Sunday, 28 May 2017

[REVIEW] The Fall of Whitecliff

[REVIEW] The Fall of Whitecliff
by Ben Gibson
Published by Coldlight Press

The Fall of Whitecliff
Imprisoned by Charl Rankin, the dastardly Castellan of the coastal fortress of Whitecliff, the characters must first escape from their predicament, and then exact their revenge on their captor while exploring a peninsula thrown into turmoil by repression, rebellious locals, shadowy interest groups, and an ancient secret. There is an entire starting-level mini-campaign in the module’s 22 densely written pages, which is arranged around nine adventure sites presented in the one-page dungeon format, and five supplementary pages that tie together the mini-campaign/sandbox.

Starting in a prison cell is a strong premise that gives a mostly non-linear sandbox scenario a useful focus in the form of immediate goals the characters can strive for, and a nemesis they will be all too happy to work against (there is some extra added value in the six pregenerated characters who all have different motivations to go toe-to-toe with the Castellan). This approach walks a fine balance between drive and freedom, although it also means much of the module’s content is closely tied to the Castellan’s machinations, and its adventuring potential is probably going to be fairly exhausted by the time the characters depose him.

The module’s strength lies in its sandbox approach. Letting the company work out their own strategy to topple Charl Rankin is accommodated by the way the different locales and factions are set up. Multiple groups on the peninsula have a stake in the Castellan’s fate, but actually getting rid of him for good is harder than you would expect at first: this complication requires the characters to find out more about their enemy and about the Whitecliff lands. The entire module has an interesting aesthetic and approach I wouldn’t classify as fully old-school. Rather, its roots lie in the early 3e era, before 3e adventure design was mostly overtaken by considerations of balance, mechanical experimentation and the heavily linear adventure path philosophy (this is a Pathfinder release, with conversion notes for 5e and old school games). It proves something I have advocated for a long while, namely that 3e can work well in the right hands, and where its excesses are trimmed back a little. There is also some neat flavour in the setting: it is believably frontier-like, and it is a good example of a points of light area.

Dense text
The module’s weaknesses lie in its format and presentation. Much effort was made to fit it into a tight package and place vital information at your fingertips via the one-page dungeon format, but to my eyes, the results show the limitations of this approach. The one-page adventure sites often feel sparse in their encounters – the detail which makes a place feel live and complex is reined in. It is not the author’s imagination or writing skills which are in short supply; rather, it is sticking to the one-page format which are limiting him. Flavour takes room to establish, and while some designers can impart it through a terse text, this doesn’t work in this particular module.

The advantages of having all information on a single page are also counterbalanced by the density and (ironically) inaccessibility of the text. Vital information gets lost easily in the densely packed small type. There are virtually no margins and very little white space since the space around the maps is filled with text, frustrating the GM’s own note-taking. Sometimes, the information is so condensed it is hard to follow (this extends to the supplementary pages dealing with campaign-level information).

Once again, I am not arguing against brevity, efficiency or innovative ways of presenting game-relevant information, but I find the module’s efforts self-defeating. You will need a highlighter if you want to find useful info in this module, just like you would need it in a traditionally written scenario. While reading through the module, finding information was not any easier than elsewhere. The dreaded two-column layout, while surely antiquated and uncool, has its advantages that help people process information. Margins and white space are not a waste of good paper, they have a purpose (even if I have my doubts about the extra-airy design you can see elsewhere). I feel like this is just too much. What would happen if the one-pagers were two-pagers instead? Would it really be the end of the world?

There are some rather neat additions at the end of the module where it is all fine: a list of twenty random encounters at one line each, and a table of fifty imaginative treasures which are assigned to the module’s random hoards. These are places where the supplement’s brevity works quite well, combining accessibility and efficiency with flavour. Elsewhere, being less dogmatic about the format would have been to the module’s advantage. Indeed, I would very much like to see more from Ben Gibson. But I would very much like him to let his material breathe a little.

No playtesters were credited in the adventure.

Rating: *** / *****

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

[REVIEW] Death in Reik Caverns

[REVIEW] Death in Reik Caverns
by Cactus Games Staff
Published by Cactus Games

Few gaming products I have read have been more deeply rooted in a certain time and place than this adventure module. Death in Reik Caverns was run as a tournament scenario at GEN CON 92’ for 7th to 11th level characters, and it is an interesting time capsule of the late 1st edition – early 2nd edition AD&D era. This was not the best time of adventure design; poorly playtested, overwritten and sometimes plainly non-functional modules ruled the official AD&D® landscape, while fan materials were neither as numerous, nor as interesting as a decade before. Much of the good practice of the 1st edition classics was gone. Death in the Reik Caverns is better than most of its official or home-made peers because it follows in the footsteps of good modules, but it can’t escape the typical flaws of its time.

Pastel Memories
The first thing about this module is the anonymity of its creators. It is published by Cactus Games, and credited to the Cactus Games Staff. Neither the author nor the cartographer or the illustrator – whose grotesque, sometimes bloody images are pretty funny – nor any other contributors are named despite the hefty 60-page size and the decent production values. There isn’t even a copyright notice. Do they still think TSR is out to sue them? Proudly identifying Death in Reik Caverns as a “1st Ed. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons / OGL” module, and setting it in the World of “Darkhawk” is a bit like tempting fate, but frankly, nobody cares anymore, and giving credit is the right thing to do. Also, am I the only one who immediately associates the title with WFRP's Death on the Reik?

The setup is not bad. Evil humanoids have been harassing the little market town of Breehaven, and although they have been beaten back so far, a recent change in leadership and organisation has caused them to become more dangerous and aggressive. This is pretty much Against the Giants, except there is a convenient time limit involved because the monsters have taken the whole village militia prisoner, and they are currently preparing to strike Breehaven and wipe it off the face of the Oerth. That’s nice: it establishes the stakes, gives the bad guys a plan, and tells the players to get their stuff together or there will be consequences.

Here is another straight out admirable thing about Death in the Reik Caverns: it is not afraid to be ambitious. It is a properly large, properly complex one-level dungeon with 85 keyed areas and a two-page map. It has a neat structure where there is an element of progression (gaining access to new areas via a few chokepoints) but also an expansive element of exploration. The caverns have multiple sub-sections, as well as a central underground lair formerly inhabited by a 30th level Wizard, and now occupied by the main baddies and their humanoid army. Now this is a dungeon. Having seen too many lair-sized efforts from old-schoolers with the usual fifteen-odd rooms, it is nice to see someone think a little bigger. This is not campaign-length, just large enough to allow for some proper exploration, and maybe getting lost once or twice in a while.

Day: ruined
The content of the dungeon is regrettably less interesting. There is functional but blandish boxed text that assumes too much (“Dozens of arrows start flying in your direction before you have a chance to do anything.”, “It all happens before you have time to react.”), and occasionally assumes the party consists of idiots (there is a long description of a kitchen followed by “This room is no doubt a kitchen.”, and a “Stone Golem Storage Room” where the text ends with “To your surprise, it comes to life and attacks.” – no shit, Gandalf). It is much less worse than late TSR boxed text that goes on and on for pages, but it is pretty bad. The main encounter entries also have a smirking thing going about red herrings and wild goose chases – it used to be funny to read how the players will think this or that empty room contains secret doors or valuables, but it got old many encounters and way more than 25 years ago. I am not entirely impressed by the way the module interprets the AD&D rules – I get the impression of a GM who is bending them in his own favour to an unfair degree with too many gotchas (mainly to make low-level monsters and traps more deadly for a high-level group), and applying them inconsistently to boot (some spiked pits work different than the others). These issues can be fixed.

The encounters are mostly a long succession of monster outposts, lairs (you can slaughter various kinds of humanoid women and children if you like), store rooms, traps and standard cabinet contents / dungeon dressing stuff. There is mundane trash and occasionally magical trash. Sometimes the combat encounters are memorable and clever, and if you like a lot of high-level tactical combat with hordes of dug-in enemies, this could be your module. If we evaluate it as a meat-grinder, it is a fairly decent one, although relatively little is made of the fact that this is a monster military waiting for the call to action. While the garrison in Reik Caverns is at full readiness (the monsters are all prepared and just a little too hair-trigger perfect in jumping to action as soon as the characters come close), there is no textual reference to lines of communication, contingency plans or working together. The humanoid groups just seem to await the time they are encountered, and don’t work as a cohesive group, or even as a grou with hidden enmities. (Although if they worked together, it would probably be a massacre.)

What is missing is the spirit of whimsy and magic which transformed the classic deathfests like Against the Giants (which, again, this is basically an homage to) or Keep on the Borderlands into something more than a combat scenario. There is none of the crazy mushroom forests, magic pools and elder god shrines with mauve pillars out of a different dimension that told you you were in a fantastic place, and hinted of a larger world beyond the dungeon. The Reik Caverns are just there. You explore this cavern system, but don’t actually discover anything worth discovering. It is almost all rationalised, mundane stuff, and when it is magical, it is over-explained magical realism – here is a room where the wizard received his visitors, here is where he left a wall of force, etc. No surprises, no memorable imagery: the best part is the place where the wizard has a floor of hexagonal tiles depicting the World of Darkhawk in minute detail, but that’s one room in a long, long series of dug-in monsters and traps.

To sum up, Death in the Reik Caverns does a bunch of things right, but can’t keep up the original good impression. In many ways, it is a typical 2nd edition AD&D dungeon with all the problems of 2nd edition era design. It was created in a period when the craft of adventure writing was at its nadir, and if it was evaluated in its original context, it would stand up pretty well. From the vantage point of a more fortunate age, its flaws are too apparent, and it offers too little to compensate.

Rating: ** / *****
Wait... How the fuck did I get here?!

Saturday, 6 May 2017

[CAMPAIGN JOURNAL] The Inheritance #08: The Griffin Lord

It was already dark and the flames were burning by the gates of Haghill when a tired and battered group of travellers asked for admittance. They were Gadur Yir the half-orc, Drolhaf Haffnarskørung the civilised Northman, the shadowy Franz Who Wasn’t Even There, and a short and pudgy little fellow who now called himself Phil the Terror of Turkeys. They were inspected by the night sergeant, until at last the man held out his hand: “It will be two silvers at night.
His eyes grew wide as Gadur Yir handed him an electrum coin: “So you are with them! Why didn’t you say so from the start?
Whatever the man meant, they were ushered through, and they could mingle with the crowds between the Mead Hall and the Treasury & Mint – as seasoned adventurers, careful to watch their purses as they made for the Dancing Basilisk. Someone else in the crowd was not so lucky. Cursing his misfortune after finding his bag of money gone, a shadowy form made for the side street, hoping to find either the thief who had wronged him, or at least employment to earn the money back.


The tavern’s common room was again crowded with revellers; local farmers, travellers; a sullen dark fellow by the fire, and an elegantly dressed man in a black, gold-embroidered coat. The company (minus Drolhaf, whose player was absent) sat down next to a newly freed table, and were surprised to find someone else sitting down with them.
Greetings!” came the cheerful call of a short dwarf with a braided black beard, a large sword on his back. “I would seek friends for a fine adventure. By the name of Haldor, would you be interested?
Gadur Yir blinked, then grinned. “Ha! I am none else but Haldor’s champion, my friend!
The dark fellow next to the fire looked interested, then sauntered to the counter to pay before leaving. The dwarf introduced himself as Balthasar the Elf-bane: “...and when I was just a tot, I was already beheading elves. I have fought in three of the dwarf-elf wars... the thirteenth, the fourteenth and the fifteenth.”

They drank and talked some more, until the conversation came to the subject of the abandoned mines. Balthasar was not the only one who was interested in the wild tales; among others, a portly traveller’s interest was also piqued.
I did not even know of these fabulous mines. Where did they lay?”
“They were...” Gadur Yir grimaced as Phil the Terror of Turkeys elbowed him in the gut. “They were to the north.
The stranger smiled and introduced himself as Bramerlic, a dealer in rare minerals. The conversation turned to business, and eventually, Gadur Yir struck a bargain: the stranger would examine the crystals they found in the mines the next morning. Franz, already a little tipsy, ordered the house’s strongest drink, the Gurgling Brew (“Kotyogó Fortyogó”); then, as the tavern owner came forward with the bottle, placed 200 gp before the man and the astounded guests as every eye tjrned towards their table.
Prepare a feast for tomorrow evening, invite everyone, and don’t you skimp on the food and the drink!

As they discussed the details, the mineral dealer, who was feeling drowsy, left, and his place was soon taken by the elegantly dressed man, who seemed much impressed by Franz and his gesture. His name was Eldiband, a judge who was travelling to Gont to oversee a land dispute.
I am from the Twelve Kingdoms, originally – I was asked to decide in this case because I am a neutral party with no interest in the quarrel – they wouldn’t even let the Baklin judges handle it” he recounted.
"Land dispute?"
"Some kind of old manor house, long abandoned - lots of claims, but all weak."
Feigning to be sleepy, Phil the Terror of Turkeys slipped below the table and examined the man’s belt. He was wearing a long, straight sword and a full money pouch.
And can you handle your sword, Sir?” asked Balthasar Elf-bane. “I mean: have you been free from threats and the like?
Why, that’s the reason I carry this”, smiled Edilband, failing to notice Phil as he put a pinch of confusion-inducing poison in his wine. Soon, he was thoroughly wasted, and Phil made away with the purse, which he discovered contained 50 pieces of silver, 80 pieces of gold, and a small pouch of cloves.


The night was uneventful save for rattling noises out in the corridor and drunks banging on the doors. In the morning, Gadur Yir went down to the common room to meet Bramerlic the mineral dealer and make the deal, but Bramerlic didn’t turn up. Bored, he went to see the armourer and have his bent pauldron fixed. He paid in advance, but the armourer looked more sour than happy.
Your kind again, and your mud-covered electrums you dug out from one of those old graves! Truglag and Rothald’s kin in Haghill, making trouble!”
At last the half-orc could convince the fellow he didn’t know these people, and it was a case of mistaken identity. The complains continued to flow, and the armourer recounted how a tavern frequented by orcs and their kind seemed to have sprung up in the nearby Singing Caverns along with a bandit lair... a cave system whose depths held the untamed forces of nature.

Meanwhile, Phil and Franz paid a visit to the Haghill temple, an over-large and cobwebbed structure left over from the old days, and now used as a shrine to Filongar, the humble god of wayfarers and woodsmen. Father Bronk, a mild-mannered young man, bought the crystals Franz had pilfered from Gadur Yir and Drolhaf, and also had a few wares to sell: simple medicines for simple folks, a healing potion to the wealthy, and relaxing pipeweed for a pleasant mood.
And what do the spiders eat?” Greg asked, eyeing a spider that was almost his size.
Father Bronk smiled. “Large flies who venture into the church... occasionally bees.
Plenty of them around. There is a strange man in the nearby caves who cares for them, the one we call The Beekeeper. Maybe he is touched by the gods, or maybe he is mad, but all the same – he is not one to cross!
Talk turned to Haghill, and the pair learned of something interesting. Right next to the church, there was a rectangular, windowless building called the Chamber of the Griffon, which nobody has entered in human memory. Many had tried its complicated locks and failed, and Sir Huberic of Haghill had announced that whosoever would solve its enigma was welcome to try, and gain from its riches.

Meanwhile, Gadur Yir noticed that Bramerlic still didn’t show up. Could he be so late? When the others were back along with Balthasar the Elf-bane, he called to the innkeeper to lead them to the man’s rented room – right across the corridor from theirs.
Mr. Bramerlic?” Silence. “Mr. Bramerlic, are you there?” No response.
I will bash down the door if he doesn’t answer.
Quiet! We will buy you a new one.
The half-orc charged the door, which came crashing down. The room was a mess with everything thrown around haphazardly; there were traces of a struggle and Bramerlic, along with the blankets, was gone.
He must have been kidnapped!
Now it was the innkeeper’s place to protest: “But Sir! That can’t have happened in this inn!
Am I tired of this...” muttered Franz, and with a malevolent gaze and a few hand movements, hypnotised the fellow.
Now where is he?
Wha… whaaaa?
Where do your special guests sleep, knave?
The innkeeper shuffled along the corridor, and tapped a section of the wall. A narrow panel slid open, allowing entry into a tiny, cramped room with a cot, and no other exit.
Has anyone been there lately?
The gentleman from Gont… he showed the ring… the ring…
He could say no more. The bird – if he had anything to do with the mineral dealer – had fled.


Now that the crystal sale was off, Gadur Yir decided to make up for the lost opportunity at Filongar’s temple. He showed Father Bronk his piece of the enchanted flower, and took his offer for a cache of magical potions. He tried to ask for an audience at the residence of the local sage, Villofort the Wizard, but there was no answer, and the neighbours told him he wasn’t home. He also took a good look at the Chamber of the Griffon, examining the threefold lock and the three wafer-thin slots on the bronze gates. At last, he gathered the others, and walked over to the donjon at the northern end of the village to request an audience with Sir Huberic.

What a sight you lot are!” the fat autocrat laughed in his throne. Surrounded by bearskins, large hunting dogs and his close advisors, the master of Haghill listened to the introductions in a jovial but disinterested way. When Gadur Yir brought the subject to the chamber, he laughed, and said they were welcome to try and open the gates – but the whole village would be around to watch the spectacle. He also recounted how mighty fighters and clever thieves had failed, and how even removing the shingles from the rooftop only revealed a flat stone surface.
Maybe we will get in with the power of faith” proposed the half-orc.
That’s an original one!” smirked Sir Huberic.

Slightly later, a small army of sightseers gathered to see another group fail in some new and hopefully interesting way. Huberic and his retinue were there; the first on a large wooden throne, and the rest around him, all eager for a good show. And a show it was all right. First, Balthasar Elf-Bane made his try at uttering a prayer and rushing thegate, but it didn’t work. Then, Phil produced a bunch of delicate tools and tried to pick the lock, to no effect. The crowd was starting to get restless without entertainment. Franz Who Wasn’t Even There blended into the crowd and cast an illusion spell...

…A mighty griffon descended from the sky above the square. On its back rode an orc-faced angel who blew the horn in his hand, then exclaimed in a loud, resonant voice: “I am the bearer of the uttermost mysteries!
The villagers and pretty much everyone stood in awe of the spectacle. Then the angel spoke again, pointing at the scrawniest barefoot peasant kid in attendance.
He will be the one!
...and with that, the heavenly apparition was no more. Gadur Yir, collecting all his might and praying to Haldor, god of heroism, flexed his muscles, spat into his hands, then rushed the gate... ...and rolled a natural 20, which, together with his 18 Strength and a +1 from invoking the name of his patron, came up as an utterly impossible 24. The threefold lock slid open and the gate opened to the gasps and cries of the excited villagers.
The Pegasus Device
That’s something!” exclaimed Huberic, standing up in his wooden throne to see better.
Beyond the gate was a simple rectangular hall, its walls hung with several dusty old banners. On a central pedestal, there was a winged helmet with the stamped sign of a pegasus rider on a tiny shield, and a sword whose scabbard was decorated with griffons and twisting vines. Suddenly, despite the open way, nobody wanted to step forward into the hall and claim these treasures. There was an awkward silence.
He must enter!” cried Franz as he pointed at the kid.
Yes! He must enter!” came the cry from the crowd.
The boy, who looked tiny and stunned, stepped inside and, seeing that nothing had happened to him, reached for the winged helmet. An excited murmur went up as he turned around, the oversized helmet sitting lopsided on his head.
He is the one! He is the one!” the crowd went wild as he returned, and while Gadur Yir stepped inside to retrieve the sword.
Well, kid… what was your name again?” asked Huberic.
Little Greg.
From now on, let Little Greg be known as my own foster son, and I will raise him to be a mighty warrior for the time when he takes my place!
To the standing ovation of the crowd, the shocked Little Greg was lifted up, while Franz muttered to himself: “We will meet again, Little Greg... We will meet again.

That night, everyone in Haghill was eating, drinking and making merry. Huberic the Stout was celebrating the adoption of his son, and to the delight of the commons, Franz had also sponsored a feast at the Dancing Basilisk. This time, Huberic and his retinue had gathered on the lower floor of his tower, where the master of the village was throwing rings to the gathered guests – each member in the company, and others were richer by some valuable. There was some kind of scratching sound from below, and for a single moment, everything fell silent – there were rumoured to be things beneath the Tower of Torpid Terror, and Huberic had once sealed the lower entrances – but the moment passed, and the mood was merry again.

Let’s bring out the bear!” bellowed Huberic.
The bear! The bear! Bring out the bear!
A great brown bear in chains was dragged in by a group of guards, muzzled and its paws in leathers, but still powerful and dangerous.
Who shall wrestle it? To him I offer this ring!
Gadur Yir spat and grinned: “Why not?
They squared off, and the beast lunged, pinning the half-orc to the ground. A murmur rose in the audience of retainers and hangers-on. Phil the Terror of Turkeys quietly slipped under the table, and swiped the money pouch of a man who had just received a gemstone ring from Huberic. As for Franz, he had his own plans: quietly, he made his way behind Little Greg, and whispered into the boy’s ears.
What do you feel when wearing the helm?
Like a hero... leading an army!
Franz looked into the urchin’s eyes, and made a few hand gestures. “Don’t forget it – behind the griffin! You shall grant us special conduct.
Greg nodded in confusion while the bear squeezed poor Gadur Yir, who felt his bones crack in the vise of the beast – as Phil relieved another slack-jawed lackwit of his treasures. At last, six men pulled the bear back with a winch and its chain, and the half-orc was free. Huberic roared with laughter and threw him the beautiful ring anyway.
To Haldor, and heroism!” Gadur Yir raised his cup, to thunderous applause.


The morning after, Franz sunk into a fever dream of incense and visions, and saw himself wielding the sword found in the Chamber of the Griffon against a host of plant monsters. This was the famous sword of Tyr Wulos! (longsword +1, +3 vs. plants)

Shortly afterward – while most of the villagers were still sleeping – the company left Haghill and headed for the mysterious Singing Caverns across the river. They passed by a flowering meadow and a hut swarming with bees, and were soon standing before three cave entrances. Wind was blowing between the rocks, and this sound could be mistaken for faint singing. Balthasar the Elf-bane – who was outfitted with the company’s donations for a new set of armour – cast a light spell on his sword, and ventured forward through the middle entrance. It soon turned out that this passage was soon joined by the leftmost one, and they both lead to a small grotto with the burnt remains of a campfire, and a massive iron door barring further progress. The door had no keyhole, only a mesh on the top where bees were flying in and out, and three faces in bas-relief: one angered, one (painted by a previous explorer) sleepy, one laughing. Further examination revealed the faces could be turned around, and Phil ascertained the middle one was used most often but there were some suspicious grooves around it. Finally, Gadur Yir turned this face, and pulled away just before two protruding blades would have lopped off his fingers. It was Balthasar’s turn, who turned the face very carefully. The blades remained inside and the door opened.

The Singing Caverns

The grotto was followed by a cavern passage with several muddy footprints. Their trail lead north, but they decided to continue, then explore the southwest passage, the source of a wet earthy smell. The passage lead to a spacious cavern with multiple exits, lit up by massive mushrooms and overgrown with lush green vegetation. Finding nothing of value but some kind of black rot that was eating into some of the mushrooms, and a basketful of fresh raspberries (which Franz collected), they continued to the next cavern.

Great green leaves swayed in a gentle wind, and the smell of wet earth was everywhere. Among the plants, half-covered with colonies of moss, there was a primitive, half-hidden statue with three lips, waves indicating a hairy chest, and an enormous... club. Gadur Yir chose to investigate behind it, and found a crawlway behind it... but also found that the statue had moved and was intent on smashing him with its fist. Gadur Yir jumped back as the statue began to babble with its three mouths – capturing Phil’s attention, before he was saved by an audible glamer cast by Franz, the noise countering the babbling. The statue fought mercilessly and proved resistant to blows, but with some trouble (and Gadur Yir’s new magical weapon) it was at last brought down. The half-orc crawled into the hole on all fours, and, after poking his hand into some tarry substance, came back with a handful of bones and a palm-sized piece of metal forming a flat fish. There was nothing else here, but Balthasar’s detect magic – oriented on the crawlway – discovered the fish was at least magical.

They returned to the mushroom chamber, and proceeded north, into a roughly hewn west-east passage. To the west, the passage ended with a short flight of steps; from here, further stairs went down to the east, taking a turn to the north. Since they did not wish to descend even deeper, they turned west, feeling a slight draft and the smell of vegetation. Moss and plants grew on the floor of the passage, over the downward flight of steps further west and a small chamber to the north seemed full of them. Torn filaments of some kind littered the floor. This chamber – as Gadur Yir and Balthasar the Elf-bane found – also contained an open sarcophagus, overgrown with thin green vines bearing several finger-shaped pods. Two dusty, headless clay statues, of a large feline and a griffon, guarded the resting place. Bones and old linen seemed to rot inside the clay vessels. Gadur Yir turned back, stepping on a few pods, which split open as they crunched underfoot, and scattered their spherical  green seeds.
Peas? What the...” the half-orc grumbled, but his brooding was interrupted by the sound of heavy steps. Two crude stone statues emerged from the stairs, and attacked without hesitation. The statues were smaller and weaker than the one in the cavern, but the company was growing more exhausted, and both Gadur Yir and Balthasar were heavily wounded in the affair. In the end, Balthasar called out to Haldor to fill him with heroism, and dispatched both statues with a mighty series of blows.
Haldor is the greatest!” he cried.

Down the stairs, the passage turned northeast in a broad semi-circle. On the opposite wall were a series of carved glyphs, and a large depression, about two inches deep. Phil and Gadur Yir stood guard with lanterns while Franz and Balthasar began to decipher the runes.
I hear some kind of scraping noise from the southwest” growled Gadur Yir.
“Wait, we are getting there… T…H…Y…W…E…I…G…H…T…”
Hey, I hear some kind of heavy rolling noise from beyond the wall!” Gadur Yir was getting nervous.
Almost there! I…S…H…A…L…L…
The wall exploded into a myriad clay and stone shards as an immense rolling boulder crashed through it. Phil and Gadur Yir cried out and jumped backwards into the stairway. For a split second, Franz considered the possibility of what would happen if his patron, the mysterious Edoran of the Threefold Moon, intervened in the cosmic balance and stopped the boulder in its momentum. But the stone rolled on mercilessly, causing 26 points of damage and crushing Franz Who Wasn’t Even There and Balthasar the Elf-Bane under its massive weight.

The boulder rolled down the passage and crashed into something with a distant thud. Phil and Gadur Yir emerged to take a look at the carnage. There was an upwards, sloping semi-circular passage where the wall used to be. Nothing remained of Balthasar but a reddish smear and the ring he got from Sir Huberic. Nothing remained of Franz but a similar smear and the small basketful of raspberries, which he had inexplicably flung aside before he was crushed. Gadur Yir said a short prayer over the place as Phil watched – there was nothing left to bury properly – and they turned back towards the passage leading outside to the blooming meadows, and the walls of Haghill.

(Session date 7 April 2017).


Notable quotes:
I will take favoured enemy: doors.

Don’t panic, that’s just corpse grease on your hands.

My next character’s name will be ‘Why The Fuck Do You Care To Ask?’

If I see an inscription, I don’t expect it to kill me!


Referee’s notes: That escalated quickly. Starting with a few plot hooks on what was designed as a stopover with perhaps a little dungeoneering thrown in (I finally mapped and stocked the Singing Caverns!), the session culminated in “breaking” the Chamber of the Griffon and establishing Little Greg as Haghill's future ruler, then ended unceremoniously with an easy to avoid newbie trap.

The Chamber was one of the throwaway mysteries which could crop up later in the campaign, with a gate obviously meant to be opened by “plot items”. But what do you do when your players best it through inspiration and luck? When making his foolish and doomed attempt, Gadur Yir combined a natural 20 roll, his 18 Strength (+3), and the divine favour granted by invoking the name of Haldor (+1), and just barely beat Heroic difficulty (24) – something practically impossible with ability checks. I was prepared to laugh at the characters making fools of themselves – and Franz’s illusion could have easily been exposed as a fraud by Huberic’s court wizard – but the combination of events was so improbable, so utterly fantastic that it could not be anything but a resounding success. When you are given this kind of chance, you roll with it – and with that, the party gained a powerful ally, and Sir Huberic an adopted heir (whom I kinda imagined as Barron Trump).

Franz’s success was relatively short-lived. Establishing himself as the future power behind the throne (both figuratively and literally), and gaining a level after secretly throwing a lavish feast for the commons, he was flattened by a boulder trap designed with a beginner dungeon in mind. His great coup went unnoticed, and most of the commoners never even knew who had invited them. He died as he lived: as Franz Who Wasn’t Even There. Although, to be precise, the money was borrowed from Gadur Yir and Phil the Terror of Turkeys, just like Balthasar the Elf-bane’s new chain armour, which produced a lousy ROI if something ever did.

Finally, this adventure also marks the return of the sword of Tyr Wulos! This magical longsword +1 (+3 vs. plants) has a long and storied history. The item was named after a low-level fighter in our 3.0 campaign who was killed by a shambling mound, in the same adventure that claimed Grond the bugbear monk (my character), Morgos the dwarf fighter, Panther the barbarian/sorcerer (played by Phil’s player some 16 years ago!), Eldon the Purse the hobbit thief, and Valmard Levandell the sorcerer. In our Fomalhaut campaign, the sword was taken up by the fighter Gwyddion, who had received it from Panthozar, the priest-king of Khosura, at the behest of his advisor, the treacherous Taramis, Daughter of Zafar (she was very grateful for the assassasination of her rival and her return to the priest-king’s favour). Gwyddion carried the sword through the rest of the campaign, which was lost along with him in the cataclysmic detonation of a 35-megaton chromatic warhead and the destruction of the city of the Last Men. Now, chance has brought it into this campaign, and who knows where it will go.