Sigil 6 Questions

Sigil 6 Questions

On the Indie RPG Reading Club community, a friend private messaged me a few questions about the Thursday night Sigil 6 game and I thought the questions were so interesting I asked if I could post them here along with my answers.

Sigil 6: Outlands Expedition Team title card

Did you intend every expedition to end up at a gate town? How did you envision “keeping balance” as the core mandate?

I didn’t intend every expedition to end up in a gate town. I figured it would be all over the Outlands and beyond. I envisioned that keeping balance would be largely determined by the players making decisions through their characters and that would be problematic, which is fun. They are serving a mysterious entity called the Lady of Pain. They probably know that, while they aren’t the baddies, this is a strange way to make a living.

I also wanted to be able to turn things I was using that use D&D I.P. into DM’s Guild products when I wanted to. I thought I’d have a support PDF for the adventures I’ve played but it didn’t work out that way.

Sigil 6 Subject Divider

How much time did you spend in Sigil? Was it just the denouement when factions argued over their actions?

We haven’t spent much time in Sigil – a few tweener adventures, especially as we’ve jumped into a few larger adventures through the big hardcovers (Tomb of Annihilation and Curse of Strahd). I’m probably the only one but I never liked the philosophical factions in Sigil. There is a philosophical vibe but I never mentioned the Sigil factions and the players never brought them up.

Despite that, when the characters got back to Sigil after months of in-game and out-of-game time away, it still kinda felt like home in a strange way.

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If you had to do it again, what system would you choose?

Great question. 5e is the okay-est system. My indie RPG friends who play it often sigh and say things like, “Yeah, 5e, its fine,” so often it feels like the game’s official tagline. Tell me what other system I can run with 6 enthusiastic players who show up to EVERY session every Thursday night. Librarians (public and academic), unemployed folk looking for a mid-life career change, government employee/single parents, a pharmaceutical engineer who has several bee hives for his own honey and they make time every Thursday to play this silly/amazing game. We could’ve maybe done Old School Essentials but then I wonder if I would’ve had an easy time using the mainstream adventures…maybe I would’ve pivoted to OSE adventures instead. OSE is the only other system I can think of. The Bingo XP makes it a viable game for me.

6 gamers over Zoom…I reckon I’m sticking to 5e. I also like that recently a few friends have gotten 5e gigs, so it is nice to be able to play in Ravenloft and it will be nice to see the Sigil 6 deal with the worlds in the Radiant Citadel. On one hand, I would rather support indie RPG’s than make Hasbro’s shareholders more rich. On the other hand, I don’t owe anyone shit and will play whatever my friends and I decide to play.

tl;dr I think I’d stick with 5e.

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Planescape is something I’ve tried to come back to A LOT. But it’s hard because few people I play with care for it like I do. I think this OET concept could be a way to drip out the lore. All they need to know is Sigil, and we start there, spreading out to the outlands (tame) to some place like Limbo (way less tame) even to a quasi-elemental plane or something.

I also really love the concept of coming home and basically defending your actions. Feels like a mission debrief in a police procedural, except I’m envisioning green demons in togas next to gnomes, each arguing different points. In my head I want to tie THIS part to xp and advancement somehow.

I’ve always been fascinated by Planescape but thought that the game promised in the boxed set is never the one I hear people talking about. I almost never hear folks talking about the Portal-Towns around the rim of the Outlands or the Outlands themselves or the way the characters’ actions rippled out through the planes. The Outlands Expedition Team is my attempt to get to that game with a strange premise.

What you are imaging, concerning the mission debrief is exactly how it goes. It has become a really fun way to celebrate other players and think about the adventures. The characters are coming up on 10th level and it feels appropriate that they are becoming adventuring rock stars now. They killed Strahd and thwarted Acererak.

At this point, I really hope we take it to 20th level. I’d love to be able to get that Gamer Merit Badge. More than 30 years playing these games and I’ve never taken a D&D game from 1st to 20th. I think we’ve go the momentum to do it and hope the scheduling holds up and we get there together. That’d be a fun landmark to hit and I think the premise has room to evolve and mutate to get us there. I can’t wait to find out what the game looks like at that level. I am excited for every session.

Or…as some folks say, “Is it Thursday yet?”

Dread Domain Detectives Illustrated, Session 0 – All the Pieces Matter

Dread Domain Detectives Illustrated, Session 0 – All the Pieces Matter

Skull and bones header
Dread Domain Detectives Illustrated

A new thrilling crime tale
from the casefiles of
Talis and Viktor!

the Arcane
side by side w/
the alchemical!

On the cold, learnèd streets of Ludendorf

from the team that brought you Sons of Kryos!

the most

Arcane Science!
Forensic Science!

as used
by the 

Getting together with Jeff and Storn to catch up last week was lovely. The conversation turned to gaming. Storn has been gaming regularly (Stonetop and a project he’s playtesting) and Jeff hasn’t gamed in a few years. I pitched a idea that I’ve been sitting on for a while – pair of investigators in an Investigative Guild in Ravenloft – Gothic Fantasy Horror Crime buddy-action-flick and they were in. A week later we got together to make characters and talk Session 0 stuff.

Kranev Investigative Guild

Jeff said something about being mad science-y and Storn spiked that volleyball set with an idea about one being mad science and the other being arcane magic. It was quickly apparent that Lamordia was the domain There’s 2, maybe 3 pages of material about Lamordia in Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft and there’s a sweet map. That is about perfect for us.

I talked about keeping my trap shut about grand theories and ideas concerning Ravenloft’s true nature, thinking that we’d get plenty of mileage out of Lamordia before we started looking into those kinds of greater mysteries of the nature of the world around them. I tossed out the idea that maybe their first case was a murder at Strahd’s supper party but they want Strahd to be a myth to be met (or not) later. Thank goodness; I like what we ended up with much better.

Was the chapterhouse of their investigative guild a bustling and established branch or a haunted closet above a pub or a worn down mess? We went with a worn down mess; they are the only investigators and there is a House Chamberlain, Artem Aviet, missing an arm from a wound taken on the job as an investigator. On the drive home it occurred to me that Artem rides a bicycliopede to work.

Victorian bicycle from pixabay.

Starting at third level for a few reasons – it allows me to not fret about killing the characters. Also, it means they had a case or two already. Discussed options and took it a step farther, going full hit points at every level so I can really lean into the monsters and not worry much about an awkward total-party-kill.

Immediately started discussing the past cases.

Case #1: The Inspector General of the Ludendorf Constablery, Mathias Vimmer, went missing and the case is not closed.


His Second-in-Command, now acting Inspector General Leopold Kandel, who doesn’t like them (also the brother of…more on this later)

His Ex-Husband, Lukas Kronecker, professor of biology

His daughter, Robin Vimmer – ??? who is she?

His Nemesis, unnamed as of yet, who was on a prison hulk when Mathias went missing.

Case #2: High-end burglary, using science and arcane skillsets. They got the suspects, the Shallows Gang, off. Jeff rocked out with the name and details about the gang being named for the street they prowl, where the city’s first cemetery had been but flooding kept washing away bodies. Sometimes today, floods still unearth bodies that were missed and not moved. Recent thought, the cemetery was moved so it could be better fortified against corpse-thieving anatomy professors at the local university.

Standing Stone

Saint Ezra in the mists. 
Standing stones like this one from a farmer's field outside of Ludendorf can 
be found all over Greater Ravenloft, depicting Saint Ezra in tasks from his 
gospels or more obscure and even heretical depictions.

The Bluetspuri War – there is a war in a faraway land. When soldiers return they have uniform scars on their heads because there is a disease in that foreign land and the medicine has to be administered through the brain cavity for some reason. The Bluetspuri War, in the craggy, surreal lands of Bluetspur, where mountains are said to be as large as gods and no one can quite agree on what the Bluetspuri are like or what makes them seem inhuman.

Why Dread Domain Detectives Illustrated? Because Storn always draws while we game (see below). Today he was taking notes but I can’t wait to see him rock out again. CLICK HERE to hire him to create art that embodies your character(s) or hire him to stuff your book with amazing art.

Talis Arsalan is Storn’s character, whose dad remarried into a Vistani Clan and runs a merchant caravan. He’s an immigrant to Lamordia and his ladyfriend, Larissa Kandel, is 8 months pregnant. She was in the war, from a military family, 95th Infantry (Ranger). Her all military family is not a fan of him about now.

We agreed Talis has a good relationship with his step-mom.

Viktor Aubrecker is Jeff’s character, is a cousin to the ruling family of Lamordia but he’s far away from any throne, 17th in line. Maybe he’ll go Rogue; maybe Artificer or some blend. His family is not happy that he let his scoundrel friends con his betrothed out of money, soiling a profitable match for the family. Rich kid turned rogue scientist – thinking about Perdido Street Station‘s Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin and his fringe-science-buddies in their warehouse apartment. Viktor’s nose is still crooked from when his father broke it. His sister is in university and they get along.

A beloved auntie knows Celia Kranev and put a word in for him. Celia hired him to get the Ludendorf Chapter House running again as a branch of her Investigative Guild.

I’m going to read up on Insight, Investigate, Perception and Persuasion – so when/if I make some changes it will be from an informed place. Discussed this and some options, confident that we’ll find houserules that work for us. Can’t wait to show them Bingo XP.

I’ve got a few half-written tables for creating cases and a few ideas on some strange jobs related to the Investigative Guild. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein on audiobook is ready to roll after I’m done with War of the Worlds.

I have been daydreaming about what kind of case to write up for the first game and I think I’m going to go with classic noir trope mixed with betrothal contracts among Lamordian noblity, “I believe my husband is cheating on me and will pay you to prove it…”

Writing notes now, can’t wait.

The End, with human/bat skeleton, wings fanned out.

Does my threadless shop have a Goth Collection? Yes.

All Shadows Lead to Gloomwrought, Session 12, Back in Sigil

All Shadows Lead to Gloomwrought, Session 12, Back in Sigil

All Shadows Lead to Gloomwrought / Session 1s: Back in Sigil

In which the Sigil 6 get Kuru back, make a Wish and get back to Sigil.

Who are the Sigil 6 – Trundle, Helewynn, Bugwump, Kuru, Jusko and Failed Soldier and what have they been up to?

Sigil 6 Subject Divider
  • Kuru was mind-controlled by an aboleth, The Dweller in the Lightless Abyss. The Halfling Arcane Trickster failed EVERY roll to escape the control. He told the ancient cthonic beast that his friends had killed Strahd, so the Dweller sent him back, still mind-controlled, “Tell them you broke free and I will send instructions soon.”

  • Meanwhile the rest of the Sigil 6 cut a deal with the Drow Inquisitor, which is to say, she’d walk them out of the city and they wouldn’t kill her. They found Kuru and got to getting the Shadowfell-stranded villagers through the Old Githyanki Gate to Sigil.

  • They quickly realized something was up with Kuru. Trundle wrestled his Luck Blade away from him, so the aboleth wouldn’t have the Wish. Kuru went all Gollum on them and ran away. Trundle used the wish to free his friend. The Luck Blade is now just a blade but they are going to keep it as a trophy.

    When Kuru got free of the mind-control, his player described him falling over in relief. He had a brief, strange interaction with the Lady of Pain, who I always narrate without words, just gestures that communicate plenty.

  • The team journeyed with the villagers to Jusko’s abandoned ancestral home and handed it off to them, “You will owe me rent after 20 years but if I die, the land goes to all of you.” Bugwump sent the apprentices he was teaching the Fire Bolt cantrip to Wizard College on his own dime. Fun.

  • Post adventure community tribunals are a fun way to go over the adventure. Killing Strahd was a big one and so, rather than meet in a plaza, they gathered in a public amphitheater. Bugwump lost his composure, raising his voice and turning an aggressive shade of purple when folks tried out some moral relativism concerning, “Was it right to kill Strahd?” The wizard is now on a committee to help discern when exactly someone is a monster.

    It was fun to get everyone’s take on the past months of gaming. It felt like returning after a long mission away. Jusko took Tefnek, their ranger-friend from Chult and Quarace, their Drider city-agent, aside and offered them coin, letting them know that their efforts saved the lives of the Sigil 6 and they were members of the group now. After Jusko’s disdain for their previous agent it is an interesting change of pace.

  • For the record, Helewynn spent her time in Sigil eating delicious food, which we had decided was tasteless in the Shadowfell. We all agree Sigil cuisine would be exquisite. Helewynn’s player is going away on an exciting trip for a time, so we’re going to take on a different mission before heading to Gloomwrought to deal with Rahadin.

DM’s Notes: Felt like we put lots of threads to rest in satisfying ways. In a way this was the session when Curse of Strahd really felt over.

Next Game: ???

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DM’s Academy question about originality

DM’s Academy question about originality

I remain fascinated by the DM’s Academy subreddit and post there a few times a week. The following was popular:

So I'm working on some history for my world and I get this great idea. My players are finding these objects of unidentifiable ancient magic, and I wasn't sure what they were for yet. Then I thought well they're solving these draconic riddles to reach the objects, maybe they're like seals placed a thousand years ago by a dragon cult to seal evil dragons away in the earth! Cool! Dammit, that's basically Skyrim. Still doing it.

What do you do when you realize your idea is too close to a book/movie/game? Roll with it? Scrap it?

My answer, with a shocking 100-something upvotes:

Fuck originality.

It will become original through the amazingly imaginative things your friends do in response to it all and the game and your decisions in the moment as the dice add their element.

Don't sweat it. Unleash your friends on it.
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The trick is not being ashamed of unoriginality and twisting on it until it is, in fact, something quite fresh and new. It doesn’t take much. Let’s play with such an idea that I was daydreaming about in the car today. Let’s play with, daydream about and twist on the idea of the Dwarven Mining Company. I have a pinterest board dedicated to the premise; it has been in the back of my mind somewhere for years.

Dwarven miners….not original at all. Okay, What organizes them? We’ll use the Burning Wheel dwarven lifepaths as inspiration – again, using others’ work – not original. We could futz with those in charge of the company but let’s drill down a bit, so to speak. Who are those dwarves who dig the tunnels, who have slate and mud in their beards?

Yes, the game will be about the scouts who descend into untouched subterranean vistas and leave markers for the miners and tunnel-diggers. In a perfect world the scouts would leave markers for a good spot for the miners to make basecamp and organize the tunnellers, tunnels would get sunk and gems, gold and the occasional mithril would vomit forth. Let’s make the world less perfect. That is how we create Situation.

The scouts are being forced into an area their grand-sires avoided for centuries; the mining company is hesitant but also greedy. Someone is putting pressure on them. Who? The Prince of the Holdfast is putting pressure on the company to attain riches. Why? Hm.

The Prince is in debt…to necromantic bankers from the west. Cool. Let’s keep an eye on that, make sure that evil bankers don’t take the shape of any antisemitic tropes.

What are scouts watching out for on a good day? They are making sure the tunnels don’t run afoul of any trolls. Maybe there are stories of dwarves who delved too greedily and too deep and awoke a demon (NOT original); the scouts are watching out for that.

Me, being me, I want giant spiders to show up. I’d probably have the first session have the scouts run into troll refugees running from what they say is an army of giant spiders. They are desperate enough to head into tunnels that everyone knows has sleeping dragon or balrogs or something the grand-sires spoke of in fiery hushed tones.

Maybe I don’t even start that dramatic. Maybe it is just competition with a rival mining company that wants these unclaimed tunnels for themselves, throw the trolls and the spiders in later after we’ve created some context and gotten a feel for the tunnels.

Either way, it starts unoriginal and then you push on it and twist it and think about points of view you’ve never seen in fantasy novels or never seen in the way you wanted them to. By the time the players make characters and the dice hit the table, the idea will gain a fresh point of view. All we have to do is get over the shame of being unoriginal.

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All Shadows Lead to Gloomwrought, Session 11, The Execution of the Drow Job

All Shadows Lead to Gloomwrought / Session 11: The Execution of the Drow Job
All Shadows Lead to Gloomwrought / Session 11: The Execution of the Drow Job

In which blood is spilled at a spirited Doors of Fate gaming table and Kuru disappears with an Aboleth.

Who are the Sigil 6 – Trundle, Helewynn, Bugwump, Kuru, Jusko and Failed Soldier and what have they been up to?

Sigil 6 Subject Divider
  • From the start this kind of felt like a Blades in the Dark job. Jusko’s player made it feel even moreso by suggesting that they lure the target Matron Mother they had to kill to a poker game. What? Love it.

    We bought in and pivoted. The players at the table were an Aboleth in a containment tank (yes, inspired by the Guild-fish from Lynch’s Dune) named the Dweller in the Lightless Abyss. I quickly looked up Lich names and saw with Harthoon, Ambassador to Orcus. Decided the local Drow Inquisitor was a gambler too and so Jaelryn, High Inquisitor of Embrae was born. And of course the target, Matron Mother Hloima of House DeVir and her consort, Guldor (all from this page of Drow names).

  • We talked about the game we’d play for a while and came up with Doors of Fate, a tiles game where each tile was a door and the palaces those doors were in were like the suits. Rules changed if you had actually been to the palace in question.

  • The Dweller in the Lightless Abyss was the only one who noticed Kuru was cheating, trying to give more hands to the Matron to cause a fight at the table. After some telepathic banter, Kuru tried to explain fun and having a good time through a game to the ancient and cthonic psionic beast. It did not understand, so it mind controlled Kuru. They tried to break the psionic grip but couldn’t do it.

  • When the fight eventually broke out, it was the lich, throwing a Disintegrate spell at the Matron’s consort, which he dodged with a Nat 20. After that, shit got real. The Lich threw a Cloudkill in the room. The Matron tried to open a gate but Bugwump dispelled it. I described the gate starting to open, the Matron’s soldiers and assassins ready to jump through when Bugwump cast the Dispell, lashing the gate with their tongue and swallowing it.

  • The Dweller in the Lightless Abyss mind-controlled the Matron’s consort, who opened a Dimension Door for the Aboleth to escape through. Kuru went with them through the door, trying to stay and finish the mission with his friends but failing another Wisdom save. The Lich had Dimension Door’ed out, calling the whole lot of these living folk dicks and saying the game had sucked (I used the Rich Lich from the Monsters of the City supplement).

  • After a brutal amount of damage, the Matron went down and the demonic spider-tank she had summoned was Banished, against by Bugwump (MVP of the game).

    In the end, it was only the Inquisitor and the group, looking through the sickly green Cloudkill gas at one another. Kuru had gone through a Dimension Door with the Dweller in the Lightless Abyss, under the creature’s mind control.

    “Let’s talk,” Bugwump said.

DM’s Notes: The Drow Matron Mother from Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes is one bad mamba-jamba. Dag.

Running lots of high level NPC’s is rough but not impossible, having good book examples and DnD Beyond open for quick spell look-ups.

I like that the game we made up was called Doors of Fate and so much of this fight was the opening and closing of dimensional and arcane doors. Will All Shadows Lead to Gloomwrought? Will they even go to Gloomwrought at all?

Next Game: A tough conversation with the High Inquisitor of Embrae after assassinating a Matron Mother right in front of her.

Sigil 6 Subject Divider

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All Shadows Lead to Gloomwrought, Session 10, The Drow Job Prep

All Shadows Lead to Gloomwrought, Session 10, The Drow Job Prep

0All Shadows Lead to Gloomwrought / Session 10: The Drow Job Prep

In which Kuru finds trouble in a Drow kitchen and the Sigil 6 prepares for the job.

Who are the Sigil 6 – Trundle, Helewynn, Bugwump, Kuru, Jusko and Failed Soldier and what have they been up to?

Sigil 6 Subject Divider
  • Quick game tonight, had to cut it short to get a few professional things done but still, a fun session.

  • Kuru’s player was missing last week so he came in and found out about the team getting involved in assassinating a Drow Matron’s rival Matron. He decided he wanted to know more about the political landscape and everyone goes through the kitchen. One failed Charisma roll later (drawing inspiration from Burning Wheel’s Circles roll) and he had a shadow-sword to his throat, having found a Shadowblade Assassin undercover in the gate-fort’s kitchen.

    Trundle caught the assassin trying to get through the gate back into the Drow city of Eambra. He prayed to the God of Gates and I asked for a Wisdom check. 20. Okay, but let’s make it a low-key miracle. The assassin ran into a group of courtiers just on the other side of the gate, giving Trundle a shot at him. He grappled the Shadowblade and held him down until Failed Soldier could drag them both through the gate, back into the Shadowfell. The assassin Shadow Stepped away but the gate-fort’s guards caught him just outside the walls.

  • Had fun with the Drow thinking Kuru was a child and not a Hobbit/Halfling/whatever. As the Matron said, “My grandmother always said it was good luck to have a Halfling in the kitchen. I thought she was being superstitious but I guess she was right.”

  • We’re figuring out how the group wants to jump on this assassination. I’m looking at a Blades in the Dark technique, where we start in the midst of the job, roll some dice to see how it is going and get after it, rather than sit for hours of planning. We’ll get to it next week.

Next Game:

Sigil 6 Subject Divider

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All Shadows Lead to Gloomwrought, Session 9, The Old Githyanki Gate

All Shadows Lead to Gloomwrought, Session 9, The Old Githyanki Gate

All Shadows Lead to Gloomwrought / Session 9: The Old Githyanki Gate

In which the Sigil 6 agrees to do a bloody chore for a Drow Matron for use of the Old Githyanki Gate that her House currently controls.

Who are the Sigil 6 – Trundle, Helewynn, Bugwump, Kuru, Jusko and Failed Soldier and what have they been up to?

Sigil 6 Subject Divider
  • They knew there was a gate up north due to Trundle’s scouting; also, it threw a blue light on the dark Shadowfell horizon. Keeping low so their flying steed’s wouldn’t show their silhouettes. Bugwump could tell that the gate had been created by Githyanki but had been abandoned (Githyanki frighten Bugwump!) and used by many different folk over time. Now it is owned by House Vandree, an innovative Drow house that owns a port city of the Underdark called Eämbar.

  • Failed Soldier made a roll to see if any previous Outlands Expedition Teams had left any signs carved into a tree. Perception roll was solid and so yes, someone had a symbol carved into a tree that let them know something was buried under the tree. They found a small chest with a scroll written nearly a century ago by Doro, a blue Dragonblood Outlands Expedition Teamster, “You probably want to get out of this dark shit-hole. There is a gate nearby; carve the keystone like so and it will take you to Sigil.”

  • They approached on foot, sending their friends back with the flying steeds and quickly ran into a Drow scouts led by a ranger on a giant spider. Language problems abounded, making things awkward until they got to the castle where the Captain Firin Falquan spoke common from her experience as a surface raider. She sent a message spell to the House Matron who was away.

  • Jusko played his noble background up and presented himself as a Prince of House Hajek. His family had claimed a young world that Hajek had written his family name on in a previous adventure. They are known as a cross-planar power. I rolled to see if the Matron knew of them and she did. Jusko gave Caita, a wizard courtier, a piece of wax with Strahd’s signet ring.

  • This was all kind of awkward and slow-going. The House Matron Melectix wanted to meet them beyond the gate in her citadel but the party wasn’t having it. Once Strahd’s signet was tossed out, the Matron met them. Failed Soldier (Passive Perception 28!) noticed that someone was near her who was invisible.

    We went back and forth a bit. Jusko tried to ask for reparations if the Devil bounty hunter had come through the gate and tried to harm them. Veiled threats were made concerning the werewolves and Bugwump’s half-trained wizards. Eventually, the Matron offered a deal: Kill a rival Matron who is a guest in her city and she will allow them to use the gate, changing the keystone for a time. “She is evil and you are all renowned monster slayers. You’d be doing the worlds a favor.”

  • When offers like this are made we have to step out of game and have interesting conversations. Are the players interested in this job? Does it sound fun? Are the characters interested in this job? We talked it over and folks were interested.

    I made it clear that I hadn’t planned this and if they decided not to do it, my intricate Lego Drow City wouldn’t become useless after hundreds of hours of work. “There is no Lego Drow City,” I made clear. Talking it over, we decided to do it and that’ll be the next session. The Sigil 6 will kill one Drow Matron for another Drow Matron in order to get the villagers to safety faster.

Question of the Week

Most weeks I put up a question in the Thursday Night Gamer’s Facebook Group.

As we approach the northern gate that is lighting up the Shadowfell’s sky with unearthly blue light…

Dark Elves, the Starless Elves, the Drow.

What has your character heard about the elves of the Underdark who worship the Demon-Queen of Spiders, Lloth?

It need not be true.

Kuru’s Player

They lay spider eggs in the bodies of sacrifices to their Queen

Trundle’s Player

There are hybrids of elves and spiders that live in the deep. Since tunnels take effort, they are not centaur-large, but rather scorpion-sleek pit spiders.

Bugwump’s Player

The are the sad detritus of a once-fashionable demonic transformation craze.

Failed Soldier’s Player

Their Demon-Queen claims their souls, out of greed or for some useful purpose, who knows? This seems counter to the typical elven patterns. There are rumors of a faction that seeks to free the Drow from this fate.

Jusko’s Player

“Listen, I have had three mugs of Invisible Sasha’s Barking Vodka, it has made me devilishly handsome and a sage of all things, I will tell you vhat you need to know about Drow. First, they are all from space. No, I mean it, they live in the lands between the stars. The only difference between Sha..Che? Shoodoo Kai elfies.. yes yes Kuru.. the ones at the bridge, and ‘Drow’, is that Shoobie Dars Elves stayed in space. Space hermits. Worse than mountain hermits, if vou ask me. Air pressure thing.”

Another mug later..

“Leezen, ven Elfs get angry they become Drow. They get angry, they cook in hate’s oven, they go to space, they became Space Elves that ride giant fukking crows, and zen they come back here and are Drow. And then they fuck spiders. No it IZ true, Hellewyn. You come from the moon, how vould you even know?”

A few mugs and a sitar raga for bar fights later..

“Leeeezen, Trundle, this iz impotent. HA! I am drunk. This is IMPORTANT! Drow cheat at cards. They uze spiders to sneak a look at vhat you have and zen they cheat. My Uncle Vors Lost THREE boats in this way. I AM holding up three fingers, you can’t count in Common. Everybody know – dwarves only count in dwarfish. Vors! Smart uncle, mebbe second smartest uncle. He would only play cardz vit Drow on very sunny days because spiderz have terrible eyes in bright light, like the old or fascists. ASK ME HOW I KNOW, Kuru! I know thingz! I had a life before the Maze. Big important life.”

Closing time, his jacket missing for hours, a smear of lipstick on one cheek and drying barf on the other, and Wheatonesque levels of bed head already setting in. His breath is keeping him away from candles.

“You not body me after I die tonight Flo-dor. Am certain to die, yes. NO, no it is not drunk. Speaked of space elves before that misunderstanding with the Aboleth at the bar. She heard EVERYTHING, will tell all her friends. It -is- Anoleth. Barkeep called her Sheila – classic Aboleth name, and Aboleth and Drow? Forever friends. 4 evah. Word already spread, contract sign, assasins outside already likely. Pine box for us, at last. Any things that keen on many arms? They have club. Guarantee. Big door handles, need five hands torque meenimum. And secret knock! Have to knock more times than we can because many arms! Foolproof security. No way to mimic that. Genius. GRELL. Not Aboleth, Grell. Sheila classic Grell name, stupid Grell, need better cover story than ‘celebrate birthday alone and then cry’ NICE TRY SHEILA NO ONE HERE BUYING THAT SHIT. Not sad, bad lie! Grell can’t lie, everybody know that. Indecision loop – mostly brtain, bad design, basically floating neurosis with stupid beak. Fucking Sheila. Bad as cheating spidersexed space elves. Why is room spinning? DROWCURSED! My savings throw, it does nothing. OW The floor BIT ME. I will hold it, you go get city watch, this floor is under CITIZEN ARREST.”


Helewynn’s Player

Helewynn regards a drooling and snoring Jusko. She watches him for the span of 10 breaths, and then lets her gaze travel across the sleeping forms of the rest of the party.

She sighs heavily and whispers to the night sky, “Nonsense. All nonsense.”

Helewynn smiles, a secretive expression meant to be seen only by the stars burning silently overhead. “The dark cousins, they cannot turn to the left.”

Next Game: The Drow Job!

Drow Dagger
Sigil 6 Subject Divider

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All Shadows Lead to Gloomwrought, Moments in Actual Play…

All Shadows Lead to Gloomwrought, Moments in Actual Play…

All Shadows Lead to Gloomwrought / Moments in Actual Play…

In which we look at a few moments and decisions in the game, considering the techniques at hand.

Who are the Sigil 6 – Trundle, Helewynn, Bugwump, Kuru, Jusko and Failed Soldier and what have they been up to?

Sigil 6 Subject Divider

Let’s look over a few moments in the game and think about choices made. I’ve marinated on these for a while and want to think about them a bit more.

The moment below is from Session 2 of this arc, The Zombie Mob.

  • While Helewynn, Kuru and Failed Soldier took flight to scout out the mob, Trundle, Bugwump and Brinne forded a river. I asked for a DC 10 Survival check and Trundle failed the roll. I decided that meant Trundle didn’t see zombies under the river’s mud lying in ambush. It was less of a failure and more of a complication due to a failed roll. Trundle and Bugwump made quick work of the zombies before they could ever attack. Bugwump’s spell seemed to create some kind of localized black hole (what was that spell?).

Trundle is nearly 10th level at this point. Maybe having him roll to ford the river was a mistake. I didn’t want him to fail to ford the river. In this case, I was using the skill roll to tell me if the greater power controlling the zombie mob (Orcus) had set up a trap beneath the river. If Trundle’s skill roll was good enough, he’d get the carriages ove the river without a problem. The roll becomes less, is Trundle a skilled enough Ranger to get carriages across a river and more of a, Hey, I’m not sure how thoroughly the villain has riddled this area with undead in the Shadowfell. Let’s let this roll tell me what I don’t know.

Even without 7-9 results from pbta, rolls don’t have to be telling you simply, “Is this character skilled enough to pull this off? YES OR NO?” The rolls can unveil things in the setting that you didn’t know were there. Now the table knows that Orcus is an ancient and fell power who leaves cache’s of undead to use centuries later. Cool, cool, cool, cool. Good to know.

As the DM, I don’t have to know everything. Sometimes the dice surprise me and tell me something cool and Trundle’s mystique is untarnished. Yeah, crossing a river is easy but crossing a river in the Shadowfell while the Demon-Prince of the Undead’s gaze is upon you after you and your friends killed Strahd and then announced it to the worlds is not.

Context, Cool Shit and Consequences at all times.

A meme to hammer the point into our brains and then on to the next!

Jason Mamoa (THE DICE) sneaking up on that guy who played Superman (THE PLAYERS’ IMMACULATE PLAN). The frequently ignored follow-up when they embrace and smile (THE CHAOTIC SURPRISE FOR EVERYONE AT THE TABLE).

This moment is from Session 8, The Bounty Hunters.

  •  Trundle, Dwarf Ranger and Kuru, Halfling Arcane Trickster, made their rolls. Trundle came from a dwarven holdfast that was under siege from Devils. I asked him how one could tell when Devils were about to attack – he said that you could always smell the sulfur coming from the stones. Kuru said that he often has a sixth sense before an ambush; I said that for some reason it reminded him of the law coming down on his crew after a heist.

Perception rolls are failed by everyone at the table but 2 characters. Cool! I ask them why they know a Devil attack is about to occur. Even better because Trundle’s character’s back-story is that he came from a dwarven holdfast, Underhome, that was under constant siege from Devils. I’ve been wanting to use that for ages and ask Trundle’s player to flesh it out for me.

Kuru’s criminal background seems perfect for sniffing out an ambush, especially when he is usually the Ambusher and not the Ambushee.

It took two minutes and got added background I can use later if I want to tell those characters something, even without a roll if a failed result isn’t interesting to me or if the would-be-ambushers flub their roll or aren’t good at their trade. Or if I just want to put them in a spot.

“Kuru, you are getting that pre-ambush feeling; it is like a dagger in your skull.”

“Trundle, you know this prince is a Devil under a guise. You can smell it. What do you do?”

Back-story isn’t a process that ends after Session 0. It continues as the players learn about their characters. The stress-testing of adventuring will teach them things about these creations that they didn’t know and asking them questions will help everyone learn more about the cool shit they’ve made up (including the player, who might not have considered the question).

Sigil 6 Subject Divider

For me, good gaming has blank spaces, filling those spaces in with our friends is what it is about – whether those blanks are filled through the rolling of the dice or asking questions, as happened in the above examples.

If you have any moments where the dice told you something interesting that you did not know or where asking the players questions was rewarding, please share them in the comments if you’d like.

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All Shadows Lead to Gloomwrought, Session 8, Bounty Hunters

All Shadows Lead to Gloomwrought, Session 8, Bounty Hunters

All Shadows Lead to Gloomwrought / Session 8: Bounty Hunters

In which bounty hunters attack the Sigil 6 from the darkness.

Who are the Sigil 6 – Trundle, Helewynn, Bugwump, Kuru, Jusko and Failed Soldier and what have they been up to?

Sigil 6 Subject Divider
  • The town is camped with the merchant caravan, to the east runs the Salt Road, to the north, somewhere in the forest, a portal bathes the dark horizon in blue light.

    The party was looking over magic items, deciding if anything was worth purchasing with the gold they grabbed from Castle Ravenloft. I asked everyone to make a Perception check before the oncoming ambush. Trundle, Dwarf Ranger and Kuru, Halfling Arcane Trickster, made their rolls. Trundle came from a dwarven holdfast that was under siege from Devils. I asked him how one could tell when Devils were about to attack – he said that you could always smell the sulfur coming from the stones. Kuru said that he often has a sixth sense before an ambush; I said that for some reason it reminded him of the law coming down on his crew after a heist.

  • The crossbow bolt hit one of Bugwump’s Firebolt Apprentices in the chest. Kuru and Jusko failed their saves and were unable to see for a round. Then Bugwump was hit with a crossbow bolt/lightning bolt that paralyzed him for a minute. It was a rough opening salvo. Things were looking grim.

  • Three things happened that turned the tide of the battle – Failed Soldier hit Bugwump with a Lesser Restoration and Helewynn Misty Stepped to the tree-line where Failed Soldier had noted the bolts were coming from. Helewynn lit up her firey blade, a beacon for the rest of the group. Trundle tracked down on the invisible Devil bounty hunter who had gone invisible.

  • Turned out it was an Orthon (bounty hunter to Archdukes of Hell), a Deathlock Mastermind (undead warlock) and Shadar Kai Shadow Dancer (stealthy elf with chains). The party turned the tide, killed the Deathlock and hunted down the Orthon; the Shadar Kair surrendered.

    Orthons usually will themselves to explode when they are close to death but Bugwump knew this with a 28 Arcana check and hit the Orthon with a psychic attack that left it reeling. Then Jusko beheaded it with his vorpal blade, leaving the Devil’s Brass Crossbow and Infernal Knife.

  • The surrendered Shadar Kai’s name is Halda of Gloomwrought, where she had been hired by the Devil. Turns out, the Red Court of Innistrad has a bounty out on Helewynn’s head. The dead apprentice’s family sought Bugwump’s guidance in how to deal with Halda. In the end she was given to the Squires’ custody to see if she could earn her keep on the roads to Gloomwrought.

    The fact that the merchant caravan’s guard captain is a vampire has not escaped the Sigil 6’s notice.

DM’s Notes: I tried using my Context, Cool Shit and Consequences note sheet and it was alright. I’ll post the sheet when I’ve used all of the material there. Honestly, what works for me when trying to come up with ideas is the ole, looking through the Monster Manual, or in this case, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes.

Sigil 6 Subject Divider

This week the Facebook Group question was:

The goat-head the zombie was holding told you all the eyes of Orcus are upon you and after defeating the latest zombie mob, you can feel this more than ever.

What has your character seen or felt that makes them think that Orcus is watching them with intense interest?

Kuru’s Player

Usually when you look out into the darkness and see the reflections from the eyes of animals in the darkness they shine back a bright white…when Orcus is using the creatures to spy on them, the reflected light is a blood red.

Jusko’s Player

You’re not supposed to be able to read in dreams. Scribbles, or blurred entries, or even books of blank paper betraying their gold bound leather clad covers are the rule. Jusko, a not-uneducated man, knows this and takes some comfort in it: No matter how dark his dreams descend he never again has to suffer the pages under the withering glare of House tutors. There is that, at least.

Until the f’ing Shadowfell.

Now, his boyhood tutors return – Dame Magda the Sword of Crones, and cataracted Uncle Aram the eyeless overseer of the lectern devils – grin too wide in maniacal glee when once-again young Jusko opens his primers and words appear for him to memorize and sing back in plainsong.

And as if this wasn’t torment enough, the words themselves are nightmares:

I am Orcus, and I will rut with your ancient ghosts as you tread my lands with your insipid toed feet. Their minds break under my weight. Your dead will never know you again.

I am Orcus, and have laid my hand upon your organs, your get will be birthed with my mark forevermore. This is repayment for the foul droppings and excretions you leave dotted across my domain.

I am Orcus, and I will break the thundering drums you name as Hearts and Lungs and Blood. It is deafening and obscene to me, and I will put those instruments inside out. My domain shall be one of silence eternal, a law writ in your entrails for all to see.

I am Orcus, and your words to Soth are meaningless wind.

I am Orcus, and I know the sound the boy made when your knife opened his liver to the air.

I am Orcus, and your lifelong lies are poetry.

I am Orcus, and I see you clearly, like no lover nor mother ever has.

I am Orcus. And I am coming.

The books cannot be closed, and the Hajek boy cannot wake up. The Library grows, the threats double in number and putrescence, then triple, then factorial into time bowl-warped by the ineffable collapsing star that the thing Orcus orbits. It will not let Jusko awake, It will not let his sleep be restful, It can be heard laughing as thunder, Its fingers spread closer like shadows – formless, massless, but present and unavoidable, all is hopeless all is -*

Failed Soldier’s Player

Failed Soldier does not sleep. They have learned to lie still for several hours to help others feel a bit less creeped out…maybe. During the times of quiet reflection, they feel a probing, prodding, and tugging at their essence, as if something is trying to find a way in. Since the latest zombie horde encounter, this has become more pronounced. To try to learn more, Failed Soldier put all thought into that point of light or force or whatever it is that is their self. This returned a vision. Their essence a shiny orb, being gnawed on by a goats head. Watching over this with dispassion are a raven and the eyes of the angel who made Failed Soldiers current body.

Next Game: The portal to the north is in need of some exploring.

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All Shadows Lead to Gloomwrought, Session 7, On the Salt Road

All Shadows Lead to Gloomwrought, Session 7, On the Salt Road

All Shadows Lead to Gloomwrought / Session 7: On the Salt Road

In which the Sigil 6 save a merchant caravan from a zombie mob.

Who are the Sigil 6 – Trundle, Helewynn, Bugwump, Kuru, Jusko and Failed Soldier?

Sigil 6 Subject Divider
  • It was a slow start tonight. Jusko’s player missed last game and I had said he had a common Shadow Flu, in which one’s shadow tries to kill them. It was quickly deemed the Shadow Shits, a nickname for the sickness, turning it into a shadowy poop joke. 😛

    Jusko’s shadow asked him to go into the Mists and take over Barovia and Jusko was having NONE of it. With a few Shadar Kai War Corvid riders, they met back up with the rest of the Sigil 6. Kuru started a conversation with the Shadar Kai riders about their strategies in fighting a dragon.

    “We run.”

    “But what would you do if you saw us getting attacked?”

    “We’d help those who were running.”

    Kuru is now discussing turning a cart into a mobile ballista platform.

  • They found a magical Cudgel of St. Cuthbert, a girdle dedicated to Kord, god of Storms and Strength and a mirror with a cityscape across the border. Kuru quickly used the mirror to scry on a thief ally from Sigil and watched him play a tile game with the thief’s grandmother. Trundle took up the cudgel (+2) and the Girdle of Kord (21 Strength). I need a way to make up magic items and treasures on the fly. I got inspiration for these on this table:

    Shrines in the Outlands
  • Failed Soldier had the 3 Who Are 1’s skull, the 3 skulls of the cursed paladins, fused into one undead abomination skull. He used his shiny new spell, Legend Lore and learned that the 3 siblings gained the attention of the Shadow-God Triumvirate that made the Demi-Plane of Dread. They put a bounty on their heads and Vecna, at something called a Lich-Moot, took it up, cursing them for their hubris in hoping to bring light to the Shadowfell. The 1 skull will become 3 again if it is blessed by three angels.

    The Three Who Are one
  • I asked Helewynn how she was getting her werewolves together. She described taking the out for a run a bit ahead of the caravan and I rolled to see what there was to see and there was a merchant caravan getting attacked by a Zombie Mob.

    Shadowfell Encounters
  • Helewynn described the werewolves putting pressure on the zombies to give the almost-overwhelmed caravan guards some breathing room. I wasn’t sure what to roll for that. Drew described how he uses the D&D skills and so we asked Helewynn what her approach was and we decided Survival was the skill to use for her approach.

    The battle with the mob started off rough but Trundle shielded Failed Soldier from a rough crit, Kuru let loose with his wand of lightning bolts and Jusko came across with an attack from the back of his pterodactyl, Stupid Dragon, using a Fighter power that got the zombies’ attention and got them to concentrate their attack on him.

  • Failed Soldier looked among the caravan for undead and they quickly discovered that the guard captain was a vampire. Captain Simon was Gloomwrought-born; the caravan is heading to a Shadar-Kai citadel to the south.

    I rolled on a table in the DMG that I wasn’t wild about and got a Wand of Magic Missiles, a Ring of Water Walking, a Staff of the Adder and Pipes of Haunting. The group is deciding if they want to purchase any of their arcane stash.

Sigil 6 Subject Divider

DM’s Notes: This week I posted the following in the Facebook Group: “Things in the Shadowfell are strange. What has your character noticed in this land of undead, darkness and shadow? Strange dreams? Shadows behaving strangely? Sad thoughts of home?” The players responded with the following awesome and inspirational stuff:

I think Shadowfell trees bloom in black – fragile purple-black flowers, inkwet black leaves in summer, autumnal leaves blowing in the wind like scattering fibers of scorched mummy wraps – both particulate and weave somehow.

Player of Jusko

I think the autumnal imagery is a constant; despite a cycle of “growth,” the season always seems like late fall, when things are dying. But there is no winter to prepare the world for spring. Bugwump has started to notice the sameness of things: temperature, “sunlight,” the unmoving shadows with sharp edges. In fact, his own shadow has started to unnerve him, because every day it seems more separate from him.

Player of Bugwump

Failed Soldier’s Dreams, or the equivalent for those who do not sleep, are full of ravens cawing and looking intently at them as if to convey some truth that lies just out of reach.

Like Bugwump, they have noticed something odd about their shadow. The bright spot in the shadow that can often be seen by those who notice things, a common telltale of a corpse flea is shifting. For Failed Soldier, this has always shown in the head of the sleeve’s shadow. They have not seen it move, but notice it from time to time in the chest, the hand, sometimes nearby, but separate from the sleeve, as if it does not know where to nest.

The cycle of decay and rebirth is strange here in the Shadowfell. Like the town, many things are not complete. Nothing seems new, yet nothing really decays completely either.

Player of Failed Soldier

The Shadowfell food is bland. No matter how many spices are added to it everything ends up tasting…grey. Like shadows. Helewynn has started to eat less and less, and started to sleep a little more. Because her dreams are colored brilliant shades of red, and filled with the tastes of raw meat and iron rich blood. In the morning she turns away from whatever breakfast is offered with a wistful sigh born of half remembered phantom feasts of flesh.

Player of Helewynn

I need to use this good shit in game.

Next Game: Deeper into the Shadowfell – I need to spruce up the random encounter table. I also get to lore-drop some shit that is happening in Gloomwrought that is a direct result of their actions and I can’t wait…

Ygoni Exodus Map
Sigil 6 Subject Divider

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