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25 July 2018

Acute Adventures: Into Toko Hill


Good day, folks. Today brings the second of my adventures. Into Toko Hill can be played as a continuation of last week's The Horror of Kwaka; both can be effortlessly weaved into the Tomb of Annihilation module by Wizards of the Coast.


Enjoy, everyone!

Into Toko Hill


In the jungle of Iwanagig, human natives and vegepygmy invaders vie for dominance over a mystical spring. Terrified of venturing into the moldfolk’s domain, Toko Hill, the village seeks braver souls to take out the vegepygmies for them.

Note: Into Toko Hill can be played as part two of the prior adventure, The Horror of Kwaka, or as a standalone adventure. Feel free to use NPCs or encounters from the Horror of Kwaka in this adventure to further flesh it out.

NPCs

  • Eztli Ka: A beautiful but grizzly human female of Kwaka. She leads and trains most of the village’s warriors, and has fought the most with the vegepygmies of Toko Hill.
  • Agari the Azure: A navy colored myconid covered in bubbly fungi. He is a prisoner of the vegepygmy, able to provide false visions and create a cure to russet mold with his spores.
  • Ciss the Overgrown: A hideous vegepygmy chief covered in thorns and russet mold. He fiercely controls the vegepygmy tribe of Toko Hill.

Prelude


The villagers of Kwaka constantly fight over a mystical spring with a tribe of vegepygmies who live in a great, jungled mound they call Toko Hill. The villagers fiercely believe a natural spirit resides within the spring and blesses their water - they worship this spring. As of late, the vegepygmy tribe has viciously contested their trips to the spring, which has lead the villagers to grow more and more tired of the vegepygmies presence. In addition, they believe the moldfolk to hold the cure to a terrible sickness plaguing villagers. They seek adventurers to eliminate the tribe from their source: Toko Hill and recover this supposed cure. The vegepygmy tribe, however, is lead by a powerful chief with a lemur thorny companion.

Part I: Finding Toko Hill


The adventure can begin in the village of Kwaka, where the party can converse with the locals about the vegepygmy threat and the location of Toko Hill, or the group can begin outside the moldfolk’s lair, prepared to enter it. If you decide that the PCs must find Toko Hill, they must succeed three skill checks. If they fail a skill check, they face an encounter.

You or your players can debate about which skills can be used to find Toko Hill; here are a few example checks and encounters:

Skill Checks

  1. Perception DC 12: Someone finds a trail of mold that leads through the jungle.
  2. Nature DC 13: Someone notices peculiar scrapings on various jungle trees that seem to lead somewhere.
  3. Survival DC 14: Someone spots a patch of quicksand before the party enters it, and sees a trail through the foliage around it.

Encounters

  1. 2d4 vegepygmies burst from the bushes, sharpened branches drawn!
  2. 2d6 velociraptors rush through the jungle and attack the party’s weakest members!
  3. The party stumbles upon a toppled over, stone shrine covered in russet mold. If they successfully clean the mold from the shrine, a soft wind blows and sun shines through the thicket onto them. Each party member is affected by the effects of a bless spell for 1 hour.
  4. The party discovers a small child from Kwaka, starving and infected with russet mold disease.

Part II: The Upper Passages


The entrance into Toko Hill is a small cave mouth draped in vines and guarded by 4 vegepygmies. If assaulted and allowed to escape, one will retreat into Toko Hill. The rest of the upper passages are detailed below.

Antechamber (1)


“You stoop under the foul vegetation hanging over the cavern’s entrance and find yourself in a natural chamber of dirt and moss. The scent of decay pervades this dark place.”

Interactable features include hanging vines, loose dirt, and russet mold patches. 4 vegepygmies guard the room.

Thorny Creation Room (2)


“Animal remains litter the cold floor of this cramped room.” 

Interactable features include capybara bones, rotting meat, and flammable moss. 2 thornies, 1 vegepygmy, and 1 sun bear (use brown bear stats) in the process of being converted to a thorny are in this room.

Human Captives (3)


“Trapped in primitive cages are three humans, similar to those of Kwaka. They appear to be starved, dehydrated, and scarred by vegepygmy teeth.”

Interactable features include cages of bone, mounds of dirt, and patches of russet mold. A single vegepygmy sorcerer with the thunderwave spell guards the prisoners.

Resting Caves (4)


“Vaguely rectangular mats of moss are sprawled across the brown floor of this expansive cavern. Beside each of them is a small bowl carved from wood, filled with peculiar ornaments.”

Interactable features include moss mats, wooden bowls, and unused bone spears. At any time, 1d8 vegepygmies are in this chamber, resting.

Thorny Cages (5)


“Sharp hissing noises emanate from this cavern corridor. As you make your way down the passage, the source becomes apparent: Four thornies trapped in crude cages of wood.”

Interactable features include wooden cages, vine whips, and thorny collars. The 4 thornies trapped in cages block off a smaller cage that holds a myconid named Agari. In addition to the vial found later in the adventure, his spores are the only way to cure russet mold disease. He’ll work with the party if they treat him kindly. He is able to cure russet mold disease 2 times per long rest.

The Depths of Ciss (6)


“The corridor gradually slopes downward and twists around a bend. Instantly, nearly all surfaces around you become covered in blood-red moss. This must be the vegepygmies’ inner sanctum.”

Following the final, winding passageway brings the party to the lower level of Toko Hill. Every surface of this large, natural cavern is covered in russet mold. Ciss, the chief of this vegepygmy tribe, waits for the party here. Accompanying him is his lemur thorny (use monkey stats) and 2 vegepygmies, prepared for battle. As the party moves through Toko Hill, Ciss refuses to leave his mold-filled chamber, certain that any creature that fights him in his domain is doomed. Is he correct? Use the following tactics and effects as inspiration for the final battle of Toko Hill:
  • Ciss’ lemur thorny will always use the Help action to give Ciss advantage on his attacks. Flavor this as the lemur leaping around the combat and distracting party members.
  • 80% of this chamber is covered in russet mold; Ciss, though he has no ranged attacks, is not afraid to retreat into mold patches to recover.
  • Someone might spot a vial of blue liquid held by a vine during the battle; it’s the cure to russet mold disease. In it, there’s enough for 6 doses.
Scattered around the russet mold patches is a variety of treasure found by Ciss’ tribe, including: 21 gold pieces, 2 emerald idols (30 gp each), a soiled wizard’s spellbook (thunderwave, charm person, magic missile, and scorching ray), and a silver greataxe.

Aftermath


Luckily, the adventure ends with the death of Ciss; with his death the vegepygmy tribe falls apart. Any moldfolk who weren’t in Toko Hill never return, leaving Kwaka safe to use the mystical spring. If the PCs return to Kwaka, they are hailed as heroes. The village will be forever grateful to them, they are gifted a sacred gold idol of an ape (200 gp), and are always welcome to stay in Kwaka - for no cost.

Kwaka is safe and sure to be thriving with free access to their mystical spring. This area of the Iwanagig jungle is serene and moldfolk free -- for now. There’s a few ways to build on this adventure. Perhaps the PCs did not rid Toko Hill of russet mold and it begins to spread. Maybe one of the escaped vegepygmies stumbles upon an ancient artifact and gains new power. Or maybe the leader of Kwaka has another task for the PCs, a journey that will take them to a mystical, yuan-ti ziggurat deep within Iwanagig.

Whatever you or the PCs decide to do, know that you saved Kwaka from a slow, mold-caused demise, and that the stories that shall stem from this victory will be sung by the folk of Kwaka forevermore.
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I hope you enjoyed Into Toko Hill! Again, here's the .pdf link if you'd like to download it.

Next week's adventure will be about next week's Musing Over Monsters article. What could it be? Power and water, control and domination...

Until then, fare thee well!

Eager for more RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to the RJD20 newsletter, and explore RJD20 videos on YouTube.

Check out Villain Backgrounds Volume I, a supplement that crafts compelling villains.

Please send inquiries to rjd20writes@gmail.com.

23 July 2018

Voices in My Head



It’s Friday night. My Enoach group is searching for information about the Aphid Alliance, a region-wide thieves’ guild of thri-kreen. To do so, they’re scouring the desert town of Asudem for clues and talking to everyone they can. They speak to Iviriel Alorro, a locally despised elf wizard and their patron. When Iviriel departs for an important and secret journey south, they quickly converse with Iviriel’s only apprentice, a shy and greasy human wizard named Fazil Sanmis. Soon after, they travel across town and pass by the recently vacated Storm Temple of Talos and make words with the captain of the town watch, Zir Carver. Pleased with the conversation, they walk toward the Shrine of Zet and encounter Glo Imixson, fire genasi wizard and member of the Black Zar Cabal. Not long after that, they meet Rev Sandriven, a halfling cleric and high priest of Zet and catch him up on the latest happenings with the corrupted clergy of the Storm Temple.

From the shrine, they shamble to one of the beggar alleys in Asudem to bargain with orphans, drunks, and beggars for information, and end up speaking to a crazed human called Khanhar. The bumbling discussion gives them only four, distinct words to go on, so they head to their final destination: The abode of The Whisperer, located in a strangely empty corner near the beggar alleys. Advised to meet with this master of secrets by their patron, but strongly recommended to not mention Iviriel’s name, they met with this yuan-ti sweet-talker in a dry basement slathered in snakes. By the end of the night, they had learned much, taken on a new side-quest, and were excited to have so many new interesting NPCs to interact with. As the Dungeon Master, my mission was accomplished.
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In early June of 2018, I decided to go wild with voices in Dungeons and Dragons.

As a shy and somewhat timid person, I’d known I wasn’t the best at changing my voice, nowhere near the heights of Matthew Mercer, Mark Hamill, or even that girl who does voices on the radio. Then, as I was listening to Critical Role one day, my brain snapped. No, I didn’t have an aneurysm or some sort of epiphany, I simply realized that doing voices makes the entire D&D experience much more exciting, entertaining, and freeing.

The session I described above is the first where I set out to do a different voice for every main NPC I portrayed. The entire session was fantastic, and every time I was playing a different NPC, everyone had a blast listening to the character speak, talking to the character, and laughing at my voices (both with me and at me, I admit). The Whisperer’s voice was enticing yet hissing, Khanhar’s was bumbling and difficult to explain, and Glo Imixson’s was nasally and arrogant.

In this week’s Legendary Lesson, we’re discussing why you should use a unique voice for all of your characters, how easy it is, and how it helps staying in character.

Let’s roll!

Don’t Be Scared


Performing as someone different than yourself is inherently weird. That’s splendid, we've accepted that. Your eloquence doesn’t matter; your pitch doesn’t matter; all that matters is the enjoyment level at the table. If you’re playing D&D with your friends - or good people - you should never be scared to use voices. Using voices, in fact, makes the game much more enjoyable. There’s a boon of benefits!

  1. If every character has a unique voice (no matter how similar to your own), it’s much easier to stay in character for you (the dungeon master or player). Something clicks in your mind when you’re using a voice other than your own. Over time, you’ll even create a certain demeanor for the character.
  2. Players/characters will instantly recognize a character that’s appearing in the world if you use their voice. There’s no need to say, “A muscular minotaur armored only in the fur of a lion enters the chamber; it’s Baphoro.” if you have a specific voice for Baphoro!
  3. It clarifies when you are speaking as an omniscient narrator and when you are portraying a person in the world that’s alongside the characters.
In addition, doing a voice is easy! Don’t be scared to mess up or sound silly; sometimes, that’s the point! You’d be surprised how drastically you can change your own voice using a few, simple tactics. Try lowering or heightening your pitch, talking quicker or slower, or even plugging your nose. All those are effortless ways to alter your voice. 

Here's a few harder ones: Attempt speaking out of the side of your mouth by closing half or three quarters of it, or try wheezing your voice out of your throat for raspy, haunting speech (great for mind flayers, ghosts, or spectres) If you’re not a huge fan of changing your voice constantly, you can alter your speech patterns instead. Use words alien to you, repeat a specific phrase often, or add a slight slur or lisp to your voice.

Those are all the strategies you can use without even attempting an accent! Accents are also great because you already have a basis for what they sound like. British accents are highly variable; African accents are fantastic; German accents are enticing. And once you’ve mastered one accent, you can use all the aspects outlined above to manipulate that accent, creating a plethora of new voices for you to use.

Here’s another tip: Try mimicking your favorite character for a specific NPC. Perhaps the innkeep sounds like Jack Sparrow. Maybe the elf queen speaks similar to Queen Elizabeth II from the Crown. I tend to base barbarians on Minsc from Baldur’s Gate. This can quickly kickstart your mind to talk like a specific character, a thought that will eventually evolve into a specific personality and character for your campaign.

After doing this for awhile, you’ll have voices in your head begging you to resurface during D&D. Apologies, friends.

Staying in Character


Once you’ve given a character a voice, staying in character is far easier. In a way, it separates your mind from the mind of the character. And if you use a voice, you’ll develop a specific character’s personality quicker than using your regular voice. This goes for both players and dungeon masters, of course.

If you have a short memory, I’d recommend noting what each character sounds like next to their description. Two simple words will do, like raspy voice, Southern accent, or snakey voice. Or, if you want to be thorough, write a sentence out that describes exactly how they speak. Accompanying this sentence should be a memorable quote from this character that can immediately get you in character. For example:
  • The Woodsmaster: Fallen celestial with a stoic, deep voice. He makes broad, dramatic statements to get his point across. “The sheer might of Yeenoghu's claws shall crush this world and all worlds the Gnoll Father comes across. Face me. Face it. Face the beast.”
For other characters, I include a few notes about their speech patterns with no quotes, especially if I already understand how to portray the character. Here’s a sampling of characters I have distinct voices for:
  1. The Whisperer: Sly yuan-ti master of secrets. I heighten my pitch for his voice and speak like a snake, emphasizing my S’s and speaking with a slight lisp.
  2. Glo GlothanderfellImixson: Proud fire genasi sorcerer. For his voice, I simply speak in a nasally tone with an arrogant speech pattern.
  3. Lara Helvien: Powerful human merchant from the coast. For her, I heighten my pitch and dramatically speak in short sentences, as if every word carried the weight of a thousand.
  4. Meeko Azura: Respectful kobold monk. For him, my only PC right now, I speak in long, serpentine sentences, with a slight rasp to my voice. If we play for five hours, my throat ends up hurting a bit, but the sacrifice is worth the pleasure of playing Meeko!
Here’s the rundown: Create a character, give them a voice, develop a personality, and be sure to take notes! There’s nothing worse than using the incorrect voice for a character and being corrected by a player. If that does happen, brush it off; everyone makes mistakes.

In Summary


Giving each and every nonplayer character in your D&D campaign is one of the most impactful things you can do as a DM. Players, giving your characters a voice will help as well! Remember:
  1. Don’t be scared to sound silly, weird, or stupid when doing a voice during D&D. Giving a character a voice helps you get into character and develop an interesting personality for that character. Altering your voice isn’t too difficult; everyone can do it!
  2. Staying in character is easier than you might think, and it’s made even simpler while using a unique voice. Be sure to make notes on a character’s voice if necessary; you don’t want to lose it in the depths of your head.
Next week, we’re returning to Musing Over Monsters for a deadly deep sea horror. Prepare for the abominations of the ocean to be unleashed!

Until next time, fare thee well!

Eager for more RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to the RJD20 newsletter, and explore RJD20 videos on YouTube.

Check out Villain Backgrounds Volume I, a supplement that crafts compelling villains.

Please send inquiries to rjd20writes@gmail.com.

18 July 2018

Acute Adventures: The Horror of Kwaka


Greetings and salutations, dungeon masters and dungeoneers. This week, I'd like to introduce you all to a short project on RJD20.com: A short series of adventures. Today's adventure uses vegepygmies, the monster discussed in this week's Musing Over Monsters article. Without further ado, onto my first Acute Adventure: The Horror of Kwaka. Let's roll.

The Horror of Kwaka


A tiny village nestled in the dense jungle of Iwanagig is locked in a state of horror as an already frightening monstrosity haunts them, returned to life with blight and brawn. This is a short adventure for player characters of levels 1-3 using the fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons rule set.

If you would prefer reading in .pdf format, here's a link to the .pdf.

NPCs

  1. Molizuma: A dark-skinned human female with sharp bone earrings who leads the village of Kwaka. She will drive communication with any beings passing through Kwaka.
  2. Tlatonk: An ebony-skinned human male with vicious teeth marks and scars across his face and exposed chest. He is willing to help the party track the horror.
  3. The Horror: A massive tyrannosaurus covered in dull, crimson moss that emanates poisonous spores. Its skeletal ribs poke through its scales and its missing multiple teeth. Use a tyrannosaurus stat block with half the hit points for this creature.

Part I: Arriving in Kwaka


The party either hears about the horror plaguing the jungle around Kwaka and travels there, are natives, or happen upon Kwaka by accident. The villagers speak broken common and their own language, but plead with any strong-looking individuals that pass through the village. In Kwaka, the PCs can learn about the surrounding area and the horror. Use the following information as a guide:
  1. A local vegepygmy tribe constantly fights with the village over a source of rich, fresh water.
  2. A great reptilian beast patrols the spring now. The villagers have seen its tracks and fresh kills. Both are infected with a mold that “makes skin peel like bananas.”
  3. If the party can defeat the beast, the village will gift them a treasured, golden idol and their eternal thanks.

Part II: Tracking the Horror


To find the horror in Iwanagig, the party will need to complete four skill checks (examples below). If they fail a check, they face an encounter in the jungle. If all four encounters are found before a successful skill check is made, they happen upon a moldy trail leading to the horror.

Possible Checks

  • Investigation DC 10: Someone finds enormous tracks covered in red mold.
  • Survival DC 11: Someone discovers a freshly killed capybara covered in bloody mold.
  • Nature DC 12: Someone stumbles upon a trail of red mold that leads to a stream.
  • Perception DC 15: Someone sees trees rustling in the distance.

Encounters (d4)

  • 2d4 vegepygmies leap from the jungle foliage, sharpened sticks drawn!
  • 1d4 vegepygmies and 1 thorny set up an ambush for the party, waiting for the best moment to strike.
  • 1d4-1 party members stumble in a 20’ patch of quicksand! Every round, stuck PCs sink 5’. It takes two DC 14 Athletics or Acrobatics checks to escape.
  • The party discovers a lost child from Kwaka. They are starving and infected with russet mold disease.

Part III: Fighting the Horror


The PCs discover the horror near the spring, strangely resting near its bountiful banks. Tending to the creature’s wounds are 3 vegepygmies; 1 thorny stands guard. If any loud sound is made or the horror is attacked, it will awaken and assault the party.
  1. When the combat begins, the spring erupts, revealing itself to be a magical geyser, angered by battle near its waters. Steam sprays everywhere, dealing 1d4 fire damage to anyone within 20’ of the spring who fails a DC 12 Dexterity Saving Throw.
  2. If the horror falls, the vegepygmies attempt to retreat back to their lair.

Aftermath


If the PCs slay the horror, they can follow the vegepygmies’ trail back to their underground lair, a cavern covered in russet mold. Within, a vegepygmy chief rules, treasure taken from intrepid adventurers sits, and a cure to russet mold disease hides, held by the chief. This could be useful if the party encounters the child infected by russet mold disease. Surely the vegepygmy tribe will not be complacent with the defeat of their horror, and will seek revenge upon Kwaka if not taken out first.
___________________
Again, here's the .pdf link to The Horror of Kwaka.

That's it! I hope you enjoyed the brief adventure. I'll be doing this every Wednesday, and who knows, perhaps next week shall continue the Horror of Kwaka...

Until next time, fare thee well!

Eager for more RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to the RJD20 newsletter, and explore RJD20 videos on YouTube.

Check out Villain Backgrounds Volume I, a supplement that crafts compelling villains.

Please send inquiries to rjd20writes@gmail.com.

16 July 2018

Vegepygmies: The Forgotten Fungi

  
It’s Monday night. I’m preparing for this week’s Dungeons and Dragons session located in my homegrown world of Aelonis. This particular campaign is based on Wizard of the Coast’s menacing adventure module, Tomb of Annihilation, and the PCs are currently on their way to my world’s equivalent to Port Nyanzaru, the great emerald city of Syroli. Sadly, their elemental airship was sabotaged by a sinister dragonborn and the party crash-landed on a tiny islet off the coast of the mainland named Zaza Isle. The politics and people on the island are inconsequential to the rest of the world, but vital to the party. A grung tribe lead by a zealotus queen is locked in constant combat with a tribe of vegepygmies, all while an insane, immortal, and trapped elf druid observes from an overgrown tower - and the grung hold the party’s airship crew captive. Luckily for the crew, the party is ready to assault the grung village for a second time, seeking to save the few crew members that survived the airship crash. However, they don’t know that the vegepygmy tribe is also poised to strike at the same time as the party; it’s time to prep this massive battle. In one corner are grung, tiny, humanoid frogs that the party has fought multiple times already. In another, the party and their slaad companion. In the third, the elements and wilderness of the jungle. In the fourth and final corner are vegepygmies, criminally underutilized plant people - I need to spice them up and let my players know vegepygmies are awesome and difficult to deal with. I search and search, but the only true , up-to-date resource on moldfolk I find is Volo's Guide to Monsters. I knew I needed to change that.
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Vegepygmies are the forgotten fungi. While myconids, the creature we discussed in last week’s Musing Over Monsters, are underused, vegepygmies are completely forgotten.

This week, we're discussing the history, lore, and many uses of these moldfolk. It's time to muse over this monster.

Let's roll.

Vegepygmies: Edition History


Like myconids, vegepygmies made their debut in a splendid 1E Dungeons and Dragons adventure. Amidst alien technology and man-eating plants, vegepygmies elbowed their way into D&D via S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks by Gary Gygax. After that, however, vegepygmies disappeared from the spotlight for many years. They appeared in the 2E Monstrous Manual as mold men, with vegepygmies or moldies being their derogatory name. They continued to appear in all of D&D’s various editions and even play a prominent role in Pathfinder. In 5E, they first appeared in Volo’s Guide to Monsters, an incredible book, proudly named vegepygmies. 5E built on their lore a bit, cemented their awesome russet mold mechanics, and created a mechanically satisfying creature. Moldfolk are formidable foes for a low level party, thanks to their inherent regeneration, association to russet mold, and possibility to tame thornies (vegepygmy animals). We’ll talk more about their mechanical uses later; onward, to vegepygmy lore!

Vegepygmies: A Brief Lore Lesson


As aptly nicknamed moldfolk, vegepygmies are walking and breathing embodiments of mold, specifically russet mold. They’re unable to speak; instead, they communicate by hissing, tapping trees, and stomping their feet. They reproduce when russet mold kills some sort of entity, whether it be a giant or a dwarf. From the mold-infested corpse, a certain amount of vegepygmies arise. If the mold kills an animal like a mammoth, velociraptor, or tiger, it rises as a moldy animal known as a thorny.

The origins of this mold are often argued about, but folks know they are inherently connected to vegepygmies. Some speculate that russet mold - and vegepygmies - appeared in the ruins of a great vessel that crash landed in a mysterious mountain range named the Barrier Peaks. Others posit that the two were first found on the Material Plane after an asteroid barreled into a gloomy jungle. None know if either of these origin stories are true, but most believe the latter tale.

Once vegepygmies appeared on the Material Plane, their culture developed. They live in a tribal society, with the vegepygmy with the most prominent russet mold being the ruler. They adore jungles, forests, and mushroom groves in the world below. Moldfolk enjoy eating meat and blood, but are also able to absorb nutrients from plants and fungi, allowing them to easily survive without a ready supply of food. Oftentimes, they ally themselves with other plant creatures such as myconids and shambling mounds. Their primary enemies are grung and humans. They also enjoy fighting these creatures for their loot; moldfolk are unable to craft more than crude spears, but they will readily pick up the weapons and armor of humans or grung and utilize them to the best of their abilities.

Honestly, vegepygmy lore is concise and interesting. It’s not as in-depth as demons, devils, or even myconids, but it’s incredibly interesting.

Vegepygmy Ideas and Concepts


Alright - we’ve learned all about vegepygmies and their short history across the ages. Now, let’s implement them into our worlds, campaigns, and adventures. Remember, these creatures are formidable low level foes. As Volo’s Guide to Monsters states, they have innate regeneration, multiply via dead organisms, and attack in large forces. Let’s create some cool content with them!

Example NPCs

  1. A vegepygmy covered in blood-red mold who utilizes choking vines as whips. It rules over its tribe with ease, choking out any competitors and enemies with its living vines. The moldie is no longer complacent with its position in the small range of toxic hills it rules in the jungle and seeks more land to conquer and rule. Give the moldfolk chief multiattack, whips with 10 or 15 feet of reach, and the ability to regenerate twice the normal rate of his race.
  2. Created by a mass of vegepygmies, the Malmanous is an enormous creature that shambles throughout the jungle thicket, spreading tufts of russet mold across the region. Locals fear this mindless creature, worried that one day it will wander close to their village, destroy their crops, and kill their people. It must be killed or lured far, far away. Use the stat block of a shambling mound from the 5E Monster Manual, but give it regeneration and make its intelligence a two or three. Perhaps it’s attracted the blood of a certain animal, or the smell of a specific flower.
  3. After a tyrannosaurus accidently consumed a vegepygmy chief, it became infected with russet mold disease and died. Now, the dinosaur roams the jungle as a massive thorny, destroying and infecting all in its path. Two allied tribes have managed to combine forces and tame the tyrannosaurus thorny. Truly, what can halt their war path? Give the tyrannosaurus regeneration and the ability to spread russet mold when it roars. That’s a powerful creature.

Magical Items

  1. A flask filled with russet mold that refills once a week.
  2. A silver scimitar covered in russet mold that has a chance to infect those it cuts with the terrible disease.
  3. A whip made from a living choking vine that must be embedded into your skin to be used; this process pleases the living plant as it slowly drains your blood and has the chance to choke out plenty of others while you wield it.
  4. A mask made from vines and mold that has the chance to infect you with russet mold disease when you wear it, but allows you to shapechange into a vegepygmy once every long rest.

Plot Hooks

  1. Two vegepygmy tribes have infected and tamed a herd of once peaceful and grazing dinosaurs. They’re now thornies - powerful puppets of the vegepygmies - and marching on the nearest village. Can the village be saved?
  2. A vegepygmy tribe stole an ancient totem of a local human village and took it to their underground lair. Reclaiming it seems simple, but it sits at the bottom of a massive cavern of twisting passageways infected with russet mold. How can it be recovered?
  3. An asteroid recently crashed into a nearby jungle, bringing with it a highly-intelligent and evolved variety of vegepygmy. They’re armed with magical weapons blessed with russet mold, enormous, alien creatures covered in it, and are ready to take on the nearby kingdom. How do you stop an alien invasion of smart creatures that spread like zombies?

Campaign Concept

  1. For a campaign surrounding vegepygmies and russet mold, I’d combine all the plot hooks I just provided. Here’s an example concept: Three months ago locals spotted an enormous star fall from the sky and land somewhere hundreds of miles from their small town. They alerted the local guard, who told the monarchs, who consulted their mages and deemed the event unworthy of further investigation due to a conflict with a powerful orc tribe. Now, strange creatures are emerging from the nearby forest, similar to the vegepygmies that lived within it before, but larger and armed with mystical weapons. However, they’re not attacking anyone. Instead, farmers and herders are finding their crops and livestock infected with a strange strand of russet mold. It cannot be destroyed with acid or killed with necrotic fertilizers. The mold is spreading - quickly - and now the monarchs are worried about the rock that landed not too far from their country. They have sent out a call for adventurers to delve into the jungle and learn about these new vegepygmies or find a way to kill the rapidly spreading mold.

In Summary


Vegepygmies are the forgotten plant creatures of Dungeons and Dragons, but they’re incredibly interesting monsters. Remember:
  1. They first appeared in Expedition to the Barrier Peaks and were rarely touched on or updated after that.
  2. Vegepygmies are physical, living and breathing embodiments of russet mold. They can regenerate and emerge from corpses of those affected by russet mold.
  3. Building foul NPCs, jungle romps, and low-level campaigns is easy using vegepygmies. Be careful, though, for these monsters are incredibly powerful.
Next week, we’re returning to Legendary Lessons. The title? Voices in My Head. I’ll keep it cryptic. If you’re a Dungeon Master, Player, or simple reader, you’ll adore it, I assure you.

Until next time, fare thee well!

Eager for more RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to the RJD20 newsletter, and explore RJD20 videos on YouTube.

Check out Villain Backgrounds Volume I, a supplement that crafts compelling villains.

Please send inquiries to rjd20writes@gmail.com.

09 July 2018

Myconids: The Mystical Mushrooms



 It’s Wednesday night. I’ve finally arrived home from a long day at school, performing complex calculations such as addition, subtraction, and multiplication. My mind is boggled, my brain exhausted, and my fingers ache with mathematical frustration. Yet, as I boot up Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark and hear the familiar main menu music, all the confusion and pain fades. It’s time for eight year old me to relax. I load into my favorite world, a place of myriad magic items and god-like characters: Lost Souls. The last time I logged on I was wandering through a mystical forest rife with mushroom-folk and vegepygmies. They were strong-willed and possessed magics unknown to me. The creatures utilized their spores to bring my character to a deep sleep, rattle their mind, and utterly annihilate me. This time, though, I knew they would be conquered; I’d prepared for their psionic barrages, their use of fungi-juju, and the endless swarms of them that were assuredly ready to wail on my character. ‘Twas time to eliminate the fungi, abscond with their treasure, and conquer the forest once and for all...
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I’ve never encountered or used myconids or vegepygmies in tabletop Dungeons and Dragons. Thus, when it came time to write this article, I perused my mind for any memory of these foul creatures, and a single capsule from my early childhood popped up. Over the past few weeks, I’ve learned that this is a crime.

Myconids and vegepygmies are incredibly interesting creatures with tons of potential oozing from their very beings, waiting to be scooped up and used. In this and next week’s editions of Musing Over Monsters, we’ll be going over both of these monsters, learning about their history and how to use them in your D&D campaigns and adventures.

Today, we’ll begin with the close-knitted and awesome mushroom people: Myconids.

Let’s roll!

Myconids: Edition History


Myconids first appeared not in a Monster Manual or Bestiary, but an adventure in 1E D&D. They were antagonists in A4: In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords, and even appeared on the adventure’s cover fighting a group of intrepid adventurers! The myconids were one of the many enemies in the volcanic tunnel system the adventure took place in, and were quite different than the creatures they are today. After their appearance in this finale to the great series of Slave Lords adventures, they were printed in the Monster Manual II.

Myconids were also found in 2E D&D, albeit sparingly, as fungus men in the Monstrous Compendium Volume Two and the Monstrous Manual.


D&D 3E and 3.5E greatly expanded upon myconids. The name ‘myconid’ became their official name in these editions (as opposed to fungus man) and many new varieties of myconid were created in a lovely issue of Dragon Magazine, such as the myconid worker, guard, circle leader, and king. Subsequently, they made the 3E Monster Manual II and appeared in an adventure that took parties to Halaster’s terrifying dungeon, Undermountain.

4E D&D added a few new types of myconid in the Monster Manual 2, including the myconid rotpriest and sovereign. Besides that Monster Manual, myconids also appear in the Underdark supplement for 4E, introducing a swarm version of the standing mushrooms.

Finally, we arrive at D&D 5E, in which myconids appear in the primary Monster Manual for the first time in D&D’s history. Their lore is expanded upon, their art is updated, the book details their use of spores to resurrect creatures, and even provides an example stat block for one such raised monster. In addition to the Monster Manual, they are also found in the chaotic module Out of the Abyss, where they play an interesting role.

From what I’ve read across all of these books, myconid lore, art, and mechanics in D&D 5E are my preferred version. They’ve definitely evolved from the basic fungus man of 1E D&D - for the better. However, mixing and matching myconid abilities and lore from all of the editions works fantastically! That’s my recommendation: Blend it all together.

Now, let’s quickly boil these mushrooms and delve into them as a monster in D&D.

Myconids: Brief Lore Lesson


Myconids are humanoid mushrooms that reside in the depths of the Underdark, caring for groves of enormous mushrooms and cultivating fungi both magical and mundane. They vary in size, from tiny toadstools to mighty mushrooms that rival trees of the overworld. Their coloring can be dull and brown, vibrant and purple, yellow and rotten, or a mix of many. Their shapes are malleable - think of the ents from the Lord of the Rings films - no two myconids are the same, so go wild with your descriptions and representations of these walking toadstools.

Myconids are inherently good, lawful creatures, living in tight-knit societies called circles in which the largest myconid, called a sovereign, rules. They deplore violence, often share their territory with outsiders, and seek to ascend using their spores and group communion. Circles commonly conduct spore rituals that bless myconids with visions of the past, present, and future that may or may not be true. They use these to avoid confrontations, safeguard their territory, and lead the circle forward. In the same vein, they use their spores to communicate with each other as a group, sort of like a mindflayer colony does with an elder brain. However, myconids can bless (or curse) other beings with these spores - temporarily - to communicate with them.

Their basic lore leaves the mind with a lot to work with. Perhaps the party is seeking out a myconid rotpriest who’s known to help intrepid adventurers witness their future. Maybe a giant myconid sovereign has gone insane from an overload of spores and is rampaging through a svirfneblin outpost. What if a circle of myconids decides peace and unity is not the way to live, and decides to conquer their portion of the Underdark? Where did myconids originate from?

Ponder over these plots and questions, answer them if you wish, and then read below for more ideas on myconids!

Myconid Ideas and Concepts


Now that we’ve learned all about the myconids and their history in D&D, we’ve arrived at the interesting part. How can we turn these shrooms into compelling parts of our D&D campaign?

Example NPCs

  1. Shizake knew she was destined to leave her circle. From a young age, she’d always experience visions of the Overworld during group communion. While others witnessed new ways to utilize their spores, threats around their cavern, and other mysteries of the Underdark, she’d see twinkling stars of autumn twilight, trees larger than any mushroom, and animals unlike anything she’d ever seen. Her circle’s elder explained what all of these omens meant, and tried to teach her as much about the Overworld as he could before she left. Mere months ago, Shizake left her circle and emerged from the Underdark. She’s roamed the countryside around the Underdark exit, seeking guidance, friends, and a way to speak without using her spores. She is an extremely learned myconid and would be able to help anyone navigate and learn about the Underdark in exchange for help in the Overworld.
  2. Over decades without count, hundreds of folks have visited the wise and seemingly immortal myconid rotpriest, Agaricuu. Thought to be blessed by the goddess of nature and smiled upon by the god of death, Agaricuu has lived in the Underdark for many years, tending to a prominent grove of glowing, giant mushrooms, leading a plethora of myconid circles, and assisting those from the world above and below who he deems worthy. Agaricuu is able to use spores from his own violet-emerald body and commune with other beings, giving them visions of the future. He accepts most into his grove, allowing them to witness what is to come, but has a single condition: If Agaricuu sees violence to innocent or good creatures in a visitor’s future, he’ll execute them on the spot. Visitors come to the rotpriest at their own risk.
  3. Boletus is a massive myconid sovereign who’s been corrupted by a demon let loose on the world. His spores spread rapidly and cause extremely toxic fungi to grow on all surfaces, his attacks are brutal, and a foul aura follows him everywhere he travels, causing foes to become paralyzed when near his being. His circle follows him at his behest, practically controlled by him and the demon who’s corrupted him.

Plot Hooks

  1. A circle of myconids have taken up the slaughtering of any and all wayward creatures that wander near their mushroom grove in the Underdark. Once slain, the myconids raise the dead monsters using their mystical spores, turning them into relentless and perfect servants. The local lord’s son traveled too close with his adventuring group and was taken by the myconids. The lord fears the worst, and wishes for you to investigate. Wise folk have advised the party that myconids are usually peaceful and well-meaning, so something is amiss with this circle.
  2. Myconids are showing up at a nearby village and attempting to communicate with the locals. They are fleeing a terrible entity from the Underdark and trying to warn the unwelcoming and hostile villagers of the danger.
  3. A powerful myconid sovereign holds an ancient artifact that is key to stopping an extraplanar invasion.

Campaign Ideas

  1. Recently, portals to the Feywild have been sprouting up around the country of Talisia. Nearby the portals, fantastical mushrooms and molds grow, pulsating flamboyant colors and calling out to passersby in strange tongues. A well-known local wizard and mycologist took a sample of the fungi and studied it. The organism was magical, called out in Fey, and plead for help from the Drowning Duchess. The wizard now seeks out a party to answer this call and delve into the Feywild to discover who exactly needs assistance. However, as DMs, we know the basic story: A hyper-intelligent circle of myconids who live on the Feywild - perhaps the first myconids - are under assault by an incredibly powerful hag, the Drowning Duchess. This campaign can span from first level, when the PCs first find entry into the Feywild from one of these portals and encounter the myconids to ninth or tenth level, when the PCs face-off against the Drowned Duchess in her watery and mystical swamp paradise in the Feywild.
  2. A party of adventurers must navigate a massive jungle of mushrooms in the Underdark, facing off against and allying with myconids, all while combating and conversing with other denizens of the Underdark. Somewhere within is an underground spring that can prevent mortals from aging.
  3. Drow arcanists have magically-engineered a tiny myconid toadstool to contain a poison capable of wiping out huge portions of the overworld. If the myconid is killed, it’s released. Luckily, wood elf agents were able to steal the myconid before the drow triggered the weapon, and now it’s up to the party - at all costs - to protect the myconid of mass destruction.

In Summary


Myconids are rarely used in tabletop D&D. However, my recently remembered memories of them in games such as Neverwinter Nights has reinvigorated my love for them. I ask you all: Do as I will soon do and use these monsters in your campaigns and adventures! Remember:
  1. Myconids have evolved over the editions, from lowly fungus men of 1E to the complex and interesting myconids of 5E. However, you can gain inspiration from all of these sources!
  2. The nature of these creatures is simple but fascinating: They are peaceful, walking mushrooms with the ability to commune as a group and bless others with potentially real visions.
  3. These monsters can be utilized in a plethora of ways. They can be colorful NPC allies and enemies, they can be the basis of an adventure or a brief plot, or they can be the foundation for a great, unconventional campaign.
Next week we’re discussing vegepygmies! These creatures are used even less in D&D; do not worry, I’ll spice them up and give you plenty of vegepygmy ideas - in a week’s time.

Until then, fare thee well!

Eager for more RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to the RJD20 newsletter, and explore RJD20 videos on YouTube.

Check out Villain Backgrounds Volume I, a supplement that crafts compelling villains.

Please send inquiries to rjd20writes@gmail.com.

03 July 2018

Reality Versus Fiction in D&D




It’s Friday night. Two new players are being introduced into Altarin campaign, a rowdy romp through a slew of sea-stranded islands and pirate parties. The group has been on a quest to find pieces of an ancient, powerful gauntlet capable of destroying a lich’s phylactery and controlling legions of undead. Their mission has brought them to the sea, to the Foredoomed Spire, a sunken tower built by a cabal of storm giant wizards; within waits a missing piece of the gauntlet. However, the tower rests on the ocean floor, miles below the surface. The party hatches a plan to use their newly-acquired sea elf companions and their underwater-capable vessel to barrel to the bottom of the ocean and then enter the giant’s tower. They begin their descent, water racing past them, tropical creatures rushing around them, when a player pipes up, “Shouldn’t the water pressure be killing us? What’s going on here?” My description stopped, my face swelled, and my mind was stumped. He’s right, I thought. But is he?
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Dungeons and Dragons is a fantasy roleplaying game. Players portray humans that can cast powerful spells, elves that succeed in gravity-defying combat maneuvers, dwarves of incredible resilience to magical poison and gallons of ale, and dragonborn who are literally two-legged miniature dragons. Dungeon Masters control the rest of the world, running creatures such as liches of untold power, clumsy hill giants, and even swarms of bats, describing the fantastical environment, how it changes, and weaving all the rest that a fantasy world entails.

However, everything I just described, as silly as it sounds, is grounded in reality. Without some dose of reality in our D&D games, our immersion goes down the drain. When we describe environments, we try to make them seem real; the same goes for monsters, NPCs, and magical items.

Regardless, before we play D&D, everyone needs to understand that although much of the game is based on describing things as real, a lot of D&D relies on suspending disbelief and understanding that we’re all playing in a realm of fantasy (most of the time).

This week, we’re discussing where to draw the line between fiction and reality, and when to simply let the fantastical fly!

Let’s roll.

Drawing a Line Between Our World and Fantasy World


As a general rule, everyone who plays D&D must comprehend that most of the time, the rules of the real world are in play. When an object is thrown, it tumbles to the ground due to gravity. When a sword slices through a human’s arm, the arm bleeds. When the sun is in the sky, it’s daytime; when the sun has faded, it’s nighttime. All of these are fundamental truths both in D&D and the real world, and they’re in use and valid most of the time while playing the RPG.

Of course, since most D&D campaigns and adventures take place in a world of fantasy, these truths can be subverted or completely erased.
  1. The laws of gravity might be utterly changed if the Player Characters teleport to another plane of existence, such as Limbo, completely altering how the game is played.
  2. As a fantastic fighter slices through his opponent’s arm, no blood pours from the wound; instead, it instantly regenerates, hinting at a supernatural ability of the creature.
  3. A worldwide curse might be causing the sun to never leave the sky or denying its return unless a specific wall is broken, absolutely changing everything around the world.
However, if any of these subversions DO occur, it is the Dungeon Master’s job to alert the players of this change. The DM must draw a line between reality and fantasy; they must make clear which fundamental laws and truths of Earth are also true in Fantasy World. If you don’t make it clear to your players that gravity is gone or the enemy they’re fighting is regenerating after every cut of their longsword, they’ll become frustrated.

Thus, my main piece of advice for this is as follows: If you’re altering a fundamental truth of the real world, make it clear to the players. You don’t need to explain how the body system of the troll works, but you do need to say that it’s healing. You don’t need to say the world is cursed, but you do need to state that the sun isn’t rising in the east.

Pay attention to details and alert your players of deviations, especially if they are subverted real-world facts.

The Rule of Cool (Reality Version)


This next topic is relatively separate from the topic discussed above, but it still concerns reality in D&D. I’m a prominent proponent of the aptly named ‘rule of cool’ which usually means that if something is awesome, epic, or cool, the group should bend the rules to allow it to happen. The same thought process, in my eyes, should be upheld when something interesting or cool is sizing up against what is realistic. 


Of course, don’t always let what the players attempt to succeed - use a gauge. Don’t let folks leap across a two-hundred-foot chasm or jump into a pool of lava and survive; to complete those actions, they’ll need to utilize fantasy means, and if they do, they should succeed in them, even if it’s a tad crazy.

In the end, it's your table and your call. If you want to allow folks to survive a tumble into a pool of bubbling lava at the feet of the efreeti endboss of your campaign, go ahead.

As I learned long ago, fun trumps story trumps rules - and rules trump reality.

As you can see, fun (cool) beats out everything. However, that's my table, and yours might be different. I wasn't concerned with the water pressure of the ocean floor in the story above, I was concerned with how awesome the moment should be. Yet, I should have read my players in the moment - I should have read my table - and changed my presentation of the moment.

Perhaps the main lesson here is to pay attention to your players and see how they're reacting. If they are in love with the rule of cool (reality and rules), use it. If not, pass it by.

In Summary


D&D, while a fantasy roleplaying game, has roots in reality. As players of the game, we must root what happens during adventures in reality - sometimes - to keep the campaign relatable. Remember:
  1. Drawing a line between reality and fantasy in your campaign and sticking to it may work for most groups.
  2. If keeping the adventure grounded in reality is draining the fun from the game or getting in the way of too many awesome moments, ease up. Fun trumps story trumps rules which trumps reality!
Next week, we’re continuing Musing Over Monsters with two incredibly interesting creatures: Myconids and vegepygmies! These two plant-based monsters are the perfect villains or allies for any D&D campaign, and I’m ecstatic to share all I have to offer about the duo.

Apologies for the late article, folks. I got married on Saturday to the most wonderful woman in the world. More on that later; I think I have content for an article from the amazing ceremony and reception, during which, many references to fantasy and D&D were included.

Until next time, folks, farewell!

Eager for more RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to the RJD20 newsletter, and explore RJD20 videos on YouTube.

Check out Villain Backgrounds Volume I, a supplement that crafts compelling villains.

Please send inquiries to rjd20writes@gmail.com.

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