Game Night Recap, Uncategorized

Game Night: On Charming Elves

Our last game went really well. The kids have settled into their new survival mode and we had some gameplay breakthroughs that this DM was pleased with. For example, no one complained about their lost gear (which didn’t travel with them when they were magically bampfed in last month’s game to these unknown lands). With their mercenary questing days behind them, they completely focused on their own personal goals: finding new gear.

The game resumed where we left off: The adventurers settled down for a night in the Watchtower. Before too long, Grok and his hobgoblin henchmen returned to the tower, tripping the ranger’s alarm spell. They fought the creatures on the stairs and prevailed without too much difficulty. The hobgoblins were better equipped than their goblin counterparts and the group immediately upgraded whatever weapons and armor they could.

Daylight provided the heroes with a better view of their surroundings, and a choice. To the north, nestled at the foot of an expanse of tall, craggy mountains, they spotted a stone fortress. To the south, a single plume of smoke rose from behind a distant hill. They judged both the fortress and the smoke to be a three day’s hike along a nearby river that stretched between them and passed just east of the tower.

They quickly decided the plume of smoke indicated a better chance of current activity than a stone wall with no smoke or banners flying, so they chose to go south. Decision making for the group has improved since the reboot. They reach consensus quicker than before and with much more confidence. I think in our previous settings their own desires conflicted with those of their employers – and the pre-printed material – and led to extra debate. They know what they want, and they don’t need some local lord to tell them what that is. Happy players; happy DM.

Another new concept for the adventure was food. For the first time, they were hungry. They had no provisions in their packs – no packs! – and no employer providing for them. Although most of the food they discovered in the tower’s basement was spoiled, they did find some edible food and waterskins. Also, Grok had returned the night before with a freshly killed wild board which supplemented their provisions. They had enough to last them four days. They were ready to set out.


On their first afternoon travelling south they heard gruff voices ahead. The thief used his stealth to investigate and discovered a pair of Ogres talking and drinking at the river’s edge. The group made a coordinated approach. After a surprise ranged attack, the fighters, and especially the barbarian made short work of the creatures. The ranger and the thief remembered to collect their arrows (they still only have thirteen to share between two bows).

The highlight of the game (for the DM anyway) came after their second day on the road. The group had camped for the night and the thief took the first watch. Shortly before midnight, as the rest of the group slept, the thief  heard singing in the trees around him. A group of Harpies had settled quietly in the branches overhead and were attempting to charm him with their wretched song. [The player rolled his d20 and missed his saving throw.]

“You are charmed!” I declared, thinking he, and his sleeping companions were doomed.

“Oh frick!” the thief’s player wailed.

“Wait!” other voices called out.


Simultaneously, two of my other players piped up with this tidbit of information that had not previously been discussed at the game table: “My elf has advantage on saves against being charmed. The thief is an elf! He gets another roll!”

The player’s second roll was a success and the thief was NOT charmed by the Harpies’ terrible song. He was able to rouse his companions and fend off the Harpy attack.

So my players actually ARE reading their character sheets and paying attention! I granted an XP bonus on the spot for that one.



Game Night: Reboot

The kids game took a major left turn last night when they discovered a circle of rune-covered stones in a clearing in the woods. During their investigation of the strange stones, one character stepped into the circle and the runes began to glow. Before they could react to this development, a small group of pursuers entered the clearing from the opposite side and immediately attacked. As soon as one of their attackers stepped into the activated circle there was a blinding flash of light.

Combat continued where it left off with each character recovering their eyesight to find that they – and everyone else – had been knocked prone. As they stood to face their foes, the found that the stone circle was gone, the woods were different, and they had no weapons, armor or any other gear. [As each player’s turn came around, the DM took their character sheets and handed out new ones with all of their skills and abilities intact, but with no physical items listed anywhere.] Thinking quickly, they used unarmed strikes or grabbed rocks for improvised weapons. The combat took a bit longer than they would have liked, but eventually prevailed.

[As a DM to novice players I took the opportunity to remind them that their characters, now level 4, are so much more than the weapons they carried. I pointed out simple ways in which each player could have used their skills to better effect, dealt more damage, and ended the combat more quickly.]

With the combat over, they took stock of their situation. They decided that they had been teleported to a different plane and were not going to find a quick return to their own world, or find their old gear. They no longer had to worry about returning their rescued prisoner (left behind by the magic circle) to the local lord who had tasked them to do so. They had new and more immediate goals of their own: survival and finding some new equipment. Still worried about their lack of weapons, they quickly scrounged for some broken tree branches to use as clubs.

[They even asked the DM questions about how best to use them. ‘Can I use one in each hand and get two attacks?’ Yes. ‘Do I still get my DEX bonus with a club?’ No. ‘Can I make a sling out of the dead guys shirt and use it to sling rocks?’ Sure. I think it’s working!]

So armed, they set off in the direction of a small stone tower that sat atop a nearby hill, hoping to find some new supplies and maybe even allies. The rogue had always been good at using his stealth outside of combat, and used it here to scout ahead. The tower was occupied by a handful of poorly armed goblins, though they were still better equipped than the adventurers. After some debate, they stormed the watchtower.

They spend the rest of the evening exploring the tower and killing the goblins who were guarding it, as well as the Quaggoth living in the cellar. They used their new weapons more effectively. They discovered that swinging too hard [rolling a 20] with a tree branch may kill a foe, but will also break the branch into splinters. They took steel daggers from dead goblins and abandoned their makeshift clubs. [They sharpened pencils and updated their empty character sheets with new weapons, and new to-hit and damage numbers.]

They were momentarily excited to find a chainmail shirt that looked almost new until they realized it was sized for a halfling.

They ended the night with one dented but usable breast plate [AC 13], two small shields [AC +1 each], enough daggers to go around, two axes, two strung short bows, five arrows and 29 pennies.

And one small, abandoned, stone tower.



The Gray Valley

The Antarin River flowed east from the Realm along the floor of the Gray Valley. The Koarden mountains defined a craggy border between the valley and the untamed jungles to the north. To the south, the Iron Hills separated the valley from the sea and a thin, stony coastline. The valley itself was a broad expanse of dense woods.

Once, long ago, the Gray Valley was home to a thriving nation. The land was fertile and yielded plentiful harvests. Farmers in the Valley claimed their crops and livestock were prospered better there than anywhere else in the Realm and the quality of the food, wool and hemp gave credence to those claims. Local artisans produced unparalleled ceramics, steel and gems. The city of Arathell, sprawled across an island at the mouth of the Antarin River. It was the heart of a booming economy and home to world renowned artists, musicians, and philosophers.

According to a popular myth, the people of Arathell dared to cast down their gods out of arrogance instead of being grateful for all they were given. In another, it was their greed that angered the gods. Some believed that the natural resources were consumed beyond the Valley’s ability to sustain them any longer. All of the myths ended with the same story.

A terrible storm broke upon the valley, flooding it. The entire island of Arathell was swept out to sea and lost. The people of the Gray Valley disappeared, their farms, homes, and cities reclaimed by the forest. Since then, the valley has been covered with a heavy veil of fog.

Centuries later, the Gray Valley had become a haunted and lonely land, dark and forbidding. Most sensible folks of the Realm shunned the valley, but foolish explorers and adventurers frequently entered it. They hoped to discover its secrets and return with riches and glory, but they rarely came back. Those that did told wild tales of ghosts, frightening creatures and strange happenings that they could not explain.

Shrouded in mystery and mist, the Gray Valley had come to be known as the Veiled Land.



The Alchemist (II)

For general adventuring and exploration, an alchemist has a lot to offer as a utility character. He is always ready to hand out healing potions, antidotes and other remedies, and willing to brew more. He can identify recently discovered potions. He can find useful plants, minerals, and other components while foraging in almost any environment.

A more challenging question for creating the class is: “What does the alchemist have to offer during combat?” One of the most common answers to this question is, of course, fire bombs, smoke bombs, TNT, and other variations on exploding projectiles.

My experience as a wizard (out of character for me, I know, but it was a very rewarding character to play) in a Fourth edition game led me to consider a slightly different answer. If the alchemist bomb is just a backyard science version of a fireball spell, then why not explore other spells for possible alchemy recipes? My wizard did more than cast magic missile and fireball spells during combat. He was a controller, adding area affects to control enemy movement, using magic to boost combat effectiveness of allies while decreasing the same in our enemies. So, I decided to design my alchemist class as a controller.

Some spells that could be modified and repurposed for area effects include Fog Cloud (reduce visibility), Stinking Cloud (induce nausea), and Web (for a sticky floor – difficult terrain). One potion that comes to mind for boosting your allies in combat is Shot of Courage (temporary hit points). Recipes for causing distress to individual enemies in combat include Itching Powder (causes discomfort – disadvantage to attacks), Flash-Bang (blind and deafen enemies – surprise round), and Blinding Dust. These could give the alchemist some versatility during combat and help the character have something meaningful to add.

It probably wouldn’t hurt if he also knew how to use a dagger.





Magical items are not always universally usable by any creature that happens to pick it up and wave it about. Some require that the user be a certain race or class. Some require the user to spend time getting attuned to the item.

The fifth edition Dungeon Master’s Guide states: “Attuning to an item requires a creature to spend a short rest focused on only that item while being in physical contact with it” and “at the end of the short rest, a creature gains an intuitive understanding of how to activate any magical properties of the item” (p.138). A short rest is at least one hour of uninterrupted downtime.

It seemed to me that it should take more than an hour of staring for a lucky Paladin to unlock the mysteries of the longsword (a Holy Avenger) she just picked up. I thought that the attunement process should include a little more effort on the part of the bearer. Another problem I faced was that a Holy Avenger was a bit over powered for a second or third level Paladin.

To solve both of these problems I decided that the power of the magic item could grow over time, becoming something that could remain with a character for a lifetime, essentially leveling up along with the character. This is no longer attunement, it is so much more…

At first, the sword appeared to be a simple [+1] magical sword, a great find for a young [lower level] Paladin. After some use, the sword decided that she was a worthy bearer. During a skirmish with Goblins, the Paladin landed a killing blow. She was immediately filled with a great sense of satisfaction for ridding the world of such an evil creature. Unperceived by the Paladin, the sword had tasked her with killing three evil creatures in three separate encounters. This goblin was the first.

The Paladin seemed a little concerned by the outcome and recognized that the strong positive emotions over killing the creature originated with the sword. She was hesitant to use it for a time, preferring to use her javelins and allowing her companions to finish off their enemies. [DM allows that could just have been poor luck with the dice.]

Eventually, however, she landed another killing blow on a deserving evil goblin or hobgoblin. That sense of immense satisfaction returned to her again, much stronger this time. The thirsty sword seemed eager to take another evil life and it wasn’t long before Paladin finally fulfilled her task.

The sword rewarded the Paladin by increasing its magical power [to +3] and she understood that fiends and undead would suffer additional [radiant] damage from an attack. Any evil creature would suffer [psychic] damage simply by being in contact with the weapon for a short amount of time.

The sword has only begun to reveal itself; the Paladin still has much to learn.

— DM

Magic Item, Uncategorized

Argus Bluefinger’s Spectacles

Argus Bluefinger is a gnome of some renown in the Veiled Land. He is a tinker and a wizard with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. His cleverness is matched only by his negligence. He has no family or allies, but has been known to take an apprentice when it suited him.
During his long years, he has crafted several magical items for his own use, but has managed to lose most of them. A lucky adventurer might even find one of them.

Argus Bluefinger’s Spectacles

Wonderous item, very rare

This pair of wire-frame glasses was crafted to look bent, damaged and worthless. They are actually a very useful and versatile magical tool. The right side of the frames hold one cracked glass lens. The other lens is missing. In a separate, velvet pouch, Argus kept a collection of other lenses. Carved from various types of crystals, each lens, when set into the empty frame, would give the wearer a different visual benefit. The spectacles can only hold one of these lenses at a time.

Colored Lenses:

  • Green (emerald): Allows the wearer to read any writing within 5 feet as if it were written in Common.
  • Blue (sapphire): Secret and hidden doors or hatches within 10 feet are revealed by a shimmering blue light.
  • Red (garnet): Magical items within 15 feet, including items concealed behind a wall or inside a container, appear to the wearer to have a fiery red aura.
  • Amber (amber): Gives the wearer true vision within a 20 foot radius. Disguises vanish, a shapeshifter’s true form is revealed, galmours and illusions are broken.
  • Purple (amethyst): All objects and creatures within 30 feet of the wearer, even invisible ones, are outlined in a pale purple light. The wearer gains advantage on any attack made against a creature so illuminated.

The spectacles would most likely be found with only the green lens. Even Argus doesn’t know where he lost the others.

Encounter, Trap

The Watcher

The Watcher

A Magical Trap

In a dark corner of this dusty chamber is a massive high-backed oaken chair of stout construction with a dull black finish. In it, the figure of a man sits upright, so still that he might be mistaken for a statue. Or a corpse.

His clothes, moth eaten and dusty, hang loosely on his bony frame. His gaunt face is gray and waxy. His thin, white hair does little to cover his head and chin. He doesn’t move or breathe, but his eyes are bright and alert and unblinking.

Watching you.

This ancient chair is evil and unholy, its origin is long forgotten. Any creature that sits in the chair when it is empty must make a DC 20 Wisdom saving throw. On a failed save, the creature is caught the chair’s grip, takes 2d4 necrotic damage, and is paralyzed.

The man sitting in the chair has been there for countless years, watching. He is all but dead. The chair sustains him in his vigil. He is paralyzed, but he can still move his eyes. Any creature who meets his gaze must make a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw or be charmed.

After one turn, charmed characters must make a DC 20 Wisdom saving throw. On a failed save, the character is caught in the trap. If more than one character fails the save on the same turn, the trap will choose the character with the most HP as its victim.

The victim of the trap instantaneously swaps places with the Watcher, takes 2d4 necrotic damage, and is paralyzed, sitting upright and gazing straight ahead with unblinking eyes.

The living corpse, now freed from the chair, utters a wordless wail and flees from the chair. He takes a few stumbling steps before collapsing to the floor, dead.

Slowly, the dull black chair begins to gleam as if newly polished.

For every 24 hours that the victim remains in the chair, he/she takes 1d4 necrotic damage, down to 1 hit point. For every 24 hours after that, the victim must make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw or suffer one level of exhaustion, up to 5. The chair will sustain the victim at 1 hit point and 5 levels of exhaustion indefinitely.

A victim can only be removed from the chair in one of three ways:

  1. If another creature meets their gaze and falls victim to the trap as described above.
  2. If the victim is killed, the body can be removed from the chair.
  3. The chair can be attacked and destroyed (AC 15, HP 20), but the chair will steal a seated victim’s own hit points and use them as temporary hit points first before taking damage.

When freed from the chair, the victim must make a DC 20 Constitution saving throw or suffer one level of exhaustion, even if they are unconscious (0 hp).

Credit for the trap idea goes to my friend, DM, and fellow blogger over at He caught me with it many years ago when I was feeling particularly cocky at the gaming table.


Character Study: A Different Kind of Rogue

For a long time, my default character was the Elf Ranger. My son has the same preference. I’m not sure whether to blame genetics or Legolas or (most likely) both. I don’t think we’re alone in this. Elves and Rangers go together like Gary and Gygax. It’s a strong character that’s useful to have around when you go adventuring.

There’s nothing new about the Elf Ranger. Or the Gnome Wizard. Or the Dwarf Fighter. The rules have changed and the details are different, but the characters look the same as they did before. One of the things I’m enjoying about the kids game is their ability to put together characters that I would never dream of.

Enter the Rogue.

Set aside the Halfling Rogue archetype, my player chose High Elf. The Elf’s Dex bonus is a natural fit for the Rogue, so it is a good choice, but the High Elf option was an unexpected left turn. A Wood Elf is faster and hides better, great for the Rogue’s Sneak Attack and Cunning Action. Instead the High Elf comes with a Cantrip and an extra language.

On top of this, the background of choice was Spy, with features taken from the playtest rules. The Spy gains proficiencies in Deception and Stealth skills as well as disguises. The Spy knows another extra language and has contacts in a network of other spies.

I’m not sure if he made these choices deliberately with some grand design in mind, but the potential for this character is actually pretty high. I’m picturing Martin Landau’s Rollin Hand or Leonard Nimoy’s Paris, masters of disguise from Mission Impossible. I can’t wait for the role-playing aspect to kick in at the game table (hint hint! Are you reading this?)

At level three the Rogue chose the path of the assassin. He got his license to kill. He’s a medieval James Bond with pointy ears.



New Players, Old School Game

My kids game is fast approaching and I’m seriously considering changing the game on them. Again. We’re part way into our third adventure and I’m beginning to think that it was the wrong choice for the group.

We’re currently playing through Wizards of the Coast’s “Hoard of the Dragon Queen.” So far, I like the material. The story line is intriguing and the quests appropriately challenging for lower level characters. So far, each chapter has offered up a different style of play. The story opens with a small sandbox of level one encounters in the middle of a town-wide battle. The second chapter has a much subtler infiltration mission. Chapter three is a small dungeon crawl. It’s a sampler of Fifth Edition game play.

Far from being a criticism of the material, I see this as a great way for seasoned players to quickly become familiar with as much of the new rules as possible. But for younger, novice players, this is a lot to take in all at once. My crew is still solidly in the “hack and slash” style of play.

Before this, we had played a bit of “Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle”, an adventure written for the 5E playtest rules. Our first adventure was a swamp filled with wandering monsters and a small series of caves with a boss fight and a chat with a dragon. When we switched to the official 5E rules, I managed to transition the story by handing off the characters from one Lord with a mission to another. This worked well enough, but I’m realizing that both adventures were just heroic contract work.

Our first adventure was exploring the Caves of Chaos, the classic first edition dungeon delve updated for 5E (playtest) rules. There was no lord paying the characters to do a job. There was no unearthly scheme to summon a demon, no complex plot to take over the world. It was simple adventuring.

Caves. Monsters. Treasure.

Okay, so I’m no longer considering. I’m going to make a U-turn with my kids game and return to a simpler game of adventuring for the sake of adventuring.

Sorry NO SPOILERS! Some of them read this blog. Perhaps I’ll recap after next week’s game.

— DM


Dungeon Geek? You bet.

On TV, or in the movie theater, I seek out science fiction. The more spaceships and laser beams I can get, the better. Time travelling robots? Perfect! New show on Syfy? I’ll try anything.

For me, though, sci-fi doesn’t always leap off the page. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read, and enjoyed plenty of good sci-fi. I devoured Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy as soon as it was published.

But, on paper, my favorite genre by far is Tolkien’s “King Arthur and the Game of Wardrobes.”

The first book I fell in love with was Lloyd Alexander’s “The Book of Three.” It opened the door to a realm that I never left. My love of Prydain was followed closely by my love of Shannara. I added Narnia to that realm along with Middle Earth, Hogwarts and the Wheel of Time.

Right from the beginning, I wanted to add my own stories to my growing realm. As a lifelong author of Chapter 1‘s, my go-to subject matter was swords, sorcery, castles and dragons.

It was inevitable that when I was introduced to Dungeons and Dragons, it would capture my imagination like nothing else. I played in grade school, poring over the original rulebooks and modules, rolling up characters with awesome dice and painting lead miniatures. I played a long-running Advanced D&D campaign throughout college. My wife (I love her!) found a local group of dads and we played 4th edition for a few years.

I’ve tried a few Sci-fi flavored RPGs like Star Frontiers (also from TSR, the then makers of D&D) and a Star Wars game. I played Car Wars and Paranoia. They were all fun, one time. but didn’t grab me like D&D. I played superhero themed games – definitely not for me.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, when I was asked to run two D&D games at the same time, the arm twisting was merely a formality. I don’t think it would have been possible to turn it down. In fact, as my daughters are showing a renewed interest in it, I’m seriously contemplating a third game…

— DM

P.S.  To be fair, I have to concede that the Cthulu RPG scene is pretty awesome and second only to D&D in my book.