Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

How great is The Adventure Zone? If you haven’t heard this hilarious fifth edition actual play podcast, stop whatever you’re doing and give it a shot right now. While the normal cast on the show is the crem dela crem of actual play awesomeness, during the holidays they went on hiatus and allowed the crew from The Flop House podcast (another great one) to take over the story for an episode. This special game was DMed by the great Stuart Wellington who has inspired me to write about an important topic: keeping the game moving.

Wellington’s players, The Hogsbottom Three, attended a dinner party undercover to complete a sensitive mission. I won’t go into more detail as to not spoil the story. What I will say is that this mission, like many heists in RPGs, had a lot of discussion among players as to what they should do next. It’s the kind of conversation that keeps players talking in circles about whether they should hide in apple barrels or sacks of potatoes. While this conversation can be fun to an extent, it also considerably slows down the game while tens of minutes are wasted talking about whether the kitchen or the drawing room should be searched for clues. A lengthy discussion about which duchess seems a more worthy target of a detect thoughts spell can cut into the chunk of time you need for an awesome boss fight (or other set piece) at the end of the adventure. Wellington knows this, and that’s why he kept the game the moving.

Whenever the adventurers started to overthink or argue in circles about what to do next, a new NPC would walk over an engage them in conversation or the butler would ring the bell and ask everyone to proceed into the dining room for dinner. Startling announcements were made. Surprising events happened! Wellington pulled out all the stops to push the adventure forward and so can you. It’s easier than it seems. You don’t need to plan for every conversation the characters are going to have to make this happen. Just follow my Wellington-inspired tips below.

List Out Events Chronologically

Wellington kept his game going by simply moving the action of a dinner party forward as it might normally occur without the adventurers there. You can do the same for any sort of structured event (such as a ball, thieves’ guild meeting, or night spent in a spooky cabin) by simply jotting down a quick list of events in the order you think they’d happen. This will take less than five minutes. Here’s an example.

The characters are attending a fancy dinner party honoring a newly named baroness because they have gotten wind she might be assassinated by a rival faction. Her assassination could spark a war, so it’s up to the heroes to stop them. Here’s what your list might look like.

  1. Cocktail hour on the castle balcony.
  2. Many important NPCs arrive.
  3. The PCs are recognized by Lady Duafaine, who slips them a note saying not to trust the baroness’ husband.
  4. The baroness arrives with husband on her arm and gives a welcome toast.
  5. Dinner is served in the great hall.
  6. PCs are seated at a table with Lord Marquet, who likes to gossip and knows all about the noble holdings in the area.
  7. The baroness’ husband gets up to give a toast in honor of his wife.
  8. After the meal, the band begins playing and the PCs are asked by guests to dance including the baroness and her husband,
  9. During the dance the baroness reveals in some way she is unhappy in her marriage.
  10. Lady Duafaine asks the band to stop playing and reveals she is the lich Necronstalla in disguise and some of the wait staff are her zombie henchmen! They attack immediately.

The example above shows how the party might flow if the characters chose to do nothing. Odds are most groups will take action, and you may not have every scene in your timeline play out. That’s totally fine. In fact that’s the hope. The list exists so the next time you find the characters talking in circles about what to do next, you can say, “And that’s when Lady Duafaine wanders over…” A new conversation or a change of scene reminds them of the ticking clock and provides them with some new information that allows them to take action. Whenever you feel the characters are dragging their feet, simply move to the next item on your list.

If the characters figure out Lady Duafaine is Necronstalla and attack before dinner is served, that’s ok. This list is to here help you move things along not be a full outline for the adventure. They might also take her advice and arrest the barroness’ husband (which is exactly the distraction the lich wants) which would also shake up the timeline.

A chronological list like this also helps you out when the players go somewhere you didn’t expect. Maybe one of them wants to investigate the kitchen because they’re worried the baroness might be poisoned. Depending on when they sneak into the kitchen, you might describe the wait staff moving mechanically as they lift trays and prepare to bring them to the hall. They don’t speak with one another and go about their tasks like focused robots. Your list told you that because dinner hasn’t been served yet, this is what the zombies would be setting up. Similarly, if a character goes into the kitchen during dinner to see what desserts are offered, they might be surprised to find none are being made… a tip that something indeed is wrong!

Make A List Of Random Events

Of course not all adventures are so structured. The most classic of heists, the bank variety, could follow the bank’s schedule if the characters are using stealth and deception to obtain their goals, or it could take on a less structured vibe if the characters are doing more of an old-fashioned stick up. In cases like these, where there isn’t a set schedule, you’ll just need a list of random events ready to go. You might event put them into a table like the one below. Whenever the characters are talking in circles, roll on the table or pick and event to shake things up.

d10 Event
1 The PCs are alerted their getaway vehicle is compromised.
2 The PCs get word their heist is trending on social media or in the news.
3 The bank enters lockdown mode. All the doors shut and lock making it nigh impossible to leave.
4 A security guard who is late for duty arrives on the scene.
5 An alarm the PCs didn’t know or plan for about begins to sound.
6 A hostage offers considerable wealth or information for their release.
7 A hostage recognizes a PC.
8 3d4 heroic hostages take it on themselves to assault the PCs.
9 A pregnant hostage goes into labor.
10 A voice calls from outside, “This is the police! We have you surrounded.”

Events like these should really keep the pressure on your PCs to keep moving. The longer they dillydally, the more the problems will start to pile up. This method isn’t just for ban heists. Zombie outbreaks, battlefield operations, and all kinds of other missions benefit from having a table like this.

Have A List Of NPCs Handy

No matter what you do, it helps to keep a list of NPCs that might engage the characters to move the story along handy. Don’t spend too much time on this. A sentence or two should be enough for you to improv a quick scene with the characters to keep their butts moving. Use this list in conjunction with your event list to really make your story work. In the bank example above a list like this might give you an idea of which hostage leads the charge against the PCs. Or the list could even make you think of some new events on the spot. Why wouldn’t intrepid reporter Maria Carrana try to engage the PCs for an interview as they rob her bank?

Here are some sample entries for an NPC list:

  • Maria Carrana – Bold reporter for The Daily Drift who will stop at nothing for a good story.
  • Gruff McGriffles – An old dwarf who loves talking about his days as a captain in the orc war.
  • Admiral Gutpunch – A spacemarine android who takes everything literally.

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

Last week I unveiled my plan to make Enora my first fully published world. In that same announcement, I showed off a new player character race, the dwiefling. This week, I have a new cleric domain to share – Darkness.

Avos is the god of darkness worshipped by the dwarves and tieflings of Redwind, but you can use this domain for clerics who worship any deity associated with darkness, night, or secrets. I know that the first gods that spring to mind are evil: Lolth, Shar, The Shadow, Tharizdun, and Vecna immediately come to mind. That’s not the only way to play this though. There’s plenty of non-evil deities associated with darkness (just look at this real-world list). Different arguments can be made for Elistraee, Mask, Moradin, Selûne, Celestian, Wee Jas, The Traveler, and The Blood of Vol. Avos falls into this camp. His faithful seek comfort and safety in darkness and trust in the unknown.

So it is without further adieu that I present the Darkness domain. Please provide feedback as I consider these new items to be in playtest mode!

Darkness Domain

The Darkness domain focuses on what is hidden, both physically and within one’s soul. Followers of darkness gods depend on these deities to keep secrets concealed and loved ones safe in the darkness. These are powers many pray to just before they go to sleep so that they might wake again. Subterranean cultures in particular hold this domain in high regard, since they live in darkness. The gods of this domain are often depicted as hooded or concealed figures that sometimes lack form. Some of the gods are referred to as gods of night, dark magic, or secrets.

Darkness Domain Spells
Cleric Level Spells
1st sanctuary, sleep
3rd darkness, darkvision
5th fear, nondetection
7th black tentacles, phantasmal killer
9th dream, mislead
Bonus Proficiency

When you choose this domain at 1st level, you gain proficiency with heavy armor.

Favor in Darkness

Also starting at 1st level, you gain blindsight to a range of 15 feet.

Channel Divinity: Clinging Darkness

Starting at 2nd level, you hurl a shadow at one creature you can see within 30 feet of you as an action. That creature must succeed on a Constitution saving throw or become fully bound in the shadow for 1 minute. While bound in the shadow the creature is blinded and restrained. It can repeat the saving throw each time it takes damage, or on its turn as an action, ending the blinded and restrained conditions on a success.

Superior Favor in Darkness

Starting at 6th level, your blindsight increases to a range of 30 feet.

Divine Strike

At 8th level, you gain the ability to infuse your weapon strikes with divine energy. Once on each of your turns when you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can cause the attack to deal an extra 1d8 cold or necrotic damage (your choice) to the target. When you reach 14th level, the extra damage increases to 2d8.

Darkness Savant

At 17th level, your blindsight increases to a range of 60 feet. In addition, targets of your clinging darkness take 4d6 cold damage and 4d6 necrotic damage when they first become bound in the shadow by failing a Constitution saving throw. This damage does not allow them to repeat their saving throws.

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

Let’s talk about an Archduke of the Nine Hells! Both of my Exploration Age games that started during the launch of fifth edition are wrapping up. One campaign has a single session remaining! The entire story culminates in a battle with Bel, the former Archduke of Avernus, the first layer of the Nine Hells. (Note, if you’re unfamiliar with Bel, he’s mentioned briefly in the Nine Hells section of the Dungeon Master’s Guide on page 65 and in the old third edition source book Fiendish Codex II: Tyrants of the Nine Hells).

In my campaign the player characters formed an alliance of necessity with Bel. They had common enemies. Bel gave the characters the power to take out some very formidable aberrations in exchange for helping to reinstall him as the Archduke of Avernus. It turns out the characters were being used by the crafty devil to take out his rivals. Now all they are all that stands in the way of Bel turning their home plane into a brand new hellscape.

Since I needed to stat out this legendary fiend for my party to take on, I thought I’d share the mechanics with all of you! Take a look. You can grab Bel’s stats in the free PDF linked below and in the Free Game Resources page of this site. (Note: My version of Bel is extra powerful. He’s the campaign’s ultimate villain and he’s gained a lot of power thanks to the adventurers. I estimate his normal Challenge Rating would be somewhere in the low to mid 20s. Reducing his hit points, damage output, and AC and then replacing his Limited Magic Immunity with Magic Resistance is an easy way to make that adjustment.)

Bel: Not Your Average Pit Fiend

Image from the Forgotten Realms Wiki.

Image from the Forgotten Realms Wiki.

Bel

Bel is no ordinary pit fiend. The ground shakes and all but the strongest archdevils are cowed when the legendary general walks by.

Asmodeus Above All. Bel is the former and present general and adviser of Zariel, the current ruler of Avernus by decree of Asmodeus. During Zariel’s first reign, Bel served his mistress loyally, until she plotted to overthrow Asmodeus. Bel betrayed Zariel in order to please his greater master Asmodeus. As a reward for his loyalty, Bel became the Archduke of Avernus when Zariel was overthrown. Overtime Zariel proved her loyalty to Asmodeus once again and Bel fell from the dark god’s favor. Zariel once again ruled Avernus and Bel was demoted. This was the will of Asmodeus, and though the decision was a slap in the face to Bel, he respects the hierarchy of the Nine Hells above all. It is an insult to serve Zariel, who delights in keeping Bel as an advisor, but he will not go against the word of Asmodeus.

Coveter of Power. Though Bel will not directly oppose or betray Asmodeus, he still desires his old station as Archduke of Avernus. To this end Bel seeks creatures who operate outside of the hierarchy of the Nine Hells. Bel’s plots are layered and complex. The strange bedfellows he makes are often unwitting adventurers who don’t realize the true consequences of their actions until it is too late. Bel seeks Zariel overthrown again, this time permanently, or a way to coerce Asmodeus.

Dangerous Deceiver. Bel is an engaging liar. He forges perfectly worded contracts that have deceived ancient gold wyrms into handing over their souls. The devil can look into the soul of any person and tell them exactly what they want to hear in order to get his desired reaction.

Brilliant General. For centuries Bel has been leading armies of devils in Avernus, the first line of defense against the Nine Hell’s incoming threats, namely demons from the Abyss. He has been fighting the Blood War for as long as he can remember and the fact that he has survived and thrived in this environment is a testament to his strategic mind and the loyalty of his troops.

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

Today’s update may look short, but it’s actually 16 pages of free PDF long. As you may know, for the last two weeks I’ve been expanding Storm King’s Thunder by adding a new giant lord to the adventure. Not just any giant lord either. A desert giant lord from Kobold Press’ Tome of Beasts!

In the PDF below you can grab new content for chapters 1-4, plus a whole new chapter, “Pyramid of Desert Giants,” that uses many a denizen from Kobold Press’ latest masterpiece.

LINK TO THE PDF: The Desert Giant’s Plan

I love to play using Roll20, so I’m making the maps available for you below. If you want to grab this expanded content for Storm King’s Thunder and the maps at another time, they’ll live forever on the Free Game Resources section of this site.

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If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

Last week I showed off part of my plan to add desert giants from Tome of Beasts into the latest (and in my opinion greatest) fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons adventure, Storm King’s Thunder. I introduced you to the giant lord Emir Ayla Zeif and told you all about her plan to murder other giants and gather their skulls for a ritual that could free a Jotun giant from its pyramid prison. Desert giants were added to chapters 1 – 4 of Storm King’s Thunder.

This week I’m going to begin adding my own chapter to the book. This chapter would fall somewhere between chapters 5 and 9. Let’s call it Chapter 8.5: Pyramid of Desert Giants. This chapter shows off Zeif’s lair, Dorsnarg Pyramid.

First up, some maps I made using Pyromancer’s Dungeon Painter.

Base of Dorsnarg Pyramid

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Top of Dorsnarg Pyramid

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Next week we’ll talk about what exactly happens inside this pyramid, but for now, let’s cover the introductory materials of the chapter.

Chapter 8.5: Pyramid of Desert Giants

In this chapter the characters have an opportunity stop Emir Ayla Zeif before she releases Erlin the Great, an enraged Jotun giant, from his prison. If the characters obtain Zeif’s conch of teleportation, they can use it to teleport to Maelstrom, King Hekaton’s undersea citadel (see chapter 10, “Hold of the Storm Giants”). Obtaining the conch is their main goal here but the characters may take action to free or leave Erlin imprisoned. If characters may choose to let the Jotun out, he is ready for vengeance, but clever adventurers can direct this rage and use it to their benefit.

Desert and Jotun Giants

Before running this part of the adventure, review the information on desert and Jotun giants in the Tome of Beasts. It will help you roleplay the giants in this chapter.

The Obsessed Emir

Ayla Zeif has become obsessed with opening Erlin the Great’s prison ever since she deciphered a hidden meaning in the runes all desert giant inscribe onto their skins. Those inscriptions led her to Dorsnarg Pyramid where the Jotun is imprisoned and also contained instructions for a ritual that would unseal Erlin’s cell. Once the Jotun is free, Ayla hopes to use Erlin’s knowledge and strength to rise to the top of the ordning. She knows he once fought against the gods. During that war Erlin and his kind may have succeeded had not the rest of giants aided the cause of the gods and imprisoned the Jotun in places like Dorsnarg Pyramid. The emir believes freeing such a powerful being would make even the All-Father himself quake with fear and force the gods to crown her queen of all giants.

Since the hunt for giant skulls to power the unsealing ritual began, Ayla has focused on nothing else. Her husband and second-in-command, Calamed, runs the day-to-day operations of the pyramid. He keeps the rest of the desert giants fed, sheltered, and hunting for skulls. Ayla’s neglect has spurred Calamed into an affair with another giant, Mira Burma. What started as a fling has become true love. Calamed wishes to return to the desert giants old way of life as nomads, but he cannot openly challenge his wife or leave her without facing death.

When the characters arrive at Dorsnarg Pyramid, Ayla has all fifty skulls she needs to perform the unsealing ritual.

Farragut the Scribe of the Desert

Desert giants under Ayla’s command captured Farragut, a copper dragon known as the Scribe of the Desert. The dragon’s hobby is collecting pieces of lore with a particular interest in giant culture and history. She has Farragut studying the skin of long dead elder desert giants to decipher the unsealing ritual. Farragut works quickly and unhappily at his task, hoping Ayla’s promise of freedom isn’t a lie. In truth she plans to give the dragon to Erlin as a gift in which case the dragon’s fate would be short and bloody since the Jotun hates dragons.

Erlin the Great

Erlin the Great has been sealed in his prison for thousands of years. The magic of Dorsnarg Pyramid sustains the giant. He has no need for food, water, or air. Years of imprisonment have left the giant boiling with rage. Hatred keeps Erlin focused and sharp. Every minute of every day he curses the giants and gods who put him in the pyramid, sure that one day he will have his vengeance.

Dorsnarg Pyramid

Dosnarg Pyramid was buried by the sands long ago and only recently uncovered by desert giant excavators. The huge pyramid has a large ground level and smaller top level that holds Erlin’s actual prison connected by a hidden staircase. The pyramid’s main entrance is hidden. A false entrance contains traps and a mummified desert giant guardian. Once inside the actual pyramid the characters will have to contend with desert giants, their scorpion pets, and a host of traps and guardians left active within that don’t bother the giants. See the “Dorsnarg Pyramid: General Features” sidebar for more information on the pyramid.

Dorsnarg Pyramid: General Features

The following features are common throughout the pyramid.

Ceilings. Unless otherwise noted, interior chambers have 30-foot-high ceilings, with 20-foot-high passages and doorways connecting them.

Doors. Each of Dorsnarg Pyramid’s doors is 20 feet high and made of stone. Unless otherwise noted, the door is unlocked. Door handles are 10 feet above the floor. A Huge giant has no trouble opening a door. A smaller creature can attempt to open a door, provided that creature or some other helpful creature can reach the door’s handle and unlatch it. While the handle is unlatched, a creature must use an action to push or pull on the heavy door, opening it with a successful DC 16 Strength (Athletics) check. On a failed check, the door doesn’t open.

Illumination. All areas of the pyramid are brightly lit by magical stig runes that glow yellow on the walls. If one of these runes is carved out of the wall it no longer sheds light.

Oversized Furnishings and Objects. Most of the furnishings and other items in Dorsnarg Pyramid are sized for desert giants. Exceptions are noted in the text. Tables, benches, and other room fixtures are typically twice as high, long, and wide as their human-sized equivalents and roughly eight times the weight. Small and Medium creatures can scuttle under and clamber over giant-sized furniture, treating the spaces the furniture occupies as difficult terrain.

Reaching Dorsnarg Pyramid

The characters can travel to Dorsnarg Pyramid on foot or horseback. If the characters have an airship (see the “Airship of a Cult” section in chapter 4), they can land it pretty much anywhere outside the pyramid. The desert giant keeping watch outside the main door (see “Approaching the Pyramid”) spots the airship if it approaches within 1 mile of the stronghold and runs inside, putting the entire pyramid on alert (see “Denizens”). If the characters use the airship’s weaponry to attack Dorsnarg Pyramid, the defenders are smart enough to remain inside its impenetrable walls.

The characters might instead approach on a flying mount. They can obtain griffon mounts in Fireshear or hippogriff mounts in Hawk’s Nest. Neither settlement is close to Dorsnarg Pyramid, requiring the characters and their mounts to rest between flights. Characters mounted on hippogriffs can travel 54 miles per day (three 3-hour flights with 1-hour rests in between). Those mounted on griffons can travel 72 miles in the same amount of time. The desert giant keeping watch outside the main door (see “Approaching the Pyramid”) spot flying mounts that approach within a quarter mile of the stronghold and runs inside, putting the entire den on alert (see “Denizens”).

Approaching the Pyramid

Adventurers can approach Dorsnarg Pyramid from any direction. Those who come near the pyramid without taking efforts to conceal themselves are spotted by the desert giant in waiting in the sand (area 1), who quietly slips inside the hidden main door and alerts the guards in the complex. Characters stand a better chance of infiltrating the pyramid if they approach cautiously, taking advantage of the terrain and using darkness, fog, camouflage, or magic to conceal their movement. Regardless of how the characters approach the den, have them make a group Dexterity (Stealth) check contested by the desert giant’s Wisdom (Perception) check. The giant should make the check with disadvantage as it is buried in the sand.  If the characters take precautions, give them advantage on their checks. If they take none, impose disadvantage on their checks.

The characters may not notice the main door to the pyramid (see area 1). If they cannot detect the door, but remain hidden and watch the pyramid, eventually the guard from area 14C comes out and relieves the guard here. This allows the characters to witness the main entrance being used.

Denizens

The Dorsnarg Pyramid Roster table summarizes the locations of the pyramid’s inhabitants and indicates how those creatures react when intruders are detected. As soon as trespassers are spotted or combat erupts, the entire lower level of the pyramid goes on alert. As a consequence, adventurers might find themselves fighting several encounters’ worth of creatures at once. If Ayla Zeif dies, her husband takes over and leads the giants into the desert to be nomads once again. If Ayla and Calamed both die, the morale of Dorsnarg Pyramid’s other desert giants breaks, and they flee into the desert with their giant scorpion pets. The other guardians of the pyramid remain.

Dorsnarg Pyramid Roster
Area Creature(s) Book Notes
1 1 female desert giant Tome of Beasts The giant is hidden in the sand.
2 2 male desert giants Tome of Beasts The desert giants stay here to defend the skulls.
3 4 giant scorpions Monster Manual The giant scorpions stay here to guard the supplies.
6 1 female desert giant Tome of Beasts Investigates any sounds of combat in areas 1-9.
7 1 male desert giant Tome of Beasts Stays in this room if trouble breaks out and continues eating.
8 1 corpse mound Tome of Beasts The corpse mound omes out of the pit and attacks when non-giants enter the room.
9 Calamed Zeif Tome of Beasts If Calamed hears combat in areas 6-9, he investigates and offers to parlay with the characters.
10 6 dust thirsters Tome of Beasts The dust thirsters rise and attack from the coffins when non-giants enter the room.
11 1 oozasis Tome of Beasts The oozasis attacks any creature that gets near one of the bowls and remains hidden until then.
12 1 female desert giant Tome of Beasts If combat breaks out in areas 10-14 the giant goes to investigate.
13 1 adult copper dragon Monster Manual The dragon is chained to the floor and has only 20 hit points remaining.
14A 1 female desert giant Tome of Beasts If combat breaks out in areas 10-14 the giant goes to investigate.
14B 1 male desert giant Tome of Beasts If combat breaks out in areas 10-14 the giant goes to investigate.
14C 1 female desert giant Tome of Beasts If combat breaks out in areas 10-14 the giant goes to investigate.
16 1 desert giant mummy Appendix B The mummy rises to attack when the trap in area 17 is triggered.
17 Ayla Zeif, 1 fire elemental Tome of Beasts, Monster Manual Ayla remains in this area and summons the elemental if attacked.
18 Erlin the Great Tome of Beasts The Jotun is imprisoned here.

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

Let’s add a new giant lord to Storm King’s Thunder!

Recently two of my favorite books came out for fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons. The first is Storm King’s Thunder. I love this new adventure for its scope, modularity, characters, lack of ticking clock, tie-ins to other published adventures, and original story. Then there’s the Tome of Beasts. This little number from Kobold Press is the unofficial sequel to the Monster Manual. It holds over 400 new creatures and fills in the monstrous gaps of its predecessor.

After I read Storm King’s Thunder, I immediately grabbed my copy of Tome of Beasts and flipped to G, looking to see what baddies I could add to the adventure. It was then that the nomadic, history-loving desert giant caught my eye. Why not add a desert giant lord to the events of Storm King’s Thunder? After all, the adventure (written by Chris Perkins) recommends I do just that.

The Plan

My plan is simple. I’m adding a desert giant lord to Storm King’s Thunder. I’ll be showing off the work right here on this blog so you can add your own giants to your play through and/or take what I’m writing for your own purposes. This is the first in a series of blog posts that outlines who this giant lord is, her plan to climb the ranks of the new ordning, and ways to work that plot into Storm King’s Thunder. The posts after will focus on the giant’s lair. At the end of the series we should have a fully form supplement you can download and add to your game in the form of a free PDF.

It’s Free!?!

Yep. Good news for you! I know you’re thinking, “James, why are you giving us more stuff for free? Don’t you value your work?” I sure do, but I’m making a product that’s actually impossible for me to sell. Since this PDF will tie directly into Storm King’s Thunder and therefore the Forgotten Realms, the only place I could sell it is on the Dungeon Masters Guild. Since the PDF also uses the third-party produced Tome of Beasts and the DMs Guild has weird rules about who owns your stuff once you post it on there, I’m also not able post on the DMs Guild. This add-on is something I want to make for my game anyway so I figured I’d share it for free! If you want to pay me back, buy something from me on the DMs Guild or stay tuned for a Patreon announcement!*

Meet the Giant!

Just who is this mysterious desert giant lord and what’s she up to? Below is information you can add to different chapters of Storm King’s Thunder.

Introduction

Add the following information to “The Giant Lords” section of the introduction.

Emir Ayla Zeif

Zeif, an emir of the nomadic desert giants, thinks the only true power is knowledge. She plans to secure her place in the ordning by freeing and speaking with a Jotun giant that her ancestors imprisoned long ago. By deciphering the knowledge desert giant elders inscribed onto their skin, she found the Jotun’s prison,Dorsnarg Pyramid, in Anauroch. The same information provided a ritual to unseal the Jotun’s cell, but it requires multiple cloud, fire, frost, hill, and stone giant skulls. Zeif wants to open the cell and speak with the Jotun, learn its ancient knowledge, and then form an alliance with the powerful being so none challenge her reign over all giant kind. To that end, she has sent the desert giant warriors of her tribe into the North so they can claim the heads of their kin to be used in the unsealing ritual.

Chapter 1

Add the following encounter to the “Unfriendly Skies” section of the “Tower of Zephyros” section of chapter 1.

Day 10: All I Want is Your Head

This encounter occurs of the tenth day of the party’s journey and occurs only if they are traveling to Goldenfields. A desert giant who is a member of Emir Ayla Zeif’s tribe spies the tower and assumes there is at least one cloud giant head inside that can be given to his leader.

Any character standing guard outside Zephyros’s tower or watching the sky from the tower’s aerie spots danger approaching if his or her passive Wisdom (Perception) score is 12 or higher.

Speeding up from beneath the tower is a huge, dark-skinned giant on the back of an enormous bird of prey. The giant’s skin is inscribed with runes and it carries a large falchion on its hip.

Alitook (a male N desert giant) rides on the back of a roc up to the tower. He lands, dismounts, and enters the tower’s first level, calling out a request in Giant to see the master or mistress of the tower. If any characters are around, Alitook instead approaches them and makes his request to them in polite Common.

Development

When Zephyros hears Alitook or if the characters tell the cloud giant about the approaching desert giant, Zephyros reacts with fear. Without explanation, he asks the characters to tell the desert giant something that will make him leave.

Alitook gladly speaks with the characters, asking them if there are any giants in the tower. The desert giant lies and says he is on a mission from Emir Ayla Zeif who wants to unite the giants in this time of trouble. A DC 12 Wisdom (Insight) check reveals Alitook isn’t here on a diplomatic quest. A DC 14 Charisma (Deception) check convinces Alitook that there are no cloud giants within the tower and he hops on his roc and leaves. If a character fails the check or mentions the presence of Zephyros, Alitook demands to see the cloud giant. If this request is refused, Alitook begins climbing the walls and if he sees Zephyros, he attacks.

If combat breaks out, Alitook tries to climb his way up the tower to get to Zephyros, attacking any creatures in his way. He has no rocks, so he can only make attacks with his falchion. His roc does no join the fray, but takes flight and begins circling the tower, waiting for Alitook to whistle for it. Zephyros casts mass suggestion to convince Alitook to leave and then greater invisibility so the desert giant cannot find him.

If reduced to 75 hit points, Alitook whistles for his roc and tries to flee. If Zephyros is killed, Alitook uses his next action to behead the cloud giant and then tries to flee on his roc with Zephyros’ head.

When Alitook is no longer a threat, Zephyros informs the characters of rumors he’s heard from other giants. Desert giants are coming out of Anauroch in droves murdering any cloud, fire, frost, hill, and stone giants they can find. They all say they work for Emir Ayla Zeif and all are looking to collect the heads of their victims. This is highly unusual for the nomadic and normally isolationist desert giants.

If Alitook is captured, a DC 14 Charisma (Intimidation) check gets him to reveal that Emir Ayla Zeif has read the inscriptions on the skin of elder desert giants and ordered the warriors of her tribe to seek the heads of other giants in order to recover lost knowledge. He does not know the specific purpose of the heads and under no circumstances reveals the location of Dorsnarg Pyramid.

The roc flees if Alitook is captured.

Treasure

Alitook has a sack containing 3d6 × 100 cp, 2d6 × 100 sp, 1d6 × 100 gp, and one mundane item, determined by rolling on the Items in a Giant’s Bag table in the introduction.

Chapter 2

During the battle at Bryn Shander, Goldenfields, or Triboar, odds are at least one of the giants involved will flee the scene if defeat is imminent or its goal is accomplished. When a giant flees and is out of the weapon ranges of most characters, but still within sight, two desert giants (named Naymar and Allyaia) come out of nowhere and overwhelm the giant. By the end of their second turn Naymar and Allyaia have knocked the other giant prone. By the end of their third, Naymar has decapitated the giant and handed the head to Allyaia. The giants then run off into the wilderness together.

If the desert giants are captured, a DC 14 Charisma (Intimidation) check gets them to reveal that Emir Ayla Zeif has read the inscriptions on the skin of elder desert giants and ordered the warriors of her tribe to seek the heads of cloud, fire, frost, hill, and stone giants in order to recover lost knowledge. They do not know the specific purpose of the heads and under no circumstances reveal the location of Dorsnarg Pyramid.

Treasure

Each desert giant has a sack containing 3d6 × 100 cp, 2d6 × 100 sp, 1d6 × 100 gp, and one mundane item, determined by rolling on the Items in a Giant’s Bag table in the introduction.

Chapter 3

Random Wilderness Encounters

Add the following text to any encounter involving giants in the “Random Wilderness Encounters” section of chapter 3.

At the start of the third round of combat, roll a d10. If the result is a 1, a desert giant appears and begins attacking any other giants. If the desert giant survives combat, it beheads any cloud, fire, frost, hill, or stone giants and ties the heads to its belt. The desert giant does not attack the characters unless they attack it first.

A DC 14 Charisma (Intimidation) or (Persuasion) check convinces the desert giant to reveal that Emir Ayla Zeif has read the inscriptions on the skin of elder desert giants and ordered the warriors of her tribe to seek the heads of cloud, fire, frost, hill, and stone giants in order to recover lost knowledge. It does not know the specific purpose of the heads and under no circumstances reveals the location of Dorsnarg Pyramid.

Treasure

The desert giant has a sack containing 3d6 × 100 cp, 2d6 × 100 sp, 1d6 × 100 gp, and one mundane item, determined by rolling on the Items in a Giant’s Bag table in the introduction.

Locations of the North

Make the following additions to the “Locations of the North” section of Chapter 3.

Travel

Any time the characters travel from one place to another, roll a d20. On a result of 1, they encounter a headless giant body along the way. Roll a d6 to determine the type of giant body they encounter: 1 for cloud, 2 for fire, 3 for frost, 4 for stone, and 5-6 for hill.

Ascore

Add the following suggested encounter to the “Ascore” section.

While the characters are in Ascore, they notice two desert giants (females named Yalaya and Rabira) pass by the ancient ruin. Each has the head of a frost giant tied to her belt. If approached by the characters, a DC 14 Charisma (Intimidation) or (Persuasion) check convinces them to reveal that Emir Ayla Zeif has read the inscriptions on the skin of elder desert giants and ordered the warriors of her tribe to seek the heads of cloud, fire, frost, hill, and stone giants in order to recover lost knowledge. If the characters know where to find any such giants nearby, the desert giants offer to reward them with 100 gp from their sacks (see “Treasure”). They do not know the specific purpose of the heads and under no circumstances reveal the location of Dorsnarg Pyramid.

If the characters try to follow the Yalaya and Rabira, they quickly get noticed by the clever giants on their home terrain. The giants creep over a dune out of sight and then bury themselves in the sand, rising up to take the characters by surprise, fighting to the death. They do not pursue any characters who flee. They simply do not want to be followed to Dorsnarg Pyramid at any cost.

Treasure. Each desert giant has a sack containing 3d6 × 100 cp, 2d6 × 100 sp, 1d6 × 100 gp, and one mundane item, determined by rolling on the Items in a Giant’s Bag table in the introduction.

Luskan

Add the following suggested encounter to the “Luskan” section.

A member of the Arcane Brotherhood, Vadul Sasson (male CN mage), recovered the body of a desert giant warrior outside of Luskan a tenday ago. He found the body a curiosity so far from the desert and ordered it taken into the tower so he could study the inscriptions on its skin.

A short time after the characters arrive in Luskan, three desert giants (two males named Amed and Fabreiz and a female named Marya), walk into Luskan’s harbor out toward the Hosttower of the Arcane and demand the body be returned. The dead desert giant, a male named Rahead, was looking for frost giants in the area so he could bring their heads to Emir Ayla Zeif when he took on too many foes at once and became overwhelmed. Desert giants reclaim the bodies of their dead, since the inscriptions on their bodies hold valuable information. The trio has tracked the body of Rahead here.

Reeling from the attack of the frost giants, Luskan’s mages of the Arcane Brotherhood have depleted of many of their spells and resources. The desert giants begin hurling stones at the Hosttower of the Arcane, demanding the return of their dead. If the characters do nothing, eventually Vadul exits the tower, pleading with giants to be patient while his servants prepare the body for transport. On their next turn, the giants are brought the body. Amed and Fabreiz carry it away while Marya crushes Vadul to death with a rock before joining her companions.

If the characters do intervene, they can convince the giants to calm down with a successful DC 16 Charisma (Persuasion) check made as an action. The giants calmly state their case and leave once Vadul hands over the body.

If the characters fail the check or intervene by attacking, Amed and Fabreiz attack them while Marya continues to hurl rocks at the Hosttower of the Arcane. Every round on initiative count 0, two mages from the Arcane Brotherhood cast spells of 2nd level or lower that hinder the giants or aid the characters from the mage’s spell list. They are out of higher level spell slots.

When one of the giants falls, the other two grab its body and flee.

If captured or calmed, a DC 16 Charisma (Intimidation) or (Persuasion) check convinces the giants to reveal their purpose in Luskan. If pumped for more information, they reveal Emir Ayla Zeif has read the inscriptions on the skin of elder desert giants and ordered the warriors of her tribe to seek the heads of cloud, fire, frost, hill, and stone giants in order to recover lost knowledge. If the characters know where to find any such giants nearby, the desert giants offer to reward them with 100 gp from their sacks (see “Treasure”). They do not know the specific purpose of the heads and under no circumstances reveal the location of Dorsnarg Pyramid.

Treasure. Each desert giant has a sack containing 3d6 × 100 cp, 2d6 × 100 sp, 1d6 × 100 gp, and one mundane item, determined by rolling on the Items in a Giant’s Bag table in the introduction.

Morgur’s Mound

Add the following text to the “Ancient Relic” section.

In addition to the gold-plated tooth, the character unearths a yellow silk scarf embroidered with the stig (light) rune. The scarf is nonmagical, 10 feet long, and 2 feet wide.

One Stone

Add the following text to the “Ancient Relic” section.

In addition to the boulder, the character finds the gilded tail of a giant scorpion. The tail is nonmagical, but it can be used as a weapon and has the same statistics as a pike.

Waterdeep

Add the following text to the “Suggested Encounter” section.

Three desert giants (two females named Kayga and Isa and a male named Dariq) have been tracking the castle of the cloud giants from the ground. Count Nimbolo invites the characters to a private spot just outside of Waterdeep to tell them about Sansuri, since his wife is friends with the villainous cloud giant.

When Nimbolo is alone with the characters, the desert giants strike, with the intention of taking the cloud giant’s head back to Zeif. Nimbolo joins the fight alongside the characters. The desert giants fight until one of them falls, then the other two grab their fallen ally’s body and flee.

If captured, a DC 14 Charisma (Intimidation) check convinces the giants to reveal Emir Ayla Zeif has read the inscriptions on the skin of elder desert giants and ordered the warriors of her tribe to seek the heads of cloud, fire, frost, hill, and stone giants in order to recover lost knowledge. They do not know the specific purpose of the heads and under no circumstances reveal the location of Dorsnarg Pyramid.

Treasure. Each desert giant has a sack containing 3d6 × 100 cp, 2d6 × 100 sp, 1d6 × 100 gp, and one mundane item, determined by rolling on the Items in a Giant’s Bag table in the introduction.

Chapter 4

Eye of the All-Father, Area 1
  • Add a pillar carved with the scene of a living desert giant inscribing runes onto its flesh and looking upon the body of a deceased desert giant.
Eye of the All-Father, Area 6
  • Add a statue of the desert giant god, Grumbar, to this room that carries a bronze falchion (weighing 700 pounds).
  • Add a stig (light) rune to the archway that corresponds to the falchion.
  • The stig rune’s trap corresponds to desert giants. When triggered, two sunburst spells go off at the same time, and the entire room is each spell’s area of effect.
Eye of the All-Father, Area 11
  • Add a statue of a desert giant
Words of the Oracle

Add the following question and answer.

What is Zeif’s plan? “To release an ancient power and gain its knowledge and protection.”

Quest for the Giant Relics

The silk scarf relic in Morgur’s Mound and scorpion tail in One Stone correspond to Zeif.

The Chosen Foe

Add the following text.

Emir Zeif

“Travel south past mountains, valley, and trees. At the edge of the wood, turn east until the sand runs through your toes and the sun scorches your head. Past the dwarf ruin turn south again until you find Dorsnarg Pyramid. It is prison to one and queen-maker to another. The conch you seek is in the latter’s possession.”

The mountains refer to the Spine of the World. The valley refers to the Valley of the Khedrun. The wood refers to Lurkwood. The dwarf run is Ascore. When the characters are ready to head there, continue with “Pyramid of the Desert Giants” in this document

Appendix C

Add the following text to the “New Giant Options” section.

Desert Giants

Some adult desert giants are trained to make whirlwind attacks with their enormous falchions, spinning their blades in powerful arcs that attack all nearby enemies. This ability is represented by the following action option:

Whirlwind Attack (Recharge 6). The giant makes a falchion attack against every creature it can see within 10 feet.

That’s it for now!

Part II – “Pyramid of the Desert Giants” coming next week!

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*Probably!

I want more runes items! You may have already picked up your copy of Storm King’s Thunder at your local friendly game store. Those who did may have found one of the first pictures in the book is of twenty different giant runes. I was excited when I first saw it because these runes must be tied to the rune magic we had heard so much about.

Turns out rune magic is very cool. Essentially you find a magic item with a particular giant rune on it and that item gives the wielder several benefits. You can also moves the rune from the item and apply it to a place or object that gets a new benefit. There’s only one problem. Of the twenty runes pictured at the start of the book, only eight are given magic items (or nine if you count the blod stone but I’m not for these purposes since it functions differently than the other rune items).

What’s a DM to do? Well make the other 12 into magic items of course! Below is my take on the other 12 runes in magic item form.

New Rune Magic Items

Bone of the Uven Rune

Wondrous item, rare (requires attunement)

This femur of a dwarf is petrified to the point of being stone. The uven (enemy) rune is carved out and filled with silver on its top. The bone has the following properties, which only work while it is on your person.

After Him. When an enemy within 5 feet of you takes the Disengage action, you can move half your speed as a reaction.

Know Thy Enemy. As a bonus action, pick one enemy within 30 feet of you. You learn the enemies’s AC, hit points, and any damage immunities, resistances, or vulnerabilities. Once you use this property, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

No Escape. You have advantage on opportunity attacks.

Gift of Vengeance. You can transfer the bone’s magic to a nonmagical item – a weapon or a suit of armor – by tracing the uven rune there with your finger. The transfer takes 8 hours of work that requires the two items to be within 5 feet of each other. At the end, the bone is destroyed, and the rune appears in silver on the chosen item, which gains a benefit based on its form:

  • Weapon. The weapon is now an uncommon magic weapon that requires attunement. When a creature hits you with an attack and deals damage, you have advantage on attack rolls made against that creature using this weapon until the end of your next turn.
  • Armor. The armor is now an uncommon magic item that requires attunement. When a creature hits you with an attack and deals damage and you are wearing the armor, you have resistance against damage from all other attacks made by that creature until the end of your next turn.
Branch of the Liv Rune

Wondrous item, rare (requires attunement)

This curving birch branch is 2 feet long and three inches thick. Small buds make it seem as if leaves could spring out of the branch at any second. The liv (life) rune is burned into the side of the branch. The branch has the following properties, which only work while it is on your person.

Healing Grace. Whenever you cast a spell of 1st level or higher to restore hit points to a creature, the creature regains 1 additional hit point.

Remove Harmful Condition. As an action, you touch one willing creature and immediately end any blinded, deafened, poisoned, paralyzed, or stunned condition afflicting it. You can also use this ability to remove one level of exhaustion from a creature. Once you use this property, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

Spare the Dying. As an action you can cast the spare the dying.

Gift of Life. You can transfer the branch’s magic to the corpse of a creature that has been dead has been dead for no more than 200 years, that didn’t die of old age, and that isn’t undead by tracing the uven rune on it with your finger. The transfer takes 8 hours of work that requires the branch to be within 5 feet of you. If the creature’s soul is free and willing, the target returns to life with all its hit points. This process neutralizes all poisons, cures all diseases, and removes all curses afflicting the creature when it died. This process closes all wounds and restores any missing body parts. At the end of the transfer, the branch is destroyed, and the creature has a black tattoo of the rune appear somewhere on its body.

Diamond of the Stig Rune

Wondrous item, rare (requires attunement)

This diamond is a three-inch-radius sphere cut so the light within it dazzles. Close inspection reveals the light burning within is in the shape of a stig (light) rune. The diamond has the following properties, which only work while it is on your person.

Beacon of Hope. As an action you can cast beacon of hope. Once you use this property, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

Blinding Burst. As an action, your body erupts with radiant light in a 30-foot radius. All creatures in the area must succeed on a DC 17 Constitution saving throw or be blinded for 1 minute. A creature blinded in this way can repeat this saving throw at the end of its turn, ending the blinded condition on a success. Once you use this property, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

Radiant Friend. You have resistance to radiant damage.

Shed Light. As an action the diamond sheds bright light in a 60-foot radius and dim light for an additional 60. You can use another action to make the bright light go down to a 5-foot radius and dim light for an additional 5.

Gift of Light. You can transfer the diamond’s magic to a nonmagical item – a weapon or a torch – by tracing the stig rune there with your finger. The transfer takes 8 hours of work that requires the two items to be within 5 feet of each other. At the end, the diamond is destroyed, and the rune appears in yellow on the chosen item, which gains a benefit based on its form:

  • Weapon. The weapon is now an uncommon magic weapon. It deals an extra 1d6 radiant damage to any target it hits.
  • Torch. The torch is now an uncommon magic item that requires attunement. This torch never burns out. As an action you can cause the torch to ignite, causing it shed bright light in a 20-foot radius and dim light for an additional 20. You can use another action to extinguish the flame. While the flame is lit and you hold the torch, all creatures you choose within 20 feet of you have advantage on saving throws againsted being charmed or frightened.
Emerald of the Kong Rune

Wondrous item, very rare (requires attunement)

This emerald is cut into a rhomboid shape, three inches on each side and three inches thick. A gold kong (king) rune is clearly seen within its core. The emerald has the following properties, which only work while it is on your person.

Inspiring Leadership. As an action you can speak a magic word of inspiration to one creature you can see within 30 feet of you. That creature has advantage on attack rolls and saving throws against being frightened until the end of your next turn. Once you use this property twice, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

Natural Leader. You have advantage on Charisma (Intimidation) and (Persuasion) ability checks made to influence creatures of the same type as you.

Ruler’s Command. At the start of your turn, one creature of your choice within 5 feet of you can take the Help action as a reaction. Once you use this property twice, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

Gift of the King. You can transfer the emerald’s magic to a nonmagical item – a crown or a ring – by tracing the kong rune there with your finger. The transfer takes 8 hours of work that requires the two items to be within 5 feet of each other. At the end, the emerald is destroyed, and the rune appears in gold on the chosen item, which gains a benefit based on its form:

  • Crown. The crown is now a rare magic item that requires attunement. While you wear it, you have advantage on all Charisma (Persuasion) checks.
  • Ring. The ring is now a rare magic item that requires attunement. While you wear it you can speak, read, and write any language and communicate telepathically with any creature that understands a language within 30 feet.
Fan of the Skye Rune

Wondrous item, very rare (requires attunement)

This sky blue folding hand fan is rather dainty for a giant, but almost three times the size what a human would normally use. When unfolded, a white skye (cloud) rune can be seen in the middle of the fan. The fan has the following properties, which only work while it is on your person.

Cloud Carpet. You can spend 1 minute creating a 15-foot square of cloud 1 foot thick. The cloud can carry up to 10,000 pounds, can hover, has a fly speed of 60 feet, and moves according to your spoken directions, provided you are within 30 feet. The cloud lasts for 1 hour. Once you use this property, you  can’t use it again until you finish a long rest.

Fog Cloud. As an action, you can cast fog cloud.

Gust of Wind. As an action, you can cast gust of wind.

Gift of Cloud. You can transfer the fan’s magic to a nonmagical item – a pair of boots, a cloak, or a suit of armor – by tracing the skye rune there with your finger. The transfer takes 8 hours of work that requires the two items to be within 5 feet of each other. At the end, the fan is destroyed, and the rune appears in white on the chosen item, which gains a benefit based on its form:

  • Armor. The armor is now a rare magic item that requires attunement. As a reaction when you are hit by an attack you can turn your entire body into cloud stuff until the end of your next turn. While you are made of cloud stuff you are resistant to all damage. Once you use this property, you can’t use it again until you finish a long rest.
  • Boots/Cloak. The pair of boots or cloak is now a rare magic item that requires attunement. You gain a fly speed equal to your walking speed and can hover while you wear this item.
Finger of the Dod Rune

Wondrous item, very rare (requires attunement)

This preserved finger of a frost giant is gray and shriveled. It is 3 feet long and 1 foot thick. The flesh beneath its fingernail is carved with a bloody dod (death) rune. The finger has the following properties, which only work while it is on your person.

Animate Dead. As an action, you can cast animate dead. Once you use this property, you can’t use it again until you finish a long rest.

Death’s Sacrifice. When you deal damage to a creature and it dies as a result, you gain 10 temporary hit points.

Necrotic Friend. You gain resistance to necrotic damage.

Respect of the Dead. You have advantage on Charisma ability checks made to influence undead creatures.

Gift of Death. You can transfer the finger’s magic to the corpse of a creature that isn’t undead by tracing the dod rune on it with your finger. The transfer takes 8 hours of work that requires the finger to be within 5 feet of you. The target rises as a wraith under you control. You decide what action the wraith will take and where it will move during its next turn, or you can issue a general command, such as to guard a particular chamber or corridor. If you issue no commands, the wraith only defends itself against hostile creatures. Once given an order, the creature continues to follow it until its task is complete. At the end of the transfer, the finger is destroyed, and the wraith has the rune floating somewhere within its incorporeal form.

Horn of the Uvar Rune

Wondrous item, rare (requires attunement)

This curved horn comes from a giant ram. It is 3 feet long and capped with a silver mouthpiece. The horn is emblazoned with a blue uvar (storm) rune. The horn has the following properties.

Lightning’s Call. As an action you can blow the horn. Up to 8 creatures of your choice within 60 feet who can hear the horn and are holding at least one weapon, each have one weapon they are wielding of their choice covered in crackling lightning for 1 minute. During this time the weapons deal an extra 1d6 lightning damage and are magical. A weapon loses these properties if it is dropped or stowed. Once you use this property, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

Storm Friend. While the horn is on your person, you are resistant to lightning and thunder damage.

Thunderous Blast. As an action, you can blow a 60-foot cone of thunder from the horn. Creatures in the area must make a DC 17 Constitution saving throw. Creatures who fail take 22 (5d8) thunder damage and are pushed 10 feet away from you. Creatures who succeed take only half damage and aren’t pushed. Once you use this property, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

Gift of Storm. You can transfer the horn’s magic to a nonmagical item – a weapon or a boat – by tracing the uvar rune there with your finger. The transfer takes 8 hours of work that requires the two items to be within 5 feet of each other. At the end, the horn is destroyed, and the rune appears in blue on the chosen item, which gains a benefit based on its form:

  • Weapon. The weapon is now a rare magic weapon that requires attunement. It deals an extra 1d6 thunder damage to any target it hits. When you score a critical hit with the weapon, the target must succeed on a DC 17 Strength saving throw or be knocked prone.
  • Boat. The boat is now a rare magic item. Nothing short of total destruction can capsize the vessel.
Horseshoe of the Ferd Rune

Wondrous item, rare (requires attunement)

This horseshoe is made from black steel and connected to a chain so it can be worn around the neck. The ferd (journey) rune is emblazoned in green on the item. The horseshoe has the following properties, which only work while it is on your person.

Born to Journey. You and up to six other creatures you choose who travel within 60 feet of you can travel for 12 hours a day before having to make a Constitution saving throw against exhaustion.

Fleet Feet. Your walking speed increases by 5 feet.

Safe Place. You can spend 1 hour creating a permanent teleportation circle on a firm surface without using any material components. Once this circle is created you can spend another hour moving it to a new location on a firm surface of your choice. There can only be one permanent teleportation circle created by this item in existence at a time. When you attune to the item, a previous permanent teleportation circle created by a previously attuned creature disappears.

Gift of Travel. You can transfer the horseshoe’s magic to a nonmagical item – a suit of barding for a mount or a pair of boots – by tracing the ferd rune there with your finger. The transfer takes 8 hours of work that requires the two items to be within 5 feet of each other. At the end, the horseshoe is destroyed, and the rune appears in green on the chosen item, which gains a benefit based on its form:

  • Barding. The barding is now an uncommon magic item. A mount wearing this barding can gallop for up to 8 hours before needing to slow down or be swapped out.
  • Boots. The boots are now a rare magic item that requires attunement. You gain a climbing speed and a swimming speed equal to your walking speed while you wear them.
Skull of the Hellig Rune

Wondrous item, rare (requires attunement)

This human skull is gilded. A black hellig (sacred) rune is emblazoned on its top. The skull has the following properties, which only work while it is on your person.

Religious Expert. You have advantage on Intelligence (Religion) checks.

Reveal Truths. You can cast the following spells without expending any material components (spell save DC 17): augury, detect evil and good, divination, and zone of truth. After casting a spell from the skull, you must complete a long rest before you can cast the same spell from the skull again.

Gift of Sacred Ground. You can transfer the skull’s magic to a place by tracing the hellig rune there with your finger. The point where you trace it becomes the center of a spherical area of magic that has a 100-foot radius. The transfer takes 8 hours of work that requires the skull to be within 5 feet of you. At the end, the skull is destroyed, and the whole area is under the effect of a hallow spell (spell save DC 17) that cannot be dispelled by normal means. You choose all of the spell’s variables.

Stone of the Fjell Rune

Wondrous item, rare (requires attunement)

This rough-hewn, gray stone is six inches around. It is carved with a deep fjell (mountain) rune. The stone has the following properties, which only work while it is on your person.

Create Tunnel. If you spend 1 minute touching a solid surface, at the end of that minute a circular hole opens in the surface that is up to 10 feet in diameter and 100 feet long. Once you use this property, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

Fists of Stone. You gain a +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls with unarmed attacks.

Mountain’s Strength. You have advantage on Strength saving throws.

Gift of the Mountain. You can transfer the stone’s magic to a nonmagical item – a belt or a pair of goggles – by tracing the fjell rune there with your finger. The transfer takes 8 hours of work that requires the two items to be within 5 feet of each other. At the end, the stone is destroyed, and the rune appears in gray on the chosen item, which gains a benefit based on its form:

  • Belt. The belt is now a rare magic item that requires attunement. While you wear it, you can cast stoneskin on yourself as an action requiring no material components and no concentration. Once you use this property, you can’t use it again until you finish a long rest.
  • Goggles. The pari of goggles is now a rare magic item that requires attunement. While you wear the goggles, you can use an action to force one creature that can see you to make a DC 14 Constitution saving throw. If the saving throw fails by 5 or more, the creature is instantly petrified. Otherwise, a creature that fails the save begins to turn to stone and is restrained. The restrained creature must repeat the saving throw at the end of its next turn, becoming petrified on a failure or ending the effect on a success. The petrification lasts until the creature is freed by the greater restoration spell or other magic. Once you use this property, you can’t use it again until you finish a long rest.
Toe of the Haug Rune

Wondrous item, rare (requires attunement)

This preserved pinky toe of a hill giant is shriveled with age. It is 2 feet long and 1 foot thick. A red haug (hill) rune is carved into the bottom of the toe. The toe has the following properties, which only work while it is on your person.

Giant Grass. As an action you touch a point on the ground and grass 10 feet tall grows in a 10-foot-square area centered on that point. Creatures in the grass are heavily obscured. Once you use this property, you cannot use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

Healing Meal. As an action you can consume a nonmagical, Tiny or smaller object held by you and regain 2d4+4 hit points. The object you consume is destroyed. Once you use this property, you cannot use it again until you finish a long rest.

Hurl Earth. As action you can dig up a chunk of dirt from soft earth and hurl it as a weapon with which you are proficient. The earth petrifies mid throw and becomes a rock. The rock deals 1d10 bludgeoning damage and has the thrown (20/60) property.

Gift of the Hill. You can transfer the toe’s magic to a nonmagical item – a pair of boots or a cloak – by tracing the haug rune there with your finger. The transfer takes 8 hours of work that requires the two items to be within 5 feet of each other. At the end, the toe is destroyed, and the rune appears in red on the chosen item, which gains a benefit based on its form:

  • Boots. The pair of boots is now an uncommon magic item that requires attunement. While you wear the boots, you can use your action to stomp on the ground and release a shockwave in a 20-foot radius. Each creature touching the ground in the area (except for you) must succeed on a DC 17 Strength saving throw or be pushed 30 feet into the air and then fall back to the ground and land prone. A creature who fails this saving throw takes 10 (3d6) bludgeoning damage from the fall. Once you use this property, you cannot use it again until you finish a short or long rest.
  • Cloak. The cloak is now an uncommon magic item that requires attunement. While you wear it, you gain a burrowing speed equal to your walking speed.
Vial of the Blod Rune

Wondrous item, rare (requires attunement)

This clear crystal, needle-tipped vial is seems the appropriate size for a Medium or Small creature. The giants who crafted them liked this smaller size because it made the vials easier to conceal. The vial is marked with a red blod (blood) rune. The vial has the following properties.

Charm of Blood. As an action you can draw the blood of a creature by touching the empty vial to it. The vial momentarily numbs the area of the body from which the blood is drawn. To do this without being noticed you must make a Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) check opposed by the target’s Wisdom (Perception) check. If you drink all the creature’s blood from the vial as an action within 24 hours of drawing it, that creature must succeed on a DC 17 Wisdom saving throw or it is charmed by you for 4 hours or until you or your companions do anything harmful to it. The charmed creature regards you as a friendly acquaintance. When the effect ends, the creature knows it was charmed by you. Once you use this property, you cannot use it again until you finish a long rest.

Impersonate Other. As an action you can draw the blood of a creature who is the same size and type as you by touching the empty vial to it. The vial momentarily numbs the area of the body from which the blood is drawn. To do this without being noticed you must make a Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) check opposed by the target’s Wisdom (Perception) check. If you drink all the creature’s blood from the vial as an action within 24 hours of drawing it, your physical appearance changes to match that of the target’s. All of your equipment and statistics stay the same. This change lasts 6 hours, or until you dismiss it as an action. Once you use this property, you cannot use it again until you finish a long rest.

Vial Weapon. You can wield the vial as a melee weapon with which you are proficient. The vial deals 1d4 piercing damage and has the light and finesse properties. When you make an attack and deal damage with the vial you can use your reaction to regain a number of hit points equal to the damage you dealt to the creature. Once you use this property, you cannot use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

Gift of Blood. You can transfer the vial’s magic to a nonmagical item – a melee weapon or a diamond – by tracing the blood rune there with your finger. The transfer takes 8 hours of work that requires the two items to be within 5 feet of each other. At the end, the vial is destroyed, and the rune appears in red on the chosen item, which gains a benefit based on its form:

  • Diamond. The diamond is now a blod stone (see Storm King’s Thunder Appendix B). The blood of the creature inside the blod stone is the same blood from the same creature that was inside the vial when the transfer took place. If the vial is empty when attempting to transfer the magic to a diamond, the transfer cannot be completed.
  • Weapon. The weapon is now an uncommon magic weapon. When you make an attack and deal damage with the weapon you can use your reaction to regain a number of hit points equal to the damage you dealt to the creature. Once you use this property, you cannot use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

PDF

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New Rune Items

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This article first appeared in Johnn Four‘s Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #696.

It is time to put on your acting hat. Roleplaying NPC Mannerisms Part I revealed the importance of distinct, specific non-player character mannerisms. When a great game master inhabits an NPC, the character’s physical and verbal mannerisms help set it apart from the rest, reveal motivations, hint at history, and create a richer story.

This article builds upon the first by providing four NPC archetypes with corresponding physical and verbal mannerisms. Use the advice from that first article combined with the archetypes found here to roleplay NPCs to perfection.

How to Use These Archetypes

The descriptions and examples in this article are meant to be used as a base for creating NPCs. If you are a beginner GM or uncomfortable with acting, you can just follow the bullet points given at the end of each archetype and you will play a great character.

If you are an experienced GM who has been playing NPCs for years, use the bullet points but add one or more mannerisms each time you roleplay an NPC of that archetype. Make it a different mannerism each time to set Town Guard #1 apart from Town Guard #2. The players will definitely remember that #1 is a nose picker and #2 stutters.

Accents are always optional, but you are encouraged to give them a shot. Who cares if they are not perfect? You’re doing this for fun. If you do not quite nail the Ks of a Russian accent, no one is going to fire you. No one can even question your accent if you’re playing in a fantasy world. So what if your Spanish accent sounds like a combination of Bulgarian and Australian? Those countries do not exist in the world you create. That is just the accent of a person from Breland! Accents get better with practice, so feel free to go all out.

The most important guideline of all is to have fun with NPC mannerisms. The more you enjoy playing an NPC, the more the players will enjoy interacting with you. If you are having a blast playing your characters, your players will be more enthusiastic about playing theirs. As the GM, you set the tone for the game. If you appear awkward and forced, the entire game will feel that way. So relax – you are among friends and playing a tabletop roleplaying game. That is the best. Enjoy it!

Ancient Evil

Gods, demons, aliens, and other ancient evils often appear in our games. These superpowers should make your players quake with awe and fall to their knees…or at least convince them these are forces to be reckoned with.

Matt Mercer, professional voice actor and the GM of the hit web series Critical Role, did an amazing job playing the shadow demon Orthax. Mercer enters, leans quite far over the screen, and sticks his neck out with his head forward and up. This gives him a strange, unsettling appearance. While he is physically lower than the players, the position of his head suggests utter confidence. This unnatural posture immediately translates to otherworldly. The confidence of his tilted head suggests a powerful being who knows its capabilities.

Then Mercer speaks as Orthax. He brings his voice into a low register, which screams power. He adds a growl to his voice and some heavy breathing at the end of his sentences. These vocal qualities inform the players of the danger Orthax poses and his evil nature. They also give anyone hearing the voice the impression this being is just at the edge of its control. It could snap at any moment and unleash its otherworldly fury on the PCs.

When playing an ancient evil:

  • Lean far forward
  • Stick out your neck and raise your head
  • Speak in a very low register
  • Add a growl and heavy breathing to your voice

Law Enforcement

Law enforcement personnel are police officers, space marines, and town guards. They are in gatehouses, towers, streets, prisons, bars, and more, keeping the peace, taking a bribe, and chasing after thieves. These NPCs are often among the first a party of adventurers meets in a settlement. They provide information and directions.

Roleplaying them can be a pretty uninteresting encounter, but only if you play them as uninteresting people.

Let’s take another look at Matt Mercer. In this clip he’s playing a town guard in episode 1 of Critical Role. He first describes a pair of city watch dwarves observing the PCs. Immediately after describing them, Mercer takes on the physical posture of one guard. He mimes holding a spear comfortably, with a relaxed bent arm, and leans back. The NPC’s posture indicates he is comfortable with his weapon and at ease in his own city. Law enforcement should feel comfortable within the walls of cities where they wield authority.

When he opens his mouth to speak as one of the guards, the real magic begins. He leans back even further to show how relaxed the guard is even when talking to a group of well-armed strangers. His volume is a bit louder than normal, and his voice is steady and confident. It is a clear display of authority without being threatening. After all, the guard has no reason to distrust the adventurers at the moment.

As the guard speaks, he uses big arm movements. Mercer extends his arms fully to point to various landmarks and tilts his head in the opposite direction of his hand to give the impression his arms are even longer than they are. This action is another indicator of the guard being in his comfort zone. He has no fear that the adventurers or anyone else will accost him, so he feels fine leaving his arms wide open.

When playing law enforcement….

  • Lean back in a relaxed posture
  • Use big arm movements
  • Raise the volume of your voice
  • Keep your voice steady

Mercer sets his guard apart from the rest by making him a rather jovial fellow. He cocks his head to the side, indicating interest in the person he is speaking with, and lets the register of his voice get higher when the guard cracks a joke or gets excited. If you want a jovial town guard, add these mannerisms:

  • Tilt your head slightly to one side
  • Raise the register of your voice when you are excited

One final note on this scene. At the beginning of the encounter, Mercer briefly portrays both guards speaking to one another. You can tell them apart become he leans one way and speaks with a high voice before turning around to face the opposite direct and lowering his vocal register to be the other guard. It is simple and genius. A quick turn and a deeper voice make all the difference between the two.

Seducer

Seducers are manipulators who exude sex appeal. They are the kind of people who are attractive to everyone in some way. They are great performers, con artists, politicians, and business people. These NPCs can wrap anyone around their little fingers, and use their good looks and beguiling wit to make others do their dirty work.

We turn to the GM of GMs, Chris Perkins. In this clip from a 2012 Pax Acquisitions Inc. game, Perkins plays a seductress dark elf who convinces the plucky band of adventurers to steal gems for her. We hear her voice before we see any of her physical mannerisms, as she’s sneaking up on the PCs in the dark. It is husky and breathless, vocal qualities scientifically proven to be attractive. She speaks with a sultry lower tone, and to make things extra sexy, Perkins gives her a French accent (which is largely considered one of the world’s most romantic languages).

When she comes out of the shadows, Perkins displays the woman’s physical mannerisms. He tilts his head down slightly and looks up at the person he is talking to, which gives him a submissive air. When he speaks, he picks a specific individual to focus his attention on and keeps constant eye contact while leaning toward that person. This behavior makes a player feel singled out and special. An attractive person empowers them by giving undivided attention.

When playing a seducer….

  • Tilt your head down slightly
  • Focus your attention on each player one at a time
  • Lean toward the focus of your attention and maintain eye contact
  • Lower the tone of your voice
  • Make your voice husky and breathy
  • Use a French accent (optional)

Superior Intellectuals

Haughty wizards, know-it-all telepaths, and pedantic scientists are just a few of the people who fall into the superior intellectual archetype. They are the smartest people in the room and know it. Because of their smarts, these NPCs think themselves above every other living being. Odds are the players will cross paths with someone like as they seek an intelligent being to help them unravel some mystery.

Watch again as Chris Perkins portrays Flabbergast in the latest PAX Acquisitions, Inc. game. Like Mercer, he begins by describing the NPC. Then Perkins sticks out his neck just a bit so the rest his body is led by his head. This indicates he is intellectually focused. He then raises his chin and looks down his nose at the players, signaling Flabbergast’s belief that he is far more intelligent than the group. These physical mannerisms suggest a smart, conceited individual. They are enhanced by the fact that Perkins has chosen to stand. It literally puts him above the players.

Perkins then produces a voice which can only be described as nasally Alan Rickman. The nasal quality sells Flabbergast as an intellectual, and the low tone of voice mixed with disdain and condescension leaves no question that this wizard believes he is the smartest guy in the room.

The superior intellectual keeps his movements small and close. In general, these people are untrusting of others because everyone else is too stupid to do anything right. Perkins keeps his wrists loose and close to his body as he pets a phantom cat, or keeps his hands folded in front of him. These movements suggest the wizard is guarded, untrusting, and physically unimpressive.

When playing superior intellectuals…

  • Lead with your head
  • Tilt your chin up
  • Lower your voice
  • Use a nasally voice with condescension and disdain
  • Use small, weak movements
  • Stand (optional)

Flabbergast’s cat is a nice touch. It demonstrates the wizard prefers the company of animals to people and makes him an instantly distinct and memorable NPC.

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcasts, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

This article first appeared in Johnn Four‘s Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #693.

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Memorable non-player characters are distinct. Whether you created an NPC or it came out of a published adventure, it is up to you as game master to make each quest giver, tavern goer, and orc slaver different from the rest.

The key to creating a believable, distinct cast lies in your performances. This might seem daunting, especially since every other player at the table has only one character to worry about while you have dozens.

The truth is, even the least accomplished actors can create great NPCs by relying on mannerisms. With a little prep and some simple acting tricks I’ll supply you with today, you will play princesses and warlords with equal confidence, and your players will no longer confuse the innkeeper at the Dancing Goat with the bartender at the Ugly Banshee.

Importance of Mannerisms

Mannerisms are qualities that distinguish one character from another. These qualities must be actionable and can be displayed visually or audibly. A soft spot for animals or a short temper are not mannerisms. The way a nearsighted old woman gets close to someone’s face whenever she has a conversation is. The actions of your NPCs are just as important a part of their characterization as their internal thoughts, emotions, and ambitions.

NPCs are remembered in large part because of their mannerisms, not because they have a good heart or a conservative agenda. Yoda would be just one of many weird aliens if he didn’t speak backwards. Players get to know the intimate thoughts of NPCs over time, but mannerisms create first and lasting impressions.

Distinctions

Just like real life, people remember the superficial about others they know only as acquaintances. Giving every NPC one or more distinct mannerisms will help your players draw distinctions between them. If you present one knight as blonde and another as brunette, it is difficult for players to know the difference between them since one actor is playing both characters (unless you bring wigs to your games!). But if you give one knight an accent and the other a stutter, the players will not only instantly be able to tell the knights apart throughout the entire interaction, they will also recognize the duo and remember who is who the next time they come upon the couple if you reintroduce those mannerisms.

Draw Players In

Mannerisms do more for your game than help players distinguish between and remember NPCs. They give your players a better idea of the person before them and hint at backstory, internal thoughts, and hidden emotions. A teen who constantly wrings his hands has a mannerism that indicates he’s a worrywart, even though his words may show a tough exterior.

These little indicators give your players a more subtle, complex view of the NPCs. Ultimately, it creates layered characters who are well-rounded. In turn, those NPCs provide a richer story experience to all involved in the game.

Diversity

If you want a believable story, NPC mannerisms will help create a diverse world that mimics our own. Think of the people you interact with every day. Their physical and verbal behaviors immediately spring to mind. If you want your NPCs to become real people in the minds of your players, then mannerisms are the answer. No person is a perfect robot who simply recites box text.

Fun

The final reason you should be ready to give every NPC distinct mannerisms – fun. Acting is a huge part of role-playing games. It is right there in the name. If you give each NPC a mannerism or two, you will have a better time playing the role and the players will have more fun interacting with the character.

If you are not having a blast playing the NPC, players will know it and become as bored with your performance as you are. Having a few mannerisms to draw on will ease your mind and help you become the NPC.

Mannerisms give you ways of acting that are entertaining to perform and watch.

Types of Mannerisms

There are two main types of mannerisms you can play comfortably at a table: physical and verbal.

Physical – Physicalities and Behaviors

Physicalities are mannerisms that affect the ways NPCs carry themselves. Perfect posture, slumped shoulders, and a cocked head for example. They define the way an NPC moves and sits. They are the first characteristics of any NPC noticed by the players, so set yourself up for success by choosing the right way to sit or stand before you even open your mouth to speak as that person.

Behaviors are physical actions your NPCs take that can be both conscious and unconscious. Facial twitching, nail biting, head scratching, finger-pointing, and more fall under the category of behaviors. Remember to keep these behaviors consistent and don’t give up. If you want mannerisms to do their job and help define the NPC, commitment is key.

Verbal – Accents, Tones, and Speech Patterns

Of all the mannerisms out there, it seems accents are the most intimidating to GMs. It makes sense. Some professional actors work for years on a specific accent and still can’t quite nail the sound. You don’t need to worry the way those actors do.

For one thing, you are doing this for fun. If you do not quite nail the Rs in an Irish brogue, the studio is not going to fire you. Odds are your players will not notice or care. If you’re playing in a fantasy world, no one can even question your accent. So what if your French accent sounds like a combination of German and Italian? Those countries do not exist in the world. What your players are hearing is the accent of a person from Waterdeep!

Tones help define your NPCs’ voices beyond accents. If all dwarves in your world speak with a Scottish brogue, then it will be difficult to tell every dwarf apart. But if the dwarf king has a high, nasally voice while the captain of the guard has a scratchy, gruff voice and the chief alchemist has a deep, soulful voice, then you’ve got some definition between each.

Speech patterns define the rhythms and habits NPCs have while speaking. Using as few words as possible, being extra loquacious, always using a particular turn of phrase, or turning every statement into a question are all examples of speech pattern mannerisms. Just like physical behaviors, commitment to speech patterns is key in using them to help define the NPC.

Inspiration for Mannerism Creation

While you can think about many NPCs and assign them mannerisms during your preparation time, it helps to have a list of mannerisms at your side for those times the players go somewhere unexpected and you find yourself creating on the spot. It even helps to have the same list with you during preparation time so you can remember mannerisms as you create NPCs.

Fiction

One of the first places to draw inspiration from is fiction. Your favorite movies, television shows, books, comics, and more are full of distinct characters. Ask yourself what specific mannerisms you love about your favorite characters. Copy those mannerisms down in a list.

When drawing from books and comic books in particular, do not be afraid to go back and read your favorite dialogue scenes aloud. As you do, get into it and really become the characters. You will find yourself giving them physicalities you did not picture in your head. That is more you can mine for your game. Add them to the list!

Real Life

Pull from real life too. The people you see every day at work and your family are some of the best places to pull from because you know them so well. Many people pull from the mannerisms of old teachers and professors, since so much time is spent observing them as they lecture. Celebrities and politicians are a gold mine for unique mannerisms. Go ahead and write all the ones you can think of on your list.

Mix & Match

Once you have your list, remember that you probably do not want to recreate a character who already exists in fiction or real life. It might seem fun to make a real estate mogul who sounds exactly like Donald Trump, but your portrayal could turn your game into a Saturday Night Live sketch.

If your NPC superhero The Terrific Tarantula-Man is exactly like Spidey, the similarities will remind your players they are playing a game in a fictional world and break the immersion.

Mix and match mannerisms to create totally new people.

Imagine an old lady with Professor Xavier’s accent plus Wolverine’s cigar-smoking habit and liberal use of the word “bub,” and you’ve got yourself quite a character!

Let each new mannerism you add to your list inspire others. Maybe you remember your father always runs his fingers through his hair. As you write down this mannerism, it could bring new ones to mind, like people who pull at their arm hair or constantly brush their hair out of their eyes. Add them to the list.

Once you have a full list, you can use it to make a random NPC mannerism table like the one found at the end of this article.

Playing Mannerisms

The key to pulling off effective NPC mannerisms is your level of comfort acting them out. The less nervous and more committed you are to the mannerisms, the better you inhabit the entire character. Even if you’re not one of those GMs who did improv in high school, you can be an amazing storyteller who inhabits many different people by taking a breath, telling yourself all you do is for fun, and really going for it.

If you’re not an actor or experienced GM, start small. Assign NPCs mannerisms you feel comfortable playing and only put the same sort on your random table.

Give each NPC just one distinct mannerism to start, so you don’t have to worry about scratching your head and making up nonsense curses at the same time. One mannerism is enough to make a memorable NPC.

If you’re picking a physical mannerism, make sure it is one you can do comfortably for a few minutes without hurting yourself. Remember this is for your own enjoyment as well.

Practice

Practice your NPC mannerisms to get comfortable. If you know your PCs are going to meet with someone from your cast and you already assigned that NPC a mannerism, say impromptu lines in that character’s voice as part of your preparation. Try to have the interaction the NPC might have with the characters during the game. If you cannot think of anything to say, grab your favorite book and read a passage aloud as the NPC for practice.

Specificity

The more specific you can make a mannerism, the better. If the characters meet an old wizard who strokes his long beard, decide exactly how this movement occurs. A raised pinky with a twisting wrist is distinct, memorable, and says a lot about the wizard’s personality. The pinky suggests he’s got a proper upbringing in a noble house while the twisting wrists might give away he’s a bit of a nervous nelly.

If you were to rub your chin a different way each time the PCs meet this wizard, the mannerism is not as effective or fun to play.

[Comment from Johnn: take a selfie while practicing the mannerism to remind yourself how to portray NPC in the future.]

Even if you’re creating an NPC on the spot, take a moment to think about how the character would execute its mannerisms and get specific with your movements, tone of voice, vocal patterns, and posture to really give unique performances.

Commitment

Commitment is the second most important factor when it comes to NPC mannerisms. If you are comfortable with acting this will come easy, but you can force yourself to commit if you are feeling a little nervous. Go ahead and do that accent full on or pick your nose with gusto in front of your friends. Maintain the mannerism throughout the entire interaction and see what a difference it makes.

Dropping a mannerism partway through an interaction because you are uncomfortable will not do anybody any good. When it comes to NPC mannerisms, if you are going to do it, do it all the way and do not look back until the NPC makes an exit.

Don’t Be Perfect

The most important factor in displaying the mannerisms of your NPCs is fun. If you remind yourself your accents do not need to be perfect, that it is fine to laugh at yourself, and you should relish playing the NPCs, using mannerisms in your games will be some of the most fun you and your players have at the table.

How Matt Mercer Portrays a Maiden

Take a look at this video of Matt Mercer playing an NPC in the Geek & Sundry special, “D&Diesel.” In addition to being the fantastic GM of the web series “Critical Role,” Mercer is also a professional voice actor. He knows how to inhabit any NPC on the spot, even when he is under the pressure of playing with Vin Diesel on camera.

In the clip provided, Mercer plays a distressed maiden. He begins with a quick description of the character and then immediately begins enacting her physical mannerisms before speaking as the maiden. He slumps his shoulders and sticks his head out, leaning forward on the table to give the maiden a round-shouldered, frightened appearance.

Mercer then quickly darts his eyes all around the table, looking each of his players in the eye without moving his head. He does not allow his eyes to focus on any one player, but keeps them moving as he speaks. We know based on posture and the behavior of her eyes the NPC is terrified before she even opens her mouth.

Given Mercer’s career, the characterization and mannerisms become even sharper when he speaks. He has chosen a higher register to indicate the character is a young woman, but to make her distinct from other NPC young ladies and give her a deeper emotional feel, he gives her a breathy voice. She takes her time speaking with huge breaths between each sentence. These verbal mannerisms suggest a meek nature. When those verbal mannerisms are coupled with the physical, the character becomes unique, distinct, and interesting. Mercer throws in a British accent for good measure, medieval feel, and further distinction.

As the woman becomes more scared or confused, her mannerisms become bigger and more erratic. Her eyes dart more, her breathy voice almost sounds like she just ran a mile as she swallows air, her posture becomes even meeker, and her vocal pitch approaches the height of Mercer’s range. Our own real-life mannerisms tend to become more obvious when we are in an excited state because we lose a bit of control, so Mercer does that with his NPCs. Keep that in mind as your NPCs get joyful, terrified, surprised, and angry.

As the clip continues, Mercer reveals this young woman is not quite what she seems. She is a hag eager to sacrifice the player characters to her sister. As her motives change, Mercer keeps the NPC’s original verbal and physical mannerisms, but changes her attitude. This keeps her recognizable, but her new attitude changes the meaning behind the mannerisms.

Her hunched posture suggests her twisted, evil form. The hag’s darting eyes have a crazed wickedness to them. The voice is still high and breathy, but the breathing is more controlled, suggesting seductive evil rather than meek terror. All the mannerisms are still a part of the NPC’s portrayal. The character is the same, but her emotional state has completely changed.

In summary, here are the mannerisms Mercer used to play an elf maiden. You can think of the mannerisms listed below as a sort of stat block. Try creating these for your NPCs.

Maiden Mannerism List
  • Slump shoulders
  • Stick out neck
  • Dart eyes constantly
  • High voice
  • Breathy voice
  • British accent (optional)

Mannerism Table

If your game is tonight and you need some random mannerisms right now, we’ve got you covered. Use the table below to get started, and ignore or change any of the mannerisms you do not want to play.

Choose or flip a coin to decide if you want to give your NPC a physical or verbal mannerism and then roll on the appropriate table.

If you are an experienced GM who already plays an NPC mannerism comfortably, roll once (or more) on each table.

Physical Mannerisms

The NPC…

  1. has perfect posture
  2. slumps his/her shoulders
  3. picks his/her nose
  4. scratches his/her head
  5. clears his/her throat often
  6. blinks more than the normal person
  7. cannot look anyone in the eye
  8. is a close talker
  9. cracks his/her knuckles
  10. bites his/her nails
  11. picks at his/her ears
  12. runs his/her fingers through his/her hair
  13. inhales deeply before speaking
  14. rubs his/her chin
  15. stares without blinking for long periods of time
  16. breathes heavily
  17. cannot sit still
  18. has a face that cannot stop twitching
  19. belches uncontrollably
  20. constantly rubs his/her own shoulder
Verbal Mannerisms

The NPC…

  1. has a scratchy voice
  2. has a deep voice
  3. has a high voice
  4. uses the phrase over and over
  5. ends all sentences with a phrase that make them a questions (e.g. “you know?” or “do you follow?”)
  6. creates nonsense cuss words
  7. has a smooth, soulful voice
  8. has a Germanic accent similar to German/Russian
  9. has a Romance language accent similar to Spanish/Italian/French
  10. repeats whatever is said to him back before responding
  11. uses only gender neutral pronouns
  12. calls everyone by the wrong name
  13. stutters
  14. uses the same nickname for everyone
  15. has an American Southern accent
  16. speaks only in short sentences or nods
  17. uses far more words than necessary
  18. says “umm” for a long time before speaking
  19. speaks rapidly
  20. over-enunciates everything

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

Quick announcement: The meaty World Builder Blog posts will now come every Thursday, since episodes of Have Spellbook, Will Travel drop on Wednesdays and I don’t want to overload you.

Time for even more aberrations!

A few weeks ago I made the case for needing more high challenge rating aberrations than the ones in the Monster Manual for my soon-to-be-published Exploration Age campaign setting. There’s only 19 total aberration stat blocks in the book, and the highest CR is 14 (beholder in lair), so you might want some more aberrations for your world too! That’s why I’m sharing them on this blog.

In that post I showed off the Lovecraft-inspired moonbeast. Then in a later post I presented my hound of Tindalos and after that my gug. In this post I’m showing off my fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons version of the dimensional shambler!

Publisher’s Choice Quality Stock Art © Rich Hershey / Fat Goblin Games

Publisher’s Choice Quality Stock Art © Rich Hershey / Fat Goblin Games

Dimensional Shambler

Dimensional shamblers are 5-foot tall hairless beasts of humanoid form. Tight grey and red skin binds their unnerving crouched form. Their hands sport cruel claws and their almost simian head can open terrifyingly wide to reveal rows of canine teeth. Very little is known about their motivations, but theories abound.

Hunters of Intelligent Life. Dimensional shamblers cross the multiverse using their innate plane-shifting abilities looking for prey. While no one is certain what exactly attracts shamblers to a particular prey, they seem to be drawn to intelligent humanoids who use magic to travel to and summon creatures from other planes. While such victims appear to be a shambler’s preferred target, they are known to abduct any creature with above animal intelligence. A shambler can spend years tracking a single target.

Soul-Devouring Torturers. While dimensional shamblers are powerful combatants and known to kill large groups of humanoids, they much prefer to drag off a single intelligent creature from a fight. They will carry these victims to forgotten corners of the multiverse and bathe them in a ooze-like substance called gray mire. The gray mire painfully devours and nourishes a victim over the course of weeks as the shambler watches, never resting. Eventually the victim’s body is completely destroyed by the mire, leaving only their soul which is devoured by the shambler.

Power in Numbers. While dimensional shamblers often work alone, they do cross paths in the multiverse. Sometimes these horrors agree to work together to capture prey. A strange bond forms between shamblers who agree to work together, increasing each’s power exponentially.

Dimensional Shambler

Medium aberration, chaotic evil


Armor Class 17 (natural armor)

Hit Points 171 (18d8 + 90)

Speed 30 ft.


STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA
20 (+5)  16 (+3) 20 (+5) 10 (+0) 14 (+2) 20 (+5)

Saving Throws Dex +7, Int +4, Wis +6, Cha +9

Damage Resistances bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage from nonmagical weapons

Damage Immunities psychic

Condition Immunities exhaustion, charmed

Skills Perception +6, Stealth +7, Survival +7

Senses truesight 120 ft. passive perception 16

Languages Deep Speech, telepathy 120 ft.

Challenge 12 (8,400 XP)


Aggressive Plane Shift. When the shambler casts plane shift any creatures it is grappling must succeed on a DC 17 Charisma saving throw or be teleported with the shambler. If the shambler is touching an unconscious creature when it casts this spell, that creature is automatically transported with the shambler.

Hypnotic Presence. Creatures who start their turns within 30 feet of the shambler and can see the creature must succeed on a DC 17 Wisdom saving throw or become paralyzed for 1 minute. A paralyzed creature can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success. If a creature’s saving throw is successful or the effect ends for it, the creature is immune to the shambler’s Hypnotic Presence (and the hypnotice presence of all dimensional shamblers) for the next 24 hours.

Spellcasting. The shambler’s innate spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell save DC 17). The shambler can innately cast the following spells, requiring no material components:

At-will: dimension door, misty step

3/day: dominate monsterplane shift, telekinesis

Strength in Numbers. The DC of the shambler’s spells and Hypnotic Presence ability increases by 1 (to a maximum of 20) for every other dimensional shambler within 100 feet on the same plane.

Actions

Multiattack. The shambler can make three attacks: two with its claws, and one with its bite.

Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 16 (2d10 + 5) piercing damage.

Claws. Melee Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 12 (2d6 + 5) slashing damage and the target is grappled (escaped DC 17). Until this grapple ends, the target is restrained and the shambler can’t use its claws to attack another target.

Create Gray Mire. The shambler touches any 10-foot-square area of natural ground such as dirt, stone, grass, sand, or ice and it becomes a 5-f00t-deep pool of gray mire. Creatures who enter or start their turns in the area must succeed on a DC 17 Constitution saving throw or become paralyzed for 24 hours. During this time the gray mire nourishes them, so they don’t need to eat, sleep, or breathe, but it also eats away at their flesh, dealing 1 necrotic damage which cannot be reduced in anyway. The target’s hit point maximum is reduced by an amount equal to the damage taken effect. This reduction lasts until the target finishes a long rest outside of a pool of gray mire. If a creature’s hit point maximum is reduced to 0 by this effect, it is consumed by the pool and any dimensional shamblers nearby regain 171 hit points. At the end of 24 hours of being paralyzed, the creature must succeed on another DC 17 Constitution saving throw or suffer the same effect if it still in the pool.

The pool counts as difficult terrain. Creatures who start their turn in the pool or enter the pool on their turn must succeed on a DC 17 Strength saving throw or become grappled by the mire until the start of their next turn. A creature who is in the pool can be pulled out of it by another creature not in the pool who can reach the creature in the pool with a DC 17 Strength check made as an action. Being pulled from the pool ends any grappled or paralyzed condition caused by the mire.

Dimensional shamblers are immune to the effects of the gray mire.

PDF

Would you like this Lovecraftian beastie to threaten your players’ characters? Grab it now in its own PDF or alongside a lot of Exploration Age’s monsters! Like the icebreaker shark, gaping maw, morchia, and mystauk.

Dimensional Shambler

All Monsters

If you liked these creatures be sure to check out my other offerings in the Free Game Resources section of this site and my Pay What You Want products on the DMs Guild for backgrounds, magic items, optional rules, and more.

Playtest it up!

Now I ask you my readers to please go forth and test this nasty. Throw it at your players and see how they fare! If you have any feedback for my monster please leave it in the comments below or email me (james.introcaso@gmail.com). If you tell me your name and the names of your players I’ll give you credit as playtesters in the Exploration Age Campaign Guide!

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