Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Watchfires & Thrones Session #15

In which new friends are met and our stalwarts jump in over their heads.

After a thorough examination of their funds resulted in enough wealth to join the Order of Adventurers, Explorers, and Treasure-Seekers, the majority of the party sought out various mentors and masters to update their skills. This left Anwar and Morg twiddling their thumbs, as neither possessed enough acumen to advance in class renown. With time on their hands, the duo decided to probe more deeply into the possibility of getting Kyrinn raised from the dead. The good news was that the Order did have a prayer-monger of the King of Cargos (Chadem, the god of wealth and trade) on retainer that could provide the necessary restorative prayers to summon the deceased fighter’s spirit back from the Shadow. The bad news was that it was 6,000 gold marks to do so—and the priests of Chadem look upon discounts as blasphemy. They also had less than ten days to perform the needed rite. Otherwise, Kyrinn’s shade would be lost forever.

With just over a week to collect more money than they ever saw in one place, Morg and Anwar cast about for employment opportunities. Word quickly reached them that a bounty was being offered on the Ghost Beggar bandits, a fact which made them regret letting Sfroat go. Anyone interested in the bounty needed to report to Azix Tsam, a notorious “gray man” or merchant whose business is not entirely above the board, at the Dead Dragon Inn.

Arriving at the inn just in time for their flapjack special (“All the fry cakes you can eat for five copper benders!”), the duo settled down to eat and asked to meet with Tsam. Their inquiries where overheard by another individual who stood out amongst the miner, lumberjack, and mountain man breakfast crowd. This hearty was Immeral the White, an elven martial cleric of Hyrn the Horned Lord recently arrived in Blackpool on pilgrimage to the shrine at the Stag’s Rock. Looking to complete his devotional period to the god of the hunt, Immeral has also heard of the bounty being offered and invited himself to Morg and Anwar’s table.

Before the now trio of adventurers could stuff themselves on flapjacks, a short bulldog of a man appeared to usher them upstairs to meet Tsam. In his lofty penthouse quarters, the tall, well-dressed but gruff merchant explained the deal: 25 gold marks for any of the bastards brought back alive, 10 marks for every one brought in dead. Enough was enough. The party was surprised to learn that Tsam had no idea where to find the Beggars, which was something that both Anwar and Morg believed they knew. Since they couldn’t prove this information, they kept silent for the nonce, hoping to possibly parley this into a larger reward once they had tangible proof.

The party headed straight out of town after this meeting. The day was already well underway and Kyrinn wasn’t getting any less dead after all. Striking out for the mountains to the northwest of Blackpool, they found themselves back at the gatehouse that stretched across the entrance way to the vale of Stonehell a little less than four hours later. The gatehouse would be the first place to search, for it seemed to be a possible bandit watch post and Fanta had detected something spying upon the party from the building on the last occasion they traveled the canyon.

Approaching the gatehouse, the party spotted a large section of the exterior wall marred by graffiti. Immeral was able to decipher the cryptic remark, “Wine kills green slime,” which they tucked away for later use should they encounter the stuff. Edging around the northern side of the fortification, they saw several other entrances in the rocky walls of the canyon, ones they had missed in their nocturnal trip across the vale. The nearest entrance to the gatehouse stood open, its door long since carried off, and the trio entered cautiously.

The scent of cooking meat was detected as they explored the long hallway and guardroom within. When one door proved difficult to open, their investigations were cut short by the sound of whispering from a room behind them. Quickly rearranging themselves for battle in the narrow hall, they spotted a flat-faced, orange hued creature of small stature with a leather cap pulled comically low upon his brow peering at them from a nearby door. When spotted, the creature slammed the door shut with a cry.

Demonstrating that they’ve learned much since the first session of Watchfires & Thrones, the party approached the door and began to parley with the creature(s) within. Calling out in a respectable Hobgobbledygook and enticing the creature with an offer of cash for information, they were able to lure the small humanoid out into the hallway (assisted by his comrades giving him a shove out the door). The party learned that the creature was “Schnot,” a goblin who had been driven out of his lair by the orcs of Stonehell. He could lead them to where the bandits lived and “stole big mushrooms,” but he had a counter-offer: his boss would like to see the adventurers with a business proposition. The party agreed to meet with the goblin gang leader and off they went to the dungeon proper.

Returning to the first level, Anwar was pleased to see that the goblin seemed to be sticking to the corridor he had already mapped out. There were cries of alarm when Schnot dashed across the pit trap the dwarves had warned them about, followed by much scratching of the head when the goblin failed to activate the trap. Careful experimentation revealed that the party could also cross the pit without it springing open. “You mean it doesn’t always go off?” inquired Morg. “How many other traps have we walked through that we don’t know about?!” Indeed.

As they party approached the goblin lair, they caught the sounds of orc voices approaching and prepared to spring a trap on their porcine adversaries. Unfortunately, their lit lantern and a blatant shadow cast upon the wall spoiled their ambush so combat broke out immediately. Largely due to the orcs’ initial trepidation, the three adventurers were able to overcome more than twice their number in orc hunters, which likely set the stage for their brashness to come. Even the sudden arrival of a trio of hunting cobras to the site (love those wandering monsters) could not dampen their feelings of combat superiority, for the snakes seemed more intent on tacking down smaller prey and the party let them slither by.

A short journey down a previously unexplored hallway took the adventurers into a octagonal room that bore both a desert decorative motif and the statue of a sphinx, but Schnot left them little time to explore. Instead the small creature indicated they needed to bypass a dropped portcullis, one which he tried to surreptitiously manipulate in some manner. Morg and Anwar caught his antics, but Schnot pressed them forward without answering.

The secret knock at a closed valve allowed the adventurers to enter the lair of the surviving goblins. A filthy, smoke-choked chamber filled with stinking goblins, mangy wolves, and a goblin latrine (“It appears they crap in their hands and then throw it in that corner over there.”). Covered by goblin crossbows, the party was escorted before the leader of the Wolf Gang goblins.

In short order, an unholy alliance was struck. The party would help kill or drive off the orcs from lair and the goblins would then lead them to the bandits’ den and help kill or capture them in return. After receiving all the troops the goblins could spare (six goblins, a wolf, and Schnot), the party quickly double-timed their war band to the entrance of the orc lair. Luckily, they had previously been through part of the area and were able to determine the layout of the lair’s main corridor. Unfortunately, despite this intelligence, they chose a simple “Get ‘em!” plan of attack.

That attack ran into difficulties from the very start when the first orc they encountered dropped both a goblin and their wolf with a pair of natural 20s. Although the orcs in the first guardroom were overcome, this was to be a portent for the rest of the assault.

Moving deeper into the lair, Anwar used his first spell in thirteen meetings of the campaign, casting a hold portal upon a door that lead to an unknown chamber so the party could concentrate on the seven orcs that were assembling in an open guardroom. This chamber would become the primary battlefield, with orcs and goblins dropping to the blood-slick flagstones. An orcish arrow gravely injured Morg, dropping him into unconsciousness and providing the goblins with a step-stool to reach their taller adversaries. Luckily, one of the orc archers brought down one of his own with an ill-planned arrow launched into battle (“Joe, you idiot!”), proving once again that every house rule I afflict the players with also affects the monsters.

With Morg the fighting man down and more orcs streaming out of an adjoining barracks, the outcome of the fight was obvious. Anwar grabbed the downed fighter and began dragging his form towards the entrance while Immeral and the goblins continued to fight. Then Schnot fell under an orcish axe, the goblins’ morale broke, and it was every being for themselves. As the party ran for their lives, Morg’s body slung between them, they caught sight of the goblin lieutenant, Gnort, outrunning his orcish pursuers to the south while they headed north towards the exit.

Battered, injured, and down a man, Anwar and Immeral limped towards the exit. As they approached the dwarven-carved chamber so close to the “H-Room,” the sound of human voices and torchlight was detected ahead of them. “Sounds like something’s going on to the south. Let’s check it out,” a gruff voice spoke. The torchlight began to increase in brightness, indicating that someone was coming their way. Several someone by the sound of it. Uh-oh!

Hooding their lantern and letting Immeral’s elven sight guide them, the party retreated back as swiftly as they could travel and still remain quiet. At the first intersection, with the torchlight and voices gaining on them, they dodged quickly to the east, hoping to find a hiding spot. As Immeral turned the corner, however, his eyes detected numerous heat sources scurrying about in the room before them. A quick about-face had them dashing across the corridor into the opposite room. There, they threw themselves against the wall and waited to see if the unknown men behind them caught sight of their last second dive for cover…

Pip Haggleham

Neutral Level 1 Halfling Thief
Played by: Dave

STR: 13 (+1 to hit/dam/open doors)
DEX: 18 (+3 missile, -3 AC, +2 initiative)
CON: 12
INT: 12 (literate)
WIS: 14 (+1 to save vs. magic)
CHA: 11

Hit Points: 4
Armor Class: 4 (7)

Special Traits/Abilities: Thieves abilites; 90% chance hide outdoors; -2 vs. larger than man-sized opponents; +1 to missile attacks/initiative.

Languages: Common, Underhill, Thieves' Cant

Weapons: Sling, daggers
Armor: Studded leather
Magic Items: None

Objects of questionable value: none

Experience: 159 (+10%)
Last Update: 7/28/10

Immeral the White

Lawful Level 1/1 Cleric/Fighter
Played by: Pete

STR: 11
DEX: 16 (+2 missile, -2 AC, +1 initiative)
CON: 11
INT: 11 (literate)
WIS: 17 (+2 to save vs. magic)
CHA: 11

Hit Points: 6
Armor Class: 1 (2/4)

Special Traits/Abilities: Find secret doors 2 in 6; immune to ghoul paralysis; infravision 60'

Languages: Common, elven, Veridaz (Lawful), gnoll, hobgoblin, orc

Weapons: mace, long bow
Armor: Splint mail
Magic Items: None

Objects of questionable value: ball of restless vines

Experience: 1,034/1,009 (+10%/+0%)
Last Update: 7/28/10

Friday, July 23, 2010

Watchfires & Thrones Session #14

Sorry for the delay. This week’s been a busy one. Productive, but busy. I’ve got big plans for the future, but here’s the write-up for now.

Looking up from the orc corpses they were riffling, the party beheld four human men observing them at the corner of the corridor. Dressed in chain and leather, each man was armed and bore a black and yellow checkered clothe worn amidst their garb. This new quartet took the party to be another band of “’Hell Delvers” out for loot and glory, but when the adventurers explained that they needed help finding their way out, the men grew interested.

Highly suspicious of their new acquaintances, the party reluctantly agreed to pay 10 gold marks each if they were shown to the nearest exit. As they headed off into the dungeon, bound for a supposed nearby exit, the party’s guides arranged themselves at both the head and tail of the band, effectively surrounding them. That was the last straw for the PCs, who, deciding that if anyone was getting bushwhacked, it wasn’t going to be them, sprung a surprise attack on these supposed good Samaritans when they stopped to lift a dropped portcullis. A good thing too, for these men were actually Ghost Beggar bandits.

After a prolonged combat where neither side could score a decisive blow on the other, the bandits’ luck finally ran out and the party found themselves standing over three corpses and one unconscious bandit. Dragging their prisoner back to the chapel from some impromptu interrogation, the party found that the bandit caved under the slightest bit of duress (failed his morale check abominably) and gave up the location of two exits to spare his life. The bandit, Sfroat (who was assumed to be named “Scroat” by the party, much to their amusement), explained that one exit ran straight through the bandit den, but a second, larger exit existed directly to the north. If they just headed straight that way, they were bound to find it.

The party insisted on taking Sfroat with them, loading him down with Kyrinn’s corpse and slapping a pair of manacles on the poor bandit’s legs to ensure he didn’t go far. Setting off from the chapel, they negotiated a series of octagonal rooms on a northbound course. However, they’d had grown complacent about traps, and both Baragkus and Morg almost took a dive into a 10’ pit that barred their path (actually, Morg did take a dive trying to leap it, but that was a voluntary act of recklessness). Some careful rope and spike work allowed them to continue on, and their explorations turned up a pair of buckskin leggings and moccasins stashed in a rusty pot and buried in a garbage heap. Strange…but not as strange as Fanta wearing the ill-fitting clothing and doing wind sprints around the chamber to see if he could now run faster.

When the dirty laundry proved unremarkable, the party continued north, where they ran into a guard room of orcs. The pig-faced humanoids sprung out from behind a closed door the party was passing and nearly killed Baragkus before the tide of battle turned in the party’s favor, resulting in the orcs barricading themselves back in their room with hopes the adventurers would go away. Luckily for the orcs, the party was focused on getting out of the dungeon before something killed another one of them.

The party discovered numerous crossroads in their journey and battled a pair of wandering zombies. All the while, the air was growing fresher and Sfroat kept insisting they were almost to their destination. That’s when their journey was abruptly interrupted by the sound of voices and pale lantern light from around a corner.

Creeping forward, the party found an ornately carved room, its walls adorned with dwarven heroes and large runes. A party of five dwarves were engaged in a study of the chamber, but not so intently that the party took them unawares. In the brief parley that followed, the adventurers learned that they were just around the corner from the exit, but a trapped intersection lay in their path. At least that’s what it sounded like. The dwarves’ thick Scandinavian accents made it difficult to be sure. We also established that Fanta is going to get himself shot one day due to that mouth of his.

Following the dwarves’ instructions, the party did encounter a pit trap (rolled a “2” when they poked it with their now-remembered 10’ pole) but negotiated it by the same rope and spike technique they learned early in the day. At long last, they found themselves in Stonehell’s “H Room” and were relieved to see a spiral staircase ascend up through the ceiling, purportedly leading to the surface.

I was waiting on this moment with great interest. The party had promised Sfroat that he’d be released unharmed if he was true to his word about leading them to the exit. Although they had been relatively humane in their treatment to the poor sod (even upping his armor so that he might survive an attack since he had no weapon), they now had what they wanted from the bandit. His usefulness was at an end.

It turned out that the PCs are not bloodthirsty monsters, for they let Sfroat go, returning his dagger to him and even providing him with extra torches and offers of food before he departed. Whether this action will have repercussions should the party encounter the Ghost Beggars again remains to be seen.

Turning back to the matter of their escape, Morg and Baragkus climbed 70’ up the stairs without reaching daylight, but there was some trepidation on their part about being so far from their comrades, so the two stout fighters came scurrying back for company. Ultimately, the party pressed on past the 70’ mark and emerged in the defaced and trash strewn entrance chamber to the dungeon. Safe at last.

On the surface, the party discovered that they were indeed in a strange world, for a single moon hung in the sky. They stood at the far end of a lush valley on a warm spring night, one very different from the desert evenings in Rhuun. They decided that leaving the valley was the best course of action, despite some temptation to explore the ruins, trees, and caves they encountered. The party pitched a camp just beyond the ruined gatehouse that blocked the entrance to the valley, where they got a fitful rest as stirges dive-bombed them and small figures emerged from the gatehouse to observe them. However, they lived to see morning.

Putting the valley and Stonehell to their backs, the party descended from the mountains down an old military road which ultimately lead them to a more travelled highway. Atop a post at the crossroads was an arrow that read “Blackpool” and pointed to the east, so toward the rising sun they headed. An hour later saw them on the edge of a broad, slow-moving river with numerous saw mills on their side and a small town surrounded by a wooden palisade on the other. A small keep and a large timber manor looked down on the settlement from opposing hills and forest stretched off to the north.

Crossing a well-constructed stone bridge brought them to the entrance of the town, where a helpful guardsman collected their silver guilder toll (“The corpse and the dog can come in free.”) and informed them of the Fortunate House (a temple to Chance), the Sanctuary of the Sovereign Flame (the church of the Sovereign), and the Stag’s Rock (shrine to Hyrn the Hunter) if they were looking for curative magics. He also suggested they stop by the “Mad Manor,” that large timber hall atop the hill, if they were looking for lodgings and to join the adventurer’s order.

The party stopped in at the Sanctuary, walking past townsfolk with a corpse on Baragkus’ shoulders without comment from the locals (giving them some idea about what kind of visitors the town is used to) to get there. Inside, the local priest of the Sovereign informed them that he could hold a very nice funeral (25 gold marks) but could do little else for the poor Kyrinn. Lyrax donated a decent 5 gold to the church, which may be remembered in the future.

With nothing else to lose, it was back out of town and up to the Mad Manor to see what that was all about. At the top of the hill, they found a crumbling ruin of a mansion. Repairs were lacking, the roof was sagging, a noose hung from a tree, and two leering gargoyles had been splattered with so much paint they looked tie-dyed. Or as one player summed it up: “It’s a frat house.”

Yes it was, and the party was thinking twice about hanging around once they got inside. The place stunk of unwashed laundry, rotting wood, cheap booze, cheaper perfume, smoke, sex, and old cooking. The thin clerk behind the counter seemed less than enthused to meet them, and a giant of a man came down the stairs with a body wrapped in a sheet to inform them they had a vacancy if they were interested.

The party passed on talking up residency for the moment, but did express an interest in learning more about the adventurer’s order, and a helpful magic-user appeared to give them the specifics. For a somewhat steep fee of 100 gold marks per “category of renown,” they would become members of the guild and receive several benefits in the form of professional appraisals of goods and magic, reduced training cost, cheap lodgings, and access to the chapterhouse’s library. The fee would just about wipe out their savings, and we closed the session with the party in debate about the wisdom in becoming “professional” adventurers.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Blackpool Coat of Arms

This is the symbol on the tabards of the guards outside the western gate of Blackpool. It's slightly different from what I described, but that was because I didn't have a nifty coat of arms generator at that moment. The above design should now be considered canon.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

An Explanation

Those of you who follow this blog but don’t play in the campaign must be wondering what the hell is going on after reading the latest game recap. That game session saw the adventurers leaving their previous campaign world to find themselves in Stonehell Dungeon. That’s quite an unexpected and abrupt change so some clarification is in order.

At the start of the Watchfires & Thrones campaign, I had originally intended to run a classic sandbox hex- and dungeon-crawl campaign set in my longtime AD&D game world of R’Nis. I had been developing new material for that world ever since I began documenting my return to my gaming roots with the Society of Torch, Pole and Rope, meaning that I had accumulated quite a bit of material over the course of the previous year and a half.

On almost the night before the campaign started, I decided to completely switch gears and start from scratch in a new pulp sword & sorcery world. In hindsight, I know this decision was based on me feeling burned out with R’Nis and wanting to try something completely new. I’m also unashamed to admit that I was inspired by what some other very creative people were doing with their own campaign world, truly imagining the hell out of them and creating settings that I enviously wished I had thought of first. Compared to these masterpieces, my own game world seemed pretty bland.

The players and I leaped headfirst into this new world and there was a lot of fun all around. I was loving the change of setting and play was fast and furious. The players were enjoying not knowing what sort of cockamamie creations they were going to face each week and even the prodigious body count couldn’t blunt the fun we were having.

Then I figuratively shot myself in the foot.

You see, I have this habit of being unable to say “no” to any offer to write something game-related for publication. This would be bad enough without my insane desire to make more work for myself by self-publishing my own material. So when we found ourselves with a long period of time off from the game between Father’s Day and Independence Day, I had the opportunity to look at my schedule and what I needed to do both personally and professionally. And holy crap was I screwed.

The first casualty was the Society of Torch, Pole and Rope, which you probably know is on extended hiatus until I free myself up some time to do proper “not phoned in at the last minute” posts. That bought me some time, but not enough. Something else would have to change.

The next thing that would have to go would be my game, but after returning to the role of referee, I wasn’t willing to make that sacrifice. I just needed to find a way to reduce the amount of work I had to do between each game session.

Since I had decided to base the campaign in a world that I had no material for, there was a lot that needed to be done from week-to-week, and I often found myself furiously putting material together just before I left the house to play each Sunday. That’s no way to run a campaign if you want to actually enjoy it. I was drawing hex-maps and stocking them, designing a new megadungeon, and doing research for the world backstory in order to find a way to introduce some very unorthodox ideas into a fantasy role-playing campaign. While I still think that this campaign setting is a very cool one and a great change of pace, it’s not one that I can maintain and truly allow to bloom with the time that I have. I simply wasn’t satisfied.

In addition, there were a few things that I had introduced to the campaign in order to test them out and see how they worked in actual play. Some of these were very successful; others less so. Perhaps my biggest disappointment was allowing the players to run multiple characters at one time. It was originally my intention that they would switch back and forth with characters when one was unavailable or a change of pace was needed, but that wasn’t how things worked out. This required several changes to the game itself, a reassessment of how much experience points were awarded each session, and, worst of all, it encouraged a sense of detatchment from the overall campaign world. And if the players weren’t becoming invested in the setting, I couldn’t be bother to do so too. That’s a shame because that investment and sense of wonder is the prime reason I prefer to play these games and be the referee. A change was obviously in order.

Rather than reboot the campaign—a last ditch effort if there ever was one—I decided to change worlds and put myself back in not only a game world where I feel most at home, but one that has accumulated a great deal of material over the years. That factor alone will reduce my prep time immensely. I also wanted to implement a strict “one PC at a time rule” in order to encourage a connection with the campaign world, and swapping the campaign setting would allow me to slowly introduce the players to a world with more depth and history than the one they had been playing in.

Luckily for me, this swap wasn’t as difficult or far-fetched as it might normally be. The Black Gut, the megadungeon that the PCs were exploring, featured many gates and portals to different locations and worlds. At the end of the last session, we had stopped with them right next to a chamber that held one such gateway. If I could just get them through it, we could start fresh with new adventures.

Rather than railroad them all, I was very open with the players about what I wanted to do and presented them with my proposal. I made it clear that I wouldn’t make any gross change without their agreement and participation, which they thankfully gave me. A little metagaming later, a reduced number of PCs stepped through a gate between worlds to find themselves in Stonehell Dungeon.

There’s going to be some more modifications but I’m waiting for the party to reach civilization. Most of them will require training at that time to advance so it will be the perfect time to introduce those changes. I think that despite the suddenness and magnitude of the world change, it will be for the best in the long run, and I simply can’t wait for our next game session.

Watchfires & Thrones Session #13

Lucky number thirteen and boy were there changes in store for us on this day!

Having successfully unlocked the casket of treasure, the party decided to return to the surface and venture back to Rhuun so that certain members could take advantage of that fair city’s facilities. Domdull required training and supplies were needed. One uneventful trip later, the PCs were back in their rented abode.

After recouping for a day or so, a smaller party left the gates of the city. This excursion consisted only of Anwar, Baragkus, Fanta, Kyrinn, Lyrax, Mars, and Morg. They once again enjoyed an uneventful journey and quickly found themselves back at the Y-shaped corridor that split outside the room of the glass casket.

From the northern branch came a soft red glow that drew their attentions. Edging down the corridor, they saw a pair of archways that led into a gloomy chamber to the west and an askew and much dilapidated wooden door to the north from which the red illumination originated. As they approached the glow, they cast a glance into the chamber beyond the archways.

That room was dominated by four horn-like columns of stone that arched up from the floor. Suspended by chains attached to the top of each column was a 12’ diameter disk of stone held on its horizontal axis. A 10’ tall flight of steps ascended to the level of the stone and a mass of tattered furs and bone—the remains of a dead Low Man—lay sprawled upon the steps.

Judging this worthy of investigation, Morg climbed the stairs to get a better look at the corpse. As he stepped near it, his ear caught a sound from overhead. Looking up, he was startled to see part of the ceiling detach itself and drop down atop him. As it fell, the “ceiling” shifted in coloration chameleon-like to reveal itself as a large spider with a carapace of green. Morg, phobic of arachnids due to the horrible injuries they once inflicted upon him, screamed like a maid surprised on her tuffet before heading towards the door.

The crab spider missed it one chance at envenoming the fighter before Lyrax calming sighted down the shaft of an arrow and launched a missile into the arachnid’s tiny brain. Despite an attempt to halt Morg’s flight—one undoubtedly undermined by Anwar’s puppet show with the spider’s corpse—the fighter fled the room and turned north without thought, bound for the red glow. Lyrax and Baragkus reluctantly followed after him.

The battle over, the party was able to survey the room in more detail. After determining that the Low Man (and spider) corpse had nothing of value, Anwar climbed to the top of the stairs and looked down upon the stone disk. Formed in the shape of a ring, the air in the disk’s hollow center shimmered as if heat haze but was otherwise without note—until Anwar detected that the dust on the floor glimpsed through the hole looked much thicker than that of the chamber around him. Carefully poking his staff into the heat haze, he found that it could be breached and seemed to do no harm. As an additional precaution, he plucked one of the beetles he keeps to assuage his uncanny hunger and tossed it through the center of the disk. It landed unharmed in the dust below.

With initial experiments seeming to declare this disk safe, the sorcerer climbed out onto the disk and stuck his head through the center. After a brief nausea, he found himself peering back upside-down at the room behind him. Alarmed, he noticed that the rest of the party had suddenly vanished and that the room was much more dark and dusty than it appeared moments ago. He pulled back only to see his comrades standing around him in the unchanged chamber. What magic was this?!

Meanwhile, Morg burst through the half-destroyed door at the end of the hallway to find himself in a room holding three large wooden cylinders that resembled silos. One had split open and a thick layer of tan cereal or kibble covered the floor. Five large beetles, their abdomens glowing a soft red, munched contently at this bounty of food, ignoring the fighter. Moments later, Baragkus and Lyrax joined him. After convincing the fighter that the spider had been dispatched and deciding that the beetles were best left alone, the trio returned to the room with the disk.

Fanta, suspecting that the ring might be a magical door or gate (having some experience with those devices), leaped through the center of the disk to land amongst the dust below. There, he saw that the room was indeed an exact duplicate of the one he had departed, only more neglected and unlit. Looking up, he was slightly dismayed to see that the circle through which he had just passed was now a shimmering liquid mirror—one which defeated his attempts to pass back through! Anwar could still see the Old Blood sorcerer and the hole seemed unchanged, but no sound was audible. A rope was dropped through the portal but, although it passed and could be reeled in unhindered, the barrier would not let Fanta pass.

Rather than leave the sorcerer to his fate, the party sent some of their number back to the surface to gather supplies which might be needed for a long excursion. When they returned, supplies were distributed amongst their number and, one by one, they each passed through the shimmering portal into a destination unknown.

After a brief moment to inspect their surrounding, the party left the chamber and found themselves in a corridor that ran north-south. To the north were a locked door and an eastbound corridor that ended in an open door. Passing through this one, they found a room that smacked of sorcery and conjuration. A six-pointed star was embedded in the floor and tapestries with arcane formulae hung from the walls. They were encouraged when they saw that the room could be barred from within and made a note of it as a possible redoubt. A second door exited the room to the east, which they passed beyond in search of clues to their destination.

The corridor beyond turned south before ending in a corroded iron door, one decorated with three female faces—that of a young girl, a mother, and an elderly woman. From beyond came the faint sound of conversation. Cautiously cracking the door to get a better listen, they heard a voice say, “Hello?” from the room beyond. Caught red-eared, the party entered carefully.

The room beyond seemed to be a shrine. A tall statue stood in a curtain-lined alcove to the east. It depicted a three-faced woman who towered over a chair made of bone and inlaid with silver. A clear reflecting pool shimmered in the pale lavender light that filled the room and cast dancing shadows on the walls.

Standing near the bone chair was a woman dressed in tattered robes of black embroidered with silver crescent moons. Her platinum-blonde hair hung before her face, obscuring her features, but her voice was young and clear. She appeared to be alone. The party moved forward unthreateningly but half-expecting trouble.

Instead they found the woman to be open and gracious. She introduced herself as Klydessia, the last remaining Sister of the Argent Moon, who held vigil in this place awaiting a sign from Chthonia. The rest of her sisterhood was deceased, lost to old age, and only she remained to heed the call of her goddess. She informed the adventurers that they had indeed passed through a gateway between worlds: one she had thought was no longer functioning. They had stepped into a realm called R’Nis, specifically into a particularly notorious locale known as Stonehell. A former prison, one in which she had been incarcerated for her beliefs long ago, the place was now the habitat of all sorts of foul creatures. However, to the party’s fortune, they were on the level closest to the surface and if they just headed [redacted because the players missed this useful piece of information] they’d find the exit.

After learning a few more bits of information such as kobolds were small scaly lizard men who had a market to the east and that they could exit this shrine via a ladder to the west, the party thanked her for her help and promised to return with something she needed—dogs. They wisely didn’t inquire why she needed canines.

Following Klydessia’s instructions, they reached a chamber with both a smaller three-faced statue, a one-way door which couldn’t be opened from within, and an iron ladder ascending 20’ up to a trapdoor. Morg took point on the ladder, followed by Baragkus, Mars, Lyrax, Kyrinn, Anwar, and Fanta.

As the fighter reached the top of the ladder, he could hear the sound of gruff conversation and smelled cooking meat. Pushing the door open carefully, he found it exited underneath a three-walled compartment, one like the underside of a desk or podium. He glimpsed bare wall but could see nothing more. He opened the door some more only to have it knock against one of the desk’s side walls, creating a noise that the occupants of the room detected. Closing the door swiftly, he waited.

The sound of moving furniture, walking feet, and “Is it that bitch, again?” were heard before the trapdoor opened to reveal a lanky, pale figure with a cleaver-like sword in hand staring down at him. Although human, he had a barbaric cast and was dressed in scrounged armor adorned with hooks, barbs, and other bits of nasty metal. His face bore multiple scars and nails pieced his nose and eyebrow. When the figure called out to his unseen companions, Morg decided to seize the initiative and throat punched the guy. I love these players.

This led to a battle that I thought was going to end very poorly for the party. Trapped on a ladder and having to battle their way out from under what turned out to be an altar was bad enough, but then Morg took a wound that dropped him to 2 hit points right off the bat and couldn’t seem to push his opponent out of the way so that the others could exit the shaft and join the fight. There were four more foes in the room and they closed quickly on the fighter.

One of the things I love about the older editions is the round-by-round initiative rules and this was one of those times when the survival of the party came down to whether or not they had the opportunity to act first each round. Luckily, the dice were on their side, and even the fact that the berserkers they were fighting enjoyed a +2 bonus to hit couldn’t make up for their poor attack rolls during the rest of the fight. Mars Markus’ ability to use healing magic also pulled Morg’s bacon out of the fire and, once he was healed and broke the party out into the open to battle, the melee turned in their favor and they soon won the day.

The battle over, the party found themselves in a ruined non-denominational chapel. Policing the corpses of the copper coins that they carried, they were disgusted to find that the dead men’s pouches also contained dried meat of unseemly quality: one piece had a tattoo. A small fire in the corner of the chamber had a human(oid) arm roasting above it and a grisly larder of smoked meat sat nearby. That spurred the party to leave the area and find their way out of this Stonehell place as swiftly as possible.

Unfortunately, as they exited the chapel to find themselves in a north-south corridor, they couldn’t recall which way they were told to go. East sounded likely, so they determined to head that way as soon as they could find a corridor aimed in that direction. But the dungeon seemed to conspire against them, for although they found a few corridors that ran east-west, lowered portcullises impeded their travel everywhere.

Approaching one octagonal chamber guarded by a lowered portcullis, they detected laughing, grunting, and talking in a very inhuman tongue. A cadre of grey-green humanoids, ones that somewhat resembled the Low Men they knew so well, stood in the chamber beyond the lowered gate, their attention focused down another hall from which the sounds of battle emanated.

As the party crept forward, hoping to slip down a southbound passage undetected, one of the creatures looked back to see them slinking down the corridor. Tapping his compatriot on the shoulder, the group of humanoids slowly turned and silently watched the party. The adventurers nodded politely and continued to move towards the side passage. Then, one of the humanoids reached behind his back and began drawing an arrow from the quiver strapped there…

Soon arrows were fly on both sides and the orcs (for that was what they were) split up to flank the party. One arrow caught Kyrinn in the chest, plunging him into unconsciousness and very nearly removing him from the mortal coil entirely. However, Mars stepped up with his last healing scroll in hand and revived the fallen archer.

Morg and Baragkus charged down the southern passage, seeking to stop the orcs from outflanking them, and ambushed them as they came around the corner. They cut down two but a more formidable one, perhaps a patrol leader, fended them off briefly before succumbing to their blades.

Missiles continued to fly back and forth in the hallway to the north and two orcs threw open the portcullis that separated the parties, charging towards the front ranks of the adventurers. The battle turned to a full melee. Sadly, one of the orcs managed a particularly grievous wound on the just-revived Kyrinn and killed him outright (a natural 20 that resulted in 10 points of damage to the 5 hp fighter. Poor Rob wasn’t even at this game session and his character perished. I’m so sorry, man).

In the end, the party triumphed albeit with injuries all around. The decision was made to return back to the chapel to heal and plan their next step, but first the nearest orc bodies needed to be looted. As they stripped the electrum coins from the corpses, the adventurers heard a voice suddenly speak from the darkness behind them, saying, “Well, what do we have here?”

And that’s where we ended it. Stay tuned for the next exciting chapter coming your way in one week’s time.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Tom's Sketchbook: "Science With Domdull"

If you take a look at the PC portraits that accompany most of the character sheet posts, you'll notice that they vary in quality. I think Jack started the trend of everyone drawing a character or symbol in the appropriate record sheet oval no matter how talented (or ill-suited) you were artistically. Thankfully, Tom joined up with the group and has since lent his talents to capturing most of the PCs in a more aesthetically pleasing manner. Not all of his efforts have made it to public view, however. His record folder contains more sketches that he's done during the course of an afternoon's game session so, from time to time, I'll post one here.

Tom plays Fanta and Domdull in the game and has established a certain "George and Lennie" vibe with them. Fanta is the smart, Old Blood wizard and Domdull his mentally deficiant comrade-in-arms. Domdull doesn't let his lack of intellect slow him down and often does his best to be useful to his fellows by providing much needed equipment--even if he doesn't actually possess such objects (like the time he confused a mirror for paper). So, when it came to the need for horses to journey out to the Black Gut, Domdull was on the case.

Company Headquarters

After the party experienced a shortage of inn rooms (and the price hike that accompanied that) during the Festival of Erion, interest was expressed to purchase or rent larger, more permanent quarters. I quoted the players the price of buying a home, which turned them in the direction of leasing one. Thanks to Habdazar's high charisma, they managed to find a good price on a structure that suited their needs: a two story building with at least three-to-five rooms, possibly a stable.

Experience in the Watchfires & Thrones campaign largely comes from treasure and monsters, but I do award bonus points for the occasional great achievement or for contributing material to the overall "shared world" experience. This seemed like a pefect time to introduce one of those opportunities, so I offered a bonus of 200 xps to anyone who came up with an interior map of the new building. Pete showed up with not only a map, but with a drawing that subscribes to the unofficial motto of everyone but Tom in our group of "Any picture's better than no picture!" when it comes to art.

After I gave the players this option in an email, I never heard back from anyone stating that they were wanted to take a shot at it. I therefore assumed it would have to be me to come up with the building's layout. Since I've used fold-up buildings in the past during trips into town, I wanted to find something suitable to depict the former stables that the PCs are now living in. This was the result.

As it stands, the map above is accurate as far as the layout goes, but the exterior looks more like the photos than the drawing. A happy mixture of both player and referee input, which is what every campaign involving a shared world should be.

The Muleskinners: Ahm and Yazil

Ahm (on the left)
0 level human
Alignment: ?

STR: 11
DEX: 12
CON: 4
INT: 12
WIS: 13
CHA: 12

Hit points: 2
Save: NM
Attacks: 1 (camel whip or rock)
Dam: 1d2 or 1d3

Ahm has worked the caravan trail for more that fifty summers and knows the trade route called "The Lizard's Tongue" like the backs of his wrinkled, leather-tough hands. From Qatrata to Dhaah Qal'at to Tarkah to the great city of Alrah, Ahm has traveled the roads many times. He has even been to Saltpool and, on one memorable occasion, Ilkmaar. He's survived sandstorms, desert bandits, and thirst in his travels, and had hoped to retire to a quiet life in a comfortable home, surrounded by many grandchildren. Unfortunately, the one casualty of his many miles on the road was his marriage. He now lives amongst the tents of Rhuun and continues to hire out his services at an age when many of his fellow pack handlers have long since retired.

Fast approaching his seventieth summer, it is unlikely that Ahm has much time left in this world. His body constantly aches and, in the mornings, he regularly coughs up bloody phlegm, leading him to suspect that he has the Wasting Sickness. With his end looming, Ahm seeks to earn the money to buy himself a quality tomb in the Valley of Ghi, the burial grounds of the rich located just outside of Rhuun.

Yazil (on the right)
0 level human
Alignment: ?

STR: 12
DEX: 11
CON: 10
INT: 6
WIS: 13
CHA: 8

Hit points: 4
Save: NM
Attacks: 1 (camel whip or knife)
Dam: 1d2 or 1d3

Yazil learned the caravan trade from Ahm and he couldn't have hoped for a better mentor. In better days, Ahm promised to leave his business to the young man, but after his marriage failed, what regular clients the old man had began to hire less bitter, more agreeable muleskinners. Ahm was forced to start over and, despite Wazil's help, never rebuilt a successful business. Nevertheless, Yazil has remained loyal to his friend and mentor and continues to work for him when the rare business opportunity presents itself.

Yazil is concerned for Ahm's health and has resigned himself that there is nothing to be done for the old man except help him realize his final wish. To this end, Yazil has been squirreling away what coin he can to contribute the old muleskinner's final resting place.

Velma of Isis

Neutral Level 1 Cleric (Isis)
Played by: Dave

STR: 10
DEX: 14 (+1 to missile, -1 to AC, +1 initiative)
CON: 10
INT: 10
WIS: 14 (+1 to all magic saves)
CHA: 8 (+1 reaction, retainers 3, loyalty 6)

Hit Points: 2
Armor Class: 2 (3)

Special Traits/Abilities: Eye for Horseflesh

Weapons: Scimitar, shot bow, whip
Armor: Banded mail & shield
Magic Items: None
Weapon proficiencies: whip; swords, long; bow, short

Spells: 0/-

Objects of questionable value:

Experience: 159 (+5%)
Last Update: 7/04/10

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Watchfires & Thrones: Session #12

The party returned to the surface bearing the blackened corpse of Malbane, sitting down to recuperate and eat before settling in for a night under the desert stars. As the sun began to slip behind the rocky hills and the dun-colored sands started to cool, Yazil, one of the muleskinners, spotted an armored figure approaching from the northeast atop a tired looking mule.

“Ho!” he cried, not knowing how appropriate that call was. “Someone approaches.” He peered into the gathering twilight. His eyebrows arched in surprise. “It’s a woman!”

As the party rose from their cold meal of trail rations, they could see that beneath the banded mail of the stranger were indeed feminine curves. A whip and scimitar hung from her belt and the symbol of Isis, one of the strange deities from the land of Dis, dangled from her neck. Uneasy silence settled over the band until Mars Marcus (done in an apparently uncanny imitation by yours truly) broke the ice by declaring himself and the rest to the new arrival.

Introductions were exchanged and the cleric, as she indeed turned out to be, identified herself as Velma, recently arrived in Rhuun to undergo her term of devotion before being initiated into the inner mysteries of Isis. With the corpse of Malbane cooling on the ground beside them and lacking the presence of Bannath the snake priest in their ranks, the party invited the priestess to join them for the next morning’s sojourn into the Gut. Velma agreed, eyeing Mars Markus with interest.

Perhaps for that reason, the spider cleric announced that the morrow was a minor holiday in the calendar of Mog and he would be required to attend to various prayers and rites during the day that would leave him unable to participate in the excursion. He would be available if magical healing was required, provided the party members could make it back to the surface. Anwar, too, announced he had certain duties to attend to, popping some unknown morsel into his mouth and crunching it beneath his teeth with a satisfied sigh.

The next morning saw the party reentering the dungeon and returning to the intersection near the chamber where the mage met his doom. Heading down a diagonal corridor to the west, they travelled only a short distance before Thud and Baragkus detected the sound of quiet grunts coming from an open chamber ahead. Unfortunately, with only one lit lamp in the party and a dog-leg in the corridor, there was not enough light to see what lay beyond. After a quick rearrangement, the party advanced towards what they suspected was Low Men.

The chamber at the corridor’s end seemed to have once been a bath. Archways divided the room into cells and each held a shallow basin that was now filled with rubble, debris, and dust. A staircase exited the room to the north. The many pillars in the chamber and the gloom that the single lantern failed to disperse hid most of the area, but the fighting men at the vanguard discerned two heads with squinty eyes and slanted brows staring at them from behind one of the pillars. With no command of the Low Men’s rudimentary language of grunts and hoots, Thud and Baragkus approached carefully but non-threateningly. As they did so, the remainder of the party entered the room with the lantern, casting more light upon the chamber. Now, with adequate illumination, they saw another five of the Low Men watching from behind other pillars.

It was too late to back down, so Thud and Baragkus continued to advance, causing the Low Men to grunt and hoot and wave their spears. Not to be outdone, Baragkus and Thud did likewise…which the Low Men took to be a challenge and a melee broke out. However, despite the almost even numbers between combatants, the party cut down the degenerated cavemen in a measly twenty seconds, taking only slight injuries in the process. Amongst the corpse they discovered yet more “caveman cash” (trinkets, shiny stones, etc.) but the leader carried three tourmalines as well. In addition, on a long spit, was the body of a large beetle which seemed to be destined for the Low Men’s cook fire before the PCs interrupted.

After a toss of the room turned up nothing, the party descended the northern stairs, going down two flights of stairs before entering into a long arrow-shaped room. In the gloom, something large and insect-like scuttled away from their lantern, so the adventurers advanced carefully. As they stepped further into the chamber, they saw that the entire northeastern section of the room was covered in a thick layer of a white-amber substance, similar to dried sap or resin. This plastic material encased two large stone pillars in a depth of up to ten feet and choked a corridor that exited through the eastern wall to a similar depth, leaving but three feet of the corridor near the ceiling clear and passable. A third pillar stood just outside the resin and bore a stone hatch set in one side. To the west, another corridor exited the room.

Most disturbing, however, where the half dozen insect creatures that watched them warily, slipping back into the gloom as the party’s light brightened the room. Standing close to 4’ tall, these strange insect-men resembled hissing cockroaches that stood on two legs (and sometimes four) and carried spears and weird-angled crossbows in their chitonous arms.

Both sides paused, evaluating the opposition. The roach-like men huddled just outside of the party’s light with weapons held but not aimed at these intruders from the surface. The party stared at the bug men, unable to fathom their intentions. At last, the decision to slink out the western corridor was agreed upon, but not before Fanta suggested a cunning plan to demonstrate their lack of aggressive motives towards the roach men.

“We cannot speak their language and they undoubtedly do not know ours. But laugher is the universal language understood by all species. Perhaps if we laughed mirthfully as we left this chamber, they will let us pass unhindered,” the Old Blood posited. Doing just that, the party exited the room, keeping a wary eye upon the bug men, who watched them carefully but did not move from their posts.

The corridor T-ed not far from the resin-filled chamber, with both arms heading off into darkness. Choosing the northern arm, the party moved deeper into the Black Gut, only to discover that the passageway wound to the west, and then north, then east before ending in an archway filled with motes of blue light. On the left column of the arch was a slight indentation that depicted two horizontal lines with a diagonal one beneath them. Stones tossed at the glowing barrier revealed it was quite solid and that the glow of the party’s lantern failed to pierce the mystic blockade.

As the point men of the party contemplated this glowing archway, those in the rear were keeping a close eye on the passageway they had just traversed, fearful of an ambuscade from the bug men. Knowing them to avoid light, a torch was placed on the ground at the point where the passage turned from the west back towards the north. All seemed safe until the torch suddenly went out, extinguished by a large glop of sticky, phlegm-like matter which shot out of the darkness behind the intrepid party.

This had to be a prelude to an attack, and the party quickly shuffled ranks to best meet the threat. Sure enough, there was a strange mechanical ratcheting from the darkness and a circular, serrated blade shot towards Morg only to rebound off his hastily raised shield. Thud and Baragkus charged into the darkness in the direction of the attack and the rest of the party followed suit. As the party approached the corridor’s turn to the south, they found four of the roach men crouched with spears and their strange crossbows at the ready.

In the battle, two were taken down by the missiles of Lyrax and Kyrinn, which was enough to break the morale of the two remaining insectoids, who fled back the way they came with the party in close pursuit. As the roaches turned the corner, the party paused, anticipating a trap.

Tactics were hurriedly discussed and the party decided to break both to the east and west as they reentered the hall that led back to the resin room. They anticipated roach men to try and catch them in a pincer move, but when they burst into the corridor, they found that their adversaries where not as adept as they suspected. Although two more of those serrated discs were launched at the party, the front men took the blows and pressed the fight back into the resin room. Once there, the weapons of Thud and Baragkus took down two of the insect men while Lyrax and Kyrinn thinned the rest with their arrows. Moments later, the room was cleared but at the cost of a serious wound to Morg.

The party began policing up the strange crossbows that the roach men had carried, finding them to be complex devices compared to the simple spears the rest of their kind carried. In addition to the crossbows (which Baragkus and Thud commandeered), numerous copper coins were found affixed to the insect men’s abdomens with a sticky spittle. These were pried loose with knives and added to the party’s collected loot.
With the room to themselves, the party set about prying open the stone hatch on the only pillar not embedded in resin. Inside, they found naught but human bones and more of that coral-like substance clinging to the inside walls. What was this stuff?

Since no answers were forthcoming, the party decided to head back west and explore the other arm of the T-intersection. But first, Morg wanted to bind his wounds and raise his spirits with some wine. Unwisely, the party chose the resin room to do this and found themselves again in battle with more of the roach men who emerged from the eastern corridor. Although the battle was quick, it became obvious that they couldn’t stay there.

So of course, they split up, sending one group down the unexplored dark hallway in search of a room with a door they could close to rest behind, while the other members of the party kept the roach men in check. Not the wisest of plans, but who am I to tell them so?

The scouting party learned that the corridor extended quite some distance from the resin room—almost a hundred feet before splitting again. A stairway rose to the west and an open area loomed in the darkness to the north. As they were exploring the passageway, another force of roach men appeared to threaten the other half of the party and was again rebuffed. It was obvious that the roach men had a lair to the east and would continue to emerge unless the party ventured in to clear it out or left the area. Once the scouting party returned with their report, the party chose to return to the surface to heal and plan their next course of action.

As they headed back towards the entrance of the dungeon, they were surprised to discover an ajar secret door in the bath chamber where they had fought the Low Men. Someone or something had ventured this way after they had left. Peering down the corridor that lay behind the door, they saw a Y-shaped intersection with an iron-bound door located in the crotch of the diverging passageways. Although this piqued their interest, they chose to exit the dungeon to heal before coming back to tackle this new portal.

After a cold lunch and some wine to revive their flagging spirits, the party stood before the recently revealed doorway. Both arms of the Y-intersection revealed only more corridor heading off into the gloom so they turned their attentions to the valve. Unlocked and untrapped, the door opened to reveal a long chamber which held nine 5’ square stone plinths set in rows of threes and a mottled red and black glass casket at the far end of the room. A crystal glyph lay set into the top of each plinth and lit up whenever something or someone passed over it. Tests revealed that only three would light at a time, a fact which had the party suspecting this might be a cipher system that kept the glass casket sealed since their efforts to pry open that container had failed. Anticipating disaster, most of the party fled the room while three brave souls remained behind to try and solve the cipher of the plinths.

Surprisingly, it was Domdull who chanced upon the proper pattern of glyphs and the casket unlatched with a “click” (I’ll go into deeper detail about the glyph puzzle in another post because it’s an interesting one and deserves more time than I can devote to it now). The three stalwarts approached the casket and opened its lid. Inside, they delighted to see thousands of copper and silver coins and a vial of some sort contained within.

This seemed to be a nice way to end a game session, so that’s where we left it. We’ll pick it up again the Sunday after Independence Day.