Friday, April 28, 2017

The Sack of the Emerald Citadel

Campaign: The Situational Heroes (Scarabae, 5e D&D)


  • Edmund Folderol, wood elf hunter ranger (background: outlander). Edmund Folderol says nothing about his past because he is super paranoid for reasons we don't yet understand.
  • Jester, hill dwarf thief rogue (background: entertainer). Jester is a renowned juggler who can't help but steal things. Bit of a klepto, really.
  • Grayson, dragonborn battle master fighter (background: mercenary). Grayson is the disgraced son of a famous family of dragonborn mercenary captains; daddy issues.
  • Miranda Lowe, air genasi storm sorcerer (background: noble). Miranda is a noblewoman from a far-off country. She's on the run from something, but she doesn't want to talk about it.
  • Mulga, half-orc valor bard (background: acolyte). Mulga believes that the world would be better if we all joined in a drum circle and really felt the cosmic connection, maaaaaan.
  • Pharasmos the Abjurer, human abjurer wizard (background: criminal). Pharasmos insists that he is not an arsonist; rather, his experiments just get "out of hand," sometimes.
Objective: Obtain the other half of a treasure map.

  • Miranda had previously discovered that the other half of the treasure map was in possession of a fey lady inhabiting a mystical citadel deep in the forest at the center of the island. The fey lady, Mistress Marigold, was said to be an enchantress of remarkable beauty.
  • As the crew ventured through the forest to Mistress Marigold's they were set upon by brainwashed creatures whose minds had been bent to the fey lady's will. The opposition was a smattering of gnolls, orcs, ogres, and humans. The charmed minions put up such strenuous resistance that the party was forced to fall back and make camp and lick their wounds.
  • After a night of rest, the party pressed on. They encountered more enchanted creatures ready to make war on their Mistress's behalf. Ultimately, though, the party managed to break through the forest and reach the citadel--a gleaming emerald tower.
  • The interior of the tower did not exist on the material plane--entering it brought the crew into the feywild, and the "architecture" was suitably bizarre. It also proved dangerous; Mistress Marigold's abode entangled the party with vines, subjected them to sudden hailstorms, and confronted them with a cunning trap consisting of mirrors and doppelgangers.
  • And still, the crew went onward with guile and skill, until they reached Mistress Marigold's throne room. Despite the crew's obvious prowess, she would not surrender her half the treasure map without a fight. Battle was joined!
  • As she died, it was revealed that Marigold was not the comely eladrin maiden she presented herself to be; rather, she was a hag who had consumed the rest of her coven to gain their evil strength. 
  • Her tower was ransacked, her mind-controlled minions set free, and the needed half-a-map was located.
  • Pharasmos checked in on his gambling enterprise; verdict: more money, more problems.
  • Mulga again tried to get a drum circle going, again attracting few interested parties.
  • Miranda and Grayson both caroused; they woke up with more money in their pockets than they started with.
  • Jester and Edmund convalesced from injuries and illnesses acquired in the sack of the Emerald Citadel.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Your Maps Are Suck

Big, bulky hardcovers are a poor format for published adventures. As the Dothraki say, It is known. And yet, man, Tales from the Yawning Portal really takes the biscuit.

Why? The maps tend toward awful, and are borderline unusable in some cases.

See the pictures below and my accompanying notes on how this has all gone wrong. (Please excuse my poor photography; I was in a rush.)

The map of the first floor of the Sunless Citadel has over forty locations on it, and the map takes up less than a quarter of a page. That's far too many locations crammed onto a tiny map; I can tell you from actual play experience that it's a struggle to make out the numbers on a map that small, especially when you need to keep flipping back to that map because the description of its rooms take several pages. It was so bad that I ended-up googling a bigger version of the map from an older edition of the game, printing it out, and using that instead.

On the Hall of the Fire Giant King map I've put a red circle around the room numbers that have a helpful black background/white text for legibility. The numbers in the blue circle (and the rest on the map) are printed in a dark color on a dark background, rendering them almost unreadable. I just happened to choose this map to illustrate this problem; there are quite a few maps in the book that have dark numbers printed against a dark texture. Full-color may make a book look expensive and fancy, but it's murder actually using this for its intended function as a game aid.

Surely a full page map will fare better? Sadly, no. The map of the Doomvault has numbers in circles, which seems like a winning combination, but that combination as used here is actually a bad one: the numbers are so small that they're hard to read and, worse yet, the red of the numbers overlaps the red of the circles they're good luck making those out.

Maybe a two-page spread would work better? Well, take a look at the Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan map. Because it's bound in a hardcover, and the adventure is placed near the front of the book, the crease between pages swallows so much of the map that you can just about see that it says SEC(ond) TI(er).

Those maps are straight-up embarrassing. Even a smaller publishing imprint or a DIY effort should have put more effort into the legibility and usability of those maps, so to have the biggest name in the industry foisting maps of this limited utility in their flagship D&D line of products is just sad. 

Look, I don't want to be that guy, but I think that when you plonk down your money for a product you should expect better. People cooking up maps for their games do better than this every single day; this is already a solved problem: black & white maps, at a decent size, with contrast between the numbering of items on the map and the map itself.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Schismatic Spray

Schismatic Spray

Level:Sor/Wiz 7
Components:V, S
Casting Time:standard action
Range:60 ft.
Area:Cone-shaped burst
Duration:Probably forever
Saving Throw:See text
Spell Resistance:Yes

This spell causes seven shimmering, intertwined, multicolored beams of light to spray from your hand. Every creature in the area must make a Charisma saving throw. On a failed saving throw, each creature begins to bicker with others who share some form of group allegiance with other creatures who have been affected. 

For example, if two creatures who fail their saving throw share an interest in old-school D&D, they will begin to argue about their hobby; one will accuse the other of some sort of bizarre payola scheme, the other will then accuse his fellow of being a troll. Accusations will fly about being out to get the OSR, of being an alt.right political reactionary, of frequenting the wrong websites, etc. Someone will get called a grog, someone else will get called an edgelord, etc.

Everyone who makes their save will feel vaguely embarrassed about the actions of those who failed their saving throws, but may otherwise act normally. Those within a circle of protection from drama have advantage on their saving throw. Those who have cast map the OSR, 10' radius have disadvantage on their saving throw.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Fu Manchu and Nude in Mink

British pulp author Sax Rohmer built a career on depicting the threat posed to the Western way of life by the Demonic Other. His most famous creation, Dr. Fu Manchu, is infamous not just for the hideous violence he wreaks on his enemies, but also for being a dreadful racist caricature. This formula of depicting the horrors of the non-British enemy worked so well for Rohmer that he would revisit it numerous times, even substituting "Asian" for "feminist" when creating his sexy supervillainess Sumuru. 

In this month's episode, Jack and Kate discuss the first Fu Manchu novel, Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu [1913], as well as the first Sumuru novel, Nude in Mink [1950]. What will they make of Rohmer's brand of phobic suspense? Do any of the characters stop mid-action to grab a cozy fish dinner? How does the author use smoking to convey character? How much more awesome are Fu Manchu and Sumuru than the bumbling protagonists who attempt to foil their plans? Just how inept are British men in dealing with beautiful, sexually available women? Find out all this and more in this month's episode of Bad Books for Bad People.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Slaughtering a Ratman Gang in the Weird Basement of a Black Metal Club

Campaign: Scarabae (Open Table G+, 5e D&D)


  • Mortimer, street fightin' human monk
  • Zunx, moleman warlock who receives power from his deceased ancestors
  • Dr. Wiffle, human rogue with a penchant for medical experimentation

Objective: Infiltrate the hideout of the 47 Rodents gang.


  • The Redgutter Ward recently became plagued by a strange infestation of black vines that seemed to break through the city streets and climb up the walls of the district's buildings. Occasionally these vines would form thick nodules that birthed bipedal creatures made of writhing kudzu; these creatures were wreaking havoc and casually murdering Scarabae's citizens. One building seemed particularly afflicted with these vines: Helveta, a tavern venue frequented by the corpse-painted fans of black metal bardery. Since a number of members of the 47 Rodents had been seen entering Helveta, the venue was possibly the secret hideout of the gang the characters had tangled with before.
  • Mortimer, Zunx, and Dr. Wiffle decided to investigate, and possibly take-on the 47 Rodents directly. Donning a disguise and performing blistering harmonica riffs at his "audition," Mortimer dubbed himself Death Piper & His Wailing Rats and got himself added to the bill as an opening act as a way of gaining entrance to the venue for the group. After his set opening for bardic black metal favorite Portrait of Ruin, during which he used his magical staff to command a group of rats to dance to his necro, trve, cvlt harmonica work, the group was free to explore the building.
  • Having spotted no members of the 47 Rodents in attendance at the gig, Dr. Wiffle explored the back rooms of the venue under the guise of looking for the privy. Dr. Wiffle discovered a large, bucket-like conveyance situated above a long shaft that disappeared into the earth. The crew clambered into the bucket, threw the nearby level, and began to descend ever downward.
  • The group expected the conveyance to take them to the basement beneath the building, but it kept going down and down into the dark. At the bottom of the surprisingly long shaft, the group found themselves in a cavern dimly lit by luminescent fungus. The cavern opened up at one end, revealing what appeared to be an ancient fortress that had sunk deep into the earth. The windows were dark, no movement was visible within. The walls of the fortress appeared to be made of a strange material that resembled petrified wood.
  • Crossing the crumbling courtyard of the fortress, the characters entered a ruined tower, in which they found the dead bodies of four ratmen wearing the insignia of the 47 Rodents. The ratmen had clearly died in a violent manner; one was pinned to the wall by a spear they recognized as belonging to Brunhilde, the warrior-cultist of the Children of Fimbul they had a run-in with back in Kojiyuma Temple.
  • Another room they explored featured a dragon-shaped door that was magically locked. Sifting through the petrified rubble in this room uncovered a giant rat that had been trapped by a small cave-in; the hungry rat attacked the party, but was swiftly dealt with.
  • A further room showed evidence of habitation: a recently-lit campfire sat in the middle of the room, and nearby was a bedroll from which could be heard the sound of whimpering. Also in the room was a large metal cage. Pulling open the bedroll revealed a cowering ratman named Skritch. Skritch was very upset; he explained that he had been put in charge of the dragon that the 47 Rodents had captured, but that the Children of Fimbul--who were inhabiting the lower level of this fortress--had turned on the Rodents, which explained the ratmen corpses the party found earlier. Skritch told the characters that the Children of Fimbul had stolen the dragon from his care, which had put him on the outs with Zot, the leader of the 47 Rodents. In exchange for a map to Zot's lair, the party agreed to let Skritch go.
  • On the way to Zot's lair the party passed through a chamber inscribed with runes and sigils belonging to the Children of Fimbul. Touching the symbols with a pole summoned three of the cultists to the chamber, where they immediately attacked the party. They were wiped out quickly, and the symbols were diligently scrubbed away before the party continued.
  • Following the map that Skritch penned for them, the crew found themselves in Zot's "throne room." No one knelt before Zot. The room featured a throne made of scrap petrified wood upon which Zot sat. a wooden chest Zot was using as a footstool, and a shaft leading deeper into the fortress with another bucket-like conveyance. Black vines snaked out of the shaft and crawled along the walls.
  • Zot wore a crown of scavenged wood with bits of jewelry bound into it. He was flanked by three large 47 Rodents gang members, and also accompanied by a sullen elf woman wearing the furs and rough robes of a Fimbul cultist. Zot parleyed with the group, playing up a threadbare kingly aspiration. He had the druid conjure forth a feast of mediocre cheese and disappointing wine. Things were going well until Zunx took offense at something Zot said and Mortimer mocked the gang leader by forcing nearby rats to dance for his amusement.
  • The ensuing battle was both hilarious and a close call. Zunx and the druid traded blasts of poisonous spray--neither of which able to accomplish much with the spell. The veteran members of the 47 Rodents stood their ground and acquitted themselves well in combat; at one point Zunx was injured, so he and Dr. Wiffle withdrew from the battle so that the Doctor could patch up the moleman. All the while, Mortimer held off the Ratmen but he was taking a beating as well. Ultimately, Mortimer kicked Zot so hard in the groin that he shattered the ratman's pelvis, killing him. 
  • When the dust settled, only the druidess, Shanna'del, was left standing. She surrendered, explaining that Zot had kept her enslaved with a magical band on her ankle that was linked to Zot's crown. She poses something of a problem; the party doesn't want to kill her or keep her enslaved, but she has also pledged to destroy the world. 
  • Since the party was running low on resources, they decided to loot Zot's war chest (an act which nearly killed Dr. Wiffle due to the chest being trapped by a poison needle), and return to the surface with Shanna'del in tow.

  • XP - 308 each.
  • GP - 147 each from coins looted from bodies and Zot's treasure chest, silver moonstone earrings, silver moonstone necklace, two onyx gemstones.
  • Misc. - Zot also had a key on him.
  • ...and you have a mentally-enslaved apocalyptic druid cultist, what are you guys going to do with Shanna'del?

Friday, April 21, 2017

A Visual Guide to Scarabae Characters

I was thinking of how I envision my Scarabae setting, and decided to pick some representative images--something like Pathfinder's iconics--for each class in 5e D&D. Some of these I scavenged from one of Blizack's collections, others I had to search out on my own.

Aarakocra warlock

Dhampir warlock
Human sorcerer

Kenku sorcerer
Tiefling monk

Hill dwarf monk

Human fighter

Aasimar fighter

Dragonborn druid
Goblin druid
Triton cleric

Human cleric
Tiefling paladin

Earth genasi paladin

Yuan-ti pureblood bard
Rock gnome bard

Lizardfolk ranger

High elf ranger

Gearforged wizard
Eladrin wizard
Tabaxi barbarian

Stout halfling barbarian

Half-orc rogue
Lightfoot halfling rogue