Old D&D Sketches

We’re currently doing renovations on our house, which has slowed my posting rate here. However, the relentless moving of stuff within the house has given me the opportunity to sort through some old boxes. In doing so I came across a few rough sketches I made of the characters in the D&D campaigns I ran at the time. It’s been some time since I’ve felt like I’ve had enough time to spend just sketching and drawing for enjoyment. Looking at these old drawings makes me want to pick up the old sketchbooks again.

genie-sketchold_links of the sleeve_sketchlate 90s game

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My Daughter’s Fighter

Last year I ran an introductory adventure for my two daughters and three neighborhood friends. It was a short adventure I threw together – a simple linear quest that saw them investigate a crazed wizard’s laboratory, defeated gigantic mutated rats and explore an ancient false tomb. They had a great time.

Since then however, my daughters have been pestering me to startup a game with the neighbors again, except this time they wanted to make their own characters. Finally our family schedules aligned and I’ve sat down with the kids to help craft their PCs.

My youngest decided to create a half-elven fighter named Normani. I was surprised to discover this great illustration she made of her PC. I think they’re excited to play!

sophies drawing - small

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Jebedda’s Escape

Here’s a little introductory backstory I wrote for two of my players in a 5e D&D campaign I started some time ago. I used much of the Lost Mine of Phandelver, the adventure that comes with the 5th Edition Starter Set, but placed the story in my own home-brew world. This short story was meant to give a little explanation of why the PCs met up with the rest of the group to start their adventure.


The brightness of the morning burned at the gnome’s eyes as the dwarf hurried him down a back alley. The dwarf pulled the small figure along, urging the groggy gnome to keep up. They threaded there way through bustling city streets but their progress was slower than the dwarf wanted. The gnome repeatedly tripped and fell as he stumbled behind. The drugs that had kept the gnome obedient for so long still coursed through his veins, sapping his strength. After untold years of dazed servitude, trapped in a sunless dungeon, Jebedda was finally free.

It wasn’t until the sun began to set that Jebedda’s head began to clear. Oban, his dwarf companion, sat across from him at a small wooden table. They occupied a dark corner of a busy tavern. The gnome couldn’t recall how they’d come to be here or how long he’d been sitting at this table. Oban shoved a bowl filled with stew in front of the gnome.

“Stop staring. Eat.”

Jebedda obliged. He eagerly devouring the weak broth, chunks of stringy meat and soft vegetables. Never had he tasted anything so delicious.

“Where are we?” Jebbeda managed to ask between mouthfuls.

Dwarf smiled, apparently pleased that the gnome was finally speaking. “West end. The Feathered Sandal. Cheap but safe. We’ll stay the night and figure where we’re goin’ in the morn.”

“We will be going in the morning?”

“Yup. Away and quick. We gotta get outta here. Outta the city. Folks will be lookin’ fer us.”

Jebedda looked down at his now empty bowl. They were now free, but he was having a hard time remembering where they’d escaped from. With a jolt he recalled that his parents had been trapped with him too.

“My parents. Where are they?”

Oban took a moment to consider before responding, “No way a knowin’. Ain’t seen ’em fer months. Don’t ya remember? Not nothin’?”

Try as he might, the gnome could only recall figments and flashes of his incarceration. Strange magical sigils. Vials of bubbling liquids. Robed figures bent examining unseen objects.

There were only two things the gnome remembered clearly; the hatred he felt for his jailer’s every time he was thrown into his cell, and the embroidered pattern that was emblazoned on his captor’s robes – five spiraling arms surrounding a reptilian eye.

Jebedda’s attention was drawn to a halfling who quietly walked past their table. The halfling discretely dropped a folded piece of parchment into Oban’s lap before disappearing back into the crowded room. The dwarf hastily opened the paper and read its message. His mouth broken into a wide smile.

“Jebedda! Fantastic Luck! Friend out in Tallais could use some help. We’re gettin’ outta here  at first light. Have ya ever heard of a place called Phandalin?”

tavern-sketch-lowsketch by:Javier Charro

Posted in Campaign, Character Backgrounds, writing | Tagged , ,

Nightshard

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In a dark cavern beneath an ancient tree, a group of adventurers discovered this magical blade. The cave was littered with the bones of countless creatures that had succumb to an undead horror that haunted the dark and cursed place.

The cruel blade was engraved with arcane symbols that seemed to shimmer green in dim light. Wielders of the blade have described an unnatural yearning to hunt down giants and end them by the cut of the enchanted blade.

Magic Weapon (Short Sword), Uncommon (Requires Attunement)

The sword grants a +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls. Wielders also gain dark-vision to 30 ft, or increase existing dark-vision by that amount. The weapon glows a faint green when within 100’ of any giant.

 

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The Three Gems of Brudgepiddle Raddishfoot

Ash is one of the character’s in my Dad and Kids 5th Edition D&D campaign is. We’re currently running through the Lost Mine of Phandelver, but instead of being based in the Forgotten Realms I’ve placed the game in my own home-brew world. Ash’s backstory includes a gnome tinkerer/wizard named Brudgepiddle Raddishfoot who was her tutor as well as a close friend.8caf57e03c77cf71dc7d8b3f8a9bdecd

“Brudge” arrived in her village many years before Ash was even born. He had fled from the destruction of Thundertree, a village from the starter module that I’d transplanted into my home world. Brudge rarely spoke of what happened to his old home or why he and his fellow villagers had to flee. His few words on the subject were usually limited to saying that it was a terrible day and one that he’d rather forget.

Some of Ash’s earliest memories include watching the gnome working in his modest workshop. Though she never developed a talent for magic, Ash loved to listen to his wild tales of dragons and beasts and other mysterious powers that haunted places unseen by men. He would tell her these stories while building practical creations that made life easier in their remote northern village. His contraptions included wind driven pumps, machines of  gears and pulleys to lifted the heaviest of loads, and glorious lanterns that filled the village with a warm glow at night.

Yet for all of these public creations, Brudge secretly toiled away at a single item – a small  figure fashioned from tin and brass and silver. This figure was shaped like a young gnomish woman with a face that was surprisingly soft given its metallic form. Though Ash had often watched the gnome toil away on his secret creation, Brudge had never shared with her why he did so.

Brudgepiddle’s work was meticulous. He crafted delicate springs, fashioned tiny pinions and wove fine wires to allow his creation to articulate and move in a most graceful manner. But for all its beauty and craftsmanship, his creation never truly worked, at least not in the way he wanted.

The gnome was a wizard of modest talent. His enchantments, though functional, were fleeting in nature. To make his automaton function as desired, he needed a source of magical energy that he couldn’t summon, one that wasn’t fleeting but constant. He needed power source that would drive his creation.

So when Brudge learned that Ash would leave their village on a quest, he’d made a request of her. Should she ever pass near the ruined village of Thundertree, he asked her to seek out his old tower. Therein, hidden beneath a flagstone on its lower floor, he’d hidden three magical gems that he’d hoped would one day power his creation.

Ash and her fellow adventures have now reached Thundertree, however, she has discovered that her gnomish friend’s tower has now been taken over by a dragon. I’ve added a few more items to this encounter than are contained in the published adventure, but I’ll leave that description to a future post.

Until then, described below are the three gems with their 5th edition stats that Brudgepiddle hid in his tower so many years ago.

The Green Gem

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Attunement Required.

While carried, this gem provides the bearer with a +1 bonus on all Constitution Saving Throws and a Resistance to Poison Damage.

It’s brilliance varies throughout the day, gradually transitioning from a dark forest green to a brilliant emerald and then back again.

 

fb85a3d2a1038cf5bd43d7b4c70ec53bThe Red Gem

Attunement  Required

While carried, this gem provides the bearer an additional +1 hit point on every hit die rolled to regain hit points. This bonus is gained from any type of healing.

This deep red gem always feels unnaturally warm to the touch.

The Blue Gem071916b06e531490f6131f19f6ff2515

Attunement Required

While carried, this gem provides arcane spell casters with a +1 bonus to DC and Spell Attacks for any spell cast.

This bluish-purple gem hints of mystical energy as faint motes of light dance within.

 

 

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Customizing Thundertree – Part 1

How I put my own spin on a piece of The Lost Mine of Phandelver (LMoP).

Fair warning: This post contains spoilers of some elements of the Lost Mine of Phandelver, D&D’s 5th Edition Starter Set adventure. If you wish to play this adventure and keep its contents a mystery, I suggest you avert your eyes now. If however, you’d like to understand how and why I changed some of the story for my home game, please keep reading.

Though we don’t get to play as often as we’d like, my Dads and Kids D&D campaign is nicely moving along. At times it feels near impossible to coordinate three busy families to schedule a game, but we’ve managed to string together nine exciting sessions of LMoP. I’m extremely pleased with how the kids (and dads) have fallen into their characters and the story. Our collective paternal concerns, wondering if the kids would have fun, were dispelled early in our first session as a group.

Recently, the group followed clues that aligned with their character backgrounds to travel to the ruins of Thundertree Village. Thundertree is not a crucial  piece of the mostly linear story line of LMoP, it does present a challenging side-trek that could result in a memorable encounter, particularly for first time players.

When I first read through this section of the adventure, I wasn’t overly excited by it. Sure, I loved the idea of my new players coming face to face with a dragon in a ruined tower, but there were parts of the area that didn’t make a lot of sense to me or at least begged for more explanation.

One of the things that I do love about the Starter Box is its fantastic cover art, which I can only assume is inspired by the dragon encounter in Thundertree. I’ve read some critiques suggesting this image was bland and didn’t live up to the level of excitement one would hope to pull in new players, but for me its wonderful. I’m usually drawn to its “realistic style” and was surprised by the none too subtle homage to the old Erol Otus cover from the Moldvay Basic Set.

With such an great image to present to my players, I wanted to ensure the Thundertree encounters were as memorable as possible. There were two main issues that I had with the encounter area as presented in the adventure – (1) a lack of strong rationale for the twig blights and zombies, and (2) the tactical map for the dragon encounter.

Twig Blights and Zombies

I don’t have an issue with the ruined town being populated with twig blights and zombies, I just felt there should be more explanation of why they were there. The module presents the following:

“Then thirty years ago, the eruption of Mount Hotenow to the north devastated Thundertree. In the wake of the natural disaster, a plague of strange zombies swept over the area, killing or driving off those who survived the eruption.

     Though most of the zombies have long since crumbled to dust, strange magic permeating the area has mutated the local vegetation into new and dangerous forms.”

Most players, particularly those new to the game, will likely never care why the ruined village is filled with plant monsters and undead. Heck, I’d guess most long time players won’t blink an eye either. The village is an overgrown ruin, of course it makes sense to have those monsters. But for me, I like there to be a bit more meat on the bones of the story.

  • Why did the strange zombies accost the village so long ago?
  • Why are the zombies still there?
  • What is the strange magic that has mutated the vegetation?

Besides, I was running this adventure in my own home-brew world, not the module’s default Forgotten Realms setting. I wanted to tie the location of the story to events and places within my world. That meant I needed to be able to answer those questions, even if they never came up in game.

Tactical Map

The dragon in this encounter area is placed in a small ruined tower on a hill within the village. That in itself isn’t a problem. For me however, the size of the structure on the town map doesn’t align with my beloved cover image.

If my players were going to encounter the dragon, I wanted to  show them that picture in hopes of evoking the same feeling of awe that I had on seeing the image. That meant I needed to make the encounter area bigger than the one shown on the map.

Player Challenges

Outside of the two issues listed above, I also had to contend with a  couple of minor player challenges.

My youngest daughter was finally going to join in the adventure. I wanted to create an encounter that would immediately pull her into the story and make joining up with the rest of the group memorable.

Second, one of the kids in my group is a voracious reader of all his dad’s D&D books. I suspect he could recite most of the monsters found in the Monster Manual as well as describe their individual strengths and weaknesses. I had ended a previous game session with the players arriving in Thundertree, where as per the boxed-text in the adventure, they  discovered the following at the edge of town:

“A wooden sign is nailed to a post nearby. It reads: “Danger! Plant monsters AND zombies! Turn back now!”

On hearing this description, my well-read player immediately spouted that they were likely going to face lots of twig blights. To my long-time DMing brain this was just wrong. I couldn’t have my player know what was coming next. Surprise is half the fun of any adventure!

With all of the above it was fairly clear to me that I wanted to make some adjustments to the Thundertree encounter area. Besides, crafting encounters and making them your own is, for me at least, one of the best parts of being a DM.

Introducing the New Character

My first course of business was to find a nice way to introduce a new character to the game. My daughter had rolled up a human bard she called Liya. As she love’s Black Widow from the Avengers, we ended up choosing a “spy” background (criminal variant) for her character. The question for me was – why would a bard spy be in Thundertree Conveniently, the Thundertree section already includes two things I could use to make sense of this.

First, a druid, Reidoth, can be found in one of the ruined buildings in the village. He happens to know a lot about the threats in the area and is the one who placed the warning sign that the players found.

Secondly, the text mentions that Reidoth is aware of “folk in black masks and cloaks” hiding in the east part of town. These mysterious people are cultists from the Cult of the Dragon. Though not described in this adventure, the Cult of the Dragon is a key piece of the Hoard of the Dragon Queen adventure, which I was already considering to run once the players finished LMoP.

From this, I came up with the following rationale for the bard’s introduction to the game:

  • Liya and Reidoth were both members of The Order of the Golden Phoenix, my home-brew world’s equivalent to the Harpers faction.
  • The two had been asked to follow a group of cultists who’d been seen in the area in hopes of determining what they were up to.
  • On coming to Thundertree, Reidoth battled a diseased bear that was unnaturally resistant to his nature magic.
  • Though he fought off the beast, the battle left Reidoth gravely injured, and his healing spells seemed to have little effect. This has left Reidoth weak  and bed-ridden in oe of the ruined buildings (exhaustion level 5).
  • Reidoth directed Liya to search the area for plants and herbs that might aid in curing him of his injuries.
  • Liya having successfully retrieved the needed medicinal plants, is returning to her mentor Reidoth when she is attacked by a plant creature. The attack would occur just after the party read the warning sign.

I was fairly content with the rationale for introducing Liya to the group. There were items that I’d need to flesh-out in greater detail, such as: what was wrong with the diseased bear, what was afflicting the druid and how he might be cured?. However I felt these items could be detailed later. I needed to work on building the plant creature attack.

New Encounter – Roper Tree

In setting up this encounter, I wanted it to be dramatic and for it to include a plant monster that was something other than a twig blight. The 5th Edition Monster Manual has a limited set of “plant” monsters, and only one that would by itself pose a significant threat to a group of 3rd level characters – the shambling mound.  My voracious D&D reader would most certainly recognize the shambling mound immediately, so I wanted to do something different. I decided to use one of the best tools in the DM’s tool-kit: re-skinning a monster.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the term, SlyFlourish has a great article on ReSkinning. Simply, re-skinning means to take an existing monster and describe its appearance and actions as being something different. 

For me, a creature that has always seemed very plant-like  was the Roper. Here was a creature that sent out long tendrils that it used to reel in prey that it would eat.

An evil old tree armed with vines that shot out to pull victims into a massive maw in its trunk seemed like a great way to re-skin the standard Roper monster. To this I added a couple of twig blights to keep the group busy and voila – a difficult encounter to start up my groups first session in Thundertree.

What About The Dragon In the Tower?

As for what I did with the dragon’s tower encounter, you’ll need to wait for my next post. Until then, may your dice roll true!

 

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Farkas and the Beast

Here’s a short backstory I wrote for an application to a play-by-post 4th Edition D&D game some years ago. I don’t believe my submission was selected to play in the adventure, but I recall enjoying writing this introduction.

At the time, I’d recently purchased Primal Power, a 4th Edition supplement that expanded on character class options provided in earlier Player’s Handbooks. The druids in this edition had attacks and abilities that came into effect when the character took on a “beast form”. The appearance of the beast form was up to the player to decide, however the following  text from this supplement was the inspiration for this character,

“It’s often possible to tell, looking at  a druid in beast form, that the creature is no ordinary beast. Some druids always adopt forms that have obvious magical distinctions from normal beasts, such as patterned fur or glowing eyes. Others take on forms that don’t resemble any normal animal, indistinct shapes of fur and claws, feathers or scales. Sometimes, though, it’s subtle cues that reveal a druid in beast form- an obvious intelligence and attentiveness in the beast’s demeanor or something unusual in the way it moves.”

I also took some queues from the battle scene in Episode 5, Season 3 of Lost where Eko is
attacked by the “smoke monster”. The violent attack of the unnatural creature made me think of nature’s fury being unleashed upon a victim – perfect for a druid who releases his self control to allow his form be overtaken by powerful primal forces.


Farkas always remembered seeing it. Even in his earliest memories he saw it – hiding in the shadow of an oak, peering from behind a wood pile, or darting out of sight behind a bend in the trail. It never looked exactly the same but it always had a shadowy form. Sometimes he’d catch a glimpse of fur and claws, at other times he’d see dark feathers dart from sight. Mostly what struck him in those brief glimpses of the Beast were the red eyes that stared at him, never revealing a hint of emotion – only staring. It wasn’t until much later that he realized what it was. Funny that he still called it, “IT”, given what he now knew.

He’d grown up an only child, raised by his mother in the forest near Nenlast. His mother was quiet, skilled, and patient. She taught Farkas to hunt in the woods, to trap animals and to live off of the land. He’d learned to talk to the trees, listen to the birds, and sing with his soul to the winds. He learned to feel he was a part of the woods.

Every month he and his mother would travel to Nenlast and trade their collection of furs, dried meats, and berries for the few things they needed that nature didn’t easily provide. Most of their trade was with the dwarves from Hammerfast as the people of the village usually avoided them. Their stays in town were brief, and Farkas often yearned to see more of the village but his mother always insisted they had to return home. “We aren’t welcome” she’d say, never fully explaining why.

Farkas’ world changed when he was in his late teens, not that he knew exactly how old he was. During their occasional village visits, Farkas had caught the eye of a young girl. He found her fascinating. He begged his mother to let him stay once they’d finished their business. In a rare show of affection, she kissed his head, told him not to stay too long and she turned with their goods and headed home.

Excited beyond words, he worked up his courage and approached the girl with whom he was entranced. As luck would have it, she too had noticed him and they soon were quietly talking with each other in the village square. Farkas was overjoyed but his elation did not last long.

The girl’s older brothers didn’t appear to appreciate him speaking with their sister. Verbal taunts soon lead to outright threats until finally a punch was thrown at Farkas. He’d never been in a fight before, nor had he ever experience such fury and anger. He found himself trembling, and in an instant he was twirling and lashing out at the doomed brothers. He felt his hand rip into their clothes and skin. He fought with them for what seemed an eternity and then he stopped.

He caught a glimpse of the Beast reflected in the panes of a nearby window. Its shadowy form revealing fur and claws dripping with blood. The image in the window changed. The shadows dissolved. The fur disappeared. There stood an image of himself, hands wet with blood. He had turned into the Beast he had always seen in the woods.

The girl with whom he’d just spoken ran screaming away from him. At his feet lay the broken and bleeding bodies of her brothers. Shouts of alarm filled the air as armed men ran toward the scene. Farkas fled.

He fled to the woods, running like a deer, over logs, behind trees and across streams, until he was sure he was safe and none had followed him. He can’t remember how long he had hid there, but it was quite some time as dusk approached when he finally headed home.

Before he reached his home, he sensed that something was wrong. The forest flickered with an orange glow and he could taste smoke in his throat. As he ran around the last bend in the trail, he was shocked by the scene that was revealed in the light of his burning home. There in the yard, a beast of smoke, fangs, and fur danced in a fight with a massive man from the village. At the feet of the two foes lay the bleeding bodies of numerous others, apparently killed by the claws of the creature.

“Die witch! First you killed his parents and then you turned him into yourself!”

With that curse, the large man heaved a heavy axe in a wide arc and into the side of the swirling storm of smoke and fur. It let out a loud screech and crumpled to the ground. Farkas felt his fury rise and he charged at the man. Again he twirled and lashed out as he had done to the brothers in town. Finally his rage subsided and the man before him collapsed to the ground.

She, “it”, his mother, lay on the ground dying as well. “I’m sorry.” she said weekly. “I did my best”. And with that, the she died quietly beside their small cottage in the wood.

It has been many years since that night. In all that time, Farkas has wandered the Nentir Vale, living in the wilderness, trying to make sense of the Beast inside of him. Whenever he comes across a town or village, memories of the fight in Nenlast always come back. His mind grapples with questions of who his mother was and who he might yet become.

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