Thursday 23 January 2020

Belswick 13 - strange brews

After erasing the dread priest Umtak Ktharl, the group decides to explore the tomb complex for lootsies. Featuring a priest immune to divine magic, disturbing potions, lots of spiders and a new Shroomian prince. Also my first experiment with Dwarven Forge terrain!

This is the first time in four sessions that I've written my own session log! So convenient to have the players write those for you. And what with my new house rules dumping the tracking of XP, I can't entice them with XP boosts anymore. How about I award a chronicler a free reroll for the next session?

Our band of explorers

  • Aju, fishling (shark) barbarian of a dark kingdom below the waves, on a quest for the crab wizard so he can be turned into a real boy [player absent]
  • Guy, diviner of the Exquisite Lodge of Augurs and Diviners, chartered wizard and ex-noble from Arrayne inflicted with terrible and otherworldly powers
  • Lomin Mor, sneaky bugger and Elf who masquerades as the nearby fief's Lady Olga during downtime. Comes from a noble house in Arrayne
  • Mike, recently excorcised druid and proud land owner of an animal sanctuary, also afflicted with creepy otherworldly powers [player absent]
  • Shams Metalgrog, Dwarf noble and head of an expedition to forge a new trade route from the Principality of Stone. Lost members of her expedition in these caverns and teamed up with the party to find them
  • Tilbord, soul-sharing priest and lore bard of the Authority, warlock of the Radiant Maiden and all-round dealmaker from the Vaering Isles. Currently suffering of an excess of negative energy, which means he is currently immune to all divine magic (including his own)

After the ordeal

The group rests up in the Shroomling outpost of Gloomhaven after their gruesome fight with the dread priest Umtak Ktharl. There's a quick burial for Sydney the dragonborn sorcerer, who sadly did not survive the encounter. His former employer Mike seems to be recovering from being controlled by a devil.

Tilbord discovers that his body and soul are now laced with negative energy from a killing blow by the ancient Du'van priest: an unlucky roll on the Death & Dismemberment table means this condition can only be lifted by powerful clerical magic, a remove curse spell, or an angel's love. All of those seem in short supply in the fungal caves.

While recovering, the party is greeted by the familiar voice of their wizard Guy, who was sent after the team by his mentor Fergus after a cryptic letter from the Augur's Table who head their wizarding guild. Danger and opportunity awaited if Guy would be able to find the "Sun under the Earth". As providence would have it, Shams the dwarf is wearing a tabbard with a stylized sun and is heading a trade delegation looking for new markets!

Guy's player was absent the last few sessions and this was a quick way to get him into the game again. I could've had him fight his way through spiders and fungi and disgusting grub swarms to meet up with the party, but there'll be enough opportunity for that in the future.

Frankie the dungeon merchant's sketch of the site. The central grotto is covered in fungus and webbing, the marsh to the south holds giant frogs, lizards and burrowing grub worms, and the side chambers and central crypt are filled with undead. Based on the Frog's Reliquary by Dyson

Looting the lab

Before leaving the underground complex, the group decides to follow through on information they bought from Frankie the dungeon bug, a crafty merchant who knows the area. Two interesting labs beckon: an alchemical site nearby and an arcane lab beyond the territory of the Shroomian Queen.

The last time the group met Her Moldiness, she wasn't too happy to see them; in fact, she permanently exiled their shroomian guide Melvin for bringing such harshness into her court. It's quickly decided to break into the alchemical lab first. Shams mentions she'd be interested in dealing with the fungal queen in some way. After all, if she's to set up a trade route, she needs passage through these caves!

First though, many eyes glitter in the darkness. The entrance to the alchemical lab is webbed shut, and soon creaking legs and webs gather all around the party. There's a tense fight in which Lomin and Tilbord get webbed to the ground. Lomin breaks free, but Tilbord gets pumped full of venom by a ghostly spider that appears out of thin air! As Shams is methodically butchering the biggest spider of them all by shooting it out of its webby nest (gotta love fighter manoeuvres), the rest of the team rallies around paralyzed Tilbord and saves him.

The only reason that Tilbord's player wasn't rolling up a new character is because the spider venom specifically stabilizes you at 0 hp and paralyzes you for an hour. That sounds rough, but is infinitely better than the -15 hp (plus death saves) that he'd have faced otherwise...

Alchemy lab! This is the first time that I'm using Dwarven Forge terrain. It was a hoot to set up and explore.

Wear your protective goggles

Our heroes (who still don't have a name for their band) drive off the last spiders, harvest some loot from the cocoons in the nest and cut out the hune phasing organ out of the ghostly spider that had been harassing Tilbord.

In the alchemical lab, the group is greeted by unfamiliar smells, strange glows and bubbling retorts. Bath tub sized pools are filled with all manner of arcane brews by perpetual fountains. This place was where the Du'van alchemists worked to render their rogue priest Umtak Ktharl somewhat vulnerable again after he stole Heaven's secrets.

An undead lab servant called Kresh welcomes the group and gives them the run of the place, only warning them to be careful around the large basins in the area. The milkywhite vat off in the distance is especially dangerous! An insight check shows that the undead one might not be so truthful (as Frankie had warned the group already.)

Tilbord heads to said pool immediately by way of some stairs as Guy starts to slowly decypher a recipe book and Lomin scans the walls. Just as he feels a draft, he stumbles into a large chest overflowing with gold!

Of course the chest is a disguised mimic monster that tries to suck in the Elf and murderbite it. As Kresh chuckles over the group's misfortune, arrow fire drives the mimic back...and closer to Tilbord, who barely survives yet another close call. But good news: the milkywhite pool is full of healing potion! Scooping up some still intact glassware, the group fills a couple of vials with the liquid and harvests the core of the slain mimic.

The mimic's remains promptly turns into a little rubber duck, floating in a bath of healing potion. There's got to be a wizard who will pay good money for this.

Stock up

Guy, meanwhile, has uncovered the big projects in the lab: (de)petrification, a healing brew, a cruel acid, some green goop, a poison that turns you into a ghost for a period of time, and finally a distillation of the yellow lotus that brings vivid hallucinations when breathed in. Tilbord takes a whiff and is lost for minutes in a dream of an endless library with bone shelving.

Behind a secret door they find large vessels and pools with all these potions, along with a long pike that can inject potions from its internal reservoirs. There are thousands of liters of all these alchemical brews here, an ongodly fortune's worth! Alas, there are only six intact jars to hold potions in. The group stocks up on healing, acid and depetrification potions.

Kresh is quite disappointed that no-one fell into the petrification pool or licked the slimy green goop, but a geas prevents him from harming people in the lab directly. Gnashing his teeth, he waves off the group. Perhaps they'll return at some later date? He can only hope.

My stocked version of the area. Next up: the arcane lab (top left), and perhaps another look at the Library?


The session is running late, and the group decides to head back to Gloomhaven to rest and recover. When they tell their tale to Melvin, he's incredulous - they found the mythical Mellowjuice, which can bring groove and mellowness back to exiled Shroomians? They give him a sip and watch as golden light swells from the miserable creature - he stands up straight, his hood pops up and golden light pours from his eyes as atrophied spore organs start to swell.

A new royal Shroomian has been born! Melvin the Mellow is very grateful to the party for bringing him Mellowjuice, but now there is the question of what he should do with the Moldy Queen in her spore-filled chambers. Diplomacy, a marriage, or duke it out mushroom to mushroom? Only next session will tell!

I actually got a little teary-eyed at this part. Poor Melvin, exiled on some spoiled noble's whim to the "marsh of remellowing" but really fungal Siberia, who gets uplifted into royalty by the players. Well done!


The group has been schlepping through this crypt for four sessions now, so I'm including everything they found over that period. I'll audit players' inventory sheets at the start of next session to see who's over their encumbrance! There's about five slots of inventory left on the dwarven cart/sled, two of which have already been taken up by the injector pike.

For all players, especially our alchemists and wizards: the loot overview has been updated, including which finds are useful to outfit a lab or library. Remember, a big enough research space gets you free potion recipes and spells when you level up. (Clerics, bards: all spellcasting has reverted to the regular rules in the player handbook, which means you don't have to hunt for new spells anymore.)

session 13
illuminated scroll (knock spell)
500 gp
potion (healing 2d8+2)
100 gp
phase spider teleporting gland
100 gp
coinage: silver, gold
260 gp
bottled mimic (rubber duck)
270 gp
3 books on alchemy
200 gp
1 mellowjuice potions (lotus extract)
250 gp
injector pike
500 gp
3 doses of acid in pike
150 gp
(in pike)
2 potions of stone to flesh
500 gp

Torch of Saint Kurelda: +2 sun sword
2500 gp
throwing dagger of returning +1
1200 gp
Hand of the Backstabber, hand of Glory
2500 gp
Ebon Codex, book that opens up the library of heaven
1500 gp

sturdy grey woolen cloak with flame sigils in red gold thread, resist fire
700 gp
silver drinking cup
60 gp
pouch of worn ancient coinage
80 gp

shallow bronze scrying basin
250 gp
grave goods in silver and jade
150 gp


12020 gp

Sunday 19 January 2020

Belswick house rules: lighten up already

After nine months and thirteen sessions in Belswick, I'm making some changes to my house rules. Rules overview first, motivation below that. In general, I'm ditching stuff that was a chore to track or that felt like a penalty to the players, and keeping the rules that add to the story.

Update: added in my inventory rule. Accreting house rules via blog posts is merry hell when you want a clear overview...

Inventory and encumbrance

Unchanged: you can carry a number of items equal to your strength score without penalty, anything over and you get penalties. Exceptionally small or large items (potion vials, armors, two-handed swords) take up less/more than 1 slot. 

XP for GP

Will shift to milestone leveling: the group levels up when the DM thinks it's appropriate (mostly after an adventure arc).

Buying status, land and property
Unchanged: you can use your wealth to buy a title, land and property, or outfit a shrine, lab or library.
Shrines and libraries for spellcasters add extra spells on top of what you're already getting for free when you level (see under spellcasters below). Labs add potion recipes, which are about the only magic item you can make yourself.

Doesn't work with milestone leveling and hasn't been used yet. Throw it out. Use the carousing table for big parties or freaky rites when you want a favor from people.

Magic shops

They exist, just not out in every little hamlet. Even out in the wild, there's enough rando wizards, clerics and nobles that you can trade or buy an item if you want to.
Magic item prices
Will keep using the optional price range in DMG p135. Potion prices remain in effect.

  • common: 50-100 gp
  • uncommon: 101-500 gp
  • rare: 501-5000 gp
  • very rare: 5001-50,000 gp
  • legendary: 50,001 gp


Nobles still collect taxes, but I'm not going to bother the PCs with them anymore. We're not playing Dread Accountants of Mordor here. I'll assume that players dutifully pay taxes to their lord and tithes to the Church, and that any treasure they find already has taxes deducted.

Tax evasion
If you want to dodge your taxes, you can add 10-80% to any value found. However, this is also the chance that you draw the tax collector's attention, who will take the entire value you were trying to keep out of their sight.

Healing, resting and Death & Dismemberment
Unchanged. Death and Dismemberment stays in effect. Short and long rests stay as follows:
  • Long rest: 8h comfortable rest and 1 ration to heal up to half your hit point maximum and a level of exhaustion.
  • Short rest: either 15m and 1/2 ration for d4 hp, or 1hr and 1/2 ration for d6+level hp (1/day only).


As in the player handbook. Ability bonuses add to the ability instead of giving a reroll, cantrips work an unlimited times per day, darkvision allows dim perception in utter darkness.

Existing characters
You can now add the benefits of your subrace. Humans and animal folk add 3 ability points to 3 different abilities: don't add these to your two highest stats (I assume you already boosted those at character generation).

All classes now available, including formerly prohibited ones like monk, paladin and sorcerer.
Subclasses/archetypes/feats now available without finding a mentor. Of course you can always work with a mentor for flavor.

As in the player handbook, including each class's rules on (not) needing a spellbook.
Cantrips now function as such from level 1 instead of taking a spell slot to power.

Revert to standard rules (d8 hit dice, armor proficiencies, spellcasting). You still need to be a member of a holy order.

Wizards stay bound to their wizarding college via their debt. Learning spells in addition to those you gain for free still costs time and money: (50 gp+2 hours)/spell level, but you no longer need to check Arcana to successfully learn a spell. Wizard spells still only run up to level 6 (higher level spells prohibited and suppressed by the Church of the Authority).

Unchanged: do favors for your patron in return for quick power.


XP for GP and taxes
This one started to creak pretty fast. I like the idea of nudging the players to explore and loot in order to level, I really do. It also meant that if I wanted them to be able to level regularly, I needed to add heaps of gold and other treasure to the adventures. Even with taxes, it was a bit ludicrous that common farmers brought home a couple of coppers, low nobles were scrounging for 12 gp per month, and the party was pulling hundreds of gold pieces from the ground in a starter dungeon.

I soon started to add favours and blackmail material that had a certain monetary value, but still this just ended up being a lot of work to plan out. Common magic item prices being cheap-ish didn't help either. I could've overhauled those prizes as well, but where does it end? I'm looking for a comparatively easy game to plan and play, and loot planning was becoming a chore.

I might use monster XP as a guideline to stocking adventures, but that's more an aid to the DM than something the players need to track.

Buying status, land and property
Fun way to tie players to the world around them. It stays in!

Doesn't work with milestone leveling and hasn't been used yet. Throw it out. Use the table for big parties or freaky rites when you want a favor from people.

No magic shops
I like that you can't just shop for legendary items in a random village, but magic shops are a cool way to add some flavor to the game. Still won't be like shopping at Walmart, more like having an expert craftsman who can throw something together for you.

The standard D&D rules have magic items as "priceless", i.e. no magic shops. I used the optional pricing rules because under my XP-for-GP rule, only actual value translates to XP, so I needed to find out how much that magic armor was worth.

Still in effect, but behind the scenes. This is just easier on the DM.

Tax evasion
Instead of a deduction on value earned through hard dungeoneering, now you can choose to take a risk and earn a little something extra.

Healing, resting and Death & Dismemberment
Death and Dismemberment stays in effect. I find it hilarious and horrific, while not being more deadly than the standard "death save" rule. In fact, I think it may be less deadly. 

What's more, the Death & Dismemberment table is driving stories: our cleric/bard/warlock is now cursed after an infusion of negative energy and needs to find high magic or an angel's love to be cured. Cool stuff - I'm keeping this over the anemic "three death saves or you die" rule.

As in the player handbook. I had tweaked this because I wanted stats to be lowish, darkness to be a real problem, magic rare and all that. After 12 sessions, I feel like giving the players a little boost.

Same as under races: I had reduced power levels across the board to make people earn their proper use of cantrips, etc etc. Now that I've gotten the hang of the system, I'm happy to restore all this to the regular rules.