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!

Friday 21 October 2011

Sorry, did I miss something (30 years ago)?

Just a quick question on the tail of all those posts on other blogs this week concerning the compatibility of Christianity and D&D.

I've noticed that more or less every one refers to the Satanic Panic of the 1980s and the impact that this had on gamers. However, when I think back to my teenage years, I can't recall a single instance of this in my gaming life.

I know it's almost certainly that I'm a UK gamer rather than a US gamer, so the question for today is aimed at fellow Brits and is this:

Was there a Satanic Panic in the UK and I just missed it (being a sheltered little grognard in those days) or did we Brits manage to escape the lunacy?

Thursday 20 October 2011

The New Death and others - review

James Hutchings at Teleleli recently asked me to take a look at his new e-book, The New Death and others. I’m sorry it’s taken a while to get my thoughts together on it but it is 94 pages long and to skim-read it would be to do it a great injustice because it’s a very good read.

The work is a collection (44 stories and 19 poems) of very short, short and longer pieces with a weird slant, very well-written and with a vein of knowing humour that had me laughing out loud on several occasions. Older readers may well recall The Argosy, a UK magazine that ran between 1926 and 1974 (and boasted such contributors as Ray Bradbury and Lord Dunsany) – it had stories, serials and page-fillers and James’ book reminded of this and others of similar format, such as Amazing Stories and Analog. All that’s missing from The New Death are black and white illustrations amidst the pieces; there is a cover illustration, a delightful woodcut skeleton couple.

As I’ve mentioned, the slant of the content is towards the humorous, with several instances where the punchline creeps up on the reader and takes them by surprise; a turn that makes the humour all the more effective. Whilst the tone is welcome and makes for an enjoyable read, I’d like to see James tackle some longer and darker pieces too – maybe the next release could tilt towards the eldritch and the grim.

The subject matter of the pieces varies as well; we have stories that remind me of the HPL mythological tales (oddly enough, I’d never really liked them when Lovecraft did them but James manages to pull off these pieces with aplomb), neat little quarter page paragraphs that slip down effortlessly and then repeat on the mind for hours afterwards. There is also poetry that works particularly well; some of the longer pieces are in a poetic style. There are also hints of Borges that creep in; the sources are eclectic and the collection is all the richer for that.

Overall, it’s a book that can be dipped into, rather than devoured in one sitting (although you can do that if you want to). James is clearly a writer to watch, which I will do with anticipation of his next effort. His blog is pretty cool too!

The New Death and others is on Smashwords at $0.99. That’s ridiculously low, so you have practically nothing to lose and a very good read to gain.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

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

You find yourself aruging with your spouse over which are better....

Otherworld or Reaper

"Otherworld are more faithful to the Monster Manual..."

"Yes, but Reaper have the better player character minis..."

Monday 17 October 2011

Sunday 16 October 2011

Team Adventure - Magic on the Dance Floor

Session Eighteen (crikey, have we got that far already?) and our heroes began the session in town, having rested up and recovered from their trip to the hill giants’ castle and the encounter with the ogres.

While they were there, Elysia made some enquiries about the picture that she had discovered in the Shadow House and the map that had been concealed behind it.

Eladar, her brother had returned to the town after some confidential business on behalf of the Council of Elders and he was able to point her to rumours of a lost dungeon somewhere to the north of the moors. He was able to deduce that since the map was annotated and detailed, it must have been drawn by a survivor. It was also likely that the picture of the figure in the head-dress had been drawn by the same person, and possibly meant it was linked to the dungeon in question.

The party set off, heading north on what is coming to be known as the Commercial Road. Not long afterwards, they met a merchant convoy, which was travelling with protection due to the presence of wolves nearby (the party had heard them on their two returns to town). Elysia asked about the legendary significance of lions since they had now found the overgrown sculpture of a lion and the drawing of the figure in the head-dress showed two lions in it as well.

The merchant to whom they spoke said he didn’t know himself but he had a cousin who was a sage and he would write to him to see if he knew anything about it. The party thanked him and moved on.

The theme of lions in the encounters and adventures the party has been having is a recurrent one and this is going to be developed in later sessions, if the party decide to go with it. To introduce a few more hooks into the campaign, I'll be using the sage as an info-dumper with the possibility that, if they get on well with him, more hooks can be slipped to them in the same fashion. There'll be no compulsion to go with these - the party have plenty of other things to do if they so choose.

That evening, they camped very close to the place where they had found the dead lion during their adventure of the Ruined Chapel. Nearby, they were alerted to something else dead by the plethora of ravens. Ferros didn’t try to Speak with Animals this time, but there was no need as the bodies were revealed as two ogres, riddled with arrows and hacked about. Around the bodies was a mass of hoof and footprints and there was some discussion as to whether they should follow the trail and find out who killed the ogres.

I know who killed them and what happened there; another possible adventure hook is dangling, waiting for someone to bite. In truth, I had rolled Ogre as an encounter but I felt we'd have enough ogres just recently and so, as I had done with the mountain lion in the adventure of the Ruined Chapel, decided to let the corpses tell the story instead.

It was decided that they should press on and north they rode the next morning, plunging back into forest before noon. The going slowed and by late afternoon, they were only a few miles further northward when they heard yet more howling; clearly wolves were active here as well.

Those wolves! They really are everywhere, aren't they? The frequency of encounters with these furry foes reminds me of just how common they were in the mediaeval landscape. A generous offer of bounty on wolfheads could bring the hunters flocking - hmmm, another idea to use later.

As they rode to try and find the source of the howling, Relic, who had been flying above the party, swooped down to tell Elysia, via their telepathic link that he had seen two distant flying figures, vaguely humanoid with large wings. Not knowing what the creatures were, they decided to investigate and headed in that direction post haste.

Suddenly Alurax pulled up the reins of his horse, which reared and shied back. In the gathering gloaming, the fighter had nearly ridden over the edge of a sixty foot sink hole, totally surrounded by trees and thick vegetation. The party spread out to examine the depths, with Elysia using her Wand of Illumination as Alurax and Cafaror lowered themselves down on ropes lashed to trees.

At the bottom, the two brave fighters found a tunnel entrance, down which they forayed. They were soon in a network of tunnels and at the first turning, turned right. The first cave they entered had a mysterious mass of golden growth on the floor, which appeared to grow very rapidly when they brought their torches anywhere near it. Common sense prevailed here and the two pressed on, taking the tunnel on the far side of the cave. With a diversion down a side tunnel which took them to the bottom of another sink hole, they ended up in a cave where a slithering lizard-like creature with five heads came shambling towards them.

They’d never seen a hydra before but their fighting abilities made short work of it and it soon lay dead on the floor, revealing a hoard of coins which they resolved to investigate later.

As they made their way along the tunnel that led away from the hydra, they heard a flapping sound from behind them and turned to see Relic approaching. He had been sent by Elysia to see where they had got to and if they were all right. They assured him that they were, and that there was nothing to worry about. The little pseudo-dragon returned to his mistress to relay the news to her.

Junior Grognard and Cafaror's player seemed wholly unconcerned about the fact that they had split the party, despite my constant warnings against doing so. I found myself running between the two groups, one in the dining room, one on the stairs, dice and Monster Manual in hand. Would it all end in tears? We shall see.

The rest of the party, having failed to communicate with Alurax and Cafaror, had caught sight of the winged creatures again, a little way to the north, apparently wheeling and diving in the evening air. They set off to try and find out where they were coming from and what they were. Before long, they arrived at the edge of another sink hole, down which they descended en masse. At the bottom another tunnel led into the darkness. Before long, they were confronted by a t-junction and they turned left, emerging into a large chamber. At one side was a carved and ornamented entrance, chiselled into the rock, flanked by two rampant lions. Ferros led the way in but almost as soon as he entered, he found out what was guarding the room – a huge spider swooped down on the end of a length of cobweb and lunged for the cleric. The rest of the party pitched in to help and realised that the roof of the chamber held six more of the arachnid horrors. The fight was on!

Meanwhile, Alurax and Cafaror were exploring the cave system further and came across a cave where two huge toads came hopping towards them out of the darkness. They were poisonous but this didn’t matter as the two fighters managed to hack them to pieces before they had managed to bite anybody.

After they had despatched the toads, they pressed on and heard in the distance, shouts and sounds of weapons, but decided to ignore them and continue their exploration. They eventually found their way into a cave where two of the weirdest creatures they had ever seen came shambling out to meet them. They had tortoise-like shells, tiny beak-like faces, antenna-like tentacles and some sort of tail that ended in a bony propeller formation. They had no idea what the creatures were but they soon found out as Alurax’s sword crumbled to rusty fragments as he delivered a blow to one of them, whilst Cafaror’s armour followed suit soon afterwards.

They ran for it and soon found themselves in the sink hole down which the rest of the party had come.

The beasties were approaching them and had a hungry look in their tiny eyes. Alurax very sensibly switched to his longbow to riddle them full of arrows and fairly soon, they were standing over the bodies of two dead rust monsters. They returned to the original cave to find the lair of the rust monsters contained at least twenty gems, which they pocketed and then headed down the last passage that they had not explored. This led them to the cave where the rest of the party had been busy battling the spiders. All seven horrid creatures were now dead, but Elysia and Zanurax had been poisoned and were now lying motionless on the floor. Some healing magic from the clerics enabled them to recover (the poison was to keep the victims alive but helpless so that they could be eaten at the spiders’ leisure later).

The party had been debating whether to call a halt here and return to town, or at least to the Moat House to recover and recharge their spells and hit points but I pointed out that the gateway in front of them was clearly man-made and might they want to at least take a look through it?

Beyond the gateway was a flight of stairs. Alurax and Cafaror decided to investigate and found themselves facing a chamber, the floor of which was divided into twenty four coloured flagstones.

Like this but with magic!

On two of the flagstones were silent and motionless figures which, when subjected to closer scrutiny were revealed to be statues.

Alurax and Cafaror stepped onto two of the squares (which surprised me as it's usually Adthar who goes rushing in) and immediately noticed that the rest of the party were moving and speaking incredibly quickly. The rest of the party, however, watched their comrades moving very slowly. Moving to another square revealed another weird effect – and so it went on, as they trod slowly across the multi-coloured floor; from bright, flashing, pulsing colours to pitch blackness, stinking clouds of noxious gas, randomly targeted firebursts and lightning bolts and – most surprising of all – the transformation of Cafaror into an elvish version of himself.

The two managed to make it across the floor to a ten-foot wide strip of sanctuary on the far side but then the rest of the party decided to try and cross as well. The tale of strange effects and weird wonders became very complex and hard to follow but to cut a long story short, Elysia, Ferros and Zanurax vanished before everybody’s eyes, Adthar trod on a flagstone and morphed into an ettin, Alurax went back onto the floor (to try and get a good transformation) and managed to get turned into a lion.

I wear a mane now; manes are cool

Adthar's new look

Only Galzor made it across in one piece more or less. In case anyone is wondering, Elysia, Ferros and Zanurax were turned ethereal and as well as that, Ferros is now six inches high, whilst Zanurax is nine feet tall.

The party now realised that this was the room on the map that they had found, on which were the words “die unless ye fly”

I had intended to use this as a good old-fashioned Let the Dice Decide Lottery Room and had used the results chart for the Wand of Wonder (DMG p136) to generate a truly random feel, substituting only the Grass Grows result for a polymorph effect, the reasons for which will probably be seen in the next session.

Earlier, Elysia had sent Relic on beyond the room of tiles to explore – he had found that on one wall of the corridor beyond, someone had scrawled in lampblack “Please help me” but there was no indication of who it was or to what it referred. The map that they had gave their direction as left at a crossroads, but also added ominously “Here we lost two”.

The room into which ettin Adthar walked seemed harmless, although there was a small side room which the lumbering giant investigated. Inside, he found an effigy of a strange creature that had webbed hands and feet, scales and gills. As Adthar reached in and grabbed it, portcullis gates crashed down at either door to the main room and the floor began to sink, water rising up through holes in the stone. Cafaror, who had come in to see what was going on, was trapped as well although Adthar thought that with his new-found strength, he could bend the portcullis gate and escape. Unfortunately, the bars were too strong even for him and the floor dropped even lower. More enraged pulling at the bars had little effect until he could only get his hands to the bars, which finally yielded. The water was rising up now and would soon be over his heads. He hung on and Cafaror climbed up the ettin’s back and through the small hole which, due to his slighter elvish frame, he could just slip through (that, and the fact that he had no armour now).

A flash of magical power appeared as if from nowhere and suddenly Adthar’s ettin frame had shrunk down to a fraction of his former size – six feet high as opposed to ten. He managed to wedge his heads and shoulders through the hole and finally the water began to recede. The floor rose up again and Cafaror and Galzor completed the bending of the bars to allow the ettin through.

Adthar managed to haul the portcullis up and bend more of the bars to wedge it in place, then walked to the other portcullis and did the same. As he was about to step through and lead the party onwards, there was a flickering of torchlight form the darkness beyond and the wavering shadow of somebody coming down the corridor. Who – or what – it was, we shall discover next time.

A fun session, refreshingly argument-free was had by all this week. The use of the Disco Floor of Random Doom totally worked although I'll not be going too wacky every session. A bit of light relief can be a welcome break sometimes. It was almost worth it alone for the look on the face of Cafaror's player when I described his new form as "more slender and a good deal more attractive"; he thought for one awful moment that he had been turned into a girl!

I decided to leave it on a cliffhanger for the simple reason that we'll not be playing again until the 5th November, so I wanted to have a situation where everyone reconvenes with a fixed point from which we can begin, rather than sitting around in town, trying to argue which of the many hooks they should follow (and using up a lot of time that could be spent adventuring)

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Sunday 9 October 2011

Team Adventure - Fee Fi Fo Fum!

Our heroes started up the stairs but before they had got halfway, they heard the frightful sound of hounds baying. When Cafaror and Adthar reached the top they saw a large hall and tied up against one wall, six large dogs with red-brown fur, black teeth, glowing eyes and smoke drifting from their muzzles. The team fanned out into the room, wondering if the dogs were hostile or not. They soon got their answer as a hill giant came charging in and, rather than head for the party, used his stone axe to cut the dogs free.

Barking and snarling, the six hounds from hell (a hint as to their identity) came racing towards the party, taking damage from a hurled oil bomb and lit torch, while the hill giant swung his axe and moved in to slip past their flank. Elysia had come round behind her comrades but now saw the hill giant bearing down on her. Magic missiles darted from her fingers but moments later, a crushing blow left her crumpled on the floor.

Adthar and his trusty two-handed sword did some serious damage to the hell hounds (for such they were) but their savage bites and their flaming breath did some deadly damage to the party. One by one, our doughty heroes fell beneath the snarling onslaught – and to make matters worse, another hill giant, summoned by the baying and the shouting, came running in. Two hill giants and a pack of hell hounds were proving the team’s most dangerous opposition for quite some time.

While the party were trying to hold the line, Alurax and Zanurax hurried back to the sluices to see if they could find water which, they hoped, would give them some chance against the hell hounds’ fiery breath. They returned to find several of their comrades down and the dogs coming for them. Alurax missed with the water he had gathered in his helmet but Zanurax managed to give his attacker a wet mouthful and avoided the flaming breath that round. I had no idea whether this should work or not, but I was fair and allowed them to roll to hit and, if they made that roll, ruled that the water would douse the fiery breath for one round only.

Soon, only Galzor, Zanurax and Alurax were left standing. Relic the pseudo-dragon, who had been sent by Elysia to find Russet, his dragon friend, had been summoned back before she had been hit and now arrived to find his mistress prone on the floor. He now started darting around, hitting the hell hounds with his poison sting. Galzor was sandwiched between the two giants whilst Alurax, armed with his magic trident, was hitting one from behind, doing some heavy damage. Eventually, after downing Galzor, it fell to the ground. In his brief moment of respite, Alurax recalled that the party had found a potion of Super-Heroism in a previous adventure and seized his chance to drink it. This item was on the party's communal treasure list, so there was no indication as to who was actually carrying it. Not being in the business of being a mean DM, I allowed Alurax to grab it and drink it without having to search every fallen comrade in order to do so.

Fired up with energy and strength, he quickly finished off the remaining hill giant that had just floored Galzor and, leaving Zanurax to keep an eye on the recumbent members of the party, set off through the ruins of the castle to find any other hill giants, whilst his enhanced powers were still in operation.

He reached a set of doors that led down to the courtyard, where a hill giant was just coming up the steps. Alurax’s combat abilities were too much for his opponent who was swiftly despatched. As the giant hit the ground, dead, Alurax heard a bellow from the battlements above and looked up to see another hill giant on the walkway. He fired two arrows at it, hitting it once. The giant responded with a lump of masonry, ripped from the walls and hurled at the doughty fighter. The giant then fled inside the castle.

Alurax ran back into the large hall across which he had come in his search for the giants. He saw another corridor to his right which he investigated, finding it led to a set of stairs going up. As he started up it, a giant was coming down. There was a brief but vicious combat, the results of which were the same as the one in the courtyard. As Alurax stood over the body of his latest conquest, he heard thundering footsteps from the floor above. It had to be the giant from the battlements but he was not willing to hang around whilst unaware of how long his heroic powers were going to last. He headed back to the room where they had fought the hell hounds, which were now stung into submission by Relic. The giant came crashing in a few moments later and Alurax had to stand his ground and hope for the best. The damage he had done with his arrows made all the difference and despite being hit again by the giant, eventually brought it down.

Junior Grognard absolutely loved being 8th level if only for a short period of time. The kills he made netted him over 5K of XP, which will go a good way to getting him to next level.

Meanwhile, Zanurax had been investigating a narrow passage that led off the room in which the wounded members of the party now lay. He carefully edged along the corridor, checking as he went and managed to spot a suspicious flagstone and some holes in the brickwork on either side. (A very good roll on Find Traps which was rewarded). Stepping round the trap, he found an old and defaced shrine at the far end. There appeared to be some wear and damage on the neck of one of the figures on the shrine. (Another exceptionally good roll - the dice were kind to the thief today). Zanurax first tried to move it using the string of his bow but this had no effect and so he gripped the head of the statue and turned it. With a grinding sound, a door opened on either side of the passage and chests and sacks of coins were revealed, along with a shield, a potion flask and a cloth pouch, about a foot or so long. Inside it appeared to be some sort of thin object which, on closer inspection was revealed to be a wand.

Having slain the giants and found the treasure, the party considered that their job here was done. Resting up until they had recovered their strength and spells, they made their way through the castle to the courtyard where Alurax had killed one of the hill giants. The shattered and rotten gates were no obstacle at all and they set off down the winding path to the place where they had left their horses.

On their way there, Alurax and Cafaror noticed something off in the undergrowth and decide to investigate. They found something very large, overgrown by ivy and brambles, which they hacked off with their swords. By now, they had been joined by the rest of the party, who had reached the horses and ridden back to see what their comrades were up to.

Beneath the foliage, they found a massive statue of a seated lion, clearly many hundreds of years old, with writing on the plinth, faded to obscurity. The lion faced north-west but nobody could work out what it represented or why it was there.

There is a relevance to this, which may be revealed later, depending on what the party decide to do next.

The team loaded up their haul, then set off for the Moat House, where they intended to stay overnight and complete their journey to town the following day. Elysia was keen to find out what the wand was and to safely store their treasure.

The Moat House was much as they had left it; since having been cleared out, it had not attracted attention. The party were also looking into the possibility of repairing and refurbishing it, as had been previously mentioned. I had looked at the plans, checked the relevant pages in the DMG, scratched my head a few times and then picked a figure out of the air and settled on 4K GP for refurbishment and repair to what might be called habitable standard. Luxurious additions would of course cost extra. The party have that sort of cash now, but the difficult will come in getting the tradesmen and workers in to carry out the repairs.

The next day, feeling rested and refreshed, the party rode on down the river valley towards the town. About noon or thereabouts, they spotted ahead three hulking figures coming towards them – ogres, by the look of them. Adthar and Cafaror drew their swords and led the charge towards the brutes, while Elysia readied her stock of magic missiles and Alurax, Ferros, Zanurax and Galzor prepared to ride in support of the fighters.

The plan had to be adjusted when two more groups of ogres, each three-strong appeared from cover behind the party, on their left and right flanks. Alurax and Ferros took the left flank, Galzor and Zanurax the right. Elysia donned her cloak of Elvenkind and used its camouflaging properties to keep hidden from the ogres whilst firing magic missiles into their opponents. This was a prepared ambush by the ogres, set up to slow the party down whilst the flank attackers moved into position.

Keeping mobile on their horses, the party were out-manoeuvring the ogres but the hulking thugs were no mean shakes on the damage front themselves and started to whittle down the party’s strength. Alurax managed to send his trident straight through the head of one of the ogres (a double 20, which I usually rule means decapitation but as it's impossible to decapitate with a trident I ruled it went straight through his head - but of course would be wrenched out of the wielder's grasp as it was firmly stuck in a dead ogre). Alas, Alurax had little time to think about recovering his prized weapon as he was hit and brought down by another ogre on the same round.

Eventually, only Elysia was left to take on four ogres; after using a Sleep spell and finding it ineffective against an ogre (I rolled a d4 as per the PHB but got the result that said 0), she had but one spell remaining – Stinking Cloud. A cloud of billowing, nauseous vapours engulfed the remaining ogres. Two were incapacitated and two managed to stagger free of the cloud but were rendered helpless long enough for the brave magic user to slit the throats of three. One recovered and moved in on Elysia. She tried to dodge a blow from the monster but it caught her and threw her into the grass. She managed to get to her feet again and reviewed her options – limited as they were. She had only a dagger and a staff left – and a pseudo-dragon! Relic swooped in and stung with his barbed tail – and the ogre toppled to the ground, comatose, where he was swiftly finished off.

A seriously dangerous combat that had resulted from a random encounter roll. I mused later that had I rolled 10 rather than 9 for the number of ogres, the party could have faced a TPK. As it was, they were only 4hp away from one anyway. Such is the danger of wilderness adventures, which are of course rarely scaled for a particular party.

Elysia gathered the party together, tied them across their horses and led the battered convoy back towards town. They noted, with a sense of fear the sound of wolves howling from somewhere off in the distance. Clearly there was a pack of them in the area and that might be something to be attended to in the future.

Another random encounter roll, in the same area as the one they got on their previous return to town following the adventure on the moorlands. I concluded that the two encounters must either be the same pack or two in proximity and have pencilled "Wolves" in on the map.

For now, the safety of the town beckoned and the chance of a hot meal and a flagon of ale. Elysia cast a spell to identify the magic items, discovering that they had found a Wand of Illumination, a +2 shield and a potion of Extra-Healing, all of which would come in handy in future adventures.

She was also approached by the archivist of the Town Council who had found another version of the legend that she was researching; this was about two hundred years or so older than the one she had already discovered and told a rather different story.

(and as I mentioned earlier, I am now including this for your delectation and delight)

Many years ago, a great evil slept neath the mountains. Yet fools delved too deep and seeking gold disturbed the demons who lay there. In a great rush of wings and claws, came they rising up and cast fire and fear around them, with much death and wailing caused thereby. And for many years, the land was at war, but word came unto the king and he caused a host of knights to be assembled, charging them to repair with honour that which had been brought about by greed.

Forth they rode, hard fighters all, and came near to the lands where the demons had set all afire with their sorcerous ways. The knights rode into battle but their bravery availed them not, for they were forced back with grievous losses. Then they said “We shall fall this day, for the adversary is too strong for us, and our swords are not enough to prevail”
Then came the sound of hooves and into their midst arrived a knight with a mane of auburn hair and a handsome face so that all the warriors looked upon him and were emboldened once again. Then they made war again, and for a while, their efforts bore fruit, led by the new knight, who was the boldest and the greatest warrior.

Yet sorcery was the strength of the demons and they wielded it like the wind. Again, they hurled the knights back with their arcane fire and three times the flamehaired knight was struck by magic. Three times he rose again but on the third time his helmet had been lost and all saw that it was no knight but a woman, of exceeding beauty but a maiden nonetheless.

Amongst the knights, division had been sewn; some would not follow a woman, others praised her bravery and thought her the best way to win against the demons. While they argued, the demons attacked again and struck the lady down yet still she fought. Those who wanted to fight with her cut their way to her side, hewing demons asunder as they went, yet those who did not wish to fight with her saw the bravery of her and her knights and were humbled and sought to go to her but were stopped by fire and claw and savagery. Then there came more enemies and drove the knights back and they fled, seeking to save their own

Then when they had come to a safe place, they all gathered together, seeking to forget the disgrace that they had brought upon themselves by their cowardice, saying “We shall write the story anew, since we alone survived and have laid hands upon the molten truth; let us forge it to our own liking and say that this is what became of them, that they fell bravely and laid the darkness low”

But it came to pass that their shame haunted them and each sought to cleanse the stain upon their souls by seeking out fierce monsters and bringing them down to the dust, and one by one the knights who had shamed themselves fell in battle and were brought to their tombs warriors once more. The king valued their bravery and by their sacrifice was much land won and many great deeds achieved. Yet no man dared to plunder their tombs for it was said a great curse lay upon the blades of these knights as punishment for their time of shame.

Monday 3 October 2011