Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Terrinoth #8.1 - Lair of the White Wyvern

Gio, Entana, and Orglath investigate an overturned cart.

Campaign Diary - Part I

Returning to the village of Narmen in the late afternoon, our party learned that two Knights of the Citadel sent by the Baron had arrived earlier in the day. The party told their tale to the knights , and were invited to return to Skydown Castle with them the following day.

(Click here for PC profiles)

Skydown Castle was the baronial seat, and a much grander structure than Fort Rodric. The castle grounds were surrounded by a hexagonal wall, within which stood the barracks of the soldiers, while the castle itself was built on a promontory of rock.

Baron Trevalyan received our heroes in his audience hall, where he listened to their story with much delight. Our four adventurers were given a reward in silver and a new quest, which they quickly accepted.

After dinner, our party were led to the barracks, where they were given beds for the night. Wandering in the compound, Gio came across a shrine to Fortuna, the Lady of Luck and Trickery, outside a gambling tent. He placed a few coins in the offering bowl and closed his eye to pray. While he was doing so he felt someone bump into him; instinctively he turned around and felt for his coin pouch, but he saw no one, and his coin pouch was still on his belt. He opened his pouch and found a gold coin which was not previously there: upon the coin was the likeness and name of Fortuna. When he looked at the offering bowl, he found that the silver coin he had offered had disappeared. Strigoi, hearing the tale, decided to do the same, casting a few copper pieces into the bowl, but was rewarded only by bird droppings on his head.

The next morning our party was told their quest: the village of Arnhild, two days' journey from Skydown, had reported a mysterious illness what had struck down many villagers and resulted in the death of a few. Suspecting that there was more to this than a simple disease, the baron asked them to travel to Arnhild and investigate.

As our party was passing through the castle gate, their mule in tow, a gruff voice called out Strigoi's name. A party of four orcs, led by Shaglot a former member of Strigoi's old company, had just arrived at Skydown, hoping to find employment with the baron. As they had parted on bad terms, Shaglot wasted no time in taunting Strigoi and his association with a dragon hybrid. Strigoi defended Orglath, and just as tempers became heated, Orglath dropped an insult so scathing on the orcs that Shaglot's face blanched and the passing tradesmen roared in laughter. The four orcs turned and walked away, their heads lowered.

On the afternoon of the second day, the heroes came upon an upturned cart in the middle of the track they were traveling upon. Pinned under the cart was the body of a man. Noting the absence of a draught animal or goods, Strigoi suspected an ambush and called for caution, Orglath, Entana, and Gio went up to the cart and lifted it, wanting to free the body. As they did so, the ground beneath their feet gave way - they were standing on a hinged plank that was held in place by the weight of the cart. Orglath and Entana fell into the 10-foot deep pit. Immediately, six goblins rushed out of their hiding place and started attacking the party. Gio bravely held off the goblins, while Orglath helped Entana out of the pit, and Strigoi in turned hoisted Orglath out. Against all four party members, the goblins stood no chance - four were quickly cut down, and the remaining two turned to flee but were shot down too.

Arriving at the small village of Arnhild, our heroes knocked on the door of the first house they came to, and were surprised to see that the occupant was a dragon hybrid named Uth'rul. Uth'rul led the party to the vogt, who told them that that three villagers, all of them children, have died, and ten more, both adults and children, remained ill. Investigations around the village quickly pointed to the water supply being the source of the problem (and uncovered a wife-beater). As the sun was setting, the party decided to travel upstream to further investigate the next morning.

The next day, just as the party was ready to leave, they heard a commotion coming from outside Uth'rul's home - another child had died that morning, and as news of the death got around, emotions ran high, and soon accusations of unspecified wrongdoing were made against Uth'rul and his family, who were unaffected by the mysterious illness, a fact that to the villagers' minds was reason enough to prove that they were responsible for what befell them. A mob had gathered outside Uth'rul's home, baying for blood. The heroes' attempt at defusing the tension failed, and things came to blows, and it was only the arrival of the vogt that caused the crowd to disperse. Uth'rul and his family were taken into the home of the vogt, and the party hurried into the hills, following the course of the stream.


Prepping and Running the Game

The basis of this week's session was Ice Kingdoms: Lair of the White Wyvern, by Mad Martian Games. The core of the story is the same: a village struck by a mysterious illness that is actually caused by the deliberate poisoning of its water supply by the venom of a monster. The players had asked to go on a monster hunt, and this module offered a bit of a twist instead of a straightforward "track monster to lair and have a big fight" scenario. I switched a manticore for the wyvern because the manticore was specifically mentioned as a monster that lived in the Mountains of Despair in the Realms of Terrinoth supplement, and I had a model painted just for the campaign. But more of that in Part II of this session's report.

With three games under our belts, I decided to start introducing elements from the PCs' character arcs into the narrative with this session.

Gio's players' choice of the Arcane Trickster archetype presented a bit of problem for me narrative-wise. As the Arcane Trickster could only take spells from the Enchantment and Illusion schools, I needed to find a way of awarding Gio either more runebound shards which corresponded to those schools - something which I find forced - or else give him a different sort of spell focus. I turned to the supplement book for inspiration, and the description of the goddess of Luck and Trickery gave me the idea of granting an arcane focus that was not a runebound shard. The vignette of an offered coin disappearing gave me the means of introducing the focus in-game.

Strigoi's brush with his ex-colleague was a reminder of his history of violence against the dragon hybrids. His friendship with Orglath is a chance at redemption for him.

The goblin encounter served a few purposes. I wanted to introduce the fact that the roads close to the mountains were dangerous. It also established that goblins were a presence in the area, giving the players a hint that they may be involved in what was happening at the village, and making their appearance in the final "reveal" less contrived. It was also a chance for both the players and myself to "calibrate" the PCs against the goblins, which will allow me to reduce or increase the number of goblins in the final fight accordingly.

The episode with the dragon hybrid family was from the original module, but involving dwarven brewers in the village instead. I used dragon hybrids in this game because Orglath's player's goal in this campaign is to one day see his race accepted as equals in Terrinoth, just as orcs, who were once on the side of the Uthuk during the First Darkness, are now accepted as a "civilised" race. When my players choose to play a non-human race in a game, I tend to want to play up the racism that is in the game world, rather than just let race be about stats.

I broke this session's report into two parts as the final fight of the session took a long time and would make the whole post too long to read at one sitting. Stay tuned for part II tomorrow!

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Terrinoth #7 - Dues for the Dead

The Tarasque de Noves

Campaign Diary

Having rested and re-equipped, our party once again set out from Tamalir, this time heading south to the Smokeblue Hills, rumoured to be "gathering place for sorcerous cults, dragon-worshippers, and other servants of darkness".

(Click here for PC profiles)

Travel to the foothills was uneventful along the Royal Road, and after a week our party arrived at the village of Narmen, where they were mistaken by the villagers to be sent by the baron to their aid. Our heroes learned that about ten days prior a party of four strangers had arrived, leading a mule loaded with mining tools. The men spoke with a Northern Terrinoth accent, and were looking for labourers to hire. One of the men wore a rich purple robe, and looked to be the leader. Four villagers took up their offer to venture into the hills with them, but had failed to return after a week as expected. Then two days ago, a shepherd who led his flock to the hills saw a skeletal figure in one of the many gullies, and fled back to town. The hills were known to be the site of ancient tombs, and the village vogt, fearing the worst, sent to the baron at Skydown Castle for aid.

The party offered to go into the hills to find the missing villagers, and with a view to arriving there during the daylight hours, departed the village two hours past midnight, with the shepherd as their guide. As dawn broke over the hills, the party were led to their quarry by the trail of mule dung and finally the whinny of the animal.

The party followed the sound into a gully, where Gio the Gnome, scouting ahead of the party, found the mule and two of the men with a Northern Terrinoth accent. A short distance away, the gully led to a doorway carved into hillside, and on each side was a skeletal warrior.

Our heroes decided that a strategy to divide and conquer would be appropriate, and Gio crept back into the gully again to lead the mule away from the men. When the two men came after the mule, Strigoi and Orglath were ready for them with their weapons. The two men were quickly overpowered and tied up, but yielded nothing apart from "Waiqar will have you!" when interrogated.

The party left the prisoners in the bushes, and walked towards the skeletal figures standing by the doorway, which became animated and charged at them when they got near. The rusty weapons of the skeletons had little impact on the heroes, as they made short work of the undead.

Passing beyond the doorway, the party found themselves in a long hall, carved into living rock. Hundreds of niches, each about a foot wide and a foot tall, were cut into the walls, and placed in each niche was a delicate urn, with a lid that was in the shape of the head of a man or a woman. Strigoi opened one of the urns, and found it to contain ashes - the hall was a columbarium.

The corridor at the end of the hall led to another similar hall as it descended deeper into the hill, and then to a fork. Taking the passage to the left, our party entered a larger, grander hall, decorated to resemble the living space within a home. Carved into the walls were berths that resembled beds, and upon the berths there were partially cremated bones and rusted grave goods.

So far our heroes had found no sign of the missing villagers, but now they could hear noise coming from the corridor at the other end of the hall. As they exited the hall, they found themselves in a passageway that had a more natural form. The winding passage led them deeper into the earth, and the noise grew louder: it was the sound of people digging.

Eventually they came to a bend in the passage, when they could see the shadows of two men cast against the wall of the passage - they were close to their quarry. Pressing his body close to the wall, Gio once again inched his way forward to get a view of what lay beyond.

Round the bend in the passage was a large cavern, lit by several candles. Two men were digging the ground with shovels - their clothes revealed them to be two of the missing villagers; their faces were pallid, their eyes were glazed over, and they uttered no sound, nor did they pant, or indeed breath - they were undead. In the far end of the cavern sat a man in purple robes, and beside him his companion, armed with a sword. On the ground of the cavern several pits had already been excavated: in each was a full set of skeleton.

Withdrawing to a safe distance, our heroes took stock of the situation and planned their entry: Strigoi and Orglath would charge in and attempt to strike the leader down, while Entana would stay in the rear and use his magic.

The suddenness of their attack caught their opponent off guard. The two zombies and the swordsman hastily formed a line of defence, while the man in purple starting speaking incantations that Entana recognised to be the arcane language wizardry.

Orglath flew into a barbaric rage and laid the swordsman and a zombie low, and in doing so drew the attention of the wizard, who struck him down with a beam of arcane energy. Entana in turn cast attack spells at the wizard, and having cut down the second zombie, Strigor charged forward and decapitated the enemy with a swing of his axe. Searching the remains of the wizard, they party found a silver pendant and a dagger. The pendant had a purple runebound shard set in it and a hollow body that contained a coarse white powder. The dagger also had a runebound shard set in its hilt, which Entana recognised as a Force rune - the find elated Gio, who claimed it with no opposition.

The excitement of battle over, the party realised that there were still two villagers unaccounted for. Retracing their steps, they took the other fork from the main corridor, and found the two remaining villagers, both still alive, in a round chamber dominated by the statue of a strange beast, guarded by four skeletal warriors. The party made short work of the undead, and learned from the two villagers what had transpired:

The four villagers had initially thought that the strangers had hired them to do some grave-robbing, but when it became clear that they were more interested in unearthing skeletons than treasure, they became suspicious and tried to leave. A fight ensued and two of the villagers were killed. The wizard, whose name was Mondock, then scattered the powder from inside his pendant on the corpses and some of the unearthed skeletons, and they rose as undead. The villagers were made to unearth more skeletons, and kept under guard by the skeletons so they could not escape.

Our heroes loaded the remains of the two villagers onto the mule, tied the two surviving minions to the mule, and took the severed heads of Mondock and his other minion along for good measure, and the ragtag band limped its way back to the village of Narmen.


Prepping and Running the Game

The basis for this session was another DMs Guild module, "Due for the Dead".

I was a little reluctant to run another "ancient tomb with undead" scenario so soon after the first one, but I needed to introduce the first campaign arc, which features necromancers from the Mistlands.

Once again, I tried to base the look of tomb complex on one that is historical, and as the one in the module had a more man-made layout, I looked for something in the Iron Age. The elaborate Etruscan tombs came to my mind first, but as there isn't an Italy-equivalent in Mennara, I could not quite account for the style, until I came across the La Tene culture, which had trade ties with the Mediterranean civilisations. I was so impressed by the artwork from the era that I decided to hand-wave things and put what was essentially an Etruscan tomb with La Tene artifacts in Terrinoth - when the PCs entered the round chamber in the tomb, I handed the players a picture of the Tarasque de Noves, which you can see at the top of the post. The statue had no in-game effect, but its alien and fearsome appearance was enough to give the players pause.

The loot dropped during the session were plot-driven.

Gio had leveled up, and his player had wanted to take the Arcane Trickster archetype. While this was "automatic" going by "rules as written", I wanted to stick to the fluff regarding the runebound shards. The player was willing to trust me to weave this into the narrative, essentially forfeiting his new skills for a whole session. The Force runebound shard on the dagger was the result.

The other piece of loot, the pendant, ties to the plot arc. The identity of the purple runebound shard will need to be established at the University in Greyhaven, which means the PCs will have a reason to travel there and I can plan for an urban-based scenario.

One piece of loot that I hadn't planned for was the mule. I had included the mule as it seemed more realistic that a well-funded necromancer and his minions will be able to afford a beast of burden. I had not expected the players to want to "confiscate" it. I guess the lesson here is: don't put anything in the game that you don't want to players to steal.

One thing that I plan to work into future sessions is the severed head of the necromancer. The players had decided to decapitate the villains and bring their heads back to use it as some sort of identifier - rather reasonable in a setting without photo ID and when they had other bodies they needed to transport. This gave me the idea of using the head as a returned villain, in the guise of a Flaming Skull. This will be seeded in the next session, when the PCs will be informed that the head had gone missing.

Over all I found my performance this session to be a little lacklustre. I misjudged the combats, which resulted in them being under-challenging and the whole session ending earlier than usual. Going forward I need to either learn how calculate my own version of Challenge Rating, or play looser with monster stat blocks.

The players asked for a spot of monster hunting the next session, and I have a monster model which I have painted just waiting for this. Stay tuned!

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Terrnoth #6 - Downtime in Tamalir

Campaign Diary

Having returned to Tamalir, our party took accommodations in the outer city and tried to find a buyer for the treasures they have taken from the burial caves.

(Click here for PC profiles)

At "Lakemane's Luxuries", our heroes were offered an initial price of 90 gps, which they were able to bargain up to 120 gps, with the map to the obelisks. Therion Lakemane, the proprietor, also expressed interest on the bronze sword Strigoi was carrying, and promised to find a buyer for the orc.

While still unsure if he would sell his find, Strigoi visited Trystan the weapon-smith. Trystan was so taken by the beauty of the sword he accepted the job of crafting a scabbard worthy of it.

The haul from their first two adventures had not been as rich in treasures or magical artefacts as they had hoped for, but has whet the party's appetite, and they are planning their next expedition before winter arrives.


Prepping and Running the Game

For this campaign I am using the optional rule for requiring the PCs to spend downtime and money to level up. This to me makes more sense narratively, and with the use of a game calendar prevents what to me would be an unrealistically fast advancement for the characters.

The character of Therion Lakemane is actually created together with a B Team player. He had wanted to play a charismatic character, and I had wanted an NPC contact for the A Team to fence their loot for them. After an exchange of messages, Therion Lakemane and his store was created. When I asked the player how much he would offer the A Team for their loot based on the retail price, he suggested that he would offer a higher price if they sold him the location of their discovery. I jumped on this idea, and once the A Team agreed, it gave me an entirely new hook for my B Team games: these could be treasure-hunting expeditions funded by Therion Lakemane!

The first of the B Team games will likely be played in September, so stay tuned!

Terrinoth #1.5 - The Party

At the suggestion of a fellow GM, I have added this post to introduce readers to the PCs in the campaign.

The A Team

  • Entana Venier, Human Wizard
Entana Vernier's father expected him to take over the family's lucrative textile business, but instead he chose to enter the University of Greyhaven to study magic. Having completed his Bachelor degree, he must now travel through the lands to gain practical knowledge in the application of magic before he can complete his Masters.

  •  Gio Gerbo, Gnome Rogue
An entertainer with his family troupe of Wandering Gnomes, Gio's dreams of becoming a famous performer known throughout Terrinoth was cut short when his brother killed the son of a nobleman in a botched throwing-knife stunt. Unable to pay the wergild of 1,500 gps, Gio's family went into indentured servitude.

Desperate to make enough money to ransom his family, Gio turned to crime and joined a gang in the city of Tamalir. He was caught red-handed by Strigoi while trying to pick the pocket of Entana, and in return for them not turning him to the city authorities, Gio agreed to join Entana on his adventures.

  • Strigoi, Orc Fighter
A Stone-Dweller Orc, Strigoi used to lead a mercenary band that found regular employment "pacifying" dragon hybrid settlements in Terrinoth. But after an attack on a dragon hybrid village got out of hand and women and children were killed, Strigoi fell out with his band and went into the bodyguard business.

Originally hired by Entana's father to protect the young wizard, Strigoi left the party to pursue a foe from his old band after the latter had attacked the party, and rejoined the party several months later after vanquishing the foe.

  • Persephone 'Percy' Hazard, Human Warlock
The daughter of a dispossessed knight, Percy believes herself to be chosen by the god Kellos to act on his behalf in Terrinoth.

The B Team

  • Therion Lakemane, Human Bard
Former advocate and the disowned son of a nobleman, Therion Lakemane was exiled from Lorimor for malpractice.

Leaving behind his family wealth but not his love for a lavish lifestyle, fine food, silken beds and voluptuous maidens, he soon became deep in debt. But with typical Lakemane resourcefulness, he has decided to turn his experiences of the high life into a business opportunity, and opened "Lakemane's Luxuries, Purveyor of Fine Goods for Discerning Ladies and Gentlemen" in Tamalir.

After he saved the life of the young Count of Pfalzenstein, Therion was made the nobleman's steward.

  • Orglath'Kul, Dragon Hybrid Barbarian
As a dragon hybrid, Orglath spent most of his life on the edges of society, but he dreams of the day when he and his kind can be accepted by the other races. Once a pit-fighter in Tamalir, he joined the party briefly, before an injury forced him to go on a prolonged convalescence at the Temple of Kellos in Dawnsmoor.

  • Giso Meyer, Human Cleric of Kellos
The orphaned son of farmers, Giso turned to crime as a youngster, but was taken in by Johannes, a Knight of Kellos, and initiated as an acolyte to the Order in Vynelvale. Disenchanted with the ceremonial and dogmatic interpretation of the faith by the establishment, Giso left the city to discover and achieve greater understanding of his faith, which he doubts can be found within the confines of the cathedral.

  • Tom Kellosson, Human Monk of Kellos

  • A'bomb'we, Orc Druid
A spiritspeaker from the Mok'thul Urak of the Broken Plains, A'bomb'we has been given a vision which led him to Terrinoth.

  • Whisper Blackmane, Lowborn Elf Darnati Warrior Monk
The daughter of Eolams, Whisper retreated to the Darnati monasteries after losing an important political battle in the Elven Courts, where she trained and sought enlightenment. Now, she has been sent into the world to experience it anew with fresh eyes.

  • Risvir Tellir, Deep Elf Wanderer

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Terrinoth #5 - Death in the Wood

Campaign Diary

After a fitful night in the caves, our party emerged the next day and made their way back to Fort Rodric. There, they recounted their tale to the fort's sergeant, who decided that perhaps more regular patrols of the hills were necessary.

(Click here for PC profiles)

Over dinner, the party regaled the soldiers with exaggerated tales of their valour, and even Orglath found himself welcomed at their tables.

The next day the party started their journey to the Gardens of Tarn, an ancient woodlands from where the people of the Barony of Otrin gather rare medicinal herbs, and where the felling of a tree is punishable by death. On the third day of their journey they sought shelter from the autumn rain at the village of Woodside. They enter the only inn in the village to find that the vogt (reeve) of the village is holding a meeting there. Our heroes were given a table in a corner of the common room as the meeting went on.

It soon became clear that the reason for the meeting was called over a series of deaths and disappearances: a week before, the girl Lenora failed to return after she had gone gathering herbs in the woods. Three days afterwards, a swineherd was found dead inside the woods, with several large gashes across his body. The next day, a forester sent to investigate these events was also found dead, and he bore the same type of wounds on his body too. When yet another forester failed to return from his patrol in the woods, Manfrie, the captain of the foresters, petitioned that no one be allowed into the woods until further instructions could be sought from the Baron. The swineherds protested - pannage season had just begun, and if the pigs were not allowed to be fattened on acorns and beechnut before winter arrived, the whole village could face starvation later in the season.

As the argument got heated, Entana volunteered the party's help in solving the mystery. This sudden interruption was not welcomed by the villagers, some of whom started accusing Orglath the dragon hybrid as a potential suspect. Before the situation could get out of hand, Sir Heisen, the vogt, ordered the foresters to take Orglath into custody, ruled in favour of Manfrie, and dismissed the villagers.

As the foresters and villagers left the inn, Sir Heisen invited the remaining three members of the party to his table by the fireplace. The party once again pitched their services to him, and this time, without the interference of the villagers, he accepted.

Our party then decided to do some investigation around the village. As they stepped out of the inn, they were approached by a Wilhem, who was betrothed to Lenora. Young Wilhem begged them to help find his love, and when Strigor the Orc asked what he would offer in return for their help, presented to them his life savings of 50 silver pieces. Even as Strigor reached out to take the coins, Gio the Gnome stepped in and declared that they would not take his money if he would sing songs of their heroic deeds instead. A grateful Wilhem agreed, and acted as their guide around the village.

The  party then went to the foresters' barracks to gather more information, but was given the cold shoulder by Manfrie and his men. With not much else to be done for the night, they visited Mama Clay, the local wise woman, and purchased some home-made healing potions from her.

The next day, a villager led the party to the forest trail under the cover of the pre-dawn darkness. They followed the winding path until they reached the place off the track where the dead swineherd's body had been found. As daylight grew, they saw that the trees and undergrowth around the place had taken on a sickly appearance. They trekked further deeper into the blighted woods, until they came upon two wolves scavenging a body on the forest floor. The hair and skin of the animals had fallen off in places, revealing their raw flesh and even bones underneath. The rabid wolves attacked the party, and after a short fight were cut down.

The body on the forest ground turned out to be that of the missing forester, but the wounds he bore on his body did not match those that could be caused by wolves. After a brief rest, our party decided to venture deeper into the forest to see if they could find the cause of the strange state of the forest and wolves.

After some time, they crested a ridge to find a solitary green tree standing amidst the withered trees in the vale below. At the base of the tree was a shape... The party moved closer to the tree, and saw that it was the body of a young woman. Unlike the others, she bore only a single wound on her body - her throat was slit by a sharp blade. As Strigor moved to retrieve her, three of the withered trees uprooted themselves from the ground and started to attack the party with their branches. Strigor ran towards the green tree; vines erupted from the ground and entwined around his ankles, but he pulled free. As he grabbed the body of the woman, the green tree swung one of its branches at him. Strigor ducked the blow, turned around, and yelled "Run!".

Then followed a running battle, as our heroes tried to keep the distance between themselves and the pursuing plants while Entana loosed Fire Bolt after Fire Bolt at them - alas! the recent rain meant that his spell had little effect on the soaked trunks of the trees. But eventually they cut down the withered tree, and it looked that they would at last flee the green tree, when from before them an arrow struck Strigor.

A solitary figure stood before them. It was Manfrie.

"I told you to leave this well alone, but you would not. Now you will all die here!", he spat as he nocked another arrow.

Strigor launched himself at the forester, while Entana struggled with the walking tree. Gio? Gio cowered behind a tree as melee raged.

But our hero soon gained the upper hand. Entana's spells wore the walking tree down, and it at last stopped moving, its trunk now smoking, and Manfrie was down on his knees, bleeding out. With the last ounces of his strength, the forester dragged himself to Leonra's body, and with his dying breath said: Sorry, my love. I had not meant for things to turn out this way... but if I can't have you, no one will."

With the excitement of battle over, our party realised the gravity of the situation: they had killed an agent of the Baron, and had no witness in their favour. The option of running away and become outlaws was briefly discussed, but eventually the decided to return to Woodside to face the music.

The trio emerged from the woods bearing Lenora's body, and soon the whole village had gather round them. They told their story to Sir Heisen, who at first found their tale of sickened wolves, walking trees, and accusations against Manfrie difficult to believe. But as the villagers and foresters corroborated on their story with their accounts of Manfrie's failed courting of Lenora, and Mama Clay told her lore about the legend of evil trees that awakened when fed with the blood of innocents, he was convinced.

Orglath was returned to the party, and the four were given a reward for their help. The party spent another night at Woodside, and in the morning started their journey back to Tamalir.


Prepping and Running the Game

The basis of this scenario was "Death in the Wood", available on Dungeon Master Guild (spoilers ahead!).

When the players chose to explore the Gardens of Tarn, I looked for a forest-based adventure module to use. Now forest-based adventures can be rather typical, featuring either elves, the fey, hags, or other woodland creatures from the Monster Manual.

"Death in the Wood" was a little different from the usual forest-based adventure as, at its heart, it is more of a murder mystery. The original story had a jealous logger kill another logger, and the NPC who sought the PCs' help was a woman.

Mama Clay was an improvised NPC - I should have known that mention of herbs would prompt the players to seek out healing potions. Her name and persona were based on that of an NPC in a Dragon Warriors scenario I ran for my family earlier this year. I think I will use her again in my other campaigns.

I liked how Gio's player gallantly refused his money, but instead asked that he sing their tales instead. I imagine that after this, heartbroken Wilhem will leave Woodside and become a traveling minstrel, and perhaps become an NPC that the A Team and B team will meet again.

Anyway, as logging was forbidden in the Gardens of Tarn, I had to change that part of the story. This lead to some reading on the use of medieval forests, and in particular about pannage and its importance to the livelihood of villages. Use of the medieval forest was strictly regulated, and in many cases the rights were leased to certain vassals, who would police this. This led to me creating a conflict between the foresters and the swineherds, and of course adding Manfrie's personal motivations for keeping people out of the woods into the mix.

This was again a very linear 2-encounter "dungeon". The fight with the blights turned out to be more difficult for the party than I had expected, but once they opened up the distance between themselves and the Vine Blight it was game over for the bad guy. Fortunately I had taken a tip from Jim Murphy to attack PCs between battles before they had a chance to rest, and planned for Manfrie to trail and attack the PCs when it became obvious that they had found his secret. Wounded, pursued on one side by walking tree and facing a fresh opponent on the other, the players feared a TPK.

My favourite moment of the session was when the players paused after the battle to discuss what they were going to do now that they had murdered a "federal agent". Medieval fantasy RPGs can oftentimes have a rather blase attitude towards the killing of humans, and this was something I wanted to avoid for this campaign.

I had planned for the scenario to be short as I wanted to play the "downtime" activities after the party returned to Tamalir. I used one of the B Team characters as an NPC whom they interacted with, with the result that their (the A Team's) adventures now form the seed for the B Team. I will write more about this in the next report. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Terrinoth #4 - The Road of the Dead

Campaign Diary

Our motley crew, comprising of Entana the Wizard, his bodyguard Strigoi the Orc Fighter, Gio the Gnomish Rogue, and Orglath the Dragon hybrid Barbarian set out from the great city of Tamalir on the 13th day of the month of Witu; their destination: the Ashen Hills, where Entana hoped to study the rune-marked obelisks found there.

(click here for PC profiles)

Their journey took them across the barony of Otrin, between the Gardens of Tarn and the rock formation known as Menara's Teeth, and into the barony of Frest. After a week traveling, they arrived at the foot of the Ashen Hills. Here, our party was intercepted by soldiers from Fort Rodric, a stronghold guarding the passage between the Ashen Hills and the Mountains of Marshan to the south. Upon learning their quest, the sergeant of the undermanned fort requested that they reported their findings to him, and the party agreed.

The following day the party trekked into the hills, following the directions given by one of the soldiers who had seen one of the obelisk formations. At a little before noon they arrived at the destination: a cluster of six standing stones, set in two rows of three. Each of the standing stones was covered in runes from an unknown language. After several hours of study, Entana determined that that some of the runic symbols described the solar alignment that was consistent with the autumn solstice, which as luck would have it, was that very day!

As the sun dipped to the horizon, the last rays of light from it streamed between the standing stones, and lit a cluster of boulders atop an adjoining hill. Making their way there as dusk falls, our party found a cave opening that has been deliberately covered by a stone slab. They pushed aside the stone slab, entered the opening, and found themselves on a ledge in a natural cavern, overlooking a body of water some 50 feet below. The party descended to the pool below using a combination of rope and the Feather Fall spell, where they were attacked by a strange being made entirely of water. After dispatching the being, our adventurers exited the only tunnel out of the cavern, following the outflow of the pool until they reached the edge of a waterfall within another cavern, one larger than the one they had just left.

The party made their way down the waterfall to the ground below to find themselves on the banks of an underground river some 20 feet wide, and deeper than the length of a quarterstaff. A statue of a kneeling figure stood on the near bank, and across the river from it they could see the opening of a tunnel that led deeper into the cave complex. On the near bank, they found dozens of large, covered urns lined up against the walls of the cavern. They eventually gathered up the courage to open one, and found within it the skeletal remains of a person, with an earthen jug, mug, and bowl.

While the rest of the party tried to figure out a way to cross the river, Gio the Gnome systematically opened the other urns, to find that they all contained the same thing: a set of skeletons, a jug, a mug, and a bowl. The party now realised that they were in the burial grounds of an ancient people, and wondered if they should leave the dead undisturbed. But eventually curiosity won, and they decided to proceed on. Unable to figure out how the statue might aid them in crossing the river, the two strong men of the party proposed that they tossed Gio across with a rope tied around his waist. Having performed in a traveling circus before, Gio agreed to the plan, and executed a perfect landing on the far bank.

The whole party made their way across the river. The tunnel wound further into the bowels of the earth, and soon the rushing sound of the river was left behind. Eventually they entered a cavern, where they saw half a dozen urns lined up against one side. Before they had the chance to inspect the urns more closely, the sound of pottery breaking rang out, and from the darkness on the other side of the cavern five skeletal figures, each one wielding a corroded bronze sword, lurched out. It was fighting at close quarters, and the party won the day. They searched the cavern thoroughly, and found five (by now) empty urns on the other side of the cavern. Inside the original six urns they found six sets of skeletons, interred with bronze jewellery, including a necklace with an amber set into it. They noted that urns themselves were also of a higher craftsmanship, and were adorned with geometric patterns, unlike the undecorated ones found across the river. All previous misgivings about desecrating tombs vanished as our four adventurers divided up jewellery among themselves.

The tunnel continued on the far side of the cavern, and although all wounded by now, the party decided to carry on their exploration. A little further on they found their way blocked by a stone slab, upon which were carved runes similar to the ones found on the obelisks on the hill. Strigoi and Orglath pushed the slab aside, and the party entered into the small chamber beyond it. A single urn, a little larger than the ones they have seen so far, sat on the ground at the end of the chamber. As they approached it, its lid was pushed aside from within, and a skeletal figure, clad in corroded bronze armour and wearing a bronze helmet of an unfamiliar design, vaulted out of the urn. In its hand it held a bronze sword which gleamed in the light of their lantern. After a brutal melee which saw Entana nearly losing his life, our party defeated the skeletal figure. Within its urn they found a cloak pin made of gold and encrusted with gems. Strigoi claimed the curiously untarnished sword as his prize.

Too exhausted to make their way back to the surface, the party decided to rest right there and then in the chamber.


Prepping and Running the Game

As I mentioned in my earlier posts in this series, I planned to run the first part of this campaign as a sandbox. At session zero, I showed the Runebound map to my players, and gave a short description of what rumours were associated with each of the sites of interest, and asked them where they wanted to go explore.

They picked up on the "rune-marked obelisks" on Ashen Hills, and I had a little less than a week from that point to come up with an adventure. The "Realms of Terrinoth" book did not elaborate on the nature or origin of the obelisks, so I had to find a scenario or module that featured obelisks. After some time on rpgnow, I found what I needed in Raging Swan Press' "Road of the Dead" (spoilers ahead!).

The adventure features an exploration of a cave complex that is a physical representation of the spiritual beliefs of an ancient race. The author based the mythology of the race on that of the Mesoamerican civilisations, but I thought it would be more appropriate to base my dungeon on that of a bronze age European culture.

A little googling later I found out about the Urnfield Culture, and from then on it was easy to imagine a similar pre-historic culture in Terrinoth, existing perhaps before the days of the Penacor kings. I took the idea of urn burials, and of the presence of different classes in these people and how that was apparent by their burial goods, and put that in my dungeon. I also came across the theory about the concept of a river that separated the realms of the living from the dead that existed in the common proto-Indo-European culture, and incorporated that too. And in case you are wondering, the 'solution' to the puzzle of crossing the river was to pay the guardian statue two silver coins (by placing them onto its eyes), which would have raised a stone causeway for the PCs to cross.

For much of the environmental challenges I copied from the original module, but for the 'monsters' I decided to go with the more level-appropriate undead. For loot I rolled up the worth on a random loot table, and then decided that the jewellery they looted would bring roughly that amount on the market. For magical loot I initially contemplated getting something that would fit one of the party members specifically, but in the end I decided to again go with the theme of the dungeon and leave them with something that a bronze age warrior king would reasonable have as part of his burial goods - perhaps Strigoi can make it his signature weapon in the future.

The dungeon I eventually used is linear: there is just one path with no branches or junctions. This was partly because I wanted to keep things simple as most of us are not familiar with the D&D 5E rules, and partly because that was how I envisioned a burial cave complex would be. The environmental obstacles placed in the PCs' way was a way to make the linear path more interesting, providing options in how they would proceed as opposed to where they would proceed. However, I found that at low level play this meant many skill checks, which in turn meant many chances of failures, which meant attrition of Hit Points, which, at low level, can lead to a dead spiral.

My unfamiliarity with the rules meant that I missed many minor rule details when running combat. Hopefully I will get better with practice.

Still, I consider this session a minor success as I think I managed to convey the sense of exploration a mysterious location. The players' realisation that they were in the burial grounds of an ancient people, and their (albeit brief) misgivings about grave-robbing made the work of prepping and running this session worthwhile.

Next week the party will explore the mysterious Gardens of Tarn, so now I need to go find a forest-based module. See you next week.

Monday, July 02, 2018

Terrinoth #3 - The B Team

As mentioned in the first post in this series, one of the things I am trying out for this campaign is the "B Team". The idea is that on the days that not all four of my core "A Team" players can make a session, we play a "B Team" game with those who can, using their "B Team" characters, plus the characters of other non-regular players who can make that session.

As the B Team games will occur on an irregular basis, their adventures will all be concluded in a single session (of about 3 hours). The composition of the party for each session will also not be fixed, and will depend on who can attend that particular session.

What will make this different from a series of one-shot games is that the PCs will adventure in the same world and timeline as the A Team, and they will gain experience and level up. At the same time, there will be a continuous metaplot occurring in the game world. One way of describing this is that this is a closed Adventurers' League table, although the adventures I run will not be AL-legal.

If you are directed to this page from our WhatsApp group or Meetup, here are some information and guidelines:

The Rules

The rules we will be using are the D&D 5E rules. I will go more into character creation below.

The Setting

The setting is Terrinoth, the fantasy setting created by Fantasy Flight Game. You can find out more about the setting at this wikia, but do be aware that the information may not coincide 100% with my game world.

The Premise

To maximise playing time, we will start with the premise that the PCs are all adventurers responding to the call of a local lord to undertake a mission.

This will be primarily be for a cash reward, but if your character has other motivations for going on adventures, it will be even better. As I get to know your character better, I may work their motivations and back stories into the story line if possible. I want this campaign to have more continuity in terms of your character's story arc than in the typical AL game.

Creating Your Character

We will use only options from the Players Handbook. We will use the Standard Array for stats. The Race and Classes allowed are discussed below. We will use the standard Background rules.

Characters start at level 2. Advancement will be by Experience Points Award. I expect PCs to gain a level every two to five sessions.

Do also come up with a short-term goal and a long-term goal for your character, as well as an enemy from his/her past and also an ally from his/her past.

Character Race

The following races are open (Terrinoth race/D&D race equivalent: brief description):
  • Human/Human: You may choose to be either of Terrinoth (generic fantasy medieval European, specifically German) origin, urban or rural, or from Isheim (fantasy Viking), Lorimor (fantasy medieval France), Torue Albes (fantasy England, with a maritime emphasis), or Al-Kalim (fantasy Arabian).
  • Forge Dwarf/Hill Dwarf: Dwarves who live in the mixed human-dwarf city of Forge in Terrinoth.
  • Dunwarr Dwarf/Mountain Dwarf: Dwarves who live in the dwarven kingdom of Dunwarr to the north of Terrinoth.
  • Lowborn Elf/Wood Elf: Elves who are descended from the first generation (Highborn) elves who came to Terrinoth, and hail from the Aymhelim Forest to the south of Terrinoth.
  • Free Cities Elf/Half-Elf: Elves who have taken up living in human cities, mostly in Dawnsmoor, near the Aymhelim Forest.
  • Deep Elf/Drow: Once part of the Daewyl, a tribe of Elves that became corrupted by the Ynfernael powers, the Deep Elves seek to atone for their sins by destroying the remnants of the Daewyl and demons.
  • Burrow Gnome/Lightfoot Halfling, Stout Halfling, Forest Gnome: Burrow Gnomes live in large matriarchal bands and have mostly abandoned interaction with the other races, but occasionally, some will still succumb to the lure of adventure.
  • Wanderer Gnome/Rock Gnome: Wanderer Gnomes roam all over the world in communal caravans, making a living as traders, performers, and occasionally even as labourers or craftsmen in human communities.
  • Broken Plains Orc, Stone-Dweller Orc/Half-Orc: Once viewed as enemies of Man, orcs have become accepted as one of the 'civilised' races since they switch sides and allied with Terrinoth during the Dragon Wars 800 years ago. Broken Plains Orcs live a nomadic lifestyle on the Broken Plains east of Terrinoth, while the Stone-Dweller Orcs have abandoned their traditional ways and live among humans in their cities.
  • Dragon Hybrid/Dragonborn: Created by the dragons as foot soldiers during the Dragon Wars 800 years ago, these humanoid hybrids were left behind after the war ended abruptly. Once hunted mercilessly by the humans, they have in recent times become more tolerated. (NB: Red Dragon ancestry only; gain +1 CON instead of +1 CHA)

Character Classes

All Character Classes appropriate to your character's background can be taken, with the following caveats:
  • Sorcerers, Warlocks: Open use of magic may be viewed as a sign of Ynfernael influence and result in persecution.
  • Wizards: Wizards in the setting learn new spells by finding and studying Runebound crystal shards instead of copying them into their spellbooks. This makes it a very challenging class to play in the game.

Optional Rules in Play

I generally try not to kill PCs, but I want danger to be real, so the following rules are in play: 

  • Wind and Wound: Hit Points are divided into two halves: Wind, and Wound. Wind represents things like luck, stamina, and alertness, while Wound represents actual damage. When a PC takes damage, it is first deducted off Wind, and when Wind drops to zero, the damage is applied to Wound. Wind is restored by spending Hit Dice, while Wound is restored by healing, whether via magic or potion, and by natural Healing, which happens at the rate of the PC's level + CON modifier per day
  • Slow Natural Healing: PCs do not regain hit points at the end of a long rest.
  • Experience Award: PCs who 'drop' during an encounter do not gain Experience Points for that encounter
  • PCs who are reduced to zero Hit Points do not make Death Saves, but will 'bleed out' in one minute unless he is healed or stabilised with a Medicine roll. Afterwards, he will roll on the Injury Table (see below).
  •  PCs who recover from being reduced to zero Hit Points may not act in the turn they recover.
  • Character "Death": If a PC "dies" from failing death saves (i.e. not sudden death or in a manner where the body cannot reasonably be recovered), he loses one level of Experience Points.

Injury Table
Roll            Effect
1              False hope. Character dies.
2              Lose 1 Strength. Gain 1 level of Exhaustion
3              Lose 1 Dexterity. Gain 1 level of Exhaustion
4              Lose 1 Constitution. Gain 1 level of Exhaustion
5              Lose 1 Intelligence. Gain 1 level of Exhaustion
6              Lose 1 Wisdom. Gain 1 level of Exhaustion
7              Lose 1 Charisma. Gain 1 level of Exhaustion
8 to 19     Gain 1 level of Exhaustion
20            Gain 1 Hit Dice of Hit Points. Gain 1 level of Exhaustion


The games will be played on Mondays, from 7pm to 10pm or so, at my place in Bukit Batok. We typically meet at West Mall for dinner at 6pm, and then make our way to my place afterwards. You can meet the group at my place if you do not join us for dinner.

I will announce the session date on our WhatsApp chat, and players who can make that session can respond on the chat. I will try to post as early as I can so you can plan your schedules.

Generally, places will be given on a first-come, first-serve basis, but if a player has played in the last two consecutive sessions, I may give the spot to another player who has not.

I want to respect everybody's time and confirm the player list for each session as early as I can, so please only sign up for a session if you can make it.

Dice and stationery are provided. You may bring your own dice but if I think they are not balanced I will ask that you use mine instead.

Combat will be played on battle-maps with figurines. You may bring your own figurine if you wish to.

Bottled water and snacks are provided - we only allow plain water at the table for... historical reasons (don't ask).

That's all for now. Do feel free to post any question you may have on our WhatsApp group or in the comments. Hope to see you in Terrinoth soon!