Planescape Next

Doors to the Unknown, Part the Whatever
Wherein we try to get back into the saddle after a long absence

It’s been a while since the last update. We’ve still been playing, but it’s been hard to find the time to jot everything down. Still having trouble figuring out a good way to keep proper notes, other than to just go straight home and get it in right away, which isn’t always feasible. Plus, I’m lazy.

We had a big gap in the game due to the holidays, though, so I figured this was a good opportunity to get back into things. I’ll try to go back and catch up in a big summary post, but for now I’m just going to pick up like nothing happened.

Also, I’m not sure I’m going to have as much to add in for playtest comments. The kids haven’t been interacting with new aspects of the rules, I don’t think. I may use this space to put up the conversions I do, though, as I think I need to get better about that and prep more for each session.

Suffice to say the PCs have been going through some portals and running different errands that are just now starting to appear connected…

In the last session, the PCs rescued the mad dwarven prophet Garmundi from an abyssal retriever in a forgotten vault in Agathion, a layer of Pandemonium. it was a high cost, though, as Clarent the barbarian fell, valiantly holding off the retriever as the rest of the party escaped back to Sigil.

They delivered Garmundi to Origax, the high-up wizard that promised them 1,000 platinum each for the safe return of the dwarf. They didn’t even bother reporting to Coranthol, the Athar elf who had originally hired them but was paying about 1/10th as much. Conveniently, Clarent was the only Athar in the group.

During a two-week period of downtime, most of the characters went on a shopping spree.

Elric decided to enter in a business arrangement with Trunfeld Three-Teeth, investing 5,000 gp in the “Clarent Chubbs Memorial Orientation Center for Newly Arrived Primes.” The disgusting ogre is excited at the opportunity to fleece unsuspecting primes, though Elric’s motives are unclear.

Jianyu is considering also investing, though he’s not sure in what. His player was given the homework assignment to figure out what he would buy or build. A special shop? A church or shrine dedicated to the hummingbird god? An aerie specifically for hummingbirds? A “dojo” of sorts teaching his path of honor?

Zorlo spent the time working with Belker Bitterleath IV (the player’s previous character) to hunt down a major bounty, a Robin Hood-esque character who had sworn only to steal from the rich and give to the needy. A merchant lord had put up a bounty and the pair hunted the criminal down, killing him and claiming his “Stone Bow” as a prize. The merchant boasted of the deed to everyone who would listen, so now all of the bounty’s friends (he had many) know what Zorlo did… (this was the justification for letting the player purchase a very rare magic item, this was his complication).

Returning to the adventure, the PCs receive an invitation to have a business lunch with Estavan, the overly-friendly ogre mage merchant lord. He hires them to escort an agent of his through an intermittent and relatively unknown portal to see what “business opportunities” can be found on the other side. He also convinces Adrin Xiloscent, a Sensate, to drink a great deal of some fantastic beverage that allows the imbiber to taste what others around them are eating. Eventually, Adrin failed a Constitution saving throw when drinking it. The player doesn’t know what effect that will have yet, though.

The PCs went to speak with Lissandra the Gate Seeker to find out how activate the portal, but were repeatedly interrupted.

First, a fhorge (a giant “murder-pig”) ran rampant in the street, but they defeated it relatively easily. A knife had been plunged in the creature’s rump, pinning a pamphlet of the Society of Locked Doors.

After that, Lissandra was able to complete some research to confirm that the portal is actually a strange creature in Sigil. You have to step into it to activate it.

Before she could confirm the key, assassins attacked, shooting arrows from hiding. The PCs were able to mostly protect Lissandra and even kill two of the assassins. The arrows had more pamphlets wrapped around them.

Just as Lissandra uncovered the actual portal key, another group of assassins directly confronted the PCs, angry that they kept interfering with a perfectly good assassination plan.

And that’s where we stopped.

Eternal Boundary, part 4
In which we achieve title.

Loucan heads to the Armory (Doomguard HQ) to see if he can find out anything about Eliath joining the faction. He doesn’t get much, but the rest of the party learns that the young ranger’s githzerai swordsmanship tutor (who constantly refers to himself in the plural) simply calls him “Head-Chopper”, and is quite pleased with the ranger’s penchant for violence, but hopes that he can someday determine his own path through the universe.

This is followed by a flurry of jokes as they realize Belker Bitterleath IV is the “Head-Hunter” and ElriElric is the “Talking Head.”

After that is worked out, Elric (and most of the rest of the party, though they don’t do much talking) heads to the Gatehouse to talk to Derioch Ysarl, the Bleaker Elric had set up a meeting with. She is able to corroborate pretty much everythign they had learned about Eliath already. She also presses Elric that the Bleak Cabal want this “Shadowknave” dealt with, if he is indeed hunting down the weak, powerless, and easily missed residents of the Hive. She’s mad enough that someone is victimizing the helpless, but that they might be doing it for a reason is just unacceptable. Derioch also offers Elric a deal: she knows the key to the portal for the Isle of Black Trees, so if he does find the location of the portal, she will split the profits 50/50.

At that point, the party decides to track down Eliath directly, heading to the Black Sail directly. A couple of them wait outside to catch anyone who bolts, and Elric, Loucan, and Turga Killdrak head inside.

Turga strikes up a comraderie with some dwarven armorsmiths (including one dwarf with hair & beard made of fire, which makes for impressive steam whenever he drinks anything), mainly by buying them a round. He gets them chatting about the area and they talk about a new Doomguard recruit that has been hanging out the past couple weeks.

Elric & Loucan chat up the teifling waitress Salja and (after a bribe) she tells them Eliath is sitting in a curtained booth in the back of the inn.

Meanwhile, behind the Black Sail, Belker sees The Dancing Man – the barmy they briefly interacted with in the Hive before – who immediately died thereafter and was taken by the Collectors. He looks healthy and lucid. Belker encourages him to go inside the bar where Turga strikes up a conversation with the Dancing Man, who introduces himself as Tylaric. At first he claims to be new to the city, but when pressed admits that he has lived in Sigil for years – a trip to the Abyss had driven him insane long ago, and he had wandered the Hive. He actually died a couple days ago and was visited by St Cuthbert himself, who gave him a new lease on life and sent him back across the “Eternal Boundary” to return to life and accomplish what he was meant to do: join the Believers of the Source and serve them until he receives further instructions.

Meanwhile, Loucan and Elric try to confront Eliath, but initial discussions don’t go particularly well, and Eliath heads upstairs with several heavily-armed Doomguard friends. Loucan tries to stealthily follow them, but fumbles that and meets some suspicious Doomgaurd at the top of the stairs. He bolts – which of course just makes them chase him out the back of the Black Sail to where Belker is waiting.

During this chaos, Adrin Xiloscent ran off to report their status, and was torn between his loyalty to the Society of Sensation and Loucan’s instruction to brief Derioch on the situation.

Elric ran out back to help Loucan deal with the Doomguard persuers, talking them down a bit and explaining that they were just trying to talk to Eliath and he might be connected to some murders in the Hive.

After the Doomguard chased Loucan out, Turga (along with the Dancing Man Tyralic) went up stairs to talk directly to Eliath (continuing a general Mormon “Have you heard the good news about the Source?” vibe of their faction). He is a bit evasive as well, but eventually admits that he had died and visited his own deity, Lathander, who commanded him to return to life and join the Doomguard – and await further instructions.

He also explains that he did once know the location of a portal to the Isle of Black Trees, but he forgot it in his madness. He explains that he found the answer in the letters of the wizard Talmizar, in the collection of Rhaunades. Detail on the Isle of Black Trees can be found in the Talmizar’s book The Gray Realm.

Both Eliath and Tyralic are very earnest in their intent to make the best of this second chance they’ve gotten on life.

At this point, Elric has calmed Loucan’s Doomguard pursuers and they agree to talk to Eliath – only to find him already being pestered by Turga, so things basically end there.

The party is left to debate what to do next. They are initially eager to track down any thread they have about the Isle of Black Trees until they are reminded that the Shadowknave is probably still killing people and that might be a bit more pressing.

Turga suggests that maybe the Shadowknave isn’t all bad, though – it seems like he’s taking crazy people “fixing” them, giving them a new lease on life. There is actually some dissent in the party about what to do about the situation. Is the Shadowknave actually helping people?

At the very end, Elric checks in with Trunfeld Three-Teeth to see if he found anything about the Shadowknave’s whereabouts. Unfortunately not, but the disgusting ogre does pass along a warning: someone with extremely long fingernails and a powerful temper has been asking around about the group…

Notes & Commentary

First, we were joined by another new kid, though he just observed. He should be joining us next week. That brings us to 4 kids and 2 adults. It will be very interesting to see how the new player affects the dynamics of the game, too.

There was also a lot more playtest feedback than usual, due in large part to the fact that we took a break from D&D Next the previous week to play a one-shot of Dungeon World. One of our players couldn’t make it and we didn’t want him to miss out. I was happy to take a break because I had been trying to play Dungeon World for a while now.

The game went just about as well as I had hoped. I really do love the way the game flows, and I was overall very impressed with how well the kids adapted to it, though the youngest did have some trouble really getting how the abstracted ammunition worked. Otherwise everyone jumped into it with gusto.

It also provided a very interesting contrast to D&D Next which helped to catalyze some concrete playtest feedback, which I think was good.

Overall, I think the adult players gravitated a bit more toward Dungeon World while the kids said they enjoyed it but D&D Next just “felt more like D&D” to them.

Some specific points:

  • Binary success/failure in D&D Next was less interesting than the levels of success, failure, and “you succeed but…” in Dungeon World.
  • Everyone loved the one-page character sheets in Dungeon World had pretty much everything you needed for character creation, basic rules, and event roleplaying fodder.
  • Dungeon World was praised for it’s simple “just jump in and go, do crazy stuff” enabling.
  • The kids specifically mentioned that stuff like traditional AC and damage in D&D Next were important to them. Those were some of the basic things that “felt like D&D” that Dungeon World lacked.
  • One of the kids liked not having initiative in Dungeon World, but another was the opposite – he liked how initiative specifically meant everyone got to act once so no one got left out.
  • In general, the kids actually liked some of the constraints & restrictions of D&D Next. They liked having to roll for everything.

Ultimately, the question was raised about what D&D Next is supposed to be.

The adult player who had the most feedback (and had actually been the one to run Dungeon World) felt that D&D Next was trying to serve several different audiences so far, and overall felt like a very decent retro-clone – but that there are others that are just about as good available for free online.

I’ve had similar questions myself – is D&D Next going to try to be the “simple game of choice?” If so, I actually think I would gravitate toward Dungeon World or similar, as they’re a bit more what I want out of that kind of light experience. That’s really the big competition right not, at least for me.

But having seen the kids interact with a couple different systems (D&D 4th, D&D Next, Dungeon World, etc.) I definitely think the very clear structure of D&D provides solid handles for kids to grab on to, especially younger ones. Again, they definitely had some difficulty with some of Dungeon World’s abstractions. I also think they just enjoy rolling d20s and damage dice. There is still a novelty value in that for them.

Ultimately, D&D Next is supposed to be modular and be able to be tailored to whatever each group or even each players wants to get out of it, and I think the success of that (very difficult) task is going to be where the true test of D&D Next is for the more hardcore players who aren’t happy with “just” vanilla fantasy D&D.

Anyway, it was interesting to see so much discussion on rules, and I was glad that I got all of the kids (even the youngest) to comment on what they liked/didn’t like about both rules sets. Nice to see them trying to articulate that kind of stuff.

Everyone re-affirmed that they are enjoying D&D Next and want to keep trying it out, too. Which is good, since I’m still loving running Planescape again. First campaign I can ever remember running where I’m sad when every session ends and I want to squeeze just a few more minutes out of it.

The Eternal Boundary, part 3
In which our heroes begin to stumble into the dark of what is happening to the barmies.

They’re starting to put the puzzle together: barmies are turning up dead suspiciously, and some well-trained people are running around with a feign death spell. Maybe people aren’t actually dying after all.

First, the run to the Mortuary to tell Toranna the Grey that not all the barmies being delivered are dead – some might be subject to magic making it look like they are. She assures them the Dustmen will thoroughly check every body.

A bit suspicious, Belker Bitterleath IV uses his Mercykiller ability to use detect lies on one question per day: “Were you lying when you said you would check each body?” “No.” (answer is true).

Anyone who knows the dark behind the adventure as a whole will giggle at this particular point.

The PCs then head to the Butcher’s Block to confront Trunfeld Three-Teeth, thinking he called a hit out on them. They were unsure whether it would be OK to do this, but I reminded them that Planescape is not only very urban fantasy, but also ostensibly “you can try talking to just about everyone, it’s not all just stabbing. In a crime or noir story, if someone tries to kill you and fails, what do you do? Pay ’ema visit.”

Upon seeing them, Three-Teeth just starts laughing and points to the stairway – where the wizard who escaped before is just coming down, clearly having hurriedly packed his bags and ready to get the hell out of the Hive.

The wizard wins initiative and casts a huge fireball that fills the bar (Elric, a Signer, fails his reflexive saving throw vs illusions and everyone falls for it). The bar erupts into chaos as everyone tries to get out, and the wizard ducks behind some cover. The ranger manages to plug him with an arrow and the Adrin Xiloscent webs the back of the bar, but the wizard manages to dodge out of the way and they lose sight of him in the chaos. Elric pushes his way to the back of the bar but can’t find the wizard (he failed another reflexive saving throw against change self).

Turga Killdrak steps outside the bar to watch people as they exit, hoping to catch the wizard, but Adrin tries to stop the human tsunami and gets trampled for his efforts. He turns into a bear and scares the already-terrified bar patrons out the back of the bar, further adding to the chaos and causing even more people to get trampled in the chaos.

Bars in the Hive are not known for meeting fire code regulations.

Ultimately, the wizard escaped again, though the PCs were able to talk to Three-Teeth and search his room. His name is The Shadowknave, and he’s been operating out of the Butcher’s Block for the past year with a rotating squad of mercenaries. Three-Teeth has been selling him lists of barmies no one would miss, and Eliath was indeed on one of those lists.

Elric hires Three-Teeth to track down where the Shadowknave is hiding now.

Adrin tries some slop-slop with the “house special” liquid from an unmarked ceramic bottle Three-Teeth pulled out after the chaos stopped, and promptly falls unconscious.

Belker tries some normal slop-slop and starts vomiting. He tries some more; continues to vomit. Eventually he uses his spoon to flick some slop-slop at the ogre, who then palms his skull and slams him into the ground to silence him.

At that point, the PCs retire for the evening.

The next day, at their usual meeting location, the “Outside Inn,” they are preparing for their day when a courier runs up and says Bendon Mawl wants to see them. They find out that Eliath has been spotted alive-and-well, and part of the Doomguard now. Apparently he’s at the Black Sail, a tavern in the Lower Ward. Loucan is a member of the Doomguard, so Bendon is a bit suspicious – especially when the elf asks “Does this guy know any secrets the Sensates don’t want the Doomguard to know?”

Bendon is convinced that the Doomguard and Dustmen are conspiring on some nasty plot, and maybe the Bleaker & Xoasitects are in on it too, since the Hive is their backyard.

Notes & Commentary

This session was basically a “skill challenge” of sorts – I didn’t want to run a combat for the bar chaos, so I just winged it with lots of skill rolls. The wizards basically made a big distraction and then used change self to look like someone else and escape in the chaos. The PCs (especially Elric, who has an automatic save against all illusions as part of the Sign of One) rolled really poorly on the whole. The Shadowknave has escaped from them twice now.

Otherwise, there weren’t too many playtest notes: this was the first time players really got that they prepare spells but they don’t assign spells to individual slots. They really liked that.

One comment was about the character sheet: one player liked having resources to track (hit dice, expertise dice) but wished there was some easy way to mark them on the character sheet, like boxes or something to fill in/erase.

Also, they reiterated that “this was about the right amount of crunch.” They were also enjoying the amount of interaction and investigative nature of the adventure/campaign, which is nice.

As a GM, I’m still surprised by how easy running D&D Next is. Still not really exciting on a mechanical level, which really frustrates me as a player, but as a GM it’s thin enough that I rarely have to stop and think about it. If I’m in doubt, have a player roll a d20 and see what comes up. So far it’s worked pretty well. I do feel like I need to sit down and go through spells and monsters to get a better feeling for context and standard levels, though.

The Eternal Boundary, part 2
In which the PCs have an ill-fated appointment

Unsure where to progress and feeling like they are at a bit of a dead end (since the target they were looking for, Eliath, is apparently dead & cremated), the PCs change their tactics and try to see if they can track down where the barmy lived. Maybe he kept notes about his work.

Belker Bitterleath IV was passing the time by checking for bounties when he got a surprising invitation: someone left a bowl of slop-slop for him, with a wooden “business card” in it, showing the symbol of a very low-rent “bar” in the Hive – an establishment so low-rent it doesn’t have an official name, just a “bent dragon” image. A time later that night is clumsily carved into the wood.

This was clearly an invitation from Trunfeld Three-Teeth, owner of the Butcher’s Block and big fan of slop-slop.

The “Bent Dragon” turns out to be a dead-end alley/alcove that was turned into a “bar.” Or, at the very least, it had something of a roof and some seats and took bubber’s money.

Somewhat cautious, they send Belker ahead to investigate and it is indeed a trap! They are attacked by four well-armed and trained mercenaries. Belker goes down almost instantly, but the rest of the group springs into action.

In the ensuring fight, the druid webs the entire alleyway, the ranger leaps into the web to try to rescue the dying rogue, and then the druid lights the whole thing on fire, destroying the “bar” and almost killing the rogue & ranger. The Turga Killdrak is apparently killed with a single spell from a hidden wizard.

The party barely manages to overcome the ambush, killing the four mercenaries. The wizard escapes, however.

The PC patch themselves up and take their “dead” cleric to Elric‘s usual doctor, an alchemist neogi by the name of Lethrane. She mixes some potions together in her mouth and squirts them straight into Turga’s mouth. She determines he isn’t actually dead – just subject to a feign death spell, which she lifts.

Rescuing Turga raises Elric’s tab with Lethrane to “7”.

Notes & Commentary

This was the most complicated fight so far, both in number of enemies and their capabilities. As a GM, I found the most challenging part was not just making up stats on the fly (which would be easier if I studied the playtest monster manual more) but also not having the institutional knowledge of what 2nd edition (or even 3rd edition) spells do. How does feign death actually work? What about scare or slow? What do darts of seeking do, exactly? It all worked out well enough, but it was lots of hand-waving and “make a Wisdom saving throw…”

On the player’s side, they were (as always) surprised by how quickly combat can turn deadly. I was surprised by how few hit points they had – everyone thought it was odd that the druid had the most hit points by far. He’s got a high Con and rolled well (everyone else was a bit below average).

The rogue seems to be having trouble keeping track of what his powers are, how they work, when to use them, how advantage/disadvantage works, etc.

The druid was really surprised there aren’t any spells targeting 1 creature, or multi-target “enemies only” spells. He’s gotten used to 4th edition terminology & tactics.

This was also the first full sessions with our new player, an adorable little 8 year old.

The Eternal Boundary, part 1
In which the PCs are berated by the Bleaker soup kitchen chef

After a year acclimating themselves to Sigil (the players basically brainstormed and came up with a summary of what their characters did in the intervening time from levels 1 to 3), Adrin Xiloscent is summoned by Bendon Mawl, a high-up in the Sensates. Apparently they need to talk to a sage by the name of Eliath – but he went barmy a while back and now he’s outright disappeared. The PCs will have to go into the Hive and track him down.

The crowded slums of Sigil, the Hive is an unpleasant place. The first encounter the PCs actually have is a beggar coming up to Adrin Xiloscent asking for alms. They give him one, only to notice that apparently the beggar was a distraction for a pickpocket who stole one of their healing packs and raced off into the crowd.

Their first stop was at the Gatehouse, Sigil’s biggest charity, run by the “compassionate nihilists”, the Bleak Cabal. Belker Bitterleath IV attempts to get some information about barmies, but is instead treated to a biting rant about the ultimate meaninglessness of life and existence.

On their way through the hive, the PCs encounter Daz, a gnarled little peddler who set up shop across an alleyway, dangling his “magical amulets guaranteed to ward off evil yes yes yes” right in the path of any passers by. “They work! They work! You don’t see any evil enchantments, do you?!” Elric buys one to jog Daz’s memory, and finds out that lots of barmies have been killed lately, so they might want to check at the Mortuary.

The part decides to split up at that point to try to get the “word on the street”. Half heads to the Butcher’s Block and the others to the Blood Pit.

At the Butcher’s Block, Elric and Turga Killdrak have a memorable encounter with Trunfeld Three-Teeth, a scarred and disgusting ogre proprietor who apparently sells information at too high a price for the PCs (20 gp a pop). The angry, short-tempered ogre is constantly shoveling handfuls of his specialty “slop-slop” into his toothless maw, and ultimately negotiations break down when his knowledge of slop-slop is called into question.

At the Blood Pit, the rest of the party talk to the bookie there, Felgar. After selling Adrin Xiloscent a beer that scrambles his senses of taste & hearing, the hyper-active gnomes spins a tale about how a shadow-demon walks the streets of the Hive, stalking barmies and eating their very souls! Apparently, it used to be a Guvner and is planning to overthrow the Lady of Pain herself! Surprisingly, the PCs seem to take this entire tale at face value, only beginning to doubt it hours alter after reading up on shadow demons at the local library.

The PCs visit the Mortuary and speak with Toranna the Grey about Eliath – and she confirms that someone matching that description was indeed turned in not too long ago. And the body was sent through a portal into the Plane of Fire to be cremated.

During their travels through the Hive, the PCs also encountered “the Dancing Man,” a crazed bubber ridigly cavorting around the slums, ranting about various Demon Princes and dark gods. They aren’t able to make much sense of his rantings, but the moment he is out of their site, they hear a cry. Racing after him, they find him struck stone-dead.

The PCs also encountered a group of Collectors, the lowest of the low who make their living collecting dead bodies and turning them into the Dustmen for coin. They are able to confirm that more barmies have been dying than usual, and that they all seem to have just “gone to sleep and not woken up.”

Elric has a tense meeting with Derioch Ysarl, a Bleaker who accuses him of being behind the murders. He is able to talk her down and she ultimately agrees to share whatever she can uncover about the missing barmies in the Gatehoue records in exchange for the PCs sharing whatever information they uncover.

Notes & Commentary

A lot of the comments this session focused on skills. That was what most of the rolls were, and a couple players commented that they wanted more skills, and to get them more often.

To Baator and Back, part 3
In which our intrepid adventures run through Hell to get to the Cage

Armed with the knowledge of how to escape Avernus, the party crossed the River of Blood once again (luckily managing to escape the attention of any of the blood worms within) but then they found the Great Avernus Road jam-packed with a huge fiendish army waiting for orders.

After waiting for a few hours (and itching to enact one of several foolhardy and pretty-much-certain-to-kill-everyone “plans”), they watched the army snap to attention when a huge figure flew from the great keep to the north east and fly off. It took another hour for the army to march off and then Belker Bitterleath IV bravely snuck forward to steal a brick. When he was spotted by a straggling flock of abishai devils, the rest of the party ran forward to help him. Realizing that the flock was 50 devils strong, the party decided to just race for the portal and try to get the hell out of Hell.

After a tense chase in which Belker Bitterleath IV was paralyzed and nearly killed and Adrin Xiloscent used a fog cloud to provide some cover from the abishai flock, the party arrived at what seemed to be the portal location – and found it blocked by a vaguely foreboding humanoid.

The creature introduced itself as Ar’kle-mens, the guardian of the gate. He would be happy to let the party use the portal – all they had to do was carry one little orb through. He promised it wouldn’t harm them… directly. While he spoke with the party, the abishai flock circled above, waiting to attack of things got violent.

Elric agreed to carry the orb through, though the entire party was naturally very suspicious of it. Despite some furtive plans to throw it back to Ar’kle-mens at the last minute, they did carry it through the portal. The fiend smiled the whole time.

On the other side of the portal was Sigil, in all its multiverse, urban, city-inside-of-a-donut glory. They have finally escaped Avernus & Baator and were safe… for now.

The orb the fiend have given them was apparently destroyed, and Elric was covered in dust. The rest of the party was covered in soot & dried blood, and no one seemed to pay them much mind.

Notes & Commentary

The original idea for the campaign was to play this adventure and get everyone comfortable with the system and give an introduction to the setting before burying the players in the real meat of Planescape: factions. It seemed to go really well: the players really enjoyed the weird and grotesque feeling for the adventure and seem excited about where it will go next. I was very happy to hear how much some of them enjoyed a lot of the special elements of the setting. At the end of this session I just talked through a lot of Planescape from the cosmology to the factions to the slang. I was shocked people didn’t get bored right away.

I was also surprised that no one decided to make new characters, so they’re all sticking with the existing crew. I wanted to have a bit of “time passes” and start the next adventure with them not being quite as Clueless about the planes, so I said that a year had passed and then asked everyone what interesting things they had done in the intervening time:

Elric had an encounter in a bar with someone who swore had met him before. It turns out that Elric might be a shard or piece of some larger entity, some fragment of consciousness. This revelation led to the warrior joining the Sign of One faction, as he hopes to find the root spark.

Adrin Xiloscent sought sensation, especially the natural tastes and urges of his animalistic side and joined the Society of Sensation. His greatest rush so far was hunting the White Stag on the Beastlands, where the magic of the creature allowed him to experience the sensations of both the hunter and the hunted.

Turga Killdrak was the only one to really try to get home, unsuccessfully. Discouraged, he was eventually taken in by missionaries of the Believers of the Source, and he warmed to their message of life being a forge in which the spirit is battered and shaped and improved. It is unclear what this means for the paladin’s faith quite yet. He turned down an opportunity to go on a pilgrimage to the very feet of the dwarven gods, claiming he was not worthy. He is currently looking for a new mount.

Belker Bitterleath IV jumped into Sigil with both feet, pursuing criminals with zeal. He followed one bounty all the way to Acheron and ended up killing the target. The bounty was technically “dead or alive,” but when the Mercykillers explained that the sentence of “immediate execution” hand’t actually been decided, Belker realized the need to temper his zeal for punishment with the due process of justice, and he joined the faction.

Finally, I asked them what they had done as a group, what their biggest adventure was over the last year:

Belker Bitterleath IV last bounty was actually for an angel named Kobal. A watcher angel, it had actually violated its duty by getting emotionally invested in a tieflng sorceress, and it killed her as a punishment for her crimes. The party tracked the angel to the frozen slopes of Gehenna where it’s flaming sword claimed Belker’s right eye – though when his wound healed, his socked was filled with a tiny flame and he could see out of it without a problem. Kobal gave the party the laugh and is still at large.

Next session we will update characters to level 3 and probably start The Eternal Boundary.

Our young new player joined us for this session, but I hadn’t prepared a character for him, so he rolled for the abishai as they pursued the PCs. He rolled really well (even getting a double crit when the paladin gave a fiend disadvantage when attacking), which was part of why it was so grueling for them at the end.

To Baator and Back, part 2
In which the characters must "negotiate" with the Pillar of Skulls

After recapping what Halitsu told them about Avernus (which is apparently where the party has found itself), they followed the devil’s map to talk to “the old witch.” This involved fording the aptly-named River of Blood.

After very nearly descending into violence after the witch webbed half the party and applied holy water to them to make sure they weren’t fiends, they settled down for some interesting tea and to find out how to get off the plane. The witch didn’t know herself how to escape (or wasn’t lucid enough to explain it) but she advised they speak with the Pillar of Skulls, supposedly built of the souls of sages who lied to their customers.

They found it easily enough, though it turned out to be more the Pillar of Contradictory and Untrustworthy Con Men Heads. Trekking through hell having drained much of their patience, the party decided to get rough: they pried out one head as a warning to the others Turga Killdrak began liberally applying holy water to the most talkative head, causing it to howl in pain.

The screams of the Pillar summoned the attention of two wandering spinagons that the party was able to defeat, but only barely. They decided to sacrifice the one fiend they captured alive, “feeding” it to the Pillar (and being more than a little disturbed as the heads moved to swallow the creature and digest it). That got them answers to 5 questions, and though they didn’t quite get the answers they wanted they did get enough to figure out how to leave the plane: collect a black brick from the Great Avernus Road and use it as the key to a portal to the south.

Playtest Notes

There weren’t a lot of rules in this session – it was mainly roleplaying with the witch and the Pillar of Skulls, which was quite a bit of fun. The witch in particular made the party suspicious and they were suitable paranoid as they tried to figure out exactly how to phrase their questions to the Pillar.

There was also a great moment when Elric, the war-weary fighter, wasn’t entirely comfortable with Turga Killdrak the paladin torturing one of the heads in the Pillar. “Is it OK because they are evil?” “Is that who we are, even if it is OK?” Always great to see questions like that pop up, and perfectly suited for a Planescape campaign.

The only rules comment that most players agreed with was both good & bad: combat turns go really fast.

It’s great to get through a fight quickly and keep things moving, but many of the players are used to 4th edition fights where there are more tactical choices and you can still contribute on your turn even if you miss with your sword.

That’s a problem I have long had with old D&D editions (I summarize it as “I swing my sword. Done.”) and I’ll have to think about how to deal with that if/when combat becomes a little more central to the game. Not sure how much I want to tinker with the rules as part of the playtest, so I’ll likely have to review the plaaytest packet and see what tools are there to help spice up fights that are supposed to feel important.

It was also very interesting that while we were waiting to start a lady came up and asked if we were playing D&D. Her husband apparently had a regular game and their (rather shy) young son wanted to play, but didn’t have anyone his age to play with. We gave her the usual advice on how to find or start up a group but they had already tried a lot of that. She and her son ended up sitting in and listening to our game and were pretty engaged – she actually tossed out some good ideas and tips to the party. They should be joining us i the future. Her son is only 9 and very quiet and shy, so I’ll likely have to reach out and help him along through many sections, but she said that he was very excited and engaged, and the whole thing was just too adorable.

"To Baator and Back", part 1
"They square off like miniature kaiju... wait..."

The first real play session! So exciting!

The party heard about the strange happenings around “the old wizard’s place” and couldn’t get much useful information out of the increasingly drunken locals, so they set out themselves to see what’s up.

Along the way, they encountered some owlbear tracks and decided to investigate, only to be ambushed by the beast. In the ensuing battle, Adrin Xiloscent turned into a bear to square off against it and almost died for his bravery. Elric was able to take advantage of the owlbear nearly ripping out the druid’s throat, though, stabbing his blade right through its back.

Picking themselves back up (and harvesting the apparently-valuable owlbear heart), they continued on to the “wizard’s tower” – which actually turned out to be a 50’ tall mound. Inside, the wizard’s place had been completely ransacked.

They did encounter two lemures, though – strange creatures they had never seen before. Shelton Widowberry tossed out a quick entangle spell, though, nearly killing one of them in one hit. The party easily dispatched them and searched the rest of the wizard’s domicile.

They found Finott’s Book (spellbook containing 6 1st level and 4 2nd level spells) and a stick belonging to a dead peasant girl the lemures were eating.

Adrin Xiloscent found another book marked “Lab Notes” right as Belker Bitterleath IV decided to enter an exposed “secret” chamber, activating some magical effect and disappearing in a swirl of blue flame. Shelton Widowberry immediately jumped after him.

The rest of the party read through the “Lab Notes,” discovering that wizard had apparently succeeding in contacting “otherworldly realms behind his imagining.”

Assuming that their friends had been transported to some alien realm and intent on saving them, the remaining PCs jumped through (after failing to convince Turga Killdrak pony to come along for the ride).

On the other side, the discovered that Belker Bitterleath IV and Shelton Widowberry had struck up a conversation with a spiny little devil-creature named Halitsu. It was initial shocked and fearful at their appearance, but Shelton Widowberry cast charm person and gained a new friend who was more than happy to tell them wehre they were – as long as they didn’t get Halitsu in trouble with his boss.

They party is on Avernus, the first layer of Baator.

When asked how to leave, Halitsu had had two suggestions: “Join the army, but then you’ll end up dead. Or you could try to talking to the crazy witch and see what she knows.”

The second option being more to their liking, the party sets off to cross the River of Blood to find this “crazy witch.”

They even gave Halitsu his pitchfork back. He was such a nice little devil, after all…

Playtest Notes

So this was the first actual play session and it went very well, overall. I had some initial concerns about monster power, but it seemed to work itself out reasonably well. There were a couple rules questions that popped up that I made a call on the spot for that I’ll need to iron out.

No rules for mounted combat?
I might have missed them, but I don’t remember seeing mounted combat rules. Might be overthinking it, too, but it seemed like it should be difficult to just charge into the middle of two bears duking it out and skewer one on a lance, so I basically just had the knight make a Dexterity or Charisma check (his choice) with Ride with DC 10. If he failed, I was going to five him disadvantage. He got it, and missed anyway, but definitely something I’ll have to check on.

Do devils/extraplanar creatures count as humanoids for charm person?
This was something else I wasn’t sure of, but I erred on the side of letting the players get away with it. It was a neat idea and worked out well, but I’m pretty sure that it totally wouldn’t have worked in 2nd or 3rd edition.

Table comments about the session:

  • Players liked that they were never really looking at their character sheets
  • They also liked that it was much less structured – more free-form and less combat-focused
  • They liked advantage/disadvantage – good way to show advantage, basically, without a lot of math

Personally, I had a lot of fun. I think I’m finding that I actually quite like running relatively loose published adventures because I can focus almsot entirely on description and embellishment. I also found that running a combat as a DM was more fun than I expected. I rolled quick and moved on. As a player, I’ve found D&D Next combat much less engaging – I think it’s a factor of “my turn’s done quick, let me know I’m up again.”

So far, D&D Next seems to mesh reasonably well with my freeform, seat-of-my-pants DM style, though I’m worried about monster stats overall. I think I’ll have to put a bit of prep into that as fights get more complicated.

The owlbear fight was quick, but it also nearly killed the druid in one round. Overall, it seemed about right, but it was pretty brutal on that one player. The lemure fight was almost a token conflict, especially by comparison. The other druid cast one spell that very nearly took care of everything.

I put up some separate notes on my loose 2nd edition conversion logic.

Character Creation
in which the characters are born

For the first session, we just made characters.

The plan is to start with traditional fantasy D&D characters and then we’ll run through one of the adventures from Well of Worlds – “To Baator and Back.” Once the party finishes the adventure and arrives in Sigil, we’ll take stock and players will have the opportunity to make new characters or keep their existing ones, etc.

I fleshed out the world a bit by asking characters specific questions about their characters’ histories, letting them just flesh things out. All the details here were worked out by the group as an explanation of how & why they know each other.

Elric, Belker Bitterleath IV, & Ragnar the Red were soldiers in a war of aggression against the cosmopolitan, mercantile city-state of Tesch. It was a brutal war, and Elric isn’t proud of what he got a medal for. After the war, Ragnar the Red disappeared into the frontier.

Ragnar the Red attacked and slaughtered a dwarven trade caravan, only leaving Turga Killdrak alive. Belker Bitterleath IV, now a bounty hunter, and Elric were hired to track down the madman and “deal with him.” They hired Adrin Xiloscent as a local guide.

They tracked Ragnar the Red down and killed him. They suspect he might have actually been possessed by some dark spirit, but couldn’t find any proof.

Now they’ve returned to town and are drowning their sorrows/celebrating in the local tavern when they overhear the locals talking about “the old wizard’s place” on the outskirts of town. Apparently some locals broke in there recently & hear a roar from deep inside – and one of them disappeared…

Playtest Notes

So we mainly just did character creation, and it was all from the playtest files I had on my iPad. I felt like the whole process was terribly annoying & boring – lots of players just waiting around for their turn – but I guess I was just being paranoid, as everyone said they had fun.

Specific comments:

  • race, class, background, & specialty seems like too many choices
  • more complicated rules made you more invested in character
  • specialties and backgrounds gave charcters more flavor, and subraces
  • liked background non-combat thing
  • favorite thing: background, race & class had sub-options
  • leaset favorite thing: character sheet

Next time we’ll actually get into some adventure.


I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.