Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Storm King Sessions 18-21

After a hiatus, we game again tomorrow.  I just posted this on our fb group:
When last the sages delved into the depths of historic time, the Company of the Raven had challenged the enormous Queen Guh on her broken ox-cart throne, driven back her hulking minions and set fire to the ramshackle hall that served as palace for her immensity, and as beaver dam holding up the tides of Lake Grudd.   
Sometime in the night the dam collapsed. A low sloughing roar could be heard from the lakeside camp where the heroes had hidden to rest. The camp was not lakeside in the morning.   The gluttony of Guh was no more. The people of the North no longer had to fear for their meager stores of grain as winter approached, they would starve in peace. Or would they? What would a hero do now? 
Remaining giant lords marched for other inscrutable ends. Massive blue captained ships sailed from the frozen north, raiding the coastlines in the name of Jarl Storvald. Armored myrmidons of Duke Zalto combed the fields and furrows for fragments of an ancient doomsday device. Cloud castles were seen drifting in blue skies, watching or waiting, or searching for something. Blagothus still lurked on his glacier, perhaps still nursing his mad plan of mutual annihilation. And the strangest of all, the inarticulate grey giants, alien and thin, loomed high over small villages east of the High Forest, methodically dismantling the works of the small folk from the landscape as if it never existed. Only the legendary giants of the storms had been silent, their lightening tridents held in reserve, their thunderous judgement with held, for what purpose? and why? Where?   
With much to ponder that frosty dawn in the Iceshield Hills above the drained lake, sharp eyes spotted a small bedraggled figure mucking slowly toward the shore...

In this campaign I've mixed the plot from the Tyranny of Dragons module into the Storm King's Thunder book (after completing the "Curse of Strahd").  It has become apparent that the disappearance of Hekaton is part of a larger plot to return Tiamat to the Realms.  This is because I have a high level party.
They just finished up at the Temple of Annam.  Much plot point was put together, but I dropped the "gathering of the relics" part for level and pacing reasons.  So, I had a dilemma.  Does Imryth blast in there? Would that make it weird if they then went straight to Maelstrom (they were considering taking the flying ship they stole from some cultists)?
I went with Klauth.  The ancient red stepped into the temple.  He had been tracking the party ever since they stole his airship filled with a hoard meant to be delivered to him (he is ambivalent about the plan to revive Tiamat).  Klauth stepped in, roared something about his stolen treasure and the false oracle of Annam.  Harshnag ran forward to strike the central pillar as the party ran for it, escaping as the temple collapsed.
The group returned to Mirabar where they had docked their airship to find the ship had already been stolen by Klauth (the dwarven guards were shamefaced at this).  The ship was last seen floating north west toward Klauthen Vale.
So the group had now lost their easy transport and a huge amount of treasure.  They decided to take Harper Circle Transport to Waterdeep to save the starving population by tracking down the lair of the Hill Giants.  They are not entirely sure how to find Maelstrom, but they do know they'll need the giants' help to stop Tiamat.
All are around 10th level, which means Guh should be not too hard (she wasn't)  I plan on supplementing the steading with an ambush courtesy of the Cult of the Dragon, attempting to retrieve a Black Dragon Mask carried by the wizard.
Another thought I have is that I haven't done much to foreshadow the Kraken Society.  I don't much like the idea of Hekaton on a ship.  Much better if he is chained to a dragon turtle floating in the Sea of Swords.  But how do the players discover this?  There is a clue in Maelstrom, the coin.  I set this up in the beginning when the players messed about on a gambling boat from Yartar while at a fancy Waterdeep party.  Perhaps the wizard of Pow Ming is the artificer of the chains.  They will remember him because they wanted to steal his bag of holding.  The only issue is that it is yet another Cult.  Perhaps it is better if I make Pow Ming a Dragon Cultist.
On a side note, one thing I've realized about high level type VI play from the DM side is that challenging the group in combat, while possible, sort of isn't worth it in terms of game time spent battling.  Hit points are so high, battling anything truly threatening will take over an hour to play out.  It has been better just to make monster attacks really touch so that maybe a character or two drops in the round or three the foe survives.  This makes things interesting but there is never really any whole party threat anymore.  Not sure if its really a problem, but I wont mind when the game concludes and we can play some low level adventures.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Barrowmaze #22: Back to the Barrowmounds

The successful rescue of young Sir Kay from the depths of Skull Mountain earned the venturers an official new sobriquet: "Company of the Skull" chartered by the Duke of Ironguard Motte to protect the realm, battle its enemies and loot the graves of heretics and apostates.  The heroes were feted, feasted and had bestowed upon them golden medallions certificating their status as well as ornate drinking horns made from the spires of strange rams.

Aliontus continued to ask around about the pink comet seen arcing across the Dolmenwood, and indeed heard tell a few things about the wood.  The nearest environs were nominally under fealty to the Lord of Ironwood Motte, but few of his soldiers ventured within the wood save tax collectors.  One village pays a reliable tax, Prigwort, know for it's unique ales and ciders.  Expert astrologists surmise the pink comet may have fallen in the environs of Drigbolton, a hamlet, on the northern edge of the wood.  To get there, one would inevitably pass through the domain of the Naglord, a mysterious figure feared though shrouded in legend.

The other prince of Duchy Aerik had other plans.  "I will accompany you an a season's last expedition into the Barrowmaze," said Korthos Ironwood. "It has been some weeks since my last journey and I yearn to uncover more of its secrets."
Reluctantly the Company agreed, returning to Helix for an evening at the Brazen Strumpet, then setting out to the Barrowmoor, where they fought bog zombies, then cracked a borrow stone door and descended into a crypt undisturbed for millenia.

Bats circled beneath a sunless sky.  A wolf howled.  Ornate tilework revealed this to be an ancient shrine to the elder god of Rot and Ruin, Impurax the Corpulent.  Exploring further, the explorers found a sealed library full of ancient scrolls and tomes of bound vellum.  In another room a sarcophagus was disturbed, earning the rather of the distinguished one interred there.  After an intense and mindbreaking battle, the company was victorious, Korthos himself striking the killer blow.  But were was the lookout, Porthos?

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Storm King's Thunder #17: The Sons of Annam

Tonight the group delved further into the Temple.  A few characters hit 11th level tonight. They are much higher than the expected level so I replaced the barbarians with Stone Giants. This made more sense to me anyways. I used Stone Giant Dreamwalkers from Volo's Guide. They were religious zealots who had made a pilgrimage to the Oracle, not to consult it, but to keep others out. Harshnag explained it as another example of the misguided madness of his people without the Ordening. I've dropped the barbarian subplot completely. Having added a whole dragon conspiracy, the barbarian part seems unnecessary. Hopefully I'll some of all those locations in some later campaign.
Six stone giants was a challenging battle for a 9th and 10th level party, but it offered a lot of XP.  The players enjoyed the puzzle of the statue room.  They have a very good sense of the over arching plot, but they will still be shocked by what they discover at the site of the Oracle.  I'm looking forward to an interesting next few months wherein the players attempt to stop the giants without alienating them and losing the possibility of calling on their aid for the final confrontation with Tiamat.

The mighty battle shook the cavernous hall.  It was a near thing, but soon six stone giants lay defeated.  The company was beaten within an inch of their lives, but unbowed.  Their companion Harshnag pushed the huge double doors inward.  Within was a massive cathedral room covered in thick ice.  On the far wall glowed a misty archway, forty feet tall and just as wide.  Six gigantic statues were arrayed around a single towering robed figure of stone.  Each of the six bent in supplication, offering their weapon.  All except one, who's stoney hands were empty.
Harshnag spoke, naming the six sons of Annam the All-Father.
After some study of the runes surrounding the arch and experimenting with Harshnag's axe, the group determined that by touching the spear to the "Skye" rune, the light of the thing turned to an iridescent purple.  Touching the wrong weapon to the wrong rune could trigger a snow-pacalypse within the temple.
The group was missing one weapon, so they went exploring, eventually finding four doors hidden behind sheets of ice.  Moving northward, a hall flanked by resting cubicles was explored, until a crack was detected in one of the walls.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Barrowmaze Session #21: Escape from Skull Mountain

Glory and success!  A rescue mission complete!  The prince is found though he was nearly passed by.  The skull delvers woke a lava spewing living lizard statue which nearly burned Erik the Red to death, then ran passed it to explore burial catacombs, then descend further where they triggered a portcullis trap and the alarm was sounded.  Fleeing back up stairs and retraced steps, the company tumbled the living statue a second time, then peeked into a side room and found the Prince Himself, shackled, drugged, but alive.  Erik sensed a spy behind a tapestry, and stabbed right through, slaying one who guarded a laddered shaft down.  The body was wrapped in oil soaked tapestries and set alight to hinder pursuit.  Then, carefully avoiding returning bandits in the labyrinth, the company fled out the maw of Skull Mountain, eager to claim their reward from the Duke of Ironwood, but curious as to what fell secrets and great treasure still lurked in the depths of Skull Mountain.

Skull Mountain has been tested. A dangerous place. Where will they go next? Back to the Barrowmaze? Off to search for a pink comet in the Dolmenwood?

Monday, May 22, 2017

Storm King's Thunder Sessions #6-16: Glacial Pacing and Dragon Slaying

We have been deep in Chapter 3 "The Wandering of the North", but now finally begin the end game. The best thing I've done is pin a post map of the north (mine is from an old 3e era Dragon mag) and mark their explorations on with a red sharpie. It helps everyone keep track, especially as I've dropped all kinds of hooks and lore.  
I've used "Crashed Frozen Castle" from the DMs Guild, and "Dragon's Maw" a 5e module from Goodman Games.  Now the group is pursuing the next phase in the grand events.  At this point, the group is very powerful (levels 9-10), but increasingly aware of a threat greater even than a disorder of giants.  It all seems to be a smokescreen for a plot to reignite the ancient feud between dragon and giant, with the civilizations of smallfolk caught in the middle.
It's been a great campaign.  At high level the player characters are only really threatened by large groups of giants, and they have accumulated great wealth and a magical arsenal, but they now have choices at all times about where to go.  Still, it has been good to go back and forth between open world traveling and small dungeon delves, since it focuses the game.  We have 8-9 players at times, so focus is a real issue.

Sessions #6-16

Reports were that two dragons, white and blue, crashed the castle in the Nether Mountains above Everlund.  The Company of the Raven trekked to the Nether glacier, passed the orc town and snuck into the frost giants' great hall, obscured by druid magic.  There they overheard the Jarl speaking to Blagothus, arguing over the correct course of action.  The Jarl said he thought Blag's plan to unite the giants against the dragons was a mistake, that he was waiting for Storvald to find the Ring of Winter.  Blagothus said he had been betrayed.  His sky castle crashed.  He blamed dragons.  There was one out there on the glacier.  The group withdrew and proposed to travel across the frozen wastes to find this crashed sky castle and see what treasures might be recovered.  They encountered the dangers of the icy plain: hunted by Remorazze (fiery ice worms) who nearly slew a hero or two.
Making friends with a dwarven enclave on the glacier, the heroes were given skis and taught to use them, thus making their travels swifter.  They visited a village of Yakmen, ruled by a crazed wizard whom the perhaps remembered from dark Barovia.  They slew more worms of ice and fire on their way to the crash site where they found the brooding cloud giant Blagothus staring at his ruined fortress.  He warned them not to enter the place, hinting darkly at greater forces at work in the realms.  Forces set in motion by the fall of the house of Hekaton and the Maelstrom Court.
Disregarding the doomsaying giant, the company crept toward the castle only to be set upon by a massive, white-scaled dragon, but these heroes are mighty in sword and spell.  They not only drove off the beast, they chased it down and finished it off.  
Within the crashed castle, the group traveled into the iceberg beneath the fortress, discovering a massive cavern, and within a sailing ship held aloft by a dragon scale air balloon, floating within the iceberg while purple cloaked men scurried to load the hold with the contents of the dragon's hoard left unguarded!   The heroes attacked, taking command of the ship and escaping even as they were bombarded by giants throwing rocks.   The ship ascended into the sky above the glacier to find an army of orcs and giants massing on the ice.  What their next move would be, they did not stay to find out.  The Company of the Raven set a course for Everlund.
In Everlund, the company made repairs on the damaged ship and trained a pair of local soldiers to help crew the ship.  It was decided to head south toward Waterdeep.  Tales of starvation were attributed to the gluttony of the Hill Giants in the Dessarin Valley.  Here was a chance to do some good!  
But traveling by airship can be difficult.  A storm blew them off course, over the vastness of the High Forest, where a broad winged green wyrm came winging up to do battle.  Again, the heroes rebuffed the beast, and chased it to it's lair, a series of caverns beneath the forest stream.  Tense battles against double headed serpents, the medusa daughter of the dragon and finally Chlorothra herself ended with the Company of the Raven claiming a hoard beyond their wildest dreams.  Wealth undreamt of.  
Now the company returned to Everlund again.  A change of plan had them heading west to meet the giant Harshnag, to go with him to seek the Oracle of Amman, in a place called the Eye of the All-Father.  With a brief stop outside of Mithril Hall, the company finally docked at Mirabar, arranging to pay a handsome fee to keep their ship safe as they traveled up the Khundun Valley, into the Spine of the World.  
On this trek signs of Fire Giants were seen, but avoided.  Finally, after traversing high mountain passes swaddled in polar bear hides, they came upon the soaring pillars of the Temple itself.  
There was no door.  Howling winds blew ice and snow deep into the massive hall, wide enough for a host to march a ten horse column, tall enough for long icicles to hang like lances from the ceiling without disturbing the grim head of Harshnag Giantkiller, the blue frost giant who had guided the Company all this way.  
Deep within mountain a sound burst forth, low and throbbing, the sound of massive vocal chords thrumming guttural prayers to the All Father that compelled the listener to bow down before his awesome power.  The singers were revealed: a half dozen gray pilgrims, 22 feet tall, their voices drowning the independent thoughts of all before them.  The warrior priest Apollo succumbed the ancient authority and was once again turned to stone.  His companions battled on without him...

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Barrowmaze Saga #20: Beneath Skull Mountain

The campaign has taken a side trek to the not-so-megadungeon of Skull Mountain. Small dungeon levels make for quick progress. The party of 6 now contains characters of 4th and 5th level. My Uncommon Dungeon rules are soon to be stretched by this, but it has worked out so far. It will be interesting to see how higher level characters do in the sprawl of Barrowmaze (if they survive the depths of the Skull).

Deeper They Delved

Foolhardy, the would be rescuers of the missing Prince of Ironwood Motte stepped through the incorporeal curtain of darkness into the Demon Maw, stumbling in silent darkness, then discovering a side passage and a ledge overhanging the great skull caldera. Molten lava bubbled below (and perhaps a crooked bridge of some sort).  A long hot descent, or a narrow stair?
Down the side passage, emerging from a secret door into a counting room, a vault of treasures, and an ambush!  Someone stabbed Erik the Fighter, then fled into darkness.  Chasing the assassin, the delvers soon found themselves in pitch battle with hulking man-lizards, and set upon by a mystical duelist as well, who escaped from the elf wizard's Web and struck the fey one down.  The lizardmen were dispatched by mighty blows from the fighting men; the shadowy assassin turned to stone by a fortuitous blast of the Wand of Wonder!
The signet ring of Prince Kay was found, but where was the captive himself?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Barrowmaze #19: Labyrinth of Skull Mountain

Lurking skulking skullduggers dug into the depths of Skull Mountain.  They discovered a labyrinth of hidden pits and trapped doors around every twist and turn.  Finally, a group of cultists was found and battled, then a secret passage and the Red Altar discovered in the room of the demon maw.  Aliontus stepped forward to desecrate the altar, but was himself made to feel the immensity of the mountain within who vastness he walked.  He stumbled, bowed down by the weight of Skull Mountain.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Barrowmaze #18: Journey to Skull Mountain

The Barrowmaze has been left behind for a spell. On to Skull Mountain! The Dolmenwood is slowly being introduced as well.

A prince was missing and an old foe to be dealt with.  The Company rode north along the east edge of the Dolmenwood as a pink comet crossed the sky westerly. On the second day Skull Mountain was sighted.  Itinerant peddlars gave some rumour of the place, as did the half orc turncoat Gruk.

The rescuers approach carefully, wary of the numbers of cultists and bandits celebrating fiery rituals at the mouth of the skull.  Leaving the horses with Friar Buck, they clambered around and scouted from above, discovering the “eyes” were barred caves housing look outs.  Descending, the group set an ambush on the trail, assailing a pair of bandits at the first grey light of morning.  The prince was “within”  Finally, the group ventured forth, rappelling from the dome of the skull to the mouth itself, sneaking inside quickly.  They found stairs and ascended, slaying to the two archers of the eyes.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Barrowmaze #17: Ambushers Ambushed and Prisoners Taken

Tall Tales Come All Too True
The most recent session's events were the result of player schemes, villains known and secret, and the innocuous firing of an animal handler. In short, four months of Carousing rolls finally created its own session. The Barrowmaze was not even approached. Indeed it may lie fallow for a time as the party is now headed to Skull Mountain. However, I do hope to return, for I've enjoyed this form of dungeoning immensely.

The Company of Crows donned hooded hairshirts in the damp drizzling dawn and hurried after the caravan departing from Ironguard Motte, destination Helix village.  Their cover story was that they were pilgrims of Ygg doing a penance walk for all those dead in the Barrowmaze this season.  Tall tales have a way of becoming all too true, and so it was that this caravan, a mere covered wagon lugged by mules and pushed by mud begrimed teamsters was also accompanied by two horsemen, a callow youth and a stout warrior of the Lord Ironguard’s retinue, Dangar.  It seemed that Kay, the youngest son of Lord Kell wished to visit his brother Korthos before the summer was ended, to learn how lordlings do their carousing.  Dangar recognized the “pilgrims” from late nights at the Leaky Barrel and he welcomed their strong sword arms.

Indeed those arms were needed soon enough, when the caravan, bogged down in a mud pit was ambushed by boglings, strangely silent and bilious when squashed, the ambulatory frogmen were a mere preamble to the true danger as the warhound Mr. Sinister, ordered forward by Eric who had fired the trainer, was inspired by its feasting on the frogling to grow into an enraged man beast, a werewolf, which required the mighty blows of Eric and Stur to slay,  but not before sending the mounts beneath Lordling Kay and his man servant galloping north across the fields.  

Even as that betrayal of man and dog unfolded, a group of ne'er do wells dismounted some distance behind.  A slim figure tossed a glittering cloud of lethe upon the panting victors, sending weary heads to rest in the muck.  Then hulking tower of brazen authority called out in guttural tones of command, “Give up your striving, take your fallen and retreat, or the Outriders of Uleck will make you suffer as never before.

The Company of Crows could hardly sustain such a blow to their reputation.  They fought tooth and nail.  Stur was horribly killed by the murderous Keelgo but eventually Gruk the Half-Orc surrendered and his companions fled.  The orc was brought to Helix as a prisoner, but soon converted to Aliontism.  Then came word that the Lordling Kay had been captured, “The bandit Vargas sends word that he holds the boy ransom in Skull Mountain.  Duke Korthos Ironguard offers 1000 gold for the return of his son, and another 1000 for the head of Vargas.”  Skull Mountain is two days' travel north, through the eastern boughs of the Dolmenwood.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Barrowmaze Session #16: The Moor from Ironwood Motte

The Barrowmaze campaign continues, with two players now, and six characters in the party of 2nd and 3rd level. The maze itself is still the focus, but the players have begun to ask about the wider world around. I have emphasized the Dolmenwood to the West, and hinted at a Skull Mountain to the North. Easterly, I have not decided but I may offer the Slumbering Ursine Dunes. I'd like to explore more of the maze, and I am waiting on a couple of projects due in the summer that I would enjoy running as well, the upcoming Forbidden Caverns, and Operation Unfathomable. Essentially, anything can happen, but I'm really enjoying this game! The homebrew rules work great and my friend mentioned he enjoys "grinding for gold and xp."

A confusing mash of whispers, half remembered lies and clumsy conspiracy made truth itself slippery as a bog eel.  The Company of the Crow set out to the big town of Ironwood Motte to scout out the route of rumored gold laden caravan only to discover they themselves as the conspirators.  So they scouted out the possibilities of banditry they themselves had hoped to incite.  The investigations were long and complicated, and finally they hired a guide to take them back to more familiar discomforts within the Barrowmoor.  
Approaching from the north, in the angled light of early fall, the muck and covered mounds were clear, though known landmarks were out of sight.  In the distance, large birds circled high and dove.  The Company decided to excavate the first mound they found, a toil that lasted most of the day, paused only to fight off the immense toads attracted to the slinging of filthy earth.  Finally, a white marble mausoleum was breached, but offered only mystery without reward.  Slender white marble columns interspersed excellently sculpted depictions of men of action, men-at-arms, an elf, a hobbit, even a centaur, flanks pierced with arrows, rearing before an unseen foe.  Beyond the row of tableau a bronze door denied further progress.  The verdigrised slab was held shut by a sophisticated mechanism in the shape of a scarab beetle.  No key fit this lock.  
It was late, and the group returned quickly to Ironwood Motte, where they caroused half-heartedly, more interested this week in the warriors’ fitness regimen offered by the local mercenary captain, Sgt. Box.  They were ready to spring their trap on the elusive bandit Vargas.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Storm King's Thunder Session 5: Secrets of the Harpers

The campaign is deep in the "North" of the Forgotten Realms. They have the map. They roam where they will. I was out to lunch this session, making encounter rolls and trying to keep up with the game.  The group was excited to join the Harpers and discover a way to jump around the map.  Not so excited that they couldn't bring their horses with them.  

The Company of the Raven made their way to Everlund, then the lovely city of Silverymoon. They made friends with an organization called the Harpers, a secret network (everywhere but the Silver Marches, a haven for just minded folk) that sought to share information and promote the ideal of the yeoman farmer throughout the Realms. Occasionally the Harpers even play music.

The Company was introduced to Krow Valharrow, an old wizard who shared the secret of the Circles of Instantaneous Transubstantiation, and the man thereof. He also shared his theory that rather than possible allies, he suspected a dragon, or dragons was actually behind the Breaking of the Ordering of Giants.

Finally, the warrior Apollo acquired the Iron Blade of GiantSlaying.

Barrowmaze Saga XIV: Revisiting Defiled Ground

A minor expedition. Little of note. Some treasure. An elven blade. No death. New life.

The wizard Mazzarian the Magnificant approached the Company of the Black Dragon as they lingered in their cups: “I have scried upon my damn drune rival Necron, he who owes me his life in forfeit for the picture he stole.  I saw him crawling through cramped tunnels beneath the southern Barrow Moor.  Go forth with this elf, Resper, and find him!  I will reward you handsomely.”  The Moor did not molest the venturers as they walked through cold spitting rain to the bog that held their dire misfortune.  They decided to enter through the “Well”, the western-most entrance.  

Creeping through looted passageways with their yellow-eyed wardog, they discovered a fallen cleric of the dwarven All-Father.  Hungry rats were feasting on his face, but once beaten back he was found to be carrying treasures.  An elven sword “Goblin-Biter”, and a map of “Skull Mountain”.  After some more tepid exploration the fighter who had bitten bitten savagely by rats began vomiting violently.  Swiftly, the group returned to Helix to supplicate Brother Othar for healing once again.  

In the days that followed Aliontus the Cleric became betrothed to Sister Cella, Cleric of St. Ygg, who is pregnant.  Stirr and Dan spoke of a rich caravan headed to Helix.  Clonin became closer still with Merda the Barmaid and Brother Gamdar, the Orcish Friar of of the One True God.  He spoke of incompetence of the Duke Ironwood and of the heathen perils of the Dolmenwood to the West.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Barrowmaze Saga XIII: Escape the Maze!

A fun session here with two friends, each playing a fighter and a cleric, using my Uncommon rules.  As well, they brought two men-at-arms and a torchbearer.  They have gone through so many hirelings at this point the Guild of Ordinary Gentlemen is charging ten gold a day.  We had paused at the end of last session, so they were low on torches, food, spells, and hit points.  This style of game is a refreshing contrast to my D&DV campaign, which has reached giant slaying 9th level.

Of interest is that the first loop has been created in the dungeon map.  All previous sessions have extended out from one of three discovered entries.  In this session they were able to find an alternate route back to the stairs.  We use Roll20 to play online and I reveal the map as they explore it.  It made for a nice moment, and they were thankful for the map-gnome with perfect spatial sense.  

With retreat cut off by a lurking golem of flagstone, with the wizard dead, and a torchbearer lost to spider poison, the explorers stumbled through darkness, falling into pits, desperate for an exit.  They crept upon a nefarious battle. Acolytes of two dark gods, pentagrammatical Orcus and bone masked Set clashed in an echoing hall. Hiding from the victors, the chastened would-be heroes slunk southward, happening upon a familiar band of ne'er do wells who accepted a hefty bribe of nine golden scarabs to show the way to the fresh air above ground. "Vargas thanks ye for the gold!" they jeered as the survivors ascended.

The sun was setting then, and the bog itself came alive, grasping, a shambling mound of earth and moss possessed by evil intent nearly caught one bravely fleeing warrior, but he lived to tell the tail over flagons at the tavern, lusty lays of relief and life.  Merda the Barmaid listened intently, as did Brother Othar and Brother Gamdar, keenly interested in the stories of fallen knights, fonts of law and pits of chaos hinted at below the barrow moor.  The horse emblazoned shield and shining winged helm of Sir Guy du Veargne proved all.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Barrowmaze Saga: Reports 1-12

Here are the 1st dozen session reports, playing the Barrowmaze megadungeon with roll20 and my homebrew simple d&d system.  It has been ruthless and great.  Many character deaths.  One yellow mold massacre I almost feel guilty about.  They dungeon is slowly revealing itself, which is really great.  So is being able to run the thing virtually prep free, on the fly.  I'm surprised all the time.  Some subplots have developed, mostly based on carousing rolls in town.  There are two recurring villains, a bandit who keeps robbing the tomb robbers, and a necromancer named Necron.  Can't wait to find out what happens next.

SPOILERS abound for ye old Barrowmaze.

Session #1: 90xp for Lalo the Elf Wizard, Cricket the Halfling Thief, Asaf the Fighter, Yazhu the Dwarf Rogue, Berg the Fighter, Hannibal the Cleric Loot: Helm, weak  skull shield, Runic Tablet of Insanity (-2 Wisdom, +4 HP, Full of Manic Vigour!  No sleep!)  Foes: Sapphire Skeletons (did not keep the gem fragments) 

Session #2: 160xp Barrow Mound #21, Silver Dagger, Three Scrolls, LOTS of digging and wandering monsters: Coffer Corpse, toads, stirges etc

Session #3: Asaf the Fighter died.  Magic shield found.  Much carousing. 2nd level.  Vargas the bandit camps in the Blackened Woods with 8 men.  The woods are infested with giant spiders and territorial boar.  He robs tomb robbers.

Session #4 Cricket the Halfling was slaughtered by skeletons. And there was much carousing in his honor.  Runic tablet found.

Session#5  2 Wizards, Warrior and Cleric with 6 hirelings found a Bag of Holding, fought and 5 Carnivorous Flies, 6 Huecuva, then much carousing wherein Wizard was told of Necron of Nergal the rival of Mazzarin who has the Blue Chantrel and cleric befriended the local priest.

Session #6-7 Cleric, Fighter, Wizard and hirelings entered the maze from the center of the Moor.  Encountered Necron.

Session #8 Encountered a lonely corpse on the road.  Hand like an iron vice. Severed hand and enlarged cleric escaped and saved a sore throat.  Then entered by the secret stair.  Found a mausoleum.  Battled a king who would not die.  Fled with a crown and jewels.  Went to Ironguard Motte to seek arcane armaments but ended up partying the time away as the long hot summer days sweltered, it felt as though the treasures of the barrow were real indeed.  The funereal pyre of the departed torchbearer belied that joy.

Session #9 Revels completed, Hannibal, Berg and Rashford were joined by an Elf Wizard, Elf Cleric and a broke Warrior, plus a handful of bowmen and torchbearers.  The first expedition was driven back by Sapphire Skeletons who slew many hirelings.  Cleric nearly lost his leg.  They returned weeks later, explored to the East into the “Haunted Tombs”.  Chased Beastmen through secret doors in the maze.  Confronted by Beastman Chief and Wizard who accused the explorers of serving the Necromancers of Set.  Both Elves and beast know how to play with fire!  Mutual Burning Hands explosions slew most of the employees and beastmen too!  Treasure was discovered, including a Magic Staff of Secrets and two KEYS: Pentagram and Book.  Escaped through a stairway into the hidden tomb of a warrior-priest.  In town much carousing occurred.  A fellow maze survivor gave one hero a golden skull to pay off a debt, shivering at the cursed runes of Set carved upon it.
Session #10 Into the Easter, newly discovered entrance, following mysterious booted footprints, re-visited the lair of the beastmen, fought risen shadows, carnivorous flies and succumbed to lung filling Yellow Mold, which claimed the lives of stout adventures Rashford, Berg and Hannibal as they collected trinkets from the ancient burial alcoves.   Wand of Wonder found.

Session #11 The second generation dares to delve.  Traveling to the easternmost barrow entrance they descended, flanked by two torch bearers and a war dog.  It was two fighter and two clerics.  Defeated fossilized skeletons, robbed some burial alcoves and gave a tax to Tomb Robbers of Vargas (Vargas’ Vanguard), and retreated in the face of a hulking golem made of glowing runic tablets.  Made it home alive, went drinking, and were summarily robbed again by the agents of Vargas the Vagabond.
Session #12 The elf died quickly.  The world was always unkind to him. He fell in a pit and ravenous dead ate his face.  The others recovered his treasures and burned the dead, filling barrow tunnels with smoke.  Trapezoidal alcoves were explored and looted.  Golden scarabs found.  More of the unliving dead came searching for flesh.  A warrior lost his ear.  The thief discovered a trap on a door.  A trip wire slammed a stone door down.  It would have separated the group as debris and flagstones gathered to form a fearsome manlike creature.  The warrior cried “SHAZAAM” and the thing vanished, only the ghost of its form lurking about as another burial crypt was looted and gold gathered while something lurked in the darkness beyond.  A hidden door to the north was found, and, as they searched the corridor beyond, the delvers heard the sound of the flagstone golem crushing some other unwary intruders.  Exploring further, stairs descended into dank dampness.  Beyond a mysterious door was a large massive crypt with a pool of water.  Giant leeches slain, burials looted, a hidden crypt was found where lay a crumpled knight, his winged helm still gleaming in the dark.  As the cleric reached for the holy helm, a ghost knight appeared.  He called himself Sir Guy the Betrayed, for he had been of a company of holy warriors tasked with destroying the Pit of Chaos (northwest) opened by the evil presence of Nergal.  Only he was betrayed by his companion Dhekeon, and the Font of Chaos was lost.  “Find the holy orb, or chosen ones, and prepare for a battle unlike any ever known in these unquiet tombs.”Leaving the holy ghost, the group hastened, for their torches were low, their prayers tired, but they knew golem lurked the way they had come, so they tread east, finding crypts whose doors had already been smashed by other robbers… then something dropped from the ceiling.Foes: 9 Ravenous dead, Flagstone Golem, 3 giant leeches, unknown lurkers.Treasure: Helm +1 of Sir Guy, Horse Shield +1, Scarab of Protection, much gold.  600+ xp each

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Storm King's Thunder Session #4: Wandering the Libraries of Waterdeep and the Roads of the North

TL;DR  Stories of Giants, Dragons, and friends throughout the Sword Coast and the North.  A harrowing battle shows the folly of picking fights with the big guys.  The map is wide open.

In the aftermath of the fire giant attack, Harshnag and the Druid Saffron looked to the tower of Lord Protector Darathra to hold it up and protect those inside, but Ezra the Dark Sorceress felt her spell slipping from her mind like a fish and the last giant appeared amidst her companions, furiously laying waste about him.  In the melee, the bard was brought down and the giant fled, only to be frozen solid by Althea the Elfin.  The colossus tumbled and fell into the Pleasant Platter restaurant, crushing all the fine china.

In the days that followed Harshnag and the Company of the Raven helped to clean up the carnage of Triboar as the greyhanded frost giant told his tale.  In his rumbling voice he said that he had been in the court of the Storm Giant King when both King and Queen were assaulted, the queen slain, and King Hekaton lost in the deeps.  Now the “Ordning” is broken, and Hekaton’s rule of humble hermitage is undone and  the giants run amok, each lord thinking they can ascend to the Wyrmskull Throne and become the largest of giants.  Duke Zalto seeks to rebuild a warmachine to conquer the Realms, Queen Guh seeks to eat, starving the Waterdeep and the North.  The schemes of the frost giants in the frozen plains beyond the Spine of the North are unknown, as are the capricious desires of the Cloud Giants.  Harshnag seeks to protect the people of the north from the foolishness of giants.  He believes the time draws near when he should consult the Eye of the All Father in the Temple of Amman, far to the north, in the Spine of the World.  He invited company with him, for they are mighty heroes.  

The Company of the Raven had many interests.  They had been offered reward in the dwarven Citadel Adbar, contact with the wizard Krow Valharrow in Everlund, and they wished to return to the comforts of Waterdeep to explore the cloud castle that floated there.  The good giant gave the druid a gong and told her if ever she climbed to a mountain top and tolled the bell, he would hear.  

So the company traveled to Waterdeep, where they found the flying castle had pulled anchor and drifted north. They consulted the dragon sage Chaz, and traded their tale of the dragon Gnawbones for his research on the Black Dragon mask.  They learned it was one of a number of dragon masks used by the Cult of the Dragon, a secret society dedicated to serving dragons and increasing their power, serving Tiamat and creating the dreaded Dracoliches.  They bard, cleric and sorceress consulted the libraries of Waterdeep and found many tales of giants and dragons.  They earned the friendship of a gentleman scholar named Mintertem, who gave them the deed to his patrimony, a fabled giant slaying blade held in a tower northwest of Silverymoon.  

Finally, the group traveled north, beginning the month long trek to Everlund.  The journey was mostly without incident, only the bard ate Lady Seeds harvested by the druid at the edge of the High Forest and became a woman.  Then a squad of red bearded giants was seen out on the Evermoore (and a flying castle seen miles beyond).  Reckless and brave, the Company of the Raven Ambushed the giants, slaying four, though not without serious injury, and they were forced to camp near the moore, hoping not to be disturbed as they had accosted their foes.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Storm King's Thunder, Session #3: Terrible Trouble in Triboar

   A bit of banter on Triboar and an epic battle with giants and more.  The coming of Harshnag.

   The travelers arrived in the trading post town of Triboar late in the day.  A crossroads town protected by a keep but no wall, it was a strange affair, full of dusty caravan campgrounds
but also a posh hotel and hobbit-elven cuisine restaurant.  The travelers settled down for a meal that only successful treasure hunters could afford and made a new friend, a sorceress drow elf who hailed from the hollow depths of the earth, the Underdark.  She told a harrowing tail of her home city Menzorberrenzen, a dark metropolis, overrun by hellish demons from beyond this dimension: "The lords of the the Nine Hells stalk the night below!"  After that it was left to divide up the bill.
   The next morning the group asked around, looking for word of one "Harshnag Grey-Handed".  The search lead them to the wizard tower of Kolstaag the Friendless.  After some tense mystical negotiations and the payment of a worthy diamond the wizard consulted his crystal ball, ranting a bit about a great tragedy, that Harshnag was a witness to it all, and that he was nearby.  Only then did all look out the window to see the approach of a trio of red bearded giants in black iron armor, lobbing boulders at the town while a phalanx of cavalry lopped ahead, armored orcs on massive featherless ostriches.  They charged into the town, setting houses afire, slaying livestock and townspeople.
   The heroes of Barovia did not shirk the challenge this time, as they had in Waterdeep.  They harnessed magic to fly all of them to confront the assault.  In the brutal battle that followed, one giant was banished from the world, one slain, and one driven off with the help of an unlooked for ally, a white-bearded frost giant, who called himself Harshnag.
   "What were they after?" queried the bard, as the druid brought rain to douse the many flames.
   "The Vodinod," answered the blue skinned titan, pulling a massive metal hoop from the ground.  "This is a piece of an ancient artifact of war, Duke Zalto seeks to rebuild.  Pure adamantine, indestructible."

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Uncommon Explorations of the Maze of the Blue Medusa

An exploration of the Maze of the Blue Medusa by four beginning characters played by two players using my "Uncommon" dungeon rpg hack.  

A friend was in town so three of us decided to play a quick pickup game.  I knew these guys would dig the surreal weirdness and social nature of this book.  I played an online game in the Maze once, right before it came out (game was run by Ken Baumann the publisher) and I've run one other session of the Maze using 5th edition D&D.  This time I suggested my DIY hack in order to focus attention more on the setting than the character sheet.  We used a couple of "before you were first level" rolls from the Dungeon Dozen book to jump start the scene.  It turned out the dramatis personae were a cleric recently converted from a den of iniquity, a rich wizard school graduate, a psychopathic fighter, and magpie-thief.  To which I responded thusly:

"You are all lying around on the veranda of your crumbling villa, looking out on a dead salted sea, above a decadent city, as the sun sets, still hung over from the aristo-wizard party from the night before.  It's blurry, but the thief vaguely remembers finding his way into a forgotten closet and lifting a framed painting because he liked the frame.  In any case, the day has been spent staring at the thing and making various comments.  The painting depicts a nude woman chained to a wall in a red room.  The sky darkens, the moon rises, and the woman in the painting turns beckons you hither..."
They gathered up their venturing packs and entered the painting.  The cleric was quick to from Ashen Chantrelle.  She claimed she could remember little, but had been chained a long time.  She said the "reparate" occasionally game to clean and maintain the lanterns, but otherwise she had had few visitors in the course of her uncounted days of imprisonment.  The cleric begged for the lady to be freed, and the thief obliged by picking the manacle locks.  Given a cloak and some food, Chantrelle spoke of the maze in vague platitudes and retreated through the moonlit painting.

The group broke down the door and encountered Lady Crucem Capelli, a demonic dragon lady who seemed a bit indecisive.  Learning that the thief was a bit of an art collector, she offered a deal.  They would collect histories of the creatures in the maze and she would pay them in coins.  The group accepted the deal and began exploring, peeking through all three doors before choosing to navigate the Escher Stairs.

Here I encountered a disconnect between text and map.  The map shows an archway to the Escher Stairs, but the description explains that the gravitational orientation of the stairs changes depending on which doors are open.  So I had to say, "Oh wait, there is a door there."

The group decided to secure a rope and rappelle down to the northern door.  The cleric failed and landed on the knot of stairs.  Just then a sneaking group on men in bird beak masks poked their heads trough the eastern door,  A handy Charm spell lowered the guard of the Oku, and they were soon lowered to their deaths.  

Beyond the stairs was a dark room.  A creature lurking within, some sort of upside down mollusk grabbed the fighter's bag of gold and attempted to flee.  It was angry when the commotion threatened to wake the baby.  Then the baby did wake.  The group all looked at each other, realizing they could regain their sanity if they killed each other.  Instead an arrow was sent through the screaming baby, and the mollusk hurled to its doom on the Escher Stairs.  

At that we were tired.  They sold the story of the Oku to Crucem Capelli, and I allowed the characters to leave.  In the meantime, Chantrelle had begun carousing in the decadent city.  The heroes joined in with the carousing.

Overall a fun session with a couple of very creative players.  I was really happy with the game system and with the dungeon.  I had not cracked the book in months before beginning play, and though I ad-libbed a bit, I was still able to play the characters quickly and run the dungeon easily.  

Would dungeon again.  I'd really like to get farther in to the dungeon next time.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

An Audience with the Wyrm of Kryptgarden

The latest session... I tried to get them into the cloud castle but they weren't having it. So they went on their first overland trek. I didn't use it because I haven't reviewed the rules but I want to try using the Adventures in Middles Earth journey rules. Anyone tried them?
In any case, after being super cautious about giants, the players decided to kiss off the ancient wyrm and nearly died for their troubles. I'm thinking Gnawbones is ok with giants rampaging around and will be amused if he can manipulate the players into slaying the one good aligned frost giant.

Traveling along the Sword Coast and the North. Ignoring the newly docked sky castle above Waterdeep, the pained roars of the creature above, the struggles of the Winged Pegasus Knights, and the golden request of well connected douchebag Danilo Thann, the party decided to hang out drinking cider and eating exotic sweatmeats from the Moonshae Isles on the street until the could consult with Chaz Yardhorn, renowned dragon expert extraordinaire, and cat lover. He told them of the ancient enmity between dragons and giants and suggested they seek help from one of the great wyrms of the North, Old Gnawbones the Green in Kryptgarden Forest. He was also very interested to make an etching of Althea's doom-y Black Dragon Mask, which he promised to research while she was traveling. He gave them potions of poison proofness with which to prove their mettle against the dragon they sought. 

 Thinking carefully, Althea returned to Bezel the Jeweler and re-bought the crown of Barovia as an offering for Old Gnawbones. Ghael the Barbarian selected a small herd of sturdy horses equipped with saddles, bags and tack (at a cost of 100gp each) and they set off, setting the shadow of the Sky Castle behind them, though Apollo's purse felt lighter of a sudden.

In the Inns along the way, the "Sleeping Dragon" and the "Singing Sword" of Red Larch, the talk was of Giants raiding food stores yes, but also of red haired giants excavating massive pits in the ground. No one knew why. Amidst all this chaos, the people of Red Larch were even more grim. They seemed to have been terrorized for some time by "maniacs" and "moon men". The elements themselves were an enemy in the Dessarin Valley.

Entering the tangled fastness of the Kryptgarden Forest, the first sighting was of a beautiful triad of dryads fleeing their bathing area, even leaving their towels and jewels. The source of their terror soon became apparent with the shaking of the earth and snarling of hellish hounds. The druid camouflaged her fellows and they ambushed the massive iron man tower, a veritable 20ft dreadnought of blackened steel smashing a wide swath through the forest. With spell and sword, wand and spear they laid low the armored foe. 

 Soon after the Old Gnawbone himself had accosted the party. With the corpse of man dangling out the side of it's cavernous jaws, dragon accepted the offering of the crown and demanded yet more treasure. Finally it offered a cryptic utterance, "Find Harshnag Greyhanded. This is all his fault. Slay him and your troubles will ease. The Wyrm of Kryptgarden cares note!"

"Fine you jerk!" said the haughty wizardess Althea. "We don't need you anyway." And she spit at the dragon as she and her fellows turned away. 

 There was a pregnant pause, a mighty inhalation that sucked all the oxygen from the forest air, then all was green, their lungs were burning and the heroes were stumbling running out of the forest, their horses, slain, themselves hardly more alive, they dragged themselves to the town of Triboar.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Heart of Doom in the Tower of the Stargazer

New D&D players like all D&D players

It came to pass that in this 21st century of D&D equanimity and seepage into the average world of leisure, my in-laws once removed had joined a D&D campaign, a young professional couple learning this new game for the first time.  At recent family gatherings I've heard such things as, "It's a long time to sit around so I get bored.  But my Dragonborn Monk does always win."  I couldn't let this ambivalence stand, and I offered to run a game for them.  So on a dark and stormy Friday night Lady J and I showed up at the door bearing dice and traveling DM briefcase.

I wanted to present a short dungeon with a twist, the kind of thing that could be fully explored in one session and offered a bit of closure, or "story", so I had read over and prepped the one-page dungeon Heart of the Minotaur.  I was gonna populate it with Boggles and Nilbogs from the new 5e monster book.  I set the print out on the table, no DM screen, began to narrate an opening scene: "You three are walking down a country lane -oh wait, introduce your characters."

So the players went around the table, ogled their handout characters and we all decided that since two of them had been having apocalyptic dreams of a tower and the third wizard elf knew about a tower, they were walking down the road looking for some tower.  "Great, back on track.  You encounter a wounded woodsman who begs you to save his wife with his last dying breath.  He says he hit the thing with his axe but it laughed."

The players were unimpressed.  "Sounds like a distraction," said Lady J, who has been playing regularly for two years, "Let's get to that wizard tower."

What's a DM to do? "Ok.  So you walk down the road apace and you come to a right in the road.  As you turn toward the tower you think you had been dreaming about, an axe handle comes flying out of the trees from the opposite direction.  It strikes the wizard for 1 point of damage.  You hear mocking laughter from that direction."

"A silly place.  Let's get to that tower."   They were dead set on ignoring the dungeon that was literally on the table!

But I am a DM with a deep well of dungeons.  I reached back into the traveling back and pulled out Tower of the Stargazer, printed out zine style, looked it over quickly and said, "After many hours of hiking through overgrown and untended trails you come upon a tall and ominous tower, over which looms a single storm cloud."

And lo, the adventurers did explore the tower of the wizard Calcidius, nearly choosing to free him, but ultimately ascending to the exploratorium at the top.  They followed the order of operations, lit the fuse and the barbarian looks through lens.

"You see the creatures dancing in a circle.  You are glowing red.  You feel a tugging sensation.  Do you resist this feeling or do you go with it."

"I go with it."

With that the barbarian traveled through time and space and I ceremoniously ripped up his character sheet.  The player was bemused, but it made for a nice punctuation on the evening.  A lovely time was had by all.