Friday, February 5, 2021

The Junebug Inn - Nightsky Encounter 21

Here's another enounter that probably needs a map, but any coaching inn map should work for the ground floor. I came up with the basic idea for this encounter early on when thinking about the Nightsky, but it took a while for me to get the inspiration to write it up properly. Admittedly, its been a while since I have been inspired to write anything on here, but I am going to ignore that for now and I am sure that you will pay me the courtesy of doing likewise.

This encounter is also unsubtly inspired by parts of Kentuckt Route Zero, and one of my favourites scenes in the game (also the Roadhouse from Twin Peaks, as a weird liminal space where music plays). Nevertheless, there's a part of me that says the information about the second floor should simply be ignored, and this encounter should be used as an excuse to run Rough Night at the Three Feathers.


A run down, ramshackle coaching inn is perched incongruously on a spit of land jutting from the cave wall. The timeworn, but seemingly intact, exterior is lit by the soft glow of lanterns and a flickering firelight can be seen beyond the forest glass windows. In contrast, the attached stables sit dark and empty--far from any road. 

A makeshift dock stands at the edge of the small landmass, contiguous with the short paved road that leads to the entrance of the inn and its stable. A sweet singing voice reaches the ears of travelers as they set foot on the dock, invoking feelings of inexplicable melancholy and nostalgia for a forgotten past.

The public areas of the lower floor of the inn consist of a small entry hall, the main bar, a courtyard and a private dining room. There are also baths and a laundry that can be accessed for a fee. The lower floor also houses a kitchen, a brewhouse, store rooms and accommodations for the innkeeper, Evelyn, and her husband Slade.

The main bar room contains tables and chairs, along with stools at the bar. A large fireplace is lit and gives off a cozy warmth when sat next to, but further away from the fire the bar room is balmy with hints of tropical fruit and spices carried on a cool breeze with no obvious source. The bar itself is generally nearly, or completely, empty save for Evelyn and Slade--there are no other staff.

The bar serves a variety of beverages of variable quality. The names of the drinks and their makers are unfamiliar to the PCs, save for the wine produced by the Monks of Order of the Insalubrious Decanter (Evelyn gets a good deal on this from the Monks, and has no need to purchase any from the PCs should they have acquired some, see encounter 16). The food available consists of a range of seafood caught fresh from the depths of the river, bat meat, mushrooms, and a range of fruits and vegetables that are unfamiliar to the PCs.

If questioned about the unusual fruits and vegetables they serve, or the beverages of unknown provenance, Evelyn and Slade will say that they are delivered regularly and always have been since they started operating the inn. They have never seen the person who makes the deliveries. 

Inside the main bar there is a small stage, dominated by what appears to be a painted marble and iron statue of a tall, ethereal woman, reminiscent of depictions of the elder fae. Closer inspection reveals that the statute is in fact an automaton of impeccable craftsmanship, and that it is the origin of the sweet singing voice. The singing continues sotto voce at all times, but if anyone listens intently the singing appears to them to increase in volume. If a person attempts to describe the lyrics or melody to another person, their perceptions will noticeably differ; however, it is not clear if this is a difference in what they are actually hearing or whether the aspects of the music that are important to each person simply differ.

If a PC listens intently to the automaton’s song, they will realise they know the song from some long lost memory (it may be their own, or somebody else’s) unremembered until now. If a player describes their character’s memory and the relevance of the song to that memory, the PC is filled with a mix of sadness and nostalgia and becomes immune to the effects of fear and mind-affecting spells for 2d6 days, and immediately recover up to 1d4 lost attribute points.

If asked about the automaton, Evelyn and Slade will inform the PCs that its name is Junebug, from which the inn derives its name, and that it was here long before they became owners of the inn.

Rooms can be purchased upstairs for a rate commensurate with the local economy outside of the Nightsky. However, when the PCs ascend the stairs to the second level of the inn, they are greeted with a strange sight indeed. The second floor is a single large room with a wooden floor and no windows. There is no roof and the timbres of the wall bend and stretch off into space in weird and impossible geometries. Above, a clear night sky, full of stars, stares back at the observer. If any PC is knowledgeable about astronomy or astrology they will immediately realise that this is open sky, not the cavern ceiling, and that the stars they can see do not match any known constellations.The exotic smells that were weakly apparent in the bar room suffuse the place.

If questioned about the situation upstairs, Evelyn and Slade will profess ignorance. If they accompany the PCs upstairs they will describe what they see as the second floor of the inn and walk around the room as if moving through doorways and avoiding furniture. If they speak or are spoken to, the sound will sometimes be muffled as if by invisible walls. If the PCs move through an area that Evelyn and Slade appear to regard as being blocked by walls, doors or furniture, they do not seem to notice.

If the PC’s are able to find a way over or beyond the walls of the room, they will find themselves in another place, another time or another world. This is left to the GM’s discretion.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

The Order of the Insalubrious Decanter - Nightsky Encounter 16

I don't really have any preamble for this entry. It probably deserves a map, but have't made one. I have a couple of other ideas for Nigthsky encounters that I haven't got to writing up due to them needing proper maps, so I just decided to write this one up without one. It's not exactly hard to find a map of a monastery if you need one.


The first sign of an encounter with the Order that a traveller of the Nightsky is likely to detect is the distant sight of dully glowing red lights, playing back and forth in the distance. As travellers approach the shadowed bulk of the Order’s floating monastery, the sweet smell of rot and wine drifts on the air, accompanied by the sounds of hammers beating in nails, ropes being lashed and things slowly falling apart.

The monastery itself is a crumbling stone ruin, patched all about the place with driftwood and canvass. The remaining stone is pitted and discolored, prone to crumbling to powder if too much force is carelessly applied. It sits upon a life raft of crumbled earth, jury-rigged with boards, empty barrels, and other buoyant detritus in a desperate attempt to keep the whole thing afloat.

The monastery is home to the monks of the Order of the Insalubrious Decanter--a holy order with the dubious honour of being the keepers of that ancient and accursed thing. The Insalubrious Decanter is a vessel made of the finest crystal, which shows no sign of imperfection even after all this time. It is enchanted so that, when it is poured, it produces an infinite quantity of a sweet red wine. By all accounts its bounty is endless.

Such a fabulous power comes with a significant cost, however. The Decanter derives the power to produce its cloying liquor by drawing infinitesimal shreds of reality out from everything in close proximity. The effect is not fast, but it is constant, and it seems to affect living organic matter more quickly than dead or inert things. Anything that spends time in the presence of the decanter begins to crumble and decay, and will eventually be consumed by the decanter and turned to brilliant red wine (any living creature that spends time in close proximity with the decanter loses on experience level (or Hit Dice) each week). The wine itself is perfectly harmless, aside from the alcohol content, and is prized by aficionados the world over.

The monks of the Order of the Insalubrious Decanter both venerate the cursed object, and turn its illimitable flow of wine into a sacred business venture. The Decanter is used to fill bottles for sale to the denizens of the Nightsky and, when the opportunity arises, to the world at large, in a perverse mimicry of other holy orders that must grow grapes and produce wine by more traditional methods.

The duties of the Order come at a steep cost however. Not only must the monks maintain the monastery, and land-cum-raft on which it floats, but they must also maintain the ever ebbing integrity of their own bodies as the proximity to the Decanter erodes their very flesh from reality. Beneath their robes and cowls, the flesh and bone of the monks decays, and layers of bandages conceal painful degradation and suppuration.

The monks have discovered a way to prolong the time during which they can remain exposed to the effects of the Decanter. Though effective, it is acutely unpleasant. The monks have devised a magical spell that allows them to draw on the power of the Decanter to imbue driftwood, scrap metal, and other materials with a modicum of the reality the Decanter steals from the living in order to fashion replacement limbs and body parts. By means of the Decanter’s reality warping powers, these prostheses are able to merge with the living tissue of the recipient. The artificial body parts glow with a dull light, the colour of dark wine.

The monks are willing and able to use this miraculous healing ability on anyone who is willing to pay the price, including the PCs, and it is said that some even come seeking the assistance of the monks if their injuries or sickness is sufficiently grave. Such persons must be miserable wretches indeed.

The Order’s magic functions as either a Heal or Restoration spell (as desired by the PC), and in either case is reliant on the replacement of injured body parts with crude but functional prostheses (the Referee should choose a body part to be replaced if one is not readily apparent).

The cost of the monk’s services are two-fold. First, and more benignly, there is an upfront cost of 500gp. In return for payment of this fee the monks also provide the PCs with ten bottles of wine, which can be resold outside the Nightsky for up to 100gp each.

The second cost constitutes both a physical and a metaphysical debt to the Order. the enchantment used to effect the spell begins to lose its potency if the PC that was subject to the spell spends too much time away from the Decanter. A person affected by the magic of the spell must return to the monks once every year to renew the connection to the Decanter. Furthermore, at the expiration of seven years the person healed must return to the monastery and become a permanent member of the Order. If they do not return each year, or after seven years, the enchantment will fail, leaving the person in crippling agony as their own reality is draw inexorably into the prosthesis and consumed by its enchantment. A person so afflicted loses 2 from their maximum HP total each day. If their total maximum HP is reduced to 0, they are eroded from reality with no prospect of resurrection or reincarnation.

The monks are also willing to sell up to one hundred bottles of wine to the PCs, at a cost of 70gp per bottle.

Art by me

Abbot of the Order of the Insalubrious Decanter Cleric 4 (15), AC 8 [11], #A1 Dam: heavy prosthesis 1d6, or by spell. MV 120 (40) MR8
Spells: Glimpse of the Existential (as Remove Fear (Cause Fear)), Weave the Flesh of Reality (effect as Cure Light Wounds), The Spark of Reality Ebbs (effect as Hold Person). 
Treasure: Tarnished silver holy symbol, 100gp.

Monks of the Order of the Insalubrious Decanter Cleric 1 (4), AC9 [10], #A1 Dam: heavy prosthesis 1d6. MV 120 (40) MR6

Monday, March 23, 2020

The Sword Wife - Nightsky Encounter 15

This Nighsky entry is really just an excuse to post the artwork.

Up until now, I had have in mind that the Nightsky setting would be intended for old school-type rules, but I had resisted actually reference any rules directly in the entries. For, uh, reasons, I guess...

I would probably use it with The Nightmares Underneath but I decided to stat it up using Old School Essentials (OSE) because it would be more braodly useful, if anyone ever actual read this blog. Plus, the conversion to TNU is pretty easy and converting the other way would be marginally more difficult.

This encounter might make it easy for players to acquire some powerful weapons, if they are sneaky, but it would make them kinda a-holes to go around carrying about people who got turned into swords and I'm s
ure you can find a way to make it work in your game. Whatever, I'm not your dad.



The Sword Wife by, uh, me

The player characters come upon a marshy area of the Nightsky, lit by a glowing yellow patch of fungus, reminiscent of a sickly full moon. A crumbling tower is visible in the marshlands, surrounded by swords that jut from the marsh like grave markers.

Wandering around the base of the tower is what, initially, appears to be a woman in the black garb of a religious order, cradling a greatsword in her arms. If the player characters stop to observe her without being noticed, they may see the woman hold the greatsword close--as if whispering to it. If they observe longer, they may see her stoop to bring herself face-to-hilt with one of the swords protruding from the soil and linger a moment in conversation.

Seen from close up, a skull peers out from the shadows of the Sword Wife’s cowl, underneath a golden crown. The skull has no eyes, but the left socket glows with a bright red light, trailing red mould-sweet smoke into the stale air of the marshland. The Sword Wife has no lower jaw, and cannot speak in the conventional sense. She is, however, able to communicate empathically with anyone who gazes into her brilliant red eye. 

If the PCs approach her, the Sword Wife holds out a beckoning hand. Any PC looking into the Sword Wife’s eye will understand that she is making them an offer of marriage. Any PC who takes the Sword Wife’s hand and accepts the offer of marriage is almost instantaneously transmogrified into a sword of exceptional beauty and craftsmanship. The character is now a sentient magical sword, with properties determined by the GM as appropriate to the transformed player character. The Sword Wife will plant her new sword-spouse into the ground of the marsh, and return to moving about the area attending to her partners. 

The player characters may attempt to take a transformed PC, or any other sword in the marsh--they will slide easily from the grip of the wet earth. All of the swords are magical and intelligent. If the PCs attempt to take a sword, other than a transmogrified player character, roll on the table below to find out the identity of the sword.

  1. Jokkel the Wanderer: +2 Short Sword, Int 12, Neutral, Ego 7, Teleportation, Locate Secret Doors, Quirk: Wanderlust.
  2. Iriana the Pyromancer: +1 Flaming Sword, Int 9, Chaotic, Ego 1, Detect Magic, Locate Secret Doors, See Invisible Objects, Quirk: Attraction to open flames. 
  3. Lonely Rom: +1 Short Sword, Int 9, Neutral, Ego 11, Locate Secret Doors, Detect Shifting Architecture, Quirk: Wants to return to his wife who he loves dearly. 
  4. Krogax the Destroyer: +2 Two-handed Sword, Int 7, Chaotic, Ego 6, Extra Damage, Quirk: A thirst for conquest.
  5. Princess Gwyneva: +1 Sword, Int 10, Lawful, Ego 12, Detect Evil or Good, Healing, Target: Chaotic creatures, Quirk: A sense of righteous entitlement.   
  6. Baldyr the Iron Saint: +1 Broken Sword (as a Dagger), Int 7, Neutral, Ego 7, Extra Damage [2], Quirk: A broken spirit, longing to be whole once more.
  7. Duristan Nightraker: +2 Sword, Into 11, Chaotic, Ego 12, Detect Traps, Target: Demonic creatures, Quirk: An unquenchable thirst for slaughter.
  8. Athalan Goblinking: +3 Sword, Int 7, Chaotic, Ego 12, Target: Dwarves and Orcs.

If the Sword Wife catches anyone trying to abscond with one of her lovers she will attack immediately. If no PC accepts her offer of marriage, the Sword Wife will become hostile and will attack at the slightest provocation.

The Sword Wife 

Armour Class     4 [15]
Hit Dice      4* (18hp)
Attacks      1 × touch (transmogrify) or 1 x Two-handed sword (1d10 +2)
THAC0      15 [+4]
Movement      90’ (30’)
Saving Throws   D10 W11 P12 B13 S14 (4)
Morale     12
Alignment     Neutral 
XP 125

Undead: Make no noise, until they attack. Immune to effects that affect living creatures (e.g. poison). Immune to mind-affecting or mind-reading spells (e.g. charm, hold, sleep).

Mundane weapon immunity: Only harmed by silver weapons or magic.

Transmogrify: A successfully hit target permanently loses one experience level (or Hit Die). This incurs a loss of one Hit Die of hit points, as well as all other benefits due to the drained level (e.g. spells, saving throws, etc.). A character’s XP is reduced to halfway between the former and new levels. A person drained of all levels becomes a sword of exceptional beauty and craftsmanship. The character is now a sentient magical sword, with properties determined by the GM as appropriate to the transformed player character. 

On death: If the Sword Wife is slain, the spirits of all of her sword-spouses are freed, and their sword forms revert to mundane swords. 

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Ancient Monarchs - Nightsky Encounter 14

Further to my last post, I present another possible encounter on the Nightsky River.

Eagle-eyed readers, with extremely good taste in semi-obscure adventure gaming, may have realised that the Nightsky River and some of its features were inspired by Act IV of Kentucky Route Zero and its supplemental, uh, experience(?) Here And There Along The Echo.

Anyways, the following encounter has pretty much nothing to do with that and is instead inspired by playing a lot of Dark Souls. I mean, its not very much like Dark Souls but it does have ancient kings and queens who are giants, which feels kinda Souls-like to me.



Reaching an area of deep waters, in the distance the PCs spy what at first appears to be an enormous piece of statuary--a gigantic bust of some sleeping regal figure--protruding from the waters of the river. It may appear serenely beautiful or savagely terrifying, or--by turns--both.

On closer inspection, it is no statute at all but rather the head and shoulders of some living creature. The steady, but agonizingly slow, rise and fall of the chest and shoulders gives away that the creature is still breathing. Experienced travellers of the Nightsky, or a PC sufficiently versed in history, may recognise the creature as one of the ancient monarchs of the Old Kingdoms, come to mediate in the soothing waters of the Nightsky River.

Minstrels, bards and story-tellers recount that the Old Kingdoms were the home of a race of scholarly giants, most of whom perished in some terrible cataclysm or other that befell the world in its younger days. Only the giant monarchs, and then only a handful, survived by hiding deep beneath the earth in secured chambers under their gilded fortresses.

Sages and loremasters posit, instead, that the people of the Old Kingdoms were essentially the same in form as those that inhabit the world today, but that their monarchs--ancient sorcerer kings and queens worshipped as gods--grew giant and bloated from feeding on both the adulation and toil of their subjects.

Whatever the truth, the monarchs of the Old Kingdoms were nigh ageless and learned in all manner of lore and esotery. If the PCs are able to wake the monarch they may be able to seek answers to a variety of ancient mysteries. This process will not be simple, however, as the ancient giants experience the passage of time very differently than most of the creatures of the world. Hours passing for the PCs are but fleeting moments for one such as this monarch.

While the monarch will have no difficulty comprehending and communicating in whatever language the PCs choose to attempt, the PCs will have to find a way to make their own rapid chittering words slow enough to make sense to the giant. Likewise, the PCs will need to find a way to make sense of the long, drawn-out, sighs that constitute the aching syllables of the monarch’s speech.

While the majority of the monarch’s accoutrement is a mystery hidden below the deeper waters of the Nightsky, they are visibly bedecked in fabulous jewelry of superb craftsmanship. The jewellery that is accessible above the water (e.g. ear and nose rings, neck rings and necklaces) is worth 2d4 x 500gp if recovered. The jewelry is, unsurprisingly, extremely large and very heavy. It might be easiest to sell if the precious metals are melted down and the large gems cut into smaller stones--the jewelry is, afterall, rather old-fashioned and gauche by the standards of modern giant fashion.


Friday, February 14, 2020

Here And There Along the Nightsky

The Nightsky River

The Nightsky River is, in truth, no river at all. But by toponym, and convention, it is a river nevertheless. The Nightsky is composed of a system of partially flooded caves, mining tunnels and underground ruins that function as an anabranch of the much larger river from which it diverts and rejoins.

According to the old tales, the Nightsky was the product of a magical mishap, some mystical triviality gone awry, causing the earth to collapse and allowing the mighty river to permeate the subterranean world beneath. The tales are vague and confused regarding the nature of the ritual and the identity of those who tried to work it, but it is clear that their invocations have left a lasting impact.

Time flows differently on the Nightsky. Not slower or faster exactly--just, differently. While some of those who enter never leave, whether by dint of choice or circumstance, one feature of the temporal abnormality of the Nightsky is of particular value to sufficiently desperate merchants, travellers and warlords: a successful navigation from one end of the Nightsky to other takes only a single night from the perspective of the world above. 

A journey of many days travelling on the river above is reduced to a matter of hours by making it along the Nightsky. At least in the view of those safely on shore. For those traversing the Nightsky, the passage of time within its dim caul is significantly more subjective.

In addition to its status as a miraculous, albeit risky, shortcut the Nightsky contains a variety of outlandish denizens, bizarre treasures and unusual experiences that sometimes attract expeditions by the curious or foolhardy. Entering the Nightsky with the hope of finding anything in particular is, however, an invitation to frustration. 


The Nighsky takes its name from the bioluminescent fungus that grows high up on the walls and ceiling of its caves and tunnels, dotting the darkness above with small clusters of light reminiscent of stars in the night sky. Some of those who have traversed the Nightsky for many years even claim that they can navigate by these ersatz stars.

There are no other natural sources of light within the Nightsky, and large stretches of the river may be travelled in near total darkness. However, in many places artificial lights are maintained including torches, oils lamps and even magical light sources. It is said that the lights are maintained by the Lamplighters Guild, and the Guild certainly asserts a claim to extract a toll from travellers on the river, but very few people actually attest to having seen a lamplighter about their work within the Nightsky.

The Nighsky maintains its own microclimate, independent of the weather above. Most of the time the weather is warm and humid, and the air is still. On occasion a chilling wind blows along the course of the river, bringing with it frost and--in extreme cases--icy waters. At times, and much to the surprise of the unprepared, rain falls heavily from the ceiling hihg above.

A variety of animal noises, particularly the chirping of insects and the screeches of bats, echo along the river. It is not uncommon for these sounds to be mixed with other cries, shouts and screams. Underneath everything else is the constant sound of water--dripping from the ceiling above, being stirred by oars and lapping against the walls.

Navigating the Nightsky

There is no foolproof way to navigate the Nightsky. Between journeys, people and places within seem to change positions along the course of the river, apparently without any rhyme or reason. Every journey along the Nightsky is different.

If the player characters are simply seeking to traverse from one end of the Nightsky to the other, roll 1d6+1 times on the Nightsky Encounter Table [note: the full table doesn’t actually exist yet].

If a result is rolled more than once on a single trip, ignore that result but do not re-roll. If the result was a location, make a note of it. The next time the player characters travel on the Nightsky they may choose to reduce the number of encounters rolled by one and visit the noted location during their journey.

If the player characters hire a guide or navigator to take them along the river, they may reroll up to 1d4 results on the Nightsky Encounter Table and choose which result to take. Each encounter may only be re-rolled once.

Unless otherwise noted in an entry on the Nightsky Encounter Table, and regardless of the time that has passed while travelling the Nightsky, only a single night will have passed in the outside world when the player characters emerge.



Roll an additional 2d3 times on the Nightsky Encounter Table. The third time this result is rolled in a single journey, do not roll for any additional encounters, when the player characters emerge from the Nightsky, d66 years will have passed in the outside world.


The player characters encounter another vessel on the river. Roll 1d6:

1 - 3 The passengers on the other vessel are the PCs from the future.

4 - 5 The passengers on the other vessel are the PCs from the past

6 The passengers on the other vessel are the PCs from the past, and they are in imminent danger (GMs choice).

If the player characters kill the past version of themselves or allow them to die, the present versions of the player characters die immediately. If the past version of the PCs kill their future selves or are otherwise the survivors of the two groups, feel free to pick up with whatever adventure the past PCs were on.


The player characters encounter a small island in the middle of the river, overgrown with plants. In the centre of the island there is a five foot tall standing stone carved with weathered runes. On the shore of the island someone has installed a wooden sign reading “Mushrooms”, and a collection of empty wooden buckets lies beneath it.

Engineering minded characters might be able to notice that the island appears to have been artificially created, and that the standing stone sits in its dead centre.

The runes on the standing stone have been worn away with time, and are inscribed in a long forgotten language. If they PCs can use magic or some other clever idea to translate the writing, the runes indicate that the island is a graveyard for traumatic memories.

Any PC who searches the island for mushrooms locates 1d4 rations worth of edible mushrooms. Any PC who speaks out loud the details of a tragic or traumatic memory while searching for mushrooms feels the burden of that memory lifted, and rolls 1d6 on the table below for the unusual mushroom that they find:

1 Portobello of Purging: When introduced into the bloodstream, the affected person experiences intense sadness for 1d6 hours, and will weep uncontrollably during that time. At the end of this period the person experiences a profound sense of tranquility for 1d6 weeks. During that time they are immune to fear and magical effects that produce negative emotions.

2 Warming Agaric: When placed into an enclosed vessel of water, this mushroom slowly disintegrates and causes the water to boil. Anyone who drinks the water is immune from the effects of cold until they next drink something else.

3 Surfactant Sporocarp: A person who immerses themselves in water after eating this mushroom will dissolve into the water and become part of it. This effect lasts for 3d6 hours, after which time the person coalesces into their solid form.

4 Sympathetic Milk-cap: When this mushroom is  cut or bruised, it exudes a white milk that can be applied to wounds to heal them [1d8 HP]. When the mushroom is damaged, the person who last touched it to their bare skin suffers a powerful pain as if they themselves had been cut or struck; however, no lasting physical damage is caused. After extracting milk from the mushroom roll 1d4, on a result of 1 the mushroom is destroyed. 

5 Memetic Morel: When used in cooking, the cook can impart a sense-memory into the mushroom. Anybody who subsequently consumes a dish that contains the mushroom will vividly experience the sense memory.

6 Ilitog’s Death Cap: When this mushroom is consumed, if the person who ate it has given up on life or lost the will to live, their heart stops immediately and they die peacefully within seconds.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Through Ultan's Door in 5E - some observations

I have now had the chance to run two sessions of my 5E campaign using material from Through Ultan's Door Issue 1. However, given our short session length, that only amount to about five hours of playtime.

The experience of running the module has cause me to make some adjustments to my conversion document, and I suspect that there may be more to come.

**There are some mild spoilers for the module below**

The party entered the sewers of Zyan at level two, and the PCs are a human bard, a merfolk wizard (illusionist), ravenfolk rogue and a gearforged druid. Yeah, I like allowing as many races as possible, what of it?

The first session was spent poking around the new location, engaging with traps and trying to communicate with the nonspeaking Guildess. Fortunately CL4U-D1A, the gearforged druid, can talk to beasts and was able to garner some information from the equus hound that accompanied the Guildless.

The players in this campaign are much more familiar with more modern RPGs and more modern play-styles, so it took a fair bit of prompting to get them to think more carefully about what objects within the dungeon might be valuable beyond simple gold and gems. This does, however, run up against a fairly commonly observed problem in 5E: there is almost nothing within the rules to do spend gold on. XP is not based on gold, PCs cannot generally buy magic items and there are no robust stronghold rules.

Ultimately, this means that treasure is basically acquired for its own sake. If I was intending to run this campaign as a very heavily dungeon/hex-crawl based game, I might look to implement XP-for-gold, but I'm planning on mixing and matching various modules and play-styles and I am not using XP for levelling (I don't like tracking XP for encounters, and prefer to just award level ups when it feels appropriate, or when content demands it).

Anyway, anyone else planning to run the module in 5E should give this issue consideration because it definitely shows that it was created with a XP-for-gold play-style in mind. This is not in any way a criticism of the module.

At the end of the first session, the PCs triggered a set-piece combat encounter with some white swine and we picked up session two by rolling for initiative. The combat took up the whole of two-hour+ session, and was instructive in a number of ways.

As is obvious, the combat took a long time, and it ended in a hard-fought victory by the PCs. But I wasn't really happy with how it went.

I used a lot less enemies than the module suggests, six white swine rather than the somewhere in the region of 3d6 demanded by the module. This wasn't an issue per se, as I went into the module knowing that 5E isn't really set up to handle enemies those numbers. In addition, the players in this campaign are not really "combat-as-war" players either (as an aside, I fucking hate the combat-as-war vs combat-as-sport meme, but I guess it gets across the point well enough), so I erred towards the kind of encounters they like and expect.

The major problem was that the white swine were too tough. When I say too tough, I don't mean the encounter was not balanced, I mean that they had too many HP and did too much damage for the role I wanted them to play, and the way I wanted fighting them to feel as an opponent. I have gone back and reduced their damage and HP in the conversion document, so that fighting them in large numbers is less of a drag. I don't see them as complete chaff but I see them attacking more as swarm than as elite combatants.

One of the particular issues, and it is something I alluded to in a previous post, is that fights with six of the same enemy--particularly when you are using a battle map--are not super engaging in 5E. This is exacerbated when the enemies hang around for a long time due to having too much HP.

I tried to make thing interesting by choosing more flavourful actions for the white swine at various points. They didn't go all attacking, instead trying to use darkness to their advantage and standing in defence of their home.

Some tried to grapple and drag a PC away to be consumed by their mother. Another ran over and ate the stone that the wizard had cast 'light' onto before throwing it into the room--snuffing out the party's light source. I played up the white swine wanting to stay out of the light to retain the advantage of their ability to see in the dark, and even had one of the swine move under cover so that the 'faerie fire' affecting him would not shed light on others.

Those aspects were all cool. But there was an awful lot of simple melee attacks being made in between. In old school play, where combat is often over pretty quickly, this is less of an issue, but in a drawn out tactical combat in 5E it starts to become very repetitive.

One solution, which I have employed, is dropping the HP of enemies. I may yet do this with some of the other monsters I have converted. 

Another solution is to create more tactically varied versions of each enemy (in the style of 4E or 13th Age). This would probably be most satisfying, but I'm not sure I want to go to that extent. It also feels a little bit out the spirit of an old school style module, but that's always a possible issue with converting an adventure.

A third thing is to be mindful of the environmental factors that can effect combat, like terrain and other opportunities for interaction with the dungeon itself. There is some very worthwhile advice about this very thing in Silent Titans that I will be re-reading before the next session. I did have the white swine's mother, who was lurking under the floor, thrash about a bit under the floor to cause instability during the fight, but in the circumstances the tactical relevance was limited.

Some of these problems will be alleviated by the players reaching level three, which will give them more tools to end fights quickly and a greater degree of tactical flexibility.

None of these things are problems inherent to the module and should not be understood as criticisms. They are simply the awkward seams between the expectations of the module and the kind of game I am running in 5E.

The atmosphere of the module, and the inventiveness of Ben's Dreamlands setting have been a big hit with the players and have been firing their imaginations. They have been particularly intrigued by the hints are the larger purpose of the dungeon, and the history of the place. As a DM it has been very fun mixing the explicit and implicit lore with my own ideas, and the other setting material I am jamming it together with.

No doubt I will report further when we have completed a few more sessions, but for now my conversion notes are very much a living document.

A quick plug:

Members of my podcast crew and I have published our first adventure as a module for the Zweihander RPG. You can get it here.

Saturday, March 16, 2019


As mentioned in a previous post, I have been converting the monsters and NPCs from the first issue of Through Ultan's Door, by Ben L. The conversions are now (I think) complete.

You can check the completed conversion out here. I may yet lay them out more properly if there is any demand.

I haven't had the chance to test the conversions out, but I should get my first opportunity on Monday when the party takes their first step through Ultan's Door and into the sewers of Zyan.

One thing that doing this project has really drive home to me is just how boring I find monsters in 5E. Ultimately, a lot of the conversions actually have more abilities than their OSR-style counterparts but they feel less interesting in some way. I find that 5E stat blocks sit in an uncomfortable position between Classic D&D stats and 4E stat blocks. 

Classic D&D stat blocks are short, and intended for generally quick and lethal combat. The monsters don't need a ton of stuff to do because they aren't going to be on screen for long enough for it to matter. In addition, the simple stat block feel ripe with opportunities to improvise, because the relatively simplicity (not quite the right word, but HD and highly constrained AC/to-hit maths provide some simple guideposts) of the maths makes adjudicating novel actions relatively easy.

By contrast, 4E stat blocks are much more detailed, but they also provide everything needed to run a monster that has a defined role in an encounter, and at least one or two tricks that will make them memorable and feel different from other monsters.

In 5E stat blocks, you get a large amount of detail but there usually isn't much there in terms of memorable tricks or unique abilities. Usually there's just AC, some HP, an attack or two that does HP damage. Occasionally there is the odd interesting special ability, but not much that changes the tactical situation. 

It feels like the worst of both worlds where the monster is designed with a Classic D&D mentality in terms of how complex its abilities need to be, combined with a very detailed stat block, and the fact that combats lasts longer and the monsters takes up more screen time.

5E's task resolution systems mean that you need all that additional stat block detail to resolve improvised actions, but that extra detail doesn't come with the benefit of more interesting mechanical game play. Whereas, I would argue, 4E's more complex stat blocks do meaningfully add to the tactical combat elements of the game.

I have tried to find some opportunities to add a few unique abilities, but 5E's "natural language" approach and monster design philosophy doesn't give the design language or mechanical tools that I would like for those sorts of things. I also feel a little bit weird assigning gimmicks to Ben L's creations without more input from him because if those unique abilities are properly designed they can imply a lot about monster and its place in the world.

For what it is worth, I think that Kobold Press do a much better job with this kind of monster design in their Tome of Beasts and Creature Codex products.

Anyways, enough waffle from me, here are a couple of the conversions:

The Sweating Maiden
Medium construct, unaligned 

Armor Class 14
Hit points 35
Speed 30ft.
Senses  passive perception 10
Challenge 2
Saves Dex +3, other saves +0

Bladed Parasol. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5ft., one target. 
Hit: 15 (3d6 +5) slashing  damage.

Parry. The Maiden adds 4 to is AC against one ranged attack that would hit it. To do so, the Maiden must see the attacker and be wielding the Bladed Parasol. The first time the Maiden takes this reaction each round, it does not use up its reaction.

The Groomsman
Medium construct, unaligned 

Armor Class 14
Hit points 35
Speed 30ft.
Senses  passive perception 10
Challenge 2
Saves Dex +3, other saves +0

Whirling Dance. The Groomsman may take a bonus action on each of its turns in combat. This action can be used only to take the Dash or Disengage action.

Multiattack. The Groomsman makes two Scissor Stilts attacks.

Scissor Stilts. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 10ft., one target. 
Hit: 9 (2d6 +2) piercing  damage.

Shadow Puppet Sorcerer
Medium elemental, chaotic

Armor Class 13
Hit points 1
Speed 30ft.
Damage immunities poison, psychic 
Condition immunities blinded, charmed, deafened, frightened, grappled, poisoned, restrained, stunned, unconscious.
Senses darkvision 120ft., passive perception 13
Languages  - 
Challenge 1
Number 1
Saves Dex +5, other saves +0

  • moving silently, blending into shadow +7.
Shadow Body. If a Shadow Puppet starts its turn in  light shed by the Light or Sunlight spells (or similar magical illumination),  it must succeed on a DC 14 Constitution saving throw or be destroyed.

Innate Spellcasting. The Shadow Puppet's innate spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell save DC 11, +3 to hit with magical attacks). It can cast the following spells, requiring no material components, only by taking the Random Spellcasting action on its turn. 

At will: darkness, magic missile, phantasmal force, stinking cloud

Random Spellcasting. The Shadow Puppet Sorcerer casts one of the following spells (roll a d4):
  1. darkness
  2. magic missile
  3. phantasmal force
  4. stinking cloud