Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Greyhame Game Expeditions 89 and 90

Expedition 89, 2 April's Roster:
Torrack, Gunther, and Thor (ogres)
Coball and Iliana (clerics)
Leafit (Elf)

Torrack is of such a level as to seize a cave or cavern system for himself and gather a band of ogres under him. His announced intent is to attempt to educate such a band of ogres and introduce them to civilization.

To that end, he gathered a group of comrades at the Waldburg, Kord's castle just east of Brakeridge, and the party set out toward the mountains to the east, hoping to find a cave. They didn't ask around about rumors or attempt to hire any guides, but just struck out into the wilderness, hoping to blindly stumble into success.

Well, some kind of disaster struck them down. A day after their departure, Iliana returned from the wilderness to Kord's castle, chattering about "tentacles from the dark" and "the stones themselves! The stones themselves had teeth! Everyone dead ..."

Guided by her, Ham and a larger party discovered a double-cavern entrance at the south end of a cliff-face set under and between the Whitecrown and Greyhame mountains. From within, they recovered the bodies of Torrack and his party, all badly mangled and partially digested. Over the next few days, with difficulty, Ham was able to raise from the dead all but Thor, whose body was just too far gone.


Expedition 90, 4 April's Roster:
Clark (paladin)
Mizer and Blackleaf (magic-users)
Koko (woman-ape)
Lucky Bob (travelling man)
Tiwo (thief)
Rolf Rolfson, Thorgil, Clothis (clerics)

Following up on two previous expeditions into the Howling Tower to discover what happened to Okok the Ape-King and to help him drive out the Getae holding the tower, the adventurers gathered in Brakeridge with the intent to delve into the Howling Tower Dungeon once more. On the 86th expedition, a number of slaves were delivered from the Tower, saved from servitude under the Getae; these slaves were able to offer a small bit of intelligence concerning the Getae, namely that the chief of the Getae, one Tamoric, was gifted by the Red King of the Getae with a huge red ruby that glitters of its own light, and which was set into the base of a huge axe; after this, according to the slaves, it seemed that certain vile sacrifices became more common.

Knowing that werewolves abound in the area, they bought up a bunch of wolfsbane (and noted that wolfsbane has become common in town, hung up over lintels and nailed to doors), Koko groused about not having armor and ordered a suit especially made for her ape frame from a local armorer, and then they set out.

Wolves howl in the wilderness; strange howling emanates once more from the Tower; the party gathered on the hillside by the secret insect-hole that leads into the Tower dungeons and sent Rolf in first. On the way in, they discovered a renewed number of large egg cases in the larger cavern outside the dungeon proper, and elected to smash them all before continuing.

Emerging once more into the crypts under the tower, the adventurers quickly made their way north to the door where they'd encountered large numbers of goblins before; listening in, they seemed to hear another such group of goblins and wolves. They briefly debated whether to clear them out again, but decided to move on.

At the next door down the corridor to the west, the party listened again, and heard ritual chanting and muted whining and howling. This seemed more interesting than mere goblins; because there were two doors into the chamber, the group decided to split up with Clark, Mizer, and Tiwo taking the south door, and everyone else at the northwest door.

The plan was that Clark should open the south door, distract those inside, and then while whoever or whatever was inside was distracted, the others would burst in from the west. This went down generally as intended--Clark opened the door and stumbled in, and found a little more than he bargained for.

A barbarian chief with a silver circlet at his head and a huge axe slung over his shoulder (giant ruby sparkling at its pommel) knelt before a statue of an Elf queen, a tripod smoking with incense at his side. Attending him were eight well-armed barbarian huskarls, a pack of wolves with intelligence gleaming in their yellow eyes and a horrible beast, its body like a hulking baboon, its head like a great shaggy wolf, and from its shoulders sprouting six swaying serpent heads.

The barbarian stood and turned to Clark and suggested that the paladin step in and disarm himself. Clark refused, denying the magic, but he did step in with his sword raised. "I challenge you, one on one," Clark declared confidently, and the barbarian chief smirked in reply. "Let us to the holmgang, then," the barbarian replied, and his huskarls drove daggers into the floor in an arena square. Hefting his axe, the chief stepped in, and Clark stepped in with his sword ... and the two set about to ineffectually swinging their weapons around as both player and referee rolled nothing but 3s and 5s for several rounds.

Meanwhile, the rest of the party decided they wanted in on the action, so in the door was kicked. Blackleaf bathed everyone in the room with a fireball, which both the chief and Clark shrugged off, but which knocked out some of the wolves. A web spell aimed at the eight huskarls by Mizer was fizzled by an axe thrown back at him; Koko charged in, sword flaming, and directly engaged the horrible baboon-snake demon, while Thorgil and Clothis closed with the wolves, and Lucky Bob, Rolf, and Tiwo stood back shooting crossbow bolts.

Koko's melee went poorly; though she snicked off a couple snake heads, the others got numerous bites in against her, and she felt fiery venom coursing through her veins, seizing her muscles. Blackleaf followed Mizer's web with one of her own, this one actually covering the barbarians and preventing them from joining the fray. Mizer covered himself with mirror images. Clark and the barbarian traded misses; Clothis and Thorgil knocked out some wolves.

Seeing this fight turning against him, the barbarian chief changed; his skin flushed bright blood red, from his shoulder sprouted a serpent's head, and from his mouth burst forth a full wolf's head. ... But even with all three attacks he still managed to miss Clark. Koko drank a potion of antivenin, and succeeded her second save with a natural 20, ending the threat of poison, while the rest of the party mopped up the chief's allies.

At this juncture, the chief attempted to escape invisibly, but Blackleaf had a wand of enemy detection which briefly set his outline alight before Thorgil dispelled all magic in the room with a dispel magic scroll. The chief was discovered in the corner, while the barbarians all were released from their webs.

Half the party crowded around the chief while the others meleed the barbarians. Surrounded, the chief sent forth a stroke of magical lightning which laid Blackleaf low and cooked Thorgil and Clothis without killing them. After another round, the chief again turned invisible, and the northwest door opened and closed.

Clark, Thorgil, and Clothis ducked out the door after the chief while the others dealt with the huskarls. Another stroke of lightning blasted through the corridor, but the adventurers had healed themselves enough with potions and lay on hands that they survived. Despite his regenerative abilities, the chief was at low hp at this point, and three characters whaling on him (including a critical hit, I believe) laid him low. But not dead--his body continued to regenerate even as he lay unconscious, an axe blade buried in his head.

The thing that finally ended his weird life was to divest him of everything on his person, including a fair number of gems, the silver circlet, and the axe. As the party was fairly well beaten up, they elected to gather the chief's body and possessions, and then return to the surface and the safety of town, to return to drive out the Getae another day.

Back in town, the axe was discovered to be magical (of course), and was proffered to Axxxl the Mask, local sage, to be identified. It is an axe +3, dancing, but Axxxl mentioned that there was something abominably evil about it and offered to pay 40k in gold to take it off their hands, not trusting it with them ... but they refused, and Clark won the argument to keep it.

So the chief of the Getae of Tower lies dead, his body in the hands of the adventurers ... but the Getae remain in their fastness, and Okok the Ape-King remains in the dungeons below ...

Friday, April 5, 2019

Greyhame Game Expedition 88

Following up on their re-explorations of the Howling Tower dungeons during expedition 86, the party attempts to clear goblins, wolves, and werewolves from the first level, discovers a mysterious stair down, and on the second level of the dungeon, claimed the treasure previously barred to them on the belly of the black dragon statue ...

28 March's roster:
Koko (woman-ape)
Clark (would-be paladin)
Lucky-Bob (travelling man)
Blackleaf, Merlin, and Mizer (magic-users)
Coball, Thaddeus, and Rolf Rolfson (clerics)
and Tiwo (Getae thief)

Before setting out once more for the dungeon-complex under the Greyhame Mountain, some rumor-mongering: First, the party hears about the appearance in town of Drang the goblin, his Elfin associate Stormy, and their entourage of ogre-servants. These individuals have taken up semi-permanent rooms at the Black Dragon's Mede, a local inn-and-tavern, and seem to be in the business of offering adventure hooks ... except that at this moment, another group of adventurers had earlier snapped up the hook and were off gallivanting in seek of it. Perhaps next week something will be available ...

Second, also currently at the Mede is one Xanthos, master-thief extraordinaire, magic-user unparalleled, and leader of the Cult of the Black Dragon. This Xanthos is a long-time dungeon-companion of Clark from of old, and the party agrees to pay him 1000 gp for information about the statue discovered in the dungeon last time, at a hint from Clark ... and lo, the dark-cloaked, dragonfire-scarred fellow explains, "That is an image of Anglamorath the Black, the Dragon of Night; she is the dark between the stars, and when the Rainbow bridge is thrown down, her wings will overshadow the world, and she will come again in power and glory and her enemies will fall before her, and her worshipers will glory in her vengeance. So--who wants to join the Cult?"

Tiwo agreed to offer allegiance to Anglamorath, and in return, Xanthos taught him certain secret words and countersigns that would allow him to retrieve the treasure from the statue.

Lastly, rumors run through town of a "lost" expedition in the west, in which the half-Elf Cairn died of strange light, the ogre Torg met an unpleasant end digested in the belly of a monster, while their comrade JH barely escaped from the dungeon, bearing the body of Tarn, who had succumbed and drowned from the kiss of a nymph.

To the dungeon!

Descending into the Howling Tower dungeon by the secret insect-tunnels, Clark was leading, and he ran into three insectile horrors gathered in the central part of the tunnels--two of the horrors caught in the midst of copulating while the third waited on the side. In the short melee that followed, Clark was paralyzed by the poisonous tentacles of one, but the horrors were swiftly dispatched by a pile-on of dogs and spear-wielding Mizer (who learned the use of the spear through certain ancient rituals taught him while apprenticed to an ancient and powerful magic-user).

The party then dragged Clark into the dungeon and debated whether to carry him along or wait for him to be freed of the rigor of paralysis. Fortunately, the effect wore off even while they argued, and the expedition was able to continue in good time.

Guided to the door wherein they were surprised by a large group of goblins and wolves on a former expedition (#85, I'm not writing it now, sorry), the party argued as to whether to split up for a pincer-attack or not. Lucky Bob and co. argued "not" and as the rest of the party acquiesced, they turned to burst in the door to surprise whatever lay beyond.

Behind the door lay a large chamber, filled with goblins, wolves, goblin-detritus, and a few low fires for rat-cooking. Blackleaf and Merlin each got off a spell of sleep before the goblins could do anything, knocking out almost all of the goblins and even a few wolves. What followed was a chaotic melee as Clark, Koko and Thaddeus advanced to attack with swords and maces. The few remaining goblins attempted to get off their own magic, but while two managed to magically douse the party's torches, the other two were struck and had their spells fizzled.

The wolves then joined the melee, and it soon became evident that they were not mere wolves. But the party was well-equipped with magic and silver weapons and had no trouble dealing damage to the werewolves, though the creatures were not easily dispatched because of high hp rolls. Midway through the combat, the remaining goblin-leaders broke and fled, earning opprobrium from their wolfish companions, but the party allowed them to flee. Several rounds later, the final werewolf (of five) dropped its head and in Common growled, "Spare me! Mercy!"

Mercy was granted by the predominantly Good party; pumping their new captive for information, they learned his name, Vitrig, learned that the goblins and wolves still largely dominate this first dungeon level, and rediscovered the wolf-and-goblin altar in a secret room, covered anew with offerings of silver and gems. Tying Vitrig up, the party continued on their way to explore more of the first dungeon level.

Exploring the eastern boundaries, the party opened several empty tombs, and then finally a chamber seemingly guarded by two silver statues in the form of Elfin maiden-warriors. There were further doors leading from the chamber, but when the statues uttered a hollow challenge in Chaotic--one dissimilar to the countersigns taught to Tiwo by Xanthos--the party elected to withdraw rather than risk fighting golems.

Continuing exploration, the party entered a large hall with several pillars, and surprised about a dozen bizarre creatures clustered around one of the pillars ... Another sleep spell dropped a few of the creatures, but that led to battle as they turned to deal with the intruding adventurers. And so the party came face to face with strange things, goblin in shape, but with four long gangling arms from either shoulder, two vestigial arms from their chests, plates of black exoskeleton covering parts of their bodies, and two huge black multi-faceted eyes staring out from over mouths drooling and gaping around large fanged mandibles--spider-goblin-things!

Because of a good initiative roll and use of a web spell to immobilize half of the creatures remaining awake, and then a fireball spell that wiped out the webbed and sleeping creatures, the encounter passed quickly with the party triumphing. It was discovered that the creatures were, with their own webs, tying up the deceased body of an Elf-woman to the central pillar, whom Lucky Bob elected to take up and carry out of the dungeon to be raised from the dead.

About to turn back and return to town, the party was recalled to the lure of treasure by Blackleaf and Koko--to come all this way and forget about the treasure-laden dragon statue? Goaded on by this reminder, the party quickly found their way to the stair down to the second level. There, an encounter with wolves was avoided, and then the party found themselves in the great gallery before the shining black statue of Anglamorath.

Tiwo gave the countersigns and demanded in Chaotic that the dragon relinquish her treasure; then going up, he attempted to prize off the gems on the belly ... and nothing happened. Working quickly, and with the help of the Chaotic followers of Kord, Thaddeus, Coball, and Merlin, the party managed to prize off some two dozen gems and thousands of gold and silver coins. Fortunately, they had brought enough sacks into the dungeon in which to stuff all this treasure, and so they were able to haul all of it out, fireballing another small pack of wolves on their quick-march back to the surface.

Returning to town, only Clark and Mizer elected to carouse, and thus is word of their deeds and rewards spread throughout town.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Greyhame Game Expedition 87

A real-world two-part expedition, but interrupted in-game only by a pause in media res back at the camp outside the dungeon ...

The roster for 25 and 29 March:
Sten (halfling)
with Henry (magic-user), Tal (thief), and Foz (free goblin)
Nigel (16 year old boy-wonder magic-user)
Shoopie (dwarf)
with Zanatos (cleric)
Clark (paladin)
Tomu (dwarf) and Erbin (fighter)
and a small army of hirelings and dogs

At the Black Dragon's Meed Inn & Tavern back in town, a strange party arrives: a goblin, obviously the leader, introduced himself as Drang, his female Elf companion as Stormy, and the chief of his five-ogre entourage as Barduk; the four ogre-servants carried for their goblin-master a chest, obviously heavy, from which Drang counted out several thousand gold for a year's stay at the inn.

He then turned to the adventurers gathered in the tavern common room--Henry and Sten were holding a reunion of old friends with Nigel, Shoopie, and Zanatos--and the goblin Drang offered a further "obscene amount" of gold if these obvious ne'er-do-wells and adventurers would seek out a zone for him, lost of old under the Greyhame Mountain. A treasure map was offered--actually a letter and an account from the chronicles of the Brondings, which together suggested the location of the lost item--and a precise amount was agreed upon.

Thus offered compensation, the party acquired what they needed in town, and then set out for the Greyhame Mountain. Their clues led them into the Glimmervaults, those ancient caverns whose ceilings glimmer in the dark as if with the night's stars. Certain among the party had adventured in the 'Vaults previously (some so long ago as to have been in a previous incarnation of the dungeon, in a previous campaign!). Armed with their own map, they oriented themselves and then struck out into unexplored areas.

The caverns extended for a good way to the south and east; in a certain portion, the cave ceiling seemed to vanish into the night sky, though under constellations strangely distorted; and further on was discovered a great lake of dark waters glittering under stars. Another cave was found filled with a herd of giant pallid cave-locusts, while in one section stone doors were held closed by great iron bars warning with inscriptions of "the pollution of death is barred inside these halls."

While standing on the shore of the dark lake, the party was attacked by huge whited salamanders that swarmed out of the waters like slimy crocodiles; two of the dogs were slain here, but the foul creatures were driven back into the waters by a liberal application of flaming lamp oil. It was about this time that the party elected to return to their camp outside, uncertain of their prospects further in the dungeon without a little extra muscle.

The extra muscle came in the form of Clark, Tomu, and Erbin, whose players joined us on the 29th; and with their reinforcement, the party returned into the darkness.

Under a starry sky, the party discovered a secret cache of treasure in a stone tree; but were surprised from behind by a group of about a dozen corpses shambling toward them, corpses covered in growths of wispy grey mold, whitecap mushrooms, and other fungal growths. These did not turn away from Zanatos' holy symbol and prayers, but Clark was able to cause them to fight each other by the use of his ring of fungus control. But while the party argued as to what to do with the discovered treasure, they were interrupted again from behind by the snuffling and crunching of cave bears enjoying the surprise feast of fungal zombies.

"Yeah, we fucking killed those bears!" Nigel interjects into the midst of this accounting by the carousing characters.
"With the help of my ring of animal control," Shoopie adds; "But you should slow down on that beer, boy."
"Who are you calling boy? I'm a man! I'm sixteen--that's the age of majority!"
"Until you can grow one of these," Shoopie replies, tugging at his beard, "I'm afraid you're no man."

Continuing the account, the party found themselves in a cavern filled with stalagmites and stalactites; fortunately, Clark happened to look behind and witness one of the stalagmites shuffling and shifting just a little closer to the party. Alerting his fellows, he then advanced to investigate, followed cautiously by Sten ... and stepping within range, Clark found himself suddenly faced with an explosion of whipping tendrils from the weird stalagmite. Several latched onto him with glue-like secretions and then Clark found himself being dragged onward into the darkness and the suddenly revealed maw of stony teeth gaping from the stalagmite's side.

So began a desperate battle in the dark; as the party moved to Clark's aid, they found themselves accosted by two others of the stalagmite-horrors, the tendrils of which dragged a number of characters into the threat of crunching maws. Tomu and Erbin were two such caught, while Shoopie and Sten also found themselves struggling against the in-reeling tendrils. Each round in the grip of the tendrils while in melee range, the monsters were able to crush their victims in their jaws, and Erbin faced the swift death of his hireling, and then his own terrible death. Arakh the orc, Nigel's companion from adventure of old, also found death here, and Clark himself was brought low by too many rounds in the stony grip of his foe.

Nigel cast a lightning bolt spell to no effect, but Henry's fireball softened up two of the creatures, while Zanatos' cure spells helped bolster Clark long enough to heal himself further by laying hands on himself. Once the first of the three creatures was slain, though, its body oozing a foul yellow ichor, the party was able to combine efforts, and their various magical strength and swords were able to cut down the last two stony pillars of death.

At this point, much thought was given as to whether to retreat, but the call of sweet lucre proved irresistible, and the party moved deeper into the dungeon. Discovering halls of worked stone, decorated with imagery of Elves dancing under stars and trees of oak and firs, the party entered cautiously and discovered a number of fallen bodies, apparently killed of old by their own hands. These proved, as suspected, to be undead, which arose and drew swords of shadow from the empty scabbards at their sides.

And the danger of encounters with the undead was remembered here under pillars like stone trees, as Nigel and Zanatos both suffered the loss of life energy when struck by the cold shadowed swords. But the undead horrors were finally destroyed ...

At this point, the account is interrupted again as the carousing characters break into old reminiscences. "Yeah, seems like we might have to make another trip to Rix's dungeon, to bathe in the healing waters there," Shoopie declares.
"Rix!" Nigel says. "I still haven't forgiven you all for murdering Rix!"
"Forgiven us for that--what about all the other stuff we've done to you?" Sten pipes up from behind the bar. He has to stand on a barstool to see over the top, while he continuously pours his best stock of wine for himself and proceeds to guzzle it down. "Like when Xanthos paid for your 'lovely' wife to be raised from the dead?"
"Yeah, or when we sold you off to the Goblin King for a night?" Shoopie adds. Grinning evilly from behind his beard, he reaches out making a pinching motion with his fingers. "Beautiful boy!" he adds in a nasally imitation of the Goblin King's crooning.
"I will rip your head off and shit in the hole if you say that again," Nigel responds, totally dead pan, getting his fingers ready to cast fireball.

Anyway, hauling out all the treasure they'd acquired from halls of the dead, the party found themselves obstructed by the appearance of a gang of creatures, black-skinned, gangly-armed, and with greasy white hair. With hooked noses sniffing, they shuffled out of the darkness, ready to rend with outstretched claws.

A short round of combat established for certain the nature of these creatures, as the wounds cut by the adventurers' swords rapidly began to heal. Only Shoopie's sword versus regenerating creatures and Sten's flaming sword caused lasting wounds. But the punishment dished out by the party proved too much for the trolls, lasting or not; and in the end only one of the creatures escaped into the darkness, leaving its fellows on the cavern floor, covered in oil and set fire until burned to death by the characters.

So ended this expedition into the Glimmervaults--wildly successful if the amount of booze bought and drunk on the night of their return is any indication; and yet Drang remains at the inn, not entirely satisfied with the outcome of the expedition ...

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Greyhame Game Expedition 86

It's been a long time since I posted regarding this game (Expedition 30, the killing of the Goblin King, was the last time). Actually, it's been since October last year that I've posted at all, but we're finally playing the Greyhame Mountain Dungeon itself again, so I feel the impetus ...

So ...


Much has happened in the time since the killing and capturing of the Goblin King. An entire year has passed, and another half a year beyond that. Many of the adventurers from the original expeditions have moved on or retired, but others are still in the thick of it, risking much for sweet, sweet lucre.

Kord the Half-Orc has captured the castle of Waldburg to the east of the original hometown of Brakeridge; Lailith the Matriarch has taken the castle of Drachenturm from a nest of wyverns and had it repaired.

The Goblin King was turned over to the Elves for a large weregild, and he has presumably been tortured and crucified, as the Elves swore they would do. The Lord of Werewolves has allied himself with Viteric, Red King of the Getae barbarians, and together they make war on the Elves. An undead dragon and its hoard were discovered in the dungeons beneath the Howling Tower. Another dungeon-complex entire was explored in the hills to the northwest, and the cult of Skotia, goddess of darkness and death, was driven out, while the shrines and burial halls of Law and Good within were restored.

New adventurers have arrived to join in on the exploration of the deeps seeking gold, power, and glory, and at long last, expeditions have returned to the Greyhame Mountain Dungeon, led by Koko the Woman-Ape, who sought Okok the Ape-Chief somewhere in the Howling Tower ...


the roster for 21 March:
Koko (woman-ape)
Torrack and Torg (ogres)
Mizer and Blackleaf (magic-users, Blackleaf formerly an Elf)
Alan and Rolf Rolfson (clerics, Rolf a Getae tribesman)
Lucky Bob (traveling man)
and four hirelings
and five dogs

During last week's session, Koko, Blackleaf, and others discovered that the Howling Tower was howling again--wolves have gathered in large numbers in the wilderness around it, as well as some eerie, eldritch howling from within--and more surprisingly, the tower had been surrounded by a stockade of wooden palisades and longhouses populated by a tribe of Getae barbarians and their wolf and goblin allies. Not much was discovered during this expedition, but a number of slaves were freed from within the tower's dungeon, and they were able to relate that Okok and the other apes were driven down from the tower into the depths of the dungeon.

With that intelligence, the goal of this week's expedition was to delve into the depths and discover just where Okok had ended up. Koko took the lead, taking the company of adventurers to the secret entrance on the side of the ridge that pierces directly into the tower dungeon without need to enter the tower itself (which remains fortified behind the barbarians' stockade). This secret entrance once housed terrible insectile horrors, but for now retains only their large, empty egg sacs.

Emerging from the tunnel into the dungeon, Koko and Alan pored over the maps from previous expeditions and agreed on the fastest route through the first dungeon level to the stair down to the second. To that end, they skirted around the perimeter of the level and avoided any encounters with goblins or wolves (which still inhabit the dungeon in large numbers).

Coming down to the second level, Alan pointed out that perhaps one of his dogs could scent out Okok and his apes. Having the dog sniff Koko, and then letting it sniff around in the corridors of the second level, the dog soon scented something and pointed the party through several corridors, south, and then west. They passed through the room with the star well, which seems open to the night sky itself, and then headed west through some chambers not previously explored.

The main chamber thus explored was a huge gallery with a glittering black statue of a dragon in the center of the hall, marked ANGLAMORATH in the Elvish script. The belly of this serpentine idol was studded with gems, gold, and other coinage. But as Alan reached out, hoping to pry off a gem, he recoiled in pain, and then looked in horror on the gaping mouth of the idol, from which a huge and terrible serpent of blackest hue was slithering its way out.

Alan attempted to turn the giant snake into a log with snakes to sticks, but it had no effect; neither did Koko's ring of animal control. Then the serpent was free to attack, and it chomped down hard on Alan, nearly killing him.

A short, hard battle ensued. Mizer and Blackleaf threw a number of magic missiles at the creature, while the ogres and their dogs joined Alan and his hirelings in melee. But the next round, the creature breathed forth a cloud of acrid, toxic vapors, and Alan and his hirelings fell dead in the midst. Blackleaf attempted to dimension door the creature away and over the star well down the corridor, but the creature made its save; then Mizer cast web over it, and the serpent was slain as it thrashed about trying to break through.

The creature's body melted into foul black ichor and roiling billows of acrid smoke; but alas, even with the guardian destroyed, the magic in the statue prevented anyone from seizing its treasure without taking damage.

Returning to their purpose, the party looked to their tracking hound. It pointed west; after a short series of corridors, and a room with a stair down to the next level, the party found itself in a series of natural caverns with formations of stalactites and stalagmites, and listening carefully, they could hear dimly the sound of a feminine voice raised in song to the south, and too, the huffing of apes.

At the end of these passages, the party found a large chamber, half-filled with a pool of crystalline water fed by a deep stream that cut between the corridor and the chamber. In the midst of the pool, perched on a rounded off stalagmite, a naked and beautiful naiad sang sweetly for an audience of six apes, one among them the great silverback Okok, chief of the apes.

Koko immediately moved forward to join Okok--they were previously on friendly terms, after an expedition long ago, when the party had granted Okok the red flower of fire in return for friendship and/or treasure. Plucking each other's fur for lice, they exchanged pleasantries; Okok boasted of his warrior apes, despite having been driven out of the tower by the Getae, and Koko offered the chance to make an alliance and drive the Getae out of the tower from below. Okok was quite happy to agree to this.

Meanwhile, the naiad was making eyes at the party, but she couldn't stop singing to talk without the other apes getting riled up. It seemed the apes were enjoying a feast of raw giant crawfish, fished out of the cave pool, while listening to the wonderful singing of the nymph. After some abortive attempts to draw the apes away or cast a magical sleep over them, Torrack the ogre finally offered the cask of wine he was carrying (and another crawfish that the party had slept when attempting to get across the stream earlier), all to be a feast if only the apes would lead them to the next chamber over where more of their fellows were resting. This finally won the apes over, so they all moved on, allowing Blackleaf some time to speak with the naiad alone.

She called herself Niriel, and declared that she had been swept down into the dungeon by the swift flowing stream, but unable to return up to her sisters in the Brokenbrand Falls because of the strong current on the one hand, and the dungeon full of wolves and goblins on the other hand, and by the gods! would she be grateful if the adventurers would help her get out of the dungeon, and please, please, I don't want to sing for these dirty apes anymore.

The apes perked their ears at the sudden lack of singing, but Okok settled them--"Don't worry, friends, once we've feasted here, we'll go out and squeeze her again to get her singing again," and the apes went back to feasting.

So; Koko had found Okok and made alliance with him at last. It was agreed that Okok would remain in the dungeon, and that the adventurers would return soon to begin their joint operations against the Getae and their werewolves. Meanwhile, Niriel was wrapped up in a spare cloak to hide her nakedness, and bundled out of the dungeon, protected in the midst of the party as they made their way out on the double. Outside, she took her leave of them (and their cloak), promising to tell her sisters of the favor done her by them, with the implication of a favor owed by the naiads if ever it should be called in.

Back in Brakeridge, Alan, Mizer, and the ogres caroused, and their drunken boasting is of course the source of the intelligence spilled above.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Seizing the Initiative

I've seen some posts in the OSR blogosphere about initiative that are interesting in their takes on the idea, but to which I want to respond ...

In Dungeons and Dragons, of course, "initiative" is the roll that one makes at the beginning of combat (either once, or every round of combat, depending on editions ...) which determines the order of combatants and their actions.

Noisms at Monsters and Manuals talks about it directly in "Seizing the Initiative", in which he points out that "initiative" is a thing that one can actually observe "being seized" in sports matches or in historical accounts of battle, even if the precise ... Platonic ideal, one could say ... cannot be directly observed. In a match between two teams, one of them suddenly takes charge seemingly of everything and destroys the other team. This is not modeled well in the D&D "roll for initiative" rule, he argues, and might better be modeled by some action that could be taken by players or NPC enemies to "seize the initiative" for their team and ensure that they act first (until the initiative is taken back).

Emmy Allen at Cavegirl's Game Stuff has an excellent post about how RPGs fail to model the realities of skirmishes and combat when one has actually partaken in modern recreations of melee combats with swords, spears, shields, etc ("Shit games don't get about combat situations"). She doesn't talk about initiative in particular, so much as "reach" weapons (spears), missile weapons, shield walls, and formations in general, and their effects on the people involved in a combat. But these things are basic parts of "initiative" ... some D&D games use "reach" as the deciding factor for "initiative", i.e. spears always strike before swords ... AD&D complicated things by having smaller/faster weapons strike first after the initial round, though this is not unreasonable when considering the effect of the Spanish rodelleros (using sword and buckler) against pike formations in the 16th C.

And just recently, Patrick Stuart at False Machine has written an idea for initiative in which it is literally a physical thing carried by the characters which can be seized back and forth, OR as a mechanic related to how much information the player/characters are trying to ascertain before they act, this post being, "Physical Initiative and Query Initiative". In a sense, I quite like the Physical Initiative--you could tie it to a standard bearer-character, or a drum/pipes character keeping time for the march, and if they are captured or killed, they can no longer provide initiative for their own team (Patrick has even more bizarre and interesting versions that are worth checking out).


So these are all interesting ways to think about what D&D or its descendants are modeling, and about how one might model things in one's own game to better match what one thinks "initiative" is (or more broadly, just to remember that any game mechanic can be fiddled with, changed, or forgotten, to fit what you want to happen in your game!).

But, I think this quibbling over "initiative" as a mechanic actually misses the initiative of those playing the game. Sure, in my game as in most "OSR" games, a d6 is rolled each round, one for the player/characters, one for the monsters they're fighting, and the higher result wins. There are lots of fiddly particulars depending on the referee--Aleksandr Revzin has the players win on a tied roll; I ask magic-users to declare spells before initiative is rolled, and if their side loses initiative and they get struck by an attack, their spell fizzles; also, concerning tied rolls, I have all attacks happen simultaneously, so that even those "killed" in the round still get their attacks off.

All of this is largely cosmetic, though.

Initiative proper is whether the players understand what's going on well enough in the melee to coordinate their attacks. Better yet, initiative is the players having planned the melee before hand, lured the monsters to where they want them to be, and then to attack them with maximum force.

A die roll, you go first/they go first doesn't matter much when one side has overwhelming odds. Players who understand that, set the situation up to have overwhelming odds, and then engage--those are the players who actually have the initiative.

As referees, truthfully, we could always have the initiative. We have fuller knowledge of the environment, of the numbers the goblin (or whatever) tribe could bring to bear when fully alarmed, of the tricks, traps, and spells that can be brought to bear against the players. But the game is designed to allow the players to have the initiative (usually); they enter the goblin-caves of their own will; they are the ones sneaking around, choosing where to go; if they set off the alarm, so be it, but they have their own wits about them to try to silence any alarm they can.

Even when they do end up in melee combat, the player/characters can take the initiative. Stand in the hallway rather than the broad chamber so you can set up an un-flankable battle-line; lay down flaming oil to keep enemies off your flank when you can't withdraw in time; focus attacks on one enemy at a time to make sure they go down, rather than dividing attention among multiple foes; all of these and more are tactics that will see a party through, regardless of what they roll for initiative any particular round.

I don't know how many combats I've watched as a referee in which players just attack whatever, and nobody takes the initiative to direct their fellows as to the best course of action. Melees like that go fine against goblins ... but against well coordinated enemies, they tend to go poorly. I think initiative is already in the hands of the players ... the dice roll is just there to keep things from being stale (yeah, don't get me started on waiting an hour to get back around to my turn in 3e/Pathfinder/5e!!)

Monday, August 20, 2018

DIY 30 #16: Three Scrolls

Continuing the "three magic items" theme, esp. those that are not magic swords, have three new scrolls:

Scroll of Tongues
A short vellum scroll; all writing on it disappears after a day, leaving the scroll free for further writings.

The value of this scroll lies not in any permanent record, but rather in the fact that anything written upon it in one language can be read by any literate creature, regardless of their own native language. E.g. a human might write a message on the scroll in the Common tongue, and an Elf might read the same message in Elvish while an orc would read it in Orcish, or a giant in Giantish.

Alas, it is nearly useless for learning new languages, because the reader comprehends whatever was written in his own native tongue ...

Scroll of Spellcatching
Prized especially by spellcasters eager to learn new spells, nevertheless, this scroll is useful to any class of character. It is a blank scroll; when carried upon one's person, it will "catch" the first spell cast against the person, totally negating the spell's effect, and inscribing the spell's formula magically onto the scroll (even a fireball spell would be affected, albeit partially; the carrier of this scroll would be immune to the damage of the spell, and the spell would be inscribed upon the scroll; but the magic would act normally upon all others within the radius of the spell's effect).

Though any spell level may be "caught" and negated in this way, the scroll will only every "catch" one spell. After that, it counts as a spell scroll with that particular spell inscribed upon it (to be used or learned by a magic-user, and unusable by any other class but perhaps a high level thief). Those unable to cast or learn spells from scrolls will find the item useless at this point ...

Scroll of Psalms
A scroll of paeans to the right gods ... only clerics (or other priest-like classes) may use these scrolls, and then only by chanting the psalms or paeans round-by-round.

A character chanting the poetic prayers upon the scroll cannot otherwise act; they are essentially casting a spell, though insofar as they are chanting prayers from the scroll, the effects cannot be fizzled like a spell in melee.

After 1 round of chanting, all allies within 30' gain a +1 to hit; after 2 rounds, allies within 30' gain a +1 to damage; after 3 rounds, allies within 30' gain a bonus of 1 to their armor class; after 4 rounds, allies within 30' receive 1-6 hit points, either as direct healing, or as "temporary hit points". The "chanter" of the scroll must continue to chant each round thereafter for his allies to retain these bonuses; if the chanting ceases, so too do the benefits proffered by the scroll.

Rune Wand
A bonus "scroll" type ... Items of this sort are long wands carved with a series of runes representing a spell; they are functionally identical to spell scrolls (whatever spell is contained within is "used up" when the runes are activated by reading them), and are just a different medium of storage of the magical dweomers.

DIY 30 #15: Three Potions

Continuing the thought that I tend to think of items as magic swords or magic rings, here are three potions to offset my predilections:

Potion of Elemental Fury
These potions imbue the drinker with the power of one of the four dominant types of elementals (fire, water, earth, air; roll a d4 to randomly determine the type associated with the potion). A fire potion burns as it goes down and fills the drinker with a fiery heat; an earth potion is gritty like thick coffee, and fills the drinker with a sense of gravity and deep connection; a water potion tastes of seawater, but fills the drinker with a sense of liquid grace; an air potion seems but a breath of heavy gas which leaves the drinker light-headed and with a sense of "floating".

All potions of elemental fury cause a creature to fight as a staff elemental of the potion's type (AC 2, HD 8, unarmed damage 1-8), but each potion also grants additional abilities appropriate to its type:
-- fire grants fire immunity, so that even magical fire attacks deal no damage;
-- earth grants regeneration of 1 hit point per round, and poison immunity so that poisons do not affect the drinker;
-- water grants waterbreathing and immunity to any kind of gas-based spell, e.g. cloudkill or stinking cloud;
-- air grants the ability to fly, as well as protection from normal missiles as the spell

Characters affected by a potion of elemental fury are incapable of breaking through a circle of protection against elementals like that created by a scroll of protection versus elementals.

Memory Moss
Not a potion per se, but a "helping" of obliviax (memory moss), this black mold can easily be swallowed over the course of a melee round. It is alive with the "memory" of one spell from 1st to 3rd level (determine level randomly with a d6, so 1-3 is 1st level, 4-5 is 2nd level, 6 is 3rd, and roll the spell randomly once level is determined). The only way to know what spell is contained within is to eat the moss.

A character eating the moss gains the ability to use the spell contained within as if they were a magic-user that had memorized it (i.e. just the once). Even a fighter or a thief could eat the moss and thus be able to cast the spell, but neither such character would be able to cast the spell while wearing armor.

There is, of course, the risk of attaining undesired memories by eating memory moss. A successful save versus spells allows a character to ignore such alien memories, but the referee is free to create new plot hooks or strange behavioral hang-ups for those who fail the save ...

Dweomer Potion
Without access to a good reference library, this potion is night worthless; such a potion, dripped over an enchanted item, throws off certain auras and other magical signs that may be cross-referenced in the correct tomes to identify the magic item's properties. The potion is viscous and tastes vaguely of salts and minerals; anyone with memorized spells will cause it to react as it would to a magic item, such that the dwimmers give off an aura and a slight scent of ozone.

Each potion contains enough material to identify 2-7 items or potions. Characters with extensive libraries for magical research (worth 5000+ gp), or perhaps specific encyclopedias, will have a decent or better chance to succeed with the potion for themselves, using their own reference works.

Sages will always buy these potions, though they will talk the price down as much as possible. It is up to the sellers to determine its real worth for the buyer.

Love Potion
Bonus potion, don't forget love potions. They're good for role-playing, and/or for getting players to come up with creative ways to get past encounters using them.