D&D players have spent almost 50 years breaking the game. Some of these exploits became “cryptids” in their own right.
This week: the most terrifying homebrew monster ever made, and the Kung Fu Kraken, an ancient titan of the deep somehow less effective than a straw dummy.
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Lucas: Welcome to Making a Monster, the bite-sized podcast where we look at the monsters in Dungeons and dragons and other tabletop RPGs and discover how they work, why they work and what they mean for these episodes. I’ve assembled a crack team of D and D podcasters from all over the world to track down monsters, born of the system itself.
Jeremy Vine: I’m Jeremy Vine, I’m a professional dungeon master.
Jarrod Jahoda: My name is Jarrod Jahoda, and you can find me on any podcast platform under Mid-level Adventurers.
Danilo Vujevic: I’m Danilo, the host/producer/editor of Thinking Critically, a D&D discussion podcast
Rebecca Gray: Hello, I’m Rebecca
Steve Myers: and I’m Steven.
Rebecca Gray: And we are from A House Sivis Broadcasting Eberron A Chronicle of Echoes podcast.
Lucas: So let’s talk cheese! uh,
Lucas: This next monster isn’t so much an exploit as, as a homebrew, but it’s on the list because of how resilient this idea has become. Near as I can tell, this idea first appeared, in September of 2014. And somehow in that seven years, it has accomplished, I think maybe the same amount of mythologizing as some of the things like the peasant rail gun. this is the false Hydra. This is one of those instances in which I w kind of wish I was making a video podcast, because when I say that everyone’s face changes and it’s never been the same twice. If you’ve heard of this, where was the first time you heard about it?
Danilo Vujevic: This is again lucky for you because this is a very pertinent in [00:03:00] that. Um, I, someone who I used to DM for a little, little short campaign that a while ago, they, recently, Hey, can I get your advice? I’m thinking of running this and it happened to be a false hydra and, and we’re talking like three months ago.
They messaged me this. I saw the mentioned false hydra and immediately I thought, oh, cool. Is that going to be like a water dwelling snake thing, but maybe it only has like two heads, which is why it’s a false hydra. I could not have been more incredibly wrong in that interpretation of that definition.
Lucas: And I think,
Steve Myers: looks awful. It looks so awful.
Lucas: yeah, Arnold has chosen a variety of horrifying images from around the internet. Some of them, I think are involved in an old, creepy pasta about a Zelda game cartridge.
Rebecca Gray: no, that is a monster from Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
Lucas: oh, okay.
Rebecca Gray: You fight it twice, once it as an adult, once as a kid, I think, but
Steve Myers: Yeah. Yeah, man, I, I played Ocarina of Time and I don’t remember it’s in the ballroom.
Rebecca Gray: It’s a creature. You fight in the bottom of the, well, I’m sorry.
I know that game backwards and forwards.
Jeremy Vine: I’ve encountered the blog. Well, actually a separate blog post before about the idea of a false hydra, because my interpretation of the false hydra is that it kind of takes, your recollection of the hydra itself, that when you are devoured by this hydra, your, the memory of you is erased from reality, that to everyone who knew you, you just no longer exist.
Danilo Vujevic: And so I read it all and so clearly you were very on the money because it is still very much in vogue and people are still very much trying to incorporate it. Broadly it is this creature that calls upon a number of tropes that we’ve seen in many popular culture.
I think that The Silence in Doctor Who being a very obvious correlation where it fandangles with people’s memory, essentially, Um, perception of reality so that it is this all pervasive, clearly not benign creature. This is not benign force that manipulates people’s memories and perception of reality so that they never notice it.
They never see it’s there, or the effects that it has on their world, such as killing people. They will cease to remember those people and go on as, as normal as to secure its safety and, and to growth.
Steve Myers: The false hydra always felt like the silence from Doctor Who is that was what the premise was. It’s something you look and you acknowledge is there, and then you can roll to forget it. And that is absolutely horrifying that you could know this thing is there outside of character and be able to do nothing with that.
Jarrod Jahoda: Yeah, it was a mental mind shenanigan crazy thing. Like it was like, whoa, this is blowing your mind. And I don’t know which came first chicken or the egg, because [00:06:00] I just don’t know.
Lucas: Uh, first appearance, 2011: The Impossible Astronaut.
Jarrod Jahoda: ah, so maybe then it was inspired by, or maybe they just came up with the idea separately, but
Lucas: Yeah. Sort of case of convergent evolution.
Jarrod Jahoda: which it’s just a great idea, having this monster that is really more about the psychological terror of it than anything else. It’s subconscious fear. It is that like it’s almost horror esque really as opposed to like a fantasy.
Steve Myers: And it just slowly takes over a town by just removing people one by one by one. And it’s, is such a horrifying idea. And it’s not often that you get to see “DM cheese” where they get to fudge the rules and make things a little more exciting and fun for them. And it’s disturbing and upsetting.
And I, I can’t get enough of it. I cannot get enough of it. I just want to play, I mean, I don’t want to play in a game with it because if I play in a game with it now, I’ll know what’s there and it takes away all the fun. wish Lucas had never shared this with me because now I can’t be surprised with it. And it’s so sad.
How to Run a False Hydra
Lucas: I’ve heard that this is one of those things that is extremely difficult to pull off. If you had to run a false hydra, do you think you’d try and do it? And if so, how would you set this up?
Jarrod Jahoda: Well, if any of my players are listening, no, I would never try to do that ever. But if I was going to try to do it, they wouldn’t know. Uh, no, I, I would probably take, I probably wouldn’t do the whole, like it rose out of the ground through grubs and whatever. I would probably be a little more wacky with it.
Cause I kinda like that still dangerous and crazy, but a little more wacky. So I would have, I think, a, a, a town where people are happy all the time. There’s no like existential dread and there’s always new housing opening up. Um, so they’re always like, Hey, we just have this new house that just opened up over here, like you should check that out. And so they constantly are getting new people in the town because it’s a paradise. Nobody ever has any problems, which automatically in my book makes it suspicious
Lucas: Oh, yeah.
Jarrod Jahoda: there’s no problems because any like bandits or anything that come along immediately succumb to the hydra, because the hydra keeps like a core number of town, people around to lure in new people at all times. So I would put it more in like a opportunistic parasite, as opposed to just like, oh, I’m going to eat everything. Um, because like it is doing some good it’s taking out baddies and protecting these core people, but everyone else is just food.
Lucas: Wow. Yeah. I love that. Cause that’s, it’s not, then it’s not quite cut and dried as a, it’s only a
Jarrod Jahoda: I love moral ambiguity in my [00:09:00] games. I’m all about it. I always give my bad guy a good reason for being a bad guy.
Jeremy Vine: So I’ve never encountered this before. I feel that this is something that is incredibly difficult to achieve as a dungeon master, to have that level of knowledge of like that level of planning as well of, yes, these people no longer exist and If a character is taken by, it’s like, well, how do you, how do you do that?
It’s that, complete buy-in of the world that is very difficult to achieve in my opinion. I love the idea around it now. I’m not sure if this is the blog post that you sent, the way I encountered it was a, somebody was saying that they decided to use the false hydra in a game. And that they just had the party sitting around and notice some bloodstains and there’s like, that’s weird, but all right.
And eventually they found the false hydra and they killed them. And, um, they went back to town and were given a portrait that had been painted by, um, like an actual portrait. And it actually had a character, a member of the party who they’d never met. And the idea was that at some point, this character had gone on watch and being, and by the hydra and the fact that the character had never had a play I’d never existed at all.
They just completely sign it in that you’ve lost these party member that you now never remember.
Lucas: That’s amazing.
Jeremy Vine: that’s, that’s how I encountered the false Hydra. I just thought this is genius. If you can pull that off, your players will remember that forever. Absolutely. And the certainly the blog post I’ve, um, that I’ve seen overall is like this horror. It’s designing a horror creature. Um, that idea that once it kills you, no one remembers you. It’s like, that’s something that just takes a little bit of a trigger in my mind has got no, I didn’t like that at all. That’s a squeak that, that terrifies me.
Lucas: Do you think you could pull it off? Like running a false hydra for your players?
Danilo Vujevic: I guess the different, okay. The definition of whether I could pull it off or not, I would leave to my players.
Danilo Vujevic: um, I would say, I would like to think so if, only for the fact of I would overplan and make sure and spend all way too long on things that won’t get used or won’t even get to see the light of day so that it would just be in a complete fail, safe system, ecology, where they do, they’d always be something exciting to do, but there’s the fact of the matter is basically no one, including myself, has that freedom has that length of time available to [00:12:00] them to really make it like maybe I’m completely a naysayer and pessimistic is clearly it’s, it’s popular and people do it.
Lucas: Well, I think you’re right in that it works a lot better on paper than it does in practice because of the people I’ve asked about this most have not been confident that, uh, they would want to make the attempt or that they could provide a satisfying experience if they did, or that it would be worth it in the end, because there’s so much going on here. It’s a loaded question, “could you do this?” which is kind of why I ask it.
Danilo Vujevic: Yeah, I mean, I would agree with them. I hate being like, “with experience” or “with, with knowledge,” but I can’t, I’ve done this podcast for however many years and not picked up. Some peripheral peripheral experience. So absolutely this and many other things, I’m sure.
Go seem rad on a first glance to, to maybe a less experienced DM. Now but I’m just perhaps more cognizant of various pitfalls having fallen in then myself. So yeah, it’s less experienced DM seeing something like the false hydra and that’s, oh, that’ll be really cool.
That’d be really atmospheric. And I can have the bomb and have a picture of his family behind the bar, but he doesn’t know who the woman or the child are. He just thinks it’s a selfie. And then that the players asked the question, like what happened to the woman and the child and the photo when he goes around the woman and the child in the photo.
That’d be fun and exciting. Yeah, sure. That is. But then, but then what, you know, w w how, how do we really get something out of. And, and you kind of do that. As I said, a couple of times before the players go, everyone here is crazy and that’s, that’s it, that’s the story. And we move on how this weird town full of the people who don’t know, who can’t understand what a photo is.
And then everybody gets frustrated, which is the worst case. That’s like, that’s the fail state. The fail state is everybody including the DM is just like, we don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know how to make other people know what’s going on there.
Lucas: yeah. Yeah, because running a mystery in D&D is very difficult, running a mystery where the solution to the mystery is actively erasing the clues. Uh, Also really difficult.
Danilo Vujevic: Yep.
Lucas: There’s miles of depth on this
Danilo Vujevic: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. For sure. Um, you, you just you’d need to be. novelist to, to, to like in a sense, because it has to be a lot of, it has to be scripted to a certain extent. You’re, you’re almost pushing that point of more scripted gameplay rather than freeform.
Steve Myers: I like the idea behind it and [00:15:00] it would be really fun to do a one-shot involving it, but I can’t imagine. Th just the mental logistics that go into thinking like, wow, okay, now there’s a monster. You have to fight that you don’t know. Is there, what do you do? What, what do you even do in that scenario?
Rebecca Gray: Yeah. Cause, cause you’re asking for a lot from your players, not to metagame if you’re using it.
Steve Myers: Oh no. I mean metagame at that point in time please, because the only way you’re going to get out of that is by thinking outside of the box. Cause everything’s straightforward. You would have assumed has been tried time And time again.
You have to have to come up with something. I mean, oh God, no, no. And
Rebecca Gray: I don’t,
Steve Myers: I don’t like it. I don’t have a lot to say on it.
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Larry the Kung Fu Kraken
Lucas: so much of what’s happening in the game is being influenced by what’s happening at the table.
And to that point, there’s, there’s some of this cheese that’s influenced by what’s happening within the game system itself. Which leads me to Larry, the Kung Fu Kraken.
Steve Myers: Oh man. Larry, the Kung Fu Kraken. I hate this one, so, so much.
Steve Myers: makes sense, but hate it. I hate it so much.
Lucas: yeah. So this relies on a discussion of fumble mechanics or, or critical fails.
Rebecca Gray: so with five E I mean, there’s not a lot of credit fail rules. A lot of that’s going to be on the DM. You critically fail and I mean, you miss real bad. There might be a few suggestions in the DM’s Guide, but for the most part nothing really bad happens if you critically fail on a hit or a skill check or anything like that, but with Pathfinder
Steve Myers: And 3.5.
Rebecca Gray: In 3.5, there were very hard rules as to what could happen when you critically fail.
And so think I’m gonna just come to the through line here. I think that it, it goes back to the adversarial aspects of 3.5 and Pathfinder in particular because you want to be able to punish your [00:18:00] players occasionally and you don’t really get to do that.
And by having them roll a one, you’re saying, well, now you’ve messed up and I get to do something to you.
Lucas: Yeah. Monster of the Week calls it “taking a hard move.”
Steve Myers: Yeah. I think that five E has made a good decision getting away from that. I think that you can fail and still have bad things happen. And I think taking a hard move is a way that it can be done without it being as punishing as it was. even like the cards for Pathfinder, they have the crit fail cards.
I don’t know if those were official or they were official. Yeah. uh,
Lucas: what’s on a crit fail card?
Steve Myers: So we had the critical success cards, which were always like, oh, you’re doing so good. And then crit fails like, oh, okay. You you’ve dropped her weapon and you’ve cut off your toe. And now you’re going to have problems with balance for the rest of the game. Yeah.
Rebecca Gray: Or you accidentally kicked up some dust and you’re blinded for the next minute.
Some of them got like bad enough that it was like you fall on your sword.
Steve Myers: Yeah, so,
Rebecca Gray: you are now dying.
Jeremy Vine: And that’s kind of what the critical fail was that sometimes when you roll the one, you would have a separate table. Something bad even was, has happened to you. And you’d have to roll on that. And it might be you just drop your weapon. It might be that you attack your ally next to you. Instead, it might be that you stab yourself. It might, there’s a whole range of things that would could occur.
Steve Myers: Back in the day. Like one, you rolled a one. And so for, for twenties, you, you had to roll a D 20. And if you got a 20, you had to roll a confirm and you had to beat the AC. Now, if you rolled a second 20, so two twenties in a row we would go into like, oh man, you’re doing exceedingly well, try it again.
You get three twenties in a row, you insta-kill something.
Jarrod Jahoda: Once I actually got three twenties in a row, so I insta-killed something.
Lucas: Oh my gosh.
Jarrod Jahoda: was, I don’t even know what the odds were, but it was crazy. One in like 1600 chance I had, something like that.
Lucas: we can live in that moment if you want. You can tell me that story.
Jarrod Jahoda: I mean, it was crazy. I was playing a ranger and I was having a hard go at it because it was this monster creature. And I didn’t ha I think it was a plant and I didn’t have any magical weapons. And it was like resistant to all my attacks. But then I just happened to roll three 20. I rolled the 20 and he was like, okay, confirm it.
And I was like, okay. I, I got the crit and I was like, just go for it. And I roll the third 20, couldn’t believe it, and somehow with my non magical attacks, I killed a thing that was resistant to non-magical damage because I wrote three twenties in a row. The odds were insane. Somehow I did it. And after the game he realized that well, plant creatures are actually immune to critical hits, but I was like, don’t rob this from me!
Lucas: This happened!
Man, three and a half was wild.
Jarrod Jahoda: yeah.
Lucas: what was even going on back then?
Jarrod Jahoda: Yeah. I didn’t have a single character that lasted more than like five sessions in 3.5.
Lucas: Wow. I’ve had one character last three years.
Jarrod Jahoda: I am [00:21:00] amazed and awed by your skill.
Lucas: It has nothing to do with it. I think it’s more five E’s fault, this actually kind of brings me back around. Cause one of the things that people have told me about older editions is that there was a much more adversarial relationship between the DM and the players.
Like you, like this world is going to kill you and I’m the guy who’s going to do it. And it’s your job to figure out how to survive.
Jarrod Jahoda: Yes. Very much. So those first, I mean, those first sessions until that character died and my three edition game, it was always like, everything was trying to kill our characters. It wasn’t about like building up as heroic adventure journey. It was about how can I kill you?
Jarrod Jahoda: My 3.5 adventures were similar, but less so that I think that’s just because the DM was a nicer human. And certainly in fourth edition when I started DM-ing and I was really bad at it, I took that mindset because that’s the only one I knew. And then I was talking to him and I was like, I’m not having this fun this way. I’m just going to make it be more of like, I’m a neutral party and you’ll have to fight things.
And if you die, you die and I’m not going to get involved in it.
Lucas: Yeah. Yeah. It was but let me circle back to critical success or critical fails. What is the thought experiment of the Kung Fu Kraken?
Jarrod Jahoda: So it’s this idea that a kraken who is trained in martial arts can attack essentially 18 times on a term. Right. means
Lucas: We’re counting what eight we’re counting eight limbs and then a few extra.
Jarrod Jahoda: yeah, so like it’s like eight limbs and multi attack. So that’s two attacks per limb. And I think there’s a, I forget what they were called, but they were equivalent of bonus action “flurry of blows” attack kind of deal.
Jeremy Vine: There’s a whole range of things. It could have tentacles, it could have massive teeth, it could have pseudopods, but he gets a lot of attacks is the point.
Jarrod Jahoda: Yeah, a lot of attacks in a turn. And statistically, if you roll a D 20 that many times, there’s a certain number of times that’s going to come up as a one, which is a critical failure. Your increased likelihood therefore means that you are weaker at fighting and more likely to succumb to a failure table and kill yourself, because that was one of the options on these failure tables.
Like I have seen failure tables that are like, you decapitate yourself, you chop off your arm. And I’m like, whoa, dude, I don’t know how that’s possible, but so Euro, but that being said, I do support the idea of crit fails.
Like I like that idea, uh, you know, in 3.5, like critical failures were definitely a thing. And so were critical successes and five E they’ve kind of dropped the critical fail part and just kept the success part. But I [00:24:00] still use critical fail, but I’m a lot nicer with my critical fails. And that essentially what I do is I do it by level.
If you are a levels, one through five, someone is going to take one D four damage.
Lucas: Okay. Yeah.
Jarrod Jahoda: So enough to kind of be annoying, but generally not enough to kill you unless you’re a wizard and enrolled a two on your Um, and then it increases so like six through 10 as a D six, a D eight for 11 through 15 and 16 through twenties, uh, D 10, but it’s just one die of damage.
But what I add to it is
Jarrod Jahoda: a condition effect. like you could overextend and maybe you overextend by your opponent’s sword and you get cut for two points of damage, but then you fall prone
Lucas: Yeah, bad news.
Jarrod Jahoda: and like that ends your turn. Or, you know, if there’s like three potential people who could suffer, like if you’re an archer and you roll it out, could fling back on you. It could hit the fighter next to the enemy, or it could hit the road next to the enemy. So all three of the players rolled a D 20 and it’s a straight luck roll, whoever gets the lowest, gets the ping. And then, you know, that can be like, Hey, watch where you’re shooting. And fun. So I believe in the poetry of a nat one, just as much as I believe in the artistry of a Nat 20,
but I don’t want to be a Dick about it. I just want to be annoying about it. Um, which has a long round of saying, I like the idea of these failure tables, but I think in previous editions they were too aggressive.
Lucas: do you critical fail on skill checks?
Danilo Vujevic: um, no, so not in, not okay. Let me, let me define that for, you know, if they wrote a one, but if they still failed. Badly which could be on a two or it could just be the DC was so high that the chances of failure high and failing catastrophically as high, you know, it’s gonna happen. And it’s probably never as hard or as harsh.
There’s no punitive, the most punishment it will get is you’re trying to run leap or dive across a skill check. For example, a physical activity you full prone is probably as hard. You know, you fall on your ass because it’s kind of half role-play ha look at the buffoon, but also half. Yes, you’re going to have to spend five for a moment.
If we’re not in combat, that’s not really an issue. So no one really minds. Um, and then for social encounters, It’s I always tend to run, um, you know, nothing’s binary in my game. So a critical fail quote, unquote, isn’t going to just immediately turn anyone to be like, oh, now I want to punch you [00:27:00] in the face because humans don’t really operate like that.
It takes quite a lot for, to get me to want to punch somebody in the face. Like we’re talking like quite egregious things here, not just somebody asking for more money off an item and then doing it in an awkward way. Doesn’t immediately make me hate that person in this. And that’s how I try and run my MPCs.
So it, you know, a critical fail would just be like, do you know what? Just leave my store please. Cause you’re wasting my time and not whoops, you throw the coin because you fell over and you throw it in the merchants face and now the guards want you is not to me is not, is just, doesn’t really make sense.
Lucas: You are
Danilo Vujevic: I very much subscribe to that train of thought. That’s like when people say. They try and persuade the king, give me a crown so I can be king and you can make them roll, uh, because although it’s impossible and you shouldn’t really get players to roll for things are impossible. The outcome is very variable.
So a 20 plus would be like, ha, you can be my court justice because what a funny joke you just said, and I’m not going to throw you in prison. Whereas, you know, D you don’t hit DC five, which typically one tends to not hit. Uh, then he’s like, you’ve insulted me and you’re going in prison for the night. Uh, so that, that sliding scale, which again, is kind of in independent of a one or not
Jeremy Vine: I never really used them. I felt that that was something that would, would take away the five. Um, and critical hits, same sort of thing. I tend to use those more because it’s such a powerful hit.
I feel that they balance themselves pretty well, because if you can do a critical hit, then the monsters can too. And that’s usually why I didn’t do it because if they can have a critical failure, the monsters can too. And I don’t want my monsters attacking each other. I want them to continue to attack the, um, the party. Ah, but that really is kind of boiling down what the critical fail was that you had a certain percentage of not only did you not succeed, but something even worse has happened to you.
And there’s also the, um, the straw dummy test, which is also again for the critical hit. Like if you’ve got someone just attacking something that can’t fight back, what are the chances of you rolling so poorly that you actually injure yourself with, uh, a creature that’s not attacking you at all?
Lucas: yeah. So eventually if you are rolling enough dice, and if those dice can critically fail you, there’s a non-zero chance and a gradually escalating chance that a straw dummy itself is going to cause you grievous bodily harm through no fault of its own.
Jeremy Vine: I do love these ideas as myths in game where you might’ve had stories about someone who’s just so bad at being a warrior so bad at being a [00:30:00] God that the straw dummy defeated them because they just went at it and they just roll that poli that yeah, the, the dummy has actually caused multiple wounds to them, um, over there that little training session, but it doesn’t actually happen to characters.
I feel because these are the thought experiments of, if we extend the dice over a certain period, it is theoretically possible that these things could occur. In practice, they are very unlikely to occur. I mean, again, I do not, I probability very well. I’m not a game designer, but I feel it is a thought experiment.
That’s useful when you are looking at something like a critical failure table or a critical hit table for, for that matter, because that is kind of just the same thing, but reversed, but it’s a lot more danger. I feel a critical hits tables, a lot more celebratory. The people are a lot more interested in, in seeing a critical hit than a critical failure.
Thanks for Listening!
Lucas: Thanks for listening to Making a Monster. If this episode has entertained or enlightened you in any way, please share it with the people who play D and D with you. Your recommendation will go a long way to helping people trust me with their time and attention. And it’s a real gift to me and the creators I feature.
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There are already five episodes of Making a Monster about the creatures in that book. So set this podcast feed to newest first and take a journey with me into a world wilder and more fascinating than you probably thought it could be. Special thanks to my collaborators on these exploit monsters episodes:
How to connect with my guests
Jeremy Vine: I’m Jeremy Vine, I’m a professional dungeon master. You can find me on social media on Twitter at Talumin, T A L U M I N, or you can listen to my podcasts Tell Me About Your D&D Character, which is on SoundCloud or D&D and TV
Jarrod Jahoda: My name is Jarrod Jahoda, and you can find me on any podcast platform under Mid-level Adventurers. I’m one half of the creative team. Matt is the other half, or you can catch Matt and I on Nuuli Forged, which is our Twitch stream D&D game. It’s a homebrew game set in a post-apocalyptic magical world. And, uh, you can follow us on Instagram, Twitter at mid LVL adventure to keep updated. And we’ve recently started releasing our podcast episodes on YouTube as well.
Danilo Vujevic: I’m Danilo, the host/producer/editor of Thinking Critically, a D&D discussion podcast where we take a single word or topic and discuss what it means in the D&D and wider TTRPG [00:33:00] framework. that has been going on now for almost 65 episodes and a year and a bit weekly drops everything from your esoteric, left-field, weird things that you would never attribute to D&D all the way to encounters and experience, and much more obvious topics, including soft skills, such as friendship and social and meta things such as podcasts, which was a weird itself. Naval Naval gazing. One to record.
Rebecca Gray: Hello, I’m Rebecca
Steve Myers: and I’m Steven.
Rebecca Gray: And we are from A House Sivis Broadcasting Eberron A Chronicle of Echoes podcast.
Steve Myers: It’s a very different kind of podcast. We’re a little bit scripted, a little bit improv and a whole lot of fun. So we hope that you’ll stop in and check us out and find out what it’s like when D&D meets radio.