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That is one freaky looking dude!

That is one freaky looking dude!

This is a handy little ne’er-do-well I came up with the other day to thwart my players. It worked wonderfully well and turned a hum-drum encounter into one that was surprising and dangerously fun.

Take a regular kobold with typical statistics. Add two heads, one on either side of the central head. They breathe fire and the kobold is immune to fire. It can do everything a normal kobold can do AS WELL AS breathe fire once per round from each head in a fifteen foot line.

They are incredibly weak due to being a kobold, but they can really pack a wallop! In the encounter in which I used them, the party wizard scoffed at a room full of twenty kobolds. With a flick of bat guano into the chamber he ignited a fireball that left all of the kobolds incinerated, except for the seven 3-headed kobolds, who in turn got to retort, and show said wizard just what that felt like. Evil grin.

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but-when-i-do-i-play-advanced-dungeons-dragonsThe joke is that this newly released updated edition of the worlds first and foremost role playing game is the one we will die playing. Like any good joke there is some truth and longing in it as well. I wish we could have one version that continued to grow and evolve over the years (at a sedate pace, mind you) rather than the abrupt and jarring breaks of the past three ‘editions’ of Dungeons and Dragons. This Fifth edition seems to be the one capable of doing that, if it is even a desire or plan of the publishers of the game, which I know not.

Irregardless, while so far this edition is proving to live up to the qualities it aimed to attain, there is always room for, and a need for minor tweaks or improvements to the rules to better mesh with the playstyles of each individual group of players. Thus are house rules created, and below is a list of rules we have adopted for our game group.

1. Critical hit and miss tables – These have been published previously on the blog –LINK–. Fifth edition codifies the idea of critical hit and misses, by giving double damage on a 20, and always hit, and making a natural 1 always miss. That of course does not go far enough. My tables, written around 1983-84, when I was twelve, involve much more gory, embarrassing, and weird affects and were voted into use by due process over the course of many games, many editions, before being finally settled upon once and for all. Any rumours that I may have ‘skewed’ the results of the vote are pure hearsay.The dm gets one vote, and the players get one vote as a group. Ties go to the dm. Perfectly fair process. Moving on…

2. Natural 2 – I have coined a phrase – “natural 2, the only roll worse than a natural 1.” The reason being that a player will still probably miss if they roll a 2, but it lacks any of the pizzazz of a critical fail. So I have a house rule, even less official than the critical hit and miss tables, that on a natural 2, if they miss, they still have humiliating, embarrassing, or weird things happen to their character, just without any actual game mechanical affects. This rule is adamantly opposed by the players (and what player wouldnt jus thate the whole idea of it) so I have to slip it in subtly. One method is to use a natural 2 as a doorway to getting the character to give into the characters flaw, which is a new personality trait in this edition.

3. Skeletons resist piercing and slashing damage.

4. Inspiration point – These can be used to re-roll any roll, rather than to grant advantage or whatever the official rule may be. Why not? Stop being so uptight about things. Also the bard can store a second inspiration point on occasions, but in that case “he is like a race car with its engine running in the red.” Or at least that is what happened the other night.

5. Mounts – If a land vehicle is a horse, then is a water vehicle a hippopotamus? Yes.

6. Hit points – Characters roll for HP at each level but if they roll poorly they may take 1/2 the maximum die roll instead. It’s more or less what everyone did anyway.

7. No multi classing. I have no explanation for this other than a certain “swordlock” who will remain unnamed. It would have been a TPK, it should have been a TPK, and dammit it WAS a TPK, I don’t care what that “survivalist” says.

This is an evolving document, both because I might have forgotten some rules, and because more may come along as the final two core rulebooks are released (and beyond!) and because our temperament may change over time. When I began this article I thought there would be more, but instead we get short and sweet.

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More minions of the Dark Priest

More minions of the Dark Priest

Just saying, not by popular demand, but by dm fiat, skeletons resist slashing and piercing damage. (Half damage, rounded down.)

And no, force damage does not count as bludgeoning, good try.

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The bowels of Xak Tsaroth where Onyx lairs

The bowels of Xak Tsaroth where Onyx lairs

This is the bottom layer of the buried city of Xak Tsaroth, the lair of Kisanth the black dragon. Minor (and major) changes have been made but it keeps its general shape and essence.
xak-tsaroh004This is the shattered plaza where play begins. A river is joined in the center and flows down the center of the avenues, with crumbling buildings lining them.
xak-tsaroh003
The maze
xak-tsaroh002
This is a good image showing the three types of dungeon tiles used: D&D tiles are made from cardboard, Itar’s Workshop tiles are lighter grey with half as tall walls, half as thick floors.

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Ancient Desert Tomb

Ancient Desert Tomb

An ancient stone edifice pokes from the shifting dunes of the deep desert. In a world of magic and monsters, tomb looting is the most dangerous adventure. A tomb is a locale whose very design is to defeat the curious and greedy. The most difficult crypts are locked, hidden, trapped, and guarded vaults, and this one is no different.

This encounter area continues a series called Ancient Encounters, culled from ancient notebooks of campaigns past. The idea came after writing about re-using an old adventure, and I realized these great encounters deserve a little more attention. Hopefully others can be inspired by this series to make their own adventures, or to use elements of these admittedly “brief,” “vague,” and “improvisational encounters as building blocks for great games.

The ancient desert tomb is located deep in the vast wasteland of the scorching desert near a dried up river bed. It is a low lying rectangular building of tightly fitted stone blocks, now mostly covered by sand. Only one corner and the doorway are visible. The door is inset into the wall at a slight incline so that it will always slam shut unless barred by something strong enough to hold the heavy stone door open.

Hey a tomb in the desert guys lets check it out

Hey a tomb in the desert guys lets check it out

Once inside the dim foyer, the tomb robber is greeted with a chamber with two exits. Across from one locked door is a small fountain with fresh water trickling into a basin. Across from the other locked door is a bench. On the wall opposite the entrance is written in ancient hieroglyphic script “Enter ye who find this place. Take water if thou thirst. Find rest if thou art weary. Do thou not transgress beyond this chamber. The eternal slumber of Pharaoh will be disturbed and thou will provoke his wrath.”

The water is fresh and pure but an undetectable curse befalls anyone who touches either door within twelve hours of drinking the water. It will instantly turn to poison in the gut, requiring the creature to immediately make a saving throw versus poison or die painful death.

Scorpions are like super spiders

Scorpions are like super spiders

Beyond the doors are scorpions. In the next room is a pedestal that shoots laser beams and endless piles of skeletons that rise and attack, 1-4 per round while anyone living remains in the room or util the mummy in the next chamber is slain. The final chamber houses the false pharaoh, in a sarcophagus richly adorned in gold and lapis lazuli, worth at least 500 gold intact, or half that for the stripped gold and gems. Inside is a mummy wearing royal death jewelry worth at least 1,000 gold pieces who will attack until destroyed or until no one living remains int he tomb. The floor is made of round stone tiles, and the tile under the sarcophagus is a secret door (unedetectable unless the 2,000 lb casket is moved) that leads to the lower level.

tomb04It continues on from there. Trapped hallways. Poisonous beetles shaped like gold coins and mixed within piles of real coins. Fireball flinging flaming skeletons. Royal sacrificial chamber. A magical portal chamber to who knows where. Second false tomb, and final real tomb with a mummified skull demilich in a suit of ethereal armor. Or something. You get the idea: locked, hidden, trapped, and guarded

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Orc Manor

Orc Manor

A roving warband of vicious orcs has slaughtered the inhabitants of a fortified Manor, and are reaping a harvest of plunder and occupation while they terrorize the surrounding lands.

This encounter area continues a series called Ancient Encounters, culled from ancient notebooks of campaigns past. The idea came after writing about re-using an old adventure, and I realized these great encounters deserve a little more attention. Hopefully others can be inspired by this series to make their own adventures, or to use elements of these admittedly “brief,” “vague,” and “improvisational encounters as building blocks for great games.

Breaking from tradition, this adventure idea heralds from the future rather than the past. Experimenting with the incredibly awesome Dwarven Forge Game Tiles (obligatory eternal thanks to Dave for acquiring them) I was trying to combine them with my other game-board building goods to make an ultimate dungeon. Multiple levels was a key element of this design, and it has four elevation changes, which is more than I hoped for when setting out to build this manor house. The map begins in the dungeon, goes to the main floor with surrounding outside area, then the upper floor with attached portico, and finally to the tower.


Zero level adventuring was also on my mind
. When the new 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons releases in the fall, our group will most likely wrap up our AD&D romp through the original Dragonlance series of adventures, and start over in a new campaign. A zero level adventure is a great way to start a new campaign, and what better than to be naked and chained to a wall? Last time, during the playtesting phase of the next edition of Dungeons and Dragons, the players started in the sewers beneath a ghost town, having been captured by orcs.This adventure is a variation of that theme, with the characters captured and chained up in the cellar beneath a pillaged Manor house, and must escape before being tortured, killed, and ultimately eaten by the vile humanoids.

For groups who prefer to have their starting equipment and/or levels, the alternative flips the adventure on its head, as the characters seek to rescue the town princess (or etc.) from the depths of the Manor House before it is too late.

Root Cellar and Furniture Storage

Root Cellar and Furniture Storage

1. Root Cellar/Jail Cell

The room is dark and dank. A pile of moldy sugar beets, overlooked by the orcs, provides sustenance for those trapped behind the locked heavy oaken door, banded in bronze.

Have every player begin with one mundane item, such as a candlestick or iron pick. For added challenge all prisoners are chained, hand and foot, to iron spikes hammered into the stone walls and floor.

2. Furniture Storage/Guard Room

Cupboards, armoires, settees, tables and other antique pieces of furniture are stacked against the walls of this chamber. In the center a large oak table sits covered in food and drink, coins, and blood stained gore.

There are always 1d4 orcs in this room, and 1d4 of them are usually passed out. The coins amount to 1-10 gold piece value in copper and silver coins. 1d4 items of furniture are worth up to 100 gold apiece due to the antique value and craftsmanship, but they are delicate and must be moved carefully to retain their full worth.

Defiled Subterranean Chapel

Defiled Subterranean Chapel



3. Subterranean Chapel/Defiled

This chamber reeks of the stench of corruption. What was once an ornately carved chapel with a steeply arched ceiling and marble plinth to a deity unknown, is covered in filth from the wretched sacrifices of the orcs who worship their sick deities through acts of pain, death, and decay.

Hiding behind the lecturn, an orcish witchdoctor is intently carving hateful runes into a golden holy symbol. The orc has a Wand of Purple Lightning Bolt (1d6 damage per charge spent to all within 30 ft line including rebound, 10 charges) and it can summon 1d4 skeletons from the grisly remains in the chamber as an action. The witch doctor can also raise any slain character as a zombie as an action. Two statues in the back of the room are coated in filth. If they are cleaned, they will grant a boon to any who assist. The statue on the left is of Garl Glittergold, god of gnomes, merchants, and beggars and it will grant a permanent +1 specialty bonus to a single tool or weapon the character possesses. The other statue is of The Unknown Majus and will grant a free cantrip to any spellcasters who pay obeisance to the might of the Unknown Majus.(Create Water for divine casters, Create Fire for arcane.)

Basement Wine Cellar and Natural Spring

Basement Wine Cellar and Natural Spring


4. Natural Spring/Cavern Expansion

The sound of picks can be heard. Prisoners break rock and drop them into a natural spring pool. A trio of big black orc brutes, wielding metal studded whips and tridents keep half a dozen slaves toiling until they are dead.

The slaves are villagers from nearby. Their mayor was eaten and they offer vassalage to any who will defend them from further travesty. The orcs are savage, and wear chain or banded armor, and have short swords and daggers in their belts. They each carry 2d6 gold coins.

5. Basement Wine Cellar

The chamber has racks along two walls and a gurgling fountain in the north wall. Rickety wooden stairs ascend to a door at the top.

Nothing of interest here but a few bottles of wine and fresh water from the fountain.

Orc Manor Main Floor

Orc Manor Main Floor

Orc Manor main floor, which includes the storage chamber, the barracks, the guarded entrance, and the front yard.

Orc Manor Upper Floors

Orc Manor Upper Floors

The upper floors include the pillared treasure chamber, the orc chieftains dining hall, the open air porch, and the un-defiled astrological observatory tower.

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zero2hero

A group of brave young souls traveled towards the edge of civilizations in hopes of gaining fame and fortune. Then they got captured by orcs.

The rules of the game are very simple: roll the six ability scores (4d6 drop the lowest) three times, do not bother putting them into the attributes — right now they are just three nebulous sets of numbers. The characters are literal blank slates, with no class, nor even race or sex (all virgins). Imagine them as hooded figures of questionable lineage. Each character has 2 hit points and an armor class of 10. That’s it.

Each character should be allowed one mundane non-weapon item worth no more than a single gold piece, such as a rock, nail, or ice pick, as well as a loin cloth and moth-eaten cloak. This can be altered for other adventures than the one presented here: Slave Pens Under Ghost City.

The player chooses one of the three sets to begin playing that single character unless and until another is needed. The others are considered “hovering in the background” until needed. The fact that each player rolls up three sets of scores means they will not be as worried about losing a character. In fact, some of the characters might have terrible scores and be purposefully put into perilous positions. The zero level adventure can be very deadly in order to winnow out the excess characters.

During play the characters will want to do things, like attack, break something, try to read a scroll, or search for traps, whatever. At that point the player puts one of their numbers into the applicable attribute, and makes the necessary roll. If it is successful they make a note of their deeds done. Eventually the characters end up with most of their ability scores filled in, and a set of deeds that will point to a character concept.

This method allows players the time to choose which score went where as they are needed, and the dynamic of needing a good roll at the moment, countered by the optimal ability score placement for any future character concepts, creates a great spread of the numbers, not always optimized towards the future class, but gives a character real character.

This can also be used for deciding racial factors, by asking if anyone has the ability to detect sloping passages, for example, a dwarf might be revealed. Uncovering themes, backgrounds and other specialties, depending on the length of the zero level adventure are also possible. Even class abilities can be discovered through play, such as a character making a wisdom check to pray to her deity for divine aid, or a sagacious character making an intelligence check to detect the presence of magic.
Whoever survives the adventure becomes a first level character. They can keep the two extra hit points as a reward.

Under Ghost City

Under Ghost City

1. Slave Pens
The room is dark.
The large dank room has been divided into a number of small cells by the iron bars stretching from floor to ceiling. A stone table and a rancid pool of water occupy one corner, near a heavy oaken door as the only exit.

A ring of keys hangs on a hook by the door, which will open all the cell doors, but not the door to the chamber, which is also locked (DC 10 to unlock). There is a well concealed secret door 10 feet above floor level in the west wall.

2. River run-off
The sound of rushing water becomes overwhelming as the door opens, revealing a splashing river flowing through the mist-filled chamber from iron-barred openings in the north and south walls.

The river is fast flowing and deep. The ground is pebbly, with a number of larger sharp rocks, and the iron bars require super-human effort (DC 21) to bend. Once through a person has a 25% chance to survive the roiling, airless passage before being dumped into a reedy pond on the outskirts of the ruined town where reside a gaggle of 10 goblins. (HD ½, HP 5, AC 12, Atk 1, Dam 1d6, 50% chance of 2 HD leader)

3. Guard room
The hallway has a trip-wire set to ring a bell if anyone approaches from area 1.

The room contains a table and stools in the center and piles of filth in the corners.

4 orcs (Orc (HD 1, HP 8,8,5,5, AC 14, +2 Atk 1, Dam 1d8) Two orcs are big and bulbous and grant an extra +2 with their battle axes, while the other are tall and skinny and grant +2 damage with their compound short bows. One of each duty is always on duty while the others sleep in their trash piles.

The room contains 4 sets soiled studded leather, 2 battle axes, 2 short bows, 20 arrows, 2 daggers, a lantern, 2 flasks oil, 2 sets manacles, skeleton key to open any door in dungeon, and a cask of really terrible beer.

4. Blutus the ogre
The stench should have warned you away. A huge hulking form squats in this small chamber, snoozing with his chin resting on the spike of his club. It Is an ogre.

The ogre (HD 4, HP 24, AC 14, +4 Att 1, Dam 1d10) is automatically surprised and sits there grinning if the characters attack. He then commences to pound each of them into paste. He is also willing to barter and trade, loving things that are shiny most, and tasty, second most. His treasure consists of 45 gold, 2 roasted chickens, a large bag, 1 short sword (toothpick), and a large tangled coil of rope – 50’.

5. Pool room
This chamber looks to be natural, but overlaid long ago with tile murals depicting joyous bathers enjoying the steaming warmth of the natural spring. Now the tiles are decaying and falling away, but the pool looks as inviting as ever.

Anyone who swims in the pool is invigorated and earns 1 permanent boost to hit points and forever afterward has a distinctive healthy glow.

There is also a purple worm randomly passing by who will eat the first person to get in the pool, and then disappear forever.

6. Supply room
The door opens to reveal a room stacked with a jumble of farming equipment, animal handling, and other implements of the rural life. The room smells of rust and abandonment.

This room is a supply chamber for the farming and animal handling of the slaves. All sorts of tools are kept here, mostly in bad, rusted conditioned, after the orcs swept through the town and collected the abandoned relics.

7. Treasure vault
This chamber appears to be the main storage vault of the occupying orcs. Suits of studded leather, a suit of chain, and battle axes, bows, 200 arrows, 2 long swords, back packs, bags,etc.

… and a small locked and trapped chest (poison gas DC 12 or death 10 ft radius) which contains 150 gold, and a scroll Fireball. In one corner stand is a banged up suit of Heavy Plate with a symbol of a rising full moon on the breast plate. (-1 AC, -25% value until repaired). The secret door is hidden behind the armor (DC 12) the sound of running water be faintly heard from that corner of the room.

8. Mausoleum

This shadowy vault contains three alcoves on either side of the chamber. The floor is tiled in a mosaic pattern depicting the grim reaper.

Six skeletons rise from the caskets in the alcoves to attack. If the characters survive, the doors (locked DC 13) leads to the surface. Each skeleton wears a sigil ring worth 50 gold due to the historical significance of the noble families.

9. Waterfall cavern
The sound of a waterfall becomes ever louder until the hallway, dripping wet, enters a natural cavern with a waterfall splashing through a hole in the ceiling. Daylight!

If the characters defeat the giant crayfish (HD 4, HP 21, AC 15, +4 Att 2, Dam 1-12) that calls this pool home, they can escape.

10. The church
From the doorway the open sky becomes visible. The stairs lead to the same deserted shrine last seen when entering the foul pit.

11. Captains Room
This chamber reeks of blood and smoke. The room contains a pile of rotting furs against one wall, food and drink heaped on a table, and a few disfigured corpses in pools of their own spreading blood.

This is the room of the orc chieftain (HD 3, HP 17, AC 15, +3 Atk 1, Dam 1d8). He wears chain, wields a battle axe, and has a lockbox under his furs with 50 gold, and a silver necklace worth 75 gold.

12. House slave room
A dozen house slaves live and til in this smoky chamber. Cooking the questionable foods, washing the clothes, and generally aiding the orcs in whatever way they can, even being occasionally eaten themselves.

The humans (HD 1, HP 1, AC 10, Dam 1-2) will try to talk the party into turning back, and if that fails they will attempt to stop them while calling for aid on the captain or the guard chamber. There are a few knives, food, and some pots and pans about, as well as wineskins and flasks of oil.

perytonOnce the “heroes” have pulled themselves out of the mire and are back on the road to freedom, it might be time to harry their journey towards civilization with a Peryton.

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