A setting-neutral holiday one-shot for four 4th-level characters. Yippee-ki-yay, motherflumphers.
It is the night of the midwinter feast, and the party has been invited to the tower of archwizard Takagi for his annual celebrations.
At dusk, a long, black stagecoach pulls up outside, drawn by four black horses. A stout halfling with dark, curly hair is sitting in the driving box at the front. ‘Argyle,’ he says, introducing himself. ‘I’m your coachman. You’re gonna have to help me. This is my first time driving a coach . . .’ He seems to have forgotten that he is meant to open the door for them.
Argyle is a little nervous: it is indeed his first day driving a coach, not that he’s bad at it. He is also chatty (bordering on nosey) and asks lots of questions about the adventurers and the party that they are going to. He knows lots of songs and poems for the midwinter festival, and he enjoys singing loudly while he’s driving the stagecoach. Beyond that, he wants the adventurers to sit back and relax. Encounter idea: seven gremlins (use goblin stats) and one king gremlin (goblin boss)try to stop the coach.
The archwizard’s tower comes into view in the dying light: an impressive structure of salmon-pink stone and gleaming grey crystal, nearly 500 feet tall. Night has fallen by the time Argyle has drawn up the coach. ‘You go upstairs to the party,’ he says. ‘I’ll wait in the coach house till the end of the evening.’ He forgets, again, that he’s meant to open the door for them.
The archwizard’s tower
The entrance hall is beautiful yet sterile. It is also deserted, except for a guard sitting behind a massive front desk. A large teddy bear sits on the chair next to him. The guard checks the characters’ tickets and looks up their names in a guest list. If asked about the teddy bear, he jokes that it didn’t have a guest ticket. (The bear is actually a gift for his girlfriend.)
Weapons are not allowed in the tower. Characters who wish to conceal a weapon with the ‘light’ property can attempt to do so with a DC 15 Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) check. The DC for any other weapon is at least 30. Armour (with the exception of padded armour) is also not allowed, and neither are shields.
When the party is ready, the guard will lead them to a magical platform that acts as an extremely fast elevator. The celebrations are being held on the 30th floor.
The Midwinter Feast
Wizards of the Coast
The 30th floor is dense with people. Waiters carry trays of wine and fruit punch from guest to guest. A tall fir tree stands at the centre of the room, decorated with ribbons, silver tinsel, candy d20s, and magic lights. Some of the guests throw streamers over the characters. Some of the guests dance. Others try to kiss the adventurers. Through the crystal panes of the tower walls, the party can see the lamplit city far beneath them.
Here’s an opportunity for the players to roleplay some social encounters:
Holly (half-elf noble) is a successful ex-adventurer and mother of two.
Ellis (dwarf noble) a stylish, successful, and rather sleazy merchant who can’t stop sniffing for some reason.
Takagi, a kind-hearted, well educated mage and the host for the evening.
Bruce (human veteran), a tough off-duty watchman annd Holly’s ex-husband.
At some point, one of Takagi’s servants comes to find the adventurers. Argyle is trying to call them on one of Takagi’s sending stones upstairs, but when the party get there, Argyle is singing to himself again and doesn’t pick up.
Wizards of the Coast
At this point, the tower is seized by Gruber the Bard and his gang of heavily armed mercenaries! The adventurers can hear the sound of lightning bolts and melee combat from downstairs. The party guests are herded in the centre of the chamber and the tables are pulled back. Many people are whimpering.
The leader of the mercenaries is a tiefling dressed in a colourful entertainer’s outfit. He is impeccably dressed, lean and handsome, and walks to the front of the crowd like he owns the place. He puts away his wand of lightning bolt and unfurls a vellum scroll.
‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ he begins, soothingly, ‘due to this kingdom’s legacy of greed, it is about to be taught a lesson in real power. You . . . will be witnesses. If our demands are not met, however, you may become participants instead.’ He gives a sad smile and checks his notes. ‘Now, where is . . . “Takagi”? Where is the archwizard who . . . used to be in charge here?’
The archwizard is shoved forward. He is worried, but far from cowed. Gruber steps towards him and extends a hand. ‘Archwizard Takagi,’ he says. ‘How do you do? I am Gruber the Bard. Nice robes, by the way. I have some like that myself.’
Takagi turns to the crowd and seeks out the adventurers. ‘Get to safety,’ he cries, ‘and seek help!’ With that, he casts teleport from a scroll, and the adventuring party disappears . . .
To be continued!
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Now that it’s December, it’s time to start thinking about the Midwinter Feast! This post is a list of present ideas for all the D&D players in our lives. Enjoy.
Before we start, though, a disclaimer: there are no affiliate links here, nor am I being paid in any way to endorse these products. Also, where possible, please support your Friendly Local Game Store. 2020 has been a horrendous year for the high street, and we don’t need to add any more gold pieces to the hoard of Archduke Beeelzebezos. If you’re in the UK, may I put in a good word for the wonderful Thirsty Meeples? They are brilliant people, and when I lived in Oxford I went to their board game café as often as I could. Now is the time to support folks like them.
I considered sorting this list into price categories but couldn’t decide on dollars or pounds. As such, the gifts generally get more expensive as you go down the list, but there may be exceptions!
Dice and related accessories
Top of the list! Everyone loves dice. Even if you’re playing online due to the pandemic, it’s nice to have something to interact with which isn’t on a screen. There’s a huge range of colours and materials available, so you should be able to get something a bit special without breaking the bank. Etsy is a great place to go.
For those who have stumbled upon this blog and don’t know what they’re looking for, the classic dice set consists of seven dice: a d20, a d12, two d10s (one with 10, 20, 30, etc, for percentages), a d8, a d6, and a d4. I’m increasingly seeing sets with two d20s, as 5th edition often asks players to roll two at the same time, and some streamers might want to have an oversized d20 that can be seen better on camera. Other players might want to have a bunch of extra d6s – for sneak attacks, fireballs, or rolling ability scores – or a few extra d8s (for divine smite). There are even some cute little ‘healing potion’ kits that come with all the d4s you need to treat your wounds! (Just don’t step on them: d4s hurt.)
As well as the dice themselves, consider dice trays and towers (for rolling dice) and dice pouches or boxes (for storing them). There are some fun options here like dice pouches shaped like mimics and owlbears, but also some seriously classy products made by companies like Wyrmwood Gaming. Shop around.
Wizards of the Coast like to push The Merch™ (D&D T-shirts, D&D hoodies, D&D socks, D&D beanies), but I personally think a lot of D&D players would get more enjoyment out of a humble notebook.
We all have our preferences. Some like hardcover, some like leather; some prefer wide lines, some prefer narrow; some want little jotters, some want big A4 pads. If you’re buying for a DM who uses their notebook for mapping, you might want to look for a notebook with squares, dots, isometric grids, or even hexes. Here, again, Etsy is a great place to shop around. I’m also a big fan of the notebooks from Leuchtturm1917 and Clairefontaine.
Then there’s other stationery! A campaign binder, a calligraphy set or a nice fountain pen, some parchment paper, bespoke character sheets, an attractive storage box . . . it might seem prosaic, but many DMs would love this stuff, especially if they are creative. For map-makers, check out Dyson’s article on the drawing of maps. A set of supermarket biros is a crap present, but a set of fineliners with nice isometric paper is thoughtful and will be appreciated.
For many of us, 2020 has not been a good year for in-person D&D games. Does that mean we don’t love minis any more? Er, NO!
Whether you’re looking for monsters or player characters, I highly recommend the WizKids unpainted range. They are reasonably priced, come pre-primed (a huge time-saver), and the selection on offer is impressive, as you can see here: https://wizkids.com/upm They also offer a range of pre-painted minis, but I don’t think the quality is as good for the price. Other good minis for D&D include Reaper and Gale Force Nine, but my go-to is WizKids.
Then there’s custom minis.HeroForge is unquestionably the market leader. They’re very special (and if you’re ordering outside the US, be aware that import taxes can make them a bit expensive), and the quality is outstanding. The ever growing range of options available is just amazing. They have recently launched full-colour minis (currently only on offer to Kickstarter backers), and you even have the option of downloading your models for use on Tabletop Simulator. Be prepared to spend ours tinkering with your designs. I recommend the premium plastic material.
If you’re looking to get started with mini-painting, then I recommend the following: four brushes (a large brush, a drybrush, a size-zero detail brush, and a size-two Winsor and Newton Series 7 brush for everything else), some brush cleaner and preserver, some spray-on primer (if your minis aren’t pre-primed), and a selection of Vallejo game colour paints. I am a huge fan of RealmSmith’s mini-painting tutorials, and his white dragon one is an excellent place to start. Everything else is either cheap or you have it already: a good lamp, an old mug for water, some paper towels, and an old T-shirt to protect your desk. Larger minis like dragons might seem intimidating, but I personally find them much more fun to paint.
Now we start getting into some of the really nerdy stuff.
It might seem a bit basic, but a dry-erase flipmat is an absolute godsend for people playing at the table. (Seriously, Sly Flourish has a whole article on this.) There are various options available, but try to make sure it’s something that lies flat. Bonus points if you get something with a hex-grid on the reverse. If youre in the UK, Blackwell’s is currently selling the Pathfinder flipmat for £6.62 with free delivery.
Another very useful product is condition rings. These are plastic rings in different colours which you can throw over miniatures to show that a character is stunned, poisoned, unconscious, or what have you. Totally unnecessary, perhaps, but fun. Etsy is your best bit for these (eg, these ones pictured above).
Then there are combat risers. (Combat what now? I had been playing D&D for nearly two decades before I first encountered these online.) If you’re more into ‘theatre of the mind’ combat, you may want to give these a pass, but if you like to be quite particular about movement on a five-foot grid, and you run a lot of aerial combat, then these are for you!
Finally, if you want to splash out, you might want to look at terrain and terrain tiles.Dwarven Forge is king here, and it is beautiful stuff, but import fees can make it prohibitive if you’re in the UK. WarLock tiles are new and popular, and if you’re in the UK, you might want to check out some independent terrain-makers like DMB Games.
Introductions to D&D
OK, this list is meant to be for people who are already playing D&D, but I couldn’t put together a list of D&D gifts without the D&D Starter Set. Launched back in 2014, this box has everything you need to start playing, including dice, character sheets, a rulebook, and what is still widely regarded as one of the best official adventures in 5th edition so far: Lost Mine of Phandelver. Last year’s update, the D&D Essentials Kit, is also very good, but I have to say, the adventure (Dragon of Icespire Peak) is a little disappointing by comparison. If you can choose one or the other, go with the Starter Set.
D&D rulebooks and supplements
Buying actual books can be tricky, for two reasons. Firstly, you don’t know what books they have already. Secondly, you don’t know whether they want the book on D&D Beyond, as a physical hard copy, or on some other platform like Fantasy Grounds or Roll20.
If you are going to buy a book, my advice would be Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, Volo’s Guide to Monsters, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, or Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. These are the books that actually ‘expand the game’ in some way. Tasha’s is the newest and the one that your D&D-playing friend is least likely to own already. Many of these books have alternative covers which some players like to collect.
Then there are adventures. This is even trickier territory. For what it’s worth, my hot pick would be Tomb of Annihilation, Curse of Strahd, Ghosts of Saltmarsh, or Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. These adventures are quite different from each other, though, and they might not be every group’s cup of tea. Rime of the Frostmaiden was only released a few months ago, and I haven’t had the chance to read through or play it yet.
For really special editions, check out Beadle & Grimm’s store here.
Sacrilige! Except, of course, not really. It’s well worth dipping your toe into other systems, and you may even find that you prefer them to D&D! Buying books from other systems can also be a safer bet than buying D&D adventures or supplements.
This is outside my realm of expertise, but for many players in 2020, playing D&D means playing online, so good-quality devices are vital. Specifically, this might mean a professional-standard microphone (Blue’s Yeti is well regarded, as is the ModMic), good headphones (start with companies like Sennheiser, Audio-Technica, and Beyerdynamic) an external webcam (eg, the Logitech Brio), and, for DMs, perhaps a tripod (eg, this one), as they may wish to point the camera at the game board to show off their minis and terrain. Full disclaimer, though: this stuff is expensive, and I am not an expert, so please research futher!
Another bit of tech to consider: a 3D printer. For people who love minis and want to make their own, this could be a generous and much appreciated gift. The Monoprice Mini v2 gets a lot of thumbs up online.
Possibly the most unique and personalized gift of all, a commission could be a framed drawing of a character or the whole party, a specially printed map (try Etsy), or even – yes – a cake! (And no, it is not a lie).