Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Watchfires & Thrones Session #45

After an almost four month recess, the players gathered around the table to explore the depths of Stonehell Dungeon once again, but first there was some old business to attend to.

Aieglos and Anwar had completed their training and were looking to occupy the time until the rest of the party returned from their trip upriver to destroy the last vestiges of the Hobgoblin armies. Having been gone just over a week, their absence was not yet cause for alarm. However, Templeton Naz, the proprietor of the Mad Manor was beginning to hint rather strongly that someone needed to take care of the putrefying corpse of Rondo Fleagle that remained in the boarding house’s cold storage space. As the party had sworn to return the dead dwarf to his former home of Dro-baan Khaz, Aieglos and Anwar arranged to join a caravan heading towards the heart of the dwarven kingdom. After three days of travel and a few minor encounters (boulder-hurling apes in the mountain passes and a giant gar that ate one of the caravan’s mounts as they crossed a river), the duo arrived in the subterranean mountain city of Dro-baan Khaz.

Upon their arrival, they sought assistance in what to do with Rondo’s body and were put into contact with one of the dwarven heralds to ascertain what Vein the slain mercenary belonged to. That’s when difficulties arose. Fleagle is not a dwarven name and there was no record of lineage existing for him. It was only when the coffin was open and the herald glimpsed the rotting face within that the reality of the situation became apparent. A look of shock burst upon the herald’s face and Aieglos and Anwar found themselves ushered into an out of the way chamber while a great commotion occurred outside. Several hours passed and there was still no sign of the clamor dying down. Finally, the two were sent for and a quartet of dour-faced dwarven soldiers escorted them out of the room and deep into the inner halls of the dwarven city. As they traveled, they noticed the same sad faces and black mourning bands strapped across shields. It was only when they found themselves escorted before King Tobben of the Underhalls that they learned the truth of what had occurred.

“Rondo Fleagle” was actually Randle Flowstone, the king’s second son. Years ago, an argument between the two led to Randle being declared a “mortdwerg” which effectively made him dead in the eyes of his father. Randle left the city, assumed another name, and sought to prove to his stubborn father that the surface races were worthy of the trust of the dwarves and that without dealings with them, the dwarves of the Kinan-M’Nath would continue to stagnate and die. Randle was a well-liked prince and his ostracism was a great travesty to most of the residents of the city. With his body returned and now no hope of reconciliation with his father, the entire city of Dro-baan Khaz was in mourning.

Once appraised of the situation, Anwar and Aieglos had a quick pow-wow and produced the resurrection ruby they had claimed weeks ago. Informing the king of its power, the duo summoned the great dwarven clerics and proceeded to place the gem upon Randle’s dead chest. Moments later, the magic of the gem came to life, the stone shattered, and Randle Flowstone was once again amongst the living.

Rejoicing at the return of their prince, the two found themselves honored guests of Dro-baan Khaz and feted for several days. They had earned a place of respect amongst the dwarves and were welcome to return at any time. Randle announced he would remain with his people to try and open their eyes as to what their role in the future of the Kinan-M’Nath would be and to reacquaint himself with his position and with his father. As a gesture of thanks for returning his son to a stubborn old king, the two were gifted the Ring of the Hastanes, a magical ring entrusted to the dwarves when the Hastane line vanished 500 years ago. Its powers were unknown since no wizards existed amongst the dwarves, but clerical magic had determined that it bore a powerful magical aura. Taking the ring, the two returned to Blackpool to see if their comrades had returned from their mission upriver.

Back in Blackpool, they were dismayed to learn their friends were overdue. Reports from the Warden Rangers confirmed that the hobgoblin and goblin forces had been routed and were slinking back to their caves. Kaldar had returned and told of the rest of the party entering a crumbling monastery on the western bank of the river while he kept watch on a prisoner outside. When two days had passed and the river boat, the Otter, was due back at Fort Wolf’s Head, Kaldar returned to the river and caught the ship back to Blackpool to report. Anwar and Aieglos decided that if no word was heard in the next week, a rescue mission would be arranged and they would head upriver to discover what happened to their allies.

In the meantime, their coffers would need replenishing and they turned their sights back on Stonehell. With many of their numbers training or missing, the two decided to recruit some fresh members and hire on more mercenaries. Two new candidates for membership were found in the Mad Manor: a dwarf named Helgsvar Dragonsbane and a human cleric with the unlikely name of Chuck of Amencia. With stalwarts Dirk Sodbuster and Rolf Sheepminder once again on the payroll, the group headed back to Stonehell intent on exploring the southeastern portion of the uppermost level. It was not to be.

Entering the dungeon without incident, they unrolled their map and ventured off towards the route that would take them around the pit trap that had annoyed them for so many weeks. Almost immediately they discovered that changes had occurred to the dungeon in their absence. The “voice room”—the chamber where a ghostly voice and a rush of wind calls out strange portents—had acquired a short flight of stairs that ended in a pillar of fire. The flames seemed real, cooking rations thrown into it, and leaving the party uncertain as to what this mysterious new addition meant. Deciding to leave it alone for the time being, they headed to the west, passing the fountain room and the catacombs that lead to the skull shrine.

Arriving in a room where they once battled centipedes, they discovered a door in the west wall where none had stood before. Also, the southern corridor out of the chamber had acquired a mysterious western turn. Deciding against venturing into new territory before they got their bearings, the band headed north.

The corridor headed straight as far as even infravision could see, but at least two doors and a side passage were visible along its length. Venturing down it, the party bypassed the side corridor (but noticed a door on its north wall), and pressed on towards where Helgsvar’s infravision had detected a series of niches in the wall just past a door on the eastern wall. Helgsvar forged ahead to investigate the cavities, and after finding them empty, called the rest of the party forward.

As they did so, a secret passage opened in the eastern wall and three of Stonehell’s berserk deviants poured at to attack the party. Two charged poor Dirk and Rolf while the third advanced on Chuck. Simultaneously, another seven emerged from the door in the side passage to attack the party from the rear. Chuck and his pet dog were slain moments after the ambush began, but Rolf and Dirk held their ground long enough for Aieglos’ arrows and Anwar’s sleep spell to cripple the berserkers and allow the party to carry the day.

The threat neutralized, they party entered the secret chamber to the east and found a guard room and pantry. Several fresh humanoid corpses hung from the ceiling, and one was found to be extremely fresh—still alive! They cut down the meal-to-be and met Felix Fartouch, a human archer that had been destined for the stewpot until the adventurers came along. They welcomed Felix to their ranks and scooped up a dozen copper trinkets they discovered under a pile of cleaned skulls.

Deciding that south might prove better than the north did, the party stopped to see what the room the rest of the berserkers had emerged from contained and found it to be a general quarters. A chest inside the room contained several hundred silver coins, but also a needle trap that Helgsvar barely avoided.

Back in the southern chamber, they entered the mysterious new door to discover a room filled with empty old barrels. Helgsvar entered and began pounding on barrels, stirring up a quartet of centipedes as he did so. He fled from the room, but Anwar smelled treasure and the party cautiously reentered some minutes later. They searched the room, defeated the centipedes, and Aieglos’ elven eyes discovered a loose flagstone that held three ruined leather sacks holding one hundred gold coins apiece! A mighty haul, indeed.

Feeling better about the changes to the dungeon, the party took the southern passage and found it almost immediately debouched into a bare room. Only a layer of purple powder covered the floor, and this was highly suspect. Sure enough, Helgsvar prodded the dust with a 10’ pole and it erupted into a gaseous cloud that he barely avoided. Poison was the likeliest result from breathing it. Anwar decided to try and burn the dust with torches, but his attempts to throw them around the bend in the corridor produced laughable results. The party was just about to attempt to wet the powder down when Aieglos noticed a glow coming down the hall from the fountain room.

A wandering fire beetle was out scavenging for food and with memories of the carnage the beasts had caused them in the Quiet Halls, the party wasted no time in attacking. Unfortunately, their assault did little to penetrate the carapace of the beetle and it was soon upon them. Helgsvar took a grievous wound and Rolf and Dirk exhibited great battle acumen before the beetle was finally slain.

The party decided that enough was enough and they’d go back across the damned pit again to get south. When they reached the corridor on the far side of the pit, however, they discovered that the corridor no longer ran south. Frustrated, they speculated that the catacombs and skull shrine might now contain a southern route, but headed to the Wheel of Fortune first. The door to the Wheel room was unusually stubborn, and when Helgsvar yanked hard on the door, a pit opened beneath them, dropping Felix and Helgsvar (Aieglos played an avoid taps card to escape the pit) into a 10’ shaft. Injured, but not slain, the party recovered their own and took a wine break.

With their wounds bandaged and their spirits restored, the party returned to the catacombs and stood before the massive stone double doors…and found them locked. Suddenly recalling that they had picked the lock the last time they explored this section of the dungeon, Anwar produced a magical scroll. Reading it aloud, the words ignited a blue fire that limned the portals. With a groan, they swung open and the party entered cautiously. All the crypt doors along the corridor were closed, so the band moved swiftly to the door at the far end that would lead them to the skull chapel. Passing through, they found the shrine empty and left Rolf and Dirk to watch the doors as they began searching for secret egresses.

Their hard work discovered a secret panel in the eastern wall, but it unfortunately did not lead deeper into the dungeon and instead concealed a small cavity that held old clerical robes and a large coffer. The party hemmed and hawed over the coffer until Felix lost his patience and opened the container with a flick of the wrist—and promptly died from the poison needle that protected it. The rest of the party found several thousand silver, some small pieces of jewelry, and two potions.

As they began to pack the treasure, a light appeared behind them and they turned to meet a human dressed in leather armor. Introducing himself as Gustaf Bickers, he claimed to be a “procurement specialist” that had been planning on breaking into these catacombs for weeks, only to find them open after he bought a skeleton key from a shifty character to bypass the lock. The party apologized and offered him a position with them since they now had an opening. Gustaf accepted.

Still unable to head south, the band decided to check every crypt along the entrance to see if a new door had appeared in them or if they held a secret portal they had missed. One by one, the party threw open the doors to find many of the crypts empty. One held four skeletons that the party quickly dispatched, finding a potion of flying for their troubles; another held a swarm of giant rats that almost overwhelmed the party. In the end, the rats were slain and a scroll of magic missiles was found in their nest, but not before poor Gustav was bitten and contracted the Sumatran Flu. Taking this as an omen, the party left Stonehell to return another day.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Gustaf Bickers

Level 1 Human "Procurement Specialist"
Played by: Mark

STR: 9
DEX: 15 (-1 AC, +1 missile, +1 initiative)
CON: 12
INT: 9
WIS: 8 (+1 save vs. spells)
CHA: 7 (+1 reaction)

Hit Points: 4
Armor Class: 6 (7 surprised)

Special Traits/Abilities: Pick Locks 17%, F/R Traps 14%, Pick Pockets 23%, Move Silently 23%, Climb Walls 87%, Hide in Shadows 13%, Hear Noise 2/6, Backstab (+4, x2 damage)

Languages: Common, Thieves Cant

Weapons: Short bow, short sword, dagger
Armor: Studded leather armor
Magic Items: potion of healing
Objects of questionable value: Thieves tools

Experience: 961 (+5%)
Last Update: 08/21/11

Helgsvar Dragonbane

Neutral Level 1 Dwarf
Played by: Kurt

STR: 17 (+2 to hit, damage, open doors)
DEX: 11
CON: 9
INT: 14 (+1 languages)
WIS: 15 (+1 to save vs. magic)
CHA: 5 (+1 reaction)

Hit Points: 5
Armor Class: 4/3

Special Traits/Abilities: Infravision 60', detect traps, false walls, hidden construction, and sloped passages 2/6. Natural linguist

Languages: Common, Dwarven, Gobbelty, Gnome, Kobold, Hobgoblin, Ogre

Weapons: Longsword, throwing axe
Armor: Splint mail & shield
Magic Items: potion of healing(x2)
Objects of questionable value: None

Experience: 1,008 (+10%)
Last Update: 08/21/11

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Watchfires & Thrones Session #44

[Cue flashback music]

On the late morning of the 25th of The Bloom, a few short days after the stalwart members of the Society of Plane-Walkers departed Blackpool to confront and defeat the hobgoblin menace, a party of would-be adventurers arrived at the end of the Last Hard Road and entered the frontier town. This cadre of fortune hunters had journeyed to the Kinan-M’Nath from the quiet horse town of Shy Kimoor, some few days’ travel to the east. Drawn by the legends of Stonehell, the party was a most unusual mix of men and not-men.

Amongst the unnamed group’s ranks were Clausius Clapeyron, a dwarf and former brewer’s assistant renowned for his constant state of intoxication; Lordarain Brigmore, a cleric of Father Moon and former merchant; Sir Octo Puss III, a disowned octopus noble fallen on hard times; Ronald Crump, entrepreneur and magic-user; Tarfuhl, a Hurg and former military officer; and Trevor, outlaw magic-user. Having heard of the fantastic wealth that lay inside the former prison for the taking, the six had come in search of their own share of treasure. But first, they decided that stout men-at-arms were needed to help ensure their survival in the dungeon’s depths.

Directions from the local constabulary led them to the Dead Dragon Inn, the sole traveler’s rest house in town. Inside the common room, the group encountered a quartet of idle caravan guards and a much-maimed and cantankerous former dungeon delver. The latter was an abusive, if not completely unhelpful advisor and the former became hired hands in the party’s first foray into the dungeon. With little time to waste and plans to come back rich by sundown, the group, now assisted by Ivan, Merk, Chogah, and Lou (the men-at-arms), set off for the famous death trap.

The group arrived without incident, pausing to decipher some of the faded graffiti scrawled on the crumbling gatehouse wall. One phrase spoke of gold nuggets the size of apples beyond the Living Caves, and it was upon this obscure clue that the band set their sights. The party, throwing caution to the wind, strode brazenly through the gatehouse’s underpass, but Ronald Crump halted the back two ranks of the company in mid-stride to see if fatalities befell the rest of the group as they passed the murder holes and arrow slits. This action was noticed and unappreciated by those put in harm’s way. Apologies were made and the group continued into the box canyon.

Ignoring the ruins and caves of the canyon, the party followed the largest grouping of tracks directly to the dungeon’s entrance. Lighting torches and assembling with men-at-arms at front and rear, they descended down the long, winding stairs to arrive in the dungeon’s “H Room.” The eastern door proved stubborn to open, so the band made their way through the ogre arch and down the northern passage (after taking the map away from the perpetually drunk and Wisdom of 3 dwarf fighter).

A stout door stood past the archway and the band gathered about it in preparation for their first big score. Pulling the door open, they discovered a sunken floor and an atmosphere stinking of sulfur. In the center of the depression stood an intricately wrought brazier from which a score of 4” long frogs were leaping forth to cavort about the floor. This odd enough phenomenon was made odder still by the fact that each frog (and the brazier itself) burned with purple flames!

Clausius and Sir Octo entered the room. Clausius, without a beat, whirled his flail down on the closet frog, causing it to explode in a blast of fire, killing the animal and setting his own clothes afire. Sir Octo watched as four of the closest frogs turned their attentions on the burning dwarf and launched themselves at the drunken warrior. In seconds, Clausius was dead and burning brightly on the dungeon floor. The campaign had a new record for shortest-lived PC, a title former held by Pip Haggleham. Attempts were made to draw the frogs away from the burning dwarf (so that his gear might be scavenged) with a torch, but the fiery frogs had no interest in normal orange-red flames. The party closed the door and continued north.

Passing a wide corridor with bridge-like overpasses and avoiding a door that sounded of rats, the party reached a T-intersection and proceeded left. They swiftly came across a square chamber adorned with carvings of human faces, their mouths open wide. Attempts to cross the room revealed that the floor was pressure sensitive, firing darts at those who mis-stepped on its cracked surface. After half the party had made it across (and killed a spitting cobra attracted by their hot torches), the rest of the band learned that they could cross unscathed by climbing the carved faces and the room was safely bypassed.

Only a short distance beyond was another square room—this one adorned with large eyes carved in the walls. Sir Octo, using his natural climbing skills, hauled his body up one wall and across the ceiling to scout ahead. The rest of the group crossed with caution and were either extremely lucky or the room was untrapped—there were no injuries this time.

Weird Stonehell Hologram Beyond the eye room, the corridor turned south and was marked by eight small niches, each large enough to hold a decorative bust. The sixth niche seemed to hold one such carving: the head of a human male with oddly-upswept hair and wearing a cape some two-hundred years out of fashion. The party attempted to collect this piece and discovered that it was a hologram. No other signs of secret doors, hidden mirrors, or out of place details could be found. A mystery, indeed. Perhaps it points to other secrets waiting to be found.

The party continued on, forgetting to probe their way with 10’ pole. This meant that both Ivan and Sir Octo blundered into the trap waiting for them. With an explosion of white, glaring light, the duo found themselves adorned with thousands of pieces of glowing glitter, each of which provided ample illumination to nullify any chance of them sneaking about in the dark dungeon. To complicate matters, as the two walked, unearthly music arose from no visible source to accompany their movements:

The two had become walking dinner bells.

Attempts to wash the glitter off with water proved futile, but the band discovered a small storage room not far from the site of the trap. This chamber held the accumulated detritus of a hundred failed adventuring bands, most of which had deteriorated in the dank dungeon environment. The party decided to hole up, search the room, and see if the dinner bell trap would wear off.

The party passed the time digging through the ruined equipment, finding several useful items—bolts and arrows, torches, a ladder, iron spikes, a shovel, a crowbar, and vials of oil. Amongst this mundane gear were two small glass vials holding red and green liquids. The party paused to experiment and learned two things: 1) the glowing glitter was oil-solvable and the two afflicted members were cleansed of their musical decorations, and 2) the red and green liquids were both deadly poisons. Alas, this lesson was learned when Ronald Crump and Sir Octo Pus III sampled from the bottles. Both died in agony.

With half the party dead (and the referee’s sore back causing him much pain), the party exited the dungeon—weighted down with the wealth of their slain comrades—to try their luck another day.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


Lawful Level 1 Hurg
Played by: Pete

STR: 16 (+2 to attack, damage, and open doors)
DEX: 11
CON: 16 (+2 hp)
INT: 10
WIS: 9
CHA: 12

Hit Points: 10
Armor Class: 6

Special Traits/Abilities: None

Languages: Common, Hirgish, Elven

Weapons: Two-handed sword, light crossbow
Armor: None
Magic Items: None

Objects of questionable value: Instant Hurg tent kit

Experience: 617 (+10%)
Last Update: 5/08/11


Neutral Level 1 Fighter
Played by: Jack

STR: 12
DEX: 7 (-1 to missiles/intiative, +1 to AC)
CON: 10
INT: 11
WIS: 6 (-2 save vs. spells)
CHA: 15 (-1 reaction)

Hit Points: 6
Armor Class: 6

Special Traits/Abilities: None

Languages: Common

Weapons: Long sword, shortbow
Armor: Scale mail & shield
Magic Items: None

Objects of questionable value:

Experience: 107
Last Update: 5/5/11


Neutral Level 1 Magic-user
Played by: Jud

STR: 7 (-1 to attack, damage, and open doors)
DEX: 8 (+1 to A.C./inititative, -1 to missile)
CON: 12
INT: 16 (+2 languages)
WIS: 8 (-1 save vs. spells)
CHA: 11

Hit Points: 11
Armor Class: 5

Special Traits/Abilities: None

Languages: Common, Anatic, Elven

Weapons: Daggers x2, silver dagger
Armor: Fine silk robe
Magic Items: None

Spellbook: Charm person, magic missile, read magic, sleep, continual light, locate object

Objects of questionable value:

Experience: 117 (+10%)
Last Update: 5/9/11

Lordarain Brigmore

Lawful Level 1 Cleric of Iaestis, Father Moon
Played by: Matt

STR: 12
DEX: 10
CON: 11
INT: 6
WIS: 11
CHA: 16 (-1 reaction)

Hit Points: 2
Armor Class: 3 (4 w/o shield)

Special Traits/Abilities: Natural climber (87% chance to climb walls)

Languages: Common, High Vertias

Weapons: Mace
Armor: Slpint & Shield
Magic Items: None

Objects of questionable value:

Experience: 106
Last Update: 5/8/11

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Howling Wilderness Map

Now that the party's adventures in the distant North have come to a fiery conclusion, resulting in their map becoming a gentle rain of ash in a dragon's lair, I thought I post my surviving copy as a reminder of all the fun we had under Hob's Hill.

That sound is my players lighting torches, sharpening pitchforks, and howling for my blood.

Next week: It's new 1st level characters back in Stonehell. The dungeon has some surprises in store for these hungry young adventurers. I can't wait to see what we come up with this time around (other than the octopus that is).

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Watchfires & Thrones Session #43

After their brief but ferocious encounter with the giant killer shrews, the party headed south down a newly discovered tunnel. Before long, the fetid smell of mold and large carnivore was detected in the air, under which was the scent of fresh water, and Grumble and Kejair, as the demi-humans of the party were sent ahead to scout. The party had come to believe that water would lead them out of the caves underneath Hob’s Hill and were now dedicated to finding that precious liquid.

Grumble and Kejair progressed a short distance before coming to a cave, one which seemed to have a small grotto located behind it. The smell was thicker here and the duo crossed the cave cautiously towards the smaller opening. Their progress was halted by the snuffling, growling hulk of an owlbear who emerged from the cave and hooted at them menacingly. The two turned and ran; the owlbear dropping to all fours in pursuit. As the dwarf and elf reached the party, the owlbear’s claws tore apart Kejair, splattering the walls of the tunnel with gore.

The owlbear was a tough opponent, but volleys of arrows and the fact that it could not connect with both its claws to rend the party to pieces led to its ultimate defeat. The party returned to its lair and found a small clean pool of water inside, the source of the smell they had detected, but not a way out. Taking a new path, the party found themselves once again near the throne room of King Don III and decided not to deal with his madness again unless absolutely necessary. They returned to the octagonal entry chamber to pursue one of the few remaining paths left open to them.

This tunnel brought them south, past were a side passage branched off from the main path. The party trudged along, intending to continue down the main thoroughfare when a translucent pseudopod emerged to swipe at Baragkus. The blow missed, but a large cubic form followed close behind, threatening to envelop the entire party. Gelatinous cube!

The band turned and fled, but poor Baragkus was overtaken by the cube and devoured. Hoping to retrieve his corpse before it was completely dissolved so as to raise him from the dead, the party turned to battle the beast. Axe blows, arrows, and a finely time flask of oil and thrown torch defeated the beast, allowing the party to recovered the fighting man’s body and collect a score or two of gold coins. Hardly an equal trade.

Now burdened with Baragkus’ body, the party turned down the side tunnel and again detected the smell of water, although this time it bore a slightly sulfurous taint. In a small cave adjacent to the passage the party discovered a mineral laden pool of water, which again provided no egress from the caves. Continuing along, they became excited to see a doorway ahead of them, the first they had encountered outside the eight that stood in the octagonal chamber. After examining the door, the party opened it and almost began to cry.

It was an octagonal chamber.

Luckily, the party noticed that this one lacked the “N” they had inscribed on the northernmost door way in the first octagonal room they had found themselves in. This led them to suspect they had either encountered a second such chamber or that the door had been replaced in their absence. Either was a likely scenario at this point. They sat scrutinizing Mars’ map and concluded that unless there had been grievous errors, they had indeed found a second chamber.

Deciding to finish their explorations before tackling a new batch of doors, the party headed towards the main tunnel, only to hear the heavy sounds of footfalls. They ran into the two ogres they had previously encountered, who expressed their distress of coming to watch over them only to find them gone after their initial encounter. The party explained that they had gotten lost and the ogres offered to lead them back, but the party dismissed the help. The ogres shrugged, filled their waterskins from the sulfurous water of the cave, and departed.

The party took a left at the side tunnel-main tunnel junction and found that the main tunnel terminated in a dead end, exactly as the ogres had told them it would. Some poking around revealed another false wall, one that led back into the grotto that held the slain wizard and the treasure trove. The party decided to rest again in this sanctuary before exploring the doors in the second octagonal room and rested without incident.

Healed and prepared for new challenges, the party ventured back to the octagonal chamber, encountering a quartet of flying piranha birds as they went. After dispatching the avian killers, the party found that the door to the chamber was open, as were three of the doors within. From one came the smell of water and the sound of churning rapids. Could it be?

Yes, it could. The party found themselves on a rocky beach, a roiling subterranean river heading to the east away from the labyrinth of caverns. Knowing the river they had crossed to reach the hill lay in that direction, the party followed a narrow rocky ledge that abutted the water and came across another rocky beach and wide tunnel some 500 feet down the watercourse. They ventured into the tunnel with both caution and exasperation. Would this underground hell never end?

Taking one of the tunnel’s forks by whim, the party headed on an east and southern route that took them to the site of a large rock fall. The tunnel continued on at the top of the rocky incline and the fall appeared to be relatively stable and climbable. Seeing as up was the direction they wished to go, the band elected Gareth to scale the slope first and the dwarf began his ascent.

Halfway up the slope, a giant rattler was disturbed by the climber and struck out at the dwarf. With no weapon at hand and poison fangs in his face, Gareth threw himself back and into the air, tumbling down the slope and damaging himself in the fall. The great snake advanced on the party, slithering down the rocky course, but was slain by arrows and daggers before it got close enough to strike. The snake dead, the party scaled the slope without incident and continued along the tunnel that awaited them at its apex.

As the group followed this new tunnel, exhaustion had taken its toll on their senses and they were surprised by an old and hated foe: the crab spider. Dropping from the ceiling above into their very midst, the arachnid sank its fangs into Grumble, pumping poison into the wrestler’s bloodstream. A blown saving throw later, the dwarf lay dead on the ground and a potion of human control in his gut, the last ditch effort of pouring unidentified potions into a dying party member having failed a second time.

Now down another fighter (and burdened by his corpse as well as Baragkus’), the party continued down the passage, praying for the sight of daylight. They instead found a large cavern occupied by the motionless forms of two large iguana-like lizards. The reptiles lay stretched out; their eye shut tight, and taking no notice of the party. So the adventures naturally decided to kill them.

To do so, Korlack drank a potion of invisibility and his elven cloak was given to Cullen. The plan was to sneak up to the lizards and stab them in their sleep. The two crept forward (assumingly) and Korlack plunged his dagger into the slumbering lizard, which immediately awoke and was peppered by arrows. As each struck, the beast’s back grew redder and redder and waves of heat flowed off the animal. One last arrow struck home and the lizard died, expelling a blast of fiery breath into the air as it collapsed onto the ground.

That’s when the party noticed that the second lizard remained unmoving. “Cullen,” they called out, but not reply came. That sonofabitch! He had taken the cloak and snuck off, obviously thinking that he had a better chance of getting out of this place alone with a magical cloak than with these trouble magnets. Oh, the party was pissed.

At the far end of the lizard cave stood a stone, slab-like door, which the party pried open despite its great weight. In the small cave beyond it lay a decrepit living quarters. A skeleton dressed in plate armor lay slumped on a creaking chair, a longsword near it bony hand. A quiver of five arrows hung on its back and a broken longbow lay under an ancient table. The party helped themselves to armor, arrows, and sword and continued to search the room, finding a secret door in one wall. This led to a narrow, slightly upward heading passage that ended in a blank wall. Further searching found the secret door at this dead end, and the concealed portal was opened to reveal an awesome sight beyond it.

A great cavern stretched out before the party. At the far end was a wide tunnel from which the dim light of the surface world shone. At long last the exit had been found! One problem: Between them and the exit lay the great form of a red dragon!!!

The party returned to the skeleton’s room and planned their egress as best as they could. It was decided that Mars Markus would cloak them all in a silence spell to cover their crossing. Marlowe would bear the magical arms they had found and equip himself with one of the rings of fire resistance. If all turned bad, Marlowe would try and fight the beast while the others ran with their slain comrades, hopefully buying them time to escape. The party rested fitfully and then prepared. Slinking back up the tunnel, they entered the cavern.

The party followed the southern wall, slipping past the dragon’s body until they reached the midway point of the cavern. That’s when the dragon’s head rose, its neck pivoting to place the party directly in the wyrm’s line of sight…and more importantly, breath.

The dragon inquired as to whom was sneaking into his home and the party was forced to try and talk their way out of their dire predicament. Shedding the silence spell since it no longer did them any good, the band began to tell the dragon their story—their arrival in this world, their exploits in Stonehell, their involvement in the Hobgoblin War—anything to keep the beast’s attention and win mercy from it.

As Mars recounted their tale, the dragon listened with interest at first, but as the story dragged on, it became less entertained and began to drum its talons impatiently. The party pressed on, hoping for a streak of luck that would save them. The dragon, eventually deciding that these interlopers needed a reminder of the prowess of its kind, shifted its great bulk, inhaled, and incinerated the party.

Watchfires & Thrones Session #42

Baragkus, Grumble, Marlowe, Lyrax, and Kejair tumbled down a long, twisting slope, their bodies battered by the stone walls and floor of the slide. Their descent ended abruptly when they fell through a hinged door to land on the floor of an octagonal room shrouded in darkness. As they collected themselves and nursed their new bruises, Grumble and Kejair were able to determine that the chamber they now resided in contained a series of eight identical doors, one set in each wall. The party began to kindle a light so that its human contingent could see as well.

Meanwhile, back above, Mars, Korlack, and the rest began to plan how to extradite their compatriots from the shaft. From the faintness of their voices, it seemed as if the unlucky adventurers had tumbled hundreds of feet and the boys upstairs had a mere 50’ or so of cord amongst them. They decided that they needed to cross the 20’ wide chute mouth and reach the hobgoblin storeroom they had discovered earlier. At least 700’ of stout hemp rope awaited them there.

The upstairs group managed to string a line across the open chute mouth and started crossing over. Mars, Fisk, Cleopos, and Cullen had reached the far side when a trio of bugbears appeared from out of the gloom and charged down the corridor. Fisk and Mars did their best to defeat the hulky brutes, but Mars was knocked to the ground and wounds began to accumulate. Rather than perish, Mars dove into the chute, followed swiftly by the other three, leaving just Korlack and Gareth in the hallway—but on the far side of the cute from the bugbear menaces.

While this pitched combat was taking place, the boys down below had managed to get a torch going and started to examine the chamber in more detail. Their search was interrupted by two pale, wild-eyed madmen who charged into the room from one of its many doors and attacked the newcomers, jabbering gibberish and frothing spittle. The fight was brief, but painful for the party who found themselves nursing new wounds on top of their recent bruises.

The downstairs group proceeded to examine all the doors, opening each in turn to see what lay beyond them. Each stretched off into darkness: long twisting tunnels that vanished into the gloom without a clue of where they may lead. Grumble and Kejair took the chance at venturing down one to scout ahead and discovered it eventually lead to a large cave; one that their infravision determined was occupied by at least three dog-sized heat sources. They retreated back to the octagonal chamber just in time to witness Mars Markus, Fisk, Cleopos, and Cullen come crashing down the chute to join them.

Upstairs, Korlack and Gareth watched as the bugbears slinked away into the gloom and were forced to decide whether to join their companions or continue with the rescue effort. This debate was interrupted by the sound of large, running feet that herald the charge of the largest of the bugbears attempting the leap the chute and slay the two remaining interlopers. The hulking beast launched itself into the air, broadsword held high to chop down its first victim—only to miss the far end of the chute’s open mouth by three feet. Tumbling, ass over teakettle, the bugbear disappeared out of sight down the slide. Fearing this to be the first of such assaults, Korlack and Gareth sighed, pulled out the mage’s bedroll and proceeded to use it as a sled as they too entered the chute to rejoin their companions.

The party below was busy watching the doors for danger when one dropped right into their midst. The bugbear surprised all of them, but was too stunned to take advantage of his literal drop on them. Getting to its feet, it was quickly engaged by the rest of the band, dying under their blows as Korlack and Gareth came sliding into the room to reunite the party once again.

Battered, lost, and uncertain of their next step, the party chose to drink wine and bind their wounds as they planned. This rest was unfortunately interrupted by two more subterranean madmen charging into the room via the door closest to Fisk, making the much wounded hired sword their first target. Their hacking attacks were more than enough to slay the injured fighter and the party suffered their first death beneath Hob’s Hill. It would not be their last.

The party was able to defeat the two madmen in the moments afterward, but they had lost a valuable ally and were still horribly injured, tired, and desperate so they again chose to take time to bind their wounds and recoup. THIS rest was interrupted by the tramp of heavy boot steps and yet another door opened to reveal TWO ogres!

Marlowe stepped to forefront and engaged the ogres in conversation using their own tongue, an effort the giants appreciated. They revealed that they had fallen down the very same chute some time ago and were currently working for King Don III, the lord of the Underworld. They were in fact on their way to report to him right then and the party could follow them if they wished. Suspicious, but with no better options, the party joined the ogres.

Through another door and down a new tunnel, the party was brought into the audience chamber of King Don III, a pale and obviously insane potentate who sat upon a stone chair and wrapped himself in an unraveling purple rug. The party tried to gain assistance from the so-called king, but they were unable to decipher his twisted thought process and treaded very close to outright treason to the king’s thinking. He offered to allow them to rest in the octagonal chamber with the ogres as watchmen and told the party to go back to that place and await the return of the two hulking brutes. King Don III had to speak with the ogres first…

Suspecting their doom was being plotted, the party returned to the octagonal room and departed immediately after leaving Fisk’s body in the center of the room and an “N” inscribed on the northernmost door. In the hours ahead, the party would wind their way through several corridors, finding nothing but empty caves, bugbears who were willing to fight them to the death over the ownership of their pants, and a dead-end cave where ghouls were dining on the (later revealed) corpse of Fisk. All these passages eventually lead back to the octagonal room!

A side note: Jack, the player who runs Mars Markus and Anwar, loves to map out any and every subterranean space the party explores, sometime to the point of distraction. One of the reasons I decided to run Horror on the Hill (which is the basis of this part of the campaign) was because this part of it is a twisting labyrinth designed to make mappers crazy. All my directions and descriptions were vague and rapid-fire, leaving poor Jack to try and keep up with my narration of the labyrinth. At one point the rest of the group was in hysterics at Jack’s frantic effort to draw my verbal account of the dungeon. Some swear steam was actually seen rising from his ears.

The party’s exploratory efforts were finally rewarded when they discovered a dead-end tunnel, one that appeared a little too dead-end if you catch my drift. Sure enough, Grumble’s inspection of the stone revealed a false wall and the almost empty cave beyond it. In this obviously undisturbed grotto lay a long-dead wizard clutching a spellbook and bag. A page of the spellbook contained his last message to the world:

6th Day of The Blaze, 1098 GCR

To think that it ends this way: Prydaree Kuhlth, Master of Wands and Agent of the Cerulean Flame, perishes in a gods’ forsaken cave beneath the site of his greatest victory. Should anyone find my missive, please let it be known that I was successful in my task and bury me where I shall not be found and my grave remain unriled.

Four days ago, I was summoned into the presence of His Exalted Supremacy,Draz Stephan Hastane and tasked with a great service to the empire: the recovery of the Hypnopsychomachina. This device, a creation of His Supremacy’s debased but genius sister, Isodore, had fallen into the possession of the Whelps of Tsathoggua and was spirited away to their noxious fane in the hinterlands of the Empire. With the Retreat to occur in less than three faces, it was imperative that the device be recovered before the Hastane dynastic line vacated this mortal realm for good. As the most trusted agent of the Imperial Secret Watch, it fell to me to recover it.

The journey northeast into the Howling Wilderness took but hours with the Modi Goats and I located the profane temple in short order. With no time or desire for subtlety, lightning was my harbinger and the lower initiates of the Great Sloth-Bat fell twitching before my assault. Their faith was no match for my spells and I hewed them down like wheat before the whirlwind.

Locating the High Foulness’ inner sanctum was no more difficult, but I nearly underestimated my opponent. Our battle—my spells against his prayers—was fierce and I nearly perished in the combat. Nevertheless, I prevailed, albeit injured, and took possession of the Hypnopsychomachina. I prepared to return back to His Supremacy in triumph.

In my hubris, I failed to detect a simple trap that sent me tumbling in this subterranean hell. My abrupt descent was arrested by a collision with the rocky floor that shattered my left arm and right leg. Drained of spells and lacking healing draughts, I crawled about in the darkness for a seeming eternity before finding this small refuge. There are other things down here with me and it is only a matter of time before I’m found or I die from my wounds. Even if I could rest and replenish my spells, my injuries make it impossible for me to make the intricate gestures needed to perform all by the slightest of magics.

I’ve produced one final spell, a simple illumination cantrip by which I might pen this final message on a blank page within my traveling spellbook. I hope the light lasts long enough for me to finish my work.

If another practitioner of the Ineffable Path finds this, my work is given unto you free of geas or curse. Use what you may with my blessings and I regret I leave but a minor tome to you rather than my master workbook of spells. Oh what mysteries I have in those pages!

It is likely that the Retreat will have passed before this is found. If such be the case, I also entrust the Hypnopsychomachina to whomever finds my remains. Its power is ingenious if subtle. When used correctly, the device

It appeared that poor Prydaree’s light spell did indeed expire before he could complete his missive.

While this was being deciphered, Marlowe opened the bag to find an iron skull, one the size of a nine year-old child’s. Ten indentations where arranged around the skull, five to a side, and the object has black glass-like lenses for eye. Placing his fingers in the indentations and staring into the eyes, the world fell away from Marlowe…

The next thing he knew, he was standing along a roadside with various other highway men, awaiting a fat priest and his load of church gold. Robbing the cleric, the freebooter’s vision shifted to a dingy bar tavern where a fight erupted over a stolen pouch. Next he experienced a knife in that back at the hands of an “ally” and died in a pool of blood, only to find himself again plundering a chest from aboard a burning merchant ship. These visions were indistinguishable from reality and the freebooter seemed to pass several days of his life engaged in his chosen career. Then, without warning, Marlowe found himself back in the cave with the skull in hand. Less than a second had passed, but Marlowe was now a more experienced freebooter, having been trained to second level. From the skull came an indistinct voice that said “fourteen.”

The rest of the party was suspicious about Marlowe following this, but didn’t press the issue and the freebooter took full possession of the skull. The party rested, confident (and correct) that they’d be undisturbed in the cave, allowing them to heal and regain spells for the first time in seemingly forever. The next morning, Grumble discovered another false wall in the cave that led to a hidden treasure trove of coins, jewels, objects d’art, magical plate mail, sword, a ring of fire resistance, and potions of healing.

Rest, armed, and feeling confident, the party left the cave and returned to the octagonal room. They were running out of doors and tunnels and so decided to proceed down the path that Grumble and Kejair had explored much earlier. This led to back to the cave and they learned that the heat-producing forms were in truth giant killer shrews that proved to be more dangerous than they initially seemed. Baragkus took several mean wounds in the fight, but the three vicious beasts were overcome…which unfortunately meant the party had orphaned the naked, pink offspring they discovered immediately afterwards in the shrews’ nest. Despite an attempt on Mars’ part to adopt and raise the newborns, some poison was dispensed and a quiet murder in the dark settled the issue in time for the session to come to a close.

Monday, April 11, 2011

“Give Us Your Pants!”

True story: The party had a run in with a trio of bugbears during yesterday’s session who attacked them solely because they were jealous that the party owned pants when they themselves were pantsless.

I’d like to thank Otherworld Miniatures for putting this idea in the back of my head some time ago when they released their line of old school pantsless bugbears. I think I know what my next Otherworld purchase had to be now that I’ve completed my set of OW Hobgoblins.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Watchfires & Thrones Session #41

The band made it back the evil priest’s hidden quarters without encountering any opposition. The Citadel seemed quiet—perhaps too much so. Once they closed the secret door behind them, the party collapsed to the floor, exhausted. It had been a long and draining day. Mars and Korlack tucked themselves in for a long sleep so they could recover their spells while the rest of the band divided up a watch schedule.

Grumble was on alert first and towards the end of his vigil he heard the sounds of hobgoblin voices from seemingly on the other side of the priest’s western wall. For a brief moment, he heard what sounded like a voice speaking Common, but it was abruptly cut off. The voices faded as quickly as they had appeared, and the dwarven wrestler woke Lyrax to take his shift.

The human archer sat quietly in the dim room, his eyes and ears sharp to catch the sound of any approaching danger. His watchfulness was rewarded at the middle of his shift when he heard a “click” come from the western wall of the room. A section of wall swung open on concealed hinges to reveal a pair of very surprised hobgoblins coming to fetch their priest. A party of hardened adventurers was not what they expected!

Before they could raise a hue and cry, Lyrax nocked an arrow and fired. His first shot rammed its way through the lead hobgoblin’s right eye, slaying it on the spot. The fighting man immediately nocked a second missile and sent it into the remaining hobgoblin’s heart, dropping him to the ground with the clatter of splint mail. His actions failed to awaken his exhausted companions. Dragging the two dead hobgoblins into the room, he shut the secret door and barricaded it with their corpses.

An hour later, Baragkus awoke to take his shift and was surprised to find the room a bit more crowded than it was when he went to sleep. Lyrax filled him in on the events that took place during his watch and then settled down to catch some rest in the corner by the room’s only visible door.

Baragkus leaned against his great sword and proceeded to count the minutes until it was time to wake the rest of the band and get back to slaying hobgoblins. The gods, perhaps sensing his impatience, were kind enough to send another band of hobgoblins, this time accompanied by a pair of goblins, to the priest’s quarters. The previous duo had been dispatched to fetch the evil cleric and someone was beginning to wonder what happened to them.

The door to the room swung open and Baragkus charged towards the opening portal, catching the two hobgoblins off guard. The opening door thumped into Lyrax, jostling him awake and he looked up to see Baragkus swinging a sword right above him. Wiping the sleep from his eyes, he too caught sight of the hobgoblins and shoved the door fiercely back at the orange-skinned intruders.

Baragkus wounded his first foe and Lyrax’s shove sent the second off balance. From behind the hobgoblins, one of their goblin lackeys hurled a knife into the fray, but missed. It clattered to the floor, awakening Cullen, who sprang to his feet and readied his short bow.

The melee in the doorway continued, but the noise was insufficient to wake most of the party. Mars looked up for a moment before turning over and drawing his blanket over his head. Korlack snored away. Grumble nuzzled closer to Cleopos, dreaming of hairy, short women. Cullen and the goblin continued to exchange missiles and the thief finally dropped his target.

At this time, Baragkus slew his own foe and Lyrax climbed to his feet and drew his sword, backing up the burly warrior. The remaining goblin stepped up to close the gap and was swiftly dispatched, leaving only the second hobgoblin. That poor soul barely had time to consider retreat before it too collapsed in its death throes in a pool of blood. Baragkus and Lyrax dragged the corpses into the increasingly crowded room, mopped up the blood in the hall as best they could, and waited out the last remaining hour of the “night’s” watch.

The rest of the band woke up shortly thereafter and wine was drunk, spells prepared, prayers said, and weapons readied. Once set, the band departed the room through the newly revealed secret door and found themselves in the temple they had recently stumbled upon. Their map indicated that unopened door stood waiting in the hall outside and the party vacated the fane to continue their search for the hobgoblin command.

Out in the hall they found the first door locked, but Cullen was able to pick the simple security measure. Behind the door lay a dining hall, gloomy and empty. Half the party had ventured into it when the sound of a door opening at the room’s dark southern end was heard. This was immediately followed by a yelp of surprise, the dropping of crockery, and the sound of the door slamming shut. Goblin servants, the party surmised.

A moment later, Gareth shouted, “Dere makin’ a ruun for it!” and pointed down the hallway. A second door had opened south of the party’s position and a quartet of goblin servants were running down the corridor. Gareth, torch in hand and murder in his eyes, took off after them and the rest of the party swiftly followed.

The four goblins reached a third door and began shouting for aid. The door swung open and they vanished inside with the party hot on their heels. Mars and Gareth reached the door first and saw that the chamber beyond held four hobgoblin guards in addition to the goblin servants. The two clashed in the doorway with the first pair of hobgoblin guards while the rest of the group fell into position behind the cleric and dwarf, readying missile weapons or moving to strike around the two combatants.

The party’s missiles quickly dropped the goblins, but the two remaining hobgoblins flipped a pair of tables over and took cover behind their thick oaken tops. Gareth took a near fatal blow and was forced to retreat, allowing Grumble to move forward and press his own attack. Moments later, Mars and Grumble had cleared the doorway and the party slowly edged into the room, eyes peeled and weapons ready.

Fisk and Baragkus were the first to catch sight of the two remaining hobgoblins crawling across the floor behind their impromptu barricades, making their way towards a door on the opposite end of the room. They fired and killed one of the slinking guards, but the second reached the door and rushed through it with the party close behind. The door opened into another north-south corridor and their quarry turned south, reaching another closed door just a short distance from the guard room. As the hobgoblin threw open the door and tried to escape, he was cut down and the party stood triumphant yet again. Plus, they now suspected that their ultimate goal, the hobgoblin warlord and his inner circle, lay to the south in the direction of the guard’s flight.

The party collected themselves and continued along to the south. The corridor split and they took the southern fork before finding themselves in a long east-west corridor. Two side passages split off from the main corridor. The northern one ended in a single door, one held shut by a wooden wedge kicked under the portal, and the southern one terminated in two doors on either side of the hall. The wedged door seemed the more interesting and, after making sure it was quiet beyond and untrapped, the party burst into the room ready for anything.

Anything except of a pair of gagged prisoners tied to two chairs, that is.

The party freed the duo, a human freebooter named Marlowe Freemann and an elf named Kejair. The two had been hired by one of the local homesteads to determine where the spate of current attacks against the frontier forts had come from. The two arrived on Hob’s Hill to find that the knoll was alive with hobgoblin patrols. Someone had stirred up the hornets’ nest and they were themselves captured by one of the search parties. They were dragged back to the Citadel and question by the hobgoblin warlord before being stowed away in this room while the hobgoblins awaited the Citadel’s evil priest to come and assist their questioning. But, for some reason, the sinister minister never showed up…

Passing out weapons to the armored but unarmed adventurers, the party learned that the warlord’s throne room lay just down the hall and that he was there holding court with a half-dozen or so other hobgoblins. A rough sketch was made and the party, now two members stronger, left the room and headed back to the main corridor.

Fearing a rush of reinforcements at their back during their assault, the party turned down the southern passage to see what lay in those rooms. Both turned out to be barracks, but only one was currently occupied. A six-count of sleeping hobgoblins lay in the bunks of the manned quarters and they were quietly dispatched with knives across their throats. With that bloody work finished, the party headed to the hobgoblin court and, plan prepared, threw open the room’s massive double doors to rain holy hell down on the unsuspecting occupants within.

The party rushed in to confront a quartet of hobgoblins who stood around a fire pit in the center of the cross-shaped room. At the opposite end, atop a great stone and wood throne, sat a hulking, scarred specimen of hobgoblinkind that could only be Warlord Zoka; a pair of brawny bodyguards flanked his throne, spears clenched in calluses hands.

Baragkus, Grumble, and Kejair charged up to face the quartet of hobgoblins while Korlack and Mars intoned magic words to drop incapacitating enchantments upon the hobgoblins. Mars successfully held Warlord Zoka as he sprung to his feet and pointed at the intruders; Korlack’s sleep spell put three of the hobgoblins—and the elf, Kejair—into supernatural slumber.

One of the Warlord’s bodyguards raced into the fray and another pair of hobgoblins appeared from the southern wing of the room where they had been drinking draughts of fearsomely bad rot gut from a large keg. The other bodyguard stood his ground to defend his motionless commander.

Lyrax and Fisk began sending flight after flight of arrows towards the Warlord, many of which struck home with bloody thuds. Gareth, nearly incapacitated from his wounds, and Korlack, now spell-less, waited in the hall outside, shouting encouragement to their companions. Marlowe and Cullen slinked into the room, looking to position themselves for the best sneak attack.

The bodyguard kicked one of the sleeping hobgoblins awake as he reached the battle and the other two charged in to clash with the two fighting men and the spider priest. Blows were exchanged with ferocity and accuracy, and the floor was soon awash with blood hobgoblin, dwarf, and human. Marlowe approached the inert commander and was blocked by the second bodyguard—and he soon found himself in trouble! The bodyguard was more than a match for the highwayman, and only by sacrificing his shield did he survive a blow that would have surely slain him. Baragkus and Grumble both downed their foes and rushed to their new comrade’s assistance. Mars held his ground, keeping the remaining hobgoblin from slaying the sleeping Kejair, while Cullen, off in one corner, began lobbing shafts at the hobgoblin commander as well. Soon, Warlord Zoka looked like a porcupine, but still refused to fall (I wonder why?)

The combined forces of Baragkus and Grumble were enough to drop the second bodyguard, saving Marlowe, and Mars downed his own foe immediately thereafter. When the last of the remaining hobgoblins fell, the party approached Zoka with the intent to dispatch or capture him. They then learned that he was very dead, having been slain by an arrow sometime ago, but unable to collapse due to Mars’ magical hold. Victory! The Hobgoblin Menace was no more!

The party searched the room, finding both the Warlord’s and the bodyguards’ chambers attached to the throne room. Coin was located, a necklace looted, and a curious crimson ring adorned the Warlord’s finger. Yet, something was missing.

A renewed and more intensive search finally uncovered a secret treasure vault containing two very trapped chests. The Warlord’s key easily bypassed their protections, however, and a bevy of coins and several muddy brown and gray potion bottles were found within them. The party encumbered themselves with this loot and started back towards the surface, looking forward to the trip back to Blackpool with word of their victory.

It was about that time when the floor opened up underneath Baragkus, Grumble, Marlowe, and Lyrax, sending them tumbling down a concealed chute in the corridor outside the throne room. Mars and Kejair teetered on the edge of the precipice before them for a moment before the elf went tumbling after the foursome. Mars, his own plunge arrested by Korlack, looked first at the mage, Cullen, Gareth, Fisk, and Cleopos, and then down at the long, dark, sloping chute in front of them…

Gareth Ironhead

Level 2 Dwarf of the Ironhead Vein

STR: 13 (+1 to hit, damage, open doors)
DEX: 12
CON: 16 (+2 hit points)
INT: 10
WIS: 9
CHA: 8 (+1 reaction)

Hit Points: 13
Armor Class: 8

Special Traits/Abilities: Infravision 60', detect traps, false walls, hidden construction, and sloped passages 2/6. Blacksmith, weaponsmith, and Ferrumic smith.

Languages: Common, Dwarven,Gobbelty, Gnome, Kobold

Weapons: Big hammer, small hammer
Armor: Leather apron
Magic Items: None Objects of questionable value:

Experience: 3,045 (+5%)
Last Update: 04/09/11

Cullen D'Filch

Level 2 Human Thief

STR: 10
DEX: 16 (-2 AC, +2 missile, +1 initiative)
CON: 9
INT: 8
WIS: 13 (+1 save vs. spells)
CHA: 10

Hit Points: 7
Armor Class: 5 (7 surprised)

Special Traits/Abilities: Pick Locks 28%, F/R Traps 22%, Pick Pockets 32%, Move Silently 32%, Climb Walls 93%, Hide in Shadows 22%, Hear Noise 2/6, Backstab (+4, x2 damage)

Languages: Common, Thieves Cant

Weapons: Short bow, short sword
Armor: Studded leather armor
Magic Items: None

Objects of questionable value: Thieves tools

Experience: 2,666 (+10%)
Last Update: 04/09/11

Marlowe Freemann

Neutral Level 1 Freebooter
Played by: Mark

STR: 14 (+1 to hit, damage, open doors)
DEX: 15 (-1 AC, +1 missile/initiative)
CON: 12
INT: 18 (+3 additional languages)
WIS: 8 (-1 to saves vs. mind-affecting magic)
CHA: 13 (-1 reaction, 5 retainers, 8 morale)

Hit Points: 4
Armor Class: 4 (5 suprised/shieldless)

Special Traits/Abilities: Hide in Shadows 13%, Move Silently 27%, Climb Walls 87%, Backstab (+4, x2 damage)

Languages: Common, Thieves Cant, Bugbear, Goblin, Ogre

Weapons: Short bow, short sword, dagger, longsword
Armor: Scale mail & shield
Magic Items: None

Objects of questionable value: 3 hobgoblin longswords

Experience: 1849 (+5%)
Last Update: 4/9/11


Neutral Level 1 Elf
Played by: Matt


Hit Points:
Armor Class:

Special Traits/Abilities: 60' infravision, detect secret doors 2/6, immune to ghoul paralysis.

Languages: Common, Elvish, Gnoll, Hobgoblin, and Orc

Spellbook: floating disk, protection from evil, levitate

Weapons: Longsword, long bow
Armor: Splint mail & shield
Magic Items: None

Objects of questionable value: 3 hobgoblin longswords

Last Update: 4/9/11

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Giant Gift

My players are generous, engaging in acts that, although appreciated by me, might come back to haunt them. Case in point: The FLGS where we play each week has a display case filled with plastic minis. These figurines came from various miniature sets that have been broken down and sold individually so that the buyer can actually see what he or she is purchasing. In the last week, the store got a prodigious amount of Mage Knight sets in and the miniatures case has become flooded with odd, yet strangely intriguing pieces. Before last Sunday’s game, me and a few of the early arrivals were taking a look at these pieces and I commented that, although several of them, such as the steam-powered dwarven tank, would make excellent set piece encounters in the campaign, the $15-$20 price tags on the big models just weren't worth the one-time use I’d get out of them.

Despite my reservations, the guys really took a liking to one particular model—an “Iron Rain Hill Giant.” Standing a scale 20’ tall, the brute bears a giant axe as a weapon, but also has a boiler hanging on his back. A pair of helmeted dwarves ride on chairs strapped to the giant’s shoulders and are armed with what appear to be flamethrowers aimed outwards to guard the giant’s flanks. A third dwarf with horned helmet rides on the giant’s neck and seems to be steering him with a series of chain reins hooked through the brute’s eyebrows. It’s all very dangerous looking.

For reasons I’m still uncertain of, the guys took up a collection and bought it for me. They now want me to stat it up for Labyrinth Lord with the implication that they’ll fight it one day. As I said, they’re generous to a fault.

I certainly do appreciate the gesture. It tells me that they enjoy our weekly sessions together and all the hard work I put into making each game seem effortless. I just hope they still enjoy it when the Tijuana flamethrower-armed giant is making mincemeat of them someday…

Thanks, guys.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Watchfires & Thrones Session #40

The party freed the captive dwarf from his ball and chain restraints as he introduced himself: Gareth Ironhead, slave to the hobgoblins’ forges for almost a year. He was very excited and grateful to be released and readily agreed to accompany the party on their assault against the hobgoblin high command. Gareth was able to provide some intelligence regarding the dungeon around them. He had heard that the hobgoblins had captured a new prisoner and were holding him somewhere to the north. Gareth also knew that an evil human priest also dwelt amongst the hobgoblins and that fellow had quarters to the east. The hobgoblins themselves lived in the passages to the south.

The party, looking to gather more allies, left the smithy and backtracked north. One unexplored passage led to a filthy but unoccupied lounge. Past it, they discovered what appeared to be a prison wing. One door led to an empty cell, while another stout portal was found to be locked. Grumble, perhaps enraged by the indignities inflicted on his fellow dwarf, proceeded to try and bash the door in with his steel-toed wrestling boot—only to have his blow rebound ineffectively.

From beyond the door, the sound of snorting and grumbling was detected. A voice, speaking in a gruff, unknown tongue shouted something out. Baragkus’ magic helm deciphered the phrase to be, “Idiot! Use yer key!” The party banged on the door in response and the grumbling continued, getting louder as the speaker approached the door. “What? ‘Cho loose it agan?” came another inquiry as the door swung open.

The surprised bugbear opening the door was greeted with an axe to the chest and a sword through the gut. Another of his kind, obviously just awakened and rising from bed, rushed for his battle axe but was cut down as he lifted it above his head. In moments, the party had overcome the prison’s guards. In a locked chest, the party found a suit of leather armor, some weapons, and an obvious set of thieves’ tools. Undersized for bugbears, these must belong to another denizen of the prison wing and the band moved along down the hall in search of that person.

A third door was encountered just as they heard the sound of the lounge door behind them swinging open. They spun about to see a quartet of silhouettes emerging from the dimly lit room beyond. Hobgoblins! As the two forces rushed one another, a hail of arrows brought down three of the orange-skinned bastards before the party’s fighting men clashed with the sole survivor. With two-to-one odds, the hobgoblin found a quick if not painless death.

The party opened the door they had been interrupted at to find a morose-looking human male imprisoned within. He too was relieved to see human and demihumans faces and introduced himself as Cullen, a “freelance procurer” who had run across a hobgoblin patrol on his way to Fort Wolf’s Head. Cullen was agreeable to help out the party in return for a cut of any loot found and the party returned to him his equipment, arms, and tools of the trade.

With now two more members and only a seemingly empty cave where water was collected remaining in the north wing, the party headed back the way they came and decided to see if they could find the evil priest’s quarters. Many of their number were still injured and the prospect of liberating some healing potions or curative scrolls was an alluring one. In fact, wounds had gotten so bad that Mars Markus graciously offered his sole remaining potion of healing to Grumble provided he replace it once they returned to civilization (hee hee).

The party headed east and found a long corridor that eventually turned south and passed several doors. The first portal, located down a short side passage was bypassed, but the next two were cautiously examined. Both were locked and beyond the ability of Cullen to pick, so Baragkus and Grumble went to work with their crowbars.

As the party worked to pry one door open, they suddenly found themselves under fire. A patrol of goblins had been shadowing them and took the opportunity to rain arrows down on Korlack and Mars, the party’s lantern-bearers. Korlack took a grim wound, but the missiles bounced off Mars’ seemingly impenetrable plate mail. Baragkus and Gareth charged into battle, sending the goblins scurrying and dying. As they chased their quarry around a corner, they encountered more of the green-skinned guards and the battle continued in a surprisingly simultaneously manner (The party and I tied initiative rolls consecutively for three or four rounds. No lie.). Ultimately, the goblins were slain and the door was pried open.

The room beyond contained an office. Comfortable benches lined the walls and a large desk stood in one corner. A small pumice statue depicting the sloth-bat thing the party had encountered in various places around Hob’s Hill sat atop the desk. Korlack swiftly collected this ornament as Grumble opened the first of the desk’s two drawers. After being reminded of traps, Grumble looked down to find only a sheaf of plain parchment, quills, and stoppered ink. Now, more cautiously, he called Cullen over and had the “guy who knows a guy” inspect the second drawer. No trap was found, but it was locked—a lock which Cullen quickly dismantled…triggering the poison needle trap in the process. Luckily, Cullen made his saving throw and the party was able to collect a pouch full of small, badly cut pieces of amber and a scroll of cure light wounds.

Feeling emboldened by this discovery, the party attacked the second door in the hallway and again demonstrated that brute force and a crowbar beat any thief in the business. Behind the portal lay a cozy salon. Niches holding beeswax candles lined the walls and a low table stood in the corner flanked by four chairs. A shelf hung on one wall and held four fine crystal goblets and two cut glass decanters of purple-black wine. Baragkus and Korlack availed themselves to the vino while Grumble, his suspicions raised by the party’s mapping efforts, began to inspect the walls. A secret portal was found in the west wall.

The party ventured down the occulted corridor and found the secret chambers of the evil priest. Interrupting him as he wrote his homily of evil for his next service, the evil priest didn’t have time to complete his invocation of “Tsathoggua, aid me!” before he took an arrow in the face. Moving into melee distance, Baragkus cut him down while Grumble rolled around on the floor…or at least that’s what it looked like. The dwarf’s attempt to slide under the priest’s worktable and attack were less than effective.

With the priest dead, the party rifled the room. Korlack collected the priest’s papers, which appeared to be written in the Black Speech, the tongue of Chaos. Under the bed, a long, narrow chest was discovered and it contained coins, a vial of clear liquid, and a grey-green cloak. Risking the wrath of whatever evil god the dead priest paid homage to, Korlack took the initiative to don the garment...and become dim. It must be a legendary elvish cloak! Baragkus, his magical helm perched atop his head, discovered that priest’s mace bore runes that could be read as “Tergel” when glimpsed with the helm and collected the weapon as his own.

Finding no other means of egress, the party returned to the secret passage and found another concealed portal that led the back to the main corridor. They paused to investigate the door they had passed, but it led to an empty albeit well-used torture chamber.

Heading into now unexplored territory, the party took a southbound corridor at their first intersection and came across an array of doors. The first, again pried open with much grunting and swearing, revealed a sizeable cache of supplies. There were enough torches, cloaks, rations, and other supplies to meet the needs of two hundred hobgoblin warriors.

The next door was locked, but a pair of sizeable double doors across the hall from them proved unlocked and the party ventured inside. Several of the adventurers felt an unnerving chill crawl down their spine as the passed over the threshold. In the dim light of their torches, the party saw a row of rough-hewn wooden benches marching towards a towing statue of pumice. The carving again depicted the bat-sloth deity, and the glint of gems was detected in the effigy’s eye sockets. However, the statue’s prodigious pot belly would make scaling the sculpture difficult, so Grumble and Baragkus headed back to the storeroom to loot some useful deity-climbing tools.

Outside in the hallway, the two fighters walked right into a trio of skulking bugbears and battle commenced.

Unfortunately, unlike the first duel with the bugbears, these three proved to be formidable opponents. As the two fighting men stood their ground, each suffered horrible wounds and their cries for aid roused the rest of the party to come charging to their assistance. As Baragkus tried to disengage from combat, Gareth rushed to his side. He traded blows once before he found himself facing two of the beasts and was swiftly dropped into unconsciousness by their attacks. Meanwhile, Grumble also found himself in dire circumstances and tried to move into a position where others could aid him. This left Cullen exposed to the brawny goblinoids blows and the thief, demonstrating the battle sense of his chosen profession, said “Skut this!” and scampered away in retreat.

Korlack, ignored by the bugbears thanks to his newly acquired magical cloak, was able to move into position and dropped two of the creatures into magical slumber. The last bugbear, enraged, charged into the midst of the party and began to assail Mars Markus with his broadsword. The Spider God, perhaps taking pity on the fact that Mars’ player was absent from the session, intervened and allowed the cleric’s proxy dice-roller to generate a natural 20, slaying the bugbear before he could breach the priest’s armor.

Although no lives were lost, the party was badly beaten and without spells. A suggestion was made to secure themselves in the chamber with the statue, reinforcing the doors with the benches. However, an alternate suggestion was fielded: Return to the priest’s secret chamber and take refuge there. This was decided to be the wiser course of action and the Society of Planewalkers slinked back down to the hidden quarters and prepared to get some rest…

We’re off again this coming weekend. Recaps will return after April 3rd.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Watchfires & Thrones Session #39

With inert Baragkus hoisted up on Mars and Grumble’s shoulders, the party left the cemetery behind them, keeping to the edge of the woods to avoid being seen in the light of the waxing moon. With Kaldar leading the way, the party moved cautiously towards the southern edge of the large clearing, hoping to make it undetected by both ghoul and hobgoblin to the trail head that lay over a thousand yards away.

They had only been on the move for ten minutes before Baragkus began to stir and the party welcomed the brawny swordsman’s presence amongst their fighting-capable ranks once again. Mere moments after his revival, Kaldar distinctly heard motion coming from the trail that led back to the oh-so-recently fled hobgoblin citadel. With a slash of his hand, the party disappeared into the forest verge and hunkered down behind whatever cover they could find.

It was near impossible to see in the gloom, but the Society got the impression that a group of unidentified creatures was moving down the center of the clearing, headed for the same trail they were bound for. Although impossible to tell numbers or identities, the moon shed enough light for the party to guess that the patrol was composed of a half-score of creatures of two distinct types, one larger than the other. The party stood stock still in the woods and waited for these beings to pass.

Once the unidentified beings has moved along, the party carefully emerged from the woods after allowing the patrol plenty of time to develop a comfortable lead. Their plan was to try and reach the cave where they had spent the previous night, recoup, heal, and memorize spells before determining their best course of action. Slinking through the night, quiet and alert, the party reached the trail head an hour after the patrol had passed them by. It took another two or three hours to follow the path back to the cliff waterfall they had descended to reach their current location.

The band reached the cliff without incident, but were distressed to find that the ropes they had left behind to assist their climb had vanished, likely carried off by the creatures they were following. Fisk looked around at the soft, damp ground and was able to locate several tracks in the area. These footprints were a mix of large and small feet, and based on their experiences at the citadel, the party concluded that they had been preceded by a group of hobgoblins and goblins.

The party checked their packs and discovered they had enough rope to climb the cliff, but no means to attach it to the top. After some discussion, Mars produced a vial of silver-blue liquid, a gift that had been given to him by his order upon induction into the first circle of mysteries of the church of Mog. Wrapping the end of the rope about his waist, he gulped down the potion and began to scale the rocky cliff face with the skill of a spider. As he ascended, Korlack and Fisk discovered a small trail leading away from the base of the waterfall and off into the woods. Marred by goblinoid tracks, it appeared as if the patrol had ventured this way rather than take the long climb up. They made note of the trail’s location and rejoined the party in time to witness Mars clamber cautiously over the top of the cliff.

After solving the problem of the rope sticking to his hands, Mars let down the hemp line and the party climbed up the cliff with swift care. Regrouped once again, the Society headed across the stream and down the path that would take them to the cave. A brief encounter with aged skeletons rife with moss and vine growth was quickly settled by the power of Mog’s divine presence and the party reached the cave clearing an hour or so later.

They had just reached the middle of the clearing en route to the shelter of the cave when a small band of goblins emerged from the woods, ready for battle. Led by a wolf-riding commander, the patrol rushed towards the party, bared blades in hand. As they crossed the meadow, the party unleashed a hail of missiles at the worg, injuring it greatly and giving the beast pause. While its rider tried to regain control, the other three infantry goblins also lost heart. With a yipe, the wolf threw off its burden and fled for the woods. Now dismounted, the goblin leader tried to rally his troops into continuing the charge, but was cut down by an arrow. This was the first missile fired in a astonishingly accurate volley by man-at-arms, Fisk, who promptly dispatched three of the goblins before his bowstring, grown hot by rapid fire, broke under his fingers. The last goblin turned to run, but was cut down before taking more than three steps towards the woods.

The party headed to the cave, leaving the goblin corpses as a warning to any who might come that way—a decision that would cause trouble for them soon. At the cave mouth, there were more signs of hobgoblins and goblins, but the tracks entered and then departed, making it appear that the patrol had searched the cave, found it empty, and move on to continue their search elsewhere. The party entered and took up position once again near the dirty pool of water within.

The party rested and awoke without incident several hours later. Healing spells were cast, wine was consumed, and Korlack prepared his sleep spell. Feeling better but not yet completely recovered, the party decided that they would remain one more night in the cave in hope of reaching optimum fighting capacity. Once they were again at full strength, they planned to return to the citadel and complete their mission.

Several hours later, the party’s rest was interrupted by a hobgoblin patrol. The orange-skinned goblins had discovered their dead, green-skinned kin in the clearing and promptly decided to search the cave. Kaldar heard the patrol enter the cave and the party had little trouble defeating them, although Grumble, as is his wont, was reinjured in the skirmish.

The party returned to the small side cave they were resting in and Mars decided to choke the entrance to that grotto with his web spell. After being thoroughly disappointed with the result (he had envisioned a larger area of effect that then 10’ cube the spell produced), the party settled down to wait once again.

Barely two more hours had passed when ANOTHER hobgoblin patrol, now missing their comrades and finding their tracks and dead goblins in the clearing, decided to (guess what) investigate the cave! The party heard them enter and waited for them behind their wall of webs.

“What in the six hells' that?” one hobgoblin trooper wondered upon seeing the web.

“I don’t know, but there’s someone behind it! Grotus, go tell the camp we found our fugitives!” another soldier replied as a third headed out of the cave.

Seeing their plan was less effective than they had hoped, the party set their own web alight and prepared to meet the hobgoblins in battle. Running out of the burning webs, the Society quickly cut down the four soldiers inside the cave before rushing out to try and stop the one headed towards camp.

As they emerged from their rocky shelter, they discovered that night had fallen and they could barely make out the silhouette of the hobgoblin fleeing towards the trees. The band gave pursuit, but the solider quickly outdistanced them, and when the party failed to reach the hobgoblin camp he was supposedly headed towards after several minutes of pursuit, they decided to turn their attentions elsewhere.

Although still not completely healed, the party decided to make one final foray into the citadel, hoping that hobgoblin patrols would be occupied searching the hill for them as they snuck back to the high command’s lair. Wasting no time, they marched in darkness back down the trail to the waterfall. Arriving at the cataract without encountering any patrols, they swiftly descended to the lower trail and headed straight back to the Citadel of Iron Might and Furious Devotion.

Chance was once again their bitch and the band arrived back at the ancient monastery without trouble. They breached the front doors straightaway and retraced their steps back to the barracks they had recently fled. Grumble kicked in the door without delay and the seven hobgoblins guards inside were caught unawares. Kaldar threw a slumber enchantment over the entire cadre of guards and they all fell asleep before they could respond to the party’ sudden entrance. All in all, a much different resolution than their first time entering the barracks.

The party slit several throats but took one hobgoblin prisoner. There was some difficulty in making themselves understood, but Kaldar suddenly remembered he spoke fluent hobgoblin and took over the interrogation of the captive (my bad!). The party learned that only twenty or thirty hobgoblins remained on the hill, although the captive warned (maybe lying) that there were “dozen of ogres” about too. The party, having acquired this intelligence, debated on what to do with their captive. Bringing him along would mean that someone would have to constantly watch him and the threat of him alerting the rest of the garrison was a very real possibility. They were likewise loath to leave him behind. Kaldar suggested that he would take the captive out to the overgrown garden and keep him there. If the party didn’t return in 24 hours, he would head back to the river and Fort Wolf’s Head and try to raise reinforcements or a rescue mission. The party agreed and Kaldar exited the scene, thus taking him off my hands until his player returns to the game from a leave of absence.

The band found the stairs to the lower level behind a locked door in the barracks and descended quickly, looking to strike hard and fast. Several options for travel met them at the bottom of the steps and they found themselves outside a busy smithy before they ventured too far from the entrance.

Inside, lit by the massive forges against the far wall, were four hobgoblins and a large bugbear overseer. Two of the hobgoblins stood watch over the room, their backs turned away from the entrance, while the other two worked steel into spearheads and sword blades. In the far corner of the room, a dirty, unkempt dwarf, his foot restrained by a ball and chain, worked at another anvil: A prisoner in need of rescue!

The party’s arrows cut down the two distracted guards and the fighting men charged into the room immediately thereafter to confront the remaining goblinoids. Seeing his captors distracted, the dwarf threw his hammer at the bugbear’s head, creasing its skull as Baragkus engaged him in battle. Mars challenged one of the remaining hobgoblins and Grumble raced towards the other. Korlack and Cleopos kept watch down the halls outside.

The bugbears, although formidable, was no match for Baragkus, and even Mars Markus took down his own foe in short order. As Grumble distracted his own opponent, the dwarf captive picked up another hammer and bashed the guard’s helmet with a mighty blow, sending the hobgoblin staggering. Another blow dropped him to the ground, stone cold dead. The party was again victorious without suffering wounds in return!

The dwarf prisoner looked at his rescuers with a broad grin. “Boy, ar yoo a sight fur soor ees!” he said with joy, and the party began to converse with their newfound friend…

Next we’re doing something different, but recaps will resume in a week or two. See you then!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

An Evaluation of Watchfires & Thrones: Year One

Please forgive the cross-posting as this article appears on both Archive of the Rotten Moon and The Society of Torch, Pole and Rope. It appears on the former since it concerns the Watchfires & Thrones campaign and has been repeated on the latter as it deals with old school roleplaying campaigns in general and may be instructive to those thinking of starting or at the beginning of a classic D&D game.

This Sunday marked the one-year anniversary of our Labyrinth Lord campaign. In the past twelve months, we’ve met thirty-nine times for a rough total of 150+ hours of gaming. The original intent was to have a game schedule of three weeks on/one week off, making for forty meetings a year. As you can see, we came very close to hitting that mark.

The Hard Numbers and Mechanics of the Campaign

When the campaign began, each player created two characters to help them survive the very lethal first two levels of campaigning. Many of those characters have come and gone, and with the exception of one player, no one has an original PC left on their roster. The largest experience point total for a single character is 14,848; the lowest is 2,500. We’ve had two players leave the group due to real life issues and a third player who had to take two extended leaves of absence for the same reason. Of the original three players from the first session, two remain active.

Player character deaths were rife in the early months of the campaign, but stabilized as the survivors advanced in level, a change was made to the critical hit house rule, and the players themselves learned from the mistakes of the past. There have been a total of twenty-two PC deaths (two of which were later raised from the dead) and three NPC deaths (including two dogs). The most PCs lost by a single player is nine.

The campaign itself has spanned two worlds: the original pulp sword & sorcery venue largely centered in and around the city of Rhuun and my traditional D&D campaign world of R’Nis. Between those two worlds the party has explored a dead sorcerer’s tomb, a temple dedicated to the Black Goat, a megadungeon that was built by aliens, Stonehell Dungeon, the ruined cellars of a wizard, a series of insect-infested caves, a ruined monastery holding the blood of a goddess, and (tentatively) a crumbling temple inhabited by hobgoblins. They’ve also participated in a street fair gone amok and defended a frontier homestead against an army of goblin raiders. Although many of the adventures have been homebrewed, other material has come from “The Ruined Monastery” by James Maliszewski, Night’s Dark Terror by Jim Bambra, Graeme Morris, and Phil Gallagher, The Horror on the Hill by Douglas Niles, Temple of the Ghoul by H. John Martin, The Veiled Society by David “Zeb” Cook, and “The Pits of Bendal Dolum” by Doug Lyons.

There have been many rule selections and changes over the past year, and some have worked better than others. The campaign began using the Original Edition Characters rules for Labyrinth Lord, but changed to straight Labyrinth Lord minus thieves after two sessions, mostly due to the fact that I wanted to have monsters with variable damage dice. Character generation was 3d6 in order and two rolls allowed for starting hit points. Once the PCs left the pulp campaign world, Advanced Edition Companion rules were added to the game and starting attributes changed to 4d6 arranged where desired. Thieves also became available to players at that time. Critical hits were initially handled as a “20” results in double damage. This rule changed around the middle of the campaign to a roll of “20” meaning full damage. This resulted in less PC casualties. Clerics cannot cast spells at 1st level and must wait until reaching 2nd level to access their first daily prayer.

My intention was to run an open sandbox campaign where the players could choose what adventure seeds to pursue against a backdrop of a vibrant, constantly changing, living world. The plan was that the PCs would build their fame and fortune and eventually acquire or build a stronghold of their own. This endgame would effectively bring this portion of the campaign to a close.

Evaluation of the Campaign and its Progress

In my eyes, the Watchfires & Thrones campaign has been a successful one. I approached the game with an equal mixture of excitement and trepidation. This was to be my first time in the referee’s chair for more than session or two in almost a decade. I was confident with my decision to use Labyrinth Lord as the ruleset, but simply knowing the rules cold is by no means a guarantee of success. There are too many X factors that can scuttle a campaign before it hits its stride and I was out of practice in how to handle them. To my relief, the rust came off quickly and I’ve been able to handle most of the in and out of game issues with aplomb.

It is the rare campaign that is 100% successful, however, and Watchfires & Thrones is no exception. Looking back on the past year, I can see several missteps that I wish I had avoided and paths I should have taken. These might not have always been noticeable to my players, but they were glaringly apparent to me.

My first mistake was succumbing to gamer A.D.D. on the cusp of the campaign’s start date. Although I had been preparing to run things in my longtime campaign world of R’Nis, I decided at the last minute to switch gears and do a more hardcore pulp swords & sorcery setting instead. This meant that I effectively put myself back to square one in regards to prep work, which would continue to haunt me during the early sessions. I felt that the setting never really came to life for the players as I myself had no clear understanding of the campaign world outside of a handful of idle thoughts stung together on the flimsiest of frameworks. I was constantly trying to do work on the campaign world and was barely a step ahead of the players at any given time, which if you’re trying to use your roleplaying game as a recreational escape is not the best route to take.

That constant scramble led to my making the decision to transport the entire party to my regular campaign world via a magical portal. This allowed me to keep the campaign moving with the established characters while giving me access to all the work I had already done. But there were unforeseen, long-lasting ramifications to that decision.

The swapping of campaign worlds also occurred not long after the release of Advanced Edition Companion for Labyrinth Lord. Since the world of R’Nis had been forged in my days of playing AD&D and its inhabitants skewed in the direction of those rules, I threw open the floodgates of character generation for all subsequent PCs starting play in the new world. This meant that formerly verboten classes like thief, assassin, monk, and others were now playable. It also affected the manner in which attributes were rolled. Rather than using the 3d6 in a row method, I allowed “roll 4d6, drop one and arrange.”

While this decision didn’t result in a gross unbalancing of the game, I personally feel that it didn’t add anything to the campaign either. I had been concerned that the campaign was missing something by reducing the probability of someone rolling scores good enough to play a ranger or paladin and I wanted to allow those classes to be played. But after representatives of those classes entered the game, I discovered that they really don’t bring all that much to the table and, like I discovered with thieves, a campaign can roll merrily along without their presence. After having seen both methods of character generation in play to compare and contrast, I’ve come to the conclusion that 3d6 in order is the superior method for classic style play and I will likely be sticking to that system of character creation from now on. I’ll also be limiting other material from AEC in future games as well, preferring to rely on homebrewed materials that make the campaign world more uniquely my own over “stock fantasy D&D.”

My other major issue was my failure to take the desires of the players into account when working on the campaign. I should have questioned the players more often and earlier to better determine what they wanted out of the campaign. The problem, to my eyes anyway, was that I had anticipated running this wide-open sandbox world, one where the players would be free to chose from any number of adventure seeds. I did a lot of preparation to allow for this once we swapped worlds, only to discover that the group was pretty enamored with Stonehell and would happily continue delving there until they reached name level, uncovered all its secrets, or the campaign collapsed—depending on which came first. As the old line states: “Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight…and don’t bring the whole sandbox when the guys just want to play in a hole in the ground.” It’s not a game-breaking issue by any means, but it does mean that I could have used my energies in a more productive manner by concentrating on my campaign tent-pole instead of the surrounding, never-to-be-visited locales.

There were (and remain) a few minor quibbles and reevaluations, but since this campaign was intended to get me back up to fighting weight, referee-wise, I’ve looked at these as lessons rather than problems. Amongst them are whether I will have future starting players roll up two characters and run them off and on. There are benefits to this, especially at starting level, but the dividing of experience amongst multiple characters makes for a slower level progression, which in turn limits me in regards to what fun monsters and magic I can throw at the party. I may allow a player to run multiple PCs in the future, but this would be by player choice rather than campaign design.

Somewhat connected to this issue is the use of training to advance in level, resulting in a time and money cost. I’m currently using training in my game, but I’ve come to the conclusion that this is baggage from AD&D that doesn’t have a place in original or basic D&D and their retro-clones. I’ve got a simpler system in mind, one that allows for more player choice when it comes to advancement, and I think my next and subsequent campaigns will do away with training completely if this other system works as intended.

One final problem bears mentioning as it is something every referee who runs a game long enough encounters: burnout. A few weeks ago, I was feeling this to great effect. My energy levels were running low and there was even one session that I really didn’t feel like having because I was at the end of my creative tether. I thought the campaign might be overdue for a temporary sabbatical as I recouped and regained my energy. However, I’ve continued to push through these feelings and it seems that I’m getting back into the groove of the game. The last two sessions have done wonders for my attitude, and although other real-life concerns remain to plague me and I have a tendency to want to do anything but sit inside and play once spring arrives, I’m hopeful that by continuing to work through the slack times the campaign will continue until it reaches its natural ending. My advice to other struggling referees: Keep pushing until you break on through the wall. It’s worth it.

Despite all these concerns, which may be more apparent to myself than my players, the Watchfires & Thrones campaign has been a great source of fun for the guys who come to the table each week. Some have stated on more than one occasion that this campaign is simply the best one they’ve ever played in. I’m prone to be modest in the face of such praise, but so long as everyone else is having a good time and keeps coming back for more, I’ll accept those compliments as intended.