Monday, March 28, 2011

Dungeons of the Cairn Hills: Session 3

Time now for the third installment- we were one player down this week with Pete doing an evening shift- so, with seven players and one DM- a cosy, intimate evening of gaming for a change ;) ...

The party: Yulnari, male L1 Paladin (played by George. Speaking with earnest confidence now, intent on leading the party towards lofty goals...)
                Myrna, female human L1 Cleric of Myhriss, devoutly seeking wealth for construction of a chapel in the Free City ( played by Michael)
                Arrmand, male L1 Ranger, local man and trail wanderer of the Cairn Hills (played by Adam)  
                Tzunir, male Baklunish L1 Illusionist, a fellow impressively moustached, a traveller from Ekbir, and budding amateur zoologist (played by Lachlan)
                Ledivis, male human L1 Fighter, a warrior of an honourable fighting order, from unknown distant lands. A forthright deal-broker (played by Mick)
                Faralin, male Elven L1 Thief, urchin of the Free City, the unluckiest elf  I've met (played by Lewis)
                Cashmir, male human Magic User L1, brilliant, silent, mysterious (played by Jimmy.)

We had left the group upon their arrival back in the grubby mining town of Diamond Lake, lugging sacks of  copper coins, silver-filled amphorae and a handful of more precious jewelled relics. The party seemed relatively unscathed after various encounters with giant rats and giant ferrets- and a much more unnerving encounter with a hideous robed ghoul that almost slew the fighter, Ledivis, with its flesh-numbing claws. Struggling not to drop the slippery tear-shaped urns in the drizzling rain that had settled in, they stumbled towards the heart of the town down muddy streets, glowering at the groups of bleary and unshaven townsmen who watched them with undisguised curiosity from door-stoops and alleyways. Deciding that the new Able Carter Coaching Inn offered the best balance of thrift and security, they settled in to divvy up their loot and bed down for the night.

In the early hours Arrmand awoke feverish, the rat-bite on his calf swollen and discoloured. Horrified at the awful infection, which seemed to be spreading before his very eyes, Arrmand sought the aid of his companions, whereupon the paladin, Yulnari, prayed earnestly to Heironeous to cleanse the diseased wound. Almost instantly recovering, Arrmand looked upon his companion with new feelings of awe and gratitude. 
Clearly the group would need tobe  wary around the filthy vermin nesting in the caves at Lonesome Hill.

The next morning Myrna cast Detect Magic, seeking signs of any dweomer upon the artifacts recovered from the ghoul’s cave/crypt, but the items, though certainly precious, were not enchanted. The adventurers sent out a group to the shop of the local Gnome Jeweller and Gemcutter, Tidwoad. Taking note of the dangerous looking mercenary who glowered at them from where he stood, towering protectively over his employer, the group presented their coin, seeking exchange in semi-precious stones and gold, and proferred for his appraisal the golden signet ring, jewelled silver bracelets and large golden key. After a careful assessment, Tidwoad offered them such a quantity of gold for the trinkets that the fortunes of the group were basically altered on the spot. Various enterprises suddenly became plausible, one being the purchase or commission of plate armour for the fighters and the cleric. Before the sale could be finalised, however, they wanted to seek advice regarding the strange sigil inscribed upon the signet ring.

Making enquiries as to the presence of erudite or knowledgeable entities hereabouts, nothing of note was found in the various public houses and shops. Ledivis and Yulnari, however, upon visiting the restored fortress which served as garrison for the local Greyhawk military based in the town, met by chance the cartogropher Dietrik Cicaeda, a resident at the keep. Having heard of the group’s success at an unknown ruin in the hills to the north, Dietrik made enquiries himself of them regarding the details of the ruin. Upon being shown the strange trinket with its vaguely star-shaped pictogram, he confessed ignorance as to its meaning. Apparently  deciding, however,that the group were a trustworthy lot, he offered to introduce them to Allustan, Diamond Lake’s eccentric and anti-social sage- an authoritive enthusiast of the various burial-cairns of the Cairn Hills.

An interview with Allustan followed in short order. They found him to be a rather dusty and disheveled character, surly at first but very interested once he discovered the party had been traipsing about in a hill-cairn. He made a wax imprint of the sigil, then interrogated the pair at some length regarding the ruin. He told them, for nothing, that he was sure a that a holy man- of a faith that ecaped him at the moment- had been interred north of Diamond Lake some centuries ago- he could make a study as to the details. He also said he was certain he could identify the import of the ring’s inscription- but stated bluntly that all of this would interfere with his own, more important studies. He would only agree to work on the basis of a one week commission- at a mere 50gp per day so long as the group would agree to give him detailed  information about what they discovered in the hills. The fighter and the paladin decided that this price was somewhat too steep...

The rest of the group took issue with this position upon their return, however. Cashmir, himself somewhat experienced with sages, informed them that 50gp per day was in fact exceedingly reasonable. Others in the group expressed the possible merits of establishing relations with a sage who knew so much about local dungeons. Somewhat sheepishly, having furnished themselves with sufficient funds by selling off their trinkets, the pair hired Allustan after all. 

Next they looked into having three suits of platemail fashioned for themselves and Myrna. Myrna herself  arranged to have an iron torch-sconce bolted on to her wooden shield! Having initially flashed around their gold and brokered the deal for the armour with the town’s stern blacksmith, Osgood, they balked upon discovering that such crafting would require the work of ninety days. Offers by Osgood to have armour imported from the Free City were also refused, and they left the almost empty-handed blacksmith fuming. Unwise conduct, and somewhat unseemly for a Paladin, methinks...

Another night was spent in town- a quiet one for most of the group, though the burly southerner, Bronzetoad, took to carousing with some of the locals, settling in for a bender, and puzzling everyone by spending a drunken evening hurling stones at a tree on the edge of town which had been ‘Looking at him funny’ The group left early for Lonesome Hill the next morning without Bronzetoad, who was no-doubt sleeping it off somewhere or other...

Managing to make their way to Lonesome Hill before midmorning without misfortune (largely due to the efforts of the ranger, Arrmund), the group again accessed the dungeon via the cave they had used before. Many of the rat and ferret corpses were missing, though rancid fleshy fragments remained. The intrepid band made use of Arrmund’s scrawled map by torch and lantern light, and soon found themselves quite close to the ghoul’s sandy crypt. Determining to explore a side passage on the way, they encountered another large group of horrid giant rats. These they dispatched in short order, although not without the fighter, Ledivis, and the elven theif Faralin both being bitten by the filthy-fanged rodents. Despite this, both Ledevis and Tzunir the illusionist decided to take into their care tiny pink hairless ratlings that were found in the nest, ignoring the protests of the  paladin that they should be destroyed. Tzunir took a whole clutch of them in his sack, six in total. Ledevis decided to call his rat Boris!

In the former crypt of the undead monster the group found that the corpse was gone. Arrmund examined the sandy floor for any tracks, and after reflecting declared that several bootless humanoids had come from deeper in the dungeon, apparently dismembered the remains, and then departed again by the same route with the body-parts (CSI Greyhawk!).  Looking with a shiver at the sharp-clawed footprints indicated by the ranger, and shining their bullseye lantern dubiously down the tunnel, the party thought better of continuing in this direction, and decided instead to explore the worked stone passage they had found upstairs.  

There they found, filing out of the narrow tunnel in single file, a badly damaged mosaic decorating the walls, an archway at either end of the hall, and to the south of the eastern arch, an ornately carved wooden door, which had been boarded over from this side and marked with the crude image of a skull in black paint. Discussing what to do quietly as a group, it was determined to withdraw into the natural tunnel somewhat, while the elven theif listened carefully and looked into the adjoining archways with his infravision. 

Their torchlight and discourse had already done the damage, however. Faralin, crouching in the opening, discerned a a small humanoid figure, likewise crouching down watching him with a javelin at the ready in the chamber to the west. Apparently aware that it had been spotted, it ducked behind an archway, just as the sound of rapidly approaching footfalls became discernable to the southwest...

Faralin quickly alerted his comrades, who, steeling themselves for sudden battle, formed up in the corridor to resist their onrushing assaillants. A band of smallish snub-nosed humanoids with wild hair and hodge-podge armour, weilding crude wood and flint morningstars and javelins, charged in furiously to assault the paladin and the fighter in the party’s front rank. Urging them on with gutteral shouts, a man-sized fellow with yellow skin, slanted eyes and a blueish upturned nose flourished a larger morning star and spat gobbets of filth at their feet. The leader did not last long, however, felled by consecutive arrows to the stomach and neck, fired from over the paladin’s shoulder by the ranger, Arrmand. A javelineer, too, was felled by a well placed slingstone hurled by Faralin. Then the heroes whooped in triumph, as the first wave of goblins fell beneath the swords of Ledivis and Yulnari.

Myrna, defending the rear and shining her bullseye lantern into the hall to the east, shouted a warning- more creatures were approaching from that direction, apparently attracted by the sounds of conflict. Quickly, the ranger moved back to help the magic-user, illusionist and cleric to hold the line. The party was surrounded!

Two more goblins, leading a huge ferret on a chain, had rushed up a set of stairs there, and hurling insults, prepared to overwhelm the spellcasters. No sooner had the ferret been loosed, however, than it was blinded by a Light spell cast by the love-priestess Myrna. As it writhed in anguish it was quickly peppered with darts, and lay still.

Poor Faralin was just as unlucky- his efforts to find partial cover in the cave-mouth apparently only goaded on the marksmanship of the goblins- he was skewered by two javelins, and crumpled senseless to the floor, gushing his lifeblood as the battle continued. 

The nerve of the goblins failed altogether, however, as the second rank of warriors were cut down by the staunch steel wall that was Ledevis and Yulnari. Others were slain as they tried to flee, although two goblins did manage to escape- one down the stairs to the east, and another up a western set of stairs that led, as the party would discover, to the ruined tower above.

In place of pursuit the party instead opted to lend aid to their fallen comrade, and search the corpses of the goblins. Having gathered some electrum coins, and also a few gold pieces from the hobgoblin, they explored the chamber to the east, finding, apart from the stairs leading down further into the depths, another boarded up skull-painted door to the south. They also more closely examined the mosaics in the few legible areas. Yulnari was astonished to discover by that means that apparently a holy man of the church of Heironeous had been interred here some centuries past. Could this be the crypt of that beloved priest of Heironeous, Saint Ulther? He was deeply saddened that such a sacred place could become the lair of horrid monsters.

To the west, the group found a filthy barracks-room for the goblins, and beyond it, a better (though still foul) chamber, apparently for the use of the hobgoblin. Here, beneath a table, they found a large locked trunk. Alas, Faralin, although healed by the divine magic of the goddess of love, Myhriss, was weak and only semi-conscious- he would be of no use for some time. As the paladin was preparing to smash the trunk with the hobgoblin’s morning star, Arrmand cleverly searched the table, and turning it over, found a key nailed to the underside. This fit the stout padlock, and, upon opening the trunk, five rabbitskin bags were found, each containing a thousand silver coins. Checks for a false bottom availed nothing, however.

And so, with the party leaving the Lonesome Hill Dungeon once again, we close the curtain upon another session. For our next episode, they plan to return to the Free City of Greyhawk, to purchase suits of platemail, before heading back to Diamond Lake and Lonesome Hill Dungeon once again...

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Kobold Murder-Tunnels

Here is a quick map showing the murderous siege-passageways for my Kobold Tunnels. The gist is that the kobold tribe here, along with several others in the local hills, are a source of recruits for the Old Guard Kobolds (they go into a kind of sausage-grinder boot-camp and come out elite!), but that their leader is more enthusiastic in this purpose than most. This explains why the kobolds survive here with so many other humanoids around. The sub-tunnels and murder-points give the red scaly-ones a flexible system. They can resist invasion by use of reconnaissance, swift funneling of warriors to trouble spots, pouring pots of hot tar (locally manufactured from the scraggly pine trees found in the hills hereabouts) and dropping caged centipedes on invaders (area 6 will be a refuse-pit/giant centipede nest). They can also abandon the complex via escape tunnels if need be, returning when the threat is gone. Not exactly Tucker's Kobolds (though I think the OGK should be!) but you get the gist.

Another possibility is that the Mud-Eye orcs are out-maneuvering the rival Leg-Breakers via a new alliance with the wily kobolds. Should all be fun...

As for the posting of my actual level write-ups, I'm feeling nervous regarding the OGL, copyright etc (legal matters not being my strong point), and I'm reluctant to do much more of that without giving the OGL some thought. Any advice would be welcome, chums...

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sick-bed ruminations: Troglodytes, Grimlocks and the Deep Sea.

Hey all, I'm back from the land of the groaning, hacking, bed-bound and incapacitated, only to find new readers, and kindly accolades from Tim over at Gothridge Manor! Thanks everyone, for all the kind thoughts!

Prior to starting this blog, another heartfelt project of mine was to develop a detailed megadungeon based on the wonderful How to Host a Dungeon by Tony Dowler. Having tried out the game (which blew my mind, oh yes it did), I started work on a new dungeon from scratch, writing a very detailed history of each phase, and adding to my section map as I went:
This is turn 6 of the Age of Monsters- as you can see, my dungeon looks, well, rather COMPLEX. It is also, in my view, bloody awesome- utterly full of potential- but this is just one dungeon, and not by any measure the best that might be formulated. Take it from me- if megadungeons are your thing, pay the small fee for Tony's wonderful game- I cannot recommend it highly enough, really...

Well, with one thing and another, Greyhawk sucked me in again, and I decided to learn from the masters before working up my own megadungeon, and thus settled upon this scheme instead of one of the others I'd had in mind. I've been, however, pondering the lowest depths of the Lonesome Hill Dungeon, where my errant PC's might soon go exploring, and the underground sea there that awaits further fleshing-out by a determined DM (still no guesses as to LHD's real identity, anyone? What if I said it has ELEVEN LEVELS?), and I began to consider a contested shoreline, where the local troglodytes plot against the more plentiful Grimlocks of this DEEP SEA, and the various travails of the subterrene races in my How to Host a Dungeon game came back to me. The deep, progressive history which that system unveils is SO evocative to me- the dungeon, too, can be like ancient Troy- layer upon layer upon forgotten layer. Perhaps the Mesa Verde style cliff-dwellings that the Grimlocks call home on those darkened shores are the ruined fragments of another, forgotten and mind-bogglingly ancient subterranean city? What priceless treasures might the half-bestial Grimlocks unwittingly possess? And so on, and on ad infinitum...

As you can see, my own megadungeons are haunting me still- but an unexpected bonus has been the rigging-together of a bunch of other wonderful megadungeons. Where does one stop and the next begin? Are there links in the underdark between Castle Greyhawk and all of these other locales? How do I stave off gamer A.D.D, in the end, and stick to my guns? I guess I'll have to just plug away at sublevels, tacking on pieces of the grand tapestry here and there as I go. It seems that the Lake Geneva campaign , for instance, was well equipped for dealing with wandering DM attentions- any new idea was apparently jury-rigged into the campaign as it went a long. So the GAME is the thing- in this case, my Monday night game. I have my group, and need only throw all my energies into rolling out a great campaign for them, week by week. Very, very exciting.   :)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Dungeons of the Cairn Hills: Session 2

Well, dear readers, in the pouring, bucketing, world flattening rain which is drowning Wollongong this week, we just met up for session two at the uni- nine crazy gamers actually braved the extraordinary weather this evening to play AD&D. Doesn't seem real... I am very pleased.

Two new players tonight- George, who is a veteran 1st edition DM and mad fan, and Jimmy, who I think is one of George's former players. What with Ben not appearing this week, our nominal eight player cap was still reached. Now this is officially the biggest group I have run, though George said he has run FIFTEEN!?! Eight is definately my limit. Who would have thought Wollongong had all of these lurking 1st edition afficianados? I believe this is the ONLY D&D group in the Guild now. Any doubts about whether we are in the thick of an OSR are squashed flat, as far as I can tell.

The party: Yulnari, male L1 Paladin (played by George. Yulnari is now the party Paladin, though there may occasionally be two when Ben returns to the game.)
                Myrna, female human L1 Cleric of Myhriss, devoutly seeking wealth for construction of a chapel in the Free City ( played by Michael)
                Arrmand, male L1 Ranger, local man and trail wanderer of the Cairn Hills (played by Adam)
                Bronzetoad, male Olman L1 Fighter, a fat, bizarrely clad tribesman from the far south (played by Pete, who, preferring a fighter after all, was allowed to fernangle his initial rolls. Turns out Bronzetoad, who had never been seen to cast any spell anyway, was fit as well as fat, & had some armour in his luggage. He would need to buy some weapons, though...)          
                Tzunir, male Baklunish L1 Illusionist, a fellow impressively moustached, a traveller from Ekbir (played by Lachlan)
                Ledivis, male human L1 Fighter, a warrior of an honourable fighting order, from unknown distant lands (played by Mick)
                Faralin, male Elven L1 Thief, urchin of the Free City, newly stuff-less (played by Lewis)
                Cashmir, male human Magic User L1, played by Jimmy.

We left off with Faralin, the unfortunate elven thief, coming around- bruised, his hands tied behind his back and stripped to his breeches, on the muddy bank of a stream near Elmshire. He stumbled into the caravaneers' campsite around dawn, as the teamsters were kitting up to leave, and made up some cock and bull tale of being mugged by "a really big gang of halfling youngsters". Myrna, the fiesty cleric of Myhriss, the thrice-kissed goddess, was outraged at this rough handling of one of her boon companions, and, despite the protestations of the weasely Faralin, dragged him off first to the Civic Hall, then to the guardhouse, to make a complaint. To the enquiries of the guards Faralin spun a web of lies that changed by the moment "It was dark, I...I couldn't see their faces..." and so on.. The bemused guard suggested that, if Faralin would wait at the guardhouse, perhaps some local rascals and troublemakers could be mustered for a line up. Just then Faralin thought to say- "Oh no- we can't possibly stay for that! Our caravan's about to leave..." The guard shrugged and waved them off. Myrna seemed pleased to have at least performed her civic duty.

Upon their return, they found another human, a bearded, scrawny fellow in musty robes, conversing with the caravan master. He declared that he was a down-on-his-luck prestidigitator, known as Cashmir, looking to join an adventuring band. The party sized him up, then, at the behest of Yulnari (who, apparently, was the party Paladin all along...  ;) and Myrna, welcomed him aboard. The caravan set off southwards, towards Diamond Lake.

A couple of dull, overcast days passed on the trail, with one night encamped and expecting the worst from prowling denizens. Apparently the caravan looked well guarded, as nothing untoward befell the group. In the late afternoon of the second day out of Elmshire, they rattled, sore-footed, into Diamond Lake, finding the place as grubby and sordid as Arrmand, a Cairn Hills local, had warned them it would be.

As an aside, and regarding my earlier post about Diamond Lake, I finished my remod of the town, but will not be posting it here. It seems in poor taste to critique it, mangle it to suit my game, then post the result. Really, I have no issue with Erik Mona's work- I obviously like it enough to use it in altered form. That post was intended as more of a critique of the Adventure Path as a general gaming trend than as a criticism of Age of Worms.  Basically, Diamond Lake's still not a nice place, but I toned it down a bit. Anyways- enough self-justifications...

They found dusty streets, mine tailings, a polluted lake, too many inns & taverns, a largely male population of iron-miners and a nest of earnest, wrangling mine-bosses. Having camped one last night with their caravaneer chums, the group explored the town a bit on the next morning, after the morose bands of unwashed tunnel-grubbers had trudged off to the mineface. Faralin, who had become a charity-case in the group (a party fund was set up to replace his gear, part of which he had already spent to buy a pair of overlarge spare boots from a caravan guard. He stuffed them with grass to wear them) bought a shortsword, leather armour and a sling, but could not afford theive's tools. Bronzetoad purchased a two-handed sword (lucky they even had one) & a morning-star at an inflated price. In the meantime, the party got the lay of the land. The ranger, Arrmand, scouted the northern routes out of town, and felt sure this was the way that Granbarzhi had come from, according to the crude map. The others asked around, hearing rumours that:

* Few ever went into the hills to the north, as there was little good to be had in being run down by packs of ravenous wolves...
* Small bands of apparently intelligent but sinister dark-robed humanoids were seen from time to time on distant hillsides to the north, but nothing was known about who they were...

Eager to get underground, the doughty band set off into the thicket-bristled Cairn Hills about noon. Several times, if not for the specialist knowledge of the ranger, Arrmand, the group would have fallen foul of dead-end gulches, blackberry tangles and time wasting wrong-turns amongst the weirdly steep, round-topped hills. After several hours, the ranger found some old tracks of sandalled feet on the muddy bank of a creek, and, although they faded again, he followed them far enough to crest a rise from whence, half a mile to the north, a crumbling tower-ruin could be seen.

The group approached the edifice warily, looking for smoke-signs or any movement. Having arrived at the southern foot of the hill, it was decided to send Arrmand ahead to scout-out the approaches. Taking his time to search for any trails up to the old tower, or the tracks of any beasts or men, the ranger found signs of small mammals by a thicket- a kind of low game trail under the tangles. Upon investigation, he found a hidden cave entrance beyond the bushes.

Having reported his find to the party, it was decided he should scout the ruined tower too. He made his way up the hill, verifying that the cave-mouth was quite big as he climbed above it. Upon approaching the old tower, he found that the rather rough-and-ready quality of the masonry was to blame for the poor state of the structure. It was, in some places, little more than a pile of rubble. It was perhaps several centuries old, and now vine-grown and bare to the weather. Inside the ruin, he found that the lawn had intruded to cover the floor, except on the northern side, where something of a trail led to some once-covered stairs, leading down into the darkness of the catacombs.

After discussion, the party determined to enter via the cave entrance, on the grounds that it was less likely to be intelligently defended (good logic). Bronzetoad, Arrmand and Yulnari hacked a path through the brambles, though Ledivis refused to sully his 'sacred' blade with non-combat usages. Upon gaining access to the cavemouth, the group stood for a good five minutes whispering at the entrance, trying to formulate a plan. Eventually it was decided to send the theif Faralin in alone, to scout with his infravision.

The natural limestone tunnel led to a rough floored chamber scattered with detritus. From there, the elf spotted several huge rats, skulking somewhat timidly up a passage to the northeast. Upon his report, Yulnari and Arrmand entered, and, having had Myrna dazzle the beasts with her bullseye lantern, fired some arrows, killing the creatures. Much scurrying and sqeaking was heard, but no more rats came out.

Advancing, the group passed on to where the rat corpses lay, puzzled by the junction they found there. Which way to go? Tzunir, poking at some bony detritus with his 10' pole (yay!), disturbed some silver coins in an old goblin skull. As the magic-user and illusionist picked through the coins, and the bulk of the group discussed options at the junction, several wildly bounding furry shapes approached from one junction! Several giant weasels hard charged the group, perhaps trying to run around or atop the intruders to make an escape. Quickly, Bronzetoad and Ledivis moved to protect the vulnerable Myrna.

A melee ensued. Soon a large pack of rats, scurrying from the north junction, wildly joined the fray. The fighting prowess of the group soon told upon the unlucky beasts, however. All three of the weasels were dispatched, and half of the desperate rats were killed in short order (most of these were taken out by the amazing dart-throwing skills of Tzunir the Illusionist! Talk about the high dex requirement paying off!). Only Arrmand was injured- bitten by filthy rat fangs. The rest of the rats fled into their crawlspace nest-chamber, then away into rat tunnels too small for the adventurers to enter. Having discovered (and put to an end) the Weasel-Rat War, the party explored, finding mainly rat corpses, but also a large cache (thousands) of copper coins in broken urns to the north. Deciding to collect these on their way out, the group assessed their options.

Having followed a pair of cavern-tunnels northwest to an area of finished stone, they instead determined to descend a set of natural stone steps that they had found down the southeast junction. A dry, earthy breeze wafted up from the depths. They filed down, torches guttering as they went. Having wound their way down for some distance, they arrived at another natural chamber, this one with a sandy floor. Here they found more dead rats, and were disturbed by the dreadful carnage inflicted on the corpses by whatever had slain them. Wearily, they kicked the corpses to one side, and squatted down to rest for a while.

No sooner had they done so than another, more determined group of huge rats scurried in, sniffing and squeaking. With neither group surprised by this chance encounter, a new melee began, Early in the fight, Bronzetoad poured the contents of an oil flask across the chamber entrance, then lit it with a torch, Several rats having been killed in melee, and now another aflame, the unfortunate rodents fled en-masse. This time, the party rested undisturbed.

When the flames had died down, the group continued, two-abreast, to the northwest, coming to another junction. This time they went north, and entered another sandy floored chamber. Suddenly leaping upon Ledivis from one side, a horrid, pallid faced, bloody-fanged man-thing launched a slashing, biting assault upon the unlucky fighter. As the thing's claws struck, he felt his sinews stiffen, but shook off the chilling effect. The party encircled the horror, but soon the claws struck again, paralysing poor Ledivis after all. Several swords swung wide, and then the spellcasters saved the day- first Cashmir set the horror's dessicated robes alight with a Burning Hands spell, then Myrna blinded it with a holy Light spell upon its eyes. Faralin and Arrmand quickly struck the undead monstrosity down.

As the group awaited the return of sensation to the flesh of Ledivis, they excavated several partly buried urns, gathering several thousand silver coins into their large sacks. They also found a huge key on a golden chain, some jewelled silver bracelets, and a fancy signet ring...

Upon Ledivis' recovery, the group made their way back upstairs, collected the thousands of copper coins they had found there, and hauling sacks and coin-filled amphorae, made their slow way back to Diamond Lake. And so we'll leave the hardy adventurers there for now, wandering into the desolate mining town right upon dusk, laden with cairn-treasures. What will the locals make of this?

Any idea yet, any of you reading folk, just which adventure from the OSR I've renamed Lonesome Hill Dungeon?When my group have finished there, I will, of course, disclose all, giving full credit to its clever author, along with my assessment of the dungeon, and that of my players. Cheerio for now...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The white hurts our eyes...

Seeing as minis will be a part of this campaign (with a new addition we could have EIGHT players at the table on Monday night- trust me- miniatures will be helpful), I made up a new battleboard this week, based on several needs- namely, being cheap, portable, and not WHITE. It's bad enough playing under flourescent tubes without a white battleboard giving everyone a headache. I was happy with how my yellow-ochre wash, complete with brown lines, turned out.

Note also my custom-made pillars/altars. These took no time to make, are easy to use and add to the experience at the table, and along with battle-board contruction etc, help get me through the creative doldrums without entirely neglecting my game...

Pleased to have the B/X Books at my table...

With Giant Ferrets, Robber Flies, Thouls, Living Statues, Bone Golems and other horrors appearing at various places within Lonesome Hill Dungeon (more clues, no guesses yet?), I'm chuffed to have an excuse to bring these books along on Monday night. The game we're running is AD&D, but I think in spirit the B/X books come closest to the dungeon vibes I'll be hoping to conjure up...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Why I Don’t Like Adventure Paths.

Several disparate gaming paths crossed for me this week, and their conjunction taught me something important: namely, why it was that, after an initial fascination with the “adventure path” format some years ago, I have come to dislike it so much.

Having pulled out Dungeon #124 in order to look over “Chambers of Antiquities” by Rob Kuntz (I’m thinking of modding Maure Castle back to 1st edition for my campaign), I noticed that this was in fact a rather Greyhawk-oriented issue- Age of Worms is, of course, set in the Cairn Hills area, which I had forgotten. Suddenly I realized that Diamond Lake, the Cairn Hills mining town my PCs are heading to, their imminent base-of-operations for an exploration of the Lonesome Hill Dungeon, is the starting-point of the whole Age of Worms path. Perhaps, I thought, instead of developing some extended notes for the town based on the GoF entry, I could attempt to convert Erik Mona’s Diamond Lake to 1st Edition. The thought was there, but already I was feeling nervous...

Okay, so I determined to have a read of the backdrop, and that old feeling (it’s been a while since I’ve bothered to examine adventure path material) almost immediately began to emerge, what I would call the “take-away” phenomenon. An experience, at first pleasant, begins to turn sour, as it dawns upon the imbiber that what they have consumed is less satisfying than the initial experience suggested. Now, funnily enough, I’m not setting out to lambast either Mr Mona’s work or the general quality of food in the take-away industry. I’m not making declarations of cheapness or shoddiness here at all. The problem for me is all about richness.

I’ll explain my analogy. Most of us enjoy take-away food at least some of the time. It is convenient, flavourful, and cost-effective by-and-large, and as such it’s fine. The problem is: it’s not generally a good idea to eat that way all of the time, but we can be tempted to want to because of all of the above qualities. I have just these issues with the format of the adventure path. Let me get back to Diamond Lake to explain why.

I was hoping for something of a gazetteer of the town, with the locations on the map detailed, and relevant information about stores, inns and taverns, the presence of the law, and perhaps some details about the important figures of the area. All of this was, of course, available. An initial satisfaction comes with the loving detail applied to the various characters and locations- it is all well thought-out and interesting. Complex individuals are presented in commerce or conflict with a complex setting. Their motivations are both well-developed and believeable. The town as a whole radiates a palpable atmosphere of seediness, corruption, vice and the abuse of power. As an adventure backdrop for a group of D&D characters, it works, and I have no difficulty imagining Fighters, Clerics, Theives etc getting up to their ordinary wayward business  here. Only, in a novel, or perhaps a film- definately NOT in my campaign.

The issue is not with any departure from canon- that may or may not be the case here, and I make no claim to be any kind of Greyhawk scholar. My problem is that, as a backdrop for the activities of a group of player characters, the place is TOO interesting. Every location mentioned here is fun, atmospheric, cool, seedy, ominous, sexy or SOMETHING. Every NPC mentioned not only has a history of some kind but is also UP TO SOMETHING. That works if you’re watching Deadwood (the two settings actually have a lot in common), but PCs operating in Deadwood would struggle for the spotlight amongst so many fascinating NPCs. Such levels of detail can forcibly subdue the creativity of a DM at the table, because suddenly he feels as though he’s trying to be true to a script instead of tunneling around in his own sandbox. The sandbox, made concrete, ceases to be fun for anyone.

As with the megadungeon, wherein the interesting locations emerge as such by virtue of the  contrasting presence of those which are more pedestrian, so a backdrop should serve largely to support the actions of the player characters until they get to the adventure. I understand that, in the case of the adventure path, there is no distinction between adventure location and town location- they merge,and rightly so. It is just that, not EVERYTHING should be cool. Not EVERYTHING should be rich and fascinating. It all becomes too much, and our more delicate, subtle gaming sensitivities become overwhelmed, and, perforce, are dulled and our own imaginings diluted. Light and dark, loud and quiet, rise and fall- each must have their moment. If we have only drama, then the end result is a loss of dynamic momentum.

I may work over this backdrop, and post my more minimal translation here later in the week, but it will be a much more subdued affair...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Monday, March 14, 2011

Dungeons of the Cairn Hills: Session 1

Well, we actually got a 1st edition session off the ground at the Guild! Seven players and yours truly in the DM's chair. Far out. I've never run such a large group before (back in the day, I think our AD&D group had 5 players)- I was a little intimidated at first, but soon settled into things. Mick, who initially advertised the game, kindly stood aside to let me DM: he had only committed to DM himself, it seems, in case no-one else wanted to, and was a little unsure of the rules. He had basically advertised a 1st edition game due to declining interest in 4e, which he'd been running, and because he was fascinated with the old orange-spined books he'd recently acquired. Cool, huh? So what we're thinking is that he can run Ravenloft if he wants to later, maybe with the same PCs once they get up to level 5 or so. Perhaps Ravenloft could be a sub-level of Castle Greyhawk. I'm sure I read someone else had done that...

The party: Calidus, male L1 Paladin (played by Ben, who had to leave early.)
                Myrna, female human L1 Cleric of Myhriss, devoutly seeking wealth for construction of a chapel in the Free City ( played by Michael)
                Arrmand, male L1 Ranger, local man and trail wanderer of the Cairn Hills (played by Adam)
                Bronzetoad, male Olman L1 Magic User, a fat, bizarrely clad tribesman from the far south (played by Pete), who had been journeying from the east (?) with            
                Tuzunie, male Baklunish L1 Illusionist, a fellow impressively moustached, a traveller from Ekbir (played by Lachlan)
                Ledivis, male human L1 Fighter, a warrior of an honourable fighting order, from unknown distant lands (played by Mick)
                Faralin, male Elven L1 Thief, urchin of the Free City, ill fated (you'll see), (played by Lewis)

The first part of the evening was all introduction and character gen (Adam, Pete and Lachlan I know, the others I was meeting for the first time). There was banter, questions, explanations for the novices. Eventually we forged on with pretty roughly sketched characters.

Myrna had posted notices about the Free City, requesting companion adventurers for lucrative dungeon-delving. She worked on behalf of her ailing friend Granbarzhi, who sought comrades to explore a ruin he had named simply "Lonesome Hill Dungeon", beneath a ruined tower north of Diamond Lake, several days to the east. Granbarzhi succumbed to his illness just as the party was formed, however, and would never have the chance to complete his exploration of that promising ruin.

Spending a few days amongst the taverns of the River District, the party discussed their options. Castle Greyhawk seemed, according to recent rumours, too deadly. The old Greyhawk Dungeon, to the west, was apparently haunted by brigands as well as monsters. Myrna argued strongly for a foray out to Lonesome Hill, and prevailed.

The three day journey there concerned them, though, and they sought news of a caravan to travel with. In the meantime, amongst other things:
*Ledevis, the proud foreign fighter, sought to better himself at the Great Library.
*Myrna spruiked her goddess's healing magic amongst the sore-backed dock-workers of Hutsham, to earn coin for her planned chapel.
*The (almost) charmingly naive Bronzetoad planned to improve Myrna's prospects for gain by ambushing and injuring wealthy looking bar patrons. He was very lucky not to get himself in dire trouble- that's what cold feet at the last moment are for, I suppose...
*Arrmand acted as bodyguard to Myrna.

 Eventually, Myrna tracked down some caravan guards, bought them many drinks, and convinced them to let the party tag along on a journey culminating in Diamond Lake itself- adventurer muscle wouldn't hurt on those Cairn Hills trails  anyway. Faralin checked with his contacts in the Theives' Guild, and confirmed that the caravan wasn't being staked out for ambush by them- the Guild had interests in the silk trade the caravan was mounting.

The caravan set out at dawn the next day, heading through the thicketed hills to the north after passing through a couple of sleepy hamlets. Myrna conversed with some pilgrims who journeyed with the caravan, devotees of Heironeus who were bound eventually for Goldplain in Urnst. Arrmand pointed out some familiar landmarks to the party, and Ledevis, talking with the caravan guards, heard tell of a recent attack by a dragon upon another caravan to the southeast. The warm day passed without event, and by evening they arrived at the canyon-nestled mining town of Blackstone, where the caravan set up camp.Weary after their journey, the party went to sleep early, and the caravan passed the night unmolested.

The next day, heading further north into the hills, the caravan passed through the mud spattered mine-town of Steaming Springs late in the morning, and felt glad they weren't camping there. In the afternoon, they met an armed patrol of militia from Greyhawk, passing south, who had recently slaughtered a large band of goblins encamped around a gully on the way to Elmshire. Apparently this group of humanoids were skulking, awaiting an easy ambush. The patrol had made short work of them, and pointed out the smoke from the corpsepyre some miles ahead.

Upon approaching the smouldering pile, the party members stopped to look throught he battle-leavings, much to the distaste of the caravaneers. They even tossed through the pathetic discarded weapon pile, Bronzetoad casting Detect Magic in case the patrol had missed a magical item. No such luck. All they found were a half-dozen serviceable javelins.

Just on evening, they arrived at the pretty halfling settlement of Elmshire, nestled on the reedy banks of the Nyr Dyv. Already, the myriad lanterns and candles burned in windowsills and doorstoops, creating a lovely tranquil scene of merriment after their grimy day. Groups of friendly halflings came out to greet the caravan, which set up an impromptu fireside cloth market, pleasing the halfling goodwives no end. In response, local cellarer's wheeled out ale and mead stalls, and a jolly party ensued, presided over by no less a personage than the mayor, Windsor Greenshade. Myrna, Arrmand and Calidus, appreciative of the hospitality, enjoyed the festivities all evening. Other party members were somewhat more... wayward.

*Bronzetoad, the slightly cracked Olmen Magic-User, haggled with a local craftsman to purchase a handnet, then, having wallowed through the reedy shallows to catch a swarm of croaking lake-frogs, payed the remainder of the net's bill -in frogs- to the bewildered old halfling, and set off back to the fire to cook and devour his own share of the unlucky amphibians...

*Ledivis, the supposedly honourable foreign Fighter, stole a bale of black cloth from one of the wagons...

*But the real jaunt was on the part of the moustachioed Illusionist, Tuzunie, and the Elven Thief, Faralin. Tuzunie convinced Faralin that, with the mayor occupied with the festivities, the time was ripe for plundering his mansion...


Little did they know- Windsor Greenshade, the mayor, was a retired adventurer, not above unscrupulous activities of his own so long as it aided his beloved town of Elmshire. Kind of a halfling Al Swearingen, if you will. At least, thats what I took from his brief write-up in GoF on the fly...

So they finally find the biggest halfling tunnel-house in town, but its not actually abandoned, as they can tell. Lights are on, people are moving about etc. They sneak around the back, finding a lovely herb garden by the open kitchen door, and a halfling matron cooking tasty-smelling pies, and voices from the next room.

Lurking in the shadows, our pair of rascals determines to:
A: Light Tuzunie's torch with a tinderbox, and set the herb-garden on fire.
B: Cast Phantasmal Force, making phantasmal flames appear to set the roof on fire.
C: In the confusion, Tuzunie will pose as a heroic helpful bystander, whilst Faralin loots the house.

Whatever the quality of this plan, the dice were not kind:
A: The matron, hearing the tinderbox outside the door, and seeing the garden alight, shouts "Nob, Rollo! Someone's in the garden, quick!"
B: Male voices shout, drawn weapons are heard
C: The rascals, missing their cue, do NOT flee.
D: The illusion is cast, while Faralin lurks.
E: Nob, a black-clad tough-looking halfling, seeing the house alight, rushes to get a bucket of water.
F: Rollo, another black-clad tough-looking halfling goes outside to see what's up, and easily spots Faralin. "OI! What are you up to?!"
G: Faralin sheepishly steps out of the shadows, open handed- "I, um, came... to help..."
H: Rollo draws his snazzy shortsword, "Do you think I was born yesterday?"
I: Giving up concentrating on his illusion, the unseen Tuzunie flees into the streets...
J: Faralin fails initiative. Rollo stabs him in the guts (straight to 0 hp), and the elf, aghast, blacks out from the pain.


Tuzunie, dodging curious neighbours, eventually made his way back to the caravan. Eventually, Faralin awoke, hands bound, a poultice on his stinging stab-wound, and stripped down to his breeches. Rollo, Nob and the matron were going through his equipment. "What were you up to? Who were you with?" Rollo demanded, his sword at the elf's jugular. Faralin shrugged. "I was going to rob you. I was by myself."

This approach won Faralin the grudging respect of the halflings. The last thing he heard as Rollo dragged him out the back way, was the matron explaining to neighbours that she had poured hot oil in the garden, and started a fire. Faralin realised the nasty hobbits were going to pinch his stuff...

Rollo dragged Faralin down into a creek-bed at sword point, and saying "Consider yourself lucky!", cold-cocked him and left him there. He awoke near dawn, black-eyed, bare-footed, shirtless, and on 1 hp.

We left it there this week, as it was late. Great game, nice guys one and all. Next week they should arrive at Lonesome Hill, albeit with an equipmentless Thief...   :)


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Plothooks and Rumours


Castle Greyhawk:
Distance: 9 miles.
Common Knowledge: The ruins of the overblown manse of Zagyg,the Mad Archmage, former mayor of Greyhawk in its prime. Mad Zagyg, a magic-user of tremendous power, renowned for his capricious wit, disappeared after a century of unaging life in the city, leaving his castle to decay.That was three centuries ago. The reputation of the great  wizard was such that for decades the labyrinth remained unexplored. Eventually it was sacked by rampaging northern barbarians, at least to some extent, though many never emerged from the ruins, and many that did were raving mad.

With time, adventurers were drawn to pick over the leavings in the great dungeons beneath the old castle, seeking the treasures that must be hidden there. Over the years, many have returned with extraordinary riches- in fact, the stream of plunder from the old castle revitalised the economy of the Free City. Every so often, new bands of vagabonds return from the ruins, their fortunes made. More never return- their remains, and no doubt their gear, lie mouldering in the dark places of the Mad Archmage’s dungeons...

Preliminary Rumour: Several novice bands of adventurers have failed to return after setting out to Castle Greyhawk in recent months. Some suggest this indicates new and powerful denizens have inhabited the castle itself, as previously adventurers made preliminary explorations of the upper dungeon levels with not infrequent success.
Purchased Rumour: A small band of dwarves have set themselves up as wardens of the great staircase of the dungeon, monitoring the movements of adventurers. It is best not to treat this group with disrespect. (This from a grizzled one-armed former adventurer.)
Special Rumour: Bands of scarlet-clad monks have been seen in the lands around the old castle, their business thereabouts is unknown.

Lonesome Hill Dungeon:
Distance: 60 miles
Common Knowledge: none
Preliminary Rumour: A recent drinking companion of _______ , Granbarzhi, told a tale of a dungeon beneath the crumbled masonry of an old watch tower several days march to the east. He had stumbled upon the ruin whilst hiking through the hills on an overland journey from Elmshire to Diamond Lake.  His short delve suggested a profitable lair for an inexperienced group, he gained gold himself, but left after being wounded in an encounter with giant rats- he was alone, after all.

He provided _________ with a map indicating the location of what he coined the “Lonesome Hill Dungeon”, as an aid to recruiting a party for him while he recovered from an illness. Several days ago Granbarzhi unfortunately succumbed to the illness- filth fever it seems. As far as you can tell, no one but yourselves knows about this dungeon.
Purchased Rumour: none
Special Rumour: none

Old Greyhawk Dungeon:
Distance: 30 miles
Common Knowledge: With the economic prosperity that burgeoned in Greyhawk in the time of Zagyg, came a resurgence in crime. One whim of the Mad Archmage was to respond to the hue and cry of local merchants and gentry by ordering the construction of a great prison-dungeon to  the north, in the Cairn Hills west of Grossetgrottell.The construction work was to be done by the prisoners themselves, as, in clusters of chain gangs, they dug and tunneled from the bedrock, making cells for themselves. The guards employed there were required to be unrelentingly brutal, and kept watch on the whole edifice from an external gatehouse that blocked off the canyon-mouth. 

Whether the project was based on studies of the despotic Archmage into the perversities of human nature, or simply the result of a harshly-applied pragmatism, is unknown. What is certain is that, locked up in a dungeon of their own making, the prisoners were left to their own devices, and soon devolved to such a bestial state that the guards no longer ventured to do more than simply prevent their escape from the canyon. Apparently other projects quickly placed a greater demand on the attentions of Zagyg himself.

Upon the disappearance of Zagyg, the prison was thrown open by the newly placed governing council (which had much stronger links to the Thieves’ Guild). The horrors they found within are spoken of only in frightened whispers. None of the sorry human remnants who came out were ever the same.

Over the years, the old dungeon has reputedly become the haunt of various monsters from the surrounding lands. Periodically, groups of adventurers return from the Old Dungeons with admirable plunder. Just as often they never return at all...

Preliminary Rumour: A group of brigands is said to lurk near the Old Dungeon, ambushing weary adventurers on their way back from their subterranean forays.
Purchased Rumour:  Word has it that another crazy magic-user had built a tower in the tangled thickets close on the Old Dungeon in the last century, but that the tower was destroyed in a violent arcane eruption. Imagine what treasures might be gained from the inevitable cellars below, if only the ruin were found...
Special Rumour: See provided rumour list.

Ruined Lendorian Monastery:
Distance: 30 miles
Common Knowledge: none
Preliminary Rumour: It is said that, some 30 miles to the south, in the hills wests of the village of Erybend, a ruined monastery lies, sacked decades ago by raiding humanoids and never reclaimed by whatever order of scholarly monks had dwelled there. Perhaps items of value moulder amidst its broken stones...
Purchased Rumour: A local sage is aware that the original monastery was occupied by Lendorian monks, and also has heard a rumour that other cultists had occupied the place several decades ago.
Special Rumour: The innkeep at the Green Dragon heard an adventurer several months ago mention that he had fought goblins in the old ruined monastery.

Tower of the Apprentice:
Distance: 30 miles
Common Knowledge: Zagyg is rumoured to have had an apprentice, an unfortunate woman named Lendine, whose indenture was little more than a spiteful amusement to the Mad Archmage. It is said that she had been a student of great talent at the College of Magic’ and that Zagyg had been irritated by the temerity of the dean , who personally recommended her to him. He took her on, then made it his business to undermine her every effort, the comical results of which were dispatched to the college board via a magical communicament, with wryly puzzled queries from Zagyg as to whether they had sent the correct student. Lendine became, at least in scholarly circles, a laughing stock- ultimately, Zagyg scornfully cast her out of his manse.

After Zagyg’s vanishment, Lendine developed as a Magic-User, and built a tower at the fringes of the Mist Marsh. Sent slightly mad herself, she implemented a campaign to stymy the efforts of her former colleagues. Eventually, she took to the enchantment of their young apprentices. These she would put to perverse uses, undermining their studies and all the while spying on their masters.

Eventually tiring of the spiteful wiles of the unhinged Sorceress, a group of her former classmates, some with more regret than others, formed a cabal against her, and ambushed her at her tower. In the ensueing magical contest, the tower was destroyed, though whether Lendine actually died there is not known. At any rate, she has not been seen since that time.
Preliminary Rumour: A group of dwarves is said to have tunnelled into the rubble of the Tower of the Apprentice, a year or so ago. They did not return from the dungeons they uncovered there.
Purchased Rumour: A dragon attacked a merchant caravan passing through High Ery several months ago, incinerating the mounted guards. Several merchants were devoured. Survivors said the dragon clutched in its great claws a pair of coin coffers, and flew off towards the Mist Marsh. The story was hushed up to soothe public fears of such fell monsters attacking merchant routes. Does it lair in the ruins of Lendine’s Tower?
Special Rumour: A daunting and arrogant wizard had a big night of opulent gustation at the Nymph and Satyr six weeks ago. Accompanied by several armed henchman, a sinister elf, and a magic -user of lesser power, he made enquiry as to the Tower of Lendine, whom he referred to as “That great, tragic, and erudite scholar.” The mirthful chuckles of several bystanders resulted in rough treatment by the mage’s henchmen. The arrival of the city guard prompted a more general melee. The result was the deaths of several patrons and guardsmen, both by arrow and spellfire. The group fled the scene. The city guard still earnestly pursues the culprits.

Spore Caverns:
Distance: 120 miles
Common Knowledge: none
Preliminary Rumour: Five days march eastwards into the Cairn Hills, in the lands surrounding the village of Eiren’s Fall, strange disappearances have been occurring. Both cattle and villagers have gone missing with a developing frequency.
Purchased Rumour: A local sage reports that limestone caverns, of note for their prolific fungal infestations, are very common in the area around Eiren’s Fall.
Special Rumour: Misshapen and unnerving creatures have been seen shuffling through the the wooded copses of the hillsides in the region south of Eiren’s Fall.

 Old School afficianadoes should pick up on the identity of at least a few of these dungeons...

Friday, March 11, 2011

Likely Approach-Route to Castle Greyhawk

Well, here's my map for the subterranean tunnels below the ridge of the Pleasure Garden of Eurymele. I'm still developing my ideas for these lairs, but the basic premise is that the most intuitive entry into Castle Greyhawk- via the main gate, will most likely involve an approach over this ridge, and that, due to the ruined state of the  eastern bridge, many parties will likely stumble upon the Kobold Tunnels or Orc Bastions in an attempt to scale the ridge. Curiosity killed the cat...

These lairs will, as I've heard the Mouths of Madness do, present minimal challenges to determined parties, however, largely due to the slipshod attention to guard detail on the part of the humanoid denizens. In the process of exploring them, any clues as to some of the worst local perils as yet unbeknownst to the party, should be furnished via interaction with the inhabitants. Clues as to the presence of the satyrs or the werewolf should be at hand if I DM well.

The Lair of the Lycanthrope is unlikely to be stumbled upon accidentally. The entrance is well-hidden- almost entirely concealed by dense brambles. Still, you never know...

One reason I have now decided to 'derail' attempts on Monday night to go straight to the castle is that, even provided I finish stocking these lairs this weekend (ain't gonna happen- I have reading to do instead), the party might just as likely try to enter the Castle through the ruined rear wall, and I haven't even MAPPED the lairs that festoon the castle-ridge itself. I think it will be best for all if I make a hard sell of the encouraging prospects of the Lonesome Hill Dungeon for this week, a lair fully fleshed out, though by someone else in the OSR, not I. Speculate away, but my lips, for now at least, are sealed...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Pleasure Garden of Eurymele

(SPOILER ALERT! Anyone playing in my campaign shouldn't read further- this post is intended for my curious readers, not my curious players...)

Pleasure Garden of Eurymele.
Adventurers scrambling up the vine-tangled slope from the  northeast will, at any time other than the deep morning hours after midnight*, hear wild flute music piping from the overgrown thicket above. Ancient oak, yew and juniper trees compete for space around the central pool. The beds of peonies and violets are now overgrown with blackberry thickets and stands of thistle in any areas of dappled light.

Six satyrs, Xandides, Elpenor, Tireus, Astyclus, Pistyclus and Giomedes (Hp: 24, 29, 28,20, 26, 22) loiter in the garden, mourning the departure of the nymph Eurymele from her pool in the eery central glade. They will quite likely present significant difficulties to inexperienced groups attempting to gain access to the the castle via this route.

Eurymele was an idle curiosity for the Mad Archmage, kept as an amusement for his "pleasure garden". It suited his sense of whimsy that visitors enroute to his castle might hear from a distance a fragment of her wistful song, or perhaps catch a glimpse of her silhouette through the trees, but might never approach the pool. A confounding spell prevented any intrusion upon the privacy of the lovely Eurymele. The Archmage himself, a lustless fellow, had no particular desire to disport with the nymph- he simply enjoyed the befuddlement of arriving guests.

Over the years, the magic worked upon the Pleasure Garden faded away, but despite the disappearance of the Archmage, Eurymele remained. In the years after the failure of the spell, quite a number of hapless interlopers fell foul of a glimpse of Eurymele in her winsome, idle moments by the pool. Whole bands of adventurers, once blinded by her supernatural beauty, broke their necks on the scramble back down from the hill, or suffered a horrible fate at the hands of normally trivial denizens. Some were struck dead by a glimpse of the nymph at her bath- their bones litter the weeds beneath the aged tree limbs. One survivor is Zadle the hermit, who squats disconsolately in his cave to the east, living on roots and insects, no longer able to read from the pages of his spellbook.

In recent years, a band of satyrs out upon a debauch in these parts, stumbled upon the garden. First Tireus, then Astyclus, and finally Giomedes, were blinded through repeated stolen glimpses of Eurymele. The nymph, feeling intense distaste but also a kind of pity for the helpless lust of the satyrs, abandoned her glade lest the sylvan creatures be destroyed by their own lasciviousness.

Xandides, Elpenor and Pistyclus, goaded by the boasts of their companions, feel cheated. And so the satyrs lurk in the garden, awaiting the return of Eurymele. In the meantime, they employ the services of various charmed local humanoids, including kobolds and orcs, as well as Dilfun, a dwarf, and several other individuals. These minions range the nearby hills in quest of any sign of Eurymele.

The satyrs pass the idle hours in song: Tireus, in his blindness, has only increased his sublime ability at the pipes (-2 on saves vs magic). Still, they are bored, frustrated, and looking for fun. Woe-betide bands of incautious adventurers who approach the Pleasure Gardens heedless to signs of danger.

Adventurers proffering good wine, or succeeding in amusing the creatures, will fare somewhat better.

In the area around the pool, the satyrs have made their camp. Here they have cleared an area of canopy, and tenderly raised some grapevines. The vines have not yet borne fruit suitable for the making of wine. From the branches of nearby trees, goatskins hang, their contents the prized possessions of the group. These include:

A group of gems: four 10gp Malachites, four 50gp Citrines, one 500gp Amethyst, one      500gp      Alexandrite, one 500gp Pearl, and one 1000gp Oriental Emerald. Also, a Potion of Sweetwater, and an empty Iron Flask.

Footnote: PCs are likely to encounter odd mixed groups of kobolds and orcs in the wilds hereabouts, who will approach the party, earnestly seeking information about Eurymele. Such encounters should serve to warn the players that all is not well.

* unless, of course, it is a full moon...

It should be noted that this is an encounter written up in a style that reflects my emerging thoughts about my own game- if I were ever to present something for publishing I might well be less verbose and historically detailed, in recognition of the desires of other DMs to think their own details into being...

Also, I might not progress too far by Monday if I proceed suchwise. It's likely, though, that if we do play it will be a rather brief adventuring session this week, considering that the first part of the meeting will be introductions, discussion about whose game we want to play, then character generation.

The other thing is, if need be, it shouldn't be too difficult to make other hooks look more lucrative for now anyway. This could be a VERY dangerous encounter for a fresh-faced level 1 party to stumble upon whilst en-route to Castle Greyhawk. It all remains to be seen...
In response to questions from Austrodavicus, the overland map is hand drawn, with labels in the Futura lt BT font to give the map that 1st edition flavour. They were typed up, printed, cut out and then laboriously glued on! I was really happy with how this map turned out- it looks great laminated.

This is my table map for large scale overland crawling and regional details- it definately is not for detailed perusal by the players- I'll have my 10-league Darlene maps from the boxed set on a neighbouring table for player referal- same scale as the big hexes but less detailed. My plan is to take along a blank map of about this scale for the players to fill in- hopefully there is a devoted mapper amongst them- if there is not, the party will be the worse for it... I will show it to them briefly though, just to strike fear and awe into their hearts...

Eventually I'll get around to a proper hex-crawl map with 7.5 mile hexes- the small hexes on this overland map are 7.5 miles- four small hexes to Darlene's big 30 mile hex. That'll have to wait now- with a game possibly on the cards for Monday I'm working furiously have a proper freeform, open-ended game with options ready.  I designed this map as a companion to two others I made years ago as campaign maps for TOEE. Here they are the three of them together:

I only wish I could unlaminate the other two and give the others the same crisp font as I did for this one- definately more austere.

The locations on the map will be fed to the players via hooks and rumours and in play rather than by virtue of a visual perusal by them of my map. I get Austrodavicus's point though- all those little names do evoke strong desires to explore. The idea is in fact for the map to be visually evocative and to propel the imagination- it is designed to invigorate my descriptive powers at the table, and give me a clearer picture of the game-setting.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A game- and sooner than I had dared hope...

Looks as though an awesome 1st edition group is forming at the Guild at Wollongong University- turns out there are AD&D players in the 'Gong I knew nothing about! Might be a round-robin in terms of DMing, but that's great- I'd love another chance at running a PC for AD&D anyway. Hopefully my game will come up soon enough on the roster, so I'm prepping my campaign at triple-time for Monday night just in case.

In order not to railroad my PCs, I'm leaving  Castle Greyhawk as the nominal focal point of the campaign, but placing a bunch of other dungeons (at least one another megadungeon) around the Cairn Hills- I won't place credit for those at this point in case my players get wind of this blog, but these other dungeons (renamed) include:
1- Old Greyhawk Dungeon
2- Lonesome Hill Dungeon
3- Tower of the Apprentice
4- The Spore Caverns

My PC's might also choose to tramp it overland to the Temple of Elemental Evil. I'm even considering modding out Maure Castle and Rappan Athuk for my campaign (though at a later stage). The plan is that many (or at least several )campaigns might take place in this area over the coming years- but especially that the players can choose what to explore and where to go, with their success based to a large degree upon the quality of the information they gather ahead of time...

I'll also be allowing for the possibility that they might simply want to bum around the Free City for a while- city encounters will be at hand, but also, the urge to refill limp coin purses should be an admirable goad into the various catacombs about the place...

Greyhawk Regional map

Here's my regional map, a conglomeration of a bunch of things to suit my purposes, but Anondsen's map was a big influence. I'll get it laminated later today- sorry for the dodgy photo...

Monday, March 7, 2011

Greyhawk Map finished and shiny...

Well here is my hand coloured, hand detailed copy of Joe Bloch's awesome, faithful map of the Free City of Greyhawk. Well worth the hours spent, I think. Thanks again Joe!

Celsius not Farenheit...

Having always struggled to correctly interpret Farenheit on the fly (I'm an Australian- we use Celsius), some years ago I worked out a converted Baseline Data Chart (as per the Greyhawk Glossography) in celsius. Here's a scan of my at-table weather card.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Loving the big folio map

Ever since finally getting my hands on the 1980 Folio edition of The World of Greyhawk I've been obsessed with Darlene Pekul's big map of the Flannaess. I've owned versions of this map since my first Greyhawk campaign in 1985/86, but the folio map is just bigger and better quality than the others I have (from the World of Greyhawk and From the Ashes). Somehow having this is fuelling a huge part of my growing excitement about DMing a Greyhawk campaign again.

This map is definately staying mounted on a board in my study. The one from the boxed set can travel to my game with me in the folio sleeve...

Friday, March 4, 2011

Tactile relationship with gaming materials.

One of the difficulties for me, when it comes to making use of pre-prepared supplements or modules generated by other designers, is the lack of personal containment within the material. I always find that, with my own adventures or settings, lovingly designed (in fact, usually agonized over) from the ground up, learning the material in preparation for play is a non-issue: having generated the scenario internally, all of the pertinent details spring readily to mind at the table. This factor is, as far as I can tell, the MAJOR advantage of personal design as opposed to the use of pre-prepared supplements. DMing is just a much more natural process that way.

More and more lately, I find it essential to absorb as though by osmosis the work of others if I wish to use such work in a game. It isn't necessarily an issue of alteration of the details of the adventure, such as NPC/ monster stats or number appearing, or treasure or whatever. That process can work fine too. If I basically admire the supplement as is, however, and feel no need to alter it as such, a more arbitrary process of 'personalisation' works just as well. The idea is to, by some means, insert the delineated parameters of the scenario into the subconscious mind. As much of a time-wasting process as it might seem to some, rewriting passages or stats, or redrawing maps by hand, involves a higher degree of absorption than does simple reading or perusal- more particularly if the work is done with great care, with something approaching the loving attention devoted to ones own work.

So part of the process of prepping to run Joe's big dungeon has involved such efforts. These efforts, might, I add, have practical purposes of their own. For instance, as much as I love the wonderful dungeon maps that came with Castle of the Mad Archmage, I found that for my purposes both the quartered section level maps and the big poster maps were impractical for my game table- I want everything in my big folder, and all A4, with the maps removable and mountable on a screen. Using Inkscape, I opened the original maps, and by means of a process (I think it was edge detect- invert- moonarize- desaturate), I came up with an image which, if printed A4 at high quality, provided a detailed small version of the big poster maps. Then, by inking the walls, doors, numbers etc, a more pleasing and readily legible map becomes available:

This takes a BIG commitment of time. The thing is though, I really feel a lot closer to Joe's dungeon levels now, having gotten at them from the inside, so to speak...

Another example is Joe's redone City of Greyhawk map. I too have the boxed set for the city, but I definately agree that the version Joe offers, as being based upon E.G.G's Greyhawk, is indispensible for an awesome ongoing campaign based in the Free City. Now, Joe has a lovely colour version available, but, not wanting to fork out the cash for ink, and wanting my immersion-method to be engaged anyway, I'm hand-colouring/detailing the black and white map:

When its finished, I'll spend less than the colour printing cost on laminating it, and have an awesome map that  I know by heart and feel attached to. Loving my game components helps the whole DMing process immeasurably.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Little to report, but scheming continues apace...

I'm still here. I'm basically waiting until things begin to take some more shape, and all of my spare energy is going into prepping for the Greyhawk campaign I really want. Not owning any of Gary's C&C publications, I'm reading up on what others have said, particularly regarding Castle Zagyg: Upper Works.   Joe Bloch, Grodog, MerricB at enworld, the dragonsfoot and knights & knaves forums, have proved indispensible- thanks guys. Time is brief, but I will offer this summary of my intended plans for the Upper Works:

1) I for one love the idea of  the Mouths of Madness- Keep on the Borderlands is a favourite of mine, and I think a more sedate set of dungeon forays might stabilise the PCs as an adventuring party. Dealing with squabbling humanoids piecemeal is great for setting a tone of determined, intelligent play, and will help to build confidence in the group. I briefly considered simply redrawing the maps for the Caves of Chaos to fit the bluffs around Castle Greyhawk, but I think I'll enjoy the challenge of "working to order", so to speak, with my own take on the Kobolds, Gnolls, Orcs, Goblins, Hobgoblins, Bugbears, Ogres and exotic monstrous fauna included in that now prohibitively expensive tome,. I like it. I think things will be hard enough for the PCs downstairs, and I want a sandbox, as opposed to a 'the dungeon's over here' type of campaign.

2) I've definately settled on Castell Coch as my model for the ruined Castle Greyhawk. It is smallish, but I feel it has just the right atmosphere for the Mad Archmage's above ground demesne. At one time austere, self-contained and lavish, I imagine this as the Castle wherein a powerful but not yet irredeemably mad wizard might conduct the research that sends him, as Gary put it, "zany". The unfathomable depths of the labyrinth he subsequently constructed beneath gives the measure of Zagyg's insanity- I like the idea of the dungeon being a representation in three dimensions of the twisted, contradictory mental byways pursued by a peerless wizard pursueing knowledge best left alone. Castle Coch feels right to me. I want some Castle action in my game, but not enough to distract from the awesome catacombs that lurk below.

3) I've been working on a map of the surrounds. Here is what I've done so far:

There'll be a lot more trees/bracken/brambles. The Mouths of Madness will occupy both the castle-bluff and the gateway hill.  I think the shattered first bridge might prompt exposure to the caves at the feet of these crags for the PCs. The pagoda gatehouse will be on the gateway hill, the pylon gate on the other side, by the castle. I'm also considering placing an overgrown meditative garden on the gateway hill, rustling with menacing carniverous plants and perhaps a bored faun...

More soon.