Archive for March, 2016

Let’s make some more aberrations!

A few weeks ago I made the case for needing more high challenge rating aberrations than the ones in the Monster Manual for my soon-to-be-published Exploration Age campaign setting. There’s only 19 total aberration stat blocks in the book, and the highest CR is 14 (beholder in lair), so you might want some more aberrations for your world too! That’s why I’m sharing them on this blog.

In that post I showed off the Lovecraft-inspired moonbeast. In this post I’m showing off the hound of Tindalos.

Publisher’s Choice Quality Stock Art © Rich Hershey / Fat Goblin Games

Hound of Tindalos

Little is known about the hounds of Tindalos, since few people see one and live to tell the tell. These mind-bending beings have thin canine bodies and bat-like faces. Like many aberrations, their unsettling, bestial appearance belies their clever, murderous minds. They are named for the city of their origin in the Far Realm.

Planar Predators. The odd physiology of the hounds allows them to teleport instantly across the planes. These beasts constantly hunger for the lifeblood of spellcasters. The more accomplished the caster, the greater the hound’s hunger for that person. Since beings of such power are rare on a single plane, the beasts stalk the multiverse for new victims.

Relentless Hunters. Hounds of Tindalos never give up on prey once they’ve decided to pursue it. Their bodies are sensitive to subtle changes in magical currents. As such they can tell when a being near them teleports, alters time, or travels through time (be it physically with a spell like time stop or a simple glance into the future or past with a spell like legend lore). It uses this sense to hunt creatures of magical power and follows them through the multiverse until it sees an opportunity to strike.

Hound of Tindalos

Medium aberration, chaotic evil


Armor Class 20 (natural armor)

Hit Points  189 (18d8 + 108)

Speed  50 ft.


STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA
20 (+5)  24 (+7) 22 (+6) 19 (+4) 20 (+5) 24 (+7)

Saving Throws  Dex +12, Wis +10, Cha +12

Damage Resistances bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage from nonmagical weapons

Condition Immunities exhaustion

Skills Perception +10, Survival +10

Senses truesight 120 ft. passive perception 20

Languages Deep Speech, telepathy 120 ft.

Challenge 15 (13,000 XP)


Magic Resistance. The hound has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects.

Magic Sensitivity. The hound automatically knows when the exact location of a spellcaster casting a conjuration, divination, or transmutation spell is cast within 1 mile of its location. If the spell moves the spellcaster (e.g. dimension door) the hound knows the exact location to which the spell took the caster, even if that location is outside the 1-mile range of the hound’s sensitivity.

Magic Weapons. The hound’s weapon attacks are magical.

Spellcasting. The hound’s spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell save DC 20, +12 to hit with spell attacks). It can innately cast the following spells, requiring no material components.

At will: detect magic, locate creature, locate object

3/day: dispel magic, phantasmal killer, scrying

1/day: time stop

Actions

Multiattack. The hound can use Paralyzing Howl and make three attacks: two with its claws, and one attack with its bite or proboscis.

Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +12 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 18 (2d10 + 7) piercing damage. If the target is a creature it is then grappled (escaped DC 18). Until the grapple ends the target is restrained and the hound cannot use its bite against another target.

Claw. Melee Weapon Attack: +12 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 14 (2d6 + 7) slashing damage.

ProboscisMelee Weapon Attack: +12 to hit, reach 5 ft., one creature that is grappled by the hound, incapacitated, or restrained. Hit: 14 (2d6 + 7) piercing damage plus 20 (6d6) necrotic damage. The target’s hit point maximum is reduced by an amount equal to the damage taken and the hound regains hit points equal to that amount. The reduction lasts until the target finishes a long rest. The target dies if this effect reduces its hit point maximum to 0.

Angled Entry. The hound can cast plane shift at-will, but it can only cast the spell on itself and its destination point must be adjacent to a fixed angle or corner in the physical environment, such as a wall, floor, or ceiling (as determined by the GM); temporary angles created by cloth, flesh, or Tiny or smaller items are not sufficient. It cannot use this ability to enter curved architecture or open outdoor environments.

Paralyzing Howl. Creatures within 30 feet of the hound that can hear the creature must succeed on a DC 20 Wisdom saving throw or become paralyzed for 1 minute. A creature can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success. If a creature’s saving throw is successful or the effect ends for it, the creature is immune to the Paralyzing Howl of all hounds of Tindalos for the next 24 hours.

PDF

Would you like this Lovecraftian beastie to threaten your players’ characters? Grab it now in its own PDF or alongside a lot of Exploration Age’s monsters! Like the icebreaker shark, gaping maw, morchia, and mystauk.

Hound of Tindalos

All Monsters

If you liked these creatures be sure to check out my other offerings in the Free Game Resources section of this site and my Pay What You Want products on the DMs Guild for backgrounds, magic items, optional rules, and more.

Playtest It Up

Now I ask you my readers to please go forth and test this nasty. Throw it at your players and see how they fare! If you have any feedback for my monster please leave it in the comments below or email me (james.introcaso@gmail.com). If you tell me your name and the names of your players I’ll give you credit as playtesters in the Exploration Age Campaign Guide!

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

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This is a guest post from Geoffrey Winn, host of the amazing Appendix N podcast on The Tome Show network. Geoff was on a recent episode of my podcast, The Round Table, where we chatted about what it would take to create a Middle-earth campaign setting for fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons. That conversation inspired this series of posts here on World Builder Blog.

Eriador

Part I: Introduction & The Region of Eriador

Hey folks. After my talk with James on the D&D Round Table about the upcoming Dungeons & Dragons/ Middle-earth gaming products from Cubicle 7, I realized there was a lot more I wanted to talk about. I’m a huge fan of both Dungeons & Dragons and Middle-earth, and the question of how to run a D&D game in my favorite fictional setting has long been on my mind.

In this blog, I will focus on general ideas for adapting your favorite role-playing game, whatever that happens to be, for Middle-earth, and vice versa. I’m going to largely stay away from talking about game mechanics. Trying to create a role-playing game that is faithful to the source material while also being fun to play is a huge challenge, and not one I particularly want to tackle at the moment. Instead I want to talk about how you can take games that you already know how to play, already know how to design adventures for, and set them in Middle-earth.

As I said on the podcast, Dungeons & Dragons is a game where you go into dungeons, kill monsters, and take their stuff. It’s even been advertised by the game designers as such. Middle-earth lacks a lot of the variety of monsters, magic and magical items that are typical to Dungeons & Dragons. Unfortunately, when you take a lot of the magic and monsters out of Dungeons & Dragons, you just lose a lot of the game.

There’s basically two approaches to this problem: you can change the world of Middle-earth so that it’s more like Dungeons & Dragons; or you can change the game of Dungeons & Dragons so that it’s more like Middle-earth. The latter is more difficult and requires fiddling with game mechanics, so I’m going to save that topic for a later post. For the first few posts in this blog, I am going to assume you simply want to play Dungeons & Dragons (or Pathfinder or 13th Age or Savage Worlds) the way you’ve always played it, but set your game in Middle-earth.

When planning your campaign, you’ll want to think about where and when your campaign will take place. Middle-earth can be broken up into three distinct geographical areas, each of which can yield up different flavors of game. These areas are Eriador, Wilderland (also called Rhovanion), and Gondor. For my first post, I am going to talk all about Eriador, where all our adventures begin.

Eriador: This is the area west of the Misty Mountains. It literally means “empty land,” and by the time of The Lord of the Rings, this is a pretty accurate name. Most of the people were killed or driven out of Eriador after the Witch-King destroyed Arnor, the North Kingdom.

Eriador includes the Shire, Bree, Rivendell, the Grey Havens, and the Blue Mountains. What’s more, all of these are connected by a major road that runs straight across the region. This gives you an opportunity to include Men, Elves, Dwarves and Hobbits in your campaign.

Early Third Age: Early in the Third Age, most of the region is controlled by the Men of Arnor, the North Kingdom of the Dúnedain. The society of Arnor should resemble that of Gondor. The capital was a city called Annúminas, and it probably looked a lot like Minas Tirith, except it was built on a lake. The Dúnedain are brave, powerful Men who bring light to the darkness and civilization to the wilderness. They are staunch opponents of Sauron and Sauron’s minions. However, evil forces did not begin to taint the region until after Arnor had broken up into three separate kingdoms, which I’ll talk about below. The time of Arnor was therefore relatively peaceful, and any conflicts would largely be the invention of the GM. The most notable thing about Arnor was that its kings were descendents Isildur, the man who defeated Sauron at the end of the Second Age. Isildur never returned to Arnor to rule, but was instead slain by orcs on the road home.

Middle Third Age: After the death of its tenth king, Arnor was split between the king’s three sons. Three new kingdoms emerged – Arthedain, Cardolan and Rhudaur. Arthedain can basically be seen as “the good guys,” the people most closely aligned with the vision of the original Dúnedain kingdom. The capital of Arthedain is Fornost, a fortress that sits north of Bree. Rhudaur quickly degenerated into a society of dark sorcery and barbarism. Cardolan, which contained the village of Bree within its borders, was somewhere in the middle. It was populated by decent, hardy folk just trying to survive. The Witch-King of Angmar looms as a threat over everything. Over a period of roughly 1000 years, the Witch-King conquered and destroyed all three of these kingdoms.

In a campaign during this time, PCs can be brave knights and allies of Arthedain and Cardolan, defending the land from evil plots out of Rhudaur and Angmar. Although the land is doomed, people can still be saved and knowledge and magic can be preserved for future generations. Perhaps in your campaign, you allow the PCs to actually defeat the Witch-King, significantly altering the history of the North.

Late Third Age: After the fall of Arthedain, the region becomes much different. The Witch-King’s victory was short-lived. The year after the Witch-King took Fornost and drove off the last of Arthedain’s kings, a combined force of Elves and Men of Gondor arrived. They utterly destroyed Angmar and drove the Witch-King out of the North. All that was left was a wilderness full of ruins, populated by scattered civilizations with tenuous connections to one another. The descendents of Isildur survived to become the Chieftains of the Rangers. This time period most closely resembles a typical campaign setting for Dungeons & Dragons.

As stated at the beginning, we have a string of small civilizations connected by a road that mostly travels through wilderness. Dwarves travel along this road from the Blue Mountains to the Misty Mountains, bringing trade goods and news. There is also the Greenway, a road that runs north to south and crosses the Great East Road just outside of Bree. This makes Bree the ideal starting point for any campaign, a place where Dwarves, Hobbits and Rangers can meet.

The Rangers make an ideal support organization for your campaign. They are unquestionably the “good guys,” patrolling the wilderness, saving people from monsters, and taking no credit for their actions. Their main goal is to preserve the ruins of the old kingdoms, knowing that one day a king will return and restore prosperity to the region. In a campaign that takes place in this time period, the PCs are either Rangers themselves or work for the Rangers. Alternatively, the PCs could simply be treasure hunters who care nothing for history, which would make the Rangers an enemy.

The area is rife with dungeons that can be explored for treasure. The Barrow-downs and the Old Forest are iconic locations from The Lord of the Rings that players will instantly recognize. There are also the abandoned cities of Annúminas and Fornost. Perhaps descendents of the evil hill-men of Rhudaur still survive, hatching devilish plots in remote locations. During the long war with Angmar, the Witch-King probably sent many minions into the region who could have built dungeons in hidden locations. Those dungeons are still there, and either they are still inhabited or they are long abandoned, but they are definitely full of danger and treasure. Angmar, of course, is likely full of abandoned fortresses containing dark magic items and weapons of war that bad guys might want to claim for themselves. Finally, the PCs could be sent into the Mines of Moria or the goblin caves of the Misty Mountains for any number of reasons, likely to find death at the hands of orcs, Gollum, or the Balrog.

Far to the south of this region are a few areas that deserve special mention. They are rather obscure locations, far removed from the major events of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. This makes them exciting locations to use in a campaign, because the GM and players are free to make up whatever they want.

The first of these is the town of Tharbad. This town lies far to the south of Bree, along a road that once connected Arnor and Gondor when both were prosperous kingdoms. When Arnor was destroyed and Gondor became less and less influential in the world at large, Tharbad was largely abandoned. In The Lord of the Rings, we hear a report from Boromir, who passed through the town on the way to the Council of Elrond, that nothing remains of the town except a crumbling bridge over a river.

In your campaign, Tharbad does not have to be abandoned. It could be home to brave, hardy Men, similar to the Men of Bree or Lake-town, trying to eke out a living in a harsh wilderness. It could be a den of thieves and brigands. It could be a stronghold or orcs or an evil wizard, someone as powerful as Saruman, who could be a threat to the peaceful people of the North if not stopped. Tharbad makes a great alternative starting point for your campaign if you want a darker game, or if you simply want to be closer to other areas like Rohan, Isengard, Moria and Gondor.

The other location I want to talk about is Vinyalondë, also called Lond Daer or Lond Daer Enedh. Vinyalondë was a port haven established by Tar-Aldarion, the sixth king of Númenor, in his younger days as a prince. The tale of Aldarion and his wife Erendis is told in Unfinished Tales, and I recommend you read it if you’re at all curious about Númenor and life in the Second Age of Middle-earth. For our purposes, however, Vinyalondë is simply a great adventure location. Númenor was a powerful empire of Men in the Second Age, and at one time they had explored the whole world. The ruins of Vinyalondë could contain just about anything, from lost magical treasures to horrible monsters that have been locked away. These ruins can be reached from Tharbad by sailing down the river. If the PCs are interested in a sea adventure, they can establish Vinyalondë as their home base, from which they could sail to the Grey Havens, Gondor, Umbar, or even more exotic locations.

So there you have it, my overview of the region of Eriador. Hopefully you’re already buzzing with campaign ideas. If you’re interested in any of the locations that I talked about and want to learn more, I highly recommend making your way over to http://tolkiengateway.net. It’s the most comprehensive Tolkien Wiki I have found, and it’s always my first stop when I’m doing research for a project.

In future posts, I will talk about Wilderland, the Gondor region, and locations that don’t fit neatly into any of these regions. But what else would you like me to talk about? What questions can I answer? I’m interested to see what problems others have had trying to set a campaign in Middle-earth. Thank you for reading my words, and thank you to James for giving me a place to post them.

Part II: Wilderland

Part III: Gondor, Rohan, & Mordor

Part IV: Other Places, Other Times

Part V: The Lords of Middle-earth

Part VI: The Mannish Races

Listen to Geoffrey Winn discuss the literature that influenced the creation of D&D every month on the Appendix N podcast on The Tome Show network!

A new episode of my podcast, The Round Table, is up on The Tome Show’s website.


It’s a Tome Show crossover! I sit down with Rudy Basso of the DnD VnG podcast and Jeff Wikstrom and Geoff Winn of the Appendix N podcast to discuss Cubicle 7’s announcement of a Middle-earth campaign setting for fifth edition D&D. Then it’s an interview with game designer Paris Crenshaw and Jason Nelson of Legendary Games to discuss their Kickstarter for Trail of the Apprentice an adventure path for fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder meant for beginners and kids. This podcast was recorded on March 13 and 22, 2016.






Please rate and review The Tome Show on iTunes! It takes 30 seconds and helps us a bunch!

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If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my other podcasts, Bonus Action and Gamer to Gamer, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

Halloween is great. Yeah, I know I’m about seven months too early. The release of Curse of Strahd has me thinking about all the awesome things that happen during the season. This most recent Halloween had me sitting at a table playing a fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons conversion of the original I6 Ravenloft module DMed by the one and only Mike Shea. Every year he runs a group through the adventure in an afternoon. Mike isn’t the only person who runs Ravenloft as a one shot during Halloween. When I reviewed the classic adventure on The Tome Show, the amazing Jeff Greiner said he does the same. I imagine they might both try to run Curse of Strahd this coming Halloween as a one shot. Gentlemen, this post is for you.

When I read through Curse of Strahd, it gave me all sorts of D&D hankerings for gothic horror. I want to stake vamps, silver-stab werewolves, and flap with the wereravens. But I’m a busy guy. I already run about four games on and off. There is no way I have time for a fifth consistently and my other groups are invested in the stories they’re currently playing through. They don’t want to take a 6-month break to play another adventure. I could easily wait to play Curse of Strahd, but I don’t want to. If only there was a way to get my fix in a one shot adventure session… Turns out there is. Read on friends and I will show you how to run Curse of Strahd as a one shot. All you need is some friends for about 4 – 12 hours on a single day and you can get a quicky vamp fix.

Step 1! Review Chapter 4 – Castle Ravenloft

You should read the rest of the adventure too because it’s a great read, but get familiar with this chapter in particular. If you’re going to play only part of Curse of Strahd (which is what you need to do if you want to play it as a one shot), then play the most iconic part. There’s a reason the first adventure was simply called Ravenloft. The crawl through the namesake castle captures the heart of the story. Castle Ravenloft isn’t just a location, it’s Strahd’s partner in crime. It’s also by far the longest chapter in the book so it allows you as the DM to mine the most game meat.

In this one shot version you will only visit Castle Ravenloft. You are missing out on some other sweet stuff in the adventure (more on that below), but you are also playing the most important part of the story! This is about getting a quick Strahd fix. The best way to do that is pure, uncut Castle Ravenloft right in your RPG brain.

Step 2! Begin at Level 9 with Barovian Backstories

Have your players make level 9 characters. Why? That’s level the adventure recommends PCs be before they enter Castle Ravenloft. Considering how thoroughly Wizards of the Coast seems to playtest these adventures, I trust this is the appropriate level for characters to not get slaughtered wholesale in the castle, but also keeps the encounters challenging. In other words it hits the fun bullseye.

The big twist is to ask your players to make characters who have lived in Barovia for at least a few months. Maybe one is an adventurer who got taken by the mists long ago and just figured out the only way to leave Barovia is by slaying Strahd. Another could have specifically come to hunt the vampire and has finally amassed a team strong enough to take out the villain. Yet another adventurer could have been born in Barovia and after a life of being terrorized by Strahd, the character is ready to stand up to the monster. Let your players have fun with the ideas. Remember to have them tie their backgrounds together since you’ll be jumping right into the action.

Step 3! Start the Adventure on the Way to Castle Ravenloft

When you’re ready to start playing, read or paraphrase the following text.

Your black carriage rockets through the chilly night air, wild horses speeding you through the woods toward your final destination – Castle Ravenloft. You’ve been preparing for this assault for some time and still your stomach churns in knots of fear. A lone wolf howls in the night as you swallow back your vomit and think of the task before you. To free Barovia and its people from the clutches of monster and mist, Strahd von Zarovich must die. Many have tried before you, but none have triumphed.

The smell of incense burns in your nose. Madam Eva, the old, hunched Vistani woman with piercing eyes and a strange smile, sits in the carriage with you. The fortune-teller offered to take you in her carriage to the castle in exchange for having your fortunes read. At the time it seemed a good way to avoid the wolves and other dangers of the wood, but looking into her inscrutable face, you can’t be sure. Madam Eva pulls a deck of tarokka cards from a box in her lap. She shuffles the cards and begins setting them on a small table in the middle of the carriage…

Madam Eva then reads the characters their fortunes as outlined in step 4. Once the carriage delivers the adventurers to the front courtyard of Castle Ravenloft, the horses and Madam Eva run off into the night.

Step 4! Fortunes of Ravenloft

Ravenloft and now Curse of Strahd are hailed as some of the most re-playable modules of all time because the Fortunes of Ravenloft feature (pages 11 – 18 in Curse of Strahd). This card reading determines the location of important items within the story. Different card readings mean the adventurers are going to visit different locations each time they play the adventure. These items are spread throughout the lands of Barovia in Curse of Strahd. (The original adventure, Ravenloft, places all the story items within Castle Ravenloft.) Since the one shot version of Curse of Strahd really only takes place in Castle Ravenloft, you need to set the deck up so you don’t end up with any items outside of that location. Here’s how you want to set up your cards.

Put only the following cards in the common deck:

  • Paladin (2 of Swords/Spades)
  • Mercenary (4 of Swords/Spades)
  • Berserker (6 of Swords/Spades)
  • Dictator (8 of Swords/Spades)
  • Warrior (Master of Swords/10 of Spades)
  • Transmuter (1 of Stars/Ace of Clubs)
  • Evoker (6 of Stars/Clubs)
  • Necromancer (8 of Stars/Clubs)
  • Swashbuckler (1 of Coins/Ace of Diamonds)
  • Merchant (4 of Coins/Diamonds)
  • Guild Member (5 of Coins/Diamonds)
  • Miser (9 of Coins/Diamonds)
  • Shepherd (4 of Glyphs/Hearts)
  • Anarchist (6 of Glyphs/Hearts)
  • Priest (Master of Glyphs/10 of Hearts)

Now when you do the Fortunes of Ravenloft reading for the first three cards, all the items will be in Castle Ravenloft.

The only other change you need to make is with card 4. When you draw card 4 from the high deck, draw a second card and put it next to card 4. We’ll call these cards 4A and 4B respectively. 4A tells you which of Strahd’s enemies will aid the characters as normal. Card 4B tells you where you can find the ally in Castle Ravenloft. To determine this use the Strahd’s Location in the Castle section on pages 17 and 18 of Curse of Strahd. For instance if card 4A is the Mists (Queen of Spades) which corresponds to Ezmerelda d’Avenir and card 4B is the Beast (Jack of Diamonds) which corresponds to the audience hall, then the characters can find Ezmerelda d’Avenir in the audience hall. You’ll need to have a motivation for the NPC to be in the castle. The two most obvious are the ally has also come to kill Strahd or was captured by Strahd. Those work for most of the NPC allies. If the character is a servant of Strahd, like the Vistani assassin Arrigal, they might be in the castle because they have business with the vampire.

You can lay your one shot reading out like this.

You can lay your one shot reading out like this.

Note that Ghost (King of Hearts) ally B, Sir Klutz, and Marionette (Jack of Hearts) ally A, Pidlwick II, already have starting locations in Castle Ravenloft. If you draw these cards as 4A and want to use those ally options, either change their location according to the 4B card or ignore the 4B card.

Step 5! Get Hunting

Now play through Chapter 4 of Curse of Strahd. Meet interesting people, fight terrifying monsters, explore a spooky castle, and stake a vamp.

What You Lose

Is this the ideal way to run Curse of Strahd? For many the answer is no. You miss out on 11 other awesome chapters of content. You don’t walk the sad streets of Barovia, you don’t enter a creepy mill, and you don’t get to visit the Amber Temple. What you do get is the chance to take down Strahd, a fun afternoon of gothic horror, and a crawl through one of the most iconic D&D dungeons ever.

Good News – Modularity

The good news about Curse of Strahd is that it’s totally modular and re-playable. Playing a single chapter of the adventure during a one shot does not ruin the enjoyment of a second (or third or fourth) play-through of the same chapter or even the entire adventure. If you’ve been hankering to try Curse of Strahd, but haven’t had the time, or you just want Halloween to come early, why not give my one shot Strahd method a try?

What do you think? Sound off in the comments below!

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

A new episode of my podcast, The Round Table, is up on The Tome Show’s website.


I sit down with Wolfgang BaurSteve Winter, and Brandon Hodge to discuss the storied ten-year history of Kobold Press. They discuss how the RPG publishing company came to be and great products past, present, and future. This podcast was recorded on February 29 and March 17, 2016.






Please rate and review The Tome Show on iTunes! It helps a bunch and takes 30 seconds.

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If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my other podcasts, Bonus Action and Gamer to Gamer, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

My day job relates to tabletop RPGs. I am a writer/producer of short videos. Mainly I do television promos for networks in the Washington, DC area where I live. I also do corporate videos and non-profit stuff. It doesn’t matter if the piece is driven by existing footage, graphics, music, or a shoot I set up with a tam. If it’s a short video you want, I know how to write it and create it. You can already see the connection to RPGs. I tell stories (albeit mostly 30-second ones) for a living.

Before promos and other marketing videos were my job, I worked in long-form television (or as most people call it – television shows). While short-form is wonderful in a lot of ways (you’re never bored because you’re always working on something new), I want to get back into long-form storytelling. Actually I want to do something I’ve yet to do. I want to be a showrunner and head writer on a TV show.

Knight Birds

I was working at National Geographic when my good friend Jay Letchko asked me to help him write a pilot. His idea had superheroes, comedy, and an original take. Knight Birds is a series about two superheroes protecting Venture City from ridiculous villains with insane (but hilarious) schemes. Villains like the Jacked Rabbit, a body builder who is always trying to revive his beloved, deceased bunny, and the Cantibal, a woman who thinks eating other humans will give her great strength but can never bring herself to do so because it’s gross. While their actions are silly, the danger is real. This isn’t Adam West’s Batman or Pete Holmes’ Badman (though both are awesome). It’s something new and a little different. Turns out that’s a difficult idea to get across. Let me break it down with visuals.

Knight Birds is about superheroes who look like this…

CGwed_VXAAAm19g

In a world like this…

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 2.36.17 PM

With comedy that makes you laugh like this…

Our pilot script is great! We really love it and so do many of the people we showed it to, but they didn’t seem to understand the setting. The world takes itself seriously. The characters take themselves seriously. The audience isn’t really supposed to take anything seriously. If we just had the money and time to shoot the pilot we could communicate that.

We obviously didn’t, but we did have enough cash to make what’s called a proof of concept – a short video that gives people an idea of what the series can be. We teamed up with our good friends at Evolve IMG to help us nail the visual style. These guys are master cinematographers who can run-and-gun better than anyone in the business. I’m lucky to even know these dudes, let alone work with them on a dream project. Similarly our sound was done by a killer engineer at Clean Cuts – one of my favorite audio houses ever. They (literally) rock!

The objective was simple. Make a less-than-3-minute video that introduced people to the world and feeling of Knight Birds. We’d put the video online and show it to friends who work in the industry. Hopefully people love Knight Birds and share it.

Well we made the thing. Take a look at the short video below. If you like what you see please share the video on social media! It’ll take no time at all and be a big help to us.

How does all of this relate to RPGs?

Tone is super important in RPGs and it is up to the GM to begin every session by setting that tone. Not only is there a big difference in tone between campaign worlds (e.g. Eberron vs Ravenloft), there can be a big difference in tone between adventures within the same setting (e.g. a tense delve into a dragon’s lair vs a thrilling murder mystery on a moving lightning rail). The faster you set the tone as the GM, the more immersed your players become in the world. The players will also understand your world and act appropriately within it. A PC is less likely to make fart noises at a beholder who is supposed to be scary if you make the creature scary from its introduction.

Here are some tips we used when creating our Knight Birds proof of concept that I also use when I’m setting the tone in my games.

Description

In Knight Birds we had to make our city gritty from the first shot. Harsh lighting, fog, and a back alley immediately establish Venture City as dangerous. The sound effects of sirens and car alarms in the distance contribute to the feel of the place as crime-ridden. As the film goes on we see Deadbeat Dad looks like his namesake and the Knight Birds look and sound like badass superheroes. When less-than-3 minutes is up, you know you just went to a dark, gritty superhero world.

The same should go for your descriptions of events, characters, and places in games. In television we can only tap into two senses – hearing and sight. At the table you can tap into all five and should. Describe the way the stagnant air of a tomb tastes, the feel of spongy ground beneath the PCs’ feet, the smell of rot burning their noses, the faint sound of a far away mournful wind moaning, and demonic shadows dancing at the edge of their torchlight. The more you can describe the way the characters sense, the more the players will actually become immersed in your world by feeling those things.

Action

The actions your characters take also help establish the tone in your world. Deadbeat Dad doesn’t hesitate to resort to violence when an innocent person won’t “loan him five dollars.” Our innocent victim simply sneaks off when the heroes and villain face each other in a dramatic stare-down. The Knight Birds defeat Deadbeat Dad with a cunning plan but let him think he was winning because “it was more dramatic that way.” The actions of characters reinforce the idea of a gritty world and introduce a new layer of complexity to Knight Birds. Everything is so over-the-top that it’s actually funny.

You have the same job as a GM when it comes to NPC actions. Those PCs in the tomb could have a night hag tormentor in the shadows who cruelly teases them at every turn before finally revealing herself. NPC companions and pets could shift uneasily or even run terrified from the place at the first sign of danger. Ghoul henchmen feast upon a fresh humanoid corpse when the PCs approach.

Visuals

A picture is worth at least 1,000 words. As video Knight Birds relies on visuals to get a lot of its storytelling done. When we first meet the titular characters we see them run through a series of iconic superhero poses so quickly and thoroughly that the sequence becomes a joke. This time it’s our visuals giving the audience the tone of the show.

If you run a published campaign you already have some visuals to show the players. If not you can draw or (better yet) do a quick image search and print out a picture, hold it up on a tablet, or throw it up on a virtual table. Visuals like this can immediately set the tone for the game you’re playing so pick them carefully. In our tomb example it’s better to pick a picture of a night hag that’s grotesque and unsettling than something cartoony and silly.

Music

Music is a real mood-setter if ya know what I mean. The music in Knight Birds was done by the great Andreas Ahlm. Not only does his Zimmer-esque score remind you of dark superheroes in all the right ways, it also helps accent each joke with timing. It’s over-the-top, fun, and breathtaking. Those are all of the things I want Knight Birds to be.

I recommend you listen to music that helps set the tone during play. It’s a powerful tool that keeps your players immersed. Avoid lyrics where you can, since words pull many people out of the game. Movie and video game scores are a great place to start. Think of a movie or game with a tone that matches your game’s story, search for the sound track on Spotify, Pandora, or iTunes, and you’re good to go. Obviously for our tomb delvers we want something scary that isn’t silly. It’d be better to go with something like The Shining or Bloodborne than Beetlejuice.

Don’t forget to watch and share Knight Birds! Let me know what you think in the comments below.

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

A new episode of my podcast, Gamer to Gamer, is up on The Tome Show’s website.


I sit down with author and Wizards of the Coast staffer Shelly Mazzanoble. We talk about Shelly’s books, her career with Dungeons and DragonsMagic: The Gathering, and Avalon Hill, and her surprising love of tabletop games. This podcast was recorded on March 10, 2016.


Noble Knight Pick of the Episode: Confessions of a Part-time Sorceress





Please rate and review The Tome Show on iTunes! It helps a bunch.

Links:

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my other podcasts, The Round Table and Bonus Action, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

A new episode of my podcast, The Round Table, is up on The Tome Show’s website.


I sit down with Bill Webb and Matt Finch of Frog God Games to discuss their new online tabletop RPG store – Tabletop Library. This new store aims to specialize in third party 5th Edition D&D products! This podcast was recorded on March 13, 2016.






Please rate and review The Tome Show on iTunes! It helps us a bunch.


If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my other podcasts, Bonus Action and Gamer to Gamer, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

My latest Pay What You Want product is up on the DMs Guild! Get Arachnids, Wraiths, & Zombies now to grab the following creatures originally created on this blog.

ArachnidsWraiths&Zombies_Introcaso_20160309_Cover

While you’re checking it out, feel free to also grab my other Pay What You Want products. Archons, Catastrophic Dragons, and Greater & Elder Elementals all update Dungeons and Dragons monsters of previous edition for fifth edition rules while 15 New Backgrounds gives you a bunch of new backgrounds as the title suggests plus a module for group backgrounds the whole party can share and a handful of new equipment including bombs! 20 New Traps gives you a bunch of new and updated classics to throw at your PCs. Finally 50 New Magic Items gives you just that plus 100 common rarity weapon properties, 100 common rarity wondrous items, and 100 cursed item properties.

Take a look and if you wish download for free. This is material I pledged when I created would always be available for free and I plan to stick to that promise. I’m always open to feedback, so leave me a comment, start a discussion on a product page, or leave me a review. Honestly at this point in my RPG career a free download with a good review are worth far more to me than cash.

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

A new episode of my podcast, The Round Table, is up on The Tome Show’s website.


I sit down with Allison RossiNeal Powell, and Round Table newbie Michael Robbins to discuss the latest Curse of Strahd previews – the Haunted One background and the Death House adventure. This podcast was recorded on February 28, 2016.


Noble Knight pick of the episode – Ravenloft



DMs Guild pick of the episode – Recipe Crafting for Consumables

 

Please rate and review The Tome Show on iTunes! It helps us so much and only takes 30 seconds!

Links:

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my other podcasts, Bonus Action and Gamer to Gamer, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!