City of the Spider Queen primer.

On Sunday my group and I took a break from our Pathfinder campaign, we decided to fill the gap with City of the Spider Queen (CotSQ).

All hail Lolth the spider queen!

This module came out back in 2002 from Wizards of the Coast and was designed with D&D 3.5 in mind. I bought this adventure module when it came out but, I only got to play it for one night as a player and the DM decided to run it somewhere in the middle. Needless to say this will truly be my first dive into CotSQ. My players have been looking forward to it for weeks after I announced it will be our filler to break up pace for the campaign.

We decided to use the Pathfinder rules as our core book for any rules referencing, spells, experience, gold, treasure, and everything else. All of the players will be generating the base of their character with the Pathfinder rules but, I am allowing the use of supplements from older 3.5 books within the game. As to how this will play out we will see in the coming games. I am already expecting a need for a few tweaks here and there. Luckily only two of the four players have elected to use 3.5 as their primary for character selection; this and one of the players is a mix of 3.5 monster manual and Pathfinder. I am slowly going through the module and making fixes where fixes need to be made, such as changing up skill points, re-evaluating spells, and adjusting experience points. I have not had a heck of a lot of time to really go through with a fine tooth comb to fix any changes, so most changes are going to be on the fly as we play through.

Now let me introduce the players:

Jon, Felicia, and a bottle of toilet cleaner.

Jon, he is going to be playing the Dwarf Warshaper, Parsnip Cannonbeard (you will notice a theme soon). I do not know much about this class other than it is broken and I hate it. In all honesty though this character regenerates health points by the second and it is also uses the Druid class as its base.

Felecia, she is playing Kogah the Minotaur splitting her levels between Minotaur from 3.5 monster manual, and Barbarian. She hits hard and fast and is the ideal person to use the dominate person spell on. Kogah has very low intellect.

Toliet cleaner, is a +1 weapon of dry erase destruction. He is awesome because the DM stupidly put dry erase marker on a wet erase board last time they played and needed to clean it off.

Trevor and Matthew

Trevor, is playing the Dwarven Defender, Kale Cannonbeard (seeing the theme yet). He is hard to hit with a swimming pool of hit points. Look out for his +1 move silently check. I can already tell he is going to cause some problems. He also has leadership and a few followers from what I understand.

Matthew, is playing the Dwarven Ranger, Turnip Cannonbeard (now it is plain as day!). He makes up the last of the Cannonbeard brothers. Look out for his repeater crossbows. Honestly that is about all I know about this character.

The group has already set out on the adventure excepting a measly 5,000 gold pieces to investigate some crypts that a baron thinks some Drow raids are coming from. They woke a vampire in their first room! I can already tell this will be a fun break from our campaign.

Look for more CotSQ in the coming weeks. Follow me on Twitter (Toastix) to receive announcements on my next post. I am continue my chapter one campaign write up, but slimming it down is taking longer than expected and I am trying to find ways to spice it up, expect more updates soon!

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Campaign write up part one chapter one.

Part one of my chapter one campaign write up. This had to be broken up into three parts to cut down on my editing. The setting used is my own campaign setting that still does not have a name. This is a quick overview of the adventures and campaign thus far, without going into too much detail on every encounter. Those may happen with some time down the road. Tell me in the comments if you would prefer more play by play action of the campagin and adventures. For this chapter write up they will continue to be as below, but in the future I plan to write down the adventures as they happen. This is more to help the reader get up to speed for when the campaign continues onward to Chapter II.

The lowly travelers enter a small town in a strange land. Walking past a wooden sign by the cracked and ruined but still in use city gate, they have entered the town of Tharnwood. Seeking their own travels and own adventures the heroes were set on a path that could pull them in a direction ending in destruction of their plane of existence.

Tharnwood as a city functions more as a stopping point for travelers, a rest stop of sorts. It serves as a resupply point for travelers, adventures, and traders before they journeyed into the Tharnwood Jungle to trade with the indigenous or continued on their way to the Key Towers that lined the mountain range. From the Key Towers travelers could seek magical transportation to travel over the mountain rift of the elemental planes.

Travel, adventure, fortune, godly quests brought our adventures together in Tharnwood. A Monk, two Clerics, and a Bard would encounter each other for the first time when they were spotted to be adventures at the gates and sent directly to the mayor by his request. The Mayor a stout man hardened by living on the edge of normal civilization needed a particular jewel artifact retrieved that was stolen from him by a man passing through Tharnwood. This item is important to the stability of the region, and directly related to how the Key Towers ability to keep the planes from overwhelming the physical plane, or so the adventurers were told. The mayor had sent other groups to retrieve this item but they had all failed to return. It was important to the stability of the region that this item was recovered; the world would change forever if it was not brought back quickly.

The heroes set out, and within a few days they enter dense jungle. They are able to follow expedition trails and paths that travelers take to reach the towers. Within a few days they notice what looks to be a collapsing ruined temple. The temple has slowly been slipping deeper into the jungle terrarium as time has slipped it by. The heroes see what looks to be a fresh trail leading to the temple and decide to check it out. They search for a few hours looking for an entrance. Eventually they stumble upon a mud slope that has booted tracks leading down and into the temple. They quickly discover this temple is inhabited by friendly lizardfolk, which quickly become unfriendly with all of the fighting and killing happening in their temple.

In the temple they encounter more than just angry lizardfolk. They also encounter other adventures that are attempting to find the thief of the artifact, and are attempting to end the heroes’ adventure as quickly as it began. Eventually they deduce that the other adventurers were sent by the Arch Mage of the Key Tower to retrieve the artifact for his own nefarious purposes.

Still believing their path was true the heroes continue on till they reach the top of the temple. There they discover a gateway to another plane. Waywardly entering the portal they discover they have been warped to a plane of hell. Immediately they encounter a greater demon facing down what looks to be a lawful good paladin. When they step in to help what seems to be a hopeless battle the paladin lifts a gemstone and strikes down the demon.

They help tend to the paladin wounds and share in his good fortune of striking down the demon. They also learn of the paladins mission and his history with the mayor of Tharnwood. He was passing through Tharnwood on his way to the Key Towers, somehow the mayor learned of the artifact the paladin was carrying and learned what it could do. Which was separate the chains that bind the planes to the Key Towers, he wanted it for himself. The paladin has been chased by the mayors henchmen ever since.

The heroes decide to assist the paladin in his quest; they quickly go back through the portal they once came. They do not appear back at the temple as expected but somewhere deeper in the jungle at night. This becomes their first encounter with the Mages of the Key Tower as they quickly wisp away the paladin not allowing the group to act. They are now left in an unknown part of dense jungle questioning the quest they have been sent on.

coming next part two chapter one.


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My dungeon creation process.

While I am hard at work on my current campaigns chapter one recap write-up, where my group still has one room to go. I figured I would talk a little bit about writing dungeons and adventures; At-least the process I have been going through when I start to write.

Tarrasque

Yum! Yum! TPK!

My process usually starts out with a theme for the adventure. I tend to flip through fantasy art books, sci-fi art books, periodicals, and websites till I find an image that inspires me. Since I need monsters and the sort I tend to look through monster manuals, bestiaries, and old supplements I have lying around. When something strikes me as level appropriate or encounter appropriate, I will then build around that monster as the base of my theme. This does not mean the monster is necessarily exactly level appropriate for the group but needs to fit into the kinds of adventures the level my heroes are currently at, i.e. they are not going to be running into a Tarrasque at level five group as a combat encounter.

The next step I try to think of traps, riddles, puzzles, random bits of encounter that would fit the theme. This usually will happen simultaneously with my dungeon design. So I will design my rooms to fit into the trap/encounter design. I carry around a little booklet with me everywhere I go. When I am out and about doing stuff and I get an idea for a room or dungeon I will jot down ideas and sketch out a quick room/dungeon floor plan.

The above picture is an example of the beginning stages when I design a dungeon. I will design rooms to the shape I need in as realistic a manner that catacombs might be. I have an issue with creating dungeons or buildings that would not function as such. So I try to give them structural purpose. For example if I am designing a temple everything needs to fit into the shape of the temple. I have gotten around this using geological or magical change. I try to give players options within the layout so they can pick their own path. Rooms will expand, shrink, disappear, appear, and go through redesign till they fit the size I need for the encounter. Sometimes these adjustments are done on the fly to make an encounter more interesting. I want everyone to be able to fit in a room, feel they can move, and use strategy to beat a combat encounter. It can be difficult to do that if the room is too small and the second they walk in they are faced to face with a foe.

I try to make as many of my encounters as unique as possible so not to repeat rooms exactly as they may have been in the past if I have used a similar mechanic with my group. One such room that I created in my current campaign involved a room with twenty floor panels that the players needed to activate to cross the room. They only needed to activate enough panels to cross the room. They were presented with a polyhedron, which they had to roll. This polyhedron had symbols on each side that corresponded to a tile. When rolled the tile would activate, and on top of activating the tile a positive or negative effect would trigger on the character. One such effect was a rancid stench, that would emanate from a character lowering all skill checks that dealt with the player interacting with another player or NPC. The next time the players encounter a tiled room I want them to remember this encounter and have an effect on their role-play while problem solving.

For my combat encounters I try to use monsters or NPCs that fit my theme. Since I have already selected my theme from inspiring art this part is never as hard as making unique trap encounters. If I need to I will take creatures that are not at the appropriate power level and adjust them so they are. This can be as simple as lowering hit dice and damage output on the creature. In some cases it requires a complete overhaul to fit my need. In some cases I will write-up new monsters to fit my theme if I cannot find an equivalent that can be retooled or renamed.

I find myself retooling dungeons and encounters on the spot more frequently than not. It is always important to remember that nothing has to be set in stone. If and encounter is turning out to be too difficult, to long, or just plain boring, retool it on the spot so your players can continue to have fun, I promise you as the DM will too.

To recap:

  1. Find something that inspires.
  2. Build a theme around this object
  3. Select room mechanics that fit this theme.
  4. Design buildings/rooms that fit your theme
  5. Flesh out the encounter with monsters and supplemental flavor items.

These are the basic process I go through, and the basic principles I follow when going about my dungeon design. I find that these very few steps I take I can make a very complex dungeon crawl for my players. What are some of your philosophies on DM? Do you have a process that you do when you DM that you consider unique? Would you like to read more articles like this? If so share your ideas, stories, disasters, methodologies, or just general DM concepts in the comments. If you feel I missed an important step in design, than share that as well.

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The end of chapter one.

I am in the middle of a home-brew campaign using the pathfinder rules, in a setting I have been creating. I have taken a different philosophy and approach in writing my stories then I did in the past. I have had the first chapter main points planned out from the beginning, but the adventures and dungeons have not been. The heroes are getting dragged from one adventure to the next all taking place in wilderness and dungeons. The heroes have had very little time, actually no time to visit towns and stock up on supplies, weapons, beer, or wondrous magical items of unfathomable power. In fact I have given them no gold so far in their travels and very few items. It has been interesting at best and as we come to the end of the first chapter of the campaign tonight. I am considering continuing this approach as we continue.

The heroes innately set out to seek adventure and fortune but quickly get pulled into events out of their control. They are truly just trying to survive, and maybe save the world while they are at it. I plan to take the players to as high a level as we can go so I have not written and end to this story nor do I plan to. I have been putting them in dungeons I want to write, and transitioning to different biomes that I want to write dungeons in. Currently they have only seen jungle and mountain foothills, but who knows what the future will bring. Currently they are placed inside a magical tower; the Key Tower that aligns with other smaller towers along the major mountain rift through the middle of the world. These towers hold the material plane together, and prevent the other planes of existence from flooding into the world through this mountain rift. The planes would tear apart this world creating something entirely new. The Arch Mage has slowly been breaking apart the chains that bind the tower to the other planes and the heroes know they cannot stop him but are doing their best to prevent wide spread destruction. Tonight will tell what the fate of the world will be and the shape of their next adventure.

In a few days I will post a recap of the first chapter of the campaign. I will keep it as true to events as I can, since we have been playing this campaign for over a year, but have not played frequently till a little over four months ago. Notes have been misplaced and NPC names were changed to protect the innocent. Many exciting things have happened and I hope continue to happen. In the future I will be updating events and publishing the heroes’ stories as we go.

Dice will be rolled!

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The bumpy road to the dungeon.

I have had extensive experience Dungeon Mastering for various table top role-playing games (RPG). I still distinctly remember being around the age of 14 or 15 and going halfsies with a friend on the d20 StarCraft RPG that was put out by Wizards of the Coast (WOC) as an RPG starter pack set in the, you guessed it StarCraft Universe. I remember reading the rule set with this same friend and we had no clue what was going on. Fast forward to a week later we then bought the Diablo RPG also released by WOC. We decided to actually play this time and we invited a few friends over. I was nominated to Dungeon Master our first experience. I had not even read the adventure that was provided in the package. So we sat down at the table for around two hours and could not even figure out how to do the first room (a bow and arrow does what?). We were too invested in getting the rules to work; story was the last thing on our minds. We ended up playing computer games shortly after this failed attempt. I try not to consider this my first DM experience but truthfully it is and was a disaster.

Time traveling leap forward to a year later and I found a cheap copy of the d6 Star Wars RPG. I really wanted to play it and I had thousands of ideas for stories that I would love to tell in the Star Wars universe. Sadly I had not forgotten about my previous failed attempts at trying to run a successful game. So I had a caustic amount anxiety when I decided to form my first group of players. It is very daunting for a first time DM to set down with friends that have never played a table top RPG before. In my case there was much fear of embarrassment. Are they going to enjoy themselves? Do I know the rules well enough? What is truly going to happen? I just had to suck it up and play, or in this case suck it up and Dungeon Master the game.

In the end we had a lot of fun; my players enjoyed the game even if it went slow at first with the pesky rulebooks getting in the way of the game. Once I got over the idea of being a rules lawyer and decided to let the story happen crazy things ensued. Jedi jumped out of windows Taxis were painted pink and refitted with E-Webs, the discovery of the famous bar in the Star Wars universe the Fish and Chips. Over time I became known as the Star Wars guy, and we played the game like it was meant to be played. To this day friends send me messages reminiscing about the game I ran which makes me feel good. I just have never forgotten how hard it was to DM a game without ever having played an RPG before.

Over the years my time to play has slowed down, bur recently friends from home have moved into the area I now reside. We have restarted role-playing by running Pathfinder after a failed attempt to play 4e, and I am doing some of the best Dungeon Mastering I have ever done. My players are going to be in for some twists and quite a few very exciting experiences. I am so glad I decided to dive into playing RPGs and took the risk to DM 10-11 years ago. My experience would have been smoother if I had the chance to play before I created but it has always been hard for me to find DMs so I naturally fell into the role my group lacked. To this day I still feel like I do not know the rules as well as I should so I let story drive the action. I still struggle to DM for strangers simply because I do not know what they truly expect from me. I am hoping with this blog and some time I will soon get over that. I still have many years ahead of me in this hobby.

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The realness of historical war gaming.

First blog post!

I have been sitting around for a few days contemplating on what to write for my first blog post. Sadly this first post has nothing to do with my blogs name sake. It instead has to do with historical miniatures and historical war gaming, specifically focusing on World War II miniature gaming.

I have recently started to dive into Flames of War. For those that are not familiar it is a WWII semi-historical miniature game. I mean semi-historical since you can have companies that never fought against one another that can face off a crossed the table primed for battle. With that aside I purchased the rule book a few months back, simply because I enjoy reading rule books even if I might never play the game (my collection of RIFTS books). The further I read this fantastic rule set the more I wanted to play Flames of War. This is when I hit a conundrum, and an issue I have had with this genre of miniature games and why I have never play historical war games. Simply because real people died in these wars/battles and I feel like it would be trivializing to play a game based around this specific subject matter.

I have since gotten over this when my much younger brother in law has started to show an interest in hobby gaming. When he learned there was a WWII miniature game he was ecstatic and has urged me to teach him how to play. So I asked myself can I share this game and my hobby with a kid when I cannot get over the ‘real’ factor this game has on me. Well it was simple, I can use this as a tool to teach and learn more about WWII as well as the people that served by playing this game. The best part of it was you can gain a perspective from different sides of the conflict that you just cannot get from reading a history book. In the same regard I feel I would not be doing this game justice if I did not read a few dozen history books on the subject to make my company as accurate as possible.

So once again this hobby has impressed me. I just needed to remember how holistic miniature war gaming can be. It is far more than just reading the rules, painting, and playing. It is also about learning the history involved with conflict, experiences those conflicts, now albeit in a much safer and none life threatening situation that but it does not trivialize veterans of war, in fact because it reminds you that real people served, fought, and died you come out having learned something about history and yourself. This makes games like this more than your ability to play a History Channel special. I will have more reflection on this subject when I have actually played the game, which is still months away.

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