Saturday, August 30, 2014

WH6 Trouble in Wolfsdale

The adventure from last Saturday is a bit of an experiment. I am using UK2 The Sentinel as the basis (replacing some of the weirder creatures with currently available counterparts) and not caring much about encounter balancing. So far it works great. Also, I want to see if an "adventure path" survives the changing player roster of my campaign.

Notes: The full Player's Handbook is used together with monsters from the Hoard of the Dragon Queen web supplement and D&D Basic for the DM V0.1.

Cast of Characters:

  • Bruenor "Bonebreaker", male mountain dwarf fighter (soldier)
  • Chazna Faertala, female drow druid (noble/hermit)
  • Mab "Steelfist", female human fighter (soldier)
  • Orell Underhill, male stout halfling rogue (spy)

Bruenor, Mab and Orell are still at Miller's Crossing, celebrating and relaxing at the Sleeping Mermaid Inn. At another table we have short cameos by Khelben, Valrian, Sh'razzar and Grandor. Then, Orell spies something unusual outside a window: a hooded shape with burning red eyes. The four heroes dash outside to see a fleeing person that heads toward the sacred grove. Had the person headed into any other direction, they probably would have let them go. But this just looks suspicious. Upon reaching the grove, the person tries to climb a tree but falls down and is finally caught by Mab who handily outdistanced the dwarf and the halfling during the pursuit.

The person turns out to be Chazna, a drow druid from the underdark on the run from mysterious forces who murdered her mentor and stole her circle of standing stones (see a pattern here?). The heroes march her back to the inn in order to interrogate her in a rather friendly manner. Kellion is at first a bit suspicious of the drow, but later relents. Chazna appears to be rather innocent in comparison to the vile legends about her kin. Mab decides to arrest her at the inn and see what they can do about her the next day.

On the next day, a village elder from the south arrives at Miller's Crossing. He is from Wolfsdale and reports about trouble at the village. Some has been murdering farm animals, babies and the elderly. He heard that Captain Khelben of the Dragon Guard is at Miller's Crossing and hopes for help. Khelben and company is already gone though, investigating a stone circle across Lake Crescent. But Mab promises to help. They decide to take Chazna with them, because they can't really leave her in Miller's Crossing all by herself. After all, she might be a spy - something that at least Orell suspects.

After a week of travel across the hills of the Weathered Heath, they reach Wolfsdale. There they start to investigate. Apparently, a script in blood was left at one of the almost-murder sites. But they aren't able to read the script. It's not any language that they know. Not even Chazna can help them.

The next couple of days of investigation are rather frustrating:

  • The town cleric of Arianna, goddess of stars and the hunt, thinks it's an ettercap committing the atrocities.
  • Apparently, the murderer has grown less murderous. There are survivors.
  • Patrolling the immediate area doesn't turn up anything at all.

Finally, Bruenor turns up a lead. While at the inn, he talks with the townsfolk. They tell him that they fought a goblin tribe some years ago. They never found the lair, but suspect that it's located near the lake to the south. Not having any other lead, the group decides to search for the lair. Maybe something can be found there.

After a days travel into the forested hills around the largest lake in the Weathered Heath, the heroes find a hill that is fortified with a stockade. Some people seem to be on patrol on the stockade. After making camp, Chazna decides to go into elven trance, so that she can take watch at night. Orell decides to go swimming. A small creek is running at the back of the hill, and Orell carefully hides in the water. At the backside of the hill, he leaves the water and climbs a steep rock face with many handholds that is about 10 feet high. Above the rock face he reaches the stockade and manages to get a glimpse of the other side. The "people" on the stockade turn out to be spears with helmets stuck on them. With this new discovery he returns to the camp.

After Chazna has awoken from her trance, the group advances on the stockade. Mab discovers that the front gate isn't even barred. They enter the stockade and find the entrance to a network of small caves under the hill. They encounter a couple of traps, then two mountain lions and their master, a half-orc. They kill the lions and capture the half-orc. Mab and Chazna get him to talk. He tells them that:

  • He lives here with his human mother and six half-orc brothers.
  • They captured an ettercap, but another got away using magic.
  • His mother and brothers are looking for the ettercap.
  • His mother is a mighty wizardress,
  • They chased away a tribe of goblins who used to lair here half a year ago.

Mab tells him that they have seven days to leave the area and that they should take that chance. Then the group searches the living quarters of the bandits.They find a lot of loot that the bandits captured, and also quite some riches amassed by the mother. They only take some of the coins (platinum pieces, eight aquamarines and some of the gold). The rest they leave for the family.

They also find a rough map of the surrounding area. It shows a cross about six miles to the south, indicating a villa and the note: "Villa and ettercap."

Then they move out of the lair and to the back of the hill. There they hide and wait until mother and three of her sons return. Then they sneak out to the front gate, but are discovered shortly before leaving the compound. The half-orcs attack and advance on the party. Chazna is seriously injured and goes unconscious. Mab goes on the offensive. Bruenor carries Chazna outside and then joins Mab. Orell takes up sniping position. The mother is indeed a wizardress or sorceress. She blasts Mab and Bruenor with a color spray, casts mirror image to protect herself, and her sons advance on the party. Mab repeats her threat of seven days. But ultimately, the party has to withdraw. Everyone is already outside of the compound, except Mab. When she tries to leave, suddenly a stone wall appears across the exit. But Mab isn't phased at all. She leaps up onto the stockade and then jumps down on the other side (That was rather spectecular, especially since Bruenor was immediately afterwards: "Why didn't you use the gate?" - Phantsmal force was really brilliant here.) As the heroes flee into the night, some bolts hit them. But that's just some random shots. As they enter the forest, Bruenor turns around at screams: "You have seven days to leave! Then we will be back."

To be continued...

Thursday, August 28, 2014

TJ4 The Swamp of Dying Dreams Part 2

This is a direct continuation of the first part: TJ3 The Swamp of Dying Dreams Part 1. I consider this part of the same "module", therefore it is still TJ3. Tanris, the rogue, unfortunately couldn't make it to that game session.

Notes: This session used the full Player's Handbook (in practice the heroes were still all built with D&D Basic) and monsters from the web supplement for "Hoard of the Dragon Queen" and the D&D Basic DM Guide V0.1.

Cast of Characters:
  • Bangrimm, male hill dwarven cleric (acolyte)
  • Brim Smallcare, male lightfoot halfling fighter (folk hero)
  • Taklinn Frostbeard, male mountain dwarf wizard/fighter (soldier)
  • Tendrak Talis, male human fighter (soldier)
On the next morning, the heroes eat breakfast and encounter a bar maid that has apparently slept very unwell. She tells them that everyone is having bad dreams and a restful night is something from the past. They then decide to interrogate their lizardman prisoner again. After some intimidation by Taklinn, he spills the beans in Draconic which only Bangrimm can speak. Taklinn uses comprehend languages to listen in. The lizardman tells them that they are planning to return the swamp that was drained during the founding of Rakurstada to its proper place. He claims that they need the captured townspeople for a ritual to drown the town. He also tells them under duress that the other lizardmen are hiding somewhere to the north of the town within one mile of its walls.

Then the heroes go into the town of Rakurstada to complete some business. Bangrimm goes to town in order to visit the temple of Nastruhal, deity of smiths and craftsmen, for some advice. Taklinn wants turn over the lizardman to the authorities. Tendrak and Brim want to visit the temple of Waradin, deity of war to get some advice and healing potions.

Bangrimm is met with incredulousness by the local clergy when he tells them about the plans of the lizardmen. But in the end, he browbeats them into promising him a reward, if he can prove his story.

Taklinn meanwhile is surprise by the swift justice of the Jarl's huscarls. Their leader simply executes the lizardman on the spot, and tells Taklinn that their heads a worth 2 gold pieces each. Taklinn gets those two gold pieces. Also, the leader of the huscarls is not very convinced of the story told by Taklinn.

Tendrak and Brim fare a little better at the temple of Waradin. A cleric tells them that indeed the town was founded on a swamp and that the swamp was drained. Then he sells them healing potions and emblems of Waradin. Even Brim gets a healing potion after Tendrak testifies that the halfling is a mighty warrior.

The group meets up at the marketplace and decides to check on the resident wizard. Maybe he can tell them more about the ritual. He isn't at home and they just meet one of his apprentices, the girl Ysra. She can't really help them, except tell them that the wizard is the eldest son of the Jarl and not very well liked by his kinsmen. Brim suspects that he maybe in league with the lizardmen.

Finally, the group leaves town. And indeed, the captive lizardman didn't lie to them. There is a small hill by a stream just outside of town. Brim scouts ahead to a ruined hut, but there he is discovered by a lizardman guarding the approach to the hill. He calls for reinforcement, but even four lizardmen don't stand a chance against the heroes. During the battle, they even try to drown Tendrak in his armor. Brim and Tendrak set two of the lizardmen on fire, but the fourth can escape.

Afterwards, they try to cross the stream. Brim finds a tree on the other side of the stream at the entrance to a cave into the hill. He slings a lasso around a branch of the tree and does some impressive tightrope walking to the other river bank. Unfortunately, the tree is alive. It jerks the rope and Brim goes tumbling into the water. At the same time two lizardmen throw javelins at the group. A lengthy combat ensues. The lizardmen are backed up by some sort of shaman or druid who casts spell after spell at the group. Melf's acid arrow wounds Taklinn heavily, Brim and Tendrak fight underwater against the two lizardmen, then a stinking cloud incapicitates Bangrimm and Taklinn. But too late, they take down the awakened tree and finally reach the other side of the stream. The day is won! But the druid escapes through the water,

Inside the cave they find maps and ritual scrolls that could indeed return Rakurstada to a swamp. Also, they find the missing townspeople and some treasure (money, spell scrolls and healing potions). The ritual scrolls are enough to convince Bangrimm's superiors of the validity of the threat and they also reward the party. Taklinn collects on the lizardmen's heads.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

WH5 The Walking Stones: Tannoch Rest of Kings

Notes: The adventure is based on Tannoch Rest of Kings and introduces part of the campaign arc for the Weathered Heath. The full Player's Handbook is used together with monsters from the Hoard of the Dragon Queen web supplement and D&D Basic for the DM V0.1.

Cast of Characters:
  • Bruenor "Bonebreaker", male dwarf fighter (soldier)
  • Grandor Runnaheim, male dwarf cleric (acolyte)
  • Khelben, male human wizard (soldier)
  • Mab, female human fighter (soldier)
Khelben and Mab are still trying to solve the mystery of the vanished stones, when Silea, the half-elven druidess of Miller's Crossing asks them for another favor. The village provides food and other consumables to a group of nuns living on a rocky island in Lake Crescent. They belong to the church of Celos, the deity of light and wisdom. The nuns apparently guard the resting places of magicians. But the last supply ship sent by the village a week ago, hasn't returned. So now Silea is worried and asks Khelben and company (Mab and Grandor) to investigate what happened.

But before they can set sail for the island, the head of the town militia reports that just outside of town, a caravan is attacked by "flying creatures". Khelben immediately asks: "Do you have trouble with harpies?" A perplexed militia captain answers "Yes, sometimes.." (good call by the player). So the three rush out to help the caravan that is under attack. 

There, they find Bruenor defending the caravan leader against attacks by vicious harpies. But all in all, not a big issue, since Khelben and Company makes short work of the harpies. Then they head back to town with the survivors and Grandor recognizes Bruennor as a cousin from the south, and of course Mab remembers the dwarven fighter who saved her live at the Battle of Madrenor. Five years ago, he literally dragged her out of a pile of dead soldiers shortly before the firewall spells hit the battle lines to cover the retreat of the defeated army of Thoran.

After taking a short rest, the companions set out towards the Isle of Tannoch Rest of Kings in a small sailing boat. Much to the dismay of Bruenor who somehow doesn't like water. Shortly before reaching the rocky island, they are attacked by an aquatic orgre who destroys their boat, but can be defeated. Mab almost looses her enchanted plate mail armor during the battle, as she wasn't wearing it. Mab has the idea of clinging to the wreck of the boat and swim the last few minutes to the island.

The plan is sound, but as the approach the stairs leading up to the tower on the island, rocks are thrown at them. The remains of the boat are smashed to pieces and they have to start swimming while rocks are launched at them. This attack continues all the way up to the tower, apparently perpetrated by an ogress who clings to the topmost battlements of the ruined tower.

Inside the tower, the group heads down into the lower levels. Everything here is wrecked and apparently, the nuns were taken as food by the ogres during the previous months. They barricade themselves in the lower levels and take a short rest. Suddenly, they are startled as a surviving nun appears out of the rock. Marta, as she is called, fills them in on what happened here: during the winter, three ogres came and stormed the nunnery. She tells them that the nun were guarding the remains of evil magicians who feared for their souls at the end of their lives. She also tells them about an ogre in the crypt who has started to open the graves and eating the ashes of the deceased. The group decides to search for that ogre.

Mab continues to think about everything that was happening in winter: three standing stones disappear, three ogres appear. She seems to see a connection.

But first, they battle the one-eyed ogre in the crypts. He is very strange. Each time Mab cuts him with her sword, something escapes from his flesh. Once even a spectre that is turned by Grandor. The group quickly dispatches the spectre after defeating the ogre. Then they return to Miller's Crossing, promising Marta to send her provisions.

In Miller's Crossing, they continue to investigate what happened. Apparently a lot of things:
  • The dead wizard Hallad al-Bim was brought to the isle of Tannoch in the last summer by his apprentice Stannus.
  • Later in fall, the apprentice re-appeared and tried to be taken to the island. But the villagers didn't help him.
  • Stannus seemed to be looking for something.
  • On the hill with the three missing standing stones, they find a small altar dedicated to Vathris, a southern sun goddess associated with fire.
They come to the conclusion that somehow Stannus managed to turn the stones into ogres after they hearing legends from Silea that the standing stone in the Weathered Heath were originally giants turned to stone by the gods themselves. But how can that be? Giants are a myth and only appear in the tales for children to frighten them. But Mab thinks there is truth behind the stories. Now Khelben worries that Stannus might be out there, trying to turn other standing stones back into giants.

During the investigation a couple of adventurers arrive in town: Kellion, apparently a sorcerer, and Tris, his ranger companion. The two have even met Stannus and Hallad al-Bim, because they were fighting them about a year ago. They know that Hallad al-Bim possessed a diadem of some arcane power. Apparently that diadem was taken to the isle of Tannoch, but Stannus wants to have it for himself. That's why he came back.

Fearing for the nun's safety, Khelben and Company return to the island. But there, the nun proofs rather uncooperative and even summons spirit guardians to keep the heroes from investigating the diadem that rightfully belongs to her order. Frustrated they leave.

In the evening, Kellion and Tris return from their adventures and tell them that another circle of standing stones has gone missing. This time six of them. Kellion posits that, if the myths around the standing stones are true, the unravelling of the gods' curse could cause a chain reaction, slowly turning all standing stones back into giants. Khelben is rather unsettled at hearing this. He asks them, where the next standing stones are located. They tell him that it's across the lake. The circle is called the Dancing Dew Maidens. Khelben decides to investigate. First, in all haste, but then Kellion tells him that the spell probably won't unravel over night. The group debates on the fastest way of getting to the Dancing Dew Maidens: either two to three days by horse or six hours straight across the lake by boat and then a short hike into the woods.

To be continued...

Closing note: My players are far too experienced. I had hoped to not have them notice that the standing stones walked away for at least another couple of months, since they are still too low level for the main plot which includes fighting giants.

Friday, August 22, 2014

WH4 The Walking Stones: Another Missing Person

Notes: The full Player's Handbook is used together with monsters from the Hoard of the Dragon Queen web supplement and D&D Basic for the DM V0.1.

Cast of Characters:

  • Khelben, male human wizard (soldier)
  • Mab, female human fighter (soldier)
  • Orell Underhill, male halfling rogue (spy)

Khelben and his small travelling company (see WH3) have reached Miller's Crossing at Lake Crescent. There they meet with Mab and Geoffrey (see WH2). At the Sleeping Mermaid Inn, Orell finds them with a message from Khelben's superior officers. In the message they order him to remain in the Weathered Heath for the time being and to continue monitoring for unsual activities.

The evening at the inn is spent playing cards, talking to some locals and later Mab sees Geoffrey slipping out with a local youth called George. Everyone returns to their rooms. At night, Khelben dreams about a meeting with his elven superior back in Mirena (actually a dream spell used to speed communication). He informs them about the dark wizard Archibaldus, his collaboration with the goblins and that this was seemingly instigated by the Walyran hierarch of Taronn via the dancing devil Malburzan (see WH2).

On the next morning they meet the half-elven druidess Silea who tells them about her predicament: her circle of standing stones has gone missing in the previous winter. Khelben, Mab and Orell find that hard to believe and go to investigate the sacred grove on the top of the hill. Silea apparently was right: the three standing stones have gone missing, leaving only holes in the ground. Only the sacred twin oak in the middle of the grove remains.

From the hill, Mab sees a body floating in the water of the lake. They go down to the shore and it turns out to be George. He's dead, apparently seared by lightning. The heroes decide to return him to town. There, they hand him over to his crying mother. Then they start wondering what happened to Geoffrey. They hear about some caves below water level. Mab intimidates the village youths into telling her, where to find the entrance to the caves. The intimidation consists of simply slugging two of them unconscious on orders from Khelben as they are reluctant to talk at first.

They return to the shore and Mab scouts ahead under water secured by ropes. She finds cave entrances, a cave with a small beach and and a dry tunnel leading deeper into the earth. Orell and Khelben follow her. Before Mab ist out of the water, they are attacked by a Will O'Wisp. It downs Khelben immediately (critical hit), but is defeated by Mab and Orell. Back in the cave, they find an unconscious Geoffrey who tells them that George and he were headed to the shore sharing tales and beer. There they were attacked by the Will O'Wisp. George was killed, and Geoffrey was taken captive.

But still they are no closer to solving the mystery of the vanished standing stones.

To be continued...

Saturday, August 16, 2014

WH3 The Caves of the Living God

This is the third session of my ongoing home brew D&D 5e campaign. The last time our heroes defeated an evil mage who was organizing the goblins of the Weathered Heath into a fighting force allied with Thoran's deadly enemy Walyra.

Note: This session used the full Player's Handbook and monsters from the Hoard of the Dragon Queen web supplement and the D&D Basic DM Guide.

Cast of Characters:

  • Grandor, male dwarf cleric (acolyte)
  • Khelben, male human wizard (soldier)
  • Sh'razzar, female tiefling ranger (guild artisan)
  • Valrian Liadon, male wood elf fighter (spy)

Khelben and Grandor are on their way to Miller's Crossing from Griffon Rock as the first stop of their way back to Mirena. Valrian is on his way to Griffon Rock to deliver an important and sealed message to the baroness. And Sh'razzar is on her way south from the empire of Irralldon to seek vengeance for the death of her guild master at the hand of the undead. They killed him and stole something precious from him, apparently in the employ of an even greater evil hiding in the Weathered Heath.

Sh'razzar is crossing the Silver Run when Khelben, Grandor and Valrian notice that she's walking directly into an ambush. A bugbear and his two hobgoblin cronies are waiting for her. The three heroes decide to save the tiefling. Together, they defeat the goblins, but only after Sh'razzar is gravely wounded. Grandor heals her, when they notice that bad weather is arriving rapidly. Rain, thunder and lightning make travel a hazardous proposition at best.

Sh'razzar spots the entrance to a cave and they hurry to get there before the storm begins in earnest. Their relief at finding the cave is short lived, as the cave is chest deep under water for the most part. The adventurers have to move deeper into the cave to reach a dry spot. While swimming through the waters, they are attacked by two giant crabs. The group defeates them handily and decides to take one for dinner. In the dry part of the cave, they are surprised by a trio of lizardmen that demands tribute for their god Rashambur. A god nobody has ever heard of. Grandor manages to convince them to take the crab and leave them alone. At least that's what he thinks will happen.

Meanwhile, Khelben examines the cave walls and finds barely visible primitive pictographs about a series of battles between little folk (most likely gnomes and halflings) and some giantish folks. It's unclear who remained victorious. The pictograms seem to be ancient and dedicated to the three northern gods Elissar, Nangaloss and Nitarro [1]. The three are brothers, yet Elissar created Nitarro as a companion, and both together created Nangaloss. Elissar is a deity of wolves, dreams and winter. Nangaloss is a patron of the crafts and smiths, as well as the creator of dwarves and dragons (incidentally, Grandor is a cleric of Nangaloss and Sh'razzar worships that deity). Nitarro is a dark god of lies, trickery and illusion who created the dark elves (who are the predecessors of the high elves in my campaign setting).

The party settles for a long rest. Valrian takes first watch and hides behind a stone pillar. Sh'razzar is having some really eerie dreams. She meets  a man that sits cross-legged at a fire. The flames cast his skin either as pale or extremly dark. His flaxen hair is covered by a deep hood. He tells her that ancient things are moving again and that she should watch for the giants' dances. Then he hands her moonstone [2]. At that moment, she's painfully awakened.

While the party was sleeping, the lizardmen returned. They snuck into the cavern and attacked the three sleeping party members. Valrian did not notice them (Stealth check 25 vs. his passive perception of 14), but they also did not notice him. Sh'razzar is knocked out immediately, the others wake up. A battle commences. Sh'razzar is revived by Grandor and the tide of the battle turns rather quickly. In the end, two lizardmen are dead, the third is taken prisoner. Grandor interrogates him and afterwards Valrian kills it in cold blood. They find out that (a) the "god" of the lizardmen seems to be a living being, (b) the "god" can fly and most importantly (c) that he doesn't look like them. Which is a relief, because the party suspected a dragon. Now Valrian thinks the "god" of the lizardmen is a manticore.

Cautiously, the heroes move deeper into the cave. They do not encounter anymore lizardmen, but they do find more pictographs and the "god" who indeed turns out to be a manticore (good call by Valrian). Again a fight takes place. The party manages to defeat the hungry "god" of the lizardmen. Among the bones of its victims Sh'razzar finds 100 gold pieces and Goggles of Night. She keeps everything for herself, except for one gold piece that she gives rather dismissively to Valrian.

After a short rest, the party continues to explore the caves. Behind an ancient portcullies they find the remains of four small bodies arranged on funeral biers. One is wearing copper bracers that seem untouched by the tides of time. The other three have small bottles tucked in the remains of their belts. Khelben prevents Sh'razzar from disturbing the remains of the little people. He checks for magic and finds lingering traces of abjuration magic around the bracers, and evocation magic in the bottles. Finally Grandor discovers a glyph warning of good magic in the place. The glyph seems to be dark elven in origin. This confirms their suspicions about proud and good warriors resting here, and they finally decide to try another long rest.

During the rest, Khelben figures out the Goggles of Night, and has a strange dream where a spectral halfling hands him the two bracers for the coming hardships. After he wakes up, he carefully removes the bracers from the halfling's corpse. They will turn out later to be Bracers of Defense.

Then they decide to go on exploring beyond the dark elven glyph. After spending some hours in the upper reaches of the Underdark, they narrowly manage to avoid a party of dark elves led by a priestess of Sardyna, deity of death and disease. That convinces them to return to the surface and leave the caves behind. The four heroes continue on their way, carrying with them knowledge of the ancient deeds and a blessing from the moon gods.

To be continued...

Footnotes: 
[1] My campaign setting has a total of three different pantheons. The primordial gods who shaped the world, the lunar gods [3] who found the world, and the mysterious eightfold gods that simply came from nowhere. The lunar gods are mentioned above, Sardyna is part of the eightfold gods, as is Celos the main (and only) deity of Walyra, her brother.

[2] Moonstones are sacred to the lunar or northern gods. They are said to be crystallized "tears" (or some other bodily fluid) of the gods. Swallowing a moonstone enables you to cast a bless spell as first level cleric once.

[3] The setting has two moons: a blood red moon dedicated to Nitarro, deity of trickery and illusion, and a silver moon dedicated to Elissar, deity of wolves and winter. A third moon might have existed, but all that remains are the Shards of Nangaloss that form a ring about the world.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

TJ3 The Swamp of Dying Dreams Part 1

Again a Google hangout session with some of the folks from the previous hangouts.

Notes: This session theoretically used the full Player's Handbook (in practice the heroes were still all built with D&D Basic) and monsters from the web supplement for "Hoard of the Dragon Queen" and the D&D Basic DM Guide V0.1.

Cast of Characters:

  • Bangrimm, male mountain dwarven cleric (acolyte)
  • Brim Smallcare, male lightfoot halfling fighter (folk hero)
  • Taklinn Frostbeard, male mountain dwarf wizard (soldier)
  • Tanris, male human rogue (criminal)
  • Tendrak Talis, male human fighter (soldier)

The characters are travelling (as always) as caravan guards with Sorrenson and his beautiful daughter Ingdis from Svarturvigi to the remote town of Rakurstada on the outskirts of the country of Tjalmar, adjacent to the Weathered Heath. On their way to Rakurstada they are attacked by a trio of Perytons that they are able to defeat, but Tanris manages to turn over the lead wagon and the oxen break free. Brim captures the oxen and the caravan continues on. During the fight everyone was very protective of Ingdis, but Tanris was knocked unconscious and the cleric had no spells left to heal him.

As they arrive at Rakurstada, the gates to the town proper are already closed. So they have to stay at the Burning Rooster Inn (so called because it burns down a lot) in the foregate. Bangrimm is greeted by the townsfolk who are in dire straits. People keep disappearing at night on the streets.

Meanwhile, Brim settles Tanris in a separated sleeping quarter so that he'll awake rested and relaxed. Tendrak pays a bar maid to listen to his stories, but wants it to appear as if they were doing more than talking. Taklinn has a run-in with a group of hill dwarves who don't seem to be overly fond of their mountain dwarf cousin.

After Tanris is awake and the heroes have taken a short rest, Brim dresses up as a helpless maiden to act as bait for the unknown kidnappers. The plan works, even though Brim is overacting more than a little bit. A trio of lizardmen appear to kidnap him and are defeated by the heroes. One lizardman is left alive and interrogated by the cleric. So far, it hasn't told them much. Brim plans to turn the lizardman over to the town's watch in the morning. The party ties up the captive securely and go back to the Burning Rooster for a well-deserved long rest.

[Here we made a break since it had gotten late. The initial fight with the perytons took a lot longer than anticipated. The story continues with part 2]

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Sand & Silk: The setting pitch

The orcs are leaving their ancient northern mountain strongholds to conquer the Jasareef Empire. Their cunning half-orc leader Grask Skullcrusher and his cabal of fiendish warlocks plan to subjugate the human cities. General Ashourina Palasar has suffered a crushing defeat at the battle of White Water Springs against the orc hordes. The general herself has gone missing in the aftermath of the battle. The situation is looking grim and dire indeed in the north.

Yet in the southernmost province, where the Doomglaroon river winds its way through a steep canyon in the Nadashareen desert into the Eloysian sea, life goes on as always. The troubles in the north are just distant echos heard through rumors and tales of veteran soldiers. Sharamsar, the poisoned jewel of the Jasareef empire languishes in the sweltering heat and humidity of the river delta beneath the twin temples of Relkas and Tanit. The monotony of the passing days only disturbed by the arrival of a new governor, the estranged Prince Shaybo Khadon who has been exiled by his step-brother the emperor to this remote backwater city. The arrival of the prince and his court signals a shift in the balance of power with in the provincial capital.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

When you realize that the past is past...

For the past month or so, I've been working on a campaign setting for the new Dungeons & Dragons game (5th edition to some, Next to others, D&D to me). It wasn't a new campaign setting, it was a coherent amalgamation of nearly all my ideas regarding a fantasy game settings of the past 28 years ago (except for the Drowning Woods). I wrote 20K words, about 117K characters, only to realize that setting might jam on paper, but that all in all it felt hollow and stale. The oldest parts of the setting are from the 1980ies and follow close in Tolkien's and to a lesser degree Eddings' footsteps. The newest parts are from about 10 years ago, and started with a dream. They are a grittier, more daring, at least that's what I tell myself. I took time and did a map in Campaign Hexographer that is based on an original map from 1990 drawn during my stay in the US. All the pieces fit together and finally make sense, even though some parts of the setting exist solely, because everything should have a place there. The setting roughly covers a continent the size of Europe without Russia. I have the mythology down, a total of 20 deities, and a history stretching back ten thousand years. At least in broad strokes.

Then I set back and took a look at the setting. I even started to construct the map for the campaign area. But gradually I realized that the setting is complete, but that maybe I just don't want to play there. It feels dated, it doesn't match my current sensibilities.

My influences on the setting were:
  • Tolkien's Lord of the Rings
  • David Eddings' Belgariad and Malloreon
  • Marion Zimmer Bradley's Mists of Avalon
  • Diana L. Paxson's The White Raven
  • Mercedes Lackey's The Last Herald Mage
  • A hint of Robert Asprin's & Lynn Abbey's Sanctuary
  • The AD&D 2nd Edition Historical Reference series (Age of Heroes, The Celts)
  • Myranor (a setting for the German role-playing game The Dark Eye)

All in all pretty standard, but my tastes have changed in the last 28 years (maybe not changed, but shifted). Instead of the above I would rather like to DM in a settting inspired by:

  • Richard Morgan's World in Need of Heroes (The Steel Remains, The Cold Commands, The Dark Defiles)
  • Tanith Lee's Tales of the Flat Earth
  • Mary Renault's The Persian Boy
  • More than a hint of Robert Asprin's & Lynn Abbey's Sanctuary
  • The Spartacus TV Series (Gods of the Arena, Blood & Sand, Vengeance, War of the Damned)
  • The Vikings TV Series
  • The setting of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea (just plain awesome)

In short, a somewhat grittier, edgier, moodier, darker and more exotic setting. A setting of sands and silk, sweltering nights and desperate days, splendor and decadence. A setting that marginalizes the standard races like halflings, dwarves, elves and gnomes, and instead features dragonborn, tieflings and drow. And I guess, I just hit on my working title Sand & Silk.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Comparision between D&D 5e and 13th Age

Someone in my G+ circles has asked me about the differences between D&D 5e and 13th Age. Probably, because he faces the same decision I did about a month ago: go forward with 13th Age, where a lot of rulebooks, a bestiary and a couple of adventures are already available, or wait for D&D 5e to be released bit by bit. 

Anyway, I think that such a comparison might be of interest to several people out there. This is meant to be a a comparison, not an invitation for "edition waring". Any comments going down that road will be deleted.

Both games are based on early editions of D&D. 13th Age via OGL, D&D 5e by virtue of being the 5th edition of the world's most popular role-playing game. 13th Age brings a lot of awesome to the table that's partially derived from "indie" game mechanics, but also can be ported to other games derived from D&D.

13th Age

  • Ability Checks: They usually are made using the attribute modifier + level + applicable background.
  • Armor Class & Damage: Are hard-coded into your class depending on the type of armor and weapon you use. Damage also scales with level (e.g. longsword wielded by a level 1 character does 1d8 damage, wielded by a level 5 character it causes 5d8 damage).
  • Adventuring day: For purposes of "daily" powers, an adventuring day consists of four encounters. No matter how much in-game time elapses between the encounters. After that time, the characters also fully recover their hit points and recoveries.
  • Background: A background is basically a replacement for skills. You can be a Soldier +3, Hermit +5, and the rulebook encourages you to use colorful and evocative names for them.
  • Classes: Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Fighter, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Sorcerer and Wizard in the 13th Age rulebook, and Chaos Mage, Commander, Druid, Monk, Necromancer and Occultist in 13 True Ways.
  • Class Abilities: They are structured somewhat like in D&D 4e into at-will, daily and encounter powers. They are short and complete rules snippets that determine ability used to hit, effect and damage.
  • Combat: Doesn't use a grid, does use abstract distances.
  • Default Game Setting: The Dragon Empire in an area about as large as the eastern Mediterranean and environs, centered around the Midland sea. The setting is a bit quirky and leaves much room for the GM to add stuff to.
  • Defenses: Instead of saving throws, 13th Age uses Physical and Mental Defense as static values.
  • Escalation Die: After the first round of combat, the d6 used as escalation die starts to increase by 1 each turn of combat. You get to add the die to your attack rolls making it more likely to hit a monster in later rounds. Also some nifty effects are tied to the escalation die, both for monsters and characters. (Note: in D&D 5e that die isn't really necessary, because as of this writing AC seems to be a lot lower than in D&D 3e or 4e).
  • Feats: Gained at every level. They give a small advantage and are directly tied to class abilities (some are general feats).
  • Hit Points: You generally start out tougher (about three time as tough as in D&D 5e), but monsters do more damage.
  • Icon Relationships: You initially get three points to determine your relationship to iconic NPCs and their organizations in the game world. Relationships can be positive, negative or conflicted. These relationships will affect game play via relationship rolls on d6s, where 6 means a good result and 5 means a mixed bag.
  • Levels: 13th Age game play stretches across 10 levels, divided into 3 tiers of play that determine how difficult things like skill checks are, how much damage you take from traps etc.
  • Races: Dwarves, Elves (High, Wood & Dark), Gnomes, Halflings, Half-Elves, Half-Orcs as major races, and Aasimar, Dragonspawn, Tieflings and Forgeborn as optional races.
  • Recoveries: Each character has a number of recoveries that allow him to regain hit points by rolling a number of dice dependent on his level (e.g. level 1 characters roll one die, level 6 characters roll six dice). The die size depends on class. Once per battle, one recovery can be used as an action. After a battle you can also use recoveries.
  • Rituals: These are spells cast for story effect and the GM will tell you how long it takes to cast the ritual and what rolls to make.
  • Spells: Spells are learned in slots and come as at-will, daily and encounter variants, their effect (often damage) increases depending on the slot they are in, but as you advance your slots advance with you (i.e. you loose your lower level spell slots). Each spellcasting class gets about as many spells as other classes get class abilities.
  • Two Weapon Fighting: If you carry a weapon in your off-hand, you are allowed to make an additional attack roll, if your first attack roll came up as "2".

D&D 5e

  • Ability Checks: They are usually made using the attribute modifier + proficiency bonus when applicable.
  • Advantage/Disadvantage: This nifty mechanic allows you to roll 2d20. If you have advantage, you take the higher of the two results. If you have disadvantage, you take the lower of the two results. This replaces modifiers to the die roll.
  • Adventuring Day: An adventuring day is tied to in-game time. You can have one long rest per adventuring day that completely recovers your hit points, and half your hit dice.
  • Armor Class & Damage: Both are determined from class-independent tables.
  • Backgrounds: A background provides your character with several proficiencies in skills and tools, some languages and social ability. You can be a soldier or hermit and gain proficiencies associated with that background.
  • Classes: Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Sorcerer, Warlock and Wizard all right in the Player's Handbook.
  • Class Abilities: They are very different from class to class. Usually they interact with the rest of the mechanics instead of being self-contained rules snippets.
  • Combat: Doesn't use a grid, but defined distances.
  • Default Game Setting: The Forgotten Realms. A sprawling world, defined in literally hundreds of books and novels. But apparently, that's only part of the setting called Multiversum that contains all the D&D campaign settings and the planes, plus whatever your DM comes up with.
  • Feats: Stronger game-effects than in previous editions, but completely optional. If allowed by the DM, maybe taken instead of an attribute raise (roughly every four levels, none at character creation unless you are a human).
  • Hit Dice: Your character has hit dice equal to his level. Their size depends on class. You can take a short rest of one hour and then roll as many hit dice as you like to recover lost hit points.
  • Hit Points: You start out with a small amount of hit points determined by class plus Constitution modifier. Each time you gain a level you can decide, if you want to gain a slightly above average of hit points or if you feel lucky and roll the hit dice. Hit points scale a lot like in earlier editions, but instead of d4 you now use d6 for the former d4-using classes. The d6-using classes moved up to d8.
  • Levels: D&D 5e has currently 20 levels of game play divided into four tiers that are used to determine which adventures are suitable for your character (especially in the Adventurer's League).
  • Proficiencies: Your character can be proficient in various weapons, armors, skills, tools, saving throws and languages. If you are proficient, you add your proficiency bonus to the roll. The proficiency bonus rises after every 4 levels. Armor and languages work slightly different.
  • Races: Dragonborn, Dwarves (Hill & Mountain), Elves (High, Wood & Dark), Gnomes (Wood & Rock), Halflings (Light-Foot & Stout), Half-Elves, Half-Orcs and Tieflings.
  • Rituals: These are spells with the ritual descriptor. They can be cast in a short ritual and don't have to be prepared in advance, if cast that way.
  • Saving Throws: Instead of static defenses, D&D 5e uses six saving throws (one for each attribute).
  • Spells: Spells are prepared in slots, they don't increase their effect based on your character level, but instead increase their effect based on the slot you use to cast them. The PHB will contain more than 300 spells for all spellcasting classes.
  • Two Weapon Fighting: As long as you only carry a light weapon in each hand, you can attack twice with your full attack bonus.

My own conclusion: I went the D&D 5e road starting with D&D Basic. That wasn't motivated by any of the above, though. I am still torn on the issue which system to use. But when I asked my gamer friends, if the would like to play a regular 13th Age campaign, I was met with lukewarm interest. When I told them, I think about doing a D&D campaign, the reaction was markedly different. There was enthusiasm or at least a "Sure why not?" response. Therefore, D&D 5e was a no-brainer despite the excellent support from Pelgrane for their game system. D&D 5e was simply "better" at grabbing the attention of my friends.