Author Archives: Rob

Alabaster Palace of the Dao – DM Intro

Chapter 1 of The Great Genie Palace Heist

Dungeon Master Introduction

The Alabaster Palace was built in the Elemental Chaos as a genie sanctuary and neutral meeting place away from the Great Dismal Delve.  Visitors arrive here using a portal key, usually a small topaz gemstone, or by the plane shift spell. The Elemental Chaos makes physical travel to the location impossible except to natives and skilled chaos shapers (“archons”).

Inhabitants: Four dao currently reside here: Kiana, Negeen, Azarakhsh, and Zarrin. Azarakhsh and Zarrin keep their personal treasury here; among their treasures is the Topaz of which Vibaxana spoke. Another dao resident, Kiana, often invites clients here to discuss plans; the last dao resident, Negeen, engages in more aesthetic pursuits, such as architecture, gardening, and sculpting.

Current visitors to the palace include a fallen deva, a mind flayer slaver and his duergar bodyguards, and a drow mage slaver and his elite warrior guard. The medusa lover of Zarrin and a corrupted copper dragon are permanent residents of the palace, as are a few sentient plants in the garden.  The dao, their guests, and other residents are served by myconid slaves who live in tunnels beneath the palace.

All dao have characteristic appearances: they are around 9 feet tall, with skin like polished stone, and eyes like sparkling jewels. When they fly, their lower torso is engulfed in a whirlwind of dust. They wield massive stone mauls in combat. They usually adorn themselves with expensive gold jewelry and fine but sturdy garments.

It is a common dao tactic to summon earth elementals to assist its defense; with a casting time 1 minute, they will do this only if they have advance warning of danger. The drow mage visitor is also capable of summoning a shadow demon.

The doors and many pieces of furniture in the palace were fashioned from iron by duergar slaves in the Great Dismal Delve and imported here.  Individual room descriptions detail the palace furnishings.

Experience Budget: 15000 xp total budget per PC, 8 encounters (~1875 xp per encounter), for seven 11th level characters. Completing the adventure will result in advancement to 12th level.

Resting: There is potential for a short rest if PCs only enter rooms 1, 2, 4, and 5, but once they encounter anything from 3 and beyond, it is likely that a short rest will not be possible.

Random Encounters

For each hour the PCs linger outside the palace, there is a 10% chance that they attract the notice of a slaadi raiding party, who attack them immediately. For each hour the PCs hide among the myconids, there is a 10% chance of a purple worm attack.

  • Red, Blue, Greed Slaadi raiding party (12900 xp); no treasure.
  • Purple Worm (13000 xp); no treasure.

Genie Palace Heist

I’m running a series of four short adventures for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, designed for seven characters from levels 11 to 14. The adventures are set after the (relative) destruction of the multiverse, in an Elemental Chaos or Limbo-like state.

Here is the introduction:

You are dead. But something has stirred your consciousness.

A tall figure cloaked in red walks on the wind. He has the body of a man and the head of a tiger, white furred with faint gold stripes. He is odd-eyed, with one blue eye and one yellow. The palms of his hands are inverted; in his left hand he clutches a splinter of ash-wood; in his right hand he cradles a handful of dust. His odd eyes survey the remnants of reality, formless and void, hurtling earth, roiling fire, violent storms, churning waves. His eyes search the cosmic flotsam until he finds what he is looking for: a certain gray stone no bigger than a grave marker. He walks on the wind until his feet rest upon the tiny hovering island of rock.

He incants a spell, and the stone expands, stretching out beneath his feet into a disk of stone and earth and green turf. He casts down the splinter, and it grows into planks and beams and a roof overhead. He casts down the dust and it whirls into the likeness of beings made flesh again. It is you. You don’t remember much. Your name. Your particular talents and skills. Endless cycles of war and rebirth. A vague recollection of who you were.

“Welcome,” he purrs, “to what I believe you once called Asgard. There is not much left of it. There is not much of anything left, I’m afraid. What my people called Armageddon, or the Calamity, or perhaps yours called Ragnarok, has come to pass. Now only this remains.” He gestures through the wide doorway to the vast chaotic expanse outside.

“Please, sit down and eat.” Benches appear along the walls of the great hall, and a fire pit appears in the center. A table prepared with rich food and drink appears nearby. “It has been an immeasurable amount of time since your last meal. I am Vibixana, your host. You may be wondering why I have brought you back from oblivion. I have heard tales of your past glory and exploits. I have need of your talents, and so I offer you this opportunity. I seek four stones: a ruby, a sapphire, an emerald, and a topaz, each quite large and beautiful. They are held in the palaces of powerful elemental spirits. I need you to bring these gems here, and I will transform them into the Diamondheart. The Diamondheart is the seed that will restore your worlds, something beyond the limits of my talent, which you see expressed around you.”


One month ago, I set out to evaluate 3DML for use as a 3D mapping tool for my tabletop games.

A screenshot of my Ordos Hall spot

Back in early 2000, I stumbled upon 3DML and was impressed at how easy it was to use to create 3D content on the Web. I built some spots based on the environments in the campaigns I was running at the time (Mage: the Sorcerers Crusade and Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition).

Later, when scripting was added as a feature of 3DML, I wrote a script that allowed me to toggle the camera from first person to top-down– perfect for viewing 3D maps.

What is 3DML?

3DML stands for three-dimensional markup language. The intent behind the language is to make 3D content creation on the Web as easy as writing HTML.

As surprisingly little code as what follows will be rendered as a basic 3D scene, called a “spot”.

           <blockset href="" />
           <map dimensions="(5,5,1)" style="single" />
           <entrance location="(3,3,1)" name="default" angle="0.0" />
           <level number="1">

How do you view 3DML content?

Currently, the only way to view 3DML content is to use a standalone browser called Flatland Rover; the browser plugins of the same name only work with relatively archaic browser and operating system combinations.

A screenshot of Decca canals spot

Who created 3DML?

3DML was created by Michael Powers, who co-developed Flatland Rover with Philip Stevens. Michael, Philip, if you have future plans for 3DML or Flatland Rover, let me know.

What is the status of 3DML?

Development of Flatland Rover ceased in 2005. Most newer systems cannot easily run the older software (Mac OS X), plugin architecture has changed (in IE), and entirely new browsers are unsupported (Chrome, Firefox).

Much 3DML content on the Web can no longer be viewed because model dependencies (“blocksets”) originally hosted by have not been maintained.

And current and emerging 3D web technologies such as WebGL do not require special plugins or standalone browsers for viewing content.

A screenshot of a dungeon spot


The benefits of current 3D web technologies surpass the ease-of-use of 3DML in its current state. Also, I think I would benefit more from learning a modern toolset such as Blender than use what sadly appears to be an abandoned technology.

I have fond memories of the builder community and the 3DML spots we created. I would love to see its revival in the future.

I will continue to keep my 3DML reference materials, blocksets, and spots available.

Reference materials

Tabletop Gaming Setup

This was my tabletop gaming setup from 2011.

It was assembled with the following components:


For 30 years, I used the traditional approach to running tabletop RPGs: drawing maps with washable markers on a vinyl grid mat. Frequently, game play was interrupted by the need for me to erase and redraw the map. So I decided to devise a technological solution.

I considered the original version of the Microsoft Surface (now rebranded as PixelSense), which was a touch screen computer with the form factor of a table. But at $10,000, it was outside of my budget.

Then I considered using an all-in-one touchscreen computer oriented horizontally to display pre-drawn maps. This did have the advantage of a self-contained solution. But the largest touchscreen computer at that time was 27 inches. And I was also concerned the computer might overheat or its components might not work in a different orientation that it was designed.

I decided instead to use a flat screen TV connected to a computer. Since the TV component should also serve its original purpose, I also needed to find a way to tilt the TV to any desired orientation.

Typically, flat screen TVs do use wall mounts; some allow a small degree of tilt, but none of them could tilt 90 degrees. I search for a long time until I found POS monitor stands that could tilt, swivel, and lock in any position I needed. The POS monitor stand could only support a certain amount of weight, so this influenced my selection of TVs. The largest and lightest flat screen I could find was a LG 37 inch. The screen is guarded against scratches and fingerprints by a transparent acrylic anti-glare TV protector. The anti-glare aspect of the protector was an exaggeration on the part of its manufacturer, but its 1/4″ thickness completely protects the screen from flying dice or dropped metal miniatures.

Tabletop Setup 2013

Since last December, I have improved the portability of the setup significantly. I replaced the Mac Mini and Apple Display with a MacBook Air. This required the addition of a Thunderbolt-to-DVI adapter, since the MacBook Air does not have a DVI port. And I use a mid-2012 Mac Pro Server to host to serve all of the content I need for a gaming session (maps, reference books, character sheets, pictures, music) to the MacBook Air.

Now rather than erase and redraw the map, I simply open a new map on my laptop and drag it onto the screen for the other players to see. I also use iTunes to queue up and play music through the TV speakers to set the mood.

What’s next?

Before a gaming session, I use Photoshop to draw maps of the various dungeon, city, and wilderness environments the player characters will experience. Like traditional maps, they are 2 dimensional representations of a 3 dimensional environment. I want to take the maps to the next level, and make them 3 dimensional. I am considering two approaches.

  1. Draw the maps in Blender, or
  2. Build the maps using 3DML.

Blender has the advantage of being a current technology. And it is also free. But to create maps in Blender, I would be required to learn how to use it. While I see knowledge of Blender as a valuable addition to my toolset, it will take time. And speaking of time, I have no idea how long it would take me to build maps in Blender on a regular basis.

3DML has the advantage of its ease of use. It is something I already understand how to use. I could create new maps rapidly and easily with it. It has the disadvantage of being an unsupported technology, which I hope to see revived as a supported and thriving technology.