Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Iron Principalities: Session 5

Dramatis Personae:

Kholark Sunderstone, Half-Orc Barbarian 2
Dormammu, Half-Elf Warlock 2 (NPC'd for this session)
Zerin of Birdsall, Half-Elf Paladin 2
Mivahl Shimov, Human Fighter 2
Mara, Human Cleric 2
Cor, Rock Gnome Wizard 2
Lasair Lightfoot, Wood Elf Rogue 2
Sylvus Treeshroud, Wood Elf Druid 2

Yes, we've added an eighth player to the group, as Zerin's player's girlfriend decided to play.  This is now the largest campaign group I've run for in a decade, but it's going to be (I hope) easier to run D&D for eight players than it was to try and run Call of Cthulhu for eight players.

Setting out from Craghold to retrace their path into the Maw, the party stopped off at Anoroc's cabin, with Kholark announcing his conversion to Bormoism.  The party purchased two more kegs of Anoroc's fiery moonshine, one for Cor's new inn and one as a gift for Borgai, Great Khan of the Hobgoblins.

Moving on, as they were about to make camp for the night, they heard the trumpeting of a furious elephant and a woman scream for help.  Racing to the scene, they found an overturned wagon being systematically crushed by an enraged bull elephant, his hide peppered with crossbow bolts; surrounding the scene were the crushed and mangled bodies of three men.  Underneath the wagon, they could see a woman crouching in terror.

Assessing the situation, Sylvus approached the elephant, hands high and wide, speaking softly, trying to draw the pachyderm's attention and calm it; internally, he was ruing not preparing "Speak with Animals" that morning.  He managed to sooth the great beast, casting a healing spell to ease the pain as he removed the bolts.

While he was doing this, Kholark, Mivahl and Zerin flipped the wagon over, recognizing that it was now mostly scrap wood.  The woman beneath, however, was unharmed, identifying herself as Mara, a seeker of knowledge.  Seeing that her initial plans were scrapped with the wagon and her hired guides, one of whom had thought it smart to try and shoot the elephant for its tusks, she agreed to join the party.

Their first day of travel through the Maw was uneventful, until the party was set upon by a trio of giant vultures towards nightfall, though the party made short work of these.

Their second day proved more eventful, as a Purple Worm surfaced beneath them - A few members
of the party felt a rumbling beneath the ground and alerted the rest, allowing them to dive for higher/more solid ground as the Worm erupted, its mouth slamming into the rear of the wagon.  Zerin slipped and fell back into the wagon precisely as the Worm was lifting it sixty feet in the air.  Managing to dodge falling into the Worm's mouth, he pulled his dagger from its sheath and dug it into the worm's chitin, using that to slow his fall as he slid down the worm's back.

Having destroyed the wagon and eaten one of the oxen that had been tethered to it (the other exploded when the harness snapped and it plunged 60 feet to its death), the Worm departed.

Moving carefully, Lasair sifted through the wreckage of the wagon, managing to salvage enough rations to last the group for six days and the keg for Borgai Khan; Cor was holding on to his keg in his Handy Haversack.

Fortunately, the party was soon met by Erdo the Hobgoblin and eight other hobgoblins, all mounted.  Surveying the situation, Erdo commented that the great worms rarely venture out of the deeper desert, but that rarely is not never.  The party are encouraged to climb onto the backs of the worgs, as their camp is nearby.

Arriving in camp, the party is treated to dinner - scorpion-meat chili, a slice of hard, black bread and a mug of bitter ale, and afterwards, Vekra, one of the female hobgoblins of the group, leans towards Mivahl:

"I like a man who can eat," she grunts appreciatively, "If the night is cold for you, my bedroll is easy to find."

The party also, over dinner, ran afoul of Kargan, Erdo's second in command.  Citing the well-known deceitfulness of the "soft races," Kargan accuses the party of being assassins sent to kill the Great Khan, and calls for their immediate execution.  Erdo silences Kargan, asking if he wants to challenge Erdo for command.  Kargan demurs, losing significant face in the process.  Erdo explains to Zerin that part of Kargan's duties include killing him and taking his position if he ever becomes demonstrably weak.

After two days' uneventful riding (with Vekra giving Mivahl an almost constant dagger-look for turning down her advances), the party arrives at Molekh, capital city of the hobgoblins, entering through the "Gate of Kur, the Head-Taker," a famous ancestor of Erdo's.  Amidst staring guards and civilians, the party are led to a large tenement-style building, where they will be quartered for the night, with slaves assigned to cook and tend to their needs.  Erdo explains that while the party has been granted permission to stand before the Khan, they still need to earn the privilege of doing so, and for that, in the morning they are to fight a monster in the Arena of Molekh.

Before Erdo leaves, Zerin asks about any family crests the "House of Kur" might have, and is told it's three narrow triangles in a row.

Zerin sends a slave out for red fabric and green ink, intent on honoring the House of Kur, and Erdo specifically, for sponsoring their presence in Molekh.  He crafts a set of surcoats bearing a modified version of the House of Kur's crest, meant to show the party's subservience to the House of Kur.

In the morning, the party is brought to the Arena - a 100-foot by 50-foot area, sunken 20 feet into the ground, surrounded by stadium seating.  At one end, a massive hobgoblin sits in a private box under silken tents, surrounded by wives and guardsmen.  The stands are starting to fill with spectators, and the front row all the way around is filled with hobgoblin archers, ready to respond should anything escape from the Arena, or any competitors try anything "funny."

Seated within a waiting area for contestants, the party is offered refreshments - water, ale, battle mushrooms - while they wait their turn.  Everyone but Cor and Kholark, curious, takes a battle mushroom (though I think Mara just took one to study later for possible medicinal properties; she can correct me if I'm wrong though).  Finally, the drums begin to pound and the gate separating them from the sands of the Arena rises.

The party steps out, blinking in the sunlight.  The stands are packed to capacity.  A second gate, on the far side of the arena, below the Khan's seat, begins to rise.  From within emerges an enormous, bull-like creature, half again as large as the largest auroch any of the party have ever seen.  Its skin ripples with dense, iron plates, its horns are two huge sweeping arcs of jagged steel.  From its nostrils pour gouts of yellow-green gas.

The party curses in trepidation.  They're about to fight a Gorgon.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Iron Principalities: Session 4

This session saw a little bit of travel, and a whole lot of wheeling, dealing, and drinking.

 Dramatis Personae:

Kholark Sunderstone, Half-Orc Barbarian 2
Dormammu, Half-Elf Warlock 2 (played for this session by guest player Cerenity, as Dormammu's usual player could not make it)
Zerin of Birdsall, Half-Elf Paladin 2
Mivahl Shimov, Human Fighter 2
Cor, Rock Gnome Wizard 2
Lasair Lightfoot, Wood Elf Rogue 2
Sylvus Treeshroud, Wood Elf Druid 2

Setting out from Anoroc's cabin, the party had a half-day's trek through the southern peaks of the Dragonspine Mountains to reach Craghold.  After a brief but ultimately peaceful encounter with a nesting pair of Dragon-Hawks, the party arrived in Craghold - like most of the smaller settlements in the Principalities, Craghold consisted of a labyrinth of buildings clustered tightly around the central castle, and surrounded by a thick defensive wall.

Entering through the single gatehouse, Mivahl was surprised to see, mixed among the regular militia guardsmen, members of the Red Brotherhood - a famed and feared mercenary company, known to turn to piracy and brigandage during times of peace rather than stoop so low as to perform honest labor.  Their presence here as guards was truly startling.

Asking around, they readily found directions to the Whore's Arse tavern, and the party split - Kholark, Dormammu, Zerin and Mivahl went to the Whore's Arse, while Cor, Lasair and Sylvus looked for a place they could rent rooms for the night.

They found the Broken Blade Inn, a place that had recently gained a reputation as having a "bad atmosphere" and thus business was low.  The owner, Tetra, was eager to sell, but not so eager to sell at the prices Cor was offering - five gold to own an entire inn was a bit insulting, even for a woman as desperate to leave as her! She explained that the inn was haunted, and the elves detected a faint, acidic odor emanating from the basement.  Investigating, they found a narrow passageway, barely more than a crack, just wide enough to crawl through, hidden behind a wine butt.  Exploring, they discovered an ancient, brick-built room, encrusted with nitre and cobwebs, apparently abandoned for centuries.  An age-blacked, bronze-bound door on the far side of the room seemed to beckon, and Sylvus opened it, revealing another room beyond.

"We've found a dungeon," Sylvus said.  Wracking his memories, Cor identified the acidic odor - it's the smell of the Abyss.  A demon had been conjured here, possibly recently.  Closing the door and getting out of the basement, Cor sent his hawk familiar to summon the rest of the party.

Meanwhile, at the Whore's Arse... we're switching to a bullet-pointed list because a lot happened here.

  • Dormammu buys a hit of black lotus powder off a cloaked dealer, tucking it between his cheek and gum and letting the low-grade euphoria and hallucinations wash over him.  He gets to chatting up a woman he believes to be Lord Vesper's wife, eventually joining her in a curtained-off alcove.  
  • Zerin, Mivahl and Kholark watch a game of "Sting" in progress in the back corner - a completely nude dwarf is spread over a table with a large, green scorpion (a breed known as "Screamers" because their venom is so potent that it "shuts down your ability to do anything except scream.") scuttling over him.  Bets are placed on where he'll be stung and if he'll call for it to be removed before it decides to sting.  
  • Once the dwarf is stung and rolled off the table, Zerin uses his Lay on Hands ability to relieve the dwarf's pain, and then buys a round of drinks for the four of them - intrigued by what he sees on the blackboard menu, he pays out the necessary gold for each of them to have a shot of "Father Jack's Ultimate Pissup." The bartender retrieves a leaded glass bottle with a pair of tongs and carefully measures out four shots of syrupy purple-red liquid.
  • The Ultimate Pissup doesn't actually taste like anything that the party can tell; this may be due to it killing tastebuds the second it touches the inside of their mouths.  Similar in content to a blend of codeine cough syrup and 190-proof Everclear from our world, Kholark and Mivahl experience tunnel vision and think they hear dead relatives calling to them as they swallow their shots; the dwarf immediately begins projectile vomiting so hard it's coming out his nose, while Zerin loses all bowel control and instantly soils his armor.  
  • Mivahl strips down and goes in for a round of Sting, with Zerin and Kholark betting that he'll get stung on the hand - as happens when Mivahl slaps the scorpion to ensure their victory.  The group is toasted for their ingenuity, but encouraged not to try that kind of thing again.  
  • Feeling pretty good, Kholark stands up and challenges anyone in the bar to a greased wrestling match, finding a challenger in local champion Jagga, a big, shaven-headed bruiser with an eyepatch and a Fu Manchu mustache.  Though Jagga fights dirty (including kicking Kholark in the balls), Kholark not only beats him unconscious and drop-kicks him into a table, but manages to put a dent in the bar itself with Jagga's forehead.  
  • The party soon draws the attention of Borut, the castle bailiff and man they were looking to meet.  Borut is a half-orc, more than a foot taller than Kholark, and dressed in fur and leather.  They quickly befriend him, especially once Mivahl nearly dies competing against him in a "doubles match" of Sting.  Borut declares them "Alright" and encourages them to come by the castle in the morning and he'll introduce them to Lord Vesper if they're looking for work.  
With Dormammu in a narcotic haze and Mivahl half-dead from scorpion venom, the group emerges into the night in time for Cor's hawk to land on Zerin's shoulder.  

At the Broken Blade, Tetra has had enough of Cor's sarcastic comments about her competency and intelligence, and spits on the floor, seizing the pouch of gold coins out of his hand and storming away.  With the remainder of the group arriving and two members out of commission, the group decides that investigating the dungeon under the tavern would be a task best left for another day.

The night passes uneventfully and in the morning, after breakfast and a conversation with a traveling peddler named Oxnard Gorguts (especially regarding his experiments with a substance he calls "dragonpowder," and how it's the reason his hands are bandaged and his eyebrows singed off), the group sets off for the castle.

Lord Vesper is initially unimpressed with the statuette of Gilgamesh von Hohenzollern brought as tribute, but changes his mind when Dormammu and Zerin spin an epic tale of bypassing traps and a terrifying giant spider to retrieve the statuette.  When Zerin proposes an expedition to more accurately map the Maw, and gain military intelligence regarding the hobgoblin encampments therein, Vesper agrees to grant them the use of a wagon and 20 days' iron rations for the expedition, expecting a new map and valuable data in return.  

Realizing that if he wants the Broken Blade to make money for him in his absence he will need a staff, Cor visits another local tavern, the Running Boar, and offers one of the serving girls there money in exchange for her services.  Misunderstanding his offer and believing him to be a pimp, she refuses, but the other serving girl agrees.  "Great.  Go to the Broken Blade Inn and run the place until I get back.  Bye." Cor explains over his shoulder as he walks away.  

With business taken care of in Craghold, the party sets off to make their date with Borgai the Great, Khan of Khans and ruler of all the Hobgoblins.  

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Iron Principalities: Session 3

Last night we picked up right where session 2 ended in our Iron Principalities game, with the players bracing themselves for an oncoming swarm of the cursed Knights of the Maimed King, an order of fallen paladins exterminated for their crimes three hundred years ago, bound to the site of their demise and the sinister half-life of undeath.

 Dramatis Personae:

Kholark Sunderstone, Half-Orc Barbarian 1
Dormammu, Half-Elf Warlock 1
Zerin of Birdsall, Half-Elf Paladin 1
Mivahl Shimov, Human Fighter 1
Cor, Rock Gnome Wizard 1 (NPC'd for this session)
Lasair Lightfoot, Wood Elf Rogue 1
Sylvus Treeshroud, Wood Elf Druid 1

As the six Knights closed ranks on the adventurers' position, the battle swung wildly; Kholark, Mivahl and Zerin all came within a hairsbreadth of death under the hacking swords and gnarled claws of the ravenous undead, which seemed almost impossible to fell.  Finally, Cor dropped a Thunderwave spell, knocking the Knights back and allowing the party to make a fighting retreat.  The Knights of the Maimed King did not pursue past the walls of the Groaning Keep.

The next day as they traveled, hugging the foothills of the Ironspine Mountains at the edge of the volcanic desert known as the Maw, they spotted a lone rider, about three hundred meters away in the desert, pacing them; Lisair was able to determine that the rider was most likely a hobgoblin, mounted on a Worg, and watching them through a spyglass.

Zerin and Dormammu rode out to meet the rider, open hands held aloft to signify peace and parlay.  The rider stopped and removed his helmet, revealing the scarred, red-skinned face of a hobgoblin warrior.  "You are not a merchant caravan," he observed gruffly.

Zerin explained to the hobgoblin that they were cartographers, hired to map the hazards of the Maw, and that while the local rulers didn't like or trust each other, the group had conned all three of them into paying for the expedition.  At this, the hobgoblin burst out laughing.

"You make the princes fight...with gold? Yes? Fight with gold instead of steel.  Very funny! Wait until I tell Great Khan, princes fight with gold!"

After a little bit of further discussion, they learn the hobgoblin's name is Erdo, and he warns them to be careful - the giant scorpions of the Maw had an explosive breeding season last year, and now roam
the waste in unusually high numbers.  He offers to bring them before the Great Khan himself to repeat their tale of making the princes "fight with gold," if they will return to this spot in six days.  Dormammu readily agrees.  Calculating travel, if they drop off the naming ceremony gift at Craghold Keep and turn right around and head back, they can arrive just in time for their meeting with Borgai the Great, Khan of Khans, ruler of all the Hobgoblins.

Zerin gives Erdo a gold piece in friendship, and Erdo gives him a Zuleck - a rectangular iron coin used by the hobgoblins - in return.  They salute, and ride off in opposite directions.

The next day, mid-morning, the group are ambushed by a trio of Ogres; hoping to repeat their diplomatic approach from the day before, this plan swiftly fell apart as Mivahl and one of the horses were impaled on heavy, ogrish javelins.  Dormammu sent one of the ogres running with a casting of Discordant Whispers, as the party laid into the other two.  The ogres barely knew what hit them before they were spilling their life's blood on the ground.  Looting the bodies, they found a large copper-plated belt, set with bits of quartz and fool's gold, apparently of ogrish manufacture (like a big, cheap, badly made Wrestlemania belt), which Mivahl promptly claimed.

As they exited the Maw the next day (so it is now the 20th of Sowmont) and entered the grasslands south of the desert, towards evening they noticed the plume of smoke from a cookfire; approaching, they found a ramshackle cabin, light pouring from its windows, next to an odd shrine; a crude stone carving of a huge, beefy human male with a giant beard, standing next to a bear that was likewise bearded.

The door of the cabin opened, and a shirtless dwarf (his shirtlessness not immediately apparent due to the density of his chest and back hair) emerged, bellowing welcomes and blessings "in the name of Bormo."

Bormo, it was soon learned, was a deified hero of the region from generations past, now largely forgotten, considered the patron deity of bears, beards, manly wrestling and drinking contests.  Intrigued, the party entered the cabin, welcomed by the dwarf, who identified himself as "Anoroc, last priest of Bormo." Here they also met Jaroslav, Anoroc's bear companion - a black bear dressed in an embroidered leather vest and a chainmail hood.

Once the mugs of Anoroc's homebrew whiskey were passed around, Mivahl got into a drinking contest with Jaroslav, which he promptly lost, earning him a hearty thump of approval on the chest from Anoroc.  When asked about Lord Vesper and Craghold Keep, Anoroc responded...emphatically, spitting on the floor with a bellow of "That, to Vesper!" followed by squatting down and farting on the spit puddle, followed by "And that, too, to Vesper!"

Anoroc explained that all the drinks in Craghold were watered down.  Worse, Vesper was a demon cultist, and a very "unmanly" one at that, "if he worshiped Bormo like a real man, he wouldn't need to summon a demon to ah, how you say, put babies in his wife. Bormo make sure you have many fat babies." Anoroc had heard rumors that Vesper, his wife, and various hangers-on at court participated in monthly wine-soaked orgies of sex and black magic, and could confirm that all dogs and wolves went berserk in the vicinity of Craghold.

When asked if he had any idea how they might infiltrate the Keep to look for evidence, Anoroc considered and then said, "Craghold Keep attached to small town.  Find tavern called 'Whore's Arse' - is always open.  Castle bailiff, half-orc named Borut, drink there.  You drink with him, he take you to Vesper.  But seriously, fuck that guy. Fuck Vesper."

[DM's Note: Borgai, Bormo, Borut.  I really need to make sure I don't do that again.]

That night, Mivahl converted to Bormoism, and in the morning, Anoroc saw them off with a huge breakfast of bacon and whiskey, a small keg of whiskey, and a powerful blessing of Bormo: "May your beards stay full and righteous; may your pecs never sag; may your back hair never thin; may you always hold your drink; all this, may Bormo provide."

Saturday, July 22, 2017

"Welcome Back to the Land of the Living...Now Grab a Shovel and Start Digging!"

I got a lot more done on the commander for my undead retinue for Dragon Rampant than I'd anticipated today.  To wit, I finished him, basing and all.  The Dread Lich Nesuahyrrah is now ready to lead legions upon legions of animated skeletons into battle.

As a reminder, this is Bones #77280, Lich, with a tombstone and emergent skeleton that came packaged together as Dark Heavens Legend # 02043, meaning its been in the Reaper catalog for quite a long time!

Notes on the colors, because I know I'm going to need them again with the rest of this army...

  • Cloth: basecoat black, heavy drybrush "Midnight Blue," lighter drybrush "Twilight Blue."
  • Bone: basecoat black, drybrush with Stained Ivory/Yellowed Bone/Creamy Ivory triad.  
  • Armor: basecoat black, basecoat 50/50 mix Leather Brown/Ancient Bronze, wash Nuln Oil, highlight Ancient Bronze, highlight True Silver, wash Nuln Oil
  • Skin: basecoat black, basecoat Ghoul Skin, highlight Moldy Skin
  • Stone: basecoat black, drybrush Stormy Gray/Cloudy Gray/Misty Gray
  • Staff: Basecoat Dark Flesh, drybrush Dark Highlights
  • Leather: Lonestar Leather
  • Belt Buckle: Antique Gold
  • Base: Earth Brown
  • Eyes: Phoenix Red, Fire Orange

While I can't fault the results, I do kind of wish I'd picked a simpler recipe for the armor, because now I think I need to continue that recipe through the rest of the army for consistency's sake.  It does look really good.

Friday, July 21, 2017

On the Painting Bench

In case anybody thought I'd forgotten about figure painting in the heady rush of running a Dungeons & Dragons campaign, fear not.  My work bench is actually currently overflowing with the undead.  In addition to the "Men of the West" retinue I'm building for Dragon Rampant, I'm also building an undead retinue for demo games, which will make use of the wraiths I painted back in May.  As you may recall I got a stack of Reaper Bones skeletons back at Christmas time as part of the secret santa exchange; those are going to form the core, with each type of skeleton (swordsmen, spearmen, archers, two-handed weapons) being expanded out to create units of 12.

The other day at Just Games I picked up a half-dozen skeleton swordsmen, leaving me three short of a full unit, and I special ordered through them enough packs of "Skeleton Guardian w/ 2H Axe" and "Skeleton Guardian w/ 2H Sword" to complete a unit of Skeleton Berserkers as well as a Lich to lead them into battle, and an old set of Reaper set dressing, an "Undead Rising" pack, to flesh out the Lich's 50mm base into a little diorama and represent his "Summoner" ability.

So far I've washed and based the Skeleton Berserkers (a unit of Bellicose Foot with the undead "No Feelings" special rule), as well as straightened some of their postures and weapons with boiling water - though I notice some of the paper-thin zweihanders are starting to return to their original bent position.  I also washed the Lich, but didn't glue him down to the base; I did clean and prep the tombstone and emergent skeleton and, once I decided on positioning, glued them to a 50mm square base off a Fireforge sprue, the Lich's position traced on in Sharpie.

The Berserkers I'm saving for the August painting challenge at the Dragon Rampant Facebook group, but I started on the Lich tonight while the sunlight was still coming in the window.  I ran out of black while basecoating him; this has never happened before.  I got the tombstone and the rubble on the base painted, the Lich's robes are done and I made some good progress on the armor, which I'm hoping will end up looking like badly tarnished silver when all is said and done.  I'll post more pics tomorrow, possibly with more done on him; his staff and skin still need to be done, and the armor finished, and then the ring of skulls and the rising skeleton on the base.  I think it's going to look really good.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Iron Principalities, Session 2

This past Tuesday we had our second session, and our first full session of play, of the new Dungeons & Dragons campaign at Just Games.  I think the "newsletter" idea of the last post worked out really well, and I'm very excited to see the enthusiasm and investment of the players - Sylvus' player had a "spellbook" printed containing all the spells he has access too, while Dormammu's player was kind enough to bring a cheat sheet of "what you can do during your turn" for everyone.

Dramatis Personae:

 Kholark Sunderstone, Half-Orc Barbarian 1
Dormammu, Half-Elf Warlock 1
Zerin of Birdsall, Half-Elf Paladin 1
Mival Shimov, Human Fighter 1
Cor, Rock Gnome Wizard 1
Lasair Lightfood, Wood Elf Rogue 1
Sylvus Treeshroud, Wood Elf Druid 1

Lasair found the hiding place - a hollow under an upturned oak tree - of the kobolds that had been caught stealing cheese, and taking pity, turned the pork bones, nuts and a few other scraps she'd gathered into a serviceable stew for them, earning their trust and gaining a little bit more information about the town of Holger.  Granted, they weren't able to offer much beyond a kobold's perspective of the town - the best trash heaps to dig through and how to avoid being seen by the local constabulary.

The group spent an entire day - checking the calendar, it is the 16th of Sowmont, a month analogous to April in Earth's temperate zone of the northern hemisphere - exploring Uncle Oswedge's old house.  They found a number of interesting things, most notably a map of the region, with a number of castles and villages drawn on, with only the immediate vicinity of the Five-Towns labeled.  Also, a small gold statuette of the famed gnomish accordion-composer Gilgamesh von Hohenzollern on a trapped platform; when they carefully triggered the trap, a chute opened in the ceiling, dropping the desiccated remains of a long-dead giant wolf spider into the room.  It seems the trap had been neglected for some time.

Consulting the map and the various bits of news and local gossip they'd picked up at the Whole Hog the night before, they started planning a course of adventure.  If they took the Cursed Pass to the Maw, it would take them past the Groaning Keep, where three hundred years earlier, an entire order of corrupt knights were tortured to death for their crimes.  Skirting the edge of the Maw, they might be able to collect some goblin hands to trade in to Baron Vitellius for the bounty he'd announced.  They could drop off a naming ceremony present for Lord Vesper's newborn son (they decided to give him the statuette of Gilgamesh von Hohenzollern) at Craghold Keep and then circle around the southern end of the Ironspine Mountains to visit the town of Jonquil, curious about the retired war-wizard who had beaten a demon at chess and forced it to compile his memoirs.  From Jonquil it's a short jaunt to Baron Vitellius' castle to collect on the goblinoid bounty, and that will bring them halfway to the Dismal Swamp to investigate rumors of an impossibly ancient stone road through the swamp, the stones carved to resemble dragon scales.

Buying a wagon and enough food to last them to Jonquil, they bid Holger farewell for the time being, tasking the kobolds with keeping an eye on the house for them.

Travel down the Cursed Pass proved easy, and in late afternoon on their first day of travel (the 17th of Sowmont), they came within sight of the Groaning Keep, a foreboding edifice of black stone squatting toad-like over the Pass, crumbling under the weight of time and neglect.  They quickly noticed the complete absence of birdsong in the area; even the buzzing of insects was absent.  Around the Keep itself, nothing grew save a breed of greasy, gray-green vine that clung and tugged at the ruined masonry.  Cor was able to identify these as Assassin Vines, rumored to grow only in the soil of mass graves.  Approaching warily, Dormammu threw an experimental eldritch blast at the nearest growth, and was immediately attacked by lashing, thorny vines that nearly crushed the life out of him.  Pulling back, the party attempted to blast the vines with fire bolts and eldritch blasts, Mival and Kholark wading into the fray with their flails.  Enraged, Kholark brought the head of his flail down on the woody bole of the growth, sending splinters flying as the vines went limp.  Cor collected some samples of the vines' glowing green sap and the group moved through the newly-revealed gap in the wall to enter the courtyard of the Keep.

They soon heard the scraping of something against stone, and the clink of metal.  Emerging from a mostly-intact side building was a humanoid figure, swathed in the charred and moldering robes of a priest, face hidden in the depths of the hood but skeletal hands exposed.  The mortal remains of one of the long-dead cursed knights of the Groaning Keep, the undead thing lunged, hurling itself against Zerin's shield, swinging a rusted longsword with savage fury.  Reaching out with a bony claw, it grabbed Zerin's face, burning him with necrotic energy.  Pushing the creature back, Mival and Kholark moved to surround it, with Sylvus darting in and out to strike at it with his quarterstaff, enchanted with a Shillelagh spell, while Dormammu, Cor and Lisair held back, peppering the thing with eldritch blasts, fire bolts, magic missiles and arrows.  Finally, roaring with the red rage of battle, Mival brought his flail down on the back of the thing's skull, shattering it, with the entire skeletal horror swiftly collapsing into dust and flakes of ancient, blackened rust.

Unfortunately, the sound of battle drew the attention of other undead knights, which began to emerge from shadowy corners and gaping doorways, converging on the adventurers' position.  Kholark, Mival and Zerin swiftly formed up into a shield wall, keeping themselves between the casters and the shambling undead as they slowly backed towards the gap they'd come through.  Cor and Dormammu kept up a steady stream of offensive cantrips, trying to whittle the undead down as they came.  And the sun was beginning to set.

I love being able to end a session on a cliffhanger like that!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

News from the Iron Principalities

Instead of having the players in my weekly D&D game roll every session for new rumors/plot hooks, or just going the route of having a "job board" hanging in the local tavern, I thought I'd take a page from the Hill Cantons' book and put out a "newsletter" for the region the players are in a few days before each session, to give the players a chance to learn about the setting in bite-sized chunks and have a few different things they can consider pursuing.  Here is the first installment (future installments will go up a bit closer to the midpoint in the week between sessions):

Lord Vesper, Master of Craghold Keep, has with great fanfare announced the birth of a son and heir to his throne.  A naming ceremony will be held in the chapel of Craghold on the 23rd of this month.  With great solemnity Lord Vesper has proclaimed that any wishing to bring gifts are welcome to do so, with gifts of gold, ivory or precious stones being especially welcome.  Any who wish to pledge fealty to Lord Vesper during this blessed time are invited to do so, and will be received graciously.  Lord Vesper is quoted as saying, “My need for vassals – especially those with strong arms and a willingness to club someone’s brains out – is always highest immediately after a child is born.  So many wags and gossips claiming my children were sired by devils, so few stout oak branches to crack across their heads!”

Long-time residents of the Five-Towns will recall the series of fires that mysteriously struck the houses of those who made such claims when Lord Vesper’s daughter Julia was born, as well as Lord Vesper’s repeat attempts to enforce his claim to the Five-Towns over that of Baron Vitellius, and the subsequent repeated rebukes the Master of Craghold suffered. 

The ground shook throughout the Ironspine Mountains for three minutes earlier this week. Residents of the Five-Towns are divided as to whether this earthquake was a sign of divine wrath (and if so, which deity requires placating), caused by giant-kind, or an otherwise little-understood natural phenomenon.  Some fear that an earthquake such as this may have disastrous effect on the ruins of the Groaning Keep near Holger.

Fearful that such tremors could result in increased goblinoid activity, Baron Vitellius has announced a new bounty on goblinoids: one silver piece for a goblin, five for a hobgoblin or orc, one gold for a bugbear, five gold for an ogre, ten for a troll or ettin, and fifty for a hill giant.  Proof of extermination in the form of severed right hands to be presented at the Baron's castle for payment.  

The Archbishop of the Church of the Unconquered Sun in Sabaton has announced the dates for the annual Festival of Brilliance as being from Moonsday, the 1st of Sunmont, through Godsday the 6th of the same month.  These are, of course, the same dates that the Festival of Brilliance has fallen on for the past century, but it was determined that it couldn’t hurt to provide residents with a reminder.  Sunites are encouraged to make sure their brass skull-caps are freshly polished and to make travel arrangements early.  Unbelievers are discouraged from partaking in any of the traditional lemon pies until an act of penitence for their disbelief is demonstrated to the local clergy.

Vencel Voros, Imperial War-Wizard (retired), now a resident of Jonquil, has announced with great satisfaction his victory over the demon Prixior Vune in a long-running game of chess.  Having been defeated, the demon Vune must now fulfill the task of compiling and editing the War-Wizard’s diaries, covering more than forty years’ worth of skirmishes and campaigns against the fire-magi of the Crimson Caliphate, into a cohesive and readable two-volume memoir.  “He just left his king wide open during this morning’s session,” Voros has stated, “It’s like he wanted to lose.”