Sunday, March 31, 2019

Terrinoth #30 - The Book and the Spring Part II

The party is separated by a wall of fire
Campaign Diary

The party made its way down the flight of stairs that led to the basement. Here, unlike the rest of the palace, the walls are unadorned.

(Click here for PC profiles)

The first part they came upon were the cellars and storage areas, but everything of value here must have been looted centuries or millennia ago.

Passing through this area, they then came upon the prison cells; one larger room had a plinth in its centre, with a groove that ran around its base - there were red-brown stains upon the plinth that looked like it old blood.

The passage then led to another flight of stairs, descending deeper into the bedrock that the palace stood upon. As they descended these stairs they felt a warmth in the air that came from the far end, which grew hotter as the further they descended, until at the last few steps they could see a glow at the end of the stairs.

A short passage led to a cavernous hall, its ceiling held up by tall pillars. In front of our heroes three stone bridges spanned a narrow chasm filled with fire. In the far end of the hall was a dias, at the centre of which was a round pit from which a glow was seen. Standing next to the pit was a tall man in fine robes; he held a staff in one hand. Next to the man, on bound and lying on the floor next to the pit, were two men dressed as the Medjani.

When he noticed the party the man spoke arcane words, and flames wreathed his form, but he appeared unharmed by it. Percy and Gio charged towards the man, but before Entana, Strigoi, and Finaz could follow, the man raised his hands, and a wall of flames rose up between them, cutting the party into two. To make things worse, beasts made up of flames leapt out of the chasm of fire, and began to attack our heroes.

Finaz spoke a spell and three simulacra of her appeared, confusing her attackers.

Strigoi doused himself with the water from his waterskin, and made ready to dash through the wall of fire.

Gio and Percy struck at the man, but even as they wounded him, they were themselves burned by the magical flamed that sheathed him.

Gloating, the man kicked one of the Medjani into the pit. Percy reached out, trying to save the man, but lost her footing and fell in after him, but was able to catch the edge of the pit in the nick of time. But even as the screams of the Medjani died, Percy saw a form emerging from the flames below her.

Strigoi charged through the wall of fire, his hair and clothing singed, and set upon the man before he could throw the second Medjani in.

By now the form in the pit had risen, and showed itself to be a creature of fire, in the shape of a giant. It raised one hand, and flung a ball of fire at our heroes, which caused grievous burns on them.

With her grasp slipping, Percy called upon the aid of Kellos, and her body de-materialised to reform a short distance away, on solid ground. Together she and Gio dragged the other Medjani to saferty behind a pillar, while Strigoi kept the man busy with his sword.

On the other side of the wall Entana channeled the magic of his Force runebound shard and caused a force to emanate from him - it struck the fire beasts with such force that they dissipated. Finaz copied Strigoi and doused herself with water, preparing to charge across the wall of fire too.

The man now called upon the fiery giant to life him up in its hand so he was out of reach to Strigoi - this however made him visible to Entana behind the wall of fire! Entana cast magical missiles at him, causing him to lose his balance - he fell off the giant's hand and clung on to its arm. Gio tried to use Fortuna's magic to pry the man's fingers loose from the giant's arm, but he managed to hold on until the giant placed him on the ground.

But by now Strigoi was ready: dropping his sword and shield, he pulled the two hand axes from his belt, and hurled them one after the other at the man; the first one struck his forearm, causing his staff to fall from his hand; a split-second later the other one struck his face, killing him instantly.

With its summoner dead, the wall of fire vanished, and the fire giant began to shrink, until at last it disappeared back into the pit.

The party now took time to heal themselves, and Strigoi claimed the head of the summoner's staff, then together with the Medjani they returned to the surface, and taking the men's camels and gold as loot, they started back for the Medjani camp.

The sun was setting when they were near the Medjani camp, and the Medjani, observing their approach from a distance, came out to welcome them back. Though sad at the loss of one of their own to the summoner, they were still grateful to our heroes - tomorrow they would enter Eresh, the Scented House, and try to make the spring of Essilim flow again.

Prepping and Running the Game

As I mentioned in the previous post, this encounter was the final part of the palace location in the module. I have reduced the whole "dungeon level" to a single location, and changed the features of the encounter area and the enemies based on the mat I had in my Giant Book of Battle Mats, and the fire-themed figurines I had in my collection.

Most of my sessions have the party going through two minor fights, before ending with a 'boss fight', and this session was no exception. It's rather formulaic, and I try to make things interesting for them by giving them some clues to the nature of the 'boss', and making the terrain and opponent tactically challenging.

This particular fight was challenging for two reason: the summoner had the ability to case fireball or wall of fire, which are both spells with high damage output capacity, and I also gave him immunity to fire-based attacks, which was important as most of Entana's damage-dealing spells were fire-based. I did this not to screw my players over, but because I decided that the summoner was a warlock who dealt with djiini, specifically efreeti.

The whole thing ties in with my interpretation of the history of Al-Kalim.

To me, the period during which the people of Al-Kalim were ruled by the djinni must have corresponded to the pre-Islamic era in our own history, and the period before then must likewise correspond to an even earlier period in our own history.

I looked at the various possibilities, and decided that in ancient times the humans of Al-Kalim must have developed great Bronze Age civilisations, and perhaps this civilisation then spread part of itself to the other continents too. Then must have come the Bronze Age collapse, which may correspond to a period of internecine warfare, during which the kings, desperate to obtain victory over their enemies, took to the summoning of demons or djinni. The djinni brought with them magic which allowed the kings to gain temporary advantage over each other, before the djinni then turned on their summoners and became rulers over humans. The wars between the djinni and their human armies must then correspond to the (relatively) short-live Mesopotamian empires that rose and fell and rose again, until at last they were conquered by the (successive dynasties of) Persians, which would correspond to a period of relative stability in the stage before the people overthrew their djinni overlords.

In the next session I will be able to reveal more of this to the players, and they may see themselves being written into the history of these people...

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Get Seth to 100K!

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So please head over and subscribe to his channel, and spread the word around.


Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Terrinoth #29 - The Book and the Spring Part I

The enemies are unable to get through the force field Entana created
Campaign Diary

The lost city of Essilim sat in a valley about two miles wide. At the middle was a large dried-up lake. On both sides of the lake were hundreds of ruined houses, most worn down by the desert winds to their foundations, and all but a few had lost their roofs.

On top of the southern slope of the valley stood the ruined palace. On the northern side a series of terraces led from the lake to a large structure with a domed roof mid-way up the hill. Further up the slope was a giant structure cut into the stone of the hill itself.

Surmising that the building with the domed roof was the source of the sacred spring, our heroes decided to make camp at one of the houses with an intact roof near there.

(Click here for PC profiles)

Arriving there, they found themselves challenged by several armed men dressed in black. Declaring themselves to be guardians of the royal tombs, they accused the party of being tomb robbers and demanded they depart immediately.

Through Finaz, our heroes explained that their mission was one of mercy, and after some deliberation the men agreed to let them rest in one of the houses while they discussed the matter with their leader.

Soon the leader of the guardians returned. Having heard the heroes' tale, he apologised for the manner of his men - they had just yesterday clashed with some tomb robbers, and two of them had been captured and brought to the ruined palace, where the robbers had made their base.

Once, he explained, the spring of Essilim was renowned for its healing powers, and the Sorcerer-Kings of the city grew in power and glory with each succeeding generation, until Edu-Ellikinu, the last of the line of Sorcerer-Kings, turned from the worship of the old gods to courting demons for more power. A civil war ensued between those who remained faithful to the old gods and Edu-Ellikinu and his supporters. The faithful, or the Medjani as they called themselves, called upon the old gods to curse Edu-Ellikinu, and they caused the spring to dry up. Men began to desert the city, and the priests would not serve Edu-Ellinkinu, and at last he was overthrown by his people, and fled into the royal tombs, where the faithful could not pursue, for the demons have placed monsters there to protect the king. Since then the Medjani had kept watch over the royal tombs, so that no man may enter the tombs and rouse Edu-Ellikinu.

Our heroes assured the Medjani that their goal was solely to restore the spring if they could, and offered to rescue the two captured Medjani in exchange for access to the domed Building, which the Medjani called Eresh, or the Scented House. The Medjani agreed.

Leaving the elder Vernier and Bram at the house, our heroes and Finaz proceeded to the old palace. It was mid-afternoon when they arrived at the opposite shore of the lake and began ascending the hill which the palace was built on.

Near the top, they were once again challenged, this time by men who declared that they had claimed the palace. An attempt to parley was greeted with a shower of arrows. In response the party charged up the hill, but their attackers fled back behind the fallen walls of the palace, and entered it.

Our heroes entered the palace through it broken walls, and found themselves in the foyer. Once more they were assailed by arrows, shot at them by archers on a balcony overlooking the foyer. Once more our heroes charged up the staircase to engage them, and once more they fell back into a room behind and barred the bronze doors behind them.

Gio climbed through the window in an adjacent room and attempted to enter the barred room via a window on the outside, but was discovered and chased off. Percy and Entana then decided to weaken the hinges of the door with the use of magical acid and fire, and once they were weakened Strigoi broke one door off its hinges, and holding it before him like a shield, charged into the room. One of the men were caught in the onslaught and thrown out of the window. The other heroes charged in after Strigoi, and a few more were cut down. The last survivor then charged at Strigoi's door, and together they both fell through the window and landed on the sandy ground below.

While the party busied themselves with recovering Strigoi, Finaz noted that the floor of the room was littered with hundreds of clay tablets, which suggested that this was the palace library or archive. Recovering a few tablets which were still legible, she used the statuette she had brought from the fort to decipher their writings. From these, they learned about a dungeon built below ground, and of dark summoning rites.

Entering an adjacent room, they found it contained two tables with grids upon them; small drawers on the sides of the tables contained playing pieces made of semi-precious stones - this was the king's games room. Ever curious for more knowledge, Percy copied the patterns of grid on the table, hoping to one day learn what games were played on them.

With most of the party injured, our heroes decided to take a rest in the games room. They pocketed the playing pieces, set the tables against the door leading tot he room, and Enatana used his Force runebound shard to throw up a domed shelter.

However, before the party could take a breather, more men arrived and started to attempt to break into the room. Leaving the shelter, Gio took a peek through the door and saw six more armed men, along with a warrior dressed in fine clothing. The men soon broke through the door, but could not break through the magical dome. The party attacked the intruders with spells, and they too fell back in disarray.

For a while the party could hear the men speaking behind the door, arguing on what to do next. Then Entana exited the dome, opened the door, and threw a fireball into their midst. Cries were heard, and then footsteps running away. Our heroes gave chase, and soon caught up with the survivors and cut them down. Searching their bodies, they found that the warrior held a golden statuette of a winged demon in one hand, which Strigoi claimed.

The party then searched the rest of the floor, but found no more enemies. It seemed that these men had taken up quarters in the rooms of the former palace dwellers. In one room they found clothing that matched those worn by the warrior. Then in the largest room, which must have been the king's own bedchamber, they found clothing belonging to a taller man, a chest of coins, as well as manuscripts with ancient cuneiform writings as well as Al-Kalim script on them, and an annotated sketch map of a compound. Once more Finaz translated the writings - it seemed that the writer was planning to enter the royal tombs after all! Annotations on the map mentioned the use of two keys, and had a cryptic reference to bull's horns... what did that mean?

Returning to the ground floor of the building, our heroes found that the men had used the level for stabling their camels and storing their food and water, but there was no sign of the captured Medjani.

Then they spotted a flight of stairs leading underground... could this be the dungeon spoken of in the cuneiform tablets?

Prepping and Running the Game

This session is based on the module The Book and the Spring by Christopher Letzelter. It is a big module in the vein of the early days of D&D, and contains three major multi-level "dungeons", several smaller ones, all populated by various monsters and several factions with different goals.

What makes this module special, and what led me to finding it, was the fact that while the background to the story is about an ancient city in the desert, the author had chosen to base the fluff on Mesopotamian mythology instead of the more commonly used Egyptian one. The way this is presented is not just in the names used, but also in the unique monsters, and the many pages of art used.

The module comes in two parts, one with the "plot" and location information, and one with the maps and art. They are sold separately, but you need both to play the module.

There are almost 90 pages of material, and it would take several sessions for a party to play through all the locations. As I bought the pdf version of the module, and as the location descriptions and the maps were on different pdfs, and a few of the maps spanned two pages, it was a little difficult to read through the whole module to get a sense of what the whole story was about. Ample description and read-aloud texts are provided, which unfortunately made picking out the important details like where a special key had to be found less easy. It would have been easier if the author had provided an overview of the whole module and what players are expected to achieve at each location, but the author had intended the module to function a bit like a sandbox. To me this was an error, as there is a definite quest in this module: to reactivate the spring (so that a cursed item could be destroyed). And how this was to be achieved was also rather fixed, although the order at which the players visited each location was less fixed.

As usual I decided to reduce the number of encounters, but I expect it will take another two sessions for my players to complete the module.

The actual game was rather brutal, with Strigoi taking a lot of damage from arrows due to looking most threatening among the party members. I decided that the enemy fighters were trained and had planned their defences, so I had them fall back to a different position each time they were losing. By the time they had defeated the first group of enemies, the PCs were in pretty bad shape.

They made a good decision to cast Leomund's Tiny Hut and try to rest, but given the noise the first fight would have generated there was no way the other enemies did not hear them. The second group that came actually had a leader NPC character who had the Leadership trait, which would have made the encounter even deadlier, and I gave him a magical artifact which gave him Advantage on saving throws against magic. Unfortunately for the bad guys, my players were smarter at using the Tiny Hut as a base of attack than I was at defending against it, and I was surprised by the fireball, and the leader failed his saving throw (with Advantage!) and they were quickly defeated. This was the first session we played since most of the PCs had reached level 5, and I guess I wasn't prepared for how much damage they could put out now that Entana can cast Fireball and Strigoi had two attacks per turn. I will have to recycle this encounter for another day.

This part of the module could have just been a series of fights, but the author had made things interesting for the players by planting clues and description of what each room was used for, all of which helped pace the adventure and give the players a sense of the size and scope of the palace compound. The clues foreshadow encounters that they will have later on in the adventure, and make them suitably paranoid.

We actually played through to the dungeon level of the palace, but I will write about that in a separate post so this one will not run too long.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Gripping Beast Plastic Arab Infantry and Cavalry

I have actually been interested in Gripping Beast's plastic Arabs figures for a long time, but did not have an excuse to get some until the players in my RPG campaign decided they wanted to go to Al-Kalim, the Arabia analogue in the Terrinoth world setting. I didn't need a whole box, so I was glad to find a seller on eBay who sold sprues, and I bought one of the infantry, one of the light cavalry, and one of the heavy cavalry one.

I decided on a very simple, probably unrealistic paint scheme for six of the figures, since I needed them for the table soon, and since I wanted them to be generic enough to use for armed civilians, militia, bandits, guards, cultists, etc. I did give them differently coloured headdresses, which will make it easier for me to track hit points in combat.

I built four of the figures with face masks, in the Almoravid Black Guard fashion. I've always wanted a unit of these figures since I first saw some in an all issue of a wargaming magazine decades ago. They will probably be used to represent elite units or cultists in my games.

They are very nice figures which paint up nicely with my usual block-and-wash technique. I am not planning to get more of them for the time being, but if I ever want to expand  them into a full force for my skirmish wargames, they will give me  good core of troops.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Terrinoth #28 - The Heist at Nimressa

The party arrive at the fort at Nimressa

Campaign Diary

Having learned of the location of a magical artifact which will help them decipher the text on the cursed obsidian tablet, our heroes set about finding a way to get their hands on it. Iwan was sent to obtain more information regarding the fort and its guardians, and the party learned that the fort was garrisoned by some two dozen guards, led by a captain. The fort also had a staff wizard. The vault of the fort was underground, carved into the rock of the cliff upon which the fort was built, and the door was guarded by a key held by the captain, and a magical lock set by the wizard.

(Click here for PC profiles)

Seeing the formidable security measures, our heroes decided that force or stealth were not the best approaches here, and decided that guile would be required.

They learned from Iwan that Captain Sorya owed a gambling debt to Shazar, a local crime boss, and that Finaz the staff wizard was an ambitious young wizard who aspired to rise in the hierarchy of the Academy. Armed with this knowledge, they had Iwan arrange a meeting with Shazar.

Having explained their situation to Shazar, they first proposed to buy Sorya's debt off him, but was unable to pay the price of 1500 Gros. Shazar then offered a proposal of his own: that they acquire for him one of the treasures from the vault, a small wooden ball, which he claimed held a sentimental value for him. Confident of their ability to access the vault, our heroes agreed to the deal, and were given a 'letter of introduction' to Sorya, a (crude) replica of the wooden ball in question, and the letter of debt (which amounted to 750 Gros - but the value of leverage over the captain of a royal fort far exceeds the value of the amount in coins, you see...).

Entana then visited the Academy at Al-Madena to seek Finaz's professor, who turned out to be an expert in the field of Comparative Arcana, and the two wizards had a lively discussion over the similarities between rune magic and djinni magic, much of which was lost on the other party members. Impressed by the young wizard, the professor likewise furnished a letter of introduction to Finaz, and also discussed his student's thesis with him.

Armed with the letters of introduction, our heroes made their way to the fort at White Dune pass, called Nimressa in the Al-Kalim language, accompanied by Iwan, who assumed the identity of Najar, gentleman-interpreter. They handed over the letter from Shazar to the guards, and were brought to meet Captain Sorya after handing over their weapons (although Gio used the magic from Fortuna to disguise his shortsword as a flute).

Captain Sorya was not pleased to see the party, and when presented with the offer of allowing the party to access the artifact to translate some ancient texts in exchange for the canceling of his debt, fumed and threatened them, but finally relented. There was, however, he said, the issue of convincing staff wizard Finaz, for she held the password to the vault, and was the only one who knew how to use the artifact.

The party found the staff wizard in the fort library, where she was teaching a soldier how to write. Unlike her professor, she was less impressed by Entana, but agreed to help them nonetheless. Entana, Percy and Gio, accompanied by Captain Sorya and Finaz descended to the basement of the fort, while Strigoi kept the guards distracted in the mess hall with tales of how he won the various trophies which he wore around his neck, as best as he could with no knowledge of the local language.

When they reached the vault door, Finaz spoke the incantation that removed the ward on the door, and Sorya unlocked it with a large key which he kept on a chain around his neck. Inside the vault the party saw several large chests on the floor, and a few smaller ones on shelves against the walls. Taking another bunch of keys from his belt, he selected one, unlocked a small chest with it, and removed from inside it a small statuette of a scribe, and handed it to Finaz. The party then brought the statuette to the table at the guardroom, while Sorya locked the door again.

While the rest were poring over the transcripts of the texts that Percy made, Gio once more used the magic of Fortuna to lift the bunch of keys off Sorya's belt, and made an excuse to leave the room.

The texts which Percy had copied off the walls in the tomb of the Sand Lord spoke of an ancient king called Eschardon, who turned from the worship of the old gods to Anzu, who was depicted as a lion-headed eagle. The text which she had copied off the cursed tablet read that to break the curse, the cursed must bathe in the holy spring of Essilim on the day of the equinox.

Meanwhile, sneaking back to the vault, Gio called in the magic of the brooch which he had taken from the Sand Lord, and turned into a gust of wind - in such a form he passed through the keyhole, and rematerialised inside the vault! Gio set about trying the keys on the various small chests on the shelves, and just as he found the wooden sphere, he heard the others approaching the vault - there was no time to return the keys! He quickly pocketed the wooden sphere and put the replica in its place. Then, in a moment of brilliance, he inserted the key into the box which held the statuette, and hid against the wall.

Captain Sorya entered the vault, reached for the keys at his belt, had a moment of panic when he realised they were not there, looked around frantically, and heaved a sigh of relief when he saw the key still in the keyhole of the chest. He returned the statuette to the chest, locked it, shook his head at his own forgetfulness, and bade everyone to leave the vault. In the excitement he did not notice when Gio emerged from behind the door and joined the party.

When they have left the vault, Captain Sorya asked for the letter of debt from Gio, and bade them goodbye. Finaz meanwhile invited the party to join her in the library, where she said she had a book which had information of Essilim. Once she was alone with the party, Finaz confronted them and demanded to know the story behind the texts - she did not buy their cover that they had come upon the text in a library. When the party revealed the truth to her, she demanded to join them in the search for the lost city of Essilim, and the right to first pick of any magical artifact which they find there. As they knew no other means of finding Essilim, the party reluctantly agreed.

The party collected their weapons and left the fort, and after an hour Finaz joined them, and together they traveled back to Al-Madena. There, Bram and Iwan made preparations for the expedition to Essilim. It would be nearly a month till the Spring equinox, and our heroes kept themselves occupied: Strigoi practised at his martial skills, Entana made visits to the Academy, while Percy visited the markets and learned the local language.

When the day came to depart the party left Al-Madena on the pretext of journeying to Irram. For three days they traveled west into the Great Sand Sea, with Finaz navigating using a series of landmarks detailed in a book which she guarded jealously. Then on the fourth day at last they came upon the lost city of Essilim...

Prepping and Running the Game

This session was based on the module The Heist at Nimressa by Jeremy Tuohy, available at DMsguild. The module as written was for a low level party, and covers an invitation to the heist, a short journey to the site of the heist, and a subplot which adds drama to the whole narrative.

I took the premise of the story and some of the NPCs for my game, but for the actual site I needed one with a battlemat with 1" grid. For this I used the Clifftop Keep from Seafoot Games, which I bought from Drivethrurpg.

I failed to prep adequately for this session, and I think it showed when I had to shuffle through my notes to find the relevant information and the NPCs' names. I had decided to leave the session pretty open, and became too complacent in the process.

I had no fixed idea on how the players would pull off the heist, but I did make it clear to them that garrison of the fort were competent and outnumbered them, that as foreigners they could easily be identified and located if they showed themselves (an orc and a gnome would stick out in Al-Kalim), that it would be difficult to smuggle anything they stole out of the Al-Madena region if it was known they took something, and that any killing of the guards will bring massive and swift retaliation not just against them, but likely against all Terrinoth merchants.

It was clear that they would have to take the stealth or the guile/blackmail approach.

When they realised that they could use the statuette without actually taking it out of the vault, it made things much easier. However, when they decided to seek the help of Shazar, I decided that he would ask for something in return; I had populated the vault with a few other magical items which I thought were appropriate and likely useful for them in the near future, in case they got greedy, and I decided that Shazar would ask for one of them to be brought to him as a price for his help.

Had they taken the stealth route, things would have been challenging, as opening the vault door required a physical key and a password (both of which I was prepared to let them bypass with lock-picking at a high DC or magic), and I had placed an Alarm spell on the inside of the vault, which would have alerted the garrison to anyone entering it without authorisation.

The players discussed sneaking into the fort inside supply carts, scaling the walls, and even getting arrested so they would be held in the jail cells in basement of the fort, but eventually decided to take the diplomatic route. This worked so well, we ran the whole session without a single combat.

Gio's player really shined this session. The players' plans entailed them distracting the captain and the staff wizard so Gio could "do his thing", and he acted on his own initiative after hearing me describe the layout of the vault and where Sorya kept his keys. While he had a magical item that allowed him to effectively cast Misty Step, he could only do so once per short rest, and once he got inside the vault there was no way he could get out in time and return the keys. When he decided to stick the key into the keyhole and hide behind the door, we all cheered at his brilliance, and I mimed the whole scene of Sorya getting shocked when he could not find his keys, and his relief and confusion afterwards.

I had Finaz fully statted out, and was prepared for the party to fight her and the rest of the garrison if things went that way. However, Entana's player surprised me a little when he asked to visit her professor, and he rolled a '20' on his Charisma check, so I had to develop her character more on the spot. I decided that she was a competitive wizard who wanted to make a name for herself, and that she was hard-boiled. I had initially intended for Iwan to serve as the party's guide to Essilim, but as there was already tension between Finaz and Entana, so I decided that it would be logical for her to want in on the expedition for her own ends, and this would let me further develop that tension in the next few sessions.

The whole reason for this session was based on the need to decipher an ancient language. By D&D rules as written the whole thing could have been solved with a Comprehend Language spell. While I understand that D&D is primarily a resource-management game where spells known and prepared are a limited resource, and such spells reward players who invest in them (at the expense of another spell), I find such spells ruin the mystery of the narrative; as such, I made the ruling that this spell did not exist in my world.

I feel the same way about spells that allow PCs to track quarry unerringly, or create food and water out of thin air, or teleport, which essentially negate the challenges of wilderness travel. I guess I want to see my game world as one where despite all the powers of magic, it is still a dangerous place and you can never be sure that you can know everything and be safe from everything.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Anvil Industry Heavy Weapons with Mad Robot Miniatures Crew

I've always wanted to add a few heavy weapons to my Warzone Trencher force, but have not found any that fit the WW1 British look I wanted other than a mortar.

Then a few weeks ago I received news that may mean that these figures may see some playtesting action in the near future, so I started searching for suitable pieces again, and found some excellent ones at Anvil Industry. I ordered a Maxim gun and a Howitzer, and some Mad Robot Miniatures crew figures again.

The Anvil Industry models are excellent: clean, crisp casts with no mould lines and no flash to speak of, and they come with a number of accessories that let you make a mini-diorama of your base, which I have tried to do. The model is very WW1 in style, down to the canvas ammunition belt.

I did run into some trouble with painting the crew - I have forgotten which paint I used for the uniform, and had to just go with the closest one I could find; you can see the difference in the two crew figures above if you looked closely.

The howitzer model also comes with nice bits like a case of rounds and empty casings, which I've always liked to see on dioramas. For some strange reason, even in the far future they have chosen to make the ammo case out of wood and gave it a handle made of hemp rope. The gun itself is of course multi-part, and you get the options of a closed breech and an opened breech, which would be cool used with a "loading" crew figure.

Both the Maxim and the howitzer are beautiful pieces on their own. However, a slight problem emerges when you put them side-by-side: the two weapons have a similar size. The Maxim is oversized compared to its historical counterpart, and the howitzer is much smaller than a real one would be in that scale. This is of course so that both pieces would fit nicely on the standard wargaming crew-served weapon base. I would have preferred the Maxin to be a little smaller, but then being made of resin, it would have been more fragile as a result.

Over all I am very pleased with the models, and if I want to expand my force again, I will definitely look at Anvil Industry again.

I hope to have more news to report on the playtesting in the near future...

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Terrinoth #27 - Curse of the Sand Lord

In the tomb of the Sand Lord

Campaign Diary

Sensing that the dust devils were approaching them with sinister intent, Strigoi, Percy, and Gio charged towards one, while the other one went for Entana.

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The whirlwinds fought as though they were living beasts, abrading the skin of our heroes with whirling sand, but were soon destroyed.

While they took stock of the situation, our heroes noticed the skeletons of the dead rising from the ground, and then slowly stumbling towards the north. Unwilling to suffer the undead to... live, Percy began calling on the flames of Kellos to destroy them, but were eventually persuaded to allow one to survive, that the party may follow it to whomever had created and were probably summoning them now.

After an hour, they arrived at a large stone structure in the middle of the desert, resembling a stone house built atop a ziggurat. The skeleton climbed the tall steps of the ziggurat, and disappeared into the doorway of the building.

By now the sun was close to setting. The party hobbled their camels, Percy took her bearings once again, and they then followed the skeleton into the doorway.

When they have ascended the steps of the ziggurat, they realised that the strong stone doors of the doorway had been broken as if by a great force, and that a gentle wind blew out from the doorway, and trailing on the ground was a thin stream of sand that flowed out within the doorway, like a layer of water.

From the doorway stairs descended to the darkness below. At the bottom of the stairs some 60 feet below the party found themselves at the start of a long gallery. On both walls of the gallery were bas relief with the figures of men and inscription of an unfamiliar language.

The first six reliefs depicted what appeared to be the coronation of a king, his battles against his enemies, and finally their subjugation. In between the panels they saw depiction of a lion-headed eagle battling and triumphing over a bull with the face of a man. The final two panels, however, were unfinished. Percy took tracings of the relief and script, hoping to study them later. As she did so, she noticed that fine lines were scoured across the surface of the relief - could the sand once have covered much of the walls?

The gallery led to an archway, the lintel upon which once more showed the lion-headed eagle clutching two bulls in its talons. The archway led into a large hall. The floor of the hall appeared to be covered with sand which streamed slowly outwards. On both sides of the hall, standing against the walls, stood dozens of skeletons, silent and motionless.

Strigoi stepped into the hall, only to sink into the soft sand, and was promptly pulled free by the others. Probing with the shaft of Strigoi's axe, they soon determined that the hall resembled a pool that had been filled with sand, but there was a ledge on the sides, which the skeletons stood on. The party gained the ledge on one side with the aid of rope and pitons, and as the proceeded along it they burned the skeletons, which did not put up a fight.

At the far end of the hall a corridor continued. The party investigated a door on the left of the corridor, which was a large room with shelves carved into the stone walls, but it was otherwise empty.

Moving to the far end of the corridor, they entered yet another hall. At the end of this hall was a raised platform, upon which was a plinth. Standing before the plinth was a figure they recognised: it was the king from the bas relief!

The king spoke to them in an unknown tongue, and when he did not receive a reply, repeated himself twice more. Our heroes tried to appease the ancient king by their gestures, but he raised his hands, and in an instant two sand devils formed, and he himself took the form of a whirlwind, descended the platform, and then took human form again as he moved to attack them. Up close, our heroes now realised that his body was made up of a shifting mass of sand.

The ancient king was a formidable foe, as many time just as their weapons looked sure to strike him, the sand that made up his form parted, causing the weapon to cut through only air, or he would turn into a whirlwind and passed between them when he pleased; yet when he struck our heroes, it felt like they were hit by a bag of sand. Entana tried to cause his form to disperse with a spell of wind, but found to his frustration that he could not do so.

In the chaos of the battle Percy noticed that the brooch upon the king's headdress did not appear to be formed of sand as the rest of his form, and called out to the others. Now they focused their blows upon the brooch, until at last Gio struck it with his sword, causing it to fly into the air - the form of the king and the two dust devils collapsed in an instance.

As the party tended to their wounds and recovered the brooch, they noticed that sand was beginning to seep through the cracks in the ceiling. The raced through the gallery and hall which they came through, and when they ascended the stairs and passed through the doorway it was already dark. The camels bellowed as the ground trembled, and the stone house which the party had just exited began to collapse, sending a cloud of dust into the cool night air. At the same time the sand around the ziggurat sank, as if it were filling the space beneath it.

Exhausted and disorientated, it took the party several hours before the managed to find the camp. Their fellow caravaneers were curious about their wounds, but our heroes remained tight-lipped.

Two days later the caravan arrived at White Dune Pass, which led to the Blessed Valley. Passing through the customs, they noticed a white stone fort in the cliff above the pass.

The land beyond the pass was like a different world from the desert they had just left: here the land was green and lush, and filled with the sound of birds. Picking up their pace, the caravan arrived at Al-Madena by the next day.

Much of the city of Al-Madena sat at the valley floor, but carved into the cliff on the west side of the valley were the homes of the nobles and the wealthy, while at the top of the cliff, next to a waterfall that plunged for hundreds of feet to the valley below, was the palace of the Caliph, the building to meet the rising sun each morning, as befitting the residence of the son of A'tar.

The party made their way to the Terrinoth traders' compound, where they were led by a worried servant to the Veniers' quarters. They were greeted at the door by Bram, the elder Venier's bodyguard, and led to his room. The merchant lay in his bed, pale and gaunt. He explained that he had sent for Entana several months ago when he had obtained a map to a lost tomb, hoping that father and son could explore it together. When the weeks passed without sign of his son, he decided to go with Bram and a small party to find the tomb himself, before the weather turned hot. They managed to locate and enter the tomb, but the only grave good he found that appeared to be of value was an obsidian tablet, engraved on one side with the figure of a beast-headed man and animals, and on the other an unfamiliar script.

Returning to Al-Madena, the elder Venier soon became ill and his sleep became haunted by nightmares monsters and fire. When neither Terrinoth nor local physicians were able to make a diagnosis or find a cure, Bram decided that the tablet must have been cursed, and attempted to destroy it; however the tablet seemed indestructible. When he attempted to discard it by throwing it into a river, it mysteriously appeared back in the quarters again.

Examining the tablet, our heroes found the script to be similar to those which they have found in the tomb which they have recently explored themselves, but were unable to decipher them. Entana had the suspicion that the inscription on the tablets held a clue to how the curse may be broken, and upon his suggestion the elder Venier sent for Iwan, an Al-Kalim man who was his local 'fixer', and whom Gio recognised to be someone familiar with the workings of the criminal world as he himself.

Having heard their tales, Iwan ventured his opinion: the script was familiar to him and his... associates, who had knowledge of ancient tombs (the exploration of which, it may be worth noting, was forbidden by the court for fear of releasing hidden djinni) for... various reasons. In the course of their work, he had surmised that the ages of the tombs spanned many centuries, and the dress of the figures depicted in reliefs found therein, the form of the grave goods, and indeed the variations in the scripts found within each of them indicated one thing: that despite the official account of the court that the people of Al-Kalim were all one people, in the days before the djinni they must have comprised of different cultures and nations. When he shared his insight with his associates, he learned that there were stories of magical artifacts created in the days of the djinni, which would allow those who wielded them to understand the language of any nation - why would such artifacts be needed if all the people of Al-Kalim spoke the same language, as they do now, he mused?

Since they needed to know what was written on the tablet, and since they could not just go to the nearest arcane college and reveal that they possessed grave goods, perhaps such an artifact was what they needed, Iwan ventured.

Fortunately for them, he then revealed, it was rumoured that one such artifact was kept at the fort at White Dune pass, not two days from Al-Madena...

Prepping and Running the Game

The first part of this session was based on the Hellfrost Land of Fire module The Curse of the Sand Lord.

While looking for modules for a Arabic setting, I decided to look at the Hellfrost Land of Fire modules (I had previously looked at some of the Hellfrost modules and found them interesting), and found that they actually had a lot more fluff than Realms of Terrinoth had on Al-Kalim. Interestingly, they also seem to have had a period in history when djinni ruled over mankind.

I took the background story from the module plus a couple of the more interesting encounters as the basis of this session's plot. The dust devils were just reskinned Dust Mephits from the Monster Manual, and the Sand Lord was a fusion of the Mummy Lord and the titular Sand Lord from the module.

I had decided against basing the tomb on an Egyptian one, and went the Mesopotamian way instead. The Mesopotamian mythology is less familiar to most people but certainly no less interesting, and to me their demons have always had a more bestial, atavistic horror to them.

Of course the Mesopotamian cultures are not known for the scale of their tombs compared to their Egyptian neighbours - the overground structure I described in the game was based on the Persian model. The players gathered from the description of the tomb that it was incomplete, and that it once may have been completely filled with sand. They were correct, of course: the background here was that the tyrannical king who worshiped the Lion-headed Eagle demon - a wind demon - was overthrown by his own people and buried alive in sand in his tomb. In his dying moments he called upon the power of his patron, and was turned into an undead whose form was composed of sand. Over the centuries his power had slowly grown, and with the power of the wind he had slowly emptied his tomb of sand, and only recently he had sent out dust devils to gather skeletons for him, with which he planned to create an undead army out of. Typical mummy stuff, you understand. The players may never learn of the whole story, but I supposed this was realistic as the PCs may never find out either.

I was not too happy with the way I ran the dungeon-crawl. I had made the wrong decision of having a large number of relatively weak opponents in the form of the unarmed skeletons. I had initially counted on the players leaving them alone, since I decided that they would not actively attack the PCs, but I had forgotten that Percy hates undead and would destroy any that she came across. This left me with the choice of either playing through a massive combat against forty or so skeletons, which would drag, or having the situation of them being able to destroy the skeletons at their leisure, without the skeletons or the Sand Lord retaliating - a situation which would almost certainly cause a total party kill. Lesson learned, I guess: do not place opponents within reach of the PCs which you don't want them to fight.

The second part of the session set the scene for next week's module, which I will discuss in the next report. Here too I am not too satisfied with what I have done: essentially a hackneyed "mummy's curse" plot with an obvious and too convenient solution, leading to a heist game. The players seem to have taken it in good humour though, so hopefully next week's game will make up for this deficiency on my part.

Despite all that, I learned a lot prepping for the session.

As with the other regions the party travels to, I tried to find its real world geographic counterpart so I could have an idea of the climate, daily temperatures, and sunrise and sunset time. Other things I learned prepping for this game were Mesopotamian history, mythology, and languages, how oases are formed, and we all learned at the table how to hobble camels.

In the sessions after the next one we may be seeing more elements of Mesopotamian mythology incorporated into the game, so do stay tuned if they are your cup of tea.