Friday, 29 October 2010

Random dungeon stocking

I experienced the pleasure of the Basic D&D random dungeon room contents table last week, as I was stocking the cellars and tunnels that lie beneath the ruined manor at Ballan, which the PCs have just begun to explore. There are various permutations of this table in various versions of the game, but what I used was: 1 - 2 Empty, 3 - 4 Monster, 5 Trap, 6 Special. It's nice and simple, although I was concerned it'd produce far too many "Specials". And, as expected, it did. Out of maybe 20 rooms, 5 were rolled as Special. But this actually turned out absolutely fine - indeed I had a lot of fun thinking up all these dungeon weirdnesses. I mean, I didn't go overboard - it's only the 1st level of a not-particularly-supernatural dungeon, so we're not talking reverse gravity chambers or talking pools. But I found it a real pleasure to add that many unusual / interesting / slightly magical / mysterious features.

Overall I have to say I loved using the random room contents roll. It made the process of stocking both challenging and exciting, all in all far more engaging than the sometimes daunting situation of sitting there with a keyed map, no idea what's in which room, and an hour to go before the game starts! I'll definitely be thinking about using further random tables in dungeon stocking in the future.

Age of Chaos - Session 9


Barur - Dwarven noble, accompanied by his two henchmen - Angur and Barath
Darian - Wandering Bard
Arthanius Lex - Servant of Arg (god of storms), member of the Order of the Hammer, witch-hunter, accompanied by his faithful hound Bane
Kratos - Warrior from the Northlands, follower of Arg, accompanied by a horse known only as "the entertainer"

The session continued straight on from the events of the last - with the party making a hasty retreat from the ruined village of Ballan, where they'd had a narrow victory against a horde of bugbears.

Firstly Barur took care to heal the seriously wounded bard, using two of the healing salves which he had purchased previously from the local herbalist. In return Darian revealed his own healing powers, which he used on Arthanius - the first time he had let on to the party that his music could produce magical effects. After this revitalisation the party journeyed back to their base at Keet, carrying with them the bodies of the two deceased town guards who had aided them and perished.

They left the bodies with the guard captain, who bemoaned their fate and yet stated that a warrior could ask for no more in life than to die fighting the forces of Chaos and to be remembered as a hero.

As the party were talking with the town guards, and describing the battle in Ballan, a hulking man clad in furs and carrying a long spear rode into the village and approached them. It was Kratos, an erstwhile companion of Barur, who had wandered back into Keet out of curiosity as to how the Dwarf's adventures in the region were progressing. He was, of course, eager to join them on their return to Ballan, hoping to wet his spear with bugbear's blood.

As planned, they journeyed back to Ballan in the afternoon, hoping that the fleeing bugbears had not yet returned to the manor. On arriving at the ruined village, they found it quiet and empty, as had always been its first appearance. Heading through the village, they returned straight to the manor house, the front doors of which were still hanging open.

Firstly they explored the upper floors, discovering a series of more or less ruined chambers, one containing a strangely green coloured corpse of a woman. They also found what appeared to have been the master bedroom, where a figure was chained to the four poster bed. The huddled figure seemed to be alive, so they approached and tried to rouse it. Upon the first touch the figure sprang up out of the bed, as far as its chains would allow, and started clawing at the adventurers. It was a woman, wild with some kind of madness, and in some state of transformation - with blood red eyes, vicious claws, and a horrid grinning mouth full of fangs. They attempted to talk to her, hoping that she might be at least partly lucid, but all their words were met with blind animalistic rage. In the end Kratos drove his spear into her chest, putting her out of her presumed state of misery and suffering. Exploring the ex-baron's suite further, they found one noteworthy item amongst the ruin - a single long black feather tipped with a band of bronze.

Next, finding a wooden staircase and trapdoor leading up, they ventured into the attic. The top of the house was filled with broken wood and smashed crates and furniture, and two gaping holes in the roof were seen. A large mound of wood and crates was gathered beneath one of the holes, and the party went to investigate. The first gentle probing of the pile provoked the sounds of rustling and scurrying from within, and a full thrust of Kratos' spear unleashed the inhabitants - a swarm of black winged creatures, half bat - half bird, with talons and long, murderously sharp beaks. The disturbed flock swirled briefly in the rafters before diving upon the adventurers, attempting to find weak points in their armour to pierce with their beaks. The birds proved no match for the party, even in their large numbers, not even getting the chance to demonstrate their blood-draining ability. Many were slain and the scant remainder flew screeching out of the hole in the roof. Searching through the pile of crates which had been home to the birds, the party discovered a haul of coins and several valuable items, which had obviously been lying there for some time, undiscovered by the bugbears.

Returning to the ground floor, the party explored the remaining rooms of the manor, which were mostly full of rubble and ruin. At one point Kratos exerted his might to break down a stuck door, and narrowly avoided falling head first into a pit which was on the other side - it wasn't clear whether this hole had been deliberately put there as a trap, or whether the floor had coincidentally caved in, but in any case a hole leading down to the cellar was revealed. The party also found a room with a series of paintings, most of which had been shredded. One painting however was mostly intact (it had been spattered with blood, but the image could still be seen) - it depicted the ex-baron of Ballan, seated and holding an orb of dark stone in one hand, and a quill in the other hand. The quill was recognised as the feather they had found upstairs.

Lastly, as the day outside was beginning to wane, the party descended into the cellars (via a stairway which they found elsewhere). They had previously lit a torch to investigate one of the upper rooms with boarded windows, and this was still burning, allowing the non-Dwarvish members of the party to see in the gloom of the cellar. The cellar appeared to consist of two large rooms, both thick with mould and damp, and full of broken and rotting barrels and caskets. The first of the two cellar rooms had some odd formations of green mould on the walls, which had formed into what looked like some kind of runes or writing. Unfortunately none of the party could decipher what the mould had to say.

On a wider inspection of the cellar it was discovered that both of the large stone rooms had been "extended" by several rough, low-ceilinged tunnels, running off at odd angles. As the party were considering their next action, Darian heard a whimpering sound coming from a barrel in the corner. They gathered around, and shook the barrel slightly, provoking a more determined wailing from within. Kratos fearlessly opened the barrel, which was sealed, and saw a small boy cowering within. (Not one member of the party thought for a moment that the boy was what he seemed to be :)) Kratos reached in to grab the boy, suspecting that he may be some kind of shapechanger or demon, and in fact discovered that he was a ghost - the Northlander's hand passed straight through the phantom, causing it to wail even louder. Darian suggested that maybe Arthanius should try to do something with or to the ghost, to which he memorably replied "I'm a witch-hunter, not a ghost-buster".

At about this time the party's luck was up. Unbeknownst to them, a group of bugbears which were lurking in the one of the low tunnels had been sneaking up on them, and, aided by the noise and distraction of the screaming ghost, leapt on the party out of the darkness and completely by surprise. They attacked Barur's henchmen, Angur and Barath, who happened to be situated at the back of the group, and the nearest victims of the ambush. The henchmen were taken completely off guard, and were both run through by the bugbears' spears and fell to the ground. Barur and the others retaliated quickly, and slew the bugbears in their wrath, but the henchmen had both taken fatal wounds, and were dead by the time anyone could get to them.

After the battle the party noticed that their torch was burning very low, and only at this point realised that this was the one and only torch they possessed between the six of them. (A fact which I found rather amusing :)) And, seeing the diminishing light coming from the hole in the ceiling which Kratos had earlier almost fallen through from above, they realised that dusk was nearing. They took these two facts as a sign to get going, although they were eager to explore the tunnels leading out of the cellars. Kratos had taken a liking to the ghost in the barrel (which was still crying), and formed a plan to take it back to town and to try and make some money by displaying it as a curio of some kind. So he began to roll the wailing barrel up the stairs. It was only the smoking and hissing of the barrel dissolving which saved him from the nasty surprise of stepping straight into a corrosive black ooze which was now spread across the stairs leading up. The ghost vanished as the barrel dissolved, and the black ooze began to slowly advance on the party, spreading itself wide over the floor of the cellar. With no other escape route, Barur swung a grappling hook up through the hole in the ceiling, and the party climbed out one by one, with the ooze advancing on them as they fled. All living members of the party narrowly escaped without being dissolved, but poor Angur's body became ooze food.

They left the manor and the ruined village at sunset, carrying with them a nice haul of treasure, and the body of their fallen comrade.

The two hour journey back to Keet became perilous as night descended, and they had to resort to creating makeshift torches with sticks, rags, and the large amounts of oil they had (but no lanterns!). They skirted around the edges of Grinwold wood on their way back to civilisation, but their light and movement did not go unnoticed. A band of mountain goblins leapt out of the woods in an attempted ambush, which Arthanius' dog Bane warned the party of just in time. Despite their number, the goblins were easily defeated - Barur and Kratos slaying large numbers of them with an initial strike, causing the remainder to flee in terror.

The session ended with the slightly diminished party safely back in the village of Keet, indeed just in time for supper.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Can bugbears worship ooze?

Yeah, why not?

After the events of the last session in my campaign (the storming of a ruined manor inhabited by bugbears), I started to wonder "what lies beneath?". I'd already decided that the bugbears don't actually live in the manor house, they just use it as a kind of base of operations. Like any self-respecting "humanoids", they live in a series of tunnels underneath the manor and the nearby village. So I started drawing a map of said tunnels, and then came to think "well, what else might be down there, cohabiting with the bugbears?". Ooze was not the first thing that came to my mind. However, after laying eyes on this lump of melted purple candle wax, the possibilities of ooze & bugbears living in subterranean harmony became suddenly rather vivid and appealing.

I've only recently started using miniatures & a battle mat (since starting to play Savage Worlds), and this is the first time it's occurred to me to use something unusual and creative as a miniature. Let the floodgates open!

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Old school t-shirts 2

I am now the proud owner of an AD&D Players Handbook t-shirt!

Unfortunately, a couple of things didn't go quite right:

1. I'd forgotten that the t-shirt printers told me that for bitmap images like this, it's only possible to print them on light coloured shirts, ideally white (because the colours of the image are mixed additively with the colour of the shirt). I totally didn't think that image would look right on a white shirt! While I was editting it I'd been imagining it on a dark background, maybe black or purple, and only remembered the thing about the light colour shirt when it came to printing it.

2. You can't really see it in the photo, but the colours came out a bit oversaturated, which was my fault (I think) as I did the colour balancing on my laptop, which probably has a pretty dim screen, meaning that I over-contrasted everything.

Ah well, you live and learn... Still, I'm pleased with the shirt, and am wearing it proudly, albeit hidden beneath jumpers in this season ;) I'm also especially pleased that it's printed on organic fair-trade cotton. That was one of the reasons I wanted to get a t-shirt printed at this shop, rather than just buying one - that I wanted something that wasn't made under sweatshop condition labour in some exotic land!

I think next I'll get a shirt printed with a vector image, so just one colour. Maybe the aforementioned Dungeons & Dragons logo, or another idea I had which might be very cool was the map of "skull mountain" from the Holmes Basic D&D book! I think a black & white dungeon map would make a pretty striking image, and would be distinctly old-school.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Age of Chaos - Session 8

A long session which, in contrast to the two previous (combatless) sessions, was taken up mostly with a huge battle!


Barur - Noble Dwarven warrior, accompanied by his hirelings Barath and Angur
Darian - Wandering Bard
Arthanius Lex - Servant of Arg, member of the Order of the Hammer, witch-hunter

After the disappearance of Aergyl the Necromancer early in the morning during the last session, Darian, Barur and his henchmen gathered in the tavern to discuss events and to make plans for their next action. They decided to attempt a raid on the ruined village of Ballan, which lies to the south of Keet (where they are staying), on the slopes of Mount Garn. They had visited Ballan on two previous occasions, and had encountered the village's new inhabitants - bugbears. They were drawn to explore the manor house which they'd noticed on a hill at the rear of the village, surmising that this was perhaps the lair of the bugbears, and that there was probably loot to be had. They'd discovered that the manor was previously owned by a Baron Halld, and that he was friends with a well-known wizard, Elleg, who had dwelt in the region - meaning that the potential for valuable and interesting treasure in the ruined manor was guessed to be high! So, they made plans to head to Ballan early the next morning.

That evening, as the party were relaxing in the inn, a stranger arrived in Keet - a short, rugged, bearded man, dressed in a long leather coat, carrying a crossbow, and leading a lithe dog on a leash. He entered the tavern, escorted by one of the village guards, and strode directly up to the party of adventurers. Introducing himself as Arthanius Lex, he stated that he had come to investigate the strange goings-on in the village, and the escape of the Necromancer, whom he'd been informed had been an acquaintance of Barur's. The Dwarf, bemoaning further accusations for the deeds of his ill-chosen former companion, re-asserted his innocence in the matter, but did little to gain the trust of the witch-hunter, who remained very suspicious. He did however declare that he would accompany the party to Ballan the next day, in order to see if they really did intend to fight against the creatures of Chaos.

Leaving the inn, Arthanius asked the village guard to lead him to the house of Meredith, the local herbalist, who was also known to have had dealings with the Necromancer. The old woman told all she knew of the wizard, that he had seemed somewhat suspicious, and had spoken of strange matters, but that she had had the feeling that there was good in him, and that he was not purely a servant of Chaos. Again, the witch-hunter's suspicious mind was not pacified, and he left with the feeling that some strange plot was afoot in the village.

They all slept poorly during the night, due to the cold of the oncoming winter, and awoke early to see the year's first snow covering the ground outside. Barur's henchman Angur declared it to be "a cold day for killing". Before leaving the village they visited the guards' barracks, which stands on a hill behind the inn. Arthanius Lex was awaiting them there, and was gathered with a group of guards. He had managed to talk the guard captain around to sending three of the village guards with the party, as they'd need all the swords they could get if the reports about Ballan's new inhabitants were true. Thus they entered the wild lands: Barur, Angur and Barath, Darian, and Arthanius Lex with his hunting hound and the three guards: Aram, Dolg and Olm.

The 2 hour walk around the outskirts of the forest to Ballan was mostly uneventful. At one point they sighted a flight of crows above them, which the superstitious village guards believed to be the familiars of the wizard Elleg (who was also believed to perhaps still dwell in his tower on the edge of the forest away to the south east). The crows were taken as a portent of some kind, though the party were unsure whether it boded for good or ill.

Arriving at the ruined village, they found it lifeless and still, especially quite now it was blanketed with snow. The snow revealed no tracks ahead of them, so they surmised that whatever lived here had not been active since the snow had fallen in the early morning. They walked carefully through the village, Lex's dog sniffing and growling at various ruined buildings as they passed. Nonetheless they headed straight to the walled manor house on the hill. The rusted iron gates in the wall stood half open, and Barur ventured inside to find a garden wildly overgrown with thorny plants, two broken statues of noble warriors, and a path leading up to the front door of the manor. He noted that the windows of the manor were all boarded shut. They gathered at the doorstep, and pulled the creaking doors open, revealing an empty hallway with a door and a stairway on each side, and a set of magnificently carved double doors at the far end.

Lex stepped boldly forward, walking down the hall and opening the double doors, which led into what used to be the manor's great dining hall. The room was now filled with smoke, coming from the smouldering embers which lay beneath a steaming iron cauldron. A variety of wooden tables, chairs and junk also filled the room, but it was apparently uninhabited. Ever wary, Lex looked upwards to the ceiling, and noticed that a balcony ran along one edge of the room, allowing viewers on the next floor to look down into the hall. Afraid of what such viewers might do to them now, he sent two of the guards up the stairway to investigate. Also while scanning the ceiling, the witch-hunter caught a glimpse of a large black shape moving in one corner. Taking no chances, he let a crossbow bolt fly at it, heard the bolt thud into what sounded like flesh, and a muted scream of pain. The shape began to move.

The two guards crept up the stairway, and ran back down, gibbering that they'd seen "five monsters, dark gods, blood everywhere!". The battle began.

At this point, as the party was mostly gathered at the doors of the banquet hall, Darian, who was lurking at the rear, noticed that one of the smaller doors in the entrance hall, behind them, was beginning to shake, as if someone was trying to open it. Barur and his henchmen leapt up the stairs to confront the reported horrors, and Darian put his back against the shaking door in an attempt to block it. Unfortunately his strength was not sufficient, and he was sent flying to the floor, cracking his head on the flagstones, as a group of four bugbears wielding spears rushed to attack the party's rear.

Those on the upper level were confronted by the leader of the bugbears, a massive hulking beast of 8 feet tall, brandishing an axe and a huge shield, and wearing a dented breastplate. He was accompanied by two priests wielding bone rods, and two warriors with spears. The chamber appeared to be used as some kind of temple, as a magic circle was scribed on the floor, and an altar made of bones and congealed blood occupied one wall. The guards' report was correct - the whole room was splashed with blood of varying ages.

The battle was sorely fought, with the party surrounded and split onto two levels. The bugbear priests wielded powerful magic against them, summoning a blinding darkness, and shooting forth volleys of bone shards. Darian was stabbed and left for dead by the bugbears which had come from the door he'd attempted to block, but he bettered them, crawling up behind them and skewering one of them from behind. Barur fought the bugbear leader, an evenly matched battle between two veteran warriors, but after the magical darkness had passed, the Dwarf ended victorious. The defeat of their leader demoralised the bugbear hordes, and some of them fled.

The priests fought to the death, and were killed by Barur's henchmen, Angur and Barath - Barath using the unusual but successful tactic of throwing chunks of wood and bones from the altar at his opponents to disorient them. Several bugbears died with Lex's bolts in their skulls. When the last of the monsters were slain, the party assessed its losses. Two of the three village guards were dead, but the third, Olm, survived and had proven to be a stalwart warrior, single-handedly fending off attacks from three bugbears. Lex was badly wounded, but still able. Darian lay unconscious and bleeding in the entrance hall on the ground floor, but was still barely alive.

With the rout of their enemies, the party was torn between looting the manor house in victory and making a hasty retreat to the safety of Keet. They chose the latter course of action, fearing that a further confrontation in the manor would not go in their favour. But they planned to return later in the day, after leaving the badly wounded in safety, hoping that the fleeing bugbears had run far enough away that they wouldn't have regrouped by the time the party returned.

The next session will tell if their hopes will be fulfilled!

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Old-school t-shirts!

Due to:

1. Having a distinct lack of t-shirts in a passable condition at the moment.
2. My love of old-school RPGs, and a certain amount of "geek pride".
3. Having noticed a shop near where I work which offers printing of images onto organic cotton t-shirts.

I've decided to expand my currently extremely limited repertoire of t-shirts with some new ones featuring evocative old-school images. The first selection was the iconic 1978 Players Handbook cover, which I photographed and (somewhat painstakingly) editted. I'm pretty pleased with the result, as originally I was thinking I'd have to cut off the adventurers at the bottom of the image, as they were covered in writing. Photoshop's "clone stamp" tool is a work of genius! I'll no doubt post a picture of the t-shirt when it's printed too. (By the way, I just realised that this is a t-shirt I always wanted as a kid, after seeing it in a TSR promotional brochure... Dreams do come true ;))

Next on the list is either simply a Dungeons & Dragons logo (I'm thinking the one off the Mentzer box - which is the most iconic to me), or perhaps the Moldvay Basic D&D cover. I did try making a vector image of the former already (which would be required to make a vinyl transfer of it), but I had some trouble getting a good result without arduously tracing the whole thing by hand. I might end up doing that, when I find the time, but I'd also be very interested to hear if anyone has already done this, or knows where one can get a vector D&D logo online?

Monday, 4 October 2010

The nine hells

After waking up this morning, I started thinking about the planes of hell. Such is the life of a Dungeon Master ;)

In contrast to the traditional AD&D conception of the planes of existence, in my campaign I've decided that there's only one plane or world, and that all deities, devils, demons, etc have their realms located physically in that one world. (I don't claim to know a huge amount about real-world mythology, but I think this was pretty much the world-view held by people such as the Norse and the ancient Greeks.) Of course, most of these divine or infernal regions of the world would be obscure, mythical and pretty much impossible for average mortals to reach. (Heroes with powerful sorcery and magic items, on the other hand...)

So, in my campaign, the spirits of the dead travel through the Underworld (literally underground) and have to run the gauntlet of spiritual worth as various unsavoury beings vie to steal their souls. Up until now I've not put that much thought into the dark forces of the world, other than creating a list of the names of some of the major gods of Chaos - who'd be exactly the folks who would be ruling these subterranean domains.

This is what came to my mind, inspired by the idea of "the nine hells" (not sure if that's an AD&Dism, or if it's based in real-world legend?):

The Nine Hells
1. The burning hell
2. The freezing hell
3. The boiling hell
4. The parched (or desolate) hell
5. The caustic hell
6. The lightless hell
7. The hell of hooks
8. The hell of holes
9. The hell of dominion

Each of them of course now needs a suitably nasty ruler and his or her servitors. For example, I imagine the boiling hell being a swamp-world filled with bubbling pools and noxious vapours, ruled by a frog god and his amphibious devil servants. The ninth hell I envisage as the kind of central hub (also perhaps the lowest), from where the as-yet unnamed lord of hell rules each of the other eight.

Fun times :)