• Category Archives D&D
  • Just Plain Dreadful

    You wanna know what’s exciting? A new release for a favored game. You wanna know what’s more exciting? When it’s for a game that’s seen big resurgence over the last year or so, thanks to the ability to play it online. You wanna know what’s dreadful? Every damn domain in Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, which has just released. I mean, that’s the entire point of the book – a swath of brand new Dread Domains to drag players through, inflicting upon them any number of horrors and terrors. Sure, sure, Barovia’s one of them, home to Count Strahd Von Zarovich and his ancestral home in Castle Ravenloft, but there’s much more and it’s wonderfully dreadful.

    The Illithids have turned Bluetspur into a nightmarish, otherworldy landscape housing the horrors and remnants of a thousand psychic torments, tentacles and all. Borca plays host to the deadly political maneuvrings of its noble houses, silver tongues hiding cruel intentions. The dark, twisted circus known only as The Carnival welcomes you to a world of wondrous sights and twisted visions. Falkovnia is a realm overrun by the walking dead, those few souls remaining struggling to eke out an existence with dwindling resources and the constant threat of flesh-hungry undead. Take a trip do the Muhar oasis in Har’Akir – can you survive the desert, where the sun is your foe, water is absent and the dark lord Ankhtepot’s agents seek a missing portion of his soul?

    Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft provides expanded information on 17 Domains, abbreviated notes on 22 more, new character creation options (including the Bard College of Spirits – who’s up for a ghost story?) and more. Having spent the last year running a campaign in Ravenloft, I’m very exited to read through the book, its expanded bestiary, dramatis personae, and perhaps most of all, the House of Lament.

    Introducing new players to D&D via the Death House adventure in the Curse of Strahd book was a lot of fun, but now we have a whole new haunted house adventure in to welcome a party of newbies into the mists and the horrors that await them.

    Unrelated, the bestiary has the rules for a Swarm of Maggots. I .. just .. okay, ew. 😛

    Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft has dropped and is available through your FLGS or preferred online retailer.

    It’s spooky time.

  • Dungeons & Lasers 2nd edition arrives

    While the third Dungeons & Lasers Kickstarter is generating a lot of buzz at the moment, what with its pretty much fulfilling all of your NPC miniature needs, it was a a delightful day at the Gdaycave at the end of last week when a big box arrived at the door, all the way from Archon Studios in Poland, with a whole bunch of boxes from the second Kickstarter! A new Core set, some extra rooms, three boxes of Stretch Goals, two dragons, and Jerry the Jello.

    I was impressed by Archon Studio’s products when I first saw them at GenCon (and received a sample sprue), and I was super excited to be able to build some dungeons for my D&D group before the pandemic decided that we were only going to be playing remotely, but I dream of that day when we can once more gather in the Gdaycave in person (yeah, Ontario’s still in lockdown and stuff) and dammit, I want to be able to make it the best gaming experience I can for my players. In the meantime, the Stretch Goals make for some bloody amazing base accessories…

    Today, though, I want to introduce you to Jerry and Durkar.

    Meet Jerry, the fastest gelatinous cube in the West.

    Continue reading  Post ID 21061

  • Dossier Decks: Pippa Westbuck, History Bard… or is she?

    I’ll confess a fondness for the shorter races of the Forgotten Realms. Sure elves and dragonborn and the like are cool, but there’s something about dwarves, gnomes and halflings that just triggers my imagination. Halfling Barbarian Tunnel Fighter! Gnome Storm Cleric! Sitting in my stock of characters-to-use-when-I-get-the-chance are a Dwarf Monk with a drinking problem and a Halfling Rogue who got conscripted into the local militia. When I flipped the first card for today’s post I saw a halfling, and my mind went “Ooh!” and then I flipped the others and went “… huh…. iiiinteresting”.

    Normally when I pull cards from the Dossier Decks I’m looking to create an interesting NPC, though last time we switched gears and used the cards as inspiration for a character for Iron Kingdoms: Requiem. I pulled the cards for today’s article and I was torn. Are we making a character or an NPC today? We’re sticking with an NPC, but really, I feel like either is a solid option for Pippa Westbuck.

    So Pippa is clearly talented in the ways of magic, and isn’t bound to a stuffy library somewhere as indicated by her fine travelling clothes. She’s a little absent minded and constantly recalls moments from her youth and from days of yore. Her constant companion is a raven that speaks Dwarven, and occasionally utters portentious omens. As a lover of history myself, Pippa immediately struck a chord with me but it’s the raven that triggered some more sinister ideas.

    Halflings are long-lived, so she’d likely have a good depth of experience, but at the same time, the little folk tend to settle down wherever they’re comfortable. Even if we put Pippa in her later years, say, 200ish, she’ll have spent at least a century of that in a community of her peers rather than adventuring. What if she has a knack for history, but the personal experiences from her youth aren’t personal experiences from her youth?

    Suppose Pippa was of a scholarly bent, but not necessarily of magic. We know she likes history, so what if she leaned into her natural charm and began adventuring as a  bard, perhaps the College of Lore. She had a knack for the magical side of bardcraft, but it was the knowledge that drew her in. You could even argue that the Cutting Words ability Lore bards pick up manifests as  her confusing foes with anecdotes and historical tidbits.

    Let’s say Pippa and her adventuring buddies went underground, where they bravely fight their way through the catacombs before coming up against Thavis of the Eternal Stone, a dwarven sorcerer long since given over to the ravages of time refusing to yield to death’s grip. A short, bearded lich, if you will. Conflict ensues, and Pippa watches her teammates fall around her as they battle the master of knee-high necromancy. Pippa gives her all, firing everything at her disposal at the lich before darkness overwhelms her.

    After a time, Pippa regains consciousness to find herself alone before the lich’s throne. The bodies of her friends lay on the cold tile, while the lich’s own form lies broken and shattered on the steps leading to the throne’s dais. The only other movement in the room is that of a large raven perched on the throne itself, head cocked at our halfling hero. She hadn’t seen the bird before, but it seemed to bob its head at her as if acknowledging something.

    Dusting herself off, Pippa sets a pyre for her companions, knowing that there’s no way she can retrieve their remains and return them to the surface. The raven periodically mutters in a tongue unfamiliar to her, presumably dwarvish, and at one point settles on her shoulder. After paying her respects Pippa returns to the surface and, disenchanted with the heroic life after the deaths of her friends, retires from adventuring to focus on scholarly pursuits…

    … but she has lapses. Every once in awhile she realizes that she can’t remember what she did yesterday, or the day before. She finds notes that she didn’t write. She finds a dwarven runestone rolled under her desk. And this raven keeps muttering at her in what she’s told is dwarven. She never learned the language, but on more than one occasion she’s muttered what feels like an expletive. Surely she just picked it up from the raven, no? And then there was that time she debated with a runesmith about the nature of three specific dwarven runes. At least, she’d been told she’d debated with the runesmith. She couldn’t remember doing so, and knew nothing about the etymology of the runes.

    In truth, the raven is simply following its master, as all Familiars do. So what if the master is hiding inside a little halfling bookworm? From time to time the master surfaces, and tells the raven of his plans now that he can move freely among the still-living…


    SkeletonKey’s Dossier Decks are a great tool for creating NPCs or inspiring character creation or even a full campaign. What if Pippa was loose in Candlekeep? What would the evil Thavis be able to achieve with access to Faerun’s greatest repository of knowledge? Should the party befriend and ally with Pippa as they work to uncover whatever mysteries they’re … well, uncovering, how will they react to the unwitting traitor in their midst?  Will they realize that their foe was alongside them throughout the entire adventure before the lich’s machinations wreak havoc? Can Pippa be relieved of her incorporeal stowaway? More questions than answers… there’s an adventure here just waiting to unfold.

  • Dossier Decks/IKRPG: Faldor Goldgrim, sole survivor

    It’s the last post of the month. Know what that means? That’s right, it’s time to crack open the Dossier Decks and … wait, no, let’s not make an NPC this time. While we’re waiting on tenderhooks for the delivery of Requiem, the new RPG setting for the Warmachine/Hordes universe, we don’t have all the rules for character creation but there’s no reason we can’t pull the cards and see what sort of character we can create that just might work as a PC once we get to grips with the new rules.

    Making characters for Requiem is going to be interesting in that the Iron Kingdoms is not your typical high fantasy setting, and a number of the standard fantasy races and classes are going to need some tweaking to make them fit. For a start, spellcasting is nowhere near as common in the Iron Kingdoms, and you’re a lot more likely to see traditional magic items represented via alchemy, weird steampunk science and runes, than hand-waved enchantment. Thematically, this can lead in one of two directions: party makeup will be more proportionately reflective of the setting with martial classes dominating , or the party will be truly exceptional with spellcasters being near unheard of in some areas.

    As a DM I generally encourage players to play whatever strikes their fancy, roll the dice and come what may, but I think for Requiem a little additional consideration into the nature of the setting may be required. The stories we tell in the Forgotten Realms, Eberron, Wildemount, Theros and Ravnica all have their own distinct flavors, and I think the Iron Kingdoms deserve the same love. Some backstory and a decent Session Zero can go a long way.

    The cards have flipped! I drew from the Merchants deck, and we pulled a fancy-dressed dwarf with an eidetic memory, a distrust of elves, and a touch of survivors guilt, complete with a souvenir.

    Frankly, this lends itself beautifully to the iron Kingdoms. Rhul borders on Ios, and with the Iosans closing their borders even tighter after the events of Oblivion, anyone who was already even slightly xenophobic regarding the elves would find trust waning further. The Nyss tribes would North of Khador would also have potentially clashed with Rhulfolk as Everblight’s machinations unfolded, so we have potential reason to distrust both Iosan and Nyss elves.

    The eidetic memory and propensity to interject with infodumps are personality quirks, but our dwarf’s recent encounter with a horned gribbly gives us both potential character motivation and something for the DM to weave into the main story, or perhaps craft a personal side quest around.

    Since we’re looking to use Faldor as a PC, his personal backstory needs some good meat, but not too much, as we want his story to unfold through play. As a DM, however, let’s consider where that backstory might feed the narrative. The description states a gnarled horn, so a Gnarlhorn Satyr would be an easy fit, though more likely to lead dear Faldor into conflict with the Circle Orboros than the elves. This works for a campaign with the Circle featuring as primary antagonists, though it relegates Faldor’s anti-elf sentiments to being little more than a character quirk.

    Instead, the image brings to mind a number of agents of the dragon Everblight. I’m picturing a small merchant caravan, specializing in finer wares – Faldor’s garb doesn’t mark him as someone who spends a lot of time swinging a pickaxe – making its way through the North to a Khadoran city or settlement. Perhaps delivering some clockwork intricacies. The road is not used often, though it’s still clear and largely considered a safe route.

    Faldor is one of half a dozen Rhulfolk with the caravan. Three merchants, three trained guards – possibly Highshields – riding two per wagon; merchants at the reins, guards riding shotgun. As the sun starts to sink below the ridgeline, the temperature dips. The guard on the rear wagon suddenly goes stiff, raises his firearm to the temple of the surprised merchant beside him and pulls the trigger. The gunshot startles the dwarves on the forward two wagons, but the guard on the front wagon fires a lethal shot into the the chest of the merchant with him, eyes glazed over.

    Faldor dives from the wagon seat as his guard suddenly clutches at his head. Rolling under the wagon he hoists himself into the undercarriage. The guards are all yelling out now. Free of whatever influence had cased them to murder their charges, the front and rear guards move toward the center, barking at each other as they scan the roadside forest for threats.

    The three gather, guns pointing outward, as from nowhere snow swirls about them, bitter winds tearing at them, ice forming on their beards and brows. Bolts of dark energy slice through the blizzard, striking the guards as triggers are pulled, firing blindly. One guard drops, then another, then a piercing shriek is heard.

    Suddenly the wind stops howling, the snows dissipate, and the third guard, fallen to one knee, holds his firearm forward in a shaky grip. Smoke wafts lazily from the barrel as he falls forward, succumbing to his wounds, and there is silence.

    After a time, Faldor climbs out from under the wagon. His guards and fellow merchants are dead. Following the line of the last guard’s shot, Faldor cautiously moves to the side of the road. There, laying in the mud, is a wicked, gnarled horn. The base is shattered, a bullet having taken it from the head of its owner. Faldor is no tracker, but he can see the brush has been disturbed by somethign moving away with some haste. On a tree beside the trail, a single bloody handprint. Long, slender fingers extending from a delicate palm. Elf…

    Perhaps, thinks Faldor, it’s time to step away from the world of sales and merchandise, and into another line of work. He would take what he could from the wagons and complete as much of the delivery as he could, and then talk to the Khadorans about other opportunities…

    Meanwhile, deep in the forest, a Nyss Succubus tenderly places a poultice to the side of her head. The ragged, bleeding stump was all that remained of her horn. Her face twisted in anger, she pondered how her ambush had been undone. The dwarfs were dead… she had got them all, yes? While she had not recovered the device her mistress sought, she had at least stopped its delivery. She would rest, then return to the wagons to scour the contents. With the Rhulfolk all dead there should be no further concerts…

    Suddenly we have a reason for Faldor to be suspicious of elves, a backstory that gives him a nudge to start adventuring, a background, and a possible future nemesis, the one-horned succubus who was spurned by her mistress for her failure, and now seeks revenge against the one dwarf who survived…

    The Dossier Decks are available from SkeletonKey Games. Find your inspiration therein.


  • Dossier Decks: Kesai Hirowata and her secret bauble

    You stroll down the cobblestones, a variety of vendors hawking their wares from the broad windows of their shops and stall. It was a fairly busy marketplace, but it was clear to the discerning eye that the assorted shopkeeps and merchants saw each other as a community. No two stalls with similar offerings were close to each other, one vendor would watch a street urchin out of the corner of their eye at their neighbor’s stall, mindful of any light fingers… a pleasant enough corner of the city – not too opulent so as to make the common adventurer feel out of place, but not so seedy as to inspire a tighter than normal grip on one’s purse. Then, next to the dwarven potter’s stall, you spot an oddity.

    No-one is outside the establishment beckoning passersby, just a simple wooden storefront, round windows with embroidered curtains masking the interior. A simple wooden sign hangs above the door. No words, just a painted depiction of a golden bowl with flowers floating in it. Curiosity takes you, and you step across the threshold to discover what looks more like a museum than a store, each item displayed individually on cushions and pedestals, in alcoves and display cases. A woman steps through a curtain at the rear of the store, and welcomes you to her humble establishment…

    With D&D on my mind, I thought it was time to deal some more cards from SkeletonKey’s Dossier Decks. Creating NPC’s can be a challenge, but it’s amazing what you can do with a little inspiration. The Dossier Decks make it easy – you can see how far my brain rambled in my earlier posts, such as with Barl Moonsblood, professional nap wizard.

    We flipped for appearance, traits and a story hook from the Merchants deck for today’s NPC and came up with…

    Kesai Hirowata, purveyor of the exquisite.

    Continue reading  Post ID 21061

  • Dossier Decks: Ombarr Ruthnok, Orc on the Run

    Creating NPC’s for a roleplaying campaign can be a fun mental exercise. You never know when the NPC you breathe life into will inspire a future PC, a campaign, or even an entire setting – all built off the concept of one character. I thought today we’d do our first Dossier Deck character of 2021 by opening the fourth and final deck from the original kickstarter: Orcs & Goblins. For those unfamiliar, SkeletonKey produced four Dossier decks – Commoners, Merchants, Mages and Orcs & Goblins. Each deck has appearance, story hook and trait cards. You shuffle each card type, draw one of each, and bam, you get your NPC. While each deck is fully fleshed out in itself, you can mix all four decks together for maximum versatility, and they can be easily resorted thanks to the deck icons in the bottom corner of each card.

    Today we’re solely using cards from the  Orcs & Goblins deck. Our shuffle has yielded:

    • Appearance: Ombarr Ruthnok – a senior orc in good health, with solvered hair
    • Traits: Nervous tics and a touch of pyromania – my kinda guy.
    • Story Hook: Family Jewel/All-Seeing Eye. Ombarr has been charged with the safekeeping of an orb that’s being sought for its magical properties.

    So let’s start with the appearance. Orcs are often portrayed as a more barbaric culture, but Ombarr’s silver hair suggests that he’s already lived much longer than the stereotypical lifespan. The card state that he’s still healthy and strong, so we’ve got a senior orc who can still brawler. I’m put in mind of the Silver Horde from the Discworld books – a character who, by all rights, should have died a dozen times over but has instead defeated all-comers and, despite the ravages of time, can still hold his own. Ombarr was likely one hell of a brawler, and thus commands the respect and admiration of his clan…

    Continue reading  Post ID 21061

  • Games should be fun

    “At  the center of skorne society are unpleasant concepts like suffering, servitude and torture. Some players might not want such concepts expressed openly or in great detail, if at all. It is important everyone at the table is comfortable and having fun, and this might require a Game Master to let some elements of skorne culture take a back seat or be glossed over – or even to omit them entirely. Every group is different, so it is up to a Game Master to respect the players’ tolerances and preferences before showcasing such elements in a game. One group might not have any problem with playing a skorne campaign replete with dark themes, while another group might strongly prefer to omit careers like the Tormentor and the practices they represent. Overall, skorne society is more focused on earning honor and glory than on simply inflicting pain, and a campaign could easily be steered to focus players on achieving greatness for their houses without exploring the darker aspects of skorne culture and philosophy.”

    This passage is in the Skorne Empire supplement for the Iron Kingdoms Unleashed RPG. It was written by one of my favourite RPG writers, though I didn’t know that when I read it. It contains what is, for me, one of the most important concepts a Dungeon Master, Game Master, Storyteller needs to understand.

    A little background for those unfamiliar:

    The Skorne are a race of humanoids from the Warmachine/Hordes setting, whose culture could loosely be described as combining elements reminiscent of Feudal Japan, the Roman Empire, and an omnipresent death cult. They have a rigorous caste system, warring houses actively enslave those they defeat, and much of their culture is built around the desire to have their souls captured and stored in crystalline prisons when they die, rather than having them sucked into the void and destroyed. They are masters of mortitheurgy – death magic – and there are very powerful elements of their society that are built up around the sorcerous power that can be siphoned from the victims of torture and agonizing death.

    Frankly, an awful lot of skorne culture is built around practices that are ethically and morally abhorrent. I’ll freely admit that I love the Iron Kingdoms setting and I’m fascinated by the life breathed into the setting by the writing team. The setting has so much depth and character, for so many different factions and cultures, it boggles my mind just how rich the world of the Iron Kingdoms has become over the years. That said, some cultures depicted are, to my mind, much more suited to being antagonists rather than protagonists. There’s little heroic about the Blindwater Congregation, the Cryxian nation is mired in undeath and sinister blood magicks, and we all know how I feel about those filthy Morrowans in Cygnar.

    The Skorne Empire supplement is the most comprehensive look into the peoples who marched across the abyss to wage war on the fertile lands of Western Immoren, and while it can certainly be used as a “Here be bad guys” resource, it also presents the rules for a group of players to don the crimson and brass armour of the Empire and play in the streets of Halaak in their own quest for eternal glory (ie, to earn honour and glory sufficient to have their spirit placed in a soulstone upon death). That’s where the above quote comes in.

    Every group is different, so it is up to a Game Master to respect the players’ tolerances and preferences before showcasing such elements in a game.”

    Roleplaying groups are often bound by an unspoken social contract. The most recent D&D sourcebook, Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, lists the following:

    • You will respect the players by running a game that is fun, fair, and tailored for them. You will allow every player to contribute to the ongoing story and give every character moments to shine. When a player is talking, you are listening.
    • The players will respect you and the effort it takes to create a fun game for everyone. The players will allow you to direct the campaign, arbitrate the rules, and settle arguments. When you are talking, the players are listening.
    • The players will respect one another, listen to one another, support one another, and do their utmost to preserve the cohesion of the adventuring party.
    • Should you or a player disrespect each other or violate the social contract in some other way, the group may dismiss that person from the table.

    If you’re doing something that actively makes a player uncomfortable, you’re in breach of the social contract. An exception may be possible if it’s tied to a critical plot point, but you’d best be prepared to deal with any fallout, which could be anything up to and including dissolution of the campaign.

    I’m currently running a D&D game set in Barovia, home of Count Strahd Von Zarovich. This is the gothic horror setting for D&D otherwise known as Ravenloft. It’s dark. I mean, it’s one thing to go strolling through a dungeon and thwarting skeletons and goblins. It’s another thing to burst into a puppet theatre where the audience is ceramic dolls that all turn to stare at you, and one of the villagers is up on the stage strung up like a marionette with meat hooks through his joints.

    In playing through the  campaign there have been multiple times where I’ve seen my players pale or be taken aback by some of the descriptions I’m firing at them. They’ve been troopers, but you can bet that I’ve checked in with them multiple times to make sure they’re okay with the tone of the campaign, because – and here’s the crux – games are meant to be fun. I want them to end the sessions feeling like they’ve accomplished something, learned something, or even just done something cool. I want them to have experiences that can have them thinking “Hey, remember when…” some time down the line.

    They’re the protagonists. If you’re having fun, but they’re not, you’re doing it wrong. You need to consider your approach, how things are portrayed, how much agency they have as players, so on and so forth. Conversely, if they’re having fun but you’re not, that needs to be addressed too.

    D&D, IKRPG and other RPGs are all about collaborative storytelling. While the DM may have the index and the major plot points, it’s the players who are filling in the minutiae. Everyone should be able to enjoy the experience.

  • What’s on your wishlist?

    Most think it can be hard to shop for gamer pals, but in truth, it’s not as difficult as it seems. Worried about gifting a model for the wrong faction? Congratulations, you’ve just provided inspiration to for a whole new army! Worried about gifting a duplicate? Truth be told, the percentage of models that can’t be used in multiples is very low, and there’s always the chance to convert a model. What about roleplaying resources? Sure, no-one needs two Dungeon Masters Guides, but there’s always something missing from their library that can be identified with very minimal research. Worst comes to worst, have you -ever- heard a roleplayer say they have too many dice? Today I thought we’d drop some hints for shoppers, or last minute additions to your wishlists

    Miniature Games

    Everyone’s well aware of Games Workshop’s Start Collecting boxes. Almost every faction in Age of Sigmar and Warhammer 40K has a Start Collecting box available. They’re all excellent value, and they pretty much all have kids that can be built with multiple options, so there’s very little fear of duplication.

    If you’re looking for something a little more affordable though, that can welcome a new player to miniature gaming? Privateer has you covered.

    G.U.A.R.D. for Monsterpocalypse

    Warmachine/Hordes starters provide everything you need to gets started, except a table and an opponent. Each has a complete rulebook and a selection of curated models that are suitable for learners, but that will still provide fun play for veterans. Suitable for the Fantasy/Steampunk fan.

    Monsterpocalypse starters follow the same philosophy but aimed at those who really enjoyed Godzilla or Pacific Rim. Will you level the city and crush the puny humans, or will you save mankind from monstrous invaders? Either way, you get to slam your opponents into building and stomp their puny tanks. Good times.

    If you’re a sci-fi junkie, Warcaster starters are the newest kids on the block but still pack a punch with plenty of pew-pew in a distant galaxy. Player communities are developing and the feedback on this game is positive and an exciting opportunity for someone looking for a dynamic new venture.

    Roleplaying Games

    Tales From The Loop

    Dungeons & Dragons is the biggest name in town, and there’s a world of supplements and resources available. From the Starter Set for someone who’s never played before, to the Players Handbook for someone keen to take their first steps into a campaign, to Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything – the very newest resource for players and DM’s alike.

    If you’re looking for a different roleplaying experience, the options are all out there – you could pre-order the Dune RPG for hardcore sci-fi fans, combat nazis and elder things with Achtung! Cthulhu, or sink your teeth into the award-winning Tales From The Loop for fans of Stranger Things.

    Amethyst d20 from Norse Foundry

    Not looking to commit to a whole new campaign, but think a one-off would be good times? Steamforged’s Epic Encounters are self-contained adventures that can also be worked into an existing campaign.

    If you’re not looking for a new game, dice are absolutely a thing. Stunning dice in wood, stone and metal are available from Dogmight, Elderwood Academy, Dice Envy and Norse Foundry. If you’re looking for dice for an LGBTQ+ gamer, Heartbeat has you covered.

    Adventurers & Adversaries offers modular miniatures, and both Heroforge and Eldritch Foundry allow for customizable model designs that you can then have printed or print yourself.


    Brush Wielders Union

    Subscription boxes are all the rage nowadays for a variety of industries, and gaming hasn’t been overlooked. Privateer Press offers two different monthly subscription lines – one for Warmachine/Hordes and the other for Legend of the Five Rings – over at Mini-Crate. Dungeon In A Box, RPG Crate and Dungeon Crate all cater to Dungeons & Dragons fans, and there’s even dice subscription services like Libris Arcana.

    Additionally you could look into a subscription to D&D Beyond, perhaps a membership in a subscription-based community like the Brush Wielders Union, or even hook them up with a link to a favored author’s Patreon so that they can get sneak peeks at upcoming works.

    The worlds inhabited by tabletop gamers can be dizzying and confusing for those on the outside, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be navigated with a little assistance. I wish everyone the best in navigating the coming weeks as we close out 2020. We may be isolating for the good of the community, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find ways to get our hobby on, or to help end encourage the gamers in our lives to do the same.


  • Jolabokaflod

    Everyone celebrates the holiday season differently. From family gatherings with a big meal to taking off for sunnier climes, from going skiing to hitting the beach, from midnight mass to spinning a dreidel, different cultures and difference traditions can make the season marvelous. As we go rapidly approach the holidays under the shadow of a global pandemic the holidays are going to look very different for a lot of families, and many of us are looking for alternative ways to mark the holidays that will allow us to do something special without putting ourselves or those we love at unnecessary risk. Enter: Jolabokaflod.

    With thanks to Magnificatz for the graphic, Jolabokaflod is an Icelandic Christmas Eve tradition where you gift books (never a bad thing), and spend your Christmas Eve with a few morsels of chocolate and a new tale. It may not be the most social of traditions, but in an environment where we’re trying to avoid gatherings, this may be the perfect time to start participating in Jolabokaflod. Encouraging people to enjoy the written word is never a bad thing, and who knows what worlds of adventure await you hidden amidst the pages.

    With that in mind, some suggestions for your consideration.

    Skull Island Expeditions was Privateer Press’ e-book adventure, and while the dedicated site may no longer be available, the tales of the Iron Kingdoms are still available through DriveThruRPG. Whether you’re a fan or Warmachine or Hordes, there are plenty of texts to choose from. Personal favourites include Howard Tayler’s Extraordinary Zoology, Dave Gross’ Dark Convergence, Chris A. Jackson’s Watery Graves, Larry Correia’s Into The Storm, and several of the short story anthologies with tales by Doug Seacat, Aeryn Rudel, Orrin Grey, and a host of other authors.

    Games Workshop’s Black Library continues to spit out books at a borderline alarming rate, filling the lore of their assorted universes with books, e-books and audiobooks. Whether you’re into Warhammer 40K or Age of Sigmar, Necromunda or Blood Bowl, you may find something of interest. This year they’ve opened up the Warhammer Crime and Warhammer Horror imprints, including the classic Drachenfels, written in the 80’s by Kim Newman – one of the first game-related novels I ever read as a nascent nerd, donchaknow. The Siege of Terra also continues in their cataloguing of the events of the Horus Heresy, the defining conflict of the Warhammer 40K setting.

    If you ever ask me for a book recommendation and I don’t reference Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld at some point, I may be trying to subtly let you know that I’ve been kidnapped or something. There are 41 canon Discworld novels, written over 32 years. The earliest parody fantasy tropes and literature, while later books satirize elements of present day life and society. Wyrd Sisters, for example, parodies Macbeth , while Monstrous Regiment cocks an eyebrow at war, propoganda, and gender roles. Most recently I reread Unseen Academicals, which is – on the surface – a tale about the citizen of Ankh Morpork formalizing a soccer (nee football) league, but along the way has something to say about at inclusion vs exclusion, nature vs nurture, the link between ignorance and racism. All in a fantasy setting with a smattering of both Romeo & Juliet and Cinderella. There are so many great books in the series that where to start can be a much bigger question than it would first seem, but there are Reading Order lists out there and I’d be happy to help point anyone in the right direction.

    The gift of a book can amazing. It can be from an author you know the recipient loves, or it can be an opportunity to share one of your own favorite authors. If you want to go non-fiction, it can be a stepping stone into a new hobby or field of interest, or even a promise of an activity that you’ll share with the recipient once we’re on the other side of the pandemic, such as with a new RPG book (Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything just released for Dungeons & Dragons), a new sourcebook for tabletop gaming (The Broken Realms event for Age of Sigmar has started with Morathi), or perhaps something to fuel the creative side (Such as Angel Giraldez’s Masterclass). Maybe this year, since many of us can’t gather with our loved ones, the gift of reading may provide some comfort, should we take a tip from Iceland.

  • Dossier Decks: Barl Moonsblood, Professional Nap Wizard

    With my D&D group coming up to a pivotal moment in Saturday’s game, I thought it was time to do another Dossier Deck draw and build a new NPC for your consideration. We started out with the Merchant deck, where we came up with a goldsmith about to be visited by the ghostly crew of sailors he betrayed in his greed. Then, a jealous chef from the Commoners deck, who doesn’t take criticism well at all. Two decks remain before we either double up or just throw caution to the wind and shuffle them all together: Wizards, and Orcs & Goblins. I thought we’d try Wizards today…

    … and I’m not quite sure what to think, this is the second half-orc drawn, before we even get to the Orcs & Goblins deck.

    Our Appearance card has a fairly suave looking half-orc in a hooded cloak, looking very wizardish indeed. His traits tell us that he’s a very sound sleeper who can nap anywhere, anytime, anyhow. Possible narcolepsy? Or just a general ability to become uber-relaxed at the drop of a hat? Barl is also rigorously honest, and expects others around him to be the same… and is utterly unforgiving when his trust is betrayed.

    All of this makes for a potentially interested recurring NPC, but it’s the story hook that really kicks it  up a notch. Barl possesses a ring that lets him jump into the body of another, trapping the victims consciousness in the ring while he gambols about town, and Barl’s own body enters a sleep-like trance. Flipside is, his body ages faster while he’s not home, so at some point Barl’s going to need to find a new host body altogether.

    This brings up a whole series of possibilities. Is “Barl Moonsblood” the original inhabitant of the body he’s currently wearing? Are there other consciousnesses trapped in the ring? What happens to them when Barl returns to his own body – are they returned to their own bodies? Are their memories intact?

    It seems likely that Barl’s uncanny ability to catch 40 winks is in fact a cover for his jumping to different bodies. This would also explain the difficulty in waking him referred to on the Traits card. No amount of yelling or shaking will wake him, but when Barl notices you’re trying to – from whatever body he’s currently inhabiting – he makes his way back and feigns waking from slumber to keep his corporeal transitory trick a secret. As for the honesty thing, if he’s convinced everyone that his accusers are liars before they’ve even accused him of anything, it’ll make keeping his secret that much easier…

    So let’s turn this into a short arc.

    Mesmerized Villagers

    In a small village, a number of people have recently experienced odd sensations and memory lapses. Farmer Giles went out to milk his favorite goat, only to discover that he’d already done it. Young Prudence somehow missed her secret assignation with Bert the Blacksmith’s apprentice, and in fact had no idea why her boots were so muddy. No-one could figure out why Walter had suddenly uncorked the good barrel in the tavern, despite having only just cracked open the usual beer, and Walter himself couldn’t remember even doing it!

    Surely that wizard fellow who came into town a few days ago can help! He looks a right proper fellow in that cloak with all the stars on it! He’s sure to be able to unravel the mystery. As our heroes come into town, they find a handful of villlagers entreating Barl to help them solve the mystery. He spots the heroes and – knowing that they could expose his charade – recruits them instead to join him in his investigation. If he’s working with them, he can steer their efforts, or if he feels he’s at risk, all he’ll need to do is to ‘become’ one of the adventurers on a more permanent basis, letting them “kill” his old host body.

    “Why yes, good heroes, I am new to the area myself. I’m on the trail of a deadly Mind Flayer that I heard was establishing itself nearby. I suspect it may be testing the waters, so to speak, and snacking on the memories of these good gentle rubes. Surely, we should work together to uncover the fiend’s base of operations, and save these honest folk from losing their very minds in the face of betentacled terror! Why, even now the hideous creature could be watching through the eyes of its agents… that milkmaid is looking awfully suspicious…”

    Will the players uncover Barl’s treachery? Will he be able to lure them into nearby ruins and pick them off, one-by-one? What the heck’s up with the milkmaid?

    Dungeons & Dragons is the perfect way for you to write epic adventures with your friends as you play together to craft a story for the ages. Sometimes, all you need is a little nugget of inspiration. Thanks to SkeletonKey and their Dossier Decks for the fun ideas. Next time, we crack the Orcs & Goblins deck. If I draw a half-orc, I’m writing a sternly worded letter… 😉