Gaming Terrain Spotlight

Today I wanted to pay homage to a gaming terrain master, Duane Clark.  I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with Duane personally about his work, but talking about his pieces won’t do them the justice they deserve. Each piece he creates is not only finely detailed, down to the last twig or blade of grass, but made to tell a story.  His pieces truly are a work of art and I felt they needed to be shared with our community.

For starters, check out this piece:

Swamp Pond 2

Look how beautifully constructed it is!  From the large decrepit trees jutting out of the muck ridden pond, down to the lily pads carelessly floating on the surface of the water.  And the skeleton in the center, what’s his story?

Here’s a closer look at the center of this piece:

Spooky Swamp Pond

I find myself drowning in the perfection and realism of this piece.  The detail is just AMAZING.  Everything looks like it just belongs there, meticulously placed exactly where it was meant to be to provide the maximum effect.

Here are some more pictures of Duane’s work:

Wooden Pond and Bridge

The damaged wooden bridge over this pond, is spot on.

Fall Lake

I not only loves the fall leaves in this piece, but how the ground around the small pool looks moist to the touch, even though we know it’s not.  It’s that level of detail that makes Duane’s work so fantastic.  Look at how perfectly placed the scattered dirt and the stray pieces of grass are.

Forest 1

Forest 2

This piece I find extraordinary.  From the dry, fallen leaves on the ground, to the white spume of the water as it goes over the rocks in the river.  Even the moss on the rocks next to the river bed or the vines growing up the side of the tree show how much heart Duane puts into each of his pieces.

Here are a couple more great pieces that Duane’s created.  His specialties are buildings and woodland scenery.

Ritual Stone



Wizards Tower

As you can see, Duane, who has surprisingly only been doing this since 2015, is already a master in the art, creating highly detailed pieces, each with its own story to tell.  If you are interested in seeing more of his work or would like to commission a piece, you can contact him on his website, Evolved Creations or you can check out his Facebook page as well here:   Bits & Pieces.



Gaming Table Complete!

I’ve always wanted to have a dedicated gaming table.  Why you ask?  Well, there are a lot of reasons.  Probably the most important is session setup.  I’m an avid consumer of Dwarven Forge Products, and not only does it take a good 3 hours for a large map setup, but I always find myself wishing I could have fine tuned it some more before the session begins.   If you’re like me, you have to set the pieces up the night before the game, so you don’t abscond the dining room table for long periods of time.  With a dedicated gaming table, I can setup as early as the end of the last session and if I change my story before the next session, I can adjust my setup as necessary.

Another issue with not having a dedicated gaming table, is the dimensions.  My dining room table, is just not wide enough.  With players on each side of the table, books and dice crowding a little over a square foot or so of space, means, I’m losing a little over 2 feet of table width, severely limiting my map space.  As you can see below, by trying to have a decent map on the table, it severely limits the amount of space available to the players.


Problem being, is that I’m not going to go out and spend money on a gaming table, when I can make due with what I have, however, if building a table using minimal resources was an option, then I was all for it.  I am by no means a handy man;  quite the opposite actually. But being a homeowner sometimes you need to get out of your comfort zone, so you don’t have to pay 5 times the cost to have a professional come in and do it.  I started out simple, building a couple of large garden boxes for my wife, at 8′ by 4′.  All I needed was a circular saw, some screws, a drill (with the necessary bits), some staples and some weed blocker cloth.  For those inclined, it was a cake walk.  For me, it was a learning experience, to put it gently.  It was a great stepping stone for a skill set that would allow me to finally build my gaming table.

Here are some pics of the garden boxes I created:

Garden Box 2

Garden Box 1

The little thing sticking out is a seat, so my wife can sit when she’s gardening.  It was a last minute addition given I had some left over wood.

So I started putting together a plan for my table.  The garden boxes were just 8′ x 4′ frames, using 8′ long 2″ x 4″‘s and some 4″x4″ pressure treated wood as corner posts, to give it some stability and to hold some of the fencing to keep the animals out.  Then I just attached more 2″ x 4″s up the side of the posts, to create walls.  If you turned them over, it was a like a table without a top.  I attached the weed blocker by hammering in some staples, flipped it over, threw a lot of dirt in and voila, garden boxes.  I figured I could follow a similar frame, but throw a top on it and call it a table.  I didn’t need anything fancy, just something to play on.

So after about 6 months, I started buying the wood needed for my table.  Considering I’d done this before for the garden boxes, I got a frame up pretty quickly.  (within 2-3 hours)  However, realizing that my table was a little longer than 8′ long, as I put the frame on the outside of the 4″ x 4″ corner posts (the legs of the table), and after seeing at the hardware store, that wood generally came in 8′ x 4′ plywood sheets, I would have to buy something longer, or buy two sheets, cut them to fit JUST over 8’, which seemed silly really.  So I started to modify the frame, but realized that given it’s current state, I needed some outside help to hold certain things in place while I drilled and all that jazz, so the project went dead for awhile.

After seeing a large gathering of my closest friends over one weekend in early March, one of them (Justin) made the mistake of offering to help me.  As someone who has built decks and finished his own basement, I took him up on his offer and he has regretted it ever since.  Seriously though, due to how awesome he is, he drove all the way from New Hampshire the night before the big project, a good 3 1/2 hour drive to where I live in NY, so we could start the day fresh and finish this gaming table.  He claimed it would only take 2-3 hours.  He was completely full of crap, but I appreciated his optimism.

So we go downstairs, evaluate the pros and cons of what I’d like in the table and what he thinks is feasible and decide that the best thing to do is dismantle everything I’d done this far and start fresh.  I gave him a look that portrayed a good mix of go F*** yourself and Kiss my a**, but ultimately, with the knowledge I had someone there who would help me do it RIGHT, I got over it and moved on.  We proceeded to unscrew and dislodge the whole table while I cried like a baby.  At times it was fairly annoying when dealing with counter sunk screws that were stripped, just so we could utilize the wood I already bought, but in the end, it only took about 30-45 minutes to destroy the table, along with my pride.

So here were the requirements I had for the table:

  • The table needed to be wide.  At least 5′ wide, to allow for a little more than 3′ of gaming space.
  • Bottom Frame needed to be 8′ long, to accommodate not having to buy multiple sheets of plywood
  • I wanted it to be recessed, because it looks cooler and allows for more stable vertical constructions.
  • The sides shelves of the table needed to be a minimum of 7-8″ wide, to allow for proper stability of books, character sheets, etc.
  • The recessed portion needed to be something that would prevent slippage of the gaming tiles
  • The table needed to be easily moved, because something of this size, was really heavy.
  • When sitting at the table, it had to feel comfortable for someone to reach approximately 1/2 way across the table, without having to get up.  (I measured how much leg room I had at my dining room table and just aimed to match that)

So, here is what we needed for the project:

  • (6) 4″ x 4″ corner posts to act as legs
  • (1) 8′ x 4″ piece of plywood.  We went with 3/4″ thick, but 1/2″ thick would have been fine.
  • (8) 2″ x 4″ x 8′ long pieces of wood
  • (6) casters (wheels), one for each of the legs.  We chose the ones that support 125 lbs. each and the 4 corner legs had locking wheels on them.
  • (3) yards of black Felt (found at Joann’s fabrics for 5.99 a yard)
  • (1) box of 4″ deck screws (I went with coated)
  • (1) box of 3 1/2″ deck screws (also coated)

I never thought of taking pictures of the table in progress, so lo and behold, here is the end result.

Gaming Table

Once it was complete, I couldn’t help but begin to set it up with my Dwarven Forge pieces.  Here are some pictures of a setup I threw together in a couple of hours.

Setup 1

I used Dungeon Tiles from Dwarven Forges 1st Kickstarter as a wall around the town, though the town is comprised of all 3 Dwarven Forge Kickstarter pieces, comprising of dungeon, cavern and city builder tiles.

Setup 2

I really love my docks.

Setup 3

Setup 4

Sorry, the last one is a little blurry.  The water and cobblestone maps are from Game Matz  and are 3′ long by 3′ wide.  That leaves a good 6-8″ of playable area still available to work with.

The forest tiles are a mix of the following two dungeon tile sets:

  1. Witchlight Fens
  2. Wilderness Dungeon Tiles

The cottages and wizards tower are from Pegasus Hobbies.

The tudor and stone houses/gatehouse are from Dwarven Forge‘s City Builder System.

I still have some more work to do on the table, but it is technically usable at this point.  I need to put wood filler in the screw holes, sand the shelves of the table down, and put some additional bracing on the legs, because I’m paranoid and really like the idea of a solid table.  The only downside is that I have no idea how I will ever get it out of my house when it is time to move, without the help of like 6 other people.

Overall though, I’m ecstatic with the way the table came out and I know my players will be too.

If anyone is interested in more detail on how I put the table together, feel free to email me at

– Jinx


The Fall of Astia – Session 3 Recap

Afternoon all!

Running behind on my recaps, but I finally got this one together and even with the holiday rush.  Who would have thought?

So let’s jump right into it!

When we last left off, our party of adventurers had barely made it to the Wizard’s Tower deep in the Underdark, and ended up taking a long needed rest of the large twirling stairs just outside.  Our Rogue Nar was still recovering from his grievous wounds inflicted by the front door, which was actually a mimic (see pic below..that white mini on the front door is a mimic), Khaleen, after fighting his worst nightmare in the form of a phantasmal killer and critically failed jump, which ended him falling into a 50′ chasm, and the others who were pummeled by fireballs and other highly annoying magic.


The PC’s, after their short rest, started off by entering the foyer of the wizard’s tower, shown above, on the right.  It seemed quite bare, and dusty. There were stairs leading to a second floor and a long hallway situated on the left. The PC’s decided to take the long hallway.  At the end of the hallway, they encountered this:


The door opens up into a large room. Moss and grass grow rampant on the masonry floor, but the ground itself lies in turmoil, as the masonry blocks are pushed up and disrupted from beneath.

Six, small globes of eerie pale blue light flicker and float upwards of 15 ft. in the air.  As your eyes follow their waving path, you get a good look of the ceiling, or lack thereof, which gives the impression that you are deep underwater. There is a faint white light at the ceiling’s surface, but you get the feeling that you are sinking deeper…as the light around you gradually gets darker and darker; yet the globes provide the same flickering light.

 The walls are otherwise covered in thick vines that span the entire east and west walls. The vines are thin, and continuously writhe almost as if in a trance.

 There are eight dragon statues positioned directly across from each other on each sides of the hallway. The statues are for the most part are heavily in disrepair. Vines from the wall have veered off in various places and have slowly engulfed a couple of the statues. Only a few remain fully intact.

 The East and West walls each have a wooden door.

 On the east wall, through a small patch of vines that look to be intentionally parted, there is writing in a florescent blue ichor that reads, “All hope dies”.

 As the PC’s progressed into the room, with Vola (played by Joe) throwing a torch into the middle of the floor to see what happened.  Immediately, some of the vines started to creep off the statue and towards the torch, albeit at a fairly slow rate.

Then, some of the vines on one of the statues on the left began writhing and strangling the neck of one of the statues. The PC’s heard a loud snap and the head of the statue hit the ground, rolled and stopped right in front of them.

The PC’s also had to make a will save and then all noticed the following:

The light coming from above you flickers, and as you look up, you notice that shadows glide about what looks like the surface. One particularly large one seems to stop, as if contemplating for a couple seconds; it feels like it is staring right through you, though you can’t see any real definition in his face.

At this point, the party had to make some saving throws.  Both the elven ranger (Ari) and the Half-Elven Sorcerer failed their saves and had their alignments changed to chaotic / evil. (Muahahahahaha) In addition, Wexxle, the goblin friend of Ari, failed his save and had to play “devil’s advocate to one other player”, who turned out to be the Sorcerer after another roll of the dice.

This worked out PERFECTLY. Dave played the part of both Ari with his new alignment and Wexxle with his difference of opinions with Henry’s sorcerer, Walker Boh. The banter and fighting between the entire group was expertly done, but my hat goes off to Ari/Dave, for really taking it on and doing a fantastic job. Nar, already being Chaotic / Neutral in alignment, also role played really well, telling the wood elf how much he liked the new Ari.

Not long after that, the vines started to coalesce into a large humanoid shaped mass of these dark vines, forming something akin to a shambling mound plant creature and combat began.

Vola hacked away at the plant creature with reckless abandon. Nar scored a crucial sneak attack, beating out the creature’s initiative. Walker sent a firebolt and then rendered himself invisible, so there was no retaliation. Ari peppered it with arrows and it finally fell. Not a terribly hard fight. If I remember correctly it was a CR5 for a 6th level group.

Next, the PC’s went into the dining room.


You open up the door to what once was a long finely crafted dining table which used to dominate the center of the room. The floor and table are covered with a thick, cushiony moss. Most of the chairs are knocked over or destroyed and look to have been used some time ago, as moss is creeping up them as well.

 On the table, there are eight tarnished silver place settings, each with a large plate covered by a dome. The table is also adorned with fine cutlery and two silver candelabras, which are barely seen through the thick overgrowth of moss.

 There are four lit torches that illuminate this area with the same eerie blue light seen from the hallway. There is a door in the North wall and a small bare serving table on the east wall.

 The PC’s decided to not touch anything in the room, worried it might be a trap and continued on north to the kitchen and came upon the following:

There are several work tables in this room and a large hearth on the North wall, which looks to not have been used in some time. An inch of dust covers the room, as well as a large collection of pots and pans that lay scattered all over the floor and table. There is a row of clay jars resting on a dusty shelf on the east wall and a wooden door on the west wall that looks as if it leads into a pantry.

 PC’s decided to skip the pantry for now and headed to the other door, in the dining room.

Inside this room was the following in large glass cases, a zoo display, as the players soon found out.

Inside the cases were some  odd creatures I found in an old Planescape monster manual/appendix.

  • Viper Tree – Snakes that are twisted as a group, their tails entwined to form a stump and the heads writhe out like branches on a tree.
  • Beholder head on a centipede body with lobster claws
  • Water Elemental with one large central eye and knobby ground down teeth.

Mushrooms were strewn about the room and gave off an eerie glow, though did not affect the Darkvision of anyone, as others the PC’s had previously encountered.

Next up, the PC’s ventured off into the sitting room, to the East of the statue room.

This sitting room contains a once plush, purple velvet sofa, which is now tattered and ripped open, its stuffing tossed about as if done in rage. There is a high backed chair, with a piece of its back ripped off, sitting in the center of the room, next to a small wooden table and an open book. There is a fireplace with a mantle on the East wall.

 The book on the small wooden table is shredded, with burn marks and blood covering the binding.  


The PC’s were only able to discern one passage in the back of the book that wasn’t badly burned:


In the depths of the howling waste

Even the darkness has a voice

It chortles and beckons

It begs and cajoles

It slithers its way into your brain

Like a black slimy worm

And if you listen to it…you’re lost

The garmorm of the dark will

have you, and

You’ll never see the light again.


The PC’s continued to trudge through the tower and next entered the library:

You enter a large library with bookcases that reach to the ceilings on the east, west and north walls and are filled with thousands of books. There is a large table in the center of the room, with legs carved into creatures you’ve never seen before, twisted and foul. Various tomes, drawings and scrolls are scattered on top of the table, including an iron candelabra fashioned to resemble a hydra with nine heads. The table is surrounded by wooden high-back and wingback chairs. On the south wall, there is a large hearth. More of the bobbing eerie blue globes hover near the ceiling, giving off the unnerving blue light. A coatrack sits in the SW corner, with a faded leather coat on it.

 On the north wall, there is another message scrawled in blue ichor, but is hard to read from your current position. It reads, “Some secrets do not PERMIT themselves to be told”.

 There was a trap, if and when the PC’s disrupted any of the books. Of course Nar, our drow rogue, started rifling through the books and carelessly throwing them on the floor when they were no use to him.  Once the first one hit the ground, this is what happened:

Suddenly, the books start flying off the shelves in a storm. For what seems like a minute, you can’t see anything, as the flapping pages resemble a flock of birds startled into the air; complete and utter chaos. They start to coalesce and shape into a large humanoid. First the legs, then the torso and arms, then finally the head of this hulking golem, which now stands 12 feet tall above you. Its eyes glow with a purple and red magical fury and suddenly on his left arm, the books which have finally just settled, begin flipping pages again, their magical writing inside glowing bright gold.

This spell book golem was formidable indeed. When casting a spell, one of the books on him starts flipping its pages, glows and then the spell is cast. It was able to cast multiple spells per round. (Up to 3 levels each round, so it could cast three 1st level spells per round, two 2nd level or 1 third level, in any combination.) It never ran out of spells to cast either and was hurling magic missiles, among other spells, left and right.

Obviously the golem refrained from using any fire and or corrosive spells in the library, so as not to harm the books or himself, however, the PC’s did manage to set him ablaze and made a run for it.   The golem was vulnerable to fire and corrosive, but had resistance to all magic damage.

The PC’s, before Nar had set off the trap, found a couple of books that they ended up keeping. One was falsely imbued with magic and was really worth nothing, but took some research to figure out. A couple were magically trapped and others alchemically trapped. They only found one real spellbook, which with no wizard in the group, was only useful for selling at a later time.

They did find a book about Vivimancy and what a Vivimancer was, and was explained as followed: A Vivimancer is an expert of cloning, cross-breeding, flesh warping, genetic meddling, neural manipulation, and vat growth; master of mind slaves, mutants, symbionts, parasites, and viruses.  Basically, the Vivimancer is a perverter of nature, a magician whose focus is the manipulation of life to his or her own ends.

 Eventually, the PC’s made their way back and up the stairs where they entered the tower. They left some of the rooms alone downstairs, like the pantry, thinking that they would come back to them later. They were, after all, hunting a wizard.

 The PC’s traveled upstairs and encountered more of the small eerie globes and spread out in all directions were dark, black roots that breach and cover the walls like a disease.

 On the east wall, there is another message scrawled in blue ichor. It reads, “but secrets of another…are the sweetest fruit of all.”

 They made their way into the bedroom next and encountered the following:


You open the door to a large bedroom with a plush canopy bed, with crimson blankets and gold colored pillows. There is a small end table on each side of the large bed, an armoire on the west wall that almost reaches the ceiling, and two doors spaced out along the North wall, all of unremarkable quality. What captures your attention is a large mural on the wall.

 The mural is of a large majestic tree with a circle of people in white robes surrounding its base. In large letters, it reads, “The tree of life”, but in that same blue ichor you’ve been seeing, the letters UN have been put before the word life, now reading, the tree of UNLIFE.

An altar sits in front of the mural, with a large velvet pillow in its center. A deep impression in the pillow can be seen in the shape of a large book or tome, which is currently missing.

There is also an ornate treasure chest that sits at the foot of the bed.

The chest had a timed lock on it. They needed 3 successful open locks roll (DC: 16 originally), consecutively, to get it open or it resets. It also has a spell on it. Need to make a Will Save DC: 13 each round, or a suggestion spell tells you to make the lock harder. (Giving it a +2 DC, which becomes cumulative over all 3 rounds) However, the rogue was in good sorts that day and had little trouble with not only the lock-picking rolls, but the will saves to keep it from getting increasingly difficult. While slightly confused as to why he heard the lock “pop”, but the chest didn’t open and the ticking, he kept at it and made it on the first go.

Inside the chest was a ring of feather falling.  The wizard didn’t mind leaving this behind in his haste, as he was prepared with a fly spell, which becomes more evident in the next session.

They also explored the adjoining bathroom:

When you open the door to this room, you are surprised to find rain pouring from the ceiling. Mold and other vegetation has grown across the floor and walls.

At the far end of the chamber is a metal tub which is overflowing with algae filled water.

Ari did some digging in the tub and found a golden medallion worth 75 GP hidden in the water.

The PC’s continued down the hallway and encountered a large torture room: (Most of it can be seen on the right side of this pic)  I need to do better with these.


You open the door into a large room. There are two sets of lit torches, on the east and west walls, as well as on the far wall, flickering without wind, but illuminating a chilling sight. The walls consist of greying and sinewy flesh of faces, hands, broken bones, feet and toes jutting from the surface. It

The room is fully adorned with torture equipment, including a pillory, a rack, and a pillar with chains. A blood stained chair stands off to the right side of the room. The chair has thick leather straps upon its armrests. The chair legs are stained with blood and urine.

Piles of bloody rags, tossed carelessly in one corner hint at the terrible practices wrought upon the unfortunates brought here. On the west wall, there is a shelf that holds a collection of dirty and rusty implements, including pliers, clamps and thumbscrews. An iron basket holds a collection of branding irons. Burnt flesh still clings to some of those irons. Two oubliettes pierce the floor in a dingy corner of the room. The narrow, roughhewn holes are filled with black, foul water to a depth of 6 feet and topped with a locked iron grate.

The PC’s basically called this the “NOPE” room and moved on. They did end up checking it out later after exploring the rest of the tower and found when they ventured too far, the torture equipment animated and attempted to grapple them and begin torturing them. They just made a run for it.

They also found a Reflection Pool Room, which was as follows:

You walk in to what once had been a beautiful room of reflection. A pool sits in the center of the room, in which two beautiful elven females with blue skin (and scantily clad in some sheer silk fabric), bathe themselves with delicate pieces of cloth. The room itself promotes peace and relaxation, filling you with ease and calm.

The ceiling is covered in what looks like the cosmos, but is now chipped, cracked and weathered.

After a successful arcana check, the party realized that the ceiling must have once been vivid and most likely used ink of some magical nature, that was used to create this work of art, as it tricks the eye into giving it far greater depth than could be imagined.

Inside the pool was the illusion of two female elves, which were going to beckon the PC’s to join them. However, Ari snuck in undetected and deciding it was an obvious trap, left the room without much other thought. With a highly successful perception check as he closed the door, he noticed the illusion flicker out when the door was mostly closed.

Next up was a Museum room that portrayed the stages and history of the tree of life in murals on the wall. Most of which was covered in blood, claw marks and scratches. For the most part, it was ruined.

Inside the center of the room, there was a large worm creature, with what looked like human faces pushing up against the inside skin of the worm, trying to get out. The creature was known as a Garmorm and it started to sing an eerie song.


We are many (snap)

We are one

Now we live (snap)

Never done


Sing of days (snap)

Sing of night

Long to sing (snap)

Show our might


Join us in eternal song (snap)

Live with us forever strong (snap)

Our choir seeks more in kind (snap)

Our power grows with each new mind (snap)


The garmorm turned out to be even less of a challenge as the party just eviscerated it, even with its 7 attacks.

Going back to the museum room, our sorcerer with his hermit background and discovery feature, was able to fill in the gaps regarding the murals.  His background features gave him access to unique knowledge on long lost and ancient history. Here is it summed up as if the museum was intact.

  1. Shows tree of life in all its glory. There is a white angelic light coming from the heavens and shining through the branches. The land around the tree is flourishing, with bright, healthy colors. There are small statues of druids, showing reverence and worshipping the tree.
  2. Depicts the tree of life exactly the same, except the tree seems to be a little blurry. The land in the background is much clearer and shows the destruction of cities, fires and armies marching on one another and on the tree itself.
  3. The druids are at war with the armies, but are clearly outmatched. They fall back, leaving the tree to its fate.
  4. Shows the tree in a withering state, slumped and dying. The world behind it is in turmoil. A large shadow / cloud has rolled in and seems to be enveloping the tree and the world itself.
  5. In a shambling of a room, a council of mages sit, with a replica of the tree at the center of the table. One holds his head in his hands, another seems to be stressed. The replica of the tree shimmers…changing, into it can be seen with arcane shackles that seem to be pulsing with energy, sustaining, but not fixing the tree.
  6. The tree is suffering, showing a twisted knotted mess, where the shackles are.
  7. Shackles are broken. The tree is dying once again. The circle of mages lies empty, the room abandoned and ancient.
  8. The trees roots are branching out; looking for sustenance in any place it can find it. Shimmering portals to the Shadowfell and Negative Energy plane.

I can’t take credit for the original idea, which I took from my good friend, Christopher Mennell, a.k.a. The Secret DM.  His website can be found here.

The original post, with a little bit of the background on the magebound tree can be found here.

When I told him my ideas on where I wanted my campaign to go, he said to use some of his magebound tree background and then run with it.  What ended up happening is we sat down and talked about it for like 5 hours, running into the early morning of the next day.  Chris is a longtime friend since high school and any chance we get to talk shop, is always a good time.

Anyways, in this room, there was also a large excavated hole that led down, spiraling deep into a cavern and was the end of the session.

At this point, the PC’s decided to go back and check out the pantry right off the kitchen.

As you go to open the pantry door, writing begins to form in that same blue ichor you’ve seen and reads in common: “Even the dead fear the darkness”.

Inside, there is an impenetrable darkness.

The PC’s dispelled the darkness and Dave, being the first to go in, fell into the floor into a pit trap. The floor was illusioned to look like a normal floor and a silence spell was permanently cast here so no one could hear him yell for help. However, with the darkness dispelled, (using a light spell of some sort, perhaps daylight?), they saw Dave fall in. They could see that there were three shelving units that cover the south, west and north walls.

The shelves contained various food items, all of which are rotten or moldy, including old bags of grain, flour and jars of preserves. Hidden amongst the shelves is a secret compartment, that opens up and contained some potions and a box with no way to open it.


Here is a picture of the whole tower, instead of piecemeal.  It wasn’t the best of pictures, but my hands kept blocking the light when I tried to do a nice landscape one.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this recap.  I’m hoping to get the most recent session up and ready within the next week or so.

As always, thanks for reading!


The Fall of Astia – Stand Alone Adventure Recap

Alright, we’ve been radio silent for some time now.  Time to get back in the saddle.

So in a parallel stand-alone adventure, N’grall the Dragonborn Paladin, Ari the Elven Ranger and Walker Boh the Half-Elven Sorcerer received notice from a squirrelly altar boy, a parchment speaking of a mission of great importance, signed by Archbishop Barnet, a trusted member of N’grall’s church of Bahamut.  (which the premise was borrowed from here, then modified to meet my needs.)

Now the reason for the parallel stand alone adventure, was because we were only able to score 3 players for this game.  The main campaign, where most of the party currently is, would have been left out of the raid on a wizard’s tower, which contains some seriously important storyline plots and goals of the villains.  So I decided a stand alone adventure would fit better, especially with the introduction of a new player to the group.

Anyways, I digress…


The parchment read,

“A matter of great importance has come to our attention. The village of Clearpool, which lies about a half-day’s ride north of here, needs your help, though your quest lies closer to home. Please meet me at the temple as soon as you are ready to leave. I suggest bringing some companions you can trust and be ready to leave first thing.”

Archbishop Barnet

When the PC’s arrived at the temple:

This particular piece was more geared to N’grall, as this is his home church:  “To this day, the church still gives you chills when you walk up to the eastern façade. The rose window shines a rainbow of colors into the center of the church’s nave. However with the building expansion currently in progress, which includes almost doubling the church in size, the awe and wonder are momentarily suspended by the noise of the construction.”

One other thing N’grall noticed:  “The thought crosses through your mind that the recent addition being constructed on the temple is surprising, as you didn’t think the church had a budget or necessary coin for such things. While you trust that the Archbishop wouldn’t put the church in financial jeopardy, it seems the coin could be put to better use, like helping those in need.”

The Archbishop was waiting for the PC’s outside, carrying a curious brown sack and traversed down the steps in haste, when one would normally meet in his chambers; great importance indeed.

The archbishop was relatively young for a human, especially one who has risen so quickly to his position and responsibility. The PC’s gathered that it was most likely due to his outgoing and charismatic personality.  Though young, his dark brown hair and eyebrows were already frosted with gray, presumably from the stress that comes with the position.

The archbishop waved the PC’s off to the side of the church, past the small graveyard, into a little clearing a bit farther away from the loud construction, most likely for some privacy. After a cursory glance about the area, he looks to you and said to the PC’s,

“Welcome brother. Thank you for coming so quickly at my request. Before I go into detail, I must make sure. You trust these two with your life? (pointing at the other PC’s.) “Good…good”.  Well, I trust N’grall knows what he’s doing or he wouldn’t have brought you along. You look capable, that is for sure, he says,  looking up and down at both PC’s. “I mean no disrespect, but in times like these, trust is hard to come by.  Let me fill you in.  The village of Clearpool has for years been known for its crystal waters and healing springs. An old Legend has it that Torga, the great Dwarven Cleric of Sithe, used a relic to purify the waters of Clearpool and grant the springs the healing powers of our mutual god, Bahamut.

It seems that now, thousands of years after the cleric’s death, the waters have become tainted. The smell, once sweet, has turned fetid and those who bathe in the springs develop sickening blisters. You have been summoned here to help another church in need, by traveling to  tomb to recover the relic he once used to purify those springs. I believe that Clearpool’s temple came to us due to our close proximity to the location of the tomb, which is only 8 miles north of here, at the base of the Shimmering Peak Mountains.”

At this point, the players gathered that Archbishop Barnet was visibly nervous, with sweat upon his brow on a day where the chill was more than evident.

The archbishop continued with,“What worries me, is your safety of course, N’grall, but also the rumors I’ve been hearing and the research I’ve been doing. Torga wasn’t full dwarf, it seems. He was what many believe to be an abomination, so his birthright was never spoken of or documented, however through some thorough incantations, I’ve discovered that he was half dwarf and half gnome. It seems that his tomb is riddled with traps and trickery, which could only have come from his gnomish heritage and expertly built, coming from his dwarven side. I fear the tomb could be the death of you all. Please be careful.”

At this point, he hands the PC’s a small map, which showed landmarks that would get them to the general whereabouts of the tomb. He also hands them a sack, which under further scrutiny not only had fresh travel bread, but 6 vials of a thicker, viscous liquid; their stoppers sealed in wax and the vial itself painted to look the same color as the bread.  He seemed to remain silent about the contents of said vials.

PC’s set off and didn’t have any trouble following the map and landmarks, especially because this was their home. Once they arrived, Ari noticed a couple of things. There seemed to be a lot of foot traffic in the area, especially for a place that was nowhere near a main road or anything close that would be a hotspot for any reason. Ari also noticed someone sneaking into a niche in the cliff face, where the tomb’s entrance was found to be.

Found this at:

Found this at:

When Ari investigated further, he found the man had disappeared and that one particular decorative blade sticking out of the door (it was an elaborate door with no handle), was worn more than the others. After Ari went back and reported his findings to the others, when they returned, they pulled the decorative blade, a not so secret trigger with Ari’s Elven eyes, and the door opened up into darkness.

Ari and Walker used their Darkvision inside and saw that there was a 10 foot long chasm blocking their way. On the other side of the chasm were large wooden planks.


They heard a loud noise and after some deducing, figured it out to be a scythe blade coming from further down in the cave.

After Ari tried shooting an arrow with a rope and critically fumbled, losing the arrow and the rope down the chasm, they decided to lasso a rope around a stalagmite and then Ari carefully tight-roped across. He slipped once, barely catching himself on the rope, then pulled himself up and then pulled out a Nat 20, scampering across the rest of the rope with ease like a circus freak. Ari put the planks down, with Walker helping when he got across, so the large, heavy Dragonborn could come over without issue.

After bending down and carefully looking down the long cavern tunnel, Ari noticed a tripwire halfway down  and a dead body, sliced in two diagonally, at the end of the tunnel. They also noticed that the descending cave tunnel was filled with scree (loose rocks) and Walker, having a little trouble with it, set off the tripwire, which then dropped a bunch of large rocks down onto his head, though not fatally.

Once at the bottom, next to the body, Ari pulled both halves out of the way of the door, searched them and found some standard gear and a smattering of coins in a pouch, along with a lock picking set. The lock picks were missing once they opened the kit. N’grall, getting closer to the door, found the lockpicks on the floor next to the door. He threw his axe at the door, seeing if the trap might trigger again and after some additional investigation of the area, the group found where the scythe blade was coming from.  So they jammed it up with some well-placed and deeply imbedded axes and bashed open the door. (N’grall with his shield). Turns out the door was open, as the dead guy had succeeded in picking the lock on the door, but not on finding the trap.

Now they were finally inside the tomb itself. The group found themselves in a large room with 10 pillars. When they walked by the pillars, they could hear scratching coming from inside them. There was a large portcullis on the other end of the room, which was locked in place. A series of 8 levers with associated letters created a puzzle, and a timed one at that.

The puzzle itself was merely just the names of 3 gods, Corellon, Sehanine and Platinum (in place of Bahamut, since I needed 8 letters).  The levers each had three positions, top, middle and lower, and the letters were mixed up for confusion.  The correct answer was Platinum, since Bahamut is the platinum dragon and Torga, was a follower of Bahamut.  The puzzle looked like this:

C  L  H  E  I  I  O  M

S  O  A  T  N  L  U  E

P  E  R  A  L  N  N  N

Almost in unison, Ari and Walker figured the puzzle out, shouting the word PLATINUM, in just about 3-5 minutes. (Bonus 500 XP for avoiding the combat and guessing the puzzle so quickly!) There was also a timer sounds slowly ticking away, which gave someone who was SUPPOSED to be there, enough time to maneuver the levers to the appropriate letters and someone who wasn’t, not much time before the trap was set off and the skeletons were let loose. Luckily, the PC’s avoided a combat altogether, with skeletons that were inside the pillars, waiting for their release.

Once the PC’s crossed the threshold, they started to hear booming voices:

The first trial complete

A victory won

You’ve earned a clue

Simply put, it’s “MISDIRECTION”.

The misdirection turned out to be an obvious spear trap that needed to be circumvented; however it was meant to spurn the PC’s ahead, in hopes of depositing them in a concealed pit towards the end of the hallway. Everyone was able to jump over the pit, with a successful dex save and/or athletics check, though it was close for N’grall, who fell prone when fumbling to jump over the pressure plate that opened the pit’s gate.

Once the PC’s got through the next door, the booming voice returned, stating:

You passed trial two

For that I’m impressed

Perhaps now you should learn

The true meaning of stress.

The door locks behind the PC’s, and all they can see are a chest and another door out in this VERY large room (110’ by 60’ ish). They started to hear gears grinding up above in the ceiling, when four large compartments opened up and started gushing water. The PC’s started to get moving and noticed that they were inside of an invisible maze. Walker used a well thought out dispel magic to remove the invisibility on the walls, making for an easier navigation of the maze. In the chest, they found a cap of water breathing.

The booming voice returned once they crossed the threshold of the next door, saying:

Not sure how you succeeded

Do you have a fucking map?

Your luck won’t last

It’s not the end of my traps!

This particular passage, which switchbacked twice over, was only about 2’ wide, causing all the PC’s, especially N’grall to have to squeeze through a very tight place. Complications ensued when swarms of insects started coming down holes near the ceiling, but Walker put a quick stop to it with some his burning hands spell that left the PC’s with a rain of smoldering insects on them. The rest was a piece of cake, if not slow going.

Booming voice returns:

You’ve passed trial four

You defy all convention

Trust me you’ll die

Here comes my most delicious invention

In this room, once they entered, a large boulder drops from the ceiling, and the floor, pitched in their direction, gave the only momentum the boulder needed to head their way. There was a pedestal in the middle of the room, though it was found to be completely useless and just a distraction to keep the players busy. The only option was these little shelves that had chains sticking out of them, which were hanging over a pit of spikes below. N’grall was the first to act, and found the chains to be greased, forcing a tough strength check to keep from slipping down. N’grall told the others before they acted and gave them a quite inventive idea. Instead of using the chains, they each took one end of a rope and used that to hang over the pits, while the boulder rolled past, instead of the chains. PC’s noticed that the boulder didn’t damage the pedestal at all (from what they could hear, down below the level of the boulder). Once the boulder rolled past, they were only momentarily confused when they figured out that the boulder was an illusion, meant to just force the PC’s onto the chains and into the pits. The room started to pitch in the other direction, but the players were already on their way out the far door.

The booming voice returned, even angrier than before, yelling:

Enjoy the spikes

Driven through your head

You’ll never escape

dead Dead  DEAD!

This was a devious, and cliched trap I found online, which involved a ceiling covered in spikes, both doors locked, a pedestal in the middle of the room with a lever on it. There was a hole big enough for one person to fit in and then the timer began, counting down from 10.

Think I forgot to read this to the players, but another booming voice:

Who will survive

In a hole built for one

The rest of you though

Your lives will be undone

The ceiling moved down further and further with each second and when the lever was pulled, it reset the trap and the countdown. After searching the hole, the walls, etc…, they were able to deduce (after about only 5 minutes or so), that the spikes didn’t come ALL the way to the floor (no marks on the floors themselves, walls rubbed up against trap and showed stopping point). So, the PC’s decided to let fate have its hand and didn’t pull the lever. The spikes came down within 1 ½ feet of the ground and then the trap reset on its own and the door opened.

The next room was the final resting place of Torga. They finally made it! N’grall, respectfully says a prayer in the name of Bahamut and then proceeds to open the sarcophagi for the relic.

The relic turned out to be a Mithril hammer, adorned with diamonds. As soon as the relic is taken though, 4 shadows emerge and immediately engage with the PC’s.

5th edition Monster manual, property of

5th edition Monster manual, property of

Both Ari and Walker were hit by the nefarious shadows, taking some serious strength drain, but then, the tides were turned when Walker cast daylight, giving the shadows disadvantage on all their rolls;  additionally, N’grall used his radiant thunderous smite and Ari, peppered them with his magical bow and arrows, to finally bring them down.

Overall, it was a very impressive show by the PC’s who overcame a multitude of traps, of all different sorts. Once the shadows dissolved away, the booming voice returned:

You’ve faced my inner demons

Which plagued my final days

I am back in Bahamut’s glory

And to you and him I give praise


You now have the relic

Please use it with strength and care

To heal those in need

And be just firm and fair


Your will is indomitable

You’ve beaten the best

Now take what you deserve

Inside my secret chests


On your way out

they shall be revealed

I ask a favor in return

This tomb must be sealed


No more should face

The trials I’ve devised

There’s nothing here left

Of that I must hide


I’m back with my god

and finally at peace

My legend now lives on

with my soul’s anticipated release


Peace with you, in Bahamut’s name

I generally utilize the DF sets I’ve collected for most of my adventures, but for forest terrain, I’m currently using Wilderness Dungeon Tiles.  I used a conjunction of DF cavern tiles, tied into dungeon tiles, then the Dwarven Forge Catacombs set for the tomb itself, as shown below.

A locked door in the back of the crypt popped open and all the treasure they found throughout the tomb was all in Platinum (another tie in to Bahamut as the Platinum Dragon). The platinum pieces were also thousands of years old, containing the head of Bahamut, and were worth double the price of normal platinum. Also, a whiff of a magical aura was found on three of the Platinum coins.

Treasure rooms opened up all over the tomb, including one that was in the cavern itself that looked to be filled with various smuggled goods from all different lands, which explained the large amounts of foot traffic seen outside the tomb. A large smuggling operation stationed within the cave and another adventure hook!

The treasure was divvied up and turned out to be quite the small fortune.

Now, due to the fact that my son was sick, we ended the game a bit early and will need to finish one more encounter with Ari, Walker and N’grall at the beginning of our next session, slated for November 15th.

As when the PC’s emerge from the tomb, they are greeted by a hill giant and what looks to be his pet owlbear. The hill giant says, “Good, you have relic Ruby wants. Hand over now and you not die. Or, I take it from body.  Owlbear hungry. Ruby wants relic.  What Ruby wants, Ruby gets.”

So, that is where we ended it.  Next session we’ll knock out that encounter first, then jump back into our regularly scheduled campaign session, where the PC’s are to infiltrate a wizards tower in the Underdark.  The wizard knows the PC’s are coming and will most likely be more than prepared.

Let the fun begin!

Until next time,



The Fall of Astia – Part 2 Recap

When we last left off on the 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting, The Fall of Astia – Part 1, the PC’s were left on a cliffhanger.  Vola, the Half-Orc Fighter, had finally found the 3rd and final crate they were searching for.  The crate was in the river, below the water and seemed to be stuck.  Vola then preceded to jump in, rope in hand, with hopes to tie it around the crate and secure it from moving any further down the river and waterfall. He quickly found out why the crate was stuck, or more importantly, what it was stuck in…(insert DM evil laughter here, Muahahahaha).  The crate was stuck in a large gelatinous cube and Vola immediately was engulfed.

The final crate, needed to be retrieved in the river.

Vola managed to escape the gelatinous cube by using the crate as leverage/purchase to hurl himself out of the cube, but not without first taking some serious damage from its corrosive secretions.

As a group, and after using some inspiration for advantage on the roll and the help of a nat 20, despite the incredibly difficult chance, the players managed to shoot an arrow tied to a rope through the water, through the gelatinous cube and into the crate, with a solid thunk.  A couple strength checks later, the crate was pulled out of the gelatinous cube and the party made a run for it, knowing that the cube was not a necessary fight.  This was a smart move, as when the gelatinous cube first came out of the water to pursue the adventurers, it expanded to a humongous creature.  Its time sitting in the path of the river gave it more than enough sustenance and allowed it to grow to an enormous size.  Luckily though, with the crate secured and the slow speed attributed to gelatinous cubes, the party was able to get away.

With only two paths to choose from, and the first promptly revealing itself with its vile stench, to be a cesspool the goblins used for defecation, they preceded to take the other path.  The path went on for miles, but eventually ended in a small cavern with two more passages. The bio-luminescent flora and mushrooms in this deeper section of the underdark, were much more abundant here.  Up ahead, two dead orcs, their blood only a day or so old, were wrapped and impaled by vines the size of a sturdy club, with razor sharp thorns.  A group perception check later, and the PC’s heard the sound of feet scrambling down the other passage, but also something coming from BEHIND them.

After setting a careful ambush, they waited for the creature hunting them to emerge, only to find out that the goblin Ari spoke with when retrieving the first crate, was following him.  The goblin, looked expectantly at Ari, and tried to judge his reaction to him being there.  Ari was thoroughly confused to see the goblin there, and the goblin, seeing that Ari wasn’t reacting mad, took it as complete and total acceptance.  He told Ari that he was his hero and that he was going everywhere that Ari went.  He held up his makeshift bow, which was nothing more than a bent stick and a piece of rotting rope tied together, beaming with pride, as he made it just to be like Ari.  After some more questioning and some heavy implying that the goblin should leave, (without success, I might add), he found out that the goblin’s name was Wexxle Sneakyfeet and the goblin was tired of being with his goblin tribe.  All of the goblin’s family and friends were eaten by the roper, which his HERO Ari had killed, just like he said he would.  He had nothing left to stay for, as they couldn’t protect him.  So he grabbed a backpack, (full of totally useless items I might add), made his bow and started following Ari.  He was really good at being quiet and promised he wouldn’t get in Ari’s way, but wants Ari to teach him everything he knows and so here he was.

There wasn’t anything Ari could say to get him to leave, so Ari, just let it happen.  Nar continually teased Ari about his new “pet” and Khaleen, just kind of laughed and said, “He’s your problem…have fun”.

The heroes, after dealing with what was behind them, started to think about what was before them.  Another perception check revealed a door closing up ahead and after some inspection of the area, this is what they found: A makeshift door, poorly constructed in a cavern hole, with openings on the side, where a pair of eyes peered out, watching them.  Nar and Khaleen decided to push in the door, but little did they know that there was a massive troll standing behind it and who riddled them with comments like, “What, not even a knock?” or “Why are you barging into my home?”  After they managed to push their way in and see the troll in front of them, they began to rethink things.  The troll, named Chibi, was actually being played by another player, who was unable to make the first game, so it seemed like a good place to bring him in.

Some quick backstory:  When Chibi first got here, there wasn’t any wizards tower.  He was looking for food, and ran into a pretty good size group of orcs who had some food, and thought having a troll would be great protection from the other horrors of the underdark.  The Orcs took him in and eventually made him their leader, when they saw his magical abilities.  (Chibi is a troll enchanter)  When Chibi tried to lead them out, the environment had changed.  What was a huge empty cavern when he came in, was now a veritable fortress, with a wizard’s tower and various plant guardians.  The plant creatures and vines took out a couple orcs here and there when they ventured too close and those that explored the cavern alone, were never seen again.

The troll, was currently in quite the pickle.  Though he had 9 orc minions left, with whom he was leading, he was constantly being harassed by this mysterious wizard, as well as these strange plant creatures who were slowly dwindling their numbers.  Seeing an opportunity to become friendly with this new group and with hopes of getting out of this cave alive, he befriended them, only to have the orcs commit mutiny and attack him and the party.  The heroes and Chibi made quick work of the orcs, but there was still the wizard to deal with.

Chibi and the party sauntered into the cavern in hopes of finding their way out and past this mysterious wizard.  The cavern ground was littered with writhing vines and plants, as well as bio-luminescent flora and mushrooms scattered about.  Not long after arriving, the PC’s heard some scratching coming from a large hole they found in the eastern part of the cave.  After deciding to set another ambush, they weren’t only surprised, but “petrified” when a basilisk walked out of the hole.  Saving throws around the board and Nar and Vola were already feeling the effects of the petrification.  Their movements started to slow to a crawl, their limbs heavy and weak, but by the next round and some shared inspiration from other players, they just sneaked out against becoming petrified.  (A shame really)

Right as they were shaking the effects of the petrification off, that’s when the writing vines and plants started to take shape.  The plants, pulling up the bones of it’s recent victims, started to work their way into the limbs and torso, giving it new life.  The vines replaced with what used to be muscle and tissue, giving the now animated skeletons new life and enhanced power.  The skeletons immediately set upon the PC’s, their skeletal claws augmented by thorns and supernatural strength.

Khaleen, the high elf, was strategically attacking the dark-vision impairing mushrooms near the chasm, and once their suffocating spores settled, a bridge appeared out of the heavy darkness.  The bridge was about 40 ft. long and stretched over the entire chasm.

Nar, seeing an opportunity with the exposed bridge, immediately started heading towards the wizards tower, but not before the wizard himself, also a drow, emerged from the upper window and began his attack.

Fall of Astia -Wizard Tower Pic

After he lobbed a fireball right into the middle of the party, nearly putting down the troll wizard Chibi immediately, he was quickly barraged with spells, arrows and bolts from the party.

During the second round, Khaleen’s worst fears came to light as a giant Orc, the same one who killed his family, appeared before him.  Khaleen, his mind succumbing to a phantasmal killer spell from the wizard, left him in dire straits.

As shown above, the wizard decided to cast giant insect, causing 3 spiders to grow to large size and who crawled down the side of the tower to attack the approaching Nar.

Ari, the Elven Ranger, pulled a lucky roll with his grey back of tricks, an a giant elk appeared to help the party with this new threat.  The Elk, after crushing one of the skeletons with his hooves, went across the bridge to help stave off the assault of the monstrous spiders.  Nar, seeing himself in danger, dove into the icy water of the cavern, but not before feeling the sting of a bite from one of the spiders.  Nar swam underwater and emerged close to the stairs to the wizards tower, unseen.  While the spiders didn’t see him, their master did and telepathically told the spiders to slow his pursuit.  The spiders dropped a large web on the side of the tower, in hopes to slow him down, but had the rest of the party and a giant elk to deal with.  They also cast a web on the elk and end of the bridge, buying themselves some time from the rest of the party’s attacks.

A firebolt was cast on the web, causing it to burst into flames, though luckily the elk had already broken itself free and continued its attack on the spiders.  The web, 20′ by 20′ was not quickly consumed and so once Khaleen was free of the phantasmal killer spell, he tried to run and get across the bridge.  Unfortunately he was met with disaster as he tried to leap over the burning web on the edge of the bridge, critically fumbling the roll and falling into the 50′ chasm below.  With only 4 HP, and no way to get out of the chasm, he was going to need the help of his comrades to make it out of this one.

Nar dextrously made his way through the familiar spider webs and made his way up to the wizards tower door, in hopes to sneak inside and take out the wizard before any more harm could be done.  When he got there though, he noticed something strange about the door.  The door seemed to be sticking out of the frame by a good 6 inches.  Unable to determine why, Nar began to pick the lock.  His hand quickly stuck to the lock as a pseudopod grabbed him and a huge maw started to emerge from the mimic posing as a door.  The mimic made quick work of Nar, who was already hurt from the previous battles,  and he fell unconscious from his wounds as the mimic continued to slowly devour him.

Luckily, the party was able to come to his rescue as they efficiently killed off the spiders and send waves of firebolts and arrows into the mimic, killing him before Nar was fully consumed.

The party, severely hurt from the abnormally high combat oriented session, were in dire straits.  Nar and Khaleen need some serious rest, as with no healer in the party, recovery is slow.  They decided to take a short rest on the stairs of the wizards tower, so that the wizard can’t reset the battlefield with monsters, but know they need to be on high alert.  This is where we left off.

While I was happy with the outcome of this game, and even though it was a rare occurrence, I didn’t want to have as much combat in the session that actually occurred.  The combat the players encountered weren’t necessarily supposed to be difficult, but I as a DM didn’t judge it correctly and the players blew through most of the combats quickly.  There was less exploration of the area, which is understandable as the party was under fire, but there were clues that gave away the basilisk for example that might have given the players an edge in that encounter.  As with the first game, the players really enjoyed the use of the 3D terrain and used it strategically as needed for cover.  Plus, there is the added bonus in that my group doesn’t look for ways to screw with the game or the NPC’s.  They take it as seriously as D&D should be taken, with all the fun that accompanies it.  While they may not understand what’s going on just yet, they always trust that the endgame will bring them the mystery and innovation they expect in any of my campaigns, and this is only the beginning.

Until next time!


Ingesting the Flavor and Mechanics of Battle for Zendikar’s New Eldrazi

A rugged vista of Zendikar, showing the otherwordly, leached latticework of Eldrazi corruption.

Numerous cards for Magic: The Gathering’s upcoming expansion set, “Battle for Zendikar,” were revealed at this weekend’s Pax Prime event. The setting, a mana-rich and volatile plane called Zendikar, is Ground Zero for an epic battle between the races and nations of that plane and the Eldrazi, otherwordly and terrifying abominations that look as though they walked straight out of an H.P. Lovecraft novel. Much like the Terminator, the Eldrazi can neither be bargained nor reasoned with, and their very existence comes at a terrible, brutal price: the complete and utter elimination of everyone else’s.

We last saw these lurking horrors at the conclusion of Magic’s first visit to Zendikar, the self-evident “Rise of the Eldrazi.” What set the Eldrazi apart from other antagonists is their immense size, colorness nature, and ability to erase anything standing in their path.

The key Eldrazi mechanic in “Rise” was “annihilator,” which forced your opponent to sacrifice a specified number of permanents (lands, creatures, artifacts, or enchantments) each time an Eldrazi with this ability attacked. “Annihilator” was a nasty mechanic that made victory only a matter of (often very short) time whenever Eldrazi made their way to the battlefield.

In “Battle,” the terror of annihilation has been replaced with an exile mechanic called “Ingest.” Several of the nonlegendary Eldrazi revealed thus far show this is a fixed mechanic: whenever an Eldrazi with Ingest deals combat damage, the defender exiles the top card of their library.

“Ingest” showcases how the warped nature of the Eldrazi not only distorts the landscape (see the vista at top and the detail on “Mist Intruder” below) but tears the very fabric of reality itself.

Mist Intruder

Ulamog, the first legendary Eldrazi previewed in this set, has a much more intense version of Ingest, where the top 20 cards of your library are wiped from memory each time it strikes.

Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

In the game of Magic, the library has been described as a planeswalker’s “memory,” which is why mill effects are found in Blue’s part of the color pie.

To have the Eldrazi steadily and relentlessly pull your library into exile (the game’s “point of no return”) versus condemning them to an untimely demise in your graveyard (where they could be recovered), to me, speaks more to the sense of dampening helplessness and crushing inevitability that these horrors are supposed to evoke.

The other new mechanic for the Eldrazi is simply a status keyword called “Devoid.” Cards with “Devoid” have no color identity, even if they’re cast using colored mana.


In “Rise,” several of the lesser Eldrazi were actually colored cards in the Jund spectrum (green, red, or black). For “Battle,” the design team use “Devoid” to retain the colorless nature of the Eldrazi, which cleanly illustrates them being beyond the boundaries and characteristics of colored mana and further separates them from “normal” reality.

The unique identity of Eldrazi cards is further marked with a hard-lined meander design (reminiscent of their former hedron prisons) at the top of “Devoid” cards.

The last well-placed artistic stroke to come out of the Pax Prime reveals was the haunting painting below, depicting three statues.


While not identified in the Wizards of the Coast Twitter stream, players of the original Zendikar block will recall that the Eldrazi made their way into collective myths and legends on that plane.

The statues here show Emeria at top, Ula at left, and Cosi at right.

These deities are blurred racial memories … echoes of recall thousands of years old from when Emrakul, Ulamog, and Kozilek first rampaged across the land. You can see attributes of each Eldrazi in these statues, such as Emrakul’s fleshy, domed hemispheres and trailing tentacles in Emeria’s wings and coattails.

We still have several weeks before “Battle for Zendikar” gets its full reveal, but the rich flavor of the set’s artistry and setting have already proven captivating and suitably unsettling.

All photos and artwork in this post are copyright ©2015 Wizards of the Coast.

F-Zero Made Me a Better Driver in Real Life

Box art for the Super Nintendo F-Zero game.

Super Nintendo was the Golden Age of my video game-playing days. As a student in high school with few, if any, extracurricular commitments, I had maximum free time, and, being limited on my own funds, I had maximum opportunity to endlessly grind through the games I already had in my collection. Alongside Final Fantasy IV (in which I gained the notoriety of leveling all my characters to 99 without the aid of a Game Shark), the title on which I devoted the most time honing my skills was the futuristic racing game, F-Zero. As a curious side effect of my devotion, I found that I became a better driver, not just in Mute City or White Land, but on the mundane asphalt lanes of New Jersey.

While more recent versions of F-Zero feature well over two dozen different racers and car configurations, the Super Nintendo title had four: the “Golden Fox,” a swift but rather delicate racer; the “Wild Goose,” a tough-armored, all-business bruiser; the “Fire Stingray,” a flame-wreathed, cherry red heavy hauler; and the “Blue Falcon,” an all-around, even-stat cruiser. I came to race most often with the Fire Stingray. It had the slowest acceleration of the roster, but, once it hit its paces, it far exceeded the top speed of its competitors. It was also the second-toughest racer and lost the least amount of speed when it struck an obstacle. And, most importantly, it was the steadiest car and needed little, if any, course corrections in the straightaways; it took curves like a champ.

The "heavy hauler" Fire Stingray leaping over the expansive cityscape of Port Town.

The “heavy hauler” Fire Stingray leaping over the expansive cityscape of Port Town.

With the most sluggish pickup in F-Zero’s lineup, the trick with the Fire Stingray was to hit the brakes as little as possible. The key tactic I discovered was deceleration: easing off the gas to slow down and using the Stingray’s steadiness to keep on track through curves and around hazards. With practice, and liberal use of the shoulder buttons to cut tight into turns, I was able to rapidly burn past the competition on more complex tracks, such as Red Canyon and Fire Field. This trick helps in real-world traffic by putting less stress on my brake pads and on my engine. Also, it prevents the drivers behind me from getting faked out by “tap breaking” in instances where you really don’t need to slow down that urgently. I’ve read several articles over the years that liken traffic patterns to fluid dynamics, and how “tap breaking” (where a driver sees red brake lights in front, taps his or her brakes, and the process repeats down the lane), even for a brief instant, can cause a ripple effect that cascades into significant slowdown. I feel that deceleration vs. full-on braking, when safely done, is my little way of “paying it forward” to keep things flowing for the drivers around me.

Another trick I learned with the Fire Stingray was taking the curves. The Stingray’s steadiness and heavy bulk made it a challenge to turn at full speed, so cutting the engine was a necessary evil. Rather than spending the entire span of the curve slowing down and hitting the gas only once you straightened out, I learned to start accelerating towards the end of the curve, putting me at a faster pace by the time I hit the straightaways. It’s a gradual process; you don’t want to push it too hard, but an easy upswing can make a difference, especially when keeping pace in merge lanes and improving time getting onto a main road. This puts a bit more G-force on your passengers, so use this method with caution unless your riders know what they’re in for!

It’s been nearly 25 years since F-Zero’s release, and at least a score of years since I’ve last played this title, but I still hear the beats of Mute City whenever I take a curve or ease up on the gas pedal.

Game Review: “Shenanigans” by Kazam Games


At first blush, the cards in “Shenanigans” look a lot like a standard set of playing cards, with one major difference: there’s only one “suit,” and that’s lucky clovers. As luck would have it, the good folks over at Kazam Games gave 3-Sided-Die the chance to playtest and review a prototype of this new card game.

How do you win?

The goal of “Shenanigans” to have the least number of points among all players by the end of the game.

How do you play?

Each player is dealt nine cards. You arrange the cards into a three-by-three grid and turn any two of them face-up. The rest of the deck is put into the center of the table and becomes the “draw pile.” The top card of the draw pile is turned face up and put into a separate “discard pile.” The person to the dealer’s left starts the game.

When it’s your turn, you choose a card from the top of either the draw or discard piles. If you take a card from the draw pile, you can swap that card with any one of yours or put it into the discard pile and pass the turn to the next player. If you take a card from the discard pile, you have to swap it with one of yours. The card you swapped goes into the discard pile, and you pass the turn. It doesn’t matter whether you switch one of your face-up or face-down cards, but your new card is always turned face-up.

The three-by-three grid for a two-player game of "Shenanigans," with the draw and discard piles in between.

The three-by-three grid for a two-player game of “Shenanigans,” with the draw and discard piles in between.

Each of the cards in has a point value of 1 through 10. Kings, queens, and jacks are each worth 10 points, and the aces are worth one point. Jokers not only serve as a “wild card,” but have a negative value of -2 to drop your overall points. There are two cards unique to “Shenanigans”: a “pot of gold” card that’s sort of a “super joker,” worth -5 points as well as a wild card; and a “mischief” card that’s literally “good for nothing” … it’s worth zero points and is not wild.

The “pot of gold”: one of the unique new cards in “Shenanigans.”

Three cards with the same value across, up, or diagonally in your grid is a “three-of-a-kind,” which cancels out the points of those cards (totaling zero). To keep your points low, swap out your higher-point cards for lower-point cards, make as many three-of-a-kinds as you can, or (why not) both.

“Three-of-a-kind,” with the joker helping as a wild card. Together, these cards are worth -2 points (zero for the three-of-a-kind and -2 for the joker).

What can’t you do?

You can’t turn a card face-up without swapping it from the draw or discard piles, you can’t look at any of your face-down cards (sorry, this isn’t Magic: The Gathering, folks), and you can’t choose among the cards in the discard pile; you can only draw the one on top.

When does the game end?

The turns, or “rounds,” end when one of the players has swapped out all of their face-down cards. At that point, each of the other players gets one last chance to swap a card from the draw or discard piles. They then turn up any other face-down cards they have and count the total points on all of their cards. Whoever has the lowest number of points is the winner.

The end of a two-player game. My cards, at the bottom, totaled 5, while my opponent’s totaled 8.

We do enjoy making shenanigans!

Overall, we found “Shenanigans” to be a fast-based and rousing alternative to traditional card games. The setup and rules may sound daunting, but the game is deceptively simple, quick to learn, and a lot of fun to play.

What’s delightfully unexpected in “Shenanigans” is the tension. In the test games we played, there were a few times one of us drew a 10-point card and had to make the hard choice of soaking up the extra points or discarding it and give the next player a three-of-a-kind. Then there was the hope of pulling off a three-of-a-kind by swapping a card from the discard pile, only to find that the face-down card we swapped was the exact same value. These “shenanigans” had us howling with laughter, especially the turns of fate late in the game. The games went fast; a two-player game can easily be finished in five to 10 minutes, and rules say an average game lasts seven rounds.

The box top promised us “skill, luck, and frustration,” and it deftly delivered on all fronts. Give “Shenanigans” a go in your gaming circle … it might just be the “pot of gold” you’ve been questing for!

The Fall of Astia – Session 1 Recap

This past Sunday was the first day back in the DM saddle in over a year.  I started a new 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign, except that I had the characters begin at 6th level.  My last campaign ended at 6th level, when we started playing Shadowrun with my Co-DM, so when we jumped back to D&D and I chose to start a new campaign, I didnt’ want the players to suffer.  They could choose to keep the same characters from the last campaign (and I would provide sufficient backstory as to how they arrived at this point) or they could create new PC’s at 6th level.  I think only one of my players decided to keep his old character and the rest chose new.  One of our fellow authors here at 3-Sided Die, Ness, chose to go with a favorite character of his from another campaign, a drow elf rogue / assassin.

I started off the campaign with the PC’s traveling on a decent sized boat to an island called Astia. They have been recruited by the empire as ad-hoc mercenaries; the empire is paying extremely well, however they are being secretive about their work and why they are requesting such costly resources.  The PC’s are traveling to a land yet to be fully explored (in fact, it’s hardly explored at all) and so the players will have more than enough opportunity to discover ancient ruins, forgotten dungeons and the depths of the Underdark.  The journey isn’t a long one, but they always prove to be treacherous.

This was approximately the size of the ship that the PC's boarded.

This was approximately the size of the ship that the PC’s boarded.

Here are the players that made it to the first session:

  • Vola (Female Half-Orc Battlemaster Fighter)
  • Khaleen (Male High Elf Eldritch Knight)
  • Nar (Male Drow Rogue Assassin)
  • Ari (Male Wood Elf Hunter Ranger)

Here are some players who should be joining in the near future:

  • Thri-kreen (class yet to be determined)
  • Male Half-Elf Cleric

The session started out with the PC’s starting to board the Sea Scourge, and Vola, with a successful Perception check, noticed that the boat was sitting much lower in the water than most ships she’s seen working at the docks.

Besides the crew, the recruiting officer, Scarlett and an old Dwarven Cleric, Angus, who was there to bless the voyage, were the only additional people boarding the ship with the PC’s. The PC’s were greeted by the Captain and his first mate, Edgar, and were quickly shown to their room.

The large boat at the bottom was the one the PC's boarded.

The large boat at the bottom was the one the PC’s boarded.  Also the ship graveyard mentioned below.

Immediately after getting settled in their sparse and meager accommodations, Vola preceded to head down to the hold and check it out. Nar, not wanting to deal with the bright sunlight wrought day up on deck, went to the galley and was disappointed that no one was serving him. Vola saw that the boat was heavily burdened (crates and barrels stacked to the brim) and that there were 3 crates that weighed upwards of 600 pounds each, as far as they could tell. Ari and Khaleen, stayed up on deck and spoke with Captain Duncan and Scarlett.

Scarlett then called the PC’s together for a briefing on what was to come. Here were the major points the PC’s found out:

  • Ruby, a notorious pirate and Scarlett’s baby sister, was tracked through a portal, into and to the land of Astia.
  • It seems Ruby had found and been coming through this portal for just shy of 10 years and has amassed herself quite the empire of her own on Astia.
  • The PC’s home world, the portal only opens every 3 months, but the Astia side of the portal remains open, and allows purchase back to the PC’s home world at any time.
  • There is a strange current that runs through the ocean on the Astia side, which is exceptionally strong.
  • The port town that the empire is trying to entrench themselves in, is called Black Hollow, mostly populated by humans, much to Nar’s dismay.
  • Many of the recruits that Scarlett has brought, have been killed by either Ruby’s men, though in many cases, they’ve found strange circular holes scattered throughout the few places they’ve explored on the island or have found the recruits tangled in the neighboring plant-life.
  • Astia seems to be heavily vegetated in plants/trees similar to that of jungle or thick forest.
  • While the apprehension of Ruby is important, the true purpose of the mission can only be given by the commanding officer, back in Black Hollow.

Not long after Scarlett’s long winded monologue, Khaleen and Vola heard a faint sploosh sound from the side of the boat. Edgar, the first mate and just coming out of the lower deck, motioned to the PC’s and when they turned around, it seemed like the entire ship was enveloped in a thick fog, not allowing them to see more than 10 ft. off the side of the boat.

Suddenly they were attacked by the Sahugin and a Shark-man creature. The Sahugin brandished tridents and jagged fish bone spears and swords, that were decorated with pieces of coral and shell. The shark creature held a large bone punching dagger and the Sahugin Priestess held a staff with a large sapphire on top, pulsing with an eerie blue light.

  • Scarlett was caught in a lingering hold person spell, with ghostly manacles binding her hands and wrists, that came for the Sahugin Priestess’s glowing staff.
  • Nar traded insults and blows with the Shark-man and even evaded the shark-man attempting to pull him into the sea, after chomping down and locking its jaw on his shoulder.
  • Vola, used her flame tongue axe to ignite her hammer and quickly dispatched the Sahugin soldiers and aid in the fight against the Shark-man.
  • Ari was pumping arrows into the shark creature, as well as the other 3 Sahugin, pivoting left and right like an arrow machine.
  • Khaleen traded magic for magic with the Sahugin Priestess, eventually dropping her, who fell lifeless off the edge of the boat, floating away. Luckily its staff fell on the boat, which held a sapphire the priestess used as her arcane focus.

Once the battle was over, with a little investigation, a fish bone scroll case was found inside the cavity of the staff. Nar was able to open it, and he found a scroll and some coins. He then told everyone about the scroll he found, as he attempted to pocket the coins. Vola, who’s worked very hard to get to where she was, was furious that Nar would just pocket the coins that should be given to the group as a whole. Noticing his handiwork, she grabbed his wrist and threatened to make him fish food. The insults flew back and forth, but Khaleen managed to get the group back under control.

Captain started evasive maneuvers, in case more Sahugin were on the way. The fog continued, so the party decided to investigate it further, after Vola climbed up to the top of the crow’s nest and saw that the fog originated and surrounded only their boat…the rest of the sea was perfectly clear.

After checking out the crew’s quarters in stealth, they moved onto the lowest level, the hold.  An ever-smoking bottle was found pushed into a port hole in the back of the hold, which could only be found through a serpentine path through crates and boxes.

When the PC’s brought the ever-smoking bottle up to the top deck, to find out who created this sabotage, Edgar, the first mate, looked increasingly more nervous and anxious.  This amplified with Nar stalking up to him, and seeing no other way out, attempted to take a dagger to the throat of Scarlett to use as leverage.  Unfortunately for him, he fumbled the roll and his dagger fell into the depths of the sea below, after bouncing off the deck’s edge. Scarlett, wasting no time, snapped his neck and sent him tumbling after his dagger into the sea depths.

With the ever-smoking bottle removed and capped, the Captain, who could now see that more Sahugin were riding the current, now that the fog was gone, was able to maneuver into the current as well, using the wind, current and expert crew to his advantage and outrun the Sahugin.

(By removing he ever-smoking bottle and giving the Captain this advantage, they successfully mitigated an ADDITIONAL encounter that was supposed to occur)

Sadly, not too long after that, a 4 armed Sahugin Baron, riding a giant dragon turtle surfaced only to mock them, then descended into the sea,which quickly followed by a loud crunch that took out their rudder and steering.

The commotion and chaos distracted the PC’s and the crew enough that a perception check was called for, to notice that the land of Astia was MUCH closer than anticipated and a crash was imminent. This was solidified when the Baron signaled his dragon turtle steed to hurl itself out of the water and then splash down behind their ship, sending a tidal wave of force in their direction. Coupled with the current, high winds and tidal wave, the PC’s were moving at breakneck speeds. As they closed in on the land, they noticed that the current was leading the ship into a veritable ship graveyard, where other ships lay broken and battered on the rocks ahead.

They all decided that jumping ship was the best option, however, Khaleen ended up taking the worse of it, and ended up with a fractured knee, after slamming into a rock.  His critical fail on his Dex saving throw was unfortunate.

Once everyone found purchase on the many ships and were taking a breather, the dwarf, who seemed to have slept through most of the ruckus, was arguing with the Captain.  Seems the captain was attempting to drag some more coin out of the empire, but the dwarf would have none of it.  Angus “convinced” the Captain that his remaining crew would be carrying whatever cargo they could muster from the wrecked ship and that they would do so with a smile. The PC’s were charged with finding the 3 lost crates that contained extremely important cargo, which had broken free of the ship and headed into a cave, and down a waterfall, deep into the Underdark below.

The waterfall is to the left, with the moderately flowing river, headed east.

The waterfall is to the left, with the moderately flowing river, headed east.  The goblin cave sits to the south where many more are hiding.

Nar, standing atop a ledge next to the waterfall, closed his eyes, breathing in the Underdark air…taking in the familiar and always unfamiliar surroundings. For such a long time, he’d been stuck on the surface; trying to find a way back to his home…this was as good of a start as he could hope for. A switch born only of survival, clicked, and when he opened his eyes again, the hunter emerged and instinct kicked in.

The party headed down into the cave, down a 30 ft. waterfall, to where the crates had escaped. A long flowing river twisted and turned, running about 150 feet long through the cavern. While Scarlett kept watch and Angus healed the crew from the damages from the crash, the PC’s scouted ahead, to ensure the path was safe.  They noticed that there were numerous barrels of food stuff, tables and beds, flotsam from the broken ship, all flowing down the river, getting stuck at various points on the sides, though some of the items made it further down the river.

The PC’s noticed something strange happening with their Darkvision. Nar, trying to use his Underdark knowledge and Ari, using his keen survival instincts still couldn’t come up with anything that would cause such an effect to happen. After some additional investigating, it seems the larger mushrooms in the cave (not the smaller ones), produced spores that interrupted and blocked line of sight for Darkvision.

The PC’s also saw lots of chasms on the left and on the right, they saw that there were pools in the cavern floor that actually ran pretty deep, as if the river had carved and spread out under the cavern floor itself.

Ari, using his expert wood elf senses, immediately picked up some small tracks, littered throughout the area. He noticed that the tracks seemed to be deeper behind places of cover and were farther apart in between, as if these creatures were racing from cover to cover, avoiding the attention and grasp of something. Slowly sneaking forward, they found a rudimentary wall that was built, with a triangle point that jutted out over the river. A pail and ladle was found lying on the ground nearby. They also saw in the tracks that something that looked invariably like a large heavy crate, had been dragged to the cave behind them. They decided they would cross that bridge later, as Vola and Nar also found an actual bridge, so they could get to the other side of the river to grab the 1st crate.

That is when hell broke loose:

What was deemed or seen as a large stalagmite turned out to be a well fed (lots and lots of goblins) and large Roper. Its singular eye opened, its maw dripping with anticipation of new food, it lashed out its tentacles, pulling all 4 of our heroes quickly into its grasp.

The tentacles of the roper proved to be extremely problematic, causing disadvantage on all attacks, and while a couple blows were landed before those tentacles sank in, it quickly seemed like a slow death was imminent. Nar kept fumbling with his crossbow, his bolts continuously dropping on the cave floor. Vola was the first to experience the crushing bite of the Roper, taking serious damage that cracked ribs and bones galore. Nar kept trying to sever the tentacles that grasped him and Khaleen, but just couldn’t get all the way through.   Plus, he knew they were regenerating and that it was only a momentary benefit.

Then, Ari, with his quick thinking, used his magical bag of tricks, luckily bringing out a large panther to their aid, effectively flanking the roper and removing the huge disadvantage to the group. Blows were finally able to land, Khaleen expertly used a spell that didn’t require additional attack rolls, as the rocky skin of the roper made it hard to hit, even when advantage was on their side. Vola’s flaming swords came to life and left burn marks all over the Ropers body. Bolts and arrows peppered the Roper, one arrow just missing its singular eye. Firebolts were thrown from Khaleen, adding even more scorch marks to the roper’s hide. The Roper, seeing the turn in tides, began to panic. Knowing it was surrounded and with its incredibly slow movement, this was a do or die situation. It began throwing the PC’s at stalagmites and into some of the surrounding chasms.

Ari was thrown hard, and started sliding down into the chasm, when he deftly hopped out, only to grasp at the scree and rubble on the edge of the chasm, holding on by sheer strength only. It didn’t last long though, as the pain from the tentacles and the crushing blow into the stalagmite, was just too much. His strength gave and he dropped down 30 ft. to crash into the chasm below. Khaleen, with a similar fate, was thrown into a stalactite, crumbling at its base, though barely holding on. Vola, being chewed on, in the Roper’s mouth, went limp and her body, slid to the floor, covered in a mix of blood and saliva. The Roper’s strength being pushed in all directions waned and when it tried to slam Nar into the ground, it was meek, though it did set off nearby mushrooms spores, causing Nar to inhale them and severely hampering his Darkvision.

Luckily, the party just prevailed as the panther cut the roper down a little more and a finishing blow from a witchfire blast from Khaleen, set the monstrous Roper finally to bed.

The party, broken and hurt, immediately headed back to camp with crate #1, though it didn’t escape their notice to see 9 sets of yellow eyes looking at them through the wall. The party took a short rest and coupled with the healing magic of Angus, the Dwarven cleric, were able to push on, but were by no means at full health.

It was also noticed down here, as the party headed toward the back of the cave, that they could see a couple of those holes that Scarlett was talking about, in varying sizes. Nar has never seen anything like this before in the Underdark.

So, the PC’s decided to get crate #2 from the goblins, while Vola went off and secured crate #3, which seemed to be stuck in the water, farther down the river.

A long goblin was keeping an eye on Ari and Khaleen, as they kept an eye on Vola while he was headed down to crate #3.

So, Khaleen, Ari and Nar set up an ambush. Nar crept up behind the goblin, utilizing his cloak of elvenkind, giving him a huge advantage, and put the dagger up against its throat. Scared beyond believe, thinking that the wall had just attacked him, he had problems remembering his own name, when Ari started questioning him.

Ari, spent a good 5 minutes (real time), speaking to the goblin and the goblin boss, working out a deal that if they killed the Roper (which they already had), and if they didn’t kill the goblins, they could have their crate back. I kept it to a minimum on the charisma (persuade) skill rolling, as Ari acted it out so well, rolls were only required at a key moment or two, when the goblin knew the boss wouldn’t approve of him embellishing on information secret to their clan. Plus, when Nar finally revealed himself, the goblin fell almost limp on the blade, succumbing to what was eventually going to happen when dealing with a dark elf.

The goblins, having been tortured and scared by the roper for so long, have had their numbers severely reduced, dwindling with each and every day. The only reason they kept up, is because goblins breed like rabbits. From what Ari gathered, they were large in number, but were clearly tired of fighting and losing, and just wanted to finally be at peace. If one crate could possibly give them a chance at peace, then this was an easy decision for them.

The final crate, needed to be retrieved in the river.

The final crate, needed to be retrieved in the river.  Missing tiles were chasms, though the one near the waterfall was just needed somewhere else.

The game, just about coming to a close, had a STUPENDOUS cliff hanger ending, thanks to Vola.

Vola, finding the 3rd and final crate, which seemed to be wedged in or stuck on something in the water, jumped in, in an effort to tie a rope around the crate and secure it from moving any further down the river. Unfortunately for Vola, what was really keeping the crate in place, was a gelatinous cube, who just happened to be in the river, feeding off all the fish washed down the river from that strong current of the ocean. It most likely just sits here for long periods of time, constantly being fed. Many fish bones can be seen by Vola inside the gelatinous cube, including a goblin skeleton or two, and the crate itself. Vola however, at the start of the next game, will be engulfed by the gelatinous cube and suffocating.

Overall, it was a REALLY fun game.  The players really used the 3D terrain and props to strategically determine their next moves in all aspects I’d expect, but I was especially surprised with the newer player, Ari, who has played maybe once or twice before, really step into his role-playing and the strategy involved.  All the veteran players stepped up and took the role-playing by the reins, which was great to see, considering only one of my players (Nar), is the one who easily slips into his characters skin.  The group was fully immersed in the campaign, the story and the combat, which is all a DM can ask for.  I’m lucky enough to have a group that is respectful, interested, consistent and most of all are there to have fun.  It makes being a DM really easy.

I hope you enjoyed my first session’s recap.  I’d love to hear your feedback and any suggestions or ideas you may have for the campaign or for the players.

Thanks for reading!


Creating A Sequel To A Game You Didn’t Make In The First Place


(Image taken from the Bioshock 2 Download Section of their website:

Sequels are a part of gaming, for better or worse. Usually for the better, but sadly not always. As development companies struggle to meet deadlines set up but publishers or from fan expectations it’s hard to meet those without feeling the need to fill the time. This time can usually be filled with DLC but not always or the original game creators have moved on to s new project and have no interest in rehashing the same ideas again. This is when the publishers have to turn to another studio to develop a sequel. Today I want to take a look at how this doesn’t always produce the best games. Granted these games as standalone games are very good, even great but they are constantly held in the shadow of the original. I am going to focus on four games in particular that I own, have player, and pretty much enjoyed but still see the flaws in each in as they try to follow in their original’s footsteps.

(Warning I will probable spoiler all of these games and even the past games, you have been warned.)

Bioshock 2

Lowdown: Ten years have passed since Jack left Rapture and the city is no better for his leaving. Sofia Lamb, a psychologist, has taken control of Rapture after the deaths of Andrew Ryan and Atlas. She intends on getting the city back on its feet (or fins) she sends Big Sisters (Little Sisters not saved by Jack or Dr. Tenenbaum) to kidnap girls from around the Atlantic to make new Little Sisters. Dr. Tenenbaum and Eleanor Lamb, Sofia’s daughter) resurrect Subject Delta, the first Big Daddy to be pair bonded with a Little Sister, to stop Lamb from achieving her goal.

Game it follows: Bioshock

Original development team: Irrational Games (2K Boston at the time of Bioshock)

Developer: 2K Marin

Pros: Following in the shoes of the original Bioshock is not an easy task, but the story for Bioshock 2 is really good, it takes to task the extreme opposite opinion of Andrew Ryan’s. The view of looking out for the group to the point of the exclusion of the self is held under the same light as Ryan’s objectivist beliefs. The concept of playing a Big Daddy was an interesting one. Especially with the gathering points with the Little Sisters added to the tension. Additionally, seeing some of Rapture’s poor and less desirable neighborhoods was also a good idea as a way to separate it from the original.

Problems: As a stand alone game Bioshock 2 is really good, the DLC Minerva’s Garden is one of, if not the best DLC I’ve ever played, the only problem is that is has to follow the original Bioshock. The original was a very lightning in the bottle type of game that mix story with really fun gameplay and such a hook of the original games was the city of Rapture itself, learning about it and delving deep into its lord. So how do you follow that? You can’t reintroduce the city. So that part already had a tough hill to climb. The next is Sofia Lamb, she’s a good character but never really gives the commanding Andrew Ryan feel and tone, nor does she give you the friend/foe feel of Atlas/Fontaine. I mentioned it as a bonus, the guard the Little Sisters, and it can be but it can also be a pain in the butts. I Always saved before a gathering, because I knew what to expect. In game it was fine but the game also released a DLC for it called The Protector Trials, which was all protecting Little Sisters. I played but never finished because it’s nice in small doses but aggravating when presented too much. The game always felt like it was trying to justify its existence, part of that was so much press asking, why do we even need a sequel?

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

Lowdown: Taking place between Borderland 1 and 2 The Pre-Sequel is set on Pandora’s moon called Elpis and the floating Hyperion space base Helios you play one of four new Vault Hunters (all NPCs from Borderlands previous games) and you are contacted by Jack, a Hyperion programmer and the main antagonist Handsome Jack in Borderlands 2, with a distress call to help him save Helios from The Lost Legion, a faction of Dahl’s former army. They have taken over Helios to use its powerful Eye weapon to open a Vault on Helios. You have to stop them.

Game it follows: Borderlands 2

Original development team: Gearbox

Developer: 2K Australia

Pros: The Pre-Sequel smartly follows in the footsteps of the original and doesn’t waver from it. The new characters are fun and very different, making the game’s replayability very high. The new locations can be fun and the levels are huge. The new oxygen booster allows double jumping which allows access to new locations and more exploration ability. I can’t talk Borderlands without mentioning guns, guns and lots of guns. This game adds new types and new types of elemental damage. The story is paced well and the well known characters are used to great effect without feeling forced and new characters a fun and interesting. Again, as a stand alone game The Pre-Sequel is a good time.

Problems: The Pre-Sequel suffers a bit from being a too much like Borderlands 2, it almost feels like a large DLC rather than it’s own game. The introduction of lasers is cool but didn’t add as much change up as I had hoped they would and the new elemental ice damage (with freezing enemies) meant I had to carry another type of weapon around and as never as useful as the salad weapons from Borderlands 2. The idea of having the game on the moon with its adjusted gravity was a fun way to mix it up and change up traversal but the lack of oxygen really caused problems for my gameplay.  I’m a guy who loves exploring the world given to me, but having a lack of such a necessity really hindered my desire to move to far off the beaten path. Worrying about looking for air pockets or where a building was to jump into if I needed to refill my tanks was annoying and distracting. Given how Borderlands fights go I never wanted to be too far from a building or a vehicle so I did have to worry about running out of air in the middle of a fire fight. Speaking of firefights I have noticed one really annoying thing about this game compare to the original, whenever I’m downed and in a Fight For Your Life moment all the enemies run off or behind cover. This may have happened in the original games but not to the point where I noticed. Psychos, the crazy melee enemies that can’t wait to cut into you suddenly run off whenever I’m downed and have to hope Jinx is there to help me up. Also I want to mention quick Jack himself, he’s awesome in Borderlands 2, because I don’t have him in my ear every few minutes but extending that over a whole game began to wear on me and I found this game story in the end to be Jack’s rise to power, which I really didn’t need the backstory for. I was hoping for more of a story not so heavily relying on the other games to support it. One more quick thing, the DLC characters of Jack’s double and Hammerlock’s sister? Really? I kind of understand but if all your other characters are NPCs from the original games, why not pull from there, I don’t mean Tiny Tina here, but other characters would have, to me, been more appealing.

Batman Arkham Origins

Lowdown: True to its name Arkham Origins is a prequel to Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. It takes place 2 to 3 years into Batman’s career as the Dark Knight, so most of his gear and items used or seen in later games aren’t developed yet, from r example the Batmobile. It’s Christmas Eve in Gotham City and crime lord Black Mask has put a million dollar bounty on Batman’s head and 8 of DCs top assassins are out to collect it. Aside from the main story there are a of side missions to accomplish, like breaking up Penguin’s arms deals or stopping a terrorist named Anarchy from blowing up the city. Plus did I mention the first meeting of Batman and Joker? Merry Christmas Batman.

Game it follows: Batman Arkham City

Original development team: Rocksteady Studios

Developer: Warner Bros. Games Montreal & Splash Damage

Pros: Origins actually has a lot going for it, in design, gameplay, and story. The much loved fighting engine from earlier games is still rock solid and still a lot of fun. Bouncing from enemy to enemy, countering, vicious attacks, and take downs are all still present and as visceral as ever. Using the Batwing to fast travel through the city made navigation of the open world quicker and easier. The first meeting with many characters from Batman’s world, like Jim Gordon, joker, Barbara Gordon (later Batgirl and Oracle) as well as Harleen Quinzel (Harley Quinn) were a good way to give the whole world feel to players of the earlier games and a little background for people who never read the comics. There are also a ton of Easter eggs and comic references for the comic book fans, I found Crime Alley myself by running into the movies theater playing Zorro. Gotham City is as cold, dark, and grimy as ever and the holiday decorations are well contrasted to the city’s dark atmosphere, like a Art Deco gothic Christmas. It strangely feels right for a Batman game.

Cons: As I’ve said of earlier games on this list Arkham Origins is by no means a bad game but it can’t hold up against its predecessors. If this games problems can be summed up in one work it would be: safety. It’s an incredibly safe game. It took everything that worked in the previous games and altered it, augmented it and re skinned it but never stepped beyond those games, feeling the safety in their shadow. On every level the game stayed well behind this line, it gets close at times, but never quite stepping over it. The city itself was mostly lifted from Arkham City, just with a holiday theme as opposed to a prison theme, I’ve even seen the huge prison walls. This of course isn’t surprising since it is the same city with a new theme, instead of a prison theme it’s a holiday one. The meat of the game though is the fighting, which is also lifted from earlier version as well, with one exception, the Death Stroke fight is difficult but very rewarding. Sadly he rest fall in line with previous version, the Firefly fight was very reminiscent of the Poison Ivy fight from Arkham Asylum and the Dead Shot fight was pretty much the Two Face fight from Arkham City. The Bane fight was pretty much the Bane fight from City and the Monster Joker from Asylum so there you go. The street level fights were also similar but all three games have been similar that way so I can’t knock the game for going with what works.another troubling point the game has is struggling out of the weight of the Joker, it can’t. He appears for the third time as the main villain, granted this was their first meeting but still with a rogues gallery like Batman’s to use him again feels like a wasted opportunity. That being said Troy Baker did a fantastic job as Mark Hamill’s Joker but from the selection of great Batman’s villains the safest choice would be Joke and the games suffers from the need to have him. Finally the side missions stayed on the safe side by never verring to far from the older games with the Riddler’s trophies still the standard hunt and find, as well as the Anarchy missions feeling like a reskinned Zazz missions from City. Again never bad in concept, but after finishing this trek I feel this is the safest Gotham has been in quiet a while.

I want to quickly express that I really do enjoy these games, I own all of them and have played and finished them. My real intention in this post is to point out how game creation can be a tricky thing and just because a game does well and plays great it does not mean that the follow up game will be infallible, especially if the original developers are not the creators of the new version. Also these are by no means the only games there are lot more. I just choose a few to point out the pros and cons. Games like Fallout: New Vegas, Halo 4, and Gears of War: Judgement all could have made this list for a few reasons and there are other as well. Some games I’m sure you can name some yourself.

In fact do that, I always like to end with a question so here it is, have you played a game you can see that would fit on the list of good but not as good as the original? Let me know. I hope you enjoyed the post and now I’m just looking forward to follow ups of some games I love, Batman Arkham Knight and Fallout 4, which I hope are even better than the originals. Keep hope alive.