Category Archives: Dungeons & Dragons

Entering the Grave of the Heartless May Break Your Heart

A curse is upon the land. An ancient barrow has been looted, and the dead has exacted their revenge. Brave heroes, who dare step onto Death’s doorstep are needed to lift he curse and restore order.

Welcome to the sixth adventure translated from Danish to English in the line of Hinterlandet (The Hinterlands). The module has been adapted to Labyrinth Lord, and can be played with most D&D becmi inspired retro clones or otherwise easily adapted to your favorite D&D-game.

Grave of the Heartless is originally from the convention HammerCon, and it was made to challenge the players with a dungeon, that was supernatural rather than natural. Even if dungeons require a stretch of imagination to accept, many are somewhat naturalistic with stone walls, patrolling goblins, kobolds digging mines and orcs setting up ambushes. Inspired by the local barrows near my childhood home, I decided to use a barrow as the starting point for the dungeon, and then create it as a border region between this world and the land of the dead, where the other realm suffuse the nature of the dungeon creating a slightly unreal place. That made it quite fun writing the adventure, but one of the challenges with ‘undead dungeons’ is adding creatures for the players to interact with. Zombies, ghouls and skeletons rarely do anything beyond killing heroes, and a whole dungeon of that is not interesting, so a way to add talkative creatures was needed, and is a central part of the challenge.

The adventure introduces a powerful NPC, who can become an unusual ally, and to a certain degree sets up a gate to another realm for the characters to guard and use, or perhaps just keep secret until they need it. An interesting part of the adventure is, that there is no grand villain or boss monster at the end of the dungeon, but there is a powerful opponent. The adventure also easily functions as a sequel to Tomb of the Dragon’s Heart and fits easily into the storyline from the adventure The Flooded Temple.

You can find Grave of the Heartless at RPGDriveThru: Grave of the Heartless.

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Tomb of Annihilation – Captains of Chult

Large stretches of Chult are coasts, and with Port Nyanzaru being a port, it is an obvious choice to reach distant parts of Chult by sailing along the coast rather than braving the jungles or the sluggish rivers – but ships are expensive, so how does explorers in Tomb of Annihilation get there? By hiring transport on a ship, and in the dingy taverns of Port Nyanzaru, there are captains who offer their services for a reasonable fee.

I really like the concept of guides in Tomb of Annihilation. It may seem obvious, and yet it is so rarely done this well in wilderness adventures. Expanding upon the idea, thus allowing us to increase the scope of expeditions into the wilderness, I added Experts for Hire as mentioned in my previous post, and now I have Captains for hire. An assortment of captains, each with their own little kernel of a potential adventure, and a series of random events ranging from bad weather to weird and inexplicable phenomena. Captains of the Coasts of Chult can now be found at DM’s Guild. My previous Expedition Crew supplement was Experts of Chult, and I am considering adding a third one.

I am running my own Tomb of Annihilation set in the Mystara setting, and there may be hidden a few references to that setting among the captains, but easter eggs seems to a part of D&D 5th edition, so it is merely keeping with the style.

 


Tomb of Annihilaton – Experts of Chult

Tomb of Annihilation is an interesting campaign module, not just because of the modern attempt to create a hex crawl adventure but also because of some the tools the adventure contains. One of these tools are the Guides. They are NPCs with well-developed personalities, quirks and secrets, and not just that they are set-up with nice handouts, making them easy to present for the players and keep in mind.

The guides may not be a revolutionary thing, but they are still something I have not seen in other hex crawl adventures. Some adventures may suggest hiring a guide and even add a few details, but having a roster and letting the players choose between these set-ups is quite inspiring.

For my ToA campaign (which is set in the Mysrara setting) I am planning on running larger expeditions with more henchmen, and thus I wanted to add more NPCs for hire, and they did not all need to be Guides. Some could be experts with valuable skills, and thus I set up a bunch a small selection of Experts for Hire. The Experts of Chult – which now can be found at DM’s Guild.

Using henchmen, that are more than anonymous torchbearers and sword caddies, is also an opportunity to add role-playing situations to an otherwise eventless trek through the wilderness. Travelling through the wilderness may present the players with obstacles and challenges, but many are dealing with savage beasts or difficult terrain, but many does not include beings to interact with, and having NPCs jog along means there continuously will be beings to interact with. The experts add skills or bonuses to skills, but getting access to these require interacting with them, and that creates opportunities for role-playing.

Experts of Chult is the first of my Expedition Crew supplements to Tomb of Annihilation. The next one is Captains of the Coasts of Chult, as seafaring along the coasts will likewise be a part of my campaign.


Xanathar’s Guide to Everything including Easter Eggs

So I went and added Xanathar’s Guide to Everything to my library, which I intend to mine for ideas, when running my tweaked Tomb of Annihilation campaign – and lo and behold, if not a reference to an old favorite D&D-module sprang forth during the reading of the book.

D&D 5th edition contains several call backs to earlier D&D-material, for instance they happily namedrop older settings in their campaign books even though the default setting is Forgotten Realms, but they also add small touches here and there referencing various characters, details, events and such from older modules. For instance the Monster Manual in the goblin section, they reference ‘Bree-Yark’ from module B2 Caves of Chaos, and in the Players Handbook a table of random items contains wines from module B7 Rahasia. And being both a D&D becmi and a Mystaran fan this warms my heart. Likewise I was pleasently surprised, when I discovered that Xanathar’s Guide to Everything caries a reference to B4 The Lost City.

In the DM section the chapter on traps includes a deadly trap found in the Lost City of Cynicideans near the graves of queen Zenobia and king Alexander. These details are all taken from module B4, including the trap. I may not get Mystara back in published form, but at least I still get some references to some of my favorite stuff.

Any other references to the B-modules in the D&D 5th edition material?


Tomb of Annihilation – Using the Mystara Setting

This fall’s great adventure for D&D is the Tomb of Annihilation, and I picked up the book with some interest. I like the idea of a hex crawl having the players to travel deep into jungles searching for lost cities and ancient ruins, but without finding everything on their first go. Instead, they will have to make multiple journeys mapping the jungles bit by bit, and between expeditions they have a home base in a large harbor town.

I like this. I do not care much for the backstory with the curse killing people, who has been resurrected and making the raising of people impossible. It is a fine, grandiose plot, but not one, that I care for, and neither does the jungles of Chult nor Forgotten Realms have my interest. That is mostly because, when it comes to D&D settings, my favorite is The Known World or Mystara. So, I want to run this campaign, and I want to run it in the Mystaran setting.

But where to place this wonderful, empty hex map filled with deadly wonders and ancient secrets?

An obvious choice would be the major hex crawl adventure for D&D becmi, namely The Isle of Dread from module X1 The Isle of Dread (1980), which is an obvious choice, and I could simply just use the map from X1 with the adventure from Tomb of Annihilation, but I have already explored The Isle of Dread, and it could be interesting to try some other area.

Tomb of Annihilation itself suggests The Savage Coast, but they are probably not thinking of module X9 The Savage Coast (1985) but rather the (sub)-setting later published for AD&D 2nd edition The Savage Coast (based on the expanded material from the articles Voyage of the Princess Ark), but even though the region is called ‘savage’ it is far from unexplored or inhabited, and adapting Tomb of Annihilation to this region would require a lot of work, if I want it to stay true to the Mystaran setting.

There is, however, an interesting alternative. South of the Sea of Dread lies the continent Davania, and though parts have scarcely been colonized by Thyatis, it is at least from the view of The Known World unexplored lands, that are vaguely known, and near the Serpent’s Peninsula on the opposite side of The Serpent’s Sound the continent of Davania is somewhat shaped reminiscent of Chult area from the ToA book, which means that I can use the map from ToA without it being too far off, and that saves me time.

The coastal city being used as a base in ToA will be replaced with its Mystaran equivalent – there is actually one on the continent of Davania in the right place – called Kastellos. The name could indicate a Thyatian origin, but its position is just next to the Yawdlom Divinarchy, which means that I can keep large parts of the material from ToA and add materiale from the box set Champions of Mystara, which describes The Serpent’s Peninsula and The Yawdlom Divinarchy.

Adapting ToA to Mystara

The Mystaran Tomb of Annihilation plays out in the harbor town Kastellos on the continent of Davania. The town was originally a Thyatian colony, but Thyatis was unable to maintain its control of the city, and soon a large part of the population were newcomers from the Yawdlom Divinarchy seeking adventure. The city still has a large minority of Thyatians, and both traders from the Minrothad Isles and Thyatis pass by regularly keeping Kastellos in the orbit of The Known World-region.

Besides Thyatians and Yawdloms, Kastellos is home to a thriving colony of wererats, who arrived from Karameikos, as well as a large group of skygnomes stranded here, when their skyship crashed, and they are waiting for the flying city of Serraine to pass their way again. Elves are rare, but the few that are here, are mostly forest elves from Karameikos and sea-elves from Minrothad. Dwarves are here as travelling artisans, and the few hin finding their way here, are mostly hin pirates from the coasts of The Five Shires. Small groups of tortles from the Savage Coast also call the northern coasts of Davania for home, and they can be seen in the streets of Kastellos. Davania is home to nomadic tribes of Rakasta – some are related to the Rakasta from Isle of Dread – and Lupins. This should give a hint as to which playable races will be used in the campaign.

I am right now in the process of adapting ToA to run it in the Mystaran setting. This is first post in a small series of posts about adapting ToA, and fitting its backstory and plot into the existing framework of Mystara.


Another review: Tomb of the Dragon’s Heart

Not long ago I uploaded the adventure Tomb of the Dragon’s Heart written using the Labyrinth Lord system. Recently the adventure was reviewed by Bryce Lynch from Ten Foot Pole blog.

Bryce writes:

 This FEELS like an adventure in a place greater than yourselves, and its communicated pretty well.

To this is added hooks. Not just one sentence “caravan guard” hooks, but a paragraph or two for each. There’s enough detail to communicate motivation adequately and get the DM’s imagination running so they can fill in the rest. Then there’s the rumor table, telling you actually useful things about the situation in the dungeon, and other factions that may be present, all communicated in a style that represents a little vignette, in only two sentences. And then there’s the wandering table.

Addtionally:

The initial text, up to the keys, is a good “read once” type that you should not have to refer to again and is a quick read with bullet points and call out. The “appendix” information after the keys is most monster stats and the like, leaving the encounters proper a feel of a separate section that you can reference … which is exactly what I’m looking for in a supplement.

Multiple entrances, a chance to make a pact with the dragons heart, or abuse it for power … there’s an interactivity here that most adventures lack.

I am glad and honored by the positive review. It does inspire to write more and translate more into English, but it also raises the bar. This is a minimum to strive for, and ideally I will improve on my writing creating even better modules. I hope you find it interesting and perhaps after reading Bryce’s full review, you might want to head to DrivethruRPG?


Wandering Monsters as an invitation to role-play

For or against wandering monsters? Are they an important part of the game or are they disrupting the game?

In my previous post I spoke about viewing equipment as a limited resource in the game, and that any part of the character sheet could be seen as a resource to be spent. Another resource-influencing element of the game is the wandering monster. So, let’s have a look at the phenomenon.

In some games, I have no use for wandering monsters. When running Transhuman Space or Delta Green, I don’t use wandering monsters, and when playing a character-driven drama using the D&D 3rd edition rules, I do not use wandering monsters.

In other games wandering monsters are disruptive for the flow of the game. Playing D&D 4th, where each combat easily eats up two hours of game time, you never get anywhere, when checking for wanderers for every 30 minutes of in-fiction time. One time we attempted to run module B4 The Lost City using D&D 4th, and due to wanderers, we never got to anywhere in the adventure. That made us abandon D&D 4th and move on to play older editions of D&D.

In yet other games, such as AD&D, D&D 5th (we are two thirds into Curse of Strahd) and The Hinterlands (Hinterlandet) – my own retro-clone – I do happily make use of wandering monsters.

There is a time and place for wandering monsters, and what I want to do here is to have a look at using them at the right times.

When Wandering Monsters

Wandering Monsters can serve as a timer in the game forcing the players to move on and making it difficult to rest after each encounter. The resources are dwindling, and you have to explore as much as possible, before you run out of time.

Wandering monsters works well with versions of D&D or clones thereof, when combat lasts no more than about 15 minutes of game time – and this is something I strive for. Once combat is initiated, I want it to end as fast as possible (and this, the why and how of it, I will explain in a following post, so bear with me right now and focus on the wandering aspect).

Wandering monsters work even better, when used as random elements to generate play. With this I mean that rolling on random tables, be it weird spell effects or critical hits can create unforseen elements, that creates opportunities for role-playing. For instance, I am running The People of the Pit using Dungeon Crawl Classics right now, and the strange random elements creates events for us to role play around from critical hits almost pushing a character off a steep ledge to a bloody nose making a player speak with a nasal voice for a while to the mercurial effects of the wizard’s spells to the gods’ response their clerics’ spellcasting. These things add color or create situations, that gives us opportunities to roleplay and do more than just fight monsters. This is what I want my wandering monsters to do as well.

This works best, when wandering monsters are perceived as anything but a combat. Many adventures have monsters to show up, 2d4 orcs, 1d6 goblins etc. and then it is supposed to turn into a fight: ‘Three orcs appear. Roll initiative’.

This is one of the things I like about Curse of Strahd, where the wandering monsters table contains several entries, that are either strange objects found or evocative, brief meetings (like a skeletal rider on a bone horse passing by). This is also one of my own guidelines, when writing The Hinterlands modules, and that is, that every encounter must foremost be an invitation to role-play, where any combat occurring is ideally instigated by the players.

Now it is easy to say ‘that is how I always do things’, when monsters appear at random – but it is whole lot easier, when the entries on the wandering monster-tables gives you the inspiration and the ideas.

Setting up Wandering Monsters

Creating entries that allows for more than combat the entries can be strange events (like a wind whispering their names and the last person, they dreamt of) or foreshadowing of coming encounters (for instance using the foreshadowing, the first result generates the boot prints of a nearby band of orcs, or the bloody victim of an owlbear or the leftover rust from a rustmonster’s meal).

  • Foreshadowing
  • Strange events

Another way is to give the wandering monsters an errand. They are not here to fight the adventurers, nor are they looking for them. Instead they chance upon them, as they are on their own way. By giving each entry a reason to be out walking, you can give the players a chance to role play and find alternate options, when they encounter them, to solve in the problems.

  • The monsters are minding their own business being on an errand

When setting up errands look at the dungeon and try to imagine the daily activities of the dungeon. Are goblins going hunting? Are kobolds cleaning areas for ritual activities?

Now include faction-life and intrigues. Consider anything you would like to reveal to the players about the life in the dungeon, especially things they can use to ally with factions or play them out against each other. Perhaps they overhear the bandits gossiping about dividing the spoils, and how there are grumblings among the bandit king’s lieutenants? Perhaps they overhear that the orcs are planning to hire the services of the local hag?

  • Reveal factions, secrets and daily life through their activities

To keep this easy to use and create, it is my advice to try and keep each entry as a single sentence.

  • Keep the description to one sentence

They can look like this:

  • ‘two almost adult wolf cubs comes bouncing loudly playing with each other, if disturbed they will run off and warn the pack returning with additional 1d4 wolves’
  • Five kobold slaves replacing burned out torches while loudly complaining that the bugbear chef favors the goblins with the best food
  • 1d4+3 orcs with fishing rods each bragging about the size of their latest catch
  • 1d6+1 goblins running off with wine from the cellar willing to bribe the PCs to keep silent on the theft
  • Orc chieftain and bodyguards on the move, while the kobold butler is loudly complaining or advising the chief to look proper before meeting with the slavers.

There is nothing to stop the players from declaring initiative, if they want to fight, but you have opened the door for them to do other things, and it is easier to use alternate strategies, when the situation includes more than ‘2d4 orcs appear’ – and you can breathe life into your dungeon.

Wandering elsewhere

Once you have this praxis in place, you can use it in villages and towns to create encounters there as well:

  • 7 drunk members of the city guard extortion a dwarven goldsmith
  • Two competing town criers trying to outdo the other yelling still higher trying to present the most sordid gossip for a few coppers.

From here it is a small step to introduce wandering monsters or random encounters or events in other games such as small towns being investigated in Call of Cthulhu by investigators.

  • Two villagers appears idly talkning but they become silent the moment, they see the PCs, and only the word ‘the hollow’ is heard.

My Final Wanderings

This is how I like to play out and use my wandering monsters. They are not combat encounters appearing at random, but tools to create life in the dungeon, and they are invitations to roleplay. By setting them up head of the game or writing them into adventures, it becomes easier for the DM to improvise and create exciting situations – and the players can still declare initiative any time they want.


Counting Arrows, Tracking Rations – Survival Horror in the Dungeon

This is a follow-up post to my last post about The Light spell: Cantrip or 1st level spell?

It was about how much the game changed, when the light spell went from being a 1st level spell and thus restricted to become a cantrip spell, that can be used without limits. If darkness and survival in the dungeons are not of importance, it makes sense for light to be easily available, but if surviving the dark is a part of the game, then a limit on equipment and magical ressources means a lot to the game, and having to choose between utilizing your light spell to blind a foe or replacing a lost lantern can become an interesting choice. If focus is for instance on encounters and the next combat, then worrying about how to get there, may be an unwanted challenge in the game. When dungeon crawling survival is a part of the game for me.

A part of this is tied to the concept of ‘attacking the whole character sheet‘, the idea that any part of the character sheet is vulnerable to losses, manipulation and change. Just as a character can loose hit points or suffer an ability score drain, the same character’s age can be influenced (earlier versions had monsters or spells aging the characters), levels can be drained (a dreaded attack back in the day) and equipment destroyed (e.g. the rust monster). This opens for new can kinds of threats from monsters and traps, as there more things, that can be removed from the characters without outright killing them.

  • Any part of the character sheet can be attacked.

Likewise any part of the character sheet can be considered a resource to be spent during the adventure, and knowing when and how to spend is a part of the challenge in the adventure. This is why it is interesting to have rope, torches, flasks of oil and rations. Not as things to keep track of, but rather as resources to be spent: You want to douse the graves of the ghosts with oil? Spend your oil on the character sheet. You want to construct a rope bridge across the rift? Mark off your ropes. You want to bribe the animals? Give them your rations (do you have enough left for the journey home?).

  • Any part of the character sheet can be spent as a resource.

And don’t forget considering age, name, background, social status etc. as resources to be spent! Perhaps the sage demands a character to forgo their name in order to gain information, a noble may have to relinquish his or her title in order to stop a foe, and the ghost demands 10 years of your life in order to find rest. A shaman may demand, that a character add a tatoo in order to have a malign spirit removed, and another shaman may demand, that a tatoo is removed in order to receive a blessing.

Again having the players worrying about these aspects add difficult choices to the game (and difficult choices are fun and often help develop the characters’ personalities).

Attack of the Accountancy

What I am not arguing for is keeping meticulously track of ammo (I like the idea of the Usage Die from The Black Hack and that you can carry a number of items related to your strength value), nor tracking encumbrance.

I am still looking for a simple rule to deal with this – right now we simply use the state ‘not heavily loaded’ and ‘heavily loaded’, and the last part is activated, whenever a character is carrying an obviously heavy object or an obviously large amount of objects, for instance when a character want to store an extra plate mail in the back pack or drag home a bag of 2000 silver pieces. When Heavily Loaded the DM can impose disadvantage (from D&D 5th) to physcial acitivities as it seems fit. I have also considered experimenting with the equipment rules from Lone Wolf Adventure Game from Cubicle 7, where you can carry two weapons, 50 coins in a pouch, 8 items in your back pack, and for any ‘special’ equipment it is stated, where/how it can carried/stored (i.e. backpacks on your back). Basically LWAG makes equipment a matter of restricted choices, that are less about handling encumbrance and more about having the players plan what kind of ressources, they want to bring along.

  • A character is either Heavy loaded or Not Heavy Loaded. When heavy loaded the GM may impose disadvantage (0r a -4 penalty if you do not use the advantage/disadvantage system) on physical acitvities, where relevant.

 

 


Light – Cantrip or First Level Spell?

In the good old days, the Light spell was a first level spell, that could be used to blind a foe. Then it became a cantrip and lost it teeth, and dungeoneering changed forever.

From first level spell to cantrip changes a lot of the dungeon exploring game play. Minor changes in spells can change the structure of the game, and it removes some of the challenges of exploring the dark depths.

I have with interest read DMDavid’s posts on how spells can ruin adventures (Spell can ruin adventures, Spells that ruin adventures, revisited and Spells that ruin mystery and treachery), and there is no doubt that Detect Lie, Zone of Truth and Etherealness can spoil the fun of exploring a dungeon – and yet something as simple as a cantrip can, perhaps not ruin, but still limit a part of the fun of exploring a dungeon.

When exploring dungeons limited resources are a part of the challenge, and every time an effect such as a spell replaces a limited resource something is lost. Recently I have begun playing the DCC module The People of the Pit with a Dungeon Crawl Classics party and with a D&D 5th edition party, and their progress and challenges are in some places quite different.

For the DCC group carrying torches and lanterns, they have to be careful, when solving challenges spending resources – for instance they wanted to burn the bones of the physical remnants of a group of ghosts, and they had to consider how many flasks of oil, they dared spend, as they also needed the oil for their lantern. For the other party, they simply had all the light they wanted, and flasks of oil and torches could be freely spent against foes. Likewise, there was not much worry about lights going out, finding ways to cross basins, while keeping a flame burning, and into every pit is thrown a stone with a light spell in order to determine its depth.

Back in the day, when I played AD&D or D&D becmi, light was a resource, and the group’s spellcaster had to choose between using the Light spell as an offense blinding a foe or a limited light source.

I am not interested in the players tracking each and every torch, as it becomes tedious and adds no fun to the game, but using torches or lanterns, the PCs risks losing their light and being trapped in darkness, and it forces the wizard to choose and use their spells carefully (The role of light becomes obvious, when taking a look at RPGs such as Torchbearer, where light is a central part of the economy for how much can be explored).

The structural change in the game is also visible in other areas, where the simple cantrips changes the game considerably even though they have no or little use during combat.

I had the same issue when I recently ran Tomb of Horrors with a 5th edition party. Light was not an issue (but then again high-level parties do have the benefit of avoiding a lot of the usual challenges. It is a part of being a high-level character), but here another cantrip began causing problems. The spellcasters kept examining, pulling, twisting and turning everything using the Mage Hand cantrip, which being evocative of the wizard, also spared the thief for investigating a lot of objects. Gygax never wrote Tomb of Horrors to handle the new and almost limitless resources of a spellcaster with cantrips ad ritual spells

A minor change in D&D 3rd edition back in the day also took the teeth out of a wilderness campaign, I was running. The players discovered that they had easy access to a Resistance spell that lasted 24 hours and that protected them against heat and cold. This minor spell was of little use against magical fire and cold attacks, but it made traveling through a desert harmless, and the challenges of surviving the harsh climate disappeared from the game.

Next time I am starting a D&D-campaign up, I will be changing a series of spells. Light will once more be a first level spell, but also one that can be used offensively. If dungeoneering is central to the game, Mage Hand will likewise also change.


Sound and Noise in RPGs – When magic and monsters can hear you

Sometimes they hear you. Then they come for you.

This is an article on how sound and noise can play a role in your game. Below are presented three magic items, that one way or another encourages players to talk or stay silent. Likewise are below three phenomena or techniques that are tied to the words and the sound the players use. These ideas are based on materials from the Hinterlands Adventures (which you can find at RPG Drivethru and at DMs Guild). The descriptions below are kept somewhat D&D agnostic, so that you can easily use them in your D&D 5th, Labyrinth Lord or AD&D game.

Magic Items

  • Potion of Roaring Strength
  • Powder of Silent Wandering
  • Whispering Skull

Potion of Roaring Strength

The potion comes in an iron flask with a depiction of a roaring lion. The liquid is golden, sweet and strong, and it gives of a musky smell.

This potion grants the imbiber +4 bonus to strength tests, +2 to melee attack and damage rolls, and doubles the changes of opening doors, lifting gates etc.

While under the influence of the potion the imbiber cannot whisper, and the imbiber must speak yell, when speaking, otherwise the effects of the potion disappears immediately. The player must speak loudly, when speaking for his or her character, or the effects of the potion ends. Otherwise the effects of the potion lasts 2 hours.

The potion can be found in The Flooded Temple.

Powder of Silent Invisibility

This fine, glittering white powder usually comes in a cloth bag containing 1d3 potions. When thrown in the air it turns all creatures in 10ft diameter circle invisible for as long, as they are silent, or until they attack. Once turned invisible the creatures do not need to stay together to remain invisible.

Any creature who speaks, immediately become visible, and this applies to the players too! Any player who does not merely neutrally describe their character’s actions will see their character turn visible again (in some instances you might even want to have the players write down their actions, as they may difficulty coordinating their actions, when unable to speak).

The Powder appears in the adventure Tomb of the Dragon’s Heart.

The Whispering Skull

Wondrous Item, rare

A gold plated human skull with a cruel smile. Imbedded in gold plating are tiny swirls hiding enchanted symbols, that any arcane spellcaster can identify as arcane symbols related to arcane spells.

If you listen to the skull, you can hear it whisper secrets. If you attune to this item, you can use its two powers.

The secret of wizards: Each whispering skull recites one particular arcane spell, and if you spent 15 minutes listening to the skull, when preparing spells, a wizard can memorize the spell from the skull as if the wizard was studying his or her own spellbook. The skull’s spell cannot be transcribed.

The spell the skull recites is 70% of the time anecromancy spell of level 4-9, and the remainder 30% a divination spell.

The secret of adventurers: If you listen to the skull for 15 minutes before entering a dungeon, the skull will tell you a secret about the dungeon – but only if you whisper a valuable secret to the skull, that you have not told it before.

DM rolls hidden on the table:

1-25 The skull reveals the whereabouts of a treasure in the dungeon
26-70 The skull tells about a mystical danger or a hidden trap in the dungeon
71-85 The skull reveals the whereabouts of a hidden treasure in the dungeon
86-00 The skull lies

The Whispering Skull appears in the adventure Tower of the Star Watcher.

Techniques and Mechanics

  • Wandering Monsters
  • Song Lock
  • Curse of the Faeries

Be silent – or the troll comes for you

Whenever the players are noisy, they risk attracting monsters that may attack their characters. If they do not act and play quietly as their characters would do when moving through caves and grottoes, they will allow the GM to use wandering monsters against them.

Place a cup or glass on the table and have a collection of counters, dice or crystals ready.

Tell the players that their noises are reflective of the noise their characters make.

Whenever a player is noisy or makes a noisy activity (dice clattering, a chair creaking, a bag of chips rustles), you grab one of the counters and put it into the cup. Make sure the PCs see it. Allow the players to whisper loudly without being penalized (unless they overdo it), so that you still can hear them, when they are planning things or talking to you.

Whenever a certain number of objects are in the cup, a roll on the Wandering Monster table is triggered. Then empty the cup and begin collecting again. A fitting amount might for at start be 5 counters, and then you can increase or reduce the amount as needed.

Certain actions are pure and simply noisy. Combat with weapons and armor banging against each other, people yell in anger and fear, and magic roars through the area. Whenever combat begins, just add a single counter to the cup and allow the players to speak freely.

Sing Friend and Enter

The magical stone door is hardened through enchantments to resist most attempts to break it or force it open, and yet, there is a simple way to open the door, that may confound most adventurers. It is known as a Song Lock.

Etched into the surface with silver runes is an ancient song, and merely singing the text is what is needed to open the door, however the players must sing the text. For each being wanting to pass through the door, it must sing the text written on the door. Give the players a simple text to sing, and have them sing it together to open the door. Until it is sung, the door does not open.

A variant of the Song Lock appears in the adventure Tomb of the Dragon’s Heart.

Faerie Curse: Bound Tongue

The Knights of the Flower are champions of the faeries, and they master both the art of combat and magic. Their task is to challenge mortals, and to do that, they must master many different arenas, not merely combat using sword and lance, but also riddles, puzzles and magic.

The Knights of the Flower are encountered in the Hinterlandet woodland adventures – to be translated and published later – and among their abilities is the curse Bound Tongue, they often use when they challenge mortals to solve riddles.

The curse is tied to a specific word, and every time the player uses this word, their character suffers a bloody slash on their tongue, as if an invisible knife had cut it in punishment. The DM keeps an eye out for the words, the player uses, and every time the player speaks the chosen word (which might be ‘sword’, ‘initiative’, ‘but’ etc.), the character suffers 1 point of damage or 1d4 points (dependent on which version of D&D, you are playing. Up to AD&D 2nd edition it is suitable with 1 point of damage, and from 3rd edition 1d4 points of damage is typically suitable).

The curse is lifted, once the puzzle is solved, or if the Knight of the Flower is satisfied with the adventurers’ actions.

Hinterlandet (The Hinterlands) adventures contains more of these meta-play elements using sounds and voices, and more examples will appear in later adventures.