From the Campaign: Tome Guardian

Even though I’m not entirely finished with this creature, I thought I’d share something I pulled together for my home D&D campaign. My party is going to be exploring many places which have not been seen for almost five hundred years or more, and this is one of the creatures they may encounter in their journeys. It isn’t finished, of course. Not only have my players not encountered it, and therefore I don’t want to be posting all of its abilities here, but I also envision this as the “base model”, with adjustments and changes depending on the race which created it and the specific site it was created to guard. But this is enough to be going on with, and I’ll adjust it as it comes into contact with the characters.

Feel free to use it in your own campaign if you are so inclined, as is or modified to fit your needs. If you do modify it, maybe share that with me so I can see to what purposes you put it.

*     *     *

Tome Guardian
Medium construct, unaligned

Armor Class 18 (natural armor)

Hit Points 55 (5d10 + 25)

Speed 30 ft.

STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA
18  (+4) 14  (+2) 20  (+5) 14  (+2) 10  (+0) 1 (-5)

Saving Throws Int +2, Wis +0

Skills Skill +0, Skill +0

Senses Darkvision 120 ft., passive Perception 10

Damage Resistances bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing

Damage Immunities Force, poison, psychic

Condition Immunities charmed, exhaustion, frightened, paralyzed, petrified, poisoned

Languages Understands Common and Draconic but can’t speak

Challenge
5 (1800 XP)

Force Absorption. Whenever the tome guardian is subjected to force damage, it takes no damage and instead regains a number of hit points equal to the force damage dealt.

Immutable Form. The tome guardian is immune to any spell or effect that would alter its form.

Magic Resistance. The tome guardian has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects.

Magic Weapons. The tome guardian’s weapon attacks are magical.

Spellcasting.  Tome Guardian is a 4th-level spellcaster that uses Intelligence as its spellcasting ability (spell save DC 10; +2 bonus with spell attacks). The Tome Guardian has the following spells prepared from the cleric’s and wizard’s spell list:

  • create water
  • prestidigitation

ACTIONS

Multiattack. The tome guardian makes two melee attacks.

Slam. Melee Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 12 (2d6 + 4) bludgeoning damage.

Force Wave (Recharge 5 or 6). The tome guardian sends a wave of force energy from its outstretched hand in a 15-foot cone. Each creature in that area must make a DC 14 Dexterity saving throw, taking 16 (4d6) force damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.

 

REACTIONS
Reaction. 4 (1d8) bludgeoning damage.

Built to guard libraries and other locations storing knowledge or artifacts, tome guardians are able protectors of both the location and the objects within. Imbued with minor abilities which allow them to care for the books and artifacts they guard, tome guardians also act as research assistants, as they are programmed with a catalogue of the items under their care. Tome guardians are unfailingly polite until one seeks to endanger a book or artifact they are charged to protect. They then go on the offensive quickly and decisively.

New Campaign Smell

cropped-brent-chibi-96.jpgA week ago we started our brand-new 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Ever since I got the new books (a birthday gift from my Thursday night Pathfinder group, oddly enough) I knew I would want to run a 5th Ed game. But I also knew I wanted to do things a little differently from the Pathfinder campaigns I was running. Now, I love Pathfinder, have done since it came out. But from a GM standpoint I have gotten in a bit of an Adventure Path rut. The Adventure Paths for Pathfinder (along with the campaign world, Golarion) are an amazing tool, especially for a GM like me with a limited amount of time to spend on prep. But the APs do tend to lock you into a certain framework as a GM. Still fun, but after a bit I was missing some of the campaign creation I used to do. I could probably solve that issue by cutting back on the amount of Pathfinder I’m running/playing, but that would mean less gaming, so…no.

I also found I was playing Pathfinder with a lot of the same people with whom I tended to game on a regular basis. Nothing wrong with that per se, but I figured since I was making changes already, I might as well go all the way and drag some new players into the insanity. In talking with my various nerdy friends, I remembered the ones who had lamented not playing RPGs in a while for whatever reason. That seemed an excellent place to start. I contacted all three, hoping I might get two and expecting to wind up with just one. To my delight and surprise, all three responded enthusiastically (and within an hour or so of my sending the message) and even suggested a fourth player, giving me the table size I was looking for. With players in place and a date set for the first session, the count down to D&D goodness began.

Acquiring four new players was actually what made me decide that I would not use a pre-fab world for my D&D campaign, tempting as it was to revisit my earlier love, the Forgotten Realms. I’ll get in to the details of the world I’m creating, the Shattered Realm of Cattarell, in future posts. But that was my next step, creating the world for my players. I didn’t do much more than create a broad framework, and then fill in some details I knew we’d need for character creation. Everything I’ve written for the campaign world to this point fills just shy of 5-6 pages, including the rough hex map I’ve made of Cattarell. You can read earlier Campaign Creation posts (just search the tag) to get an idea of how I approach world building. But in general, I try not to detail much beyond where I expect the characters will go. This allows me two main benefits: I don’t waste my time over-prepping things for the players, and the players can then come up with world details of their own, which I can fit in on the fly.

Our first session was all character creation, which is a great way to see if the players are going to be a good fit together. There is a fair amount of inter-personal alchemy involved in putting together a new gaming group. However good the individuals may be (and they were all awesome), you can’t predict how they’ll get along at the table. I needn’t have worried; we had descended into what I refer to as “snarky camaraderie” in mere minutes. Character creation proceeded, fuelled by equal parts junk food and laughter, and our band of brave adventurers took shape. By evening’s end, we had:

  • a violet-coloured Tiefling Bard, daring the world not to pay attention to her;
  • a Half-elf Cleric of Knowledge, kicking ass to create her dream library;
  • an Elven Rogue, raised by the streets;
  • and a Human Fighter, ex-soldier looking for a cause.

I can work with that.

Stay tuned for future campaign reports, as I explore the Shattered Realms and talk more about our upcoming sessions.

Campaign Creation: What’s Dead Can Never Die…

Looking back through the logs, and it has been a while since I did one of these. So let’s start with a quick recap of what I’ve done so far:

Let’s have some fun, and figure out my first layer Big Bad Guy. ‘First layer’, you ask? I like to start with a nasty antagonist the party can grow into, sort of a ‘Starter Big Bad’. Depending on the system you use, this would be a villain who remains a challenge until about low-mid level.   Since I’m designing this primarily for Pathfinder, I want a villain that threatens into level 6-8. At that point, of course, the next layer of BBG will be revealed and the new threat will bring with it new, tougher adventures.

Maybe it’s the time of year, but I’d really like the villain to be undead. Intelligent undead, in my opinion, are some of the nastiest things in gaming canon. And with the exception of vampires and the occasional lich, horribly under-utilized in most of the games I’ve played. Plus a vampire or lich would be a bit too powerful for our party to deal with off the jump.

Looking down the list of intelligent undead (and taking note of useful non-intelligent undead for later), I’m torn between a ghoul or a wight. In either case I’ll be adding character levels to the creature, making it unique and powerful enough to be a threat. Both have the ability to create versions of itself, and there are enough low-level humanoids in the area for a steady supply of ‘instant minions’.  But I think the wight wins in that respect; while its created wights are weaker, they are at least under its control. The ghoul has no control over its creations, making them less-than-ideal minions and competition for food.

Wight it is! The party will definitely still run into ghouls at some point, and I haven’t ruled out a ghoul second-in-command for my wight. A steady flow of bodies from your master and all the mayhem you can create? What ghoul wouldn’t take that job? Having both a wight and ghoul present opens up encounters with both goblin and grippli mini-wights and ghouls, which could be fun.

Now to level up my wight, so he can be a proper BBG. I mentioned earlier that many of the undead would be centred in the Ruin’s Temple District. So it makes sense that my wight be tied to that area. It might be fun to give it some cleric levels, but looking through the Advanced Player’s Guide, I think I like the oracle better. Mechanically, oracle works better with a wight’s CHA of 15 (as opposed to a WIS of only 13). And I’m already seeing a backstory where the wight was once a cleric of Norgorber, and in undeath retained some vestige of its former power in the form of oracle abilities. It could be trying to regain its earlier abilities, sending minions out into the Ruin to discover and retrieve ancient texts and tomes toward that end.

Yes, loving this idea already. Okay, the CR of a wight is 3, and I want it to be a credible threat to a level 6-8 group. So I’m going to give it 7 levels of oracle, which will make it roughly a CR 9 creature. A lot can change between now and when the characters encounter it, but this gives me a place to start. Doubling down on undeath I’m giving it the Bones mystery, and tentatively I’m going to assign the revelations death’s touch, armor of bones, and soul siphon. Those will make it less squishy if the party makes it passed the wall of minions I envision the wight maintaining. And I like the potential look of panic on a player’s face as the wight inflicts negative levels on their character from a distance.

I’ll flesh out the details later, since the character won’t confront our BBG directly for a while. When I do put it all together, I’ll post a link to a PDF so you can make use of it for your own game. For now we’ll leave it alone, brooding in its ruined temple lair, waiting for its witless minions to bring it another scrap of text or ancient artefact. Soon, soon…

What do you think of my initial BBG? Have any suggestions or ideas? Drop them in the comments below.

Campaign Creation: Random Encounters

As we head ever closer to Christmas, I want to make sure I stay on top of blog posts. So they’ll keep coming this week, they’ll just be shorter.

In that spirit, here is a Random Encounter Table for The Ruins. You can use whatever method you like to determine when an encounter happens; I generally roll a d10 twice during the day, and once during each watch at night. On a 1 or 2 an encounter happens, roll a d20 to determine which encounter. If the party is having a tough go of it, feel free to skip random encounters or adjust the CR as you feel necessary. While I’ve included a wide range of CRs, feel free to modify encounters with the addition of difficult terrain or environmental factors if you want a tougher challenge. But resist the urge to make all the encounters level appropriate; exploring The Ruins should have unexpected dangers.

All monster descriptions can be found in the Pathfinder Bestiary and Bestiary 2.

1. Three goblin warriors wait in ambush for members of the grippli tribe. They’re more than happy to ambush the party, however. (CR 1)

2. A yellow musk creeper, tucked away in the corner of an ancient garden, defends its lair with a variety of musk zombies; goblins, goblin dogs, gripplis, villagers. (CR 2)

3. Two giant spiders lurk in an old chamber, surviving on a diet of rats, gripplis, goblins…and maybe now adventurers. (CR 3)

4. The party discovers the remains of a library. The shelves are empty except for one. While the books and scrolls are real, the shelf is a mimic awaiting new prey. (CR 4)

5. Four goblin warriors riding goblin dogs, returning from a quick raid on the grippli. Should they be defeated, party finds an extra 20% treasure (looted from the grippli) (CR 5)

6. A will-o’-wisp has relied on the goblin/grippli conflict for food, and fed quite well. It attaches itself (invisibly, at first) to the characters, to see what delicacies they can provide. (CR 6)

7. Two grippli rangers are hunting for food; long-pig will do… (CR 1)

8. Goblins have covered over the broken ceiling to an old wine cellar full of broken pottery and bottles, essentially making it a Spiked Pit Trap (CR 2)

9. A section of street collapses below the party, dropping them into old sewers. Treat as a Camouflaged Pit Trap (CR 3)

10. Three ghouls have survived the aeons on a steady but limited diet of vermin. Now that the party has cracked open the ancient crypt that trapped them, they’re on the hunt for something more fresh. (CR 4)

11. Tired of her steady diet of goblins and grippli, a leucrotta is happy to “play” with the party for a while. (CR 5)

12. A giant mosquito homes in on the party, eager for a fresh meal. (CR 6)

13. Walking through the Ruins, a character disturbs a spider swarm. (CR 1)

14. The party encounters a rare site in the ruins; a lush fruit tree. But they also encounter the monkey swarm that calls the tree home. (CR 2)

15. One of the hazards of living close to swamps, the party is beset by a mosquito swarm. Note, this encounter can also occur in the village; if it does, treat it as a CR 2 encounter, as the village watch is used to dealing with these occurences. Otherwise, CR 3.

16. Separated from their pack, a pair of blink dogs follows the party from a distance, only attacking if attacked. The blink dogs can also come to the party’s rescue if they are facing an encounter too tough for them, at the GM’s discretion. (CR 4)

17. All that remains of a necromancer’s coterie of undead servants, this giant crawling hand has stalked the Ruins for ages. (CR 5)

18. Foul and ancient magics have tainted a section of an old park, resulting in a hungry tendriculous. Due to the many victims it has claimed over the years, treasure found is 25% higher than normal, though most treasure found is of the goblin and grippli variety. (CR 6)

19. Bound in an ancient mage’s laboratory and demented by its long captivity, an invisible stalker carries out his final instructions to defend its master’s belongings. (CR 7)

20. Its host fell victim to one of the many dangers of the Ruins, and now this intellect devourer must find safe passage back to the Depths…or another host. (CR 8)

What are some of your go to random encounters? Do you use them? Drop me a comment!

 

Campaign Creation: In the Depths

Last time, we talked about all the nasties awaiting our brave adventurers above ground. Now I want to look at what (or who) might be lurking underground.

Giving it some thought, I want to split the Depths, as I’ll call them, into three main areas. The first area will be just below the surface, at roughly the depth of all the cellars, basements, and underground crypts in the city. In addition to these there will be a network of ancient passages and newer, rough-hewn tunnels connecting these older spaces. Whether pre-existing, formed by accident from whatever cataclysm befell the city, or formed by generations of the current inhabitants, the areas in this level will teem with a variety of challenges for our party. Some monsters can come from above, perhaps lairing in or exploring ancient cellars and caverns. But these spaces can also be the home to nocturnal or cavern-dwelling creatures (oozes, myconids, scorpions, spiders and so forth) and serve to give the party their first taste of the world that awaits them deeper underground. Throw in the occasional discovery of some construct or magical beast, leftover and trapped in a secret lab for centuries, just to add some spice and variety.

Depth-wise, this first layer isn’t going to extend much more than 80′ or so below the surface. The majority of the creatures in this area, being natural flora and fauna (albeit monstrous and horrible), should replenish themselves or be replaced by other creatures moving in. This level should never be entirely safe, unless the party takes extreme measures to eradicate dangers.

The middle layer of the Depths is going to be a combination of natural caverns and built-up areas (underground temples, small settlements, and so on). This area will be the group’s first real introduction to an alien environment, lightless and cool but teaming with denizens suited to the environs. While there are other creatures the characters will encounter, I’m making this largely the domain of the troglodytes. I don’t really see them enough in adventures except as random underground or sewer encounters, so I’m going to take this opportunity to have some fun with them and really flesh them out. I think a couple or three tribes, all fighting back and forth through the caverns and ancient chambers, will make things suitably challenging for my party. Of course there are other dangers for the party: cave fishers, stray elementals, ancient and intelligent undead…all of these and more could be waiting in the dark.

One of the things to keep in mind when running adventures underground: the environment is as much an adversary as any of the monsters. Natural caverns don’t always have level passageways (or passageways at all); there can be sudden drops or unstable areas; rocks or plants can be toxic. The darkness itself is a challenge that must be overcome. Do you carry light sources that allow you at least some limited range of sight, but pinpoint you (and your light dependency) for everyone to see? Gaining the ability to see in darkness could become a fairly important side-quest for the party. And while you don’t want travelling underground to become so onerous the party won’t do it, never let them forget they are in an alien place.

The last layer, the true Depths, is going to contain the biggest surprise for our party: another vast city, similar in size and scope to the Ruins above, even down to the architecture (excepting adaptations made for subterranean construction, of course). But while whatever befell the Ruins also happened here, it didn’t happen to as great an extent. This city is still largely intact. And occupied.

While it is tempting to trot out the drow at this point, I’m going to instead turn to another old favourite, the duergar. Perfectly suited to life in the Depths, and tenacious enough to rebuild after whatever ancient tragedy befell their city, the duergar have over time rebuilt much of what was theirs. Later I’ll determine exactly what the connection between the Ruins and the City in the Depths is or was, but for now it is enough to know the duergar blame the surface city for what happened. And their memories are long.

And because I can’t let anything be simple, I’m adding a fun little twist to the mix: intellect devourers. They are the perfect, behind-the-scenes schemers, literally living in and amongst their victims. They are particularly insidious, because it’s entirely possible that people known to the party from the very beginning, could simply be the host disguise of a devourer. Maybe even one of those main NPCs we developed earlier…

So there we go. We’ve sketched in the general outline of encounters for our party, and as you can see we have plenty to work on. Remember, though, we’re only going to start detailing the things the party is likely to encounter first. Details for the Depths will remain largely untouched for a while, as the party will tend to adventure above ground at first. But knowing what’s waiting down there allows us to start laying in hints and seeds for future adventures early. Not a lot, we don’t want to give too much away. But if the occasional troglodyte or duergar artefact surfaces, well, that’s perfectly natural. And if someone the characters have known begins acting strange, that’s certainly worth investigating.

Next time in Campaign Creation we’ll talk maps! In the meantime, what are your favourite underground encounters? Share them in comments.

Campaign Creation: Beginnings and Broad Strokes, Part 2

In the first Campaign Creation post, we laid in a basic foundation for our campaign setting. Today we’ll expand that a little bit, focusing on the people around our characters.

At this stage of the game I’m not looking to build fully detailed non-player characters. In fact, I usually avoid statting out NPCs until I’m forced to do so by the needs of the session. That allows me some flexibility with my NPCs, and the ability to morph them into what I need at any particular moment. While that’s useful, beware turning your NPCs into “swiss army characters”; that is, no single NPC should be the solution to every problem. Once you’ve assigned certain abilities or details to a supporting character, those abilities should be fixed (although they can improve, just like any abilities can over time).

With that in mind, I’m going to drop in some supporting characters that will likely be the characters’ first contacts in the town. Normally I’d let the players tell me which NPCs to develop by seeing who pops up in their character back-stories. But since I’m building without a party in place, I’m going to develop the NPCs I think the characters will need right away. When I actually start the campaign I can still develop extra NPCs based on character history, or modify the ones I’ve already begun.

Last note, I’m going to use the same, “Good, Bad, Ugly” as I did for the campaign location, sketching in one NPC in each category for each of my four imaginary players. At this broad stage of creation it is still a great method for developing the basics of NPC relationships. Also, I think game masters can tend to focus only on NPCs beneficial to the characters, so this method pushes me to think a bit about conflicts that may be present before the characters even leave the village. None of these NPCs are my major villains (maybe), but they come into conflict with one or more of the characters in the course of their day to day.

The Good

Cynria is the mother of one of the characters, and also a member of the town guard. A caravan guard for many years, she married her partner (now deceased) and settled in the village to raise a family. While a supportive parent, she can tend to be over-protective and strict, even severe if she feels the situation warrants. Of late she has requested patrol routes that take her to the very border of the village and The Ruin, though she won’t say why. A good NPC for martial training, and an information contact for rumours and tidings from both the village and merchants.

Beorn, a dwarf, maintains one of the small chapels in the village (we’ll talk about those later), serving as a simple brother of the order. While fearless in the face of violence, no one has ever seen Brother Beorn raise a hand in anger himself. He can be found anywhere in the village, collecting stories from those that have braved The Ruin for a history he is compiling. An obvious NPC contact for any divine oriented characters, and could serve to provide historical information as required.

In addition to the basics carried by any general store, Vidan’s Mercantile carries an eclectic mix of odd items found in The Ruin. An energetic and friendly halfling, Vidan is happy to purchase any truly strange object adventurers bring her. She is even happier to sell these oddities, ascribing them a host of fascinating (and sometimes real) qualities. Brother Beorn and Vidan continually wage a war of words regarding the artefacts Vidan sells, Beorn maintaining they should be made available for study and Vidan agreeing…for a price, of course.

Rahjaq, a long-time ex-patriot from warmer climes, maintains both a local tavern and an apothecary.  While some find it worrisome the two share the same kitchen, there have been no serious mishaps, and most everyone come’s to the tavern to try Rahjaq’s special drink blends. And to see if there will be a repeat of the gaseous form incident.  Cynria seems to have a personal grudge against Rahjaq, and while there is speculation no one knows why. Despite this public antagonism, they have been seen talking together on several occasions, sometimes even amiably.

The Bad

Wenred serves as acolyte to one of the village’s less well attended churches. His tireless proselytizing has become tiresome, and he fails to see that he is part of the reason people worship elsewhere. If one of the characters shares Wenred’s faith, that character is never good enough in Wenred’s opinion. Any time they are together, Wenred will make his disapproval clear. If a character follows another deity, Wenred will insist on debating doctrine in an effort to show why his faith is superior.

Beomond can usually be found in the market, alternately looking for work loading and offloading various caravans or begging for alms. While many look down their nose at him as just another lazy, drunken beggar, the observant note that he never has the smell of liquor about him and never seems intoxicated. Unknown to most everyone, Beomond actually works for an organization intent on securing the best Ruin artefacts for themselves.  His somewhat innocuous presence in the market allows him to gather information on groups set to explore The Ruin (so they can be watched and targeted if necessary), or on caravans carrying artefacts away from the village (so they can be robbed as necessary). He will always be very interested in what the characters are doing, even going so far as to offer to be a bearer during one of their explorations, if his organization deems it necessary.

Too lazy to be an effective guard, but just clever enough to keep his job, Menforth uses his position with the town watch to collect “protection” fees.  These fees, of course, really only protect someone from him, and then only for a short time. Menforth has a knack for ferreting out merchants and adventurers who don’t want their business known, and extorting “reasonable” fees to keep their secrets. His twin knack of only choosing targets too weak or compromised to complain has so far kept him out of trouble, but someday that might fail him and he’ll be caught with his hand too far out.

Anrich can be found in any of the village’s taverns, swapping tall tales for cheap wine. No one believes any of his stories of a life spent adventuring, but none can deny he spins a great story; the drunker he gets, the greater they become. In truth, folks are right not to believe anything Anrich says. The drunken lush persona is just one more mask he has worn pursuing his greatest love: murder. Unknown to any in the village, many of the disappearances attributed to monsters or misfortune are the result of unfortunate meetings with Anrich on the hunt. Someday soon the village might discover his secret, or the special location where he keeps his trophies. But for now he enjoys making the rounds of the taverns and selecting his next target.

The Ugly

For this category, I’m sort of breaking my “no swiss army NPC” rule a little bit. But I’ve already thought ahead to who and what I want in the major villain of the campaign, and so I want an NPC to serve as the major foil to that villain. Because this NPC is going to be a major player, I’m just creating the one, but he/she will come in contact with each party member in a different way. Not martially powerful, this NPC will have to use cunning and guile to oppose the actions of my main villain, and will not be known to my player characters right from the beginning.

Aldmuel has resided in the village since its founding, though he was a local even before that event. One of the original mage-architects of the city (now The Ruin), Aldmuel’s power waned as the city crumbled; while still fairly powerful by mortal standards, his/her power is a fraction of what it once was. Aldmuel has remained, both to discover what laid his beloved city low millennia ago, and to oppose the darkness he has sensed beneath The Ruins. Aldmuel never appears as his/herself, instead adopting any number of guises to suit the situation. The player characters may well encounter Aldmuel early and often in their adventuring career: as the stable boy looking after their mounts, the tavern girl serving their drinks, the wealthy merchant or inquisitive sage commissioning a delve into The Ruin. In what he sees as a war fought in the shadows, Aldmuel will not hesitate to use the characters as he sees fit. Eventually, he may even resort to the truth as a tactic, and reveal him/herself to the party.

Okay, that’s it for NPCs for now. This gives a good mix to start with, and as you can see, developing NPCs leads to fleshing out more bits of the setting. For instance, we now know there is a town guard, a general store, multiple taverns, at least two chapels or shrines, a blackmarket, and at least one criminal organization. Those details will be the first to get fleshed out when we turn our attention back to the setting later. But next time we’re going to turn our focus to The Ruin, and decide what creatures make it a dangerous place to spend time.

It also occurs to me, it’s about time to give this village a name. If you have an idea of what to call our little town perched on the edge of The Ruin, drop it in the comments. I’ll go through and pick the one I like the best, and the name giver may even win a prize, because I’m swell like that.