Saturday, 29 March 2014

Trampier - the master

Very sad to hear of the death - at such a horribly young age - of Dave Trampier. For my money, he was the best artist D&D had; his illustrations summed up how I visualised my dungeons and the one above is for me, THE archetypal dungeon scenario. He was a man who helped to make my memories, and is now a memory himself but what images he's left behind for us to remember him by.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

An Adventure for Every Monster - Dinosaurs!

(with thanks to Arthur Conan Doyle)

The party is in a frontier town when they are approached by two rough, tough adventurers (at least a couple of levels higher than them) who explain that they are in the business of running hunting trips for bored nobles. Their previous security detail was seduced away by the lure of a large dungeon complex and they are in need of fresh volunteers to provide the weaponry and combat expertise for a new trip that the adventurers are planning.

Provided that the party is up for this, the two men arrange for them to meet up at the town gates in two days’ time, with their equipment, weapons, armour and supplies. The trip will probably take at least a month, the adventurers advise.

Two days later, the party is met at the town gates by their two new friends and a gaggle of rather uninspiring individuals, clearly wealthy and rather indolent, with their servants and retinues in tow. The nobles in question are diffident and will not speak to the party, seeing them as ruffians and too uncouth to bother with.

The voyage begins rather uneventfully; the town is in an area which, whilst technically wilderness, has been cleared out of any menacing monsters some years ago. However, once the party has covered the safe part of the journey, the terrain becomes rather more difficult; the hills become steeper and the going much tougher. Eventually, the two adventurers announce that they are nearing their destination. The next day should show where they are headed.

And indeed it does. Coming up over a rise in the trail, the party can see ahead a huge plateau rising above the wilderness. It looks big from where they are standing but it must be absolutely massive close up. The distance to the plateau takes at least two days to cross but when the party arrives, they will be scratching their heads about how to get to the top.

The two adventurers have the answer; they have been here before and know a way up the towering cliffs. They explain to the nobles that there will be no chance of carrying up all their equipment, so everything non-essential will be left at the bottom for their return. The nobles will balk at this but the two men know a cave in the cliff face that is easily concealable and suggest that all their equipment is placed in there.

With that out of the way, the ascent can begin. The path is steep and difficult but nothing that an experienced party can’t handle (rolling 1 on a DEX check is probably the only thing that can go wrong here). The climb will take the best part of the day – if the party has started any later than mid-morning, then the sun will set while they are still on the path. The DM can inflict penalties on the group but chances are the servants and retinue will pay the price, rather than the party.

And so the party will reach the top. The interior of the plateau is a tumbled mass of jungle, rocky outcrops, rivers and lakes, the sort of thing that it will be practically impossible to negotiate by horse. The two adventurers now explain that this is the hunting ground – the prey are dinosaurs, which seem to have survived here by some inexplicable chance. The nobles seem very excited by all this and start to unpack their weapons. The party may be quite eager to try their skills out against huge beasts from the dawn of time.

But all is not as it seems. The two adventurers have indeed been to this plateau before – as part of an adventuring party of their own. Whilst there, they stumbled across a temple complex inhabited by a native cult worshipping eldritch gods and were swiftly captured.  One by one, the captives were sacrificed in horrible ways and the experience drove the last two adventurers completely insane. They in fact became members of the cult and pledged their souls to the horrifying entities who were worshipped at the temple. To prove their worth, they suggested that they should return to the outside world and lure more victims to the plateau with the promise of hunting and wealth. This has worked twice already and now the third group of unsuspecting victims has arrived.

The two adventurers will contrive to lead the group closer to the temple but not so obviously that they raise suspicion. The natives will shadow the group to ensure that nobody escapes and then, when they ‘stumble across’ the temple, the trap will be thrown.

The natives will be skilled in bushcraft, armed with bows, arrows, spears, small knives and clubs. They will be wearing next to no armour. They will, in all likelihood have a shaman or priest (who will be the equivalent of an 8th level cleric) as well as tribal champions, probably 5th level fighters.  Their tactics will be to try and incapacitate rather than kill their enemies – this means they will reduce enemy parties to unconsciousness (minus hit points if you’re using that rule) and then bind them securely and use healing magic to bring them to perhaps 1 or 2HP.

The DM is encouraged to map and plot out the temple complex, although it will not be that large – perhaps a couple of levels. Being a lair of eldritch horror, it will have mysterious and eerie carvings all over the place and the holy of holies will cause detrimental effects to characters of strongly good alignments.  It may have guardians along the lines of Lovecraftian entities.

If the party is captured en masse, it may seem as though there is little that can be done to save them. However, it is possible that one of the nobles or one of their servants has managed to escape and could try to free one or more of the party. It is unlikely that they will be able to recover their armour and weapons unless they want to provoke a battle with the entire tribe. A tactical retreat into the jungle and some canny tricks and traps a la McGyver may be the best tactic.

There is of course treasure in the temple, but it will mostly be in the form of gold idols and artefacts which have been fashioned in the image of the eldritch nasties, so making them unsellable to any but the most dedicated scholars and collectors. They can be melted down for bullion value, of course. The property and belongings of previous duped parties were stored in the cave at the foot of the cliffs and later sold for profit by the two adventurer cultists.

If the party ends up due to be sacrificed, the ceremony should tax the sanity of all those present; those who do go insane may well end up as demented servants of the eldritch entities themselves and may join the two adventurer cultists on their next trip back to civilisation in search of more victims.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The City by Stella Gemmell

Yes, Gemmell as in David’s wife. She worked with him on some of his books and completed his Fall of Troy series after his death. This is her first solo novel and by heck, it’s a cracker. This is, for me, the equivalent for fantasy of what Hawk Quest was for historical fiction. I don’t think she put a foot wrong in this one – it’s so well written, inventive and plotted that it was a joy to read.

What’s it about?  Well, it describes the efforts of a motley assortment of characters to bring down an apparently immortal and thoroughly decadent emperor who rules over the eponymous City. Some of them are fighting in an incredibly long war between the City and its enemies, others are inhabitants of the gloriously intricate under-City which is like some kind of mega-dungeon, slowly flooding and causing the city above it to sink. They are tied together by some truly brilliant plotting that is immensely satisfying when you finally realise how it all falls together.

The prose is realistic, particularly the combat scenes, gritty without being nihilistic or bleak in any way, with characters that you really come to like and want to see succeed. One of the main characters, in my mind at least is the City itself. There’s no map but by the end of the book you feel you could probably draw one. It’s a huge, sprawling place, amazingly real, and – as I mentioned before – built on so many levels, it’s a bit like Gormenghast. The world-building is sans pareil, and could give many DMs a lesson in how to make something at the same time familiar and yet strikingly new in its exoticism.

It’s 560 pages long, so as fantasy epics go, it’s rather mid-length. I could have done with more pages, to be honest as at no point did I feel that the pace was flagging. I’d recommend it if you like David Gemmell’s work but I think Stella should be read on her own merits – of which, if this is anything to go by, she has plenty.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

An Adventure for Every Monster - Devil, Pit Fiend

Frequency   Rare
No. appearing 1 or 1-3
Armour class  -3
Move  6”/15” 
Hit Dice  13
Percentage in lair 65%     
Treasure type J, R
No. of attacks 2
Damage per attack  5-8/7-12    
Special attack  See below
Special defences  +2 or better weapon to hit
Magic Resistance 65%
Intelligence Exceptional
Alignment Lawful Evil
Size   L (12‘ tall)
THAC0  9
XP value 7900 + 18/hp

The devil’s abilities include:

Produce Flame
Wall of Fire
Detect Magic
Detect Invisible
Polymorph Self
Hold Person
Gate in 1-3 barbed devils (60%) or another pit fiend (40%) (70% chance of success)
Once per day, the pit fiend can deploy a Symbol of Pain.
Shed Fear in a 20’ radius.
Charm Person
Teleportation (no error)
Know Alignment
Cause Fear
Animate Dead

Many years ago, a high-level party was adventuring when they came up against a particularly tough opponent. The magic user, high in intelligence but not quite as well-endowed in the Wisdom department, used a Polymorph Other on his trusted henchman to turn him into a Pit Fiend. The plan worked but the magic user got separated from his polymorphed henchman and was then killed elsewhere by another opponent.

Left on his own, the henchman struggled to come to terms with what had happened to him and what his fate would now be. He was horrified, particularly as he was a nice chap to begin with, but slowly his predicament and his isolation began to eat away at his sanity and he started to believe that he really was a Pit Fiend and that his human memories were just delusions.

Succumbing to his diabolical urges, he began to go on rampages, slaughtering parties of adventurers sent to finish him off. After each combat, he would remember his former self when looking at the bodies of adventurers and this drove him even more insane. His rampages grew worse, including atrocities more in line with demons than devils.

In time, this came to the attention of Asmodeus himself and he despatched a real Pit Fiend to destroy the impostor and restore the Lawful reputation of devildom.

Into this situation comes the luckless party, hired by a local nobleman to accompany his rather weedy son on his first mission as a member of a holy order of knights (he got the job through generous donations by his father). The party will get a bonus if they finish off the ‘pit fiend’ but the penalty if the son dies will more or less wipe out that bonus.

The party will get wind of the trail of destruction pretty quickly as the ‘pit fiend’ is not subtle about what he does. Only when the party are closing to engage will the real pit fiend show up and he’s not fussy about stuff like collateral damage. In fact, if he can garner some more souls for his diabolical master, he will do so.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

An Adventure for Every Monster - Devil, Lemure

Frequency   Common
No. appearing 5-30
Armour class  7
Move  3” 
Hit Dice  3
Percentage in lair 100%     
Treasure type Nil
No. of attacks 1
Damage per attack  1-3    
Special attack  Nil
Special defences  See below
Magic Resistance Standard
Intelligence Semi-
Alignment Lawful Evil
Size   M
THAC0  16
XP value 65 +3/hp

Lemures regenerate at a rate of 1hp per melee round so they are not usually destroyed by the wounds inflicted on them. They can be destroyed permanently only by blessed things (holy water, holy swords, etc). They are not subject to any form of sleep, charm or the like.

The party have been hired to (or perhaps have become involved with the efforts to) destroy a temple which worships a particular devil prince. Rumours abound of human sacrifice, sinister manifestations of diabolical power and an even darker secret at the heart of the temple.

The party should have little trouble defeating the cultists. They are mostly misfits and losers who saw the cult as a path to personal gratification. Their leader, however, is a different matter; a mid-level cleric who will give the party a hard time before ultimately being defeated.

But that’s just the start of this adventure. The dark secret at the heart of the temple is accessed through a hidden door behind the altar, and it is through this that the priest will dart. Down a shaft lies a network of tunnels, at the centre of which is a pool of oozing, festering slime, complete with semi-dissolved faces and slimy hands reaching out of it, etc. This is the pool into which the sacrificial victims’ bodies were dumped and now it has achieved a sort of semi-sentience.

If he is still alive, the priest will lead the party into the lower levels and once they are down there, he will throw a switch that causes all the passageways out to be sealed by sliding stone doors. This is the signal for the slime pool to start disgorging horribly melted humanoid figures – the lemures, who will hunt the party down through the network of tunnels and seek to drag them back to the pool, where – if they are drowned in the slime – they will rise again as lemures themselves.  If the priest has been killed, then there will be a booby trap which will be triggered as the party explore the lower levels.

The lemures are, despite their weak stats, ineluctable in their efforts to capture the party and drown them in the slime. There are ways in which the slithering menace can be defeated but will the party survive long enough to find them?

Friday, 24 January 2014

After a long absence...

Just to advise that I am still alive. However, I need to inform my readers that because of the demands of schoolwork on Junior Grognard, we have had to take the decision to suspend Team Adventure for a couple of months. It's not a decision that we took lightly, since we know that the players really enjoy it and were looking forward to it starting up again after Christmas.

I am still working on the Adventure for Every Monster series, which will be continuing soon. Since I'm not gaming (apart from running the CoC pbem), I've not got that much game-related stuff to blog about. But this blog is not closing down - posting will be intermittent until further notice.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

An Adventure for Every Monster - Devil, Ice

Frequency   Uncommon
No. appearing 1 or 1-4
Armour class  -4
Move  11” 
Hit Dice  11
Percentage in lair 60%     
Treasure type Q, R
No. of attacks 4
Damage per attack  1-4/1-4/2-8/3-12    
Special attack  See below
Special defences  +2 or better weapon to hit
Magic Resistance 55%
Intelligence High
Alignment Lawful Evil
Size   L (10 ½ ‘ tall)
THAC0  10
XP value 4400 + 16/hp

The devil’s abilities include:

Wall of Ice
Detect Magic
Detect Invisible
Polymorph Self
Gate in 2 bone devils (70%) or another ice devil (30%) (60% chance of success)
Cause Ice Storm (once per day)
Charm Person
Teleportation (no error)
Know Alignment
Cause Fear
Animate Dead

The ice devils have been having a bit of trouble recently.  The city in which the adventure is set has recently come under the domination of a fire cult, whose clerics have been strengthening their power until they are on the verge of being able to wield fireball spells, a feat usually reserved for magic users. One particular cleric, a Priest Prince of the city, has been very effective at eliminating ice devils whenever they appear to try and restore the balance between fire and ice. This is also affecting the balance of power on the lower planes.

Hitherto, the ice devils have been using the manifest-fight-destroy model of operations but one particular ice devil, who is perhaps a little smarter than his fellows, has come up with a cunning plan that has resulted from a careful study of the opposition.

His plan revolves around the character of the Priest Prince, who is an arrogant and short-tempered man, handsome but violent. His shortcomings are tolerated because of his skills at devil slaying and his clerical powers. His looks have made him a hit with the ladies of the city, including one who has become perhaps slightly more obsessed with the Priest Prince than others might be. This is due in no short part to the efforts of the ice devil, who has used his Charm Person and Suggestion powers to convince the lady, through dreams, that she is destined to be the Priest Prince’s one true love. She is not particularly comely and, in reality, has no appeal for the Priest Prince. 

Now the ice devil has prepared his arrow, he merely needs to let it fly. The lady will begin to obsessively stalk the Priest Prince, who will brush her off brusquely, causing her to become even more determined. Eventually, he will lose his temper and either assault her or kill her to be rid of her. This will cause problems for him and the Fire Priests since the lady’s family is a powerful merchant clan who wield great influence in the city. Clashes between the spiritual and secular may well spill over into civil strife as there are many who resent the dominance of the Fire Priests.

The party will walk into this situation with little knowledge of the behind-the-scenes machinations.

There are several options for them to be dragged into this scenario.

1. They are hired by the Priest Prince to ‘deter’ the lady from making any further advances towards him. This can involve diverting her if one of the party has particularly high Charisma, ruining his image in her eyes by staging some sort of sham scandal, that sort of thing.

2. Maybe another party had tried option one before and had no luck. The Priest Prince does not need this sort of distraction at a time when he is due to lead a crusade against heretics in the northern wilds and so wants the lady out of the way – permanently. The party need to have her eliminated in a way that will not lead back to the Priest Prince and which will keep them out of prison as well.

3. The lady herself realises that on her own, she stands little chance of getting anywhere near the Priest Prince, so she approaches the party to see if their superior planning and intelligence can achieve what she has failed to do. The party need to come up with a way of getting the Priest Prince to see the lady’s obvious (to her) virtues and concluding a successful match.

4. The lady’s family are getting more than a little concerned about her infatuation and think that it’s for the best if she forgets about it. This is of course not going to happen whilst the ice devil is working his wicked plan. The party are hired to provide diversions aplenty (both social and personal) for the lady so that she has no chance to pine for her (clearly) unsuitable beau.

5. As with option four, but the family have already tried many different ways to break the lady’s infatuation and nothing has worked. Her father now suspects that something fishy is going on and wants the party to find out what. This will require the DM to devise the means by which the ice devil has managed to influence the lady’s mind. It will be no easy task to find and combat him, as he is a cunning and subtle fellow. 

If the ice devil thinks it has a chance, it may lure the party into the fire temple and somehow contrive for them to desecrate it (albeit unwittingly). This will enable the ice devil to gate in infernal support which will give the party a hard time.

Assuming they survive, the party may well become embroiled in the civil strife that follows any clash between the Fire Priests and the merchants. If the ice devils make a comeback following the weakening of the Fire Priests’ power, the party may well become a target for revenge attacks.