Monday, 24 July 2017

[REVIEW] The Tomb of the Sea Kings

[REVIEW] The Tomb of the Sea Kings
by Lawson “Blood Master” Bennett with Jimm Johnson
Published by The Scribes of Sparn

The Tomb of the Sea Kings
When the idea of self-published adventures started to get traction with the OGL, homemade PDFs, OSRIC, POD, and a lot of things which make our lives easier, this is how I imagined our bright future would be like. People with low budgets and big ideas putting out dodgy little booklets with questionable but lovingly made artwork and a heaping of sense of wonder. The true DIY spirit would recognise no boundaries, and creativity would triumph over commerce and production values. And a little bit of that happened, and some of it didn’t, and ten years later we are in a crazy world where Guy Fullerton’s Hoard and Horde list contains 1,530 entries, RPGNow’s OSR section contains 1,614, but you actually have to look carefully to find a supplement that fulfils that original promise and does it well. This is one of those supplements.

Tomb of the Sea Kings looks exactly like the weird little booklets you want to find at a convention or used book store, and it reads like a love letter to funhouse tournament modules like White Plume Mountain and Ghost Tower of Inverness. It wears its love for old school gaming on its sleeves. It is unapologetically homemade and strange. Nobody would ever run with this kind of art in a professional outfit, and no serious author would write a scenario where you get to fight stone skeleton archers in a room filled with lotus flowers whose pollen will turn you to stone in 4 rounds. Those serious people are wrong and Lawson “Blood Master” Bennett and Jimm Johnson are right.

Tomb of the Sea Kings is just about the right size for an adventure module with a total of 48 keyed areas – it has enough meat on it to last, but it doesn’t try to take over your campaign. I wish more modules were this size, and not those eternally disappointing anemic affairs which litter RPGNow and the general internet. It is presented as a tournament scenario, and it almost certainly won’t fit into an ongoing campaign (except perhaps a rather odd one), but it’d be a rather good one-off for an experienced group of players or at a convention. Like many TSR modules, it gets a lot less serious as you leave the straight initial premise and get deeper into it.

The two-level dungeon in Sea Kings is all about the strange ideas you have when you release your inner thirteen-years-old killer DM, but you are old and experienced enough to make those ideas work. Tomb of the Sea Kings has not much rhyme or reason (the eponymous Sea Kings are featured in only two or three encounters), but it has a lot of puzzles and puzzle-like things which are textbook Gygaxian D&D. It is good adversarial GMing, where you will routinely run into “screw you” situations if you try to play what’s on your character sheet, but you’ll have a good chance of pulling it off if you have the right combination of inquisitiveness, caution, and a penchant for thinking on your feet. It feels very unfair (particularly towards thieves), but if you look at it closely, following game logic and coming up with improvised solutions will mostly save you, or at least give you a fighting chance.

This Is Art
The encounters in the dungeon are silly and fantastic, and instead of thematic coherence, have a stream-of-consciousness associative feel to them. You have the Blood Freezer followed by the Vampire Room followed by the 3D Goggle Room followed by the Rotoscope Dragon Room (one of my favourites), then the Spriggan Room and the Anti-Vamp Room. There are gleefully evil rub-your-hands-while-cackling-maniacally traps, great setpiece puzzles, and about the right amount of combat with powerful enemies. You can die right in the first room, and you have to choose your battles to avoid getting worn down by the time you get close to the ultimate prize. The rooms are often illustrated with lovingly rendered scribbles which completely capture the module’s idiosyncratic style, and are quite helpful for the GM in rounding out the sparse but effective room descriptions. There is a pull-out sheet in the middle of the booklet with the dungeon maps and a helpful stat roster that’s a very good, utilitarian touch.

Now the module isn’t flawless. It is excessively linear (although with lots of red herrings along the way), probably as part of its tournament heritage. Some of the rooms are one-note, “here is a vampire”, “here is a room where there might be 1-2 Anti-Clerics”, a bit disappointing in comparison with the inspired craziness elsewhere. When you can come up with the “Anti-Cleric Hourglass Room” or the three-room Gold-Silver-Copper puzzle, it is easy for the reviewer to start having high expectations. While the monster stat blocks are generally helpful, they follow this annoying tendency of not assigning spells to the module’s generous range of spellcasting opponents; and you also have references to random, letter-coded treasure types. As much as campaigns vary, modules should at least give a general idea in these cases, and we will customise them to our hearts’ content if they don’t fit.

All in all, this module does what it sets out to do, and it is exactly the kind of thing I would like to see more of. It has a personal style, it doesn’t let decorum and publishing standards get in the way of having fun, and the DIY is with it. It is worth owning in print – the Lulu booklet is pretty damn nice, and it is an example of “trade dress porn” that feels just right.

No playtesters were credited in the adventure (but it was apparently run at multiple conventions with great success).


Rating: **** / *****

Sunday, 23 July 2017

[REVIEW] The Flooded Temple

[REVIEW] The Flooded Temple
by Morten Greis
Self-published

The Flooded Temple
Hidden in flooded ravines lies an ancient temple on the bordering the realm of death.” So begins this 18-page adventure about a ruined multi-level temple and the rival monster factions that inhabit it. The scenario was originally written for Hinterlandet, a Danish old-school system, and it is billed as “[a]n OSR-style low-level adventure for daring adventurers using the greatest roleplaying system of our age”. It is the GM’s responsibility to decide which of the several hundred D&D-like systems that “greatest” refers to, and to substitute the appropriate stats – a fairly easy task, since the module mostly features standard monsters with small changes that largely affect their description.

This kind of light customisation is one of the adventure’s strong points. You are not just encountering kobolds, bugbears and lizardmen, but kobolds who have contracted a terminal disease and use the ruined temple as part of an elaborate (and rather creepy) death ritual, bugbears who are here as part of a coming-of-age test, and lizardmen who have arrived to claim the temple for their own purposes. Just adding the players would create enough chaos to make the adventure run itself, but a fifth party – an evil cult looking for the same thing as the PCs – adds a dynamic, timed component to the experience. There are a lot of ways this combustible mixture could blow up, and you just have to supply the burning fuse to light it up.

Also add the ruined temple-complex. This is one exciting structure. A building cut into the sides of a gorge around a flowing river, reminiscent of Petra and just the kind of location you’d expect to see in an Indiana Jones movie. You can row your boat right to the front entrance. You can infiltrate the place through one of several large windows. You can swim through a crack in the wall. You might even climb up on top and descend from above. Parts of the structure are flooded, and there is a central open-air courtyard bypassing multiple levels which allows for a lot of rope-related tomfoolery. This opens up the scenario and lets the players devise crazy plans which may or may not work, but, combined with the factions, will invariably result in a lot of chaotic fun. There is a central mystery, too, more Indiana Jones stuff revolving around puzzles and a little archaeology. You decipher clues hidden in the decoration and unearth mysteries. The treasure is very scarce (even by conservative standards), but it comes with interesting dilemmas (“Do we dare loot this dead guy who has seemingly succumbed to a terrible tropical disease?”), and the magic items are all superb sword&sorcery fare; full of mystery and danger.

But “factions” and “temple-complex” is perhaps putting things too generously. Three of the four factions are represented by single encounters clustered in one room, while the temple is your typical 20-room affair (25 if you count sub-entries) in a very compact space. There is simultaneously too little and too much. Forget the often criticised “monster condos” of early dungeon design, this is pretty much the equivalent of letting an adventuring party loose in an apartment block. When it blows up, it blows up.

I am conflicted about these design choices. Things are close enough together that something happening in one room should have consequences in nearby rooms, and since the temple is a neat 3D structure with lots of connection points through staircases and the open courtyard in the middle, this means any action can start unpredictable chain reactions. It can be great if the GM can pull it off, or it can lead to confusion and missed opportunities (“Damn I should have let the bugbears come and search the area”). Certainly, you need to study the adventure very carefully to run the faction interactions effectively, something the lengthy and sometimes opaque text doesn’t always help with. There is too much exposition, and some of the room entries run too long to make it effective.

Like this, but with kobolds
And of course, it is too small. Yes, I have been beating that drum through many reviews (and many more I could have written, but didn’t), but it does in fact matter. The temple is too small. There is not enough space to develop the web of alliances and conflicts sufficiently. There is not enough empty room where chance encounters and conflicts can take place. There are no out of the way sections where something could be lurking (and lurk it should!). There are not enough side rooms to hide when someone is coming. Things can’t really happen between two factions because once someone raises a ruckus, everyone will be looking on. Think of Red Nails taking place in a small, tight condo instead of a sprawling ruined city. It lessens the concept, and robs the adventure of its potential.

It appears to me that The Flooded Temple is balanced on the edge between the kind of disappointing mini-adventures I have been too dispirited to review lately, and complex, imaginatively written scenarios which take the Caverns of Thracia playbook and use it to produce interesting, open-ended adventures where the clash of opposed agendas can produce shaky alliances, shifting tactical situations, and unpredictable bursts of violence. It is almost there, but not there. The strong visual imagination, sense of place and the potential for internecine strife give the adventure its charm. It could be truly excellent if the map was twice the current size, and had roughly the same number of keyed entries (or perhaps a few more areas without plot relevance), while the writing was edited a little for length and utility. There is much promise here. I hope this promise will one day be realised.

No playtesters were credited in the adventure.


Rating: *** / *****

Thursday, 29 June 2017

[REVIEW] Legends of Krshal

Legends of Krshal: The Towers of Krshal Rumours Table Expansion (2017)
by Albert Rakowski
Self-published

Legends of Krshal
Towers of Krshal easily remains one of my favourite old school supplements. I could cite its use of random tables to create multiple possible ideas of a fantastic city; its powerful and fantastic imagery shamelessly stealing from Lankhmar, the Victorian period, and various macabre sources; its density of content contrasted with its cavalier attitude towards production values, and so on. It is a compelling and original piece of writing, and I think it is great. Legends of Krshal is an expansion on Towers; more accurately, it takes the 50-entry rumours table of the original, and expands each entry with more in-depth random results, some kind of explanation, or a discussion of what the rumour may mean and/or lead to.

This approach makes Legends of Krshal a subtly different product from Towers. The tables in Towers gave you a probabilistic view of the city – at one time, they might tell you that prisoners are being eaten in the Centaur District prison and a faceless woman walks on Lame Dog Street each full moon; and at another, they might draw your attention to the idea that multiple crime lords were killed with black magic six years ago, and a strange multi-handed clock was recently installed in the Temple of the Seven Stars. The potential was there for all (or most) of these things to be true, or at least relevant, but it was the connections drawn through random generation that would lead to interesting juxtapositions and combinations. Towers is an excellent “dream machine” to generate scenario outlines in a specific style, or introduce random elements into an ongoing adventure. It is all there, but sometimes your adventure is about the Centaur District prison, and sometimes it is about the memory of dead crime lords – you needn’t concern yourself with all the other stuff.

Legends of Krshal follows a different path. It gives the rumours table an additional level of detail, where most entries have their own random tables leading to further ideas, connections and tidbits of information, and some have bullet points giving you a complex picture. Sometimes, it is a collection of alternative explanations, or a collection of loose ideas associated with the basic concept. These ideas do not coexist as easily as the ones in Towers; usually, one possibility excludes the other. This gives you less material to play with than you could expect – even if many of the sub-entries are actually reusable.

One of my worries about this sequel was the dilution of Krshal’s original imaginative power. Indeed, some of the entries lose their poetic power when the author tries to expand them into more detailed adventure hooks. In the original table, one of my favourite entries was “Everyone on Boggy Square saw a man falling from the window of the Bat’s Tower but no corpse was found”. This could be worthy of Kafka, Borges or Calvino, so it is sad to see the author fumble around with ideas like “the story is a hoax concocted by muggers” or “tragic love – nothing extraordinary”. Do we really need that stuff?

On the other hand, sometimes the magic works, and we get apocalyptic prophecies, secret societies working on nefarious schemes, and wonderfully twisted personalities. “A two-headed lich beneath the Silver chapel is gathering an army of undead rodents to destroy the sacred place above his lair”, or “Stones excavated from some ancient, cursed tomb were used to build the mansion belonging to the Varnham family” – that’s the stuff that made Krshal so wondrous and original. Sometimes, a single entry becomes a cool little random table of its own – a recently opened sinkhole might lead to “a maze of caverns filled with living, sapient crystals”, or “a tunnel to the Palatial Complex of Mar Gat’nep”, or (my favourite) “the graveyard of the train engines”. There are a lot of fantastic ideas in the product, but they are messier and harder to fish out of a collection of detours and dead ends than from the more neatly structured Towers of Krshal.

Legends of Krshal continues the tradition of Towers with imaginative and off the wall ideas, and it is definitely worth owning as a supplement to the original. It should be used more carefully, and some of the really good stuff is hidden in obscure corners you need to carefully and deliberately look for and attack with a highlighter. It is less immediately useful as a game material, but it is an invaluable idea mine – there's gold in them thar hills, if you are willing to do the digging.

No playtesters were credited in the supplement.


Rating: *** / *****

Sunday, 25 June 2017

[CAMPAIGN JOURNAL] The Inheritance #10: The Wyverns

My horse has been stolen!” came the lament from a stocky, balding man who had just entered the Dancing Basilisk. Nobody gave him much attention, but his insistent complaints finally drew Gadur Yir’s attention. The fellow shrunk back as the half-orc turned towards him, then, seeing he wasn’t going to get hit, he continued: “Blossom is her name, and Freg the Mover is mine.”
Anything special about your horse?” Gadur Yir asked, bored out of his skull.
A five-leaf clover. ... Thank you, Sir, for taking up my cause! Thank you, thank you!

A stolen horse, you say? Does this happen often in this place?” The question came from a newcomer, a plain-looking man in nondescript grey clothing.
Gadur Yir took a good look at the man’s sword and heavy crossbow, then paused – “Who wants to know?
They call me Armand… Armand the Scumbag. Well, some people do. I am a fortune-seeker, looking for companions.
The conversation about the horse also seemed to draw the attention of the lean, melancholy elf who had been playing his harp in the corner. Gadur Yir noted a long spear and a tall shield with the image of a crying maiden.
Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Lafadriel Hundertwasser, from the distant west. I have come looking for my brother, Elandir, who was last seen on this island.
The half-orc looked up and shrugged: “I know him… well, knew. His remains rest beneath the ruins of Perladon Manor, brought down by black magic. He died, along with many others, to a fireball spell.
Lafadriel sighed. “Alas, poor Elandir! I have come too late, then – I can’t even bury you. Perhaps I will find more of my people on this island, and see if I can join them. Until then, I would be hapy to come with you… just tell me how my brother met his end.
They sat down to talk some more through the evening, and soon, they all agreed to continue to Baklin together the next day.

***

At sunrise, the newly formed company – Gadur Yir, Drolhaf Haffnarskørung, Phil the Terror of Turkeys, Lafadriel Hundertwasser and the taciturn Armand the Scumbag – left Haghill through the front gate, just as a row of tired soldiers were returning from the siege of the Singing Caverns. They were leading a row of chained orcs, some of them clearly from Truglag’s Tavern; they were also carrying two cartloads of ale barrels and assorted goods. None of the green-clad men were with them.
I suggest we should make a small detour. Bramerlic the Mineral Dealer is still missing, and the soldiers might not have found him at Truglag’s” Phil recommended.
They crossed the blooming fields, carefully avoiding the beekeeper’s hut, and descended into the caverns. A short expedition showed that Tuglag’s had been well and truly ransacked: the guardian lynx was slain, and the furniture was all smashed up. There was nothing of value, although the passage behind the counter lead to a few more rooms and a secret escape route into the wilderness. If Bramerlic had ever been held there, he was no longer present.

The Road to Baklin
Back on the road, the company travelled west. After a few hours, they passed the remains of a primitive village – rotund stone huts conquered by the wilderness, long abandoned. Finding only the tracks of boars, and not interested in a confrontation, they decided to continue rather than investigate. Perhaps an hour from the village, the road crossed a small river.
Wait! I hear something!” Phil whispered to the others. “Wings! Great wings!
They scrambled for the undergrowth and hid themselves as well as they could as two great lizard monsters with enormous wings and long, swan-like necks descended on the ford. They hissed and drank in large gulps.
Wywerns!” hissed Lafadriel. “Beware, the stingers at the end of their tails carry a deadly poison!
They remained silent as the grave as the beasts drank themselves full, and took to the air again.
These two were sent by Haldor himself, and you let them get away!” Phil teased the half-orc.
I am a little disappointed” nodded Armand.
"I wonder if the wyverns are connected to the abandoned manor of the Feranolts on that deserted island. Could they have killed the inhabitants there?" muttered Gadur Yir, mostly to himself.

However, things didn’t stay quiet for too long. Cries came from the north, beyond the pine trees, and strange, rasping roars responded to it. The wyverns had met someone in the woods, and judging from the clamour of weapons, they had met their match.
After me!” Gadur Yir cried, swiftly crossing the pine forest. But by the time they arrived, silence had fallen on the large clearing where the woods gave way to leafy plants, and they beheld a scene of horror. The wyverns, slightly bloodied, were feasting on the grisly remains of a group of Northmen. The only sounds were the snapping of bones and the tearing of meat as the beasts gorged themselves.
In the name of Haldor, perish, you wyrms!” hollered Gadur Yir as he charged the more wounded of the pair, the others following a bit more cautiously. The half-orc rained blow after blow on the beasts, but he was struck by one of the deadly stingers, and went pale from the shock.
Githoniel Elbereth, Silendil Mithrill!” came Lafadriel’s battle cry as he came to his aid, while those who stayed back, rained arrows and crossbow bolts on the beasts. At last, the two reptilian horrors were brought down, and they exhaled their evil spirits.

Let us rest a little, because I feel very, very bad…” whispered Gadur Yir as he staggered to the nearest tree, and fell with his back to the thick trunk.
Lafadriel looked far westwards, sighed, and took out his shovel from his backpack. The others collected the Northmen’s loot: 25 platinum coins – a rare and valuable haul – a potion, and an old brass sceptre that Phil appraised for 80 gold pieces, three intact chain shirts (the rest were too chewed up or punctured to be useful), and a rune-engraved longbow named “Kingfisher”. Armand cut up the beasts to check if they had something in their gullets but found nothing, while Phil had carved off some of the scaly skin. They dug shallow graves to bury the dead while Gadur Yir was fighting for his life, hanging between this world and the next. He felt his consciousness fade and his vision dim; but before the spark of life would leave him for good, he felt the touch of a hand over his heart, and the venom of the beasts being drawn from his blood. Haldor had performed a miracle for his champion! With that, he drifted into a peaceful, dark sleep.

Gadur Yir’s body was too heavy to carry over the shoulder, and he was delirious, hovering between life and death. Drolhaf Haffnarskørung and Armand the Scumbag assembled a stretcher from two pieces of wood and a length of rope. They also searched the half-orc with Phil’s help, but found nothing suspicious in his pockets. Finally, they returned to the road.

***

Beyond the ford, the road entered deep and dark woods, filled with birdsong. They were passing through a ravine between two tree-capped hills, when they heard the merry sounds of a pipe. The source of the unlikely music was a short, jovial-looking man in weathered green clothes and a feathered cap, sitting on a fallen tree by a yawning cave entrance and playing a cheerful ditty. Next to him slept a snoring mound of flesh and feathers – something that looked like a cross between an owl and a bear. The man smiled and nodded.
Fair greetings, my good fellows! I am the man they call the Piper. What brings you here into these woods?
Drolhaf greeted him cautiously. “We are travellers, on our way to Baklin.
You are on the right way, then!” the man laughed “Just be careful. The woods are dangerous around here.
Drolhaf cast a sidelong glance at the sleeping owlbear. “Could you tell us about these dangers?
The Piper laughed. “Sure I would! Consider, for instance, this owlbear. It is fast asleep, but if I were to stop playing this lullaby, it’d get up and become mighty irritated. And suppose someone did away with the owlbear? Why, the only reason the langomir lurking within this cave doesn’t come out is because it doesn’t like the smell. Do you understand my gist?
Drolhaf’s eyes narrowed, but he nodded solemnly. The Piper played a little trill, then smiled like a cat.
Let’s make it 25 gold pieces for safe passage, and for another 25, I will tell you a secret.
Phil the Terror of Turkeys and Armand the Scumbag gasped and quickly traded a glance, but Drolhaf gestured to them to stop, and counted out the money.
Very smart! Very smart indeed!” came the Piper’s response. “Well then. Ask Gadur Yir about the purpose of his journey. I bet he could tell you some very interesting things. Oh, and here is another one for free: you are lucky I told you this, now that bards are scarce on Erillion.
Drolhaf quickly nodded, said his farewell, and they left the ravine, followed by the pipe’s merry tunes.
Wait!” Phil stopped in his tracks. “Gadur Yir – how did he know his name when we never introduced ourselves?!
His words were followed by an uncomfortable silence, but nobody cared to turn back and ask.

Gradually, the forests thinned and they came to a fork in the road. An old, but fairly well-maintained signpost pointed back east towards Haghill, southwest towards Baklin, and northwest towards Barzak Bragoth and Granite Bastion. Drolhaf looked at the pale, unconscious body of the half-orc.
The way he looks, we might as well bring him to the Valley of Barzak Bragoth for his burial. Then again...
They turned towards Baklin, and were at last out of the woods as dusk approached. Rolling hills and fields of grass stretched to the distance, broken here and there by tall mounds. When they could no longer go on, they made camp next to one of these outcroppings, covered with hardy scrubs, and crowned by tumbled white standing stones. On Phil’s advice, they avoided it, and instead, made camp in a small depression where they would be hard to see. The hobbit’s instincts were correct: on the first watch, Armand saw a row of lights creep towards the mound. He crept up to Drolhaf, and shook him: “Hey, Soap-man! Something’s afoot!” They watched for a while, but could not make out who was carrying the torches. Waking Lafadriel Hundertwasser, the elf finally saw them for a company of goblins, perhaps thirty men strong. They were climbing up the steep incline in an orderly row, and the wind carried guttural shrieks and rhythmical chanting. They lifted Gadur Yir, and silently left camp, spending the night at a distance. When dawn broke, they returned to the scene, only to find the goblins gone. Lafadriel climbed up to the top, but only the tracks of sandaled feet remained, along with the remains of a bonfire, broken and charred bones, and two antique bronze daggers. Looking around, he could see a mound further north.

***

They continued along the road, travelling south through the heath, which was filled with vicious snakes they could scarcely avoid. Shortly after noon, the highland began to descend towards the sea, and they could see the white walls of Baklin surrounding a narrow bay. The city walls were built on an escarpment, with the massive palace complex on the northern side; below them were rows after rows of houses until they reached the harbour. At the gates, they paid one gold per person to enter, and Drolhaf paid five more for a simple city map.
Would you recommend a place to stay while in Baklin?” he asked from one of the guards.
Depends on the price you care to pay. The fancy kind of travellers go for the Nine Doors, but that’s too rich for me. Below that are the Golden Plate and the Inn, both most affordable and almost as fancy. If you want something cheap – the Naked Hound and the Gullet are in the poor part of town, but  you get what you pay for.
Where would you go if you had to choose?
If I work the western gate, I tend to have a beer at the Inn. That’s a good place for travellers. If you fancy a serious eat, the Golden Plate is close to it.”
Excellent! We might also be looking for the advice of... well, some kind of wizard. Are there any in Baklin?
Why, yes! But he is a very ominous fellow – Slarkeron the Wizard is his name, and you can find him next to the palace. But beware! It is said his garden is full of enchanted statues, and those who come to him uninvited will never leave his tower.
We will keep that in mind. Do you know of a shrine to Gladuor in the city?
That Kassadian god? There are not many temples in Baklin; ours is not a god-fearing folk. If you are looking for a Kassadian god, though, you might have luck at the palace of Fantagor the Kassadian. He is the richest merchant in town, and he lives close to the marketplace.
“Anything else to keep in mind while in Baklin?
The guard laughed. “If you want my advice, go down to the harbour and take a good look at the platform near the Lockhouse.
I will do” said the barbarian as he handed another gold piece in the man’s hand.

The City of Baklin
They made their way down to the city, through the narrow plazas and markets. The Lockhouse was a tall, ominous building overlooking the waterfront, full of pulleys and platforms. Guards and accountants were running to and fro on various errands. The platform they were looking for stood next to the Lockhouse, a scaffold with a pile of leather sacks and multiple long, hafted iron maces chained to a central stone pillar. Drolhaf beckoned to a loitering fellow.
What is this odd contraption?
That be the Sacker” the swarthy sailor grinned “They catch a fellow doing something wrong, they tie him in a sack, and hit him until he moves. Last time they were sacking Hemlar; now he is in the mortuary with the knights.
They aren’t too keen on trials around here, are they” mused Phil.
No they ain’t, but a good look at this thing straightens out most never-do-wells before they stray. Didn’t help Hemlar, though.
Who are these knights?
You must be from a far land, stranger! They be the knights of Yolanthus Kar, who guard the dead in the valley of Barzak Bragoth. Here they only have a mortuary, and they take the bodies up to the mountains.
Phil nodded “Right. Do you know where I could find an armoursmith? I want the best one there is in this city.

The sailor guided them to a small shop on the side of the marketplace. The Cauldron & Anvil was busy with the coming and going of several apprentices, working on different metal objects under the hands of their master, Ragorlak Othmar. Othmar wore a mask covering half his face, and when Phil asked about his best wares, he showed them the ingots of dragon iron he was working with, as well as a row of breastplates hammered from Arxine cobalt-steel.
See anything you like? We can fashion them to your size with a little work.
I am looking for something else. Take a look at these things” he unrolled the length of wyvernskin. “I’d like you to make these into a suit for me.
Othmar looked over the material. “It will not be easy. ‘Tis a fine piece, but damaged, makes the work harder.
As you can guess, it didn’t hand it over peacefully. Can you do the work or not?
It can be done, especially for your size. It will make for a very light breastplate that won’t hinder your movement, but protect well against blows. I can make it for 500 gold pieces... or if you like, I’d buy the skin for 400.
Phil shook his head, and started counting out the advance. “I need the suit. Have it ready when possible – I will be back for it in a few days with the rest, and until then, keep the skin as a guarantee.

***

Lady Callodric maintained her household in an elegant house next to the western wall. The antique residence had belonged to the Count of Tullomarg, who was back in the Twelve Kingdoms on account of one of the many power struggles that had divided the place into a myriad mutually hostile territories. The Lady’s household included her own guard, servants, and Harkell the Butler, who received the good news of the enchanted flower’s arrival with the same world-weary contempt as anything else. He led the company to a cool little side garden to wait for the lady, and ordered a maid to bring refreshments while he conferred with her mistress.

The Lady was in her early fourties, an elegant sight in her velvets and silks, mixing the fur-lined cloak and hunting boots typical of the Twelve Kingdoms with the more refined Kassadian aesthetic. She nodded courteously as she entered the garden.
Harkell reports you have good news for me.
Indeed we do, my lady!” Drolhaf bowed and beckoned to Phil, who produced the enchanted flower, still intact and glowing with an inner light.
How beautiful it is! Old Tomurgen was right when he described it to me. It is a most remarkable thing.
Know it, oh Lady, that it was costly, too: we had obtained it at the price of multiple lives, and after grave dangers.
Your bravery will not be left unrewarded” the Lady rang a little bell to call Harkell. “I will pay you the agreed-upon sum of 600 gold pieces, and for your heroic deeds, I will also give you a magical potion – it contains the spirit of heroes, and you will find it very useful in your further adventures.

They sat for a while, talking about all kinds of subjects – the odd customs of the island’s burial rites, and the dark ambitions that seemed to lurk below Erillion’s calm surface. Lady Callodric mentioned she would have more work for the company soon, but she would first have to consult the bard Tomurgen – he had spoken of the significance of the enchanted flower, but his further words were still unclear. She would send for the company at the Golden Plate if anything came up. She was also troubled by the disappearance of several travelling trunks, brought from her home by ship and containing her personal effects. The trunks were due to arrive any time now, but they were missing. Agreeing to call on her if they learned anything about the mysterious cargo, they bid their farewell, and – dividing the sacks of gold among Drolhaf, Phil, and the still unconscious Gadur Yir – made for the Golden Plate and new adventures...

(Session date 20 May 2017).

***

Referee’s notes: The first fully successful instance of divine intervention in the campaign: Gadur Yir was almost a goner, but was saved at the last moment by Haldor’s protective hand. He is still in a rough shape, and needs healing to recover properly, but the longest-lived character of the Inheritance campaign is still kicking.


This session kind of marks the end of the second arc of the series. After bringing back the enchanted flower (with a long stopover in Haghill) to Lady Callodric, there are a lot of directions the game could develop. Alas, this will have to wait a bit – we will probably have only one or two sessions until September – but, as they say, “Season 3 will begin after the break.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

[BLOG] Meanwhile, in Xyntillan...

The last time we looked at the Castle Xyntillan campaign, 39 adventurers had braved the horrible monsters and Machiavellian deathtraps of the infamous seat of the Malévol family. The list had included 15 player characters and 24 companions. Coincidentally, this was also the number of surviving and deceased heroes. Since then, action has been a bit lighter (eight expeditions), but 25 more brave fools have ventured beyond one of the gates, of whom 10 returned to tell the tale, and 15 perished in the haunted halls. Omitting those who have fallen by the wayside, and now mostly rest in the castle garden (pictured), here is the list of those who would claim Xyntillan’s treasures... and those who have died trying.

==========================================================
The Survivors (in order of joining the campaign, bold entries are player characters while others are companions)
==========================================================

Catfish, Dwarf 4 (a veteran from PoSP, runs a fish-themed roster of hirelings, once killed by a reaper, but revived by a swig of potent brandy, owns a full suit of plate +1)
Salmon, crossbowman
An expanding graveyard
Pontius of the Leeches, Thief 5 (the proud owner of The Leechery of Pontius, a thermal bath of his own design; owns ring of invisibility)
Reinhart of Metz, Cleric 6 (once a crusading cleric, now the master of several eager disciples interested in his fiery sermons and views on the counter-reformation, owns staff of striking, magical shield and cloak +3, rendering him almost impossible to hit)
Raynald of Chatillon, Fighter 5 (promoted from a companion just in time to inherit the stuff left behind by Anastas, owns a flaming sword +1)
Danton, heavy footman, left the party to retire
Wolfgang, heavy footman (member of the secret police, infiltrated party to test their loyalty)
Amadeus, heavy footman (member of the secret police, infiltrated party to test their loyalty)
Pieter de Bruge, halberdier (former miner, left party with Godard after harrowing stuffed animal battle)
Blavatsky, light footman (left party with Godard after harrowing stuffed animal battle)
Godard, bowman (rabble-rouser who left to form own company after harrowing stuffed animal battle)
Dario the Goatsbane, Fighter 2 (promoted to player character after a pitched battle with multiple goatrices; his companion, Argento was less lucky)
Alexander, halberdier
Arnold, Thief 1
Roland, heavy footman
Wilhelm, crossbowman

==========================================================
The Crypt Level
==========================================================

Picquet, light footman (drained by a wraith)
Fosch, light footman (drained by a wraith)
Villon the Wine Poet, Magic-User 2 (killed by the Princess in the Tower)
Roboise, light footman (hurled to his death by the Princess in the Tower)
Rob Roy, bowman (killed by the super-glittercloud)
Alister, light footman (killed by a killer bambi)
Wyatt, bowman (killed by a giant stuffed owl)
Argento, bowman (killed by a stuffed boar)
Wretched Frenchie (killed by a stuffed boar)
Petrov, halberdier (fled in panic, eaten by monsters while separated from company)
Sepp Dietrich, heavy footman (flattened by skeletal cyclops)
Bream, crossbowman (smashed a mirror and shattered into a thousand glass shards)
Viktor, heavy footman (stalked by a secret nemesis, eventually ambushed and murdered by Malvin Malévol the Strangler)
Henri d’Aramitz, Cleric 1 (a disciple of Reinhart, choked by the gaseous form of Sybille Malévol the Widowmaker)
Hafiz the Persian, M-U 1 (fried to a crisp by a razzle-dazzle)

While adventuring in Xyntillan, the company has...
  • defeated the Pigeons From Hell and cleaned out the Donjon;
  • established a secondary Mausoleum for fallen characters in one of the cleaned-out rooms;
  • survived two mutinies, one of which left them with a bad reputation in the area – remedied by printing and distributing a book of heroic poetry about the company’s exploits;
  • obtained two priceless family heirlooms – a Meroving-era sceptre and a silver reliquary – and sold the latter for a princely sum;
  • fought Hubert Malévol the Huntsman and his small army of stuffed animals – twice (Hubert managed to escape, inviting the company for a later rematch in the Hunting Lodge);
  • been infiltrated by operatives of the Royal Secret Police, who would later recommend the company to the court... and give them an offer about Xyntillan they could not refuse;
  • destroyed a diabolical laboratory and almost burned the Grand Library at the behest of Father Reinhart;
  • established the Leechery of Pontius, a combination of thermal baths and sanatorium (Pontius of the Leeches);
  • threw the mother of all parties to remember Bream the crossbowman (Catfish);
  • survived a coordinated ambush set by the increasingly agitated Malévols;
  • met Aristide Malévol the Patrician, the liche of Castle Xyntillan – he was too bored, and they were too scared to turn it into a serious confrontation;
  • purchased a slightly dilapidated noble estate and began renovations (Raynald of Chatillon)
  • ...so far avoided the dungeons, and some of the higher levels.

Playtesting continues.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

[CAMPAIGN JOURNAL] The Inheritance #09: Bad Idea Buck

The patrons of the Dancing Basilisk were absorbed in conversation or having their lunch when the door opened and a ragged figure walked in.
Food!” he bellowed, and slammed a meaty fist on the counter. The stranger was a half-orc in torn black leather clothes, a mail shirt, a flail in his belt. He sneered as he looked around, but was pacified as the innkeeper brought him a plate of mutton, brined radishes, and a mug of beer. The half-orc ate ravenously, finishing his meal with a contented burp. He became more attentive as he heard bits of a conversation from one of the tables.
And I am telling you, there really is a vampire tree up in them mountains. It’s got golden apples too, if you can get them.
Not bad. We saw a midnight goatsucker and a bush that shot arrows.
There sure are some weird things up them valleys.

We should sell the sceptre and horn we got in the abandoned minesDrolhaf Haffnarskørung suggested to the assembled company. “Huberic could be a good buyer, and for now, he is favourably disposed towards us.
They followed the Northman’s advice and went to see Lord Huberic in his tower. They were well received, and the fat autocrat not only bought the items, he had his own tale to tell:
In truth, now that I have a son, I am also looking for a bride, and have heard news of someone suitable. It is told there is a sleeping elven princess in an enchanted field somewhere in the mountains. If she was woken, I am sure she would immediately fall in love with me. As for you, you would be handsomely rewarded.
A wise idea!” nodded Drolhaf. “We will look into the matter.
Until then,” Sir Huberic nodded to the dour, tall old man next to the throne. “He will escort you to the mint and ensure you are paid for these items”.

Yes, Sir, he is that bad. Could you please take him off of of my back? I beg of you—“ the innkeeper pleaded with Gadur Yir when the next day rose. “He is of your kind; maybe you can talk sense to him?
Just because we are both half-orcs? Well... let’s see. We have to investigate that kidnapped merchant… he must still be held by the bandits in the caves.
Yeah, let’s go to the dungeon! This guy croaks, and we bring the merchant back.
Phil the Terror of Turkeys strode up to the morose newcomer, and tugged on his clothes.
You! You there! My name is Karl, Keeper of the Flower, and you will come with us to the dungeon!
The half-orc looked back at the group, and spat.
I may come with you if the money is good. My name is Buck.
I bet you have relatives in Bucklin” sniggered Gadur Yir.
Sooner or later, I will have relatives everywhere” grunted Buck. “Care to guess where I got this cool leather getup?
From a corpse?” guessed Drolhaf, but Buck would neither confirm nor deny it.

***

They prepared for the next expedition. Some took a hot bath, and some (namely Buck) wallowed in the mud a little. Karl took the fish-shaped piece of metal to the armourer, who examined it, and said he could fashion a haft for it to make it work as a spear. At last, they were ready, and approached the three cave entrances to the northwest of Haghill. There was a little trouble arranging the marching order (“I don’t want this fucker behind my back”, someone grumbled), but at last, Drolhaf Haffnarskørung and Gadur Yir agreed to go first, followed by Buck, and finally Karl, Keeper of the Flower. Unlike the last time, they chose the rightmost entrance. The passage lead to a small niche with a font of water fed by a grotesque stone head. Wind was blowing from a passage descending downwards, and stairs glistened with water. Gadur Yir shrugged, and started to descend, triggering a tripwire. There was a crack overhead as a pole gave way and an avalanche of rocks tumbled down – fortunately, everyone could avoid it.

More careful now, they continued, but halted in their tracks just as soon as they proceeded a little. A deep buzzing sound came from downwards, and swarms of bees filled the passage. In the middle of the thick clouds, there was a ragged man clad in what seemed like dirty, resin-reinforced birchbark clothes, his limbs caked with a black filth and his face covered with a thick veil. He advanced towards the company.
May the gods grant you sweet honey, Beekeeper!
The answer to Drolhaf’s greeting was only a sibilant buzzing sound, like a man imitating his bee companions. The strange apparition stared at them for an uncomfortable moment, but at last, he made another buzzing sound, and passed them on his way up, followed by the thick clouds of his bees.

The Singing Caverns: Upper Level
The passage descended deeper and deeper, until it arrived in a garbage-strewn chamber. Two sets of stairs descended further, while to the northeast, a wooden board hung next to a tall ledge: “TRUGLAG’S TAVERN: RING FOR ADMITTANCE.” Up the ledge, dark passages disappeared in two directions.
Gadur Yir ringed the bell by the sign. A snarling great lynx came forward from one of the passages, followed by two yawning orc guards carrying a ladder. Cautious at first, they became more relaxed as they saw the two half-orcs in the group.
Come on up if good food or drink is your wish – we are open!
The company followed the two orcs through tunnels smelling of smoke and sweat, by a guard room and what looked like a barracks. At last they arrived in a dimly lit tap room, where a burly orc was cleaning the counter with a rag, and a group of hooded men conversed by a round table.

Truglag – the orc by the counter – served up a row of foaming mugs, followed by platters of roast ham with honey, a ragout with mushrooms, and honey cake.
Any trail rations to sell?” asked Drolhaf.
Truglag rubbed his belly “There be more hearty fare if you want it – I’ve got a leg of prime wild boar ham, cured and mossy. It will be six gold pieces, but it’ll last. The boars be munching their food down in the caverns, makes them real tasty.
Drolhaf counted out the coins, and they settled around an empty table.
To whom shall we raise our mugs?” asked Gadur Yir.
To Agak!” bellowed Buck.
To Agak indeed!” laughed Truglag, returning with a heavy leg of ham for Drolhaf.
They talked some, and the barkeeper told them a few stories about the caves – there was the crazed beekeeper, a garden further within the labyrinth, a treacherous well which multiple drunken guests have fallen into, and a dangerous magic-user lived down the stairs from the tavern. When asked about the kidnapped merchant, Truglag only shrugged – he had seen or heard of nobody by that description.

***

Taking their farewells, the company delved deeper, climbing down rough-hewn stairs to a lower section of the caverns. Another set of stairs climbed back up, a collapsed barricade constructed of old barrels and crates stood to the west, and the statue of a smiling, jovial monk stood in a niche to the east. The statue was smeared with all kinds of foulness, a bottle had been smashed on its head, and someone had written “LIES!” in charcoal on the wall. Karl, Keeper of the Flower read the plaque below the statue: “BELIEVE MY WORDS, OH MY TRUE FRIEND, HERE YOU SHALL FIND YOUR HEART’S CONTENT.”
Let’s just not go this way” he suggested, and the others followed him up the stairs.
Natural caverns followed, the flagstones blackened by old smoke. In a corner, the remains of a bonfire was littered with animal bones. The cavern twisted and turned, and while one passage lead to a downward stairway, the other emerged into a larger space illuminated by... rays of sunlight?

The light shone from a great hole in the ceiling where the hill had caved in. Dark earth covered the floor, and lush plants exhaled a misty fragrance. A great oak tree encircled by berry-laden vines stood in the middle of this wondrous glade, and mossy old statues stood guard at multiple points around it. Bees were buzzing among the blooming flowers. To the north, the cavern opened into a chasm, spanned by a rickety wooden bridge – deep down, there was a cavern with more plants. The place seemed beautiful and serene… perhaps too serene.

The buzzing of the bees started to grow louder and louder, until they collected into large black swarms and hurled themselves at the company. Drolhaf Haffnarskørung quickly retreated to the adjoining cavern to the west. The bees proved very resistant to swords, but torches and smoke worked fine, and a dust devil spell by Buck eventually scattered them. Meanwhile, Drolhaf was also in trouble: in the other cavern, he was quickly ambushed by a horde of rats, while the rest of the company had to face a swarm of vampire bats coming from the lower cavern, attracted to the warm bodies in the meadow. Drained and tired, at last they were standing over a mound of slain enemies.
Anything else?” Gadur Yir asked as he beheaded a green serpent which tried to climb up his leg.
Finding no more opposition, the half-orc climbed the tree and tried to go higher on the vines clinging to the side of the hole in the ceiling, but found them too loose to continue.

Instead of lingering longer, they explored the western cave. A stream was running through the place, feeding a pool filled with blind albino cave newts, but there was also something else. Someone had excavated a hole in the ground, and scattered pickaxes and shovels were still laying around the place. On the bottom, they found a curious relic: a life-sized, red clay statue of a naked woman. There were scraps of ancient sacks, and five ancient, crude electrum pieces left in the depression. Lifting the statue from its resting place and restoring it to an upright position, they heard a resonant sound, silent in the caverns but clear and loud within their heads:
“BURIED DEEP AND PLUNDERED THE WORLD LIES FRAYED AND DEFILED / A NEW SPRING IT BRINGS AND RESTORED TO STRENGTH IT ADMIRES ITS OWN SIGHT”
…then, the primitive image was silent once more. Finding nothing more of value here, the company continued to the north, and descended another stairway into the lower caverns.

***

The stairs lead to a larger, long chamber branching off into multiple smaller tunnels. Steps and lights came from the south, and a group of a dozen men came into view. Dressed in buckskin and green, they bore bows and long swords. Their leader hailed the company and inquired about their purpose here. Hearing they were explorers, the men became less tense, and told they were in the same business – they were investigating a series of old burial sites, but had found no valuables so far except the statues of olden kings. At last – while Buck was trying to estimate their numbers and strength – they left towards the north, while the company stayed around and investigated the side caverns. Each of the chambers lead to a small room, decorated with bas-reliefs of old warriors, and the standing statues of warriors. Runic incriptions told of forgotten names. ILLONAR, RADERGUND and KAZZODORIC. Illonar’s statue had an empty niche in its base, long looted; Radergund’s statue was toppled, and Kazzodoric’s bore a rusty helmet. The end of the hall to the west was collapsed, but a pile of rubble to the east hid a small crawlway.

Considering their chances, Drolhaf Haffnarskørung and Karl the Keeper of the Flower crawled inside with a lantern, while the two half-orcs waited outside. While the others were exploring, footsteps came from the east, and Gadur Yir and Buck found themselves in a ring of drawn scimitars.
Agak is the greatest!” grinned Buck as he held up the symbol of the orc god, a satanic star encircling a clawed hand – the newcomers were a company of ten orcs.
Agak is the greatest!” the orcs shouted in greeting. “What do you seek here? We came to search these caverns for treasures.
Buck looked over them and snarled: “There are human worms in these passages – they will be easy prey if you just go north.
Lead us, and we shall take them together” came the answer.
So be it! Come and be quick!
Gadur Yir stayed behind as Buck and the orcs raced through the narrow passages, emerging into a vast cavern filled with mounds of rubble and teeming plant life – the bottom of the chasm seen from the underground glade, right under the bridge.
Forward! To victoryyyy!” Buck urged the orcs, who thundered through the cavern, while the shadowy cleric ducked into a shadow and returned to the hall of the kings.

The Singing Caverns: Lower Level
...meanwhile, Drolhaf and Karl emerged into a small round chamber like the others. Water had collected on the muddy floor, and thick roots hung from the wet ceiling. The statue of king ADALRIC held an old spear in its hands, the head stuck among the roots and green stalks of the low ceiling. Drolhaf imagined he had heard a faint chanting, but wasn’t sure about it.
Well?
This is just a spear” shrugged the hobbit.
Drolhaf was not so sure. “No… it would have rotted if it was a common weapon. Stay back if you want.
Karl retreated to the tunnel as the Northman applied soap to the spear’s haft, and with one move, pulled it from the statue’s hands. “Yes... this looks extraordinarily well balanced.
Gadur Yir and Buck were still in a heated discussion when they returned, but eventually, Gadur Yir shrugged, and they continued cautiously to the large cavern. There were sounds of battle coming from the north, and observing from a safe place, they saw the few remaining orcs scatter and flee in panic.
Cowards!” Buck growled, mostly to himself.
Do you know them?” asked Drolhaf.
It was a passing acquaintance.

***

Instead of going north and confronting whatever it was the orcs had run into, they went south, and found a long stairway down and another up. Figuring the latter would return them near the underground glade, they descended until they heard murmuring and chanting. A dirty leather curtain closed off an opening in the wall of the passage before a new set of stairs descended even further. An unclean and repulsive smell came from behind, and only Gadur Yir was brave enough to step inside. In a small chamber with roots hanging from the ceiling, a filthy old hermit was sitting cross-legged and murmuring its chants. The man was a wreck, his wild hair and unkempt beard shot through with fungi and moss, his nails encrusted with revolting filth, his eyes replaced by sightless gemstones. In a croaking sound, the hermit spoke.
Welcome, foolish interloper. Twenty gold coins you shall count out before me, and you shall go freely, avoiding the weight of my curse.
Gadur Yir opened his purse and paid his dues. “Here you are, old man. Now can you tell me where these stairs lead?
It is a forbidden place, yes... it is said the Beekeper had been down there, once, before he was the Beekeeper… and I had looked when I had eyes to see… The mysteries of the old world are buried underneath – stay away!
Thanking the hermit and sharing the information with his companions, Gadur Yir was interested in continuing, while Karl seemed more cautious.
The Beekeeper was also there, and he is cuckoo insane like this guy. Let’s just follow the warning and get the hell out. We are looking for the kidnapped merchant, not any ‘old world’ foolishness.
But Drolhaf’s interest was picqued. “The old world? Sounds like something worth investigating.
Gadur Yir made his decision “I follow the god of heroism – stay if you want, but we are going.

The neverending stairs descended downwards and downwards, deep into the silent depths of the earth. The half-orc and the Northman passed multiple rests with crude stone benches, until at last they arrived at a stone arch held by the statues of two dwarves. They peered through the opening into a vast underground cavern, dark but shining with a weird non-light that allowed them to see in odd and unnatural hues. There were plants in the cavern, and the great stone blocks of an upside-down stone circle on the ceiling. This was the seat of something strange and powerful, and there was a feeling of tension in the air.
Drolhaf’s voice broke the heavy silence: “If we go through the arch – the Beekeper had been here, and lost his mind.
Gadur Yir countered: “He survived.
Dolhaf, again: “This is not a civilised place. Not the right kind of civilisation, anyway.
Gadur Yir thought for a while, looking at the arch, but didn’t step through. At last he sighed, and they turned back to return to their companions.

***

Once again in the large cavern, the coast seemed clear, so they went north to investigate the battle site. Broken orc bodies lie everywhere, mangled and smashed by something strong. Looting the corpses resulted in some loot, but it was all slim pickings. Continuing to the northwest, then north, they entered a passage which lead to a cavern filled filled with tall man-sized mushrooms. Something lumbered among the fleshy pods and caps. A living statue, its hands still bloodied, came at them, but went down under a series of strikes. Drolhaf Haffnarskørung tried out his new spear, and it seemed to pierce stone as well as it would pierce a man. A magical weapon! With the stone guardian slain, Karl the Keeper of the Flower investigated the mushroom patches, collecting a handful of edible specimens, and a few more which carried a strong poison. Meanwhile, the others had discovered another passage to the north, leading out of the cave system and into the dense woods around Haghill. Noting its location, they turned back to the south, bypassing a pool of water to return to the battle site with the dead orcs.

…only to run into the band of nine green-clad men again, who were now busy stripping the dead orcs of their remaining valuables. They hailed each other, and the men turned back to their tasks, but Buck, who had spotted a fat purse on one of the men, had a different idea. He started to chant, speaking the words of a hold person spell. Three men froze in motion, while someone cried --
Treachery!
Blades were drawn and blows were exchanged, and in a quick, one-sided and terrible massacre, most of the men were cut down where they stood, except two slingers, who dropped their weapons and begged for mercy.
Kneel!” barked Buck as he rifled the corpses. He led the two unfortunates to a side cavern, taking out his rage and evil nature on the hapless robbers while the rest of the company waited uneasily outside. When the broken robbers emerged, they begged to be left alive, and promised to tell anything just to escape with their lives.
Where are the captives? Where is the kidnapped merchant?” cried Buck.
They…” the men whimpered.
Answer or die, dogs!
Please no! They are... they are at Truglag’s! Please let us go!
Buck suggested using them as human shields, but nobody liked the idea, and the others were still shaken by the revelation of his debased nature. In the end, Drolhaf untied their ropes, and pointed to the north--
Go along this passage until you reach an exit. I don’t want to see you again near Haghill!
The two survivors, still shocked, left as quickly as they could, leaving the company to their dark thoughts.

After exploring more of the nearby caverns – trying to solve the mystery of a weird statue and pacifying a group of wild boars with Karl’s freshly picked mushrooms – they decided to return to the upper level. Tired, they climbed up the stairs and made for the underground glade, but again found themselves in company. A group of dejected and tired orcs were sitting around the tree, some nursing wounds, some just staring morosely. They looked up, and one shouted, pointing at Buck: “There he is! The traitor!
A melee developed around the tree and near the ledge, everyone against multiple enemies. At last, Drolhaf Haffnarskørung, who had kept his orcs away easily, had enough.
Go for the cleric and we will leave you alive!” he snapped at the pitiful orcs, pointing at Buck. The orcs turned and fell on Buck, who was now fighting for his life as Drolhaf watched.
Him! Take him!” he shrieked and pointed, and as if compelled by magic, the orcs turned away from him and fell on Gadur Yir. They had almost brought him down, but the half-orc was too tough, and eventually slew his assailants.

In the end, they were standing wounded and panting over a pile of orc bodies. Buck and Gadur Yir were heavily wounded, and Drolhaf and Karl were also close to being spent. They glared at each other, while fat bats started descending on the slain orcs to drink their blood. Buck spat. Drolhaf, his weapon still raised, broke the silence.
Buck, we did not know you yet properly this morning, only that the innkeeper asked us to bring you with us just to get rid of you. We did you no harm, but you seem to have an orc army here, and you had first send them to their death, and then against Gadur Yir to save your skin. We still don’t know you, but we don’t like what we are seeing. What do you have to say about this?
I almost died!” protested Gadur Yir.
Buck only shrugged. “We are all pretty worn down. What use is it? Let’s get going, and if you want, we can discuss it outside. It is getting dark outside anyway.

Returning to the forest exit, they made for Haghill to raise the militia and have them surround and smoke out the bandits’ nest in Truglag’s Tavern. Armed men with torches gathered to prepare for the assault on the caverns, and riders were dispatched to block off the alternate exit. Meanwhile, Buck was gorging himself with the Dancing Basilisk’s mushroom salad, and enjoying the attentions of the cooking lady, whom he had invited upstairs for a quick romp. But something was broken between him and the other members of the company, who had all come back in a foul mood. The next morning, Buck was gone with unpaid bills, and he was never seen in Haghill again.

(Session date 1 May 2017).

***

Notable quotes:

Drolhaf: “You let them die for nothing – they were your own kin.
Buck: “So?
Drolhaf: “But you are a follower of Agak, not Ayn Rand!

Drolhaf: “We can go home now – mission accomplished, we got the half-orc out of the pub.

GM: “The orcs have some treasure on them.
Buck, satisfied: “They didn’t die in vain.

***

Referee’s notes: That escalated quickly. After a long and mostly enjoyable dungeon expedition, the conclusion had kind of a bitter tinge to it. Buck had not just angered the rest of the company and wasted orc lives, he had also screwed up the main goal: the confessions he had extracted from the bandits were false. As things go with torture, captives tend to say whatever they think will get them released, and the men, shocked by what they had just gone through and afraid for their lives, lied. Bramerlic the mineral dealer was never found; not by the party and not by Huberic’s men – by the time they assaulted the dungeon, the bandits and their captive were long gone.


After the game, everyone in the group agreed that Buck would just have to go. He had passed the dividing line between adorable rascal and loathsome fuckwit. Nobody liked him (actually, not even his player), and he will not be missed.