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.