Monday, January 22, 2018

Encounters in Chult -- Non-Monster Encounters

In Tomb of Annihilation, "While characters are exploring or camping in the wilderness, roll a d20 three times per day of game time, checking for encounters each morning, afternoon, and evening or night. An encounter occurs on a roll of 16 or higher." (Tomb of Annihilation, pg. 193)

On the result of an encounter (16-20), one is then directed to roll percentile dice on the "Wilderness Encounters" table on the next pages (194-5), which includes columns for different terrain types, including Beach, several types of Jungle, Mountains, Rivers, Ruins, Swamp, and Wasteland. These different terrains have different values for the various creatures that haunt Chult and its environs--but almost every entry is a creature of some kind, implying combat (6 out of 90 entries are with non-creatures, while at least half a dozen more are with neutral or friendly NPCs).

There follows a description of each encounter in pages 196-203, of the number of creatures or the nature of the non-creature thing found. These are generally good entries, though I find it irritating how many of them coyly resolve into non-encounters if the players don't provoke the creatures, e.g. of the dinosaurs, the Ankylosaurus, Brontosaurus, Hadrosaurus, Pteranodon, Stegosaurus, and Triceratops all ignore the characters unless attacked, touched, or bothered. And these aren't the only entries like that. Which is to say, if I roll an 18 on my d20 and then a triceratops encounter, inform the players, and then they walk away, nothing happens ... over the course of hundreds of hexes of travel this will become dozens of dice rolls to nothing, sapping my time and my players' interest.

All of which is a longwinded way of saying, these wilderness encounters need sprucing up!

First, because it seems to me that travel should involve a variety of mishaps/encounters not necessarily all of which involve creatures, I'd like to rewrite a table of non-monster wilderness occurrences that I use for wilderness travel in my homebrew game. (other blog-entries may include creating more specific wilderness terrains and resulting encounter tables, and/or nesting the results on the ToA tables with greater random variety)

"I hope we don't run into any mouth dragons out here ..."

So, per the rules, per day that the characters spend in the wilderness, roll three d20s. A result of a 16-20 indicates an encounter; the first and last such rolls indicate an encounter on the "Wilderness Encounters" table from the book, but the second/middle roll indicates a further roll on this table:


Non-Monster Wilderness Encounters

1-3 -- Bad weather -- half movement for the next 1-6 days

4-5 -- Lamed mule/Sprained ankle -- cannot move forward until the injury is healed, either by magic or by 1-3 days of rest

6-7 -- Spoiled rations -- 1-2 weeks of rations are spoiled by mold, maggots, etc.

8 -- Lost supplies -- the party loses ... 1) 50' rope, 2) 100-600 gp, 3) 1 week or rations, 4) tinderbox, 5) lantern and 1-4 flasks of oil OR 2-12 torches, 6) 50' rope and roll again ((or one useful item at random))

9-10 -- Heatstroke -- a character at random is incapacitated and cannot act until they take a full day of rest

11-12 -- Wrong turn -- not lost per se, but no movement for the day as all "progress" must be retraced back in the proper direction

13 -- Venomous bite -- a character at random must save against poison or using CON, or die; neutralize poison or other such spells would naturally be handy in such a situation

14 -- Diseased bite -- a character at random must save against poison or using CON, or become infected with a debilitating disease; the character loses 1 STR per day of travel, and a week of full rest is required to overcome the disease; during the "crisis" another save v. poison or with CON is required, and failure indicates that 1 point of CON is permanently lost

15-16 -- Good foraging/hunting -- no rations are needed for the day due to plentiful game/forage

17-18 -- Bad water -- 1-3 characters must save against poison or using CON, or contract a debilitating disease per (14)

19-20 -- Physical Barrier -- the party has hiked into a box canyon, cul de sac, bog, mire, etc. etc., and must backtrack; no movement unless a thief with ropes climbs a way through, or a druid demonstrates a path, or some other rule or narrative is invoked by the player characters to pass through

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Greyhame Mountain Dungeon Expedition 16

Orcs have returned the caverns of the Glimmervaults;
the Goblin King and the Lord of Werewolves have renewed their ancient alliance beneath the Howling Tower;
and the secret treasury of the ancient Bronding Kings is said to lie behind the Brokenbrand Falls, haunted by enchanting naiads ...
Jaer the Windlord looks down on the world below from the Eyries of the Eagles on Greyhame Mountain itself;
and the Stars themselves are singing an eerie song, night after night ...

15 January's roster:
Aethelfulf (paladin 2)
with Dream Destroyer (ghost hound), Hauka (weasel), and Yulan (warhorse)
Baby Face (thief 5)
with Whesker, Wilmerand (weasels), Hubert and Frida (normal men), and a nameless St. Bernard
Little Bob (traveling-man 4)
with Marlo and Panzer (dogs), and Rolf Rolfson (normal man)
Blackleaf (Elf 2) with Droopy and Snoopy (mastiffs), and Johann Haybaler (normal man)
Koko (woman-ape 1)

Starting off in town, a ghost pepper and a killer bee honeycomb were available for purchase, and Baby Face bought both immediately. The ghost pepper is purported to allow connection to the spirit world somehow ... and as for the killer bee honeycomb, killer bee honey is well known for its healing properties when eaten, and so the honeycomb should cure a wound or so.

Blackleaf, meanwhile, is still interested in acquiring a soul, and doing so by converting her current squeeze, Aldir the blacksmith, to Good alignment, and then somehow getting him to marry her (the legend is that an Elf who marries a Good mortal will, by the union of their flesh, acquire a soul that understands Good and Evil). To this end, Blackleaf turned to Aethelwulf (Lawful Good servant of Adonai, god of justice) to get him to go convert Aldir; and Aethelwulf may be a dullard (low Int and Wis), but he's the very image of an heroic fighting-man, and when he was like, "Maybe you should think about being Good, Aldir," sans any real argument, nevertheless the blacksmith was like, "Yeah, maybe I should if I want to be a hero like you!"

Now, following the botched heist in the dungeons of Oakridge Castle, Rendorsheeg the Elf and Finbar the half-Elf druid have skipped town--Rendorsheeg blew money on a bender after being freed and immediately ran afoul of the law again, i.e. the guard sent forth from the castle, and so he and his brother-in-law, Finbar, fled town and won't be seen in Brakeridge again for some time. A number of men-at-arms loyal to the former lord were also set free by the party during the break-in, and have now fled into the forest to the north and west, there to act as Robin Hood type bandits; and Morholt has decreed hundreds of gold in bounties for the heads of these men. Beyond that, Morholt is seeking around to hire more guards, and has allowed his men more leeway in the vicious treatment of locals, especially as they seek the perpetrators of the break-in.

Furthermore, disappearances of children have increased dramatically in recent weeks. These disappearances have been blamed on goblins and on wolves and werewolves--often, wolf-prints are found outside the windows of children's rooms, or small goblin-sized prints and strange lingering magic lead away from the house into the wilderness. In the past three months or so there were perhaps a dozen such disappearances--but in the last two or three weeks there have been a dozen again.

So, hearing this about the disappearing children, the party elected to seek out the Howling Tower and try to find and free the children, if possible, especially because of the prompting of Aethelwulf to do so.

On third day out, a terrible storm blew up, causing six attrition-dice--the party lost ammunition, an axe, a shield, a suit of plate armor, a week of rations, and Baby Face took 1 damage from exposure.

Then they arrived at the tower. It no longer howls, as the haunting spirit has been destroyed, but it stands like a lonely spike on the spur of a ridge descending from the slopes of the Greyhame Mountain. Before it stands a pyre where the bones of old Begor the ogre and his two wolves were burned, presumably by the goblins, but nothing else was outside the tower to disturb the party.

So they entered, climbing the short stair to the entrance, and listening there at the door--and lo! Blackleaf heard the chattering of goblins on the other side. Bursting in the door, the party surprised the goblins; Blackleaf cast sleep over them, and Little Bob ineffectually attempted to restrain and win the affiliation of the single wolf accompanying the goblins. The wolf reacted poorly, and was ultimately put down; as for the goblins, they were slaughtered, all except one kept alive for questioning ... but when his answers failed to provide much information other than that the Goblin King resides below (which the party already knew), they killed him too.

This was just the beginning of what became a great goblin massacre ... Entering the tower proper, the party turned north to the door into what were once Begor's quarters, through which one must pass to get to the hallway that leads to the stair room. My notes are extremely patchy at this point ... just runs of numbered goblins, their hitpoints, many scratched out as dead, others unwounded because they broke morale and fled. While carousing later, back in town, Blackleaf and Baby Face describe a fight through goblin guards and down to the first level of the dungeon proper, goblins that kept calling replacements or retreating to another room where more goblins and wolves were, only to be slaughtered even as they attempted to outflank the characters ... At least thirty goblins and a few wolves were slain altogether, and from that point on the goblins in the dungeon were too cowed to put up resistance. The party also found a decent horde in the goblins' main sleeping chamber, including a large number of electrum and copper coins.

Leaving the slain goblins in their large sleeping-chamber, the party set out to the west to do some exploring and discovered a room with a central statue of Astora, Star Queen of the Elves, with four pillars around her, each representing one of the seasons. A sacrificial tripod stood before the summer-pillar with incense-ashes, and because it was made of silver and gold, the characters naturally snagged it. It was noted strange that the statue of Astora-- an Elf --was not defaced in any way.

Other explored rooms included a large pillared hall with old and tattered tapestries depicting great hunts and depictions of old meetings between Men and Elves; and another room was a great audience hall with a throne on an eastern dais facing a horsehoe of benches arranged beneath the throne to be addressed from thence.

The party then explored a long hallway with a number of tombs off the eastern wall. The southernmost room contained stand-up sarcophagi from which skeletons issued when the tomb was disturbed; these were easily dispatched. Otherwise the room was empty, except for the noted fact that the central sarcophagus was depicted with an image of the World-Tree with its roots gnawed by an ancient Serpent. Aethelwulf felt that it was familiar, but couldn't place it.

Other tombs included further encounters with skeletons and a smattering of valuable grave goods; and the last sarcophagi that they investigated belched forth clouds of yellow spores.

Cover your mouth and don't touch it!

A number of party members breathed in the dreaded cloud and began to choke, as well as many of their dogs. The rules for yellow mold indicated that it takes 6 rounds before affected characters die, and so I allowed various frantic efforts to save the poisoned few--and with a variety of heimlich maneuvers, choking back water, etc., all the characters managed to make a second saving throw. Not so for the dogs, alas, and Snoopy, Droopy, and Dream Destroyer all succumbed to choking death.

At this point, the party agreed to cut losses and return to town. They exited the dungeon without incident; on the return trip, they had an encounter with 6 attrition dice, which I informed them meant that they had been ambushed by a party of goblins seeking revenge. They elected to break a suit of armor, a shield, a spear, and lose a week of rations; then Baby Face turned to his Ring of Unseen Servant which he bought a few sessions ago and called for the servant to, "Do something!" And indeed it proceeded to summon up a whirlwind that scattered the goblins, sending not a few bodily into the trunks of trees. This is, of course, not something an unseen servant ought to have any power to do at all; the party surmised that perhaps it had some special hatred for goblins.

Back in town, the party divided up their loot, but only Blackleaf and Baby Face elected to carouse after their success. Blackleaf got puking drunk and managed to blaspheme the Arcane mysteries, drunkenly blabbing secrets that only the initiated to know to just any old peasant at the bar. For this, she is under the Ban, and may not benefit from her Arcane alignment until such time as she somehow atones for it.

Baby Face, meanwhile, became even more the love of the town and the life of the party, and because of all the hangers-on and groupies who gather around him when he drinks and tells his tales of daring-do, his carousing costs are now x3, i.e. he spends 300 gold for 100 xp. Needless to say, he has become even more leery of drinking in public. His player also actually read some of my notes and wondered if Baby Face should not now be of the Second Rank of Chaotic alignment because of how much fame he has accrued? I agreed that should be the case, and now need to find my notes about what that means ...

All in all a successful expedition--but alas, the children remain missing ...


Remembrance for the Fallen
Snoopy and Droopy (mastiffs), Dream Destroyer (ghost hound), Arrow (pack dog), Freyja (normal woman), a nameless cur, Hot Dog (mastiff), Cross (mastiff), Orion II (lion dog), Bacon (boar hound), Tore (half-orc fighter 1/cleric 1), Jimmy the Snitch (dog), Orion (lion dog), Harambe (man-ape 1)

And for those Enchanted Away
Dol (fyrdman hireling)

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Jungles of Chult Session 1

I started a new in-person game of 5e D&D with my friends this last Saturday, 13 January, in which I will run WotC's Tomb of Annihilation (2017) approximately every other Saturday, while my friend continues running his dungeon on the "off" weekends. So why not title this post "Tomb of Annihilation"? Because I decided to de-emphasize the Tomb's centrality to the game, and focus rather on the jungle hexcrawl--because that part of the book hooked my interest, while not so much the eponymous tomb.

Because there are only three players, I allowed each to create two characters, and further requested that half the characters be rolled according to +Anders H's "Into the Unknown" a B/X hack of 5e so that we can help playtest the rules (and also because I'm probably just going to run the game like B/X anyway, so it's nice to have a ruleset that backs me up on it). I'd already informed everyone that I'd be changing the XP tables, so they were down with "Into the Unknown" characters too ...

so, our intrepid adventurers:
Sound of Distant Rain (cat-man rogue)
Terahn Atzi (human priest)
Nigiri (lizardman monk)
Takashi Akaga (human magic-user and gourmand)
Nebin (halfling barbarian)
Chiratidzo (human druid)

We started in Port Nyzanzaru somewhat "fresh off the boat" (Chira and Terahn are both Chultan natives, but not well-traveled), and I dropped an info dump on everyone to introduce the game: Chult is a land where death is permanent, regardless of magic--not even a wish spell can revive a slain character within the bounds of Chult. This has been the case for several generations now, and those who were rich enough and unwilling to live in a land where death was permanent left for other shores when the "death curse" first fell upon the land, but people have been living their lives normally since. No one knows whence this curse has come, but it has lain over the land for some time. (those who are familiar with the adventure will note that I significantly altered the facts here, to de-emphasize the curse as a worldwide "time bomb" and allow more emphasis on hexcrawling)

I also outlined the history of Chult and the war between the city of Mezro and the Eshowe, the rise of Ras Nsi as a lord of undead, and the fact that a dragon turtle called Aremag extorts treasure from ships passing in and out of the Bay of Chult.

And so what were our characters interested in doing? They looked over the hex map I gave them, wondering at all the empty hexes they could explore--but their chief priority was, as players of D&D, to secure some quick money before committing to anything major.

Using his "highborn" background, Terahn secured an audience with one of the local merchant-lords, one Jessamine, who was rumored to be interested in buying certain flora from the jungle. Jessamine appeared in the courtyard of her villa silently in the midst of the characters, and then proceeded to answer their questions about valuable flora by pointing out that senda berries and wildroot are both particularly valuable to her, and there are a few other rare plants that she would pay for.

The party was glad to know this ... hearing that another merchant-lord, one Jobal, was an outfitter maintaining a stable of jungle guides, they next sought him out and managed to secure an audience with him as well. His villa was filled with trophies of the animals he had hunted and killed, and he immediately hit it off with Chira, not only because Chira was guzzling the proffered palm wine, but also because Chira is a druid and a man of the wilderness. After a few stories about the animals killed (including a "mouth dragon"), Jobal turned to business and counted off a number of guides whose services he could recommend (including a tabaxi pair he is not supposed to recommend--typo number one!--I corrected it later)--but when the party revealed that they did not have the requisite funds for 5 gp/day, 30 day upfront payment (150 gp), the wine stopped flowing. "Come back when you have some coin!" Jobal told them as he sent them out (though not unkindly).

A mouth-dragon pursuing a shield-head
Now especially in need of funds, the party asked around for quick money and heard that the Flaming Fist regularly supplies Fort Beluarian, a Flaming Fist encampment on the peninsula northwest of Nyanzaru. Rowed galleys carry the supplies across the Bay of Chult to the Fort, and then carry ingots from the mines above the Fort back to Nyanzaru, and the galleys require both rowers and guards/porters out and back. Odo, quartermaster of the Flaming Fist in Nyanzaru, was approached by Sound of Distant Rain, and offered him and his associates 3 gp/day to act as guards and porters on the next galley.

The galley set out the next dawn; because it wasn't leaving/entering the Bay, it would not be subject to the extortions of Aremag. The first leg of the trip was a short jaunt to a camp on a peninsula halfway between Nyanzaru and the beachhead below Beluarian; on the second day the galley arrived at the beachhead and the supplies were offloaded from the ship; on the third day, the supplies were ported up a path to the Fort itself. The fourth day was slated as a day of rest, and then the last three days of the trip would mirror the first three.

The only encounter seen by the characters on the way out was a flock of scintillating snakes flying through the trees near the beach on the first day.

At Fort Beluarian, after all the porting was done, the characters could rest; Sound elected to gamble with the soldiers of the Flaming Fist (against regulations, but under the noses of their superiors) and won 20 gp after staking a mere 10 gp to start. Nigiri, meanwhile (the lizardman) went forth from the fort and hunted down some local iguanas, herbs, etc., and in-fort cooked up a mouthwatering meal that gathered a number of Flaming Fist soldiers to ask for a portion (they had to jockey with Takasha, the gourmand magic-user who follows Nigiri specifically for his lizardman-cooking).

Grilled iguanas ... yum!

The Flaming Fist soldiers then laid out chests of iron and copper ingots stamped with the seal of the Fist, all of which were ported back down to the beachhead and loaded onto the ship; and then the galley set out back for Nyanzaru the next dawn.

On the first day to the halfway peninsula, the ship was buzzed by a flock of pteranodons which ultimately left the galley alone; then later in the day, a band of aarakocra (bird-men) appeared over the galley. These aarakocra were invited down by the characters, and relayed to the party that an injured comrade of theirs was on a beach nearby, having been wounded in a scuffle with lizardmen. The characters arranged for the aarakocra to carry their companion to the ship, there to be healed by a use of cure light wounds; and when this aarakocra was healed by Terahn, she told the players that her name was Skir of the Kaaraa Eyrie, and she presented Terahn with her javelin and one of her pinion feathers as tokens of friendship.

Then, on the third day, early in the morning on the beach, the characters were awakened by one of the ship's rowers, one Osuware. "Quickly!" he whispered, pointing to the treeline and to a flock of iridescent snakes basking in the morning sun in the trees. "Let us take the serpents, and we can sell them back in Nyanzaru!" Most of the party followed; they watched Osuware stuff a serpent into a sack, and then Takasha cast sleep over the rest of the nine snakes; he then demanded that he receive two of the snakes for Nigiri to cook up for him, while the other eight can be sold, and the party reluctantly agreed.

So, back in town, Osuware guided the party to the villa of Ifan Tal'Roa, another merchant lord. This Ifan is a great seller of animals, beasts, etc. both as beasts of burden and as creatures bound for gladiatorial games, and he was glad to receive a party attempting to sell him flying snakes. He first offered 25 gp per snake, which Osuware was over-eager to take, and so Sound talked Ifan up to 30 gp per snake. Osuware was glad for it, and, being bad at math, agreed to take 40 gp while the party split the other 200. Ifan advised the party to look out for other beasts in the jungles that he would be glad to buy.

The party then returned to Jobal to get his take on jungle guides; and despite his excessive friendliness now that they were in some money, and despite his protestations not to seek out his former employees River Mist and Flask of Wine, a couple of tabaxi (cat-man) guides who had just broken with him, the party of course, sought out River and Flask. These two agreed to guide the party for a lesser sum of 4 gp/day, with no upfront payment (but they would be glad for a cut of treasure after the fact!). Moreover, they are familiar with the jungle around the River Tiryki, and with two landmarks, one Firefinger (a spire with a ptera-folk tribe) and the other Dungrunglung (a shrine-city of grung frog-men).

River Mist has the eyepatch; her brother is Flask of Wine

The party then needed to actually plan their first expedition into the jungles, and ultimately decided to abandon their first plan to seek Camp Righteous and Camp Vengeance on the River Soshenstar, and to follow their guides up the Tiryki River. They bought a rowboat (50 gp) and several weeks of rations, but were confident in their own ability to forage in the jungle for food (and they agreed beforehand to boil their water). Round trip, this expedition is expected to last something like 70 days, most of it the trip there and back, but with a week at the head of the river for in-depth exploration.

We got four days into this seventy day expedition before it was 1:20 am and we needed to break for the night. Each hex on the map is 10 miles across; the travel rules in Tomb of Annihilation indicate that a party can travel 10 miles in one day, but I find that completely ridiculous for jungle travel; being generous, I cut that in half to 5 miles per day (I would have cut it further, following accounts I've read of jungle travel, but I still want this to be a game ...). I was many beers in at this point, and so didn't roll for the party getting lost, but I did roll all of the encounters for each day--and as a further modification to the rules, I'm going to devise another table of my own for non-creature "encounters" to roll on once each day, following other tables I've written for other hexcrawls I've run.

Nothing happened on the first day ... on the second day, the party was ambushed by a party of Batiri (jungle-goblins) as they traveled along the banks of the Tiryki. The goblins charged from the bush, but were repulsed by a concerted effort, and when the "boss" was slain, the Batiri rolled poorly on morale, panicked, and ran back into the jungle. From the corpse of the "boss", the party took up a painted mask they think could be worth something back in town, and then they continued on their way south.

On the third day, the party came across a shield-head (or "ytepka" or "three-horns") grazing alone in a meadow not far from the banks of the river. River and Flask were enamored of it, trying to get the party to attack and subdue it so that they could lead it back to town to sell to Ifan Tal'Roa--then they could sell the beast to him for a tidy profit (and only a few days out!) and then restart their expedition with even higher funds. Alas, the party balked at attacking such a large creature, and merely walked around it. Later that day, they provoked a troop of baboons, which attacked them, but were easily driven off with another poor morale roll for the creatures ...

One ornate species of shield-head

And on the fourth day, the party encountered a pair of giant spiders, easily dispatched without even the need for a morale roll--and this is where we quit for the night, as it was nigh 2 am and we were semi-incoherent.

So like I said, these encounters need to be spiced up with some non-monster "wilderness encounters" that will vary things beyond mere roleplaying/combat encounters (also, need some roleplaying encounters anyway). The book recommends rolling three times per day; I was thinking of rolling twice on the book's encounter table, and once on my own table each day. Ultimately, this would alter the checks from 3 encounter checks per 10 miles to 4 monster encounter checks and 2 non-monster encounter checks per 10 miles, so I don't feel like it's too much.

The next Chult game will probably be in about two weeks; I'll be sprucing up the hexmap in the meantime and probably sharing ideas and additions here--I admit, I just can't run an adventure/module without tinkering with a fair amount.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Session 25 of the Old Forest Keep Game

Session 25? Where are the other sessions? In my handwritten campaign notes ... this 25th session was the first online game I've run in this setting, and the first I'm recounting here. This may mean that I recount future sessions in this game here as well.

Anyway ...

The characters:
Magic Meryl  (random advancement halfling) and Galahad (orc mastiff)
Radmachar Whitebeard (cyborg pirate)
Rakka (orc muscle witch) and Amonsay the Immortal Constrictor (some kind of snake demon)
Gnarles Crackledust (gnome illusionist)
and a mad scientist and his lock-picking specialist (Chris P.)

In town, the characters gathered a little bit of information about the Cult of the White Dragon which presumably uses the dungeon under the Old Forest Keep as its base of operations for a campaign of brigandage, and Radmachar hired Manlius as a mercenary, while Magic Meryl hired Tiberius. Magic Meryl took on quartermaster duties and bought rations for everyone (the dungeon lies three to five days from town depending on my die rolls representing weather), and then the party set out through the woods toward the dungeon.

Some bad weather lengthened the travel time to five days altogether. Nothing happened for the first four days but rain, but on the fourth night, a group of giant ants marched right through the middle of the party's camp, carrying dead humans. Meryl cast sleep over the ants, and the party investigated the bodies, and found them to be dead bandits wearing white armbands, and a couple wearing cloak-pins in the shape of white dragons--these the party took, and then they slew the ants as they slept, and then continued their rest.

Then, on the fifth day, the party came into sight of the keep--which is not really a keep, as only the gatehouse remains standing, the old castle's curtain walls all thrown over and the actual keep having collapsed long ago. This keep was once a bastion of Law against the Chaotic Elves of the eastern Dwimmerholt forest, but has fallen into disrepair and been filled with Chaotic monsters and cultists. As the party approached the keep, a murder of crows rose up from the trees around them, alerting the orcish figures on the gatehouse top to their approach.

Before the orcs could send out a patrol, Gnarles Crackledust cast a spell of mass invisibility over the party (from a staff, I think), and then the party simply walked around the gatehouse to what was once "inside" the bailey, but which of course is now just open ground--from that side, they could see two doors, one entering the eastern tower of the gatehouse, the other into the western tower. So the party went to the first door and listened--and though they all failed to hear anything, Meryl's mastiff Galahad's hackles went up and he pointed at the door, indicating orcs on the other side (it was also at this point that we remembered that Rakka and Galahad probably wouldn't get along, she being an orc, he a mastiff bred and trained to hunt orcs).

Fortunately, the orcs had already passed on when the party opened the door; so they entered the dungeon and went through a first couple of rooms, one being merely a sleeping chamber with old pallets of straw that smelled of orc; and the other room containing a tapestry that divided the room in two. Chris P.'s character glanced around the tapestry to the other side and saw a large spider clinging to that side of the tapestry; Rakka decided that she would take the spider on with her fists, and just talk her way out of encounters with orcs the way she did in the Aesclepius-Apollo shrine.

So Rakka went around the tapestry and Anime Leap Attacked the spider, which does something like double or triple damage--the spider survived, though barely, and in its confusion at suddenly being attacked, its attempts to bite Rakka were erratic and ineffective, and so Rakka was able to destroy it by hammering further at its thorax with her fists. She then elected to take down the tapestry, intending to clean it up with magic in town later (the party left it rolled up in the room for the moment, as it was not a small tapestry).

At this point, Meryl recalled the trap door depicted on her map of the dungeon (it was an old map she acquired from Ligurias the Sage in town), and directed the party through several rooms toward it. They found the door locked, but Chris P.'s henchman easily picked the lock, and the door was opened to reveal four human prisoners in rather bad shape, emaciated and dirty. They were wondered at the door opening but "nothing" coming through, and then even more surprised to hear the invisible party promise them freedom. The prisoners hoped that meant they were leaving immediately, but the party told them they had to wait a little bit while the adventurers delved a little more.

So, a trapdoor was indeed found; and Galahad growled low as it was opened, indicating that there were orcs down the stairs below. It was agreed to send Rakka down to negotiate, and well beyond merely chatting the orcs up, she claimed to be the fleshly incarnation of Orcus (indicating to her invisible companions to pick things up and flash their lights up and down, etc. as demonstrations of her power). The six orc guards at the foot of the stair were not well convinced ("You don't look like Orcus," and, "She just looks like a girl,"), but ultimately bowed to her and agreed to her plan to show Rakka their king's chambers, to take his gold, and perhaps to kill him.

The orcs led the party north through some corridors and then pointed to a door--"There's the king's chambers," they said. "Well, open it!" Rakka replied. "We don't have the key," said the orcs, "but you're a god--why don't you open it?" And behold, the door was unlocked (Chris' henchman picked it invisibly), which thing wondered the orcs rather more.

Everyone piled in and started looting, mostly invisibly, and the party found a number of valuables--but as they looted, a commotion was heard at the door, and a half-orc woman with several ogrillon bodyguards was there, demanding, "What the hell is going on here?"

Rakka replied with her spiel of being Orcus incarnate, but this time piled it on with an ability from her class in which she can convince several creatures per level, once per session, of a lie of any magnitude. And behold, this half-orc priestess (Trapp is her name), fell on her face before the god-made-flesh. "How can we serve you, o! Orcus? Have you come to aid us in our efforts with the White Dragon Cult to waken the dragon sleeping in the pit of the dungeon? Can you not break the enchantment that keeps it slumbering, o! great Orcus?"

Rakka-cum-Orcus of course agreed that she was there to aid them, and would create a talisman to help waken the dragon, but that she required a great sacrifice of wealth and prisoners to increase her power. "Of course--we shall have a great sacrifice for you--I will gather the tribe, and tonight in the darkness we will slaughter our prisoners, drink wine, all in your honor, o! Orcus!" Trapp declared.

But Rakka replied that the sacrifice was required immediately; and so Trapp and her servants (and the other orcs, now swept up by Rakka's authority) gathered all the valuables they could in a short time, including Trapp's cosmetic box and rich furs from her own chambers, and also a huge pile of metal ingots that the orcs had found stockpiled in the dungeon when they moved in. All of this, and the human prisoners from above, were then gathered out in the courtyard above (with the orcs complaining a great deal about the sun and the sudden forced labor). As for the prisoners, Meryl had invisibly gone up to them when the party's plan had crystallized, and warned them that they should play along with much screaming, but not to worry, the party really was going to rescue them.

Everything gathered above, and probably half the orc-tribe standing in attendance, Rakka interrupted the setting up of an altar. "No, no," she declared, "no altar is needed--I will just open up a hole directly to my realm in Hell below!"

With that, Magic Meryl and Gnarles Crackledust both conjured illusions with phantasmal force, the gnome creating a vision of Hell's maw opening, while Meryl created an illusory demon, a huge orcish figure, tarred and feathered, to emerge and start "carrying off" the human prisoners and treasure (actually being taken up by invisible characters), while Amonsay revealed itself as well in all its vasty coils to awe the orcs, etc. A number of orcs complained that their hard earned treasure was being taken by a fraud god, but using a wand of lightning, Rakka fried a whole line of them and cowed the tribe into kowtowing submission.

Now, as for the treasure and prisoners--apparently Chris P.'s mad scientist has an armored hover SUV which he had neglected to tell the party about before trekking off through the woods on foot--but now he summoned it to their location in the old keep's bailey and all the loot was shoved onto it, followed by the quickly by the various members of the party, and then the whole lot of them flew off back to the city of Calpurnia in style.

Back in town, Rakka caroused (I think someone else did too? but Rakka was the only one who failed), and in her drunkenness and going on about her coup of the orcs with a clever lie about being Orcus, she finds herself enamored of a local fellow, one Titus Iulius, a hunter who can tell her much of the wonders of the wilderness (Rakka's life heretofore has been in a dungeon, so the outside world is all new to her). If she does not maintain this relationship, it will turn sour as Titus' sisters will spread evil rumors about the orc woman who seduced their brother.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Some Tribes of Chult

I'm about to start running Wizards of the Coasts' Tomb of Annihilation (2017) semi-weekly (my friend will continue running his homebrew dungeon for us every one Saturday, and I'll run ToA every other Saturday), but the Chult that's described seems so paltry (but far and away better than that piece of garbage FRM1: Jungles of Chult (1993) that I just read ...). One city and a couple forts, and that's it for the human inhabitants? That's all we get for a fantasy-Africa-themed setting?

My knowledge of medieval African civilization isn't great, but I'm going to need more than Port Nyanzaru to hold my interest in the setting, so I'm going to introduce a couple tribes who live in the hinterlands around the city right now, with the intent to fill in more as the sandbox picks up/focuses.


The Ido:
a northern alliance of tribes, the port of Nyanzaru was originally an Ido city--the Ido city, in fact, while the balance of the tribespeople lived in smaller towns in its hinterland, supplying the port with its foodstuffs and tradegoods. When the Omuans came northwest escaping the destruction of their kingdom, they coopted the city for themselves. The Ido still populate the hinterlands in well-regulated towns governed by Oloyas (chiefs), and also make up a large fraction of Nyanzaru's population--and are not entirely happy with being supplanted by the Omuan migration.

Among other things, the Ido are known for their excellent bronze work:

As excellent metalsmiths, they make fine swords, spearheads, shields, armor, etc. that are the envy of other tribes. Ido hunters are proud of their weapons and use them to bring down elephants and triceratopses, etc., the bodies of which are apportioned with the heart and the back right leg to the Oloya, the tusks, the liver, and the back left to the hunter-killer, and the rest of the animal split amongst the tribe/village.

It is the responsibility of the Oloyas to maintain watch on the coasts or on the jungle for pirates or undead or both (as the case may be), and to call up his warriors to deal with any trouble. These warriors include both foot and cavalry (horse- or dinosaur-mounted!).

The Turkana:
nomadic herders that follow their herds of zebu cattle, goats, or the smaller species of hadrasaur (the latter being nomadic only around large bodies of water, and being of tribes who do not consider fish taboo but willingly eat it). The tribes of the Turkana move with their animals, following good grazing, protecting their animals from predators and raiders and meanwhile partaking in raiding against antagonist tribes.

The various Turkana tribes maintain a sophisticated oral history of their mutual raids, antagonisms, and friendships; bloodfeuds are long remembered, but so are friendships, especially the close friendships between so-called "banter brothers". Men who are banter brothers may banter/insult/joke with each other as brothers may, regardless of the tribes each other belongs to ... there are oral epics detailing banter brothers bringing their tribes into friendship after centuries-long hatreds, but also tragedies of banter brothers driven to the bleakest ends of human emotion by the mutual hatreds of their tribes' larger wars.

Turkana tend to have little physical wealth other than their herds; their main possessions are their unique wrist-knives, the stools that they use both as seats and as head-rests, and the staves that they carry as walking- and beating-sticks.

The Turkana are great drinkers of palm-wine, which they must acquire by trade or by raid, being too nomadic to cultivate/brew it; in the stories, banter brothers are often born in the midst of a palm-wine drunk taken by an entire tribe while one of the banter brothers is a foreigner ...

The Ik:
semi-pastoral mountain-dwellers, the Ik grow what they can during the agricultural season (I need to figure out wet/dry seasons for a calendar in this setting ...) and supplement that with hunting and gathering, especially when they can't grow anything. They dwell on high plateaus and mountain crags in villages that are almost entirely woven together with stockades of tight-woven brambles containing family huts with individual courtyards. Such stockaded villages, built on secluded heights, make Ik villages fairly well defended against monstrous or human raiders--the only real terror are the flying pterafolk with whom the Ik compete in the heights, and against whose flying raids the stockades to little good.

The Ik are too disparate and semi-nomadic to have permanent villages or seats of power, but their homeland in the heights means that they have constant access to the caves and dark places under the thrust-up earth where strange things dwell. They have a great respect for serpents and other chthonic spirits, and their alliance of tribes maintains a number of permanent oracles and pythonesses who live within the caves close to the underworld spirits, whom the Ik (and other peoples) may approach when in need of a better understanding of the turnings of the spirit world.

The Ik also have a great respect for blacksmiths--esp. those of the Ido, or the Albino Dwarves--and will seek such folk out for certain spiritual affairs.


The Turkana and the Ik are modern tribes, not medieval ... like I said, my knowledge is lacking and based on what little I've read. Would that it were more! (and I ultimately intend it to be)

This post is sparser than I intended, but as a mere starter I hope to develop more as the players head out into Chult at large and run into villages, herds, townships, etc., etc.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

the Cult of the White Dragon

"... Two or three years ago it was just another snake cult ..."
(a black lotus peddler telling of the cult of Set to Conan and Subotai, in Conan (1982))

Two or three years ago, the Cult of the White Dragon was just another dragon cult trying to worm its way into the territory of Calpurnia, one of the great trade cities in the middle stretch of the King's Highway. Dragon cults are always popular with Chaotics--the Cult of the Black Dragon, the Cult of the Gold Dragon, the Fighting Society of the Red Dragon, the Followers of the River Dragon, the Storm Dragon, etc. etc. Sure, the Giants are the sons of Chaos, ever warring against the Gods of Law in the great battles of heaven--but Dragons are Chaos. Tiamat whose womb is the salt-sea, Echidna the mother of monsters, Nidhogg gnawing at the world's roots ...

And what vision better sums up the glories of Chaos than the Dragon, vast and beautiful and invincible, coiled around a gleaming hoard that could ransom kingdoms?

Anyway, these Cultists of the White Dragon sought to take advantage of the rising of Chaos in the world--as the Elves put out their strength from the Dwimmerholt, as the Giants come down from the mountains to the north, and as the Dread Wolves of Drand are heard to howl again, so too, men have turned to the promises of Dragons and Dragon-Gods that to serve them is the means to wealth and power. With whispers of power, they gathered a Cult-following from among the disaffected and the adventurous in Calpurnia, and established a secret strong place in the woods to the north wherein to worship, and from whence they began a campaign of brigandage and raiding.

Because of their brazenness, the Cult was easily discovered in their secret place by scouts sent out by the city, and then Calpurnia's senate hired and outfitted a force of mercenary fighting-men who were thence dispatched to root out and destroy the Cult. The mercenaries routed the Cult in battle and claimed much treasure that had been taken through brigandage as their right of plunder (much to the merchant princes' displeasure), but the Cult of the White Dragon was largely thought to have been destroyed by this action, and much energy was then wasted on lawsuits between merchants, senators, and fighting-men all clamoring for their proper shares.

Some time passed; banditry continued along the northern roads, sometimes perpetrated by human brigands, sometimes by orc warbands; and then about a year and a half ago, a band of adventurers ventured into the Old Forest Keep northeast of Calpurnia and returned much the richer, claiming to have found a new White Dragon Cult, but to have wiped it out. This rumor was quickly quashed, however, as the band's continued expeditions into the Keep continued to run into groups of fighting-men and priests wearing conspicuous white armbands or intricate insignia of a white worm ... all the while, banditry has continued to increase along the northern road until it is impossible for trade to continue by independent wagoner, except at great risk--all trade along the King's Highway north is now conducted in large caravans guarded by veritable armies of guards--and still, many merchants come away ruined, their fortunes looted by brigands!

And so it seems, the Cult continues to grow in secret, in the dark places under the earth.


As to the god of the White Dragon Cult, they worship Leukeragz-Who-Sleeps, the White Worm, the World Serpent, less a literal dragon in the world than a literary dragon, or a mythical one (or mytho-typical). This worm is said to slumber in the roots of the world, or perhaps along the floor of world-circling Ocean, and that his waking will be death--the Gods will be overthrown, and the Giants, and all Creation itself; but in his own death, slain in the struggle against the Gods, Leukeragz's flesh will split and corrupt and a new world will spring from its corruption.

These stories are well enough known through lays, poetry, and folklore that non-initiates recognize Leukeragz as the White Dragon worshiped by the Cult, but as to the meanings of the lore or the deeper mysteries of the cult (why would a cultist worship a dragon whose waking will destroy the world??)--one must be initiated into said mysteries to understand!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

the Strangler Fig

I was in Panama for Christmas with my dad, uncle, and granddad (Granddaddy was stationed in the canal zone during the 70's, so my dad went to high school here and it definitely captured the family imagination), so I thought I'd try to come up with some D&D stuff related to Panama or tropical environments in general.

To that end, the other day I saw some pretty cool banyan trees, aerial prop roots hanging down from above, stretching for the ground, ready to create more and more trunks in an ultimate banyan grove all centered around a single huge trunk of intertwined trunks. Some quick Wikipedia research informed me that banyans are sometimes called "strangler figs" for the way that they grow around a victim tree and "strangle" it with their roots; and further that, as a fig tree, they are home to fig wasps, which developed symbiotically and cospecialized with fig trees, the fig providing the wasp a place to lay eggs and mate, the wasp pollinating the fig.

Hence the double feature of Strangler Figs and Fig Wasps ... Today, the Strangler Fig:

or Banyan Tree ...

Called a "strangler fig" because it is a parasitic organism that "strangles" its host--the banyan tree actually grows atop another tree, its seed having landed somewhere in the host's upper branches, and grown like a vegetative octopus from there. Early on, the banyan actually looks like tree roots growing down around the trunk of the host tree; later, as the banyan swallows or "strangles" the host and sends out limbs of its own, these down-growing roots actually become almost trunks themselves, creating the illusion of a small grove where the reality is one large down-growing organism (as opposed to an aspen grove, all one organism, but growing upwards).

After enough time, the banyan actually kills its host (after it has grown large enough to sustain itself), and as the host tree decays within the banyan's central trunk, it leaves behind a hollow space, perfect for any variety of spirits, jungle-creatures, or bandits to dwell within or inside which to store their valuables ...

And so, to D&D-ize the banyan tree ...

Strangler Fig
No. Appearing 1 (1-6)
AC 0
HD 8-12
THAC0 per HD, e.g. 12-10
attacks: suggestion or 7-12 roots
damage: 2-7 or charm
no movement
treasure: F

A strangler fig large enough to attack a party of humanoids has grown into a veritable grove of its own, with prop-roots resembling entire trees and aerial roots hanging down from the canopy throughout the "grove"--hence its hit dice of 8 to 12; feel free to shrink or expand the number according to the age/size of the "grove".

The grove feels to be a place of peace, which is the will of the fig attempting to lull prey into a sense of security. There is a 1 in 3 chance that from 1-4 animals of various kinds (e.g. monkeys, lions, agouti, etc. etc.) are resting beneath the banyan's limbs, subtly tapped by its roots, charmed, and succumbing to its appetite. These animals may be used by the banyan to attack intruders if the intruders are hostile.

Suggestion: All those who enter the grove (i.e. pass into the shadow beneath its canopy) must save against spells (or a make Will/WIS save), or they find the grove to be a perfect place to make camp, and make an argument for settling down for the day, or at least for returning before day's end ("Look at how peaceful the animals are here--lions and monkeys lying down together!").

The banyan being a slow-moving tree, creatures must spend at least 10 minutes under its canopy before its roots can act. At that point, those beneath must make a save against paralysis or be tapped by an aerial root. After that, 7-12 roots may act each turn, either directly attacking characters or charming them.

A root that attempts to charm a person descends and rests on their body, attempting to "tap" into them; the character must make a save against paralysis (fortitude or reflex? constitution or dexterity? choose what you want in newer editions). Characters who fail are "tapped" and cannot leave the vicinity of the grove, and can be compelled to fight against hostile intruders. Over the course of the root's accelerated growth, they become part of the banyan in 1-6 days, entombed within a new root-trunk. A cure disease spell will dissolve the root's connections inside the body, though a character thus freed will suffer 3-18 damage from separation.

Otherwise, the roots attack with slams like treant-limbs, dealing 2-7 damage per blow.

Any treasure is to be found within the main "trunk" (which may be hollow), or embedded in the down-growing aerial roots, in either case being the treasure of those entombed within--which will, of course, entail 10 minutes or more work to extract ...

Parasitic though they be, banyans are also often symbiotic homes to other creatures as well.

One half of banyan trees are home to a swarm of Fig Wasps, insects that co-developed with fig trees in a relationship even closer than that of the normal process of bees pollinating flowers.

One in three banyan trees is also home to a dryad, a bisan (from Oriental Adventures), or some other tree spirit; these are (1-2) the spirit of the host tree, desperate for help destroying the banyan, (3-5) the spirit of the banyan or some other spirit dwelling within the hollow of the "trunk" and which will rise to its defense, or (6) an unaffiliated spirit that dwells within the hollow trunk or spreading branches, but which is itself independent of the banyan.

Further relationships are eminently possible:
Consider an entire human keep, made of stone, swallowed by a vast banyan and now home the ghosts of its former inhabitants!
OR, a peaceful banyan, converted to (Buddhism) by a saint in expectation of better future lives and escape from the wheel of suffering, which holds under its branches/roots a permanently peaceful gathering of merchants and wanderers, guarded from evil by the power of the tree.
(the etymology of "banyan", according to Wikipedia, is that "banyan" meant "merchant" in Gunjurati Indian; and such merchants would spread their wares beneath the shade of certain [banyan] trees)