The Battle for Minatou, Part 1 – Battle encounter table

Allosaurs with riders

#7 – 2 Allosaurus, each with a rider/archer

In the last Dinosaur Island post, I mentioned that the Neanderthal queen, Vrenn Larr, needed a Diplodocobra, but I didn’t say what she needed it for.

As they travel around the archipelago, the party is getting closer to an inevitable showdown with the Big Bad, Zelzennak Soth, who probably has the spellbook that they came to Dinosaur Island to find in the first place. But Soth is not sitting still. He has plans of his own, most of which are just crazy ideas in my head in this point. One of those ideas that made its way out into the campaign was a war of extermination against the Neanderthals on the islands. Partly because that seemed like a reasonable course of action for a megalomaniacal whackjob – a quick decapitating strike at his two weakest neighbors would expand his territory and set him up to steamroll the other sorcerors like dominoes. And partly because I thought a mass battle between dinosaur-riding mages and archers against mammoth-riding Neanderthal spearmen sounded like a kick-ass way to spend a Saturday afternoon. And it was. Now I’m blogging it in pieces, both for my own future self and for anyone else who finds this stuff useful or diverting.

Shunosaurus with riders

#9 – 1 Shunosaurus with mahout and 2 more archers. Also, Aelar the elf rogue (blue mini) hiding in a tree (dice box). Trickster deity looks on in the distance.

I’m using the mass battle rules from Zak Smith’s A Red and Pleasant Land. I didn’t want to reproduce them out of the book because the book is, seriously, probably the most inspired and inspiring roleplaying product I’ve ever seen in my frikkin’ life, and I’d much much MUCH rather that you bought your own copy while they’re still around to be bought. It’s even kid-safe. Fortunately Zak posted the embryonic version of the rules on his blog, here.

Having run two battles with this system today, or rather two halves of one battle separated by some maneuvering, I can tell you that it works like a charm. Especially if you’ve gone ahead and put the stats for the opponents right into the table, which I had. That might seem like an awful lot of work but the creature stats are straight out of my Dinosaur Island monster table and the rider stats are all things I’d already compiled from the NPC list at the end of the 5e Monster Manual. So although the table looks like a lot of work it was really just copying and pasting, and a little moving stuff around to get the encounters in ascending order of XP, which is a close-enough proxy for difficulty.

Here’s the table. PDF here: Dinosaur Island battle encounter table 1 – Soth’s expeditionary force

Battle encounter table 1 - Soth's expeditionary force p1

Battle encounter table 1 - Soth's expeditionary force p2

Battle encounter table 1 - Soth's expeditionary force p3

How did the battle actually go? And how did Zelzennak Soth get a big-ass army over to Minatou, anyway? Stay tuned.

Posted in D&D, Dinosaur Island, dinosaurs, roleplaying, RPG tables, toys | Leave a comment

Star Wars is a time abyss


Andrew Rilstone, who writes more perceptively about Star Wars than just about anyone else alive, is counting down to the release of Episode 7. His most recent post in the series has a passage that really resonated with me:

When Luke handles the-lightsaber-that-was-his-fathers for the first time, we wanted to reach out, through the screen, and grab it, and keep it forever. Not the lightsaber itself. That moment.

It’s a feeling I’ve never had for anything else. I didn’t want to be a Jedi Knight, necessarily; or an X-Wing pilot; or even to be friends with Luke and Han. I just wanted to be there. On the other side of the screen. Inside.

“I just wanted to be there. On the other side of the screen. Inside.” Yes, yes, yes. This is why the RPG has been such a central part of my Star Wars fandom, and why I played X-Wing and TIE Fighter so much in the first two years of college that I threatened my academic future. Those were ways not to just watch Star Wars from the outside, but to go play in the universe.

In one of his old Star Wars essays*, Rilstone said of ANH that there was very little sense that the universe existed when the main players weren’t on screen. I got exactly the opposite reaction: more than any other speculative fiction I’d consumed to that point, the Star Wars movies implied that not only was there a whole universe of interesting things out there, almost all of the best stuff was off-screen: the Senate, the Jedi Knights, the Rebels’ first victory against the Empire that is mentioned in the ANH title crawl but never shown. And everything on screen was old and had a story. The asshole in the bar was wanted on 12 systems, the Y-Wings and AT-ATs had scorch marks from previous battles, and the Rebel base was in the ruins of a previous civilization, for crying out loud.


This is something that Tolkien nailed in LOTR: the sense that the current story was just the latest of many, many stories. Particularly in Fellowship, everywhere the characters go there are ruins and monuments and big chunks of history sticking out of the landscape. I think that’s a big part of why FOTR is my favorite among the movies: when the Fellowship is breaking near the seat of Ammon Hen, there are eroded and half-buried heads sticking out of the ground, in what looks like a mature forest. So this was a center of energy for a civilization that no longer exists, or at least no longer exists here. In his The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, John Clute calls that aesthetic effect a ‘time abyss’. LOTR is full of them. Star Wars, at least the old movies, has a lot for a sci-fi film. Contrast that with Star Trek where everything is new and shiny almost all the time (scenes on Vulcan in ST3 not so much, I guess).

I shared these thoughts with Mike and he responded (in a email with permission to quote):

Well, I can’t believe I never realised that. Of course, it’s what everyone (rightly) praises Tolkien for — but no-one seems to have spotted how amazingly true it is in Star Wars (the original film). It packs about as much off-screen-ness into two hours as it possible could, and that’s a big part of what makes it work. I think it was Lewis who said something like “The bones of the country show through” of LotR. That’s true in Star Wars, too.

Time for you to Echo Station 5-7 this. [Done! – ed.]

BTW, I was completely underwhelmed when I heard that some dude was making films of LotR. I had no desire to see them. Then one time I went to watch a completely different film, and trailer came on of some small boats making their way down-river and coming upon these vast, ancient, crumbling statues. That grabbed my imagination. Then the trailer said it was LotR, and I was in. Such brilliant trailing: instead of all the spectacular things they could have shown us (Barad-dur, the mines of Isengard, the balrog), they showed us the bones of the land.

* That essay is “I’m sure this is fascinating, but what did you think of The Phantom Menace“, which I believe is now only available in Rilstone’s book of his Star Wars-related writing, George and Joe and Jack and Bob (and Me). The specific quote is, “There is very little sense that the universe carries on working when the heroes are off stage.” But then later, in the essay, “Attack of the Cloned Reviews”, Rilstone says of The Dark Crystal, “the existence of all that off-screen data contributed to the illusion of reality which made the film so convincing.” I felt like that about Star Wars movies from the first moment – they were the first science fiction movies (or moving pictures of any kind) I’d seen that didn’t overtly look like movies. They looked more like things that had actually happened, and that was an immense part – for me, probably the key part – of their appeal.

Posted in roleplaying, sequels, Star Wars, Tolkien | 1 Comment

Capturing a Diplodocobra for the Neanderthal queen

Quick synopsis of how we got here: whilst exploring the wilds of Eloria (largest of the eastern chunks of Dinosaur Island, details here), we ran across…(random roll on a table I’ve not posted yet)…a local potentate in exile, Orv Immeral, who promised us treasure if we helped get him back on the throne. Complication: the throne in question belonged to Quisane Von Vokk, one of the ten major sorcerors of Dinosaur Island. We had to sneak into her palace city of Eddarkand through a secret tunnel and some catacombs, straight out of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Fought gricks, giant rats, skeletons, a mummy, a black pudding, and a bunch of palace guards. Learned from a captured guard that Quisane Von Vokk was at the city coliseum for the great games (read: executions of political dissidents). Went to the arena, fought some knights in plate armor and a mind-controlled tyrannosaur that came up into the stands. Flint got bitten again, but we killed this tyrannosaur before it could do too much damage – he lost quite a few hit points but kept all of his (remaining) limbs. Meanwhile Orv Immeral and Quisane Von Vokk had been duking it out with magic. After we aced the tyrannosaur, we ganged up on Von Vokk and helped Immeral defeat her.

Quisane Von Vokk

The late, unlamented Quisane Von Vokk. Any resemblance to Charlize Theron is…pretty unavoidable, actually.

True to his word, Immeral hooked us up with a few minor magical items, and after we were all healed up, we set out for Minatou, realm of Vrenn Larr, queen of the Neanderthals. Fought a pack of 23 Deinonychus, a Megalodon, and Kong-class giant ape en route (but not all at the same time, thankfully). Arrived today, in both game time and real-world time.

After the first T. rex fight we picked up four Neanderthal hirelings. London and I each named two. I went with the classic Ug and Trog, and London christened his Gord and Likk. Oddly enough, in battles London likes to control Gord and Ug and I get Trog and Likk, I suspect mostly because that’s the order I wrote them down in on the back of Wilvias’s charcter sheet. Anyway, we’ve not only kept these guys alive, they’ve accumulated a lot of treasure and enough XP to level up several times. They’ve also gotten to help us do badass stuff like take out tyrannosaurs and giant apes. So we roll into Vrenn Larr’s Neanderthal queendom and Gord and company start talking us up bigtime. This turns out to be a double-edged sword. On the upside, Vrenn Larr is willing to help us with supplies and directions. On the not-so-upside, it’s customary for newly-arrived warriors to prove their mettle, and in exchange for her help, Vrenn Larr wants us to capture a Diplodocobra so she can train it to be her mount in battle.

Diplodocobra fight 1

So off we go, on four mammoths with Neanderthal mahouts and one additional Neanderthal warrior per mammoth (mammoths played in this case by cheap plastic dinosaurs). We find our Diplodocobra down by the ocean, snatching pterosaurs out of the sky and eating them. The plan is to wear down its hit points until it’s weak enough that Wilvias, our halfling rogue, can overcome it with a Sleep spell. (In a nice bit of real world/gameworld synergy, London discovered in the PHB that our rogues could learn spells right at the time that Orv Immeral was there to teach them this power.)

Naturally the Diplodocobra does not sit still for this. We roll to see which way it goes – straight for Gustav’s mammoth. It attacks the mammoth’s riders – roll again – damn, it grabbed the mahout. The mammoth is understandably freaked out. Gustav has a chance to get things under control with an Animal handling skill check, which he completely blows. Will the out-of-control mammoth (1) bolt left, (2) bolt right, or (3) charge the Diplodocobra? The dice say (3). Gustav and the remaining Neanderthal passengers bail out. Trog and the guy from Vrenn Larr’s tribe land just fine, Gustav face-plants and loses some HP.

Diplodocobra fight 2

Gustav gets to his feet and he and Trog get the heck out of the way. The guy from Vrenn Larr’s tribe decides to do a banzai charge with his spear and gets stomped to death. Life choices, dude.

Now the Diplodocobra changes course (again, at the whim of the dice) – it’s headed for the mammoth carrying Vaskin and Likk. The Diplodocobra’s head darts forward – who will be taken this time? Dice say…Likk. Now, Likk is as doughty a caveman as one is likely to find, and we’ve even gotten him to wear chain mail like everyone else who doesn’t want to die. But he’s currently bitten, envenomated, and hanging 40 feet in the air. It’s not looking good.

Diplodocobra fight 3

But the Diplodocobra is down many HP, because everyone else has been peppering it with arrows all this time. And now it’s Wilvias’s turn, so he casts Sleep. Sleep is a curious spell. At least as presented in the 5e PHB, there’s no save or defense against it. The caster picks a point within range (out to 90 feet), and 5d8 HP worth of beings within a 20-foot circle go to sleep, starting with the weakest. Wilvias gets a below average roll on his 5d8, of 18. The first six of those 18 are spent putting Likk to sleep, and the remaining dozen go to the Diplodocobra, which was fortunately down to 9 HP. Nighty-night, you big evil bastard.

Diplodocobra fight 4

So the Diplodocobra topples. Which way? Dice say, right toward Gustav and Trog. Do they pass their Dex saving throws and jump clear? No, they do not. But neither do they die – they just lie there for a while, down many HP and feeling pretty stupid, until the rest of the party come to pull them out.

And Likk? Between the bite and the venom he was down to 6 HP before the Diplodocobra fell. As its head neared the ground, he slipped out of its jaws and fell to earth, earning 2d6 HP of bludgeoning damage. London and I both actually held our breath as I rolled the dice…and got a 1 and a 4. Likk lives!

Now, why does a pacifist like Vrenn Larr need a Diplodocobra to ride around on? Stay tuned – foul deeds are afoot.

Posted in actual play reports, D&D, Dinosaur Island, ERB, roleplaying | 1 Comment

10 Sorcerous Plots

cult priest

Here are some grandiose and mostly evil plans stolen from Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, and loads of other pulp writers and comic book scribes. I haven’t sorted out this list to match plots with specific Dinosaur Island sorcerors – I figure I’ll either roll when the time comes, or pick whichever scheme would (a) make the most sense for that particular sorceror, and (b) give the party the most interesting challenge.

With minor tweaks, all of these would work for magic-wielding megalomaniacs in any setting. Have fun!

Air colossus 2



  1. Build a giant flesh golem/colossus from the bodies of hundreds or thousands of captives.
  2. Summon natural disaster to wipe enemies off the map. Could be related to one of the four elements: earth – earthquake, air – cyclone, water – tsunami, fire – volcano.
  3. Raise a sunken continent. Rumor has it that the dinosaur islands are merely the peaks of mountains from the mostly-submerged Serpentine Continent, which sank in a mysterious catastrophe many millennia ago.
  4. Gather thousands of prisoners to be killed in a titanic necromantic ritual, to open a gateway through space or time. Escape into the past or future, bring forth extradimensional allies, etc.
  5. Wake a titanic sleeping monster, unleash it on enemies and use it as a weapon of conquest. The 5e Tarrasque would be a solid choice, especially for someone with access to mind-control gems.
  6. Create an army of the undead. Maybe need to engineer a big battle first, to supply enough stiffs. Would be awesome if a necromancer deliberately lost a battle just so she’d have a bunch of dead to reanimate – a nasty surprise for the PCs if they were on the side of the first-round victors.
  7. Transfer own mind from ancient rotting carcass to a healthy youth, one of the PCs or a close and valued ally (or a prince or princess, parents hired PCs to get them back).
  8. Put powdered mind-control gems into the local water supply, gain control of an entire region. Subjugated locals are fanatically loyal.
  9. Gather enough mind-control gems to fashion a giant helmet capable of broadcasting the user’s will over an entire realm, continent, or planet, like a mind-control version of Cerebro.
  10. Raise a fleet to invade the mainland. Invasion arks with their hulls packed full of war dinosaurs! This would be just lovely to put into play after the party goes back to the mainland. Oh, guys? Remember the dinosaur-riding sorcerors? They’re baaaaack.

#7 – Michael Whelan’s cover for The Master Mind of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs.



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The sorcerors of Dinosaur Island


Dinosaur Island sorcerors

The Dinosaur Island archipelago is currently ruled by ten sorcerors, not by any plan or mutual agreement, but because that just happens to be the temporarily stable situation at the time the party reaches the isles. Although certain sorcerors may form temporary alliances now and then, there are no large or long-lasting factions.

The sorcerors are all motivated in one way or another by the existence of mind-control gems. Some sorcerors collect these gems and want more, some have none but will do anything to possess them, and a few want only to destroy them. The last group, the resistance, is mostly drawn from the races that have suffered the most under the yoke of sorcerors wielding the gems, as their slaves, gladiators, or unwilling soldiers.

NB: my Picts are Robert E. Howard’s Picts.


Arkan Drovith is an immigrant human from the mainland. He rules the small, dry island of Zaton without mind-control gems. Secretly he covets mind-control gems and wants to engineer the downfall of Zelzennak Soth. Drovith is the estranged husband of Quisane Von Vokk.


Basabar Treen is a sorceror of the lizardfolk who rules the jungles in the south of Eloria. He genuinely opposes the use of mind-control gems, since his people have historically suffered the depredations of the other sorcerors, of whom Quisane Von Vokk is only the most recent.

Quisane Von Vokk is a vain and ruthless human from the mainland. Through deceit and assassination she deposed Orv Immeral, one of the last descendants of the elves who once raised beautiful cities across the islands. She collects mind-control gems and trades far and wide for slaves and beasts to fight in her arenas.


Vrenn Larr, the neanderthal queen, rules the tiny island of Minatou. Like Basabar Treen to the south, she opposes mind-control gems, since so many of her people have suffered at the hands of Quisane Von Vokk and Zelzennak Soth. Mostly she wants to be left alone, and through her magical research she seeks a way to shield her dwindling people from the outside world.


Corva Ettrogar is a queen of the lizardfolk. She rules the jungles of southern Diomedia. Although she says she opposes the use of mind-control gems, she secretly covets them and she would use them without qualm if only she could obtain them. Both of her motivations drive her continual war on Zael Zotrin’s Picts.

Zael Zotrin is the queen of the southern Picts, the most advanced native hominid race on the archipelago. For the most part, hers is a peaceable queendom. That peace is enforced by the mind-control gems used by her beast-mounted cavalry. Zotrin opposes the use of mind-control gems on humanoids, and slavery is not tolerated in her realm.


Malyar Ogroa is the king of the northern Picts. He is the dark mirror of Zelzannak Soth to the north, and he would gladly take Soth’s place if he could gather the strength. Ogroa is a cruel despot, enslaving lizardfolk, neanderthal, and Pict alike with mind-control gems, which he collects. His realm benefits from strong natural defenses to the north, west, and south, and a non-aggressive neighbor to the east.

Veletria Brightwing, an elf druid, rules the lizardfolk of Serangodo’s central jungles in secret. Under her benevolent leadership, the lizardfolk have prospered and turned the heart of the forest into a fortified garden. Despite Brightwing’s good and gentle nature, her woods have earned an evil reputation among the war-bands of Malyar Ogroa and Zelzennak Soth. Naturally, she opposes the use of mind-control gems.

Crog Nur is the leader of the last remaining neanderthals on Serangodo. He uses his magic to protect his people from the depredations of Zelzennak Soth, who seeks to kill or enslave them all. Although he fears that he is fighting a losing battle, he knows that his remnant is a valuable bulwark protecting his queen, Vrenn Larr, across the water on Minatou. He opposes the use of mind-control gems.

Zelzennak Soth is the oldest and most powerful of the Dinosaur Island sorcerors. From his hidden redoubt in the northern mountains, he controls the source of all mind-control gems, and all of Serangodo north of Malyar Ogroa’s peninsula and west of the territories of Crog Nur and Veletria Brightwing. Little news travels out of his territory, and few outside of his inner circle have ever seen him. His spies and assassins roam widely across the archipelago, sowing distrust and strife.


This rocky spire in the central sea is littered with smashed ships and crowned by a roc’s nest. If any humanoids inhabit the islands near the nest, no-one outside of Astrafel knows of it.

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Dinosaur Island: the T. rex fight

T-rex fight

Here’s how the much-anticipated T. rex fight went down. From a local neanderthal tribe we hired two mammoths with their mahouts and six spearmen. Also along were our three hirelings, Gustav the greataxe-wielding barbarian, Vaskin the archer, and Blixa the spear-throwing kobold thug.* Some people at a nearby fort had showed Vaskin and Flint (dwarf cleric) how to make and use a ballista while Aelar (wood elf rogue), Wilvias (halfling rogue), Gustav, and Blixa were on the road north to meet the neanderthals. One of the people from the fort, an old hunter named Barheev, had come along to help Vaskin work the ballista.

* Most of the NPC names in my game come from the random aristocrat and city NPC tables in Vornheim, so you may see some familiar names. This is not the Blixa you’re thinking of.

We were headed for a waterfall where a stream came down out of the hills and fell into a pool in the lowland forest. It was the known hunting ground of a tyrannosaur. We set up as shown above. Flint had the Spider Staff, an artifact he picked up in the Phandelver campaign from the Starter Box. We figured the web spell from the staff would be useful for restraining the tyrannosaur, and possibly for gumming its mouth shut as well. We didn’t know which way the tyannosaur would come in (because I rolled it randomly at the last minute), so we had assets on both sides of the pool. Everyone settled in to wait.

The tyrannosaur came out of the jungle and attacked the baby sauropod (literally in tyrannosaur’s shadow in the photo above). Everyone started shooting arrows. The first few that hit only enraged the beast, and it charged forward. Unfortunately, the tyrannosaur came along the shore opposite Flint, which meant that he and the Spider Staff were now out of range. He grabbed a vine from the cliffs near the waterfall and tried to Tarzan across. And there our troubles began.

Flint failed his easy Dex check to swing across the waterfall, and fell into the pool. The tyrannosaur saw this, which made Flint a potential target. I assigned numbers to everyone the tyrannosaur could see, and rolled to see which person it would attack next. Guess who got the short straw? Flint. The tyrannosaur stomped into the pool, bit him, and lifted him up out of the water.

Meanwhile, most everyone was sucking, hardcore. The first two shots from the ballista went wide. All six of our neanderthals wiffed on their initial spear-throws. Fortunately Aelar and Blixa hit the tyrannosaur in the face with an arrow and a spear, respectively, which pissed it off enough that it roared and dropped Flint. But now it had seen Blixa, and on its next turn it surged forward and gobbled him up. It also turned around and swiped its tail at the spearmen up on the cliff, pulping one immediately and knocking another one off the cliff into a fatal fall. At this point, Flint was mortally wounded, two of our six neanderthals were dead, and it was starting to look like we might be rolling up a lot of new characters.

T-rex fight aftermath

Then the tide turned. Gustav, our giant barbarian, strode into the pool, aimed a mighty blow at the tyrannosaur’s ankle – and rolled a natural 20. Tendons the size of a man’s forearm split with an audible pop, and the tyrannosaur lost the ability to flex its right ankle. Now it would need a successful Dex save to keep from falling every time it tried to take a step. It actually passed the save on the next round, but now it was facing the wrong way. Vaskin and Barheev hit it with a spear from the ballista, Wilvias and Aelar put a few more arrows in its mug, and it toppled over. I rolled to see which way it fell – Flint was still in the pool and Wilvias was right on the bank, and either of them might have been crushed. But fortunately it fell toward the deepest part of pool. The surviving neanderthals moved in with their spears to finish it off.

In the aftermath photo above, you can see Vaskin tending to Flint on the near shore, while Gustav (played in this case by the samurai, even though Gustav is not a samurai and doesn’t wear armor) and Wilvias stand in the shallows, and the victorious neanderthals stand atop their monstrous foe. Flint got to roll on the Death and Dismemberment Table. Along with some nasty puncture wounds, he lost his right arm at the shoulder. Only quick work with a minor healing spell and cauterization saved Flint’s life. Blixa was dead – we cut his body out of the tyrannosaur’s stomach and gave him a warrior’s funeral, along with the two neanderthals that died in the fight.

So that went just about perfectly. I wanted it to be hard and it was. We lost one of our party hirelings, two of our hired neanderthals, and one of the PCs lost a limb. But there were moments of glory, too – Gustav’s critical hit on the tyrannosaur’s ankle turned the tide, and it’s now a legend among all of the tribes who sent people to the fight. Flint survived, and he has serious cred among the savages for having passed through the jaws of the Forest Devil and lived. Most importantly, the party got the tyrannosaur head they needed to ransom Alethra. More on that another time.

Posted in actual play reports, D&D, Dinosaur Island, roleplaying | 3 Comments

More Dinosaur Island tables: interesting hex features, and death and dismemberment


In the last post I mentioned that the party had taken refuge in a randomly-generated necropolis. Here’s the table for that, in PNG (pictured) and PDF (link below).

Dinosaur Island hex features

Dinosaur Island hex features

jungle village

I also tweaked Trollsmyth’s awesome death and dismemberment table, not for Dinosaur Island specifically but for all the D&D I run in the future. Be sure to read Trollsmyth’s short, readable post and the comments that follow to see how he uses it in the game, which is also how I’ll be using it. I’ll let you know how my modifications work out.

Death and dismemberment table

Death and Dismemberment table

Stay tuned for more Dino Island stuff.

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