Sunday, November 5, 2017

Shadow Post: Remaking Hoard of the Dragon Queen

Attention, my players: if ever you come across my blog and see something entitled "Shadow Post", that means it is about a campaign I am running and not to be read. I can't stop you, but you'd spoil the fun for yourself.

Anyway. The blog isn't going dark, I just went through a major life transition. Posts will probably be more infrequent.

Thanks to Power Score

Hoard of the Dragon Queen

This adventure is one of two parts that ends with the players confronting Tiamat herself (or not, if they work together) at level 15. It's intended to introduce new players and potentially new DM's to D&D. It's.....okay at that. I've run it before and I'm about to run it again, but this time I'm taking advantage of Volo's Guide to Monsters and plawt twists to improve it. 

Oh yes, major spoilers ahead. 

The adventure is divided into 8 episodes: Greenest in Flames, Raider's Camp, Dragon Hatchery, On the Road, Construction Ahead, Castle Naerytar, Hunting Lodge, and Castle in the Clouds.

From the episode titles, you can already divine the basic narrative flow: burning village to tracking down raiders, something with dragons, travel to Castle Naerytar and a hunting lodge, and a confrontation in a cloud castle. 

Greenest in Flames: A town is being destroyed by cultists! Wat do?

Raider's Camp: Follow the cultists to their camp and investigate. Try to blend in/not die.

Dragon Hatchery: A misnomer: there are no dragons here. Only a lot of dragon eggs lying around (no dragon hatchlings, even) and a lot of kobolds/cultists/monstrosities.

On the Road: Pursue the main villyan! Spy on cultists along way.

Construction Ahead: Mostly detective work and a surprisingly dangerous random encounter.

Castle Naerytar: Villyan base reached! Destroy with extreme prejudice. 

Hunting Lodge: The main villyan has escaped! Follow them!

Castle in the Clouds: Giants, dragons, and vampires, oh my. Thwart the villyan!

My new group (they haven't cohered enough to be a real group) are busy with saving Greenest right now. `

I'm going to look at the background that's provided in the game book and alter it to offer a more interesting look into the relationships between the major players. 

Background

"Severin was a young Calishite member of the Cult of the Dragon, inspired by Tiamat. Severin carefully reread the version of Maglas's Chronicle of Years to Come--translated by Sammaster as "naught will be left save shattered thrones with no rulers, but the dead dragons shall rule the world entire..."--and ultimately came to believe that the correct translation was "naught will be left save shattered thrones, with no rulers but the dead. Dragons shall rule the world entire...", a translation that many sages believed correct but heretical with respect to Sammaster's words. Thus the beings that should be the targets of their devotion were not dracoliches, but living dragons. Armed with this new conviction, Severin decided he needed to meet and speak to a living dragon.

He went to Mintarn, to the lair of the famous dragon Hoondarrh. Severin managed to befriend the terrible dragon, impressing both Tiamat and his fellow cultists. Thus Tiamat gave him a scrap of knowledge about the dragon masks. Severin discovered the whole history of the dragon masks and in long years of travel he recovered all five masks. These he gave to his most trusted friends, and saved the red dragon mask for himself. With a reputation gained from this search, Severin quickly rose through the ranks of the Cult until he became the main leader."

- Forgotten Realms Wiki

So Severin is a young man who, it's assumed, falls in with cultists and retranslates a text that had been translated by a mad wizard. His translation is the better one and he has a new purpose: conquer the world with living dragons instead of devoting vast resources and time to creating dracoliches. Sounds vastly more sensible than the proposal by a certified insane archmage. 

This is what he tells others. He's a charismatic and intelligent young man. Powerful but affable, with just the right touch of apathetic cruelty to temper his burning ambition. People tell themselves they like him because they want him to like them, because they sense the passion within him and are drawn to it as moths to a flame.

He hates all of them. Every single arrogant, sniveling, evil one. 

Severin is a Amnian, who grew up in the nation of Amn. As a child, he eked out a paltry existence with his mother and father, walking miles for water that did not carry a toll or a barely affordable education under a distant wizard. His mother, the strong one, worked the blacksmith shop and kept the family coffers soluble. His father, a crippled soldier, was a storyteller, who recited and memorized epics on the local stage and secretly worked on a poem of his own, a story of life, love, and acceptance after humiliating injury. 

The local village council, never competent, forgot to pay the garrison one month. The soldiers shrugged, packed up their kits, and left, taking a couple of children with them as currency. 

A local group of bandits, recently subjugated by a blue dragon, ambushed and killed most of the garrison. The survivors agreed to join the bandits and the children were fed to the dragon as a goodwill offering. 

Several days later, the soldiers returned to the town. They understood that the town had fallen on hard times, and laughed away the payment offered. They'd stay for good now, especially considering what happened to those poor children. What happened to their captain? Oh, he had been killed by some bandits. 

That night, the soldiers let the bandits in, and the calm starlight was rent by lightning. Howling bandits adorned with shed sapphic scales and crude wooden dragon masks stalked the villagers, killing the adults and netting the children as the dragon Lennithon soared above, toppling buildings and pinning resisters down with dragonfear. 

Severin watched this all from the balcony of the wizard's house, several miles away, and when the old woman refused to help him, pushed her down a flight of stairs, breaking her neck.

Severin sifted through the ashes of his town, recovering his father's cane and half-finished poem and his mother's blackened skull. He tracked the bandits back to their rough huts outside Lennithon's warrens and was captured by a patrol. He killed two of them before they trapped him in a net. The young man woke up staring into the eyes of a dragon, as food. He begged for his life, demonstrating his limited magical capabilities, and the dragon spared him.

Severin began to work his way into the dragon's trust and started to plan out his revenge when Lennithon revealed to him the existence of a larger body - the Cult of the Dragon. He swore a blood oath over his mother's bones and his father's cane that very night to destroy both the cult that killed his family and the callous mercenaries that abandoned his town. 

On his first raid, he found another boy, slightly older, who nearly skewered him. Severin spared him and his parents, and explained what he was trying to do. Tarbaw Nighthill agreed to plot an elaborate revenge against the depredations of the cult and the evils of money.

Over the years, he carefully crafted a cover identity, and after seeing the poverty and corruption of the cities, decided to destroy chromatic dragons and all mercantile oligarchy. He learned that the god of greed and chromatic dragons was trapped in the Nine Hells.

Now he seeks to free her so she can crush and loot the richest cities in the world, and then destroy her along a powerful force of heroes, Tarbaw, and metallic dragons. The world is better off without greed, he reasons, and he needs a champion to act as a foil to his projected grand evil.

Tarbaw is grateful to Severin for sparing him and also for letting him play the hero. He also believes the cities are horrid, filthy places, and rationalizes that the utter destruction of decadence is worth a few thousand innocent lives, as so many more will be saved from the addiction of gold and meaningless pursuit of grandiloquence.

Tarbaw seeks out small to middling to communities and gains their leadership through even means if he can. Then Severin has a detachment of cultists attack, and Tarbaw rallies the residents against the evil dragons and cruel mercenaries. He takes a grim pleasure in personally killing for-hire soldiers and slavers. 

Their search for an appropriate place has led them to the old base of the Cult of the Dragon: the Well of Dragons. With the Greenfields so close to the Well of Dragons and Amn, Tarbaw has decided to convert the region while Severin quietly subjugates the rest of the cult, assassinating the old guard that intractably believes in Sammaster's words and fending off challenges to his power. 

To this end, Tarbaw rose to become the village elder of a small town named Arkady. After fending off some cultists, he leveraged his victory to become a provincial governor after the old one passed away. Proctor Themberchaud runs the entire pastoral region under the nominal authority of Elturel, and Severin has ensured that the most terrifying raid yet will take place when Themberchaud visits. If Themberchaud dies in the conflict, perhaps Tarbaw can assume his place...

That's both an oddly specific and incredibly vague backstory, but more compelling than the "evil guy", I think. On the next post I'll cover how this will affect the specifics of HotDQ: Greenest in Flames and Raiders' Camp.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

A transient moment in the life of a starbeast

My objet d’art is a representation of the tunnels a space termite bored inside one square hectometer of a massive, sentient, spacefaring creature’s flesh.
Microscopically honed mouthpieces pulverize tunnels through flesh growing and dividing in a complete vacuum. This tough, dense, whitish material is torn through by a creature whose mouthpieces treat diamond like wet paper. The alkaline ooze spurting out of defensive pockets is designed to protect outer layers of flesh from exactly these parasites. The termite treats it as a mild irritant at best, and an unfortunate hit at worst. A lucky gush occasionally triggers an autoimmune response that causes a leg or an eye to slough off.
The barely insectoid form drills away, powering its mandibles with thick, acidic blood naturally pressurized to function as organic hydraulics.
The titanic creature registers an itch, somewhere along its lower dorsal quadrant, around its third supernumerary cluster of redundant filtering systems. Analogous to livers and kidneys, they filter the sludge-like blood and produce the long strands of proteins necessary to replicate the mammoth’s incredibly dense, armored cells.
This creature, this fleshgod, unwinds a manipulatory tactile organ, a spiraling tentacle hundreds of meters long, to scratch at the itch.
The termite is hit with a sudden, colossal convulsion that ruptures the stressed sides of its tunnel walls, engulfing it in a sudden deluge of superalkaloids. It instinctively engages a natural defense mechanism, encasing it in a shell not dissimilar to the ones formed by anthrax bacteria to hibernate. Particles blossom from hidden gills, reacting to the bases and forming a hardened, crusty shell, that encloses it in seconds. Currents of blood are drawn outward to the vacuum of space, simultaneously boiling in the sunlight and freezing in the shadow of the fleshgod as its solar sails eclipse the light from the closest star, filtering all but the most unstable wavelengths and converting them into energy.
The encapsulated termite floats with the blood, forming crystals of ice on its dark side and steaming on its sunlit side.
On the flank of the fleshgod, the blood pouring out of the wound undergoes an instant reaction as proteins from a nearby lymph network reach the site. The blood, in a matter of milliseconds, freezes, expands, and adheres to nearby cells, creating a crusty shield keeping thousands of gallons of blood inside.
The cracks are where flesh has started to regrow, eradicating the crystalline clots filling the tunnels. Nubs are tunnels being reclaimed by growths of new, healthy flesh.
Opaque blue for the outer coating, the scum over the living flesh and fluid.
Green for the areas affected by void bacteria, those hardy space organisms.
Brown for the necrotic areas, those dying and being reabsorbed. Targeted for waves of antibacterial product by the local lymph network.
Digging through this flesh is akin to mining through solid metal. The tunnels are geometric, the result of technique adjustments made by the parasite while drilling.

My art is the remnant of a cosmic feast.


threading through the blackest incomprehensible eons until rude gravity clutches at its godly flanks

Friday, August 11, 2017

I had a probably stupid idea that might actually be educational

Say your people are busy saving the world. Say they've saved it. Doesn't matter. This can apply to the best of players, and happen at any time.

Spread rumors of a new virus. This virus is memetic in nature; it propagates through a pamphlet. When you read the pamphlet, you contract it. If someone explains the information in the pamphlet to you well enough, you contract it. If you ingest some infected person's blood or mucus, you contract it.

Who are the infected? What does this virus do?

The infected are odd creatures. They dress weirdly, alternating between flamboyant poufery or incredibly drab clothes. They have little to no regard for money, hoarding it selfishly but rarely spending it except on new equipment or purported magic items. They love their equipment, but they mistreat and ignore it when not in battle or busy burrowing through the warrens of some intentionally buried necrothing crypt.

They don't really talk to strangers, and move in packs. People avoid them instinctively, flowing around them. They are weird. They are outsiders. When they talk it is stilted and often simple.

They look at each other constantly. When they talk to each other, it feels like round words being forced through square mouths, off-kilter.

To a creature, they are deadly in battle. All their battles, except for spells, are fought in complete silence. They die quietly, eyes flicking furiously around. They take no heed of lethal wounds.

Anyone close enough to them can sense the wrongness. The fundamental disconnect. The jerky, spastic movements they make. They are like puppets, moving in some strange dance, some like a standing corpse, others loosely animated.

When your players come across a pamphlet, it needs to be nasty and grease stained. Trampled underfoot in the gutter. It should be badly printed and unintelligible.

It should be, with no spite intended, a summary of the Player's Handbook.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Strange Teeth

Teeth hold a special significance for the farmers of the Styssios Wetlands. They are symbolically the means through which life enters your body by the vessels of food and drink, and therefore an important way to express vagaries of thought and body. Strong teeth indicate a hale person. Neat teeth are a sign of intelligence and a good predictor of literacy and mathematical ability. Even teeth show a person's purity, small teeth demonstrate strength, and large teeth show off a person's dexterousness.

This person is hiding something

Here is a table for teeth and how they can affect the mindset and body of people. Judge your PC's by their teeth. Cleanliness in outsiders doesn't matter if you don't have the money to afford it , but a sumptuously dressed adventurer with filthy teeth will be regarded with suspicion.

Teeth and what they mean (1d4s)

The first roll is odd.
  1. These teeth are glasslike. If you look closely, you might be able to see a vein. People with translucent teeth must be either grounded in this world or drifting. They are sapient but distant.
  2. Strong canines and small fronters. This person is witty but often employs cutting words.
  3. These bones are even and uniformly sized, signs of a scholarly future.
  4. This person has the touch because their front two teeth are gapped. They can peek into the cracks and crevices of other's thoughts, albeit dimly.
The first roll is even.
  1. Well-cared for teeth, if a bit crooked. This body enjoys the company of others, and people reciprocate affection around them.
  2. Small, squat teeth well suited for grinding and crushing. This person likes using their strength to solve problems.
  3. Even chompers with rounded tops that are dirty and discolored, hinting at a light hidden under a bushel.
  4. This person has buckteeth, the better to project with. They will speak their mind, whether sensible or not.
Quite normal actually

The second roll is an odd prime.
  1. These teeth are false! Roll again to see what teeth this person used to have, and what teeth they currently possess. 
  2. Overbite is an indicator of an energetic personality. 
  3. This person has wisdom teeth that have come in evenly. They are lucky and placid.
  4. These organs are overly large for the palate, but this person has learned to nimbly evade this difficulty, making them spry and quick-witted.
The second roll is an even prime.
  1. This person has a canine missing. They have been through a great stress, which makes them kind or acidic.
  2. This person has a molar or two missing. Do not trust them with significant matters, for they are rotted at the core.
  3. When this person smiles (which is rare) the missing front teeth are very noticable. They will lie as easily as breathing,
  4. Through luck or riches, this person now has no wisdom teeth. They are charismatic, but something is missing.
The second roll is a number squared.
  1. Their teeth twist slightly inward to the right, as if corkscrewed by some mammoth antediluvian in the womb. Their bite hexes its target. 
  2. They have a second row of teeth. Roll again to see what it is and determine how hidden the row is. 
  3. This person still has their baby teeth behind their adult teeth. The baby teeth are dead, but they refuse to let go. This person can sacrifice a baby tooth and plant it to summon a zombie or skeleton.
  4. This person has a hideous layer of overlapping canines that wave slightly. Their grin paralyzes like hold person. It is a predators stare, one that fixes a victim in horrible trance to the earth.
BURN THE WITCH
When you walk through the flats, it is considered proper courtesy to only take the briefest look at a new acquaintance's mouth. A true sign of trust is never looking at their teeth unless permission is given. Often, friends will greet each other with wide grins and others with small smiles. Styssians are close-lipped because they do not trust strangers with their identities.

Rulers of the Muds will approach each other with lips stretched over wide open mouths, to ensure each other that no deception is intended. Until salutations are brought to a close, it is considered proper to never close your mouth entirely, not even to enunciate. In cases of great import like peace negotiations or marriage contracts, professional ivorywrights (always part of a retinue) will inspect the other leaders teeth in front of a court assembled to insure that no glamors or false teeth obscure the truth.

This person is very trustworthy
As is this person