Curse of Strahd, an Interlude

“Rahadin…”

Strahd’s voice echoed down the long throne room of Castle Ravenloft. Maps cluttered a small table sat before the throne.

“I am here, my lord,” responded the sickly dusk elf as he emerged from the shadows.

The vampire lord sulked in his throne, glanced at a map of his realm, and tossed it to the floor.

“My lord?” asked Rahadin. Strahd’s troubles were known to all his servants, but the seneschal dared not presume his lord’s intent.

Strahd’s eyes flared red. “I have no patience for your games right now, Rahadin. You know why I am displeased.”

Rahadin quickly retrieved the map and placed it on the table. “Yes, my lord, the adventurers have not accepted your invitation.”

“Damn my invitation! I see now inviting them here was a mistake. This group is not like the others.”

“I don’t understand,” said Rahadin.

“When I faced them at Yester Hill, the priest, Elodin, called upon his god to drive me away.”

“Yes, this has happened before, my lord.”

“This was different. When my playthings enter this realm, they no longer commune with the higher powers they worship. Oh, they think they do, but is the Dark Powers who respond to their prayers and grant them spells and powers. Clerics, druids, warlocks… It’s all the same.”

“This is known,” Rahadin replied.

“It is, but when Elodin called upon the god, Amaunator, and his light burned into my flesh. I felt it, the true divine light of a god of light.”

Rahadin saw the grimace of pain on Strahd’s face, but he did not allow his master to see he had noticed it.

“That’s not possible, my lord.”

“I felt it! That was not the obfuscated power of the Dark Powers, the Vestiges. It was the divine might of Amaunator,” said Strahd.

“Have… Have they weakened?”

The thought chilled the dusk elf to the core. The Vestiges were all slivers of divinity, pieces of dark gods left behind. Alone they were no longer gods and goddesses, but together they were powerful enough, no divine entity had ever been powerful enough to penetrate this dimension.

Rahadin backed away as his lord rose and began to pace the room. The vampires slow, methodic footsteps echoed like a dark heartbeat.

The vampire stopped midway across the room and stared at Rahadin. “That is a mystery we must unravel. My spies tell me the adventurers are on their way to Amber Temple. I will leave immediately to commune with the Dark Powers there. I want you to gather the Dread Guard.”

“My lord! The Dread Guard,” questioned Rahadin.

“I do not like to repeat myself.”

“It has been centuries. Surely, surely most of them are dead!” Rahadin lowered his eyes to avoid his master’s glare.

“Each of them is bound to me, Rahadin. They share my immortality. I would know if they were gone.”

The Dread Guard were Strahd’s strongest minions, his personal guard when he was a mortal man, now twisted into vicious monsters. If they still lived, they were centuries old, maybe even millennia. The dusk elves were brought to Barovia hundreds of year ago, Rahadin among them, but Strahd was already ancient by then.

“I… I did not know, my lord.”

“It seems there is a great deal you do not know, yet still, you continue to question me.”

“My deepest apologies. I will send for the Dread Guard and instruct them to come to Castle Ravenloft immediately.”

“All but Drauglir.”

The name hung in the air and death swept into the room to join it.

“The Pale Wolf,” asked Rahadin.

“You will find him on Mount Baratok. My pack of lycanthropes has been wiped out, but truth be told, they had grown weak. I allowed Kiril to play his games and the pack suffered for it. When it came for them to play their role, they were wiped out too easily.”

“They had grown soft, my lord,” Rahadin remembered his lord’s disappointment when Kiril’s pack had been wiped out and how easily he fell to the adventurers.

“I want Drauglir to hunt the adventurers. I want him to kill them, or as many as he can before they reach Castle Ravenloft.”

“Yes, my lord.”

“Hurry now, I will be leaving soon.”

Rahadin did not like tempting the vampire’s ire, but he feared his punishment if he neglected this final duty before he left.

“My lord, and what about our guest?”

“I had almost forgotten about him. Send him in and I will speak with him before I leave for Amber Temple.”

“Very well, my lord,” said Rahadin.

“Rahadin, what is his name again?”

“His name is Mephistopheles.”

“Mephistopheles? Quickly send the devil in. We have much work to do and very little time.”

D&D 5E: New Monster – Arallasar

In the warm waters and islands of the tropical seas, few predators are as feared as the mighty arallasor. This lizard-like creature seems abnormally large for its natural environment, leading many scholars to believe the creature may have been created by unnatural means or transported there from somewhere else. Though the creature’s origins may be lost to the ages, their reputation as vicious killers is well known.Arallasars will claim entire islands as their territory, rarely sharing space with other predators except when they pair to mate every ten to twelve years. Only a single parent remains to watch over the eggs and to raise the young, who grow to full size in a few short years, and are driven away to find their own territory to claim.

An arallasar will claim an entire island as its territory, rarely tolerating other predators except when they pair to mate every ten to twelve years. Only a single parent remains to watch over the clutch of eggs or to raise the young, which grow to full size in a few short years. Once a young arallasor has reached full size, it is driven away to find its own territory, unless it is strong enough to kill its parent and claim their territory as its own.

Sailors and the people of the tropical islands fear the arallasor and the destruction they can wreak. For beasts, they are cunning hunters which are as comfortable climbing or swimming as they are lounging on a sandy beach waiting for a meal to stumble by. It is well known if you are the unfortunate soul who does the stumbling, the best you could do is cut your ally’s heel and hope they are enough of a meal to keep the arallasor busy while you flee. If not, may the gods have mercy on your soul.

arallasar

Design Notes: I created the Arallasar while prepping for a Battle Interactive adaptation of the classic Isle of Dread for Gen Con 2016. Some friends and I ran the event for a rather large crowd of gamers and we had a blast. At my table, I wanted to capture the nostalgia of the iconic image on the cover of the module (pictured above), so I created this nasty beast to greet the PCs when they landed on the beach, along with the natives who the PCs rushed to save.

arallasar

Feel free to use this critter in your home games. If you want to use the critter for anything more, please drop me a line at leahcim32@gmail.com.

Review: Aventyr Bestiary by AAW Games

Aventyr BestiaryAventyr Bestiary is AdventureAWeek.com’s newest addition to their growing and impressive library of books for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and believe me when I say this tome is not only gorgeous, it is packed with fun game material. AAW Games Inc has collected some of the best names in the gaming industry as well as the most talented developers of their own products to work on this book. As an avid game master, I love the way the book inspired me with story and encounter ideas, and I can’t wait to work work the material in this book into my next Pathfinder session. If you are a game master who runs Pathfinder, or even if you are a gamer who loves enjoying great game art, go buy this book!

Now, let me tantalize you with the blurb from the back of the book.

Continue reading

When the Players Break your Story

The Dungeon Master

“However, through defeat you shall find victory.”

As a veteran game master, I am well versed in the adage that you can never plan for everything your players are going to throw at you. My players have definitely thrown me some curve balls through the years. Inevitably, those so called “friends” are going to take your game and just turn it on its head. Months of planning and preparation become so much vaporware, because your hard work is definitely not going to see the dimmed, moody lights of the game table.

So what do you do when that happens?

There is no right answer to that question. There exists an entire spectrum of viable options depending on your players and how comfortable you are rolling with the punches.

You could calmly and politely tell your buddies, “No.” I know that sounds like an old-school, draconian kind of response, but it really is a perfectly fine response when your players have sent you into a tale spin. You have spent an immense amount of time preparing the foundation of a great story to tell with your friends, and its not unreasonable to ask the group to stay somewhat on coarse. The dominant philosophy in popular gaming culture right now is to “say yes,” but like many things in life, playing a game with your friends is not always so cut and dry. I think a good GM will say yes most of the time, but knows when to throw that much needed “no” into the mix.

On the other end of the spectrum is the obvious second choice. Yes! Yes, you can do this totally unexpected thing, no matter the cost. Saying yes is the popular choice at the moment, but too many game masters fail to realize you don’t always have to say yes and a culture of abuse is slowly creeping into the gaming community. Don’t get me wrong. I believe saying yes to my players is an important part of ensuring player agency has as much a chance to drive the story as my own. In improv, we always say yes, and it can lead to some pretty interesting and ridiculous moments. Ridiculous, good word. There is a lesson in there somewhere.

Everywhere in between are various levels of compromise that allow the players as well as game masters to move a great story forward without costing too much of one’s sanity or the other’s freedom of choice.

So why am I musing about this topic? Because after over twenty five years of gaming, my current Deadlands Reloaded gaming group got the best of me and I was caught completely off guard. Without getting too deep in the weeds, I tossed them into a classic Bad Future type of scenario. They had already survived some pretty nasty encounters in The Flood plot points campaign by the Pinnacle Entertainment Group (for those who have played through this campaign, you know what I am talking about). Its not the first time I used this trope, and historically, it has worked well for me. This time, not so much.

So the posse is deep in the future, learning more about what the villains have accomplished in their present, and a dice roll was needed to safely send them home. Out come the dice. The dice roll. The dice roll pretty phenomenally. You have no idea, this dice roll is beyond epic. I don’t remember what the player asked but I remember saying, “So, you can send the group back to the exact moment you want.” What I was thinking was, “the exact moment you left.” Of course, that is not what my players heard and they jumped on the opportunity. “Okay, then we want to go back to just before [REDACTED FOR SPOILERS] happened so we can stop that from happening.”

It caught me off guard. I had a choice. On one side of that decision, I saw a lot of prep time going out the window (not to mention the prep time to prepare the new story). On the other, I saw what seemed like a pretty epic idea (even if it isn’t all that original in as far as time traveling stories go). More than anything, I saw my group light up and get crazy excited about the possibilities the new story had to offer. In the end, that is what decided the matter for me. The prep time is important, it really is, but what is more important is the great time we were having playing a game together.

We spent some time planning what the group intended to do next, and then I cut the session an hour short because I needed time to prep the story to come. Was it the right decision? Only time and the dice gods know, but I intend to have fun finding out.

D&D Icons of the Realms Starter Set – Review

Icons of the Realms Starter Set

Icons of the Realms Starter Set

The dragon slowly wakes from its slumber, and deep within the flesh its flames begin to build. Rumors begin to spread across the land saying the wizard has come down from the mountains, and he is looking for heroes. Whispers drift on the winds as the gods call their faithful to arms once again. Players everywhere begin to warm up their dice, while dungeon masters cackle evilly behind their screens.

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition is here!

The gaming community has been an important part of the playtesting process, but we received our first real taste of “D&D Next” last month with the release of the Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set along with the D&D Icons of the Realms Starter Set (pictured to the right). Now the D&D Player’s Handbook and Hoard of the Dragon Queen adventure module have hit the streets (at select stores in the Wizard Play Network) and things are really swinging into motion. While miniatures are not required for all styles of play Wizards of the Coast is doing their part to support those who still enjoy using miniatures at the game table.

http://www.tbscomics.com/

Glory Awaits! As do the paints you will need to clean up these minis!

The D&D Icons of the Realms Starter Set includes six miniatures. I picked up a set at the TBS Comics! in the Fort Walton Beach area for $19.99 + tax. Roughly that comes up to $3.70 a mini when all is said and done, a decent price at first glancce. The set includes a gold dwarf female cleric, drow elf ranger Drizzt, a lightfoot halfling rogue, a human female ranger, a Northlands fighter, and a sun elf female wizard. Each mini has a moderate amount of detail adding utility as they can easily be used to represent other types of races and classes without stretching the imagination too far. My only real complaint about the set is I expect a much nicer paint job on my plastic miniatures, especially when we are talking about a $20 price point. The paint job really leaves a lot to be desired with few colors, no highlights, blotchy eyes, and a good number of manufacturing mistakes throughout the bunch.

But are they worth the cost?

Honestly, if you have other options at your disposal I advise you save your money. A couple of the minis are nice (namely, the wizard) but most are a disappointment. I am not even sure I will use some of these until after I have slapped some paint of my own on them, and the dice gods know we have already seen more than one Drizzt miniature in previous sets of minis from WOTC.

Icons of the Realms Starter Set

A motley crew…

Even if you don’t have any minis and you are looking to start your collection, my advice is to shop around and see if you can find this set at a lower price point. Anywhere from $12 to $15 would be more reasonable. If you can’t, then save your money and buy some Pathfinder Pawns or shop for individual minis. You can easily find more bang for your buck out there, and at a higher level of quality.

An Overview of ‘Demon the Descent Quickstart’

Demon the DescentDemon the Descent is the ninth major expansion to the World of Darkness, and the first since the introduction of the revised core rules in The God-Machine Chronicle. In fact, Demon the Descent is an extension of The God-Machine Chronicle’s setting, another facet of the twisted mechanical machinations of the God Machine and its servants. The Quickstart was written and developed by Matt McFarland and it provides an excellent introduction into the new game as well as the new rules.

Players adopt the roles of the Unchained, former angelic minions of the God-Machine who have forsaken their functions and fallen. These newly formed demons must cope with their new existence, not wholly angel or human, while at the same time hiding from the God-Machine and/or finding ways to oppose it. Angels are organized into one of four broad categories called Incarnations, and after the fall the demon retains these features. These include the Destroyers, Guardians, Messengers and Psychopomps. Angels are creatures of divine purpose but demons find themselves stripped of their purpose. This creates a void within the demon, and each adopts an Agenda to fill that void; the Inquisitor, Integrator, Saboteur or Tempter. Although the demon can perceive the gears of the God-Machine and the ancient laws that govern reality, it no longer possesses the intuitive understanding of those laws. Instead, it uses the few memories it retains of those laws, called Embeds and Exploits, to change reality in subtle ways. Each demon hides themselves behind a Cover, their ‘human’ mask, but they can reflexively reveal their demonic form, shaped by seven form aspects, at the risk of drawing the attention of the God Machine.

The Quickstart includes four demonic characters and all the rules you need to portray them as well as a complete scenario to play through called “Honey & Vinegar.” This scenario can be a standalone story or it can easily fit into an ongoing chronicle. Demons utilize the ‘waste heat’ of the God-Machine, called Aether, to fuel their powers. The God-Machine has created an Infrastructure to reclaim Aether for its own purposes, but it requires demons through which to filter the power source. The project is nearly complete and it is time to find those demons. Oh look! PCs coming this way.

Although the Quickstart Rules provide everything you need to start playing, it is but a glimpse into the countless goodies Onyx Path Publishing has packed into the full game. Demon the Descent is tentatively scheduled for release sometime this month. Notice the bold word in the previous sentence. OPP’s new business structure includes a strong dedication to the highest standards of quality, and while they always try to hit their marks, sometimes a product slips in order to maintain that level of quality.

If this product looks interesting to you, drop by DriveThruRPG and pick up a copy for yourself. It is available in both PDF (free) and Print on Demand (for a small printing and shipping fee). Stop back by and let me know what you think of it.