Friday, October 7, 2016

Monday, July 11, 2016

Hunting the Hunters

I ran this adventure many times with both young and mature players in a variety of settings ranging from a gothic version of the modern world to native american fantasy. Each time it failed, but each time it failed in a fun way. However, maybe it will work for you. Who know? Stranger things have happened...

This is a 5e Ravenloft version suitable for 4th level characters. At least one of the characters should be able to cast darkness as a spell or ability.

A group of vampires are sent to an ancient forest to find our why vampires routinely disappear in the area. They discover that the forest is inhabited by a spirit that is to vampries what vampires are to people. To keep the dangerous spirit away from themselves, elder vampires routinely send fledgling vampires to investigate the “mysterious disappearances” in the forest, promising great rewards since they never expect to see the youngsters again.


A large human city where gothic high fashion meets poverty and oppression.

General Kazandra ("The Lady") invites the PCs to a meeting at the Black Unicorn club in Karg. The evening is a vampire party where each guest must come accompanied by a mortal and an animal companion. Lone vampires are banned from entering, even if they bear letters of invitation from the Lady.

The Lady is in her office with a dominated maid she uses as a mobile, living blood bottle and a pet fox (actually a werefox). She tells the party that this is a "community" meeting rather than an official meeting. Several members of the "community" both native and foreign have gone missing in the Vale of Tears. One of them was her apprentice, Vyx, who she sent to return an agent who went missing while performing a secret mission from Azalin himself. She'd like the heroes to find out what's causing vampires to disappear and deal with it. She is especially anxious about the fate of Vyx, of whom she is very fond.

Kazandra is aware of the following victims, though she suspects the actual number of undead destroyed in the forest is much higher:

Tavia (Kargat exile, sent to forest to live in exile for taking bribes)
Marius (Falkvonia vampyre, Ludzig’s agent, purpose unknown)
Valentine (Falkvonian vampyre, was en route to nova vaasa)
Onyx (Darkonian free vampire, went to search for Marius)
Avernus  (Kargat agent, sent to scout for dragon ebb, killed by hunters)
Vyx (Kargat agent, sent to retrieve Avernus) sent a week ago, last seen in Delagia three days ago, room 6

A Halfling town of cheerful fishermen and traders.
Two human siblings with a foreign accent occasionally come to purchase supplies. They are brooding and have a condescending attitude towards the Halflings. No one knows where they live or what do they do for a living, so everyone assumes they’re staying in Sidnar.
Vyx has also been to the town. She made a few expeditions to the mountains, before going to the forest, never to be seen again. She is remembered fondly as a very charming woman who used to sing songs and entertain the kids.

A hamlet of snobbish elf astronomers and philosophers
The elves have seen odd siblings who boasted of hunting the most dangerous game in the forest. They asked a lot of questions about a fox woman and when no one could answer them, they went away, never to be seen again. Investigation will reveal that many of the houses in the town have images of a fox that shines like the sun. Interviewing locals will reveal that these are traditional marks against evil. No one remembers their origins.
Two kids saw Vyx approaching the village before suddenly turning around and fleeing with an expression of abject terror.

A vast forest crisscrossed by rivers and streams

The Sun Fox is not interested in material possessions, so small piles of ash with clothing and personal belonging can be found in various spots in the forest.  One includes a message carved in bark (see below).
There is a sect of maniacal Halfling cannibal bandits who prey on strangers, always eating half and leaving the other half as a warning. They never attack Sidnari and Delagians and in return the locals leave tools in the forest. While critical of their methods, the locals value the red walkers since they keep foreigners away.

Mount Nyad
Desolate mountains where nothing lives or grows

The Shadow Dragon Ebb lives in a giant cave inside the mountain. She is quite fond of polite visitors as long as they don’t touch her treasure. She sleeps most of the time, but doesn’t get angry if woken up with due reverence.
Ebb knows of more than a hundred undead creatures who’ve been destroyed in the forest over the last 300 years. Most committed suicide at sunrise. She has always assumed they did it because of self-loathing, although if questioned, she will point out she recalls feeling a strong force of light in the area about the time of their destruction.
Her latest observation was a naked young woman looking defiantly at the sun before catching on fire and turning to dust. She can direct the PCs to the spot, but she will not bother to leave the cave.

Dramatis Personae

Funny and Sunny
A brother-sister pair of undead slayers – Sunny is a 5th level paladin and Funny is a 5th level cleric. The pair have killed many minor undead and one vampire —Avernus. Presently, they’re looking for the Sun Fox in the hopes of joining forces with it. They are refugees from Nova Vaasa and speak with a strong Vaasi accent.

The Sun Fox
The Sun Fox feeds by devouring a vampire's life essence when it's destroyed by the light of the rising sun. It has two forms – a gorgeous fox that shines like the sun, or a wild woman dressed in hides and bones. It has been part of the forest for as long as the forest has existed. Just like the vale, its past is lost in the mists.
AC 16 (+2 leather)
HP 100
Speed 40
Saves str +2, dex +7, con +7, int +0, wis +6, cha +4
Every time a vampire is damaged in the forest, the spirit heals as many hit points
Sunlight at will (darkness negates)
Fox shape
Fist +7 (1d6+2 and 1d6 radiant)
DC 15 Dominate attack that only affects vampires and can only affect one vampire at a time. While dominated, the vampire is free to speak, but must move however the fox instructs it.
Tree stride
Weakness: None of its powers work in magical darkness. Also, should it ever leave the forest, it will become sick and die soon.

Random Vampire Powers
1 Animate Dead (short rest)
2 Misty Step (60')
3 Beast Form (CR 1 or less)
4 Fire Resistance (20)
5 Mist Form (long rest)
6 Invisibility (short rest)
7 Darkness (at will)
8 Sharp Senses (scent, blindsight)
9 Enhanced Ability (+4, roll which)
10 Turn and Radiant Resistance (+4/20)

The players can either find it at on the cliff where Vyx died or see it in Ebb’s collection, whichever comes first. I recommend printing the letter in handsome cursive and then burning its edges to give it the appearance of something recovered from a fire.

To: The Lady of the Black Unicorn

For the past few days I have wrestled with an increasing desire to see the sunrise from a cliff overlooking Lake Korst. It has now become clear to me that it is a battle that I cannot win on my own. Noble Kazandra, please come quickly for I fear that without your deliverance I am doomed.

All my attempts to flee these accursed woodlands or to contact my friends at Krag via magical or mundane means have been frustrated by the spirit that haunts me. Yes, I am now convinced that what I at first took to be my own mind betraying me in this lovely wilderness is in fact the work of a powerful spirit that works towards my destruction. My sole hope now lies with a halfling woodsman whom I’ve paid handsomely to deliver this message. I hope he does not lose it for I don’t have much ink left and no parchment save this sheet.

The scoundrel has discarded my letter but has kept my gold! Though my heart cries for Karg, my feet march to Sidnar. The elves are now my only hope and it is a slim hope indeed.

The  lake is beautiful and I expect the sun rising from the misty trees should be beautiful as well. I will find solace in the beauty that surrounds me and of which, I fancy, I will now forever be a part. I will face my end with pride and courage. Oh happy traveler who finds this message in a pile of ash and dust and discarded clothing – tell my mistress that I did not disgrace her. Tell her that

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

With the Giants

It is very rare for kids to finish a campaign unless they're forced to do so by circumstances outside of their control. It is even rarer for kids to finish a campaign that they have devised for themselves. Today, I want to tell you about one such instance.

One of my groups was tasked with fighting hill giant bandits who were plundering the lowlands. After a single encounter with a hill giant, they have abandoned this quest and chose a random mountain range on the map as their next location because they liked the way it was drawn. As soon as they finished scaling the mountains, the kids found themselves bombarded by boulders. Enraged, they charged in the direction of their attackers only to find two stone giant children who apologized profusely for the incident, claiming they didn’t see the little people entering their ranging ground.

Illustration by Ekaterina Burmak

As a compensation, the young giants invited the kids to visit their lair. There, the kids were more than content to live in a basket and nibble on a huge wheel of cheese, both objects being gifts made by children's mother, a giantess named Red Shawl on account of always wearing a red shawl.

However, as if often the case with happy PCs, their newfound domestic joy was not long-lived. One day, the kids returned to the giants’ lair to find Red Shawl in a state of agitation uncharacteristic of her normally sanguine disposition – her children went to practice rock throwing in the morning and haven't returned for supper. She asked her tribe to help her search for her children, but the elders refused, arguing that all that transpires is the will of the stones and to attempt to challenge this force of nature is both impious and futile. Seeing their friend so saddened, the kids have suggested, of their own accord, to join her on an expedition to find and return her children.

The very next morning, the kids and Red Shawl went to the stoning range. There, they found some stone giant blood and a colossal feather. Following the marks, the party came upon a massive bird with oddly sparkling eyes. With the aid of the mighty Red Shawl, they defeated the bird and discovered the sparkles to be a form of fairy dust used by evil pixies to enthrall beasts and humanoids. Using magic rituals, the group traced the source of the fairy dust to a faraway mountain. Along the way, they bested an ambush by enthralled gnolls, a pixie attack, and countless attempts to bribe or dissuade them from their quest.
Illustration by Werility
Eventually, the party reached a dormant volcano filled with monsters and traps. To their dismay, the kids have discovered that due to the narrowness of the entrance, Red Shawl, whom they used as a very effective artillery unit, could not follow them inside the mountain. All that was left to the poor creature was to anxiously wait for their return while making sure no one attacked them from behind.

Inside, the kids passed a trapped door, yet more pixies, and a room with murderous shadows, losing three party members in the process. Eventually, they found the young giants hewing a corridor for the pixies. The kids announced they came to return the children to their mother, but were met with blows instead of hugs, since the giant children were firmly under pixie command. Despite taking a savage beating, the party eventually saved the day by washing the pixie dust from the giants’ eyes using improvised water siphons, thereby releasing the giants from pixie domination. Again ignoring bribes and threats, the kids made their way back to Red Shawl through corridors of blood and ruin. They came out to a tearful reunion of Red Shawl and her dazed but unharmed children.

At this point, the cleric of the party has received an animal messenger from a different group of kids, who requested their immediate assistance in a raid against an ancient temple filled with potent artifacts and powerful undead. However, after consultation, the group decided they want to end the year as honored guests of the stone giants instead of joining a new adventure, leaving the other group to fend for itself against insurmountable odds, Rorschach style.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

DNDkids: The Webcomic!

For years, you have demanded a DNDkids webcomic, so Jamie Keys and I have produced one in partnership with Ghostwoods Books and Media for your pleasure and entertainment.
This is going to be a weekly feature, so stay tuned.
If you like what you see, recommend it to your family and friends. If you don't, warn them instead.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Marriage of Hell and Hell

Towards the end of the year, I like to work with my students on adventure design so that they could run their own cool games in the summer. One of the kids, aged 9, wrote a rather curious story in lieu of an adventure. I have done my best to translate the story as literally as possible. My sole editing contributions were replacing the &s with periods, and normalizing the tenses.

If get a permission, I will translate other adventures as well. If anyone is curious about the efforts of previous years, feel free to take a gander through these posts

Adventures I
Adventures II
Adventures III

Source: Book of Vile Darkness
In Hell
Hell is a world full of fire, lava, evil and scary creatures such as demons and spirits. In this world, the demons command the spirits to build them palaces, villas and big houses.
The demon prince Tomro was in love with a spirit named Serena. He wanted to marry her, but his father, the king of darkness, Satan, did not let him marry a spirit and declared a contest for the prince. The winner would marry the prince.
The prince had no choice left but to run away from home. At night, he took his girlfriend and fled. He passed through heaven and everyone was surprised to see him there. Then he went to the forest and fought with elves. Then he realized he loved his home.
However, if he returned, his father would kill Serena. The Prince married Serena in the forest and they had a child, and then the Prince returned home alone.
Each week he went up and visited Serena and their child until his father died and the prince became the King of Hell. He stopped enslaving the spirits and brought Serena to live with him.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Mini Adventure -- Aliens and Zombies vs. Wizard Super Spys

In honor of Passover, I’ve challenged my students to design a campaign that will mix at least three different genres. This is what they came up with by means of popular vote and some under the table kicking.

A wizard accidentally summoned aliens that animated all the dead people on the planet and took over the world. The players are secret agents granted special powers by the wizard in order to save the world. The game starts in a giant hedge labyrinth where an item that closes the gate into the alien’s world and kills all the zombies is hidden. The aliens can’t go into the labyrinth, but the zombies can.

The following encounters can occur inside the labyrinth (roll d20):

1. Villages that are not aware of each other
2. High tech ruins that allow progress
3. Local time anomalies that speed or slow time
4. Giant worms that live under the ground
5. An evil giant hiding in the trees
6. Time portals that take you to different times (you must find way to return)
7. Giant spiders that erase memory
8. Ant-sized people with knives that attack humans
9. A Minotaur
10. Harpies
11. Gargoyles
12. A Hydra
13. Stones that explode when you step on them
14. Places that turns people into primitive savages
15. Scary Ghosts (like in the Grudge)
16. Places where dead people turn into zombies and zombies come back to life
17. Animated boots that kick you in the ass
18. Birds that poo acid
19. Bats that spit poison
20. A tree dragon

Character Generation
Distribute nine traits between body, mind and spirit. Then roll a d20 twice to see what special powers the wizard gave you.

1. Hypnotism
2. Teleport
3. Invisibility
4. Eye lasers
5. Bulletproof
6. Sound waves
7. Nuclear rays
8. Summon dragon
9. Super speed
10. Speak with dead
11. Safely store stuff inside your body
12. Acid urine
13. Turn to wind
14. Turn to statue (yourself or others)
15. Flaming Fists
16. Telekinesis
17. Regeneration
18. Time vision (see what happened or will happen to an object)
19. Read thoughts
20. Turn into whatever you're touching when you're scared and turn back when the danger is over
21. Instant sex change

Friday, January 29, 2016

Mini Adventure -- Young Blood

This is probably the most successful 90-minute adventure for kids I ever ran. It is also the only one written not only for young players, but also for young characters. I have written about it twice in the past, both times describing instances in which I was practically forced by the kids to turn what is essentially a single encounter into a full campaign. However, I have never presented the adventure in playable form – until now.

The Setup
The adventure starts with the kids waking up in a dusty basement with no recollection of how they got there or any information about their past or identity. They are wearing tattered school uniform, but have no backpacks and their pockets are empty of anything that could serve as clues to their identity. They are all terribly hungry, but otherwise unhurt. From upstairs they hear fierce pounding on the doors. I like to actually pound at the door and scream like a madman to emphasize the urgency of the situation. This almost never gets security guards running to the classroom. Almost.

The Premise
The kids have no way of knowing this, but they have all been turned into vampires by a now deceased vampire playboy named Jax, an appalling person whose vile practices and shameless violence have finally caught up with him. Unfortunately for the kids, unless they are very careful, they will be caught up in the aftershock of his death as well.

Look at these eyes. Now look at these teeth...
The House
With a few exceptions, the entire adventure took place inside Jax's house, a fancy bachelor pad in a calm neighborhood that serves as thin veneer for horror. Since it's day outside, leaving the house will prove very difficult for the vampire kids.

1. Basement
The basement is bare except for a hammer, a mattock, a hoe and some hemp rope, all stacked under the stairs leading to the living room above. Fierce pounding and muffled screams can be heard from outside the house. It's impossible to make out the words, but the tone is clearly angry.
Challenges: The basement door is not locked, but requires the combined strength of at least two kids to open on account of its weight and the tightness of the hinges.
Rewards: Searching the room will reveal a secret compartment under the stairs. It contains an old Nokia phone with a single number on its memory card and a scepter of gold and silver depicting two entwined feathered snakes. The number belongs to a vampire interested in buying the scepter. He doesn't answer calls during the day for obvious reasons. If called after dark, he will identify as Mr. Calzoni and offer $200,000 dollars for the scepter.

2. Living Room
The living room is small, but extremely well-furnished. There is a 110'' TV with an Xbox, a playstation, a pile of games taller than a man, a library with both fiction and occult literature, stylish leather furniture and an immaculately clean kitchenette with an assortment of expensive Japanese and Spanish knives.
Challenges: Heavy black curtains cover the windows, leaving the room in darkness. Should anyone open a curtain, they will immediately loses half their hit points. Another round of exposure will leave them in a catatonic state. The third round spells doom as the kid's undead body turns to ash and scatters on the floor.
Someone is pounding at the door and shouting "Betty! Are you alright? I'm coming in." If the kids don't do anything in this regard and don't make too much noise the door breaks down in three rounds and a black man with a black Kevlar, a katana in one hand and an automatic pistol in the other hand storms in. He will attack the kids, calling them "monsters" and fight to the death. He cannot be reasoned with.
Rewards: The refrigerator contains nothing but wine bottles. Examination will reveal the bottles are filled with blood. Should any of the kids drink some of the blood, they should get an immediate boost to their strength, agility and senses. If they are hurt, they will fully heal. A thorough search of the room will reveal a Glock pistol taped to the bottom of the sofa. The bullets are made of silver.
There is a buzzing smartphone on the coffee table. The caller is a bronze-skinned woman with tattoos of feathered snakes on her arms. Her called I.D is "Taloc." If the kids don't answer her, they see there are 47 unanswered calls and 15 messages. Within minutes, they get another call, this time from a tough-looking man with a giant beard and cruel eyes named "Sash".
Taloc: Taloctitlani is a Mexican friend of Jax. She is calling to warn him to stop turning kids before he attracts the attention of hunters or elder vampires, neither of which approves of this practice. If the kids answer the phone, she sighs heavily, realizing her friend is already dead and tells them to stay put. She will come to collect them as soon as the sun sets and take them to Mexico. She warns them that both local vampire hunters and vampires will try to kill them. She calls many more times before the end of the adventure because she is very worried about her friend. The scepter is hers. Jax stole it from her and planned to sell it to finance his relocation.
Sash: Alexi is the elder vampire of the city. He is very angry at Jax for creating vampires without his permission and is calling to tell him that he has one last chance to start following the rules or Alexi will personally blood eagle Jax before leaving him to bake in the sun. If Alexi speaks with the kids, he informs them that their existence is unauthorized. As soon as the sun sets, he intends to come to the house and kill them all. Like the majority of NPCs in this adventure, he cannot be reasoned with. However, he will allow the kids to live if Taloctitlani takes personal responsibility for them.
The password of the phone is 1885. Unless the kids somehow deduce it, they can only use the phone to answer calls.

Do mind your steps...

3. Bathroom
The bathroom shows signs of extreme neglect. There are cobwebs in the toilet bowl, mold on the walls and ceiling and a dead bird in the sink.

4. Bedroom
The bedroom is large and affluent. There is a circular bed in the center that displays signs of recent lively activity. The sheets are torn and crumpled, the duvet lies on the floor and feathers from the pillows are scattered all around the bed. In one corner of the room there is a pile of ash, clothing, an ankh medallion and a wooden stake.
Challenges: In the other corner there is a blonde teenage girl with five bleeding holes in her stomach. She is alive, but just barely. She is armed with a crossbow and will shoot the first person who touches her. Otherwise, she is in no shape to fight. If questioned, she will tell the kids that her name is Betty and she is a vampire slayer. She came to the house to kill a vampire that has committed many outrages in the neighborhood. The man outside is Knife, a fellow vampire hunter. She suspects the kids have been turned into vampires as part of some twisted provocation against the elder vampire of the city. If ignored, she will bleed to death in three rounds.

This adventure often ends in TPK, either at the hands of Knife the vampire hunter or Alexi the vampire elder. While there's a small chance they will beat Knife, they have no chance at all to defeat Alexi and his monsters, making staying in the house for too long a certain death.
To survive this ordeal, the kids must either secure Taloctitlani's help or flee the house before the sun sets, possibly by improvising some kind of a mobile tent to protect them from the sun. What happens next? It can be this, or this or even this, or whatever else you fancy. The world is great and full of horrors.