wants to do. You can respond descriptively or in character. “My rogue sneaks up to the door and attempts to pick the lock.” or “I’ve seen harder locks in my mom’s cupboard” and I take out my lock-picks. Whether or not you do it is another story.

Anytime there is a chance of success or failure you’re going to roll a twenty-sided die and add a number to it. The higher you roll, the better the outcome. What numbers you add to it depend on the task being attempted. If it was an attack or a spell you’ll need to roll another smaller die to determine how much damage you did. Don’t worry about rolling the wrong one, or forgetting which one is an eight-sider and which is the ten-sider. We all had those same stumbling blocks when we first started.

Mistakes will be made. Heroes will fall. New ones will rise in their place. It is a game. Have fun, and make their tales legendary.

 

Oresan’s Magnificent Foes: The Necromancer Dance Party…

You step gingerly into the dust covered room of the depths below. You’ve entered a long forgotten temple. As you scan the room for dangers you notice above you a faint light flickers into existence. The orb pulses lightly. Suddenly brilliant prismatic light pours outward in swift moving rays. The room comes alive. Near the back of the room a single spot light bathes a hooded figure in light, showing them off to the world. It displays enigmatic footwork, swiftly turns on itself with a deft twirl, and quickly thrusts one finger skyward! It begins to sing… Unerringly you watch. Drawn in by this presence.

I’m inspired daily. Books, Youtube, Movies… and Games. Specifically video games. Video games have done a ton of creative legwork and created iconic and influential monsters and villains for our every need. You just need to take the time to convert them. This particular foe was inspired by the Crypt of the Necrodancer videogame. This is my second entry in a series called “Oresan’s Magnificent Foes” in which I will be detailing entries in a personal Monster Manual of sorts. Each entry will include a little blurb about What the foe is, Why it exists, and How I went about creating it. I hope you enjoy it, and if you have any suggestions, comments, or would like to see me create a foe based off something you love (or loathe) please let me know in the comments below. Read the rest of this entry

You’re Not Alone: My Tribe

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I’m sitting here listening to Danny Don’t You Know by Ninja Sex Party for the millionth time. If you haven’t heard the song, you should give it a listen. There are a few lines that always hit close to home for me but it reminded me that I was supposed to write something for Vanri. (Sorry, Vanri!)

When I was a kid, I had zero friends most of the time. There were a few people that I’d hang around but, no matter what I did, or tried, I never fit in. I never fit in to the point of relentless bullying, severe depression, suicidal thoughts, and attempts. I had a plate overflowing with shit. It was so full, so awful, so heavy that I couldn’t see the other side of it. I just imagined that this was going to be the rest of my life and who the hell wanted that.

I was into D&D, Magic: The Gathering and video games as I became a teenager, but at the time those got you bullied more. I made some friends, but nothing really changed for me. I still dreaded life nearly all the time.

Let’s fast forward because this went on into my 30s. I met Vel, we got married, and I started to figure out what I was and what I wanted to do with that. Five years ago, I kinda got mad. I liked games and I happen to be female, but I couldn’t find myself being represented anywhere. So I, metaphorically, kicked down my first door and said, “Alright, bitches, who wants to form Real Women of Gaming.”

I didn’t see us past a Facebook page, but something amazing happened. Here were people that (most knew me, some didn’t) were listening, supporting some ideas I had, investing themselves in this thing I started. This amazing group of people that were uplifting. This is My Tribe.

All of the things I was bullied for when I was young were now helping me kick down doors and expand this amazing thing. Being loud, excitable, talking about literally anything to anyone. Overweight, mental health, video games, nerd stuff. Everything that I really am helps me and these amazing people helped me find that and show the world that I’m an amazing person.

I get to spend nights laughing while playing Creativerse, Stardew Valley, Gears of War. I plan parties around board games and amazing new foods that my friends bring over. I make new friends that I’m excited to find because we both love specific games. These are things I look forward to. This is my crazy awesome wonderful life.

Now I will side note, that doesn’t mean that I don’t suffer from depression, anxiety and a host of other issues. Those are chemical imbalances in my brain that I am in therapy for, and I take daily medication. The support of my friends, of our fans, helped me get into therapy, helped me ask for medication. They helped me seek the appropriate help I needed to work on a healthier me. Life is no longer unbearable, it’s amazing and I am blessed.

The You’re Not Alone Anti-Bullying Fundraiser was on July 21st and we raised $1,075 for PACER’s Bullying Prevention Center.

Adventure Framework Part 3: The Pillars of the Adventure or The Art of Leaving Blanks.

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We built this city on Rocks and Rolls. We did! It’s the parody that plays in my head on a nearly endless loop whenever I think of a completed adventure. Following my methods from the previous articles allow you to do just that: make a city. We made a city full of foundations, roofs, and above all else, pillars. That’s the way it should be. The adventure you take your players on is not as simple as coming up with a single idea, a single building. It’s about creating numerous buildings.

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Imagine a city block, and within that block there is a single building. It’s nice. Has some cool features. People come and take pictures occasionally, but eventually people stop showing up. “It was nice the first time I was here…” Now it’s old news. Imagine now that a local man built a coffee shop next door, and a young entrepreneur decided to create a hanging garden. Another builds a building full of studio apartments, a small museum… People nearby that love the building see the potential of the space and create something grand. Before you know it the city block becomes a bustling hub for creativity and community spirit.

 

You, the GM, owned that block. You created the first building. The inspiration. The others: They built on it and created something for themselves. You were successful in spurring their ambition and helped them create their own community. That’s how it works. The GM creates the Building on the empty block, the players fill it up with and make its surroundings come to life.

 

How do we let them build their own city block?

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