Saturday, November 11, 2017

the Grey Pilgrims

'... "These are High-Elves! They spoke the name of Elbereth!" said Frodo in amazement. Few of that fairest folk are ever seen in the Shire. Not many now remain in Middle-Earth, east of the Great Sea. This is indeed a strange chance!"

'The hobbits sat in shadow by the wayside. Before long the Elves came down the lane towards the valley. They passed slowly, and the hobbits could see the starlight glimmering on their hair and in their eyes. They bore no lights, yet as they walked a shimmer, like the light of the moon above the rim of the hills before it rises, seemed to fall about their feet. They were now silent [having ceased their song of Elbereth], and as the last Elf passed he turned and looked toward the hobbits and laughed.

'"Hail, Frodo!" he cried. "You are abroad late. Or are you perhaps lost?" Then he called to the others, and all the company stopped and gathered round. ...'

(J.R.R. Tolkien, "Three is Company," The Fellowship of the Ring, 1955, pg 109, Ballantine Books)

This Elf turns out to be Gildor Inglorion of the House of Finrod, and he and his companions are members of a Wandering Company, those who sometimes come into the Shire during spring or autumn, but "'For tonight we go to the woods on the hills above Woodhall. ...'" (p. 110)

(It is curious to me to know that Gildor, being of the House of Finrod, is in fact a Grey Elf, one of the Noldor who went to see the light of the trees in Valinor, yet who returned to Middle-Earth in company of Feanor, their chief, to seek the Silmarils--and who slaughtered the Sea-Elves to take their ships in order to return! As Gildor later says to Frodo, the Elves do indeed carry their own burdens and sorrows separate from the other races of Middle-Earth)


In my Encounters on the Road table, one of the entries is that of Elf-Pilgrims, with whom characters may carouse (spending money and gaining experience per carousing), like Frodo and the hobbits do at Woodhall, but with the possible consequence that they pass on with the Elves, forgetting their place in the mortal world for a time in preference for the wonders of the Elves.

Two weeks ago, as the players in my regular (non-Greyhame) game traveled from their home city to the halfling land of Hopshire, they twice encountered Elf-Pilgrims (due to the vagaries of the dice). The first encounter went off without any consequences, but during the second, one of the characters failed and nearly joined the Elf-Pilgrims on their way to the Glimmervaults to look at the Stars that gleam within those caverns (hence the name)--Ronald the magic-user was so entranced by their verses in praise of the ancient Stars, the Stars that gleamed above when the Elves first stepped forth in the morning of the world, before even the Sun and the Moon were set into the heavens, that he intended to join the Elves making their way there.

Alas (?) his friends got wind of his plan and got him so stinking drunk that he was too hung over to join the Elves on the next leg of their journey, and he got over their charm as he nursed his hangover.

Obviously, these pilgrims will figure in the Greyhame game before long, as the destination of their pilgrimage is the caverns of the Glimmervaults.

In this case, a troupe of four Elfin queens and their guard have happened upon a sleeping adventurer
(William Frank Calderon, How Four Queens Found Lancelot Sleeping, 1908)

All of which is to say in a longwinded way, I was thinking of developing a table for encounters with Elf-Pilgrims or Wandering Companies, so here it is:

Where are they headed?
1) to the Glimmervaults (or some other place where the Elves can gaze upon the ancient Stars down from whence they stepped in the morning of the world); a character who carouses with them and fails his save against drunkenness will be enchanted by their vision of the Stars and accompany them, a journey which will take from 3 to 18 months before he returns to play

2) to the Grey Havens and the ships that sail away across the star-strewn Sea, out of the mortal world to halls of everlasting ease; a character may save at +2 against poison to avoid the consequences of carousing with these Elves, but a failure means that she will travel with them to the nearest ocean port and thence pass out of the world forever--once gone across the Sea, only a wish could bring her back

3) to nowhere in particular--the Elves are a Wandering Company who wend through wood and dale, carousing in the hidden vales beneath the starlight; characters who carouse with them gain the effects of carousing, but are also healed as if they had rested for 2-12 days--as indeed they have! for the Elfin feast, though it seemed to last but a night, has lasted nigh a fortnight (and advance the calendar accordingly). The Elves have all vanished and continued on to the next valley by the time the characters waken, leaving memories of starlit draughts and the apples of Avalon

4) to the Isle of Avalon (or somewhere likewise suitable), bearing the bier of a mortal warrior of such renown (or so beloved by a King or Queen of Elves) that he is to be brought back to the Sunny Isle to wait in deathly sleep for the day of his awakening. Carousing with those among this company, one hears epics of both the hero himself, and of elder days and ancient heroes, and such stirring deed-songs fill the heart with courage such that one receives experience equal to 100 times one's level above the normal carousing benefit

5) not a pilgrimage per se, but a company of Wood-Elves, wary of strangers--an Elf-banquet of the sort that got the dwarves into trouble in the Mirkwood (in The Hobbit). Attempting to carouse with these Elves, a character will wander away from the party and get lost--as an individual, they will suffer 1-6 attrition dice, and if any dice remain that would cause damage, the character is instead imprisoned by the Prince of the Wood-Elves in his secret palace-dungeon until such time as she is rescued or ransomed (1000 gp/level for a ransom as a baseline)--(that, or they're just imprisoned on failing a save against paralysis)

6) to the dressing of the idols of Astora and Anglamorath at a clear lake deep in the forests of the Dwimmerholt (Anglamorath-Astora is a dual goddess of Chaos worshiped primarily by the Elves; Astora is the Elf-Queen of Stars, the First Elf, and she is joined in worship to Anglamorath the Black Dragon, the Dark Behind the Stars, Whose Wings are the Night); carousing with these Elves one must save rather against spells as they attempt to charm and enslave the characters for a year and a day, after which they will be free to return to the mortal world

Who is among the Company?
1) Adrasteia, a Lamia (not the weird lion-type, a real Lamia who is a serpent wearing the guise of a maiden); she is accompanied by two charmed slaves, Archidamus (Fighter 3ish with a shield, spear, mail armor, and a lion cloak of courage, +1 AC, +1 morale to hirelings) and Musa (Fighter 3ish with a shield, scepter/mace +2, and mail armor)

2) Ponderous, a hugely tall pine Treant (+2 HD); unlike most Treants, he is not vulnerable to fire due to the flaky scales of his bark and the great height of his limbs--but at the same time, he receives only one attack because of his great height, and is treated as a "giant" for attacks against dwarves and halflings

3) the Elf-woman Thranduila and her halfling companion Otho Skopper (they seem a rather Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser pair); Thranduila is laconic and interested in wine and handsome fighting-men, while Otho is exuberant, often derisive, and interested in wine and pipeweed. Their motives are mercenary, such that they might be enticed away with promise of loot or gold to do some other deed, rather than continue on with the pilgrimage--maybe

4) the Goblin Blinx, chief slave (2 HD, one first level spell) over 3-18 other (normal) goblins; Blinx himself harbors a slow simmering hatred for his Elfin masters (simmered over several centuries), and is subtly eager to seek aid from mortals for his own manumission, whether that involves an exchange of coin or bloodshed; he would even be happy to instigate a goblin rebellion if he could get support outside the few goblin-slaves among the party

5) Morla of the Mists, a high level magic-user, presumably female; she is always somewhat obscured by a mist that seems to billow up from the hems of her dark, heavy cloak. Her perambulations with the Elves never takes her too far away from her dwelling in the Myrkr Fen. Why she travels with the Elves is obscure, but being a high level magic-user and some-time sage, she can answer sage-type questions for a significant offering of gp, including the identification of magic items

6) Ceor (or Ceora if female?) a mortal overcome by the burden of his or her deeds while adventuring; perhaps he cared too deeply about the plight of some orc children, only to have his spirit crushed by his comrades' murderous intent; perhaps she carried the burden of a supremely evil artefact to the pits of Hell to see it destroyed, and the toll has crushed all joy in her mortal life; either way, he or she accompanies the Elves in hopes of a finding a way out of the mortal realm and all its suffering ...

The Elves carry with them a thing of Interest ... what is it?
1) a Hunting Horn that once per week can summon 1-3 Fey Hounds (3 HD, AC 6, THAC0 17, d2-12, gaze of fear all in melee save against paralysis or unable to act for the round, 2 consecutive saves immune; look aside, +2 to save, -2 "to hit"; close eyes/look away, no need to save, but -4 "to hit"); possessed by the leader of the pilgrimage, who will not part with it lightly (but will entertain reasonable offers of gold or deeds)

2) a Ring of the Elf-Friend (protection +1, and +2 on saves against charm and sleep), granted to any one character who acts the most graciously with the Elves (speaking Elvish with them, sharing poetry, naming constellations, etc.). Naturally, the +2 bonus applies on the carousing save as well

3) the Mead of Poetry (one character determined at random during carousing gains +1 CHA, has a knack for poetry, regardless of player ability; and they may further, once per year, utter a doom which may be a geas or quest spell, or any kind of curse, quest, doom, etc. that a bard might utter in literature--think of the Icelandic skalds in particular, e.g. Egil Skallagrimsson)

4) a Philtre--on a failed save against carousing, one character determined at random is in love with one of the Elves on the pilgrimage (this does not necessitate joining the pilgrimage, but does entail other effects ...); on a successful save against carousing, the same character has instead filched the Philtre, and may use it as a love potion as they will ...

5) an Idol, either a Lawful, Clannish, or Good Idol taken in a raid; OR a Chaotic, Natural, or Arcane Idol representing the Elves' cult. Returning the former to the proper cult would provide a large experience reward, while seizing the latter would surely result in a statue worth 600 to 3600 gold (3d6 times 20) and commensurate experience

6) an Elfin Lap-Dog, a creature bred for companionship rather than war or hunting (HD 1, AC 6, THAC0 19, d1-6); and it wears a collar with soothing bells forged in Avalon (+1 to all saves for those within 30' of it, if the dog is adventuring for some reason); spending a week in its presence "back home" grants such ease of mind that one curse is removed, OR a painful love/memory/etc. may be forgotten for that week, OR all wounds and diseases are cured, even if the HP total is more than can be healed in such a time (not all at once, choose out of the three!). Removing the collar destroys the magic, alas (why would you do that Isolde??), but the dog will live for 2-20 years, being somewhat Elfin in nature

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