One needs a stone from each of the Portal Towns and arrange them in a circle. The well will need an element from 4 Elemental Planes. If it isn’t Earth, Air, Fire, Water as the 4, word is the Well will turn strange but others say it will be strange no matter what.
Add something from the Far Realms for spice (and distance). The Well will need a guardian bound to it so that nothing comes from the other side of it when planes are in alignment and boundaries are thin. Once you have that, you’ll have your Well of Worlds…
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.
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.
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.
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.
Trundle rolled a fairly high perception roll looking at the Demi-Plane of Dread’s Mists and so he could see that they were not natural but manufactured and also malevolent.
“Let’s take our time and get to Sigil by walking through the Shadowfell to Gloomwrought – enjoy the market there, purchase magic items with our fortune and not be on the Lady of Pain’s clock for a while…”
Their friend, Tefnek, a Ranger from Chult, is with them. Their pterodactyls are in a cart/pen on a mule-drawn cart.
With the Staff of the Forgotten One, Bugwump’s Arcanna rolls are always amazing. He rolled 27 to know more about the Shadowfell and so I told him what I knew of the Despair that can infect travelers and a bit about undead being prevalent, home of the Raven Queen – blah blah blah. The roll is so high, though, I told the player I’d answer questions later as they came up.
When Kuru heard about the Despair, he bought some joke books from the Vistani.
They travelled away from the Domains of Dread and towards the Shadowfell. When they were exhausted, they came upon a hill above the mists, a waypoint for travelers. Already camped there were 4 Holy Knights of the Raven Queen, know as the Raven Queen’s Consorts, they are undead hunters.
They were very intrigued to hear that the Sigil 6 had killed the First Vampire. The quartet of holy knights, Chatham, Corax, Podum and Morpha (I went to the Raven Wikipedia page and chose words that seemed like they’d make cool names). They had been tracking Lord Soth across the Shadowfell, where he was riding with his posse, recruiting new allies.
Players’ Addendum (Jusko’s Player): My favorite part is that while you’re orating a tax report, and Flodier and Kuru are trying shadow puppetry to make your story seem more dynamic, Jusko is boosting Trundle to engage in some light vandalism and he’s totally into it. We’re 15 year olds with magic lasers.
(Helewynn’s Player): “My favorite part was the entire kerfuffle that occurred after Helewynn just outright told the knights that they had killed Strahd, and then there’s 20 minutes of back and forth bickering in front of four stunned black knights who continue to feed them increasingly better food, and then Bugwump magically pukes on the black breastplate. I5 year olds with fresh tattoos and magic lasers.”
DM’s Note: Bugwump puked on the breastplate because Bugwump’s player describes the Frog-Kin Wizard’s spellbook as being glands on his body and so his spell descriptions are often biological in some way. The vomiting was a Non-Detection spell, leading to some amazing back and forth about Frog-kin society and vomiting as a ritual act.
Jusko discussed having Lord Soth’s breastplate, having found it in Strahd’s castle. He admitted the breastplate seemed to want him to devour life from others. When Kuru ribbed him about having it, Jusko admitted wanting to enter Gloomwrought with an ace up his sleeve, something to barter with.
They got to a bridge from the mists, over a bottomless shadow chasm, leading into the Shadowfell. The bridge was fortified by towers inhabited by Shadar-Kai. The knights were to be given free crossing without paying and insisted, upon hearing from Trundle that the Sigil 6 had killed Strahd, that they told the tale.
“How do we know you are not a Dreadlord, trying to escape?”
“Because we are he Sigil 6 and we just killed Strahd.”
When they were crossing the bridge, all of the Shadar-Kai, fully cloaked and veiled, were gathered to hear the Tale of Strahd’s Slaying. Jusko told them that Helewynn had run him through and so Helewynn told the tale. Elves sworn to the Moon have some kinship to Elves born in shadow, I thought. And so, on a bridge above a bottomless chasm, a Moon Elf Barbarian told the Death of Strahd in High Elvish to Shadar-Kai.
Helewynn told the tale and asked Jusko to show Strahd’s signet ring, which he did. An old Shadar-Kai crone approached to verify and she yelled, “TRUTH!” in her Shadowfell dialect of High Elvish to the crowd, who gasped audibly.
DM’s Note: Let me stop for a second and say what I loved about this scene. Jusko’s player set up Helewynn’s player and Helewynn’s player set him up right back. The picking up of the signet ring was something Jusko’s player talked about doing; there was no real reason for Helewynn’s player to take notice but they did remember that detail and used it to make another character relevant in a scene. It was players awesoming up other players. To me, that is what good play is – bolstering others at the table.
Helewynn did not roll high on the Performance roll, even with Advantage. They still believed her but in the legends to come, there would be huge misunderstandings and misrepresentations of what really happened.
I rolled an 8 and a 2 for the first encounter and had a 4e character who was a Raven Queen Paladin, so I used my idea for that character to flesh out these knights.
I wasn’t sure how to take them out of the Mists, so I rolled a 9 and a 6 and immediately thought of a Shadar-kai toll bridge. I have more thoughts on this and will seed those in the next session.
It was a low-key game; I was feeling low energy but I loved what came out of it.
Next Game: Jusko’s player suggested the Shadar-Kai give their Moon Elf cousin a gift for her tale. Love it. We’ll start there next game before heading into the Ygoni Valley.
What do you think the Shadar-Kai should offer Helewynn as a gift for telling them about how she killed Strahd?
More Actual Play posts about the Thursday Night Delving Club’s shenanigans? Links Below:
This tome was compiled by Strahd over the years, keeping track of Gloomwrought, through the reports of his messengers. This was the place he reckoned would be his first stop when he escaped from the Demi-Plane of Dread’s clutches.
Allows for 3 rerolls when seeking out lore or understanding people embroiled in power struggles on the streets of Gloomwrought or finding people or Powers in the City of Midnight. Describe how Strahd’s writings on his messengers’ reports explaianed this aspect of Gloomwrought.
This tome was written by the infamous Frog-kin Arch-Mage, concerning being a cross-planar conqueror.
Allows for 3 re-rolls when you are seeking out planar lore or understanding beings who are attempting to conquer the planes.
This tome was written by the famous monster-hunter who has killed monsters in many domains of Ravenloft. This tome was procured by Strahd so that he could better do battle with Azalin Rex.
Allows for 3 re-rolls when you are seeking lore concerning liches, demi-liches, necromancers on the path to lich-dom or their catspaws and servants.
When the pandemic had just begun my friend got the flu. We had no idea if he had covid or what that might mean. As everything closed down, I called him and asked if he needed me to grab something from the pharmacy or the grocery store and leave it on his front steps. He said, “No, I’ve got that covered. Could you run a game online?”
“Damn right I can.”
That was more than two years ago and we’re still going. We played Trophy Gold for a while and had an amazing time. Then we started with Five Torches Deep and eventually settled into D&D 5e. Character descriptions and links to our AP blog posts are below.
Who are they?
Most of the team met when the Lady of Pain sentenced them into the Maze, a kind of otherworld prison sideways to Sigil. The group was in there for 15 years until the Lady of Pain pulled them out and asked them to serve Sigil as an Outlands Expedition Team, defending imbalances in the Outlands. The team is ambivalent about their mysterious and otherworldly patron.
A human fighter sent to the Maze for banditry and murdering his squire; he was guilty as charged. Nowadays he’s a glorious jumble of honor, bravery and love for his friends.
DM’s Notes: Hajek was the family name of Drew’s character in our old Burning Wheel game; it is a nice tip of the hat. The Hajek family is burning there in the background.
Some of my favorite of Drew’s decisions is when he uses Hajek to highlight the greatness of the other characters.
Bugwump is a crotchety, frog-kin wizard. When the campaign began, it seemed like he had been put into the Maze for petty reasons but then John mentioned that Bugwump had been an Arch-mage with an eye towards deity-hood and conquest who had his powers stripped when he was sent Maze-ward. It was suggested to Bugwump that perhaps he is only a clone of the powerful Arch-Mage he remembers and that thought still haunts him.
John does cool stuff in making Bugwump’s magic very amphibian and unique through his descriptions.
A Dwarf Ranger who makes arcane carvings out of wood, eschewing his stone and iron heritage. The Holdfast where he was raised was besieged by Abyssal forces, a detail I haven’t delved into nearly enough. Trundle took up the holy symbol of a Dwarven priest of portals and became a Mist-Walker while in Barovia.
DM’s Notes: Trundle isn’t a power-house in combat but Teo boxes clever with him and he often pulls out the wild card that ends up saving the team.
A Halfling Rogue (Arcane Trickster) who took the fall for a heist gone wrong. Sometimes Kuru has lots of heart and other times he ends a problem with a ruthless backstab before it can escalate. The town where he was raised was a kind of ninja-enclave.
While in Barovia Kuru earned the nickname, Kuru Heartbreaker, after destroying Strahd’s crystal heart artifact with a Wand of Lightning Bolts.
DM’s Notes: In every group there’s that one character who will jump on a dragon’s head to try to get at the dangerous beast’s eyes. Kuru is that character; Anthony is that player.
Helewynn joined the group later, an elf (Eldadrin) Barbarian who serves a moon goddess. She has her own strong ideas about honor. Her rage in combat will become stuff of legend and her comrades benefit from her totemic Wolf powers. While in Ravenloft, Helewynn became a werewolf, an honored caste of soldier among the Moon Goddess’ people. The werewolves, wolves and dire wolves of Barovia refer to her as the Queen of the Moon. Helewynn delivered the fatal strike against Strahd.
DM’s Notes: B is new to D&D and makes great outside-the-box combat decisions that are always interesting and fun. When I ask B a question about Helewynn’s thoughts on a topic, the response is always delightful.
Corpseflea (from Five Torches Deep: Origins) Grave Cleric who has left the body of a dead thief deity and is currently inahbiting the body of a flesh golem made by an angel in Ravenloft (shit got complicated and strange). Failed Soldier Shepherd has taken his desire to usher souls to their destinations when they have died. The Corpseflea has helped refugees from a dead world mourn the death of their home. Failed Soldier Shepherd inhabited the body of a dead God of Thieves from a dying world, giving the Sigil 6 access to the Godroads; now he inhabits a flesh golem made for him by the lost angel of the Morninglord in Ravenloft.
DM’s Notes: All of these characters are delightful surprising thanks to the wonderful player choices but Shepherd is a particularly odd one. Not only because he’s a mote of consciousness who can inhabit corpses but because J players them with complicated soul.
What has the Sigil 6 been up to?
Book I: Starting in Sigil
In which we get our feet under us in the Outlands…
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.
The players didn’t come out with their realization that Divast was in fact, Garl Glittergold in illusory disguise until the last minutes of the game. When Helewynn offered him half a muffin, he called it, “an offering,” a slip that Jusko noticed. Failed Soldier had a piece of Gnome-tech from Dosk, allowing him to see the spirits of the dead. During one of Divast’s many (many) temper tantrums, he seemed to be talking to a spirit of the dead and throwing them away. Why would he be doing that?
“He seeks to unite the tribes and peoples across Chult as best he can. Dacaad has placed tablets in all of Ubtao’s deserted holy places, with a litany about what he needs to do to apologize to the people of Chult for abandoning them.”
In which the Sigil 6 find Acererak’s Soul Jar, hidden near the Eye of Vecna – also Lord Soth gains power and a gaggle of necromancers gain the resources they need to make wealth management plans so they can start thinking about saving for their retirement.
I did a few things with the Facebook group to get some details and flesh some things out. I made a poll with a bunch of masks for characters to wear during the festival. Some chose from the choices, others made up their own.
And I asked questions to get into the spirit of heading to the Demi-Plane of Dread.
Jusko – Your family’s ancestral lands neighbored ancient Barovia. What was the Hajek family’s relationship to the cursed von Zarovich clan?
Helewyn – How do you (or your Goddess) feel about lycanthropes who change shape with the full moon?
Kuru – What do you remember of the nomadic Vistani people who would stay for a season near the shire you where you were raised and trade with your family?
Trundle – What was Trundle’s first brush with the darker parts of the forest, where sun never penetrates the canopy and fell beasts hunt the weak?
Bugwump – What had you uncovered about the Demi-Plane of Dread when you were an Arch-Mage?
Failed Soldier – What does your religion’s parables say about the First Vampire, Strahd, a great warrior whose fell deeds drew the attention of fell powers?
Not everyone answers but the answers I get I use. It led to a good discussion about the Vistani and not wanting to punch down in our depiction of them. Those who didn’t answer in type I’ll ask “face to face” over Zoom at the next game; I forgot to do so tonight.
Basic, ask questions and use the answers stuff but having a digital home for the game makes asking the questions easy.
Trundle got into the spirit of things, wearing a Devil mask and doing a public carving celebrating their last adventure, carving a triptych of hobbits upon dinosaurs out of a piece of wood the size of an elephant.
Anthony described Kuru wearing a kind of rosary beads that Vistani would recognize. I told him that in Barovia the gods are Mother Night and the Morning Lord. Perhaps the beads are Mother Night’s stars. He met an old woman and had his fortune read. I dropped some game details as per the module.
Kuru specifically asked about allies, which is part of the fortune telling in the book. I offered a few – a Mad Mage near Mount Bartok, an undead knight in his old order’s keep and the people they would meet upon arriving, could be allies, if any survived. “Your arrival will be covered in blood. I doubt any will survive.”
Bugwump took what the woman said very seriously, having known about the Demi-Plane of Dread from his Arch-Mage days. He sought out an arcane historian and learned that Strahd was the First Vampire and is a capable wizard in his own right. He also learned that Strahd seeks out Tatyanna because she is a capable Planar Arcanist who could help him escape his prison.
Kuru visited the tenement building the Vistani were staying with in Sigil and learned that *DUN DUN DUN* /dramatic music Mother Eva had been dead for a week! He had been visited by her spirit. It was a nice way to wrap up a low-key game.
I’m looking forward to getting into Ravenloft just as Autumn approaches. Our next game isn’t for 2 weeks, a friend at the table pointed out that we’d be heading to Ravenloft as Halloween approaches, which is fun.
The group is flying south, following the souls of their first guides, found out to be Zhent spies, being sucked southward by the Soulmonger, Acererak’s creation. A gnome with tech gear allows them to track the spirits.
Activate Indiana Jones travel-red-line!
They are flying on pterodactyls, their guide is a merchant prince’s sister, Tefnek. I rolled a herd of pegasi and so she followed them to a safe valley.
“Pegasi are a safe bet; I like to follow them to find a good place to camp for the night. This valley is solid – a pack of t-rexes cover the southern entrance and some ancient ward I didn’t see on the way in must cover the north.
“In a few days we’ll reach The Heart of Ubtao, a holy site of floating earth where priests once went to have visions. It might be an auspicious place to keep tracking the path the souls are taking.”
The Lady of Pain expends most of her energies making sure no one attempts to gain power within Sigil. She has spies and allies in the Outlands and beyond, making sure the planes do not become imbalanced in a way that could spill out across creation and endanger her home – the City of Doors, where gods are banned from entry.
The Outlands Expedition Teams were put together as a way to counter those imbalances and forge friends between Sigil to the planes. When the teams return to Sigil, they sit in a forum, held in a plaza near the community where they live and discuss the outcome of the mission. This allows the community to interrogate the teams their taxed gold supports and allows the varied
Teams are called upon to think outside the box and adapt their approach based on the mission-at-hand but often, an approach rises to the surface.
Mazers | A team brought out of the Labyrinth, serving the rest of their sentence in service to the city that imprisoned them.
Spies and Diplomats | Sometimes a more subtle and nuanced approach is necessary.
Watchdogs | Other times you have to cut off the arm to save the body.
Scouts | Some places are so dangerous all the team can do is look, assess and report back.
Scholars and Librarians | The planes, its inhabitants and the way they evolve need to be catalogued.
Mercantile Opportunists | Others see the planar scales as nothing but a way to make some gold.
As long as you find your way back to Sigil, you can live a modest lifestyle for free. Your housing is paid for by the city and no one in the City of Doors would force an Expeditioner to pay for a meal or a cup of tea.
In Sigil, if you make a CHA check to find someone, you always roll with Advantage. You are well known in the City of Doors. This Advantage also applies on a mission if the city officials have had time to put assets in place to support the team.
Before a mission, city officials will ask anyone who has lived near or studied the forces at work. The team will have access to people who have on-the-ground knowledge of the forces causing or effected by the imbalance.
Specialty gear can be asked for to help support a mission. Time is often of the the utmost importance but Sigil is a good place to find things.
The City of Doors has doorways to everywhere and anywhere if you know the right key that opens the right portal. It might take some doing but if an Expeditioner needs to get somewhere, they should be able to get there or somewhere near it if they are willing to get the right elements necessary to make the key the portal demands.
City Clerk | Official, a bit cold and businesslike but also staking their career on this team’s success or failure.
Retired Expeditioner | Someone who once went out and get things done in the trenches; often opinionated on the best approach for a given mission.
Faction Leader | A philosopher who wants to see their faction’s point of view reflected across the planes.
Labyrinth Priest | A minotaur priest who worships the labryinth, an idea that our choices ring out across the planes and sustain reality.
Box | A Rogue Modron, still dedicated to order and setting the planes just so.
Cynic | They have been in Sigil too long and only see the problems, none of the beauty. Will likely be adopting a doomful philosophy.
Those who try to find a pattern to find the best paths of life and fate that make for a successful Expeditioner or what blend of people from what backgrounds makes for a good team have come up with nothing concrete just yet. Still, factions will argue about it in cafes and taverns all over Sigil.
Basher | Folk Hero, Knight, Marine, Mercenary Veteran, Soldier
A few years ago I wrote some notes in a notebook about the Godroads. They were pathways from shrines to temples to cathedrals taken by the gods. Whispered prayers could be heard on the wind. In the D&D houserules-turned-game I had notes on how players could become deities and the Godroads would be available to them. I think of this project as:
In our last session, the players were tasked with stopping a feud between a trio of gods, the last survivors from a dying world. Their characters were caught in a battle between a toad-wizard-god and a bandit-god. They killed one another; the players helped them along.
Jesse is playing a corpseflea, a nifty and delightfully strange heritage from Five Torches Deep’s Origins sourcebook. We skipped a week and so I totally forget that last game, Jesse told me that he was going to transfer into the body of the dead bandit-god.
Holy shit. As they left the Portal Town of Xaos, Jesse’s character noticed a portal that had not been there, behind the traveler’s shrines on the way into town. And so the players discovered the Godroads.
Baska’s elf’-barbarian navigated the roads through faith to her moon goddess.
When it became clear that the Mists of Ravenloft were infiltrating the Faery party the players were looking after in an attempt to snatch the sun and world being born (the party was celebrating the birth) the players talked to the party’s host. With the Fey Queen’s permission, they took the stone and the sword that represented the sun and world being born and headed into the Godroads, Demi-Plane of Dread hot on their heels. That is where the game ended.
I thought about what might live in this place, what the ecology of a place so alien might look like. I don’t need to create a whole eco-system but I wanted the encounter tables to hint at such a thing.
I like having this written up a week before the game. Having these to daydream on allows me to use them as more of a menu. I can roll when I want a surprise and choose when I have an idea. There is an eco-system inferred here. I think there were griffons once upon a time but they were domesticated and so now the manticore are running a bit rampant. Angels probably get together with paladins and sphinx and go Manticore hunting from time to time to clear the roads up.
Are unicorns and manticores and sphinx bog-standard D&D monsters? Yes, absolutely but I’m hoping but jamming them together into a series of secret roadways used by gods will give them new context. If I want to spice them up I can add a little planar conditioning and roll on the table below to see which plane(s) have had an effect on this particular herd or pride.
The group was sent to the Labyrinth for 15 years by the Lady of Pain. Teo asked a really interesting question, asking the players if they thought it was a fair sentence based on their crimes. During that fascinating conversation I found out that the Frog-kin wizard, Bugwump, was far more powerful a wizard before being sentenced.
When I rolled an Arch-mage encounter, I asked John about Bugwump’s rivals and Cret, lizard-person/saurian arch-mage was born. I role-played him as cloying fake and the players hated him right away. Kuru, the hobbit thief, cut past his wards with his magic knife and stole some books from Cret’s camp. His black robes have twinkling stars on them and every so often a shooting star launches across his arcane raiment.
Now we have a new rival, Arch-mage Cret, Saurian Wizard, and his apprentices.
They never saw the manticore but did see an angel fly overhead, delivering a message from some deity. I’m thrilled the Godroads made it out from the notebook to the table. I hope we get to learn more about them.