Friday, August 16, 2019

End-of-Week Ortiz (8/16/19): Nicci and Lily Go Invadin'

Nicol Bolas and Liliana Vess ignite the War of the Spark. Art by Karla Ortiz.
Yes, I like Magic: The Gathering

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Friday, June 28, 2019

End-of-Week Rallis (6/28/19): Liliana the Dreadhorde General

So, I'm thinking about getting back into Magic: The Gathering.

The art above is from Chris Rallis, and it portrays a character named Liliana from MTG lore. This is from the card set called War of the Spark.

I don't want to get deeply immersed in the CCG arena again, but I'm intrigued. I wasn't a huge collector or player of MTG back in the day, and somewhere along the way I got rid of my cards. But in light of the fact that WotC just released a D&D 5th edition guide to one of the MTG planes of existence (Ravnica), my interest was piqued.

I might buy some cards, check things out as they now stand with the game. Anyone out there reading this a current player? Any advice for a former player returning after, oh, two decades?

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Salton Seekers - Session 4: Killing Cosmic Horrors

We picked right back up from the end of session three, with the party fighting a horrific creature that looks something like this:

They finally succeeded in killing the thing, then carried the remains back to the adventurer's guild house. Guildmaster Agnar was unable to identify the thing, and suggested the group consult one of the scholars at the Academy. Since the disappearance of the Archmage Lasseras and his apprentices almost a decade before, the scholars are the only remaining seat of knowledge in the town.

The party was also told by Agnar that Guildmaster Sonya and her two retainers still had not returned. He suggested they investigate the chandler's shop in the Market next. The party decided to rest a bit before heading to Chandler Binke's house.

In the meantime, Nikolaus went back to the One True God's temple and tried to get someone to listen to his news, but fellow cleric Byron was gone, his chamber cleared out. The rest of the clergy gave Nikolaus a chilly reception. It seemed as if Prime Deacon Teos was expanding his influence on the temple! 

The group went to Chandler Binke's shop. There, they encountered the chandler himself, who seemed to be a His skin was pale, his eyes unblinking, and his speech stilted. When they continued to question the man, he attacked them. During the fight, they discovered that one of the bizarre creatures was attached to the man's back. The thing eventually ripped away from the chandler's body (of course, taking the man's skull with it) before escaping down a large drain into the sewers. The party found the body of the chandler's wife as well. She was also missing her skull.

Next, the party went to consult the scholar Goran at the Academy, and he identified the creatures as "star-things" using an old tome of arcane knowledge. These creatures had appeared periodically in the time of the ancients, who for some reason sealed the "seeds" of the dormant creatures in the crypt that was found under the chandler's house.

Onward to session five!

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Top Ten Proven Strategies for Clearing a Dungeon

Note: This is a guest post from Ted Cory, Chief Adventurer at Skullsplitter Dice

Epic dungeon crawls lie in the heart of many great D&D campaigns. If your DM has created the deadliest dungeon for you, then you’ve got to be prepared! Read on for the top 10 strategies to gain the upper hand in Dungeons and Dragons!

1. Mastering the Rules

Clearing a dungeon in D&D almost always involves killing tons of monsters and surviving countless traps. Depending on the size, you will need a minimum of five to six combat encounters to clear a dungeon, and some dungeons are a lot bigger. For example, the mega-dungeon in the Dungeon of the Mad Mage spans more than twenty layers and will take your character from level five all to way to twenty!

That is why you can’t expect to survive unless you know how the game works. You need to master the difference between saving throws, attack rolls, and ability checks, as well as several other nuances that will give you the upper hand.

This can include things like knowing you get a free action, thinking through things like casting cantrips and bonus action spells together, and actions like “Help.”

2. Mastering your Class

Every class has an arsenal of abilities that allows them to overcome the lethal challenges of a dungeon. Some classes are a lot more complex than others, but all have their own ideal playstyle.

For example, barbarians are some the most robust D&D characters. They have the highest HP pool thanks to their d12 hit die. However, they get limited armor and rely on the damage resistance of their rage feature.

So, to play a barbarian effectively and survive in a dungeon, you will need to reduce incoming damage through raging.

3. Never Split the Party

This somewhat falls into the next tip, but it’s important enough to mention alone. When you’re split you can end up quickly biting off more than you can chew!

4. Cooperate, Cooperate, Cooperate

You can’t clear a dungeon by yourself! Even if you play a self-sufficient class or an abjuration wizard with tons of defensive spells, you will die if you don’t work with your fellow players.

A balanced group will have one full caster, one ranged class, and one bruiser at minimum. More characters give you more flexibility, but you need those three to handle most challenges.

5. Read the Spells

Even if your character knows no spellcasting, you should study the spell list in the Player’s Handbook. There are hundreds of spells in there, and many of these can kill your character in a dungeon.

Most dungeons also have at least one spellcaster enemy who will wield those dangerous spells against you and your party. Thankfully, if you know how a spell works, you may be able to counter it. Most spells rely on vision to be cast, while others have specific conditions that negate them. Certainly you shouldn’t meta game, but if your character is a spell caster, or proficient in Arcana, they’ll potentially know these things.

6. Gear Up Your Character

Going into a dungeon unprepared will kill your character faster than anything else. At minimum, and regardless of healers in the party, you should invest some gold into healing potions. Remember, simple items can sometimes be extremely useful. This includes things like a 10 foot pool, rope, rations, and water. Sure, you could spend spells to cover some of these things, but sometimes the simplest solution is the best.

If you are playing in a high magic campaign and you have the gold, you should also seek out magic shops and buy as many magical items and potions as you can afford. Most dungeons are full of treasure, gold, and gems to cover the costs.

7. Don’t Forget Short Rests

Even if you’re stocked in healing potions and legendary items, your character will die if you don’t take it slow in a dungeon. Short rests give you a much-needed recharge on many of your abilities.

For example, monks and warlocks need short rest to recharge their ki and spell slots respectively. Other classes, like the wizard, have features like arcane recovery that only works with short rests. Neglect the short rest, and your party will be underpowered for the bigger fights.

8. Go High Tech

In addition to pen and paper, you should try some D&D apps and programs like DNDBeyond to supercharge your character. These apps will help you keep track of your abilities and will help you make the right choice in the midst of combat.

9. Don’t Anger Your DM

D&D is not a competitive game. Your DM is there to create a story and keep the game moving forward. He is not your enemy, and you should not go out of your way to anger them. Moreover, angering your DM can be fatal in a dungeon where monsters and traps are so plentiful!

10. Mastering the Core Values of D&D

Finally, you should never lose focus on the core values of D&D. Dungeons and Dragons is above all a roleplaying game where a bunch of friends come together to tell a story and have fun in a fantastic world.

D&D is neither competition nor a string of math calculations. In order to gain the upper hand in D&D, above all, you should aim to have fun!

Gaining the Upper Hand in Dungeons and Dragons

Dungeons and Dragons can give you countless hours of fun, but it’s not always easy. Dungeons are perhaps the hardest part of a D&D campaign, and now you know how to clear them!

At Skullsplitter Dice, we are your one-stop-shop for the most kickass D&D dice and gaming accessories. Whether it’s our acclaimed metal dice, a fancy set of glow-in-the-dark dice, or something even more exotic, we’ve got you covered!

Friday, February 22, 2019

End-of-Week Parkinson (2/22/19): Darkwalker on Moonshae

Besides Larry Elmore, the late Keith Parkinson is one of my favorite artists of the D&D 2nd Edition era. The cover illo he did for the Darkwalker on Moonshae novel is particularly evocative. Always loved this one! 

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Salton Seekers - Session 3: Blessings of the Cosmos

Session three picked right back up in the Barrowmaze (with me running Gideon the elf as temporary NPC in the absence of player Pat), in the aftermath of the specter attack on the cleric Nikolaus. The group decided to head deeper into the maze. Xander the thief heard a voice moaning "help me" behind another door along the same corridor as the specter attack. Varhauth the fighter forced open the door and came face-to-face with a man with rotting skin in ragged clothes and armor. The flesh on the man's face was pulsing, as is something was moving underneath. There were several other men crawling along the floor of the room, moaning. 

Before anyone could stop him, Varhauth lopped off the head of the man. The body fell to the floor, and from the stump of the neck writhed many small tendrils. As he delivered a blow aimed at chopping the tendrils, one of them shot out of the neck and embedded itself in the fighter's face. Before the worm-like thing could wriggle into Varhauth's face, Nikolaus the cleric grabbed the tail in a mailed fist and yanked it free. 

Xander doused the men on the floor with lantern oil and lit them on fire. Devalla the mage used her spear to mercy kill them. More of the worm-like parasites began bursting from the bodies, so the party decided to beat a hasty retreat after picking up a few pouches of gold they found in the room. They surmised the poor souls infected with the parasites were an unfortunate adventuring party. They closed the door to the room and ventured deeper into Barrowmaze.

They came upon several more crypts sealed behind bas reliefs and a few more rooms. They also heard the sound of faint chanting from somewhere. Undeterred, the party found a room with two doors: an outer door of wrought iron bars, and an inner door of steel. The door was unlocked, and they went inside cautiously. Within they found two parallel stone altars on which lay two shriveled mummified bodies. Between the altars, on the floor, rested a tablet covered in ancient Thulian script, flanked by two stone bowls filled with rubies and diamonds. 

There was also a mural on the wall opposite the door that depicted people worshiping a gigantic black door. Ancient Thulian script was also written then, proclaiming the two bodies in indeed the room were heretical worshipers of "the Black Gate."

Devalla read the tablet on the floor, which carried a curse of blindness. She failed her saving throw, and went blind. As the group decided this signaled the need to return to Salton, Nikolaus and Varhauth decided to scoop up the gems in the bowls. This instantly awoke the mummified bodies, which moved preternaturally fast and attacked the group. Xander helped the blinded Devalla aim her magic missiles at the animated corpses, which proved to be too strong for the clerics to turn. The group struck several blows with ordinary weapons but they seemed to do little damage. 

Xander remembered the dagger he picked up from the priestess of Khepri in session one and threw it at one of the creatures. This embedded the dagger in the mummy's chest, which began to crumble into ash. A few more magic missiles and attacks, and both creatures were defeated. In the aftermath of the fight, the group heard that the chanting had stopped. In it's place was the sound of alarmed voices shouting "death to heretics," and the echo of running feet. 

The group began a hasty retreat toward the exit, with the cries of "stop them!" and "we will sacrifice them to Set!" following them down the corridors. Suddenly, a figure stepped out from around a corner in front of them: one of the beast men who they had encountered in session two (the one who they had freed from the grasp of the Cultist of Orcus and had fled). The creature beckoned them forward, and once the party had passed, he slammed a door shut behind them. It seemed the beast was going to slow their pursuers as long as he could. Perhaps the creature had some sense of honor, and was repaying them for their assistance? 

The party had no time to contemplate, however. They made it to the entrance and began climbing one-by-one back up the rope to the surface. Behind them, they heard the sound of fighting, and the concussion of spells. The death roar of the beast man followed, and a Necromancer of Set entered the entrance chamber and cast a magic missile at Nikolaus, who was the last to climb the rope. Though he was hit, he was able to join his fellows on the surface. Nikolaus hurriedly pulled up the rope so they could not be easily followed. 

Within the relative safety of the central mound, their horses still safe within, Xander peeked outside. Unfortunately, there were now dozens of zombies wandering aimlessly across the barrowlands! Clearly, the imbalance between death and undeath had increased. The party formulated a bold plan, and burst from the mound entrance with their horses at a gallop. Devalla, who was still blind, had her horse lead by Gideon. Nikolaus and the other cleric, Byron (an NPC), successfully turned fourteen of the zombies, enough to clear their path just outside the mound so they could get their horses up to a good speed and barrel their way out of danger. 

They reached Salton by nightfall. Byron and Nikolaus took Devalla to the Temple of the One True God, which the rest of the party went back to the adventurers' guild. At the temple, Nikolaus and Byron found a cleric to remove Devalla's blindness curse. Then they tried to find a deacon who was not the creature of Prime Deacon Teos, but unsuccessfully. Finally, Nikolaus decided their only recourse was to talk to Teos himself. The imperious Prime Deacon received Nikolaus in his opulent private chambers. He demanded to know what was so urgent. Nikolaus and Byron got right to the point, and told of their latest encounters in the Barrowaze. 

Teos was alarmed that they brought a runic tablet bearing a curse to his chambers, and ordered them to leave his presence. Nikolaus and Byron decided to keep trying to find a deacon who isn't under Teos's thumb, in order to find out more about the tablet. 

Meanwhile, at the guildhall, Varhauth submitted himself to some nubile healers for, well, some healing while Xander sought out Guildmaster Agnar to tell him of their latest adventures. The Guildmaster was troubled to hear about the many zombies in the barrowlands, and became determined to pass the information on to Lord Brereton. 

Suddenly, a young mage burst into the hall, coughing and choking. He fell to the floor convulsing, and yellow dust flew out of his mouth. A crowd gathered around him and could only watch helplessly as he died. This made the third death of a magic user by mysterious circumstances in two weeks. 

The crew came back together after they had time to heal up and do a little shopping (Nikolaus and Varhauth had the gems from Barrowmaze appraised and traded them in for over 700 gold pieces each, then bought themselves some shiny new armor...they did eventually give over some gold to their other companions as well). They discussed their options, and decided it was best not to return to the Barrowmaze for the time being. They decided to see if they could find out more about the disappearance of Guildmaster Sonya, who had taken two retainers to investigate a mysterious sealed door recently uncovered in the basement of a minor merchant's home. 

They made the short trip across Southtown to the candle merchant's home. Careful not to linger too long at the front door after their knocks went unanswered, they slipped around back, where Xander picked a basement door lock. They entered, and found the ancient sealed doorway in question had been broken open. Around the door frame was written "Within Lie the Blessings of the Cosmos." All the party found within was an empty bronze bowl on a stone pedestal. Xander, inspecting the walls for secret doors, found a mural of a strange creature under ancient layers of dirt.

They decided to investigate the rest of the house, to see if they encountered anyone in the strangely quiet place. They went up a spiral staircase to the main floor, which was fairly opulent and scattered with various valuable statues. The group resisted the urge to pillage the place. They found no one on the main floor, so decided to go up to the second floor. There, they found three bedrooms. The first two were empty except for lavish furnishings. In the third, however, they found the body of what seemed to be a maid laying face down, a pool of coagulating blood pooled around her head. When they flipped over the body, it appeared that the woman's skull had been ripped from her head, the remains of which collapsed inward on itself like an empty hood. 

The only other place left to explore was the attic. Varhauth pulled down the trapdoor and ladder to access the space above the second floor hallway. As he looked around using a lantern, his shield on his other arm, something leaped out of the dark to wrap itself around his shield arm. The impact drove him off the ladder, and he fell on his back in the midst of his fellow adventurers. 

The party proceeded to battle a creature similar to the one they had seen in the mural they had found in the basement: a thing with a snakelike body and a membranous sort of halo tipped with claws. At the center of the membrane was a skull covered in dried blood...which looked small enough to be that of the dead maid. The party began to attack the thing, until it released Varhauth's arm and sprang away, over the second floor railing to land on the main floor below. 

That's where we stopped for the night, since it was well after midnight and we're not as young as we used to be! On to the next session!

Friday, February 8, 2019

End-of-Week Elmore (2/8/19): What in the Nine Hells?!

I think this illo was for an Ed Greenwood story in Dragon Magazine. It's awesome! Have a great gaming weekend, folks!