Saturday 31 December 2011

Farewell 2011

And what a year jam-packed with events it was. There was so much going on that even now, casting a glance over the reviews of the year on TV, I'm surprised that I've forgotten some things that were quite momentous at the time. On a personal note, whilst 2011 was not as kind to my family as I would have liked, I approach 2012 with a degree of optimism that I hope will be justified.

On the gaming front, the success of Team Adventure continues apace. Things may well develop further since for Christmas, Junior Grognard got the DMG and PHB and in 2012, I intend to set him some practical exercises in stocking dungeons using the excellent maps of the inimitable (and now returned from wherever it is he went) Dyson Logos. I've got 30 years of experience that I hope JG can utilise - he may well have a group of his own by this time next year.

The march (albeit slow) of An Adventure for Every Monster to Z for Zombie will continue and there may be some other series coming up, hook-oriented.

There may also be something Cthulhu-inspired in the pipeline, inspired by the fiction shorts from Dungeonmum earlier this year.

I'll keep reading and reviewing stuff that I think has relevance for the subject matter of the blog.

I'll probably be asleep by the time the new year comes in so may I take this opportunity to thank all of you who follow this blog, all those who regularly read it and anybody who's dropped in to see why so many of my most popular posts are about pigs. If you've found something useful for your games, then I feel my work is worthwhile.

Happy New Year!

Sunday 25 December 2011

Saturday 24 December 2011

The Coventry Carol

I love this song and this rendition is amongst the best I've found. It's so mediaeval in its sound; in the very depths of winter, it fits the mood of the season perfectly. Enjoy, with a glass of mulled wine in one hand and a mince pie in the other. Wassail!

Friday 23 December 2011

A Christmas Carol - Deja Vu?

I posted about this video last year and it's an annual ritual of mine either to read the book or to watch this classic rendition thereof. If you've not seen it yet, check it out. If you have, watch it again and enjoy!

Monday 19 December 2011

Favourite Christmas Songs

Mine's this one

Mummy Grognard and I always say it's not Christmas until we've heard this on the radio or in the shops.

Friday 16 December 2011

Simply Irreplaceable

On waking this morning, I heard on the radio the news that I had been expecting but hoped would not come. The death of Christopher Hitchens is a blow to all those who valued his championing of rationalism, cherished his contrarian and independent outlook and expanded their vocabulary as a result of reading what he had written.

This link is to the archive of articles that he wrote for Vanity Fair, and this links to his articles for Slate.

Whilst you may not agree with everything he wrote, or every view he held (so no ad hominems in the comments, please), what is incontrovertible is that he was a journalist the like of which we shall probably not see again. His writing stands as a memorial to a man who polarised and shaped opinion, in my mind at least for the better.

EDIT: there is now an online petition to have a statue of Hitch erected in London (and one in DC as well). The site is here.

Sunday 11 December 2011

Team Adventure - Christmas Special

Deck the table with our game stuff, tra-la-la-la-la, la-la, la-la...

The team began to hack at the door to the cellar with axes, desperate to escape before the coffin opened. Their blows soon splintered the wood in several places but as they made holes in the door they found more wood beyond it. Hacking at that, they heard the clank of metal and the crash of ceramics.

Suddenly, the new wood began to slide aside and a helmeted head appeared through one of the gaps. The team asked the newcomer to open the door; a couple of slid bolts later, they were out of the cellar.

Profusely grateful to their rescuer, they were keen to find who he was. He was young, armoured and very handsome, with an aura of goodness about him that they had encountered before. He introduced himself as Alagon but before he could get much further, a young woman in armour, beautiful but determined, came striding down the corridor and asked what was going on and who the Team were. Introductions were swiftly made; it turned out that the young woman was a cleric named Ceritha, who was Alagon’s superior at their temple.


Alagon was a paladin, a warrior for truth and justice and they had both been on the trail of the Third, having traced him to the town and to that particular house. A debate began as to what to do with the coffin in the cellar. Olaf suggested carrying it out into the courtyard by the fountain, which was agreed. Once there, they settled on taking the coffin out of the town and burying it somewhere secluded, piling stones on top of it so that it could not open and keeping guard. A somewhat frenzied race to hire a horse and cart, load up the coffin and find an out of the way spot for the interment.

They found a spot with but three quarters of an hour to go and although Olaf was a swift digger, even he could not dig a six-foot hole in that short amount of time. They managed to get it half-dug and then Olaf came up with the brilliant idea of turning the coffin upside-down so that the lid could not be opened anyway. They then piled earth and rocks up on top of it and settled down to stand guard.

Alagon had been slated to appear as an NPC, along with Ceritha, on the vampire's trail but I had been informed that we had a potential new player and so decided to bring him in as the young paladin. It seemed to work very well.

The night passed without incident for once. The next morning, leaving Ferros and Olaf on guard duty, the party returned to the tavern to see what was what (and get a beer!). Whilst they were there, a messenger arrived from the auctioneer, who had managed to re-arrange the sale for that day. With no further ado, Cafaror headed off to the hotel, hotly followed by the rest of the party who were not Olaf and Ferros.

Security was tight, considering what had happened last time. The Prince was there as was Thorgrim’s employer and two men with snakes around their necks, who were sitting at a table some way back. The bidding started and at 3,000gp, the snake wearers dropped out, leaving soon afterwards. Alurax decided to follow them, with Zanurax in his pocket.

Now, the bidding was between Thorgrim’s employer and the Prince. At 8,000gp, the former dropped out and the Prince was the proud owner of an intact giant lizard skin. Thorgrim and his employer did not seem at all happy and began a muttered conversation. the extremely rich NPC

Whilst all this was going on, Olaf had appeared, having arranged to swap sentry duty with Ceritha, who seemed more interested in keeping an eye on the coffin. Creeping close to Thorgrim, he overheard him discussing, in dwarvish with his employer their disgruntlement at losing the auction and suggesting that they hire the Team to journey into the wilderness and hunt large specimens of wildlife which would make good trophies. Olaf ‘appeared’ in time to discuss this with Thorgrim and agreed to take him up on the offer; the dwarf and his employer still had 8,000gp which they had not had to spend after all.

Once the auction was out of the way, the party decided to start looking for the fourth key for the coffin. Alurax had arrived back now, reporting that had had lost track of the snake wearers in a network of alleyways. Figuring that the fourth key must be back at the house where they had met the Third, they headed back there but when they arrived, the place was sealed off; the town guard were all over the place, investigating three vicious murders and the theft of a rare artefact.

Unbelievably, the party actually did what it said on the tape

The party concluded that this must refer to the three servants of the Third that they had killed when they raided the house and the coffin itself. Engaging the guards in conversation (with some very odd questions from Cafaror about their working conditions and rates of pay) they found out that the guards were also investigating reports of a missing girl; a serving wench in a tavern had vanished after her shift ended.

The party were convinced that this had something to do with the Third but yet how could this be with the vampire secured inside his own coffin?

Zanurax had gone up to the skylight on Relic again, but had managed to find nothing of any interest in the house. Frustrated and seemingly dead-ended, the party returned to the tavern where Thorgrim had sent a message saying he and his employer would meet them after breakfast the next day.

At this point, I feel it only appropriate to reveal (hope none of my players is reading this) that Alurax had encountered slightly more than he let on when he rejoined the party. He had in fact managed to trail the snake wearers to a house down an alleyway and had sneaked in, only to overhear a strange conversation in a foreign language and some sinister hissing coming from an upstairs room. Sneaking back out, he then knocked on the door, posing as a legitimate visitor and was welcomed in by one of the snake wearers, affable and friendly. He was taken upstairs and shown into the room where he was confronted by a snake with the head of a woman. She greeted him in friendly fashion, all the time attempting to meet his gaze which she eventually did. Junior Grognard failed his save vs. Paralysation and fell under the Charm ability of the Spirit naga. She bade him return to his party and wait for further instructions on how he could serve her Snake Cult.

With much of the day to use up, the party visited the burial site again, this time digging the hole deeper so that the coffin could be properly buried, just to make sure that nothing bad happened. Ferros swapped duties with Galzor.

When they woke the next morning, they were fired up with the prospect of getting back out into the wilds and wetting their blades again. Their two new comrades arrived and they were soon heading for the town gate, ignoring the gossip from the tavern delivery men about a gruesome murder that had happened the previous night. Time will tell whether they were wise to do so.

You will recall that Cafaror had been told not to leave town, still being a suspect in a murder enquiry but he was (just about) disguised as a comely elf maiden (!) and the guards, still being in that early-morning mood, waved them through with a few quizzical looks but no suspicions.

I am an elf, really. My name is Galadriel. Do you not find me beautiful?

At the burial site, everything seemed perfectly normal. Ceritha and Galzor were happy to keep watch in case something suspicious happened, so the rest of the Team, plus Thorgrim and his boss set off up river, planning to make the Moat House their first port of call. Not long afterwards, they ran into a couple of merchants and their man at arms, who reported that the wilds were no longer safe after a gang of bandits had take up residence in an old ruined house further up river. Realising that their hard won property had been invaded by squatters (and why not, since it had been left vacant for quite a while since its liberation), the Team spurred their horses on and thus rode straight into an ambush by archers hidden in the trees. Fortunately, the bowmen were either bad shots or the Team were too hard to hit and in the firefight that followed, seven attackers were killed with no casualties for our heroes. It was noted that the bandits (for such were they) were not quite human, having pointed ears and ugly faces with large noses and sharp teeth.

They were in fact half-orcs, but as the party had never encountered this race before, I decided to keep things vague for now; that they were aware their adversaries were not human was enough to be going on with.

Having brushed this feeble opposition aside, our doughty band rode on upriver, arriving at the confluence of the stream and river where they had been attacked by wolves all those weeks ago. There was nothing to bother them now, although a giant eagle soaring over the camp site made Alurax reach for his bow; he soon lowered it again after a stern word from Elysia.

The next morning, as the sun was rising, there was movement on the far side of the river as a herd of wild horses emerged from the trees to drink at the water’s edge. Ferros, using his spell ability to Speak With Animals, chatted to them for a while, determining that they had encountered bandits and that one of the horses had been killed by them. Apart from that, the herd kept its distance from humans.

Yes, we do know where the next dungeon is...

The Team pressed on to the Moat House, arriving a little before midday. They could see a ribbon of smoke rising from somewhere inside and concluded that this meant the bandits were in residence. With Alurax in the lead, they charged across the flat ground towards the drawbridge, meeting a hail of arrows from the watchtower as they did so. A horn blast of alarm went up; Alurax and Alagon dismounted and burst into the watchtower whilst Ferros and Cafaror raced across the courtyard, past the ettin statue and quickly overwhelmed three bandits who had emerged at the top of the steps and were firing at them.

Alurax and his trident made short work of the four bandits in the tower – three were killed and a fourth leapt through a hole in the wall and slid down into the moat. As he swam for safety, one of the giant frogs saw an opportunity for a meal and headed towards him. The bandit tried to climb out and up the side of the moat but the frog hopped out of the water and dragged him back in again.

Six more bandits were waiting for the Team as they joined forces and burst into the Great Hall. Although several of the team took wounds, they were able to wipe out the bandits, as well as another four who were in a room beyond the hall. Three others managed to escape both the Team and the frogs and make good their escape into the forest. In the inner room, the party uncovered the bandits’ stash, a sizeable haul which brought a satisfied smile to their faces. Having won back their Moat House, they could begin to plan the next stage of their hunting expedition.

This session was the first time we had tried out our new, larger dining table and as can be seen from the picture at the start of this post, it seats the Team comfortably with plenty of space for character sheets, figures, floor plans etc. We also had a salad and pizza lunch for the lads today as it was the last session of the year. I'm very happy with the way that things have gone this year - we've retained the core team with one or two dropping out and another attending intermittently (through no fault of their own, I hasten to add) and have now recruited another player, who went away from the session very fired up for more. We've got a good thing going here, playing it Old School and keeping the torch burning. Long may it continue.

Thursday 8 December 2011

Fantasy as it used to be - Songs of the Earth by Elspeth Cooper

Tired of gritty fantasy with a cast list of scum and villainy that makes Mos Eisley look like Paradise Beach? Tired of books that turn the air blue just by reading them? Tired of tales that lack a moral compass?

Well, this one is for you. Songs of the Earth isn’t mould-breaking or innovative – it clings fast to numerous tropes of fantasy literature and will seem very familiar to well-read fans of the genre. It was likened in the publicity to Patrick Rothfuss but I tried not to let that put me off.

The story begins in media res, with Gair, the protagonist imprisoned and awaiting sentence for witchcraft. The setting is a fairly standard vanilla fantasy, mediaeval with a resprayed Catholic Church as one of the main power brokers in the world. It might have been interesting had Cooper developed an original theology since everything we discover about the church in this book sounds very familiar. Still, since many D&D worlds run along a mediaeval format, there is plenty in here to loot if you are looking for ideas for your cleric’s backstory.

The plot from there onwards will tick the boxes of anyone who likes their fantasy served up on a plate of Joseph Campbell. A mysterious old man takes Gair under his wing, acting as a cross between Captain Exposition and the Unreliable Narrator and conducts him to an academy where he can learn to use his powers properly. So far, so Earthsea, Hogwarts – or Star Wars. Or even Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Once he arrives, there is a period of settling in and the obligatory sequence where Gair makes an enemy (for no obvious reason other than I suppose said enemy is a trope of magic schools) of another student (hello Malfoy)

There is also a lurking villain who, needless to say, was once a student at said academy but turned to the Dark Side and now poses a threat to everyone due to something that seems to hark back to the Dungeon Dimensions from Pratchett, always threatening to break through to our world.
The villain is a brooding presence in the background of the narrative for quite some time; Cooper knows when to wheel him out for maximum effect and then slips some unpleasant back story in for him. Let’s hope he develops further in the next book.

The magic is something different – there’s no Vancian stuff here, no Codex of Eldritch Lore, no pointy hats. If you’re looking for something to replace the old D&D system, try this for ideas. The magic is described as The Song, which to me brought back memories of the Metaconcert in Julian May’s Saga of the Exiles and Charter Magic from Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series.

There’s no map – although somehow I felt that I was able to see one in my mind’s eye. There are enough hints of what’s out there to allow the world that Cooper is creating to seem realistic without being over-developed so early in the series. Some fantasy authors have their characters go off on a long world-wide wander just so that the reader can get the full benefit of the world the writer has created. Cooper is refreshingly restrained in this aspect, although there are some hints of locales that seem pregnant with potential for inclusion in the next book.

There is some very mild language, an ‘arse’ here and there but nothing that would make it unsuitable for the young adult reader – in fact, some very mild lurve scenes notwithstanding, I’m surprised that it wasn’t targeted at that specific audience.

My copy was 420 pages (other formats may vary) but in fact I felt it could have been longer with no loss of pace. The finale, which reminded me of the Battle of Hogwarts but so much better done here, could have been made more intense if space had allowed.

All in all, Cooper treads a well-worn path with a book that gives me that nostalgic glow for the days of yore when ‘edgy’ and ‘gritty’ hadn’t become literary buzzwords and you still had good guys to cheer and baddies to hiss.

The next volume is out in the spring of 2012 and the third for September 2013. So quite some time to wait.

Tuesday 6 December 2011

An Adventure for Every Monster - Cattle, Wild

Cattle, Wild

Frequency: Common
No. appearing: 20-200
Armour class: 7
Move: 15”
Hit Dice: 1-4
Percentage in lair: Nil
Treasure type: Nil
No. of attacks: 1
Damage per attack: 1-4
Special attack: Stampede
Special defences: Nil
Magic Resistance: Standard
Intelligence: Semi-
Alignment: Neutral
Size: L
THAC0: 19/16/15
XP value: 35+2/hp
Goes well with: red wine

On a semi-civilised frontier, a local noble who has been given the task of completing the pacification of the area is having problems. Wild cattle that he is in the process of corralling and domesticating have started to disappear, albeit in small numbers. Nevertheless, this is taken as a threat to his authority and, by implication, his position as well. He sent a group of his men out to see what was going on and they have not returned. He therefore needs the party to find out who has been rustling the cattle and to discover the fate of his men as well. If they do well, they may be kept on to provide security whilst the settlement and domestication process is completed.

The rustling is being carried out by a gang of ogres but there is more to the situation than meets the eye. The ogre leader has a document that the grandfather of the noble used to settle a long running dispute with the ogres’ ancestors many years ago and which gives the ogres and their descendants rights to take a certain number of cattle each year for their own use. Although he probably intended it to be a mere glass bead trick, the ogres actually believed him and will take umbrage at anyone trying to renege on the deal.

To make matters even more interesting, many years ago, the ogres were actually converted by a zealous and very persuasive roving paladin and they still adhere to the faith, albeit a rather confused and ogrish interpretation thereof. The paladin went on to higher things, eventually heading up the temple’s Arm Militant, but that’s another story.

Due to this, clerics of the faith maintained contact with the ogres to ensure that there was no backsliding and when the noble’s grandfather and the ogres signed the document, a cleric happened to be there and witnessed the process. The faith therefore has records of the agreement at its temple. Thus any attempt to overrule it by illicit means will attract the attention – and subsequent intervention - of a band of LG paladins and clerics, keen to protect their flock.

I would imagine that the noble's men who were sent out to find out what was going on were either killed by the ogres (and perhaps given a faith-based funeral, complete with badly written gravestones, etc) or spooked the cattle and were killed in a stampede.

Tuesday 29 November 2011

An Adventure for Every Monster - Catoblepas

Frequency: Very rare
No. appearing: 1-3
Armour class: 7
Move: 6”
Hit Dice: 6+2
Percentage in lair: 60%
Treasure type: C
No. of attacks: 1
Damage per attack: 1-6 + stun
Special attack: Gaze causes death
Special defences: Nil
Magic Resistance: Standard
Intelligence: Semi-
Alignment: Neutral
Size: L (6’ at shoulder)
THAC0: 13
XP value: 700 + 8/hp

This adventure takes place in a section of the dungeon that is basically a long twenty foot wide corridor with a heavy door at the far end, made of iron plates with brass fittings. This door also has an intricate locking mechanism attached, with several dials on it that almost beg to be tinkered with and turned round.

Along the side of the corridor are four large openings blocked by stone slabs, two on each side of the passage.

Behind each slab is a large chamber in which an area of boggy swamp has been set up, complete with marsh plants. In each chamber is a catoblepas, happily grazing on the vegetation.

The locking mechanism consists of a pair of brass rings, the outer one set with four markers in lapis lazuli, numbered 1 to 4 and the inner one with two markers in jet, numbered 1 and 2. There is also a quartz marker on the outside edge of the outer ring.

Aligning the markers will produce eight combinations.

1 & 1 = 1
1 & 2 = 2
1 & 3 = 3
1 & 4 = 4
2 & 1 = 5
2 & 2 = 6
2 & 3 = 7
2 & 4 = 8

The selected combination on the locking mechanism will do one of the following

1. Open the iron door
2. Open the iron door and bring down an iron portcullis at the opposite end of the corridor
3. Lock the iron door firmly and bring down the iron portcullis
4. Lock the iron door firmly, bring down the iron portcullis and open Slab One, allowing a catoblepas to poke its head through to see what’s going on.
5. Lock the iron door firmly, bring down the iron portcullis and open Slab Two, allowing a catoblepas to poke its head through to see what’s going on.
6. Lock the iron door firmly, bring down the iron portcullis and open Slab Three, allowing a catoblepas to poke its head through to see what’s going on.
7. Lock the iron door firmly, bring down the iron portcullis and open Slab Four, allowing a catoblepas to poke its head through to see what’s going on.
8. Lock the iron door firmly, bring down the iron portcullis and open all the slabs, allowing all four catoblepas to poke their heads through to see what’s going on.

Once a setting has been selected, the locking mechanism will not operated again for a full minute, indicated by the movement of the quartz marker.

The fact that the catoblepas heads will be at the same level as the party will increase the chance of their gaze being effective but it is up to the DM to decide by how much. Similarly, if the DM thinks that four catoblepas is an excessive allocation, they are at liberty to reduce the number.

Sunday 27 November 2011

Team Adventure - Snakes at an Auction

Ferros and Cafaror set off for the Master’s house with Elysia, Zanurax and Relic in their wake. At the house, they knocked on the door whilst Zanurax was flown up to the roof by Relic where a loose skylight looked like an easier way of getting in.

Having a six-inch high thief in the party is proving to be a great advantage - especially as they've now hit on the idea of having him fly on the back of a pseudo-dragon. Admittedly, he can't do things like open doors (unless he makes a Climb Walls roll) but if there's an open drain or a cat flap about...

Ferros and Cafaror were shown in and conducted into a dining room with three place settings. As they sat down, a tall and handsome man in black entered and sat down at the head of the table. Dinner was served but he ate nothing. Ferros and Cafaror however tucked in with great gusto.

Their host began by asking them why they were so interested in his doings. After all, they had come to his house the previous day and had asked him for an appointment. They responded by accusing him of spying on the tavern and behaving in a furtive way. He confessed that he had indeed been watching the tavern but it was rather presumptuous of them to assume that his interest was in them specifically. The tavern was a known haunt of adventurers and he was looking for brave individuals to carry out a mission he had.

That piqued their interest and they indicated that they were very interested in missions – what did he have in mind? Before long, he had got out of them the number of people in the party and their classes. All he yielded in return was his name – The Third.

I was not wholly surprised that the players had volunteered so much information so easily - they're still young and haven't learned that paranoia can keep you alive longer. Perhaps a few sessions of Call of Cthulhu might drive that lesson home?

Meanwhile, Zanurax had gained entry through the skylight to an attic where various packing boxes were stored and, more significantly, four mirrors stacked against a wall. They were in frames, and had holes drilled in each corner, as if they might have been mounted on walls. Being able to go no further (the door handle was far too high for him to reach) Zanurax climbed up the packing cases and was hauled up out of the attic by Relic’s tail.

The two investigators joined Elysia in the courtyard, where they conferred. Elysia had been suspicious since first encountering the shadowy figure and her suspicions were further strengthened by the fact that the Master had set the appointment for the hours of darkness. Now, for her, the final pieces of the puzzle fell into place.

After an hour or so, Ferros and Cafaror emerged from the house to announce that they had arranged a meeting for the entire party the evening after the auction, which was set for the next day. As they made their way back to the tavern, Elysia revealed that they were dealing with no ordinary opponent; they were up against a vampire.

Rather than turn in, the party headed for the town archives, where Elysia used her connections to gain entry and go through the scrolls and librams, trying to find information on vampires. There was much to be found, but most of it was listed under folklore and legend, since encounters with the fanged undead were rare indeed.
Having armed themselves with that knowledge, the team headed back to the tavern and bed.

The next morning, the day of the auction, the party headed for the hotel where the sale was to take place. Meanwhile, at the town guard house, Alurax and Galzor were still in the cells. A member of the Town Council of Elders had turned up, owing to their connection with that august body and had announced that, for a fine of 250 gold pieces, they could be released. Amazingly enough, both refused to pay and were sent back to the cells again.

This came as a surprise to me, especially as I'd arranged it as a Get out of Jail (Relatively) Free card for them. Perhaps they thought they'd be safer behind bars. As it turned out, that might have been a wise assumption. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

As the party neared the hotel, they could hear something odd and unexpected – the sound of fighting. Arriving at the building, they found that a battle royale was going on outside – about twenty men engaged in a brawl, using fists, feet and what appeared to be nunchuks. Olaf the dwarf (yes, he has a name now) pitched in to try and help, without really being aware of what side he should be helping, whilst the rest of the party heard screams and calls for help coming from at least two windows, one upstairs and one on the ground floor. Olaf recognised the voice from upstairs as that of a dwarf and broke off from his involvement in the street fighting to race inside.

Two of the attacking party had managed to make it into the foyer but Elysia slept them both, then tied them up and locked them in a cupboard. Once that was done, the party split (yes, again!) with Elysia, Ferros and Cafaror heading towards the screams on the ground floor and Olaf heading upstairs to find out what was going on.

At the end of a corridor, Elysia’s band burst into a suite of rooms to find several people cowering in a corner as three large snakes slithered towards them.

Two people lay on the floor, apparently dead from bites. Magic missiles fired at the serpents and they broke off to attack the newcomers instead. Elysia cast Stinking Cloud on two of the snakes and was bitten by the third, collapsing into a poisoned coma. Ferros and Cafaror waited for the cloud to dissipate and then hacked the incapacitated snakes to death before they could recover.

Meanwhile, Olaf had followed the noise of fighting and burst in to an upstairs room to find a man with a sword and an axe-wielding dwarf (is there another kind?) grappling with two constricting snakes. As he leapt in to help, another snake came in through the window and started to attack him. There were several desperate moments, but eventually Olaf managed to kill his snake (a d30 roll came in handy at this point) and joined with his fellow dwarf to hack the other two. The swordsman was not so lucky and was barely alive when they managed to rescue him.

At this point, Galzor and Alurax turned up, having been persuaded of their error by Elador, who had arrived at the prison in high dudgeon with stern words and a persuasive manner (and some frosty looks from Mummy Grognard). They found the town guard all over the hotel, having put the attackers in the street to flight. Elysia was healed by Ferros and Galzor gave Olaf some healing magic.

The two men locked in a cupboard had tried to kick their way out but Elysia was on hand with her dagger and kept them under control until the town guard grabbed them and dragged them off. She had asked them who they were and what they were doing but all they told her was that they were trying to bring the tyrant to justice and punish him for oppressing the people.

The party staggered into the bar and ordered drinks. Olaf’s fellow dwarf turned out to be called Thorgrim and he worked for the man with the sword. He bought Olaf a huge tankard of dwarf ale and got into conversation with him.

Elysia, Ferros and Cafaror were not privy to the conversation as they had been called away to receive the gratitude of the man they had saved through the killing of the snakes – a man who they now learned was a Prince.

Prince Assaris of Kharizal, a land far to the south-east, definitely somewhere warm and exotic by his raiment and colouration, thanked the three adventurers profusely and assured them that if they were ever to visit his country, they would be accorded the status of honoured guests. It was his bodyguards who were involved in the fighting in the street outside, defending him against what he called “dogs and vermin”. The party had already marked this down as ‘political’ and didn’t really want to pursue it any further. However, they did mention vampires to the Prince, who laughed and dismissed the subject as ‘fairy tales’. They also asked about powerful magicians, remembering that they needed one to restore Adthar to flesh so that his curse could be removed, but the Prince merely told them that such sorcerers were rare in his kingdom, secretive and not keen on strangers.

Olaf, in the meantime, had been asked by Thorgrim if he was looking for work that involved the wilderness, danger and killing animals. Olaf said he was and Thorgrim said he had such work and that Olaf should contact him.

Being aware of the fact that vampires tend to rest during the daylight hours, the party decided that their next port of call should be the Third’s house and the next morning, they headed there. Alurax and Olaf climbed the outside wall and made it to the skylight, where they soon gained entry. Beyond the attic door was a landing down which the two slowly made their way. It was only as they arrived at the ground floor that they heard a door opening and the sound of footsteps. Olaf waited until another door opened and closed, then scurried up to it and opened it, whilst Alurax headed for the front door to unlock it and let the rest of the party in.

Olaf was confronted by a dining room and a man in black heading for him with a carving knife. A brief scuffle ended with the man dead on the floor with an axe wound. Another man appeared at the far end of the hallway and was shot dead by Alurax and Galzor. As the party flooded into the house, a third man was seen darting through a doorway and Olaf and Ferros followed him down into a cellar. There, in the middle of the floor was a large metal-bound chest, easily the size of a man. It had several brass fittings but behind it stood the third servant, brandishing a sword. He was swiftly killed and the search of the house could begin.

Nothing of consequence was found elsewhere and the party gathered in the cellar to examine the chest. It bore the emblem of a triangle and had what appeared to be four heavy brass lock and bolt fittings which were clearly keeping it shut. Below the locks was a small dial which, as the party examined it, could be heard to be ticking slowly. It was counting down and it was pretty obvious what it was counting down toward.

The party searched the bodies of the three men that they had killed and around each neck was a single key on a chain. It was clear that the keys fitted three of the four locks but even as the party was wondering where the fourth key was, the door to the cellar slammed shut. There was the sound of a lock being turned and bolts being thrown. The party was trapped in the cellar with the coffin of a vampire – and a countdown to his emergence.

Another cracking session (the 20th, in fact) with me running with the plot as it emerged from the choices that the players made. Nobody had the faintest idea where we were going when the session started. In fact, as I remarked later, this whole plot thread resulted from the choice that Cafaror made at the Moat House to skin the giant lizard that Alurax had killed. I had very little pre-planned before the auction storyline started - only that it would take place and the bidders who had turned up to try and get their hands on the skin. Everything else that happened last session and this was improvised and flowed naturally with local colour and detail supplied when it was needed. The plot hooks that have been seeded in this session may bear fruit - or they may not. Depending on which way the party choose, we could be in for some interesting times in the weeks to come. That assumes they get out of the cellar, of course.

Thursday 24 November 2011

Geography Epic Fail

Courtesy of my local newspaper. Do I hear the sound of David Attenborough banging his head against a wall?

Review - Winterbirth by Brian Ruckley

I’ve recently read this one and I thought I’d just post a couple of reactions to it that chimed with my gamer side.

You’ve probably not heard of Ruckley – this is his first book, as far as I know, the first volume of a trilogy (why do fantasy novels come in threes?) and he’s just released a new one about the body snatchers of Edinburgh. Must check that one out as well

The setting for the Godless World trilogy is Dark Ages with impressive scenery – Ruckley can make me ‘see’ his landscapes in a way I’ve not experienced since LotR. The first book is set just as winter begins, hence the name, and whilst it’s got some brutal scenes in, with unexpected deaths and cynical betrayals, there seems to be no language NSFW, which is quite refreshing. Ruckley also knows when to cut away and not revel in the gore.

There’s very little magic in this one. We’ve got humans, elf equivalents and half-elves who seem to be equally despised and distrusted by both. The elves and half-elves have something called the Shared, which seems to be very like the Force (even to the point that one character refers to feeling a disturbance in the Shared) but anyone growing up since 1977 is going to find that sort of thing hard to shake off.

What is quite ground-breaking here is that the elves (and I’m using that term rather than the in-book name, which will mean nothing to anyone who hasn’t read it) are tribal in organisation and more or less hostile to each other, to the point at which they launch raids and attacks on each other’s camps and territories. Some are nice elves, some are rather nasty – I was minded of the inter-tribal hostility of the Indians in Last of the Mohicans when I read this. They are also enlisted by the humans as guides and allies during their campaigns (again, another North American reference) but take offence quickly and easily and drop those who they don’t get on with.

There’s also precious little in the way of religion here (or priests); the series title “The Godless World” refers to the fact that at a certain point in the past of the world, the gods abandoned the races they had created; part of the driving force behind the wars that course through the books like a dark heartbeat is the effort of one particular sect to convince the gods to return. There are five specific races in the books, only two of which (humans and elves) we really encounter in Book One. There’s reference to what might be a race of werewolves, attacked and wiped out by a human/elf alliance in years gone by, and that’s something I hope we learn more of in subsequent books.

The whole thing weighs in at 539 pages and whilst it could probably have been shorter, I didn’t feel that at any point I was skim-reading. There are maps (which I found I was glancing at quite regularly) and a list of characters (which, until you’ve got your bearings, you’ll probably be checking on too). I’ve got the second one lined up and ready to go after I finish Songs of the Earth (and I’ll give you a review on that one too).

Tuesday 22 November 2011

Anne McCaffrey 1926 - 2011

For anyone who's ever ridden a dragon in their dreams, this is sad news. I read some of the Pern series but it was a long time ago. Must revisit it soon.

An Adventure for Every Monster - Carrion Crawler

Carrion Crawler
Frequency Uncommon
No. appearing: 1-6 (but for this adventure, use as many as you feel will provide a good scenario)
Armour class: 3/7
Move: 12”
Hit Dice: 3+1
Percentage in lair: 50%
Treasure type: B
No. of attacks: 8
Damage per attack: Paralysis
Special attack: As above
Special defences: Nil
Magic Resistance: Standard
Intelligence: Non-
Alignment: N
Size: L (9’ long)
THAC0: 16
XP value: 580 + 4/hp

The party have been called in to investigate the disappearance of a group of travellers in the mountains. Reports from the sole survivor indicate that they stopped to shelter from a storm in a large cave. The survivor went out to investigate a disturbance from the horses and when he returned, his fellow travellers were gone. All their equipment and weapons were undisturbed and the fire was still burning.

The survivor can guide the party to the cave in question, which is large and dry, sheltering under an overhang. He does not wish to go back in but will do so if pressed.

At the back of the cave is a large hole in the wall, circular in section and about ten feet wide. If the party take this route, they will find that it descends in a strange and random fashion, offering few clues as to its maker. However, after about a hundred feet or so, the party will encounter several side passages, fissures in the rock.

Following any one of these (for they interconnect, although the party will not know this) will lead them down into tunnels of ever-decreasing width until they arrive at holes that are perhaps eighteen inches to two feet wide.

Those holes are just wide enough for a character to crawl down, sans armour, equipment, etc. They are also just wide enough to accommodate a carrion crawler, which is what lives in the confusing labyrinth of tunnels and caves. Various side branches open onto every tunnel, which will enable carrion crawlers to attack from flanks and behind.

The original group of travellers were attacked, paralysed and dragged down into the labyrinth. Within the tunnel system are several small caves, perhaps ten feet high by the same width, in which the travellers were placed and eggs laid inside their bodies. The hatching process will begin shortly after the party begin their descent into the tunnels, with the accompanying sound of screaming as the travellers are slowly eaten alive from within.

The process takes 1d12 hours, with higher scores indicating that the crawler larvae have managed to avoid damaging vital organs in their feeding. If a parasitised host is found before they are wholly devoured, there is a chance that they can be saved; a Cure Disease is needed, which will cause the larva to flee the body. The victim will need to make a System Shock roll to survive the process as the larva literally bursts through the victim’s skin. Even then, they will need a Cure Critical to repair the damage caused by the larva.

The Monster Manual does not give a specific duration for the paralysing effect of the tentacles, nor indeed a way in which the effect can be combated. The DM can rule on this one as their taste dictates. I would hazard a guess that if the save vs. Paralysation fails, then the victim is paralysed for perhaps anything from half an hour to two hours. (3d4 x 10 minutes.)

The treasure that the Carrion Crawlers have amassed is incidental to the victims on whom they have fed over the years.

Type B

2145cp; a clutch of twenty of these have small holes drilled through their centres where they were once hung on a necklace by a bunch of hobgoblins
887sp; five of these are different in shape and design and have on one side, the picture of a crouching sphinx and on the other what appears to be the head of a woman wearing a blindfold. The legend is in glyphs that are only decipherable with reference to a sage. It is up to the DM to decide to what this refers.
511gp. There is a small silk purse holding seventeen of these. If they are examined, they bear the head and legend of a heretic pretender during an ancient war and are worth perhaps ten times their assay value to the right collector.
1 x 25gp gem
1 x silver brooch pin with inset sapphires, worth 75gp. The silver is engraved with the legend “The Duchess stole my heart” (the DM can decide what this means, if anything)
+2 sword, the hilt of which is hollowed out; the pommel appears to be a large amber-coloured gem but is in fact fake and unscrews. Inside the hilt is a tightly-rolled scroll giving a hastily drawn sketch of a dungeon gateway with notes on the trap and a password to bypass it. The location of the gate is at the DM’s discretion, as is whether the dungeon in question has been cleared out or is still active.

I’ve tried to jazz the treasure up a little bit this time, along the lines of Ben Robbins’ dictum about having the treasure tell a story. Some hooks in the hoard there, perhaps.

Friday 18 November 2011

Deep Impact - now anyone can play

An asteroid or comet impacting Earth is going to cause a huge amount of devastation - but just how devastating depends on the size of the object hitting us. I recently found a site run by Imperial College, London which will allow you to estimate the regional environmental consequences of an impact on Earth.

Fascinating, if a little morbid and a great way to round off your week.

Monday 14 November 2011

Sunday 13 November 2011

Team Adventure - Law and Disorder

Adthar’s two ettin heads peered round the corner of the corridor. He saw a hooded figure approaching, muttering and talking to itself. Figuring that he was big enough now to take care of himself, he stepped out into the corridor and hailed the figure, which gave a hiss and threw back its hood. Suddenly, the rest of the party were not looking at an ettin but at the statue of one.

No sooner had the medusa (for such it was) petrified Adthar than Alurax, in lion form, sprang forward and attacked, managing to avert his eyes from the monster’s gaze. He pinned the medusa to the floor and began to bite and rend at it as its snakes tried to bite back. Several times they bit but the lion managed to shrug off the effects of the poison until at last the shaggy-maned beast succumbed. The medusa then moved towards Cafaror, who was desperately trying to polish up his helmet so that it would be reflective. Galzor moved in to support his friend but it was not long before both doughty adventurers fell to the poison bites, even though they had managed to remain unpetrified.

The medusa went back down the corridor, alternately cackling and weeping to itself. Elysia, Zanurax and Ferros followed, being unable to cast spells or attack it; they were all too aware of the medusa’s abilities and the fact that even in their ethereal state, they were vulnerable. They discovered that the medusa slept on a straw pallet in a room, one wall of which was a huge stone-carved version of the picture that they had found in the Shadow House. It was surrounded by ancient hieroglyphs.

The three remaining party members were stuck in their ethereal state and had to put their heads together to work out how to get out of this one. Elysia deduced, correctly, that the medusa was a victim of the polymorph result on the Disco Floor of Doom and that she might actually be good – they already had displays of her split personality to go on. Elysia despatched Relic to find Russet (pay attention, it gets complicated), whereupon both pseudo-dragons would fly off to the town to find Elador, communicate Elysia’s predicament through limited telepathy, get him to find a 5th level cleric who could do Remove Curse, get him to come back with them to the dungeon, then fly him across the Disco Floor of Doom using the pseudo-dragons, lay in wait for the Medusa, lure her into the room and then the cleric could cast his Remove Curse.

To cut a very long story short, this is exactly what happened (albeit after six days of waiting). The medusa reverted back into a human female. Ferros was brought back to material status and healed up the poisoned members of the party, then Elysia was de-etherealised and Alurax was restored to human form.

Phew! The one fly in the ointment was that they were unable to restore Adthar who was still a statue, and an ettin statue to boot. After much debate, they decided to transport him across country to the Moat House, where they would install him in the courtyard as a feature while they set about trying to find a 12th level Magic User to restore him to flesh.

I had to explain to them that it was unlikely that a 12th level magic user would be just kicking around town waiting to be called on. Because I'm running the campaign as a sort of West Marches theme, the reason that the wilderness and its dungeons are unlooted and unexplored (more or less) is explained by the fact that the party are the pioneers, the trailblazers and amongst the highest levels in the area. If there were 12th levellers wandering about, they'd have cleared out all the dungeons already and there'd be nothing for the party to do.

Returning to town from the Moat House, they came across a herd of wild oxen grazing near the river, and later, saw what appeared to be a winged horse flying north-west. Elysia, who had long wanted a winged horse of her own, was delighted and vowed to locate it.

Another die roll that served up a very interesting result. I'd no idea that the Pegasus was due to appear - where it was going and what it was up to is another matter, one that may well unfold into a new adventure as the weeks roll on.

When they arrived in town, Cafaror (who had elected to stay an elf) was contacted by the tanner to whom he had taken the lizard skin. He had, you will recall, sent out messages inviting interested parties to an auction, hoping to sell off the skin and believed that he could get at least ten thousand gold pieces for it. Cafaror was delighted to hear this, but his delight was to be short-lived.

Meanwhile, Elysia was contacted by the town archivist, who had found another version of the legend of the Seven Pointed Star. This one was many hundreds of years old and told an even earlier version of the story (which I knocked up in an alliterative style to reflect Anglo-Saxon poetry)

Slumbering, sinister in their shadow souls
Demons dream, deep in the darkness
Evil enters, encountering everywhere
Foemen fleeing, fleet of foot, fearful
When wild and woeful war wracks the west
Carrying the clear clarion, comes cantering
Bold and bright, bearing blades burning
Fair of face, flamehaired, fierce her following
Swords sing the strong song of striking
And all around, adversaries advance
Mighty the magics, marching menacingly
But bold blows break no blazing burdens
Warriors wore woe and weariness the while
Strength lay with sorcery, spells and sigils
Not knights with need of neverfailing knives
Laid low in the lakes, the lady laughed not
But tears in tumbling tracks tainted her
Face and fires fiercely flared on flanks
Sought she safety from servitor soldiers
Their blades blazed not with bravery, back
Into dishonour they darted, deserting their dearest
Shamefaced and serious, sombre souls slinking
Homeward, not heroes, their hearts harrowed
Manacled by memories, men without manliness
Left their loved one to linger in the lakes
Not eager to embrace the error, eagle wielder
Perished in poverty, pernicious pride his prison
Cursed were his comrades, carrying their cowardice
Till time and a true traveller took the treasured hilt
And wielded what was wasted, winning the way
To set the sweet soul again springing skywards
From the fiery fastness and the forest fane

Ferros had his own message, from the Council of Clerics, who had heard tales of mysterious goings-on in the forests to the west. A party of hunters had come across some ancient burial mounds and those who had investigated had never returned. Ghostly moanings could be heard and as Ferros was supposedly a specialist on the undead, the Council thought that he might like to investigate.

As can be seen, hooks are being scattered about here; the more the merrier, although as an overworked DM, I do hope the party gives me a little warning about which one they want to investigate!

Some time after this, Cafaror was approached by a man who introduced himself as an artist who was keen to acquire the lizard skin for a public exhibition; he did not think it right that rich collectors should get their hands on such a rarity just because they had piles of gold. He offered two hundred and fifty gold pieces for the skin but Cafaror was reluctant to make a decision and said he would think about it.

Meanwhile, in the tavern, the party noticed two things – firstly, a strange man wearing what they at first thought was a snake-design torc (but then turned out to be a real snake) was drinking in their tavern. As he left, they spotted a short, bearded figure at a nearby table, a large battle axe by his side. They approached the dwarf, for such he was, asking if he was interested in joining their party. He suspiciously asked why, to which they offered gold and jewels. He was happy to take up their offer, but glared at Cafaror’s elvish looks.

This was Adthar's player's new character that I'd agreed he could run whilst Adthar himself was waiting to be returned to flesh. I'd not thought about demi-humans but Mummy Grognard clearly remembered a discussion we'd had some months ago about introducing demi-humans when the gang were ready for it and as Adthar's player is the oldest (13), it was decided that if he was okay with it, he could run the character as a dwarf.

Meanwhile, the party noticed that their tavern was being watched. A hooded figure lurked at the top of the street. Elysia donned the Cloak of Elvenkind and slipped out into the night to follow the watcher, who headed off through the streets, eventually disappearing down an alleyway in a very shady part of town. Elysia was not too keen on following the figure any further without back up and returned to the tavern where she briefed the others on what had been going on.

The next day, the party headed off to the dingy alleyway, where they followed it down to a courtyard in which was a dusty dry fountain, surrounded by several shifty looking types. On offering gold for information, the party were directed down an arched passage to a heavy set of doors. Elysia cast a Jump Spell and was soon on the first floor windowsill. Her view was blocked by heavy black curtains. Down below, the party tried to force the doors but had no luck; their banging was answered by a strange looking manservant who informed them that they could not see The Master, but that if they wanted, they could make an appointment. They gave their names and the address of the tavern where they were staying and left, taking Elysia with them.

When they returned to the tavern, the town guard were waiting for Cafaror. They asked him about his visitor of yesterday and then revealed that there had been a murder, that they suspected he was connected and warned him not to leave town. The party had been mulling over setting off on either the winged horse quest or to investigate the burial mounds but put both on hold to investigate who might be trying to set up Cafaror.

Fortunately, the visitor had left his address with Cafaror and so they (minus Ferros and Cafaror who were waiting for their appointment with the Master) hurried down to the place, which turned out to be a guest house, guarded by two members of the watch. There was clearly no gaining entry that way, so they repaired to an eaterie a few doors down and sat listening to the chatter and gossip of the customers and the wenches. They soon found out that horrible screaming had been heard from the building the previous night and that the town guard had been called. They had taken away several boxes of evidence but nobody had seen a body being removed.

The party decided to make good use of Zanurax’s six-inch high status and slipped him in through a cellar window to nose around. Whilst scouting around outside, Alurax came across a shattered terracotta tile and the party realised that it must have been knocked off the roof above. Did it have anything to do with the murder? There was only one way to find out.

Elysia, using Jump and Alurax and Galzor using the drainpipe, shimmied up the outside of the building. They tried to get a first floor window open and succeeded, only to find that the room was occupied by an irate guest who asked them who on earth they were and what were they doing breaking into his room. Alurax pretended to be a town watch crime scene investigator, gave a false name and carried on climbing. The angry guest told them he would report them to the watchmen outside.

A classic scene; I was running it in real-time, playing the irate guest and putting Junior Grognard on the spot to come up with an explanation. He produced one and we ran with that; the consequences of his improvisation will become apparent soon.

Realising that they had little time, they completed the climb and found themselves outside a second floor window, which had been forced open. They climbed in and began to examine the room. There was a pool of blood on the floor, through which something had been dragged, and some blood on the bed itself. Under a cupboard, they found a wooden holy symbol that had been broken in two.

All the clues were relevant and I'm wondering how long it'll be before they put them together and work out what's been going on.

Before they could find out what it all meant, there was the noise of footsteps from the corridor outside. Alurax and Galzor made a hasty retreat, whilst Elysia hid in the cupboard using her Cloak of Elvenkind. Unfortunately, more guards were waiting for Alurax and Galzor at the foot of the rope and arrested them when they reached the ground. Elysia slipped out of the cupboard when the guards had gone and managed to get out of the building unnoticed.

Meanwhile, back at the tavern, a servant of the Master had arrived, with details of the appointment. Ferros and Cafaror were to visit the house at eight o’clock that evening. They were warned to bring no-one else, a warning that Elysia had no intention of following.

A fun and unpredictable session - well, it was for me, watching the party following a series of events that arose one from the other. To be honest, there were a couple of points at which the party (or certain members of it) were getting bored - when Elysia, Zanurax and Ferros were stuck in their ethereal state, and later when they realised that they were not going to kill any more monsters that day but instead found themselves involved in a murder investigation. Things livened up when events became personal for the party and it may well get even more personal next time.

Monday 7 November 2011

Wednesday 2 November 2011

You know you're a gaming family when...

You tell your son to watch out for something hazardous in the house, then check to see if he's understood your warning and he replies "Yes, I know, I rolled under my Intelligence"

"INT 18 smart enough for you, Dad?"

Monday 31 October 2011

Wednesday 26 October 2011

You know you're a gaming family when...

The teacher asks your son "What happened after Theseus killed the Minotaur?" and your son replies "He levelled up!"

"Ooh, XP!"

Tuesday 25 October 2011

An Adventure for Every Monster - Camel, Wild

Firstly, an apology for not having kept this series as frequent as I would have liked. I sometimes succumb to the temptation to develop an idea and this dramatically increases the amount of work I need to complete a post. Today's post is just such an example; as I developed it, the focus shifted away from the camels (although they are still there). I'll try to keep my grandiose ambitions in check in weeks to come.

By the way, if anybody wants to add to the table of "Things found in the desert" and turn it into a d30 table, please feel free to make suggestions in the comments section.

Camel, Wild

Frequency Common
No. appearing 1-12
Armour class 7
Move 21”
Hit Dice 3
Percentage in lair Nil
Treasure type Nil
No. of attacks 1
Damage per attack 1-4
Special attack - Spitting
Special defences Nil
Magic Resistance Standard
Intelligence Animal to Semi-
Alignment Neutral
Size Large
THAC0 16
XP value 35 + 3/hp

Okay, so it’s not much to do with camels; they do appear but they’re not the stars.

Fane of the Jackal

The Fane is a temple complex in the desert that had long been deserted since the downfall of its cult. Now the cult has returned, attacking and killing the watchers in rooms 1-4 (who were a virtually forgotten outpost given the task of keeping an eye on the Fane). The cultists joyfully entered the temple but found that the Fane had been desecrated and parts of the statue are missing. They are now trying to find them and reunite them, at which point, the statue will animate and grant them arcane and evil powers (results at DM’s discretion).

They ride out on their camel mounts each day to see if they can find more fragments of it – as of now, they only have two fragments of the arm and three of the head to find.

Things found in the desert (roll 1d6,1d12 once per day if thought frequent enough)

1. Head fragment 1
2. Fragment of ruined building with some hieroglyphs that make it clear the fragment is upside down
3. Bones, animal
4. Buried nest of roc eggs – the mother may be back soon
5. Dried up river bed, seasonally flooded. An old boat is half buried in the cracked mud
6. Bones, human
7. Chunk of coloured glass, worn smooth by the wind and sand. There is a chance that it is enchanted glass from the long-lost Foundry of Eyes and if looked through, invisible creatures may be viewed clearly (other spirits and entities can also be seen, which may have detrimental effects on the user’s sanity)
8. Rusty weapons (see result 18)
9. A mysterious oasis where the water’s edge is littered with empty clothes.
10. Petrified tree – appears to be vaguely human in form. It is extremely hard wood and if used as a club will do +2 damage.
11. Head fragment 2
12. Lapis lazuli bottle, worth perhaps 25gp. Inside might be (1d6)
a) dried yarrow stalks, worth a great deal to seers and fortune tellers as they will give a very accurate reading due to their purity
b) cinnamon sticks
c) a handful of glass beads. See how they sparkle in the sunlight. Don’t look too closely because you will have to save vs. INT or end up in a trance for 1d6 hours
d) a tiny model ship, of a type not seen on the oceans of the world for centuries. If you listen closely, you can hear sea shanties coming from inside the bottle
e) a puff of dusty powder erupts into the face of the holder, turning their face a random colour for 1d12 days.
f) nothing appears to be in the bottle but unbeknown to the holder, an invisible out-of-phase entity has emerged and attached itself to the nearest head. Its presence will cause eerie nightmares of deserted cities, cyclopean tombs and sinister gods for 1d4 days until it is sated and slips into another universe.

13. Odd-looking stone that is slightly shiny and glows at twilight in a hue that causes temporary insanity if looked at for too long.
14. Head fragment 3
15. Ambush predator, sand snake – injects venom which causes all the water in the victim’s body to turn to a powdery residue which the snake craves (this is also the ingredient of a powerful narcotic used by the desert tribes)
16. Semi-buried effigy, nothing to do with the Fane. There is a chance that it is not human – possibly a lamia or sphinx and may serve as some sort of psychic conduit to the creature that it represents.
17. Arm fragment 1
18. Rusty armour; only parts are sticking out above the sand. Excavation may lead to the site of a ferocious battle that occurred many centuries ago, with the possibility of magic items.
19. Huge skeleton of a whale. 1 in 8 chance that there is the bleached wreck of a small fishing boat somewhere inside the rib cage.
20. Arm fragment 2
21. Ambush predator, sand scorpion.
22. Tumbleweed – one in 20 of these is in fact possessed by a minor vampiric entity which attacks by use of its numerous tendrils.
23. Dust devil – again, one in 12 of these is actually a minor devil who will blind its victims with sand before manifesting and attacking.
24. Cactus containing watery sap – this liquid can be used to heal 1d8 of hp per dose.

The Dungeon

The map is from the great Dyson Logos' blog and can be found here.

Rooms 1-4 are in a rocky outcrop across the sand from the main dungeon entrance. Access is gained through a doorway; the heavy door that stood there now lies in fragments on the sand, battered and scorched.

1 Three skeletal figures lie on the floor here. All are wearing robes and have been hacked about and abused before their deaths.

2 There are several stone jugs in here. Only three are still sealed and they contain a rich red wine which is perfectly drinkable.

3 The shrines – at each end of this passage is a small effigy, one in ivory, the other in jet. Just inside the door are several brass incense holders and some small sticks and blocks of incense. If they are taken and lit, the effigies can be approached in safety – although breathing in the incense may well give visions of past, present or future – it is up to the DM if he chooses to allow the inhaler to see some aspect of the main dungeon. If the effigies are approached without lighting the incense, then their effect is limited to turning the skin of anybody who touches them either chalk white or jet black, depending on which is touched.

4 The terrace. Several withered skeletons lie here, some in robes, some in the garb of cultists.

5 Stabling point for the camels. Depending on whether the cultists are out searching for pieces of their statue, there will be either the full complement of camels or a handful of young or lame specimens.

6 Stable master. He has furnished the room with skulls that the cultists have found in the desert and brought back for him as they know he likes to collect them. They have been set on shelves with a flickering tallow candle in each one.

7 Wide area of sand and rocks that is partially sheltered from the desert winds by a crumbling stone wall, about four feet high. The small squares represent pressure pads that trigger the crossbows in room 10 to fire, once loaded.

8 Room with a few bloodstains on the floor; empty apart from a skeleton at the entrance to the passage.

9 The first chamber. A wall of force extends across the corridor just before the first set of steps. Access to the lever for disabling it is to be found in this room.

10 Old guard chamber. Three crossbows are set up here but they have been fired long since and now stand idle. There are several boxes of bolts stacked up against one wall. If the party enter through room 8, the stone golem will move to room 10 and load the crossbows, then stand ready to reload again and again until there are no more bolts.

11 Room of the Golem. A stone golem stands here, over a metal grille in the floor. If he moves off it, a thick cloud of stinking black smoke issues forth, filling the whole room. It will dissipate in 1d12 minutes. If the golem returns to the grille, the gas will start to build up again. The golem will move to room 10 if the party enter the complex through room 8 but if they try to descend the steps into room 11 first, the golem will defend the entrance, using the advantage of the smoke. He has no functioning eyes so will not be blinded. The party, on the other hand…

12 The second chamber. If a character passes this room, the flight of stairs will move to present a smooth gradient, down which the character will tumble unless they make a save vs. DEX. If they arrive at the foot of the stairs in an undignified heap, the cultists in Room 13 will burst out and beat them with clubs in an attempt to subdue them prior to binding them for sacrifice.

13 The third chamber.

14 Guard room. Guards who hear anybody moving down the passage from room 11 will use the spy holes on the over-passage to observe the progress of intruders and the trapdoor to fire on them or bomb them with burning oil.

15 The chamber of the priest. Here the head of the cult is living. Just outside the door is a carved image of the jackal god which will bellow “Kneel before your Master!”
This phrase is a reference to a pressure pad which will cause a poison dart to fire into the back of whoever stands on it, unless they are kneeling, in which case it will pass harmlessly over their head.

16 Hidden chamber in which hides a cult member with a magic dagger. His job is to wait until somebody has approached the secret door and peers through the eye holes before striking from behind, provided that they have not triggered the trap.

17 The statue itself – the head and one arm are missing. At the right hand side of the room is a raised balcony area. The secret door is located in a carved section of wall that, from the Fane side of the wall, resembles a jackal-headed servitor of the god itself. To operate the door from the passage side, the person must stand inside the hollow statue, put their face to the eye holes and move both arms simultaneously. Moving one arm will trigger a dozen poison needles the length of the body. Moving neither arm will cause hallucinations to be seen through the eye holes that require a save vs. Magic or the person will succumb to shrieking fear for 1d12 rounds.
If the cultists have managed to capture a victim, they will take them to this room and swiftly prepare for a sacrifice as they believe that this will motivate their god to send them visions of the location of the missing pieces. This may or may not be true.

18 Weapons store. In here are stored extra arrows, spears, swords that require sharpening, several clubs which are merely lengths of wood with nails hammered through and a selection of curved throwing daggers. There are also a great number of oil flasks.

I’ve deliberately left the stats of the cultists unlisted, to enable DMs to pick up and run with the dungeon that little bit easier. Likewise, there is no treasure listed, but please feel free to put in whatever you feel is appropriate.

Monday 24 October 2011

Saturday 22 October 2011

Let the corpses do the talking

Just recently, whilst running Team Adventure through a couple of wilderness hex crawls, I’ve rolled up two encounters where I’ve used dead monsters rather than live ones. To be honest, I thought at the time of the first encounter (a mountain lion) that it would be a short-lived combat if it even came to that; a good set of rolls on the archery would either finish it off or drive it off. Worth bothering with? Nah.

Yet the dice decreed that a mountain lion was encountered by the party. Well, didn’t have to be a live one, did it? As the party were on the trail of a mysterious lumbering shape in the mist (in reality a lone hill giant) I suddenly thought that the best way to give them a hint about what they were facing would be to present them with one of its victims.

Flash forward a couple of sessions and the party were heading north again, en route to a different dungeon. The encounter roll called for ogres – but the previous week, I had run a big fight with ogres that nearly led to a TPK and I felt that to do another one so quickly would be samey and uninspired. So, once again, I converted a live encounter to a dead one. Two dead ogres, riddled with arrows and hacked about. Who could have brought down two ogres without any sign of taking casualties themselves? If the party had wanted to investigate, I would have allowed them to do a CSI although kids don’t often have the patience to conduct such an investigation with sufficient thoroughness that they pick up the clues that they’ll need to survive.

Now I’m running a wilderness into which the party are the first to venture for quite some considerable time; it stands to reason that they are not going to come across many fresh dead adventurers. They may well find monster bodies that have been killed by other monsters; examination of the claw or tooth marks (or the fact that the bodies have been scorched or drained or frozen, or whatever) can yield information that will stand them in good stead if they encounter the killer a few miles further on. They may feel that something that could take out a pack of ogres (or giants or trolls…) is not worth investigating just yet. And if they do press on regardless, then on their own heads be it.

In a campaign where the party is entering an area, either of wilderness or dungeon, that has previously been traversed by others (although not necessarily cleared) then it’s almost a racing certainty that there will be bodies. Depending on the nature of their death, their remains will give the party more than just a few gold pieces or a new sword or two. The use of gelatinous cubes to clear up the dungeon corridors is just a cop-out, in my view. A well-travelled dungeon or wilderness will be scattered with sad remains – even a few fragments will be enough in some cases to warn of both the presence of danger and its nature, be that monsters or traps. It doesn’t have to be as unsubtle as littering a room with statues to warn of a medusa, basilisk or cockatrice. A brace of corpses with their skulls cracked open and emptied is a good sign that our tentacled friends the mind flayers are out and about. Learning about the effects of various venoms and toxins can point to imminent danger as well. And what about humanoid tribes that deface their enemies in particular ways? Not just lopping their heads off and sticking them on spikes; maybe they remove the eyes and replace them with coloured stones, or prize the heart of a fallen warrior as a delicacy or totem of power. If the latter is the case and a body is found with the heart intact, what does it say about the way that person was killed?

An example – a body is found in a room that appears fairly innocuous. In its hand is a crumpled piece of parchment that appears to show part of the dungeon that the party have just explored. But the ink on the parchment is smeared and blurred as if it has been soaked. The room is in fact a water trap; the body is that of an adventurer who triggered the trap and drowned as a result. The water receded and the map dried out but still shows the signs of its immersion. A party who finds this might wonder about the map and draw its conclusions in time to prevent them suffering the same fate.

Speak with Dead

Of course it might be thought that all this CSI Greyhawk could be avoided with the use of that oh-so-handy Speak with Dead spell. However, the spell has sufficient circumscriptions in the DMG and PHB that its efficacy as a one-shot cure-all is satisfactorily reduced. Consider the following:

When the spell is cast, to whom is the cleric actually speaking? Are they conversing with the departed soul? In which case, where is that soul now? Enjoying the benefits of celestial reward or having its ass fried off by a guy with horns? If the first is the case, then the soul will be particularly testy at having its bliss interrupted (and if the body is in an area where clerics pass by regularly, this might not be the first time the soul has been disturbed) and if the second is the case, all the cleric might get is some demented shrieking as the soul may very well be insane after its time in hell.

And it should also be considered that if the dead person was particularly good (or particularly evil) in their mortal state, they may well have been rewarded by access to the big cheeses of their current spiritual abode. That soul might not be just a disembodied voice speaking from the darkness; it might now be BFF with a powerful demigod or demon prince, who may not take kindly to their friend being disturbed by pesky mortals…

Of course, it might not be the soul to which the spell grants access. It all depends on whether you have an afterlife in your campaign; it may be that what the spell does is to give a glimpse, almost a snapshot of the echoes made by the death in question. The cleric could see visions of the events leading up to and following the death, leaving him to draw his own conclusions. (this point could well be expanded upon to form another post specifically on the subject of Speak with Dead – I’ll give it some thought). The DM can relay to the cleric what they see – it may be from the deceased’s point of view, the killer’s or a hypothetical observer. Information will be limited and not necessarily reliable.

Zombie clue machine

The bodies don’t necessarily have to lie there looking gruesome. It’s sometimes more fun if they’re up and walking. A lot of the time, encounters with the undead run along rather predictable lines

DM “Out of the darkness come several shambling figures, reeking of corruption, the stink of the grave fresh upon them…”
Cleric “Ah, zombies – or possibly ghouls. No problem – I’ll step forward and raise my holy symbol, then try to turn them”
Fighter “And I’ll get my bow ready to shoot down any that don’t get turned”
2nd Fighter “And I’ll ready an oil bomb to take care of the survivors”

Much dice rolling, arrows, oil; result – charred undead, more XP, party moves on. But what about if those undead weren’t just faceless mooks? Most undead of the corporeal variety still have bodies on which can be hung pieces of armour, shields with emblems, weapons with particular hilts, pieces of distinctive jewellery. If the DM wants to drop hints as to forthcoming plot hooks, legends, lost expeditions, forgotten cultures, what better way to do it than to have those hints wandering round the dungeon, mumbling “Brains! Brains!”. If the party lacks the perspicacity to spot these hints, then more fools they.

%ge in lair

Some of you may be reading this, especially my comments about having dungeons and wildernesses littered with body parts and say to yourselves “Aha, but you’ve forgotten that most monsters tend to be either predators or scavengers and therefore would probably drag fallen corpses off to their lairs to be digested at their leisure.”
I would add “Yes, dear reader, you are quite right. Of course, why not have both?”
So bits and pieces of corpses may well be found scattered along 10’ wide passages and at the same time, other pieces of the same corpses (probably larger and more fleshy bits) may end up in the lairs of the monsters who killed them. Between the two may well be found a sticky trail of blood, further indication that something ghastly is doing the rounds of Level Four…
This of course makes the search of the monster’s lair after its inevitable demise all the more gruesome, since any remains there will have either been chewed up and tossed aside or possibly end up in the stinking pile of dung at the back of the cave. All the more fun for the party as they realise that they may have to ferret through a steaming mass of poo to get at what they were looking for.

Famous Last Words

Not a few adventurers, when confronted with a TPK in which they are the starring members, somehow find the time to scribble down a quick valedictory message which never takes the form of “Tell Mum and Dad I’m really sorry about stealing the horse before I left home…”; no, it usually serves the function of the DM letting the players know some vital clue about what awaits them. Contrived though this is, it does offer yet more possibilities for making NPCs work on after death. If they foolishly forgot to pack parchment and quill, they often considerately fall dead whilst pointing obviously towards some secret door or hidden compartment. Nice of them, eh?
Of course, after some months in the dungeon or wilderness, there’ll be little left of them save bones, and this is where the mischief makers come in. There are plenty of little critters whose sole function in dungeons, or so it appears, is to mess with the players’ heads. Jermlaine, Xvarts, Snyads, Mephits and so on. What self-respecting dungeon prankster could resist the temptation to draw up fake scrolls and messages and leave them in the bony claws of long-dead adventurers, leading those who read them not to gold and glory but into something nasty and almost certainly deadly?

And of course there is one final advantage to having corpses do the talking – the DM doesn’t have to do the voices!