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2014 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,400 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 40 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Posted by on January 3, 2015 in Uncategorized


Orc Campaign Companion for 5e

We very colloquially call it “The Orc Campaign.” I mention this from time to time – the most successful (and longest running) campaign I’ve ever DMed. It began as a one-shot to while away some summer boredom, and snowballed into my first stumbling attempt at a campaign that featured realm management and emphasized open (smallish) scale warfare and societal management. It wound up being the cornerstone achievement of my college-years gaming career.

Recently, one of my players from said campaign was kibitzing around Reddit (a worthwhile habit that I just never fell into) and noticed a request for information about running a similar kind of game. He asked if I had anything on hand I could send along to aid this DM. So I looked at my notes.


Three separate editions and at least two hiatuses left my “Campaign Bible” a somewhat invoherent disarray. There was no way I could post that monstrosity on the internet. It was incomplete, unreadable to anyone but me (how do people write books for dead authors using their notes? Those must be a jumble of half-thoughts and suggested ideas! It’s madness!)

But if I could take the time to re-write it all…this time with an audience in mind instead of simply being a repository for my hastily assembled session notes – If I could re-write the campaign companion with advice on running the game and thoughts on how it should work behind the scene…then I might be on to something.

So I’ve decided to ever so slowly but surely start compiling an “Orc Campaign Companion” for use with 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons. I’ll be posting the bits and pieces (or whole chapters!) that I finish as articles here for comments and suggestions, to eventually bust out a more convenient and palatable PDF version. Potentially with new art and ideally some better formatting (yes, yes, I know, and iPad is not a replacement for a computer and doing PDF design in the Pages app makes me some kind of slack-jawed troglodyte). But between work, theatre, and running an active campaign it will be a slow process. Please bear with me – I think I uncovered some cool stuff in the seven some years of running this game on-and-off.

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Posted by on September 10, 2014 in Announcements, Editorial, Uncategorized


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The Pen is Mightier

This encounter is intended for three characters of 4th Level

     I’m mining my old 4th Edition Neverwinter Campaign Setting game yet again for this week’s encounter. I was really proud of the concept behind this one, and thought it might place some interesting choices in the hands of your PC’s, as well as provide them with a nuanced little set-piece combat. Like the other encounters in this series, I’m referencing plot and organizations from the Neverwinter (and thus, Forgotten Realms) campaign setting, but adjust whatever you need to suit your own campaign world and circumstances.


     Devil’s in the D&D world are the more conniving and long-sighted of the two breeds of infernal outsider. Thus, one of the Ashmadai’s plots in Neverwinter aims to conquer the city through the “long-game” should their other efforts fail. Because in recent years the city has been beset by very immediate disasters and the practical necessity for rebuilding; much of the city’s records, legal files, and historical texts have been abandoned. Most were destroyed during the catastrophe and the destruction it wrought on Neverwinter castle, but the House of Knowledge stored many such documents. A wealth of scrolls and books dedicated to municipal bureaucracy still survives down in its underground archival stacks. 

     It’s hard to say just which Ashmadai mastermind got the idea, but the cultist have been hard at work digging through these documents. They have set aside a chamber where some of the more learned and treacherous Ashmadai are hard at work forging, editing, splicing, and re-writing all day long. The goal is to manipulate the city’s records and history, so that when order is finally restored and judicial disputes over lands, inheritance, and succession commence, many such battles will end in favor of the cultists and their allies. Because few in Neverwinter have had the time to think of securing these documents the cultists have free reign to literally re-write the city’s storied history.

     The chamber in which the cultists are forging documents is part of the lower levels of the House of Knowledge. Hard at work, these cultists are unlikely to hear the PCs approach unless they have been tipped off to the presence of intruders (in which case one of the thugs will stand guard outside).

Flammable Objects

     There are some singular drawbacks in being innately talented with destructive pyromancy while working in a library. That’s a limitation that your players might be able to capitalize upon. The cultists will NOT make any attacks that deal fire damage/will forgo additional fire damage while near flammable documents (these areas are labelled with red “X”s on the map).

     That said, accidents (and clever players) do happen. If documents catch fire, one of the cultists will cease their attack in order to save the crisping parchment in question. Their next action will be spent dousing the flames even if this means risking an attack of opportunity. After completing this task they will rejoin the battle. If the damage is extensive (catching fir to an entire bookshelf) then they will attempt to salvage whatever they can from the ruin (this will require their next three actions). If the cultist is attacked while attempting to preserve these artifacts, it will be made clear to him/her what the greater threat is.

     While attempting to save damaged documents, attacks against cultists have Advantage and their saving throws are made with Disadvantage.

Tempting Literature

     Following combat, your players will have an interesting choice on their hands. Among the projects on the table is a near exact copy of a will and accompanying deed to one of the mansions in the Blakelake District. The cultist working on this forgery didn’t have time to fill in the name of the beneficiary – leaving the mansion’s fate up to the players. The document is legal and binding (for all intents and purposes) and could easily be used to allow the PCs to obtain the property with little effort.

     It’s up to you whether or not the PCs get away with this morally unsound acquisition. The more interesting choice is to allow them to enjoy their new hideout for a time – before an heir to the manse arrives in Neverwinter seeking to reclaim their family estate. What stake this newcomer has in the city, and what allies they might have at their disposal, could make this a difficult situation to navigate.

     You have a number of option to resolve this contested ownership. A hearing before the city’s ruler Lord Neverember could become a tense legal battle (with the forged will being the key to victory), or a bloody clash in trial by combat. Devious parties might attempt to remove their rival through treachery or assassination. Good aligned PCs might cede the land without dispute and find a grateful heir happy to reward them for preserving the mansion from falling into Ashmadai hands. Perhaps the returned inheritor is among the cultists, and despite their efforts, the estate still serves as a cult headquarters. 

     You might instead tempt the party with any number of other rewards acquirable through manipulation of legal documents that the Ashmadai were busy forging – from glory in the annals of Neverwinter’s history to rights to titles or lands outside the city.



Features of the Area

     Lighting: Candles on the table and torch sconces on the walls provide a greasy brightness to the room.

     Table: The large table in this room is covered in parchments, ink wells, quill pens, thin knives, and other implements of forgery. The table itself extremely heavy (and was likely constructed inside this room. It would take at least three PCs accomplishing Easy Strength checks in the same initiative turn to overturn it.

     Bookshelves: Five of these 6.5 foot tall wooden shelves line the walls. They are buckled and warped, and are beginning to show their age. Each is crammed full with scrolls, folios, vellum sheets, books and bundles of loose paper, all carefully organized. Their contents are highly flammable. Overturning the shelves themselves requires a Moderate Strength roll. Should a shelf fall on one of the combatants, they are considered Restrained until they can make a Moderate Strength or Dexterity roll as an action to shimmy out from under the obstacle.


x1 Cultist of Azmodeus (Storm Over Neverwinter pg. 7)

x2 Branded Zealot (Storm Over Neverwinter pg. 6)

x1 Ashmadai Thug (Storm Over Neverwinter pg. 4)

To accomodate four players, add an additional Branded Zealot

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Posted by on March 8, 2014 in Uncategorized


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There’s always a give and take when incorporating “real world” information about the days of yore into your D&D game. Our colloquial picture of history doesn’t often match up with the actual Facts and as such, our fantasy worlds see a lot of disconnect too.

But the notion of “Hacksilver”, aside from being a great name for an all-girl heavy metal band, is infinitely applicable to coloring your gameworld.

Swords & Dorkery

I stumbled across the term “hacksilver” on the History Blog the other day and decided to look into it, as I often do when I encounter unfamiliar words.  It refers to silver items cut or bent into convenient sizes for use as currency, and it was apparently a common practice, especially among the Vikings, to use looted items of gold or silver this way.

File:Hack silver.jpg Image from

I will absolutely have to remember to implement this in D&D.  For one  it makes more sense that vast piles of valuable metals are not minted coins at all.

I can see a tribe of goblins or kobolds accumulating a pile of coins a few at a time by stealing them from travelers and trading stolen livestock to orcs or whatever, and humanoids and humans would probably be very likely to make hacksilver out of their loot.  Demihumans, who appreciate the aesthetics of…

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Posted by on February 21, 2014 in Uncategorized


2013 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,700 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 28 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Posted by on December 31, 2013 in Uncategorized



This encounter is intended for any number of PC’s of any level (With the D&D Next November Playtest in mind)

                           It's difficult to "just hug the right-hand wall" when you aren't certain which way is "right."

     There’s a high-end spell that I’ve always particularly loved: good old Maze. For me, it’s that rare combination of old-school weirdness and wonder that still manages game balance and functionality. It’s just a cool concept (trapping someone in a puzzling nether-realm), that doesn’t necessarily spell a grim and ignoble end for a PC. Sure, it can take a player out of the action same as any other SAVE vs. FUN spell, but at least you aren’t getting coup de graced by some fish-man! But out of the action means that player’s turn is less interesting, and that’s the problem I’d like to address with this week’s encounter.

     Another bee in my bonnet is the difficulty in establishing a good “boss fight” with D&D Next. The beauty of bounded accuracy is that any level of character can pose some measure of threat to higher level characters. But that’s a bit of a problem when it comes to boss fights. Numerous attack rolls from weaker opponents (the PCs) add up fast, and a few whiffs from a hard hitting Big Bad can really negate their significance. 

     There’s an easy fix (give the dragon more hit points) which need not even be codified into the rules – but I’m thinking of something a little more complicated. A little more interesting…


     The PCs are confronting a significant foe with some magical strength. It need not be your campaign’s BBEG (Big Bad Evil guy) even; merely a higher level foe. A lich, dragon, cultists, rival adventurer, horrific mindflayer sorceror, whatever works for you conceptually. To expand the length of this climactic showdown, and add a spark of the unexpected, the foe will use a special spell in the second round of combat (or the first, if you don’t trust his ability to survive) that will even the odds. The spell is a modified version of Maze. This variant is lower level, and thus less damning, but instead of being an endless stretch of generic walls…this maze is occupied by threats of its own: and doors to befuddle heroes attempting to escape. With some of the PCs vanished to a pocket plane and struggling to return, the tension is ramped up as the remaining heroes, ignorant of their allies plight, must fight on against the boss in a desperate attempt to hold out for help.

Naviagting Maze World

The key to escaping the maze, in this case, is to guess the right door that leads back to the real world. Looking through any given door appears to lead into a room lit too brightly to see (this shimmering mirage masks the fact that the door is a portal within the maze and a dirty trick). False doors will lead back to the start of the maze, confounding any prior progress.

Filling the maze with a few weak monsters is ideal – this slows the PCs down and makes what would otherwise be a boring guessing game into a threatening complication. They will be forced to choose between eliminating the guardians of the maze and finding the route home.

If players are clever, they may find some kind of hint as to which door is correct. A Wizard casting Detect Magic will discern illusion magic attached to the false doors but not to the actual door out of the maze.

Building the Maze

To keep things fun, I’d recommend a relatively small maze with between 4-7 doors. Remember, that between monster attacks, flase doors, and time spent moving through the extra-dimensional space, the PC will lose quite a few turns of combat. This maze, unlike others, isn’t meant to take a long time to navigate, but merely to limi the number of foes attacking the villain. You need not dig through grandma’s old Mazes and Sudoku puzzle books from the grocery store check-out line for inspiration.

I’ve constructed my Lesser Maze using some fancy, brand spanking new Dungeon Tiles from Dwarven Forge, but any 2D dungeon terrain pieces, or even some old school pen-and-graph paper will work. 

New Spell

Lesser Maze

4th-level conjuration

Casting Time: 1 action

Range: 25 feet

Duration: Concentration, up to 5 minutes

Choose up to 1d2+1 creatures within range that you can see.
You banish the targets into an extradimensional
labyrinth, a pocket plane of existence. The
targets remains there for the duration or until they escape the maze.

To escape, the target must make their way through the maze on their turn, escaping through a randomly selected “exit door.” False doors will lead back to the entrance of the maze. The true door, when opened, reveals the spot in which the creature left when the spell took effect. Moving through this door ends the spell for that target.

When the spell ends, the target reappears in
the space it left or, if that space is occupied, in
the unoccupied space nearest its former space. 

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Posted by on December 15, 2013 in Uncategorized


Draw Dungeons like Dyson

Take note onhow to do some clear, classy mapping!

Dyson's Dodecahedron

Yeah, you caught me, this is actually a graphical version of the tutorial I posted several years ago. But I’ve had a lot of demand for graphical tutorials ever since Dysonize Your Dungeon went viral.

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Posted by on October 5, 2013 in Uncategorized

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