Sunday, May 9, 2021

My Ravenloft

In anticipation of Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft, I've been posting some aspects of the canonical Ravenloft setting that I exclude from my games set in the Domains of Dread. This time, I want to talk about the changes I tend to bring to the setting instead of things I avoid. With Van Richten's Guide on the horizon, it will be interesting to see how closely the new version of the setting hews to how I like to use the setting. (I've added some notes based on my best guesses as to how closely the Ravenloft of Van Richten's Guide will hew to my vision of the setting.) My Ravenloft deviates from the standard presentation of the setting in the following ways:

Brighter Points of Light. Any large town in the “official lore” is probably at least a small city in my version of the setting. Additionally, the landscape is dotted with many villages, farmsteads, and towns not detailed on conventional maps of the setting. There are more inhabitants in Ravenloft and consequently more institutions of note. For example, the city of Ludendorf in Lamordia is home to the acclaimed Ludendorf University, a college focused on the sciences and natural philosophy. Ingenious scholar teach there—though they are shadowed by rumors of dark, inhumane experiments. (Note: By breaking Ravenloft's "Core" into a bunch of islands floating in the mists, it seems likely that the new version of Ravenloft won't quite adopt this the way I'd prefer.)

The Seas are Harsh Mistresses. The Nocturnal Sea and the Sea of Sorrows are both dangerous, but they can be traversed reliably and are central in connecting the civilized lands through trade. Persistent mistways—passages through the mists that form the boundary of the known seas—allow for more frequent visits to otherwise isolated island domains. Knowledge of the mistways is carefully guarded by captains and navigators who wish to have a monopoly on trade with those lands. (Note: it's unclear to me right now, but it seems like sea travel and interconnection between domains is being downplayed in Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft.)

A Land of Strange Visitors. Because strangers from other worlds are often pulled into Ravenloft by the mists, the people of Ravenloft are more used to—and more accepting of—encountering a wider variety of folk. Although they may be rare, any race or ancestry can be found in the land. Strangers bring their cultures, factions, and religions with them—some of which will have taken root in Ravenloft to become new institutions on foreign soil. (Note: I suspect this will be the standard in the new Ravenloft, actually. WotC must know that now is not the moment to explore "fantasy racism" again in the setting.)

Haunted by Evil. The people who inhabit Ravenloft know that their land is plagued by supernatural evils. They might still cling to inaccurate superstitions about magic and monstrosities, but they harbor no illusions about the world around them. For example, the people of Barovia know that Strahd von Zarovich is a vampire—but there is precious little they can do about the undead sovereign who rules their land. (Note: WotC actually made this change to Barovia in Curse of Strahd. Good on 'em.)

Ravenloft with a Twist. Several bits of "lore" that I find silly don't make the cut. For example, the people of Darkon do not suffer from magical amnesia. In particular, the darklords’ backstories will be significantly different and, in the cases of the more convoluted origin stories, vastly simplified. It is unlikely that my version of Urik von Kharkov is a panther who was transformed into a man who later also became a vampire. Also, I feel absolutely free to add many factions, religions, secret societies, and nonplayer characters borrowed from the Ravenloft fan community and of my own devise. (Note: It will be interesting to see if there is one of those "the setting is yours to modify!" disclaimers in the book.)


Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Mazworth's Mighty Digressions

Photo by Egor Myznik on unsplash
I've been running the adventures in Candlekeep Mysteries lightly reskinned for my Krevborna setting. The characters are all employed as members of Creedhall University Library's "Special Collections" department, aka adventurers. This is a recap of what happened in "Mazfroth's Mighty Digressions." I called "Mazfroth" Mazworth instead, mainly because Forgotten Realms names are terrible and do not exactly slide off the tongue easily. Fair warning: spoilers lurk below.

The Characters

Elsabeth, human paladin, played by Anne

Rising Leaf and Raging Storm, human monk, played by Michael

Rufus Clarke, human barbarian played by Steve

Doctor Tobias Wolfe, human sorcerer played by Dennis

Events

Elsabeth, Leaf, Rufus, and Tobias were assigned to shelving newly acquired books in a restricted portion of the library. Leaf dropped a book, which happened to flip open to an illustration of a bloated, bat-winged demon with the head of a skeletal goat. As he bent down to pick up the tome, it transformed into a whirling mass of black energy and a crackling lightning strike erupted from it! Rufus attempted to pull Leaf out of harms way, but his act of altruism did not go unpunished; he was blasted by a bolt from the creature. A brief melee erupted within the aisle, but the group soon killed the monster--as it died, it contracted into nothingness.

During a debriefing session with Horatio Lupa regarding the incident, they learned that two other books had transformed into monstrous creatures and attacked library employees. Horatio set them to a task: discover why recently acquired books were becoming monsters and, if possible, seek replacements for the three books (Mazworth's Digressions, The Dark Hunger, and Fallen Tethyamar) that had been lost from the library's collection. Horatio gave them two leads: Mazworth's Digressions had been brought to the Creedhall University Library by a scholar named Yalerion, who could often be found at the shrine of St. Iona, and The Dark Hunger had been donated by a woman named Valor, who was currently repairing the roof of a library building as payment for the damage caused by the book she had gifted.

The group decided to start by questioning Valor, since she was closest at hand. Valor was a powerfully built, broad-shouldered tiefling. She was was not happy to have her work interrupted; she clearly wanted to fix the roof and be on her way. She did, however, tell the party that she purchased The Dark Hunger at a book stall in Creedhall's Wide Market in hopes of trading it to the library for access to books that would help her find someone she was looking for. She couldn't remember the exact location of the bookstall because she didn't stay in the market long; it "reeked of greed," to her.

Yalerion was found lounging on a pew inside the shrine to St. Iona. He also purchased his book from a stall in the Wide Market, and he remembered that the stall had "dune" somewhere in its name. He decided to donate Mazworth's Digressions when it turned out to be a book about demon lords instead of a more uplifting theological work. Having determined that neither Valor no Yalerion seemed to have seeded these monstrous books within the library, the group set off to find the bookstall in the Wide Market.

After a digression in which Elsabeth was hornswoggled into buying a book on crystals and their energies, the group located the Amberdune bookstall at the mouth of an alleyway on the fringes of the market square. The two employees of the bookstall were surprised to hear that books from their stock had been turning into murderous creatures, but were otherwise unhelpful. Leaf demanded to speak to the manager, which sent the older of the two sellers scuttling off. He returned with an imposing woman named Korvala who was brusque and unobliging. They group pretended to leave, but kept close watch on the bookstall. When Korvala left, Rufus and Tobias shadowed her to a hovel in a rough area of town. 

Clearly, the booksellers were hiding something. When the party reconvened, they decided that a frontal assault on the hovel was the way forward. The hovel's door was kicked in and then the fun began. The group was assaulted by the rug in the common room, which tried to smother Rufus. While they fought the rug, two jackalweres ran into the room to join the fray. A mimic posing as a chest was fought. More jackalweres rushed in to their deaths at the hands of the Special Collections Department. A young man cowering the kitchen tried to enforce his will over Tobias, but Tobias's eldritch mind proved too powerful. The elder man from the bookstall tried to make a break for it, but was subdued. Korvala ran upstairs to confront the party, only to be massacred immediately.

When the dust settled, the group had taken several captives and discovered a pile of gold, several books of note (including the ones Horatio had requested they find), and a desiccated heart wrapped in parchment. A wagon was procured and the captives and the loot were transported back to the library. 

After examination by senior Special Collections staff, it was revealed that the booksellers were jackalwere demon cultists who had once been led by a lamia, whose shriveled heart they had kept after she was killed by adventurers. The cult had been selling simulacra of its most valuable books to raise the funds needed to resurrect their master from the grave, but these simulacra were monsters in disguise--the cult relished the added chaos that their attacks would cause. But, ultimately, the cult was subdued by the brave men and women of Special Collections.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Madhumati, The Bitter Truth, The Old Dark House, and More

Things that brought me delight in April, 2021:


Madhumati

Madhumati is an Indian film that melds Bollywood with the Gothic mode in a surprisingly effective way. Of course, my predilections are well catered to here, as Madhumati begins with a frame narrative. An engineer and his friend find themselves stranded at a spooky manor house when the road becomes blocked with debris during a storm. While inside, the engineer discovers a portrait that he is sure he painted...though not in this lifetime. From there, we're catapulted into the past to follow the story of the engineer's past life as the manager of a timber business connected to the manor house. Madhumati becomes a tale of love and loss as the manager's burgeoning relationship with a beautiful young woman is imperiled by the machinations of a corrupt Raja. Further Gothic complications begin to pile up: murder most foul, spectral visitations, uncanny doubles, and all the trimmings. Madhumati is quite long, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.



Evanescence, The Bitter Truth

Admittedly, I am far too old to have nostalgia for Evanescence. Nevertheless, an ironic attraction to their hard rockin' gothic bombast and emotional histrionics has evolved into a genuine appreciation of their music. There's something sinuous here on The Bitter Truth, and plenty of honest--if simple--emotion, but the album also doesn't skimp on roaring guitars and shimmering electronic flourishes. All that plus a cover of Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain" that somehow manages to not feel embarrassingly unnecessary. 


The Old Dark House

With the long march of years, the premise of The Old Dark House has become well-worn and familiar: a group of travelers find themselves lost during a torrential rainstorm and head to the lone light they can see--a light belonging to an old house containing ominous residents who offer them shelter. ("There's a light over at the Frankenstein place," if you catch my meaning.) In The Old Dark House, this chance meeting of is between an decaying old family of the bygone era and a younger cohort who have been disillusioned by the war; this contact perhaps becomes illustrative of a projected generational "fate." As the older generation's dark secrets come spilling out, they are threatened with dissolution, but the newer generation finds reasons to carry on and value the future. Even though the house is a site of peril for them, one night in the old dark house offers a kind of strange rebirth.


Rob Zombie, The Lunar Injection Kool Aid Eclipse Conspiracy

When you're a long-term Rob Zombie fan, there's always a bit of trepidation when he puts out a new album. Is it going to be the real shit you dig or a dashed-off record that drops between movie projects? Rejoice, Zombie fans, for The Lunar Injection Kool Aid Eclipse Conspiracy hits different, even if you're never going to remember the title. Although it doesn't really offer a new spin on the Rob Zombie experience, if you're into Rob Zombie records this is a Rob Zombie record you will be into.


Berlin: The Wicked City

Berlin: The Wicked City is a supplement for Call of Cthulhu by David Larkins, with additional development from Mike Mason and Lynne Hardy. I've been getting back into Call of Cthulhu lately, and its noticeable that the 7th edition line of supplements for the game are of a uniformly high quality. None more so than Berlin: The Wicked City, a weighty tome that adapts the mythos to the setting of Weimar-era Berlin. As a particular fan of that decadent period, this supplement strikes all the right notes. It doesn't hurt that David Larkins was the lead on this project; in my opinion, he's one of the best writers working in rpgs at the moment. If you love Babylon Berlin, this is a must-have. 


In the Mood for Love

Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood For Love had long been on my to-watch list and I finally got a chance to see it in April. It's reputation is richly deserved; rarely have I encountered a film this certain of its aesthetic with a taught emotional core. Neighbors change from strangers to confidants to something undefinable when they realize that their spouses are having an affair. Is this the sexiest movie without a sex scene? Quite possibly. One funny thing: that dancing scene is so famous that I was ultra surprised to discover that it's a deleted scene!


Blackbriar, Our Mortal Remains, Fractured Fairytales, We'd Rather Burn

Blackbriar's music reminds me a bit of Dark Sarah; the three EPs I've been listening to, Our Mortal Remains, Fractured Fairytales, and We'd Rather Burn, all evidence a theatrical Gothic metal style, though Blackbriar's music is more song-oriented than cinematic. Blackbriar never lets the symphonic elements of their sound overwhelm their tracks. Additionally, each EP is a marked improvement on the one that came before, so I'm looking forward to spending some time with their recently released debut full-length to see if they remain on that upward trajectory.


Sarah Andersen, Fangs

Fangs is a collection of comic strips by Sarah Andersen charting the romantic relationship between a vampire and a werewolf and the series of dates over which they fall in love. I really enjoyed the way Fangs retrofits the usual tropes of dating to the context of supernatural creatures. The art is cartoony, but has moments of surprisingly lush beauty that I wouldn't have expected from Andersen's other comics. This was the perfect chaser to my recent re-watch of Penny Dreadful, in which a werewolf and a vampire woman are a bit more...star-crossed, we'll say.


Shadow and Bone

I read the first trilogy in Leigh Bardgo's Grishaverse series in advance of Netflix's adaptation; I enjoyed the books quite a bit, and I've heard very good things about the second set of books set in the same universe. The Shadow and Bone series produced by Netflix is quite faithful to the original trilogy's, and it also incorporates characters and plot elements from the second batch of novels, but since I haven't read them, I can't comment on how closely it follows those latter events. (I'm guessing not that closely, as the series intertwines the two stories.) The show is enjoyable and the casting in general is excellent, but what surprised me is that the characters I haven't experienced yet in the books were the ones that really popped for me in the series. If nothing else, the show has made me move those books up in my queue. I'd like a little more of Blades in the Dark-esque skullduggery in my life from Kaz and his crew of interesting ne'er-do-wells.


Norihiro Yago, Claymore vols. 11-14

My plan was originally to read two volumes of Claymore a month, but I find myself unable to stop reading them and obey my own self-imposed limit; they're pretty perfect for a quick blast of action, violence, and drama. I've mentioned before that the art has come into its own in the past few volumes, and the quality of illustration continues on the upward trend; Norihiro Yagi is hitting a stride, particularly when it comes to the monstrous yoma and "awakened ones" that the Claymores fight against. The series still issues with differentiating the Claymores from each other (what a choice to give them all blonde hair and have them wear similar outfits!), but it does introduce a dark-haired Claymore (and a lot of attention is drawn to that) as well as two Claymores in black armor, so maybe this is a known bug.


Shanghai Express

The black and white films of the pre-code era do so much with light and shadow; it honestly feels like a lost cinematic art that we're poorer for losing sight of. Also, you absolutely can't go wrong with a movie that has both Marlene Dietrich and Anna May Wong. Both are legends, particularly in this film, but as someone pointed out to me, Dietrich is shot in the devotional angles you really only ever in art of Catholic saints. Breathtaking object of worship.


HIM, Tears on Tape

I should not enjoy HIM; something in my nature is supposed to be viscerally opposed to this band, and yet...you ever throw on one of these overblown records and drive around with the windows down in the springtime? Can't be beat. Anyway. Tears on Tape was HIM's last album, and man did they go out with a bang. Strong material, no sign of slowing down. Hits fairly hard for this sort of thing, easy to sing along to. Are your windows down yet?


Hirokhiko Araki, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood vols. 1-3

I'll talk about this more on an upcoming episode of Bad Books for Bad People, but this thing took me on a real roller-coaster ride.




Wednesday, April 28, 2021

The Joy of Extradimensional Spaces (part 2)

The Creedhall Mysteries, part 2

I've started running the adventures in Candlekeep Mysteries lightly reskinned for my Krevborna setting. The characters are all employed as members of Creedhall University Library's "Special Collections" department, aka adventurers. This is a recap of what happened in the second part of the "The Joy of Extradimensional Spaces." Fair warning: spoilers lurk below.

The Characters

Elsabeth, human paladin, played by Anne

Rising Leaf and Raging Storm, human monk, played by Michael

Events

Elsabeth and Rising Leaf were still on the hunt for the last volume that would be the key to them leaving the extradimensional manor created Fistandia, a search that took them down into the building's basement. 

The first room they explored appeared to be a summoning chamber. A magical circle surrounded by runes was etched into the stone floor, an empty book stand stood nearby, and the room smelled of sulfur. The room's only resident seemed to be a toad. As Rising Leaf searched the room, Elsabeth bent down to get a closer look at the toad--which promptly launched itself at her face, transforming into a quasit as it leapt through the air. 

The quasit clawed Elsabeth, poisoning her. She dropped to the floor, inert. Thinking quickly, Rising Leaf grabbed Elsabeth, dragged her out of the summoning chamber, and slammed the door shut before the quasit could escape the room. The quasit rattled the door in its frame, but proved too weak to be able to open the door from inside.

After Elsabeth regained consciousness, the pair continued their exploration. They discovered a chamber filled with specimen jars, some small, some disturbingly large. Each container held a preserved monster; they noticed a cockatrice floating in formaldehyde, a giant jellyfish creature with eyestalks, a fungal monstrosity, a jar full of clawed hands, etc. One jar had been broken; pieces of shattered glass littered the floor. Whatever had been inside had since fled. Not wanting to hang around in a room full of monsters, dead or not, they pushed on.

The final chamber in the basement proved to be an alchemy laboratory featuring vials of unidentifiable fluids, charts detailing arcane formulae, and stacks of books. Among the books, they found the tome they were after: a book with the letter E inscribed on its spine. Elsabeth and Rising Leaf mused on the meaning of the letters they had collected, and Elsabeth realized that the codeword was "LIBERTY."

Returning to the foyer, the command word was spoken and the portal was reopened. Traversing the purple door returned Rising Leaf and Elsabeth to the study room in Creedhall. However, there were a few additions to the room that were not present when they had left. Doctor Matreus, who had fled through their original portal last time, lay dead on the ground, apparently the victim of some sort of poisonous sting judging by the lump on his neck.

Another new wrinkle was revealed when the duo attempted to leave the study room to get help with the doctor's corpse. As they approached the door, the imp that Doctor Matreus had smuggled out of the extradimensional house became visible and attacked! Rising Leaf smashed it with his staff and stamped on it; Elsabeth wound up and gave a mighty swing that sent the imp flying through the air, where it collided with a wall and fell to the ground. Curiously, in death it had transformed into a stone figurine of an imp.

Help was called for and the job was wrapped up. Although Doctor Matreus was now dead, Horatio Lupa was pleased that his whereabouts had been ascertained and Creedhall University Library had gained some potentially useful information about how to enter and leave Fistandia's secret home. Horatio congratulated Elsabeth and Rising Leaf on a job well done, let them keep the healing potions found on the doctor's body, and told them that Doctor Matreus's death would be ruled a "heart attack" to maintain the university's reputation as a safe place for students and scholars to pursue excellence.

Previous Adventures

The Joy of Extradimensional Spaces (part 1)

Monday, April 26, 2021

Wormtongue

"You should let me add a boon die to this
attacl because my character has the
high ground and also the wind is
blowing in a favorable direction."
When I started playing Dungeons & Dragons with my friend Kevin in grad school, he introduced me to a slang term his previous group used: wormtonguing

The phrase comes from Grima Wormtongue, the advisor in Lord of the Rings who pours rhetorical poison in Theoden's ear. (Although, to be honest, the fact that his name is Grima Wormtongue should have been a clear indication that he was not a guy you could trust with matters of state.)

In a gaming context, wormtonguing is when you're trying to convince the Dungeon Master that the course of action you're proposing is reasonable or even that your success is probable. You're wormtonguing when you're lobbying for some sort of bonus to your roll because of circumstances you see as favorable to whatever your character is attempting.

It seems like many Dungeon Masters hate being wormtongued; I've seen complaints about wormtonguing-esque behavior, although I've never seen it explicitly defined as such. The slang phrase Kevin and his group gave to this tactic hints at its slyness, selfish guile, and potential duplicity; that said, they clearly used the phrase in good humor. You could roll your eyes at a wormtonguing player, but it was accepted as a matter of course and as an expected part of playing the game as a group. You could laugh about a particularly bald-faced attempt at wormtonguing after the fact, but its use was enshrined as part of their social contract.

Personally, I love it. To me, when a player is attempting to sway things to their advantage, it's a sign that they're engaged with the game. They're thinking about the world, they're considering their character's goals and desires, and they're invested in the situation and outcome currently unfolding at the table. I suppose it could become wheedling, whining, or demanding when used by an unpleasant player, but you shouldn't be playing with that kind of person anyway. In my eyes, a good lashing from the wormtongue most often indicates excitement about the game. It's a sign that things are working as intended.

So, yeah, wormtongue me, baby.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Demon Lord vs. DnD: Comparing Core Mechanics

Some fans of Shadow of the Demon Lord maintain that the game is very different from 5e Dungeons & Dragons, but I don't think that's a particularly accurate claim. As I stated here in my Four-Way Grimdark Shoot-Out post, I think SotDL is a great alternative for a group already familiar with D&D who want a darker experience. Although SotDL is a dark fantasy rpg, most of the familiar elements of D&D are present in some fashion, albeit that the tone of SotDL is much more apocalyptic and grimdark; SotDL's default setting exists in a state of upheaval and things are headed toward a horrific end as the titular Demon Lord begins to exert its world-ending influence more strongly. D&D doesn't usually get that dark, even in the Ravenloft or Dark Sun settings.

Comparisons of Shadow of the Demon Lord to Dungeons & Dragons feel inevitable, as Robert J. Schwalb, SotDL's author, also worked on fifth edition D&D before lighting out for his own territories. This is the first in a series of blog posts detailing both the similarities and differences between SotDL and D&D as a way of examining where the resemblance and divergence of the two games might matter to a gamer choosing between them. Let's start by comparing the core mechanic of both games. Shadow of the Demon Lord clearly springs from the same mechanical design principles as the latest version of D&D

The core resolution mechanic in SotDL is a d20 roll modified by an attribute penalty or bonus and possibly a number of boons and banes. Boons are d6s that are added to the roll; boons are gained from a variety of sources, such as special abilities or favorable circumstances, but you only ever take the highest number rolled among the boon dice. For example, if you make a roll with three boons, you'd roll 3d6 but only add the highest of those three dice to your d20 roll. Banes represent penalties; you subtract the highest bane die from your d20 roll. Boons and banes cancel each other out on a one for one basis; if you make a roll that has three boons and two banes attached to it, you'd make the roll with a single boon.

This core mechanic is clearly similar to D&D's, but in D&D the core resolution mechanic involves rolling a d20 and adding an ability score modifier and a proficiency modifier. In SotDL's system, boons are obviously taking the place of a proficiency bonus that scales as you gain levels. Even with this difference, however, they arrive at similar results because the more boons you roll with, the more likely you are to add a higher number, which approximates a rising proficiency bonus that is added to your roll. 

To spell it out more clearly, this is the breakdown of the core mechanic of each game:

  • In 5e D&D, mechanical resolution is d20 + attribute mod + a proficiency bonus that ranges from 2-6
  • In SotDL, mechanical resolution is d20 + attribute mod + the possibility of boons add an additional 1-6

The similarity is impossible to miss. Where they differ is in the potential for randomness. D&D's proficiency bonus is a static number; you can count on a +2 proficiency modifier to always add +2 to your roll. In contrast, SotDL's mechanic makes things a bit swingier; a single boon is as likely to add +1 to your roll as it is to add +6. Personally, I tend to find SotDL's greater randomness more exciting; in my experience, it leads to bigger moments of triumphs and memorable catastrophes. On the other hand, I could see gamers who prefer consistency preferring D&D's system, even though any d20 roll is bound to have a measure of unpredictability no matter what.

However, one area in which SotDL's core mechanic that diverges from D&D is that boons and banes are also used to in place of D&D's advantage and disadvantage rules. In D&D, when a character has advantage they roll two d20s and take the higher roll; when a character has disadvantage on a roll, they roll two d20s and take the lower. Mathematically, advantage and disadvantage is approximately equal to a +5 or -5 modifier.

In SotDL, situations or abilities that would grant advantage or disadvantage instead add boons or banes to the roll. This means that mathematically the benefit and penalty would be smaller, except that SotDL allows for multiple boons and banes to apply to a roll. In D&D, circumstances that grant advantage or disadvantage cancel each other out, even in cases where you might have multiple sources granting you advantage or disadvantage; for example, if you have two sources granting your character advantage and one giving you disadvantage on a roll, they cancel each other out entirely--you make a straight d20 roll. 

In SotDL, if you have two sources granting you a boon and one penalizing you with a bane, you still make the roll with one boon because banes cancel out boons on a one-to-one basis. This gives more granularity, but also potentially increasing the "handling" time of figuring out how many boons or banes you actually need to include as part of your roll.

An interesting difference between the core mechanics of the games is what you compare your roll against. In D&D, your d20 roll is compared against either the Armor Class of a foe you're trying to hit in combat or a range of possible Difficulty Classes if the roll is an ability check or saving throw. In SotDL, rolls are compared either against an attribute (such as Defense for a melee attack or Intellect for a mind-effecting spell) or against a flat 10 for challenge rolls. (Challenge rolls are most often analogous to "skill checks" or "saving throws.") Instead of adjusting the target number to represent varying difficulty in SotDL, that is instead handled by boons and banes. Ten is an easy target number to remember, so I like that for ease and speed of play. 

Another benefit that isn't readily apparent in the way SotDL does things is that there is no Difficulty Class that scales out of reach as characters face ever more deadly foes. 5e D&D has a problem with this at higher levels, particularly in regards to saving throws. Because only two of a characters six saving throws tend to increase as they gain levels and the saving throw DCs of their enemies increase similarly, saving throw DCs eventually reach a place where characters are unlikely to make successful saving throws against baleful effects. For example, a high level fighter can easily be locked down by an ancient dragon's fear effect, which runs contrary to the fantasy of being a dragon-slaying warrior of renown. Although powerful foes in SotDL might have abilities that are resisted with a bane or two, the roll needed to resist those abilities remains 10 or higher, which feels like the characters at least have a shot at survival even against horrific monsters.

Next up: D&D's races vs SotDL's ancestries.

Monday, April 19, 2021

The Joy of Extradimensional Spaces (part 1)

Photo by Natalia Y on unsplash
The Creedhall Mysteries, part 1

I've started running the adventures in Candlekeep Mysteries lightly reskinned for my Krevborna setting. The characters are all employed as members of Creedhall University Library's "Special Collections" department, aka adventurers. This is a recap of what happened in the first part of the "The Joy of Extradimensional Spaces."

The Characters

Elsabeth, human paladin, played by Anne

Rising Leaf and Raging Storm, human monk, played by Michael

Events

Elsabeth and Rising Leaf were summoned from their quarters in the early hours of the morning by their superior, Horatio Lupa. He explained that the Library was facing a matter of some urgency: a visiting scholar named Dr. Matreous had requested a specific study room and a specific tome needed for his researches. However, he had disappeared; no one saw him leave his study room, but he definitely wasn't in there. The duo was tasked with finding Dr. Matreous and safeguarding the library's reputation.

Our heroes first decided to investigate the room that Dr. Matreous had requested. It was fairly bare, but the book he was studying was still inside. The book was a tome written by a woman named Fistandia and it speculated about other planes of existence and the theoretical possibility of creating one's own interplanar space. The book also featured a lot of marginalia penned by its author, but the marginal notes were written in a much more frenzied hand. Both Rising Leaf and Elsbeth were sure that there was a coded message in the marginalia, but neither could figure it out. Stumped, they pressed a scholar of the university's math department into their service and had him figure it out for them. The notes were hiding a code word: "scepter."

Returning to the study room, Elsbeth said "scepter" out loud, which caused a spectral double door to appear in the air. Figuring that Dr. Matreous had also discovered this secret and entered the doors, Elsbeth and Rising Leaf ventured inside to try to find him. The doors led them into the interior of a house made of gray stone with dark hardwood floors. Purple light streamed in from the windows; the world outside seemed comprised of swirling, luminescent purple mist. The two set about exploring.

They encountered a couple of giggling invisible beings in an arboretum; while Rising Leaf was inspecting two floating, glowing orbs in this area, he was doused with a mysterious gas that made him feel euphoric. They encountered many black cats in various rooms. They also encountered two obsequious homunculi working in the kitchen. The homunculi introduced themselves as Cumin and Coriander; Cumin was created by Fistandia, mistress of the house, and Cumin was the creation of someone named Freyot. Neither homunculi had seen their creator in a very long time. They also learned at some point Fistandia had summoned an imp in the house, but it was no longer in residence.   

The characters inquired about Dr. Matreous's whereabouts, and the homunculi informed Rising Leaf and Elsbeth that he was just now on the stairs. Unfortunately, they were just in time to see the man rush past and flee through the portal they had used to enter the house. The doors closed and the portal vanish. They then heard a far-away sounding scream. They were now trapped in Fistandia's extraplanar home.

However, they were not without hope of egress. They discovered that Fistandia had hidden a number of blank books throughout her domicile; each one had a single letter on its spine. The theory is that if all the books are collected, the letters will spell out a word of command that will reopen the portal back to the study room. 

Of course, not all of the books were easy to come by. In one chamber, they found themselves attacked by a pile of books that animated into a man-shaped monstrosity. In another, two longswords engaged them in a duel to the death. Rising Leaf angled the five telescopes in a planetarium room to reveal a hidden door. Beyond the hidden door was a strange bookcase draped with thick iron chains. Each chain was attached to the metal cover of a book on its shelves. As they got near it, the books took flight and began being whipped around by the chains like a series of flails made of iron books. Rising Leaf dashed in, grabbed the only book with an initial on it, and dashed out...narrowly avoiding being pummeled by this strange contraption.

Thus far, the duo have managed to acquire books with the initials I, R, T, L, B, and Y. They are just now heading into the hidden basement to complete the collection...

(Special thanks to Aos for sending me his notes from the game; it made the write-up very easy.)