Tuesday 27 March 2012

That is illogical, Mr Baggins

Okay so I just missed his birthday (sorry, Leonard) but I did notice, whilst encountering once again The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins, that from 1968 to 1973, there was a campaign to get a live action Lord of the Rings movie underway and fans were keen to see Mr Nimoy as Aragorn.

Not the actor that immediately leaps to mind for such a role. You can imagine William Shatner in the part (all too easily, I'm afraid) but Nimoy? Hmm...takes a bit of doing. Anybody got any other suggestions for 1960s actors to fill the shoes of the Fellowship?

Sunday 25 March 2012

Team Adventure - Beware of the Killer Carpet!

The party braced for action; Alurax and Olaf moved in to attack, the dwarf relying on his small size to avoid the attacks of the giant saurian. Alagon, Ferros and Gullhar (the elf formerly known as Cafaror) provided missile support and Elysia fired her remaining Magic Missile. Alurax and Olaf’s efforts paid off and between them the team managed to topple one of the mighty beasts. Behind it, another one came lumbering forward but an unerringly accurate arrow from Alagon and several other well-placed hits meant that this lizard too was soon a feature of the dungeon rather than one of its inhabitants.

The party heaved a sigh of relief, having taken little damage and escaped being trapped in a dead-end. They set to counting the treasure that they had gained from the salamanders and Elysia was particularly pleased when she realised that one of the prizes was a clutch of spells, precious supplements for her spellbook. With no further danger in sight and only the intermittent reappearance of the sinister floating black disc to worry about, the party settled down to rest and lick their wounds.

Don't touch it! It's eeeeeevil!

Once they had recovered their strength, they began to explore the side passages off the Great Avenue but found little to suggest there was anything of interest down there; merely about fifty feet of tunnel and then a blank wall. On two of the passages, there were open iron bars, on the other two, the same bars but this time closed. Nobody showed much inclination to prise open the bars and explore dead ends.

They headed off towards the hall of the Great Seal, to the door surrounded by the strange and seemingly moving carvings. Arriving there, they took a closer look at the carvings and realised that although they were unsettling and unpleasant to look at, they were not actually moving – they just seemed to be.

E pur si muove

Beyond the doors was a room dominated by a stone altar against the far wall, its top smashed in two. Several skeletons in faded and tattered robes littered the floor, some having fallen in the passageway on the far side of the room. Some dented chalices lay on the floor, as well as a knife that had been broken in two.

Exhibiting a rare caution, the party sent Zanurax the thief in first; his instincts and abilities were clearly operating at their highest as he very soon spotted that there seemed to be something wrong with a dusty and stained rug in front of the altar. As he probed it with the point of a spear, it rose up, writhed and made a grab for the offending implement. Zanurax was quicker and jerked his spear away, then ran for the door and burst into the hall of the Great Seal to regale the party with tales of a Killer Carpet.

So now even the floors aren't safe?

Intrigued (to put it mildly) the party entered the room only to find the dusty rug sitting there minding its own business, albeit looking a little smug. Zanurax insisted that it had tried to attack him but the party were having none of it and pressed on down the far passage, stepping over the skeletons until they came to a door which Elysia opened and used a charge of her Wand of Illumination to reveal the broken storage chests, the fragments of clay jars, the cobwebs on the walls and the flock of stirges in the ceiling rafters who were just waking up. She closed the door hurriedly and moved further down the passage

Round the next bend, a surprise awaited them. A vast dark chamber stretched out before them, cold and damp, the stagnant water reflecting the light of the torches as sinuous serpents of dancing gold. On the far side of the pool, Elysia could see a dimly lit flight of stairs leading up to a door beyond which was a strange glow.

Fairly certain that something unpleasant was waiting for them in the water, Elysia cast a Fly spell on herself and glided across the chamber to land on the steps on the far side. As she came in to land, she glanced down and noticed that at the submerged bottom of the flight of steps, there appeared to be a lime-encrusted skeleton in mouldering robes, which seemed to have the emblem of the seven-pointed star. She had taken a coil of rope and once across, attached it to the top of the steps. Alagon did likewise to his end and then he began to slide himself across. Unfortunately about halfway across, he lost his grip and half-fell into the water. As he pulled himself out again, there was a bubbling and a swirling and a huge maelstrom of agitated water began to form. As Alagon hurriedly pulled himself across to the far side, the massive form of a Water Elemental rose up and surged towards the remaining party members, who dodged back down the tunnel as the water surged up and drenched Gullhar and Ferros.

Early baths for the party are a real prospect

Eventually, the water subsided again and this time, Alurax crossed the rope, managing to arrive on the far side with the water undisturbed. Gullhar followed and the four of them moved through the doorway and into the chamber beyond.

The source of the glow was now revealed; on the floor of the chamber was a strange circular design that did not seem to have faded with the years and at its very centre was a staff which stood perfectly upright without actually touching the floor. The staff was made of ebony and shod with silver and platinum, topped with a large gem from which emanated the source of the glow.

The party assumed that this was the gem that they had been sent to find. Elysia noticed that beyond this room, there was a passageway off which five arches opened and they all seemed to be sealed by a glowing field which was the same colour as that which came from the gem. She cast Unseen Servant to try and move the staff but the spell seemed to be negated as it entered the vivid glow. The elves had said that only another elf could touch the gem without something bad happening, so Elysia sent Gullhar in to try and take the staff. Although the glow played across his skin like the Northern Lights, giving him a numb tingling throughout his body, Gullhar nevertheless reached the staff and found that he could touch the gem and grasp the staff itself. He pulled at it and it fell into his hands, whereupon the glowing was extinguished.

At that, the fields that had sealed the five archways similarly ceased. There was a snarling, slavering growling from within; something nasty was now free to emerge.

Using her Fly ability, Elysia ferried Alagon back across, quickly followed by Gullhar. Alurax stood his guard with his trusty magic trident while the magic user’s attention was drawn to another of the party that needed help; Ferros had been making his way across on the rope but had slipped and disturbed the water. As the elemental rose up to attack, Elysia swooped in to pluck him to safety but took a hefty blow from a fist of water that surged up. She was stunned for a few moments and managed to make it to the steps where Alurax was watching the advance of five very fearsome beasts, horrific shapes that seemed to have been constructed in somebody’s nightmares.

Hi there!

Don't forget me!

Hey! How you doin'?

Just because we can't fly doesn't mean we don't care!

Ferros swam for safety and was pulled up back into the passageway by Gullhar and Alagon. Meanwhile, Elysia managed to pick up Alurax and fly back across the chamber. If she thought that this would see off the opposition, she was badly mistaken as three of the five rose up and followed her across the water. She landed on the far side and the party prepared for action. Elysia cast Stinking Cloud but the lead attacker passed straight through it, only mildly inconvenienced.

Battle was joined, with Alagon’s circle of protection from evil fairly crackling as the creatures attempted to land blows on him. Alurax weighed in with his trident but was suddenly overcome with uncontrollable fear and fled shrieking up the corridor. Zanurax and Ferros were to join him in panicked flight, although the party did managed to bring down one of their attackers. This made little difference to the progress of the battle and soon Alagon was on the verge of unconsciousness, blood pouring from a dozen different wounds. He set off to try and find Ferros to get healed; meanwhile, the cleric, together with Alurax and Zanurax had come to their senses on the wharf and resolved to re-enter the fray.

Having forced their way past the party, the remaining creatures hurtled down the corridor towards the hall of the Great Seal but now, coming towards them was Alurax, with his fellows not too far behind. Alurax took on two of the creatures but was getting severely pounded when Alagon opened up with his bow; one of the creatures finally crashed to the floor, dead, whilst its fellow rose into the air and flew over the heads of the party and out into the daylight.

Battered and bruised but still mostly intact, the party decided that as they had got what they had come for, they should try to find the elves and hand over the crystal. They hurried along the wharf, across the bridge and up the steps into the ruins of the temple on the clifftop. Nearby were the eaves of the forest where they believe the elves would be waiting to take delivery of their precious artefact.

Sunday 18 March 2012

Mothers and Gamers

Well, it's Mother's Day (technically Mothering Sunday) in the UK; I know that the US has its own day and that's not for some weeks yet, but bear with me. When I think back to my days as a callow, spotty, greasy-haired gamer, I don't really recall my mother being around to comment, either positively or negatively on the activities for which my friends and I were hijacking the dining table. She vanished to another part of the house and reappeared when everybody had gone.

My wife, on the other hand, not only plays but sorts out the social arrangement for Junior Grognard and his friends, actively evangelises for the campaign and puts the pizzas in and gets drinks for everybody. A gamer mum if ever there was one.

The subject for discussion today is simply that; whilst we have had stories of mothers burning D&D books for fear of Satan entering the household, I'm looking for tales of mothers who either totally got on board with the weird dice and the little metal guys or at the very least made a real effort to understand what it was all about and supported their kids in what, for many parents back in the day must have seemed an odd hobby indeed.

Thursday 15 March 2012

You know you're getting old when...

...somebody is talking about George Martin and you don't think

this guy,

you think this guy.

Wednesday 14 March 2012

Review - Farlander by Col Buchanan

First of all, forget the cover. Yes, at a pinch, it could be illustrating the book inside, but the further I read, the less I liked it. I guess that as figures with hoods are now de rigeur for fantasy book covers, the publishers decided that they had to join in.

According to Buchanan’s website, Glen Cook had nice things to say about this book. I think Glen is on the mark with his views. Overall, this is a good read, pacy and rather fun (despite the dark tone of the events that happen within the book). There have been books just recently that I felt I had to finish, given that I had either bought them or had a limited amount of time to read them before they had to go back to the library. This one I finished in short order because I found myself making time to pick it up and get on with it. It’s 388 pages but such is the pace of the writing that this slips by in no time at all.

The setting that Buchanan has created is at the same time original and derivative – a huge inland sea around which the sinister and all-conquering Empire of Mann is filling in the map with blood and boots. He’s a tad unoriginal on the naming (Las Alamos, Skara Brae, Minos, Lagos, Sargassi Sea, Mercia) but he doesn’t play around with them the way that Paul Hoffman did in the Left Hand of God (that just annoyed me after a while).

Buchanan is also splendidly inventive (with the caveat that you may have seen elements of his inventions before in many places). That having been said, he does a mash-up very well and puts his own spin on things. We have Samurai Jedi (no, really, it works – master and apprentice with kick-ass sword skills and a mystical philosophy of meditation), an evil empire that appears to be a cross between Rome and the Persia of Xerxes (300’s version), airships that almost cry out for Robert de Niro’s captaincy.

The atmosphere of the book shifts with its tone and setting; there is an almost Zen-like calm to scenes in a monastery, an espionage undercover plot strand uses the edgy and almost paranoid technique of describing the mundane as if everything holds a significance that will become apparent later. Buchanan does not linger overlong with any one particular character and indeed, there are even character shifts within chapters, which keeps the reader’s interest. Buchanan also manages to pull the rug out from under the reader’s feet on a couple of occasions, although I won’t say any more about it.

This being a modern fantasy, there is of course the question of religion and Buchanan delivers in spades. The Empire’s savage cults may turn stomachs (and they do motivate the main plot strand) but they are well created and explained logically, not just thrown in for shock value). The competing faiths battle for page space against the cult of Mann but they do manage to get their time in the sun. There are more than a few 'Grasshopper' moments that reinforce the oriental origins of the Samurai Jedi mentioned above.

This is Book One of what will probably be a trilogy (it kind of goes with the territory when it comes to fantasy) and Stands a Shadow is already out (I'll be reading that soon). A third book is in the works.

Sunday 11 March 2012

Team Adventure - The Crystal Maze

There seemed to be nobody in the clearing but Elysia got the feeling that they were being watched. Relic flew through the forest but was unable to see anybody; Cafaror, using his infravision, was able to sense heat sources nearby but nothing clearer.

Elysia set off into the forest, Cafaror in tow and the watchers followed, keeping hidden. Eventually, they made themselves known; several tall figures clad in scraps of hide, skin and bark, hair in dreadlocks or shaven into patterns, tattoos on various parts of their bodies. They carried bows and spears; some held swords made of sharpened obsidian and flint.

My Elven Sources

Some of this

A fair sprinkling of this

A bit of this (with smaller ears)

And top off with this.

One of them addressed Elysia in a language that she could not understand at first but a casting of Comprehend Languages enabled her to follow what was being said. The figure asked what they were doing in the forest; she gave a potted history of what had happened to Cafaror since he was transformed on the Disco Floor of Random Doom and at the end of her tale, the elves (for such they were) ordered her and Cafaror to accompany them.

For some time, they marched through the forest; by now night had fallen and it was getting hard for the magic user to see her way clearly. Relic swooped through the trees and the elves seemed very interested in him, not in a bad way. Finally, they arrived at an encampment where stands of willow had been woven together into bowers and shelters.

While Cafaror was kept under guard on the edge of the encampment, Elysia was taken to see an old elf who appeared to be some sort of chieftain. There, she recounted her story again. The chieftain explained that although Cafaror had an elven body, his soul was still human, which was why he had been unable to understand what was being said in the forest. To the elves, this was Abomination; half one, half the other, but wholly of neither.

There were three choices which the elves could offer. The first was to restore Cafaror’s human form; the second was to remove his human soul and replace it with an elven one. The final choice was to turn him into a free-willed vampire, no longer evil but still unable to endure the sun and bound to drink blood to survive.

Elysia said that she would have to consult with Cafaror and see which choice he would make. The chieftain agreed and offered her food, drink and shelter. He also explained that the elves viewed Relic as a lucky omen; they had heard of pseudo-dragons but were thrilled to see one.

When Elysia asked if she could do anything in return for the service that the elves were performing, the chieftain told her that only a few days ago, a mysterious stranger had stolen a power crystal that the elves used to store mystical energy for their ceremonies. They believed that he had headed north to the Sacred Lakes, where several ruined temples stood. The elves would not follow him into the temples for they believed that angry ghosts lived there. Elysia said that she would try to recover the crystal. The chieftain was surprised that she would try this with only two people; the stranger was powerful with abilities of which the elves were very wary. Elysia explained that she had companions still waiting where the Ki-Rin had met them and she would send Relic to tell them to meet up at the temple by the lake.

When she consulted with Cafaror, he decided that he wanted to become wholly an elf and he was led away to undergo the ritual.

The next morning, Elysia was reunited with Cafaror, who had undergone the ritual during the night. He still had his memories but now his soul was that of an elf. He had taken the name Gullhar to reflect his hair colour, which was most unusual for this tribe of elves. He decided to stay with Elysia while she attempted to recover the crystal and would decide on his future thereafter.

Meanwhile, back on the edge of the Golden Hills, the rest of the party – Olaf, Alurax, Alagon, Ferros and Zanurax had searched in vain for their comrades (although they had enjoyed the food provided by the Ki-Rin – well, Ferros had) and decided to bed down for the night. A few hours later, Relic appeared out of the night and attempted, in his dragonish way to communicate Elysia’s wishes. The party more or less got what he was trying to say and the next morning set off north-west along the edge of the Golden Hills towards the lakes.

At the end of the eighth day since the party had left the town, they all met up at the edge of the elven forest, near the ruins of a temple that sat on a cliff edge overlooking the lake. They decided to investigate the next morning and spent the evening catching up with events.

As the sun came up across their camp, the party entered the ruins and it was not long until they found a flight of stairs leading downwards. They followed them, noticing that there seemed to be slight scuff marks in the dust that covered the stone. Somebody had been down these steps recently; they were on the right trail.

At the bottom of the steps, they found themselves in a long tunnel through the rock. At its end, there was a stone bridge across a river that flowed out of the rock; on their left, the lake lapped against what seemed to be a wharf of some description. Three stone bastions, covered in moss looked out over the water. At the far end of the wharf there were two huge doors, shod with iron.

(DG Quiz – old schoolers, see if you can tell which dungeon plan I was using for this session; I did adapt it so it might not be quite that easy)

As the party edged across the bridge, they noticed that at the bottom of the river were at least two bodies, pale and half-eaten by fish. Elysia examined them from the parapet and saw that their throats had been cut.

Filled with foreboding, they pressed on along the wharf; halfway to the huge doors, they noticed that there was a large stone frieze carved into the rock overlooking the lake. It depicted several figures in combat and one was holding up an amulet of some kind. Alagon and Alurax decided to inspect the frieze more closely and the carved amulet was seen to be of a different consistency to the rest of the stone. Alurax tried to pull at it and with several good yanks, it came away in his hand. Encased in the plaster that had been coloured to look like the rest of the carving was a key, about six inches long that appeared to be made of platinum.

Wondering what it could mean, the bold fighter pocketed it and they pressed on, arriving at the doors to find them slightly ajar; there was room for only one person to get through. Alurax heaved at the doors to open them wider and the rusty iron fittings scraped across the floor with a horrible shrieking sound that must have alerted everything for miles around – if there was anybody there, that was.

Beyond the door was a huge, diamond-shaped hall with a set of doors in the south wall and a passage at the far apex of the room. As Alagon moved to inspect the doors, he found that the carvings around the archway seemed to twist and turn in a very sinister way. He was not given much chance to inspect further as Alurax had gone into the centre of the hall to look at a raised area of the obsidian floor that appeared, to Relic’s aerial view, to be some sort of seal. As he approached it, he noticed that his feet were sinking into the floor and his boots were dissolving! Ferros and Olaf dragged him off the undulating and seething area of floor, which was now revealed to be something black and slimy, running in a trench all around the seal.

The rest of the party carefully edged around the seal and headed for the passage in the far corner. Alurax, sans boots was grumbling about how cold the floor was. At the far end of the passage was another set of doors; they were in much better repair than the ones on the wharf, and even glided quietly across the floor as the party pushed them open. Beyond, they found themselves in a huge octagonal chamber. A ten-foot tall stone figure stood against one wall, a man with horns, claws and bat-like wings. He gazed across a rather unstable bridge that spanned a flowing underground stream. On the far side of the bridge opened up another tunnel, perhaps twenty feet wide and just as high.

Alurax carefully edged across the bridge and although it creaked and rocked, it stayed intact. The rest of the party examined the statue but could not see anything untoward apart from its fierce aspect. Alurax then checked the stream to see if anything was in the water and the light from his torch glinted off something lying in the silt and gravel. Using the point of a spear, he tried to catch the object and although he was unsuccessful the first time, it was a case of second time lucky and soon he was the proud holder of a silver key, exactly the same design as the platinum one that he had found on the wharf.

Meanwhile, Elysia and Olaf, standing at the rear of the party, caught a glimpse of movement from the Seal Hall; they turned to see a party of four coming down the passage towards them. They were clad in armour that seemed curiously antique in design; one was a woman with flowing flame-coloured hair and they had seven-pointed stars on their shields. Elysia stepped forward to speak to them but the figures passed straight through her as if she was not there. All the magic user felt was a chilling and a sense of weary sadness.

The figures walked on, through the octagonal chamber and across the bridge, then down the long tunnel beyond. Alurax announced that he was following them and set off into the darkness. The rest of the party hurried to catch him up. As they travelled down the wide tunnel, they noticed that the whole of the floor was paved in red tiles, about two feet by two feet.

After some time, having passed two side tunnels, they arrived in another huge hall off which various passageways opened. In the centre of the hall stood a square-based stepped pyramid with what appeared to be a pedestal at the top. Alagon warily climbed the steps and found that the pedestal had what appeared to be a keyhole in it. Connections were swiftly made with the keys that Alurax had found but whilst they were debating about what to do, the ghostly figures appeared again, walking down the tunnel from the direction of the bridge. They arrived in the pyramid hall and then disappeared down one of the side passages. The party followed them and found that the passage was littered with bones, some of them eerily inhuman, skulls like lizards and animals, razor sharp fangs and claws. In a distant corner, they found four armour skeletons, swords still in their hands, their battered and rended shields bearing the signs of the seven pointed star. It was clear that they had found the origin of the ghostly figures.

Discussion returned to the matter of the keys and there was much pondering over which key they should put into the keyhole or if such an action should be attempted at all. Eventually, Elysia used her Unseen Servant to insert the platinum key and turn it; at once the magic user vanished!

While the rest of the party wondered where she had gone, Elysia found herself in a darker, dimmer and more gloomy version of the dungeon. Whilst her companions were now visible only as phantoms of themselves, she found that the marching warriors were now corporeal to her. She hailed them and the red-haired woman asked if she was from the temple. The discussion soon revealed that the warriors had no idea how long they had been trapped there; they knew that they were dead but assumed that their temple would send a mission to recover their bodies and carry out the rites to lay their spirits to rest. They were very shocked when they realised that they had been lost for centuries.

Elysia questioned them about the quest for the elvish crystal but the fallen warriors knew nothing of this; as far as they were concerned, time had no meaning for them in their ghostly state. Elysia promised to try and find their temple and lay their spirits, then had the key turned again and returned to the material world.

She swiftly explained what had been going on to the rest of the party. While this was going on, Alurax had noticed that the length of the great tunnel ran on beyond the pyramid hall and at its far end seemed to be some sort of dull orange glow. He decided that they should find out what was down there and led the way onwards, passing two wide side tunnels that nobody seemed intent on exploring.

The party arrived in a chamber that was more or less the same shape and size as the hall with the statue and the bridge at the far end of the long tunnel. In this room was a huge pit in the centre of the floor, in which surged and broiled a pool of fire. On the far side of the room was a winch mechanism and on another wall, what appeared to be a jade statue in an alcove. The party slowly edged into the room, feeling the heat from the fire and Alurax tossed a bone into the fire pit to see what would happen.

What did happen was that two snake-like creatures, scaly and with humanoid torsos, hissing and glaring, rose from the fire; they watched the party carefully. Alagon got a sensation of intense evil from them. Neither of them moved but nobody in the party made an attempt to communicate either. Then Elysia edged her way further into the chamber and the two creatures watched her. Alagon accompanied her as she headed for the winch.

As her intention became clear, one of the creatures slithered out of the pit and moved towards her. Alagon swung into action but to his horror, his sword bounced off the creature. Alurax, racing to the rescue, had better luck with his trident and sunk it into the creature’s snaky tail. As Ferros opened fire on the creature only to have his arrow bounce off, the realisation dawned on the party that only magical weapons would have any effect on their enemies. Alagon, having an enchanted shield, decided to use that, edge-on as a weapon in the hope that its magic would have the required effect. Together with Alurax and his trident, they soon despatched the creature. The second one had now emerged from the pit and although its long, searing tail caused the paladin some injuries, it too followed its comrade into death.

Elysia had been turning the winch whilst the creatures, now revealed to be salamanders, were being fought and now a large metal orb rose from the fire, supported by some manner of claw. She must have thought that this was the hiding place of the elvish crystal because she cast a Jump spell and flew up from the edge of the fire pit onto the orb itself. There was a sizzling sound and smoke rose from her clothes and skin as the searing metal inflicted its damage. Her resourcefulness and knowledge of dweomercraft paid off as another Unseen Servant pushed the orb off its claw, onto Tenser’s Floating Disc and then she leapt from the orb onto the floor, rolled (bringing the Disc with her) and finally smothered the flames that were licking at her clothing.

While the Team were busy recovering their composure and healing their wounds, Alagon started to get a strange feeling of unease. It grew stronger as Alurax and the others examined the orb and found a join line around its circumference. As they prised the orb apart and found that within its insulated interior were masses of coins, jewels and gems, potions, scrolls and a mysterious leather pouch (containing 26 silver pieces, 26 electrum pieces and 26 gold pieces), the paladin was feeling edgy and slightly nauseous.

The reason for this soon became apparent as a ball of fire rose from the pit, detached itself and stopped at a height of about ten feet or so. It then changed to a disc of pure blackness and hung there. Alagon was ushered out of the room and as he backed up the tunnel, his sensations decreased but did not disappear. Elysia approached the disc and studied it; the blackness was undulating, like the surface of an oily pool. If anything, it could be described as a patch of unReality, where the world no longer existed. Everyone who looked at the thing got the feeling that they did not want to see it and in about ten minutes, they got their wish as it turned back into a ball of fire and sank back into the pit.

Elysia now began to look at the last thing in the room, the jade statue. As she approached it, she could see that it was not actually jade but wax that had been coloured to look like jade. She tried to move it but found that it seemed to be fixed to the base of the alcove. It was resisting her efforts to move it and so Alurax came over to lend a hand. He pulled at it and it tipped forward, the wax then crumbling in his hands to reveal a lever that had been inside the figure and was now pulled down.

From further up the long tunnel, there came a strange sound, followed by a grinding of metal as if something was moving. Then the sound that nobody wanted to hear – a shuffling growling noise. Down the corridor, emerging slowly into the lights of the party’s torches came a huge scaled monstrosity – a minotaur lizard and behind it, there appeared to be more. The party was facing a scaly terror and there was nowhere to run.

Friday 9 March 2012

Motivation on Friday

Thursday 8 March 2012

A Hoard for Every Treasure Type - B

Another week, another treasure type. Let's take a look at the basic stats first:

1000s of copper 1-8 50%
1000s of silver 1-6 25%
1000s of electrum 1-4 25%
1000s of gold 1-3 25%
100s of platinum nil
Gems 1-8 30%
Jewellery 1-4 20%
Magic items Sword, armour or misc. weapon 10%

Higher on the copper, much less rewarding at the gold/platinum end of the spectrum. Yes, there are gems and jewellery but substantially down on the lapidarist's squee-fest that was Treasure Type A. Those who like their hoards magic-rich had better get ready to be disappointed.

Where might we find this hoard? Well, a veritable mixed bunch this week, which might mean that the hoard I've written up may need to be adjusted depending on environment. Where else might you find hobbits, werewolves and shambling mounds rubbing shoulders?

Carrion Crawler
Type 1 Demon
Dragon Turtle
Hobbit (Halfling)
Lizard, Fire
Mind Flayer
Spirit Naga
Purple Worm
Sea Lion
Shambling Mound

And so to the hoard.

870 copper pieces. 240 of these are in fact triangular and have a symbol at each corner of the coin. If six of them are laid together to form a hexagon, they will emit a soothing tone which will aid restful sleep and induce calm in those who hear it.

1357 copper pieces are locked inside a chest which has a security mechanism. If an unsuccessful attempt is made to pick the lock, a container of acid in the lid opens and dissolves the contents into a stinking and noxious sludge. If the lock is ignored in favour of smashing open the lid, the acid will turn into a corrosive gas that will cover a 30’ x 30’ space in one round. Save vs. Breath or take burns to the face that will remove 1d3 of CHA.

A tatty-looking raven in an iron cage. It is worth perhaps 4cp but if kept for more than a few hours, it will caw a phrase that sounds like the name of a legendary but dangerous dungeon, reputed in myth to house a treasure of immense proportions. Speak with Animals will allow the caster to have a conversation with the raven, during which it will give more clues as the location of the dungeon in return for privileges and better treatment.

A figure made of twisted fragments of copper wire. It is in the shape of a bird-headed human and although it seems to be many hundreds of years old, it is in fact a fake that has been aged to appear antique. Nevertheless, it will still fool anybody who is not an expert on the art of the period. Its metal value is 21cp but it can be sold for a good deal more to the right (i.e. uninformed) buyer.

A set of spoons, thirteen in number. Each is topped with a tiny figure that represents one of the Immortal Heroes of an eastern cult that is thought to be extinct. In that cult, the spoons are considered a valuable prize that proves the courage and skill of its members. The value of the set to an interested buyer will be in the region of 120sp.

Three flasks of oil (1gp each) – one of these has a hairline crack in it that will cause it to shatter (save v Crushing Blow) as it is about to be used.

57 silver pieces contained in a leather cap, tied up with gut. It makes a handy carrying bag but the cap is actually a Weaver’s Coif and will store the dreams of whoever wears it, then replay a random dream into the head of the next wearer.

A tatty, stained and marked book that has lost its cover and has been repaired with string. However, it is well worth its value of 600sp since it bears the title “Onn notte gettygne caughte; I wille revele to ye secrettes of the meckanicks of trappes and in soe doinge mayeke of ye a bettere thiefe”
It is as good as its word and a thorough perusal thereof will allow the bearer to increase their “Find/Remove Traps” skill by 3 levels. If the reader is not a thief, they will acquire the skill level of a 2nd level thief.

A charming bridle for a lady’s riding horse, made of silver and finely finished leather. Worth 24sp

A set of pewter tankards, five in all, which have various pictures of historic castles and their coats of arms. On the back of each tankard is a verse which, if deciphered, will reveal a ribald and amusing fact
about the holders of the coats of arms. The total value of this set is 75sp

A wooden box that, when opened, has a very fragrant scent indeed. Inside, wrapped in tissue paper of a rose pink colour are 12 blocks of soap which, if used to wash with, will nullify the user’s personal scent so that they cannot be tracked by any creature which uses smell to do so. The value of this box is 60sp

257 electrum pieces sewn into the lining of a jerkin that is covered in plates of poor-quality steel. The jangling of the plates may well mask the sound of the coins as they move inside the jerkin.

A wooden box which, if opened out will form a chessboard. Inside the box are two sets of figures, one made of electrum, the other of jet. One pawn and a knight are missing from the electrum set, a bishop and a rook from the jet. The whole set is worth 350ep, even missing its pieces. If all the pieces are obtained and a game is played, whoever checkmates the opponent’s king will cause that figure to animate, bow low to the victor and recite a rhyme that is a clue to the burial site of Pqaa, the set’s maker. He was a jeweller of rare skill and ability and many of his works were buried with him.

A set (6) of small leather pouches, each of which contain a pale blue powder which, if touched to the tongue, taste slightly of vanilla sugar. The powder is actually a revolutionary weight-loss drug which, if taken before bedtime, causes the user to lose 1-20% of their body mass by the morning. As can be imagined, this is much in demand amongst the nobility and therefore each pouch is worth 5 ep each.

308 gold pieces, 87 of which are in a metal tin that is shaped to resemble an eastern potentate’s palace. It once contained exotic spices and there is still a faint scent from the tin.

An alabaster vase that has bas-relief figures of goddesses in skimpy clothing in provocative poses. It is worth perhaps 25gp but to the right collector, much more. The goddesses are in fact the handmaidens of the Martyr Prophet and even to depict them clothed is a right arrogated to the Prophet’s priesthood. The vase itself would be counted a blasphemy by the Prophet’s followers.

A silver monstrance, set with gold detail, intricate in its design and covered with tiny curlicues that resemble angelic beings. It was looted from a Lawful Good monastery many years ago, sawn off at its base (where the silver is ragged and sharp) but despite this, its value is 45gp and if returned to the heirs of the monks, would fetch probably twice that.

A box made of cedarwood, with silver hinges and a clasp (worth 17sp on its own). Inside this is a golden spectacle frame (worth 7gp on its own) and a set of lenses (6) in different colours. The coloured lenses, if fitted into the frames, perform the following functions

Red – magnify the object looked at by 10
Green – reveals the presence of out-of-phase objects and creatures
Blue – slows down what is looked at by a factor of 10
Yellow – reveals the trail of any precious metal (up to six hours previously) as a diaphanous pattern in the air.
Purple – causes the presence of any disease to show up as a patch of darkness when a person is looked at
Orange – replicates the infravision ability

The lenses are quite fragile and may be broken by sudden impacts unless stored in the cushioning safety of the box.

The whole box, lenses and all will increase the value to 90gp

A piece of malachite, worth 10gp, carved into the shape of a human skull. It is fascinatingly beautiful. Legend has it that it is one of the fabled Talking Skulls of Haaquool, made over seven centuries ago for a temple hacked from basalt on the rim of an extinct chain of volcanoes. This is not true as the skulls in question were several times larger and the sound of the wind as it blew through the cavities of the skulls made what sounded like voices. This particular skull is perhaps half the size of a human fist and has no obvious properties apart from the visual.

A lovely thing, isn't it? Find more just like it here

An earring, made of wrought silver and ivory. The design appears to be two sinuous female forms, touching at the hands, which are extended above their heads (this is where the clasp is) and the feet. A pair would be worth 500gp but a single one is worth only 200gp. Depending on the guardian, the earring could still be attached to a human ear which is itself threaded onto a piece of twine and hung around the monster’s neck.

A longsword that sits in the bony hand of a withered skeleton. It has a hilt made of carved black wood, the crossguard in the shape of a human legbone. The skull’s face is still fixed in a snarl of anger and frustration. Its armour is hewn, dented and pierced in several areas with ragged holes. Whoever the dead man was certainly put up a hell of a fight. By his side, scrawled in dried blood with one bony finger is the phrase “Free at last!”
His scabbard is still attached to his belt; it is of black leather, decorated with silver fittings and studded with small carved pieces of jet.
The sword is in fact a -2 sword, its owner cursed always to use it against their enemies. This is what happened to the dead man, overwhelmed by his foes, much as he would have loved to have thrown his weapon aside and surrendered. If a sword could be said to look smug, this one would do so. Its name is Attekal.
[DG note – if the treasure is found in the lair of a creature which would have valued this or stored it, the skeleton will not be present, merely the sword and scabbard]

Monday 5 March 2012

An Adventure for Every Monster - Cockatrice


Frequency: Uncommon
No. appearing: 1-6
Armour class: 6
Move: 6”/18”
Hit Dice: 5
Percentage in lair: 30%
Treasure type: D
No. of attacks: 1
Damage per attack: 1-3
Special attack: Touch turns to stone
Special defences: Nil
Magic Resistance: Standard
Intelligence: Animal
Alignment: Neutral
Size: Small
THAC0: 15
XP value: 315 + 5/hp

(I’m hypothesising that the cockatrices can choose whether or not to use their petrifaction ability since, if it was always active, they would never be able to eat anything)

This adventure takes place in an area of the dungeon where several schisms in the rock, twisting and difficult fissures converge into a huge underground cavern with ledges, cliffs, overhangs and outcroppings. It is known as the Cathedral and various areas have become home to assorted species and creatures. In the heights of the Cathedral is an area called the Rookeries, where various flying creatures have made their nests; harpies, gargoyles and of course, the cockatrices.

The ledge on which the cockatrices nest is about fifty feet long by twenty feet wide. It has a cliff face behind it and behind a pile of scree and rubble is a narrow cave entrance, down which a human might be able to crawl on their belly. It was once the lair of a flock of harpies who were driven out by the arrival of the cockatrices.

There is a statue of an adventurer on the ledge, who was investigating as she thought it was the lair of a nest of harpies, a body part of which she needed for a potion she was preparing. On a nearby vacant ledge is her backpack and equipment, including the other ingredients of the potion and a scroll that gives the recipe for said potion. The nature of the potion is for the DM to decide but it will be a potent and unique concoction. Her rope and grapnel are still attached to the edge of the cockatrices’ ledge but the rope has long since rotted to a state of uselessness.

The adventurer’s equipment also includes:

+2 spear, the head of which is barbed and hooked at the point where it joins the shaft. There are several odd-looking sigils engraved on the head itself. Its name is Ulcifor and it once belonged to the fighter of a band of adventurers who were reputed to have braved the depths of the Nine Hells themselves in search of the blood of a Prince of Devils in which to steep their weapons.

Philtre of Love – potent and effective, it is contained within a bottle carved of pink crystal, topped with a stopper in the shape of a heart. The bottle bears the legend “Emotional Rescue, Yr Beloved Infatuated w/out Faile or yr monie bakke”

Potion of Heroism – in a small jar shaped like a wine jug, stoppered with a brass plug, sealed with wax. The plug is in the shape of a scowling demonic face.

The treasure on the cockatrice ledge is made up of an assortment of things that have been left there over the years, the cockatrices not being particularly acquisitive. Some of the items may have been brought up by the harpies who previously occupied the ledge. The objects will probably be partly covered by straw, dried grass and droppings.

The total value of the trinkets and ornaments is 2386 gold pieces and consists, amongst other things, of the following (not an exhaustive list)

A bundle of fine silk scarves (10sp each)
An ivory scroll case, empty
A gold snuff box, complete with snuff (23gp)
Two silver bangles (35sp each)
A heavy, leather-bound book closed and locked with iron clasps. It contains the membership of a Thieves’ Guild of a randomly chosen city in the DM’s world.
A set of different coloured stones strung on a length of twine, each with a different rune painted on (significance at DM’s discretion)
A small comb with a number of blonde hairs still tangled in the teeth.
A crystal jar inside which are a number of dried beetles (the jar may be worth 3sp)
A horn, trimmed and decorated with silver (22sp)
A leather case that, when opened, is decorated with figures in erotic poses. Contained therein are ten scrolls, each with the text of a raunchy novel (the whole set is worth perhaps 250sp).
A brass tube with astronomical symbols engraved upon it (15sp).
A shamanic totem made of the skulls of two ravens, the heart of an ox studded with thorns and all bound together with dried nettle stems
Several pewter models of notable buildings in cities known to the party, each engraved on the underside with the motif of an eye (not worth much monetarily but their significance may well lead to greater things).

As well as the foregoing, there is also, stuffed under some nesting material, still gripped by a severed hand and forearm, a silver sceptre set with gems. It is worth 6000gp for its metal and gem value alone but if the first and third sections are twisted clockwise and anticlockwise respectively, the gems protrude and form a key which will unlock a hitherto unopenable door in the Ebony Fortress of Qelghari, a building lost for centuries on the overgrown island of Qng!la. What lies beyond the door is for the DM to decide. If the DM wishes, a ring or other such trinket can be found attached to the arm that links to an organisation which may have been looking for the fortress.

The crawlway back from the ledge leads down a narrow fissure in the rock until it opens out into a small tunnel, covered with eerie hieroglyphs which are clearly many centuries old. Further down the tunnel is the sound of running water. The tunnel opens onto a chamber which once housed a stone sarcophagus; this has now been cracked open by the partially collapsed ceiling of the chamber itself. Some yellowed bones are visible in the rubble, all that remains of the occupant. Something is glinting just under the bones – a topaz and a star sapphire, worth 500gp and 1000gp respectively.

Pouring from the ceiling, cascading through the chamber and out through a space between two tilted flagstones is a fast-running underground stream. However, the chamber is not entirely empty and the noise of the water will mask the approach of two giant scorpions who have made a nest in the chamber and will hunt and (try to) kill anyone who enters.

Frequency Uncommon
No. appearing 1-4
Armour class 3
Move 15”
Hit Dice 5+5
Percentage in lair 50%
Treasure type D
No. of attacks 3
Damage per attack 1-10/1-10/1-4
Special attack Poison Sting
Special defences Nil
Magic Resistance Standard
Intelligence Non-
Alignment Neutral
Size M
THAC0 13
XP value 650 + 6/hp

Much of the treasure that they guard is inside the ruins of the sarcophagus – as well as the topaz and the star sapphire is a death mask, made of gold worth 350gp, a breastplate engraved and inlaid with gold and silver decoration (worth 460gp) a ceremonial sword made of silver inlaid with gold, worth 370sp, a collection of amulets on a gold chain around the skeleton’s neck (worth 30 ep each) – there are seven amulets but a search must be made in the silt and fallen soil.
In one corner of the chamber is a collection of stone jars in which can be found rare ointments (60sp), a selection of hunting knives, the blades made of sharpened copper (250cp), three silver figurines of necrotic spirit guardians (harmless but worth 150sp each) and a gold statue of a horse (325gp).

Friday 2 March 2012

Hawkwood’s Voyage by Paul Kearney - Review

The history of Europe is a fascinating one and the 15th century is a particularly interesting time, what with the Voyages of Discovery, the development of gunpowder and the expansionist march of the Ottoman Empire. Yet it was still a time when superstition held sway, when the fastest thing man could use to travel was a horse, when great swathes of the continent were still uninhabited, littered with the ruins of fallen Empires.

A perfect time, you might think to use for a D&D campaign; It’s clear that Paul Kearney thinks so too, because Hawkwood’s Voyage reads very much as if he’s written such a thing up. He hasn’t, of course but he has done the next best thing and set this fantasy novel, the first of several, on the cusp of mediaevality and modernity, hurling two power blocs against each other and giving us the tales of the ordinary folk who are caught up in the middle of things.

I came across this via Amazon’s “People who have bought this book also bought…” and I’m very glad I did. It was written in 1995, a year before A Game of Thrones was published so Kearney was in at the forefront of the gritty, morally ambiguous, hard as nails combat genre. He’s also a keen sailor and that comes across in his chapters concerning the eponymous sea voyage.

A brief outline of the set-up – an abandoned ship is found, its crew dead or missing and something horrible in the hold. In the captain’s cabin is a rutter and log that hints at a western continent unknown by the civilisations known as the Monarchies of God. Meanwhile, the magic-using peoples, persecuted by the Church are seeking escape and a young, free-thinking King realises that he can kill two birds with one stone. Before you can say Columbus With Spells, two ships have been chartered and filled with mages, dweomer-folk and a shifter – this world’s version of a lycanthrope.

Meanwhile to the east, the vast armies of the Merduks, (resprayed Ottomans) are marching to crush the infidels, having already captured Aekir, the Constantinople of this world. Once they’ve got that under their belt, they’re heading west – unless the armies of the Monarchies of God can stop them. And they’re too busy trying to work out a way of getting the too-keen-on-burning-heretics Church off their backs.

I must admit that for the first 100 pages or so, I was getting used to Kearney’s chop-and-change style of switching viewpoints; there are quite a few different plot strands but they’re needed because, rather in the fashion of journalists being embedded with the US and UK armies, his characters are right there in the forefront of the action. And there’s a lot of action to cover. Even the politics, which can sometimes make my eyes glaze over in other works, don’t have that effect in this one. The battle scenes really come alive, with changes of focus from the strategic to the personal exactly when needed. He also knows precisely when to switch characters in a way that gives the reader just enough to make them want to get back to that strand again.

Constructed to cover several books, Kearney is taking his time in developing the plot strands but even though he has to break off at some point, he manages the suspense in such a way that my reaction at the end of this volume was definitely not “Meh”. I’ll be checking out the second book in the series “The Heretic Kings” soon.

Thursday 1 March 2012

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

...your son says he wants to name his firstborn after his D&D character

"I name this child Alurax Ettinslayer and baptise him in the name of...oh, hang on...pass me Deities and Demigods..."