Sunday, 23 September 2012

Team Adventure - Lifts and Lizards

The party decided to take the rooms on one at a time, with Alagon using his ability to repel evil creatures, whilst Ferros, having cured Alurax of his paralysation, used his turning powers to force his enemies to retreat to the far corner of the chamber. In one room, Alagon – using his bow – was failing spectacularly to hit a ghast until a lucky shot pinned it to the wall, causing black slime to pour out of its mouth before its head fell off.

Galadeus, despite being aware of the power of the terrible creatures in the chambers, nevertheless plunged in on his own and was hit and paralysed, getting rescued by Elysia. She, working in co-operation with Ferros, was able to use a Web spell to pin one ghast into a corner so that they could push the stone lever without interruption. Her wand of Illumination came in handy on two occasions, blasting a ghast and a ghoul into fragments. Galadeus also needed rescuing a second time when, having a truly bad run of luck, he managed to get paralysed again in another chamber.

It was a chaotic battle, with everyone (except, ironically, Gullhar) getting involved. Nevertheless, in the end, all their undead enemies were defeated and they were able to push the final stone lever into place.

At this, the statue rose from its plinth and walked to the middle of the room, where it turned and stood still once more. With a grinding noise, the plinth slid aside to reveal a flight of stairs leading downwards. The party, never one to pass up a temptation like this, started down the stairs. Galadeus was in the vanguard. Elysia sent Relic on ahead to scout and he returned with visions of the end of the passage; there was a ten foot section of floor made of iron grating and the ceiling above matched it.

Never trust a floor that looks like this
 On the wall at the end of the passage were three numerals.

II - red
III - gold
IV – lurid green

Galadeus stepped onto the iron grating to see what would  happen. Nothing did. The floor grating was loose and moved slightly but apart from that, all seemed well. Galadeus came back out again and Ferros sent in one of his two remaining zombies. Once again, nothing happened. Alurax threw in some ghoul bones to see if they might cause the floor to tip over sideways.
Before Ferros could recall his zombie, Galadeus stepped onto the grating once again and with that, there was a clanking, grinding noise and the floor grating rose up, taking the ranger and the zombie with it. Both vanished from view. There was a horrible scream, a number of sickening crunches and then blood started to run down through the grating.

Those party members who were not watching the horrific spectacle noticed that where the floor grating had been, a shaft dropped down into the darkness below.

About a minute later, down came the grating again with a  very badly injured Galadeus (who had five bleeding holes in him) and a very inactive zombie. Elysia cast Unseen Servant to drag Galadeus to safety, where he was stabilised and healed by Ferros. 

Feeling certain that this was a trap with more than one surprise in store for them, the party studied the numerals to try and establish what they might mean. Slowly but surely, they deduced that the red number two indicated that the weight of two people would lead to bloodshed.  From that, they were able to work out that three people would lead to gold, presumably treasure or something else desirable and that four people’s weight would take them to somewhere sickly green, either poison or something even worse – in any case, not conducive to health

Alurax, Galadeus and Gullhar decided to test the hypothesis and climbed onto the iron grating. With a clang, the grating began to descend. As they went down the shaft, they began to smell an acrid scent that grew stronger the further they went. It started to burn their noses and make their throats sting. Just as it seemed that it would become unbearable, the grating juddered to a halt. The three of them were facing an open corridor. They stepped off and started to edge their way down. Behind them, after a minute or so, the grating began to ascend again.

Up above, Elysia and the rest of the group watched nervously as the grating rose towards them. When it arrived in place and there was nobody there, worries increased. Nevertheless, they decided to try their luck after some lengthy discussion on how they might get back up again if they needed to.  Ferros’ last zombie was left to stand guard and Elysia used a reversed Enlarge spell once they reached the bottom to cause the floor grating to fall away and plunge further down the shaft. Now, when the roof grating rose to its original position, she could use Fly to carry the party one by one to the upper level.

They followed the passageway and soon found their comrades at the top of a flight of stairs that curved down and to the right. At the foot of the stairs, they found a walkway that ran alongside an underground river. A similar walkway was on the far side. Using Relic to do aerial reconnaissance, they found that to their left, the walkway snaked around a dock that opened onto the river. To their right, there was a bridge that overlooked the river, but no visible windows to it.  A little further down towards the bridge, there was another flight of stairs that led up and around to a door.

Where do these lead? Why, to adventure, of course!

Galadeus and Alagon moved up the stairs and prepared to kick in the door. As they did so and piled into the room beyond, three javelins whistled through the air and struck home. The lizard men that had thrown the missiles then charged into the attack whilst another lizard man ran for reinforcements.

In a short but tough battle, Galadeus was sent crashing back down the stairs, badly injured (he seemed to having a rough time this session – twice paralysed, skewered to within an inch of his life and then clawed by lizard men) whilst Alagon took two vicious bites from the angry lizard men attacking him.

Gullhar pulled the unconscious Galadeus to safety while Ferros ran up the stairs to support his comrade. While Elysia prepared a Sleep spell, Alurax saw something very interesting in the waters of the underground river – a shark’s fin breaking the surface. It swam past him, then turned and swam back down the river again. Alurax was able to use his Trident of Warning to determine it was indeed a shark, but what was it doing in the river?


Meanwhile, Elysia had fired off her Sleep spell, felling three lizard men on the stairs and enabling the party to withdraw in good order. They reformed at the foot of the stairs to consider their next move. 

Friday, 21 September 2012

The Thirty Nine Steps by John Buchan

Think you know the story? Think again. 

She's not in the book

This never happens in the book

Sorry, no Forth Bridge hidey bits in the book

Forget all about Mr Memory

Many people will be familiar with this one via the many cinematic or televisual adaptations which seem to come along more often than a new edition of D&D. However, few, if any, have given a faithful rendering of the book and it’s only in the past few days that I’ve actually gone back to source and read the original, which is getting on for 100 years old (in 2015).

Why, I wonder, do they feel the need to adapt it so heavily?  What about the story seems to make it difficult to transpose to the screen?  The book itself is short – around 41,000 words, so its length shouldn’t be a problem. It’s fast-paced with barely a let-up in the action, so fitting it in to 2 hours or so presents no difficulty.

No, what the problem is with the book is its sheer old-fashionedness; it champions values that are sadly out of keeping with the modern world as we perceive it and wish it reflected in our entertainments.  Nobility and self-sacrificing heroism, a rugged masculinity and a lack of sexual content seem, it appears, to make for poor crowd-pleasers.  It did, however, manage to please me, since I took it at face value and cannot really remember clearly the cinematic adaptations.

To be honest, whilst enjoying the yarn (for such it is), I was reminded for the most part of a Call of Cthulhu scenario in the Keeper is intent on giving the players the fright of their lives whilst never really intending to kill them. In fact, the whole book could serve as an object lesson in how to survive whilst on the run in the aforementioned game, since it is set in 1914, barely a decade or so before the time during which many Keepers set their adventures. Merely substitute ‘sinister plotters’ for ‘sinister cultists’ and you could probably run this one.

Of course, there are, it is freely admitted, colossal contrivances that conspire to make the story work. It’s a yarn, as I’ve already said. The pace manages to overcome the disbelief that may rear its head at certain points and if you read it in the spirit in which it’s written, the enjoyment is heightened. There’s also a rather abrupt ending and some dialogue that might be read as a ‘comedy Scottish accent’ although since Buchan was Scottish, I must bow to his inestimably superior knowledge.

As a glimpse into another time, another world and another set of values to which we may well glance with wistful nostalgia from time to time, especially when confronted with the less than savoury aspects of our own time, this book stands as a very good example.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

An Adventure for Every Monster - Crocodile

Frequency    Common 
No. appearing  3-24 
Armour class 5  
Move  6”/12” 
Hit Dice 3 
Percentage in lair  Nil   
Treasure type Nil
No. of attacks 2
Damage per attack 2-8/1-12     
Special attack Nil   
Special defences  Nil
Magic Resistance Standard
Intelligence Animal
Alignment Neutral
Size  L (8-15’ long)
THAC0  16
XP value 60 + 4/hp

The High King is dead! Woe and tears in abundance, as well as opportunities for the more larcenous members of society.  The tomb of the King lies in an area of rocky gullies and hills and the local thieves’ guild would very much like to get in and help themselves to the wonderful treasures that lie within. Preferably before a rival guild decides to pre-empt them. Of course, being devout worshippers of the very gods invoked to protect the tomb, they cannot do the deed themselves and so turn to the party to assist by breaking in and liberating the riches.
The thieves’ guild will supply the party with a map of the tomb, details of some (but not all) of the traps that have been laid there to catch the unwary and arrange a rendezvous to hand over the loot. A suitably complex safeguarding process will have been arranged to ensure that the party do not simply ride off with the gold (details are up to the DM but it will probably involve assassins, geases, hostages, etc).

Off the party set to the Valley of the Kings, which has the obligatory jackals, vultures and undead lurking amongst the rocks and shadows (many of the ravines in which tombs are delved are so deep that the sunlight never reaches the bottom).

When the party reaches the tomb entrance, they will find that the cartouche of the High Priest who officiated at the burial and sealed the tomb is still intact; they may well assume from this that the tomb is undisturbed. Unfortunately for them, when they break in, they will find that it is completely empty.

It won’t take a genius to work out that the High Priest sneaked back after the funeral, broke in, looted the tomb and then resealed it afterwards.

It will, however, take a genius to convince the thieves’ guild that there was no treasure in the tomb. The thieves will take the view that the party is trying to pull a swift one and call in the heavy mob to put the frighteners on the party to return the loot they ‘stole’. Not kill them, mind. Dead men can’t hand back the treasure.

The party obviously needs to find the missing High Priest and get the treasure back. Tracking him down is not quite so easy; if the DM is feeling harsh, allocate two possibilities and roll for them

a) the High Priest decided that the further away he was from the Kingdom, the better and decided to make his escape across the desert. A huge sandstorm blew up and swallowed him and his mule train in its entirety. The party must somehow track down the remains in the vast and trackless sands.

b) The High Priest was somewhat more relaxed and took another route, stopping for the night by a river where, the next morning, he made a crossing and the mule train was attacked by crocodiles who made mincemeat of it. The treasure is now at the bottom of the river, being guarded – albeit inadvertently – by the crocodiles.

The party now have to get it back without getting eaten which is no mean feat considering they’ll have to dive down to get it and keep the scaly terrors busy at the same time. That assumes that they can find it in the first place – it’s muddy down there.

If the DM is feeling somewhat kinder, dispense with option a) and merely strew the High Priest’s journey with some misleading clues to make the party’s job that little bit harder. Perhaps a few rumours might not go amiss?

1. The High Priest was devoured by a demon after cheating on a promise to hand over the King’s treasure
2. The High Priest has a twin brother who is working with him to defraud the Kingdom
3. The High Priest has lost heavily on linen futures and needs to make up the losses by fair means or foul
4. All the treasure in the tomb was fake and the real riches were smuggled out of the Kingdom to a pre-agreed meeting point where the High Priest was waiting. The cartouche ring was passed to a member of the Thieves’ Guild who wanted to betray his fellows
5. The treasure is still in the tomb but a trap triggered by the break-in has turned it ethereal.
6. The King is not really dead but made a deal with the High Priest to fake his demise so that he could flee the Kingdom with the beggar girl with whom he has fallen in love.

Of course the DM might actually find one of these rumours more interesting to play as the real outcome of this adventure. Please feel free to do so if you want. Of course, the crocodiles will need to be put back in their box unless you can find a use for them.

In case you want to substitute the giant crocodile for its somewhat smaller cousin, these are the stats.

Frequency    Very rare to common
No. appearing  2-12
Armour class  4
Move  6”/12” 
Hit Dice   7
Percentage in lair  Nil   
Treasure type Nil
No. of attacks 2
Damage per attack  3-18/2-20    
Special attack Nil   
Special defences  Nil
Magic Resistance Standard
Intelligence Animal
Alignment Neutral
Size  L (21-30’)
THAC0  13
XP value 400 + 8/hp

The fabled Sarcosuchus, giant crocodile of prehistory with its unsuspecting dinner

Monday, 10 September 2012

Every little helps

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Team Adventure - Saturday Wight Fever

After a long summer break, the players were up for some more dungeon delving. The autumn season began today; yes, BBC1 has Doctor Who, we have Team Adventure.

The party decided that it was third time lucky for the Gatehouse and decided to attack again. However, as they approached the fortification, they noticed something odd; atop the battlements, the gnolls and the minotaur were pushing a heavy bundle upon onto the edge.
One of the gnolls shouted out a challenge to the approaching party; fortunately, Gullhar could speak the gnoll language and managed to discover that they were threatening to throw their treasure off the ramparts and into the river if the party tried to attack. From the ensuing conversation, Elysia got the distinct impression that the monsters wanted to be left alone and were prepared to sacrifice their treasure to deter the party from another assault. There was clearly room for negotiation and Elysia carried it out with aplomb. She managed to get the gnolls to agree to hand over their loot in return for an alliance with the party and a promise not to attack the gatehouse again. The party’s emblem (a hurried consultation decided on Relic Rampant) was painted onto the gate itself and Elysia used Unseen Servant to ferry the treasure out onto the bridge where they bundled it up and dragged it off to the Room of the Stone Coffins, where it was counted. There was a fair amount of coin, two potions, some armour and weapons which would have to wait for the return to town to be properly identified.

Once their haul had been stashed away, Galadeus set off in the opposite direction to the Gatehouse. He passed the grilled windows through which the wide dungeonway could be seen, and at the t-junction, he turned right, finding a door a few yards up, which he decided to try and kick open. He succeeded and nearly lost his balance on the edge of a flight of stairs.

Meanwhile, the rest of the party was following at a distance and as Gullhar was in front, he was the one who walked straight into an ogre coming round the corner. The two traded blows and the ogre landed a hit on the elf. As the ogre turned and bolted, Alurax came hurtling in and chased it off down the corridor and round a bend. The ogre, having found four friendly orcs, turned to face the pursuing fighter and fought back, hitting Alurax twice before falling to a blow from the trident. Now Alurax was surrounded by orcs, as fresh reinforcements came up from further on down the passage. Elysia stepped in to Sleep the seven orcs who were attacking Alurax, then ransomed their lives for the agreement of their oncoming fellows to withdraw and come no further. The orcs fell back resentfully and warned her that she had not heard the last of this.

Meanwhile, Galadeus had reached the bottom of the stairs and through a door found himself on the dungeonway, a wide passage running off to the left and right. He decided to turn left and followed the passage until he came to an arch through which were some stairs that led down into a large chamber. At the far side was an old ship, rotted and dilapidated. The floor of the chamber was covered in brackish and slimy water that seethed and bubbled, stinking and rancid. Galadeus dipped his toe into the water and pulled it out just in time as a slithering white maggot creature made a lunge for him. He pulled back and communicated his discovery to the rest of the party, who were now approaching his position.

After some rather inconclusive shooting at the white maggots, Elysia decided to use her Fly spell and took Galadeus across to the deck of the ship.

It was clear that this vessel had seen better days. Several centuries ago, in fact.
 Even as they landed, they felt the rotted timbers creak under the weight of the armoured ranger and so he took off his armour, handing it to Elysia who took it back to the steps. This was perhaps unfortunate timing as just then, a swarm of giant rats burst forth from the bowels of the ship and attacked Galadeus. He took a bite or two but managed to put his Ring of Mammal Control to good use to make the rats jump off the ship and into the water, where they were overwhelmed and devoured by the maggots.

Rats, say hello to my little squirming friends

His troubles were not over yet as up through the rotted deck of the ship punched a vicious clawed hand, followed by another and then the head of the terrifying creature, hauling itself to freedom. It clambered out and headed for Galadeus who was only saved by the timely intervention of the flying Elysia, plucking him to safety. Or at least relative safety since, after taking several arrows with no visible effect, the creature clambered over the side of the ship and waded through the slimy water towards the party, attracting no interest whatsoever from the maggots.

The party decided to make a run for it, except Galadeus who stood his ground and attacked with his magic spear as the creature made landfall. Although he managed to do damage, it also caught him with its clawed hands and he shuddered as a cold feeling of horror ran through him. Wisps of glimmering energy flowed from him into the hands of the creature.

All of your soul is belonging to me

The combat with the horrible attacker, now revealed to be a wight, continued and now the rest of the party came back down the passageway. Elysia whipped out her Wand of Illumination and a command word later, the corridor was flooded with the light of the sun which blasted the wight back into the churning filth.

Somewhat understandably, the party did not wish to investigate the ship further, despite the possibility of treasure within. Instead, they headed back up the stairs and turned right, heading into one of the blank spaces on the map.
At the end of the passage, they arrived at a room where a large stone statue stood against the far wall. Galadeus, fired up after his encounter with the wight, draining effects notwithstanding, approached the statue warily but it did not move. There were four small holes, just about large enough for a person to enter, along the side walls of the room. Scouting around, the ranger managed to find a faint trail that led into the room and then stopped at the feet of the statue.

Finding the holes in the walls too much of a temptation to resist, Galadeus climbed into one of them and found himself hurtling down a steep shaft to land in a room face to face with a ghoul. It was a tough fight and he managed to avoid its horrible claws and fangs, finishing it off with deft use of his spear.  A shout for help brought a slither of rope into the tiny room but while he was down there, he noticed a stone block sticking out of the wall.

On hearing this, Alurax had the truly inspired idea that each room might well contain a block and that they must all be pushed in to activate or move the statue. He decided to investigate another of the rooms to find out if his hypothesis was true and after using his last oil bomb to set fire to whatever it was that was waiting down there, slid down the shaft. At the bottom, he was faced by a similar creature to the one that attacked Galadeus but this one was a lot tougher and before Alurax had the opportunity to finish it off, it raked him with its claws and he felt the cold sensation of powerlessness spread through his body.

Hearing the cry, Galadeus dived down the shaft and saw the creature crouching over the prone form of Alurax, about to start eating. A quick but accurate thrust of his magic spear finished off the ghast. Elysia retrieved the paralysed fighter, whilst Galadeus pushed the stone block, which slid into the wall with a click. The same result applied to the first chamber. It was clear that Alurax had been right in his hypothesis but this meant that there were still six chambers to be cleared before there was any chance of the statue moving (if that was indeed what happened). The party eyed each other with apprehension, wondering if anybody would volunteer or if short straws needed to be drawn.