D&D Thirty Day Challenge, Part 2

Posted: June 13, 2015 in D&D, RPGs

Day 12 – Favourite Dungeon Type/Location

I prefer organic locations, by which I mean, locations that have a purpose. The idea of a dungeon created as some sort of open maze with various creatures trapped behind unlocked doors serves a metaphor for player agency, and so is the heart of the boardgame element of D&D. But the other side, which is the story, is not served by randomness. Who built this thing, and why? What purpose did it serve, and what events lead it from its original function to its current state? How did the inhabitants come to their current status quo, and are they in tension with their neighbours? How do they feed, reproduce, treat their old?

It’s easier to imagine a community originally built as such that has evolved into its current state. The dungeon is thus ruins, which have been re-purposed for some nefarious ends, or overrun by its fell denizens. I like dungeons that make sense from a “hidden history” perspective, rather than a simple set of obstacles to confront the players with.

Day 13 – Favourite Trap/Puzzle

Traps and puzzles are also metaphors in D&D. They are immediate problems that can be solved by thinking it through, unlike most problems that people have. It is true, however, that sometimes our problems are simply about arranging your priorities in order to maximize the utility of your actions – if I take centre street north, then I can cross over on 6th avenue and then come back south on fourth and get to make a right turn into the alley, rather than a left turn across busy traffic. But many problems have no solution – you can’t out-think a recent health diagnosis, or solve all of your interpersonal conflicts. We spend sleepless nights agonizing through our problems, trying to find a solution. It would be great if we simply overcome all of our obstacles by the direct and safe application of thought.

So I like puzzles where you turn statues and then something unlocks.

Day 14 – Favourite NPC

My first immediately was be Xëff (pronounced Jeff), a half-orc, dual battleaxe wielding cohort to a PC (through the Leadership feat), from a highly successful, long-lasting D&D 3.5 campaign where the party were all evil. The PC was Warlady Zana Skullcrusher (a Favoured Soul), and Xëff always referred to her as Warlady. I gave him a very deep, gravelly voice with tons of timbre, much like the Uruk’hai from the LotR movies. “Yes, Warlady.” Xëff didn’t have a very high intelligence, and I put all of his 1 skill rank each level into Craft (Pies). Whenever the party would camp, he would serve them some of his delicious pies so that they always ate well. His signature move was to half-crouch with battleaxes held high on each side, while looking suspiciously from side-to-side. This move would be employed in the most inappropriate times, and basically just signaled that he was unhappy and wanted to murder someone. Both the players and I always enjoyed it when Xëff would be in the scene, and he added a lot of flavour to the campaign. I include Xëff has an NPC because the player wanted me as the GM to play him, rather than have her manage that.

Day 15 – Favourite Monster (Undead)

How do you not say Dracolich? The cornerstone of many stories set in the Forgotten Realms are those rascals from the Cult of the Dragon. The Dracolich, a dragon that has turned lich, is an amazing, powerful villain. So powerful, that the Cult has emerged because the hipster fanboys of the FR want to be in on the ground floor of each awakening of a new Dracolich.

Day 16 – Favourite Monster (Aberration)

Flumph! haha… maybe facing your players with a flumph is the D&D equivalent of rick-rolling them. SRSLY.

There are three aberrations that really stand out to me: beholders, mind flayers / illithids, and aboleths. Like the Dracolich, these creatures all can serve as capstone bosses of a campaign. They’re hyper-intelligent, massively powerful, and have well-developed cultures. They also have long histories of realm domination. Beholders have a bewildering array of attacks, mind flayers are masters of strange psionics, as are aboleths.

I need to use more aboleths, but until I do, Illithids are my fav.

Day 17 – Favourite Monster (Animal/Vermin)

Badgers. Say it with me, badger badger badger badger. In 3.5, they had an amazing array of multi-attacks, and enough badass rep to claw their way through their enemies corpses.

Day 18 – Favourite Monster (Immortal/Outsider)

Outsiders are a key aspect of my games. I tend to bring them in because they give me perspective on the system. For most creatures, I try to understand their role in the world, and how they interact with their neighbours and environment. An outsider, however, is an alien to the world, and has no established framework, no established ties or preset reactions to the world. In that way, they are the epitome of disruptions to the system and such are my default point of tension in most games. Things were going fine until this unknown element mucked things up and now the world is trying to reorient itself.

My favourite outsider that serves this purpose is the Rakshasa. Humanoid, shapeshifters, infiltrators, slavers, with a non-European flavour… they serve many of my needs for a visitor from outside the system.

Day 19 – Favourite Monster (Elemental/Plant)

I’ve discussed Shambling Mounds in a prior post, but my favourite plant monsters are Treants. Big, giant, ambulant trees with attitude. I recall treants being super creepy in prior editions, but in 3e they seemed much less interesting. I’m not sure why, but I don’t think I’ve ever used them since I stopped playing 2e. I just looked up the stat blocks in the Monster Manuals for AD&D and for 3.0, and they seem similar. The art in 3.0 looks less threatening than the art in AD&D. It’s probably a case of head canon, where when I was young, someone ran a particularly threatening encounter with Treants and I’ve always seen them as gargantuan and terrible, rather as semi-frightened twigs. I’m going to make a point of using a Treant in a game in the near future, and do them justice. Their branches will drip with flavour text!

Day 20 – Favourite Monster (Humanoid/Natural/Fey)

Gnolls. These dudes are ripe with attitude and animal-like musk. With those savage teeth and evil dispositions, a gnoll seems entirely capable of reveling in depravity. Enslaving, raping, killing, and eating their prey. They’re nasty and brutish, and not nearly as friendly as their PG-13 cousins, orcs and goblins. I see gnolls as a slavering horde of chaotic rampagers and pillagers. They’re energetic and violent and don’t at all seem like they should be anyone’s favourite anything. But we are talking favourite monsters here, and a gnoll is definitely that.

Of all the humanoid monster races, gnolls are the least likely for me to mess with and create complex civilizations. Orcs are typically seen as fallen elves, tortured by malevolent intelligence into a mockery of their origins. Goblins are sometimes given a zany, mad bomber what bombs at midnight kinda feel. Hobgoblins seem like they need to be samurai. But gnolls, gnolls are just fine being what they are, nearly animal engines of destruction, and the only trappings they have of civilization are from civilizations that they’ve pillaged.


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