D&D – Lost Mine of Phandelver Episode 2 – Job Seekers

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So after defeating the Cragmaw gang and saving Carick and Sildar, our heroes continue on to Phandalin!

In Attendance: Loki Fastfoot (Darryl), Bosun Barry Arrers (Joe), Grimdark Stonelock (Trev), Carick “Mouse” Silverfrost (Liam)

And obviously myself, the DM.

After heading back to the wagon (and loading it up with some crates marked with a blue lion symbol, found in Klarg’s chamber), the gang head into Phandalin with no further drama. Their little goblin friend ran off though. Oh well, it’s not as if he’ll show up again!

They arrive in the late evening, and Sildar, battered and bloody from being a wolf’s chew toy, advises that they get rooms at the local inn. They do so, and dutifully speak to every one in the tavern with a floating yellow exclamation mark over their head; Phandalin is just that kind of town. Think Wild West frontier town, except with a big “next dungeon” sign pointing to the old abandoned-but-yeah-obviously-not-abandoned ruined manor house on the outskirts of town.


WANTED: Armed strangers interested in repetitive errands.

After exhausting their options with the locals, Sildar (who has paid for their rooms and drinks as a show of thanks for being rescued) explains what the “something big” that Gundren mentioned is. He asks if any of the group have heard of the Forge of Spells. A quick round of stunningly successful History checks (one of which is Darryl’s second natural 20 on a History check, thereby proving that Loki is an incredibly well-read thief) shows that, yes Sildar, of course they know about the Forge of Spells, Christ.

But for all of you at home, the Forge of Spells is an enchanted forge found deep in Phandelver Mine, in the long-lost Wave Echo Cave. Hundreds of years ago, dwarfs, gnomes and human wizards all came together to create the forge, then some orcs showed up and ruined everything, yadda yadda yadda. Fast forward a few centuries, and the Rockseeker brothers have obtained a map for Wave Echo Cave and are planning an expedition to find and rekindle the forge. Sildar wants to re-open Phandelver Mine, as he thinks it’ll bring a new age of prosperity to the area.

Of course, this is all a bit of a problem when Gundren has been kidnapped by the Cragmaw goblins, who are working for a mysterious figure called “The Black Spider”. Without his map, they’ll never find Wave Echo Cave! The group all turn in for the night; Barry uses his rustic hospitality ability to woo the barmaid into a night of adequate coitus (it was a poor roll on his Athletics check), Loki sneaks out to go and “visit” his aunt (and rolls even worse on his Athletics check).


“I knew I should’ve learned Proficiency: Reverse Cowgirl.”

Meanwhile Grimdark sleeps off several tankards of ale because hurr hurr dwarfs hurr hurr, and Carick sits quietly in the inn’s main room, with the thousand-yard stare of someone who only narrowly escaped being eaten/gangbanged by goblin bandits a few hours ago. Silly Carick! You’re not meant to develop PTSD until level 4!

The next morning, the group drop off the wagon to the general store and get paid, then return the stolen goods to the Lionshield Coster, and also get rewarded. Now what to do with all that reward money?


“They’ve got 30% off chainmail!” *squeal* “And two for one on scimitars! OMG!”

First they hit the general store, and buy blankets, signal whistles, a grappling hook, some flasks of oil, and iron spikes. Next up is the armoury, where equipment gets shuffled around, sold, and bought; Carick gives Loki his shortsword (allowing the little psycho to dual-wield) and gets a quarterstaff, Loki and Barry both get shields, and Trev gets a battleaxe for Grimdark for reasons I still can’t quite fathom when he has a perfectly good/functionally identical warhammer. Joe replaces his lacklustre greatsword with a rapier, far more fitting for the high-Dexterity Barry. He also gets a trident, because, fuck, why not?


The trident is named “Tested”. Trident Tested.


What follows is a session of “hunt the quest-givers”, as the group go round town, following their character’s plot hooks or the gossip they got from the people in the tavern the previous night. Let’s just say that they’ve got plenty to keep them occupied over the next few sessions (ongoing quests summarised below, because aaaaaargh).

The most pressing concern is that a local gang of thugs called the Redbrands – Loki’s old gang – are causing all sorts of merry hell in town, and terrorising the locals. Time to be big god-damn heroes then!

The locals point the group to the other tavern in town, the Sleeping Giant. It’s a rundown place where the Redbrands hang out and drink. Since the group still don’t know where the Redbrands hideout is (but it’s obviously in that big ruined manor), they decide to shake down some of the Redbrands for information. This goes about as well as expected.

Eight dead Redbrands later, our heroes have the answers they want, and have nearly burned down the tavern. Oh Carick, you and your burning hands in enclosed spaces, you scamp! To be fair, he tried a charm person spell first, but the Redbrands weren’t in the mood to be buddies.

elf mage

“Declined my Facebook friend request? BURN MOTHERFUCKER.”

The last surviving Redbrand is thrown in jail, and the session ends as the group make their way towards the Redbrand hideout, in the basement of Tresendar Manor…

Completed Quests: Deliver the wagon of goods to Phandalin, get Sildar to explain what this “something big” matter is

Ongoing Quests: (deep breath) Eliminate the Redbrands and their leader “Glasstaff”, find out why there are undead at Old Owl Mine, track down Reidoth the druid in the ruined town of Thundertree, find Agatha the banshee and ask her about the mage Bowgentle’s spellbook, find Thel Dendrar’s wife and children, deal with the orc raiders on the Triboar Trail, find Sildar’s friend Iarno Albrek, locate Cragmaw Castle and wipe out the Cragmaw goblins.

Ears Collected: Human

Women Bedded: 2

Women Satisfied: 0

Star of the Night: Loki. Seriously, the group combat tactics have now evolved to “Cast bless and then take hits for the little guy so that he can turn everything into mincemeat.”  Sneak attack + dual wielding = brutal damage output. God help us all when he has enough cash for a pair of hand crossbows…

The adventure continues in Episode 3!

- Gareth

D&D – Lost Mine of Phandelver Episode 1 – Goblin Arrows

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Alright, let’s get this show properly on the road! My group has taken their first tentative steps on the prepublished path towards the Lost Mine of Phandelver! If you haven’t done so, get to know the cast!

In Attendance: Loki Fastfoot (Darryl), Bosun Barry Arrers (Joe), Grimdark Stonelock (Trev)

And obviously myself, the DM.

Unfortunately, Carick “Mouse” Silverfrost (Liam) wasn’t available this first session, but he found a way into the adventure.

The Lost Mine starts off with the PC’s escorting a wagon full of supplies to the rough-and-tumble frontier town of Phandalin, where all of them have background and quest hooks (Loki’s old bandit gang and sexy aunt, the ruins of Barry’s hometown, etc). Their employer, Gundren Rockseeker (Grimdark’s cousin) has ridden ahead with an old human soldier called Sildar Hallwinter, with vague mentions of “finding something big”, and needing to “get things ready”. Whatever it was, it was decided that Mouse’s arcane know-how would prove useful, so they took the elf with them.

Loki drove the cart, while Barry rode shotgun (longbow?). Grimdark chilled out in the back of the wagon, making sure that the ale was safe.



After a day or so on the Triboar Trail from Neverwinter, the gang came across some dead horses in the road, pierced with arrows. They recognised the horses as belonging to Gundren, Sildar and Mouse! Barry and Loki immediately went on the alert, notching arrows to bowstrings. Grimdark however went all “Gimli-in-Mines-of-Moria” and ran out into the open, bawling for his cousin.


So of course they get ambushed by goblins. Two of them rush Grimdark, while two more take pot-shots at Loki and Barry. A shameful display of archery follows, resulting in some narrow misses and wasted arrows. Meanwhile Grimdark quite happily smashes the shit out of the two goblins that are trying to arrange a union between their cutlasses and his face.

Tired of this archery nonsense, Loki charges one of the remaining goblins and stabs it in the throat. Seeing this, the last goblin throws down its weapons and surrenders, because holy shit, that whole ambush plan went south really quick, didn’t it? The group interrogates the goblin to find out what happened (Loki takes some time out to collect a goblin ear for his collection), and the little dude is all too happy to tell them where the hideout of the Cragmaw gang is, and how many of his buddies are currently un-murdered. He also tells them that Gundren has been taken to some guy called King Grol, holed up in a place Cragmaw Castle. Sildar and Mouse are back at the hideout, in the “eating cave”.

So, the plan seems simple; go rescue Sildar and Mouse, wreck the shit of these Cragmaw bandits, then go save Gundren! After getting all this information, Loki seems quite prepared to kill their prisoner.


 “Wait! He may be useful! He can show us the way!”


“Yeah. We might as well get some more use out of him.”


“Fine. But I still think we should cut off one of his ears, at least.”


“Let’s just tie him up.”


“We should gag him as well, so that he can’t shout out and alert his friends.”


“Good idea!” (checks character sheet for suitable item to use as a gag) “I cram my pouch in his mouth!”


Well… umm… I guess that would stop him talking, but this hardly seems like an appropriate time.

Our heroes hide the wagon of supplies, and with their tied-up goblin in the lead, they advance up the old woodland trail towards the Cragmaw hideout. Their new little friend helpfully points out the traps on the path, which they easily disarm and avoid. Finally, they leave the trail, and find themselves in front of the cave…



Some sneakiness is called for, so Loki advances towards the cave mouth to see if there’s any sentries which he can eliminate. A fine plan in theory. In practice, he rolls a 2 on his Stealth check, so he may as well have been shouting “OH BOY I SURE AM BEING VERY SNEAKY!” at the top of his voice. His uncharacteristic blundering alerts the two goblin sentries hidden in the bushes, and we have another throwdown. Once again, Grimdark wades in and caves in a goblin face with his hammer. Loki gets a cutlass in the ribs, but Barry avenges him with a well-placed shot.

Grimdark burns one of his precious spell slots on a cure wounds to keep Loki in the green.


“You’re dumb, you know that? Dumb and clumsy. You’re lucky I’m here to keep you from dropping dead every few minutes.”

They advance into the cave, taking a brief detour into the cavern on the right hand side to courageously execute some wolves that are chained up in the goblin “kennels”. Their goblin guide is visibly saddened at this; after all, rabid flea-bitten wolves are basically the closest thing goblins have to puppies and friends.

The group are wary of lighting torches for fear of announcing their presence, so Grimdark takes the lead, his natural darkvision an enormous benefit. They veer left at the stream, and head up a sloping tunnel. They can see the ambient glow of a large fire from the cavern to the left (the big stomach shaped one of the far left on the above map). A quick peek around the corner reveals this to be the goblin barracks. Up on a higher rock shelf, five goblins are talking, eating, and taking turns beating two prisoners; Mouse and Sildar!


“Time to go Assassin’s Creed on these guys!”

Loki sneaks up and positions himself at the foot of the natural rock steps, and hides, sword ready. Barry draws back and gets ready. Grimdark uses thaumaturgy to cause the campfire to suddenly burn bright blue, which startles all the goblins and gets their attention. Before they’ve realised it, Barry has put down two of them with arrows. The remaining goblins rush down the stairs; one of them gets ganked as Loki drags him over and slits his throat, and Grimdark bashes the fourth.  The last one manages to get in close enough to hit Barry with his club, but it’s too little too late, and a bloodthirsty halfling introduces Mr Sword to Miss Throat. It’s over in less than three rounds of combat (about 20 seconds in real-time), and it’s a pretty slick bit of work.

They free Mouse and Sildar. Because I’m only willing to run one DMPC, Mouse takes their goblin guide friend and goes to wait for them outside the cave. Sildar grabs a dead goblin’s sword and comes with them. “These wankers beat the shit out of me,” he growls, “Time to repay the favour.”


“That elf totally deserved it though.”

They follow the tunnel around, and over the rickety rope bridge, dispatching a few more goblins on the way. Unfortunately, one gets away, and runs screaming into a large chamber, which they follow him into. Inside the chamber is Klarg, the bugbear leader of the Cragmaw gang, and his angry, hungry wolf.




“Bitch, all I see is another ear for my necklace.”

See, they were all pumped up and overconfident after curb-stomping their way through goblins, so you could forgive them for their bravado.

I mean, you could.

I couldn’t.

Klarg charges, and after one swing of his maul, Grimdark is down to 3 HP. Sildar launches himself at the bugbear and grapples with him, and then Klarg’s wolf decides to grapple with Sildar.


“Good work Sildar! Distract the wolf with your juicy hips!”


“I’m not sure about th- OH GOD MY JUICY HIPS!”

Sildar gets chomped up and drops, and starts dying. Oh dear. Meanwhile, Loki and Barry have put together a plan; since the halfling is clearly unable to go a few hours without setting fire to something, he throws a flask of oil at Klarg, soaking the bugbear. Barry then bodyslams Klarg into the campfire, and suddenly that cavern is full of the smell of burning hair. Klarg rolls around screaming and burning, while one of his goblin lackeys tries to put him out. Grimdark is squaring off against a goblin he can’t seem to hit. With no time to draw his sword, Barry smacks the wolf with his bow. The wolf responds by critting Barry. Lucky for Joe I’m a nice DM and let him use his second wind ability at the last minute to stay on his feet. Everyone gets one freebie, that’s my rule.

Loki pounces on the burning Klarg and stabs him while he’s on the ground.


“Got him!”

Hahahahaha no. You got him down to half HP.

And now he’s not on fire anymore.

And now he’s standing up and OH GOD OH GOD you’ve really pissed him off now!

Loki beats a hasty retreat, hurling another flask of oil into the fire to make it flare up and create a temporary wall of fire between Klarg and himself. And his allies, I guess. At this point, Sildar has made his third successful death saving throw, and stabilises.


“At least I’m not dying any more!”





Barry finishes off the wolf, but Grimdark gets knocked down to 0 HP. Oh dear, oh dear.


“I feel like we made some mistakes in approaching this situation somewhat recklessly.”


(has escaped)

At this point, I’m a few rounds of combat away from pulling the “and then Mouse shows up and kills everything with magic” card, but then a last, desperate plan is hatched! Barry and Loki run back to the rickety rope bridge, and after some taunting, Klarg pursues them. That’s when they go all Temple of Doom on him, and cut the bridge! Klarg fails his saving throw to grab onto something, and he falls 20 feet onto hard rock, doing exactly enough damage to finish him off!

With the last of the enemies dead, Loki and Barry get Grimdark and Sildar back on their feet, and indulge in that most noble of adventuring pastimes, looting! They find cash and healing potions in the chests and crates in Klarg’s chamber, and laden with booty, they leave the cave, meet up with Mouse, and resume their wagon ride into Phandalin…

Level Up! More HP! Barry gets action surge, Loki gets cunning action, Grimdark gets more spells and channel divinity, and Mouse gets more spells, evocation savant and sculpt spells.

Completed Quests: Saved Mouse and Sildar from the Cragmaw gang

Ongoing Quests: Deliver the wagon of goods to Phandalin, find and rescue Gundren, get Sildar to explain what this “something big” matter is

Ears Collected: Goblin, wolf, bugbear

Times Grimdark KO’d: 1

Number of “Fuck YES you guys are the best group I have ever DM’d for!” moments: 3 (“I cram my pouch in his mouth”, and two great and cinematic uses of the environmental features)

The adventure continues in Episode 2!

- Gareth



D&D – Lost Mine of Phandelver Interim: House Rules

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Tonight has seen another chapter written in the book of heroic deeds, as our motley crew of heroes have vanquished the evil Cragmaw goblin bandits and their villainous leader, Klarg. A full write up of tonight’s event is in the process, but in the meantime I thought I’d go over the house rules that I’m implementing for the group as we go through the adventure.

Critical Hits

Critical hits do maximum damage, instead of granting double dice for rolling damage. Simpler and quicker when playing, and guarantees a shit-ton of damage. One of my preferred rules from 4th edition.

Team Initiative

This is a rule I’ve lifted from Fantasy Flight’s Edge of the Empire game, and helps get around the fact that there’s no “Delay” action in 5e. When there’s a combat and the PC’s determine initiative, their rolls determine their “initiative slots”. Any one of the PCs can use one of their available initiative slots during a round.

Example: In tonight’s game, Darryl (Loki, the rogue) got a 22 for initiative, Joe (Bosun Arrers) got 14, and Trev (Grimdark) got 4, while the goblins they’re fighting get 10. We go in initiative order as normal, but Joe, Darryl or Trev could act on 22, even though Darryl was the one to get that result. Trev goes first to do some urgent healing, then Darryl takes his turn on count 14. The goblins act, and then finally Joe acts on count 5. On the next round, Joe then chooses to act first on count 22.

I really like the mechanic from EotE, as it makes combat more, leads to less instances where players are sitting around waiting for their turn, and allows the players to concoct some cool strategies.

Inspiration = 10 point swing

Inspiration is an awesome mechanic from 5th edition, and encourages players to come up with cool ideas and roleplay their characters. However the inspiration mechanic is a little lacklustre; you can expend inspiration to get advantage on a check. Meh. I feel that it should be a bit more swingy that than. So… Inspiration can be spent before the PC makes an attack roll, saving throw or skill check, or before an enemy makes an attack roll against them; doing so means that the PC gets a +10 bonus to his attack/save/skill check, or that the attacking enemy has a -10 penalty to their attack roll. Potentially overpowered? Well, it still doesn’t guarantee success (or failure on the enemy’s part), but it’s obviously a huge swing. However if it allows players to do awesome, memorable things or survive against overwhelming odds, and encourages them to work towards earning inspiration again, then I don’t really have no problem with it.


Very simple one. If a creature has more enemies adjacent to it than it has allies (the classic example being a fighter flanked by two goblins), then that creature is Outnumbered. Melee attacks against an Outnumbered creature have advantage. Actual positioning of the outnumbering creatures doesn’t matter; the important thing is that the outnumbered creature is having to divide their attention between two (or more) attackers. Creatures that are dazed, restrained, or otherwise suffering some kind of condition that means they’re disadvantaged on attack rolls don’t count towards Outnumbering.

Hit Dice Rerolls

When rolling to recover HP after a short rest after expending Hit Dice, a player can reroll 1s, because that shit sucks. Healing from other sources (such as a cure wounds spell or a healing potion) doesn’t benefit from this. Also, players can reroll 1s when their character levels up and they increase their max HP. If the reroll is also a 1… well, I helped you as much as I could.

Fairly simple changes, but effective. Outnumbering has already played a very big part in combat tactics, and the team initiative led to some very cool plays tonight. Like I said, more story time coming up soon!

Spoiler; they set fire to stuff again.


Some halflings just want to watch the world burn.

- Gareth

D&D – Lost Mine of Phandelver Episode 0: The Heist


It’s RPG storytime here again at Mr Triceratopping! I’ve recently gotten my sweaty mitts on the new D&D 5th edition starter set, “The Lost Mine of Phandelver”, and I am absolutely in love with the new ruleset, and the published adventure itself is great. I managed to convince some friends – most of them D&D newbies – to join me round the table, roll dice, and have a good time as we work out way through the campaign. We’re using the pre-made characters too, because, y’know, there’s nice character sheets for them and everything…

So, who are our players?

The Cast



Loki Fastfoot, played by Darryl. A halfling thief with a troubled past and a heart of gold and oh who I am kidding, he’ll betray everyone and slit their throats in their sleep the second that they find something shiny. Likes to collect the ears of his enemies, especially if they’re a species he hasn’t killed yet. Has a “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” relationship with his aunt.



Barry Arrers, played by Joe. A human fighter who specialises in archery (and woodwork). Has stigmata (which may just be a birthmark) and is convinced that he is the son of a god, or a god himself. A seafaring man, he prefers to be referred to as Bosun Arrers. What is this, PUNgeons and Dragons? AHAHAHAHAHAHA okay.

elf mage

Carick “Mouse” Silverfrost, played by Liam. An elf wizard who is basically a complete coward. The nickname is the compromise that was reached when Liam wanted to call his character Dangermouse and I enacted my first DM veto. Will do anything to anyone if there’s even the slightest chance to learn something about something.


And finally, Grimdark Stonelock, played by Trev. A dwarf cleric. Will heal you, but will be angry that you were stupid enough to get hit in the first place. Used to be a mercenary but is currently on “temporary” suspension following “an incident”. Not actually that bothered about the whole “worshipping the gods” business. He still gets healing spells and magic laser eyes, so he must be doing something right. Yes, that is his name.

And I’m DM’ing because apparently I have masochistic impulses.

Unfortunately due to conflicting schedules, we didn’t have a full table for the full session, so my plan was to run a few “prequel” games before we got to the main published adventure, so that everyone would have a chance to learn the rules of the game and see what their character could do, etc. Unfortunately Joe couldn’t make the session I’d planned for him and Trev, but Liam and Darryl were around for their adventure, “The Heist”! And then Trev showed up and I had to shoehorn Grimdark in! Thanks buddy.

So, our tissue-thin plot for the first game was thus; Loki likes money, and had heard from his criminal contacts that there’s this old bookshop in a nice part of the city, and the owner is loaded and keeps all his cash in a safe in the basement. He manages to convince Mouse to come along because, y’know, stealing’s bad, but it wouldn’t hurt to just look at all those books of arcane lore… Grimdark, as a gruff father-figure, would go along because he wants to make sure the idiots don’t get in trouble, and hey, y’know, even holy men need gold, right?

The guys plan how they’re going to break in, and off they go. Loki easily picks the lock to the basement entrance (it’s a big loading bay door affair, like for pubs where they lower barrels in), and Grimdark leaps down into the pitch dark basement. One fluffed Acrobatics check results in a twisted ankle though. Off to a good start lads. Grimdark casts a light spell to brighten the place up, and Loki and Mouse follow him, finding a basement full of bookshelves and crates. A bit of digging round finds two odd things; first are some blobs of weird-smelling slime in one of the crates which they can’t identify, and the second is a book that Mouse recognises as a rare and proscribed book which is about combining alchemy with necromantic magic for less-than-wholesome purposes. Hmm, very suspicious…

I mean, he takes the book with him, obviously.

While investigating, they discover that one of the bookcases near the wall is on rollers, and can be moved aside, revealing a secret door! Gasp! Grimdark used a detect magic spell to see what was beyond, and discovered that there was a necromantic aura and a faint tang of illusion. What follows is a lot of fannying around as the poor little princesses decide who’s going to open the door and go in first. Finally Loki gets tired of it and just kicks the door open, revealing a room with a desk, a lot of alchemy materials, and OH SHIT a load of naked dead people on slabs. Clearly the bookstore owner is up to some bad stuff.

Grimdark confirms that the bodies aren’t giving off any “gonna reanimate and bite your face” vibe; the necromantic aura is actually coming off some of the horrible looking alchemical concoctions, while the whiff of illusion is centred on a painting of a grumpy-looking old guy above the desk. Despite this, Loki suggests decapitating the bodies, “just in case”. Grimdark forbids it, and says some last rites over the dead bodies (who have been stitched together from lots of different body parts), while Mouse checks out of the potions, finding some jars of the slime they found in the crates; this time they’re able to correctly identify it as a kind of embalming fluid.

On a whim, Darryl asks me if his character knows anything about the old guy in the painting. “Oh sure, roll History.”  (expects a low score) “Oh. 20. Huh.”  (shiiiiiiit) “Ummm… yeah, you know that this guy was an evil necro-alchemist a few decades ago and was executed for doing bad stuff. It’s even more super-suspicious to find a painting of him here in this basement, and it basically confirms that the bookshop owner is up to no good and it probably trying to emulate his work.”  Oh unexpected natural 20s, how I love you!

Mouse uses mage hand to lift the painting off the wall, revealing blank stone behind, but Grimdark’s detect magic is still revealing a fruity aroma of illusion. Loki touches the wall, and no surprises, it’s a fake! In the concealed space is a normal metal lockbox which, when opened, is full of gold coins and some strange old documents. Little does he know that he’s tripped a silent alarm…

They leave the secret room and go back into the main basement, when suddenly all the lights come on! Loki manages to dive behind some crates and hide, but Grimdark in his clunky chainmail just makes a noise and falls over, while Liam fluffs his Stealth check so badly I tell him that Carick basically just shrieks like a scared little girl.


Ahh, elves. Fuck em.

The basement door opens, and in comes the obviously-evil bookstore owner, who asks (and quite rightly) why a dwarf and an elf are in his basement (Darryl’s suggestion of “making out” is considered and swiftly dismissed). What follows is possibly the most excruciating attempt to bluff ever.


“Oh, thank goodness you’re here! We were just walking past and heard a noise and came to check it out!”


“I see. So why is that elf stealing my book?”

elf mage

“Umm… this is my copy?”


“There’s only one copy in existence.”



“Enough about that my good man, the thieves are probably getting away! We must make haste!”

elf mage

“Anyway I’m a big fan of your work so really we’re on the same side!”


“Did you go into my secret room?”

elf mage



“So why were you coming out through the door when I switched on the lights?”



elf mage

*blank stare*


“BORED NOW.”  (jumps out of cover and fires an arrow which misses)

So now we have a fight! Initiative gets rolled, all that stuff. Mouse nails the bookshop owner/evil wizard with a ray of frost, doing a grand total of 1 damage. Just another 21 like that and we can go home! Next Loki fires another arrow, which the bookshop owner responds to by throwing up a shield. The bookshop owner makes a run for the secret room and his zombie army; he’s slower than usual due to having icy robes, but compensates with a misty step spell. Grimdark follows him, and sees that he’s got his hand on a big creepy Frankenstein-esque switch. The dwarf cleric goes for a command spell!


“Hey. Hey. Hey!”




“Stop it.”





“Lol no jk passed my saving throw.”





Loki, like a true thief, doesn’t want a fight, so he’s ready to run. Mouse doesn’t listen, and instead go afters Grimdark and spams the bookshop owner with magic missile, doing some more damage. It’s not enough to stop the man from pulling the switch and waking four of his zombies up. Oh dear…

Grimdark blasts one with a sacred flame, but the others mob him and attack him. Two can’t get through his high AC, but another gets a critical and chomps him for maximum damage (I houserule that critical hits do maximum damage instead of rolling twice as many dice), nearly dropping him to 0 HP. Oh unexpected natural 20s, how I love you!


“I said we should’ve decapitated them! But oh noooo, that’s a stupid idea! Let’s just pray for them instead!”



elf mage


And then a plan comes together. Mouse still has a spell slot left, and has burning hands prepared. Loki has a flask of oil. The zombies and the bookstore owner are in an enclosed space. You can see where this is going.

Through the magic of readied actions, the group set up their Grand Strategy. Grimdark will hold off the zombies in the doorway to the secret room, and disengage. Then, Loki will throw the oil flask at the space which Grimdark vacated. Then Mouse will bring the heat, blasting the zombies, igniting the oil, and generally causing all kinds of merry havoc.

It all goes splendidly. Grimdark limps away, the oil lands perfectly and the flask shatters, spraying flammable goop everywhere, and Mouse lets fly with a burning hands, torching the zombies and causing a small but fierce wall fire as the oil is ignited. Oh, and all that furniture, those alchemical concoctions and books… they’re just more fuel. The bookshop owner screams, the zombies flail around, and our heroes slam the door closed (freezing it shut with a clever use of ray of frost, though it’ll melt soon enough), roll back the bookcase, and run off with their ill-gotten gains, leaving an old man to die, trapped in a burning room. To be fair, he was a bit of a dick.

Later that night, when Grimdark has patched himself up, the three of them are about to share the loot when they are approached by an grizzled old mercenary called Sildar Hallwinter, who works for Grimdark’s cousin Gundren Rockseeker. He’s heard that they’re tough and resourceful people, and he has a job for them. Nothing major, just an easy job escorting a merchant caravan to a little town called Phandelin…

- Gareth

Three Travellers ‘Round the Fire Convers’d

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I’ve gone and finished another short story with a pretentious name!

three travellers cover

This a Grimm Tales-esque, old-timey fairy tale, which was very fun to write! It’s part of my nascent “Away with the Faeries”  series (the only other story so far being Fair Folk) and as such features psychotic vampire-faeries doing morally reprehensible things to we poor dumb mortals.

Three Travellers can be found HERE! and HERE!

If you like dark weird fairy tales that cost less that a can of Coke, why not give it a look? Or any of my other stories?

- Gareth

Ready, Set, Starter

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Let us talk, my friends, on the subject of Starter Sets.

Imagine you or your friend has stumbled across a new tabletop game, say a mini wargame or CCG. It’s a hobby designed to be customisable and collectible, one that you’ll feed a lot of money into if you like it, like 40k or Warmachine or M:tG. Of course, jumping right into the deep end is intimidating, so you pick up the Starter Set, which will usually contain decks/armies for two players so that you and your friend can play the game and learn the basics, and hopefully get hooked and therefore spend more money on the game. It should be noted that I classify a “Starter Set” as a thing for a hobby with a collectible element to it; chess, for example, doesn’t have a Starter Set; it’s just the game in its entirety. Some games like Fluxx or High Command or Settlers of Catan have expansion packs, but again the “base” game isn’t a Starter Set, it’s the game in it’s entirety.

I guess the best way of clarifying if something is a Starter Set is the question; “Can I play the game without buying the Starter Set?” For 40k or Warmachine, I could go out and buy the rulebook and some minis. For MtG, I can build a deck out the cards in my collection; I don’t need to pick up one the intro decks.

Right, that’s the vegetables out of the way. Now let’s get to carving the meat of this hot word-roast.

I bloody love Starter Sets, because I’m at the point in life where I prefer to have a variety of games to introduce to friends rather than one game which I’ve sunk a lot of money into.  In my opinion, a good Starter Set should tick the following boxes at minimum;

1) Effectively teach players the basic rules of the game

2) Introduce important variants to those basic rules

3) Provide armies/decks for the players that are balanced against each other, and that utilise different tactics

4) Be affordable, or otherwise a good value for money

Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? Let’s apply these to one of the Warhammer 40,000 starter sets, Assault on Black Reach, which is generally regarded as the best 40k Starter Set. Now, if you’re a regular reader, you know that I don’t see eye-to-eye to GW these days, but I still love the lore and the models, so it’s a weird love-hate relationship I guess. Anyway, let’s look at the set


It was all about that Warboss and those Deff Koptas.

AoBR nearly ticks all the boxes mentioned above.

The mini-campaign book (which was fucking awesome btw) gradually introduced new players to the basics of moving, shooting, and fighting. You’ve got the important variants on those basic rules; different weapon types such as the flamer and missile launcher which use the various templates or the Warboss’s power klaw which effects close combat differently, vehicle rules, Invulnerable saves, characters, and units with different movement rules. The forces are slightly unbalanced, and this is something GW can’t ever seem to get right in their Starter Sets (or keep intentionally weighing in favour of their cash cow $pace Marine$); the Orks have a disadvantage of about 100-150 points. Hrm. The upside though is that this set was astounding value for its cost at the time, and even now it’s good if you can pick up a copy on eBay; if you bought all those models individually as box sets, you’d be looking at spending at least twice as much, and you still wouldn’t have gotten the rulebook and other gubbins like the templates and those measuring sticks that NO ONE EVER BLOODY USES.

AoBR isn’t perfect though. The most pressing one is the issue of points imbalance; I get that Marines are awesome and amazing and need to win every time so more people will buy them, but Jesus. It’s no fun for a new player who takes the Orks and slowly realises that his force is disadvantaged. The Orks really could’ve used a third Slugga Boyz mob, or another 5-guy “special” unit like Kommandos or Stormboyz. Or a Weirdboy, because my other quibble is that there’s no psyker, so new players aren’t made aware of psychic powers and psychic tests and stuff. Also, some terrain would’ve been nice; not to the extent of the excellent crashed Aquila lander in Battle of Macragge, but just some basic walls and ruins, but that’s a minor quibble.

Dark Vengeance had similar problems; good value for money, excellent teaching tools, but again the balance hurt it. So let me get this straight; the Dark Angels got two HQs (one of which was a psyker in the new “psykers-matter” edition), a Terminator squad, a plasma-heavy Tactical squad, and a Bike squad, and the Chaos Marines got… six Chosen and some Cultists?



You know what would’ve been awesome to balance out the Chaos side? A small unit of Raptors (so new players learn about jump pack infantry), a bump in numbers to that Chosen squad and changing the (admittedly badass) power axe guy to a melta-gunner (the melta-gun being a good counter to the DA Terminators), and… I don’t know, a single Chaos Spawn, because why the hell not? It’s a cheap, individual model with some fun rules, and it’s a Beast, so that would’ve been another different movement variant for players to learn about. Those changes would’ve balanced things out a bit and given the CSM force a bit more bite.

And then there’s this nonsense…


“But Gareth!” you may say, “Stormclaw is a campaign pack, not a Starter Set!”. To which I say “it has a rulebook and two armies intended to be played against each other, therefore until Dark Vengeance is available again, it’s a Starter Set.”  Just one that comes with no dice. Hrm. Anyway, this thing looks like a mess. The first clue that something is wrong is that the Orks aren’t outnumbering the Marines 2-1. The second clue that something is wrong is that the Orks have Gretchin while the Marines have FUCKING WOLF GUARD TERMINATORS.  But I hear DV is being retweaked for 7th, so this is is serving as some weird hybrid get-you-by until then. I don’t know. People are saying it’s good value (Wolf Guard and Killer Kans, plus the exclusive hero sculpts), but this is £75, nearly twice the cost of the old AoBR, and seems to have only half the content.

It’s not just GW that get it wrong, Privateer Press make mistakes too. Now, the Warmachine Starter Set which I picked up aaaaages ago is excellent (though I would’ve preferred having the Butcher instead of Sorcha as the Khador caster, because I bloody love the Butcher), but back in the day at my old FLGS, we only had the Battleboxes to make do with, which was fine, because they were good for Full-Metal/Tooth and Claw games, i.e. casters/locks and jacks/beasts only.

Apart from the Trollbloods. Oh my god, the fucking Trollbloods.


You broke my heart, Madrak.

Let me set the scene. Ian has got Everblight (because Ian is a bad man and enjoys the taste of my tears) and I’ve got my Trolls, ready for our first game of Hordes. Right off the bat I realise something is weird because I don’t have a heavy beast, just two Impalers and the Axer. This is bad news when Ian’s rocking a Carnivean, one of the best non-character heavy beasts in the game. “Maybe my lights are just really good!” I think. AHAHAHAHAHA. While the Impalers are admittedly fucking ace, the Axer is a waste of time. You see, the Axer has an ability called Thresher which hits all enemies in his reach; it’s a great crowd-control ability, useful against massed infantry; you know, the thing I’m not fighting against. “Maybe my warlock has an awesome feat!” I think. And while Madrak hits like a truck in combat, and has a decent range of abilities and spells, his feat is not great in a straight-out-of-the-box Battlebox game of Hordes. You see, his feat “Crusher” lets him or an ally advance and make an attack if they kill a dude in combat, until they stop killing dudes. Again, against infantry, it turns your trolls into fucking combine harvesters, but when you’re up against warbeasts…

Basically what I’m saying is that the contents on the Trollblood Battlebox were poorly chosen. What they needed was a Dire Troll instead of the Axer, and a warlock like Hoarluk to turn him into a big blue murdermachine (the Dire Troll’s Rage animus would’ve had good synergy with the Impaler’s thrown spears too). But I didn’t have those, so I had a game where I got munched by Shredders.


Thank god for 2nd edition, it’s all I’m saying. If anything needed a firm smack with the nerfbat…

In my opinion, Wizards of the Coast are the ones who usually get it right with their Intro packs for MtG. They’ve come a long way since I used to get them; now you get booster packs in with the deck so you can start customising it right off the bat. Okay, there’s some precons that are generally better or worse than others – trust me, I could do a whole post on the whole “Rat’s Nest” fiasco of the Kamigawa days – but they’re generally balanced amongst one another. Back in the day, my group and I would all of the latest set’s precons and have a big throwdown; good times. These days, with my interest in Magic waning, I’m looking at getting a stash of precons (or building decks to precon standards) as a way to introduce friends to the game so we can just have casual pickup games.

While on the subject of Starter Sets, I’ve ordered the kit for D&D 5th edition, which I am ridiculously excited about. The Basic rules are available as a free PDF on the D&D main website, and I’m suitably psyched and ready to take a group of RPG newbies through the Lost Mine of Phandelver. RPG Starter Sets are always a bit different from wargaming or CCG, but as long as the basics of combat, magic, exploration, and NPC interaction are covered, you can’t really go wrong.

So here’s to Starter Sets; after all, without them, many of we gamers probably wouldn’t be where we are today.

- Gareth

Art of Magic – Rated XXX


Art for Magic: the Gathering is always very good; you’ve got cool monsters, awesome spells, mysterious artefacts, breathtaking lands, the super-powered Planeswalkers… basically a lot can be contained in that little 1.5 x 2.5 inch window.

Like… um…  how shall I put it? Mature situations?

Yep, these are the cards where you just can’t help but wonder how the art passed checking and got approved for a card game aimed for kids as young as 12… call it an overactive imagination or general immaturity, but I can’t help but giggle at some of these…

As a disclaimer, these are cards with art that can be interpreted as naughty… I’m not talking about cards with actual intentionally sexy art like Reversal of Fortune, Vampire’s Bite, or Goblin Matron.


Have you been a *naughty* goblin?

Let’s press on… there’s a lot, worryingly…


I think all M:tG players know this one; it’s the card with the goddamn monkeys doing the nasty in the background. I can’t tell if the Orangtuan making a face of disgust, or a face of voyeuristic excitement.



“Lower… lower… lower, you unbeliever! This faith’s shield in my pants isn’t going to hammer itself out!”


Gargoyles are fairly considerate; at least they’ll give you a reach around in the middle of SURPRISE BUTTSEX.


Return to Zendikar – Eldrazi Bukkake.

“Oh god, it’s everywhere! Get the Kleenex! Oh god, it’s in my hair!”


I’ve seen enough anime to know where this is going.



Nothing out of the ordinary, right? Except for his giant swinging metal dick! Glory Seeker? More like Gloryhole Seeker.



What is this, 50 Shades of Fae? 


“Okay, what’s wrong with this one?” you may ask. “It seems absolutely fine! Just a faerie plucking dreams out of a woman’s ear!”

But who says that’s her ear?


Sorry, but that is a dick. Just flat, outright, a dick. A big floppy sweaty hairy toothy nightmare-fuel cock-monster which would make Giger himself proud.


And that’s a giant green cock monster!


Aaargh cock monsters everywhere!


Aaargh! Dick tree!


Oh god no, not a tentacle-rape tree!


Technically this one doesn’t count, but I had to include it for that flavour text; “Fervid shamans willingly submit to shockers in hopes of glimpsing the fortunes of the future.”  Ooo, those naughty shamans!

I’m sure that there are more cards like this, but those were the best that I could think of! There’s probably not too many more though, I mean it’s not as if Magic artists go out of their way to deliberately…


God damn it.

I’ll be in my bunk.

- Gareth

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