Monday, September 30, 2013

30 Day D&D Challenge: Day 30- Who is your Favorite Dungeon Master?

Hi everyone! Don’t adjust your blog filters, this is Darth Cibeous on Vorpal Chainsword, taking up the gauntlet of the 30 Day D&D Challenge. Seeing as I am a Sith, and prone to thinking in terms some might call … unnatural, I’m going to to jump all the way to day 30 and write about my favorite Dungeon Master.

I’ve been gaming for a long time so I’ve encountered many, many great DMs. I’m going to tell you about three of them, and hopefully the first two will tell you why it’s actually the third one who’s my favorite.

My first excellent DM was pretty hard to top, since he created the hobby. When I was, well, much younger, I had the privilege of playing at a table with Gary Gygax himself. At the time, I had no idea what was going on, only that we were going after some filthy slavers! For those of you who want to carbon date how old I was, this was the adventure that would eventually become The Slave Pits of the Undercity. This was actually a couple of years before they would be more officially used for the D&D Open.

So here I was, a young Sith Padawan, sat down at a table with seven other players, and given a character … a thief! It was only many years later that I actually realized how lucky I was. So why was Gary such a great DM? It’s simple: here I was, a new player, and a young kid to boot, and I had a great time, despite the fact that there were eight of us in the game!

There were two things that particularly stuck out in my mind about the game: first, that Gary took the time to get everyone involved with what was going on, and to keep even the people who weren't directly involved doing something. This was no small feat given that none of us knew each other, and that the group spanned many decades of age. Everyone was involved, everyone felt like they were a part of what was happening and could contribute.

The second thing that stuck out was that Gary managed the entire game by asking “what would you like to do,” followed by listening, and then saying “well, let’s roll this and find out what happens…” Gary knew the rules. There’s no doubt that he did because he invented them, but when it came to do things, he’d just ask what you wanted to attempt and then fairly decide how it went. Dice were rolled, and everyone would just roll with the punches of what happened. Sometimes it went very well, others, not so much. The thing was, we all felt like we really could do whatever we want, even if it turned out to be a bad idea.

Years later I picked up the adventure we were playing, and found that it was really not a very good one. The thing was: the way Gary handled it, it was excellent: he took the bare bones of what was in the text and we went on a crazy ride based entirely on what we told him we were doing. And that’s the story of my first excellent DM.

So the second excellent DM I played with was about 15 years later. His name was Erick Wujcik, and you may have heard of him: he created the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles RPG, as well as one of my favorite games, Amber Diceless Roleplay. This is another Gen Con story, and serves to show how loooooonggg I've been going to Gen Con. At least this game was still in Milwaukee and was during my extensive six year stint at the UW as a Sith Apprentice. Erick ran a session of Amber at Gen Con that was six hours long, and had 30 players. That’s right: 30 of us! We were in a huge, open space and at any one time there were maybe half a dozen factions going about things. At the end of the game, he managed to get all 30 of us together and run a climactic battle scene. With 30 people. In a game where you pretty much use the power of BS to tell everyone what you can do.

Everything about this game should have been a disaster, but I still remember it today as one of the best games I’ve ever played in. So what did he do? What was the magic that kept this game from being a train wreck?

First, he encouraged us to plot, plan and simply roleplay with ourselves. This was the first time I had encountered something like that on this scale, and it changed the way that I play RPGs. It really did! A lot of the time when you’re playing a game, the DM’s focus isn’t on you, or if it is, what’s going on isn’t particularly thrilling. Maybe you’re navigating your way through a seemingly endless series of tunnels, or maybe you’re haggling over the price of a large sack. Whatever it is, it’s not that interesting. What’s fun in these situations is what you bring to the table. If the DM has planted some interesting plot seeds, you can plan things out or simply shoot the breeze with the other players in character. It can be a lot of fun, actually, and can help to get a consensus of what you’re going to do even when the DM isn’t around.

Second, he had an incredible amount of energy and was driven to keep the game rolling dynamically at all times. He was simply over-the-top fun as a DM. Imagine five or six groups, all plotting away, with Erick bouncing around (almost literally!) between them, asking what was going on, figuring out what we were doing, and them keeping that all straight in his head while moving between the groups. If one of us said we were going down to the tavern to check out rumors, off we went … to another group who was already there. When we got there, we’d be newcomers in an existing scene where people would likely be at each other’s throats.

It’s hard to describe the incredible energy that he had, but it all came together in some crazy manic Robin Williamsesque fashion. I still remember the game to this day.

What I especially enjoyed about the game was how it was rapid-fire, sink or swim. You didn’t have much time to explain what you were going to do, but when you did, man. I remember the encounter that my character had with Corwin (or, as we would learn, a Pattern Ghost of Corwin). I was faced with him, defending the Pattern from utter destruction. Erick asks: so, Corwin is coming at you, with Grayswandir raised. He’s serious. He says: ‘out of my way, cousin!’ What do you do?

I ended up getting punched in the face, knocked out and left for dead. And I'll tell you it was a great game. "I got punched in the face by Corwin." Sith can be so sentimental sometimes... And so Erick was my second excellent DM.

But I know what you’re thinking, and this time you’re wrong: this article wasn’t about excellent DMs, it was about your favorite DM. So how about I get to the point and tell you who that is?

My favorite DM is Cory Scanlan.

Yes, that’s right, the author of the Vorpal Chainsaw blog himself. And it wasn’t even close, it was by a mile! Yes, I just compared Cory to the creator of our hobby, and said he’s a BETTER DM. That. Just. Happened.

So why do I say that Cory is the best? Those are some pretty big shoes to fill, so what does he do that’s so excellent? Well, if you take a look at my previous comments, well, let’s sum them up:

  • Get and keep everyone involved, even the people who aren’t directly involved with the action.
  • Help everyone to try absolutely anything they’d like to do, and adjudicate it fairly, whether it’s a good idea or not.
  • Encourage everyone to plot and have fun among themselves.
  • Has near boundless energy reserves (perhaps fueled by Monster Energy Drink) and show incredible enthusiasm.

Those things pretty much sum up every game Cory runs. He puts everything he has into the game he runs and his enthusiasm is infectious. When I’m done with a session that Cory’s run, I’m thinking about what we’re going to do next! He’s sort of a mini Gen Con: the moment the game is over, I’m counting down until the next game! My poor wife gets to listen to me going on and on (and on, and on…) about the session when she’d much rather sleep.

As I was putting this article together, I thought of one thing that Cory does that truly puts him over the top, and has earned the jealousy of my friends who don’t game with him: he prepares.

When you’re looking to do something with Cory and Mary, quite often Cory will say “I’d love to, but I’m painting miniatures and preparing terrain for the next game.” That crazy attention to detail makes his games memorable. Since this is my article, I thought I’d take the time to share some of my favorite Cory memories about being prepared:

Cory goes crazy with miniatures. One of our characters in a long-running game is a dwarf who fights with a rapier. For those of you not in the world of roleplaying miniatures, there aren’t ANY miniatures of dwarfs using rapiers. I think the very notion is against the dwarf code or something. Can you imagine a heavily Scottish accented man with a beard threatening you with a rapier? But, that was the character that we had for us, so Cory went and made a custom miniature for this character so that it would be accurate. And the system this was for was pretty lethal, so the odds were that miniature wouldn’t be needed for long. But that fact didn’t deter him!

In a game he was running called The Gathering Storm, it was raining for the entire campaign. So Cory went out and bought not one, but multiple rain and storm soundtracks, and played them at gradually increasing intensity throughout the campaign. It was difficult to detect at first, but as the game went on and became more intense, so did the music. At one point during this game, we did something dramatic, and Cory stopped the music and put on a crazy Heavy Metal song that was dedicated to Sigmar. Until that song ended, we received huge bonuses to the heroic actions we did, so he told us to get to it!

At another game, we came downstairs and all the lights were out. He had set up lighting for the custom Tron lightcycle boardgame he ran for us that was the beginning of a campaign. It’s Tron he said, so OF COURSE the game would have to start with a lightcycle battle! When we moved to the roleplaying portion of the game, he had made custom disks with our character sheets on them that we could program with upgrades as we found them.

Then there was the time he ran a game about a spaceship that had been traveling with most of the crew in hypersleep. We were woken up to deal with some problems that had arisen, in a fashion similar to the movie Pandorum. Along the way Cory had taken some cut scenes from the game Doom and played them for us. He told us afterwards that the only way he could get all of them was to play the entire game through again! Ah, but the cut scenes were integral to immersion in the game, you see.

And those of you who made it to Scancon this year can testify about the custom tablets he had made to play his homemade Cyberpunk game. I don’t want to talk about that too much, since not everyone who reads the blog has actually played it yet. This game actually includes a Powerpoint teaching you how to play.

There are so many more stories about Cory and his level of preparation for a game that make playing with him so special. I can recall one Cabincon where he spent over an hour setting up a game of Mansions of Madness for us. I think we finished the game in two hours, and then it took another hour to clean up. So setup and take down times were equal to the time we actually spent playing the game.

And perhaps my favorite part of Cory’s DMing is the fact that he lets me play a character like Gunter, and doesn’t promptly kill him. There have been a couple of earlier Vorpal Chainsword articles about this campaign, but the fact that the character I’m playing in it is still alive is a testament to Cory’s DMing skills. Gunter is a character in the Warhammer universe, where Very Bad Things happen to even the most cautious character. Gunter dives right into everything and says “let’s do that again!” after almost drowning in the river or being hit by a meteor (really, I almost got hit by one, but I jumped at exactly the right time and survived…) I have no idea how Gunter is still alive, but he is, and that’s another reason Cory is an excellent DM.

All of this makes him the best DM I’ve ever had, but why does he do it? Is it madness? Genius? Too much Zip Fizz?

I don’t really know, but what I can say is that Cory is the sort of person who absolutely attacks things that are important to him. He doesn’t do anything he sets his mind to halfway. Ask him about all the things he did to win the Ready Player One Challenge if you want another example.

So I’m going to open the floor to all of you to comment about this: why does he do it? I have heard some amazing stories from campaigns he was in before I met him, but I didn’t think those were my stories to share. If any of you would like to add to the tales, feel free to do so!

Congrats, Cory. 30 Days of D&D Challenge Achievement Unlocked!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

30 Day D&D Challenge: Day 29-What is the number you always seem to roll on a d20?

Well this isn't a very interesting question for me, to be honest.  The original author of the 30 Day challenge must've been running out of ideas at this point, or they must have a really good answer to this question.

The number I always seem to roll on a d20?  Its 14.  Yeah, not that exciting, huh?  But that's the case.  Now, we've all got those buddies who can't help but roll 1's whenever the chips are down.  We all know that guy.  He's got a good answer to that question and a lot of dumb stories.  Or we know the guy that is just the crit-master, rollin' 20s like its his job. We all suspect he's using loaded dice, but we don't say anything because we really needed him to finish off that beholder.

But I'm not either of those guys.  I roll 14s.

Now, I'm not saying 14 is a bad number.  No, its a pretty good number.  That combined with a not-terrible attack bonus against a standard AC is pretty much going to hit.  So I usually hit when its my turn, which I'm glad about.  Just doesn't make that interesting of a post is all.  Still, gotta love d20s.  Keep 'em rolling.

UPDATE: I've been informed that there will be a guest post for Day 30 of the 30-Day D&D Challenge here on the Vorpal Chainsword.  I haven't been told exactly who it is, but I have some guesses.  I look forward to reading it!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

30 Day D&D Challenge: Day 28-A character you will never play ever again

This one seems a little negative at first glance, but my answer has a more positive spin.  Who's the character I would never play ever again?


Yes, that's right folks.  My favorite character I've ever played is also the character I will never play ever again.  Why won't I play Quinn again?  Simple.  He might die from doing something stupid, or the game might just peter out from my fear of Quinn dying from doing something stupid.

Quinn is a 2nd ed AD&D character who's survived far more than his fair share of dangers.  And these aren't D&D 4e Millenials "dangers" where if you run out of hit points or fail a save you simply go unconscious or need to rest overnight or something to be back at full health.  These are the many, many Saves vs. Poison, Spells, or Dragon Breath, with death, level drain, or complete incineration as the failure effect.  After surviving so much, he's become something of a Socratic Ideal of a Hero in my mind over the years, and I wouldn't want to change that.  If I played Quinn again it would have to be 2nd ed AD&D, and with that comes the possibility for ridiculous or inescapable deaths.  As much as I like old-school D&Ds ridiculous Saves vs. Death, after all these years I don't think I'd enjoy putting Quinn in such danger again. And being afraid of dying is the opposite of what Quinn was all about, so the game wouldn't be fun.

Keep in mind I really want to play Quinn again, but its kinda like Indiana Jones.  The third movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, was awesome.  An absolutely great way to end the trilogy.  We all thought it was over and loved it. We dressed as Indiana for Halloween, we'd re-watch Raiders when theaters would play special screenings, we all owned replica whips and hats.  It was great reminiscing about Indiana Jones.  Then 20 years later they came out with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  If you're reading this blog I don't need to tell you how that movie turned out.  We thought we wanted to revisit Indy, but as it turns out, we really, really shouldn't have.  That's what re-playing Quinn would be like for me.  With my adult responsible personality and carefulness I wouldn't be able to do the gothy hipster-fatalist undead-hunting Quinn justice in our modern age.  So I'll just leave Quinn right where he is, at Last Crusade.

Friday, September 27, 2013

30 Day D&D Challenge: Day 27-A character you want to play in the future

Hmmm.  A character I want to play in the future?  I guess I've always wanted to play some sort of Tinker Gnome.  You know, a little guy who wears goggles, invents stuff, Jan Jansen style (Baldur's Gate II).  Never have played a Gnome I don't think.  Not in OD&D anyway.

He'd be Gnomish Mage/Thief or something to justify his wacky inventions.  His name would be Grizzgold Scrufflebottoms.  Maybe he'd even pilot an airship, The Exuberant Turnip.  He'd travel around the Realms with his merry band of adventurers seeking out riches and collecting hummel figurines.

Here's to Gnomes!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

30 Day D&D Challenge: Day 26-Favorite nonmagic item

Well for this one I have to hearken back to my own characters and can't do an impartial general item post.  I have to go with good old Ghoulslayer.

[UPDATE: This post had some incorrect details which were pointed out by my DM from those days.  Mistakes were due to my spotty memory. Corrections are inserted below in italics.]

Ghoulslayer is a Masterwork Longsword my beloved Undead Slayer, Quinn, wielded from his first combat.  Back in 2e D&D days a fighter could actually purchase a Masterwork weapon with their starting gold, as long as they were willing to skimp on everything else, which I was.  Masterwork weapons gave +1 to hit but no bonus to damage, and cost like an extra 100 gold above the regular sale price. Quinn rolled just enough starting gold to afford one and bought his first Masterwork Longsword.  That incredibly expensive sword, along with a set of leather armor and a pack of Iron Rations was all he carried as he set out to become the greatest hero of the Realms.
[CORRECTION: Masterwork swords cost way the hell more than that.  Ghoulslayer was not bought at outset. They are way too expensive for a first level character to buy at creation. It was bought shortly after Quinn started from some Dwarves who needed help removing a Necromancer from their lands.  Earning the opportunity to buy a Masterwork Sword specially crafted for the user was actually a really cool reward that I had for some reason totally forgotten about.]

In Quinn's first combat of his first session ever he came upon a group of travelers (who became fellow PCs) being attacked by some ghouls (yes, we were all first level PCs being attacked by a pack of freaking ghouls, that's how our DM rolled).  Without hesitation Quinn lept through the forest into combat with one of the cunning beasts, and on his first attack roll ever he rolled a natural 20, decapitating the ghoul with one blow.  (Back in 2e days, undead weren't immune to crits).  Right then and there his sword was christened through blood into Ghoulslayer, Bane of the Undead.

[UPDATE:  As mentioned above, turns out that sword wasn't the sword that became Ghoulslayer.  But that's how I remembered it.  Probably because that would've been a cooler reason to name the sword that than "I don't like ghouls."  But he totally did decapitate a ghoul with his first combat.]

Quinn continued to use Ghoulslayer throughout his adventuring career.  Sometimes dual-wielding it with Val-Kasil, the magical Longsword of Accuracy that a fellow PC dropped when he died (Val-Kasil was later melted by acid I believe), but most of the time he fought with Ghoulslayer in one hand and a kite shield to deflect missile attacks in the other (see comment on acid melting stuff above).  Ghoulslayer was destined to become enchanted after Quinn found a mysterious but powerful magical recipe written in Ancient Runic in a White Dragon's lair [Pirate Ship's treasure hold].  He searched far and wide for the components listed in that list, but alas, the quest was never finished before Quinn, er... I, had to go off to college and the campaign petered out.  So nonmagic Ghoulslayer remains, and therefore will always be my favorite non-magical item in D&D.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

30 Day D&D Challenge: Day 25-Favorite Magic Item

Ah yes, Magic Items.  One of the most fun reasons to play D&D: getting magic items.  There are a lot to choose from, between weapons, potions, rings, amulets, rods, staves, boots, cloaks, armor, helmets and so on.  But for my money my favorite magic item has to be:

The Wand of Wonder

This little puppy is the random hilarious story generator for D&D.  It's use results in random effects each time it is used, using my favorite of old-school charts: The percentile effect chart!  One of the best things about this Magic Item is that any character class can use it (in 3e+ editions it is known as the "Rod of Wonder"), and any GM worth his salt will make the activation of the wand either written right on it or better yet make a big red button right on the side of the darn thing, begging to be pushed.  The point is to make it so anyone can use it as soon as its found, and allow them to completely muck up/save a perfectly normal combat by doing something ridiculous.

The reason I prefer the Wand of Wonder over the more infamous Deck of Many Things is that the Wand isn't a campaign-killer.  The Deck of Many Things has so many powerful cards that violently swing between summoning demons to kill the party or giving the party godlike-powers that once it is present in a campaign then you know the campaign is about to end, for better or worse.  The Wand of Wonder gives the party a good amount of random effects that can be quite powerful, but aren't game-breaking.  The stories of using a Wand of Wonder are frequent and fun, and never end with "So then I drew a Jack of Clubs..."

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

30 Day D&D Challenge: Day 24-Favorite energy type

Original D&D used to be just Fire, Ice, Lightning, Acid and Sonic.  But with the onset of 3e-3.5e/4e D&D there came a multitude of new energy types to list after spell names, like Negative, Holy, Unholy, Dark, Light, Steam, etc.  These were put into place so the writers had an excuse to make a spell effect that nobody was immune to.  Unholy Fireball?  Damage is half "fire"/half "unholy!"  Which means that a creature with a ring of 50% fire resistance would only be resistant to 25% of the damage instead of just 50%, because half of that is Unholyness.  And that's only if the damage separation was even.  Sometimes it was 75% one energy type and 25% the other energy type.  So if you were 50% fire immune to a spell that onIy dealt 25% of its damage as fire, then you reduced damage by 12.5%.  Yeah, it got weird.

However I'm just going to roll with the five original energy types.  And my answer is:


Almost nothing is immune to sonic damage simply because people forget to list it in the monster description.  One thing sonic really has going for it is that in many editions it does double damage to golems and construct-type monsters.  Sometimes its just crystal golems that suffer double damage so no one cares, but whatever. And while the sonic spells aren't that powerful, I like the idea of casting a cone of vibration to shatter weapons and stuff.

Fire and Ice Wizards are cool and easy to visualize, sure.  They can throw ice spikes and fireballs around and everybody is down with it.  However, I like the idea of a Sonic Wizard.  He would look exactly like Dio. And while there aren't that many purely sonic spells to benefit from, I think a Sonic Wizard could make up for his offensive casting shortcomings with the ability to spout pure Rock n' Roll at any time.  His magic Staff would in fact be a Magic Rock Lute and whenever he cast spells there would be a sweet guitar riff and a lightning bolt would hit a volcano off in the distance.

Monday, September 23, 2013

30 Day D&D Challenge: Day 23-Least Favorite Monster Overall

I hate Stirges!

These damn giant mosquito things travel in huge packs, are quick and extremely hard to hit unless they are already latched on to your neck sucking your blood, and then if you hit them you take half the damage.  But what choice do you have?  You gotta clear them out otherwise they drain 1d4 Constitution/round!  The other reason I despise them so is their prevalence.  All low-level D&D characters everywhere has been Stirge-slapped by their fellow adventurers at least once in their careers.

Yes, there are a lot of really stupid D&D monsters out there that are well worth hating, but running into a nest of damned Stirges takes the cake for me.  Too common and too annoying!  Down with Stirges!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

30 Day D&D Challenge: Day 22-Favorite Monster Overall

Favorite Monster overall?  That's a difficult one.  There are a lot of good ones out there that I like.  Goblyns (with a "y"), Ghouls, Wererats, Strahd Zombies...and so many more.  But I'm going to go with a monster I've never used in a game but just looking at the monster gives me a great idea for an adventure-ridden campaign.

The Zaratan.
The Zaratan, as you can see in the picture, is a giant tortoise with a full-sized tropical island on its back.  Its stays asleep for thousands of years, and when it does wake up it mostly just drifts along with the currents so any inhabitants of the island would likely never know of its existence.  What a great setting for a multitude of adventures!  A "Lost Island" that floats around the ocean, and if you're lucky enough to find it you'll probably never realize its actually a giant monster unless something happens to make the giant tortoise submerge (and then you're boned).  Or perhaps you could get swallowed by the Zaratan and if you don't die right away, there could be a whole civilization of shipwrecked pirates or sacrificial victims (from the cannibals populating the island on its back) living in the Zaratan's slowly-metabolizing guts.

So yeah, I guess I'm kind of cheating by picking a monster that really is a campaign in of itself, but there you go.  Plus I like turtles.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

30 Day D&D Challenge: Day 21-Favorite Dragon Color/Type

Your average layperson would probably not realize that there is more than one type of dragon.  A dragon is a dragon, right?  They fly around and breath fire on knights, sometimes hoard gold and that's it.  Right?

Nope.  In D&D there are a crap-ton of Dragon types.  All separated by color, which is a little racist but there you go.  Most of the "evil" dragons are chromatic colors.  The big five bad guys are: Black, Blue, Green, Red, and White.  Most of the "good" dragons are metallic colors.  The big five good guys are: Brass, Bronze, Copper, Gold, and Silver.

Each type/color dragon breathes a different type of breath weapon.  Red breathes good ol' Fire.  Black vomits out an Acid spray, Blue "breathes" lightning bolts (don't ask), Green breathes out Chlorine gas, and White breathes out Frost. The good dragons breathe out ridiculous stuff like sleep gas and slow gas and something called "repulsion" gas.  Kinda dumb if you ask me.  Good dragons aren't that interesting.

So which dragon is my favorite?  Some would guess its the dreaded Blue dragon since Quinn spent years seeking out a Blue dragon as part of a quest to create the ultimate undead-killing sword?  Sadly, no, he never did find that blasted Blue dragon, he was too busy saving towns from ghoul packs and vampires.

No, my favorite Dragon is the Black Dragon.  They're really cunning but not conversationalists, making them a verified "monster" and not something you'll end up playing chess with or answer a riddle or something to survive an encounter.  No, Black Dragons hide and hunt in swamps and they spray acid everywhere and melt stuff.  That means if you've got Black Dragon infestation outside your hamlet you know it pretty quick, because there'll be melted cows and stuff as evidence.  But Black Dragons like to hide in swampy undergrowth so its not like they're easy to just see before you get acidified.  Kinda like a Medusa, it easy to figure out what kind of monster you're facing, but still not super-easy to find and kill.  Good plot trigger for monster-hunting adventurers.  The kind of problem a town Burgomeister would hang an "Adventurer's Reward" poster for the hunting down of the "Acid Monster."  Plus just hunting a Black Dragon means you're going to be fighting a very dangerous monster in a swampy area, giving a great opportunity for all sorts of slippery terrain or waist-deep swamp water or other fun combat problems.

So here's to the Black Dragons!

Friday, September 20, 2013

30 Day D&D Challenge: Day 20-Favorite Monster (Humanoid/Natural/Fey)

Finally the last of the favorite monster entries.  This last category is wierd, Humanoid/Natural/Fey?  That's a strange grouping, but in any case my answer has to be...

The Fremlin

This pencil drawing has got to be the only illustration of a Fremlin ever made, because its all google can find.  But its the exact illustration I remember from the 2nd ed AD&D Complete Book of Humanoids, so its good enough for me.

In any case, Fremlins are weird and ridiculous.  At first glance you think, "Oh, its a gremlin with wings.  Not really exciting."  But regardless of whether or not you are a fan of that one bat-gremlin in Gremlins 2, these guys have a lot of things going for them.  However combat capability is not one of those things.  They tend to be cowardly, lazy, whiny, and plump little dudes who run from combat, and they hate using weapons; but who just also happen to be IMMUNE TO NON-MAGICAL WEAPONS.  Holy crap.  Why are they immune to non-magical weapons?  No one knows, they just are.  And remember these guys are in the Complete Book of Humanoids, so they are a playable race in AD&D, so of course we had a buddy who played one to great comic effect.  Immune to non-magical weapons at level 1?  Yes please.

One last thing that makes me laugh about these guys is that their description also points out that they "shun clothing and ornamentation."  And if they are part of your adventuring party that means they likely tend to hover around head-height so they can communicate more easily with all the normal-sized humanoids.  But they're nude all the time, so its just floating Fremlin dong wherever you look. Yeesh.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

30 Day D&D Challenge: Day 19-Favorite Monster (Elemental/Plant)

Favorite Plant Monster?  Why, its the Shambling Mound!

According to wikipedia, the beloved Shambling Mound (which obviously deserves its own entry):

Shambling mounds are usually about six feet tall, with an eight foot girth, when they stand erect. Most weigh around 3,800 pounds. Their brains and sensory organs are located in their upper regions. In their natural environment, shambling mounds are almost invisible. They can move through water easily, and have been known to creep into camps in their range at night to attack. Stories tell of shambling mounds moving about in electrical storms without flinching from the frequent lightning strikes, even direct strikes."

So the standard Shambling Mount is six feet tall, but with an eight foot girth. That's a wide load right there. I also wouldn't have guessed their sensory organs are in their upper regions, you know, where their head is. I don't know why they are so immune to (and in some versions healed by) lightning, must be some reference from some old story I'm missing, but whatever. I picture shambling mounds to be more like a cross between an Ent and a giant Swamp Thing, but way dumber.  They basically are gigantic heaps of swampy vegetation that walk slowly around forested areas and beat the hell out of anything that's not a druid.  When you play a druid that moment when you can finally summon a shambling mound is a special time, because you know you can now fully commune with all forms of nature, even the sentient plants...  and command them to kill dudes.

Shamble on, favorite plant monster.  Shamble on.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

30 Day D&D Challenge: Day 18-Favorite Monster (Immortal/Outsider)

For favorite outsider there are a lot of options, Glabrezu, Tanari'i, Balor...but the one I like most is the most Ravenloftian of Outsiders, The Night Hag.

That's right, the simple Night Hag.  Her primary occupation is to harvest soul larvae, which are the soul husks of the selfish individuals who die and descend into the lower planes, and then sells the them to demons and devils.  They also trick men into mating with them by appearing as beautiful women in their dreams, and then after the event they slay and eat the man, black-widow style.  But most importantly, in the game Planescape: Torment, it was a Night Hag, Ravel Puzzlewell, who gave the Nameless One his immortality (for a pretty hefty price) and allowed him to go on his crazy adventures.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

30 Day D&D Challenge: Day 17-Favorite Monster (Animal/Vermin)

So I was first going to say Carrion Crawler for favorite Vermin, but then I did a little research and found that the carrion crawler is in fact an Aberration, not Vermin.  Huh.  Well, in that case its gotta be the Centipede Swarm!

Everyone's seen that part of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom where Indy and Willie (Kate Capshaw) are exploring the bug-filled tombs under Bangkok Palace, and that big centipede crawls up over Willie's shoulder and into her hair, which she doesn't notice. 

What happened to that centipede?  Did she ever find it?  Maybe not, maybe its still there, clutching her scalp and laying eggs or whatever in her hair, until one day they all hatch at the same time and big centipedes just swarm out of her head.

Yeah, so, centipede swarms are super-gross and the perfect vermin to get players to squirm.  Not only do they do a little damage every round, they often have some sort of poison as part of their attack.  The best kind of poison for swarms of disgusting centipedes is the kind that just slows you down, so paralysis sets in slowly, so every round you move slower and slower, get more and more bites, until the whole swarm covers you completely.

Ugh. Yeah, centipede swarms man, yuck.

Monday, September 16, 2013

30 Day D&D Challenge: Day 16-Favorite Monster (Abberation)

Gotta be the Gibbering Mouther!

You don't even want to come close this mofo.  He's got all sorts of mouths of various sizes to bite the crap out of you, and even worse than that while those mouths aren't biting they're gibbering an insane cacophony.  Anyone who can hear them can go nuts and attack their allies, or run headfirst into the mouther's gelatinous bulk, or just faint and wait to be devoured by hundreds of little mouths whispering their name.  Ugh.  Yeah, definitely the Gibbering Mouther is the creepiest of Abberations that I've ever encountered or thrown at my players.  Even beating out the Otyugh (which is, let's face it, just a big bottom-feeder).

Sunday, September 15, 2013

30 Day D&D Challenge: Day 15-Favorite Monster (Undead)

I'd say my favorite undead monster has always been the ghoul.  But the kind of ghoul I've preferred has matured over the years.

The first kind of ghoul I encountered and loved to hate was the old AD&D kind, the kind that is a major terror to low-level parties due to its overpowering ability to Paralyze with a touch.  A paralyzing touch power combined with its claw, claw, bite triple-attack and lack of any need for a morale check (undead traits) left many a 1st-level fighter seizing on the dirt floor while the beast took its time to kill off the weaker members of the party (except the elves, who were somehow immune and able to run away). Of course anyone killed (but not totally devoured) by a ghoul becomes a ghoul.  And if that wasn't enough, those nasty bastards traveled in packs of 2d12!  Yipe!
But since those days I've found other kinds of ghouls in rpgs that I've come to appreciate.

There's the Call of Cthulhu ghouls who are goat-legged dog-headed beasts who only eat dead bodies and prefer not to mess with the living.  In fact, if you disturb them in a tomb where they're feasting on freshly-exhumed corpses they scurry away into the darkness.  This paints a much more interesting picture in my mind, because as you explore the tomb you know they're out there.  How long until they get fed up with your interference before they decide to take back their territory?  How long do you have to find the crucial clue you need hidden amongst the ruined sarcophagi?  Will they come back when your back is turned?  These ghouls are even semi-intelligent and can even speak under the right conditions.  Not only that, some of them are actually people who're just so depraved they live amongst the ghouls and feast with them!  Spooky stuff, and even though they sound weaker in stats, they are much more foreboding and interesting than just a pack of two-legged carrion crawlers.

But I've since found a third type of ghoul.  The "ghul."  This is the desert-dwelling creature that takes the shape of the person it most recently devoured, and likes to lure children to abandoned places and slay them.  I like the idea that the ghoul actually changes form into the person it ate last.  Like, not a perfect copy, its still all dead and zombified-looking, but perhaps in a low light setting could pass for your friend...until its too late!  You can imagine this somehow being more horrifying than actually encountering a ghoul-ified version of your friend, because then you'd be at least "putting them to rest."  But if you kill a ghul that just looks like your pal, you realize that their body is still out there somewhere, just be rotting in some mud pit not at rest, or possibly even being eaten by other ghuls...

Saturday, September 14, 2013

30 Day D&D Challenge: Day 14-Favorite NPC

I gotta go with the Scottish/Irish Bartender for Favorite NPC.  You know the guy, every DM everywhere uses him.  99% of the time the players never ask his name so he rarely ever needs one.  And every single DM can do the voice.  Its a cross between an angry Sean Connery and that one Blacksmith from Diablo 2.

"Whut can I do fer ya?!"

Sometimes he's a dwarf, sometimes he's a human, but he's definitely always bald, and always at least has a mustache (if not full beard).  Depending on how much I want to move the players along, and how creative I'm feeling, he could also run the Inn, the Blacksmith shop, and the General Store.  Basically, this guy can be found wherever things need to be purchased in a town.  One-stop shop merchant for every lazy DM everywhere.

Friday, September 13, 2013

30 Day D&D Challenge - Day 13-Favorite Trap/Puzzle

Traps are some of my favorite things in D&D, and while I've put forth a number of puzzles, riddles, and nefarious traps as a DM that I might describe, I can't help but think of one of the simplest yet most-effective traps I've come across as a player.

It would be the time our old 2nd Edition D&D group was hunting down a Lich's phylactery (I think?) and we came to a Well we had heard was an entrance to his tomb.  As we discussed how to knot the various sets of 50' rope we had brought along and who to send down first, Marcus got impatient and decided to jump in the well since he didn't have any paper on him that could get wet and ruined (our DM was very strict about those sorts of things), and he wanted to move the game along.  Upon hitting the water, the DM rolled a handful of dice behind the screen and said "You take 26 points of damage!"  This almost-killed or immediately-killed (not sure) poor Marcus, so Quinn decided he had to act fast!

Assuming the water was in fact acid or some magic death-water, and having on him a 'Protection from Water' scroll (in 2e anyone could use Protection scrolls), Quinn pulled out the scroll and slid down into the well while casting it so he could rescue Marcus.  The water was repelled, and Quinn saw the entrance to the Lich's lair, as well as Marcus's body laying on the ground. But it was covered in Crawling Claws!  The Lich had filled the well with Crawling Claws, which is what tore Marcus to pieces.  So simple of a trap, yet so effective. The claws immediately lept on Quinn and his only option was to drink his treasured Potion of Gaseous Form to escape, not only using two of his extremely-rare one-use Magic items in two rounds, but also leaving the body of Marcus at the bottom of the well to be torn to shreds by the animated hands for his final death.  It was a sad day in the Forgotten Realms.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

30 Day D&D Challenge: Day 12-Favorite Dungeon Type/Location

I gotta go with the classic "Ruins-in-a-dark-wood" for this one.  I mean, its timeless really.  Its a picturesque setting, it can house both giant spiders and undead monstrosities, and the ruins always have cool names like "The Dungeons of Thraxgar" or "The Tower of Ulthuun."  And at the bottom there's almost always some sort of Vampire.  Like I said, classic.

While exploring the "Venom Woods" we found one set of dungeon ruins called "The Ruins of Kroclakah."  Inside I believe we fought a rust monster, gargoyles, ettercaps, a gelatinous cube, a mimic, giant preying mantises, ran into an entire room of brown mold, and at the bottom fought a Death Kiss Beholder, which is like a beholder except its eyestalks are replaced with blood-draining hooked tentacles for extra grossness.  Yeah, you really can't go wrong with the classic Forest Ruins for the sheer variety of beasties you can fit in there.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

30 Day D&D Challenge: Day 11-Favorite Adventure You Have Ran

This one has to be the Castles Forlorn boxed set campaign set in Ravenloft, but admittedly that may only be because its the only successful campaign I've ever run to completion in Ravenloft.  I actually ran it as a 3e module and had to do a lot of stat conversions, plotline adjustments, and re-writing, but still it was oh so worth it.
This campaign had crazy stuff!  Hyper-dangerous face-eating Goblins (called "Goblyns"), Vampires, Ghosts, (including one Vampire-Ghost), wild mean Druids, a Loch Ness Monster, and Time Travel!  Yes, the campaign features a mechanic where while the players are exploring the main big-bad's castle, there's a percentage chance every time they enter a room they will travel back-and-forth through time 300 years.  This sounds messy, and it was difficult to keep track of as a DM at first, until I made three physical copies of the castle map for the various time periods and just switched between them so I could keep all my notes straight.  After that the time travel part played itself.  I even shoe-horned in a magical MacGuffin they had to find called "The Chronostone" to help justify the time travel effect (the original campaign didn't explain it as anything other than a "Ravenloft Curse").

Castles Forlorn is gotta be my favorite Adventure/Campaign I've ever run as a DM, and if you ever see it in a used book store I recommend picking it up and checking out the time travel stuff.  Anybody know of other great campaign boxed sets out there?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

30 Day D&D Challenge: Day 10-Craziest thing that’s happened that you saw (to party/character/your players etc)

I'm going to keep this one strictly on D&D just to narrow it down some. I've played so many games with so many systems with hilarious events that I can't possibly pick the "craziest thing" out of all of them, especially when Paranoia is on the table.  So D&D only.  Here we go.

The first one I can think of is when a Paladin (hey Wes!) in a new game I was running mistook a Cockatrice for a Basilisk.  What's the big difference, you ask?  Well, I already wrote about the hilarious results on my old blog back in the day, so I won't retread old ground.  You can check it out here.  Serious lulz.

I guess I'm going to go with a game I was running where the players were running an espionage/sabotage mission, each in separate area of a "dungeon" (they were actually inside a giant mechanical golem, but...nevermind that), and a player in my game, Valgyar the Monk, who was invisible, flying, and Bull Strength'd, decided he'd sneak/float up to a Minotaur that was standing at the edge of a ledge and push him off in a surprise attack.  He could've just snuck by him, but the temptation was too great.  I added up the ridiculous bonuses he had and realized it was like a +16 for a DC 15 attempt (3e rules).  So I smirkingly said:  "Sure, roll anything but a 1." (on a d20)  However, this is the same player who played Marcass (the Carcass) all those years ago.  Naturally, he rolled a 1.  The Minotaur snatched him out of the air (canceling his invisibility) and beat the hell out of him.  Oh, and all the alarms went off, alerting all the guardian monsters and ruining the sabotage attempt, and the other players had to rush through traps to get to him before he died (again).  It was a ridiculous (and incredibly unlikely) failure that led to the entire carefully-crafted sabotage plan by the players to end up being a 3-hour straight up survival brawl (and near TPK) inside a giant metal golem/dungeon.

Monday, September 9, 2013

30 Day D&D Challenge: Day 9-Favorite Character You Haven’t Played

I'm not clear on the question being asked for this one.  Is it a character I made but haven't every played a game with, or is it any character I've ever seen but haven't played as?  I'm going to say it can be any character I've seen, just to open up the field.  But I'm also going to say it can't be an NPC I created or used as a DM, because that kind of counts as 'playing' them.

There are a lot of good characters out there I've seen my friends create and play.  There's Marcus (the Carcass), the human fire mage who couldn't ever get past 4th level (due to dying).  Buster Pelgrande the backstab-happy halfling thief with his magical dagger "Spinethruster."  Serpico, the Lawful Good Necromancer in Ravenloft just trying to keep his village safe from evil monsters and his family from the G'Henna secret police.  Tersus, the scheming Lawful Evil mage/thief, leader of the local Assassin's guild and always sporting his signature magical red cloak he would use to escape trouble; the "Cape of the Montebank". There's Fignor, Fulthor, Drogar, and RustyGuts; the four dwarf warriors in our sporatic but really fun Warhammer Fantasy campaign.  Those guys are like the three stooges but extremely violent towards kneecaps and groins.  Wait, does Warhammer Fantasy count in the D&D Challenge?  Yeah, I'm going to say that it does.  Blog.

Okay, it is a really tough choice, but after careful consideration I've come to the following conclusion.  My favorite character I haven't played in a D&D campaign is:


A Goblin Ranger (?) we originally encountered in the sewers of Luskan while infiltrating the city to rescue a political prisoner from Neverwinter.  We paid him handsomely to lead us through the twisting passageways under Luskan and get us to the prison tower.  He carried a rusty-looking shortsword and spouted short dumb statements in a high-pitched yoda-like screech (that surely made the DM's throat hurt after a while).  We thought he was just the comic relief for us until we ran into a group of acid-spitting giant slugs in the sewers.  Quinn lost his shield that day to the metal-eating acid loogies from multiple slugs, and it looked like Marcus was probably going to die again to another.  But RatThrasher came up behind the slug and leaped onto its back, chopping it deep with his rusty-(looking) shortsword before running to help Quinn.  After the battle he said nonchalantly something along the lines of "Slug makes good eat when sick of rat!" or something, and we all knew we had just met the most bad-ass Goblin in the Realms.

Later RatThrasher was actually played by people in the DM's gigantic dungeon crawl adventures, but I've never played him myself.  He's my Favorite Character I Haven't Played.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

30 Day D&D Challenge: Day 8-Favorite Character You Have Played

Oh this is an easy one.  Its Quinn!  My 8th-level Half-Elf Fighter/Undead Slayer from our High School AD&D Neverwinter/Luskan campaign(s).  He was like Indiana Jones meets Kurt Sloane from Kickboxer.  He cut the heads off vampires and slapped Wyverns out of the air with his magical throwing axe: RuneCutter.  Son of an evil Necromancer elf and Human Priestess, Quinn hunted down ghoul infestations and was on a never-ending quest to enchant his mastercrafted longsword, Ghoulslayer, into the greatest Undead-slaying weapon in the Realms!

Urg.  Just typing the history of my character I can tell people are already getting bored.  But for real, he was the shiznit.  Dex 18, +4 studded leather, he was untouchable.  I even got my brother to draw a picture of him back in like '94 and I still have it.  In fact, its framed and hanging above my computer.  Don't believe me?  Here:

Looking at it, I realize it was back when my bro was playing around with drawing Anime-style hair, well, really it was more like Voltron-style hair.  We both dislike Anime, but I say that Voltron isn't really "Anime."  Its...uh...whatever you called Japanese art style before the term Anime was coined and used to describe anything pertaining to Final Fantasy.  Look, the point is that its an old drawing from high school.  And I still have it because its my favorite D&D character ever.

So...Favorite D&D character verified!  Quinn!

I never did get that sword enchanted.  This was 2nd edition AD&D, so the rules for crafting magic weapons were ridiculous and basically up to the DM's whim. And since the whimsical Brando was my DM, the recipe for crafting the sword called for like eighteen nearly-impossible components.  One of which was it had to be doused in Blue Dragon blood, which is not easy to find...

There I go again.  Anyways, you know you've found your favorite D&D character when you won't shut up about it.


Saturday, September 7, 2013

30-Day D&D Challenge - Day 7: Favorite Edition

Favorite edition of D&D?!  Now this is kind of a tough one.

On one hand I have to hand it to the original 3e that came out in the year 2000 for resurrecting my interest in running weekly games.  Until then we played sporadically at best, like twice a year.  But when those three rulebooks came out we all bought them and devoured the new edition, even with all its cross-feat ridiculousness and unbalanced class issues.  It was a new beginning for D&D and a good way to bring new players into the fold.  If you asked me to help you get started playing AD&D (2e) in 1999 I would've overwhelmed you with three core rulebooks, six race guides, seven class guides, made you read through the Skills and Powers rules, and then would suggest you make a Fremlin Fighter/Thief from the Monstrous races compendium for the non-magic weapon immunity and flight capability.  
Yeah, you wouldn't have wanted to play with our group.  Too hardcore.

With the new 3e all that supplementary rulebook baggage was thrown away, and regular people again wanted to play D&D.  It ushered in a new golden age, and for that should be commended.

On the other hand I still love the old-school flavor of searching for secret doors on a 1d6, and where Elf is a Class rather than a Race.  Where every type of poison requires a Save vs. Death, and where monsters didn't need a reason to be hanging around a gigantic sealed-off dungeon with no water or food. Where every level you gained you also got a cool level name for your class, like being a 3rd level Swordsman or Conjurer, and even piddly 1st level Fighters were called Veteran.  Every Monk player wondered what it would be like to actually obtain the coveted title of Grandmaster of Flowers.

Where you rolled 3d6.  IN ORDER!  None of this wimpy 4d6-drop-the-lowest ridiculousness.  And before ThaC0 was a thing you had a huge chart of "Hit Die versus AC" that the DM had to (pretend to) reference when you rolled to hit.  Those were the days!

Finally, the crappy scrawled artwork in the OD&D rulebooks was no better than something I could draw in the margins of a college-ruled notebook, which made the whole game all the more accessible.

More current editions of D&D were capable of hiring actual artists, so the artwork is better than one could doodle during a boring class lecture, which to me makes it somehow less fun to look at.  Go figure.

In any case, my final choice for favorite edition of D&D, for all its flaws, is:
Original 1st Edition Dungeons and Dragons!

Friday, September 6, 2013

30-Day D&D Challenge - Day 6: Favorite Diety

For this one I'll have to go with Lathander Morninglord of the Forgotten Realms. His Domains are: Good, Protection, Sun, Strength, Nobility, and Renewal. He's the current incarnation of the Netherese-ian (Ancient Magic Super-People of Forgotten Realms) sun god Amaunator.  He likes fertility rituals, sunlight, and hates undead. All the good stuff you want out of a diety.  Also his clerics specialize in hunting undead and are called Dawnbringers, which is a pretty sweet title if you ask me.  His symbol is a sun over a lush field.  Universal good-guy kind of symbology. (which is probably why politicians like to steal the design). 
Another reason Lathander is my preferred D&Diety is because he was one of the few good dieties worshiped by the oppressed peasants of Ravenloft. The aforementioned elf vampire Jander Sunstar resurrected the Morninglord religion in Bavaria after saving a kid who had mistaken Jander for the sun god (and who later became the first priest of the Morninglord in Ravenloft).
As far as mechanical benefits go, when you make a cleric of the Morninglord in AD&D you gain all your spells each day automatically at dawn, rather than only after praying for an hour.  That just seems like a major time-saver to me.  I prefer my religious spell-blessings to be consistent and convenient for my busy schedule, rather than dependent on whether I've breathed in enough holy smoke that morning.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

30-Day D&D Challenge catch-up - Days 1-3

I realized since I started at Day 4 I should really try and fill the backlog of missed days.  So here you go:

 Day 1-How you got started
Age 8.  Cub scouts.  Some kid brought his dad's copy of the Holmes basic rulebook and let me read it. 'nuff said.

 Day 2-Favorite Playable Race
Gotta be Dwarves!  They're just too stoic and angry enough all the time to not be fun to play.  Plus they hate elves, which I can sympathize with (I like half-elves, but only if they're the self-loathing kind).


Day 3-Favorite Playable Class
 Wait, didn't I just tell you that it was Dwarves?  Oh, wait, we're talking fancy-schmancy Advanced D&D.  Okay then, my favorite playable class has to be Ranger.  The perfect solo adventurer or party leader.  Can sneak, can track, can fight (often with two swords at no penalty), and has perpetual 5-o'clock shadow.  The coolest of D&D heroes. 

30 Day D&D Challenge - Day 5:Your favorite set of dice/individual die

Favorite die (Day 5)

That's easy, this one:

  This sparkly little wonder is the d20 out of the first set of dice I ever bought, at age 9 or so.  Part of a set of 'sparkly' dice that at the time I thought looked like cool gems, but in retrospect are some the ugliest pieces of plastic I've ever seen.  This die has been rolled so much over the years it has basically rounded into a marble.  Still, she's cut the head off a ghoul or two when I've needed her to.  I've lost track of all of the dice from that original set except for this fabulous character, who I keep in my day-travel dice bag.  That's right, a bag of dice I carry with me everywhere I go.  You never know, right?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

30-Day D&D Challenge - Favorite Gameworld: Ravenloft

So I've just learned about the 30 Day D&D Challenge, but that won't stop me from jumping in and giving my two cents on the most important topic of Dungeons and Dragons-ing!

Favorite Gameworld (Day 4)


Easily my favorite D&D gameworld has to be Ravenloft.  Specifically, AD&D Ravenloft from the mid-nineties, not the 3e+ "conversions" they tried to make in the early 2000's.  Something was lost in translation when the campaign book contains actual player Feats to gain a mechanical bonus to avoid being affected by Horror and the all-mysterious Ravenloft Powers Checks.  Instead of rolling strange percentiles to avoid fainting at the sight of the ghoul ballroom dinner, players get a +3 skill bonus versus horror (will) checks or are frightened (-4 to attacks and AC).  Meh.

I love Ravenloft not because its the most exciting for the players (few campaign settings will elicit such eyerolls from players as the Gothic Mists), and not because it has the smoothest mechanics (95% of the iconic Ravenloft-specific dark powers/mists mechanics are "because the DM says so"), but because of the loads of fantastic gothic fluff they crammed into every Domain splatbook and Van Richten's Guide that was printed in the 90's.  This is a campaign setting for those DMs who never actually get to play, but just love to read about settings.

And the Van Richten guides!  There were like 15 of those things!  Guide to Ghosts, Vampires, Constructs, Mummies, Demons, name a gothic monster, they had a whole splatbook dedicated to it.  A splatbook that read like a series of journal entries (introducing the suggested plot hooks and ideas) from Van Richten's point of view!  They were superior to the Volo's Guides (of Forgotten Realms) because they had the overarching ominous tone of Ravenloft, where you read on to see what horrible thing will happen to Van Richten or his friends.  This is versus Volo just talking about drinking in Taverns and stuff, and just read like a rather ho-hum travel guide.

And then there's the novels.  Like many D&D novel, some were so badly written to be all but incomprehensible as to what was going on, but others introduced iconic characters and plotlines.  Vampire of the Mists, Knight of the Black Rose, and I, Strahd are three of the better novels set in the Ravenloft universe.  Vampire of the Mists introduced Jander Sunstar, the good-hearted elf vampire trapped in the mists who you wanted to root for even though he was a vampire.  Knight of the Black Rose gave us Lord Soth, a major Dragonlance character being transported to Ravenloft, showing us they were serious about the 'no one is safe from the mists' angle (they were willing to move a major character from another whole campaign setting!).  And I, Strahd gave us Azalin, the Lich arch-enemy of Ravenloft's Dracula, Strahd.

Ravenloft is the B-horror gothic movie setting of 2nd ed. AD&D.