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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Dice, Camera, Action Episode 76 - Tomb of Annihilation


Episode 76: Band on the Run

Anna has bronchitis, so she can't say much. Nate got engaged! Maybe we'll have some kind of waffle wedding.

 The Party

(Matthew Lillard) Bag of Nails - Tabaxi Hunter
(Anna) Evelyn - Human Paladin of Lathander
(ProJared) Diath - Human Rogue
(Holly) Strix - Tiefling Sorcerer
(Nathan) Paultin - Human Bard

Here's the deal. Paultin has the ring of winter. It's evil, and has taken control of him. A huge red dragon named Klauth knocked a wall on the group. Strix is in gaseous form and Evelyn is flying near in front of the dragon.

Klauth clears the rubble off of Paultin and is demanding that he hand over the ring of winter.

Strix tries to talk Klauth out of all this. Doesn't work! Paultin puts the ring on his little undead, animated severed hand and throws it through a dimension door. The hand is somewhere nearby. Clever!

The Acquisitions, Inc. airship is hovering nearby, crewed by some NPC flunkies. Bag of Nails is on board as well. The harpoon gun is loaded.

Bag of Nails fires the harpoon.. critical!! 12d10 damage!! He does 75 points of damage!! Klauth is injured, but not bloodied.

Bag of Nails wants the crew to flt the ship right into the dragon.

Klauth is scouring the area, looking for the hand. Then he looks up at the airship. He has a bunch of wands on his wing. He uses them to hit the ship with a fireball and a lightning bolt. The crew dies, but Bag of Nails survives! He has four hit points left!

Here come dozens of serpents.. Yuan-ti in disguise.

Diath hits the snakes with his horn of blasting. Three yuan-ti assume their humanoid forms. One has black scales and is wearing a golden collar, some kind of religious piece of jewelry.

The airship is crashing! It's heading right for Paultin. Bag runs to the wheel. The NPC that was driving it is dead and crispy. Bag is able to pull up and turns the ship in the direction of Klauth.

Uh oh. Klauth found the ring of winter. He grabs it and the severed hand (whose name is "Handrew").

What the... there are three frost giants here! They've been looking for the ring of winter since Storm King's Thunder.

In the rubble, Dragonbait actually kept the rubble from squashing Waffles until the group could free them. Anna points out that since Dragonbait smells and she cannot smell anything, Evelyn assumes he is a mute.

Klauth is surprised at the frost giants arrival. The hand skitters free.

Paultin puts up the waffle hut. Diath wants in.

Bag of Nails jumps on Klauth's back.

The giants attack Klauth! The dragon is actually bloodied! It flies 80 feet up.

The group runs. They want to actually flee INTO the tomb to escape the chaos.

Diath uses his horn of blasting, blowing a hole in the wall of a building. The heroes flee right through. The hand comes with them.

Paultin has a crown of madness on a black-scaled yuan-ti, which forces it to attack its allies and then the dragon.

Bag of Nails ends up back on the airship. He busts out a crossbow. He has an arrow of dragon slaying! He does 47 points of damage. Klauth lets out a horrible wail and flies away.

Uh oh.. the frost giant leader has the hand with the ring on it.

Bag of Nails flies the airship and chases the dragon. Looks like he'll be a guest star on a future Acquisitions Inc adventure?

Strix casts a fifth level fireball spell and kills the two frost giant flunkies! The female leader is hurt but still alive.

That's where we stop.

Overall

Good show!

PAX South is this week. Chris will be running the live game.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Dragon+ Issue 17

You can read this issue here.

This issue is holiday-themed an feel quite a bit shorter than the others. 

We start off with a tribute to Dawn Murwin, who's been working as an art director for 25 years. She is apparently married to Dana Knutson, the artist who designed the Lady of Pain.

Interview with Adam Rex, who did the cover art. He made a book called "Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich", which is pretty awesome.

Adventure Crafting: This is an interview with Dani Hartel. She was on Dice Camera Action (and was awesome, IMO) and he makes the costumes for the Acquisitions, Inc. shows.

There's... a link to a pdf that allows you to make your own puzzle cubes!! I am doing this. Clear my schedule! There's also an interview with Mazzmatazz, who makes D&D monsters out of yarn and ran a hilarious Christmas adventure on Twitch a few weeks ago.

Character Spotlight: We get Strix's character sheet! She's level 9. Her sorcerer powers became active after she spent time living with Baba Yaga. I hope we learn more about her time in Baba Yaga's hut at some point.

Behind the Screen - Roll For Success: Ethan Gilsdorf writes about the benefits of playing D&D. He says it gives tools for empathy. Can empathy be taught? In my experience, either you have it or you don't.


D&D Classic: We get pdf of some articles from old issues of Dragon. One is a write-up of D&D Santa. Another is a gamma world article.

The third is a 5e update of a 3e article! The pdf looks as official as can be. It's a mini adventure, complete with new monsters like "gnome toymaker" and magic items. OK.. I don't like holiday-themed adventures, but the Yule Log made me laugh out loud. I am using that!!

Maps of the Month: Free Maps of the tomb of the nine gods!!

Best of the DMs Guild: Interviews with the Guild Adepts! They talk a lot about the collaboration process, and how it requires structure but usually leads to much better results.

Overall

Short, right? This is worth it for the maps and the adventure pdf.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Interview with RPG Author Craig Campbell

 

You can check out Murders & Acquisitions right here.
You can get the CAPERS preview right here.

Recently, I reached out to ask some RPG professionals to play on one of my Youtube shows. One of them is Craig Campbell, a man who's written a pile of D&D stuff and is now making his own RPG products.

I really wanted Craig on my show because I love his version of Baba Yaga's Hut and I think his nerdburger podcast is hilarious.

I was even able to interview him! I wanted to pick his brain and learn more about D&D and RPG stuff. Here's what I got.


How did you get into freelancing for Wizards of the Coast?


"I went to college with Jason Bulmahn and he became an organizer for Living Greyhawk back in 1999/2000. He had me write a module for the Highfolk region."

"Eventually, I wrote a feature article for Dragon Magazine when he was an editor at Paizo. Through him, I met Chris Tulach who had me write a few adventures for the RPGA. Around 2009, I started freelancing in earnest. My name sort of got passed up the line to other folks at WotC, which got me work writing for the website as well as both digital magazines during the 4e period."

"I pitched a lot of ideas and got a few accepted, but much of my work came from specific assignments. Also, WotC pitched a list of things they’d like to see to regular freelancers and I picked up a few of those articles and adventures."

You knew Jason Bulmahn in college? Did you game together? What RPGs did you play?


"We were both going to school for architecture. We actually met playing Magic: the Gathering at a hobby shop across the street from the college. Eventually we were each playing in each others’ games. We played a lot of D&D but also some Vampire, Call of Cthulhu, Deadlands, and even tried Rolemaster."


Tell me a little about Murders & Acquisitions.


"It’s a game of subterfuge, espionage, intrigue, theft, and murder in an absurd, over-the-top corporate world. Characters are literally backstabbing their way to the corner office. It’s filled with hyperbole and not meant to be taken too seriously."

"The game system is a custom one I designed. Pretty simple dice versus target number but with a few other things added in to make things fun when dice hit the table. The character sheet looks like a resume and features skills like Loss Mitigation, Force Application, and Resource Management."

Can you give an example of how to work monsters into a Murders & Acquisitions adventure?

"The optional stuff for monsters is built around the idea that monsters exist in this version of the world. So any of the intelligent monsters, particularly those that pass for human, can be actual corporate officers and workers. Some of the monsters have descriptions of how they’re used by corporations."

"For example, the cockroach people are used as scavengers and cleaners. Some of the bigger monsters might be employed as bodyguards or to watch over sensitive technology or information."

Do you have any good campaign stories about sessions of Murders and Acquisitions that you have run?

"In the magic and monsters variant of the game, there’s a monster called a thumpster. It’s basically a mimic that looks a big, green, trash dumpster. I had a character prepping to throw a lit Molotov cocktail at the thing in an alleyway when it opened its maw and pulled him inside it with its trash-tentacle tongue. Then the cocktail exploded. Things went poorly."


Tell me a little about CAPERS.


"CAPERS is a super-powered game of 1920s gangsters. You play gangsters looking to make their fortunes in the Prohibition era of the US, but you have mid-range superpowers. And so do your rivals. And so do the feds."

In CAPERS, you use a poker deck in place of die rolls. Have you thought about making a custom deck of cards to use in the game?

"Already done. When the Kickstarter goes live (Tuesday, March 6, 2018), you’ll see more specifics, but suffice to say there is a CAPERS-themed deck of playing cards that will be available. If the Kickstarter does well, the face cards will feature portraits of NPCs from the game."

Any good CAPERS playtest/campaign stories?

"During playtests, I was trying out different scales of combats to run the system through its paces. I had five players and we’d been playing for a few sessions when I introduced a big combat. Five super-powered characters versus four super-powered foes along with five weaker mooks. The whole thing took about an hour. It was my first chance to see that big combats aren’t necessarily going to bog down."

"I’ve had multiple playtesters tell me the system is very engaging. When you roll dice, you often roll it, look at the number, determine what that does, and move on. In CAPERS, you can flip multiple cards on your turn, but each time you flip one, you have a choice to make. Players really get into it, including paying attention to other players’ turns and giving advice on whether they should flip another card."

In Murders & Acquisitions, you play as ruthless, backstabbing corporate types. In CAPERS, you play as a super-powered gangsters. It seems like the players are playing some fairly villainous character types in both games. Why did you make that choice?

"I didn’t make a conscious choice. It occurred to me that my first two games are about playing “bad people” a few months back. It just sort of happened. I guess maybe I find “bad people” and antiheroes more intriguing with more potential for character depth. Or maybe I just like to pretend to be a bad person. Hard to tell, really."

What do you plan on doing once CAPERS is released?

"I’ve started designing a GM-less, dice-lite, narrative-heavy story game called Die Laughing. You play characters in a horror comedy movie and you’re all gonna die. It’s just a matter of when and how funny it is. Even after your character is gone, there are things for you to keep you involved in telling the story. A single session only lasts 1-2 hours, depending on the number of players."

"I have a few other ideas floating around my head, including a couple that DON’T involve the players portraying “bad people.” There are some heroics in there somewhere."


Dungeon #177: Nightmares Unleashed


This one has Blando maps! Do you get to pick who makes the maps?

"I never had a say in which cartographer or artist worked on my adventures. Though I did write some of the art orders during the later projects, so I had some say in what the artwork would look like. And I had to submit my own crudely drawn maps which people like Jared Blando would then make much nicer."

Redra's Nightmare is listed as a devil. Is the nightmare something conjured up by her dreams, or did that devil exist prior to all of the nightmare episodes?

"I imagine the devil existed previously but didn’t have a way to exert influence until it latched onto Kirstal’s (and then Redra’s) dreams."

The nightmare monster serves a devil currently trapped in the plane of dreams who believes that it will be killed by Redra's daughter when she is grown. Did you have a particular devil in mind? Is it a new pseudo-archdevil?

"Given that this was a side trek adventure, I didn’t have plans for the devil beyond that little adventure. I suppose it could be an “up and comer” devil that could turn into a recurring villain if you were to devise a way for it to keep coming back. If it’s a devil that’s specifically tied to recurring nightmares, it’s only appropriate that it be very difficult to kill once and for all."

Dungeon 193: The Beached Leviathan


Did you come up with this?

"I had told WotC I was open to doing quick pick-up work when an author had to drop out for real life reasons. The only time this happened for me was right in the middle of working on Baba Yaga’s Dancing Hut. The Tavern Profile series was still running then and they wanted something to tie into Neverwinter. So I crunched this article out in two evenings and then went back to Baba Yaga."

Any ideas on how someone could turn a person's shadow against them? A ritual? Infusing an actual shadow (monster) into the person's shadow?

"Using a ritual is kind of the default for something like this, but I feel it lacks flavor. Maybe a side trek to the plane of shadow to commiserate with a being that lives there and convince it to inhabit an enemy’s shadow."

"Or if a shadow is the “negative” of a person, maybe you give up a little part of yourself, your soul, to create the shadow being. This could be part of a pact with a greater being (like what warlocks do) or an ability in a devious artifact."

Dungeon 196: Baba Yaga's Dancing Hut


Why did you change Elena the Fair to Elena the Mad?

"In previous iterations of the hut, Elena is generally mentioned only in passing. She’s a blonde and she’s kind. I wanted to twist her up a bit. Spending centuries with Baba Yaga should do things to you. So I built on how her sister Natasha had left the hut and Baba Yaga was off trying to become an archfey, leaving Elena all alone and eventually going a little mad."


What is your take on the connection between Natasha the Dark and Iggwilv?

"My understanding is that Natasha the Dark left the hut and eventually BECAME Iggwilv. Dream Natasha, who is still in the hut, was conjured out of Elena’s madness at missing her sister."

Did you refer at all to the 2nd edition Baba Yaga adventure?

"My adventure is a reimagining of the classic 1984 Dragon magazine adventure “The Dancing Hut” by Roger Moore. The bulk of the layout is the same, just with a few things repurposed. The inhabitants are similar, though some changes took place translating an AD&D 1st edition adventure to 4th edition. Certain monsters didn’t match power level. Some didn’t exist in 4e (allowing me to create a few). And a bunch of new stuff came out of 4e design principles."

Did you consider taking the tank out of the adventure?


"Gods, no! Part of the charm of the adventure is that it expands Baba Yaga’s world hopping to our actual real world. I even briefly considered writing rules for using it. But that felt a little too Barrier Peaks to me."

Did you run this adventure?

"I ran two playtests, though we never made it through all the rooms in either playtest. I focused on things that needed actual playtesting, like some of the random stuff and the curses. I didn’t concern myself with most of the combats, since 4e design principles already had CR and EL and all that stuff worked out."

Dungeon #207: Starhaunt - with Chris Perkins



How did this work? Did Chris write an outline that you worked from? What was it like working with Chris?

"This adventure came from a list of things WotC folks wanted to see in the magazine. I’m 99% certain Chris Perkins put it on that list. I designed the whole thing and submitted it."

"Normally, anything submitted by an author goes through a certain amount of development before reaching its final form."

"Chris added and modified so much that he felt it warranted a co-design credit and I agree. He got rid of a few parts that didn’t work all that well and added some really fun stuff."

Dungeon 217: A Rhyme Gone Wrong



This one has a whole sleep-theme going on. You've mentioned the plane of dreams in another adventure. Do you have a particular interest in the plane of dreams?

"I’m fascinated by dreams, mostly because I rarely remember mine in any detail and I have friends who have recounted very specific dreams. I even know someone who is adept at lucid dreaming, which makes me super jealous."

"In gaming, I like how dreams can be used to manifest things that don’t otherwise have rules for such a thing. I’ve used dreams a number of times as major plot points and important milestones in several campaigns I’ve run."

Thanks to Craig! You can check out CAPERS right here.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Dice, Camera, Action Episode 75 - Tomb of Annihilation

Episode 75: Apex Predator
First show of the new year!

 The Party

(Matthew Lillard) Bag of Nails - Tabaxi Hunter
(Anna) Evelyn - Human Paladin of Lathander
(ProJared) Diath - Human Rogue
(Holly) Strix - Tiefling Sorcerer
(Nathan) Paultin - Human Bard

The waffle crew is in the Lost City of Omu. We're in the huge final section of the Tomb of Annihilation adventure.

Paultin is wearing the ring of winter, a very powerful and evil magic item. A red dragon named Klauth is demanding that he hand it over.

When we start the session, Klauth is flying 180 feet away from the group.

Chris notes that Klauth can smell treasure from thousands of miles away.

Evelyn tries to parlay with the dragon. "We're real good at negotiating.."


Klauth says he just flew thousands of miles and boy are his wings tired. Everybody is quite revitalized from the Christmas break.

Bed of Nails sits crosslegged and tells the dragon how proud he would be to be slain by it. He's trying to stall so that the group can have time to figure out what to do.

They are near a wall that can be climbed over. Paultin says has an idea about what to do here. He doesn't want to hand over the ring of winter, not at all. I don't think we ever find out what this plan is in this session.

Strix casts death ward on Paultin and runs toward Diath, who is heading for a partially-collapsed wall.

Paultin also tries to parlay. He calls up to the dragon: "My dude!" Paultin makes a vague offer.. share the ring of winter? Persuasion check: 25! Hmm... No, the dragon isn't biting.

Guess who shows up? The Acquisitions, Inc airship! It is manned by members of the C-Team! The ship comes up over the trees and drifts toward the dragon!

There are 3 figures on the deck of the ship: A half-elvish woman. a gnome or halfling in a vest, and manning a harpoon gun is a tiefling. I'm ashamed to say that i am not up on my Acq Inc, not sure who these NPCs are.

The ring of winter is evil and sentient. It wants nothing do with Klauth and does not want to end up sitting in its hoard.

Klauth grabs Paultin and holds him in front of his mouth. Paultin tries a whole bunch of lies, but Klauth doesn't buy it. Paultin casts cone of cold right in Klauth's face! "Plan B, my dude"

Bag of Nails hits the dragon and causes it to drop Paultin.There was some grumbling in the chat about this, which I'll talk about at the end.

The dragon breathes on Bag of Nails and does 91 points of damage. Bag is still up!

The group is running away. Paultin dimension doors to safety. Bag of Nails stays where he is and hits the dragon again.

The heroes are fleeing into a maze. The yuan-ti show up and attack the dragon. Klauth is not using his wands.

Klauth collapses a wall on the group. All but Diath are buried. The yuan-ti are buried, too.

Strix casts gaseous form and escapes the rubble. Paultin notices that a snake (a yuan-ti in snake form) is crawling over his body. I wonder if it is going to stow away in Paultin's pack and transform at a later time?

Bag of Nails gets on the ship and is ready to fire the harpoon.

Klauth stomps on the rubble. Then he reaches down and clears the rocks that were pinning Paultin.

Evelyn is pinned. Strength check: Natural 20! She explodes out and is free!

Paultin considers handing over the ring. Nope. We learn that he is, in fact, under control of the evil entity

Diath helps Paultin up and tries to steal the ring! Paultin refuses to hand it over. Chat is angry that the sleight of hand didn't work. Paultin rolled a 32.

That's where we stop.

Overall

Very good show! I like how Chris runs his battles. As a DM, I always slip into "you roll, I roll" mode and forget to portray the combat as a scene rather than an encounter in an old Final Fantasy game.

Backseat DMing: When it comes to watching streaming D&D shows, it feels utterly wrong to criticize someone's DMing. As a DM, I know that people could tear me a new hole every single session when it comes to rules accuracy and leniency. So far, D&D fans have been extremely polite and haven't done much griping at all on the DCA streams.

The show is getting bigger and I am thinking that the bigger it gets, the more we will see of a certain amount of "backseat DMing".

Suboptimal Klauth: Klauth held back. He could have just bit Paultin's hand off (the hand with the ring) and flew away. The ring wouldn't be digested, as it is nearly impossible to destroy the ring of winter (see Tomb of Annihilation page 208).

Why didn't he? Who knows. You got the sense Chris was looking for a specific scene to play out, but the group wasn't reacting as he anticipated. He was walking a tightrope, trying to get that scene without overtly railroading the players.

Scrambling: Then, when Paultin tried to steal the ring, Jared rolled a 32 on his check and still failed. A 32 is insanely high, far higher than what is necessary for attempting an extremely difficult task. If it's impossible to do, why have him roll?

I think most of us have been in this spot. Chris might have been quietly trying to keep up and adjust to unforeseen events. Things happen so fast in the game! When you're caught off guard, you make decisions off the cuff that might not look right in retrospect.

In this case, though, the effort hinged on whether Paultin was willing to let the ring be taken. Chris specifically asked Nate, and Nate said no.

Skill Checks: In general, there seems to be a bit of outrage whenever someone rolls a 25+ on a skill check and Chris says they don't succeed.

On one hand, I get the outrage. But on the other hand, if Klauth innately knows where the ring is located, tricking the dragon into thinking that the ring is somewhere else through sleight of hand isn't going to work no matter what.

You can try anything with a skill check, but some things are just impossible. Sometimes, the hero won't know that and will try anyway. In this case, the player forgot that Klauth could magically sense the ring.

Creating the Uber DM: I would caution anyone to be careful when criticizing Chris or anyone's DMing, especially if you yourself have only been DMing for a few years!

I recommend instead that you learn from what they're doing and figure out ways to avoid making the mistakes you think other DMs are making.

The fact that we can now watch hundreds of DMs means that a new breed of ultra-DM should rise up, better than anybody who's ever DMed before. Focus on becoming the best and try to keep the criticism constructive.