You tried to kill Strahd and you failed. Now he has broken his prison and is free. Chase him across the Shadowfell, where the adventure might lead us into Gloomwrought, Sigil into the Hells or the Far Realms. We will venture beyond the Curse of Strahd and together we will find out if you can prevent the curse from becoming a plague.
Expect a player-driven fast paced chase through the planes.
How Will Character Creation Happen?
Characters will be 10th level, made before the game and we will link the party together during our Session Zero in which we will outline what happened during our fictional run through Curse of Strahd.
Pre-gens will be available.
What Will the Players Need?
Web-cam and mic are necessary. A good understanding of D&D rules and mythology is preferred. Players can roll dice online or use their own dice at home.
A burning desire to destroy Strahd is needed.
What Will I Bring?
I will bring a map of the Shadowfell, factions for Gloomwrought and Sigil and a vision of Strahd as a driven villain with his own nefarious goals.
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.
Failed Soldier (Floldier)
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 has taken his name from the last body he inhabited and has helped refugees from a dead world mourn the death of their home. Failed Soldier 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 Failed Soldier 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…
The team shamed the Red Wizards into dealing with every other puzzle room. They dealt with a room with anti-gravity and a whirling death fan. Two of the Red Wizards died and when the anti-gravity ended it rained death down on their friends. Kuru the Halfling Rogue subtly mage-handed the magic items on the dead wizards; it was a good haul.
Having smart NPCs handle 2 of the puzzle rooms was a fun way to speed it up. I made some rolls on their behalf to see how they did. My disdain of some parts of this adventure were made known to my friends.
Then they jumped into the room with the Godling and the Soulmonger, the engine that Acererak was using to make his own death god. The Soulmonger was held up by Adamantine struts. Cut down one strut and the engine falls into the lava below. I secretly hoped that Jusko’s vorpal sword would cut down a strut.
They dog-piled the Godling. I forgot lots of stuff in the room that would’ve made he fight harder. It was still fun, still felt epic.
Before they entered the final room, Trundle the Dwarf Ranger did the math on the nearest Godroad; it was a hundred yards from the opening of the dungeon back the way they came.
While everyone else was killing the Demi-Lich’s Godling, Trundle was poking around the balconies and found a portal to an altar. And there was a doorway to a Godroad. They had an exit plan. Nice work.
At one point Bugwump the Frog-kin Wizard made a HUGE Arcana check on the Godling and realized that Acererak would arrive within a few rounds of them killing it due to a spell on it. I rolled a d4 when the Godling died. 3 rounds.
Jusko the Human Fighter, Helewyn the Elf Barbarian and Failed Soldier the Corpse-flea Grave Cleric were doing their best on the struts but not having much luck. Then Jusko talked to his word and beseeched it to do its old head-lopping job (what Drew said was way cooler). Nat 20. Boo-ya.
They ran out the fading door to the Godroads just as Acererak arrived, screaming in frustration. – mission accomplished.
They earned a boatload of levels on the Bingo Board. 7 levels to be divvied up among the party.
We’ll do some fun downtime during Sigil’s carnivale/Mardi Gras-style mask party holiday. I’m going to make up funky carousing rules based on what mask they choose to wear.
Then we’re off to the Demi-Plane of Dread, where a neighboring Outlands Expedition Team went on a mission and went missing.
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
The players are an Outland Exhibition Team (O.E.T.) operating out of Sigil. O.E.T.’s are city-funded adventuring parties that head out into the Outlands and restore balance to situations that arise there. When they return they sit down with the community where they live and discuss the philosophical and moral implications of their choices.
“I just want to point out that outsiders entering a community to restore some idea of balance is colonial nonsense that is harmful to the world.”
“Do you attend every O.E.T. community discussion to say this?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Fair enough. So noted…”
I rolled up the adventure and mapped out an outline using the Trophy Gold incursion structure (more on that in a future blog post). The players were heading to Xaos, Portal City between the Outlands and the Ever-changing Chaos of Limbo to stop a god-feud happening there. Gods from a dead Prime Material World were feuding and causing problems.
I decided that there was a rival group of assassins known as the God-killers on their way to Xaos to kill the feuding gods. I wasn’t sure of much else about them. Would they get there first or show up later to heighten the tension? Not sure.
I rolled on the Encounter Table for their first day of travel.
Lost Souls…Dead Adventurers. I think my encounter just told me that the God-killers are dead.
INTERESTING. I did not see that coming.
The gods heard about them and panicked. They set aside their differences for a bit, made sure they were killed and then went back to their in-fighting. If the players find out that they set aside their differences once, they can figure out how to get them to do it again.
It also was a nice way of giving an info dump because assassins who call themselves the God-killers definitely did their homework.
One of the God-killers was a Tiefling and asked Kuru the Halfling Thief to burn some incense at the shrine to Asmodeus back in Sigil. Love it.
For the next day, I rolled a 12.
On the third d6 I got a 6. The dragon is taking treasure. Cool. But from who? I rolled again. I could’ve chosen but I was curious to see what the table would say.
Merchants. Makes sense. More simple than a dragon mugging an angel but sometimes simple is good.
I described the players arriving to a one-inn town with a merchant caravan leaving as a thunderstorm began. The players noticed right away and asked the inn-keeper why they were leaving into a storm. She told them that the caravan had a delivery that was time sensitive (what was that about? I’m still not sure and I’m not sure I ever will be) and so they left despite her warnings. She said that the storm wasn’t natural and they were leaving into doomful circumstances.
The next morning as the players were leaving, lightning-scorched survivors from the caravan were in the common room, talking about how they survived a dragon attack the night before. The blue dragon had attacked the caravan and pillaged its treasures before flying away.
I decided the rest of the journey went by without a hitch. I roll every day or two of travel.
Why did I roll these encounters? There weren’t any fights.
That is okay. Friendly and neutral encounters are fine. We’re into our third session. It fleshes out the world. I get to learn about what the characters are like.
The players could’ve gone after the caravan and talked them into staying. They could’ve decided to hunt the blue dragon. For now it is just color.
Sometimes I roll. Sometimes I choose. Sometimes they players sprint headlong into a brewing situation that has nothing to do with the oncoming adventure. Sometimes they hang back and smoke a pipe in the rain, under the eaves of the inn. Sometimes the players’ actions make something on (or off) the table obvious, so the encounter for that day is taken care of. Sometimes they get the jump on the encounter and other times they encounter will get the jump on them. It all depends on the circumstances and what the fiction demands.
I’m not calling them random encounter tables anymore. They’re Inspirational Encounter Tables.
After 4 hours of play we’ve got one level. They decided to give it to Bugwump, the frog-kin wizard, whose spell slinging was key to the group’s success in their first job in Keymont.
On their way back to Sigil, I rolled Godless Pilgrims. I decided they were refugees from a dead world, killed by warring gods. They had hired holy knights from the Outlands to guard them on the last leg of their journey. I rolled Ioun, so they were arcane knights. When the thief, looking for an opportunity for another score, asked how they had paid for these leal bodyguards I said that they had done so by giving books from their world, the last of their kind.
The corpseflea is a neat option from the Five Torches Deep Origins supplement. It is a death cleric and is helping the pilgrims to say last rites over their world, first talking to them about their world. “How do you say last rites over a world?” is one of the coolest things I’ve gotten to say while gaming in a long time.
The group met when they were all sentenced to the Labyrinth. Now they are an Outlands Expedition Team, officially sanctioned by the Lady of Pain, heading out to deal with imbalances that crop up around the Outlands. We’ve been using some flashbacks to strange things that happened while in the Labyrinth.
“I remember when we got attacked by that Bear back in the Labyrinth and Trundle talked the beast down. Trundle should talk to the town.”
How is the Bingo XP Variant?
I like it. It is a little slow so far but I think it’ll speed up with a few levels all in a jump. When bingo is called, I’m keeping any chips that are in another line that is in motion already.
I like it and like coming up with new ideas for bingo squares with the group. I wonder if the XP will speed up as we get better at coming up with them.
Having the jamboard where I keep the bingo card also be where we keep character art and NPC names might help us all interact with it more.
It is coming together as we make it our own. Next game will be our first full session in Sigil. We’ll carouse for three days and then have a community discussion about the expedition to the Outlands. I want that philosophical vibe that the original Planescape boxed set promised. Essentially, that’ll happen by the community that hosts the O.E.T. (Outlands Expedition Team) gathering to discuss the morality of their decisions in an open forum. Discussion
And then we’ll pick the next expedition.
Five Torches Deep is a fun and fast D&D variant. If I had to run D&D, it is what I’d use, without a doubt.
I’m using Moldvay reaction table with Charisma adding to the roll when it makes sense to do so. I’d imagine the way I’m using the proficiency checks is very Apocalypse World-y. When the halfling wanted to know more about the knights guarding the pilgrim, I asked the player to roll a Charisma check to see what they noticed. When they rolled successfully, I told them to ask questions about what they wanted to notice during the interactions and I’d answer them.
Need to be careful about that, don’t want those cool questions to get in the way of players questions should be asking all of the time.
I realize now I’m using stats as different types of perception, rather than just using Wisdom. Charisma as a kind of social perception? I dunno. Hm, we’ll have to discuss that and make some decisions together.
I’ll go over the characters in the next post-game AP post. It is an odd group but I don’t have trouble finding the humanity in them and I dig that.
I have no idea if tonight’s game is going to work. It has been a minute since I’ve played a d20 D&Dish game. We’ll see! Thank you for giving this a shot with me.
Planescape was this cool setting where the game implied in the boxed set was this city at the center of all worlds and the players take part in these oddly philosophical factions as they venture out into the Outlands and adventure. The adventures in the Outlands were supposed to ripple out into the rest of the planes of reality.
It seemed to me that NO ONE PLAYED IT THIS WAY. Everyone was excited by this city and ended up being a bodyguard for a dwarf crime lord with fire for hair or doing security for an ogre opera house. I dig that but I’ve done my faction-minded fantasy crime saga stuff already. So, I’m trying to play it this way. – into the Outlands.
When folks go out into the Outlands in our game everyone knows. Word gets out. It is DANGEROUS out there. You could get dragged to hell – literally dragged to hell. In our game there is no money nor fame to be made in Sigil. Real fortune is made in the Outlands (and of course we’ll visit Hells or Heavens or Elemental Planes of Fire as needed). The cool thing about Sigil, the City of Doors, is that you can get anywhere from here. If you are interested in a world you learn about on your adventures, opening a gate is something anyone can do if they are willing to expend the will and time to do so.
When you get back from your adventure the philosophical factions will gather in a plaza near where you live and debate your actions with you. No judgment, just a spirited debate on how this made the planes better or worse. It is a big event. Everyone gets dressed up.
When you want to find a portal to another world, sit down with your friends and figure out everything you all know about this place and how you learned it. Consider your sources. If anyone you know might know more, invite them to this palaver.
Names, anything made in that place. Lay it all out on the table. Where in the planes are you guessing this place might be? Make a map of the planes as you understand it and put your guess on the map.
NOTE: I’m not saying sit down and make up a place. I’m saying you must’ve heard of this place in-game. Sit down and discuss that before heading through the portal to otherwhere.
What do you have that could be a key to this place?
The DM will saying, “Sure, you could try to get there but…”
your guess as to where this place is in the planes is a little off, you’ll end up somewhere dangerous but nearby
you need more lore about this place, you’ve heard X knows about this or has info on it
you need an item/spell/artifact made from this place, in the Outlands, there is a place that you can get more
you need more items made from this place, it is going to cost you a devil’s ransom in gold
someone else in Sigil or beyond wants to go there too and you’ll need to pool your resources to open the portal