Friday, May 18, 2018

Character Concepts: Planescape pt 1

The following character concepts may be of limited use outside of Planescape (or, at least, a campaign in the outer planes), but some could be adapted easily enough to prime material settings. I hope to provide one for each of Sigil's fifteen factions. Part 1 describes four such characters.


The Burned Lady (N/half-elf/ghost) - Believed to have been a priestess of Aoskar who burned to death during the Lady of Pain's destruction of the god of portals, Athar clerks claim to sometimes encounter this apparition deep in the book-filled catacombs of the Shattered Temple. She appears as a translucent figure in a tattered but elegant blue gown, wreathed in a perpetual, incorporeal flame that lights the dark passageways she wanders. 

Those who work the deep stacks claim to find tomes (always relating to legends of godslayers and their methods) pulled from the shelves--their text marked with corrections singed into the vellum pages. Factol Terrance believes that witnessing the death of her deity, seeing the suffering of her fellow worshipers, and losing her own life on account of her faith, instilled in her a deep and abiding bitterness toward the lying gods. According to him, she shares her supernatural knowledge in the hope that it will help the enemies of the gods to expose or even destroy them.

Believers of the Source

Padmini Singh (NG/human/bard) - Singh is a philosopher from the prime who stumbled into Sigil quite by accident. She found the city immediately intoxicating for its richness of thought; a place where even the lowest untouchable spent their free time wrestling for purpose and meaning with a sophistication and sharpness and passion that rivaled even the greatest of her colleagues back home. Encountering the various factions, Padmini struggled between the Dustmen and the Godsmen--the former for their ascetic beliefs, and the latter for their emphasis on transcendence through philosophy.

She ultimately found the Dustmen's notion of True Death too distasteful, and joined the Godsmen... albeit with her own ascetic interpretation of their teachings. Unlike most members of her faction, Padmini believes that a spirit's progression through the stages of existence leads not from the lowest grub to the highest of gods, but the other way around. Through divesting one's self of emotion, desire, and worldly concerns, Padmini believes that a being can shed the complexities of mortal life and be reincarnated in a simpler, more pure, more naturally peaceful form. She sees the innocence of so-called "lesser" creatures as a manifestation of calm and wisdom--a release from the rigors of superfluous need and want, and from the constant struggle to *know* one's purpose.

Bleak Cabal

Echelaos (CG/aasimon/fallen proxy) - Once a proxy of Zeus, Echelaos' empathy was a constant whisper of doubt when following the orders of his vengeful and seemingly petty master. The task which troubled him most was being sent to observe the defeated enemies of the Olympians and confirm their continuing punishments were sufficiently cruel.

During one such excursion, Echelaos felt compelled to show some small kindness to a poor soul named Sisyphus, who the gods had condemned to repeatedly push a boulder up a mountain slope only to watch it roll down again, and again, for all eternity. He joined the damned man for a time, putting his own shoulder into the stone to ease the load, and during the climb the two spoke. To his surprise, Echelaos discovered that Sisyphus was not only resigned to his fate, but genuinely content. The former king explained that his entire life had been a struggle--against rivals, plotters, sycophants, and ultimately the gods and death itself. He said that while he first found his fate truly and deeply gruesome, eventually his bitterness began to fade away into mere memories from a part of his existence that was now centuries past. Sisyphus, it seemed to Echelaos, had been liberated from the drive to find purpose. He had realized that all the seemingly important matters that plagued him were ultimately no less futile than his current work. Freedom from hope brought with it an end to all agonizing fixations on what could someday be, leaving him, for once and all, to dwell in *this* moment alone.

Echelaos never returned to Olympus. Instead, he came to Sigil. Now his empathy is invested in caring for the sick and elderly at one of the Cabal's many hostels. He seeks to learn how to embrace the ephemeral relationships that he builds with people who soon will pass away. Most of all, he drinks.


Crumbling Jayk (CE/tiefling/fighter) - The particular manifestations of Jayk's plane-touched ancestry are perhaps poetic for an acolyte of entropy. The tiefling's very touch is corrosive to metal (equivalent to a rust monster). Instead of sweat, Jayk excretes a dry rust that stains his clothing and hair--the whites of his eyes, his teeth, the grime beneath his fingernails... all are tinged with the reddish hue of a cast-off bit of iron left unloved in the rain. He feels a kinship with rust monsters, and keeps two of them (Nail-Biter and Hungry Hacksaw) as beloved pets.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Adventure 1: "No Show" Trabo

This short AD&D adventure is intended for four characters of levels 1-3. The encounter details and accompanying art are free for personal use. I personally like the look of hand-drawn maps and tokens on VTT programs like Roll20, but feel free to remake the map to your taste or simply loot the key for ideas. If you use the encounter, I'd love to hear how it goes. If you convert it to another system or edition, I'd love to see your changes.



The city of Iriaebor in the Western Heartlands region of the Forgotten Realms rests upon a staggered bluff on the north bank of the River Chionthar. Once a wretched hive of scum and villainy, its native injustice and inequality has been largely eradicated via revolution. The newly crowned Lord Bron (LN/hm/F10) has done a fine job driving corruption from the city, but one tenacious criminal organization has proven difficult to root out: The Night Skulls.

The Skulls survive in part through their organization into discreet cells which function essentially like independent gangs. Each gang is led by an apprentice of the mad illusionist, Nathlar (CE/hm/I13), who secretly serves the Zhentarim and uses the Night Skulls as unwitting dupes in that organization's plots to destabilize Iriaebor's new regime.

In this short adventure, the PCs discover the lair of a Night Skulls cell known as The Candle Street Skulls, and presumably put an end to their operation. Doing so will earn them the favor of Lord Bron (as well as other folk around town) and the enmity of Nathlar and his many apprentices.

Starting the Adventure

The party are on their way through the area as caravan guards under contract to a merchant named Trabo (N/hm/T2). He passes this way frequently, and is well known to the locals--he's greeted by name at the gates, and stopped several times on the street by fellow traders and local business owners.

The party has received a small stipend of 10 gold pieces each, and are looking forward to a big pay day of 100 gold pieces upon arrival at their ultimate destination. In the meantime, Trabo rewards their good service by paying for their room and board at an inn called The Black Boar. Its amenities are limited, but you can't argue with free. For his own part, Trabo heads to the High City for better (and more expensive) accommodations. After a raucous night and a well-earned rest, the PCs head out to the market district to meet back up with their employer at a pre-determined time and location. If they have an interest in purchasing gear, they are free to go a little early and check out the various stalls and shops. Most items are sold at standard prices, but Iriaebor is known for horses. PCs looking for a mount can find fine specimens here at 3/4 the standard price.

"No Show" Trabo

Unfortunately, the PCs have been duped by their employer. In fact, Iriaebor was the merchant's final destination, and the rest of the route he described was just a ruse to get him out of having to follow through on the promised 100 gold pieces for each PC at the end of the journey. Trabo never shows up at the rendezvous, likely causing the PCs to suspect that he's gotten himself into trouble and compelling them to investigate. If they check the caravan yards, they find no sign of Trabo's wagons or cargo, and none of the laborers there recall having seen a man by his description yesterday.

Observant players might recall that the gate guards and several shopkeepers seemed to know Trabo. If sought out, they all know that Trabo is a regular at the Silver Thistle in the High City. Less observant players might have to be tossed a few breadcrumbs. 

Rumors and Leads

Seeking out local rumors turns up that the young daughter of a local sage named Ahlimon (N/hm/F1/Sage: Undead) has gone missing. Her name is Emusette (NG/hf/W1). A local stonemason named Jelton (NE/dm/T3) has also disappeared, and his apprentices have pooled their meager resources to offer a 10 gold piece reward for anyone who can find him. By contrast, the wealthy Ahlimon insists that his daughter merely took an unexpected holiday, and that his initial concerns have been dispelled.

Jelton's apprentices (LN/d/F1) know a lot about their master's routine, including that he frequently gambles in a private card game at the Silver Thistle. They do not, however, know that this information is relevant and so don't bring it up unless the PCs ask questions that lead them to do so. In fact, Jelton was taken hostage by his hosts at the Thistle to be sent away to Zhentil Keep as a skilled slave for a prominent Zhent who needs a capable stone mason to oversee construction on a personal stronghold.

If the PCs visit Ahlimon's small library and office, they find a smashed window and the sage engaged in a scuffle with an assailant (NE/hm/T3). The two are wrestling over a dagger, and it's difficult to determine which is the aggressor and which is the sage--the PCs will have to figure it out. Provided they save Ahlimon, he explains that his daughter was taken hostage by the Night Skulls and that they demanded a ransom of information related to controlling mindless undead. (Kolaos, the leader of the Candle Street Skulls, was hoping to find a way to control their captured ogre zombie.) Ahlimon paid the ransom, surrendering the relevant texts a few days ago to a man that he recognized as one of the bouncers at the Silver Thistle. Despite having paid the ransom, his daughter Emusette has not been returned. Now that they've attempted to kill him, he is inclined to recognize that his continued silence isn't doing him any favors and he will tell the PCs all that he knows. If the thug that attacked him is captured alive, he can be convinced under threat of torture, promise of coin, or magical compulsion, to reveal the truth about the drainage grate on Candle Street.

The Silver Thistle and Candle Street

The Silver Thistle has the appearance of an upper-class inn and tavern, and indeed functions in that capacity, but is in fact a front for the Candle Street Skulls. It's a two-story structure with a large taproom, a pantry and cellar entrance behind the bar, and four sparsely appointed rooms upstairs. It's perched upon a craggy knot of a hill, and circled half-way around by Candle Street. The prices are high and the service poor--this is by design, to keep the place relatively empty and quiet. Weapons aren't allowed inside, and four bouncers (N/F1) menace visitors to make the atmosphere even more uncomfortable. PCs should be made to feel unwelcome and watched. The barkeep denies knowing anyone by the name of Trabo, and is curt and unhelpful in all ways.

Candle Street is a narrow avenue named for the several candle-makers whose businesses crowd around it. It's shaped a bit like a crescent moon, curling around the Silver Thistle to descend behind it where a vertical grate in the rock face drains rain as well as spilled animal fat, dyes, and perfumes from the candle-makers out from the dead end holler. The grate is made to look like it is set firmly in the rock, its well-oiled hinges and lock concealed by means of a permanent illusion. The lair of the Candle Street Gang lies beyond (area 8 on the DM map below). Another entrance to the lair is via a secret door (S) in the Silver Thistle's cellar (area 1). 

The Lair

By whatever means, the PCs should eventually act on their suspicions and invade the Candle Street Skulls' lair.
DM's Map of the Candle Street Skulls Lair
  1. The Cellar - This room is accessible via the stairs from a back room of the Silver Thistle. It contains some stored goods, but most are covered in dust and well past freshness. The barrel in the north-east corner of the room is fixed to the floor and filled with water, at the bottom of which a lever may be found that opens the secret door to room 2.
  2. Entry Chamber - This room is cut out from the surrounding rock, with a 7' ceiling supported by 1' thick timber beams. Characters with edged weapons who roll a 1 on an attack roll in this room accidentally lodge their weapons in one of the beams. A single thug is on watch here. There is a 30% chance that he has nodded off and is automatically surprised when the PCs enter. The room is lit by an oil lamp suspended from a beam in the center of the ceiling (which clever PCs might employ in their combat tactics). The door in the south wall is locked, and the key is worn on a leather cord tied around the thug's wrist.
  3. Kolaos' Room - This is where Nathlar's apprentice and the leader of this cell of the Night Skulls sleeps. It is lavishly appointed with a silk carpet (75gp value), comfortable bedding and pillows (30gp), and a 4'x3' painting of Kolaos striking a regal pose (50gp). A trunk against the north wall is locked and magically trapped (save vs spell or take 1d4 lightning damage). A key tucked under the mattress will open the chest without setting off the trap. Inside the trunk is Kolaos' spellbook, as well as his inks, quills, and extra spell components. The room is dimly lit by an oil lamp which is currently running low on fuel.
  4. Myredor's Room - This is the bedroom of Kolaos' lieutenant, Myredor. It holds only a bed, wardrobe, and currently empty torch sconce. The room is dark. Inside the wardrobe, Myredor keeps a longsword, whetstone, a field kit for armor repairs, several cloaks, and extra clothing. A pouch tucked among the clothes contains 35 gold pieces, three rose-red phenalope gems (worth 50gp each), and a golden cloak clasp in the shape of the Zhentarim symbol (worth 20gp).
  5. Trabo's Room - This sparsely appointed room is where Trabo rests for a few days after delivering contraband to the Skulls from his Zhent masters. He is present now, relaxing on the bed and eating oysters from a silver platter (10gp value) resting on his belly. When the PCs enter, Trabo is surprised to see them. He quickly gathers his composure, however, and pretends to be a captive. If the PCs buy the ruse, he will follow the group until given an opportunity to flee the scene. A dresser in the room contains clothing, as well as a sack of 45 gold pieces--Trabo's pay for the latest delivery. The room is lit by several candles.
  6. The Vault - The Candle Street Skulls keep their riches locked away in this low-ceiling room. The heavy, iron-banded door is held fast by two separate locks that must be opened at the same time (requiring two thieves if they are to be picked). If only one lock is opened, it magically re-locks a few seconds later and activates a magical alarm that draws the attention of anyone in areas 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7. The keys are possessed by Kalaos and Myredor. The vault's treasures include a large cask of Berduskan Dark (a valuable brandy worth 50gp), 12 short swords, 6 longswords, 4 light crossbows, 60 quarrels, 4 suits of studded leather, one suit of chainmail, 2 healing potions, a scroll of protection from poison, 100 gold pieces, 500 silver pieces, 650 copper pieces, Emusette's Spellbook (see below) and 13 books on necromantic magic and undead (these were the ransom paid by Ahlimon, and are detailed below).
  7. Meeting Room - This room contains a heavy oak table and six chairs. Kolaos and Myredor can be found here, along with 1d4 thugs. They are currently plotting the robbery of a local temple of Eldath. Naturally, they respond to the PCs' incursion with violence. The room is lit by an oil lamp hanging from the ceiling. The door to the south is not locked.
  8. Candle Street Entrance - This tall-ceiling, natural cavern is the entrance most often used by the Night Skulls. The floor is slick with oily moisture from the drainage, and the room is lit by a single torch on the south wall. Trabo's wagons and pack animals are kept here, and the grain sacks and other goods he was carrying have been torn into and discarded in favor of the hidden weapons he was delivering. The air smells of rot from the caged zombie ogre. A thief sits on watch in the chair, just far enough away from the torch to give her the benefit of her hide in shadows skill (30% chance of success). She will either run for help or attempt a backstab, depending on how she judges her odds. A secret door to the north is opened by twisting a discolored stone on the wall.
  9. Barracks - The high ceiling of this room slopes down to the west until it's only 7' at the worked-stone section. Two thieves, plus 1d4 thugs are present--half are sleeping and half are playing cards at the table. A section in the north of the room has been sealed off with a thick iron gate, behind which a terrifying zombie ogre grunts and sways mindlessly. This creature was recently captured in a nearby ruin and Kalaos has been trying to find a way to make it a faithful bit of muscle for his operation. The gate can be opened via the lever on the south wall. The Skulls here are loathe to unleash the thing, but will do so and attempt to flee if the fight turns against them. The room is lit by torches in wall sconces and a fat candle on the table. Neither door in this room is locked.
  10. The Gaoler's Office - The Gaoler is seated behind his desk, dressed in a white frock with old, rust-colored bloodstains down the front. Two thugs are seated on the bench against the north wall. The barrels contain assorted foodstuffs (PCs can convert the contents into 10 iron rations, if so inclined), and a desk in the drawer holds a key ring with keys to the door in the north wall and the cells in area 11.
  11. Cells - This room is low and cramped, with a 4' ceiling that forces most occupants to crouch uncomfortably and suffer a -2 on any attack roll requiring more than a simple thrust (such as with a spear or rapier). There is no light in the room. One of the cells holds Ahlimon's daughter, Emusette. Another holds Jelton, the dwarven stonemason. Both are ready and willing to help fight against any remaining Night Skulls.

Completing the Adventure

Once the Candle Street Skulls are slain or driven out, the PCs are heralded as heroes by several of Iriaebor's citizens. Certainly, Lord Bron will want to reward them appropriately (allowing them to keep any wealth recovered from the lair, granting them a charter to operate as an official adventuring company in any region belonging to the Lords' Alliance, and offering them free use of the city's fleet of river barges for life, to travel safely anywhere they like along the River Chionthar. Ahlimon the Sage can make a valuable friend, providing his services for free (or as close to it as he can manage, depending on research costs). Jelton is likewise useful, both as a fence for any contraband the PCs might need to pawn, and as a skilled stonemason and engineer for any of them who have ambitions to build a stronghold in the future. If pressed for monetary rewards, any of the listed persons could be pressured to give as much as 100 gold pieces, but applying such pressure displays a mercenary outlook that sours future generosity from them.

If Kalaos escaped, he can give Nathlar a detailed description of the PCs, setting him up as a dangerous villain with a grudge. If Myredor survived, he will hide out in town until he can receive some money from his superiors back in Zhentil Keep to hire mercenaries to help him track down the party.

If the party is captured, they are stripped of their belongings (which are stored in area 6) and held in the cells for 1d4 days until Nathlar comes by to look them over. He will give the order to have them sent to Zhentil Keep as slaves, and Trabo will smuggle them out of the city and transport them there--possibly giving them a chance to escape at some point when the caravan is attacked by a wandering monster or discovered by a guard patrol from one of the cities they must travel past.

Special experience awards for this adventure should be granted for saving the captives (50 xp each), slaying or capturing both Kalaos and Myredor (100 xp), and slaying or capturing Trabo (50 xp), discovering the secret doors (25 xp each). Experience from combat is granted by HD, as normal.

Additional Details

Kalaos - Apprentice of Nathlar and leader of the Candle Street Skulls cell of the Night Skulls.
NE, human mage, lvl 4. AC 6 (Armor spell); MV 12; THAC0 19; #AT 3 (darts) 1d3 dmg.
Spells: 1- Burning Hands, Hold Portal; 2- Blindness, Hypnotic Pattern.
Possessions: Darts (6), dagger, spell components, vault key 1.

Myredor - Zhent soldier appointed to guard Kalaos.
LE, human fighter, lvl 3. AC 4 (Scale Mail, Shield); MV 12; THAC0 18; #AT 3/2 (longsword, specialized) +1 to hit, 1d8+2 dmg.
Possessions: scale mail, shield, longsword, 29 gold pieces, potion of healing, vault key 2.

The Gaoler - A dwarf with a taste for violence, restrained from harming the current prisoners only for their monetary value to Kalaos.
LE, dwarf fighter, lvl 2. AC 10; MV 6; THAC0 19; #AT 3/2 (hand axe, specialized, Str bonus) +2 to hit, 1d6+2.
Possessions: hand axe.

Thieves - NE, thief, lvl 1. AC 8 (leather armor); MV by race; THAC0 20, #AT 1 (dagger) 1d4.
MS 35%, HS 30%, Backstab x2
Possessions: Dagger, leather armor, 1d6 silver pieces, 1d12 copper pieces.

Thugs - NE, fighter, lvl 1. AC 6 (studded leather, shield); MV by race; THAC0 20; #AT 1 (shortsword) 1d6.
Possessions: Studded leather armor, shield, shortsword, 1d6 silver pieces, 1d12 copper pieces.

Zombie Ogre - N, monster zombie, HD 6. AC 6; MV 9; THAC0 15; #AT 1 (slam) 4d4 damage.

Emusette - Ahlimon's daughter and fledgling wizard.
NG, human, mage 1. AC 10; MV 12; THAC0 20; #AT 1 (by weapon)

Jelton - Dwarven stonemason, fence, and irresponsible gambler.
LE, dwarf, thief 3. AC 10; MV 6; THAC0 19; #AT 1 (by weapon)

Ahlimon's Books - These thirteen volumes cover a variety of details on mindless undead such as zombies and skeletons. Information on such creatures (such as special defenses, weaknesses, etc) can be discovered at a base chance of 50%, minus 10% for each HD of the creature being studied. Additionally, wizards with access to these tomes gain a +5% bonus on their chance to learn spells when attempting to learn or research a spell from the Necromancy school.

Kalaos' Spellbook - 1- Armor, Burning Hands, Detect Magic, Hold Portal, Read Magic; 2- Blindness, Detect Invisibility, Hypnotic Pattern, Knock.

Emusette's Spellbook - 1- Detect Magic, Identify, Magic Missile, Read Magic.

Unlabeled Lair Map for VTT Use

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Modular System: Image-Based Content Generator

Time to make use of that little folder you keep on your computer. You know the one. It's full to bursting with fantasy art that you have every intention of using as play aids, inspiration, character portraits, etc. Or maybe you're a psychologically healthy human being who doesn't compulsively hoard gig upon gig of monsters, swords, and monsters with swords. In that case, google "Fantasy Art" and go nuts.

First, create some folders for your top-level table. Give them descriptive names with numbered prefixes, like "1-People," "2-Places," "3-Things" and "4-Events." Yeah, I expect you're way ahead of me now, but let's continue. 

Within each of those folders you'll create more specific categories, also numbered--and you can nest as deep and get as specific as you like. Maybe you just want to separate character portraits from monsters, or maybe you want to get super granular. You do you, buddy. Once you're satisfied, sort your collection of images into the appropriate folders, then go in and rename each with a numbered prefix and you're all set.

Roll for (or choose) which folder to open. Repeat as necessary, depending on how deeply you nested your folders. Use a dice app that lets you input a whatever-sided die, and roll for a random image. Look at that image and pull something from it that you can build on. Roll multiple times if you like.

Using mine to fill in a hex, I started by rolling a d4 to see how many images I would try to incorporate, and I got a 3. First roll pulls up a monastery-like structure. Second roll is a skeleton in crusader armor. Third is a set of thieves' tools. One thing I like is the opportunity to do some free-association, both because it's fun, and because it's good practice for improvisation at the table. So, thinking on my pictures, I stock the hex with a secluded cult that raises skeletons that can use thief skills, which they send out to rob rival temples.

And that's it. Let me know if you make use of it, and how it works out.