Monday 31 December 2012

Junior Grognard's Christmas Dungeon

You might not be aware of this, but it is a tradition in the Grognard house that Junior Grognard runs a one-off session of his own on Boxing Day or as close as possible thereto. So it was this year; he had been working away on it for several days and was soon installed behind the DM’s screen with books, paperwork and dice – just like a real DM.

We (Mummy Grognard and I) rolled up two characters apiece – I got a cleric and a pretty good set of rolls for my second character (13/14/11/13/12/15) and decided this was a perfect F/Mu/Th, therefore half-elven and I plumped for a female character, partly because I’d played so few in years gone by and partly because JG had acquired a set of pre-painted WotC minis for Christmas and one of these was a cool sword-wielding female elf.  MG found herself with a M/U and a thief; we set the levels at 2nd, diced up spells and hit points and got going.

Our party entered the tavern and were enjoying our drinks when we were told by a man who had come rushing in that it was blowing a blizzard outside; it had just started after we came in. The barman (unjustly putting two and two together to make five, perhaps) told us that finding the reason for this was down to us. So, we finished our pints and set off to find out what was going on.  

We marched through the woods until we saw ahead a mound, the only thing around not covered by snow. I misheard JG and thought he said ‘man’ (possibly Dognard whining and howling in the living room might have made the word difficult to hear) and approached it; unfortunately, it started to spit bolts of fire at my half-elf and she was pretty soon down to minus hit points.

The rest of the party dragged her to safety, healed her and rather sensibly decided to avoid the mound if all it was going to do was attack us. A little while later, we came to a frozen lake. Suspecting that the ice was less than supportive, I declared that we would go around it, only to be told it was so big that we couldn’t do that. It turned out to be a frozen fjord rather than a lake, so we decided to try our luck on the ice. Luckily, we made some good rolls (the d20 of doom was on our side this time) and we managed to get across with no unpleasant consequences.

On the far side, a snowman stood, with a flask of warmth as a gift for us. This had six doses and each dose would enable the drinker to endure the wintry conditions for two hours. Each member of the party took a mouthful and we saved the remainder for later.

The blizzard showed no signs of stopping and we decided to camp in the woods. It was getting late but that was no deterrent for the gang of orcs that decided to pay us a visit. To make matters worse, when I asked which was the leader, so our M/U could cast Friends and try to influence him, it was revealed that the orcs were being led by an owlbear. Aieee!

My half-elf cast Spider Climb and shimmied up the nearest tree, unpacking an oil bomb and launching it at the owlbear. I thought an attack on the leader might deter the rest of the band from pressing home their assault. I hurled it, with a 19 and then chose the d30 to roll for damage. An 11 was not as good as I’d hoped for but better than might have been the case if I’d gone for standard damage.

Down on the ground, things were not going the party’s way; the cleric and the M/U were brought down and we were not making much of a dent on the opposition. Finally, after a dagger and bow attack from on high, the orcs withdrew, along with their owlbear leader and we licked our wounds, regained our strength and waited for morning (and Cure Lights).

Sunrise revealed the source of the blizzard – a huge mountain towards which we made our way. We had to cross plains of ice that had once been pastureland but any cattle that might have used them were probably now frozen beef.  Far off, we spotted a large figure by a spire of rock and set off to find out if he was friend or foe. It turned out to be the former – a frost giant with his feet stuck in ice. We used our weapons and torches to free him and in return he told us that we needed to find Father Christmas who would give us something to help us get up the mountain, which, apparently, could not be climbed by conventional methods.

Find him we did, camped nearby with his reindeer. He had a golden crossbow with a silver bolt loaded in it, which we were advised to fire at the top of the mountain.

Before this, we had another obstacle to get around; a gang of monsters with white spiky fingers and noses. They were ice orcs and it was their job to stop us getting up the mountain. They were led by a larger creature who announced that he was Jack Frost. This cut little ice with us (hehe) and we piled into combat, shattering two of the ice orcs and discomfiting the others sufficiently that they retreated, uttering the standard threats of unspecified revenge.

We were now clear to fire the golden crossbow at the mountain. When we did this, the rope attached formed a cable up which we all climbed (having to make a STR roll to avoid losing our grip and falling – although the damage was minimal as my half-elf found out – a bit of a damage magnet, this one).

At the top of the mountain, we found Luck, the blizzard hound. The snow and icy wind was coming from his gaping jaws. He was howling because he had lost his coin in the ice maze. We calmed him and promised that we would find his coin.

We set off for the ice maze;  at its entrance, we found two large statues – they appeared to be frozen creatures who we promised to try and help if we could. Inside the maze, we came across the figures of long-dead adventurers sealed inside the icy walls; a chilling reminder of the danger that the maze presented. We were soon confronted by a choice of passages. I turned left, but found a dead end. Right took us to  a room where there was a magic sword hidden behind a stone wall. The central passage led to a t-junction – we took the right-hand passage first and found ourselves in a room where a set of stepping stones led across a pool of icy blue liquid to a pedestal. The thief managed to get across with some good DEX rolls and found that the pedestal contained a glowing coin. Yay, we thought – first time lucky.

Of course, it was nowhere near that simple – as the thief grasped the coin, it crumbled to dust in his hand. A decoy chamber to throw us off the scent. The thief retraced his steps to safety and we chose the left-hand passage which led us to another  chamber. This time, we were fairly confident that the coin was the real deal but the thief managed to trigger a trap that did not harm him but caused a number of spikes to come out of the walls where the rest of the party was standing. We dodged out of the way, which was not hard since they didn’t move at Raiders of the Lost Ark speed but the thief was now stuck inside the room.

Fortunately, it was not long till the spikes retracted and the thief was able to escape with the coin. We left the ice maze, finding that the frozen figures at the entrance were now freed from their icy confinement. We climbed back up to where Luck the Blizzard Dog was waiting. We handed over the coin and in gratitude, he teleported us back to the tavern where we had started the adventure. Waiting for us were individual presents that were in fact wishes which we could use for anything we wanted.

It's a welcome change to be on the other side of the DM's screen and reminds me that I haven't played in many a year. Hopefully, someday one or more of my players will get a game of their own going and I might be able to run characters again. Until then, it's Team Adventure 2013 coming soon. 

Tuesday 25 December 2012

Christmas Greetings to All

Hope you get many of these

not merely over Christmas but in the year to come. I'd like to thank everybody who follows this blog, everyone who drops in to look at the succubus picture (more popular than hot elf chicks or wild boars) and your nearest and dearest. I hope you've all been good this year because if you haven't....

Wednesday 19 December 2012

What my players get up to....

...when they're supposed to be concentrating on the game

although in this case, I didn't really mind that much  ;)

(art courtesy of Gullhar's player)

Sunday 16 December 2012

Team Adventure - Christmas Special 2012

Following their battle with the ettins, the party settled down for the night. They were tired and the fire was warm. The gentle breeze in the trees made an eerie, lulling sound that seemed to resemble a gentle, soporific lullaby. In fact, this was a bit too close to the truth, as the party fell asleep having left nobody on guard.

Some considerable time later, Alagon was woken by the insistent chirruping and shaking of Relic, and when the party roused itself they found that one of their members was missing. Whilst they had been sleeping, somebody – or something – had abducted Elysia.

Very soon, the entire party was readied for action. They sent Relic on ahead to try and find her but to no avail; she seemed to have vanished off the face of the earth!

However, Benbo quickly identified a trail that led away from the campsite further into the forest and the party followed it, soon noticing some interesting features about it – firstly that the prints were not human but hoofs and that secondly, the hoofs were smaller than horse-sized. Putting two and two together, both Benbo and Alurax concluded that the suspected abductors were likely to be fauns, otherwise known as satyrs.

The trail ended at a mysterious structure in the forest, made up of two upright staves and a crossbeam; it seemed to form a doorframe, although there was no door to go with it. Showing an eagerness to find out what had become of Elysia, Benbo stepped through it and promptly vanished from sight.  Alagon went through to find out what had become of the hobbit and he too vanished.

This caused consternation amongst the remainder of the party but they concluded that it was best to try and follow them in case they needed help; the memory of the tragic fate that had befallen Galadeus was clearly strong in their minds. Ferros was next through and that left Alurax and Gullhar. The elf had a rope tied round his waist and Alurax held its other end. Then Gullhar stepped through the gateway; to Alurax’s alarm, the rope went suddenly slack.

On the far side of the gate, the various party members had found themselves in a wintry landscape, wide acres of snow and before them, a strange object – a tall pole of iron with a lantern at its top. Dangling from the crossbar were several little bags that Benbo could not, unfortunately reach, but Alagon was able to pluck them down and found that they were full of oats and dried fruit. He stowed these about his person and they looked about to see what this new place was like.

Whilst they were exploring, the other members of the party arrived, one by one. Eventually even Alurax turned up, unwilling to remain on the other side of the gate alone. However, they found that the gate had disappeared when Alurax passed through; there seemed to be no way back.

Ahead, across the snow, the party could see three distant gates, similar to those that they had already passed through. They decided to explore each in turn. The left-hand gate led them into a realm of deep snow, where Benbo sank nearly out of sight. Alagon had to carry the hobbit until they reached another gate that took them out of the drifts and into easier going. In the distance, they could see a strange object, made of what looked like metal, but they decided to check out the other gate from the snowdrifts.

That led them into a more forested area where they soon heard the jingling of bells and the sound of hoofbeats. Expecting someone different, they were surprised when a mysterious, fur-clad woman in a sleigh pulled up. She got out a box and tried to tempt members of the party with something called Turkish Delight. Strangely enough, nobody in the party wanted to try this new-found substance and instead fired several arrows and crossbow bolts at her. Wounded and outraged, the woman beat a hasty retreat into the trees.

The party decided to return to investigate the mysterious object that they had already seen and found it to be some sort of machine, made of iron and brass. There was a little hatch in it and a pile of coal that sat by its side. Alurax decided to start piling the coal into the machine and get a fire going. Soon, the machine was starting to hum and judder and then, with a whoosh of steam, it produced a little jar of what appeared to be a dark red sweet confection. A couple of minutes later, another jar appeared, then another.

 (all illustrations by Junior Grognard)

The party stocked up on what was now revealed to be cranberry sauce. Not too far away from the sauce-making machine, they noticed a parcel in the snow which Alurax went over and examined. It was wrapped in colourful paper and ribbon. When he opened it, out fell a small figurine of a bear. He picked it up and noticed that it was growing warm; hastily putting it down, he stepped back and watched as it grew to the size of an adult polar bear, which bowed to the trident-wielder before following the party as they headed off towards one of the distant gateways.  The party named him Larsh.

Beyond that gate, the party noticed some figures approaching them through the snow; the figures were human-shaped but not human and they seemed oddly two-dimensional, or at the very least, rather thin. They were an orange-brown in colour and as they got closer, it could be seen that they were attempting to surround the party and herd them towards a nearby building whence came the strong smell of baking.

The menacing gingerbread men, for such they were, rubbed their ginger hands together and pressed closer to the party. Alurax concluded correctly that they were trying to turn the party into gingerbread men as well. At this point, Benbo snapped and started to attack their opponents, followed by Ferros, with Alurax and the polar bear weighing in. Ginger legs and ginger arms went flying in all directions and the gingerbread man that went up against the bear was reduced to crumbs in short order.

The party managed to break through the encircling foes and made a dash for safety. Ferros stumbled across another parcel and once they had put sufficient distance between themselves and the gingerbread men, who looked to be falling back on their lair, the cleric opened the parcel to find that it contained a tiny glass snow dome. Having never seen one of these before, he had a lot of fun shaking it vigorously and watching the resulting blizzard.

Passing through the nearest gate, the party found themselves on the shores of a frozen river. On the ice in the middle of the river, another parcel sat. Benbo was keen to get hold of it but correctly deduced that the ice was likely to crack if too much load was placed on it. He therefore stripped down to his underwear and crawled out onto the ice, reaching the parcel and pulling it slowly back to the shore.

Once the blue, shivering hobbit had been wrapped up and warmed again (albeit with the legacy of a stinking cold) he opened the parcel to see what was inside. A huge flurry of snow and ice sprang up, enveloping the party and when it subsided, they saw with a groan that they had arrived back at the lamp-post where they had started.

However, all was not lost as, coming towards them in the snow, was Elysia. She and Relic had a happy reunion and she told how she had been charmed and kidnapped by the satyrs who lurked in the woods where they had been camped. She thought that their leader might have fallen for her and wanted her to become a female satyr; however, she managed to escape during a snow storm and found her way back to the lamp-post where she had hoped the party would catch up to her.  So it had transpired.

Near the lamp-post, another parcel was spotted. Gullhar took it upon himself to open it and inside, found a long string of brightly glowing lights, whose illumination had no obvious source; clearly they had to be magic and they were secreted in the party’s belongings – Elysia had visions of using them to decorate the Moat House.

There was one other gate that they had not explored so far and as they passed through it, they found themselves in a confusing mass of tangled holly bushes. At once, they began to search for a path and eventually managed to find one. At the centre of the holly thicket, Alagon found another parcel and, on opening it, discovered that he had acquired another set of the mystical glowing lights. It would certainly be bright at the Moat House this coming winter.

Through the next gate, the party found that the terrain had become more open and that, a fair distance off, stood a large beast with proud antlers, a harness, bells and reins. The party approached it cautiously and then remembered the small bags of oats and fruit that they had found on the lamp-post. Using one of these, they tempted the reindeer. Ferros used his Speak with Animals ability but the strange influence of the wintry world in which they found themselves meant that his voice became deep and booming and his speech was frequently punctuated by outbursts of “Ho ho ho”. Nevertheless, the party managed to win its confidence and it told them that its name was Prancer and his home lay north of where they now stood. After opening the parcel that was to be found in this area and finding that within was a third set of the magical lights, they set off again.

Having passed into the next area, they were met by the sound of strange singing and the sight of a line of figures dancing a very odd dance. As they got closer, they saw to their amazement that they had come across a party of very drunk goblins dancing the conga. The party was invited to join in and Ferros, Benbo, Alurax and Alagon did so. Unfortunately, only Ferros and Benbo were left standing by the time the goblins got bored and wandered off, but not before having rewarded the duo with a flagon of goblin beer and a goblin goody-bag each.  The goblins left behind a parcel which, when opened, revealed a second polar bear figure. The party clearly had little to fear with their impressive and furry escort whom they named Micha.

The next gateway led them to another reindeer by the name of Dancer, which they swiftly befriended with another bag of food.

Alurax elected to open the accompanying parcel and found to his horror that he was trapped inside a cage of icicles. He could not smash his way out in case they came crashing down on his head. Elysia had the bright idea of casting Affect Normal Fires on his torch, causing it to blaze up and he used it as a blowtorch to cut through the ice before it finally sputtered out and failed. Alurax clambered through the hole that he had cut but unfortunately, he caught his foot on the icicles as he made his way out and brought the cage down on him, one of the barbs of ice slashing his leg as he rolled clear.

The party pressed on north, or so they hoped. An interesting development occurred when Elysia cast a Fly spell to reach the parcel in the next region, only to find that she turned into a Christmas Fairy, complete with wings, sequinned dress and tiara for the duration of the spell. The reindeer that they found here - Vixen - looked on with some curiosity as the box was opened to reveal a selection of crackers. Only Alurax and Gullhar saw fit to pull one between them; inside was a small metal object which, when pressed, shone a small beam of light. Gullhar, who had won the cracker pulling, seemed delighted with his new-found toy and secreted it about his person.

The next area the party entered was dominated by a large sculpture made of ice. As Alurax approached it to investigate, it started to bubble and gurgle, and from the top of it came a river of warm, liquid chocolate. The party was delighted and Alurax stuck his head under the fountain to drink it. As he did so, the wound on his leg healed up magically. Gullhar borrowed two empty potion bottles from Ferros to fill with the mystical brown elixir. Benbo tried to drink as well but as he was not injured, the draught had no effect.

Feeling greedy, Alurax drank again and unfortunately he and all his possessions turned to chocolate. He was still mobile and sentient however.  Behind the fountain, they found another parcel and sure enough inside was another polar bear figurine. They now had three of the great white creatures – Larsh, Micha and Greta. 

As they passed through the gateway into the next area, they found that one of the portals they could see was guarded by a large, tree-like figure, crowned with holly. This guardian required that they sang a Christmas song in order to try and persuade it to let them pass. The first attempt did not move the holly guardian but the second was done with enough aplomb that it moved aside and allowed them entry.

Beyond the gate, they found that there was a chimney sticking out of the ground. On further investigation, they discovered a parcel sitting behind it and when it was opened, they found it contained a bag of rock salt  ideal for traversing stretches of ice and snow. Elysia, Benbo, Alagon, Ferros, Gullhar and finally Chocolate Alurax went down the chimney and found at the bottom a little workshop and an old man in a green robe, drinking a cup of hot chocolate.

The old man explained that he was a cleric of unimaginably high power who had found the world a crowded and threatening place and now sought some peace and quiet in which to meditate and contemplate the finer things in life. Notwithstanding this, he was grateful for the return of three of his reindeer.  He allowed the party to say goodbye to their polar bear friends before the bears returned to figurine status and then asked what the party members would like as their Christmas wishes, with the proviso that said wishes should be within his power to grant.

Alurax asked for a hawk as a familiar, Alagon a white wolf. Benbo wanted a phoenix and Ferros a pseudo-dragon like Relic. Gullhar, who had clearly been taken with Larsh, Micha and Greta asked for a polar bear familiar, whilst Elysia asked if it were possible to return Galadeus to life as she had kept his hand (the sole salvage from the shark attack) and hoped that the cleric would be powerful enough to resurrect the ranger. He gestured to a large wrapped parcel in the corner of his workshop which, when unwrapped, contained the body of their departed comrade. It had one wrist ending in a stump and when Elysia joined the hand to it, the two merged and a soft glow enveloped the whole body, which then started breathing.

As they all gathered round to welcome Galadeus back to the land of the living, Elysia slid the ring of Mammal Control back onto Galadeus' finger and whispered "This is yours, old friend." Nobody noticed that the workshop and the old man gradually faded away to be replaced by the woodland where they had been camping. Had it all been a dream?  Demonstrably not!

DG note – a light-hearted Christmas session on which to end the year. Regular readers will recall that last year, we had an ordinary session at the last meeting before Christmas and this time, I wanted something a little wacky, goofy, often laugh out loud, which I think we managed to achieve. Now I have to go away and think of how I can create familiars that satisfy the desires of the party without unbalancing the game entirely.

In the year since the last Christmas session, we’ve seen a lot going on. Every member of the party has worked well to make the campaign an enjoyable experience. Alagon’s player joined us for that session and he’s fitted in seamlessly with the party (decapitating an ogre a couple of weeks later), as has Benbo/Galadeus’ player, whose determination, eagerness and excitement about play is a credit to him and an example to we grognards of the way we were – and still should be.

Next year will see the party occupying that sweet spot between the lower and higher levels; strong enough to avoid a TPK every session but not so strong that they can waltz through dungeons with nary a fear in the world. I will be bringing in more pre-pubs as well so the type of encounters and adventures that they will be facing are going to change, as may the treasure they garner. Threats and dangers will become more serious but the rewards will be commensurately richer too.  Who knows?  We may find our gallant band bearding Lolth in her own den this time next year.

Monday 10 December 2012

An Adventure for Every Monster - Demon, Type I

Frequency    Common
No. appearing  1-3 or 1-6
Armour class 0
Move  12”/18”
Hit Dice 8
Percentage in lair 5%   
Treasure type B
No. of attacks 5
Damage per attack 1-4/1-4/1-8/1-8/1-6    
Special attack See below
Special defences  See below
Magic Resistance 50%
Intelligence  Low
Alignment Chaotic Evil
Size  L (8 ½ feet tall)
THAC0  12
XP value 1275 + 10/hp

They may be struck by normal missiles and weapons.

Detect invisible objects
Telekinese 2000gp weight
Gate in another Type I demon (10% chance of success)
Darkness 5’ radius

The party has been hired to hunt down and eliminate a band of brigands who have been causing trouble in a remote part of the realm. A good bounty is given for each brigand but a particularly large amount has been offered for the head of the leader.

At a certain point in the hunt, the party will encounter the brigands but there is a twist. The brigands are in no way interested in fighting the party and – provided there is a chance to communicate – they will explain why.

A few weeks ago, their leader, who is both a tough fighter and a fair to middling magic user found a battered codex in a raid on archives of an ancient monastery. As he and his band had killed all the monks and taken their stuff, there was nobody around to interpret it for him but he persevered and managed to decipher it. The codex gave him the ability to summon demonic forces and, using a couple of the less successful brigands as sacrifices, called up two Type I demons. The demons were tempted by the prospect of gold and flesh and proved very effective at raiding, looting and slaughtering. Many of the crimes for which the brigands are being hunted were actually carried out by the demons, under the control of their new master. The brigands eventually left their former leader in high dudgeon, having been effectively made redundant as the leader outsourced their duties.

The brigands have a proposition for the party; kill the demons and their master and the remaining gang members will relocate to pastures new. The brigands will also guide the party to their hideout although they cannot guarantee that their leader has not made some improvements to security over the intervening weeks.

There are several options for the true situation in this adventure

1. All is as represented. The brigands are genuine in their desire to see the demons and their former leader killed, although they will want a share of the loot which they regard as theirs. There is a possibility that the brigand gang has been infiltrated by members of the military or the local law enforcement and if this is the case, the arrival of soldiers at an inopportune moment is likely.

2. The brigands are lying through their teeth; they are working in cahoots with their leader and have been sent out to find new human sacrifices for the demons to consume. The party will do nicely.

3. The brigands are telling the truth as far as they know it but whilst they have been absent from the lair, the demons have grown bored of working for their master and he has now become their latest meal. The demons are now a more chaotic opposition but have not grown sufficiently tired of raiding and pillaging. They have tried several times to bring more of their kind to the lair but so far with no success. The DM should attempt a summoning roll once per day until the party reaches the lair; this may well increase the number of demons present.

4. The leader is fully aware of the activities of the brigands and is growing tired of the threat that they pose to his operations. He has improved security no end and made several alterations that will turn what the brigands thought were safe areas into death traps. Hiding behind this security, he will send the demons to kill the brigands first, then have them hunt down the party. Without brigand aid, the party may well become lost in the network of caves and tunnels that make up the lair.

The treasure garnered by the brigands in their raids and pillaging is as follows

CP 1738
SP 864
EP 721
GP 464
PP 697

As well as the coinage, there is a sizeable hoard of gems and jewellery but this will be securely hidden and trapped.

Star ruby, worth 1000gp
Eye Agate, worth 10gp
Chalcedony, worth 50gp
Amber, worth 100gp
Topaz, worth 500gp
Ruby, worth 1000gp
Onyx, worth 50gp
Garnet, worth 500gp
Jade, worth 500gp
Chrysoprase, worth 50gp
Tiger Eye, worth 10gp
Zircon, worth 50gp
Oriental Amethyst, worth 1000gp

900gp clasp
5000gp medal
500gp pin
1200gp statuette
1000gp sceptre
800gp armband
400gp buckle
6000gp chain
Magic 1 item – Boots of Levitation

Sunday 2 December 2012

Team Adventure - A Spiky Encounter

When the party woke the day after the night’s events, there was still a faint smoky haze on the air. The evidence of their blisteringly successful attack on the ogres lay all around them and they lost no time in breaking camp and setting off again. They were now entering a stretch of sylvan woodland and the raw power of nature unrestrained was evident to all. That afternoon, they had the sound of howling wolves from the woods around them but the creatures seemed reluctant to approach during daylight. That night, as the party was trying to select a good spot to camp, the sound of rustling in the undergrowth and growling met their ears. Elysia sent Relic out into the darkness to find out what it was; the pseudo-dragon came back to report that five brown bears were out prowling for food. Wisely, the party decided to relocate and tramped through the woods until the noise of the bears was far distant.

The next day, they were riding on when Alurax and Alagon, glancing into the sky for distraction from the endless procession of trees and undergrowth, spotted three creatures flying towards them. Curious as to what they were, they used the keen sight of Gullhar to get more details about them. He reported that they had the bodies of lions, the wings of bats and the heads of men. They also had long tails tipped with something that looked like the heads of teasels.

Thinking that the newcomers were sphinxes, Elysia flew Ferros up into the air above the trees to speak to them. As the creatures approached, they began to circle. Ferros prepared to open hailing frequencies but a moment later was riddled with vicious iron spikes and was brought back down very quickly indeed. The manticores, for such were they, moved in to take on the rest of the party. One was brought down before it had a chance to land, and the other two moved in, one taking some heavy damage. Elysia put up her Shield and the party bunched behind her to make use of it. Benbo and Alurax faced forward with her, whilst Alagon, Gullhar and the very injured Ferros kept to the rear; wisely, as it turned out for the second manticore rose up again to fly over the Shield and attack from the rear. The paladin, the elf and the cleric concentrated their efforts on this one whilst Elysia, Benbo and Alurax kept the manticore on the other side of the Shield busy.
One of Alurax’s attacks went awry as he moved in with his trident; he mishandled the shaft of the weapon and ended up sinking its points into the ground. He was able to extract it but delayed his participation in the attack.
Despite some damage suffered by several of the party, they finally managed to kill the two remaining attackers and felt quite pleased about it. The manticores had not even used their claw and bite attacks, restricting themselves to the use of their tail spikes but nevertheless, had proved themselves fearsome opponents. Benbo and Alagon decided to cut open the stomachs of the manticores to see if there was any treasure inside but were unsuccessful and a bout of nausea and vomiting ensued as they saw the results of their gruesome task.

For much of the rest of the day, there was little to trouble the party, save the howling of wolves and the renewed presence of brown bears, although it was not clear whether it was the same group or another one. The lack of either ranger or druidic capability in the party was starting to tell although no hostile moves were made by the wildlife that day.

The next day, the party had not been on the march long before they spotted a rocky outcrop not too far away, topped with trees. By what looked like a cave entrance, there lounged a manticore and another launched itself periodically into the air.  This was clearly the lair of the trio that had attacked the previous day and the party decided to investigate, Benbo leading the way with his thiefly skills. Unfortunately, he was able to move neither quietly nor covertly and the airborne manticore was soon heading his way to attack. Alagon, Gullhar and Ferros moved in to support the doughty hobbit and using missile fire, managed to bring down the manticore before it could unleash its deadly weapon.

This time, Benbo’s attempts to sneak up on the cave bore more fruit and whilst he was leading the party forward, Elysia and Alurax flew to the top of the outcrop to try and take the manticore by surprise. The party’s combined efforts succeeded, with Alurax making the leap onto the manticore’s back to finish it off with a stab of his trident.

Within the cave, amidst the bones that had been gnawed as part of the manticores’ feasting, the party found some valuable treasure, including scrolls, a magical cross-bow and an enchanted war hammer. These went into the party’s communal weaponry, to be used by all members as need dictated.

The fourth day in the sylvan forests started with what appeared, at first sight to be a simple combat. Alurax, at the front of the party was nearly taken by surprise as a huge, two-headed giant appeared in front of him. The ettin engaged the trident-wielding fighter in combat and the rest of the party moved forward to engage, only for Ferros and Benbo to fall under attack from a second ettin that launched a flanking movement, followed up moments later by a third, attacking from the rear. The final zombie, who had been traipsing through the wilderness with the party was smashed by two huge club hits and disintegrated into a cloud of rotting flesh.

I don't know why it's purple either but it's a nice mini.
Alagon, Gullhar and Ferros used their missile weapons whilst Benbo leapt into action with sword and dagger. Alurax kept his ettin busy with the trident whilst Elysia used magic missiles to whittle down the third. Soon, one ettin was down and the party concentrated their efforts on the remainder, killing one quickly – Alagon scored a decapitating hit on one but the second head meant that this did not automatically kill it. The ettins were having a very bad time of it, missing several easy targets with their clubs and doing a fraction of the damage of which they were capable. The party finally overwhelmed the last ettin with weight of numbers and finished it off.

The party deduced from the direction of the attack that the ettins must have come from the south and Benbo started to hunt around to see if he could find any sign of the trail that they would have left. It was not long before he picked something up and led the party through the undergrowth, keeping the trail in his sights until it led to a rickety old lean-to, built against a thick oak. The smell from inside was appalling, with rotting flesh, gnawed bones and unwashed ettin high on the list of nauseating aromas. Nevertheless, a good rummage in the ettins’ den revealed more treasure; this was in the form of a smattering of copper, silver and electrum and a tourmaline but beneath a pile of rotting furs, the party found a sack that held nearly five thousand gold pieces, a potion and a scroll.

Their sojourn in the sylvan forest had netted them a large haul of treasure and experience but they were not out of the woods yet. 

Monday 19 November 2012

Amazon, how well you know me

...because you suggested I might like this.

Saturday 17 November 2012

Team Adventure - Fire in the Ravine

The day dawned bright and dry. It was 23rd August and once they had crossed the river, loaded down with expedition gear and enthusiasm aplenty, their journey through the forest seemed to be without incident, until our heroes came across some cobwebs that looked considerably thicker than the ones they had seen bedecked with dew outside the Moat House that morning.

Benbo, determined to make himself useful, decided to climb the nearest tree and take a look around. He managed to make it to one of the higher branches, whereupon he attracted the attention of a huge spider which swung down out to try and grab him; it failed but knocked him off the branch. The hobbit amazingly managed to land on his feet, avoiding some nasty fall damage.  Alagon swung into action with his hand axes, hurling them at the arachnid. One hit and the other went sailing off into the undergrowth. As the party were milling around, trying to decide how to deal with the arboreal webslinger, another one emerged from the undergrowth and tried to attack Alagon. It was soon finished off as the party brought its strength to bear and whilst Alagon fired a warning shot from his bow to persuade the first one to vacate the scene, other members of the party were busily dismembering the dead spider to raid its venom sacs.

Their warm-up exercises over and done with, the party rode on and around midday or so, heard some noises from the trees; something was moving about just out of view. Alurax spurred his warhorse Warnado into action and rode through the trees to find out what it was. Elysia and Ferros sighed, rolled their eyes and set off in pursuit, a minute or so behind him.

Alurax had encountered two rutting stags, for whom the appearance of a potential rival proved an interesting distraction. One charged, antlers down and butted the unlucky warhorse who reared and retreated. Before Alurax could dismount to take further precipitate action, Elysia and Ferros arrived; Ferros used his Speak with Animals spell ability to assure the stags that no harm was intended and to extricate Alurax from the situation. With the matter closed, the stags got back to locking antlers and the party went on its way.

As afternoon shaded into evening, a different kind of noise was heard off into the forest, more distant but more numerous as if a large group of creatures was traversing the woods. Nobody seemed particularly intent on investigating this, and the party made camp, hoping to settle down for the night. However, the strange noises were again heard later on and this time Elysia sent Relic off to try and find out what was going on and whether it was a threat to the party.  The little pseudo-dragon returned shortly with the information she required; it turned out that it was a large number of wild cattle being herded by goblins. The party, on hearing the G-word, were all for arming up and riding off to give battle but wiser heads prevailed and the noise of the cattle eventually faded away into the night.

Nobody actually thought to wonder why goblins might be herding cattle in the forest (there is a good reason but I’m not giving it away just yet), and the next day, the party emerged from the woods into the rough badlands, over which they had travelled on their way to and from the elven lands. Not far off, they saw the recognisable shape of the rocky outcrop where they had defeated the ogres many weeks ago. However, rising from the top of the outcrop was a thin ribbon of smoke. Intrigued as to what lay up there, Alurax scrambled up the slopes, followed by Benbo who failed to negotiate the rocky incline and fell back down to the bottom, battered and bruised. He nevertheless tried again and, accompanied by Alagon, joined Alurax, who was in discussion with a group of individuals in armour, with weapons and adventuring equipment.

It was hardly surprising, given the energy with which the party had been opening up the wilderness, that determined individuals would soon be following in their wake, and here was one such party who were suitably impressed that they had met the famous Team Adventure. However, Alagon’s entreaties for this new party to join the established team were met with reluctance not only from the neophytes but also from his own colleagues, who did not like the idea of sharing their glory and treasure with yet more members. In the end, our heroes rode on, but not before Ferros had given some words of wisdom to the cleric of the other party.

About the middle of the day, the party was riding down a long and narrow valley when Ferros realised that something was moving behind them. He turned to see two giant lizards lumbering towards them.

The alarm went up and the party swung into action with Alurax, Benbo and Alagon pitching in to take on the scaly monsters. As they dispatched one, two more appeared, coming from the other direction.  An ambush by four giant lizards might have proved too much for the inexperienced party they had met earlier but the doughty veterans managed to slay all four before cutting open the lizards’ stomachs to see if there was anything interesting inside – a lesson they had learned at the Moat House on their first expedition there.

The party were starting to get accustomed to the wilderness again; towards evening, they spotted on the horizon the ruins of what looked like an old castle. They soon realised, as they rode towards it, that it was the ruined watch-tower where they had fought the trolls; this was revealed by the scatter of burned bones across the ground and the scorched patches where the fires had been lit and blazed fiercely.

Alurax and Benbo ventured into the ruins, keen to see if the owlbear that had been kept there by the trolls was still guarding the three doors that they had never explored. They crept very cautiously down the steps to the room where it had been last seen and found that its body lay against one wall; behind it was some sort of cocoon, white and papery, that had grown up between the body and the brickwork. Both of them edged closer to the cocoon before hearing a sinister droning noise coming from it. Out flew several giant wasps which headed straight for our heroes.

Pausing only to toss an oil bomb at the striped marauders, Alurax and Benbo ran for the stairs, but the stalwart hobbit was stung by two of the wasps as he tried to escape. His robust constitution meant that he managed to overcome the sinister paralysing effects of the stings’ venom and the terrified pair reached the top of the stairs, slamming the door and barring it. They raced back through the ruins to the rest of the party who were just deciding where to sleep that night and in panicked voices, explained that they needed to leave immediately.

On hearing the words ‘giant wasps’, the rest of the party agreed with them and they headed off into the night. After a good while, they managed to calm down and decided to set about pitching camp.  Before they could do so, they were surrounded by a group of horse archers who had appeared out of the night. Diplomacy prevailed over combat, which Benbo had been about to start, and it was established that the newcomers were nomadic tribesmen who were on the move through the badlands. The party wisely distanced itself from them and settled down for the night.

The next day’s travel was distinguished by encounters with several groups of wild animals. A pack of eight lions shadowed the party for some time, but kept their distance. At noon, or thereabouts, the party’s horses started to show signs of distraction and became friskier and less controllable as the party rode on. Soon, the source of the distraction became apparent; a herd of wild horses, several of them mares.

Yes, we can help you but we want a share of the XP

Keeping a tight rein on their own mounts, the party pressed on and eventually left the wild horses behind.

As the sun started to dip towards the west, the mournful sound of wolf howls met the party’s ears. Alurax also noticed a familiarity about the terrain; three rocky hillocks close to each other recalled to mind the Battle of Three Peaks and this was confirmed when they started to see orc bones, gnawed and chewed by the lupine scavengers. Not wishing to loiter in an area where they might be attacked, the party put some miles between them and the battlefield, setting up camp and allocating first watch to Alurax and Benbo.

Not long afterwards, there was the sound of something moving in the night sky above them. They quickly wakened the party and, despite some members expressing the wish to shoot first and ask questions later, it was soon revealed that the campsite was in for a visit from four giant owls. Elysia, using Ferros as interpreter, established cordial relations with the owls who were able to advise that a gang of ogres were camped in a nearby ravine and would probably pose a serious problem for the party the next day unless the party took the initiative.

Thanking the owls for their information (and refusing to allow Benbo to ride one of them), the party set about planning what to do. Elysia sent Relic off on a reconnaissance mission and he soon returned with enough information to allow them to lay their plans.

The ogres had set up a camp at the bend of a dry ravine, with three sentry posts of two ogres each, a good distance from each other, overlooking the campsite. It was established that four ogres were at the camp fire, three a little further off and it was likely that two were in a small cave that opened onto the ravine. Elysia decide to make use of the Ring of Mammal Control that she had salvaged from Galadeus’ body (well, hand actually – all that was left of him) to get the herd of wild horses to the mouth of the ravine and then start them stampeding down it.  That having been done, she quickly moved to the area of the campsite, where she cast a Fly spell on herself and moved up silently into the night sky.

Alagon, Alurax and Gullhar crept forward towards the sentries and settled down to wait. Meanwhile, Benbo had been lashing oil bombs together, six at a time, with a length of rope attached to each cluster. Ferros took up position with his bow.

Elysia flew in and cast a Stinking Cloud on each sentry pair, then pulled out. The three fighters then moved in to kill whichever ogres were not incapacitated; Alurax and Gullhar managed their ogres quickly but Alagon seemed to be having more difficulty. However, he finally managed to kill his opponent. All three of them rushed into the clouds to kill the choking ogres and took a few moments to recover themselves.

Meanwhile, Benbo had launched his first oil bomb cluster which landed in the campfire. A huge explosion incinerated the four ogres who were standing around it. As the horses hurtled down the ravine, the three outlying ogres took to their heels but were too slow to avoid being run down and trampled. A second blast bomb fell short of the two ogres in the cave but the splash damage still badly injured them and Ferros shot one dead. The other, overwhelmed by what had happened to his comrades, surrendered and was taken prisoner by the party, who had descended from the heights. A quick investigation of the cave revealed that it held coin, gems, jewellery, potions and an axe that glowed with a magical light.

A good night’s work by the party with some skilled use of their resources and abilities, plus the exploitation of the element of surprise (and perhaps a few pointers from outside sources) meant that each member of the party came away feeling very pleased with themselves. Whether this would continue as they made their way further into the wilderness, we shall see in the next session.

Wednesday 14 November 2012

The Pros and Cons of Pre-Rolling

Well, Team Adventure is about to set out on a long wilderness jaunt in pursuit of the renowned, much-desired and possibly entirely fictional Holy Sword. I know where it is and to get there, they’re going to have to cross a lot of hexes.

They’ve done this before, of course; long-term followers of this blog will recall their journey to the wood elves and their descent into the resprayed Lichway. One thing that marked the journey there and back again (see what I did there?) was a large number of random wilderness encounters that I diced up as they entered each hex. Even I didn’t know what was coming, how many of them there would be and the outcome of the encounter.

Now, however, I’m faced with a bit of a decision. Should I pre-roll the encounters so that the wait for me to consult the charts, roll the dice, do the calculations, determine the numbers and – inevitably – work out how much treasure said monsters are carrying, if at all is short-circuited?  They’d still meet the monsters, but I’d know in advance what was coming and be able to keep the game flowing.

Or should I stick with the old method, wherein I’ve as much idea as the party what’s lurking round the next tree or bluff?

There are arguments for and against each method.

Pre-rolling, as I’ve already said, speeds things up no end. The party can start counting the loot (assuming they win) almost as soon as the last monster has fled or hit the ground. I can also, if the monsters are intelligent, plan ambush or battle strategies, rather than just hurl them against the party in a head-on charge. I can prepare lairs if the party want to try and track the monsters back to their hidey hole. I can even work out a linking plot to make the encounter that little bit more interesting than ‘monster of the day’.

Of course, there is a problem with pre-rolling; I’m only human and these are kids I’m gaming with. Hell, I’d be as bad if it were adults. Although the DM is supposed to be a neutral facilitator of environment interaction, a party that’s been badly mauled by trolls is going to be in serious trouble if the dice decree a dragon flies over their heads. If I’ve pre-rolled the encounter but the party don’t know I have, I’m at liberty to fudge the results. To a sandbox extremist like myself, that’s something I don’t like to do deliberately but it may be that I find myself doing it unconsciously.

The only defence from accusations, either from oneself or the players, that one is somehow fudging (and it is worth recalling that fudging for one person can sometimes mean fudging against another) is to adhere rigidly to the will of the dice. I refer the reader back to one of the most insightful comments I’ve ever heard about sandbox, from the Great Sage Beedo “The dice are there to protect the DM from himself”.  Some of the most interesting and exciting situations in the Team Adventure campaign so far have arisen out of random encounters, which – when combined with the decisions that players have made based on those encounters – have generated entire plot strands. Had I intervened, even slightly, in the randomness of the roll or the decisions that the players made afterwards, things would have been different – no less enjoyable, perhaps but with a sneaking suspicion that the fate of the players was not entirely in their own hands.

Of course, even offering the players as wide a choice of options as possible still implies a certain amount of interference from the DM because he’s the one who chose and allocated those options in the first place.

It all comes down in the end to how much I, as a DM can trust myself to respect the oracular power of the dice, yet at the same time have access to the knowledge the dice might choose to impart ahead of time. Just as life is the story we tell ourselves to make sense of the random events that happen to us, the true meaning of the events that random dice rolls set in motion becomes apparent long after the dice have stopped rolling across the table. 

Sunday 28 October 2012

Team Adventure - Only Fools and Hobbits

With the Stinking Cloud having totally dissipated, the party were able to combine their efforts to take on the remaining bugbears and it was not long before they managed to overcome them. Elysia managed to cast Sleep on two, Alurax killed one and Galadeus shot another with two arrows, one of which found its mark straight through the heart of the snarling beast.

The final bugbear made a run for it with Alurax in hot pursuit. As it hurtled up the corridor, the doughty but impetuous fighter was closing the distance when it turned and swung at him with its morning star. Alurax was hit but moments later, managed to run it through with his trident, killing it with a single blow.

The rest of the party soon caught him up and found that the bugbear had been heading for the tribal treasure room. A large hoard of loot awaited the team, including a gold gem-encrusted clasp which was the single most valuable item in the hoard, eight thousand gold pieces in fact.

Having counted this out, the party decided to head back and inform the lizard men of their actions. As they returned to the rooms wherein they had met the scaly warriors, they noticed that they were heading towards another room at quite a speed. Following them, they found that the lizard men were climbing into the jaws of a huge carved lizard head on the wall of the room. Galadeus made a lunge for the final lizard man and grabbed its tail, only for the appendage to come off in his hand. The lizard man vanished into the mouth of the carving and Galadeus promptly followed.

The ranger arrived down a shaft into a room which opened onto a dock that led to the underground river. There were several rusty old winches and chains, some of which led up through slots in the roof. A flight of steps led into the water and the lizard men were swimming away; Galadeus decided to follow them.

Seconds later, Alurax appeared, having dived down the shaft in like fashion. He saw Galadeus swimming out into the main flow of the river but rather than follow him, he decided to try investigating the winches instead.

By now, Elysia, Ferros, Alagon and Gullhar had arrived at the carven lizard head and Elysia sent Relic through to report on what had happened on the far side. The little pseudo-dragon came back with telepathic images of Alurax struggling with a rusty winch. Alagon went down the shaft and joined Alurax in the chamber.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the others, Galadeus had attracted the attention of a very dangerous inhabitant of the river – one that Alurax had spotted during the previous session and which was now headed his way again. The swimming ranger grasped his spear and decided to take on the shark. Jabs with his weapon caught the shark and diverted its attacks but unfortunately, it was only a matter of time before the marine predator scored a hit and this it did; Galadeus had entered the water with extremely low hit points and as such, the shark’s attack reduced him to unconsciousness. With no ability to stay afloat, and clad in armour, he quickly sank to the bottom of the river and drowned. The shark moved in to finish off the meal it had found.

Shark versus Ranger...hmm, I wonder how that's going to go?

Meanwhile, Elysia was getting very worried by the lack of information on the whereabouts of the impetuous ranger and sent Relic up the river to see what he could find. He reported back that there was a slick of blood on the surface of the water but no other sign of him. Elysia and the rest of the party entered the winch room and while Elysia flew out over the water with her Wand of Illumination; there was little enough left of Galadeus and she had to conclude that he was no more. His magic items were similarly gone; a big loss to the ability of the party to take on opponents.

The party left the dungeon, collecting their horses and riding back down the trail towards the river crossing. The mournful howl of wolves seemed to match their mood perfectly. This was the first permanent loss that the party had sustained and nobody was in much of a mood for anything other than getting back to town.

At the ferry, they met a yellow-painted caravan driven by two short individuals, barely half the height of the party members. They were trying to bribe the ferry owner to take them across first but the display of military might by the party convinced the boatman to give them first passage.

Entering the town, the party made their way back to their old tavern where they dumped their travelling gear and settled down to rest. However, later on that evening, who should they see in the tavern but the two short fellows, who were carrying round cases full of alleged amulets of protection, magical potions, treasure maps and other curios.

New PC? Lovely Jubbly!

Spurning the advances of the two, who were called Delbo Barrick and his brother Romney, they kept their own company, discussing what they were going to do next – continue the search for Galzor and the Third or strike out on some new adventure. As the fire cooled and the tavern’s patrons started to head for their rooms, the party decided to do likewise, only to encounter another short fellow; they thought initially that he was trying to shift some dodgy gear and told him they were not interested. He however, had other intentions; he wanted to talk to them about joining forces.

He introduced himself as Benbo, an associate of Delbo and Romney but one who had grown unsatisfied with the nomadic lifestyle of hobbits, as he named their race. Many generations ago, their homeland had been a rural idyll but something had happened and it had long since been swallowed up by a vast and evil swampland. Legends spoke of a hobbit champion who had a ‘holy sword’ and who had tried to fight the source of the evil but had vanished, never to be seen again. Alagon’s ears pricked up at the mention of the words ‘holy sword’. Could this be the Holy Avenger that he had long been seeking?

It did not take the party long to realise that wherever this sword was hidden, it would be in a place full of monsters, gold and magic – in short a perfect place for them to seek, find and plunder. Welcoming Benbo to the group, they decided to set off for the fabled location of the hobbit homeland, which – according to lore – could be found across something called the Shining Plain and then over a range of mountains. Alagon was convinced that he remembered something similar from the time that they had visited the elves and so they decided the first step was to retrace their steps there. They spent much of the next day buying equipment and pack horses but Elysia and Ferros did not feel the need to do this and headed straight for the Moat House, avoiding all encounters on the way, including a huge brown bear, which they dealt with by Ferros talking with it using his Speak with Animals ability, then creating foodstuffs for which it had specified a liking.

They arrived at the Moat House early on the morning of 21st August and the rest of the party arrived a day later, having similarly evaded those encounters with a potential for harm, spending time conversing with a group of merchants who were voyaging northwards to try and find new markets for their goods.

The party was now reunited at the Moat House and their thoughts turned west, not to orcs, ogres and elves but to distant vistas, evil swamps and lost swords of incredible power. The quest had begun.

Friday 19 October 2012

Hey, Mitt, guess what we've got?

Tuesday 16 October 2012

An Adventure for Every Monster - Succubus

A little more covered up (barely) than the MM picture

Frequency    Rare
No. appearing  1
Armour class 0
Move  12”/18”
Hit Dice 6
Percentage in lair 5%   
Treasure type I,Q
No. of attacks 2
Damage per attack  1-3/1-3  
Special attack Energy Drain
Special defences  +1 or better weapon to hit
Magic Resistance 70%
Intelligence Exceptional
Alignment Chaotic Evil
Size  M (6’+ tall)
THAC0  13
XP value 2100 + 6/hp

Cannot be harmed by any normal weaponry

Cause Darkness 5’ radius

The kiss drains one energy level

Can perform the following at will
  • Become ethereal
  • Charm person
  • ESP
  • Clairaudience
  • Suggestion
  • Shape Change

Gate in (40% chance of gate opening)
Type IV 70%
Type V 25%
One of the Lords or Princes 5%

The situation this week is as follows:

The succubus has attached herself to a mature yet vain woman who is convinced that her best days are not behind her. She has used her shape change ability to appear as the demure and downtrodden maid of the woman and her suggestion and charm person abilities to make her mistress treat her badly so that noble and virtuous men will take pity on her and seek to rescue her from her plight. She happily plays along with these overtures and then manoeuvres them into situations where they are putty in her hands. With their virtue gone, it is then easy to steer them towards a life on the Dark Side, setting their souls up for an eventual trip to the Abyss.

A second target for the succubus is richer, older men whose greed and rapacious desires make them perfect fodder for the somewhat venal mistress. The succubus will kiss them and drain their energy once they’re sufficiently drunk, using her servant cover to serve them stronger drink than they think they’re getting. She then seduces them (her ESP can reveal their inner desires, enabling her to seem like the answer to their prayers).

If the succubus thinks that she’s been rumbled, she will use all her defences to protect herself and then call on demonic aid to cause chaos and cover her getaway.

The party can become involved in a number of ways

  1. A relative of one of the succubus’ victims can become concerned about the situation and hire the party to investigate.
  2. A young and foolish victim of the succubus, set up as a toyboy of the mistress, has lost a magical item of extreme significance to the cult of which his father is a leading member. Cult members with some heavy eldritch mojo are on their way to the mistress’ house to get it back; unfortunately, the succubus has taken a liking to it and won’t give it up without a fight.
  3. The mistress’ friends or relations, baffled by her change of character since the succubus arrived, want the party to look into it.
  4. The party are hired as bodyguards by a potential target for the succubus and encounter the ‘mistress and maid’ combo when they arrive at the house. The succubus will be able to detect that they are trouble and set to dividing and conquering.
  5. The party are asked to investigate by the guard captain of another town where the succubus tried a similar trick; the similarities rang alarm bells and the captain suspects it’s the same woman.
  6. The succubus has tried it on with the husband of a woman who is far more than she seems; in fact, said wronged wife is a more powerful demon and could make serious trouble in the Abyss, so the succubus throws herself on the mercy of the party and offers rewards if they will help her against her enemy. 
 Art from this site. 

Sunday 14 October 2012

Team Adventure - Where the Swords Never Rest and the Blood Never Dries

In the mind of Galadeus, the only move he wanted to make was back up the stairs for revenge; having persuaded Alagon to accompany him – and received healing from the paladin - that’s exactly what he did. They approached the door again and kicked it open, to be confronted by five lizard men who had re-armed with fresh javelins. They hurled them at the attackers but their luck was not as good as it had been in the previous battle. However, Alagon had some misfortune himself because as he was preparing to fire an arrow into the nearest lizard man, his bow string snapped and the wood of his bow split. The arrow hurtled off, nearly hitting Galadeus. Horrified that he had nearly injured his comrade, he decided to switch to the sword but Elysia managed to find him a spare bow and he carried on using that. With Ferros and Gullhar providing missile support, the lizard men were overcome, the same fate meeting three more who entered the room from a door on the far side. Elysia’s Sleep spells proved useful in taking out several of the opposition, who were finished off by Ferros.

On the far side of the door, the party found a long, wide passage leading off into the darkness. Moving down it were more lizard men, preparing to hurl javelins. As the party moved in, the missiles hurtled towards them but none hit the target. Battle was joined again, but after a few moments, Ferros hit upon the idea of casting Speak With Animals to see if he could negotiate with the scaly attackers.

There followed an interesting conversation, in which the lizard men cast the party as the aggressors, whilst the party fired the accusation back at the lizard men. The party said that they wanted to pass through that area; the lizard men told them they had to go back and find another route, as this was their home. At this point, Elysia instructed Ferros to advise the lizard men in no uncertain terms that she and her party had already taken down several of their comrades and would do the same to them if they did not stand aside. The lizard men saw the merit of her argument and stood back, permitting the party to pass.

At the end of the wide passage, there was a t-junction and more lizard men, who sensibly stepped aside for the Team. Choosing to turn left, they asked what was down there; the lizard men replied that it was the lair of ‘big monsters’ who they had been fighting and would appreciate help in getting rid of. The party, ever up for a good bit of monster bashing, decided to take the bull by the horns and soon, Alagon sensed evil ahead in the darkness. Gullhar’s infravision revealed five heat signatures and the paladin and ranger moved in, swords at the ready. Their torches soon revealed the opposition – five bugbears, ready for action.

The party had the edge, although the quantity of the enemy started to wear them down as more bugbears came pouring in from rooms further back. It seemed that no sooner had the party killed one than another took its place. Galadeus was knocked down by a well-placed morning star and bugbears started to force their way down the passage. There were at least two decapitations of the long-legged monsters by lucky strikes on the part of the party. Meanwhile, Elysia readied a Stinking Cloud but realised that Gullhar would be caught in the area of effect. She relied on his ability to resist the spell but unfortunately, he succumbed to its noxious vapours and three bugbears came stumbling through the murk, groggy but not incapacitated. As a partially-healed Galadeus, Ferros and Alagon took them on and Alurax found himself beyond the cloud and unable to get back, Elysia decided to fly through and bring him back. Unfortunately for her, she was overcome by her own Stinking Cloud and crashed to the ground, choking and nauseous. The bugbears rushed in, grabbing her and threatening Alurax – who was still fighting on and doing serious damage to the enemy - ordering him to drop his trident. Elysia managed to tell Relic to sting the bugbear who had a dagger at her throat and this he managed to do. She scrambled out of the grasp of the bugbears whilst on the other side of the now dissipating cloud, Gullhar and Alagon were trying to whittle down the remaining two bugbears – the third had fallen, as had Galadeus again.

A combat-heavy session this week, with plenty of action, some good use of the d30 and more criticals than might have been expected, although they came at just the right time. Relic’s roll to sting and the failure of the bugbear to make his roll against poison saved Elysia from almost certain death. We ended the session on somewhat of a stand-off although the first rounds of the next session will reveal if the party get out alive and rich or merely alive and grateful.   

Tuesday 9 October 2012

An Adventure for Every Monster - Manes


Frequency    Rare
No. appearing  4-16
Armour class  7
Move  3” (yes, that’s right – three paltry inches) 
Hit Dice   1
Percentage in lair  Nil   
Treasure type Nil
No. of attacks 3
Damage per attack  1-2/1-2/1-4   
Special attack  Nil  
Special defences  +1 or better weapon to hit
Magic Resistance Standard
Intelligence Semi-
Alignment Chaotic Evil
Size  S (3’ tall) boy, these guys are shrimps; I’d never noticed how small they were. Kind of like the hobbits of the Abyss.
THAC0  19
XP value 18 + 1/hp

The party is contacted by a rich but elderly merchant who has spent his life grasping, squeezing and extorting every penny he could get his hands on. Now however, his health is failing and he is keen to address the question of the afterlife.

Over the past couple of weeks, he has noticed several chilling events which he has interpreted as omens of impending doom. (These can be developed by the DM or might be the usual run of sinister stuff – rooms go cold when he’s in there and nobody else notices, mirrors turn black when he looks into them, blood oozes from chairs in which he’s sat, roses wither just after he’s visited the garden, that sort of thing).

Needless to say, he is now convinced that the forces of darkness are on their way to collect and so he has sent for a priest to carry out the necessary rituals to ensure that he does not go to the demonic realms when he finally passes on. The priest has to travel some considerable distance (the merchant lives in an out-of-the-way manor house in the countryside, away from the riff-raff from whom he’s squeezed his ill-gotten fortune).

The party is therefore given the task of protecting the merchant from whomever is coming to claim his soul until he can obtain his “Get into Heaven Free” pass.

The DM can crank up the occurrence of omens in the time it takes the priest to arrive (perhaps a few days but as we know, a lot can happen in a few days).

The catch is that the demons are in fact uninterested in the merchant – it’s the priest that they’re interested in. The omens relate to his arrival at the manor house. He is a venal, self-centred, greedy and corrupt individual whose only interest in attending the worried merchant is the sizeable bequest that will be made to the church – a windfall he’s looking to pocket himself. 

When the priest arrives, the party will probably think that their task is over but that’s far from true as the demon with the task of collecting (probably a Type IV) will cause havoc when he arrives and will deploy a squad of manes to divert or delay the party whilst he turns his attention to the priest.  Of course, this shift of focus may not necessarily be noticed immediately by the party, who may still be trying to protect the merchant – a few DM-inspired red herrings to convince them he’s still the target, coupled with the fact that the demon will arrive as darkness falls, will cause confusion and chaos on a grand scale.

With the manor being so far out of the way, it will of course be unlikely that there’ll be anybody else about to help the party. Many of the merchant’s servants will have packed their bags and left by the time the priest arrives.

Friday 5 October 2012

The Case of the Syphilitic Sister by James Hutchings

Doubtless you will remember last year, James Hutchings produced his collection of short stories and poetry entitled “The New Death and Others”.  I had the privilege of reviewing it and was very pleased with what I found therein. I mentioned that I’d quite like to see him tackle longer formats and now he’s done just that, albeit in serial style with The Case of the Syphilitic Sister.

The tone of the first chapter (all that’s available right now) could best be summed up by imagining Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett teaming up to write Watchmen. If that give you a fanboy squee, then you’re not alone; I really got into the crime-fighting superhero tone of this work, although it feels closer to the Minutemen than the later Watchmen themselves. There’s even Hutchings’ equivalent of the Keene Act and some sly metafictional asides to the films of the era.

Hutchings handles the pace well and his prose is confident and assured, although it lacks the hardboiled and cynical edge that marked out Chandler and Hammett. It’s only the first chapter so it may develop as we go. His characters, even at this early stage, are starting to become real, the dichotomy between their public and private personae being one of the themes of the chapter.

There’s a smattering of NSFW language, as might be expected in a work of this genre and after the first scene break, there’s a slightly confusing shift of POV within a paragraph, which might have been better handled by splitting it into two, one for Catherine, one for the Green Dragon.

In conclusion, a solid start for this serial and one that I’m hoping to see developed in further chapters. It can be found here.

Wednesday 3 October 2012

Mr Holland's Opus

This book is not an easy read; firstly, it takes, as one of its objectives, a review of the historical evidence regarding the birth of Islam and the conclusions to which Holland has come have attracted the opprobrium of certain adherents of that faith.

Right, that’s the elephant in the room out of the way. Secondly, the book covers a period from 224 to 800, which is a lot of years to cram into 430 pages (which does not include the chronology – vital – the dramatis personae – likewise – and the many pages of supplementary notes on the points raised in the chapters.) This is not a book to rush through; it will need the backflipping of pages to refresh yourself on details that you may have noticed but – due to the densely-packed narrative -  you might have forgotten about.

This is because Holland’s prose style is almost novelistic and this makes his account of the end of the classical world and the rise of the three monotheistic faiths and their transformation into the religions we know today a very entertaining read.  The bloodthirsty nature of both large-scale events – battles, massacres and plagues – and individual deaths (often gruesomely described with relish by Holland) is brought into sharp focus and we’re never allowed to forget that these deeds were carried out by men who firmly believed that what they were doing was right and sanctified.

Because he does not focus primarily on a simple chronological progression but rather examines his topic subject by subject, we retread the same years but from different perspectives. Holland slowly builds up his evidence in the style of a lawyer presenting his case; such is his technique that when he finally drops his bombshells, as outlined above, you find yourself nodding to yourself and saying “Ah yes, of course, I see it now.”

If you’re looking to build some historical verisimilitude into your campaign world, merely letting the book fall open at a random page will spark your imagination in a dozen ways. The methodical examination of the origins of religion can offer many clues in designing faiths into which your clerics can fit with ease; no milquetoast goody two-shoes here, but holy warriors who were completely unafraid to get their hands dirty if their god required it.

If you're able to give this book the time it deserves, you'll find it sheds a great deal of light on an area which has previously been thought merely a transition between the ancient and mediaeval worlds; in fact, this era was much more than that - incipient within it were the seeds of a major element of the world in which we live now.

Sunday 23 September 2012

Team Adventure - Lifts and Lizards

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

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

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

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

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

II - red
III - gold
IV – lurid green

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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