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2nd Edition AD&D Alchemist Rogue Class

Alchemist, Rogue Class

Ability Requirements: Dexterity 12, Constitution 9, Intelligence 15
Prime Requisite: Intelligence
Races Allowed: All

The alchemist is a craftsman whose primary goal is to study the nature of substances, learn the properties, and combine them to make useful tools / weapons. Some alchemists even delve into the study of trying to turn lead into gold - which is believed to be possible by creating a Philosopher's Stone. While other classes can learn Alchemy as a skill, the Alchemist takes the craft more seriously as their primary profession.

Any race can learn the intricacies of alchemy, and there is no limit / max level to what they can achieve. They are only limited by their Intelligence, and thus Intelligence is the prime requisites of all Alchemists. An Alchemist with a 16 Intelligence or more gains a 10 percent bonus to the experience points he/she earns.

All Alchemists gain one six-sided Hit Die per level for levels 1 to 10. After 10th level they gain 2 hit points per level and no longer receive additional hit point bonuses for high Constitution scores.

Alchemists use the Rogue Experience Level chart, the same as Thief and Bard.

Alchemists use Rogue Thac0 progression, the same as Thief and Bard.

Alchemists use the Rogue Saving Throw progression chart.

Thief Skills

Alchemists dabble in Opening Locks and Finding/Removing Traps. They start play with a base 10% chance in each of these two thief skills, and they gain an additional 5% to both skills every time they reach a new level. Racial, Dexterity and Armor modifiers also apply.

When finding and removing an Alchemical Trap the Alchemist gains a 5% bonus to their FRT roll. If trying to open a lock which uses some kind of alchemical substance as part of the locking mechanism, they also gain a 5% bonus to their roll.

Like Thieves, the Alchemist can also Backstab opponents using a well-placed attack or grenade-style weapon. When backstabbing with a grenade-style weapon the Alchemist still needs to take their opponent unawares, but since they lack Move Silently / Hide in Shadows this will rarely be used. Rather their efforts are often more successful due to trickery rather than stealth.

Furthermore, the Alchemist's Backstab bonus only applies to their primary target, and only if they score a successful hit. Normal rules for grenade style attacks apply. eg. If attacking with Holy Water or Acid, the target successfully hit takes double, triple, quadruple or quintuple damage based on the Alchemist's level. Creatures that take splash damage are not effected by the Backstab effect.

Proficiencies

Weapon Proficiencies: 2
Non-Weapon Proficiencies: 6

Alchemists can learn any kind of weapon, but start play with only 2 Weapon Proficiencies and one of them must be "Grenade Style Weapon", which is useful for throwing Acid, Glue Bombs and similar alchemical concoctions at enemies.

Note - Alchemists are thus proficient at throwing Holy Water, even though they cannot make holy water. Only clerics or paladins can make Holy Water.

Alchemists are also fond of using other types of weapons to deliver their alchemical attacks. eg. Smoke Bomb Arrows.

The Alchemist starts with 6 NWP / Skill slots, but two of them are automatically used to gain the Alchemy Skill*. Learning to Read/Write is also recommended, but not mandatory. Various skills like Appraising, Brewing, Engineering, Herbalism, Pottery, and Set Snares are also useful.

eg. Pottery is very handy for creating containers just to store alchemical items within, and is suitably breakable when they need to be.

The Alchemist can choose NWP skills from the General, Priest and Rogue NWP lists.

Alchemists gain additional WP and NWP based on their level, at the same rate as other Rogue classes Thief and Bard.

Belongings

The Alchemist starts play with an Alchemy Tool Kit, which contains everything they need to create acid, alchemist's fire and other items. If they ever lose this tool kit and supplies and need to replace it, a new kit costs 100 gp.

* Alchemy Skill *
Slots Required: 2
Relevant Ability: Intelligence
Base Check Modifier: 0

The Alchemist is accomplished and well versed in alchemical recipes to create a variety of alchemical substances. They are also adept at recognizing alchemical substances, alchemical traps, and recognizing alchemical formulae.

Like a wizard who is memorizing spells daily, the Alchemist will likewise be making new alchemical items daily. At 1st level they should be able to make 3 small jugs of acid (or similar item) every morning while the wizard is memorizing his/her spells. The number they can make each morning improves at levels 3, 5, 7, 9 and every 2 levels thereafter.

The Alchemist also pays a materials upkeep based upon what they are making. The upkeep is their level multipled by their level in gold pieces. eg. A level 4 Alchemist pays 16 gp per day for materials to make their items. If they run out of materials, they cannot make any more items that day.

** The DM should give the alchemist some leeway (but not complete leeway) seeing as alchemy is their primary weapon. They should not however let the PC go hogwild with their creations. Alchemy items should never replicate magical effects. It should also never replicate Herbalism and both the DM / PC should be vigilant about making sure they are never making any alchemical substances that replicate something that a Herbalist could do instead.

The Alchemist starts play at 1st level knowing a number of Alchemical Recipes based on their Intelligence, equal to the number of Bonus Languages. eg. An Alchemist with a 15 Intelligence knows 4 recipes. An Alchemist with a 18 Intelligence knows 7 recipes.

Each time an Alchemist gains a level they learn 1 new recipe. They can also learn extra recipes by trading recipes with other alchemists, and by finding new recipes in books/scrolls/tablets/libraries/etc. If they are willing to spend gold, they can also research a new recipe in a similar manner that a wizard researches a new spell.

Not all alchemical recipes are available to a low level Alchemist. The DM should adjudicate which recipes are available to the Alchemist based on their level. Some of the items below are listed in the DMG as magical items, but for our purposes these items are actually non-magical. A few items are creations of my own.

So for example a 1st level Alchemist might start play with 4 recipes: Acid, Alchemist Fire, Smoke Bomb and Sleep Smoke.

Alchemist Recipes

  • Acid
  • Alchemist Fire
  • Drowsy Dust (causes exhaustion)
  • Dust of Sneezing / Choking
  • Explosives (something similar to dynamite perhaps, but the DM should adjudicate just how explosive this substance is)
  • Freezing Bellows (compressed CO2)
  • Glue Bomb
  • Laughing Gas
  • Mercurial Weapon (+1 weapon damage - Requires the Alchemist to partner with someone with the Weaponsmithing skill.)
  • Oil of Acid Resistance
  • Oil of Fiery Burning
  • Oil of Fire Resistance
  • Oil of Slipperiness
  • Philosopher's Stone * (The DM should allow this to 18th level Alchemists only)
  • Poison Liquid / Gas / Powder
  • Sleep Smoke (1 target must save vs poison or fall asleep)
  • Smoke Bomb (oil + sugar)
  • Smoke Powder** (Arquebus item - The DM may not allow this recipe.)
  • Soap of Massive Bubbles
  • Sovereign Glue
  • Universal Solvent


Character Class Creation Notes
(See the 2nd Edition Dungeon Master Guide)

1.0 Race, Any.
-1 Rogue Thac0.
0 Rogue Saving Throws.
0.75 Hit Dice 1d6.
-0.5 AC 5 Limited (Chainmail or worse).
0 All weapon types allowed.
1 Hit Points beyond level 9 = 2 per level.
1.5 Skill / NWP Proficiencies x6.
0.5 Weapon Proficiencies x2.
1 Backstab
1 FRT
1 OL

Total 6.25

6.25 = Rogue XP Progression Chart.


2nd Edition Potionmaking Skill / NWP

So I recently did a post about a 2nd Edition Scrollmaking Skill / NWP, which is a homebrew skill which allows PCs and NPCs to make scrolls even if they are levels 2 to 8. Normally a mage needs to be level 9 to do either potion-making or scroll-making.

Having the skills however allows the character to do scroll-making and potion-making at lower levels when having such things are more beneficial. However that doesn't mean that the task isn't still difficult.

If you read my previous post about Scrollmaking then you know it is still a daunting task just to make a single scroll, and that you need a recipe to find the necessary ink, quill and special paper to make the scroll. It is still possible to make scrolls without following a recipe precisely, but the PC's chance of success drops considerably.

The same goes with my homebrew Potionmaking Skill.

The goal here is to allow PCs to still make potions if they want to, but they will need to either find a recipe - or they need to experiment.

Unlike Scrollmaking, which can still be successful using cheap materials, Potionmaking must have the materials required for the potion to work. However, without a recipe it is still possible to make a potion without actually following a recipe. The problem is that it is trial and error as to whether their experiment actually works, and if it fails then they wasted both their time and materials and money. In this respect, experimenting with potionmaking is a bit like Wild Magic. There is no guarantee it will work, there is no guarantee it will make something you want. eg. The person might make a Firebreathing potion instead of a Resist Fire potion.

As per the DMG (page 87) creating a potion costs between 200 to 1000 gp, and this cost is associated with the level of the spell the creator is trying to imbue the potion with.

Thus here are the creation costs and brewing times for various potions:
  • Potion of Climbing - 200 gp, 2 days
  • Potion of Healing* - 200 gp, 2 days
  • Potion of ESP - 300 gp, 3 days
  • Potion of Invisibility - 300 gp, 3 days
  • Potion of Levitation - 300 gp, 3 days
  • Potion of Clairaudience - 400 gp, 4 days
  • Potion of Clairvoyance - 400 gp, 4 days
  • Potion of Flying - 400 gp, 4 days
  • Potion of Speed - 400 gp, 4 days
  • Potion of Waterbreathing - 400 gp, 4 days
  • Potion of Extra Healing* - 600 gp, 6 days
  • Elixir of Health - 700 gp, 7 days
  • Elixir of Youth - 1000 gp, 10 days

* Remember only clerics or druids can make Potions of Healing, Elixirs of Health, Potions of Extra Healing*, etc. Likewise clerics and druids cannot create potions that only wizards can create, unless the potion is part of their domain. eg. A cleric who worships a fire god could still make potions of Firebreathing. Or likewise a priest who worships a water god could create a Waterbreathing potion.

The creation cost is based on the bare minimum needed to create an equivalent magic. eg. A mage needs to be at least 5th level to cast Haste, thus they also need to be 5th level to be able to create a Potion of Speed.

Notice also that this is only the base creation cost. This does not include the cost of any special ingredients or the cost of making a laboratory for wizards/druids (or an altar for priests).

The base cost of a laboratory is a minimum of 2000 gp, + 10% / 200 gp per month to replace broken items. This only covers the costs of furnishings and equipment. The Potionmaker still needs a place to store their smelly creation factory.

The base cost of a special altar (for priests) is similarly 2000 gp + 10% / 200 gp per month for new candle, new incense, repairs, holy water, etc. It doesn't smell so bad, but since some people might worship other deities and interrupt the process it is usually best to build this altar in a place where the priest will not be distracted and interrupted.

eg. Building it in a cave sounds like a great idea until a sleepy bear shows up and wants to claim the cave for its new den.

The Chance of Success

70% base chance
+1% for every 2 levels of the spellcaster
-1% for every 100 gp cost (or days)
+5% for every Special Ingredient collected
+5% for having the Potionmaking Skill

eg. Making an Elixir of Youth (which requires the caster to be able to cast 9th level spells) would have the following chance:

70% + 9% for a 18th level mage -10% for the 1000 gp / 10 days it takes to create = 69% chance of success.

Remember the DM should be rolling in secret for the PC and writing down the number. They could make a cursed potion by accident.

With such a mediocre chance of success (and failure means a Cursed Elixir of Youth which ages the imbiber), the mage should really want to boost their chances by collecting as many Special Ingredients as they can, which is why it would be handy to find a Recipe of Elixir of Youth before attempting this process.

And having the Potionmaking Skill / NWP would also be handy, as it would also provide an extra 5% chance.

Potionmaking
Ability: Intelligence
Check Modifier: 0
Prerequisites: Must be at least level 2 spellcaster, Mages/Bards must have Herbalism or Alchemy*, Druids must have Healing or Herbalism, whereas Clerics must have either Religion, Herbalism, Astrology or Healing.

* Alchemy isn't listed in the PHB, but there are other sources. Some DMs may allow Alchemy as a skill by itself, which is useful for making acid, glue, alchemist's fire, and various other alchemical creations.

Note - Unlike Scrollmaking, being literate isn't necessary. Although being able to read/write is handy if the Potionmaker finds a recipe and needs to be able to read it.

Benefits
  • The potionmaker can make potions, philters, oils and elixirs starting at level 2 instead of the normal level 9 requirement. (They may want to leave a skill slot empty so they can take this skill at level 2, otherwise they may need to wait until level 3.)
  • The potionmaker gains +5% to their potionmaking check for each proficiency slot spent on their Potionmaking skill.
  • At levels 2, 4, 6 and every 2 levels afterwards the potionmaker chooses 1 new spell for which they have learned a new recipe for creating potions.
  • The potionmaker can find recipes for how to make scrolls at the DM's discretion. Libraries, sages, seers may be able to provide recipes, at the DM's discretion.
  • By sniffing a potion or daubing a tiny sample of it on their skin, the potionmaker can attempt to identify an unknown potion by making an Potionmaking check. If successful, they have guessed its usage. (Potions of Delusion and similar cursed potions may still confuse them however.)
  • The potionmaker can attempt an experiment to create a potion recipe using rare ingredients. Their base chance to succeed is 5% at level 2, which improves to 10% level 3, and improves 5% at each level thereafter. eg. A level 11 mage would have a 50% chance of discovering a new recipe. They still pay all the costs associated and the number of days conducting the experiment is still spent, regardless of whether they fail or succeed.
  • Even if their experiment failed, there is a 5% chance (96 to 100 on percentile dice) of creating something potentially useful. eg. A Firebreathing potion if they were trying to make a Resist Fire potion. Or perhaps they invented a new kind of poison.
  • Potion Recipes can only improve the potionmaker's chances by a combined maximum of 15% if they manage to collect all the ingredients (usually there is 3 or 4 ingredients).
  • Making a successful Potionmaking skill check can allow the potionmaker some useful knowledge when dealing with certain creatures. eg. They might remember that Su-Monster meat is mildly poisonous, and thus useful for making ingested poisons.

Sample Potion Recipes

Philter of Love Recipe
  1. Nymphs Tears*
  2. Sweat from a Noble Lamia
  3. Essence of a Blue Mountain Rose
  4. Potionmaker must have Charm Monster in their spellbook and be able to cast it.
* Page 270 of the Monster Manual, under Nymph Ecology "The tears of a nymph can be used to as an ingredient in a Philter of Love.


Paralyzing Poison Recipe
  1. The proboscis of a jungle stirge
  2. Ground wolfsbane or monkshood
  3. The poison glands of a desert heway
  4. Potionmaker must be at least level 7.
Note - All 3 of these things are already paralytic poisons, but combining all 3 together successfully will make a poison that has a -4 saving throw, and thus is more potent and useful. Furthermore it will have a better shelf-life than normal poisons which lose their potency over time. As a magical potion, this will never lose its potency.


Potion of ESP
  • The ground brain of a mindflayer
  • Boiled slime from a gray ooze
  • Two eyes from an elven cat
Note - Some PCs may object to taking the eyes of an elven cat, so remember they don't always have to follow the recipe completely. Having all 3 ingredients gives a +15% to the chance of successfully making the potion, but having only 2 ingredients will still provide a +10% chance of success.




Advanced Alchemy and Advanced Herbalism

At the DMs option they may also allow PCs to create specific alchemical recipes or herbalism recipes.

Example:

The players find both Belladonna flowers and Xarsian Red Turnips, both of which are poisonous when eaten. By mixing them however and making a Herbalism check they might be able to make an ingested poison with a -2 saving throw which has a combined dire effect and a better shelf life than other poisons (although not a permanent shelf life like a magical poison would have).

Likewise, an alchemist could find some magnesium, naphtha, tar and other chemicals which they can use for making alchemist's fire (Greek Fire was a closely guarded secret recipe). If they combine the ingredients using an Alchemy skill check they manage to make a jar of the stuff which can be thrown at enemies.



2nd Edition Scrollmaking Skill / NWP

Okay so in 2nd Edition AD&D (Advanced Dungeons and Dragons) there are already rules for scroll-making (and potion-making) outlined in the DMG on pages 85 to 87.

However in my Friday 2nd Edition AD&D game I have decided to introduce a new non-weapon proficiency (NWP) skill to be known simply as "Scrollmaking".

As per the normal rules all mages gain the ability to make potions and scrolls at level 9. Plus the ability to make other magical items when they gain the spell "Enchant an Item" when they reach level 12.

Having the following skill however boosts their ability with scrollmaking by 5%, and furthermore allows them to make scrolls at lower levels.

Also, the skill isn't limited to mages. Clerics, druids, bards, rangers and other spellcasters can also gain this proficiency, which means they can likewise follow the same rules for scrollmaking.

Note - I also made a separate post for the Potionmaking Skill.

So here we go...

Everything below here is at the DM's Option for whether they want this in their game.

Scrollmaking
Ability: Intelligence.
Check Modifier: 0.
Prerequisites: Reading/Writing*, and must be a minimum level 2 spellcaster**.

* Unlike most skills, Scrollmaking requires that the person is literate and knows how to read/write. Duh.
** Yep, I am still imposing that they must be at least a level 2 spellcaster. Which means many spellcasters cannot gain this proficiency until level 3 unless they deliberately leave a skill slot empty at level 1.

Benefits:
  • The scrollmaker can make scrolls using the following rules (further below);
  • The scrollmaker gains a +5% bonus to their Scrollmaking check for each proficiency slot they use on their Scrollmaking skill.
  • At levels 2, 4, 6 and every 2 levels afterwards the Scrollmaker chooses 1 spell in their spellbook and gains knowledge of 1 recipe for making a scroll of that particular spell.
  • The scrollmaker can find recipes for how to make scrolls at the DM's discretion. Libraries, sages, seers may be able to provide recipes, at the DM's discretion.
  • The Scrollmaker no longer needs to cast Read Magic when reading a scroll which was made by a different spellcaster, instead they can simply roll a 1d20 to do a Scrollmaking check. If they succeed, they can read the scroll without needing to cast Read Magic.
  • At level 9, the Scrollmaker now has a base 40% chance of guessing how to make a particular scroll. This chance improves 5% per spellcaster level. (Note that the DM does not have to tell the PC whether their guess is accurate. A bad guess results in a -10 to -60% chance to successfully making the scroll. Roll 1d6 to determine how bad the guess is.)


Making Scrolls

Base chance to succeed: 80%.

Level of Scroll: -1% for each level of the scroll.

Level of Spellcaster: +1% for each caster level of the PC.

Other Bonuses: If the PC has Artistic Ability (Calligraphy) they gain +5%. If the scroll is on a stone tablet, Artistic Ability (Stonecarving) would provide a +5%.

Quill or Brush or Chisel
  • Quill/Brush/Chisel made from exotic and relevant magical creature: +5%.
  • Quill/Brush/Chisel made from a magical creature: +0%.
  • Quill/Brush/Chisel made from a non-magical creature or material: -5%.
Scroll
  • Exotic Paper: +10%. (Exotic paper can only be made use magical plant fibres. eg. Paper made from treant pulp.)
  • Paper: +5%.
  • Exotic Parchment: +5%.
  • Parchment: +0%.
  • Exotic Papyrus: +0%.
  • Exotic Stone Tablet: +0%.
  • Papyrus: -5%.
  • Stone Tablet: -5%.
Ink
  • Super Exotic Ink: +5%.
  • Exotic Ink: +0%.
  • Lesser Quality Ink: -20%.
Other Factors

Not following a recipe correctly results in a -10% to -60% chance. You can skip 1 or 2 ingredients and substitute things that are similar (a quill made from salamander bone instead of red dragon bone), but completely ignoring the recipe really hurts the Scrollmaker's chances.

Thus if the Scrollmaker is level 5, and they are making a Magic Missile Scroll using an exotic quill, exotic paper, and super exotic ink their chance would be:

80% +5% -1% +5% (Scrollmaking NWP bonus) +5% +10% +5% = 109% chance of success.

The same Scrollmaker making a Fireball scroll using a non-magical quill, papyrus, cheap ink and is clearly not following a recipe would have the following chance:

80% +5% -3% +5% -5% -5% -20% -10 to 60% = 0% to 47% chance of success. On average they would have a 22% chance of success. Thus there would be an average 78% that the scroll is cursed.


Other Notes:

If you are familiar with the existing scrollmaking rules in the DMG, then you know this skill is really just expanding upon the rules already set in the DMG.

The scrollmaking process takes 1 day for each level of the spell.

If the Scrollmaker is interrupted during the process of making their scroll, their attempt is automatically ruined by spilling ink on the scroll, accidentally ripping the scroll, etc.

Rolling 96 to 100 ALWAYS FAILS.

The DM makes the scrollmaking roll in secret and writes down the number.

If they fail in the roll the scroll is cursed. See DMG, page 86.

A Remove Curse spell turns any cursed scroll into dust. Don't remind the PC however.

All the ink and the quill/brush/chisel are used during the creation of a single scroll.

DM's Notes

A Scrollmaker doesn't have to get the skill to use this skill. A mage would still gain this ability at level 9 regardless, in which case the DM needs a way to handle scrollmaking. Thus recipes are still handy from a DMing perspective, as it both limits the players ability to say "I want to spend 150 days making 50 Fireball scrolls!" because A) They don't have the recipe, and B) They have not spent time gathering the materials.

As a DM I like a "Carrot and Whip" approach to dealing with players who make such demands.

I give them a carrot:

"You find a recipe for how to make a Scroll of Strength."

And then they read the recipe (the whip) and learn what it entails.


Strength Scroll Recipe
  1. Hill Giant Bone Chisel.
  2. Stone Tablet made from a slain rock elemental or stone golem. (A clay tablet made from the dirt of a slain earth elemental will also suffice.)
  3. Ink brewed from the tears of a Roc mixed with dragon dung.
At which point the PC learns that it will take some effort to do all of this. Like how the heck do you get a Roc to shed tears?


More Recipes

Magic Missile Recipe
  1. Quill made from leg bone of an elf.
  2. Parchment from the skin of a green hag.
  3. Ink brewed from eye juice of a beholder.

Fireball Recipe
  1. Quill made from the bone of a red dragon.
  2. Parchment made from fire snakeskin.
  3. Ink brewed from the ashes of a slain pyromancer.
So just to make a Fireball scroll, they need to kill a red dragon, a fire snake, and a pyromancer.

Suddenly that player who wants to make 50 Fireball scrolls needs 50 red dragon bones, 50 dead fire snakes, and the ashes from 50 pyromancers.

Good luck with that.

Again, the PC doesn't have to follow the recipe perfectly. If they killed several pyromancers and fire snakes, they could skip the red dragon and use quills made from salamander bone instead. Their chance of success is 5% lower since it isn't exotic, but they are still following most of the recipe.

Thus the PC still gets to make some scrolls, but they realize there is limitations to how many they can make.

Likewise the DM now has opportunities to offer quests to the players from people making scrolls (and/or potions) who are looking for specific magical ingredients.

"Go bring me back the skins of 10 firesnakes and I will pay you 20 gp per skin, and reward you with a recipe for how to make Fireball scrolls."


D&D Miniatures, why are they so expensive?

Okay so I was browsing Amazon earlier today looking at D&D minis and I saw that the small box sets of random miniatures were typically $25 to $40 CDN each.

Now keep in mind, these small sets only contain 5 random miniatures.

So that is roughly $5 to $8 CDN per mini.

Years ago (not that long ago either) I remember a time when you could buy a random box of 5 minis for $15 (or less). So clearly the prices have gone up dramatically in recent years.



I also messed around on HeroForge for a bit, designing a custom minotaur mini. The end product would have cost me $19.99 to $29.99 USD depending on what kind of plastic you want it made out of.

Shipping the mini to Canada is an extra $15 USD by the way... So you are looking at $35 to $45 for a single custom mini.

Then I went on Etsy to see what other custom minis were going for...

Oh boy.

The following wolf mini was $41 CDN for the basic model. But if you wanted the "ultra detailing" it was $68.29 CDN for 1 mini.


Now I get it. It is hand painted by a professional artist. It makes sense that it should cost a lot more than standard minis.

Also on Etsy...

$205 CDN for a Spirit of the Forest.

$191 CDN for a fire giant.

$164 CDN for a set of 8 painted goblins.

And so forth.

And those all make sense.

The cost of the mini plus the cost of getting a custom paint job by a professional.

People have to eat. They have rent to pay. They are tired of living in their parents' basement while painting miniatures for a living.

So it makes sense that custom one-of-a-kind minis would be $80 each.

The wolf mini for only $41 is cheaper because it can be mass produced and isn't "custom" so much as it is hand painted.

Years ago I got a custom mini for Wrathgar from HeroForge, and then - being skilled with a brush - I painted it myself. Was still about $35-$40 at the time for the mini, and I have since used Wrathgar many times in D&D games - including a multitude of Adventurers League games.

So in that respect, getting Wrathgar as a custom mini was definitely worth it. I have been able to enjoy using the mini ever since.

Previous to that I had been using the Athasian Half-Giant for Wrathgar, which worked well enough. It was okay. But it was missing Wrathgar's iconic helmet.

Back in Summer 2018 I also had a custom digital portrait done for Wrathgar by an artist, Edgar Lopez, who can be found on Facebook. Cost for this digital colour sketch? A mere $20 USD.

Wrathgar Portrait by Edgar Lopez

Which was extremely reasonable.

For a sketch it was very well done. Makes me wonder what I would have got if I had gone for the detailed colour portrait for $55.


Anyway, I am way off topic.

Back to miniatures.

The skyrocketing price of miniatures should actually be going down thanks to the market being flooded years ago back around 1999-2004, back when minis were reasonably priced.

But instead the buying and selling of miniatures has caused speculation and a boom in miniature prices. Sort of like the real estate market bubble, the buying and selling of miniatures for a profit has created this artificial bubble.

And thus when a new company wants to make and sell miniatures, they are automatically insulated in that they can charge way more for their miniatures and make a bigger profit.

And to top it off, the demand for custom miniatures has never been higher.

Thus it has become a players market. The minis that are available are priced for players who only need to buy the one mini for their character... and players like myself are willing to pay extra for that 1 special custom mini.

In contrast however, this squeezes DMs out of the market.

DMs need to be able to buy large amounts of monster and NPC miniatures. The details on them don't really matter so much, they just need the minis in order to run battles and scenes.

But if the boxes of minis are costing $35 to $40 each, getting 100 minis so that the DM can run a variety of adventures is an expensive task - about $700 to $800 CDN, plus 13% HST.

And that price is frankly ridiculous.

The alternative for DMs is that they have to rethink how they get D&D miniatures...

  1. Make your own minis out of wood, clay, wire, glue, paint, etc.
  2. 3D print minis. (Helps if you already have a 3D printer.)
  3. Buy cheap minis like goblins because that is all you can afford for now.
  4. Make minis out of Lego.
  5. Make 2D paper minis on plastic stands, because you are too cheap.
  6. Use other toys for minis, from the Dollar Store and similar stores that sell cheap minis for kids.*

 * When you see how much the minis for kids cost, the level of quality and such, you have to wonder why D&D minis are so dang expensive. For example you can typically get a pretty nice dragon miniature at a toy store for $4 to $8, whereas a similarly sized D&D dragon miniature will cost you about $20 to $40.

Clearly what these companies should be doing is mass producing for kids to buy them, but also selling to adults.

Now speaking for myself, I already have lots of minis.

A whole display case full of them.

But what I need right now is more horses and griffons.

So I am also browsing websites like www.trollandtoad.com that buy and sell miniatures.

Horse miniatures are expensive BTW. A decent one costs $10 to $11 USD.

Griffons meanwhile are oddly only $4, $6 or $13.

Plus $3 for shipping. Probably more to ship to Canada.

And I wasn't happy with their horses. Seriously. They were sold out of draft horses, and I wasn't willing to spend $10 on a riding horse when I can probably get the same thing at a local gaming shop for $4 to $8.

Which for me means I need to take a trip to Hairy Tarantula in North York.

Hairy Tarantula Gaming Store
3456 Yonge St, Toronto, ON M4N 2N4
Open 12 to 10 PM weekdays, 11 to 10 Saturday, 11 to 7 Sunday.

Oh and yes, I did check Etsy. Horses on there cost $25 to $41 CDN, and are usually unicorns. The only warhorse on there was $27 and looked remarkably similar to a Dollar Store mini I bought years ago, put on a 1-inch base, and painted it myself... So if I had to, I could do that again.

So why do I need horses?

Because I am currently running a D&D game Fridays which has progressed to the point where there will be a heavier emphasis on horses and mounted combat. And I have been wanting to run a campaign with lots of horse combat for years, so now is my chance.

So if I cannot find what I need at Hairy T's, then perhaps I shall have to custom make my own horse minis using cheap minis from the Dollar Store.

Because Troll and Toad has limited options and is sold out of things.

Because Etsy is ridiculously over priced and only the warhorse is literally a Dollar Store horse.

Because Amazon comes up with lots of pink ponies and similar items when you search for D&D horse miniature, because it apparently thinks I am looking for 3D glass miniatures - the type people collect because they are cute and never play with.

And eBay???

eBay has lots of horse miniatures... often made of pewter... and the shipping is an extra $15 or $20. So yes, eBay has about 102 different horses for sale, about 98 are made of pewter, and those which are not are still overpriced and come with an added $15 to $20 just for the shipping.

So again, visiting my local Hairy Tarantula gaming store is still my best option.

Heck, I could go to other gaming stores and it would still be better than Etsy, eBay, Amazon, etc... but I wouldn't be guaranteed that their selection of minis is any good.

Which is disappointing because I was thinking of also ordering some xmas gifts off Amazon today, but maybe I will wait instead.

Conclusions

Clearly there is a market out there now for someone to be mass producing mid-range D&D miniatures which are affordable and could also be marketed at children in toy stores. The speculative market has driven prices online to ridiculousness.

The custom mini market won't be going away, but there has to be a middle ground for DMs to be able to buy monster minis.

Saturday Morning Writing Time, Part 1

By Charles Moffat.

So today was my last day going to a local writers group at my library here in Toronto. I am leaving the writers group because of the following reasons:

  1. The librarian who was responsible for running the writers group is leaving that library and switching to a different library in North York.
  2. The person replacing her is a cranky old lady named Marilynn who apparently hates me, is unnecessarily critical, and she has got upset because I brought my son to two of the meetings (my son is 16 months old, and I admit he can be a bit loud sometimes). While the librarian doesn't have a problem with me (or me sometimes bringing my son to meetings), it is pretty clear Marilynn doesn't want me there at all.
  3. If I was to show to future meetings I might get tempted to be overly critical Marilynn's poetry, which would combative and annoying, but frankly why bother? It just isn't worth it. I am not getting that much out of this group.
  4. To be honest, most of the time spent at these writing group meetings are used listening to other people's writing, doing writing exercises, and if I am lucky I might get 20 minutes to read something I wrote and get feedback on it. So there has to be a better way to get feedback on my writing.
  5. The group is somewhat crowded. On average about 10 people are there, but group size can vary from 8 to about 15 people depending on the day, time of year, weather conditions outside, whether it is a holiday, etc. This crowding puts the squeeze on time constraints at the meeting is only supposed to be 90 minutes, and often goes to 2 hours, at which point hungry people start leaving.
  6. You really do have to be early to get your work photocopied to be handed out and beat other people. Arriving late today I didn't even have a chance to submit my work to be photocopied.
  7. Listening to the drama and moanings of older women (most of them are between 40 to 80 years old) and the kind of writing they write gets rather boring after awhile. There are a few of them that can write things that are interesting and/or funny, but overall I cannot help but feel I am wasting two hours listening to the poetry and drama writing of middle-aged to elderly women as it rare there is another man present, and even more rare that there is someone under the age of 40 present.
  8. The group meets every two weeks on Saturdays, often on Saturdays when I am not available because I am working that day. So when I do get to go to these meetings, it can be rather discouraging if I don't get to go for awhile and then when I finally get to go I don't even get to read something I was hoping to share. It can be rather disappointing and frustrating.

So really what I need is something different...

A smaller writing group, perhaps 3 or 4 people, who preferably write fantasy, less formal, and the focus is on reading works and we can skip the whole writing exercises which to me feels like a waste of time.

Hence why I am proposing the following:

"Saturday Morning Writing Time"

I might change the name later. "The Fantasy, Fables and Poetry Writing Group"? I dunno. I need more time to work on a snappy title.

To take place at the local Starbucks on Bayview Avenue, north of Millwood Road.  Meetings start at 10:30 AM. Having them there at that time means people have had their breakfast, but if they get hungry they can still get food or drinks if they need to. It is a Starbucks after all.

Having only 3 to 4 people means everyone gets to share their work and get feedback on it.

Ideally I would like to find other people who are interested in fantasy, science fiction, fables, horror - shall we say the more nerdy side of writing. But that isn't to say I would be opposed to other topics.

What I did like about the writers group was that it forced me regularly to work with a deadline, to get pieces done that were a certain length, hence why I tended to write them in the form of fables, short stories and even poetry - and sometimes poetic fables. Sometimes I would write a single chapter from a longer work and present that. Having that deadline however helps to keep me productive, to get the writing done on time.

So to anyone in Toronto interested in joining, please contact me via charlesmoffat{atsymbol}charlesmoffat.com with the subject "Writers Group".

During meetings you will be asked to bring 4 copies of your work so you can share it with the other writers present, so they can write down edits, notes, feedback on your work and give it back to you.

I am going to ask my friend Meggles who went to university with me if she is interested in joining. She also writes more nerdy kind of works, including spy thrillers. Ooooo!

So if Meggles is available Saturday mornings and agrees then we only need 1 or 2 more people to turn this into a regular meeting.

I am hoping to have the first meeting in December 2018. To be determined.

The Art of Making D&D Character Sheets

The Art of Making D&D Character Sheets (and some DMing Notes)

#1. While it is nice to have fancy character sheets, and I hope to someday supply my players with custom character sheets, the hard and fast rule is that they don't have to be fancy. Graphics are completely unnecessary, although if you have the time and energy to do so, why not?




#2. Because my campaign started when the characters were children, they have their "Childhood Nickname" on the character sheet. Often the PCs still refer to each other using that nickname. This encourages more roleplaying as most of the characters have known each other since childhood and can tell stories of the things they did "years ago", even though in reality it was only 20+ sessions ago and they are all now teenagers.

#3. Having eye/hair colour on the character sheet encourages the player to think more about description of their character. Perhaps in the future I will also include a "physical description" section that asks the shape of their nose, the disposition of their face/demeanor, etc.

#4. Phobias - I encourage players to play PCs with flaws, and having phobias is a fun way to do that.

#5. Heroic Dream - This is what the PC wanted to be when they were a kid. Similar to the Childhood Nickname, this is essentially to encourage a backstory about what the character wants to do with their life.

#6. Deity and Piety - All characters can worship a god of their choosing (or choose not to) and gain Piety Points, which shows their devotion to that god. PCs are awarded Piety Points by donating to the church, doing good deeds that help the church, building shrines/temples, etc. There is an old Dragon Magazine which has an article on this topic. Gaining lots of piety provides boons to the character based upon how pious they are. The DM (me) can also take away piety if the PC harms the church / god in some manner. eg. Murdering the high priest would be bad.

Note - Yes, I totally included Comeliness even though we are playing 2nd Edition AD&D. Oh well. Sue me.

#7. Primary Skills vs Bonus Skills - So on the 2nd page I have a section for "Bonus Skills". The primary skills are the NWP gained as per standard 2nd Edition rules. The bonus skills is an extra system I developed which rewards players for attempting skills they are not proficient in, and they gain the use of the skill but with a -4 to -1 modifier to the skill. Under my house rules if the player attempts to use a skill they are not proficient in they suffer a -5 to the attempt. However if they succeed their skill goes up to -4 and they gain it is a bonus skill. Doing this only works during a time of crisis when the situation is dire in some way. Thus a fighter for example during combat could attempt a Spellcraft check at -5 to recognize a fireball being cast, and if successful they gain the bonus skill at -4. Using the skill when there is no danger does not improve it. There is also a limit of how often they can gain bonus skills, so they cannot abuse the system.

#8. Thief Skills - Thieves, bards, etc get the most points for this section, but other characters detecting noise, climbing walls and doing other skills can also gain an extra point here and there as a bonus each time they succeed during a dire situation. It might only make a difference of a few points gained over the course of many sessions, and like Bonus Skills this can only be rewarded when there is danger, only when they are successful, and there is a limit of how often they can gain this benefit.

PAGE 2

#9. Belongings, Weight and Stored Where? - Often players forget what items weigh and how much weight they are carrying. Having this on the character sheet encourages them to look up the weight in the PHB, mark it down, and keep track of their encumbrance. Knowing where it is stored is likewise handy (both for pickpockets, but also to prevent pickpockets). It is up to the player to be proactive about marking down the location of valuable items.

#10. Languages - Honestly, the issue of languages comes up so rarely that this really is a Page 2 topic. It doesn't need to be on the 1st page. Also I include the Modifier for the language because like any other NWP, the character is not perfect at it. They are not necessarily a native speaker and completely fluent in every word. So sometimes they might have to roll to see if they understand what they heard or read.

#11. Parents, Siblings - Since the PCs started as children, they also started with family members. This helps to fill out their backstory and encourages roleplaying when they talk to the villagers they grew up knowing.

#12. Friends, Allies - So far in the game the PCs have made a number of friends and allies, ranging from the undertaker, the apothecary, Neddirk the Honest Fence (where they sell stolen goods), and during the last session they made a new ally - an aboleth with a split personality disorder who is lonely (or hungry to eat them). Ahem... See the Puffin Forest video... which is totally the inspiration for why the players encountered the aboleth in an abandoned fortress.



#13. Notes, Spells - Just empty lines for players to write notes on it, whether it is about spells, items, the names of baddies, etc. Lots of these.

PAGE 3

#14. Spell List, Extended - This is for the true spellcasters who have lots of spells. Included on this sheet are sections for Range, Components, Duration, Casting Time, AoE, Saving Throw and Notes. This way they don't always have to look up certain things in the book. I also encourage players to make up words for their verbal components that they can use repeatedly whenever using specific spells.

eg. If they are casting Entangle often, perhaps "Tanglitis Restrictio" or some other similar words is appropriate for them to be using.

At the top of page 3 is a note that "or if you are not a spellcaster, just use this page for extra notes". Thus the page still gets used regardless.

All else fails, I can always print more since I saved the file.

Based on player feedback I can also redesign the character sheets in the future and make new versions to make them better for the players, and possibly more pleasing to the eye.

The Caverns of the Iconoclast - A D&D Adventure

What Edition?

The following D&D Adventure can be run in any edition of Dungeons and Dragons with very little modifications needed from the DM to make it an interesting and memorable adventure.

When doing skill checks simply use the appropriate skill from the edition you are running.

What Level?

I recommend at least level 5, regardless of what edition you are running this in. The DM should see fit to modify monsters or add extra monsters to suit the actual level of the PCs, and their power level (higher than normal stats, magical items, etc effect power level).

Back Story

The Caverns of the Iconoclast was once the home of a reclusive wizard named Xorek, who later in life achieved lichdom and became a demilich - and had many clones of himself, which also achieved lichdom. At that time in Xorek's life he was focused on attacking various religions, destroying their religious artifacts, artwork, shrines and temples - and he would purposely misrepresent himself as a powerful cleric sent from the gods in order to overturn religions and cause people to rebel against the religions, thus destroying a lot of the temples and shrines in the process without Xorek having to personally do all the dirty work.

Within the caverns Xorek stored a number of broken religious items, many of which were magical in some nature and are still valuable - especially if they could be repaired. He also stored a variety of gold and silver items there, taken from various temples. There is plenty of valuable items there, both mundane and magical.

During his time there, Xorek also made a number of portals which allowed him to travel to distant kingdoms. As such any group of adventurers who manage to clear all the traps and monsters that now roam the caverns would not only have a good headquarters for adventuring, but also a valuable way of traveling from kingdom to kingdom.

PCs who successfully make a History or even a Religion check (or an Intelligence or Wisdom check in 1st Edition) will have heard of Xorek and will know a little about his back story and the Caverns of the Iconoclast. Depending on how good their roll is the DM can decide what additional information they want to provide.

Possible Adventure Hooks

  • NPC asks if the adventurers are in town to try their luck at the Caverns, as the locals are well aware of it and it attracts adventurers regularly.
  • A priest approaches the PCs and asks if they could retrieve a religious item said to be in the Caverns.
  • A wizard returns from the Caverns, with their entire party killed by the traps. He regales them with how they managed to avoid 2 of the traps before most of his party was impaled and killed by the 3rd set of traps. He decided to not go any further after that. For a small fee he offers to use Dimension Door so the party can avoid the first two traps.

The Entrance + Traps

Getting into the caverns is arguably the most dangerous part, unless the party has a skilled trapper. Each of the cavern entrances (regardless of what kingdom you are entering from) is guarded by the five following traps which must be avoided or removed in some manner.

Layout of the caverns and their entrances is up to the DM, but the order of the traps should stay constant.

Trap #1. Blast Marks

The floors and walls of the cavern are marked with various burnt and blast marks, suggestive of Fireballs (appropriate skill check to recognize they are not actually from a Fireball, as the individual blast marks are too small). Three tiny alcoves and cracks in the ceiling suggest there might be something up there lurking, but PCs would need either a Light spell or need to levitate up to the ceiling to look closer to determine what is up there. A skilled climber or someone with a ladder could also get up there to have a look.

Venturing under the alcoves or cracks causes a fiery ray of energy to shoot out of the alcove, dealing 5d6 fire damage to the person who triggered it (save for zero damage). As such, walking under the alcove to have a better look will trigger it, as would climbing up there and peeking in. Staying in the same location will trigger a second shot of the ray at the end of the PC's turn if they did not move out of range.

The way around this is to use a mirror or reflective surface to look closer at the three devices, preferably attached to a 10 foot pole. A trapper can then use the pole or similar long item to try and disable the device, while using either a light spell or a mirror to see it while they work.

It is possible to use a shield or similar object to protect a PC from the rays, but doing so will leave a hole in the item and ruin it permanently. Magical shields/etc can also be ruined this way if they fail an item saving throw.

Even if temporarily disabled, these traps will later reset themselves every 24 hours.

Trap #2. The Flooded Cave

This part of the cave slopes downwards into a flooded section and the water is murky and dark - Infravision, Lowlight Vision, Light spells, etc will not work in this murky water. However a Purify Food and Water would decrease the murkiness, although not completely. Appropriate skill checks will be needed to swim through, with negatives if the swimmer cannot see.

The real danger is currents under the water at the halfway point to the far end of the flooded section of cavern. The currents are caused by rotating fans which deal 4d6 damage to anyone sucked into them. PCs who fail their swim checks are sucked into the fans, and will suffer negatives if they do not know the fans are there. (If an ally swims back and tells them, they can hug the wall and gain bonuses to avoid the fans.)

The fans can be disabled by a trapper, or they can be jammed up by ramming something large into them (a proverbial wrench stuck in the cogs), preferably something large like a great axe.

At the far end the caverns slope back upwards into an airy section thick with moss.

Optional - The moss may be of a glowing phosphorescent variety which provides light equal to a candle, which may be useful later but have a shelf life of 1 week unless cared for by someone with an appropriate skill (eg. Agriculture, Knowledge Nature, etc). If the moss dies it is no longer useful.

Trap #3. The Sticky Spikes

Large rough hewn stairs have been added to this section of tunnel leading upwards, with 21 large wide steps total. Each of the steps have been painted Red, Blue or Yellow - in that order.

Stepping on the wrong steps will trigger a spike trap that deals 3d6 damage from multiple spikes and is sticky (see the Web spell for additional effects). Avoiding the spikes can be done with a successful saving throw (zero damage) or by successfully guessing which steps to skip or jump over.

Trying to jump over 2 or more steps at once requires a successful skill check.

  1. Red - Normal
  2. Blue - Normal
  3. Yellow - Sticky Spikes Trap
  4. Red - Normal
  5. Blue - Normal
  6. Yellow - Sticky Spikes Trap
  7. Red - Sticky Spikes Trap
  8. Blue - Normal
  9. Yellow  - Normal
  10. Red - Sticky Spikes Trap
  11. Blue - Normal
  12. Yellow  - Sticky Spikes Trap
  13. Red - Normal
  14. Blue - Sticky Spikes Trap
  15. Yellow  - Normal
  16. Red - Normal
  17. Blue - Sticky Spikes Trap
  18. Yellow  - Normal
  19. Red - Sticky Spikes Trap
  20. Blue - Normal
  21. Yellow - Sticky Spikes Trap

A trapper can disable each of the traps individually, or the traps can also be triggered with a 10 foot pole with 100 pounds of pressure. Any object weighing 100 lbs or more triggers the trap. Once triggered, the PCs can choose to jump over the steps they know to be trapped.

PCs who weigh less than 100 lbs (including all their gear) can go up the steps without injury.

Herding a flock of chickens up the stairs will not trigger the spikes, but a herd of pigs who weigh enough would work.

Trap #4. The Side Splitting Laughing Gas

When passing through this section of caverns the DM should ask the PCs to each roll d20s and place their roll in front of them. The DM should then note which characters would have failed a poison saving throw.

Three minutes later the PCs will begin to be effected by the Poisonous Laughing Gas, which deals 2d6 damage to anyone who failed their saving throw.

Any players who roleplay their characters with lots of giggles and laughter should be awarded bonus XP.

Trap #5. The Stone Block of Death

The squished remains of bones, armour and other items lay on the cavern floor ahead. There are obvious seams in the ceiling, but no visual way of determining how to trigger the stone block into falling.

Anyone who triggers the stone block while crossing beneath it takes 6d6 damage and begins to crush their lungs. The stone block then retracts back into the ceiling a minute later, so if trapped under it the PC may suffocate to death from their lungs being crushed during that minute of time.

In truth the stone block is only triggered by those people who are cowards. (Optional - The DM can have a riddle or poem scrawled on a nearby wall indicating the bravery and cowardice are clues to crossing it.)

  1. The first person to volunteer to cross the space is clearly brave and thus gets past it for free provided they did not try to do it cautiously, slowly or quickly. If they did, they still count as a coward.
  2. The second person gets a Wisdom check to get a clue as to the possible manner to cross it, otherwise the DM should ask them to describe how they cross it. If they describe themselves doing it cautiously, slowly or running across, then they are a coward.
  3. Additional people going through also get a Wisdom check to get a clue. Likewise if they describe themselves doing it cautiously, slowly or running across then they get squished.
  4. The last person to cross is automatically a coward.

Various spells can also be used to cross the trap, such as Remove Fear. Any spell that boosts bravery or courage or morale will also prevent the trap from triggering.

There is no way to disable this trap. Any trapper who succeeds their check will learn that the trap is triggered through some unknown means. Any objects placed under the stone block will be crushed flat.

The Portal of Hopelessness

Now that the PCs have reached the inner caverns, they reach a glowing purple portal with swirling motes of lavender, white, grey and black within the more vibrant grape purple of the magical portal. The sides of the portal are carved from stone and show people destroying religious artifacts.

Any person passing through the portal will be struck with a feeling of hopelessness, temporarily believing that there are no gods. PCs do receive a saving throw, but Magic Resistance does not work on this magic as they willingly went through the portal and did not attempt to resist the magic.

PCs so affected will automatically submit to the demands of others, surrender without a fight, flee in the face of danger, and otherwise behave as if there is zero hope. (Remind the players that they get a XP bonus for roleplaying accordingly.) Even if players do not wish to cooperate, PCs with zero hope will do nothing 25% of the time and flee 25% of the time.

The feeling of Hopelessness can be countered by any spell effect that gives a character more hope in the spell description. eg. The 2nd Edition "Emotion" spell can be used to counter this effect. If such a spell is cast in advance before going through the portal, the effect will be negated.

The spell effect wears off after 10 + 1d10 minutes, or until countered or dispelled.

The Inner Caverns

The PCs have arrived in the main chamber in the center of the caverns, which is large and spacious, with walls and a domed ceiling that have been clearly cut to make the place more sophisticated looking, with columns cut around the outer circle of the cavern. Between the columns are a series of 8 smaller tunnels which lead to other sections of the Inner Caverns.

In the center of the domed cavern is the Portal of Hopelessness, which is identical and leads back to the entrance cavern.


Within the main chamber is a group of 5 or more Drow Slavers. They drow immediately (in Common tongue) demand that the PCs surrender to them. Any PCs who resist will be shot with hand crossbows loaded with Drow sleep poison. Any individuals who are resistant to poison or immune will have nets tossed on them until they are captured. Failing that, the drow will club them into unconsciousness.

For every 5 Drow Slavers present, one of them should be a wizard armed with Sleep or Deep Slumber spells (Deep Slumber is a more powerful 3rd level spell which causes targets to fall asleep and effects more HD).

If the drow capture everyone, they place them in cages and take them through tunnel #1, which has a portal that goes to the Underdark (or some equivalent location where drow can be found in your campaign world).

Tunnel #1. To the Underdark

Within this tunnel the PCs should encounter 5 or more Drow Slavers. If the PCs proceed cautiously and quietly they should be able to ambush the drow. If they do not however, the drow slavers should be expected to ambush the PCs.

The drow in this tunnel have gathered together a pile of gold and silver religious icons and similar valuables. Amongst their loot should be 1 broken magical item, which will need repairs before it can be made whole again.

Within this cavern will be a portal that goes to the Underdark, but has no effect on creatures going through it to the Underdark... coming back however, the person passes through the Portal of Hopelessness again and ends up in the main chamber again.

If the PCs thoroughly search these tunnels they should find a broken piece of a silver medallion with ancient symbols on it that a wizard may recognize as necromancy symbols. This is 1 piece of 8. It does not detect of magic, although it is magical.

Tunnel #2. The Dragon's Lair

This tunnel contains the burnt corpses of drow. If the PCs continue they will find a slumbering red dragon of a size that should provide a suitable challenge for the PCs, with a large cavern serving as it's lair.

If the PCs provide a challenge lasting more than 3 rounds, the dragon should spend the 4th round collapsing the tunnel so that the only means of escape is through the portal - which takes the person to a volcanic island. Returning means going through the Portal of Hopelessness and back to the main chamber.

Once that is done, the dragon will drink a Haste potion hanging from around its neck and use their full power to kill any spellcasters first.

The dragon has amassed a sizable hoard which includes various religious items, and also religious coins. The only magical items are a few potions the dragon may decide to use during the combat.

If the PCs thoroughly search the dragon's hoard they should find a broken piece of a silver medallion with ancient symbols on it that a wizard may recognize as necromancy symbols. This is 1 piece of 8. It does not detect of magic, although it is magical.

Tunnel #3. The Hallways

These tunnels have been cut into 10 foot by 10 foot hallways. The perfect size for 1 or more Gelatinous Cubes. The PCs should find the acid dripping remains of drow skeletons in various locations in the hallways.

Various chambers within these hallways contain a small library containing mostly journals and diaries, a study, a kitchen, a latrine, bedrooms, etc. Anything not made of metal, bone or stone has been destroyed by the Gelatinous Cubes.

If the PCs thoroughly search the library they should find a broken piece of a silver medallion hidden inside a journal with ancient symbols on it that a wizard may recognize as necromancy symbols. This is 1 piece of 8. It does not detect of magic, although it is magical.

Tunnel #4. The Seaside

The drow have captured a number of owlbears and keep them in cages and drugged with drow sleep poison. The portal in this cavern is larger and wider, and goes to the seaside, so the owlbears don't appear to be from that region. The drow have been using the portal to stage slaver raids against villages that are near the seaside.

If the PCs are cautious and smart, they can release the owlbears and wake them up to attack the 5 or more drow that also dwell in this cavern.

A handful of small sailboats are placed in rows near the portal and can be fit through easily and carried through the cavern to the seaside. Some of the boats are best described as "decorative pleasure boats" and are quite valuable.

If the PCs thoroughly search the largest of the small sailboats they should find a broken piece of a silver medallion hidden in a small compartment inside the mast with ancient symbols on it that a wizard may recognize as necromancy symbols. This is 1 piece of 8. It does not detect of magic, although it is magical.

Tunnel #5. The Mists

This tunnel contains strange mists that come from the portal and the drow have blocked the entrance with stone rubble to try and stop the mists, but have evidently given up. The mists limit sight to 5 feet in all directions, making missile combat almost impossible and giving full concealment to anything within the mists. The cavern also contains a pet displacer beast that belongs to the leader of the drow, which has become accustomed to the mists and has superior smell and hearing, thus allowing it to attack anything within the mists.

If the displacer beast is hungry (50% chance) it will try to attack and kill the weakest looking members of the PCs - especially if they wander off from the group in the mists. The beast is also quite smart and will know when to hide in the mists and avoid trouble. If the displacer beast is not hungry, it will wait for its master to be present before attacking.

Using spells and magic do not seem to effect the mists itself. They detect of necromancy and alteration magic, which is rather unusual. Dispel Magic temporarily gets rid of a bit of mists, but quickly fills in that space with more mists in 2 rounds anyway.

The portal in this library can go to a kingdom or location of the DMs choosing, but ideally it should go to Ravenloft. Any PCs who go to Ravenloft through the portal can return via the Portal of Hopelessness to the main chamber, making it one of the few ways to travel safely back and forth to Ravenloft.

If the PCs thoroughly search the walls of this cavern they should find a broken piece of a silver medallion hidden under a rock near the west most wall with ancient symbols on it that a wizard may recognize as necromancy symbols. This is 1 piece of 8. It does not detect of magic, although it is magical.

Tunnel #6. The Great Library

Not everything Xorek took was destroyed or broken. This tunnel leads to a great library which contains a great number of books from every culture and language, with all the books being at least 1300 years old. The library is three stories tall with stairs going to the 2nd and 3rd levels. Some of the stairs have collapsed and fallen apart with age.

To guard the books from intruders however, Xorek enticed multiple Mimics to live there and transformed them to resemble large books. The Book Mimics present themselves as looking like more expensive spellbooks in obvious locations that are readily spotted, and lay in wait for any wizards foolish enough to try and read them.

The portal in this library can go to a kingdom or location of the DM's choosing.

Many of the books within the library would be valuable to historians.

If the PCs thoroughly search the library they should find a broken piece of a silver medallion hidden under the broken staircase with ancient symbols on it that a wizard may recognize as necromancy symbols. This is 1 piece of 8. It does not detect of magic, although it is magical.

Tunnel #7. The Scrying Eye

This round cavern contains an abyssal beholder from Xorek's explorations of the various planes, a Crystal Ball (broken) that was used for scrying, and several pentagrams on the floor. Everything in this chamber is covered with dust, so much so that the beholder looks like a dusty stone statue, and the chalk pentagrams on the floor are impossible to see. The beholder is trapped in suspended animation within its pentagram. Getting too close to the beholder can cause the chalk pentagram to get smudged and free it from its prison, at which point it will awaken and attack immediately.

If the combat lasts longer than 3 rounds, the Abyssal Beholder will go through the portal to return to its home in the Abyss, which is where the portal goes to.

There are signs that the drow walked into this chamber, but then walked out of it. Perhaps they took one look and thought better of it?

The Crystal Ball can be repaired and used for scrying.

If the PCs thoroughly search the library they should find a broken piece of a silver medallion on a dusty table near the Crystal Ball with ancient symbols on it that a wizard may recognize as necromancy symbols. This is 1 piece of 8. It does not detect of magic, although it is magical.

Tunnel #8. The Morgue

The entrance to this cave has been blocked by stone rubble by the drow. It would take about 10 minutes of moving rocks about to clear a section large enough for the PCs to crawl through.

Xorek kept many of his undead experiments in this cavern, with various bits of them preserved in jars of wax and chemicals. The PCs should find a number of undead creatures, mostly zombies and skeletons, laying about on wooden tables. If they are smart, they should destroy them all immediately.

If they delay, the Undead Mindflayer takes notice of them and decides to attack. The undead mindflayer has all the abilities of a normal mindflayer, plus the ability to command undead creatures at will as a bonus action. It orders all of the undead creatures to attack.

Even if the PCs do start destroying all of the undead they see, they should only destroy half of them before the undead mindflayer notices it is no longer alone.

The portal in this cavern goes to a huge cemetery near a large metropolis. Xorek would steal corpses from the cemetery using the portal.

If the PCs thoroughly search the morgue they should find a broken piece of a silver medallion stuck to the bottom of chair with some glue with ancient symbols on it that a wizard may recognize as necromancy symbols. This is 1 piece of 8. It does not detect of magic, although it is magical. 

Sprinkle Mundane Artifacts About

The DM running this adventure should sprinkle mundane (non magical) objects around the caverns, mostly made of gold, silver, gems and clearly valuable despite being broken.

Magical items should be kept to a minimum and always broken. The cost of the mundane items should help pay for the repairs to the magical items, but if the PCs choose to repair all the magical items then the cost of the repairs should actually be more than all the gold value of the mundane items they recovered.

Thus PCs will either need to decide which items to repair, or to repair all of them and lose gold in the process.

The Bonus Optional Superboss

If the PCs manage to find all 8 of the silver medallion pieces, the medallion can be repaired with a Mending spell.

If the party then takes the silver medallion to the portal and finds a specific round section on the side of the portal, they can unlock and open a staircase in the floor.

Unlocking the staircase releases a Xorek Clone from suspended animation, where it has been waiting for centuries. This version of Xorek is a powerful lich which likes to use a combination of necromancy and chronomancy (time magic) spells. He will use spells like Haste, Slow and various spells causing instant death, ability damage and debilitating effects. Any battle with him should feel extremely unfair for the players because he clearly outmatches them.

(For more about Chronomancy, I recommend reading the 2nd Edition AD&D Chronomancer book.)

The PCs are not necessarily meant to fight Xorek. He is an optional Superboss. If they are smart, they could just run through a portal and avoid him.

Note - Unlike normal liches, Xorek does not have a phylactery. He doesn't need them because his solution was to make multiple clones of himself, each of which have reached lich, demilich or greater status. Many of his clones stay in a state of dormancy until activated.

If however they manage to defeat him, they should find the following in the chamber below:

  1. A command word that turns off all the traps and removes the effect of the Portal of Hopelessness.
  2. A collection of broken magical and mundane artifacts. The DM is encouraged to determine the magical items ahead of time, as Xorek would certainly use any useful items in combat.
  3. A large spellbook containing a variety of spells, including Necromancy and Chronomancy spells (note - some Chronomancy spells should really be limited to Chronomancers only and not allowed to normal wizards).
  4. Gold, silver, gems, etc.
  5. Optional - An item or clue leading to another quest, possibly another lair that belongs to another clone of Xorek.

Three Quests to Rehabilitate Murder Hobos

So the problem with "Murder Hobos" in D&D is that they tend to ruin games. They don't like to roleplay and typically have 2-dimensional characters who only live to kill and loot things. Hence the term "Murder Hobos". The term has become popular in recent years thanks to 4th Edition and 5th Edition and newer players being rather "murder-y". Older players who emphasize roleplaying and 3-dimensional characters usually don't have this problem.

But it is possible to cure players who have this affliction. The trick is to create quests which have a strong balance of roleplaying and combat.

#1. The Rescue Mission.

The shieldsmith's daughter has been kidnapped by *INSERT MONSTERS HERE* and he wants the PCs to rescue her. He offers to give them a magical shield as payment.

Roleplaying - Find ways to add extra roleplaying in here, not just with the smith's daughter, but also the villagers and even the monsters that they were sent to kill.

Bonus - The local mayor / burgomaster / lord / sheriff / whatever also agrees to pay the PCs X amount of gold coins for each villager the PCs also rescue. So if they say 50 gp, and there is 20 villagers that is 1000 gp.

Effect - The PCs are being encouraged to kill the baddies so they are still satisfying that need to kill stuff, but they need to rescue the smith's daughter and the villagers. The more they save, the more rewards they get.

Added Bonus - Depending on how well the party behaves you should reward them accordingly with the magical shield. If they do poorly, the shield is only +1. If they do reasonably well or quite well, reward them with either a +2 or +3 shield.

#2. The Mystery of the Thief.

So murder mysteries are not a solution as Murder Hobos can still just murder everyone. The goal here is actually much more complex since the PCs have to not only talk to witnesses, they need to identify suspects, find clues that lead them to other witnesses or suspects, interrogate them and find a way to convince the thief to tell the PCs where the stolen item is.

So here goes...

The actual thief is a pixie with 1 hp and they have stolen a valuable key that opens a magical vault, and the key itself is protected from scrying and other forms of magical detection. It is also small and easily hidden. The pixie really only wants something that is in the vault, a vial of pixie dust, but to find that out the PCs need to actually talk to the pixie and make a deal. The pixie will agree to the deal, but warns the PCs that if they betray the agreement that they will suffer the Pixie's Curse (which causes all rolls of 2 to be an automatic failure, just like rolling 1s - and a Pixie's Curse can only be removed by another fairy casting Remove Curse).

Beyond that just make a few witnesses who saw the key floating in midair, a few false leads that go to the stableboy or maid who each have a motive to steal the key, but each of them have alibis and other witnesses who saw them elsewhere. Eventually one witness should tell the PCs that they heard noises in the attic, causing them to investigate and they find the pixie hiding in the attic.

For combat you should also include a fight with some local drunks just for fun, and try to make it slapstick so that even the fight has a comedic / roleplaying element. Murdering the drunks in front of witnesses would be bad...

Bonus - The lord or lady or innkeep (whomever makes sense for wherever this is taking place) may have offered to store the PCs valuables in the magical vault for them, giving the PCs extra reason to recover the key. The same person should also allude that someone (not the pixie) has been stealing things of late but he hasn't been able to prove it yet, thus motivating them to store their things. If they don't store their things in the vault, they get stolen (the butler did it).

Added Fun - Design the layout of the map to look like the map from the boardgame Clue. Or better yet, just use a Clue board.

Effect - This is a roleplaying intense adventure that relies on sleuthing, forcing the PCs to not murder everyone. Trying to engage in combat with the 1 hp pixie just kills the pixie, and the party then NEVER finds the key.

#3. The Night of Endless Nightmares.

The PCs arrive in an abandoned village but are unable to fall asleep. Worse, a dense fog surrounds the village, which causes them to get lost in the fog and when they do walk out of the fog they are back in the village.

As the night progresses they continue to be unable to sleep as they keep hearing strange noises. When they investigate they find one of the following:

  • A horde of juju zombies. Don't get bit, they turn you into a zombie too! Ghouls or ghasts also work well.
  • The wandering shade of a person who was hideously murdered, who tries to lead the PCs to a clue to end the curse. The shades may or may not speak in riddles...
  • A person who is still alive, but traumatized. They might be unable to speak, they might speak but only in snippets, or they might ramble nonsense that emphasizes all the horrible things they saw without a lot of details. With some extra roleplaying however the alive person might give clues as to what happened to the village, but have no idea where the medallion pieces are.

The PCs need to find 5 pieces of a silver medallion, use a Mending spell on it, and then return it to a place in a cursed temple to end the curse. In the meantime however it is the goal of the DM to keep the PCs alive and force them to try and find the 5 shades who will lead them to the silver medallions. Some of the shades will require certain tasks to be completed before they reveal the location of the medallion piece.

Effect - The PCs can only leave this village by removing the curse. Finding the shades is easy, roleplaying is really the only task they need to do. The zombies/ghasts/ghouls are really only there to provide some brief combat - and an opportunity to temporarily turn PCs into undead.

The Finale - Once the curse is lifted, everything goes back to normal. Any PCs who were undead realize it was just a nightmare. The villagers are all alive, but are traumatized from the effects of the nightmare. It is as if nothing had happened now that the medallion has been restored to the cursed temple. (Taking the silver medallion will cause it to shatter and restart the curse again.)


#4. The Crossbow Duel at High Noon.

A NPC becomes slighted by a PCs "Murder Hobo" behaviour and challenges him or her to a duel at High Noon the following day. Other NPCs should immediately start gambling on who might win, chatter should ensue, and the fight is clearly delayed. The PC should feel discouraged to just attack immediately because of the amount of lead up to the fight. Even if they do attack immediately, other NPCs should pull them apart and insist that the fight happen tomorrow.

Following the rules of a duel, the PC and NPC both need a seconder. (The seconder fights if the duelist is somehow unable to fight.) The local sheriff or magistrate etc serves as the judge. A local cleric or druid is asked to serve as the healer.

The rules of the duel are until first blood. Once first blood is dealt, the duel is over. So the goal here isn't to kill the opponent, it is to be the first person to draw blood. Thus rolling initiative and being the first person to shoot will be very tight. Roll d4s for initiative instead. The smaller initiative dice for duels gives the faster person a distinct advantage.

The NPC duelist has at least a 18 Dexterity (and depending on the edition you are playing) extra feats that boost their initiative speed.

On the day of the duel each duelist is provided with a crossbow (light crossbow or hand crossbow). They will each walk ten paces, and then turn and fire when asked by the judge.

During the duel the NPC will taunt the PC and engage in roleplaying, trying to psyche out his opponent. The PC will need to roll multiple saves or Sense Motive checks etc to avoid penalties to either initiative or attack roll. The PC will also be given an opportunity to psyche out the NPC too.

In the lead up to the duel and after the duel, there should be an air of excitement in the town. Almost like it is a festival. These should be purely roleplaying opportunities as the NPCs (and possibly PCs) gamble on the results of the duel.

The PCs could even deliberately bet against their friend and have him throw the fight. (Which could be funny if the NPC duelist also bet against himself...)

While the duel is integral to the plot, it should only last 1 round. Or a few rounds if both duelists are trying to lose on purpose.

Effect - This quest teaches the PCs it is possible to interact with the NPCs without murdering all of them. Even the opponent should not be murdered, as once first blood has been given the NPC should give a speech admitting defeat or praising the PC for their bravery despite defeat.



Other Things That Should Happen To Murder Hobos

If the Murder Hobos in your game refuse to be rehabilitated, here is how you need to deal with the problem.

#1. Alignment Shifts + Associated Consequences. eg. Clerics losing access to spells from their god.

#2. NPC investigators with access to Speak-with-Dead and similar magicks will determine who the murderers are, sparking further investigations.

#3. Bounties on the PCs who become known as Villains, causing good heroes to seek them out for the bounty.

#4. NPCs recognize the PCs as Villains and refuse to help them.

#5. Villains begin approaching the PCs to hire them to do evil deeds, because their reputation has become so bad.

#6. Villains betray the Murder Hobos and hand them over to the good guys in exchange for a pardon and the bounty.

#7. When the Murder Hobos kill innocents, make the combat boring and whatever they find to be commonplace and boring. Don't even bother with attack rolls. Just let them murder them outright so that they don't even get to roll dice.


10 Boring and Clichéd Ways to start a D&D Campaign

10 Boring and Clichéd Ways to start a D&D Campaign

#1. Caravan Guards.
#2. Summoned by Royalty or a Noble.
#3. Everyone meets in a Tavern or Inn.
#4. The Town or City is attacked, thrusting the party together mid combat.
#5. Everyone has Amnesia.
#6. Shipwrecked.
#7. Call for adventurers on a Wanted Poster.
#8. Everyone is kidnapped / captured
#9. Everyone is teleported against their will.
#10. On a ship, which is attacked during the voyage.

10 Better Ways to start a D&D Campaign

#1. Festival or Holiday. Possibly with gift giving.
#2. Natural Disaster, eg. Flood or earthquake.
#3. Wedding. All the PCs are put at the misfit table.
#4. Funeral. All the PCs somehow knew the deceased and are named in their will.
#5. At a large contest. Eg. Jousting tournament, archery, wizardry, etc. It could also be something low key like a fishing derby.
#6. At the signing of a treaty, ending a long war.
#7. Public Bath House or Hot Springs. Could actually be quite funny...
#8. Marketplace during a sales event. Everything is 30% off.
#9. During a refugee crisis, PCs are fleeing the horrors of war.
#10. PCs are conscripted into an army against their will.
 
If you use your imagination you can come up with a number of different ways and places the PCs could meet.
 
  • Hospital
  • Brewery
  • Weapon-Smithy
  • Forest Fire
  • Public Execution or Trial
  • Royal Visit to the local village
  • Strange Chasm or Rift cuts a major road apart, causing travelers to seek an alternative route together. Or to possibly attempt to build a bridge together...
  • Etc
Whatever more imaginative thing you do, it will doubtlessly be better than the old "you all meet in a tavern" cliché.


The Superboss in Dungeons and Dragons

A Boss with his Nightmare steed.
First lets start with a few definitions so you know what the difference is between a Boss and a Superboss, within the context of Dungeons and Dragons.

The Boss - A big bad monster or person that is central to the plot of a D&D game. They are typically scaled to a level or HD appropriate to the levels of the group of adventurers. Completing the adventure usually requires that you defeat the Boss in what is typically called a "Boss Fight".

eg. Strahd, Zuggtmoy, Acerarak, Vecna, etc are all bosses because they are integral to the plot.

The Superboss - An optional monster or person who is so powerful they make the regular Boss look weak in comparison, but the good news is that the Superboss is completely optional and is not integral to the plot. Superbosses are also typically insanely powerful, with the ability to one-shot a character or temporarily disable them, tonnes of hit points, and PCs really need to be on their toes to defeat one.

Note - Superbosses are not just found in D&D. You can also frequently find them in video games. Including D&D-based video games.

A Few Examples

#1. The Mummy in The Haunted Halls of Eveningstar.

So the original module HHoE is appropriate for levels 1 to 5 and contains a wide variety of monsters to fight, and half the dungeon is left blank for the DM to add whatever they want in there - typically monsters and traps which are level appropriate.

The Mummy however is ridiculously powerful in comparison to the standard fare for the dungeon. It is possible to defeat the mummy, but the party should be fully rested and come prepared for a serious fight. The Mummy is also infamous within the game as many games have ended in a party wipe, wherein the Mummy kills everyone. Hence the infamy. This is why the Mummy is a Superboss. You aren't actually meant to fight it, but if you do then you had better be prepared.

Worse, when the Mummy does appear the PCs can often be caught off guard, so it is often like you were basically ambushed by the dang thing.

#2. Flamewing in The Tower of Doom.

So Tower of Doom is an old D&D-based arcade game set in Mystara, but Flamewing is an excellent example of an optional superboss. Your main goal in the game is to defeat an Archlich named Deimos and his three lieutenants, which include a troll, a black dragon and a shadow elf.

Flamewing is the quintessential "bonus dragon" in the dungeon. They basically added it to the game because it was Dungeons and DRAGONS and they figured there needed to be at least one huge dragon in the game because the smaller dragon wasn't really much of a challenge.

In the game Flamewing has the ability to munch on characters and knock them to the ground, temporarily disabling them. Later Flamewing drops rocks on the PCs, and since this is an arcade game you are expected to insert coins if you want to revive your character. Thus Flamewing is a Superboss basically designed to suck money out of you by killing the PCs again and again. You can watch gameplay in the video below:



Did you count the number of times they died before they finally defeated Flamewing? I did not, but it was a good number of coins.

#3. The Balrog.

Okay, so it isn't a Dungeons and Dragons example, but consider the situation in the Fellowship of the Ring. They don't need to fight the Balrog. Indeed, they run away from it and only Gandalf dares to stand his ground. The goblins run away from it too. The Balrog is essentially an optional Superboss and is not important to the overall story of Lord of the Rings. Gandalf could have just as easily fallen in a chasm and showed up in the second book anyway, but Tolkien clearly thought a fight between the Balrog and Gandalf would be more interesting. Which it is.

But should you use a Superboss in such a manner in a D&D game, just for a minor point in the plot so you can shift the too powerful NPC wizard out of the picture? Probably not. Or maybe it is the only solution you can think of.

So what makes for a good Superboss?

Right from the beginning it should be pretty clear that the Superboss is optional. The PCs should be given a clear method of escape to avoid the fight if they wish to, even if ambushed. If not an ambush, the Superboss should be located in part of the dungeon/wilderness that is unnecessary to explore as part of the plot. The local goblins or whatever might even have warning signs indicating that the Superboss is in that direction. Skulls on pikes. Old dried blood and lots of it. The PCs exploring in that direction should have clear warnings that danger is ahead.

Warning or no warning? There are pros and cons to this. If the PCs go to a swamp said to be the home of a huge green dragon, the locals should probably warn them to stay away. The PCs are like "Oh, we are only going to slay the ogre. We will stay away from the dragon, don't worry!" Alternatively, going to an ancient fortress to slay an ogre and not knowing there is a dragon there makes for a nice ambush. The PCs won't be expecting it when it happens.

Side Note - What if the ogre is kicking the party's butt, they are all about to die, and suddenly the dragon shows up and eats the ogre - and captures the party for snacks later on. So then the party has to choose, just escape... or escape and try to kill the dragon? The ogre is dead after all. Killing the dragon is optional.

Whatever the boss is, the Superboss should be roughly twice as hard to defeat. Or possibly harder. Now that doesn't mean it should have double the hit points and deal double damage, that would technically be 4 times harder to defeat. Also note that this could still mean that the Superboss might still be vulnerable to instant kill spells...

Thus a Superboss should be immune to various types of spells that kill instantly. So spell immunity to a wide variety of such spells, including spells like Polymorph. Many types of dragons, demons and undead fall into these categories and thus make a good potential Superboss.

The Superboss should be resistant to both combat damage and magical damage. Magic Resistance is a given.

Multiple different types of deadly attacks. Think outside the box for this one. True, the listing in the Monster Manual lists the normal attacks for that monster, but what if the Superboss has come up with some unique attacks they can do using their surroundings or perhaps unusual spells it created?

Multiple attacks per round. So for example a dragon might do claw, claw, bite, breath weapon, an innate spell at will, and a tail attack all in one round. Some players might call foul on this. Especially if the dragon casts Haste.

No underlings. A Superboss shouldn't need underlings to fight for it. A normal Boss fight should have underlings, but a Superboss should never have them for they are merely a distraction from the main fight. So for example a Boss could have a mount, such as a Nightmare to ride (see image way at the top), but a Superboss wouldn't need a mount because they can just fly or teleport.

The Superboss might know when to leave in a hurry. You don't get to become a Superboss in the first place by taking silly risks around adventurers. A smart Superboss should know when to cut their losses and teleport out of there. Or maybe they are so close to winning they decide to take the risk. Or maybe they have a phylactery hidden somewhere and the dragon is actually a dracolich, in which case now is a good time for the DM to practice their evil laughter...

Mwahahahahahahahaa!

One last thing. A DM should never apologize for having a Superboss in their dungeon. It is optional after all and the PCs should never feel obligated to fight it (not even the Lawful Stupid PCs should feel obligated). The Superboss is there to remind PCs that there are things that are too big for them to take on, and that caution / running away is always an option. If they don't heed the warnings, that is not your fault.

The Superboss doesn't need a steed.

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