So You Want To Be a Master(mind)?

I have now spent maybe 8-10 sessions in Tomb of Annihilation playing a Stout Halfling Rogue with the Mastermind archetype.  I wanted to give some thoughts on playing this archetype.  And the reason would be because the Mastermind has a pretty bad reputation.

To quote Total Party Thrill:

“Take anything but Mastermind.”

“If you want to be terrible at everything…”

“The flavorful abilities replace the mechanical advantages.”

“What were they thinking?  Like this is published.”

“It is awful.”

The thing is I can’t say these statements are wrong.  The Swashbuckler, Scout, and Assassin all seem to make more effective and powerful characters.

I don’t really want to get into another long winded essay about why I like rogues but I will say that I was not happy with how the final 5E Rogue came out in the PHB.  The PHB Thief and Assassin both play like someone’s very specific idea of a Thief and an Assassin.  Honestly I probably should have gone with the Eldritch Trickster for the flexibility spellcasting provides.  I’ve never been crazy about half-casting though.

Let this just be a brief overview of my experiences playing this archetype.  I am currently level 10, with nine levels of Rogue, one level of Knowledge Cleric.  I honestly have not had any reason to use any archetype features other than Master of Tactics.  They have not come up in the Tomb of Annihilation.  I also haven’t gotten a lot of use with Master of Tactics because the party I’m with is predominantly spellcasters.  But I use this ability almost every turn.  And it has turned some hits to misses.  I think if I was a party with a melee class or even someone trying to cast disintegration I think this guy would feel like a godsend.  The few nights we’ve had a Swashbuckler in the party it has been great.

It’s an ability I use every turn to give someone else a d20.  I wish the Mastermind had Panache but you know what, I like it.  It doesn’t feel too weak because it’s a Mastermind.  It can feel weak because the Spellcasters dominate the game with hordes of skeletons, conjured animals, and massive AOEs.  But I like the fact that after one or two encounters they’re looking around going, “Hey should we take a long rest?” and I’m still good to go.  I think the principle cost to the Mastermind is opportunity cost of not being another type of rogue.  But I’m not really sure what I’m missing.

It does feel a bit weak in combat at times which is why I spent some DM rewards to get up to level 10 while the rest of the party is 7-9.  The big reason I think it feels weak is that compared to other players who play more Adventurer’s League, I have fewer magic items, at least fewer broken ones that have the potential to turn an encounter.  I blew some downtime to get a +1 bow because every time we go for a long rest we first get jumped by Flesh Golems.  I’m all for resistance  to PC damage but if you want to do multiple encounters with an enemy that’s immune to non-magical damage then either running needs to be a viable option (which the rest of this all magic party won’t agree with) or there has to be a magic weapon somewhere.  With an all-magic party and no magic weapons running into Flesh Golems every week would just leave me holding my dick in my hands doing the dodge action if I didn’t have the bow.  But that’s adventure design instead of a flaw in the mastermind.  I’d be in the same boat with any martial class.  Really, a lot of the challenges we’ve encountered in the Tomb part of Tomb of Annihilation have required magical solutions or they’re player challenging puzzles.  There isn’t much a working rogue can do but point out the solutions to more competent PCs.

Earlier in the week I was watching the C-Team episode where they go visit the Dragonborn of Skolla.  They try to talk their way into the gates only to get tripped up when the Dragonborn mock Rosie’s atrocious Draconic accent.  Now in that case, The DM just kind of let it slide.  It didn’t hold them back.  But The Mastermind can mimic accents.  Yesterday I was watching Dice Camera Action and the party sent Paultin to scout on a Zhentarim ship following their ship.  Paultin is basically playing Deadpool this episode with jokey fourth wall breaking and barely stumbles through the scene.  Had they sent Tando Tossbottle, with his expertise in Deception and Persuasion and Insightful Manipulator, mayhaps the situation would have gone differently.

The point is that there’s a place for this kind of character.  It might not be in the Tomb of Annihilation.  But I’m still having fun.  And if this was a home game and I was clearly falling behind, I’d feel okay asking the DM for a little more punch.  And in this AL game, I think I’m doing fine.  I think taking a level of Knowledge Cleric really helps the Mastermind lean into a supporting character role.  After a long ass fucking day of work I’m comfortable sliding into that rather than trying to run the show.  As the Grand Nagus once said, “You don’t seize power, you accumulate it.”  The Mastermind works fine as a supporter/controller/leader rogue.  It’s not the “Striker” that the Swashbuckler or Assassin is.  It’s not as good a controller/leader as say, The Bard but I’m happy with it.  In a more martial party this thing would shine brighter.  Perhaps someday it will.

The Mark of Mercy – Synopsis of the Story Untold

I just got back from vacation and I find myself tired.  I want to unburden myself of things.  One of those things is that I’ve had this D&D campaign inside my head and in notes for about a year now.  It’s like a relationship I can’t let go of because there are still things I want to do in it.  I’ve decided I want to get these thoughts written down and then move on.  After this post, I’m archiving this campaign and moving on to new ones.  If you want them, here they are.  This is the red pill folks.  Take it and I show you how far the rabbit hole goes.  If you do not want to know the lore and direction for my D&D campaign, The Mark of Mercy, please stop reading now.

First, a recap.

A bit more than two years ago I started running Curse of Strahd.  When we completed that book we wanted to continue the story and there was golden opportunity that came up during the book to do just that.

This will be spoilers for Curse of Strahd but I have mentioned this before.  Part of the adventure is a dungeon called The Amber Temple.  In this place are a number of different sarcophagi made entirely of Amber.  These great rectangular blocks of the stuff.  And the walls and doors of the temple interior are also coated with amber.  Inside each Sarcophagus is a tiny mote of utter darkness.  Picture a bug or a leaf that gets caught in Amber.  And these are vestiges of the Dark Powers of Ravenloft.  They are gods caught and trapped and they offer gifts/curses to those that try to talk to them in the Ravenloft campaign setting.

The temple has a few other relevant features.  It was built by wizards long ago, they’ve since gone insane and turned on one other and now guard the temple as flameskulls.  There is a lich in the temple who has forgotten everything it once knew.  Also near the temple is the base for an order of paladins led by a Silver Dragon.  Their mission, before Strahd wiped them out, was to guard the temple.

So what happened is that there is a Cursed Staff of Frost very close to the entrance of the temple.  The curse forces the bearer to covet power.  So naturally, the character that picked it up started taking on the gifts of the Dark Powers.  Each time you take a gift you make a saving throw and if you fail you become evil and an NPC.  As this is divine work there is no way to remove this in Curse of Strahd, this is basically a death sentence.

But that’s no fun.  So I got an idea.  There is a room of Dark Powers, separate from the others, that grants significantly more powerful gifts than the rest of the temple.  One gift grants you the power to cast Resurrection, one time, on anyone no matter how old the corpse.  One nameless god can make you a vampire, this is what Strahd did.

Then there is one Sarchophagus inhabited by a Dark Power named Tenebrous.  In Curse of Strahd, it can make you a lich if you can cast 9th level spells.  As a level 9-10 dungeon, that is impossible in Curse of Strahd.  But for reasons I’ll get into, I had Tenebrous offer this evil PC a choice:  Free them and Tenebrous will wipe your marker clean.  No more curses, no more gifts.  Above the table, this was something I offered to the player so that they didn’t have an unplayable evil character.  And I knew this was the hook for the sequel campaign.  Everyone defeated Strahd, great, now let’s go hunt down that evil god that we accidentally released into the world.

I decided to set the sequel in Eberron since I know that published setting better than Forgotten Realms or some homebrew setting.  I had some ideas that were very Eberron specific.  So the way we got there was, after defeating Strahd, the Wizard Mordenkainen, who is in Curse of Strahd as an NPC, offered to telelport the players on to an oracle to find this escaped God.  I think I said he would send them to Heimdall on Asgard, as he knows everything in the universe.

But instead, the PCs wake up on Eberron.  They find themselves in a floating castle under attack and repel the invaders.  They are told that they are in Arcanix, a wizard school/research facility.  The wizards there have just cast the “Conjure Mightiest Heroes Spell.”  See, the kingdom that Arcanix is a part of, (Aundair) just got through a century long war and finished 4th out of the 5 combatants.  They are riven and they need help.  So their wizards cast a long and involved spell to try and bring forth the strongest heroes in all existence to help  them out.  They wanted The Avengers, They got the PCs.

Their first mission was to go rescue the students that had been kidnapped from Arcanix by the raiders.  The Raiders were members of a group called The Order of the Emerald Claw.  They seemed to be trying to open some kind of gate full of Aberrations and needed magical blood to do so.  They were also working with a Dragon.  The PCs stopped them and rescued some of the hostages, most notably Wrey ir’Wynarn, sister to Queen Aurala ir’Wynarn.  This gets the PCs in good with the military brass in Aundair.

This is the first paragraph of many where I need to stop and explain to you, the audience, lore about what’s going on the world beyond the adventure itself.  The Dragon the PCs met was not actually a true dragon, but an Emerald Claw warrior who was permanently Polymorphed into this form by a wizard known as Mordain The Fleshweaver.  Mordain’s grasp of the spell was imperfect so the dragon kept changing color when he recharged its breath weapon and also started to “Get Aberrant” when it got low on HP.  Eberron does not have much in the way of powerful untouchable NPCs like the Forgotten Realms, but there are a few, normally one or so per faction.  Mordain basically cut a deal with the Emerald Claw that they would break into a vault in Aundair to bring him a potion he wanted to make super soldiers with, and they would also agree to break into this Aberrant Gate for him since he wanted that magic for himself.

The PCs also found two prophecies, one in Arcanix and one at the Emerald Claw base, that seemed relevant to their situation.  The prophecies foretold of something called the Epilogos and how to stop it.  Later, at a feast to celebrate their return, the PCs spoke to a divination wizard who happened to have a Tarokka deck.

Also at this time, some members of the party began to develop Dragonmarks, these magical tattoos that are important in Eberron.  I assigned different powers to the PCs that wanted Dragonmarks and the PCs that set Tenebrous loose I decided would develop the Dragonmark of Death, a mark of ill repute that will be important later.

The original Tarokka reading tells the PCs where in Barovia they might find The Tome of Strahd, The Holy Symbol of Ravenkind, and the Sunsword.  This reading told them where they might find three items that could be combined into an artifact to bind this escaped god and prevent the Epilogos.

I was not clear enough in game what the Epilogos was.  See, Eberron has this thing called the Draconic Prophecy.  It is this million year old chain of events that basically gives the DM carte blanche to have anything happen for any reason.  I decided that Epilogos would be the end of the Draconic Prophecy.  Past this point, nothing is predicted.  Everything eventually gets to this one bottleneck where creation itself ends.  This is the literal apocalypse.  Naturally the dragons are somewhat divided on if this is even real, when does it happen, can it be prevented, should it be prevented?

The Three Items they needed for this fetch quest were:

  • The Skull of a Holy Man
  • A Staff of Pure Adamantine
  • A Large Dragonshard.

Then there were three people they were prophesized to have this things, in order.

  • A Bishop, his flesh melting in Silver Flame (This was meant to be the evil Archbishop of Thaliost, Solgar Dariznu, but they PCs found and killed High Cardinal Martel Krozen instead).
  • A small man standing above tall towers (Saidan Boromar, head of the Boromar Clan).
  • A Drow woman whipping a captive (The Queen of the Umbragen).

This is pretty much where the campaign ended.  In a perfect world, the PCs would’ve done some more missions for Aundair to level up, get magic items, learn about the world of Eberron.  From here on I must speculate where the campaign would have gone and where I intended to push it.  It is a mistake to plan a campaign too far in advance.  You want the campaign to respond to the players rather than being a set of linear encounters for them to play through.  So what follows is my vision of where I saw things going.  Of course I would have changed things up to make the best possible and most engaging stories for the players.

In the City of Towers, Sharn, Saidan Boromar is the head of the Boromar Clan, a group of halflings that is basically The Mafia in Eberron.  I like this NPC, I envisioned him talking like Bill the Butcher.  He had a few quirks, like he would have informants polymorphed into rats and then petrified to put in his office as decorations.  In Eberron, halflings ride dinosaurs so he has a big T-Rex head in his kitchen.  His initial meeting with the PCs he would be cooking for the family in a scene I wanted to rip out of the film, Munich.  I also thought maybe he would be suffering from the Death Curse, like in Tomb of Annihilation.  Tomb came out about 8 months ago as of this writing and there was some great stuff in there I wanted to steal.  But I was undecided on the death curse.

The Adventure would be, Saidan Boromar is willing to give the PCs this specific staff of adamantine they seek if they will help him in his mob war against Daask.  Daask is a gang of ogres, goblins, and other monstrous humanoids.  Their hidden base would also reveal their connection with Mordain the Fleshweaver and his super soldier potions that the Order of the Emerald Claw were seeking to perfect and release.  This would be a straight up dungeon crawl to wipe this mob out, or maybe the PCs betray Saidan Boromar.  Daask also had a connection to a coven of hags which would’ve made the warlock uneasy with wiping them out.

Saidan Boromar or Cavallah, the Daask leader, would’ve also given the PCs the location of Ouroborus, a lost city of gold said to be somewhere in Xen’Drik.  This would be the best place to seek out the Drow Queen, the NPCs would argue.

As part of the reward for whatever they did in Sharn the PCs would also secure passage on an airship to Xen’Drik, the jungle continent and home to the Drow elves.  On board the airship they would have a murder mystery.

This would be the part where I start ripping off sections from Tomb of Annihilation as the PCs make their way to the lost city of Ouroborus.  On the way they would learn that Xen’Drik is weird and also full of giants and Drow.  I had this vision that the PCs would finally arrive in the lost city and see the glint of golden buildings only to find that they’re actually coated in Amber.  DUN DUN DUN.

This is where the plot starts to kick into high gear.  In Ouroborus, the PCs find the Umbragen, a clan of Drow that draw their immense magical power from something they call “The Umbra.”  This kind of well of Black Tears.  But the well is drying up, if the PCs restore it, they’ll give up the Dragonshard.  So the PCs would go underground to find the source of this black magical ichor and realize they’ve found another Amber Temple. DUN DUN DUN.  Okay I’ll stop that.

This temple is laid out exactly like the one in Barovia leaving no doubt that it was constructed by a similar group.  And inside the temple I thought it would be cool to have it guarded by Giant Lich.  That’s cool right?  They also find one amber sarcophagus but there’s a twist, instead of containing a black mote inside the Amber it contains a physical body, a huge creature half spider, half woman.

The Lich is here to serve two purposes.  One, it can forge the items the PCs have brought into an artifact capable of binding a god.  It’s also here to provide the exposition on what the Amber Temples are for, from the Giant’s Perspective.

The sarcophagus in this temple contains the physical remains of an immortal being continuously leaking blood that the drow are drawing their magic from.  The body is separated from its soul to keep it inert, although it is still powerful.

The Giant Lich is part of an ancient pact called the Fidelis Lumen ac Tenebrous.  It was made at the dawn of time between these great powers some call Gods to keep them from being too destructive.  When one of these powers or gods interferes directly in the world they are bound in the sap of Ydrissal, the World Tree, body and soul split for all eternity.  This keeps the Gods in line.

But since this fell more heavily on the Evil Gods, the forces of good would have to sacrifice their champions, called the Fidelis, to guard these prisons.  And thus was the pact of light and darkness made.  But, it was reasoned, they still needed something to do.  And so these imprisoned gods were set over jails themselves for the worst beings in all existence.  Strahd was their prisoner meant to keep these imprisoned gods busy.

Argynvost the Silver Dragon of Barovia was a Fidelis.  His body, and later his spirit, was bound to the Amber Temple to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.  Of course he failed, eventually.

The Giant Lich would normally be obligated to slay the PCs but their coming was prophesized.  He tells them that the Rage of War is loose.  The Power named Ral Tukesh.  He does not know the name, Tenebrous, but these evil gods will often lie to get what they want and guard their secrets.  He tells the PCs that Ral Tukesh’s spirit is somewhere in The Mournland, a blighted part of Eberron likely trying to recover its body.  Likely it was the coming of Ral Tukesh that caused this land to become blighted.  If a dark power is re-united with its body, Apocalypse follows.

The PCs enter the Mournland which four years ago was a prosperous nation called Cyre and one of the combatants at war with Aundair.  Then one day it ended, everyone died and the entire place became surrounded by mist just like Barovia.  Yet while the “real” Barovia just faded away into a demi-plane, the Mournland is still here and full of dangerous weird monsters.

The PCs come upon a group of Warforged, constructs built to fight in war, that they realize came from within the Mournland which is supposed to be impossible.  They find a facility called Whitehearth, where magical experiments were done before the Mournland came into existence.  It turns out it was built atop, you guessed it, another Amber Temple.  The people here tried to tap into this source of power but it seems to have backfired.  Inside is a gate to wherever Ral Tukesh is.

When the PCs go through the gate, they find themselves in the Dark Sun Campaign Setting.  This I ripped off from Total Party Thrill because this was a much better idea than what I had in mind.

What I decided happened was that when Ral Tukesh was free from Barovia, it did what dark powers do and sought to make a pact.  It found Queen Dannel ir’Wynarn of Eberron.  She wanted the strength to save her nation from war.  So Ral Tukesh created a demiplane of dread for her which turns out to be a hellscape desert that will never be free from war (Dark Sun).  Dannel has stripped the entire country of metal and wood to fashion an army of warforged, some of which have made it out.  The Lord of Blades is one of these.  She believes that once her army is rebuilt and ready she’ll march out to conquer Eberron and win the war.  But since she’s a Dark Lord, it will never actually happen.

The PCs find that while outside the Mournland is four years old, in here it is nearly four thousand years later.  Because this is a demiplane and warped arcane magic harms living creatures and defiles the land.  There’s no metal, it’s all been commandeered down to the last kettle for Dannel’s warforged.  There are several warring city-states led by former generals who fight against Dannel.  The place is one great mess designed to please the Rage of War, Ral Tukesh.

I envision the PCs fighting their way to Dannel’s castle and encountering Ral Tukesh itself deep within.  Since this is a desert world, I thought the final encounter would be in this great water filled chamber, Dannel’s cistern.  Inside Ral Tukesh awaits, and I thought it would use the stats of Olhydra from Princes of the Apocalypse.

The PCs return to the material realm at this point only to realize they’ve made a terrible mistake.  See they forgot something they saw in the Amber Temple.  This is a picture of the map they were on the time.

Ral Tukesh was gone from the Amber Temple before they ever got there.  The Mournland wasn’t their fault.  Those millions of people that died?  Not the PCs.  But Tenebrous needed a living host to get out of Barovia.  It’s been possessing that PC the whole time, weighing on her soul, a shadow at the corner of her eyes.  And now, it has a body powerful enough to claim here in Whitehearth.  And the PCs have done it the kindness of rebuilding its wand, charging it with the soul of a god, and fulfilling the prophecy to herald its return.  When they return to the material plane the Mournland is gone but Tenebrous steps forward to reveal that its true name is Orcus.  And it is here to end all life in the universe.

This is when the other inspiration for this campaign can be revealed, the Planescape adventure Dead Gods, itself a sequel to The Great Modron March.  In those adventures, the dead god Orcus comes back and calling itself Tenebrous it seeks to find The Wand of Orcus to reclaim its power.  It also starts killing gods with the Last Word, my inspiration for the Epilogos.

This is when the PCs should really be running.  It would be my intent to have this happen immediately after Olhydra’s defeat and I want the PCs to be scared as hell right now.

I’m not 100% certain how the next part of the adventure would work.  I’m thinking the PCs need to convince the leaders of the other nations to join them to stand against Orcus.  But this is when the other reveals start coming.

My idea regarding what Orcus intends to do is that each “world” for lack of a better term has a “Keystone” amber sarchophagus that serves as a direct conduit to Ydrissal the World Tree and maybe the rest of the multiverse.  If Orcus unleashes his power directly into that sarcophagus, everyone else dies.  I also thought that maybe the Tree itself is the sarcophagus for Nidhogg/Dendar/Khyber these are all these snakes said to have the power to end the world.

This would also be the point where it is revealed that the PC with the mark of death, Mercy, was specifically chosen for this purpose a long time ago.  See, in Eberron, the Mark of Death began appearing on this group of elves a long time ago.  They started producing Half-Dragon/Half-Elves one of whom, Erandis Vol, had untold power.  The Dragons feared this would lead to the Epilogos so they wiped out the bloodline of Vol.  They were right, but they were off by a few thousand years.  Mercy was a product of this and carried the blood of blue dragons and demons before she was hidden away in the Domain of Dread, which the mark of death provided access to.  They needed her specifically to open Orcus’s sarcophagus, no one else would’ve been able to do it.

I think the best and most fleshed out idea here though is that Orcus was the keystone for keeping Barovia together.  Orcus was, in essence, the lock on Strahd’s prison.  With Orcus gone, Strahd got loose when he returned, as he always does.  Upon his rebirth, Strahd was approached by the wizard Mordenkainen who was never really Mordenkainen.  He offered Strahd the chance for vengeance and to reclaim the soul of Tatyana, which Strahd thought the PCs still had in a ring of Mind Shielding.  Mordenkainen sent Strahd to Eberron a century ahead of the PCs where he founded the Order of the Emerald Claw and fought in the thick of the war until he eventually replaced King Kaius III and secretly took his place.  Strahd’s been in Eberron this whole time, actually helping the PCs so they bring back Orcus.  Because the deal was struck a long time ago that Orcus can have the multiverse, Strahd wants Barovia and Tatyana.

Mordenkainen, I would reveal, is actually a Rakshasa.  He is the actual warden of the prison that is Barovia.  It is his job to make sure Strahd suffers but he actually is the servant of Orcus.  He brought the PCs to Eberron and is assisting them in the guise of the Arcanix wizard, Nostromo Valar.  It’s his job to serve Orcus but it’s also his job to screw over Strahd at the last possible minute to prevent him from getting Tatyana’s soul.  The idea of sending Strahd to Eberron after her soul knowing that the PCs don’t have it would please him greatly.

This is actually something in Eberron.  Eberron does actually have these “fiendish overlords” that are the biggest big bads in the setting and they can be released as needed.  Each one has a Rakshasa servant.

Orcus needs to get to the most powerful Amber Sarcophagus on Eberron to end the multiverse which naturally is on Argonnessen, the continent of dragons.  Over the centuries, a cabal of evil dragons have conspired to gain control over the Pit of Five Sorrows, where the dragons’ most powerful secrets are held.  The PCs need to get there first where they have their epic confrontations with Orcus, Strahd, and the dragons.  Only they have the power to return Orcus, Ral Tukesh, and Strahd to Barovia.  But the gods must have their due.  At least one of them must make the ultimate sacrifice and return to Barovia to serve as the new Fidelis and remain there for all eternity.  This would give a bittersweet end to the campaign.

That is my campaign synopsis for The Mark of Mercy.  It would of course change to suit the needs of contact with the PCs.  For Strahd after 102 years of war I was planning to use something based on Grazz’t from Out of the Abyss to make him the appropriate final boss as the PCs fought him first atop the Pit of Five Sorrows (you can probably guess which draconic god is entombed there) then inside the Astral Plane between Eberron and Barovia.  That would’ve been a pretty epic final level 20 fight of first Orcus and then Strahd 2.0.  Doubtless this story is full of plot holes, lore that needs to be filled in.  Most importantly this story needs more connections to the other PCs, Lou Lou, Le Sprig, Vang, Bastian, and Mercy.  But this is just one idea.  Now I’m off to go write some others.

Avengers: Finite war

This will probably not be a long essay.

I am hard pressed to think of a Marvel movie I liked more than Infinity Wars.  Doctor Strange, Spiderman 2, Black Panther, Civil War, Avengers 1, Winter Soldier, these were all movies that, when I compare them, yeah I liked Infinity Wars more.

Yet, I found myself at the end of this movie struggling to give a fuck.



Who cares?  They’re going to bring back most of the cast next movie.  Black Panther made approximately the GDP of several small countries in a matter of weeks.  Despite their deaths in this movie, they’re not killing T’Challa, they’re not killing Tom Holland’s Spiderman, or Chris Pratt.  Gamora, Maria Hill, Heimdall, and Loki, they might’ve really bought the farm.  It feels weird to admit to myself that yeah, this was good, but  wow it is hard to feel invested in anything right now.  Maybe that’s the point?  Like, you leave this downer movie and text your spouse to hide the sharp objects.

I was surprised how well done Thanos was in this movie after being an overrated purple bitch in previous movies.  I guess Marvel has finally realized that treating their villains like real and equal characters in the story is the only way to get the audience to give a shit about them.

Was it weird for anyone else that Vision and Scarlet Witch were in a relationship since their actors are 17 years apart in age?  I realize that Vision is technically, like, 4 years old but come on.

The Guardians of the Galaxy parts of this movie kind of rubbed me wrong, especially in light of this excellent video on GOTG2 by Lindsay Ellis. Having Peter Quill and Gamora express their love in this movie feels like it cheapens the previous movie because they specifically did not wind up together for good reasons.  And playing up how terrible Thanos feels for killing Gamora in this movie doesn’t make him not horrible.  I’m sure plenty of domestic abusers feel some kind of pathos or sadness but that doesn’t validate the abuse or prioritize their feelings of an abuser over the survivor.

It was good.  But #NothingMatters so who gives a fuck.

The Nine Trickster Gods (As Related By Tando the Rogue)

Our DM, Gods bless them, has had to relay the legend of the Nine Trickster Gods to us at least 9 times over the 6 sessions in Tomb of Annihilation I’ve participated in.  I think I have finally memorized it by putting into my character’s words.  So, is proud to present Wizard of the Coast’s….

The Nine Trickster Gods of Omu (as described by Tando Tossbottle, Servant at the Court of Lord Protector Dagult Neverember, Halfling Mastermind, Cleric of Waukeen and Papazotl)

So a long time ago on a continent far far away, Ubtao had finally had enough of the Omuan’s shit.  He was leaving but the Nine Trickster Gods had agendas of their own.  The Zorbo koala bear thing made Ubtao a stew of all the good qualities the Omuans had.  But it had anxiety issues for which they should’ve sought treatment and asked the Rabbit-Unicorn to help make decisions.  The Unibunny added recklessness to the stew and Ubtao hated it.  So they had beef.

The Snake Jaguar (which is NOT the Jaculi) the Kamadan wanted to lance the negative qualities off like a boil and it was very literal minded so it made a spear to do it.  But a Grung stole it so the Kamadan chased the Grung across the stars.  That Grung was kind of dickish.

Meanwhile, Papazotl the Eblis, was really busy.  It was doing the gods’ taxes, seeing to business, my point is it was FUCKING BUSY.  But it still wanted to advocate on behalf of the Omuans so it asked the frog, can you please go talk to Ubtao?  I’ve got God Stuff to do.  Management is tough though, and the frog, not able to accomplish this basic task, decided to wrestle with Ubtao, which was possibly the exact opposite of what Papazotl asked it to do.  Ubtao was into sort of thing though and make the frog strong with tentacles.  When the Frog came back to Papazotl and he asked how it went, the frog, now a Froghemoth attacked Papazotl without provocation and chased it out their own home in the swamp.  Papazotl did nothing wrong and got screwed here.

Meanwhile an angry monkey monster named Wongo stole a pail of water from Ubtao because it was a jerk.  Moa the snake Jaculi snitched to Ubtao which is morally equivalent.

Also there was a Flail Snail.

Tomb Problems – Week 1 & 2

Latest sessions for Tomb of Annihilation are down and we have finally entered the tomb itself.  Oh mighty Waukeen please save us all.

After at least 30 minutes of bickering over which of the three tunnels we found would lead to an entrance and forcing the DM to tell the “Tale of the Nine Gods” at least twice we entered.  The Wizard immediately tugged a lever plunging everyone into a pit.  I tried to piton myself to the wall and the Other Wizard feather-falled everyone.

We were confronted with a big demon face which ate our 10 foot pole.  We went left and found a grate in the floor and a window in the tunnel.  Some familiar scouting revealed that beneath the grate was a river of sorts which led to a treasure chest suspended in the air in chains.  It said that only a great thief could open it in text.

Rather than break the window which had no other visible way to open it we went back past the demon face the other direction.  Some guy in a mask down some stairs glared at us.  Great, they know we’re here.  This room had three ways out.  We went through a trap into a room with a scared little girl in a flameskull which is kind of fucked up.  The Tortle took on the powers of one of the good trickster gods.

We went through path 2 of 3 and found a statue that attracted metal.  The Wizard/Cleric lost his magical armor as if to a rust monster and he was PISSED.  Like IRL livid.  He’s basically not going to participate from now on in the risk-taking.

We found a magic fountain with rewards greatly disproportionate to the risk attached to that Rust Room. Skip.

At some point we found a hallway with an adamantine propeller blade in front of a pressure plate.  You know, I’m by no means clever but I’m not going to feed myself to this fucking place.

The Rust Room looped back to that room with the window.  It was full of wights, we killed them.

These rooms didn’t really have a purpose beyond their treasure or a story that went past the room.  Although the Flameskull girl had a name and seemed to be asking pointed questions.

As others have said, the original Tomb of Horrors was a puzzle to see how well you meta-gamed D&D and the Proper Tomb of Annihilation is playing much the same way.  It strikes me that maybe the best way to proceed is to just check every 5 feet for traps and secret doors.  For me it comes down to patience.  Am I willing and able to say, “I check the floor and walls” every single step?  Probably not after getting off 12 hours of work and coming to a D&D game.

I had a lot of fun doing this kind of D&D but I think this has a shelf-life of about 3-4 weeks before it starts getting acrimonious.  Fortunately with this being a level 9-10 book with us being level 8-10 it should be about that long although people online seem to be going through this Tomb in exhausting detail for months.

It almost feels like it should not count.  Like the environment is so deadly and so capricious that it would seem unfair to lose a character or a magic item in this place.  I am completely expecting there to be a way to resurrect PCs at the end of this thing.

I’m having trouble writing long paragraphs because I find it tough to write about dungeons.  I can write about the story of a dungeon or adventure but the more tactical, mechanically inclined process of room by room is more like reporting than analyzing.  It is also difficult to say if these few rooms we’ve seen are “good.”  They have to be looked at in terms of their overall contribution to the adventure and we haven’t completed it yet.  I do find it helpful to write things like this because it helps me map the dungeon.  I suspect I’m the only one in our party keeping notes to map the dungeon which as I understand is a key component of a dungeon crawl.

So our second week in the Tomb I felt a bit more confident because I feel a bit more comfortable with the stakes of the Tomb.  And the answer is “EVERYTHING IS AWFUL TOUCH NOTHING LEST YE BE TOUCHED.”  I am resolved to not be the next person to take 40-70 damage from Waukeen only knows what.  And I felt I did a good job keeping track of where the rooms where in relation to each other.  I think for the future I’m going to make a flow chart rather than trying to recreate an accurate scale map.  This is only out of pure laziness.

We ended our last session having just walloped a pack of wights in a room with thrones.  This is apparently on the other side of that room with the non-opening window.  We seem to have done a loop around this first level.  For week two we found a secret door in this room that led to the underground river we discovered last week.  After it fireballed us we decided to follow the river to a treasure chest we saw last week scouting with familiars.

As it turned out, we had three rogues in the party all qualified to open treasure chests.  The First Rogue failed and the chest broke his fucking Thieves’ Tools.  Note to self, buy backup thieves tools when we return to town.  Thanks to my level of cleric, I was able to repair them.  I also got luckier on my check and opened the chest.  It had some money which is kind of worthless at this point and a scroll of remove curse.  It felt kind of anti-climactic and we must’ve spent a fucking hour arguing over how precisely to get to this thing.

This is the trouble with a trap heavy dungeon crawl.  The pace of the adventure sloooows to a fucking craaawwwwl.  When the adventure communicates that every five foot step is really important every movement takes forever as we cover our asses against backlash.

Since the Druid is capable of casting absolutely broken goddamn summoning spells in the water and we can punch well above our weight in that environment we elected to stick with the river and follow it.  It led to a waterfall that goes deeper in the dungeon.  I’m kind of leery of this because we’re probably skipping some rooms.  Normally in a dungeon you find stairs leading down.  I kind of doubt this waterfall connects to all the potential treasure.  But, having said that, the magic items thus far have been kind of bush league.  I doubt that we’re skipping anything to rival the Sun Sword.

In our travels down the river we found a stairway that led back to Flameskull girl room, it turns out that room had a secret door we never found.  This makes me feel better about skipping rooms, we’re never going to find everything in this fucking deathtrap, let’s just not sweat it.

So the DM has time to prep for the next level of the dungeon, we elected to head back to the suspicious adamantine blade room.  We used a wall of stone to cross the pressure plate after a rogue flew in and scouted the area and did not get murdered.  In the room itself we found another one of these god spirits.  To me, they seem way too much like the Dark Powers to trust but they do give the bearer a tangible benefit.  I’m holding out for the Eblis Papa Zotl which sounds like the Rogue Mastermind of the group.

Anyway, in this room are three chests and each one has a key that you get inside the chest to turn. The druid summoned some stuff to do this for us.  Which is good because the chests seem to deal 75 damage a pop to anyone inside them when the buttons outside the chests are pressed.  How the fuck are adventurers supposed to deal with that?  If you don’t have the right party or the right spells you are just fucked in this place.  And there is no way to mitigate this as far as I can tell, if you can’t magic your way out of a locked chest you are just fucked.  Then we find a mace of terror.  Folks, this is the third adventure I’ve seen with a Mace of Terror as a magic item.  Strahd, some epic, and now this.  Do you know anyone who uses a mace?  I didn’t think so.

In other news, with Expertise and Guidance I was able to roll a 33 on a perception check.  I felt kind of like an asshole.  But not really because I don’t have much in the way of magic so I would be dead right now if all this shit was “The Rogue Has To Deal With It.”  The adventure does a good job of not making everything a thief problem but I wonder if it goes too far in making magic the required correct answer.

This kind of reached a head when we encountered a couple flesh golems who were immune to non-magical damage and I had no way to contribute.  It seems AL recognizes this and allows you to buy magic items with Downtime, one of the currencies you get for adventuring.  Gold is plentiful, useful things require “Downtime.”  It galls me to use this option in a dungeon but the dungeon has monsters that are immune to non-magical damage.  This is one of the unspoken assumptions of 5th Edition D&D, but by level 7ish everyone needs a way to do magical damage.  There are just too many monsters with resistance or outright immunity and this is when they start showing up.

I need to get back to work now but I’m still having a great time.  I think everyone else is too.

1st Triton Barbarian Game: On the Virtues of Damage Resistance

Last Night we took a break from Tomb of Annihilation and played “Cloud Giant’s Bargain,” the one shot adventure that was distributed through movie theaters for the Acq-Inc adventure a couple years ago.  The adventure was part of the Storm King’s Thunder storyline.

Because this was a level 5-7 adventure I needed a new character, Tando is technically level 10 (Rogue 9, Cleric 1).  It seems like all the AL people I’ve met so far have a stable of characters finely crafted for all occasions.  This is the natural outcome of releasing a new Level 1 adventure twice a year instead of encouraging higher level play with higher level content.  Everyone just starts over every six months.  And I kind of have a problem with that.  I don’t really like playing a new PC for the sake of playing a new PC.  Nothing kills my enthusiasm faster than putting things in such naked gamey terms such as, “You need to be level 3 for this adventure.”  If I can’t really justify it in the story I’m telling in my head I have a tendency to rebel and cheat to fit that narrative.

Full disclosure, I also write this as someone who loves feeling a teensy bit overpowered from time to time.  While I feel I lack the intelligence to power game, I do love taking a character in videogames through some low level content for that sweet “Sauron at beginning of Fellowship” style catharsis.

After the aquatic adventure “Underworld Speculation” I decided to pick a Triton.  I talked about this a lot in my last post.  This started as trying to come up with a replacement PC for Tando should he buy the farm in Tomb of Annihilation.  The party there is all casters and they need a tank.  Now, with his one level of cleric, a shield, and uncanny dodge Tando is a slightly better tank than no tank at all but he’s an amateur.  Now that we’re going into the Tomb itself Tando’s skills might be a bit more helpful to the party as opposed to fighting through the waves of Yuan-Ti when they could’ve used a meat shield.

Of course there is another reason to pick Triton; I’ve never seen anyone else playing one.  Post Volo, I see a lot of Tabaxi, few Lizardfolk not so many Tritons.  Next decision, what class to play?  Well, the Triton stat bumps are +1 to Strength, Constitution, and Charisma.  This naturally suggests the Paladin.  For a while that was what I wanted.  I thought, okay, I’m going to take Oath of the Ancients so I can speak with sea creatures, I’ll get a Pike and reskin it as a Trident, maybe take polearm/sentinel feats.

After the last post I was settled on Paladin but it kept gnawing at me.  Call it laziness or what have you.  I started feeling less enthusiastic about managing all of his paladin shit.  He needed plate armor, he needed feats, he needed to manage spell slots and I started glancing around the PHB at some of the other classes.  I took a hard look at the Xanathar Hexblade but due to the ridiculous PHB+1 rule that would not be allowed in the AL games.  Ridiculous is a strong word.  It’s a gamey way to try and keep a lid on PC power and power creep which doesn’t seem to realize that Magic Items are chief source of crazy power spikes in AL.

But sitting there at the front of the PHB is the Barbarian.  Total Party Thrill included Barbarian in their Aquaman build.  No spell slots to manage, just rages per day.  Sadly, PHB+1 precludes the Ancestral Guardian which might be a better tank.  But The Totem Warrior also gets Speak with Animals, just like the Paladin.  Bear (Whale) totem is also tanky with its damage resistance.

I actually did not decide between Paladin and Barbarian until just before the game started.  I have enough DM rewards to make one level 6 character so I made both and flipped a coin when I got to the session.  I feel like the coin made the right choice.  I really really enjoyed the Barbarian.  I liked the very straightforward and simple mechanics.  Just roll and hit the thing.  The only downside was I had a bitch of a time doing the math since this is the first time I’ve played a character with extra attack.  So I was rolling four d20s to hit if I had advantage, separating my dice by color, okay these two  are this attack, these two are this attack.  Then there are another 4d6 for a greatsword if I hit twice, that became 8d6 in the final fight because I had a giantslayer greatsword, then I crit a couple times so that’s another 2d6 did I already add these 2d6 okay I need to reroll these dice because of the crit.  Then I had to remember the bonus damage for raging.  With Rogue, it’s all or nothing every roll and fewer dice at that, at least for now.

I have to say, Barbarian turned out to be the better choice than Paladin.  Whatever Plate Armor or Lay on Hands I would’ve gotten to protect a paladin, the fact is that without the Rage Damage Resistance this character would have died.  The ALL (except psychic) damage resistance provided by the Bear (Whale) Totem may be overkill.  At least, it was at this juncture.

With the mechanics pretty much settled, it was a lot of fun roleplaying this character.  I decided to name his Nymeros Retiarus Mutawassit which sounds like it would come from a distinctly non-European culture.  Nymeros kind of sounds like Namor, the Sub-Mariner, Marvel’s version of Aquaman.  It’s also the middle name of Oberyn Martell from Song of Ice & Fire.  Mutawassit is Arabic for Mediterranean.  I also thought it would be cool to have a secret name, like from Dune.  In Frank Herbert’s Dune, the main character, Paul Atreides, is compelled to take a new name when he flees to the desert people, the Fremen.  He openly takes the name Muad’Dib, but his tribe gives him the secret name for their use, Usul.  I chose the secret name Retiarus which is what the Romans called the Gladiators who fought with nets and tridents.

I gave some thought to his backstory and Triton culture.  In Volo’s Guide, the Tritons migrated to the Material Plane from the Elemental Plane of Water in pursuit of dark threats such as krakens and sahuagin.  This canon has them as a military expeditionary force, not natives to build massive cities.  I think this fits the Barbarian class well.  I like the idea of them being semi-nomadic, following currents and schools of fish, working their way through reefs and forests of kelp to gather food and ranging in search of enemies to keep the oceans safe.  They themselves would organize themselves into social groups like fish or a pod of whales.  The words Shoal (group of fish) and Kith (relations and friends) are kind of uncommon and seem like words Tritons might use themselves.  I don’t need to spell it out to play this character at a D&D game but it provides just enough flavor to sound cool.

I chose a few of the different quirks suggested in Volo’s.  Instead of asking questions, a triton gives commands.  A triton speaks frequently on the greatness of its people.  A triton believes what people say about dryland customs.  I also tried to use antiquated speech: Doth, Thee, Thou, stuff like that.  I wish I knew more words like that.  Most interesting to me, I tried to think of phrases and idioms that someone who lived in the ocean would not use.  Or rather, how they would phrase things.  If you recall the third Hitchhiker’s book, “Life, The Universe, and Everything,” there is a planet called Krikkit surrounded by a thick cloud.  This blots out the stars and sun for the planet.  As a result, their people have no concept of the stars so they say things like “Above the Grass” instead of “Beneath the Sky.”  I like thinking of things like that.  I didn’t really have any specific examples, but I thought that he would avoid references to Fire, Seasons, Gravity, stuff like that.  That is hard to do in the heat of the moment.

That’s one right there!  A Triton would not say, heat of the moment.  Not that they don’t comprehend how sun warms water or volcanic vents generate heat, but certainly not enough for that phrase to enter their language.  I also decided he was illiterate, to a degree.  I know 5E barbarians don’t have to be, but Nymeros lives in the ocean and they don’t have parchment there.  Maybe some rune carvings at best but nothing in the way of widely available written words.

In play I really enjoyed this character.  As a level 6 character he has enough rage to do it pretty much every encounter.  The math was kind of annoying but this was literally the first time I’ve played this character or any fighter type character.  I could get used to this.  He reminded me a lot of Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy.  Not so much Drax’s comic relief aspect, but that same sort of coming from an alien culture.  Like how he expresses disbelief that Peter would be uncomfortable hearing his parents discuss his conception.  I wouldn’t want to play him entirely for comedy but I understand that the fish out of water schtick is often inherently comedic.

One thought that keeps running through my mind is this idea of building a complete stable of adventurers for a purpose.  I said earlier, everyone just starts over every new season of adventures.  But I like to think I’m working towards a purpose.  My backstory for Tando the Rogue is that he was hiring adventurers in Neverwinter.  I like the idea that he is sort of assembling his own party of adventurers.  Not only does this give me a diverse party to bring to games, it provides a reason why I have these characters.  From the Hardcover adventure Princes of the Apocalypse, I’ve always really liked the idea of the Cult of the Crushing Wave and their leader Gar Shatterkeel.  I think they were the best written part of that book.  And then I have Tando, Nymeros, my warlock, Vaelis Suncedar, who’s patron is a sea hag, all three of these characters have a vested interest fighting this seaborne cult threat.  It is super nerdy to kind of have this background D&D metaplot for why my AL characters know each other, but it helps keep me grounded.  Tando is not just a Rogue, he is working for the city of Neverwinter actively hiring adventurers to help protect it.  Vaelis is a sword coast trader who was shipwrecked and forced to make a warlock’s pact with a powerful sea hag.  And Nymeros’s shoal has been defending the oceans off the Sword Coast for as long as they can remember, it’s only when he was captured by the Xanathar that he began seeking out adventurer’s work to find out more about this threat.

Think about it maybe.  Do you have multiple AL characters?  Do they know each other?  Ask yourself why or why not and then you’ll know something more about your characters.

Chasing the Snakes From Chult and DM Rewards

This week we were back to Tomb of Annihilation.  Last session we defeated the Yuan-Ti leader/spellcaster/brewer/patriot Ras Nsi.  This session was largely followup to that.  We opted to continue to clear out the Yuan-Ti survivors buuuut the spellcasters of the party were pretty ragged and wanted to take a long rest.  So obviously the Yuan-Ti spellcasters all park outside and wait for us to stroll back in.  The resulting combat took the better part of 2-3 hours and now the spellcasters need another goddamn long rest.

Maybe this is spellshaming but I hate the trope of the five-minute-workday.  I hate the idea that Joe Wizard is going to chill in Leomund’s Tiny Ass Hut.  Come out, fight 10 rounds of combat, have a cigarette, and go sit quietly for another 6 hours.  But here’s the thing, I get why it exists and why it persisted into 5E.  In 5E, a lot of abilities recharge on a rest, short or long and the number of these only increase as you go up in level.  Also as you go up in level, it becomes necessary to throw much deadlier and LONGER combats to challenge the PCs.  Anything that can actually threaten PCs takes at least an hour, often more.  Anything that can’t threaten your PCs just feels like a waste of everyone’s time.  In the narrative, those high level PCs are often literally trying to save the world.  Anything that takes more than two hours of your standard four hour session needs to advance to that goal or be something the PCs really want to get into.  You find yourself in something of an arms race, the encounters grow fewer, deadlier, longer, and the PCs doing one encounter maybe two per day becomes the standard.  That doesn’t mean it has to dominate the campaign.  The obvious answer is that your adventures have to be about more than combat.  The PCs need out of combat objectives to fill the other 23 hours and 59 minutes of their day.  Talk to NPCs, explore cities, getting murdered by traps, anything.  I do think that the PCs should also try to back up the DM in the narrative of this though.  Don’t pester your DM for moar rest if you just had one.  It’s a social contract issue as far as I see it.  The DM agrees to not obliterate you, you agree not to take a break every 48 seconds.  If your goal is to save the world, actually remember to try and save the world.  The DM ought not to use this against you, lest they incentivize bad behavior.

Because our Tomb of Annihilation DM is away next week another player is going to run the adventure, “Cloud Giant’s Bargain” next week.  You may remember this adventure from the PAX West Acquisitions Incorporated show a couple years ago.  It was broadcast in movie theaters and those theaters also gave away this adventure.  I don’t know how it was at your theater but at our theater they never handed these things out, there was just a giant stack of them by the door on our way out.  One person who needs to maintain an air of respectability and shall remain nameless Paid The Iron Price and carried off about half the pile.  I assure you there were still enough for everyone attending.  But the point is that this is an adventure for characters Level 5-7.  And well, Tando is my only character and he is level 8.  What is the organized play participant to do?

A friend suggested I might look at the DM Quest Reward Program.  I have been toying with the idea of making a new character.  You may have seen my posts trying to conceive a Triton Paladin or Barbarian.  I’m also a big Warlock fan.  But I certainly don’t have enough time to try and level up a character to 5th Level in a week.  Now, I learned sometime in the last year that the organized play program for D&D would give the PCs of DMs XP as if they were players (we’re getting deep into the abbreviation weeds here).  As I wrote before, after PAX Unplugged my chief thought was, I wish I could have been a DM for this event.  So playing Adventurer’s League seemed the next logical step.

The meta-game for AL is way deeper than I’m interested in.  If you have no clue what Fai Chen’s this is the blog for you.  I’m aware there’s a market out there on the interwebz for AL-Legal magic items but I’m uncomfortable taking advantage of it.  I would really rather just show up with my character, roll some dice, and tell some stories.  It feels weird to go to such lengths and to manipulate D&D “achievements” in order to build a character for next week’s game with my friends because my current character is too strong for it.

The Quest Rewards are a series of videogame style achievements specifically geared towards Dungeon Masters that carry official legal rewards for Adventurer’s League.  Someone asks you where you got that health potion?  One of these achievements grants a health potion as reward.  Some of them grant XP, some grant magic items.  Now, as a helpful friend reminded me, these achievements are not a pool to be spread out willy nilly.  I’m going to give you a total amount for what I earned at the end, but each of these is a discrete reward that needs to be applied to a specific character.

So here is what I’m looking for.  Tando Tossbottle, Mastermind Rogue, Nonspeaker of Abyssal, was about 6000 XP away from his next level (he is currently Rogue 7, Knowledge Cleric 1).  I have a 5075 XP DM reward from the Gamer’s Vault Epic this weekend to apply to a character.  I also have a TBD Level 3 character, a few weeks ago I played in “Underworld Speculation” a Xanathar themed adventure that carried a 1200 XP reward for players.  My plan was to apply that to a Triton PC, either a Barbarian or Paladin.  So if I need a level 5 character I need to come up with 6500 XP total, 5300 more.

The first reward?  Initiate.  Download the packet of rewards and run 2 hours of AL.  Hey I did that!  Great, you get a DM starting item.  These are mundane like a Breastplate, Gold, I will likely go with Keoghtom’s Ointment which cures some HP and poison and disease.

Next, Ritual of Divination.  Join the DM discussions facebook page, G+ page, and follow AL on twitter  Well shit that’s easy.  1500 XP!

Ritual of Scrying.  Take a self with your DM quest card and post it to Facebook, Twitter, or G+ profile with #DMQuests.  So now you have to come out as a gamer to the public.  Sure I’ll post pictures of myself on the internet for the sake of a fictional character.  I did wait a day before doing G+ because I hate G+.  I also did not put my proper quest card in the pictures, if more than two people ask about it maybe I’ll fix it (I’m not going to fix it).  Gain another 1500 XP (3000 so far).

First Timer, run an AL adventure.  Done! 10 Downtime days or a healing potion.

Dedicated DM.  Run 24 combined hours of AL D&D or hardcover D&D.  Hours roll over.  Wellll with the recent Epic, Dreamation, and In Search of Secrets I’ve recently run 22 hours.  Add another maybe 9-12 hours for previous epics and approximately 4 billion hours for Curse of Strahd (actually prolly like 80-100 hours) I feel comfortable checking this one off.  The reward is a magic item of my choice from something I ran.  It has to be tier appropriate and it cannot be unique or legendary (sorry Sunsword!).  I kind of doubt they meant Ezmerelda’s +1 rapier as well.  I will have to give that one some thought.

Déjà Vu, run a single adventure more than three times.  As an adult with a full time job and limited social circle, this one’s not going to happen unless I start approaching strangers online.

Bounty Hunter, gain bonus XP for each new player.  Again, adult, no avenue to make new friends, not happening.

Saint of Illmater.  DM a table for players 15 and under.  Adult with no kids and I lack patience, not happening.

Preceptor of Oghma – Host a Workshop or DM mentoring event.  OBJECTION.  I am not qualified to do this.  Next.

Acolyte of Oghma – Act as a co-DM.  I could have used one of these for the Epic.

Zealot of Oghma – Recruit a player to because a DM.  Now, this one carries with it a thick 7500 XP reward.  If they DM more than 8 hours (2 games) gain another 5000 XP.  If you trained them, gain another 2500 XP.

Level Up – Run a game within a week of your birthday. If this happened, it would be 6000 XP.  it’s not though.

Ethereal DM – Run a game online.  You can get double the standard DM XP for running the adventure, triple if you stream and mention it on social media.  This has potential.  I may wind up trolling the AL discord for In Search of Secrets Players.  Three times of that would be another 6000ish XP plus 4000 for that déjà vu achievement.  Not there yet though.  We’re still at 3000 XP all day.

Martyr for the Cause.  Volunteer (successfully) at an AL event like a convention, game day, or 8 weeks of store play.  This was Dreamation!  Gain 500 XP per 4 hours volunteered and one scroll of Raise Dead per event.  That would 2000 XP for that convention.  And we’re up 5000 XP.

Adventure Calls: Run a game when you weren’t expecting to like if you went somewhere and they were short DMs or got too many players.  Sadly I am always expecting I will need to run so I am not qualified for this due to my extreme preparedness.

On/Off the Grid.  Run Theater of the Mind if you normally run on a grid, run on a grid if you normally run theater of the mind.  If I can pull off a surprise online theater of the mind game that will bring in series rewards.

Giving DM.  Run a game for charity.  Our Epic did raise money for Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.  The doubled reward for this would be an additional 5,075 XP for the three hour adventure.  I feel very very guilty taking 5,075 XP for helping sick children.  This is like taking dirty money.  I am technically entitled to these experience points for my silly wizard game.  But.  Brings us to 10,075 XP.

Slot 0 DM.  Run a slot 0 table, these are prep adventures run on the eve of a convention to test the adventure, get comfortable with it.  I did not have time for this previously though.

The rest of these rewards are for Tomb of Annihilation Completion.  Run an adventure featuring the Death Curse.  Sadly Drums of the Dead does not feature the Death Curse but In Search of Secrets did. Gain 2400 XP. Run all of the various Tier AL adventures, with a reward for each Tier you complete.  If you complete all 18 AL adventures tied to Tomb of Annihilation you may “rebuild” one character.  That’s a reward for completing 18 goddamn adventures?

Hey guys, I get that this “Legal” AL and it’s official and stuff but if you take a feat or a spell and it doesn’t work?  Just switch it.  Again, social contract.  Don’t bring a new character to every game.  Post on social media that this feat or class feature doesn’t really work.  Maybe don’t call attention to it.  Or if you have social anxiety, stick with that version of that character for that game and play your “fixed” version at other tables.  If I gave Tando the Bountiful Luck feat and it didn’t work or I had a really hard time speaking up at the table and telling people they got a reroll I might just quietly erase that and give him a a stat bump instead.  A lot of AL is honor system based, that’s why I’m spending four hours on a Saturday morning typing how my Triton Barbarian came into existence rather than just saying “I ran an online game this weekend.”  But don’t abuse the system.  You can use your friend’s stuff when you’re at their house but don’t also rob them.  I feel like the people who would radically redo their characters between adventures are also the people who would just cheat anyways and show up with a level 17 character, regardless of the why.

If you complete Tomb of Annihilation and run all 18 AL adventures before the end of this “season” you can legally play a winged Tiefling or Aarkocra starting at level 5.

Lastly, EPIC DM – Participate in an Epic and for each one you gain 1 tier appropriate magic item, 1 Special Mission (whatever the hell that means),  and max player rewards.  Which for the Tier 3 adventures I ran would two scoops of 19,000 XP each.

So all of those added up equals 50,475 XP.  Broken up into discrete chunks of (1500+1500+2000+5075+2400+19,000+19,000).  That is a stunning bit of XP.  More than enough to level up Tando, Hypothetical Triton, with honey to spare for other characters.  I mean shit if I really wanted to get broken, there were actually DM rewards for Curse of Strahd, do I feel inclined to reach back through the sands of time and apply that 20,000 XP to someone?  Not really, I’d rather just build a new 6th level character.  I’m not going to abuse to system to harm someone else’s game especially when I am also in that game.

The biggest rewards go to the recruiting of new DMs.  This reminds me of something I read on the Angry GM blog a long time ago, the article’s gone, but it was titled, “WOTC, why do you suck at selling games?”  The article came at the beginning of 5th Edition.  Mike Mearls was doing a lot of interviews at that time.  He said that part of the reason they did 5E and did it the way they did (2 year playtest, 1 splatbook per year) is because despite being in this geek renaissance where Marvel superheroes are the biggest hit at the box office, Big Bang Theory and Game of Thrones are the biggest shows on TV, despite that Dungeons and Dragons was experiencing straightforward growth.  Every year, profits go up 5%.  It’s good, but it’s not what they expect.  Mike Mearls likened it to fishing.  You go out, get fish.  Same every year.  Now with Marvel and Game of Thrones, Mearls said “a truck just crashed next to the pond and dumped in 1000 times more fish than normal.  Why are we (D&D) still getting the same amount of fish?  So, they junked 4E and adopted the model you see today.

Angry GM had a problem with the fish metaphor.  And they said the problem was that WOTC had the wrong idea about how people got into D&D.  The way people got/get into D&D, Angry GM said, was through the “Older Cousin Model.”  And Mike Mearls said this model existed as well.  The Older Cousin Model is that,  you get introduced to D&D by someone you know who plays it.  I was introduced through a friend back in the day, we LARPed in the same club.  Lotta D&D players there who brought the hobby to each new class.  Angry GM’s thesis was that the limiting factor on D&D’s growth was not the number of fish in the lake but the number of people doing the fishing.  And those are Dungeon Masters.  Specifically, the training of new Dungeon Masters is the limiting factor on D&D’s growth.  The number of people who are willing to DM, train DMs, and try DMing.

Angry GM threw out the fish metaphor in favor of one involving toll booths.  Growing D&D is like putting more cars on the highway.  DMs are the tollbooths to get on the highway.  And it doesn’t matter how great the highway is, the tollbooths can only handle so many people.  If you don’t increase the number of tollbooths people can’t get to the highway.  So DM conversion is the most important thing for D&D.

I think these DM Quest Rewards are a pretty cool idea to reward Dungeon Masters.  It certainly makes me feel like my contribution (if any) is welcome to the hobby.  I remember when 4E organized play really got started with the D&D encounters program.  Your reward for DMing that program was basically a crisp hi-five (no actual hi-fives were provided).  You didn’t even get the adventure at that point.  I know nowadays you’re obligated to buy the adventures yourself, but back in the day the game stores would get the adventures and no one else.  So after the D&D encounters season these things would pop up on ebay for vastly more money than they were worth.

What these remind me of more than anything else is a grocery store club card or your CVS card or something.  I mean this is basically quadrupling the XP from doing an epic for no added cost or hardship.  Why not just put that in the adventure?  The grocery store is offering 25% off shrimp if you have the little card, uhh, okay I’ll go get the card.  You’re telling me according to PDF I get an extra 19,000 experience but there’s only a pdf on the internet that tells you that?  Sure yeah I’ll go for it.  What’s the catch?

Triton vs. Variant Human

Sometimes I read stuff like, “why in Christ’s holy name do you want to play a Triton when Variant Human is so much better?”
Because you get to write character backstories like this:
“Retiarus Nymeros Mutawassit is an emissary sent from the city of Mutawassir off the coast of Port Nyanzaru in Chult. He goes by Nymeros, Retiarus is a secret name used only by the kith of his shoal.
For a time he lived a good life regaling folk with tales of life under the sea, singing his Triton Songs, and displaying his prowess with trident and clam shield.
Then some git shrunk him and stuck him in a fish bowl as a pet.”

The Snake Man Swim Social

So last night on Tomb of Annihilation we got lucky.  Two more people than we had last night showed up giving us six PCs, four of them primary spellcasters, One Arcane Trickster Wizard, and me with my one level of cleric.  No matter how you slice it, it is difficult to challenge six 5E D&D characters, much less when they get past level 5, much less spellcasters, and far less when they’re busting out their encounter ending tricks.

Two sessions ago we were hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned and reduced to fleeing in terror.  This week to start, Tando’s blindness is cured by the timely arrival of a cleric.  The Trickster and The Wizard deploy familiars to scout our path.  Get attacked by a Hydra?  Not to worry, the Druid summons two octopuses restraining the beast.  Advantage for all!  Hydra defeated we roll onward and find the lair of our hated foe, the Yuan-Ti leader Ras Nsi and his dragon, a bad motherfucker with a great sword who’s name I will spell as Sekalok.  Not sure if correct, I don’t read the dungeon parts of the book.  A blown stealth check puts us in initiative and the fight is on.

Everyone was able to contribute to this fight which made it feel good.  I was worried that trying to storm this room was going to go full Omaha Beach but it didn’t play out that way.  I don’t think we steamrolled it but I also felt that victory was never in doubt.  Kind of like the big fight with Strahd in Curse of Strahd, everyone was needed but with everyone working together it didn’t seem especially close (at least from the DM’s side).  The tensest moments came when the wizard charged in Leeroy Jenkins and got his ass beat but his going into the breach took up their reactions so we could all charge in.  Octopuses cleared our way.  I think this would have gone much worse for us if Ras Nsi had stood his ground and lobbed spells at us but he ran and returned 1-3 rounds later with some quickly dispatched backup.  When we got in the room the Druid played his second ace-in-the-hole, flooding the room with water through “That Druid Bullshit.”  He had pointedly cast Water Breathing on us earlier in anticipation of this moment.  This enabled a polymorph and a wildshape into aquatic creatures who quickly made work of the Yuan-Ti leader.

At the end of it we felt strong.  The DM did a really good job.  While I usually get my ass kicked by the players and then complain on the internet, they handled their business very well.  We’re electing to clear out the temple and sop up the last few remaining chunks of XP remaining next week.  I’m really hoping we find a +1 Dagger or some explorer’s packs or something to get extra supplies for the Tomb of Horrors I know this thing ends with.  Like I said, I don’t read the specific encounters but I did notice there’s a Yuan-Ti warlock statted out in the back that I don’t think we’ve met yet.  That’ll be a fun little surprise.  Personally, I would be inclined to negotiate with the Yuan-Ti second in command, whoever that is now, maybe it’s the third in command after Sephiroth, and then offer them their lives for an inspection of the temple to ensure no slaves remain.  That is Tando’s way, get through it without combat.  I leave it to the rest of the party to decide whether or not to fireball them when they are gathered.

Ras Nsi had a Flame Tongue Longsword which no one was too excited about which is never a good feeling when you’re the DM.  I remember back in 4E I was running Dark Sun and we were in a Gladiator Arc with the character entering the arena.  And I made it clear that the local champion was this big badass Dragonborn with a steel blade, very rare for Dark Sun.  I was  describing that it looked cool, that it might’ve been from the green age, and it was definitely magical.  Then the players defeat him annnnnnd nobody wants the sword.  The melee characters who could use martial weapons were all using “Gouges” which were these axe/spear weapons that got stupid broken with a couple feats.  There’s a Spoony Counter Monkey Video called “Age of Manure” where they talk about some of the more ridiculous exotic weapons that D&D and they opine that D&D characters are best off specializing in more mainstream weapons rather than reaching for the exotic.  The reasoning was rooted in a more method actor approach that you tend to find swords as treasure.  The Gouge is a weird spear axe.  You wouldn’t find something like that in a dungeon that’s 3000 years old.  It would feel like pandering to put all these exotic weapons in the game, for some reason you only find gouges and daggers and never bows and swords.

4E’s solution to this was to completely separate the mechanics from the reality and made enchantments transferable.  5E just doesn’t have exotic weapons anymore.  But it’s an AL game so the DM can’t just say Ras Nsi has a short sword because more characters in our party would use it.  I prefer some verisimilitude where what you find isn’t always what you need or even might want.  I don’t think I modified anything too heavily in Curse of Strahd.  I did nerf the Icon of Ravenloft which as written gives Protection from Good and Evil to the entire party within 30 feet.  That was too much, I felt.

At this point I’ve done enough playing that I’m starting to get the itch again to DM.  I mean I had it before for our Ravenloft/Eberron game but now I’m feeling ready to move on to assemble a crew for a new game. I’m leaning towards Fantasy AGE right now more because it’s less of a known quantity than 5E.  I had a yen to do some kind of Deadwood themed frontier game.  Maybe loot liberally from the corpse of my Eberron game.  I had thought about doing something that was basically “Kingmaker in Droaam” but it’s very much a work in progress.

Death Buys Tando a Drink & The Triton PC

I am primarily a DM when it comes to D&D.  The #ForeverDM tag completely applied to me.  Only in the past six months or so have I begun to make sorties onto the other side of the screen.  I’ve been doing more AL recently because for a human adult trying to pay their own bills it is fucking impossible to find an in-person game.  My chosen class, the Mastermind Rogue, is not the highest damage or trap-oriented rogue one would normally bring to such an adventure.  And as this is ostensibly a hobby meant to relieve stress and anxiety I wanted to play a less complicated class as opposed to a potentially more powerful class such as the Bard.

This is a long way of explaining that I’m not great at playing D&D but I’m having a great time playing D&D.

I am wondering if multiclassing Cleric was my best course.  What I gave up was Stroke of Luck.  What I got was shields, medium armor (dex ain’t 20 yet), two languages, expertise in Nature and History (since Tando knows not Arcana or Religion), and the potential to Bless, Heal, Identify, or Add AC.  Up until level 20 (which is like three years from now) that sounds like a fair trade.  I normally hate multiclassing my characters.  As Total Party Thrill said, in 5E it is hard to fuck up a character if you don’t multiclass or take feats and I’m always terrified I’ll fuck up my character beyond picking a maligned subclass.

Mastermind has a reputation of being a shitty Rogue archetype.  This post is going to have a lot of Total Party Thrill because those guys are great, but they really laid into this subclass in their 13th Episode on Alignment.  The Mastermind’s Schtick is that it can grant advantage as a bonus action.  Sort of like the owl/raven familiar that every player who wants one seems to already have.  Great, my class’s primary benefit is granted by a familiar.  I don’t think it’s too bad, and in a home game if the DM and I found the class to be falling behind the other characters we could correct it with magic item.  I think the primary drawback in the Tomb of Annihilation game I’m in now is that all of the other characters are spellcasters and they don’t make many attack rolls.

But I’m still a Rogue and I still have a lot of useful high skills with big plusses to contribute.  Having said that, I didn’t get quite high enough on a Thieves’ Tool check last week and got blinded by a trap.  That is going to severely curtail my usefulness to the party.  I’m hoping I can get the party necromancer to lend me a skeleton to guide me to the foe and a familiar to grant advantage if I find myself in a fight again.  Fortunately after doing two fights already I think we’ve got no more than 1-2 fights in us before we rest again and the Druid can bail me out with Lesser Restoration.  I am wondering if I can buy a scroll of lesser restoration online but that isn’t very sporting since we’re on the ass end of Chult in a secret temple in a secret city trying to find the Tomb of Annihilation.  Unless I’ve literally had this thing keistered the whole time it’s not very plausible.

If I may quote Total Party Thrill for the third time in this entry, they said that Tomb of Horrors (which inspired TOA) is a bad adventure because rather than having a story it’s an unfair puzzle to test how well you metagame D&D.  Do anything but use mage hand and a ten foot pole to interact with everything in the dungeon you’re going to die.  Unless you reach the exception that you don’t interact with to survive.  I kind of like that fun arbitrary nature of the adventure because it speaks to an interesting environment.  They’re going to need a Rogue and I’m the one they have, if not the one they want.

After Dreamation I asked on here, “Why do some people bother to play D&D?”  And what I meant by that is I don’t understand players who feel satisfied after they complete an adventure expending zero resources, never getting hit, and never really being in danger.  That is less of an issue in Tomb of Annihilation since it is a book not a timed 2-4 hour adventure which makes it a lot easier for the DM to not pull punches.  The DM can also get used to your characters and your tricks.  If an encounter is going too long we can just pick it up next week, it’s not like the adventure doesn’t get completed because the players couldn’t play smart or quiet and tried to fight erryone.

This “the fun of the adventure is roleplaying and being in danger” came up for me the last adventure when we were confronted with a locked door. Tando knocked on the door and tried to bluff his way in.  The other players were aghast and I could see their expressions were, “JUST UNLOCK THE FUCKING DOOR.”  Online this trick is called the Bardic Knock spell and really it serves you better if you don’t have a Rogue with +10 to use thieves’ tools.  In hindsight I can see their point, my bluff and tools checks are about the same, might as well just unlock it to preserve surprise.  I saw it as primarily great chance to roleplay Tando, when confronted with a door that needs to get opened, Tando knocks.  Instead of unlocking the door to see who it was, the Yuan-Ti on the other side immediately barricaded the door because this particular Yuan-Ti was paranoid.  I blew two natural 20s trying to bluff my way through and my unlock check got me caught by the trap.  Lesson is, no more Bardic Knock in this adventure at least not against Yuan-Ti.

Karmically, I think this balances the scales with RP earlier in the night when I decided to try and distract a Hydra and did so successfully with the bodies of dead Yuan-Ti.  I saved us like, an hour of pointless combat for no story reason.  You’re welcome guys!

I’ve said before that Tando came from my desire to test 5E’s boast during the playtest that it wasn’t going to be a combat slog every encounter like in 4th Edition.  If every rogue in 4E was an assassin I wanted to play a different type of character while still being a rogue.  I loved taking that silver tongued trickster into the dungeon crawl to talk at the orcs and hobgoblins and I still like doing it here.  But part of my hesitancy to play AL (mostly 11 hour workdays and social anxiety, so much social anxiety) is that I normally build specific characters for specific games.  One shots and disconnected adventures don’t really interest me.

My point here is that I’m thinking more about what kind of specific character I might’ve brought to this group if I knew what I was getting into.  I really wanted to be Tando after so long not being a player but what would be my second choice?  In Curse of Strahd, if I had been a player and not displacing anyone else at the table I would’ve wanted to be a Valor Bard because 1) no one else was the bard and 2) that group’s greatest need was for another frontline character and they had a paladin and fighter already.

For T of A the people showing up each week are spellcasters.  So what they really need is a slab of beef.  I gave it some thought about what kind of character would be fun. I prefer more unique characters.  Tando’s a Halfling Rogue but he’s a Mastermind, not a Thief.  Vaelis was a Half-Elf Warlock but he was also Lawful Good.  I hate the idea of playing Jeff the Chaotic Neutral Variant Human Fighter.  I need a character with some story meat on their bones and I don’t like copying anyone else in the group in terms of race or class.  After considering War Priest and Barbarian I settled on Paladin.  Although I may think a little harder about that Barbarian with that sexy Danger Sense.  But the point is I really want to play a Triton.  I just got through Underworld Speculation where the PCs are teleported into a fish bowl.  Guess I came out of that wanting a swim speed.

If you don’t know, the AL adventure Underworld Speculation has the PCs teleported into a Fish Bowl and then they get “saved” by an Aboleth (you never find out it’s an Aboleth).  At the end of the adventure the Aboleth teleports them to safety but each PC is placed under a Geas-type spell that compels them to kill Xanathar if they are ever in its presence after Level 9.   I like that hook for an adventurer.  While a wiser person might become an innkeeper to not have that curse come up, an adventure-inclined person would prep for that.  And a lawfully inclined character would feel obligated to keep their oath.  If this was a home game I would seriously consider putting Hexblade on there to symbolize getting out of that Fish Bowl.  But AL has that arbitrary rule to rein in power creep that thou shalt only use the PHB and One Other Book.  Wanna be a Triton?  Can’t be a Storm Barbarian.  As someone who doesn’t think of themselves as a power gamer I kind of roll my eyes at this but as someone’s who’s DMed AL I’m all in favor of trying to put some kind of restraint on the PCs. I only wish they applied it to magic items which seems to be complete wild west territory.

It’s also just dawned on me that with this potential character and my Warlock, Vaelis, who was rescued by a Sea Hag that so far my two warlock characters are both Water-Peril themed.  In case you want any penetrating psychological insight on my persistent fear of being underwater.

I think I will go with the Barbarian if only to not have to bother with spell slots, just grab a big weapon, hit things with it, and then tank for the spellcasters.  The problem of course is that it took almost a year of DMing Epics to catapault Tando to a Level 8 character.  I do have another Epic at the end of the month which would make “Hypothetical Barbarian” a level 5 character.  That Extra Attack will make a lot of the difference in allowing them to stand next to the level 8-9 characters in the party.  I haven’t read the TOA encounters in detail, but I do know the section we’re in now should end with us approximately level 9.

I considered using his background to fill in those skills Tando had, namely Thieves’ Tools and Persuasion.  The story I came up with, which works for a Barbarian or a Paladin, is that they are an emissary from their Triton home near the coast of Chult.  After impressing the locals (I like the idea that this character can sing but I’m not sure I’m willing to sacrifice a more dungeon-friendly skill for Performance) he was eventually captured by Xanathar, shrunken, and kept in his fishbowl.  With his escape he began preparing to someday fulfill his oath to slay the beholder and took service along the rivers of Chult which would eventually lead to Omu and the Tomb of Annhilation.