Monday, April 30, 2012

Session 54: Burn it to the Ground

Date: 3/11/2012
PCs: Innominus (Clr. 7), Dak (Dwf. 6), Yor (Dwf. 6), and Vivuli (Assassin 5 / MU 5)*
NPCs: Gorgo (Dwf. 4), follower of Innominus, and Cage (Ftr. 2), follower of Yor

This session began right where the last one left off, with the party standing over the recently-turned corpse of Grand Vizier Krock, which was lying on the large bed in the Prince's suite of the country manor outside Fortinbras. It was late morning of Day 176 of the party's Arandish adventures.

The PCs moved back down the westward hallway of the manor's second floor to search the rooms along both sides. Using his x-ray vision and working his way westward, Vivuli saw nothing in the first two rooms, but behind the next two doors, he learned that there were a great many undead beings gathered here: about six lich-wights (like those vanquished in the bedchamber last session) in the north room, and nearly a dozen more of them in the southern room. Upon such close inspection, both these doors revealed the foul, pungent reek of ancient undeath emanating from between the door-cracks.

Map of the western half of the country manor's second floor. 

Further west, at the end of the long hallway, the two westernmost doors concealed yet still more undead (and undead-related) horrors: the north room housed a skeleton warrior and its five skeleton attendants, while the south room, a former storage area, was wall-to-wall with the (mundane) rotting corpses of what appeared to be the Prince's former country house staff and soldiers.

INNOMINUS: Why is it again that we don't want to burn this place to the ground?

Calling upon benevolent Endra, Innominus invoked a divine wall of law, placing it east of the middle set of doors, thereby blocking off the hall (and staircase) to the east. Vivuli then snuck back down to the westernmost northern door and quietly used his lockpicking ability to lock the door from the outside. He succeeded.

Next Viv moved to the middle set of doors and threw them both open, and his compatriots started hucking flasks of holy water into both rooms. The lich-wights within charged out into the hallway to attack the party. As Innominus implored Endra to help him turn these abominable things (he rolled low and turned only two lich-wights the first round), the party beat a fighting retreat back past the wall of law, which the wights could not pass.

Second round, the wights pulled out crossbows to shoot through the wall of law at the party, and Innominus turned undead again, repelling one additional wight.

Third round (in which the DM won d6 initiative in a 6 vs. 5 contest), four as-yet-undetected spectres flew out of the easternmost door on the south side of the hallway, flanking the party! The spectres attacked the party members but all of them missed. In their initiative round, Innominus acted quickly, casting protection from evil 10' radius and instructing his fellows to stick close as they all retreated down the stairs and out the front door of the manor house. The malicious spectres followed them all the way down and outside, cursing and hissing as the protected party, but stymied.

Outside -- it was still late morning -- it had begun to snow vigorously. Prince Arkus and his troops surrounded the entire property just outside the main gate, accompanied by Father Azamondius of the Kaladarian Temple of Carcoon. Innominus called upon Azamondius to help him turn the four spectres; the clerics turned one each, then the party fought the remaining two by less divine means, keeping them busy until Azamondius could finally successfully turn them a couple rounds later.

Once the vile spectres were dispatched, Innominus cast two more walls of law over the manor house, effectively sealing it off, trapping whatever undead were within inside.

INNOMINUS: I'm a big fan of burning the entire place to the ground.

The Prince and the party agreed that the manor house seemed a lost cause, overrun as it was with lich-wights, skeletons, and spectres, so they started piling flammable wood and other tinder around the outside walls. Vivuli then shot two fire gems into the place: one upstairs, one downstairs. White-hot explosions racked the manor, and then it caught fire and burned down completely over the next several hours. The assembled party and forces of the Prince heard the terrible hissing of multitudes of wights as they perished in the hellishly hot flames.

By late afternoon, in lessening snowfall, once the ashes of the destroyed manor house cooled down enough to walk around in, Dak, Viv, Innominus, and Father Azamondius searched the rubble, especially around the area where the central staircase -- and secret entrance to the cellar level -- had been. Dak estimated that the central stairs down would take at least five hours of labor to excavate of rubble and ash. Innominus instead suggested that they leave the collapsed ruins be, proposing to cause a divinely inspired earthquake to further collapse the cellar and lower levels below. The party and the Prince agreed to this plan.

And so Innominus read from a scroll, called upon Endra once again, this time to cause the third earthquake to wrack the Rogaland Valley in as many days. This one was centered upon a point 120' below the ground level of the country manor.

The manor house's smoldering ruins rumbled and shook, and a huge black cloud of dust and ash, smelling of death, billowed up into the dusky winter sky. After awhile it settled, as did the earth, and the country manor truly was no more.

Innominus then turned to Prince Arkus of Minoch and requested an immediate land grant, so that he might build a Temple of Endra here near the site of the destroyed country manor. One of the Endran Temple's purposes would be to house a group of holy warrior clerics charged with watching the site (and its presumed gate to hell) for all time. The Prince agreed.

The Prince also bestowed upon Yor the title of Baron of Rogaland, thereby installing him as Kaminster's replacement and making him the man in charge of southern Minoch. Yor accepted the barony, and that evening, the Prince took his party northward, to return to his ancestral home beyond the dead, demon-held city of Farn Junction.

"This is like the Afghanistan of the Lands of Ara."
--Innominus of Endra, referring to Minoch

* In case you missed it, Hazel's player is on long-term hiatus from the campaign as of last session. Uncle Junkal's player also missed this particular session, I can't recall why.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Session 53: Vision, Earthquakes, and Country Manor Raid

Date: 2/26/2012
PCs: Innominus (Clr. 7), Dak (Dwf. 6), Yor (Dwf. 6), Vivuli (Assassin 5 / MU 5), and Uncle Junkal (Rodian Bard 5)*
NPCs: Gorgo (Dwf. 4), follower of Innominus

This session began right where the last one left off, at midday on Day 175 of the party's Arandish adventures, with the group standing in their silver mine, over the recently slain bodies of three dark grey stone giants.

And lo, the many-sexed one, the deity Endra, did appear to Innominus, conveying to the faithful priest a vision. Entranced, Innominus saw a horde of undead -- skeletons, ghouls, wights -- issuing forth out of the darkness in a stone chamber, which he knew to be in the deep basement of Baron Kaminster's country manor outside Fortinbras. The foul undead monsters, with hateful glowing eyes, surged forward in the vision, overwhelming the cleric with their sheer numbers.

Innominus awoke from his trance state, and collapsed to the floor, filled with the spirit of Endra. A few minutes later, as he came back to his everyday senses, the cleric relayed what he had seen to his companions. He also noted that the content of his vision -- Kaminster's country manor being overwhelmed by a vile undead horde -- felt as if it were imminent, maybe already happening, maybe just about to occur.

YOR: At least it's not happening right here! We'll lose our Fortinbras house though.

DAK: That's okay, we're just renting.

Since the stone giants' emergence from the southbound tunnel (last session) had de facto completed the PCs' excavation of the barricade and rubble barrier previously blocking it, they could now peer down into the long, descending tunnel beyond. The dwarves felt that something was "off" about the place. It was very dark, and Beastarr, with his keen bobcat senses, smelled a sulfurous, balroggy smell wafting up from the depths.

INNOMINUS: We've broken the metaphorical hymen of this birth canal of evil!

VIVULI: Damn, maybe we should sell this mine before anyone figures out there's hell at the bottom of it.

The PCs decided to investigate this foreboding tunnel, and set off carefully southward, down into the darkness. Vivuli affixed a fire gem to an arrow; Innominus cast find traps.

The cleric discovered that the whole goddamned tunnel registered as a trap!

Hearing this, Vivuli inspected the sloping tunnel's side walls more carefully, and noticed that the dark tint of the stone was due to the fact that the walls were permanently charred. Taking this as a bad sign, the party decided to turn around and hastily retreat back uphill and northward. It was a smart move, but almost came too late: as they hastily retreated, there was a heat surge from behind them, and then a huge, searing flame blast swept up the passage. Some of the party took damage, and Beastarr had his fur burned off.

Reaching the main mine tunnel once again, the group decided to re-seal the barrier blocking off the southbound flame tunnel to hell. Just as they finished rebuilding the barricade, the PCs were interrupted by a sudden tremor running through the mine. The stone underneath their feet wobbled and undulated, and Innominus, Vivuli, and Uncle Junkal, the non-dwarves, stumbled around awkwardly for a few minutes. Then the tremor subsided as suddenly as it had started.

The dwarves felt sure that what they had just experienced was an aftershock to a distant earthquake. Other than some rumbling, there had been no apparent damage to their mine.

That afternoon, the PCs left their mine and headed down the mountain, to warn Prince Arkus (camped outside the blighted city of Farn Junction) about Innominus' vision of imminent undead doom. They reached the camp at dusk, and Dak and Yor immediately urged the Minochian monarch to dispatch people to the nearby dwarven steel mines to negotiate for large numbers of steel weapons for Arkus' troops.**

Having warned the prince, the party rode on toward Fortinbras, anticipating reaching the town by the wee hours of the morning, just before the dawning of Day 176 of their Arandish adventures. It was a cold, clear night, with snow covering the ground everywhere, crunching under their horses' hooves as they headed south.

Once ne1ar town, Innomius headed straight to the country manor, there to reconnoiter with Prince Arkus. The rest of the party swooped into town to their rental house, and rested there until after dawn broke.

All was eerily quiet at Kaminster's country manor. Prince Arkus' troops surrounded the place; Innominus and Arkus stood at the front gate and concocted a plan for entering and investigating the manor: they would send soldiers and clerics in, Innominus in the lead, to sweep though the upper floor and secure it, then to sweep back down  to the ground level.

Innominus headed to the manor house door, accompanied by Clever Jim, Arkus' guard captain. The door was locked and barred from the inside. They decided to circumvent the whole property, casing the place, and waiting for Innominus' companions to arrive from town.

At dawn on Day 176 of the group's Arandish adventures, an earthquake rocked the mountains west of town, and potent tremors coursed through the Rogaland Valley, in which lies Fortinbras and the country manor house.

Vivuli, Dak, Yor, and Uncle Junkal felt the tremors in town, where small items rolled off shelves and the citizenry wobbled around on shaky legs for the duration. But the tremor passed without major damage to buildings or structures.

After the earthquake -- the second, according to locals, in as many days -- Yor and Uncle Junkal circulated Fortinbras, seeking hirelings for a mission to the (presumably undead-infested) country manor. They started, of course, at the rangers' bar The Drunken Yeti, and soon found two dwarves, two fighters, a rodian, and an experienced ranger to accompany them.***

Meanwhile, Viv consulted with Larry, the local wizard, about obtaining potions of fire resistance. Larry sold him three such potions at 200gp apiece. Dak visited the Temple of Carcoon, requesting elixirs of healing and vials of holy water. He was given six potions of extra-healing and Brother Lawrence (Clr 3) agreed to accompany the party members back to the country manor as well.

Vivuli, Dak, Yor, Uncle Junkal, Brother Lawrence, and all the newly hired NPCs arrived back at the country manor east of town in the late morning of Day 176. Chief Guardsman Clever Jim told them that it was highly unusual for there to be no movement, sound, or candlelight on wither the ground or second floor of the manor house. And uncanny silence and lack of activity prevailed.

Partial map of Prince's chambers, second floor of the country manor house.

Vivuli sent a couple of his rats into the manor house through an arrow slit on the ground floor. The rats saw no direct signs of life; the ground floor was empty. There were signs of recent armed struggle here and there, including a few bloodstains on the floors and a menacing looking scratch near the secret door to the basement level, but no living thing stirred.

The rats went upstairs, and smelled an incredibly foul death-smell emanating from the Prince's suite to the right of the stairs. The long hallway to the left of the stairwell was empty, all the doors on both sides closed. Viv sent a third rat into the manor, having it scale the group's recently acquired rope of climbing to a window on the second floor. After confirming the coast was clear, the PCs followed the rat up the rope to a room on the north side of the west wing hallway. Viv went downstairs and opened the manor's front door, granting access to the NPCs and Arkus' soldiers. Then he went back updstairs and the PCs smashed down the (barred) door to the Prince's chambers.

Inside were nearly a dozen undead beings, mostly wights, with two leaders that looked a bit more lich-like then their companions. Innominus turned most of the undead right away, then cast wall of law to entrap the remaining three abominations while the rest of the party pelted them with holy water until they disintegrated. 

Then the PCs saw a grisly scene: the various wights and lich-things in here had been busy torturing and disemboweling Grand Vizier Krock, who was strapped down to the Prince's former bed. Sadly, in addition to physical torture, the gang of wights had also somehow turned Krock undead; he was no longer human, and his eyes glowed with the evil hunger of the cursed not-quite-living. Out of mercy, Innominus ended the poor Grand Vizier's suffering by turning him; the vizier finally died a true death, falling back on the counterpane, and was at peace.

The PCs then searched the suite area, and Innominus said last rites over the corpse of Grand Vizier Krock. That is where the session ended.

Rodian power!

* As of this session, Hazel's player is on long-term hiatus from the campaign.
** If you are wondering why Prince Arkus is described as the "monarch" of Minoch, it is because Minoch is technically a province of Achelon; the Prince (or Princess) of Minoch owes allegiance to the Queen of Achelon. That said, it is traditional for the Achelonian Queen not to meddle much in the affairs of Minoch.
*** The newly hired NPCs are: Cage (Ftr 2), who follows Yor, Abbideck (Dwf 1), Dunsdonger (Ftr 2), Fozton Sarabekian (Rodian 1), Flipwayter (Dwf 2) and Claude the Ranger (Ranger 3), all of whom follow Uncle Junkal.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Village of Hommlet As Adventure Locale

I am a big fan of pilfering ideas, maps, and locales from various published adventure modules and gaming publications. While the Lands of Ara is to some extent a full-fledged game world, with many basic assumptions built in and many others organically accruing over time, it has always also been a place into which I can ungraciously shoehorn a modified map from a Gygax module, a random encounter idea horked from Jeff Rients' blog, and/or an entire megadungeon by Michael Curtis. To me this "sampling" is absolutely integral to my DM'ing process: not only do I enjoy buying, reading, and raiding other creative people's RPG'ing products, but I am also a fairly half-assed and slapdash preparer, so when the PCs suddenly decide to visit a place I haven't yet mapped, it is great fun for me to just choose an old TSR module and use (parts of) that. In short, I like allowing significant input from outside sources, sometimes randomly generated, sometimes deliberately planted, to infuse Ara with elements that exceed the limits of my own imagination.

Along this line, last summer there was a spat of creative blog talk about using TSR's 1979 adventure module, The Village of Hommlet, as a launching point for different types of campaigns. Of course, James Maliszewski has succinctly assessed why Hommlet makes such a rich foundation for old-school adventure in general, but in particular I refer to two separate posts (here and here) on James Smith's previous blog, The Underdark Gazette.*  scottsz in particular gets going in the comments of the first post above with a proposed 'alternate' version of T2, T3, and T4 -- and it rocks! Here are some excerpts:

[Given] how Furyondy and Veluna take such an interest in events of the Temple, characters at 2nd level could take a trip to a garrison to report their findings and make contact with more forces of Good/get more background about the history of the Temple. They might ask an 'official' historian (and not some Hommlet druid) what happened. Perhaps they'll get the truth or another part of a mystery. A full 'city module' isn't required - people of importance would want to prevent any panic about the Temple's resurgence.

If module T2 - Temple of Elemental Evil was targeted for levels 2-4, involved a lot of investigation and 'mood buildup' and led to a Temple visit, PCs still aren't likely to get inside - but at least PCs get there. T2 could culminate in rooting out and nullifying the Greyhawk influence of Temple operatives outside the Temple, even if such influence was to powerful entities in Furyondy or Veluna.

T3 - The Elemental Keys could be about finding (a) particular artifact(s) allowing entrance (perhaps Goldenskull wasn't kept inside the Temple but safeguarded elsewhere!), and wouldn't require railroading if the characters were already (falsely) accused of 'treason' and being hunted.

T4 - The Lady of Fungi begins with entrance to the Temple and reaches Zuggtmoy. Throughout the 'T' series, the assumption is that the 4 classical Greek elements are what are referred to by Elemental Evil - an assumption that proves to be dangerously incorrect!

And then there's James' own proposal to mash-up some of the Hommlet premises / adventure seeds with fungi-based zombies for what he's calling Death Fungi Doom:

I didn't want "T2" to be a megadungeon. I wanted it to be T2, not T2-4 and suitable as a follow-up to T1. Also, T1 is taking place before the Giants/Drow modules, as those events are going to be in play, whether or not the players decide to investigate.

The fungal dead are human corpses whose bodies have been overtaken by a virulent strain of unwholesome fungus. These alien spores animate their non-living hosts into a nightmarish semblance of life and seek to spread the colony into new, recently-deceased corpses.

And of course, instead of a Vampire, down there, we have Zuggtmoy, needing the PC's as much as they're going to need her! And a certain bizarre, keening/humming plant creature, which puts fungi into a stasis, instead of undead. Crypts? Or, maybe thousands of dead combatants, strewn about the dungeon. Put into stasis right before the demonic fungi, was ready to activate their corpses.

Maybe old Zeke has been making forays into the place, taking out bodies one by one and burying them. Unawares, of the quiescent evil, of all that sickening growth. I might need to tweak the timeline, a bit. Maybe decide that St. Cuthbert's followers believe all bodies must be buried. An anti-cremation doctrine might fit well, with old Cugel-dudes historical inspiration.

Now, as an added bonus, I can throw a few scary undead encounters into the dungeon. :)

This all was and is very exciting and inspiring. How fortuitous for me that I ordered module T1 around the same time as these posts (July 2011), and have since had a chance to plant its titular village somewhere in the Lands of Ara.

* The Underdark Gazette has been taken down from public view, and therefore my links may not work for you. However, James told me that anybody interested in seeing the old material directly may request access by contacting James via email at dmkastmaria at gmail dot com. See also his current blog, Dreams of Mythic Fantasy.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Back to Lift Bridge Books on June 3

I have checked in with Joe, the manager at Lift Bridge Books, and confirmed a good start date for my public Labyrinth Lord campaign there: Sunday June 3rd at 1pm.

Here is my promotional flyer:

I am so excited to be getting this going again, and am most grateful to my current local players and to Lift Bridge Books for helping me make it happen!

Outta my way! I've got to get to Lift Bridge Book Shop!

UPDATE: Thanks to Joe, here is the announcement of the June 3rd game on the Lift Bridge website.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Proto-Domain Level Play in Ara

ckutalik over at Hill Cantons recently made some really smart observations about the implied Domain Game rules to be culled from the class descriptions in the AD&D Player's Handbook, including:

Only clerics, fighters, and magic-users are able to exert political authority enough to be able to squeeze income out of a local population. Furthermore they collect this revenue in varying amounts implying that the classes have different spheres of activity in the realm that [they] can control.

I find this post interesting and timely because in my current Lands of Ara campaign, many party members are creeping up toward levels 6 and 7, i.e., they are approaching name level. Innominus of Endra is the closest -- he just reached Cleric level 7 a few sessions ago. Then, just two sessions after that, the priest of Endra was granted sufficient land and funds with which to begin construction of a Temple to his deity in south Minoch.*

Discussing the role of clerics in domain-level play, ckutalik tells us that the Players Handbook says:

Clerics [. . .] can build a temple and attract followers but not tax [. . .] at 8th level.

At 8th level [clerics] must build “a place of worship, a building of not less than 2,000 square feet in floor area with an altar, shrine, chapel, etc” to attract followers. At 9th level to rule they have the: “option of constructing a religious stronghold. This fortified place must contain a large temple, cathedral, or church of not less than 2500 square feet on the ground floor. It can be a castle, a monastery, an abbey or the like. It must be dedicated to the cleric's deity (or deities). The cost of construction will be only one-half the usual for such a place because of religious help.”

So in terms of the proto-domain game in my current campaign, Innominus is seemingly right on target, possibly even a bit ahead of the curve.

Okay, that covers our cleric. As for magic-users, Hazel (currently MU-4) has announced her extended hiatus from the campaign, so Vivuli is our only contender in this area, and my perception is that he considers himself an assassin first, and an arcanist second. Of domain-level assassins ckutalik writes that:

Like thieves, [assassins] cannot build strongholds but can build guild headquarters when they reach 13th level and defeat the sitting guildmaster “the always within a large town or big city...It is typically a warehouse or other nondescript structure, with safeguards and traps added.”

He adds that:

As [assassins] reach name level they must fight and defeat increasingly smaller circles of high-level characters (and presumably must be fielding the same from NPCs and other PCs) culminating in a single character of the highest level.

If Vivuli decides to foreground his wizardly role more so, he may decide to build a wizard's tower and take a more active role in local/regional rule, but I suspect that his player's proclivities -- and his multi-classing as an assassin -- will prevent this.

Of dwarves we learn that:

Level-caps make [the domain game] a humanocentric part of play for PCs. Only Dwarves with 18 STR [. . .] can become name-level fighters. [. . .] So ruling is really left as far as PCs go to humans.

Obviously, these restrictions do not really apply to my Labyrinth Lord campaign, in which we are using the Dwarf race-as-class. In the LL ruleset, dwarves can reach level 12, and are permitted to create a dwarven stronghold starting at level 9 -- see Labyrinth Lord p. 10.

Furthermore, campaign-setting-wise, the Lands of Ara are a bit less human-o-centric than standard AD&D, at least as things are unfolding in the current campaign. Humans still hold the vast majority of power positions, but our own campaign has seen Yor the Dwarf ascend to a position of considerable political influence in Minoch. This makes sense: dwarves are by far the most numerous and economically influential of the Arandish demi-human races, and Yor is rising to power in a region heavily populated by dwarves -- dwarves who are beginning to act on their desire to challenge the dominant human power structure.

Anyway, I will look forward to more of ckutalik's ruminations on the domain game as my PCs move inexorably toward their own version of it.

* Session 54, played 3/11/2012, Session Report yet to be written and posted.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Session 52: What the Rat Saw

Date: 2/12/1012
PCs: Innominus (Clr. 6), Dak (Dwf. 6), Yor (Dwf. 6), Vivuli (Assassin 5 / MU 4), Uncle Junkal (Rodian Bard 5)
NPCs: Gorgo (Dwf 3), follower of Innominus

The party finished up their ghost busting from last session, then, on Day 175 of their Arandish adventures, searched around in some as-yet-unexplored sections of their now ghost-free silver mine.

In an old, abandoned storage room near "Walt #3," Innominus had previously found a scroll tube, which he now opened. It contained a map to an "old" section of the mine hidden behind a cave-in at the northwest end of the place. After two hours of excavation, the party passed on westward into this "old" section.

The "old" section of the Frigglestone Silver Mine.

To start with, in an abandoned storage cave on the left side of the passage, Uncle Junkal found a parchment inscribed with a 5" x 5" charcoal rubbing of an etched lyre motif. He kept it.

The party searched further west down the corridor, bearing right into a large natural cave that sloped steeply downward at its northwest end. Lying on this declining slope was the sprawled shape of a huge, giant-sized humanoid composed entirely of stone. Innominus cast detect magic, and while the vast prone stone figure registered as mundane, an 8' diameter circle on the northwest wall glowed brightly with arcane energy. Vivuli x-rayed the area and found a secret door with a mundane latch, but the party could not open it. They decided to continue down the east-west corridor instead.

Passing by a barricaded tunnel on their left, they headed on into a vast, open chamber whose far (west) wall was entirely covered in a huge tile mosaic, mostly abstract color patterns but with a central portion depicting a golden lyre, very similar to the smaller rubbing Uncle Junkal had just found. The party searched the mosaic area for some time, and Vivuli was able to use his x-ray vision to see a recessed alcove behind it containing a glowing lyre. But there was no way to get at it; the dwarves were able to tell that any attempt to excavate through the mosaic-covered wall would result in the entire mosaic chamber collapsing.

Stymied, the group returned eastward. Innominus called upon Endra to detect evil, and detected malevolent energy behind the barricade blocking the south passageway, and also behind the secret door in the "giant stone humanoid" chamber.  Somebody (Innominus? Vivuli from a scroll?) cast dispel magic onto the secret door at the back of the prone stone guy chamber; it opened. Vivuli then sent a rat down the tunnel beyond.

The rat saw some stone statues of dwarves along the 85-foot long passage, then, approaching the cavern at its terminus, espied three robed women. Women with hissers for hair.

Viv saw what the rat saw, and so he lashed a fire gem onto an arrow, took careful aim, and shot the powerful demonic weapon down the corridor into the medusas' chamber. The fire gem exploded on impact, engulfing the cavern in white-hot flame, killing all three medusas instantly. The party went in after the flames died down, found a secret door to an alcove at the back, and looted the treasure they found there, including:

27 gems
11,000 sp
6,000 ep
200 pp
a potion
a scroll
a rope of climbing
a wand

After this bit of swift destruction, the party decided to excavate the barrier blocking the westward corridor. Forty minutes into the excavation, some deadly stone giants came bounding through the remainder of the wood-and-rubble barricade, violent combat ensued, the party killed them, and the session ended.

Vivuli leveled up (as a magic-user only) to MU 5
Innominus of Endra leveled up to Cleric 7

What in the rat?!

Monday, April 16, 2012

D&D Notebooks on CafePress

Spawn of Endra asked me about the image I included at the end of the last session report:

I explained that this was a scan of the cover of my most recent DM's notebook, into which I take notes on all our ongoing sessions. For a look "under the hood," here is a scan of a recent interior page:

I buy these little journals from CafePress, which has a "dungeons and dragons" themed section. Here is the link to the page with the D&D journals on it, and here is another example of what they've got:

This will probably be the next one I'll get. Click the picture to goto the CafePress site.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

d12 Effects of Magical Traps from a Welding Glossary

Ahoy, says Spawn:

A fun part of my lab work is that I encounter a lot of technical literature with its own arcane jargon that records a history of folks trying to figure things out and then sharing discoveries with their peers and posterity. The other day I was trying to figure out how to adapt our old welding rig to a new unpressurized fuel. Short answer: Fuck adapting it, buy a whole new rig and stop wasting your time scouring said literature for the exact non-existent key to open the impossible non-lock of a door that is just your wishful thinking about the unlimited potential of DIY ingenuity.

I was looking through the Victor manual (# 0056-3260 for those following along at home) for our rig and found a glossary that had some delightful entries, so I adapted them to a random table for magical traps. In this context, Welds are a race of sentient demi-humans with longish rabbit-like legs able to leap high and run very fast. Fillet Welds are a caste of larger Welds possibly mutated by magic or are like Ogre Mages are to Ogres. They aren't evil necessarily. I may eventually elaborate on that.

Here you go: Assume traps are detectable by Detect Magic or similar (not just folks checking for traps), all are area effects with size affecting the whole party (but left to DM discretion), and folks can Save vs Spells to halve or avoid results unless specified (again, DM discretion).

Roll  a d12, because you have not been rolling them enough:

1. Blowpipe: A 4' long rune-inscribed and totem-bedecked blowgun appears before the party and fires darts at every party member for each of two rounds before vanishing. Blowpipe attacks as F12 +2 to hit (not damage). Each dart does 1d6 damage. This is the ghostly Blowpipe of Helan Ogsblug, a Fillet Weld aspiring lich.

2. Burned Metal: Party suffers 2d6 fire damage for each failing a save and will suffer additional 2d6 damage for the next 1d4 encounters in which they could have made the game MORE METAL but chose not to. Characters being metal receive +1 bonuses to everything in potential metal encounters. What is metal is at the DM's discretion.

3. Butt Joint: Pairs of adjacent party members that both fail to save are fused together at the butt for 1d6 HOURS. Movement and combat are obviously inhibited. One butt-jointed pair will fill the standard 10' wide dungeon passage. Each casting of Dispel Magic will unfuse one butt cheek, allowing both members to face the same direction with difficulty (-2 to all rolls).

4. Capillary Action: Those failing to save are propelled through 10' wide or narrower corridors at 4x the normal movement rate for 1d12 rounds, slowing at 30' and wider passages but not stopping there short of 40' length. Every trap is sprung and has its effect. Damage is taken as 1d4 per 200' traveled. Monster encounters in the line of travel are as if the characters are surprising everything in their path but do unarmed damage (1d2).

5. Cutting Torch: Any lit torch immediately shoots out a line of flame 20' long for 2 rounds. If the bearer fails a d20 roll against DEX in either round, the torch is out of control and burns characters in a random line of fire for 2d6 damage each, 1/2 damage if they Save vs. Breath Weapon or similar. Bearers making the first DEX roll can direct the cutting torch as they please in the second round.
6. Face of Weld: The terrifying visage of an insane giant Weld with burning eyes and blood-dripping maw appears to fill the corridor ahead of the party. Those failing a save are affected as with Cause Fear, running away in utter existential terror, epistemologies fatally undermined, for 1d6 rounds at full speed.

7. Lap Joint: As for Butt Joint, except one of the pair is fused to the other's lap. Usually they are facing each other, but a 1 on a d4 means they face the same direction, and can likely move and attack together with 75% efficiency. 

8. Neutral Flame: Party members suffer 2d6 of fire damage, no save. Those failing a save have alignment turned to Neutral for 1d6 HOURS. Classes depending on non-Neutral alignment (e.g., Clerics, MUs, Paladins, Assassins, etc. depending on the system and setting) are without class-based abilities for the duration. The DM can decide whether atonement or similar is called for to regain abilities.
9. Orifice: Party members failing the save fall through a magical portal and are transported together 1d6x100' away in any direction into an open space (i.e., not into living rock or dungeon furniture). 

10. Slag Inclusion: Those failing a save have one piece of metal armor or a main weapon weakened for 1d4 turns. Affected items are only known to the DM (who may select them at random or choose them specifically), and will fail during a successful hit on a 1-2 on a d6; magic items apply their bonus to that roll. A weakened shield cannot be shattered to soak the damage of the hit, it will just shatter. Shattering weapons deal full damage in their death throe.

11. Throat of a Fillet Weld: The horrific wail of a disembodied Fillet Weld fills the ears and guts of party members, causing 1d6 damage to each. Those failing a save will loose control of their bowels for 1d4 rounds, vomiting and crapping themselves violently and will be unable to act for the duration. The DM has discretion to add subsequent penalties for adventuring in soiled trousers.

12. Toe of Weld: All party members are given the leaping ability of Welds for 1d12 rounds, but will not know their own strength immediately. The first step launches them into the ceiling, across the room, etc. at high speed causing 1d6 damage. Unless they take time to learn how to use their feet (i.e., until they make a DEX roll with a +1 bonus per subsequent round), any attempt to walk will propel them as before for 1d6 damage. After adapting to Toes of Weld, they can make leaping/kicking attacks for 2d6 damage for the duration of the spell.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Session 51: Ghost (and Doppelganger) Busters!

This session was played 1/29/2012 and featured PCs Innominus (Clr. 6), Dak (Dwf. 6), Vivuli (Assassin 5 / MU 4), Uncle Junkal (Rodian Bard 5) plus Innominus' follower Gorgo (Dwf. 4). Hazel (Ftr. 4 / MU 4) and her follower Fuzz (Ftr. 3) joined late in the session (and left early).

Starting where the last session left off, this one began with the party standing in the uncannily empty, snowy, and fogbound city of Farn Junction, next to a demonic hellpit they discovered in the middle of the Lord Mayor's heavily fortified Residence there. It was mid-morning of Day 173 of their Arandish adventures, only four weeks into the harsh and lengthy Minochian winter.

Having just vanquished three saurian balrogs rather handily, they decided to check out how many more such demons were lurking about the otherwise abandoned Lord Mayor's Residence. Vivuli climbed to the roof of the apartment by which they entered the keep-like Residence, then lowered a rope to his fellows. No sooner did the PCs reach the roof and start moving cautiously north, under the veil of a divine silence cast by Innominus, than a saurian balrog leaped into the sky from the neighboring two-story tower and headed their way.  Viv took careful aim with his bow, and with the assistance of Yor, Dak, and Innominus, picked the balrog out of the sky in a single round.

However, this swift slaying merely brought three more balrogs to the scene; these three flew at high altitude, out of bow range, and started dropping fire gems on the party. The first two gems missed wildly, exploding in the alleyway to the east and the courtyard to the south.  The next round, the party won initiative -- by rolling a d30! -- and fled the rooftop, jumping down into the alley to the east and into the northernmost window. They found themselves in a mostly empty storage room.

[Hazel joined the session at this point.]

The always audacious Dak leaped back out the east window of the room, attempting (I guess) to get a good shot at the airborne balrogs, or to lure them down within melee range.

The "X" marks the first balrog's previous guard post, in front of the two-story tower.

Vivuli cast invisibility on himself and followed Dak. One of the overhead balrogs loomed dangerously overhead, and dropped a fire gem on Dak's position.  The quick-thinking dwarf dove into the next window south on the west side of the alley; the gem burst outside, heating the room and illuminating it in a reddish glow, which revealed it to be full of at least twenty-five human corpses hanging on meathooks. The fire gem's flame licked into the room, roasting a few of the decaying corpses and creating a ghastly charred-meat-and-death smell.  Dak, gagging, laid low and "played dead." Viv, having jumped back in the window and taken cover in the northern room with the rest of the party, x-rayed through the shared wall and confirmed that Dak was actually still alive in the meathook room.  

While Innominus cast dispel magic at the roaring flame outside in the alley -- to no effect -- Yor began bashing through the shared wall between the rooms with his +1 crowbar. Dak hacked away at the wall from the other side, and within six minutes, the two dwarves had chopped a hole large enough for party members to move through.

Meanwhile, one saurian balrog landed in the street just outside the northern room. The party won initiative yet again -- by rolling another d30 for the purpose -- and Hazel used her wand of paralyzation to attempt to freeze the fearsome demon in place! But it resisted the power of the spell, and a fierce melee ensued as the balrog attacked through the window. Despite some close calls with its flaming whip, the balrog didn't manage to hit anybody, and in a few rounds, the party hacked it to death. They looted the balrog's whip and one remaining fire gem, bailed back into the apartment by which they first entered the compound, and fled the city via the underground tunnel.

[Hazel left the session at this point.]

Outside the city walls, the wind and snow had picked up considerably, creating near-whiteout conditions, and they trudged east across frozen fields to Arkus' encampment. When they reported what they had found inside Farn Junction, the Prince of Minoch said simply:


Dak advised Arkus to acquire New Steel weapons for all his soldiers, and to post more guards at the hidden well and at various points around Farn Junction's walls. The Prince agreed and "made it so." The party then headed off to the north, skirted the city, and picked up their dispel ethereal being scrolls from Warren the Black, ultimately bound for their silver mine in the mountains to the north.    

As they ventured up into the mountains, a vaguely dragon-shaped being made of magma flew into view from the direction of the city, swooping in to attack the party. Uncle Junkal waved and signified peace. Somehow, this gesture got through to the creature, and it sent a telepathic message to the rodian bard, saying I WILL SPARE YOU FOR NOW. Then it spewed a warning shot of white-hot magma at a spot near the party, and banked and flew away toward the east.

The morning of Day 174 of the party's adventures found them back in their mine, lying in wait for their ghosts to appear. They spent seven hours down there until the first ghost appeared; Viv read out one of Warren's scrolls and it vaporized the ghost.

A messenger from Prince Arkus arrived at the mine that evening around dusk. Innominus detected evil in the messenger, though, so the party hogtied the guy and eventually Unclke Junkal interrogated him.

UNCLE JUNKAL: Confess to something evil or we'll stick toothpicks under your fingernails!

HOGTIED MESSENGER: But I don't know anything about any evil! I am Robertson, a messenger in the service of Prince Arkus!

Within the hour, the PCs exposed this "messenger" as a Doppelganger, and slew him.  Three hours after that, by late evening of Day 174, they tracked down the other two ghosts haunting the mine and disintegrated them with their two remaining dispel ethereal being scrolls.

And that is where the session ended.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

I Registered for OSRCon 2012

OSRCon 2012 Registration is now open! OSRCon only costs $25 CDN (about $26 US) this year and it is well worth it for two full days of old-school gaming and camaraderie. (Note that this price differs from what I reported in this post, which was erroneously based upon last year's figure.)

OSRCon 2012 takes place August 10-11 in Toronto; this years' guests of honor include Ed Greenwood (Elminster), James Maliszewski, Chris Huth, and a personal idol of mine, Tunnels and Trolls creator Ken St. Andre. You can bet that I will be playing T&T with the Trollgod at the Con. Further, I am sure many folks are eager to get a chance to play at the very lively Elminster's table again this year.

Other games being run at the 2012 Con include James M.'s OD&D-based Dwimmermount campaign, a couple of Boot Hill sessions, a B/X game, and a very promising looking AD&D game featuring a run through G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief ("there shall be much slaughter"). I will be running two Labyrinth Lord games again (straight LL, no AEC), playing a homebrewed adventure called Keep of the Zombie Master with my usual OSRCon House Rules:

(1) Multiple Round searching for secret doors allowed, and

(2) Shields Shall Be Splintered!

Like last year, I will provide Pre-Generated PCs to all participants.

A photo of my Friday morning Labyrinth Lord session from OSRCon 2011.

My GM code on the linked schedule is #6421; I'm at Table 2 during Session Two (Friday 3:30pm to 7:30pm) and Table 1 during Session Three (Saturday 9:30am to 1:30pm). I hope you'll strongly consider attending OSRCon if you can, and that you might even join me at my Labyrinth Lord game one of those sessions. I really cannot convey in words how special this Con is, though perhaps this post, this postthis post, this post, and this post can convey some sense of the excitement and fun to be had at this event.

Please keep your eye on the official OSRCon website and blog for updates about the Con, the schedule, and so on.

Ken St. Andre sez: "Meet me at OSRCon 2012!"

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Hobbits, Balrogs, and Tolkien Purism

I have been thinking about Hobbits lately, for many reasons I suppose. For one, The Hobbit is probably my all-time favorite J.R.R. Tolkien novel.  It is faster paced and funnier than the books of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and while Fellowship of the Ring in particular stands out as a flat-out awesome fantasy novel, I vaguely prefer the more whimsical yet satisfying (because it stands alone?) "prequel" installment.

My fandom of The Hobbit was reinforced at an early age by exposure to the Rankin/Bass animated film, which I have always loved. Surely the forthcoming two-part Peter Jackson film adaptation, starring personal favorite Martin Freeman, also plays a role in my having hobbits on the brain.

And these guys, who like to eat hobbits:


Furthermore, a friend who may be joining the Lost City Campaign* as a new player when it re-starts at Lift Bridge Books in May recently said that he wants to play a hobbit in that game. Yes, he used the word "hobbit" even though we were talking about Labyrinth Lord, without any specific mention of Tolkien.

And then Spawn of Endra came and visited me here in Brockport last weekend, and we got to talking about a really amusing idea incidentally connected with hobbits (which I will post about soon).

All that got me to thinking about my strong preference for the term hobbit over halfling.  I rarely use the latter term at all.

THEN I looked back over the most recent Arandish Campaign session report** and realized that I also consistently use the term balrog for a balrog, not balor or type vi or whatever.

No, I like me my good old-fashioned Tolkien terminology; it looks like I am Tolkien snob (purist?) all the way in this respect. Another friend and current player in the Lost City Campaign (who, it should be noted, lives with a domesticated rabbit named Gandalf) dropped by this evening, and we got to talking about The Hobbit, and he agreed that it is a totally enjoyable novel. See what I mean? ADVENTURE is in the air, and hobbits are a part of it!

"The Greatest adventure is what lies ahead. . . " 

"Today and tomorrer. . . "

"Have yet to be said. . . "
* I hereby rename the so-called Brockport Campaign the Lost City Campaign. Fuck all this ABC shit.
** My reports lag four sessions behind the actuality: I am within a few days of posting a report for session 51, and we just played session 55 last Sunday.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Session 50: Warren the Black and Farn Junction Raid

This session occurred on Sunday 1/15/2012. PCs Innominus (Clr-6), Yor (Dwf-6), Dak (Dwf-6) and Vivuli (Assassin-5 / MU-4) were present, along with NPCs Gorgo (Dwf-4, Innominus' follower) and Rodney (Ftr-3, Dak's follower).

The session began in the afternoon of Day 171 of the party's Arandish adventures, as they approached the cave of Warren the Black, a reclusive Minochian wizard the group first met back in Session 36. They sought his help vanquishing the ethereal beings who were haunting their recently acquired mine.

As they neared the cave, a crow appeared overhead; it gave a "Caw!" and then flew down toward the cave. Moments later, the party rounded the corner and found Warren, dressed in woolen robes in his signature color, waiting for them, the crow perched upon his shoulder.

"Little Henry here says he remembers you!" said Warren, and showed the group into his hovel in the mountainside. He immediately bore left into a small cave with a fire pit and some fragrant, earthy tea boiling in a pot suspended over the fire. Warren offered them tea and they drank.

The PCs asked Warren if he could be of help in restoring Uncle Junkal to life, but alas, that lay beyond the wizard's powers. So the Rodian Bard remained a crispy critter for the time being.

Vivuli said: "Our mine is haunted and we need to kick the ghosts' asses.  Also, maybe you can restore our priestly comrade to his proper age?"

While Warren admitted that he could not help Innominus with his aging problem either, he did seem to think he had a solution for the party's mine ghost problem.  He said he could have some anti-ethereal-being scrolls written by the next day (which he did).

Lastly, Innominus asked Warren if he knew the story of the Ghost Tribunal?  Warren said their existence was a popular local legend but that the rumored arcane tower where the three adventurers met their fateful end (i.e., becoming ghosts) had never been located.

In exchange for this information and for the three scrolls of dispel ethereal being, Warren asked that the party bring him, in due course of time, the following items:

- 20 gallons of giant wasp venom
- 2 narwhal horns

Yor also warned the eccentric old wizard that his valley was surrounded by throghrin squadrons, but Warren seemed unfazed.  Apparently no one messed with the reclusive arcanist.

The party departed Warren's cave that same afternoon set off for the plague-ridden city of Farn Junction, a half day's travel southeast. It was snowing moderately as they descended toward the town, which was enveloped in an ominous-looking fog cloud.  They passed by Farn Junction proper, reaching Prince Arkus' encampment a few miles further east by nightfall.

There they learned that Arkus had failed to summon a significant number of clerics to his aid; only Father Azamondius of the Kaladarian sect of Carcoon (Clr 10), plus two of his underlings, Brothers Theosophanes (Clr 5) and Scotty (Clr 3), were on hand.  Hardly enough priests with which to conduct a full-blown purge of the city! Yet Azamondius did agree to raise Uncle Junkal from the dead.

Seeing the Prince was in dire straits, Vivuli summoned vermin and got a bunch more rats, which he sent into Farn Junction forthwith.  Through their eyes, Viv saw that the smoke/fog layer enveloped the entire city, that there were literally no townsfolk visible, and that there were a few saurian balrogs about, occasionally flying overhead.  He could also smell via the rats a strong, pervasive rotting odor of the recently deceased, tinged with a bit of sulfurous smell.

Yor suggested to Arkus that he take a unit of his soldiers to the main city gate and create a diversion while the party sneaked into the city to reconnoiter and find out specifically what had happened to all the Minochians who used to live there.  Arkus agreed, so Viv turned the whole party invisible, and they camped the night, planning to commence their raid in the morning.

Day 173 dawned, snowy and dismal, and the party arose from a troubled night's sleep and made their way toward the fogbound city, accompanied by two of Vivuli's rats. All of them (including the rats) were invisible. Arkus' men showed them to a hidden well in a copse a short distance outside the eastern city wall; descending into the well, the party made their way through an underground tunnel and emerged through a trapdoor into the former city residence of the Lord Mayor, i.e., Prince Arkus.

A section of the Lord Mayor's Residence in Farn Junction; secret tunnel from Residence goes 500' east to hidden well in copse of trees. Note 60' diameter hellpit at bottom left.

The group made it to the residence (seemingly) undetected, the prowled around the property for the better part of an hour, finding a sulfurous, 60' diameter hellpit with three balrogs just west of their entry point (see large rough circle on map above).  They couldn't get close enough to see too deeply into the pit, but were able to feel the intense, sulfurous heat emanating from it, and could hear from below the sound of some hapless soul being whipped and screaming, and the three balrogs in the area laughing with pleasure at the unseen whipping victim's pain. 

Venturing east, the PCs peeked up a street and spotted another balrog seemingly on guard duty outside a well-fortified two-story tower about 100' north of them:  

 "X" marks the balrog!

The group decided to start some shit with the three balrogs surrounding the hellpit, so they approached through the ruined L-shaped banquet hall to the east, sneaked up as close as possible, and attacked!

A vicious melee ensued, wherein Yor lost a thrown handaxe into the pit, Dak's follower Rodney was pulled into the pit (and presumably to his doom) by a dying balrog's whip, and, near the end of the battle, Innominus had Yor throw him at the last remaining flying balrog, whom the Wolverine-like cleric struck down with his mace. The group slew all three balrogs and ended the session standing at the edge of the fiery hellpit, gloating over their triumph and looting the balrogs to the tune of six fire gems.

"We found a pit, a guy being whipped, and a gateway to hell . . . Farn Junction has really gone to shit!" 
--Dak the Younger

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Rob Conley to the Rescue for Magic Item Pricing

I am a "nice" fellow, perhaps to a fault.  I give people a great deal of benefit of the doubt, I am an extremely generous tipper of waiters and other service professionals, and generally tend to be nurturing and patient with my students, colleagues, and friends. This is all well and good when it comes to real life, but as a DM, I often find that I have to force myself to be "tougher" on the PCs than I might normally be inclined to be "in real life."

Case in point: the fantastically low prices I charged for magic items in the early phases of my Arandish Labyrinth Lord campaign.  

Add to this the fact that I basically loathe mathematics (not its existence, for which I am grateful, just the necessity of me doing it) and you have a recipe for disaster, as I have previously confessed in the post linked above.

Enter Rob Conley, who has recently announced a great new resource, Magic Item Creation Costs (with collaborators Tim Shorts and Dwayne Gillingham):

I plan on looking over this beta release and utilizing it a great deal in my own LL game. Thanks Rob!

FYI, this resource is just one of the many exciting chapters in Rob's larger, over-arching current project, the Lost Book of Magic, which "collects all [the rules and background Rob uses to run magic] together much in the same way The Majestic Wilderlands collected [his] rulings and notes for the campaign as a whole." Slated for release this fall, the Lost Book of Magic looks like a winner to me!

Monday, April 2, 2012

OSRCon 2012 is Coming!

As Chris Cunnington has recently announced, OSRCon 2012 is coming!  The event will take place August 10-11 in Toronto, and registration began yesterday.  I attended the event last year and it was a complete and utter blast.  This years' guests of honor include Ed Greenwood (Elminster), James Maliszewski, Chris Huth, and a personal idol of my own, Tunnels and Trolls guru Ken St. Andre!  You can bet that I will be vying for a seat at Ken's gaming table at the Con.

Ken St. Andre sez: "Meet me at OSRCon 2012!"

As for myself, I will be running Labyrinth Lord at the Con again this year, very likely using a homebrewed adventure called Keep of the Zombie Master. I will keep you posted on my own plans for OSRCon here at the Lands of Ara blog.

OSRCon registration only costs $20 CDN before July 1st, or $25 CDN afterward, so make your plans and register soon! Also, keep an eye on the official OSRCon website and blog for updates about the Con, the gaming schedule, etc.

I hope to see everybody in Toronto in August!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Moldvay and Mondrian Variations

So speaketh Spawn:

I was messing around with Illustrator on some map-making the other day using the map in the Moldvay Basic book for the East Tower of the Haunted Keep (p. B57) as a base. At one point I had this image in front of me:

I sat there looking at it for a while, feeling pleased, and thought it reminded me of ... who's that guy? Mondrian? Google told me, Yes, you're thinking of Mondrian. So I screwed around with it more and came up with these variations.

After Composition with Gray and Light Brown, 1918
After Composition with Blue and Yellow, 1932

After Tableau #2, 1922
After Composition #2, 1922
After Lozenge Composition with Yellow, Black, Blue, Red and Gray, 1921
Update: Following John L's comment about making a Mondrian image into a dungeon map, I'd suggest something like this one to be a good candidate, Composition No. 2, Composition in Line and Color, 1913. Found here (scroll sideways a bit).