Homebrew Monstrosity – Voracious Worm

Horrible, ugly, predatory creatures have been a staple of myth and legend for most of recorded history. Yet one need not look very far in the real world to find similarly suitable examples of dark perversion in the animal kingdom. Consider briefly, for example, the humpback anglerfish.

Humpback_Anglerfish_(Melanocetus_Johnsonii)

This thing looks like something out of Lovecraftian fiction.

This horror has it all: a small lure to bring in hapless victims, a terrifying habitat at cold, dreary depths, the ability to distend its stomach to swallow larger prey, and a disgusting means of proliferation. On that last note – a common feature of many anglerfish species is the horrifying means by which they procreate.

It all begins with the female of the species (the large fish you imagine when you think of anglerfish) releasing some pheromones and using that handy lure to get the attention of a mate. The males of the species are tiny, pathetic little things, and among the smallest fish in the world. This allows them to spend less energy hunting for food, and more energy looking for mates. When they do detect a female ready to mate, they swim up to it and fuse their mouth to the female’s body, abandoning all autonomy for the rest of their lives.

Having mated with the female, the male no longer has need for most of its body parts, and its eyes fins and some internal organs atrophy away. The male is now simply a mindless shell that does nothing but produce sperm.

Adapting such a monstrous species to a campaign wouldn’t even be that hard. Slap on some legs and call it a day.

 

Voracious Worm

With that, I bring you the “Voracious Worm”, modelled after the pelican eel, another deep-sea horror first illustrated in 1883. Most scientists agree that, based on the size of this creature’s teeth, it rarely feeds on larger creatures.

 

800px-PSM_V23_D086_The_deep_sea_fish_eurypharynx_pelecanoides

I have a different interpretation.

Origin

A voracious “worm” is actually a misnomer, as the creature is most closely related to snakes. This monstrosity is what happens when an albino viper (about a 1 in 100 occurrence) is introduced into a highly toxic environment. Thought to have originated from a carton of specimens discarded by a frustrated alchemist into a sprawling city sewer, these creatures proved too adaptable to perish to the resident giant rats, rust monsters, and Otyughs.

Parasitic nature: While voracious worms can grow to formidable sizes, they are incredibly vulnerable in the adolescent stages of their development, and are initially only as long as a finger. The species adapted to this weakness by looking to stronger and bigger specimens for survival. A voracious wormling is born without eyes, and will, upon hatching, crawl around, searching for dead, warm, organic matter (preferably a nice corpse) to burrow into and wait. It can feed off the rotting flesh of whatever dead creature it occupies for weeks, remaining in a state of pseudo-hibernation, and waiting for a scavenger to come by that will swallow the fetid meat.

Often, none does, and the wormling perishes. But occasionally, a not-so-picky eater will stumble upon the corpse and devour it, voracious worm and all.

With its immunity to acid, and preference for dark environments, the wormling lives on in the stomach of its host, leeching off of its food, and slowly growing to fill its host’s twisting intestinal passages. When the worm grows large enough, the host starts to wither from a lack of nutrients. Hair begins to fall out, and nails begin to yellow. Dark circles appear under the host’s eyes and it feels a constant, nagging, hunger.

Traumatic Exit

The worm, now fully grown, is finely attuned to the health of its host, and even has the ability to detect strong emotional swings. When its host begins to wither, the worm waits for an opportune emotional shift, and erupts, uncoiling itself through the intestines and inflicting massive internal damage. It burrows its way out through the host’s aesophagus, exiting in a spray of vomit out of a frequently too-small mouth. It will then feast on the host’s remains, and find its way to a nearby sewer, or other dark, wet environment, where it will hunt its prey using more conventional methods

Unhingeable Jaw

One interesting mutation experienced by the worm is the ability to distend their jaws to incredible widths, swallowing down creatures many times their size. The worm will often choose to do this only after dragging its prey to a safe location, however, as after a large meal it is often unable to move, and vulnerable to attack.

5e Stat Block

The Homebrewery - NaturalCrit - worm

 

The humpback anglerfish image (first in article) is licensed under the 
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. 
Attribution: Javontaevious at English Wikipedia
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Roll Tables – 10 Magic Items with a Twist

If you’re anything like me, you love magic items, but want some middle ground between a “+1 sword of boring” and a “Legendary Horn of the Lizard-King”. This article was the result of an effort to create some items that would fit that niche, and be retrievable by your characters without breaking the game (…too much).

1d10 Magic Items with a Twist

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A hook you could catch a mermaid with

  1. Sea God’s own Hook – when put on a line and lowered into a body of liquid larger than a bathtub, will result in something weighting on the hook. No bait is required, and the character must perform the actual act of reeling in the item without magical assistance, or the hook’s magic fails and the creature escapes. The hook loses its magic abilities after three uses, and regains them each sunrise.Every three uses, the hook has a 1 in 20 chance of summoning the Sea God, who demands its return. If the request is granted, the Sea God grants a permanent boon of waterbreathing to the character. If denied, that character is cursed with an inability to board any seafaring vessel. The item caught depends on the liquid the hook is placed in:
    • Small body of water – 1d6
      • (1-3) small fish: heals 1 hp, 3 if cooked
      • (4, 5) slippery kelp: If eaten raw, grants waterbreathing for 1h, but causes flatulence during that time. Screams audibly if cooked.
      • (6) water mote: If eaten live, grants resistance to fire for 1h, can be kept as a pet if in a jar of water, will occasionally whisper secrets (doesn’t know whose)
    • Large body of water – 1d6
      • (1-2) large fish: heals 2hp, 4 if cooked.
      • (3) trophy fish: she’s a keeper! Sell to a collector for 3d10 gp or hang it on a wall
      • (4) wizard’s boot: contains some diamond dust, a spent magic wand, or a single stone of sending (its double is out there, probably in the hands of a sea witch)
      • (5) mermaid tear: a crystallized mermaid’s tear with strong magical applications (e.g. can be used once as a component to empower a spell to be cast at 2 spell slots higher), can be returned to a mermaid for the promise of a favor
      • (6) mermaid: furious at being caught, the mermaid is likely to curse you if you don’t apologize profusely and let her go.
    • Toxic liquid/poison pool – 1d6
      • (1-3) ball of goo: throw at a creature within 20ft to inflict them with the poisoned condition for 1d4+2 turns, CON 13 saves. Make sure you’re wearing gloves or you make the save too.
      • (4) dissolved skeleton: all meat has eroded off this poor sap’s bones. Cast ‘speak with dead’ to find out where he buried his treasure.
      • (5) toxic pearl: used in the crafting of advanced poisons. Consume when crafting a poison to increase its damage by an additional die of the same type.
      • (6) an angry chuul: prepare for a fight! His stomach contains a string of pearls worth 1d10 *100 gp and a half-digested adventurer with ruined gear.
    • Lava pool – 1d6
      • (1-3) chunk of magma: touching this without fire immunity is a bad idea. Deals 3d10 damage on contact and has a 1 in 6 chance of setting you on fire. Can be thrown 20 ft.
      • (4-5) lava worm: these strange creatures transform the heat of their surroundings into energy to live. Holding one requires making a CON 14 save every round or being sapped of heat for 2d10 cold damage. Smart and trainable but die quickly in most environments (4d8 hp, 10 ac, bite(+4, 1d6), inflicts CON save, takes 2d8 damage/round outside of anything cooler than a desert)
      • (6) Resilient glass bottle: this glass bottle is caked in magma, but has surprisingly not shattered or melted. It’s been magically made immune to fire and contains a fire Efreeti that will, when freed, attack you, serve you for an hour, or grant one wish.
  2. Mysterious (Delicious) Egg – this large, human-head sized egg has a hard but fragile light-yellow shell, with needle-sized tiny pinpricks running along the outside. The color of the shell slowly darkens over time, turning first to a pale orange, then a deep orange, then a dark red.
    ostrich-egg-284699_1920

    The Mysterious Egg in its early stages

    The egg will occasionally make light whistling noises as it ages and releasing a faint sulfurous smell. Your players might think it’s worth hanging on to in case it hatches into something. In reality, the egg is hard-boiled, and its shell darkens as its inside rots. The occasional whistling is the sound foul-smelling gasses make as they escape the egg through tiny pinpricks.

    • Not all news is bad though, as a deep-red rotten egg, while smelling horrible, is actually astonishingly delicious, and imbues whoever eats it with a permanent CON boost of 1. If broken before reaching the deep red state, though, it just tastes like a slightly off chicken egg.
  3. Flowerpot of Enhanced Growth – any crop seeds sown in this pot grow into exceptionally delicious crops, and require 1/10th of the typical amount of time and water to grow. These crops add 1d10 temporary HP upon consumption, with a 1 in 6 chance of additional crops springing up and growing three days later in the gut of the character who consumed them. These have no negative effect, but prevent the player from needing to eat until the next time they ingest poison or acid.
  4. Mantle of Gullibility – A beautiful, sky blue mantle, with glittering black stones woven into various decorations on the fabric. When worn, the mantle causes its bearer to believe that it is incredibly valuable, in addition to any or all of the below falsehoods, at the DM’s discretion (WIS 16 saves). A merchant persuaded into trying on the mantle will be overjoyed at the chance to buy such a “valuable” item for a pittance.
    • Falsehoods:
      • While wearing the mantle and closing its eyes, a creature is invisible
      • Gold pieces planted while wearing the mantle will grow into valuable “gold trees”
      • The mantle causes its wearer to understand animals. (In reality, the wearer hears animals reiterate the wearer’s own subconscious fears)
  5. Ring of Magesight – A small copper ring inscribed with a poem. When worn, the ring allows a user to cast the “Detect Magic” spell at will, at touch range. This ability is only active, however, for those who have held the ring up to the sky and peeked through it at the sun. The poem hints at this solution.
    • “Woven of nature’s magic strands,
      I see the truth across the lands.
      Proclaiming truth to those who scry
      Creation’s ancient gazing eye.”
  6. Magnificent Monocle – the clothing of anyone putting on the monocle transforms into fine robes fit for a noble while the monocle is worn, and grants advantage on persuasion checks. Its wearer also feels a strong compulsion to refer to themselves only by the royal “We”.
    monocle-1622987_1920

    A monocle fit for a king

    If the wearer glances into a mirror while wearing this item, they must make a WIS 15 save or stare at their own reflection in awe for the next hour, or until roughly shaken. Characters that frequently use the monocle often start to forget aspects of their past lives, instead replacing them with invented tales of royal heritage.

  7. Whispering Seashell – A plain-looking seashell that whispers to a character as it’s held up to an ear. It speaks comforting words, offering protection and guidance. It knows the location of all golden objects and minor magical items within a 60-foot radius, and may divulge that information to a character if it thinks it will get them to trust it.It will slowly ply the bearer with more promises of rare items and treasure if he or she listens to its guidance. It will slowly direct the bearer closer and closer towards the sea, until it promises them a hoard locked inside a chest on the sea floor just 200 ft from shore. No such hoard exists.
    • If the seashell or its bearer touches seawater, the shell transforms into a mermaid, free of her curse (that also forbade her from speaking of it). The mermaid swims away if the character treated it with kindness, and attacks if the player made rude demands of it.
  8. Name-Stealing Sword – This sword glows with a strong arcane energy. Functions as a +2 magical sword, except that it secretly remembers the name of every creature it kills. It remembers them in that creature’s native tongue, and if a second creature of a name it has already stolen is slain by it, explodes in a flash of dark energy.The explosion releases the hostile spirits of the last three creatures slain (excluding the one that triggered the effect). They deal necrotic damage on attacks, and cannot cast spells, but otherwise function exactly as the original. When slain, the creatures crumble to obsidian dust that can be recrafted by a master smith into a sword of similar potency of the original, but without the negative effects.
  9. Shadowweight Stone – A typical 5 lb stone with nothing outwardly special about it. When placed on a creature’s shadow however, this stone pins it to its current location, preventing the creature from moving in such a manner as would cause the stone to no longer be in its shadow. Once placed, the stone is immensely heavy, and only lifetable with a DC 25 STR check. If it is lifted from the shadow, the effect ends. If a “light” spell is cast on it, or a bright source of light brought to rest directly on top of it, the effect ends.
  10. Wishing-Tree Seeds – This handful of seeds looks like it has seen better days. These seeds are created when a bundle of seeds gathered from four different biomes are thrown into a wishing well with an accompanying wish that fails to come true.
    durian-seed-2701644_1920

    The seedling of a wishing tree grows at an astonishing rate, and will be fully grown and bear fruit in (at most) a day

    Wishing-tree seeds are what happens when those seeds are then somehow retrieved a minimum of seven years later from the bottom of the well (a difficult task, as wishing wells are very protective of their coins). If these seeds then have the same wish whispered to them and are planted, they grow into a wishing tree overnight.

     

    The tree contains 2d10 fruit on it, and one of them will cause the whispered wish to come true when eaten. The rest will curse whoever eats them to never again be able to drink from sources of still water (i.e no drinking water from cups, wineskins, lakes, puddles or wells. Streams and rivers are still ok, strong wines are okay, most beers are too close to water though)

Roll Tables – 10 Tricky Traps with Surprising Solutions

I’m going to be honest, I’ve always kind of been bothered by traps in role-playing games. Sure, it makes sense to booby trap a stretch of land in the middle of a warzone, but weaponizing a house, palace or dungeon always seemed a bit illogical. Do the residents of the dungeon constantly walk on tiptoes to avoid the traps? Do they trigger them from time to time, and reset them, all the while cursing at the poisoned needle sticking out of their bum?

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“Let me just run to the bathroom real quick. Wait, which color steps was I supposed to avoid again?”

 

For this article, I’ve tried to come up with some traps that make a little more sense to have in your living area. These are designed to select for intruders rather than denizens, with specific notes on the types of creatures that might be living in a dungeon filled with that sort of trap.

 

1d10 Tricky Traps for Nosy Adventurers:

  1. Glass floor trap. The floor in one of the narrow cobblestone dungeon corridors looks like it drops off 30 feet forward and 60 feet below to a set of sharp spikes with a skeleton or two among them. Only there is a thin but sturdy pane of glass allowing anyone to walk over the “pit” without trouble. This won’t hurt any intruders, but it will be able to delay them while the defenders of the dungeon muster their forces.
    1. As an added bonus: make the pane magical, and inscribe some runes running along the walls leading up to it. The runes do nothing but give off traces of malevolent magic, but they are essential for keeping the pane up. This way, any meddling wizard that casts dispel on them, or wipes them away will destroy the only way forward.
    2. Avoided by: testing the floor ahead of them, flying across, laying a ladder across the gap.
    3. Creature types: any creatures capable of magic will work.
  2. Entryway doorbell trap. The main set of doors leading into the dungeon has a magical ear/button/switch that looks like it can be whispered in/pressed/pulled to open the door. The button has a sign hung below it though, written in a language that the dungeon denizens all speak but most outsiders would not. The sign says “doorbell broken, please knock”. Trying to activate the doorbell releases gas, shoots poison darts, or drops a boulder on the party. Knocking on the door causes it to open automatically.
    1. Avoided by: knocking on the door, being able to read the sign
    2. Creature types: any creatures with a rare language not spoken by many outsiders.
  3. Wrong way trap. The antechamber of the dungeon is empty, save for a dusty carpet on the floor, an empty bookcase, a limestone statue in the corner and a narrow passage opposite the front door that slopes downwards. There is a faint light visible at the end of the passage, which continues for 500 feet and is so narrow that a typical human can only make it through by shuffling through it sideways. Unfortunately, the tunnel narrows even further in the last 40-foot stretch, becoming little more than a slit that reveals a lantern sitting on the other side of an unreachable murder-hole. Maybe put an archer behind it if you’re feeling particularly heinous. The real way in is through a trapdoor under the dusty rug waaaay back in the antechamber.
    1. Avoided by: checking under the rug, polymorphing down a size, maaaybe greasing the party up in slippery oil and squeezing through.
    2. Creature types: any creatures around the same size as a human. Anything bigger and the party will get suspicious of the narrow passage.
  4. Unnecessary riddle trap. The door ahead of you is locked, but affixed to the wall beside it is a brass tube with an ear-shaped receiver. Across the door is written a riddle, but it has no correct answer. Those that belong to the dungeon have a key to the door, which can also be picked or unlocked magically. But parties of adventurers love their riddles, and the defenders of the dungeon have set up amplifiers to carry the sounds of visitors trying out guesses across the castle, alerting all of its denizens to the intrusion. Choose from one of the below impossible riddles or come up with your own:
    1. As dark as night in winter’s midst,
      The maiden longing for a kiss.
      Before her, thirty seven sit.
      By what is maiden’s longing lit?
    2. Seldom seen yet often heard,
      By all invoked yet never learned,
      A velvet touch yet hard as glass,
      Speak its name and you shall pass.
    3. “Srubbly-bubbly muchly-doubly, where in the world to find the troubly?”
      1. This one’s really stupid but made me laugh
    4. Avoided by: having a key, picking the lock, unlocking the door magically, breaking it down.
    5. Creature types: any creatures capable of bad poetry and of sufficient cleverness
  5. “Magic” boots trap. In a closet near the entrance to a room sit a fine pair of boots. They look like they were crafted by a master, and could fetch quite a pretty penny. If scanned for magic, they register as having abjuration and illusion charms on them. In reality, it is an old, soggy pair of boots enchanted to look expensive while in the dungeon, and with a “protection from mosquitos/pigeons/rats” spell cast on it to make it appear more valuable to intruders with detect magic spells. The toes of the boots contain two poison needles that will prick whoever puts them on.
    1. Avoided by: Can be solved by turning them inside out before putting them on, or by dispelling the illusion on them.
    2. Creature types: creatures with two feet that are capable of magic
  6. Fancy aged liquor trap. In the corner of a room, inside a fancy display case or cabinet sits a jug of expensive-looking liquor in a fancy bottle with gilded handles. The label has a picture of two dwarves clinking mugs with the the same bottle of liquor between them. This one’s a bit of an unintentional trap, because finely aged dwarven spirits become more toxic over time, and only the dwarves’ racial resistance against poison allows them to drink this safely. If anyone else decides to partake, there is a good chance they’ll be rolling around and violently vomiting for the nest half-hour.
    1. Avoided by: Can be avoided by not drinking strange liquids found in others’ homes, or by having a party member understand the warning message written on the label in fine print.
    2. Creature types: dwarves, mostly. Maybe other creatures with poison resistance.
  7. Surprise shower trap. One of the rooms is tiled and seemingly empty, except for a drain in the middle of the floor, and a complex set of levers on the opposite side of the room, near a second door. The floor is checkered with a complex pattern of colored tiles (feel free to draw a difficult-looking diagram of the floor for the players) A closer inspection of the ceiling would reveal small brass nozzles interspersed at regular intervals. The room smells strongly of poison. If any of the levers are touched, there is a good chance that the nozzles will begin spraying the entire room with a hot, toxic-smelling clear liquid. The liquid is actually just water, and this room is a communal shower of sorts. The toxic smell is the medieval equivalent of chlorine. The tiles on the floor are just decorations.
    1. Avoided by: The “trap” can be avoided by not touching any nozzles, and even if triggered, the heroes will emerge with ease, albeit slightly cleaner and wetter.
    2. Creature types: any creatures that enjoy a good shower once in a while.
  8. Sleeping beauty trap. On the far side of a room is an elevated stone table, upon which rests a human figure on its back, with arms folded across its chest. As the heroes approach, they can make out delicate feminine features. If they get close enough to examine the figure’s face, they likely trigger one of the pressure plates laid out around the table, which drops a cage onto them. Upon closer inspection of the figure, it looks like an dead, emaciated body, that seemingly died of starvation and had a minor illusion placed on it. If the trapped heroes don’t find a way out of the cage soon, it looks like they might be the next bait in this trap.
    1. Avoided by: It can be avoided by noticing the pressure plates, the illusion magic, or the imprints in the dust where the cage settled last time.
    2. Creature types: any creatures too lazy to check their traps regularly.
  9. Greedy adventurer trap. A set of statues line the walls, all tuned towards the middle of the room. In the room’s center stands a mossy stone, with a golden sword of unspeakable beauty sticking out of it. Like the proverbial sword in the stone, it can be pulled out. Unlike that sword, though, it’s not very hard to do, and releases a cloud of toxic poison into the air around it when released.
    1. Avoided by: It can be avoided by wiggling the sword and seeing a few spurts of green gas result, or by tying a rope around it and pulling it out from a distance.
    2. Creature types: any creatures with a sense of humor and an understanding of adventurer logic.
  10. Decorative bookcase trap. A bookcase filled with fancy, expensive looking books. The owner of this dungeon or castle is clearly a collector. Except maybe not a literate one, or one more interested in keeping books around for the ambiance they provide to a room. That’s because most of the books are filled with explosive runes, dark passages that herald madness, or just really bad prose that makes a reader’s head hurt. Maybe the owner bought these a long time ago from a merchant that had a grudge against him, but because of his disinterest, has avoided the ill effects.
    1. Avoided by: scouting out the magic properties of the books, peeking at the pages without reading them, or just leaving it alone
    2. Creature types: snobby creatures that still somehow convince themselves that owning books is the same as reading them.

Roll Tables – 20 Unique NPC Motivations

NPC’s make up the backbone of RPG worlds. They live and breathe the lore of the world, and are a fantastic tool for the GM to breathe life into the setting. And despite a GM’s best efforts, there is no way to prepare all of the potential NPC’s in the world in advance.

I cannot even begin to recount how many times my players turned a simple shopping trip or tavern visit into an interrogation of the NPC’s innermost fears and desires. And despite the shopkeeper NPC starting out as little more than a name and a silly voice, by the end of the interaction he’s expected to have a unique personality, history and motivation. And that’s fantastic, because if the players want to help “Tall Shelly” of Shelly’s Iron Pots Emporium to realise her dream of becoming an opera signer, they are empowered to do so.

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A latent opera talent. Apparently.

That choice is the beauty of role-playing games. After all, that dracolich can wait.

 

Motivations

The single most interesting aspect about any NPC, is, in my opinion, their driver, their motive, their ‘raison d’être’. You can even often forego a name, description or profession, but the players will still be loathe to forget “that guy who kept trying really hard to train his horse to talk”.

With that importance in mind, I present to you my 1d20 table of unique NPC motivations:

  1. Buried his mother under a sapling in a distant grove long ago, and has recently learned from a long-forgotten diary that she had swallowed a fine string of pearls before passing, either out of spite or to pay for her passage to the afterlife. A recent string of financial setbacks means this NPCs needs that money now, and BAD. Oh and the sapling is likely now fully grown and thus impossible to single out from all the others around it.
  2. This NPC hasn’t slept well in weeks, and swears that somebody’s always watching him. Desperate consultations with mystics and seers have failed to identify the cause, and it’s driving him crazy. Nobody thinks much of it, until one of the party members notices a second set of tracks trailing after the NPC on a nearby beach.
  3. On a drunken night out long ago, was given a mug of something by a beautiful girl in a tavern similar to, but not quite like, the ones in the village. The drink was the best thing this NPC has ever had, and he would kill for another drop. But subsequent nights so far have yielded little other than massive hangovers.
  4. Desperate to prevent his sister from marrying into a household that this NPC is certain are vampires. The Rembils never leave their abode without heavy layers of clothes, and rarely, if ever eat in public. He could be right, or it could be that the whole family suffers from a genetic, and very painful skin condition instead.
  5. Wants to leave the city and start a new life as a priest/shepherd/bounty hunter but is bound by an old oath to care for his late wife’s grandmother until her death. But the old crone is ungrateful, arrogant and mean, and in no hurry to die at 93. Maybe she’s just lucky, or maybe this is the cause of a demonic pact.
  6. Found an old rusty key on a moonlit walk a fortnight ago. Since then, this NPC has been plagued by dreams of locked doors, long hallways leading to dead ends, and things with keyholes for eyes. Believes that finding what the key unlocks will relieve him, and fears losing the key more than anything.
  7. Was fed an odd, pungent medicine once a month since he was a child by his mother, but she recently passed away without revealing the recipe to him, or what it did. Now the end of the month approaches, and this NPC is growing restless and worried.
  8. This NPC prides himself on being able to eat anything served at a pub or tavern that their proprietors label as “food”. He’s recently heard of an incredibly spicy delicacy eaten only by a sect of fire-breathers in a faraway land, and wants more than anything to try it.
  9. This NPC inherited a scroll with strange runes on it from a barely-familiar distant relative. He is incredibly possessive and refuses to let anyone read it, lest they “use up it’s magic”, but is unable to read it himself. It could be a spell, or it could be a spiteful prank by the dead relative.
  10. An NPC was raised by an only mother without ever knowing his father. He thought that his late mother calling his father “the wind” was a poetic figure of speech, but he’s recently found that he can hear whispers carried past him on the breeze.
  11. Wishes to become a travelling violinist, going from city to city and spreading tales of adventure, mirth and tragedy among the people. Only problem is, he had his fingers bitten off by a Greelik, a minor demon of pranks, as a kid, and will need to summon him to get them back.
  12. This NPC always thought he was an only child, until his parents passed in an accident, and he found a charcoal painting among their possessions. It depicted his parents as young adults, as well as himself, and another, very similar child, as babies.
  13. Once bought a crate of “Moonlight Blue Wine” from a seasonal travelling salesman, and though it tasted terrible at first, has become obsessed with it. Now he’s down to two bottles, and the salesman has missed his usual appearance at this season’s town festival.
  14. This NPC swallowed a compass as a child, and since then, has had an impossibly accurate sense for directions. Recently though, he’s started to get a tugging feeling that indicates the location of the nearest still-birth, and it’s creeping him out enough that he wants to get the compass out.
  15. An unmarried NPC has prayed for years for a child to be given to him by the gods, and had his prayers go unanswered. Until last week, when he triumphantly presented a small boy of 4 or 5 years to his neighbors. Interestingly, nobody understands the boy’s speech, and he has only four fingers on each hand.
  16. This NPC has corresponded for years with a penpal from the neighboring village (over the mountains, or through a dangerous forest) but his friend has recently stopped responding to letters.
  17. Recently visited his ancestral home and found that his family had been killed by a madman. Vowing to stop at nothing to get his revenge, the fact that the madman had been executed by the local sheriff is, to him, a mere inconvenience.
  18. Having lived his entire life in a landlocked city, this NPC has always felt the wide-open beauty of the sea calling to him. But because of nearly being drowned in a washbasin by an inattentive mother/sister/nanny as a child, has a deathly fear of drowning. Memory-altering magic may prove useful.
  19. This NPC has raised horses for years, and for years has tried to train his horses to talk to him. Recently, he’s been going around town claiming to have succeeded with a new mare, and though his horse has surprisingly intelligent, almost human eyes, nobody else has ever heard it say a word.
  20. This hunter has hunted for years in the local woods, straying farther and farther from the known areas in search of ever bigger game. Recently, he’s claimed to have seen a glorious golden stag, and is convinced it is his life’s goal to hunt down the creature.

Running Hoard of the Dragon Queen Episode 1

So a while back, when 5e just came out, a friend bought a copy of the Hoard of the Dragon Queen campaign book. It sat off to the side gathering dust while we completed a homebrew campaign, until, one day when rifling through his sourcebooks, we decided we’d take the chance to run it.

In retrospect, I do somewhat wish I’d looked up some reviews online as the book’s reputation for being notoriously hard to run proved to be true nearly immediately. Regardless, we powered through most of it over the course of a few months, and I’ll be compiling play reports for you to read based on the notes I took during each session.

Today though, I’ll be talking about the first episode and how I would go about improving and running it.

 

The Setting

The book opens with a map of the sword coast and a brief introduction of the Cult of the Dragon’s activities, a group that seeks to summon Tiamat, an evil goddess of dragons, onto the land of Faerun. This is meant to be accomplished in part by collecting a massive hoard of gold to present to her upon her summoning. It is on that note that the party enters the game, approaching a town that is being plundered by the cult, with an adult blue dragon circling overhead.

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Kind of like this one, but bloodier. (Image by ‘hotblack’ at Morguefile.com)

Now I’m going to be honest with you here, the first episode of the campaign CAN be a lot of fun. As written, it’s a fairly challenging couple of sessions in an interesting setting. The main problems it suffers are a lack of enemy and encounter diversity, and a too combat-heavy introduction.

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Seriously, look at this. I don’t need a table to throw some groups of cultists and kobolds at the PCs

But I’ve ran at least three other groups through this episode, and I (and some of my players) were sick of it. So we skipped the majority of encounters in this episode and instead did two of them in detail. The very first one (Seek the Keep) in which the players lead a family to safety in the keep, and the last one, in which a player faces off against a half-dragon champion in a one-on-one duel.

 

The Side Missions

If I were running this again, I would likely change the first episode to do a better job of rewarding characters for completing the side missions. There are a number of them, including:

  1. The Old Tunnel – A sidequest that opens the ability to get in and out of the keep without going through the main gates, which are under siege by enemies.
  2. The Sally Port – A section of the castle is breached by foes and must be resealed to prevent additional enemies getting through.
  3. Dragon Attack – That blue dragon we mentioned earlier is swooping around breathing fire all over the place, and presenting a perfect target to get arrowed a few times by PC’s before flying off.
  4. Prisoners – The governor of Greenest wants the PC’s to capture a cultist or two to interrogate.
  5. Save the Mill – A mill is being set aflame and needs your help! Except it’s actually a trap meant to ambush the PCs.
  6. Sanctuary – A church being used to shelter some townsfolk is being surrounded by patrols that are trying to break in and kill or capture everyone.

There is a 7th event in which the party chooses one amongst themselves to face off against the half-dragon champion to free some hostages. This is the last event that occurs before the cult leaves the town.

Now on to the fun part – Rewards.

 

The Rewards

The rewards for completing these missions would need to be a little different from the standard EXP + GP.

  1. Opening the old tunnel is pretty simple, with the reward for that being access to missions 5 & 6.
  2. Defending the sally port could prevent another attack that would have killed the medics with healer’s kits that rush to the player’s help should they lose the half-dragon battle (hint: they probably will)
  3. Fighting off the dragon attack could result in a strong morale boost for the defenders, providing the party and other defenders of the keep with 1d4 temporary hp.
  4. Interrogating a cultist could, in addition to yielding information about the cult, result in him telling the party where he hid some treasure for personal gain during the sacking.
  5. Saving the mill might allow the players to obtain a few sets of cultist robes to better help them infiltrate the enemy’s camp in a later episode. Some poison could be found in these cultists’ possession too.
  6. Rescuing the church from the assailants could provide the party with access to the church’s cellar library, healer’s kits, and holy water supplies in the future.

 

The Half-Dragon Duel

This one’s the highlight of this episode, and one of the hardest fights in the book (adjusted for relative power level). As written, the character is intended to lose. And while there’s no problem with that, I’d do a couple of things to help the players even the odds. Fighting off the dragon attack for some temporary hp might help, as well as lifting some poison off the ambushers in the “Save the Mill” side quest.

I’d also make the players aware that helping out in ways other than applying some buff spells prior to the fight may be a bad idea, as the hostage situation makes it quite dangerous to intercede.

It might be a good idea to have Langendrosa (the half-dragon) throw some taunts at the player if he loses and maybe even have him kill the remaining hostage anyway, just to really spark the PC’s hatred of him for when they encounter him later. It will make it all the more satisfying when they defeat him for good.

The episode ends with this duel, with the cultists turning around and leaving with their ill-gotten gains.

 

Tune in next time to hear how my players approached this chapter in my interpretation of the HotDQ campaign.

Village Drunk Background (5e)

We spend a whole lot of time talking about the heroic origins of our characters. Backgrounds as folk heroes, nobles, and soldiers are all well and good, but what about those of us who want to play as an ordinary Joe, haplessly pulled into a life of adventure. Alternatively, rags-to-riches stories are a whole lot more impressive the dirtier the rags are.

That said, I present to you the “Village Drunk” background for 5e DnD play.

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A modern-day interpretation.

 

Village Drunk

Proficiencies: Deception, Intimidation

Tool Proficiencies: Choose one of the following gaming sets: dice set, playing card set

Equipment: A gaming set with which you are proficient, commoner’s clothes, a club, a lockpick, a leather wine skin (full of cheap wine), an empty cask, 1d10 sp and 3d10 cp

Specialty:

You can roll for or select the reason for your escapism:

  1. Loss of a loved one. Whether a spouse, a child, or a parent, a sudden death has devastated you and left your life in shambles.
  2. Visions of madness. Whether by peeking into a forbidden tome, exploring a haunted forest, or staring too long into a dark mirror, you have seen something beyond mortal comprehension, and it still haunts your every waking hour.
  3. Fall from grace. Your glory was great, your fame enormous…until it all came crashing down. Whether through a mistake, a betrayal or pure luck, you lost your social standing and turned to the bottle for solace.
  4. Bored adventurism. As day after day in your dull life continued to pass you by, you turned to new avenues for acquiring strong experiences. One drink a day became two, and before you knew it, your habit had consumed you.
  5. Bleak prognosis. A witch doctor or fortune teller diagnosed you with a strange malady, and convinced you that you had but months to live. Whether that is true or not remains to be seen, but you have taken it to heart and turned to drinking.
  6. Born to poverty. You’ve never met your father, and have only vague memories of you mother, who drank herself to an early grave. Having no positive role models to take after, you turned down the same path.

Feature: Sympathetic look

Years of hard life of begging on the streets has given you the ability to look truly wretched and miserable. When dressed in rags and by making a sorry expression, you can cause others to take pity on you and provide a helping hand, whether that be by feeding you, throwing you a silver piece, or by letting you share their hearth for a night.

Suggested Characteristics

d8 – Personality Trait

  1. I never let a single drop of alcohol, nor a single dusty copper piece go to waste.
  2. I believe that my problems are caused by the gods punishing me for past misdeeds.
  3. Life is hard, and the only way to get through it is to take it one day at a time.
  4. I see others in need all around me, and I am compelled to help them as best I can.
  5. I will not forget the mistakes of my past, so as to best avoid them in the future.
  6. I still have a purpose set out for me in the stars. I need only find it.
  7. Through blood, sweat and tears I will drag myself up from this gutter and this hell.
  8. I exist only to serve as a reminder to others – I must spread the word of this reality.

d6 – Ideal

  1. Hope. Even in the darkest of nights, there is the hope of dawn. (Good)
  2. Perseverance. Though life may be tough, I’m tougher. (Any)
  3. Absurdity. There is no meaning save for that which I create. (Chaotic)
  4. Community. In the toughest of times, one must rely on others. (Good)
  5. Spirituality. Though we walk different paths in life, in death we are all equal. (Any)
  6. Pleasure. I exist solely for myself, and the pursuit of my own happiness. (Chaotic)

d6 – Bond

  1. I raised a stray animal I found in the city. He is my very own ray of joy.
  2. This necklace is all that I have to remember my father by.
  3. The street I grew up on must not be allowed to fall deeper into disrepair.
  4. My friends must be protected from those who would exploit them.
  5. A lock of my mother’s hair is all she left me before she left forever.
  6. A street urchin’s been my trusted friend through all these years. I must protect him.

d6 – Flaw

  1. I pretend to be blind or disabled to earn more coin by begging.
  2. Drinking is the only way I can get to sleep.
  3. The only “friends” I have are the acquaintances that I get drunk with.
  4. I seethe with hatred for the rich who know nothing of hardship.
  5. I steal from others around me, rich or poor – survival is my one priority.
  6. Drinking makes me turn violent, and I drink often.