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Dungeon Crawling: The Adventurers League

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Dungeons and Dragons is a social game. Sure, you can play video games based on the source material that is solely single player, but at its core it’s meant to be enjoyed with friends. Sadly there are those among us who have no friends to play with. What do they do? First off, I suggest checking out our previous article on just that question (LINK).

So you’ve decided to find an Adventurers League game to join. I’m not sure of its reach, but I suggest signing up on Warhorn You can use it to find what local game shops are hosting AL games. With it, you can sign up and grab a seat at a level appropriate table and be on you way.

But is it worth it? Is the AL enjoyable?

Yes…and no.

There are pros and cons to everything. As a player the AL can scratch that need to play. You’ll find monsters to kill, puzzles to solve, and treasure to loot. All within a time constraint. That’s the problem.

In a home game we gather for a few hours, do the dungeon thing, talk to NPCs, and all the other fun stuff. If we run out of time, well there’s always next week. Not so with the AL. Each adventure is a published module available for purchase from the DM’s guild website. It has a listed average level, and the amount of time it should take to complete it. That’s all they allow for, because there are rewards for playing based on the length of the planned adventure. No one likes to go over because you’ve passed the limit and aren’t earning more Downtime or Renown. Downtime is a special type of currency that allows you to purchase goods from your Faction, or to skip a level and catch up to the other players that have hit the next tier. Renown are marks of honor that give you rank and privileges within your chosen faction.

Still sound like a fun time? Cool. Now you show up and either grab a pre-generated character or create one prior to the event using the AL rules. You must use the point buy system, no rolling for gold (choose from the equipment offered by your class and background), and you’re limited to the Players Handbook plus one other book. That means no taking a race from Volo’s Guide and a subclass from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. It’s only slightly limiting, but it can be a downer when you realize your cool idea isn’t legal.

The good news is you meet new people and have a chance to make new friends. It’s also pretty much a guarantee that your local shop has the AL scheduled on the regular, no matter who shows up. As long as at least three players show up in addition to the DM, the game will be good to go. Every session is its own self-contained one-off, so there’s no need for continuity. Sure there might be a series of adventures that follow an arc, but each one is an individual run.

That’s what it’s like to play in the League, but what about running a game?

Well being a DM in the League is interesting. Each location usually has one person in charge of organizing the events and he/she will let you know what’s being run, if they have a copy of it, or if you need to purchase a copy for yourself. The DM’s Guild is a website PDF store full of official adventurers and fan made ones. In addition that is were you find the current season’s Dungeon Master pack. This is a listing of the achievements and rewards you will unlock for running games.

Yup, you earn experience, gold, and treasure for running AL games. You can hold onto them, keeping track of each one on a log sheet, and dole that out to your characters leveling them up while you run the games. Even downloading the packet, filling out the achievement card, and sharing it on social media will net you rewards. There’s also usually a fair number of DMs around so you’ll eventually get to play said characters.

Eventually.

In the meantime you’re prepping a prewritten adventure with probably less than a weeks notice. If you have a desire to take on multiple roles, to learn the lore of the latest product that Wizards of the Coast is selling, or to enforce your power over a table of strangers…than being an AL DM might be for you.

I have fun with it, more as a player though. I have a regular group, and life gets in the way, so to fill the hole I started playing in the Adventurers League. Then PAX Unplugged happened to be nearby and I decided to take a crack at being a League DM. An organization called The Role Initiative was looking for volunteer DMs on Facebook. I signed up, then asked my local AL if I could join them in DMing. They were more than happy to add me to their ranks, and in fact had been considering asking me anyway. I ended up having a lot of fun at the convention, and from time to time still DM at my local store.

So if you’re not getting enough D&D, if your regular group has become less than regular, or if you’re new in town and looking to make friends give the Adventurers League a try.

 

 

Oresan’s Magnificent Foes: The Bloodsail Scavenger!

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Arrrr me matey! You be seeking some sunken treasure in the depths of the deepest darkest oceans? Well pirate captain Oresan has a story for you… ::cough:: ::Clears throat:: Weird. Sorry about that. Sometimes national talk like a pirate day is every day…

If you couldn’t tell I’m going to talk about a foe I used in an adventure of the High Seas variety. This is my first 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.

Bloodsail Gnoll

What? What exactly is a Bloodsail Scavenger?

 

Imagine sailing the open ocean. Your comfortable with the systematic rocking caused by the endless rolling waves. Your not far from shore, trolling along the coastline for schools of fish. You do; however, find yourself scanning the horizons  as the sun begins to set. You know that these waters are infested with the Bloodsail Gnolls, horrific humanoid hyenas that capture forlorn fishermen and merchants. Rumor has it they take those that live back to their bone filled dens and sacrifice them to their god, the Ever Hungering. They keep their prey alive so they are fresh when they are devoured by the Bloodsail clan.

Its said they attack ships near the coast during the early hours of the night. The row out on speedy longboats, using red sails that seem to blend in with the light from the setting sun. By the time you see them coming, it’s already too late. They hulking beats, standing nearly 8 ft tall, have already boarded the boat. They attack with gnarled spears capable of piercing through heavy armor. These sadistic creatures carry nets used for ensuring the capture of living meat. They kill the strong mercilessly and capture the weak; the children and the old. If you have the foresight to give up before they get a chance to fight, your fate is sealed and far worse than a quick death by being run through.

 

Why? Why did I create these Abominations in the first place?

 

I have always loved Gnolls as a foe in my campaigns. They are sadistic and nasty and have a great tribal feel to them. As such I often try to include them in some way. I took it upon myself to run an island hopping adventure in a homebrew setting called “The Shattered Isles” for a few strangers online. Early on in their adventure I wanted to introduce them to something that was going on in the world around them. I wanted this to be subtle and not necessarily centered around something they would have empathy for.

Why not Gnolls? I could have just thrown some regular old Gnolls at the party, however they were level 1 at the time. So i needed to scale them down and give them a bit of High Seas flair.

 

How? Everybody has a process, what was mine?

 

The Bloodsail Scavengers are at their core a standard Gnoll, however they do not share the CR of one. (A Gnoll in the Monster Manual has a CR of ½ whereas the CR of a Bloodsail Scavenger is ¼) I took the hit points and lowered them by about a ⅓. The other abilities are nearly identical in damage and scope, however; I took away their Longbow and replaced it with a net.

The Longbow needed to go. This weapon alone could take early fights and make them significantly lopsided in favor of these ferocious beasts. These Gnolls still have a ranged weapon by throwing their spears as well as the addition of the net. They can use the net to restrain characters and drag them into the depths causing them to drown or to simply restrict their movements.

(Important note about nets: Though they are ranged, their distance is 10/30 which means if they throw the net any distance 10 or beyond they are at disadvantage. This means that their effective range is 5 ft with net without suffering disadvantage; however, to 5 ft is melee range and when you use a ranged attack in melee it suffers disadvantage. All attempts to net a creature are at disadvantage!)

Once again this was the inaugural entry into Oresan’s Magnificent Foes, an evolving Monster Manual of sorts. If you have any comments, suggestions, or have a foe you’d like to see created please let me know in the comments below.

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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Top 10 D&D Foes (You Probably Already Heard Of).

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You gather your party and head into the darkest depths of the dungeons. The sirens song of fame and riches pulls you ever deeper. In a particularly dark corner you and your companions turn the corner and are met by a massive unblinking eye, glowing yellow in the dark. As you reach for your weapon numerous smaller eyes illuminate and circle the center. Your friend, a mage, begins casting a spell, and though her motions are familiar the spell crackles fruitlessly  and in an instant she is turned to dust in a brilliant flash of green. The rogue bravely leaps forward and is caught by an invisible force and thrust against the nearby wall collapsing in a lump. You draw your sword a try to take a step forward but you feet are stuck firmly in place. You look down to see your body turning to stone and as you take your last breath before becoming a permanent fixture you see your final companion, a paladin, bow before the beast and offer up his sword to it. You see a ghastly and toothy grin open up into a maw as the beast devours your friend.

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  1. Beholder (Should be higher, but works better with the intro…). You’ve meet the same fate of countless foul hardy adventurers. The Beholder is a fearsome and respected being, and any adventurers worth their weight know to avoid them at all costs. They combine heightened intelligence with willful destruction. Their anti-magic cone emanating from their central eye makes short work of magic wielding foes. Their eye stalks are especially deadly with effects ranging from massive damage that makes it impossible to resurrect your friends to powerful charming effects. They are not to be trifled with.

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  1. Displacer Beast. On your travels, you may have heard tell of many legged cat like beasts that seem to exist between our world and the ethereal plane. The Displacer Beast is a monstrous predator that lashes out at its enemies with barbed tentacles protruding from its back. It’s also blessed with a permanent displacement effect causing players to have disadvantage to strike it with attacks.

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  1. Medusa. You’ve heard the legends of these ancient beings locked away in temples and long forgotten homes. They are surrounded by numerous humanoid statues, their only companions, created by their petrifying gaze. Though not particularly adept at hand to hand combat they are capable in their own rite.

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  1. Treant. The living forests have powerful protectors. The ancient Treants, the awakened watchers of the forest, are powerful entities  are capable of powerful attacks, especially against constructs and walls. They are also each capable of giving sentience to trees in the area giving them potent allies.

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  1. Elementals. Air, Earth, Fire, and Water. The classics. Anywhere there are unstable elemental energies a powerful and chaotic Elemental could exist. They fit a number of roles from powerful siege monsters to balls of swirling energy. They are capable of popping up in many instances and make a great addition to any dungeon.

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  1. Giants. These lumbering titans are powerful and numerous in scope. From the Nordic inspired Frost Giants to the dumb and dangerous Hill Giant, they fit numerous roles. The recent Storm King’s Thunder adventure and Volo’s Guide to Monsters adds a number of unique Giants to the DM’s arsenal.

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  1. Dragons. The come in good and evil kinds. The have breath weapons… Nuff said.

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  1. Zombies. BRRAAIINNSS … The horde of nastys shamble forward. Though they aren’t particularly interesting on their own they often to lead to magnificent mysteries and stories. The Shambling horde of Zombies is a great trope and their Undead Fortitude keeps them coming back from the dead to pester the players. Also, there’s a beholder version… Talk about scary.

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  1. Vampire. One word: Strahd. There is an entire adventure based around the manipulative power of the Vampire. These creatures of the night have a plethora of abilities, legendary actions, and an eternity to plan. Play them smart and ruthless and you have yourself an iconic and memorable story and villian. Their weaknesses are one of their greatest strengths from a story standpoint, giving the players hope to defeat these powerful foes.

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Finally, and although it may be unexpected they are by far the most dangerous enemies in the world surrounding the players… Player Races. Countless of my adventures center around the desires of seemingly normal folk. You can create powerful wizards, destructive barbarians, and devoted and evil clerics. They are the center points of cities and dangerous locales and their ambition knows no boundaries.

Dungeon Crawling: Warlocks

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Three months ago, I had surgery on my dominant hand.

Do you realize how much of a limiter that is? How difficult it was to do basic functions? How impossible it was…to roll dice?!

Unfortunately, I had to tell my fellow DMs in the Adventurers League that I would be unable to run games, let alone play until my hand was more capable. After a month, I returned to work which is mostly typing. I also began looking again for more AL games.

Recently Crymson asked ever so sweetly, “WHERE ARE MY D&D ARTICLES?”

Okay, perhaps she didn’t type it in all caps, but that’s how I (t)roll.

So, I’m back. After another 4-hour speed run at a local shop (have I mentioned that AL games really don’t emphasize Role-Playing?) I figured it was high time I started pumping out words for the RWOG again. So here I spew…

Warlocks

With previous editions of D&D, I was all over the melee board: Fighters, Barbarians, Twin-weapon wielding Rangers, Rogues, Paladins, and on and on. I avoided squishy casters. I relished getting right up in a monster’s face and dishing out loads of damage.

5th edition’s Warlock, however, has to be my favorite class now. Sure, most people see it and think, “Oh, he’s gonna spam Eldritch Blast. How boring.” I must say it is. Just a little. But it’s the other features of the class that are the exciting bits. What type of patron? What type of pact? What invocations? The ability to customize so much within one simple class structure had me addicted at first Hex.

Initially, in the Player’s Handbook, there were only three Patrons to choose from: The Fey, The Fiend, and The Great Old Ones. In our home-brew game, I chose to roll up a GOOlock. At least, that’s what the internet calls it when you sign a deal with some Cthulu-esque elder thing that falls into the Great Old One category.

For the price of admission, you get to talk to anyone with a language, that you can see, mentally. You also get access to other spells along the Crowd Control spectrum as you level, and the sub-class capstone at level 14 lets you create a Thrall from anything you defeat. Creepy and fun. I started as an Ex-Pirate from the alternate Sailor background and away we went.

That campaign fell apart. Meh. No harm. I love creating new characters as I’ve stated in other articles.

More home-brews elicited no more Warlocks because I wanted to try something different. Then I joined up with the AL to see what it was about and to play with a buddy of mine I don’t see too often anymore. For that, I created another ex-pirate Warlock, however this one had signed his soul away to a fiend.

Dropping Hex-ed foes yields temporary hit points, and the spells available included all manner of fire and blasty and commandy type stuff.  Mad Dog with his unnecessary eye-patch (explaining his low Intelligence and Dexterity), and fiendish polearm has become a rather tanky melee grunt. He still throws the occasional Eldritch Blast but it’s only filler as he closes in to hack-and-slash.

His progression has slowed due to my surgery and foray into actually being a Dungeon Master for the AL. Now that I’m back with a mini-dice tower to assist my crippled rolling techniques, I blew off the dust with a new Warlock from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything: The Celestial Warlock.

Izzy the Healer is an off-healer. His patron, some benign entity that has gifted him some daily healing dice and clerical spells to supplement his Warlock blasty-ness, chose to rescue him from the battlefield and send him forth as a Combat Medic adventurer. Shield and tome, with enough different attack cantrips to fit any situation he may run across. His last foray into the field had him working as the only healer amidst a team of level ones. His Guidance spell was put to great use as we snuck into a fancy dress masquerade to force a confession from our target… after some pretty trying party games.

Waiting in the wings, as well, is Chenzo, a crossbow specialist that has been taken under wing as a Hexblade; or should that be Hexbow? He’s fit and ready for Tier 2 gaming (that’s levels 5 to 10) in the AL, but circumstances have yet to pass that would bring him to another table. His hand crossbow is magical, bonded as his pact weapon, and can be used as a focus for his magic. It also relies solely on his Charisma stat for combat. He hits because he looks good doing it? *shrug* Works for me.

I still don’t really like the time constraint that the AL seems to enforce upon DMs and players, but I like the game and love Warlocks, so I’ll put up with it.

Adventure Framework Part 2: Forget What I said, Do what I say! Conceptualizing Your Endgame.

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At the end of my last article (Adventure Framework Part 1: Start at the beginning) I said “You need to set a proper foundation, both for your players and yourself. From this, you set your pillars. The pillars are the stories you will tell. In part two we I’ll delve into the pillar of your adventures and how you should prepare each one.” I was wrong. I skipped a step: The Roof. For those of you that don’t know much about construction the roof is typically added last. You build from the ground up. You start with your foundation making sure it’s strong and level. From there you add your supports; pillars in our case. Then the roof.

Although we have created our adventure foundation, we don’t have enough information to build our pillars. We need more. What is our end game. What kind of materials will we use on top? Is it stone? Would you use the same pillars to hold up a straw roof as you would a stone roof? No. You wouldn’t. A straw hut has a very different foundation, most likely dirt. Though a straw hut and stone building are different in many ways their conceptualization is the same. They have a structure they follow.

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Top 10: D&D Characters I’ve Played

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When I make a character for Dungeons & Dragons they need to have the perfect name. If I’m not happy with the name, I won’t play the character. As such over the 30 plus years that I’ve played the game, my hall of champions has a relatively small number of characters. These are my top ten favorite D&D characters.

Killian: When I was first introduced to D&D by my friend Matt M. he had a character named Killer Kroc. At the time I wasn’t fully aware of the Batman villain, but I liked the alliteration. Years later I had adapted the name into Killian Krocerian. He was a fighter/rogue type and his escapades were the stuff of great hyperbole and much exaggeration. He was my first hero and still holds a place of honor in my imagination to this day.

Farak: The next great warrior in my list is a dwarven buzz saw. Farak The Axe was a twin axe warrior that could wade through a stable of zombies in the time it took a paladin to kill one. True story. His greatest tale involves falling 40 feet through a wooden staircase while avoiding a wyvern. He eventually would climb those same stairs again to take on the beast bare-handed, and save his friend Veirden.

Veirden: Which brings me to my next hero. At the time I was in a small gaming group and I was playing both Farak and Veirden, the mad Halfling. Veirden was a rogue who had been rescued from a POW camp by Farak. The two were inseparable. I played this rogue with a complete disregard for his own safety, often drawing twin daggers and charging head first into battle alongside Farak.

Friar Chuck: Tired of all my warriors and rogues I decided I would try my hand with a cleric. Friar Chuck was part of a team, his sister Aliana was a bard, but the two of them would never see a table top together. They were merely an idea. Still, as time went on and I found myself in need of an NPC cleric, Friar Chuck resurfaced.  While running a Steampunk D&D game set loosely in Philadelphia my players ran across a street-corner preacher handing out pamphlets for Pelor. “Have you felt the Strength of Pelor? Have you seen the Light of Pelor?” all in a bored monotone voice. The party’s rogue latched onto Chucks boredom and convinced him to abandon his post and take up a life of adventure.

 

Zephyr: Zeph was a half-orc monk, all speed and strength. He specialized in in crossing the battlefield, avoiding the meat-shields, and focusing on the casters in the back ranks. When he snatched an orb of storm control from a vile wizard and smashed it, Zephyr earned the title Stormbreaker.  I was never sure what monastery he came from, but he was a favorite at the table. The greatest terrain plans laid by our DM were of little to no hindrance to Brother Zephyr.

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Gar: Ebberon was an awesome campaign setting. I especially loved the Warforged race; living constructs with no names except those given to them by their comrades. Gar was found by a dwarf in an old bear cave, and given his barbarian nature the dwarf named him after the dwarf word for bear. He was a great tank, eventually multi-classing with fighter. Unfortunately he met his inside the belly of a dire shark. His quest for warforged mods (centaur legs, wings) was not meant to be.

Ahrazul: Possibly my favorite character from 4th edition was this Dragonborn Paladin of Bahamut. Ahrazul was always the center of attention in combat, lest the enemies suffer his divine smite for ignoring him. The problem was he was also very hard to hit, even harder to kill. Not so much a problem for me, but it sure was annoying for the DM. My love of creating new characters won out and I convinced the DM to orchestrate a glorious end to Ahrazul .

Rusty: With 5th edition I wanted to go back to my roots, so I settled on the idea of a dwarf. Russik “Rusty” Ironheart was the grandson of Farak the Axe. Unlike grandpa, Rusty liked ranged weapons. Wielding a heavy crossbow and a hand crossbow sidearm I pictured him as sort of a door-breaker dwarf swat officer. Spells, Weapons, and Tactics. All fighter, and delving into the Eldritch Knight sub-class it still is my favorite fighter sub-class from 5th edition.

Mad Dog: The Adventurer’s League had finally caught my attention. I was stuck with this idea in my head of a fighter wielding a staff or polearm much like Darth Maul. To get the wicked feel of it I would multi-class him into warlock.  With his devil sight, darkness, and polearm mastery he’s proven quite effective as a melee striker. A former pirate who sold his soul to save his own butt seems to be my go-to background for warlocks.

Qui’noa: Finally we have Qui’noa. A tortle monk, assisted by the spirits of his ancestors. This barbarian-monk is his own traveling bar brawl. It’s not an uncommon combo with the release of the Tortle race, but at least I haven’t named him after a renaissance artist. The ancestral ghosts make him a sticky tank, and his shell makes him a hard choice for the enemies to target.