Castles & Crusades Diary: The Dragonclaw Barony Campaign. Hobgoblins, Orcs, Oozes.

Castles & Crusades Diary: The Dragonclaw Barony Campaign.

Hobgoblins, Orcs, Oozes, Crab Spiders, Fire Beetles, and an unconscious dwarf – a busy day of gaming!

Yesterday a new player joined my group, a player I hadn’t gamed with in 17 years (I ran my D&D 3E campaign in his garage on a 10′ x 4′ table which he covered in green felt, and to which I added my supply of tree and rock outcropping terrain and dwarven forge dungeon sets – I went through a terrain phase back in 3E). But thanks to new online gaming opportunities like Discord, he has rejoined my game after many years, now, of course, playing C&C.

This group left off in a simple and rather below average underground complex located beneath an old ruined fortress. The underground complex, like the fortress above it, was hastily put together, which the characters are discovering as they wander through the corridors (the dwarves are almost constantly shaking their heads at the uneven stonework. They can also see that on some of the walls a new corridor was begun and then abandoned).

But why is the group here? They are seeking out a gnome sage named Fonkin. He went missing, and the last people heard was that he was exploring this ruin. In previous game sessions the group encountered goblins seeking a place in the eastern portions of the underground area, and kobolds attacked them from the south. They left off last time with hobgoblins attacking them from the north. They decided to continue their explorations north.

The first room they explored was an apparently empty 40′ x 40′ room that had some dust and rubble around the edges, but was clear in the middle. While some remained in the corridor, others entered through the north door and headed south down the east wall of the room examining the wall. Unbeknownst to them, a couple clear oozes moved in and cornered them in the south east corner, and when they turned to head north again they stepped in the oozes and the acid began eating through their footwear! Hurled flasks of oil and fire took care of them within a few rounds, but not before two characters nearly went down!

After getting healed they continued north and found a locked room. Unlocking it they discovered why it had been locked – it had two large crab spiders within! During the fight the paladin critically failed and the blade of his bastard sword snapped in half, and a barbarian then critically failed and got his two-handed sword lodged between the door and the wall beneath the top hinge). The noise this caused attracted the attention of eight pig-faced orcs! A sleep spell took care of six of them and the rest were dealt with more easily. Exploring the spider room afterward they learned that the orcs had been ambushed by the spiders (some of them lied dead within) and they had closed and locked the door to keep the spiders in and retreated to a different location.

David Sutherland from the AD&D Monster Manual, TSR, 1977

The group continued north. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they encountered more of the military precision and two weapon fighting style of the hobgoblins that were situating themselves in this portion of the complex. The adventurers did succeed in fighting them, but in just exploring four rooms characters had fallen unconscious and weapons had been broken. The clerics were all out of healing spells. They decided to barricade themselves in the hobgoblin room to rest up (the hobgoblins had recently brought in fresh deer and rabbit meat from the surface, so the group had some fresh food to eat).

The next morning they headed into a small room in a dead-end passage just south and encountered four fire beetles. They killed them, but when the nature-oriented barbarian tried – and repeatedly failed – to successfully remove the glands above their eyes that produce a glowing red light in a 10′ area, only one of the glands was successfully removed.

They ended the adventure entering the furthest north room in this complex and discovered an unconscious and manacled dwarven cleric/fighter of Thor. He had been a teamster leading a supply wagon from the town of Heatherleigh to Dale when Hobgoblins had ambushed them and taken their supplies. The room also provided a stairway to the surface, so the group now has another access point. In the next game session (two weeks from now) they will continue to look for the missing gnome, Fonkin, only now they have another person capable of fighting and healing.

Castles & Crusades Diary: The Barrowmaze Campaign. Adventurers take down mighty undead.


Castles & Crusades Diary: The Barrowmaze Campaign.

Adventurers join Viking group to take down mighty undead and receive king’s treasure. Monk is teleported into a sealed room with a bottomless pit and runic golem. Dwarven berserker is teleported away and has to fight caryatid columns and a rust monster!

When we left off last week, the adventurers at arrived back at King Osric’s tomb to find the Vargjägare (Wolf Hunters) – a group of vikings led by a skald name Thorgrímr already there. The player’s wanted the treasure within and speculated whether they should fight them. The adventurers learned that Thorgrímr leads a very organized group, for as the adventurers met the Wolf Hunter’s at the tomb’s entrance, they saw Thorgrímr kneel down and declare that “I, Thorgrímr, ancestor of King Osric [8 generations before], have come to collect my clan’s treasure and re-establish the family line.” The group then heard noises behind them and saw another member of Thorgrímr’s party leading a group of ten viking berserkers with him for help with hauling the clan treasure out of the tomb.

The party then wondered why Thorgrímr hesitated to enter and approach the yellow-robed shrouded figure with a crown on its head in the center of the tomb enthroned in the middle of a viking galley filled with treasure (who had previously teleported the adventurers out). Thorgrímr responded that he had no idea what that thing was in the crypt, but it was not King Osric. He told the party they were brave to have made it this far and offered them a share of his family treasure if they agreed to help take down the impostor. They agreed, formed a battle plan (involving invisibility to undead, inspiring viking war chants from skalds, exalting words from bards, and runic magic from rune casters/masters). Battle began. The undead impostor managed to teleport two characters to random parts of the dungeon – a monk and a dwarven berserker – before it was beaten down by the remaining vikings and the paladin with his Saints Mace.

With the room cleared, Thorgrímr and his group went towards a secret door which led to the chamber where the real King Osric and Queen Breena were located. There the Wolf Hunters battled powerful runic guardians, and then knelt down and thanked the dead king and queen for giving them such a great challenge to prove their worth. They then proceeded the long process of gathering together the clan treasure for departure.

We then switched scenes to see what happened to the monk. Being a human, he had a torch with him and looked around the center of a strange room he had been teleported into. It was roughly 50 x 30 feet, with 77 burial alcoves in the south wall with a mirror mounted on a pedestal in front of it, and a pile of runic tablets in the northwest corner. He approached the pedestal and stopped just in time to notice a pit directly in front of him (the mirror on the pedestal had distorted the torch light to nearly hide the pit from his sight). He went around the pit to investigate the mirror/pedestal. At this point the runic tablets came to life and formed some type of runic golem creature that moved to attack the monk. The monk got on top of the pedestal and it immediately tipped over towards the pit in front of it, once again the monk barely avoided falling into the pit! The runic golem reached out to attack the monk just as he thought to reflect light from the torch (which he held sideways between his clenched teeth) via the supernatural distortion abilities of the mirror. This light confused the guardian, and it slipped and fell into the pit, falling, and falling, and…never…hitting…the bottom. It was a bottomless pit! He was very fortunate indeed to have defeated it this way, for the runic golem needed magic weapons to damage it and the monk had none! A very close call!

Getting off the pedestal, the monk explored the room and discovered that there was just one exit, and it had been bricked up centuries before! Could he break out? He looked at his supplies. He had two full water skins, 14 days rations, only one torch with less than an hour of light left, 10 iron spikes, and a small metal hammer. He managed to extend the life of light available to him by going to the 77 burial alcoves and taking out cloth fragments from the dead, piling them up, and setting them alight. He then set to work picking at the bricks with his small hammer and iron spikes, hoping that he could get a noticeable start on picking through the wall, for in a few hours his light source would be gone and he would have to do this through touch alone.

The dwarf berserker, luckily, teleported near the viking tomb, so he “just” had to fight – and then escape before he died! – from some caryatid columns. He then began to fight – and escape! – from a hungry rust monster. He got back to the tomb alive, but his magical, silvered, dwarven war hammer had been obliterated and his magical dwarven plate armor had lost its magical benefits (and hints of rust were beginning to appear on it). Once again, a very close call!

Next Tuesday: will the group be able to find the monk? If they can’t, will the monk be able to break out of the bricked-up room by himself with his small hammer and spikes before he runs out of food and water?

RPG World Building and Campaign Uniqueness

I have two Castles & Crusades campaigns I am running, Barrowmaze for nearly two years, and Dragonclaw Barony for the last four months, they seem sturdy and I look forward to expanding them and making them richer and more unique.

The Tuesday evening Barrowmaze adventure was originally made for the Labyrinth Lord (LL) rule system, although I’ve frequently drawn upon the C&C monster books, as well as the Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary.

My Saturday afternoon Dragonclaw Barony campaign is using adventures made for the BasicFantasy RPG system (BFRPG), and my emphasis has thus far been using C&C monster books or those from Malevolent and Benign (modeled off AD&D 1st edition).

However, I feel there needs to be greater differentiation and a more unique feel between these two campaigns – I think they need a more personalized stamp – so I am shifting to more LL monsters for Barrowmaze, and BFRPG monsters for Dragonclaw Barony. My players should notice this, since LL is a retroclone of the 1981 D&D rules system, and BFRPG is a mixture of classic D&D from the 80’s with d20 rule additions that appeared in the 00’s. The look, feel, and variety of the monsters should keep them on their toes, and it keeps things interesting for me.

When I am not working on these two campaigns, however, I am engaged in the long-term building of my own world and capital city. I still have the deepest love for my home from 2009-2015 – Edinburgh, and I am slowly turning it into a living, breathing fantasy RPG city to explore (although I will be calling it Edenburgh based on a reference I found on an antique map c.1500’s). I took pictures of Edinburgh every week during the 6 years I lived their, and have thousands of photographs. I also took the ghost tours, wandered down every close (alleyway), hidden graveyard, garden, and nearby castle during my time there that I could find. I want my players to have one giant sandbox to explore. A place where – no matter where they turn – I can spontaneously go with them and have ideas of what they might encounter.

Still, it doesn’t hurt to have some help on such matters, and some spectacular game products from kickstarters and indiegogo are arriving at my doorstep. These books are great for adding extra character or constructing something from scratch. The Spectacular Settlements book, for example, is 500 pages mostly filled with charts from which you can create any fortress, village, town, or city you need with helpful reference sheets, along with examples of each type of settlement, and the the books on taverns, shops, and inns provide ready-made locations with a rich history and NPC’s to use or inspire. The Deep Magic books is 350 pages of new spells and new types of magic, which keeps mystery in spellcasting and magic, and treacherous traps ensures that my players can never fully predict what traps might lie in front of them.

Castles & Crusades Diary: The Barrowmaze Campaign. Scattered throughout the dungeon, the players work to reunite.


When we left off 10 characters had entered an ancient burial chamber of the great Norse ruler King Osric. After exploring the chamber and climbing onto the viking galley that sat in the middle of the chamber filled with thousands of silver and gold, the dwarven berserker of Odin and the rune master in the group spoke with a figure shrouded in yellow robes (covering his face) wearing a crown who declared himself to be King Osric. The dwarf said they were all in this together and were here for his loot. He chuckled and then one-by-one they all got teleported individually to various parts of the dungeon.

Now, normally trying to conduct an adventure with 5 players running a total of 10 characters split up throughout a dungeon would be a nightmare. But I think it worked out. One player couldn’t make the session, which meant I only had to deal with 8 characters, and those 8 characters ended up being in roughly 3 locations, sometimes within corridor from another player.

There was one character – a seeker – who was teleported into a 40×40 ft room with two doors, and when he stepped on a pressure plate a massive cage fell from the ceiling covering all four walls, trapping him inside. The sound of this huge iron cage impacting the stone made an explosive sound which other characters (and monsters) heard in the surrounding corridors. Within a few passageways of each other the paladin, arcane thief, and wizard were to be found. Being stuck in rooms of their own with their own challenges (one appeared in a burial chamber surrounded by yellow mold, another found himself surrounded by carnivorous flies the size of a rugby ball, and another found a group of mongrelfolk working to overcome their necromancer oppressors), they overcame their challenges and found themselves at the room of the caged seeker. As they worked to bend the bars of the cage to free their friend, a group of necromancers of Nergal slayed the mongrelfolk and animated them as zombies to attack the PC’s. The necromancers knew about the paladin with the Saints Mace destroying their undead over the past year, so they focused on him with their death gazes, rays of enfeeblement, and shocking grasps, but they were taken down. The seeker was freed, and they made their way back to the viking chamber.

Elsewhere the barbarian and berserker found each other, as well as a stairway that took them into a sacred barrow mound of a warrior-priest of the lord of the higher realm – Hyperion (I have Norse and Celtic gods, but I also have higher entities that represent the cosmic alignments of law, chaos, neutrality, and moral alignments of good and evil, Hyperion represents pure law). They dug themselves out of the barrow mound and left to retrieve Dhekeon the fallen skeletal paladin seeking redemption from his sins. He prays underneath a willow tree near the edge of the Barrowmoor, and usually travels with the group on his road to redemption. Retrieving Dhekeon, they headed back to the Barrowmaze entrance closest to the viking burial chamber.

Finally, a warrior-priest and a monk found each other and then ran into the Vargjägare (Wolf Hunters), a group of Vikings led by a skald name Thorgrímr, and made up of other skalds, bards, rune marks, clerics, a gladiator, and a prophet of the dead. Hearing about how the other adventurers got here, Thorgrímr, who is also looking for the burial chamber of King Osric, had them lead the way back to the burial chamber, and then together they then made their way through a heavily trap filled hallway (everything had apparently re-set since the group had previously passed through).

The adventure ended with the burial chamber being re-opened and Thorgrímr praising the All-Father (Odin), while the other two groups of adventures were entering the viking burial area roughly one and two corridors behind.

Next Tuesday everyone will be entering the burial chamber to claim their reward. But who will get it? The adventurers? The Wolf Hunters? Are there any more challenges? Why is the figure that calls himself King Osric covering his face with the large, yellow hooded robe? The player that role-plays the dwarven berserker was annoyed that the Wolf Hunters might take “his” treasure and speculated about killing them all over it. But he seems to forget that his group is completely out of spells, whereas the Wolf Hunters appear to still have nearly all their resources. Will there be battle or compromise? Tune in next week to see what happens!

Castles & Crusades Diary: The Dragonclaw Barony Campaign. Hobgoblins and wolves, Kobold illusionists, trap room!


The Dragonclaw Barony campaign is the second C&C campaign I run on alternating Saturday:

The adventurers have entered an old ruin in the search for a beloved gnome sage named Fonkin. They entered the ruin in the previous session and found a secret room with a forge, an empty sentry room, and a room where goblins have holed up and set gas traps (which rendered people unconscious).

For this adventure the group continued wandering through the underground complex and found a room which had served as kennels. The smell of the animals that drifted out of the room attracted two giant bluebottle flies (twice the size of an America football) which the characters fought and dealt with.

The players then found a very well locked up room. When the rogue and assassin couldn’t successfully unlock it, the fighter and dwarven barbarian/cleric began bashing it down. This attracted the attention of two hobgoblins and their 6 trained wolf companions from the northern passage. This could’ve gone very wrong, but there were two wizards that cast sleep spells that took care of 4 of the 6 wolves, and as the rogue, assassin, wizard, and cleric/wizard took care of the remaining two wolves, the dwarven barbarian/cleric and fighter rushed forth and dealt with the hobgoblins. The group explored the nearby room where the hobgoblins were rooming, as well as their holding cell. Then it was back to to the door they were breaking down.

The group returned to the door that had been bashed through and explored a 20×20 foot room that had long abandoned arrow-slit traps, and murder holes on the ceiling. After activating a loud sonic boom trap on the chest another group of wanderers from the southern passage arrived to learn what caused that sound – masterful kobold illusionists! Kobolds in my game are the dog-like creatures from early D&D with the twist that they are a corrupted form of the gnomes. Thus, just like their distant connection with the gnomes, they are accomplished illusionists. Before the characters even knew what they were dealing with, the dwarf, assassin, and fighter, saw angry duplicates of themselves round the corner and they charged forth to fight themselves. The wizard and cleric/wizard passed their intelligence saving throws and simply saw the duplicates as beige silhouettes, but were unable to convince the others of the illusions (they had rolled 1’s and 2’s on their saves). Then 8 kobold’s rounded a corner in the southern corridor and performing “jazz hands” as the somatic component to cast daze on the spell-casters, with half passing their saving throw. The spell-casters also were able to partially see through a mirror image spell, revealing that there were only 4 kobolds, not 8. It was a tough battle as characters fighting their illusionary duplicates fell unconscious from the blows they thought they were being dealt. Eventually, however, the kobolds were dispatched and the illusions disappeared.

Finally able to return to the trap room, the rogue opened the chest and found gold and platinum coins, and a gem that could produce various forms of practical and blinding light based on a command word engraved on one facet of it. We ended the adventure there, but the spell-casters are out of spells and need some rest, so let us hope they can get it when we reconvene in two weeks!

Castles & Crusades Diary: The Barrowmaze Campaign. A Viking Burial Chamber is Discovered!


I’ve chosen to begin posting my Castles & Crusades game diaries here. I run a C&C game on Tuesdays which has been going on for a year and half, using the Barrowmaze setting (made for Labyrinth Lord game system), and on alternating Saturdays I began running a C&C game in April using the Dragonclaw Barony (made for the Basic Fantasy RPG system). Here is where we left off on the 13 August.

After dealing with Jötun Giants last session on behalf of Ironguard Motte, the players returned to the small village of Helix and prepared to return to the Barrowmaze. There are a lot of aspiring adventuring companies wishing to seek fame and fortune in the Barrowmaze, and one such group is the Vargjägare (Wolf Hunters), a group led by a skald name Thorgrímr, and made up of other skalds, bards, rune marks, clerics, a gladiator, and a prophet of the dead that worship the Norse pantheon. They had heard of a great Norse king buried in the Barrowmaze – King Osric, and they were determined to find this place and have the glory of King Osric live again.

As it happened, the adventurers had an idea of where this Norse burial chamber might be located and set their sights on reaching it first. They successfully passed through old corridors without problem (nothing new had moved into this portion of the dungeon). However, once they got to the new unexplored section, the rogue was the first to notice that the traps and locks on the doors had been constructed by skilled rogues, and although several times he was able to detect what trap was located, he was unable to disarm it, so the heartier members of the group had to trigger those (these included falling blocks, and a 20 foot long stairway that flattened out to a ramp that ejected people into a 40 foot pit trap). Many doors also could not get unlocked, so the barbarians and berskerkers pounded and broke down the doors. All this took a lot of time. Traps and doors that could be disarmed and unlocked in seconds or a minute or two took 10-20 minutes instead. This also attracted a variety of wandering undead – ravenous zombies, ghouls, and shadows.

After systematically making their way through a long corridor that had burial chambers dedicated to Aegir, the Norse god of the sea, they finally arrived at an immense burial chamber with a Norse Galley filled with thousands of gold and silver pieces, with a figure sitting on a throne in the middle wearing a crown, shrouded in a yellow robe with the hood covering his face. There were huge statues in the corners of the chamber dedicated to Odin, Aegir, Heimdal, and Thor, and the dwarven berserker of Odin said a prayer to Odin, a rune master took some time to read runes on the six pillars that held up the 40 foot tall ceiling under which the ship was found. Other characters explored the periphery of the chamber.

All this time a seeker in the group noticed that the head of the shrouded figure was subtly following some people around (mostly those that had an eye on the material riches). Eventually the characters made their way onto the ship and the Norse characters addressed the figure, who identified himself as King Osric. A couple of the Norse characters seemed to be making a positive impression, but when it was expressed that they wanted King Osric’s riches and that they were “all in this together”, the shrouded figure chuckled and replied “if only that were true”, and then one by one the characters began to disappear. Each player had to roll a d6 divided by two and percentile dice. It conveniently was the appropriate time in the evening for the adventure to come to an end, so I said to them, “you all look around and each of you appear to be alone in rooms that appear to be in the Barrowmaze.” One player surmised that the percentile dice represents what room they were teleported into, and the d6 divided by two determined whether the rooms were in the range of: <100, 100-199, 200-299. Is this player correct? What has happened to them? Where are they? Are they truly alone? They find out next Tuesday!

Campaign World Design and Dungeon Drawings

The popularity of digitally designing and drawing up campaign material for whatever RPG we are running is very popular, and the resources out there are amazing and always fun to discover. However, I’ve recently wanted to get back to hand drawing dungeons. It is much more time-consuming, but much more satisfying, in my view. I haven’t drawn much recently, and am mostly in the imitation phase of material I find online (the drawings I show below represent that), but using resources (such as the great work of Dyson Logos), I am rebuilding my confidence in independent design (I used to be a CAD drafter a couple decades ago, so I do have experience in designing engineering drawings, I just need to freshen up my skills).

World building is exciting. There are two Castles & Crusades games I am running online on Discord, and they are giant sandboxes to play-test the different C&C classes (from the Players Handbook, Codex Germania/Slavorum etc., Adventurer’s Backpack), and other game systems within my pantheon of gods and home-brew rules. Some of my younger players are excited about the nearly three dozen unique classes available, but also asked about other races (they’re used to playing monsters in D&D 5E). There I did put my foot down – humans, elves, dwarves, gnomes, hobbits, and half-elves/half-orcs only, monsters remain monsters in my game. I am only showing the cover of my world campaign book and nothing inside, since what is inside is for GM eyes only, and I never know who might join my online games and those players need a few surprises (for example, I am taking the Scottish city of Edinburgh – a city where I lived, worked, and roamed for 6 years – and turning it into one big open medieval sandbox for my players to roam and adventure in!).