Wednesday 30 May 2012

Fear of Leprechauns

In a recent Team Adventure session, Alurax ran into a leprechaun in a forest encounter; the little fellow delighted in using his invisibility and shape changing ability to deprive Alurax of his beloved trident and generally wind him up until he was extremely agitated.

Now all I have to do is whistle a jaunty jig and put on a cod 'Oirish' accent and poor old Junior Grognard reacts like Pavlov's dog when the bell was rung.

I was wondering if anybody else has acquired an irrational reaction to an otherwise anodyne monster following a bad experience? 

Sunday 27 May 2012

Team Adventure - It's the Fort that Counts

Darkness fell across the ruined watchtower and only Gullhar with his infravision was able to penetrate the darkness. About an hour after darkfall, the elf’s keen eyes spotted multiple heat signatures approaching through the darkness. He quickly passed the word around using Relic to relay his messages to Elysia, who was prepared, with Shield cast, at the door. She now knew that she had sixteen orcs to deal with, two groups of eight who, as they approached, split into groups of four. This was a deliberate strategy on their part – knowing that they were facing a magic user who most likely had Sleep, they set out to reduce the number of orcs who could be taken out with a single spell.

Nevertheless, Elysia did manage to sleep one group of four; two other groups opened fire with arrows and would have hit her had it not been for her Shield. She used her Wand of Illumination to cast more light so that those in the party not gifted with infravision could keep track of the attackers. Zanurax darted out to knife the sleeping orcs and became a target for the orc archers, being hit by an arrow as he headed back towards the gate.

Now, the orcs were moving up towards the gate en masse; Zanurax diverted to take them on but unfortunately, his leather armour and low capacity for damage combined with some very lucky blows from the orcs led to him  ending up face down in the dust a lot sooner than he had expected. Four orcs made it to the top of the stairs unscathed and came face to face with Elysia; she readied a Sleep spell but the orcs were quicker and tried to hit her with their swords; none of them succeeded and moments later, they were unconscious in the gateway.

Ferros, who had been standing over the gateway had fired into the darkness and managed to hit several orcs, although the number stopped was impossible to tell. Gullhar, Alurax and Alagon were letting fly with arrows at the approaching orcs, who were following the example of their fellows at the front gate and splitting into smaller squads. They returned fire but nobody was hit. It was not long until the orcs reached the walls and began to scramble up and over.

Having used up one of her Magic Missile attacks to bring down two orcs and wound two others, Elysia ducked for cover inside the gatehouse. She could not get to Zanurax and had no healing magic to use even if she could have done. She decided to cast Fly and ascend to the roof where she could be of help to her beleaguered fellows.

When she arrived at the rooftop, she found that Ferros was faced by four orcs who had scaled the wall while he was busy searching for arrow targets. Before she could get off a Sleep spell, the orcs had attacked the cleric but he took no damage and moments later, the four orcs were lying comatose on the ground. Elysia finished them off whilst Ferros scrambled down to administer healing to Zanurax.

Meanwhile, Alurax, Alagon and Gullhar were whittling down the opposition. Gullhar had been hit several times but his comrades were unscathed. With the arrival of the revived Zanurax and Ferros, the remaining orcs were soon overwhelmed and slaughtered.

The party rested overnight to lick its wounds and in the morning, set off eastwards but not before tipping the orc bodies down the stairs and into the waiting maw of the owlbear who was still there from the occasion when the party had liberated the fort from its former troll owners.

It was now 6th August; the weather was fine and the party made good time out of the rough country and into the forest again. About midday, there was the sound of a screeching cry from the sky above them. They glanced up to see a creature flying down towards them. It had the body of a lion, the head and wings of an eagle and the front claws of a bird of prey. The horses were getting very skittish but Ferros cast Speak with Animals and found out that it was a Griffon and a hungry one at that; it wanted their horses and seemed very keen on getting what it wanted. However, the party was in no mood for a lengthy debate on the subject and put on a display of their martial power in order to convince the griffon to go elsewhere for its meal. Somewhat miffed, but nevertheless a pragmatist at heart, the griffon screeched angrily and rose up into the air, disappearing into the blue.
Horses! Nice horses! Go well with a full-bodied Merlot
The party mopped their collective brow and rode on through the woods. In previous journeys, they had been pestered by the unwelcome attentions of goblins but the little green fellows had clearly thought better of bothering the Team today because they saw nobody threatening all that afternoon. However, getting towards sundown, Gullhar, with his elven ears picked up several sounds off amongst the trees. The first was a heavy thump-thump; something was coming and it was big. The second sound was quieter; a horse, thought Gullhar. Further off, there was another noise but even Gullhar couldn’t quite make it out.

The party decide to prepare and various members climbed various trees to get into position. The heavy footsteps got louder and louder and finally Zanurax found himself staring at a huge, woody, moss-covered and leafy face. Yes, it was Ashbone, the treant. He turned and called over his shoulder and through the trees came riding a man in a green and brown cloak, a bow slung over his back and a sword at his side.

Ashbone introduced the newcomer as Galadeus, a ranger from the north. The treant told him that the party could give him the help he needed and then suggested that they leave as a large gang of ogres were heading their way. This friendly warning fell on deaf ears and the party readied for battle. Ashbone melted into the woods while Galadeus joined the party; once again, several members took up positions in trees and awaited the onslaught. Ferros and Gullhar were on the flanks, their bows ready.

The ogres came at them and the team gave as good as they got. Three were killed by Ferros; Elysia killed two with her Magic Missiles, sharing one of the kills with Galadeus, who also chalked up another himself; it had swung at him with a huge spiked club and missed by a whisker whereupon he ducked under its guard and ran it through with a single thrust of his longsword. Alurax managed to finish off one and for his next attempt, tried the trick he had used in their previous encounter with ogres, swinging out of the tree on a rope. He actually managed it and landed on the back of one of the ogres, but the impact meant he failed to run it through with his trident. He tossed it to one side, being unable to use it whilst clinging to the back of the ogre and instead finished the job with his sword instead.

The melee finally ended with the last ogre fleeing the scene of slaughter. Both Alurax and Galadeus gave chase and tried to shoot at it but failed to bring it down.  Ashbone had managed to finish off a couple of the ogres on his own and now checked to make sure the party was well before striding off into the forest and vanishing into the twilit gloom.

It was unlikely that anything would be bothering them that night; the presence of the treant was deterrent enough and the next morning, they set off again through the woods, reaching the river about midday on the 7th.  Across on the far side, the Moat House stood, seemingly untouched since the last time they had been there.

As they got settled in, Galadeus told his story. He was part of a small group of rangers and their dependants who had settled several days’ ride further up the valley through which the river flowed. Recently, they had come under attack from a large band of hill giants. Escaping from the attack, Galadeus had ridden for help and also had some information to relate; the giants seemed to be more precise and organised than might be expected for such dim-witted creatures. Some reports had said that outsiders had been seen directing and orchestrating the attacks. It was clear that something was going on, something that required attention. Would the party ride north to find out what was happening?

DG Note - today was the thirtieth session and saw the introduction of a new player at the table, taking the role of Galadeus. I also noted that I have forgotten to post the pictures of Gullhar's miniature as painted by Brian from Lead Legion so to rectify that without further ado

Thursday 17 May 2012

Help, there's a noob at my table!

If, like me, you are a keen evangeliser for D&D or (insert iteration of your choice here) then you will have dealt with the introduction of noobs to your table on more than one occasion.

It's presumably a given that you've already explained to them what RPGs are all about and why they're so cool, the noob would be a fool to turn down the chance to play them. However, integrating a noob into your existing group is a process fraught with the potential for problems; they need to have as much information as you can give them in a very short period of time so that the game does not have to stop every ten minutes for an explanation of a concept that seasoned gamers know all about.

So, the question for today - if you only had time for one piece of advice/information/quick lesson before the game started, what would it be?  What vital nugget of knowledge would  you like the noob to get embedded in their brain before the first die rolled?

And speaking of dice, my first thought on this matter would be "Know Your Polyhedrals".  Once a combat gets going or a saving throw has to be made, players need to know their D8s from their D10 from their D%; the funny dice are probably the strangest thing that somebody who has never played before will encounter. 

"Never mind the Balrogs...what the hell are those?

Tuesday 15 May 2012

To quest or not to quest

I'm a bit of a sandbox extremist and trust to the oracular power of the dice. If they want to throw ten ogres at a first level party, who am I to stop them? If they decide that the Staff of the Magi is in that hoard being guarded by a pack of kobolds, then that's the way it is. I sketch out dungeons in very sparse detail, improvise on the fly, guided by the decisions of the party. And that's the way it should be.

But recently, one of my young players wants to go on a quest to seek out a Holy Avenger, him being a Paladin and all. And I'm torn; do I yield to his enthusiasm and do a Quest, complete with clues, guidelines and...(gulp)...a Story Path or do I respond to his earnest entreaties with a scowl and the words "If it comes up on a treasure roll then it's yours"?

It's by no means impossible. There's a 1% chance on the Swords table for the Avenger to appear; it isn't even the highest XP value sword on the table so it's not even in gamebreaker territory. 4K of XP for a 4th level paladin isn't what I'd call Monty Haul.

So, guided quest (with deliberately placed treasure) or let the dice decide?  Or is there a middle way that will keep everybody happy?

Sunday 13 May 2012

Fantasy Literature - like it or loathe it?

The source material for D&D is handily encapsulated within Appendix N of the Dungeon Master's Guide and by its very nature, it dates from before the 1980s.

In my other incarnation as a would-be fantasy novelist, I often dip in to the current crop of fantasy, although I don't restrict myself to that genre.

However, not many of the blogs on the OSR blogosphere seem to voice their opinion one way or the other of today's generation - the Appendix N of the 21st century.

I'm intrigued as to why; is modern fantasy not to people's tastes, even though we play a fantasy role playing game? Do fantasy fans and gamers actually inhabit two different spheres of interest with the occasional overlap? Or is our love of fantasy literature something that we tend to keep close to our chests?

I've reviewed several books that I've read over the past few months but few others seem to do so. To this end, I thought I'd solicit opinions on this; fantasy literature - love it, loathe it or leave it to one side?

Friday 11 May 2012

Geek Cred - my lack of it

I was thinking the other day, whilst looking at the new films out this year (Prometheus, Avengers Assemble, to name but two)  and ruefully reflecting that I'll probably not get to see any of them, that the last time the Grognards went to the cinema was almost a year ago (Kung Fu Panda 2, to be precise). The subsequent eleven months of cinematic bounty passed me by; in my ivory tower, I sit almost hermetic in my immunity to the currents of popular culture. During the heated debate about the merits or otherwise of the Conan remake/reboot/reimagining, it occurred to me that I had never seen the Schwarzenegger version either.

To be frank, I am not cool. I have never seen an episode of the Wire, The West Wing, The Sopranos, Lost, the new Battlestar Galactica. I have never played a computer game. Junior Grognard is the member of the family who knows his way round an X-Box. 

I've tried to get into Fritz Leiber. I watch Dr Who but not Game of Thrones. I don't read graphic novels (I prefer the film adaptations of Watchmen and V for Vendetta) but I do enjoy HPL. Oh, and I've never been to a gaming convention.

In short, I am a faux geek; perhaps my only claim to geekery is that I play D&D and am trying to pass on the love of the game to the next generation.

So, having confessed my lack of cred, I now throw the floor open to all of you out there; anything that you don't actually like or haven't seen or read but were too embarassed to admit? 

Sunday 6 May 2012

Team Adventure - The Battle of Three Peaks

The party reached the top of the flight of stone stairs and emerged into the light; not far off, under the eaves of the wood were the elves. Gullhar took the crystal and handed it over to them. With barely a sound, they vanished into the trees and the party was alone again.

They needed to think about what they were going to do next. Everybody had a different idea that they wanted to follow up. From their vantage point, high on the cliff, they took the chance to look out to the distant horizons. To the north was a range of mountains, their tops capped with snow, glaciers snaking down their flank.


 To the west were more rolling hills covered in forest. To the north-east were more lakes and forests and beyond them, mountains, though free of ice and snow. To the east, the Golden Hills stretched away into the haze and to the south, more peaks.


Olaf pointed to these last mountains and declared that the time had come to bid the party farewell. His quest to take the clan medallion of Thorgrim now took precedence and with that, he shouldered his axe, checked his pack and strode off.

There followed a discussion between the various remaining members of the party. Although Alurax had the bones of the Knights of the Star bundled up, with every intent of returning to town eventually to find out how to lay them to rest, his interest was drawn by the wintry vista to the north. He wanted to see if he could find frost giants, huge polar bears and the treasure that they must surely guard.

Alagon, on the other hand, wanted to follow up the rumours of the mighty Holy Avenger, the ultimate sword of paladins. He thought there would be information about this in the town archives. Similarly, Gullhar thought that was the place to locate facts about the Knights of the Star and that this was their priority, since they had made a promise to the ghosts of the Knights.

Debate was long and turned often but in the end, the party decided that they should return to town since the mountains would still be there when they had done what they needed to do in the archives. Alurax agreed to this but the call of the mountains was still strong and many a backward glance he cast until they were finally out of sight.

(DG note – I have now decided to keep a more stringent track of time in the campaign, since it can’t be summer forever and seasonal changes will affect the wilderness more than if the adventures took place in a city. I have therefore, very roughly, calculated that this session’s first day was August 2nd and I’m going to work from there.)

So, the party set off eastwards, retracing their steps as well as they were able. They skirted the southern edge of the lakelands and it was not long after they had set off that a familiar sight appeared in the sky above them. A shimmering golden creature descended and landed in front of them; Elysia recognised it at once as the Ki-Rin (the dice had ordained its appearance, almost as if they were running this adventure, not me). The noble creature hailed the party and said that it had heard of their success in the dungeon and offered its congratulations. It wanted to know if there was anything that it could do to help them. Alurax explained that they wanted to return to the town, far to the east and although the Ki-Rin could not carry them all, plus horses, it could use its magical abilities to cast a Teleport spell which would take them to the western edge of the Centaur Woods, more or less where it had found them, give or take a day. Everyone agreed to this, since they were keen to make progress and so all joined hands and touched the Ki-Rin.

The next thing they knew, they were at the eaves of the Centaur Woods, it still being the 2nd August. The Ki-Rin bade them farewell and rose gracefully into the sky again. The party watched it go and then plunged into the sylvan forests. The leafy peace of those arboreal tracts was not to last long; Gullhar caught a distant sound, something heavy and large crashing through the undergrowth. The party deployed for action and waited to see what was coming.

It turned out to be four ogres; what they had been doing in the Centaur Wood was anybody’s guess but what they were doing now was serving as target practice for the bows of Team Adventure.


The first fell to a single arrow through the eye from Alurax’s bow; the second took several more shots from the other members of the party. One went right, another left. Alagon pitched in to take on the one in the centre. It was a short but bloody battle in which none of the team took any damage and Alurax carried out a memorable stunt, swinging down from a tree, attached to a rope, trident in hand, striking down an ogre and then dropping to the ground and scrambling back to his feet to carry on the battle.

In the end the four ogres were swiftly despatched and just as quickly looted.  The party pressed on again, camping in the very heart of the woods. They were not disturbed that night but the next day, Gullhar’s keen ears brought news to the party of the approach of something that rode on hooves. Everybody thought they might be about to meet the actual centaurs but instead, five white horses with horns on their foreheads rode into sight.


The unicorns stopped and watched the party, who cagily tried to initiate contact; it was only when Relic volunteered his services that the beautiful creatures were able to communicate. They had little to say, apart from warning the party about a larger party of ogres, who were heading through the forests eastwards. The party thanked the unicorns and continued on their way; some hours later, they picked up the trail of the ogres, fresh and muddy, chaos and destruction wrought amidst the trees. The team members discussed whether they should avoid the ogres or launch an attack; the latter option, championed by Alurax in the main won the day and they began to step up the pace as the afternoon lengthened into evening and the shadows grew thicker, on their way to becoming gloaming.

They were now very near the edges of the forest and ahead, they could see the first flickerings of the camp fire that the ogres had set up. The party moved into position, Elysia readying a Stinking Cloud to cast on as many as she could, whilst Alurax, Ferros and Alagon prepared to take on the brunt of the action. Zanurax, who had not done that much so far readied his bow to provide missile support, accompanied by Gullhar.

Battle was joined and to begin with, the action went well, with three ogres falling helpless to the ground in the midst of the vile and noxious gas caused by Elysia’s spell. Zanurax set to with his bow whilst the fighters and the doughty cleric moved into attack. Alagon ended up with four to fight, Alurax three and Ferros, who had chosen at the last minute to keep using his bow, found that two were headed towards him.

The battle was a lot harder this time, thanks to the increased strength of the opposition but the strong armour of the team and their good fortune with their attacks meant that their enemies were soon falling. Gullhar switched from bow to sword when it became clear that he would do more damage that way; he helped out Alagon and Alurax and the team were finally left facing a lone ogre who they surrounded and hacked to pieces. The three ogres in the Stinking Cloud were despatched by Elysia with her dagger.

Having finished off the wild raiders, the party rested up overnight just outside the eaves of the woods and in the morning, set off across the rough lands that lay between them and the distant Moat House. Using Relic for aerial reconnaissance, they were soon aware that they were heading for the same large war party of orcs that they had avoided on their journey west. This time, the hot-headed Alurax wanted to avoid avoiding them, being keen to wet his trident points in orcish blood. Wiser heads tried to prevail but he was having none of it and was soon scouting out the area of the orc camp, set up around three high bluffs. Each appeared to have at least a score of orcs atop it, with more between the bluffs and a central area where more were camped.


It was getting towards evening by the time Alurax was in position and he moved in to climb the nearest bluff. Alagon had decided to come with him, thinking that he might need some support. Gullhar and Ferros were lingering at the foot of the bluff, with Elysia and Zanurax keeping an eye on the horses. Alurax and Alagon reached the top of the bluff with little sound but this caution was soon to be thrown away as Alurax attempted to hurl an oil bomb into the midst of the orcs, only to mis-throw and have his missile land in a flare of fire on the slopes of the bluff.

This was not quite as disastrous as it might first have been thought, since quite a few of the orcs rushed over to see what was going on, giving the two heroes a chance to rush in undetected and start laying into their enemies.  Despite their best efforts, they soon realised that they were horribly outnumbered and the orcs came rushing at them, determined to fight off this attack from the darkness. Soon, Ferros and Gullhar joined the fight and so began the Battle of the Three Peaks.

The orcs blew on their war horns and from other parts of the camp more orcs began to move into action. Several of the small picket groups began to circle the bluff, only to come across Elysia and Zanurax, who withdrew into the darkness in an attempt to draw off some of the opposition. With the use of magic missiles and the ever-handy Stinking Cloud, they did some considerable damage on the orcs who had come after them.

On the bluff-top itself, our heroes were fighting off orc after orc, the bodies starting to pile up. Although the orcs were finding it hard to land effective blows on their opponents, they did get lucky on several occasions and weight of numbers started to tell, with Gullhar felled three times (although brought back into action by Ferros) before the cleric was taken out and the elf followed soon after. Finally, Alagon was brought down by his orcish foes, leaving Alurax to bear the brunt of the attacks. A few even managed to get their swords and spears past his magical armour and draw blood but this was not enough and finally, the trident-wielding fighter was left alone on the bluff top, surrounded by the bodies of eighty orcs. The rest of the orc band was somewhere out in the night, wary of approaching in case they shared the fate of their fellows. Alurax descended the slope of the bluff to see what had become of Elysia and Zanurax  and if he was the only one of the party left alive. The magic user and thief were still alive – and had accounted for another score of orcs - and quickly scrambled back up to drag their unconscious comrades to safety.

The party was reluctant to linger long in the area, especially if there were more orcs with vengeance on their minds. They loaded their injured comrades onto their horses and rode hard eastwards, mindful of the threat from the darkness.

As the dawn came up, they saw in the distance the old watch tower that they had cleared of trolls (twice) and where they had killed the frost giant. They figured that this was a good place to rest up since the night ride had left them with no chance to recharge their spells or health.  While Alurax checked the place out to see if there were any unwelcome guests, the rest of the party crawled inside, Alagon using his paladin healing to bring Ferros back to full consciousness so that he could heal others of the party. They then took turns to keep watch and rest to recover their strength. They were going to need it since towards the end of the afternoon, a distant cloud of dust on the horizon signalled the arrival of unwelcome company. The orcs had followed them and were now closing in on the watchtower.

Alurax decided that he would not sit idly by and wait to be attacked. He moved out into the open as the orcs split into two groups, starting to circle the watch-tower. Alurax was to be disappointed because the orcs had learned from their previous encounter and kept out of trident range, firing arrow upon arrow at the eager fighter. Out of forty arrows, three actually hit him...

One does not simply get shot with three arrows and die in this game
 ...and he was shocked to find that the orcs were slightly more dangerous than he had thought. He managed to kill one but then decided that it was safer inside than out. The party members with bows took up positions on the ramparts whilst Elysia and Zanurax stood guard at the door to the tower, ready to try and repel any orcs who tried a frontal assault.
The daylight was now fading and although Gullhar could see in the dark, so could the orcs and they were now starting to lay their plans to take their revenge on the Kin-Slayer and his friends.

Thursday 3 May 2012

An Adventure for Every Monster - Crayfish, Giant

Crayfish, Giant

Frequency Uncommon
No. appearing 1-4
Armour class 4
Move 6"/12"
Hit Dice 4+4
Percentage in lair Nil (but in this case, the pool is their lair)
Treasure type Nil (but see below)
No. of attacks 2
Damage per attack 2-12/2-12
Special attack Nil
Special Defences Nil
Magic Resistance Standard
Intelligence Non-
Alignment Neutral
Size L (8+ feet long)
 THAC0 15
XP value 90 + 5/hp

The adventure will probably be best suited to a party of five adventurers of 2/3rd level, who may nevertheless find it a tough one.

The party is travelling through lightly-forested terrain, halfway between forest and scrubland. There are some overgrown ruins in the area and if they are attentive, they will hear the sound of a disturbance from those ruins. Approaching them with stealth, they are able to observe a pool amidst the ruins, into which a hill giant is throwing rocks pulled from the wall of a ruined building.

The giant’s name is Ogi and he believes that a pack of giant crayfish who live in the pool have pulled his brother Bogi to his death. He is determined to even the score, particularly with Old Whitey, the biggest and oldest of the pack.

If the party is sufficiently attentive and alert, they may notice that the wall from which Ogi is pulling the rocks has a faded carved mural of ancient priests using the pool as a sacrificial well. If he manages to pull the wall down in its entirety, this clue as to the true nature of the pool will be lost.

Whatever treasure is at the bottom would still be there but the crayfish (a gang of four) must be fought off first before it can be recovered. This assumes that Ogi can be stopped from destroying the wall before the party can read the inscriptions.

Amongst the silt and muck at the bottom of the pool is the following treasure:

Javelin of Piercing (250xp)
Pearl of Wisdom (500xp)
82 ep (40gp)
880sp (44gp)
6975cp (35gp)
55gp worth of silver plate
Deep purple amethyst, 120gp
Platinum candlestick, ornate, with gems 45pp (225gp)

If the DM wants to put any more in a more inaccessible area of the well, that’s fine. Bear in mind that there may well be items that have been ruined by immersion in the water for so long, and very probably skeletal remains of unfortunates who have braved the pool and perished in the attempt.

Once the party have got themselves firmly enmeshed in the adventure, a die roll will determine what happens next

1. Bogi is really at the bottom of the pool, drowned and partially eaten
2. Bogi has wandered off and will return soon, feeling hungry because he hasn’t had lunch.
3. Ogi and Bogi’s father will turn up soon, wondering where his good-fer-nothing sons have got to
4. Two giants from the neighbouring family have heard the noise and will wander over to see what’s going on. They are rivals of Ogi and Bogi, named Onka and Bonka.
5. Nothing of consequence will happen.
6. All the noise will have attracted other wandering monsters in the area; roll twice on the relevant encounter table

 Plenty of opportunity for the party to use their wits to outsmart Ogi; if they are brave enough (or foolhardy enough) to take him on, they will need some lucky dice to get out of it without some damage.

In case you were wondering what an 8' long giant crayfish would look like in real life