Urg, Stick to the Plan!

Our monthly D&D session last week had another fun bit of chaos I thought I would use this week’s blog post to share with you all.

Setting the Scene

Our group of intrepid explorers was waiting for information from their contacts in Skullport, so they decided to spend the time exploring the other side of the river. Deciding to brave the gondola guided by the tiefling skeleton, the group stumbled across a dark cave where a young boy and a goblin were imprisoned.

After some investigation, they discovered the boy had been washed down into Undermountain. His friend escaped the sea’s pull, while he was swept away and captured by some hags. They sent the goblin on his way and freed the boy. He lingered in the back as the group prepared to engage the hags, poking around in murky pools. One slimy hand emerged, then another, and a hideous hag dragged herself from the water.

Fully prepared for a fight, her polite inquiries caught the group off guard, and they stutteringly shifted to conversation mode. After providing some brief information, she ushered the group on their way, out toward the river and away from the yet-unexplored cave in the back.

The Plan

Their boat was back at the other beach downriver. They were left with two options: swim or try to go back through the hag’s territory. It was unlikely the entire group could sneak through the cave, but their rogue, Ashe, might be able to make it. Taking their signal whistle in case he ran into problems, Ashe made it through the main cavern and back to the caves further in, intending to bring the boat upriver to the group.

He there faced a choice. To the right was the way back to the boat. To the left was the unexplored section of the cave. Being the aspiring legendary thief, he naturally went left and ended up at a large cavern filled with shipwrecks piled high on one side. A ship’s figurehead looked on from across the room, and a well-preserved Crowsnest towered high over the pile.

Curious as to what might be contained within, Ashe began to climb the pile toward the platform above. About ten feet from his goal, the figurehead behind him, a banshee, began to wail. The piercing sound echoed through the chamber and down the halls. Ashe dropped back down and ran.


While Ashe sprinted down the unfamiliar corridors, his party argued.

“That’s our cue,” Urg stated, spoiling for the previously averted fight.

“He said he would use the whistle,” countered Anakis. “That is not the whistle.”

“Yeah,” Rose agreed. “He’s fast, like me. He can get to the boat, and we should be here when he returns so he doesn’t get lost looking for us.”

Urg shook his head. “We can’t just leave him. I’m going.” So saying, he took off running toward the source of the wailing.

Ashe ran toward the boat. Urg ran toward the sound. The party stood on the shore muttering about bad decisions.

As Urg approached the source of the cacophony, it suddenly cut off. “Ashe?!” he called out.

The only response was the clicking and scraping of chitinous legs on stone.

“Uh oh,” he thought and turned to run again, this time toward where they had left the boat.

The End

Not really, but that is all the time I have for blogging today, so tune in next week for the thrilling conclusion to this comedy of errors!

Happy weekend all!

Control of Skullport

We had another entertaining session of D&D this week. This one felt especially well-rounded from the perspective of character role diversity. The rogue snuck around, spying out the landscape while the battle master scouted the enemies for strategic knowledge. In one fight, there was an epic mage duel, and the halfling monk got to run through the effects of a Cloud Kill spell to end the threat.

Overall, the session had great party dynamics with creative use of individual skills and abilities. They also did a great job of leveraging their contacts and connections to minimize their risk of exposure while still taking action to gather the needed intelligence. I next need to figure out what that intelligence will be, but this approach also gives me more time to make the information more dynamic. This part of the role-playing of D&D is fun for me, and I’m enjoying how the players are interacting with the world.

The latest decision on their plate is “Who should control Skullport?” None of their options are good. It is Undermountain, after all. Xanathar’s Guild, their current nemesis, holds sway over the underground town. A Drow house from the Underdark is making a play for it, but they are limited to river access, with a long-established group of hobgoblins controlling the other primary access points from level three of Undermountain.

Those hobgoblins have asked the players for help recovering something stolen. The recent theft has placed them at a distinct disadvantage, and the group finds themselves caught between the Drow threat and continuing pressure from Xanathar’s Guild – who the players find out have already been infiltrating the hobgoblins via strategic placement of intellect devourers. Azrok, the hobgoblin leader, is already hosting an unwanted guest from Xanather that he cannot afford to refuse.

The hobgoblins are likely the ideal group of the three to help give control of Skullport, but they might already be too far gone to help. Xanathar’s Guild wants them dead on sight, with a bounty on their heads for the “theft” of massive wealth up in Waterdeep. Then again, are Drow who attack intruders on sight likely to be good and gentle stewards who will allow them free passage if they gain control? Can any of them be trusted?

Probably not, but it makes for interesting gameplay. Skullport is likely to be a recurring visit as the group continues, so I’m excited to see the long-play on this and how the situation evolves over time…as long as they don’t TPK before then.


Player vs Reader

Yesterday I hosted one of our periodic Saturday D&D sessions. They are always fun, with way too many salty and sugary snacks to munch on and ruin our dinner, which we eat even though we are still ninety percent full. In general, it is always a good time had by all, with enough breaks to satisfy our need for generic conversation between bouts of role-playing. 

My books came up at some point (yay!). I am happy to report my alpha reader is “enjoying the fourth book so far.” The combination of discussing my books and an article my partner is reading about the art of game mastering set us thinking about the different approaches needed for a player audience compared to a reading audience. 

I believe the article he is reading was written by The Angry GM, as he follows that creator for TTRPG content. The article referenced how the GM should present the facts to the players: what their PCs (player characters) sense or perceive. However, they should not provide what the PCs intuit. My second-hand understanding is that the argument for this is that a TTRPG, by its nature, can only challenge the players mentally. Making intuitive connections for them takes away from that challenge. 

Writing for my readers, I am presenting the story and the characters. My characters must figure out the puzzles and face the challenges thrown in their path. The reader joins Annalla on her journey, perceiving the world through her experience and thoughts. They might figure something out before her and feel proud when their assumption proves correct, or they could be surprised by a curve I throw their way. Perhaps my character’s thoughts or actions reveal a twist to them that they did not intuit with the meager literary breadcrumbs provided. 

For writing my books, it does not matter as much if the reader catches those clues or not. My cleverly laid trail will reveal itself eventually. Perhaps the books deserve another read-through to find all the little pieces missed on the first pass that become so clear at the end. Some of my favorite books include this aspect, and it does not even need to be a massive twist. Sometimes the smallest reveals are the most memorable. 

Unfortunately, when it comes to my D&D game, I need the players to put the clues together, and the task is made more challenging with a boxed campaign. With a homebrew campaign, I could utilize common references, but with a pre-made campaign, I must try to translate to our common references where I can or hope they do at least some investigation. 


I told my players multiple times they should not treat this dungeon like a run-and-gun, first-person shooter. Each level is like a little town with factions, social dynamics, the town proper, and the outskirts. If they run through the place fighting everything and everyone they come across, they will end up with a total party wipe and effectively lose the game. 

After facing a large group of hostile Drow in the prior session, they started the day by scouting to get the lay of the land. They found the river and some rafts, evidence of fighting, evidence of Drow killing troglodytes, more Drow watching the river, and a good size hobgoblin patrol guarding one area. Their eventual decision is to lure the hobgoblins into an ambush so they can get past them. It’s not a bad decision, and I liked the planning that went into the approach and thinking about using their scouting and the terrain to their advantage. They also had some hostile encounters with hobgoblins on prior levels, so assuming hostility was not unwarranted. 

However, there are two lingering concerns in my mind. First, they did not really interact much with the breadcrumbs left for them. The biggest oversight was the evidence of fighting throughout the tunnels. They asked if they could discern anything from the blood on the floor, but only once when they peeked at it from around a corner, down the hall across the room. “No, you are too far away.” They did not ask again. 

DM: “You see a fork in the road with a signpost between the paths hidden behind some brush.”

Players: “We go to the right.”

Part of the problem was the troglodytes. Their presence likely pushed an incorrect assumption on the players. While they are perfectly fine questioning me at every turn, they firmly believe their assumptions are infallible. I can try to minimize the troglodyte red herrings, but the other issue is for them to address before I stop beating them over the head with the breadcrumbs and start leaving the trail as intended. 

The second concern came when the attempt to lure the hobgoblins out failed. Instead of chasing, they called out, “Who goes there?” When the unexpected happens, you often have three options: fight, flight, or freeze. In reaction terms here: attack them, flee to regroup, or hold your ground and have a chat. In my opinion, you can always attack. That should generally be the last course of action because it effectively eliminates your other options. After attacking, you can’t talk to them, you limit your ability to escape, and potentially add another enemy to a growing list. 

Any conversation, no matter how short, is an opportunity for information gathering. Rather than talking, though, the players effectively said, “Well, the ambush is off. Charge!”


We only play once a month, so I cannot expect them to follow the long, meandering trail of information without some guiding lights from me. However, the immediate, in-session breadcrumbs bear a reasonable expectation of being gleaned and followed. 

I will not remove this aspect and nerf the levels to allow for a run-and-run playstyle, as I don’t think that kind of game is fun for long. The little clues make the world more alive and engage the players’ minds. As the article (as told to me) said, rolling a fourteen on a D20 is not a challenge for the players. It’s the little puzzles and discoveries making up the meat of the game. If we don’t find the happy balance, the Half-Pints will become lost in Undermountain forever, disappearing as so many adventuring parties before them. 

Side Quest

*Quick reminder: I will be adding a deleted chapter to the website if I reach 40 total reviews for my books on Amazon, so if you have time, please consider going onto Amazon and leaving a rating/review. Thank you!*

I have been running Dungeon of The Mad Mage for my D&D group for about a year and a half of monthly sessions. To mix things up a bit and get them some extra XP for my sixth PC, I have added a little side quest to their Mad Mage delve. I’m calling it: the Nightmare King’s Realm, and it will consist of three “levels” accessed via three different levels of Under mountain.


These side quest levels are inserted as a game within the game. Each player created a new PC for their Mad Mage character to play. Too meta? Eh, even down the rabbit hole, it is still the player playing a PC. No need to overthink it. This is a chance to try something new or something you have not been able to play in a while. Massive dungeons can also feel stagnant, so this changes the game in a way that doesn’t disrupt the broader storyline.


When asking about a specific magic item, one of my PCs was told of a realm that could provide you with any item you might dream. The catch was if you do not complete all three levels before a year and a day passes, then you will never leave. Your body disappears forever, and you become part of the game.

Curious, and wanting those magic items, the party traded for the key allowing them access to this mystical realm. The door to the first level was said to be on the dungeon’s third floor. As they approached the base of the stairs leading down, a glow drew them down a corridor.

At the base of the stairs, a tunnel comes into sight as Ashe draws near. You follow it a short distance to what appears to be a dead-end, but as you approach, an arched door shimmers into existence, glowing with a malevolent purple light. A detailed jungle carving glowing a sickly green takes up most of the door, with a plaque in the center engraved with words. ​

The carving details appear almost lifelike, as though a jungle wilderness opens incongruously before you through the end of this subterranean tunnel. While there is no door handle, a metal panel with a keyhole matching the metal of the key given to you is set where a handle should be.

Above the plaque, stylized lettering carved into the door reads: Welcome to Omu. The Forbidden City stands sentinel.

Stepping closer, you can make out the words engraved upon the plaque.

Withdrawing the key from your pocket, you look at your party one last time to receive their nods and shrugs of acceptance. You insert the key and turn it, hearing a faint click. The glow from the door flares, and your world turns black.


For the fun part… I’m running pieces from Tomb of Annihilation and Tomb of Horrors for these levels. There will also be no death saves. If your PC drops to zero hit points, they die. As this is a game within a game, there are respawn mechanics. I am not sharing those here though. some of this my players have to figure out as they go, and a couple of them read my blog posts.

Time passing in this game will also be different. Playtime and their actions in-game will translate to time passing in Mad Mage and tie back to the “year and a day” timeframe. There will be no rations or water needed, but some conditions will last specific in-game durations.

They will need to defeat enemies and monsters, solve puzzles, and find the keys to escape the level. If at first, they don’t succeed? Try, try again. Just don’t die too much. If certain conditions are met, it will not only be these PCs to suffer. They could end up killing their Mad Mage characters as well.

Coulda Been a TPK

First, I would be remiss if I did not start this post by saying, “The Seattle Sounders are CONCACAF Champions League Champions.” Wednesday night, I joined nearly 70k others at Lumen Field for the game.

It was amazing! Suspenseful until the very end. Full of heartache and drama. Filled with career performances. The opposing fans were energetic and awesome as well. Great food, great friends, and a great game!

Go Sounders!

Back to Undermountain

The day after the Sounders game was my monthly D&D session. We busted out the tacos, margaritas, and dice bags for a rousing game of role-playing!

Not Everyone Makes It

In a prior session, the group snuck past a Xanathar’s Guild (XG) outpost to do more exploring of level 2. They ended up finding barrels of dwarven ale and rescuing a young man. Those two events kicked off another round of creative strategizing.

XG knows the groups’ faces and will attack them on sight, but they—hopefully—did not also have a kill-order out on the stranger the party saved. If they dressed him like an XG member, he might be able to, safely, get in for a delivery and get out again.

While some of the party patched up a few cuts and bruises, Ashe snuck back to a potential ally they affectionately gave the code name “Invisidrow.” At the same time, Hudson went to retrieve the keg of beer they opened earlier in the day and doctored it with some poison they had on hand.

The plan was to deliver the ale, referencing the other XG captain on the level, whose name Invisidrow previously gave them. This time, he also agreed to lend them five of his wererat minions for the fight. After enough time passed for those in the XG camp to drink the ale, they would bypass the two beholder zombie watchdogs, charge forward, and open up on them.

It worked brilliantly!

A few of the humans stumbled around, a little drunk, and the wererats kept the bugbears occupied. Urg ran to the middle of the room and cast an area of effect, war cleric, damage spell. Rose and Valorik fought to keep everyone off Urg so his spell would remain up as long as possible.

Something alerted the zombies, and they started floating down to join the fight. Hudson called out a warning, and they doubled their efforts to eliminate the humanoid opponents.

Turn Undead sent one of the zombies fleeing, but the second shot a discintigration ray right at Valorik. He staggered against the blow but remained on his feet to keep fighting. Soon enough, only the zombies remained. They took them out, one at a time, dodging multiple rays.

As another blast came his way, Valorik said, “I am at peace with this.”

The ray hit, but instead of turning to dust, he ran in fear.

Finally, it was over.

They searched the room before continuing to explore to the south.

A little later, Ashe listened for movement beyond a closed door.

“Sounds like animals,” he said.

“Let’s find out what kind,” Urg said as he opened the door wide.

Three ravenous owlbears picked up their heads and charged.

The sight freezes the group in place, and Ashe barely got off a couple of arrows before the beasts barged through the doorway, biting and clawing.

Valork went down.

Ung went down.

Rose took another round before she, too, fell.

As they lay bleeding on the floor, Ashe and Anakis tried desperately to kill the creatures and keep their friends alive. Hudson flashed forward with a sword of shadow and flame even as one of the owlbears started to drag Urg off into the other room.

One down.


As the fallen gasped for breath upon the ground, the three combatants charged forward and eliminated the threat. They scattered, rushing to stabilize their comrades, only to find Urg had already breathed his last.

With tears in their eyes, they carried their fallen, dead and unconscious, to a secure location. All thoughts of exploring further faded; they are headed back to Waterdeep.