Tick Tock – A Dungeons & Dragon Campaign Idea


Found this beautiful skeleton clock here.  I thought a skeleton clock made the most sense…you’ll see why shortly.

Recently I was trying to come up with something a little different to start off a new Dungeons & Dragons Campaign I plan on running in the next year and what I came up with hopefully fit the bill.  It’s a campaign where the players start off in a world where they just found out (Day 1 of the campaign) that they are going to die.  Here is what I put together:

You weren’t ready to hear those words; is anyone ever REALLY ready?

Like a raging wildfire, messengers traveled with due haste to all corners of the land, spreading the word…

The end of the world is coming.

The pieced together stories say a ship bearing trade goods had set sail for the island of Marcos, home of the kingdom Essaria.  As the ship grew closer to the island and rounded some large rock formations jutting out of the water, the crew spotted something very, very wrong. Now in perfect view of what should have been the castle, but instead the crew looked upon a dark, twisted, unholy and demonic necropolis in its place. Black and purple vines writhed up and down the walls, moving with an unnatural grace. Gargoyles numbered in the thousands, lining the crenelations and dark walls  seemingly as if they were manning the battlements; a well disciplined and ever ready army.

There didn’t seem any need however, as the entire structure was surrounded by a deadly, permeable red mist. The deadly part became evident as a flying seagull, attempting to find purchase on the upper tiers of the castle after no doubt a long flight over the open seas, entered the mist; its body immediately starting to convulse as every bone in its fragile body was broken instantaneously. The body fell, crumpled in a heap of indiscernible mass at the base of the castle, lost among the rocks below.

Galleons by the hundreds lined the docks, each ship filled to the brim with thousands upon thousands of dead bodies stacked like cords of wood. As the trade ship continued its course and passed the first galleon, a shiver ran down the captain’s spine when the first dead body, the one on top of the stack just…sat up. As if prompted by the first, other corpses started to slowly rise…and not before long, a low groan started to emanate, louder and louder as if in warning or protest.

The captain immediately and deftly turned his ship about, urging his crew as IF it was even needed, lest they all succumb to Davey Jones locker. The captain, his eyes never leaving the castle, waited, for something to happen, something that would swarm or devour them from the depths of the seas…but by true fate, it never came.

His eyes suddenly focused on a lone, pale figure, who stepped out onto one of the nearby crenelations and smiled. His hair was as black as oil, his eyes glowed a nefarious red. The captain, in sudden realization, that the only reason he was leaving this place, was because this creature ALLOWED it. He shivered again, while urging his crew on, lest the pale creature change his mind.

Once the captain returned to the seaport docks of his home, Woodbank, he quickly met with the local authorities and told them what he saw. The authorities, some of which have known the captain most of their lives, took him for his word and spread the news to the neighboring cities.

Sadly most took it as the tales of a bunch of drunken pirates and didn’t make any move to investigate it further or gather their defenses…until it was too late. They didn’t have much time anyway….

The very next day, hundreds of galleons were seen sailing toward the seaport of Woodbank. While the authorities may have known of the possible threat, they were by no means prepared for what was to come. A sea of undead landed on the Woodbank coast, including some that jumped out early as if in anticipation, rising out of the murky waters, with surprising determination on their dead, unthinking faces; skeletons with bones a glossy black were later found to be as hard as metal as swords and axes bounced harmlessly off their shielded bones. Ghouls and Wraiths, Wights and Zombies, completely decimated the seaport, killing each and every man, woman and child. All those that were killed are rumored to have risen up, to add more soldiers to the now ever-growing undead regime. The undead, have mercilessly continued their destruction…the sea itself continues to birth a never ending tide of undead, the ships constantly arriving and overflowing with death.  In just 5 days, 15 towns, villages and a couple larger cities have been completely wiped out, with rumors of no survivors.

The local sages say that the entire world will be destroyed in a little over a year.

Tick Tock


This wood carved clock was found here.

So basically, i was giving my PC’s an approximate 1 year left to live at MOST, unless they were able to find a way to stop the imminent death before them.

Logistically, the undead horde is currently overcoming one hex on the map each DAY. The direction is randomly rolled at the beginning of each day, so it is possible that the horde could come straight towards the towns the PC’s currently inhabit, cutting down the time of their life by as much as 80%. I also thought that since the towns would be defending, it made sense to roll a d20 defense roll for each hex (as long as there was a major town, city or castle there, to see if they could hold off the horde. If a 20 is rolled, they are able to slow down the horde for one day. The next day, if they don’t roll a 20, the hex and those towns within, will be decimated.) Keep in mind, I will not be showing the players which hexes have been taken over. It is up to them to figure out a way to determine that.

Every single hour will be tracked, which means getting a good night’s rest means 1/3 of the PC’s day was freely given to the undead to reap destruction on the land. The undead don’t need to eat, rest or sleep…so they are attacking around the clock. This system is meant for the PCs to use only what resources are necessary and not be wasteful of those good night’s sleep or short rests.  The campaign is meant to challenge the players in a whole different way, constantly looking over their shoulder, wondering which way the horde is coming…not knowing if they are just beyond the mountains or hills ahead. The PCs will know the general direction that they are coming from and know approximately how far away they could be at the beginning of the campaign, but once we start playing, they’ll be in the dark.

This is a game that will be mainly based on survival, but also in the characters reaching their true potential as quickly as possible, in hopes of stopping the horde and saving the world.  The longer the PCs take, the more of their world will be reduced to rubble, but at the same time, they need time to grow more powerful in hopes that they CAN stop the horde.  Finding that balance will be tricky.

I’m hoping the biggest confusion will come at the beginning.  What do they do now?  How can these 1st level characters transcend into powerful beings and save the world?  Where do they even begin?

Hopefully, it will be a mind boggling and new experience for my players.  Still have a lot of work I need to do on it, but it’s a start.

Let me know what you think and and advice on how to make it even more interesting!


About jinx_the_bard

Longtime Dungeon Master, tabletop and video gamer. Been playing D&D and Shadowrun on and off most recently. Ran a post apocalyptic, paragon, 4th edition D&D campaign for a couple years. Running a 5th edition campaign now called "The Fall of Astia". Enjoy Borderlands 1, 2 and even the Pre-sequel (which I tend to play with fellow author Ness), Fallout 3 and 4, Bioshock and Skyrim. (Games this good never get boring) I also indulge in Magic The Gathering, mostly in the Legacy and Modern formats. Please feel free to contact me at dungeonmaster.bm@gmail.com for any questions, thoughts or things you'd like to see featured on our site.

Deck Spotlight: Doom and Gloom

Tormented Hero

Tormented Hero, a card from the Theros block of Magic: The Gathering. Art by Winona Nelson.

Ahoy, fellow adventurers! This is the first of several Magic: The Gathering deck spotlights I plan to write for 3-Sided Die. Allow me to begin our journey with my current headliner build, a black/white brew I’ve dubbed “Doom and Gloom.” I’ll share the deck list, discuss the key cards and strategies I’ve developed, and offer some suggestions on how the build can evolve when rotation happens next week.

“Doom and Gloom” Decklist

Creatures (23):

Instants (4):

Sorceries (2):

Artifacts (1):

Enchantments (8):

Lands (22):

Sideboard (15):

Torment Them with Your Heroes

One of the key themes of this deck is immediately obvious: life loss/life gain. I love how black/white decks can start a gradual decay in your opponents’ life totals that can get quite out of hand with certain card combinations. One of my favorite pairings in this deck is pulling Congregate while Sanguine Bond is on the battlefield. The look on your opponent’s face as you fatally drain them for 18 life while they have a veritable army on their side of the field is priceless. Until you get to strike that killing blow, Tormented Hero, Hopeful Eidolon, and Soldier of the Pantheon help swing the scales in your favor. Whip of Erebos pinch hits for extra support in getting even more edge over your foes.

Putting 2/1s on the battlefield on turn one is a superb starting point for this deck, which tends to list more towards the aggressive end of the spectrum. For turn three, Banisher Priest is a solid, square-stat creature that can easily remove evasive threats and throw in a few blows of its own, while Agent of the Fates keeps the tension high and provides lethal defense. I love the versatility of Hopeful Eidolon as a chump blocker or Heroic enabler for the Hero and Agent. Enchanting the Eidolon with stacked Ethereal Armors is efficiently brutal; swinging with a turn three 7/7 first strike lifelinker is an effortless task with 4-ofs of both in this deck.

Remove All Doubts

Erebos, God of the Dead stops life-gain shenanigans from your opponent cold, and, with your own means of getting life, the card draw option becomes a no-brainer. The pair of Obzedat, Ghost Council drive home a fierce and tough-to-eliminate threat that just adds to the life loss misery on the other side of the table.

Angelic Accord adds insult to injury for your foes by giving you 4/4 flyers to sweeten your ever-increasing life total. Hero’s Downfall adds more pinpoint removal to keep the field clear of whatever your Priests and Agents couldn’t handle. I personally prefer to always have artifact and enchantment removal in my mainboard, and the reprint of Revoke Existence fits the bill nicely, taking care of Theros-block gods and other annoyances with ease.

Finally, the playset of Temple of Silence in your mana base helps preview your choices as you move along. Being able to plan ahead, to me, offsets the “enters the battlefield tapped” downside.

Banish Their Hopes

As I mentioned before, this is intended to be a fast, aggressive build. Press the point and don’t let up.

Between the Priests, Agents, Downfalls, and Revokes, you’ve plenty of removal options at your disposal. Abuse the stacking nature of the Armors to their absolute fullest; you have four of them, so don’t worry too much if the enchanted creature gets nixed (or, should I say, Nyxed?).

In mirror matches, you may choose to swap in the Glare of Heresy and/or the Dark Betrayal in the sideboard for more precise kills.

We Are the Warriors

As I write this essay, we are days away from rotation for Return to Ravnica and the Core 2014 set. Keeping this deck Standard-friendly means losing the Armors, Priests, and other key cards.

A possible evolution could be to move this into the fast-moving black/white Warriors tribal suggested by the dynamic duo Chief of the Edge and Chief of the Scale from Khans of Tarkir. I would likely start with two of each in the mainboard with the other pair in the sideboard to vary the aggressiveness of the deck. Tormented Hero fits quite nicely in a Warrior build. Other one-drop options could include Disowned Ancestor for early defense or Mardu Hateblade for killing blows. Herald of Anafenza, while itself a Soldier, puts out Warrior tokens, as does Mardu Hordechief and the instant Take Up Arms.

The good folks at PucaTrade posted a “budget brew” article today that provides an excellent framework for this build. I’d highly recommend referring to this post if you decide to move down the black/white Warriors path.

Now, if you choose to keep the life gain/life loss theme, you may want to switch to an Abzan/Heroic build to take advantage of all the +1/+1 counter interactions in Khans. Many of the Abzan cards grant bonuses to creatures with counters, but look for others, such as Seeker of the Way, who gains lifelink whenever you cast noncreature spells that would trigger Heroic on other members of your team.

Since Artifacts appear to be less of an issue in Khans block thus far, I’d suggest swapping the Revokes for Erase, which rejoins Standard after its last appearance in Core 2013. Suspension Field, while limited to targeting creatures with toughness 3 or higher, can put the brakes on beaters your team can’t handle, as well as Banishing Light, which duplicates the effects of the Priests without the body.

Congregate in the Comments!

That’s all for this installment of Deck Spotlight! I hope this deck list and analysis have been enjoyable and informative, whether you’re a casual player or hitting the Friday Night Magic circuit. I welcome all feedback and variations on a future version of “Doom and Gloom” in the comments below.

About brightmatrix

brightmatrix is a long-time casual gamer. His gaming journey has included Magic: the Gathering, the first, second, and fourth edition Dungeons & Dragons, and the first wave White Wolf games from the late 90s. If you are a denizen of the Twitterverse, you can read his posts on Magic, web development, puns, and other shenanigans at @brightmatrix.

Mental Missteps: Mistakes I Made as a Casual Magic: The Gathering Player

038_mental_misstepLast week, I shared my personal journey through an eight-week “fast” from Magic: The Gathering. The much-needed time away from the game allowed me to realize some “mental missteps” I made as a casual player that I’d like to share, as well as what I plan to do more effectively in future games.

Let me say two things before I begin. First, I realize not everyone plays Magic in the same way or with the same motivations, so this is very much a “your mileage may vary” essay. Second, this is by no means an exhaustive list of dos and don’ts, so I welcome any feedback in the comments section to supplement what I’ve written.

I’ll start with my missteps, or, what I felt I did “wrong”:

  • I cracked boosters. This seems innocuous enough, right? People love surprises and instant gratification, and boosters offer both. “Am I going to get that shiny mythic rare?” “Ooh, maybe I’ll be the lucky one to score the ‘God Pack’ this time!” What I came to discover, however, is that cracking random boosters as an impulse buy ended up being a poor decision well over 80% of the time. By the time that wrapper came off and I’d sorted through everything, I often had a handful of cards I’d never play with or were worth too little to trade.
  • I bought into the hype, literally. Hype is everyone in the Magic community. Speculation over new and returning cards and mechanics ebbs and flows with the release schedule, but it’s always humming in the background. One of the worst things I did was trade for three of the Journey Into Nyx enemy-colored gods (Athreos, Iroas, and Pharika) right as the set came out. Athreos, for example, was priced at US $24 on release day. At the time of this essay, he’s hovering around US $8-9. This was a completely impulsive decision, and, as someone who played only occasionally with friends, is was a poor one to make as well.
  • I only played decks when I had all the cards (again, literally) in hand. For some reason, I never wanted to play with proxies, which are “stand-ins” for cards you don’t yet have in your possession. Professional Magic players use proxies constantly to test and fine tune their decks before they commit to adding them in their deck list. I never played any of mine until I had them fully assembled, after which I would start playing and testing. More often than not, I would discover that cards I had just traded for didn’t work out as I expected, so I’d cut them from the list and start up trades for their replacements.
  • I focused on too many decks in Standard. Part of what makes Magic endlessly fascinating is how many combinations of cards, effects, and mechanics you can combine in your decks. With each new set comes a whole new array of concepts and interactions. This makes it hard to choose where you want to go with your Standard decks, as new cards can make dramatic changes to your current game plan, both from what you want to design and what you’ll need to account for on the other side of the table. My problem here is that I couldn’t decide. I saw deck builds online and wanted to try quite a few of them, so I had at least three or four partially-built decks going at any one time. Without a consistent play group and use of proxies, I often didn’t realize how well a specific build would perform until I had committed a good deal of time into its design and development. This often left me with one decent deck and several other lukewarm builds.
  • I overlooked the most vital aspect of Magic: the social aspect. This was the hardest lesson for me to learn. At its core, Magic is a social game; it is not designed to be played alone. There is only so much satisfaction you can draw from singular activities such as trading, collecting, and deck building. As I mentioned in my “fast” essay, I had moved hundreds of miles from my former playgroup, so I lost my core group of casual gamers. I also did not have the desire to playing Magic online, as I had read many not-so-positive experiences about it, both from the mechanical side (glitchy interface and frequent downtimes) and the personal side (cutthroat competition and rude opponents). I started venturing out to local game stores to find other players, but did not have the guts to interact and talk with folks there beyond the games themselves.

What should I have done?

  • Drafted. What I came to realize over time was that many of the cards in any given set are designed exclusively for the Limited format. “Bad cards” exist specifically to add strategy and tension in drafts. You need to be skillful and cunning to craft a winning 40-card deck from random booster pulls, which is why there is such a die-hard following around Limited. Had I drafted instead of cracking boosters, I would have been able to experience new cards and mechanics in a fun and constructive way.
  • Been patient. Had I bided my time and waited until the hype over Journey Into Nyx had cooled off, I could have snagged Athreos and his divine kin for a third of their prerelease cost, and spent my remaining trade credit on other cards I wanted. It seems that, with a few exceptions (such as dual lands and high-value reprints such as Mutavault and Thoughtseize), the inflated prices of hyped cards settle down within the first one to three months after the set hits the streets. Planeswalkers in particular are notorious for being highly overvalued ahead of a prerelease.
  • Used proxies and playtested. Whenever I design a deck, I have a vision in mind for how it will play out. More often than not, however, cards I bought or traded for didn’t interact on the battlefield the way I planned. Had I used proxies to test my theories instead of taking the time and money to acquire the actual cards, I could have given my builds a proper run-through, chosen what really, truly worked, and saved my trade credits for the final roster.
  • Narrowed my focus to a single Standard deck. Making a commitment to one build in Standard would have been a much wiser use of my time and money. It would have limited the trades I wanted and freed up points for higher-dollar cards for that one deck. It also would have allowed me to playtest it exclusively, sussing out strengths and weaknesses much faster and more effectively. Plus, playing with a single deck would have helped me sharpen strategies in specific matchups (for example, what cards would I need to always swap in or out versus a Control player, or an Aggro player).
  • Put more effort into finding a play group and settling in at my local game store. I’m an introvert at heart, so it’s challenging for me to form new friendships and connections in places where I don’t know anyone. It would have been worth the personal risk to have gone out of comfort zone and be more gregarious and purposeful when playing at Friday Night Magic and prereleases events. I could have also taken the initiative and taught fellow coworkers about Magic to form a new playgroup during office lunch breaks, much as I did at my former location. I took the easy route out and assumed I would make new Magic friends by proxy, when, instead, all I did was sit on the sidelines between games and keep to myself.

Now, let me turn it over to the masses: what have you learned as a Magic player that you realized was not the best method or tactic? What would you offer as guidance or advice to other players out there?

About brightmatrix

brightmatrix is a long-time casual gamer. His gaming journey has included Magic: the Gathering, the first, second, and fourth edition Dungeons & Dragons, and the first wave White Wolf games from the late 90s. If you are a denizen of the Twitterverse, you can read his posts on Magic, web development, puns, and other shenanigans at @brightmatrix.